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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A general view of the Parliament House in Singapore June 2, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters
(Bangkok) – Singapore authorities should drop criminal defamation charges against Terry Xu, editor of the online news site The Online Citizen, for publishing a letter alleging government corruption, Human Rights Watch said today. Xu is scheduled to appear in court on December 13, 2018. The authorities should also drop the criminal defamation charge filed against the letter’s author.

“Singapore authorities have once again responded to criticism with criminal charges,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should respond to any inaccuracies in the letter by seeking a correction, apology or retraction, rather than with a heavy-handed criminal prosecution.” 

The letter, published on September 4 by The Online Citizen, one of the few alternative news sources in Singapore, was from someone identified as “Willy Sum.” The letter criticized a Facebook post by a member of parliament and alleged corruption in the upper echelons of the Singapore government. The Online Citizen took down the letter two weeks later after the government Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) ordered it to do so.

Nevertheless, on November 20 the police went to the homes of Xu and “Willy Sum” and seized their electronic equipment. Xu was interrogated for eight hours at the police station. On December 12, the authorities announced that Xu would be charged with criminal defamation. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison. The authorities also charged the letter writer, identified as DeCosta Daniel Augustin, with criminal defamation and with unauthorized access to computer material in violation of the Computer Misuse Act for allegedly using another person’s email account to submit the letter.

Criminal defamation violates international norms on freedom of speech that defamation should be considered a civil matter, not a crime punishable with imprisonment. Criminal defamation laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary restriction on free speech and create a chilling effect that effectively restricts legitimate as well as harmful speech.

For these reasons, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), together with the Organization of American States special rapporteur for freedom of expression, have concluded that criminal defamation is “not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression” and have called for the abolition of such laws.

Defamation cases filed by government officials or public persons are particularly problematic. While government officials and those involved in public affairs are entitled to protection of their reputation, including protection against defamation, as individuals who have sought to play a role in public affairs they must tolerate a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than ordinary citizens.

“It’s outrageous that the news site took down the letter after the authorities told it to do so, yet the government is still bringing criminal charges against the site and the letter’s author,” Robertson said. “The criminal defamation charges should be dropped immediately.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, January 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom
(New York) – Thailand’s junta should immediately end restrictions on the right to free expression so that credible national elections can be held on February 24, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

On December 11, 2018, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) lifted its prohibition on public gatherings and political activities, allowing political parties to conduct election campaigns for parliament. However, the junta kept in place military orders restricting expression and authorizing detention and prosecution for speech critical of the junta, its policies and actions, and the monarchy. All criminal cases in military and civilian courts related to opposition to military rule will proceed.

“Thailand can’t hold credible elections when political parties, the media, and voters are gagged by threats of arrest and criminal prosecution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “With polling day just two months away, the Thai junta should immediately lift all legal orders that restrict the right to freedom of expression.”

Since the May 2014 military coup, Thailand’s junta has broadly and arbitrarily interpreted peaceful criticism and dissenting opinions to constitute disinformation, seditious acts, and threats to national security. For more than four years, the junta has routinely enforced media censorship and blocked public discussions about human rights and democracy. On December 1, Thai authorities blocked access to the Human Rights Watch Thailand webpage, alleging that the contents were inappropriate and constituted a “national security threat.”

For more than four years under military rule, Thai authorities have prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peaceful expression of their views. Since the beginning of 2018, more than 100 pro-democracy activists have been prosecuted for peacefully demanding the junta to hold the promised elections without further delay and to lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

In August, the leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was charged with violating the Computer-Related Crime Act, which could result in a five-year prison term, for online commentary criticizing the junta. Watana Muangsook, former Social Development and Human Security Minister, and other key members of the Pheu Thai Party have also been repeatedly charged with sedition and computer-related crimes for making comments, including on social media, opposing military rule.

Local human rights and political activists expressed concern to Human Rights Watch that independent monitoring of elections will not be possible under current conditions. Thai authorities frequently retaliate with criminal charges, including for criminal defamation and Computer-Related Crime Act violations, against anyone who reports allegations of state-sponsored abuses and official misconduct. The junta forcibly blocked efforts to monitor the constitutional referendum in 2016 and prosecuted many people involved in such activities.

Thailand’s upcoming elections will be held while Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha still maintains unchecked and unaccountable powers, including for human rights violations, that will remain in place until a new government is formed. The junta-appointed Senate and other elements of the 2017 constitution will ensure prolonged military control even after elections are held.

After the 2014 coup, the United States, European Union, and many other countries set conditions for their normalization of relations with Thailand. These included holding free and fair elections to establish a democratic civilian government and improved respect for human rights. For the February elections to be a genuine democratic process, Thailand’s friends should press the junta to:

  • End the use of abusive, unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the right to freedom of expression;
  • Ensure that political parties and supporters are able to freely participate in peaceful election campaign activities;
  • Free everyone detained for peaceful criticism of the government;
  • Drop all sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all remaining civilian cases still in military courts to civilian courts that meet international fair trial standards;
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping politically motivated lawsuits and strategic lawsuits against public participation against them; and
  • Permit independent and impartial election observers to freely monitor the election campaign and the conduct of the elections, and to issue public reports.

“The junta’s half-step to relax its chokehold on fundamental freedoms is inadequate,” Adams said. “Foreign governments seeking the restoration of democracy in Thailand should publicly state that they will only recognize an election that meets international standards.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo sit beside police officers as they leave Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar July 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

It’s been one year since Myanmar police arrested Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on December 12, 2017. Over the past year, Myanmar’s increasingly restricted state of press freedom has been laid bare for the world to see.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned since their arrest while investigating a massacre by the military in the village of Inn Din in Rakhine State. On September 30, a court convicted them of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act and sentenced both to seven years in prison. 

Their conviction in the face of strong evidence that the police handed them documents as part of a plan to trap and arrest them has sent a chill through the Myanmar media. “After the Reuters journalists were arrested, most journalists were asking ‘Who will be the next victim?’” said a local journalist. “We are always asking ourselves, ‘What if we print that story? Will there be a problem for us?’” Reporting on abuses by the military and Rohingya Muslims is considered particularly risky.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo took the risk to investigate and uncover such compelling evidence of a massacre that even the military could not disregard the truth. In April, two months after Reuters published its investigation, the military announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their part in the massacre.

The world is finally catching up to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s act of bravery: the two were featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue identifying “the Guardians and the War on Truth.” Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Su Kyi should immediately request President Win Myint to grant them a full pardon. The parliament should then move swiftly to amend the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and other repressive laws so they conform to international human rights standards. Myanmar’s leaders need to stop making excuses and end once and for all the abusive laws being used to arrest and imprison journalists simply for doing their job.

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

Why did you decide to create a game?

We really wanted to build something that felt accessible, interesting, and reached out to new audiences who might not have realized how encryption was built into the gadgets, apps and websites they use.

We asked ourselves how we could build a tool that’s educational and interactive and geared toward a broad audience. And how do we move the conversation away from just government surveillance and national security? How do we get people to think about how encryption helps them, along with vulnerable groups like domestic abuse survivors? A game seemed like a good start.

Why focus on everyday technology users?

Anyone who uses messaging apps or the internet most likely uses encryption on a daily basis, and the game shows why strengthening these tools is important and why weakening them is a bad idea.

A choose-your-own-adventure style game where the player is asked to guide a character in making choices about how she communicates or manages her data.

What should people be aware of when it comes to encryption?

Public access to strong encryption is basic to protecting the rights of privacy and free expression. It means people might feel more comfortable speaking out if they live in a country with an authoritarian government that monitors its citizens. It’s also important for every other citizen who wants to do online dating, banking, or emailing and stay safe from cybercriminals while using the internet at public space such as a library or coffee shop. You should also be able to discard old devices without worrying that someone will extract your personal information to sell to credit card fraudsters or steal your identity.

What countries are trying to roll-back encryption?  

Many governments blame encryption for enabling criminal activity. The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have all advocated weakening encryption because they say it prevents them from investigating crime or monitoring potential threats. Over the past couple of years, these governments have issued statements or proposed laws asking companies to build a backdoor – an intentional vulnerability – into apps or phones so that governments can have access to information that would be otherwise encrypted.

Why shouldn’t they ask for it?

Encryption is the foundation for cybersecurity in every online interaction in the modern world.

Information security experts seem to universally agree that when you weaken technological tools to appease governments, you weaken them for everyone. For example, Australia’s government recently proposed a law that would require tech companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google to assist security agencies by giving them a way to access secure data. Apple’s iMessage is encrypted so Apple can’t see what you’re messaging your friends, for instance. But if companies agree to build backdoors, anyone with an incentive to access this information – say, someone looking to steal people’s financial information – could exploit that weakness.

Could you give me examples of messaging platforms that are safe and what to look for in internet connections?

Digital security is not just a matter of using the right tools. It’s tied up in social norms and practices. In developing the game, we were careful not to recommend specific apps up front, because it’s difficult to know how these tools will change in the future. That said, Signal is end-to-end encrypted. Right now, iMessage and WhatsApp are, but it’s hard to know if that could change. Even if you use the most secure messaging platform, if someone in your life has access to your phone then your information isn’t secure.

Tell me about the game.

We focused on the three major types of encryption. One is encrypted messaging. We also talk about “encryption in transit,” which is what happens when you visit a website, sending information back and forth across the Internet. You can tell if a website is encrypted if there’s a little lock icon beside the URL, or if the URL starts with https://. If it starts with http://, that means someone who may be snooping on your network—easy to do with the right tools­—can see the information you’re sending back and forth. Right now, around 60 percent of websites use HTTPS encryption, as there’s been a huge movement to encrypt the web.

We also talk about “device encryption.” In this case, is your phone or laptop encrypted? If someone stole it and tried to load information off it, would they see your information? Or would they just see scrambled text? That’s what encryption does, it scrambles your information, and only people with the right “key” can unscramble it. For most phone and laptop manufacturers, encrypting information is the default.

Understanding these issues is important because some governments are aiming to roll back encryption built into our apps and devices.

More governments than the English-speaking ones you mentioned earlier?

Some just ban the encrypted messaging apps. In Russia and Iran, where there have been huge government crackdowns on protesters and activists, the governments have tried to block access to the messaging app Telegram. Russia did so because the company refused to help the government break their encryption. China has also passed a law that might require backdoors. In some countries, if you’re using an encrypted messaging app, the government might assume you’re doing something nefarious. But everyone has a right to security and privacy.

What do you hope people take away from this game?

 Most of us use these tools every day without realizing how we’re securing our information. We wanted to create an interactive experience to enable people to think about how digital security affects their own lives as well as the lives of especially vulnerable people, like activists or domestic abuse survivors.

Anything else you’d like to add?

In the game, we really wanted to emphasize that security is always about trade-offs and no choice is straightforward. We were careful not to say, “You made the right choice,” or, “You made the wrong choice.” We say, “That’s probably a safer choice,” given the information you have. When it comes to digital security, it’s all about using the information you have to make an informed decision. At the end of the day, we want people to be able to make safe decisions about their security.

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

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

© 2010 Reuters

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be in the hot seat tomorrow when he testifies before the United States House Judiciary Committee following an outcry over its plans to re-enter the Chinese search market.

A coalition of more than 70 human rights groups and advocates have raised serious questions about Google’s planned expansion in China in a letter released today.

Media reports said the Chinese search app, codenamed Project Dragonfly, would censor terms like “human rights” and “student protest”; track and store users’ location and search histories; and provide “unilateral access” to such data to a Chinese joint venture partner. This app would operate in a country with no meaningful privacy protections or independent judiciary, where threats to national security often include peaceful dissent, and where technology companies are required by law to facilitate surveillance.

So far, Google has described Project Dragonfly as “exploratory,” and declined to meaningfully respond to questions from rights groups, Congress, and the firm’s own employees.

Congress shouldn’t let this go. Here is what we hope the committee will ask to press Pichai on Google’s approach to China:

  1. Google publicly withdrew from the Chinese search market in 2010 because of human rights concerns, yet conditions have only worsened. What has changed since 2010 that leads Google to believe that re-entering China would lead to better outcomes?
  1. Google has committed to human rights principles to protect freedom of expression and privacy as a member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). Google’s own Code of Conduct states it “is committed to advancing privacy and freedom of expression for our users around the world.” How will Google ensure Project Dragonfly or any other business in China is consistent with these principles?
  1. Google’s Artificial Intelligence Principles state it “will not design or deploy AI” for “technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of … human rights.” Even if Dragonfly was just “exploratory,” how does designing an app purpose-built for censorship and government surveillance in China comply with these commitments?
  1. Google offers two mobile apps in China – Google Translate and Files by Google – which potentially have access to incredibly sensitive user data. What information does Google collect about Chinese users, where is it stored, and how would they respond to a Chinese request for personal data?
  1. Google employees have been at the forefront of raising the alarm, privately and publicly, about Google’s approach to human rights. Will Pichai commit to protecting those employees from retaliation?
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives to attend the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) congress in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on January 19, 2018. 

© 2018 Samrang Pring / Reuters
(New York) – The Cambodian government’s revocation of a repressive regulation on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should jump-start genuine efforts to repeal all laws that restrict basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 27, 2018, Cambodia’s interior minister rescinded Notice No. 175, which requires nongovernmental organizations to notify local authorities three days before conducting any activities. Local authorities and police regularly used this regulation to interfere with and block activities of human rights groups and other organizations.

“The Cambodian government’s repeal of the three-day notice requirement is a small step in the right direction, but it won’t end the harassment and threats against activist groups in Cambodia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “What’s needed is a serious government commitment to repeal all laws that have been used to repress the activities of independent groups.”

Over the past year, the Cambodian government has intensified its crackdown on opposition party supporters, land rights activists, human rights defenders, and trade unionists. Organizations working on human rights, land and natural resource rights, labor protection, and democracy faced significant surveillance and intimidation, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, and lengthy pre-trial detention.

Since 2015, the government has adopted several repressive laws and tightened restrictive provisions in existing statutes. These revisions have been made stealthily, without public consultations with the people affected by the actions. The government has imposed severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, peaceful assembly and association. Rights-infringing new legislation includes the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), the Trade Union Law, a lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) clause in the Penal Code, and amendments to the Constitution.

Since the adoption of the LANGO in mid-2015, organizations have experienced significant government restrictions. Local authorities routinely misread and misinterpret the law, demanding that NGOs to seek permission before conducting activities. Organizations frequently report that local authorities and police interfere with their meetings and training sessions, frequently seeking to shut down events, or sit in the back of rooms, taking photos and requesting attendance lists of meeting participants.

Under LANGO, the authorities have shut down independent groups or denied them registration based on vaguely, undefined, and broadly formulated concepts such as “political neutrality.” Officials have also imposed burdensome reporting requirements that smaller groups are unable to meet.

In July 2016, the government targeted a consortium of NGOs working on human rights protection and monitoring around the elections, the so-called “Situation Room,” based on groundless allegations that the consortium had violated the LANGO and sought to topple the government.

In August 2017, the Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered the closure of the US-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the expulsion of its non-Cambodian staff citing LANGO and the 1997 Tax Law. In October 2017, the government also arbitrarily suspended the land rights group Equitable Cambodia and prevented it from conducting its activities on the basis of groundless accusations and for a period going beyond the legally provided 15-day suspension period under the law.

Cambodia has ratified core international human rights treaties that enshrine the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, the Cambodian government has adopted numerous laws, regulations and policies in violation of those rights.

“The Cambodian government should stop considering activist groups a threat and start seeing them as valuable partners for improving Cambodia,” Robertson said. “Foreign governments and donors who have supported civil society in Cambodia should call for these repressive laws to be immediately repealed.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomarev at an All-Russian convention on the protection of human rights.

© 2017 Anton Novoderezhkin\TASS via Getty Images

 

(December 10) Lev Ponomarev filed a court petition to attend the funeral on December 11, 2018  for Ludmila Alexeeva, the champion of Russia’s human rights movement and Ponomarev’s close friend and colleague.   

On December 10, the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow refused to authorize Ponomarev’s temporary release so he could attend the funeral. According to Kommersant, the court did not allow Ponomarev to appear in court and refused to hear from witnesses who knew both Alexeeva and Ponomarev. The court said that the fact Ponomarev and Alexeeva had worked together for three decades did not mean the two were close.


 

Update: On December 7, the Moscow City Court reduced Ponomarev's sentence to 16 days detention, after hearing an appeal in his case.

(Moscow) – A Russian court has unjustly jailed one of the founders of Russia’s human rights movement for a Facebook post about a peaceful protest, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 5, 2018, a court in Moscow sentenced Lev Ponomarev, 77, to 25 days in jail for alleged repeated violations of public assembly rules. Ponomarev should be freed immediately.

“Ponomarev’s jailing shows that in today’s Russia, nothing is off limits for the authorities, not free speech, nor peaceful assembly, nor high-profile human rights defenders, ” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “And perhaps this is precisely the message the Russian authorities hope to send.”

Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council has called for Ponomarev’s release, as have the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International.

Ponomarev is the leader of For Human Rights, an independent human rights group. On October 28, he described, on his blog and Facebook page the Moscow city authorities’ refusal to permit a peaceful protest in the city center. He documented the organizers’ attempts to obtain permission and explained why the ban violated human rights norms. Ponomarev wrote that he would go to the protest site that day but stated explicitly that he was not encouraging anyone else to go and emphasized that each person had to decide for themselves whether to attend.

Later that day, several hundred people decided to peacefully assemble in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, and police detained dozens of them. Ponomarev was not among them. However, on December 1 police arrested him at his home and took him to a police station, citing repeated violations of the rules on public assemblies. On December 5, the Tverskoy District Court sentenced him to 25 days for incitement to participate in an unauthorized protest. Since he had been fined in July for a peaceful, single-person protest, it was considered a repeat violation. He appealed the verdict on December 6.

Russia’s public assembly laws violate the right to freedom of assembly by setting out excessively harsh penalties for unauthorized, yet peaceful gatherings, Human Rights Watch said.

Despite this, in recent years Russians have taken to the streets to protest government actions ranging from corruption to pension reform. In the first week of December alone, numerous demonstrations took place across Russia against war, pollution, school closures, and inadequate pay for caregivers for people with disabilities.

The court ruling came several days after a high profile judgement by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which found the Russian authorities in violation of the right to freedom of assembly. The court condemned the Russian authorities’ practice of banning peaceful protests on dubious grounds and subsequently arresting organizers and participants, including when organizers had made a good faith effort to engage with the authorities about the site. The court also explicitly recognized that these practices could be politically motivated.

In media interviews, Ponomarev’s supporters suggested that Ponomarev’s arrest was politically motivated, with some noting that he was listed among the organizers of a protest against war and the abuse of power by law enforcement and national security forces planned for December 16. In an interview with Novaya Gazeta, one of Ponomarev’s colleagues suggested the authorities would use Ponomarev’s arrest as a pretext to ban the rally, leaving the protesters with the choice of either curbing their right to free expression and assembly or to go ahead with the protest and face the risk of police violence as well as fines and detention.

On December 6, Members of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, an independent body of experts authorized by the government to monitor detention sites, visited Ponomarev in custody. He told them the beds in his cell were broken, preventing him from sleeping or lying on them. The commission members also observed that the cell was overcrowded and non-smokers had to share cells with smokers.

In 2012, the ECtHR noted that “inadequate” conditions in detention was a recurrent structural problem in Russia, that it had delivered dozens of judgments finding violations of the prohibition on inhuman and degrading conditions as a result, and that it had hundreds more pending that raised the same issue. The court noted that the problem was widespread as a result of the malfunctioning of the Russian penitentiary system and insufficient legal safeguards.

 “Russian authorities are tightening their grip on dissent and peaceful protest, but the past has shown that this won’t stop people from making their voices heard,” Denber said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sophia the Robot, Chief Humanoid, Hanson Robotics & SingularityNET, on the Centre Stage during the opening day of Web Summit 2017 at Altice Arena in Lisbon

Stephen McCarthy/Creative Commons
This month we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark the occasion, we have asked Human Rights Watch experts to reflect on some of the key human rights challenges in their area of specialty.
 

There’s plenty of evidence that human judgment can be clouded by human emotions, prejudices, or even low blood sugar—and that this can have dire consequences for respect of human rights.

For centuries, law has taken this into account, posing standards such as the “reasonable” man (or woman), or making allowances for diminished capacity. Research into cognitive bias is booming.

For this reason, many cheer our increasing reliance on big data and algorithms to aid or even replace predictive human decision-making. Machine learning tools may discern and learn from patterns in massive data that the human mind cannot process. Perhaps safer self-driving cars, more accurate medical diagnoses, or even better military strategy will result, and this could save many lives.

But this superior computational power could come at profound cost in the years ahead by causing us to lose faith in our own ability to discern the truth and assign responsibility for bad decisions. Without someone to hold accountable, it is nearly impossible to vindicate human rights.

There is already widespread opposition to developing fully autonomous weapons. These weapons would select and fire on targets without meaningful human control. Even those who believe that one day these “killer robots” could do better minimizing civilian casualties than humans – itself a highly controversial proposition – might recoil at leaving the ultimate decision to unaccountable algorithms. Try explaining to victims of a machine-learning massacre that this was a product design problem, not a war crime.

Another problem is the political reflex of demanding that the tech wizards of social media “fix” problems like fake news or hate speech. Corporations regulate for clicks and cash, not the subtle balance between promoting free expression in democratic societies and protecting the rights of others. They will use algorithms, not well-trained jurists, to determine our rights, and even if they could explain how their tools make decisions, they would be loath to expose proprietary secrets.

Transparency may mitigate some problems of bias—if we could test the algorithm, or audit the data it learns from, corrections might be possible. Data comes with our world’s prejudice, poverty and unfairness baked in.Biased or incomplete data can reinforce discriminatory decision-making, as has been evident in tools that purport to predict crime, recidivism, or credit-worthiness.

But transparency, even where achievable, can’t solve all problems. The sentencing decisions of a well-trained algorithm may be more “rational” than those of a hungry, angry, or prejudiced judge.Yet it offends human dignity to absolve the judge from responsibility for depriving another of liberty for years. The act of truly hearing an accused, and engaging compassion, empathy, and one’s lived human experience are as essential as calculation of risk to producing fair judgment, and upholding human dignity. Sometimes the solutions to human error require improving human judgment and responsibility, not encouraging its abdication or atrophy.

Machine learning tools, like any technology, are a means, not an end. Where they are put to good purpose, they can advance accountability and rights.We should insist these tools be always under human control, and applied only where they will enhance human rights, remedies for violations, and human responsibility. That’s a policy choice, and one our coming Robot Masters cannot make.

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

Turkey: Demand Investigation for Khashoggi's Murder

Turkey should formally submit a request to the UN secretary-general to establish an international, independent investigation into Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

 
(New York) – Turkey should formally submit a request to the UN secretary-general to establish an international, independent investigation into Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Human Rights Watch said today.

An international investigation under the authority of the secretary general would have the mandate, credibility, and stature to press officials, witnesses, and suspects in Saudi Arabia to cooperate with requests for facts and information about the murder in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. It would help cut through efforts designed to shield Saudi officials and obfuscate the truth.

“The Turkish government should make good on its call for an international investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s death by formalizing it with an official letter to the secretary general,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A UN investigation has the best chance of pushing Saudi Arabia to provide the needed facts and information about Mohamed bin Salman’s precise role in this murder, information that is available only from sources in Saudi Arabia.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey said on December 1 in Buenos Aires that Saudi Arabia has failed to cooperate with the ongoing Turkish criminal investigation into the murder, and that the crime was a “world issue.” While Saudi Arabia has conceded that Khashoggi’s murder was carried out by Saudi agents in Turkey, the complete details about the authorization, planning, and execution of this murder, including any role played by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, remain unclear. Saudi Arabia has officially denied that the crown prince had prior knowledge of the plot to target Khashoggi. On December 5, media reported that the Turkish prosecutor issued arrest warrants for two former senior Saudi officials implicated in the killing.

Secretary-General António Guterres has stated that he will establish an international investigation about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder if he receives a formal request from the Turkish government. Three prominent United Nations experts – Bernard Duhaime, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression; and Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on summary executions – have called for an “independent and international investigation” into the Khashoggi killing. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also repeatedly called for an international investigation into the murder.

There is ample precedent for such an international investigation. In 2008, Pakistan asked Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Earlier in 2018, Britain turned to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm British authorities’ findings that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been deployed in Salisbury against a former Russian agent.

“The main thing holding up an international investigation led by the secretary-general right now is the lack of a formal, written request from the Turkish government,” Whitson said. “Turkish officials have made public statements supporting such an investigation, so it’s puzzling why they have not formally requested the inquiry.”

Turkey’s allies and Guterres should encourage Ankara to request an inquiry without delay. This would enable UN investigators to move quickly to circumvent any Saudi attempts at a cover-up.

Saudi Arabia’s own investigation has little credibility and has been riddled with deliberate falsehoods from Saudi authorities. Initially, the Saudi government denied that its agents had detained and murdered Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, claiming he had left the building.

On October 20, Saudi Arabia released two statements confirming Khashoggi’s violent death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The first statement claimed that Khashoggi died as the result of a “brawl and a fist fight” with “persons who met him.” The second statement announced that Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecutor had ordered the detention of 18 Saudi men who “had travelled to Istanbul to meet with…[Khashoggi] as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country.” It also accused the men of attempting to cover up Khashoggi’s killing.

The Public Prosecutor has now charged 11 men whom it accuses of participating in the murder, seeking the death sentence for five. But it has not arrested the most senior officials accused of involvement in the plot to target Khashoggi, including the former royal court adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and the deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, merely announcing their resignations. Qahtani tweeted in August 2017 that he does not act without orders from the king and crown prince but Saudi Arabia also announced, without evidence, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not responsible.

On November 15, the United States announced sanctions against 17 Saudi men allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s killing, including al-Qahtani. According to media reports, al-Qahtani  directed online campaigns against Saudi critics and is known in diplomatic circles as the “prince of darkness.”

“A transnational crime of this nature, implicating not only Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also Egypt and the UAE, where the two planes filled with fleeing murderers holding evidence first landed, desperately needs an international investigation,” said Whitson. “This wasn’t only an attack on a Saudi citizen, it was an attack on a journalist, and a brazen abuse of the system of diplomatic immunity for embassies and consulates.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Riot police members stand guard at the Seafield temple on November 27, 2018 in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.  

© 2018 Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images
(Bangkok) – The Malaysian government should reconsider its decision to lift the moratorium on laws previously used to repress dissent, Human Rights Watch said today. The government announced on November 30, 2018, that the cabinet had lifted its moratorium on several of these laws, including the Sedition Act of 1948, in response to recent disturbances surrounding a Hindu temple in Subang Jaya.

“The government that so recently took office promising a commitment to human rights should not return to the draconian laws used by the previous Malaysian administration to stifle dissent,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should reconsider its decision, which is a big step backward on the road to reform.”

The government that so recently took office promising a commitment to human rights should not return to the draconian laws used by the previous Malaysian administration to stifle dissent.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Malaysia’s former Barisan Nasional government repeatedly used the Sedition Act of 1948 to arrest and prosecute critics of the government. The new government ran on an election manifesto promising to repeal the law and to amend laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998, used to punish critical speech online, and laws permitting administrative detention.

On October 11, the communications and multimedia minister, Gobind Singh Deo, announced that the Cabinet had agreed to a moratorium on use of the Sedition Act pending repeal. Similarly, Malaysia announced during the November 8 United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights situation that the government had made a “firm decision” to suspend use of the Sedition Act pending repeal.

The decision to lift the suspension is unwarranted and poses human rights concerns. The November 26 confrontation over the relocation of the Hindu temple, which involved a night of rioting and vandalism in which a firefighter was critically injured, raised serious law and order concerns. But Malaysia has sufficient laws on the books to punish those responsible without resorting to laws that the government itself has acknowledged should be repealed. The Malaysian Penal Code contains extensive provisions dealing with criminal assemblies and rioting, criminal intimidation, and incitement that are more than adequate to cover the types of offenses committed on November 26.

“While Malaysia’s government has a responsibility to prevent violence, it needs to do so without falling back on abusive legislation,” Robertson said. “Otherwise, the Malaysian people will return to suffering from laws used in the past to violate fundamental human rights.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Bangkok, December 3, 2018)—We, the 16 undersigned organizations, call on the Thai authorities and Thammakaset Company Limited to ensure that the criminal and civil defamation complaints brought by the company against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri for bringing attention to labor rights violations at a Thammakaset-owned chicken farm in Thailand do not proceed. The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to hold preliminary hearings on the criminal defamation complaints on December 3.

The company—a Thai-owned poultry company in Lopburi Province—should also withdraw all criminal complaints and unsubstantiated civil complaints against other migrant workers and human rights defenders for their involvement in peaceful activities protected by international human rights law. 

We further call on the Thai authorities to ensure that no person is prosecuted or held criminally liable for defamation for activities protected under international law. The government should decriminalize defamation in Thai law and protecting individuals and human rights defenders from abusive litigation aimed at curtailing the exercise of freedom of expression.

The complaints relate to a 107-second film produced by the non-governmental organization Fortify Rights about previous defamation complaints brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers from Myanmar. In the film, released in October 2017, three former workers described how the company brought criminal defamation charges against them after the workers reported labor violations to the Thai authorities, including unlawfully low wages, failure to pay overtime wages, and confiscation of their identity documents, including passports. In the film, Fortify Rights urged that the company drop the criminal charges against the 14 migrant workers and called on Thailand to decriminalize defamation.

In October 2018, Thammakaset filed criminal and civil defamation complaints against Nan Win, one of the migrant workers featured in the film, and Sutharee Wannasiri, a woman human rights defender and a former Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights.

If convicted of the criminal defamation charges filed in the case, Nan Win faces up to four years in prison and up to 400,000 Thai Baht (US$12,100) in fines and Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years in prison and up to 600,000 Thai Baht (US$18,150) in fines. Thammakaset also brought civil defamation complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, seeking five million Thai Baht (US$151,400) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation.

We are deeply concerned by Thammakaset’s continued attempts to misuse laws in Thailand to stifle the peaceful activities of human rights defenders protected under international human rights law and Thai law, curtailing the exercise of free expression in Thailand.

Prior to these most recent complaints, Thammakaset—a Thai-owned poultry company in Lopburi Province—brought criminal defamation complaints against 14 migrant workers and former employees in October 2016, criminal defamation complaints against labor rights activist Andy Hall in November 2016, theft charges against two migrant workers in August 2017 for removing timesheets from company grounds, and similar alleged theft charges against woman human rights defender and coordinator of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) Suthasinee Kaewleklai.

Thailand should act to ensure all persons, including migrant workers and human rights defenders can freely exercise their rights without fear of reprisals, including harassment by specious legal complaints through Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits. The complaints brought by Thammakaset appear to be designed to intimidate and harass workers and human rights defenders and constitute an unnecessary and disproportionate interference on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Thai authorities should pro-actively intervene with Thammakaset management and discuss the range of steps the Thai government is ready to take against the company for bringing spurious complaints targeting its workers and rights defenders at the courts.

As noted above, we further call on the Thai government to make defamation exclusively a civil and non-criminal legal infraction. Under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, imprisonment for acts of defamation is inherently disproportionate and therefore can never be an appropriate sanction. The UN Human Rights Committee, the body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the ICCPR, has recommended that States decriminalize defamation and has clarified that defamation laws must ensure they do not serve, in practice, to contravene the rights to freedom of expression and information protected under article 19 of the Covenant and enshrined under articles 34, 35 and 36 of the 2017 Constitution of Thailand. While civil measures such as penalties may be appropriate to achieve the lawful aim of protection of reputation, the imposition of such measures must be proportionate and strictly necessary to that end.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders also affirms the obligation of States to ensure human rights defenders are able to exercise their rights. On December 24, 2017, Thailand joined the latest consensus UN resolution on human rights defenders, affirming its commitment to respect the rights of human rights defenders and address adverse human rights impacts related to their activities.  This reinforces the existing commitments of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which affirms that all States must protect the right to seek, obtain, receive and hold information relation to human rights and to impart that information to others, and to ensure that human rights defenders can exercise this right.

To uphold its commitments under domestic and international law, the Thai authorities should act to prevent further spurious SLAPP complaints being filed by Thammakaset and other companies that target workers and human rights defenders. Action to end SLAPP lawsuits is in line with the promoting responsible, rights respecting business practices that the current Thai government is supporting as part of developing a national action plan on business and human rights. We urge Thai authorities in this regard to enact legislative protections to protect individuals from legal harassment through SLAPP lawsuits including, but not limited to, instituting effective protective provisions in the Thai Criminal Procedure Code.

Under the ICCPR and international human rights law more generally, Thailand also has an obligation to protect people from having their rights interfered with by private actors, including businesses.  This protective obligation is affirmed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles) as well as domestic Thai law.  In that regard, we further encourage the Thai government to remind business entities in Thailand of their responsibility to uphold human rights under international law, including the UN Guiding Principles, as well as domestic Thai law. In August 2018, Thailand launched a revised draft National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in order to implement the UN Guiding Principles.

On its first official visit to Thailand, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights called on the Thai government to “ensure that defamation cases are not used by businesses as a tool to undermine legitimate rights and freedoms of affected rights holders, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.”

The complaints against Nan Win, Sutharee Wannasiri, and others facing legal harassment must immediately be dismissed and any further injustice to human rights defenders stopped.
 

Background:

Prior to these most recent complaints, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. brought criminal defamation charges against 14 migrant workers and former employees in October 2016 after the workers alleged that the company had committed serious labor law violations. On November 4, 2016, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. also filed criminal defamation complaints against Andy Hall for social media posts about the charges against the workers. In August 2017, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. filed criminal suits against two migrant workers for alleged theft of their employment timecards, which they had presented as evidence of labor violations.  In October 2017, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. filed a criminal suit against Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai for a similar alleged theft of employment timecards. 

In these previous cases, Thai courts rightly dismissed the charges brought by Thammakaset. In July, the Don Muang Court dismissed the criminal defamation charges against the 14 migrant workers, finding that the migrant workers filed the complaints of labor violations to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand in good faith and without false information. In September 2018, the Lopburi Provincial Court also dismissed complaints regarding the alleged theft of timecards filed by the company against the two migrant workers and Suthasinee Kaewleklai. In addition, in September, the Supreme Court upheld an order issued by the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare in Lopburi Province in August 2016 requiring Thammakaset Co. Ltd. to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (US$51,470) in compensation to the 14 workers for violations of Thailand’s Labor Protection Act.

In a similar case of legal harassment launched by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. against labor activist Andy Hall in May 2018, Thailand’s Court of Appeal acquitted him of criminal charges filed against him under criminal defamation laws and the Computer Crimes Act. In its judgment, the Court importantly ruled that his research on labor rights violations in Thailand was in the public interest for the benefit of consumers.
 

Signed:

Amnesty International

Article 19

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development

Community Resource Centre Foundation

Cross Cultural Foundation

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework 
of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Fortify Rights

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

International Federation of Journalists

Migrant Workers Rights Network

VOICE

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the 
Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Internet café in Lalibela, Amhara Region, Ethiopia.

© 2010 Hemis.fr/AFP Photo

Hate and dangerous speech is a serious and growing problem in Ethiopia, both online and offline. It has contributed to the growing ethnic tensions and conflicts across the country that have created more than 1.4 million new internally displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone. The government says it will pass a new law on hate speech to counter this. But around the world, laws criminalizing hate speech have been often and easily abused – and there are other options.

In the past year, speeches by government officials, activists and others in Ethiopia have disseminated quickly through social media and helped trigger or fuel violent conflicts in the country.

It is encouraging that Ethiopia’s government says hate speech must be addressed. But any law that limits freedom of expression by punishing hate speech must be narrowly drawn and enforced with restraint, so that it only targets speech that is likely to incite imminent violence or discrimination that cannot be prevented through other means. Many governments have tried and failed to strike the right balance, and Ethiopia’s own track record offers reason for alarm. In the past, the Ethiopian government has used vague legal definitions including in its anti-terrorism law, to crack down on peaceful expressions of dissent.

What Ethiopia needs is a comprehensive new strategy – one that even a carefully drawn hate speech law should only be one small part of. This could include public education campaigns, programs to improve digital literacy, and efforts to encourage self-regulation within and between communities. The prime minister and other public figures could also speak out regularly and openly about the dangers of hate speech. Donors, eager to support the reform process, could help support such a strategy. And social media companies should do more, including ensuring they have sufficient resources to respond quickly to reports that speech on their platform may lead to violence.

Ethiopians also need new platforms and opportunities to express their grievances and discuss critical issues, beyond social media. The growing list of independent media outlets, as well as universities, civil society organizations, political parties, and others could provide helpful environments for discussion.

Ethiopia is currently rewriting its civil society law and anti-terrorism law – both of which were used in the past to stifle dissent and limit freedom of expression. It should be careful not to undermine those efforts by drafting a new law that could be used for the same kinds of abuse. 

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

(New York ) – Thailand’s government should ensure that Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali al-Araibi, a recognized refugee, is not returned to Bahrain, Human Rights Watch said today. If returned, he would face an imminent risk of wrongful detention and ill-treatment by Bahraini authorities.

Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali al-Araibi in detention at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.

© 2018 Private

“The Thai government needs to realize the grave dangers facing Hakeem al-Araibi if he is returned to Bahrain,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thai immigration authorities should immediately release al-Araibi, who is recognized as a refugee in Australia, and ensure that he’s not put in harm’s way in violation of international law.”

Thai officials said that immigration authorities detained al-Araibi on November 27, 2018, when he arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport from Australia. Authorities told al-Araibi the arrest was based on an Interpol “Red Notice” issued at Bahrain’s request. Thai officials informed him that he would be handed over to Bahrain.

Thai immigration authorities should immediately release al-Araibi, who is recognized as a refugee in Australia, and ensure that he’s not put in harm’s way in violation of international law.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In 2012, Bahraini authorities arrested al-Araibi and tortured him in detention, allegedly for his brother’s political activities. Al-Araibi asserted that at the time of the alleged crime, he was playing in a televised football match in Qatar. In 2014, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. He escaped to Australia in 2014 and was granted refugee status in 2017.

He is currently a professional football player with Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne. He remains openly critical of the government of Bahrain and the current Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa. He has also talked to the media about the torture he suffered in 2012 while in the custody of the Bahraini authorities.

Human Rights Watch has documented the widespread torture and ill-treatment of detained activists and dissidents by Bahraini security forces since the nationwide anti-government protests in 2011.

Thailand is legally bound to respect the international law principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a country where they may face torture or other serious human rights violations. Non-refoulement is explicitly prescribed by the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which Thailand is a party, and is considered part of customary international law.

“Thailand should do the right thing by putting al-Araibi on the next flight to Australia, which recognizes his refugee status and provides him safe sanctuary,” Adams said. “Handing him over to Bahrain would be a heartless act that blatantly violates Thailand’s obligations to protect refugees and opens Bangkok up to a chorus of international criticism.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am