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

Rwandan Genocide Continues to Haunt the World

By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited a memorial for the victims of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide on Tuesday and said the Rwandan genocide “will haunt the United Nations and the international community for generations.”

Ki-moon observed a long moment of silence for the 800,000 people who died in the genocide, mainly members of President Paul Kagame’s Tutsi minority.   Ki-moon’s visit was the first for a UN secretary general since Kofi Annan visited in 2001.   There is still outstanding resentment towards the UN for failing to prevent the genocide, and Annan had on several occasions admitted to the body’s failure to take action. 

During his visit Ban Ki-moon pledged $10,000 from his personal resources to a fund set up by the Government to assist the survivors of the genocide and to educate hundreds of orphans.   

Ki-moon also stated that he supports Rwanda’s bid to receive and try genocide suspects from the Arusha based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  The ICTR’s mandate expires at the end of this year and Rwanda has requested to take over any remaining cases at that point.  The tribunal was created in 1995 and has completed 35 case, with five of them ending in acquittal.  Six suspects are currently awaiting trial and 27 are currently undergoing trial. 

Meanwhile, President Paul Kigame told Reuters today that military intervention may be the only way to halt the escalating ethnic violence in Kenya.  Civil unrest and violence in Kenya since the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki last month has killed an estimated 850 people.   Kagame warned that Kenya should learn from Rwanda’s bloody history.   “It starts with five deaths, then 10, then 50, shortly it grows to 100, then it goes to thousands … By the time you realise, it has a dimension that is wiping out life in villages and communities and is getting out of control and the whole political situation is a mess,” he said.  “It is not too late for Kenyans to look back and see how our country went down the drain in the past and I don’t think we would wish a similar thing for any country.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Rwanda genocide will haunt world for generations: UN Chief – 29 January 2008 – Ban Ki-moon Says World Must Protect Civilians From Genocide – 29 January 2008 – Ki-Moon Backs Bid to Try ICTR Suspects – 30 January 2008

Reuters – Rwanda suggests military option for Kenya crisis – 30 January 2008

BBC News – Could Kenya become Rwanda? – 30 January 2008

China Refuses to Politicize Olympic Games

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The People’s Daily, the leading community party newspaper in China, expressed in a commentary piece Tuesday that any attempt to use the Beijing Olympics to discredit China or force it to change policy is doomed to failure.

This comes in response to an intense week of increased international criticism of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. On Monday, Britain’s Prince Charles, who has long taken an interest in Tibet, said he would not be going to the opening ceremony of August’s games. Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, responded to the Prince’s boycott as “unfair…[t]he Beijing Olympic Games belongs to the whole world, not only to China. Our slogan is ‘One World, One Dream.”

The Games have been linked to Darfur, Taiwan independence, religious liberties in Tibet, and freedom of expression. Beijing, however, is fighting to prevent the event from being politicized.

The commentary said that the international pressure has forced China to face “suggestions and accusations from all over the world, including misunderstandings, sarcasm and very harsh criticism.” Furthermore, China will never submit to taunting or political pressure from groups or governments wishing to use the Beijing Olympics to change Chinese policy.

Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said China’s progress in protecting the rights and freedoms of its citizens should be recognized, and the international community should oppose acts disrupting the Olympic Games.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Olympics-China says won’t submit to pressure – 29 January 2008

Guardian Unlimited – China hits out at attempts to politicise Olympics – 29 January 2008

CNN – Tibet group: Prince to boycott Games – 28 January 2008

Bangladesh Arrests Labor Rights Activist

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter,

DHAKA, Bangladesh – On January 24th, Bangladesh authorities arrested Mehedi Hasan, a field investigator for the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), for instigating protests against emergency rules.

On January 15th, rioters ransacked more than a dozen garment factories. Rioters protested their lack of unpaid wages and unsafe working conditions. In order to break up the riots, Bangladesh police shot tear gas into the crowds. During the riots, over one hundred persons were injured, factories were damaged, and vehicles were vandalized. The garment factories involved in the riots resumed operation on January 16th.

Authorities arrested Mehedi Hasan at the Zia International Airport before he boarded a plane to Bangkok. According to an unnamed official, Mehedi Hasan was taken to court on Sunday. Authorities will detain and question him for up to four days. In addition to Mehedi Hasan, authorities have arrested ten other labor leaders. Authorities identified the relevant persons after watching video of the riots taken by television stations.

Mehedi Hasan’s employer, WRC, is an independent monitoring group. It investigates working conditions at factories that make goods for the United  States. It specifically investigates factories that make college and university apparel. WRC’s Executive Director Scott Nova protested the arrest in a statement, “There is no legitimate reason for Mehedi Hasan’s arrest and we call upon the government of Bangladesh to effect his immediate and unconditional release. We are deeply concerned for his safety.”

Other groups have joined the WRC in protesting the arrest. Labor Behind the Label (LBL) and the War on Want (WW) have also called for the Mehedi Hasan’s release. LBL has written letters to all British fashion brands, asking them to make formal inquiries about the arrest. In the letter LBL writes, “It is clear that Mr. Hasan’s arrest is related to the labour rights monitoring work he has performed on the WRC’s behalf. Labour rights advocates in Bangladesh are very concerned that the security forces will physically mistreat Mr. Hasan…All of these charges are false to the point of absurdity.” WW’s John Hilary, campaign and policy director, said, “It is unacceptable that researchers should be locked up for defending workers’ rights. We call for the immediate release of Mr. Hasan and for the rights of all trade unionists to be respected.”

Bangladesh is currently under emergency rule. A military-back interim government runs the Bangladesh government. Civil rights have remained suspended while security forces operate under the emergency rule.

For more information, please see:

AP – Police Arrest Bangladesh Rights Activist – 29 January 2008

Independent Bangladesh – Cases Files Against RMG Workers, Leaders – 18 January 2008

War on Want – Bangladesh Government Cracks Down on Workers’ Rights Monitors – 28 January 2008

Refugees Return to Mauritania After 18 Years in Exile

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

After 18 years spent in exile in Senegal, more than 100 black Mauritanian refugees will return home. These citizens were expelled from Mauritania after racial riots that took place in 1989. These race riots erupted in Mauritania and Senegal after a border dispute. Hundreds of people were killed, and others became the targets of attacks and land seizures. 35,000 black Mauritanians went into exile after ethnic purges were conducted by the Arab dominated government.

In November of last year, Mauritania and Senegal, signed a deal that allowed for a repatriation process monitored by the United Nations refugee agency. The deal will allow 12,000 refugees to return to Mauritania. The UN program will run until December 2008.

Francis Kpatinde, a representative of the UNHCR, reported the BBC that the repatriation process is voluntary, giving those who want to go home, the opportunity to do so. More than 24,000 people have expressed interest in returning home

The first volunteers were mostly women, children, and the elderly. The UNHCR will provide all refugees with assistance consisting of three months of food supply. Moreover, the UN will help the refugees reintegrate into society.

Refugees who have returned have received a mixed welcome. Khadi, a young man from Zouérat, the largest town in northern Mauritania stated “People are suffering and we lack everything. We don’t have water, electricity or work. And we have to accommodate thousands more people! That’s completely stupid.” Many are critical that these refugees will not be able to find food, land, and jobs.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Mauritanian refugees return home – 29 January 2008

BBC- Mauritania Country Profile   – 12 January 2008

Allafrica- Mauritania: First Refugees Returning From Senegal Get Mixed Welcome – 29 January 2008

Turkey: Scholar Sentenced for Insulting Ataturk

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

Professor Atilla Yayla was arrested for his insulting remarks about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  Yayla is the head of the Association of Liberal Thinking at Gazi University in Ankara.  Yayla remarked in a speech in 2006 that Atatürk was not as progressively minded as official Turkish history portrays.  Instead, Yayla argued that Atatürk’s one party system may have been “regressive in some aspects.”  (Guardian Unlimited- Turkey jails academic for insulting Ataturk)  Yayla was immediately fired concerning the court case about the remark, but was later reinstated by Gazi University.  (Guardian Unlimited- Turkish academic warns of governmental clampdown)

Yayla was given a 15 month sentence for his insulting remarks.  He was prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits insulting Turkishness.

Yayla commented that the decision would make it difficult for him to practice his profession and engage in serious dialogue regarding Turkish history.  “After this I should maybe talk about birds and trees, but not about political ideologies or freedoms in Turkey or human rights,” he said to  (Guardian Unlimited- Turkish academic warns of governmental clampdown)

Turkey must encourage serious discussion regarding its founding.  Otherwise, the precedent could be further extended and allow the government to prosecute anyone that criticizes the current government and its abuses.  The disincentive to journalists could prevent serious government abuses from being exposed to the media, which may enable impunity to remain undiscovered.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press- Professor Convicted for Insulting Atatürk- 28 January 2008

Guardian Unlimited- Turkey jails academic for insulting Atatürk– 28 January 2008

Guardian Unlimited- Turkish academic warns of governmental clampdown- 29 January2008

BRIEF: Kenyan Opposition Leader Slain

NAIROBI, Kenya – The murder of an opposition leader today has triggered an on-set of violence again in Kenya. Mugabe Were, a lawmaker who won a seat in parliament, was shot to death as he drove home. Odinga claims the murder was a planned assassination given that Were had bullet wounds in both eyes. The police are treating his murder as a homicide but have not ruled out political motives. President Kibaki has condemned the killing and appeals for calm.

With the news of Were’s death, hundreds of men armed with machetes and clubs inset with nails gathered in Nairobi slums. One witness claimed the group dragged a Kikuyu doctor from his clinic and attacked him with machetes until “his head was off”. In the Mathare slum, volunteer aid worker Fospeter Oumaa witnessed a man dragged from his car and attacked with machetes. In the Kibera slum, homes dividing members of the Kikuyu and Luos tribes were set on fire.

Police have failed to control the violence throughout Kenya. Police on the ground and in helicopters fired at a mob of Kikuyus chasing hundreds of Luos outside the Naivasha Country Club. More deaths have been the results of police shooting than ethnic attacks. With the death rate at over 800, the Human Rights Groups have accused police officers of using excessive force.

Meanwhile, former UN chief Kofi Annan has begun formal talks of mediation. Annan says he hopes to resolve the immediate political issues within four weeks and the underlying ethnic crisis within a year.  Western donors have urged both sides to resolve the crisis, and consider a power-sharing solution or risk losing aid.

On Nairobi’s Capital FM radio station, U.S Senator and Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, whose father is Kenyan, appealed for “Kenyan leaders to rise above party affiliations and past ambitions for the sake of peace.”

For more information please see:

Yahoo News- Opposition Lawmaker Killed in Kenya – 29 January 2008

Reuters: Africa – Annan Launches Kenya Mediation, Violence Spreads – 29 January 2008

Kenya’s Death Rate Soars as Violence Spreads

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Eastern and Southern Africa

NAIVASHA, Kenya – Violence erupts once again in Kenya, one month after the disputed December 27 presidential election. Hundreds of people in rival tribes wielding machetes, clubs, and hammers clashed in the streets of Naivasha, Nikura, and Kisumu earlier today. According to Baraka Karama, a journalist for independent Kenya Television in Kisumu, the streets were literally covered in blood.

For several weeks angry Lous supporter of Raila Odinga have blocked roads, set buses, homes and cars on fire and attacked members of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

According to witnesses, a gang of youths killed four Kikuyus with machetes and stoned to death two others in the villages around Eldoret. Other witnesses claim another person was burned alive in a minibus. “We wish to find one, a Kikuyu. … We will butcher them like a cow,” exclaimed David Babgy, 24.

In Naivasha this past weekend, thousands of armed Kikuyus confronted Luos, wanting revenge. At least 22 people were killed, nineteen of them Lous, after they were chased through a slum by a gang of Kikuyus and trapped in a shanty that they set on fire. According to a mortuary worker, 64 bodies laid in the morgue after this weekend’s clash.

The death toll has now passed the 800 mark.

The post election dispute has gone beyond the disputed presidential election, exposing a deep seated ethnic resentment. The bloodshed has been largely centered on the Rift Valley towns of Naivasha and Nakuru. After Kenya’s 1963 Independence from Great Britain, President Jomo Kenyatta proclaimed the Rift Valley for his Kiyuyu people. Since then Kiyuyus have dominated politics and the economy through a patronage system and corruption. The December 27 presidential election has unearthed years of concealed resentment; pitting neighbors against one another.

Mediation efforts have failed and there appears to be no sign of relief. Kibaki claims the door of communication is open but that his presidency is not negotiable. Odinga has rejected a power-sharing strategy and remains adamant that Kibaka must step down from his position. Thus the dispute remains at a deadlock.

On Sunday, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a proposal to both sides, asking each to choose a team of three negotiators and a liason officer who will work to reach a solution that is agreeable to both sides. Annan, who organized the first meeting between Kibaki and Odinga last week, is urging both sides to be prepared to make hard decision in order to restore the country’s stability.

Meanwhile, about 250,000 people are homeless. Schools have been closed for several weeks and used as shelters. Navisha, Kenya’s flower capital, and Nakuru, known for its wild-life filled lakes, has become war zones. The once picturesque tourist towns of Rift Valley are now no-go zones. The violence has resulted in slowed economic activity that will likely hit the tourism sector hard.

In 2007, Kenya earned 65.4 billion shillings in tourism. Last week, according to the Kenya Tourism Federation, the sector could be forced to lay off about half of its 250,000 employees to cope with losses arising from the unrest.

For more information please see:

MSNBC (AP) – Kenya Fighting Leaves Road ‘Covered in Blood’ – 28 January 2008

Reuters: Africa – Kenya’s Rift Valley Burns, Death Toll Soars – 28 January 2008

Yahoo News (AP) – Kenya Election Violence Spreads in West – 28 January 2008

Reuters: Africa – Violence Exposes Kenya’s Deep Ethnic Fault Lines – 28 January 2008 – Kenya: Rivals Given Roadmap to Peaceful End – 28 January 2008

Reuters: Africa – Kenya Shilling Recovers Losses vs Dollar, Unrest Weighs – 28 January 2008

Myanmar Makes Further Dissident Arrests

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

In breaking a promise to the United Nations, Myanmar’s military government has arrested almost 100 dissidents, Amnesty International reports.

The human rights group said the junta had arrested 96 people since November. Facing increased international pressure, the military government met with United Nations’ envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, in November and agreed that it would hold no more activists following its deadly crackdown on protests in Yangon in September 2007.

September’s protests led by Buddhist monks, turned into the biggest anti-government demonstration since 1988. According to the United Nations, at least 31 people were killed and 74 are missing.

Catherine Baber, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program, said that four months since the violent suppression on peaceful demonstrators, rather than stopping unlawful arrests, the government has actually accelerated them. She said that instead of bowing to demands for moderation from the international community, the junta’s priority is to silence its citizens.

The new arrests target people who attempt to send evidence of the junta’s crackdown to the international community. Among those arrested are members of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, a Buddhist monk, and a labor activist.

Amnesty International said that at least 700 people arrested in connection with the September protests remain behind bars, while Myanmar is still holding 1,150 political prisoners from before the demonstrations.

Furthermore, Myanmar’s military government has postponed an invitation to United Nations envoy, Mr. Gambari. Mr. Gambari has visited Myanmar twice and was promised a third visit soon, in a effort of cooperation with the United Nations. The junta now says it will not be convenient for Mr. Gambari to visit until April.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Burma dissident arrests ‘ongoing’ – 25 January 2008

The New York Times – Rights Group Accuses Myanmar of Holding More Dissidents – 27 January 2008

AFP – Myanmar arrests 96 dissidents since November: Amnesty – 26 January 2008

Pakistani Army Not to be Involved in Elections

By Elizabeth Breslin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

The Pakistani Army announced today that it will be distancing itself from the election process.  The parliamentary elections are now scheduled for February 18th, delayed because of the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhuttoin December. (See Impunity Watch story here).

An Army spokesperson said that “conduct of elections as per Constitution is the sole responsibility of the Election Commission and Army will not be involved in the election process.”  Pakistan’s current military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has seemed to prefer to stay out of politics since his appointment in October 2007.   Some analysts believe that the Army is attempting to keep itself outside of the likely controversies surrounding the upcoming election.  Kayani understands that the process will be messy, and by staying out of it he will avoid any blame.

President Musharraf’s opponents are alleging that he will use his power as President to influence the elections.  There is a widespread concern that Pakistan’s Election Commission is incapable of assuring a fair election.  There are allegations that the current Chief Election Commissioner is openly partisan, as well as government officials on all levels.  Furthermore, after the removal of judges and suspension of the Constitution in November, government officials and members of the judiciary are afraid to act independently.

Pakistan’s government has assured United States and European Union monitoring teams that they will be allowed to access elections sites freely and can go in unannounced to any polling site.  They are however refusing to allow exit polls to be conducted.  Critics worry that this is problematic as exit polls are an essential tool for assuring fair and independent elections.

In a speech on Friday, President Musharraf has issued a warning to Western countries to stop criticizing Pakistan’s government regarding the election and its methods of fighting against terrorism.  He requested instead their support during this difficult time.  He reiterated that the elections would be free and fair.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Pakistan’s Army Steps Aside From Election – 27 January 2008

Daily Times – ANALYSIS: Election manipulation – 27 January 2008

BBC News – Musharraf issues warning to West – 25 January 2008

The Kansas City Star – Pakistan bans observers from conducting exit polls for election – 25 January 2008

Egypt Brotherhood Members Continue to Protest Gaza Blockade

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – Thousands of Egyptians held protests peacefully on Friday in support of Palestinians in Gaza, calling for an end to the Israeli blockade. Many of the protesters were from Egypt’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members have been detained for staging protests since the ordeal began. Many of the protesters carried banners that read: “Save Gaza” and “Free Despite Siege.”

On Wednesday, Egyptian authorities arrested scores of Brotherhood members in dawn raids for “illegally organizing protests against the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” The authorities rounded up the men in raids on their homes, including the secretary general of the Cairo doctors’ syndicate, Saad Zaghloul, in the northern port city of Alexandria. Others have also been detained in areas where the Brotherhood has a strong popular base including Giza, north of Cairo, and in Gharbia and Kafr al-Sheikh. They were accused of organizing demonstration without a permit and with belonging to a banned organization.

The crisis began when Palestinian militants first breached the wall between Gaza and Egypt on Wednesday, blowing up part of the wall that allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter into Egypt and stock up on food and fuel. A second breach occurred later, when a bulldozer knocked over a new section of the border wall. Though Egypt has remained idle, allowing thousands to cross the border for humanitarian reasons, the Egyptian government plans to reseal the border in the coming days.

The Muslim Brotherhood, a non-violent group deemed illegal in Egypt, said Egypt should unilaterally open the border with Gaza. For this cause, more than 350 Brotherhood members have been arrested for continuously staging protests. Friday was no exception, where some 2,000 Egyptians protested in support of the Gazans outside the Cairo International Book Fair.

Israel had first blockaded its borders with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel. The blockade has affected approximately 1.5 million people who live in Gaza Strip.

For more information, please see:

The Jerusalem Post – Protests for Gaza held across Mideast – 25 January 2008

BBC News – Egypt cracks down on Gaza protest – 23 January 2008

Ynetnews – Egypt arrests Muslim Brotherhood members protesting Gaza siege – 23 January 2008

Reuters – Egypt detains 30 Brotherhood men over Gaza protests – 23 January 2008