Vietnamese Journalist Released from Jail

HANOI, Vietnam – The Vietnamese government released journalist, Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, from jail.  The court sentenced her to nine months in prison for “disturbing the public order.”  Although Tran Khai Thanh Thuy was sentenced today, she was released for time already served.  Foreign reporters were denied access to her one-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy was arrested in April of 2007 for posting articles critical of the government.  Two days prior to her arrest authorities entered her home and caught her posting the articles.  During the incident, police seized a memory stick that stored many of her articles.  In addition her articles, Tran Khai Thanh has written numerous novels, political essays, and was an editor of the dissident bulletin, Fatherland.

In January 2007, Human Rights Watch awarded Tran Khai Thanh Thuy the Hellman-Hammett prize for “her courage in the face of political repression.”Tran Kai Thanh Thuy also belongs to Bloc 8406, which is a group of pro-democracy activists.  The foreign ministry has ruled the group illegal.  Vietnamese authorities also have accused her of organizing an independent trade union and supporting a dissident human rights commission.

During Tran Khai Thanh Thuy’s imprisonment, the government-controlled press printed a range of charges against the journalist, which included conspiring with other democracy activists to overthrow the Vietnamese government, and urging foreign citizens to kidnap Vietnamese diplomats.

For more information, please see:

AP – Vietnam Sentences Dissident Writer – 31 January 2008

Earthtimes – Vietnamese Dissident Released from Prison – 31 January 2008

Reporters Without Borders – Journalist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy Released from Jail– 31 January 2008

Rebels Advance to Capital in Chad

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

N’Djamena, Chad – In eastern Chad, rebels are advancing towards the capital, N’Djamena, after seizing the central town of Bartha. In response, armed forces are attempting to intercept 300 vehicles that are heading towards the capital. Moreover, security forces have increased dramatically and children have been told to stay home from school. Also, the French embassy has closed a French school in the city.

The rebels are attempting to overthrow the President from power. In 2006, the rebels were able to reach the capital but they were repelled by government forces.

In the upcoming weeks, the European Union peace force is preparing to deploy troops to eastern Chad. 3,7000 peacekeepers will protect refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and people displaced by the internal conflict.

Mahmat Hassan Boulmaye, a spokesman for the rebel group, the Union of Forces for Democracy (UFDD), has told the BBC that “Our troops are at 200km from N’Djamena. So far there hasn’t been any clash with government forces, but this may happen soon, as the army has been sent to meet our troops. So it may well happen in the near future.”

Makaila Nguebla, an exiled rebel spokesman, told VOA new “that the rebels are not afraid of Chad’s army, and he predicts rebel fighters will make it to the capital.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Chad rebels ‘heading for capital’ – 30 January 2008

VOA – Chad Army Sets Up Positions to Block New Rebel Offensive – 31 January 2008

IC Publications – UN chief alarmed by Sudan-Chad tension – 31 January 2008

BRIEF: Peace Talks in Kenya Delayed After Opposition Leader Killed

NAIROBI, Kenya – Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan suspended crisis talks in Kenya today after an opposition lawmaker was shot dead by a policeman, triggering further clashes which killed at least two.    The talks are scheduled to resume tomorrow, and current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he will go to Kenya as well to help with the talks. 

National police chief Hussein Ali said lawmaker David Too was killed in a “crime of passion” over the traffic policeman’s girlfriend.  Opposition leaders however have called it an assassination and see it as part of the country’s deepening ethnic strife.  Following the death of Too, thousands of people from his Kalenjin ethnic group sought revenge and set houses on fire and blocked roads on the outskirts of town. 

Meanwhile, African leaders at a summit in Ethiopia have been told that they need to solve the crisis in Kenya.  African Union commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare told them they could not sit by and that “[i]f Kenya burns, there will be nothing for tomorrow.” 

Almost 1,000 people have died and more than 300,000 have been displaced following the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.  Opposition leader Raila Odinga lost the election and has refused to recognize the legitimacy of Kibaki’s government.  His party has pressed for an electoral re-run, but the government continues to insist on dialogue.   

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Stop Kenya burning, says AU head – 31 January 2008

BBC News – Tension after Kenyan MP shot dead – 31 January 2008

AFP – Kenya crisis talks suspended after opposition MP shot dead – 31 January 2008

AP – Opposition Lawmaker Killed in Kenya – 31 January 2008

Syria Arrests Prominent Political Dissident

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On January 28, five Syrian security agents arrested Riad Seif, a prominent political dissent and a former MP.  This follows his imprisonment from 2001-2005 for his political views.  His arrest is related to his involvement with the “Democracy Declaration,” a political group calling for greater democracy in Syria.  The Democracy Declaration group met at Seif’s home in December 2007 to form a national council.

Since this December meeting, 10 attendees have been arrested.  Earlier on January 28, these detainees were charged with undermining the state; a charge that carries a long sentence.  The charges against Seif include “harming the image of the state”, “stoking ethnic and sectarian division”, “disseminating false information” and “belonging to a secret organization seeking to alter the social and economic base of the state.”  Mohanad al-Hassani, a lawyer representing some of the detained political activist, said “They face vague charges that carry long jail sentences simply for exercising the right of assembly.”

Last year, Syria convicted at least six leading dissents, each with sentences of up to 12 years.  The convictions included that of human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni and writer Michel Kilo.  According to human rights lawyer, Haitham Maleh, there are currently around 3000 political prisoners in Syria.  This figure is up from 2000 political prisoners in 2005.  While some of the political prisoners being held are members of the liberal groups, most of the political prisoners are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Seif’s arrest is especially criticized because he suffers from prostate cancer.  Syria has banned him from traveling outside the country to receive medical treatment.

For more information, please see:
Guardian – Syria Arrests Leading Political Dissident – 30 January 2008

Reuters – US Accuses Syria of Contempt for Human Rights – 30 January 2008

Washington Post – World in Brief – 30 January 2008

BBC – Syria Arrests Prominent Dissident – 29 January

Financial Times – Syria Arrests Prominent Dissident – 29 January 2008

New York Times – Syria: Dissident Arrested – 29 January 2008

BRIEF: Khmer Rouge Tribunal Dismisses Nuon Chea’s Motion to Remove Judge

PHNOM PENH ,Cambodia – The defense counsel for Nuon Chea moved to have Ney Thol removed from the trial. Nuon Chea’s attorneys allege Ney Thol cannot be impartial and has political ties to the Cambodian People’s Party. In the motion, the defense claims the “continued presence on the bench threatens to undermine the credibility and integrity” of the hearings.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal dismissed the motion. Media spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Reach Sambath, stated, “I can only say that the motion was not upheld.”

Ney Thol is one of Cambodia’s most senior judges, an army general who heads a military court, and a member of the Cambodian’s People Party. During his career, Ney Thol has convicted two political opponents for natural security-related crimes. Previously, Ney Thol stepped down during preliminary hearings for Kaing Guek Eav because Ney Thol had been placed in a military prison in 1999.  Because of the experience, he stated that he was too close to the case.

Ney Thol could not be reached for comment, but has previously denied any allegations of bias.

For more information, please see:

Earthtimes – Cambodian Judge Accused of Bias Will Stay for Khmer Rouge Hearing – 30 January 2008

PR Inside – Defense Lawyers Demand Removal of Cambodian Judge from UN-Backed Tribunal – 30 January 2008