Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

Wang Quanzhang must be granted freedom, not ‘non-release release’

April 5, 2020

On 3 April 2020 Michael Caster wrote “If you care about human rights in China, April 5 – this Sunday – should be circled on your calendar. On that day, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, my old friend and colleague, after an outrageous series of abuses by the Chinese state, is set to walk free. Wang, a defender of villagers’ rights and religious minorities, has been disappeared into Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), hidden under a false name in pre-trial detention for years, and subjected to a secret trial where he was refused legal representation.

wang quanzhang

An activist holds a sign calling for Wang Quanzhang’s release in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

…..China law scholar Jerome Cohen coined the term “non-release release” in 2016, then discussing the fake release of human rights lawyer Wang Yu. Like Wang Quanzhang, she had been held in secret for months under RSDL, where she was also tortured….Since Wang was disappeared, his wife Li has also become a fierce defender, despite mounting intimidation from the police. On March 24, Li received a hand-written letter from Wang in prison saying that after release he will likely have to return to his hometown in Jinan. Those of us who know China can read between the lines. Wang risks being forcibly sent away, where he will be kept, apart from his police escorts, away from all others including his family. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/05/li-wenzu-wife-of-wang-quanzhang-wins-2018-edelstam-award/

Responding to the release of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang after four and a half years in prison for “subverting state power”, Amnesty International’s China Researcher Doriane Lau said on 5 April 2020: “There are reasons to fear that Wang Quanzhang’s release from prison offers merely the illusion of freedom. The Chinese government has a history of monitoring and controlling human rights defenders even after they’re released from jail…..Wang Quanzhang was targeted by the government for his work defending human rights and helping to expose corruption. It is an outrage that he was ever jailed in the first place, but now he has served his sentence the authorities must immediately lift all restrictions on him and allow him to return to his family home.

Many activists and lawyers targeted in the 2015 crackdown were subject to heavy surveillance and deprived of freedom of movement after they were released from prison or detention. Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong went missing immediately after finishing a two-year prison sentence. He was subsequently sent back to his hometown, where he and his family were closely monitored and followed by the authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/jiang-tianyong-chinese-defender-of-defenders-sentenced-to-2-years-jail/]

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/china-wang-quanzhang-freedom-an-illusion-until-government-lifts-ruthless-restrictions/

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

Chilean human rights defender, José (Pepe) Zalaquett, no more

February 22, 2020

Turkey: who will defend the human rights defenders?

February 16, 2020

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International, wrote on 14 February 2020 a moving piece on the detention and suffering of her fellow human rights defenders in Turkey.

Some moments in life are forever etched in our minds. Everyone recalls where they were when they heard their favourite rock star died, or how they felt around the birth of a child. For me, 6 June and 5 July 2017 are two dates that will forever be on my mind. They are the days when I learned that my friends and colleagues, human rights defenders, had been detained by Turkish police…On 6 June 2017, I was in Istanbul on a work visit, meeting with journalists and lawyers ahead of the start of the trial of two writers. It had almost been a year since the attempted and bloody military coup of July 2016. The Turkish government had responded with a sweeping crackdown on dissenters from all backgrounds, which was continuing to gather pace. I was with the editor of a small newspaper when I heard that my colleague Taner Kılıç had been detained. I will never forget the sinking feeling during those first moments. Trying to make sense of the nonsensical is always difficult. Knowing about the crackdown had not prepared me for how I’d feel when someone I knew was caught up in it.

…..

It was around 8pm on 5 July when I saw several missed calls from a colleague in Turkey. When I rang back, I learned that Amnesty’s Director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine others were in detention after being arrested  while attending a workshop on the island of Buyukada. My friend and sister Ozlem was among them. I recall vividly the ensuing hours, making frantic calls to whoever I could think of to try and find out where they were and what was going on. How could people be arrested for attending a human rights workshop? It made no sense.

…….

This week, I will be in Istanbul for the verdict in the case of Taner and the Buyukada 10. If found guilty of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, they could face up to 15 years behind bars. At the last hearing in November, I was in the courtroom when the state prosecutor requested that Taner and five of the Buyukada 10 – Idil, Ozlem, Gunal, Nejat and Veli – be convicted, and recited those initial absurd allegations that had been destroyed under the weight of the evidence their defence had provided. This included the allegation that Taner had the secure messaging app ByLock on his phone. Since the coup attempt the authorities have used this allegation against tens of thousands of people to try to prove they were part of an armed terrorist organization. In Taner’s case it was proven to be baseless, including by the state’s own reports to the court. In fact, after 10 hearings in the case, all the accusations made against them have been shown, one by one, to be entirely baseless. How is it possible that the state is still asking for the convictions of our colleagues and friends? The situation facing them is not unique. Their situation is in many ways emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life prison for them… [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/29/turkey-defies-european-court-on-kavala-and-undergoes-upr-review/]

I have been in that courtroom for this trial ever since it began. Each time, the absurdity of the prosecution and the complete lack of evidence of any crime having been committed – let alone under terrorism laws – struck everyone in attendance as reserved to the pages of a nightmarish novel. When I walk into the Istanbul courtroom next week, I know there is only one outcome that could deliver justice.  Taner, Ozlem, Idil, Nala. Seyhmus, Ilknur, Ali, Peter, Veli, Gunal and Nejat must all be acquitted. For defenders of human rights, for our friends, for human rights in Turkey, this is the only way just end to this long saga.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/who-will-defend-the-defenders/

Defending the Monarch Butterfly in Mexico costs lives

February 7, 2020

Mexican authorities are investigating the death of an employee of one of Mexico’s largest butterfly reserves. Raúl Hernández Romero was the second person connected to the reserve found dead in less than a week. The first death was Homero Gómez González — an environmental activist and well-known defender of the Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve in the Michoacan state. The deaths have alarmed environmental activists and human rights defenders in the country.

Amnesty International said it is alarmed. Twelve environmental defenders were already killed in Mexico in 2019. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]. The World’s host Marco Werman spoke with Erika Guevara Rosas, director of Amnesty International Americas, about the killings. Marco Werman: Homero Gómez González was very well-known for his protection of the monarch butterfly in Michoacán. He administrated sanctuaries to protect the monarch butterfly. But he was also a protector of the environment. He denounced, many times, illegal logging in the area and the increased presence of groups of organized crime that were trying to take over certain territories and land and threatened the environment where these monarch butterflies arrive every year in Mexico. Erika Guevara Rosas: We get a nice sense of his commitment to what he was doing with a video he posted just last month on Twitter. He’s in his butterfly sanctuary and thousands of butterflies are swirling all around him. He’s pretty happy and proudly declares in his tweet that the sanctuary in Michoacan is the biggest in the world. It’s kind of a sad video in retrospect, shot a couple of weeks before Gomez Gonzalez was killed. [https://twitter.com/miblogestublog/status/1222901129199009798]

Hernández Romero’s death, “along with the death of Homero Gómez, demands immediate investigation and full accountability,” tweeted Richard Pearshouse, head of crisis and environment at Amnesty.

‘Horrific’, adding that Raúl Hernández Romero’s family says he received threats regarding his work campaigning against illegal logging in the weeks before he disappeared. El Rosario sanctuary provides a home for millions of migrating monarch butterflies each year and draws thousands of tourists annually. But the reserve has also drawn the ire of illegal loggers in Mexico, who are banned from cutting down trees in the protected area. Before the ban, more than 1,000 acres of the woodland were lost to the industry between 2005 and 2006.

https://www.wvxu.org/post/killing-environmental-activists-has-become-norm-mexico-activist-says#stream/0

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/03/horrific-human-rights-advocates-call-investigation-death-second-monarch-butterfly

Annual reports 2019: Amnesty International

December 29, 2019

The 3rd annual report comes from Amnesty International which this year looks at some of the positive highlights, many won by human rights defenders:

[The first two annual reports in this blog are: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/annual-reports-2019-civicus-global-report/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/28/annual-reports-2019-huridocs-harnessing-the-power-of-human-rights-information/]

With inequality, injustice and hate speech seemingly ever more prevalent across the globe, you’d be forgiven for thinking 2019 has been a bad year for human rights. Yet, AI says that we have also seen some significant wins. Activists the world over have been galvanised to stand up and fight for our human rights – and thanks to their relentless campaigning we achieved some striking leaps forward. Here are some highlights…

January 

Legal abortion services were finally available to women in Ireland, following an historic referendum in May 2018 that marked a huge victory for women’s rights. It was the result of years of dedicated work by activists, including Amnesty International, to encourage a powerful conversation that helped catalyse the abortion debate in Ireland. This ultimately led to greater protection for those people who need an abortion there, and paved the way for the same inspiring progress in Northern Ireland later in the year.

As a tribute to Julián Carrillo, an environmental rights defender killed in October 2018, we launched Caught between bullets and neglect, a digest on Mexico’s failure to protect environmental human rights defenders. Just a few hours after the launch, two suspects in Julián’s murder were arrested, showing the immediate impact Amnesty’s work can have on justice.

The Angolan Parliament approved a revision of the Criminal Code to remove a provision widely interpreted as criminalizing same-sex relationships. They even took a step further, by criminalizing discrimination against people based on sexual orientation – the first country in 2019 to make this move, and a hearteningly radical move for an African nation.

February

After spending 76 days in detention in Thailand, refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was able to return to his home in Melbourne on 12 February. The Bahrain-born footballer had been detained upon arrival in Bangkok on 27 November 2018, due to an erroneous Interpol red notice, and faced the threat of extradition to Bahrain. A campaign launched by Amnesty and other groups to free the footballer, who is a peaceful and outspoken critic of the Bahraini authorities, grew into the #SaveHakeem movement. The campaign spanned three continents, engaging footballers, Olympians and celebrities, and drawing the support of more than 165,000 people.

Following international attention and campaigning by Amnesty, Saudi authorities overturned a call by the Public Prosecution to execute Saudi woman activist Israa al-Ghomgham for charges related to her peaceful participation in protests. Israa al-Ghomgham still faces a prison term, and Amnesty continues to campaign for her immediate and unconditional release.

March

In Ukraine, an International Women’s Day rally organized by human rights defender Vitalina Koval in Uzhgorod, western Ukraine, went ahead peacefully, with participants protected by police. The event marked a major change for the region, after similar rallies organised by Koval in previous years had been targeted by far-right groups, with police singularly failing to protect participants from violence.

AFRICOM admitted for the first time that its air strikes have killed or injured civilians in Somalia, after the release of Amnesty’s investigation The Hidden US War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle. Following this report, US military documents came to light confirming that the US authorities knew of further allegations of civilian casualties resulting from many of their air strikes in Somalia.

Gulzar Duishenova had been championing disability rights in her country Kyrgyzstan for years. In March 2019, her persistence paid off when Kyrgyzstan finally signed up to the Disability Rights Convention. Amnesty supporters wrote nearly a quarter of a million messages backing her.

And in Iraq, just days after Amnesty and other NGOs raised the alarm about a draft cybercrime law that would seriously undermine freedom of expression there, the Iraqi parliament chose to withdraw the bill, confirming to Amnesty that its “concerns have been heard”.

April

In April, love triumphed when a ban on all LGBTI events in Ankara, Turkey, was lifted by the administrative appeals court. “This is a momentous day for LGBTI people in Turkey, and a huge victory for the LGBTI rights activists – love has won once again,” said Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Director for Europe at Amnesty International.

The District Court of The Hague issued an interim ruling in favour of Esther Kiobel and three other women who took on one of the world’s biggest oil companies, Shell, in a fight for justice. Esther has pursued the company for more than 20 years over the role she says it played in the arbitrary execution of her husband in Nigeria. Amnesty has shared over 30,000 solidarity messages with Esther Kiobel, and is supporting her Kiobel vs Shell case in The Hague. As a result of this hearing, the court in October 2019 heard for the first time the accounts of individuals who accuse Shell of offering them bribes to give fake testimonies that led to the ‘Ogoni Nine’ – who included Esther Kiobel’s husband – being sentenced to death and executed.

President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, announced that his government would introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty.

May

Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after passing an historic law on 17 May, with the first same-sex weddings taking place on 24 May. Together with LGBTI rights groups from Taiwan, Amnesty had campaigned for this outcome for many years. We are now working to end all discrimination against LGBTI people in Taiwan.

Qatar promised more reforms to its labour laws ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Human rights pressure also played a role in FIFA’s decision to abandon plans to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 teams, which would have involved adding new host countries in the region. Amnesty worked together with a coalition of NGOs, trade unions, fans and player groups, calling attention to the human rights risks of the expansion, including the plight of migrant workers building new infrastructure.

June

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren were honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award 2019. The Fridays for Future movement was started by Greta, a teenager from Sweden who in August 2018 decided to miss school every Friday and instead protest outside the Swedish parliament, until it took more serious action to tackle climate change.

In a long overdue move, Greece passed legislation to recognize that sex without consent is rape, and Denmark’s government committed to doing the same. This development is testament to the persistence and bravery of survivors and campaigners for many years, and creates real momentum across Europe following 2018 Amnesty’s review of outdated legislation in 31 European countries and other barriers to accessing justice for rape survivors.

From 1 June 2019, contraceptives and family planning clinic consultations became free of charge in Burkina Faso. The change was seen as a response to our 2015 My Body My Rights petition and human rights manifesto calling for these measures to be put in place. With financial barriers removed, women in Burkina Faso now have better access to birth control, and more choice over what happens to their bodies.

July

In a momentous and inspiring day for human rights campaigners, the UK parliament voted through a landmark bill on 22 July to legalize same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The bill also forced the UK government to legislate for abortion reform in Northern Ireland, including decriminalization on the basis that a Northern Ireland Executive (government of NI) did not return in three months.

Also in July, in a US Congressional hearing, a senior Google executive gave the clearest confirmation yet that the company has “terminated” Project Dragonfly, its secretive programme to develop a search engine that would facilitate the Chinese government’s repressive surveillance and censorship of the internet. This followed Amnesty’s #DropDragonfly campaign, and hundreds of Google staff speaking out.

On 22 July, 70-year-old human rights defender and prominent Palestinian Bedouin leader Sheikh Sayyah Abu Mdeighim al-Turi was released from prison in Israel, after spending seven months in detention for his role in advocating for the protection of Bedouins’ rights and land. Sheikh Sayyah thanked Amnesty International and all those who took action on his behalf: “I thank you all very much for standing up for the right of my people and the protection of our land. While I was in prison, I felt and heard your support loud and clear, and it meant the world to me.”

August

Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was sentenced to death and held in arbitrary detention for more than five years after publishing a blog on caste discrimination, finally walked free.

In August, Saudi Arabia announced major reforms easing some of the major restrictions imposed on women under its repressive male guardianship system, including allowing them the right to obtain a passport which should make it possible for them to travel without permission from a male guardian. The changes also grant women in Saudi Arabia the right to register marriages, divorces, births and deaths and to obtain family records. While we welcome these changes, people campaigning for women’s rights remain in prison, and we must do all we can to fight for their freedom.

September

Syrian national Ahmed H. was finally allowed to return home, after being imprisoned and then held in immigration detention in Hungary for more than four years. He had been arrested on terrorism charges after being caught up in clashes on the Hungarian border. At the time he was helping his elderly parents, who were escaping Syria and were crossing into Hungary as refugees. An amazing 24,000 people joined the #BringAhmedHome campaign, calling on Cyprus to allow Ahmed to return to his family.

A court in Tunis acquitted 18-year-old activist Maissa al-Oueslati, after she faced trumped-up charges that could have resulted in her imprisonment for up to four years. Maissa and her 16-year-old brother had been arbitrarily detained by police earlier in the month for filming a protester threatening to set himself on fire in front of a police station.

October

At midnight on Tuesday 22 October 2019, after a last-minute effort by the DUP to overturn the bill, same sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland, while abortion was decriminalised. All criminal proceedings were dropped, including those against a mother who faced prosecution for buying her 15 year-old daughter abortion pills online.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said it was the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland, in which the nation was freed from oppressive laws that police people’s bodies and healthcare. “Finally, our human rights are being brought into the 21st century. This will end the suffering of so many people. We can now look forward to a more equal and compassionate future with our choices respected.”

November

Kurdish-Iranian award-winning journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani arrived in New Zealand to attend a special WORD Christchurch event on a visitor’s visa sponsored by Amnesty International. It was the first time Boochani, known for his work reporting on human rights abuses from within the Australian government’s refugee detention centres, had set foot outside Papua New Guinea since he was detained on the country’s Manus Island in 2014.

Humanitarian volunteer Dr Scott Warren was found not guilty by a court in Arizona of charges linked to helping migrants on the US-Mexico border. In a similar case, Pierre Mumber, a French mountain guide who gave hot tea and warm clothes to four West African asylum seekers in the Alps, and was acquitted of “facilitating irregular entry”.

December

Alberto Fernández is inaugurated as President of Argentina on 10 December. As president-elect, Fernández announced he would push for the legalization of abortion as soon as he took office, saying: “It is a public health issue that we must solve.”

The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights said that 47 major fossil fuel and carbon-polluting companies could be held accountable for violating the rights of its citizens for the damage caused by climate change. The landmark decision paves the way for further litigation, and even criminal investigations, that could see fossil fuel companies and other major polluters either forced to pay damages, or their officials sent to jail for harms linked to climate change.

The regional Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Court of Justice rejected a 2015 ban imposed by the government of Sierra Leone preventing pregnant girls from sitting exams and attending mainstream school – and ordered the policy to be revoked with immediate effect.

Colombia and Mexico: problems with national panic button devices for human rights defenders

December 24, 2019

A GPS-enabled “panic button” that Colombia‘s government has issued ito abut 400 persons is supposed to summon help for human-rights defenders or journalists if they are threatened. But it the article claims that it has technical flaws that could let hostile parties disable it, eavesdrop on conversations and track users‘ movements, according to an independent security audit conducted for The Associated Press. There is no evidence the vulnerabilities have been exploited, but are alarmed. “This is negligent in the extreme,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, calling the finding “a tremendous security failure.

Over the past four years, other “distress alarms” and smartphone apps have been deployed or tested around the world, with mixed results. When effective, they can be crucial lifelines against criminal gangs, paramilitary groups or the hostile security forces of repressive regimes. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/23/today-official-launch-of-ais-panic-button-a-new-app-to-fight-attack-kidnap-and-torture/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/04/24/the-natalia-gps-alarm-bracelet-wins-golden-egg-awards-in-stockholm/]

The “boton de apoyo,” distributed by Colombia‘s Office of National Protection is a keychain-style fob. Its Chinese manufacturer markets it under the name EV-07 for tracking children, pets and the elderly. The operates on a wireless network, has a built-in microphone and receiver and can be mapped remotely with geo-location software. A button marked “SOS” calls for help when pressed.

A company official, John Chung, acknowledged that Rapid7 notified him of the flaws in December. In keeping with standard industry practice, Rapid7 waited at least two months before publicly disclosing the vulnerabilities to give the manufacturer time to address them. Chung told the AP that Eview was working to update the EV-07‘s webserver software, where Rapid7 found flaws that could allow user and geolocation data to be altered.

Activists have good reason to be wary of public officials in Colombia, where murder rates for land and labor activists are among the world‘s highest, and there is a legacy of state-sponsored crime. The DAS domestic intelligence agency, which provided bodyguards and armored vehicles to high-risk individuals prior to 2011, was disbanded after being caught spying on judges, journalists and activists. Five former DAS officials have been prosecuted for allegedly subjecting Duque and her daughter to psychological torture after she published articles implicating agency officials in the 1999 assassination of Jaime Garzon, a much-loved satirist.

Tanya O‘Carroll of Amnesty International, which has been developing a different kind of “panic button” since 2014 , said the Colombian model is fundamentally flawed. “In many cases, the government is the adversary,” she said. “How can those people who are the exact adversary be the ones that are best placed to respond?”…

In Mexico, the attorney general‘s office has issued more than 200 emergency alert devices to journalists and rights activists since 2013. But there have been multiple complaints . One is unreliability where cell service is poor. Others are more serious: Cases have been documented of police failing to respond or answering but saying they are unable to help.

O‘Carroll of Amnesty International said trials in 17 nations on three continents—including the Philippines, El Salvador and Uganda—show it‘s best to alert trusted parties—friends, family or colleagues. Those people then reach out to trusted authorities. Amnesty‘s app for Android phones is still in beta testing. It is activated with a hardware trigger—multiple taps of the power button. But there have been too many false alarms.

Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders offers a 300-euro stand-alone panic button first deployed in Russia‘s North Caucasus region in 2013 and now used by more than 70 people in East Africa, Central Asia, the Balkans, Southeast Asia and Venezuela, said Peter Ohlm, a protection officer at the nonprofit. The organization‘s Stockholm headquarters always gets notified, and social media is typically leveraged to spread word fast when an activist is in trouble.

Colombia ‘panic buttons‘ expose activists

Rare: involvement by a UK bank in the Write for Rights campaign

December 9, 2019

The Co-operative Bank   Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
The Co-operative Bank Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Ed Horner of York Press reports that the YORK branch of a nationwide bank is supporting the annual Write for Rights campaign. The Co-Operative Bank is encouraging colleagues and customers to write letters of support for people facing injustice, here in the UK and around the world. Helen Naylor, branch manager in York, will be running an awareness event. The branch has chosen to highlight three issues to support, climate change, migrant women and young trans-people in the UK. There will also be a representative from the local Amnesty International group to support customers. The event will take place on December 10 from 10am-2pm at the Co-Operative Bank York branch in Feasegate. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/18/amnestys-write-for-rights-campaign-2019-launched-today-focuses-on-youth-activists/

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019

Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494

Afghanistan: human rights defenders targeted but fearless

November 26, 2019

Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency must immediately release two human rights defenders it detained after they exposed alleged sexual abuse against children. Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, both well-known human rights defenders from Logar province, were arbitrarily detained by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on 21 November 2019 when they were on their way to meet with the European Union ambassador in Kabul.

The two human rights defenders began receiving threats, including from local officials in Logar, on Facebook after they gave interviews to The Guardian and Afghanistan’s TOLO News about the existence of a paedophile ring in the area. The human rights defenders uncovered more than 100 videos of the alleged abuse. Some of the victims of abuse have been murdered, according to The Guardian. “This is the latest case where human rights defenders have been targeted by the authorities for carrying out their important work. Faced with threats from both the state and non-state actors, they are operating in some of the most hazardous conditions anywhere in the world. There is impunity for attacks on these brave defenders, who have little to no protection.”

One day before he disappeared, Musa Mahmudi told a fellow Afghan human rights defender that he feared for his safety and that the NDS was planning to arrest him. He added that he was worried that he was under surveillance. Musa Mahmudi said that he had also received death threats, accusing him of “dishonouring the people of Logar.” In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing entitled, Defenceless Defenders: Attacks on Afghanistan’s Human Rights Community,” where the organization detailed how the Afghan government has persistently failed to investigate attacks on human rights defenders – sometimes accusing them of ‘fabricating’ their claims, declining to offer them protection; telling them to arm themselves instead. [on 26 november: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-president-orders-probe-into-alleged-pedophile-ring/30293787.html] and then; https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-releases-activists-who-exposed-alleged-pedophile-ring/30294906.html

The same day AI continued with its series of 16 omen human rights defenders from Afghanistan16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]. Untill December 10, their stories will be published one a day.

Day two: Maria Raheen

I am the director of the Journalism and Mass Communication Unit at Balkh University. I also head a non-governmental organization that works on human rights. For 20 years, as a women’s rights activist, I have pushed to address issues that prevent women from accessing their rights, not only in Balkh but also in other neighbouring provinces such as Samangan, Jowzjan, and Faryab.

One of my achievements is the establishment of the first private university in Balkh – Taj Higher Education Institute, which offers medicine, economy and law. Similar to Kabul, Herat and Kandahar, Balkh has some developments and achievements in terms of women’s rights. However, the province is still well known for the presence of armed groups, the local mafia and warlords, who have no respect for human rights. Due to existing challenges and the weak rule of law, self-censorship is embedded in the day-to-day lives of people in Balkh.

I am no stranger to tolerating injustices, especially when it is a matter of saving my life and my family’s lives. It gets challenging especially when it involves former war commanders who are now elected representatives of the area and, who would not hesitate to exert their power to commit crimes.

I hope in future like-minded women will join hands for the women’s revolution in Afghanistan, to reclaim the rights that we are entitled to.

Day one: Khawar Amiri

I am the Head of the Literacy Department of the Directorate of Education in Khost Province and have worked for many years as a mediator for women’s issues. As most women of Khost Province are illiterate, and some districts are yet to establish schools for girls, through the Literacy Department, I have conducted courses for women and girls above the age of 14 to enable their basic reading and writing skills. As a well-known human rights defender, I have worked in solving many of women’s issues through the Committee on Elimination of Violence against Women and tribal Jirgas (councils), with help of the police.

Women in Khost are exposed to discrimination and violence. Girls’ education is till grade six, after which they are sent off to marriage or asked to stay home. Forced marriages, being sold off, physical violence, lack of access to inheritance rights are some of the issues women face on daily basis.  Women don’t work in government posts in Khost, as most of the positions are held by men. Women are discouraged from applying for government positions as their posts are given to men and justified with unlawful reasons for not being appointed.

I have intervened in many cases of women being abused, sometimes solving the case with the help of local elders and at times through direct mediation. One of my biggest successes is organizing a Master’s Degree programme for women in Khost to study in India, funded by the US Embassy. Despite being threatened and attacked, I am continuing my activism.

I hope women are independent, have security, and have equal opportunities for studies, get to live a life free from violence. 

You can send a solidarity message to all of the 16 WHRDs in Afghanistan, or any one of them, and let them know that they are not alone. Please email your thoughts in a personal message to AfghanDefenders@amnesty.org and AI will share them with the activists.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/afghanistan-release-hrds-now/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/16-days-of-activism-afghanistan-whrds/