Posts Tagged ‘human rights lawyers’

Timtik sisters in Turkey share 2020 Ludovic Trarieux Prize

September 26, 2020

This year’s Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize has been granted to arrested lawyers Barkın Timtik and her sister lawyer Ebru Timtik, who lost her life on a death fast for a fair trial.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/29/human-rights-defender-ebru-timtik-dies-in-istanbul-hospital-after-238-days-hungerstrike/

For more on this and other awards for human rights lawyers, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/7C413DBA-E6F6-425A-AF9E-E49AE17D7921

For last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/2019-ludovic-trarieux-international-human-rights-award-goes-to-rommel-duran-castellanos-of-colombia/

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http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/231534-ludovic-trarieux-human-rights-prize-awarded-to-lawyers-barkin-and-ebru-timtik

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/international/posthumous-award-for-turkish-lawyer-who-died-on-hunger-strike-892583.html

Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of the rule of law

September 15, 2020

Thanks to student Amrita Nair in the Leaflet of 14 September 2020 we have a good report of Indira Jaising‘s webinar: “The nature of the Legal Profession: Its role, challenges and limitations

She referred to the courts as the conflict zones and lawyers being people who resolve conflicts.

Quoting Atticus Finch, Jaising stated that the courts are to be great levelers where all men must be treated equally, but alas, this is ideal, but not necessarily the situation. Bias, blind prejudice, and lack of access to legal services have created huge gaps between people, making them less equal from one another. People come to the courts for all sorts of reasons. But the largest litigant in the court of law is the State, being respondent in a plethora of cases relating to fundamental rights violations and enjoying the monopoly for prosecuting crimes, among other things. While the state has the privilege to prosecute crimes, several individuals find themselves arrayed as accused persons in these cases, warranting the help of legal representation to prevent being stripped off of their right to life and liberty. The fight of an individual against the might of the state is unequal in criminal cases, making the system intrinsically unequal and discriminatory. Not every individual has the resources to hire a lawyer who could represent their case to the best of their capabilities. It is during such times that lawyers must come to the rescue of the unfortunate and underprivileged, to help restore balance in the system.

Jaising traced back the history of the evolution of the legal profession, stating that India got it from the British and emphasised how important it is to study the history of courts to understand how and why they function the way they do, today.

She spoke about the concept of the Star Chambers where the proceedings went on in closed chambers with only the judge, the jury, and the executioner present. Emphasis was laid on how there was no legal representation allowed and everything depended on how a person defended his own case, making it highly arbitrary as not everyone possessed the skills to defend themselves.

The emergence of the legal profession came with the modern judges having local experience and the position of the Barrister being created, with wide powers including the power to remove other advocates. The judicial system has come a long way since then, with modern-day High Courts and the Supreme Court making their own rules and the monopoly of Barristers being removed.

The Indian Bar Council Act was enforced with the objective of unifying various practicing advocates under the banner of lawyers or the members of the Bar. The Bar Councils were given more powers with regard to the decisions in matters of education, regulation and appointment. The Advocates Act of 1961 established an All India Bar which had wide powers and duties in regard to the legal profession.

Jaising remarked that the rejection of the Star Chambers and the need to protect the life and liberty of the people is what our system is based on. Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of rule of law, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.

She said it was the duty of the lawyers in defending and upholding the values of the 73-year-old Constitution of India.

While speaking about the Parliamentary form of government, Jaising observed that the government does may claim to represent the will of the people, but their decisions and laws are subject to judicial review and even a majoritarian government cannot violate the basic features of the Constitution. It was the duty of the lawyers to question them when they seemed to deviate from the constitutional principles and mandate.

Addressing the issues surrounding the independence of the judiciary, Jaising stated that there cannot be an independent judiciary without the independence of the legal profession. Just as there exists the separation of powers between the three branches of the government, lawyers must be independent of judges. They must be allowed to make bona fide criticism of judges and the judgements or else the system gets reduced to the archaic Star Chambers, without any voice of opposition.

She explained that being charged with contempt of court charge by the judiciary threatened the independence of the legal profession. Prashant Bhushan’s case being a recent example. In Bhushan’s case, the court exercised powers to convict him dehors the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.  Fundamental rights can only be restricted by law and not by relying on the inherent powers to convict, the court threatened the freedom of speech and the independence of the legal system by bypassing the Act.

“Lawyers need to be respectful of judges, but not sycophants. Lawyers who bend over backward for judges pose a threat to the independence of the legal system,” she said.

According to her, an attack on one lawyer is an attack against the entire profession. The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively through Bar Associations and Bar Councils. The need of the hour is more Bar Associations that speak out on issues of Human Rights, she said.

Jaising explained how the police were often the biggest lawbreakers, relying on the media to defame the innocent. Press conferences being held by the police while the case is sub judice brings prejudice into the matter and amounts to contempt of court. It is the lawyers that step in to defend the individuals against the might of the State and a prejudiced media, she said.

She pointed out that the right to legal representation itself is under attack. She spoke of how the State had the time and again targeted various lawyers defending the foundations of the Indian Constitution by standing against CAA, defending human rights, criticizing the State among other things. As lawyers and members of the legal community, despite all attacks, the only way to live is to stand up for our rights.

When asked about the pay gap between a corporate job and litigation and whether one would have enough to fend for themselves if they take up the litigation route, Jaising made an observation that the ones who chose the corporate path realised soon that the pursuit of wealth is not giving them any satisfaction. She responded by saying that all law students must come together and demand that all juniors working with a senior advocate must be paid a minimum amount of salary that is pre-decided and equal for all. It must be taken up at an institutional level and the Bar Council must come up with a rule to tackle this problem. Like in the US, ones engaging in pro bono work must have their loans waived and must do a mandatory 2-3 years of pro bono with law firms. She encouraged students to engage in work that they’re passionate about and not be driven by the quest for money. The satisfaction derived out of the work is priceless and one will never feel the lack of money when they engage in the work that they love and are passionate about.

In response to a question regarding the emotional connect of a lawyer with a client and the righteousness of the law and how it might prove to be an impediment, Jaising said that it is always possible to have an emotional connection with the client while also being dispassionate about the case. It is important to not make a conflict out of the two. One must not lie or manipulate the record but make the judge see the law as they see it or how the law ought to be seen.

“Get up, stand up and stand up for your rights!” said Jaising. She urged law students and lawyers to become human rights defenders and fight for principles they believed in.

The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively by the Bar: Indira Jaising

Human rights defender Ebru Timtik dies in Istanbul hospital after 238 days hungerstrike

August 29, 2020

Ebru Timtik, 42, died in an Istanbul hospital late Thursday 27 August 2020, the Progressive Lawyers’ Association said. She had been fasting for 238 days. The lawyer and 17 of her colleagues were accused of links to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C, a militant group designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. She was convicted in March 2019 and sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison. Her case was under review by an appeals court.

Timtik started the hunger strike in February to protest alleged unfair proceedings during the trial, along with another colleague, Aytac Unsal, who is reported to be in a critical condition. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/06/online-conference-for-ebru-timtik-and-aytac-unsal-on-11-august-2020/]

On Friday, police tried to prevent a crowd of her supporters from gathering outside the Istanbul Bar Association for a memorial, the Evrensel newspaper reported. Later, riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to block a protest march. At least one lawyer was detained, the paper said. “Ebru Timtik is immortal” and “Aytac Unsal is our honor,” some of the mourners chanted, according to Evrensel.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said: “Ebru Timtik’s hunger strike for a fair trial and its tragic outcome painfully illustrate the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation in the country and the serious shortcomings observed in the Turkish judiciary,” Stano said.

Ms. Timtik’s death is a tragic illustration of the human suffering caused by a judicial system in Turkey that has turned into a tool to silence lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists,” said Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner.

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but consume liquids and take vitamins that prolong their protests. Timtik’s death comes months after two members of a left-wing popular folk group that is banned in Turkey also died of a hunger strike. They had also been accused of links to the DHKP/C.

https://www.startribune.com/turkish-lawyer-dies-on-hunger-strike-demanding-fair-trial/572249512/

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/08/turkey-ebru-timtik-hunger-strike-dies-lawyer-kurdish-prison.html

Online conference for Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal on 11 August 2020

August 6, 2020

Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) will organise an online press conference on
11 August 2020 at 4.00 – 4.45 pm (CEST) to inform about the situation of human rights lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal from Turkey, who are serving long prison sentences and have been on hunger strike since February 2020.
Speakers are : Irma van den Berg (Lawyers for Lawyers), Tony Fisher (London), Mehmet Durakoğlu (the president of İstanbul Bar Association) and other speakers who will be confirmed later.
From 4.30 – 4.45 pm there will a Q&A, only for journalists.
Background information:
Since 4 August Ebru Timtik is on 215th day of her hunger strike (death fast)
and Aytaç Ünsal is on 184th day of his. They have been under pre-trial detention for almost 3 years. Their lawyers, recently, submitted a request to Istanbul 37th Assize Court before which they have been tried which demanded their release on the basis that their health had deteriorated to such an extent that it was not appropriate that they remain in prison. Upon receipt of this request the Court transferred Ebru and Aytaç to the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institute and asked the experts to examine them. The experts at the Institute reported that Ebru and Aytaç’s physical condition made it inappropriate for them to remain in detention. The Court, instead of releasing them pending the outcome of their appeal, ordered their transfer to a hospital following this report. They are currently
held as pre-trial detainees in a special ward of a hospital that is a Covid-19 Pandemic Hospital with no access to the outside world and similar limitations imposed on them as they would have been subject to had they remained in prison.
Ebru and Aytaç have passed several critical stages since the beginning of their protest against their conviction of terrorist offences, together with 16 other progressive lawyers, based on allegations of anonymous witnesses, evidence to which they did not have access and, more generally, the systemic violation of fair trial rights in Turkey in the present day (a full summary of the proceedings against them and against other colleagues is enclosed). The physical condition they are in now is extremely
worrisome, especially for Ebru who is seen as being in a near death situation.
Ebru and Aytaç are two of over 1,500 lawyers arrested and prosecuted for alleged terrorist offences in Turkey since the attempted coup in July 2016. Many Turkish and European bar associations, lawyers’ organisations and NGO’s reported on the serious flaws in the case against them, the
situation of the lawyers in Turkey and the violations which they have suffered.
Technical details:
The event will be held at Zoom. The link and the technical details will be shared with the confirmed participants the same day of the event. Simultaneous translation will be available between Turkish and English.
Please write an email including your full name, profession and the organisation or media outlet you represent (if there is any) by 10 August 2020 at serifecerenuysal@gmail.com, info@lawyersforlawyers.nl or aysebingol@hotmail.com if you are willing to join.

https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/lawyers-ebru-timtik-and-aytac-unsal-not-released/?fbclid=IwAR2toIN0L9GZn9wj66d3EpagviIbSj_SmS4xUrqDVG44zVLEVqHuFv42k5A

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

List of Lawyers Imprisoned in Iran for Defending Human Rights

June 24, 2020

On 23 June 2020 the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) published under the title “No Lawyers, No Justice” a list of lawyers imprisoned in Iran for defending Human Rights Defenders. The adagium “utopia is a world without lawyers” clealry does not apply to Iran:

At least nine known cases of attorneys that have been arrested, charged with national security-related crimes, and/or banned from practicing law in the last two years. In addition to the list below, CHRI maintains this regularly updated list of lawyers known to have been imprisoned in Iran for their work defending the law.

Payam Derafshan: Held incommunicado at an unknown location since his arrest in June 2020 on unannounced charges. In May 2020, he was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence for“insulting the supreme leader,” and suspended from practicing law for two years.

Soheila Hejab: Held at Gharchak Prison since May 2020, serving an 18-year prison sentence, five of which she must serve before becoming eligible for parole for “forming a group for women’s rights.”

Nasrin Sotoudeh: Detained in June 2018 and sentenced to 38 years in prison, 12 years of which she must serve before becoming eligible for parole. Among her charges were “encouraging prostitution” for advocating against compulsory hijab. Previously she served three years in prison for “acting against national security” and “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”

Mohammad Najafi: Imprisoned for demanding accountability for deaths in detention and facing new unspecified charges, he was sentenced in 2019 to 13 years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader,” and “collaborating with enemy states,” in addition to a four-year prison sentence in 2018. He must serve 10 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Amirsalar Davoudi: Behind bars since November 2018, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 11 lashes. He will be eligible for release after serving 15 years under the charge of forming “an illegal group,” which was a news channel for lawyers on the Telegram messaging app.

Arash Keykhosravi, who, along with fellow lawyer Ghasem Sholeh Sa’di, was sentenced to six years in prison but later acquitted, is facing new charges of “publishing falsehoods” for writing an article criticizing the imprisonment of attorney Mohammad Najafi.

Abdolfattah Soltani, who spent more than seven years behind bars for defending political prisoners, and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who was sentenced in 2012 to nine years in prison but released on furlough in 2013, are both banned from practicing law.

The assault on rights lawyers in Iran has been occurring amid a backdrop of two major changes to the legal process that have facilitated the authorities’ ability to convict defendants in politically motivated prosecutions on unsubstantiated charges.

In January 2018, Iranian courts began citing the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulationsas justification for forcing defendants to choose their legal counsel from a court-approved list. The note also allows a delay in an individual’s access to counsel in cases involving “national security” charges, which are used against perceived critics of the state.

In a second blow to due process, in November 2019, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi ruled that Appeal Courts could issue verdicts without the presence of defendants and their attorneys, rendering the appeal process effectively meaningless.

If the head of the judiciary can stop lawyers from practicing, it’s time to say goodbye to this profession,” Sotoudeh said in 2018. She was arrested two months after making the comments and has been behind bars ever since. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nasrin-sotoudeh/]

https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2020/06/no-lawyers-no-justice-attorneys-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/

Wang Quanzhang must be granted freedom, not ‘non-release release’ and on 22 April that happened

April 5, 2020

On 3 April 2020 Michael Caster wrote “If you care about human rights in China, April 5 – this Sunday – should be circled on your calendar. On that day, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, my old friend and colleague, after an outrageous series of abuses by the Chinese state, is set to walk free. Wang, a defender of villagers’ rights and religious minorities, has been disappeared into Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), hidden under a false name in pre-trial detention for years, and subjected to a secret trial where he was refused legal representation.

wang quanzhang

An activist holds a sign calling for Wang Quanzhang’s release in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

…..China law scholar Jerome Cohen coined the term “non-release release” in 2016, then discussing the fake release of human rights lawyer Wang Yu. Like Wang Quanzhang, she had been held in secret for months under RSDL, where she was also tortured….Since Wang was disappeared, his wife Li has also become a fierce defender, despite mounting intimidation from the police. On March 24, Li received a hand-written letter from Wang in prison saying that after release he will likely have to return to his hometown in Jinan. Those of us who know China can read between the lines. Wang risks being forcibly sent away, where he will be kept, apart from his police escorts, away from all others including his family. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/05/li-wenzu-wife-of-wang-quanzhang-wins-2018-edelstam-award/

Responding to the release of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang after four and a half years in prison for “subverting state power”, Amnesty International’s China Researcher Doriane Lau said on 5 April 2020: “There are reasons to fear that Wang Quanzhang’s release from prison offers merely the illusion of freedom. The Chinese government has a history of monitoring and controlling human rights defenders even after they’re released from jail…..Wang Quanzhang was targeted by the government for his work defending human rights and helping to expose corruption. It is an outrage that he was ever jailed in the first place, but now he has served his sentence the authorities must immediately lift all restrictions on him and allow him to return to his family home.

And then on 27 April 2020: ‘Feels Like a Dream’: Teary Reunion for Freed Chinese Human Rights Lawyer and Family

Many activists and lawyers targeted in the 2015 crackdown were subject to heavy surveillance and deprived of freedom of movement after they were released from prison or detention. Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong went missing immediately after finishing a two-year prison sentence. He was subsequently sent back to his hometown, where he and his family were closely monitored and followed by the authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/jiang-tianyong-chinese-defender-of-defenders-sentenced-to-2-years-jail/]

5 june 2020: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/05/chinese-human-rights-lawyer-released-after-4-years-0

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/china-wang-quanzhang-freedom-an-illusion-until-government-lifts-ruthless-restrictions/

UN experts alarmed over China’s missing human rights lawyers: victims of RSDL

March 24, 2020

Ding Jiaxi was disbarred and previously jailed for protesting against official corruption. (Twitter pic/L4L_INT)

A group of UN special rapporteurs said on Monday 23 March 2020 that they were “gravely concerned” about the welfare of three human rights lawyers “forcibly disappeared” by Chinese authorities shortly after their arrests last December. Ding Jiaxi, a prominent Beijing-based disbarred lawyer, previously jailed for protesting against official corruption, and lawyers Zhang Zhongshun and Dai Zhenya have been held since late last year in so-called “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL – see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/10/more-on-residential-surveillance-in-a-designated-location-rsdl-in-china/). The three were among more than a dozen lawyers and activists who were detained or went missing in the final days of 2019 in what rights groups have said was a crackdown on participants of a private democracy gathering.

Nine other lawyers and activists who attended the informal weekend gathering in the city of Xiamen “have also been summoned for questioning or detained in what has been a cross-provincial operation led by a special taskforce of Yantai City police,” the experts pointed out.

The experts acknowledged that there are provisions in international law that allow exceptional measures to be taken to protect public order and national security. But they insisted that “enforced disappearance is a grave and flagrant violation of human rights and is unacceptable in all circumstances” .“We are dismayed that national security provisions are used to target human rights defenders who meet peacefully and exercise their right to free speech, even if such speech is critical of the state,” they said.The experts also cautioned that the arrest and detention of the three lawyers could have a “chilling effect” on the defence of human rights in China. “When the authorities in any country systemically charge human rights defenders with ‘subversion of state power’ or other terror-related charges without clearly communicating the factual basis for such accusations, we worry that these defenders are just being persecuted for the exercise of their most basic human rights,” they said. Earlier this month, activists revealed that Xu Zhiyong, an outspoken Chinese rights activist who called for President Xi Jinping to step down over the coronavirus outbreak, had been charged with “inciting state subversion” and had been placed in RSDL since mid-February. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/06/2013-turned-into-nightmare-for-human-rights-defenders/]

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2020/03/23/un-experts-alarmed-over-chinas-missing-human-rights-lawyers/

TrialWatch finds its feet in 2019

February 15, 2020

TrialWatch logo

Photo courtesy of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

A year ago this January, I flew out of Sarajevo to join the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR), ready to start work on CHR’s new program, TrialWatch. ….Since the TrialWatch program was new, I did not know what to expect. In Bosnia, I had dedicated the past several years to advocating for wartime victims seeking justice. Many of these men and women had spent decades pounding on the doors of institutions that had long consigned them to oblivion. As I entered the ABA lobby on my first day, I wondered what it would be like to instead focus on defendants vulnerable to abuse of their rights. What I found was that the experience and ethos of TrialWatch were uncannily similar to those of my work in Bosnia. We aim to ensure that people are not forgotten.

…..

Criminal prosecutions are one weapon in the ever-expanding arsenal of those who seek to derail human rights. Through TrialWatch, CHR sends monitors to proceedings at which they are often the only independent observers. These are remote, dilapidated courtrooms outside the capitals, places where no one would expect a monitor to show up. Our presence can make a significant difference.

In Algeria, for example, CHR sent a monitor to observe the trial of Ahmed Manseri, a human rights defender prosecuted for defamation for claiming that he had been tortured by the authorities. The monitor traveled through multiple checkpoints to reach the city of Tiaret in northern Algeria, some 300 kilometers from the capital of Algiers. The judge, aware of CHR’s interest in the case, treated Manseri differently from all others in court that day, giving Manseri’s lawyers adequate time to conduct questioning, providing Manseri himself with an opportunity to speak, spending several hours on the hearing (as opposed to the five to 15 minutes afforded other defendants), and ultimately acquitting Manseri. When we spoke to Manseri and his lawyer after the trial, they relayed that Manseri may not have gone home that day if the monitor had not been in court. This is CHR’s work: ensuring that people facing the greatest risks are not forgotten, that their voices are heard, and that relevant institutions take their experiences and claims seriously. In some cases, as in Algeria, making an appearance is just as important as the final report.

Prisoners
More than 100 defendants were convicted as part of a mass trial with respect to an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights.

In other cases, documentation is critical. If we do not record the abuses that occur in the courtroom, they will be lost in a labyrinthine system with no recourse for defendants. In Equatorial Guinea, CHR monitored the trial of over a hundred individuals prosecuted in connection with an alleged coup attempt. In court, our monitors observed egregious fair trial violations, such as the repeated use of confessions induced by torture, the intervention of military officials in the judicial process, and the imposition of time limits on defense questioning. The defendants were ultimately convicted—some to what were functionally life sentences.

As Equatorial Guinea is a relatively closed country—its doors wide open to oil behemoths but shut to most others—CHR was the only outside entity to send observers to the trial. The information we acquired proved helpful for embassies and other organizations tracking the proceedings. Human Rights Watch, for example, employed CHR’s report to produce a video on the trial that was widely disseminated in Equatorial Guinea via WhatsApp. Meanwhile, CHR’s report was raised before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, after which the committee condemned military interference in civilian trials. Correspondingly, defense lawyers have used the report’s conclusions in advocating for their imprisoned clients. Without the valuable data gained from simply sitting in the courtroom, these various opportunities for impact would have been lost and—again—the defendants forgotten.

 


TrialWatch followed a case in Guatemala of a human rights defender named Abelino Chub, shown here with an unidentified woman. Chub was held in pretrial detention for two years. Chub was being prosecuted on allegations he had burned down trees and fields on a plantation operated by Cobra Investments, a banana and palm company. He was ultimately acquitted. Photo provided by the ABA Center for Human Rights

The overarching goal of ensuring that defendants receive the necessary support motivates the TrialWatch team to grapple with these challenges, as do the inspiring monitors with whom we work. One of TrialWatch’s objectives is to democratize trial monitoring—to place the tools to observe trials in the hands of affected communities. Dedication and a willingness to learn are the only requirements. In a recent case, two different entities within the prosecution appeared to be at odds. One entity had withdrawn the charges, and the other seemed to still be pursuing the case. CHR’s enterprising trial monitor brought a copy of the withdrawal document across town to the latter entity’s office. The office claimed to have never seen this document—or at least to have never been directly confronted with it—and stated that it would cease work on the case. At the moment, the office no longer appears to be pursuing the charges.

In another example, a CHR monitor who is not a lawyer but passionate about press freedom issues agreed to travel to a remote province in Cambodia—a nine-hour bus ride—on Christmas day to observe the start of a trial in which two journalists were being prosecuted for incitement. Though the trial did not in fact proceed that day, the monitor was able to document valuable information, such as the judge ordering defense counsel not to contact the U.S. embassy: a troubling and noteworthy development. That my job entails working closely with these monitors—such a perseverant, diverse group of individuals—makes it all the more worthwhile.

Lastly, one of the most ironic features of trial monitoring is that there is frequently no trial to monitor. In many countries, authorities use criminal charges and detention as a punishment in itself: the trial in such cases is not of consequence. By imprisoning defendants pending trial, deferring substantive proceedings in the vein of Godot, states can avoid scrutiny while still harassing defendants and stifling their work. Through TrialWatch, we have been able to document and respond to this phenomenon.

In India, for example, CHR monitored habeas corpus proceedings brought by journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who had been arrested on sedition charges for posting Facebook videos in which he criticized the ruling party. When the judge presiding over the case released Wangkhem on bail, the authorities rearrested and imprisoned him on national security grounds. CHR subsequently issued a preliminary report concluding that Wangkhem’s detention was inconsistent with international law. Soon thereafter, he was released, having spent 132 days behind bars.

Similarly, in Nigeria, CHR monitored proceedings against Omoyele Sowore, a journalist who had been charged with treason. Awaiting trial, Sowore remained imprisoned by the state security services despite the presiding court’s order to release him. Amal Clooney, the co-founder of TrialWatch, made a public statement calling for Sowore’s release, bolstering the international uproar and placing pressure on the state. Approximately a month later, Sowore was released.

Defendants languishing in detention, sometimes for years on end, are the most at risk of being forgotten. Seeing these individuals go free in part because of our work is one of the most rewarding aspects of TrialWatch. I am proud to lead the program at the ABA Center for Human Rights and look forward to my second year.

If you are interested in signing up to be a TrialWatch monitor, please fill out this form.

 

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/volunteer-trial-monitors-are-helping-secure-human-rights-around-the-globe

Law Society of Ontario reflects on how to support human rights lawyers abroad

January 28, 2020

LSO event explores nuances of supporting human rights abroad
Teresa Donnelly, who leads the LSO’s Human Rights Monitoring Group, spoke at the Osgoode Hall event in Toronto commemorating International Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2020.
On 27 January 2020 Anita Balakrishnan wrote in the Canadian Law Times about the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer which in 2020 focused on lawyers in Pakistan [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/17/24-january-day-of-the-endangered-lawye-aba-focuses-on-pakistan/ ]
When supporting colleagues abroad, lawyers should consider offering behind-the-scenes support as well as making public statements, a Pakistan-based journalist told an audience at the Law Society of Ontario last week. “What has to be really kept in mind is how that support is voiced and contextualized,” said Beena Sarwar. “If it takes a simplistic view or plays into anti-Pakistan rhetoric …. it’s so easy to make Pakistan a scapegoat and target.” Sarwar, whose blog has gained international acclaim for its coverage of freedom, human rights, peace and even influential jurists, was one speaker at the Law Society of Ontario’s International Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2020, hosted at Osgoode Hall in Toronto on 24 January by the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This year, lawyers organized a protest at the Pakistani embassy at the Hague. Past events focused on Egypt, Turkey, China and Honduras, among others.

The LSO’s Human Rights Monitoring Group has issued several statements about treatment of lawyers in Pakistan over the past few years.  In the aftermath of the Kasi attack, the LSO urged the Pakistani government to “put an end to all acts of violence against lawyers and human rights defenders in Pakistan,” and “ensure that all lawyers can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations.

Other incidents that have been condemned by the LSO are the 2015 murder of Samiullah Afridi (a lawyer who defended a doctor that allegedly assisted CIA agents with their hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden); and a suicide bomb attack on the Pakistani judiciary.

Over the past decades, lawyers in Pakistan have been subjected to acts of mass terrorism, murder, attempted murder, assaults, (death) threats, contempt proceedings, harassment and intimidation, as well as judicial harassment and torture in detention, merely for engaging in their professional duties as lawyers,” a letter from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada said earlier this month. “Their families also have been targeted, and some have even been murdered. Some lawyers have also been threatened with disbarment and/or had their homes and offices raided by the police.

At the event, bencher Teresa Donnelly read a letter the law society had received from a Pakistani lawyer. Lawyers cannot become “heroes,” Donnelly recounted from the email. Instead, she said, the writer felt the role of lawyers was to “focus on their work improving the justice system.”  While support is needed for the Pakistani bar, Sarwar explained that Western organizations must be careful not to jump to issue statements that play into conspiracy theories about Western involvement. Abdul (Hamid) Bashani Khan, a lawyer at the Abdul Hamid Khan Law Office in Mississauga, also spoke on the panel, where speakers highlighted some of the common misunderstandings of the situation in Pakistan, particularly amid anti-Muslim rhetoric publicized in the post-911 era. For example, panelists said the bench and bar are portrayed as both very strong — given the influence of the lawyers’ movement of Pakistan — and also very weak, in the fight for judicial independence and public support. In 2014, a lawyer was killed after representing a high-profile professor charged with blasphemy.

To mark the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute released a toolkit to help the legal community navigate the complex task of protecting lawyers at risk. The three-part kit includes supports for risk management, human rights mechanisms, emergency protocols, legal frameworks, international protection, security plans and response chains.