Archive for the 'human rights' Category

UNHCR dismayed by deportation of Cambodian refugees by Thailand

November 23, 2021

When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), feels the need to speak out publicly – as it did on 22 November 2021 – it must be serious: It said that it deplored Thailand’s deportation of a Cambodian refugee, which occurred only ten days after the authorities deported two other Cambodian refugees. This action contravenes the principle of non-refoulement, which obliges States – including Thailand – not to expel or return people to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.

On 19 November, the Cambodian refugee was arrested. UNHCR immediately notified the authorities of the individual’s refugee status and urged the Government not to return the individual to Cambodia over serious concerns for the safety of the refugee. The refugee was held in a detention centre in Aranyaprathet overnight and deported to Cambodia the following day, on 20 November.

We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution. Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognised Cambodian refugees in Thailand,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

We urge the Royal Thai Government to refrain from deporting recognized refugees and to abide by its international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement. UNHCR continues to offer its full support to the Government in ensuring the protection of those in need in Thailand,” she added.

UNHCR is seeking urgent clarification from the Thai authorities regarding the circumstances leading to this most recent deportation and the fate of those returned in Cambodia. UNHCR exhorts Cambodian authorities to uphold international human rights standards and to allow human rights organisations access to the deportees.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/11/three-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalists-and-two-activists-risk-refoulement-by-thailand/

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2021/11/619ba8da4/unhcr-dismayed-deportation-third-cambodian-refugee-thai-authorities-month.html

The 3 nominees for the 2021 Tulip are known

November 22, 2021

The Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs sponsors since 2008 a human rights award, the Tulip [for more information on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144]

A committee of 5 human rights experts has selected a shortlist of 12 human rights defenders from among the nominees for 2021; since then an independent jury composed of 5 members has select 3 candidates from this shortlist. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will now choose a winner from the three remaining candidates:

Human rights activist and lawyer in Uganda

As a child, he grew up in the epicentre of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces. Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. This is his story.

Nicholas Opiyo
Nicholas Opiyo.

As a human rights lawyer, Ugandan Nicholas Opiyo is not afraid to take on sensitive cases. He challenged the law that gave the police the right to ban public gatherings. He led the campaign for the enactment of a law criminalizing torture and drafted the initial bill that was enacted by parliament in 2012. He, alongside other brave Ugandan activists, successfully challenged Uganda’s anti-gay law in 2014. He has provided legal representation to the gay community in Uganda.

Nicholas is executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an NGO that works to protect civil liberties and improve universal observance of human rights. He defends human rights activists who are being persecuted in Uganda. He also stands up for people who are in trouble with the government and lack the resources to defend themselves. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6743A94B-BA1A-AA2A-AC6C-592EBD981EDA

Surviving war

Nicholas grew up on the outskirts of the northern Ugandan city of Gulu. His village was repeatedly attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that used child soldiers. Unlike many young people abducted into the ranks of the rebels, he survived abductions.  The rebels kidnapped his father and sister, who managed to return after several months in captivity. To avoid being kidnapped, Nicholas walked several kilometres every day so he could sleep in the city. It was safer in a church compound or on the pavement in front of shops than in his village.

Government soldiers detained Nicholas’ father as part of an operation to eliminate traitors. The soldiers took all men 18 and older to a stadium where they were held for days without food. Looking through a crack in the stadium wall, Nicholas could see his father being beaten. Nicholas’ father was released after three days because he was innocent. Unable to forget these events, Nicholas decided to become a lawyer. ‘First I wanted to be a journalist so I could speak about [mistreatment],’ he said in an interview met Buzzfeed News. ‘But I thought … I can go to court and change things.’ 

Nicholas’ work often gets him in trouble with the state. He is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, he was arrested and imprisoned. Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence. He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail. Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer. Even in jail, he used his time to talk to prisoners who sought advice. In fact, he says, his arrests give him the energy to do even more. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/23/ugandan-human-rights-defender-nicholas-opiyo-arrested-like-a-criminal/]

Nunca Más: they had to flee from Nicaragua, but their struggle continues

Banished from Nicaragua, a target of cyberattacks: despite all these setbacks, the activist collective Nunca Más is continuing to work for human rights in Nicaragua. This is their story.

Nunca Más
Nunca Más.

When Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua, his supporters said that there was no longer any reason for us to exist. That human rights work in Nicaragua was a thing of the past. But that can never happen! Anyone who exercises power is capable of abusing it.’ So said human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga in an interview with the Nicaraguan magazine Envío. For 14 years he had been legal adviser of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which combats impunity and human rights violations.

In December 2018 the Ortega government closed CENIDH by force. The human rights defenders on its staff were expelled from Nicaragua. Gonzalo and his colleagues fled to Costa Rica, where they continued their work and in 2019 founded Nicaragua Nunca Más. Nunca Más reports on torture and other human rights violations in Nicaragua, in the interests of justice and to discourage new violations. They offer legal and psychosocial support to victims and their family members, journalists and human rights defenders, and conduct human rights training courses. They also work at international level on behalf of victims of human rights violations. At the moment, justice cannot be sought through the Nicaraguan legal system, as it is under influence of the president. Nonetheless, gathering evidence is crucial to ensure justice for human rights violation in the future.   

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Under pressure

The Nicaraguan government have not been pleased with Nunca Más’ reports, and are subjecting the organisation to severe pressure. Its website has been the target of repeated cyberattacks. Extra digital security measures have enabled the collective to safeguard personal data and sensitive digital information. Despite these difficult conditions, including being forced to live far from their familiar surroundings, its human rights defenders are persisting bravely with their struggle. Gonzalo has not seen his wife or one of his daughters for 18 months. ‘But the time will come. One day I’ll go back,’ he said resolutely in the interview with Envío.

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Mari Davtyan, lawyer in Russia, opposes domestic violence

The Russian police do not always respond to domestic violence complaints. Sometimes their failure to act has fatal results. Lawyer Mari Davtyan has been working for years now to change this situation. This is her story.

Mari Davtyan
Mari Davtyan.

In December 2017 Margarita Gracheva’s husband chopped her hands off with an axe. She had asked the police for help several times in the preceding months – in vain. Mari Davtyan was Margarita’s lawyer. Now Mari is working on the case of three teenage sisters who killed their father on 28 July 2018, when they could no longer bear his many years of physical and sexual abuse. Their mother had reported the violence to the police, but was ignored. Domestic violence is seen in Russia as a ‘family issue’, and outside interference is viewed as meddling, Mari noted in an interview with Voice of America. Mari’s strong defence for the teenage sisters has sparked a debate in Russian society on domestic violence and conservative family values.

Since 2017 domestic violence is no longer a serious offence in Russia, but a misdemeanour. Perpetrators are fined, have to do community service or are served with a training order. They are only taken to court in cases of repeated violence or serious injuries. This law is meant to preserve the ‘unity of the family’; according to this logic, fathers don’t belong in jail. Mari has been fighting for years now to change this law, ‘because it has been proven dangerous for the safety of thousands of women in Russia’, Mari said in an interview with Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Center in Moskou. Fighting and winning cases like this has ‘helped the government understand that we are not dealing with violence in the right way,’ said Mari in an interview with the Washington Post. Growing numbers of people are putting pressure on the courts and government to reflect on how they are treating victims.

Mari is also the head and legal expert of the Consortium of Women’s NGOs, which works to protect victims of domestic violence in Russia. The organisation gives courses on women’s rights to lawyers and the police and helps victims with their legal cases. ‘We have more than 100 lawyers working with us today, this year we have more than 150 cases, and I think about 1,000 consultations with individual women,’ said Mari in an interview with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). She sees that women are becoming more confident and more often have the courage to seek her out. ‘They are finding the power to ask for help and they’re starting to understand what a healthy relationship should look like,’ she said in her interview with Voice of America.  

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/weblog

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/human-rights-tulip/shortlist-of-candidates-for-human-rights-tulip-2021

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja goes on hunger strike after ban on family calls

November 17, 2021

Jailed Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has started a hunger strike after being informed that he has been banned from receiving calls from family, his daughter Zaynab said on Tuesday 16 November 2021.

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has started a hunger strike today. The prison administration informed him that he is not allowed to make any calls. Having had no visitation rights for the past two years, these calls were his only communication with us,” Zaynab al-Khawaja wrote on Twitter.

Khawaja, who turned 60 in April, is a prominent human rights defender and the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. He has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4d45e316-c636-4d02-852d-7bfc2b08b78d

His case was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. Tens of thousands of people poured out onto the streets at the time, calling for democratic reforms, an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim population and, eventually, the end of the 245-year rule of the Khalifa monarchy.

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, has called for the release of Khawaja on his 60th birthday, but her calls have been unheeded. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/martin-ennals-award-laureates-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-their-imprisoned-fellow-award-winners/

“He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

Earlier this year, Khawaja’s other daughter, Maryam, told Middle East Eye that his family’s access to him had been sporadic.

You can never expect what’s going to happen; you might have a call this week but then next week there isn’t a call. So nothing is ever set in stone,” she said during an interview in February.

Maryam has herself become one of the most prominent voices internationally for the Bahraini democracy movement. It’s a profile that has forced her to live in exile due to a sentence she received in absentia for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

What we see today is what you could call a stalemate, but it goes beyond that because it’s a situation that cannot continue the way that is it. There is absolute control over everything with regards to public space, access to freedoms and so on,” she said at the time.

A report compiled in February by the London-based campaign group Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy for the 10th anniversary of the uprising said that, since 2011, at least 51 people had been sentenced to death in Bahrain.

According to the report, mass trials have become “commonplace” in the country, with 167 people sentenced in a single day in February 2019. Hundreds of activists have seen their citizenship stripped by the kingdom, with an estimated 300 currently denaturalised.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/bahrain-jailed-activist-abdulhadi-khawaja-hunger-strike-ban-family-calls

Interpol: UAE Major General and Chinese Public Security Official are not good candidates for Interpol!

November 16, 2021

INTERPOL is going to have its General Assembly on the 23 – 24 November 2021 in Lyon. The election of both its President and a member of the Executive Committee look terrible. Already in 2017 there was a problem: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/20/interpol-headed-by-chinese-police-official-human-rights-defenders-fearsome/. (The former chairman of Interpol Meng Hongwei was also a ministry of public security official, serving as vice-minister. However, Meng’s Interpol term ended prematurely in 2018 when he disappeared during a visit to China and was later jailed for 13 years on bribery charges, amid Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign targeting millions of officials.)

Several prominent members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have warned that the appointment of the Emirati official Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi to the position of president of Interpol would “undermine the mission and reputation” of the global police organisation. In a letter sent to the European Commission president, three MEPs urged European Union (EU) states to elect an Interpol chief that comes “from a country with an established criminal justice system and longstanding respect for human rights”.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), the French League for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights are also concerned about the candidacy of Major General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi call to reject him.

Ahmed Al-Raisi has been Inspector General of the UAE’s Interior Ministry since 2015 and is also in charge of the UAE police force. Under his leadership, forces have carried out repeated and systematic arbitrary detentions and tortured prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders with complete impunity. One of the most emblematic cases concerns human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Winner of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award and member of the GCHR steering committee, Ahmed Mansour has been imprisoned since March 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in 2018 for, according to the authorities, criticising the Emirati government and tarnishing his country’s image on social networks. Since 2017, he has been held in solitary confinement in Al-Sadr prison, in a 4m2 cell, without access to medical, hygiene, water or sanitary facilities. The inhumane conditions of Ahmed Mansour’s imprisonment have been the subject of several appeals without any favourable response from the Emirati authorities. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]

According to reports of several NGOs, torture is used systematically in detention centres in order to obtain confessions of guilt or testimonies against other detainees, particularly in the prisons of Al-Razeen, Al-Wathba and Al-Sadr. In addition, some prisons, such as Al-Awair prison and the Al-Barsha police detention centre, are overcrowded and unsanitary, making it extremely difficult to comply with social distancing and recommended hygiene practices in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic….In addition, prisoners are regularly denied medication and medical treatment for pre-existing health problems or illnesses developed during detention. Several UN experts have condemned these practices and expressed their concerns to the UAE authorities in recent years, but the authorities have not changed their practices.

Such inhumane treatment is recurrent in the UAE and is in flagrant contravention of international law and the Nelson Mandela Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners. While Major General Al-Raisi is, by virtue of his office, responsible for investigating complaints of abuse by the police and security forces in his country, none have been conclusively investigated. In the absence of any enforceable accountability mechanisms in the UAE, the GCHR has filed a complaint in France, against General Major Al-Raisi for acts of torture. Unfortunately, Interpol did not listen: https://www.businessinsider.com/interpol-president-uae-official-accused-of-torture-elected-2021-11

Another problematic candidate is Hu Binchen, the deputy director-general of the Chinese Ministry of international cooperation department, who is one of three candidates vying for two seats as Asia delegates on the committee.

The 13-member executive committee oversees the work of Interpol’s general secretariat and helps set future policy. Interpol controls a number of databases containing identifying details of people and property, which assist in global policing. It also operates the system of red notices, which are requests “to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition”.

However, there are long-running concerns over governments or authorities misusing the system to track down dissidents. While there are clear rules against the use of red notices on refugees, high-profile cases have shown countries are repeatedly able to obtain red notices, against Interpol policy.

Activists and advocacy groups, as well as 50 members of an international cross-party group of legislators, the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, have lodged their objections at Hu’s potential election to the committee, noting alleged attempts by China to use the red notice system to target exiled Uyghur activists.

“By electing Hu Binchen to the executive committee, the general assembly would be giving a green light to the PRC government to continue their misuse of Interpol and would place the tens of thousands of Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Chinese dissidents living abroad at even graver risk,” said the letter from the Alliance, citing the July detention of Uyghur activist Idris Hassan in Morocco.

Allowing Interpol to be used as a vehicle for the PRC government’s repressive policies does great harm to its international standing.”

The human rights group Safeguard Defenders said the Chinese ministry’s international cooperation department, in which Hu is a senior official, oversaw operations named Sky Net and Fox Hunt, chasing down fugitives overseas. It alleged “teams were sent by the ministry “to intimidate and harass ethnic Chinese to force them to return to China ‘voluntarily’”. In a report also released on Monday, Safeguard Defenders said there had been a tenfold increase in the issuance of Chinese red notices between 2000 and 2020.

A later development is that 259 organizations, call on INTERPOL to immediately ban the Myanmar military junta from representing Myanmar as a member of INTERPOL. They demand that the military junta is excluded from the upcoming 89th INTERPOL General Assembly and all benefits and future cooperation that membership entails. [see: https://www.forum-asia.org/?p=36143]

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/litigation/open-letter-to-the-representatives-of-the-member-states-of-the

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/eu-lawmakers-say-uae-police-chief-would-undermine-interpols-reputation

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/15/chinese-official-seeks-interpol-role-sparking-fears-for-dissidents

https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/china-s-nominee-to-interpol-committee-opposed-by-lawmakers-from-20-countries-121111600231_1.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/20/uae-nominee-interpol-ahmed-naser-al-raisi-torture-claims

https://www.thestar.com/news/world/europe/2021/11/22/interpol-election-raises-rights-concerns-about-fair-policing.html

Lawlor calls on Kyrgyzstan to stop harassment of human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev

November 12, 2021

Kyrgyzstan must investigate death threats against human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev instead of harassing him for making complaints against the police, said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders “It is extremely disturbing that authorities began laying criminal charges against Mr. Ruziev after he exposed police torture and ineffectiveness, when they should actually be investigating the death threats made against him,”

As director of the non-governmental human rights organisation Ventus, Ruziev defends victims of torture, domestic violence, and discrimination. In 2019, a police investigator, whom Ruziev exposed for committing torture, reportedly threatened to kill him. When the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor’s Office failed to investigate the threats, Ruziev took them to court, only to find himself facing seven criminal charges.

“Kyrgyz authorities must give Mr. Ruziev a fair trial and effectively investigate all allegations of threats and ill-treatment against him and other human rights defenders,” she said. The next hearing on Mr. Ruziev’s case will be on 11 November 2021.

Lawlor said she was also disturbed by reports that Mr. Ruziev was ill-treated while held in detention for 48 hours in May 2020, and denied access to his lawyer.

“Now I hear that his health is deteriorating, and complaints to the authorities about violations committed against him continue to fall on deaf ears,” she added.

In a report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year on threats and killings of human rights defenders, Lawlor warned: “when a human rights defender receives death threats, swift action must be taken to prevent the threats from escalating. Impunity fuels more murders.”

Lawlor is in contact with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan on this issue, and stressed that “Kyrgyzstan must do better to safeguard the environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work.”

Her call was endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

https://www.miragenews.com/investigate-death-threats-against-human-rights-664761/

It had to happen: Russian Authorities Move to Shut Down Memorial

November 12, 2021
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial. 
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial.  © 2012 Yulia Klimova/Memorial

On 12 November 2021Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division Human RightsWatch, reported that the Russian authorities have moved to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent rights organization, an outrageous assault on the jugular of Russia’s civil society.

Memorial, which defends human rights, works to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and provides a platform for open debate, has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society.[ the winners of not less than 7 human rights awards, see : https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407]

On November 11, International Memorial received a letter from Russia’s Supreme Court stating that the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a law suit seeking their liquidation over repeated violations of the country’s legislation on “foreign agents.”

A court date to hear the prosecutor’s case is set for November 25. According to Memorial, the alleged violations pertain to repeated fines against the organization for failure to mark some of its materials — including event announcements and social media posts — with the toxic and false “foreign agent” label, one of the pernicious requirements of the “foreign agents” law.

On November 12, Memorial Human Rights Center received information from the Moscow City Court that the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office filed a similar suit against them and a court hearing was pending.  

For nearly a decade, Russian authorities have used the repressive legislation on “foreign agents” to restrict space for civic activity and penalize critics, including human rights groups. Last year parliament adopted new laws harshening the “foreign agent” law and expanding it in ways that could apply to just about any public critic or activist. The amendments were but a fraction of a slew of repressive laws adopted in the past year aimed at shutting down criticism and debate. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/foreign-agent-law/

The number of groups and individuals authorities have designated as “foreign agents” has soared in recent months. This week the Justice Ministry included on the foreign agent registry the Russian LGBT Network, one of Russia’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights groups, which had worked to evacuate dozens of LGBT people from Chechnya. The ministry also listed Ivan Pavlov, a leading human rights lawyer, and four of his colleagues, as “foreign agent-foreign media.” See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/ngo-lgbt-network-and-5-human-rights-lawyers-branded-foreign-agents-in-russia/

Even against this backdrop, to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s human rights giants, is a new Rubicon crossed in the government’s campaign to stifle independent voices.

This move against Memorial is a political act of retaliation against human rights defenders. Russian authorities should withdraw the suits against Memorial immediately, and heed a long-standing call to repeal the legislation on “foreign agents” and end their crackdown on independent groups and activists.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/12/russian-authorities-move-shut-down-human-rights-giant#

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/11/17/memory-and-memorial-will-prevail-a75588

Thomson Reuters Foundation’s conference 2021 focuses on the protection of free media and civil liberties

November 11, 2021

Nobel Peace Laureate Maria Ressa, Economist Jeffrey Sachs and Philanthropist Craig Newmark Amongst Speakers To Address World-leading Human Rights Forum Thomson Reuters Foundation is to host a two-day conference on 17 and 18 November focused on a post-pandemic roadmap to inclusive growth and the protection of free media and civil liberties. Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, and an Afghan reporter who fled the Taliban, Zahra Joya, will join a distinguished line-up of speakers that also includes world-renowned Professor of Economics Jeffrey Sachs, Executive Director of Aspen Digital Vivian Schiller and founder of craigslist, philanthropist Craig Newmark. 

They will join human rights defenders, innovators, media experts, policymakers and business leaders at the online forum, which brings together thousands of delegates from around the world. The event comes at a critical juncture of the COVID-19 crisis and the UN climate summit, and will address how the pandemic has deepened longstanding social and economic inequalities, has revitalised the drive for a sustainable future and has triggered an alarming spike in media freedom and human rights violations.

With 18 hours of live-streamed talks, plenaries and insight sessions, leading experts from a variety of disciplines will share new insights on shifting the post-pandemic economy onto a more inclusive and sustainable path, one built on the principles of human rights, media freedom and climate justice. They will weigh in on cutting-edge solutions to tackle the world’s most consequential challenges, including the business case for economic inclusion, the path to zero emissions, the human cost of internet shutdowns and a legal network for journalists at risk.

This year’s diverse speakers also include Dr Hilda C. Heine, Senator and former President of the Marshall Islands; Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, Mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown; Zahra Joya, Journalist and founder of Rukhshana Media in Afghanistan; Javier Pallero, Policy Director at Access Now; Shamina Singh, Executive VP for Sustainability at Mastercard; Jorge Rubio Nava, Global Head of Social Finance at Citi; Danielle Belton, Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post; Lina Attalah, Co-founder of independent Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr; Alessandra Galloni, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters; Kanbar Hossein Bor, UK Coordinator Media Freedom Campaign & Deputy Director Democratic Governance, FCDO; Ma Jun, Founding Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, specialising in human rights and civil liberties.

The converging economic, health and climate crises are putting our democracies, people and planet under an existential threat,” said Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Antonio Zappulla. “But there is also a great opportunity for a coordinated global response – the success of which depends on how well we work with and learn from each other.

In response to the ongoing, drastic deterioration of media freedoms, the Foundation will also be launching a new Legal Network for Journalists at Risk (LNJAR) at Trust Conference, an initiative in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Media Defence.

The LNJAR comprises 15 organisations, and strategically coordinates different types of legal support to enable journalists and independent media outlets to continue to cover public interest stories and hold power to account without fear of retribution.

Additionally, the Foundation will unveil its partnership with UNESCO, the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute (INSI) through which it has developed practical and legal tools for journalists, media managers and newsrooms to counter harassment.

Now in its ninth year, Trust Conference reflects the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s work in tackling the world’s most complex societal issues, with a focus on socio-economic inclusion, sustainability, media freedom and human rights.

The programme and the speaker line-up of Trust Conference are available here. Register for your complimentary ticket here.

Trust Conference Agenda

The 2021 forum will address urgent global challenges through a series of talks, debates and high-profile exchanges. Themes include:

  • Climate change as a human rights risk
  • Making a ‘Just Transition’
  • The impact of financial vulnerability on editorial independence
  • The race for cyber sovereignty
  • Defending media freedom
  • Newsroom diversity

https://www.albawaba.com/business/pr/nobel-peace-laureate-maria-ressa-economist-jeffrey-sachs-and-philanthropist-craig

https://www.trustconference.com/

NGO ‘LGBT-Network’ and 5 human rights lawyers branded “foreign agents” in Russia

November 10, 2021

Reacting to the news that LGBT-Network, a prominent Russian group defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and five human rights lawyers from Komanda 29 have been added by the Ministry of Justice to its list of “foreign agents”, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said:

“Beyond shameful, the justice ministry’s decision reveals that committed, principled lawyers defending the rights of people targeted in politically motivated cases and frontline LGBTI rights defenders are unwelcome and “foreign” in Putin’s Russia.

“LGBT-Network has exposed heinous crimes against gay men in Chechnya and helped evacuate people at risk to safety where they can speak about these atrocities. Now LGBT-Network is, itself, a victim of the persecution that is being increasingly targeted at all human rights defenders – openly, viciously and cynically.

“The authorities cite the need to protect “national interests” and resist “foreign influence” in their incessant destruction of Russia’s civil society. But what’s really in the national interest is to protect, uphold and respect all human rights for everyone. These reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations must stop, and the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organizations’ laws must be repealed immediately.”

Late on 8 November, the Russian Ministry of Justice included the LGBT-Network and five lawyers from the recently dissolved human rights group, Komanda 29 (Team 29), including its founder Ivan Pavlov, a prominent lawyer, on the list of “foreign agents.” Ivan Pavlov and his colleagues have courageously provided help to civil society and political activists and groups that have been targeted by the authorities, including Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/

The Russian LGBT-Network played a crucial role in the exposure of a brutal “anti-gay” campaign in Chechnya during which dozens of men were abducted, tortured and several believed to have been killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. The group also provided shelter for victims of homophobic attacks from Chechnya and elsewhere around the country, and helped with their relocation to safer locations within and outside Russia.

Ahmadreza Djalali honored with 2021 Courage to Think Award

November 10, 2021

Scholars at Risk (SAR) announced on 9 November 2021 that Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is the recipient of its Courage to Think Award for 2021. Dr. Djalali, a prominent scholar of disaster medicine sentenced to death in Iran, is being recognized for his struggle for academic freedom and connection to the international academic community. For more on the Courage to Think Award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/165B4CC5-0BC2-4A77-B3B4-E26937BA553C.

Dr. Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will accept the award on Dr. Djalali’s behalf at SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free, online event is available here <https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/event/free-to-think-2021-and-courage-to-think-award/> .
Dr. Djalali is an Iranian-Swedish scholar who has held academic positions at Karolinska Institute, in Sweden; the Università del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy; and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium. In December 2020, he was awarded a Scholars at Risk Fellowship at Harvard University, in the United States.
The continued imprisonment, extreme sentence, and mistreatment of Dr. Djalali in custody should be of grave concern for anyone who cares about the ability of scholars to work safely,” said Rob Quinn, executive director of SAR. “No scholar should face a death sentence, solitary confinement, and withholding of medical care for their academic or scientific work.
Not only has Dr. Djalali helped the development of the field of disaster medicine at higher education institutions, but he has also put his expertise into practice by supporting communities impacted by crises. Dr. Djalali provided medical aid, health services, and education to communities impacted by floods, earthquakes, and other disasters in Iran, including the 2003 Bam earthquake. While at the Center for Research and Training in Disaster Medicine, Humanitarian Aid, and Global Health (CRIMEDIM), in Italy, Dr. Djalali dedicated his research to resilience and performance of health systems, hospitals, and medical and rescue staff, and trained hundreds of humanitarian and medical staff around the world.
Dr. Djalali was arrested in April 2016 during a trip to Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. It is strongly believed that he was targeted because of his ties to the international academic community, and the belief that he might trade his freedom in exchange for working for the Iranian intelligence service. On October 21, 2017, Dr. Djalali was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth,” based on unsubstantiated allegations that he had provided intelligence to a foreign government. Dr. Djalali was denied the right to appeal the conviction and sentence and has suffered from torture, ill-treatment, and a growing number of medical complications while in state custody.
On November 24, 2020, Iranian authorities moved Dr. Djalali to solitary confinement in preparation to carry out his death sentence. Dr. Djalali spent five nightmarish months in solitary confinement, awaiting imminent execution, until April 14, 2021, when authorities transferred him to a multiple-occupancy cell. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/26/as-iran-prepares-to-execute-ahmadreza-djalali-the-world-reacts/
For years, Dr. Djalali has been denied access to appropriate medical care for numerous health complications that worsened while he was in solitary confinement. These include leukemia, severe weight loss, chronic gastritis, low heart rate, and hypotension, gallstones, partial paralysis of the right foot, indirect inguinal hernia, hemorrhoid and fissures, low blood cell count, low levels of calcium and vitamin D, malnutrition, dyspepsia, and depression.
Authorities continue to deny Dr. Djalali access to his lawyer and his family in Iran, and from making calls to his wife and children in Sweden.