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

(New York) – Vietnam should drop all charges against human rights campaigner Huynh Thuc Vy, who faces trial under article 276 of the 1999 penal code for allegedly disrespecting the national flag, Human Rights Watch said today. She faces up to three years imprisonment if convicted by the People’s Court of Buon Ho town, Dak Lak province at trial on November 22.

Huynh Thuc Vy holds a sign that reads "Praying for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and for Vietnam. Sept 12, 2018".

© 2018 Private

“For years, Vietnam has sought any excuse to punish Huynh Thuc Vy for her tireless advocacy of human rights and democracy, and in their desperation the authorities have now latched on to the splattering of a flag with white paint,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation’s people.”

The day before the country’s National Day in September 2017, Huynh protested against the government by splashing white paint on the national flag. She wrote on Facebook, “The Nation is bottom-deep in debt! There’s nothing to celebrate for. Formosa; Complete contamination; Cancer; Fake Medicine; Prisoners of Conscience; Human Rights Violations; About to Lose Our Country… I protest against celebrations by painting the red flag white.”

Vietnam, like many other countries, has made flag desecration a crime. Article 276 of the Criminal Code states “Those who deliberately offend the national flag, or the national emblem shall be subject to warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years.” In August 2018, the authorities of Buon Ho town initiated a case against Huynh under article 276 for “disrespecting the national flag” and ordered her not to leave her residential area pending further investigation of the charge. In October, the police sent her case for prosecution.

The police of Dak Lak accused her of “linking with bad elements from outside the country; exchanging ideas, giving interviews, writing articles, making video clips, and distributing them on her blog and on social media with contents that distort and twist the truth of Vietnam, smear and malign our Party and State.”

It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation’s people.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Huynh, 33, is a political blogger whose writing has spread extensively on the internet. Her father, Huynh Ngoc Tuan, served 10 years in prison between 1992-2002 for attempting to send a novella and several short stories critical of government policies to overseas audiences. Due to her father’s status as a political prisoner, Huynh and her family suffered from harassment, intimidation, and politically motivated discrimination by the authorities during her childhood.

She began publishing articles online in late 2008. Touching upon various social and political issues, her writing promotes a multi-party political system, freedom, and respect for human rights. She also urges young people to become socially and politically engaged. She regularly writes in support of activists who have been imprisoned for their peaceful activism. In 2015, a collection of her writings, Identifying the Truth, Freedom & Human Rights, was published abroad.

In May 2011, commenting on the non-democratic national election in Vietnam, in which the ruling communist party determines who can run for office, Huynh wrote:

In Vietnam, one has to vote whether one wants to or not. Who you vote for is not important. It does not affect or change any national matter, whether big or small. It also has nothing to do with the life of any particular community of normal people… To remain silent before such absurdity is to agree with such absurdity. It means a lack of responsibility to oneself and to society and the country. We must choose for ourselves a progressive society in which the right to vote and the right to run for an election must be carried out in a meaningful, democratic, and just manner.

In December 2011, the People’s Committee of Quang Nam province decided to administratively issue a fine to the Huynh family total of 270,000,000VND (approximately US$13,500 at the time) for using information technology to spread what the government termed “propaganda” against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In 2012, Huynh received a Hellman-Hammett award, given to writers who suffered persecution, along with her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan. In December 2012, the police at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city prohibited Vy’s brother Huynh Trong Hieu from traveling to the United States to receive the Hellman-Hammett awards given to his father and his sister, and confiscated his passport. Authorities said they acted on request from the police of Quang Nam province where the Huynh family resided at the time.

Huynh participated in public protests against Vietnam’s proposed special economic zone law and the problematic cyber security law. She campaigned against the loss of rights and livelihoods caused by Formosa, a Taiwan-owned steel company that dumped toxic waste into the ocean off Vietnam’s central coast in April 2016, causing a massive environmental disaster.

She continuously advocated for an end to police’s excessive use of force, and violence and torture in detention. She voiced demands for authorities to end harassment and surveillance, and immediately release political prisoners including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Le Dinh Luong, and many others. She also worked to research the plight of lesser known Montagnard activists and raise awareness about government persecution of freedom of religion and belief in the Central Highlands.

Huynh and her family have suffered years of harassment and abuse at the hands of authorities because of their political activism. For example, in December 2013, a group of unidentified men assaulted her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan when he was campaigning to form an association of former prisoners of conscience (Hoi Cuu Tu nhan Luong tam). In February 2014, unidentified thugs threw rocks into their house in the town of Tam Ky, Quang Nam province. In July 2015, police at Tan Son Nhat airport prohibited Huynh from leaving Vietnam for Bangkok to attend a training course organized by Reporters Without Borders. The police also confiscated her passport at that time and told her they acted on an order from the Quang Nam provincial police.

In November 2013, Huynh and fellow activists launched a group called Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. The group aims to “enhance individual awareness about human dignities and her basic rights as well as others’, in order to advocate for a society which respects human rights.”

Tran Thi Nga, a co-founder and executive member of the group, is currently serving a 9-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda against the State.” In October, Tran’s husband Phan Van Phong expressed grave concern for her health and life in prison because she received threats made by other prisoners that prison guards refused to act to stop. Prison guards denied Tran Thi Nga’s family the right to visit her in August and September 2018 because they claimed she was “not obeying prison rules.”

“Sending Huynh Thuc Vy to court and ultimately prison shows just how desperate Vietnam is to shut down activists in order to limit their influence on society and politics,” Robertson said. “The EU and other foreign donors and trade partners should call out Vietnam and demand it fulfill its promises to improve its abysmal rights record if it wants closer political and economic relations.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters hold photos of Sheikh Ali Salman, Bahrain's main opposition leader and Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, as they march asking for his release in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, in Bahrain on June 16, 2015.


© 2015 Reuters

(Beirut) – The upcoming parliamentary elections in Bahrain, scheduled for November 24, 2018, are occurring in a repressive political environment that is not conducive to free elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Bahrain’s allies should encourage the Bahraini government to take all the necessary steps to reform laws undermining freedom of expression and assembly and to release detained opposition figures.

In the latest instance of the crackdown on peaceful dissent, on November 13, 2018, a former member of parliament, Ali Rashed al-Sheeri, was detained after he tweeted about boycotting the elections. On November 4, the Bahrain High Court of Appeals overturned the previous acquittal of a prominent opposition member, Sheikh Ali Salman, sentencing him to life in prison on charges of spying for Qatar. Salman is the leader of Bahrain’s largest political opposition group, al-Wefaq, which was outlawed in 2016.

“By jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family and banning all opposition parties and independent news outlets, Bahrain is failing to create the conditions necessary for a free election,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain should immediately release political prisoners and review its decisions to shutter independent news outlets and political opposition groups.”

Since the nationwide anti-government protests in 2011, Bahraini authorities have arrested scores of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and opposition leaders, charging them on dubious terrorism or national security grounds, mostly for peaceful acts of protest. Security forces have been responsible for torture and widespread ill treatment of detainees and have dispersed peaceful protests with deadly force. The government has also dissolved all opposition political groups, including the secular-left National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. In 2017, the last independent newspaper in the country, al-Wasat, was forcibly closed.

On June 11, King Hamad signed an amendment to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights that bans anyone who belonged to a dissolved political organization or who was previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for political office. This legislation effectively disqualifies opposition candidates from participating in the upcoming elections.

Legislators from the United Kingdom, United States, and the European Parliament have already released letters highlighting the current repressive climate in Bahrain and its impact on the elections. The Bahraini government rejected the criticism and insisted that “this year’s elections…will build on the success of 2014 and result in a parliament that is representative of the diverse range of views that exists across Bahraini society.”
There are significant human rights concerns in both Bahrain’s behavior domestically and given its participation in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which is committing serious violations of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. The coalition has failed to credibly investigate potential war crimes, and coalition members, including Bahrain, have provided insufficient or no information about their role in alleged unlawful attacks.

On November 15, the US Senate voted not to block a $300 million arms sale to Bahrain. Although 20 percent of the Senate, with members from both sides of the aisle, voted to block the sale, the arms sale is set to go through.

Bahrain’s allies, including the UK and US, should translate their criticism of Bahrain’s human rights abuses into concrete action, including by not approving future arms sales until such time as Bahrain releases all human rights defenders and dissidents serving long jail terms for peaceful expression and holds accountable officials and security officers who participated in or ordered the widespread torture during interrogations since 2011.

Bahrain’s allies should stop supplying weapons to Bahrain and other parties to the conflict in Yemen, while there is a substantial risk of these arms being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law there.

Bahrain should repeal the amendments to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and allow opposition candidates to run for office in the elections. The government should free anyone detained arbitrarily, including those detained for exercising their basic rights, such as Sheikh Ali Salman and Nabeel Rajab, and reinstate dissolved independent media outlets and political opposition groups.

“Bahrain’s allies should not give Bahrain a free pass and conduct business as usual while mass rights abuses persist,” Fakih said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Akzam Turgunov, a former political prisoner and rights activist, has been increasingly subjected to surveillance by security services in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

© 2017 Steve Swerdlow for Human Rights Watch
(Tashkent) – The Uzbek authorities should stop harassing human rights activists, including those recently released from prison, and ensure their safety, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Human Rights Watch, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today.

Despite the authorities’ significant positive steps to improve the overall human rights climate in Uzbekistan, law enforcement bodies have stepped up their surveillance of some rights activists in recent weeks and are interfering with their peaceful human rights work. The government should ensure that human rights defenders and activists are allowed to carry out their work without interference or harassment.

“The renewed surveillance and harassment of members of the human rights community in Uzbekistan puts significant strain on them and their families and causes re-traumatization and stress, which our organization witnessed firsthand when we visited Tashkent last month,” said Brigitte Dufour from IPHR.

Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office two years ago, the government has taken several important positive steps to improve Uzbekistan’s human rights record and uphold its international commitments. These have included the release of prisoners imprisoned on politically motivated grounds, judicial reforms, and the adoption of presidential decrees aimed, among other things, at improving the situation for civil society and easing restrictions on free expression.

However, over the past month, the security services and police have been increasingly carrying out close surveillance of various human rights defenders, including those recently released from long prison sentences. The authorities are also intimidating those who demonstrate an intention to continue their human rights activities, including the rights activist Agzam Turgunov and the journalist Dilmurod Saidov (Sayyid).

Both were released during the last year after long prison terms. They have been actively engaged in human rights monitoring and advocacy, and are seeking to register a nongovernmental organization, Restoration of Justice.

Turgunov told the groups he first noticed that he was under surveillance on October 15, 2018 and that the surveillance has continued, despite statements by Uzbek officials that the surveillance would stop. On October 20, during a visit to Tashkent, IPHR representatives witnessed surveillance by people in civilian clothes on Turgunov’s home. Turgunov told IPHR that on October 18, two representatives of the local mahalla (neighborhood) committee told him that police had been asking about his activities. He also reported that he later saw unknown people standing under his window, listening to his conversations, and that he saw several cars following him as he moved around Tashkent on public transport.

Turgunov said that pressure increased when he travelled to Paris to attend the World Summit of Human Rights Defenders on October 28. Authorities held him at Tashkent airport for two hours before his departing flight and detained him again for an hour upon his return. He was also summoned to the local prosecutor’s office in connection with an administrative violation he allegedly committed on August 30 when taking photos of a protest by prisoners’ relatives near the Supreme Court building.

In June and July, provocative posts appeared on social media about Turgunov and Saidov claiming without any evidence or foundation that the two had received substantial foreign grants to criticize the government of Uzbekistan. In October and November, other posts appeared on Facebook accusing Turgunov of participating in criminal and radical groups, again without providing any evidence for these claims. These highly incendiary and unfounded accusations are troubling as they endanger the safety and wellbeing of Turgunov and his family, the groups said, and are aimed at discrediting the work of these courageous human rights defenders.

“The real test of reforms in Uzbekistan is not in how they look on paper, but how they are experienced by individuals, and that includes former political prisoners,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uzbek government should send an unambiguous signal to the whole society, including the security services, that human rights defenders carry out an important role in the “new” Uzbekistan and will be protected from retaliation.”

Saidov told rights groups that he has been indirectly warned by a “mediator” purporting to be from the human rights community about his continued active reporting on social media about torture and other human rights violations in Uzbekistan. The “mediator” also told Saidov that if he does not end his human rights work, he could be subjected to forced psychiatric treatment. Saidov also said that he and two other human rights activists, Tatyana Davlatova and Malohat Eshankulova, are under active surveillance by law enforcement bodies.

In recent days, Eshankulova submitted her internal passport to authorities in Samarkand to obtain her residence registration. She told rights groups that when she applied, the authorities failed to provide her with any official paper temporarily certifying her identity, as is standard procedure, leaving her at increased risk of detention in the case of a police document check. Authorities are checking documents in Samarkand with increasing frequency because an international conference on human rights, the Asian Forum for Human Rights, is taking place there beginning November 21.

Uzbek authorities should immediately stop the surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders and to ensure respect at all times for the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, the groups said. The authorities should ensure that all Uzbek human rights defenders who wish to attend the Asian Human Rights Forum are allowed to do so.

“These have been extremely trying years for Uzbek civil society, both inside and outside of the country, perhaps even for many government officials,” said Ivar Dale from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “If there was ever a time to turn the page, this is it. Human rights must be taken seriously in Uzbekistan not just in word, but in action.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Faj Attan, a densely populated neighborhood in Sanaa, on August 25, 2017. Two of the buildings were completely destroyed and the third suffered extensive damage.

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

(Paris) – President Emmanuel Macron of France should raise serious concerns with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince regarding laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will visit Paris on November 21, 2018.

The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has indiscriminately bombed homes, markets, and schools, impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid and used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of them likely war crimes. The UAE and UAE-led proxy forces have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and tortured Yemenis in southern and eastern Yemen, including Yemeni activists who have criticized coalition abuses.

“As the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan could have acted to stop grave abuses in Yemen, but instead war crimes have mounted,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If President Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there’s a real risk of their unlawful use.”

Despite Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s records of abuse, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to sell weapons to both countries. In June, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that French special forces were on the ground in Yemen, alongside UAE forces.

Macron should press the UAE to investigate alleged serious violations by its armed forces and Yemeni forces it supports, to appropriately prosecute those responsible for war crimes, and to provide reparation to victims of violations, Human Rights Watch said. France should stop supplying weapons and munitions to the UAE if there is a substantial risk that these arms are being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

Despite leading considerable efforts to present the UAE as progressive and tolerant, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the nation’s de facto leader, has largely failed to improve his country’s human rights record.

Domestically, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. In 2014, the UAE issued a counterterrorism law that gives authorities the power to prosecute peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists as terrorists. UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and torture. Many are serving long prison terms or have left the country under pressure.

In March 2017, the UAE detained Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender, on speech-related charges and held him incommunicado for more than a year. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 29, 2018 for crimes that appear to violate his right to free expression.

UAE courts also imposed a 10-year prison sentence in March 2017 on a prominent academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared in August 2015, for charges that included peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities.

On October 4, the European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution calling for the immediate release of Mansoor and all other “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE. The resolution expressed concern that “attacks on members of civil society including efforts to silence, imprison, or harass human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others has become increasingly common in recent years.” It said that European institutions should make respect for human rights activists “a precondition to any further development of relation between the EU and UAE.”

In addition, despite some reforms, many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers can face punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. A 2017 law extended key labor protections to domestic workers, previously excluded from such guarantees, but its provisions remain weaker than those of the country’s national labor law.

Yet over the past several years, the UAE and France have strengthened their bilateral relations across a range of areas, including security, trade, and cultural exchanges. In 2017, France increased its arms sales to the UAE and opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum amid serious concerns regarding labor abuses in building the museum. On October 11, the UAE joined the International Organization of the Francophonie, which promotes the spread of French language and values, as an associate member, although  human rights and democratic principles are at the heart of the organization’s charter.

“By failing to address the UAE authorities’ serious rights violations in Yemen, France risks glossing over a dark reality,” Jeannerod said. “Despite outward appearances, the UAE has repeatedly shown itself to be resistant to improving its human rights record at home and abroad.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Anyone in the US who has ever used the internet has probably had this moment: fingers hovering over the keyboard, wondering about the consequences of “liking” or searching for something. Who’s going to know we did this? What kinds of conclusions might they draw about our health, race, religion, politics, deepest secrets? Will the government find out? Advertisers?

And what if we’re just curious? What if the data we’re about to generate looks like it says something significant about us – but doesn’t?

For me, as a US surveillance researcher and fiction author, these moments happen every day. I’ve searched for how the government investigates the drug trade and illegal file-sharing, links between white supremacist groups, the street price of opioid medications, types of large-bore rifles, the symptoms of emphysema. None of that says anything about my personal life – but that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to a data miner.

Under human rights law, we all have a right to seek and receive information – it’s part of the right to free expression, which the US Constitution’s First Amendment also enshrines. But US federal law does very little to prevent companies from vacuuming up data about you and your interests, potentially resulting in discrimination or unnecessary harms to your privacy. The government, too, has or wants warrantless powers in this area.

And if your awareness of this has prevented you from Googling or “liking” something potentially revealing or controversial, you’ve experienced what US courts would call the “chilling effect” in the government surveillance context – a discouragement of free expression that can violate rights.

The good news is that there’s a growing movement to fix the lack of US data protections – one that’s been gaining steam since reports earlier this year about data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica’s alleged access to data about Facebook users. Human Rights Watch and other groups recently released a list of some of the things Congress should do to restrict how companies treat personal data, including limiting collection, ensuring that users can correct inaccuracies, and preventing discrimination. Lawmakers should also address when and how police and other authorities can get access to these pools of information.

People in the US shouldn’t have to simply trust that their rights will be safeguarded when they engage in free expression online. They should know the law is there to back them up.

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

(Beirut) – Egyptian police and National Security Agency (NSA) forces have conducted a mass arrest campaign, rounding up at least 40 human rights workers, lawyers, and political activists since late October 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. Many of those arrested were people who provided humanitarian and legal support to families of political detainees.

Authorities have disappeared Ezzat Ghoneim since September 14, 2018. 

© 2018 Private

Human Rights Watch spoke with a lawyer, a human rights activist, and two political activists, who are in direct touch with the families of the people detained. The sources said that none of the security forces showed arrest warrants, and that when families or lawyers tried to find out where the arrested were being held, the authorities would not tell them. Some of these cases may amount to enforced disappearances. Eight women are among those arrested, and while three of those women were later released, all the other people arrested remain detained in unknown locations.

“The Egyptian security agencies’ repression now extends to disappearing those brave men and women who have been trying to protect the disappeared and to end this abusive practice,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government apparently wants to quash what remains of Egyptian civil society.”

One human rights lawyer said that the detainees had been arrested in home raids, with the exception of one woman arrested at the airport while trying to travel abroad. “They are arresting us all,” the lawyer said. One source said that as many as 80 people might have been arrested, but Human Rights Watch could verify only 40 names.

The sources said that some of those arrested were involved with the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent human rights group that has been facing smear campaigns and pro-government media attacks for the past several months. Security forces have held its executive director, Ezzat Ghoniem, a lawyer, incommunicado since September 4, despite a court order to release him.

Those arrested include Hoda Abdel Moneim, a 60-year-old lawyer and a former member of the official National Council for Human Rights. Abdel Moneim was also a spokesperson for the Egypt’s Women Revolutionary Coalition, an Islamist group that opposed the forcible removal of former President Mohamed Morsy.

One of her family members told Human Rights Watch that security forces arrested Abdel Moneim at her home in Nasr City, in east Cairo, in the early morning of November 1. They blindfolded her, put her in a police car, and drove her to an undisclosed location. During the home raid, security forces, who identified themselves as part of Nasr City Police Investigation Department and the NSA, showed no arrest or search warrants but violently searched the house, destroying some of the family’s possessions, the family member said. Human Rights Watch reviewed pictures of Abdel Moneim's home, taken after the raid, showing a broken front door and scattered family belongings.

Photos of what the family alleged was the aftermath of the police raid to arrest lawyer, Hoda Abdel Moneim, from her home.

Both the family and Abdel Moneim’s lawyers say they have not been able to find out where she is. Human Rights Watch reviewed several official inquiries sent by her lawyer to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office. They have received no response, a lawyer said. However, the family received information suggesting that she is detained in the one of the NSA’s headquarters in Cairo.

Those detained also include Mohamed Abu Hourayra, the former spokesperson for Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms; his wife, Aisha Khairat al-Shater, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood activist, who is also the daughter of the jailed deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater; Bahaa Ouda, a political activist who is also the brother of a jailed minister in former President Morsy’s government; Tareq El Salakawi, a lawyer; and Soumayya Nassef, a human rights activist.

The sources said that the authorities released three women detainees without charge days after their arrest and detention in the NSA’s Sheikh Zayed headquarters, southwest of Cairo. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented that disappeared detainees are routinely held secretly in NSA headquarters and often tortured there.

Following the arrests, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms announced that it was suspending its work in Egypt until further notice. A November 1 statement said that the group could not continue to work because the authorities “attack anyone who defends the oppressed.”

These arrests have occurred even as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a review of the abusive 2017 law restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations. On November 6, al-Sisi described it as “flawed,” and the result of “[security] phobia.”

Any detention that results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed in international law, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, is an arbitrary detention that is prohibited under international law. Holding detainees in undisclosed locations and depriving them from access to lawyers and other measures that undermine basic fair trial rights can also make such detentions arbitrary.

Enforced disappearances under international law include situations in which a person is detained by state forces, and the state then refuses, when asked, to acknowledge the detention or the person’s status, or to reveal where they are being detained.

Egyptian law requires officials to present all detainees to a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention. International law requires the swift review of all detentions by a judge within 48 hours. Pretrial detention should only be used on an exceptional basis, when there is enough evidence of involvement in an international-recognized offense and when there is a strong necessity to keep suspects in detention.

The Egyptian authorities should immediately reveal all the detainees’ whereabouts, release all of those arrested solely for exercising their rights, and bring any others swiftly before a judge to review their detention, Human Rights Watch said.

“Al-Sisi’s promises on reforming the abusive NGO law ring hollow when he’s overseeing security agencies filling up Egyptian prisons with those seeking to preserve human rights,” Page said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch, local human rights activists, and former political prisoners in Uzbekistan met with members of the Uzbek government in June 2018, to discuss, among other things, the creation of a special commission on political prisoners with a mandate including identifying measures of rehabilitation for prisoners when released. Left to right: Dilmurod Saidov, Muhammad Bekjanov, Hugh Williamson, Akzam Turgunov, Azam Farmonov, Kobuljon Tulashev, Ahmadjon Madumarov, Rakhimov Tashpulat, Erkin Musaev, Steve Swerdlow, Viktoriya Kim.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Tashkent) – The Uzbek government has released more than 35 people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in September 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should continue to release political prisoners and ensure that those released have access to remedies, including the right to overturn unlawful convictions and to get adequate medical care.

Alongside other positive steps, the releases have raised hopes that the Uzbek government is making efforts to improve its human rights record. But thousands of people remain behind bars on vague or overbroad charges, including for extremism. The government should immediately release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges and provide them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment. Freeing the country’s remaining political prisoners and ensuring them justice would demonstrate a genuine commitment to reform.

“The release of dozens of journalists, rights activists, opposition and religious figures over the past two years has been an important first step in the reform process,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the Uzbek government should make the changes systematic, free all those still imprisoned on unlawful grounds, and ensure justice for those released.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 recently released political prisoners between September 2017 and July 2018. They include 16 in Tashkent in June and seven in other cities, including Andijan, Fergana, Margilan, Bukhara, and Yangibozor. They described facing legal and economic barriers following their release, including restrictions on freedom of movement, inability to obtain court decisions needed to appeal unlawful sentences, surveillance, and inadequate medical care for health ailments stemming from their incarceration.

Among those still in prison are Andrei Kubatin, Akrom Malikov, Rustam Abdumannapov, Jamolidin Abdurakhamnov, scholars; Mirsobir Hamidkariev, a film producer; Aramais Avakyan, a fisherman; Ruhiddin Fahriddinov (Fahrutdinov), a religious figure; Ravshan Kosimov, Viktor Shin, and Alisher Achildiev, soldiers; Nodirbek Yusupov, a deportee from the United States and religious believer; Askar Ahmadiy and Jahongir Kulidzhanov, religious believers; and Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist. Some of them, including Kubatin and Fahriddinov have been tortured.

Jahongir Kulidzhanov sentenced, in October 2017, to 5 years imprisonment for extremism because of reading with other Shiite believers, a religious text deemed illegal in Uzbekistan. Kulidzhanov is currently in Kiziltepa prison in Navoi oblast, and has been ill-treated. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Uzbek government should immediately release these people and all others imprisoned on politically motivated charges, providing them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

Though Uzbek authorities have amnestied some political prisoners and released others early, not a single political prisoner has been exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted. Released prisoners told Human Rights Watch that in many cases they have been unable to obtain the court sentence documents, and other materials in their cases so they can file appeals of their unlawful convictions.

Those who were “conditionally released” under Article 73 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code said their freedom of movement had been restricted, that they were under surveillance, and that they are required to report regularly to the police for “preventative conversations.”

Uzbek authorities should address the significant medical, mental health, and economic needs of former political prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate into society, Human Rights Watch said. Several former prisoners said that they face great difficulties reintegrating into their families and society after years or decades in prison.

Andrei Kubatin, an academic, convicted of treason in December 2017 by a military court in Tashkent and sentenced to 11 years in prison. 

© 2017 Fergana
Many are suffering from severe physical and psychological health problems resulting from years of torture and detention in dismal conditions, often in isolation from other prisoners or in prisons far from their families. Social support structures and services they need are largely non-existent, meaning they must depend on often ill-prepared family members for the support they need.

Several former prisoners recommended that authorities should establish a special commission consisting of government officials, representatives of nongovernmental groups, and international experts to address the rehabilitation needs of former political prisoners, examine cases of people still in prison on politically motivated charges, and make recommendations to appropriate government agencies.

“We urgently need a structure independent of the state’s prison administration that will have the authority to devise remedies in individual cases of past and ongoing abuse,” one former political prisoner said. The creation of a commission of this type would signal the government’s willingness to listen to its citizens’ calls to end human rights abuses and embark on a path that offers greater respect for human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005, calls for reparations for victims of human rights abuses, including compensation, restitution, and equal and effective access to justice, as well as accountability for those responsible.

The government should also amend vague and overbroad criminal code provisions relating to extremism that are commonly used to criminalize dissent – articles 159, 216, 244-1, and 244-2 of the Criminal Code – and bring them into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations.

Authorities told Human Rights Watch in March that they had stopped using Article 221 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code regarding “violations of prison rules” to arbitrarily extend the sentences of political prisoners.

The U.S., European Union, and Uzbekistan’s other international partners, including international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should support efforts to assist former political prisoners in obtaining justice. They should urge the government to provide adequate healthcare and support for reintegration into society.

“Government surveillance and other restrictions on former political prisoners raise concerns about the true extent of reforms in Uzbekistan,” Swerdlow said. “Uzbekistan should help to reintegrate its former political prisoners into society, not keep them under restraint.”

For detailed findings, please see below.


Human Rights Watch was able to interview 23 of the more than 35 political prisoners reported as released since Mirziyoyev took office. Government officials have reported to Human Rights Watch that prison authorities have also released hundreds of independent Muslims – people who practice Islam outside of strict state controls – who had been imprisoned on extremism charges for lengthy jail terms. However, Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to independently confirm claims about those releases or interview any of them without access to a list of people serving these sentences. The authorities should make available a list of all persons currently serving sentences for extremism-related charges.

The following are among the 23 former political prisoners interviewed:

Samandar Kukanov, a former member of parliament who served 23 years and five months in prison in retaliation for his peaceful opposition political activity, was released on November 24, 2016. “I served longer than any other political prisoner in Uzbekistan’s history,” Kukanov said. “During the 23 years of my imprisonment, several of my family members were jailed and my wife’s health was destroyed. More than anything I want to be exonerated because I never committed the crimes for which I was convicted.”

In May, Kukanov filed an appeal with the Tashkent Regional Court to review his criminal sentence. Shortly thereafter the court summoned Kukanov and informed him that the case would be re-opened. But in September, Kukanov received a letter from the court informing him that the “materials of his criminal case” had been “destroyed in accordance with established procedure” on April 6, 2017 by the Tashkent Region State Archive. On this basis, the letter said, his requests for “full rehabilitation” could not be reviewed.

Erkin Musaev, a UN employee and former government official, tortured and unjustly jailed for 11 years, was freed on August 11, 2017 after the Supreme Court issued a decision shortening his sentence. He said that his efforts to obtain legal rehabilitation have similarly stalled because court authorities refuse to provide him with his criminal sentence, and then denied his right to appeal on the basis that he has not submitted the decision.

Dilmurod Saidov, 56, an independent journalist who was imprisoned for nine years and tortured, was released on February 3 after his 12-and-a-half-year sentence was reduced. “I experienced both psychological and physical torture over the course of nine years in jail and lost my health and family,” Saidov said. Along with two other released political prisoners, Akzam Turgunov and Azam Farmonov, Saidov aims to open a nongovernmental organization that will help released prisoners reintegrate into Uzbek society.

But the authorities require Saidov to report monthly to the police and have subjected him to “preventative talks,” where he is warned about re-engaging in criminal activity. During these visits police take his fingerprints and mugshot and require him to pledge in writing not to commit a crime. “I am trying to focus on making contributions to my society, but in order for this to take place, I need formal acknowledgment that my own imprisonment was wrong,” Saidov said. Saidov suffers from an acute form of tuberculosis and requires sustained medical treatment. While in prison, he lost most of his teeth.

Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists until his release by Uzbek authorities in February 2017, after 18 years, was unable to travel outside of his home region of Khorezm in northwestern Uzbekistan for one year. He has since left Uzbekistan to reunite with his family in the US. But he said that the authorities had not provided him any legal avenues to challenge his criminal convictions, nor to recover property that was confiscated after his arrest in 1999.

Former political prisoners Akzam Turgunov and Bobomurod Abdullaev have said that since their releases security services and police have subjected them to surveillance and intimidation. On August 29, Turgunov was briefly detained while using his phone to record a peaceful protest in front of the Supreme Court. Three men in civilian clothes approached him, refused to identify themselves, grabbed him and forced him to get into a car. The next day, Turgunov was convicted of “failure to comply with the lawful demands of a police officer” (Article 194) of the Uzbek Administrative Code and fined 20 euros (approximately US$23). Turgunov is appealing the decision.

In May, following a trial that was open for observation by journalists and human rights monitors, a court conditionally released and fined independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who had been detained in September 2017 and then allegedly tortured while in pre-trial detention on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. While the trial set a precedent for its degree of openness and transparency, authorities have not investigated Abdullaev’s credible allegations of severe torture.

Azam Farmonov, a human rights activist, whose 14-and-a-half-year sentence was shortened upon his release in October 2017, said that he still is required to pay a monthly portion of his salary to the government as part of his conditional release, and that it is extremely difficult to get the medical care payment that is supposed to be provided by the government for former prisoners. “Obtaining the monetary stipend provided by the government for medical is so difficult, I simply gave up” Farmonov said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Istanbul police detained 13 academics and individuals working for nongovernmental group Anadolu Kültür, November 16, 2018. From top left clockwise: Meltem Aslan; Turgut Tarhanlı; Betül Tanbay; Çiğdem Mater; Hakan Altınay; Asena Günal.

© 2018 Bianet


Of the 13 people detained on November 16, 12 were released but are banned from overseas travel. An Istanbul court ruled that Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, who has worked for many years in the field of human rights, including at Istanbul Bilgi University, should be placed in pretrial detention pending completion of a criminal investigation. The court cited as grounds for the decision wiretaps and surveillance showing his involvement in meetings about civil disobedience and non-violent assembly whose content the court stated it had no information about. Human Rights Watch considers the grounds for his pretrial detention unjustified and his detention a violation of international law. Aksakaloğlu should be released immediately.

(Berlin) – The dubious arrest on November 16, 2018 of 13 prominent figures from academia and a nongovernmental group deepens Turkey’s repressive climate and cycle of injustice, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Istanbul and three other provinces detained the 13 in dawn raids.

Among them is a human rights professor, Turgut Tarhanlı, law faculty dean at Istanbul Bilgi University, and several other people working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür, a nongovernmental group that focuses on arts, cultural exchange, and human rights. Kavala, the group’s leader, has been held without charge or indictment in pretrial detention for the past year. Tarhanlı and three others were released with an overseas travel ban after questioning.

“The detentions of the 13 are all about concocting a case against the prominent civil society leader and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been unjustly jailed for over a year,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “It defies belief that the Istanbul prosecutor is investigating Kavala and the others for organizing the Gezi protests, which ended over five years ago.”

The Turkish authorities should release all 13 and Kavala from custody immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

The Istanbul police issued a statement saying that the people detained are under investigation for their involvement in anti-government protests in 2013 in Istanbul, and elsewhere, that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The statement says that the criminal investigation against them is focused on Kavala, the well-known chair of Anadolu Kültür and a businessman. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently repeated their call for his immediate release, from what is, at this stage, blatant arbitrary detention.

The Istanbul police statement about the detentions says “it has been proved” that Kavala “financed and organized” the 2013 Gezi protests through a foundation, Açık Toplum Vakfı (Open Society Foundation), and Anadolu Kültür, and thus attempted to “violently overthrow the government or partially or wholly prevent its functions.”

The statement accuses the 13 people detained, and seven others who have not been named, of operating in a hierarchical structure with Kavala toward those ends. This group, the statement said, sought to “deepen and spread the Gezi Park incidents,” to perpetuate them under the heading of “civil disobedience and non-violent actions” by bringing “activism educators, moderators and professional activists from abroad.” According to the statement, the group also attempted to set up new media to keep the Gezi incidents and other similar actions on the agenda, and that Kavala met with many institutions and individuals in Europe to try to get a ban on the import of teargas to Turkey.

The 13 detained, to whom many of the authorities have attributed inaccurate or out of date affiliations, include two academics, and the others mostly working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür: They are, in addition to Tarhanlı: Hakan Altınay, Asena Günal, Meltem Aslan, Yiğit Ekmekçi, Bora Sarı, Ayşegül Güzel, Çiğdem Mater, Betül Tanbay, Hande Özhabeş, Fılız Telek, Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, and Yusuf Cıvır.

The most recent arrests and claims expose Turkey’s position that equates any criticism of government policies and action, including and maybe particularly on, human rights grounds, with efforts to overthrow it. Such a position flies in the face of a government that claims to be a democracy that respects human rights and rule of law.

Turkey’s international partners, including the European Union, should press Turkish authorities to immediately release Kavala, all 13 of those detained on November 16, and the imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists against whom the authorities have not provided evidence of internationally recognizable crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

European Union officials will hold a high-level political dialogue on November 22 in Ankara and should put the continued crackdown on civil society and on media at the top of their concerns.

“The police allegations against the 13 people detained and Kavala slap the charge of attempting to topple the government on Kavala but provide no evidence of criminal activity,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Detaining more people won’t make trumped up charges more believable.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Journalist and Editor of Mozambican NewsPaper Dossiers & Factos, Serodio Towo. 

© 2018 VOA Português

A Mozambican journalist received phone texts and calls from unidentified people threatening to kill him if he continues to write articles criticizing the government.

Serôdio Towo, editor of the weekly newspaper Dossiers & Factos, recently published articles about the involvement of Mozambique’s Labour Minister in alleged financial mismanagement at the National Institute for Social Security.

Towo told me that, on Saturday morning, he received three calls from an unidentified number telling him to “watch out”, “write a will” and that “he was being watched.” That evening, a man called and warned him to “abandon” his current work or “risk losing his life.”

This is not the first time that Towo has been threatened or intimidated. Last March, he reported to police that vehicles without number plates followed him around the capital, Maputo. The police promised to investigate but have yet to reveal the probe’s results. Last Monday, he informed the police and the attorney general about the recent threats. The police told him to change his daily routine but offered him no physical protection.   

Threats against journalists and other government critics have become a common occurrence in Mozambique, in some cases ending in violent attacks.

Last month, following disputed local elections, at least eight people received anonymous phone calls and text messages making death threats for allegedly contributing to the defeat of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in the northern province of Nampula. One person went into hiding because of the threats. Calls by Amnesty International and free speech group MISA Mozambique for the police to investigate the alleged death threats and intimidation appear to have been ignored.

In April, Human Rights spoke with six activists who were living in fear after receiving threatening phone messages for criticizing the government. A month earlier, journalist and human rights activist Ericino de Salema was abducted and beaten after receiving threatening messages. In May 2016, political analyst Jose Macuane was abducted and shot four times in the legs by unidentified gunmen. Both Macuane’s and Salema’s cases are unresolved.

Mozambique’s government cannot continue to ignore its responsibility to effectively investigate allegations of abuse and protect all its citizens. The failure to investigate physical violence and threats against journalists and activists is contributing to an environment of fear in the country.

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

Protesters open their umbrellas, symbols of pro-democracy movement, as they mark exactly one month since they took the streets in Hong Kong's financial central district October 28, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters
(Hong Kong) – Hong Kong authorities should drop charges against nine leaders of the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” for non-violent protests in 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. The nine will be tried before a district court on November 19, 2018.

The demonstrations took place between September 28 and December 15, 2014. The government’s crackdown and ensuing prosecutions have violated the rights to peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies in Hong Kong.

“These nine people did nothing but peacefully press the Hong Kong government to fulfill its obligation to deliver genuine democracy to people in the territory,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “These prosecutions raise further questions about Hong Kong authorities’ moves to politicize the courts.”

The defendants are Umbrella Movement co-founders Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming; Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, both lawmakers; Raphael Wong, a political activist; Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung, former student leaders; and Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker. They face various criminal charges, including “incitement to commit public nuisance” and “incitement to incite public nuisance.” The three co-founders face an additional charge of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.” The nine each face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

About 200 demonstrators have been prosecuted for participation in the Umbrella Movement, and dozens were convicted and sentenced on various charges, including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon, and common assault. Three student leaders – Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law – were also convicted and sentenced for unlawful assembly and incitement in 2016 for leading a non-violent sit-in that culminated in the Umbrella Movement. Chow was given a three-weeks sentence with a one-year suspension while Wong and Law were given community service orders of 80 hours and 120 hours, respectively.

Since the Umbrella Movement, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments have increasingly restricted civil liberties and marginalized those who were involved in the protests.

Beginning in 2016, Hong Kong authorities have removed a half-dozen elected legislators or disqualified candidates from running for seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo). They were removed for promoting Hong Kong independence or “self-determination” on the grounds that advocating such ideas is “inconsistent” with the Basic Law, the territory’s functional constitution. In an unprecedented move, the Hong Kong government banned a political party – the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) in September – as a “preventive measure” to remove “a real threat to national security.”

Politically motivated prosecutions of pro-democracy leaders have increased, including against elected legislators for their peaceful expression in the LegCo, Human Rights Watch said. There are also reports of harassment by mainland authorities of members of pro-democracy parties and their family members.

The “one country, two systems” arrangement, in which the Hong Kong government is by law guaranteed “a high degree of autonomy” over all issues other than foreign affairs and defense, appears increasingly frail. In March, the Umbrella Movement co-founder, Benny Tai, an academic, faced an orchestrated rhetorical attack by Hong Kong and mainland authorities. The mainland authorities equated Tai’s hypothetical discussion of Hong Kong independence as “a threat to national security.”

In August, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry officials told the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to cancel a talk by Andy Chan, head of the HKNP. After the club refused, Hong Kong authorities rejected, without explanation, its vice-president’s application to renew his work visa. Hong Kong is also introducing a national anthem law to bring criminal charges with penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who “insults” the Chinese national anthem.

“Hong Kong authorities are increasingly silencing debate about the territory’s political realities and future,” Richardson said. “Everyone invested in the rule of law in Hong Kong should press the government to drop the case against the Umbrella Movement’s leaders.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Dear Mark Zuckerberg:

What do the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Danish member of parliament, and a news anchor from the Philippines have in common? They have all been subject to a misapplication of Facebook’s Community Standards. But unlike the average user, each of these individuals and entities received media attention, were able to reach Facebook staff and, in some cases, receive an apology and have their content restored. For most users, content that Facebook removes is rarely restored and some users may be banned from the platform even in the event of an error.

When Facebook first came onto our screens, users who violated its rules and had their content removed or their account deactivated were sent a message telling them that the decision was final and could not be appealed. It was only in 2011, after years of advocacy from human rights organizations, that your company added a mechanism to appeal account deactivations, and only in 2018 that Facebook initiated a process for remedying wrongful takedowns of certain types of content. Those appeals are available for posts removed for nudity, sexual activity, hate speech or graphic violence.

This is a positive development, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Today, we the undersigned civil society organizations, call on Facebook to provide a mechanism for all of its users to appeal content restrictions, and, in every case, to have the appealed decision re-reviewed by a human moderator.

Facebook’s stated mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. With more than two billion users and a wide variety of features, Facebook is the world’s premier communications platform. We know that you recognize the responsibility you have to prevent abuse and keep users safe. As you know, social media companies, including Facebook, have a responsibility to respect human rights, and international and regional human rights bodies have a number of specific recommendations for improvement, notably concerning the right to remedy.

Facebook remains far behind its competitors when it comes to affording its users due process. 1 We know from years of research and documentation that human content moderators, as well as machine learning algorithms, are prone to error, and that even low error rates can result in millions of silenced users when operating at massive scale. Yet Facebook users are only able to appeal content decisions in a limited set of circumstances, and it is impossible for users to know how pervasive erroneous content takedowns are without increased transparency on Facebook’s part. 2

While we acknowledge that Facebook can and does shape its Community Standards according to its values, the company nevertheless has a responsibility to respect its users' expression to the best of its ability. Furthermore, civil society groups around the globe have criticized the way that Facebook’s Community Standards exhibit bias and are unevenly applied across different languages and cultural contexts. Offering a remedy mechanism, as well as more transparency, will go a long way toward supporting user expression.

Earlier this year, a group of advocates and academics put forward the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, which recommend a set of minimum standards for transparency and meaningful appeal. This set of recommendations is consistent with the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression and opinion David Kaye, who recently called for a “framework for the moderation of user- generated online content that puts human rights at the very center.” It is also consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which articulate the human rights responsibilities of companies.

Specifically, we ask Facebook to incorporate the Santa Clara Principles into their content moderation policies and practices and to provide:

Notice: Clearly explain to users why their content has been restricted.

  • Notifications should include the specific clause from the Community Standards that the content was found to violate.
  • Notice should be sufficiently detailed to allow the user to identify the specific content that was restricted and should include information about how the content was detected, evaluated, and removed.
  • Individuals must have clear information about how to appeal the decision.

Appeals: Provide users with a chance to appeal content moderation decisions.

  • Appeals mechanisms should be easily accessible and easy to use.
  • Appeals should be subject to review by a person or panel of persons that was not involved in the initial decision.
  • Users must have the right to propose new evidence or material to be considered in the review.
  • Appeals should result in a prompt determination and reply to the user.
  • Any exceptions to the principle of universal appeals should be clearly disclosed and compatible with international human rights principles.
  • Facebook should collaborate with other stakeholders to develop new independent self-regulatory mechanisms for social media that will provide greater accountability3

Numbers: Issue regular transparency reports on Community Standards enforcement.

  • Present complete data describing the categories of user content that are restricted (text, photo or video; violence, nudity, copyright violations, etc), as well as the number of pieces of content that were restricted or removed in each category.
  • Incorporate data on how many content moderation actions were initiated by a user flag, a trusted flagger program, or by proactive Community Standards enforcement (such as through the use of a machine learning algorithm).
  • Include data on the number of decisions that were effectively appealed or otherwise found to have been made in error.
  • Include data reflecting whether the company performs any proactive audits of its unappealed moderation decisions, as well as the error rates the company found.

Article 19, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology, and Ranking Digital Rights

7amleh - Arab Center for Social Media Advancement
Access Now
ACLU Foundation of Northern California
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Albanian Media Institute
American Civil Liberties Union
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arab Digital Expression Foundation
Artículo 12
Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias América Latina y el Caribe (AMARC ALC)
Association for Progressive Communications
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Bytes for All (B4A)
CAIR San Francisco Bay Area
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Cedar Rapids, Iowa Collaborators
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Digital Rights Foundation
EFF Austin
El Instituto Panameño de Derecho y Nuevas Tecnologías (IPANDETEC)
Electronic Frontier Finland
Elektronisk Forpost Norge
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom Forum
Fundación Acceso
Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente
Fundación Datos Protegidos
Fundación Internet
Fundación Vía Libre
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Garoa Hacker Club
Global Voices Advocacy
Gulf Center for Human Rights
HERMES Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights
Homo Digitalis
Human Rights Watch
Idec - Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Instituto Nupef
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet without borders
Intervozes - Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
La Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa ACI Participa
May First/People Link
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Mediacentar Sarajevo
New America's Open Technology Institute
NYC Privacy
Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative)
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
Panoptykon Foundation
PEN America
PEN Canada
Peninsula Peace and Justice Center
Portland TA3M
Privacy Watch
Prostasia Foundation
Raging Grannies
ReThink LinkNYC
Rhode Island Rights
SHARE Foundation
South East Europe Media Organisation
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Syrian Archive
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Viet Tan
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
Visualizing Impact

1See EFF’s Who Has Your Back? 2018 Report, and Ranking Digital Rights Indicator G6,

2 See Ranking Digital Rights, Indicators F4, and F8, and New America’s Open Technology Institute, “Transparency Reporting Toolkit: Content Takedown Reporting”,

3 For example, see Article 19’s policy brief, “Self-regulation and ‘hate speech’ on social media platforms,” speech%E2%80%99-on-social-media-platforms_March2018.pdf.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Brussels) – Unidentified assailants viciously attacked a local trade union leader in Kazakhstan on the evening of November 10, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

Dmitry Senyavskii, leader of the Karaganda region industrial-tier fuel and energy trade union, was hospitalized. His injuries prevented him from meeting with a visiting international trade union delegation in the capital, Astana, three days later. Kazakh authorities initiated an investigation under the offense of “hooliganism,” but they should also examine the possibility that he was targeted because of his union activism.

Trade union leader, Dmitry Senyavskii, in hospital, November 11, the day after unidentified assailants viciously attacked him in his garage.

© 2018 Dmitry Senyavskii

“Kazakh authorities should waste no time in finding out who attacked Dmitry Senyavskii and holding them accountable,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They should ensure that Senyavskii can carry out his union activities without undue interference or fear of retaliation.”

Senyavskii, 38, was working in his garage in the mining town of Shakhtinsk around 8:30 p.m., when a man knocked on the door asking for directions to Karaganda, a town about 50 kilometers away. Senyavskii began to respond, when the man lunged at him. Senyavskii told Human Rights Watch that he blocked the man but was further attacked from the side, presumably by a second assailant, hitting his head and side. He said the men did not take anything and disappeared after the attack.

Senyavskii was hospitalized with a broken arm, a cut head, a concussion, and a bruised face. The injuries prevented Senyavskii from traveling to Astana for a meeting with trade union representatives, including those from the International Trade Union Confederation and the Arthur Svensson Foundation, which promotes trade union work.

Senyavskii and his family have suffered previous harassment. On October 17, about a month after Senyavskii returned home from an international trade union gathering in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an unidentified assailant broke his apartment window in the middle of the night. A week later, an unidentified person called his wife, accusing Senyavskii of engaging in extramarital relations during his trip. Senyavskii’s family filed a complaint about the broken window, and the authorities told Senyavskii they have opened an investigation.

Senyavskii’s colleagues link the attack to his professional activities. “It is not by chance that he is unable to meet with representatives of international trade unions in Astana on November 13,” colleagues at the now-closed Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK) told Human Rights Watch in an email. “The pressure [on Senyavskii] began after he returned from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he represented independent trade unions.”

Following the adoption in 2014 of a new trade union law, the environment for independent trade union activism has become highly restricted in Kazakhstan. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has repeatedly called on the government to amend the law and uphold its international labor rights commitments, including at a high-level ILO tripartite meeting in Kazakhstan in May.

Although two trade union leaders were released from prison on parole earlier this year, the government has not followed through on its May pledge to amend the trade union law. The government continues to deny registration to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which unsuccessfully attempted to register three times during 2018 under a new name.

Kazakh authorities in Shymkent opened a spurious criminal case in September against Erlan Baltabay, another independent trade union leader. Baltabay, head of the local trade union Decent Work for petrochemical industry workers, has repeatedly spoken out critically about the situation for trade unions in Kazakhstan, including at the International Labor Conference in Geneva in 2017.

The investigation stems from a complaint filed by a trade union member, who accused Baltabay of stealing approximately US$28,000 in trade union membership dues. Baltabay told Human Rights Watch that the funds, which remain in his possession, were placed under his supervision as chairman of the union, and that he can account for the funds before union members.

The authorities repeatedly summoned Baltabay for questioning, searched his home and office, and seized trade union documents and its stamp, which has effectively paralyzed his union from carrying out any formal activities. The investigation is ongoing.

Kazakhstan’s partners, including the European Union and the United States, should press Kazakh authorities to thoroughly investigate the attack against Senyavskii, cease targeting union leaders with spurious criminal investigations, and create an enabling environment for trade unions.

“The violent attack on Senyavskii and yet another criminal case against a trade union leader are urgent reminders of the highly restrictive space for trade union activism in Kazakhstan,” Rittmann said. “The Kazakh government needs to allow workers to defend their rights without fear of violent repercussions.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Aung San Suu Kyi
State Counsellor

Your Excellency,

Recently, at the World Economic Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam, you defended the September 3 conviction and sentencing of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for violating the Official Secrets Act, and invited anyone who believes in the rule of law to point out why the judgment was problematic. As a concerned group of more than 50 human rights and free expression organizations from around the world, we would like to take this opportunity to respond to your invitation and to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s immediate and unconditional release.

First and foremost, contrary to your comments, the case is a clear attempt to restrict freedom of expression and independent journalism in Myanmar. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12, 2017, in the course of doing their job as professional journalists: investigating military operations in northern Rakhine State. Specifically, the two men were investigating a massacre that took place in the village of Inn Din, during which 10 Rohingya men and boys were summarily executed by security forces—a crime which the military later admitted to. This investigation—which came at a time when the Myanmar military and the civilian-led government rejected mounting reports of human rights violations in northern Rakhine State—was clearly in the public interest, and still is.

The law that was then used to prosecute them—the colonial-era Official Secrets Act—is one of a number of repressive laws that have been used to prosecute journalists and stymie media freedom. The act is broadly worded, and grants wide powers to the government to determine what classifies as a “secret”—indeed, the entire act goes well beyond the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression which are permitted under international human rights law on the grounds of national security.

Even within the terms of the act itself, for a conviction under section 3.1(c), evidence should demonstrate that the accused had in their possession secret documents that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.” However, evidence and testimony presented during the pre-trial and trial hearings failed to demonstrate this was the case and instead established the following facts:

  • The documents Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are accused of possessing are not secret, but contain information already in the public domain.
  • There is no evidence of intent to turn documents over to an enemy or to harm the country.
  • Police testimony regarding the circumstances of their arrest was contradictory.
  • Moreover, a police whistleblower credibly testified that the two journalists had been framed: namely, that police were ordered by their superiors to invite Wa Lone to a meeting so he could be handed documents and then immediately arrested.
  • Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were subject to ill-treatment after their initial arrest, including incommunicado detention for two weeks, hooding, and sleep deprivation.

In summary, we believe that that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. Their trial, which was already manifestly unfair, was made more so by the repeated failure to uphold key tenets of the rule of law and to build a convincing evidence-based case against these journalists.

We therefore call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these two men, and reject the convictions against them. We further urge your government to work toward the swift review and amendment of all laws that can be used to unlawfully restrict the right to freedom of expression, so as to bring them into line with international human rights law and standards.

Yours respectfully,

PEN America
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), Uganda
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amnesty International
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Egypt
Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization, Myanmar
Burma Campaign UK
Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Malaysia
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Civil Rights Defenders
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
English PEN
Equality Myanmar
Free Expression Myanmar
Freedom Forum, Nepal
Fundamedios – Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study, Ecuador
Globe International Center, Mongolia
Human Rights Watch
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Federation of Journalists–Asia Pacific
International Press Institute (IPI)
Mediacentar Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria
Mizzima News, Burma
Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network
Norwegian Myanmar Committee
Norwegian PEN
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN Canada
PEN Myanmar
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
South East Europe Media Organisation
The Swedish Burma Committee
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am