By Sella Oneko
Journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage walked free on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. A day earlier, Bekele Gerba of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) was set free. They are the most prominent political prisoners to be freed this week, in which the government promised to release over 700 prisoners.
"Many well-known people who fought and struggled for freedom and defended their country are still in prison, still suffering and crying," said Bekele Gerba speaking exclusively to DW after his release. Since the start of the year, Ethiopia's regime has released over 6,000 political prisoners and state prosecutors dropped the charges against many of them. Bekele himself was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out over the use of land in Ethiopia's biggest province, Oromia. He says that authorities did not tell him why he was released, he was just told to pack his belongings.
"You cannot say how many prisoners we left behind, but most of the ones in Ziway prison are political prisoners. The same goes for other prisons," Bekele said. "Two of them were my prison cell mates. So it is hard to be completely happy."
"The struggle must continue. Better things should come for all of us and a bright sunshine of democracy must shine in Ethiopia," opposition leader Andualem told the news agency AFP. Andualem was serving a life sentence on terrorism charges.
Legal reforms and investigations into torture needed
Outside Ethiopia, the international community reacted in a positive yet cautious manner. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn via phone on Monday, February 12. Her office stated that the chancellor welcomed the fact that Ethiopia had released a large number of political prisoners since the start of the year and encouraged the Ethiopian premier to take further steps in opening the country democratically.
The EU reacted similarly. "The release of thousands of prisoners in the past couple of weeks, including the journalist Eskinder Nega and the leader of the opposition Andualem Arage is a step in the right direction. It's particularly important in view of this year's local elections," an EU spokesperson told DW. "We believe that the grievances expressed by the political protesters should be addressed through an inclusive dialogue with the opposition and all the components of civil society."
The rights group Amnesty International which had been campaigning for the release of the prisoners appealed to the government to change its method of dealing with political critics. "We hope the release of this courageous journalist [Eskinder Nega], along with hundreds of other prisoners, heralds a new dawn in the Ethiopian government's handling of political dissent, a dawn of tolerance and respect for human rights," said Amnesty's deputy regional director Sarah Jackson in a statement.
"The authorities must also take steps to reform the legal system under which arbitrary detentions and torture of dissidents have been allowed to flourish." A good way to start, Jackson said, would be by reforming the country's anti-terrorism law. "If the Ethiopian government is serious about turning over a new leaf, it must order an impartial and independent investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners," she stated.
In addition to the prisoner release, state prosecutors also dropped charges against several government critics. Bloggers Befekadu Haile and Natnael Feleke of the website Zone 9 were arrested four years ago and accused of inciting violence through their work.
"For us, it's good news, for our friends, our family," Atnafu Berhane told the AFP news agency. The charges against Berhane himself were not dropped immediately, but he expects this to happen later this week. Several Zone 9 bloggers were arrested in 2014 for their online activities, and as Atnafu stated, reforms were needed to ensure that critics are not rearrested. "It's not a real change, it's not a real reform. The political space has to be open for all decent voices," he said.
Bowing to economic pressure
While Ethiopia is known for its harsh crackdown on any sort of dissent and opposition, recent protests have proven more difficult to control. Earlier this week, a three-day strike was called in major towns in Oromia and parts of the Amhara region. Schools, banks and markets remained closed and transport routes were blocked, crippling the country's economy. The protesters' main demands were the release of political prisoners and removal of military personnel from parts of the region.
Major protests over the issue of land initially broke out in 2015. Oromia, the country's largest province, surrounds the capital Addis Ababa and the government had proposed expanding the city's development boundaries into Oromia. In October 2016 the government declared a state of emergency. This gave the government the power to detain people and restrict the right to free speech or to gather publicly, as well as, the right to deploy the army.
Published on DW on February 14, 2018
Prominent Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir has died at the age of 66.
She reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest and was taken to hospital, where she later died.
The pro-democracy activist championed women's rights throughout her career.
She was imprisoned in 1983 and put under house arrest in 2007. Five years ago, leaked documents suggested that some intelligence officers had planned to kill her.
Ms Jahangir called for an inquiry at the time, demanding the government "find the forces who wanted to silence" her.
More recently she spoke out against BBC Persian journalists being put on trial in Iran, as part of her role as UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi led tributes to Ms Jahangir, saying her death was a great loss for the legal fraternity, and praying for her and her family.
Punjab state chief Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that he was "deeply saddened" at the news.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called Ms Jahangir a "saviour of democracy and human rights".
Amnesty International's South Asia director Omar Waraich said Ms Jahangir had "never wavered".
Raza Ahmad Rumi of the Pakistan Daily Times called her a hero.
Another prominent Pakistani lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, tweeted that Ms Jahangir was "the bravest human being I ever knew" and that the world was "less" without her.
In her career, Ms Jahangir was a staunch defender of human rights and women's rights, and a pro-democracy activist, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
She worked closely with her sister Hina Jilani on many of her endeavours.
In 2014 Ms Jahangir told AFP news agency she had seen changes in the perception of human rights in Pakistan.
"There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country," she said. "Then prisoners' rights became an issue."
"Women's rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women's rights."
Asma Jahangir's career:
Published on BBC News on February 11, 2018
The European Parliament calls for the immediate release of Oyub Titiev, Director of the Memorial Human Rights Centre in the Chechen Republic, who was arrested on 9 January 2018. They also urge the Russian authorities to ensure that his human and legal rights are fully respected, and express deep concern at the failure to investigate the death of Mr Titiev’s predecessor, Ms Natalia Estemirova.
MEPs urge the Russian authorities to put an immediate end to arrests, attacks, intimidation and efforts to discredit human rights defenders and journalists, and to arbitrary detention and torture of people presumed to be from the LGBTI community. The worsening conditions in civil society could harm the work of organisations promoting and protecting human rights, say MEPs, who call on the Russian authorities to conduct objective and thorough investigations into these developments.
See the resolution below.
Press release published on the European Parliament's website on February 8, 2018
By Giorgi Gogia
It’s unfathomable that Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent political analyst and one of Azerbaijan’s few alternative political voices, has been in prison for five years now. Ilgar was arrested shortly after he announced plans to challenge President Ilham Aliyev in the October 2013 presidential election. I have known Ilgar for nearly 15 years, and it’s hard to imagine a more law-abiding and peaceful person. Yet, the authorities convicted him of inciting violence and sentenced him to seven years in prison, following a flawed trial.
In two separate judgements, the European Court of Human Rights found Mammadov’s detention illegal, that the case against him was in retaliation for his criticism of the authorities, and his conviction a violation of fair trial norms. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has called for Mammadov’s immediate release at least a dozen times. In addition, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe initiated a rare inquiry into Mammadov’s continued detention, and in an unprecedented move, the Committee of Ministers decided to trigger legal proceedings against Azerbaijan, referring the case back to the court.
Yet, Azerbaijan has defied the court, heaped scorn on the Council of Europe and its Secretary General, and kept Mammadov in jail, trying to break his spirit. He’s not alone. In a vicious crackdown against critics, Azerbaijani authorities have jailed dozens of human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists. The government adopted a range of draconian laws and regulations, impeding independent groups’ work and their ability to secure funding.
Mammadov’s continued imprisonment is wrong on so many levels. His daughter, Aysel, was 10 when Ilgar was arrested. She has spent a third of her life waiting for her father, seeing him only once or twice a month.
One thing is clear: there should be a “price tag” for Azerbaijan’s blatant refusal to implement a binding judgement of the European Court, and for the unrelenting crackdown on government critics. “Business as usual” for Azerbaijan’s international partners is no longer an option. While Mammadov languishes in prison and many European Union member states pushed for legal proceedings against Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe, Brussels is currently negotiating a closer partnership with Baku. What it should be doing is making clear that continued disregard for the European Court will have serious consequences. At bare minimum, the EU should freeze any further steps on the negotiations until Mammadov is at home with his family.
Published on HRW on February 4, 2018
Saudi Arabia: First human rights defenders sentenced under leadership of ‘reformer’ Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman
Responding to the sentencing today of two prominent human rights activists Mohammad al-Otaibi and Abdullah al-Attawi by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh to 14 and seven years in prison respectively, Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for the Middle-East at Amnesty International said:
“The harsh sentencing of Mohammad al-Otaibi and Abdullah al-Attawi, who should never have been prosecuted in the first place, confirms our fears that the new leadership of Mohamed Bin Salman is determined to silence civil society and human rights defenders in the Kingdom.
“The crackdown on members of the human rights community has continued unabated, with almost all the country’s most prominent human rights defenders now behind bars. These actions, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, fly in the face of his recently declared ambitions to modernize the Kingdom.
“If Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is truly intent on bringing reforms to Saudi Arabia, he must ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders, detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”
Mohammad al-Otaibi and Abdullah al-Attawi were brought to trial before the SCC in October 2016. They were presented with a list of charges that include, among other things, “participating in setting up an organization and announcing it before getting an authorization”, “dividing national unity, spreading chaos and inciting public opinion by preparing, drafting and publishing statements that are harmful to the reputation of the Kingdom and its judicial and security institutions”, and “publishing information about their interrogations despite signing pledges to refrain from doing so”.
On 25 May 2017, Mohammad al-Otaibi was detained in Saudi Arabia after he was deported from Qatar, as he was en-route to Norway where he had been granted refugee status.
Published on Amnesty International on January 25, 2018
Following today’s decision by the 27th High Criminal Court in Istanbul to reject an appeal to release Turkish columnist and professor of economics Mehmet Altan from pre-trial detention, PEN America calls for the judiciary to respect and implement the higher court’s ruling and for Mehmet Altan to be released immediately alongside his brother Ahmet Altan, a writer and journalist who is also incarcerated.
In September 2016, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show, the Altan brothers were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force.
On January 11, 2018, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled in a criminal case that Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist, Sahin Alpay’s rights were being violated by pre-trial detention and ruled that they should be released. Within 24 hours of that ruling the 27th High Criminal Court in Istanbul declined to implement the Constitutional Court decision. This was followed by a similar ruling by the 26th High Criminal Court on January 15. Altan’s appeal of the 27th High Court decision was rejected today. Additionally, Altan’s lawyers have filed a complaint to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors against the panels of judges on the 26th and 27th High Criminal Courts for failing to implement the Constitutional Court decision. With the failure of two lower courts to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision, Mehmet Altan has filed a petition for the courts to enact this ruling and release them from arbitrary detention. Although the case concerns only Altan and Alpay, the ruling could have potentially broad implications for other Turkish writers and activists currently in jail, and could open the door for the release of others.
“The failure of the judiciary to uphold the rulings of the Constitutional Court is a transgression of Mehmet Altan’s intrinsic rights, and the rights of the dozens of other writers and journalists detained as a result of their expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “It calls into question the independence of the Turkish judicial system and its ability to rule fairly in cases involving human rights without government intervention or influence.”
Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.
Published on PEN America on January 24, 2018
The prosecution of Tunisian blogger and parliament elect Yassine Ayari in a military court for his posts on Facebook is a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to fair trial, said Amnesty International.
On 4 January, a military prosecutor charged Ayari with “undermining the morale of the army” for a Facebook post published on 27 February 2017, in which he mocked the appointment of a senior military commander. The first hearing of the trial took place at a military court without his knowledge and was adjourned to March 2018.
“It is unacceptable that despite important reforms following Tunisia’s Revolution seven years ago, people are still facing such spurious charges for a Facebook post and are denied their right to freedom of expression.” said Heba Morayef Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The fact that Yassine Ayari will face trial before a military court is even more shocking. Trying civilians before a military tribunal is contrary to international human rights law and a violation of the right to a fair trial”
Yassine Ayari is a Tunisian activist and blogger who was elected to the parliament in December 2017 as a representative of Tunisians resident in Germany.
In his Facebook post, Ayari mocked the appointment by President Beji Caid Sebssi of Ismail Fatahali as Chief of Land Army, describing him as “sensitive” after reporting a quote where he allegedly said in a trial in 2014 that a “Facebook post had ruined his moral”.
Seifeddine Makhlouf, one of Ayari’s lawyers, told Amnesty International that defence lawyers were not given access to all court documents concerning the prosecution of Ayari, despite repeated requests. Furthermore, the military court did not notify the defendant at his correct address and as a result did not know the trial was taking place.
Yassine Ayari told Amnesty International that when his lawyers went to the military court, they found out that two additional complaints were filed against him almost simultaneously. He told Amnesty International, that “until this moment, my lawyers and I still don’t know what these charges are. We have absolutely no information, despite the fact that my lawyers went several times to the military court insisting they should be given access to the documents that concern me”.
Ayari had already faced trial and imprisonment in relation to previous critical posts online. In November 2014, a military court convicted Ayari, in absentia, to three years imprisonment for “defamation of the army” because he had criticized Defence Minister Ghazi Jerbi, as well as other specific appointments in the military command on Facebook. In January 2015, a military court had reduced the sentence to one year imprisonment. He was released after six months in jail.
The prosecution of persons for “defaming the army” or other state institutions is incompatible with Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law and contravene the right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“If the Tunisian authorities are truly committed as they claim to the respect and protection of human rights, legislators should immediately repeal the laws that provide special protection against criticism to public officials and criminalize defamation of state institutions. Defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals, should be treated as a matter of civil litigation”.
International human rights law is clear that civilians should never be prosecuted before military courts. Although Tunisia’s Code of Military Justice was reformed in July 2011, it did not limit the jurisdiction of military courts to offences of a purely military nature committed by military personnel.
“Tunisian authorities should immediately drop the charges brought against Yassine Ayari”, said Heba Morayef. “The Tunisian parliament should make it a priority to repeal laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression and harmonize the Tunisian legal framework with international norms and standards by explicitly limiting the military court’s jurisdiction only to breaches of military discipline committed by military personnel”.
Since 2011, at least 10 civilians have been tried before military courts in cases related to the free expression of opinions, usually for criticizing the army or state officials. In September 2016, a military prosecutor charged Jamel Arfaoui, an independent journalist, for undermining the reputation of the army in an article he wrote on a news website. In November 2014, Sahbi Jouini, a police union leader, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison for defaming the army, after he accused the army of failing to use information adequately to combat terrorism. In May 2013, blogger Hakim Ghanmi was tried before a military court for “undermining the reputation of the army” after he complained about the director of a military hospital.
Published on Amnesty International on January 15, 2018
Vietnam should drop charges of violating probation against the veteran human rights activist Nguyen Van Oai and allow him to go home, Human Rights Watch said today.
The People’s Court of Nghe An province will hear his appeal on January 15, 2018.Nguyen Van Oai was sentenced in September 2017 to five years in prison for violating the terms of his probation, under article 304 of the penal code, and resisting a person on public duty, under article 257 of the penal code. His probation, which required him to report to a People’s Committee regularly and restricted his movements, was based on an improper prosecution and conviction for his association with a disfavored political organization, in violation of his rights to freedom of association and expression.
Nguyen Van Oai, who maintains that his underlying conviction was unlawful, refused on release from prison to report on his activities and thoughts to a People’s Committee and participated in protests during this time. When plain-clothes officers, who did not produce credentials, approached his house to discuss his alleged probation violation, Nguyen Van Oai chased them away with a gardening stake.
“The government’s pursuit of Nguyen Van Oai is vindictive and unwarranted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “He never should have been sentenced in the first place, and the terms of his probation amount to a direct effort to control his thoughts and freedom to criticize and protest. This is the latest extension of the government’s unrestrained crackdown against dissidents.”
Nguyen Van Oai, 36, has long participated in anti-China protests and protests against the imprisonment of other activists. He was also involved in mobilizing support for the prominent lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu at the time of his 2011 trial. Nguyen Van Oai also participated in labor rights activities in Binh Duong province.
Police arrested him in August 2011 at Tan Son Nhat airport after a trip abroad for affiliation with the outlawed political party Viet Tan. The police charged him with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the penal code. In January 2013, the People’s Court of Nghe An put him and 13 other Catholic and Protestant activists on trial, sentencing Nguyen Van Oai to four years in prison.
In August 2015, Nguyen Van Oai completed his prison sentence. Upon release, he told BBC Vietnamese that he planned to “work with organizations that care about human rights in Vietnam so that the country will soon have a real democracy.” He participated in multiple protests against the Taiwanese steel company Formosa, which had caused a massive marine disaster by dumping toxic waste along the central coast of Vietnam in April 2016.
More than 100 activists are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Vietnam should unconditionally release them and repeal all laws that criminalize peaceful expression.
“Nguyen Van Oai and many other brave Vietnamese risk their personal safety and freedom to advocate for democracy and human rights,” Adams said. “International donors and trade partners should pressure Vietnam to end its long abusive rights record.”
Published on HRW on January 13, 2018
Police in Chechnya have arbitrarily arrested Oyub Titiev, head of the local office of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization, on bogus drug possession charges, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Partnership for Human Rights said today. Authorities should immediately free Titiev, drop the charges against him, and stop hindering the work of human rights advocates in Chechnya, the international human rights groups said.
“Titiev’s arrest is a clear signal that authorities in Chechnya are trying to force Memorial out of Chechnya, which is an affront to everyone there who needs protection from human rights abuses,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Titiev should not be in custody, where we fear his health and safety are at risk.”
Police arrested Titiev, 60, at approximately 10:30 a.m. on January 9, 2018, near Kurchaloi, a town 30 miles from Grozny, the Chechen capital. One of Titiev’s friends told Memorial that he saw Titiev standing by his car on a local road near the Khumyk river bridge, surrounded by five or six police officers. The same witness said that when he later went to the Kurchaloi police department to look for Titiev, he saw his friend’s car parked outside.
A lawyer sent by Memorial went to the police station in the early afternoon, but police officials did not acknowledge Titiev was in custody and did not let him in. In the early evening, Chechnya’s deputy interior minister informed Russia’s federal ombudsperson, in response to her inquiry, that Kurchaloi police had detained Titiev. The lawyer was then admitted to the station.
Russian law provides that authorities can hold a person for up to three hours before formally placing them in custody, but the detainee is entitled to access to a lawyer as soon as they are detained. Titiev had access to his lawyer only after almost seven hours, and when the authorities issued the official report registering his detention, they listed the time of detention as 8.10 p.m., approximately 10 hours after he was first in their custody.
“The detaining authorities refused to provide any information about his whereabouts and fate for close to seven hours, in violation of international due process standards, raising a real concern that they may have been trying to forcibly disappear him,” said Andrew Anderson, director at Front Line Defenders.
“Russia has an obligation under international human rights law to immediately register and acknowledge all detentions, and allow detainees access to their lawyers, a fundamental safeguard against ill treatment and enforced disappearances,” said Denis Krivosheev, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office at Amnesty International.
The police told the lawyer they had allegedly found 180 grams of a marijuana-like substance in a bag in Titiev’s car and that Titiev was under investigation for possession of an illegal drug. Titiev denied the allegations and insisted the bag had been planted by police. If convicted, Titiev faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The human rights advisor to Russia’s president, Mikhail Fedotov told the press, that Titiev’s case may constitute a fabrication and the investigation authorities should look into the issue.
The rights groups called on Moscow to ensure that Titiev is immediately released, that there are no further threats to his security, and that human rights groups can carry out their work in Chechnya safely. Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement expressing concern about Titiev’s arrest, questioning the “dubious charges that lack credibility” and calling on Russian authorities to immediately ensure his release.
Russia’s international partners should follow Muižnieks’ example and publicly express their objection to this attempt to silence Memorial and urge the Kremlin to secure Titiev’s immediate release and continued safety.
“Bogus drug-related charges and planted evidence are a regular tactic that Chechen authorities have used to punish and discredit their critics,” said FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
In the summer of 2014, a court in Chechnya sentenced local activist Ruslan Kutaev to four years in prison on fabricated, politically motivated drug charges after he criticized and disobeyed an order by Chechnya’s leader, President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kutaev was paroled in December 2017. In 2016, another Chechen court sentenced journalist Zhalaudi Geriev to three years in prison on similarly fabricated drug charges. Geriev reported for Caucasian Knot, an online outlet that reports extensively on Chechnya and that has criticized Chechnya’s leadership.
Memorial has monitored abuses in Chechnya for more than 25 years, reporting extensively first on abuses by federal forces during the two Chechen wars, and then on violations carried out by local authorities with the Kremlin’s tacit blessing. During the past 10 years of Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya, Memorial has published hard-hitting exposés on collective punishment practices, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, punitive house burnings, and extrajudicial killing by local security officials. They have consistently described contemporary Chechnya as a totalitarian enclave within Russia, noting Kadyrov’s interference in virtually all aspects of social life, including politics, religion, academic discourse, and family matters.
Titiev has led Memorial’s work in Chechnya since 2009, after the kidnapping and murder of his colleague Natalia Estemirova. His arrest follows years of threats and smear campaigns by Chechnya’s authorities against Memorial and other human rights groups. Kadyrov and other Chechen public officials routinely vilify human rights defenders as “puppets of the West” and “enemies of Russia” bent on destabilizing Chechnya. Some activists also suffered attacks and harassment by local security officials or pro-government thugs.
The most recent smear came in December 2017 from Magomed Daudov, speaker of Chechnya’s parliament and Kadyrov’s right hand man, after Kadyrov was included as a target for US sanctions under the US Magnitsky Act and his Instagram account was blocked. Daudov accused human rights defenders of “running to their boss across the ocean and pouring rivers of lies” and said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved in other subversion aimed at weakening our state….I think it’s time to send our enemies, those who don’t like a strong Russia, [out of the country] to their foreign bosses or to isolate them from polite society. …If only Russia hadn’t had a moratorium [on the death penalty], we could’ve just bid these enemies of the people ‘salaam alekum’ and be done with them.”
“The fact that Chechen authorities have so blatantly invented drug accusations against Titiev is not surprising, in light of the vicious way they persistently target people brave enough to try to speak up about human rights abuses,” said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “The question is,what will Russia’s federal authorities do about it and whether Russia’s international partners will do their utmost to ensure Moscow does the right thing?”
Published on HRW on January 10, 2018
United Nations human rights experts deplored Saudi Arabia’s continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders and urged the release of all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights.
“The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia,” the group said in a joint statement issued on Tuesday.
Religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and civic activists are being targeted, along with members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), in a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention,” they continued.
“We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work. The Government has ignored repeated calls by UN experts and others to halt these violations, rectify them, and prevent their recurrence.”
More than 60 prominent religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and civic activists are reported to have been detained in a wave of arrests since September, adding to a list of past cases which had already been raised by UN experts with the Government.
“We have written to the Government requesting detailed information about these numerous arrests on terrorism, cyber-crime or any other state security-related charges during that period,” the experts said.
The experts noted that they are also seeking government clarification about how these measures are compatible with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international human rights law, as well as with the voluntary pledges and commitments it made when seeking to join the UN Human Rights Council.
“Despite being elected as member of the Human Rights Council at the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia has continued its practice of silencing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining and persecuting human rights defenders and critics,” they said.
In addition to previous cases and new arrests since September, the experts pointed to the country’s failure to implement two recent opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, calling for “the release of all the human rights defenders concerned in these cases.”
“We appeal to the Saudi authorities to ensure their right to reparation and compensation.”
The experts are independent, unpaid staff appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation.
Published on the UN News Centre on January 2. 2017.