Saudi Women Arrested, Receive Social Backlash as the Lift on the Driving ban Approaches

By: Natalie S. Maier
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As Saudi Arabia prepares to lift its ban on women driving, activists behind the change are experiencing backlash. Activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Aisha Almane were arrested last week, accused of “suspicious contact with foreign entities to support their activities, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, and providing financial support to hostile elements outside the country,” according to a state news agency. A headline in the daily al-Jazirah newspaper branded the women as “traitors.”

Saudi Activist Manal Al Sharif. Courtesy of Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images.

The arrests are cause for concern for women’s rights campaigners around the world, who applauded the lift of the ban as a significant step for women’s rights in the country. Sydney-based Saudi activist and author Manal Al-Sharif told CNN on Sunday that she thinks the arrests show a pattern of character assassination that has previously plagued the efforts of social reform. “We used to live in a police state; if you speak up you go to jail. And then there would be a defamation campaign against you, saying all sort of untrue things… We are seeing the same pattern now,” she says. Al-Sharif also says that the security forces arrested the women in their homes, without a warrant.

Amnesty International has condemned the arrests and negative coverage by the local media in the days following. Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, said that, while the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman presents himself as a reformer, “his promises of reform seem entirely superficial as the repression of human rights activists continues unabated.”

Other citizens against lifting the ban have taken to social media using the hashtag #YouWontDrive, which has been used 65,000 times since Monday. Some women chose to respond humorously by tweeting pictures and videos of their dream cars. Others, such as Sarah Al-Otaibi, responded on a more serious note, calling the hashtag a threat to women and the free exercise of their rights.

The pressure to lift the ban on driving comes as a larger call by women to end Saudi Arabia’s practices of male guardianship, which require women to get the permission of a male guardian to do almost everything. Other key changes since December of 2015 include women voting and standing as candidates in political elections, attending public sporting events, and entering the workforce in the hotel industry.

King Salman issued the decree in September of 2017 allowing women to drive for the first time in the country’s history. The ban on driving is set to be lifted on June 24, 2018.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Saudi Arabia women’s driving activists ‘targeted in smear campaign’ – 20 May 2018

BBC – Saudi women troll men telling them ‘you won’t drive’ – 16 May 2018

CNN – Saudi Arabia arrests female activists week before lifting of driving ban – 20 May 2018

 

UK Apologizes for Torture of Libyan Rebel Commander and his Wife

By: Natalie S. Maier
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan Rebel Commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar have received an apology from the UK government following “appalling treatment” during their detention in 2004.

Boudchar and her son. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Mr. Belhaj and Ms. Boudchar were taken to Tripoli where they were both tortured by Libyan jailers. Belhaj had been an opponent of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in multiple assassination attempts on Gaddafi. Belhaj and his wife were abducted in 2001 while trying to fly from Bangkok to London to seek asylum in the UK . Boudchar was five months pregnant at the time.

In the aftermath of the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the US and its allies sought to track jihadists groups more closely. This included British Intelligence agencies’ monitoring of Libyan dissidents who had been living under UK protection. Senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, was at the center of an operation attempting to convince Gaddafi and his henchmen to work with the West. Papers found by the Human Rights Watch, known as the Tripoli documents, show that Allen and his Libyan counterpart, Moussa Koussa, had agreed that counterterrorism experts from both party’s sides should meet and discuss their common enemies. Koussa allegedly wanted intelligence that would lead to the capture of LIFG leaders on the run, in addition to recognition for Libya.

In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi made a diplomatic move ultimately known as the “deal in the desert.” As consideration, the UK agreed to provide information on the whereabouts of the regime’s enemies.

On March 1, 2004, information from London to Tripoli tipped off Belhaj and his wife, who were in Malaysia at the time. Malaysian authorities, in communication with the Libyans, put the couple on a flight to Bangkok, where they were received and immediately detained. A day later, the couple was transported to Tripoli. Belhaj alleges that he was continuously tortured during a six-year period in prison. Boudchar was released only a few months after being detained, and shortly before giving birth.

On Thursday, May 10, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a public apology to Belhaj, Boudchar, and their son, with whom Boudchar was pregnant at the time of her detainment. All three family members were present at the reading of the apology. Belhaj told BBC news, “I hope that it is a new page in history, that we guarantee and strengthen human rights and this practice is not repeated.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Belhaj rendition: UK apology over Libyan dissident treatment – 10 May 2018

Evening Standard – Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj, tortured by Gaddafi regime, receives apology from Theresa May – as his wife Fatima Boudchar is given £500,000 payout – 10 May 2018

Middle East Eye – British government apologizes to Libyan dissident Belhaj over rendition – 10 May 2018 

BBC News – Abdul Hakim Belhaj: the documents trail that nailed  UK’s secret role in rendition – 10 May 2018 

 

Emin Aslan’s appeal denied in Azerbaijani

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Executive Director

BAKU, Azerbaijani – Detained human rights lawyer, Emin Aslan, appealed his detention in Azerbaijani’s Court of Appeals on June 8th. None of Aslan’s eight defense motions were granted and the court rejected his appeal.

Emin Aslan at Syracuse University College of Law. Image Courtesy of Emin Aslan.

In the appeal, Aslan denied committing the alleged administrative offense. He maintained that he was detained in front of Park Boulevard Mall at 17:30, while the police report says he was detained in Narimanov Park at 23:30. Aslan’s lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, petitioned to attach testimony of a witness that corroborates Aslan’s version of events. He also sought to interrogate additional witnesses of the event and requested records from CCTV cameras in the territory. These motions were rejected.

The Court of Appeals ultimately upheld Aslan’s detention on allegations that Aslan was swearing on the phone. Friends and co-workers of Aslan say that cursing publicly and disobeying police is beyond his character, and claim that these charges are fabricated.

Aslan earned his law degree from Syracuse University a few weeks before his detainment.  On June 11th, Syracuse University College of Law released a letter of support for Aslan. The statement acknowledges him as “a person of integrity who has deep respect for human rights, civil society, and the rule of law.” It calls for a “transparent, open legal process in his case, if not his immediate and safe release.” Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie has carried a copy of this letter to the United States Department of State.

The College of Law encourages the community to share Aslan’s story on social media platforms and attract attention to his situation. Several faculty members have already shared Aslan’s story with the media. The letter states, “We will continue to follow this situation and pledge to provide Emin and his family our support.”

For more information, please see:

Turan – Emin Aslan Told About Interrogations in MDCOC – 8 June 2018

VOA – Graduate of US Law School Arrested in Azerbaijan – 7 June 2018

Human Rights Watch – Ruthlessly Silenced in Bahrain: Daily Brief – 5 June 2018

Recent Syracuse Law graduate, Emin Aslan, detained in Azerbaijan

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Executive Director

Emin Aslan is a human rights lawyer and native of Azerbaijan. He returned home on May 30th after completing his graduate education at Syracuse University College of Law.  After being in the country for only four days, Aslan was detained by police.

Emin Aslan with his fiancé, Nura. Image by Emin Aslan.

Aslan was in a cafe with his fiancé when he was approached by plain-clothed police officers. He was put in a car by a unit of the country’s interior ministry that purportedly deals with organized crime, and his whereabouts were unknown for more than twelve hours.

The next day, the Department for Combating Organized Crime confirmed with lawyer Elchin Sadigov that it was holding Aslan, but Sadigov was not allowed to see him. That day, Aslan was accused of “disobeying police” in local court and sentenced to a thirty day administrative detention. However, his family and friends report that Aslan fully cooperated with police so the real reason for his detention is unknown.

Aslan holds an undergraduate degree in law from Baku State University and LLM degree from Syracuse University College of Law. He has worked with a number of non-governmental organizations both in Azerbaijan and elsewhere. Also, he has worked on a range of cases for the European Court of Human Rights including freedom to assembly, torture, election, freedom of speech and others.

Outside of his work as a lawyer, Aslan has written for several Azerbaijani publications on democracy, human rights, culture and history. He has previous affiliations with Human Rights House in Tbilisi, American Bar Association, Media Rights Institute, as well as the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

Additionally, Aslan founded the platform “Thinking Citizen Lab” in Georgia in 2016. This initiative focused on alternative education targeting ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Georgia and served as an intellectual and cultural platform.

Although Aslan will remain in police custody for the next thirty days, the sentence of administrative detention left his family with some hope that he will be released at the end of his term.

For more information, please see:

Global Voices – Freedom abroad, fear at home: Azerbaijani human rights lawyer detained for 30 days – 5 June 2018

Syracuse – Recent SU law grad, human rights lawyer ‘abducted’ by Azerbaijan police, groups say – 5 June 2018 

Suicide Bombing Kills Several in Afghanistan

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – As part preparing for upcoming elections in Afghanistan this October, the government has set up voter registration centers across the country.  On 22 April as people lined up outside a center in Dasht-i-Barchineighborhood of Kabul, a pedestrian walked into the crowd and detonated a bomb.

Shattered window of voter registration center in Kabul. Photo courtesy of Rahmat Gul.

The Islamic state claimed responsibility for this attack.  Their website said that the attack was aimed toward ‘apostate’ Shiites.  This neighborhood is mainly Shiite Hazara, a minority that has been frequently targeted by the Islamic State.

Local buildings and cars were also destroyed.  Voter registration cards and personal identification documents scattered the street. At least 57 people were killed in the attack.  Another 119 are wounded.  Women, children, and young students are part of those killed.  This is considered to be one of the deadliest attack this year, and the deadliest attack on election preparations so far.

Residents of the area said that they were still determined to register to vote.  President Ashraf Ghani said of the attacks that they will “never weaken the resolve and will of our people for wider participation in the democratic process.”

The government closed two other registration centers in Kabul as well as stationed police patrols in Dasht-i-Barchi and the surrounding areas.

For more information please visit:

Washington Post – At least 57 Afghans killed in Kabul suicide bombing, health officials say– 22 April 2018

Reuters – Blast at election center in Afghan capital kills more than 50 – 22 April 2018

NPR – Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens At Voting Center In Afghanistan – 22 April 2018