Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

Controversial U.N.decision to hold conference on torture in Egypt

August 20, 2019

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will co-host the regional conference with the government’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on 4-5 September. Some 80 participants, both government and non-governmental, from 19 Arab countries are expected to attend. U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville, who in February had said torture was endemic in Egypt, told Reuters: “It is a fairly standard type of event.”…

Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the idea of Egypt hosting such an event was a joke. “More ironic is that this is through the National Council (for Human Rights), the role of which is to always polish the government’s image and complicity in the human rights situation,” he said. NHCR president Mohamed Fayek will give a welcome address at the conference’s opening ceremony, according to an agenda seen by Reuters….In 2017, Egypt raided and shut down the Nadeem Center, which documented alleged human rights abuses and treated torture victims.

In the meantime on 19 August 2019 the NGO EuroMed Rights announced that it has declined the invitation and in an open letter addressed to UN High Commissioner, Ms Michelle Bachelet, EuroMed Rights expresses its deep reservations about the decision to hold this conference in Egypt, a country where torture is systematically practised by the security forces, and in collaboration with the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which acts under the auspices of the government. The letter recalls that detainees and prisoners in Egypt are frequently subjected to abuses which amount to torture, including electric shocks, beatings, suspension by limbs and rape. Read full letter here

https://kfgo.com/news/articles/2019/aug/15/rights-groups-criticize-undecision-to-hold-conference-on-torture-in-egypt/927888/

European Lawyers in Lesvos awarded Pax Christi Peace Prize 2019

August 14, 2019

Pax Christi International honoured the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) as the recipient of the 2019 Pax Christi International Peace Prize at a ceremony held in Brussels on Wednesday evening, 26 June.

The prize was accepted by “European Lawyers in Lesvos” (ELIL’s) managing director, Philip Worthington, who delivered a speech on the work of ELIL and their efforts to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees in crisis. The evening began with a speech highlighting the centrality of recognising the human dignity of every person by Bishop Kevin Dowling (Rustenburg, South Africa), Co-President of Pax Christi International. His speech was followed by his counterpart, Ms Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International, addressing the importance of the refugee crisis to Pax Christi sections and member organisations around the world and how we are inspired by the work of ELIL. Ms. Greet Vanaerschot, Pax Christi International’s Secretary General, presented the award to Mr Worthington. Attendees were treated to musical interludes by recording artist Zem. A reception followed the one-hour ceremony.

One of the very few providers of legal assistance on the Greek island of Lesvos (also known as Lesbos, a focal point of mass immigration into Europe), ELIL was founded in June 2016 by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and the German Bar Association (DAV). Since that time, along with a small permanent staff, almost 150 volunteer asylum lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal assistance to more than 9,000 people, most of whom are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. ELIL is the largest provider of legal assistance to asylum seekers on Lesvos and is the primary provider of legal assistance to unaccompanied minors who have been incorrectly registered as adults (over 500 cases in total) and asylum seekers in detention (almost 200 cases in total). In addition to other services, ELIL also helps reunite families by assisting with family reunification applications under the Dublin Regulation.

Established in 1988, the Pax Christi International Peace Award is funded by the Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink Peace Fund and honours contemporary individuals and organisations who make a stand for peace, justice and nonviolence in different parts of the world. For text and videos of the speeches, photos of the ceremony & more, please click HERE.

Read more about European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL): www.europeanlawyersinlesvos.eu

Saudi lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair winner of ABA human rights award

August 14, 2019

Waleed Abu al-Khair

Waleed Abu al-Khair.

Saudi human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was convicted on anti-terrorism charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison, is the winner of the 2019 ABA International Human Rights Award. For more on this and other awards for human rights lawyers see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/aba-international-human-rights-award

The ABA Journal states that Abu al-Khair founded Monitor for Human Rights, one of the only human rights organizations in Saudi Arabia, in 2008. He dedicated his legal career to defending human rights and the right to freedom of expression, and pushed for an elected parliament, independent judiciary, constitutional monarchy and other reforms in his country. Abu al-Khair’s 2014 arrest and conviction largely stemmed from comments he made to the media and on social media that criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, discussions of human rights in his home and his defense of activists who were punished for criticizing the government, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The human rights organizations say the specific charges against him included disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy; insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges; setting up an unlicensed organization; harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations; and preparing, storing and sending information that harms public order.

His full 15-year sentence was upheld by a Saudi appeals court in 2015 after he refused to apologize for the alleged offenses. He is currently in the Dhahban Central Prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has twice reviewed the legitimacy of Abu al-Khair’s detention, and in 2018, declared that Saudi Arabia lacked legal basis and grounds for restricting his freedoms of expression and opinion, the ABA press release says.

Abu al-Khair earlier also received the Olof Palme Prize, Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, Law Society of Ontario’s Human Rights Award and Right Livelihood Award. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/saudi-arabia-imprisoned-waleed-abu-al-khair-receives-another-human-rights-award/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/14/right-livelihood-award-urges-freedom-for-3-saudi-laureates/]

http://www.abajournal.com/web/article/imprisoned-saudi-lawyer-receives-this-years-international-human-rights-award

Over 2,500 indigenous languages reported to be in danger of extinction

August 12, 2019

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s spoke on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August 2019, in New York:  …There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world today.  …This year marks the International Year of Indigenous Languages, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to draw attention to the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote our indigenous languages.  Almost half the world’s estimated 6,700 languages are in danger of disappearing.  Most of these belong to indigenous peoples.  With every language that disappears, the world loses a wealth of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.

……..As the International Panel on Climate Change report that comes out today focuses on land degradation, it is important to re-emphasize that we will stand with those human rights defenders and defenders of our environment, of our habitat, that are persecuted.  We should put a stop to that and have zero tolerance for it. And on this day we remember those who are fighting for indigenous peoples and their habitat.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/08/08/9-august-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-un-experts-see-increasing-murder/

https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=245100

On Aug. 9, World Indigenous Day, attention goes to Indigenous languages

Kazakhstan President Tokayev pardons Yaroslav Golyshkin and Erlan Baltabai

August 12, 2019

A bit of good news: President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ahead of Eid al-Adha pardoned the convicted journalist Yaroslav Golyshkin and a trade union activist Erlan Baltabai, the President’s spokesman Berik Uali reported. They both were released, according to radio Azzattyk. Editor of the Pavlodar newspaper “Versiya” Yaroslav Golyshkin in October 2015 was sentenced for 8 years on extortion of money from then-governor of Pavlodar region Kanat Bozumbayev in return of secrecy of the compromising information. Golyshkin was conducting journalist research on the supposed rape in the office of the governor. However, the international fund for freedom of speech “Adil soz” claimed that the journalist’s prosecution is connected to execution of his professional duties. According to the Radio Azzattyk, the Kazakh human rights defenders in 2018 called the journalist a political prisoner.

The trade union activist Erlan Baltabai was jailed for 7 years by the Shymkent court for “power abuse”, “violation of requirements of regulations of the trade union”, “embezzlement of trade union“s money” and “causing damage to the complainant”.

https://akipress.com/news:623525:President_Tokayev_pardons_journalist_Yaroslav_Golyshkin_and_activist_Erlan_Baltabai/

Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela in film Whispering Truth to Power

August 12, 2019

An award-winning documentary following Thuli Madonsela’s time as Public Protector has officially been released. The film focuses mostly on Madonsela’s last year in office and is called Whispering Truth to Power.
Behind-the-scenes footage shows Madonsela’s fight for justice for ordinary South Africans. As Public Protector for South Africa, Thuli Madonsela made an impact. The film has won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, a collection of awards at FESPACO, Luxor African Film Festival and Jozi Film Festival.
Madonsela has become a celebrated name for many in South Africa, after she managed to successfully challenge former SA President, Jacob Zuma, on his illegal use of state funds. “In other countries, people don’t know who the ombudsman is,” Madonsela’s son, Wantu explains, “If the government is doing their job properly, then the ombudsman is not this celebrated figure who is fighting the good fight, because there shouldn’t be that fight.” The documentary is filmmaker, Shameela Seedat’s first ever release. The documentary on Madonsela is available to stream at Showmax.
Read more: https://briefly.co.za/35068-award-winning-documentary-thuli-madonsela-officially-out.html

UAE finally free Osama al-Najjar after detaining more than five years.

August 9, 2019

Osama Al-Najjar remained in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: activist’s Twitter account

On 9 August 2019 Global Voices reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed activist and political prisoner Osama al-Najjar after detaining him for more than five years. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/political-prisoners-in-the-emirats-are-detained-indefinitely-even-after-release-date/]

”Two other detainees, Badr al-Bahri and Othman al-Shehi, whose initial sentences expired in April 2017 and July 2018 respectively, have also been freed”, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said in a statement. Al-Bahri and al-Shehi were arrested over their links to al-Islah, which was a legally registered Islamist political movement in the UAE before it was banned by authorities in 2014.

Many political prisoners remain in detention in the UAE, despite repeated calls from human rights groups for their release. Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence over comments he posted online. Prior to his arrest in March 2017, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE, including Osama al-Najjar. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a ten-year jail sentence over tweets critical of the UAE authorities. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]

UAE frees activist Osama al-Najjar after 5 years in detention

Gladys Mmari is African Human Rights Defender of the Month (July)

August 8, 2019

On 7 August 2019 DefendDefenders’ blog annouinced that Gladys Mmari, Tanzania, was chosen as Human Rights Defender of the Month July 2019:

Gladys Mmari is a driven Tanzanian human rights defender (HRD), and the founder of MAFGE (Male Advocacy For Gender Equality) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on women empowerment through educating both women and men. “So much of the work that I do is cultural conversation. We have grown up talking about these issues among women, but now, I have to work with men as well – making it more challenging,” Mmari stresses. She fosters the idea that male voices should be heard, and educated, in women’s rights, and that it is important to establish an equitable understanding between the genders, while breaking down gender stereotypes. “We need to stop romanticising the idea of women empowerment, and co-empower one another to achieve the goals of an equal world,” Mmari affirms.

After obtaining a law degree, she worked as a human rights researcher in Tanzania, with a focus on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and indigenous rights. Then, she worked for AfricAid, an NGO specialised in cultivating leadership in young women and girls. She recalls a young boy who, following one of her sessions, asked her why he could not participate in the dialogues. He also wanted to boost women and girls’ rights. “It was a turning point for me,” Mmari says. “The time has come to work together and empower each other to revisit the many socio-cultural constraints that have stopped us from equality.” Her organisation MAFGE was hereby born.

She pinpoints numerous challenges faced in her work. “It is challenging to mobilise men to join, to ensure impact to women empowerment.” Furthermore, “most organisations that deal with women empowerment want to fund women organisations. And they do not want to see men in women organisations.”

She also points out the political situation in Tanzania as a great hurdle. Political rallies in the state deviate and misconceive the importance of HRDs, putting them at risk. As she expresses a sincere concern for Tanzanian HRDs, she mentions that the government is currently registering all NGOs under a single entity. “Here there is potential importance of this initiative, as this could be used for something productive such as acting as a more centralised human rights platform allowing more structured approaches, information passage, and funding opportunities. It is a step forward, unless it is a political interest”.

Gladys will continue to fight for women’s rights. “Women are born into unequal societies, and their achievements are unacknowledged and their potential left untapped [..] I can imagine my children and grandchildren living in a world with equal rights, and that they’ll get the opportunities and securities that I missed as a woman. That’s what keeps me going.”

Through MAFGE, she is also running a crowdfunding campaign, to strengthen gender equality in Tanzania.

Human Rights Defender of the Month (July 2019): Gladys Mmari

New documentary series highlights the struggle of women human rights in Vietnam

August 7, 2019

A new series of video interviews highlights the perspectives and struggles of human rights women in Vietnam.

The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defenders-in-vietnam/

Other women including social activist and blogger Tran Thi Nga, who is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, have also been seriously injured following physical attacks, often conducted by hired men. Tran Thi Nga’s attack was documented and posted on Youtube with recordings of her being wheeled into a hospital accompanied by her two young children. According to family reports, Tran Thi Nga has been subjected to both physical and psychological harassment after her arrest, receiving death threats and beatings from a cellmate.

According to the 88 Project database, there are currently more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with over 30 identifying as female. Bloggers and journalists are frequently arrested and charged for “activities attempting to overthrow the state” or “conducting propaganda against the state”. According to Amnesty International, the Vietnamese government has been conducting a growing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism over the past few years.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a photojournalist and the woman who has served the longest time in prison so far, is expected to be released at the beginning of August.

Journalist Kabendera in Tanzania: now suddenly held on economic charges

August 6, 2019

On 5 August 2019 prosecutors in Tanzania charged freelance journalist Erick Kabendera with money laundering, tax evasion, and assisting an organized crime racket. When he was detained on July 29, the Dar es Salaam police chief said at a press conference that police were investigating Kabendera’s citizenship status.“It seems that for the past week, authorities have been searching for a way to justify their detention of this critical freelance journalist. First, they claimed Erick Kabendera’s citizenship was in question, today they have leveled drastically different charges, which call into question their motive for holding him,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against Kabendera and Tanzania should end its practice of retaliating against critical voices.”.. Under Tanzania’s Criminal Procedure Act, people accused of money laundering do not qualify for bail. Kabendera could remain in detention for the duration of his trial, Jones Sendodo, one of the lawyers representing the journalist, told CPJ. If convicted of assisting a criminal racket, Kabendera could be jailed for up to15 years.

Since his arrest, authorities have searched the journalist’s home at least twice, confiscated his passport and other documents, and questioned his mother, according to media reports. In addition to being interrogated about his citizenship, Kabendera was also questioned on allegations of sedition and cybercrime offences, according to the BBC and other reports. In a statement last week, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said that Kabendera’s rights to due process had been violated, as police moved him from station to station after arrest, denying him access to legal representation and his family. In a video posted to Twitter today, Jebra Kambole, who is also representing Kabendera, said the journalist has not yet been questioned for the crimes on the charge sheet, adding, “It is journalism work that has brought Erick here.” Kabendera will be detained at Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam until August 19, when the next hearing in his case is scheduled, his lawyer, Sendodo, said.

https://cpj.org/2019/08/tanzania-switches-track-charges-kabendera-with-eco.php