Posts Tagged ‘Reuters’

Canada puts its money where its mouth is: ‘human rights defenders’ to be fast tracked as refugees

July 19, 2021

On 16 July 2021 Reuters reported that Canada is establishing a dedicated refugee stream for “human rights defenders,” including journalists, who may need to seek asylum to escape persecution in their country,

The stream – the first of its kind in the world, according to the UN refugee agency – will accommodate 250 people a year, plus their families, and focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, journalists and LGBTQ2 rights advocates.

We must not overlook those who bear witness to these human tragedies, who are active through demonstration and reporting so the rest of us can be informed. But in doing so they risk persecution, arrest, torture and even death,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said on Friday in a virtual news conference from Toronto.

One example a spokesperson gave of a person eligible under this program is an activist against the regime in Belarus who had fled to Poland but needed permanent refuge.

Canada aims to resettle 36,000 refugees this year, almost four times its total of 9,200 resettled in 2020. But by the end of April, only 1,630 resettled refugees had arrived in Canada, according to government figures.

https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/28355/feds-announce-dedicated-refugee-stream-for-human-rights-defenders

https://www.reuters.com/article/canada-refugees/canada-to-welcome-human-rights-defenders-including-journalists-as-refugees-idUSL1N2OS12Q

Felix Vasquez, environmental defender, killed in front of family in Honduras

December 29, 2020

Reuters on 28 December 2020 reported that masked men armed with guns and machetes killed Felix Vasquez, a Honduran environmental rights defender, in front of his family, police said, the latest in a string of such attacks in the Central American country. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/two-more-defenders-killed-in-honduras/]

Police authorities immediately decided to initiate a corresponding investigation… we hope to have an answer soon,” police official Kevin Hernandez told journalists.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

Vasquez, a member of the indigenous Lenca community which lives in the mountainous region near the border with El Salvador, had intended to run for Congress as a member of the opposition LIBRE party in 2021 elections.

Soon after a second land defender was killed: Adan Medina, 46, of the Tolupan indigenous community, was shot and killed by a group of men on Sunday after returning from work in the town of Candelaria, according to Noe Rodriguez, the president of a local indigenous federation. [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing/second-indigenous-activist-killed-in-honduras-in-past-week-idUSKBN29423E]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing-idUSKBN2921QK

Kenyan documentary Softie shows defenders torn between family and the struggle

October 22, 2020

Katharine Houreld writes for Reuters on 21 October 2020 a very interesting piece about a documentary that puts the focus on the difficult dilemmas facing human rights defenders.

Njeri and Boniface Mwangi are activists – they protest together and are arrested together – but as the film progresses, the focus moves from whether their crusade will succeed to whether their family will implode.

Families of human rights defenders or activists … I want people to know we exist,” Njeri, a movie buff and avid motorcyclist, told Reuters at the film’s Kenya premiere this week. “Our children really struggle.”

Softie – an award-winner at the Sundance and Durban film festivals – shows the evolution of Boniface from an activist outraged by the 2007-8 election violence into a political candidate promising his new Ukweli party will change the system from within, a decade later.

His family grapple with his absence, a house permanently full of people, and death threats targeting their three young children. Njeri, fearing for their lives, eventually takes the kids to the Unites States in 2016.

In one tense on-camera exchange before his family leaves, Boniface pleads with his wife: “you need to have an ideal that you live for, that’s worth dying for.” “You think it will be better if you die?” Njeri replies sadly.

A later scene lays out the stakes. The couple’s eldest son Nate returns from his American school with something he has made for father’s day: a loving card for his mother. When filmmaker Sam Soko asks from behind the camera why there’s no message for his father, Nate shrugs.

Moments like that forced a reckoning, said Boniface, who appeared with his family at the premiere, all in matching purple outfits. Now he’s building his party, taking a rest from protests and spending time making meals for his family. He’s finally realised he can’t – and shouldn’t – try to change everything himself.

Change is not an event… it’s not a popcorn that pops in a microwave,” he told Reuters. “It’s a very slow painful marathon – and then the marathon doesn’t end.”

The film started out as a five-minute Youtube clip about organising a protest, said Soko, who is an activist himself. It sprawled into a seven year project, now streaming on PBS in the United States and Britain’s BBC.

It’s essentially still an activist manual,” he said. “But a different kind of manual … (about) what it means to love.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-film/kenyan-documentary-spotlights-activist-torn-between-family-and-the-struggle-idUSKBN2761FY

UN Rapporteur and Amnesty seek freedom for those “punished for daring to drive.”

July 9, 2020

On 9 june 2020 Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged member states to pressure Saudi Arabia to free women activists before a G20 nations summit which Riyadh will be hosting in November. At least a dozen prominent women’s rights activists were arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2018 as it lifted a ban on women driving cars, a step that many of the detainees had long campaigned for. The women were rounded up as part of a broader crackdown on dissent that extended to clerics and intellectuals.

Several of the arrested women have alleged torture and sexual assault in detention. Saudi officials deny this and said the detainees were suspected of having harmed Saudi interests and offered support to hostile elements abroad.

Some of the activists are now on trial, but few charges have been made public. Charges against at least some of the activists relate to contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and human rights groups. Their prosecution has drawn global criticism, particularly following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. (as Rapporteur Agnes Callamard also dealt with Khashoggi’s killing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/the-unsatisfactory-end-to-the-khashoggi-investigation/)

The families of some of the activists, included Loujain al-Hathloul, raised concerns earlier this year when they were unable to contact their detained relatives in prison for several weeks. Contact was eventually restored. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/07/lina-al-hathloul-speaks-out-for-her-sister-loujain-imprisoned-in-saudi-arabia/].

Earlier Amnesty International had called on Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately release women human rights activists, including those who are “being punished for daring to drive.“…. Amnesty UK has launched a “Beep for freedom” campaign in support of the persecuted women’s rights defenders. The campaign involves supporters sharing photos of themselves behind the wheel of a car or sharing the campaign’s “Beep For Freedom” car horn symbol, with an appeal to the Saudi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release the activists and drop all charges against them.

https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2020/Jul-09/508775-un-investigator-calls-on-saudi-arabia-to-free-female-activists.ashx

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/amnesty-intl-urges-sarabia-to-release-female-activists/1889626

Controversial U.N.decision to hold conference on torture in Egypt

August 20, 2019

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will co-host the regional conference with the government’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on 4-5 September. Some 80 participants, both government and non-governmental, from 19 Arab countries are expected to attend. U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville, who in February had said torture was endemic in Egypt, told Reuters: “It is a fairly standard type of event.”…

Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the idea of Egypt hosting such an event was a joke. “More ironic is that this is through the National Council (for Human Rights), the role of which is to always polish the government’s image and complicity in the human rights situation,” he said. NHCR president Mohamed Fayek will give a welcome address at the conference’s opening ceremony, according to an agenda seen by Reuters….In 2017, Egypt raided and shut down the Nadeem Center, which documented alleged human rights abuses and treated torture victims.

In the meantime on 19 August 2019 the NGO EuroMed Rights announced that it has declined the invitation and in an open letter addressed to UN High Commissioner, Ms Michelle Bachelet, EuroMed Rights expresses its deep reservations about the decision to hold this conference in Egypt, a country where torture is systematically practised by the security forces, and in collaboration with the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which acts under the auspices of the government. The letter recalls that detainees and prisoners in Egypt are frequently subjected to abuses which amount to torture, including electric shocks, beatings, suspension by limbs and rape. Read full letter here

https://kfgo.com/news/articles/2019/aug/15/rights-groups-criticize-undecision-to-hold-conference-on-torture-in-egypt/927888/

Pulitzer prizes for courageous journalists in Myanmar and Philippines

April 16, 2019

Reuters journalists in Myanmar jail receive UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Prize

April 13, 2019

Two Reuters journalists who are currently serving seven-year prison sentences in Myanmar are to be awarded the 2019 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize (for more on this and other media awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/unesco-guillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize). In the press release, president of the jury Wojciech Tochman explained the decision to honor Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, stating the choice “pays a tribute to their courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression,” and that the men “symbolize their country’s emergence after decades of isolation.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are two journalists who had been working on stories about a military crackdown and alleged human rights violations in Rakhine state in Myanmar when they were arrested. Their investigation was published by Reuters while they were awaiting trial in February 2018, and included graphic photography and detailed accounts providing evidence that state security forces were implicated in carrying out extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya at the village of Inn Din. The Myanmar government has been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya Muslims by the U.N. and various human rights organizations since 2016. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/06/50-human-rights-ngos-address-joint-letter-to-aung-san-suu-kyi-on-reuters-journalists/]

They were named as TIME’s Person of the Year last December. Earlier this month they received AI UK media awards [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/09/amnesty-uk-media-awards-sets-good-example/.]

For last year’s laureate see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/20/3-may-world-press-freedom-day-awards-for-journalists/.

The award will be presented on UNESCO’s celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Addis Ababa on 2 May.

http://time.com/5568605/myanmar-journalists-jailed-unesco-press-freedom/

3 Saudi women human rights defenders released but for how long? And what about the others?

March 28, 2019
Amnesty International urges Saudi authorities to release activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris, March 8, 2019
Protesters called for the female activists’ release at the Saudi embassy in Paris last month – copyright REUTERS

Media just reported that Saudi Arabia has temporarily released three female human rights defenders facing charges related to human rights work and contacting foreigners. Two sources told Reuters that three women had been released, and more would be freed on Sunday.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/]

Amnesty International and UK-based Saudi rights organisation, ALQST, named the women as Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Roqaya al-Mohareb. Saudi state media said the releases were only provisional. Lynn Maalouf from Amnesty welcomed the releases but said it should not be on a temporary basis. “They have been locked up, separated from their loved ones, subjected to torture and threats for simply peacefully calling for women’s rights and expressing their views,” she said.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-47731946

Iran cracks down on Nasrin Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders

March 12, 2019
Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh was charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Only yesterday I hoped that Nasrin Sotoudeh‘s invitation to the G7 would set a good precedent [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/11/does-g7-set-a-precedent-with-sotoudeh-for-inviting-human-rights-defenders/], now Reuters reports that she has been handed a new sentence that her husband said was 38 years in prison and 148 lashes! The news comes days after Iran appointed a hardline new head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, who is a protege of Ali Khamenei. The appointment is seen as weakening the political influence of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. (NOTE: Her husband clarified later that she will be serving 10 years of the 33 he had announced on his Facebook page and in an interview with Radio Farda)

In the meantime AI reports that a series of videos shared on social media in recent weeks have shed light on the daily harassment and violent attacks women in Iran face at the hands of morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the country’s forced hijab (veiling) laws. The videos show members of the public or plain-clothes morality police aggressively confronting or attacking women for defying Iran’s degrading forced hijab laws, in the name of defending “public decency”. Perpetrators of such attacks appear to be getting bolder in their assaults in response to efforts by women to film the violence they face and share the videos on social media. “The video footage that has emerged in recent weeks demonstrates the shocking levels of abuse women in Iran face on a daily basis from morality police or pro-government thugs simply for daring to defy the country’s abusive forced hijab laws,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International.  Iranian women’s rights defenders have courageously filmed these incidents as part of the My Camera My Weapon campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the constant harassment and assault that women and girls face in Iran’s streets as a result of forced hijab laws.

Amnesty added:…..The charges on which Nasrin Sotoudeh was convicted include “inciting corruption and prostitution” and “openly committing a sinful act… by appearing in public without a hijab”. Some of the activities that the authorities have cited as “evidence” against her include: opposing forced hijab; removing her headscarf during prison visits; defending women who peacefully protested against forced hijab; giving media interviews about the violent arrest and detention of women protesting against forced hijab; and placing flowers at the scene where a woman protester was violently arrested.

The UN Human Rights Council also was dealing with Iran this week: Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labour rights activists in Iran signal an increasingly severe State response to protests and strikes in the country, Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said on 12 March 2019. “Today, the people of Iran face a myriad of challenges,” he told the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Many have voiced their concern through protests, demonstrations, and strikes. People from diverse sections of society – from truck drivers to teachers to factory workers – across the country have protested.” “It is in this context of increased challenges that concerns are mounting about human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and to association in Iran,” he said, calling on the Government to release all those detained for exercising such rights. Presenting his first report to the Council, Rehman said the re-imposition of secondary sanctions by the United States of America had further increased concerns for the welfare of ordinary Iranians.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the alarming health situations of numerous imprisoned individuals such as human rights defender Arash Sadeghi [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/30/iran-shameful-sentences-for-narges-mohammadi-issa-saharkhiz-arash-sadeghi-no-detente-in-human-rights/]. Rehman also highlighted the situation of prominent woman human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was reportedly convicted last week of charges related to her work and could face a lengthy prison sentence. Other issues raised in his report include concerns regarding the right to life and to fair trial, the situation of detained foreign and dual nationals, and the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities.

Human Rights Watch commented that the Iranian judiciary’s draconian sentence for a prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was an “appalling travesty of justice“.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/11/human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-jailed-for-38-years-in-iran

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/03/iran-pro-government-vigilantes-attack-women-for-standing-up-against-forced-hijab-laws/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1903/S00091/iran-un-expert-concerned-by-crackdown-on-protests.htm

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/12/iran-decades-long-sentence-womens-rights-defender

https://en.radiofarda.com/a/jail-term-ambiguity-clarified-for-iran-rights-defender—eu-protests/29817359.html

Shawkan released in Egypt after 5 years jail for taking pictures

March 4, 2019

Reuters reports that on Monday 4 March 2019 Egypt released photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan who spent more than five years in jail after covering a 2013 sit-in that ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters. “I can’t describe how I feel … I am free,” he told Reuters by phone after being released at dawn on Monday. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-a-good-time-for-honoring-journalists/]

Shawkan was released because he had served out his term before being sentenced. But he must still spend his nights for the next five years at a police station, a penalty he said he would challenge. He vowed to continue with his work, saying: “All journalists are at risk of being arrested or killed while doing their work. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

(Shawkan was charged with belonging to a banned group and possessing firearms. He was sentenced to five years in prison last September in a mass trial which saw 75 people sentenced to death and more than 600 others to jail terms. Shawkan denied the charges against him, saying he was simply providing freelance coverage of the protest for a British-based photo agency.)

UNESCO awarded him its 2018 Cano Press Freedom Prize and said his detention was an abuse of human rights. See: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/unesco-guillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize