Loan Torondel, 21, worked with L’Auberge des Migrants in Calais for two years, helping to provide legal information and support and humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in northern France.

© 2018 Loan Torondel
(Paris) – An appeals court’s confirmation of the defamation conviction of an aid worker on June 24, 2019 for an ironic tweet sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The case was a serious escalation in harassment and intimidation of aid workers in France

The Court of Appeal in Douai, northern France, found Loan Torondel, the aid worker, guilty of defamation for a tweet he published in early January 2018 and sentenced him to pay a 1,500 euro fine (about US$1,700), which it suspended, and ordered him to pay damages and court costs. It was the first defamation case against an aid worker in France for criticizing the French government’s actions against migrants. Torondel told Human Rights Watch that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation, France’s court of last resort.

“This decision against Loan Torondel is a worrying precedent and a blow to freedom of expression,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “It resonates as a pernicious intimidation against staff or volunteers for organizations that speak out against police abuses against migrants.”

In January 2018, while working for the Auberge des Migrants, which provides crucial assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, Torondel published a tweet criticizing abusive police practices toward migrants. This tweet, with a photo showing two police officers standing over a young man seated in a field, imagined that the young man was protesting against the confiscation of his sleeping bag in the middle of winter and that the officer replied: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir,” an allusion to a speech President Emmanuel Macron gave in late December 2017.

Torondel was prosecuted following a complaint by one of the police officers and was sentenced by the first instance by a court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on September 25.

Torondel worked with Human Rights Watch earlier in 2019, and the organization is about to resume the collaboration to research police practices during identity checks in France.

A volunteer operating in Calais, Tom Ciotkowski, was also prosecuted, for “insult and violence” after filming French police officers who were impeding a food distribution to migrants and asylum seekers by volunteers in Calais. But he was acquitted on June 20 by the Boulogne-sur-Mer court. 

Torondel's conviction and Ciotkowski’s prosecution expand on what aid workers have regularly described as harassment by the French police to hinder or prevent aid workers and volunteers supporting migrants and asylum seekers from carrying out their work in Calais.

The aid workers have reported repeated fines for minor infractions and parking violations, excessive use of identity checks, and temporary confiscations of mobile phones to look through or delete their content. In some cases, aid workers have reported being improperly sprayed with tear gas or pushed or insulted by police officers. 

Human Rights Watch, the French Defender of Rights, UN observers, and four associations in Calais reported abusive practices by the police in Calais, both against migrants and asylum seekers and against aid workers. Amnesty International recently published a detailed report on the criminalization and harassment of people defending refugee and migrant rights in northern France. 

Criminal defamation laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary restriction on free speech and create a “chilling effect” that effectively restricts legitimate as well as harmful speech. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), together with the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression, have called for the abolition of such laws.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has said that countries should take particular care to ensure that defamation laws – civil or criminal – “should never be used to prevent criticism of government” and “should reflect the principle that public figures are required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private citizens.”

“Obstructing assistance to migrants and bringing legal proceedings that criminalize the denunciation of abuses is a shameful tactic to deter solidarity,” Jeannerod said. “France should not go down this dangerous path, which reduces the working space of both aid workers and government critics.”

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

A still photo of a video circulated on social media on September 20 showing masses of anti-government protesters in the city of Damietta, North of Cairo, tearing down a big Sisi banner. 

© Twitter
 
(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should protect the right to peaceful protest in upholding Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should immediately release all those arrested for solely exercising their rights.

Media reports and videos posted on social media on the evening of September 20, 2019 show thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in several cities across the country. Security forces, including the military and the police, have apparently chased and rounded up protesters and surrounded Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, according to media reports.

“President al-Sisi’s security agencies have time and again used brutal force to crush peaceful protests,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should recognize that the world is watching and take all necessary steps to avoid a repetition of past atrocities.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should direct the state security forces to abide by international standards for law enforcement during demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said.

The protests followed calls for President al-Sisi to step down by Mohamed Ali, a former army contractor, who over the past two weeks has published allegations of corruption within the army and of al-Sisi himself.

In recent months, al-Sisi has warned against protests, and Egyptian security forces have used unnecessary and excessive lethal force in recent years against peaceful protesters with near-total impunity. In the largest mass killing of protesters in Egypt’s modern history, security forces killed at least 817 protesters within a few hours on August 14, 2013, as security forces violently dispersed a sit-in at Rab’a Square in Cairo. Authorities also have failed to investigate these mass killings, which most likely amounted to crimes against humanity.

Authorities have imprisoned and prosecuted thousands of protesters since President al-Sisi rose to power in late 2013. The nationwide crackdown intensified after he became president in June 2014.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, upholds the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

The Egyptian government should publicly order the security forces to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said. The Basic Principles state that security forces shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms,” and that “whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.” Furthermore, “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

Earlier on September 20, al-Sisi flew to New York City to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. Egypt’s international partners, as well as the UN secretary-general, should call on the Egyptian government to respect people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

New information received by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi supports what many have long suspected: Marie-Claudette Kwizera, the treasurer of the Burundian group Ligue Iteka, was targeted because of her human rights work and murdered.

Marie-Claudette Kwizera.

© Private

Almost four years ago, Marie-Claudette, who was passionate about human rights and had joined the Ligue Iteka in secondary school, was picked up and driven away in a vehicle thought to belong to the National Intelligence Service (SNR). The vehicle with tinted windows took her to an unknown location, leaving her colleagues and loved ones expecting the worse. The commission now says she was driven to a local SNR office before being taken to another location to be executed.

Marie-Claudette’s murder remains a warning to those who dare denounce abuse in the country. Only yesterday, the commission confirmed that in 2018 and 2019, there was an aggravation of restrictions on civil liberties, as “journalists and human rights defenders continued to be arbitrarily arrested and detained, but also intimidated, harassed or subjected to ill-treatment to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate activities.”

That the Burundian authorities have failed to launch a thorough, independent investigation into her death is not surprising. Ligue Iteka publicly denounces abuse by security forces and the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure.

Abductions and disappearances took place all too regularly in Burundi in late 2015 and 2016. Jean Bigirimana, a journalist with Iwacu, Burundi’s last remaining independent newspaper, was on a reporting trip in July 2016 when he disappeared. Unconfirmed reports indicated that members of the Burundian intelligence services arrested him in Bugarama.

The commission says that these days anyone suspected of not supporting the ruling party is at risk. Families live in fear that their loved ones will be picked up one night by members of the SNR or Imbonerakure, never to be seen again. Sometimes, if the authorities or the Imbonerakure don’t find the person they are looking for, they take their family members instead.

But families like Marie-Claudette’s have a right to full, independent, and speedy investigations by authorities into what happened to their relatives. Until then, the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate should be extended to continue their critical documentation work.

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

LGBT activists protest the planned revision to Indonesia’s criminal code outside parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 12, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo

(Jakarta) – The Indonesian parliament should substantially revise the proposed new criminal code to meet international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today. The current bill contains articles that will violate the rights of women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, as well as freedom of speech and association.

“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Lawmakers should remove all the abusive articles before passing the law.”

Updating Indonesia’s criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has taken more than two decades. On September 15, 2019, a parliamentary task force finalized the 628-article bill. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill later in September.

A coalition of Indonesian civil society organizations has urged President Joko Widodo to delay passing the law because it will discriminate against non-Muslims, non-Sunni Muslims, and local religious minorities, as well as women and LGBT people.

Provisions of the draft criminal code violate free speech and freedom of association. The ability to engage in political speech, even speech espousing a peaceful political ideology that the government does not favor, lies at the heart of the democratic process.

Provisions that effectively censor the dissemination of information about contraception and criminalize some abortions will set back women and girls’ rights under international law to make their own choices about having children. Unintended pregnancies can affect a range of rights, including by ending a girl’s education and contributing to child marriage, as well as putting women and girls’ lives at risk and other health complications.

“The bill’s provisions censoring information about contraception could set back the progress Indonesia has made in recent years to dramatically reduce maternal deaths,” Harsono said.

The bill also expands Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law, which increases the enumeration of “the elements of crimes” to include defaming religious artifacts. Parliament should remove blasphemy offenses that are inconsistent with Indonesia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“Indonesia’s parliament should be encouraging free speech and association, and limiting – not expanding – the Blasphemy Law,” Harsono said. “The new criminal code is a precious opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted to remove toxic laws from the books and build a better, rights-respecting Indonesia.”
 

Problematic Provisions in the Draft Criminal Code

Article 2 recognizes “any living law” in Indonesia, which could be interpreted to include hukum adat (customary criminal law) and Sharia (Islamic law) regulations at the local level. Indonesia has hundreds of discriminatory Sharia and other regulations that discriminate against women, religious minorities, and LGBT people. As there is no official list of “living laws” in Indonesia, this article could be used to prosecute people under these discriminatory regulations.

Article 417 punishes extramarital sex by up to one year in jail. (The current code says only that married couples can be prosecuted for extramarital sex based on police complaints by their spouse or children.) While this article does not specifically mention same-sex conduct, since same-sex relationships are not legally recognized in Indonesia, this provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex conduct. It will also subject all sex workers to criminal prosecution.

Article 419 states that couples who live together without being legally married could be sentenced to six months in prison. A village head could report these couples to the police.

Article 421 criminalizes “obscene acts” in public with a penalty of up to six months in prison. This article could be used to target LGBT people.

Articles 417, 419, and 421 violate the right to privacy for consenting adults that is protected under international law. Such provisions can reinforce or exacerbate discriminatory social norms and have heightened impact on women, who may face pressure to enter forced marriages if accused of sex outside of marriage or an increase in societal “policing” of their behavior.

These articles could also be used to target religious minorities and the millions of Indonesians – some estimates suggest as many as half of all Indonesian couples – who do not marry legally because of difficulties in registering the marriage. They include members of hundreds of unrecognized religions including Baha’i, Ahmadi, and local religions, as well as people in remote regencies and islands.

Article 413 criminalizes the production or distribution of pornography, which is poorly defined under existing law. As Human Rights Watch has documented, the 2008 Law on Pornography, which defines portrayals of “deviant sexual intercourse” to include lesbian and male homosexual sex, has been used for discriminatory targeting of LGBT people.

Article 414 states that anyone who is “to show, to offer, to broadcast, to write or to promote a contraception to a minor” – children under age 18 – could face a prison term or fine.

Article 416 specifies some narrow exceptions for health professionals and authorized “competent volunteers” to discuss contraception in the context of family planning, preventing sexually transmitted infections, or providing health education.

While the exceptions are notable, the overall chilling effect of article 414 will diminish free exchange of vital health information, including by teachers, parents, the media, and community members, and will most likely impede even those who are officially exempted from the law.

Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS can be largely prevented by regularly using condoms, and interfering with people’s ability to get information about condoms impedes their rights to life and health.

Human Rights Watch has documented that restricted access to condoms has particular impacts on marginalized groups – such as men who have sex with men and female sex workers and their clients – who already shoulder most of the burden of Indonesia’s HIV epidemic.

Articles 415, 470, and 471 state that only doctors have the right to decide to perform an abortion. This conflicts with the 2009 Health Law, which says a woman can seek an abortion in “a medical emergency,” which could be interpreted to include health reasons or rape. A woman who aborted her pregnancy could be sentenced to up four years in prison. Anyone who helps a pregnant woman have an abortion could be sentenced up to five years in prison. These articles might also be interpreted to prosecute those selling or consuming so-called morning-after pills as an abortion tool, with up to a six-month jail term.

Human Rights Watch research in several countries has shown that criminalizing abortion impedes rights protected under international law, including to life, health, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, privacy, and to determine the number and spacing of children.

Articles 304 to 309 expand the current Blasphemy Law and maintain the maximum five-year prison term. They will punish deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. More than 150 individuals, most of them religious minorities, have been convicted under the Blasphemy Law since it was passed in 1965, including former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, in 2017.

Article 118 imposes up to a four-year prison sentence on anyone who spreads Marxist-Leninist teachings.

Article 119 authorizes a 10-year sentence for associating with organizations that follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology “with the intent of changing the policy of the government.”

Article 219 criminalizes “insults” to the president or vice president.

Article 220 limits, but not sufficiently, application of the law to cases filed by the president or vice president.

Under international human rights law, restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association are only permitted to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation and must ensure that any measure taken under the law is strictly proportionate to the aim pursued.

Laws penalizing criticism of public leaders are contrary to international law. Public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, may be subject to criticism, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A notice of electronic surveillance is posted near a 95-by-50-foot American flag unfurled on the side of an apartment complex in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., June 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

Today marks 11 years since the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against mass surveillance in the United States on behalf of Carolyn Jewel and other AT&T customers. When it eventually concludes, this case will determine whether people in the US ever get a judgment on the constitutionality of mass surveillance.

The case began after a technician revealed that AT&T was routing fiber optic cable communications into a secret room in its San Francisco facility controlled by the US National Security Agency (NSA), allowing the government to gather the public’s communications without court authorization.

Throughout the case’s many hearings, the US government has dodged the central contention in Jewel that its unauthorized dragnet violated rights. It argues that to confirm whether the plaintiffs were spied upon would require disclosure of “state secrets.”

Government whistleblower after whistleblower has added to the Jewel plaintiffs’ credibility, showing how likely it was that the government performed massive unauthorized data collection on ordinary people. And although the existence of mass government surveillance is hardly a secret these days, a lower court judge ruled the matter was too sensitive for adjudication. The appeals court hearing the case now is faced with the question of whether individuals can challenge illegal surveillance if the government refuses to confirm it actually spied on them.

Plaintiffs in other democratic societies with their own national security interests don’t face this dilemma. Ordinary people and civil society groups have been able to challenge the legality of mass surveillance in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and before the European Court of Human Rights. Just this week, a South African court found mass surveillance violated the public’s rights.

As a plaintiff in a related case, Human Rights Watch has a direct stake in the Jewel litigation. We happen to be AT&T customers, and have challenged mass surveillance previously. Now, we are urging the court to remove the blinders imposed by invoking national security and consider these facts: first, human rights defenders are targets of state surveillance the world over; second, surveillance harms everyone’s interest in learning about human rights violations because it inhibits sources and activists; and finally, the US has a long record of obstructing even defendants in criminal cases from learning evidence against them may derive from questionable surveillance.

In the US, courts should not be barred from assessing potential human rights violations whenever the government cries, “National security secret!” The country’s legal system, like those of other democracies, is equipped to address real security concerns without depriving people of a remedy for abusive state practices. You can read our brief in the case here.

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

Iranian workers chant slogans during a May Day demonstration in front of the former US embassy in Tehran, May 1, 2006, protesting against the labor resolutions and their delayed payments. 

@ 2006 Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

(Beirut) – Iran’s judiciary is dramatically increasing the costs of peaceful dissent in Iran, Human Rights Watch said today. Since July 31, 2019 alone, revolutionary courts have sentenced at least 13 activists to prison sentences of more than a decade for peaceful dissent.

“Again and again, Iranian revolutionary court judges have been ensuring that anyone who dares challenge the authorities will pay a draconian price,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “When activists who raise issues that concern many Iranians are crushed with such harsh sentences, the judiciary’s promise of combating wrongdoing becomes a mockery of justice.”

In just the most recent cases, on September 7, a revolutionary court sentenced six labor rights activists to sentences ranging from 14 to 19 years. On August 27, the lawyer for a 22-year-old woman who had protested compulsory hijab announced that she had been sentenced to a total of 24 years. On July 31, a revolutionary court sentenced three other women detained for protesting compulsory hijab laws to sentenced ranging from 11 to 18 years.

On August 24, the lawyer for Kioomars Marzban, a satirist who has been in pretrial detention for a year, tweeted that his client has been sentenced to 23 years. Similarly over the past two weeks, a journalist and an activist arrested during a peaceful May day protest have been sentenced to more than 10 and 11 years in prison, respectively.

In each case, if the sentence is upheld, the person will have to serve the harshest sentence among the charges for which they have been convicted.

The campaign to support the prisoners of Haft Tappeh (sugar cane company) reported the September 7 sentences, including for Ismael Bakhshi, a prominent labor rights activist sentenced to 14 years, and Sepideh Gholian, a journalist and labor rights activist, sentenced to 19 years and 6 months. Both have been held since January 20. The charges, as cited by Human Rights Activists News Agency, HRANA, were all for nonviolent acts, including "assembly and collusion to act against national security," "membeship in an illegal group of Gam," an online publication, "propaganda against the state," and "publishing false news."

The authorities had arrested Bakhshi and Gholian after they alleged that they had been tortured when they were detained in the aftermath of sugarcane factory labor protests in November 2018.

The campaign’s Twitter account also reported that Amir Amirgholi, Sanaz Allahyari, Asal Mohammadi, and Amir Hossein Mohammadifar, members of the editorial board of the online publication Gam and who have also been detained since January, have been sentenced to 18 years each in prison on similar charges. If the verdicts are upheld, each of the six labor rights defenders has to spend seven years in prison.

On August 31, HRANA reported that Branch 28 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Atefeh Rangriz, a labor rights activist detained in Qarchak prison near Tehran since May 1, to 11 years and 6 months in prison and 74 lashes on charges that include “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “disrupting public order.”

On August 24, the family of Marizeh Amiri, a journalist with the Shargh daily paper who was also arrested on May 1, reported that Branch 28 of the revolutionary court had sentenced her to 10 years and 6 months in prison and 148 lashes. HRANA reported that Amiri faced charges that include “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “disrupting public order.” If the sentences are upheld, Rangriz and Amiri must serve 7.5 and 6 years in prison respectively.

On August 27, Hossein Taj, tweeted that his client Saba Kordafshari, a 22-year-old-woman who was arrested for protesting compulsory hijab, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for “encouraging and providing for [moral] corruption and prostitution,” seven and a half years for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” and one and half years for “propaganda against the state.” If the sentences are upheld, she will have to serve 15 years.

On July 31, Branch 31 of Tehran’s revolutionary court sentenced Yasman Ariani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz (who were all arrested for protesting compulsory hijab laws) to 5 years for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” one year for “propaganda against the state,” and 10 years for “encouraging and providing for [moral] corruption and prostitution.” The court sentenced Keshavarz to an additional seven and a half years for “insulting the sacred.” If these sentences are upheld on appeal, each woman would serve 10 years.

On August 24, Mohammadhossein Aghasi tweeted that branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Marzban, a 26-year-old satirist, to 23 years in prison. Aghasi said that Marzban, who worked with multiple news websites when he lived outside the country before returning to Iran in 2017, had been convicted of charges including “cooperating with an enemy state.” Marzan has also been convicted of insulting authorities and sacred beliefs. If his sentence is upheld, he will serve 11 years.

On September 8, Mizan News, the judiciary’s news agency, reported that Ayatollah Raeesi, the head of the judiciary, ordered that “some of the recent cases will be tried fairly at the appeals level.” It appears that the order was communicated with regards to the conviction of the labor activists, but the judiciary has not shared any more details.

Earlier this year, on March 11, authorities sentenced Nasrin Sotudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for her peaceful activism including defending women who protested compulsory hijab laws. On April 23, the court of appeal upheld the sentence. Sotoudeh, who has been detained since June 2018, has to serve 12 years in prison.

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.

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 treaties. Iran is also a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On July 5 2019, thousands of people protested for a twentieth consecutive week in Algeria's capital, defying a major police presence just days before the mandate of interim president Bensalah expires. 

© AFP/Getty Images

Algeria’s authorities have jailed dozens of people for peaceful protests in the six months since the beginning of a wave of street demonstrations that forced the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities have arrested people for peacefully carrying a flag or a protest sign. They jailed a veteran of the independence war for criticizing the army, shut down meetings by political and other nongovernmental groups, and blocked a major news website. While large street protests have continued every Friday, police forces have deployed massively in Algiers’ central streets and squares and at checkpoints, effectively limiting the number of people who can reach the march, and then tightly controlling those who do.

“The Algerian authorities initially tolerated the protests by millions of people that began in February to demand political reform,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But Algeria’s authorities are now turning the vise, jailing flag-wavers and turning back would-be marchers.”

After President Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah replaced him, pending new elections, as provided by the constitution. The authorities set a new presidential election for July 4, but then postponed it to an undetermined date after pressure from street protesters, who demand a democratic transition before holding presidential elections. Popular slogans during the marches demand the resignations of Bensalah and of Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, among others.

Since the resignation of Bouteflika, one of his high-level appointees, Ahmed Gaid Salah, 79, the army chief of staff and deputy defense minister, has widely been considered Algeria’s new strongman. On August 26, Gaid Salah rejected the protesters’ demand for a transitional structure and phase and urged the authorities to organize a presidential election “as soon as possible.”

Since April, Gaid Salah has warned of “foreign parties” seeking to “infiltrate demonstrations” and “destabilize Algeria.” On June 19, he gave a public speech in which he accused “a small minority of people who bear other flags [than the Algerian flag]” of “infiltrating the protests.”

Starting June 21, security forces began large-scale arrests throughout the country, targeting marchers with Amazigh flags, a symbol of the large ethnic community of the same name, also known as Berbers. About 40 protesters remain in custody, most in Algiers. All are under investigation for “harming the integrity of the national territory,” which carries sentences of up to 10 years in prison, under penal code Article 79.

Waving a flag of an ethnic community is an act of peaceful expression protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified in 1989, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Algeria should free and drop charges against anyone arrested for possessing or waving a flag, Human Rights Watch said.

On July 9, a first instance court near Algiers sentenced Mouaffak Serdouk, a 40-year-old supporter of Algeria’s football team, to a year in prison for “publicly displaying a paper that can harm the national interest.” He had been deported from Egypt two weeks earlier, after Egyptian authorities arrested him in Cairo. He had stood near a stadium where the Algeria team was playing a football match, carrying a sign encouraging a change in administrations in Algeria. He is in prison in Algiers and has appealed his conviction.

On June 30, police arrested 87-year old Lakhdar Bouregaa, a prominent veteran of Algeria’s independence war, at his home in Algiers, four days after he said at a public meeting, later broadcast on YouTube, that Algeria’s army is a collection of “militias.”

A prosecutor referred his case to an investigative judge, who opened an investigation for “weakening the morale of the army,” which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Bouregaa, one of the few surviving commanders of the war of independence, has supported the street protests since they started in February. He has participated in several demonstrations, and severely criticized the country’s interim leaders.

On August 27, local authorities forbade a series of meetings planned near the city of Bejaia by the Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (RAJ), a group active in pro-democracy protests since they started. The authorities did not explain their decision, RAJ president Abdelouhab Fersaoui told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

On September 5, local authorities arrested over 20 pro-democracy and human rights activists who were planning to hold a RAJ meeting in a public square in Bejaia. They were freed about 3 hours later, and the meeting could not take place.

On August 27, without explanation, the authorities ordered three opposition parties to cancel a planned joint meeting in Algiers the next day. The parties, the Socialist Forces Front, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, and the Labour Party, are members of the Forces of the Democratic Alternative, a political alliance created to back the protesters’ call for a democratic transition. The meeting was to be the alliance’s inaugural gathering.

Since June 12, Tout Sur l’Algérie (TSA), one of the country’s top independent news websites, has been inaccessible most of the time inside Algeria, except for those who use a virtual private network connection. TSA Director Hamid Guemache told Human Rights Watch during a meeting in Algiers on August 5: “This is an arbitrary block ordered by the authorities. We tried to contact the government to get explanations, but they refused to answer our questions. This blockage is a serious threat to our survival as an independent website.”

TSA has extensively covered the street protest movement, including the protesters’ criticism of the army in general, and Gaid Salah in particular.

Since the first protests in February, security forces have tolerated large gatherings in public spaces on Fridays, the day during which the biggest demonstrations are organized weekly. However, security forces tightly control crowds that assemble on other days.

On August 6, a Tuesday, Human Rights Watch witnessed hundreds of security men equipped with anti-riot gear circling a crowd of protesters in central Algiers and progressively pushing it out of Place de La Grande Poste, breaking the crowd into smaller and smaller groups until the protest dissolved about one hour after it started.

On Fridays, security forces install checkpoints at various approaches to the capital, significantly slowing down drivers who want to reach the protest sites. Several people told Human Rights Watch that security forces prevented most vehicles from entering the capital during most of the day, until the protests had died down. During Friday protests, authorities also suspend subway service in Algiers and close tramway, train, and bus stations near the protest sites.

On August 19, Algerian authorities detained a Human Rights Watch employee, Ahmed Benchemsi, as he was observing the Friday march on Didouche Mourad Avenue in downtown Algiers. The authorities detained him for 10 hours and seized his passports, holding them for 10 days without notifying him of any charge, then deported him. According to Reporters Without Borders, several foreign journalists have been deported since April, including the director of the AFP bureau in Algiers and correspondents of Reuters and TRT, a Turkish state-owned broadcaster.

“As authorities violate rights and intensify their crackdown on dissent, protesters are starting to prepare for bigger marches in September,” Fakih said. “The authorities should step back and grant the Algerian people the freedoms of expression and assembly they are entitled to.”

In Prison for Waving a Flag

About 40 protesters remain in jail after security forces arrested them in Algiers, Annaba, Chlef, and other Algerian cities, most of them on June 21 and 28, because they were waving or carrying Amazigh flags. More than 30 of them are being held in Algiers, based on estimates by Abderrahmane Salah, a lawyer representing many of the protesters and also the secretary general of the Network of Human Rights Lawyers, an Algerian nongovernmental group.

Investigative judges placed them under investigation for “harming the integrity of the national territory,” an offense punishable by a prison term of between one and ten years, under penal code Article 79.

Under the code of penal procedure, investigative judges’ inquiries can last up to four months, renewable twice, after which the suspects should be freed or sent to trial.

On June 19, Gaid Salah, the army chief of staff, said in a speech in the southwestern city of Bechar: “Algeria has only one flag that represents its sovereignty, its independence, and its territorial integrity … Orders were given to security forces to firmly enforce the law and counter all those who will try again to harm the feelings of the Algerian people on this sensitive question.”

Gaid Salah didn’t specify which law he was referring to. A couple days after the speech, police forces started to arrest people holding Amazigh flags across the country.

Carrying Amazigh flags and pro-Amazigh activism have been commonplace in Algeria since the early 1980s. Some activists focus on promoting Amazigh culture, while some demand greater political autonomy for the Kabyle-majority regions, and others advocate independence. Although demands for autonomy or independence have been contentious, Algerian authorities have not in recent years treated carrying an Amazigh flag as a crime.

On August 8, a judge in the eastern city of Annaba acquitted Nadir Fertissi, a protester, on the charge of “harming the integrity of the national territory” and ordered the police to return to him two Amazigh flags they seized when they arrested him on July 5. Fertissi spent one month in pretrial detention.

Jailed for a Sign

On June 23, Egyptian police arrested Mouaffak Serdouk, a 40-year-old Algerian supporter of Algeria’s football team, in Cairo, outside of a stadium where Algeria was playing in the African Cup of Nations tournament. Serdouk was carrying a sign with the slogan “No God but God; Yetnehaw Ga’.” The second part of the slogan, which means “They Must All Leave” in Algerian dialect, is a trademark slogan of Algeria’s current protest movement, and refers to top officials under former president Bouteflika who are believed to retain effective power.

Egyptian authorities held Serdouk for two days then forcibly expelled him on June 25. Algerian police arrested Serdouk when he landed in Algiers and referred him to the prosecutor of Dar El Bayda, the district that includes the airport.

On July 9, a court sentenced him to one year in prison for “publicly displaying a paper that can harm the national interest,” under Article 96 of the penal code. Serdouk filed an appeal, but the date for the appeals trial is yet to be set.

Serdouk’s conviction violates his right to freedom of expression. The article under which he was convicted, moreover, violates a fundamental requirement under human rights law that criminal laws should define offenses with sufficient precision for people to reasonably predict when they are violating those laws.

War Veteran Jailed for Peaceful Comments

Since he was arrested in Algiers on June 30, Lakhdar Bouregaa, a prominent veteran of the war of independence, has remained in custody, under investigation for “weakening the morale of the army during peacetime in order to harm national defense,” which Article 75 of the penal code punishes with a prison term of 5 to 10 years.

On June 26, during a meeting organized by a coalition of political parties in Algiers, Bouregaa said that Algeria’s army is a collection of “militias” created to serve “the 1962 regime” rather than “the offspring of the National Liberation Army.” His comment came in the context of longstanding disputes over the legacy of various factions within the rebel army that won independence for Algeria from France in 1962.

The criminal investigation is based chiefly on this comment, one of Bouregaa’s lawyers, Abderrahmane Salah, told Human Rights Watch. On July 4, the accusation chamber at the Court of Algiers refused to release Bouregaa on bail. He remains in prison pending completion of the judge’s investigation, which can take up to one year before the court must provisionally release him.

Bouregaa is one of the few surviving commanders of the National Liberation Army. He is a founder of the opposition Socialist Forces Front party and was a political prisoner in the 1970s under President Houari Boumedienne. His frequent media appearances make Bouregaa a familiar figure to Algerians, some of whom call him “Uncle Lakhdar.” On August 2 and again on August 6, a Human Rights Watch researcher heard crowds of demonstrators in Algiers chanting “Free Bouregaa!” Similar slogans were chanted in street protests in Algiers on August 30.

Leading News Site Blocked, Targeted

On June 12, Tout Sur l’Algerie, a leading independent news site in Algeria, announced that its IP addresses were blocked. Since then, the news website’s staff has run several technical tests and observed that, while the website was inaccessible within Algeria, except for short and random periods of accessibility, it was accessible without interruption for users outside Algeria and those using a VPN address, which allows them to connect to the national internet network from a foreign IP address.

Their communiqué denounced the blockage as an “act of censorship against independent media,” adding that “the old practices of the authorities have not stopped.”

TSA, one of the few websites that were openly critical of then-President Bouteflika and his administration, encountered similar obstructions in 2017. On October 5 of that year, its managers observed that the site was inaccessible on Algérie Telecom and Mobilis, two internet providers owned by the government, but still accessible on private networks. Twenty days later, then-Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia answered a question on the partial blockage of the news website by saying that the site managers should “contact their (hosting service) provider to determine the cause of the breakdown.” In December 2017, the site was accessible again from those two networks.

TSA Director Hamid Guemache told Human Rights Watch on August 5 that his website receives no advertising from the State-controlled ANEP agency, which has a monopoly on advertising spending by state-owned companies. ANEP controls a considerable part of the advertisement market in Algeria, Guemache said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Родичі зустрічають Олега Сенцова у київському аеропорту «Бориспіль». 7 вересня 2019 р.

© Анастасія Магазова, 2019

After several increasingly tense weeks amid swirling rumors, a much-anticipated large-scale prisoner swap has finally happened between Russia and Ukraine. Among those who arrived in Kyiv this Saturday afternoon, newly released from Russian custody are 35 people. That number includes 11 Ukrainian prisoners – among them Edem Bekirov, Oleg Sentsov, Pavlo Hryb, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanislav Klykh, Mykola Karpyuk, Volodymyr Balukh, Roman Sushchenko - and 24 Ukrainian sailors, captured by Russia in November 2018. At around the same time, a plane with 35 Russian prisoners, released by Ukraine, landed in Moscow.

Let’s pause to celebrate. This long-awaited exchange is truly wonderful news for all those jailed for politically motivated reasons and who can now come home. Some who are gravely ill, like Edem Bekirov and Pavlo Hryb, can finally get urgently needed medical help. Others get to hug their families after years of separation.

Oleg Sentsov’s release is a momentous event for his family and supporters around the world, who have stood with him for the five years he has been unjustly jailed. For a long time, and up until the last moment, the Kremlin was not prepared to even discuss the possibility of Sentsov’s release, despite mounting international support for the Ukrainian filmmaker from Crimea. Russian authorities detained Sentsov in May 2014 and sentenced him to 20 years in jail on bogus terrorism charges in August 2015. In reality, Sentsov’s crime was speaking out against Russia’s occupation of Crimea and helping to deliver food and water to Ukrainian soldiers stranded at military bases in Crimea. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and in Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought.

Journalists and families of Ukrainian political prisoners waiting at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, September 7, 2019.

© 2019 Anastasia Magazova

Before the swap, Ukraine released RIA Novosti journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who was in pretrial detention facing dubious treason charges. Those charges should be dropped immediately. Journalists should not be jailed for their work.

Let’s also remember others who remain behind bars for their opposition to Russia’s role in the armed conflict in Ukraine. Many, like Sentsov, are from occupied Crimea. Since 2015, Russian authorities have prosecuted at least 63 Crimean Tatars, tainting them as “terrorists,” and handed down some horrendous sentences of up to 17 years. Many suffer in pretrial detention and some were tortured by Russian security officials trying to extract confessions.

There are also prisoners unlawfully held by fighters of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine. Among them are pro-Ukraine bloggers and journalists Stanyslav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk, and others.

They, too, should be freed.

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

Bidun residential area in Taima, al-Jahra, Kuwait. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – More than a dozen Bidun activists detained in Kuwait since July 2019 began a hunger strike on August 22 to protest human rights violations against themselves and the Bidun community, Human Rights Watch said today. Kuwaiti authorities should ensure that all detainees have adequate access to medical treatment.

“Kuwait’s authorities should unconditionally release all Bidun activists who are being held without a recognizable charge under international law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The continued detention of Bidun activists for their peaceful protests reveals the government’s intent to address this longstanding issue through abuse and coercion rather than respecting basic rights.”

Kuwait’s State Security agency began arresting activists from the stateless Bidun community on July 11 after they organized a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in the town of al-Jahra, near Kuwait City. The protest was in response to the death of Ayed Hamad Moudath, 20, who killed himself on July 7, after the government denied him civil documentation. The documentation is needed to apply for public services, as well as to study and to work.

Initial charges against the activists include spreading fake news, harming allied countries, joining a group that calls for the destruction of the country’s basic systems, calling for attacking national interests, calling for public gatherings, participating in public gatherings, and use of cellphones for abusive purposes. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that Kuwaiti authorities later reduced the charges to misuse of cellphones and calling for and joining an unauthorized gathering.

The detained activists, over a dozen of whom are on hunger strike, include Abdulhakim al-Fadhli, Awad al-Onan, Ahmed al-Onan, Abdullah al-Fadhli, Mutaib al-Onan, Muhammed al-Anzi, Yousef al-Osmi, ِNawaf al-Bader, Hamed Jamil, Jarallah al-Fadhli, Yousif al-Bashig, Ahmed al-Anzi, Hamoud al-Rabah, Khalifa al-Anzi, and Reda al-Fadhli.

The Bidun, a community of between approximately 88,000 to 106,000 stateless people who claim Kuwaiti nationality, remain in legal limbo, dating back to the foundation of the Kuwaiti state in 1961. After an initial period allowing them to register for citizenship, the authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of administrative committees that have avoided resolving the claims while maintaining sole authority to determine Bidun access to civil documentation and social services.

The government claims that most of the Bidun moved to Kuwait from neighboring countries in search of a better livelihood and hid their other nationalities to claim Kuwaiti citizenship. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev takes the oath during his inauguration ceremony in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

© 2019 Vladislav Vodnev / Sputnik via AP

(Berlin) – Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, should urgently address pressing human rights concerns as part of his mandate, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to the president that was released today.

Tokaev was inaugurated on June 12, 2019, after the long-time president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stepped down from office earlier in 2019.

“Strengthening protection for human rights is long overdue in Kazakhstan,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For a start, President Tokaev should adopt a reform agenda that includes robust measures to protect media freedom, trade union rights, and the right to peaceful protest.”

Human Rights Watch has monitored and documented human rights violations in Kazakhstan for over 20 years, and has carried out in-depth investigations into violations of fundamental freedoms including freedom of association, workers’ rights to organize, and the rights of children with disabilities.

Human Rights Watch highlighted key areas of concern and urged authorities to take action to address long-standing abuses. President Tokaev should lift restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of speech and the media, revise overbroad criminal charges and stop using them to target government critics, and ensure the rights of children with disabilities. The authorities should also release the wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Maks Bokaev, who peacefully protested against proposed land code amendments and was imprisoned for five years on multiple charges, including “inciting social discord.”  

In his inauguration speech, President Tokaev said that one of the key components of his platform is “to protect the rights of every citizen.”

“For many years, Kazakhstan’s leadership has paid lip service to human rights while cracking down on fundamental rights and freedoms at home,” Williamson said. “If his words are to carry any weight, President Tokaev should waste no time in carrying out meaningful and tangible human rights reforms.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tourists walk past Indian security forces during curfew like restrictions in Jammu, India on Monday, August 5, 2019. An indefinite security lockdown was in place in the Indian-controlled portion of divided Kashmir on Monday.

© 2019 AP Photo/Channi Anand
(New York) – Indian authorities have adopted measures in anticipation of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir state that raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The government announced on August 5, 2019 that it was altering the special constitutional status of the state.

Before making the announcement, the government detained several political leaders, imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement, and banned public meetings. It also shut down the internet, phone services, and educational institutions. The Indian government should take all necessary steps to ensure that security forces act with restraint, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government has a responsibility to ensure security in Kashmir, but that means respecting the human rights of everyone, including protesters,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government got off to a bad start by detaining political leaders, banning public meetings, and shutting down the internet.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led national government has deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region since last week, citing security reasons. The authorities also ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave Jammu and Kashmir because of a “terror threat.” Orders issued to public officials, including hospital staff, caused panic in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley, with people stocking up on food and currency, anticipating that services would be shut down.

The government’s decision to revoke special status for the state provided under Article 370 of the Indian constitution prompted condemnation from political leaders in Kashmir and generated tensions in the state. On August 5, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament that “not all the provisions of Article 370 will now be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir.” In effect, these measures eliminate the autonomous status provided to Jammu and Kashmir when it acceded to India seven decades ago and splits the province into two separate territories which will be federally governed, reducing the authority of elected state officials.

Kashmir has witnessed a spike in violent protests and militant attacks in recent years. Indian security forces have often used excessive force to respond to protests, including using pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon, even though they have caused a large number of protester deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd-control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Indian troops have seldom been held accountable despite serious allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses. The government has failed to review or repeal the law, despite repeated recommendations from several government-appointed commissions, UN bodies, and experts, and national and international rights groups. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

While law enforcement officials have a duty to protect lives and property, they should use nonviolent means as far as possible, only use force when unavoidable and in a proportionate manner, and use lethal force only when absolutely necessary to save lives, Human Rights Watch said.

In July, a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised serious concerns about abuses by security forces in Kashmir. Those included the use of excessive force to respond to protests and the detention of protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards. The Indian government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.”

The Indian government has also repeatedly imposed internet shutdowns in Kashmir, restricting mobile and broadband internet services. There have already been 53 instances of shutdowns in the state in 2019, the largest number in the country. In 2017, David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on human rights defenders, condemned the restrictions on the internet and social media services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying they had a “disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir,” and had the “character of collective punishment.”

“Kashmiris have endured decades of violence and human rights violations, and are yet to be assured of justice,” Ganguly said. “The government should ensure accountability for past abuses and address grievances instead of silencing opposition voices.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Wives of six men who went missing in February 2019 join the weekly Saturday Mothers vigil in Istanbul for families of disappeared people in Turkey, July 2019. 

© 2019 Private

(London) – The Turkish authorities’ decision to deny lawyers access to four men, who were forcibly disappeared in February 2019, but are now confirmed to be in police custody in Ankara raises concerns that the men may be being put under pressure to conceal information about their disappearance, Human Rights Watch said today. 

The authorities acknowledged on July 28 that they are holding four men, Salim Zeybek, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, and Erkan Irmak, but have not revealed where they have been since February, and are implying that the men were not in the custody of the state nor their proxies before July 28. The men were detained on various dates in February and are presumed to have been held in unacknowledged detention ever since. The whereabouts of two other men, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen, who were also reported missing in February, remains unknown.

“Lawyers have been prevented from meeting the men, in violation of Turkey’s laws, which fuels our suspicion that the authorities want to hide the truth about what these four have lived through for the past five-and-a-half months,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “There needs to be a full account of what has happened to these men since February, and everyone implicated in their presumed enforced disappearances should be held to account.” 

The families of the four men have been permitted to see them briefly twice in the presence of police officers, but the families’ lawyers have been completely barred from visiting them. When the families tried to ask the men where they had been since February, the men were reluctant to provide answers and the police intervened to stop further questions.

The Turkish authorities are legally obliged to grant the families’ chosen lawyers access to the men and to enable confidential meetings. They should also permit independent medical professionals to conduct full medical examinations of the four men, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch spoke to the men’s wives about their brief meetings with their husbands.

The families had spent months publicly campaigning and lodging complaints with the authorities seeking information on their husbands’ whereabouts. The families said the men were very pale, had lost a lot of weight, and were unwilling to answer any questions about what had happened to them over the months they were missing.

The wives said the police prevented them from asking questions of the men or learning anything about their situation. The wives also reported that each of the men said, with police officers standing by, that they did not want to see a lawyer and that the wives should stop campaigning or lodging complaints about their cases and even withdraw existing complaints to international bodies and organizations.

The presence of police officers during these meetings, the men’s reported introverted manner of speaking, and apparent inability or fear to provide any information about the past five months fuels Human Rights Watch’s concern that they are being pressured to withhold information about their treatment and to collude in providing a fabricated version of their detention.

The authorities suspect the men of having links with the Fethullah Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government has labeled a terrorist organization responsible for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. The government has carried out an unprecedented crackdown on the movement and its followers in Turkey since that period.

Zeybek, who formerly worked for an official body, the Information Technology and Communications Board, was last seen by his wife in the custody of security forces on February 21. Officers detained him after following a car in which the couple was traveling, as they headed toward Edirne in western Turkey.

On February 13, numerous witnesses saw a large number of plain-clothed and uniformed police detain Kaya, a former teacher, and Ugan, a certified accountant, at an apartment building in an Ankara neighborhood where they were staying. The wife of Irmak, also a former teacher, saw her husband led away by two people after he had left their home in Istanbul late on the evening of February 16.

In each case, the families made great efforts to secure a full investigation into their husbands’ whereabouts, contacting multiple authorities in Turkey, including the prosecutor’s office, collecting evidence of what had happened, and running social media campaigns asking the Turkish authorities for information.  But prosecutors have failed to carry out an effective investigation, complaints have been dismissed, and the families have applied to the constitutional court, where their cases are still pending.

Several parliamentarians repeatedly raised the cases in parliament and made public statements seeking investigations of the disappearances. The Ankara Bar Association and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the Human Rights Association and the Rights Initiative Association have all publicly reported on the cases. The authorities have made no official statement about the presumed enforced disappearance of the men or their whereabouts since February. The families have also applied to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Yılmaz and Türkmen remain unaccounted for and the Turkish authorities should immediately investigate whether they too are being held in undisclosed detention sites. Security camera footage shows Yılmaz, a physiotherapist, being abducted by two men and taken away in a black VW Transporter van after he left his home in Ankara the morning of February 19. Türkmen, who worked at the Farming and Rural Development Support Board, disappeared in the southern city of Antalya on February 7.

Human Rights Watch most recently documented abductions and enforced disappearances in Turkey in the 2017 report “In Custody: Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey.”

“After four men turned up in police custody, the Turkish authorities should urgently take steps to determine the whereabouts of Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen,” Porteous said. “Forcibly disappearing people is an egregious crime and Turkey has a heinous history of forcibly disappearing people in the 1990s, as attested in multiple ECtHR judgments.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A campaign poster showing environmental activists, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, who have been in detention for six months. 

© 2018 #anyhopefornature Campaign
(Beirut) – At least two environmental experts detained in Iran since January 2018 have likely embarked on a hunger strike to protest their continued detention after many months in legal limbo, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should ensure their adequate access to medical treatment. 

They are among eight environmentalist experts detained for over 18 months without being provided with the evidence concerning their alleged crimes and with serious due process violations. Given those circumstances, the authorities should immediately release all eight.  

“Members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation have languished behind bars for over 550 days while Iranian authorities have blatantly failed to provide a shred of evidence about their alleged crime,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should take the long overdue step of releasing these defenders of Iran’s endangered wildlife and end this injustice against them.”

A source who requested anonymity informed Human Rights Watch that Niloufar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani intended to begin a hunger strike on August 3, 2019. Two other environmentalists arrested with them have most likely begun a hunger strike as well, the source said. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any contacts the detainees have had with family members since August 3.

Authorities from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization detained the two, along with Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Morad Tahbaz, Amirhossein Khaleghi, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh on accusations of espionage. All are members of a local environmental group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF). The authorities have provided no evidence to them or their lawyers concerning their alleged crimes.

The environmentalists on hunger strike are demanding that authorities end their legal limbo and either release them on bail until a verdict is issued against them or transfer them to the public ward of Evin prison, the source said. They are in ward 2-Alef of Evin prison, which is under the supervision. of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization.

Their trial in Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court was halted before the Iranian new year in March, then resumed at the beginning of August. The court reportedly did not allow lawyers to review the evidence before the trial opened on January 30. Judge Abdolghassem Salavati of Branch 15 also restricted the defendants’ choices of lawyers to a list approved by the judiciary. Bayani had interrupted an earlier trial session, in February, saying that the defendants had been under psychological torture and were coerced into making false confessions.  

On February 10, 2018, a few weeks after their arrests, family members of Kavous Seyed Emami, a Canadian-Iranian professor and environmentalist arrested with the other members of the group, reported that he had died in detention under suspicious circumstances. Iranian authorities claimed that he committed suicide, but they have not conducted an impartial investigation into his death and have placed a travel ban on his wife, Maryam Mombeini.

Several senior Iranian government officials have said that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. On May 22, 2018, ISNA News Agency reported that Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Institution, said during a speech at a bio-diversity conference that the government had formed a committee consisting of the ministers of intelligence, interior, and justice and the president’s legal deputy, and that they had concluded there was no evidence to suggest those detained are spies. Kalantari added that the committee said the environmentalists should be released.

On February 3, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, tweeted that according to the information he has received, the National Security Council headed by President Hassan Rouhani also did not deem their activities of the detained conservation activists to be spying.

On October 24, 2018, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, said that the prosecutor’s office had elevated the charges against four of the detainees to “sowing corruption on earth,” which includes the risk of the death penalty. The prosecutor claimed that the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.” Bayani, Tahbaz, Jokar, and Ghadirian are believed to face the capital charges. On January 30, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported that three others are charged with spying and one person is charged with assembly and collusion against national security.

Article 48 of Iran’s 2014 criminal procedure law says that detainees charged with various offenses, including national or international security crimes, political, and media crimes, must select their lawyer from a pre-approved pool selected by Iran’s judiciary during the investigation. The list published in June 2018 of lawyers allowed to represent people charged with national security crimes in Tehran province did not include any women or human rights lawyers.

Iran has a dismal record of providing necessary medical care and respecting the due process of detainees, Human Rights Watch said. In one of the latest incidents, on December 13, authorities informed the family of Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, a dissident, that he died in prison. His family said he had been he was serving time for charges that included “insulting the supreme leader” and that he had gone on a hunger strike to protest his condition.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am