Archive for the 'Human Rights Defenders' Category

List of Lawyers Imprisoned in Iran for Defending Human Rights

June 24, 2020

On 23 June 2020 the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) published under the title “No Lawyers, No Justice” a list of lawyers imprisoned in Iran for defending Human Rights Defenders. The adagium “utopia is a world without lawyers” clealry does not apply to Iran:

At least nine known cases of attorneys that have been arrested, charged with national security-related crimes, and/or banned from practicing law in the last two years. In addition to the list below, CHRI maintains this regularly updated list of lawyers known to have been imprisoned in Iran for their work defending the law.

Payam Derafshan: Held incommunicado at an unknown location since his arrest in June 2020 on unannounced charges. In May 2020, he was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence for“insulting the supreme leader,” and suspended from practicing law for two years.

Soheila Hejab: Held at Gharchak Prison since May 2020, serving an 18-year prison sentence, five of which she must serve before becoming eligible for parole for “forming a group for women’s rights.”

Nasrin Sotoudeh: Detained in June 2018 and sentenced to 38 years in prison, 12 years of which she must serve before becoming eligible for parole. Among her charges were “encouraging prostitution” for advocating against compulsory hijab. Previously she served three years in prison for “acting against national security” and “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”

Mohammad Najafi: Imprisoned for demanding accountability for deaths in detention and facing new unspecified charges, he was sentenced in 2019 to 13 years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader,” and “collaborating with enemy states,” in addition to a four-year prison sentence in 2018. He must serve 10 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Amirsalar Davoudi: Behind bars since November 2018, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 11 lashes. He will be eligible for release after serving 15 years under the charge of forming “an illegal group,” which was a news channel for lawyers on the Telegram messaging app.

Arash Keykhosravi, who, along with fellow lawyer Ghasem Sholeh Sa’di, was sentenced to six years in prison but later acquitted, is facing new charges of “publishing falsehoods” for writing an article criticizing the imprisonment of attorney Mohammad Najafi.

Abdolfattah Soltani, who spent more than seven years behind bars for defending political prisoners, and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who was sentenced in 2012 to nine years in prison but released on furlough in 2013, are both banned from practicing law.

The assault on rights lawyers in Iran has been occurring amid a backdrop of two major changes to the legal process that have facilitated the authorities’ ability to convict defendants in politically motivated prosecutions on unsubstantiated charges.

In January 2018, Iranian courts began citing the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulationsas justification for forcing defendants to choose their legal counsel from a court-approved list. The note also allows a delay in an individual’s access to counsel in cases involving “national security” charges, which are used against perceived critics of the state.

In a second blow to due process, in November 2019, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi ruled that Appeal Courts could issue verdicts without the presence of defendants and their attorneys, rendering the appeal process effectively meaningless.

If the head of the judiciary can stop lawyers from practicing, it’s time to say goodbye to this profession,” Sotoudeh said in 2018. She was arrested two months after making the comments and has been behind bars ever since. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nasrin-sotoudeh/]

https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2020/06/no-lawyers-no-justice-attorneys-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/

Human Rights Foundation starts interview series: “Dissidents and Dictators” with Srdja Popovic

June 23, 2020

Human Rights Foundation


The first episode features Serbian protest organizer and peaceful revolutionary Srdja Popovic.

In just a few years, Srdja transformed from a college student in a band to the leader of a national movement that ended the fearsome dictatorship of Slobodan Milošević with clever tactics and movement building, all without a single shot fired. After the tyrant’s fall, Srdja went on to serve in Serbia’s National Assembly and later launched an organization called CANVAS that teaches the art of protest to democracy activists around the world. He is the author of Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World.

HRF chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein (@Gladstein) sat down with Srdja to discuss: How do you scale a movement of one up to millions of people? How do you overcome a regime that holds all the power and weapons? Why are peaceful revolutions much more successful than violent ones? Why are street movements like start-ups? Is it possible to sustain a movement during a global pandemic? How are protest movements around the world reacting to their new twin enemies, the coronavirus and the rise of authoritarianism?

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/human-rights-foundation-announces-its-first-10-freedom-fellows/]

You can listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and you can watch the video versions on Youtube

“HRCnet” explained

June 23, 2020

HRCnet was established in 2006 to enhance NGO engagement with the Human Rights Council and to strengthen the Council’s impact and influence on the ground. Since then, HRCnet members working in coordination and solidarity, or as a network as a whole, have contributed significantly to some of the most important initiatives and outputs of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.

HRCnet’s membership comprises 16 NGOs and organisations working at the international level and across almost all regions:

Africa

  • African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (The Gambia)
  • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) (Uganda)
  • Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (Zimbabwe)
  • West African Human Rights Defenders Network (Togo)

Asia-Pacific

  • Asian Legal Resource Centre (Hong Kong, China)
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA) (Thailand)
  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (India)
  • Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)

Latin America

  • Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) (Argentina)
  • Conectas Direitos Humanos (Brazil)

Middle East and North Africa

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (Egypt)
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Egypt)

International

  • CIVICUS (South Africa)
  • Human Rights Watch (USA)
  • International Service for Human Rights (Switzerland)
  • Open Society Foundations (USA)

HRCnet members have substantially shaped debates and made influential policy proposals on country situations, as well as thematic and institutional issues. HRCnet works to:

  • Safeguard civil society:  through securing actions by key actors that have, in a number of cases, assisted in the release of human rights defenders from detention or in alleviating pressure on NGOs.
  • Enhance access: by assisting rights holders from the Global South in engaging with the international human rights system and strengthening capacity to influence States, and harness civil society, from all regions.
  • Amplify impact: by facilitating coordination and collaboration between international and regional NGOs.
  • Promote accountability: seeking the establishment of commissions of inquiry or other independent expert mechanisms to investigate and promote accountability for gross human rights violations.
  • Enhance scrutiny: through the mandating of new Special Procedures to monitor human rights and document violations.
  • Strengthen protection:  through the establishment of new Special Procedures and other mechanisms.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/01/welcoming-the-new-year-with-civil-society-in-geneva/

For more information, please contact Fabiana Leibl, HRCnet Coordinator, f.leibl@ishr.ch

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrcnet

Trump now starts dismanteling the Open Technology Fund

June 23, 2020

Raphael Mimoun wrote in Newsweek of 22 June 2020 an opinion piece “Dictators are Besieging Internet Freedom—and Trump Just Opened the Gates”. It is a detailed piece but worth reading:

raph-m

Last week, the Trump administration started dismantling one of the US government’s most impactful agencies, the Open Technology Fund, which supports projects to counteract repressive censorship and surveillance around the world.

The Open Technology Fund, or OTF, is relatively new, founded in 2012 as a program of the government-backed Radio Free Asia. In 2019, it became an independent non-profit reporting to the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Since its founding, the organization has funded dozens of projects now part of the toolkit of millions of rights advocates and journalists around the world. But OTF is now under attack: the new leadership of USAGM, appointed just weeks ago, fired the leadership of all USAGM entities, including OTF, dismissed OTF’s independent and bipartisan board of directors, and is threatening to hollow out OTF altogether….

Many of those tools help those who most need it, where surveillance, censorship, and repression is most acute. Just last month, Delta Chat declined a request for user data from Russia’s communication regulator—because the security architecture developed with OTF support meant it did not have any data to handover. FreeWechat, which publishes posts censored by the Chinese government on the app WeChat, has been visited over 7 million times by Chinese-speakers. Dozens more OTF-funded tools enable millions to evade surveillance by autocratic governments and access the open internet, from Cuba to Hong Kong and Iran.

OTF’s work is critical to human rights defenders and journalists, but it brings privacy and security far beyond those groups. OTF only supports open-source projects, meaning that the code used must be available for anyone to view and reuse……….

But OTF’s work on internet freedom isn’t limited to funding technology development. The organization takes a holistic approach to internet freedom, providing life-saving training and capacity-building to groups directly targeted by cyberattacks, harassment, and violence: LGBTQI advocates in Indonesia, journalists in Mexico, civic activists in Belarus, or exiled Tibetan organizations. OTF also funds events bringing together researchers, technologists, policy-makers, and advocates. Those gatherings—whether global like the Internet Freedom Festival or focused on specific countries or regions like the Iran Cyber Dialogue, the Vietnam Cyber Dialogue, or the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa–have been transformative. They have helped build a tight community in a space where trust is hard to achieve. Without such events, many of the projects, tools, and collaborations to circumvent censorship and counter surveillance would not exist.

See also: https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/23/21300424/open-technology-fund-usagm-circumvention-tools-china-censorship-michael-pack

https://www.newsweek.com/open-technology-fund-trump-dismantling-1512614

Zambian NGO establishes fund to assist human Rights defenders

June 23, 2020

On 23 June 2020 Ulande Nkomesha reported in News Diggers that the Alliance for Community Action (ACA) has partnered with like-minded organisations and individual activists to set up a legal and humanitarian fund for human rights defenders in Zambia. In a statement issued by (ACA) information and advocacy officer Jimmy Maliseni, the NGO explained that the fund had been necessitated by the continued shrinking space for civic actors, and that the detention of critical voices had prompted well-wishers to partner with ACA to offer financial and material support to human rights advocates.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/09/human-rights-defender-linda-kasonde-creates-new-ngo-in-zambia/

https://diggers.news/local/2020/06/23/aca-establishes-human-rights-fund-to-strengthen-civic-activism/

AI and HRW address criminal prosecution of Emir-Usein Kuku, Ethnic Crimean Tatar Human Rights Defender and His Five Co-defendants

June 22, 2020

On 19 June 2020 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International addressed a joint letter to Russia’s Prosecutor General

….We write to you to express our concern about the unfounded criminal prosecution and imprisonment of Emir-Usein Kuku, an ethnic Crimean Tatar human rights defender from Crimea, and his five co-defendants – Muslim Aliev, Vadim Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov. They were convicted and sentenced on 12 November 2019 to prison terms ranging from seven to 19 years on groundless terror-related charges. On 22 June 2020, their appeal against the decision will be considered by the Military Court of Appeals.

All six men should be immediately and unconditionally released, with their convictions and sentences quashed, and we call on you to take all necessary measures in your authority to ensure this happens. This case exemplifies the persecution of human rights defenders and other activists in Crimea.

Amnesty International considers Emir-Usein Kuku, who has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, and all his co-defendants prisoners of conscience.

The terrorism-related charges against Emir-Usein Kuku and his co-defendants stem from accusations of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization banned as “terrorist” in the Russian Federation (Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), but not in Ukraine. All six have also been accused of conspiring to seize power by violent means (Article 278 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

…..

Emir-Usein Kuku is a member of the Crimean Human Rights Contact Group – a grassroots initiative created to monitor investigations into enforced disappearances in Crimea. As a human rights defender, Emir-Usein Kuku was continually harassed and threatened by the Russian authorities prior to the launch of the criminal proceedings against him, an indication that his prosecution is politically motivated and intended to stop his legitimate human rights activities.

When Emir-Usein Kuku joined the Crimean Human Rights Contact Group in October 2014, his activities soon brought him to the attention of the FSB, and according to him one of their officers unsuccessfully tried to recruit him as an informant on several occasions. The officer allegedly threatened Emir-Usein Kuku with reprisals, including criminal prosecution, for his refusal to cooperate.

On the morning of 20 April 2015, several FSB officers attacked Emir-Usein Kuku from behind while he was on his way to work, and severely beat him. They repeatedly kicked and punched him in the head, torso and kidney area. Then, in front of witnesses, they placed him in a vehicle and drove him to the local FSB headquarters where he was interrogated. He was later released without charge and they brought him back to his house.

On 11 February 2016, FSB officers arrested Emir-Usein Kuku at his house and detained him for questioning. On 12 February, Emir-Usein Kuku was charged under Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“membership of a terrorist organization”) and placed on remand. Kuku has been in detention since that date – over four years and four months.

On the same day, the FSB detained Muslim Aliev, as well as Vadim Siruk and Enver Bekirov, who are accused of membership of the same group. On 18 April 2016, the FSB detained Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov as part of the investigation of the same case. All six deny any involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and the charges against them.

…… Under international fair trial norms, civilians should not be tried before military courts. We call on you to take all necessary steps to address the human rights violations suffered by Emir- Usein Kuku and his co-defendants, Muslim Aliev, Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov, including harassment, their transfer from Crimea to the Russian Federation in violation of the international humanitarian law, and their ultimate unsound and wrongful conviction following an unfair trial. Emir-Usein Kuku and his five co-defendants must be immediately and unconditionally released, with their convictions and sentences quashed.

Marie Struthers, Director, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Amnesty International

Hugh Williamson, Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/22/joint-letter-human-rights-watch-and-amnesty-international-russias-prosecutor

EXILE SHALL NOT SILENCE US!

June 22, 2020

On 19 June, 2020 AfricanDefenders launched a podcast series on African human rights defenders in exile  

“If you have to leave, leave. But refuse to keep quiet. Silencing you is what all oppressive regimes want. Don’t stop defending others because you are outside your country. Defending others is defending ourselves.”  Interview with an African HRD in exile  

Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Africa face grave risks in conducting their invaluable work of promoting the rights of others, protecting the environment, and holding the powerful to account. All too often, they are forced to leave their homes to seek protection, after threats, surveillance, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture, and targeting of colleagues and family members.

Exile impacts every aspect of a person’s life, and no experience of exile is the same. Exiled HRDs face serious challenges in their human rights work, such as losing legitimacy in the eyes of their government and their communities, collecting information remotely in a safe manner, and accessing funding. Many exiled HRDs also continue to face security concerns, worry about the safety of colleagues and family members in their country of origin, and struggle with socio-economic integration in their host country. Exile can also take a toll on their wellbeing and family dynamics.

Yet, the majority of exiled HRDs continue their human rights work, disseminating the information received by monitors on the ground through regional and international advocacy and campaigning, mobilising diaspora communities, and at times (re-)establishing organisations in exile. If authoritarian governments, corrupt leaders, and violent militia groups aimed to silence HRDs by forcing them into exile, their strategy has largely failed.

Based on research that collected the testimonies of more than 120 HRDs, in-depth case studies, and live interviews with four exiled HRDs, Exile Shall Not Silence Us is a podcast series that highlights the professional, security, socio-economic, and psychosocial challenges of HRDs in exile in Africa, but most of all their achievements and resilience strategies.

In episode 1, Cristina Orsini, Senior Programme Officer at AfricanDefenders, gives an overview of the main findings of the research on the situation of African HRDs in exile. Listen to Episode 1

EU’s Ugandan Human Rights Defenders Award 2020 to Aimé Moninga

June 19, 2020

The EU and Norway – on 18 June 2020 – presented their annual Human Rights Defenders Award in Uganda to Mr. Aimé Moninga, in recognition of his ground-breaking work with male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and abuse. Although it is a national award and therefoe does not figure in THF’s Digest of international human rights awards [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest], I always refer to them as they are an example of ‘good practice’ by diplomatic missions [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/23/two-ugandans-get-eu-human-rights-award-in-uganda/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/01/13/quick-reminder-of-the-eu-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/].

Aimé Moninga was nominated for the Human Rights Defenders Award due to his work in support of male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and his leadership of Men of Hope, a survivors’ association. He has put this difficult and sensitive issue on the policy agenda in an unprecedented way, both on a national and international level, and he is developing a generation of survivors who are prepared to testify in public to their experiences. He was chosen as this year’s award winner from among 50 nominations received from members of the public in Uganda.

Only a few years ago, the problems faced by male victims of sexual violence were barely discussed, even in human rights circles. Being a refugee and a violence survivor himself, Aimé Moninga has managed to mobilise many other survivors to speak. His advocacy efforts have also yielded results. For example, the Ugandan Police Force training curricula now includes references to both female and male victims of sexual abuse and violence. He is also advocating for further legislative changes.

Responding to the announcement, Aimé Moninga said, “This prize is for me and all the survivors of sexual violence, a consideration and a recognition of our struggle against impunity.”

Being an activist is not easy but being a refugee human rights activist in an area of rights that sometimes is not even recognised or acknowledged is indeed the sharp end of activism”, said Mr. Per Lindgärde, the Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda speaking at today’s award ceremony in Kampala.

Mr Attilio Pacifici, Ambassador of the European Union to Uganda also spoke at this morning’s award ceremony. “Human rights are not advanced by themselves, it takes the courage and dedication of women and men, organisations and institutions to advance this agenda and ensure that rights become a lived reality for everyone in society”.

The Human Rights Defenders Award is presented every year by the European Union and Norway to recognise an outstanding contribution by a human rights defender active in Uganda. This year’s award, which is in its 9th year, is also given in memory of the late Hon. Med Kaggwa [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/24/ugandan-human-rights-commissioner-med-kaggwa-dies/].

Press Release: Conflict survivor Aimé Moninga wins EU Human Rights Defenders Award 2020

Breaking: EU Court rules against Hungary’s foreign funding law

June 19, 2020

The EU Reporterof 19 June 2020 comes with the good news that on 18 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized that Hungary’s 2017 law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad” (i.e. receiving foreign funds) unduly restricts the freedom of movement of capitals within the European Union (EU) and amounts to unjustified interference with fundamental rights, including respect for private and family life, protection of personal data and freedom of association, as well citizens’ right to participate in public life. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes this decision and hopes it will put an end to the Hungarian government’s constant attempts to delegitimise civil society organisations and impede their work.

It concerns decision (Case C-78/18, European Commission v. Hungary, Transparency of Associations).

This decision is more than welcome! It strongly asserts that stigmatizing and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union,” said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), member organisation of FIDH and of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network. “Today’s ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole. It is a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.”

Hungary should now withdraw this anti-NGO law and conform with the CJEU’s decision,” added OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

https://www.eureporter.co/eu-2/2020/06/19/eus-top-court-rules-that-hungarys-anti-ngo-law-unduly-restricts-fundamental-rights

Intimidating break-in into the house of Turkish human rights defender Eren Keskin

June 18, 2020

Unknown perpetrators broke into Human Rights Association (İHD) Co-Chair Eren Keskin‘s house yesterday (June 16) to “threaten and intimidate her”, the association has said in a written statement.

Pretending to be burglars, the perpetrators ransacked the house but did not steal anything, according to the statement. The incident happened when Keskin was not at home and the police came to the house and made examinations. It was found after the police’s examination that a ring was taken and left on the table in the living room in what the İHD said was “a message” to the lawyer.

The incident was directly aimed at “threatening and intimidating” Keskin, according to the association. “She is known for clearly and fearlessly expressing her thoughts. For this reason, she often faces investigations and cases that we can call ‘judicial harassment.

“Our association will make the necessary applications nationally and internationally and will closely pursue the case. We remind the government of its duties with regards to the protection of human rights defenders in Turkey and would like to express that the government will directly be responsible for any unfavorableness that may develop.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/eren-keskin-in-turkey-sentenced-to-prison-and-more-to-come/

https://youtu.be/HOk0ykxtU-s

Rights Defender Eren Keskin Deposed over Her Tweets from Five Years Ago

http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/225874-unknown-perpetrators-break-into-rights-defender-eren-keskin-s-house

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/home-human-rights-lawyer-eren-keskin-broken