Posts Tagged ‘Al-Jazeera’

Vietnam detaines human rights defender Pham Doan Trang just after concluding its annual human rights dialogue with the USA

October 8, 2020

Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]
Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]

On 7 October 2020 al-jazeera reported that Vietnam has detained prominent human rights defender and writer Pham Doan Trang just hours after the conclusion of its annual human rights dialogue with the United States. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/16/rsfs-press-freedom-award-2019-goes-to-three-women-journalists/]

Trang, a 42-year-old former journalist-turned-activist, was arrested at her home in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday night, and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda”, an offence that carries a jail term of long as 20 years, Defending the Defenders said in a statement.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 25 activists as well as 29 land petitioners, bringing the total number of prisoners of conscience to 258, the rights group added. Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, said Vietnam was taking a “scorched-earth response” to political dissent.

Despite suffering years of systemic government harassment, including severe physical attacks, Trang has remained faithful to her principles of peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy,” Robertson said. “Her thoughtful approach to reforms and demands for people’s real participation in their governance are messages the Vietnam government should listen to and respect, not repress.

Trang’s writing covers a wide range of issues including LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and democratic activism. Most of her work is published clandestinely including the best-selling Politics for the Common People, which is akin to a guide for fledgeling activists.

She is also known for her on-the-ground activism, taking part in rallies in support of imprisoned dissidents, the environment and in response to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Trang has been on the radar of the security forces for more than 10 years and has been detained and harassed a number of times, including while she was on her way to a meeting with then-US President Barack Obama in 2016, and, a year later, after she met a European Union delegation on a fact-finding mission ahead of its annual human rights dialogue with Vietnam.

Her latest arrest came only a few hours after Vietnam had wrapped up its annual human rights dialogue with the US. The US State Department said in a statement that the virtual meeting lasted three hours and covered a range of rights issues including “continued progress and bilateral cooperation on the rule of law, freedom of expression and association, religious freedom and labor rights”.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/7/vietnam-arrests-leading-democracy-activist-after-us-rights-talks

https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/scorched-earth-vietnam-arrests-leading-dissident-activist-and-blogger/

European judges demonstrate in Poland against the ‘muzzle law”

January 13, 2020

Not many of us would expect to see European judges demonstrating in the streets, but Al Jazeera reports that on Saturday 11 January 2020 many joined their Polish peers in protest against the ‘muzzle law’, a bill which proposes strict disciplinary measures against Polish judges critical of the government’s judicial overhaul.

The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]
The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]

The office of Warsaw’s mayor said some 30,000 people took part in Saturday’s march to denounce a bill that would allow the Law and Justice (PiS) government to discipline judges who question its judicial changes. The introduction of the measure in December is the latest episode in a years-long squabble over courts reform in the country that has triggered a feud with the European Union. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/08/polish-judges-have-become-human-rights-defenders/]

Judges from more than 20 other European countries, many wearing judicial robes over their thick winter coats, carried placards with their countries’ names. As each delegation was announced, chants of “Thank you, thank you” rose from the crowd. About 1,000 Polish judges also joined the rally, with many travelling to Warsaw from all corners of the country.

We want to feel that we are safe at work. A judge cannot fear that if a ruling they hand down is inconvenient for the government, they will bear consequences. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to that,” said judge Halina Musial.

Background: Despite protests in some 200 towns and cities when first announced, the draft law passed the PiS-dominated lower house in late December. It is now being considered by the opposition-controlled Senate, which may delay its passage, but is unlikely to stop it. The draft law, which makes it easier to dismiss or fine uncooperative judges, is seen as a response to an earlier blow to the government’s reforms.  In early December, the Supreme Court ruled that its own disciplinary chamber, a body created by the government, is “not a court within the meaning of EU and national law”. The court also found that the constitutional body nominating judges, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which has been reformed to be mostly appointed by parliament rather than other judges, is “not an impartial and independent body”. When first introduced in December, Małgorzata Gersdorf, Supreme Court chief justice, warned that the changes would “infringe EU treaties” and risked driving Poland out of the bloc. For its part, the government claims that the bill is necessary to stop judges from “undermining” the legal system.  Since taking power in 2015, PiS has been at loggerheads with the EU over its judicial meddling, including installing allies in the constitutional court, trying to force Supreme Court judges into retirement and politicising lower-level appointments.  The European Commission’s vice-president, Vera Jourova, has urged Poland to halt work on the legislation until it had been properly consulted, echoing calls by the Council of Europe and the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights

At Saturday’s protest, Irish Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin carried letters of support from Irish Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the Association of Judges of Ireland, according to the Irish Times. Murat Arslan, an imprisoned Turkish judge and winner of the 2017 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, also sent a note of support to the protesters, Polish website OKO.press reported. At the request of the opposition Senate speaker, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, visited Warsaw this week to prepare its “urgent opinion”, but the government declined to meet the representatives. Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin responded that “Poland is a sovereign country and shapes its own legal system, including the judiciary. These are not issues governed by European law”.

How Twitter moved from Arab spring to Arab control

July 29, 2019

Social media platforms were essential in the Arab Spring, but governments soon learned how to counter dissent online”, writes
Twitter played an essential role during the Egyptian Revolution and was used to get info to an international audience [File: Steve Crisp/Reuters]
Twitter played an essential role during the Egyptian Revolution and was used to get info to an international audience [File: Steve Crisp/Reuters]

In a series of articles, Al Jazeera examines how Twitter in the Middle East has changed since the Arab Spring. Government talking points are being magnified through thousands of accounts during politically fraught times and silencing people on Twitter is only part of a large-scale effort by governments to stop human rights activists and opponents of the state from being heard. In the next part of this series, Al Jazeera will look at how Twitter bots influenced online conversation during the GCC crisis on both sides of the issue.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/exists-demobilise-opposition-twitter-fails-arabs-190716080010123.html

‘Lost Childhoods’ – an interactive graphic novel exposing child abuse in Nigeria – awarded at BAFTA

June 20, 2019

Journalist-photographer Marc Ellison receiving the award in London on Monday evening [One Media World]
Journalist-photographer Marc Ellison receiving the award in London on Monday evening [One Media World]

The winning entry – Lost Childhoods: How Nigeria’s Fear of Child ‘Witchcraft’ Ruins Young Lives – was praised on Monday for its interactive investigation into the practice of branding children and young adolescents as “witches”. “Combining graphic novel imagery with film, this highly accessible piece effectively covers a major human rights issue,” One World Media organisers said from the awards gala at London’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

Blamed for family illness, sudden financial loss or other misfortunes, the children are often beaten, locked into cages, branded with hot knives or made to undergo costly “exorcisms” performed by so-called “prophets” in local churches. With little choice but to flee, many children end up as drug addicts and living in rubbish dumps or on the streets.

AJLabs teamed up with journalist-photographer Marc Ellison and Nigerian illustrator Samuel Iwunze to unearth the facts of this under-reported story. Working meticulously with local fixers, NGOs and child psychologists, Ellison was able to expose the practice that has taken hold in parts of the Niger Delta and that has partially been fuelled by myths propagated by the Nigerian film industry.

Lost Childhoods employs a mix of visual and textual formats, including comic/graphic novel illustrations to preserve anonymity and portray past events. Carlos Van Meek, Al Jazeera’s director of Digital Innovation and Programming, said, “This story, in particular, is a skilful weave of investigations, videos, photos and illustrations that brings to light disturbing physical, emotional and religious abuse against children. Our goal is – and always will be – to make an impact that leads to positive change at the local and international level.”

As further testament to the production, AJLabs worked with NGOs to translate the graphic novel into local languages for distribution within communities, schools and churches in Nigeria, in an attempt to educate people and end the practice of scapegoating innocent children and branding them as witches.

Nigeria witchcraft

NEWS: UN expert, Agnes Callamard, says Saudi Arabia is responsible for ‘extrajudicial’ killing of Khashoggi and calls it ‘international crime’.

June 19, 2019

The UN rapporteur believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime [File: Sedad Suna/EPA-EFE]
The UN rapporteur believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime [File: Sedad Suna/EPA-EFE]

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 says UN extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard in her report which was released on Wednesday 19 June 2019. She said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”. Al Jazeera published the Executive Summary (see below), while Rob Berschinski of Human Rights First calls on Congress to pursue accountability for his murder. “Callamard’s report underscores that there will be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi unless Congress steps up. Saudi leaders have made it clear that they intend to get away with murder. President Trump has made it clear that he values arms sales over the killing and dismemberment of a U.S. resident. Congress must make it clear that it will not let this stand,”. He added that “the Senate has passed aunanimous resolution that found, based on U.S. intelligence, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Republican and Democratic House leaders have called for accountability. Now is the time for action, not words.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/18/jamal-khashoggi-murder-the-plot-thickens/

——–

Executive summary

State Responsibilities

1.   Mr. Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible. His attempted kidnapping would also constitute a violation under international human rights law. From the perspective of international human rights law, State responsibility is not a question of, for example, which of the State officials ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s death; whether one or more ordered a kidnapping that was botched and then became an accidental killing; or whether the officers acted on their own initiative or ultra vires.

2.   The killing of Mr. Khashoggi further constituted a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (thereafter VCCR) and of the prohibition against the extra-territorial use of force in time of peace (customary law and UN Charter). In killing a journalist, the State of Saudi Arabia also committed an act inconsistent with a core tenet of the United Nations, the protection of freedom of expression.  As such, it can be credibly argued that it used force extra-territorially in a manner “inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

3.   Further, the circumstances of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi may constitute an act of torture under the terms of the Convention Against Torture, ratified by Saudi Arabia. Finally, the killing of Mr. Khashoggi may also constitute to this date an enforced disappearance since the location of his remains has not been established.

Individual liability

4.   The Special Rapporteur has determined that there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi Officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s.  She warns against a disproportionate emphasis on identifying who ordered the crime, pointing out that the search for justice and accountability is not singularly dependent on finding a smoking gun and the person holding it. The search is also, if not primarily, about identifying those who, in the context of the commission of a violation, have abused, or failed to fulfill, the responsibilities of their positions of authority. 

Duty to investigate and consular immunity

5.   The Special Rapporteur has found that both the investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards regarding the investigation into unlawful deaths.

6.   Saudi officials were present in the Saudi consulate and residence in Istanbul from 6 to 15 October during which time they presumably investigated the killing. However, the Special Rapporteur was not provided with any information regarding the evidence they may have collected during this period. The Saudi Public Prosecution made public a few of their findings on 15 November but the statement was light on details, limiting itself to a few general allegations. Other statements regarding the actions and responsibilities of specific individuals were a welcomed step. However, the Special Rapporteur notes that some of the individuals allegedly referenced in these statements and the identity of 11 perpetrators currently on trial do not match. Further, the Saudi authorities have yet to disclose the whereabouts of the remains of Mr. Khashoggi.

7.   The Special Rapporteur found that under the terms of the VCCR, Saudi authorities were under no legal obligation to grant access to the Consular premises to the Turkish investigators. However, Saudi Arabia was under an international obligation to cooperate with the Turkish authorities in the investigation of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. Such cooperation necessarily demanded that they gave access to the consulate to the Turkish authorities in a prompt and effective fashion and in good faith. Consular immunity was never intended to enable impunity. 

8.   The Special Rapporteur found credible evidence pointing to the crime scenes having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned. These indicate that the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice. 

9.   Turkish investigators, accompanied by Saudi investigators, only had access to the Consulate on the 15th October for 6 hours and to the Consul’ residence on 17th October for around thirteen hours, where they also had to search the whole consular vehicle fleet. Their scientific and forensic inquiries were limited to “swabbing” and they were not allowed to drain a well located in the residence. The limitations imposed by Saudi Arabia on the Turkish investigation cannot be justified by the need to protect Consular operations.

10.  Turkish investigators decided not to search the Saudi Consulate without proper authorization from the Saudi authorities. The Special Rapporteur found that this was the appropriate way to proceed: creating an exception to the VCCR grounded inviolability of the Saudi Consular premises for the purpose of an investigation would have been unnecessary and disproportionate.

11.   She also found that Turkey’s fear over an escalation of the situation and retribution meant that the consular residences or consular cars were also not searched without permission even though they are not protected by the VCCR.

12.   The Special Rapporteur regrets that it appears no international body or other State came forward with an offer to “mediate” between the two parties to negotiate prompt and effective access to the crime scene.  This could have been done to also help de-escalate the crisis, protect equally the VCCR and human rights, and address as well the fear of retaliation. Instead, it appears that other Member States pondered rather only their own national and strategic interests. The United Nations either considered it had no evident means of intervention or elected not to intervene. In retrospect, it is evident that the ultimate casualty of these considerations was justice and accountability for Jamal Khashoggi.

Duty to protect and to warn

13.   On the basis of credible information at her disposal, the Special Rapporteur has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that either Turkey or the United States knew, or ought to have known, of a real and imminent or foreseeable threat to Mr. Khashoggi’s life. There was credible evidence to suggest that, had Mr. Khashoggi returned to Saudi Arabia, or been lured there, he would have been detained, possibly disappeared, and harmed. These risks were not linked to his life or presence in his countries of residence, namely the US or Turkey.  She did not secure credible evidence that US authorities had intercepted the Saudi Crown Prince’s communications or that such intercepts had been assessed before the time of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

14.   The killing of Mr. Khashoggi has highlighted the vulnerabilities of dissidents living abroad, and the risks they are facing of covert actions by the authorities of their countries of origin or non-State actors associated to them. The States of the countries where they have found residence or exile are under an obligation to respect their human rights, and protect them against violence by the States of the countries they have escaped from.  This obligation should entail, namely:

(a)   The duty to protect is triggered whenever Governments know or ought to know of a real and immediate threat or risk to someone’s life;

(b)   Such an obligation to protect includes, but is not limited to, a duty to warn the individual of an imminent threat to their life

(c)   The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, is imposed on all Governments agencies and institutions, and thus includes Intelligence Agencies

(d)   The obligation to protect applies regardless of the status of citizen or alien on the territories of the State.

(e)   The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, demands that risks assessment take into account whether some individuals may be particularly at risk because of their identity or activities, such as journalists or human rights defenders.

(f)    The obligation to protect, including the duty to warn, may be triggered extra-territorially, whenever States exercise power or effective control over individual’s enjoyment of the right to life.

Duty to prosecute and reparations

15.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken timid steps towards addressing its State responsibilities in terms of prosecution and reparation. But these stop short of what is required under international law. The accountability gap is all the more worrying given that it concerns a crime that has received an unprecedented level of attention and outcry internationally, including official public condemnation the world over.

16.  The on-going trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, while an important step towards accountability, fails to meet procedural and substantive standards. The trial is held behind closed doors; the identity of those charged has not been released nor is the identity of those facing the death penalty. At the time of writing, at least one of those identified as responsible for the planning and organizing of the execution of Mr. Khashoggi has not been charged. 

17.  The Government of Saudi Arabia has invited representatives of Turkey and of the permanent members of the Security Council to attend at least some of the hearings.  However, the Special Rapporteur has been told that this trial observation was conditional upon agreement to not disclose its details. Trial observation under those conditions cannot provide credible validation of the proceedings or of the investigation itself. It is particularly concerning that, given the identity of the observers, the institution of the UN Security Council itself has been made complicit in what may well amount to a miscarriage of justice. 

18.  In view of her concerns regarding the trial of the 11 suspects in Saudi Arabia, the Special Rapporteur calls for the suspension of the trial.

19.  To date the Saudi State has failed to offer public recognition of its responsibility for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and it has failed to offer an apology to Mr. Khashoggi’s family, friends and colleagues for his death and for the manner in which he was killed. The Special Rapporteur obtained information regarding a financial package offered to the children of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi but it is questionable whether such package amounts to compensation under international human rights law. 

20.  The restructuring of the Intelligence Services announced by King Salman is insufficient. There has been no subsequent information elaborating on the impact of the restructuring (or any other measures) on the decision-making, training, and codes of ethics of the Security Agencies, to name a few issues of concern.  Instead, one would expect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to demonstrate non-repetition including by releasing all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and belief; investigating all allegations of torture and lethal use of force in formal and informal places of detention; investigating all allegations of enforced disappearances and making public the whereabouts of individuals disappeared. It should also undertake an in-depth assessment of the actors, institutions and circumstances that made it possible for the execution of Mr. Khashoggi to be carried forward and identify the reforms required to ensure non-repetition.

Universal jurisdiction

21.  The Special Rapporteur believes that the killing of Mr Kashoggi constitutes an international crime over which States should claim universal jurisdiction. The killing of Mr. Khashoggi is a violation of a jus cogen norm. It violates the VCCR and the prohibition against the extraterritorial use of force in times of peace. The circumstances of the execution may amount to an act of torture under the Convention Against Torture. It is a continuing case of enforced disappearance since the remains of Mr. Khashoggi have not been located. It concerns a journalist in self-imposed exile. His execution has an enduring international impact.

Accountability

22.  The Special Rapporteur is concerned that legal accountability for the execution of Mr. Khashoggi is being made difficult to obtain. The trial underway in Saudi Arabia will not deliver credible accountability. Turkey has not initiated proceedings yet and hopes for credible accountability are weak in a country with such a track record of imprisonment of journalists. Jurisdictional challenges and the impossibility of conducting a trial in absentia mean that a trial in the US will face many challenges. The Special Rapporteur makes a number of proposals for how some of these issues may be addressed while warning that no one proposal on its own will deliver credible accountability.

23.  The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the search for accountability and justice should include other means, including political, diplomatic, financial, symbolic. Actions to celebrate and recall the life of Jamal Khashoggi have an important part to play in ensuring public accountability for his execution.


https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/un-khashoggi-report-call-action

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/khashoggi-executive-summary-callamard-report-190619105102019.html

Jamal Khashoggi murder: the plot thickens

March 18, 2019

On 17 March 2019, the New York Times reported that the Crown Prince (MBS) authorised a clandestine campaign against Saudi dissenters and human rights defenders well before Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

The Rapid Intervention Group was authorised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court insider, US officials told the NYT [File: Reuters]
The Rapid Intervention Group was authorised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman US officials told the NYT [File: Reuters]

More than a year before the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, approved a secret campaign to silence dissenters, the New York Times has reported. The campaign included surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudis, said the report published on Sunday citing the US officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the effort. American officials referred to it as the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, the Times said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/]

…..At least some of the clandestine missions were carried out by the members of the team that killed and dismembered Khashoggi in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suggesting his murder was part of a wider campaign against dissidents, the report said, citing the US officials and associates of some Saudi victims. These members were involved in at least a dozen operations beginning in 2017, the officials said, including forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries.

According to the New York-based newspaper, the Rapid Intervention Group has been involved in the harassment of arrested prominent human rights activists and women’s rights defenders, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Iman al-Najfan.

Alia al-Hathloul says that al-Qahtani attended several such sessions to torture her sister. He also threatened to kill Loujain and throw her body into the sewers, Alia says. According to the newspaper, the women were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, waterboarding, and threatened with death and rape during the interrogations. Loujain’s sister says that at first the Saudi authorities did not send the arrested women to jail, but in a secret location in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. According to US intelligence assessment, the brutal interrogations prompted university professor al-Najfan to attempt suicide. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/]

Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, or answer questions from the Times about its work.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/mbs-approved-intervention-dissidents-nyt-report-190318075621971.html

Scholars at Risk supports photojournalist Dr. Shahidul Alam in Bangladesh

December 5, 2018

On 5 December 2018 Scholars at Risk expressed concern about the charges against Shahidul Alam, an intellectual and acclaimed photojournalist, who was just released on bail after over one hundred days in prison in apparent retaliation for his public comments on the widespread student protests in Bangladesh.

Dr. Alam is a world-renowned photographer and visiting professor at Sunderland University who has established notable photography and media institutions in Bangladesh, including the Drik Gallery, the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, and Majority World. He is well-known for photographing significant political moments in Bangladesh since the 1980s.

On August 5, 2018, Dr. Alam spoke on Facebook Live and Al Jazeera about the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh that sought safer roads, following an incident in which a speeding bus killed two college students. Earlier that day, Dr. Alam was covering one of the protests when youth league members reportedly attacked him and a group of journalists. Referencing this incident, while speaking with Al Jazeera, Dr. Alam alleged that police hired armed individuals to violently attack student protesters. Hours after the interview, a group of thirty police officers reportedly raided Dr. Alam’s home, took him into custody, and interrogated him. They then charged him under section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act (ICT Act) for electronically sharing material that “tends to deprave and corrupt” the public and causes “deterioration in law and order.” No evidence has been produced by the police in their investigation of Dr. Alam to support these charges.

On August 6, while police escorted Dr. Alam out of the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court following a hearing, Dr. Alam told reporters that police had beaten him while in custody. Dr. Alam received treatment at a hospital the following day by request of a court. On August 8, Dr. Alam was returned to jail and held for over one hundred days. On November 20, Dr. Alam was released on bail; however he still faces up to 14 years in prison based on charges under the ICT Act.

SAR asks for emails, letters, and faxes respectfully urging authorities to drop all charges against Dr. Alam that stem from his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression; and, pending this, to ensure immediately his case is addressed in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and detention, in accordance with Bangladesh’s obligations under international law.

On how to join the campaign see: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50943/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=25660

MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat suffers under Australia’s endless detention policy

December 4, 2018

 wrote for Al-Jazeera about “Manus and the deepening despair of Australia’s endless detention policy”, saying that fellow refugees are the only lifeline for men who wonder whether they will ever escape the remote Pacific island where they have been held for more than five years under Australia’s harsh off-shore detention policies. His focus is on MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/finalists-mea-2019/]. As interviews with this man are difficult to come by, here the full story:

Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He's now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]
Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He’s now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea – Aziz Abdul Muhamat had agreed to meet me for an interview near the East Lorengau refugee transit centre at eight in the morning. The 25-year-old Sudanese man is a nominee for a global human rights prize – the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award – for his advocacy work on behalf of his fellow refugees on Manus Island. He has been a refugee on this remote Pacific island, part of Papua New Guinea, for more than five-and-a-half years.

But Muhamat wasn’t answering messages. Later, I would learn that it was because he’d been up until the early hours, giving words of hope to desperate men – men who have been self-harming. Men have been dousing themselves in petrol. Men suffering from depression, grief and anxiety, marooned on an island and withdrawn deep inside themselves.

‘Transition centres’

As of October, there were around 500 male refugees remaining on Manus. Perhaps another 100 were asylum seekers whose bid to be recognised as refugees had failed. Getting precise data on them – and whether they have moved to the capital, Port Moresby – from Australia’s government has been consistently hard for years. Luck was not on the side of these men when they tried to get to Australia from Indonesia, coming face-to-face with a new Australian policy to halt boat arrivals once and for all – and, according to the government, stop deaths at sea. From 2013, authorities began intercepting boats and taking those on board to Australia’s Christmas Island. Eventually, the refugees were flown to Manus or the tiny republic of Nauru. With the agreement of the government in Port Moresby, it was decided that the men on Manus would be housed in an Australian navy base. The detention centre was shut in late 2017 – its last remaining men violently ejected and moved on to “transition centres” – after a large cohort spent several weeks resisting the power, water, food and medicine cuts, gaining a sizeable amount of media coverage. For many, though, the only transition was to a deeper state of despair.

Muhamat was at the forefront of the refusal to leave the centre, borne from a glimpse of freedom when the men were suddenly reminded of the power that came from being able to make their own decisions on when to shower or sleep. “I never felt that I’m free in five-and-a-half years, except those 24 days,” he said. “I felt that people are calling my name, ‘Aziz’, instead of Q and K and zero, zero two.

Suicide attempts

Australia closed its main detention camp on Manus Island a year ago and the men now live in ‘transition centres’ with only rudimentary support; those at the East Lorengau centre protested against the conditions last month [Al Jazeera]

Having been moved from the prison-like detention centre, the refugees are now in poorly-serviced camps which they are free to leave. But most stay put. A much-vaunted “US deal” to allow these refugees to settle in the United States is their remaining hope, but for many, it is fading fast. More than 400 people formerly held in Nauru – where Australia detained families and children – and Manus Island have already been resettled in the US  The ones I’ve spoken to have jobs, rented apartments, cars – in short, new lives. Of course, they’re still scarred from their time in detention, but they’re off the islands. 

But many Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis and others are simply not being accepted by the administration of President Donald Trump under the deal struck by the government of his predecessor, Barack Obama. They have either been outright rejected, or have applied for resettlement and spent the year in vain waiting for replies.

A mental health crisis grips the remaining men. Suicide attempts and self-harm are rife. As the stress and anxiety increase, men like Muhamat and the Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Bouchani continue to work round-the-clock providing impromptu counselling to their grief-stricken friends and counterparts. Australia’s government has repeatedly promised that these men will “never” settle in Australia, lest “people smugglers” begin selling their product once more. The hope that came with news of the so-called US deal has for some become an unbearable disappointment. 

In the face of that, I’m struck at the incredible strength of character on display by many of the young men I met. “We tell these men, we give them false hope for them to go and sleep,” Muhamat said one afternoon as we sat in my hotel room. “We do it because we want to keep them positive, we want to keep them alive.” When asked if he needed to head back at any time to deal with the desperate messages coming up on his phone, he replied: “It’s OK, Behrouz is there.” 

The despair is as great as at any time in the past five-and-a-half years. For Muhamat, the day-to-day ritual of helping others over the years – liaising with journalists and lawyers, teaching English to other refugees, talking friends out of self-harm and suicide – has been part and parcel of survival. “As long as what I’m doing, people are getting a benefit out of it, I don’t actually feel that pressure,” Muhamat said. At the time of writing, a newly-elected independent member of parliament from Sydney is attempting to get a bill through the parliament which would see the evacuation of psychologically or physically ill men from Manus.

But glimmers of hope come and go on Manus. Later, I see a message from a refugee reporting a man’s attempted suicide, his second in two days. After he fails to hang himself, he tries another desperate act – overdosing on tablets and drinking shampoo.

https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/12/manus-deepening-despair-australia-endless-detention-policy-181203070732724.html

Saudi Arabia still steering in the wrong direction

May 19, 2018

Saudi authorities detained seven women human rights defenders since 15 May 2018, say Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. “Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” HRW Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement. Among the detained women are Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi blogger, and Lujain al-Hathloul, a women right’s activist who had been arrested previously and held for 75 days for attempting to drive back into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the government is trying to silence critics, particularly those who champion women’s rights reforms.  “While it’s not clear why they were arrested, today we have seen Saudi press reports come to suggest that these women are traitors and have been arrested because they are undermining the national unity of the country,” Begum told Al Jazeera.

Amnesty International condemned the commentary of the arrests as a “chilling smear campaign” and an “extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders” in the country.

[Since 2011, nearly 30 activists and dissidents have been convicted in Saudi courts, many of whom received sentences of up to 15 years, according to HRW.]

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/175098-180519-saudis-detain-women-s-advocates-ahead-of-driving-ban-lift

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/saudi-arabia-arrests-women-rights-activists-180519075533018.html

For some of my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/

later: http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/05/24/saudi-driving-activist-released-after-crackdown-say-campaigners

Amnesty’s Annual report 2017 is out: depressing but rays of hope

February 22, 2018

Amnesty International´s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights 2017, assesses the human rights situation in 159 countries and delivers a most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today. Here follow some summaries form the media:

AI itself highlights in the launch on 22 February 2018, the deepening human rights crisis in the Americas.  “People across the Americas faced a deepening human rights crisis fuelled by growing government intolerance of dissent and increasing demonization in political rhetoric that cemented its status as one of the most violent and unequal regions in the world“, Amnesty International warned. Nevertheless, the organization found that a growing resistance movement of both first-time and seasoned activists provides real hope of reversing the slide towards oppression and fear.

The report highlights alarming trends for the state of human rights in the Americas, including:

  • High levels of violence that continued to ravage the region, with waves of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions. In Mexico, more than 34,000 people remained missing, and extrajudicial executions were rife. A year on from Colombia’s historic peace agreement, violence was still a daily part of life, and an estimated 60,000 people were forcibly displaced due to armed conflict in 2017 alone, according to official numbers.
  • Venezuela continues to face a serious human rights crisis, fuelled by the escalation of government-sponsored violence to respond to the increasing social discontent created by rising inflation and a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained and there were many reports of torture and other ill-treatment.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean remained as the most violent regions in the world for women and girls, despite strict laws aimed at addressing the crisis. The region has the world’s highest rate of non-intimate partner violence against women, and the second highest rate of intimate partner violence.
  • Ongoing intimidation and attacks against community leaders, journalists and activists who stood up for human rights. Environmental defenders were among the most at risk. Of the 188 environmental defenders killed in 2017, 110 took place in the Americas, according to the NGO Front Line Defenders.
  • Deepening discrimination and neglect of the rights of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples, including their rights to their ancestral territory and to free, prior and informed consent on projects affecting them. From Peru to Nicaragua, national and transnational corporations sought to take control of land away from Indigenous Peoples and peasant farmers, affecting their livelihoods and contaminating their basic resources.
  • A rapidly out of control yet largely invisible refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of people from some of the world’s most violent countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, were denied urgent asylum.

Yet these injustices have also inspired many more people to join long-standing struggles, and the report details many important achievements that human rights activists helped to secure. These include lifting the total ban on abortion in Chile and the approval of a law to help victims of enforced disappearances in Mexico find their missing loved ones. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/31/2017-a-year-to-forget-for-human-rights-defenders-but-dont-forget-the-human-rights-defenders/]

Last year proved that however disenfranchised people were, they refused to resign themselves to a future without human rights. Emerging social discontent inspired people to take to the streets, stand up for their rights and demand an end to repression, marginalization and injustice,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International The Americas was at the hub of this new wave of activism. The “Ni Una Menos” (“Not one woman less”) movement denounced violence against women and girls across the region, while survivors of gender-based and sexual violence in Argentina, Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, and many other countries took to the streets to protest against impunity for such crimes.

Protesters and refugees bear the brunt of ‘normalized’ violence: Hundreds of activists were killed last year as authorities sought to repress civil society and muzzle the media, the report says. Human rights defenders faced threats, harassment and attacks in most countries in the region, while states failed to protect them and acknowledge the importance of their work.

The injustice of President Trump’s cruel pledge to build a wall along the USA-Mexico border was emphasized by Central America’s ongoing refugee crisis. More than 50,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador sought asylum in other countries, thousands of whom were then apprehended at the US border. Mexico received a record number of asylum applications but repeatedly failed to provide protection to those who needed it – instead pushing people back to highly dangerous situations.

The numbers of people fleeing Venezuela rocketed as it faced one of the worst human rights crises in its recent history, fuelled by an escalation of government-sponsored violence. When the country’s crippling shortage of food and medical supplies sparked protests, the security forces’ heavy-handed response lead to more than 120 deaths.

Instead of trying to suppress people when they speak out, governments should address their concerns, said Amnesty International.

We are witnessing history in the making as people rise up and demand justice in greater numbers. If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, then this ultimately will be their own undoing. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights: the onus now is on governments to show that they are listening,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

[for last year see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/]

Interesting to note the different emphasis placed on the report such as in the Al-Jazeera article: “World leaders abandoning human rights: Amnesty

World leaders are undermining human rights for millions of people with regressive policies and hate-filled rhetoric, but their actions have ignited global protest movements in response, a rights group said. US President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and China’s President Xi Jinping were among a number of politicians who rolled out regressive policies in 2017, according to Amnesty International’s annual human rights report published on Thursday. The human rights body also mentioned the leaders of Egypt, the Philippines and Venezuela. “The spectres of hatred and fear now loom large in world affairs, and we have few governments standing up for human rights in these disturbing times,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary-general, said. “Instead, leaders such as el-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, Trump and Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions.”  [see also my https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/ai-welcomes-resistance-to-trumps-human-rights-policies/]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also focuses on the US angle: Amnesty International has taken aim at U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders the global watchdog says are abandoning human rights, accusing them of setting a “dangerous precedent” for other governments to follow. And then gives a useful summaries of countries in its region:

Central Asia

Afghanistan

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Belarus

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Georgia

Moldova

Russia

Ukraine

Adding  Iran and Pakistan.

 

Euronews obviously also focus on Europe:  Between eastern Europe’s “hostile discourse to human rights” and the rights of freedom of association and assembly put at risk in the entire continent, this year’s Amnesty International World Report warned that “space for civil society continued to shrink in Europe” and gives then a thematic overview of the key takeaways for Europe from the report.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/02/deepening-human-rights-crisis-spurs-new-era-of-activism-in-the-americas/
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/world-leaders-abandoning-human-rights-amnesty-180221174518140.html
https://www.rferl.org/a/amnesty-international-trump-other-leaders-setting-dangerous-precedent-abandoning-human-rights/29055935.html
http://www.euronews.com/2018/02/21/-space-for-civil-society-continued-to-shrink-across-europe-report-says