(New York) – Thailand has freed a Bahraini refugee football player threatened with extradition since November 2018 following global pressure from athletes, sports federations, and rights groups, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 11, 2019, Thai prosecutors dropped their extradition case against Hakeem Al-Araibi, sought by Bahrain, and allowed him to fly to Australia, where he has refugee status. Leaders of football’s global governing body, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), had publicly called for his release.

"Hakeem Al-Araibi is a refugee whose detention and threatened deportation was a grave injustice,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives. “FIFA and the IOC deserve credit for applying their new human rights policies to help gain Al-Araibi’s release and his return home to Australia.”

Thai authorities had detained Al-Araibi on a wrongful Interpol “Red Notice” seeking his return to Bahrain, where he had been tortured and feared for his life.

Al-Araibi, a former member of Bahrain’s national football team, was detained and tortured following the 2011 Arab Spring protests there. He fled the country and reached Australia, where he was granted refugee status. He currently plays for the professional Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne.

Al-Araibi’s release shows the power of collective action by athletes, governments, nongovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, players’ unions, and sports federations to address rights issues, Human Rights Watch said. Unfortunately, other Bahrainis who did not benefit from the urgent mobilization of the global sports and human rights community have been returned to reportedly face torture and mistreatment. Other refugees in Thailand, notably ethnic Uyghurs from China, have been forcibly returned to face a real risk of torture and persecution.

“Hakeem Al-Araibi’s freedom was secured with strong pressure from athletes, FIFA, the IOC, and the global rights movement,” Worden said. “But Al-Araibi’s case has also spotlighted gaps in FIFA’s system of human rights protections, and the need to ensure that human rights policies and practices are fully implemented.”

In 2017, FIFA appointed a Human Rights Advisory board, created a Human Rights Policy, and in 2018, opened a complaints system for human rights defenders and journalists who consider their rights to have been violated while performing work related to FIFA’s activities. The new Centre for Sport and Human Rights and FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory board were very involved in seeking Al- Araibi’s release, including with a letter from FIFA’s secretary general.

“FIFA and the IOC are starting to understand that sports federations’ interests align with rights defenders and the victims of abuses,” Worden said. “This case should encourage FIFA to tackle other serious human rights abuses in the world of football, including to stop sexual and other abuse in the sport.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On August 30, 2017, Phayao Akhard wears the bloody nurses gown worn by her daughter, nurse Kamolkate “Kate” Akhard, when she was killed by Thai Special Forces soldiers while tending wounded persons at the front of Wat Pathum temple on May 19, 2010.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Thai authorities have failed to punish policymakers, military commanders, and soldiers responsible for the deadly crackdown on “Red Shirt” protests in May 2010, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 4, 2019, the military prosecutor decided not to indict eight soldiers accused of fatally shooting six civilians in Bangkok’s Wat Pathumwanaram temple on May 19, 2010.

“Despite overwhelming evidence, Thai authorities have failed to hold officials accountable for gunning down protesters, medics, and reporters during the bloody crackdown in 2010,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The military prosecutor’s decision to drop the case against eight soldiers is the latest insult to families of victims who want justice.”

The military prosecutor dismissed the case on the grounds that there was no evidence and no witnesses to the killing. This decision contradicted the Bangkok Criminal Court’s inquest in August 2013, which found that the residue of bullets inside the victims’ bodies was the same type of ammunition issued to soldiers operating in the area at the time of the shooting. Based on information from the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), witness accounts, and other evidence, the inquest concluded that soldiers from the Ranger Battalion, Special Force Group 2, Erawan Military Camp fired their assault rifles into the temple from their positions on the elevated train track in front of Wat Pathumwanaram temple.

From March to May 2010, political confrontations between the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” and the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, escalated into violence in Bangkok and several provinces. According to the DSI, at least 98 people died and more than 2,000 were injured. The DSI issued a finding in September 2012 indicating that the military was culpable for 36 deaths.

Human Rights Watch’s May 2011 report, “Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown,” documented excessive and unnecessary force used by the military that caused many deaths and injuries during the 2010 political confrontations. The high number of casualties—including unarmed protesters, volunteer medics, reporters, photographers, and bystanders—resulted in part from the government’s enforcement of “live fire zones” around the UDD protest sites in Bangkok, where sharpshooters and snipers were deployed. Human Rights Watch also documented that some elements of the UDD, including armed “Black Shirt” militants, committed deadly attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians. Some UDD leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches to demonstrators, urging their supporters to carry out riots, arson attacks, and looting.

All those criminally responsible should be held to account whatever their political affiliation or official position. But over the past nine years, there have been a series of cover-ups that have ensured impunity for senior government officials and military personnel. Successive Thai governments charged UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses but ignored rights abuses by soldiers. Under pressure from the military, deliberately insufficient investigative efforts have been made to identify the soldiers and commanding officers responsible for the shootings. Criminal and disciplinary cases were dropped in 2016 against former prime minister Abhisit, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda regarding their failure to review the use of military force that resulted in the loss of lives and the destruction of property. Thai authorities have targeted for intimidation and prosecution witnesses and families of the victims who demand justice.

“It is outrageous that the military has been allowed to walk away scot-free from deadly crimes committed in downtown Bangkok,” Adams said. “The failure of the government and military to provide justice for the deaths in 2010 heightens concerns for future political violence in Thailand.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Bangladeshi reads a news report that makes mention of Facebook along with other social networking services, on his mobile phone in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Thursday, December 20, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo
(New York) – Bangladesh authorities made a series of new arrests in their crackdown on the right to free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests were based on vague charges such as “hurting religious sentiment” or undermining “law and order.”

 

Those arrested include Abdul Kaium, a human rights activist; Henry Sawpon, a well-known poet; and Imtiaz Mahmood, a lawyer. All three were detained and charged under section 57 of the draconian Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act or its more abusive successor, the Digital Security Act 2018.

“Arresting activists, poets, and lawyers for exercising their right to free speech is straight out of the authoritarian playbook,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Bangladesh government should stop locking up its critics and review the law to ensure it upholds international standards on the right to peaceful expression.”

A group of writers, artists, and journalists staged a protest in Dhaka’s Shahbagh square on May 15, saying they would go on an indefinite strike beginning on May 17 if Sawpon and Mahmood were not released. Both Sawpon and Mahmood were granted bail on May 16; Kaium remains in detention.

The ICT Act was widely criticized for granting police wide-ranging powers to make arrests on broad and vaguely defined grounds for any electronically published content, effectively curbing lawful criticism and dissent.

Section 57 of the ICT Act authorized the police to arrest anyone without warrant for online content that could be interpreted as defamatory; could cause “deterioration in law and order;” prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “may cause hurt to religious belief.”

It has been used to arrest people for actions as trivial as “liking” a comment on Facebook. In September 2017, Muhammad Nazrul Islam Shamim, special public prosecutor of the Cyber Tribunal created under the ICT Act, acknowledged that some cases brought under section 57 had been “totally fabricated and … filed to harass people.”

Mahmood was arrested at his home in Dhaka on May 15, 2019, on charges that police had filed in July 2017 under the ICT Act over a Facebook post about violence in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts titled “Hill Bengali residents and law enforcers.”

There have been serious allegations of human rights violations by the military deployed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh, where much of the country’s indigenous population lives. But Shafiqul Islam, a trader, filed the case against Mahmood under the ICT Act accusing him of spreading rumors with an “ill motive to tarnish the country’s image,” hurting “religious sentiment,” and “deteriorating the law and order.”

The high court granted Mahmood conditional release (anticipatory bail), meaning he was granted bail without arrest, on July 25, 2017. But without explanation, the Khagrachari court, in the Chittagong area, had issued an arrest warrant against him under the 2017 case on January 21.

Mahmood’s arrest is of particular concern because the ICT Act was revoked in October 2018 and replaced with the Digital Security Act, which the government claimed would end arbitrary arrests. Instead, the new law tightened the government’s chokehold on free speech. Under the new law, “propaganda or campaign against the liberation war, the spirit of the liberation war, the father of the nation, national anthem, or national flag” is punishable with life in prison. The Bangladesh’s Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, has said that the law effectively prohibits investigative journalism.

Kaium, an activist with the prominent human rights organization Odhikar, and editor of news portal Mymensinghlive, was arrested on May 12 and denied bail on May 13. Idris Ali, an influential madrassah teacher, filed a case, accusing Kaium of extortion under the penal code and dissemination of “false or fear inducing information/data” (section 25) and defamation (section 29) under the Digital Security Act.

Odhikar had previously faced threats and intimidation from the government under the ICT Act. In September 2013, its founder, Adilur Rahman Khan, and director, A.S.M Nasiruddin Elan, were charged with “publishing false images and information” and “disrupting the law and order situation of the country.” In January 2017, the High Court of Bangladesh rejected a petition to quash the charges.

Sawpon was arrested at his home in Barisal on May 14 under the Digital Security Act. Sawpon is accused of “hurting religious values or sentiments” (section 28), defamation (section 29), and “causing deterioration of law and order” (section 31).

The case was filed with the police by a priest of a local Catholic church over Sawpon’s Facebook posts criticizing a church event the day after Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attack. In the offending post Sawpon wrote that it was “very unfortunate” that Bishop Lawrence Subrata Howlander had arranged a cultural program in the wake of the attack and that “Bishop Subrata was playing the flute when Rome was burning.”

Sawpon could face up to 15 years in prison. Two others, Alfred Sarkar, 52, and Jewel Sarkar, 40, were also accused in the case just for commenting on the Facebook post.

“This week’s arrests show how small the space has become for civil society in Bangladesh,” Adams said. “Sheikh Hasina’s government should revise the abusive elements of these laws before the space for peaceful expression disappears entirely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The office of the Belarusian news website, Tut.by. The Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus has ordered the detention of some Tut.by staff, along with other media workers, alleging they had unauthorized access to information owned by government-owned news agency, BELTA. 

© 2019 Viktor Drachev\TASS via Getty Images

(Berlin) – Belarusian authorities have carried out concerted attacks on media freedom over the past two years that directly affect the climate in which news media will cover the country before, during, and after the upcoming European Games, Human Rights Watch said today. The European Olympic Committees (EOC) should ensure that all journalists, foreign and local, covering the 2019 European Games, from June 21-30, in Belarus, can operate free from harassment.

In the past two years, Belarusian authorities have filed a record number of criminal charges against journalists and bloggers, carried out groundless searches of the editorial offices of several news organizations, introduced tighter state control of the internet, and expanded grounds for prosecuting speech. On May 8, in response to concerns about press freedom raised by Human Rights Watch and other groups, the EOC told Human Rights Watch that it would appoint a representative to monitor media freedom during the games.

“It’s good news that the EOC has committed to dealing with interference with press freedoms, but it needs to follow up with effective action,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s disturbing that journalists covering the games will need protection from Belarusian authorities’ harassment.”

Andrei Bastunets, chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarus’ top media rights watchdog, has said that “2018 has become the darkest year for Belarusian journalism since 2011,” when there was a massive crackdown following elections in December of the previous year. Bastunets has said that the authorities are trying to strengthen their control of mass media ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of 2019 and 2020.

Legislation adopted in 2014 authorized the Information Ministry to compel internet providers to block access to websites without judicial review. Amendments to the Law on Mass Media in 2018 introduced a burdensome registration procedure for online media to be able to cover the government. And reporters are being prosecuted under the 2016 amendments to the country’s anti-extremism law.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists documented 26 police searches of journalists’ and bloggers’ homes and of media offices in 2018. In February 2018, a court sentenced three bloggers to five years in prison and suspended their sentences, after they had spent 14 months in pretrial custody, for posts that allegedly “questioned Belarus’s sovereignty” and “insulted the Belarusian nation.” In March 2019, police arrested two Russian journalists as they were giving a lecture about operating small online outlets. A blogger who covered environmental protests is facing dubious “criminal insult” charges.

In April, a court convicted an independent media editor of criminal negligence on allegations that some of her staff had been accessing the website of BelTA, the state news agency, without paying a subscription fee. The charges were wholly inappropriate for the alleged offense, Human Rights Watch said. In connection with similar cases, police searched the offices of several independent media outlets, and held eight journalists in custody for three days. They, along with at least six others, were also prosecuted and fined.

Authorities have prosecuted bloggers who cover controversial issues on a range of dubious or trumped-up charges. They have also routinely detained and fined journalists covering unauthorized protests.

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka will mark his 25th anniversary in office in July. His presidency has been marked by entrenched authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch said. The government severely restricts independent media and independent organizations and refuses permission for most human rights groups to register and operate freely. It is the only country in Europe that continues to allow the death penalty.

In recent years, the government made some improvements in the human rights situation. It has downgraded “unregistered” involvement in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from a criminal offense to an administrative one and has released most high-profile political prisoners. The authorities have jailed fewer journalists than in the past, though they have greatly increased prosecutions that result in fines.

Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly urged the EOC to establish media freedom procedures for the Minsk Games. In a May 8 letter to Human Rights Watch, the EOC’s leadership wrote that it had appointed a “contact person to monitor” the rights of journalists during the games.

The EOC should ensure that the information about the contact person is made available to foreign and Belarusian journalists alike, and that the individual has the resources to respond effectively to any complaints. The EOC, an association of 50 National Olympic Committees, owns and regulates the European Games. The EOC and its members are part of the Olympic Movement and governed by the Olympic Charter, which has explicit guarantees for media freedom.

“The situation for press freedoms in Belarus is alarming,” Denber said. “The EOC needs to do whatever is required to ensure journalists can report safely during the games.”

For details about the new legislation and the cases brought against journalists and bloggers, please see below.

New Restrictive Legislation

Legislation adopted in 2014 authorized the Information Ministry to compel internet providers to block access to websites without judicial review.

In the last two years, access to two independent news platforms, Belarusian Partisan and Charter ’97, were blocked for “disseminating prohibited information,” including information about an “unauthorized assembly.” Both remain blocked, although one re-opened under a different domain.

Amendments to the Law on Mass Media in 2018 introduced a burdensome procedure for “voluntary” registration for online media outlets. Websites without this registration cannot file requests for accreditation with government institutions, effectively banning them from reporting on the work of the government.

Websites that want to be registered must have an officially registered company and office. The website’s editor-in-chief must be a citizen of Belarus with more than five years of media experience. The Belarusian Association of Journalists told Human Rights Watch that as of the beginning of 2019, only five websites were registered.

The amendments require both registered and unregistered online media outlets to keep public records of the names of people who submit comments online and disclose that information to authorities. The amendments also make owners of online media criminally liable for any content posted on their website and provide additional grounds for the Information Ministry to block websites without judicial oversight.

Amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, also adopted in 2018, introduced fines for disseminating “prohibited information,” up to 4,900 Belarusian rubles (about US$2,320) for registered media outlets, and 2,450 Belarusian rubles (about US$1,160) for unregistered outlets.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC), which oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found that many aspects of Belarus media regulation, including the 2018 legal amendments, “severely restrict freedom of opinion and expression.”

Misuse of “Anti-Extremism” Legislation to Restrict Legitimate Speech

Legislative amendments adopted in 2016 expanded the definition of “extremist activity” to include, among other things, “disseminating extremist materials.”

Two high-profile examples illustrate how Belarusian authorities have used criminal “extremism” charges to suppress provocative speech related to Russian-Belarusian relations. The Belarus authorities have tried to prevent information about the cases getting out, closing the trials to the public and requiring the accused and their lawyers to sign non-disclosure agreements.

In one of the cases, in an August 2016 closed hearing, a Minsk court found that nine articles published on 1863x.com, a news and analytical website often critical of the government, were “extremist,” alleging that some content contained pornography and incited ethnic hatred. In reaching its conclusion, the court relied exclusively on a state expert’s analysis.

The website’s administrator, Eduard Palchys, was arrested in May 2016, convicted in October on criminal extremism charges following a closed trial, sentenced to 21 months on parole, and released. Palchys and his lawyer had to sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting them from speaking publicly about the trial. Human Rights Watch understands that the speech was provocative and might be offensive to some, but it did not call for violence.

In the second case, in December 2016, authorities arrested Yuri Pavlovets, Dimitri Alimkin, and Sergei Shiptenko, bloggers with the Russian-language websites Regnum, Lenta.ru, and EADaily, on charges of inciting extremism and sowing social discord between Russia and Belarus, for posts authorities said “questioned Belarus’s sovereignty” and “insulted the Belarusian nation.” It appears that the articles that formed the basis for the charges were dismissive of the Belarusian language and speculated that Belarus faced a threat from Russia similar to the Russian intervention in Ukraine. In February 2018, the court convicted them and handed down five-year suspended prison sentences, upheld later on appeal. All three spent 14 months in pre-trial custody.

In December, Internal Affairs Minister Igor Shunevich presented a draft law to parliament that would create additional administrative and criminal liability for the “propaganda and rehabilitation of Nazism.” Parliament approved the bill on the first reading, but the bill would have to be approved in two more readings and be signed by the president to become law.

Around the same time, authorities started using existing articles of the administrative offenses code prohibiting “propaganda or public demonstration of Nazi symbols”(article 17.10) and “dissemination of information containing calls for extremist activity” (article 17.11) to penalize journalists and activists, in particular, those involved in the anarchist movement, for their social media posts.

In one example, in November, Aliaksandr Dzianisau, a freelance journalist, was fined 612.5 Belarusian rubles (about US$290) for reposting two videos of a 2017 rally against the “social parasites tax.” These videos were re-posted from a group that authorities had blacklisted in 2016 for featuring “extremist” content, making reposting of any of the group’s publications an offense.

In other cases, Aliaksandr Horbach and Mikalay Dziadok, freelance journalists, were fined for posts involving Nazi symbols. Horbach was fined for posts featuring anti-fascist graffiti, from 2013 to 2016. Dziadok was fined several times, including for posts that depicted a swastika and condemned famous Belarusian public figures for being photographed with a neo-Nazi group called Misanthropic Division.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that in mid-March 2019, police in Minsk detained two Russian journalists, Pavel Nikulin and Jan Potarsky, while they were giving a lecture about small-scale media outlets at the Belarusian Press Club. They were released after three hours without charge, but their presentation materials were confiscated. The police said later that they had filed an administrative case against Nikulin and Potarsky for disseminating “extremist” materials. Both are with moloko plus, a Russian noncommercial media project devoted to studying violence.

The BelTA Case

In August 2018, Belarusian authorities opened a criminal inquiry against several media outlets for allegedly using passwords to access a paid subscription to the state-owned news agency, BelTA, without authorization and without paying for a subscription.

Police searched the offices of BelaPAN, the only independent news agency in Belarus, and TUT.by, a leading news website that is one of the few registered, independent online outlets. TUT.by has the largest audience among independent Belarusian media, comparable with that of state television channels. Police also searched the editorial offices of several other media outlets, some of them state-owned, and the homes of several journalists. They confiscated computers and other data storage devices.

A lawyer with the Belarusian Association of Journalists told Human Rights Watch that at least 18 journalists and editors from various online outlets were interrogated as suspects or witnesses, eight of whom were detained for up to three days.

In September, Dzmitry Bobrik, editor of FINANCE.TUT.by, said in a social media post that the Investigative Committee, Belarus’s criminal investigative service, had forced him to cooperate by threatening his family and privacy. Investigative Committee officials denied his allegations.

In November, 14 suspects were charged with “unauthorized access to computer information for personal gain, causing significant damage” under part 2, article 349 of the Criminal Code. Violations are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Aliaksei Kazliuk, co-founder of Human Constanta, an independent human rights group, told Human Rights Watch that such charges are intended for cyber-crimes like hacking, and not for abusing a password to get free access to a commercial website. “These journalists are not hackers”, he said, “and such situations should be dealt with in the framework of civil proceedings.”

By the end of December, the criminal charges had been replaced with administrative charges. Each of the accused had to pay fines and damages ranging from 3,000 to 17,000 Belarusian rubles (US$1,420 – $8,050) to BelTA and another state-owned media company.

In March, a court found Maryna Zolatava, the editor of TUT.by, guilty of criminal negligence for allegedly being aware that her staff was using log-in data for BeITA's paid subscription. The court fined her 7,650 Belarusian rubles and ordered her to pay BeITA 6,000 Belarusian rubles (US$3,650 and $2,860, respectively) in legal costs.

The media photograph Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of news portal tut.by, as she attends her trial for alleged 'unauthorised access' to information from state-run BelTA news agency, in Minsk, March 4, 2019.

© 2019 SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images

During her trial, Zolatava admitted that she became aware that one employee was using a BelTA paid subscription password, and said she immediately ordered the person to stop. The defense underscored that all the news that appears on the BelTA paid subscription service is published, usually several minutes later, for open access.

The defense said that there were only two instances in which the investigation had been able to demonstrate that news originating from BelTA appeared on TUT.by’s website before being publicly released by BelTA. Nevertheless, the prosecution insisted that BelTA and its subscribers incurred damages that equaled the total cost of several paid subscription licenses for several months.

“The entire case appears to be an attempt by the law enforcement to intimidate and bring under control leading independent media, in particular TUT.by,” Andrei Aliaksandrau, a Belarusian media expert, told Human Rights Watch. “During hundreds of interrogations conducted for this case, journalists were asked detailed questions on how the work of their editorial offices is organized, which went far beyond what was necessary.... Law enforcement also obtained a large amount of data stored on seized computers, which potentially may be used to persecute journalists and their sources.”

In June 2018, two months before the BelTA case was opened, the authorities began investigating Ales Lipai, head of the BelaPAN news agency, on criminal tax evasion charges. A week before the case was opened, the tax authorities imposed an administrative fine on Lipai for late submission of his 2016-2017 tax returns. Lipai paid the fines in full by the day the criminal investigation was opened, but the authorities proceeded with it anyway, seized his property and putting him under house arrest. They dropped the case after Lipai died in August from cancer.

Harassment of Journalists Contributing to Foreign Media

Belarusian media legislation requires journalists working for media outlets registered outside Belarus to obtain accreditation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, even if they are Belarusian nationals. The same law also requires them to have an official labor contract with the accredited foreign media outlet, which makes it difficult for freelancers to become accredited. Authorities have often arbitrarily denied accreditation to journalists working for foreign media.

For years, law enforcement officials harassed journalists contributing to foreign media without accreditation, mostly by issuing warnings. In April 2014, the authorities started prosecuting them under part 2 of article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offences, for “illegal production and distribution of mass media products.”

According to Human Rights Center Viasna, an independent Belarusian group, in 2018 alone, the courts imposed 131 fines on 36 journalists and bloggers for this offense, ranging from 490 to 1,225 Belarusian rubles (US$230 to US$580). The total sum, more than 110,000 Belarusian rubles (about US$52,000), exceeded the amount of the fines imposed in the previous four years for this offense. In the first four months of 2019, authorities have brought at least 35 such cases against 15 journalists.

Freelance journalists contributing to the Belarusian-language TV channel Belsat are the main targets of these charges, as well as of other harassment. Belsat is registered in Poland but positions itself as the only independent Belarusian TV channel. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the total amount of fines imposed on Belsat journalists for this offense in 2018 had exceeded the equivalent of US$47,000.

Volha Chaichyts, a freelance journalist, was fined for her work with Belsat 14 times in 2018 for a total of 12,250 Belarusian rubles (about US$5,860). Although she and her husband, Belsat cameraman Andrei Koziel, who was himself fined seven times for a total of about US$4,220, had paid all the fines, in September they were barred from leaving Belarus for a planned trip abroad where they were supposed to speak about the situation concerning media freedom in Belarus.

The day before their trip, a court bailiff told them they could not travel because it was impossible to verify whether they had paid the entire amount, as “the database was not working.” Chaichyts told Human Rights Watch that the ban was lifted the following day, and by then Chaichyts had to travel to Vilnius to take another flight.

Other Persecution of Belsat Journalists

In March 2017, police searched the Minsk offices of Belsat, allegedly for unlawfully using its trademark, and seized the channel’s equipment, which was not returned.

In March 2017, law enforcement also brought six charges in a single day against Larysa Shchyrakova, a freelance journalist working with Belsat, for covering protests on Freedom Day on March 25. She told Human Rights Watch they also threatened, twice, to take away her 10-year-old son. Police accused her of cooperating with unregistered foreign media, failing to appear for questioning, failing to register her pet dog, and, for good measure, having a pile of sand outside her house. Since then, she has been repeatedly fined for other groundless media-related infractions.

Kanstantsin Zhukouski, another freelancer, told Human Rights Watch he had to leave the country in January 2019 due to continuous pressure on him that intensified after he published an exposé with Belsat on the security services’ work on illegal migration across the Belarusian border. In 2018 alone, he was fined 12 times for his cooperation with Belsat. He said that he and his family had received threats online, he had been beaten by police, and his home had been broken into. None of these incidents was investigated. In January, he was attacked by unidentified men who stopped his car, splashed some burning liquid in his face, knocked him down, and tore up his passport. Zhukouski and his family requested asylum in another European country.

In April 2019, police raided Belsat’s Minsk office in connection with libel charges. The case was prompted by a 2018 article on the channel’s website, which mistakenly alleged that the former deputy prosecutor general, Andrei Shved, had been arrested together with his brother, Aleh, on corruption charges. Belsat’s representatives publicly acknowledged the error, as the arrest and bribery charge involved Aleh Shved only, and published a correction. During the search, police seized all the data storage devices and computers in the office, returning them two days later.

Harassment of Journalists, Bloggers Covering Protests

Riot police detain a man during a rally in Minsk on March 25. 

© 2017 Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Journalists covering unauthorized public assemblies, in particular annual rallies on March 25, Freedom Day, and April 26, the anniversary of Chernobyl, are regularly detained, as law enforcement officers often do not distinguish journalists covering such rallies from participants. Media rights organizations say the number of detentions has started to decrease, and that the journalists are now for the most part fined instead for dubious reasons.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2017, the authorities arbitrarily detained at least 101 journalists, in most cases while they were reporting on street protests, and sentenced them to at least 10 and up to 15 days in detention on a variety of trumped-up charges. Also in 2017, the association said, police beat six journalists. In 2018, 31 journalists were detained, including 10 during Freedom Day rallies.

In December 2017, a court fined Anatol Bukas, chief editor of Naviny.by, an independent news website, 345 Belarusian rubles (roughly US$163) for writing that an unauthorized rally would take place in Minsk. This allegedly violated the law on mass gatherings, which bans giving the date and time of demonstrations if they are not authorized. The trial followed a warning issued to the outlet by the Information Ministry in November. Under Belarusian law, two warnings may lead to an outlet’s closure.

In July 2018, parliament amended the Law on Mass Events, introducing a requirement for journalists covering rallies to clearly identify themselves by providing their identity documents and documents confirming official accreditation and wearing a visible “press” sign. Belarusian rights defenders are concerned that law enforcement officials may use this provision to justify penalizing unaccredited freelancers and bloggers who cover protests. If they identify themselves to police as press, they may be fined for working without official accreditation, and if they do not, they may be detained and fined as participants of the unauthorized rally.

Harassment of Bloggers

In 2018, Siarhei Piatrukhin, a blogger whose posts are critical of the authorities and attract large numbers of viewers, was regularly detained and fined for the coverage of weekly protests against the construction of a battery plant near Brest over serious concerns about the plant’s environmental impact.

Piatrukhin told Human Right Watch that in May, the police came to his apartment, seizing his laptop, a tablet that belonged to a third party, mobile phone, and camera. In July, a court charged him with disobeying police when he would not allow police to enter his apartment. The police officer had come in relation to a complaint filed by a person who accused Piatrukhin of insulting them. The charges stem from a series of videos the blogger had uploaded to YouTube, which alleged that police in Brest beat a local resident in 2016. The alleged victim has repeatedly petitioned authorities to prosecute the abusive police, but no criminal proceedings followed.

A criminal slander and insult case was filed against Piatrukhin, and in August, police again searched his apartment, seizing equipment. Masked policemen broke the door and used force to take him to the police station for interrogation.

In April 2019, a court convicted Piatrukhin, fined him 9,180 Belarusian rubles (US$4,380), and ordered him to pay the equivalent of US$3,700 in moral damages to four police officers who were allegedly targeted in his YouTube videos. Piatrukhin plans to appeal.

In March 2019, police in the Homel region arrested Andrei Pavuk, a blogger who lives in the rural area around Homel. He created a local online community for independent news and has about 9 000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. The police also searched his apartment and seized his equipment.

The investigation claims that Pavuk emailed a fake bomb message to the regional department of the Emergencies Ministry, causing the agency to evacuate the staff. After questioning Pavuk on criminal charges of making a “knowingly false statement of danger,” the police released him. In mid-April, Pavuk was notified that the criminal charges against him had been lifted, but police have not returned his confiscated equipment.

Foreign Journalists Prevented from Working in Belarus

In the past two years, there have been fewer incidents of Belarusian authorities denying entry to or deporting foreign, especially Western, reporters than in the past. This is part of Belarus’s declared policy of openness to the West, which includes short-term visa-free entry for nationals of many Western countries. The few cases in 2018 and 2019 were prompted by cooperation between Belarusian and Russian border police services and decisions by Russian authorities to include journalists in blacklists that are now shared between both states.

In October 2018, police in Minsk detained Mykola Balaban, a Ukrainian national and publisher of The Village Ukraine magazine. He was in Belarus to attend an international Media Management and IT forum.

The police came to Balaban’s hotel room at 5 a.m., took him to a police station, and put him in a cell. Six hours later, they released him. It turned out police had mistaken him for another Ukrainian journalist with the same name and date of birth, apparently blacklisted in Russia, who works for Informnapalm.org website, which investigates Russia's military involvement in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Following the incident, Balaban cancelled his participation in the event and returned to Ukraine.

In January 2019, border guards detained Olga Vallee, FOJO Media Institute program coordinator and a Swedish national, at the Minsk airport. She arrived in Belarus at the invitation of the Belarusian Association of Journalists for a meeting with young journalists. Border guards told Vallee she could not enter Belarus, since her name appears on a Russian “blacklist.” As a result, she had to return to Riga.

FOJO Media Institute has cooperated with Belarusian journalists’ organizations for more than 15 years. Its representatives had faced no impediments to visiting Belarus. Vallee had received a business visa for a year in October 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Keyvan Samimi, Neda Naji, Hassan Saeedi Atefeh Rangriz, Marzieh Amiri, and Nahid Khodajoo.

© Private

(Beirut) - Iranian authorities are holding at least eight activists and journalists arrested during a Labor Day protest on May 1, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly.

Radio Farda, the United States-funded news agency, reported on May 1 that the authorities had arrested more than 35 people in a demonstration in front of Iran’s parliament that was organized by 20 independent local labor rights organizations. While the authorities released several of those detained, including Reza Shahabi, a prominent labor activist, security forces continue to detain others in Evin prison. They include the activists Neda Naji, Atefeh Rangriz, Nahid Khodajoo, Nasrin Javadi, and Farhad Sheikhi,Hassan Saeedi, and two journalists arrested at the protest, Marizeh Amiri and Keyvan Samimi.

“Instead of commemorating May Day by allowing labor activists to peacefully raise their demands to parliament, Iranian authorities arrested them and put them in jail,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While Iranian authorities regularly highlight the potentially negative impact of US sanctions on Iranian civilians, they brook almost zero domestic criticism of their own economic policies by labor activists.”

Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to create labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council. Since 2005, authorities have repeatedly harassed, summoned, arrested, convicted, and sentenced workers affiliated with independent trade unions.

On May 14, one of the protesters arrested during the demonstration on May 1 told Human Rights Watch that security forces attacked the protesters 10 minutes after they gathered in front of the parliament and arrested about 50 men and women while beating some of them. Authorities subsequently transferred all the detainees to Arg seventh base police station. Judicial authorities charged all the detainees with “disrupting public order” and “participating in an illegal demonstration,” while bringing the additional charge of “acting against national security” against some of the detainees, the source added. The authorities issued a temporary detention order for Amiri, Rangriz, and Naji, while announcing a 5,000,000,000 Rial (US$33,000) bond for Khodajoo, a source who preferred to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch on May 13. Authorities also issued a 1,000,000,000 Rial ($6,600) bond for Javadi but have refused to release her after the family has provided the bond. Naji and Rangriz have not been allowed to make phone calls to their families, the source said.

On May 12, the authorities took Samimi, the chief editor of Iran Farda monthly magazine, to the magazine’s office, where they searched documents and seized computer hard drives and laptops, Taghi Rahmani, a well-known activist, tweeted. Authorities have arrested Samimi, a veteran journalist, several times both before and after the Iranian revolution. He spent six years in prison in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

Over the past year, Iran has arrested several labor activists. In January 20, authorities arrested Ismael Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, two activists who had alleged that authorities had tortured them during their detention in November 2018. Amir Aligholi, Sanaz Allahyari, and Amir Hossein Mohammadifar, members of the editorial board of the online publication Gam, have also been detained since January. Several members of Iran’s teachers’ union, including Ismael Abdi, Mohammad Habibi, and Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, who were arrested in the past two years, remain in prison for their peaceful activism.

Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protect the right to form and join labor unions. Iran is a party to both of these treaties. Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), but has refused to sign the treaty’s convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize and 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Indonesian film Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku (Memories of My Body) is winning awards and accolades around the world. But at home in Indonesia, few may get to see this evocative masterpiece because of an overblown call to censor it. Its creator, Garin Nugroho, knew the film would be provocative because of its political content, but it’s the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) content, not politics, that is proving controversial. Although the Film Censorship Board (LSF) approved the film, local Islamist leaders from Java to Kalimantan and Sumatra have effectively prevented its screening.

Garin’s film covers a period in the late 1960s, when Gen. Soeharto came to power and the army and anticommunist militias killed more than 1 million left-leaning activists. Back then, censorship was common. Authoritarian rule tolerated only one television station and one radio channel, both under government control.

In the 1980s, Soeharto was at the peak of his power. With a tight grip on the country, he positioned his generals to control almost all government ministries.

Soeharto’s fall in May 1998 opened the gate to democratic rule and the freedom of expression, but this freedom also enabled political Islamists to flex their muscles. Over the last two decades, Islamists have pushed the government to increasingly adopt legal provisions based on the sharia. Many of these regulations discriminate religious or sexual minorities. 

Indonesia has been engulfed by a government-driven moral panic about gender and sexuality since early 2016. Politicians, government officials and state offices have issued anti-LGBT statements, calling for a criminalization of or “cure” for homosexuality, and for censorship of information related to LGBT individuals and activities.

Garin’s main character in the film is a boy named Juno, who grows up as an orphan and experiences many painful episodes in his life. His father, enduring distress, disappears after seeing the massacre of many suspected communists. Juno moves from one relative to another. He is gay.

Juno is a composite character based in part on the life of a real-world dancer named Rianto, who also plays in the film. Rianto was born in 1981 in a village in Banyumas in Java. Rianto, from a young age, learned a Javanese folk dance called lengger, a traditional cross-gender dance in which “the feminine and masculinity overlap”, as the filmmaker describes it. Rianto is now an established dancer with his own dance studio in Tokyo, teaching Japanese to play the gamelan, the percussive music form from Bali and Java, and to dance Javanese dances. 

The film was released in Indonesian theaters on April 18, but local officials immediately banned it in DepokBekasiGarutBogor (West Java), Palembang (South Sumatra), Pontianak and Kubu Raya (West Kalimantan), as well as Balikpapan (East Kalimantan). The ban came after three petitioners used change.org to ask the government to ban the film, apparently on the basis of the movie’s trailer, contending that it was an “LGBT-promoting” film. The abovementioned local authorities immediately cancelled screenings in their cities. 

“We worry that the younger generation, who are looking for their identities, will imitate the [LGBT] behavior in this film,” wrote one of the petitioners, Rakhmi Mashita

In Kubu Raya, Regent Muda Mahendrawan decreed that the film was against “religious values” and would drive young people to accept “deviant sexual activities,” stressing that he regretted that the Censorship Board had approved the film. 

Masduki Baidowi of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the semiofficial state Islamic institution, supported those local initiatives, calling on the government to ban the film nationwide. “The bad influence of LGBT people is a hot topic lately,” he said. “The MUI closely follows this development in a bid to protect Muslims from the negative impact of the LGBT movement.”

In Pontianak, a Malay youth paramilitary organization attacked a World Day Dance festival soon after the film’s ban there, claiming that the dances “promoted LGBT lifestyles.” They beat a campus lecturer and some students, claiming that the tight shirts worn by male dancers from the local university – and “dancing femininely” – were incompatible with Indonesian culture.

In fact, the dance lengger is mentioned in Serat Centhini, a 12-volume compilation of Javanese tales and teachings, published in 1814. It contains verses on sexuality, including overlapping femininity and masculinity. Serat Centhini depicts Java in the 17th century. 

Since 2017, police across Indonesia have raided saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons and private homes on suspicion of LGBT activities. Militant Islamists often tip off police or accompany them during these raids. Police have also initiated social media monitoring to target LGBT groups. The government’s failure to halt arbitrary and unlawful raids by police and militant Islamists on private LGBT gatherings has derailed public health efforts to curb HIV in men who have sex with men.

The film has no gay sex scenes and no kissing. In fact, it invites young Indonesians to contemplate how rich traditional ethnic culture must fight to survive imported cultures and religions, including Islam, that have entered Indonesia.

It used to be common to see LGBT characters in Indonesian movies and television. But in February 2016, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission banned the broadcast on television and radio of information related to LGBT people, calling the ban a “protection for children and adolescents that are vulnerable to duplicating deviant LGBT behavior.” The statement contradicted the commission’s own 2012 Guidelines for Broadcast Practice and Standard for Broadcast Programs, which prohibit programs that stigmatize “people of certain sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Local governments in Indonesia are obliged to respect national laws and institutions, which includes supporting local artists and promoting artistic development. The government is required under international law to protect the right to freedom of expression for artists like Rianto and Garin. It’s sad that an accomplished dancer like Rianto openly and proudly represents Javanese traditions in Tokyo when his own story is censored at home in Pontianak, Palembang and Balikpapan.

By censoring a beautiful film like “Memories of My Body,” these local governments are discriminating sexual minorities and denying all Indonesians an opportunity to enjoy their rich culture. Indonesian culture and art will suffer a great setback with the restrictions on this film — putting the rights to security, privacy and free expression for LGBT Indonesians once again under threat.

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

(New York) – The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of three activists who were reportedly extradited from Hanoi to Bangkok, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai authorities have not acknowledged their arrest and detention, raising grave concerns that they have become victims of enforced disappearance.

Chucheep Chivasut is feared to have been forcibly disappeared along with two colleagues after they were extradited from Vietnam to Thailand in May 2019.

© 2016 Private

In early 2019, Vietnamese authorities reportedly arrested Chucheep Chivasut (known as Uncle Sanam Luang), Siam Theerawut (known as Comrade Khaoneaw Mamuang), and Kritsana Thapthai (known as Comrade Young Blood) for illegal entry and using fake travel documents as they tried to flee persecution from authorities in Thailand. Reports from Prachatai News and the Thai Alliance for Human Rights said that Vietnamese authorities handed them over to Thai authorities on May 8. Thai authorities have previously accused the three men of committing lese majeste (insulting the monarchy), including by operating online anti-monarchy radio programs and mobilizing supporters of Chucheep’s Organization for Thai Federation to hold demonstrations against the monarchy by wearing black T-shirts in Bangkok and other provinces.

“The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Chucheep and his two colleagues, and permit their family members and lawyers to see them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Only by publicly affirming that these three activists are in detention and in contact with their relatives and legal counsel will the authorities put to rest the fear that these men have been forcibly disappeared.”

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the safety of Chucheep and his two colleagues. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held in incommunicado detention.

The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Chucheep and his two colleagues, and permit their family members and lawyers to see them.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have aggressively pursued Chucheep and other anti-monarchy activists who operated from neighboring countries. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan announced in September 2018 that the Organization for Thai Federation is an outlaw group and threatened to arrest everyone involved with it.

The Thai government has repeatedly demanded that Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia hand over the exiled Thai activists. Authorities appear to have prioritized action against Chucheep’s group in Laos due to their online radio programs and commentary on social media, which have strongly criticized Thai military rule and the monarchy.

Chucheep and his two colleagues moved from Laos to Vietnam after the brutal murder of the prominent anti-monarchy activists Surachai Danwattananusorn, Kraidej Luelert, and Chatchan Buphawan, who had been abducted by unknown people in Laos in December. Previously, two other anti-monarchists – Itthipol Sukpaen and Wuthipong Kachathamakul – had been abducted in Laos, in June 2016 and July 2017, respectively. None of these cases have been successfully resolved.

Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Thailand has signed but not yet ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance.

“Vietnam’s alleged secret forced return to Thailand of three prominent activists should set off alarm bells in the international community,” Adams said. “United Nations agencies and concerned governments should press the Thai government to immediately reveal where Chucheep and his two colleagues are being held and allow others to visit them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Reuters journalists Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo wave as they walk out from Insein Prison after being released in Yangon, Myanmar on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Thein Zaw
The release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from a Myanmar prison is a joyous occasion for their families and all of those who have advocated for their release. But it should not blind anyone to the government’s ongoing repression of the media in Myanmar.

Just two days earlier, the police summoned two journalists from the Development Media Group (DMG), based in Sittwe in Rakhine State, for questioning. A complaint filed by the intelligence branch of the Home Ministry against the group’s editor, Min Oo, alleges that he “promoted or assisted” an unlawful association through DMG’s news articles – an offense under the vaguely worded Unlawful Associations Act that is punishable by up to five years in prison.

While the basis of the complaint has not been disclosed, DMG has reported extensively on the ongoing fighting in Rakhine State between the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group, and the Myanmar military.

Additionally, on April 12, Myanmar’s military sued the editor of the Burmese edition of The Irrawaddy, Ye Ni, for criminal defamation, claiming that the news outlet’s reporting on recent clashes in Rakhine State was “unfair” and defamed the army.  

These are just the latest examples of the use of criminal laws against journalists, with at least 47 reporters facing charges since the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took power. 

It seems likely that more cases will follow. At a news conference last week, the secretary of the military’s True News Information Team said the military had “lost patience” with the media, and that it was choosing to use criminal laws rather than Myanmar’s News Media Law because penalties under the latter were “not harsh enough.”

Newly released Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo received a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a massacre by Myanmar’s military. But they have lost more than 500 days of their lives in prison, time they will never get back. Myanmar’s friends and donors abroad should do all they can to press the government and military to drop all charges against journalists for doing their jobs and release those imprisoned. Until laws such as those used against the Reuters reporters and dozens of other journalists are amended or repealed, Myanmar’s media will remain under threat.

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

I cover Israel and Palestine for Human Rights Watch. A year ago, the Israeli government revoked my work permit and ordered me, a U.S. citizen, to leave the country within two weeks, claiming that I promoted boycotts of Israel. We challenged the revocation and the law it was based on, which forbids entry to boycott advocates. An Israeli lower court froze the deportation order for the duration of proceedings. 

A dossier compiled by Israel’s Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry on the activities of Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director, which served as the basis for the government’s May 7, 2018 decision to revoke his work visa.

Last month, though, the court upheld the deportation and gave me two weeks to leave. We appealed that decision to Israel’s Supreme Court and await a decision on whether I’ll be allowed to remain living and working here while the appeal is considered.

Some contend that measures like this are needed to protect Israel against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. But regardless of where you stand on BDS, this decision should trouble you for three reasons. In fact, it is people who support Israel who should be most concerned by this attempt to deport me.

For starters, the decision is not about BDS, it’s about muzzling human rights advocacy. Human Rights Watch monitors rights abuses in nearly 100 countries across the world, including every country in the Middle East and North Africa, and takes no position on BDS, other than to defend the right of people to boycott as a form of peaceful expression. The Israeli government itself said a year ago that “no information has surfaced” indicating that Human Rights Watch or I as its representative promote boycotts of Israel.

What we have done is call for businesses to stop fueling rights abuses by adhering to their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Years of research led us to determine that doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international humanitarian law, invariably means complicity in rights abuse. These companies operate on land unlawfully confiscated from Palestinians, receive permits, infrastructure, and resources systematically denied to local Palestinians, and pay taxes and provide services that sustain settlements.

While some of these businesses hire Palestinian workers, this does little to remedy the enormous economic harm that settlement-related Israeli policies cause to the Palestinian economy, in effect forcing Palestinians to work for businesses that contribute to abuses against them. Moreover, these businesses operate under a two-tiered legal system, in which the Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, in addition to the law in place before the occupation began in June 1967. Israelis working alongside them benefit from the greater protections provided by Israeli civil law.

Telling businesses to stop engaging in activities that abuse rights in the occupied territories is neither a call for a consumer boycott nor a boycott of Israel itself. The court nevertheless found this basic form of human rights advocacy to “clearly constitute boycott-promoting activities.” If the Supreme Court upholds this decision, it will mean that calling on companies to avoid business in settlements could get you barred from entering Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Such a decision would put the Court’s seal on the Netanyahu government’s clampdown on rights defenders and advocacy. Israel has denied entry to other rights advocatesmade it more difficult for Israeli advocacy groups to operate and branded them as traitors, and banned from travel and arrested Palestinian rights defenders.

Anyone invested in Israel’s commitment to democratic values should be appalled by these attempts to muzzle free speech and criticism.

People who devote their lives to defending Palestinian rights are often accused of being unfairly focused on Israel. And yet, this is far from true in my case. Human Rights Watch and my work defending Palestinian rights is not only rooted in a universal commitment to human rights — including to the rights of Israelis — but also extends to Palestinian abuses of other Palestinians.

Human Rights Watch reporting on settlements is neither the first nor the only time we have called on businesses to stop contributing to human rights abuses. In fact, we have an entire division dedicated to research and advocacy on business and human rights. In the time my status has been under scrutiny in Israel, Human Rights Watch called for tech firms to avoid complicity in Chinese state censorship and textile companies to ensure they are not contributing to forced and child labor in Uzbekistan, among many other topics.

Beyond businesses, Human Rights Watch reports on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all actors in the region, including by Palestinian authorities. The most substantial piece of research I’ve produced during my tenure as Israel and Palestine director, in fact, is a 149-page report on systematic arbitrary arrests and torture by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent.”

Before my work on Israel and Palestine, I covered Egypt for Human Rights Watch. As with Israel/Palestine, my passion for human rights in Egypt dates back to my days as an undergraduate at Stanford University, where I wrote a thesis about the Egyptian opposition movement. I spent much of my year in Cairo for Human Rights Watch documenting the Rab’a Massacre, one of the largest single-day killings of protesters in modern history—some 817 people killed in the course of twelve hours. My lowest lows as a rights defender came during those days. I examined the bodies of dead protesters at morgues and watched as Egyptian friends and colleagues were arrested around me, and as much of the Egyptian public cheered on the repression and denied victims their basic humanity. On the eve of the release of our report on the killings, fears for my personal safety forced me to leave Egypt after my colleagues who had come for the press conference were denied entry to the country.

In a prior job, I represented two men detained in Guantanamo Bay. Until today, when I think of injustice, I think back to the first time I visited my incarcerated clients, held for well over a decade without charge, at Guantanamo. I think, in particular, of a moment I wrote about when the face of one of my clients lit up with hope, and I found myself unconsciously peeking under the table at the shackles around his feet.

Furthermore, the case against me sets a dangerous precedent that threatens all those who criticize Israeli policy. After allowing me in, the Israeli government decided it didn’t like what I had to say, compiled an intelligence dossier of tweets, petitions I signed, and screenshots of student group websites dating back to when I was a student over a decade ago, and ordered me to leave the country within two weeks. What’s to stop the same thing from happening to other foreigners in Israel, including spouses of Israeli citizens, students studying at Israeli universities, or those here for tourism?

The decision effectively makes a particular form of advocacy for Palestinian rights illegitimate. Think about it: if you were to boycott a company because it mistreats workers or discriminates, as thousands of Israelis did with Barkan Winery last year for allegedly discriminating against Ethiopian workers, that’s legitimate. But, if you issue an identical boycott call against a company due to violations of the rights of Palestinians, you risk being denied entry or deported by Israel.

Today, the political litmus test for denying entry into Israel is support for boycott calls. But could it tomorrow be for calling for withdrawal from settlements or for a two-state solution as an alternative to permanent repression of Palestinians?

In justifying its decision to uphold the government’s revocation of my work visa, the court cited my refusal in court to pledge publicly not to support “boycotts.” (I refused, given that Israeli law defines the term to include calls on companies to stop doing business in settlements). Tomorrow, will those hoping to enter Israel have to pledge, say, not refer to the West Bank as “occupied”?

Today, Israeli authorities are denying entry and deporting foreign nationals on the basis of their advocacy. Tomorrow, could the same logic be used to further restrict or even shut down the work of Israeli and Palestinian rights defenders on the same basis?

Those who follow the situation here most closely understand the stakes. 27 European states (all EU states minus Viktor Orban’s Hungary), 17 US Congresspeople, the UN Secretary Generalthree UN special rapporteurs, the Israeli rights groups Association for Civil Rights in Israel and B’Tselem, the Palestinian organizations Al-HaqAl-Mezan, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the American Friends Service CommitteeAmnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Middle East Studies Association, the New Israel Fund, a group of Rhodes Scholars, 19 professors from my alma meter Stanford Law School, and Truah Rabbis, have all criticized my deportation order.

My case has become a barometer of the country’s openness to those who challenge its policies toward Palestinians. Much rides on how the Supreme Court rules on our appeal and, if upheld, the decision the government will then face with whether to enforce its deportation order. If you care about Israel’s commitment to transparency and human rights, the time to speak out is now.

Omar Shakir is the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

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

(Beirut) – An Algerian human rights lawyer is facing charges and restrictions on his activities, apparently for exercising his right to free speech, Human Rights Watch said today.

Lawyer, Mr. Salah Dabouz, former president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH).

© 2019 Private

Salah Dabouz, a former president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), is facing a trial for Facebook posts in which he criticized the prosecution of members of the country’s Mozabite ethnic minority. A court has also ordered him to report three times a week to authorities in Ghardaia, 600 kilometers from his home in Algiers. The Algerian authorities should drop all charges against him that are based solely on the exercise of his free speech rights and end the onerous reporting requirement.

“Algerian authorities should stop using repressive laws and crippling sign-in orders intended to shut down criticism of their conduct,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Police in Algiers arrested Dabouz on April 7, 2019 and transported him the same day to Ghardaia, where judges of the first instance court notified him of two pending cases related to his Facebook posts. The judges released him provisionally but placed him under judicial control, obliging him to sign in twice a week at the court. Later in April, they increased the reporting requirement to three times a week, Dabouz told Human Rights Watch.  

Dabouz said that he faces a total of 14 counts. The case files include a Facebook post from March 28 in which Dabouz says he will inform the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance of what he called the politicized prosecutorial policy of the judiciary in Ghardaia and its discriminatory prosecutions against Mozabites.

The case files include another Facebook post, dated September 13, 2018, in which Dabouz attacks “bogus” charges against Mozabites and comments that the “judiciary in Ghardaia produces wonders and strange decisions that result in innocent people filling the prisons.” The charges against Dabouz include incitement to an armed gathering, contempt of court, offense to the president of the Republic, defamation of state institutions, attempting to pressure judges on pending cases, forming a criminal gang to commit crimes, incitement to hatred or discrimination, compromising the integrity of the national territory, distributing material harmful to the national interest, defamation of individuals, and communicating secrets to an outside party, under articles 100, 144, 144 bis, 146, 147, 176, 295 bis, 79, 96, 296, and 302 of the penal code.

Nothing in the evidence available to Human Rights Watch suggests that Dabouz has incited anyone to violence or racial hatred, or that his criticism of the Algerian judiciary amounts to an improper effort to pressure the courts.

Dabouz told Human Rights Watch that the court-imposed check-in requirement in Ghardaia prior to his trial severely disrupts his personal and professional life. No date has been set for the start of his trials.

Dabouz faces a third trial based on a 2016 case against him. In that year, authorities charged him shortly after he denounced the prison conditions for Kameleddine Fekhar, former president of the Ghardaia section of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, and his codefendants, who were on trial for their alleged role in the deadly ethnic clashes that erupted in the Ghardaia region between 2013 and 2015.

An investigating judge summoned Dabouz on June 13, 2016, to answer accusations that he had insulted state institutions and smuggled a computer equipped with a camera into Ghardaia prison. The court placed him under judicial supervision from July 2016 until March 2017. Dabouz was notified, during his appearance on April 8, 2019 at the First Instance Court in Ghardaia, of his conviction in absentia and one-year prison sentence in that case. Dabouz said that he had not been notified of the trial. He sought a rehearing of the case because he had been tried in absentia, and it is scheduled to open on May 21.

Governments may restrict speech to shield courts from improper influence and to preserve the integrity, and in some cases the confidentiality, of proceedings. However, any such restrictions must be narrowly defined in law so as not to turn any criticism of the judiciary or its decisions into a potentially punishable offense.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on April 23, 2015, in the Morice v. France case, that the European Convention on Human Rights’ restrictions on speaking about courts cannot be used to enforce general limitations on “remarks on the functioning of the judiciary, even in the context of proceedings that are still pending.” The court ruled that it must be possible “to draw the public’s attention to potential shortcomings in the justice system.” Protecting the judiciary from unfounded attacks “cannot have the effect of prohibiting individuals from expressing their views, through value judgments with a sufficient factual basis, on matters of public interest related to the functioning of the justice system, or of banning any criticism of the latter.”

In a resolution on Algeria passed on April 28, 2015, the European Parliament noted the increasing government harassment of human rights activists and expressed concern about the “abuse of the judiciary as a tool to stifle dissent in the country.” It urged the Algerian authorities to strictly uphold the independence of the judiciary and to effectively guarantee the right to a fair trial, in line with the Algerian Constitution and international legal standards.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Kenyan journalist participates in a protest in the capital, Nairobi, against draconian new laws restricting media freedom that were presented in parliament, December 3, 2013.

© 2013 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Many Kenyan journalists and rights activists travelled this week to Ethiopia for a summit to mark the World Press Freedom Day celebrations. It’s a sign of how things have changed that some Kenyan journalists told us how impressed they were by progress Ethiopia is making in opening up media space – while lamenting the fact that Kenya appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

Over the past year, Kenyan journalists and bloggers have faced serious challenges, including directives issued by state officers that undermine press freedom, and physical attacks on journalists at work. In May 2018, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) banned posting of videos by individual bloggers unless granted permission by the board. Following public outcry, KFCB chief executive officer, Ezekiel Mutua, rescinded the ban. Earlier in April 2018, KFCB had banned the screening of a film Rafiki, featuring a lesbian relationship. A judge in Nairobi lifted the ban on the film on September 21.

Journalists and bloggers have also faced physical attacks and despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated the attacks or threats. In January 2018, for example, media reported that people attacked and injured at least eight journalists in Turkana county, northern Kenya, during a press conference organized by one faction of the former ruling party, KANU. One of the journalists recently told Human Rights Watch that even though they filed reports on the attack with police, the authorities haven’t apprehended anyone.

In the past, bloggers and journalists have also faced arrests and detention without trial. In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented how the government has attempted to obstruct critical journalists with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.

In the spirit of World Press Freedom Day celebration, Kenya needs to take steps to protect freedom of the press. The authorities should credibly investigate incidents of harassment and physical attacks against journalists and refrain from imposing any arbitrary restrictions on content.  

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

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni address journalists in Kiruhura district, west of the capital Kampala, Thursday Feb. 18, 2016.

© 2019 AP Photo/Stephen Wandera

This week, the director of Uganda’s media regulatory authority, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), directed thirteen radio and television stations, including a Kampala-based television station to suspend their staff after they aired news reports covering opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. The move is the latest attempt by Ugandan authorities to stifle independent media in the country.

The Nile Broadcasting Services (NBS) had aired live footage the day before of police violently arresting Kyagulanyi and others as they traveled to host an Easter concert at a privately-owned beach in Kampala. In its letter to NBS, the UCC claims the station misrepresented information, incited the public, and gave “undue prominence to certain individuals” for its reporting on the arrests. Kyagulanyi has since been released and arrested again but is now out on bail.

This UCC directive is part of a recent spike in long-running government crackdowns on media coverage of opposition parliamentarians in Uganda. In the past month, police switched off three radio stations in Kabale, Jinja, and Mubende as they hosted prominent opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Radio stations in northern Uganda have said they have been warned against hosting opposition members on their stations. Authorities said that Besigye was in breach of Uganda’s problematic Public Order Management Act, which gives police wide discretion to permit or cancel public meetings, and has been used to arrest peaceful protestors and block opposition rallies. The law was also the basis for Kyagulanyi’s most recent arrest for protesting a social media tax introduced last year.

As the world gears up to celebrate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, authorities have made it clear that it does not want the Ugandan media to cover opposing views. The government should end its efforts to curtail free expression in Uganda and support media freedom across the country.

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

Angkhana Neelapaijit 

© Prachatai
(New York) – The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand should immediately end its groundless inquiry of an outspoken commissioner, Human Rights Watch said today. Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit has repeatedly spoken out about Thailand’s pressing human rights problems under the military junta.

On April 30, 2019, the rights commission began a disciplinary inquiry of Angkhana, accusing her of political partiality. The inquiry was triggered by comments from Tuang Attachai, a junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly member, and a complaint filed with the commission by Surawat Sangkharuek, a pro-junta activist. The inquiry focuses on Angkhana’s role in observing legal proceedings and documenting rights violations against opposition politicians and critics of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). She faces possible impeachment.

“Thailand’s rights commission is sinking to a new low by seeking to punish Angkhana for doing her job by exposing rights abuses and demanding accountability,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The commission’s leadership has repeatedly failed to hold the military government to its human rights obligations, but it appears now to be doing the junta’s dirty work.”

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, once considered a model for national human rights bodies in Southeast Asia, has faced interference from successive Thai governments since the first commissioners finished their term in 2009.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the United Nations Human Rights Council downgraded the commission’s global ranking from “A” to “B” in 2015, revoking Thai commissioners’ privilege to speak from the council floor and present their views during council sessions. The downgrade stemmed from the government’s manipulation of the selection process for commissioners and serious questions about the commission’s pro-government political bias.

Since the May 2014 military coup, the junta has taken further action to weaken the commission. The 2017 NHRCT Act stripped away the agency’s independence and transformed it into a de facto government mouthpiece, contrary to the UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, including within the exercise of their professional duties. The Thai government has an obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment.

“More than ever, Thailand needs a credible national rights agency, led by dedicated commissioners, to address the country’s worsening rights crisis,” Adams said. “The commission should drop its inquiry of Angkhana and ensure she can work in a secure environment without fear of reprisals.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am