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, 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

Lawyer and human rights defender Taner Kılıç, chair of the board of Amnesty International’s Turkey section.

© 2017 Amnesty International

(Istanbul) – Sham criminal proceedings against Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair Taner Kılıç and 10 other human rights defenders are set to resume on June 21, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

The rights advocates are facing bogus, unsubstantiated criminal charges of membership in a terrorist organization over their peaceful work. The trial should be halted, the eleven acquitted, and Kilic set free as there is no compelling evidence against them of anything approaching a crime.

“Taner Kılıç should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The whole trial has been a grave injustice from the start, and Kılıç and the other 10 defenders should not be facing any charges, and under no circumstances should they be convicted.”

The prolonged detention of Kılıç, a lawyer, in the absence of any credible evidence is particularly unjust, Human Rights Watch said. Kılıç was detained in Izmir on June 6, 2017, and was sent to pretrial detention three days later. The court hearing the case, Istanbul heavy penal court no. 35, ordered Kılıç’s release on January 31. But the prosecutor appealed the decision, and before Kılıç had been released, another court again ordered his detention. On February 1, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court no. 35 reversed its decision to release him and ruled that he should be re-arrested.

The other 10, who became widely known on social media as the “Istanbul 10,” were detained on July 5, 2017, in a police raid on a human rights training workshop on the island of Büyükada, Istanbul. Among them are some well-known names. They are: Özlem Dalkıran, a member of Citizens’ Assembly nongovernmental organization, and a founding member of Amnesty International Turkey and its first chair; Nalan Erkem, a lawyer and Citizens’ Assembly member; İlknur Üstün of the Women’s Coalition, a nongovernmental group; İdil Eser, Amnesty International Turkey director at the time of her arrest; Veli Acu, member of the Human Rights Agenda Association; Günal Kurşun, a lawyer and Ankara representative of the Human Rights Agenda Association; Şeyhmus Özbekli, a lawyer and member of Rights Initiative; Nejat Taştan, coordinator of the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights; Ali Gharavi, a Swedish human rights information security consultant; and Peter Steudtner, a German well-being trainer and coach.

An Istanbul court sent six of them to pretrial detention on July 18 and two more on July 22. Steudtner and Gharavi were released and allowed to leave Turkey. The trial against the 10 began on October 25, and the eight held in pretrial detention were released at that hearing.

At Kılıç’s first hearing, in Izmir on October 26, the court decided to merge his case with that of the Istanbul defenders, and they have been tried together in subsequent hearings. Steudtner and Gharavi are being tried in their absence.

Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a recent police report examining the contents of Kılıç’s mobile phone, which confirms there is no evidence that Kılıç had the encrypted communication app ByLock, a claim that has formed a central part of the prosecution’s case against him.

The Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was widely used by followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom they accuse of masterminding the July 2016 attempted military coup in Turkey. Lawyers acting for Kılıç and Amnesty International in previous hearings presented two independent reports by forensic experts supporting Kılıç’s defense that he had never had the ByLock app.

“The case against Taner Kılıç and the Istanbul 10 is emblematic of the real danger faced by people in Turkey who stand up for the rights of ordinary people or voice criticism of the authorities,” Williamson said. “Defenders in Turkey face media smear campaigns, condemnation by state officials, bogus prosecution, and arbitrary imprisonment simply for doing their jobs.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

It has been six years since Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to seek asylum from possible extradition to the United States to face indictment under the US Espionage Act. 

At the time, Assange, an Australian national, was wanted by Sweden for questioning over sexual offense allegations. Assange had also broken the terms of his UK bail. Since then, he has become even more controversial, having published US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and internal emails from Democratic Party officials.

While some admire and others despise Assange, no one should be prosecuted under the antiquated Espionage Act for publishing leaked government documents. That 1917 statute was designed to punish people who leaked secrets to a foreign government, not to the media, and allows no defense or mitigation of punishment on the basis that public interest served by some leaks may outweigh any harm to national security.

The US grand jury investigation of Assange under the Espionage Act was apparently based on his publishing the leaks for which Chelsea Manning, a former US army soldier, was convicted. Her sentence was commuted.

The publication of leaks—particularly leaks that show potential government wrongdoing or human rights abuse—is a critical function of a free press in a democratic society. The vague and sweeping provisions of the Espionage Act remain ready to be used against other publishers and journalists, whether they be Wikileaks or the New York Times.  

Assange has agreed to surrender himself to the British police – but only if he were granted assurances against extradition to the US, where he could face life in prison. He also offered to appear in Sweden if Sweden would offer similar assurances.

In 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorean embassy, enforced by the alternative of his potential extradition to the US, to be an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.  Ecuador, offended by Assange’s political comments, this year has denied him internet access and visitors, other than occasional contact with his lawyers. Ecuador denied Human Rights Watch permission to visit him this May. Concern is growing over his access to medical care.  His asylum is growing more difficult to distinguish from detention.

The UK has the power to resolve concerns over his isolation, health, and confinement by removing the threat of extradition for publishing newsworthy leaks. It should do so before another year passes.

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

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein meets with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in Jakarta, February 6, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

What is the Indonesian government hiding in Papua?

That’s the question raised by the government’s seeming refusal to make good on an official invitation promised to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to visit Papua and West Papua provinces (collectively referred to as “Papua”).

On Monday, Zeid issued a statement saying he is “concerned that despite positive engagement by the authorities in many respects, the Government’s invitation to my Office to visit Papua – which was made during my visit in February – has still not been honoured.”

The Indonesian government’s apparent unwillingness to allow Zeid to investigate human rights conditions in Papua should come as no surprise. Indonesian authorities have consistently blocked foreign journalists and rights monitors from visiting Papua. Those restrictions defy an announcement made in 2015 by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua. The decades-old access restrictions on Papua are rooted in government suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals for reporting on the region, which is troubled by a small-scale pro-independence insurgency, widespread corruption, environmental degradation, and public dissatisfaction with Jakarta. Security forces are rarely held to account for abuses against critics of the government, including the killing of peaceful protesters.

The limbo of Zeid’s Papua invitation has dampened hopes raised in March 2017, after the government allowed a UN health expert to make a two-day official visit to Papua, that Indonesia would end its reflexive prohibition on travel to the region by foreign human rights monitors. Instead, Zeid’s experience is reminiscent of 2013, when then-UN independent expert on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, was blocked from visiting Indonesia. Diplomatic sources in Geneva told La Rue that the Indonesian government froze his requested visit due to his inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary. “They said, ‘Great, we’ll get back to you,’” La Rue told Human Rights Watch. “What it meant was that they postponed the dates and put the trip off indefinitely.”

It’s clear that parts of the Indonesian government remain hostile to the idea of greater transparency in the region. Yet granting reporters and human rights monitors access to Papua is an essential element of ensuring the rights of Papuans are respected.

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

Russian journalist Viktor Korb. 

© 2017 Evgeniya Lifantyeva

In the early hours of May 18, a team of police and security officials raided the apartment of Viktor Korb, a journalist from Omsk. One of the agents shoved a search warrant in Korb’s face and the team conducted a 10-hour search, turning his home upside down. They seized all electronic devices, documents, and archives belonging to Korb and his family. This was how Korb learned that on May 16, the Omsk Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against him. Two and half weeks later, he found out the charges: incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, or terrorist propaganda.

The charges stem from an excerpt of a court transcript posted on April 21, 2015 on Korb's web-site, Patriofil, which he has been running and moderating for eight years. It’s a fragment of the closing speech made by a controversial Russian blogger, Boris Stomakhin, at his trial in April 2015. The court found Stomakhin guilty of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to five years in prison for his publication about the December 2013 Volgograd bombings. Stomakhin, who ran his own publication, titled Radical Politics, had two prior criminal extremism convictions, from 2006 and 2014, also connected to his writing.

Stomakhin’s closing speech indeed contains odious, offensive views. The transcript posted on Patriofil is based on a publicly available YouTube video of Stomakhin’s court speech. Nowhere in the publication does Korb express support of what Stomakhin said in his speech.

This is not the first time the authorities have gone after Korb. In 2015, they fined him for “disseminating extremist materials” after he posted on Patriofil a cover of Radical Politics. In 2014, a hosting provider unexpectedly shut down Patriofil without warning or notification. After Korb moved his site to another hosting platform, the site has been functioning with no problems.

Korb told me that at no point in the past three years did the authorities issue him any warning about the posting of Stomakhin’s closing speech, or any other activities.

Now, Korb faces similar criminal charges as Stomakhin, and up to seven years in jail. On May 20, police detained Korb at the airport as he was about to leave Omsk for Moscow. Officials kept him in custody until the plane departed without him. Korb said that when the police released him they “politely but firmly” told him he was not allowed to leave Omsk due to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases of Russian authorities bringing groundless charges for online speech, including for reposting alleged “extremist” information. Now there is one more. The charges against Korb should be dropped.

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

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha gestures as he leaves Thai Union company in Samut Sakhon, Thailand on March 5, 2018. 
© 2018 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Before Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London this Wednesday, the junta’s long arm of repression has already reached there, targeting critics of the government. 

Thai authorities issued the arrest warrant for Watana Ebbage on June 12, citing the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act. Watana’s supposed crime was posting information on her Facebook page, KonthaiUK, alleging corruption in military procurement programs.

Shockingly, at least 29 people in Thailand have now been arrested simply for sharing Wattana’s posts. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison for each post.

When she meets with Prayut, May should address the repression that is a daily reality in Thailand despite the junta’s promises to hold an election early next year.

The junta wields unchecked power and violates human rights in Thailand with impunity. It routinely enforces censorship. Hundreds of critics and dissidents have been prosecuted on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) when they peacefully express opinions. Public gatherings of more than five people and anti-junta activities are prohibited. Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop criticizing the junta. Military authorities secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

Since the junta took power in a May 2014 coup, the UK has repeatedly stated that bilateral relations with Thailand will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections. As a longtime ally of Thailand, those words carry weight. Now they need to be translated into action.

There should be no red-carpet welcome for Prayut, the junta leader who has repeatedly given empty pledges about guaranteeing fundamental freedoms for Thai people ahead of the promised elections.

No business deals should come at the expense of serious discussions on Thailand’s deteriorating human rights situation.

May should make sure that Prayut returns to Bangkok with a clear understanding that Thailand’s human rights problems remain a top priority for London and that the Thai government’s future with the UK depends on the restoration of respect for human rights and democracy in Thailand.

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

A Pro-democracy activist holds a fan during a protest against junta near Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand on February 10, 2018. 
© 2018 Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
(London) – UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

  • End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;
  • Lift the ban on political activities;
  • Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;
  • Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them. 

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Fifa has enough influence to demand respect for human rights.

© Weberson Santiago/
As Russia hosts the World Cup—the biggest single-event sports competition on the planet—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) should make clear that its rules off the pitch are as important as those on it.

FIFA rules strictly prohibit discrimination of any kind and threaten violators with suspension or expulsion from the federation. Sadly, in the lead-up to the games, Russian authorities have abused journalists and human rights defenders. They are also enforcing anti-gay discriminatory laws and policies.

We know FIFA can move host governments. When Brazil hosted the last World Cup, in 2014, FIFA successfully pressured Congress to change Brazilian law and allow beer to be sold in soccer stadiums. Brazil had banned alcohol at football matches to help stem rowdiness and violence among rival fans. But Budweiser, the beer-maker, was a big sponsor, and FIFA’s then-secretary general insisted that “alcoholic drinks are part of the World Cup.”

If FIFA can influence policies and legislation in countries hosting the World Cup to please sponsors, it certainly can do more to uphold shared values in respect to human rights. FIFA has both a responsibility to protect its fans—including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fans--and an opportunity to leverage power for the common good.

Russia’s discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” law entered into force five years ago, shortly before the torch flared for the Sochi Olympics. It outlaws making available positive information about LGBT people that children might see, and it contributed to a rise in anti-gay violence. 

FIFA talks a good game, but often its follow-through is weak. Last year, despite a horrific anti-gay purge in the Russian republic of Chechnya, it put Grozny, the Chechen capital, on its list of official World Cup training sites.

More than 60,000 Brazilians are headed to Russia with tickets in hand, and the foreign affairs minister just issued tourist guidelines recommending that LGBT Brazilians avoid public displays of affection. Fare, a group that fights discrimination in football worldwide, has likewise warned fans with same-sex partners not to hold hands in public during the World Cup. 

Now, as the games kick off in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, it’s time for FIFA to say publicly that Russian authorities should abide by its anti-discrimination rules and ensure that staff and officials provide a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT people at all events—on the pitch, in the stands, and beyond. Top sponsors of the World Cup—including Coca Cola, Visa, and Adidas – should join in the chorus for FIFA to act. Alcoholic drinks may be part of the event this year, but violations of LGBT rights should not be.

It’s not only about Russia. Qatar, which has laws to punish people who engage in same sex relations with one to three years in prison, will host the World Cup in four years. Human rights concerns there were enough to make the fast-food chain McDonald’s announce that after this summer, it will no longer sponsor the World Cup.

The soccer federation has a lot of power. It should make clear to Russia, Qatar, and any other future host that homophobia and any other kind of human rights violation has no role in the games.

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

Police disperse a demonstration against a draft law on special economic zones in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 10, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

(New York) – Vietnam should halt unwarranted arrests and use of force against demonstrators who turned out throughout the country to protest long-term leases in special economic zones, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should release those detained for peacefully expressing their views and investigate excessive police response.

Nationwide protests erupted last weekend in response to a draft law that would allow foreign investors 99-year leases, a provision critics fear would lead to Chinese companies’ encroachment on Vietnamese territory. Thousands took part in the demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Binh Thuan province, and other areas. Since the protests began on June 9, 2018, there have been hundreds of arrests as well as reported assaults by police.

“People should be protected in holding demonstrations, especially around issues of great public interest,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “But with Vietnam’s poor record of handling protests, there’s every reason to believe that police are punishing dissent, not simply keeping public order.”

Police in several cities are alleged to have used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse the protests, which had spread across the country over the weekend. The most violent clashes took place in Binh Thuan province, where protestors threw rocks and Molotov cocktails outside the provincial People’s Committee headquarters. Riot police employed tear gas, smoke bombs, and water cannons to disperse the protesters. According to police, 107 people were detained over the following two days as part of an investigation launched by the Ministry of Public Security. The deputy public security minister directed Binh Thuan authorities to “strictly punish ‘the ringleaders.’”

Activists in a number of cities posted on social media reports of police beatings, detentions by plainclothes officers, and the use of Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), which emit a loud, shrill noise intended to indiscriminately disorient anyone within range. A protester in Ho Chi Minh City told Radio Free Asia: “We were protesting peacefully and didn’t incite anyone. But they grabbed me and pushed me onto a bus on Le Duan Street, with five or six policemen beating me the whole time.”

There’s every reason to believe that police are punishing dissent, not simply keeping public order.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Dozens of protesters were detained in Ho Chi Minh City, including an American citizen who had tweeted about clashes with police and remains imprisoned. Authorities in Hanoi also rounded up over a dozen demonstrators onto buses. State media announced that several people were arrested for organizing “illegal” protests, including two men in Binh Duong province who allegedly printed thousands of protest flyers.

Many of those detained were interrogated and later released, while others are still being held. Some activists reported being beaten during their time in police custody.

The government should investigate and prosecute as appropriate any security personnel responsible for excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, or ill-treatment in custody in the wake of the protests. Any protesters being held unjustly should be freed.

The protests were driven by concerns that the draft law would give China entrenched control of the special economic zones, tapping into longstanding anti-Chinese sentiment that has been fueled by territorial disputes over the South China Sea. On June 11, the National Assembly announced that the vote on the bill would be postponed until later this year, following revisions.

Some demonstrators were also opposing a proposed cybersecurity law that gives authorities wide discretion to censor free expression and collect information on online dissidents. On Tuesday, the National Assembly passed the law, which will go into effect January 1, 2019.

The mass protests were a rare sight in a country that severely restricts the right to freedom of assembly. Authorities require approval for public gatherings and refuse permission for meetings or marches they deem politically unacceptable. Surveillance, harassment, and detention are employed to prevent activists from participating in public events. At least 135 political prisoners are currently serving sentences for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion.

The Vietnamese government should ensure that security forces respect basic human rights standards on the use of force, including in dispersing illegal demonstrations. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force.” When using force is unavoidable, officials must exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

The protests and sweeping police response are taking place as the European Union considers ratifying its free trade agreement with Vietnam.

“The crackdown on these protests is one more stain on Vietnam’s human rights record,” Adams said. “The EU should signal that any improved economic ties are contingent on the government reversing its repressive treatment of activists and critics, including releasing the scores of detained protesters. Vietnam needs to know that the world is watching this situation unfold.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
On a short trip to Moscow for the first time in years, my brother could not stop raving about the revamped city center, its broad sidewalks, leafy beer gardens and fairy lights. 

Moscow isn’t half-bad these days, especially with its World Cup primping. The fans here for the tournament won’t be disappointed. But what’s under the glitter is another story. 

 There are the labor abuses against workers on World Cup stadium construction sites, including wage delays, unsafe working conditions and worker fatalities. But the problem is even broader than that. Russia today is at its most repressive since the Soviet era. 

In 2012, 18 months after Russia was chosen to host the tournament, the authorities were apparently spooked by massive anti-Kremlin protests. They launched an unprecedented human rights crackdown, which only intensified in 2014, in the wake of Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

With traditional media largely under state control, the government stepped up its efforts to suppress free expression online. It pushed a raft of laws regulating data storage through the Russian parliament, unjustifiably restricting users’ access to information and ensuring that confidential user information and the content of communications be made available to the security services.

Earlier this year, the Russian authorities blocked Telegram, a popular internet-based messaging service, over its refusal to hand over its encryption keys. They shut down millions of IP addresses in an attempt to stop Telegram from operating, disrupting online services which included search engines, online shopping and airline booking websites. 

The government increasingly conflates criticism with “extremism.” It then misuses the country’s extremely broad anti-extremism legislation to shut down hundreds of websites and prosecute people for social media posts and online videos. People are jailed in Russia today for criticizing the Kremlin’s actions in Syria and in Ukraine. 

As part of an all-out assault on public protests, police arbitrarily detain peaceful protesters while courts dutifully slap them with short-term jail sentences and fines. Last month around 1,600 people, including 158 children, were detained in 27 cities during the “He’s Not Our Tsar” political protests. Authorities pressure universities and parents to discourage students from participating in protests. Last summer, a law student in Kaliningrad, one of the World Cup host cities, was expelled over his role in anti-corruption demonstrations.

Members of the LGBT community are second-class citizens in Russia by virtue of the infamous “gay propaganda” ban. And there has been zero accountability for last year’s anti-gay purge in Chechnya, when local security officials unlawfully rounded up and tortured dozens of presumably gay men. 

As Chechnya welcomes the Egyptian national team to its capital for World Cup training, the Chechen director of Russia’s leading rights group Memorial, Oyub Titiev, is in jail pending trial on bogus marijuana possession charges. The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his associates retaliate against even the mildest dissent with brutal repression and Kadyrov has repeatedly threatened and smeared human rights defenders. The case against Titiev is clearly aimed at pushing Memorial out of the region.

Titiev’s imprisonment could cast a shadow on the tournament. It would only take one phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov’s patron, to secure Titiev’s release. The leader of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, should use his leverage with the Kremlin to press for Titiev’s freedom. 

In a small town in northern Russia, far from World Cup glory, Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker from Crimea, is serving a 20-year prison term. In 2015, he was convicted on trumped-up terrorism charges in a political show trial. On May 14, he began a hunger strike to demand the release of dozens of Ukrainian nationals jailed in Russia andin Crimea on politically motivated charges. 

Will Russia release Sentsov and Titiev, as it released several prominent political prisoners around the 2014 Sochi Olympics? Or will it let these disturbing cases and other abuses mar the World Cup celebrations?

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


European Council President Donald Tusk and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) arrive to attend a EU-China Summit in Brussels, Belgium June 2, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Virginia Mayo/Pool
(Brussels) – European Union leaders should publicly and privately demand that China release those deprived of their liberty for exercising human rights, including poet Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter with 23 other nongovernmental organizations. 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, European Council President Donald Tusk, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini will attend the EU-China Summit in Beijing with senior Chinese officials in mid-July 2018.

“EU leaders, who have pledged their full support for courageous human rights defenders, will visit Beijing around the first anniversary of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s July 2017 death under state guard,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director. “Now, those leaders need to deliver on their pledge and make the immediate release of Liu Xia, Gui Minhai, and so many others a top strategic priority.” 

Beijing has made clear its disdain for the human rights principles to which the EU says it’s committed. The question is whether – and how hard – the EU is willing to fight China to uphold those.

Lotte Leicht

EU Director

The EU has pushed back against China’s ruthless crackdown on human rights, the groups noted, including through statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council, expressions of concern about individual cases, and outreach to human rights defenders. Yet, none of these EU actions have achieved the releases of any rights activists in China and the EU has yet to fulfill its 2012 pledge in its Strategic Framework on Human Rights to “throw its full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy and human rights” and to do so “in all areas of its external action without exception” in China. Several member states chose to abstain rather than vote against a problematic Chinese resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.

The organizations urged EU leaders to take several steps, including publicly pressing for the releases of Liu Xia, Wang Quanzhang, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Lee Ming-che, and Gui Minhai, among many others, and developing a committed EU strategy to ensure their releases. They also asked the EU to identify specific human rights issues that the Chinese government needs to address as a strategic priority for the EU and its member states.

In the year since the last EU-China Summit, China has not only arbitrarily detained Liu Xia, Gui Minhai, and countless human rights lawyers and other activists, it has also continued to adopt abusive laws and maintain a vast censorship apparatus. Chinese government policies systematically deny fundamental rights to ethnic minorities and religious communities, and hopes for legal reform have now faded. China increasingly exports its abusive practices through international institutions – such as politicized criminal investigations through Interpol – while attempting to block independent activists from accessing human rights forums, including the UN.

In addition to Human Rights Watch, the letter was signed by Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Committee to Protect Journalists, Covenant Watch, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, Freedom House, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights in China, Initiatives for China/Citizen Power, International Campaign for Tibet, International Federation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, International Tibet Network, Lawyers for Lawyers, Reporters Without Borders, Society for Threatened Peoples, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Tibet Justice Center, Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, Uyghur American Association, Uyghur Human Rights Project, and World Uyghur Congress.

“The EU’s efforts to counter China’s rights crackdown don’t simply fail people in China – they fail to even protect EU citizens who might run afoul of Chinese authorities,” Leicht said. “Beijing has made clear its disdain for the human rights principles to which the EU says it’s committed. The question is whether – and how hard – the EU is willing to fight China to uphold those.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

June 14, 2018

Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Аcademician Bogomolets St., 10
Kyiv, 01601, Ukraine

Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko
13/15 Riznytska St.
Kyiv, 01011, Ukraine

Dear Minister Avakov and Mr. Lutsenko,

We are writing on behalf of Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House to ask that Ukrainian authorities urgently take steps to strongly condemn and effectively address attacks and intimidation by radical groups that are promoting hatred and discrimination. While Ukrainian authorities have responded in a few instances to such attacks, the authorities have so far failed in recent months to respond to most incidents, which has created an atmosphere of near total impunity that cannot but embolden these groups to commit more attacks. It is no surprise that the number of violent attacks and threats by such groups is growing, as the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated. We urge you to take effective action to prevent and stop acts that promote hatred and discrimination and hold those responsible to account.

Hiding under a veneer of patriotism and what they describe as “traditional values”, members of these groups have been vocal about their contempt for and intent to harm women’s rights activists, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people, and others who hold views that differ from their own. These acts are restricting the peaceful exercise of their human rights and is further shrinking the space for civil society for groups that they believe do not have a right to public representation or participation in civic life.

Violent attacks by groups that promote hatred and discrimination

In recent months, our four organizations have noted a significant increase in physical attacks, threats, and intimidation against LGBTI activists, women’s rights activists, and other human rights defenders and journalists. In most cases, those responsible for the attacks have enjoyed impunity for their actions and have not been prosecuted. The National Police of Ukraine has particularly not responded consistently with adequate measures to the relevant threats and attacks. In at least two incidents, described below, national police officers, who were present when assailants threatened or attacked activists, failed to intervene and showed no intention to deal with such crimes.

Since the beginning of 2018, members of radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditsii i Poryadok, Karpatska Sich and others have carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation in Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and other Ukrainian cities. The law enforcement authorities have rarely launched investigations into the threats and attacks committed by these groups. In the cases where investigations were launched, there is no indication that effective investigative measures were undertaken, and perpetrators were identified, despite attackers publicly claiming, in some cases, responsibility for the attacks on social media.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, members of radical groups attacked the participants of the Women’s March in Kyiv, physically assaulting them and using pepper spray. The police officers present at the scene merely observed the attacks and took no steps to stop them or detain them. Police filed administrative offense charges against one of the marchers who was attacked, but to the best of our knowledge filed no charges against the assailants. Women’s rights activists were also violently attacked in Lviv and Uzhgorod during their respective peaceful rallies on the same day.

On April 20, about five members of C14, a radical group that promotes hatred and discrimination, acting in their capacity as municipal patrols of the Holoseevsky City District, attacked a Roma settlement in Kyiv. A widely circulated video shows how the masked attackers chased women and small children with rocks and pepper spray after burning down their tents. Two criminal investigations have been launched, but we are not aware of any results.

On May 10, about 30 members of other groups that use violence and advocate hatred disrupted an event organized in Kyiv by Amnesty International, at which it was planned to discuss human rights violations against LGBTI people in Russia and Ukraine. The attackers blocked the entrance to the venue and shouted death threats at the organizers and participants. Police officers from the Pechersky District Unit present at the scene refused to interfere and made homophobic comments against Amnesty International’s staff. It was only after the organizers contacted the police emergency hotline and following the arrival of members of Kyiv City Patrol Police at the scene, that participants were evacuated, but the event had to be cancelled that day. Amnesty International has since filed complaints with the police regarding the police officers’ failure to protect the event’s participants and organizers from intimidation and discrimination. At time of writing, we have no information about whether an investigation has been launched yet.

On May 19, about 50 members of other groups, including some whom witnesses identified as involved in the violence on March 8 and May 10 in Kyiv, disrupted the Festival of Equality in Chernivtsi. Despite numerous prior meetings and reassurances from the local police, they did not effectively protect the event and allowed clearly identifiable people from these groups into the indoor event venue, putting participants’ safety and well-being at risk. The police then led the event’s organizers and participants outside on the pretext that there was a bomb threat, where assailants attacked them by throwing heavy objects, including hammers, at them. At time of writing, we have no information about whether an investigation into this incident has been launched.

We are deeply concerned by the inaction of the Ukrainian authorities in responding to the attacks and intimidation described above. The near-total impunity enjoyed by members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination through violent means creates the impression that these attacks are tolerated by the Ukrainian authorities.

“Policing” activities by groups promoting hatred and discrimination

We are also concerned about media reports which indicate that some municipal administrations have recruited individuals from groups that promote hatred and discrimination to conduct “policing activities”, such as patrolling the streets and performing “policing” functions during peaceful demonstrations or pickets. While citizen assistance of law enforcement authorities may be compatible with Ukrainian and international human rights law, such volunteers have no greater power or exemptions than citizens of the general population. They do not have the authority to use force in any circumstance and they may not exercise the powers of restraint, detention, or confiscation, including for example of flags or banners used at a rally.

If any official status is to be granted to volunteer officers and they are to be allowed to use any special powers ordinarily reserved for trained law enforcement, such as the power to use force or detain individuals, these volunteers must be bound by the same standards and mechanisms as regular law enforcement officials. As such they should be fully trained in the law and standards applicable and must be clearly identifiable to third parties so that if they abuse their power they can be held accountable.

We call on the Ministry of Interior, the National Police of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s political leaders to meet their obligations to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and the right to safety and security to all people in Ukraine. The perpetrators of these violent attacks should be held to account through independent and impartial investigations. The Ukrainian police must be clearly instructed on how to effectively prevent or stop members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination from using violence and intimidation against ethnic groups, LGBTI people, human rights defenders, and other groups and individuals targeted.

We urge you to swiftly respond to these recent instances of violence and intimidation with unambiguous public condemnation, and conducting prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations to hold those responsible to account. This would be an important first step to preventing these acts from happening again in the future.

We also call on the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to take effective steps to prevent the unlawful use of force or acts of intimidation by members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination and investigate any complaints about their actions, in order to bring anyone found responsible to justice. We also urge Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to take immediate action to address and prevent discrimination and intolerance within its ranks by taking appropriate action towards officers who use discriminatory or derogatory language towards people they are supposed to protect.

Ukrainian leaders and law enforcement officials should develop an effective set of measures that goes beyond response to crimes and includes regular monitoring and engagement to identify and address problems before they deteriorate into further human rights violations.


Hugh Williamson
Director, Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Marie Struthers
Director, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office
Amnesty International

Andrew Anderson
Front Line Defenders

Marc Behrendt
Director, Europe and Eurasia Programs
Freedom House

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists and supporters of the Azov civil corp, Svoboda (Freedom), Ukrainian nationalist parties and the far-right radical group Right Sector take part in a rally to mark Defender of Ukraine Day, in Kiev, Ukraine October 14, 2017.

© REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

(Kyiv) – Ukraine's authorities have not responded adequately to the growing number of violent attacks and threats promoting hate and discrimination in Ukraine by members of violent radical groups, Human Rights Watch said today. In a joint letter to Ukrainian authorities Human Rights Watch and three other international human rights groups said that the authorities should immediately condemn the attacks and carry out effective investigations to hold the assailants accountable.

The letter from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, and Freedom House addressed the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office and described a series of hate-motivated violent incidents and harassment in recent months by radical groups against Roma, LGBT people, feminists, and rights activists. The authorities should take steps to prevent and stop hate-motivated violence and harassment, Human Rights Watch said.

“Brutal attacks on Roma people, LGBT people, and rights activists have been on the rise in recent months in Ukraine," said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government has taken little action in response, which cannot but embolden and encourage the attackers.”

Ukraine's authorities have not responded adequately to the growing number of violent attacks and threats promoting hate and discrimination in Ukraine by members of violent radical groups. 

Since the beginning of 2018, members of radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditsii i Poryadok (Traditions and Order), Karpatska Sich and others have carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation in Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, and other Ukrainian cities. Law enforcement authorities have rarely opened investigations. In the cases in which they did, there is no indication that authorities took effective investigative measures to identify the attackers, even in cases in which the assailants publicly claimed responsibility on social media.

Media reports that some municipal administrations have recruited people from groups that promote hatred and discrimination to conduct “policing activities” during peaceful protests are also a source of concern, the groups said.

While citizen assistance of law enforcement authorities may be compatible with Ukrainian and international human rights law, such volunteers have no greater power or exemptions than ordinary Ukrainian citizens. They do not have the authority to use force in any circumstance and they may not restrain or detain people or confiscate materials, including, for example, flags or banners used at a rally.

Members of radical groups have also routinely tried, and often succeeded, at disrupting public events held by independent groups and threatened the safety of organizers and participants. The most recent examples include the disruption of a public lecture organized by the Ukraine office of Amnesty International in May, and threats in June against Freedom House for organizing a discussion about violence by radical groups that promote hatred and discrimination in Kyiv. The discussion took place without incident.

“Members of radical groups that attack and intimidate people to promote hate and discrimination are breaking Ukraine's law and should be held accountable,” Cooper said. “Ukrainian law enforcement authorities should protect Ukrainians' right to peaceful assembly without fear of obstruction and attacks.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign posters read “Great Turkey wants a strong leader”, flying above election banners for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) he chairs, Galata Bridge, Istanbul, June 2018.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Istanbul)— Turkey’s snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, 2018, will take place under a state of emergency and will bring in a new presidential system whatever the outcome, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a question-and-answer document.

The document looks at the context in which the elections are taking place, the impact of the changes to the electoral law, and the implications of the new constitutional arrangements.

“It’s important to understand the context in which Turkey’s elections are being held and the consequences for the constitution of the new presidential system that will take effect whoever wins,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The right to elect their chosen candidates and parties in a credible, fair, and democratic process is key to protecting the human rights of all voters, and that requires a fair campaign in which all parties and candidates have a reasonable opportunity to present their ideas to the electorate.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are seeking to renew their electoral mandate. Opposition party candidates are running for both the presidency and parliament but in a difficult climate.

The government has placed unprecedented restrictions on independent media over the past two years and has near total control over television news after the recent takeover of private television channels by a government-loyal holding company, and there is evidence that opposition parties receive much less airtime on broadcast media. The opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) faces the most obstacles, with its presidential candidate and several members of parliament competing in the elections from prison, facing politically motivated criminal charges.

Whatever the outcome, an executive presidential system of governance will fully enter into force following the elections. This new system was narrowly approved by voters in an April 2017 referendum. It will greatly increase the powers of the president and reduce the role of Turkey’s parliament.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am