High Court Ruling May Effect Police Brutality Cases

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The Fiji Women’s Crisis Center is questioning how this month’s judicial ruling legitimizing the 2006 military takeover in Fiji will effect cases involving police brutality.

On October 9, a three judge court dismissed former prime minister, Laisenia Qarase’s request to have the 2006 military coup declared illegal.

“Of course, the ruling is going to affect the cases that have already been filed against the military and police. The judgment by the High court was political,” said Shamima Ali, the Center’s coordinator.

The Fiji Women’s Crisis Center has raised concerns over whether the interim military government will treat cases involving police and military officers differently.

In particular, the Center identified two cases of alleged brutality which remain pending in court. The first involves a man named Tevita Malasebe, 31, who was a rugby player from Nabua, Suva. Malasebe was beaten to death by police in June of last year. Another man, Nimilote Verebasaga, was taken by soldiers in the middle of the night. He was pronounced dead the next day at the military hospital.

Ali added, “It means those officers implicated in the alleged murder cases and brutality cases before the courts won’t be prosecuted because of the immunity clause.”

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times – Fiji Court Ruling Could Impact Brutality Cases – 20 October 2008

Lawyers Face Pressure to Drop Tainted Milk Cases

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A group of lawyers advising the families of children sickened in China’s tainted milk case facing growing official pressure to withdraw from the cases.  The group already has helped the parents of a 1-year-old boy who developed kidney stones after drinking tainted milk to file a lawsuit against the dairy company, Sanlu Group Co.  The court in Henan province has not yet decides whether it will hear the suit.

The tainted milk scandal caused at least four babies have died and more than 54,000 children have been sickened in China.  The Chinese government acknowledged the dairy industry was “chaotic” and had suffered from a grave lack of oversight, while pledging to monitor milk products from farm to dinner table.  However, the government has also imposed controls on media coverage of the crisis, and pressured families and lawyers to withdraw from cases related to the scandal.  Officials from the provincial government’s justice department in Henan province told at least 14 lawyers by officials to stop their activities, said Chang Boyang, one of the lawyers.  “They called me and my boss at my law firm and put pressure on me, and they said that this has become a political issue and that I ought to follow the arrangements set out by the government.” Chang said.  “If this suggestion is disobeyed, the lawyer and the firm will be dealt with,” Chang quoted the official.

Organizers of the campaign and some of the lawyers confirmed officials in some provinces have pressured volunteers or their bosses to give up the campaign.  “About two dozen of the lawyers have called these past days to say they want to quit the volunteer advice group,” said Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who helped organize the group.  “Some of them said that they or their offices were told they’d face serious repercussions if they stayed involved, ” Li Fangping added.

According to a Beijing-based lawyer, Li Jinglin, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association called a meeting with several of its serving officer members and the justice department to discuss the milk powder cases.  “At that meeting, those in charge said they had received a very clear message from the Hebei provincial lawyers’ association that we should not involve ourselves in Sanlu-related cases,” said Li Jinglin.

“There has been a direct instruction to all Chinese lawyers that they are forbidden from offering legal assistance to families of children who have drunk contaminated milk,” a lawyer who declined to be named said.  “The orders came from the legal affairs bureau in our district. Executive forces are putting pressure on them from all directions. Really, their hands are tied,” he said.

For more information, please see
:

AP – Chinese lawyers face pressure to drop milk cases – 07 October 2008

AP – Second lawsuit filed in tainted milk scandal – 10 October 2008

Radio Free Asia – Lawyers’ Outrage at Milk Case Ban – 07 October 2008

Reuters – China milk victim lawyers say pressed to quit – 29 September 2008

Human Rights Group Discovers Bones in Philippines

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – On behalf of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, human rights groups Karpatan and the Commission on Human rights discovered human bones in Bataan.  The excavation was conducted in order to search for evidence of victims of extra-judicial killings and the disappearance of activists, verifying the allegations of Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo.

On February 14, 2006, the Manalo brothers were suspected of aiding a local insurgency and were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in military detention camps where they were tortured over a period of 18 months.  On August 13, 2007, they escaped.  Their families filed writs of habeas corpus and they sought protection from the Court.

The Supreme Court granted the Manalo brothers’ writ of amparo and ordered the excavation to corroborate their testimony and search for other extra-judicial killings.

The anthropology team found human bones at the former camp in Bataan, which was the same site where Raymond Manalo testified he saw victim Manual Merino burned by soldiers in 2007.  The bones are currently awaiting identification.

The case of the extra-judicial killings and disappearance of activists were added to the last Monday’s impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  This was the fourth impeachment complaint against Arroyo.  The complaint stated that Arroyo “committed culpable violations of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes.”

In addition, she was accused of “explicitly and implicitly conspiring, directing, abetting and tolerating with impunity as a state policy extrajudicial executions, involuntary disappearances, torture, massacre, illegal arrest and arbitrary detention, forced dislocation of communities and other gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights and engaging in a systematic campaign to cover up or whitewash these crime by suppressing and obliterating the evidence, blaming the victims, terrorizing, intimidating and physically attacking witnesses, their relatives, lawyers and supporters and human rights workers.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Philippines:  Investigate Claims and Protect Manalo Brothers – 7 November 2007

The Daily Tribune – House Locks Out New Impeach Bid – 10 October 2008

GMANews.TV – Rights Group Finds Burnt Human Bones in Bataan – 14 October 2008

China Removes Restrictive Rules on Foreign Correspondents Reporting

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – China extended some of the rules that gave foreign reporters greater freedom during the Beijing Olympics.  The extension will allow more than 30,000 foreign journalists to continue travel freely across most of China for reporting, and interview Chinese citizens without government permission.

State news agency Xinhua said the temporary arrangement would become standard practice.  China’s Premier Wen Jiabao approved the new regulations after a day of silence on what would happen to one of the high-profile changes Beijing made as part of its efforts to host the August Games. Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “This is not only a big step forward for China in opening up to the outside world, for the foreign journalists it’s also a big step.”

However, the media freedoms are not unlimited. Tibet is still closed to all foreigners and journalists.  Journalists must still apply for travel permits just as tourists do. Li Jianchao also warned that other areas of China may be designated off-bounds or temporarily closed after disasters.

The move has been welcomed by the main organization representing overseas media in China, Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.  “If properly implemented, we believe this will mark a step forward in the opening of China’s media environment,” said Jonathan Watts, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

Jonathan Watts also urged the government to ensure that police and local officials respect the freedoms and the new rule.  The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said it had received reports of 336 complaints of interference since the rules were introduced in January 2007, including 67 cases of harassment and intimidation during the Olympic Games.

Seymour Topping, a well-known American journalist, sees the lifting of the restrictions as an important step for China.  “The more restrictions on foreign correspondents’ work are lifted, the better chance there is for the world to become fully aware of China’s accomplishments and what it is attempting to achieve,” the former Pulitzer Prize administrator said.  “China used to be too wary of foreign journalists, but now the rules allow them to decide who to talk to,” Huang Youyi, editor-in-chief of China International Publishing Group, added.

For more information, please see:

BBC – China’s Press Freedoms Extended – 18 October 2008

China Daily – Reporting Made Easier for Foreign Media – 20 October 2008

Human Rights Watch – China: Olympics-Related Media Freedoms Should Not Expire – 15 October 2008

Reporter without Borders – What Rights Will the Foreign Press Have? – 17 October 2008

Reuters – China Extends Media Freedom Rules at 11th Hour – 17 October 2008

Comments by Fiji’s Ousted PM Frustrate Bainimarama

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – After comments were made this week from Fiji’s ousted PM, Laisenia Qarase, Fiji’s interim PM, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, is frustrated.  Bainimarama said Qarase should stop wasting his time commenting on the interim government.

Bainimarama’s frustration comes after Qarase told reporters this week that the interim Government’s reign has been too long.  Qarase claimed that interim government was meant to be temporary and that the two years interim PM Bainimarama has been in power is a long time.

Bainimarama said, “He should be more careful making such comments because he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”  The interim PM also urged Qarase to prove that his government is not doing enough to take Fiji forward.

Qarase has a specific problem with the interim government not holding general elections early in 2009. Bainimarama has already said that he wants electoral reforms in place before the election happensQarase claims there is no excuse.

For more information, please see:

Fijilive – Qarase’s coments rile Fiji interim PM – 17 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim PM unhappy about Qarase comments – 17 October 2008

Indian Muslims Angered by Unfair Police Targeting

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – After last month’s bombing of New Delhi, Indian Muslim leaders protested unfair targeting by the police.  They demand that the Indian government protect their community from persecution.

Muslims accused police of conducting witch hunts, forcing innocent young men from their homes, and reinforcing stereotypes about Muslims.

Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, leader of the largest mosque in north India, the Jama Masjid, stated, “Today, with the injustice and harassment, Islam and Muslims in this country are under threat.”  “We have been quiet a long time, but we cannot take this anymore.  We too have rights.”

The impact of the persecution has become an issue with the upcoming 2009 election.  The attacks on Christians and Muslims are polarizing a secular government and Hindu-nationalist opposition.  Bukhari said that Congress nor the oppsing Bharatiya Janata (BJP) would work for the Muslims.  Some say that the Muslim leaders are using these events to their advantage.  “Just as the congress and the BJP use terrorism to secure their voter base, the Muslim leaders are also using it to secure their position,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.

The election commission stated that it would hold five state elections in the months of November and December in order to gauge the current political climate leading up to the early 2009 election.
However, with the Congress party in power and losing ground to the BJP, Bukhari stated that the Congress party cannot be trusted to do justice to the Muslims.  Although it is trying to reestablish itself as the frontrunning party, a number of smaller regional parties are reaching out to the Muslims in order to put pressure on Congress.

The government held a National Integration Council meeting last Monday, the first meeting since 2005, to discuss the communal tension.

For more information, please see:

Daily Times – Indian Muslims Angry for Being Targeted in Bomb Probe – 17 September 2008

Reuters – Indian Muslim Leaders Slam Government on Crackdown – 14 October 2008

The Times of India – Terror Attacks:  Muslim Leaders Call for Introspection – 12 October 2008

Interim Government Praised by Forum Head for Resuming Talks

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

SUVA, Fiji – The new secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, has hailed Fiji’s interim government’s decision to resume working with the ministerial group examining Fiji’s electoral system as a positive step.  The interim government had stopped talks with the Forum in June following what it described as a lack of support from Australia and New Zealand.

While there is no firm plan for when, specifically, the talks will resume, Slade confirmed that meetings are being scheduled.  Slade went onto say, “It is in line with the conclusion of the Forum leaders and their desire as expressed in the Niue communique that this re-engagement should resume. We are now in the secretariat working closely with the authorities of the interim government to try to determine dates and the timing of these meetings.”

While the Forum is satisfied with this new move, it has publicly stated that it’s position regarding Fiji’s return to public elections has not changed in the wake of the recent Fiji High Court decision validating the 2006 coup.  The Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Premier of Niue, Toke Talagi, has also echoed deposed Fiji PM Lasenia Qarase’s position that the decision will encourage the coup culture in Fiji.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited – Slade welcomes initiative – 18 October 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited – Forum stance unchanged – 18 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Forum head welcomes resumption of dialogue with Fiji interim regime – 17 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – New Pacific Forum leader says court judgment in Fiji is not a reflection of expectations – 17 October 2008

Thai Prime Minister Labeled “Murderer” by Protesters

BANGKOK, Thailand – Anti-government protesters rallied in Bangkok yesterday, holding pictures of Thai Prime Minister Somachai Wongsawat that labeled him a “murderer.”  On October 7th, two people were killed and hundreds were injured.  Human Rights Watch released a report demanding that the Thai government examine the possibility that the deaths were politically motivated.

Prime Minister Somachai Wongsawat addressed the nation amid a political crisis between his ruling party, People Power Party, and the opposition, People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).  The PAD began its street protests in Bangkok on May 25, 2008.  Prime Minister Somachai Wongsawat told the press,  “The government cannot just abandon its work and responsibility. We have many major projects coming up.”

However, Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda publicly blamed the Prime Minister, saying he should take responsibility for the violence and hinted at a possible resignation for the leader.

However, Prime Minister Somachai Wongsawat announced that he would not resign despite calls for his resignation after the violent confrontation between police and protesters .

Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to initiate an independent and impartial investigation into politically motivated violence by both the ruling and opposition parties since the violence started last week. Some demonstrators were carrying guns, iron rods, and rocks. Rioters were setting fire to parked cars. The police have been accused to firing tear gas into the crowd and wounding many.

Prime Minister Somachai Wongsawat established a special panel to look into the incident and said he expected a report in the next 15 days. He said, “Whatever the result” of the investigation, “the government will accept it. If someone has to take responsibility, we will accept it.”

“Instead of attacking each other on the streets, the Thai government and PAD should use democratic and legal channels to end their disputes,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should only use the force necessary to protect public security, while PAD should end violence, vacate government buildings it has occupied, and disarm its supporters,” he added.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Rights Group Call for End to Thai Political Violence – 15 October 2008

International Herald Tribune – Thai Leader Shrugs Off Call to Quit – 17 October 2008

Herald Tribune –Thai Protest Marchers Call Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat a Murderer– 18 October 2008

Human Rights News – Thailand: Government and Protesters Should End Political Violence – 15 October 2008

Vietnam Silences Journalists

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HAN NOI, Vietnam – On October 15th Hanoi People’s Court sentenced Nguyen Viet Chien, a journalist for a well-circulated newspaper, to two years in jail. In 2006, Chien was one of two journalists who reported on a corruption scandal in the Ministry of Transport.  The scandal resulted in the resignation of the minister and the arrest of several high-ranking officials.

Chien maintained his innocence in court.  He stated, “With my journalist conscience, I can say I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption.”

Last May, Chien and another prominent newspaper journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, who also reported on government corruption, were arrested. They were accused of “abusing freedom and democratic rights.”

Hai pleaded guilty after a two day trail.  In order to receive a lighter sentence, he accepted that he made “professional accidents” in his reports. The court freed Hai for “co-operating with investigators and showing remorse.” However, the court and sentence Hai to re-education camps for two years.

During the trial, prosecutors focused on the reporters’ conduct.  According to a leaked indictment, the reporters’ stories had “serious consequences, negatively affecting the ideology, morale and psychology of the public at a sensitive point of time,” referencing the 10th Vietnamese Communist Party Congress in April 2006.

The indictment also asserted that Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai “exploited their position as journalists to write sensitive, false information… Hostile forces took advantage to attack and distort the Party Congress, negatively affecting the preparation of the congress.”

The verdict of the two trials received condemnation from abroad. The US embassy in Hanoi called the verdicts “disappointing” and Reporters Without Borders called the sentences “a terrible step backwards.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Vietnam Trial Tests Media Freedom – 14 October 2008

BBC – Vietnam Sends Journalist to Jail – 15 October 2008

BBC – Vietnamese Media Trial Condemned – 16 October 2008

International Herald Tribune – Vietnam Jails Journalists in Graft Reporting Trial– 15 October 2008

Reporters Without Borders – Newspaper Reporter’s Two Year Sentence Deals Severe Blow to Press Freedom – 15 October 2008

UPDATE: SDL Party Questions Constitutionality of Interim Reforms

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji’s ousted Prime Minister has reiterated that changes to Fiji’s Constitution will not be made while the interim government remains in power. This announcement follows the SDL party’s decision to appeal the High Court’s decision last week validating the 2006 coup.

Since last week’s judicial decision, the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party has strongly questioned the interim government’s motives. Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has clearly stated that the interim government’s focus will not necessarily be on the legality of its actions, but on whether the right results are produced.

Bainimarama claims the interim government will work to reestablish democracy, but ousted Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, is skeptical. As head of the SDL party, Qarase says that if the interim government creates any reforms before the new election, those reforms will be unconstitutional.

In response, Bainimarama says he will create a political forum by the end of October. Qarase is receptive and hopes that the forum will facilitate political discussion between the parties.

“We have never said that we would accept reforms before the election, that is our position now. What happens in the forum, that’s another issue. We would rather wait until we get into the forum and hear other people’s views. But strictly speaking, we believe that any change to the constitution must be made by an elected parliament. That’s our key position,” Qarase said.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – SDL maintains it won’t accept changes to Fiji constitution before election – 15 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Qarase to go into Fiji political talks with open mind – 15 October 2008

Hidden Coal Mine Accident in China

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


BEIJING, China
– Local officials in North China hid a coal mine explosion that killed more than 30 miners three weeks before the Beijing Olympics, state media reported.  The accident occurred at 8:30 am on July 14th in Lijiawa Coal Mine of Yuxian county. Some explosives illegally stored in the pit blast off, killing more than 30 miners.  The investigation report indicated that after the mine disaster, the corpses were taken away and kept hidden in surrounding areas, where the grieving families were also taken to be paid off.  “Cash was used to keep them quiet as well as threats and other means, and the miners and their families were not allowed to reveal the facts to the outside,” said the report.  The investigation also showed that some township and county officials had collaborated with the mine owners to conceal the accident.

Chinese government has punished 25 Communist Party and government officials involved in covering up the mine accident.  Another 23 officials of various administrative departments were also under investigation.  Governor Hu Chunhua said the Hebei province has serious problems with work and food safety.  “This is a shocking case,” quoted governor Hu Chunhua.  He called on officials of all levels in the province to take a lesson from the vital safety accident.  Hebei is also home to Sanlu Dairy, company of the chemical-tainted milk powder that officials have blamed for killing four children and making many several thousands sick.

However, the investigation report did not explain why the deaths took so long to come to light. Some observers of Chinese politics said the cover-up appeared to be another instance of officials seeking to avoid recriminations before the Olympics, when they were under intense pressure to avoid accidents and protests.

A total of 3,786 coal miners died in gas blasts, flooding and other work accidents in China last year.  The Lijiawa blast was not the only recent disaster to involve suggestions of official concealment and neglect.

For more information, please see
:

AFP – China probes cover-ups in mine accidents: state media – 08 October 2008

China Daily – 25 officials punished over mine accident cover-up – 07 October 2008

Reuters – China milk scandal province hid mine disaster – 08 October 2008

Xinhuan – Three officials ousted for coal mine accidents in N China – 08 October 2008

Kazakhstan Makes Little Progress in Improving Democracy and Press Freedom

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

ALMATY, Kazakhstan – In a recently released report by Freedom House, the organization condemns Kazakhstan for not making significant progress in meeting international standards for democracy and law.  Freedom House is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to democracy and freedom around the world.

Freedom House also stresses that the lack of progress by Kazakhstan undermines the European Human Right Watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Kazakhstan is scheduled to take over the chairmanship of OSCE in 2010.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been widely criticized for tolerating no political dissent.  In June, he promised to create a more democratic parliament, relax electoral laws, and make it easier for political parties to register.  President Nursultan Nazarbayev also pledged to amend laws that severely restrict press freedom.  However, few of these reforms will be completed by their promised end of 2008 deadline.

“Freedom House urges U.S. officials to stress that Kazakhstan must take its OSCE commitments seriously if it wants to maintain its current relationship with Washington,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, Freedom House’s senior program manager for Central Asia.  He continued, “Kazakhstani citizens deserve to be accorded the democratic freedoms their leaders have promised to provide, yet their government continues to impede basic rights, from freedom of speech to freedom of religion.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Telegram – Rights Group Slams Kazakhstan ‘Democracy’ – 1 October 2008

Freedom House – News Report: Kazakhstan Falls Short of OSCE Commitments – 30 September 2008

News Blaze – Kazakhstan Falls Short of OSCE – 30 September 2008

SDL Party of Fiji to Appeal High Court’s Verdict Validating 2006 Coup

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – SDL Party National Director, Peceli Kinivuwai, confirmed today that SDL will discuss options for appealing Fiji’s High Court decision validating the 2006 coup of the federal government.  Mr. Kinivuwai said the party has lost this battle but not the war, “I think it is more to do with our solicitors view of the ruling and what we as party executives view, our opinions towards the ruling, because we feel that there’s a lot of grey areas, as far as the ruling’s concerned, and we are going to straighten that up and see what’s our next course of action as far as the lawyer’s advice is concerned.”

SDL lawyer, Tevita Fa, is currently preparing papers to file the appeal and has advised the party not to disclose the amount of money it has spent to prepare for the case.  It was confirmed that the party will do everything it can to appeal against the ruling which may include going as far as appealing to the international court.

He adds that at this point the SDL party will not be engaging with the interim regime, and will not be working with the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.  The interim regime is led by interim prime minister and head of the military, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

The High Court has given the party 45 days to appeal, a deadline Mr. Kinivuwai has said they will definitely abide by.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji’s SDL to meet lawyer over last week’s coup approval verdict – 13 October 2008

Radio Australia – SDL Party to challenge Fiji High Court coup ruling – 13 October 2008

Fijilive – SDL set to appeal against ruling – 13 October 2008

Radio Fiji Two – SDL to discuss case appeal today – 13 October 2008

Democracy Activists Arrested in Syria

By Yasmine S. Hakimian
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Twelve Syrian pro-democracy activists are currently on trial in Syria for demanding democratic reform and respect for human rights. The activists face up to 15 years in prison.

The activists were arrested between December 2007 and January 2008. The arrests occurred after the activists organized and attended a meeting of the opposition coalition, the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (DDDNC). Formed in October 2005, the DDDNC is an unauthorized coalition of political parties, human rights organizations and pro-democracy activists. The DDDNC joins Arab nationalists, Islamics, Kurds, leftists and liberals.

The activists are charged with “weakening national sentiment”, “broadcasting false or exaggerated news which could affect the morale of the country”, joining “an organization formed with the purpose of changing the financial or social status of the state” and “inciting sectarian strife.” The trial is currently taking place before the Damascus Criminal Court. The verdict is expected on October 29.

Initially, the State Security Branch held the activists incommunicado in Damascus for up to several weeks. According to the activists, they were beaten and coerced into signing false confessions during the confinement. The activists have restricted access to attorneys. Furthermore, attorneys are being denied access to activists’ case files.

To date, the trial proceedings have been marked by serious irregularities. Syrian authorities have failed to conduct an official investigation even though Amnesty International and several other organizations have raised concern over the allegations of ill-treatment.

Amnesty International considers the activists prisoners of conscience confined solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of assembly and association. Amnesty requests that the prisoners be released immediately and for all charges against them to be dropped.

The DDDNC has called on the Syrian government to suspend the state of emergency in force since 1963. The coalition has also urged the authorities to release all political prisoners; to allow the safe return of Syrian exiles; to abolish Law 49, which makes membership of the Muslim Brotherhood punishable by death; and to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For more information, please see:

Democracy Digest – Syrian Democracy Activists Face 15 Years in Prison – 9 October 2008

Amnesty International – Pro-Democracy Activists in Syria Face 15 Years in Prison– 8 October 2008

Human Rights Watch – Unfair Trial of 12 Members of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (NCDD) – 17 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Repression of Activists Continues Unabated – 12 June 2008

IFEX – Another Detained in Crackdown on Democracy Advocates; At Least Eight Allegedly Beaten, Forced to Confess – 5 February 2008

UPDATE: Fiji Human Rights Group Questions Courts Independence After Coup Declared Legal

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – A human rights group in Fiji is evaluating last week’s judicial ruling which validated the 2006 coup of Fiji’s Federal Government.

The ruling came after Fiji’s ousted prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, challenged the legality of the military takeover. A Fiji court, comprised of three judges, dismissed Mr. Qarase’s challenge and granted immunity to military leaders.

Fiji human rights commissioner, Shamima Ali, is now questioning the court’s independence. While Fiji’s interim government claims to be committed to reestablishing democracy, Ms. Ali is concerned that last week’s decision was anything but democratic.

“A lot of people expected this kind of result, because the people who sat on the bench have been appointed after December 2006, its independence can therefore be questioned. The political comments that have been made in the judgment are uncalled for and not the place of the presiding judge to make, particularly about immunity, because that’s going to perpetuate the coup cycle,” Ms. Ali said.

Ms. Ali believes that Fiji’s future rests in the balance if an appeal to the court’s decision is not made.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji human rights commissioner questions court’s independence after coup verdict – 10 October 2008

The Age, Australia – Fiji High Court upholds 2006 coup – 09 October 2008