Governments and other organizations across the world are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on corruption and human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges, removing work licences to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are repressed and prevented from reporting freely and fairly.
In some countries such as Syria, Turkmenistan and Somalia, governments, military forces and armed groups attack and even kill journalists who are seen to be critical of their policies and practices.
Last November, Palestinian cameramen Hussam Salameh and journalist Mahmoud al-Koumi, from the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, were killed by a targeted Israeli missile strike on their car in Gaza City. Amnesty International found no evidence that either was anything other than a civilian journalist, despite claims by military authorities in Israel that both were “Hamas operatives”.
In May 2012, 18-year-old citizen journalist Abd al-Ghani Ka'ake was fatally shot by a government sniper in Syria while filming a demonstration in Aleppo. Armed opposition groups have also attacked and killed journalists.
Journalist Miguel Ángel López Velasco, his wife and their son were shot and killed at their home in Veracruz, Mexico, by unidentified gunmen in June 2011. He had previously received death threats.
Abdihared Osman Aden, from Somalia, was shot dead by unidentified men while walking to work on 19 January 2013. He is one of at least 23 journalists killed in the country since 2011.
Threat of prison
Journalists also risk being charged under legislation that criminalizes the peaceful expression of views, or with trumped-up, politically motivated charges (such as possession of drugs and fraud) to stop them from reporting is common.
On 12 March 2013, Avaz Zeynali was found guilty of bribery, extortion by threats, failure to implement a court decision and tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison in Azerbaijan. He has regularly reported on corruption and criticised the President’s clampdown on the media and activists.
In Iran, at least 18 journalists have been arrested since January 2013, accused of cooperating with "anti-revolutionary" media organizations outside Iran. Dozens of journalists and bloggers are now behind bars in Iran.
On 5 February 2013, Abdiaziz Abdnur Ibrahim was sentenced to one-year imprisonment in Mogadishu, Somalia, for insulting a national institution after interviewing a woman who reported being raped by government forces. The case was quashed in March by the Supreme Court.
In January 2012, journalists Reyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye were convicted of terrorism offences in Ethiopia. During the trial, access to lawyers was restricted, defendants were not provided with effective interpretation and evidence obtained under coercion was admitted.
Relatives of the Voice of America reporter Negar Mohammadi, from Iran, have been banned from travelling and the passport of one of them was confiscated in February 2012.
In Yemen, Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani has been under threat since early 2013 after he wrote articles about secret detention centres and torture by the First Armoured Division. Weapons were twice fired outside his home and he received anonymous phone calls asking him if he could hear the shooting.
Musa Mohammad Auwal was arrested by the State Security Services in his home in Kaduna, Nigeria, last February, held for eight days and interrogated about his news organization and the whereabouts of his Editor-in-Chief (currently in hiding in fear of his life). He was released on bail.
In countries including Cuba and China, activists and journalists find it particularly difficult to report on human rights issues because their communications can be monitored by state officials.
In March 2012, Cuban blogger and journalist Yoani Sánchez was unable to receive text messages or calls during the Pope’s visit to the country.
In China many people were sentenced to long prison terms in 2012 for posting blogs or sending information that was deemed sensitive.
In March 2013, the authorities in Saudi Arabia reportedly threatened to block access to Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Line, if these telecommunication companies do not enable their encrypted applications to be monitored.
The authorities in China temporarily blocked access to the New York Times and Bloomberg websites and banned searches for ‘New York Times’ after the news organizations exposed controversial financial details of some of China’s leaders.
In Timor-Leste Oscar Maria Salsinha and Raimundo Oki were accused of “slanderous denunciations” after publishing articles on a District Prosecutor who allegedly received a bribe in a traffic accident case that occurred on 18 October 2011.
In August 2012, Islam Affifi, editor of Egyptian newspaper El-Dostor, was brought to trial for publishing false information “insulting the President”. The trial is still continuing.
The Palestinian Authority’s security forces in the West Bank and Hamas’ Internal Security in the Gaza Strip both have a record of interrogating and harassing journalists. In March 2013, Palestinian Mamdouh Hamamreh was sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly insulting President Mahmoud Abbas. He was released after the President pardoned him.
Removing visas and work permits
In some countries, including Syria, governments deny or remove visas from foreign journalists to stop them from investigating human rights abuses while national journalists face the same risk to their work permits.
In 2011, Ayad Shabi’s permit was revoked in Syria after he failed to comply with official guidelines provided by the Ministry of Information on how to report on the protests.
Andrzej Poczobut is serving a three-year suspended prison sentence in Belarus – imposed in July 2011 – on charges of “libelling the President” for articles about prisoners of conscience in Belarus. Under the conditions of this ruling he has to register with the police regularly and cannot leave the country.
Last August a BBC journalist who had travelled to Gambia to report on a resumption of executions was held at the airport and told he had to leave the country, despite having authorization to be there.
In May 2012, Al Jazeera English closed its Beijing bureau in China after the authorities refused to renew the visa of Melissa Chan, whose stories included reports on secret jails and forced abortions.
Failure to investigate attacks against journalists
By failing to bring to justice those responsible for attacks against journalists, governments send the message that preventing reporting on what they see as sensitive issues is permitted.
One of the individuals accused of torturing journalist Nazeeha Saeed after she was arrested in Bahrain in 2011 was acquitted, despite forensic evidence of her torture. Nazeeha was detained and tortured after speaking out about the killing of a protester she witnessed at the Pearl Roundabout.
In April 2012, Idrak Abbasov and Adalet Abbasov were hospitalized in Azerbaijan after they were attacked by around 25 state employees and police. They had tried to film illegal house demolitions on the outskirts of Baku. The attack was never fully investigated.
No one has been brought to justice in Pakistan for the May 2011 abduction and killing of Saleem Shahzad. Just two days before his death Shahzad published a story on alleged al Qaeda infiltration of the military, one of the most sensitive and taboo topics in the country.
In the first two months of 2012, the authorities in Sudan suspended three newspapers using laws that allow them to ban any publication containing information considered a threat to national security.
Last September, The Standard and Daily News newspapers in Gambia were forced to close after plain-clothed men suspected to be intelligence officers, entered their offices and ordered them to suspend all activities.
In Somalia, in April 2013, the authorities in Puntland banned three radio stations in what is seen as the latest in a string of attacks on the media ahead of local elections.
Venezuelan Rayma Suprani has been receiving threats and insults via text message and social media sites. She thinks this is a coordinated attack due to her work as a political cartoonist and journalist.
Governments are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges, removing work licences to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are prevented from reporting freely and fairly.Media Node: Press Freedom At a Glance:
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Four founding members of a nascent human rights group in Saudi Arabia have been interrogated and intimidated in their attempt to get their organization off the ground, Amnesty International said.
In recent days, the four men who founded the independent Union for Human Rights in late March have been called in for questioning by the Saudi Arabian authorities and threatened with further interrogation. They remain at risk of being detained at any time.
Abdullah Modhi al-Attawi, Mohammad Aeid al-Otaibi, Abdullah Faisal al-Harbi and Mohammad Abdullah al-Otaibi have been charged with founding and publicizing an unlicensed organization as well as launching websites without authorization.
“None of the charges against these four men relates to an internationally recognizable crime, and the irony is that it was precisely because of their attempt to formally register the organization that the authorities clamped down on them,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The Saudi Arabian authorities must stop this repression, remove any arbitrary barriers to the organization’s registration and allow the activists to continue with their legitimate human rights work.”
Saudi Arabia lacks clear laws about how to establish a non-governmental organization (NGO).
On 1 April the four men formally informed the Saudi Arabian authorities about the newly formed Union for Human Rights and requested a licence. They did not hear back until they were each contacted separately and ordered to report for questioning at the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution on 28-30 April.
The NGO’s founding statement lists among its aims: “to spread and defend the culture of human rights, enforce its principles and values, and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, and “to reinforce the role of women in political participation and social activities in accordance with Islamic Sharia [law]”.
It also aims “to abolish punitive death penalties” and “to achieve its objectives by all legally and morally legitimate means by resorting to the judiciary when deemed necessary and by activating the rule of law.”
All of its founding members have a history of activism.
Mohammad Abdullah al-Otaibi is a prominent activist who was previously arrested on 1 January 2009 for participating in demonstrations against the Israeli killing of Palestinians during its “Operation Cast Lead” offensive in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
The other three are long-standing human rights and environmental activists who have also been previously detained for their activism. One of them was a security officer in a Saudi Arabian anti-terrorism unit who resigned in protest at what he considered the security forces’ inhumane practices.
Since March 2013, on behalf of the new Union for Human Rights, the four activists attended court sessions of other prominent activists and issued reports and public statements about ongoing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
Among the cases they had been monitoring and commenting on was the trial and detention of Dr Abdulkareem Yousef al-Khoder and Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, co-founders of another independent human rights NGO – the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA).
“The way the Union for Human Rights’ founders are being dealt with is particularly striking given the efforts they have made to engage constructively with the authorities and to refrain from what the government might consider provocative language,” said Luther.
“Their treatment mirrors a long-standing pattern of disdain for and intolerance of independent organizations by the Saudi Arabian authorities. We urge them once again to cease this harassment, to release prisoners of conscience, including Dr Abdulkareem Yousef al-Khoder and Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, and to allow human rights defenders to carry on with their legitimate work untrammelled.”
Four founding members of a nascent human rights group in Saudi Arabia have been interrogated and intimidated in their attempt to get their organization off the ground.Media Node: Union for Human Rights founders Story Location: Saudi Arabia 25° 26' 26.268" N, 44° 1' 59.5308" E “None of the charges against these four men relates to an internationally recognizable crime, and the irony is that it was precisely because of their attempt to formally register the organization that the authorities clamped down on them” Source: Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International Date: Wed, 01/05/2013 URL: Saudi Arabia court orders arbitrary detention of human rights defender Description: News story, 25 April 2013 URL: Saudi Arabia: 2013 promises to be a dark year for freedom of expression and of association Description: Public statement, 10 April 2013
Two men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the killing of prominent trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 should be released immediately, Amnesty International said today, on International Labour Day.
Following an unfair trial, Born Samnang, 32, and Sok Sam Oeun, 45, were sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2005 after being convicted for the murder a year earlier of Chea Vichea, the president of Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU).
After a campaign by human rights groups, the Supreme Court released the two men on bail on 31 December 2008 and ordered a retrial. But on 27 December 2012, four years after their provisional release, the Appeals Court upheld the original verdict and sent the pair back to prison, despite any new evidence being presented. They have appealed this latest decision.
“Considering the seriously flawed criminal investigation, grossly unfair trial and lack of evidence, these two men should never have been convicted in the first place,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam.
“Cambodian authorities should ensure that these two men are immediately and unconditionally released once and for all – they must be allowed to try to rebuild their lives.”
Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were originally arrested in January 2004, on suspicion of killing Chea Vichea.
Chea Vichea had been shot dead at a newspaper stand in the centre of the capital Phnom Penh earlier that month, following a series of death threats against him.
Police officers threatened and detained those providing alibis for the two suspects, and intimidated other witnesses. Born Samnang said that police beat and coerced him into making a confession - the principal evidence on which the pair were then convicted.
An investigating judge – who initially dropped the case citing a lack of evidence – was removed from his position and saw his decision overturned.
Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk had called the pair scapegoats, while former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov – now in prison himself – said that the two were innocent.
“The investigation, trial and appeals have been riddled with serious flaws that violate the fair trial rights protected in Cambodia’s Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Cambodia is a state party,” said Abbott.
“Amnesty International calls again on the Cambodian authorities to initiate a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the conduct of the case – including allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police, intimidation of witnesses and political interference with the judicial process.”
While Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun languish in prison, Chea Vichea’s real killers have never been brought to justice.
Chea Vichea had led the FTU since 1999 and was a leading advocate for workers’ rights in the country’s burgeoning garments industry.
He was a founding member of the opposition Khmer National Party, renamed the Sam Rainsy Party in 1998. While taking part in a demonstration calling for judicial reform in 1997, he was injured along with more than 100 others in a grenade attack that killed 16.
No one has ever been held accountable for that attack.
A film about Chea Vichea’s January 2004 murder – Who Killed Chea Vichea? – is banned in Cambodia, and the authorities have disrupted attempts to screen it.
Since his death, another two FTU activists have been killed in Phnom Penh and numerous other trade union members have been victims of harassment, intimidation and violence.
“Amnesty International demands again that the Cambodian authorities conduct an impartial and effective investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea, and for those responsible to be brought to justice,” said Abbott.
“Along with the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, this would also help restore some faith in Cambodia’s justice system, a goal for which Chea Vichea himself had campaigned.”
Two men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the killing of prominent trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 should be released immediately.Media Node: Chea Vichea scapegoats Twitter Tag: MayDay Story Location: Cambodia 11° 3' 32.7672" N, 105° 4' 23.6712" E “Considering the seriously flawed criminal investigation, grossly unfair trial and lack of evidence, these two men should never have been convicted in the first place” Source: Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam Date: Wed, 01/05/2013 URL: Cambodia: "Nothing to do with the murder" Description: Public statement, 1 May 2008
Recommendations in a government-backed report investigating last year's devastating violence in Myanmar fail to effectively tackle discrimination against Rohingya Muslims and could trigger more human rights abuses, Amnesty International said.
The government-appointed Rakhine Commission this week issued a briefing on its investigation into violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine state, western Myanmar, which first erupted in June 2012. The clashes have resulted in a considerable loss of life and left thousands displaced.
The Commission, which did not include any Rohingya on its panel, called on the government to “double” the presence of security forces in Rakhine state, including the Border Security Force (NaSaKa)
“There are some positive steps in this report but also several flaws. Deploying more security forces without first suspending -- pending further investigation -- those who may have been involved in human rights violations during last year's violence could fuel further abuses," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Asia Deputy Director.
"Comprehensive reform of the security forces, including the establishment of robust accountability mechanisms, adequate vetting systems and training on relevant international standards, is also essential."
Since June 2012, the NaSaKa, police and army have arbitrarily detained hundreds of men and boys, mostly from Muslim-dominated areas, and subjected many of them to torture and other ill-treatment.
There are also consistent reports that security forces have failed to protect members of the Muslim community, particularly the Rohingya minority, from attacks. In some cases, security forces have used unnecessary and excessive force that has led to deaths and injuries.
The Commission did recommend the establishment of a Truth-Finding Committee, and stressed the need to ensure that those who break the law are “prosecuted”.
“A Truth-Finding Committee is a positive step, as long as it is part of an independent investigation to determine responsibility for the violence and its findings are released to the public," said Isabelle Arradon.
"But such a commission should not bar or replace criminal justice, or reparation for crimes under international law.”
The Commission said citizenship claims by Rohingya, who are referred to in the report as "Bengali", should be addressed in a “transparent and accountable manner.”
However, it failed to call for a review of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has rendered Rohingya Muslims effectively stateless.
"Under international human rights standards no one must be left stateless. Anything short of granting the Rohingya equal access to citizenship is in itself a form of discrimination which should be urgently addressed,” said Isabelle Arradon
The Commission also called for several measures to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state, recognizing that the humanitarian response “still has several gaps”.
According to UN estimates, some 140,000 people remain displaced across Rakhine state with limited access to bare necessities like food and medical care.
Conditions are expected to worsen during the monsoon season, which starts in May, as heavy rains threaten to flood certain internally displaced person (IDP) camps.
“It is deeply concerning that humanitarian organizations still do not have unfettered access to all populations in need of aid, including those living in remote areas or unregistered camps," said Arradon.
“Immediate arrangements must be made for the displaced living in flood-prone areas to avoid a humanitarian crisis with the approaching rainy season.”
The Commission recommended that the de facto segregation of the Rakhine and Rohingya populations – enforced following the violence – should continue until tensions between the communities subside.
“While there is obviously a need to restore calm, the authorities must also consult internally displaced persons and develop a plan to facilitate their voluntary return home. Segregation and IDP camps cannot be a long-term solution,” said Isabelle Arradon.
The Commission, which was established in August 2012, comprises 27 stakeholders including Muslims, but does not feature a representative from the Rohingya community.
Recommendations in a government-backed report investigating last year's devastating violence in Myanmar fail to effectively tackle discrimination against Rohingya Muslims and could trigger more human rights abuses.Media Node: rohingya Twitter Tag: myanmar
As Sri Lanka gears up to host a meeting of Commonwealth leaders in November, testimony from torture survivors, and the absence of justice in their cases, challenge government claims to making human rights progress.
“I was burnt all over my body with cigarettes,” said Kumar. “I was also kicked all over the body. They kept me in a dark cell with no windows, where I had to sleep on the floor.”
Kumar was 16 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – an armed opposition group fighting since 1983 for an independent Tamil state – forcibly recruited him in January 2008. He was eventually captured by the Sri Lankan army in April 2009, in the last weeks of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. A child soldier, he was given no psychological treatment. Instead, he was held without charge or trial for 18 months and repeatedly tortured.
I was not allowed to contact anyone outside and never had any visitors,” he told his lawyer in May 2011. “I would hear people scream and cry every day.”
Kumar’s experience is not unique. The government won its 26-year war against the LTTE in May 2009, but the abuses that became entrenched over that period persist. The war was once used as an excuse to detain people without evidence or warrants and hold them for years. Today, criticism of government policies could earn you the same treatment.
Journalists, lawyers, grassroots activists – anyone who dares to criticise the authorities – can be picked up under arcane security laws and detained for years without access to the outside world.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act – a hangover from the 1980s – is one of the main legal tools deployed by the government to silence its critics. Under it, people can be arrested without charge or trial and held for up to 18 months under a detention order, or indefinitely pending trial. Locked in a sinister limbo and denied the right to a lawyer, they are left vulnerable to torture – despite a Constitutional ban on the practice.
In 2009, journalist JS Tissainayagam was convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour for criticizing the military’s treatment of civilians during the war. He had been in pre-trial detention since his arrest in March 2008. His conviction was based on a confession that he said was made under duress. In June 2010, he was pardoned and went into exile.
Bundled into white vans
Sometimes the authorities eschew legal avenues altogether, harassing and assaulting their critics through anonymous means. Stories of people being bundled into white vans and later dumped, or never seen again, are alarmingly frequent.
Poddala Jayantha, an outspoken critic of the government’s treatment of journalists and head of the Sri Lankan Working Journalists Association, was kidnapped from a suburban street in the capital, Colombo, by unidentified men in a white van and tortured in June 2009.
“They cut my hair and put it into my mouth, then gagged me,” recalled Poddala, speaking to us in March. “They struck both my legs, breaking one at the ankle. They used a piece of wood to smash the fingers on my right hand until they bled. They said, ‘This will stop you from writing’.”
His captors eventually let him go, saying: “‘We won't kill you now,’” said Poddala, “‘but if you organize any more demonstrations against the government, if you speak to the media, we will kill you.’”
They then dumped him in the road in what Poddala described as a “high security zone”. “There were checkpoints everywhere,” he added. “Who gave permission for this vehicle to go without being stopped?”
Some weeks before his ordeal, Poddala and a fellow journalist were summoned to a meeting with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. “He was sitting in front of us,” recalled Poddala, “He said, ‘If you don't stop this, something will happen to you.’”
“This” referred to Poddala and his colleagues’ reporting. “We wrote about corruption within the army. We wrote about the rights of Tamil people, so they labelled us as supporters of the LTTE,” he said. “They didn't like us talking about the rights of the Tamils.”
Poddala fled the country with his family in December 2009. He was lucky to escape with his life. Fellow journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared in January 2010, and has not been seen since.
Intolerance and fear
A climate of intolerance and fear continues to sweep the island as the government’s stranglehold on the population grows ever tighter. In March, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached after declaring a government bill unconstitutional.
Lawyers working on torture and other human rights cases have been targeted and harassed. Meanwhile, the cases of Kumar, Poddala and the many activists who have disappeared have not been independently or credibly investigated.
Yet the authorities claim that their human rights record has improved – a claim reinforced by their selection as hosts of the November meeting of Commonwealth leaders. It is a whitewash of immense proportions, says Poddala.
“I can't understand why the Commonwealth has decided to do this,” he told us, “because no civil society organization is allowed to function there. There are no human rights in Sri Lanka.”
In Sri Lanka, a climate of intolerance and fear continues to sweep the island as the government’s stranglehold on the population grows ever tighter.Media Node: Sri Lanka journos Poddala Jayantha Amnesty International Index Number: ASA37/003/2013 Story Location: Sri Lanka 7° 56' 57.6564" N, 80° 37' 43.1832" E “In Sri Lanka, a climate of intolerance and fear continues to sweep the island as the government’s stranglehold on the population grows ever tighter.” URL: Sri Lanka: Report exposes the government’s violent repression of dissent Description: News story, 30 April 2013 URL: Sri Lanka's assault on dissent Description: Report, 30 April 2013
The public killing of a woman in Afghanistan is further proof that the authorities are still failing to tackle the shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country, Amnesty International said today.
The woman, who has two children, was shot dead on Monday 22 April by her father in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the village of Kookchaheel, in the Aabkamari district of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan.
The woman, named Halima and believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, was accused of running away with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran. Her cousin returned Halima to her relatives 10 days after running away with her. His whereabouts are unknown.
“Violence against women continues to be endemic in Afghanistan and those responsible very rarely face justice,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International.
The killing came after three of the village’s religious leaders, allegedly linked to the Taliban, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that Halima should be killed publicly, after her father sought their advice about his daughter’s elopement.
“Not only do women face violence at the hands of family members for reasons of preserving so-called ‘honour’, but frequently women face human rights abuses resulting from verdicts issued by traditional, informal justice systems,” said Mosadiq. “These systems must be reformed and the police must prevent such verdicts being carried out.”
Halima’s father and the three religious council members who issued the fatwa have reportedly gone into hiding. The local police say they are investigating the case, but no one has been arrested in connection with the killing.
“The authorities across Afghanistan must ensure that perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice. The deeply shocking practice of women being subjected to violent “punishments”, including killing, publicly or privately, must end,” said Horia Mosadiq.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) documented more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012 – a rise of 28% compared with the same period in the previous year.
The AIHRC has also criticised the Afghan police in Baghdis for recruiting suspected perpetrators of such violence, including a Taliban commander and his 20 men implicated in the stoning to death of 45-year-old widow Bibi Sanuber for alleged adultery in 2010. “Such blatant disregard of women’s rights makes a mockery of justice, ” said Mosadiq.
In August 2009, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence against Women Law, which criminalises forced marriage, rape, beatings and other acts of violence against women.
“Afghanistan’s law for the elimination of violence against women is a very positive step, but it will not be useful unless it is properly enforced – something we haven’t seen so far,” said Horia Mosadiq.
The public killing of a woman in Afghanistan is the latest example of the shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country.Media Node: Afghanistan Story Location: Afghanistan 33° 56' 1.104" N, 61° 10' 18.75" E “Not only do women face violence at the hands of family members for reasons of preserving so-called ‘honour’, but frequently women face human rights abuses resulting from verdicts issued by traditional, informal justice systems.” Source: Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International. URL: Afghanistan: Medical personnel killed in attack Description: News, 18 April 2013 URL: Afghanistan: Urgent need to protect civilians following fresh attacks Description: News, 09 April 2013 URL: Afghanistan: Another women’s affairs official murdered Description: Press release, 10 December 2012
The conviction this month of Fazıl Say, a Turkish pianist for “insulting religious values” is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Turkish authorities could implement a new reform package that has the potential to limit freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.
The “Fourth judicial package” – a reform bill confirmed yesterday by Turkey’s President and passed into law today, fails to meet the government’s stated aim of bringing Turkish laws into line with international human rights standards, including European Court of Human Rights case law on the right to freedom of expression.
“This legal reform will go down in the history books as yet another missed opportunity for the government to deliver genuine human rights reform,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director.
“It is a small step in the right direction, but still a long way short of Turkey’s international human rights obligations as well as what the people of Turkey demand from their lawmakers.”
Amnesty International believes the reform package will allow abusive prosecutions to continue, forcing still more political activists, journalists and human rights defenders to face jail sentences for carrying out their work.
Urgent steps needed
The organization calls for the government to abolish the provision on “insulting religious values”, used against the pianist Fazil Say, who was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence for what were deemed offensive comments on Twitter. Amnesty also wants the abolition of Penal Code Article 301 on “denigration of the Turkish nation” and Article 125 on criminal defamation. None of the three were included in the government’s recent reform package.
“Yesterday’s conviction of pianist Fazil Say for ‘insulting religious values’ demonstrates the need for Turkey’s outdated and restrictive laws to be changed,” Dalhuisen added.
“It is not enough for the government to state that the reform process is ongoing, urgent steps must be taken now.”
Open to abuse
Amnesty International notes that several other Penal Code articles amended under the reform package could still be open to abuse, leading to further violations of the right to freedom of expression.
These include Article 215 on “praising a crime or a criminal” and Article 318 on “alienating the public from military service” – both of which the organization wants to see abolished.
The reform package also amends Anti-Terrorism Law articles 6/2 on “printing or publishing of declarations or statements of terrorist organizations” and 7/2 on “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Under the reforms, only statements constituting coercion, violence or threats are subject to prosecution under these provisions – but while the proposed amendments do narrow the offences, and may therefore prevent some of the abuses seen in the past, the amendment is still too broad in that it includes the vague concepts of coercion and threat without specifying a link to violence.
According to international standards, only people making statements that amount to making propaganda for war or any other sort of advocacy of violence should be prosecuted.
Amnesty International calls on the Turkish authorities to amend Article 7/2 in line with these international standards and to scrap Article 6/2 which does not provide for any legitimate prosecution outside what is provided for in Article 7/2.
Amendments also prevent the use of these articles and some offences under the Law on Demonstrations to be used in conjunction with Article 220/6 of the Penal Code “Committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization” that allows persons to be punished as if they were a member of a terrorist organization.
This amendment is welcome in that it should prevent some of the abusive prosecutions for “Committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization” which have included individuals being prosecuted and convicted for legitimate expressions dissenting opinions in particularly in relation to Kurdish rights and politics through speeches, participation at demonstrations and association with certain recognised political groups and organizations.
However, it does not address the broader problem of similar prosecutions being brought for “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314 of the Penal Code or other related provisions.
Amnesty International calls on the Turkish authorities to abolish the offence of “Committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization” and to address the broader abuses seen under anti-terrorism prosecutions by amending the overly broad and vague definition of terrorism in line with international standards.
“Turkey has a history of broad and vague laws which have been applied in violation of the right to freedom of expression. Turkey’s lawmakers should have put an end to this,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.
“This reform bill afforded the Turkish authorities an opportunity to end the prosecution of individuals for membership of a terrorist organization based simply on the fact that they had written a book, or given a lecture, allegedly supporting the aims of a terrorist organization. Should we now understand that the government wants such abusive prosecutions to continue?” said Gardner.
“Ending the abusive and unfair prosecutions under anti-terrorism laws is essential to achieve peace and justice in Turkey.”
A Turkish reform bill passed into law today fails to meet the government’s stated aim of bringing Turkey's laws into line with international human rights standards.Media Node: Turkey FOE Story Location: Turkey 38° 52' 9.7212" N, 32° 25' 53.9076" E “This legal reform will go down in the history books as yet another missed opportunity for the government to deliver genuine human rights reform” Source: John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director Date: Tue, 30/04/2013 “Turkey has a history of broad and vague laws which have been applied in violation of the right to freedom of expression. Turkey’s lawmakers should have put an end to this” Source: Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey Date: Tue, 30/04/2013 URL: Conviction of Turkish pianist sends 'chilling' warning to Twitter users Description: News story, 15 April 2013 URL: Turkey: Time to remove the shackles on freedom Description: News story/report, 27 March 2013
A new press law that would severely limit the activities of journalists in Burundi poses a grave threat to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
The draft law, which includes new press-related crimes and exorbitant fines for journalists who violate them, looks set to be signed off by Burundi's President after it was adopted by the country's Senate earlier this month.
The proposal restricts the right to report on anything relating to state and public security, as well as information that threatens the economy or "insults the President".
"Freedom of expression in Burundi is gravely under threat from this repressive law, which has great potential to be abused and places journalists at the mercy of the authorities," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's Africa Director.
"President Pierre Nkurunziza must reject the draft, and ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate work freely and without the threat of legal action."
Journalists in Burundi already face harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest for carrying out their work, yet the country has a vibrant media.
Journalists often carry out investigations into sensitive issues, sometimes placing themselves in danger, and report on allegations of human rights abuses and corruption.
The draft press law, in its latest form, could make journalists criminally liable for carrying out their work, and creates numerous new requirements for them to follow.
Failure to do so could lead to fines as high as 6,000,000 Burundian francs (about US $3,760), which most media outlets would be unable to afford.
"The law places undue restrictions on journalists and puts them at risk of prosecution. Many of the new requirements are overly broad and could be used to restrict freedom of expression," said Netsanet Belay.
"Press freedom is precious to the people of Burundi and the president should do everything in his power to protect it, rather than stifle it."
The Burundian Senate adopted the law on 19 April and President Nkurunziza is scheduled to sign it shortly, after which it will become law.
Burundi's ruling party, the National Council for Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), governs without any effective opposition, following the withdrawal of opposition parties from the 2010 elections.
A draft law that includes new press-related crimes and exorbitant fines for journalists who violate them looks set to be signed off by Burundi's President.Media Node: bur Twitter Tag: burundi “President Pierre Nkurunziza must reject the draft, and ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate work freely.” Source: Amnesty International's Netsnanet Belay
The Sri Lankan government is intensifying its crackdown on critics through threats, harassment, imprisonment and violent attacks, Amnesty International said in a report released today.
The document, Assault on Dissent reveals how the government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa is promoting an official attitude that equates criticism with “treason” in a bid to tighten its grip on power.
Journalists, the judiciary, human rights activists and opposition politicians are among those who have been targeted in a disturbing pattern of government-sanctioned abuse, often involving the security forces or their proxies.
“Violent repression of dissent and the consolidation of political power go hand in hand in Sri Lanka,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“Over the past few years we have seen space for criticism decrease. There is a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka, with those brave enough to speak out against the government often having to suffer badly for it.”
Almost immediately after the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, when the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) were defeated, the government started consolidating its power.
The September 2010 introduction of the 18th constitutional amendment placed key government institutions directly under the president’s control, while the continued use of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) grants sweeping powers to the security forces.
At the same time, official government discourse has become increasingly hostile towards critics, with terms like “traitor” used regularly by state-run media outlets.
Government critics have been subjected to verbal and physical harassment, attacks and in some cases killings. The report details dozens of such cases, both before and after 2009.
The judiciary has been a key target of repression, with the government undermining its independence by making threats against judges who rule in favour of victims of human rights violations.
Tension culminated in January 2013 when Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached on charges of misconduct, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the impeachment procedure was unconstitutional.
While much of Sri Lankan media is firmly in the hands of the government, the authorities have targeted outlets that remain independent and criticize official policies, or the government’s conduct during the armed conflict.
Journalists continue to suffer intimidation, threats and attacks for reports that are critical of the government. At least 15 have been killed since 2006 and many others have been forced to flee the country.
In a recent example, Faraz Shauketaly, a journalist with the Sunday Leader was left badly injured after unknown gunmen shot him in the neck in February 2013.
Older high-profile cases, such as the 2009 killing of former Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunge, remain unresolved.
Websites with articles critical of the government face frequent cyber attacks, while their offices have been raided by police or burned down by unknown arsonists. The government has also used amendments to legislation – such as providing for the imposition of exorbitant “registration” fees – to shut down critical online outlets.
“The government’s blatant attempts to restrict and silence the independent media fly in the face of the press freedom, which is supposed to be guaranteed by both domestic and international law,” said Truscott.
Much of the government’s crackdown is aimed at silencing criticism of its conduct during the armed conflict, in particular during its final months when many thousands of civilians died at the hands of the LTTE and the army.
Pressure on critics tends to intensify around key international events. Examples include recent UN Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions in 2012 and 2013, when the HRC passed resolutions highlighting the need to investigate alleged violations of international law by the Sri Lankan government during the armed conflict.
Participants in UN meetings and Sri Lankan journalists covering the events were repeatedly verbally attacked in Sri Lankan government media outlets, and in some cases physically threatened.
Others who have been targeted by the government include human rights activists, trade union leaders, humanitarian aid workers and opposition politicians, in particular those active in the Tamil-majority north.
In November 2013, the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is set to take place in Colombo. Sri Lanka would then represent the Commonwealth as its Chair for the next two years.
“Before November, Commonwealth governments must pressure the Sri Lankan government to address the alarming human rights situation in the country,” said Truscott.
“The CHOGM meeting must not be allowed to go ahead in Colombo unless the government has demonstrated beforehand that it has stopped systematic violations of human rights. All attacks on individuals must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and those responsible held to account.”
In addition to these ongoing violations, the Sri Lankan government has failed – despite repeated promises to do so – to effectively investigate allegations of crimes under international law committed by the LTTE and the army during the armed conflict.
“It is abundantly clear that Colombo is unwilling and unable to investigate the credible allegations of crimes under international law, including war crimes, during the conflict. What is needed is an independent, impartial and internationally led investigation,” said Truscott.
A new report explores how the Sri Lankan government is intensifying its crackdown on critics through threats, harassment, imprisonment and violent attacks.Media Node: Sri Lanka Amnesty International Index Number: ASA37/003/2013 Story Location: Sri Lanka 6° 30' 37.314" N, 80° 51' 33.75" E “Over the past few years we have seen space for criticism decrease. There is a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka, with those brave enough to speak out against the government often having to suffer badly for it.” Source: Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director. URL: Sri Lanka: Submission to the UN Human Rights Council for the adoption of Sri Lanka's second UPR Description: Report, 15 March 2013 URL: Sri Lanka: New documentary exposes Sri Lankan atrocities Description: Press Release, 26 February 2013
The Syrian authorities must immediately reveal the whereabouts of a 16-year-old boy who has been missing since November, Amnesty International has urged.
Ahmed Ismael al-‘Akkad’s family have not been told anything about his fate or whereabouts since his arrest on 20 November 2012.
His family received a smuggled note from the teenager 40 days later, in which he said his health was deteriorating due to cramped and humid prison conditions and a lack of medication for his asthma.
"The Syrian authorities must reveal Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad’s whereabouts and fate. He must be granted immediate access to his family and lawyer, and receive any medication he needs to control his asthma,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director.
“They must also ensure he is protected from the systematic torture or other ill-treatment we know occurs in Syrian prisons. More than 1,000 detainees are reported to have died in custody since March 2011, most apparently from the effects of torture or other ill-treatment. This tidal wave of death must be stopped."
The 16-year-old was arrested when authorities raided the predominantly Sunni Muslim al-Midan neighbourhood of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
His family say they have not received any information regarding his arrest and detention and are too afraid to ask the authorities for information about his whereabouts.
All they have is Ahmed's handwritten note, which was smuggled out by detainees released from the Palestine Branch - a detention centre in Damascus - where Amnesty International has documented torture over many years and where Ahmed said he was being held.
"The authorities must clarify Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad’s legal status," said Ann Harrison.
"If he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and assembly, he should be released immediately and unconditionally."
The reasons for Ahmed Ismael al-‘Akkad’s arrest are unclear. Syrian government forces have arrested thousands of people, including children, since widespread unrest broke out in March 2011.
Many, if not most, detainees have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in prisons and detention centres run by Syria’s feared security agencies.
"The Syrian authorities must ensure that Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad is treated in accordance with human rights standards outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and within the rules of juvenile justice," said Ann Harrison.
The Convention stipulates that the detention of children should be a last resort and that children in detention should be held separately from adults in facilities that meet the particular needs of children in custody.
According to a Syrian human rights organization, heavy clashes took place between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups in the neighbourhoods of al-Tadamon and al-Hajar al-Aswad, which are close to al-Midan, shortly before the raid which led to the teenager's arrest.
The Syrian authorities must immediately reveal the whereabouts of a 16-year-old boy who has been missing since November, Amnesty International urges.Media Node: syria2 Twitter Tag: syria Story Location: United Kingdom 35° 20' 54.3768" N, 37° 52' 51.0924" E See map: Google Maps “Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad must be granted immediate access to his family and lawyer, and receive any medication he needs to control his asthma.” Source: Amnesty International's Ann Harrison
The execution of two death row inmates in Japan shows that a "chilling" escalation of death penalty use under the new Liberal Democratic government is intensifying, Amnesty International said.
Yoshihide Miyagi, 56, and Katsuji Hamasaki, 64, were hanged in Tokyo today. The two men were convicted of murder after shooting dead rival gang members in a restaurant in Ichihara City in 2005.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has now executed five people since taking office in December 2012. The other three executions took place in February.
“This chilling news appears to reinforce our fears that the new government is increasing the pace of executions at an alarming rate,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
“With five executions already this year, it seems clear the government has no intention of heeding international calls to start a genuine and open public debate on the death penalty, including its abolition.”
Japan has executed 12 people since March 2012. No executions had been carried out during the previous 20 months.
Ten people were hanged in less than a year during Shinzo Abe’s previous time as Prime Minister between September 2006 and September 2007.
Current Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has publicly expressed his support for the death penalty, raising concerns that figure may be surpassed by the new government.
“We urge the government to immediately reverse this worrying trend and impose a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition,” said Catherine Baber.
The number of death row inmates, at 134, is at one of the highest levels in Japan in over half a century.
Prisoners are typically given a few hours’ notice before execution, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families are typically notified about the execution only after it has taken place.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
The execution of two death row inmates in Japan shows a "chilling" escalation of death penalty use under the new Liberal Democratic government.Media Node: sinzo Twitter Tag: japan Story Location: United Kingdom 34° 25' 41.0016" N, 135° 31' 38.4384" E See map: Google Maps “"This chilling news appears to reinforce our fears that the new government is increasing the pace of executions at an alarming rate."” Source: Amnesty International's Catherine Baber URL: Japan hangs three in first executions under ‘merciless’ Abe government (News, 21 February 2013)
Authorities in the Republic of Congo must immediately release two teachers arrested in connection with a peaceful strike and held for a week without charge, Amnesty International said today.
Hilaire Eyima, head of the French department at the school Lycée de la Révolution, was arrested by plainclothes police officers at his home on 18 April. He is still being held at the headquarters of the General Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (DGST).
Claude Nzingoula, a teacher at the medical school in the capital Brazzaville, was arrested on Friday 19 April at his school and was also taken to the DGST headquarters, where he has been detained since.
“Hilaire Eyima and Claude Nzingoula are only detained for standing up for their rights. The continuing detention of these two prisoners of conscience is a blatant disregard to freedom of expression and assembly by the Congolese authorities,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy Africa Program director.
The two teachers have reportedly been denied access to a lawyer of their choice.
Amnesty International has adopted them as prisoners of conscience.
The teachers’ strike begun on 25 February, after negotiations stalled between the Congolese authorities and trade unions over teacher’s status in the public sector.
Upon his arrest, Hilaire Eyima was told he was being taken in for his use of SMS (text messages) to spread information about the strike.
These are the latest in a string of arrests and harassment of members of a coalition of teachers’ unions in Republic of Congo called CPRE (Concertation pour la revalorisation de la profession d’enseignant/ Coalition for improving the teaching profession).
Daniel Ngami, co-chairman of the coalition, was arrested by National Security office agents on 1 April. Luc Mba Mongo, also a CPRE member, was arrested the following day. They were both held without charge and released five days later.
Before being released, Ngami was forced to read a statement on national media calling on teachers to return to work.
Other CPRE members have been harassed and intimidated and some have gone into hiding after their houses were searched without a warrant.
“Instead of punishing them for standing up for their rights, the Congolese authorities should ensure teachers are able to protest without fear of reprisals and engage in a constructive dialogue with them,” said Paule Rigaud.
Two teachers have been deteined without charge for a week in the Republic of Congo in connection with a peaceful strike.Media Node: Congo Story Location: Congo (Brazzaville) 0° 42' 0.6444" S, 14° 14' 17.8116" E “Hilaire Eyima and Claude Nzingoula are only detained for standing up for their rights. The continuing detention of these two prisoners of conscience is a blatant disregard to freedom of expression and assembly by the Congolese authorities. Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy Africa Program director. ” Source: Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy Africa Program director.
Today's decision by a Moscow court to fine an independent non-governmental organization and its leader is an alarming indicator for the future of civil society in Russia, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.
The Association in Defence of Voters’ Rights Golos (Voice) became the first Russian nongovernmental organizations to fall afoul of the “foreign agents” law. It was fined 300,000 rubles (almost US$10,000).
Golos played a prominent role in organizing election monitoring and reporting allegations of electoral fraud in the 2011 parliament and 2012 presidential elections.
“The case against Golos should never have been brought let alone succeeded,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme. “The foreign agents law is a bad law that was introduced for political reasons. It is sadly not surprising that it has resulted in politically motivated decisions. The foreign agents law is a stick to beat watchdogs with and needs to be repealed.”
Golos is alleged to have violated a law introduced in 2012 requiring organizations in receipt of foreign funding to describe themselves as “foreign agents” if they engage in undefined “political activities.” The law imposes restrictions on the freedom of association that are inconsistent with international human rights standards.
It is the first organization to face charges since a wave of inspections in recent weeks targeted more than 200 organizations across the country – including the Moscow offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The Russian authorities accused Golos of receiving approximately USD$10,000 in prize money after being presented the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, though the group instructed its bank to return the money, which it did. The Ministry of Justice claimed that Golos’ advocacy for the adoption of a unified Electoral Code sought to “influence public opinion and decisions of government bodies”, which, in their opinion, constituted “political activity”.
“Today’s ruling is a shot across the bow at Russian civil society and a terrible precedent,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, who attended the hearing. “Russian authorities should withdraw the case against Golos and welcome, rather than hinder, NGO work.”
The Golos director, Liliya Shibanova, was also fined 100,000 rubles (approx. US$3,000).
News of the sanctions against Golos came on April 25, as President Vladimir Putin engaged in a call-in show answering questions from callers across the country.
“At the same time as the court hearing, President Putin was telling the public that organizations highlighting violations should be valued, Dalhuisen said. “The fines levied against Golos clearly show what their reward will be.”
Another group, the Kostroma Regional Centre for Support of Public Initiatives, will face similar charges on April 29 for having organized a roundtable on US-Russia relations that a US diplomat attended. A further nine groups – whose activities range from ecological initiatives to supporting children with a rare genetic disease – have received official warnings from the prosecutor’s office.
In reports published on April 24, Freedom under threat: The clampdown on freedom of expression, assembly and association in Russia, and Laws of Attrition: Crackdown on Russia’s Civil Society after Putin’s Return to the Presidency, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, respectively, noted that the systematic undermining and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association have been the hallmark of President Putin’s human rights record during the first year of his third term.
Today’s decision by a Moscow court to fine an independent non-governmental organization and its leader is an alarming indicator for the future of civil society in Russia.Media Node: Russia Golos fined Story Location: Russia 57° 53' 6.972" N, 44° 17' 48.75" E “The case against Golos should never have been brought let alone succeeded” Source: John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Date: Thu, 25/04/2013 “Today’s ruling is a shot across the bow at Russian civil society and a terrible precedent” Source: Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, who attended the hearing Date: Thu, 25/04/2013 URL: Russia: President Putin’s witch hunt Description: News story/Report, 24 April 2013
Israel must release a Palestinian activist held without charge for two years, Amnesty International urged today after his administrative detention was extended for the sixth time without justification.
Ahmed Qatamesh, a 62-year-old academic who Amnesty International believes is being detained to deter political activities by other Palestinian left-wing activists, was yesterday told he will be held for at least another four months from 29 April.
"Ahmed Qatamesh is a prisoner of conscience who is being detained solely for expressing non-violent political beliefs," said Amnesty International's Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"His continued detention is arbitrary and he must be immediately and unconditionally released."
Ahmad Qatamesh is one of about 160 Palestinians currently held by Israel under administrative detention orders.
These allow for indefinite detention on the basis of secret evidence that the military prosecution withholds from the detainee and their lawyer, denying detainees the basic right to defend themselves.
"The cruel nature of administrative detention means detainees and their families live in a constant state of uncertainty. As each order expires their hopes are raised and then dashed as they are handed a fresh order," said Ann Harrison.
Ahmad Qatamesh's wife, a board member of local NGO Addameer, told Amnesty International this week that it "would have been easier" for the family if her husband had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
Ahmad Qatamesh is a political writer who has called for a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is no apparent reason to hold him, and since his arrest he has not been charged or brought to trial.
Ahmad Qatamesh's ordeal began on 21 April 2011 when he was arrested from his brother’s house in Ramallah by Israeli security forces.
His daughter said security forces ordered her at gunpoint to telephone him after they failed to find him at his own home.
Since then, Qatamesh has been questioned for a mere 10 minutes by the Israel Security Agency (ISA).
They claim that he is a member of the political wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and poses a security threat.
He says he has not been involved with PFLP for 14 years, although in the 1990s he was a political and intellectual supporter.
“I am under arrest now and don't know why," he said in June 2011.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank face huge obstacles in obtaining permits to visit relatives in detention even though the Geneva Convention stipulates that individuals under occupation should be held within the occupied territory.
Ahmad Qatamesh’s wife says he has suffered from undiagnosed ailments causing nausea and faintness – but his request to see an independent doctor has been refused by prison authorities.
"The Israeli government must stop the use of administrative detention and release all administrative detainees unless they are promptly charged with internationally recognizable offences and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards," said Ann Harrison.
Ahmad Qatamesh was held without charge for over five years in the 1990s. After his release in 1998, he wrote about his experiences – including being subjected to torture – in a book entitled I Shall Not Wear Your Tarboosh.
Israel must release a Palestinian activist held without charge for two years, Amnesty International urges after his administrative detention is extended for the sixth time without justification.Media Node: palestine Twitter Tag: israel “"Ahmed Qatamesh is a prisoner of conscience who is being detained solely for expressing non-violent political beliefs."” Source: Amnesty International's Ann Harrison URL: Palestinian Territories: Israel release Palestinian prisoner of conscience and end the arbitrary detention of hundreds of other Palestinians (Statement, 23 April 2013) URL: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Starved of justice: Palestinians detained without trial by Israel (Statement, 6 June 2012) URL: Addameer
An arbitrary court order to detain a university professor for four months after he co-founded a human rights organization is the latest blow to freedom of expression and assembly in the Gulf kingdom, Amnesty International said today.
On Thursday a criminal court in Buraydah – 350km north of the capital Riyadh – ordered the detention of Dr Abdulkareem Yousef al-Khoder. The 48-year-old is a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA) and a professor of comparative jurisprudence at the Faculty of Islamic Jurisprudence at Qassim University.
No reasons were given for the detention order against al-Khoder, which came after a judge arbitrarily blocked a group of around 10 women from accessing the court to observe his trial. Following his ruling, the judge refused to meet with al-Khoder or his lawyer, and the professor has since been held in Buraydah prison.
He had been on trial since January 2013 on charges including disobeying the ruler, inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations, disseminating false information to foreign groups, and taking part in founding an unlicensed organization.
“This trial should never have happened, and the charges against Dr al-Khoder appear to be based solely on his legitimate human rights work with ACPRA,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“Dr Abdulkareem Yousef al-Khoder is a prisoner of conscience. He must be released immediately and unconditionally and the authorities should drop the case against him.”
It is unclear why the judge blocked the women from attending the court session. No law in Saudi Arabia prevents women from being present during trials, and the Justice Ministry last October issued a statement acknowledging that women lawyers would be allowed to plead cases in court. The country’s first female lawyer is currently in training.
Although al-Khoder’s trial had been open to the public, a large number of heavily armed security forces were present.
On 10 April, al-Khoder had submitted a request to remove the judge presiding over his case, to no avail. Al-Khoder argued that the judge had publicly expressed negative opinions about him before the trial and was therefore not impartial.
Prior to his trial opening in January 2013, al-Khoder had circulated a petition asking for a fact-finding committee to investigate arbitrary detentions and repression of peaceful activists by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. He had also written an article on 20 ways of enhancing the success of peaceful demonstrations, and called the Saudi Arabian state a police state.
Harassment of ACPRA’s founders
On 9 March, the Saudi Arabian authorities ordered the complete disbanding of ACPRA and confiscation of its property. Founded in 2009, ACPRA had become one of the most prominent among the country’s very few independent human rights organizations.
It reported on human rights violations and helped many families of detainees held without charge to bring cases against the Ministry of Interior. ACPRA’s social media accounts were shut down on the same day.
Also on 9 March, two other ACPRA co-founders – Dr Abdullah bin Hamid bin Ali al-Hamid, 66, and Mohammad bin Fahad bin Muflih al-Qahtani, 47 – were sentenced to 10 and 11 years’ imprisonment, respectively, to be followed by travel bans of equal duration.
They were charged with a list of offences similar to those levelled against al-Khoder.
Amnesty International considers both to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely on account of their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association, including in relation to their human rights activities.
In April 2012, Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, another of the organization’s co-founders, was sentenced by a special counter-terrorism court to four years’ imprisonment followed by a five-year travel ban. He was reportedly convicted of charges relating to involvement in the establishment of an unlicensed organization, harming the image of the state through the media, calling on the families of political detainees to protest and hold sit-ins, contesting the independence of the judiciary and having banned books in his possession.
Al-Bajady went on hunger strike in prison in September 2012 and has not been heard from since.
On 24 March 2013, his lawyer, Fawzan al-Harbi, submitted a written request to and attempted to meet the director of the al-Ha’ir prison where al-Bajady is reportedly being detained. He has yet to be granted a visit to his client nor has he received a reply to his written request to do so.
Earlier, on 6 January 2013, al-Harbi met Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General and asked to visit al-Bajady. He also attempted to hand the Attorney General a written request for a visit and a complaint about his client’s detention conditions. But the Attorney General refused to receive the complaint and told the lawyer that he will follow up on the matter – and there has been no development in the case since then.
An arbitrary court order to detain a university professor for four months after he co-founded a human rights organization is the latest blow to freedom of expression and assembly in Saudi Arabia.Media Node: ACPRA founders Story Location: Saudi Arabia 23° 45' 35.5464" N, 45° 36' 54.8424" E “This trial should never have happened, and the charges against Dr al-Khoder appear to be based solely on his legitimate human rights work with ACPRA ” Source: Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International Date: Thu, 25/04/2013
The Pakistani authorities must investigate the wave of attacks and threats on political candidates and election workers, Amnesty International said in an open letter released before the country goes to the polls for general elections on 11 May.
The organization also called on all political parties, and candidates to commit to specific measures for improving the country’s human rights situation during their election campaigns.
“This has been a particularly deadly election period marked by an alarming surge in attacks and intimidation of political activists and election officials,” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher, said.
Campaigning ahead of Pakistan’s upcoming general elections has been marred by human rights abuses. At least 37 people have been killed and 183 injured in attacks on election officials and political party representatives and supporters countrywide.
This includes bombings that appeared to target an office of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) political party in Karachi and a leader of the Hazara Democratic Party in Quetta on 23 April. Further bombings on 24 April appeared to target a Pakistan People’s Party candidate in Peshawar and an independent candidate in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Two election candidates have been assassinated in separate incidents by the Pakistani Taliban since the elections were called in March.
Election officials as well as candidates and supporters have faced threats from a range of groups, and in the northwestern Tribal Areas the Taliban have banned certain parties from campaigning for being “too secular”.
The Awami National Party (ANP) and MQM have been particularly singled out for attack, although members of other parties have also been targeted. On 16 April at least 17 people were killed when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted an ANP rally in Peshawar. The same day the Baloch Liberation Army accepted responsibility for a bomb attack on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate in Khuzdar, Balochistan that claimed four lives, including the candidate’s son, brother and nephew.
“With these deliberate attacks, the Taliban and other armed groups have shown flagrant disregard for human rights, including the rights to life, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” Mustafa Qadri said.
The authorities must ensure adequate protection for those at risk of attack and in particular protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and the right to life.
“Candidates themselves also have a responsibility not to incite violence against rivals or segments of society such as religious minorities,” Qadri said.
In its open letter, Amnesty International urged all political parties and election candidates to prioritize human rights in their election pledges and their policies.
Pakistanis will go to the polls to choose a new government on 11 May, marking the first time that the administration has transitioned from one elected government to another.
The past five years have seen some improvements in Pakistan’s enshrining of human rights into law, including advances on women’s rights and the ratification of key international human rights treaties.
But human rights abuses by both state and non-state actors have continued and in some respects worsened over the same period, while most of those responsible for abuses walk free.
“Pakistan’s political parties and election candidates must demonstrate that they are genuine about addressing the failure of successive governments to address impunity for human rights abuses,” Mustafa Qadri said.
“All candidates must ensure that human rights are at the forefront of their election campaigning.”
The Pakistani authorities must investigate a wave of attacks and threats on political candidates and election workers ahead of general elections on 11 May.Media Node: Pakistan elections Story Location: Pakistan 30° 13' 4.5732" N, 66° 39' 54.1404" E “This has been a particularly deadly election period marked by an alarming surge in attacks and intimidation of political activists and election officials” Source: Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher Date: Wed, 24/04/2013 URL: Pakistan: Election candidates must prioritise human rights Description: Open letter, 24 April 2013
Bahrain is clearly "not serious" about implementing human rights reforms, Amnesty International said today after the Gulf kingdom cancelled a planned visit by the United Nations' torture expert for a second time.
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said he was "deeply disappointed" after Bahrain postponed next month's visit, citing delays in "ongoing national dialogue".
The Bahraini authorities also cancelled a visit by Juan Mendez in February 2012, claiming they were “still undergoing major reforms".
"This latest cancellation shows that Bahrain is clearly not serious about implementing human rights reforms. The authorities have used the buzzword of 'reform' as a smoke screen, when in reality they are not reforming," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
"There are no reforms in Bahrain, but rather human rights abuses continuing unabated."
The postponement comes amid continued clashes between protesters and security forces, which increased in the run-up to last weekend's controversial Formula One Grand Prix.
“This is the second time my visit has been postponed at very short notice. The authorities seem to view my visit as an obstacle rather than a positive factor to the reform process," said Mendez.
The independent torture expert had previously urged Bahrain to honour commitments it made to the UN's Universal Periodic Review process in September 2012.
These included releasing people jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and investigating allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of those detained after anti-government protests.
Amnesty International continues to call for true justice and accountability in Bahrain.
"The Bahraini government must immediately release all prisoners of conscience and conduct independent, effective and transparent investigations into allegations of torture," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
"It must also bring to justice anyone at any level of the chain of command who committed or gave the orders to commit abuses; and refrain from further use of unnecessary or excessive force against protesters.
"Bahrain's allies have been far too keen to rely on the facade of reform and to go on with business as usual. The cancellation of the visit means there is no pretending anymore."
At the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, 43 states criticized ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain.
Bahrain is clearly "not serious" about implementing human rights reforms, Amnesty International said after the Gulf kingdom cancelled a planned visit by the United Nations' torture expert.
Flawed reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters (Report, 17 April 2012)Media Node: bah22 Twitter Tag: bahrain “"There are no reforms in Bahrain, but rather human rights abuses continuing unabated." ” Source: Amnesty International's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
It is vital that the international community does more to help the increasing number of refugees pouring across borders as they flee the violence in Syria, said Amnesty International in a briefing published today.
To escape the ongoing bloodshed and violence at home, those fleeing have sought safety in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Many live in extremely difficult conditions.
“The responsibility to protect and assist refugees from Syria needs to be shouldered by both the international community and neighbouring countries,” said Charlotte Phillips, refugee researcher at Amnesty International.
All these countries say that the long-term hosting of refugees is putting a strain on resources, as increasing numbers of Syrians and others try to reach the relative safety of refugee camps and elsewhere in neighbouring countries.
“In the face of this mounting crisis, the international community must act now to provide badly needed financial and technical assistance in order to support the efforts made by Syria’s neighbouring countries,” said Phillips.
In February 2013 Amnesty International visited three provinces in Turkey bordering Syria and conducted interviews with refugees, the Turkish authorities, and a number of national and international organizations.
“While Turkey hosts and assists almost 200,000 refugees in government-run refugee camps, steps need to be taken to ensure that refugees living outside camps have access to essential services,” said Phillips.
Despite Turkey’s stated “open door policy”, many refugees attempting to cross into the country have been stopped, leaving people stranded inside Syria in terrible conditions. Credible reports have emerged of other refugees being forced to return to Syria.
“Neighbouring countries must keep their borders open to all refugees fleeing Syria, without discrimination. Under no circumstances should people be forcibly returned to Syria, where there continues to be violence, bloodshed and human rights abuses on a massive scale,” said Phillips.
The briefing makes a number of recommendations to the international community, Turkey and other neighbouring countries.
Turkey – According to UNHCR on 17 April 2013, some 291,996 individuals from Syria were hosted in Turkey – an increase of almost a third since the start of 2013. However, the Turkish authorities estimate the number of Syrians who have fled Turkey to be as high as 400,000, of whom approximately 190,000 are accommodated in 17 government-run refugee camps in eight provinces
Jordan – According to UNHCR, on 21 April 2013, there were 437,205 Syrian refugees registered or waiting to be registered. Amnesty International has raised concerns over reports of the return of some individuals seeking refuge in Jordan and denial of entry to the country to others. Violent protests have been reported as refugees demonstrate against poor conditions in refugee camps
Lebanon – As of 18 April 2013, 428,649 Syrians were registered or were awaiting registration as refugees in Lebanon. On 20 April a Lebanese minister stated that the country had “exceeded its ability to absorb them”. Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria face discriminatory entry requirements imposed by the Lebanese authorities, namely the obligation to pay for a $17 entry permit.
Iraq - According to the UNHCR, as of 20 April 2013, 133,840 refugees were registered in Iraq, with the majority being hosted in the Kurdish region. Domiz refugee camp, located in the Dohuk governorate of the Kurdish Region, is said to be “critically congested” with cases of 15 or more refugees having to share one tent.
It is vital that the international community does more to help the increasing number of refugees pouring across borders as they flee the violence in SyriaMedia Node: Syria Turkey refugees Amnesty International Index Number: EUR44/009/2013 Twitter Tag: Refugees Story Location: Syria 35° 47' 19.3452" N, 39° 30' 24.6096" E “The responsibility to protect and assist refugees from Syria needs to be shouldered by both the international community and neighbouring countries” Source: Charlotte Phillips, refugee researcher at Amnesty International Date: Thu, 25/04/2013
The Chinese authorities must release the sister-in-law of a prominent human rights activist and end the ongoing harassment of his relatives living in Shandong Province, Amnesty International said.
On Wednesday afternoon Linyi city authorities detained Ren Zongju – sister-in-law of Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng. She was accused of “harbouring” her son, Chen Kegui, last year after he allegedly assaulted security officials. The officers had been searching for his uncle, Chen Guangcheng, after he escaped illegal house arrest.
Before her latest detention, Ren Zongju was previously held and then released on bail.
“This new detention – a full year after Chen Guangcheng’s escape – seems aimed at punishing him and his family for his continued outspoken criticism of the Chinese government since leaving China,” said Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“Ren Zongju must be either charged with an internationally recognized criminal offence or released immediately.”
String of harassment
Chen Guangcheng’s older brother Chen Guangfu, husband of Ren Zongju, has reported threats and harassment against the family.
On 18 April, a dead chicken and duck were hurled at Chen Guangfu and Ren Zongju’s house – bird flu has recently become a concern in China.
Two days later, dozens of posters went up around the village with threats accusing them of being traitors to China and supporting Taiwanese independence. That evening, their house was pelted with stones, breaking glass and damaging roof tiles. The next morning, Chen Guangfu found more dead fowl outside his door, as well as burnt paper – in China, burnt paper money is placed on graves. He also found 20 of his poplar trees uprooted.
The family believe that this harassment is organized or instigated by the local authorities.
Also on 20 April, another brother, who lives about 50km away, found that his car had been damaged and his tyres slashed. He replaced the tyres, but the next morning he found the new ones had also been slashed.
It has also been reported that four individuals who sought to visit Chen family were beaten by the local security forces and held at the local police station for 16 hours.
“In China we’ve seen a pattern of the authorities singling out family members and associates of prominent government critics and human rights defenders for intimidation – this must be stopped immediately,” said Baber.
Chen Guangcheng’s escape
Chen Guangcheng is a legal activist best known for exposing forced abortion and sterilization practices in Shandong Province’s Linyi County, and for seeking legal redress for the victims. He also gave legal support to many others whose rights have been violated, including farmers forcibly removed from their land without due process or compensation.
Before his escape in late April 2012, he had been under illegal house arrest for 19 months. His home had become a virtual prison for him, his wife and their daughter.
During his time under house arrest, Chen was prevented from seeking medical treatment. The couple were also prevented from meeting their wider family, including their young son, who lived elsewhere with an aunt so that he could attend school.
After his escape, Chen Guangcheng sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing, who then negotiated his family’s departure to the US. Once in the USA the activist issued a video in which he raises the ill-treatment of numerous human rights defenders at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
After Chen’s escape, his wife, Yuan Weijing, was beaten, kicked and wrapped up in a blanket by plainclothes security forces.
The Chinese authorities must release the sister-in-law of a prominent human rights activist and end the ongoing harassment of his relatives living in Shandong Province.Media Node: Chen Guangcheng Chen Guangcheng - poster Story Location: China 34° 32' 51.3204" N, 117° 41' 7.9692" E “This new detention – a full year after Chen Guangcheng’s escape – seems aimed at punishing him and his family for his continued outspoken criticism of the Chinese government since leaving China ” Source: Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International Date: Wed, 24/04/2013 URL: China: Further information: Chen Guangcheng’s nephew sentenced Description: Urgent action, 8 February 2013 URL: China: ‘Appalling’ sentence for blind lawyer’s nephew Description: Press release, 30 November 2012 URL: US must insist on Chen Guangcheng’s safety Description: News story, 2 May 2012 URL: China urged to end restrictions on blind lawyer amid fears of confrontation Description: News story, 11 November 2011
The UN Security Council’s failure to add human rights monitoring to the mandate of its Western Sahara peacekeeping force – despite ongoing reports of abuses in the region – is a “missed opportunity”, Amnesty International said today.
The mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) – one of the few UN peacekeeping missions in the world without a human rights mandate – was renewed today.
A US move to include a human rights component in the draft resolution under consideration by the Security Council was quashed after protests from the Moroccan government.
“The Security Council has failed the people of Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps by missing a unique opportunity to subject persistent human rights concerns there to sorely needed international scrutiny,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, Philip Luther.
In his latest report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had reiterated the need for "independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situation in both Western Sahara and the camps”.
The Moroccan authorities forcefully rejected the US proposal to expand MINURSO's mandate, claiming it threatened Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Washington subsequently backtracked, and Security Council members agreed on a new resolution that failed to grant MINURSO the authority to monitor human rights abuses.
Amnesty International has long-standing concerns about human rights violations in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps in Algeria.
Reports of excessive use of force against demonstrators, alleged torture in detention and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to emerge in Western Sahara.
The human rights situation in the Tindouf camps, which are controlled by the Polisario Front, remains opaque. There are no independent human rights observers currently operating there, leaving residents vulnerable to abuses.
“The Moroccan authorities argue that they are making efforts to improve the human rights in Western Sahara and complain that human rights organizations rarely visit the Tindouf camps,” said Philip Luther.
“For these reasons, they should have welcomed the prospect of a UN human rights monitoring mechanism, not lobbied against it.”
Despite today's failure, the adopted resolution acknowledges the need for improving human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps.
It encourages “the parties to work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights”.
"Morocco and the Polisario Front are accountable to the Security Council and the international community and they should heed the call – albeit a muffled one – to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights," said Philip Luther.
“Progress on human rights should be assessed according to concrete steps such as the opening of thorough, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture in detention.”
For several decades Morocco and the Polisario Front have been involved in a struggle for sovereignty over Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in 1975.
The UN Security Council established a peacekeeping force in 1991 to monitor a ceasefire between the two sides and implement a referendum to determine the territory’s final status.
The UN Security Council has failed to add human rights monitoring to the mandate of its Western Sahara peacekeeping force, despite ongoing reports of abuses in the region.Media Node: sahara Twitter Tag: morocco ““The Security Council has failed the people of Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps."” Source: Amnesty International's Philip Luther