Posts Tagged ‘unlawful arrest’

Women human rights defenders in Poland under severe pressure

November 2, 2020

On 2 November 2020 ILGA Europe, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freemuse and KPH Campaign Against Homophobia issued on joint statement demanding that Poland drop unfounded charges against women rights defenders for peaceful activism

Image: Elżbieta Podleśna / Image from Amnesty International UK website

Unfounded charges of “offending religious beliefs” are being brought against three women human rights defenders in Poland for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, a coalition of six nongovernmental groups said. The first hearing in their case is scheduled for November 4, 2020, in the town of Plock. 

The Prosecutor General should drop the charges – and ensure that the three women can carry out their human rights work without harassment and reprisals by the authorities. The Polish authorities should amend their legislation in line with international and regional human rights standards and abstain from using it against activists to unduly curtail their right to freedom of expression.  

The three human rights defenders, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna – whose surnames are not being used to protect their privacy – are facing trial for “offending religious beliefs” under Article 196 of the Criminal Code (C.C.) in relation to the use of posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo symbolic of the LGBTI flag around her head and shoulders. The authorities are alleging that the three activists pasted the posters on 29 April 2019 in public places such as on portable toilets, dustbins, transformers, road signs, building walls in public areas in the city of Plock and have “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”. They now face up to two years in prison if found guilty for their peaceful activism. 

The authorities arrested and detained Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019 and in July 2020, they officially charged the three activists. 

Having, creating or distributing posters such as the ones depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo should not be a criminal offence and is protected under the right to freedom of expression.  

In its current formulation, Article 196 of the Criminal Code imposes undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression by providing overly broad discretion to the authorities to prosecute and criminalise individuals for expression that must be protected. This is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations.  

Poland is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression.  

Furthermore, in 2013, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights noted that “Restrictions on artistic freedoms based on insulting religious feelings… are incompatible with [ICCPR]”. In 2019, this was again highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression who stressed that criminalising expression that insults religious feeling limits “debate over religious ideas and… such laws [enable] governments to show preference for the ideas of one religion over those of other religions, beliefs or non-belief systems”. Freemuse is particularly concerned about the policing of artistic and creative content by the authorities in Poland and regard it as an unlawful attack on freedom of artistic expression. 

Amnesty International has previously called on the Polish authorities to repeal or amend legal provisions, such as Article 196 of the Criminal Code, that criminalises statements protected by the right to freedom of expression, for example in the report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’. Many other national and international human rights organisations have criticised provisions of the Polish Criminal Code, including Article 196, as problematic because they constitute restrictions on the right to freedom of expression not permissible under international human rights law. 

International human rights law permits states to impose certain restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression only if such restrictions are provided by law and are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the protection of certain specified public interests (national security, public order, protection of health or morals) or for the protection of the rights of others (including the right to protection against discrimination). When restricting the right to freedom of expression to protect public order or morals, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the ICCPR, observed that states must not base their restrictions on principles deriving “exclusively from a single tradition” e.g. Christianity. States may impose certain restrictions on certain forms of expression if they can demonstrate that such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to the specified purpose (that is, the measure is designed to be effective in achieving its goal, lesser measures do not suffice and without putting in jeopardy the right itself). The current formulation of Article 196 of the C.C. does not appear to pass the test of proportionality and necessity. ..

The organisations recall that everyone has a right to express themselves safely and without fear of reprisals, and that the right to freedom of expression is protected, even if  some people might find the expression to be deeply offensive (Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34 on Freedom of Expression, para. 11). In the words of the European Court of Human Rights the right to freedom of expression “is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna now face up to two years in prison if found guilty under the unfounded charges brought against them. The case against them is not unique but an example of the repeated harassment activists and human rights defenders face simply for carrying out peaceful activism in Poland, which Polish and international human rights organisations have documented and denounced at length in the last several years.  

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna stood against hate and discrimination and for years they have been fighting for a just and equal Poland. They deserve to be praised and not taken to court for their activism.  

To date, around 140,000 people have joined an international campaign urging the Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights defenders. The campaign is available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/poland-activist-elzbieta-podlesna/.    

Elżbieta is one of the courageous 14 women human rights defenders who were beaten and targeted for standing up to hate in Poland during the Independence March in 2018. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/after-two-years-justice-for-14-woman-human-rights-defenders-in-poland/]

At the time of her arrest in May 2019, she had just returned from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands with Amnesty International, where she participated in several events and advocacy meetings with activists and supporters to raise awareness about the situations of peaceful protesters and the crackdown they are facing in Poland.  

https://undocs.org/A/HRC/23/34

Amnesty International, report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur37/2147/2015/en/.

See their story at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/04/14-women-blog/.  

——

https://freemuse.org/news/poland-drop-charges-against-women-rights-defenders-ngos-call-to-drop-unfounded-charges-for-peaceful-activism/

How human-rights defender Idris Khattak went ‘missing’ in Pakistan

November 25, 2019

On 23 November 2019 Francesca Marino, in a personal blog post in the New Kerala wrote a short story “How human-rights activist Idris Khattak went ‘missing’ in Pakistan“. It reads like the scenario for a film but it is the horrible truth:

November 13, on the Islamabad-Peshawar motorway. It is around five o’clock in the afternoon, there’s a long queue at the toll plaza. The man and his driver are stuck in the queue like many others. An ordinary afternoon in an ordinary day, it seems. But there’s nothing ordinary in what’s going to happen. The moment the car stops at the toll plaza to pay the fare, a couple of guys in plain clothes approach the car forcing the two men to go out. The man and his driver are handcuffed, their faces covered with masks and they are thrown into another car. Nobody complains nobody says anything. The people at toll plaza let the car go without any payment. An ordinary afternoon, in an ordinary day. In a couple of minutes, the void replaces the space occupied by the two men. The void, an ordinary entity in today’s Pakistan. The man taken by the ‘unknown’ people in plain clothes is Idris Khattak, and is not an ordinary man. Because fighting for the rights of citizens, in Pakistan, is not an ordinary thing to do. Not anymore.

Idris had worked for Amnesty International and for Human Rights Watch on various human rights issues including, ironically, the issue of enforced disappearances in the country. His last post on Facebook, before he disappeared, was in fact on disappearances that, according to Amnesty International and other international organisations has become a common practice in Pakistan in the last few years.

Idris is an easy target. He has been an active member of left-wing politics and progressive circles since his student days and an important member of the Democratic Student Federation. Lately, he joined the National Party, serving as its General Secretary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The usual ‘unknowns’ had called him many times in the past threatening him and ‘gently advising’ him not to cross the limits in criticising the military.

A couple of days later, another lot of people in plain clothes shows up at Idris’ house. They tell the family they are children of Idris’ friends and need to take his laptop and his hard disk. They call a number Idris is on the phone, telling his family to give laptop and hard disks to the guys. Just this and the call is cut.

Meanwhile, after three days, the driver reappeared. He is shaken and terrified. He has been kept for three days in a basement, with his warden telling him he was clear and would be released soon. During those three days, he never saw Idris and has no idea of what happened to him.

An FIR and a habeas corpus have been filed in Peshawar High Court by Latif Afridi Advocate, but unfortunately is not going to make any difference. The rule of law, in this case like in many other cases before Idris, counts nothing.
 Reading from the latest Amnesty Report “The groups and individuals targeted in enforced disappearances in Pakistan include people from Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun ethnicities, the Shia community, political activists, human rights defenders, members and supporters of religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organisations in Pakistan. In some cases, persons are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, and families trying to find out where they are held are denied information by the authorities. Some victims are eventually released or their whereabouts are disclosed to their families but they continue to be held in arbitrary detention including in internment camps. Those forcibly disappeared are also at risk of torture and death during captivity.”

The bloggers, who disappeared a few years ago, have been brutally tortured and still carry physical and mental symptoms related to their detention. According to Amnesty International “The disappeared are at risk of torture and even death. If they are released, the physical and psychological scars endure. Disappearances are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families, but entire societies. Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law and, if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, they constitute a crime against humanity”.

Defence of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation working for the recovery of disappeared people, laments that more than 5,000 cases of enforced disappearance have remained unresolved till date in Pakistan.
 According to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance established in 2011 under international pressure hasn’t made any significant progress. The ICJ says the practice of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is no longer restricted to conflict zones alone. “It has become a tactic for suppressing dissenting voices wherever they are present.” Adding that “The practice has now become a national phenomenon” in Naya Pakistan.

Ironically, Imran Khan had committed to criminalise the practice of enforced disappearances under his government; useless to say, nothing has been done. And to add insult to irony, the Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari has stated that the government wants to sign the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Meanwhile, the practice continues and the impunity and the arrogance of ISI and its thugs grow every day. Grows like the void, the void left where they were people once. And dreams, and hopes. The dreams and hopes to live in a civilised country, where dissent and protests are part of the democratic process and citizens have civil and human rights. An ordinary country.

https://www.newkerala.com/news/read/252635/how-human-rights-activist-idris-khattak-went-missing-in-pakistan.html

Egypt: all you can think of: widespread arrests, torture allegations, cyber attacks

October 19, 2019

On 18 October 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Egypt to immediately release scores of citizens who have been arrested in connection with recent anti-government demonstrations in several cities. Civil society groups report more than 2,000 people were detained before, during and after the protests on 20 September, which prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to express concern about reports of lack of due process. On Friday her office reported that the arrests are continuing, with a number of well-known and respected civil society figures affected, some of whom have been accused of terrorism. “Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights”, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

The abduction, arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defender and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah is another indication that Egyptian authorities are stepping up brutality against human rights defenders in a bid to ‘terrorize’ critics and opponents, said Amnesty International today. Esraa Abdelfattah was assaulted and abducted by security forces in plainclothes on 12 October. The next day she described to the Supreme State Security Prosecution how she was tortured by officers who beat her, attempted to strangle her and forced her to stand for nearly eight hours. “Esraa Abdelfattah’s account of torture, coming just days after the prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah described a similar ordeal in custody, is an alarming indication that Egypt’s authorities are stepping up their use of brutal tactics to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as his lawyer, Mohammed El-Baqer are currently being held at the Tora Maximum Security Prison, south of Cairo. Both have been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, funding terrorism, spreading false news that undermines national security and “using social media to commit publishing offices”, the UN human rights office said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/]

On 28 September the High Commissioner had already urged the “authorities to radically change their approach to any future protests’.

More than 2,000 people were detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, university professors and journalists on 20-21 September, she said. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that there no citizen in Egypt is arrested or prosecuted for carrying out legitimate activities or criticizing the Egyptian government, but for violating the law. He added that the right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Hafez stressed that the OHCHR report was based on undocumented information, which only leads to falsehoods as the allegations contained in it are based on wrong ideas, and this hasty judgment reflects a lack of professionalism. He added that any actions taken against any person is done in accordance with the law and through sound legal procedures, all carried out with transparency and clarity.

In addition on 3 October 2019 it was reported in the New York Times that a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeting Egyptian journalists, academics, lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists has been traced to Egyptian government offices, a cybersecurity firm has found. The attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails, track their locations, identify who they contacted and when, according to a report to be published Thursday by Check Point Software Technologies, one of the biggest cybersecurity companies in the world, with headquarters just south of San Francisco and in Tel Aviv.

The cyberattack began in 2016, according to the Check Point report. The number of victims is unknown but Check Point identified 33 people, mostly well-known civil society and opposition figures, who had been targeted in one part of the operation. “We discovered a list of victims that included handpicked political and social activists, high-profile journalists and members of nonprofit organizations in Egypt,” said Aseel Kayal, a Check Point analyst.

CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Update on case of MEA Laureate Mbonimpa in Burundi

May 29, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped reports that on 26 May 2014, the Bujumbura Court of First Instance refused a request for release due to unlawful arrest (Habeas Corpus) filed by human rights defender Mr Pierre Claver Mbonimpa in Burundi. Mbonimpa – Laureate of the MEA in 2007 – has been in detention since 16 May 2014 and is currently being held in the Central Prison of Mpimba. More information on Pierre Claver Mbonimpa’s case is available on http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/25956 and my previous post https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/alert-mea-laureate-2007-pierre-claver-mbonimpa-arrested-in-burundi/.

Another prominent Bahraini Human Rights Defender, Naji Fateel, arrested

May 3, 2013


Naji Fateel
Bahrain’s crackdown on human rights defenders continued today with the arrest of another prominent figure, Naji Fateel. The arrest is the latest in a string of recent events calling into question the Kingdom’s claims of reform and progress.  On 2 May 2013 at dawn, police arrested human rights defender Naji Fateel at his home in the village in north-west Bahrain. He is being held without formal charges at a location which is still unknown. Naji Fateel is a board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and a blogger who has been active in reporting human rights violations in Bahrain. The human rights defender gives daily speeches during marches in villages in which he discusses the importance of documenting violations and calls for people to form monitoring committees. Read the rest of this entry »

Venerable Luon Savath today detained and maybe defrocked as prelude to arrest in Cambodia

May 24, 2012

The 2012 nominee of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the ‘multimedia’ monk Luon Savath, was this morning ‘arrested’. In fact, senior members of the monastic community were involved in detaining him after he took photos of protesting Boeung Kak lake villagers outside Phnom Penh municipal court. As can be seen on http://youtu.be/0sG6iLwj95o, some monks, police and unidentified plain-clothed men forced him into a Land Cruiser and ushered him away from the scene as more than 60 protesters, flanked by about 100 police, called for the release of 13 Boeung Kak women who where being questioned inside. The Venerable Loun Savath was already banned from all pagodas in Phnom Penh last year by Supreme Patriarch Nun Nget. It seems that the Venerable Loun Savath was driven to Pagoda Botum, where police and officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Cults and Religion barricaded him inside, sealing off entries so even pagoda boys could not enter. According to Buddhist internal rules, a committee of monks needs to meet and express whatever they think he has done wrong, then the monk in question is supposed to be able to respond to committee.   Afterwards, the committee can decide to ‘advise’ him of ‘misconduct’ or ask ‘permission’ to defrock. With unusual and uncommon speed this has happened all within the same day!  Luon Savath was able to make one call and then his mobile phone was  cut off and no one has been able to reach him since. There is serious reason to worry and the international community should be mobilized.

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012052456374/National-news/activist-monk-loun-savath-detained.html

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