Posts Tagged ‘torture’

Turkey’s unsuitable candidate for the UN Human Rights Committee

May 18, 2022

Abdullah Bozkurt in the Nordic Monitor of 18 May 2022 points out that Turkey is nominating an unsuitable candidate for membership on the UN Human Rights Committee.

Turkey nominates human rights abuser to UN Human Rights Committee

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has nominated a person with a poor human rights record for membership on the UN Human Rights Committee. According to UN documents Hacı Ali Açıkgül, head of the human rights department at Turkey’s Justice Ministry since 2015, was officially nominated to become one of nine new members of the Human Rights Committee.

Açıkgül, a loyalist and partisan official in the Erdoğan regime, hushed up cases of torture and abuse in Turkey’s detention and prison facilities where many people, including journalists, human rights defenders and activists, were subjected to harsh treatment.

The widespread and systematic practice of torture and abuse is approved by the Erdoğan government as part of an intimidation campaign to silence critical and independent voices in Turkey. Complaints of rights abuse fell on deaf ears, while officials who were involved in ill-treatment and torture were granted impunity.

He issued opinions to challenge complaints filed by victims with the Constitutional Court on violation of fundamental human rights and secretly and illegally coordinated with judges and prosecutors to ensure the continuous imprisonment of government critics. He defended the Erdoğan government in cases brought to the European Court of Human Rights.

Açıkgül used his position in the department not only to bury torture and abuse allegations and complaints, but also helped whitewash them when queried by organizations such as the Council of Europe.

Shocking case of refoulement from Spain

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022, Statewatch along with 13 other human rights organisations condemned the deportation from Spain to Algeria of Mohamed Benhalima, a human rights activist who faces a serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment in the North African state.

The organisations strongly condemn the deportation by Spain of Algerian activist Mohamed Benhalima, in the evening of 24 March 2022, despite the risks of torture and serious human rights violations he faces in Algeria, and therefore in blatant violation of Spain’s international obligations on non-refoulement. The authorities had been made aware, through civil society and legal appeals, that Mr Benhalima faces a high risk of torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trial in Algeria, where such violations are increasingly common against prisoners of opinion and peaceful activists.

Mohamed Benhalima is an Algerian citizen and a former Army corporal turned whistleblower, who exposed corruption among Algeria’s high-ranking military officials in 2019. He left Algeria after receiving information that his name was on a list of wanted military officials at risk of detention by the Algerian army for their participation in the Hirak, a mass pro-democracy protest movement.

He sought asylum in Spain on 18 February 2020 and again on 18 March 2022; Spain refused him asylum both times. On 14 March 2022, authorities opened an administrative file of expulsion for infringement of Art. 54.1.a. of Immigration Law 4/2000, alleging that Mr. Benhalima took part in “activities contrary to public security or which may be harmful for Spanish relationships with foreign states”.

Spanish authorities justified the opening of an expulsion file based on Mr. Benhalima’s alleged association with political opposition group Rachad, which was listed as a terrorist group by Algeria on 6 February 2022. Spanish authorities claimed that Rachad’s objective was to infiltrate radical youth into Algerian society to protest against the Algerian government, and concluded that the activist was a member of a terrorist group.

Authorities did not provide any proof of violent action or speech or any other action taken by the activist that would fall under a definition of terrorism in accordance with the definition proposed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Authorities also do not appear to have considered a context in which Algerian authorities have been increasingly levelling bogus terrorism and state security charges against peaceful activists, human rights defenders and journalists since April 2021. On 27 December 2021, UN Special Procedures warned that the definition of terrorism in the Algerian Penal Code was too imprecise and undermined fundamental rights. They stated that the procedure for registration on the national terrorist list did not comply with international human rights standards and expressed concern that it could give rise to abuse.

On 24 March around 7pm, Mr. Benhalima’s lawyers were notified of the resolution of expulsion and promptly filed a request for an interim suspensive measure at the National Court of Spain, which was rejected; however, it was revealed later that the activist was already on his way to Algeria at the time.

On 21 March 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) submitted a non-public report to the Spanish government stating that Mr. Benhalima’s asylum request should be studied thoroughly in a regular procedure and not rejected expediently, arguing that the fear of torture was credible and that Algeria’s criminalisation of peaceful opposition was internationally recognised.

On 27 March, Benhalima appeared in a video broadcasted on Ennahar TV, in which he “confesses” to the crimes of conspiracy against the state, and states that he was not treated badly in custody. However, the undersigned organisations call into question the reliability of such statements which might be the result of duress. In addition, Benhalima had himself released a video from the retention centre in Valencia, before his deportation to Algeria, in which he warns that such videos would not be genuine and would show that he “was subjected to severe torture at the hands of intelligence services.”

In January and March 2021, in Algeria, Mohamed Benhalima was sentenced in absentia to a total of 20 years in prison for charges including “participation in a terrorist group” (Article 87bis 3 of the Penal Code) and “publishing fake news undermining national unity” (Art.196 bis) among other charges. The overly broad formulation of both articles has been used by Algeria repeatedly to criminalise fundamental freedoms. In one of the verdicts, issued on 9 March 2021, the judge sentenced Benhalima to 10 years in prison for his online publications, including videos exposing corruption in the army, a form of peaceful expression, which is protected under the right to freedom of expression.

Spanish authorities additionally motivated the expulsion based on Mr. Benhalima’s close relationship with Mohamed Abdellah, another Algerian whistleblower and former member of the military, who also sought refuge in Spain in April 2019 and was forcibly returned on 21 August 2021 using Art. 54.1.a. of Law 4/2000, in similar circumstances and for the same motives.

Mohamed Abdellah, currently detained in the military prison of Blida, stated in court on 2 January 2022 that he had been subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment upon his return to Algeria, including prolonged solitary confinement in a cell with no light and physical abuse, according to a witness who attended the hearing. He was also deprived of access to a lawyer.

Despite the strong similarities between both cases providing a compelling precedent about the actual risk of torture and ill treatment of activists and whistleblowers, notably former members of the military, in Algeria, the Spanish government showed its determination to forcibly return someone where their physical and psychological integrity was not guaranteed. In doing so, Spain flouted critical international law obligations under which nobody should be returned to a country where they would be in danger of suffering torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Signatures

  • MENA Rights Group
  • Justitia Center for legal protection of human rights in Algeria
  • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Red Jurídica
  • CIHRS
  • Amnesty International
  • Irídia, Center for Human Rights
  • Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie
  • Al Karama
  • Statewatch
  • Spanish Commission for Refugees – CEAR
  • Euromed Rights
  • Alianza
  • ActionAid

https://www.statewatch.org/news/2022/march/spain-forsakes-international-obligations-in-appalling-refoulement-of-algerian-whistleblower/

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/4/6/rights-defenders-slam-spains-deportation-of-algerian-dissident

New Interpol President faces torture complaint from Ahmed Mansoor

January 19, 2022

On 18 January 2022 the Guardian reported on a legal move against Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi made by the lawyer of human rights defender Ahmed Mansour, jailed in the UAE

Maj Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was elected in November to a four-year term as head of Interpol. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/16/interpol-uae-major-general-and-chinese-public-security-official-are-not-good-candidates-for-interpol/.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for the Emirati human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansour, said he filed the complaint against al-Raisi in a Paris court under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Mansour, a laureate of the MEA, is serving a 10-year sentence in the UAE for charges of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE” and its leaders in social media posts. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A

Separately, lawyers for two Britons who had accused al-Raisi of torture filed a criminal complaint Tuesday with investigative judges of the specialised judicial unit for crimes against humanity and war crimes of the Paris Tribunal.

Al-Raisi was elected for a four-year term as Interpol president in November. He has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in torture and arbitrary detentions in the UAE.

Al-Raisi announced his trip to the Lyon headquarters in a Twitter post on Monday, saying: “with the start of the new year, I begin today my first visit to Lyon, France, as the president of Interpol”. Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock welcomed al-Raisi “on his first official visit as president” in his own Twitter post. “Al-Raisi’s presence on French territory triggers the universal jurisdiction of French courts and immunity can not be invoked,” said Rodney Dixon, a lawyer for the two Britons, Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad.

Hedges, a doctoral student, was imprisoned in the UAE for nearly seven months in 2018 on spying charges and said he had been subjected to torture and months of solitary confinement. Ahmad, a football fan, says he was tortured by the UAE security agency during the 2019 Asia Cup.

They filed a torture complaint against al-Raisi with the prosecutors of the Paris Tribunal in October. That complaint is pending, Dixon said. The criminal complaint that was filed on Tuesday directly with the judges of the tribunal – with al-Raisi on French territory – means that the French judges “should immediately open an investigation into claims against him,” Dixon said. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/17/ground-breaking-conviction-of-syrian-torturer-in-germany/

“According to French law, an open investigation could lead to al-Raisi’s detention for questioning while he is on French territory, either now or whenever he returns,” Dixon said.

It was not clear how long al-Raisi would remain in Lyon. Interpol officials did not respond to phone calls or emails by the Associated Press asking about his whereabouts on Tuesday.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/18/torture-complaint-filed-against-new-president-of-interpol

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/

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, i

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

Post 9/11: where did ‘human rights’ go?

September 8, 2021

LUNCH BRIEFING 9/11 Twenty Years On
Tuesday 28 September, 12:30-13:30
Auditorium A1A, Maison de la paix, Geneva, and online

Two full decades have elapsed since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of these events, the world has entered a period characterised by a number of dynamics, which have persisted and shaped significantly the configuration of the global order. What is the nature of these transformations, notably the militarisation of international relations, the securitisation of social affairs, the rise of cultural and religious tensions and the crisis of democracy? Has the post-COVID-19 moment in turn ushered the end of the post-11 September world? Ultimately, what historical meaning can we ascribe to legacy of ‘9/11’?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Professor of International History and Politics, and Chair of the Department of International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute. Previously the Associate Director of the Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, he is the author of a trilogy on the post-11 September era and recipient of the 2021 International Studies Association (ISA) Global South Distinguished Scholar Award.

The Lunch Briefing will be moderated by Julie Billaud, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology.

On cue Imogen Foulkes wrote on 7 September 2021 a post for Swissinfo “When the world became a ‘human rights free zone’ September 11, 2001″.

No one will forget the shock of that day. It’s hard even now, two decades later, to describe how it felt to watch something so unimaginable, so horrific. When I returned to my newsroom that evening, a colleague said to me “well, Imogen, that’s it, our world has changed forever”. I was still so focused on the immediate event that I didn’t quite understand him, and it took me a while to realise how right he was.

Our world did change forever that day; from smaller inconveniences around how we travel, to fears over how safe we are, to prejudices and intolerance towards groups perceived as a threat, to sweeping changes in security laws.

In the latest episode of our Inside Geneva podcast, we look at those changes, and the consequences, in particular for human rights. Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organisation Against Torture, tells me: “I want my government to fight terrorism. I want those who did 9/11 or whatever terrorist attacks to be brought to justice.” But he also regrets the fact that the 9/11 attacks, which he describes as “a denial of the very values of human rights”, led to – in his view – “another attack on human rights, through counterterrorism”. 

Looking back now, with all the knowledge we have of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and so on, it is quite hard to remember that in the first months and even years after 9/11, none of us, not even human rights defenders, were quite aware of how the “war on terror” was being fought.

Once that war was being conducted in earnest in Afghanistan, I remember getting a hint, off the record, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who told me that they were aware of detainees being transferred from Bagram airbase, but had no idea where they were being taken. It is the ICRC’s role, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit those detained during conflict, a role which was, for a while at least, impossible to fulfil.

Fionnuala ní Aoláin, currently UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also joins us on the podcast. Her position, she points out, was not created until five years after 9/11, and, she says “in that absence lies the story of a human rights free zone”, during which “the United States moved to engage in practices of torture, of rendition, or the establishment of a black hole where people were held arbitrarily”. 

Governments have argued that extraordinary measures are necessary to counter extraordinary threats. Certainly no political leader wants a 9/11 type attack on his or her watch. And, many opinion polls show, the public are prepared to compromise some fundamental human rights standards in the name of defeating terrorism.

A 2016 study by the ICRC found that, among millennials in industrialised countries, many agreed that torture was justified if it led to information that could save lives. Strikingly, among young people living in conflict zones, or under repressive regimes, a large majority remained opposed to torture.

This shift in opinion is a concern for ní Aoláin, who points out that some governments have taken to justifying increasingly repressive laws in the name of the war on terror. “Right now, in…Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, we see governments saying that human rights defenders are terrorists, that eco warriors are terrorists, that women’s rights defenders are terrorists.”

Interestingly, ní Aoláin comes from Belfast. She grew up with terror attacks, and counterterrorism measures. She believes that “actually it is counterproductive to security to violate human rights”, a point of view Staberock agrees with. He remembers research done in Northern Ireland in which senior security officers admitted that preventive detention had been a disaster, not just from a human rights perspective, but from a security perspective because “it made the cause much broader, it made the problem much bigger…by victimising people, you weaken the cause”.

Both ní Aoláin and Staberock believe the term “terrorist” is too widely used, and that it can become a convenient slogan for governments to introduce all sorts of legislation which would otherwise not easily be justifiable.

Staberock argues that “the best answer to terrorism is to demask it as killings. Not allow it to hide behind ideology. Demask it in an ordinary criminal process, bring people to justice, punish them, stick to your rules”.

The first shots in the war on terror were fired, 20 years ago, in Afghanistan. Today, in that same country, we are watching a humanitarian and foreign policy disaster unfold. As western diplomats made a panicked dash for the airport, they left millions of Afghans to live, again, under the Taliban, the very “terrorist” group the US and its allies entered Afghanistan to defeat.

So have we learned anything from the last 20 years? Do listen to Inside Geneva to find out more, but I’ll leave you with these final thoughts from ní Aoláin.

“We appear not to have learnt any lessons,” she says. “What we appear to be doing is betraying civil society, leaving women, human rights defenders and girls…when we conveniently decide that we’ve had enough and it’s time for us to leave.”

But, as a human rights defender herself, she is not deterred: “If you fight for human rights you’re always pushing big rocks up mountains, and you watch them fall down, and you push the same rocks up the mountain again. I think those of who work on human rights in the context of counterterrorism are looking at an enormous big rock.”

http://view.com.graduateinstitute.ch/?qs=03593ae72d465f424c62524fcb3b0674a1400adcb8708ad99947e5c2a73185ef84f12eb7b35f47251d236364d73d73396f7f3d03e7c28892b24b62800c3fbf2a0ccfc7e543a7d5d02fcd6e2c5427714a082f2ab63c8151e4

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/response-to-9-11—counterterrorism-attack-on-human-rights/46906238

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/09/blacklisting-terrorist-groups-911-wars

Human rights experts urge Governments to protect those who help torture victims

June 28, 2021

Victims of torture have the right to rehabilitation and those who help them in this process must be allowed to carry out their work without reprisals UN human rights experts* said in a statement on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. Rehabilitation includes adequate medical psychological, social and other relevant specialized treatment.

People who have endured the ordeal of torture and its long-term consequences have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including as full as possible rehabilitation,” the experts said. “The Convention against Torture provides these remedies in order to award fair and adequate compensation for the blatant human rights violations and to restore dignity.”

It is particularly important that governments respect and uphold the right to redress,” they said. “They must pay particular attention to ensuring that medical and other professionals involved in the treatment of victims of torture, as well as civil society organizations and human right defenders can carry out the vital work of documenting torture and supporting the rehabilitation of victims, unfettered by restrictions and reprisals.”

They said the level of reprisals against civil society organisations remains high, while all-too-often torturers enjoy impunity. Not only do governments deny that they practice torture, they refuse to prosecute perpetrators and use intimidation and reprisals against civil society organizations, human rights defenders, whistleblowers and journalists in order to deter them from speaking out and obtaining compensation for victims, the experts said.

The UN experts warned in 2012 that victims of torture face reprisals for submitting complaints or cooperating with the UN. “Since then the trend of reported reprisals and severity against individuals and groups specifically for engaging with the UN has increased,” they said. 

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture have all adopted measures to address retaliation and reprisals against civil society organizations working to end and prevent torture and to help victims.

In 2020, the UN Secretary-General, in addition, adopted a Call to Action for Human Rights that makes civic space a priority area and issued the UN Guidance Note: Protection and Promotion of Civic Space. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/25/43rd-session-hrc-un-secretary-general-launches-call-to-action-on-human-rights/]

In their statement, the experts say civic space is vital in preventing and combatting torture and safeguarding the rights of victims of torture and ill-treatment.

“We urge States to uphold the absolute and universal prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to enable a conducive environment for redress and rehabilitation for victims of torture, and for civil society to operate freely,” they said.

https://www.miragenews.com/governments-must-protect-those-who-help-torture-584261/

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2021-06/united-nations-day-torture-victims-message-guterres.html

The intriguing case of Artur Ligęska who was in prison with Ahmed Mansoor in the UAE

June 9, 2021

Mirage news of 8 June 8, 2021 tells the sad story of Artur Ligęska, a 40-year-old Polish citizen who has spoken out widely about torture and ill-treatment in Emirati prisons. He was found dead in his apartment in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 26, 2021. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch are deeply saddened by the news of his death and extend their sincere condolences to his friends and family.

Following his release from al-Sadr prison in May 2019, Artur dedicated himself to seeking justice for the abuse he and other prisoners suffered in prison, especially Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender who is on the advisory boards of GCHR and Human Rights Watch. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A]Artur was a uniquely valuable source of information on prison conditions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

He was an activist, author, and fitness expert and had recently celebrated the second anniversary of his acquittal on May 9. He had been sentenced to life in prison in the UAE following a deeply flawed trial on drug charges despite the absence of any evidence of drugs in his possession.

In a voice message to a friend at GCHR on May 9, Artur said, “My main wish for this new-life birthday is freedom for Ahmed Mansoor. I really do hope that this year will be special for him. I was thinking all day about him. I remember our last talk, and I was thinking about his wife and kids. …In the last days, Ahmed told me ‘Don’t forget about me.’

Artur said he was planning to organize a protest in The Hague soon to call for Ahmed’s release. Artur’s many actions to help Ahmed included advocacy with Polish and EU officials, providing human rights groups with information, taking part in human rights events, documentary films and TV appearances, and writing about Ahmed in his two books.

Artur first phoned GCHR staff in April 2019 to tell them that Ahmed was on a hunger strike and told them that he was worried that Ahmed might die because his health had deteriorated greatly. He told GCHR that Ahmed was being held in “terrible conditions” in a cell with no bed, no water, and no access to a shower. Ahmed today remains in a 2-by-2 meter isolation cell with no bed or mattress, serving a 10-year prison sentence for his human rights activities.

Despite suffering serious trauma after suffering abuse as a prisoner in the UAE, Artur again phoned GCHR to share the good news that human rights groups’ advocacy had been successful. Ahmed had ended his hunger strike after being allowed to phone his ill mother and to go outside to see the sun for the first time in two years. Artur sacrificed phone calls to his own family to make calls on behalf of Ahmed, referring to him as a brother.

Following his release, Artur was able to provide GCHR with more details about what he called the “medieval prison conditions” in al-Sadr prison, including periods when there was no running water despite extreme heat.

In a wide-ranging interview released by Human Rights Watch in January 2020, Artur described how he and Ahmed had become “prison mates in UAE hell.” Artur spent eight months in al-Sadr prison, in solitary confinement in a cell beside Ahmed’s. His friend suffered psychological torture from a near-total lack of human contact and access to the library, Artur said. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/22/lawlor-urges-uae-to-free-ahmed-mansoor-mohamed-al-roken-and-other-hrds/

Artur told GCHR that after he left the UAE, he had undergone surgery and therapy to treat the damage done by the rape and psychological torture that he said he was subjected to but he was recovering well and taking classes to become a journalist and human rights professional.

On April 13, 17 European Parliament members wrote to the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell to express their “deepest concern over the ongoing human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates, particularly with regards to the systematic crackdown on freedom of speech and expression and the subsequent retaliation received during detention.” The letter mentions Ahmed, and also refers to Artur, noting, “The use of torture has not been limited to Emirati nationals, as there have also been instances of EU citizens that have reported facing brutal torture at the hands of prison authorities.”

On October 22, 2020, Amnesty Westminster Bayswater and GCHR held an online event, The Prisoner and the Pen, featuring the writing, songs and poetry of prisoners who are human rights defenders and the work of writers and artists from the Middle East and North Africa region. The event, held on Ahmed ‘s birthday, included his poems. Artur read from his memoir, “The Sheikh’s Different Love,” published in 2019 in Polish. He has also written a second bestselling book in Poland, “Prison Diary.” His story is documented in a film by Hossam Meneai, Isolation Cell 32, which debuted at the Polish Film Festival in America in November. Artur also appears in an upcoming documentary about Ahmed Mansoor made by Manu Luksch.

Artur’s untimely and unexpected death comes as a great shock to those who knew him. The Dutch police are investigating the circumstances of his death.

https://www.miragenews.com/tribute-to-artur-ligeska-former-prisoner-in-uae-573024/

Belarus: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders!

March 22, 2021

On 18 March, 2021 a Joint NGO Statement on Belarus was published: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders:

The Belarusian authorities are conducting a targeted campaign of intimidation against civil society in an effort to silence all critics of the government. Following the disputed presidential election on 9 August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest the announced result. Peaceful protests continue and reprisals against protesters continue too, with frightening regularity and increasing severity. Riot police have used unlawful force, detaining thousands of people. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread. Over 33,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or voicing their dissent and an increasing number are being prosecuted under trumped up criminal charges and handed prison sentences. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d]

Human rights defenders have played an invaluable role in documenting these violations, providing legal assistance, and advising people of their rights. The Belarusian authorities are now escalating pressure on human rights defenders by imposing unfounded criminal charges, opening bogus criminal investigations, and conducting raids and searches in retaliation for these defenders’ legitimate human rights work. Some are in pre-trial detention or under house arrest and there are allegations they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have compelled lawyers for most of these activists to sign non-disclosure agreements that bar them from sharing any information about the investigation.

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

In January 2021, authorities targeted the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, and its director, Syarhei Drazdouski, and lawyer, Aleh Hrableuski, are now under house arrest and in pretrial detention, respectively. The Office is a well-respected NGO that has been supporting people with disabilities by offering them legal advice and advocating for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus visited the office and the homes of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski simultaneously (allegedly to inspect the scene of the crime). They removed computers, phones, and some documents. They also took statements from both men.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department published a message on its official website launching a process of verification into the activities of the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a part of an investigation into “possible inappropriate acquisition of funds received in the form of charitable contributions and international support in the period from 2020 to the present for the purpose of providing assistance to Belarusian citizens with disabilities”.

Siarhei Drazdouski commented in a Facebook post on 3 February:

“Allegedly we were financially supporting people accused of taking part in protest actions. In fact, we advised several victims [of human rights violations] – both people with disabilities and without – to seek help from lawyers.”

Allegations of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

On 2 February 2021, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were questioned for seven hours at the Financial Investigations Department. Their lawyers were not allowed to accompany them, and they were subjected to ill-treatment.

According to Syarhei Drazdouski, the interrogators, who did not introduce themselves, openly called him a “criminal, a fraudster, a liar and an accomplice.” While the interrogation was mostly conducted politely, several times other staff members came in and insulted and aggressively swore at him.

Aleh Hrableuski reported that, when he continued to refuse to give them the information they demanded, he was restrained, forcibly stripped naked and made to sit naked on a chair and not raise his eyes. Investigators eventually released him.

On 3 February 2021, both men were taken for questioning again, but this time Hrableuski was remanded in custody and Drazdouski was put under house arrest. Their lawyers were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, as is increasingly the practice in Belarus, and very little information is available about the charges against them.

Viasna

On 16 February 2021, the Belarusian authorities carried out raids simultaneously throughout the country on the homes of staff and offices of Human Rights Centre Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent trade union REP. The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order), which the authorities have launched to target civil society activists, journalists, and human rights monitors. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities”. (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/24/fake-letter-tries-to-discredit-viasna-in-belarus/]

Dzmitry Salauyou, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was among those whose homes were searched on 16 February. Special forces and officers from the Department for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption, a police unit also involved in the harassment of protesters, broke down the door to his flat to enter and carry out the search. They confiscated computers and telephones and demanded that his wife tell them the password for her mobile phone. They threatened that if she did not comply, she would go to prison, and their 13-year-old child would be put in state custody. Dzmitry Salauyou was detained and alleges that he was beaten by special forces in the mini-bus on the way to the pretrial detention centre. Subsequent medical reports documented head trauma consistent with being hit on the head, increased intracranial pressure, and suspected damage to cervical vertebrae.

On 18 February, he was sentenced to 12 days’ detention on administrative charges for holding an “illegal picket.” The conviction was based solely on the fact that the building in which Dzmitry Salauyou lives has a concrete frieze depicting Belarus’ historical coat of arms, Pahonia, which has been adopted as one of the symbols of the protest movement. According to the judge, the Pahonia is considered a symbol of protest and could be considered evidence of “staging a one-person picket”. Dzmitry Salauyou told the court that the frieze had been installed when the house was built about eight years ago.

On 1 March, the day following his release, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained at Minsk airport as he was trying to leave the country with his family. The Investigative Committee interrogated him at their offices as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training or other preparation of individuals to take part in group actions that gravely violate public order’), which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. He was released but is under travel restrictions. Both Dzmitry Salauyou and his lawyer were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Other Members of Viasna Accused of Criminal Offences

Marfa Rabkova, the youth coordinator of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and has been in pretrial detention ever since. On 25 September, she was charged under Article 293(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training and other preparation of people for participation in mass riots’), which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. On 11 February 2021, she was also charged under Article 130(3) of the Criminal Code, (‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group’), and under Article 285 (2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’) which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.

Andrei Chepyuk, a volunteer for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, was detained on 2 October 2020 and on 9 October he was charged under Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (participation in mass disorder). On 28 January 2021, it became known that he is also charged under Article 285(2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’). He is being held in pretrial detention centre No.1 in Minsk.

Tatsyana Lasitsa, an activist who volunteers for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Homel, was detained on 21 January. She had assisted with the legal defense of people detained and fined for their participation in protests. She has been charged under Article 342 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘organization or participation in group actions that gravely violate public order’). She is being held in the pretrial detention centre in Homel.

Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was detained on his way to the office on 18 January 2021. He has been charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (‘organizing and preparing actions that gravely violate public order or active participation in such actions’). Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of Homel region residents who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election protests. He is being held in pretrial detention in Homel. In 2019 he was awarded two prizes for his human rights work over 20 years, the French prize Freedom Equality and Brotherhood, and a National Belarusian Prize as Human Rights Defender of the Year.

We call on the Belarusian authorities:

  • To abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • To fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everybody has the right to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government bodies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • In line with these obligations, to release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Syarhei Drazdouski, and Aleh Hrableuski immediately and unconditionally as they have been detained for their legitimate human rights work, drop charges against them and ensure their right to a remedy for unfounded criminal prosecution.
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and carry out prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by Syarhei Drazdouski, Aleh Hrableuski, and Dzmitry Salauyou
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to reasonable accommodations and the right to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stage.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/joint-statement-belarus-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders

Profile in Persecution: Hasan Radhi AlBaqali

March 3, 2021

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) posted on 18 the following profile on Hasan Radhi AlBaqali who was a 28-year-old security personnel at a private company when he was arrested by Omani authorities on 22 February 2016 at Muscat Airport Oman based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. During his detention, he was subjected to torture and to several human rights violations. Recently, his health condition has been deteriorating, and he has not been provided with adequate medical care. He is currently held in Jau Prison.

At the end of 2012, Hasan left Bahrain into exile. While being in exile between 2012 and 2016, he was convicted in absentia with: 1) Disturbing the peace, 2) rioting, 3) placement of objects resembling explosive devices, 4) arson, 5) possession and fabrication of combustible or explosive materials, 6) possession of arms, 7) travelling to Iran to receive military training, and 8) membership in a terrorist cell. Consequently, he was sentenced in absentia to nearly 100 years in prison. It is believed that Hasan’s conviction was due to his peaceful participation in the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.

On 22 February 2016, airport security officers at Muscat Airport Oman arrested Hasan based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. Then, he was turned over to Bahraini security forces, who put him aboard one of their private planes, drugged him via several injections which knocked him unconscious, and flew him back to Bahrain. His personal belongings including phone, money, passport, and national ID card were taken from him en route and have not since been returned to him or his family. After arriving in Bahrain, Hasan was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) building in Adliya.

From the date of arrest till the next day, 23 February, Hasan was subject to enforced disappearance until 10 p.m. of 23 February when he was able to call his family, telling them that he was in the CID building. The family received this call after multiple attempts to reach him through the Omani Embassy and through several human rights organizations.

Hasan was interrogated for 15 days between the CID and Building 15 of Jau Prison, where he was tortured by National Security Agency (NSA) officers and CID officers in order to give a false confession. He was beaten on his head, neck, and stomach, subjected to electric shocks to his testicles, placed naked in a cold room and submerged in cold water, deprived from sleep, and threatened with his life and wife. As a result, he confessed to the charges attributed to him. During this period, Hasan’s lawyer was unable to attend the interrogations, and Hasan was unable to meet his parents. Instead, he was able to only call them four times during this entire period, where the duration of each call was less than one minute.

Hasan was prevented from attending his trial, and he was brought to court once but was forced to remain in the police vehicle outside under the pretext that there were not enough police officers present to guard him inside the courtroom. Consequently, he was convicted in November 2016 of attempting to kill a policeman, although he was outside Bahrain when this incident happened. Therefore, he was sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison. Hasan appealed his sentence, and on 2 February 2017, the Appeals Court reduced his sentence from seven years to five years. On 15 May 2018, in an unfair mass trial that involved 138 individuals, the Bahraini Fourth High Criminal Court convicted Hasan of: 1) training to the use of firearms and explosive devices for terrorist purposes, (2) possession of firearms without a license and using them for purposes contrary to safety and public order for terrorist aims, and (3) the charge of joining a terrorist group, Zulfiqar Brigades, whose purpose violates the provisions of the constitution. Consequently, he was sentenced to another 7 years in prison, in addition to the revocation of his nationality.

In November 2016, following the issuance of the seven-year sentence against him, Hasan was subjected to a second and more severe round of torture. He was beaten on his head, stomach, and waist, and he was repeatedly electroshocked on his testicles. This torture led to a severe deterioration in Hasan’s health. He suffered from loss of focus due to frequent head injuries, severe injury to his testicles as he began to urinate blood, and chronic abdominal pain.

At that point, the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PPO) ordered that he be examined at Salmaniya hospital. The decision may have been motivated by the fact that Hasan’s sister filed complaints with both the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit. An examination at the hospital on 19 November 2016 found that he had suffered “testicular trauma,” with edematic swelling of the left testicle and epididymis to more than one third larger than the normal size. He was removed from the hospital and returned to prison before he could complete a proper course of treatment, and the family has not been given full access to his hospital records. The PPO insists that the medical records should stay under their custody and that if the family wants any medical information they should seek it through the prosecutor’s office. Throughout this second round of interrogations, Hasan was also denied access to an attorney, was not allowed to receive visits from his family, and his phone calls to family were limited to a single minute.

Recently, Hasan’s health has been deteriorating since the injuries sustained from torture were not treated properly. He was seeing blood in his urine and feces as well as feeling severe pain in his stomach, kidneys, and bladder. In light of this, in the beginning of January, he was taken to an appointment in the Military Hospital and did the PCR test ahead of a surgery for varicose in his testicles which was scheduled for the third week of January 2021. However, instead of being returned to Building 14 and placed in isolation, he was taken to solitary confinement in the isolation building, Building 15 of Jau Prison. He was not informed of the steps to be followed ahead of the surgery, leaving him with no knowledge about his situation. Additionally, he was not given any medication to ease the pain he was feeling. Finally, within the closed cell, he could not know day from night and as such could not pray. These conditions took a psychological toll on Hasan since the pain, coupled with the isolation and lack of knowledge about his fate, brought him to the point of hysteria. Furthermore, he had been prohibited from contacting his family since his transfer, therefore making him forcibly disappeared. He was only able to call them on 16 January after going on a hunger strike in order to pressure authorities to grant him the right to call. In that call, he explained to them what occurred over the last two weeks and requested that they contact governmental bodies in order to alleviate his suffering. Although the family did contact the Ombudsman Office, because they are not routinely informed about his medical situation, they could not provide all the relevant information.

Hasan’s arrest, confiscation of his belongings, torture, unfair mass trial, denial of medical treatment, and enforced disappearance violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since Hasan was arrested for political reasons and given that his conviction depended on forced false confessions, we can conclude that he is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities.

Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on Bahraini authorities to uphold their human rights obligations by investigating all allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and denial of proper medical treatment to ensure accountability. ADHRB also demands that Hasan be provided with the required medical treatment for all the injuries and health problems resulting from torture within safe and healthy conditions. ADHRB reiterates its demand for Bahraini authorities to release Hasan immediately, along with all political prisoners that were tried based on confessions taken under torture.