Posts Tagged ‘detention’

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/

Nasrin Sotoudeh ends her hunger strike as UN experts write joint letter

September 27, 2020

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh had been on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison since August 11 to protest the risk that political prisoners in Iran face amid the coronavirus pandemic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/german-judges-give-their-human-rights-award-to-iranian-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh/%5D

On September 19, she was taken to hospital for a serious heart condition. But four days later, she was taken back to Evin prison, triggering disbelief from UN independent experts among others.

“It is unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk to COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition,” the experts said.

We urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision, accept her requests to recuperate at home before undergoing a heart procedure, and allow her to freely choose her own medical treatment,” they added in a statement.

The experts echoed Sotoudeh’s call for the Iranian authorities to grant temporary release to human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, and all other individuals detained without sufficient legal basis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

47 countries called on Iran to “protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained” in a Friday session of the UN Human Rights Council, according to a German diplomat, Susanne Baumann:

Susanne Baumann
@GERMANYonUN
Joint Statement on the dire human rights situation in Iran today in the Human Rights Council #HRC45, presented by Germany on behalf of 47 countries. We call on Iran to protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners & arbitrarily detained.
———

https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-iranian-human-rights-defender-ends-hunger-strike-as-health-deteriorates/30859117.html

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iran/26092020

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2009/S00203/iran-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-must-be-freed-for-treatment-say-un-experts.htm

8 UN experts join in letter to Algeria about Khaled Drareni

September 18, 2020

A journalist jailed for his coverage of mass protests in Algeria must be released, United Nations independent experts said on Wednesday. Khaled Drareni was jailed for two years on Tuesday as a crackdown on dissent intensifies after a year of anti-government demonstrations. He was jailed for his coverage of the protest movement that toppled the North African country’s longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year. Drareni was initially handed three years but his sentence was reduced by a year on appeal. However, his lawyers were shocked that he was not handed a more lenient judgment or an acquittal.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this two-year prison sentence imposed on a journalist who was simply doing his job, and call on the Algerian authorities to reverse it and set Mr Drareni free,” the experts said. The experts do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it. Although his sentence was reduced, “it is still grossly inappropriate because the charges brought against him are a blatant violation of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association”, they said.

The eight signatories included the special rapporteurs on peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and human rights defenders, along with members of the UN working group on arbitrary detention. They said they were alarmed that the Algerian authorities were increasingly using national security laws to prosecute people who were exercising their rights. “Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected,” they said.

http://north-africa.com/2020/09/algeria-united-nations-independent-experts-pressuring-algeria-to-release-wrongly-jailed-journalist/

German Judges give their human rights award to Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

September 6, 2020

Radio Farda reported that the German Judges Association (DRB) has awarded its Human Rights Prize to the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who is currently on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison in protest to the conditions of political prisoners. For more information on this and other awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/german-association-of-judges-human-rights-award

Nasrin Sotoudeh has become a symbol of the Iranian civil rights movement through her courage and tireless commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” the presidents of the German Judges Association said on Wednesday. Barbara Stockinger and Joachim Lüblinghoff stated that now more than ever, Ms. Sotoudeh needs wide international support, and that they wanted to honor her “highly impressive commitment in Iran and to bring her fate to the public attention”.

The 57-year-old lawyer and rights activist began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on August 11 to protest the “unfair” and “illegal” conditions of political prisoners in Iran. She has demanded the release of political prisoners to protect them from the spread of coronavirus in prisons.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/24/list-of-lawyers-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/. Iranian authorities have freed tens of thousands of prisoners since the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, but have refused to grant furlough to political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, including Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh, an international award-winning lawyer and rights activist, was been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison and 148 lashes on several charges, including conspiracy against national security, spreading lies and disturbing public opinion.

Earlier this year, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest the maltreatment of political prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. She previously staged a 49-day hunger strike in prison in 2012 while she was serving another sentence for her human rights work. On Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde expressed deep concern about Sotoudeh’s health and said she wanted to reiterate the EU’s call for her sentence to be reviewed. In a statement on August 28, the American PEN association called for the immediate release of Sotoudeh and other political prisoners, as well as an end to judicial and legal harassment of her and her family. 

Mary Lawlor calls death of human rights defender Askarov a stain on Kyrgyzstan’s reputation,

July 31, 2020

The death in prison of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, who for 10 years had unsuccessfully challenged his life sentence, shows a cruel disregard for human rights in Kyrgyzstan, says said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/26/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction/

I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Mr. Askarov’s death, despite multiple requests for his release on humanitarian grounds as his health deteriorated significantly in prison,”

Although the Kyrgyz Government shared detailed information on court proceedings and medical care afforded to Askarov, she criticized the government for not taking concerns about his health seriously.

“We learned in June that, in the midst of COVID-19, and despite his age and pre-existing conditions, Mr. Askarov did not qualify for early release under Kyrgyz law,” Lawlor said. “I now question whether more could have been done to protect his health.”

In the days before Askarov’s death, his lawyer made a number of urgent medical appeals to authorities after the 69-year-old fell ill with a cough, fever, aches and pains, and had difficulty eating and walking. It was only on 24 July 2020, when he had already been sick for 10 days, that he was transferred to a prison medical facility, where he died the following day.

“Mr. Askarov’s case should act as a reminder to all states of the serious and grave threat that prisoners in at-risk categories face during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. She stressed that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, or most at risk of the virus, should be released…

Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

https://akipress.com/news:646397:Death_of_human_rights_defender_Azimjan_Askarov_a_stain_on_Kyrgyzstan_s_reputation,_says_UN_expert/

Kyrgyzstan: Activist Askarov dies in prison after decade battling tainted conviction

July 26, 2020

Jul 25, 2020 Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan) Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan)

EURasia.net of 25 July 2020 gives the sad new that Azimjan Askarov, a celebrated ethnic Uzbek humn rights defender, husband to Hadidja Askarova, has died in prison at the age of 69.

The news of his death on July 25 was confirmed by his longtime friend, supporter and fellow activist Tolekan Ismailova and his lawyer, Valeryan Vakhitov. He had suffered from poor health for much of his 10 years in prison, but his condition worsened significantly in the past two weeks. Vakhitov, who visited Askarov in prison only a few days before his death, said his client had lost his appetite, that his skin “looked yellowish in color,” and that he was unable to move unaided.

On July 24, prison officials dismissed those concerns and the reports of Askarov’s ill-health as “inaccurate information.” [https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-rights-activist-askarov-transferred-to-different-kyrgyz-prison-amid-reports-of-poor-health/30745718.html]

Although the likelihood of Askarov’s imminent death had been widely anticipated, the actual event has stunned his longtime colleagues and the rights community.

I am devastated. When we saw one another for the last time, they brought him to me in their arms. I told him: ‘Please hang on, we love you,’ and he began crying. He seemed to feel something,” Vakhitov told Kloop news website.

Askarov was arrested on June 15, 2010, in the immediate aftermath of a deadly whirlwind of ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan that killed hundreds, mostly ethnic Uzbeks.

In the days, weeks and months that followed that bloodshed, security services mainly targeted ethnic Uzbeks for investigations, arrests and systematic harassment. Askarov was among the first to be singled out for this treatment.

He was charged with purported involvement in the killing of a police officer on June 13, 2010, in the southern town of Bazar-Korgon. Immediately after his arrest, Askarov was beaten, subjected to abuse and denied access to his lawyer. He spoke about some of that mistreatment in an interview with Eurasianet in 2012, two years into his life sentence.

“They nearly killed me,” he said, referring to local police. “They held my arms behind my back, and took a weight filled with water, and hit me with it [in the stomach]. They hit me over the head with it so that huge lumps rose up.” He also said he saw witnesses beaten bloody to force them to testify against him….

In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that Kyrgyzstan had in its treatment of Askarov violated multiple articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Askarov’s initial criminal trial, as well as subsequent appeals, have been decried by legal experts as miscarriages of justice. Many supposed witnesses were intimidated into giving testimonies and people who would have spoken in his defense were denied that opportunity. Perhaps most ominously, hearings were routinely attended by relatives of the alleged murder victim, who openly threatened Askarov and his legal team with death. This pattern repeated over many years.

But as Philip Shishkin, a journalist, noted in his 2013 book Restless Valley, “of the many interesting things about the case, one detail stands out: the verdict relies heavily on the testimony of a half dozen policemen who had reasons to dislike Askarov even before his alleged participation in the murder of their colleague.”

Much of his 15 years of activism was focused on highlighting and documenting allegations of police abuse in his native Bazar-Korgon, including by some of the officers that then pursued his case…

In one typical rebuttal of criticism from 2015, the Foreign Ministry asserted that “the decision of the court was taken on the basis of undeniable evidence, Askarov’s guilt has been proven in all instances.”

“The Kyrgyz Republic stands for the supremacy of the law. The justice system is an independent branch of power,” the ministry said at the time.

There is strong reason to believe, however, that the government allowed itself to be taken hostage by the same kind of combustible, deeply violence-prone nationalist elements that lay behind the ethnic bloodshed of June 2010. Many notorious criminals have been allowed to walk free from prison in Kyrgyzstan over the decades, but as officials saw it, affording that same treatment to Askarov would have threatened to spark another cycle of unrest, immaterial of the legal particulars.

This reading was all but confirmed in an interview given to Eurasianet in 2018 by Roza Otunbayeva, who was interim president at the time of the ethnic unrest and Askarov’s arrest. Asked about the Askarov case, she evinced regret, but concluded that “it was a decision of our court. And this court’s decision was [upheld].” She did, however, have the authority to issue a pardon, which she declined to do.

“It was a decision that [would] again [have broken] the country,” she told Eurasianet. “I mean, the stability of the country, political consensus within the country was very much bound to such a touchy issue. And it was a very high price.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/.

https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction

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/

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: FIDH

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): “COVID-19: States bear direct responsibility for the health of individuals in their custody” states a press release of 7 April 2020.

While the cases of COVID-19 are multiplying in prisons, detention centres and in places of custody, faced with the risk of a massive spread of the virus behind the walls, FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights) calls for urgent measures to be taken to preserve the health of detainees, and for the release of the most vulnerable, of those detained for minor crimes and on remand custody, and of those whose detention is contrary to international norms.
In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk where collective cells and overcrowding are the norm, where social distancing is impossible to achieve, where many detainees are awaiting trial, and where the prisons’ health services are unprepared.
Over the past weeks, throughout the countries and regions where the COVID-19 virus has spread, many prison inmates, staff and/or caregivers have tested positive for the virus. Hundreds of inmates with virus symptoms have been “confined”. Tensions in prisons have also increased in the context of the spread of the virus, in reaction to the overcrowding of prisons, to the lack of personal hygiene or health services, or to restrictions on visits —notably when those visits enabled adequate food supply-, or other activities.While every prison, detention centre and place of custody constitutes a potential epidemiological outbreak, the spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk.

Echoing concerns expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its COVID-19 Statement of Principles, FIDH calls on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners through various means, including temporary or early releases and amnesties; home detention and commutation of sentences.

Such measures should be consistent with States’ obligations under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Argentina, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Tunisia and Turkey to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. These efforts however have been inconsistent with many of these countries’ human rights obligations and with international institutions’ recommendations.

In countries like China, Egypt, Iran or Turkey, where the policies of mass incarceration of journalists, whistle blowers, human rights defenders, political prisoners or of civilians taking part in demonstrations are in flagrant contradiction with international human rights norms, prison releases have not included these persons.

States should thus follow specific priorities for the releases, that are guided by the vulnerablity of the individual detained as well as the motives for his or her detention. As such, priority should be given to the elderly, to pregnant women and to children, to those with underlying health conditions, as well as to administrative detainees, to individuals detained for minor or non-violent offences, and to detainees awaiting trial. In addition, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, human rights defenders, whistleblowers, and undocumented migrant detainees should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Governments should also ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic the human rights of all those who remain in detention are upheld. As such, measures adapting the conditions of detention, with regard to food, health, sanitation and quarantine measures, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities, should be put in place, to guarantee decent living and health conditions for all detained persons.

Any restrictions imposed on detainees should be non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent. Measures should not, under any circumstances, justify absolute or solitary confinement. Confinement measures should enable confidential and through distance, meetings of inmates with their families, close companions and lawyers in a confidential manner, while respecting the WHO recommended physical distancing and handwashing protocols. Under the current COVID-19 circumstances, we also recommend that all detainees should have access to time outside of the confins of their cells and be able to utilise recreational spaces available.

Lastly, while States must be able to maintain order and security within prisons and detention centers, measures to prevent riots and restore security conditions in prisons should not empower authorities to resort to the excessive use of force.

Read more

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/covid-19-states-bear-direct-responsibility-for-the-health-of

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Gulf Center for Human Rights 

April 9, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, here the position of Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) posted on 8 April 2020 in Global Voices:

COVID19 cases in the MENA region have led governments to institute containment and other measures to slow the spread the highly contagious coronavirus. These measures have especially targeted some of the most vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders in prison, migrant workers and independent media. The Gulf Center for Human Rights have tracked how some of these measures have seriously impacted the overall human rights situation in the region.

Below is GHCR’s brief human rights review of COVID-19’s impact on the MENA region:

1. Detained human rights defenders

The reality is that most human rights defenders are still in prison in the MENA region at a time when governments including those of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt released some prisoners as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus. With the spread of COVID-19, the lives of jailed human rights defenders are at imminent risk in countries such as Iran, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and other countries that have crowded prisons lacking minimum health standards. Among those currently imprisoned are Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab, founding directors of the GCHR, serving a life sentence and five years in jail, respectively. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement for three years, serving a 10-year jail sentence for his human rights activism, including peacefully expressing his views on social media. In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights activist Lugain al-Hathloul also remains in prison.

2. Access to information and shutting down newspapers

Most governments in the MENA region are not releasing the actual numbers of cases of those infected with the virus and also making it very difficult for journalists to have access to reliable information about the spread, treatment, and the victims of COVID-19. Also, journalists who are providing factual information about the crisis to citizens are at risk.

….In Oman, on March 22, 2020, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with COVID-19 ordered all newspapers, magazines, and other publications to cease printing and circulating, according to the Times of Oman, which published the committee’s order. The order also prohibited the sale and circulation of newspapers, magazines and publications imported into the country. In Morocco, that same day, the minister of culture, youth and sports, Hassan Abyaba, announced in a statement the suspension of the publication and distribution of print newspapers until further notice. Also, in Jordan, on March 17, 2020, the Jordanian Council of Ministers suspended the publication of all newspapers for two weeks, according to an official statement by the Jordanian Communications Minister Amjad Adaileh. Newspapers continued to be suspended due to the quarantine and the government’s demand for citizens to stay in their homes.

3. Draft law threatened freedom of expression in Tunisia

4. Temporary imprisonment for spreading rumours in UAE

On April 1, 2020, the Gulf News, a daily English-language newspaper based in Dubai, published an article that says that “people who circulate rumours may be jailed for one year if they spread false information.” It is now possible that COVID-19 could be used as a pretext to imprison some of the bloggers and Internet activists who are targeted by the State Security Apparatus (SSA).

5. Location-tracking applications

Some Gulf states such as Bahrain are using location-tracking technologies which would enable the full detection of the movement of citizens. There are concerns that the use of these applications in countries widely known for gross and documented violations of human rights will allow them to place greater restrictions on personal freedoms.

6. Xenophobia against migrant workers in the Gulf

…..Reports that GCHR received from various Gulf countries confirmed that migrant workers are not given equal access to medical care and they are facing some difficult time at the moment, as many of them already live and work in poor conditions. Authorities across MENA could help stop the spread of COVID-19 by freeing all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience because they do not pose a risk to the public — but rather are at great risk themselves. While detained, authorities must uphold the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to provide basic healthcare and sanitation for all. It is also important to allow visits from UN experts and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

https://advox.globalvoices.org/2020/04/08/impact-of-covid-19-containment-measures-on-human-rights-and-civil-liberties-in-the-middle-east/