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

People shout slogans outisde the Tamil Nadu House during a protest, after at least 10 people were killed when police fired on protesters seeking closure of plant on environmental grounds in town of Thoothukudi in southern state of Tamil Nadu, in New Delhi, India on May 23, 2018.
© 2018 Reuters/Adnan Abidi
(New York) – Authorities in India’s Tamil Nadu state should conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the police shooting of protesters against a copper plant that left at least 12 dead and 80 injured, Human Rights Watch said today. Television news video footage shows two plainclothes men firing at protesters from atop a police van during a demonstration on May 22, 2018.

Since February, residents of the port city of Tuticorin have protested against the expansion of a copper smelting plant and demanded its closure because of environmental concerns. Previous protests have largely been peaceful. On May 22, protesters clashed with police after being prevented from marching to the offices of the local administration. Police said they were compelled to respond with live ammunition after demonstrators pelted police with stones, attacked a government building, and set vehicles on fire.

“The police have a duty during protests to maintain law and order, but lethal force can only be used if there is an imminent threat to life,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Tamil Nadu authorities need to carry out a prompt and credible investigation to determine if police used excessive force and hold those responsible to account.”

Tamil Nadu authorities need to carry out a prompt and credible investigation to determine if police used excessive force and hold those responsible to account.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

The Tamil Nadu government said that the police had to take action “under unavoidable circumstances” to bring the violence under control. ​Protests have continued, with one person reportedly killed by a rubber bullet and dozens injured on May 23. The government has ordered an internet shutdown for five days in three districts.

Following widespread condemnation of the killings, the state chief minister has ordered an inquiry and announced compensation of 10 lakh rupees (US$14,600) to each of the families of those who died.

Sterlite Copper, a business unit of Vedanta, a United Kingdom-based multinational mining and metals conglomerate, set up the copper smelting plant in 1996. Residents living in towns and villages nearby have long alleged that the plant had damaged their health, water, and environment.

In 2013, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board directed Sterlite to temporarily shut down its copper plant following allegations of a gas leak. Days later, India’s Supreme Court ordered the company to pay damages of 100 crore rupees ($15 million) for environmental rehabilitation measures.

In an official statement reported in the media, Sterlite Copper said: “It's with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed today’s incidents around the protest today at Tuticorin. The company has appealed to government and authorities to ensure safety of our employees, facilities, and surrounding communities. Sterlite Copper plant is non-operational as we await approval for the consent to operate.”

On May 23, the Madras High Court, in an interim order, stayed the expansion of Sterlite Copper’s industrial unit.

The Indian government should publicly order the police to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Basic Principles state that law enforcement officials shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms,” and that “whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.” Furthermore, “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

The Basic Principles further provide that, “[i]n cases of death and serious injury or other grave consequences, a detailed report shall be sent promptly to the competent authorities.” The findings of the investigation should be public and result in appropriate disciplinary action or prosecution.

“It’s important that the Tamil Nadu authorities respond to protests in accordance with international law, but they should also be addressing concerns raised about health and environmental harms,” Ganguly said. “Protest organizers should take steps to deter supporters from engaging in violence, including attacks on law enforcement officers.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Pro-democracy activist Rome Rangsiman (C) holds up a Thailand flag as anti-government protesters gather during a protest to demand that the military government hold a general election by November, in Bangkok, Thailand on May 22, 2018.
© 2018 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release 14 pro-democracy activists who peacefully expressed opposition to military rule, Human Rights Watch said today. The 14 are charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, and violating the military junta’s ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

“The arrest of peaceful democracy activists calling for free and fair elections shows that Thailand’s military junta has no intention of easing its oppressive rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Gagging peaceful public protests makes a mockery of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s self-proclaimed commitment to return Thailand to democracy.”

The arrest of peaceful democracy activists calling for free and fair elections shows that Thailand’s military junta has no intention of easing its oppressive rule.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On May 22, 2018, a peaceful rally was held in front of the United Nations compound in Bangkok to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 military coup. Police broke up the rally and arrested leaders and members of the “We Want Election” movement after they read a statement calling for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms and hold promised elections.

The 14 pro-democracy activists being held at Phayathai Police Station and Chanasongkram Police Station in Bangkok are: Nuttaa Mahattana, Chonthicha Jangrew, Anon Numpa, Rangsiman Rome, Sirawith Seritiwat, Piyarat Chongthep, Ekachai Hongkangwan, Chokchai Paiboonratchata, Kiri Khanthong, Putthaising Pimchan, Roj Trong-ngarmrak, Viset Sangkhavisit, Pattarapol Jankot, and Prasong Wangwan.

International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But since the May 2014 coup, 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. Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop making political comments against the junta.

International pressure is urgently needed to press for a speedy transition to civilian democratic rule in Thailand.

“With each new politically motivated arrest, Thailand’s path toward democracy is fading,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the junta to set a firm date for elections and allow people and political parties to organize and express their visions for the future of the country.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Vasila Inoyatova, chairwoman of Ezgulik and Abdurakhman Tashanov, deputy chairperson of Ezgulik together with human rights activist Bobomurod Razzakov, Ezgulik’s Bukhara representative, on the day of his release from prison on October 25, 2016.

© Ezgulik
(Bishkek) – Vasila Inoyatova, an Uzbek human rights activist who died of medical complications on May 19, 2018, at age 62, made an unassailable contribution to Uzbekistan’s human rights movement and nascent democracy, Human Rights Watch said today. She was the founder and chairwoman of Ezgulik (Compassion)¸ one of Uzbekistan’s most prominent independent human rights organizations.

“Vasila Inoyatova fiercely defended human rights and spoke truth to power even during the darkest times in Uzbekistan,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Inoyatova’s commitment to human rights in Uzbekistan came at a great personal cost to her and her loved ones, but she always managed to pursue justice with passion, warmth, and a devilish sense of humor.”

In 1990, as movements for national autonomy and democracy were emerging across the Soviet Union, Inoyatova joined the political movement Birlik (Unity). After Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991, Birlik became one of the country’s leading opposition political parties with Inoyatova as its general secretary. She led the party until she formed Ezgulik in 2002.

Ezgulik is Uzbekistan’s only registered independent human rights group, with representatives and activists in all areas of the country. Under Inoyatova’s leadership, Ezgulik has reported on issues including forced labor, torture, access to justice, and the right to a fair trial, and conducted prison visits to journalists, activists, and others jailed on political grounds. Ezgulik was a vital resource for international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, often helping link victims of abuses with diplomats, reporters, and other nongovernmental organizations.

The Uzbek government repeatedly harassed Inoyatova and her organization.

Following Uzbekistan’s Andijan massacre in May 2005, when Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters, Uzbek authorities arrested and imprisoned numerous rights activists and reporters, including many of Inoyatova’s Ezgulik colleagues. Despite enormous government pressure, Inoyatova continued to speak out about abuses and the Andijan massacre.

Near the end of the rule of Uzbekistan’s late president Islam Karimov, Inoyatova successfully persuaded Uzbek prison authorities to allow her and her colleagues to visit long-held political prisoners, several of whom had been isolated and without contact with the wider world for over a decade. After Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed the presidency in September 2016, the government began to release some political prisoners. Inoyatova travelled to meet many of them as they left prison, welcoming them home.

“Inoyatova’s untimely death is an immeasurable loss, especially at a time when there’s a possibility for the first time in many years to push for positive change in Uzbekistan,” Swerdlow said. “We owe Vasila a huge debt of gratitude for her courageous work and will keep her memory alive in the years to come.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Policemen detain opposition supporters during a protest ahead of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration ceremony, Moscow, Russia May 5, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

This afternoon, a court in Moscow sentenced the press secretary of Russia’s leading opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, to 25 days in jail for “repeated violation” of regulations on public rallies, an administrative offense.

The charges against Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary, stem from her social media posts calling on people to join the May 5 country-wide “He’s Not our Tsar” protests, two days before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for his fourth presidential term.

Yarmysh was arrested on May 22 at the police station where she had rushed to try to secure the release of Ruslan Shaveddinov, one of Navalny’s key campaigners, arrested by police earlier that same day. Police detained Yarmysh and kept her overnight. During that time, a court sentenced Shaveddinov to 30 days of jail time – also related to social media posts about the protests.

Navalny supporters organized around 90 “He’s Not Our Tsar” protests across Russia. In 43 cities, local authorities refused to authorize the rallies. In 17, local authorities told organizers to hold their rallies at remote and inconvenient locations. Ultimately, police detained around 1,600 peaceful protesters, including 158 children, in 27 cities.

In some cases, police officers used excessive force against young protesters. In Saratov, police detained a 12-year-old boy who was peacefully chanting slogans with other protesters. Two plainclothes officials twisted the boy’s hands behind his back and dragged him into a police car. His father, who picked him up from a police station an hour later, was issued a charge sheet for “neglecting parental duties,” for not preventing his son from attending an unauthorized protest. We interviewed a 14-year-old whom police detained at the Moscow protest. He spent over two and half hours locked in a police bus and then several hours at the precinct before his parents – who were also charged with “neglecting parental duties” – could retrieve him.

Among those detained in Moscow was Navalny himself. He’s also currently serving 30 days in jail for “repeated” violations of rallies regulations. All in all, 15 members of Navalny’s team, including Yarmysh, are under short-term arrest on similar charges. Under Russian law, repeat violations of regulations on public rallies could ultimately lead to five years in prison. Given Russia’s flagrant disregard for its international obligations to respect freedom of assembly, one cannot but fear this could be the next step in the government’s increasing crackdown on the opposition.

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

An exile Tibetan wearing a mask in the likeness of Tashi Wangchuk, stands next to a screen projecting a New York Times video during a street protest demanding his release, in Dharmsala, India. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia
(New York) – The Chinese authorities’ baseless prosecution of a Tibetan language rights activist demonstrates the government’s contempt for the rights of minority peoples, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 22, 2018, a court in Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, sentenced Tashi Wangchuk to 5 years for “inciting separatism.”

Governments, United Nations human rights experts, and international organizations have repeatedly called for Tashi Wangchuk’s release.

“Tashi Wangchuk’s only ‘crime’ was to peacefully call for the right of minority peoples to use their own language—an act protected by China’s constitution and international human rights law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “His conviction on bogus separatism charges shows that critics of government policy on minorities have no legal protections.”

His conviction on bogus separatism charges shows that critics of government policy on minorities have no legal protections.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

Tashi Wangchuk, 31, was detained on January 27, 2016, after appearing in a New York Times video in which he advocated for the rights of Tibetans to learn and study in their mother tongue. Although he told the newspaper explicitly that he was not calling for Tibetan independence, he was charged in March 2016 with “inciting separatism,” an offense that carries up to a 15-year prison sentence. The case was brought to trial at the criminal court in Yushu on January 4, 2018, after a delay caused by the procuracy referring the case back to the police for further investigation in December 2017.

The discontinuation of Tibetan-medium education in public schools in Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu since 2012, and forced closure of Tibetan-medium private schools, caused a surge of popular protest in these areas and has become an issue of prime concern in the Tibetan community. Tashi Wangchuk traveled to Beijing in May 2015 to explore filing a formal complaint against officials in his home area for failing to support Tibetan language education. On that visit, he met with New York Times journalists and “insisted on doing on-the-record interviews,” according to the paper. In September 2015, the Times’ journalists traveled to Yushu to meet him, and in November 2015, the paper published articles about his efforts in English and Chinese, together with a nine-minute video in both languages. Although this initiative violated no Chinese laws, authorities appear to have treated it as unusually sensitive given the involvement of foreign media.

China’s Constitution states that “All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

The prosecution of Tashi Wangchuk violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which China ratified in 1981. Under the convention, China is obligated to ensure that ethnic minorities enjoy equal rights, including freedom of expression and “the right to equal participation in cultural activities.” The UN Human Rights Committee has stated in a general comment that “individuals belonging to … minorities should not be denied the right, in community with members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to practice their religion and speak their language.”

Tashi Wangchuk’s prosecution fell far short of international due process standards. After being detained in January 2016, he was held in secret in a detention center in Yushu while his case was investigated by the police.

Although Chinese law requires that a detainee’s family be informed of a detention within 24 hours, such a requirement can be waived in cases involving “national security” and “terrorism” and when the police believe that such notification could “impede the investigation.” His family was not provided such notice until March 24. At that time, police notified his family that they intended to charge him with “inciting separatism.” He was held for nearly two years before being brought to trial, and during that time had limited access to his family and to lawyers of his choice.

“What’s really on trial, in this case, is China’s credibility in upholding its own laws and respecting peaceful criticism,” Richardson said. “It has failed miserably, but it’s Tashi Wangchuk—and Tibetans who want to study in their own language—who will pay the price.”  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On August 30, 2017, Phayao Akhard wears the bloody nurses gown worn by her daughter, nurse Kamolkate “Kate” Akhard, when she was killed by Thai Special Forces soldiers while tending wounded persons at the front of Wat Pathum temple on May 19, 2010.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
Eight years ago my colleagues and I watched as the streets of Bangkok were covered with blood in one of Thailand’s most violent political confrontations. Yet there is still no justice for the at least 98 people killed and more than 2,000 injured between April and May 2010 – despite compelling evidence that the military was behind most of these abuses.

At the time, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – also known as the Red Shirts – held a mass protest against the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Human Rights Watch documented how the military used unnecessary and excessive force, especially as the military had designated “live fire zones” around protest sites – where soldiers shot protesters, medics, reporters, and bystanders in cold blood.

Human Rights Watch also documented how some of the Red Shirts, including armed militants, committed deadly attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians. Some protest leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches, urging their supporters to carry out arson attacks and looting.

But instead of prosecuting all those responsible for crimes, successive governments have made paltry efforts to hold policymakers, commanding officers, and soldiers accountable. On the other hand, protest leaders and their supporters have faced serious criminal charges.

Thailand is obligated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties to ensure the right to an effective remedy for victims of serious human rights violations.

No one should be above the law, whatever their political affiliation or official position. But sadly, as time goes by, opportunities for Thailand to demonstrate impartial justice have been fading further and further.

It is outrageous that impunity for state-sponsored violence remains the standard operating policy of the Thai military. This simply encourages Thailand’s policymakers and soldiers to believe that they can get away with murder. It also remains a major impediment to reconciliation between victims and supporters of the Red Shirts, a group that does not trust the army and political establishment. Without justice, this is unlikely to change. 

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

Tear gas is seen while police take their position in the street of Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 8, 2018.
© 2018 Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain
(Geneva) – The Bangladesh delegation to the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on May 14, 2018, failed to respond to pressing human rights concerns in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The law minister, Anisul Huq, speaking for the government, highlighted only what the government considered to be positive steps and glossed over concerns about critical issues such as enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and a crackdown on freedom of speech and association. Bangladesh should show its commitment to human rights by giving full consideration to recommendations from other countries and accepting those that would significantly improve its compliance with international human rights standards.

“Bangladesh needs to stop ignoring and start addressing serious human rights violations, such as when its security forces engage in enforced disappearances, killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests, many of them politically motivated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Bangladesh government should use the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council as a time for reflection, not self-congratulation.”

The Bangladesh government should use the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council as a time for reflection, not self-congratulation.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

A number of member countries rightly praised the government’s willingness to open the Bangladesh border and provide aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities by the Myanmar military. The Bangladesh delegation spoke at length about the progress on handling the influx of the Rohingya refugees but responded with silence and denial to questions and recommendations by several countries, including concerns about extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and attacks on human rights defenders. Whether Bangladesh formally accepts or rejects the recommendations made by countries will not be known for some time.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported for many years about human rights concerns in Bangladesh, and many of these concerns were simply not addressed adequately by Bangladesh in the hearing. In one example, the government pledged during the previous periodic review in 2013 to thoroughly and impartially investigate and prosecute all allegations of human rights violations, in particular by the security forces. But it has ignored and denied reports of violations since then, including about violence by the security forces during the 2014 elections and against people who protested the conduct of the elections. The government delegation claimed that it is taking action against those responsible for abuse, but there is little evidence or transparency on this.

Human Rights Watch has also documented several cases in which members of the political opposition have been forcibly disappeared or secretly detained without charge. Scores of Bangladesh National Party (BNP) supporters were unlawfully detained and several remain disappeared.

The whereabouts or status of sons of two opposition Jamaat-e-Islami leaders has not been revealed since they were picked up by security forces in August 2016.

A former diplomat, Maroof Zaman, remains disappeared since December 2017. A Bangladeshi-British citizen, Hasnat Karim, remains in custody without charge following the July 1, 2016 attack by militants on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

Another key concern to which the government delegation responded inadequately is attacks against critical media and nongovernmental organizations. Many people have been and continue to be jailed or charged under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, which includes vague and overbroad provisions to target free speech, and under the 2016 law regulating the use of foreign funding by nongovernmental groups. Section 57 has been used to target key civil society leaders and institutions. The government says it will revise Section 57 with its draft Digital Security Bill, but some of its provisions fall short of international standards. The government has also been using sedition and other criminal laws to target free speech.

Labor rights were also not adequately addressed. Although there has been some progress on safety concerns for workers, much remains to be done. Union leaders and those seeking to join unions face threats and opposition from factory owners and managers.

The government has also failed to keep a commitment to end child marriage. In February 2017, the government approved a law with a new exception that allows girls under 18 to marry under special circumstances, with no minimum age stipulated. A promised national action plan to end child marriage is now over three years late.

“Bangladesh says it remains committed to doing right by the Rohingya refugees, but it should embrace that same principle towards its own citizens,” Adams said. “With national elections next year, it is essential for the government to expand democratic space and provide room for debate and dissent.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, who was granted a royal pardon, arrives to speak to supporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 16, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, twice imprisoned on politically motivated sodomy and corruption charges, walked free from prison today with a full pardon. It was a day for celebration – for his family, his supporters, and for long-suppressed advocates of human rights in Malaysia. 

It was also, perhaps, a day that will mark a new beginning for the rule of law in that country.

The release of Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and head of the opposition People’s Justice Party until his imprisonment, is the first tangible result of the unexpected election victory last week of a coalition that saw Ibrahim’s party align with Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former prime minister who first imprisoned him in 1999. Brought together by a determination to oust recent Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been accused of large-scale corruption and has overseen serious repression of freedom of speech, assembly and the media in an effort to maintain political control, their Pakatan Harapan coalition ran on a reform platform.

With its first promise – to free Anwar – fulfilled, the coalition should make good on the rest of its promises. The coalition committed to abolishing the many repressive laws that have been used to arrest activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and ordinary citizens for criticizing the government or engaging in peaceful protest. Quick fulfillment of that pledge would send a strong signal that the new government, now headed by Mahathir, represents a true break from the abusive policies of the past. 

There is much to be done for the coalition to make its human rights pledges a reality. It won’t be easy. The release of Anwar, who will be able to celebrate Ramadan with his family for the first time since 2014, is a hopeful first step.

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7 2017. 

© 2017 REUTERS/Kay Nietfeld, Pool
(Berlin) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 18, 2018 in Sochi is a crucial opportunity to press for the release of a wrongfully detained Russian human rights defender and to raise other key human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said today.

The human rights defender, Oyub Titiev, director of the leading Russian human rights organization Memorial in Grozny, Chechnya, has been held since January 9.

“A phone call from President Putin to the Chechen authorities could ensure Oyub Titiev’s freedom,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “Merkel should urge Putin to ensure that Titiev is released before the start of the World Cup.”

The FIFA World Cup starts in Russia on June 14. Grozny will host the Egyptian national team for the duration of the tournament.

Weeks before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, several high-profile prisoners were pardoned, including the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of the punk group Pussy Riot.

Chechnya police arrested Titiev on January 9, planted marijuana in his car, and pressed false drug possession charges against him. He has been in pretrial custody since his arrest. If convicted, Titiev faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Titiev’s prosecution is politically motivated and aimed at shutting down Memorial in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch said. Since the 1990s, Memorial has documented torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other serious human rights violations in Chechnya.

Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, presides over the security forces that carry out these abuses with the Kremlin’s tacit blessing, as Putin is Kadyrov’s patron. Kadyrov has repeatedly made public and graphic threats against human rights defenders, investigative journalists, and other critics.

Merkel has a strong record of raising human rights concerns with Putin, including on serious abuses in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch said. In a joint news conference with Putin in 2017, Merkel raised the issue of the brutal anti-gay purge in Chechnya, and said she urged Putin “to use his influence to protect these minority rights.” 

On May 10, Human Rights Watch raised Titiev’s case in a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Moscow.

The current Russian government has been the country’s most repressive since the Soviet era, Human Rights Watch said. The government has forcibly registered human rights and other civic groups that engage in public advocacy as “foreign agents” if they accepted even the smallest amounts of foreign funding, prompting many to close and pushing others near bankruptcy.

In the past 18 months, police have arrested thousands of peaceful protesters and beaten many, including those who demonstrated on the eve of Putin’s May 7 inauguration. Authorities increasingly and unjustifiably restrict access to and censor information the government designates “extremist,” out of line with “traditional values,” or otherwise harmful to the public.

Five Jehovah’s Witnesses are in pretrial custody facing prison sentences for “extremism” for nothing more than their religious activity. In recent years, Russian authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens of people for criminal offenses on the basis of social media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews, and shut down or blocked access to hundreds of websites and web pages. Bloggers, people active on social media, journalists, and others face harassment, intimidation, spurious criminal charges, and, in some cases, physical attacks.

New laws regulating data storage unjustifiably restrict users’ access to information, and ensure that a wealth of data, including confidential user information and the content of communications, are available to authorities, often without any judicial oversight.

The new laws and other measures amount to a wholesale assault on privacy and free expression online, Human Rights Watch said.

In April, Russian authorities blocked the messenger app Telegram, along with millions of IP addresses – in an attempt to stop Telegram from using them. The move disrupted online services, including search engines, shopping, travel booking services, and the like. Authorities have repeatedly threatened to block Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for failing to comply with requirements to store Russian citizens’ user data in Russia.

“Merkel’s principled voice has never been needed more than now,” Michalski said. “She can use that voice to help free Oyub Titiev, and to make clear that the new level of repression in Russia will never be accepted as ‘the new normal.’”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kyiv police waiting outside the venue where an Amnesty International event was disrupted by members of radical groups. Kyiv, Ukraine. May 10, 2018. 

© Tanya Cooper/Human Rights Watch
(Kyiv) – Members of radical nationalist groups violently disrupted a May 10, 2018 discussion in Kyiv about LGBTI rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite the intruders’ aggressive behavior and threats of violence, the Kyiv police did not remove them from the event or the premises, and the owner of the site canceled the event.

A Human Rights Watch researcher was due to speak at the event, which was open to the public, and was there during the incident.

“It was clear from the way the police responded that nationalists can get away with this kind of violent and disruptive behavior in Ukraine,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The nationalists came with a clear goal of halting a discussion about LGBTI rights and they succeeded as the police stood by and did nothing.”

The Ukraine office of Amnesty International organized the event to discuss a public proposal to introduce legislation to ban “propaganda” about homosexuality and public events that support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. The event featured speakers from Amnesty International Ukraine, Human Rights Watch, and Kyiv Pride, an independent Ukrainian LGBTI group, who planned to discuss how such a law would violate human rights, drawing on experience from similar laws in Russia.

About an hour before the start of the discussion, about 20 members of nationalist groups arrived and threatened the organizers with violence unless they canceled the event. The nationalists accused the organizers and participants of serving foreign interests and yelled “extremists” at the organizers. After a standoff of almost an hour, the owner of the venue told the organizers that their event was canceled, and they had to leave.

Police and members of radical groups outside the room where the event organized by Amnesty International Ukraine was supposed to take place. Kyiv, Ukraine. May 10, 2018. 

© Tanya Cooper/Human Rights Watch
Five police officers from the Pechersk District Police did nothing to stop the radical groups from disrupting the event and to remove them from the premises.

Almost three hours after the radical groups arrived, the Kyiv City Patrol Police escorted the organizers and participants, so they could leave the site safely. The police took no action against the attackers.

In recent months, dozens of attacks by members of radical nationalist groups in Ukraine have targeted ethnic minorities – such as Roma – civic activists, and LGBTI people. The police have often ignored the attacks and are reluctant to hold the attackers accountable.

Kyiv police waiting outside the venue where an Amnesty International event was disrupted by members of radical groups. Kyiv, Ukraine. May 10, 2018. 

© Tanya Cooper/Human Rights Watch

Radical groups attacked Women’s March events, to promote women’s rights, on March 8 in Kyiv, Lviv, and Uzhgorod. On March 26, radicals tried to disrupt a public event in Kyiv that called attention to radical right-wing groups in Ukraine. A Human Rights Watch researcher also witnessed that episode. And on April 20, members of the extremist group C14 attacked a camp of Roma people in Kyiv and burned their belongings and tents, forcing the Roma families to flee. Police initiated criminal proceedings in that attack.

“Ignoring attacks by radical groups not only abdicates the authorities’ responsibility to protect people but encourages further violence against ethnic minorities or LGBTI people,” Cooper said. “Ukrainian authorities need to start upholding the rule of law, protecting free speech and assembly, and taking steps against those who use violence and threats to make their points.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters
(Washington, DC) – Uzbekistan’s president’s meeting with President Donald Trump on May 16, 2018, comes at a time when the Uzbek government has taken steps to improve human rights but needs to translate them into sustainable, structural improvements, 12 human rights organizations said today.

Since assuming the presidency in September 2016 after President Islam Karimov’s death, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ordered the release of at least 28 political prisoners, including 10 journalists, relaxed certain restrictions on free expression, and publicly spoken on the need to rein in the country’s feared security services and to end forced labor in the country’s cotton fields. Such moves have offered hope that Uzbek authorities could meaningfully improve the country’s human rights situation and carry out sustainable reforms. But egregious rights abuses, including internet censorship, politically motivated imprisonment, torture, a lack of competitive electoral processes, and a lack of justice for serious past abuses remain to be addressed.

“At this hopeful time for Uzbekistan, the government should ensure that the modest steps already taken in the right direction lead to enduring and effective human rights protection for all of Uzbekistan’s citizens,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US Congress should make clear that reform it can believe in requires sustained concrete changes.”

Congress has long sought to address Uzbekistan’s severe human rights situation through the conditioning of US military assistance in the Foreign Appropriations Act on efforts to combat torture and release political prisoners. It has also provided special scrutiny of Tashkent’s adherence to religious freedom principles through the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The organizations are Amnesty International USA, Article 19, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders, and the Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights.

On May 7, a Tashkent court acquitted three people accused on politically motivated charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. It convicted the fourth defendant, Bobomurod Abdullaev, an independent journalist, but fined him without imposing a prison sentence. On May 12, the authorities also freed a labor rights and political activist, Fahriddin Tillaev, imprisoned since 2013. But thousands of people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including for extremism (articles 159, 216, 244-1, and 244-2 of the Criminal Code), remain behind bars.

Among them are Andrei Kubatin and Akrom Malikov, scholars; Mirsobir Hamidkariev, a film producer; Aramais Avakyan, a fisherman; Dilorom Abdukodirova, Ruhiddin Fahriddinov (Fahrutdinov), Rovshan Kosimov, and Nodirbek Yusupov, all religious believers; and Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist.

Human rights groups urged members of Congress to raise these cases during Mirziyoyev’s White House visit and to call on the Uzbek government to immediately release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges, providing them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment. Members of Congress should once again remind the US administration that human rights should be a core pillar of US foreign policy, including in bilateral discussions with Uzbek government officials.

The groups also said that the Uzbek government should amend its criminal code provisions relating to extremism that are commonly used to criminalize dissent (Articles 159, 216, 244-1 and 244-2), and to bring the criminal code into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations.

“We are heartened to see the release of long-held activists,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “To ensure lasting change, the repressive legal framework used to persecute and imprison peaceful activists and religious believers on ill-defined charges of extremism for so many years should be changed for good.”

In November 2017, Mirziyoyev signed a decree prohibiting the courts from using evidence obtained through torture, and forbidding legal decisions based on any evidence not confirmed during trial. The decree, which came into force in March, states that prosecutors will be required to check whether physical or psychological pressure was exerted on a defendant or their relatives. If enforced, the decree could help prevent torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek officials have indicated an openness to cooperate with United Nations experts by inviting those who have requested access to the country to visit. The US Congress should urge the Uzbek government to combat systematic torture by allowing the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit the country during 2018, closing Uzbekistan’s Jaslyk prison, and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the international Convention Against Torture – all longstanding recommendations by UN bodies, the groups said.

“It is important that Uzbek officials have acknowledged the importance of the work by UN experts and human rights groups,” said Kate Barth, legal director at Freedom Now, “but Tashkent should follow through on longstanding recommendations to allow in the UN’s expert on the prevention of torture, close the notorious Jaslyk prison, and ratify Torture Convention’s Optional Protocol.”

May 13 marked 13 years since Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Andijan following mass protests connected with the trial of 23 local businessmen on charges of Islamic extremism. The government has never acknowledged the full scale of the killings nor the persecution of witnesses, journalists, and other human rights activists who reported on the events. Hundreds of people convicted in flawed trials after the protest remain in prison and hundreds more who fled the country have been unable to return home.

“We welcome the pace of changes in the country, but more needs to be done to improve Uzbekistan's tarnished human rights record,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, Eurasia program officer at Civil Rights Defenders. “It is important that President Mirziyoyev addresses the 2005 Andijan events, rehabilitates all of our formerly imprisoned colleagues, unblocks access to critical news outlets and brings back all international news bureaus that were expelled after the Andijan events. The country would further benefit from unimpeded working visits by all signatories to this letter.”


This press release was last updated on May 16, 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
(Beirut) – The Iranian judiciary should immediately halt the looming execution of a member of the Gonabadi Dervish community, Human Rights Watch said today. Iran should also release all Dervish members arbitrarily detained since February 2018.

Police Forces at the scene of the clashes, Tehran, Iran February 19, 2018. 

© 2018 Majzooban-e-Noor

The authorities arrested more than 300 members of the Dervish community on February 20 following clashes when the authorities violently repressed a protest in Tehran. The clashes left dozens injured and three police officers and another security force member dead. On March 18, after an unfair trial that lasted three sessions, the authorities sentenced Mohammad Sallas, 46, to death on charges of killing the police officers by driving a bus into a crowd of security officers.

“Iranian authorities repeatedly punish minority communities for protests seeking treatment as equal members of society,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iran should end its crackdown on its minority groups and immediately halt the execution of Mohammad Sallas and grant him a fair retrial.”
Many of those arrested remain in custody on vaguely defined charges and without access to a lawyer. On May 10, a member of the Gonabadi Dervish community with close knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity told Human Rights Watch that 430 Dervish men remained in custody in Fashafouyeh prison in Tehran. Activists tweeted on May 14 that the authorities had arraigned 11 women among those detained on charges that included disobeying the police and acting against national security.
Sallas’s trial appears to have been seriously unfair, in particular for a trial that resulted in a death sentence. He had no lawyer during the investigation, and Judge Mohammad Shahriari said during the trial that the authorities had completed their investigation within 48 hours.
Sallas said during his trial that the police had severely beaten him, causing head injuries. He said he drove into the police officers out of anger over their actions, but he had not intended to kill anyone.
On April 24, Saeed Ashrafzadeh, Sallas’ lawyer, told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) that the Supreme Court had upheld the sentence in less than 24 hours after the court took up the case.
On March 4, the authorities informed the family of Mohammad Raji, one of those arrested, that he had died in custody. The authorities have not investigated his death and had threatened reprisals against his family if they spoke about it publicly.
On April 18, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, said at a news conference that “350 indictments have been issued with regard to the incidents on Pasdaran Street, and some of the cases have been referred to the Revolutionary Court.”
He said the authorities are charging the detainees with disturbing public order, disregarding police orders, conspiracy, collusion to disrupt the country's national security, and using weapons.
The source with knowledge of the situation said that among those detained are family members, particularly women, to pressure their family members to confess that they used violence during the protests. The source said that members of the police and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Unit have been interrogating the detainees.
Several family members have confirmed that the authorities are not giving detainees access to lawyers or permitting regular family visits or phone calls. They also said that several people injured during the February 20 crackdown have not had adequate access to medical treatment. They include Ahmad Barakoohi, Nima Azizi, Mohsen Noroozi, and Mehdi Mahdavi, who have serious eye injuries, and Shokoufeh Yadollahi, who has a head injury, the family members said.
The Nematollahi Gonabadi Dervish community consider themselves followers of Twelver Shia Islam, the official state religion in Iran, but authorities have persecuted them for their religious beliefs in recent years. On March 8, authorities placed Noor Ali Tabandeh, the group’s spiritual leader, under house arrest. The source said that after the February 20 incident, judicial authorities closed down the Haghighat publishing company and the Reza Charity institution, both of which belong to Gonabadi Dervish members.
Attacks on police forces are criminal acts, but Iranian authorities should not extend criminal responsibility to an entire group of protesters, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
Under international law, everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, based on the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require them to avoid the use of force when dispersing assemblies that are unlawful but nonviolent or, if that is not practicable, to restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
Article 14 of the ICCPR also requires Iran to ensure the right to a fair trial for anyone brought before the criminal courts. This includes the right “to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing.” The Iranian authorities should not only charge detainees with a recognizable crime, but they should also ensure the right to a fair trial for those charged, Human Rights Watch said.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Russian and Brazilian football teams play a pre-World Cup international friendly match at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia on March 23, 2018. The FIFA World Cup final will be played at this stadium on July 15 2018.

© 2018 Ashley Kowalski
(Berlin) – The FIFA World Cup starting on June 14, 2018, will take place during the worst human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era, Human Rights Watch said today. FIFA should use its leverage with the Russian authorities to address labor rights abuses, restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders.

The 44-page guide published today, “Russia: FIFA World Cup 2018 – Human Rights Guide for Reporters,” summarizes Human Rights Watch’s concerns associated with Russia’s preparations for and hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and outlines broader human rights concerns in the country. It also describes FIFA’s new human rights policies and how they can be more effectively engaged to address the serious violations in Russia. 

“Global sporting events such as the World Cup draw massive international media attention,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this guide helps reporters look beyond the football pitch to broader issues of concern in Russia.”

The backdrop to the tournament, which takes place over a month in 11 Russian cities, is a harsh and deteriorating environment for human rights, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities routinely use restrictive legislation to stifle freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. Government officials crackdown on dissent by enforcing repressive laws and increasing online censorship.

On May 11, German public broadcaster ARD announced its veteran sports reporter Hajo Seppelt was refused a visa to attend the World Cup in Russia. Seppelt and ARD have reported extensively on the sports doping scandal in Russia. Access for journalists to report is a central requirement of hosting the World Cup, Human Rights Watch said, and FIFA should act swiftly to guarantee media freedom. 

“It is simply not acceptable to reject a journalist for doing his or her job, and FIFA needs to swiftly address and remedy the visa rejection by ensuring Hajo Seppelt can attend and report freely and without obstruction,” Williamson said.

On the international stage, Russia is providing weapons, military support, and diplomatic cover to the Syrian government, despite evidence that Syrian forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a June 2017 report, Human Rights Watch published its findings on labor abuses against workers on World Cup stadium construction sites, including wage delays, unsafe working conditions, and worker deaths. As of April 2018, the Building and Wood Workers’ International trade union recorded 21 worker fatalities on World Cup sites.

FIFA confirmed Grozny as the base camp where Egypt’s national team will train during the tournament. Grozny is the capital of the Chechen Republic, Russia’s most repressive region. Oyub Titiev, Chechnya director of leading Russian rights group Memorial, remains in custody there on bogus marijuana possession charges. The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has repeatedly threatened and smeared human rights defenders, publicly referring to them as traitors and snitches. Titiev is one of the few remaining human rights defenders in the region and faces a 10-year prison sentence if convicted on these trumped-up charges.

In a February 2018 letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Human Rights Watch urged FIFA to intervene directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to call for Titiev’s release. Infantino and Putin met in Sochi on May 3, but it is not clear whether Infantino raised Titiev’s case.

In 2017 FIFA adopted a Human Rights Policy, pledging to “go beyond its responsibility to respect human rights” by taking “measures to promote the protection of human rights and positively contribute to their enjoyment.” The policy also states that “where the freedoms of human rights defenders … are at risk, FIFA will take adequate measures for their protection, including by using its leverage with the relevant authorities.”

“FIFA’s commitment on human rights defenders is welcome and essential,” Williamson said. “FIFA should show its commitment to human rights by urging the Kremlin to ensure Titiev is released before the World Cup kicks off next month.”

FIFA also added language on human rights protections to its statutes, staffed a human rights manager position, and established a Human Rights Advisory Board.

There are other steps FIFA can take to address and mitigate the human rights concerns raised by Human Rights Watch. FIFA should ask Russia to repeal its “gay propaganda” law, which violates FIFA’s requirements on nondiscrimination. FIFA should also urge Russia to end restrictions on demonstrations in World Cup cities before, during, and after the tournament.

“FIFA still has time to show that that it is ready to use its leverage with the Russian government to fulfill its own human rights policies,” Williamson said. “It’s in its interest to ensure the beautiful game isn’t marred by an ugly atmosphere of discrimination and repression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am