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

BRIEF: Egyptian Editor Gets Six Month Jail Sentence for Rumors About King

CAIRO, Egypt – On March 26, Egyptian tabloid editor Ibrahim Eissa was sentenced to six months in jail for printing rumors about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s health.  Eissa, the editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Dustour, was charged with spreading “false information . . . damaging the public interest and national stability.”

Judge Sherif Mustafa said “the state has been put at risk” while reading the verdict, adding that Eissa “reported false news about the president’s health which he knew were fabricated.”  The judge said that Eissa’s articles had threatened the economy.  “Investors withdrew their investment from the country and the stock market collapsed, costing the economy some $350 million,” he said.

In August, Eissa printed stories speculating about the President’s failing health of President Mubarak.  One of the articles said that the president had slipped into a coma.  Neither Mubarak nor the state-run Egyptian media commented or denied the rumors for weeks until the president appeared in photos and gave an interview with the state-run media.

Eissa denounced the ruling as being politically motivated.  “Is this a legal or political verdict? Is this a warning to journalists not to touch the President and not to write about anything related to him?”

Amnesty International echoed Eissa’s criticism.  In a statement, Amnesty said, “This prosecution forms part of a wider pattern of the Egyptian authorities using criminal defamation and other charges to chill media expression and reporting on issues considered by the authorities as red lines, but which are, in reality, issues of clear public interest.  It underlines the need for the government to amend the controversial press law and all other provisions in the Penal Code that criminalize legitimate reporting.”

Eissa was released on bond while he appeals his case.

For more information, please see:
Amnesty International – Amnesty International Condemns Editor’s Imprisonment– 27 March 2008

Associated Press – Egypt Editor Gets 6-Month Jail Sentence – 27 March 2008

AFP – Egypt Editor Given Six-Month Sentence for Mubarak Rumors – 26 March 2008

CNN – Journalist Jailed for Mubarak Reports – 26 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Egyptian Tabloid Editor Receives Six Months Prison for Reporting on President’s Health – 26 March 2008

Reuters – Egypt Editor Sentenced to Six Months, Free on Bond – 26 March 2008

Muslims in Southern Thailand Fear Detainment, Torture by Army

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer,
Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thai officials have pledged to investigate the death of Yapa Kaseng, a Muslim prayer leader. He was arrested on March 19th for his alleged involvement in bomb attacks by insurgents. According to his relatives, his body showed signs of torture. Yapa Kaseng’s body as covered with bruises and burn marks, and his ribs appeared fractured.

Army Chief General Anupong Phaochinda announced that a special committee would investigate the death and punish guilty parties. However, Human Rights Watch [HRW] is deeply concerned that the pledge is insincere because Yapa Kaseng’s family has been pressured to remain silent and not pursue a lawsuit.

In interviews with HRW, other Muslims said they have been tortured by interrogators after being arrested. The most common forms of torture were ear-slapping, punching, kicking, beating with wooden and metal clubs, forced nudity, exposure to cold temperatures, electric shocks, strangulation, and suffocation with plastic bags.

In response to the torture allegations, Army spokesman Colonel Acra Tiproch said only “a small faction” of Muslim detainees had been abused and then only because they “provoked” interrogators as a ploy to demonize the Buddhist state and its troops. He continued, “Some of these suspects are well-educated and they know well how to make junior interrogators lose their patience and start beating them.”

Thailand annexed the three southern provinces in 1902, and then tensions began to erupt between the region’s largely Muslim population and the largely Buddhist country of Thailand. A separatist campaign started in the 1970’s.

The separatist campaign erupted again in 2004 after a decade of peace. Muslim separatists have become increasingly angry with the Thai government because it began to impose assimilation policies in the region, which included adopting Thai names, giving up religious and cultural customs, and ending education in the Malayu language. Thus far, the conflict has caused about 3,000 deaths in the last 50 months, according to the Bangkok Post.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Iman’s Killing Highlights Army Abuse in South– 26 March 2008

Inter Press Service – Thailand: Islamic Teachers Blamed for Violent Separatism –24 March 2008

Reuters – Detained Muslims Tortured by Thai Army: Rights Body – 26 March 2008

UPDATE: Political Instability Continues to Plague Nauruan Government

YAREN, Nauru –- With Nauru’s Parliament now evenly split between the Government and Opposition parties, the Speaker of Parliament is calling for new elections to settle the stalemate. Meanwhile, President Marcus Stephen is strongly condemning Speaker, David Adeang’s recent actions as unconstitutional. 

Last Saturday, Mr. Adeang called a Parliamentary session without notifying the Government. At the meeting, Opposition members passed a rule that, if constitutional, will effectively oust two Senior Cabinet Members, giving the Opposition a majority. The Nauruan Supreme Court is now determining the validity of the session. (See post,  26 March ).

Mr. Adeang is defending his actions as “commonsense,” but President Stephen says the Speaker is hindering Nauru’s attempts to build a lasting government free from the corruption and poverty of its past.   

Mr. Adeang has announced he will call Parliament back into session at 4pm tomorrow.   

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Nauru MPs debate ban on dual citizenship politicians — 28 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Nauru to block dual-citizen MPs — 27 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — New elections are the only commonsense move says the Nauru Opposition — 27 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Nauru opposition calls for fresh elections — 27 March 2008

The Slow March Towards Fijian Elections

By Ryan  L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — This year’s Pacific Island Forum saw the meeting of Foreign Ministers from around the Pacific gathering together to discuss issues that involved them all.  Primary among these topics was the current viability of the March 2009 Fijian election timetable that had been discussed at last year’s Pacific Island Forum. 

While Fiji’s interim Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, seemed pleased with the outcome of the conference, the mood among the other foreign ministers was less optimistic.  The foreign ministers were concerned about Fiji’s “slow progress” towards democratic elections as well as with “[Fijian] human rights abuses, threats to media freedom and judicial independence, and similar actions that were inconsistent with the creation of an environment in which free and fair elections could be held and Fiji’s longer-term issues resolved.”  They recall the promise that interim Prime Minister Bainimarama made to seek elections by March of 2009 at last year’s Pacific Island Forum, but have, to date, not seen enough follow through.  Concerned over this lack of progress Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu have joined together to form the Ministerial Contact Group in an effort to “work more closely with Fiji over plans for an election by next March.”

Beyond the formation of an international working group, Winston Peters, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, has proposed a more coercive answer to the problem of Fijian elections.  At a Forum meeting, he reminded the interim government that a number of institutions in Fiji are run by people from other island nations, such as the University of the South Pacific.  Peters wondered aloud whether other Pacific Nations should continue to support such institutions in light of the political turmoil and humanitarian unrest in Fiji, when perhaps relocation would be a more amenable way forward. 

The interim government was less than enthusiastic about the scrutiny paid to them by the international community.  During a speech that he delivered in Fiji’s capital of Suva, Bainimarama said that elections “are not always, on their own, a magic or quick-fix solution.”  He said that central to Fiji’s move forward was the passage of his People’s Charter and a healing of the racial divide in Fiji.  He also took the opportunity to attack his international detractors saying, “[i]t has not helped that some detractors have been concocting phony criticisms, lighting up little bushfires here and there, so that we spend more of our time and effort in responding to these.” 

Speaking separately, the Interim Finance Minister reiterated the interim PM’s stance that before any electoral changes can take place, the People’s Charter must be put before the people and ratified.  He also said that other Pacific leaders need to understand that democratic elections will not cure all of Fiji’s problems: fundamental changes must take place in Fiji before lasting progress can be made.  Such changes, Chaundhry said, take time.   

Even beyond the interim government, there are elements in Fiji that believe that 2009 elections would be too quick.  The Citizen’s Constitution Forum chief executive Reverend Akuila Yabaki said today that he believes that, under the current system, democratic elections will not heal the social ills that plague the island nation.  According to Yabaki, Fiji’s current system of race-based communal voting has failed to establish racial cohesion and until that system is changed–Yabaki himself favors a proportional representation model–Fiji’s underlying problems will remain.  He expressed hope that the international community would highlight the real issues facing Fiji, namely, election monitoring, power sharing, the People’s Charter and violence in Fiji.  Yabaki was also critical of the interim government, expressing his fears that the interim government might try to use the People’s Charter as a way of delaying the return to democratic elections. 

In related news, after a prolonged search the interim government has announced that it has found a suitable candidate for the position of Supervisor of Elections.  While the identity of the individual is being kept secret until the confirmation, it has been leaked that the person in question is a New Zealand legal professional who the interim government considers to have extensive work experience in the Pacific.  A spokesman for the interim regime said that the government hopes that the new Supervisor of Elections will assume their post in the next six to eight weeks. 

For more information, please see:
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Understanding of Pacific problems — 28 March 2008

Fiji Times — Outcome pleases foreign minister — 28 March 2008

Solomon Times Online — Region to Monitor Fiji’s Move towards Elections — 28 March 2008

FijiVillage — Charter First then Elections- Chaundhry — 28 March 2008

Fiji Times — Stand by Fiji process, Yabaki calls on world — 28 March 2008

Fijivillage — Pressure on Fiji to Hold Elections — 27 March 2008

Stuff.co.nz — Elections no magic solution – Bainimarama — 27 March 2008

Pacific Magazine — Regional Ministers Concerned At Fiji’s Slow Progress On Elections — 27 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — New Zealand legal professional could be Fiji’s next supervisor of elections — 26 March 2008

BRIEF: IDF Detains “Mastermind” of the 2002 Passover Bombing

TULKARM, West Bank – On March 26, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced that it arrested Omar Jabar, the alleged mastermind behind the 2002 Passover suicide bombing in Netanya.  Jabar, thought to be the head of Hamas’ military wing in Tulkarm, was arrested with seven wanted men when Israeli troops raided the house where Jabar’s aide was thought to be living.  Jabar tried to flee but was caught in the raid conducted by the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

It is suspected that Jabar recruited the guide who led the attacker to the Park Hotel on March 27, 2002.  It is also suspected that Jabar had a role in planning the attack.  The attack, also known as the Passover Massacre, was the single deadliest suicide bombing during the five year Palestinian uprising.  29 people were killed in the bombing, while nearly 150 others were injured.

Lt.-Col. Nir Bar-On led the raid that led to Jabar’s arrest.  He stated, “Capturing him today, six years after the attack and a day before [its] anniversary, is symbolic and shows how the IDF and the Shin Bet do not rest or stop even for a moment to protect the state of Israel.”

For more information, please see:
AFP – Israel Nabs Hamas Commander Wanted Over 2002 Attack – 26 March 2008

BBC – Israel Passover Bomb Suspect Held – 26 March 2008

CNN – Alleged Passover Massacre Plotter Arrested – 26 March 2008

Ha’aretz – IDF Captures Hamas Man Behind 2002 Passover Bombing at Netanya Hotel – 26 March 2008

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Terrorist Involved in Passover 2002  Netanya Park Hotel Arrested – 26 March 2008

Jerusalem Post – IDF Nabs Pessah Bombing Mastermind – 26 March 2008

Tibetan Monks interrupted Journalists’ Lhasa Tour

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – After the mid-March violence and a subsequent government crackdown, the Chinese government invited international journalists to tour Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The reporters, from 19 media organizations including the U.S. Associated Press, Britain’s Financial Times and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, toured the Tibetan capital on a three-day trip press junket in Lhasa.  The purpose of the tour is to show foreign reporters the city is calm after recent anti-China protests, and to help sway international opinion on China’s crackdown and arrests in the aftermath of the riots.  It is first time foreign reporters had been allowed into Tibet since the unrest began two weeks ago.

According to the schedule, the reporters first went to a Tibetan medical clinic that had been attacked in the riot near the Jokhang Temple square in downtown Lhasa.  They were also shown the Yishion clothing store where five girls had been trapped and burned to death in an arson attack by the rioters, the torched buildings of the Lhasa No. 2 Middle School, and a smashed Bank of China outlet.  The reporters also allowed to visit local markets, shopping centers, the city’s relief station and interview government officials and injured police, said the Chinese information office official.

However, the tour at the sacred Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, was disrupted by outburst of a group of 30 monks in red robes shouting there was no religious freedom, and the Dalai Lama had been wrongly accused by China of responsibility for the rioting.  “Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who then started crying, said an Associated Press correspondent in the tour.  Some journalists even said a monk complained that the government had planted fake monks in the monastery to talk to the media.

Government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away during the protest.  The protesting monks appeared to go back to their living quarters. There was no way of knowing immediately what happened to them.  Later, People’s Armed Police sealed off the area around Jokhang.  The only people allowed to enter are those who live in the narrow lines around the temple.

When some reporters attempted to break away from the group, Chinese officials followed them throughout Tibet.  Only furtive conversations with Tibetans were possible.  But the reporters were kept away from any potential hotspots, including the Ramoche monastery, where the violence started on March 14.

For more information, please see:

AP – Tibet Monks Disrupt Tour by Journalists – 27 March 2008

CNN – Monks protest upstages China’s PR tour – 27 March 2008

New York Times – Monks Protest During Press Tour of China – 27 March 2008

Wall Street Journal – Tour of Lhasa Shows, Wide Scope of Unrest – 27 March 2008

XinHua – Overseas journalists’ Lhasa tour interrupted, resumes soon – 28 March 2008

Clashes Between Iraqi Forces and Shiite Militias Leave 50 Dead

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East Desk

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On March 25, heavy fighting broke out across Baghdad and Basra as the US-backed Iraqi military mounted a large operation against Shiite militias.  The operation is an attempt to break the militia’s control over Basra, the largest oil hub in Iraq.  There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla.  Overall, at least 50 people were killed.

Among the Iraqi military’s targets were members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, further risking the breakdown of the ceasefire imposed by Sadr over the organization last summer.  The ceasefire has been credited as a major source for the decreased violence in Iraq.  Intermittent clashes were reported in Basra beginning early on March 25 in the neighborhoods of Hayania, Jubaila and Jumhuria – known Sadr strongholds.

In response to the violence, Sadr’s followers mounted a civil disobedience campaign across Baghdad, demanding the release of Sadr’s followers from detention centers.  They also demanded an end to Iraqi government raids.

Sadr’s leaders ordered stores to be closed and for taxi and bus drivers to stop working.  Neighborhoods usually bustling with activity became virtual ghost towns, with many streets all but empty.  In a statement, Sadr called upon Iraqis to stage sit-ins and threatened a nationwide “civil revolt” if US and Iraqi forces continue attacking and arresting his followers.

Iraqi officials said the operation was aimed at “all those who point their guns at the state,” but Sadr’s followers say the offensive was politically-motivated and aimed specifically at them for their stances against the US occupation.

The Sadrists said if the operation was an attempt to improve security, they would fully cooperate with the government’s attempt to restore order.  The Sadrists added that while they don’t seek a confrontation with the Iraqi government, the people had the right to defend themselves when they are being attacked.

While Moqtada Sadr renewed the six-month ceasefire last month, he recently told his supporters that they were free to defend themselves against government attacks.

For more information, please see:
New York Times – Iraqi Crackdown on Shiite Forces Sets Off Fighting – 26 March 2008

Al Jazeera – Iraq Battles Spread Beyond Basra – 25 March 2008

CNN – Peaceful Iraq Protests Spark Clashes; 50 Reported Dead – 25 March 2008

Middle East Times – Basra Battles Rage and Spread in Iraq – 25 March 2008

U.S. News and World Report – Clashes in Iraq’s No. 2 City May Trigger Violence Elsewhere – 25 March 2008

Washington Post – Iraqi Forces Battle Gunmen in Basra – 25 March 2008

BRIEF: A National Action Plan for Human Rights in Kazakhstan

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – The Kazakh government has formed a working group to fully develop a National Action Plan on human rights for 2008-2011, and it met for the first time today.  The group will consist of rights experts from government and public human rights institutes across the country.

According to Yerlan Karin, the head Internal policy department of the Presidential Administration, “Kazakhstan has ratified a number of international documents in the sphere of human rights. Several international regulatory acts are planned to be ratified as well. The work of the state bodies in this direction is among priority ones in the activity of all state bodies.”

Kazakhstan’s human rights record has been in the spotlight often, especially since the country was named chair-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in November 2007.  Many human rights organizations criticized the appointment, claiming that it undermined the integrity of the OSCE’s human rights principles because Kazakhstan does not meet its own human rights obligations.  Some of the criticisms state that Kazakhstan has not held a fair election, its media is dominated by loyalists, and libel is still a criminal defense often used against independent journalists.

The Kazakh government states that it has been attempting to make changes, but human rights critics claim that they do not see results and they watch the country closely.  For that reason, the National Action Plan developed by today’s working group will likely be widely critiqued and regularly monitored.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Kazakhstan: OSCE Chairmanship Undeserved – 30 November 2007

Kazinform – National Action Plan in the field of human rights for 2008-2011 discussed in Astana – 26 March 2008

Palestinian Factions Clash in Southern Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

SIDON, Lebanon – On March 20, clashes broke out between Fatah security and militant factions in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon.  Tensions rose when members of Fatah arrested Samir Maarouf, a commander in Jund al-Sham, and handed him over to the Lebanese army.  Maarouf is wanted by Lebanon for crimes relating to violence and terrorism, including charges of planting a bomb in a Fatah official’s house in the camp.

Members of Jund al-Sham opened fired on Fatah offices located inside the camp immediately following Maarouf’s arrest.  The two sides launched rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged gunfire.  Fighting continued late into the evening.  Fighting resumed on March 21, when a grenade was thrown into the house of a senior Fatah official.  While there were no causalities, the building suffered severe damage.

Fatah reports that one of its members was killed and four wounded during the two day clash.  The violence caused hundreds of civilians to flee and seek shelter in the nearby city of Sidon.  While a ceasefire was declared on March 22, many feared that the violence has not ended and did not immediately return to the camp.

According to Fatah officials, a ceasefire was brokered after Osbat al-Ansar, another Islamic group, intervened and acted as a mediator.  The terms of the ceasefire require that members of Jund al-Sham leave the camp.  Fatah and Lebanese officials feared that these clashes would escalate and result in a conflict similar to that of the Nahr al-Bared camp, which involved three months of fighting between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants.

Like many of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Ein al-Hilweh is under Palestinian jurisdiction and the Lebanese army and law enforcement officers are prohibited from entering.  Jund al-Sham denounced Maarouf’s arrest as improper and being “an arrangement involving non-Palestinians.”

Mounir al-Maqdah, the commander of Fatah’s armed wing, countered by stating that “Maarouf’s  activities went beyond the camp’s limits and he is wanted by the Lebanese authorities for his involvement in several security files as well as planning to plant a bomb in the  home of a senior Fatah official.”  Maqdah added that “any security matter within the camp is the business of the Lebanese-Palestinian Follow-up Committee and the joint Palestinian Armed Forces.”

Jund al-Sham is a radical militant organization comprising of about 50 members.  It is a splinter group from another Palestinian extremist group, Asbat al-Ansar, based in Ein el-Hilweh.  The group has claimed responsibility for several bombings and violent gun battles throughout Lebanon and Syria.  The group fought against the Lebanese army during its conflict with militants in the Nahr al-Bared camp.

For more information, please see:
Al Arabiya News Channel – Heavy Fighting Erupts in Lebanon Refugee Camp – 22 March 2008

The Daily Star – Hundreds Flee as Ain al-Hilweh Factions Clash – 22 March 2008

Naharnet – Fatah-Jund al-Sham Fight it Out in Ein al-Hilweh, Casualties – 22 March 2008

Ya Libnan – Ceasefire Ends Clash in Southern Lebanon Camp – 22 March 2008

BBC – Factions Fight in Lebanese Camp – 21 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Islamic Militants Clash with Fatah Guerrillas in Refugee Camp in Southern Lebanon – 21 March 2008

BRIEF: Child Refugees from Afghanistan at Risk

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan children fleeing their war-torn home country are facing danger as they make their way through Iran and Eastern European countries.  Many of these children’s parents have paid smugglers to bring them to a safe country, and as they travel alone they are being preyed upon by traffickers.

This is particularly a problem in the port city of Petras, Greece, where many of these children are camped hoping to sneak on to ferries going to Western Europe.  Recently, police in Petras raided one of these camps; the children living there scattered across the city, causing them to become even more vulnerable to trafficking.  The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees has called the situation in Petras a “humanitarian crisis” and the UN office in Greece has asked for immediate support for the children.  Authorities in Petras refuse to offer assistance to the children because they fear that the city will become an even larger magnet for refugees.

The Afghan government has been criticized recently for its inability to address human rights in its country.  Because it cannot protect these children in Afghanistan, they are fleeing to other countries and facing many dangers along the way.

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – Impunity in Afghanistan: UN Statement – 19 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Afghanistan’s youngest migrants adrift on the road to asylum – 24 March 2008