Recent reports that the US monitored calls between members of President Trump’s campaign staff and Russian intelligence personnel have renewed controversy about the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), and how those bodies handle the information they collect. But anyone concerned about the scope or legality of the US government’s warrantless intelligence surveillance should also worry about the way these programs may affect the country’s border and immigrant communities.

A general view shows part of the Loma Blanca neighborhood as a section of the border fence marking the boundarie with El Paso, U.S. is seen on the background, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The US currently has two main “foreign” surveillance powers it can—in practice—use to obtain and sift through information on people within its borders without a warrant. (We do not yet know whether either of these was the legal basis for intercepting the conversations with Trump’s campaign staff). 

The first, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, setting the stage for an intense debate in Congress about reforming surveillance. Under Section 702, the NSA (with telecommunications companies’ help) automatically searches virtually all the Internet communications flowing over the fiber optic cables that connect the US to the rest of the world—a practice known as “upstream” scanning. 

As of 2015, 26 percent of people in the United States were first- or second-generation immigrants.  Upstream monitoring, as we currently understand it, means that whenever any of these tens of millions of people—or anyone else in the US—sends an email to a friend or family member in another country, the US government is likely searching those communications to see if they contain e-mail addresses or other “selectors” of interest. This kind of suspicionless, warrantless, disproportionate monitoring violates human rights.

In addition to Section 702, Executive Order 12333 allows the NSA and other US agencies to vacuum up the communications of US citizens and lawful permanent residents in the course of foreign surveillance. Leaked documents indicate that pursuant to EO 12333, the US has grabbed records of potentially all telephone calls in countries including Mexico and the Philippines. In other words, if you are in El Paso, Texas and have called your mother in Juárez, Mexico, US intelligence agencies probably have a record of your call. They can use this data to map social networks—and share it for law enforcement purposes.

The US’ vast warrantless surveillance powers are not only an issue for legal wonks or the technically savvy: they may be affecting people and communities throughout the United States and the world. Congress and the judiciary should regard them as direct threats to both US democracy and human rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The latest revisions to China’s Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised law, which took effect November 1, 2015, does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

“The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9)), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.” The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or reposting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution.

In the past, the Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
     

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. But authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uighurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response.

“The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China,” Richardson said. “The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Writer and human rights activist, Nurcan Baysal, pictured in Diyarbakır, Turkey.

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

The Turkish government’s intolerance of criticism knows few bounds.

Police detained writer and human rights activist Nurcan Baysal from her house in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey, late Sunday. As I write this she remains in custody.

She has been detained in connection with her tweets calling for peace and condemning the Turkish government’s military incursion in the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin, her lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Afrin is under the control of Kurdish forces, which Ankara has long opposed.

Baysal is among 30 people detained in Diyarbakır for their social media posts. The city’s chief prosecutor’s office announced those tweeting had, “spread propaganda for armed terrorist organizations … and a call for provocative actions.”

Yet nothing in Baysal’s tweets advocates violence. If anything, it’s the opposite. As the Turkish government knows, Baysal, who is Kurdish, has long advocated for dialogue and political negotiations to end the decades’ long conflict between the Turkish state and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She has joined countless efforts to bring together government officials and civil society actors to that end, and is someone who believes communication should be kept open on even the darkest days.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday declared that those who protested the military operation on the streets would pay a “very heavy price.”

Police prevented an attempted street demonstration in at least one district of Istanbul, and the move against people who took to Twitter shows that Turkey’s government is determined to censor critical voices.

Prosecutors in Turkey have repeatedly misused articles of the law such as, “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and, “inciting hatred and enmity among the population,” to silence journalists, government critics, and activists. So far, three members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish opposition are also under investigation for their tweets criticizing the military operation. The Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office has stated that investigation into social media posts and the crackdown on street demonstrations will continue.

Turkey’s silencing of voices who speak out against war is in violation of its own laws and obligations under international human rights law. I hope that by the time these words are published, Baysal will be out of police custody and home, with no charges.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Algerian authorities have stepped up trials of members of the Ahmadiyya religious minority on charges related to the exercise of their religion, Human Rights Watch said today. Sentences range from fines to a year in prison.

Mohamed Fali. 

© Private

Human Rights Watch received information that, in December 2017 alone, there were at least eight new trials in Algeria involving at least 50 Ahmadi defendants. Since June 2016, 266 Ahmadis have faced charges, some of them in more than one trial. The president of the Ahmadyyia community in Algeria, Mohamed Fali, told Human Rights Watch that at least four new trials are scheduled for later in January 2018.

“Algerian authorities continue their unabated persecution of this minority, apparently for doing no more than exercising their freedom of religion,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The Ahmadiyya, a community founded in India in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and identifying itself as Muslim, is estimated to have about 2,000 adherents in Algeria, according to the community.

Algerian officials have denigrated the Ahmadis on more than one occasion. In October 2016, Religious Affairs Minister Mohamed Aissa described the Ahmadi presence in Algeria as part of a “deliberate sectarian invasion” and declared that the government brought criminal charges against Ahmadis to “stop deviation from religious precepts.” In February 2017, he stated that Ahmadis are damaging the very basis of Islam.

In April, Ahmed Ouyahia, then-chief of cabinet to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said that “there are no human rights or freedom of religion” in the matter of the Ahmadis, because “Algeria has been a Muslim country for 14 centuries.” He called on Algerians to “protect the country from the Shia and Ahmadiyya sects.”

Authorities are prosecuting Ahmadis under one or more of the following charges: denigrating the dogma or precepts of Islam, punishable by a prison term of three to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$908), under article 144 of the penal code; participation in an unauthorized association, under article 46 of the Associations Law, punishable by a prison sentence of three to six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 dinars; collecting donations without a license, under articles 1 and 8 of the decree 03-77 of 1977 regulating donations; conducting worship in unauthorized places, under articles 7, 12, and 13 of Ordinance 06-03 Establishing the Conditions and Rules for the Exercise of non-Muslim Religions; and possession and distribution of documents from foreign sources threatening national security, under article 96-2 of the penal code, punishable by up to three years in prison.

In a December 11 trial, the First Instance Court of Ain Mlila sentenced Karim Hadjaze, a 37-year-old doctor and secretary general of the Ahmadi community, in absentia to one year in prison and 20,000 dinar fine (US$175), on charges of collecting donations without a license and conducting worship in unauthorized places. Hadjaze remains free pending his retrial, which is scheduled for January 14. He has also two other pending detention orders from the Larbaa and Setif first instance courts, both for convictions on charges related to his religious faith. In the Ain Mellila case, 10 other defendants received sentences ranging from three to six months in prison.

Fali, who had been arrested and prosecuted in six separate cases in 2016 and 2017 and spent three months in jail in Chlef in 2017, said he has been on trial before a court in Kolea since December on charges related to denigrating Islam, an unauthorized association, and documents threatening national security and another case heard on December 28 before the Boufarik First Instance Court.

Y.M., 34, an information technology engineer who did not want to be named, said that he was first arrested in Hassi Messaoud on February 20, 2017. He said gendarmes had searched his office and confiscated books about Ahmadis. They took him for interrogation at the gendarmerie and released him late that night. He said the Hassi Messaoud First Instance Tribunal convicted him on charges relating to denigrating Islam, an unauthorized association, documents threatening national security, and worshipping in unauthorized places, and sentenced him on October 28 to six months in prison and 300,000 dinars fine (US$2,600). He has appealed his conviction.

On April 2, 2017, when Y.M. was in his home town of Boumerdès, gendarmes searched his house and told him and his wife, who is also Ahmadi, to come in for interrogation. In this second case, the First Instance Court of Boumerdès sentenced him, on December 17, to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 dinars (US$4,340) on charges similar to the Hassi Messaoud case. He said he received a summons to appear in a third case, along with Fali, in Boufarik.  They await the verdict.

During its Third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, on May 8, Algeria failed to accept many of the recommendations calling on the authorities to stop arresting and defaming the Ahmadis. In its response to other countries’ remarks and recommendation, Algeria denied that Ahmadis “were prosecuted on the basis of their faith, but rather because they breached the law.” It stated that “there are no prisoners of opinion in Algeria or persons persecuted for their beliefs.”

However, the judge’s reasoning in the case in Ain Mellila, similar to some earlier judgments against Ahmadis that Human Rights Watch reviewed for a September 2017 report, shows that the court convicted them on charges related to their faith.

The judgment states, “It appears that a group of people belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect have formed in Ain Mellila to disseminate beliefs that are alien to our religion...this movement appears to be based on religion and rites but, in reality, it has a hidden agenda and future strategies aiming at destabilizing the country and shaking its stability and security.” The judgment did not specify how the defendants were endangering Algeria’s security.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified, governments must ensure the right to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience of everyone under their jurisdiction, and in particular to religious minorities. This right includes the freedom to exercise the religion or belief of one’s choice publicly or privately, alone or with others. Algeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion but states that “this freedom must be exercised in respect of the law.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Middle East and North Africa (MENA) governments can respond to the popular demands of the region’s youth for reform by implementing five changes in 2018 to arbitrary, outdated legal systems that infringe upon citizens’ rights and liberties, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2018. Some governments in the region have already embarked on important progress, but most remain hostage to rigid mentalities.

Demonstration outside Parliament on December 6, 2016, with women in white dresses and wrapped in bandages, calling for the repeal of article 522 of the penal code.

© Patrick Baz / AFP

“The people of the region are sick of their governments’ tired excuses for failing to make basic reforms that will dramatically improve everyone’s quality of life,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “While the region is reeling from the untold destruction from armed conflicts in four countries and heightened repression elsewhere, there’s a lot that governments can do to give the young generation a reason to believe that progress is possible in the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Here are the top five reforms MENA governments can move to make this year:

  1. “Don’t Want to Marry My Rapist #MeToo!”: Women in MENA made clear that it is not OK to let a rapist escape prison by marrying his victim, a legal loophole that dates to Napoleonic times. Families who agree to such judicially sanctioned marriages do so largely to escape the stigma of a daughter “stained” by rape. Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon abolished these horrific laws in 2017, following Morocco and Egypt, which did so in years past; seven other countries in the region where this provision remains – Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, and Palestine – should immediately abolish it.

“Shame on every legislator who still thinks they’re doing a rape survivor a favor by allowing her rapist to escape punishment by marrying her,” Whitson said. “The only dishonor that persists when a woman is raped is when governments and societies fail to punish the rapists and provide real support to their victims.”  

  1. “I’m Not Any Man’s Property”: MENA women made some advances on nationality issues in 2017: Tunisia repealed a decree that prevented Muslim women – but not men – from registering marriages with non-Muslims; it also passed a landmark law on violence against women, instituting measures to prevent violence, protect survivors, and punish their abusers. In response to Qatari women’s demands to pass nationality onto their children like Qatari men, Qatar pledged to grant residency to children of Qatari women, providing most but not all rights that non-citizen children have. This half-baked measure still means children of Qatari mothers and foreign fathers won’t have a right to a passport and to travel as Qatari nationals. Saudi Arabia promised that government agencies would end “arbitrary” applications of its male guardianship system, which deprives adult women the ability to apply for a passport or travel without a male guardian’s consent, but has yet to dismantle the entire system; it also promised to finally lift the ban on women driving in June 2018. Fortunately, female legislators in Iraq were able to stop some legislators from undermining women’s rights in Iraq’s personal status laws, including reducing the permissible age for marriage to 8. Even the invisible women in the region – the migrant domestic workers who hail mostly from Asia and Africa – are starting to gain recognition of their rights, with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates passing laws on domestic workers. In 2018, MENA governments should act rapidly to allow women equal rights with men to pass on nationality to their children; abolish whatever remnants remain of the guardianship system; and enact and implement laws on violence against women and domestic workers’ rights. Ending systemic discrimination in divorce, child custody, and inheritance should come next.

“Most MENA women are at the bottom of the global barrel of rights and equality, with governments manipulating stale justifications based on culture and religious interpretations,” Whitson said. “2018 should be the year when women in the Middle East are finally heard and can enjoy the rights and protections like women around the world.”

  1. “Get Out of Our Bedrooms”: Despite urgent problems of poverty, unemployment, failed infrastructure, and crippled economies, many MENA governments nevertheless devoted extensive resources to prosecuting people for their adult, consensual bedroom activities. While nearly every MENA government retains laws that criminalize sex outside marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sex, Egypt stood out during 2017 by targeting the LGBT community with sweeps of arrests of suspected gay men. Police in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Tunisia, among others, arrested or harassed people for adultery, kissing, and other so-called “morality” offenses. Survivors of sexual violence can be convicted under such charges if police or prosecutors don’t believe their claims of rape, discouraging reports of sexual assault. Iran and Saudi Arabia enforced strict codes on women’s hair covering and dress.

“Plenty of young people in the Middle East know well that when governments profess to enforce morality, they are hiding behind a hypocritical façade to cover up their critical failures in governance,” Whitson said. “What might have worked to placate the masses in the past won’t work anymore, and governments would be wise to bring their out-of-date notions on morality into the 21st century.”

  1. Stop Jailing People for “Insults”: Many MENA government officials jailed people for alleged insults to them or to loosely defined notions of the country’s “reputation,” “national interest,” “culture,” or “religion.” Saudi Arabia went so far as to define “insulting the king,” crown prince, or head of state as a terrorist offense for which the punishment is five to 10 years imprisonment. Bahrain jailed human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab for an “insulting” tweet. Kuwait sentenced a writer to seven years in prison for insulting the state of Qatar. MENA governments should abolish any law that even uses the word “insult” in its definition of a crime.

“It’s the right of people to criticize their government officials on whatever grounds they wish, and officials with a life tenure to power are entitled to no special protections,” Whitson said. “Politics is a tough business, and thin-skinned government officials who can’t stand to be criticized should pitch a tent in some remote corner of an uninhabited desert instead and consider a new line of work.”

  1. “Let me in! Let me out!”: Many MENA governments have treated their countries – and sometimes the countries of others – as massive jails, arbitrarily denying people the right to leave or the right to enter. Saudi Arabia has imposed arbitrary travel bans on many Saudis, and reportedly detained visiting foreign government officials like Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while Israel has refused to allow Gazans to exit even for urgent medical treatment or education abroad. Bahrain stripped hundreds of its nationals of their citizenship to punish families of activists. Israel refused entry to people – including Jews – whose political views it doesn’t like, and blocked human rights workers and journalists from accessing Gaza. Saudi Arabia also has banned human rights workers and journalists from traveling to war-torn Yemen.

“The temerity of governments that treat their citizens like property to be held on to or disposed at whim is an insult, to say the least,” Whitson said. “And they only embarrass themselves with what they are trying to hide when they block entry to journalists and human rights workers – because the truth always comes out.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A demonstration outside a courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey in solidarity with the staff of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on trial over alleged support to terrorist groups, July 24, 2017.

 

© 2017 Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkey increased restrictions on the media, political opposition, and human rights defenders during 2017, on the back of a very narrow referendum, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Turkey also introduced a presidential system with insufficient democratic checks and balances against the president’s abuse of power.

“Everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The move to a presidential system, the ongoing state of emergency, and charges against opposition lawmakers have all weakened parliament, the courts are under ever tighter government control, and the crackdown on media and civil society deepens.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held a constitutional referendum in April under restrictions on rights, including those imposed during a state of emergency that had been in place for nine months, undermining its fairness. Voters narrowly approved the changes.

The government exerted enormous pressure over Turkey’s courts and prosecutors. Legitimate efforts to prosecute those responsible for the 2016 coup attempt were undermined by widespread misuse of counterterrorism laws. Several major politically motivated trials of journalists on terrorism-related charges began in 2017, and the government also targeted human rights defenders.

The chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kilic, remains in detention facing a trumped up prosecution for membership in a terrorist organization. And a businessman and civil society leader, Osman Kavala, remained in pretrial detention and under investigation for bogus allegations of involvement in the coup attempt.

The government deepened its assault during 2017 on the Kurdish political opposition in parliament, and on local government in the southeastern part of the country. Members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including party leader, Selahattin Demirtas, remain jailed for over a year, pending trial on terrorism charges. The government has taken over almost all municipalities in the southeast, depriving people in the region of their chosen representatives.

Under the state of emergency, the government has failed to provide redress for the over 100,000 civil servants dismissed, as well as hundreds of media outlets, associations, and other institutions closed down. Also covered in the chapter is the rise in allegations of torture in police custody, the human rights implications of continuing conflict in the southeast, Turkey’s role as the host of the highest number of refugees in the world and the role of human rights in its relations with the EU.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk arrive for a joint news conference following the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev, Ukraine, July 13, 2017. 

© 2017 REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
(Kyiv) – Ukrainian authorities backtracked on important human rights pledges during 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Holding accountable people responsible for torture and enforced disappearances, and for attacks on journalists and anti-corruption and rights groups should be priority issues for the Ukrainian government and its international partners during 2018.

“For the last year, Kyiv has been treating its human rights obligation as though they were optional,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are carrying out some deeply undemocratic practices and proposing new laws that that undermine Ukrainians’ fundamental freedoms.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In recent months, Ukraine’s government took several steps to restrict freedom of expression, media freedom, and freedom of association, invoking as justification the need to counter Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine and anti-Ukraine propaganda. In March, the Ukrainian government adopted legislation imposing criminal penalties on anti-corruption activists who fail to publicly report their personal assets. In July, President Petro Poroshenko proposed draft legislation to introduce burdensome and excessive public online reporting requirements for all nonprofit organizations.

Throughout 2017, all sides to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine endangered civilians and civilian infrastructure, as they continued hostilities.

The authorities have brought almost no one to justice for torture in custody, unacknowledged detention, and other armed-conflict-related abuses. The leadership of the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) denied its responsibility for secret detention and enforced disappearances, despite numerous, well-documented allegations by former detainees. The military prosecutor’s investigation into these practices yielded no meaningful results.

In August, SBU officials unlawfully detained and tortured a woman, later charging her with treason for allegedly working as a Russian agent. The authorities did not investigate her torture allegations.

In the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) Russia-backed de-facto authorities arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared people, with utter disregard for the rule of law.

Justice for crimes committed during the 2014 Maidan protests, which led to the ouster of the Ukrainian government, and for mass disturbances in Odesa remained elusive. Four years after Maidan, authorities appear unwilling to pursue meaningful prosecutions of those responsible for more than 100 deaths and numerous other crimes.

The human rights crisis in Crimea that began with Russia’s occupation of the peninsula in 2014 persisted. Russian authorities thoroughly suppressed public criticism of Russia’s actions there, including through criminal prosecution. They also targeted Crimean Tatars for their pro-Ukraine position, using criminal prosecutions for separatism and baseless terrorism-related charges. Authorities in Crimea also detained and imposed fines on Crimean Tatars who peacefully staged single-person pickets to protest the arrest and prosecution of others.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli is brought to the court after he has been abducted in Georgia and forcibly taken to neighboring Azerbaijan where he was detained in custody. 31 May, 2017. 

© 2017 Azadliq Radiosu/RFERL
(Berlin) – The Azerbaijani government sentenced at least 25 journalists and political and youth activists to long prison terms in politically motivated, unfair trials in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Draconian laws and regulations on nongovernmental organizations made it almost impossible for independent groups to fund and carry out their work. In a violent campaign, police arrested and ill-treated dozens of gay men and transgender women to coerce bribes and other information. Torture and ill-treatment in custody with impunity is common, and legal changes reduced the number of lawyers willing to take politically sensitive cases.

“Over the past year, Azerbaijani authorities have sustained a concerted assault on government critics, threatening the survival of independent activism in the country,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “Azerbaijan should end the crackdown, release everyone who has been wrongly imprisoned, and allow independent groups to function without undue interference.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Those imprisoned in 2017 include: Mehman Huseynov, a prominent journalist and blogger, sentenced in March to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the staff of a police station after he publicized the abuse he suffered in their custody; Elgiz Gahraman, a youth activist, who was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison on bogus drug-related charges; and several members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, including its deputy chair, Gozel Bayramli, who was detained in May at the border with neighboring Georgia, are facing spurious smuggling charges. In May, unidentified people abducted a journalist and political activist, Afgan Mukhtarli, in Georgia and illegally took him to Azerbaijan, where he was sentenced in January to six years’ imprisonment on bogus charges, including unlawful border crossing and smuggling.

Dozens of journalists and activists convicted in politically motivated trials in past years remained in prison. Among them is Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the pro-democracy opposition movement Republican Alternative (REAL), imprisoned since February 2013. He has not been released despite a 2014 European Court of Human Rights judgment finding his imprisonment illegal. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has repeatedly demanded Mammadov’s release, and in October triggered unprecedented legal proceedings against Azerbaijan for its failure to release Mammadov.

Authorities also stifled critical media. In May, claiming national security threats, authorities permanently blocked prominent independent and opposition media outlets’ websites, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

In September, authorities detained dozens of people presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women, on dubious disobedience charges. Police ill-treated many to coerce bribes and information about other gay men. Following unfair trials, they were either sentenced to up to 30 days in detention or released after they paid a fine. Legislative amendments that went into effect in December banned lawyers without bar membership from representing clients in courts. The move is likely to further reduce the number of lawyers willing to take on politically sensitive cases. Observers have criticized the Azerbaijani Bar Association for lack of independence and its arbitrary powers to deny admissions of new members. In November, a prominent human rights lawyer, Yalchin Imanov, was disbarred for publicizing the beating of one of his clients in a prison.

The United States, the European Union, and Azerbaijan’s other bilateral and international partners criticized the government’s targeting of critics, but have not effectively leveraged their relationships with the government to secure meaningful rights improvements. The EU started negotiations for a new comprehensive partnership agreement with Azerbaijan despite failing to secure real human rights reforms. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Public debate on the law on violence in the family, passed in December 2017. 

© 2017 RFE/RL Armenia
(Berlin) – The Armenian government made important steps to improve access to palliative care for people with life-threatening illnesses in 2017 and parliament passed a law on violence in the family, but serious gaps in human rights protection persist, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

The authorities failed to bring to justice officials responsible for excessive use of force against protesters and journalists in Yerevan during July 2016 protests. Domestic violence is a serious problem, with thousands of women reporting incidents annually. Local groups reported at least four women killed by their partners or family members in 2017.

“Despite alarming statistics on domestic violence, the Armenian government hasn’t done enough to protect and support survivors,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “The recent law on family violence is a step forward, but the government still has a long way to go to ensure that women and children aren’t trapped in abusive and often life-threatening situations.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Human Rights Watch identified other serious human rights concerns in Armenia, including violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a positive step, the government overhauled the onerous system for prescribing and accessing opioid pain medications for patents with life-threatening illnesses.

Armenia’s ruling party dominated parliamentary and municipal elections in 2017. International observers concluded that the April parliamentary elections “were well administered,” but the polls were “tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies,” and failed to improve public confidence in the country’s electoral systems.

The government has failed to ensure full accountability for police violence against largely peaceful protesters and journalists during protests in Yerevan in July 2016. Some police officers faced disciplinary action, but no criminal charges were pursued against any officials, despite the gravity of some of the force used. At the same time, authorities prosecuted protest participants and leaders, convicting at least 22 people on charges of using violence during mass disorder and interfering with the work of a journalist.

The authorities also did not effectively investigate the alleged police beating of four men in the court building in Yerevan in June. They were among 32 men facing trial for alleged crimes committed during the July 2016 armed takeover of a Yerevan police station. The men said police beat them in basement holding cells. Some officers alleged to have participated in the beatings remained on duty in the courtroom during the trial.

Thousands of children placed in residential institutions due to disability or poverty faced neglect due to overcrowding. While the authorities have transformed some of the institutions into community support centers, the process has not included all institutions with children with disabilities. Children with disabilities frequently remain in institutions as adults indefinitely, stripped of their legal capacity. Physical barriers and lack of reasonable accommodations at community schools often leave children with disabilities with little or no education.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Riot police detain a man during an anti-corruption protest on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, Russia, June 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
(Moscow) – The Russian government escalated its crackdown on the political opposition and peaceful protesters during 2017, in advance of the 2018 elections, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

The government also took new steps to stifle, and parliament passed laws further curbing, freedom of online expression and the media. The authorities viciously harassed political and civic activists and upped prosecution for online speech. Chechen security officials, on orders of top local leadership, carried out a large-scale anti-gay purge, while federal authorities have not held those responsible to account.

“Last year was a dark year for independent voices in Russia,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. “As the March 2018 presidential election approaches, the Kremlin is stepping up on repressive measures to discourage political opposition, independent activism and critical expression.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In the first six months of 2017 alone, the number of people fined or placed in custody for alleged violations of regulations on public gatherings was two and a half times higher than throughout 2016. In most cases, officials refused to authorize demonstrations, and arbitrarily detained, harassed, and intimidated peaceful protesters, including schoolchildren and university students, and the parents of children who participated.

The authorities systematically interfered with the presidential campaign of the opposition politician and anti-corruption activist, Alexei Navalny. Although formally disqualified from running due to a politically motivated criminal conviction, Navalny opened campaign offices in most of Russia’s regions. Police searched Navalny’s offices, arbitrarily seized campaign materials, detained campaigners on groundless charges, and raided the homes of local campaigners and their relatives. Ultra-nationalist groups and pro-Kremlin activists increasingly targeted Navalny campaigners and offices. Attackers vandalized campaign offices or campaigners’ homes, stormed into meetings, and even physically assaulted campaigners.

There have also been several violent attacks on independent activists and journalists. As December drew to a close, masked assailants attacked three environmental rights defenders and a journalist in Krasnodar. One of the victims, Andrei Rudomakha, required extensive hospital treatment for a fractured skull and a broken nose.

Authorities continued their large-scale smear campaign against independent non-governmental organizations, and penalized seven local groups for supposed cooperation with foreign organizations banned as “undesirable.”

Legislation adopted in July banned anonymous use of online messenger applications and software designed to circumvent internet censorship. In November, parliament adopted a law enabling the government to designate any media organization or information distributor of foreign origin as “foreign media performing the functions of a foreign agent”, and requiring it to comply with the restrictive regulations for nongovernment groups set out in the 2012 “foreign agents” law.

The law also allows authorities to extrajudicially block websites that have “information materials of undesirable organizations” or calls for unauthorized public gatherings and extremist actions, including information accessible through hyperlinks. In December, authorities threatened to block Twitter and YouTube if they failed to remove content by a banned “undesirable” organization. Negotiations are in progress.

In early spring, security officials in Chechnya unlawfully rounded up dozens of men they presumed gay, holding and torturing them in unofficial facilities, outing them to their families and encouraging honor killings. Chechnya’s leadership responded to a media outcry by denying that there were any gay people in Chechnya and accusing journalists and human rights defenders of seeking to destabilize the republic. Federal authorities opened an investigation, but have provided no effective remedy. In early January 2018, at leading Russian rights group, Memorial Human Rights Center, Chechen authorities arrested Memorial’s Chechnya director, Oyub Titiev, on fraudulent drug charges.

Despite persistently high rates of domestic violence, in February the Russian government enacted a law decriminalizing acts of domestic violence that don’t cause serious bodily harm.

Workers on stadiums being built for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup suffered exploitation, including not providing them with contracts, withholding their wages, and retaliating for reporting abuses.

Russian authorities stepped up on repression against critics in occupied Crimea, primarily Crimean Tatars, and provided political and material support to armed self-styled separatists in eastern Ukraine while turning a blind eye to their abuses.

Syrian and Russian forces carried out unlawful attacks in Syria, including airstrikes on schools and hospitals, and air-dropped cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in populated areas. Russia protected Syria’s government from repercussions for violating the laws of war. It has used its Security Council veto 11 times since 2011 to shield Damascus from consequences like sanctions or referral to the International Criminal Court.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People attend the opening ceremony of the new Belarussian-built potash plant in Garlyk, Turkmenistan March 31, 2017. 

 

© 2017 REUTERS/Marat Gurt
(Berlin) – Political leaders in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan should use the window of opportunity offered by political change in their countries to improve human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2018. Leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan should also end repressive policies documented during 2017 and prioritize rights.

In Uzbekistan, since assuming the presidency in 2016, president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken several positive steps to improve human rights, but grave abuses and highly repressive government policies remain in place. In Kyrgyzstan the newly elected president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov has the opportunity to reverse recent negative trends on freedom of expression and assembly.

“Leaders in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have the chance to make game-changing decisions on human rights for their people,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia division director at Human Rights Watch. “Those in power across Central Asia should abandon repressive policies and take steps to allow free speech, end torture in detention, and release critics from jail.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In Kazakhstan during 2017, the authorities silenced critics and continued a crackdown on independent trade unions, closing the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan. Tajikistan has had an ongoing, severe human rights crackdown, with further arrests of government critics and violent retaliation against the relatives of dissidents abroad. The authorities in Turkmenistan, one of the most closed and repressive countries in the world, took new steps against independent activists and reporters.

As the Kazakh government tried to boost its image, hosting high-profile international events, its human rights record further deteriorated. Authorities targeted government critics, including journalists, with politically motivated criminal charges and other harassment, and suppressed independent trade union activity. Several activists and trade union leaders remain wrongfully imprisoned. The government maintained tight controls over freedom of religion, expression, and peaceful assembly.

In Kyrgyzstan, international observers of the October 2017 president elections found it to be competitive, but noted concerns such as widespread abuse of public resources and pressure on voters. Prior to the election, authorities banned public assemblies in central Bishkek. Azimjon Askarov, a human rights defender, is serving a life sentence. Media freedom has deteriorated, with the Prosecutor General’s office bringing lawsuits against critical media and a human rights defender. Several foreign human rights workers, including from Human Rights Watch, are banned from Kyrgyzstan.

Tajikistan’s human rights record worsened further as authorities deepened a severe, widespread crackdown on free expression and association, peaceful political opposition activity, the independent legal profession, and the independent exercise of religious faith. More than 150 political activists, including a number of lawyers and journalists, remain unjustly jailed, and the relatives of dissidents who peacefully criticize the government from outside the country are subjected to violent retaliation orchestrated by authorities.

In Turkmenistan, the government effectively bans all forms of religious and political expression not approved by the authorities, tightly controls media, and allows no independent monitoring groups. Dozens of people remain victims of enforced disappearance. In 2017, Turkmenistan hosted the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG), marking a rare departure from the country’s self-imposed isolation, but prompting the government to clamp down further on expression and other rights.

In Uzbekistan, president Mirziyoyev released at least 16 political prisoners, relaxed certain restrictions on free expression, removed citizens from the security services’ notorious “black list,” and increased accountability of government institutions to the citizenry. At the same time, Uzbek security services brought fresh charges against several journalists, including Bobomurod Abdullaev, Hayot Nasreddinov, and Nurullo Otahonov. Grave rights abuses such as torture, politically motivated imprisonment, and forced labor in the cotton fields persist. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Anti-coup students hold posters dedicated to the third anniversary of a military coup during a demonstration at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand on May 22, 2017.

© 2017 Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

(New York) – Thailand’s government took no significant steps to restore democratic rule and basic freedoms in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. The military junta’s adoption of a national human rights agenda and repeated assurances that it would hold elections for a civilian government did nothing to reverse the country’s human rights crisis.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

“Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.”

Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In August, authorities charged veteran journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk and two prominent politicians – Pichai Naripthaphan and Watana Muangsook – with sedition and violating the Computer-Related Crime Act for their Facebook commentaries about Thailand’s political and economic problems. Many critics of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta were ordered to undergo “attitude adjustment” programs in military barracks. In November, government security forces forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest in Songkhla province and stopped protesters from submitting a petition to the government against the construction of a coal-fired power plant. At least 16 protest leaders were arrested.

During the year the authorities temporarily forced off the air Voice TV, Spring News Radio, Peace TV, and TV24 for criticizing military rule. The stations were permitted to resume broadcasting after they agreed to practice self-censorship.

As head of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha wields limitless authority, including the military’s power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. There are still at least 1,800 civilians facing prosecution in military courts, which do not meet international fair trial standards.

Since the 2014 coup, Thai authorities have arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) charges. The crackdown on lese majeste offenses has intensified since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016. In August, the Khon Kaen provincial court sentenced prominent student activist Jatupat (Pai) Boonphatthararaksa to 30 months in prison for posting on his Facebook page a critical BBC Thai profile of Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

In February, the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) suspended its consideration of the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, which would make torture and enforced disappearance criminal offenses in accordance with Thailand’s treaty obligations. The government has not clarified whether the bill will be reintroduced.

There still has been no justice for past human rights violations, such as the 2003 “war on drugs” and the 2010 dispersal of street protests. Nor have any security personnel been criminally prosecuted for abuses in the southern border provinces, where separatist insurgents have also committed numerous abuses against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.

“Prime Minister Prayuth’s empty promises cannot justify a return to business as usual with Thailand,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the junta to immediately end repression, respect fundamental rights, and return the country to democratic civilian rule.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot rally, Singapore's annual gay pride rally, at a park in Singapore on July 1, 2017. 

© 2017 Darren Whiteside / Reuters

(New York) – Singapore’s government imposed further restrictions on free speech and peaceful assembly while harassing and prosecuting critical voices in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

“The Singapore government’s heightened limits on dissenting voices outdoors, indoors, and online have increased fear and self-censorship in the city-state,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “By severely restricting the scope for any sort of public protest, the government criminalizes basic freedoms and undermines the country’s reputation abroad.”

The Singapore government’s heightened limits on dissenting voices outdoors, indoors, and online have increased fear and self-censorship in the city-state.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Singapore’s draconian limits on public assemblies tightened even further during 2017. The government maintains strict restrictions on peaceful assembly through the Public Order Act, which requires a police permit for any “cause-related” assembly outside the small and closely monitored “Speakers’ Corner” space in Hong Lim Park. The law was amended in 2017 to provide the police commissioner with specific authority to reject any permit application for an assembly or procession “directed towards a political end” if any foreigner is found to be involved.

In early September, police summoned for questioning participants in a July 2017 vigil outside Changi prison to support the family of a man scheduled to hang, and banned them from leaving the country. In November, the police filed criminal charges against Jolovan Wham, one of the participants in this event, and indicated that the others involved remained under investigation. The authorities also charged Wham with two other counts of violating the Public Order Act – one relating to an indoor forum at which Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong spoke from overseas via Skype, and the other a silent protest to commemorate the 1987 arrests of activists under the abusive Internal Security Act (ISA).

Although the government passed new legislation codifying the law of contempt in August 2016, the legislation did not go into effect until October 2017, and the government continued to use common law contempt proceedings against those who criticize the judiciary.

Persons facing contempt proceedings in 2017 included a lawyer who posted a critical poem on his Facebook page after the execution of a client, an activist who asserted that her conviction for unlawful assembly and public nuisance was “political,” and a relative of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who referred in a private Facebook post to the judiciary as “pliant.”

The Media Development Authority effectively prohibits all positive depictions of LGBT lives on television or radio. The 8th annual inclusive Pink Dot festival took place in Hong Lim Park in June 2017. Earlier that month, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) asked a shopping center to remove the phrase “Supporting the Freedom to Love” from a promotional ad for this year’s festival on the grounds it “may affect public sensitivities.”

Government rules require foreign companies to apply for a permit to sponsor an event in Hong Lim Park. The 10 multinational corporations that applied for a permit to sponsor the 2017 Pink Dot festival were denied. However, over 100 Singapore companies stepped forward to fill the funding gap, and Pink Dot exceeded its annual fundraising target.

“The overwhelming support that Pink Dot received from Singaporean companies rebutted the government’s argument that Singaporean society is somehow not ready to recognize LGBT rights,” Robertson said. “Continued discrimination against the LGBT community shows that Singapore is still not ready to become the global economic leader it aspires to be.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Two homosexual men were sentenced to 82 whips by the Shariah Court in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on May 23, 2017. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that enforces Islamic law.

© 2017 Sipa via AP Images

(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government is failing to confront increasing intolerance that has led to discrimination and violence against the country’s most vulnerable minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Religious minorities face discriminatory laws and regulations as well as harassment, intimidation, and violence from Islamist militants. In early 2017, the Ministry of Religious Affairs drafted a religious rights bill that would further entrench the country’s blasphemy law as well as discriminatory government decrees, including one that prevents religious minorities from obtaining permits to construct houses of worship. On May 9, a Jakarta court sentenced former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, to a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Islam.

“Jokowi’s government is turning a blind eye to worsening harassment of religious and sexual minorities,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Officials are using the dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law to target certain religious groups, while the police are carrying out invasive raids against LGBT people.” 

Officials are using the dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law to target certain religious groups, while the police are carrying out invasive raids against LGBT people.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Following a 2016 deluge of government-driven rhetoric against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, authorities in 2017 targeted private gatherings and LGBT individuals – a serious threat to privacy and public health initiatives in the country.

The government took no action against security force officials and powerful thugs who sought to stifle discussion of reconciliation effort for the 1965-66 massacres in which the military and military-backed militias killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million suspected communists and ethnic Chinese. In August, Indonesian police and military personnel forced the cancellation of a public workshop on financial compensation for survivors and victims’ families. On September 16, authorities prevented the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute from hosting a seminar about the massacres.

Indonesian security force personnel rarely face justice for serious abuses, including killings. In September, a police ethics inquiry ruled that four officers who deliberately fired on Papuan protesters in the Deiyai region on August 1, killing a young man, were guilty of “improper conduct” and ruled that their punishment should be limited to demotions and public apologies rather than criminal prosecution. At the same time, Papuans and Moluccans remain imprisoned on “treason” charges for participating in nonviolent protests against the government.

Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women reports that there are hundreds of discriminatory national and local regulations targeting women. They include local laws compelling women and girls to don the jilbab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces. In November, senior military and police officers confirmed that the security forces have not halted cruel and discriminatory “virginity tests” for female job applicants. The tests are officially classified as “psychological” examinations, for “mental health and morality reasons.”

“In the coming year President Jokowi should demonstrate leadership by ensuring justice for the victims of abuses, whether 50 years ago or today,” Kine said. “The failure to hold those responsible for rights violations to account will place many more vulnerable people at risk in the future.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters and residents hold lighted candles and placards at the wake of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year-old high school student, who was among the people shot dead last week in an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs in Caloocan city, Metro Manila, the Philippines on August 25, 2017. 

© 2017 Dondi Tawatao / Reuters

(New York) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “drug war” entered its second year in 2017, resulting in the killing of more than 12,000 drug suspects, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Duterte has responded to increased criticism of his anti-drug campaign by impugning, harassing, and threatening critics of the government and human rights defenders.

Since the “drug war” began on June 30, 2016, Duterte and his officials have publicly reviled, humiliated and, in one instance, jailed human rights advocates. Senator Leila de Lima, the president’s chief critic, has been detained since February 2017 on politically motivated drug charges in apparent retaliation for leading a Senate inquiry into the drug war killings and, early on, opening an investigation of the Davao Death Squad in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than 20 years.

“President Duterte has not only resisted calls to end his brutal ‘drug war,’ but has used populist rhetoric to disparage the brave activists who have been investigating and denouncing his cruel campaign,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Since Duterte will never undertake a serious investigation into the ‘war on drugs,’ it’s up to the United Nations to support an international investigation and bring the mass killings to a stop.”

Since Duterte will never undertake a serious investigation into the ‘war on drugs,’ it’s up to the United Nations to support an international investigation and bring the mass killings to a stop.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

More than 12,000 suspected drug users and dealers, mostly from poor families in urban centers across the country, are estimated to have died in the “drug war,” including an estimated 4,000 during operations led by the police and the remainder by “unidentified gunmen.”

In August, Duterte encouraged police attacks against human rights groups and advocates, instructing police to shoot them “if they are obstructing justice.” Duterte has publicly condemned the official Commission on Human Rights, even threatening to abolish the constitutionally mandated body. He also repeatedly subjected the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, to profanity-laced ridicule for her repeated efforts to secure an official visit to the Philippines. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, has accused the UN of “bullying” the Philippines about extrajudicial killings.

On social media, pro-Duterte trolls and supporters – some of them officially working for the government – have threatened violence against human rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch staff and journalists who report critically on the “drug war.”

In October, Duterte responded to public outcry over the killings – particularly of children – by taking the Philippine National Police (PNP) out of the anti-drug operations. The killings declined but did not stop, and the president has said he would reinstate the police in the campaign. A Human Rights Watch investigation found that police and their agents have repeatedly carried out extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, and then falsely claimed self-defense. The police claim that several police officers implicated in these killings have been dismissed from service and are under investigation but not one has been brought to trial.

The killing of journalists remains a concern in the Philippines as well as reports of attacks on schools by government forces. Leftist activists, often accused of being communist New People’s Army rebels, are targeted by the military.

The country also has a fast-growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region, fueled by the government’s poor response to the crisis. Students are bullied, harassed, and discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In Marawi City, a predominantly Muslim part of Mindanao island, months-long fighting between the military and ISIS-inspired local Islamist groups resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 combatants and civilians and the displacement of 400,000 residents.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am