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

Oyub Titiev, Grozny, 2018. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Yesterday I went to Chechnya for the first time since the terrible war in 1999. It was my first time in Grozny, the capital, which has long been rebuilt and whose skyline now features modern high rises.

Yesterday was also the 70th day that Oyub Titiev has spent in jail. Titiev is the Grozny director of Memorial, the Russian human rights group that seeks justice for civilian victims of the Chechnya wars. It’s the last remaining human rights group that works openly in Chechnya, after Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, turned this republic of Russia into an enclave of fear, where even the mildest criticism of him or his government’s policies carries risk of public humiliation, enforced disappearance, or worse.

I was in Grozny to attend a hearing in which Titiev appealed the extension of his pretrial custody. Police arrested Titiev on January 9 on ludicrous marijuana possession charges. Titiev insists police planted the drugs. It’s not the first time Chechen authorities have used bogus drug charges to lock up their critics.

The judge rejected the defense’s motion to allow Titiev to sit with his lawyers instead of in the defendants’ “cage” because, well, that’s the norm, he said. The defense made numerous arguments as to why Titiev should be released prior to trial, chiefly the lack of any evidence that he would obstruct justice, abscond, or threaten public security

No one was surprised when the judge ruled against Titiev. But it was still a dramatic moment and a massive injustice. It’s also hard to swallow that while Titiev unjustly sits behind bars in Grozny, the Egyptian national football team is slated to treat it as their home for Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup. FIFA, the global footballing body, recently announced a robust new human rights framework, including a focus on human rights defenders, that applies to all its operations. One way to put this policy into practice, and address the unjust and unseemly juxtaposition of Titiev in jail and FIFA enjoying the embrace of Kadyrov, would be for them speak up for Titiev at the highest level and seek his release.

As we left Grozny, a colleague pointed out where Natalia Estemirova, one of Chechnya’s top human rights activists, had lived until her murder in 2009. Natalia had encouraged Titiev to join Memorial, and he took over after her killing. I couldn’t help feeling her presence all day.

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

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities arrested over 300 members of the minority Dervish Muslim community in late February 2018 after police forcibly tried to break up a protest. The events in February stemmed from what appears to be an intensified crackdown on the Dervish minority, including likely ramped-up surveillance of the group’s leader.

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

© 2018 Majzooban-e-Noor

The ensuing clashes left dozens of people injured and at least three police officers and one Basij member dead. One arrested protester died in custody in unexplained circumstances. The Iranian authorities should immediately release those held or charge them with a recognizable crime. The authorities should also allow for an independent investigation into possible use of excessive force during the clashes.

“Iranian judicial and security authorities are on a tear, violently repressing protests by groups ranging from people concerned about economic conditions to women tired of compulsory dress laws and now a religious minority group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Crushing dissent instead of encouraging dialogue is a hallmark of oppression.”

Police disrupted a protest by members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Dervish religious community on February 19 and the early morning of February 20, leading to the violent clashes. Authorities subsequently arrested at least 300 members of the Gonabadi community, including about 60 women. Many of those detained remain in Evin, Fashafouyeh, and Qarchak prisons in Tehran.

On March 4, authorities informed the family of Mohammad Raji, one of those arrested, that he had died in custody. The authorities have refused to provide any explanation and have threatened reprisals against his family if they speak about it publicly. It is the fifth death in custody in Iran since the beginning of 2018.

Judicial authorities have said that those responsible for the deaths of the security agents are undergoing fast-track prosecutions, raising serious concerns about the lack of due process protections and fair trial standards.

On February 20, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news website aired a video in which a man, identified later by media as Mohammed Sallas, said he had driven the bus into the police officers out of anger over their actions, but that he had not intended to kill anyone. He was filmed in a hospital bed and appeared severely injured, raising questions about the conditions under which the video was filmed.

On March 1, Hossein Rahimi, the Tehran police chief, said during an interview on the Iran Radio Channel that a person charged with killing the security agents will be executed before Iran’s new year on March 21.

On March 11, Sallas, who is a member of the Dervish community, appeared in court to face charges in the killing of three of the police officers. During his trial, he said that the police forces attacked him during the protests, causing multiple head wounds. The verdict is scheduled to be issued within seven days.

Following the February clashes, several imams during Friday prayers called for decisive action against members of the Gonabadi Dervish community. On February 23, Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam in the religious city of Mashhad, said during the prayers that the Dervishes are a “deviant group” led by the United Kingdom.

The Nematollahi Gonabadis 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, Noor Ali Tabandeh, the spiritual leader of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Dervish faith, published a video stating that he is not allowed to leave his residence in Tehran.

Attacks against police forces are criminal acts that may be prosecuted, but Iranian authorities should not extend criminal responsibility of individuals alleged to have committed criminal acts 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 also 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 of 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 ensure the right to a fair trial for those charged, Human Rights Watch said.

Dervish protesters severely injured, Tehran, Iran February 20, 2018. 

© 2018 Majzooban-e-Noor

Article 18 of the ICCPR requires Iran to secure the right to freedom of religion for everyone in the country, and article 27 requires Iran to ensure the right of all members of religious minorities to profess and practice their own religion.

“It is clear that Iranian authorities are using the February incident to crack down against another religious minority community,” Whitson said. “From claiming that they recognize the right to protest in January to repressing every single group that has protested since then, Iranian authorities are making a mockery of fundamental rights.”

The Dervish Protests

Farhad Noori, the editor of the Majzooban-e-Noor website, which covers news about the Gonabadi Dervish religious community, told Human Rights Watch that the Dervish community’s peaceful protests began on Golestan-e Haftom street in the Pasdaran neighborhood in north Tehran on January 4. Protesters feared that intelligence authorities were attempting to build a kiosk to monitor the residence of their leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh.

On February 4, plainclothes security forces appeared in the neighborhood, leading to minor clashes with members of the Dervish community that ended when the police intervened. The following day, Rahimi, the Tehran police chief, told Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that there was no plan to confront the Dervish community. Noori said that police forces agreed to allow Dervish members to remain in the neighborhood to ensure the safety of their leader’s residence.

Events of February 19 to 20

On February 19, police forces arrested two members of the Dervish community who had reported a stolen car to the police. While one person was released immediately, police interrogated Nematollah Riahi, a 70-year-old from Shahr-e Kurd, apparently about his religious beliefs. Authorities announced that they had questioned Riahi for attempts to steal a car. On February 20, members of the Dervish community gathered in front of police station 102 in the Pasdaran neighborhood to protest Riahi’s detention. The police moved in a few hours later, leading to the violent clashes.

A video, one of several published on social media, shows a bus plowing into security forces. A man identified as Mohammed Sallas is featured in the February 20 video on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news website in which he says from his hospital bed that he was the driver of the bus and had reacted out of anger with no intention to kill anyone. Sallas faces the death penalty and is at risk of serious due process violations due to the government’s announcement that those responsible for the death of security forces will undergo a “fast-track” prosecution.

Noori said that the clashes spread to Golestan-e Haftom street, where Noor Ali Tabandeh lives. Close to midnight, plainclothes and Basij forces reportedly attacked the Dervishes, injuring dozens. After the incident, security forces arrested almost all Dervishes at the scene. On February 20, Montazer al-Mahdi told media websites that authorities had arrested about 300 people during the clashes in Pasdaran neighborhood, and that the area was cleared at 4:30 a.m. on February 20.

News websites close to Basij forces also reported the death of a Basij member, Mohammad Hossein Haddadian, during the clashes. While some accounts have claimed a car ran over Haddadian, the photos of his body published on ISNA show several shotgun wounds. Haddadian’s mother told Tasnim news on March 1 that witnesses told her that her son had been among the Basij forces in the Pasdaran area after 11 p.m. on February 19. On March 6, in a rare act of this kind, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, visited Hadadian’s family.

Arrests and Detention

According to a source who wished to remain anonymous, authorities arrested about 60 women from the Gonabadi Dervish community on the night of February 19. While most were released soon after, 11 remain in Qarchak prison in southern Tehran. They include Shokoufeh Yadollahi, Sepideh Moradi, Nazila Nouri, Sima Entesari, Shima Entesari, Shahnaz Kiani, Maryam Barakouhi, Avisha Jalaledin, Maryam Farsyabi, and Elham Ahmadi. Authorities transferred another woman, Sedigheh Safabakhsh, from Evin prison to Qarchak prison a few days later. Shokoufeh Yadollahi suffered a head injury during the protests and has not received proper treatment, the source said, and her sons Kasra and Amin Noori were severely injured and are also detained.

Farhad Noori told Human Rights Watch on March 9 that authorities were still detaining about 130 men from the Gonabadi community in Fashafouyeh prison, with dozens of others receiving treatment at different hospitals in Tehran. Dozens of Dervish men are also believed to be in Evin prison.

Mohammad Raji

On March 4, police called Raji’s family and asked them to come to a police station, where they informed them that he had died in custody. On March 5, the Fars News Agency, which maintains close relations with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported that “an informed source denied reports about the death of a Dervish in Evin Prison or in police detention and said: “We have not had any deaths among members of this cult during investigations.” He added, “This person was injured on the night of clashes on Pasdaran Street and was taken to Baqiyatallah Hospital, but he died.”

His family has emphasized in media interviews that they saw Raji alive, but severely injured, at the time of his arrest. An informed source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals told Human Rights Watch that the death certificate authorities issued lists February 19 as the date of death, but the cause is marked as “under investigation.” The source said that authorities coerced Raji’s family to bury his body with police forces present at 2 a.m. on March 6 at a cemetery in the city of Aligudarz in Lorestan province. Authorities have threatened to arrest Raji’s family members if they continue to speak to the media.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Today, I got a Skype message I will treasure: the government of Uzbekistan has finally released journalist Yusuf Ruzimuradov after 19 long years in jail.

Yusuf Ruzimuradov in an undated photo. 

© Muhammad Bekjanov

You may never have heard of him, but by our count, Ruzimuradov, 64, was one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists. His crime? Working for an independent newspaper, Erk, or Freedom.

Ruzimuradov, like many others perceived by the Uzbekistan government to be critics, was convicted with his editor, Muhammad Bekjanov, on charges of publishing and distributing a banned newspaper, which was considered part of an attempt to overthrow the government. The two were sentenced to 15 years in 1999 – and both had their sentences arbitrarily extended for allegedly violating prison rules.

Human Rights Watch documented how in 1999 both men were abducted in Ukraine and smuggled to Uzbekistan while being tortured repeatedly – starting on the plane flying home.

Facebook Live

Facebook Live

Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia Researcher, and Andrew Stroehlein, Europe Media Director discuss Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a long-imprisoned journalist released today.

Bekjanov was released last year, one of many ‘political’ prisoners freed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who succeeded Uzbekistan’s long-time strongman Islam Karimov in 2016. More than 20 such prisoners have now been freed under Mirziyoyev, of the 34 high-profile cases we covered back in 2014. It’s a welcome trend that gives us some hope that we will see genuine human rights reform in Uzbekistan.

However, while today is a joyous occasion, we cannot forget the activists, journalists, and other regime critics who are still behind bars – and, in fact, others facing trial on politically motivated charges next week – as well as the thousands jailed in Uzbekistan merely for practicing Islam outside the strict confines accepted by the government.

Ruzimuradov’s family will hopefully be able to welcome him home today – probably looking very different than the 20-year-old photo we have of him. And we will keep working to ensure that Uzbekistan frees all those prisoners who should never have been behind bars in the first place and ensures genuine respect for the rights of all in Uzbekistan.

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

(Beirut) – Kurdistan Regional Government security forces detained participants in December 2017 protests around Sulaymaniyah and forced them to sign statements promising not to criticize the government.

The detained protesters were held for up to eight days without being taken before a judge and were forced, before being released, to sign commitments not to protest or be critical of the government on social media. The KRG’s Asayish forces also detained three journalists who were covering protests, apparently for their work.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headquarters in Ranya showing considerable damage following demonstrations from December 19-23, 2017, on the streets of the town. 

© 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

“The Kurdistan Regional Government’s response to protests goes far beyond its right to arrest and prosecute people responsible for violence,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The KRG forces’ heavy-handed tactics appear to be an attempt to silence criticism despite the official narrative that the authorities respect citizens’ rights to speech and free assembly.”

On December 18, civil servants and throngs of their supporters protested in at least nine cities and towns in the Sulaymaniyah area over unpaid wages for civil servants. For the last three years, the KRG has paid civil servants only partial salaries every few months instead of full salaries every month, said a group of teachers who helped organize the protests.

The protests continued for five days. Some protesters were violent, with arson attacks on buildings belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the main political party in the Sulaymaniyah area, and some Asayish facilities.

In late January and early February 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 men who had taken part in the protests. All denied that they had been violent, which Human Rights Watch could not verify. Asayish forces had detained each of them after the protests had started, arresting them in their homes, workplaces, or on the street but not near the protests.

Iraq’s Criminal Procedural Code (no. 23/1971) states that all detainees must be brought before an investigative judge within 24 hours, but those interviewed said the Asayish forces had held them for between one and eight days, without bringing charges or taking them before a judge. They were not allowed to contact their families or a lawyer. Nine of the men were forced to sign a commitment that they would not attend any future protests, and six were forced to promise to not post anything critical of the KRG government or encourage protests on social media.

Asayish forces arrested seven of them in the town of Ranya, 90 kilometers northwest of Sulaymaniyah on the afternoon of December 21. They said they were among 32 people the Asayish arrested there, telling the men it was for participating in the protests. They said they were taken to the local Asayish office, where they were forced to sign a statement they were not allowed to read. They were held overnight in crowded cars and moved the next morning to Sulaymaniyah’s Farmanday military base.

The men were held between one and four days. Six said an Asayish officer interviewed them and wrote a statement that included their personal information and a commitment not to take part in any future protests or post any social media statements criticizing the KRG government or encouraging protests. The officer then made each of them sign with their signature and fingerprint, they said.

One man, who was held for three days, said that as an officer pressed him to sign the statement, he insisted on reading it first and asked if he could refuse to sign. He said the officer told him and the other 17 detainees in the room, “If you do not sign, we will not release you.”

Another man said that when he was interviewed, the officer asked him for his Facebook information and opened his page to review its contents before making him sign the form and releasing him.

The men said they were taken back to the Ranya local Asayish station and ordered to sign the same form again before officers returned their personal items and released them on December 24 and 25.

“Of course, we will get in more trouble if we get caught at another protest after we have signed this document,” one of the men said. “But even if I am risking death, I will go out to protest – I am simply asking for respect for my rights and I won’t be able to survive if the situation doesn’t change.”

Human Rights Watch also interviewed two journalists detained for covering similar protests, in the towns of Koy Sanjaq and Halabja. One journalist for a prominent opposition media outlet, who showed Human Rights Watch his court documents, said he was arrested on December 19 in Koy Sanjaq.

He said that as he stood in the street filming the protests at about noon, Asayish forces “came over, took my microphone, camera, and cell phone and held me there for 30 minutes, even though I showed them my press pass. They then gave me my equipment back and I continued working.” He said he left town at 3 p.m. when a friend connected with the Asayish called and told him he was about to be arrested.

“After 15 days I returned home and turned myself in at the Asayish office, where they held me for three days before bringing me before a judge on charges of encouraging people to participate in demonstrations and inciting violence,” he said. “I am currently home on bail but am too scared to go back to work, and too scared to leave home because I am worried for my family and my own security.”

A third journalist for the same outlet said Asayish officers detained him on December 22 in Sulaymaniyah, and that a neighborhood Asayish station forced him to sign a document stating he would leave his job, then released him without charge later that day. “I am still working, but I am worried every single day that they will come for me,” he said.

Human Rights Watch requested a comment from the KRG on its findings and in an email to Human Rights Watch on February 25, Dr. Dindar Zebari, the KRG coordinator for international advocacy, stated:

Sulaymaniyah security forces were extremely lenient and accommodating during the protests. A number of people were temporarily arrested to prevent the spread of violence while also helping to protect others, once the situation became stable they were immediately released without investigations or charges. 

The Asayish was very considerate of the arrestees’ situation, and although they had overlooked many laws being broken, their goal was restoring the peace, preventing violent outbreaks, and ensuring the safety of everyone present during the protesting process. Considering the above violent acts, the arrestees’ would have been tried and sentenced to at least 1-2 years of imprisonment.

He did not respond to queries about Asayish officers forcing individuals to sign away their rights to protest and post on social media, or the fact that they were held for days, after the protests had ended, without access to a lawyer, judge, or contact with their families.

“People in the Kurdistan Region have the same right as anyone anywhere to express their frustrations with the economic or political crisis peacefully,” Fakih said. “It is a sign of oppression when authorities try to force people to sign away their basic rights to protest and criticize.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch press conference in Nouakchott, Mauritania, February 12, 2018.

© 2018 Amadou Sy

“You said human rights? You need to get the OK elsewhere,” said the hakim (a municipal officer) after we asked him to hold a press conference earlier this month in a hotel in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott. Normally, the hakim decides on such permits, but since our event involved presenting a report critical of the government’s restrictions on human rights defenders, he wasn’t taking any chances.

“If the Human Rights Commissariat approves you, then I will too,” he said, referring to a governmental body. Over the next 48 hours we requested permission from the Commissariat, ministries and other official bodies but got no reply. As the February 12th date of our report launch neared, the hotel told us what we suspected: No permit, no conference.

Our report detailed the laws and practices Mauritania uses to curb human rights activism. The obstacles we faced to launching our report in Nouakchott gave us a taste of what Mauritanians face when they want to speak out on sensitive issues, especially those touching on ethnicity, discrimination, and accountability for past abuses.

We ultimately held our press conference in a cramped room in the headquarters of the National Forum of Human Rights Organizations, a collective of legally recognized Mauritanian nongovernmental organizations.

Reliable sources told us that while authorities would not block the conference, saboteurs would disrupt the event – a common occurrence at independently organized human rights activities. Indeed, shortly after our presentation a hostile question from a “journalist” triggered a virulent reaction from an activist, and everything descended into a shouting free-for-all.

Mauritania can be much more repressive than this. Activist Abdallahi Salem Ould Yali has been detained since January 24 for social media posts decrying discrimination, and Mohamed Ould Mkhaitir until recently faced the death penalty for apostasy, because of a blog post criticizing caste discrimination.

Authorities did allow our teams into the country and even met with us. But activists face impediments, as the recent government suppression of protests by anti-slavery activists against food insecurity illustrates.

In April, scores of foreign state and independent delegations will descend on Nouakchott for the 62nd ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. This would be a great opportunity for Mauritania’s leaders to display full respect for the rights of local activists, no matter how critical their message. 

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

Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid (3rd R) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (2nd L) walk near female members of the Bangladesh army at the national parade ground in Dhaka on December 16, 2015. 

© 2015 Ashikur Rahman / Reuters

(New York) – The Bangladeshi government should review and reform the proposed Digital Security Act (DSA) instead of enacting the law in its current form, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 29, 2018, the cabinet approved a draft law, intended to replace the much-criticized Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT). The draft is even broader than the law it seeks to replace and violates the country’s international obligation to protect freedom of speech.

“The proposed law totally undermines the government’s claim that it has no intention of curbing the right to freedom of speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “With at least five different provisions criminalizing vaguely defined types of speech, the law is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices.”

The proposed law totally undermines the government’s claim that it has no intention of curbing the right to freedom of speech.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

After the repeated abuse of section 57 of the ICT Act to prosecute journalists and others for criticizing the prime minister, her family, or her government on social media, Bangladesh authorities committed to repeal the law. Although the proposed new law to replace the ICT Act limits prosecutions for defamation to those that could be prosecuted under the penal code and imposes an intent requirement for certain offenses, it also contains provisions that are even more draconian than those in section 57.

Section 14 of the draft would authorize sentences of up to 14 years in prison for spreading “propaganda and campaign against liberation war of Bangladesh or spirit of the liberation war or Father of the Nation.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a party, has expressly stated that laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts are incompatible with a country’s obligations to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

Section 25(a) would permit sentences of up to three years in prison for publishing information which is “aggressive or frightening” – broad terms that are not defined in the proposed statute. The use of such vague terms violates the requirement that laws restricting speech be formulated with sufficient precision to make clear what speech would violate the law. The vagueness of the offense, combined with the harshness of the potential penalty, increases the likelihood of self-censorship to avoid possible prosecution.

Section 31, which would impose sentences of up to ten years in prison for posting information which “ruins communal harmony or creates instability or disorder or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation,” is similarly flawed. With no clear definition of what speech would be considered to “ruin communal harmony” or “create instability,” the law leaves wide scope for the government to use it to prosecute speech it does not like.

Almost any criticism of the government may lead to dissatisfaction and the possibility of public protests. The government should not be able to punish criticism on the grounds that it may “disturb the law and order situation.”

Section 31 also covers speech that “creates animosity, hatred or antipathy among the various classes and communities.” While the goal of preventing inter-communal strife is an important one, it should be done in ways that restrict speech as little as possible. UN human rights experts have stated that:

It is absolutely necessary in a free society that restrictions on public debate or discourse and the protection of racial harmony are not implemented at the detriment of human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The law’s overly broad definition of “hate speech” opens the door for arbitrary and abusive application of the law and creates an unacceptable chill on the discussion of issues relating to race and religion.

Section 29, like section 57 of the ICT Act, criminalizes online defamation. While section 29, unlike the ICT Act, limits defamation charges to those that meet the requirements of the criminal defamation provisions of the penal code, it is nevertheless contrary to a growing recognition that defamation should be considered a civil matter, not a crime punishable with imprisonment.

Section 28 would impose up to five years in prison for speech that “injures religious feelings.” While this provision, unlike section 57 of the ICT, requires intent, that addition is insufficient to bring it into compliance with international norms. As noted in the seminal Handyside case, freedom of expression is applicable not only to information or ideas “that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” A prohibition on speech that hurts someone’s religious feelings, reinforced by criminal penalties, cannot be justified as a necessary and proportionate restriction on speech.

“The Digital Security Act is utterly inconsistent with Bangladesh’s obligation to protect freedom of speech,” said Adams. “Parliament should reject the bill and insist on a law that truly respects the right of the country’s citizens to speak freely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab arrives for his appeal hearing at court in Manama, February 11, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Beirut) – The Bahrain High Criminal Court on February 21, 2018, sentenced the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to five years in prison for criticizing torture in a Bahrain prison and Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. The new sentence is in addition to the two-year sentence that Rajab is already serving on other charges related to peaceful expression.

“The new prison sentence for Nabeel Rajab is only the latest chapter in years of persecution and efforts to silence an activist solely for his efforts to sound the alarm on human rights abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rajab should never have faced such charges or spent one day in prison for them.”

Authorities first arrested Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and deputy secretary general of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), on April 2, 2015, and filed charges based on his allegations on social media of torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison. Authorities released him provisionally on humanitarian grounds on July 13, 2015, but re-arrested him on June 13, 2016, for criticism in television interviews of the Bahraini authorities’ refusal to allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

This criticism led to a two-year prison term that a criminal court imposed in July 2017. The Court of Cassation upheld that sentence on January 15.

The new sentence is based on Rajab’s tweets on the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, which have killed thousands of civilians, and on alleged torture in Jaw Prison.

The BCHR reported that the Bahrain High Criminal Court had convicted Rajab based on article 133 of the Criminal Code for “disseminating false rumors in time of war”; Article 215 on “offending a foreign country” – in this case Saudi Arabia; and Article 216 for “insulting a statutory body,” based on comments to the media in March 2015 about alleged use of excessive force by security forces to quell unrest at Jaw Prison. Rajab can appeal this sentence.

Rajab, who also spent eight months in pretrial detention, appears at times to have been subjected to treatment that may amount to arbitrary punishment. He was held in solitary confinement for more than two weeks after his arrest in June 2016. Rajab’s health also deteriorated while in detention, his family has said. While in detention he has had several surgical procedures, suffered heart palpitations that led to hospitalization, and developed other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count, his family said.

Rajab is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kuwaitis protest outside the parliament building in Kuwait City November 16, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

A top Kuwaiti court has released on bail 44 people who had been convicted and imprisoned after protesting and calling for the country’s prime minister to resign in 2011—prosecutions that smacked of intimidation and retaliation for criticizing authorities. A detainee’s family member and a defense lawyer confirmed to Human Rights Watch that they had been released Sunday night.

The protesters had been sentenced to between one and nine years in prison.

During the 2011 demonstration, protesters reportedly entered Kuwait’s parliament building as hundreds of people demonstrated outside, calling for Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah to step down over allegations that members of parliament had been paid bribes to support the government. The prime minister and his government ultimately resigned.

A court cleared the protesters of all charges in 2013, but prosecutors appealed to the Court of appeals, which found 67 people guilty in a mass conviction on November 27, 2017.

The vast majority of defendants received sentences for using force against police, but the court also found 65 people guilty of participating in an unlicensed public assembly or gathering, and 16 of crimes that appear to violate free speech rights, including insulting the emir and offending police. The court sentenced one defendant to an additional two years on charges of insulting the emir and offending police alone. Since their convictions, some of the detainees staged hunger strikes to protest their detention, and family members have held public protests outside of Kuwait’s parliament.

Kuwaiti authorities have long restricted the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.  Parliament should repeal laws that criminalize peaceful assembly and expression.

The next court date in this case has been set for March 4, and Kuwait’s judiciary should take the opportunity to vacate any convictions that punished peaceful speech or assembly and demonstrate that there is room for the peaceful criticism of authorities in Kuwait. 

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

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration renewed its assault on the media by banning a reporter and the executive editor from the news site Rappler from entering the executive office at Malacañang Palace. The ban followed a Senate hearing on a controversial frigate deal, during which a top Duterte aide accused Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer of publishing “fake news,” which both news outlets denied.

Journalists work at the Rappler office in Metro Manila, Philippines, January 15, 2018.

© 2018 Dondi Tawatao/Reuters

The administration gave no clear reasons for banning the reporter, Pia Ranada, from media briefings. The presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, said Ranada could still enter Malacanang, while a senior Malacañang official, Jhopee Avancena, said she could not. Rappler reported that Avancena sent Ranada a text message saying that Duterte himself had ordered her kept out.

Ranada has been covering the presidential beat as a member of the Malacañang Press Corps. She has become known not just for putting tough questions to the president during press briefings, but also for being the target of presidential ire. Ranada and Rappler’s CEO and executive editor, Maria Ressa, have been vilified by Duterte supporters on social media as part of a seemingly organized campaign against critical journalists.

Previously, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered the revocation of Rappler’s license to operate. The SEC alleged that, as Rappler had received investment funds from the international investor Omidyar Network, that it also gave the investors control over the media company, in violation of the Constitution. Rappler denied the allegation, calling it part of the government’s campaign to silence it, and is appealing the SEC ruling.

Ranada is believed to be the first reporter denied access to Malacañang Palace since the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, who severely curtailed media freedom. It could portend a broader assault on journalists and news organizations, whose critical watchdog role has magnified the government’s poor human rights record, from extrajudicial killings of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users to conflict-related abuses in the south. Filipinos this week celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising that led to the ouster of Marcos, inspiring the world. They should also take this opportunity to show their support for a free press.

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

More than 250 organizations and platforms from all over the world have signed a letter expressing their grave concern over the shrinking space for civil society in Hungary. Read the letter here:

On 13 February 2018, the Hungarian government tabled to Parliament a proposed legislative pack of three laws, commonly referred to as “Stop Soros.”.

The newly proposed legislation would further restrict Hungarian civil society's ability to carry out their work, by requiring organizations that “support migration” to obtain national security clearance and a government permit to perform basic functions.

The proposed legislation would also require organizations to pay a tax of 25% of any foreign funding aimed at “supporting migration”. Failure to do so, would subject them to steps so serious that they could lead to exorbitant fines, bankruptcy, and the dissolving of the NGO involved.

People protest in Heroes’ square against a new law that would undermine Central European University, a liberal graduate school of social sciences founded by U.S. financier George Soros in Budapest, Hungary, April 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

These laws come in a context of already shrinking space for civil society in Hungary and contravene Hungary’s obligations under international law to protect the right to freedom of association, expression and movement.

We believe the new proposals represent the latest initiative in the Hungarian government's escalating effort to crackdown on the legitimate work of civil society groups in Hungary seeking to promote and defend human rights, provide legal and social services to people in need in the country, and publicly express dissenting opinions in the press and online.

As defenders of rights and freedoms, we want people everywhere to be able to speak out without being attacked, threatened or jailed. Open debate on matters relating to government policies and practice is necessary in every society, and human rights defenders should not face criminalization for voicing their sometimes dissenting voices.

Countries need to put laws in place which keep human rights defenders safe from harm, rather than introducing repressive laws that aim to silence those who speak out. 

Human rights defenders defend the rights of people in their own communities and their countries, and in doing so they protect all of our rights, globally. Human rights defenders are often the last line of defence for a free and just society and undertake immense personal risks and sacrifices to do their work.

We stand in solidarity with civil society and human rights defenders in Hungary.

They are courageous people, committed to creating a fairer society. Without their courage, the world we live in would be less fair, less just and less equal.

We are calling on the Hungarian Parliament to reject the proposed laws in their entirety and let the NGOs and defenders continue their work, instead of defending themselves against such attacks.

The below listed organizations declare their support and solidarity with non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders in Hungary (listed by country): 

International organizations

Amnesty International (joint letter online here)

ILGA – Europe

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) 

Human Rights Watch

AEDH - Association Europeenne de Droits de l'Homme 

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

World Organisation against Torture, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Light for the World 

Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society

Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights

CONCORD - European Confederation of Relief and development NGOs

Human Rights First 

Transgender Europe

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) 

Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe

International Civil Society Centre 

Reporters sans Frontières 

ENAR - European Network Against Racism 

European Volunteer Centre

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)

Civil Society Europe

La Strada International



European Cultural Foundation 

European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL)

Le Réseau EUROMED DROITSUNITED for Intercultural Action - European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees

Organizations listed by country

CELS - Argentina

Protection International - Belgium

çavaria vzw - Belgium

11.11.11. - Belgium

Artsen zonder Vakantie – Belgium

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen - Belgium 

Liga voor mensenrechten – Belgium

WWF Belgium - Belgium

ACAT - Belgique/ Belgie/ Belgium

Volonteurope Belgium - Belgium

CROSOL - Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity - Croatia

Centre for Peace Studies from Zagreb – Croatia

GONG – Croatia

Brod Ecological Society - BED - Croatia

Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past – Croatia

CESI - Center for Education, Counselling and Research – Croatia

Human Rights House Zagreb – Croatia

Rehabilitation center for stress and trauma – Croatia

Civic Committee for Human Rights - Croatia

Adra Česká republika – Czech Republic

The Open Society Fund Prague – Czech Republic

The Civil Society Development Foundation (Nadace rozvoje občanské společnosti – NROS

Transparency International ČR– Czech Republic

Člověk v tísni – People in Need – Czech Republic 

Forum 2000 - The Forum 2000 Foundation - Czech Republic

META – Společnost pro příležitosti mladých migrantů - Association for opportunities of young migrants - Czech Republic

Most pro o.p.s. - poradna pro cizince – Czech Republic

SIMI – Sdružení pro integraci a migraci – Association for integration and migration- Czech Republic

Glopolis – Glopolis - Czech Republic

Centrum pro integraci cizinců - Centre for Integration of Foreigners - Czech Republic

Diakonie (Českobratrské církve evangelické) – Diaconia (Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren) - Czech Republic

Most - Czech Republic

Konsorcium nevládních organizací pracujících s migranty – Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organizations - Czech Republic

DEMAS – Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights - Asociace pro podporu demokracie a lidských práv - Czech Republic

Pavel Havlicek, Analyst at the Research Centre, Association for International Affairs Prague, Czech Republic

Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům – Organization for aid to refugees

The League of Human rights - Czech republic 

Občanské Bělorusko - Czech Republic

In Iustitia - Czech Republic

Institut pro evropskou politiku EUROPEUM - Czech Republic

Česká odborná společnost pro inkluzivní vzdělávání (ČOSIV) - Czech Republic

Česká společnost ornitologická - Czech Republic

Český helsinský výbor - Czech Republic

Agora Central Europe - Czech Republic

Asociace pro mezinárodní otázky – AMO - Czech Republic

Calla - Sdružení pro záchranu prostředí - Czech Republic

Denmark Nyt Europa – Denmark

Kehitysmaayhdistys Pääskyt ry - Finland 

Suomen Pakolaisapu | Finnish Refugee Council - Finland 

ETMU ry (Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration) - Finland 

Suomen Nuorisoyhteistyö – Allianssi ry - Finland 

Suomen Setlementtiliitto - Finland 

Ensi- ja turvakotien liitto - Finland 

Suomen Mielenterveysseura ry - Finland 

Ihmisoikeusliitto ry - Finnish League for Human Rights - Finland 

Kehitysyhteistyöjärjestöjen EU-yhdistys Kehys ry - The Finnish NGDO Platform to the EU Kehys - Finland 

Vammaisten perus- ja ihmisoikeusjärjestö Kynnys ry - Finland

Suomen somalialaisten liitto - Finland 

Seta LGBTIQ Rights in Finland - Finland 

Trasek ry - Finland 

Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)

Stiftung Nord-Süd-Brücken - Germany

Bundesfachverband Unbegleitete Minderjährige Flüchtlinge e.V. - Germany

Lesben- und Schwulenverband in Deutschland (LSVD) – Germany 

Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung (HES) – Germany 

ADRA Deutschland e.V - Germany 

BAfF e.V.-Bundesweite Arbeitsgemeinschaft Psychosozialer Zentren für Flüchtlinge und Folteropfer - Germany

Forum Menschenrechte - Germany 

VENRO - Verband Entwicklungspolitik und humanitäre Hilfe deutscher Nichtregierungsorganisationen e.V. - Germany 

Solidaritätsdienst International e.V. (SODI) - Germany 

Adivasi-Koordination in Deutschland e.V. - Germany 

ACAT-Deutschland e.V. - Germany 

Missionsärztliches Institut Würzburg - Germany

Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V. - Germany 

Deutsche Kommission Justitia et Pax - Germany 

Germanwatch e.V. - Germany

Welthaus Bielefeld e.V. – Germany

Civil Liberties Union for Europe e.V." – Germany

Weltveränderer e.V.- Germany

Human Rights Law Network - India

CILD - Italian Civil Liberties Advocacy Coalition – Italy

Dr Andrea Gullotta, Memorial Italia Italy

Antigone – Italy

LIDU - Lega Italiana dei diritti dell’Uomo - Italy 

Front Line Defenders – Ireland

Irish Nurses and Midwives organisation – Ireland

Christian Aid Ireland – Ireland

Transgender Equality Network Ireland – Ireland

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) - Ireland

Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation - Latvia 

Latvia's Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health – Latvia

ASTI (Association de Soutien aux Travailleurs Immigrés) - Luxembourg 

Passerell - Luxembourg 

ACAT Luxemburg - Luxembourg 

Reech eng Hand - Luxembourg 

Caritas Luxembourg - Luxembourg 

David Barkin - Profesor de Economía Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco,Mexico 

Aidsfonds – Netherlands

Amsterdamse Diakonie – Netherlands

Article 19 – Netherlands

ASKV - Steunpunt Vluchtelingen – Netherlands 

Blikopeners – Netherlands

Clara Wichmannfonds – Netherlands

Dance4Life – Netherlands

Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM) – Netherlands

Free Press Unlimited – Netherlands

Humanistisch Verbond – Netherlands

Humanity House – Netherlands

IMMO - instituut voor Mensenrechten en Medisch Onderzoek – Netherlands

INLIA - International Network of Local Initiatives with Asylumseekers – Netherlands

Justice and Peace Netherlands – Netherlands

KOMPASS – Netherlands

Libereco - Partnership for Human Rights – Netherlands

Milieudefensie – Netherlands

Movies that Matter – Netherlands

Netherlands Helsinki Committee – Netherlands

Foundation Max van der Stoel - Netherlands

NVJ - Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten – Netherlands

Partizan Publik – Netherlands

Pax – Netherlands

Power of Art House – Netherlands

Privacy First – Netherlands

Prospector – Netherlands

Stichting LOS - Landelijk Ongedocumenteerden Steunpunt – Netherlands

Stichting Vluchteling – Netherlands

Stichting voor Vluchteling-Studenten – UAF – Netherlands

The Amsterdam Gay Pride – Netherlands

The Hague Peace Projects – Netherlands

Transnational Institute (TNI) – Netherlands

VLot - fonds voor vluchtelingen – Netherlands

VluchtelingenWerk NL – Netherlands

Hivos - Netherlands

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee - Norway

Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego - Poland

Sieć Obywatelska Watchdog Polska - Poland

Projekt: Polska - Poland

Stowarzyszenie przeciw Antysemityzmowi i Ksenofobii Otwarta Rzeczpospolita - Poland 

Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej - Poland 

Instytut Spraw Publicznych - Poland

Fundacja ePaństwo - Poland

Panoptykon - Poland

Polskie Towarzystwo Prawa Antydyskryminacyjnego - Poland

Fundacja Pole Dialogu - Poland

Polski Instytut Praw Człowieka I Biznesu - Poland

Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza - Poland

Pracownia Badań i Innowacji Społecznych "Stocznia - Poland

Towarzystwo Edukacji Antydyskryminacyjnej - Poland

Fundacja Autonomia - Poland

Stowarzyszenie Klon/Jawor - Poland

Małopolskie Towarzystwo Oświatowe z Nowego Sącza - Poland

Fundacja Ari Ari - Poland

Ogólnopolska Federacja Organizacji Pozarządowych - Poland

Instytut Prawa i Społeczeństwa - Poland

Fundacja Partners Polska – Poland

Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka - Poland

Grupy Zagranica – Poland

The Unit for Social Innovation & Research Shipyard - Poland

INPRIS - Institute for Law and Society - Poland

National Federation of Polish NGOs - Poland

Centre for International Relations (CIR) - Poland

Citizens Network Watchdog Poland - Poland

Institute of Public Affairs - Poland

Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia Open Republic - Poland

Stefan Batory Foundation Poland

Danuta Przywara, President of the Board, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Poland 

Inițiativa România - Romania

NGOs Federation for Children Romania - Romania

RISE Romania - Romania

Resource Center for Public Participation - CeRe (Romania) - Romania

FONSS (The Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations for Social Services) - Romania

Gabriela Tudor Foundation - Romania

Mediawise Society Association - Romania

The Civil Society Development Foundation - Romania

Expert Forum - Romania

Center for Independent Journalism - Romania

Federatia Organizatiilor Neguvernamentale pentru Copil - Romania

Asociatia One World Romania - Romania

Asociatia Militia Spirituala - Romania

ActiveWatch - Romania

CENTRAS - Romania

Asociatia Pro Democratia - Romania

Agenția Impreuna - Romania

Fundatia Estuar - Romania

Dizabnet – Federatia prestatorilor pentru persoane cu dizabilitati - Romania

The Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief - Romania

Alaturi de Voi Romania – Romania

Moscow Helsinki Group – Russia

Igor Vladimirovich Batov, Chairman of the Council of the Pskov Regional Environmental Rights Human Rights Movement ʺFree Coastʺ, a member of the Public Chamber of the Pskov region - Russia

Andrei Suslov, Center for Citizanship Education and Human Rights, Perm – Russia

Evdokimova Natalia Leonidovna, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg. - Russia 

Lilia Shibanova, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group Russia 

Bureau for Regional Outreach Campaigns - BROC Vladivostok, Russia

Pride Kosice - Slovakia 

Central European Forum - Slovakia 

Human Rights League - Slovakia 

Slovak Humanitarian Council - Slovakia 

People in Need Slovakia - Slovakia 

Via Iuris - Slovakia 

Inakosť - Slovakia 

Transfuzia - Slovakia 

Bi-centrum - Slovakia 

EduRoma - Slovakia 

Centrum komunitneho organizovania - Centre for Community Organizing - Slovakia 

SLOGA, platforma nevladnih organizacij za razvoj, globalno učenje in humanitarno pomoč – Slovenia

Društvo Humanitas

Društvo Odnos – Slovenia 

Mirovni inštitut – Slovenia

Kulturno-umetniško društvo Mreža - Slovenia

Društvo za uveljavljanje enakosti in pluralnosti Vita Activa – Slovenia

Društvo informacijski center Legebitra - Slovenia 

TransAkcija - Slovenia 

Society for awareness raising and protection - center of antidiscrimination (OVCA) - Slovenia 

Društvo za nenasilno komunikacijo - Association for nonviolent communications - Slovenia

Focus, društvo za sonaraven razvoj - Focus, association for sustainable development - Slovenia

Legal Resources Center - South Africa

Rights International Spain - Spain

Asociación Katío - Spain

Ecologistas en Acción – Spain

AIETI – Asociacion de Investigacion y Especializacion Sobre Temas Iberoamericanos

APDHE - Spain

ICID - Spain

Comité Monseñor Óscar Romero de Madrid - Spain

Mujeres de Negro contra la Guerra – Madrid - Spain

Acción Verapaz - Spain

Colectivo Ansur - Spain

Calala Fondo de Mujeres – Spain

Global Witness - Spain

ACAT-Schweiz Suisse Svizzera - Switzerland

Human Rights Association (İHD) – Turkey  

Pylyp Orlyk Institute of Democracy - Ukraine 

La Strada - Ukraine 

Kharkiv Human Rights Group - Ukraine 

Suspilni Ekolohichni Initsiatyvy - Ukraine 

Kharkiv Regional Foundation "Public Alternative" - Ukraine 

Human Rights Information Centre - Ukraine 

Kyiv Educational Centre "Prostir Tolerantnosti" - Ukraine 

Human Rights Centre "All Rights" - Ukraine 

Ternopil Human Rights Group - Ukraine 

Vostok SOS - Ukraine 

EHA "Green World" - Ukraine 

Adaptatsiynyi Cholovichyi Tsentr - Ukraine 

Helsinski Initiative – XXI - Ukraine 

Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine 

Ekolohichna Hrupa Pechenihy - Ukraine 

Romano radio Chiriklo - Ukraine 

Civil Initiative Center - Ukraine


Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) - United Kingdom

Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York - United Kingdom

The solicitor's international human rights group - United Kingdom

The Oakland Institute, United States of America

CIVILIS Derechos Humanos - Venezuela 

Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids - Venezuela 

Asociación Civil Fuerza, Unión, Justicia, Solidaridad y Paz - Venezuela 

Programa de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos - Venezuela 

Centro Comunitario de Aprendizaje – Venezuela

Comité de Familiares de Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero y Marzo de 1989 - Venezuela

Centro de Justicia y Paz - Venezuela

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Writers and journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, and Nazli Ilicak, sentenced to life for unsubstantiated charges of supporting the failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.

© P24
(Berlin) — Three Turkish journalists were convicted on February 16, 2018 on bogus charges related to the failed coup of 2016 and sentenced to life in prison, Human Rights Watch said today. They are the first journalists convicted of involvement in the coup attempt of July 15, 2016. Three other people were convicted on similar charges in the same case.

The journalists are Ahmet Altan, the former editor of the now defunct daily Taraf; Mehmet Altan, an economist and columnist; and the prominent commentator Nazlı Ilıcak. They were sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment on charges of “trying to overthrow the constitutional order.” The evidence against them consisted largely of their journalistic work, none of which advocated violence. The Istanbul area court hearing the case and the authorities both ignored an order by Turkey’s top court in January to release Mehmet Altan.

“The case against the Altan brothers, Ilıcak, and the others has been politically motivated from the very start,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The verdict sets a frightening precedent for the dozens of cases of other journalists, writers, and government critics currently on trial in Turkey.”

The Altans were first detained on September 10, 2016 over alleged links to the movement of United States-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, which the Turkish government deems a terrorist organization and blames for the violent coup attempt. Ilıcak was detained on July 26, 2016, during an operation that targeted journalists allegedly linked to the Gülen movement, and was formally placed under arrest three days later.

On September 22, 2016, an appeal judge in Istanbul ordered the release of Ahmet Altan while his case continued. But the prosecutor appealed the decision and he was remanded in custody less than 24 hours later on charges including the “attempt to overthrow the government” and “membership in a terrorist organization.” Also on September 22, the same court ordered Mehmet Altan kept in detention pending trial on the same charges.

The evidence cited in the indictment seen by Human Rights Watch appears to consist entirely of their work as journalists: news and opinion articles, as well as phone records and contact with alleged Gülenists. All of the cited journalistic works are expressions of opinions that are critical of the government but do not incite or advocate violence. There appears to be nothing that would indicate any kind of criminal wrongdoing, much less helping terrorism or planning a coup.

The trial of the journalists and four other defendants started on June 19, 2017 in the 26th Istanbul Heavy Penal Court. It was marred by procedural unfairness that undermined the defendants’ right to a defense. On November 13, the trial judge dismissed the Altans’ entire defense team, allegedly for “disorderly conduct in court.” The defense team had protested the judge’s refusal to let them see all the evidence against their clients prior to the prosecutor’s final statement, and subsequently accused the judge of being “partial.”

On February 12, the judge again ordered the lawyers for the Altan brothers and another defendant to be removed from court for “disorderly conduct” after they requested the inclusion of Constitutional Court decision on Mehmet Altan’s detention in the trial records. The trial was subsequently moved to a court in Silivri prison and continued there on February 13.

On January 11, the Turkish Constitutional Court, the highest in the country, had ruled that the pre-trial detention of Mehmet Altan for over a year violated his rights and was not supported by any substantial evidence, and ordered his immediate release. The lower courts refused to carry out this decision, in violation of Article 153 of the Turkish Constitution. The Turkish government backed the lower court’s defiance of the Constitutional Court. Six of the defendants in this case, including the Altan brothers and Ilıcak, were held in extended pre-trial detention of up to 19 months. The sentences handed down today mean that the defendants will have to serve at least 36 years in prison.

The other defendants include Fevzi Yazıcı, visual art director of the now-shuttered daily newspaper Zaman, Zaman’s brand manager Yakup Şimşek, and retired Police Academy lecturer Tuğrul Özşengül. They were also convicted of “trying to overthrow the constitutional order” despite a lack of any substantive evidence connecting them to any advocacy of violence, support of the coup, or other similar criminal activity. Tibet Murad Sanlıman, the owner of an advertising agency, was acquitted. At least ten other defendants listed in the original indictment have fled the country. Their cases have been separated out from the case file.

A government crackdown against independent media has intensified since the attempted coup. Turkey is the world leader in prosecuting and jailing journalists and media workers, with about 150 behind bars. A German-Turkish journalist, Deniz Yücel was released on February 16 after more than a year in prison without being charged, but he has been indicted on charges that could lead to up to 18 years in prison, including for example, making “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

“Deniz Yücel’s overdue release does not in any way obscure the farcical situation that he is facing charges at all,” Williamson said. “Together with the verdict against the Altans and Ilıcak, it shows how far the Turkish government is willing to go to pervert justice to snuff out dissenting voices.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ismae Teh, a prominent human rights activist, faces defamation charges for speaking out publicly about being tortured by the Thai military. 

© 2018 Private

(New York) – The Thai military should immediately withdraw criminal and civil defamation cases against a human rights activist who spoke out publicly about his torture by security forces in Thailand’s southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said today. The military has also brought defamation cases against prominent online media that reported the case.

“The Thai military is retaliating against a torture victim and the media that reported serious rights violations instead of holding its personnel to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thailand’s military junta, which controls the armed forces, should order the defamation cases dropped and launch a serious impartial investigation into these ill-advised reprisals.”  

Thailand’s military junta, which controls the armed forces, should order the defamation cases dropped and launch a serious impartial investigation into these ill-advised reprisals.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On February 14, 2018, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, in charge of the government’s security operations in the southern border provinces, filed criminal and civil complaints with the Muang Pattani police accusing Ismae, the founder of the Patani Human Right Organization (HAP), of defamation. These complaints followed allegations Ismae made on the Thai PBS TV program “Policy By People” on February 5 that he was tortured in military custody in 2008. On February 9, ISOC Region 4 filed another civil defamation complaint seeking 10 million baht (US$286,000) in damages from MGR Online news for its online reports about Ismae’s case. 

The Thai military arrested Ismae and held him incommunicado in military detention in 2008 at the Ingkayuthboriharn Camp in Pattani province. Ismae said military interrogators electrocuted, punched, kicked, and beat him with a stick until he passed out. They also poured water on him to make him suffocate. Ismae said the torture was used to force him to confess that he was involved in a separatist insurgency. In October 2016, the Administrative Court ordered the army to pay Ismae compensation of 305,000 baht ($8,700) for emotional distress and physical injuries suffered. No security personnel have been prosecuted for Ismae’s torture and mistreatment.

A victim’s right to file complaints about torture and other ill-treatment and to have the complaint promptly and impartially investigated is guaranteed under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties.

In June 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) recommended that Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”

The Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the southern insurgency, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since 2004. Moreover, the Thai penal code still does not recognize torture as a criminal offense.

Besides denying allegations of torture and other serious abuses committed by security personnel, the Thai military has frequently accused those bringing complaints of making false statements with the intent of damaging its reputation.

Attempts by the military to use defamation complaints against torture victims are contrary to  Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s so-called national human rights agenda and his numerous promises to criminalize torture.

“Thai military prosecutions of a rights activist and the media for bringing the rampant problem of torture to light only undermines government claims that its actions in the deep south are in accordance with the law,” Adams said. “Its efforts against brutal separatist insurgents are not helped by covering up torture and other heinous crimes.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures during a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand on January 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
(New York) – Thailand’s human rights agenda will be meaningless until the government fulfills its repeated pledges to respect basic rights and restore democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 12, 2018, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha hosted an event at the Government House in Bangkok to promote the national human rights agenda, which was adopted in November. Hundreds of guests, including 55 foreign diplomats and representatives from international and multilateral organizations, attended.

“Thailand’s junta leader should not think that polite attendance by diplomats at an event promoting a human rights agenda will trick them into believing that repression is no longer a daily reality in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Rather than restoring respect for human rights and returning the country to democratic rule, the junta has persecuted critics and dissidents, banned peaceful public assembly, censored the media, and suppressed free speech.”

Thailand’s junta leader should not think that polite attendance by diplomats at an event promoting a human rights agenda will trick them into believing that repression is no longer a daily reality in Thailand.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

At the event, General Prayuth spoke about the government’s “4+3+2+1” agenda for promoting respect for human rights and creating peace in society. The agenda consists of creating awareness, a follow-up system, innovation, and networks; adjusting databases, attitudes, and legislation; mobilizing government agencies to implement the human rights agenda; and reducing human rights abuses.

The junta has made similar promises since the May 2014 coup without taking serious action. General Prayuth continues to wield broad and unaccountable powers without any oversight. The junta-sponsored constitution, in effect since March 2017, ensures that members of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will not be held accountable for any rights violations committed since taking power. It also prolongs substantial military control of the government even after an election that the junta promises to hold in 2018.

Since the coup, the NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize military rule. Media outlets face intimidation, punishment, and closure if they publicize commentaries critical of the junta and the monarchy or raise issues the NCPO considers to be sensitive to national security – including reporting allegations against the military about human rights violations. Most recently, on February 6, Peace TV was forced off the air for 15 days for criticizing military rule.

Thai authorities have prosecuted hundreds of critics and dissidents on criminal charges such as sedition and computer-related crimes for the peaceful expression of opinions. Public gatherings of more than five people and anti-coup activities are prohibited. The authorities charged 39 pro-democracy activists with illegal assembly for attending a peaceful rally on January 27, which urged the government to meet its pledge to hold elections in 2018. Nine also face sedition charges for giving speeches at the rally.

Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop making political comments, especially when citing disagreements with the junta. Claiming that diverse political opinions are harmful to stability, the NCPO has frequently censored public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand under military rule.

The military frequently holds people accused of criminal offenses pertaining to national security in secret detention for up to seven days without charge and interrogates them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

The government has failed to fulfill its obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment. In recent years, government agencies along with private companies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of human rights abuses by filing criminal defamation charges and seeking prosecution for alleged computer crimes.

On February 7, 14 Burmese migrant workers were brought to court on defamation charges for filing complaints about labor rights abuses against their employers with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. On February 9, the 4th Army Region – in charge of Thailand’s southern border provinces – filed a civil defamation complaint seeking Thai baht 10 million (US$286,000) in damages from MGR Online news for its reports alleging torture of a suspected insurgent in military custody.

“Despite the adoption of a so-called ‘national human rights agenda,’ there is no end in sight for military dictatorship as the ruling junta continues its crackdown on fundamental freedoms and delays a return to civilian rule,” Adams said. “Pressure from Thailand’s friends is urgently needed to end repression and restore respect for basic human rights.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am