Posts Tagged ‘fair trial’

Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders stand together: Mohammed Khatib and Jonathan Pollak

January 20, 2020

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak at the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court, arrested as part of an unprecedented private suit by Israeli right-wing group Ad Kan, Jan. 15, 2020. (Oren Ziv)

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak at the Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court, arrested as part of an unprecedented private suit by Israeli right-wing group Ad Kan, Jan. 15, 2020. (Oren Ziv)

I was standing in the fields of the West Bank village of Bil’in 15 years ago when my phone rang from an Israeli number. On the line, someone was speaking in a mix of broken Arabic and Hebrew. At the time the Israeli military had just begun targeting Bil’in to build the apartheid wall, and while the bulldozers had started working in the nearby village of Budrus, activists were showing up at our village too. Among the first people to come to Bil’in was the person on the phone. I’ll admit, at first I found him odd, even a bit freakish: he looked like a punk teenager, wearing strange clothes and with a wild haircut dyed with different colors. Full of energy and spirit, he walked up to us and got right down to business. “We are a group of anarchists against the wall,” he said, “and we want to support you in your struggle.”

I looked at this strange visitor from Tel Aviv, my mind at once grappling with the contradictions and the respect I felt. Who is this boy thinking he can stop the wall? He is part of the occupation! Why is he really here? From that first encounter, however, it was clear that he was passionate and willing to work tirelessly. He communicated with the people around him so easily and quickly that it didn’t take long before he earned my trust. That’s how I came to know my friend Jonathan Pollak – who is now sitting in Israeli detention because of a right-wing organization’s lawsuit targeting his activism in Palestinian villages like mine.

Jonathan has played a prominent role not only in Bil’in but in many other villages across Palestine. Every young person who has participated in West Bank demonstrations against Israel’s colonization knows him as Jonathan, the human rights defender.

On Feb. 13, 2015, I was arrested on false charges at one of our weekly demonstrations in Bil’in. The Israeli military claimed that I was participating in an illegal protest, preventing Border Police officers from carrying out their work and attacking them. The truth is that one of the officers attacked me with pepper spray for no reason, which is illegal under Israeli law; he lied and claimed that I had pushed him. He arrested me as a political punishment to cover up his own unlawful act. I have been on trial for these charges since I was arrested four years ago. My lawyer and I provided the Israeli police and the military prosecutor with video evidence to prove that the arresting officer lied, but it was ignored up until now. On Sunday, after four years, I was finally acquitted and the charges against me were dropped.

Muhammad Khatib during a weekly demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil’in in 2015. (Oren Ziv)

Muhammad Khatib during a weekly demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil’in in 2015. (Oren Ziv)

…My acquittal on Sunday was issued by an Israeli military court. This a rare privilege: according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the rate of acquittals in the military court system is four out of every thousand. And though I was acquitted, I know that this system is inherently unjust and corrupt, built to keep us all as political prisoners. It is an oppressive regime designed solely for Palestinians: the judge is an Israeli military officer; the prosecutor is an Israeli soldier; even the translators and clerks are part of the Israeli army.

My friend Jonathan was arrested last week (and not for the first time) on charges similar to those I faced. Unlike me – and unlike Abdallah, Adeeb, and all Palestinians who are arrested for protesting – he will face judgement in an Israeli civil court, one which is supposed to protect the rights of citizens but in practice protects settlers, soldiers, and those who uphold apartheid and occupation. Because he supports our cause, I don’t expect him to find justice.

Due to of the nature of his arrest, and because he is not Palestinian, Jonathan could pay NIS 500 bail and walk out of jail. But he is a principled person. He has seen me and countless other Palestinian friends arrested on false charges, powerless to prove our innocence. So, he has decided to refuse bail and remain in detention instead. He won’t play by the rules of a system that is rigged against justice.

……Despite the many barriers that Israel has tried to place between us, we are part of the same struggle. Jonathan has stood alongside me and all Palestinians since he was a punk-looking teenager with weird clothes and crazy hair. Today, as a human rights defender and as a person of principle, I am proud to stand up and support Jonathan Pollak.

‘Just Mercy’ – starring Michael B. Jordan as human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson – goes into premiere

December 26, 2019

in Heavy.com of 25he film Just Mercy – starring Michael B. Jordan as lawyer Bryan Stevenson – will be released nation-wide as from 10 January 2020.  The movie is based on Stevenson’s best-selling memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/20/equal-justice-initiative-founder-bryan-stevenson-winner-of-2019-thomas-dodd-prize/]

It tells the story of how the Harvard law graduated moved to Alabama in order to help inmates who were wrongly condemned as death row prisoners. The main court case in the film focuses on one of Stevenson’s first clients, Walter McMillian, aka “Johnny D.” who’s played by Jamie Foxx in the movie, a 41-year-old tree-trimmer who was charged for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a local white teenager.Stevenson’s story is lesson in justice, persistence, and pushing to do what’s lawfully right. McMillian was released from prison after seven years on death row, he passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s in 2013. However, Stevenson is still very much alive, and still working as attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, which he founded in 1989. As described on their official website, “EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” Stevenson, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, has helped release 135 wrongly accused prisoners sentenced to death.

We don’t see those kinds of stories very often and I think that’s created a void in our consciousness about what’s happening,” Stevenson told Delaware Online. “We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world and most people in this country have no knowledge of that. That lack of knowledge and that lack of compassion is what’s made us so vulnerable to the abuse that is on display in this story.

Over his career, Stevenson has earned 40 doctoral degrees, including those from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and University of Pennsylvania. He’s also won a long list of awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the ABA medal, which is the American Bar Association’s highest honor, and the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union. As a professor, he’s racked up even more hardware. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award.

https://www.justmercyfilm.com/https://www.facebook.com/JustMercyFilm/

The Real-Life Bryan Stevenson Now: Where Is He Today?

 

 

The unsatisfactory ‘end’ to the Khashoggi investigation?

December 23, 2019

Main media (here BBC) have reported it but as I have devoted several posts to the Khashoggi case [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/], I wanted to be complete:

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death and jailed three others over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. The Saudi authorities said it was the result of a “rogue operation” and put 11 unnamed individuals on trial. A UN expert said the trial represented “the antithesis of justice”. “Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial,” Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard wrote on Twitter. (A report released by Ms Callamard concluded in June that Khashoggi’s death was an “extrajudicial execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible, and that there was credible evidence warranting further investigation that high-level officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were individually liable.)

The shadow cast by the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi has hung over Saudi Arabia’s international reputation for more than a year now. The ruling princes, especially the all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will be hoping Monday’s verdicts draw a line under the whole affair. That may be wishful thinking. The two most senior suspects – dubbed “the masterminds” – have walked free after a trial shrouded in secrecy.

At a news conference in Riyadh on Monday, Mr Shaalan said the public prosecution’s investigations had shown that “there was no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the mission”…Ms Callamard dismissed as “utterly ridiculous” the assertion that the killing was not premeditated, noting that in one of the purported audio recordings from the consulate two Saudi officials were heard discussing how to cut up and transport Khashoggi’s body just minutes before he entered the consulate.

A statement by the Saudi public prosecution said a total of 31 individuals were investigated over the killing and that 21 of them were arrested. Eleven were eventually referred to trial at the Riyadh Criminal Court and the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for five of them. Human Rights Watch said the trial, which took place behind closed doors, did not meet international standards and that the Saudi authorities had “obstructed meaningful accountability”.

Progress with the TrialWatch app of the Clooney Foundation

September 10, 2019

Illegitimate judicial proceedings are increasingly being used as a ‘rule-of-law-shield’ to fend off legitimate criticism,” says David Pressman, the Executive Director of the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ). No overall system exists to monitor the fairness of trials around the world: some cases receive media attention and are well documented, whereas others are only followed by local activists. To bridge this gap, the CFJ, founded in June 2016, set up TrialWatch, an international monitoring program. Launched in April 2019, TrialWatch trains individuals in the basics of trial-monitoring, and equips them with the TrialWatch app, developed with Microsoft, to help them collect information about trials of interest in their areas. That information is then passed on to legal experts, such as international human rights lawyers, who assess it and write fairness reports. In time, this will contribute to a global justice index, ranking countries by the fairness of their legal system.

By early May 2019, TrialWatch was already monitoring 18 trials around the world, from Nigeria to Belarus, a number which the organisation wants to increase. “TrialWatch aims to solve the challenge of scaling trial-monitoring,” says Pressman. Trial-monitoring has been used by legal experts and lawyers for many years, because it increases transparency, creates a simplified record of the trial, and can facilitate reform. To make it easier to become a monitor, the CFJ developed a new set of guidelines accessible to non-experts, which were approved by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the American Bar Association and Columbia Law School.

The TrialWatch smartphone app gives trial-monitors the tools to collect essential information, and store it securely in one place. The training that trial-monitors receive helps ensure that they record the right information, and straightforward yes/no questionnaires help them speed up collection. Within the app, trial-monitors can also take photos, shoot videos, and record audio – which is useful, given that many of the monitored trials happen in languages which aren’t widely spoken. Audio files are transcribed in the original language and then translated into English by Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services. All that is securely uploaded to the cloud, to be pored over by the CFJ’s legal experts.

Our hope is that TrialWatch can help expose states when they fall short,” Pressman says . “It can demonstrate the ways that states are instrumentalising the courts in an effort to legitimise human rights abuses.

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/amal-clooney-trialwatch-app

Amnesty asks Myanmar to drop charges against detained filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi

August 1, 2019

In response to the opening of the trial of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi on 1 August 2019, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and South East Asia said: “Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi should be celebrated for his human rights work, not wallowing in prison without appropriate care.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the latest in a long line of Myanmar activists targeted for criticising the Myanmar military. Peaceful comments on Facebook are not a crime, even if they criticise officials, and his is yet another politically motivated trial. Authorities should drop these vindictive charges, and Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi must be immediately and unconditionally released. “We remain deeply concerned about his health in detention, as he recovers from his battle with liver cancer. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi should be celebrated for his human rights work, not wallowing in prison without appropriate care. “As the 2020 elections draw near, the clock is ticking for the NLD-led government to repeal the abusive legislation repeatedly used against peaceful critics like Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is a prominent filmmaker and founder of the Human Dignity Film Institute and the Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival in Myanmar in 2013 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/06/06/burmamyanmar-to-have-first-international-human-rights-film-festival-in-june/#more-2975. He was arrested on 12 April 2019 after a Myanmar military official accused him of defamation for a series of Facebook posts critical of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and the military’s role in politics. He was initially accused of “online defamation” under Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunication Act. Several days later, the same officer who had lodged the initial proceedings filed a second complaint under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which prohibits the circulation of statements or reports which could cause a solider or other member of the Myanmar military to “mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty.” If found guilty and convicted of the 505(a) charge, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The complaint under Section 66(d) – which also carries a maximum of two years in prison – remains pending.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is being detained in Yangon’s Insein prison, where he has been held for more than three months since his arrest. He has been denied bail, despite battling liver cancer and undergoing a major operation earlier this year.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/08/myanmar-drop-charges-detained-filmmaker/

Two welcome paroles in Russia and Zimbabwe but justice is still to be done

June 11, 2019

Having reported earlier on the Oyub Titiev case in Russia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/] and that of the seven human rights defenders arrested in Zimbabwe [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/four-zimbabwe-human-rights-defenders-detained-at-at-the-mugabe-airport-on-their-return-from-foreign-trip/], I am now happy to report some progress:

Responding to news that Shali City Court in Chechnya has granted parole to the imprisoned human rights defender Oyub Titiev after almost one-and-a-half years behind bars, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said: “We have been calling for Oyub Titiev’s immediate and unconditional release since his detention. The real agenda behind his criminal prosecution on trumped up charges was to stop a human rights defender from doing his lawful human rights work….In spite of overwhelming evidence that the case against him had been fabricated, the authorities in Chechnya crudely abused the justice system to convict an innocent man. Today the court decided to at least partially amend the gross injustice by releasing Oyub in ten days time.” But if justice is to prevail, Oyub Titiev’s conviction should be quashed, and he must be given access to an effective remedy, including compensation, for his unlawful imprisonment.  “This decision comes just days after prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was detained and charged with supplying drugs amid allegations that he was framed, held incommunicado and beaten in custody. He is currently under house arrest and we call on his allegations against the authorities to be immediately investigated.”

High court Judge Justice Army Tsanga ordered for the release of the two activists seized at the Robert Mugabe International Airport upon arrival from Maldives. The state is alleging that the accused are members of the civil society organizations who connived with their accomplices went to Maldives where they underwent a training workshop by a Serbian non-governmental organisation called Center for Applied Non-Violent Action Strategies (Canvas) with intend to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/russia-titievs-parole-a-welcome-step-but-not-justice/

Breaking: Five Zim ‘Terrorists’ Out On Bail

Four Zimbabwe human rights defenders detained at at the Mugabe Airport on their return from foreign trip

May 21, 2019

Police have arrested four human rights activists at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on their return from a foreign trip. Police officers also took away cellphones and laptops belonging to the activists. In a statement on Tuesday, 21 May 2019 Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda said: “They were detained upon disembarking from a South African flight at Robert Mugabe International Airport last night and held for several hours without access to their lawyers”. Lawyers were only allowed access to them 5 hours hours after they were arrested.

The four are George Makoni, 38, advocacy officer for the NGO Centre for Community Development Zimbabwe; Tatenda Mombeyarara, 37, coordinator for lobby group Citizens Manifesto; Gamuchirai Mukura, 31, executive director of Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD); and Nyasha Mpahlo, 35, governance officer at Transparency International Zimbabwe.

The arrest of the human rights activists follows a report carried in State daily publications, The Herald and Chronicle that suggested that civic organisations are plotting to cause mayhem in the country. The Herald ran a story claiming that “a group of shady organisations with links to the (main opposition) MDC-Alliance has been hard at work laying the groundwork for civil unrest to be unleashed next month.” The newspaper said some activists had attended a workshop on the Maldives archipelago that was conducted by a non-profit Serbian organisation, Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).

The civil society alliance Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition condemned the latest arrests. It said in a statement: “The police, government and state media have been colluding to criminalise the work of human rights defenders, laying unfounded allegations against civil society leaders as agents of regime change who want to topple the government.

On 27 May 2019 ZW News adds that two more human rights defenders were arrested: https://zwnews.com/human-rights-arrested-at-harare-international-airport/

https://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/four-human-rights-activists-arrested-in-zimbabwe-23677924

Govt Goes After Human Rights Activists

TrialWatch officially launched by Clooneys

April 25, 2019

As announced earlier this year [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/15/star-power-for-good-george-and-amal-clooney-at-least-try-to-tackle-controversial-issues/] on 25 April 2019 the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), together with partners Microsoft Corporation, Columbia Law School, the American Bar Association, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), launched their TrialWatch® initiative at an inaugural TrialWatch Conference and launch event.

Clooney Foundation For Justice Logo

Courts around the world are increasingly being used to silence dissidents and target the vulnerable. But so far there has been no systematic response to this,” said Amal Clooney, Co-President, Clooney Foundation for Justice. “The Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch program is a global initiative to monitor trials, expose abuses, and advocate for victims, so that injustice can be addressed, one case at a time.”

TrialWatch is an initiative focused on monitoring and responding to trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations. TrialWatch aims to be the first comprehensive global program scrutinizing criminal trials around the world. CFJ will recruit and train trial monitors, including non-lawyers, who can observe and report on criminal trials around the world, and use a specialised app to record the proceedings. The Clooney Foundation for Justice will then work to expose injustice and rally support to secure justice for defendants whose rights have been violated. For each trial monitored, CFJ will work with an eminent legal expert to produce a Fairness Report assessing and grading the fairness of the trial against human rights standards, and, where necessary and possible, will be followed up with legal advocacy to assist a defendant in pursuing remedies in regional or international human rights courts. Ultimately, the data that is gathered will populate a global justice index that measures states’ performance in this area.

TrialWatch will focus on trials involving journalists, LGBTQ persons, women and girls, religious minorities, and human rights defenders. In recent months, TrialWatch monitors have observed proceedings in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. The cases have involved journalists being prosecuted under a wide variety of laws, including cyber laws, administrative laws, and terrorism laws, in six countries. TrialWatch has covered a trial of individuals being prosecuted under anti-LGBTQ laws in sub-Saharan Africa and proceedings involving a journalist detained under India’s National Security Act for criticizing the government on social media. TrialWatch monitors are also monitoring the trial of a lawyer in Eurasia, who is being prosecuted in connection with his work on behalf of human rights defenders and the trial of a journalist in Nigeria, who is being prosecuted for writing about internal government documents and refusing to reveal his source. Fairness reports are being produced to assess each of these trials, and many more trials will be monitored on an ongoing basis around the world.

CFJ has partnered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to develop an online training course for monitors. This course was developed by CFJ and approved by OHCHR.

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https://finance.yahoo.com/news/clooney-foundation-justice-convenes-human-rights-leaders-mark-103100664.html?

In surprise move Bahrain king reinstates citizenship of 551 – 439 to go

April 22, 2019

FILE - In this May 21, 2017 file photo, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The king reinstated the citizenship of 551 people convicted amid a crackdown on dissent on the island. The surprise royal decree, announced Sunday, April 21, 2019, by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, gave no explanation for his decision. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The surprise royal order gave no explanation for King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s decision, other than to say that he had the final authority in such cases. “The study and evaluation of the situation of convicts should be based on criteria pertaining to the seriousness, impact and consequences of the crimes, as well as on the danger the convict may pose on national security,” the state-run Bahrain News Agency said in announcing the king’s decision. Authorities later will announce the names of those having their citizenship restored.

[Last week, 138 people lost their citizenship in a mass trial. That drew a rebuke from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who described the convictions as giving “rise to serious concerns” about the country’s legal system. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said last week’s verdict brought to 990 the number of people ordered stripped of their nationality since 2012.]

Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, the director of advocacy at the institute, said he was surprised by the news. However, he cautioned that those like himself who had their citizenship stripped at the ministerial level, rather than through the courts, likely wouldn’t benefit from the king’s order. “I honestly think there is something going on behind scenes, maybe some diplomatic pressure is applied to the government,” AlWadaei said. “There must be a state behind it, maybe Britain or the United States.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.

https://www.wral.com/bahrain-king-reinstates-citizenship-of-551-amid-mass-trials/18339059/

UN Rapporteurs intervene again for Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro

April 11, 2019

Israel must fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the UN’s Declaration on human rights defenders, and in particular end the use of criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct the legitimate work of human rights defenders, say two UN rapporteurs: Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory and Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders .

Their comments come on 11 April 2019 after the latest hearing on 7 April in the case of Issa Amro, a human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group which seeks to end settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance. “Israel must provide for the protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work and ensure that, if charged with any offence, their right to a fair trial is respected,” said the Rapporteurs “The case of Issa Amro is emblematic of the sophisticated array of obstacles faced by Palestinian human rights defenders who engage in non-violent activities.

Cracking down on individuals whose work is essential to denouncing violations and creating safe and peaceful societies, sends a troubling message that the Israeli authorities make little effort to abide by international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial.

We are very concerned that in January 2019 Israel did not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observer force that was instrumental in efforts to avoid violence – a decision which led to a group of human rights defenders, including Issa Amro, deciding to accompany children to school.”

The UN experts also expressed deep concern about the repressive working environment faced by Palestinian human rights organisations in recent years.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/08/14/five-un-experts-urge-israel-to-stop-harassment-of-human-rights-activist-issa-amro/ and https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/issa-amro

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1904/S00078/israel-must-ensure-protection-for-issa-amro.htm