Posts Tagged ‘Human rights defender’

Campaign to free Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng

February 17, 2022

ISHR, the Martin Ennals Foundation and eight other major human rights groups urge in a joint statement the Chinese government to ensure lawyer Yu Wensheng is able to leave Nanjing Prison on March 1st, and freely reunite with his family in Beijing.

The signatory organisations also called in the joint statement for sustained attention on the growing risks and threats his wife, Xu Yan, faces for advocating for his rights and release. 

A Laureate of the 2021 Martin Ennals Award, Yu Wensheng is a leading figure among human rights lawyers in China. He has fearlessly taken on a number of sensitive cases and issues, joining litigations on air pollution advocating for a constitutional government. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e

For this, the authorities revoked his legal license on 16 January, 2018. Three days later, he was forcibly disappeared, a day after publishing an open letter calling for constitutional reform. He was put on trial in secret on 9 May 2019, but his wife, Xu Yan, was only informed of his four-years jail sentence in June 2020.

Yu Wensheng is expected to leave prison in Nanjing on 1 March 2022, after being detained for 50 months, which should mark the end of his sentence for ‘inciting subversion of State power’. As early as May 2019, UN experts concluded his detention was arbitrary and called on the government to release him. Ever since, a number of government and UN experts have called for his release.

The signatories of the joint statement express grave concern that Yu Wensheng may be put under a de facto home arrest, severely restricted in his movements and communication, and unable to reunite with his family in Beijing.

Human rights lawyers have endured such restrictions upon leaving prison on grounds of a supplemental sentence of ‘deprivation of political rights’, in a phenomenon known as ‘non-release release’. In September 2019, UN experts condemned the use of this practice against lawyer Jiang Tianyong as ‘gratuitously punitive and legally unjustified’.

IThe signatory organisations urge the Chinese authorities to: 

  • Ensure that Yu Wensheng is able to reunite with his family in Beijing on 1 March, to exercise his rights to move and communicate freely, and that he is not subjected to surveillance and harassment. He must also be able to resume his legal work without restrictions;
  • Put an end to the surveillance and harassment of Yu Wensheng’s family; 
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in China, including human rights lawyers, are able to carry out their legitimate professional duties without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions.

You can add your own voice by filling out the form in: https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/on-march-1st-chinese-lawyer-yu-wensheng-must-be-fully-free/

Read the full statement https://ishr.ch/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Joint-NGO-statement-on-YWS_English-1.pdf

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/749qlxejj6-33409?e=d1945ebb90

NGOs protest harassment of Ambika Satkunanathan in Sri Lanka

February 17, 2022

On 14 February 2022 FIDH published a joint statement to support Sri Lankan human rights defender Ambika Satkunanathan:

We the undersigned human rights organizations, express our deep concern about the statement issued by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on February 4, 2022, in which the government denounced testimony given by Ambika Satkunanathan, a leading human rights lawyer, to the European Parliament on January 27. The government statement clearly constitutes an act of harassment and intimidation. We condemn the Sri Lankan government’s tactics to intimidate human rights defenders, and express our full solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, a well-known, respected and courageous human rights defender. Targeting her for providing accurate testimony about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to the European Parliament is completely unacceptable, and sends a chilling message to all Sri Lankan civil society, especially those in the north and east, who are already operating under considerable duress under the current administration.

Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the European Union, should publicly condemn the Sri Lankan government’s statement and express solidarity with Ms. Satkunanathan, who has been targeted for her international engagement, and increase their efforts to engage with Sri Lankan civil society at large.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement contains numerous false claims in an attempt to disparage and delegitimize a distinguished human rights advocate, placing her at risk of physical danger in retribution for her brave work. The government’s claim that her testimony was “reminiscent of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities,” and that “such allegations need to be refuted in the interest of social harmony” Is particularly insidious and dangerous.

The government’s statement mirrors its repeated practice of falsely equating human rights defenders and human rights advocacy with those pursuing “terrorism.” The statement’s language aligns these baseless allegations with vague and frequently abused provisions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), exposing Ms. Satkunanathan to a heightened risk of threats, attacks and persecution.

Ms. Satkunanathan was a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka before that body’s independence was compromised under the current administration and led the first national study on Sri Lanka’s prisons. Prior to that, she was for many years a legal consultant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is the author of an important recent report on abuses committed during the so-called “war on drugs.”

We are concerned that the government’s statement seeks to place the blame on human rights defenders if the European Union determines that Sri Lanka failed to meet its human rights commitments under GSP+, the preferential tariff system. The European Union should remind the Sri Lankan government that the responsibility to uphold its international human rights obligations rests with the government. The government’s treatment of human rights defenders reflects its lack of respect for international human rights law.

We support Ms. Satkunanathan’s testimony to the European Parliament, which accurately described a situation already reported by the United Nations and many domestic and international human rights organizations. The government’s response contains numerous false statements, including:

- The government claims to be “engaged in long standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council.” On the contrary, in February 2020, soon after taking office, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew Sri Lankan support from consensus resolutions of the council, repudiating commitments made by the previous government. Special Procedures mandate holders of the Council issued a statement on February 5, 2021, noting that their recommendations, including on torture, the independence of the judiciary, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, minority rights, counterterrorism, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of assembly and association, had been ignored.

- The government claims to be “strengthen[ing] rule of law, access to justice and accountability.” However, President Rajapaksa campaigned on a platform of protecting “war heroes” from prosecution, and has appointed individuals implicated in war crimes to senior government posts. His presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to interfere in judicial proceedings and block trials and investigations in human rights cases implicating the president’s associates and the president himself. The president pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, one of very few members of the armed forces ever convicted of human rights violations, who murdered eight Tamil civilians including children.

- The government denies that civic space is shrinking, as Ms. Satkunanathan described in her testimony. Yet under the current government, many human rights defenders have said that they are subjected to continual government intimidation, intrusive surveillance, and attempts to block their access to funds. In her most recent update to the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet wrote that, “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.” The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in his end-of-mission statement last December documented government intimidation of civil society and a “shrinking civic space.”

- The government claims there is no “concrete evidence of discrimination against minorities.” In fact, for nearly a year the government banned the burial of people said to have died with Covid-19, causing immense distress to the Muslim community without any medical justification in what is only but one example of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Such burials are now permitted only at a single remote site. In January 2021 High Commissioner Bachelet found that, “Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy… Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated.” The High Commissioner’s findings are in line with reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used almost exclusively against members of the Tamil and Muslim communities. The government continues to deny efforts to commemorate war victims belonging to the Tamil community.

- The government denies Ms. Satkunanathan’s description of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the context of Sri Lanka’s “war on drugs.” However, these abuses are widely documented. In September, High Commissioner Bachelet said, “I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

The Sri Lankan government’s statement attacking Ambika Satkunanathan for her testimony to the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights exemplifies threats faced by human rights defenders, particularly when they engage with foreign and international forums, and it further shows the government’s refusal to address the ongoing serious human rights violations taking place in the country. Instead of trying to silence those who seek to defend human rights, the government should give serious consideration to their input and contributions, and take urgent action to ensure that they can work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals.


https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/sri-lanka/sri-lanka-organisations-express-solidarity-with-human-rights-defender

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambika_Satkunanathan

Aktham Naisse no more

February 7, 2022

Aktham Naisse was a Syrian lawyer and human rights activist. He was president of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights (CDDL-HR), which he helped found in 1989.

He was first arrested in February 1982, when he was held for four months and tortured. In 1989 the CDDL-HR formed an underground publication, Sawt al-Dimuqratiyya (The voice of democracy). In 1991 the group called for free elections, leading to Naisse’s arrest in December 1991. In 1992 he was tried and sentenced to 9 years imprisonment in Sednaya prison. Released in July 1998, Naisse was not subsequently permitted to practice law.

In August 2003 Naisse was questioned and threatened by military security. The committee posted a public letter on the Internet, calling for the lifting of the state of emergency. On 8 March 2004 they led around 700 demonstrators in a peaceful sit-in in front of the Syrian parliament building in Damascus. Naisse and one hundred others presented the parliament with a petition against the state of emergency, signed by over 7,000 people.

On 13 April 2004 Naisse was arrested and returned to Sednaya prison. There he suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralysed. He began a hunger strike, and was released on bail pending trial on 16 August 2004. After international appeals on his behalf, the court acquitted him on 26 June 2005.

Naisse won the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Award in October 2004and the 2005 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/96EB3030-144D-204E-3C6C-31CD4CA4501C]

Donovan Ortega, young Human Rights Defender from Mexico

February 5, 2022

We try to defend happiness from a principle of reality” – Donovan Ortega, Human Rights Defender.
Donovan Ortega is a human rights defender from Mexico who participated in the 2021 online edition of ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP).
Donovan is responsible for the international advocacy agenda at the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Center in Mexico, and had the opportunity to do advocacy activities at the Human Rights Council in the framework of Mexico’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

In this short video, he explains how his work will help to achieve his objectives and vision in the future.

Qatar: where is human rights defender Noof Al-Maadeed?

January 4, 2022

A screenshot of Noof Al-Maadeed from her YouTube video entitled “The Return of #Noof_AlMaadeed to Qatar 2021”, posted on October 6, 2021

Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of he Gulf Center for Human Rights posted on 29 December 2021 the case of Noof Al-Maadeed, a 23-year-old Qatari woman.

When she faced domestic violence from members of her family, including her father, and government institutions failed to provide her with any protection, she fled her country to Britain after using her father’s phone without his knowledge to obtain permission to travel. In a television interview on August 4, 2020, she spoke of her November 26, 2019 escape from Qatar to Britain, via Ukraine.

Upon arriving in Britain, she applied for asylum. During her stay in Britain, Al-Maadeed introduced herself as a defender of Qatari women’s rights and explained how male guardianship prevents women from working or traveling without a male family member’s consent, as well as how women victims of domestic violence are left with little protection.

Al-Maadeed withdrew her application for asylum in Britain after receiving assurances from the Qatari authorities that she would be protected if she returned to her home country. On October 6, this year, Al-Maadeed posted on her Instagram account a video in which she explained the details of her return from London on September 30 to the capital, Doha, where she arrived the following day.

What happened next is incomprehensible. Qatari authorities, who pledged to protect her, as it should with to all citizens, reneged on all their promises and left her alone trying to survive domestic abuse. In a video posted on her Twitter account on October 12, Al-Maadeed said that she had been subjected to three failed assassination attempts by her family. She also described her father’s coming into the lobby of the hotel where she was staying, despite being one of her main opponents and the reason for her running away from home. Perhaps the following tweet, dated October 12, honestly sums up the torments she suffered upon her return: https://platform.twitter.com/embed

My family, and those who I count as my own, want to slaughter me.

Shortly thereafter, she posted the following tweet: “Sheikh Tamim is the only one who can stop the danger to my life with his own hands.” On October 13, Al-Maadeed completely disappeared from social media, and her whereabouts have not yet been known. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, on whom Al-Maadeed relied for protection and pleaded for support, was not able to provide the necessary protection for a citizen who did not commit any violation and voluntarily returned to her country based on many promises from the authorities that they’ll keep her safe.

Since her disappearance, there have been conflicting reports, with regards to what has happened to the 23-year-old. According to some reports, Al-Maadeed was killed by her family, while others reported her forcible detention in a psychiatric hospital under heavy sedation, Meanwhile, the Qatari government refuses to provide documented information to prove that she is alive, which raises many suspicions.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights cannot confirm any of the above-mentioned reports but holds the authorities, who have pledged but failed to protect Noof Al-Maadeed, responsible for any harm done to her. At present, all information indicates that Al-Maadeed is facing serious risk to her life and freedom. If not killed, then it is a fact that she may be facing a lengthy incommunicado detention, which puts her life at imminent risk.

The GCHR, once again calls on the international community, particularly UN institutions, and governments with influence in Qatar—including members of the European Union—to take immediate action to pressure the Qatari authorities to ensure that Al-Maadeed is safe and can live freely in Qatar.

The government of Qatar cannot continue to ignore international opinion that is searching for the truth, and its absolute silence will be a sure condemnation, as it bears full responsibility for preserving the safety of its citizens, including Nouf Al-Maadeed.

Kadyrov – How to make a mockery of the term Human Rights Defender

January 3, 2022

The head of the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, long accused of grave human rights abuses, has been named “distinguished human rights defenders” by the regional human rights ombudsman.

Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, at a ceremony in Grozny on December 30 that was not attended by Kadyrov, said the Kadyrov family had made an “enormous contribution…to securing human rights and strengthening the state.

A video of the ceremony was posted on the Internet by Grozny state television.

In addition to Kadyrov, the medals were awarded to his father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, and his mother, Aimani Kadyrova.

Akhmad Kadyrov was president of Chechnya from 2003 until his assassination in May 2004.

Earlier in the month, Kadyrov’s daughter, Aishat Kadyrova, who serves as Chechnya’s culture minister, was awarded the medal For the Defense of Human Rights.

Russian and international human rights monitors have for years accused Ramzan Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/

https://www.rferl.org/a/chechnya-kadyrov-human-rights/31634524.html

Vilma Nuñez, human rights defender, who stays in Nicaragua

December 24, 2021

The long-time president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, doesn’t rule out the possibility of being jailed by the Ortega-Murillo regime. Re-published on 11 December in Havana Times:

Vilma Nuñez learned about Nicaraguan jails when she was just a child. She was eight years old when they took her to visit a political prisoner – her father. He had been imprisoned by Somoza’s National Guard, the same repressive body that years later would also jail and torture her.

In the course of over six decades of work, she’s become the veteran defender of Nicaraguans’ human rights. Founder and current president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), she confesses that she decided to study Law to fight against the outrages she’d experienced since childhood. Her law career has spanned 63 years, although she was very seldom the prosecutor, but almost always worked on the side of defense. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/nicaragua-moves-against-women-human-rights-defenders/

Through Cenidh, Nuñez continues her struggle for the liberation of the Ortega regime’s political prisoners, just as she did in 1958, when she formed part of the Leon student movement. Through that organization, she became involved in the Committee for the Liberation of the Political Prisoners during the the Somoza regime. On one occasion, she recalls, they requested and received an audience with Luis Somoza Debayle, effectively Nicaragua’s dictator from 1956–1967. Together with university chancellor Mariano Fiallos Gil, she met with the man who had inherited the Somoza dynasty. The dictator became enraged when they demanded the release of the prisoners.

Twenty-one years after that meeting, Nuñez was jailed and tortured with electric shocks by order of the dynasty’s final successor, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. It’s not surprising, then, that the current situation of the political prisoners brings her back to the days of that other terrible dictatorship that – like the current regime – wouldn’t tolerate criticism.

In addition, Nuñez is a survivor of the student massacre of July 23, 1959. She has felt in her own flesh what it means to be jailed for false crimes because of having protested. At 83, it’s been her destiny to once more live under attack from a new dictatorship.

At the end of 2018, the Ortega regime ordered the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly to strip Cenidh of the non-profit status it had held since its founding in 1990. It also confiscated its offices.

“They’ve struck us a blow, but it doesn’t hurt us,” the Cenidh president declared defiantly. “A serious human rights organization can’t be dissolved by a resolution from a political organ with no autonomy or independence; nor can they dissolve our commitment and accompaniment of the Nicaraguan people,” she affirmed, in reference to the legislature’s decision…

According to Nuñez, all the attacks are because they won’t forgive her for having accompanied the case of Zoilamerica Narvaez, Daniel Ortega’s stepdaughter. In 1998, Narvaez filed formal accusations of 19-years of rape and sexual abuse and harassment against Ortega.

The issue most disturbs Dr. Nuñez at present is not being able to accompany the victims at the site where the human rights violations are occurring. She can’t even file an appeal, because the entire state apparatus is controlled by the Ortega regime.

“No one listens or does anything, which generates a situation of powerlessness. You can’t protest, or do anything, and for that reason I’ve said that I feel I’m a prisoner in Nicaragua,” she explains.

Vilma Núñez Cenidh

Nevertheless, she insists that she won’t cease in her struggle for the defense of human rights and the search for justice. “Fear has been one of the most powerful weapons wielded by the dictatorship, and I won’t let it dominate me,” she declares.

The human rights defender doesn’t rule out the fact that they may want to jail her. Every day, she says, she once again conquers that fear. “The authentic defense of human rights isn’t restricted to the use of the Law. Although the national and international statutes are always useful, they go hand in hand with less formal mechanisms, and one of the most effective of these is the public denunciation,” Nuñez notes.

“I’m going to continue on in Nicaragua. My commitment is to keep standing beside the people, denouncing and defending human rights as long as I can. It’s always been my lot to be standing on the sidewalk, right in the nose of the tyrants and human rights violators,” Vilma Nuñez says.

Antonia Urrejola, president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: “Ever since I first met her, [Dr. Nuñez’] strength has impressed me (…) if there’s a person who’s always been present in the denunciations of human rights violations in Nicaragua, it’s her. She’s an example of strength and courage.”

Gonzalo Carrion, Nicaragua Nunca + Human Rights Collective: “The history of the human rights movement in the last sixty years in Nicaragua chronicles a people suffering and resisting two different dictatorial dynasties. Whoever writes [that story] will inevitably have to tell of Vilma Nuñez’ activism and commitment.”

Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan writer: “Who hasn’t seen Doña Vilma traveling to the most remote places to accompany victims whose rights have been violated? No one, more than you knows how to be at the side of the Nicaraguan people.”

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

EU launches a €1.5 billion 6-year plan to promote human rights and its defenders

December 17, 2021

w

On the eve of Human Rights Day (10 December 2021) and coinciding with the Summit for Democracy, the European Union launched the Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme. This programme, worth €1.5 billion, steps up EU support in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law and the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders around the world during the period 2021–2027. The programme will promote and protect the universality of human rights, strengthen the rule of law and accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and defend the full and effective exercise of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression, supporting independent journalism and media, while seizing opportunities and countering risks associated with digital and new technologies.

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell said: “Courageous people from all backgrounds are fighting on a daily basis for their civil liberties, for independent media and to safeguard democratic institutions, often at great personal risk. The European Union stands with them. The Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme will allow us to strengthen our support to and protection of universal human rights and democratic principles worldwide: for everyone, at any time and everywhere. Together with civil society organisations, human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Office and the International Criminal Court, we will leave no one behind.”

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, said: “Human rights and democracy are a cornerstone of sustainable and inclusive development, and essential to addressing global challenges and ensure citizens reach their full potential and realise their aspirations. In whichever way you measure it – in stability, equality, economic growth, health or longevity – democracies always outperform other forms of government in the long run. I am proud to think of the countless human rights defenders, young people, women, girls and civil society organisations that the €1.5 billion Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme will empower to build a better tomorrow for all of us.

It has five overarching priorities:

  • Protecting and empowering individuals€704 million

Uphold all human rights, including by working towards the universal abolition of the death penalty, the eradication of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, the fulfilment of basic needs, decent working conditions, the eradication of child labour, and a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The programme will promote equality, inclusion and respect for diversity, support human rights defenders and counter shrinking space for civil society, and strengthen the rule of law, ensure a fair and effective administration of justice, and close the accountability gap.

  • Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies – €463 million

The programme will support functioning pluralist, participatory and representative democracies, and protect the integrity of electoral processes. It will, for instance, engage civil society observers in election observation and support pro-democracy organisations, networks and alliances.

  • Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy – €144 million

Enhance strategic partnerships with key actors, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Criminal Court (ICC), regional human rights systems, national human rights institutions, the private sector, and the Global Campus of Human Rights.

  • Safeguarding fundamental freedoms, including harnessing the opportunities and addressing the challenges of digital and new technologies €195 million

Create and maintain an environment conducive to the full exercise of all fundamental freedoms both offline and online. For example, it will help strengthen the capacity of independent, pluralistic and quality media, including investigative journalists, bloggers and fact-checkers, to provide the public with reliable information through responsible and professional reporting. It will support civil society in fostering online media literacy and digital skills and in promoting an open, global, free and secure internet equally accessible to all.

  • Delivering by working together – €6.6 million

The earmarked funds can support the civil society in engaging with national authorities within the framework of the human rights dialogues that the EU conducts with partner countries, or finance training, studies, or exchanges of best practice. It underpins all of the activities.

In the first year of implementation, the EU will focus on promoting a global system for human rights and democracy. For example, in 2022–2024, the EU will support the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with €16 million, the Global Campus of Human Rights with €10 million, and the International Criminal Court with €3 million. The EU will also support in 2022 the launch of a Team Europe Democracy initiative to reinforce the impact of EU and Member States’ global support to democracy. The 2021 action plan complements a number of urgent individual measures under the programme adopted earlier.

Background

The Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme is flexible as regards procedures, and supports civil society actions independently of the consent of partner countries’ governments and other public authorities. A substantial part of the programme will be implemented at country level. Subsequent calls for proposals covering the different activities, open to civil society organisations across the world, will be published in the coming months. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/27/10611/

Funded under the thematic pillar of the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – Global Europe, the Global Europe Human Rights and Democracy programme is the successor of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which was established in 2006 to support civil society-led actions in the area of human rights and democracy in countries outside the EU. Under the previous financial period 2014–2020, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights was allocated €1.33 billion.

It is not just NSO – Loujain Al-Hathloul sues Spyware Maker DarkMatter

December 17, 2021
Laptop with broken screen

As announced on 9 December 2021, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit to on behalf of Saudi human rights defender Loujain Al Hathloul against spying software maker DarkMatter and three of its former executives for illegally hacking her iPhone to secretly track her communications and whereabouts.

AlHathloul is among the victims of an illegal spying program created and run by former U.S. intelligence operatives, including the three defendants named in the lawsuit, who worked for a U.S. company hired by United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the wake of the Arab Spring protests to identify and monitor activists, journalists, rival foreign leaders, and perceived political enemies.

Reuters broke the news about the hacking program called Project Raven in 2019, reporting that when UAE transferred the surveillance work to Emirati firm DarkMatter, the U.S. operatives, who learned spycraft working for the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies, went along and ran DarkMatter’s hacking program, which targeted human rights activists like AlHathloul, political dissenters, and even Americans residing in the U.S.

DarkMatter executives Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke, working for their client UAE—which was acting on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)—oversaw the hacking project, which exploited a vulnerability in the iMessage app to locate and monitor targets. Baier, Adams, Gericke, all former members of U.S. intelligence or military agencies, designed and operated the UAE cybersurveillance program, also known as Project DREAD (Development Research Exploitation and Analysis Department), using malicious code purchased from a U.S. company.

Baier, who resides in UAE, Adams, a resident of Oregon, and Gericke, who lives in Singapore, admitted in September to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and prohibitions on selling sensitive military technology under a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

Companies that peddle their surveillance software and services to oppressive governments must be held accountable for the resulting human rights abuses,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “The harm to Loujain AlHathloul can never be undone. But this lawsuit is a step toward accountability.

AlHathloul is a leader in the movement to advance the rights of women in Saudi Arabia [see also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c].


DarkMatter intentionally directed the code to Apple servers in the U.S. to reach and place malicious software on AlHathloul’s iPhone, a violation of the CFAA, EFF says in a complaint filed in federal court in Oregon. The phone was initially hacked in 2017, gaining access to her texts, email messages, and real-time location data. Later, AlHathloul was driving on the highway in Abu Dhabi when she was arrested by UAE security services, and forcibly taken by plane to the KSA, where she was imprisoned twice, including at a secret prison where she was subject to electric shocks, flogging, and threats of rape and death.

“Project Raven went beyond even the behavior that we have seen from NSO Group, which has been caught repeatedly having sold software to authoritarian governments who use their tools to spy on journalists, activists, and dissidents,” said EFF Cybersecurity Director Eva Galperin. “Dark Matter didn’t merely provide the tools; they oversaw the surveillance program themselves.

While EFF has long pressed for the need to reform the CFAA, this case represents a straightforward application of the CFAA to the sort of egregious violation of users’ security that everyone agrees the law was intended to address.

“This is a clear-cut case of device hacking, where DarkMatter operatives broke into AlHathloul’s iPhone without her knowledge to insert malware, with horrific consequences,” said Mukund Rathi, EFF attorney and Stanton Fellow. “This kind of crime is what the CFAA was meant to punish.” In addition to CFAA violations, the complaint alleges that Baier, Adams, and Gericke aided and abetted in crimes against humanity because the hacking of AlHathloul’s phone was part of the UAE’s widespread and systematic attack against human rights defenders, activists, and other perceived critics of the UAE and KSA.

The law firms of Foley Hoag LLP and Boise Matthews LLP are co-counsel with EFF in this matter.

EFF also welcomed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that spyware vendor NSO Group, as a private company, did not have foreign sovereign immunity from WhatsApp’s lawsuit alleging hacking of the app’s users. Courts should similarly deny immunity to DarkMatter and other surveillance and hacking companies who directly harm Internet users around the world.

For the complaint:
https://www.eff.org/document/alhathloul-v-darkmatter

For more on state-sponsored malware:
https://www.eff.org/issues/state-sponsored-malware Contact: Karen Gullo

https://www.eff.org/press/releases/saudi-human-rights-activist-represented-eff-sues-spyware-maker-darkmatter-violating

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/12/eff-court-deny-foreign-sovereign-immunity-darkmatter-hacking-journalist

Mauricio Ochieng – transgender human rights defender from Kenya

December 14, 2021

Mauricio Ochieng‘ is a transgender activist and a SOGIESC human rights defender from the Western part of Kenya. In this short video, posted by the ISHR, he explains how his work will help to fight discrimination, achieve equality and create a better future for transgender people in Kenya. “So I saw the need of engaging different activists and human rights defenders across the region to make sure that this kind of arrest should not happen to anybody because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

https://ishr.ch/defender-stories/human-rights-defenders-story-mauricio-ochieng-from-kenya/