Posts Tagged ‘fair trial’

Cambodia: Quash Convictions of ‘ADHOC 5’

June 22, 2022
201808asia_cambodia_adhoc
© 2018 ADHOC

The Cambodian authorities should quash the baseless criminal convictions of four members and one former member of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Human Rights Watch said on 22 June 2022. On June 21, 2022, four of the defendants, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, and Ny Chakrya appealed a May 23 appeals court ruling upholding their convictions to the Cambodian Supreme Court.

From the very beginning, the Cambodian authorities have sought to unjustly punish the ADHOC 5 as a way to intimidate all civil society activists from criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donor agencies should urge the authorities to drop these cases and end all repression of human rights defenders.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/11/even-landmark-un-decision-does-not-change-cambodias-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/

In April 2016 the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit arrested ADHOC members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, along with the former ADHOC member Ny Chakrya, who was then deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee, and accused them of making false statements regarding a criminal case against the then-opposition leader Kem Sokha.

The five activists spent 14 months in pretrial detention. During their criminal trial, the prosecution failed to present any of the witnesses mentioned in the case or provide any credible evidence to substantiate the charges.

On September 26, 2018, the Phnom Penh municipal court convicted Vanda, Sokha, Soksan, and Mony of “bribery of a witness” (article 548 of Cambodia’s criminal code) and Chakrya of being an accomplice (articles 28 and 548). All five received suspended five-year prison terms, minus 14 months of time served.

On October 24, 2018, the defendants appealed the guilty verdicts to the Court of Appeal. The prosecutor’s office also filed an appeal, seeking to have the defendants serve the remainder of their suspended sentence in prison. The Court of Appeal denied both appeals on May 23, 2022.

The ADHOC 5 case arose during a broader government crackdown on civil society and the political opposition, specifically on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which the government-dominated Supreme Court later dissolved in a politically motivated ruling.

The former CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, continues to face unsubstantiated, politically motivated treason charges brought in September 2017. While he is no longer detained, his trial only recommenced in January, after being suspended for two years ostensibly because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government deemed his case to not be a “priority”. The allegations against Sokha are based on the government’s groundless claim that the CNRP fomented a “color revolution” to overthrow the government.

Human Rights Watch has documented the situations of more than 50 current political prisoners in Cambodia, including both those in pretrial detention and those serving prison sentences following politically motivated convictions. They include political opposition members, human rights defenders, land and environmental rights activists, and journalists.

“The Cambodian authorities should recognize that every day the ADHOC 5 case persists, the greater this travesty of justice inflicts harm to the government’s reputation,” Robertson said. “The only way for justice to be served is for the prosecutor to quash the convictions and provide the defendants with an appropriate remedy for the years of hardship the case caused them.”

see also: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/the-khmer-5/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/22/cambodia-quash-convictions-adhoc-5

Ola Bini, a Swedish internet activist and human rights defender, will be in a Quito court. A trial to watch.

May 10, 2022

Jason Kelley and Veridiana Alimonti in EFF of 9 May 2022 report on the continuing saga of Ola Bini:

In preparation for what may be the final days of the trial of Ola Bini, an open source and free software developer arrested shortly after Julian Assange’s ejection from Ecuador’s London Embassy, civil society organizations observing the case have issued a report citing due process violations, technical weaknesses, political pressures, and risks that this criminal prosecution entails for the protection of digital rights. Bini was initially detained three years ago and previous stages of his prosecution had significant delays that were criticized by the Office of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. An online press conference is scheduled for May 11th, with EFF and other organizations set to speak on the violations in Bini’s prosecution  and the danger this case represents. The trial hearing is set for May 16-20, and will most likely conclude next week. If convicted, Bini’s defense can still appeal the decision.

What’s Happened So Far

The first part of the trial against Ola Bini took place in January. In this first stage of testimony and expert evidence, the court repeatedly called attention to various irregularities and violations to due process by the prosecutor in charge. Human rights groups observing the hearing emphasized the flimsy evidence provided against Bini and serious flaws in how the seizure of his devices took place. Bini’s defense stressed that the raid happened without him present, and that seized encrypted devices were examined without following procedural rules and safeguards.

These are not the only problems with the case. Over two years ago, EFF visited Ecuador on a fact-finding mission after Bini’s initial arrest and detention. What we found was a case deeply intertwined with the political effects of its outcome, fraught with due process violations. EFF’s conclusions from our Ecuador mission were that political actors, including the prosecution, have recklessly tied their reputations to a case with controversial or no real evidence. 

Ola Bini is known globally as someone who builds secure tools and contributes to free software projects. Bini’s team at ThoughtWorks contributed to Certbot, the EFF-managed tool that has provided strong encryption for millions of websites around the world, and most recently, Bini co-founded a non-profit organization devoted to creating user-friendly security tools.

What  Bini is not known for, however, is conducting the kind of security research that could be mistaken for an “assault on the integrity of computer systems,” the crime for which he was initially investigated, or “unauthorized access to a computer system,” the crime for which he is being accused now (after prosecutors changed the charges). In 2019, Bini’s lawyers counted 65 violations of due process, and journalists told us at the time that no one was able to provide them with concrete descriptions of what he had done. Bini’s initial imprisonment was ended after a decision considered his detention illegal, but the investigation continued. The judge was later “separated” from the case in a ruling that admitted the wrongdoing of successive pre-trial suspensions and the violation of due process.

Though a judge decided in last year’s pre-trial hearing to proceed with the criminal prosecution against Bini, observers indicated a lack of solid motivation in the judge’s decision.

A New Persecution

A so-called piece of evidence against Bini was a photo of a screenshot, supposedly taken by Bini himself and sent to a colleague, showing the telnet login screen of a router. The image is consistent with someone who connects to an open telnet service, receives a warning not to log on without authorization, and does not proceed—respecting the warning. As for the portion of a message exchange attributed to Bini and a colleague, leaked with the photo, it shows their concern with the router being insecurely open to telnet access on the wider Internet, with no firewall.

Between the trial hearing in January and its resumption in May, Ecuador’s Prosecutor’s Office revived an investigation against Fabián Hurtado, the technical expert called by Ola Bini’s defense to refute the image of the telnet session and who is expected to testify at the trial hearing.

On January 10, 2022, the Prosecutor’s Office filed charges for procedural fraud against Hurtado. There was a conspicuous gap between this charge and the last investigative proceeding by prosecutors in the case against Hurtado, when police raided his home almost 20 months before, claiming that he had “incorporated misleading information in his résumé”. This raid was violent and irregular, and considered by Amnesty International as an attempt to intimidate Ola Bini’s defense. One of the pieces of evidence against Hurtado is the document by which Bini’s lawyer, Dr. Carlos Soria, included Hurtado’s technical report in Bini’s case file.

Hurtado’s indictment hearing was held on February 9, 2022. The judge opened a 90-day period of investigation which is about to end. As part of this investigation, the prosecutor’s office and the police raided the offices of Ola Bini’s non-profit organization in a new episode of due process violations, according to media reports.

Civil Society Report and Recommendations

Today’s report, by organizations gathered in the Observation Mission of Bini’s case, is critical for all participating and to others concerned about digital rights around the world. There is still time for the court to recognize and correct the irregularities and technical weaknesses in the case. It points out key points that should be taken into consideration by the judicial authorities in charge of examining the case.

In particular, the report notes, the accusations have failed to demonstrate a consistent case against Ola Bini. Irregularities in court procedures and police action have affected both the speed of the procedure and due process of law in general. In addition, accusations against Bini show little technical knowledge, and could lead to the criminalization of people carrying out legitimate activities protected by international human rights standards. This case may lead to the further persecution of the so-called “infosec community” in Latin America, which is made up primarily of security activists who find vulnerabilities in computer systems, carrying out work that has a positive impact on society in general. The attempt to criminalize Ola Bini already shows a hostile scenario for these activists and, consequently, for the safeguard of our rights in the digital environment.

Moreover, these activists must be guaranteed the right to use the tools necessary for their work—for example, the importance of online anonymity must be respected as a premise for the exercise of several human rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression. This right is protected by international Human Rights standards, which recognize the use of encryption (including tools such as Tor) as fundamental for the exercise of these rights.

These researchers and activists protect the computer systems on which we all depend, and protect the people who have incorporated electronic devices into their daily lives, such as human rights defenders, journalists and activists, among many other key actors for democratic vitality. Ola Bini, and others who work in the field, must be protected—not persecuted.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/technologists/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/10/when-digital-rights-and-cybercrime-collide#

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/eff-and-other-civil-society-organizations-issue-report-danger-digital-rights-what

20 Years later, Guantanamo’s legacy still there

March 16, 2022

On the 20th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay Kasmira Jefford of Geneva Solutions looks at the legacy of the so-called “war on terror”. She does so in conversation with UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. From camps in north-eastern Syria, where thousands are detained without legal processes, to China where detention camps are posing under the guise of “education facilities” – secret detentions and enforced disappearances are still happening every day under the banner countering terrorism. Here some lengthy extracts:

In 2010, UN experts from four different working groups and special procedures joined forces to produce one of the most comprehensive studies to date on widespread systematic torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and secret detentions taking place across the world and condemning the wide range of human rights violations committed by countries.

In a follow-up report presented on Wednesday at the Human Rights Council 49th session, the special rapporteur said 10 years on, these practices are still rife and deplored the “abject failure” by states to implement the recommendations of the 2010 study.

GS News: In 2010, UN experts published a milestone study on secret detentions. What does your follow-up report show?

Fionnuala Ni Aolain: The 2010 report was unusual because it involved… four special procedure mechanisms coming together and identifying each in their collective way the scale of the problem of systematic torture and rendition of persons across borders, and systematic disappearances, arbitrary detention, and secret detentions. The [follow-up] report we’ve just published does a stock-taking and assesses whether or not the recommendations of the special experts were implemented. And possibly the single most depressing thing about that review is that the annex lists every single person who was named in the 2010 report – hundreds of names who were rendered, tortured, or both – and not a single individual received an adequate remedy [for the violation of human rights they experiend]. There was no accountability, no person was ever charged with crime for any of those acts.

The second part of the follow up report focuses on what that culture of impunity enabled. And what I find is that the culture of impunity, fostered and enabled by the “war on terror” as it was called essentially has created and enabled the conditions in which other places of mass detention have emerged. The report focuses on two of them : Xinjiang, China, and the situation in [in detention camps] in northeast Syria.

One of the observations you make is that ‘secret’ detention has evolved in the past two decades to encompass more complex forms of “formally lawful” or legalised transfer. Can you explain?

In the evolution that we’ve seen…dark-of-night arrivals into places like Poland and Lithuania and other countries that were accepting these rendition flights stopped because the global heat, if you want, on that kind of rendition was simply too high. It just became intolerable and unacceptable for states who were cooperating in enabling torture and rendition to continue to do it. But there’s been this transition into this ‘lawful transfer’. These are diplomatic assurances, [for example], where one state offers an assurance to another state that they will not torture the person who’s transferred into their custody.

But as the report makes clear, if you have to provide an assurance that you’re not going to do that, it tells you that there’s something fundamentally dysfunctional about the legal system that’s producing the assurance  – and there’s a fundamental question about the trustworthiness of the assurance if it happens. And what we know in practice is that so many of those assurances are not worth the paper they are written on. People have had the worst kinds of practices meted out to them under the cover of diplomatic assurance. And there have been no consequences for states in breaking those assurances.

One of the issues you raise in the report is the lack of a globally agreed definition on terrorism or acts of terrorism. Why has it been so complex to agree upon a definition?

Part of what happened is that 9/11 spawned this culture where everybody agree that terrorism was a bad thing but nobody ever defined it. …What we see in practice is the systemic abuse of counterterrorism across the globe. We see it in multiple countries. Over 67 per cent of all the communications the mandate has sent since 2005 have involved the use of a counterterrorism measure against a civil society actor. So this tells you that actually, they’re doing really bad counterterrorism.

We have to understand that, in fact, there’s a structural endemic problem. And in many countries, states’ security is governed by counterterrorism. The example I often use is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, when women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was jailed on terrorism charges and processed through a Special Criminal Court. So this shows terrorism being everything and nothing.

…….

In your annual report presented to the General Assembly in October last year, you said that efforts to improve counter terrorism measures are in fact damaging human rights. Would you say that counterterrorism is incompatible with the respect of human rights?

Security is a human right. It’s found in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Our most fundamental right that enables us to have other rights is the right to be secure. So I don’t think they’re incompatible and I don’t think the drafters of the Universal Declaration thought they were incompatible. I grew up in Northern Ireland in a society which was, in many ways, defined for decades by counterterrorism law. The problem is that expansive counterterrorism law, which is what we have, is imprecise – and vague counterterrorism law is fundamentally incompatible with the rule of law.

The fundamental idea contained in the rule of law is that if you are to be charged with an offence by the state, that you know precisely what acts you engaged in that are likely to make you subject to the course of power of the state. And the fundamental problem with terrorism is that it really, in so many countries, kind of injures that the concept of the rule of law, because it’s not precise. A reasonable individual could not know what kind of actions they would engage in would implicate the use of a state or measure against them. So I don’t think it’s incompatible but unfortunately, we have very few examples of good practice.

One of the key examples you highlight in your report are the camps in northeast Syria where thousands of people – the majority women and children – are being detained. You describe this as “a human rights black hole”. What can or should be done immediately for these people who are living in desperate situations?

You have thousands, almost over 60,000 men and  women being held in detention centres, prisons, who have never been through any legal process; the idea that we would hold people in these conditions is simply abhorrent. And then we turn to look at the conditions in those camps. The special rapporteur on torture and I have found that the conditions in the camps reach the threshold of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment under international law. So the fact that they are there is also unacceptable. But the bottom line is that we have states, mostly western states, who simply will not take back their nationals including children, who refuse.

So, there’s a large-scale political solution that’s required to fix the challenge in northeast Syria, which involves all of the significant parties to the conflict. However, in the short run, the only international law compliance solution to the situation in these camps is the return of women and children to their countries of nationality. We have some states who have made active and ongoing efforts to do so and some who have made no effort.

https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/twenty-years-after-guantanamo-mass-detention-a-worrying-legacy-of-war-on-terror

Naty Castro, human rights defender in the Philippines arbitrarily detained

March 10, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prosecution of human rights defender Öztürk Türkdoğan in Turkey should be dropped

February 23, 2022

All charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of Turkey’s most prominent human rights organisation and a respected lawyer, should be immediately dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of his trial. Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), faces baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”, “insulting a public official” and “insulting the Turkish nation and the Turkish state” for public statements he made in relation to his association’s human rights work.
See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/22/turkey-arrests-and-backsliding-on-femicide/.


The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan is an undisguised attack on this one human rights defender and also on all those who speak out for human rights in Turkey,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Research for Europe. “With these spurious charges against the co-chair of Turkey’s longest-standing human rights organisation, the prosecuting authorities send a chilling message that increases the climate of intense fear among Turkey’s already beleaguered human rights community.

According to IHD’s records, over 200 separate criminal investigations and prosecutions of IHD members and elected representatives of the organization are ongoing across Turkey.

The criminalization of human rights defenders and of the Human Rights Association are the true insults here. The authorities’ unrelenting attack on Öztürk Türkdoğan and Turkey’s civil society movement has to end,” said Julia Hall. “Turkey must immediately drop all charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan and create an enabling, protective environment for civil society in line with its obligations under international human rights law.”

In December 2021, the Turkish authorities initiated three separate prosecutions against Öztürk Türkdoğan. He was tried under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code allegedly for “insulting” a public official in a statement published on the IHD website on 29 June 2018. The first hearing of this prosecution, in which the Minister of Interior is the alleged victim, was held on 18 February 2022. The next hearing will be held on 11 May.

He was also charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the penal code after the authorities detained him and searched his home on 19 March 2021. During the search, his phone and laptop were confiscated. The first hearing for this case will take place on 22 February 2022.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/02/turkey-baseless-prosecution-of-ozturk-turkdogan-an-attack-on-all-those-who-speak-out-for-human-rights/

https://www.arabnews.com/node/2029361/middle-east


Lawlor calls on Kyrgyzstan to stop harassment of human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev

November 12, 2021

Kyrgyzstan must investigate death threats against human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev instead of harassing him for making complaints against the police, said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders “It is extremely disturbing that authorities began laying criminal charges against Mr. Ruziev after he exposed police torture and ineffectiveness, when they should actually be investigating the death threats made against him,”

As director of the non-governmental human rights organisation Ventus, Ruziev defends victims of torture, domestic violence, and discrimination. In 2019, a police investigator, whom Ruziev exposed for committing torture, reportedly threatened to kill him. When the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor’s Office failed to investigate the threats, Ruziev took them to court, only to find himself facing seven criminal charges.

“Kyrgyz authorities must give Mr. Ruziev a fair trial and effectively investigate all allegations of threats and ill-treatment against him and other human rights defenders,” she said. The next hearing on Mr. Ruziev’s case will be on 11 November 2021.

Lawlor said she was also disturbed by reports that Mr. Ruziev was ill-treated while held in detention for 48 hours in May 2020, and denied access to his lawyer.

“Now I hear that his health is deteriorating, and complaints to the authorities about violations committed against him continue to fall on deaf ears,” she added.

In a report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year on threats and killings of human rights defenders, Lawlor warned: “when a human rights defender receives death threats, swift action must be taken to prevent the threats from escalating. Impunity fuels more murders.”

Lawlor is in contact with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan on this issue, and stressed that “Kyrgyzstan must do better to safeguard the environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work.”

Her call was endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

https://www.miragenews.com/investigate-death-threats-against-human-rights-664761/

Mubarak Bala wins Humanist International 2021 Freedom of Thought Award

August 27, 2021

In recognition of his efforts and contributions to promote humanist values in Nigeria, the General Assembly of Humanists International awarded Mubarak Bala with the 2021 Freedom of Thought Award during its General Assembly. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/29/un-experts-demand-release-of-nigerian-atheist-from-one-year-detention/

Born in Kano state, northern Nigeria, in 1984 and a chemical engineer by training, Mubarak Bala is a prominent member of the Humanist movement. As President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, he has played a vital role in the Humanist community in Nigeria.

Bala has been working to promote freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria and has been an outspoken religious critic in the conservative northern region, where open religious opposition is unusual. He has campaigned for the decriminalization of apostasy and blasphemy laws in states that implement Sharia in northern Nigeria. In addition he has engaged in human rights education and raised awareness on the importance of freedom of thought and conscience to peace, progress and stability in the region. He has organized meetings and conferences to enlighten the local populace especially those inclined to religious extremism and radical Islam due to indoctrination, lack of understanding or misinformation about freedom of religion or belief.

Bala has been held in detention since his arrest on 28 April 2020. Held for 15 months without any charge, Bala now faces charges of public disturbance in connection with Facebook posts deemed “blasphemous” he is alleged to have published in April 2020. In addition to being arbitrarily detained for 15 months, there have been several other violations of his rights to a fair trial, which include denying Bala access to his legal counsel until October 2020, failing to comply with a Federal High Court order to release Bala on bail, and consistent attempts to obstruct Bala’s legal team.

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented: “Mubarak Bala is an honorable humanist who has experienced great hardship and persecution in his realization of a life lived true to his values. Today he is a prisoner of conscience, whose thoughts are freer than he himself.”

The award was accepted on his behalf by his wife Amina Ahmed during the General Assembly of Humanists International on 15 August, commenting the award with these words:

On behalf of my husband Mubarak Bala, I really want to thank humanists all over the world for this wonderful honour. This award has really shown that the world still cares for Mubarak, and that Mubarak has not been forgotten. This is to show that humanity is above all regardless of religion and belief. I thank Humanists International for your utmost support and care for Mubarak’s family. We don’t know how to thank you enough, all I can say is thanks a zillion! And I know this is indeed a phase which will come to pass soon. I also want to thank the Humanists Association of Nigeria who has struggled these past months for Mubarak’s release. You have all really shown so much love and care for Mubarak and we really appreciate it.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/05/nigerian-humanist-mubarak-bala-receives-24-year-jail-sentence

Continued harassment of Mother Nature defenders in Cambodia

June 22, 2021

The Cambodian government should immediately drop baseless conspiracy and “insulting the king” charges against four environmental activists affiliated with the Mother Nature Cambodia environmental group and release the three in pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 16, 2021, the police arrested Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Seth Chhivlimeng, 25, in Phnom Penh, and Yim Leanghy, 32, in Kandal province, apparently for their documentation that raw sewage has entered the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace. On June 20, the court charged Ratha and Leanghy with “conspiracy” and lese majeste (“insulting the king”) under articles 453 and 437 bis of Cambodia’s penal code, and Chandaravuth with “conspiracy.” If convicted, they face between 5 and 10 years in prison, and fines of up to 10 million riels (US$2,500). The authorities also charged in absentia aSpanish national, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of Mother Nature Cambodia, who had been deported in 2015. Chhivlimeng was released without charge.

The Cambodian government has stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donors should call on the Cambodian authorities to drop their absurd charges against the environmental activists and publicly condemn any further clampdown on peaceful activism.”

An Interior Ministry spokesperson alleged that the authorities had proof that “rebellious” Mother Nature Cambodia had used foreign funding to try to topple the government, but did not make any evidence public.

This case followed earlier harassment of five Mother Nature Cambodia activists. On May 5, the Phnom Penh court convicted three environmental activists – Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keoraksmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29 – of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order,” articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code. The judge sentenced them to between 18 and 20 months in prison as well as a fine of 4 million riels ($1,000) for their peaceful activism protesting the authorities’ filling-in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok lake.

All three activists had been arrested in September 2020 and spent almost eight months in pretrial detention. Gonzalez-Davidson and Chea Kunthin, another activist, were also convicted in absentia and sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/09/cambodia-arbitrary-arrest-of-mother-nature-activists/]

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on youth and environmental activists engaged in peaceful activism and protest. The government has often used draconian new laws to arrest and prosecute activists in an apparent attempt to silence their voices and shut down their activism.

In March 2020 and early 2021, the authorities arrested environmental activists affiliated with the Prey Lang Community Network along with a prominent environmentalist and lawyer, Ouch Leng, to stop their efforts to document illegal logging and deforestation within the Prey Lang forest.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of nearly 70 current political prisoners, including members of the political opposition, youth and environmental activists, trade union leaders, and journalists who are awaiting trial or are serving prison sentences. Many other activists have fled Cambodia to seek refuge abroad.

Because of the higher risks of getting Covid-19 in prison, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly appealed to the Cambodian authorities to conditionally release pretrial detainees not held for violent offenses. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society groups have often criticized the government’s routine use of pretrial detention.

“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the environmental activists charged have no chance of getting a fair trial,” Robertson said. “Only international pressure on the Cambodian government holds out the possibility of saving these activists from unjust prison sentences.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/23/cambodia-free-environmental-activists

https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/06/cambodia-court-charges-environmental-activists-with-conspiracy-insulting-king/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/cambodia-arbitrary-detention-and-judicial-harassment-of-mother-nature

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/cambodia-assault-on-environmental-defenders-escalates-as-four-more-charged-imprisonment/ 

Three environmental rights defenders in Cambodia sentenced, but Government remains unapologetic

May 13, 2021

On 7 May 2021 Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, condemned a decision by a Cambodian court to sentence three environmental human rights defenders to jail terms of up to 20 months and urged the Government to release them immediately and unconditionally.

The convicted human rights defenders – Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phuon Keoraksmey – are members of Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of Cambodia’s natural environment and supports local communities in defending those rights.

The three, who were sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal court on charges of incitement to create social chaos, had been in pre-trial detention for eight months before the conviction.

“The decision of the Cambodian court sentencing the three human rights defenders to prison terms is disgraceful and only reinforces the Government’s enduring policy to diminish civic space and dissenting voices,” said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The verdict also shows how unable and unwilling the court is to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms that the government has voluntarily accepted. I am concerned about the pattern of increasing prosecution of human rights defenders in Cambodia since July 2020,” Lawlor said. “The trial and conviction against the MNC human rights defenders clearly demonstrates a sustained intolerance and efforts to undermine the space for human rights defenders.”

“This decision is extremely worrying as States have the obligation to provide a safe and enabling environment in which environmental human rights defenders can operate free from threats, harassment, intimidation, criminalisation and violence,” emphasized the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Dr. David Boyd.

The three were arrested in September 2020 without warrants and were charged under articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code. The charges carried a custodial sentence of between six months to two years and a fine of one to four million riels (approximately USD 250 to USD 1,000).

Lawlor expressed serious concerns about the lack of factual evidence underpinning the charges. The human rights defenders were convicted based on a number of Facebook posts on environmental matters and video clips which showed them raising human rights and environmental awareness in a factual and peaceful manner. No substantial evidence was cited that would prove how their actions had in fact or could potentially lead to “social chaos”.

“While the three human rights defenders may still file an appeal, I urge the Cambodian Government to immediately and unconditionally release them. No one should be criminalised for undertaking legitimate human rights work,” she said. “As highlighted in my last statement in November, I call on the United Nations system in Cambodia to support all human rights defenders who are exposed to risk.”

The expert’s call has been endorsed by Mr. David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association.

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Not surprisingly the Cambodian government see it differently:

Cambodia’s permanent mission to the UN said Lawlor’s statement was false and misleading.

“Crime is crime and it cannot be justified because it is in pursuit of other aspirations,” the press release said.

The permanent mission’s statement said that Cambodia values all duly-registered NGOs that are operating within the boundaries of law and that, unfortunately, Professor Lawlor seems to be advocating the work of an unlawful organization that commits crimes in the name of environmentalism.

The mission said MNC had officially dissolved itself in 2017, but the organisation continued on illegally exploiting the environmental movement until today and that the self-proclaimed human rights defenders are not entitled to break the law with impunity.

It described Lawlor’s remarks as inappropriate and an interference in the national judicial system of a sovereign state, saying the demand for the government to arbitrarily release anyone is tantamount to an attack on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary that are guaranteed under the Constitution.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00111/cambodia-un-expert-condemns-conviction-of-three-environmental-rights-defenders-urges-their-release.htm

https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-politics/kingdom-denounces-un-rapporteurs-statement-mother-nature-activists-trial

UN experts demand release of Nigerian atheist from one-year detention

April 29, 2021

Seven UN human rights experts on Thursday 29 April 2021 demanded the release of a Nigerian atheist and humanist, Mubarak Bala, who has been detained without charge by the police for a year over alleged blasphemy.

The experts’ demand add to calls by many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, in the last one year for the release of the activist who faces death penalty if convicted under the law being operated in many parts of Northern Nigeria.

Mr Bala who is the president of Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna State on April 28, 2020 over his Facebook post considered to be critical of Islam. His post reportedly caused outrage among Muslims in many parts of highly conservative northern part of the country.

The detainee whose arrest was prompted by a petition by a lawyer, S.S Umar, backed by some Islamic figures, was later transferred to the neighbouring Kano State.

His whereabouts remained unknown to his family and lawyer for many months before he was later granted access to them.

Delivering judgment in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed on his behalf, a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Inyang Ekwo, on December 21, 2020, declared Mr Bala’s detention illegal and ordered his immediate release.

The court also ruled that the denial of his ability to choose his own legal representation, constituted gross infringements of his rights to personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of thought, expression and movement.

It awarded damages of N250,000 damages in his favour.

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/458323-alleged-blasphemy-un-experts-demand-release-of-nigerian-atheist-from-one-year-detention.html

https://punchng.com/un-group-kicks-as-atheist-spends-one-year-in-illegal-detention/