(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

(Washington, DC) - The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has found the Turkmen government responsible for the torture and death of a human rights activist, the Prove They are Alive Campaign! said today. The activist, Ogulsapar Muradova, died in state custody in 2006, after her arrest and trial on politically motivated charges. Human Rights Watch is a member of the campaign.

Ogulsapar Muradova in the mid-1990s 

© Annadurdy Khajiev
“Finally, there’s an authoritative acknowledgment of the Turkmen government’s responsibility for the monstrous torture and death of Ogulsapar Muradova,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, of the Prove they Are Alive! campaign. “Now the government should identify all those responsible for her death, hold them to account to her family. It’s been 12 years, but it’s never too late for justice.”

The government should also immediately end the forced disappearances of dozens of other people being held in Turkmen prisons, the campaign said.

Muradova was an activist with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, an independent human rights group that works on Turkmenistan from exile in Bulgaria, and a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In June 2006, police in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, arrested Muradova and two other activists, her brother, Sapardurdy Khajiev, and Annakurban Amanklychev, and also her three adult children.

Just before the activists’ arrest, two of them had been assisting with a documentary about human rights and related issues in Turkmenistan.

Muradova’s children were released a few weeks later. In August 2006, following a rushed, closed trial, a court convicted Muradova, Amanklychev, and Khajiev on bogus charges related to alleged possession of bullets, and sentenced Muradova to six years in prison, and Amanklychev and Khajiev to seven years.

The circumstances of the activists’ arrest left no doubt they were targeted in retaliation for their human rights work, the campaign said. For example, then-President Saparmurat Niyazov, in a televised speech, condemned Muradova for assisting foreign journalists in “gathering slanderous information to show discontent among the population,” and other statements in the state media called her and the other activists “traitors.”

Muradova was held incommunicado the entire time she was in custody. On September 13, 2006, just weeks after her closed trial, her family was informed that she had died. Morgue staff allowed her family to see her body only after diplomatic intervention. A family member who viewed the body said he saw a deep cut in on her forehead, a dark mark around her neck which could be consistent with strangulation, open wounds on her hands, and severe bruising on her legs.

According to unconfirmed information received in December 2006 from a law enforcement official, Muradova died from torture during an interrogation by National Security Ministry officers. Another source later said a “suicide” was staged to conceal the real circumstances of her death.

The government claimed Muradova died of natural causes and did not investigate her death. In its response to the HRC in December 2016, the government said Muradova had been kept in Ovadan-Depe (prison AH-T/2) and claimed that on September 13, 2006, she “committed suicide” by hanging herself.

The HRC, responding to a complaint filed by Muradova’s brother, Annadurdy Khajiev, found the Turkmen government responsible for violating Muradova’s right to life, in an opinion issued in April 2018. The committee made the decision public in August.

The committee found that Turkmen authorities arrested Muradova for her journalism and human rights work, and that they did not conduct a prompt investigation into allegations of torture and her death in custody. It also found that the government’s failure to provide any information about her death caused mental stress to Khajiev that amounted to inhuman treatment.

The committee said the Turkmen government should conduct an impartial investigation into the circumstances of Muradova’s death; provide the family with a full account of its investigations, including the autopsy report, copies of trial transcripts, and the court verdict; and provide a remedy to Muradova’s family, including compensation and rehabilitation of her name.

Muradova was included in the Prove They Are Alive! campaign’s List of the Disappeared in Turkmenistan’s Prisons. The campaign said that like Muradova, dozens and most likely hundreds of other people have been subjected to lengthy periods of incommunicado detention, following rushed, closed, and unfair trials. Their families have been deprived of any information about their loved ones, in many cases for as long as 16 years. A list compiled by the Prove They Are Alive! campaign includes 112 confirmed cases of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan. Dozens of their family members live in a constant state of distress tantamount to torture, not knowing their loved ones’ whereabouts, or whether they are dead or alive.

The Turkmen government should promptly reply to the HRC and take immediate steps to remedy the violations of Muradova’s and her family’s rights, the Prove They Are Alive! campaign and Human Rights Watch said. It should immediately end the practice of incommunicado detention and make a concerted effort to provide information to family members and relevant international bodies about the fate and whereabouts of people in custody.

“Ending enforced disappearances is an important step toward ensuring that no one suffers the same fate as Olgusapar Muradova,” said Vitali Ponomarev, Central Asia program director at the Memorial Human Rights Center, a partner in the campaign. “It’s time for the Turkmen government to end the suffering of the disappeared and their many families who are denied information about their loved ones.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Risafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, where Human Rights Watch sat in on 18 felony trials in June and July, 2018.

© 2018 Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo

(Beirut) – Iraq’s judges routinely fail to investigate security forces credibly alleged to have tortured terrorism suspects, Human Rights Watch said today. Judges also frequently ignore allegations of torture and convict defendants based on confessions that defendants credibly allege were coerced.

Concern around the use of torture by the Iraqi security forces has increased considerably since the government’s mass arrests of thousands of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects. Although Iraq is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture, it has no laws or guidelines directing judicial action when defendants allege torture or mistreatment. 

“Torture is rampant in Iraq’s justice system, yet judges lack instructions for responding to torture allegations,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Defendants, including ISIS suspects, won’t be able to get a fair trial so long as the security forces can freely torture people into confessing.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed files of 30 cases tried by Baghdad courts between 2009 and 2018 in which defendants alleged torture, and in June and July 2018, sat in on 18 felony trials of ISIS suspects in Baghdad. All of the cases but one were brought under Iraq’s counterterrorism law, which can carry a death sentence. In 22 of the cases, judges refused to respond in any way to the allegations of torture. In several cases, the judge ordered a forensic medical examination and found signs of torture, but did not necessarily order a retrial or investigation and prosecution of the abusive officers.

Iraqi authorities have long relied on confessions obtained through torture to achieve convictions. In 2014, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported that “judges regularly fail to take any action when defendants raised allegations before the court that they had been subjected to torture in order to force confessions in relation to the crimes for which they were standing trial.”

Iraq’s Constitution prohibits “all forms of psychological and physical torture and inhumane treatment.” Furthermore, “any confession made under force, threat, or torture shall not be relied on, and the victim shall have the right to seek compensation for material and moral damages incurred in accordance with the law.” The Criminal Procedure Code also prohibits the use of “mistreatment, threats, injury, enticement, promises, psychological influence or use of drugs or intoxicants” to extract a confession.

However, the Criminal Procedure Code gives judges full discretion to determine whether a defendant’s confession is admissible, even if the defendant repudiates it. The procedure code also gives officials effective immunity from prosecution, by requiring approval from the “responsible minister” to refer the accused official for trial.

Human Rights Watch spoke with three senior judges and five private defense lawyers in Baghdad. The lawyers said that, in the absence of laws or guidelines regarding allegations of torture, under the constitutional ban on torture, the judge should order a forensic medical examination to determine whether the defendant was tortured. If so, the judge should transfer the defendant from the custody of the offending officer, dismiss the confession, and order a retrial, as required under Iraq’s 2016 Amnesty Law.

But judges rarely ordered forensic medical examinations to investigate torture, the lawyers said. And when judges ordered a forensic report, they rarely ordered a retrial.

Lawyers also said that they rarely had any success when they tried to invoke the amnesty law in terrorism cases to obtain a retrial when suspects alleged torture. In an exceptional case, a lawyer said he was able to get a detainee released using the amnesty law because the victim’s family testified on behalf of the defendant that security forces had arrested the wrong man.

Judges have also failed to transfer defendants from the custody of accused officers, the lawyers said. Any defendant who testifies in court that their interrogators tortured them is at risk of being tortured again when returned to prison to face the same guards.

Article 123 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that a detained suspect has the right to a lawyer within 24 hours of their arrest. But the security forces do not bring suspects before an investigative judge within 24 hours of arrest, as required by law, lawyers said, increasing the likelihood of torture. They estimated that terrorism suspects in Baghdad typically only saw a judge between 10 and 20 days after arrest, but that some detainees waited months or even years to be brought to court. The lawyers interviewed also said that they had never been allowed to attend a client’s interrogation in a terrorism case, increasing detainees’ susceptibility to torture.

One consequence of the significant delays in appearance in court is that a forensic medical report, which a judge orders, may be unable to document the torture. In a 2014 case, a forensic report noted nine scars on the detainee’s body, but concluded that, “The scars were inflicted more than six months ago and therefore cannot be identified.”

Concerns that judges ignore claims of torture extend beyond Baghdad courts, Human Rights Watch said. In Nineveh governorate, which contains the city of Mosul, a judge told Human Rights Watch in July 2017 that “many” ISIS suspects alleged torture in court and that he ordered a medical examination in each case – though he provided no details on the outcomes and conceded he never investigated or sanctioned their interrogators. In July 2018, six lawyers at the Nineveh counterterrorism court told Human Rights Watch that while allegations of torture by defendants were common, they knew of no case in which an interrogator had been investigated.

Judicial authorities should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, Human Rights Watch said. Judges should order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation.

Iraq’s High Judicial Council should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges being tortured in custody. Parliament should pass the draft Anti-Torture Law, which would require judges to order a medical examination of any detainee alleging torture within 24 hours of learning of the allegation. As it currently stands, the draft law provides criminal sanctions for the torturer as well as their commander; says that judges should dismiss all evidence obtained through torture; removes the torturer from the case; and requires officials to allow detainees to have their lawyer present throughout the investigative period. 

“When judges convict based on coerced confessions and disregard allegations of torture, they are sending a message to the security forces that torture is a valid investigative tool,” Fakih said. “The Iraqi government needs to do much more to ensure that criminal investigations are genuine and impartial and that officers who torture detainees are appropriately prosecuted.”

Access to a Lawyer During Interrogations, Investigative Hearings
Lawyers said that in terrorism cases, they were not allowed to attend a client’s interrogations with security officers, unlike for clients accused of other types of crimes. This limited their ability to plead on behalf of their clients, including making allegations of torture. They said that getting access to terrorism suspects was nearly impossible except during court hearings, though it varied by the security force and the location. They noted a few cases in which lawyers or wealthy families were able to bribe officers to allow communication with detainees.

The lawyers said that in terrorism cases they never seek permission to represent their clients at the initial investigative hearing out of concern that security forces and judges at the investigative court would label them “ISIS lawyers,” subjecting them to arrest. They instead wait for the court to appoint a lawyer and only step in after the case is transferred to the felony court, where the risk of harassment and threats is significantly lower. In the 18 felony trials Human Rights Watch observed in Baghdad and Nineveh, private lawyers did not represent any of the terrorism defendants and the state-appointed lawyers did not actively mount a defense or seek investigations into torture claims.

Detainees who rely on state-appointed lawyers face difficulties obtaining proper legal representation. A member of Iraq’s Bar Association in Baghdad said that the state pays state-appointed lawyers 25,000 IQD or US$20 per case, regardless of the amount of time they spend. As a result, he said, lawyers have no incentive to meet their client before their investigative hearing, study the case file, or to continue to represent them in subsequent hearings. This lack of representation leaves defendants more vulnerable to abuse, lawyers said.

Irregularities in Investigative Process
Article 128 of the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that within 24 hours after arrest, an interrogator is to obtain a primary confession from the defendant, which the defendant signs and which the interrogator hands over to the judge in the case file. The judge should then interview the defendant to obtain a second confession, confirming the information in the case file and the charges. The defendant and judge should both sign the confession.

Lawyers said that this procedure is not followed. In some cases the interrogator takes the primary confession directly to the judge, or the judge visits the prison and signs the primary confession. In other instances, officers bring the defendant to court, and before entering the courtroom, force the person to sign a blank paper. They then have a hearing in front of the judge, after which guards takes the defendant out of the room, and the judge signs a confession written by the court scribe or the judge, which may not reflect what was revealed at the hearing.

One lawyer said he had represented a 30-year-old client who had been arrested at his home in Baghdad in August 2015 by the army’s 54th Brigade. The defendant later told his lawyer that soldiers held him in Muthana Airport Prison and waterboarded him until he confessed to three alleged terrorist attacks in 2007. Once he confessed and his case was transferred from Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court in Kirkh to the Central Criminal Court in Risafa, six months later, the lawyer requested a forensic medical exam.

He knew the report would be too late to be accurate but told the judge about the waterboarding. The lawyer said the judge ignored the information. The lawyer contacted Baghdad police regarding the incidents his client had confessed to, and said the police responded that only one of them had occurred. The lawyer said he was able to demonstrate to the judge that two of the attacks had never taken place, and that the one that had occurred, in March 2007, took place while his client had been in prison. He secured his client’s release.

In a 2009 judgment, the judge referred to a forensic report that found scarring consistent with torture, but upheld the conviction by relying on what the case file said was other evidence. The court found that: 

The statements of the defendants were recorded, and they pled guilty to the charges before the investigative officer and judge. They later withdrew their confession to the charges before this court, claiming that they were tortured. The court reviewed the medical report of the defendants … regarding their claims that they were tortured. The court also reviewed the blueprint of the crime scene and decided that the evidence against the defendants was enough to convict them according to the plaintiff’s statements, backed by the statements of the witnesses.

The lawyer said he argued successfully that the two defendants should be sentenced to 15 years instead of life because of the use of torture.

Lawyers said that bribery was commonplace in the judicial system and admitted to bribing security officers and judges to secure their clients’ release or better treatment. At the investigative stage the prosecution controls all the case documents, including any forensic medical examination report. The lawyers said they have to request access to the documents from the investigative judge. Sometimes the judge refuses and even if a judge allows access to the documents, it is usually only for a limited period. The lawyers said that generally they are only able to obtain copies of key documents needed to mount a defense, including a forensic medical report, by being “well connected or paying a bribe,” as one put it. This makes it significantly harder for them to use forensic medical examinations in their client’s defense.

Refusal to Acknowledge Torture Allegations
In 16 of the 18 trials of ISIS suspects in Baghdad Human Rights Watch monitored over the last year, defendants alleged that they had been tortured, including to extract confessions. In no instance did the judge take action base on the claim, although in some instances the judge asked the defendant in the courtroom to reveal any marks of torture. One lawyer said he observed at least four trials in the past year in which the judge said the alleged torture allegation was not credible because a coerced confession would have described a much more significant role with ISIS.

Human Rights Watch monitored a trial at the Baghdad Central Criminal Court in June in which a 35-year-old defendant, detained in 2017 for an alleged improvised bomb attack in Baghdad, told the judge his confession was false and that his interrogator had broken both his hands. The judge ignored the defendant’s request to examine his hands, but later ordered his release when his lawyer presented a police report proving the purported attack had never occurred.

In July 2018, in Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court, a defendant told the judge he had been tortured to extract a confession, but the judge ignored the allegations, independent court observers said. The defendant said that the officer who had tortured him had forced him to sign the confession blindfolded, with his hands bound. The judge rejected his request to let him demonstrate that his actual signature was very different. “The judge didn’t even react to the plea, he just convicted him, and sentenced him to death,” one observer said.

One lawyer said that his client, 30, had been detained by the army’s 54th Brigade in Baghdad in December 2015. The man, a local municipality employee, believed he was targeted because he objected to the culture of corruption and refused to accept bribes. He told his lawyer that when he was arrested, soldiers put a plastic bag over his head, took him to Muthana Airport Prison, and beat him and hung him from a rope for 10 hours. His lawyer said that after 10 days he was brought before the investigative judge:

A friend of mine working at the court alerted me to the hearing, but I was scared to represent him there and end up myself getting threatened, so I attended the trial but as an observer. My client, who had a state-appointed lawyer, told the judge he had confessed under torture. The judge completely ignored this, and even worse, after reviewing the file, ordered a “deeper investigation.”

The lawyer said that he understood the order to conduct a “deeper investigation” as a green light to the interrogators to use torture. Several lawyers said this was a common phrase judges use in court if there is no significant evidence on the defendant, and if they want interrogators to exert more pressure. One lawyer said that a judge had ordered a “deeper investigation” by scribbling the phrase on one of his case files.

This 30-year-old defendant sent for a “deeper investigation” later told his lawyer that over the next three months, the interrogators severely tortured him. They inserted a metal rod up his anus, electroshocked him, and beat him to obtain confessions to multiple crimes. The defendant was brought to court twice more during that time, first on charges of participation in two terrorist acts, where again he told the judge he had been tortured but was ignored, and then on charges of five terrorist acts. In that hearing, he confessed to all five acts, and then was transferred to another prison, the lawyer said. 

At this point the lawyer formally represented him and asked the judge to order a forensic medical report. The report confirmed broken bones and abuse, he said, but he was only allowed to see the report briefly in court and not allowed a copy. The lawyer contacted Baghdad police and obtained confirmation that the five alleged terrorist attacks that the defendant had confessed to had never occurred. In June 2017, upon reviewing the police report, a judge ordered the man’s release, stating there was not enough evidence to convict him. The judge did not take any steps to investigate the torture allegations, the lawyer said.

Investigations of Security Force Personnel
Judges in Baghdad have not adequately investigated security force personnel implicated in torture. In the 30 cases Human Rights Watch reviewed in which defendants alleged torture, judges ordered a retrial in only three because of the finding of torture, but took no measures to identify the wrongdoers.

In one case, in February in Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court, a defendant told the judge that his interrogator had tortured him to extract a confession, independent court observers said. He named the interrogator, to which the judge responded that he knew the officer because “there have been a lot of complaints against him, he has a history of treating prisoners roughly.” The judge then ordered a retrial. The observers said there was no indication that the judge had opened an investigation into the officer.

In another case, a judge was initially willing to dismiss defendants’ confessions because of torture allegations and seek a retrial, but in a later hearing accepted a second set of coerced confessions. The defendants were two farmers from Diyala who were arrested in late 2016 by military intelligence forces and taken to Muthana Airport Prison, their state-appointed lawyer said. His clients had a hearing soon after their arrest. With his support both told the judge they had been tortured, and denied the confession presented to the judge. The judge agreed to set it aside but called for a “deeper investigation” without taking steps to investigate the offending officers. The lawyer said:

Suddenly on Sunday, only four days after the first hearing, I heard from someone in the court that they were back for another hearing. I rushed to court and saw that they were being represented by a new state-appointed lawyer and were just finishing their hearing. The lawyer told me that they had admitted to “everything.” They both got 15 years for joining ISIS. I saw them as they left the courtroom, one had a huge bulging bruise on his left eye and later they told me they had been beaten with electrical cables and had been hung from the ceiling, but it was too late. There was nothing I could do.

In two cases, a judge investigated allegations of torture without bringing a criminal case against the officers despite credible evidence of torture. The only case in which an officer was sentenced for torture was one in which the officer had cut off a prisoner’s penis during an interrogation.

In one case, a member of the Interior Ministry’s intelligence service beat a 17-year-old boy with electrical cables, trying to extract a confession that the boy had stolen motorcycles in early 2018. A judge eventually released the boy without charge because of a lack of evidence and one month later, the family ordered a forensic medical report that confirmed the torture.

The officer was investigated but found not guilty at trial after his lawyer contended that the medical report was invalid because the examination was after the boy’s release, so there was no way of proving the source of the marks on his body. “Later the same officer contacted me,” the lawyer told Human Rights Watch. “He killed a prisoner during a recent interrogation and needs me to get him off again.”

In a second case, a lawyer said the defendant was accused of participating in an abduction in 2013. After months in which he refused to confess, the Interior Ministry’s intelligence forces, which had been holding the detainee at their office in Sha`b neighborhood, transferred him to the ministry’s intelligence forces in another Baghdad neighborhood. Soon after, he confessed and was brought to court.

The lawyer said he got the judge to order a forensic medical exam that found 14 signs of torture, including a swollen penis, a side effect of a common torture technique in which interrogators hang a full bottle of water from a string tied to a prisoner’s penis. Despite the evidence of torture and the lawyer’s complaint against one of the interrogators for torture, the defendant was found guilty and no one was convicted of torture. The lawyer said: 

If you can imagine, the judge released the officer on bail the same day we filed the complaint. He then delayed the case for a few months until the war with ISIS was in full force, and all officers were called to the front line including him. I realized then that we would not get anywhere with the officer, so I pushed for the release of my client, using the forensic medical report. The judge ignored it and gave him the death penalty and we have been appealing the case since then.

In the 2009 case in which an officer  cut off a detainee’s penis during an interrogation, the officer was sentenced to three years in prison. The lawyer did not know if the officer served all three years, or whether he returned to his old post. The torture victim was convicted in a second trial in which fake witnesses testified against him, the lawyer said.

In another case, the officers holding a detainee refused to comply with the judge’s order for a forensic medical exam, preventing any investigation of the alleged wrongdoer. The lawyer said that Federal Police forces had detained his client, 34, from Baghdad, in 2012 for a robbery and murder that left a woman and her three children dead. The case was prosecuted as terrorism. The defendant confessed to a judge, but the defendant’s wife told the lawyer her husband had told her he had been tortured – an officer allegedly raped him repeatedly with three dildos. The lawyer had the judge order a forensic medical exam but the implicated officer refused to take the defendant to the medical center for the examination.

At a hearing in December 2012, the judge said that he was dropping the request for the medical exam, because “the lawyer had not followed up to implement the request,” the court documents show. The lawyer said the judge told him later, “You did not pay the commander and now he is sick of you, so he will not take [the defendant] to get examined.”

Threats to Defense Lawyers
All the lawyers interviewed highlighted the serious risks to their careers and personal safety if they took on cases of ISIS suspects. One said that Interior Ministry intelligence forces held the lawyer’s client for three years, throughout which he maintained his innocence. After a hearing with an investigative judge, the judge ordered the defendant’s transfer to a special investigative committee under the authority of the prime minister’s secret service, and he was sent to Muthana Airport Prison in Baghdad, the lawyer said. Within months his client had confessed because of torture including electric shocks to his penis, the lawyer said, and was brought to Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court in Kirkh:

I got the judge to order a forensic report, which confirmed torture. I told the judge that because my client was tortured he should get a retrial. My client told the judge he was innocent. Before I knew it, the judge filed a complaint against me for “harassment of the court and interfering in the court’s work” and hospitalized me for two days before releasing me without charge. In the meantime, he sentenced my client to death.

The lawyer filed a complaint against the judge with his supervisor, but said no action was taken.

Copy of a forensic medical examination from 2014 detailing extensive scarring but concluding the scars were too old to identify the instrument used to inflict them. The defendant was convicted and the torture allegations were ignored, his lawyer said.

© 2018 Private
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

That torture is rampant in many Russian prisons and detention facilities, with little consequences for perpetrators, is widely known among Russia’s human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists. Last week the United Nation’s expert torture-monitoring body completed its periodic review of Russia, noting “there was reliable information that torture was practiced widely in the country.”

Irina Biryukova, a lawyer with Public Verdict representing Evgeny Makarov, Moscow, 2018. The hashtag reads, "#TogetherAgainstTorture".

© 2018 Public Verdict

But last week a scandal brought torture in prison to the public eye, leading to something extraordinary for Russia: a vigorous investigation, suspensions, and arrests for the perpetrators.

In June 2017, the Russian human rights group Public Verdict came into possession of a gruesome video showing 18 prison officials in penal colony No. 1 in Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, torturing an inmate, Evgeny Makarov. The video was recorded by a body-worn camera of an unidentified person present at the scene.

Irina Biryukova, a lawyer with Public Verdict representing Makarov, immediately reported it to the authorities. Makarov was then transferred to penal colony No. 8, where Public Verdict reports he continued to be tortured and  threatened with rape. No criminal case was launched. An official who reviewed the video said at the time that it showed no abuse of authority.

Russian authorities reacted very differently after the video was made public a year later, by Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which ran the story last week. The Federal Penitentiary Service initiated an internal investigation while Russia’s main investigative agency launched a criminal investigation into abuse of authority with the use of violence.  All 17 of the prison guards identified in the video were suspended; six are currently in pre-trial custody and one placed under house arrest. A criminal case was initiated against the official who concluded, after reviewing the video a year ago, that it contained nothing unlawful.  

Meanwhile the lawyer, Irina Biryukova, received death threats and had to flee Russia with her 16-year-old daughter. She told me that to date she has not received a commitment from Russian law enforcement or other authorities that they will give her protection if she returned home. And Makarov remains extremely vulnerable to further torture and retaliation in prison.  That needs to change – and soon. Both need effective guarantees of their safety. If Russia really intends to end torture, victims and individuals brave enough to expose it must be protected.

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

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

In the last few weeks, hundreds of Syrian families learned that their loved ones who had disappeared in government detention facilities had died. Many said that they found out as they requested routine records from the Syrian administration and were stunned to find that the authorities had recently registered their relatives as dead. The authorities generally specified no cause of death, just a date, in many cases years ago. Most of those that listed a cause said “heart attack” with no further explanation.

Each new confirmation of death has rippled through social media, spreading heartache to Syrian families displaced by repression and conflict. My Facebook timeline, populated by Syrian friends and activists I have met working on the country over the last decade, currently reads like an unfolding digital eulogy for many of the country’s leading activists who had been held and disappeared by government forces.

For years, many of the families of these activists had sought information about their fate, often spending their entire savings bribing security officials in the hope of receiving an update. To no avail. Since 2011, Syrian authorities have consistently denied having any information on those detained or last seen in their custody even though Syria’s security services have meticulous records for everything, including those they kill in detention.

This bureaucracy of death was exposed in early 2014, when a defector code-named Caesar, whose job in the military police was to photograph the bodies of dead detainees, smuggled out thousands of photos and internal documents, exposing how every detainee death was recorded, indexed, and photographed. There were even written instructions for burials. The authorities knew who died but decided to withhold this information from the families – until now.

A disappearance, in law, is when a person is last seen in the custody of state forces, and the state authorities refuse to admit they have detained the person or to say where they are being detained. Why the systematic reliance on disappearances I once asked a defector in 2014. “Detaining someone limits their ability to act, but disappearing them, paralyzes the entire family,” he said. “The family will divert all their energies to finding them. As a tool for control, it can hardly be beaten.”

For years, the relatives of detainees, Syria’s opposition, and human rights groups have campaigned to place the issue of the detainees at the forefront, advocating for families’ right to know, access for international monitors, and accountability for widespread torture and mistreatment in Syrian detention facilities. The Syrian government repeatedly obstructed the efforts.

So why has the government decided to start releasing this information after years of denials?

Despite the government’s obstruction, the issue has not gone away. With so many detainees whose fate is unknown, it is simply too big an issue to ignore. Some groups, among them the Syrian Network for Human Rights, estimate that the Syrian government is responsible for the disappearance of over 80,000 people.

A working group to examine the fate of detainees was created in December 2017 as part of the eighth round of de-escalation talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. Composed of members from the three Astana guarantor states – Iran, Turkey, and Russia – as well as the United Nations, the working group held a second meeting on the sidelines of the following round of Astana talks in May. The next meeting is to be hosted by Turkey. There is little transparency about the working group’s discussions, but notably the Syrian government began updating personal records shortly after the group was established. Coincidental? Possibly.

It is always hard to know what motivates decisions by the Syrian authorities. But their decisions are never random. I suspect that the government hopes to preempt having to answer questions about the fate of the thousands believed to be in government detention by stating that those missing are dead and that their families have been informed.

This is exactly how the Syrian authorities handled the issue of those it detained and later disappeared from Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s during its military presence in the country. After years of denying requests by Lebanese families for information about missing relatives, Syria agreed in May 2005 to a joint Syrian-Lebanese committee to look into cases. Families hoping for a breakthrough were quickly disappointed. No investigation was opened.

Most cases remained without answers but in a handful of cases, the Syrian government acknowledged that some detainees died or had been executed following summary trials. No bodies were ever returned, no details provided, no one was held accountable, and no family got closure. But for the Syrian government, the file had been closed.

The Syrian government should not be allowed to get away with mass disappearances and murder again. Families of the disappeared have a right to know what happened to their loved ones. If they are dead, the families should be able to recover the remains and learn about the circumstances of the death through an independent investigation. There also needs to be accountability for the enforced disappearances and deaths in detention. For those who remain in detention, access to detention facilities for international monitors remains imperative.

A mere update of the records, which may or may not be accurate, does not do this, nor does it absolve the Syrian government of its responsibility for the mass disappearances, torture, and death of thousands of Syrians.

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

Ethiopia's incoming Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed delivers his acceptance speech after taking his oath of office during a ceremony at the House of Peoples' Representatives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 2, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, will visit Minneapolis on Monday. Since taking office in April, Abiy has ushered in a new era of reform in Ethiopia. He released thousands of political prisoners, closed Makelawi detention center — known for torture and inhumane treatment — and opened up internet access to websites that had been blocked inside the country for years. Though the reforms he has introduced are promising, the prime minister has yet to tackle one of the biggest obstacles to lasting change — the lack of accountability for serious abuses, notably the widespread use of torture.

Abiy’s visit to Minneapolis — only a few months after taking office — illustrates how important the city’s large Ethiopian diaspora community is to his plans for Ethiopia’s future. Human Rights Watch researchers also have visited Minneapolis over the years, most often to interview scores of Ethiopian torture victims.

Torture has long been widespread in Ethiopia, driven by a pervasive culture of official impunity. Victims from all over the country have described brutal treatment at the hands of security officials over many years. In a recent report, we detailed torture in Jail Ogaden in Somali Regional State, where prisoners have endured a relentless routine of interrogation, torture, humiliation, hunger, sleep deprivation and rape.

With no access to health care, some prisoners died from their injuries, while female detainees gave birth inside their jail cells without any health care. Prisoners have had no access to lawyers or due process. In fact, many were not charged or convicted of any crime but were told that they had been suspected of membership in the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an opposition group Ethiopia’s parliament recently legalized under the new prime minister’s leadership.

The Ethiopians who gather in Minneapolis to greet Prime Minister Abiy may well include survivors of human rights abuse in Jail Ogaden and many other detention facilities in other parts of the country. This is a rare opportunity to raise the importance of accountability for torture and other rights violations over the years — abuses that drove many Ethiopians to seek safety in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Since Abiy’s administration took office, the national dialogue has yet to include concrete discussions of pathways to accountability. In a speech before parliament in June, the prime minister admitted that torture in Ethiopia is comparable to “state terrorism.” After government media reported cases of severe beatings and genital torture at federal detention centers, the government dismissed a few prison administration officials.

These are good first steps, but given the complexity of the problem, dismissing a few staff members will not solve the culture of torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners in Ethiopia.

Making those responsible for this practice accountable, support for the victims and improving the administration of detention sites throughout the country are critical. The prime minister now has an excellent opportunity to assure the Minneapolis diaspora community that those responsible for torture and other rights abuses, regardless of rank, will be thoroughly investigated and held to account. He should also ensure that detention facilities have appropriate oversight and continued monitoring at both regional and federal levels.

The prime minister can also demonstrate a clear commitment to transparency by opening the country’s detention facilities to human rights monitors and unequivocally stating that his administration will have zero tolerance for torture by any law enforcement body.

The meeting in Minneapolis is an important opportunity for Ethiopia’s administration to build a bridge of trust with Ethiopians here in the U.S. and demonstrate that the old ways are over for Ethiopians all over the world.

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

(Beirut) – Iraq’s National Security Service (NSS), an Iraqi intelligence agency reporting to Iraq’s prime minister, has acknowledged for the first time that it is detaining individuals for prolonged periods of time, despite not having a clear mandate to do so, Human Rights Watch said today. NSS is holding more than 400 detainees in a detention facility in east Mosul. As of July 4, 2018, 427 men were there, some of whom had been held for more than seven months.

A blank NSS arrest warrant provided to Human Rights Watch. 

© 2018 Private

One person held there briefly in April described horrendous conditions, and said that detainees had no access to lawyers, family visits, or medical care. He described one prisoner dying in April after being tortured for months. Human Rights Watch was granted access to the facility on July 4. The detention conditions appeared improved but remained overcrowded.

“National Security Service officials in Baghdad told us that the intelligence agency has no authority to hold prisoners, but changed their line once we were able to see the prisoners for ourselves,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Baghdad needs to publicly clarify which authorities have the right to hold and interrogate detainees.”

On April 17 a senior NSS official in Baghdad denied operating any detention facilities and claimed that the agency only holds small numbers of people for up to 48 hours before transferring them to places of formal detention. But researchers were granted access to the facility, where officials said 427 prisoners were being held at the time. A subsequent written response from the Baghdad office confirmed the NSS is holding prisoners in one facility in Mosul, but then proceeded to speak about detention facilities in the plural form. Given the serious contradiction in statements and facts on the ground, the NSS should clarify the number of prisoners it is detaining and the number and location of facilities it is using to detain them. Iraqi authorities should declare the number of detention facilities across Iraq. Judicial authorities should investigate the allegations presented in this report.

On May 16, Human Rights Watch interviewed Faisal Jeber, 47, an archaeologist, who said that on April 3 a group of three Ministry of Interior Intelligence officers in uniform and two armed men in civilian dress, one of who told Jeber he was “from the Prime Minister’s Office” arrested him at an archaeological site in east Mosul, claiming he had no permission to be there and accusing him of illegal excavations at a public heritage site. They first took him to an intelligence office, before turning him over to NSS officers who called a judge to endorse the arrest, Jeber said. Jeber was not given an opportunity to speak to the judge. NSS then brought him to a two-story house next to the NSS office in al-Shurta neighborhood in Mosul. Jeber said that on the ground floor of the house he saw four rooms being used as cells to hold prisoners and estimated that at least 450 prisoners were held with him based on a daily head count.

Jeber said he was taken before an investigative judge at Mosul’s criminal court on April 4, and then returned to the prison for a second night and released the following day pending trial. Upon arrival at the prison, he said guards confiscated his glasses and watch, and other personal items. When he was released, Jeber said guards did not give him his shoes or socks back, sending him out barefoot, and kept his belt, keychain, and headphones.

While Jeber was only held for 48 hours, he said he spoke with six men and one boy detained in the cell with him who told him NSS held them for between four months to two years, some being transferred to several NSS facilities before arriving at this one. Human Rights Watch researchers visited the facility on July 4, and the head of the NSS in Mosul showed them a brand new prison block that had been built next to the house where Jeber had been held. The new facility had three rooms and held 427 adult male prisoners, according to the NSS official. He said they transferred all prisoners under the age of 18 to another facility. He said some had been at the prison for up to seven months.

Another NSS officer who spoke to researchers on condition of anonymity said that some had been held for over one year, having been transferred from Qayyarah to Bartalla and on to Mosul when the detention site opened there seven months ago. The second officer said they had been holding the prisoners in a house next door, but after “pressure from Baghdad,” a few months ago they built the new prison block and transferred the prisoners there to improve conditions. The three rooms were clean, with air-conditioning, but like other prisons in Iraq extremely overcrowded.

The head of the NSS in Mosul said all the prisoners were wanted for ISIS affiliation, and were interrogated before they were either brought before an investigative judge or handed over to another security entity if that entity had the person on one of their “wanted” databases, including the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence branch, or military intelligence. He said they only arrested people after obtaining a warrant, and that all detainees had access to a judge and a lawyer within 24 hours of their arrest. Human Rights Watch did not interview any of the detainees at the facility.

Two Mosul lawyers who defend ISIS suspects said that in their experience, many prisoners are seeing an investigative judge within 24 hours, but have no government-appointed lawyer present then, nor later when the NSS interrogates them further. While the seven detainees told Jeber they had been brought before an investigative judge, none of them had access to a lawyer and they did not know if a lawyer was present to provide them with a defense during their hearing.

Iraq’s Criminal Code of Procedure allows police and “crime scene officers” to detain and interrogate criminal suspects if they have a warrant. It defines crime scene officers broadly, making it impossible to ascertain which forces are included. The NSS head in Mosul said that the NSS was authorized to arrest, hold, and interrogate prisoners.

However, Hamid al-Zerjawi, deputy National Security Service chief, told Human Rights Watch on April 17, that the NSS has no functional detention facilities in the country, and only one facility in Baghdad that is not yet operational. He conceded that the NSS held small numbers of people for up to 24 hours after their arrest at one of their offices, before bringing them before a judge, who could allow them an extra 24 hours of detention, before they needed to transfer the detainee to a formal detention facility. He said the NSS never held any detainee for over 48 hours.

On July 11, the NSS’s Baghdad office responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries into the facility. The written response acknowledged that the NSS is holding detainees at a single facility in Mosul with the consent of the High Judicial Council in Nineveh, that all detainees are held under judicial arrest warrants, see a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and are transferred to Ministry of Justice prisons upon being sentenced. The response did not provide any numbers of detainees nor details into the length of time they are being held at the facility, but stated that detainees are allowed to retain a lawyer, or have one appointed by the court, but added: “most lawyers in the governorate of Nineveh abstain from arguing terrorism cases.” It said there were no detainees under the age of 18.

The Iraqi authorities should publicly clarify which forces have a legal mandate to arrest, hold, and interrogate suspects, and provide a list of all official detention facilities. They should transfer all detainees to prisons run by authorities with a legal mandate to detain people. Such sites should be built to accommodate detainees, and equipped to meet basic international standards, even if this requires transferring the detainees outside of the Nineveh governorate, where Mosul is located. All detainees should have a medical screening upon arrival and be ensured access to medical care. Judges should only order detention in locations, and under the authority of forces, legally authorised to hold detainees, and order the immediate release of detainees or prisoners being held in inhuman or degrading conditions or otherwise detained unlawfully.

The authorities should also ensure that there is a clear legal basis for detention, that all detainees have access to legal counsel including during interrogation, and that detainees are moved to facilities accessible to government inspection, independent monitors, relatives, and lawyers, with regular and unimpeded access. The authorities should immediately notify families of the detention of their loved ones and which authority is detaining them and promptly take detainees before a judge to rule on the legality of their detention. They should immediately comply with any order by judges to release detainees.

Children alleged to have committed illegal acts should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. International law allows authorities to detain children pretrial in limited situations, but only if formally charged with committing a crime, not merely as suspects. The authorities should release all children not yet formally charged.

“Authorities should be doing whatever it takes to make sure that families know where their loved ones are,” Fakih said. “The government should crack down on forces with no legal mandate that are holding detainees for months on end without seeing a judge.”

The Former Detainee’s Account
Faisal Jeber, the archeologist, told Human Rights Watch that the detainees he spoke to said they were being held on suspicion of ISIS affiliation and alleged that during interrogations NSS officers had beaten them with plastic or electrical cables, electrocuted them, beaten the soles of their feet, and hung them with their hands bound behind their backs.

Jeber said that at 3 a.m. on his first night at the prison, an argument broke out between two prisoners in his room. He said two guards came in, took the two men out, and in front of the window Jeber saw each guard beat one of the men with plastic cables and pipes for about 20 minutes, cursing and shouting at them before returning them to the room.

He said that first night in detention he was told that a man had died after being tortured: 

My first night it was the time when we all get to use the bathroom. As we were getting ready to leave our room in a line, we heard voices coming out of the room and it was chaos; the guards were saying someone had died. One prisoner with me said that he had been in the cell with the man who died, and said he was in his thirties, had been at the prison for some time, and had been tortured to the point that he had been half paralyzed.

The NSS July 11 response acknowledged deaths at the prison, stating, “There have been very limited cases of death, which were judicially documented,” without providing any further detail. The response also stated,

 

There has been no use of torture inside detention centers, and no signs of torture or ill-treatment have been found, knowing that there is a department within the NSS that is specialized in these cases if they occur.

Jeber described the conditions in the facility, raising concerns about overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and unreasonable restrictions on using the bathroom. He said that the room he was held in had a single window and small ventilator and was about 4 by 5 meters:

As I walked in I saw that half the prisoners were standing and the other half sitting because there wasn’t enough room for all of us to sit at the same time. My fellow inmates told me that I was the 79th person in the room. All around me on the walls were plastic bags hanging as well as plastic bottles holding a dark yellow liquid. The prisoners told me that was the only way that I could use the bathroom- urinate into the bottle or defecate into the bag- because the NSS guards only allowed prisoners to use the bathroom once every two days.

He said that at night the prisoners slept in shifts in the scabies-infested room because there was not enough room for all of them to lie down, with some standing until 6 a.m., before it was their turn to lie down with their heads between the legs of other prisoners.

Jeber also raised concerns about the absence of medical care for the detainees. He said that the first night of his detention one man in his cell suffered an epileptic seizure but received no medical attention. Other prisoners told him the guards had said that a doctor would only come if someone died and the body needed to be removed.

The NSS head in Mosul told Human Rights Watch that a representative from the Health Ministry visited there regularly to provide medical assistance, something Human Rights Watch was unable to verify.

The conditions the NSS held Jeber and others in, before the transfer to the new facility, are similar to the dire conditions at other prisons in the towns of Qayyarah and Hammam al-Alil, that Human Rights Watch visited in 2017.

Most of the prisoners Jeber spoke to said they had been able to bribe the guards to allow them to communicate with their families indirectly but none had been allowed a family visit. One gave Jeber his uncle’s phone number. Jeber said, “After I was released I called his uncle, who was surprised that he was still alive and said the family had no news of him since he had disappeared during the Mosul battle in early 2017.” The anonymous officer said that they forbade prisoners to have any visits or contact with their families or the outside world. The NSS July 11 response stated that detainees were only allowed to contact their families after the interrogation period ends.

Jaber believed that there were at least 450 prisoners in the home at the time he was held, because on the two days he was held there he said guards at the facility did a headcount and he overheard them counting at least 450 prisoners.

The NSS response

The NSS officer who spoke to researchers on the condition of anonymity said that officers know some prisoners are innocent. He said the NSS held many of them for months because Nineveh only has one counterterrorism judge hearing cases of detainees held by the NSS, leading to long delays. He said in cases where a defendant does not confess to a crime, the judge needs to order a range of investigations to be carried out by various security actors which also takes a long time to complete.

The NSS head in Mosul stated that the detention site has many prisoners they would like to transfer to other authorities, with a judge’s order, but that there is no room available in other prisons. The prohibition against arbitrary detention is enshrined in Iraq’s constitution and civil code. Under international criminal law, widespread or systematic use of arbitrary detention can be considered a crime against humanity if it is applied as part of a state policy.

Iraq’s penal code says that arbitrary detention is a criminal act if, among other conditions, the person who commits the offense issues a false arrest or detention order, threatens the person with death or torture, and holds the person for more than 15 days.

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

Introduction

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