Archive for the 'OMCT' Category

Shocking case of refoulement from Spain

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022, Statewatch along with 13 other human rights organisations condemned the deportation from Spain to Algeria of Mohamed Benhalima, a human rights activist who faces a serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment in the North African state.

The organisations strongly condemn the deportation by Spain of Algerian activist Mohamed Benhalima, in the evening of 24 March 2022, despite the risks of torture and serious human rights violations he faces in Algeria, and therefore in blatant violation of Spain’s international obligations on non-refoulement. The authorities had been made aware, through civil society and legal appeals, that Mr Benhalima faces a high risk of torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trial in Algeria, where such violations are increasingly common against prisoners of opinion and peaceful activists.

Mohamed Benhalima is an Algerian citizen and a former Army corporal turned whistleblower, who exposed corruption among Algeria’s high-ranking military officials in 2019. He left Algeria after receiving information that his name was on a list of wanted military officials at risk of detention by the Algerian army for their participation in the Hirak, a mass pro-democracy protest movement.

He sought asylum in Spain on 18 February 2020 and again on 18 March 2022; Spain refused him asylum both times. On 14 March 2022, authorities opened an administrative file of expulsion for infringement of Art. 54.1.a. of Immigration Law 4/2000, alleging that Mr. Benhalima took part in “activities contrary to public security or which may be harmful for Spanish relationships with foreign states”.

Spanish authorities justified the opening of an expulsion file based on Mr. Benhalima’s alleged association with political opposition group Rachad, which was listed as a terrorist group by Algeria on 6 February 2022. Spanish authorities claimed that Rachad’s objective was to infiltrate radical youth into Algerian society to protest against the Algerian government, and concluded that the activist was a member of a terrorist group.

Authorities did not provide any proof of violent action or speech or any other action taken by the activist that would fall under a definition of terrorism in accordance with the definition proposed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Authorities also do not appear to have considered a context in which Algerian authorities have been increasingly levelling bogus terrorism and state security charges against peaceful activists, human rights defenders and journalists since April 2021. On 27 December 2021, UN Special Procedures warned that the definition of terrorism in the Algerian Penal Code was too imprecise and undermined fundamental rights. They stated that the procedure for registration on the national terrorist list did not comply with international human rights standards and expressed concern that it could give rise to abuse.

On 24 March around 7pm, Mr. Benhalima’s lawyers were notified of the resolution of expulsion and promptly filed a request for an interim suspensive measure at the National Court of Spain, which was rejected; however, it was revealed later that the activist was already on his way to Algeria at the time.

On 21 March 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) submitted a non-public report to the Spanish government stating that Mr. Benhalima’s asylum request should be studied thoroughly in a regular procedure and not rejected expediently, arguing that the fear of torture was credible and that Algeria’s criminalisation of peaceful opposition was internationally recognised.

On 27 March, Benhalima appeared in a video broadcasted on Ennahar TV, in which he “confesses” to the crimes of conspiracy against the state, and states that he was not treated badly in custody. However, the undersigned organisations call into question the reliability of such statements which might be the result of duress. In addition, Benhalima had himself released a video from the retention centre in Valencia, before his deportation to Algeria, in which he warns that such videos would not be genuine and would show that he “was subjected to severe torture at the hands of intelligence services.”

In January and March 2021, in Algeria, Mohamed Benhalima was sentenced in absentia to a total of 20 years in prison for charges including “participation in a terrorist group” (Article 87bis 3 of the Penal Code) and “publishing fake news undermining national unity” (Art.196 bis) among other charges. The overly broad formulation of both articles has been used by Algeria repeatedly to criminalise fundamental freedoms. In one of the verdicts, issued on 9 March 2021, the judge sentenced Benhalima to 10 years in prison for his online publications, including videos exposing corruption in the army, a form of peaceful expression, which is protected under the right to freedom of expression.

Spanish authorities additionally motivated the expulsion based on Mr. Benhalima’s close relationship with Mohamed Abdellah, another Algerian whistleblower and former member of the military, who also sought refuge in Spain in April 2019 and was forcibly returned on 21 August 2021 using Art. 54.1.a. of Law 4/2000, in similar circumstances and for the same motives.

Mohamed Abdellah, currently detained in the military prison of Blida, stated in court on 2 January 2022 that he had been subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment upon his return to Algeria, including prolonged solitary confinement in a cell with no light and physical abuse, according to a witness who attended the hearing. He was also deprived of access to a lawyer.

Despite the strong similarities between both cases providing a compelling precedent about the actual risk of torture and ill treatment of activists and whistleblowers, notably former members of the military, in Algeria, the Spanish government showed its determination to forcibly return someone where their physical and psychological integrity was not guaranteed. In doing so, Spain flouted critical international law obligations under which nobody should be returned to a country where they would be in danger of suffering torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Signatures

  • MENA Rights Group
  • Justitia Center for legal protection of human rights in Algeria
  • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Red Jurídica
  • CIHRS
  • Amnesty International
  • Irídia, Center for Human Rights
  • Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie
  • Al Karama
  • Statewatch
  • Spanish Commission for Refugees – CEAR
  • Euromed Rights
  • Alianza
  • ActionAid

https://www.statewatch.org/news/2022/march/spain-forsakes-international-obligations-in-appalling-refoulement-of-algerian-whistleblower/

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/4/6/rights-defenders-slam-spains-deportation-of-algerian-dissident

Naty Castro, human rights defender in the Philippines arbitrarily detained

March 10, 2022

On 8 March 2022 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests an urgent intervention in the Philippines.

The Observatory has been informed by Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan) about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Dr. Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro, a public health practitioner and human rights defender. Ms. Castro has worked in the poorest and most marginalised areas in the Philippines as a community-based health worker. She has also worked for the defence of community rights of the indigenous Lumad and is a former National Council member of Karapatan.

In February 18, 2022, officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) arbitrarily arrested Ms. Castro at her residence in San Juan City, Manila. The members of the PNP and PA presented an arrest warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, in January 2020, on charges of “kidnapping” and “serious illegal detention” (Criminal Case No. 6527), filed by public prosecutor Genesis Efren in March 2019. Ms. Castro, together with 540 other individuals, is being accused of kidnapping and detaining an unknown individual in Barangay Kolambungan, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur Province, on December 29, 2018.

Following her arrest, Ms. Castro was taken to the San Juan City Police Station and then moved to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City to undergo medical examination. She was subsequently brought to the PNP’s headquarters in Camp Crame. However, neither her family members nor legal counsels were allowed to have contact with her, and their requests to bring her medicine for hypertension and diabetes were dismissed.

On the same day in the afternoon, Ms. Castro was flown to the island of Mindanao without her family or legal representatives being informed. On February 19, 2022, the authorities held Ms. Castro incommunicado. Only after multiple calls from her family and legal representatives, the PNP disclosed that Ms. Castro was being held at the Bayugan City Police Station in Agusan del Sur Province.

On the afternoon of February 20, 2022, Ms. Castro’s family and legal counsel were able to visit her and bring her medicines. On February 22, 2022, the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City ordered her transfer to the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail, where she was still being detained pending trial at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

Ms. Castro’s lawyers filed a petition for bail and a motion to dismiss the charges against her. Both requests were pending before the court at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders notes that since November of 2020, Ms. Castro has been a victim of red-tagging. Her name and picture have been circulated on social media platforms in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Province, falsely accusing her of being a “communist”, a “terrorist”, and a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Human rights defenders in the Philippines have been subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention. Karapatan members have been subject to frequent harassment, criminalisation, and attacks, including the killing of Ms. Zara Alvarez and the arbitrary detention of Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna, Nimfa Lanzas, and Renayn Tejero. Ms. Naul was released on October 28, 2021, after 18 months of arbitrary detention. Mr. Abinguna and Mses. Lanzas and Tejero remain detained. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/27/william-zabel-human-rights-award-2021-to-philippines-ngo-karapatan/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/philippines-arbitrary-detention-of-rights-defender-and-health

Anti-terror laws in India keep being used against human rights defenders

January 28, 2022

On 26 January 2022 four major NGOs made a strong joint statement on India:

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of 18 human rights defenders under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in reprisal for their advocacy work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. Thirteen of those arrested under the UAPA are currently in Rohini, Tihar, and Mandoli jails, New Delhi. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the human rights defenders arrested, and the dismissal of all charges against them.

The CAA has been widely criticized by activists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, students and the international community for being openly sectarian and discriminatory against Muslims. After the CAA’s adoption, protesters across the country took the street to voice their concerns against the legislation, which goes against India’s Constitutional principles of secularism and equality. Police authorities responded by arresting human rights defenders and activists who spoke up against the CAA. Most of them were student activists and human rights defenders from the minority Muslim community.

The arrests of human rights defenders began in February 2020 and are still ongoing. Many of them had multiple First Information Reports (FIR) registered against them and were charged with serious offenses, including under UAPA. Of those arrested, only five human rights defenders – Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and Md. Faizan Khan – were released on bail. Thirteen others – Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Tahir Hussain, Saleem Malik, Mohd. Saleem Khan, Meeran Haider, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Shifa Ur Rehman, Athar Khan, and women human rights defenders Ishrat Jahan and Gulfisha Fatima– remain in jail. Despite prolonged incarceration, the trial for their case has not commenced yet.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/01/eu-human-rights-committee-condemns-indias-arrest-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

On 24 January 2022, a Delhi court framed charges against human rights defender Sharjeel Imam while rejecting his application for bail. The charges include Sections 124A (“sedition”), 153A (“promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153B (“imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”), 505 (“statements conducing to public mischief”), along with Section 13 (“punishment for unlawful activities”) of the UAPA.

Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, and Gulfisha Fatima have reported custodial violence and torture by the Delhi police. There has been no effective investigations into these allegations or responsibility taken for their treatment. Shifa Ur Rehman, who has been in detention since 26 April 2020, suffers from severe kidney disease and has been denied access to adequate medical care in prison.

We express our deep concern over the harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders that appear to be in retaliation to their peaceful activism and the legitimate expression of dissent against a discriminatory law. Despite the risks, human rights defenders have raised their voice for those oppressed by the CAA and in support of the Constitutional values that represent India.

We call on the Indian authorities to protect those defending human rights values and principles enshrined in national laws and to uphold international human rights commitments. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot speak out due to their incarceration, threats by Indian authorities, or due to a prevailing sense of fear. The treatment of these human rights defenders highlights a pattern of perpetrated abuse and violence, which is also exerted through legal mechanisms. This is especially concerning given India’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and its pledge to preserve and protect human rights.

We urge the relevant authorities in India to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested for protesting against the CAA, dismiss all charges, and cease all forms of harassment against them.
2. Guarantee under all circumstances that the arrested human rights defenders are not subjected to any form of torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and guarantee their access to adequate medical care and treatment.
3. Initiate a thorough judicial review of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in genuine consultation with independent civil society organizations and human rights defenders, with a view to aligning these laws with India’s obligations under international human rights law.
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions—including police and judicial harassment.

Please inform us of any actions that may be taken with regard to the above case.

-FIDH
· Civicus:
· Front Line Defenders
· World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-ongoing-targeting-of-18-human-rights-defenders-under-anti

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, i

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

India arrests Khurram Parvez again

November 23, 2021

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India arrested on Monday, 22 November 2021 prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez after a day of extensive searches at his residence and office in Jammu and Kashmir capital Srinagar. He is an internationally recognized human rights defender, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/81468931-79AA-24FF-58F7-10351638AFE3

A family member told The Wire that Khurram’s residence in the city’s Sonawar locality was raided by NIA officials who were accompanied by local police and paramilitary troopers, on Monday morning. Another raid was carried out later in the day at his office in the Amira Kadal locality.

The raids were carried out in connection with a case (RC 30/2021) filed by the agency earlier this year.

Sources said the investigators confiscated Khurram’s mobile phone, laptop, some books and documents from his office and residence before taking him to the agency’s camp office in Srinagar’s Church Lane on Monday afternoon. “In the evening, we got a call to bring his clothes,” said a family member, adding that his wife and their son went to the office and handed his clothes to the officials there.

The NIA has not so far issued any statement on the arrest of Khurram, who is also the chairman of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. Sources said his family was handed the arrest memo on Monday evening and he is likely to be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday.

The United Nations said it was disturbed by the reports of Khurram’s arrest, “I’m hearing disturbing reports that  Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in #India with terrorism-related crimes. He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender,” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, tweeted. David Kaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur, said Khurram’s arrest under terrorism charges was “yet another extraordinary abuse in Kashmir.”

World Organisation Again Torture (OMCT), a Geneva based non-profit which works with groups across the world to fight for human rights, said it was “deeply concerned” by Khurram’s arrest, “We are deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody. We call for his immediate release,” OMCT said in a tweet.
One of the most prominent rights defenders from Kashmir, Khurram has extensively worked on documenting the abuses allegedly committed both by security forces and militants in Kashmir as coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group based in Srinagar. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/human-rights-defender-khurram-parvez-reluctantly-released-in-india/

The JKCCS has published more than a dozen reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir and its last report, ‘Kashmir’s Internet Siege’ focused on the mass detentions and the reported breakdown of the judicial system in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/

Khurram’s last tweet on August 30 this year was about a programme organised by Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and its members countries across Asia who pledged “that truth will not be buried, disappeared won’t be ever forgotten & perpetrators will never be forgiven.”

However, India’s government resists any notion of having acted wrongly:

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the [UN] statement makes “baseless and unfounded allegations” against Indian security forces. “It also betrays a complete lack of understanding on the part of the OHCHR of the security challenges faced by India from cross-border terrorism and its impact on the most fundamental human right ‘the Right to Life’ of our citizens, including in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Asserting that all actions are undertaken in accordance with the law, he said, “We urge the OHCHR to develop a better understanding of the negative impact of terrorism on human rights.”

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/prominent-human-rights-activist-arrested-by-india-s-top-anti-terrorism-agency/9b91bc37-0dd2-48d4-aedc-b020fb36ea54

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/valley-rights-activist-khurram-parvez-detained-by-nia/cid/1840157

https://thewire.in/rights/khurram-parvez-nia-arrest

https://www.reuters.com/world/india/un-criticises-disturbing-arrest-rights-activist-indian-kashmir-2021-11-23/

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/global-rights-bodies-call-for-release-of-kashmir-based-activist-khurram-parvez/article37640132.ece

https://thewire.in/diplomacy/un-ohchr-khurram-parvez-arrest-india-dismiss

Chinese Journalist Zhang Zhan at imminent risk of death

November 6, 2021

On 4 November 2021 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in China.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the imminent risk of death of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since May 2020 as a reprisal for her coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic from February 2020 until her arrest. Ms. Zhang is a former lawyer whose licence was suspended in retaliation for her activism and a well-known and outspoken journalist on the situation of human rights in China. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/06/china-eu-deal-what-about-human-rights/

According to the relatives of Zhang Zhan, the journalists’ life is at imminent risk of death as a result of the partial hunger strike she started in June 2020 to protest her arbitrary detention and later her sentencing. The mother of Zhang Zhan was allowed to have a videocall with her daughter on October 28, 2021, after which she reported that the journalist weights less than 40 kg, is unable to walk unassisted and cannot raise her head without assistance. Her health is extremely poor, as she suffers from severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer and swollen legs and feet. During her detention, she has been restrained and force-fed via a nasal tube.

The relatives of Zhang Zhan have been consistently denied their right to visit the journalist and only been allowed to communicate with her by video calls on two occasions, on October 28 and February 2021, and by a phone call on August 2021. Moreover, Zhang Zhan’s mother requested the Chinese security police the permission to visit the journalist in prison to persuade her to abandon the hunger strike. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she had not received a reply.

The Observatory recalls that Zhang Zhan was hospitalised in a prison hospital between July 21 and August 11, 2021 due to her deteriorating health conditions. During her hospitalisation, she was tied to a hospital bed and force-fed by prison authorities. On August 11, she was transferred back to the Shanghai Women’s Prison, where she remained detained at the time of this Urgent Appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that on May 14, 2020, Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, one day after releasing a video that criticised the government’s measures to contain the virus, claiming the authorities were being negligent. Zhang Zhan had travelled to Wuhan from her home in Shanghai in early February 2020 to report from the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. She reported numerous stories, including the detention of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability, via her WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.

After seven months of pre-trial detention, on December 28, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Court found Zhang Zhan guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law) and sentenced her to four years in prison. The court rejected the application filed by Zhang Zhan’s lawyers to request bail, live streaming of the trial, and a time extension of the proceedings. Their requests to have the defense witnesses appear in court to present exculpatory evidence was also rejected by the court. Zhang Zhan attended her trial in a wheelchair because of her poor health.

The Observatory is deeply concerned about the health conditions and risk of death of Zhang Zhan and urges the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and grant her immediate access to adequate and comprehensive medical treatment.

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/china-journalist-zhang-zhan-at-imminent-risk-of-death

https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/china/human-rights-watch-calls-for-immediate-release-of-chinese-journalist-who-reported-on-covid.html

Cambodia: Arbitrary arrest of Mother Nature activists

September 9, 2020

On 8 September 2020 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests  urgent intervention in the arbitrary arrest of Mother Nature activists Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksme in Cambodia.

The three environmental activists and members of “Mother Nature”, were arrested for denouncing the exploitation of Phnom Penh‘s Bueng Ta-mouk lake. The project aims to build a military base, which will destroy the habitat of many bird species and damage biodiversity, and is also expected to cause significant flooding in Phnom Penh.  According to the information received, on September 3, 2020, Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were arrested by police in Phnom Penh as they were about to walk from Wat Phnom to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in order to request a meeting with the Prime Minister to share their concerns over a number of environmental issues, including the development of Bueng Ta-mouk lake. On the same day, Mr. Thun Ratha was arrested at his home in Khan Pur Sentchey District, Phnom Penh, by around 25 police officers, who surrounded the property for approximately two hours before arresting him. The police padlocked the property shut and left a letter displayed on the door informing that the operation was taken on the grounds that Mr. Thun Ratha “published the information without legal permission”, without specifying which information was published or what the legal grounds were for requiring permission over such a publication.

On September 6, 2020, the three were charged with “incitement to cause societal chaos” (articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed in pre-trial detention. They could face up to two years in prison. Mr. Thun Ratha was taken to the Correctional Center 1 while Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were taken to the Correctional Center 2.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about the fact that Cambodian authorities regularly use legal harassment and the politicised judicial system to target land and environmental activists and recalls in particular that this is not the first time that Mr. Thun Ratha and other Mother Nature activists have faced harassment.

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/incitement-09082020201342.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/13/jailed-in-hiding-expelled-cambodias-mother-nature-crackdown

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/cambodia/2020/09/d26068/

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

June 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azerbaijan: OMCT campaigns for human rights defender Elchin Mammad

May 26, 2020

Azerbaijani Human Rights Defender Elchin Mammad is one the cases in the  #FacesOfHope campaign by OMCT to which I referred yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/25/faces-of-hope-campaign-human-rights-defenders-imprisoned-worldwide/].

As a human rights lawyer and journalist, Elchin Mammad is used to speaking his mind. The 42-year old attorney presides over the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), a non-governmental organisation that provides free legal assistance to low income families and non-profits. His busy schedule also includesda job as the editor in chief of Yukselish Namine, a newspaper specializing in human rights concerns. On 30 March 2020, a few days after he had published online a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, police officers arrested Elchin at his home in Sumgait, a town north of the capital Baku. The police claimed to have found stolen jewellery at his office.

The next day, Sumgait City Court remanded Elchin Mammad in custody for three months as a criminal suspect. The father of two young children remains detained under trumped-up charges at Shuvalan pre-trial detention centre no. 3. This latest twist is nothing new to Elchin. He has faced harassment from the authorities in connection with his human rights work since 2015, when his organisation was investigated. He was subjected to arbitrary detention, repeatedly summoned and questioned by the police. He was also placed under travel restrictions in connection with the investigation.

On 15 May, the government officially stated that there are 46 COVID-19 infected inmates in the country. This puts Elchin’s life at risk, particularly as he suffers from hepatitis C. Azerbaijan’s prison system is plagued by severe overcrowding, while food, medication, sanitation, and even drinking water are substandard. This has led to the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly ruling that detention conditions in the country amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. In times of pandemic, such an environment risks becoming an incubator for the novel coronavirus.

Elchin’s case is particularly emblematic of the Azerbaijani authorities’ abusive and arbitrary methods used to silence critical voices. In 2014, the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. Prominent human rights defenders joined other political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s jails, on fabricated criminal charges of financial irregularities. Although most were released after spending years in prison, as a result of international pressure, the situation of defenders remains precarious

The authorities have seized the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to intensify the crackdown on civil society. On 19 March, President Ilham Aliyev used his yearly address to the nation on the Novruz Bayrami holiday to promise “new rules” for the duration of the pandemic, threatening to clear the country of “traitors” and “enemies” and to “isolate the fifth column”. To people like Elchin, who has dedicated his life to the defence of the downtrodden, these ominous words might now ring like a death sentence.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/26/azerbaijan-finally-full-acquittal-of-ilqar-mammadov-and-rasul-jafarov/

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/azerbaijan/2020/05/d25855/

Faces of Hope Campaign: Human Rights Defenders Imprisoned Worldwide

May 25, 2020

Defending the right to housing for vulnerable communities, exposing corruption and torture, speaking up against injustice, raising their voices for the rights of indigenous peoples or of minorities, upholding miners’ rights, peacefully demonstrating against discrimination or for access to clean water. All are legitimate ways to affirm our common rights. And yet, such activities have led many human rights defenders around the world to prison.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, detention may come with serious risks. Like other inmates, defenders face overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, with basic protective measures a distant dream. Worse, they may be denied access to health care as a form of punishment. These brave people are among the most exposed to contracting the virus, and among the least likely to receive proper treatment.

Following UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call to governments to “release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection, OMCT launched in May 2020 a global campaign calling for the release of all human rights defenders detained worldwide, including those in pre-trial detention.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/29/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-bachelet-calls-for-restraint-in-governments-covid-emergency-powers/

Human Rights Defenders work to ensure journalists are free to keep us informed about how our governments are responding to the pandemic and about the effects of quarantine measures; they denounce the abuse of power and police violence that can result from the state of emergency; they champion the needs of discriminated communities; they call on States to protect our housing and labour rights as jobs disappear; they demand that women’s sexual and reproductive rights not be neglected as healthcare systems focus on the virus. In short, human rights defenders make sure no one is left behind.

…..Let’s bring this solidarity to all the arbitrarily detained human rights defenders whose lives are at risk. Join our campaign and ask for their release using #FacesOfHope. They need us. And we need them too.

Meet the #FacesOfHope:

PHILIPPINES: Teresita Naul

EGYPT: Ibrahim Ezz El-Din

GUATEMALA: Jorge Coc Coc and Marcelino Xol Cucul

INDIA: Safoora Zargar

CAMEROON: Mancho Bibixy Tse

PERU: Walter Aduviri Calisaya

TURKEY: Selçuk Kozağaçlı

AZERBAIJAN: Elchin Mammad

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/2020/05/d25823/