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

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,

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 — 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