Posts Tagged ‘illegal detention’

Saudi Arabia still steering in the wrong direction

May 19, 2018

Saudi authorities detained seven women human rights defenders since 15 May 2018, say Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. “Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” HRW Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement. Among the detained women are Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi blogger, and Lujain al-Hathloul, a women right’s activist who had been arrested previously and held for 75 days for attempting to drive back into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the government is trying to silence critics, particularly those who champion women’s rights reforms.  “While it’s not clear why they were arrested, today we have seen Saudi press reports come to suggest that these women are traitors and have been arrested because they are undermining the national unity of the country,” Begum told Al Jazeera.

Amnesty International condemned the commentary of the arrests as a “chilling smear campaign” and an “extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders” in the country.

[Since 2011, nearly 30 activists and dissidents have been convicted in Saudi courts, many of whom received sentences of up to 15 years, according to HRW.]

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/175098-180519-saudis-detain-women-s-advocates-ahead-of-driving-ban-lift

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/saudi-arabia-arrests-women-rights-activists-180519075533018.html

For some of my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/

later: http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/05/24/saudi-driving-activist-released-after-crackdown-say-campaigners

Emirates: one year later human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabouts remain unknown

March 21, 2018

 

The authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should reveal the whereabouts of prominent human rights defender and citizen-journalist Ahmed Mansoor and release him immediately and unconditionally, an impressive group of over twenty human rights organisations said on 20 March 2018.  This day marks one year since security forces arbitrarily arrested Mansoor, winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, at his home in Ajman. The UAE authorities have continued to detain him in an unknown location, despite condemnation from UN human rights experts and independent human rights organisations.

The authorities have subjected Ahmed Mansoor to enforced disappearance since his wife last saw him in September 2017. They must reveal his whereabouts to his family and grant him regular access to them and to a lawyer of his choosing.  Following his arrest on 20 March 2017, the authorities announced that he is facing speech-related charges that include using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.”  On 28 March 2017, a group of UN human rights experts called on the UAE government to release Mansoor immediately, describing his arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They said that they feared 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 organisations.”  Since his arrest, Mansoor has not been allowed to make telephone calls to his family and has been allowed only two short visits with his wife, on 3 April and 17 September 2017, both under strict supervision. He was brought from an unknown place of detention to the State Security Prosecutor’s office in Abu Dhabi for both visits. The authorities have refused to inform his family about his place of detention and have ignored their requests for further visits.

In February 2018, a group of international human rights organisations commissioned two lawyers from Ireland to travel to Abu Dhabi to seek access to Mansoor. The UAE authorities gave the lawyers conflicting information about Mansoor’s whereabouts. The Interior Ministry, the official body responsible for prisons and prisoners, denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and referred the lawyers to the police. The police also said they had no information about his whereabouts. The lawyers also visited Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi following statements made by the authorities after Mansoor’s arrest, which suggested that he was held being held there. However, the prison authorities told the lawyers there was nobody matching Mansoor’s description in the prison.  Instead of protecting Mansoor, the authorities have detained him for a year with hardly any access to his family and no access to a lawyer of his choosing. Their contempt for human rights defenders and brazen disregard for their obligations under international human rights law is truly shocking. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/27/somewhere-in-a-prison-in-the-emirates-is-ahmed-mansoor-but-authorities-claim-not-to-know-where/]

Background to his case is documented in the joint statement and in my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/

Mansoor is a member of GCHR’s Advisory Board and a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

Signed:
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Amnesty International
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
ARTICLE 19
CIVICUS
Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia
English PEN
Freedom Now, Morocco
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Maharat Foundation
Martin Ennals Foundation
Moroccan Association for Human Rights
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Scholars at Risk
Tunisian Association for Academic Freedoms
Tunis Center for Press Freedom
Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
Tunisian Organisation against Torture
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

http://www.martinennalsaward.org/ahmed-mansoors-remain-missing/

https://www.ifex.org/united_arab_emirates/2018/03/20/uae-ahmed-mansoor-1-year/

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: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/28/ahmed-mansoor-under-arrest-emirates-under-pressure/

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).

Background

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: https://citizenlab.ca/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/

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.

For more information: khambatta@martinennalsaward.org or visit www.martinennalsaward.org

12 human rights NGOs urge Uzbekistan to pick up pace with reforms

February 15, 2018

The Financial Times (amongst others) reports that changes in Uzbekistan are possibly going in the right direction. [“While Mr Mirziyoyev was part of the old system too, as prime minister for 13 years, his ousting of Mr Inoyatov was the boldest in a series of steps apparently designed to start opening the country up. He has freed 18 high-profile political prisoners — even if thousands more remain in jail — and taken nearly 16,000 people off a 17,500-strong security blacklist of potential extremists that stopped them travelling or getting jobs”.]  This echoes what HRW said on 5 September 2017 after delegation had made its first visit to Uzbekistan since the organization was banned there in 2010:  “The key is for the Uzbek government to transform the modest steps it has taken thus far into institutional change and sustainable improvements”. Now (13 February 2018) twelve international NGOs have publicly urged Uzbekistan to release journalists and human rights defenders.

Journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. 
Journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. 

In a joint statement HRW, IPHR, Amnesty International, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom Now, ARTICLE 19, and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights have called on Tashkent to “ensure a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation into the alleged torture and other ill-treatment” of independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev.

[Abdullaev was detained in September on charges of “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime” and faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. In October, Uzbek authorities arrested well-known economist and blogger Hayot Nasriddinov. They have accused him and others, including Akrom Malikov, an academic who was arrested in 2016, of plotting to overthrow the government.

At a time when the Uzbek government appears to be taking steps to reform the country’s feared security services, reports of a journalist’s torture in their custody should prompt an immediate investigation and decisive, public condemnation,” HRW Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow said in the statement.

There is a real opportunity for change in Uzbekistan – and yet we hear of journalists and bloggers still being detained and tortured. This case is a test of whether Uzbekistan’s human rights situation is really improving or not,” Brigitte Dufour, director of International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), said in the rights groups’ statement.

For my earlier posts on Uzbekistan, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/uzbekistan/

https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-12-rights-watchdogs-urge-tashkent-to-release-journalist-others/29039260.html

https://eurasianet.org/node/84971

https://www.ft.com/content/6c37419c-0cbf-11e8-8eb7-42f857ea9f09

Prominent UK lawyers: Suspend Saudi Arabia from UN Human Rights Council

February 2, 2018

In July 2016 two major NGOs (HRW and AI) teamed up to try and get Saudi Arabia suspended from the UN Human Rights Council (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/07/05/amnesty-and-hrw-trying-to-get-saudi-arabia-suspended-from-the-un-human-rights-council/). Now Al-Jazeera reports that British lawyers have called for Saudi Arabia to be removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council, stating that the kingdom detains political and free speech activists without charge.

In a report released on Wednesday 31 January 2018 in London, Rodney Dixon QC and Lord Kenneth Donald John Macdonald said more than 60 individuals were detained in September last year, “many of whom are believed to be human rights defenders or political activists”.

“Our main recommendation is that steps should be taken by the General Assembly to suspend the government of Saudi Arabia from the [UN] Human Rights Council,” Dixon told Al Jazeera. It is “completely contradictory and ironic for a government with systemic patterns of abuse – as we have highlighted in the report – to be sitting on the council, and in fact previously to have chaired the council….That suspension will act as a major lever for the government to clean up their act and make a proper new start.”

The report, titled Shrouded in secrecy: the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia following arrests in September 2017, was commissioned by the relatives of detainees and will be forwarded to Saudi authorities. “Those detained have not been charged with any offence, and the information about the reasons for their arrests and circumstances of their imprisonment are very limited,” the report said. “There is cause for serious concern about the treatment of many of those detained, including Mr Salman Al-Awda who has recently been hospitalised and others who are, effectively, disappeared.” Awda is one of Saudi’s most popular Muslim leaders with almost 150 million followers on Twitter. He was recently hospitalised after five months of solitary confinement. It remains unclear why he was arrested..

Saudi Arabia’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council expires in 2019. “The suspension of membership rights is not simply a hypothetical possibility,” the report said.In February 2011, the council called for Libya to be suspended as the government of Muammar Gaddafi was being accused of human rights violations against civilians during the uprising. A month later, the General Assembly voted for the suspension of Libya’s membership – marking the first time it has used its power to revoke a country’s membership.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/uk-lawyers-remove-saudi-human-rights-council-180131114753148.html

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 <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/fr/profile/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 https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ilham-tohti/]

More on “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) in China

January 10, 2018

The People’s Republic of the Disappeared documents the experiences of Chinese activists (and one Swede) placed into “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). Several of those who wrote about their experiences for the book say their time in RSDL was worse than any previous treatment they had experienced, whether in legal detention centers or illegal “black jails.” What about RSDL makes it the most feared type of detention in China?

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.Under Xi Jinping, China’s assault on the human rights community has escalated to extremes not seen since the 1989 Pro-Democracy crackdown, while technological advancements, not to mention certain complicit foreign companies, have allowed for unprecedented increases in police capacity and state control. Add to that an effort by the Party to weaponize the law through legislation whose only purpose is to mask its authoritarian objectives behind false talk of rule of law. The revised Criminal Procedure Law, in which RSDL is codified in Article 73, is case in point, as it grants agents of the state effectively unfettered power, often in violation of fundamental international law, to act in the preservation of national security, which is synonymous with the preservation of Party supremacy.

RSDL is so feared, arguably, because it is so quintessentially totalitarian, right down to the ubiquity of black hoods and midnight raids, evoking scenes from V for Vendetta. Little is known, but that is slowly changing, about what it means to disappear in China. Even a few years after it came into effect, in 2016 many people were still misled by the euphemistic title, the residential in RSDL. Torture is common. RSDL is a tool of repression, designed to terrorize and demonstrate power. It is so feared because it was designed to be feared.

One thing that can be done to address this fear is just to spread knowledge about RSDL. Indeed, many frontline human rights defenders have spoken about the protective quality of reading or hearing stories about others’ experiences in detention, such as the pamphlet a Guide to Drinking Tea by Wu Gan, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for his rights defense, or Hua Ze’s book In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon, which was a big inspiration for The People’s Republic of the Disappeared. Indeed, one of the goals of this book was to provide some protection for at risk human rights defenders, to mitigate their fears with the stories of others so they would at least be a little better prepared for what to expect.

Is the use of RSDL, as compared to other forms of detention (legal and not), reserved for a particular type of person? Those who contributed their stories for the book are lawyers and rights defenders; who else might find themselves “disappeared” into RSDL in China?

According to Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law, residential surveillance may be enforced at a designated location — in other words in secret and outside the protection of the law — in cases involving endangering national security, terrorism, or serious bribery, and when enforcement in the individual’s actual residence may “impede the investigation.” Of course, the police are also able to deny access to the state prosecutor if it “impedes the investigation” so this notion rings hollow. Based on this, we see at least three vaguely defined categories of people who may find themselves disappeared into RSDL. The connotations of these categories generally refer to human rights defenders who are common targets of RSDL, ethnic minorities and predominantly Uyghurs for whom another system for disappearances is widespread, and elites or political opponents, for whom yet another system for enforced disappearances, shuang gui, exists. If you look closely, China maintains several distinct systems for disappearance, each one generally targeting one demographic or another.

Why do you think the Chinese government made the effort to legally define RSDL, granting it a legitimate status, only to disregard any and all legal safeguards while actually holding detainees? 

China cares about image. The Party wouldn’t harass and detain its critics if it didn’t care. It recognizes the international community places importance on the rule of law, at least rhetorically; indeed there are plenty of other offenders. But China, and as we are seeing with more countries in the region, has perfected the weaponization of the law. Legislation is passed to fit a particular template for good governance and the rule of law, trials are convened, and judgments are passed, “in the spirit of the law” or “based on relevant domestic regulations” or within its “judicial sovereignty.” Absurdly politicized, and yet successful. Some recent examples of China’s success with this strategy are Apple cravenly withdrawing VPN access for Chinese iTunes Store users and Springer Nature agreeing to censor political journals, both out of supposed deference to domestic regulations. Passing legislation such as the Criminal Procedure Law and additional regulations on RSDL, for example, allows the government to hide its normalization of enforced disappearances, and other serious rights violations including torture, behind the veneer of the rule of law.

But China fails. Firstly, international law is clear that enforced disappearances are a grave human rights violation and crime, without any exception or circumstance, including state of war or emergency or national security. This is customary international law, binding upon all countries regardless of treaty ratification. Secondly, China’s rhetoric of the rule of law falls apart against international standards that the law be accessible, predictable, equitable, and accountable. None of these features are effectively present, especially with RSDL. China may try to convince the world that it is a country based on the rule of law but this is actually the rule by law, or legalist authoritarianism.

Obviously numbers are impossible to come by, thanks to the secretive nature of the practice. But do you have an estimate for the number of people held in RSDL, or the number of “disappeared” overall in China?

As I point out in the chapter on RSDL and international law, because enforced disappearances are so heinous they may rise to the level of a crime against humanity if, put simply, they are part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, and in the last chapter I go into more detail about what this means.

I would like to add that while the book focuses mainly on human rights defenders, by far the largest demographic of disappeared in China are Uyghurs, who starting after the 2009 Urumqi riots and accelerating under Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo since 2016 have disappeared in waves, with many never heard from again. Like RSDL, the state has many euphemisms for its systems to disappear Uyghurs, the most widespread being “political education.”

In terms of the book, human rights defenders are a major targeted demographic for disappearances under RSDL. By most estimates the number of victims of RSDL range from the hundreds to the thousands. These are those who are placed under RSDL for a few days to those who are kept for the full six months, to those who are subjected to even lengthier and wholly illegal disappearances following RSDL such as with lawyer Wang Quanzhang. An old friend, the book is in fact dedicated to Wang Quanzhang, who remains missing now after nearly two and a half years.

When conceiving the numbers of victims, we should bear in mind that international law also recognizes the family members of the disappeared as victims of enforced disappearance, and as such Li Wenzu, Wang’s wife, and the many other spouses, parents, and children of the disappeared must also be counted among the victims of disappearance in China.

Part of the reason why it is so difficult to know the precise numbers of disappeared under RSDL or other mechanisms for disappearance in China is that they are by definition secretive. Furthermore, the same condition that calls RSDL into existence, a claim of national security, allows for the refusal to acknowledge details. For example, while the Supreme People’s Court maintains a database on all cases and includes cases that involve RSDL, many known cases are left out of the database due to national security exceptions on listing case information. Confronting this lack of quantifiable information is precisely why it is so important to engage in monitoring and analyzing China’s use of enforced disappearances, such as the undertaking of the recently launched RSDLmonitor.

At the same time, while it is important to develop a fuller picture of how widespread disappearances are under RSDL, arguably what matters more is how systematic the state has been in its legislation and implementation of disappearances. There is already enough evidence to see that RSDL is systematized and organized enforced disappearances as a Party policy.

The narratives in the book paint the picture of human rights defenders under siege — many of the chapters describe actively preparing to be taken away by the state, after having watched friends and allies suffer the same fate. Over a year after the “709 crackdown,” what is the state of the Chinese activist community? To phrase the question another way, has the authorities’ brutal suppression campaign worked?

The Chinese rights defenders who I have been honored to meet or work in support of are the most resilient and courageous group imaginable. Here is a community struggling for the rights and interests of their fellow citizens, intimidated, brutalized, disappeared, imprisoned by their government and yet they continue. Wang Quanzhang, the last remaining disappeared human rights lawyer of the 709 Crackdown, is case in point. His bravery is an inspiration. For all his attempts to terrorize, Xi Jinping cannot sap the human rights community of its vitality. This campaign, despite its severity and sophistication, like its predecessors, will just lead to new voices, new leaders, new tactics, and new pillars of support. As long as the Chinese Communist Party tramples on the rights of its citizens, there will be a human rights community, and that is because, if I may quote Foucault, “Where there is power, there is resistance.”

How can the international community effectively respond to Chinese human rights violations like RSDL and the torture of detainees?

As I write in the conclusion, it is not easy to confront China, which wields what scholars describe as sharp power and economic statecraft to intimidate and influence, while at the same time either manipulating international law and organizations to its own design, such as with Interpol, or hollowing them of their legitimacy, such as with China’s seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. But, just as the global race to the bottom for trade and production that rushed to exploit China’s low-paid labor surplus decades ago contributed to its economic transformation, giving rise to its present day economic statecraft used to influence the global order, so too has the international community’s acquiescence to China’s rhetoric of rule of law and judicial sovereignty allowed its war on human rights to continue without consequence. Enough is enough.

The international community needs to stop pretending it is held hostage by China as an excuse for its inaction. One good example is the recent decision by the United States to sanction former Beijing police chief Gao Yan, who through command responsibility was culpable for the death in custody of human rights defender Cao Shunli in 2014. We need more strategic, targeted, follow through.

https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/michael-caster-on-chinas-forced-disappearances/

RSDL: China’s legalization of disappearances

December 30, 2017

It would nice – for a change – to be able to report improvements in the situation of human rights defenders but as feared at the beginning of this year that has not happened. Here the case of China:

On 15 December 2017 China itself issued a White Paper hailing its ‘remarkable progress’ in the ‘law-based protection of human rights’ over the last five years. NGOs such as Human Rights Watch called it ‘hollow’ and a ‘self-congratulatory report’. Here some recent developments especially linked to the tactic of temporary disappearance RSDL:

There is a very informative blog post by Peter Dalin[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/] about his friend Wang Quanzhang  in the Hong Kong Free Press (30 December) under the title “The last missing lawyer: a victim of China’s new willingness to flout international human rights norms“. The piece details the system of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and points to its increasing use and danger that it may spread. (See below in green.)

One example of this practice came this week when a court sentenced Wu Gan to eight years in prison. Using social media and outlandish performance art, he went by the online handle “Super Vulgar Butcher” and likened himself to a meat cutter who was making short work of those who violate human rights. After the harsh sentence was imposed in Tianjin, Wu delivered an eloquent statement through his lawyers, speaking with clarity and courage. “For those living under a dictatorship,” he declared, “being given the honourable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights.” The authorities, he said, attempted to force him to plead guilty and co-operate in propaganda videos in exchange for a suspended sentence. “I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.”

This in contrast to the decision the same day in the case of human rights lawyer Xie Yang who was not sentenced to prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of “inciting subversion of state power.”
Xie was released on bail in May after what critics described as a show trial. He had previously claimed that police used “sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations” on him. But on Tuesday he denied he had been tortured, according to a video on the court’s official Weibo social media account. “On the question of torture, I produced a negative effect on and misled the public, and I again apologize,” he told judges. The court said he would face no criminal penalties following his full confession. (Xie Yang is one of China’s “709 lawyers”, taken into custody in 2015 during an extensive government crackdown see: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/xie-yang). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/29/the-remarkable-crackdown-on-lawyers-in-china-in-july-2015/

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, has also told China that it wrongfully arrested three prominent human rights activists accused of subversion and called on the government to release and compensate them. The panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, made up of five independent experts, said the three activists, Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang, had been punished for promoting human rights. It said their treatment did not conform with China’s obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and urged Beijing to consider amending its laws to bring them into conformity with international norms. “The appropriate remedy would be to release Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang immediately, and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations,” the working group concluded. (The findings were contained in a 12-page document that was first reported in October by The Guardian)——–

Peter Dalin’s post:

Some five years ago my friend Wang Quanzhang – China’s last missing lawyer – came over to my Beijing apartment for a Swedish-style Christmas. By this time he had learned to tolerate, if not appreciate, the meatballs, as it was his second Christmas at my house. Since then, I’ve been deported from China and banned for ten years under the Espionage Act.

wang quanzhang

Wang Quanzhang. File photo: RFA.

I am unlikely to spend any more Christmases in China. Wang might never be allowed to spend any Christmas anywhere, outside of prison. Wang disappeared on 5 August 2015. For two and a half years his family, wife Li Wenzu and their young son, and the lawyers Wang had chosen for himself should he ever be detained, have not seen nor heard from him. There’s no trial in sight. It may strike anyone reading this that his case is simply another victim’s story. Frankly, there are so many that it’s hard to keep track or become engaged. However, his case represents something far worse, and is a window into the new China envisioned by Xi Jinping and the CCP.

China’s attempts to weaken UN mechanisms put in place to monitor how countries implement or follow basic rules and rights are well documented. What is happening in China now – an unprecedented disappearing of critics, lawyers and human rights defenders – goes far beyond being just another crackdown on civil society. It is another step towards weakening a core part of the international law system. One of the first major changes under Xi Jinping’s rule was to extend the power of the state even further by legalizing the use of Enforced Disappearances. For a Party usually known for its abysmal public relations management, it did so with a stroke of marketing “genius”, referring to it as a procedure known as Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location, or RSDL. At first, its use was limited to central government targeting key rights defenders, claiming they threatened national security. People would be secretly detained and placed in hotel rooms and government-run guesthouses. Slowly, they started using special custom-built secret prisons. In 2016, the procedure was adopted by local police. Now it’s being used to target critics of any sort, and for any type of “crime”, and not only those accused of threatening national security. Its use, by any measure, is expanding rapidly.

Rights activist Wu Gan and rights lawyer Xie Yang were sentenced the day after Christmas. Wu Gan will spend the next eight years in prison. Both men were disappeared for significant lengths of time before entering the normal judicial process; they were in RSDL. RSDL allows the state to simply take anyone it wishes, no court approval is needed, and disappear them for up to six months. The victim’s family does not need be notified of the victims’ whereabouts, they are denied access to legal counsel, and even more preposterously the prosecutor’s office is almost always barred from visiting the secret facility or victim – despite its nominal role to make sure rampant torture is not practiced. In fact, despite knowing many victims of RSDL myself, I have never heard of someone having had such a visit, and I myself certainly never met anyone from the Prosecutor’s office during my brief stay in RSDL.

In China, exceptions quickly become norms. The exceptions allowing all this have quickly become the norm. With these “exceptions”, RSDL becomes enforced disappearance. Enforced disappearances is not only a crime in international law, but a most severe one. It is even prohibited in war-time. If used systematically, or in a widespread manner, it qualifies as a crime against humanity.

The West’s tepid response to enforced disappearances, even of their own citizens, who have been kidnapped outside of mainland China, such as British citizen Lee Bo in Hong Kong and Swedish citizen Gui Minhai in Thailand, only encourages China to keep expanding its use. Why not, when there are no consequences. My only hope, or wish, for this Christmas season is that the further exposure of RSDL, through the first ever book on the subject, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, edited by my former coworker Michael Caster, will help shed light on what is going on in China.

This should make the West realize that China’s legalization of what may constitute a crime against humanity is a blow to the whole UN system, and a threat to the West itself, and the rules-based system it advocates. Without a response, how long will it be before Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and other countries in the Asia-Pacific, all with some history of using Enforced Disappearance themselves, realize the effectiveness of the system in silencing critics, and move to legalize their own versions?….It’s hard to say what 2018 has in store for Wang. His case is testament to the breakdown of any rule of law in China. Despite holding all the cards, China does not have the courage to try him in a court of law. He will, for now and who knows for how long, simply be disappeared.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/12/30/last-missing-lawyer-victim-chinas-new-willingness-flout-international-human-rights-norms/

The People’s Republic of the Disappeared

https://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/8028958-the-clarity-and-courage-of-wu-gan/

http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=39930&t=1

For China, Christmas is the best time of year to put human-rights activists on trial

Celebrities come out to support Taner Kılıç, Amnesty Turkey’s chair, on trial today

November 22, 2017

Taner Kılıç, Amnesty Turkey’s Chair, has been behind bars for nearly six months
As the trial of ‘Istanbul 10’ and the Chair of Amnesty Turkey resumes today 22 November 2017, more than 70 persons signed an open letter calling for the case against the 11 human rights activists to be dropped. As quite a few celebrities make missteps in the human rights area [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/10/helen-hunt-joins-list-of-celebrities-that-show-insensitivity-on-human-rights/ ], it is heartening to see names such as Ai Weiwei, Edward Snowden, Anish Kapoor, Catherine Deneuve, Angélique Kidjo, Indira Varma, Tim Farron, Bianca Jagger, Canon Mark Oakley, Hilary Benn, Juliet Stevenson, and Sting among the signatories.In the AI UK letter (see full text and list of signatories below), the group say they’re “proud” to add their voices to “the global demand to end this gross injustice”.

[Amnesty’s Turkey Chair, Taner Kılıç, was arrested on 6 June, jail three days later and remains in detention. Meanwhile, ten other activists, including İdil Eser, the Director of Amnesty Turkey, were detained a month later. Seven of them were remanded in Turkey’s high-security Silivri Prison for almost four months, with one remanded in Ankara’s Sincan Prison. The eight were held for almost four months and released last month at their first hearing. They are all accused of “membership of a terrorist organisation”.] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/12/many-birthday-parties-for-jailed-human-rights-defender-in-turkey/ 

OPEN LETTER AHEAD OF TRIAL OF TANER KILIC AND ISTANBUL 10

On Wednesday the trial of 11 human rights defenders including including Taner Kılıç, and İdil Eser the chair and director of Amnesty International Turkey, will resume in Istanbul. 

The 11 face outlandish “terrorism” charges in what can only be described as a politically-motivated prosecution aimed at silencing critical voices within the country. If convicted they could face jail terms of up to 15 years. This sends a chilling message not just to people in Turkey but around the world. 

With many people unfairly imprisoned as part of the crackdown following the bloody coup attempt in Turkey – including journalists, lawyers and civil society leaders – some may ask: why focus on these 11 people? The answer is simple: when human rights defenders are silenced, all our rights are put at risk. They are the ones that stand up for us. Now we must stand up for them.

We are proud to add our voices to the global demand to end this gross injustice and to immediately and unconditionally release Taner Kılıç from jail.

The Turkish authorities must know that the eyes of the world will be on Istanbul’s central court for this trial. We will not stay silent. Defending human rights is not a crime. 

Signed:

Edward Snowden, human rights activist
Catherine Deneuve, actor 
Ai Weiwei, artist
Angélique Kidjo, musician
Anish Kapoor, artist
Peter Gabriel, musician
Francois Morel, actor 
Elif Shafak, author
Bianca Jagger, human rights activist
Juliet Stevenson, actor
Indira Varma, actor 
Mogens Lykketoft MP, ex-President of the UN General Assembly
Nacho Sanchez Amor, OSCE Human Rights Committee Chair
Mirosław Wyrzykowski, Constitutional judge, Poland
Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP (former UN Under-Secretary General)
Ryan Gage, actor
Pasha Bocarie, actor 
Nazanin Boniadi, actor 
HK, musician
Sting, musician
Anti-Flag, musicians
C 215, artist 
Lucas Belvaux, film maker 
Laurent Gaudé, writer 
El Moustach/Hicham Gaoua, artist  
Said Salhi, Vice president of LADDH (Algeria)
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General
Ken Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Claude Rolin MP (Belgium)
Tanita Tikaram, musician
Mohamed Fahmy, journalist
Peter Greste, journalist
Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral
Peter Tatchell, human rights defender
Natacha Régnier, actor  
Franck Pavloff, writer 
Emily Loizeau, musician 
Romain Goupil, film director 
Nicolas Lambert, comedian 
Clotilde Courau, comedian 
David Lammy MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Stephen McCabe MP
Tom Brake MP
Catherine West MP
Carol Monaghan MP
Joan Ryan MP
Christopher Stephens MP
Clive Lewis MP
Jo Stevens MP
Kerry McCarthy MP
Richard Burden MP
Kevin Brennan MP
Jim Cunningham MP
Rosie Cooper MP
Eleanor Smith MP
Wes Streeting MP
Stephen Doughty MP
Daniel Zeichner MP
Stephen Kinnock MP
Geraint Davies MP
Marie Rimmer MP
Grahame Morris MP
Antoinette Sandbach MP
Madeleine Moon MP
Tonia Antoniazzi MP
Preet Gill MP
Phillipa Whitford MP
Sarah Wollaston MP
Gareth Thomas MP
Emma Dent Coad MP
Hilary Benn MP
Tommy Sheppard MP
Olivier Py, France 
Paul Rondin, France
Monika Płatek, President of the Polish Association for Legal Education
Adam Bodnar, former board of United Nations Fund for Victims of Torture
Mikołaj Pietrzak, former Chair of the Human Rights Council of the Polish Bar Council
Krzysztof Śmiszek, co-founder of Polish Society of Anti-Discrimination Law

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/ai-weiwei-catherine-deneuve-bianca-jagger-and-peter-greste-among-those-calling-end

Many birthday parties for jailed human rights defender in Turkey

October 12, 2017

human rights defenders in Turkey, still in jail after 100 days

Ten activists, including İdil Eser, the Director of Amnesty International Turkey, were arrested on 5 July. İdil’s 54th birthday is on 14 October, which she will spend imprisoned on baseless and trumped-up charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/12/turkey-detention-of-human-rights-defenders-further-extended/] (Amnesty International Turkey’s Chair, Taner Kılıç, was also arrested a month earlier. On 4 October a prosecutor filed an indictment calling for jail terms of up to 15 years for all 11 human rights defenders on absurd terrorism charges.)

After three months the investigation has unsurprisingly failed to provide any incriminating evidence to substantiate the prosecutor’s fantastical charges. .. The activists are accused of assisting a variety of “armed terrorist organisations” with diametrically opposing ideologies. They face maximum sentences of 15 years. The charges against them include outlandish claims that standard human rights activities – such as appealing to stop the sale of tear gas, making a grant application or campaigning for the release of hunger striking teachers – were carried out on behalf of terrorist organizations. Some of the claims against İdil are based on Amnesty International documents and public communications that predate her appointment at the organisation.

To mark İdil’s 54th birthday, Amnesty International will hold more than 200 parties and actions globally, starting with a public, pop-up, Turkish-themed birthday party on 13 October in Auckland. Elsewhere around the world there will be a birthday party in the European Parliament and a press conference in a makeshift prison in Madrid. The parties will feature full-size paper cutouts of Idil to highlight her absence, along with Turkish food, music, decorations and more.

I am ready to pay the price for my choice to work on human rights and I am not scared. My time in jail has made me even more committed to standing up for my values. I will not compromise them.” Idil Eser (8/19/17).