Iran Human Rights Group Releases Report

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

NEW HAVEN, United States – On March 28, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a non-profit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, released a report titled “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar.”  In this report, Kar describes the institutions the conservative Iranian government employed to counter the reform movement amongst Iran’s student population.

Kar argues that during President Khatami’s term in office, the student movement played a crucial role in calling for reforms.  To counter the reformist student movement, Iran’s conservative clerics established parallel student organizations, which were directly under the control of the Supreme Leader, Iran’s highest political and religious authority.  Kar argues that these student organizations used violence to intimidate reformist student groups.

In the report Kar describes how these and similar institutions were used to suppress the academic freedom and the freedom of expression on university campuses.  These institutions “subjected students arbitrarily to harsh punishments and expelled professors on trumped up charges.”

Recently, government suppression of free expression can be seen in the case of Babak Zamanian.  On March 3, Zamanian was sentenced to one year imprisonment on charges of acting against national security.  Zamanian’s lawyer, Behnam Daraiezadeh, stated that his client “was given the maximum sentence for acting against national security by propaganda against the system, which is punishable by three months to one year in jail.”

Zamanian is a student leader at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University of Technology, which is one of Iran’s leading universities.  Amir Kabir is also a long-standing hotbed of student activism.  In December 2006, Zamanian organized a protest against Iranian President Ahmadinejad.  Hundreds of students chanted “Death to dictatorship!” and “Dictator, go home!” while holding upside-down posters of the hard-line president.  The incident made international headlines.

While President Ahmadinejad publicly stated that he welcomed criticism and that he would not exact revenge, few believed him.  Zamanian was arrested in April 2007 and sent to Section 209 of Evin Prison, the infamous solitary confinement block run by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

During his 40 day detention, Zamanian claims that he was subjected to various types of physical abuse.  He stated that his interrogators wanted him to confess to trying to incite an uprising and corroborating with foreign governments to seek change in Iran.

In addition, three other Amir Kabir students, charged of publishing anti-Islamic images in reformist student newspapers, have been sentenced to jail terms of up to three years.  Denying the charges, the three students allege that the images were planted in order to discredit them.  The three were arrested in May 2007 and remain in jail.  In recent months, several students have been arrested during demonstrations calling for their release.

For more information, please see:
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar” (in Farsi) – 28 March 2008

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – Press Release: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center Releases Report: “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar” – 28 March 2008

AFP – Iran Student Activist Sentenced to Jail: Report – 3 March 2008

Los Angeles Times – Broken by Prison, for a Cause all but Lost – 23 December 2007

Tibetan Protesters Arrested as They Storming the Chinese Embassy in Nepal

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – A group of 200 Tibetan exiles and Buddhist monks tried to storm the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal on Sunday. Tibetan exiles and their children tried to gain entry to the Chinese embassy’s visa office near the city center.  Shouting “stop the killing”, the protesters attempted to open the office’s metal gate before they were stopped by a police bamboo baton charge.  A Tibetan activist said a girl and a monk were badly hurt and taken to hospital.

At least 200 police officers surrounded the building and hauled the demonstrators away in police vans as they sought to approach the mission.  “A total of 227 Tibetan protesters, including 113 women, were detained and would be freed later,” Surnedra Rai, a police officer at the station where the protesters were held, said.

Nepal is home to around 20,000 Tibetans who began arriving in large numbers in 1959 after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.  Exiled Tibetans in Nepal have been protesting regularly since a riot broke out in the Tibetan, China on March 14.  Nepal’s government has said it cannot allow the protests because it recognizes China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet.  The BBC Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says the authorities in Nepal have been adopting a “zero tolerance” attitude to Tibetan demonstrations for fear of annoying the country’s powerful neighbor, China.

The UN has criticized the continued mass arrests of pro-Tibetan protesters in Nepal, saying it violates the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. International rights groups, like New York-based Human Rights Watch have repeatedly criticized Nepal’s handling of the Tibetan protests and beating of the protesters.

For more information, please see
:

BBC News – Nepal police halt Tibet protest – 30 March 2008

Reuters – Tibetans scuffle with Nepal police, 113 detained – 30 March 2008

Reuters – Nepal police break up Tibet protests, 284 held – 30 March 2008

BRIEF: Fitna Release Causes Riots

The Dutch film by Dutch MP Geert Wilders seeks to expose the “strife” caused by the Koran.  Fitna means strife in Arabic.  His work has met with great opposition from both middle eastern nations and world organizations such as NATO and the United Nations.

The fifteen minute video features verses from the Koran that discuss an Islamic view that states that non-Muslims should be eliminated.  The video builds on the verses from the Koran and calls from imams calling for the reign of Islam and is punctuated by graphic imagery showing radical Islamists killing infidels.  The imagery also includes a child’s view of Israelis and footage from the World Trade Center.

The actual purpose of the video is to show how Islam is growing in the Netherlands.  The rapid increase of Muslims in the nation worries the Dutch MP and he has called for the nation to be wary regarding the growth of the religion arguing that Islam will transform the government.

The video has been condemned by the Dutch government because it will hurt the nations economic and safety concerns.  The film has been called anti-Islamic propaganda by the United Nations Secretary General Bi-Ki Moon.

The film has caused uproar in many nations including 53 MP protestors in Jordan that have asked the government to break all diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and remove the Dutch Embassy.  (Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

“‘These kinds of attacks by so-called sane European politicians and scholars will lead to very serious repercussions, pushing mankind to a situation of chaos and conflict,’ said Dr. Saleh S. Al-Wohaibi, secretary-general of WAMY.”  (Arab News)  These statements regarding serious repercussions caused the Christian community in Egypt to be fearful that they may be attacked and sent a damage limitation committee.  (Bos News Life)

The film was removed from the internet from its official site because of the overwhelming protests.

For more information, please see:

Arab News- Wilders Film Aims to Block Dialouge:WAMY- 31 March 2008

Bos News Life- NEWS ALERT: Christians Anxious As Fitna Film Is Posted Online-28 March 2008

Radio Netherlands- Jordanians protest against Fitna- 30 March 2008

VAO News- Iran Summons Dutch Ambassador Over Anti-Islam Film- 30 March 2008

Reuters- U.N.’s Ban condemns Dutch film as anti-Islamic- 28 March 2008

Middle East Times- Anger continues over Dutch film on Islam- 30 March 2008

Al-Jazeera- Iran protests over Dutch Quran film- 30 March 2008

Bos News Life- BREAKING NEWS: Anti-Islamic Film Fitna Taken Offline Following Threats; “Sad Day For Freedom Of Speech” (UPDATE)- 28 March 2008

BRIEF: Confusion Surrounds Viability of 2009 Elections

SUVA, Fiji — At last year’s Pacific Island Forum, Fiji’s interim Government assured Pacific leaders that democratic elections would return to Fiji by 2009.  Recent statements by the interim government have called into question whether this timetable is still viable.  Specifically, many interim Government officials have stressed the importance of completing the People’s Charter in order to resolve the “underlying problems of Fiji” first before commencing with Democratic elections.   

Fanning these concerns are statements like those made by Archbishop Petero Mataca at a meeting of the NCBBF.  Mataca said that delays in enacting the People’s Charter could mean delays in elections.  This despite interim Prime Minister Bainimarama’s statements at the same conference that elections were still on schedule for March 2009.   

The Australian Foreign Minister expressed the fear of the Australian government saying that they are concerned that the People’s Charter is thought to be more important than movements towards democratic elections.  The Australian government reiterated that the travel bans that are currently in effect against Fiji will remain until democratic elections take place. 

In response to Australia’s statement, interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry said that Fiji should be allowed to deal with it’s internal matters in its own way.  Reiterating Bainimarama’s statements about Fiji’s “coup culture”, Chaundhry told reporters that Fiji is attempting to address the problems that have lead to Fiji having four coups in the last twenty years.   

For more information, please see:
Fiji Village — Let Us Resolve it Ourselves says Chaundhry — 31 March 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Australia skeptical about Fiji — 31 March 2008

Fiji Times — State in disarray say leaders — 30 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Ousted Fiji leader says election timing messages confusing — 30 March 2008

HRW Calls for Libya to Release Ailing Political Prisoner

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – On March 29, Human Rights Watch called for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoner Fathi al-Jahmi.  Despite an announcement by the Gaddafi International Foundation that Jahmi was released on March 11, HRW stated that Jahmi remains in Libyan custody.

Jahmi’s brother said that the Gaddafi Foundation’s announcement that Libya released Jahmi to the care of his family was not accurate.  Jahmi’s family stated that while they have access to him, he remains in detention at the Tripoli Medical Center , where he receives medical care for diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.  HRW added that due to real or perceived governmental pressure, Jahmi and his family were not free to make independent decisions about his medical care.

In July 2007, Jahmi was transferred to the Tripoli Medical Center from a psychiatric hospital.    According to Dr. Allen, an advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, Jahmi was experiencing severe heart failure at the time of the transfer.  Allen added that Jahmi’s health has improved since then, significant and pressing health problems remain.

According to Allen, “There’s no doubt that negligent care contributed to the serious deterioration of al-Jahmi’s health during his early detention.”  HRW stated that it is likely that the Jahmi’s health deteriorated due to improper treatment and denial of medications during his detention in the psychiatric hospital.

Jahmi, a former provincial governor was first arrested and convicted in 2002, after he criticized the government, calling for the abolition of Gaddafi’s Green Book, free elections in Libya, a free press, and the release of political prisoners.  A court sentenced him to five years in prison.  After foreign intervention, Libya reduced Jahmi’s sentence to a one year suspended sentence and he was released on March 1, 2004.

Jahmi was arrested just two weeks after his release after he gave two interviews where he again called for free elections and free press.  In his March 5 interview with al-Hurra television, Jahmi called Gaddafi a dictator and said, “All that is left for him to do is hand us a prayer carpet and ask us to bow before his picture and worship him.”

In March 2004, Libya charged him with trying to overthrow the government, insulting Gaddafi and contacting foreign authorities.  For the past four years, Libya has imprisoned Jahmi without trial.

For more information, please see:
Human Rights Watch – Libya: Free Hospitalized Political Prisoner – 29 March 2008

Reuters – Libyan Dissident Released, Gaddafi Charity – 12 March 2008

AFP – Libyan Political Prisoner Released: Kadhafi Foundation – 11 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Prominent Dissident Freed After 4 Years in Jail for Criticizing Leader, Urging Democracy – 11 March 2008