Archive for the 'HRW' Category

Human rights defender in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, sentenced to 4 years

March 19, 2019

News headlines today: Mar. 18, 2019

Oyub Titiev, the director of the local branch of Memorial, one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations, was convicted of marijuana possession, a charge his lawyers said was manufactured in order to punish Titiev for his work investigating and exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya, including extrajudicial killings. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/]

The guilty verdict against Titiev was expected by his colleagues and human right organizations, which have slammed the case as a show trial, filled with inconsistencies and fabricated evidence. “The guilty verdict against Oyub Titiev is gross injustice to him, a disgrace to Russian criminal justice system, and a further sign that Ramzan Kadyrov, the governor of Chechnya, will be emboldened to silence reporting on human rights abuses,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Natalia Estemirova, Titiev’s predecessor as director of Memorial’s Chechnya office, was kidnapped in Grozny and shot dead outside the city in 2009. In 2016, masked men attacked a group of journalists trying to enter Chechnya on a tour organized by the Committee to Prevent Torture, beating the reporters and setting their bus on fire. The same month, the head of the organization, Ilya Kalyapin was attacked in Grozny.

Memorial has long been a target of strongman Kadyrov, and repeatedly suffered attacks, and. Around the time of Titiev’s arrest, the organization’s office in a neighboring region was burnt down by masked men. One of Titiev’s colleague in Dagestan was beaten outside his home last March.

Good Breaking news: Azerbaijan pardons many opposition leaders and critics

March 16, 2019

The ink on an EU report (March 15) concluding that human rights in Azerbaijan remain in need of improvement, is hardly dry and there is a surprise announcement that Azerbaijan’s strongman-resident has ordered the release of more than 400 people, including opposition politicians and pro-democracy youth activists who were listed as political prisoners by international human rights groups. True, the EU report comes ahead of the upcoming EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, scheduled to take place on 4 April in Brussels, but there must be other reasons.

Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Fuad Qahramanli and Gozal Bayramli, deputy leaders of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, are among the pardoned, according to a statement on the presidential website. Pro-opposition youth activists Ilkin Rustamzada, Qiyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov will also be released. The pardoned are to be freed within 24 hours. At least 43 human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious activists remained wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Whether all of these are freed is not yet clear.

It would be wonderful if this blog can finally turn attention elsewhere after some 30 posts concerning Azerbaijan (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/azerbaijan).

https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/eu-report-human-rights-azerbaijan-remain-need-improvement/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-16/azerbaijan-s-president-orders-release-of-politicians-activists

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/9/328344/World/International/Azerbaijan-strongman-pardons-jailed-activists,-opp.aspx

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/azerbaijan

US NGOs react furiously to visa restrictions imposed on ICC investigators by Trump administration

March 16, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new visa restrictions in a press briefing on Friday. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Human rights defenders expressed outrage on Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the Trump administration is revoking or denying visas for any International Criminal Court (ICC) personnel who try to investigate or prosecute U.S. officials or key allies for potential war crimes. The move, Pompeo confirmed is a direct response to ongoing efforts by the ICC to probe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity tied to the war in Afghanistan. There was an immediate and almost unanimous outcry by the key human rights NGOs in the USA:

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU‘s Human Rights Program (the ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud, who were all detained and tortured in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008): “This is an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day,” Dakwar said. “It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” He encouraged ICC member countries to “publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”

Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, noted that this is just “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.” Visa bans, as Balson pointed out, are “powerful tools typically reserved for the most serious of human rights abusers.” But rather than targeting global criminals, the Trump administration has set its sights on the ICC—an impartial judicial body that aims to promote accountability under international law by probing and prosecuting crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The move is “is highly indicative of [the administration’s] culture of disregard for rights abuses,” said Balson. “Throwing roadblocks in front of the ICC’s investigation undermines justice not only for abuses committed in Afghanistan, but also for the millions of victims and survivors throughout the world who have experienced the most serious crimes under international law.

Pompeo’s announcement came after John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the ICC, threatened to impose sanctions on court officials in September if they continued to pursue an investigation of potential crimes by U.S. civilians or military personnel in Afghanistan….”These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” Pompeo added. “Implementation of this policy has already begun.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/15/blatant-effort-intimidate-and-retaliate-pompeo-imposes-visa-ban-icc-staff-probing-us

IF Qatar has to share World Cup 2022, FIFA’s ethical standards must apply

March 12, 2019

A coalition of human rights groups (such as Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Congress, Transparency International and the World Players Association) has sent an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to confirm that any country chosen to share World Cup 2022 games with Qatar will meet world football’s new ethical standards. The possible expansion of the next World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is top of the agenda at a meeting of the FIFA Council in Miami on Friday, with Infantino keen on an idea that would mean Qatar having to share the World Cup with other nations in the Middle East.

That idea would need Qatar’s approval, which is far from certain as it has been locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June 2017, but the more neutral Kuwait and Oman have been suggested as possible co-hosts.

Experts on workers’ rights in the region have been highly critical of the controversial decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010 and are now equally concerned about the prospect of one or more countries in the region having to build stadiums and upgrade infrastructure in a hurry. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/]

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/fifa-human-rights-qatar-world-cup-2022-gianni-infantino-kuwait-oman-bahrain-egypt-saudi-arabia-a8818816.html

Iran cracks down on Nasrin Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders

March 12, 2019

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh was charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Only yesterday I hoped that Nasrin Sotoudeh‘s invitation to the G7 would set a good precedent [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/11/does-g7-set-a-precedent-with-sotoudeh-for-inviting-human-rights-defenders/], now Reuters reports that she has been handed a new sentence that her husband said was 38 years in prison and 148 lashes! The news comes days after Iran appointed a hardline new head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, who is a protege of Ali Khamenei. The appointment is seen as weakening the political influence of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. (NOTE: Her husband clarified later that she will be serving 10 years of the 33 he had announced on his Facebook page and in an interview with Radio Farda)

In the meantime AI reports that a series of videos shared on social media in recent weeks have shed light on the daily harassment and violent attacks women in Iran face at the hands of morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the country’s forced hijab (veiling) laws. The videos show members of the public or plain-clothes morality police aggressively confronting or attacking women for defying Iran’s degrading forced hijab laws, in the name of defending “public decency”. Perpetrators of such attacks appear to be getting bolder in their assaults in response to efforts by women to film the violence they face and share the videos on social media. “The video footage that has emerged in recent weeks demonstrates the shocking levels of abuse women in Iran face on a daily basis from morality police or pro-government thugs simply for daring to defy the country’s abusive forced hijab laws,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International.  Iranian women’s rights defenders have courageously filmed these incidents as part of the My Camera My Weapon campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the constant harassment and assault that women and girls face in Iran’s streets as a result of forced hijab laws.

Amnesty added:…..The charges on which Nasrin Sotoudeh was convicted include “inciting corruption and prostitution” and “openly committing a sinful act… by appearing in public without a hijab”. Some of the activities that the authorities have cited as “evidence” against her include: opposing forced hijab; removing her headscarf during prison visits; defending women who peacefully protested against forced hijab; giving media interviews about the violent arrest and detention of women protesting against forced hijab; and placing flowers at the scene where a woman protester was violently arrested.

The UN Human Rights Council also was dealing with Iran this week: Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labour rights activists in Iran signal an increasingly severe State response to protests and strikes in the country, Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said on 12 March 2019. “Today, the people of Iran face a myriad of challenges,” he told the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Many have voiced their concern through protests, demonstrations, and strikes. People from diverse sections of society – from truck drivers to teachers to factory workers – across the country have protested.” “It is in this context of increased challenges that concerns are mounting about human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and to association in Iran,” he said, calling on the Government to release all those detained for exercising such rights. Presenting his first report to the Council, Rehman said the re-imposition of secondary sanctions by the United States of America had further increased concerns for the welfare of ordinary Iranians.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the alarming health situations of numerous imprisoned individuals such as human rights defender Arash Sadeghi [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/30/iran-shameful-sentences-for-narges-mohammadi-issa-saharkhiz-arash-sadeghi-no-detente-in-human-rights/]. Rehman also highlighted the situation of prominent woman human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was reportedly convicted last week of charges related to her work and could face a lengthy prison sentence. Other issues raised in his report include concerns regarding the right to life and to fair trial, the situation of detained foreign and dual nationals, and the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities.

Human Rights Watch commented that the Iranian judiciary’s draconian sentence for a prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was an “appalling travesty of justice“.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/11/human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-jailed-for-38-years-in-iran

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/03/iran-pro-government-vigilantes-attack-women-for-standing-up-against-forced-hijab-laws/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1903/S00091/iran-un-expert-concerned-by-crackdown-on-protests.htm

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/12/iran-decades-long-sentence-womens-rights-defender

https://en.radiofarda.com/a/jail-term-ambiguity-clarified-for-iran-rights-defender—eu-protests/29817359.html

Human Rights Defender Jolovan Wham in Singapore sentenced – NGOs dismayed

February 24, 2019

The five undersigned human rights organisations, strongly condemn the prosecution of Singaporean human rights defender Jolovan Wham. After convicting Wham in January 2019 of “organising a public assembly without a permit,” the State Court sentenced him, on 21 February, to a fine of S$3,200 (US$2,367), or by default, 16 days in prison.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/05/international-commission-of-jurists-joins-criticism-of-singapore-for-harassment-of-human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham/]

Sudan belongs on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council

February 19, 2019

On 31 January 2019, the NGO wrote that over the last month, dozens of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and academics have been arbitrarily arrested, not only during street protests, but also at their homes and places of work. That same day Sudanese security forces detained Nazim Siraj, a doctor and human rights defender who has been active in different youth groups and who has been the coordinator for “Accidents Street”, an initiative providing free medical treatment and rehabilitation to Sudanese citizens, including to victims of human rights abuses.

On 30 January 2019, writer and human rights lawyer Kamal Al jazouli was arrested from  his office. On 28 January 2019, security forces detained human rights defender and economist Sedgi Kabalo at his house and took him to an unknown place. Journalist and member of the Sudanese Journalist’s Network, Adel Ibrahim, remains in detention in an unknown location since his arrest on 15 January. 

On 13 January 2019, doctor and woman human rights defender Heba Omar Ibrahim was arrested and pressured by police officers to reveal the names of other human rights defenders working in the health sector.

—–

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/29/human-rights-council-should-create-independent-fact-finding-group-sudan

https://www.albawaba.com/news/sudan-protests-enter-3rd-month-1254860

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/location/sudan

Novalpina urged to come clean about targeting human rights defenders

February 19, 2019

In an open letter released today, 18 February 2019, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and five other NGOs urged Novalpina to publicly commit to accountability for NSO Group’s past spyware abuses, including the targeting of an Amnesty International employee and the alleged targeting of Jamal Khashoggi. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “Novalpina’s executives have serious questions to answer about their involvement with a company which has become the go-to surveillance tool for abusive governments. This sale comes in the wake of reports that NSO paid private operatives to physically intimidate individuals trying to investigate its role in attacks on human rights defenders – further proof that NSO is an extremely dangerous entity.

We are calling on Novalpina to confirm an immediate end to the sale or further maintenance of NSO products to governments which have been accused of using surveillance to violate human rights. It must also be completely transparent about its plans to prevent further abuses.

This could be an opportunity to finally hold NSO Group to account. Novalpina must commit to fully engaging with investigations into past abuses of NSO’s spyware, and ensure that neither NSO Group nor its previous owners, Francisco Partners, are let off the hook.”

The signatories to the letter are:

  • Amnesty International
  • R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
  • Privacy International
  • Access Now
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law and Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/spyware-firm-buyout-reaffirms-urgent-need-for-justice-for-targeted-activists/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2019/02/open-letter-to-novalpina-capital-nso-group-and-francisco-partners/

Aziz: thank you for the attention but now I have go back to detention…

February 18, 2019

Last Wednesday, 13 February 2019, Abdul Aziz Muhamat was awarded the 2019 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defender in Geneva. Some time earlier Behrouz Boochani was awarded the Australian Victorian Prize for Literature. What they have in common is that they are detained – for almost 6 years – on Manus Island under Australia’s off-shore refugee policy.  Their stories testify to the cruelty of this regime and the humanitarian deficiency of a country that claims a strong liberal tradition and is itself a nation based on immigration. Successive governments have defended this policy as necessary to stop trafficking although it is hard to see how forced stays of such length would attract anybody except the most desperate refugees. And anyway even those recognized as refugees would not be allowed to settle in Australia!

Aziz’ impassioned acceptance speech in Geneva, spoke of the solidarity he feels for his fellow detainees in the face of daily humiliating and degrading treatment. Therefore he vowed to return to his detention centre in the Pacific, return to be a number (“On the island, officials refer to me as QNK002. I have no identity other than that number“). See:

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey, not a good place to be a lawyer or a judge

February 7, 2019

On 6 February 2019 is became known that a public prosecutor has sought the maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each of 33 lawyers on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to their alleged links to the faith-based civic Gülen movement, the T24 news website reported on Tuesday. On Tuesday the trial of 53 defendants, 52 of whom are lawyers, continued at the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court.

[Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown as a result of which more than 150,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 50,000 others were jailed and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.]

According to data compiled by independent monitoring site The Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, 555 lawyers have been arrested since July 15, 2016 and 1,546 were under prosecution as of January 24, 2019. Two hundred sixteen lawyers have been sentenced to a total of 1,361 years in prison. Some of the arrested lawyers were reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment. Fourteen of the detained or arrested lawyers are presidents or former presidents of provincial bar associations.

A report titled “Incarceration of Turkish Lawyers: En Masse Arrests and Convictions (2016-2018)” previously revealed that lawyers have particularly been targeted simply due to the identity or affiliations of their clients, all this spite of the basic principles of the independence of lawyers. [see e.g. https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/basic-principles/ and also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/09/independence-of-the-legal-profession-subject-of-side-event-on-16-march-2017/]

Judiciary

And it is not limited to lawyers. A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday. Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organisation, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said. Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated”, Anadolu said.

The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians. The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/turkey-angry-after-pace-havel-prize-is-awarded-to-jailed-judge/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/18/european-commission-states-that-turkey-is-taking-major-steps-away-from-the-eu/

Torture

In the meantime Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the 2018 winner of the Hessian Peace Prize for her work documenting human rights abuses in Turkey, said torture had become systematic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/05/turkish-human-rights-defender-and-forensic-doctor-sebnem-korur-fincanci-honoured/]

Korur Fincancı was one of more than 1,000 Turkish academics who signed a 2016 petition calling for peace after a two-year ceasefire between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down and security forces used tanks and artillery to crush attempts by the militants to seize towns and cities across the mainly Kurdish southeast. Now the head of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for signing the petition and for her contribution to a report prepared by her foundation on the Turkish military’s activities in the southeastern town of Cizre. 

……The figures show an alarming trend that Korur Fincancı said pointed to systematic rights violations. “In the year 2017, more than 5,000 people across Turkey applied for legal aid from the Human Rights Association on the basis that they’d been tortured. More than 500 applied to representatives of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey to be diagnosed … for torture,” she said.  The number of applicants remained high in 2018, with more than 2,600 people who said they had been tortured applying for legal aid and 558 applying for treatment in the first 11 months of the year.

Fincancı

….Korur Fincancı she said the fight against torture must extend beyong medical treatment to preventative measures, and that means educating the public.

…Meanwhile, security forces have opened 26,000 cases against suspects they say resisted arrest. “After police launch cases against them, people become hesitant to open (torture) cases … or the withdraw them. Thus the judiciary protects the police, the use of torture with legal repercussions becomes more entrenched, and the police believe they are doing their duty under this protection,” said the doctor.

With the introduction of emergency rule after the coup, the purge and arrest of public officials has come to be counted as part of a struggle against terrorism, providing another layer of protection for security officers who commit torture and other infractions. “And this arrangement applies to civilians – it’s the same as telling security officers we are in a state of civil war and their actions will be ignored,” Korur Fincancı said. “And that’s a very dangerous situation.

State of emergency

Anyway, ending the state of emergency in Turkey has not ended repressive rule under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Human Rights Watch observed on 17 January 2019 in its World Report 2019. Prolonged and arbitrary jailing of critics on bogus terrorism charges has become the norm in Turkey. Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2018 took place in a climate of media censorship and with some members of parliament and one presidential candidate jailed. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) retained control of a weakened parliament through a coalition. And with the election, in which Erdoğan was reelected, Turkey’s presidential system of governance, approved in a 2017 constitutional referendum, entered fully into force. “Any hope that the end of the state of emergency six month ago would mark a return to respect for human rights has been dashed,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Erdoğan government’s hounding of its critics and opponents has dismantled Turkey’s rule of law framework and turned justice on its head.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/turkey-sentences-detained-judge-who-won-human-rights-award-to-10-years–anadolu-says-11141758
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/turkey-state-emergency-ends-not-repression
https://ahvalnews.com/torture/award-winning-rights-activist-says-torture-systematic-turkey