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

Students shout slogans as they take part in a protest over recent traffic accidents that killed a boy and a girl, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 4, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
(New York) – Bangladesh authorities are tracking social media accounts and have detained dozens of people across the country for criticizing the government over its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. The recent wave of arrests, targeting student protesters and journalists, has created an atmosphere of fear, putting a serious chill on free speech.

Thousands of students took to the streets after a speeding bus killed two students on July 29, 2018. The protesters called for safer roads, accountable governance, and the upholding of the rule of law but were met with teargas and rubber bullets from security forces and violent attacks by supporters of the ruling Awami League.

After police stood by while government supporters beat up the student protesters, the authorities moved quickly to stifle any condemnation of the violence. Dhaka police have been conducting block raids in residential areas of the city where many university students live. Students told Human Rights Watch that police have been going door-to-door, raiding houses, and checking phones for communications related to the protests.

“Sheikh Hasina’s government appears unable to tolerate criticism after Awami League supporters attacked protesters with machetes, sticks, and metal pipes and is apparently desperate to shut down dissent,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The authorities should halt arbitrary arrests, prosecute those involved in violent attacks, and immediately and unconditionally release people it has thrown in jail just for speaking out.”

The authorities should halt arbitrary arrests, prosecute those involved in violent attacks, and immediately and unconditionally release people it has thrown in jail just for speaking out.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Among those arrested is renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, who has been in detention for nine days, during which he says he was beaten in custody. Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed, an actress, has remained in custody, denied bail, after she was arrested on August 4, apparently accused of spreading rumors on Facebook.

Nearly all the arrests have been made under section 57 of the draconian Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act). Section 57 authorizes the prosecution of anyone who publishes, in electronic form, material that is fake and obscene; defamatory; “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience; causes, or may cause, “deterioration in law and order”; prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.”

The vague and overly broad law has been used repeatedly over the years to stifle criticism. Bangladesh authorities had earlier recognized that the law is misused and stated that the government has no intention of curbing free speech. Instead, Bangladesh authorities have done just that, Human Rights Watch said.

The Police Cybercrime Investigation Division posted on Facebook on August 7 that “We too desire safe roads, but we request that concerned citizens please help us by providing us with the [social media] post links and detailed addresses of those plotting to create chaos in the country by spreading rumors in the country and abroad. We are committed to bringing these propagators under the law, wherever they are, in the country or abroad.” The Criminal Investigation Department shared the post on August 9. On August 10, students who had supported the protests or called for Alam’s release told Human Rights Watch they received anonymous calls threatening them to be quiet on social media or face consequences.

Section 57 of the ICT Act is a vaguely worded law that is used to silence criticism; fewer than half of the arrests under the act actually result in convictions. In September 2017, Muhammad Nazrul Islam Shamim, special public prosecutor of the Cyber Tribunal, told The Dhaka Tribune that “some cases are totally fabricated and are filed to harass people.”

“Bangladesh authorities should accept that criticism, including from young people, is part of a vibrant and healthy democracy,” Adams said. “The Bangladesh government should, once and for all, replace the ICT Act with one that upholds the principles of freedom of expression and stop intimidating those who hold it accountable.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activist Tep Vanny takes part in a land rights protest in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 7, 2012.

© 2012 Reuters

(New York) – Cambodian authorities should quash the politically motivated conviction of prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny and unconditionally release her, Human Rights Watch said today. Tep Vanny was arrested on August 15, 2016, and convicted on baseless charges to silence her peaceful activism on behalf of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh.

“Tep Vanny has now spent two years behind bars on fabricated charges and should be released immediately,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “This is just one of many outrageous cases in which the authorities have misused Cambodia’s justice system to harass and imprison peaceful land rights activists.”

Tep Vanny, 38, is a recipient of the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for her efforts to defend the Boeung Kak Lake community from government land grabs and to demand respect for basic freedoms.

Since her arrest, Tep Vanny has been held at Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 2. A week after her arrest, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced her to six days in prison on spurious charges of insulting a public official at one of the “Black Monday” protests to demand the release of wrongfully detained human rights activists. Having already served the six-day sentence in pretrial detention, Vanny should have been released, but was instead transferred back to prison based on a series of dormant charges reactivated by the prosecutor.

Previous reporting by Human Rights Watch concluded that in this and other criminal trials against Tep Vanny, the charges had no factual basis and were apparently fabricated. Trial judges did not require the prosecution to present evidence to substantiate the charges, unjustifiably disallowed testimony by defense witnesses, and arbitrarily rushed proceedings to prevent cross-examination of prosecution evidence.

In 2013, Tep Vanny joined protesters in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to peacefully call for the release of a detained fellow community member. Authorities arrested her but did not prosecute her at the time and let the case lie dormant.

However, after the government suddenly activated the case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her on February 23, 2017, under article 218 of the criminal code for intentional violence with aggravating circumstances. The judge sentenced her to two and a half years in prison and ordered her to pay a fine of 5 million Cambodian riels (US$1,250). The court also ordered her to pay 9 million riels (US$2,250) in compensation to two security guards who alleged injury. On August 8, 2017, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, as did the Supreme Court on February 8, 2018.

On February 23, 2017, state security officials kicked, shoved, and dragged activists who had gathered outside the courthouse, injuring two Boeung Kak activists and a pregnant woman. Video footage of the incident shows para-police chasing demonstrators into a neighboring mall, and guards repeatedly punching and kicking one of them with evident excessive use of force.

The authorities also prosecuted another long-dormant case against Tep Vanny, relating to her participation in a 2011 protest, but have yet to order her to serve the sentence. On September 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and three other Boeung Kak Lake community members – Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, and Heng Mom – for obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances and insulting a public official under articles 502 and 504 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. The judge sentenced all four to six months in prison.

On February 23, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld their conviction and sentence, as did the Supreme Court on December 8. However, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court has left the enforcement of the prison sentence to the discretion of the prosecutor, who so far has not acted.

Other affected land communities who had sought justice and engaged in peaceful activism have also been heavily harassed through arbitrary arrests, detention, and criminal prosecution. One of the more prominent examples is the Borei Keila community, whose activists were also at the forefront of and arrested in response to the Black Monday campaign. Authorities had arrested more than 38 Borei Keila activists by the end of March 2017.

The prosecution of Tep Vanny and other activists violates the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to a fair trial, protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party. These rights are also contained in Cambodia’s constitution.

“Tep Vanny’s plight should be at the center of demands by foreign governments and donors to the Cambodian authorities to immediately release all political prisoners,” Robertson said. “The government’s treatment of Vanny and other detained activists is a critical indicator of its engagement with the international community after the widely derided July elections.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(London) – Diplomats and representatives of international organizations should press Tajik authorities to unconditionally set aside the conviction against a respected journalist convicted on politically motivated charges, 12 human rights organizations said today. 

The diplomats and representatives of these groups should attend the appeal hearing for the journalist, Khayrullo Mirsaidov on August 15, 2018, in Khujand City Court. It is expected to last several days.

Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a well-respected independent journalist in Tajikistan, was arrested on December 5, 2017, after publicly appealing to Tajikistan’s president about alleged local authority corruption.

©Radio Ozodi/Tajik Service of Radio Free Europe

“Attendance by representatives of the diplomatic community throughout the appeal process will send a clear signal to the Tajik authorities that violations of freedom of expression in the country will not go unnoticed,” said Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19. “Tajikistan’s international partners should emphasize that Mirsaidov’s continued detention will have implications for the country’s international standing and its bilateral relationships.”

The 12 groups include ARTICLE 19, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Media Support, International Partnership for Human Rights, the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Mirsaidov’s conviction is in retaliation for his public allegations and criticism of corruption against local government officials in the Sugdh region, the groups said. Authorities brought the charges after he wrote a public letter in November 2017 to President Emomali Rahmon, calling upon him to address government corruption.

On July 11, Mirsaidov was sentenced to 12 years in jail on politically motivated charges of embezzlement and misuse of state funds, and false reporting to the police. His family was ordered to pay the local government 124,000 Tajik somoni (approximately €11,350 or US$13,000) in financial damages, more than 10 times the average yearly salary in Tajikistan.

“The Mirsaidov case follows an established pattern in which whistleblowers, journalists, and others find themselves in the authorities’ crosshairs after uncovering corruption, crime and other violations,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee regional representative in Central Asia. “Democratic countries must no longer tolerate the Tajik government’s brutal crackdown on freedom of expression and should consider imposing targeted sanctions against officials complicit in blatant rights violations, such as the bogus prosecution of Khayrullo Mirsaidov.”

United Nations human rights experts condemned the sentence calling it a “clearly targeted measure against journalism and the public’s right to information.” They said that Mirsaidov’s sentence demonstrates that “[the Tajik] authorities are cracking down on reporting of corruption, rather than on corruption itself.”

The criminal investigation and trial have been marred by serious flaws. Prior to his conviction, Mirsaidov was held in pretrial detention for seven months following his arrest on December 5, 2017; although he posed neither a flight risk nor a credible threat to public safety.

“Mirsaidov’s work, including his stance against corruption, should be commended, not punished with a 12-year sentence on bogus charges,” said Steve Swerdlow, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If the proceedings against him and the outrageous sentence are allowed to stand, the small vestiges of free expression that exist in Tajikistan are threatened with extinction.”

Representatives of the embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the US, and the EU Delegation in Tajikistan have condemned Mirsaidov’s conviction as extremely harsh, saying in a joint statement that his sentence “will have a negative impact on the freedom of media and expression in Tajikistan,” and may affect bilateral relations with the government of Tajikistan.

“The international support shown thus far for press freedom in Tajikistan has been helpful and should be followed by continued pressure on the government to release Mirsaidov unconditionally,” said Gulnara Akhundova at International Media Support. “International representatives in the country should demonstrate their solidarity with Mirsaidov by attending his appeal, and maintain pressure on the government throughout the appeal process to respect human rights and media freedom.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Journalist Ahmed Rilwan. 

© Raajjemv

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives has long flaunted his disdain for a free media by detaining journalists and enacting sweeping laws to silence critics. But this week he hit a new low.

At an election campaign rally on August 7, Yameen responded to allegations by the jailed vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, that his government had obstructed the investigation into the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared August 8, 2014. Yameen – who has yet to condemn the abduction or meet with Rilwan’s family – bluntly declared that the journalist was dead. Within hours he had backpedaled, claiming the media had “misconstrued” his remarks, and saying he hoped Rilwan would be found. But the retraction rang hollow.

Rilwan, known as @moyameehaa, “madman,” a popular blogger and journalist, was a vocal critic of corruption in the Maldivian government and its abysmal human rights record.  He had inspired a growing audience of young activists who had emerged during the Maldives’ brief democratic transition in 2008 and were desperate for real reform. He also drew the ire of groups endorsing a violent ultra-nationalist or Islamist ideology who threatened – repeatedly – to kill him. A stout advocate of religious tolerance, Rilwan regularly expressed concern about the rising threat of Islamic extremism in the Maldives.

Until he disappeared.

Rilwan was last seen just after midnight on August 8, 2014, at a ferry terminal linking the capital, Malé, to the neighboring island where he lived. Eyewitnesses told police that at about 2 a.m., they saw a man in dark clothes being forced at knifepoint into a red car parked outside Rilwan’s apartment. Other witnesses identified gang members with political connections who followed Rilwan the evening he went missing and another gang member who owned the car in which Rilwan was reportedly taken.  Nevertheless, the police failed to follow up on these leads. During the first two years following his abduction, they did not even classify Rilwan’s case as one of abduction or a missing person. Two suspects arrested shortly after his disappearance were freed two months later and although prosecuted, remained free for the duration of the trial.

On August 2, 2018, the Maldives criminal court acquitted the men of abducting Rilwan.  The judge called the police and prosecution negligent and careless, and said they had failed to conduct a thorough investigation.

Yameen may want to bury the truth about who took Rilwan, but Rilwan’s colleagues and friends refuse to keep quiet or forget. Yameen should heed them and order a thorough and open investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance, including whether those involved had links to people in the president’s party.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC) - The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has found the Turkmen government responsible for the torture and death of a human rights activist, the Prove They are Alive Campaign! said today. The activist, Ogulsapar Muradova, died in state custody in 2006, after her arrest and trial on politically motivated charges. Human Rights Watch is a member of the campaign.

Ogulsapar Muradova in the mid-1990s 

© Annadurdy Khajiev
“Finally, there’s an authoritative acknowledgment of the Turkmen government’s responsibility for the monstrous torture and death of Ogulsapar Muradova,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, of the Prove they Are Alive! campaign. “Now the government should identify all those responsible for her death, hold them to account to her family. It’s been 12 years, but it’s never too late for justice.”

The government should also immediately end the forced disappearances of dozens of other people being held in Turkmen prisons, the campaign said.

Muradova was an activist with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, an independent human rights group that works on Turkmenistan from exile in Bulgaria, and a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In June 2006, police in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, arrested Muradova and two other activists, her brother, Sapardurdy Khajiev, and Annakurban Amanklychev, and also her three adult children.

Just before the activists’ arrest, two of them had been assisting with a documentary about human rights and related issues in Turkmenistan.

Muradova’s children were released a few weeks later. In August 2006, following a rushed, closed trial, a court convicted Muradova, Amanklychev, and Khajiev on bogus charges related to alleged possession of bullets, and sentenced Muradova to six years in prison, and Amanklychev and Khajiev to seven years.

The circumstances of the activists’ arrest left no doubt they were targeted in retaliation for their human rights work, the campaign said. For example, then-President Saparmurat Niyazov, in a televised speech, condemned Muradova for assisting foreign journalists in “gathering slanderous information to show discontent among the population,” and other statements in the state media called her and the other activists “traitors.”

Muradova was held incommunicado the entire time she was in custody. On September 13, 2006, just weeks after her closed trial, her family was informed that she had died. Morgue staff allowed her family to see her body only after diplomatic intervention. A family member who viewed the body said he saw a deep cut in on her forehead, a dark mark around her neck which could be consistent with strangulation, open wounds on her hands, and severe bruising on her legs.

According to unconfirmed information received in December 2006 from a law enforcement official, Muradova died from torture during an interrogation by National Security Ministry officers. Another source later said a “suicide” was staged to conceal the real circumstances of her death.

The government claimed Muradova died of natural causes and did not investigate her death. In its response to the HRC in December 2016, the government said Muradova had been kept in Ovadan-Depe (prison AH-T/2) and claimed that on September 13, 2006, she “committed suicide” by hanging herself.

The HRC, responding to a complaint filed by Muradova’s brother, Annadurdy Khajiev, found the Turkmen government responsible for violating Muradova’s right to life, in an opinion issued in April 2018. The committee made the decision public in August.

The committee found that Turkmen authorities arrested Muradova for her journalism and human rights work, and that they did not conduct a prompt investigation into allegations of torture and her death in custody. It also found that the government’s failure to provide any information about her death caused mental stress to Khajiev that amounted to inhuman treatment.

The committee said the Turkmen government should conduct an impartial investigation into the circumstances of Muradova’s death; provide the family with a full account of its investigations, including the autopsy report, copies of trial transcripts, and the court verdict; and provide a remedy to Muradova’s family, including compensation and rehabilitation of her name.

Muradova was included in the Prove They Are Alive! campaign’s List of the Disappeared in Turkmenistan’s Prisons. The campaign said that like Muradova, dozens and most likely hundreds of other people have been subjected to lengthy periods of incommunicado detention, following rushed, closed, and unfair trials. Their families have been deprived of any information about their loved ones, in many cases for as long as 16 years. A list compiled by the Prove They Are Alive! campaign includes 112 confirmed cases of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan. Dozens of their family members live in a constant state of distress tantamount to torture, not knowing their loved ones’ whereabouts, or whether they are dead or alive.

The Turkmen government should promptly reply to the HRC and take immediate steps to remedy the violations of Muradova’s and her family’s rights, the Prove They Are Alive! campaign and Human Rights Watch said. It should immediately end the practice of incommunicado detention and make a concerted effort to provide information to family members and relevant international bodies about the fate and whereabouts of people in custody.

“Ending enforced disappearances is an important step toward ensuring that no one suffers the same fate as Olgusapar Muradova,” said Vitali Ponomarev, Central Asia program director at the Memorial Human Rights Center, a partner in the campaign. “It’s time for the Turkmen government to end the suffering of the disappeared and their many families who are denied information about their loved ones.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina of Human Rights Center "Memorial" peacefully protesting politically motivated prosecution of their colleague, Oyub Titiev, Moscow, 2018.

© 2018 Dmitry Borko

Today, as I sat in a tiny courtroom in Shali, a 40-minute drive from Chechnya’s capital, at a hearing in the show trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev, another hearing was to start in Moscow. It was for two of Oyub’s colleagues from Memorial, a leading Russian rights group, on trial for peacefully supporting their jailed colleague.

On July 9, Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina went to Manezhnaya Square, by the Kremlin’s walls, and raised “Freedom to Oyub Titiev” posters. Five minutes later, police arrested them for violating regulations on public gatherings, an administrative offense punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles (about US$317).

Oyub Titiev in court, Chechnya. 

© 2018 Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

Orlov and Gannushkina fully expected to be arrested. Their show of solidarity happened during the World Cup, and public protests were prohibited in Russia’s World Cup cities this summer. But they wanted to draw attention to the opening that day of Oyub’s trial. Until then, Oyub’s friends and colleagues had hoped for the case to be quietly dropped. The charge of marijuana possession, and the entire case against Oyub is patently bogus.

But once the trial started in Shali, all such hopes vanished. In Chechnya, judges obey the authorities, and the local strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov had publicly condemned Oyub. His colleagues’ protest in Moscow was an important act of solidarity. “It’s the only thing we can now do for Oyub,” they told me.

For a month now, I’ve been traveling to Chechnya almost weekly, talking to Oyub through the bars of the courtroom’s cage. I also show him photographs of colleagues discussing his case with leading European policy-makers, a theater in Moscow performing a play about him, rights activists posing in “#SaveOyub” t-shirts. When Oyub saw the photo of Orlov and Gannushkina at Manezhnaya, he smiled. Seeing friends and strangers fighting for his release helps him get through this parody of a trial. He faces a ten-year prison sentence.

Today, the court in Moscow postponed the decision on Orlov and Gannushkina, but they don’t doubt they’ll be fined

During Oyub’s hearing, when one of his lawyers and the prosecutor got into a shouting match, the judge asked them wearily, “Please behave – a man’s fate is at stake.” But it seems clear to everyone here that Chechnya’s leadership had already decided Oyub will be punished for his human rights work. Nevertheless, we refuse to give up – our presence and support are his lifeline.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
(Berlin) – Tajik security services forced an activist’s 10-year-old daughter, elderly mother, and brother off an airplane at Tajikistan on August 4, 2018, seven human rights groups said today. They were on their way to Europe to reunite with the activist.

Tajik authorities have placed 10-year-old Fatima Davlyatova, daughter of peaceful political activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova, on a watch list and prevented her from leaving to Europe to reunite with her mother.

© Khudoydodova family

The Tajik government should immediately lift the politically motivated travel ban on the independent activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s, family and end its retaliation against relatives of government critics abroad, the groups said.

“The cruelty Tajik authorities have shown against this 10-year-old girl and her relatives simply for her mother’s peaceful criticism of the government is shocking,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They should be allowed to leave Tajikistan immediately without any fear of retribution.”

The groups are Amnesty International, the Association of Central Asian Migrants, Freedom Now, Global Advocates Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Vision Foundation, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Early on August 4, Tajik security service officers boarded the plane on which Fatima Davlyatova, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s daughter, Gulidzhamilamo Khudoydodova, her mother, and Komron Khudoydodov, her brother, were waiting to depart, removed them from the flight, and banned them from traveling to Europe to reunite with her. The three were interrogated for several hours and forced to sign documents acknowledging that all of them, including the girl, were on a “wanted list.”

The travel ban is the latest in a long series of retaliatory actions against Khudoydodova’s family members, including violent attacks.

Khudoydodova, a former member of the peaceful political movement Group 24, was detained in Belarus for nine months in 2015 and 2016 under a Tajik extradition request and Interpol warrant. Following pressure from human rights groups and various governments, she was released in February 2016, after which she ceased her political opposition work, and took up human rights activism in Poland on behalf of Tajik asylum seekers there.

In September 2016, Khudoydodova participated in the annual Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, an intergovernmental human rights conference in Warsaw. On September 20, a day after Khudoydodova spoke at the conference, Tajik authorities directed an angry mob to attack her daughter, Fatima Davlyatova, at her school and then to attack her relatives in the family’s home in the city of Kulob, Tajikistan.

On December 29, 2016, security services went to Khudoydodova’s family home and confiscated Fatima’s passport and birth certificate, and the passports of her grandmother and other relatives in the house. The authorities threatened to prosecute them and place Fatima in an orphanage if anyone attempted to travel abroad. The passports and other personal documents were returned to the family a year later.

“Tajikistan’s treatment of this young girl and her family for no other reason than her mother’s peaceful political activity is as shameful as it is inexcusable,” said Bjorn Engsland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajik authorities should immediately stop these acts of retaliation.”

Tajik authorities have regularly detained, threatened, and banned from travel family members – including wives and young children – of opposition activists abroad in retaliation for their relatives’ peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights, the groups said. Tajik security services officers and local officials have also publicly shamed and threatened to confiscate the property of the activists’ relatives, and in one case threatened to rape an activist’s daughter.

“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives, including young children, is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” said Tomasz Klosowicz, president of the board of the Global Advocates Foundation. “Children should be allowed to be with their mother. This travel ban amounts to collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels and should end immediately.”

On August 1, following an international outcry, the authorities allowed the four-year-old grandson of an exiled opposition leader to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers and journalists, such as Khayrullo Mirsaidov, have been jailed in Tajikistan as part of a widening crackdown on free expression. The US, the European Union, and other international entities should unequivocally call on the Tajik government to lift the politically motivated travel ban on Khudoydodova’s relatives and stop retaliating against relatives of perceived government critics, the groups said.

“Targeting dissidents’ families is a new low set by the government, and an especially despicable tactic,” said Maran Turner, executive director at Freedom Now. “Tajikistan’s international partners, including Brussels and Washington, must make a clear call for an end to this abuse.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Chinese national flag sways in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing on January 14, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(New York) – Stakeholders and shareholders in Google and Facebook should urge the companies not to exchange user rights for access to China’s market, Human Rights Watch said. According to reporting in The Intercept, Google has been developing a search engine app to comply with China’s expansive censorship requirements. Facebook previously developed a censored version of its service for China, though never launched it.

The US Congress, European Parliament, and other legislatures around the world should express concern at US companies who are cooperating with China’s censorship and surveillance, Human Rights Watch said.

“Technology companies should be challenging China’s censorship – not complicit in it,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Shareholders in Google and Facebook who care about human rights should urge these companies not to compromise them for access to China’s market.”

Leaked documents examined by The Intercept describe the company’s plans to launch a censored version of its search engine as an Android app. According to the media report, Google has already demonstrated the app to Chinese officials and is waiting for approval for launch. The project, code-named Dragonfly, has been in development since spring 2017. According to reporting by The Intercept, work on the project accelerated following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Chinese government officials in December 2017, and the app could launch in the next six to nine months. The company is also in talks with potential Chinese partners to provide other cloud services inside the country, according to separate media reports.

Human Rights Watch reached out to Google to ask how it proposes to safeguard human rights as it seeks to expand its products and services in China. HRW had not received a response for the record at time of this publication.

China’s extensive censorship regime restricts a wide range of peaceful expression that officials deem politically sensitive, including criticism of government policy and information that does not conform to official narratives. China’s Great Firewall Internet filtering system blocks websites at the national level, including Google and Facebook services. Broadly drafted laws also require social media services, search engines, and websites that host user content to censor politically sensitive information on its behalf. The government issues vaguely worded censorship orders and expects companies to proactively restrict access to broad categories of information.

“Google withdrew from China in 2010 because the human rights and cybersecurity environment was too precarious,” Wong said. “Since then, China renewed its crackdown on rights and enacted new laws that conscript tech firms in censorship and surveillance, but the company hasn’t explained how this time will be any better.”

According to media reports, Google’s custom Chinese search app would comply with the censorship regime by automatically identifying and filtering sites blocked by the Great Firewall. Filtered sites would not be shown in response to searches, and the company would notify the user that some results may have been removed. Examples of websites that would be censored include the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Wikipedia, according to documents seen by The Intercept.

Google is not the only US internet company considering whether to censor to seek access to the Chinese market. In November 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook was developing software “to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas,” specifically “to help Facebook get into China.” The report states that Facebook would “offer the software to enable a third party—in this case, most likely a partner Chinese company—to monitor popular stories and topics,” and would allow that third party to “have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.”

Facebook’s formal entry into China would raise many of the same human rights concerns faced by Google. Facebook holds highly sensitive information about its users’ networks and affiliations, which the government may demand the company disclose. Online activists could be particularly at risk because of Facebook’s policy of requiring users to employ an “authentic identity” – a name that is commonly used by family and friends, that might also be found on certain types of identity documents. Human rights organizations and officials, including Human Rights Watch and United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, have long criticized this policy, because it can chill online expression and is also likely to be disproportionately enforced against those who use pseudonyms because they are at risk of reprisals.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch wrote to Facebook to ask whether the proposed system would proceed and how Facebook intends to avoid complicity with Chinese state censorship, and also asked how Facebook would protect its users from abusive surveillance and reprisals for their online activity if Facebook launches a version of their application that complies with Chinese law. In a written response, Facebook stated that “at this time we have not concluded how or when access to Facebook could be restored for people in China, recognizing the principal role the Chinese government plays in making this decision” and that “as we continue to study this market, we will consider the important points you raise.”

In May 2017, Facebook quietly launched a photo-sharing app, Colorful Balloons, in China through a local company without a public connection to Facebook. The company has also unsuccessfully sought to open an innovation hub and subsidiaries in China.

In August 2018, Human Rights Watch again contacted Facebook for updates to its approach to China. HRW had not received a response for the record at time of this publication.

From 2006 to 2010, Google ran a censored version of its search engine in China. In March 2010, the company announced it would stop censoring search results in China, citing concerns about online censorship, surveillance, and cyber-attacks directed at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. As a result, the search engine has remained inaccessible to mainland Chinese users, along with other Google services.

Since 2010, the Chinese government has only broadened and intensified its crackdown on human rights, especially after President Xi Jinping took power in 2013. In recent years, authorities have tightened censorship requirements, restricted access to censorship circumvention tools, and strengthened ideological control over all media. In 2017, the government shut down dozens of social media accounts, called on internet companies to “actively promote socialist core values,” and passed stricter regulations to require real-name registration, disabling people from protecting their identities if they engaged in disfavored speech. Authorities have subjected more human rights defenders, including foreigners, to show trials, subjected them to torture, and often held them incommunicado for months.

The government has significantly broadened mass surveillance efforts using big data and artificial intelligence-driven technology across China, particularly in the minority region of Xinjiang. The government also recently enacted laws that impose new requirements on companies to facilitate online surveillance. The Cybersecurity Law requires certain technology companies to retain, store, and disclose user data inside China and monitor and report “network security incidents.” Other new rules require app providers to keep user logs for 60 days to reduce the spread of “illegal information.” Under Chinese law, “security incidents” and “illegal information” are often defined broadly to encompass peaceful criticism of the government.

The Chinese government’s intensified offensive against human rights makes the timing of Google’s and Facebook’s actions particularly troubling and disappointing, Human Rights Watch said.

Google already provides two apps in China, Google Translate and file management app Files Go, though its own app store, Google Play, remains blocked. However, offering services via mobile phone apps raises additional human rights concerns that were not present when Google first entered China in 2006, when smart phones were not ubiquitous. Mobile applications can access extraordinarily sensitive data stored on phones, including contact lists, files, messages, photos, device identifiers, and location information, and can also turn on a phone’s camera and microphone if given permission by the user. Often users approve access without fully understanding the personal data that would be available. Such personal data would be more vulnerable to monitoring and collection by mobile service providers and public security agencies in China.

“US tech companies shouldn’t enter China until they can show they won’t become repression’s helping hands,” said Wong. “In the current human rights environment, that seems unlikely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activist and photographer Shahidul Alam arrives surrounded by policemen for an appearance in a court, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on August 6, 2018. 

© 2018 MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

(New York) – Instead of prosecuting those responsible for unlawfully attacking student protesters demanding road safety, Bangladesh authorities are arresting students and targeting activists and journalists who are highlighting the abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should order an immediate investigation into reports that renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, was beaten while in custody. Alam was detained on August 5, 2018, for criticizing the government and its supporters for targeting students.

Thousands of students, including school children, have been blocking streets to protest the July 29 killings of two students by a speeding bus. According to numerous witnesses, members of the ruling Awami League party student and youth wings, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, and the Awami Juba League, have attacked the protesters with machetes and sticks. Eyewitnesses and journalists, including Shahidul Alam, also reported that in some areas police stood by while children were beaten up by Awami League supporters, some of whom wore helmets to hide their identity. Some perpetrators were identified when the attacks were caught on camera.

“Yet again, Bangladesh authorities seem determined to take abusive shortcuts to problems, and then denounce those who criticize,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release anyone, including Shahidul Alam, they have locked up for peaceful criticism. Instead, authorities should prosecute those, including members of the ruling party’s youth supporters, who are attacking children with sticks and machetes.”

Following the protests, Bangladesh authorities have promised an end to reckless driving, to regulate traffic, and to enact a new Road Safety Act. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, warned protesters to “not to cross the limit,” or be prepared to face police action. Security forces used teargas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, live ammunition against protesters.

One protester told Human Rights Watch that about 500 students, many of them women and girls, had gathered in the Uttara area of Dhaka in the morning of August 5 to peacefully regulate traffic and enforce lane driving. Then several young men arrived on motorbikes, carrying machetes and sticks. “They said, ‘You must leave. The prime minister has asked us to come sort you out.’” The protester said his group asked the women and girls to run away since there are reports that several have been sexually abused during attacks on other protests. The attackers, all wearing helmets to hide their identity, started beating the students. “The police just stood there. They were taking pictures and videos to be able to identify the protesters. They did not stop the attacks.”

Similar attacks were reported in other areas of Dhaka. Some 20 journalists, particularly photographers and videographers, were beaten up for documenting the attacks, according to media reports. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers to be Awami League youth members.

Internationally acclaimed photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, founder of the Drik Gallery, was detained by members of the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh police at 10 p.m. from his house in Dhaka on August 5, hours after an interview with Al Jazeera where he said that “the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads.” He also denounced the government in the interview for “[the] looting of banks, the gagging of media, …extra judicial killings, the disappearances, the protection money at all levels, [and] corruption in education.”

The police have filed a case against Alam under Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act), which authorizes the prosecution of any person who publishes, in electronic form, material that is fake and obscene; defamatory; “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience; causes, or may cause, “deterioration in law and order;” prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.” The overly broad law has been repeatedly used to prosecute those who criticize the government or individual politicians.

Authorities have also restricted access to telecommunications networks across the country since August 4, saying that these shutdowns are needed to prevent violence fueled by rumors circulated on social media or mobile messaging applications. Several others are also facing prosecutions under the ICT Act for criticizing the government and posting videos of the protests on Facebook.

In other ongoing unrest, earlier on August 4, unknown attackers, allegedly government supporters, stoned the vehicle of outgoing US ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, as she was leaving the residence of Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of civil society advocacy group Shujan, after a farewell dinner. They then attacked Majumder’s house.

The Bangladesh government should ensure that security forces respect basic human rights standards on the use of force, including in dispersing demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said. 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.

“It would be shameful if the Sheikh Hasina government is deploying party hoodlums to target students for demanding safe roads,” said Adams. “Bangladeshi authorities must immediately halt the violence perpetrated by government supporters against protesters and journalists and respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

“Why am I now on the Indonesian government blacklist? For how long? For what reason? For going to Papua? This is devastating for me.”

That was the reaction of Australian graduate student Belinda Lopez on August 4 when immigration authorities at Ngurah Rai International Airport in the Indonesian province of Bali abruptly aborted her honeymoon by informing her she was on an official blacklist and banned from the country. She was deported 24 hours after her arrival.

Lopez‘s “crime” appears to be that she was once a journalist. Immigration authorities repeatedly asked her if she was reporter and if she had “done something wrong to Indonesia.” She had previously worked at the Indonesian English-language newspapers The Jakarta Post and The Jakarta Globe, and had been deported from Papua in 2016 on suspicion of “being a reporter.” This likely led to her being placed on a blacklist.

There is a deeply rooted perception among many Indonesian government and security agency officials that foreign media access to their Papua and West Papua provinces (collectively referred to as “Papua”) is a recipe for instability in a region already troubled by widespread public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small but persistent armed independence movement.

Despite the rhetoric of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s announced opening of Papua to foreign media in May 2015, the grim reality is journalists are still blocked from reporting there. Violations of media freedom for foreign journalists in Papua, along with visa denial and blacklisting of reporters who challenge the official chokehold on Papua access, continue unabated. In February, Indonesian authorities arrested BBC correspondent Rebecca Henschke for tweets she made while reporting from Papua. She was questioned for 17 hours by immigration and military officials before being freed.

Government restrictions on foreigners have extended to United Nations officials and academics Indonesian authorities perceive as hostile. In June, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, decried the government’s seeming refusal to make good on an official invitation to visit Papua.

Until Jokowi honors his commitment to open Papua for foreign media, the immigration blacklist of anyone “suspected of being a reporter” is likely to grow.

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

An opinion piece by Minky Worden about LGBT rights at the World Cup was removed from the Qatar edition of the New York Times

The government of Qatar should change its laws to end arbitrary censorship of articles about sexual orientation and gender identity and revoke its Penal Code provision that punishes same-sex relations with imprisonment between one to three years, Human Rights Watch said today. Qatar is host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The private publishing partner of The New York Times, Dar Al Sharq, has repeatedly removed articles in the international print edition of The New York Times published in Qatar related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. The Qatari government tells Human Rights Watch that it was not directly involved in censoring the LGBT articles, indicating that the blank pages are self-censorship based on what a publisher perceives as compliant “with the local cultural standards and expectations.” Censorship of media content because it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity violates freedom of expression when it discriminates against LGBT people.

The World Cup spotlight is exposing the Qatari government’s homophobia and its failure to uphold press freedom.

Minky Worden

Director of global initiatives

“The World Cup spotlight is exposing the Qatari government’s homophobia and its failure to counter this troubling climate of self-censorship,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Qatari authorities should reform the laws that create a chilling environment for the media and threaten LGBT people with criminal sanctions. If not, FIFA should call a foul.”

FIFA recognizes human rights as central to its operations in Article 3 and 4 of its statutes and its Human Rights Policy. According to FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, discrimination of any kind “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.” FIFA now requires countries applying to host the World Cup uphold minimum standards for human rights, including non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In recent months, multiple articles about LGBT topics have been censored in the print Doha Edition of The New York Times, including: Larry Kramer’s article For Gays, the Worst is Yet to Come. Again, Elton John’s article, Life on the Margins in LGBT Africa, Shannon Sims’ A Fire Killed 32 at a New Orleans Gay Bar. This Artist Didn’t Forget, and an oped by Worden on LGBT rights and the World Cup.

The government of Qatar should change its laws to end arbitrary censorship of articles about sexual orientation and gender identity and revoke its Penal Code provision that punishes same-sex relations with imprisonment between one to three years. Qatar is host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

With each deletion, The New York Times publishes a notice that the LGBT text is “exceptionally removed from the Doha edition,” making the censorship clear. The New York Times wrote to Human Rights Watch it has printed and distributed its international edition in Qatar since 2007, and the decision to censor is taken at a local level by the relevant government entities or its independent printing and distribution vendor.

The New York Times told Human Rights Watch approximately “a dozen pieces have been altered or exceptionally removed since April, including references to alcohol, sexuality, and a Delacroix artwork in an advertisement. Where an article is exceptionally removed, we require the publisher to include a citation which includes the full, uncensored title of the piece, and clear signposting to the full article, which will always be available online.” The paper added, “while we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we deeply regret and object to any censorship of our journalism and are in regular discussions with our distributors about this practice.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to Qatar’s Minister of Information and Communications, Dr. Hessa al-Jaber, and to Doha publisher Dar Al Sharq CEO Abdul Latif al Mahmoud, to clarify where responsibility lies for deletion of LGBT news. The Communications Office stated,

The government of the State of Qatar does not directly oversee, control, or limit the publication of The New York Times International Edition in Qatar. As you correctly note, the printing and distribution of international media is done by an independent company in Qatar. While their work is done with no input from the government, all media distributors are expected to comply with the local cultural standards and expectations of their readers and the community. The government is currently examining the issues recently raised around this local distributor, and we will inform you of necessary actions that are taken.

Dar Al Sharq’s Al Mahmoud responded that his company is subject to Qatar’s laws and therefore takes “a general editorial approach that avoids the publishing of anything that may be considered illegal, immoral or contrary to local rules and culture such as pornographic material or any material that could be deemed illegal under the law.”

Homosexual conduct is illegal in Qatar, and there are no anti-discrimination laws or government policies to address discrimination, or state-recognized LGBT organizations. While Human Rights Watch has not documented any prosecutions for same-sex conduct, the law criminalizing same-sex relations is discriminatory and menacing to LGBT people in Qatar.

When Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter came under fire from athletes and LGBT fans for his public response to questions about protections for LGBT people: "I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities."

Human Rights Watch said that Qatar’s anti-LGBT laws contribute to stigma and discrimination that is wholly at odds with FIFA’s claims to elevate equality and human dignity.

Opinion pieces removed from Qatar's edition of the New York Times.

In response to reporting by ABC news on the censorship in Qatar, the government’s communications office promised to investigate the matter, adding: “The government will examine the issues around the local distributor and take corrective action if needed….. We look forward to people from all over the globe converging on Qatari soil – of different ethnicities, languages, religions, and cultures – uniting through a shared passion for football.”

In Qatar, journalists and printers operate under section 47 of the 1979 Press and Publications law, which bans publication of “any printed matter that is deemed contrary to the ethics, violates the morals or harms the dignity of the people or their personal freedoms.” Qatar is ranked 125 out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. In recent years, Qatar has blocked independent news site Doha News, arrested, detained, and interrogated journalists from the BBC, Danish TV, and ARD for reporting and investigations around the World Cup.

Coverage of LGBT news is limited across the Gulf. Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, publishes in English, Arabic, Spanish, and French, but publishes little to no content in Arabic about LGBT issues, with its most recent print article in Arabic about LGBT issues dating back to December 2004.

On July 2, Human Rights Watch notified FIFA about the blatant censorship of LGBT content in Qatar, which challenges its credibility on press freedom and LGBT rights. FIFA said it is investigating the deletion of LGBT articles.

Since Qatar is hosting the World Cup, it should play by the rules, Human Rights Watch said. FIFA’s Human Rights Policy reads: “Where the national context risks undermining FIFA’s ability to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights, FIFA will constructively engage with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities.”

Human Rights Watch calls on Qatar to change its press laws to allow media freedom, revoke its Penal Code provision that punishes same-sex relations, and to affirm that the government will not censor LGBT content and instead recognize it as important to core human rights values.  Human Rights Watch calls on FIFA to “constructively engage” to achieve this outcome in accordance with its policies.

“FIFA knows that discrimination and censorship seriously undermine the sport of football,” Worden said. “Now FIFA should demand that Qatar overturn its anti-LGBT law and uphold media freedom as important conditions of hosting the World Cup.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Opinion pieces removed from Qatar's edition of the New York Times.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ethnic-Kazakh Chinese citizen Sayragul Sauytbay in court in Zharkent, Kazkhstan, July, 2018.

© 2018 RUSLAN PRYANIKOV/AFP/Getty Images

Sayragul Sauytbai, an ethnic Kazakh woman with Chinese citizenship, is one of few people who have dared to speak publicly about China’s abusive “political reeducation” camps across Xinjiang. Earlier this year, Sauytbai fled Xinjiang to Kazakhstan, fearing for her safety. Now she’s at risk of being forcibly returned to China, where she would face detention and possible torture.

Soon after Sauytbai’s arrival, Kazakh authorities detained her for “illegal border crossing” and put her on trial. If convicted, she could be deported back to China. She has applied for asylum in Kazakhstan.

Sauytbai testified in court that she was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and had worked as a trainer in a government “political education” camp for ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs. She testified that the camp was nothing less than a prison. Sauytbai doesn’t deny crossing the border illegally and she told the court she was prepared to serve any sentence – in Kazakhstan. Her lawyer sought a plea deal on those terms, but on July 23, the prosecutor rejected the offer.

China has repeatedly denied that such “political education” camps exist. But Human Rights Watch investigations found that hundreds of thousands of people are being arbitrarily detained, tortured, and subjected to political indoctrination in such facilities across Xinjiang. Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs, are being detained simply for having ties to Kazakhstan, such as having family there.

China has made no secret it wants Sauytbai’s return. The Chinese government has demanded her extradition, and consulate representatives attended one of the court hearings.

Sauytbai’s next hearing is August 1. And she’s right to be afraid. Over the past decade, Human Rights Watch has documented repeatedly that Uyghurs forcibly returned to China disappear and are rarely heard from again.

Sauytbai fled to Kazakhstan seeking refuge. Kazakhstan should reject Chinese pressure, uphold its international legal obligations as a party to the Refugee Convention, and protect her from the persecution she will undoubtedly face if she is sent back to China.

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