(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”

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Video: Rare Story From Inside China's Secret Detention System

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.
 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”
 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

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Act 1 of the Hissène Habré Trial

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

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Hissène Habré Finally Facing Justice

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

 
“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

 
Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia should immediately allow independent international monitors to access Saudi women’s rights advocates detained since May 2018 to ensure their safety and well-being, Human Rights Watch said today. 

On November 23, Saudi Arabia’s media ministry denied evidence published by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that Saudi authorities had tortured and sexually harassed and assaulted at least three detained activists. On November 28, Human Rights Watch received a report from an informed source indicating that Saudi authorities had tortured a fourth woman activist. Sources said the torture of Saudi women activists may be ongoing. Saudi Arabia should immediately and credibly investigate the allegations of abuse in detention, hold accountable any individuals found complicit in torture and mistreatment of detainees, and provide redress for activists abused during this prolonged pretrial detention.

“Saudi Arabia’s consistent lies about senior officials’ role in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder mean that the government’s denials that it tortured these women activists are not nearly good enough,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless independent monitors are able to confirm the women activists’ well-being, there is every reason to believe that the Saudi authorities have treated them with unspeakable cruelty.”

The sources for the allegations of torture were concerned that they and the activists would suffer reprisals if the women were identified publicly. Media outlets including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal also reported the torture allegations. 

Saudi authorities should also allow the detained women unfettered access to lawyers and family members and release all of those jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform. 

The new source indicated that authorities tortured the fourth activist with electric shocks and tied them down to a steel bed and whipped them with an “egal,” the black cord used in traditional dress by Arab men to keep their head covering in place. The source said that the fourth activist was also sexually harassed. 

All the women activists are in Dhahban Mabahith (intelligence) Prison north of Jeddah, but sources described most of the torture as taking place at an unofficial detention facility they called a “hotel” prior to moving the women to Dhahban in August. The new source indicated that the women are taken to a room called an “officer’s guesthouse” for torture, but the location of this room is unclear.

The new source also told Human Rights Watch that the men responsible for mistreating the women were from “cyber security,” a probable reference to officers working under the authority of the former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, who was fired, according to a royal decree, for his role in the Khashoggi murder plot. Al-Qahtani, who was known as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s enforcer, previously served as head of the royal court’s Center for Studies and Media Affairs, as well as the Saudi Union for Cyber Security and Programming. According to media reports, al-Qahtani directed online campaigns against Saudi critics, and developed a “black list” of critics to target. He is known in diplomatic circles as the “prince of darkness.” 

According to multiple informed sources, Saudi interrogators tortured the women during the initial stages of interrogation, primarily between May and August 2018. The torture included electric shocks and whippings. 

At least three women were subjected to sexual harassment and assault, including forced hugging and kissing and exposure to sexually suggestive gestures. One source said that one of the detained women’s rights advocates said that a senior official attended several of her torture sessions wearing a mask. According to the source, he told her during an interrogation “the next electrocution will be on your head” and threatened to rape her but did not carry out the threat. He also asked her whether she preferred the death penalty or life in prison for her “treason.” 

One source said that interrogators attempted to terrify and intimidate one of the detained women by telling her that they had murdered one of her colleagues in detention. At least one of the women attempted suicide multiple times, the sources said.

Following the interrogations, sources said, the women showed physical signs of torture, including difficulty walking, uncontrolled shaking of the hands, bruises on their thighs, and red marks and scratches on their faces and necks. 

The sources said that members of Saudi Arabia’s governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) visited the women in detention at Dhahban. One of the women told the HRC that the women were tortured at another site and submitted to them all the details of their treatment. The HRC indicated to her that they did not know about the other site. A source told Human Rights Watch that another activist told a HRC representative everything that had happened to her and asked if the HRC could protect her, but the representative said it could not.

The crackdown on women's rights activists began just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24, a cause for which many of the detained activists had campaigned. While some were quickly released, others remain detained without charge. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saada, and Hatoon al-Fassi, all women’s rights activists, as well as male supporters of the movement, including Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Abdulaziz Meshaal, a philanthropist, and Mohammed Rabea, a social activist.

Authorities accused several of those detained of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties.” Government-aligned media outlets have carried out a smear campaign against them, branding them “traitors.” The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that nine of those detained will be referred for trial to the Specialized Criminal Court, originally established for terrorism offenses. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

The public media campaign against the women contravened Saudi Arabia’s longstanding policy of not publishing names of criminal suspects in pre-trial detention. At the same time, pro-government media have not identified the people arrested for their alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

Dr. al-Fassi, a renowned scholar and associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University, was one of the first women to acquire a Saudi driver’s license. Saudi authorities arrested her just days before lifting the ban. Numerous other women’s rights activists have since been placed under travel bans. On November 17, the Middle East Studies Association of North America awarded al-Fassi the MESA Academic Freedom Award for 2018.

Saudi women’s rights activists have petitioned government authorities to reform discriminatory laws and policies and have sought to change societal attitudes. While the government has recently introduced limited reforms, including allowing women to enter some professions previously closed to them and lifting the driving ban, the male guardianship system, the main impediment to the realization of women’s rights, remains intact.

Under this system, women must obtain permission from a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – to travel abroad, obtain a passport, enroll in higher education, get a life-saving abortion, be released from a prison or shelter, or marry.

Saudi authorities have repeatedly made false statements in denying serious allegations of rights abuses, including in the case of Saudi agents’ murder of journalist Khashoggi on October 2 in the Saudi consulate. For instance, Saudi authorities initially claimed Khashoggi left the Saudi consulate alive, but later evidence found that Saudi agents had pre-planned a “body double” to leave the consulate to attempt to hide the fact that agents had murdered Khashoggi in the consulate.

“World leaders should urgently act based on new evidence of Saudi Arabia’s brutal torture of women’s rights advocates and publicly demand that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his government release all of these peaceful activists immediately,” Page said. “They should make clear that unless these peaceful rights advocates are freed, the Saudi government will face further isolation.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
As the G20 Summit approaches and world leaders get ready to meet in Buenos Aires on Friday, a cloud of suspicion looms over Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. His visit to Argentina was supposed to help him rebuild his shattered reputation after the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But Argentine judicial authorities have turned back that effort as they take steps toward investigating the crown prince’s connection with alleged war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and torture by Saudi officials.

The crown prince, known as MBS, seems to understand that. He was scheduled to stay with his 400-member delegation at the Four Seasons hotel, one of the fanciest in Buenos Aires. Instead he has moved into the Saudi embassy, which has turned into a fortress with metal barricades and bullet-proof windows added this week, the Argentine media reported. He was reportedly planning to visit the city on Thursday but did not leave the embassy all day.

On November 26, Human Rights Watch filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor, asking him to examine the crown prince’s possible responsibility for torture of Saudi citizens in government custody and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The violations include carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that killed thousands of civilians and maintaining a blockade that has contributed to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Two days later, the federal prosecutor who was assigned the case endorsed the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute international crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims. He and an investigating federal judge moved forward toward an investigation. They requested information from other governments on the status of investigations elsewhere into these allegations, and from Argentina’s Foreign Ministry on the crown prince’s diplomatic and immunity status in Argentina.

If a formal investigation is opened, it will take time. The crown prince is going to be in Buenos Aires only for a few days, so there is little chance that he will be vulnerable to questioning or arrest while he is in Argentina. But the fact that justice officials are already taking steps toward an investigation sends a powerful message.

We can’t be sure why Mohammed bin Salman moved into the embassy. But if he’s smart, he would have sought legal advice about the prospects of a future criminal investigation and his potential liability. He might want to have such a conversation every time he plans to leave Saudi Arabia, because this week’s developments show that even the most powerful are not above the law.

Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, global leaders should think twice before rubbing shoulders with someone who may end up under investigation for war crimes and torture.

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

Rabat, Morocco, July 15, 2018: demonstrators protest heavy jail sentences on imprisoned activists by wearing masks showing their faces. 

© 2018 Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

(New York) – The Casablanca Court of Appeals should weigh evidence that the police tortured the defendants when it reviews the convictions of protesters and activists from the Rif region, Human Rights Watch said today. The appeals case began on November 14, 2018.

A lower court convicted all 53 defendants on June 26, sentencing them to up to 20 years in prison after admitting their “confessions” into evidence and dismissing their allegations of torture and repudiation of their statements. The lower court, in its 3,100-page judgment, did not explain why it had discounted medical reports suggesting that at least some of the defendants had been subjected to police violence upon or after arrest.

“A court shouldn’t just ignore evidence of torture,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The appeals court needs to examine and discard any tainted confessions and ensure that no one is convicted except for real crimes.”

The Hirak, a socioeconomic protest movement in Morocco’s northern Rif region that started in 2016, staged several peaceful mass demonstrations until a police crackdown in May 2017 led to the arrest of more than 400 activists. Of them, 53, including the movement’s leaders, were transferred to Casablanca, where they faced a mass trial that lasted over a year. The Casablanca Court of First Instance convicted all of them on June 26, 2018, on various charges including harming the state’s internal security, criminal arson, rebellion, attacking police agents while performing their duty, damaging public property, and staging unauthorized protests, and sentenced them to prison terms from one year to 20 years.

In August, King Mohammed VI pardoned 116 sentenced Hirak activists, including 11 of the Casablanca group, but none of the leaders.

On June 17 and 18, 2017, forensic doctors commissioned by the National Human Rights Council (Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme, or CNDH), an independent state body, examined 34 detained Hirak protesters, including 19 of the Casablanca group. Their medical reports noted that the injuries sustained by some detainees had either a “high” or a “medium level of consistency” with the allegations of police abuse. On July 3, 2017, Moroccan media leaked those reports.

The National Human Rights Council said at the time that the reports had not been finalized and thus were unofficial. But a day later, Justice Minister Mohamed Aujjar announced that he had ordered copies forwarded to prosecutors at the Al Hoceima and Casablanca courts trying these defendants “to include these reports in the case files … [and] take necessary legal measures.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed relevant sections of the trial judgment, 41 forensic reports, including 19 by National Human Rights Council -appointed doctors and 22 comissioned by the Casablanca first instance court, attended 17 of the 86 trial sessions, examined 55 court documents, and interviewed 10 defense lawyers and six relatives of the imprisoned activists.

Based on the minutes of the hearings before the investigative judge assigned to the case, 50 of the 53 defendants said that police at the National Brigade of Judiciary Police (Brigade Nationale de la Police Judiciaire, or BNPJ) headquarters in Casablanca pressured them, one way or another, to sign self-incriminating confessions without reading their content. Twenty-one said that the police threatened to rape them or their wives or young daughters. Bouchra Rouissi, a defense lawyer, said that 17 of them told her that they had experienced physical violence during interrogation, including slapping, beating, and punching in the face while they were handcuffed, or that dirty rags were inserted in their mouths.

The defendants “confessed” to acts of violence against police officers, torching police cars and a police residence in Imzouren, a small town near El Hoceima, and organizing unauthorized protests. But all recanted before the investigative judge and later during the trial.

In its written judgment, the court stated that the defendants’ allegation of torture was “not serious and not well grounded” and thus the defense’s request to invalidate their confessions “should be rejected.” The court based this decision on 22 medical examinations ordered by the investigative judge and performed on June 6, 2017, and in some cases on examinations performed by a doctor working in Casablanca’s Oukacha prison. But the reports from the court-appointed doctor and the prison doctor deviate in key ways from those performed by the National Human Rights Council team.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Morocco has ratified, states that “any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.” Morocco’s Code of Penal Procedure provides that "no statement obtained through violence or coercion shall be admitted into evidence."

The defense argued that the court violated the rights of the defense in other ways. It refused to hear witnesses whom the defense considered to be crucial in providing alibis for at least two defendants. The court did hear from three other alibi witnesses, but ruled that their testimony was unconvincing. It also denied the defendants access to dozens of videotapes and wiretap recordings, which the judgement considered key inculpatory evidence, leading defense lawyer Mohamed Messaoudi told Human Rights Watch.

“The first instance Hirak trial was tainted by a serious failure to grapple with evidence of torture and forced confessions and other grave due process violations,” Benchemsi said. “The appeals court has an opportunity to show us what this is all about: bringing about justice, or crushing social justice activism.”

Torture And Rape Threat Allegations

The forensic reports commissioned by the National Human Rights Council note the detainees’ accounts of what happened to them, including the ill-treatment they say they experienced, and assess their psychological states in detail. United Nations’ guidelines for documentation of torture and its consequences, also known as the Istanbul Protocol, require such detailed assessments. But the reports of the court-commissined forensic doctor provide little such information.

Jamal El Abbassi, the court-commissioned forensic doctor, found marks of violence on the bodies of 3 of the 22 detainees he examined, including Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of the Hirak movement. However, the doctor did not link those marks to the unlawful police violence that the three men said they had endured. The court denied a defense motion to invalidate the confessions of these three men.

In the judgment, the court determined, based on the assessment by the court-appointed doctor of Zefzafi’s injuries, that they were caused by his “violent resistance against police agents” during his arrest on May 29, 2017, rather than by any unlawful police violence. The judgment was silent on the causes of the injuries  Dr. El Abbassi found on the two other men.

Hicham Benyaïch and Abdallah Dami, the two Human Rights Council-commissioned forensic doctors, examined 34 Hirak prisoners. Of the 34, 16 had also been examined, 10 or 11 days earlier, by the court-commissioned forensic doctor. Dr. Benyaich and Dr. Dami found traces of violence on nine (of the above-mentioned 16) men that they said were consistent to various degrees with their accounts of police violence. They described the “acute stress” and “psychological distress” many detainees experienced, and stated that “certain allegations [of physical and psychological violence in custody] are credible because they are corroborated by many concurrent testimonies.”

Rabie Al Ablaq, 31

The official minutes of his hearing on July 17, 2017 before Investigative Judge Abdelwahed Majid said that Al Ablaq, a journalist, said that on the sixth day of his interrogation at the BNPJ headquarters in Casablanca, that an officer took him to a different room where five unidentified hooded men were standing who threatened to rape him with a bottle if he refused to sign a written statement presented to him by the police. He signed. Al Ablaq also told the judge that a police officer forced him to hold up a Moroccan flag and shout, “Long live the king.”

The report by a National Human Rights Council-mandated doctor states that Al Ablaq, when examined on June 15, 2017, alleged that while he was interrogated at the BNPJ headquarters in Casablanca, he was beaten on his face while handcuffed, and a policeman ordered him to take his shirt off and then put a filthy rag in his mouth and threatened to rape him. Although the forensic report concluded that “the medical examination did not show signs of violence on (his) body,” it found that Al Ablaq “suffers from deep depression and cries continuously,” and that his allegations of mistreatment are “generally credible due to their coherence and concordance.”

The investigative judge ordered a medical examination, which was performed on June 6, 2017, by a court-appointed forensic doctor, who concluded that “The [medical] examination on this day does not reveal signs of physical violence.” He did not comment on the defendant’s psychological state. In its written judgment, the court dismissed Al Ablaq’s allegations of mistreatment, noting that no mark was found on his body during the medical examinations. The judgment does not address the alleged threats and intimidation that he described to the investigative judge. The court sentenced Al Ablaq to 5 years in prison.

Mohamed Bouhnouch, 21

The minutes of the investigative judge’s additional hearing on June 28, 2017, say that while Mohamed Bouhnouch, an electrician, was being interrogated, police agents slapped him, hit him on the neck, and pulled his beard. When he refused to sign the statement the police presented to him, police agents threatened to rape him with a bottle and burn his beard with a lighter. He signed.

The forensic doctor appointed by the investigative judge examined Bouhnouch on June 6. He reported that Bouhnouch suffered from torpor and back pain and had difficulties in straightening his head. The report did not speculate on the causes of these symptoms, or correlate them with the mistreatement he said he endured.

The National Human Rights Council’s forensic doctor reported on June 14, 2017, that the physical marks he found on Bouhnouch’s body were consistent with his allegations, which, “if confirmed, constitute acts of torture and mistreatment.”

In its written judgment, the court rejected the allegations based on a third examination performed on July 6, 2017, by a doctor working in Casablanca’s Oukacha prison, who wrote that he found no traces of violence on Bouhnouch’s body. The court sentenced Bouhnouch to 15 years in prison.

Youssef El Hamdioui, 34

The minutes of his hearing on July 13, 2017 say that Youssef El Hamdioui, a teacher, told the investigative judge that while he was being interrogated, police officers slapped him on the face, pulled his hair, threatened to rape him with a bottle and to lock him in a closet, knowing that El Hamdioui suffers from claustrophobia. He told the investigative judge that he signed a self-incriminating statement without reading it.

The court ordered no medical examination and in its judgment did not address his allegations of physical abuse. The judgment noted, however, that the doctor working in Oukacha prison reported on July 6, 2017, that El Hamdioui suffered from psychiatric disorders. The court sentenced El Hamdioui to 3 years in prison.

Rachid Aamarouch, 28

The minutes of his July 19, 2017 additional hearing before the investigative judge say that Rachid Aamarouch, a street vendor, said that when he told the police officers interrogating him that he never participated in the Hirak protests, they forced him to shout, “Long live the king!” Police agents later presented him with a statement that he read and refused to sign. A police agent then banged his head on the table and asked, “Really? So, you don’t trust us?,” Aamarouch told the judge. He signed the statement.

The judge had ordered a medical examination during Aamarouch’s preliminary hearing. A court-appointed doctor examined him on June 6, 2017, noted that the prisoner stated having “not been subjected to violence,” and concluded that “The [medical] examination of this day does not reveal signs of physical violence.” Eleven days later, a forensic doctor appointed by the National Human Rights Council examined Aamarouch, noted his allegations that police officers slapped, punched, and kicked him during his interrogation, and observed that one of his fingers was out of joint.

In its written judgment, the court rejected the torture allegations based on the June 6 medical examination. It did not mention the National Human Rights Council report. The court sentenced Aamarouch to 2 years in prison.

Hussein El Idrissi, 27

The minutes of his additional hearing on July 19, 2017, before the investigative judge, say that Hussein El Idrissi, a journalist, said that a policeman smashed a stapler on his back, then another policeman slapped his face and punched him. They presented him with a 150-page statement and told him to sign it. He refused to sign it without reading it first. Then the officers threatened to rape him with a bottle. He signed.

Police took his saliva, fingerprints, and a video of him in his underwear without his consent, he told the investigative judge, who ordered a medical examination after El Idrissi’s preliminary hearing. That examination, on June 6, 2017, did “not reveal signs of physical violence,” according to the doctor’s report. Eleven days later, a National Human Rights Council-mandated doctor examined El Idrissi and reported marks of injuries on three fingers of his left hand, “consistent with the date when they allegedly occurred (…) reportedly due to blows by the pointy edge of a stapler.” In its written judgment, the court acknowleged El Idrissi’s allegations of police abuse, but rejected them based on the June 6 medical examination, and did not mention the other report. The court sentenced El Idrissi to 5 years in prison.

Zakaria Adahchour, 27

The official minutes of his additional hearing before the investigative judge on June 28, 2017, say that Zakaria Adahchour, a plasterer, said that when he refused to sign a statement that the police officers presented to him, they slapped his face, punched him, and flicked on a cigarette lighter near his beard, threatening to burn it. He signed. A forensic doctor commissioned by the investigative judge examined Adahchour on June 6, 2017, and noted that the examination “does not reveal signs of physical violence.”

Eleven days later, a National Human Rights Council-mandated doctor saw Adahchour, recorded his testimony, and reported irritation marks on his chin that he said corroborated both Adahchour’s account and the testimony of other detainees’ about the threat to burn his beard. In its written judgment, the court acknowleged Adahchour’s allegations of police abuse, but rejected them based on the June 6 medical examination, and did not mention the other report. The court sentenced Adahchour to 15 years in prison.

Omar Bouhras, 27

The minutes of his hearing before the investigative judge say that Omar Bouhras, a mechanic, told the judge on July 3, 2017, that during his arrest in Al Hoceima, the police hit him on his face and chipped two of his teeth. He said that during his interrogation in Casablanca, police punched him in the face, demanding that he give them “30 names of Hirak activists” and knocked out two teeth. When Bouhras refused to sign the statement police officers presented to him, they threatened to rape him with a bottle and slapped and punched him on the face several times, including while he was handcuffed, he told the judge. He signed.

The judge did not order a medical examination. The court’s  written judgment did not mention the alleged physical abuse, though it indicated that a dentist  “provided necessary care [to Bouhras] after he felt intense pain in his teeth” in Oukacha prison on June 6, 2017. The court sentenced Bouhras to 10 years in prison.

Mohamed Majaoui, 47

The minutes of his hearing before the investigative judge on July 18th, 2017, say that Mohamed Majaoui, a teacher, said that after interrogating him, police presented him a written statement and told him to sign it. After reading it, he said he realized that it included statements he didn’t make, such as incriminating Nasser Zefzafi, the Hirak leader. When Majaoui refused to sign, a police agent threatened to rape his wife and his young daughters, a photograph of whom sat on the agent’s desk. Majaoui signed. The investigative judge did not order any investigation into Majaoui’s allegations, and the court’s written judgment did not mention the alleged rape threats. The court sentenced Majaoui to five years in prison.

Abdel Khair Yasnari, 39

The minutes of Abdel Khair Yasnari’s hearing before the investigative judge on July 19, 2017, say that at the end of his interrogation sessions, Yasnari, a butcher, refused to sign a written statement the police agents presented to him, because it included declarations he did not make incriminating Zefazfi. Later that night, Yasnari told the investigative judge, a police agent threatened to rape him with a bottle, while another one started pulling down his clothing as if to execute the threat. Yasnari signed. He later repudiated its contents before the investigative judge, who ordered no investigation into his allegations. The court did not mention the allegations of rape threats in its written judgment and sentenced Yasnari to 2 years in prison.

Brahim Bouziane, 32, a salesman, and Karim Amghar, 34, a butcher told the investigative judge, said the minutes of their respective hearings on July 13 and July 17, 2017 that police threatened to rape them with a bottle if they refused to sign prepared written statements. They signed. The minutes of the hearing for Abdelaziz Khali, 33, a baker, on June 17, 2017, say that he told the investigative judge that police agents told him, after he refused to sign a written statement, “We will bring your wife here and you will see things that only happen in Syria.” Khali signed the statement without reading it. The court did not open an investigation into these rape threat allegations, nor did the court’s written judgment mention them. The court sentenced Bouziane to 3 years, Amghar to 10 years, and Khali to 2 years.

Human Rights Watch also consulted the minutes of the hearings of 10 other prisoners before the investigative judge: Wassime El Boustati, 25, a vendor; Salah Lachkhem, 27, a student; Samir Ighid, 31, a plasterer; Mohamed Haki, 32, a coffee shop manager; Abdelhak Sadik, 27, a vendor; Fouad Saidi, 32, a technician; Othman Bouziane, 29, a vendor; Soulaimane Fahili, 31, a security guard; Bilal Ahabad, 20, a student; and Jamal Bouhdou, 43, unemployed.

All ten men told the investigative judge that during their interrogation, police agents slapped them on their faces, punched and kicked them, and threatened them with rape when they refused to sign written statements. They all signed. The National Human Rights Council-mandated doctor who examined Ahabad, Fahili, Saidi and Sadik reported physical marks that he said “could be correlated to the (violence) allegations or could have happened in other contexts.”

Eleven days earlier, the forensic doctor commissioned by the investigative judge examined the same men, and concluded that Ahabad, Fahili, and Saidi had “no signs of physical violence,” while Sadik had an injury above his left eye, which, the report indicated, “could happen as a result of physical violence.” However, the report did not link the injury with Sadik’s allegations of torture. In its written judgement, the court rejected the mistreatment allegations of all 10 and sentenced them to between three and 20 years in prison.

Allegations of Pressure and Falsification

Nabil Ahamjiq, 34, a student; Mohamed Asrihi, 31, a journalist; Abdelmohsine Attari, 25, a construction worker; and Abdelali Houd, 29, a waiter, told the investigative judge that police agents deceived them into signing self-incriminating statements.

The hearing minutes say that Ahamjiq said on July 12, 2017, that after four days and nights of almost nonstop interrogation, police agents came to his cell at 2 a.m., awakened him, and took him in for interrogation again, then pressured him to sign a 200-page document despite his visible state of exhaustion. He signed.

Asrihi said on July 11, 2017 that police agents gave him many copies of his statement and pressured him to sign them quickly because of the approach of the ftour, the ritual moment, at dusk, when Muslims break the daytime fast during the month of Ramadan. He signed, and later discovered that the statement included self-incriminating statements that he had not made.

Attari on July 11, 2017 and Houd on June 28, 2017, described similar experiences. After several days and nights of nonstop interrogation, police agents presented them with written statements only minutes before ftour, or breaking the Ramadan fast. The defendants said they were exhausted and pressured to sign quickly, which they did, after reading only the first few pages.

Before the investigative judge, all four men repudiated the contents of their police statements. However, the court ordered no investigation into their allegations of pressure and falsification and did not mention them in the written judgment. The court sentenced Ahamjiq to 20 years in prison, Asrihi and Houd to 5 years each, and Attari to 2 years in prison.

Refusing to Allow Key Defense Witnesses to Testify

The prosecutor charged Bilal Ahabad, 20, a student, with setting fire to a police van and a building where families of police personnel lived in Imzouren, a small town near El Hoceima, on March 26, 2017. He charged Samir Ighid, 31, a plasterer, with attempted murder of a police officer, alleging that Ighid threw a concrete brick from the roof of a house in Al Hoceima on the officer on May 26, 2017.

Both defendants denied the accusations. Ighid said that at the time of the incident, he was attending the funeral of a relative. Ahabad said he was with two friends at the beach. The defense lawyers asked the court to summon Ighid’s relatives and Ahabad’s friends to testify. The court rejected both requests, providing no justification, and did not cite the requests in its written judgment. The court sentenced Ahabad to 10 years in prison and Ighid to 20 years.

Zakaria Adahchour, 27, a plasterer, was accused of criminal arson in Imzouren in the same circumstances as Ahabad, on March 26, 2017. During the trial, the defense summoned three co-workers, who testified that, at the time of the event, he was with them at their workplace in Al Hoceima, about 20 kilometers away from Imzouren. However, in its written judgment, the court rejected the witnesses’ testimony, saying “the fact that the witnesses […] were not present [at the crime scene] and did not see the [acts of arson] and have no knowledge of the persons who perpetrated these acts, makes their testimonies useless.” The court sentenced Adahchour to 15 years in prison. 

Denying Defendants Access to Evidence

The judgment indicates that the Casablanca Court of First Instance also based its guilty verdicts on dozens of videotapes and wiretap recordings. Some of these were played during court sessions. However, despite several requests by the defense, both orally during court sessions and in writing, the court refused to provide the audio and video files to the defense, Mohamed Messaoudi, one of the lead defense lawyers for the 53 Hirak prisoners, told Human Rights Watch. The judgment neither justified nor mentioned the court’s refusal to allow the defense to view this allegedly incriminating evidence.

The court allowed them to review only written transcripts of several taped phone conversations among Hirak activists, translated to Arabic from Tarifit, the variant of the Tamazight language spoken in the Rif region. Messaoudi said that several defendants including Zefzafi had told the investigative judge, the prosecutor, and the trial judge that the transcripts contained inaccurate translations into Arabic of the taped conversations. The transcripts were written and translated by police officers and not by sworn translators, as they should be to be considered admissible evidence in court, Messaoudi said.

Under the right to fair trial, as guaranteed in UN and African rights treaties, defendants have the right to have their key witnesses presented in court on the same basis as the prosecution. Defendants equally have the right to see and be able to examine and challenge all the key evidence and witnesses in the case against them.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
 
(Buenos Aires) – The Argentine judiciary on November 28, 2018, took steps toward a formal investigation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s possible responsibility for war crimes in Yemen and alleged torture of Saudi citizens, Human Rights Watch said today. Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit on November 28.
 
Ramiro González, the federal prosecutor, formally asked Judge Ariel Lijo, an investigating federal judge assigned through a lottery, to examine the Human Rights Watch November 26 submission to request information from the Saudi and Yemeni governments about whether they are investigating the allegations. He also asked for the Foreign Ministry to provide information about the crown prince’s diplomatic status.
 
Following the prosecutor’s decision, Judge Lijo sent information requests to the Turkish and Yemeni governments and the International Criminal Court (ICC) inquiring about whether they are investigating the allegations. He also sent a request to the Argentine Foreign Ministry on the question of the crown prince's immunity and diplomatic status. Neither Saudi Arabia or Yemen are members of the ICC.
 
“The Argentine judiciary has sent a clear message that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not above the law and will be scrutinized if implicated in grave international crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “A cloud of suspicion will loom over the crown prince as he tries to rebuild his shattered reputation at the G20, and world leaders would do well to think twice before posing for pictures next to someone who may come under investigation for war crimes and torture.”
 
The Human Rights Watch submission described violations of international humanitarian law during the armed conflict in Yemen, for which Mohammed bin Salman may face criminal liability as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister. The submission also highlighted his possible complicity in alleged torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, including the murder and alleged torture of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
 
The prosecutor’s written decision outlines states’ obligations to investigate alleged war crimes and torture and constitutes a ringing endorsement of the principle of universal jurisdiction, Human Rights Watch said. Under this principle, judicial authorities in the country are empowered to investigate and prosecute international crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims.
 
Universal jurisdiction cases are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers.
 
The inquiry to Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the crown prince’s diplomatic status in Argentina is intended to help determine if Argentina’s Supreme Court should directly examine the case. The Argentine Constitution provides that, in certain kinds of cases involving foreign officials, the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction.
 
If the judiciary decides to open a formal investigation, the investigating federal judge would then gather further evidence to establish Mohammed bin Salman’s role in international crimes
 
The Argentine Foreign Ministry has stated that Mohammed bin Salman has immunity to attend the G20 Summit because he is an official diplomatic envoy under the 1969 Convention on Special Missions, to which Argentina is a party, according to media reports. Under the convention, “[t]he receiving State may, at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that any representative of the sending State in the special mission … is persona non grata.” The sending state would need to either “recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission,” in which case he would lose his immunity.
 
Existing immunities should not stop the Argentine judiciary from investigating the case, Human Rights Watch said. If an inquiry into the allegations of war crimes or torture is opened, the status of Mohammed bin Salman’s immunity could potentially be challenged as it would raise important legal questions regarding the extent of immunity for grave international crimes.
 
“Argentine judicial authorities should move quickly, within the boundaries of Argentine and international law, and demonstrate that they are committed to accountability for the most serious crimes,” Roth said.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, attends a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Executive Suite at UN Headquarters in New York.

© 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
 

(Buenos Aires) – Argentine judicial authorities have begun examining a submission concerning the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in connection with alleged war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and torture by Saudi officials, Human Rights Watch said today. The crown prince is expected to attend the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires on November 30, 2018.

On November 26, Human Rights Watch filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor outlining its public findings on alleged violations of international law committed during the armed conflict in Yemen for which Mohammed bin Salman may face criminal liability as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister. The submission also highlights his possible complicity in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinize Mohammed bin Salman’s role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The crown prince’s attendance at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires could make the Argentine courts an avenue of redress for victims of abuses unable to seek justice in Yemen or Saudi Arabia.”

Argentina’s constitution recognizes universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture. This means that judicial authorities in the country are empowered to investigate and prosecute these crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims. Universal jurisdiction cases are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers, Human Rights Watch said.

Argentina’s Criminal Procedure Code provides that any person can make a submission with judicial authorities in the country if they learn about, or are affected by, the commission of a crime. If there are indications that a crime may have been committed, the matter is later allocated, through a lottery, to a federal prosecutor or judge for formal investigation. The Human Rights Watch submission was sent to a federal judge, Ariel Lijo.

Mohammed bin Salman is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and also serves as the country’s deputy prime minister and defense minister. He oversees all Saudi military forces and has served as the commander of the international coalition that has been carrying out a military campaign in Yemen, says the Saudi Defense Ministry website. Mohammed bin Salman and senior Saudi commanders face possible criminal liability as a matter of command responsibility because of the key role Saudi Arabia plays in coalition military operations, Human Rights Watch said.

Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians and civilian objects in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques. Many of these attacks – if carried out with criminal intent – indicate possible war crimes. The coalition has also imposed and maintained a naval and air blockade on Yemen that has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians. Millions of civilians face hunger and disease.

The Saudi-led coalition’s investigations into alleged war crimes in Yemen have lacked credibility, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016, the coalition created a team to investigate, collect evidence, and produce reports and recommendations regarding “claims and accidents” during coalition operations in Yemen. Human Rights Watch research found the body has failed to meet international standards for transparency, impartiality, and independence

The Saudi government under the authority of the crown prince has also been implicated in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported allegations that Saudi authorities tortured Saudi women activists who have been detained in Saudi Arabia since May. Various reports also tie Mohammed bin Salman to the extrajudicial execution and possible torture of Jamal Khashoggi. Human Rights Watch has called on Turkey to seek a United Nations investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s killing. 

Over the past two decades, the national courts of an increasing number of countries have pursued cases involving grave international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions committed abroad. National experiences in various countries show that the fair and effective exercise of universal jurisdiction is achievable where there is the right combination of appropriate laws, adequate resources, institutional commitments and political will, Human Rights Watch said.

“A decision by Argentine officials to move toward investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law,” Roth said. “And Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Informed sources say that Saudi interrogators tortured at least three of the Saudi women activists detained beginning in May 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The reports allege that torture by Saudi authorities included administering electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, and forcible hugging and kissing, Human Rights Watch said today. The sources were concerned that they and the activists would suffer reprisals if the women were identified publicly.

Saudi Arabia should immediately and credibly investigate the allegations of abuse in detention. The authorities should publicly guarantee the safety of all detained activists, allow the detained women unfettered access to lawyers and family members, provide evidence of their well-being, and release those jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform. Saudi Arabia’s allies, and major car companies, should call on Saudi authorities to unconditionally release women’s rights activists detained for their role in the right to drive campaign and for advocating other freedoms.

“Any brutal torture of Saudi women activists would show no limit to the Saudi authorities’ campaign of wanton cruelty against critics and human rights activists,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Any government that tortures women for demanding basic rights should face withering international criticism, not unblinking US and UK support.”

The sources say that masked Saudi interrogators tortured the women during the initial stages of interrogation, but it was unclear whether they were seeking to force the women to sign confessions or merely to punish them for their peaceful advocacy. Following the interrogations, sources said, the women showed physical signs of torture, including difficulty walking, uncontrolled shaking of the hands, and red marks and scratches on their faces and necks. At least one of the women attempted to commit suicide multiple times, the sources said.

The crackdown on women's rights activists began just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24, a cause for which many of the detained activists had campaigned. While some were quickly released, others remain detained without charge. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saada, and Hatoon al-Fassi, all women’s rights activists, as well as male supporters of the movement, including Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Abdulaziz Meshaal, a philanthropist; and Mohammed Rabea; a social activist.

Authorities accused several of those detained of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties.” Government-aligned media outlets have carried out an alarming smear campaign against them, branding them “traitors.” The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that nine of those detained will be referred for trial to the Specialized Criminal Court, originally established to try detainees held in connection with terrorism offenses. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

The public media defamation campaign against the women contravened Saudi Arabia’s longstanding policy of not publishing names of criminal suspects in pre-trial detention. While the peaceful activists, with names and photos, were smeared and defamed, pro-government media have not identified the people arrested for their alleged involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Dr. al-Fassi, a renowned scholar and associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University, was one of the first women to acquire a Saudi driver’s license. Saudi authorities arrested her just days before lifting the ban. Numerous other women’s rights activists have since been placed under travel bans. On November 17, the Middle East Studies Association of North America awarded al-Fassi the MESA Academic Freedom Award for 2018.

Saudi women’s rights activists have petitioned government authorities to reform discriminatory laws and policies and have sought to change societal attitudes. While the government has recently introduced limited reforms, including allowing women to enter some professions previously closed to them and lifting the driving ban, the male guardianship system, the main impediment to the realization of women’s rights, remains intact.

Under this system, women must obtain permission from a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – to travel abroad, obtain a passport, enroll in higher education, get a life-saving abortion, be released from a prison or shelter, or marry.

The new allegations come as Saudi Arabia faces increasing scrutiny over the killing of Khashoggi. On November 15, the United States announced sanctions against 17 Saudi men allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s killing, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s recently fired adviser and enforcer Saud al-Qahtani, who according to media reports directed online campaigns against Saudi critics and is known in diplomatic circles as the “prince of darkness.”

“While the world is seeking answers to the savage murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the fate of women and human rights activists in Saudi prisons continues to hang in the balance,” Page said. “World leaders should call on Mohammad bin Salman to end the campaign against domestic critics, and other countries should stop arming Saudi Arabia as long as it continues its unlawful attacks in Yemen.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Khaled Hassan.

© 2018 Private

On November 1, Human Rights Watch emailed the following letter to the Egyptian government.

Diaa Rashwan
Chairman of State Information Service

Mr. Diaa Rashwan,

On October 11, Human Rights Watch released a report on the disappearance and alleged torture of the American-Egyptian driver Khaled Hassan, who is in pretrial detention in Istiqbal Tora Prison. Military prosecutors have accused him of involvement in an Islamic State-affiliated group’s violent activities. On October 14, your office released a statement in response, criticizing the report and saying there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by security officials.

The following questions and answers address the key issues your office raised in that statement:

  • Did Human Rights Watch identify its sources?  

Sometimes Human Rights Watch is unable to identify sources to protect them from reprisals. But in this report, Human Rights Watch said clearly that it interviewed Hassan remotely several times in September and October 2018. Human Rights Watch also said that it interviewed his wife and one of his brothers, the latter of whom wished not to be named.

Human Rights Watch also identified the forensic experts who reviewed the pictures and the video of Hassan’s wounds as experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group, which is facilitated by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, one of the leading organizations in combating torture and providing services for torture victims around the world.

  • Did Human Rights Watch contact the Egyptian authorities about Hassan’s case before releasing its report?

Human Rights Watch sent initial findings and questions to Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) by email on September 23 and 25 and allowed a reasonable time for response as the SIS requested. The SIS responded several days later, which was also the first response from the Egyptian authorities in years to a Human Rights Watch letter seeking information concerning an investigation. In many cases, Human Rights Watch publishes a government’s response on its website after the report is released. In this case, a link to the Egyptian authorities’ full response was hyperlinked in the initial report, along with several references in the report to the government’s response.

  • What did Human Rights Watch conclude and call for?

Human Rights Watch concluded that Hassan was forcibly disappeared by security forces in January 2018, and authorities did not bring him before a military prosecutor until May 3. It also concluded that he made detailed and serious torture allegations, which authorities should take seriously and investigate. Human Rights Watch also called on authorities to bring Hassan before a civilian judge to review his detention.

  • Did Human Rights Watch say that Hassan was innocent?

Human Rights Watch did not determine whether Hassan is innocent or guilty of the accusations against him. The organization is often not in a position to establish the innocence of defendants, unless there is strong evidence of their innocence. But as part of the basic guarantees of a fair trial, all defendants should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Neither military prosecutors nor the SIS identified specific charges against Hassan and only said that he is accused in a case related to “Sinai Province,” an Islamic State-affiliated group in Egypt. Prosecutors should not keep a defendant in custody without credible evidence of a recognizable crime, and unless there are specific reasons to justify detention before trial, and a judge must review the legality and necessity for pretrial detention in these exceptional cases within 48 hours of arrest, according to international norms. Lawyers should be allowed to obtain all relevant prosecution documents and review the available evidence to be able to effectively assist the defendant in preparation for trial.

  • Did Hassan tell prosecutors about his disappearance and alleged torture?

Hassan said that when military prosecutors first interrogated him on May 3, he told them that he had been forcibly disappeared and tortured and asked to be examined by forensic doctors. But prosecutors took no action to investigate his claims and registered May 3 as his arrest date.

Prosecutors have a duty to investigate consistent claims of torture and disappearance and to exclude any confessions that were coerced, or any evidence obtained by the use of torture. By telling prosecutors that he was disappeared and tortured, Hassan took clear action to alert the prosecutors. They should have taken detailed official notes of his account and investigated it.

After Human Rights Watch released its report on October 11, Hassan asked the prison warden at Istiqbal Tora Prison to allow him to file an official request to be examined by forensic doctors, but the warden refused. When American officials from the US Embassy in Cairo visited Hassan after the report’s release, a National Security Agency officer attended and closely observed the meeting and refused to allow Hassan to show his alleged torture marks to US officials, according to Hassan. The officer also refused to allow them to communicate in English.

Hassan also said that the National Security Agency officer did not allow him to call his family, even though he had the military prosecution’s permission to do so, and that the officials seized books the US Embassy in Cairo had delivered to Hassan in prison.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented a pattern of disappearance and torture of detainees and lack of action by prosecutors to investigate their claims.

  • Did Hassan’s family inquire about his whereabouts when they discovered that he was missing?

Yes. The family repeatedly inquired personally at police stations in Alexandria. In addition, they faxed handwritten inquiries about whether authorities had detained Hassan, a common way to communicate with prosecutors in Egypt. Police reports and prosecutors’ documents are still frequently handwritten in Egypt.

When families fax complaints, they are stamped by the Egyptian Telecom Company’s official stamp and notarized by the fax office. The complaints by Hassan’s family were, therefore, official, as Human Rights Watch documented. One complaint by the family received the official case number “444 of 2018 Montazah Thany.”

Authorities have a duty to search for missing persons and to update the family routinely about measures taken and any findings. But Hassan’s family members said they received no response. When Hassan appeared before military prosecutors on May 3, they should have taken the family’s complaints into consideration and investigated them, but they took no action.

  • Did the SIS acknowledge that Hassan was disappeared and tortured?

No. The State Information Service’s statement, speaking on behalf of the Egyptian authorities, denied the presence of “tangible evidence” that validates his disappearance and torture claims. It also stated clearly that Hassan has been in “preventive custody under legal orders from the competent authorities namely the military prosecution.” These statements constitute denial of all allegations. Prosecutors have a duty to investigate these allegations in a transparent and independent way.

  • Where was Hassan disappeared and allegedly tortured? Where is he now?

Hassan says he spent most of the time between January and May in two National Security Agency headquarters, in Alexandria’s Smouha and Cairo’s al-Abbassiya. Human Rights Watch’s research has found that the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency is responsible for the most flagrant abuses. Their premises are not official detention sites and Egyptian prosecutors failed to inspect these places, though the law requires them to routinely examine all detention sites.

These detention sites are notorious for the use of torture, a reputation that predates the January 2011 uprising. Protesters, angered by the lack of reform after the uprising, stormed several of these sites in March 2011, following the uprising. Following those events, the government promised to reform the agency, but no legislation has been introduced to emphasize judicial supervision over its work and none of its officers have been found guilty of abuses in a final court verdict.

Since May 3, Hassan has been detained in Istiqbal Tora Prison in Cairo, an official detention site.

  • Who is Mohamed Soltan, the activist who alerted Human Rights Watch to Hassan’s case?

Mohamed Soltan is a human rights advocate from the Freedom Initiative, an independent group in Washington and a former political prisoner in Egypt. He spent nearly two years in prison in the case known as “Raba’ Operations Room,” in which authorities pressed charges in 2014-2015 against scores of critical journalists and participants in the 2013 Raba’ sit-in for allegedly inciting violence, publishing false news, and planning to overthrow the ruling regime, among other charges. Some of these actions do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the prosecution’s file in April 2015 found that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence to establish individual criminal responsibility against Soltan. A court sentenced him to life in prison but released him after he agreed to relinquish his Egyptian nationality.

Human Rights Watch independently investigates all cases before any potential public report, regardless of how a case is brought to its attention. 

  • How was Hassan’s wife deported from Egypt? Do governments have an absolute power to deport foreign residents?

Hassan’s wife, Liuba Skateeff, a foreign national who had lived in Egypt for years, said she left the country fearing for her family’s safety. Armed men, apparently from the National Security Agency, raided her house on January 19, aggressively searched it and, with threats, ordered her to leave the country. She said that an officer wanted to put her in a taxi to the airport immediately, but she said she did not have money to buy airline tickets for herself and her three children. She left a few days later after managing to buy tickets. She received no judicial order or official prosecution request. When she returned to Egypt in June to see her husband, officers in the airport detained her and her child for two days, barred them from calling a lawyer or her embassy, and deported her. She said that an officer in the airport apologized to her and said “it is not about you. But there’s nothing I can do for you.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed her residence permit, which is valid until 2020. Her deportation does not seem to have been the result of any legal proceedings. No foreign resident should be arbitrarily deported without being offered a legal remedy. Arbitrary deportations, as apparently experienced by Hassan’s family, can violate many rights under international law, including the right to a family life.

  • Does international human rights law allow trying civilians before military courts?

The 2003 African Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance, which apply to Egypt, strictly prohibit military trials of civilians under all circumstances. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary states that everyone has the right to be tried “by ordinary courts or tribunals using established legal procedures.”

But Egypt’s 2014 constitution and presidential decrees issued in 2014 in the absence of a parliament allowed for unprecedented expansion of military courts’ jurisdiction. As a result, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has sent to military prosecution over 15,000 civilians in less than four years, more than any previous Egyptian government.

Human Rights Watch, and other organizations such as the International Commission of Jurists, have found that military courts in Egypt are inherently unfair for reasons that undermine the very essence of due process. All judges and prosecutors are serving military officers, subject to the military chain of command. Access to the courtroom for lawyers, families, and journalists is severely restricted. Lawyers are usually not permitted to see their clients, except for a few minutes in the courtroom, and cannot get copies of the prosecution and court documents sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense.

As Human Rights Watch has documented in many military trials in Egypt, Hassan and his lawyers were never allowed to read or obtain a copy of the official charges or the prosecution documents. No civilian judge has reviewed his detention. Military prosecutors have kept him detained since May 3, a violation of international law, which requires swiftly bringing all detainees before a judge to review their detention.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Khaled Hassan.

© 2018 Private

Instead of protecting its citizens from torture and forced disappearances, the Egyptian government prefers to criticize and attack groups calling for investigations.

Human Rights Watch published evidence several weeks ago which suggested that Egyptian security forces forcibly disappeared New York taxi driver Khaled Hassan, an American-Egyptian dual citizen, and tortured him earlier this year. Yet instead of supporting our call for the government to investigate – or even expressing concern – Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) turned on the messenger. Egypt’s government flat-out denied any wrongdoing and continued its attempts to undermine the work of Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.

Egypt’s National Security Agency disappeared Hassan in January, yet only presented him to prosecutors in May. In the intervening months, Hassan said, officers beat him, subjected him to prolonged stress positions, tortured him with electric shocks, and raped him twice. Forensic experts who reviewed photos of his wounds confirmed they were consistent with his allegations of torture.

During his disappearance, Hassan’s family received no information on his whereabouts, despite filing many complaints with the Egyptian authorities.

In another case, Human Rights Watch asked the SIS for information about the disappeared Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ezzat Ghoniem.

Ghoniem was in pretrial detention for months until a judge ordered him released on September 4 – on the condition that he report regularly to a police station. Instead of releasing him, police moved Ghoniem from prison to a police station where he vanished into incommunicado detention. The SIS never bothered to respond to Human Rights Watch’s questions about him.

These are just two examples in hundreds of reported cases of torture and disappearance in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.

Torture and enforced disappearance are crimes under international and Egyptian law. While Egypt’s administrative courts have ordered compensation to hundreds of victims tortured by Egyptian officials, which represent an official admission that torture is pervasive, nevertheless the government continues to use blanket denials or at best says torture crimes are “isolated incidents.” Very few officers have been convicted and no single member of the National Security Agency, the body overseeing the most flagrant abuses, has received a guilty verdict in recent decades.

Egyptian officials say they want to protect the country against unlawful and violent groups. But by disappearing and torturing suspects and political dissidents, the government dismantles the rule of law, and it is not clear how this make citizens more secure.

Instead of making inflammatory statements against those who criticize the government, Egyptian authorities and the SIS should engage meaningfully with rights groups, allow them to work freely in the country, and hold perpetrators of torture to account.

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

We write in advance of the Committee against Torture’s adoption of the list of issues prior to reporting on France at its November 2018 session to highlight some concerns regarding France’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereafter “the Convention”), based on recent research conducted by Human Rights Watch.

In our last submission to the Committee against Torture about France, we mentioned our concerns regarding the inadequate detention conditions and insufficient access to mental health services for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in France. These concerns remain strong, and the recommendations provided by the Committee in 2016 are yet to be implemented. Moreover, although, in our April 2016 report Double Punishment – Inadequate Conditions for Prisoners with Psychosocial Disabilities in France, we highlighted the lack of available data on the issue, no comprehensive study had been conducted since 2004.

  • We urge the Committee to question the French government on the measures they have implemented, or are planning to implement, in order to respond to the recommendations it put forward in 2016.

Condition of detention for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in disciplinary quarters

One issue that remains of particular concern is that people with psychosocial disabilities can be held in solitary confinement in disciplinary quarters where their mental health can deteriorate, often resulting in self-harm.

A prisoner punished by detention in a disciplinary cell is held there alone, banned from participating in activities and from working. They have the right to go outside for an hour per day for exercise in a special courtyard, where they are alone with a guard. In such circumstances, prisoners with psychosocial disabilities may experience the punishment as disproportionately harsh compared to prisoners without such disabilities.

According to Juan Mendez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, the imposition of solitary confinement “of any duration, on persons with mental disabilities is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” He has called on governments to abolish it for prisoners with psychosocial or cognitive disabilities.

He has also said that “the longer the duration of solitary confinement or the greater the uncertainty regarding the length of time, the greater the risk of serious and irreparable harm to the inmate that may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or even torture.”

  • We urge the Committee to call on the French government to end the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities.
  • We urge the Committee to call on the French government to commission an independent and comprehensive study of the mental health of prisoners as a first step towards addressing the inadequate detention conditions and gaps in provision of mental healthcare, which place prisoners at risk of prohibited ill-treatment, as recommended by the French National Assembly’s working group on detention conditions.

Abusive practices in psychiatric hospitals

Although specially equipped hospital units exist in the French mental health system, only 9 are currently open in the country, and none outside of continental France. The government had promised to build a dozen more, but no date has officially been set for their opening.

The insufficient number of psychiatric facilities specifically designed to accommodate prisoners—and in some cases the lack of means to transport prisoners to said facilities—encourages prison authorities to bring prisoners in need of medical care to regular mental health facilities instead. Prisoners who had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals without their consent as well as medical staff and the former inspector of prisons described to Human Rights Watch harsh conditions for prisoners in psychiatric hospitals. In such cases, the patients in custody admitted for involuntary psychiatric care are almost systematically placed in isolation rooms and deprived of numerous rights they are entitled to in prison because they are considered dangerous and representing a flight risk, based on their status as prisoners.

“Sarah,” a female prisoner, told Human Rights Watch what she remembered about being held in two psychiatric hospitals in the past: “In both there was a lot of ill-treatment,” she said. “Sometimes […] nurses dragged me by my feet to an isolation room, they attached me to the bed, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I prefer a thousand times to be in a cell than in an isolation room in hospital, my arms and feet tied down as if I were an animal, an injection in my buttocks,” she said.

Some patients have no access to the telephone, are not allowed any visits, personal belongings, walks outside of their room or even access to the open air other than a small window. Such practices, already pointed out in our previous communications, remain clear violations of the fundamental rights of patients with a prisoner status, and can constitute inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment, in breach of Article 16 of the convention.

  • We urge the committee to recommend that France prohibits the use of seclusion and French hospitals respect patients’ right to treatment based on free and informed consent and treat them in a non-discriminatory manner, regardless of their criminal record.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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Video: Authorities Crush Dissent in Palestine

The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents.

(Ramallah) – The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. As the Palestinian Authority-Hamas feud has deepened, each has targeted the other’s supporters. 

The 149-page report, “‘Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent:’ Arbitrary Arrest and Torture Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” evaluates patterns of arrest and detention conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 25 years after the Oslo Accords granted Palestinians a degree of self-rule over these areas and more than a decade after Hamas seized effective control over the Gaza Strip. Human Rights Watch detailed more than two dozen cases of people detained for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post or belonging to the wrong student group or political movement.

“Twenty-five years after Oslo, Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza, but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 147 witnesses, including former detainees and their relatives, lawyers, and representatives of nongovernmental groups, and reviewed photographic evidence, medical reports, and court documents. The report reflects substantive responses to the findings from the main security agencies implicated in the underlying abuses.

Systematic arbitrary arrests and torture violate major human rights treaties to which Palestine recently acceded. Few security officers have been prosecuted and none have been convicted for wrongful arrest or torture, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine.

The European Union, the United States, and other governments that financially support the Palestinian Authority and Hamas should suspend aid to the specific units or agencies implicated in widespread arbitrary arrests and torture until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable.

“The fact that Israel systematically violates Palestinians’ most basic rights is no reason to remain silent in the face of the systematic repression of dissent and the torture Palestinian security forces are perpetrating,” said Shawan Jabarin, executive director of the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

Palestinian riot police confront demonstrators protesting security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 23, 2014.

© 2014 Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Human Rights Watch met with the Palestinian Authority Intelligence Services in Ramallah, but was unable to accept an offer from Hamas authorities to meet in Gaza because Israel refused to grant permits for senior Human Rights Watch officials to enter the Gaza Strip for this purpose. Israeli authorities also rejected Human Rights Watch’s request for senior representatives to enter Gaza during October 2018 to present this report at a news conference.  

Both authorities deny that abuses amount to more than isolated cases that are investigated and for which wrongdoers are held to account. The evidence that Human Rights Watch collected contradicts these claims.

Palestinian authorities often rely on overly broad laws that criminalize insulting “higher authorities,” creating “sectarian strife,” or “harming the revolutionary unity” to detain dissidents for days or weeks, only to release most of them without referring them to trial, but often leaving charges outstanding. Palestinian Authority security forces also held 221 Palestinians for various periods between January 2017 and August 2018 in administrative detention without charge or trial under a regional governor’s order, according to the Palestinian statutory watchdog Independent Commission for Human Rights.  

A number of former Palestinian Authority detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch had also been detained by Israel, which coordinates with Palestinian Authority forces on security issues. In Gaza, Hamas authorities sometimes condition release on the detainee signing a commitment to halt criticism or protests.

On September 27, the Independent Commission for Human Rights reported that Hamas security forces in Gaza had arrested more than 50 people affiliated with Fatah and that Palestinian Authority forces in the West Bank had detained more than 60 affiliated with Hamas, in the span of just a few days.

In the cases documented, Palestinian forces often threatened, beat, and forced detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including using cables or ropes to hoist up arms  behind the back. Police often used similar tactics to obtain confessions by people detained on drug or other criminal charges. Security forces also routinely coerced detainees into providing access to their cellphones and social media accounts. These measures appear aimed at punishing dissidents and deterring them and others from further activism. 

While the authorities regularly receive citizen complaints and have systems to investigate them, only a minority have resulted in a finding of wrongdoing, according to data provided by the agencies. Even fewer led to an administrative sanction or referral for criminal prosecution.

Palestinian authorities should abide by the international human rights treaties they acceded to over the last five years. Hamas authorities said in a letter to Human Rights Watch that it considered itself committed to uphold all international treaties ratified by the State of Palestine. Compliance requires Palestinian authorities to ensure that an independent body inspects detention sites and that the authorities investigate complaints credibly and impose appropriate sanctions if warranted.

The systematic practice of torture by Palestinian authorities may amount to a crime against humanity prosecutable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Human Rights Watch has long encouraged the ICC prosecutor to open a formal probe into Israeli and Palestinian conduct in Palestine, which is a party to the ICC.

The US and European states provide support to Palestinian Authority security forces. While the US in 2018 slashed funding for health and education services for Palestinians, including all its support for the United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA), it continued to set aside funding for security forces, including allocating US $60 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) nonlethal assistance to Palestinian Authority security forces for the 2018 fiscal year and $35 million for the 2019 fiscal year. Qatar, Iran, and Turkey financially support Hamas authorities. All of these countries should suspend assistance to agencies that routinely torture dissidents – including, for the Palestinian Authority, the Intelligence Services, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee, and, for Hamas, Internal Security – as long as systematic torture and other serious abuses continue.

“The attacks by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on dissidents and demonstrators, reporters and bloggers, are both systematic and unpunished,” Porteous said. “Governments that want to help the Palestinian people develop the rule of law should not support security forces that actively undermine it.”

Accounts from Former Detainees

“I was heading home. At the Einab checkpoint, I happened to see the prime minister’s convoy being held up on the checkpoint. I filmed this scene. After the car I was in and the convoy was allowed to cross the checkpoint, we were stopped by one of his escorts. I was arrested and taken to the station of the Preventative Security Forces in Tulkarm. I was detained in Tulkarm and in Ramallah for four days.”

  • Jihad Barakat, 29, journalist on his arrest by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank in July 2017.

“I had written on a hot summer day, ‘Do your children [referring to Hamas leaders] sleep on the floor like ours do?’ I think the post bothered security forces and, as a result, I was summoned to appear before Internal Security and later was charged with the crime of ‘misuse of technology’… I was detained for 15 days... Later, I was released after an agreement with the Interior Ministry. The agreement pledged not to write or incite against the government.”

  • Amer Balousha, 26-year-old activist and journalist on his arrest in July 2017 by Hamas authorities in Gaza.

“A plainclothes officer met me at the door [of the Intelligence Services Prison in Jericho]. He blindfolded me, handcuffed my hands behind my back, and started hitting me and slamming me against the walls… this lasted for about 10 minutes. The officer took me to the warden’s office and took the blindfold off, telling me that this was my “welcome”... [an officer] then said hang him, as in take him to shabeh. I was transferred from the office to the toilets, there they blindfolded me again, handcuffed me behind my back, put a piece of cloth and rope at the center of my handcuffs and pulled it up to the side of the door. There was a hook between the door and the ceiling. They pulled the cloth up, raising my hands behind my back. My legs were not shackled, and the tip of my legs were touching the ground. I was held in this stress position for 45 minutes. An officer hit me with a big stick on my back, between my shoulders, more than once... After they put me down, I felt my hands were numb up to my shoulders and I could not hold myself up… [the next day] the Juicer (nickname for his interrogator in Jericho) told me that ‘I promise you that you will not leave this place except on a wheelchair.”

  • Alaa Zaqeq, 27, detained by PA security forces in April 2017 for three weeks based on his activism as a graduate student with a student group affiliated with Hamas.

“I was forced to stand blindfolded the entire day in a room called the bus. There were 5 or 10 people with me. On occasion they sat us down in small chairs, but we needed permission for everything we did, including sleeping or speaking. I spent 30 days there… After the first day, the beating started, they asked me to open my hands and started striking me with a cable and whipping my feet.”

  • Fouad Jarada, 34-year-old journalist with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, arrested in June 2017 by Hamas forces three days after a Facebook post critical of a Hamas ally and a string of critical news reports. Authorities held him for more than two months on charges of “harming revolutionary unity,” releasing him only when the PA agreed to release journalists considered close to Hamas in the West Bank.

“I still have nightmares… [that] the cell is strangling me and I cannot breathe.”

  • Fares Jbour, 24, held for 24 days in January 2017 over his activities with a Hamas-affiliated student group at a university in Hebron in the West Bank

“The guys are afraid of writing. They don't try. They don't share. They don’t even put “like” to anyone who wrote anything criticizing the government. They are scared.”

  • Mohammad Lafi, 24-year-old rapper from the Jabalia Refugee Camp in Gaza, held for five days in January 2017 by Hamas authorities after he released a music video entitled “Your Right” that called for people to demonstrate and participated in protests around the electricity crisis.

“I feel I am being monitored, as if I’m under a microscope. I was released, but, until now, I feel I am not free. They broke our desire to defend citizens’ rights.”

  • Taghreed Abu Teer, 47-year-old journalist with the Palestinian Broading Corporation, detained for 11 days in April 2017 by Hamas authorities after attending conferences for rival Fatah in Ramallah.

“I live in a country where it is forbidden to express my opinion. This country is not the one we dream about, not at all. I don’t think that there is a Palestinian who would accept that all this struggle would go, and all the years of our lives, not just ours, but those before us, so that in the end we would have a system of government that has taken the shape of a dictatorship. It cannot be… it is very painful that we have a regime before ever having a state. Our problem with the PA is that they are building security forces and controlling people when we don’t even control the checkpoint.”

  • Hamza Zbeidat, 31-year-old who works for a development nongovernmental group, detained for two days by PA security forces in May 2016 for a Facebook post that called on Palestinians “to struggle against the PA like we struggle against Israel.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Khaled Hassan, an Egyptian-American citizen, claimed authorities disappeared him on January 8 and severely abused him.

© Private

 

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities forcibly disappeared an Egyptian-American limousine driver, who said authorities also tortured him and held him secretly for four months, Human Rights Watch said today. The man, Khaled Hassan, 41, provided detailed allegations of torture, including two allegations of rape, to Human Rights Watch.

National Security agents arrested and disappeared Hassan on January 8, 2018, in Alexandria, Egypt. Despite immediate requests from his family to the authorities for information on his whereabouts, his arrest was not publicly acknowledged until he appeared before a military prosecutor for the first time on May 3. Egyptian authorities, in a letter on October 2 responding to Human Rights Watch inquiries, claimed that he was only arrested on May 3 and denied that he had been tortured. But independent forensic experts who reviewed footage of Hassan’s leg wounds found them consistent with his account of torture.

Egyptian prosecutors should immediately open an investigation into his torture claims and have him examined by a forensic medical specialist, Human Rights Watch said. A civilian judge should review his detention and release him unless there is a credible evidence of a recognizable crime.

“Hassan’s disappearance and detailed allegations of torture and the government’s denials reinforce the reality that Egyptian security forces operate with impunity,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Khaled Hassan has been able to bring the gruesome details of his treatment to light, but thousands of others held in Egypt’s prisons have not been able to tell their stories.”

Mohamed Soltan, a former prisoner in Egypt and a human rights advocate of the independent group Freedom Initiative in the United States, alerted Human Rights Watch to the case in September. In interviews conducted remotely, Hassan told Human Rights Watch that in the weeks following his detention on January 8, security forces severely beat him, gave him electric shocks, including on his genitals, and anally raped him in at least two incidents, once with a wooden stick and once by another man.

Human Rights Watch was able to interview two members of Hassan’s family and to review their communications to the authorities seeking information about his whereabouts. Forensic experts also reviewed photos of his wounds taken by Hassan recently in prison. Family members said that Egyptian officials had ordered Hassan’s wife and children to leave the country and offered them no legal recourse. They are now in the US.

Hassan said military prosecutors who saw him for the first time on May 3 ignored his account of torture and ordered him detained pending investigations. They accused him, along with hundreds of other defendants, of involvement in a case related to an ISIS-affiliated group in Egypt. Hassan denied those accusations. He has been in pretrial detention in Istiqbal Tora Prison in Cairo since then, where he said he has had insufficient food and health care. He has not been brought before a civilian court or allowed to know the official charges against him, and no date has been set for his trial.

Hassan, who had immigrated to the US years earlier, was living in New York City and spent weeks every year with his wife and children, who lived in Egypt, a family member said. He was never stopped or questioned before, the relative said.

Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of systematic torture of detainees in secret National Security Agency detention centers and police stations to collect information about suspected dissidents and prepare often fabricated cases against them. Torture techniques usually included stress positions, electric shocks, and threats of rape and sometimes rape.

Local rights organizations have documented hundreds of disappearances in the past five years. Although Egypt’s National Security Agency is responsible for the most flagrant abuses against prisoners, no agency officer has been convicted of these crimes in a final court verdict in Egypt’s recent history.

The Convention Against Torture defines torture as the deliberate infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering, by a public official or equivalent, for a specific purpose such as punishment. An enforced disappearance occurs when someone is deprived of their liberty by state agents or people acting with the state’s authorization, support, or acquiescence, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

Enforced disappearances and torture are absolutely prohibited under international law in all circumstances. They violate a range of human rights obligations and those responsible can in certain circumstances be prosecuted in other countries.

The use of military courts to try civilians violates Egypt’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantees the right to fair trial. Governments should never use military trials for civilians when normal courts can still function.

Despite an intensifying crackdown on human rights by the Egyptian authorities, President Donald Trump’s administration restored US$195 million in military aid to Egypt in July.

Hassan said that US embassy officials have visited him, but he expressed frustration that the US administration has had little to say about the abuses in Egypt under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Human Rights Watch has said previously that, given authorities’ continued apparent systematic use of torture, Egypt’s allies should stop all security assistance and training and condition their military and security aid on concrete improvement of human rights and accountability of torturers.

“The continuous recklessness of Egyptian authorities in crushing the rule of law should be of serious concern to Egypt’s allies,” Page added. “US authorities should raise Hassan’s case with the Egyptian authorities and should make it clear that torture and abuse are no way to ensure Egypt’s security.”

Arrest, Torture, and Rape

Hassan said that men in civilian clothes, who introduced themselves as belonging to the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, arrested him in Alexandria as he went to meet his brother in the afternoon of January 8. They took him to the agency’s office in al-Ma’moura area, then transferred him to the agency headquarters in Smouha, Alexandria.

There, he said security agents severely physically abused him for eight days, then moved him to their headquarters in Abbassiya, Cairo, where they held him for another month or more. After forcing him to confess crimes under torture, they sent him back to Smouha for three more months until most of his visible wounds had healed, and then they finally presented him to military prosecutors on May 3, who registered that date as his arrest date and ordered him detained without investigating his account of torture.

In incommunicado detention, he said, National Security Agents severely beat him, cutting his chin and bloodying his nose. They usually stripped him naked during the abuse. They hung him from his arms for days, dislocating both his shoulders. They repeatedly gave him electric shocks to the head, tongue, the anus, the testicles, and his groin area. In Smouha, they used wires and in Abbassiya, they mostly used electric shock devices, which he sometimes saw being charged. Sometimes, he said, they placed him on a wet sheet to increase the effect of electric shocks.

He said that agents used a taser on his leg, causing an open wound that became infected. His leg became swollen and inflamed and the pain and infection made him faint repeatedly. They operated on the wound without anesthesia and while an officer was standing over his chest, he said.

He said that the agents raped him on one occasion with a wooden stick. On another occasion, Hassan said, after he insulted an officer who threatened to arrest his wife, the officer ordered another man to rape Hassan anally. “When they did this, I was ready to say [give any confessions] what they wanted,” he said.

“The worst part was electrocution,” he said, breaking into tears. At the end of each session, they would have to carry him back to his detention cell because he could not walk, he said. He added the agents tried to “fix” his most visible injuries on his body before sending him to military prosecutors on May 3.

Human Rights Watch obtained recent pictures and a video of Hassan’s wounds. Experts said the wounds reviewed are consistent with Hassan’s account of abuse.

© Private

While in Abbassiya, Hassan said, he was placed in a “very narrow” cell with 15 other detainees, where they had to sleep “on top of one another.” He said he was allowed to use the toilet once or twice a day and to shower once a month. Authorities told him that he was “a spy.” 

Photos of Torture Wounds

Human Rights Watch reviewed recent photos and a video of what Hassan said were marks of wounds on both of his legs caused by electric shocks. Several experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group, facilitated by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, reviewed these materials and found that the lesions are consistent with – and in one instance, highly consistent with – application of an electric shock device, such as a taser-like instrument used in stun or angled-stun mode, in the manner that Hassan described.

Human Rights Watch obtained recent pictures and a video of Hassan’s wounds. Experts said the wounds reviewed are consistent with Hassan’s account of abuse.

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Government Response

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Egyptian authorities explaining the initial findings of Hassan’s case on September 23, followed by another letter with more details and corrections on September 25. In its written response to Human Rights Watch, the State Information Service, a government body that oversees foreign correspondents, denied that Hassan had been forcibly disappeared or tortured. It also said his lawyers had not filed an official request for him to be examined by forensic doctors.

But Hassan said he told military prosecutors, who saw him on May 3, that he had been forcibly disappeared and tortured since January and that they did not order an investigation of his torture claims. He said that he and his lawyers did not file an official request for an examination because fellow detainees told him it would not lead to anything and might actually prolong his stay in incommunicado detention. “They [security agents] know what they are doing,” Hassan said.

One of Hassan’s brothers said that the family filed a police report about Hassan’s disappearance the day after his disappearance. Human Rights Watch reviewed copies of the complaints the family sent to the prosecutors in Alexandria on February 15, to which the authorities did not respond. The State Information Service response, the first official response in years to a Human Rights Watch inquiry, did not clarify why the authorities failed to respond to the family’s complaints.

Human Rights Watch reviewed complaints the family filed to authorities on February 15 inquiring about Hassan’s whereabouts but authorities never responded.

© Private

Military prosecutors included Hassan in military prosecution case 137 of 2018, known as the “Sinai Province Case II,” in which hundreds of defendants are accused of joining the Egyptian ISIS-affiliate and aiding its goals through spying on the army and plotting violent attacks.

Hassan denied any involvement with the group and said he knows only one person accused in this case who was also severely abused and needed surgery afterward. Hassan’s lawyers were unable to obtain a copy of the prosecution file. In recent years, prosecutors in Egypt have sent large numbers of political dissidents for prolonged pretrial detention. In the vast majority of cases of political dissent, whether violent or peaceful, lawyers are usually not allowed to obtain a copy of the prosecution file until the trial begins and so are unable to review the evidence or challenge it. The State Information Service confirmed that Hassan was accused in that case but did not cite any specific charges.

Family’s Deportation

One of Hassan’s brothers said that several days following his disappearance, on January 19, men in civilian clothes broke into Hassan’s home in Alexandria, where his Peruvian wife and his three Egyptian-American children lived.

The men broke down the door and violently searched the house, saying they were looking for weapons, said Hassan’s wife, Liuba Skateeff, and another brother, who was there. The men refused to show any judicial orders or prosecutors’ permission for the house search. They destroyed the apartment’s library and told Skateeff, who had been living in Egypt for over 11 years, that she had to leave the country immediately. Officers stayed in her apartment for four hours and left police informants in front of her building, she said.

Frightened, she and the couple’s three children, ages 4 to 10, left for the US less than a week after arranging for the ticket money, she said. The officer had threatened to arrest her, she added.

Human Rights Watch reviewed copies of her passport that showed travel dates and stamps and her residence permit in Egypt, which is valid until June 2020. When she tried to return to Egypt in June to visit Hassan in jail, Egyptian airport officers denied her entry, detained her and her 4-year-old child for two days in the airport, and then ordered her deported to the US where she has a green card. The State Information Service acknowledged in its response that Skateeff was deported and said in its response to Human Rights Watch that she could have legally challenged her deportation. But Skateeff said that the airport officers who detained her offered her no explanation and no legal recourse for an appeal. They also seized her phone and refused to allow her to contact the Peruvian embassy, she said.

She also said that the couple’s two young daughters have had panic attacks since the raid, when armed men pointed guns at the children’s heads.

Prison Conditions

The family managed to first see Hassan in prison on May 9. “When he saw us he collapsed,” one brother said. “He cried like a baby… He showed us signs of torture and electrocution.”

Hassan said prison authorities denied him proper medical care and he was not able to obtain medicine he used to take before his arrest.

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Hassan said that US embassy officials have visited him in prison three or four times since May, but that prison authorities seized books that the embassy officials sent him. Hassan also said he had been seeing a psychiatrist before his detention, but that prison officials would not let him obtain his prescribed medicines. Human Rights Watch obtained copies of labels for prescription medicines that he had been taking. Prison authorities have not offered him any proper psychiatric consultation and did not allow him to see an outside doctor, he said.

“It was a miracle to bring a pillow to sleep on,” Hassan said.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented Egyptian prison authorities’ systematic mistreatment of prisoners, including lack of food and opportunity for exercise and denying prisoners hygiene products, mattresses, and beds.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Yemen: Houthi Officials Kidnap, Demand Ransom Money

The Houthi armed group in Yemen has frequently taken hostages and committed other serious abuses against people in their custody.

(Beirut)The Houthi armed group in Yemen has frequently taken hostages and committed other serious abuses against people in their custody, Human Rights Watch said today. Houthi officials should stop taking hostages, free everyone arbitrarily detained, end torture and enforced disappearances, and punish those responsible for abuses.

Human Rights Watch documented 16 cases in which Houthi authorities held people unlawfully, in large part to extort money from relatives or to exchange them for people held by opposing forces. Hostage-taking is a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime. The United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which has a mandate to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses.

“The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”

Since late 2014, when Houthi forces occupied the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of the Houthis and forces loyal to the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh carrying out arbitrary and abusive detention, as well as forced disappearances and torture. Yemeni rights groups have documented hundreds more cases. Human Rights Watch recently interviewed 14 former detainees and relatives of two other men detained or disappeared.

Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often amounting to torture, Human Rights Watch said. Former detainees described Houthi officers beating them with iron rods, wooden sticks, and assault rifles. Guards whipped prisoners, shackled them to walls, caned their feet, and threatened to rape them or their family members, former detainees said. Several people described being hung from a wall by their arms shackled behind them as one of the most painful techniques. In many cases, Houthi officials tortured them to obtain information or confessions.

Former detainees described Houthi officers beating them with iron rods, wooden sticks, and assault rifles. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Former detainees said guards refused detainees medical assistance or treatment after abuse. Those released and their family members reported physical and psychological health complications from mistreatment.

Houthi officials regularly extort those detained and their relatives, said former detainees, family members, and Yemeni rights activists. In some cases, the Houthis ultimately released the detainee – often they have not.

The wife of a man arrested by unidentified men in late 2015 said: “At the beginning, I didn’t know that he was arrested. They kidnapped him, but my family and I were looking for him everywhere. We asked at hospitals, police stations.” They later learned he was held at the Houthi-controlled Political Security Office, a notorious intelligence agency, in Sanaa. “I was following up with Houthi mediators for five months, and they were taking money,” she said. “Every time they give me promises with no result. I spoke to many Houthis leaders …. They say they will do this and that, but they do nothing.”

She has paid Houthi officials about 1.5 million Yemeni riyals over the last three years. Her husband remains detained. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen found that Political Security Office members were “profiting from detentions.”

The sister of a man who disappeared in Hajjah governorate while looking for a job in 2016 said it was more than six months before a friend told her he had been detained. She contacted a Houthi official, who asked for “guarantees.” The family paid 100,000 riyals and her brother was released a month later. She said her brother had changed after his detention: “He is not as he used to be. Signs of psychological disturbance appeared on him, he talks to himself, sometimes he keeps saying ‘Why do they beat me?’, talking to himself. I don’t know what he saw, or what they did to him, during his disappearance.”

Former detainees described terrible conditions in Houthi custody: poor hygiene; limited access to toilets, causing some to defecate on themselves; and lack of food and health care. Former detainees and family members said many formal and all informal detention facilities refused access to family members. Detainees had no defined process for challenging their detention or reporting mistreatment. In many cases documented, Houthi authorities moved detainees between facilities – both formal and informal – without notifying family members.

The Association of Mothers of Abductees, Yemeni women who advocate for their detained or disappeared civilian relatives, sent Human Rights Watch accounts from 10 cases in which Houthi officials had demanded money as a condition for release. Nine families paid. Houthi officials released only three of the men, including one in a prisoner exchange for Houthi fighters.

When committed in the context of an armed conflict, cruel treatment, torture, and humiliating or degrading treatment are war crimes. Taking hostages – seizing someone or detaining them and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain them to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing something as a condition of release or for the person’s safety – is a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court.

The United Arab Emirates, UAE proxies, and Yemeni government forces have also arbitrarily detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared scores of people in the Yemeni conflict.

In 2018, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded the Houthis had “committed acts that may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity.” The experts documented the Houthis detaining students, human rights defenders, journalists, perceived political opponents and members of the Baha’i community, and mistreating and torturing detainees, including at the National Security Bureau and Political Security Office. The experts also found Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE forces credibly implicated in detainee-related abuse that might amount to war crimes.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Sanaa-based Interior Ministry on September 12 regarding preliminary findings and requesting further information on what steps, if any, the ministry had taken to hold people implicated in abuse accountable. The ministry has not responded.

Houthi authorities should promptly release those held arbitrarily, end forced disappearances, and credibly investigate and punish those responsible for torture and hostage taking. Should they fail to do so, the UN Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on people who bear the greatest responsibility for detention-related abuses, including as a matter of command responsibility.

Yemen should urgently join the International Criminal Court, which would allow for possible prosecution of serious crimes by all parties to the conflict.

“Yemenis taken into custody are suffering terribly, whether at the hands of the Houthis, the UAE forces, or government forces,” Whitson said. “UN officials and influential governments should press the warring parties to treat detainees humanely and release anyone being held arbitrarily.”

Houthi Torture and Hostage-Taking

Judge Abdo al-Zubaidi, Sanaa
In early 2016, armed masked men in civilian clothes surrounded Judge Abdo al-Zubaidi, a military court judge in his late fifties, as he left his office with his 17-year-old son, who had come to pick him up. The men took al-Zubaidi’s phone and put him and his son in a car. Another man drove their car, al-Zubaidi said: “I saw the car going through the concrete security barriers of the PSO [Political Security Office].”

The men separated father and son. A guard later told al-Zubaidi his son “was out.” He thought his son had been released. He later learned the Political Security officials had detained and tortured him.

Interrogators told al-Zubaidi to confess that he was the head of the anti-Houthi resistance in Sanaa and was planning a coup. He refused. He said he was blindfolded, handcuffed, dragged down stairs, and pushed into a tiny dark room. A guard said he would be allowed to use the bathroom once a day and gave him an empty water bottle to use in the meantime. “I was shocked, I am a judge,” he said.  “I uphold the law... I put guilty people in jail…This is not even a prison. It is a grave.”

The second day, al-Zubaidi was again interrogated. He told his interrogators he had nothing to confess, and if they didn’t believe him they could check his phone and belongings:

I guess they didn’t like my answer, I was cuffed…and they whipped me with thick, cable wire on my legs, my hands and my back… They threw me down on the ground first, then over a table, then they brought a rigid cushion and put it between my hands where the cuffs are, and they start pulling it. Then they started to beat me with a wire over my fingers. They whipped me around 50 times until I didn’t feel my hands. I still suffer from that until now. All that was bearable. But then they took off the cuffs and handcuffed me behind my back, and they hung the cuffs to one of the windows, I think – something higher off the ground – and they start pulling my handcuffed hands away from the back, and up. That was the worst thing I felt in my life.

Al-Zubaidi said he thought his hands, arms, and shoulders were going to be ripped from his body.  He said he would write and sign whatever they wanted. It was only a few minutes, al-Zubaidi said, “but the most difficult minutes ever of my life.” He made up stories that he was working with the Yemeni president and senior officials, telling the Saudi-led coalition supporting the government where to strike. “When they hung me, I felt I will die, so I told them what they wanted.” They interrogated him for a week but did not torture him again.

Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often amounting to torture. Former detainees described being hung from a wall by their arms shackled behind them as one of the most painful techniques. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

At one point, al-Zubaidi gave them the name of a man he had read about who he thought was in Saudi Arabia. Ten days later, the guards brought al-Zubaidi to an interrogation room, where they had the man, who was blindfolded. The guards ordered Al-Zubaidi to talk about the man’s involvement in anti-Houthi efforts. When he refused, they threatened to kill him. A few days later, al-Zubaidi again denied his previous “confession.” The men hung him for hours from a metal window with his arms cuffed in front of him. He said the position was slightly more bearable.

A few weeks later, Yemen’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered al-Zubaidi’s release due to lack of evidence. But the intelligence officers continued holding him and about a week later, took him to the prosecutor’s office, where he was shown a video of himself confessing. He said his confession was a result of torture. The court again ordered his release. The intelligence officials refused.

In June 2017, al-Zubaidi was taken out of his cell to meet Maj. Gen. Abdul Qader al-Shami, then the acting Political Security Office chief and now the chief of the agency. Al-Zubaidi’s relatives had blocked the roads to protest his detention, including stopping commercial trucks traveling to Sanaa. The officials wanted them to stop. A few days later, a prosecutor again recommended Al-Zubaidi’s release and a judge approved it. Then, “after over 450 days in detention,” al-Zubaidi was released. “I went home, ate a meal, and immediately fled the city.”

“Dr. Marwan,” Hodeida
In 2015 “Dr. Marwan,” in his late twenties, whose real name and some others are withheld for their safety, treated a man outside the hospital where he worked. He said the man was a prisoner with gunshot wounds whom the Houthis had left at the side of the road after he was refused medical treatment elsewhere.

In mid-2016, armed men came to the hospital asking for Dr. Marwan. The men pulled him away from a patient he was treating, blindfolded him, and drove him away. They put him in a room that smelled of urine. He said an interrogator pulled his tie, slapped him, and accused him of being a “Da’ashi [terrorist] doctor.” He told the guards to “take good care of him.”

The guards accused him of working with the opposition because he had treated the patient in 2015 and hit him with iron rods on the soles of his feet. Marwan told them that treating the patient was his duty as a doctor. One of the guards “kicked me in my face while I was talking. I was still wearing the white coat.”

The second day, the guards hung him by his cuffed arms and with pliers began removing his fingernails... He kept losing consciousness, but they poured water over him and continued.

He remained there for 20 days, then was transferred to the Hodeida citadel, which the Houthis used as an informal detention facility. The guards took him to a tiny room containing what he called “an aggregation of waste,” and left him shackled to the wall for many days. Even the guards who came to feed him hurried because of the smell, he said.

The guards eventually moved Marwan to a new cell, then used electro-shock on him. After about a week, he was put in a room with other detainees, including a 13-year-old boy. He saw that one had an infected leg wound and asked a guard if he could treat the man. The guards beat him and put him back in the small room with the waste for a day as punishment.

One day guards took him to the small room to check on another prisoner. “He was shackled to the chain on the wall,” Marwan said. “It was obvious he had been dead for a long time.” The guards beat Marwan, saying they would kill him if he spoke about what he had seen.

The Houthis transferred all the prisoners to the Central Prison in Hodeida. Officers told them they would be released, but they remained detained. They began a hunger strike. A few days later, a Houthi official came and his men began shooting at the detainees after one resisted being taken with them. Marwan said four were wounded, and one never returned to the cell. The Houthis claimed they had released him.

After about 15 months, Marwan was released in late 2017 after his family paid 3 million riyals to Houthi officials. His family only learned he was alive about five months after he disappeared, after another recently released detainee told them he had been held with Marwan. Marwan said he had stopped practicing medicine and joined the Yemeni government army.

“Saleem,” Hodeida and Sanaa
In early 2015, “Saleem,” a 45-year-old teacher, father of eight, and imam at a local mosque, went with his eldest son to pray. At least five vehicles, including three military trucks, surrounded the mosque. Two dozen men entered. One told Saleem the Houthis wanted to see him. He refused to leave. The men in the mosque and Houthi forces began fighting. The armed men beat people with the rifle butts. He said the men hit him in the back of the head and he fell unconscious.

His family did not know where he was. “We were very scared,” his wife said. After three days, the family learned he was at the Political Security Office in Hodeida. Guards initially refused to let his family visit, but later allowed them to visit twice a week.

At one point, an officer told them Saleem was very sick and was in a hospital. About 10 days later, armed men burst into the hospital room at night. His wife, who was with him, said:

I asked the hospital to call for the doctor to come urgently. The doctor came. He said to them the patient can’t tolerate being outside the hospital, it is risky. But the armed men said, “We are going to move [him] to another, better hospital.” They took him in a wheelchair, and we didn’t know where.

Hospital staff later told his wife the hospital had been surrounded by at least four military trucks and many armed men. A few days later, Saleem was moved back to the Political Security Office. In 2017, his wife said, “We paid money to mediators to speak to some Houthi leaders… We go from Abu Something to Abu Something … and we pay here and there, and all of it is debts… I have eight kids.” In early 2018, Saleem was released after his family paid 10 million riyals to the Houthis, a lawyer following the case said.

“Nasser,” Sanaa

Houthis arrested Nasser in late 2015.  He said he was mistreated and held at multiple locations but was never charged. He was first held at a military camp in Sanaa, where the guards beat him every day: 

I remember this way of beating, they tied my legs, and my hands, then they pulled me hanging from my hands, then three to four men started beating me. They used the cables and rubber pipe to lash me, [while] others used their fists and kicked with their feet.

The men ordered him to say where a prominent family he had worked for before the war had stored money and weapons. They tied him to a tree exposed to airstrikes and told him if he died, they would blame it on the Saudi-led coalition. They moved him to four more locations, one of which was hit by an airstrike. He ended up at al-Thawra pretrial detention center and was freed in early 2018, after his family paid one million riyals to Houthi mediators.

“Sahar,” Sanaa
“Sahar,” who worked with two aid groups in Sanaa during the conflict, said the Houthis often interfered with humanitarian assistance, including adding names to beneficiary lists, asking for hundreds of baskets of goods for officers or the families of deceased fighters, and occasionally trying to change “the entire program” of work. In 2017, a National Security Bureau officer summoned her to a meeting. 

She went because she did not “want to make them angry.” The officers took her to a largely destroyed building in Sanaa’s old city and took her cell phone and questioned her more and more aggressively about her organization’s activities.

They kept her there for three hours, telling her they wanted her to be an informant about aid agencies, threatening her and citing specific details about her family members. “I was sick and shivering on the floor,” she said.

The men finally made her sign a blank piece of paper: “Of course I signed, I wanted to go home.” She said the officers told her, “Everything is permitted. We can take you from your house at any point. It takes only one car [to take you away].” She fled Sanaa.

Yahiya al-Hayeg, Hodeida
In late 2016, armed Houthis arrested Yahiya al-Hayeg, a high-school teacher, in Hodeida. He said he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to the Officer’s Club, a damaged building once used for social events. He was held for about a month and a half in solitary confinement while he was interrogated.

He said the interrogator would order him to do painful exercises and beat him when he couldn’t continue and shackle him and hang him by his arms for extended periods “until my arms and body were extended to the roof, and my toes barely touched the ground.” The interrogators accused him of working with the Saudi-led coalition and anti-Houthi forces.

At the third interrogation session, he said, “I surrendered” and told them he would sign any statement they wrote. But the mistreatment and threats to kill him and harm his family continued. One time, a guard put a gun to his head while another said, “No, don’t kill him. He will talk.” He said that, “Those 15 days were the worst days of my life.”

A month later he was transferred to another Houthi informal detention center in the Hodeida citadel, but had to be carried there because of his injuries. A detained doctor came to examine him and said he needed medical treatment – he was wounded, malnourished, and dehydrated. The guards refused to let him leave the prison but brought in some fluids to treat him.

Al-Hayeg was not mistreated in the citadel, but he provided names of others who were. He saw guards beat people with cables and pull fingernails off. He saw one of his students, who had disappeared during his last year of high school, among the detainees.

In mid-2017, the Houthis took all the prisoners – about 140, according to two former detainees – from the citadel, releasing a few dozen and transferring the remainder. Al-Hayeg was in the last group and was taken to the Central Prison. A few days after guards opened fire on detainees, he was transferred to Sanaa Central Prison, where he remained for about five months, then was released in a prisoner swap. His family had no word of his whereabouts until he reached Sanaa, when he was allowed to call them.

No Justice for Mistreatment
The Houthi armed group, led by Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, has controlled the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s northwest since September 2014. Former president Saleh was allied with the Houthis, and forces loyal to him and members of his General People’s Congress shared responsibility for governance in these territories.

Houthi-Saleh joint control over Sanaa and other areas was formalized on July 28, 2016, when the Houthis and the General People’s Congress announced the formation of the Supreme Political Council to run the country. The council oversaw the Sanaa-based Interior Ministry, which in turn oversaw formal detention facilities in Houthi-Saleh-controlled Yemen.

In December 2017, fighting broke out between Houthi and Saleh forces, with the Houthis killing Saleh on December 4. The Houthis quickly consolidated control over Sanaa and surrounding governorates.

In late 2017, the Supreme Political Council appointed Maj. Gen. Abdulhakim Ahmed al-Mawri interior minister. The Vice Minister of Interior, reportedly responsible for detention facilities, is Maj. Gen. Abdulhakem Hashim al-Khaiwani, also known as Abu al-Karar. Formal detention facilities under Interior Ministry control in the cases Human Rights Watch documented include, in Sanaa: The Central Prison, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and al-Thawra and Habra pretrial detention facilities, and, in Hodeida: the Central Prison.

Former detainees, their relatives, and their lawyers have identified a number of informal detention facilities where people are detained, disappeared, mistreated, and tortured, including sites where Human Rights Watch has documented abuse: in Sanaa, the National Security Bureau, the Political Security Office, and Zain al-Abideen mosque; and in Hodeida, the Political Security Office, the Officer’s Club, and the Citadel. Some of these have since been shut down. The exact number of facilities or people detained in them remains unknown.

Houthi prison directors and guards use noms-de-guerre, making identification difficult. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented abusive detention by the Political Security Office and National Security Bureau, Yemen’s primary intelligence agencies, both of which had poor human rights records prior to the current conflict. A former detainee and a Sanaa-based lawyer identified the head of the PSO prison in Sanaa as “Abu Aqeel.” In January, the Supreme Political Council appointed Abdul Qader al-Shami, who served as acting director of the agency since late 2015, as the director. A Sanaa-based lawyer and a former detainee said that detainees at the NSB are overseen by “Abu Emad.”

In 2017, the UN Security Council Panel of Experts identified 11 members of the two agencies who either committed or held command responsibility in the Houthi-Saleh forces for arbitrary arrest and deprivation of liberty, torture (including of a child), denial of timely medical assistance, prolonged enforced disappearances, lack of due process, and three deaths in custody. The panel named “Abu Emad,” identified as Motlaq Amer al-Marrani, as involved in all 16 violations investigated.

***

Students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, including Zeineb Bouraoui, Danesha Grady, Tarek Zeidan, and Canem Ozyildirim, made valuable contributions to this research.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am