Archive for the 'Amnesty international' Category

New low in Saudi sports washing: FIFA leader stars in Saudi PR video

January 11, 2021

By Rob Harris on actionnewsjax of 8 January 2021 reports on Amnesty International denouncing FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s for appearing in a promotional video for the Saudi Arabian government in which he claims the kingdom has made important changes. The slick 3½-minute PR campaign was posted on Twitter by the Saudi ministry of sport on Thursday, featuring Infantino participating in a ceremonial sword dance and sweeping shots of the palaces of Diriyah.

“It’s an amazing scenery, it’s an incredible history,” Infantino says in part. “This is something that the world should come and see. The video, which also features Infantino praising how “a lot has changed” in Saudi Arabia, was filmed while on a trip that saw him meet with the crown prince,

“It should be abundantly clear to everyone at FIFA that Saudi Arabia is attempting to use the glamour and prestige of sport as a PR tool to distract from its abysmal human rights record,” Amnesty International said in a statement to The Associated Press.

FIFA did not say if Infantino challenged Prince Mohammed on human rights issues in Saudi, given the governing body’s own code.

It’s worrying that Gianni Infantino has apparently endorsed a video where he hails the ‘greatness’ of Saudi Arabia but says nothing about its cruel crackdown on human rights defenders,” Amnesty said, “including people like Loujain al-Hathloul, who was given a jail sentence only days ago.”[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/29/loujain-al-hathloul-sentenced-to-over-5-years-prison-by-saudi-terror-court/]

We would urge Mr. Infantino to clarify the circumstances of his appearance in this video and to make a statement expressing support for jailed women’s human rights defenders like Loujain al-Hathloul,” Amnesty said. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/06/loujain-al-hathloul-and-her-health-singled-out-by-cedaw/]

Scrutiny over Infantino’s links to Saudi Arabia in 2018 led to FIFA offering assurances that no nation would be allowed to fund its plans for new competitions. That followed a global uproar that saw Western businesses turn away from the crown prince and the sovereign wealth fund following outcry over Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying and dismemberment by government agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

FIFA said Infantino used his meetings to discuss how football can be a “vector of core social values, such as inclusion, solidarity and tolerance.” Amnesty did welcome Infantino’s support for women’s football in Saudi Arabia.

https://www.actionnewsjax.com/sports/amnesty-critical/X3PX62NHAFLLYABC7GA3BHZF7Q/

Facebook and YouTube are allowing themselves to become tools of the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship and harassment

December 1, 2020

On 1 December 2020, Amnesty International published a new report on how Facebook and YouTube are allowing themselves to become tools of the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship and harassment of its population, in an alarming sign of how these companies could increasingly operate in repressive countries. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/].

The 78-page report, “Let us Breathe!”: Censorship and criminalization of online expression in Viet Nam”, documents the systematic repression of peaceful online expression in Viet Nam, including the widespread “geo-blocking” of content deemed critical of the authorities, all while groups affiliated to the government deploy sophisticated campaigns on these platforms to harass everyday users into silence and fear.

The report is based on dozens of interviews with human rights defenders and activists, including former prisoners of conscience, lawyers, journalists and writers, in addition to information provided by Facebook and Google. It also reveals that Viet Nam is currently holding 170 prisoners of conscience, of whom 69 are behind bars solely for their social media activity. This represents a significant increase in the number of prisoners of conscience estimated by Amnesty International in 2018.

In the last decade, the right to freedom of expression flourished on Facebook and YouTube in Viet Nam. More recently, however, authorities began focusing on peaceful online expression as an existential threat to the regime,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

Today these platforms have become hunting grounds for censors, military cyber-troops and state-sponsored trolls. The platforms themselves are not merely letting it happen – they’re increasingly complicit.

In 2018, Facebook’s income from Viet Nam neared US$1 billion – almost one third of all revenue from Southeast Asia. Google, which owns YouTube, earned US$475 million in Viet Nam during the same period, mainly from YouTube advertising. The size of these profits underlines the importance for Facebook and Google of maintaining market access in Viet Nam.”

In April 2020, Facebook announced it had agreed to “significantly increase” its compliance with requests from the Vietnamese government to censor “anti-state” posts. It justified this policy shift by claiming the Vietnamese authorities were deliberately slowing traffic to the platform as a warning to the company.

Last month, in Facebook’s latest Transparency Report – its first since it revealed its policy of increased compliance with the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship demands – the company revealed a 983% increase in content restrictions based on local law as compared with the previous reporting period, from 77 to 834. Meanwhile, YouTube has consistently won praise from Vietnamese censors for its relatively high rate of compliance with censorship demands.

State-owned media reported Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung as saying in October that compliance with the removal of “bad information, propaganda against the Party and the State” was higher than ever, with Facebook and Google complying with 95% and 90% of censorship requests, respectively.

Based on dozens of testimonies and evidence, Amnesty International’s report shows how Facebook and YouTube’s increasing censorship of content in Vietnam operates in practice.

In some cases, users see their content censored under vaguely worded local laws, including offences such as “abusing democratic freedoms” under the country’s Criminal Code. Amnesty International views these laws as inconsistent with Viet Nam’s obligations under international human rights law. Facebook then “geo-blocks” content, meaning it becomes invisible to anyone accessing the platform in Viet Nam.

Nguyen Van Trang, a pro-democracy activist now seeking asylum in Thailand, told Amnesty International that in May 2020, Facebook notified him that one of his posts had been restricted due to “local legal restrictions”. Since then, Facebook has blocked every piece of content he has tried to post containing the names of senior members of the Communist Party. 

Nguyen Van Trang has experienced similar restrictions on YouTube, which, unlike Facebook, gave him the option to appeal such restrictions. Some appeals have succeeded and others not, without YouTube providing any explanation.

Truong Chau Huu Danh is a well-known freelance journalist with 150,000 followers and a verified Facebook account. He told Amnesty International that between 26 March and 8 May 2020, he posted hundreds of pieces of content about a ban on rice exports and the high-profile death penalty case of Ho Duy Hai. In June, he realized these posts had all vanished without any notification from Facebook whatsoever.

Amnesty International heard similar accounts from other Facebook users, particularly when they tried to post about a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which opposed local villagers to military-run telecommunications company Viettel. The dispute culminated in a confrontation between villagers and security forces in January 2020 that saw the village leader and three police officers killed.

After Facebook announced its new policy in April 2020, land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu reported that all the content they had shared about the Dong Tam incident had been removed from their timelines without their knowledge and without notification.

On 24 June 2020, the pair were arrested and charged with “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code after they reported extensively on the Dong Tam incident. They are currently in detention. Their Facebook accounts have disappeared since their arrests under unknown circumstances. Amnesty International considers both Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu to be prisoners of conscience.

The Vietnamese authorities’ campaign of repression often results in the harassment, intimidation, prosecution and imprisonment of people for their social media use. There are currently 170 prisoners of conscience imprisoned in Viet Nam, the highest number ever recorded in the country by Amnesty International. Nearly two in five (40%) have been imprisoned because of their peaceful social media activity.

Twenty-one of the 27 prisoners of conscience jailed in 2020, or 78%, were prosecuted because of their peaceful online activity under Articles 117 or 331 of the Criminal Code – the same repressive provisions that often form the basis of ‘local legal restrictions’ implemented by Facebook and YouTube. For every prisoner of conscience behind bars, there are countless people in Viet Nam who see this pattern of repression and intimidation and are understandably terrified about speaking their mind. Ming Yu Hah

These individuals’ supposed “crimes” include peacefully criticizing the authorities’ COVID-19 response on Facebook and sharing independent information about human rights online.

For every prisoner of conscience behind bars, there are countless people in Viet Nam who see this pattern of repression and intimidation and are understandably terrified about speaking their minds,” said Ming Yu Hah.

Amnesty International has documented dozens of incidents in recent years in which human rights defenders have received messages meant to harass and intimidate, including death threats. The systematic and organized nature of these harassment campaigns consistently bear the hallmarks of state-sponsored cyber-troops such as Du Luan Vien or “public opinion shapers” – people recruited and managed by the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV)’s Department of Propaganda to engage in psychological warfare online.

The activities of Du Luan Vien are complemented by those of “Force 47”, a cyberspace military battalion made up of some 10,000 state security forces whose function is to “fight against wrong views and distorted information on the internet”.

While “Force 47” and groups such as Du Luan Vien operate opaquely, they are known to engage in mass reporting campaigns targeting human rights –related content, often leading to their removal and account suspensions by Facebook and YouTube.

Additionally, Amnesty International’s investigation documented multiple cases of bloggers and social media users being physically attacked because of their posts by the police or plainclothes assailants, who operate with the apparent acquiescence of state authorities and with virtually no accountability for such crimes.


Putting an end to complicity

The Vietnamese authorities must stop stifling freedom of expression online. Amnesty International is calling for all prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam to be released immediately and unconditionally and for the amendment of repressive laws that muzzle freedom of expression.

Companies – including Facebook and Google – have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate. They should respect the right to freedom of expression in their content moderation decisions globally, regardless of local laws that muzzle freedom of expression. Tech giants should also overhaul their content moderation policies to ensure their decisions align with international human rights standards.

In October 2020, Facebook launched a global Oversight Board – presented as the company’s independent “Supreme Court” and its solution to the human rights challenges presented by content moderation. Amnesty International’s report reveals, however, that the Board’s bylaws will prevent it from reviewing the company’s censorship actions pursuant to local law in countries like Vet Nam. It’s increasingly obvious that the Oversight Board is incapable of solving Facebook’s human rights problems. Ming Yu Hah

“It’s increasingly obvious that the Oversight Board is incapable of solving Facebook’s human rights problems. Facebook should expand the scope of the Oversight Board to include content moderation decisions pursuant to local law; if not, the Board – and Facebook – will have again failed Facebook users,” said Ming Yu Hah.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/11/algorithms-designed-to-suppress-isis-content-may-also-suppress-evidence-of-human-rights-violations/]

“Far from the public relations fanfare, countless people who dare to speak their minds in Viet Nam are being silenced. The precedent set by this complicity is a grave blow to freedom of expression around the world.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/12/viet-nam-tech-giants-complicit/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/facebook-youtube-google-accused-complicity-vietnam-repression

https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/facebook-vietnams-fickle-partner-in-crime/

Loujain al-Hathloul’s trial: Judge transfers her case to even worse court

November 26, 2020

Following up on my post from yesterday [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/25/loujain-al-hathloul-to-stand-trial-in-saudi-arabia-today/] Amnesty International reported on 25 November 2020 that a Saudi Arabian judge has decided to transfer human rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul’s case to Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/saudi-arabia-loujain-alhathlouls-trial-exposes-hypocrisy-on-womens-empowerment/

In reprisal for talking to diplomats Egypt arrests human rights defender Mohamed Basheern

November 18, 2020

On 16 November 2020, Amnesty International denounces the arbitrary arrest of Mohamed Basheer, the Administrative Manager at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), over bogus charges.

By arresting Mohamed Basheer, a member of staff at one of Egypt’s most prominent independent human rights organizations, the Egyptian authorities have yet again shown their intolerance of any scrutiny of their abysmal human rights record, sending a chilling message to the embattled human rights community in Egypt that they remain at risk.” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

Amnesty International strongly condemns Basheer’s arrest and detention and believes he is being targeted solely for his organization’s legitimate human rights work, including for meeting with Western diplomats. Members of the international community, and especially the states whose representatives were part of that visit, must now show that they won’t accept this reprisal and urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Basheer, drop all charges against him, and end the persecution of Egyptian civil society and human rights defenders. ” 

EIPR is an independent human rights organization whose work covers a variety of political, civil, economic and social rights in Egypt. According to Gasser Abdel-Razek, the Executive Director of EIPR, plainclothes security forces raided Basheer’s home in the early hours of 15 November. They took him to a National Security Agency building, where they detained him for more than 12 hours and questioned him without a lawyer present about the visit on 3 November by Western ambassadors and diplomats to the EIPR’s office. He was then taken to the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP), where a lawyer who attended his questioning by prosecutors there, said the questions had focused on EIPR’s publications and legal assistance to victims of human rights violations.

Mohamed Basheer was added to Case No. 855/2020 Supreme State Security, which involves investigations over unfounded terrorism-related charges against prominent detained human rights defenders and journalists, including Mahienour el-Masry, Mohamed el-Baqer, Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdelfattah. Amnesty International has extensively documented how the SSSP use prolonged pre-trial detention over unfounded terrorism related charges to imprison opponents, critics and human rights defenders for months and years without trial. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/un-expresses-deep-concern-over-egypt-using-special-terror-courts-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/]

EIPR researcher Patrick George Zaki remains detained pending investigations by the SSSP over unfounded “terrorism”-related charges since his arrest in February 2020. 

See also: https://www.egyptindependent.com/egypt-rebuffs-frances-concerns-over-arrest-of-egyptian-activist-mohamed-bashir/

And on 18 November the authorities arrested another staff member of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Karim Ennarah, director of criminal justice initiatives Mada Masr reported [https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-rights-group-karim-ennarah.html]


Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-rights-group-karim-ennarah.html#ixzz6eHaFxm3G

and https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-human-rights-condemn-eu-un.html

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/egypt-authorities-arrest-staff-member-of-prominent-rights-group-in-reprisal-for-a-meeting-with-diplomats/

What limits for NGOs in the decentralisation of human rights infrastructure?

November 11, 2020


Ravindran Daniel, in Open Global Rights of 10 November 2020 published a piece that should interest anybody who wrestles with the issue of how to ‘decentralise’ the international human rights movement. In “What are the implications of International Human Rights NGOs moving to the South?” Daniel – who is a human rights lawyer from India, served as director of the Human Rights Division with the UN peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Libya and the Sudan and established the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development – takes the recent closure of AI India as the starting point for a wider discussion of the structural problems that come up in trying to realise the ‘democratization of the global human rights movement”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]



..The closure of Amnesty International’s India office raises questions about AI’s global strategy and the democratization of the global human rights movement. AI’s India office was part of the AI’s 2010 Global Transition Program (GTP) which aimed at restructuring the organization by reducing its London office operations and transferring them to regional hubs in various parts of the world. New forms of national offices were set up in India, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. The aim was also to make AI a truly global movement and raise funds from the Global South and not depend entirely on funds from the Global North. Donors such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundation funded AI’s move to the South which was seen as strengthening mobilization from local to international levels and increased contact with human rights defenders and civil society actors.

However, it also raised some questions for both AI and the global human rights movement.

When opening its office in India in 2012, AI may not have foreseen the assumption of power by an illiberal government in 2014; although it must have known the risks involved in other countries. When AI rolled out its GTP program in 2010, was it unrealistically optimistic, particularly when the global support for human rights  in the West was rapidly declining? The optimism about emerging powers such as India, Brazil, and South Africa had waned and several illiberal governments had become powerful in the global system. It could not have waited for an opportune time since governments of various hues always challenge human rights organizations to function freely. The fact remains that human rights offices, national or international, face reprisals by governments and AI should have foreseen it when it established its India office under the GTP program. The question remains: was the cost including the consequences for those associated with AI India worth the risk?

However, the question is: given its tradition of safeguarding its members from bias and reprisals, what steps did it take to prevent reprisals for its members and supporters of national offices? Since 2001, AI abandoned its “own country rule” under which AI members were barred from working on cases in their own countries. It was a self-imposed limitation to safeguard members against potential problems from their own governments but also to stress the importance of solidarity in human rights work.

The closure of the Indian office raises the value of “own country rule” which would have possibly prevented the Indian government from taking the extraordinary step of closing the AI’s office. The Indian Government is alleging money laundering, which would entail conducting investigations against all those who contributed to AI India putting a large number of its supporters at risk.

Was the cost including the consequences for those associated with AI India worth the risk?

Moreover, the aim of the “own country rule” was to prevent AI’s local chapters from becoming just another local human rights organization with international links. In the case of the AI India office, its links to its parent organization seemed to have impeded its functioning. For example, in November 2019, Indian police raided the AI India office after the parent organization testified before the US Congress on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

The closure of the AI’s India office has implications for the global human rights movement as well. An evaluation of the Ford Foundation’s Strengthening Human Rights Worldwide Global Initiative (SHRW), under which the foundation funded AI to move to the South, raised the following issues: how to differentiate between the roles played by national and international NGOs; if these roles could be construed as the imperial expansion of Northern-based groups?; if such moves help or reduce the voice of local groups and communities;and if international NGOs have an advantage over national NGOs in garnering a larger share of resources due to a concentration of “cultural capital” (“knowledge and access to global governance institutions”) among NGOs based in the North?

The ecology of the human rights movement began changing in the 80s and the SHRW review captures it. In this changed context, AI’s efforts to be closer to the ground happened at an ill-advised time when strong NGOs had emerged in the South and were increasingly challenging the traditional human rights ecology. While based in the North, AI was functioning as a global movement with some of the corresponding limitations, such as authoritarian governments accusing it of being a Western organization. AI, instead of building from its strength, seemed to have pursued a naïve goal of expanding in the field at a wrong time for the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, the global human rights movement must condemn the Indian government’s actions against the AI India office. It must campaign for withdrawing all the cases and restoring the office. It should also examine the lessons learned from democratizing the movement in the last two decades, including strengthening the role and voices of NGOs in the South. AI on its part should re-examine its GTP’s assumptions considering the developments of the last two decades. A 2017 evaluation of the GTP commissioned by AI recommended the need for a “new narrative” that “…goes beyond moving closer to the ground, beyond the distribution of Amnesty International Secretariat (IS) and to the distribution of Amnesty as a movement… (making all) regions vibrant communities for public campaigning”.


https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-are-the-implications-of-international-human-rights-ngos-moving-to-the-south/

Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign 2020 launched

November 9, 2020

On 2 November 2020 Amnesty International has launched its flagship annual letter-writing campaign, Write for Rights, to help change the lives of people around the world who have been attacked, jailed, harassed or disappeared for standing up for their rights.

During Write for Rights – which takes place between November and December each year – people around the world will send millions of cards, emails and tweets of solidarity to individuals or groups of people whose freedoms are being denied, or write letters putting pressure on those in power to stop the abuses being committed against them. 

This year, the campaign will support ten individuals who are suffering abuses, including:

Write for Rights goes back to the very roots of Amnesty International, which was founded in 1961, with Amnesty’s early campaigners writing letters of support to those affected by human rights abuses, as well as letters of concern to governments around the world.

For last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/18/amnestys-write-for-rights-campaign-2019-launched-today-focuses-on-youth-activists/

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/millions-letters-texts-and-tweets-sent-free-ten-individuals-human-rights-abuses

‘Amnesty Academy’ launched to educate young human rights defenders

October 30, 2020

On 29 October 2020, Amnesty International launched Amnesty Academy, a free human rights learning app which aims to educate the next generation of human rights defenders on a host of topics including freedom of expression, digital security, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Learners around the world will be able to access courses ranging from 15 minutes to 15 hours in over 20 languages, including Urdu, Bangla, Hungarian, Korean, Russian, Thai, Czech and Turkish. All courses can be downloaded within the app, which is available on iOS and Android devices, allowing for offline learning.

This app has been designed to empower and encourage everyone everywhere to learn about human rights. Sharing knowledge is a vital way to help us stand up for our own and for each other’s rights, and to struggle for justice and equality all over the world,” said Julie Verhaar, Amnesty International’s Acting Secretary General. This app has been designed to empower and encourage everyone everywhere to learn about human rights. Sharing knowledge is a vital way to help us stand up for our own and for each other’s rights, and to struggle for justice and equality all over the world.

Among Amnesty Academy’s key features is a flexible self-paced approach to learning, allowing users to start courses as and when it suits them. Learners who complete some of the longer courses will be awarded an official certificate signed by Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

The courses available on Amnesty Academy have been developed and fine-tuned over the past three years as part of Amnesty International’s human rights learning website. They have now been optimized for mobile use, making human rights learning more accessible than ever.

Human rights education is the foundation of Amnesty’s work. Our overall goal is to ensure that people worldwide know and can claim their human rights. The Amnesty Academy app brings us closer to this goal by providing a simple and accessible platform for millions of people to access quality human rights education,” said Krittika Vishwanath, Head of Human Rights Education at Amnesty International.

Amnesty Academy will be regularly updated to accommodate learning in many more languages and with new course offerings in the months and years to come.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/amnesty-launches-human-rights-learning-app-to-equip-next-generation-of-activists/

Also UN calls on India to protect human rights defenders

October 29, 2020

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the Indian government to protect the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs in India. She praised India for being at the forefront of the fight for human rights but cautioned that vaguely worded laws may put that in jeopardy.

Her Tuesday 20 October 2020 statement comes as a response to worrying uses of the Indian Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FRCA) which various UN bodies have been worried is overbroad and vague in its objectives. Additionally, it prohibits them from receiving foreign money for “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest.” This can and has had an impact on the right to freedom of association and expression and has prevented foreign NGOs from giving money to Indian causes.

“The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies,” Bachelet said. Most recently it led Amnesty international to close their Indian offices after they were raided and their bank account was frozen.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

Bachelet, also called for the Indian government to allow peaceful protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. More than 1,500 people have been arrested because of their protests to this act and many have been charged with violations of the FCRA.

Finally, Bachelet,called for India to review the arrests of human rights defenders who have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for exercising their basic human rights.

[see e.g.https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/11/the-indomitable-father-stan-swamy-defending-the-adivasis-and-the-dalits-a-cause-of-arrest/]

https://www.jurist.org/news/2020/10/un-calls-on-india-to-safeguard-rights-of-rights-groups-and-ngos-in-face-of-legislation/

On 9 November came: https://theowp.org/reports/new-frontiers-in-the-suppression-of-human-rights-in-india/

Torture in Nicaragua

October 25, 2020

On 25 October 2020 Mariana Castro published on Polygraph.info an overview article showing that despite official denials torture does occur in Nicaragua’s Prisons.

NICARAGUA – Anti-government demonstrators take part in a vigil to demand the release of political prisoners and justice for the victims of protests against President Daniel Ortega, outside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua on October 3, 2019.
NICARAGUA – Anti-government demonstrators take part in a vigil to demand the release of political prisoners and justice for the victims of protests against President Daniel Ortega, outside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua on October 3, 2019.

“There are always prisoners who make up that they’re being tortured. …They invent things simply to create a negative image on Nicaragua before international organizations run by the yanquis…

On October 15, the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) publicly denounced persistent human rights violations in Nicaragua and urged the government to release political prisoners, restore fundamental freedoms and respect the separation of powers and rule of law: “The government’s has refused to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and to fulfill its duties under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Four days later, Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, dismissed allegations that political prisoners made of being tortured, calling them “lies” and an attempt to taint the country’s image.

There are always prisoners who make up that they’re being tortured … they invent things simply to create a negative image on Nicaragua before international organizations run by the yanquis [referring to the United States], like the OAS,” Ortega said during a speech. (Source: El 19 Digital, October 19, 2020)

Based on multiple published reports, Ortega’s claim that torture accusations are invented is false.

Nicaragua under Ortega has faced extensive international scrutiny for violations of human rights. These include “targeting civil society, human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, community and religious leaders, journalists and other media workers, students, victims and their family members, and individuals expressing critical views of the Government,” according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).

In April 2018, protests broke out in Nicaragua as fiscal reforms slashed social security. Protestors were met with a violent and lethal response from the government, fueling a civil uprising demanding Ortega’s resignation. More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have since fled the country.

Between the start of the protests and September 2019, 651 people died, nearly 5,000 were injured, 516 were kidnapped and 853 have gone missing, according to the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH). Twenty-two police officers died, as stated by the U.N.

According to Human Rights Watch, many of those detained during the protests were subjected torture, including electric shocks, asphyxiation and rape. Detainees were also reportedly denied care in public hospitals.

The organization interviewed 12 former detainees, 11 of whom described suffering one of more forms of abuse, and seven who said they witnessed 39 detainees suffering abuses. It also interviewed three doctors and a psychologist who treated some detainees. They reported that many “showed signs of physical harm consistent with physical abuse and torture similar to that described by the 12 detainees.”

This week, Monitoreo Azul y Blanco (Blue and White Monitoring), a group that since 2018 registers and consolidates complaints of human rights violations in Nicaragua, published a video by Expediente Publico (an investigative journalism magazine in Honduras and Nicaragua) with testimonies from former political prisoners about their experiences of ill treatments and torture while incarcerated.

The testimonies mentioned the details of the event that resulted in the death of Eddy Montes, a Nicaraguan-American and U.S. Navy veteran who was shot dead in La Modelo prison in May 2019 after “a serious disturbance” inside of the prison, according to Nicaragua’s interior ministry.

The magazine also published an article on October 20 detailing testimonies of victims of abuse by the Nicaraguan police. They tell the story of J, an opposition protestor who between May 6 and May 13, 2019, was subjected to “constant questioning” and abuse by the police. Her complaint is one of dozens of cases.

Between April 2018 and June 2020, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective Never Again (Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca+) registered complaints of five rapes, eight sexual abuses, seven threats of rape to detainees or their family members and three witnesses of rape to one or more fellow inmates, the article reported.

NICARAGUA – Members of the organization Mothers of April (AMA) hold portraits of their late loved ones outside the Cathedral in Managua on February 23, 2020.
NICARAGUA – Members of the organization Mothers of April (AMA) hold portraits of their late loved ones outside the Cathedral in Managua on February 23, 2020.

On June 19, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a resolution to promote and protect human rights in Venezuela, and requesting the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to “enhance monitoring” and “continue to report on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua.”

Amid increased international pressure, Ortega’s government has released some political prisoners, including 91 people whose sentences were converted to house arrest in December 2019. But some 100 political prisoners (estimates vary slightly) remain in jails.

On September 30, more than 50 political prisoners went on a hunger strike as part of protests demanding their freedom. At least three of them sewed their mouths as part of protests and were then transferred to maximum security cells at the Jorge Navarro prison complex known as La Modelo. Amnesty International has described the complex as “one of the main destinations for those detained and punished for reporting human rights violations in the country.”

During his October 19 speech, Ortega said prison doors were open to those calling out the government, including relatives of prisoners, for them “to visit them when they say they’re being tortured, they are saying, they have sown their lips.”

But on the following day, representatives from the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), one of Nicaragua’s oldest rights groups, went to visit the prison and were not allowed in, as La Prensa reported.

Allan Gomez, a member of the Union of Political Prisoners (UPPN), told Nicaragua Investiga that the denial of abuses is nothing new, “but human rights violations are fully visible.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. imposed its latest round of sanctions on top Nicaraguan officials, including the attorney general. According to The Associated Press, about two dozen people close to Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have been sanctioned – including Murillo and three of the couple’s children – since late 2017.

The European Union also recently renewed sanctions on Nicaragua – introduced in October 2019 – for another year, citing the “deteriorating political and social situation in Nicaragua.”

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https://www.polygraph.info/a/factcheck-ortega-denies-torture-in-nicaragua-prisons-he-is-wrong/30909488.html

Saudi Arabia uses women to spruce up its image: 2 efforts

October 23, 2020

Effort 1: With women’s empowerment topping the agenda at next week’s B20 Summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International is on 23 October 2020 reminding business leaders that many of the country’s bravest women’s rights activists are languishing in prison for daring to demand reforms.  “Since assuming the G20 Presidency Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in rebranding its image.But Saudi Arabia’s real changemakers are behind bars” says Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Loujain al Hathloul, Nassima al-Sada, Samar Badawi, Maya’a al-Zahrani, and Nouf Abdulaziz spearheaded women’s rights campaigns, including calling for the right to drive and an end to the repressive male guardianship system. But while Saudi Arabia talks up recent reforms such as the relaxation of social restrictions and the loosening of the guardianship system to court approval from the rich and powerful around the B20, women’s rights activists remain in detention.

Saudi Arabia has publicized the fact that this year, 33 percent of B20 delegates are women – the highest ever contingency. The B20 website states that “Women in Business” will be Saudi Arabia’s “signature topic” as President. “B20 leaders must not be fooled by this shameless hypocrisy, and we call on them to show they care about human rights as much as business opportunities. Any business operating in or with Saudi Arabia has a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to human rights violations through their activities.” 

The B20 is the official forum for business leaders to present policy recommendations to the G20, ahead of the main summit in November. This year high profile participants include representatives from HSBC, Mastercard, PwC, McKinsey, CISCO, ENI, Siemens, Accenture and BBVA.

Currently, 13 women’s rights defenders remain on trial facing prosecution for their human rights activism. Several face charges of contacting foreign media or international organizations, including Amnesty International. Some were also accused of “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/

Amnesty International has written to businesses participating in the B20 Summit raising serious concerns about the human rights risks of business operations in and with Saudi Arabia, and reminding them of their human rights responsibilities.

We urge B20 delegates also to think carefully about how their brands could be legitimizing human rights violations and endorsing Saudi Arabia’s charm offensive,” said Lynn Maalouf. “If B20 Saudi Arabia was as progressive as it claims, the activists who did so much to secure more rights for women would have a seat at the table.” 

Effort 2: Nineteen NGOs are calling on golf’s Ladies European Tour to reconsider the decision to hold a tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia. Pulling out of the tournament, they explain, would be ab act of solidarity with women’s rights campaigners detained in the Kingdom.

“While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women’s golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportwash its appalling human rights record, including discrimination against women and the crackdown on women’s rights defenders,” said the NGOs in a letter to the tour organisers.

The event is due to take place in Saudi Arabia from 12 to 19 November, with a cash prize of $1.5 million from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has faced sustained criticism that it uses major sporting tournaments to deflect from its human rights abuses. The arrest of prominent activist Loujain Al-Hathloul in 2018 and several others was highlighted as a serious concern.

Al-Hathloul’s sister, Lina, took to Twitter with the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes to highlight the punishments that women activists are subjected to simply for demanding basic liberties that are taken for granted elsewhere. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/07/lina-al-hathloul-speaks-out-for-her-sister-loujain-imprisoned-in-saudi-arabia/]

In a letter penned to the top players on the Ladies European Tour, the 25-year-old described the event as a “grubby charade” as she argued that taking part was akin to giving “tacit endorsement to the Saudi regime and its imprisonment and torture of activists like my sister.”

Al-Hathloul’s imprisonment has been met with international outcry as concerns grow over her fate. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have alleged that she and other women campaigners have been subjected to torture and sexual harassment, including threats of rape, while in Saudi detention.

The crackdown on female activists by the Saudi government reached its peak when the authorities arrested and detained Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan and Aziza Al-Yousef on 15 May, 2018. Just weeks later, other leading women’s rights advocates and feminist figures were also arrested, including Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah.

“We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, to which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere,” wrote the NGOs. The only way to achieve true progress, they added, is to implement real reforms on women’s rights, and immediately release those arrested for defending these rights. “While we hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its interaction with other countries around the world through hosting sports and other events in the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the country’s attempt to conceal its continued detention of women’s rights activists and discrimination against women by hosting a women’s sports tournament.”

Effort 2: The sister of jailed Saudi activist Loujain Al-Hathloul has called on European golf players to boycott the upcoming tournament in Saudi Arabic. In a letter sent to the Independent newspaper, Lina Al-Hathloul begged the top players on the Ladies European Tour to show support for her sister’s plight by not attending golfing events in Saudi Arabia scheduled for November.

In her letter, Lina wrote: “My sister is a women’s rights activist imprisoned and tortured by the Saudi regime. I understand the importance of sports to create links and bridges between different societies. “However, the current Saudi regime uses sports to whitewash its crimes, to have a window to the West, while maintaining and even worsening women’s conditions inside the country.

Don’t go to Saudi Arabia, don’t help that barbaric regime launder its reputation through your excellence. Stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists. Boycott the Ladies European Tour events in Saudi Arabia.

I am begging you, as a woman, as a person of conscience and as a role model – please boycott the Saudi women’s tour event.

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Support Loujain Hathloul by boycotting Saudi event, European golfers urged

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/with-women-activists-jailed-saudi-b20-summit-is-a-sham/