(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.”

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.

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.  

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) – Zaid Itani, the well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance in Lebanon and torture in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 29, 2018, military investigative judge, Riad Abu Ghaida, closed the case against Itani and charged two people with falsely accusing him. Itani was released without bail on March 13. Lebanese authorities should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of Itani’s allegations of forced disappearance and torture at the hands of State Security, Human Rights Watch said.

Zaid Itani

© Private

Itani told Human Rights Watch in March that after his arrest in November 2017, he was held in what may have been an informal detention center where men in civilian clothing beat him repeatedly, tied him in a stress position, hung him by his wrists, kicked him in the face, threatened to rape him, and threatened his family with physical violence and legal charges. Details of the investigation were leaked to the media within a day of his arrest, and Itani said interrogators, reportedly from State Security, used the damage to his reputation to put additional pressure on him to confess. Lebanese authorities should investigate how details of the investigation leaked to the media, Human Rights Watch said.

“Itani’s allegations of torture and disappearance demand a thorough investigation into his treatment in detention and why he was arrested in the first place,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Itani was indeed framed, then this was a massive miscarriage of justice, and authorities should guarantee that this can never happen again.”

Itani said that he was held for six days in what appeared to be an unofficial detention site, where men in civilian clothing tortured him until he signed a confession, and only then turned him over to the military court.

Local media reported that the former head of the Internal Security Forces’ cyber-crimes bureau, Suzan Hobeiche, and a “hacker” Elie Ghabash, were charged with falsely accusing Itani under article 403 of Lebanon’s penal code, and face up to 10 years in prison. Ghabash has also been accused of fabricating evidence against a military officer detained in a separate case. Human Rights Watch spoke with Itani in March following his release, but withheld publication of his account until now at his request. Human Rights Watch also wrote to State Security and the office of the public prosecutor, but has not received a substantive response.

Itani said that at the first opportunity, on December 18, he told military investigative judge Riad Abu Ghaida that he had been tortured and showed him marks including on his wrists from being hung. He said the judge noted the allegation and ordered a medical examination by a military doctor, but that the doctor did not investigate the allegation of torture. Human Rights Watch reviewed the investigative judge’s report, but did not find any mention of torture or any indication that the judge had ordered an investigation into the allegation.

In November, Lebanon passed a new law criminalizing torture, including special procedures for investigating allegations of torture and witness protection. It also provides for rehabilitation and compensation for victims. Lebanese authorities should investigate Itani’s allegations in accordance with that law, Human Rights Watch said. In October 2016, Lebanon passed a law to establish a National Human Rights Institute, including a National Preventative Mechanism against torture. Cabinet announced the members of the Institute on May 21 but has yet to establish either body.

Human Rights Watch and Lebanese organizations have for years documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive. 

Lebanon routinely tries civilians, including children, in military court in violation of their due process rights and international law. Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which civilians tried before the military courts on terrorism or security related offenses said they were tortured into confessing, and the coerced confessions were used as evidence against them in court.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Itani’s sister, Rana Itani, in February. She said the family initially did not know where Itani was or who had detained him. She also said her brother had briefly described what happened to him and the account she relayed is consistent with what Itani later told Human Rights Watch.

Itani said he was not able to speak with his lawyer or family before the first court session, and after that only through a door in the presence of military personnel. He said that he was never able to meet privately with his lawyer or his family, and was unable to see his family until December 25, more than a month after his arrest. Due process provisions to safeguard detainee rights were not respected in Itani’s case, Human Rights Watch said.

Under Lebanese law, unless a suspect is discovered in the act of committing a crime, police cannot detain a suspect without the public prosecutor’s approval. Pre-charge detention must not exceed 48 hours, unless extended another 48 hours with the public prosecutor’s consent. Article 47 of the Lebanese Code of Criminal Procedure guarantees detained suspects the right to contact a person of their choosing, such as a family member or an employer, and to meet with a lawyer. Arresting officers must inform all detained suspects of these rights promptly upon arrest.

An arrest by state authorities, followed by a refusal to acknowledge an individual’s arrest or concealing their fate or whereabouts, constitutes an enforced disappearance under international law. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities. All detainees should be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest, Human Rights Watch said.

As a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Lebanon is required to take effective measures to prevent torture, investigate credible allegations of torture, and hold accountable anyone found guilty of committing torture with appropriate penalties that take into account the grave nature of the crime. Parliament should amend article 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly guarantee suspects the right to a lawyer from the start of any form of detention, Human Rights Watch said.

“Torture is not only illegal but also ineffective, because it can lead to false confessions,” Fakih said. “This case presents a clear litmus test for whether Lebanon’s new torture law will help end impunity for torture or remain on paper only.”

Itani’s Account of Torture

Itani told Human Rights Watch that on November 23, at around 12:30 in the afternoon, a man in civilian clothing who identified himself only as “the state,” forced Itani into an SUV after he left theater auditions in Ain al-Rummaneh in Beirut. Itani said that the man hit him in the face and chest and blindfolded him. He was taken to what he described as “a room prepared for torture,” painted entirely black with metal hooks along the wall. He said six men in civilian clothing were there, one of whom accused Itani of “talking to the Israelis” and punched him in the face. Itani said the man threatened to physically harm Itani’s daughter, and to add his wife and sister to the investigation file, and said, “You have to talk because you need to understand that there is torture in all countries.”

Itani said the men, who had a folder labelled “State Security,” interrogated him for two to three hours about connections to Israel. He said one of the men then ordered Itani to call his wife and tell her he would be away for 10 days. Itani said that there were no indications that he was in an official detention site, that he did not see anyone in uniform or any other detainees, that there were no flags or official emblems, and that he was held in a cell within a room. State Security is a Lebanese security service that reports to the prime minister and falls under the Jurisdiction of the Higher Defense Council.

Details of Itani’s interrogation and the accusations against him leaked to the media within a day of his arrest, and Itani described the leak as “the biggest form of torture I’ve seen in my life. They took my phone as I sat in my cell and read the news and my friends’ Facebook posts about me. I lost hope.… The psychological torture and words they used were more horrible than the physical torture.” Itani said the investigators told him that they were preventing people from setting fire to his parents’ home, and that he should cooperate.

Itani said that the physical torture began after he refused to sign a confession around 6 p.m. on November 26. He said four men tied him in a stress position on the floor and one of them hit him with a cable as he screamed. Itani said the men then punched him in the face, chest, and groin and kicked him, and that one man pulled his pants off and hit his genitals. He said the men then strapped his wrists to a bar in the doorway so that his feet barely touched the ground and left him in that position for hours.

Itani said the men later took him down and chained him, and that he fell to the floor. They then punched and kicked him in the face and stepped on him, causing him to bleed from the mouth and breaking one of his teeth. He sent Human Rights Watch a doctor’s report documenting injuries in his mouth and seven of his teeth. Itani recalled one man saying, “I don’t care, eventually people will applaud us because you are a traitor.” Then they again strapped his wrists to the bar. Itani recalled one of the men speaking on the phone, saying “we can’t hand him over yet, there are marks on him.”

Itani said one man, who appeared to be in charge, told him they would insert a rod into his anus if he didn’t sign, and pointed at another man saying, “This one will ride you, and we don’t care because you are a traitor.” Itani then agreed to sign.

On November 28, he said, the men took him to the military court in Beirut and handed him over to the military police, where he was held in solitary confinement for 54 days. “There was no doctor who saw me, my body was all blue and I was spitting blood,” he said. “I couldn’t speak properly.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


This memorandum, submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (“the Committee”) ahead of its upcoming review of Russia, highlights areas of concern Human Rights Watch hopes will inform the Committee’s consideration of the Russian government’s (“the government’s”) compliance with the International Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention”). Human Rights Watch proposes recommendations herein that the Committee should raise with the Russian government.

This submission covers Human Rights Watch documentation on the following topics: allegations of torture and ill-treatment against government critics in the Chechen Republic; extrajudicial detention and torture of men presumed to be gay in the Chechen Republic; and allegations of torture and ill-treatment against suspects in terrorism cases.  

The submission also includes several cases of individuals from Crimea who have alleged torture by Russian officials since Russia began occupying the peninsula in 2014. They are: Oleg Sentsov and Gennady Afanasyev, who alleged torture by Russia’s security officials in 2015; and Renat Paralamov, who alleged torture by Russian security services in September 2017. To note, these cases are only a sample and not a comprehensive compilation of torture allegations related to Crimea.

It is important to recognize that violations of Russia’s most basic obligations under the Convention not to resort to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture and to hold accountable those who do are taking place not only in the contexts that Human Rights Watch has chosen to focus on.  On the contrary, the Committee’s upcoming review takes place against the backdrop of a broader deterioration of the human rights climate in Russia, with detrimental effects in particular on freedom of expression, assembly, and association as the authorities have moved to narrow the space for dissent. In implementing their crackdown on these human rights, Russian officials have repeatedly used unlawful and excessive force against those exercising these rights and subjected peaceful protestors and critics to inhuman and degrading treatment, including torture.

Human Rights Watch has closely monitored the human rights situation in Russia for many years. A major focus of our work in recent years has been uncovering extrajudicial detentions and use of torture and ill-treatment—as well as executions and enforced disappearances—by security officials in Russia’s Chechen Republic. Lasting impunity has served to perpetuate these abuses and has also contributed to the gradual loss of trust in Russian and international law by victimized local communities. As part of this work, we have documented grave violations of the Convention by the authorities in Chechnya and have produced materials setting out these findings. These include an August 2016 report[1] about violent government retaliation against critics in Chechnya and a May 2017 report[2] about the anti-gay purge carried out by Chechen security officials from February to April 2017. This submission summarizes elements of those reports.

Human Rights Watch has also closely monitored the Federal Security Service’s use of torture against terrorism suspects. We documented the forcible disappearance of and alleged use of torture against two suspects in the St. Petersburg suicide bombing of April 2017 in an extended press release in December 2017.[3] This submission also summarizes these two cases.

Human Rights Watch’s findings are consistent with patterns of torture and ill-treatment more broadly in Russia as documented by Russian human rights groups and international organizations. In an April 2015 report, the UN Human Rights Committee stated, “While noting that acts that may constitute torture or ill-treatment can be prosecuted under several articles of the Criminal Code, the Committee remains concerned about reports that torture and ill-treatment, including for the purpose of eliciting confessions, are still widely practiced.”[4]

We also wish to draw the Committee’s attention to a particularly prominent case that further serves to illustrate the extent of the crackdown on human rights defenders in Chechnya. Oyub Titiev, the Chechnya director of leading rights organization Memorial, remains imprisoned on spurious marijuana possession charges. To the best of our knowledge, Oyub Titiev has not been tortured. But it is clear that by arresting Titiev, the authorities are attempting to force Memorial, which is the only human rights organization that still maintains a presence in Chechnya, to shut down its operations in the region, leaving victims of the authorities’ egregious abuses—including torture and ill-treatment—nowhere else to turn for redress.

I. Ill-treatment and Use of Torture by Chechen Security Officials (Convention articles 2, 12, and 16)

For almost a decade Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, has steadily tried to eradicate all forms of dissent and has gradually built a tyranny within Chechnya. The repression has intensified since Russia’s last CAT review in 2014. Local authorities are cracking down on critics and anyone whose loyalty to Kadyrov they deem questionable. These include local residents who express dissenting opinions, critical Russian and foreign journalists, and the very few human rights defenders who challenge cases of abuse by Chechen law enforcement and security agencies.

Human Rights Watch’s August 2016 report, “Like Walking in a Minefield,” documented the methods the authorities used to retaliate against critics: abductions and enforced disappearances, cruel and degrading treatment, death threats, and threats against and physical abuse of their family members. We summarize some of these cases below.

Most interviewees from Chechnya asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against themselves or members of their families.

Khizir Ezhiev (forcibly disappeared, probably tortured, killed)

On December 19, 2015, unidentified gunmen abducted Khizir Ezhiev, a senior economics lecturer at the Grozny State Oil Technical University, from a service station where he was fixing his car. His body, which sustained numerous broken bones, was found on January 1, 2016 in the village of Roshni-Chu, about 40 kilometers from Grozny.

Ezhiev’s relatives later found out that the gunmen, who were in civilian clothes, initially took Ezhiev to a police precinct in Grozny. The relatives hoped to get him released in exchange for money, but a police official told them a few days later that Ezhiev had “escaped.”[5]

A close acquaintance of Ezhiev’s told Human Rights Watch that Ezhiev had participated in a closed group on the social media platform VKontakte that discussed the situation in the republic and expressed critical views of the Chechen leadership’s policies. Not long before Ezhiev’s detention, the group’s members apparently made derogatory comments about Kadyrov’s pilgrimage to Mecca, and Ezhiev wrote, “apparently, all sorts are welcome there these days.”[6]

A forensic report stated that Ezhiev allegedly died from internal bleeding after “falling off a cliff,” with one of his six broken ribs piercing a lung.[7] There is no official record of Ezhiev’s detention, and when Human Rights Watch’s report went to press in August 2016, no further investigation had been carried out into his death.

Khusein Betelgeriev (enforced disappearance and torture)

On the evening of March 31, 2016, two men who said they were from Chechen law enforcement forcibly disappeared Khusein Betelgeriev, a middle-aged Chechen poet and performer. They forcibly entered his house and ordered Betelgeriev to follow them, refusing to tell his wife where they were taking him. Betelgeriev’s family filed a missing persons report but received no information about his fate and whereabouts. He returned home 12 days later, badly beaten. It is unknown where Betelgeriev was held and by whom.

One of Betelgeriev’s acquaintances confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Betelgeriev’s captors had “beaten him to pulp” and that the state of his health was “devastating.” The acquaintance also said the he had multiple broken bones.[8]

A member of the Russian Union of Writers, Betelgeriev was also a senior faculty member at the Chechen State University until his sudden dismissal in 2015. An acquaintance of Betelgeriev’s told Human Rights Watch that he had lost his job at the university because of his views favoring Chechen separatism and his reluctance to support Ramzan Kadyrov publicly.[9]

On the day of his enforced disappearance, Betelgeriev had posted comments praising the Chechen separatist movement in a closed Facebook discussion group called “History of the Chechen Republic.”

Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Joint Mobile Group of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya, told Human Rights Watch that his organization approached Betelgeriev’s family and offered to organize medical assistance for him outside Chechnya.[10] The family refused and asked Kalyapin not to contact them again, suggesting that Betelgeriev was released from captivity on condition that he maintains complete silence about what had happened to him, a common practice in such cases.

Ramazan Dzhalaldinov (threats, house-burning, beating and other abuse of family-members, public humiliation)

On April 14, 2016, 56-year-old Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, from the village of Kenkhi, published a video timed for the live call-in show that President Vladimir Putin holds annually. Dzhalaldinov complained that the village was in ruins as a result of the two wars in Chechnya and cited the 2003 government regulation on compensation to civilians who lost housing and property due to military operations there. Dzhalaldinov argued that Chechen officials embezzled the funds allocated for reconstruction. The video was not broadcast during the call-in show but was shared widely online. Dzhalaldinov knew that Chechen authorities viciously retaliate against their critics, so after his video message was widely shared, he and his sons fled to neighboring Dagestan.

From mid-April through early May 2016, police officials visited Dzhalaldinov’s home several times, pressuring his family to reveal his whereabouts. On the night of May 13, a dozen gunmen in camouflaged uniforms forced their way into Dzhalaldinov’s house. The gunmen ordered Dzhalaldinov’s wife, Nazirat Nabieva, and their three daughters to get into their vehicles with their passports and birth certificates. A gunman pushed Nabieva to the floor with his automatic rifle when she begged them to leave the younger girls behind. The other gunmen dragged the crying children out of bed and into the vehicle and drove to the Sharoi regional police department.[11]

At the station, local police officials threatened and beat both Nabieva and her eldest daughter, demanding that they reveal the whereabouts of Dzhalaldinov and his sons. A police official held Nabieva while a more senior official punched her in the back, ribcage, and kidneys and kicked her with his booted feet. He also hit her with the butt of his gun, put the gun barrel to her head and neck, threatened to kill her, and fired the gun several times above her head. He said that he was punishing her for all the trouble caused by her husband.[12]

The same senior police official choked the eldest daughter and threatened to kill her, forcing her to give up the phone number of one of her brothers. He also hit her on the neck and in the back of the legs, saying she needed to persuade her father to retract all of his complaints if she wanted him and her brothers alive.[13]

After more than an hour, police officials drove Nabieva and her daughters to Chechnya’s border with Dagestan and, without returning their identification documents, told them to go to Dagestan and never return to Chechnya.[14] Unidentified men torched their house in Kenkhi and ordered the neighbors to stay silent. Later that day, Kadyrov said that Dzhalaldinov intentionally “took his family out of Chechnya and simulated an arson attack.”[15]

A few days later, Dzhalaldinov filed complaints with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the prosecutor’s office regarding the ill-treatment of his wife and daughters and house-burning by local police officials.[16] On May 15, unknown men unsuccessfully tried to kidnap Dzhalaldinov in front of a mosque in the Tsumadinsky district of Dagestan.[17]

On May 30, Dzhalaldinov appeared on Grozny TV giving an apologetic speech.[18] On the same day, Kadyrov posted on Instagram that he accepted Dzhalaldinov’s apology.[19] Dzhalaldinov immediately returned to Kenkhi with his family and withdrew his complaints about alleged abuses by police officials.

In November Dzhaladinov, who had begun to take steps to try to get compensation for his burned down house, fled Chechnya after Chechnya’s deputy minister for internal affairs, Apti Alautdinov, threatened him.[20]

II. Anti-Gay Purge (Convention articles 2, 12, 13, and 16)

From late February and through early-mid April 2017, security officials in Chechnya unlawfully rounded up dozens of men they believed were gay, searched their cell phones for contacts of other suspected gay men, and tried to coerce them—including through torture—into naming their gay acquaintances. They kept the men in several unofficial facilities where Chechen authorities have for years held and tortured individuals suspected of dissent, subversion, or terrorism. They exposed some of the captives to their families as gay and encouraged honor killings. At least two high-level local officials watched in some cases as police humiliated and tortured the detainees.

Chechen authorities responded to the allegations by denying the existence of gay people in Chechnya, suggesting obliquely that families should kill their gay relatives, and accusing journalists and human rights defenders of seeking to destabilize the republic. Chechen officials and public figures made serious threats against Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that broke the story.

The Russian LGBT Network opened a special hotline for those in immediate danger and provided evacuation-related assistance to 114 people from April 2017 to April 2018.[21] Most of them eventually found safe sanctuary abroad. Chechen police allegedly harassed relatives of those who fled, attempting to pressure them into disclosing the men’s whereabouts and forcing them to sign documents with false statements that the men were traveling outside Chechnya at the time the purge was occurring.

The Kremlin initially dismissed reports about the violence but, faced with consolidated international pressure, federal authorities eventually opened a preliminary inquest. By summer 2017, the investigation apparently stalled. In April 2018, it was officially closed. In May 2018, Acting Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov told the UN Human Rights Council, “The investigations that we carried out ... did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”[22]  In the course of the Russian authorities’ alleged investigation, no protections were offered to victims and their families, who would likely be at serious risk of reprisals from Chechen authorities if they reported the crimes.

Maxim Lapunov

In September 2017, Russian investigative authorities received an official complaint from one of the victims of the purge, Maxim Lapunov, detailing his detention and torture by Chechen security officials in March 2017. Lapunov is the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality. Since he is not from Chechnya and since he is openly gay, he is not vulnerable to the family pressures and dangers Chechen men face and therefore felt he could step forward.

At a news conference led by Novaya Gazeta, the Russian LGBT Network, and Human Rights Watch, Lapunov described how on March 16, 2017, he was selling balloons in central Grozny when security officials dragged him into a car and took him to a police compound. Lapunov said that security officials showed him torture devices and threatened to use them to “tear him apart.” 

The officials forced Lapunov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting,” which was designed as a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell during his 12-day confinement. He was beaten and witnessed and heard as security officials tortured—through beatings and use of electric shocks—other men presumed to be gay. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there.

Lapunov said that he did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs, and back were covered with hematomas. When he was released, he said that he “could barely crawl.” Six months after his detention, he said that he still suffered psychological distress from his ordeal.

Initially, Russian officials used the lack of official complaints and victims stepping forward to justify the absence of an effective investigation. However, as of May 2018, eight months after Lapunov filed his official complaint, Russian investigators have neither launched a criminal investigation into his complaint nor provided him the protection he requested.

III. Allegations of Torture Against Two Suspects in the St. Petersburg Bombing Case (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

Akram Azimov and his brother Abror, ages 29 and 26 respectively, are suspects in the St. Petersburg suicide bombing of April 3, 2017 that killed 16 people and injured 50 others. Both made credible allegations that Russian security agents forcibly disappeared them, tortured them, and then staged their arrests. In July 2017 the brothers’ lawyers, Olga and Dmitry Dinze, filed joint complaints with Russia’s Investigative Committee about their clients’ allegations of secret detention and torture.[23] Human Rights Watch interviewed the Azimov brothers’ parents and lawyers and reviewed court documents, media reports, Russian government statements, and FSB videos purporting to show the arrests.

The Azimov brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan and became naturalized Russian citizens in 2013. Both are accused of terrorism-related offenses and weapons possession. The FSB alleges that Abror coached Akbarzhon Jalilov, the suspected suicide bomber, by telephone before the attack.[24] Akram is accused of transferring money from an “international terrorist group” in Turkey to finance the attack and forging documents to help the group’s members freely move across Russia.[25]

In his complaint and accompanying statement, Abror said he was held in a black site somewhere in the Moscow area from April 4 to 17, 2017. He accused his captors of keeping his eyes covered for the first full week of his detention and torturing him for three days with methods including waterboarding, electroshocks to his genitals, and severe beatings to his kidneys. During his detention and while inflicting torture, FSB interrogators asked him questions about his religion and involvement in the bombing.

Abror said that on April 17, security agents drove him to a site outside Moscow, planted a handgun under the back beltline of his jeans, and videotaped his staged arrest. The video the FSB released to the public was widely aired and reported by national and international media.[26] Abror later recanted his statement about the torture after FSB agents threatened reprisals against him and his family members, according to a social media posting by his lawyer.[27]

Akram said in the joint complaint and his accompanying statement that on April 15, 2017, Kyrgyz plainclothes security agents forcibly removed him from a medical center in Osh (city in southern Kyrgyzstan) where he had undergone nasal surgery and then summarily transferred him to Russia. Akram’s statement makes no mention of any court approval of his transfer.

Upon arrival to Russia, he said he was held in a basement cell somewhere near Moscow and tortured for nearly four days, including with electroshocks, suffocation, and threats of rape. Interrogators asked him about his brother, other men allegedly involved in the attack, and his recent trip to Turkey. According to his statement, the interrogators made him memorize a detailed statement implicating his brother and several others as “terrorists.”

Akram said that on April 19, security agents drove him to a bus stop on the outskirts of Moscow and videotaped his staged arrest. That day the FSB released a video showing Akram’s purported arrest, which shows three agents approaching him as he sat on a bus stop bench in the outskirts of Moscow and uncovering a hand grenade that appears to be decades old in his hip pack.[28]

Akram’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that FSB agents threatened him after the complaint was filed. They allegedly threatened to rape his wife and continue to torture him unless he retracted his complaint. In October 2017, the Investigative Committee dismissed the complaint.

In the aftermath of the St. Petersburg bombing, Russian courts revoked the citizenship of Akhral Azimov, the Azimov brothers’ father, citing errors in his citizenship application. Akhral told Human Rights Watch that he believes the revocation amounted to “psychological pressure” to keep him from speaking out against his sons’ treatment.

On December 14, 2017, security officials detained Akhral and took him to the Kuntsevsky district police station in Moscow. According to Philipp Shishov, Akhral’s lawyer, a police deputy at that station told him that Akhral had later been transferred to FSB custody.[29] On December 15, Dmitry Dinze told Russian media that Akhral had been returned to Kyrgyzstan. FSB officials allegedly told Akhral that he should not attempt to re-enter Russia.[30]

IV. Allegations of Torture Against Suspected Members of Alleged Terrorist Group ‘Network’ (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

In January 2018, Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin—two left-wing activists in St. Petersburg—were forcibly disappeared and resurfaced two days later under arrest on charges of involvement in a terrorist organization (part 2, article 205.4 of the Criminal Code). A third activist, Ilya Kapustin, was detained as a witness in the case and was later released without charge. Records from medical exams conducted variously during and after their detentions and which Human Rights Watch reviewed indicate that all three men exhibited injuries consistent with electric shocks. Filinkov alleged that he was forced to memorize a confession under torture.

Russian media reported that all three men are suspects in an FSB investigation into the group “Network,”[31] alleged by Russian authorities to be a terrorist organization that they say planned— but did not carry out—violence aimed at destabilizing the country, including during the March 2018 presidential elections and during the World Cup.[32]

Members of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission (ONK, the Russian acronym), an independent body of experts authorized by the government to monitor places of detention,[33] documented Filinkov’s torture allegations and observed injuries consistent with torture on Filinkov and Shishkin, both of whom remain in custody since their arrest. Human Rights Watch spoke with a member of the ONK who documented the torture allegations and injuries.[34]

Human Rights Watch has also reviewed the ONK report detailing its findings, torture complaints submitted to the Investigative Committee, letters from the authorities responding to those complaints, the men’s medical records, and various local media reports. Human Rights Watch also corresponded with Kapustin’s lawyer.

Viktor Filinkov

Viktor Filinkov told ONK members that he was detained on January 23, 2018 at the Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg before boarding a flight to Minsk.[35] He said that a group of five or six men approached him, one of whom introduced himself as an FSB officer. The officers detained him, searched his belongings, confiscated his Kazakh passport (he is a citizen of Kazakhstan), and questioned him for at least an hour in an inspection room at the airport.

Afterward, Filinkov was taken to the Krasnogvardeiski District police station, where he was questioned and fingerprinted. Around 1 a.m. on January 24, he was taken to Aleksandrovskaya hospital for a medical examination. Between 3 and 7 a.m., Filinkov said that he was taken back into the van where there were several FSB officers and at least one man in a mask.

Filinkov said that the men drove him around a wooded area for several hours. One officer allegedly punched him several times in the chest, back, and back of the head and administered electric shocks to his leg, chest, neck, groin, and hands. The men threatened to administer electric shocks to his genitals and to leave him in the woods without his clothes. During that time Filinkov said that the FSB agents forced him to memorize a confession implicating himself in a terrorism plot and threatened that if he refused to confess, his current treatment would merely be a “softer version of what will be.”

At around 7 a.m. he was returned to the police station and wrote a confession. He was then taken to his home for a search, where he was also asked to change out of his bloodstained clothes. He did not have a lawyer present during the search. That evening, nearly 30 hours after he was detained at the airport, he was officially charged with involvement in a terrorist organization (part 2, article 205.4 of the Criminal Code), and the Dzerzhinskii District Court in St. Petersburg remanded him to pretrial custody.[36]

Filinkov’s lawyer, Vitaly Cherkasov, visited him in detention on January 26 and observed numerous burns on his body that appeared to be from electric shocks. On January 27, Cherkasov filed a complaint with the Federal Prison Service about his client’s injuries, as well as Filinkov’s allegations that he had been tortured.[37] On February 27, Cherkasov received a reply from the Ministry of Justice indicating that an investigation had revealed that Filinkov exhibited bodily injuries but that according to Filinkov, they were not life-threatening.[38]

Filinkov also provided testimony alleging torture to two St. Petersburg ONK members during a January 26 visit. ONK member Ekaterina Kosarevskaya filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee on January 27 detailing Filinkov’s torture allegations and the injuries that she observed during a visual examination, including burns on his chest and right hip.[39] On February 2, St. Petersburg ONK members performed a secondary examination together with prison medical staff and observed approximately 33 marks that appear to have been caused by electric shocks on Finiknov’s right hip and chest area.[40]

Filinkov and his wife also filed separate complaints with the Investigative Committee about the torture Filinkov sustained while in FSB custody. On April 17, the Investigative Committee issued a decision declining to open a criminal case in relation to the complaints filed.[41]

On March 14, Filinkov was moved from Federal Remand Center No. 3 to Federal Remand Center No. 6, where St. Petersburg ONK members do not have access. Leningrad Region ONK members have been able to visit him there and reported no further allegations of torture or ill-treatment as of April 16.[42] On June 19, the Dzerzhinskii District Court extended Filinkov’s pretrial detention until October 22.[43]

Notably, Filinkov’s lawyers and the two St. Petersburg ONK members who first documented the torture allegations were the target of a smear campaign by NTV, a pro-Kremlin nationwide television station. In April, an NTV program aired which accused them of “defending terrorists.”[44]

Igor Shishkin

Igor Shishkin disappeared around 5 p.m. on January 25, 2018 as he was walking his dog. His wife told media that FSB agents arrived at their apartment later that evening with the dog and a search warrant but did not inform her about her husband’s whereabouts. The agents searched the apartment.[45]

ONK members assisted Shishkin’s family in trying to locate him by contacting the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region FSB offices, the prosecutor’s office, and the St. Petersburg Human Rights Ombudsman.[46]

Shishkin’s location became known only on January 27, when he resurfaced at the Dzerzhinskii District Court in St. Petersburg. The court remanded him to pretrial custody, as he had been charged with involvement in a terrorist organization. Journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, but a friend of Shishkin’s who was present at the hearing said that Shishkin had bruising around his eyes.[47]

Members of the St. Petersburg ONK visited Shishkin on January 27 and observed bruising around his left eye, an abrasion on his left cheek, and a split lower lip. Shishkin told ONK members that he received the bruises from sports training. In the ONK’s report, it was noted that “Shishkin looked badly beaten and depressed, asked permission from prison officers before taking any actions, and asked ONK members not to do anything that could displease the officers.”[48]

On February 2, ONK members examined Shishkin again in the presence of prison medical staff and noted numerous bruises on his back that appeared to be burns. They reviewed a detention center medical record that noted the existence of “small-dot bruises” that could be observed “on the entire surface of [his] back,” as well on on his buttocks and back of his thighs.[49] An ONK member who observed the injuries told Human Rights Watch that the bruises were identical to the electric shock burns on Filinkov’s body.[50] At the time, Shishkin told ONK members that he did not know how he got the bruises.[51]

At time of writing, Shishkin had not filed a complaint about ill-treatment. He remains in Federal Remand Prison No. 3. On June 18, the Dzerzhinskii District Court extended Shishkin’s pretrial detention until October 22.[52]

Ilya Kapustin

Ilya Kapustin alleged that he was tortured by FSB officials in a complaint he filed with the Investigative Committee and in an account he gave to Russian media.[53]  The accounts are nearly identical. He said that he was detained in St. Petersburg on January 25 around 9:30 p.m. by several masked men who threw him to the ground, kicked him several times, placed him in handcuffs, and dragged him into a minivan. The handcuffs were tightened to the extent that they left visible marks on his wrists.[54]

Kapustin said that the men drove him around in the minivan for four hours while they questioned him about his participation in political organizations, trips to the city of Penza, and the political activities of his acquaintances.[55] He said that during the questions, one of the men administered no fewer than 40 electric shocks to his groin and the sides of his abdomen. Kapustin said that at one point, one of the men stood on his legs to hold him down while the other men administered electric shocks. Russian media released photographs of burns on his body. Kapustin said that officers threatened to break his legs and leave him in the forest.[56]

Around 1:30 a.m. on January 26, Kapustin said, he was taken to an FSB facility in St. Petersburg and was interrogated for about an hour. He said that he was threatened with a “second round” if he did not answer all of the questions. He was then taken to his home, where FSB officers led a search. During the search, FSB officers threatened to plant grenades in his apartment and to launch a criminal case against him. The officers left without charging him.[57]

Later that day, Kapustin went to a clinic to seek treatment for his injuries. Documentation from the clinic noted the existence of multiple contusions on his face and ribcage; electrical burns on his stomach, right hip, and groin; and linear bruising on his wrists.[58] On January 29, the St. Petersburg Health Committee carried out a forensic medical exam to determine the cause and extent of his injuries. The exam summarized Kapustin’s injuries as noted in his medical record from the clinic and detailed Kapustin’s allegations that he had been subjected to electric shocks by masked individuals who Kapustin said he later learned were FSB officers. The survey concluded that the injuries did not cause serious harm to health.[59]  

On February 9, Kapustin filed a criminal complaint with the Investigative Committee regarding his treatment by FSB officers.[60] On April 20, the Investigative Committee informed him that a criminal case would not be opened in relation to his complaint.[61] According to Kapustin’s lawyer, Dmitry Gerasimov, investigative authorities claimed officers needed to use electric shocks because Kapustin had resisted FSB orders during his detention. Gerasimov said that he and Kapustin plan to appeal against the Investigative Committee’s decision not to open a criminal case.

Gerasimov told Human Rights Watch that Kapustin has since fled Russia and is seeking asylum in Finland.[62]

V. Crimea-Related Cases (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

Allegations of Torture in the Case of Oleg Sentsov

In August 2015, a Russian military court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in a high-security penal colony for supposedly running a “terrorist organization.” His alleged accomplice, Crimean activist Olexander Kolchenko, received a 10-year term for his role in an alleged “terrorist attack” and participation in a “terrorist organization.” When Russia occupied Crimea in spring of 2014, Sentsov spoke out against the occupation and helped to evacuate stranded Ukrainian soldiers from military bases in Crimea.

The organization that Russian authorities accuse Sentsov of running allegedly carried out two arson attacks in Crimea in April 2014—one on the offices of the Russian Community in Crimea association and another at the headquarters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party in Simferopol. No one was injured in either attack. During his trial, prosecutors provided no evidence of his personal involvement in the arson attacks.

The charges against Sentsov for running a terrorist organization were based solely on testimony from two other alleged members of the group. One of them, Gennady Afanasyev, withdrew his testimony toward the end of Sentsov’s trial, saying it had been extracted under torture. In court, Afanasyev alleged that Russian security service officials viciously beat him during interrogations, suffocated him with a gas mask, stripped him naked, and threatened him with rape to force him to testify against Sentsov. Sentsov also made allegations of ill-treatment in custody and claimed that law enforcement officials hit him on his back.

The authorities did not investigate these allegations. During Sentsov’s trial, prosecutors argued that his visible wounds were the result of a long-standing involvement in sadomasochistic sexual practices.[63]

Torture of Renat Paralamov in Nizhnegorskiy, Crimea

In September 2017, Russia’s security services detained Renat Paralamov, a Crimean Tatar who worked as a trader at a local market in the town of Nizhnegorskiy, on suspicion of involvement with the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned as a terrorist organization in Russia since 2003 but is not proscribed in Ukraine or in most of Europe. Paralamov later alleged that the officials tortured him to coerce him into becoming an informant.

On September 13, a group of masked men in Nizhnegorskiy searched the house where Paralamov lived with his family. They said that they needed to search for “weapons and drugs.” During the search, they seized Paralamov’s laptop and tablet, as well as a book on Islam belonging to his mother-in-law. After the search, the men put Paralamov in a van and drove away.

For more than 24 hours, Paralamov’s family and lawyer had no contact with him or information about his whereabouts. Paralamov’s lawyer and a group of activists called and visited police and FSB departments in Nizhnegorskiy and Simferopol asking about him, but they got no answers as to his whereabouts or even a confirmation of his arrest. On the morning of September 14, a policeman told Paralamov’s family and friends, who had gathered outside a Nizhnegorskiy police station, that the local FSB department had released Paralamov the day before but that he “voluntarily” went back to “provide further answers” to the authorities’ questions.

At around about 12:30 p.m. on September 14, Paralamov called his family from a bus station in Simferopol. He said he had been badly beaten and was shaken and unable to walk. Paralamov’s family took him to a hospital in Simferopol to document his injuries, which included multiple hematomas and bruises.

At the end of September, Paralamov managed to leave Crimea with his family. After he arrived in Kyiv, he spent 15 days in a hospital to get treatment for his injuries.

During a news conference in Kyiv in early November, Paralamov described his detention and torture. He said that after the FSB took him to the station, they put a bag over his head, put tape over his mouth, and tortured him with electric shocks. They also punched him in the chest and hit him on the back of his head. When he asked for a lawyer, an FSB agent punched him in the chest and told him, “I’m your lawyer.”

Paralamov said the FSB agents asked him about his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and demanded that he become an informant, attend Crimean Tatars’ gatherings, collect information, and pass it on to the authorities. They also forced him to sign a document claiming that he left the FSB station in Simferopol on September 13 and voluntarily returned to confess to involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and that he voluntarily agreed to “cooperate” with the FSB.

Paralamov said that the next day, the authorities took him to a forest, where they made him repeat his confession on camera. The authorities told Paralamov that if he cooperated, he would get a three-year conditional sentence rather than real prison time and told him not to use a Crimean lawyer but the lawyer that they would provide.[64]

Recommendations for Steps the Government of Russia Should Be Urged to Take:

Regarding Russia’s obligations under the Convention

  • Publicly affirm Russia’s commitment to support and abide by the international prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, including by adopting and enforcing a policy of zero tolerance for ill-treatment and torture, whether on the streets, during arrests, or in detention. This includes the robust and effective investigation of allegations of ill treatment, coupled with prompt and effective sanctions against all officials found to be responsible for or complicit in prohibited treatment. Such sanctions should include criminal prosecution and penalties.
  • Ensure anyone who alleges that they have been the victim of prohibited treatment at the hands of a state agent—no matter which agency or rank and whether at a regional or federal level—has access to an effective remedy, meaning an effective complaint mechanism that will carry out an independent and thorough investigation into the allegations and is capable of leading to reparations for the victim and accountability for those responsible. All findings of such investigations should be made public.
  • Respect, protect, and facilitate the work of independent civil society groups and activists to monitor and report on Russia’s compliance with its Convention obligations and to provide assistance to victims of violations, including by ending the crackdown on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and by repealing legislation that restricts these freedoms and allowing human rights defenders to carry out their work without undue hindrance or fear of persecution.

Regarding the anti-gay purge and other abuses in Chechnya

  • Publicly condemn in the strongest terms the 2017 anti-gay purge in Chechnya. The authorities should lead a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment against gay men in Chechnya and ensure genuine anonymity and other protections for victims, witnesses, and their families so that they may participate in the investigation. This includes allowing them to testify remotely.
  • Ensure all Chechen authorities—including law enforcement and security agencies—fully comply with Russia’s obligations under the Convention, including by immediately shutting down all unofficial detention facilities in Chechnya.
  • Immediately and unconditionally release Oyub Titiev and drop the false charges against him so that he may continue his work in documenting human rights abuses—including torture and ill-treatment—in Chechnya.

Regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment, particularly against alleged terrorism suspects

  • Conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state officials tortured and ill-treated Akram and Abror Azimov at an extrajudicial detention facility in the course of their investigation into the St. Petersburg metro bombing of April 3, 2017.
  • Conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state officials tortured and ill-treated suspects in the FSB’s investigation into the group “Network.” This should include reopening criminal complaints filed by Viktor Filinkov and Ilya Kapustin and launching a thorough investigation into the treatment of other suspects in the case who are currently in detention in St. Petersburg and in Penza. In the course of the investigation, protections should be granted to victims of torture. Those responsible for any mistreatment should be held accountable, and Filinkov and Shishkin should be provided remedies. Any incriminating testimony Filinkov and Shishkin gave under duress should be deemed inadmissible in court.
  • Examine the Investigative Committee’s role and effectiveness in conducting investigations into torture allegations to determine whether they meet Russia’s obligations under the Convention.

Regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Crimea

  • Conduct a thorough investigation into use of torture and ill-treatment against those accused of terrorism in Crimea, including the use of torture to extract confessions. Immediately release Oleg Sentsov, whose imprisonment is politically motivated and based on a witness account extracted under torture. Drop all charges against Renat Paralamov.

[1] Human Rights Watch report, “Like Walking in a Minefield,” August 2016, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/chechnya0816_1.pdf.

[2] Human Rights Watch report, “They Have Long Arms and Can Find Me,” May 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/chechnya0517_web.pdf.

[3] “Russia: Threats, Alleged Torture in Bombing Case,” Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/05/russia-threats-alleged-torture-bombing-case.

[4] United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7, April 28, 2015, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7&Lang=En (accessed May 31, 2018).

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with a close acquaintance of Ezhiev (name withheld), July 7, 2016.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kheda Saratova post to Facebook, January 2, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201097921207796&set=a.27564223... ater (accessed June 5, 2018).

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with an acquaintance of Khusein Betelgeriev (name and relationship withheld), April 9, 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Igor Kalyapin, April 27, 2016.

[11] GazetaChernovik, “Ramazan Dzhalaldinov’s wife and daughter say they were expelled from Chechnya [Жена и дочь Рамазана Джалалдинова рассказали, как их прогнали из Чечни],” video clip, YouTube, May 13, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-A7HQLVTws (accessed June 9, 2016). Also based on information Human Rights Watch received in May 2016 from Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, Elena Milashina who covered his case for Novaya Gazeta, and human rights lawyers of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture who interviewed Ramazan Dzhalaldinov and his immediate family members.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Kadyrov says arson attack on the Dzhalaldinov’s home is a lie [Кадыров назвал ложными сообщения о поджоге дома Джалалдинова],” Caucasian Knot, May 14, 2016, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/282459/ (accessed June 9, 2016).

[16] Human Rights Watch communications in May 2016 with Elena Milashina who covered Dzhalaldinov’s case for Novaya Gazeta, with Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, and with human rights lawyers of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture who interviewed Dzhalaldinov and his immediate family members.

[17] “Witnesses informed about attempted kidnapping of Dzhalaldinov [Очевидцы заявили о попытке похищения Джалалдинова],” Caucasian Knot, May 18, 2016, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/282719 (accessed June 9, 2016).

[18] “Kenkhi resident Dzhalaldinov apologized to Kadyrov for unreasonable accusations [Житель села Кенхи Джалалдинов принес извинения Кадырову за необоснованные обвинения],” TASS, May 30, 2016, http://tass.ru/obschestvo/3325442 (accessed June 9, 2016).

[19] Ramzan Kadyrov (Kadyrov_95) post to Instagram, “Assalamu alaikum! Anybody can make mistake [Ассаламу алайкум! Любому человеку свойственно ошибаться],” https://www.instagram.com/p/BGCk4xrCRjF/?hl=ru (accessed August 4, 2016).

[20] Tanya Lokshina, “Tyranny Versus a Village Man in Chechnya,” Human Rights Watch, December 12, 2016.

[21] Rosbalt press conference with Igor Kochetkov and Elena Milashina, April 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKXe0j_7zqg&feature=youtu.be (accessed June 6, 2018).

[22] “Russia Tells UN There Are No Gays in Chechnya,” Moscow Times, May 15, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-tells-un-there-are-no-gays-in-chechnya-61450 (accessed June 6, 2018).

[23] Nurjamal Djanivekova, “St. Petersburg Blast Suspects Claim Torture in Russian Jail,” Eurasianet, July 31, 2017, https://eurasianet.org/node/84571 (accessed May 29, 2018).

[24] Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation statement, April 17, 2017, http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438115%40fsbMessage.html (accessed May 29, 2018).

[25] “St. Pete Metro Blast Suspect Received Money from Terrorist Group in Turkey,” Sputnik International, April 20, 2017, https://sputniknews.com/russia/201704201052820547-st-petersburg-metro-blast-suspect-money-turkey/ (accessed May 31, 2018).

[26] “FSB publishes video of arrest of organizer of explosion in St. Petersburg metro,” 24.kg News Agency, April 18, 2017, https://24.kg/english/49773_FSB_publishes_video_of_arrest_of_organizer_of_explosion_in_St_Petersburg_metro_/ (accessed May 29, 2018).

[27] Dmitry Dinze post to Facebook, July 26, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1561547997229669&id=100001234515802 (accessed May 29, 2018).

[28] “The FSB detained the brother of the suspected organizer of the terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg metro [ФСБ задержала брата предполагаемого организатора теракта в метро Петербурга],” YouTube, April 19, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_YLp2pA5KY (accessed May 29, 2018).

[29] Margarita Alekhina, “Police announce the detention of St. Petersburg terrorist attack suspects’ father [В полиции заявили о задержании отца обвиняемых в петербургском теракте],” https://www.rbc.ru/society/14/12/2017/5a32c49c9a7947d76c0b31eb (accessed May 31, 2018).

[30] “Father of St. Petersburg terrorist attack suspects expelled from Russia [Отца обвиняемых в теракте в петербургском метро выдворили из России],” Republic, December 15, 2017, https://republic.ru/posts/88439 (accessed May 31, 2018).

[31] Russian media reported that some of the other men arrested in connection with the case also sustained torture while in custody of the FSB. Anna Kozkina and Yegor Skovoroda, “Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Torture in Remand Prison [Арестованные в Пензе антифашисты рассказали о пытках током в подвале СИЗО],” Mediazona, February 9, 2018, https://zona.media/article/2018/02/09/penza-tortures (accessed June 2, 2018).

Russian human rights defenders have made public statements indicating that there is credible reason to believe that this is true. Rosbalt press conference, YouTube, February 15, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jBQ-NbNIUs&feature=youtu.be (accessed June 3, 2018).

[32] Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy, “Connected by one ‘Network.’ The developing case of the ‘anarchists’ who planned to overthrow the regime [Связанные одной ‘Сетью’. Как раскручивается дело об ‘анархистах’, планировавших свергнуть режим],” Republic, January 31, 2018, https://republic.ru/posts/89236 (accessed June 1, 2018).

[33] See the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission website at: https://onk.su/about-onk/

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Ekaterina Kosarevskaya, member of the St. Petersburg POC, June 5, 2018.

[35]Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018, publicly available at http://onkspb.ru/files/download/27/0a4628cc (accessed June 6, 2018). Also see: Viktor Filinkov, “’You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!’: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services,” Open Democracy, February 28, 2018, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way (accessed June 1, 2018). Filinkov was en route to Kyiv, Ukraine via Minsk, Belarus.

[36] St. Petersburg Courts Press Service post to Telegram, January 25, 2018, https://t.me/SPbGS/1620 (accessed June 2, 2018)

[37] Letter from Viktor Cherkasov to the director of the Federal Prison Service and to the manager of Remand Center No. 3, January 27, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[38] Letter from the Ministry of Justice to Viktor Cherkasov, February 27, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[39] Complaint on file with Human Rights Watch.

[40] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[41] Decision not to open a criminal case, Investigative Committee, April 17, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch. Also see: Correspondance from Viktor Filinkov to the Investigative Committee, posted to Vitaly Cherkasov’s Facebook account, May 21, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=824089214467908&id=100006005109621 (accessed June 1, 2018).

[42] Yana Teplitskaya, St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee member, post to Facebook, March 16, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/yana.teplitskaya.5/posts/1778849432166672 (accessed June 5, 2018).

[43] Vitaly Cherkasov, Filinkov’s lawyer, post to Facebook, June 19, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006005109621. Also see: “Court in Petersburg extended arrest of suspect in ‘Network’ case [Суд в Петербурге продлил арест фигуранту дела ‘Сети’ Виктору Филинкову],” OVD-Info, June 19, 2018, https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/19/sud-v-peterburge-prodlil-arest-figurantu-dela-seti-viktoru-filinkovu (accessed June 20, 2018).

[44] “A dangerous network [Опасная сеть],” NTV, April 20, 2018, http://www.ntv.ru/peredacha/proisschestvie/m4001/o494876/video/ (accessed June 11, 2018).

[45] Alexander Maier, “Russian Activists Forcibly Disappeared, Allegations of Torture in Custody,” Human Rights Watch, February 1, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/01/russian-activists-forcibly-disappeared-allegations-torture-custody.

[46] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[47] “In St. Petersburg the judge did not let journalists in to the arrest hearing of antifascist activist Shishkin [В Петербурге судья не пустил журналистов на арест антифашиста Шишкина],” Mediazona, January 27, 2018, https://zona.media/news/2018/01/27/shish-spb (accessed June 5, 2018).

[48] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Ekaterina Kosarevskaya.

[51] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[52] “In Petersburg ‘Network’ suspect Igor Shishkin’s arrest was extended another four months [В Петербурге фигуранту дела «Сети» Игорю Шишкину продлили арест на четыре месяца],” OVD-Info, June 18, 2018, https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/18/v-peterburge-figurantu-dela-seti-igoryu-shishkinu-prodlili-arest-na-chetyre (accessed June 20, 2018).

[53] Complaint filed by Ilya Kapustin with the Investigative Committee, February 9, 2018, publicly available at https://www.fontanka.ru/2018/02/13/145/report.2.html#/?0. “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him [‘Они сказали, что могут переломать мне ноги и выбросить в лесу.’ Илья Капустин из Петербурга рассказывает, как его пытали сотрудники ФСБ],” Mediazona, January 27, 2018, https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin (accessed June 6, 2018).

[54] “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him,” Mediazona, January 27, 2018.

[55] Penza is a Russian city located approximately 1,300 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg. Six men were arrested in Penza in October and November 2017 in connection with the FSB’s investigation into “Network.”

[56] “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him,” Mediazona, January 27, 2018.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Medical record of Ilya Kapustin, City Polyclinic No. 3, January 26, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[59] St. Petersburg Health Committee, judicial-medical survey of Ilya Kapustin, January 29, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[60] Post by Pavel Chikov on Telegram, February 13, 2018, https://t.me/pchikov/768 (accessed June 6, 2018).

[61] Investigative Committee, decision not to launch a criminal case, April 20, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Nina Järvenkylä, “Ilya Kapustin: ‘When the Stamp Thudded in My Passport, It Was Like a Huge Weight Had Been Lifted from My Shoulders’ [Turvapaikkaa Suomesta hakeva venäläisaktivisti Ilja Kapustin: ‘Kun passiin jysähti leima, oli kuin valtava paino olisi pudonnut harteilta’],” Iltalenti, March 10, 2018, English translation available at https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/13/ilya-kapustin-asylum-finland-iltalehti/ (accessed June 6, 2018).

[63] Yulia Gorbunova, “Russia Should Free Oleg Sentsov Before FIFA World Cup,” May 24, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/24/russia-should-free-oleg-sentsov-fifa....

[64] “Crimea: Persecution of Crimean Tatars Intensifies,” Human Rights Watch, November 14, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/14/crimea-persecution-crimean-tatars-in....

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Paris) – Uzbek authorities should immediately and unconditionally release an Afghan citizen whose 13-year imprisonment and alleged torture in custody have only recently become known, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, International Partnership for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch said today.

Muhammad Hasan ogli Abdulhamid, 45, a citizen of Afghanistan, was detained in Pakistan in 2005 at the request of Uzbek security services and sent to Uzbekistan. According to reliable sources, he was subjected to ill-treatment, accused of ties with an Uzbek opposition figure, and sentenced to 15 years in prison on vague charges of extremism. He has been held despite significant violations of due process, including of the right to appeal his sentence. Several sources close to Abdulhamid provided information about his imprisonment to the rights groups in April 2018.

A guard in a solitary confinement block at an unidentified prison in Uzbekistan. Prisoners in solitary confinement in Uzbekistan’s prisons experience cramped cells without bedding—some in total darkness, others with permanent bright lights.

© Fiery Hearts Club
“Credible allegations that a foreign national has been imprisoned on vague extremism charges for 13 years without being able to challenge his detention and subjected to ill-treatment raise serious concerns that Tashkent should immediately investigate,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Abdulhamid’s case underlines how important it is for the Uzbek government disclose information about the thousands of people imprisoned since the 1990s on such charges and to examine each case.”

In 2005, Abdulhamid was traveling to Afghanistan via Pakistan, where he was detained at the request of Uzbek authorities and sent to Tashkent. Sources close to Abdulhamid reported that after his arrival in Uzbekistan, officers from Uzbekistan’s National Security Services tortured him. The security services, known commonly by the Russian acronym SNB, have recently been renamed the State Security Services, or SGB. His interrogators accused him of being associated with an exiled opposition figure Muhammad Salih, who is now based in Turkey.

At the time of his arrest, Abdulhamid asked to be allowed to meet with Afghan consular officials but was refused, the sources said. In 2006, Abdulhamid was charged under article 159 of the Uzbek criminal code concerning threats to the constitutional order, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Three people who were imprisoned with him in Uzbekistan’s Bekobad prison No. 64/21 told the rights groups that Abdulhamid told them that he had never met or even heard of Salih, never communicated with him, and had not previously travelled to Uzbekistan. The former prisoners said that Abdulhamid has never been given a copy of the sentence in his case that would allow him to appeal or challenge his detention.

One of these sources also said that on more than one occasion he had heard Abdulhamid cry out in pain from another room where he was being interrogated. The sources said that officials with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Abdulhamid at Bekobad in 2010 and 2011. However, in the following years, on the eve of ICRC prison visits, the sources said, authorities had moved him to a separate, detention center to hide him from the delegation.

Uzbek authorities should expeditiously examine Abdulhamid’s case and immediately release him given the multiple violations of due process, the groups said. They should also establish a national independent mechanism to ensure that each such case connected with the application of extremism charges (articles 159, 216, 244-1, and 244-2 of the criminal code) is re-examined and that anyone wrongfully convicted is released and fully rehabilitated.

“Abdulhamid’s case is troubling on so many levels and riddled with violations of due process, beginning with his arrest in Pakistan and continuing on through his trial and ill-treatment in prison,” said Nadejda Atayeva of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “Uzbekistan’s convictions of people on extremism charges will continue to raise concerns as long as authorities continue to keep these cases shrouded from public scrutiny.” 

Since assuming the presidency in September 2016, the Uzbek government led by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has released approximately 30 people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists. But thousands of people imprisoned on such charges, including for extremism, remain behind bars.

Among them are Andrei Kubatin, Akrom Malikov, Rustam Abdumannapov, scholars; Mirsobir Hamidkariev, a film producer; Aramais Avakyan, a fisherman; Ruhiddin Fahriddinov (Fahrutdinov), a religious figure; Ravshan Kosimov, Viktor Shin, and Alisher Achildiev, soldiers; Nodirbek Yusupov, a deportee from the US; and Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist.

The Uzbek government should immediately release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges, or detained following serious violations of due process, providing them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment, the groups said. The Uzbek government should amend its criminal code provisions relating to extremism that are commonly used to criminalize dissent and bring the criminal code into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations.

In November 2017, Mirziyoyev signed a decree prohibiting the courts from using evidence obtained through torture, and forbidding legal decisions based on any evidence not confirmed during trial. The decree, which came into force in March 2018, states that prosecutors will be required to check whether physical or psychological pressure was exerted on a defendant or their relatives. If enforced, the decree could help prevent torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek officials have indicated an openness to cooperate with United Nations experts by inviting the UN special rapporteur on the independence of lawyers and the judiciary to visit the country. The Uzbek government should combat systematic torture by allowing the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit the country as well during 2018. The authorities should also close Jaslyk prison and ratify the Optional Protocol to the international Convention Against Torture, all longstanding recommendations by UN bodies.

“Uzbekistan’s convictions on extremism charges will continue to raise concerns as long as there are due process violations and a lack of transparency,” said Rachel Gasowski of IPHR. “The government’s agreement to allow the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to visit is a positive step, and we hope that his visit will facilitate revision of criminal cases on fabricated charges, including the case of Muhammad Hasan ogli Abdulhamid.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s army should release the findings of its investigation into the deaths a year ago of four Syrians in custody, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite evidence of torture, the military prosecutor announced on July 24, 2017, that an investigation showed the men had died of natural causes. The army has never released the full results of the investigation.

On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese army issued a statement saying that four Syrians had died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.”

“When four men die within days of arrest, and photos of their bodies show marks consistent with torture, the public deserves a full accounting of what happened,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But a year after these deaths, we still do not have clear answers about why they died, or steps that the army has taken to ensure that this never happens again.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both publicly urged the military to release the results of its investigation. Human Rights Watch also made the request in a meeting with the army commander, Joseph Aoun, on July 24, 2017, and again raised the issue in a letter to the army on June 27, 2018, but has received no response. The army had previously told Human Rights Watch and local media that it would publish the findings of the investigation.  

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

A group of UN experts wrote to the Lebanese government on October 3, 2017, requesting information about this case. The experts include the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; on the independence of judges and lawyers; and on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The government of Lebanon responded on December 15, 2017, but the response is not yet public.

After the announcement of the deaths, Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the Syrians, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and subsequently at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he saw 34 of the men who were arrested after they were released and that they had marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head. Human Rights Watch also spoke with five of the men the army arrested during the raid who were subsequently released. They said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees in custody.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Under the latest draft of the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 36 on the right to life, states parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including Lebanon, should make public the findings, conclusions and recommendations of an investigation into deaths in custody.

Lebanon has an obligation under international law to publish the results of the investigation when a detainee dies in custody. Loss of life in custody, especially when accompanied by reliable reports of an unnatural death, creates a presumption of arbitrary deprivation of life by state authorities, which can only be rebutted on the basis of a proper investigation that establishes the state’s compliance with its obligations under international law.

Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by Lebanon’s security services, including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, the investigations have often not been concluded or the findings made public. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any case in which military personnel have been held to account for torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

“If this investigation does in fact show that these men died of natural causes, it is in the army’s own interest to make that public,” Fakih said. “Calling for a public accounting into allegations of torture is not an attack on the Lebanese army, but about ensuring accountability and the rule of law.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) - Iran’s judiciary executed Mohammad Sallas, a Dervish minority member, on June 18, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. He was convicted after a trial that raises serious concerns about its fairness, and despite serious allegations that the authorities tortured him in detention. Sallas’s family was allowed to bury his body in Boroujerd cemetery in Lorestan province, in western Iran, under a heavy security presence, though activists reported that his children were not allowed to view his body. 

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

© 2018 Majzooban-e-Noor

On March 18, after a rapid trial that concluded only a few weeks after his arrest, and allegations of police torture to elicit a forced confession, the court sentenced Sallas, 46, to death. He was charged with killing three police officers by driving a bus into a crowd of security officers during the clashes that broke out after security forces violently repressed a demonstration of Dervish community members on February 19 and 20.

“The Iranian judiciary’s determination to execute Sallas after rushing his trial and sentence despite serious allegations of torture betrays the legal system’s core function of upholding justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of conducting an independent investigation into the security incidents during the February Dervish protests and granting all the accused a fair trial, authorities have once again shown their disdain for due process or defendants’ rights.”

Based on the Supreme Court’s verdict, which Zeinab Taheri, Sallas’s lawyer, published, the sole piece of evidence used to determine in court that Sallas was driving the bus that killed three police officers was the confession that Sallas said he gave after police officers severely beat him. After the trial, on May 15, Taheri told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that authorities had beaten Sallas so hard that he almost lost his eyesight and afterward had serious hearing problems, and that it was under these conditions that he made the confession. He repeated this confession in his first court session, saying that he drove into the police officers, but did it out of anger over their actions and had not intended to kill anyone. 

Sallas said that police also had severely beaten him before the bus driving incident, causing serious head injuries.

On June 17, Narges Sallas, Sallas’s daughter, told Human Rights Watch that authorities had broken Sallas’s finger after he told the judge during his second trial session that he did not remember driving the bus toward the police. There is no evidence that the courts considered the allegations of torture. 

On May 23, Taheri told media that she had filed for an appeal at branch 35 of Tehran’s Supreme Court, but the court rejected it. On June 12, Mahmoud Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, told journalists at a news conference that Sallas would be executed after Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan, which ended in Iran on June 15, the Iranian government rarely carries out executions. 

Since the February demonstrations, about 400 Dervish community members facing vaguely defined security charges have remained in detention. On May 28, Jafari Dolatabadi told journalists that verdicts had been issued against 67 of them. On May 27, Faeze Abadipour, a member of the Dervish community, tweeted that authorities had sentenced 23 members to a total of 119 years in prison, plus time in exile and flogging. 

Attacks on police forces are criminal acts, but Iranian authorities should ensure that all convictions are based on individual determinations of guilt after fair trials and not extend criminal responsibility to an entire group of protesters, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. 

Under international law, torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, is banned at all times, in all places. No national emergency, however dire, ever justifies its use, or the use of evidence obtained by torture.  

Under international law, everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, based on the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require them to avoid the use of force when dispersing assemblies that are unlawful but nonviolent or, if that is not practicable, to restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

Article 14 of the ICCPR also requires Iran to ensure the right to a fair trial for anyone brought before the criminal courts. This includes the right “to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing.” The Iranian authorities should charge detainees only with a recognizable crime and ensure the right to a fair trial for anyone charged, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. © 2018 REUTERS

(Washington, D.C.) -- On May 17, 2018 the US Senate voted to confirm Gina Haspel as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The following quote can be attributed to Laura Pitter, senior US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch:

“The US Senate’s confirmation of Gina Haspel for CIA director is the predictable and perverse byproduct of the US failure to grapple with past abuses. The torture at the center of the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program was a crime plain and simple, but the US government has never been willing to admit that or to take appropriate action. Until it does, the US aligns itself with countries that undermine respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law." 


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Displaced Iraqi families pictured in a camp. © 2017 by Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should not transfer a US citizen detained abroad to the custody of any country where he faces a substantial risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 17, 2018, the US filed notice in US federal court indicating it plans to transfer the detainee to another government’s custody, which media reports suggest is Saudi Arabia or Iraq. 
The US should either prosecute the detainee in US federal court if there is evidence he committed a crime, or release him, Human Rights Watch said. “The US should not be transferring anyone to a country where they face a risk of torture or ill-treatment,” said Laura Pitter, senior US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The detainee has the right to contest his transfer to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or any other country where he might face torture.”

The US government has been holding the prisoner, a dual US and Saudi citizen identified only as “John Doe” in court papers, at an undisclosed military prison in Iraq since he surrendered to US-allied forces in Syria in September 2017. According to media reports and court filings, the US suspects the detainee of being a low-level fighter with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). In court filings the detainee disputes this, asserting he travelled to Syria to report on the conflict but was kidnapped and imprisoned by ISIS and tried numerous times to escape. The US has not publicly charged him with a criminal offense. The April 17 notice was filed in US Federal Court for the District of Columbia indicating that it intended to transfer him to an undisclosed country within the next 72 hours. 

The US initially contested attempts to permit the detainee access to a lawyer but after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued, a US federal court ordered the government to permit the ACLU access. The ACLU challenged his detention in court ever since, as well as the government’s ability to transfer him to another country. On January 23, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the US government to give the court 72 hours’ notice if it intended to transfer the prisoner, which would permit the ACLU to file an emergency motion to block the transfer, which it did on April 18.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, which the US ratified in 1994, prohibits transferring anyone to the custody of another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the individual would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.  

In Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch has documented the use of torture in detention facilities. There have also been numerous cases in which criminal suspects alleged abuse in court. However, the courts, without investigating the claims, instead based convictions on allegedly coerced confessions. In Iraq, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of torture of captured extremist suspects, as well as sham trials followed by executions.

“It’s bad enough that the US has been detaining this individual for months, fighting his right to contest his detention and access to legal counsel,” Pitter said. “If the US now intends to transfer him to another country, it needs to make sure he won’t face a risk of torture and can challenge the transfer.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Numerous concerns have been raised about Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Though the US Senate confirmed him as  the Central Intelligence Agency director, albeit with significant objection, his new role would be much different and raises a host of new concerns.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

One is the influence he could exert over US overseas “rendition” policy – how the US handles the transfer of people from US custody to the custody of other governments or non-state armed groups abroad. US rendition practices in the years following the September 2001 attacks resulted in numerous abuses. In addition to unlawfully detaining and torturing scores of men in US custody, the US also sent an unknown number to countries where they faced torture — and many indeed were tortured –, violating the Convention against Torture, to which the US is party.

The Obama administration refused to take as strong a position as it could have on whether the US is legally bound by that treaty’s  prohibition on transferring people to places where they face a substantial risk of torture when that transfer takes place outside of US territory. Its position remained shrouded in secrecy.

Only after it released an unclassified portion of US overseas transfer policy as part of a summary of its legal positions at the end Obama’s second term did it become clear that it had adopted the George W. Bush administration’s position that the US is not legally bound by the treaty’s transfer provisions when those transfers take place outside the US. However, it did state that the US applied convention obligations as a matter of policy to all transfers regardless of location.

The position is contrary to international law and went against the advice of many key senior Obama officials, including the State Department legal adviser, Harold Koh. In 2013 Koh wrote a 90-page memo urging the administration to reject the “untenable” legal position that the US is not legally bound by this treaty provision concerning a transfer outside of US borders.

Given the integral role the State Department plays in these transfers, along with Pompeo’s past expression of support for CIA torture and his apparent frustration with laws barring it, senators should make this issue a major focus of his confirmation hearings. Does he consider the US to be bound by the convention’s transfer provisions outside the US? If not, will he commit to apply the convention’s standards on transfer as a matter of policy as the prior administration did? If so, how will he ensure this policy is enforced? Will he ensure that the US never transfers anyone from US custody to a government or non-state armed group when they are likely to face torture?

Though senators questioned Pompeo about his attitudes on torture during his CIA confirmation hearing, those questions focused mostly on whether he would abide by a 2015 law enacted after he made his views in support of the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” known. During his confirmation hearing, he did recognize the validity of that 2015 law and promised to respect it but in written follow-up questions and during interviews while CIA director, said he would look at the possibility of revising that law or finding ways around it if he found that US interrogators were unduly constrained.

There are strong safeguards against revising the 2015 law, which requires US interrogators to use only those techniques listed in the US Army Field Manual. The manual, which has its flaws, explicitly bans many unlawful practices the CIA used in the past, such as waterboarding, and torture more generally. Any revisions would have to be approved by Defense Secretary James Mattis, an outspoken critic of the use of torture, who at one point seemed to have convinced Trump that using it was ineffective, if not necessarily wrong. This time around, senators should focus their questions on the US overseas transfer policy given how much influence on these matters Pompeo could exert at the State Department. According to former senior State Department and National Security Council officials, the State Department is deeply involved in negotiating these transfers, determining their legality and appropriateness, and ensuring certain safeguards are in place when they do occur.

These questions are more important than ever given the shifting dynamics of US military operations. The US is engaged in major military operations around the world yet it has drastically reduced its detention operations in these locations. It relies more than ever on partner forces that detain and interrogate people in their custody. Just days ago it was revealed that the US military is spending about $1 million to help detain thousands of Islamic State fighters and their family members in makeshift camps run by Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

The only new detainee the Trump administration says it is holding is an unnamed American citizen in Iraq. This detainee requested a lawyer but the US refused to provide one until a court ordered it months later, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued to represent him. It also sought to transfer him to Saudi Arabia even though it has a well-known record of torture. In Yemen, US interrogators have questioneddetainees in secret prisons run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces where torture is widespread, and in another undisclosed location where the detention conditions were not known.

In this environment, the line between where partner custody ends, and US custody begins, as well as what constitutes a transfer to another government’s custody, should be closely watched. Pompeo’s expressed frustration with laws banning torture, the leading role the State Department plays in overseas transfers, and the limited domestic legal constraints on them, should make these issues and questions an important focus of Pompeo’s upcoming nomination hearing.

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

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018. © 2018 CIA handout

Much concern has been raised, for good reason, about President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Haspel allegedly was involved in reckless, illegal torture under the agency’s “rendition, detention and interrogation” program.

Since records remain classified, the full extent of Haspel’s involvement is not clear. The New York Times reports she ran the CIA’s first “black site” in Thailand when one detainee, Abd al-Nashiri, was severely tortured there. She also appears to have played a key role in pressing for and ultimately destroying videotapes of the torture of another detainee, Abu Zubaydah, whose detention at the same site began before she arrived.

One section of a Senate Intelligence Committee summary of a much larger classified report describes the CIA’s torture of Zubaydah to the point of near death: “In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’” The CIA discussed what to do if Zubaydah died and how to make sure no one learned what the CIA did to him. “In light of the planned psychological pressure techniques to be implemented, we need to get reasonable assurances that [he] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” a CIA cable read.

The CIA’s apparent hopes that Abu Zubaydah’s treatment would never see the light of day is one likely reason why Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA clandestine service at the time, ordered 92 video tapes of CIA interrogations destroyed. Rodriguez claims this was done solely to keep CIA agents’ identities confidential.

The government continues to keep classified many facts related to the CIA’s torture program, making it difficult to attribute to specific officials responsibility for incidents of torture or oversight of it. But it is clear that Haspel held a senior role at the CIA, and at a “black site,” during the height of the agency’s torture program.

Glenn Carle, a former undercover CIA operative who was involved in interrogating a suspected al Qaeda detainee, described her as “one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [CIA interrogation program].”  Former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, in his book, “A Company Man,” describes Haspel as having “run the [CIA] interrogation program.”

Rizzo also says in his book that Rodriguez and Haspel were “the staunchest advocates inside the [CIA] for destroying the tapes.” Rodriguez, in his book, “Hard Measures,” says that Haspel drafted the order, which Rodriguez signed even though Rizzo says he had told him not to do so without approval.

If this much is correct — that Haspel was heavily involved in running the torture program and destroying evidence of it — this is enough to disqualify her from heading the CIA. True, the Justice Department signed off on the program, and others in higher positions at the CIA made the decisions to carry it out. But the culpability of other senior officials doesn’t absolve her of responsibility.

The torture program clearly was inhumane. Many CIA professionals are reported to have taken stands against it, reported their concerns, or refused to carry out orders. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” were just the tip of the iceberg. There also was long-term incommunicado detention in unsanitary conditions, unlawful rendition, forced nudity, food deprivation and diapering, among other things.  

Haspel should not be confirmed to head the CIA even if she is “a consummate professional,” as some CIA colleagues have described her, or “a good deputy director” this past year, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. It’s fine to weigh these positives when considering someone for a position, but they cannot possibly outweigh the negatives associated with a record that includes running a program that was illegal under both U.S. and international law.

Failing to promote her to head the CIA would not be punishment, as some have claimed. Despite this huge black mark, she already has ascended to great heights within the agency.

Some U.S. senators such as Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Heinrich (D-N.M.), have expressed their opposition to Haspel’s nomination. Others, such as Feinstein, are reserving judgment but demanding more information be made public about Haspel’s role in the program prior to her confirmation hearing.

The public has a right to know more about this dark chapter in U.S. history. Without declassification, senators cannot ask important questions about Haspel’s record because her answers would be classified. Among these questions: Was she responsible for “management failures” that the CIA itself has described? Were these failures related to detainee abuse, or conditions of detention? Did she discipline officers for their conduct? Did she raise concerns about aspects of the program? Did she play a role in inflating reports of the intelligence gained from the program, which the CIA also has acknowledged?  

Other questions, such as whether she would ever use such techniques again and if she believes they were illegal, could be asked in a public setting. But even if Haspel disavows torture, it wouldn’t come close to erasing concerns to a degree that would favor confirmation. Promoting someone who made such profound errors in judgment to the senior position in an important and powerful agency, at a time when the president has himself supported the use of torture, sends the message to other U.S. government officials — and to the world — that fundamental violations of the law will be rewarded and that impunity in the United States is the order of the day.

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

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018.

© 2018 CIA handout
(Washington, DC) – The US Senate should oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Senate leadership and Select Committee on Intelligence. She was closely involved in the torture of detainees under the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program, and the destruction of related evidence.

The government should disclose more information about Haspel’s role in the RDI program, but what is already known should disqualify her from serving as CIA director and other senior government positions.

“President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate someone directly involved in overseeing the US torture of detainees and destroying evidence of it makes a mockery of laws prohibiting torture,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “Haspel’s confirmation at a time when the US president himself has endorsed torture would send a message that violations of fundamental rights will not only be tolerated but rewarded.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018.

© 2018 CIA handout


March 23, 2018

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader, US Senate

The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader, US Senate

The Honorable Richard Burr
Chairman, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

The Honorable Mark Warner
Vice Chairman, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Re: Nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA Director

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Chairman Burr, and Vice Chairman Warner:

We write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express our opposition to the impending nomination of Gina Haspel to be Central Intelligence Agency director.

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate as CIA director someone closely involved in the torture of detainees under the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program,[1] and the destruction of related evidence, demonstrates contempt for the prohibition against torture under US and international law. It sends a message to the American people and the world that acting without regard for rights protections and the rule of law will be rewarded.

Much of Haspel’s role in the RDI program is not publicly known because the government has classified extensive information related to that program. Information on her role should be declassified and released publicly prior to her hearing so that both senators and the American public have a clear and full understanding of her record. However, what is already known should disqualify her from this critical cabinet-level position.

Ran CIA “Black Site,” Oversaw Torture

Haspel is credibly reported to have run a CIA “black site” in Thailand from late October 2002 until late December 2002 where at least two detainees, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were held.[2]

Though Haspel appears to have physically arrived at the Thai site toward the end of Abu Zubaydah’s most aggressive interrogation period, she would have known or should have learned that Abu Zubaydah had been subject to extensive torture and ill-treatment. This included being stripped naked, hit, slammed into walls, shackled into extremely painful stress positions, subjected to extreme cold, and waterboarded 83 times—on at least one occasion to the point of near death.[3]

Within weeks of her arrival, Haspel supervised the interrogation of al-Nashiri, a new detainee brought to the site. Interrogators used many of the same unlawful techniques used on Abu Zubaydah, including waterboarding.[4]

Role in Other Aspects of the RDI Program

By the end of December 2002, Haspel reportedly returned to the CIA Counterterrorism Center outside Washington as an operations officer.[5] No public record exists of the role she played in the RDI program between then and the time that she became chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA’s National Clandestine Service from 2004 or 2005 until 2007.[6] But credible, public accounts suggest that during this time she played a leading, supervisory role.

In his book, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo describes Haspel as having “run the [CIA] interrogation program.”[7] Glenn Carle, a former undercover CIA operative involved in interrogating a detainee in CIA custody described her as “one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [CIA interrogation program].”[8]

In addition to using so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the CIA also held detainees in long-term incommunicado detention in unsanitary conditions, forced detainees to be naked or wear diapers, and deprived them of food, and fed at least five detainees through their rectums.[9] The agency also unlawfully rendered numerous men to various countries, many of whom were then tortured by US partner forces.[10]

Haspel should publicly explain which aspects of the CIA program she was involved in during this time, if any, and her role. The CIA has admitted to a number of “management failures” during the time that she was in charge of the Thailand CIA “black cite.”[11] This included a failure to discipline for detainee abuse. The agency also admitted to inflating the value of intelligence gathered from detainees to continue justifying the program.[12] 

Destruction of Videotapes

In 2005 Haspel was involved in destroying 96 videotapes of some of the most violent images of CIA torture, mostly depicting the torture of Abu Zubaydah.[13] During one waterboarding session likely recorded, a CIA cable describes Abu Zubaydah having become “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”[14] John McPhearson, a CIA lawyer who reviewed the tapes, said they showed Abu Zubaydah, “crying” and “gagging” and that they were “very unpleasant to look at.”[15] 

In November 2005, Haspel drafted the order to destroy the tapes and Rodriguez signed it though Rizzo had instructed Rodriguez not to do so without his and further White House approval.[16] According to Rizzo, Rodriguez and Haspel were “the staunchest advocates inside the [CIA] for destroying the tapes,”[17] and Rodriguez said in his book that destroying the tapes was something that he and Haspel had been trying to do for a long time.[18]


The US Senate is charged with scrupulously examining the administration’s nominee for CIA director. Given her record, confirming Haspel would not only erode US respect for the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment but would undermine US commitments to human rights at home and abroad. For these reasons, we urge you to oppose her nomination.


Nicole Austin-Hillery
Executive Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch

Sarah Margon
Washington Director
Human Rights Watch


[1] Human Rights Watch, No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture, December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/01/no-more-excuses/roadmap-justice-cia-torture.

[2] Adam Goldman, “Gina Haspel, Trump’s Choice for C.I.A., Played Role in Torture Program,” New York Times, March 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/us/politics/gina-haspel-cia-director-nominee-trump-torture-waterboarding.html?smid=tw-share (accessed March 18, 2018).

[3] Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, December 13, 2012, https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4bb5-968f-289799bf6d0e/D87288C34A6D9FF736F9459ABCF83210.sscistudy1.pdf (accessed March 18, 2018)(hereinafter “Senate Summary”), pp. 31-47.

[4] Senate Summary, p. 67.

[5] Goldman, New York Times, March 13, 2018.

[6] Jose Rodriguez, “A CIA veteran on what ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ gets wrong about the bin Laden Manhunt,” Washington Post, January 3, 2013,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-cia-veteran-on-what-zero-dark-thirty-gets-wrong-about-the-bin-laden-manhunt/2013/01/03/4a76f1b8-52cc-11e2-a613- ec8d394535c6_story.html?utm_term=.e33121c5e84a (accessed March 19, 2018).

[7] John Rizzo, A Company Man, Scribner: New York 2014, p. 14.

[8] Natasha Bertrand, “A Controversial Record of Torture, but Maybe Not a Deal-Breaker for Democrats,” The Atlantic, March 13, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/democrats-may-look-past-a-cia-nominees-record-on-torture/555554/ (accessed March 19, 2018).

[9] See generally, Senate Summary. See also: Human Rights Watch, No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture

[10] See Human Rights Watch, Delivered Into Enemy Hands: US-Led Renditions to Gaddafi’s Libya, September 5, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/09/05/delivered-enemy-hands/us-led-abuse-and-rendition-opponents-gaddafis-libya; See also, Globalization of Torture Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” February 2013, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/globalizing-torture-20120205.pdf (accessed March 20, 2018).

[11] See U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “Comments on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Former Detention and Interrogation Program,” June 27, 2013, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/CIAs_June2013_Response_to_the_SSCI_Study_on_the_Former_Detention_and_Interrogation_Program.pdf (accessed March 22, 2018).

[12] Ali Watkins, “CIA Strikes Back At Senate: Torture Program Was Poorly Run, But It Worked,” The Huffington Post, December 9, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/09/cia-torture-program_n_6272220.html (accessed March 22, 2018).

[13] The exact number of tapes destroyed varies by source. In his book, “A Company Man, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo who has a first-hand account of the episode, says there were 100 hours of recordings on 96 tapes. See Rizzo, A Company Man, p. 7. Many media reports say 92 tapes were destroyed. See e.g., Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “Lawyers Left Off Memo to Destroy CIA Terror Tapes,” Associated Press, July 26, 2010, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38416094/ns/us_news-security/t/lawyers-left-memo-destroy-cia-terror-tapes/#.WquUY6jwY2x (accessed March 20, 2-018).

[14] Annabelle Timsit, “What Happened at the Thailand 'Black Site' Run by Trump's CIA Pick,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/gina-haspel-black-site-torture-cia/555539/?utm_source=poltw (accessed March 22, 2018).

[15] Rizzo, A Company Man, p. 8.

[16] Ibid,. pp. 16-17.

[17] Ibid., p. 14.

[18] Jose Rodriguez, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, Threshold Editions: New York, 2012, p. 193.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

"Adam," arrested in Kenya in February 2015 on homosexuality charges and subjected to a forced anal exam, sorts through police documents on his case. © 2015 Zoe Flood

(Nairobi) – A Court of Appeal in Mombasa, Kenya, ruled on March 22, 2018, that conducting forced anal examinations on people who are accused of same-sex relations is unconstitutional, Human Rights Watch said today. It was a resounding victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists in Kenya and beyond.

The ruling reversed a 2016 High Court decision that had upheld the Kenyan authorities’ use of forced anal exams to attempt to provide evidence of homosexual conduct. The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), a nongovernmental organization based in Nairobi, filed a constitutional challenge after police arrested two men in Kwale County in February 2015 on charges of homosexuality, and subjected them to forced anal exams, HIV tests, and Hepatitis B tests at Mombasa’s Madaraka Hospital.

“The ruling that forced anal exams violate Kenya’s constitution is of tremendous significance,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The ruling affirms the dignity of the two Kenyan men who were subjected to these horrific exams, and it reinforces the understanding that the constitution applies to all Kenyans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The petitioners contended that forced anal testing is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can amount to torture. The exams usually involve doctors or other medical personnel inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into the anus of the accused. In other cases, victims are ordered to strip naked and bend over or lie down with their feet in stirrups while doctors “visually” examine their anal regions.

Momentum has built in opposition to forced anal exams in recent years, in the countries where law enforcement makes use of the exams, and internationally. The Independent Forensic Experts Group has found that the exams, which are based on long-outdated 19th century medical theories,  are both medically worthless and a severe violation of medical ethics. Numerous United Nations (UN) agencies have opposed forced anal exams, and the Committee Against Torture has called on several countries, including Cameroon, Egypt, and Tunisia, to stop conducting them.

In October 2017, the World Medical Association adopted a resolution condemning forced anal exams and calling on doctors to stop conducting them. National medical associations in Lebanon, Tunisia, and most recently in Kenya have also criticized the exams. Tunisia, during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in September, accepted a recommendation to prohibit the use of forced anal exams, although it has not yet taken steps to do so.

Other countries that have conducted forced anal exams on people accused of homosexuality in the last eight years include Tanzania, Turkmenistan, and Zambia.

“With this ruling, the judges are saying that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and afforded our basic rights, as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution,” Njeri Gateru, head of Legal Affairs at NGLHRC, said in a statement.

Activists hope that the ruling will lend support to other civil rights cases pending in Kenya’s courts. In 2016, NGLHRC, along with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and the Nyanza Rift Valley & Western Kenya Network (NYARWEK), filed a constitutional challenge to sections 162(a) and (c) and 165 of Kenya’s penal code, which criminalize consensual same-sex relations. The groups contend that these colonial era laws prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” violate the rights of LGBT Kenyans and others to privacy, equality and non-discrimination. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

“This landmark ruling places Kenya’s courts at the vanguard in affirming that the government cannot deny LGBT people their basic rights,” Ghoshal said. “No one should be subjected to forced anal exams, and no one should be deprived of their rights because of who they are or whom they love.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am