The Bahraini government should drop its charges against a prominent Bahraini human rights defender for peacefully expressing his views and order his immediate release, Human Rights Watch said today. The Manama Appeals Court is scheduled to issue its final ruling on June 5, 2018 on an appeal by the rights defender, Nabeel Rajab.
The Bahrain High Criminal Court on February 21 sentenced Rajab to five years in prison for tweets criticizing alleged torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison and the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen. Rajab is serving a two-year prison sentence on other charges related to peaceful expression and has been detained since June 13, 2016. His relatives say he has medical ailments that prison authorities are not treating adequately.
“Nothing that Nabeel Rajab posted on human rights in Bahrain or the humanitarian crisis in Yemen justifies his spending a single minute behind bars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These charges inherently violate Rajab’s basic human rights and should have never been brought in the first place.”
Rajab is one of dozens of human rights defenders, political activists, opposition leaders and journalists that authorities have unjustly imprisoned since quelling anti-government protests in 2011.
Public prosecution documents Human Rights Watch reviewed cite three criminal code provisions for the charges against him. The documents cite article 133 of the Criminal Code, for “deliberately disseminating in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors […] so as to cause damage to military preparations.” They also cite Article 215 for “publicly offending a foreign country,” in this case Saudi Arabia; and Article 216 for “insulting a statutory body,” in this case the Ministry of Interior and the Reform and Rehabilitation Services, for. Rajab’s tweets alleging the use of excessive force by Jordanian security forces to quell unrest at Jaw Prison and security forces’ torture and ill treatment there.
Human Rights Watch said that the charges against Rajab are a clear violation of his right to free expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain ratified in 2006.
Rajab, who suffers from a skin condition, is held in a cramped, dirty, and insect-infested cell at Jaw Prison no bigger than 3-by-3 meters that he shares with five other detainees, his relatives said. Prison authorities keep the men locked in their cell 23 hours a day. Although Rajab needs further surgery for his skin condition, authorities have yet to transfer him to a hospital for the procedure, his relatives said.
Authorities arrested Rajab on April 2, 2015, and filed charges based on his allegations on social media of torture in Jaw Prison. Authorities released Rajab on humanitarian grounds on July 13, 2015.
But on June 13, 2016, authorities again arrested Rajab, this time for his criticism during a television interview of their refusal to allow journalists and human rights groups into the country. A court sentenced Rajab to a two-year prison term for this criticism, on charges of “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in the Kingdom, which undermines the state prestige and status.” The Court of Cassation upheld that sentence on January 15, 2018. He is due to be released when he completes his sentence this month, unless the new conviction and sentence in the tweeting case are upheld.
Rajab is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.
Published on HRW on June 3, 2018
The trial of an Algerian blogger who faces the death penalty on trumped-up espionage charges based on online posts is yet another stain on the country’s human rights record, Amnesty International said today ahead of the opening hearing on 24 May.
Merzoug Touati faces charges relating to a Facebook post and YouTube video that authorities claim encouraged civil unrest. He has been in detention since January 2017.
Amnesty International has reviewed the court documents which list as “evidence” the posts published by Touati before his Facebook account and website were deleted, and found that there was no incitement to violence or advocacy of hatred, rather his posts were covered by freedom of expression in relation to his work as a citizen-journalist. Amnesty International therefore considers Merzoug Touati a prisoner of conscience held solely for expressing his peaceful opinions.
Saudi authorities since May 15, 2018, detained a total of seven prominent women’s rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today. The activists have long advocated ending the ban on women driving and abolishing the discriminatory male guardianship system. Among those arrested are Eman al-Nafjan and Lujain al-Hathloul, along with two male activists, but authorities have not revealed the reason behind the arrests.
Saudi rights defenders said that in September 2017 the royal court had called the country’s prominent activists, including some of those just detained, and warned them not to speak to the media. The calls were made the day the authorities announced that they would lift the driving ban on women in June. Saudi authorities should release the activists immediately or charge them with a recognizable criminal offense.
By Andrew Gilmour
In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines.
The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national commission on human rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy.
Even if extreme, such sweeping threats against hundreds of civil society representatives, defenders of human rights, and UN experts labeled “terrorists” in the Philippines are symptomatic of worrying regional trends.
If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? This is likely to increase fear in those seeking the protection of the UN and other human rights actors.
Human rights defenders in Pakistan are under threat from a targeted campaign of digital attacks, which has seen social media accounts hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware, a four-month investigation by Amnesty International reveals.
In a new report released today, Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan, Amnesty International reveals how attackers are using fake online identities and social media profiles to ensnare Pakistani human rights defenders online and mark them out for surveillance and cybercrime.
By Euan McKirdy
Anwar Ibrahim, a former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, has walked free after being granted a pardon for sodomy by the country's king.
The royal pardon potentially paves the way for him to succeed the country's elderly new leader Mahathir Mohamad, who was the surprise victor over former Prime Minister Najib Razak in last week's parliamentary election.
Surrounded by media and supporters, Anwar walked out of a hospital Wednesday where he was recovering from surgery. Anwar had been serving a five-year prison sentence for sodomy charges he says were politically motivated. Until his early release, he had been scheduled to be freed in early June.
The politician, a voice for reform in Malaysia and once a leading light in the party that ruled Malaysia until last week's election, was jailed in 2015. It was the second time he had been convicted of a sodomy offense.
Speaking to CNN's Rosemary Church, Anwar said that he "shared the jubilation" of the election win and his newfound freedom, reveling in what he said the king had called the reversal of "a clear miscarriage of justice."
"'I cannot tolerate this and therefore your pardon is to be immediate and unconditional,'" Anwar said the king told him.
Mahathir, 92, and Anwar, 70, had put aside a longstanding rivalry to fight together to defeat Najib. Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, endorsed Mahathir and served as his deputy in the coalition to oust Najib.
Mahathir and Anwar are a political odd couple who have "hated each other politically" for two decades, James Chin, Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, told CNN ahead of the election last week.
However, the Malaysian public saw the two politicians' "rapprochement as something very good," Chin said, and together they toppled Najib and broke the ruling coalition's 60-year grip on the country.
Commenting on their relationship, Anwar noted that "(Mahathir) works in different and odd ways but still it did happen."
"Although the pardon is the sole product of the king it was Mahathir who facilitated the process," said Anwar, in comments to CNN. "I of course told him that we have to move on because we had to ensure the democratic transition, democratic accountability in Malaysia."
'Impatient' to get back into politics
The partnership between Mahathir and Anwar was plotted last year, when a new leadership structure for the then opposition was announced, with Anwar its de facto leader and Mahathir named the four-party coalition's chairman.
Anwar is thought to be "impatient to get back into office," but Mahathir won't step down until he's ready, Meredith Weiss, professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, says, adding that there's "nothing Anwar can do" to hurry along the process.
"Mahathir is not known for standing down. He stepped aside in 2003 but continued meddling (from the sidelines)."
The elder statesman has pledged to hand over power within two years, and Anwar said that he wasn't "in a hurry" to take over the reins of leadership.
"(Mahathir is) committed to that transition period, and I'm not in a hurry because I've just been released. I need to take time to be with (my) family and to travel around the country (and) overseas," he said.
"I think I need to share this Malaysian spring with the Muslim world, because I think in the last two years (there has been) apathy and resignation -- (that) there's no hope for democracy in any Muslim country. Malaysia has tried to register protest through the ballot box and not only that, the commitment is for democracy."
Having Anwar and ready to return to active politics "brings stability to the transition," and Weiss suggests that Mahathir may stay in place until a corruption investigation into Najib is underway and the reform process touted in his electioneering begins.
She says that Anwar's recent hospitalization might "encourage him to slow down a bit," but he is known to be eager to get back into the fray.
Anwar still needs to be elected as a member of parliament, and it was assumed that his wife would stand down from the seat she won last week, says Weiss.
However, she's demonstrated she has a great deal of public support so another legislator might have to step down to allow Anwar to run, she added.
Veteran operativeAnwar made his name as a student activist in various Muslim youth groups in Kuala Lumpur in the late 1960s, as the country reeled from the protracted Communist insurgency of the Malayan Emergency.
Arrested in 1974 in student protests against rural poverty, Anwar was sentenced to 20 months in jail. Despite his firebrand reputation, he later confounded liberal supporters in 1982 by joining the conservative United Malays National Organization (UMNO) led by Mahathir.
The freed politician was the heir apparent to then-premier Mahathir until 1998, when he was sacked and charged for corruption and sodomy. He was found guilty the following year, a ruling that led to mass street demonstrations.
The sodomy conviction was overturned, but the corruption verdict was never lifted, barring him from running for political post until a decade later.
In 2008, once his ban on political participation was lifted, he was hit with further sodomy charges.
Following an appeal of the acquittal of those charges he was convicted again and jailed in 2015. Human rights groups were highly critical when the conviction was upheld, calling it politically motivated -- a claim the government denied.
Published on CNN on May 16, 2018
Today the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic rejected an appeal against the extension of the detention of Oyub Titiev, one of Russia’s leading human rights defenders. Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office at Amnesty International said:
“The decision to continue Oyub Titiev’s arbitrary detention is a grave injustice that strikes at the heart of Russia’s human rights community. The Chechen authorities are hellbent on silencing anyone who speaks out against human rights abuses in this region of Russia, and as the head of the human rights group Memorial’s Chechen office, Oyub Titiev has braved years of harassment and intimidation.
A UN human rights expert has urgently called on Iran to halt the death sentence against Iranian Kurd Ramin Hossein Panahi amid reports he will be executed on Thursday.
“The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the execution of Mr. Panahi and annul the death sentence against him,” said Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Last month, UN human rights experts urged authorities to annul the death sentence, citing concerns about allegations Mr. Panahi had not received a fair trial and mistreated and tortured in detention. “I deeply regret that the authorities disregarded earlier calls to annul Mr. Panahi’s death sentence, and to afford him a fair trial,” Callamard said.
The Special Rapporteur noted that the only thing that distinguishes capital punishment from arbitrary execution is full respect for stringent due process guarantees which do not appear to have been met in this case. In this regard, she recalled reports that UN experts had received describing his incommunicado detention, torture and ill treatment, and denial of access to a lawyer and adequate medical care.
Mr. Panahi was arrested in June last year for alleged membership of the Kurdish nationalist group Komala, and was held in solitary confinement until January. His family received no information about his fate or whereabouts for four months after his arrest. He was convicted for taking up arms against the State and sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in January 2018.
“I have been in dialogue with the Iranian authorities regarding Mr. Panahi’s situation,” Callamard concluded.
Published on The Center for Human Rights in Iran on May 2, 2018
Brazilian authorities must prioritize solving the killing of human rights defender Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, and bring all those responsible to justice, Amnesty International said today on the one-month anniversary of her assassination.
“Society needs to know who killed Marielle and why. Every day that this case remains unsolved the level of risk and uncertainty surrounding human rights defenders grows worse,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director at Amnesty International Brazil.
“If the State fails to bring the culprits to justice it sends a message that human rights defenders can be killed with impunity. The authorities must make clear that this is not the case and move swiftly to investigate those who killed Marielle and those who ordered her death.”
Elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council in 2016, Marielle was known for defending women’s rights, with a particular focus on the black women’s struggle, as well as LGBT rights, and for denouncing police abuses and extrajudicial executions, particularly in the favelas. Days before her killing, she was appointed rapporteur of the commission to monitor the intervention of the armed forces in public security tasks in Rio de Janeiro.
Marielle and her driver were shot dead while driving through Rio’s Estacio neighborhood after participating in a public debate on 14 March. At least 13 shots were fired, four of them hitting Marielle in the head. The nature of the shooting and the reported involvement of assailants in two vehicles indicate that it was a carefully planned assassination carried out by trained personnel.
Amnesty International calls on the Brazilian authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigation that not only identifies the shooters, but also those who ordered the killing.
Failure to identify all those responsible would put dozens of human rights defenders at grave risk. Brazil is one of the world’s deadliest countries for human rights defenders, with at least 58 killings in 2017. Such killings typically discourage mobilization, fueling fear and silence in society.
“The killing of a black, lesbian, human rights defender who stood up for the most marginalized sectors of society is clearly intended to silence her voice and generate fear and insecurity. But we will continue to raise our voices. People in Brazil and all over other world have mobilized since Marielle was killed and will not rest until the truth is known and justice is done. They tried to silence us but we’ve shown that we’re not afraid.”
Published on Amnesty International on April 13, 2018
Iranian authorities should immediately release Golrokh Iraee, a human rights defender hospitalized in Tehran, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraee was sentenced to six years in prison in April 2015 on charges solely related to her peaceful activism, after an unfair trial.Iraee was transferred to a hospital from prison on April 3, apparently suffering medical complications from a hunger strike. The authorities allowed her family to visit on April 9.
“Iranian authorities are apparently so threatened by human rights defenders that they imprison them for years,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of making prison conditions worse, Iran should start listening to defenders’ demands for more rights and freedom for all citizens.”
On January 24, authorities transferred Iraee and Atena Daemi, another human rights defender, from Evin prison in Tehran to Qarchak prison in the city of Varamin, which is reputed to have worse conditions than Evin. On February 3, Daemi and Iraee embarked on a hunger strike to protest their transfer from Evin, activists’ families reported. Daemi ended her hunger strike on February 26, but Iraee continued hers until she was transferred to the hospital on April 3.
On April 3, Iraee’s family had traveled to Varamin in the hopes of visiting her in prison. When they arrived, authorities told them that she had been transferred to a hospital in Tehran but refused to provide the family any information about her location or condition. On April 9, authorities finally allowed Iraee’s father to visit her at a hospital in Tehran. A source who wished to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch on April 9 that the visit lasted about an hour, and it was apparent that Iraee had lost a significant amount of weight.
On September 6, 2014, authorities from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Service arrested Iraee along with her husband, Arash Sadeghi, also a human rights defender, and two other people, and sent them to Evin prison. In April 2015, Judge Abdolghassem Salavati, from Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court who has sentenced dozens of activists to unfair prison sentences, sentenced Iraee to six years in prison on charges of “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state.” Authorities used an unpublished story Iraee had written about stoning that was confiscated at the time of her arrest as evidence to convict her.
Human Rights Watch had previously documented the couple’s lack of access to fair legal representation during their trial. Other human rights defenders have experienced similar conditions at their trials. Several other rights defenders serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism and criticism include Narges Mohammadi and Abdolfatah Soltani, the former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Zahra Rahnavard, an author and activist who is Mousavi’s wife, have remained under house arrest in Tehran since February 2011.
“There is nothing to suggest that Iraee has committed any genuine crime and keeping her one more day behind bars is illegal,” Whitson said. “She should be released immediately.”
Published on HRW on April 10, 2018.