Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

2022 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent

May 10, 2022

On 3 May 2022 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the three recipients of the 2022 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

The 2022 laureates are: professional basketball player and human rights advocate Enes Kanter Freedom, Iranian artist project PaykanArtCar, and Ukrainian-born Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova. This year’s laureates will receive their awards on Wednesday, May 25, during the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Enes Kanter Freedom is a professional basketball player and vocal advocate for human rights. Since the start of the 2021 NBA season, he has used his global platform to consistently raise awareness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s human rights abuses. Using his basketball shoes as the canvas for his messages, he wore multiple artistic designs highlighting issues such as the Uyghur genocide, the occupation of Tibet, slave labor at the Nike shoe factories, and the intolerance of China’s dictator. As a result of his creative dissent, he is now banned from China and was dropped by both the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets, despite being only 29 years old and in the prime of his career. Freedom’s perseverance has captured the attention of international media and informed millions of sports fans about the global struggle for individual rights in places like Tibet and the Uyghur region. At a time when professional athletes display incessant hypocrisy, unlimited greed, and double standards, Freedom emerges as the moral conscience of professional basketball. Freedom first came to international attention as an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, making him a target of Turkey’s government — he was deemed a “terrorist” by the regime, stripped of his passport, and was publicly disowned by his family. In late 2021, he changed his name and added “Freedom” as his official last name. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/525e5018-7f56-4009-85b8-3f3cce9a8810

The PaykanArtCar unites the talents of contemporary Iranian artists in the diaspora with a beloved symbol of Iranian national pride — the Paykan automobile — to advocate for human rights in Iran. The car used was once gifted by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran to the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and was purchased at an auction to serve as the canvas for artwork by Iranian artists in exile. Each year, PaykanArtCar commissions an exceptional Iranian artist-in-exile to use the car to capture the Iranian struggle for human dignity and basic freedoms. The inaugural PaykanArtCar was designed by Alireza Shojaian and features a historic Persian design with a provocative message about the brutality and ruthlessness faced by the marginalized and oppressed LGBTQ+ community inside Iran. The PaykanArtCar represents brave, creative dissent against the human rights abuses of Iran’s theocratic dictatorial regime. The PaykanArtCar will travel to Norway to be present at the Oslo Freedom Forum as part of Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest exhibit and will be parked at the event venue. The second edition of PaykanArtCar will be painted by a female Iranian artist and will advocate for women’s rights in Iran.

Marina Ovsyannikova is a Ukrainian-born Russian journalist and activist, who staged a live protest against the war in Ukraine during a news broadcast of Russian state TV. Ovsyannikova was a longtime editor at Russia’s Channel One, where her job was to assist those engaged in disinformation to be distributed to the Russian people. After thinking through ways in which she could protest, she chose to interrupt a live broadcast, holding a sign calling for “no war.” Following her demonstration on live TV and a subsequent anti-war video, Ovsyannikova was held overnight in a police station, denied access to a lawyer, and ultimately fined 30,000 roubles — she disappeared without contact for more than 12 hours. The Kremlin denounced her protest as “hooliganism,” and Ovsyannikova faces up to 15 years in prison under Russia’s disinformation laws. In a recent article, she expressed profound regret for her years as a participant in “the Russian propaganda machine” where her job was to create “aggressive Kremlin propaganda – propaganda that constantly sought to deflect attention from the truth, and to blur all moral standards,” she says: “I cannot undo what I have done. I can only do everything I possibly can to help destroy this machine and end this war.”

For more on the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/438F3F5D-2CC8-914C-E104-CE20A25F0726

Iranian Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi sentenced to another 8 years prison and more than 70 lashes

January 25, 2022

On 24 January 2022 the prominent rights defender Narges Mohammadi, already serving time at Iran’s notorious Gharchak Prison, has been sentenced to another eight years in prison and more than 70 lashes, according to a tweet by her Paris-based husband. [winner of 5 human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/07C20809-99E2-BDC0-FDC3-E217FF91C126]

Mohammadi’s new conviction was after a 5-minute trial, her husband Taghi Rahmani wrote. He stated she also had a two–year ban on “communication,” but that she has not contacted the family and he did not know the details of the trial or the new sentence.

The prominent activist’s latest conviction comes as the authorities intensify their efforts to squash growing dissent in Iran by imprisoning activists and human rights attorneys after grossly unfair trials, shooting to kill protesters in the street, imposing death sentences on dissidents and protesters, and causing the death of political prisoners by egregiously neglecting their medical needs. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/24/list-of-lawyers-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/

One by one, the Iranian authorities are trying to silence the voices of dissent in Iran, through imprisonment, torture, and even death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “The Iranian government fears these brave individuals because they speak truth to power and their voices carry great authority in Iranian society,”

Outrage at the government’s actions—not only the unjust imprisonments but also the treatment of political prisoners—is growing both inside and outside Iran’s prisons.

Seven political prisoners in Evin Prison’s Ward 8 went on a hunger strike on January 16, 2022, to protest the death of Baktash Abtin, who died after contracting COVID-19 in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons, where even the most rudimentary precautions against the spread of the virus are not followed. They include: Sadegh Omidi, Peyman Pourdad, Moin Hajizadeh, Mehdi Dareyni, Hamid Haj Jafar Kashani, Aliasghar Hassani-Rad, and Mahmoud Alinaghi. The latter three were transferred to an unknown prison on January 23. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/10/iranian-dissident-poet-baktash-abtin-dies-of-covid-in-arbitrary-detention/

In solidarity with the hunger strikers, Shakila Monfared began a hunger strike in Gharchak Prison for women on January 17; Sina Beheshti joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary; and Mohammad Abdolhassani joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary.

Meanwhile, British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori, who is being held in Iran on unsubstantiated spying charges, began a hunger strike in Evin Prison on January 23, to bring “global attention to the plight” of those unfairly held by Iran.

Outside Iran, In Vienna, journalist Jamshid Barzegar, began a hunger strike on January 18 in solidarity with hunger strikers in Iran, in front of the hotel where the nuclear talks are being held in Vienna. He has been joined by more than a dozen Iranian activists abroad. Former American hostage Barry Rosen was on hunger strike from January 16-24 in Vienna “to demand the release of all hostages being held by Iran.” Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese former hostage in Iran, joined the hunger strikers in Vienna on January 21.

These names are only part of a larger, rapidly growing group. A list from January 24 was published on Twitter that included names of more than 40 activists hunger-striking outside prison to demonstrate solidarity with the hunger strikers and protest the government’s actions.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, responding to a question on hunger strikers in Vienna at January 24 press conference in Tehran, said: “These matters are not very important. What’s important is to reach a reliable and stable agreement that satisfies Iran’s interests.”

Mohammadi has proved to be a particular thorn in the authorities’ side, refusing to be silent either in prison or during her brief periods of release between convictions. She had already been serving a 30-month sentence at Gharchak Prison after she organized a sit-in at Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward to condemn the killing of hundreds of protesters by state security forces during the November 2019 protests, and the unjust execution of wrestler Navid Afkari.

“Narges Mohammadi is only one of many individuals behind bars in Iran because of their peaceful dissent and the willingness of a judiciary to do the bidding of a brutal and unlawful security state,” Ghaemi added.

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-01-25/husband-says-iran-sentenced-activist-wife-to-prison-lashes

Ground breaking conviction of Syrian torturer in Germany

January 17, 2022
Group of framed portraits
Photos of Syrians who have been detained or disappeared set up by Families for Freedom, as part of a protest in front of the court in Koblenz, July 2, 2020. © 2020 Alexander Suttor

The conviction of a former Syrian intelligence officer for crimes against humanity by a German court is a ground-breaking step toward justice for serious crimes in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. The judgment is a meaningful moment for civilians who survived torture and sexual abuse in Syria’s prisons.  

On January 13, 2022, a German court delivered its judgment in the trial of Anwar R., a former member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, one of the country’s four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to collectively as the mukhabarat. Anwar R. is the most senior former Syrian government official to be convicted for serious crimes in Syria.  

German prosecutors accused Anwar R. of overseeing the torture of detainees in his capacity as head of the investigations section at the General Intelligence Directorate’s al-Khatib detention facility in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251.” 

The judges found Anwar R. guilty of committing crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. Following the verdict in the case, Anwar R. has one week to appeal.  

More than 10 years after the violations were committed in Syria, the German court’s verdict is a long-awaited beacon of hope that justice can and will in the end prevail,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Other countries should follow Germany’s lead, and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria.”  

Human Rights Watch issued a question and answer document and a feature article on the trial and how it is situated in the larger context of the Syrian conflict on January 6, 2022. The trial against Anwar R. and Eyad A., who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in February, began in April 2020 and was the first anywhere in the world for state-sponsored torture in Syria. Eyad A.’s appeal against his conviction remains pending. 

Syrian survivors, lawyers, and activists have been central to making this trial a reality, not only pressing for justice but laying the groundwork that makes justice possible, Human Rights Watch said.  

More than 80 witnesses testified, including former detainees, former Syrian government employees, German police investigators, and experts in Syrian affairs. The testimony included well-documented accounts of torture and sexual abuse in Branch 251, descriptions of mass graves, and details of Syria’s government policy to violently crack down on peaceful protesters in 2011. Several of the witnesses were able to identify Anwar R. in the courtroom.  

One of the major challenges of this trial was witness protection. Several witnesses living in Germany and other European countries cancelled their appearance in court out of fear for their lives and safety, or that of their families. Several witnesses, some who were also victims, testified that they feared a risk to themselves and their families given their role in the trial. German authorities should ensure that witnesses and victims are sufficiently informed about their rights to protective measures, including to appear anonymously before the court. 

Tens-of-thousands of people have been detained or disappeared in Syria since 2011, the vast majority by government forces using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout the country. The Syrian government continues to detain and forcibly disappear thousands of people. 

Many of those detained have died from torture and horrific detention conditions. Comprehensive justice for these and other unchecked atrocities in Syria has been elusive. Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court. And in 2014, Russia and China blocked efforts at the United Nations Security Council to give the court a mandate over serious crimes in Syria. 

The trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A. is possible because Germany’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain of the most serious crimes under international law. That allows for the investigation and prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. Universal jurisdiction remains one of the few viable pathways to justice for crimes committed in Syria.  

Germany has several elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes in Syria. It has above all a comprehensive legal framework, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with prosecuting such crimes. Countries with universal jurisdiction laws should establish specialized war crimes units within law enforcement and prosecution services, and ensure that such units are adequately resourced and staffed. 

Germany’s trial against Anwar R. is a message to the Syrian authorities that no one is beyond the reach of justice,” Jarrah said. “The Koblenz case has shown that with other avenues blocked, national courts can play a critical role in combating impunity.” 

The first such reaction came immediately, see: https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/human-rights/after-german-conviction-of-syrian-official-focus-may-turn-to-swedish-trial-of-iranian/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/13/germany-conviction-state-torture-syria

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/syria/syria-landmark-ruling-offers-hope-to-regime-s-victims

https://www.ecchr.eu/en/case/first-criminal-trial-worldwide-on-torture-in-syria-before-a-german-court/

Iranian dissident Poet Baktash Abtin dies of Covid in arbitrary detention

January 10, 2022

On 8 January 2022 the Iranian poet Baktash Abtin died in Tehran after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison. Abtin, who died after being put into an induced coma while hospitalized, is the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On January 1, Kian Adelpour died after going on hunger strike to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial.

This is a preventable tragedy and more prisoners’ deaths are inevitable because there is no accountability in the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Abtin was imprisoned in Iran because the government wanted to muzzle him with a jail cell; the state killed him.” Abtin had been serving a five-year prison sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.

A group of main NGOs had addressed a joint letter to Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei on 7 January repeating their call that Abtin be given access to the best possible medical care as he battles for his life. In addition, we urge that: he and all those unjustly detained for their writing or expression be immediately and unconditionally released; that authorities refrain from summoning political prisoners to serve their sentences while the conditions inside Evin and other Iranian prisons remain unsafe; and that any who do contract COVID-19 or other serious illnesses while in jail be granted speedy access to all needed medical care or a medical parole on humanitarian grounds.

While offering condolences to Abtin’s family and friends, the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) where Abtin, 48, was a board member, released a statement on January 8 on the “injustice that was committed against Abtin”: “Baktash Abtin is alive because the spirit of freedom-seeking and the fight against tyranny and injustice is alive,” said the statement.

Fellow IWA board member Reza Khandan Mahabadi was also sentenced to five years in prison and Keyvan Bajan to three years and six months. An international chorus has condemned the IWA writers’ imprisonment, with dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures including Nobel laureates calling for the writers’ acquittal.

At least 11 writers are known to be either currently imprisoned or living with an unserved prison sentence hanging over their heads in Iran as they await an appeal or to be summoned to jail, according to a list compiled by CHRI.

In an interview with CHRI in May 2019 after his trial, Abtin forcefully said the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran.

“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/07/joint-ngo-letter-khamenei-baktash-abtins-condition

Franco-German Prize for Human Rights 2021

December 17, 2021

Germany and France honoured this year 15 people who have made outstanding contributions to the protection of human rights, campaigning for causes including women’s rights in Afghanistan, the freedom of the press in South Africa and children who are born as a result of rape in wartime.

On 10 December, international Human Rights Day, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and French Foreign Minister Jean‑Yves Le Drian presented fifteen people with the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights. This award recognises the efforts of all those who work tirelessly every day to advance the causes of human rights and the rule of law. It is presented decentralised by the French and German missions in various locations around the world.

Chang Weiping a Chinese human rights lawyer.

Jake Epelle who works to combat the ongoing stigmatisation and discrimination faced by people with albinism in Nigeria.

Noelah Godfrey Msuya who promotes the rights of children and women in Tanzania.

Monika Borgmann who is a German-Lebanese documentary-maker.

Jacques Letang who is a judge and lawyer in Haiti.

Cristina Palabay from the Philippines who leads the national association Karapatan.

Alexandrine Victoire Saizonou who is an advocate for women’s and children’s rights in Benin.

Ajna Jusic from Bosnia discovered at the age of 15 that she was born as a result of rape during wartime, and since then she has advocated for others in the same situation.

Erika Lorena Aifán Dávila is a judge who has been the target of constant attacks from the authorities of Guatemala.

Nebahat Akkoc is the Managing Director of the NGO Kamer in Turkey.

The Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights or PROVEA.

Narges Mohammadi who is spokesperson and vice chairman of the Iranian organisation Defenders of Human Rights Center.

May Sabai Phyu is a Kachin activist from Myanmar/Burma.

Shaharzad Akbar is an Afghan human rights defender who campaigns in particular for the rights of women in Afghanistan.

Tabelo Timse is an investigative journalist and a member of an independent non‑profit media centre in South Africa.

https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/aussenpolitik/themen/menschenrechte/franco-german-prize/2501086

Magnitsky Human Rights Award 2021 to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

November 21, 2021

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has won an award in London for her bravery, as her detention in Iran continues. The West Hampstead mother received the Courage Under Fire prize at this year’s Magnitsky Human Rights Awards. For more on this award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/48a2fd20-eb63-11e8-a208-f9dcc4e84560

Redress, an NGO campaigning for the return of Nazanin, says the award “recognises the injustice Nazanin has suffered as a pawn of international diplomacy”.

It comes after ended his second hunger strike, this time for 21 days, to try and break the political impasse to bring Nazanin home.  

Nazanin was very pleased to hear of this award, for herself but also for all the others detained in Iran that you don’t get to hear about,” her husband Richard Ratcliffe said. The Iranian regime gets away with terrible crimes that thrive in darkness where accountability should be.” 

He added: “All our family are very proud of this award.”

Since Richard’s hunger strike, Boris Johnson has said it is “worth considering” paying a £400m historic debt to Iran by sending a plane full of cash to Tehran.

Nazanin, 43, mother of a seven-year-old girl, was arrested in Tehran in 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – charges always denied and widely refuted. 

William Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, said: “Nobody should ever be put in a situation like this, but in spite of the pressure, she has proven how powerful she can be even in the most powerless situation.  Her hostage takers should understand that their crimes won’t go unpunished.” 

Accepting the “courage under fire” award on her behalf at the event in London on Thursday evening, Gabriella read her mother’s words.

https://www.impartialreporter.com/news/national/19727498.nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffes-daughter-makes-award-speech-behalf/

https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-wins-bravery-award-8500754

Ahmadreza Djalali honored with 2021 Courage to Think Award

November 10, 2021

Scholars at Risk (SAR) announced on 9 November 2021 that Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is the recipient of its Courage to Think Award for 2021. Dr. Djalali, a prominent scholar of disaster medicine sentenced to death in Iran, is being recognized for his struggle for academic freedom and connection to the international academic community. For more on the Courage to Think Award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/165B4CC5-0BC2-4A77-B3B4-E26937BA553C.

Dr. Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will accept the award on Dr. Djalali’s behalf at SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free, online event is available here <https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/event/free-to-think-2021-and-courage-to-think-award/> .
Dr. Djalali is an Iranian-Swedish scholar who has held academic positions at Karolinska Institute, in Sweden; the Università del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy; and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium. In December 2020, he was awarded a Scholars at Risk Fellowship at Harvard University, in the United States.
The continued imprisonment, extreme sentence, and mistreatment of Dr. Djalali in custody should be of grave concern for anyone who cares about the ability of scholars to work safely,” said Rob Quinn, executive director of SAR. “No scholar should face a death sentence, solitary confinement, and withholding of medical care for their academic or scientific work.
Not only has Dr. Djalali helped the development of the field of disaster medicine at higher education institutions, but he has also put his expertise into practice by supporting communities impacted by crises. Dr. Djalali provided medical aid, health services, and education to communities impacted by floods, earthquakes, and other disasters in Iran, including the 2003 Bam earthquake. While at the Center for Research and Training in Disaster Medicine, Humanitarian Aid, and Global Health (CRIMEDIM), in Italy, Dr. Djalali dedicated his research to resilience and performance of health systems, hospitals, and medical and rescue staff, and trained hundreds of humanitarian and medical staff around the world.
Dr. Djalali was arrested in April 2016 during a trip to Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. It is strongly believed that he was targeted because of his ties to the international academic community, and the belief that he might trade his freedom in exchange for working for the Iranian intelligence service. On October 21, 2017, Dr. Djalali was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth,” based on unsubstantiated allegations that he had provided intelligence to a foreign government. Dr. Djalali was denied the right to appeal the conviction and sentence and has suffered from torture, ill-treatment, and a growing number of medical complications while in state custody.
On November 24, 2020, Iranian authorities moved Dr. Djalali to solitary confinement in preparation to carry out his death sentence. Dr. Djalali spent five nightmarish months in solitary confinement, awaiting imminent execution, until April 14, 2021, when authorities transferred him to a multiple-occupancy cell. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/26/as-iran-prepares-to-execute-ahmadreza-djalali-the-world-reacts/
For years, Dr. Djalali has been denied access to appropriate medical care for numerous health complications that worsened while he was in solitary confinement. These include leukemia, severe weight loss, chronic gastritis, low heart rate, and hypotension, gallstones, partial paralysis of the right foot, indirect inguinal hernia, hemorrhoid and fissures, low blood cell count, low levels of calcium and vitamin D, malnutrition, dyspepsia, and depression.
Authorities continue to deny Dr. Djalali access to his lawyer and his family in Iran, and from making calls to his wife and children in Sweden.

Internet Censorship 2021: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions

October 19, 2021

On October 12 I referred the report Freedom on the Net [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/12/report-freedom-on-the-net-2021/ and on 24 April to the latest RSF report [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/24/world-press-freedom-index-2021-is-out/]. Now my attention was drawn to another tool to measure internet censorship:

Nearly 60 percent of the world’s population (4.66 billion people) uses the internet. It’s our source of instant information, entertainment, news, and social interactions.

But where in the world can citizens enjoy equal and open internet access – if anywhere?

In this exploratory study, our researchers have conducted a country-by-country comparison to see which countries impose the harshest internet restrictions and where citizens can enjoy the most online freedom. This includes restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media. This year, we have also added the restriction of messaging/VoIP apps.

Although the usual culprits take the top spots, a few seemingly free countries rank surprisingly high. With ongoing restrictions and pending laws, our online freedom is at more risk than ever.

We scored each country on six criteria. Each of these is worth two points aside from messaging/VoIP apps which is worth one (this is due to many countries banning or restricting certain apps but allowing ones run by the government/telecoms providers within the country). The country receives one point if the content—torrents, pornography, news media, social media, VPNs, messaging/VoIP apps—is restricted but accessible, and two points if it is banned entirely. The higher the score, the more censorship. https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IBnNS/3/

The worst countries for internet censorship

  1. North Korea and China (11/11) – No map of online censorship would be complete without these two at the top of the list. There isn’t anything either of them doesn’t heavily censor thanks to their iron grip over the entire internet. Users are unable to use western social media, watch porn, or use torrents or VPNs*. And all of the political media published in the country is heavily censored and influenced by the government. Both also shut down messaging apps from abroad, forcing residents to use ones that have been made (and are likely controlled) within the country, e.g. WeChat in China. Not only does WeChat have no form of end-to-end encryption, the app also has backdoors that enable third parties to access messages.
  2. Iran (10/11): Iran blocks VPNs (only government-approved ones are permitted, which renders them almost useless) but doesn’t completely ban torrenting. Pornography is also banned and social media is under increasing restrictions. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked with increasing pressures to block other popular social media sites. Many messaging apps are also banned with authorities pushing domestic apps and services as an alternative. Political media is heavily censored.
  3. Belarus, Qatar, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the UAE (8/11): Turkmenistan, Belarus, and the UAE all featured in our “worst countries” breakdown in 2020.  But this year they are joined by Qatar, Syria, and Thailand. All of these countries ban pornography, have heavily censored political media, restrict social media (bans have also been seen in Turkmenistan), and restrict the use of VPNs. Thailand saw the biggest increase in censorship, including the introduction of an online porn ban which saw 190 adult websites being taken down. This included Pornhub (which featured as one of the top 20 most visited websites in the country in 2019).

https://comparite.ch/internetcensorshipmap

International abductions are becoming ‘mainstream’ human rights defenders find

July 15, 2021

Shawn Utley reports in the Madison Leader Gazette of July 14, 2021 on a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad.

A newly released Justice Department indictment charging four Iranian intelligence operatives with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist who had criticized the Iranian regime, dramatically underscores how transnational abductions are becoming the new “normal” for repressive regimes around the world, two human rights activists said Wednesday.

“It’s a horrific attempt to silence dissent,” Saudi activist Lina Alhathloul said during a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to lure Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad to a third country so she could be forcibly rendered to Iran.

Her sister, prominent women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, was abducted in Dubai in 2018 and flown to Saudi Arabia, where she was thrown in prison and tortured under the direction of a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, according to U.S. officials and the accounts from the Alhathloul family.

This is very much a moment when we see this phenomenon is becoming mainstream,” added Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House, “It’s becoming something that dozens of governments around the world use to control exiles and diaspora members. Countries do it because they can get away with it and because the consequences are not there.”

The comments came during a Freedom House-sponsored panel dedicated to the growing threat of the transnational repression trend, as detailed in a recent report and video from the group, and to the new season of Yahoo News “Conspiracy land” an eight-episode podcast that uncovered new details about the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

As was noted in the panel discussion, there are striking parallels between the Saudi plot to assassinate Khashoggi and the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Alinejad. Both targeted journalists who, after criticizing their governments, had moved to the United States to live in exile. Khashoggi had excoriated the harsh crackdowns by MBS, including the detention of Loujain Alhathloul. Alinejad had criticized the corruption and repressive measures of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images)
Jamal Khashoggi. (Getty Images)

Both plots involved extensive surveillance on U.S. soil. In Khashoggi’s case, Saudi operatives recruited spies inside Twitter to steal personal data about regime critics and later used sophisticated spyware to hack the phones of one of those critics who was in extensive contact with the Saudi journalist. In Alinejad’s case, Iranian intelligence operatives used private investigators to follow, photograph and video-record the Iranian-American journalist and members of her family in Brooklyn, according to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who on Tuesday brought the indictment against the Iranian operatives, all of whom reside in Iran..

https://wmleader.com/general-other/103482/iranian-kidnapping-plot-shows-that-transnational-abductions-are-becoming-mainstream-human-rights-activists-say/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/08/today-the-reach-of-repressive-leaders-knows-no-bounds-borders-or-country-lines/

https://freedomhouse.org/article/iran-plot-kidnap-american-writer-highlights-threat-transnational-repression

https://nltimes.nl/2021/08/14/attack-pakistani-human-rights-activist-foiled-rotterdam

UNPO: reprisals on the rise

April 22, 2021

On 20 April 2021, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has told the United Nations that “threats to participation at and cooperation with the United Nations which minority and indigenous communities are presently facing, represent not only matters of individual concern, but also raise concern about whether the United Nations itself will be able to achieve its responsibilities under Article 1 of the UN Charter to ‘respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.’”

In a submission to the United Nations Reprisals Office, the unit within the UN’s human rights infrastructure that deals with instances where UN Member States have targeted or threatened human rights defenders for their work with the United Nations, the UNPO provided information to inform an upcoming UN Secretary General report on reprisals. Sewe also my ‘old’ post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

The UNPO submission highlighted how cooperation with the United Nations is becoming increasingly difficult for minority and indigenous rights defenders given the extent of reprisals that such activists face from authoritarian states and the general closing off of space at the United Nations for these activists, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The submission included a selection of individuals cases of threats and reprisals that have occurred in the year between April 2020 and April 2021 as a result of UN-related work of people associated with members of the UNPO, noting however that there are many more such cases that the UNPO was asked not to disclose. The cases included:

  • Family members of disappeared Hmong children in Laos who have been threatened by local authorities because of a case at the UN trying to push the government to find the children;
  • A Khmer Krom activist whose efforts to seek review of his unlawful detention in Vietnam were stymied by the strong possibility that the government would increase the severity of charges against him related to his unlawful arrest;
  • A Iranian Baluch refugee in Turkey, whose family members are repeatedly interrogated and coerced by the security forces in Iran whenever he engages with the United Nations; and
  • A Khmer Krom activist who was recently arrested for doing little more than distribute the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam, a country that refuses to recognize the existence of indigenous popualtions.

The submission further highlighted that these individual cases were indicative of a broader and growing trend for UN Member States to target those who seek to engage with the UN system; a trend which is exacerbated by the failure of states in UN cost countries to adequately protect diaspora communities and other human rights defenders.