Posts Tagged ‘Human rights defender’

Marielle Franco, 38-year-old human rights defender and city councilor of Rio, assassinated

March 16, 2018

The targeted assassination of Marielle Franco, a 38-year-old human rights defender and Rio de Janeiro city councilor known for denouncing police abuses and extrajudicial executions, is a sickening development that must be fully investigated, said Amnesty International 0n 15 March. Marielle was shot dead in Rio de Janeiro’s Estacio neighborhood on Wednesday 14 March 2018. Her driver was also killed and a press officer was injured in the attack.

This a chilling development and is yet another example of the dangers that human rights defenders face in Brazil. As a member of Rio de Janeiro’s State Human Rights Commission, Marielle worked tirelessly to defend the rights of black women and young people in the favelas and other marginalized communities,” said Jurema Werneck, Amnesty International’s Brazil director.

In 2016, Marielle was elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council. Two weeks ago, she was appointed rapporteur for a special commission that the city council created to monitor the ongoing federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro and the militarization of public security.

Gunmen riding in another vehicle carried out the attack, shooting indiscriminately before fleeing the scene without stealing anything, the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro State said. The attack came a day after the 38-year-old city councilor had posted a message on social media criticizing the deployment of army soldiers to Rio’s sprawling “favelas”.

See also:

Anniversary sparks high-level arrest in investigation of Berta Caceres murder

March 3, 2018

[On 2 March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a courageous defender of the environment and Indigenous rights, was shot dead by gunmen in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.  She campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project and the impact it would have on the territory of the Indigenous Lenca People. see also:]

A recent report from an independent team of international lawyers hired by the family of Berta Cáceres had exposed serious flaws in the official investigation. The report includes evidence that would implicate high-level business executives and state agents in the crime.  The Honduran Attorney General’s office has arrested eight people in connection to Berta’s murder, including some individuals linked to Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam, and others with ties to the military, but COPINH (the NGO Berta worked for) is concerned that no high-ranking officials in the government or the company have been investigated for having allegedly ordered her murder. Ahead of the trial which is scheduled to begin in June, the lawyers of Berta’s family and COPINH have called on the prosecutor office and the judicial authorities to ensure that those responsible for ordering the killing of Berta are also investigated and brought to justice.

Then on the same day as the anniversary of her killing the Honduran authorities (AP reports) arrested Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who at the time of the slaying was executive president of DESA, calling him an intellectual author of the crime. It became the ninth arrest in the killing of Caceres. Two others have been arrested for allegedly impeding the investigation.

The Public Ministry alleges Castillo was “the person in charge of providing logistics and other resources to one of the material authors already being prosecuted for the crime.” In a statement, DESA defended Castillo and its employees as innocent, saying they were “totally unconnected” to the crime and calling the “unjust detention” the result of “international pressure and campaigns by diverse NGOs to discredit the company.”

DESA questioned the coincidence that the arrest came on the second anniversary of Caceres’ killing as her supporters held a protest in Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Caceres’ relatives said they were certain of Castillo’s guilt.

Somewhere in a prison in the Emirates is Ahmed Mansoor but authorities claim not to know where

February 27, 2018

 Two Irish lawyers attempt to reach human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is held incommunicado in United Arab Emirates, but in vain.

Today the Martin Ennals Foundation reports that on 26 February 2018, two lawyers from Ireland approached the Ministry of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to try to gain access to distinguished human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who has been detained since 20 March 2017 for his human rights activities. Mansoor, who received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, is a member of the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

Given the widely documented use of torture and solitary confinement by UAE authorities, and the lack of any independent information regarding Mansoor, there are grave fears for his safety. Numerous organisations have expressed concern that he may be tortured and subject to ill treatment in detention.

See also:

In Abu Dhabi, the Irish lawyers approached the Ministry of the Interior headquarters, which is the authority controlling and running prisons. The Ministry referred the lawyers to the police, who are not responsible for prisons. The police then advised them to approach the Al-Wathba prison, which they did, only to be told Mansoor is not being held there. The inability of the authority responsible to provide any information on Mansoor is remarkable given that he has been detained for almost a year.

The mission was mandated by GCHR, the Martin Ennals Foundation, Front Line Defenders, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).


Ahmed Mansoor was arrested by a dozen security officers at his home in Ajman in the pre-dawn hours of 20 March 2017 and taken to an undisclosed location. The security officials conducted an extensive search of his home and took away all of the family’s mobile phones and laptops, including those belonging to his young children. The family had no information about Mansoor until a statement was issued on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 29 March 2017 saying that he was in detention in the Central Prison in Abu Dhabi. Since his arrest, his family were allowed to visit him only twice – on 3 April and 17 September 2017, and he has had no access to a lawyer.

In their public statements, the UAE authorities have said that Mansoor is accused of using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.” On the day of his arrest, the UAE’s official news agency, WAM, announced that he was arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and detained pending further investigation on charges of “using social media [including Twitter and Facebook] sites to publish false and misleading information that harms national unity and social harmony and damages the country’s reputation” and “promoting sectarian and hate-incited agenda”. The statement classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him may be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s repressive 2012 cybercrime law, which authorities have used to imprison numerous activists and which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had used Twitter to call for the release of activist Osama Al-Najjar, who remains in prison, despite having completed a three-year prison sentence in 2017 on charges related to his peaceful activities on Twitter; as well as prominent academic and economist Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, arrested in August 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in 2017. Both men have been convicted of charges related to peaceful messages they posted on the social media platform Twitter. Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the region, including in Egypt and Yemen. He had also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab Summit who met in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.

As a result of his selfless and tireless efforts to defend the rights of migrants and Emirati nationals in the UAE, he had become a thorn in the side of the UAE authorities and consequently the object of years of government harassment and persecution.

Since his arrest, a group of United Nations human rights experts have called on the UAE to release Mansoor, describing his arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They said they feared that his arrest “may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter, as well as for being an active member of human rights organizations.” The experts include special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, along with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The lengths the UAE authorities will go to silence Mansoor are shown by their efforts to hack his iPhone. In a widely documented case, the UAE were exposed after Mansoor’s suspicions were raised and he contact the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto in Canada. Citizen lab released the following report:

Mansoor, along with Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq, and Hassan Ali al-Khamis were arrested in April 2011 and charged with “publicly insulting” UAE rulers. On 27 November 2011, a panel of four judges of the Federal Court found all five men guilty and sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison, and the others to two years. The four men were released the next day, after the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, issued a pardon.

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Ibrahim Halawa – after 4 years in detention in Egypt – is able to speak out

February 27, 2018

Amnesty International published on 26 February 2018 an insightful interview with an Egyptian youth arrested in the august 2013 protests.
Weeks after his release Ibrahim Halawa spoke to AIu about his time in an Egyptian prison. Now walking the streets of Dublin his freedom has changed his life forever. Ibrahim Halawa was arrested aged just 17 along with hundreds of others during protests on 16 and 17 August 2013 around al-Fath Mosque in downtown Cairo. The protests descended into violence which the security forces responded to by using excessive lethal force that left at least 97 people killed, but according to Amnesty International’s research there is no evidence to indicate he was involved in any of the violence. The organization believes he was jailed for peacefully protesting. He was eventually acquitted on 18 September 2017, but 442 others were sentenced after a deeply unfair mass trial. Amnesty International is calling for all others who have been sentenced for peacefully exercising their rights to be immediately released.


Asma Jahangir, one of the world’s most outstanding human rights defenders, dies at age 66

February 11, 2018




Prominent Pakistani human rights defender and lawyer Asma Jahangir has died at the age of 66. She reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest and was taken to hospital, where she later died.

She was one of the most recognized and honored human rights defenders with over 17 human rights awards, including the Martin Ennals Award in 1995, whose film on her work shows a much younger Asma, fearless in spite of threats on her life:

I met her for the first time in 1993 at the 2nd World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, where she deeply impressed me by standing up and openly criticizing her fellow NGO representatives for having tried to prevent former President Jimmy Carte from speaking at the NGO forum. This principled stand was a hallmark of her life as Pakistani human rights lawyer and as UN Special Rapporteur. In many instances she was able to give sound advice on cases of other human rights defenders in difficulty. For earlier posts on Asma see:

Asma Jahangir’s career in short:

  • Trained as a lawyer and worked in Pakistan’s Supreme Court from age 30
  • A critic of the military establishment
  • Jailed in 1983 for pro-democracy activities
  • Put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice
  • Co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and of the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan (together with her sister Hina Jilani)
  • Co-founder of the Women’s Action Forum, set up to oppose law that reduced a woman’s testimony in court to half that of a man’s
  • The first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association
  • Winner of 17 human rights awards and the French Legion of Honour
  • Served twice as UN special rapporteur: on freedom of religion and on later on Human Rights in Iran

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called Ms Jahangir a “saviour of democracy and human rights”.

A prominent Pakistani lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, tweeted that Ms Jahangir was “the bravest human being I ever knew” and that the world was “less” without her.

A long interview with Asma you can find here:,

A 2017 interview can be found on the website of the RLA:


Today Ilham Tohti completes his fourth year in Chinese detention

January 15, 2018

Rightly Front Line Defenders reminds us that today, 15 January 2018, Ilham Tohti completed his fourth year in Chinese detention. The human rights defender, economics professor and advocate for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority was arrested following a raid on his home on 15 January 2014. In the course of his incarceration, Ilham Tohti has been subjected to recurring violations of international human rights standards with regard to detention conditions such as limitations of family visits, intercepted communication, solitary confinement, deprivation of food and intimidation. Ilham Tohti’s family and colleagues have also been subjected to judicial harassment. 

Ilham Tohti <>  formerly lectured as a professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing. He has researched, taught, and written numerous articles on topics related to human rights violations in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province, the homeland of China’s sharply repressed Uyghur minority. In 2006, the human rights defender founded Uyghur Online, a Chinese-language website for the dissemination of  Uyghur-centric news. Across these platforms, Ilham Tohti regularly criticised the exclusion of China’s Uyghur population from Chinese development, and encouraged greater awareness of Uyghur status and treatment in Chinese society. For these actions, Ilham Tohti was declared a “separatist” by the Chinese state and ultimately given a life sentence in prison.

Following his arrest on 15 January 2014, Ilham Tohti was tried at the Urumqi City Intermediate People’s Court on 23 September 2014. He was found guilty of “separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. Seven of the human rights defender’s students were arrested in the same year, and his niece was arrested in early 2016 for possessing photos of and articles written by the defender on her phone. On 10 October 2016, Ilham Tohti was granted the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. {see earlier posts on Ilham]

International Commission of Jurists joins criticism of Singapore for harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham

January 5, 2018

International Commission of Jurists urges Singapore to stop harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham

Why does MP Tulip Siddiq not want to speak out on Bangladesh?

December 5, 2017

Michael Polak, a human rights lawyer in the UK , wrote in the Guardian of 4 December 2017 “Why will Tulip Siddiq not speak out on Bangladesh’s ‘disappeared’ innocents?”. Behind this title is a serious matter. Ahmad bin Quasem is among the hundreds abducted by state forces in Bangladesh, the country of which this British MP’s  aunt happens to be the prime minister. The author points out that the excuse that the MP has “no sway over Bangladeshi politics” is far from convincing as:.. “And yet earlier this week the Bangladeshi cabinet adopted a resolution “greeting” the Hampstead and Kilburn MP for winning an award in Westminster. Siddiq accompanied the Bangladeshi prime minister during bilateral talks between Russia and Bangladesh in January 2013. Her paternal uncle is Tarique Ahmed Siddique, security adviser to the prime minister. Her mother and brother are both on the ruling party’s council and it is said that her brother is being groomed to be a future leader of Bangladesh. It is clear that Tulip Siddiq has a close relationship with various government figures in Bangladesh, including the prime minister.

Why this MP feels so reluctant to use her influence and to speak out on this and other cases is a mystery. The details of the case of Mir Ahmad bin Quasem, or Arman as he is known to friends and family, a British-trained Bangladeshi lawyer who was abducted in August 2016 by state security forces, follows below.
tulip siddiq
Tulip Siddiq. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

Last year the family of one such victim approached me to press their case. Mir Ahmad bin Quasem, or Arman as he is known to friends and family, is a British-trained Bangladeshi lawyer who was abducted in August 2016 by state security forces. They knocked on his door and, in front of his wife and young children, dragged him away. This abduction followed the exact modus operandi of other abductions by the security forces in Bangladesh. Since this incident there has been no confirmation of his whereabouts, but we believe that he is still alive.

Mir Ahmad was on the defence team for his father, Quasem Ali, who was prosecuted by Bangladesh’s self-styled “international crimes tribunal”, set up by the ruling party in Bangladesh to try crimes committed during the country’s war of liberation against Pakistan.

The tribunal has been widely criticised internationally, including by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights and eminent British lawyers. Along these lines, Mir Ahmad decided to join his father’s defence team but was abducted a month before his father’s execution, while the appeal procedure was still under way.

Mir Ahmad has not been charged with any offence and his abduction and continued detention by the Bangladeshi government is contrary to the Bangladeshi constitution and the country’s obligations under international law. Forced disappearances are common in Bangladesh under the current government: more than 320 people have been disappeared since 2009.

Mir Ahmad is one of three sons of former politicians who were abducted at around the same time, one of whom has been released. In a secret recordingobtained by Swedish radio, it is claimed by a high-ranking government security officer that the fate of those seized is decided by those “high up”. Astonishingly, as reported in these pages, Sheikh Hasina recently claimed that such forced disappearances also occur in Britain and the US, saying “275,000 British citizens disappeared” in the UK each year.

Last week Channel 4 News raised the issue and put the matter to Siddiq. The interaction now has become a matter of public record. Siddiq complained that Mir Ahmad was not her constituent, that she had no sway over Bangladeshi politics and that in any case she was a British MP focusing on Britain…..Even if we are to take Siddiq at her word that she has no sway over Bangladeshi politics, what is preventing her from at least speaking out? My client may not be Siddiq’s constituent, but nor is he the constituent of Shabana Mahmood MP, who raised an official parliamentary question on the matter earlier this year.

Before and since the Channel 4 News report was aired, the family of Mir Ahmad bin Quasem have been visited by state security forces who have reportedly warned them that “if there is any such news, come next time we will not be good like this time and you will not get to see our face like today”.

Since it has come to this, I earnestly hope that Siddiq can speak out to try to help ensure that Mir Ahmad’s mother, sister, wife and two young daughters are not intimidated by the Bangladeshi security services or face enforced disappearance themselves. This is an urgent matter and I ask Tulip Siddiq, as I have done many times before, to speak to me so it can be resolved.


Reward offered for the capture of Albert Cattouse’s killer in Belize

October 20, 2017

This blog tries to follow as much as possible what happens in the world of human rights awards which honor human rights defenders. Here is a story from Belize where an award (as in reward) is used in a different way: A reward is offered for the capture of Albert Cattouse’s killer!

Around seven-thirty on Thursday night, shots rang out in the vicinity of Dolphin Street near the rear of Roger’s Stadium. A well-known taxi driver and activist had been gunned down in cold blood. Seventy-two-year-old Albert Anthony Cattouse was driving his Lincoln Town Car when he was targeted by a gunman. The bullet caught him in the head and he died instantly inside his taxi, which came to a stop inside the drain. The activism community is up in arms because Cattouse, who was very vocal, recently participated in the high gas price protest last week (News Five’s Duane Moody reports).

The community activist group, Belize Leaders for Social Justice (BLSJ), is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the murder of Albert Cattouse. The BLSJ issued a statement today, condemning Cattouse’s murder, noting that he was a defender of human rights. “The activism community and human rights defenders are concerned that this murder can be related to Mr. Cattouse’s outspoken condemnation for acts of corruption and the injustices levied on our citizens by the government of Belize,” the group said.


Reward offered for the capture of Albert Cattouse’s killer

Turkey angry after PACE Havel prize is awarded to jailed judge

October 18, 2017

Turkish judge Murat Arslan, who was head of the Association for the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV).

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, named after the dissident playwright who later became Czech president, is given by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On Monday 16 October the prize awarded to the Turkish judge Murat Arslan, who was head of the Association for the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV). Arslan was arrested in October 2016 on suspicion of links to Gulen who Ankara blames for the failed coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The PACE described Arslan as a “staunch supporter of the independence of the judiciary.” But the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it “is wrong and unacceptable to award the prize … to a person who is a member of Feto terrorist organisation“. “While the judicial process is underway, presenting a terrorism suspect as a human rights defender is a betrayal of the ideals of democracy and human rights,” it said. For more on the award see:

In his absence, the prize was received by a representative of the European Magistrates for Democracy and Freedom group (Medel) which had nominated him. In a message from jail, Arslan told the ceremony that Turkey had “learnt nothing” from Europe’s 20th century history but “we will not let ourselves be closed up in a wall of fear”. []

Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950 but relations have frayed after the PACE in April voted to reopen political monitoring of the country.  see also: