China’s Prominent Human Rights Activist Wins the Sakharov Prize

China’s Prominent Human Rights Activist Wins the Sakharov Prize

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


BEIJING, China – China’s prominent human rights activist, Hu Jia, was awarded the Sakharov prize, the European Union’s highest human rights honor.  Hu is known for his campaign for civil rights, the environment and AIDS victims.  He was convicted last April of inciting subversion, and is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence in China.

Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, also an activist, can visit him only when prison officials allow it.  She lives under house arrest with their infant daughter, and reporters are prevented from visiting their home by guards who block the entrance to the apartment building.

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering called Hu Jia “one of the real defenders of human rights in the People’s Republic of China.”  Poettering told the EU assembly that “by awarding the Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia, the European Parliament is sending out a signal of clear support to all those who defend human rights in China.”

The U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid also said that the U.S. hopes Beijing will move to free Hu Jia from prison, after the European Parliament awarded him a human rights prize.  “We hope that the recognition the European Parliament has given Hu Jia by awarding him the prestigious Sakharov Prize will demonstrate to China’s leaders the enormous esteem the international community holds for his important work as a human rights defender and that China will release him immediately,” said Gordon Duguid.

However, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, expressed strong dissatisfaction that such an award had gone to a “jailed criminal” in disregard of China’s repeated representations on the issue.  He says it was “a gross interference in China’s domestic affairs.”  In a letter sent to the President of EU assembly earlier this week, China’s ambassador to the EU, Song Zhe, said giving the award to Hu would “inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to China-EU relations.”

Hu was also named as a possible winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year, prompting Beijing to issue a warning that the prize should go to the “right person.”

For more information, please see:

ABC – Europe Awards Jailed Chinese Dissident – 23 October 2008

AFP – US presses China to free EU prize-winning dissident – 23 October 2008

AP – EU honours jailed Chinese dissident Hu despite Beijing pressure – 23 October 2008

BBC –  Hu Jia wins European rights prize – 23 October 2008

Reuters – China bridles as dissident wins top EU rights prize – 23 October 200

Fiji Interim PM Threatens to Remain in Power

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – In anticipation of Monday’s meeting, Fiji’s Interim Prime Minister has announced that if political leaders do not embrace his vision of change, he will not step down from power.

Interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, meets today for the first time with representatives from 14 of Fiji’s political parties to discuss Fiji’s future. Bainimarama has warned that he will only entertain proposals from political leaders but will not tolerate the politics of Fiji’s past.

“They should come with proposals on the way forward, not demands! If they show politics of the past in their demands then Monday is not for them and neither will I hand over leadership,” Bainimarama said.

In 2006, the Interim Prime Minister led a military takeover of Fiji’s Federal Government. Earlier this month, the High Court in Fiji ruled that the 2006 coup was legitimate. Ousted Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, has challenged that decision, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.”

But the Interim Prime Minister insists that he knows what is best for Fiji. Bainimarama has announced that he will not abdicate power until he is certain that Fiji’s politicians have reformed from their old ways.

“I’m not going to give up leadership of the country until the political parties are ready to show good governance. Because that’s the gist of the PR I am receiving from some political parties. That is, they want to revert to the politics of the past after elections,” Bainimarama said today.

Meanwhile, Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party (SDL) is happy that Bainimarama wants to talk, but remains committed to pressing the issue of Democratic elections. Both SDL and Fiji’s Labor party have insisted that Bainimarama set a firm date for elections to replace the current military government.

But the Interim Prime Minister has clearly stated that now is not the time to discuss a date for the elections.

For more information, please see:
FijiLive – Change your politics or I stay: Fiji PM – 27 October 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corp Ltd – Set a firm date for polls: Chaudhry – 27 October 2008

FijiVillage – Parties To Meet Interim PM Today – 27 October 2008

FijiVillage – NFP Confirms Participation in Political Dialogue – 27 October 2008

FijiLive – Fiji Leader’s Dialogue to determine future – 26 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim regime urges cooperation now that coup has been declared legal – 09 October 2008

Afghan Journalist Jailed for Advocating Women’s Rights

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan
– Twenty-three year old journalist Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced by Afghanistan’s appellate court to 20 years for circulating an Internet article about women’s rights under Islam.  This new sentence overturned a death sentence he received in January by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-sharif.

Under Islamic law, blasphemy is a capital crime, punishable by death.  This 20 year sentence demonstrates Afghanistan’s drift toward a more radically conservative Islam and how fragile the judiciary really is.  Moreover, according to Human Rights Watch, it illustrates Afghanistan’s lack of respect for individual liberties.  As Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, stated, “Kambakhsh’s case demonstrates how fragile freedom of expression is in many parts of Afghanistan, and the lack of progress that has been made in establishing a professional judiciary.” He further stated, “It is an embarrassment to the Karzai government, which has failed to take judicial reform seriously and allows a brutal and conservative security service to do whatever it wants.”

Kambakhsh was studying in Mazar-i-sharif and working as a journalist for the Jahan-e Now Daily, a local newspaper, when he was arrested on October 27, 2007.  He was held for 8 days without being charged before he was handed over to the prosecution.  Since his arest, Kambakhsh was detained in three difference prisons and denied basic legal rights, such as right to legal counsel.  His family reported that he was beaten and tortured into signing a confession.  When he was tried on January 22, 2008, he went in front of the judge and prosecutor without counsel or a hearing and was sentenced to death.  The following day, the prosecutor, Hafaizullah Khaliqvar, condemned all journalists who supported Kambakhsh.

Kambakhsh’s brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, believed that the arrest of Kambakhsh was a warning against him for his articles on human rights abuses committed by local warlords and militias in northen Afghanistan.  Ibrahimi is a journalist for the Institute for Way and Peace Reporting.  A few days prior to Kambakhsh’s arrest, Ibrahimi was threatened by local armed groups and the National Directoate of Security and his home was searched several times.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Afghanistan:  Overturn Death Sentence of Jailed Journalist – 1 February 2008

Los Angeles Times – Afghan Student Gets 20 Years Instead of Death for Blasphemy – 22 October 2008

Reuters – Afghan Journalist Gets 20 Years Jail for Blasphemy – 21 October 2008

Fiji Law Society Joins Qarase in Appeal

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The Fiji Law Society (FLS) has announced they would like to be amicus curiae if ousted Prime Minister Lasenia Qarase appeals the recent High Court decision legalizing the 2006 coup that ousted him from office.

Dorsami Naidu, FLS president, thought the decision would “undermine the rule of law, weaken parliamentary democracy and parliamentary institutions rather than strengthen them.”nbsp; The decision was made in response to a panel held in Australia that expressed grave concern about the long-term ramifications of legalizing the coup.

Qarase has said his party hopes to file their appeal before the end of the month.  The party will also be looking for a new Queen’s Counsel because Nye Perram has been appointed judge to the Federal Courts of Australia.

Iliesa Duvuloco, Nationalist Tako Lavo party leader, claims the fight is not over yet and that he hopes justice will prevail.

For more information, please see:
The Fiji Times Online – FLS to join Qarase appeal – 26 October 2008

Cambodia: FBI Agents are Sent Home in Khim Sambo Case

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Two FBI agents were sent home after investigating the murder of journalist, Khim Sambo, and his 21 year-old son. Months after the death of Sambo and international pressure to solve the case, the United States offered the Cambodian government FBI assistance. However, the two FBI agents, who were helping Cambodian police on the case, pulled-out after 2 weeks of investigation.

The United States government was ambiguous on whether the withdraw was voluntary, but they felt the investigation was not going on the right track. Human rights organizations say the FBI agent’s departure is a negative development in efforts to solve Khim Sambo’s case. John Johnson, the Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, says he’s aware of human rights groups concern of police cover-up.

Sambo and his son were killed back in July. They were on their way back from working-out at an Olympic stadium in central Phnom Penh when a man riding on the back of a motorcycle fired upon them numerous times. Sambo died at the scene and his son died in the hospital the next day.

Brad Adams, the director of the Asia department at Human Rights Watch, said, “As in previous pre-election periods, this killing appears to be intended to send a message not to engage in opposition politics.”

Sambo had been a reporter for the Khmer Conscience, a newspaper affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). Most other media in the country is dominated and controlled by the government or ruling party, Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  Khim Sambo was known for writing about corruption and nepotism in the CPP. Less than two weeks leading up to Sambo’s death, he was reporting on national police chief, Hok Lundy. Sambo described Lundy as “one of the country’s most dangerous men.” According to Sambo’s report, Lundy allegedly went to a casino in Bavat and threatened to arrest the staff when they refused to lend him more credit after he lost his money.

Sambo’s investigation seems to be stalling. People close to the journalist, who may have information about the murder, have said that they are too afraid to speak to the investigators because they suspect police are involved.

The Press Freedom Organization added a call on the “US authorities to quickly publish the findings of the FBI agents who spent more than two weeks working with the Cambodian investigators on this case.” But the US government has not commented on the return of the FBI agents saying that it is an ongoing investigation.
For more information, please see:

Australia Broadcasting Corporation – FBI Continues to Investigate – 17 October 2008

Reports Without Borders – Who Masterminded Journalist Khim Sambo’s Murder? FBI Pulls Out of Investigation After Press Revelations – 15 October 2008

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Murder of Journalist Jolts Run-Up to Election– 16 July 2008