The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) yesterday called for the release of the four jailed Adhoc staffers and one National Election Committee official who have remained in pre-trial detention since last May in a fact sheet criticising the Cambodian government for regularly breaching fair trial rights.
CCHR also criticised prolonged pre-trial detention in general, with the organisation saying the practice “is frequently used in Cambodia”.
CCHR’s fair trial rights project coordinator Hun Seanghak cited in an email the troubling pre-trial detentions of three Mother Nature activists (more than 10 months), Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny (more than six months) and the four Adhoc officials and National Election Committee member, who as of yesterday “spent 333 days in arbitrary pre-trial detention”.
The fact sheet called on the government to “release the four Adhoc workers and NEC official, as well as other persons illegitimately detained”. But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan brushed off the criticism, saying CCHR “generalises everything” and was “biased”.
CCHR further argues in the release that Article 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code – which allows a suspect to be held for 24 hours without a lawyer – might infringe the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Siphan again, however, shrugged off the assertion, saying that “to respect [international law] doesn’t mean that it has to be carried out 100 percent”.
Representatives of the Justice Ministry could not be reached yesterday.
Published on the CCHR's website on March 28, 2017.
Republicans just made clear how little they care about protecting the privacy of Americans by letting companies like Verizon and Comcast sell advertisers the internet browsing histories and other personal data of their customers without getting permission. The move could bolster the profits of the telecommunications industry by billions of dollars.
Following a party-line vote in the Senate last week, the House approved a resolution on Tuesday that would overturn a broadband privacy regulation the Federal Communications Commission adopted in October. That rule requires cable and phone companies to obtain consent before using information like which websites people visited to show them customized ads and to build detailed profiles on them. The White House said on Tuesday that President Trump would sign the legislation, which would also prohibit the F.C.C. from adopting a similar policy in the future.
Most Americans spend much of their lives online. They should be able to do so without fear that their internet service providers are logging their activities and selling the data. There is a long tradition of the government protecting such information. For example, the F.C.C. has long restricted what phone companies can do with call records. And in 1988 Congress prohibited video stores from disclosing the movies people rented.
Republican lawmakers, like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, and the chairman of the F.C.C., Ajit Pai, say that the commission’s privacy rule is unfair because it applies only to broadband companies and not to internet businesses like Google and Facebook. This is highly disingenuous. Congress has only given the commission authority over telecommunications companies, so the F.C.C. couldn’t have come up with rules that applied to other businesses even if it wanted to.
Telecom companies know a lot about what people do online because they are the gatekeepers through which people connect to the internet. And as people link household devices like thermostats, light bulbs and security cameras to the internet, these companies will have even more intimate knowledge about their customers. By comparison, people can more easily evade tracking by businesses like Google and Facebook by not using those services or by deleting the cookies those websites leave on their computers and phones.
In the absence of strong privacy rules, people will have to rely on encryption to prevent service providers from tracking them. But broadband companies would still know what websites people visit. And the companies would be able to see all of the communications between users and websites that do not use encryption. Sophisticated users might increasingly rely on virtual private networks, which are used by corporations to let their employees log into secure systems remotely, and other tools to mask their activities, but most Americans are unlikely to be conversant with such tricks of the trade.
Mr. Trump promised voters during the campaign that he would protect the working class. But now he and his party are moving quickly to do the bidding of a very different interest group: Big Telecom.
This editorial was published on the NY Times' website on March 29, 2017.
Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor has brought a series of cases against two prominent local media outlets that have been critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said today.
The outlets are accused of discrediting the honor and dignity of the president and spreading false information. The actions violate standards on freedom of expression, and the authorities should promptly drop the lawsuits.
“Kyrgyzstan’s authorities should understand the role of independent media and what it means to respect freedom of expression and drop these lawsuits,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kyrgyzstan has a dynamic media landscape, which should be allowed to flourish, and laws that allow these kinds of prosecutions should be repealed.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office filed three lawsuits – two on March 6, 2017, and one on March 13 – against Zanoza, a local online media outlet and its founder, Idinov Narynbek. The office filed two suits on March 6 against Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In both cases the suits alleged “biased coverage of unchecked, false information that deliberately affected the honor and dignity of the head of state” and requested both media outlets to pay compensation totaling 32 million soms (US$462,855). Local courts ordered the bank accounts of both outlets frozen.
The coverage on which the General Prosecutor’s office based its cases was articles reporting comments by Omurbek Tekebaev, a leader of the opposition party Ata Meken, who was detained on February 26 on fraud and corruption charges, and on coverage of a press conference held by his lawyers. Tekebaev and his lawyers have accused President Almazbek Atambaev of involvement in smuggling illegal goods in a plane that crashed on January 16 near Bishkek. At least 37 people were killed in the crash and 23 homes destroyed. Other media outlets also reported on Tekebaev’s lawyers’ press conference and have not faced prosecution.
Article 4 of the law on “Guarantees of the activities of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic” obliges the prosecutor general to take legal action on behalf of the president if disseminated information has defamed the president’s honor and dignity. Laws that provide for offenses and penalties for those who criticize public figures, including figures such as the president, on the basis that it is considered insulting, are not compatible with freedom of expression standards under international law, and in particular with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Kyrgyzstan is a party.
On March 7, local courts in Bishkek ruled in the General Prosecutor’s office’s favor, ordering the articles that allegedly defamed the dignity and honor of the president immediately be removed from the media outlets’ websites. The outlets complied.
On March 22, Azattyk and Zanoza were informed that on March 14, the court had also ordered that their bank accounts were to be frozen. Representatives of the outlets told Human Rights Watch that this court order can lead to the closure of their offices as they would not be able to pay rent and staff salaries.
A lawyer from the Media Policy Institute, a local nongovernmental organization working on media policy and legislation who represents both media outlets, filed an appeal, contending that the courts' decisions are unfounded. He told Human Rights Watch that the pressure on these media outlets is selective and that the amount of compensation is disproportionate.
Dina Maslova, the chief editor of Zanoza, told Human Rights Watch that “authorities have chosen these two media outlets because of their critical stance about the government and their actions are connected to the upcoming presidential elections,” scheduled for November. She said that the “authorities are using the political situation to remove political opponents and critics.”
Venera Djumataeva, director of Azattyk, told Human Rights Watch that the media outlet did not breach any law as the journalists were simply doing their work. She believes the reason Azattyk was targeted is because it is popular among the local population and conducts serious, journalistic investigations into corruption.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees Kyrgyzstan’s compliance with the ICCPR, has previously warned Kyrgyzstan about bringing libel suits against journalists critical of the government and expressed its concerns about the kinds of laws protecting the president against insult in Kyrgyz law that are being invoked for these lawsuits.
“Kyrgyzstan should uphold media freedom at all times, and particularly during election seasons,” Williamson said. “Invoking inappropriate ‘insult’ laws and targeting critical media sends the wrong message to the country’s international partners at a time when respect for international human rights standards is paramount”.
Published on HRW website on March 27, 2017.
Malaysia: Communications and Multimedia Act must be urgently revised to comply with freedom of expression standards
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian Government to urgently review the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) and bring it into full compliance with international freedom of expression standards in conjunction with the launch of our new legal analysis of The Communications and Multimedia Act today. The analysis is the first to be published since ARTICLE 19 set up a desk dedicated to freedom of expression issues in Malaysia late last year.
In February, ARTICLE 19 analysed the CMA, which in recent years has been invoked more frequently following the social media boom in Malaysia. The use of the Act by police and the Attorney General of Malaysia to arrest and charge individuals expressing progressive views and dissent sets a worrying trend on the boundaries of free speech in the country. At the moment, a constitutional challenge is being mounted on the Act at the Federal Court.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 10(1)(a) of Malaysia's Federal Constitution, but in practice, draconian laws such as the CMA are frequently used to harass individuals and criminalise the right to freedom of speech and expression in the country.
The CMA has an expansive scope, ranging from spectrum allocation and consumer protection to content regulation and investigatory powers. The main subjects of regulation under the Act are applications services and network services. The Act further pertains to content applications services, which appear to include online intermediaries.
ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that Section 233 of the CMA, which deals with “improper use of network facilities or network service” has been used time and again to target human rights defenders in the country. In October 2015, student activist Khalid Ismath was charged with 11 counts under Section 233 of the CMA for posting comments on social media deemed offensive to the Johor royalty and in June 2016, graphic artist Fahmi Reza was likewise charged with 2 counts under Section 233 of the CMA for posting images on social media depicting Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak as a clown.
In addition to this, ARTICLE 19 notes that the CMA is currently being revised by the Government to “incorporate new elements, including network security matters”, which we are concerned may be used to further target social media users in Malaysia.
From our analysis of the CMA, ARTICLE 19 concludes that the Act creates a number of overly broad content-related offences. In addition, the licensing schemes for network and applications services lacks adequate safeguards against censorship and introduce far-reaching investigatory powers which are at odds with the protection of journalistic sources and the right to anonymity.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian Government to urgently review the Act, introduce necessary amendments and ensure it fully complies with the international freedom of expression standards.
We recommend that the Malaysian Government:
This article was published on Article 19's website on March 24, 2017.
By Linda Sieg
Japan's cabinet on Tuesday approved legislation that would penalize criminal conspiracies, a move critics say threatens civil liberties, but officials say is needed to prevent terrorist targeting events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Proponents say the steps are vital in a security climate where terrorism risks have grown and in order to ratify a U.N. Treaty aimed at battling international organized crime.
"Considering the current situation regarding terrorism and looking ahead to the Olympics and Paraolympics three years hence, it is necessary to fully prepare to prevent organized crimes including terrorism," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
Japanese governments have tried to pass similar legislation three times since 2000, when the United Nations adopted a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, but the bill stands a better chance of success this time.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition has a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament and public worries about terrorism ahead of the Olympics have grown after deadly attacks overseas, although an opinion poll released by Kyodo news agency on March 12 showed 45.5 percent were opposed to the bill while 33 percent favored it.
Suga said the legislation would apply only to groups preparing to commit terrorist acts and other organized crime groups and would not target the "legitimate activities" of civil groups or labor unions.
Opponents, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, have doubts. They view the proposed change as part of Abe's agenda to tighten control at the expense of individual rights, chilling grassroots opposition to government policies such as the construction of a U.S. military base on Okinawa island.
"It is very clear that the Japanese public security sector – police and prosecutors – employ an extremely expansive interpretation of any aspect of criminal law so ... regardless of the limited list of potential crimes, they will interpret it in an extremely elastic way," said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.
The lawyers' association has said Japanese law already prohibits preparations to commit certain serious crimes such as murder, arson and counterfeiting or plotting an insurgency or the use of explosives, so additional legislation is unnecessary.
This article was published on Reuters' website on March 20, 2017.
The Turkish government has jailed 13 members of the pro-Kurdish democratic opposition in parliament on terrorism charges and taken direct control of 82 municipalities in the Kurdish southeast region, suspending and incarcerating elected mayors, Human Rights Watch said today. The crackdown on democratically elected officials not only violates their rights to political association and participation, and freedom of expression, but also interferes with the rights of constituents who voted for them and whom they serve in office.
The move against the national pro-Kurdish party, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and its regional sister party, Democratic Regions Party (DBP), comes in the lead up to an April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum on an amendment that would transform Turkeyfrom its traditional parliamentary political system to a presidential one, leading to a concentration of power in the office of the president. The proposal has been widely criticized for lacking adequate checks and balances to protect human rights and rule of law against misuse of power by the office of the president. Both parties oppose such an expansion of presidential powers.
“It’s deeply damaging to Turkey’s democracy that the government is locking up the leaders and MPs of an opposition party that received five million votes in the last election,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “The fact that the curbs come during a vital national debate about the country’s future is doubly disturbing.”
Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the co-leaders of HDP, and 11 of its other parliament members are in jail facing terrorism charges. Yüksekdağ was stripped of her seat in February and subsequently of her party membership after an earlier terrorism propaganda conviction was upheld. In Turkey’s southeast, the government has taken control of 82 municipalities won by the DBP and suspended their democratically elected co-mayors under suspicion of terrorism offenses, with 90 of them jailed pending trial.
The jailing of the parliament members is possible because of a temporary constitutional change, approved by parliament in May 2016, that lifted the parliamentary immunity of 154 members under investigation at that time for criminal offenses – 55 are HDP members. The change does not apply to members investigated after the May vote was taken, who retain their immunity as long as they stay in office.
The one-time removal of immunity has been criticized by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises on constitutional matters, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
In the period before the immunity vote, there was a sharp increase in applications by prosecutors to investigate HDP members of parliament, with almost 152 applications in the month before the vote alone.
Police detained Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ and the deputy chair of the party’s parliamentary group, İdris Baluken, on November 4, 2016, as well as six other parliament members – Nursel Aydoğan, Gülser Yıldırım, Leyla Birlik, Selma Irmak, Ferhat Encü, and Abdullah Zeydan. They were brought before courts and sent to pretrial detention the same day.
Nihat Akdoğan, another member, was detained and jailed three days later. In the following months four more parliament members were jailed – Ayhan Bilgen, the party spokesman, Meral Danış Beştaş, a Parliamentary constitution commission member, Besime Konca, and Çağlar Demirel. All have since been indicted on terrorism charges. Other HDP parliament members were detained and released on probation, with Leyla Birlik released from prison on January 4 at her first trial hearing.
İdris BalukenThe jailing of the party leaders and members of parliament constitutes an alarming interference with the party’s parliamentary work and its right to organize its campaign in advance of the referendum, Human Rights Watch said. It is reminiscent of the situation in 1994 when the immunity of Democracy Party (DEP) members of parliament was lifted and Leyla Zana, Orhan Doğan, Hatip Dicle, and Selim Sadak were jailed days later on terrorism charges, spending a decade in jail. They were convicted of membership of an armed group in a trial the European Court of Human Rights ruled was unfair and violated their rights.
The government has used powers under the state of emergency adopted following the July 2016 attempted coup to take direct control of municipalities and remove elected mayors. A September 1 decree (no. 674) amended the Law on Municipalities to permit the takeover of municipalities suspected of supporting terrorism. Mayors in 82 of the 103 municipalities controlled by the DBP have been suspended from office on alleged suspicion of terrorist offenses and the municipalities taken over by government-appointed provincial authorities. Mayors from other parties were removed in four other municipalities but in each case the authorities allowed other elected local representatives to take over their duties.
Thousands of other members of both pro-Kurdish parties have been arrested. The HDP informed Human Rights Watch that since the July 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, 5,471 of its party officials, including heads of provincial and district branches, had been detained, with 1,482 sent to pretrial detention. The BDP sister party told Human Rights Watch that 3,547 of its party officials had been placed in pretrial detention since July 2015. The arrests have undermined the ability of parties to conduct a campaign over the upcoming referendum, officials from both parties say.
The actions of the authorities against democratically elected officials are counter to Turkey’s responsibilities under international and regional human rights law, including the right to political participation, the right to free elections, the right to freedom of expression, and the rights to freedom of association and assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The April referendum will take place in a repressive climate in which Turkey’s independent media have been silenced and 148 journalists and media workers remain in jail, the majority incarcerated since the coup and not yet indicted for any crime. A state of emergency, which the government has extended at three-month intervals after the coup, is expected to be prolonged once again when it comes up for possible renewal on April 19, after the referendum.“The government’s crackdown on pro-Kurdish parties is robbing millions of voters of their parliamentary representatives, and in a vast swathe of the eastern and southeastern parts of the country it is robbing voters of their local representatives as well,” Williamson said.
This article (excerpt) was published on HRW's website on March 20, 2017.
The Canada Border Services Agency‘s (CBSA) practice of examining and even confiscating travellers’ cellphones and other personal devices has come under the scrutiny of the federal privacy watchdog.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has launched an investigation following increasing concerns about travellers’ right at the border, according to a report by the National Post.
CBSA officials have the right to inspect devices such as cellphones, laptops and tablets, and ask for passwords to allow access. If travellers don’t comply, CBSA officers can even confiscate the device.
Electronic devices are classified as “goods,” according to CBSA policy, and under the Customs Act officers have the authority to examine them as part of a routine examination.
CBSA policy states that personal devices should only be searched when officials have reason to believe a device will contain “evidence of contraventions,” or proof you have violated a law through files or information “known or suspected to exist” on your phone.
“Examinations should only occur where there is a multiplicity of indicators, or further to the discovery of undeclared, prohibited, or falsely reported goods,” said CBSA spokesperson Nicholas Dorion in an email to Global News last month.
The CBSA does not require a warrant, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada notes on its website, and “Officers may examine devices for photos, files, contacts and other media.”
What they do with those files — and whether the CBSA can make a copy of any or all the information found on your phone — is unclear.
Global News has reached out to the CBSA and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner but did not hear back by time of publication.
Anyone with concerns about their experience during a search at the border can file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
This article was published on Global News' website on March 16, 2017.
Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Philip Oltermann in Berlin
European court of justice says ban on visible wearing of political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.
Employers may bar staff from wearing visible religious symbols, the EU’s highest court has ruled in its first decision on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work.
But customers cannot simply demand that workers remove headscarves if the company has no policy barring religious symbols, the court ruled on Tuesday.
On the eve of a Dutch election in which Muslim immigration has been a key issue and a bellwether for attitudes to migration and refugee policies across Europe, the European court of justice (ECJ) gave a joint judgment in the cases of two women, in France and Belgium, who were dismissed for refusing to remove headscarves.
“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court said.
“However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.”
The ECJ ruled that a company’s wish to project a neutral image was legitimate and allowed internal rules banning political, philosophical or religious symbols.
The first case was referred to the ECJ by the Belgian courts. Samira Achbita had been a receptionist for the Belgian branch of G4S, the London-listed outsourcing and security company, when after three years at the firm she decided she wanted to start wearing a headscarf at work for religious reasons. Achbita was fired in June 2006 for refusing to take off her scarf. The company said she had broken unwritten rules prohibiting religious symbols.
In the second case, Asma Bougnaoui, a design engineer, was fired from an IT consultancy firm, Micropole, after a customer complained that his staff had been “embarrassed” by her headscarf while she was on their premises giving advice. Before taking the job she had been told that wearing a headscarf might pose problems for the company’s customers.
In Achbita’s case the ECJ followed the advice of a senior legal adviser to the court, who argued that companies should be allowed to have policies banning the wearing of religious and political symbols.
“The court of justice finds that G4S’s internal rule refers to the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and therefore covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction. The rule thus treats all employees to the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them, generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally.”
In the Bougnaoui case the court’s adviser had ruled that the Frenchwoman had suffered discrimination. She had been “professionally competent” and sacked only because she had refused to remove her headscarf, the advocate general advised.
The court upheld this view with a less ringing endorsement: it said customers’ wishes not to be served by a worker wearing a headscarf did not give companies a get-out clause from EU anti-discrimination law. The ECJ did not rule, however, on whether Bougnaoui’s dismissal was based on her failure to observe company policies, saying this was a matter for the French court to determine.
Germany’s rightwing populist party, Alternative für Deutschland, welcomed the ruling: “The ECJ’s ruling sends out the right signal, especially for Germany”, said the AfD’s Berlin leader, Georg Pazderski. “Of course companies have to be allowed to ban the wearing of headscarves because the headscarf is often much more than a religious symbol. For many people it represents an anti-constitutional attitude and a political statement of oppression.”
The ruling prompted dismay from some religious groups. The Conference of European Rabbis, which comprises 700 Jewish leaders across Europe, said Europe was sending a clear message that its faith communities were no longer welcome. Referring to the rise of racially motivated incidents, Pinchas Goldschmidt, the group’s president, called on politicians to ensure Europe did not isolate religious minorities.
Maryam H’madoun, at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said she was disappointed by the ruling, which she described as discrimination against people who chose to show their religion in their dress.
“It will lead to Muslim women being discriminated in the workplace, but also Jewish men who wear kippas, Sikh men who wear turbans, people who wear crosses. It affects all of them, but disproportionately Muslim women,” she said.
Campaigners for a secular society said the court had reached a sensible decision. Stephen Evans, campaigns director at the National Secular Society in the UK, said: “Where a ban on employees wearing religious or political symbols is founded on a general company rule of religious and political neutrality, and where that rule is applied equally to all, it can’t be realistically argued that that this constitutes ‘less favourable treatment’.
“Religious and political neutrality is a perfectly reasonable aim and, where businesses and organisations wish to present themselves in such a way, this ruling demonstrates that this approach is perfectly consistent with equality and human rights law.”
This article was published on The Guardian's website on March 14, 2017.
By MILAN SCHREUER
Belgium’s Parliament has quietly passed legislation giving the government extraordinary powers to deport legal residents on the mere suspicion of engagement in terrorist activities, or for “presenting a risk” to public order or national security, without a criminal conviction or the involvement of a judge.
The law applies only to foreign residents, not to Belgian nationals or refugees, part of a toughening of domestic security laws that has begun to worry human rights groups and ordinary citizens as a threat to civil liberties. Besides counterterrorism concerns, supporters of this law have been motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments, which they feel are widely shared not only in their country but across the European Union and even in the United States.
Amid fears of terrorism, some other European countries have also introduced stricter immigration policies, and Hungary, Austria and the Netherlands have lowered their threshold for deportation in recent years.
But the Belgian legislation stands out for its vague language, which grants unprecedented powers to the government to interpret and enforce the law as it sees fit, critics said.
Last week, about 70 groups representing civil rights advocates, minorities, labor and the arts signed an open letter in protest of the new law. At least two rights groups are preparing to fight the law in the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest court for constitutional matters.
The law was first presented by Belgium’s secretary for asylum and migration, Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist and a member of the center-right government, in July in the wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks that killed 32 people and wounded 340.
On Feb. 9, Mr. Francken managed to slip an amendment to the country’s Foreigners Law before Parliament without much of a public debate, let alone opposition. Although the law was discussed in a parliamentary committee and during a plenary session, most real discussion was limited to closed-door cabinet meetings, experts said.
Since then, Mr. Francken has been increasingly on the defensive over the measure.
“I am not going to put someone out of the country, who has lived here all of his life and has children here and so forth, just because he got two speeding tickets. That’s absurd,” Mr. Francken said in a telephone interview. “That is not my intention at all.”
“Let me be very clear. This is about 20 cases of terrorism and 50 cases of heavy criminality,” he said. “It’s about simplifying the procedures of orders for leaving the territory.”
But a month after the law passed, some members of Parliament and civil society groups are growing worried about the powers that it granted to the executive branch.
“We’re turning the clock back 10 years,” said Jos Vander Velpen, president of the Belgian Human Rights League. “We have six months to appeal it, and we’re already intensively preparing our arguments.”
Last year, a 56-page report by Human Rights Watch on Belgium’s counterterrorism measures criticized a raft of problematic laws and policies.
In particular, the report warned that a 2015 law allowing the authorities to revoke Belgian citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism could create perceptions of a tier of “second class” citizens based on their ethnicity and religion.
“Belgium has worked hard this past year to prevent further attacks, but its law and policy responses have been undermined by their overbroad and sometimes abusive nature,” said Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author.
Belgium, a country of 11 million people, received 107,000 requests for asylum over the last four years and granted it in over half of cases. During the same period, Belgium became the biggest per-capita exporter of foreign terrorist fighters in Western Europe — about 500 joined the Islamic State in Syria.
The country also served as a base for most of the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016. All of them had immigrant backgrounds, and only some were Belgian nationals.
The new law asks officials to weigh the possible threat a foreigner poses against the links that person has with Belgian society. It will be tougher to expel someone with strong links, who has a family and a job, but easier to do so with someone who barely visits the country.
In its previous form, the Foreigners Law, which dates to 1980, allowed the deportation of foreigners only after they were convicted of serious crimes, including terrorism, and with the oversight of a magistrate. People who were born in Belgium or moved there under the age of 12 were exempt from deportation.
All of those restrictions have been eliminated.
An amendment in 2005 built in most of these protections, “the result of a decades-long battle,” said Mr. Vander Velpen, the human rights lawyer.
His organization is building a case against the new law, based on the argument that it violates the separation of powers and denies a foreign resident the right to appeal.
“The Immigration Office can immediately, without interference of a judge, put someone out of the country based on indications that he or she could pose a threat to the public order,” he said.
Afterward, that person can appeal the administration’s decision in front of a judge, but that does not suspend the immediate deportation, Mr. Vander Velpen explained.
Government officials have offered assurances that there are exceptions in case of extraordinary emergencies — when deportation poses an imminent danger to a person’s life, for example.
People representing groups that defend the interests of minorities said they worried that the law would deepen the divide between residents who hold a Belgian passport and those who don’t. They fear the law gives the Immigration Office too much power to arbitrarily interpret the meaning of “public order” and “national security.”
Those who might be affected have been vocal in their opposition. They include Belgium’s 1.3 million legal residents who do not have Belgian nationality — some 10 percent of the total population, according to government statistics.
Aya Sabi, a 21-year-old columnist for two Belgian newspapers, sent Mr. Francken a Twitter message last month saying that as a Dutch national with Moroccan ancestry living in Belgium for eight years, she had become deportable “since recently.”
A heated and public exchange ensued, with Mr. Francken accusing her of lying and trying to draw attention to herself.
“You’ve always been deportable,” he responded. “By the law voted by the left in 2005. Why didn’t I hear from you back then?”
Ms. Sabi replied that in 2005 she was 10 years old.
In an interview this month, she said that “removing terrorists from Belgian soil isn’t going to solve anything; they’ll just continue abroad.”
“That’s the same logic the government applied when foreign terrorist fighters started to leave for Syria,” she added, “and that didn’t turn out well, did it?”
Confronted with the argument, Mr. Francken said the new law lets him withdraw the Belgian residency permits of about 20 fighters in Syria who are about to return. He will move to do so on the first day the law takes effect, which is in about 10 days, he said.
“If I can keep a Syria fighter in Syria, then I’ll definitely do that, that’s for sure,” he said. “We’re already taking back all the Belgian nationals. And to be honest, we don’t know what to do with them anymore, and in fact, the whole of Europe doesn’t know what to do with these people anymore.”
This article was published on The New York Times' website on March 11, 2017.
Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe releases Memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School