Posts Tagged ‘prisoners’

Exclusion of human rights defenders from COVID-release measures is the norm

August 6, 2020

Governments who were lauded for releasing prisoners in response to COVID-19 outbreaks have in fact excluded human rights defenders from the measures and continue to make new arrests of activists, journalists and critics.

In a new briefing, “Daring to Stand up for Human Rights in a Pandemic”, which documents attacks on human rights defenders during the pandemic, the organization highlights the hypocrisy of governments including Egypt, India, Iran and Turkey, who have left prisoners of conscience to languish in appalling conditions despite widely publicized prisoner release programmes.

“COVID-19 has been an added punishment for human rights defenders who are unjustly imprisoned, and has also been used as a pretext for further harassment, prosecution and even killings,” said Lisa Maracani, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Human Rights Defenders. “The exclusion of human rights defenders from release measures underscores the political nature of their imprisonment. In Turkey for example, journalists, lawyers, activists and opposition politicians held in pre-trial detention on baseless charges remain behind bars despite government measures that have seen over 100,000 people released since April. It is plain to see that the Turkish government still fears criticism more than the pandemic.”

The new briefing documents attacks on human rights defenders during the COVID-19 period in 46 countries, and shows how “fake news” laws, movement restrictions, reduced police protection and heightened intolerance to criticism have led to new crackdowns around the world, including against whistle-blowers in the health sector and those highlighting inadequate responses to the pandemic.

Amnesty International has identified 131 people who speak up for human rights globally who have been harassed, prosecuted, killed or imprisoned on COVID-19-related pretexts – this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

On 25 March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, several countries excluded human rights defenders from decongestion measures in prisons and other places of detention. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/30/virutal-human-rights-council-adopts-presidents-statement-on-implications-of-covid-19/]

In India, for example, many students and activists who had participated in peaceful protests against India’s discriminatory citizenship law continue to be unjustly detained.

In Egypt, the government failed to release human rights defenders detained solely for expressing their views, as well as thousands of other pre-trial detainees, many of whom are facing overly vague “terrorism”- related charges amid concerns over breaches of due process.

In Turkey, decongestion measures have explicitly excluded those who are held in pre-trial detention, and those who are on remand for or have been convicted of offences under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws. They include political and human rights activists, journalists, academics, and others who have spoken out against the government.

In Iran, authorities announced that they had temporarily released 85,000 prisoners but many human rights defenders continue to be held on politically motivated charges in appalling conditions.

They include Narges Mohammadi, a human rights defender who suffers from serious pre-existing health conditions and is showing suspected COVID-19 symptoms. The authorities continue to deny Narges Mohammadi health care in prison, and refuse to inform her of the results of a COVID-19 test taken on 8 July. Note that today (6 Augusrt 2020) th Voice of America reported: “in a written message sent to VOA Persian on Tuesday, Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, living in exile in Paris, said the dangerous phase of his wife’s illness had passed. Rahmani said his wife had been at risk of serious health complications if the illness had spread to her lungs, which already had been hobbled by a preexisting disease.”[https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/voa-news-iran/jailed-iranian-journalist-mohammadi-out-danger-coronavirus-husband-says]

Amid the crisis, Iranian authorities have also continued to arbitrarily arrest and imprison human rights defenders. In other countries where prisons are already severely overcrowded, governments have continued to arrest human rights defenders on trumped-up charges, exacerbating the problem and putting more people at risk.  In Azerbaijan for example, the government has mounted a new wave of arrests and prosecutions of dozens of political activists, journalists and human rights defenders, often in response to their criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Among those arrested are opposition activist Tofig Yagublu on bogus charges of hooliganism, and human rights defender Elchin Mammad, who was arrested on theft charges days after he published a report on the human rights situation in the country.

New arrests of human rights defenders have also been reported in Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Zimbabwe and Angola, among others.

“International cooperation must also include pressuring governments to release people who are in prison simply for peacefully exercising their human rights, and who are now at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.” said AI/

In Honduras, the most serious recent incident includes the possible forced disappearance of five young men, four of whom are activists with the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH). They were taken from their homes on 18 July by men wearing police uniforms and have not been seen since.

In Colombia, civil society organization INDEPAZ has reported 166 killings during the first six months of 2020. Among them was Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez, a women’s rights activist killed outside her home in March. Carlota was a community leader and had been collecting foodstuffs for families in need on the day she was killed.

Now more than ever, the work of human rights defenders is essential in fighting for equal access to healthcare, food and shelter, and informing the public about the virus and ways to protect themselves. Governments who exploit this crisis to attack human rights defenders should know they are being closely watched,” said Lisa Maracani. “It is vital that governments provide effective protection to human rights defenders and ensure they are safe from those attempting to exploit the pandemic and silence them.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/attacks-on-hrds-during-pandemic-report/

Martin Ennals Award laureates rally to demand freedom for their imprisoned fellow award-winners

April 24, 2020

On 21 April 2020, – for the first time – a group of 14 former winners of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders rallied around their follow laureates lingering in jail.  They signed a joint letter to the Permanent Representatives to the UN of Bahrain, China, Iran and the United Arab Emirates:

Your Excellencies:

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, we the undersigned, winners of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, are calling for the release of all imprisoned human rights defenders around the world, who are at tremendous risk due to the virus. We add our voices to the calls of international leaders, of hundreds of civil society organizations and thousands of mobilized citizens, to grant clemency towards vulnerable prisoners during this health crisis, including our fellow award-winners who are imprisoned for their defense of human rights in four countries:

…..

Today we are deeply concerned about the continued imprisonment of defenders across the world, despite their exposure to and high risk of contracting COVID-19. Numerous health authorities and human rights organisations have denounced the risks of COVID-19 for prisoners held in crowded conditions. …[ See e.g. also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/23/civicus-and-600-ngos-dont-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19/; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/14/un-guidelines-for-use-of-emergency-powers-in-time-of-covid-19-pandemic/%5D

Despite the tragedy of lives lost and significant economic damage, we believe this crisis will also present opportunities for a better world. Now is the time to remedy the unjust detention of these individuals. By releasing our brothers and sisters – Ilham, Ahmed, Nabeel, Abdullah, and Nasrin – the leaders of your nations would demonstrate their capacity for mercy and responsibility. We therefore call on your government to free our fellow Martin Ennals Award winners immediately, as well as all human rights defenders in detainment, so that their physical integrity is ensured, and they can receive appropriate medical and psychological support.

 Signed:

Huda al-Sarari
Yemen, Laureate 2020

Norma Librada Ledezma
Mexico, Finalist 2020

Sizani Ngubane
South Africa, Finalist 2020

Abdul Aziz Mohamat
Sudan, Laureate 2019

Eren Keskin
Turkey, Finalist 2019

Marino Córdoba
Colombia, Finalist 2019

Mohamed Zaree
Egypt, Laureate 2017

Karla Avelar
El Salvador, Finalist 2017

Asmaou Diallo
Guinea, Finalist 2015

Adilur Rahman Khan
Bangladesh, Finalist 2014

Mona Seif
Egypt, Finalist 2013

Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Finalist 2012

Arnold Tsunga
Zimbabwe, Laureate 2006

Clement Nwankwo
Nigeria, Laureate 1996

—-

https://www.martinennalsaward.org/the-mea-winners-are-calling-for-the-release-of-imprisoned-hrd-including-their-fellow-award-winner/

CIVICUS and 600 NGOs: “don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19”

April 23, 2020

Six hundred NGOs signed a statement saying “We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19“:

As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

All responses to COVID-19 must be deeply rooted in these cross-cutting principles: respect of human dignity, independence and autonomy of the person, non-discrimination and equality, and respect of diversities and inclusion. Any response must comply with international standards on emergency legislation and respect human rights and the rule of law. Extraordinary measures are legitimate only under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is an immediate threat to public health. These measures should be used in a necessary and proportionate manner and should be aligned to international human rights law.

To date, there are over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The next few weeks are crucial as measures put in place by states will determine the course of the pandemic. Resources will come under severe strain and there may be more shortages of personnel and protective equipment which will put countries under immense pressure. More cases may be reported which will lead to stricter measures being implemented by some states. Despite the challenges faced by governments across the globe, responses to the pandemic should not be used as a pretext to restrict civic space.

We are particularly concerned by states that are abusing emergency powers to place restrictions on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the right to access information. Across the globe, journalists, human rights defenders and other independent voices are threatened and punished for speaking out about the extent of the pandemic in their countries, or the measures adopted in response to COVID-19. These countries include Tajikistan, Niger, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Bangladesh and China. Other governments are adopting legislative measures to curtail fundamental freedoms, such as in Hungary, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Philippines. Some states are abusing their powers to suppress peaceful assemblies, including in Hong Kong.

Governments including India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, have enforced internet restrictions and shutdowns which prevent many people from accessing vital information about how to protect themselves against the virus. These restrictions also negatively affect the growing number of people who are working remotely so that they can practice physical separation.

Access to information is critical in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Governments must proactively share key information about the pandemic as soon as it is available, such as important decisions, the number of cases, availability of equipment and supplies, and clear advice. Information should be widely available to everyone, not just selected government officials or other intermediaries, as is the case in Uzbekistan. This ensures that individuals, communities and health workers can react quickly and responsibly to new information.

Migrants in detention centers, for example in Mexico and Greece, are living in dire conditions without access to adequate hygiene facilities. It is also impossible for them to practice physical distancing due to overcrowding. All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since 1 March 2020 have been denied access to asylum. We commend states such as Portugal which have temporarily lifted restrictions on asylum seekers with pending applications. This ensures they have access to healthcare and social security in line with the rest of the population.

Women and children who experience or are at risk of domestic violence may be forced to remain in dangerous situations with an abusive partner or relative. At the same time, access to places of safety and support services may be reduced as shelters are impacted by public health measures and criminal justice resources are diverted.

We are concerned by governments confining persons with disabilities within institutions in several countries including France. This contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it places persons with disabilities at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

We are concerned by governments that have imposed restrictions leading to human rights violations against LGBT+ persons, including in Peru, Uganda, and Colombia. Governments need to ensure that their policies are inclusive and that all public officials are trained on LGBT+ rights.

Several countries have released prisoners as part of their response to curb the spread of the pandemic. These actions are commendable as congested detention facilities and prisons are high risk areas. We urge countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, India, and the UAE to include human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and prisoners of conscience among those being released.

We are further concerned by the growing practice of monitoring and closely controlling people’s movements, even at the cost of their privacy. Efforts to contain the virus must not be used to expand systems of invasive digital surveillance. Israel and Taiwan are notable examples of how technological surveillance is being used in this context, and how disproportionate the impact of such measures may be when they are not strictly defined and limited.

The unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 present an opportunity for states and civil society organisations to work together to defeat the virus.

We urge states to be transparent and accountable: this will ensure that any measures adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be effective. Specifically, we urge states to:

    1. Ensure all measures adopted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic fully comply with states’ international human rights obligations, and that any associated restrictions on human rights are necessary, proportionate, inclusive and time-limited. Also maintain regular contact with civil society to ensure that new measures are in line with international standards.
    2. Ensure that COVID-19 is not used as a pretext for imposing unjustified restrictions on civil society; it must not be used to target human rights defenders and journalists, and to facilitate authoritarian power grabs.
    3. Ensure the pandemic is not used as an excuse to impose forced returns or refoulement in violation of international human rights law; or as a pretext to suspend or derogate from the fundamental right to seek asylum.
    4. Ensure that the independent judiciary, and not other branches of government, decides on any measures limiting the access and operation of courts. Allow independent courts to evaluate any unlawful imposition or unjustified extension of emergency measures, or the unlawful curtailment of the rule of law.
    5. Ensure that judiciaries and other relevant state authorities give particular consideration to urgent cases, where delay is most likely to cause irreparable harm, or where protective measures are required. This refers to: migrants (including asylum-seekers and refugees as well as internal migrants), women and children, LGBT+ communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.
    6. Release detainees; immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. This will ease pressure on the prison system and reduce the chance of the prison population, and the population more broadly, of contracting COVID-19.
    7. Pay special attention to traditionally marginalised or vulnerable groups and ensure access to appropriate support, resources and protection mechanisms. Be aware of any issues relating to stigmatisation, exclusion, violence, hatred, labelling and the targeting of victims of COVID-19.
    8. Ensure that no one is left behind in the national policies and strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure policies are inclusive and effectively protect against discrimination on any ground. Consider persons with a disability and make sure all information is delivered in accessible formats.
    9. Apply a gender perspective in all policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    10. Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet so that all have the right to access and share information. End all unjustified interference with internet connectivity.
    11. Protect the role of independent media outlets and public interest journalism. Ensure that measures to contain the virus, as well as the fight against disinformation, are not used as a pretext to muzzle the media or regulate media freedoms.
    12. Ensure any use of surveillance to track the spread of coronavirus is limited in purpose and time and abides by human rights safeguards. States should adhere to the rights of free expression, privacy, non-discrimination, confidentiality and protection of journalist sources.

To see the NGOs that have endorsed, follow the link below:

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See also:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/10/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-civicus-protocol/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4379-civil-society-s-call-to-states-we-are-in-this-together-don-t-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19

https://www.newsweek.com/governments-accused-using-pandemic-threaten-human-rights-1499469

Policy response by Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: WOLA

April 14, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I am giving some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America), as published in Reliefweb of 13 April 2020.

In the midst of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America, saving lives and reducing community transmission of the disease should be the number one priority of governments, international organizations, the business community, and civil society groups. Addressing the virus will require decisive public health interventions grounded in the best available public health recommendations. At the same time, the pandemic is having serious consequences for democracy, equality, and human rights in Latin America. Actions that are taken by governments today will have long-term impact.

Over the years, WOLA has worked with civil society partners in the aftermath of disasters, both natural and man-made. Though this pandemic is unprecedented, the lessons we’ve drawn from those experiences are clear: we cannot wait until the pandemic passes to investigate challenges to human rights, raise questions, and hold governments accountable. Some public health interventions will include infringements on key rights, like restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly. Those should be time-limited and legally grounded restrictions. Other interventions will require significant investment in health care, social safety nets, and community support and action. These should be transparent, equitable, and accountable.

While acting promptly and decisively, governments across the Americas need to protect key values like democracy and human rights.Upholding these values is critical to establishing the public trust and the social cooperation that will be required to combat this public health emergency and to move forward in the future. Otherwise, the fight against COVID-19 will not only lead to ineffective public health responses, but could further fuel anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies in the region.

Some challenges that WOLA will be monitoring in the Americas include:

Reinforcement of authoritarian tendencies

Many governments have appropriately invoked emergency powers to respond to the crisis—but their implementation has not been without concern. In El Salvador, over 1,200 people have been detained in “containment centers” for violating curfew orders, provoking debate among legal experts about the legality of such measures (the country’s Supreme Court ruled on April 8 that curfew violations do not justify arbitrary detentions by the police and military). In Honduras, the president issued a decree temporarily restricting freedom of speech rights as guaranteed in the nation’s constitution, asserting this was necessary to combat the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic; the move received strong criticism from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations. In Venezuela, the de facto Maduro government has sought to silence criticism of its response to the pandemic, harassing and detaining journalists who question official statistics.

Emergency powers need to be clearly limited; the role of legislatures and judiciaries in overseeing and reviewing the exercise of executive power should not be indefinitely suspended. These powers and roles are easy to ratchet up and hard to ratchet back down. It’s been a difficult struggle for governments and societies in the hemisphere to overcome the legacy of Cold War-era military dictatorships; backsliding needs to be avoided.

Military engagement in civilian governance

In some countries, militaries will necessarily play an important role in responding to public health emergencies given their resources, surge capacity, off-the-shelf plans, logistical capabilities, and medical facilities…….In a region still struggling to overcome a history of military dictatorships, any deployment in the current crisis must have a clear end date so that the military’s presence on the street does not become “normalized.”Whatever supporting role the armed forces may play in responding to the pandemic, the military should remain under firm civilian control.

….public health responses that need military involvement must not result in a retreat of democratic progress made over the last few decades in the region.Corruption

……The fight against corruption is a key part of restoring—or establishing—functioning democracies. In Latin America, we’ve seen a major attack on entrenched corruption in the last few years, from Peru to Mexico, and in reaction we’ve seen corrupt actors fighting to preserve their privileges and impunity in countries like Guatemala and Honduras.The need for transparency

Both to provide effective guidance to the public and to assure accountability, governments need to provide clear, consistent, and accurate information based on the best available science from health professionals about the virus and its spread. Authorities also need to be transparent about how public funds are being spent to address the crisis. Additionally, once states impose restrictions on the freedom of movement and assembly, leaders should be clear about what criteria they are using to justify implementing—and eventually lifting—these restrictions. As was highlighted in the IACHR’s resolutionon the pandemic and human rights in the Americas, governments must also refrain from restricting the work and movement of journalists and human rights defenders to provide information and document abuses that may occur in the governments’ response to COVID-19.

The spread of disinformation related to the pandemic is a particularly serious concern. Contrary to other presidents in the region, the presidents of Brazil and Nicaragua have sought to downplay the crisis and even encourage social interaction, while Mexico’s president was slow to act to promote social distancing. The situation in Brazil is particularly worrisome, with President Jair Bolsonaro disregarding all expert medical advice and defying measures taken by governors across the country, as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at an alarming rate. These actions, which contradict public health experts’ advice, present the population with damaging mixed messages about how they should respond as concerned citizens, which will worsen and prolong the severity of the pandemic….

Restrictive measures will disproportionately affect low-income workers and those in the ****informal sectors **of the economy,** which accounts for over 50 percent of employment in Latin America. Many of these measures will especially impact women, who make up a large share of the informal sector in Latin America. Governments will need to implement income supplements, food security, and strong social safety net measures to protect this population. These measures must take into account gender disparities, and the particular risks that women face; there are already reports from across the region of increases in domestic and gender based violence.

Without increased support, poverty and inequality will increase, along with political discontent and instability. Communities in Colombia, Honduras, and Bolivia have all protested in recent weeks—“the government locks us up, hunger is going to kill us,” read one protest sign in Bolivia, reported El País. In Colombia, where some 40 percent of the workforce consists of informal workers, communities across the country have taken to hanging red flags outside their homes to indicate that they are hungry.

Protecting those in the most vulnerable situations

Governments will need to prioritize protections for historically underserved populations, who traditionally have poor access to health services and live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Specifically, governments will need to ensure protections for:

Migrants and asylum seekers

Many countries have closed their borders and are limiting entries to their own citizens and legal residents. Others are taking more extreme measures and closing their borders completely. These measures will limit movement and the ability of individuals fleeing violence and persecution to seek protection abroad. The United States, for instance, has used public health as a pretext for ending the right to asylum at the border. In the last two weeks, U.S. border agents have expelled more than 6,000 migrants, including asylum seekers, without giving them a chance to seek protection.

Similarly, countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have imposed new restrictions making it difficult for Venezuelan migrants, who are fleeing dire circumstances, to gain entry and access services. Many are choosing to return home despite the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela; some of these migrants are now being confined in overcrowded “quarantine zones” with reportedly poor sanitary conditions near the border.

As governments in the region limit public services, asylum seekers waiting for a resolution of their cases will confront an even longer **period of uncertainty.** For undocumented migrants who are apprehended and detained in countries such as Mexico, they may be held in detention centers with a history of overcrowding and poor hygiene. Anti-immigrant sentiment is likely to increase in this context.

Incarcerated individuals

There are an estimated 1.6 million people behind bars in Latin America, many of whom are in pretrial detention. With prisons and detention facilities already overloaded and ill-equipped to control contagion or address COVID-19 illness, governments should urgently take measures to **ease prison congestion,** such as releasing those who are older and have underlying health issues, mothers and pregnant women, those in pretrial detention, LGTBQ+ individuals, and those who have completed much of their sentence. Moreover, governments must and refrain from measures that would result in even more people being confined in such facilities, including those detained for violating stay-at-home orders.

Afro-descendants, Indigenous, and other groups

Progress on public health requires understanding that we are all in this together. Placing blame on specific groups or excluding them from access to health care and other necessities can be a dangerous temptation for leaders seeking scapegoats or those who seek to deflect blame from their own failures. Limiting access to health care or other protections to certain categories of people is a violation of fundamental rights and will only serve to exacerbate the current crisis….

Restrictive measures as a pretext for political repression

Governments may be tempted to use restrictive measures imposed for public health reasons as a tool to repress political opponents. Even where restrictions are initially conceived in good faith, certain sectors of the population may be targeted for more aggressive controls, policing, and disproportionate punishments….Increasingly empowered nationalist leaders may face the temptation to undermine or defund international systems and conventions, processes of conflict resolution, and human rights. But now more than ever, there is a need for international cooperation during a pandemic. This is a time to strengthen institutions that promote peaceful, negotiated solutions—not only to deal with the health crisis but also to other arenas of political conflict.

…..

We will be investigating and analyzing trends. We will be making recommendations to policy makers. We will be working with partners and civil society activists throughout the region who are facing new challenges to basic freedoms. As we recognize the absolute centrality of taking strong and decisive measures to protect the health of the public, we will redouble our efforts to stand for human rights and democracy during this crisis and beyond.

View original

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/monitoring-anti-democratic-trends-and-human-rights-abuses-age-covid-19

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: RFK

April 3, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of the coming weeks. Here the one by Kerry Kennedy of

 

 

 

 

…Nearly 52 years later, it is just as imperative that we take to heart his message to “remember those who live with us,” that our societal response to the coronavirus pandemic be tethered to the same strong sense of equity and social justice of which my father spoke.

In the midst of this global pandemic, that means:

Remembering the most vulnerable—those without a stable or permanent home, those with disabilities, and those without a safety net who have no ability to work from the shelter of their homes or take time off, by ensuring that everyone has access to adequate, affordable healthcare. Those of us who can afford to stock our pantries with reserves must not hoard, instead ensuring that local food depositories and soup kitchens are sufficiently funded and supplied.

Remembering the prisoners—who are unable to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of illness. At Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, we echo the increasing calls to release people being detained pretrial and in immigration detention, starting with the most vulnerable, to ease spread of the virus in crowded, unjust lockups. Jail and immigration detention should never equate to death sentences, and we hope that the current public health crisis will help us see with new eyes how these systems of mass human caging are and have always been so incredibly cruel, dangerous, violent, and unnecessary.

Remembering the truth tellers—as national governments increasingly declare states of emergency to bolster their responses to the pandemic and save lives, we must keep a watchful eye, given the rise of authoritarianism, to ensure that civic space is protected. Governments around the world have made a practice of using such states of emergency to curtail the legitimate activity of human rights defenders. These actions, such as China’s mandate that citizens carry cell phones so they can be constantly tracked, followed by Israel’s announcement that its citizens must do the same, must comply with international law mandating timeliness and sunset clauses, proportionality and nondiscrimination.

Remembering the first responders—our public health officials, the workers stocking the shelves of our grocery stores, and all others who are ensuring that our basic needs are met are putting their lives on the line. The government must do its utmost to make sure that these human rights defenders are armed with necessary resources and protections, including economic security, to stem the outbreak and stay safe.

International human rights law offers us a blueprint for action, reminding us that all citizens of the world have inalienable rights—no matter their race, gender, background, income level, or sexual orientation.

….We are all facing this unprecedented crisis together.see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/27/covid-19-spread-leads-to-reactions-and-messages-of-solidarity/

https://rfkhumanrights.org/news/coronavirus-statement

Corona virus threatens human rights defenders in detention: Egypt and Turkey

March 20, 2020

Human rights defenders are often kept in detention and that is bad enough, but with the Covid-19 pandemic this risks killing many of them. Overcrowded prison conditions are such that infection is bound to occur. Following a request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Tehran released 85,000 prisoners, including many political prisoners, in an attempt to help stop the spread of the virus. China, Italy and Bahrain also have released prisoners over coronavirus concerns.

Now a coalition of human rights groups, activists, and politicians, including former Tunisian President Moncef Marzuki, sent a letter to UN Secretary and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging the prisoner releases after the first case among prisoners was confirmed in Egypt. …..”Even more worrying in this time of pandemic, prisoners are crammed in cells that are so small that they have to wait for their turns to lay down and sleep,” the letter read.

Coronavirus: Egypt detains novelist Ahdaf Soueif for demanding prisoners’ release

On Wednesday the Egyptian government’s reaction was – surprise, surprise – to detain four activists who staged a protest calling for the release of prisoners in the country. The writer Ahdaf Soueif protested in front of the cabinet building in Cairo, alongside academic Rabab al-Mahdi, Soueif’s sister and academic Leila Soueif, and her niece, activist Mona Seif. Mona Seif live streamed the protest on Facebook, recording a confrontation with police officers who reportedly asked them to stop and “discuss the matter” at a police station…..On 19 March the Middle East Eye reported that Laila Soueif remained in custody late on Wednesday but the three others were freed. This comes as Egyptian prosecutors on Thursday ordered the release of 15 political dissidents, including a prominent academic arrested as part of a crackdown on nationwide protests in September. Mona Seif, Laila Soueif’s daughter, is the sister of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a left-wing activist currently in pre-trial detention.

President Erdoğan’s government in Turkey has rejected calls from human rights organizations to release inmates from two overcrowded prisons despite detection in those facilities of the coronavirus, which has caused the death of more than 8,000 people around the world. A purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners…On Wednesday Erdoğan announced a number of measures to battle the spread of the coronavirus following an emergency meeting convened to coordinate the fight. Yet the release of prisoners was not among the measures disclosed by the Turkish president.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament and one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders, revealed how he received news from Edirne Prison that three prison guards tested positive there for COVID-19, as a result of which the prison was put under quarantine. A day later, Balıkesir’s Kepsut Prision was also quarantined, Turkish media reported. “A short while ago my husband called and informed me that contamination in a cell had been detected and that they had put everyone in quarantine,” the wife of an inmate told reporters. On March 16 Gergerlioğlu launched a campaign for the release of all prisoners starting with those at greatest risk and submitted a parliamentary question directed to the Ministry of Justice about health conditions in the country’s prisons.

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https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-united-nations-rights-groups-request-prisoner-release

https://pen.org/press-release/egyptian-writer-detained-for-protesting-prison-conditions-that-could-worsen-covid-19-spread/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-releases-bail-four-women-who-called-releasing-prisoners

https://ahvalnews.com/amnesty-bill/turkey-excludes-sex-offenders-early-prison-release-after-outcry-columnist-says

https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Turkey/Journalism-in-times-of-COVID19-an-update-from-Turkey-200596

 

http://bianet.org/english/law/222239-27-rights-organizations-call-on-turkey-to-release-jailed-journalists

Humberto Prado Sifontes in Venezuela falsely accused by Minister

April 10, 2013

On 8 April 2013, the Minister for the Prison Services, Ms Iris Valera, accused prominent human rights defender, Dr Humberto Prado Sifontes, of instigating violence within the country’s prisons ahead of upcoming elections on 14 April. Humberto Prado Sifontes is the Director of the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones – OVP (Venezuelan Prisons Observatory) which documents cases of violations against persons in detention in Venezuela.

At a press conference at her office,the Minister stated that on 3 April Humberto Prado Sifontes had met with the families of prisoners in the Comunidad Penitenciaria de Coro. The Minister accused the human rights defender of planning protest actions within prisons all over the country, beginning with hunger strikes before escalating to blood strikes, where prisoners self-mutilate in order to bring attention to their situation. She alleged that Dr Humberto Prado Sifontes quickly departed from the Plaza and went to the Diocesan of the Archbishop when he noticed the presence of officials from the Ministry of Prison Services who were there to investigate what was going on. She claimed to have found evidence for these plans in the notebooks of a prisoner. Minister Valera also linked the human rights defender to two unrelated incidents; one in which five women tried to smuggle grenades into the same prison, and a foiled escape attempt at the Metropolitan Prison Yare II in Caracas. Dr Humberto Prado Sifontes was in fact in Coro to participate in two conferences organised by the University of Falcón. When the families of the prisoners heard of his presence in the State, they arranged to meet him in order to give him photographic and video evidence of torture in the prison.

In 2009 Dr Humberto Prado Sifontes was the winner of the Canadian Embassy in Venezuela’s first human rights award. Front Line Defenders has previously issued appeals to protect him in his peaceful and legitimate work on behalf of prisoner’s human rights in Venezuela. Given the political climate in the run-up to elections in Venezuela, Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned that statements such as those made by the Minister could lead to reprisals against the human rights defender, up to and including physical attack.  Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped