Australia and New Zealand Comdemn Call for Fijian Uprising

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Prime Ministers from Australia and New Zealand are speaking out against a call for Fijians to rise up against the country’s military regime.

Last week, at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, Niue Premier, Toke Talagi, told the people of Fiji that if they want to restore democracy, they must rise up and claim it for themselves.

“The people of Fiji must be responsible for constructing their own destiny,” Talagi said. He added, “I wonder, sometimes, whether people realise you can’t shoot 500,000 Fijians.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have shown their disapproval of Talagi’s message, despite their condemnation of Fiji interim PM, Commodore Frank Bainimarama for delaying democratic elections.

Mr. John Key, New Zealand PM, told reporters that he would not support Fijians in an uprising against the interim government.

“We have encouraged Frank Bainimarama to engage with former leaders in Fiji…and we think that’s the right course of action, not some sort of uprising against the military coup,” Key said.

Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, said “I would emphasise in absolutely clear-cut terms the importance of a peaceful solution to the problems which exist within Fiji.” He added, “They are real problems and that is one of the reasons why the countries of the Pacific Islands Forum agreed on a mechanism for the suspension of Fiji.”

But Talagi says he was not pushing violence, but rather, hoped the people of Fiji would find a way to peacefully protest the military regime.

The Pacific Islands Forum, an organization of Pacific leaders from 16 nation states, chose to suspend Fiji from the group after Bainimarama refused to hold elections by May 2009 as originally promised.

For more information, please see:
National Business Review – Key plays down call for uprising in Fiji – 06 August 2009

ABC News – Rudd plays down call for Fijian uprising – 05 August 2009

New Tang Dynasty Television – Pacific Leaders Express Concern over Fiji – 05 August 2009

Violence Against Christians in Pakistan

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Last week Muslim protestors in Gojra, Pakistan set fire to Christian houses, resulting in seven dead, and over twenty injured. The cause of this outbreak of violence in the province of Punjab was an allegation against Christians, who had supposedly desecrated the pages of the Quran at a wedding. Over forty houses were burnt during the outbreak, and around 100 were looted, as the two religious groups engaged in gunfire.

The Federal Minister of Minorities, Shehbaz Bhatti, declared that no such desecration of the Islamic text had occurred. The minister claimed the allegations were “baseless”. In light of the violence and unfortunate deaths of the two men, four women, and one child, all of whom were Christian, over a thousand Christians would not acknowledge the dead until the government held the demonstrators responsible. Now, two hundred people have been arrested.

The provincial minister of human rights and foreign affairs in Punjab, Kamran Michael, called for three days of mourning for the victims, causing all Christian institutions to close down. The leader also denounced the current Pakistani “law of offenses relating to religion” which strictly prohibits any debasement of the Quran, possibly leading to life imprisonment or the death penalty. The minister called for a change in the law, helping to protect minorities against the predominantly Muslim societal structure.

For more information, please see:

The Hindu – Communal Clashes in Pakistan – August   5, 2009 

CNN – 200 Arrested in Violence against Christians in Pakistan – August 3, 20 09 

CNN – Pakistani Police Patrol Streets after Christians Murdered – August 2, 2009 

Indonesia and PNG Border to Remain Closed

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania


JAKARTA, Indonesia
– The border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea is to remain closed following last month’s shootings in Papua’s Freeport area.

Indonesia’s military headquarters said that both countries have agreed to close the border following various shootings in the Freeport area and to anticipate further interference.

“The closing is to anticipate the incidents’ impact, including possible foreign interests toward the incidents,” military spokesperson Air Vice-Marshall Sagom Tamboen said.

The border closing was first adopted during Indonesia’s presidential election on July 8, 2009 in response to early incidents and in anticipation of further unrest.

Violence in Freeport began this summer when an employees’ bus at the company’s security post at mile 53 was set fire, killing Drew Nicholas Grant from Australia.

The following day, a security guard Markus Rante Allo was killed by gunfire at mile 51. The latest incident was July 13 when the body of internal affairs police officer Vice Brigadier Marson Fredy Pettipelohi, of Papua’s regional police, was found with severe wounds in his neck at mile 64.

Sagom said that all three incidents are being investigated by both the police and the military.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand – PNG/Indonesia border remains closed – 04 August 2009

China View –  Indonesia, Papua New Guinea agree to keep border closed – 04 August 2009

Palestinian Families Evicted from East Jerusalem Homes

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
Photo:   A Palestinian woman confronted Israeli riot police as she was evicted from her home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on Sunday.  Courtesy New York Times.

EAST JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – Early on the morning of August 2, Israel security forces evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem.  The Ghawi and Hanoun families, with thirty-eight and seventeen members, respectively, had lived in the houses for generations.

The evictions came after a drawn-out legal battle over the title to the land in the Sheikh Jarrah district, a wealthy, predominantly Arab neighborhood.  Witnesses reported that as soon as the Palestinians were forcibly removed, Israeli nationalists moved in.

The evictions have drawn heavy international criticism from the United States, United Nations, and European Union.  A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State stated that the moves in East Jerusalem are not in “keeping with the Israeli obligations under the Roadmap,” referring to the 2003 “Roadmap for peace” plan.

Saeb Erakat, the Senior Palestinian negotiator with Israel, said he was outraged by the Israeli actions.

“Israel is once again showing its utter failure to respect international law,” Mr. Erakat said.  “Now settlers from abroad are accommodating themselves and their belongings in the Palestinian houses and nineteen newly homeless children will have nowhere to sleep.”

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesperson, attempted to downplay the controversy, describing the dispute as a legal one between two private parties who had title to a property in East Jerusalem.  In the suit filed by the Israeli settlers, the Palestinians had allegedly violated an agreement under which they were allowed to live in the houses.

Mr. Regev further denied that the evictions were part of a systematic effort to cleanse Palestinians from East Jerusalem and replacing them with Israeli settlers.

Maher Hanoun, head of one of the evicted families, was on the street following the removal.

“I do not need a tent or rice,” Mr. Hanoun said.  “What I need is to return to my house, where I and my children were born.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – US Criticizes Israeli Eviction Move– 4 August 2009

Jerusalem Post – EU Protests Evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem– 4 August 2009

CNN – Israel Defends Jerusalem Evictions-3 August 2009

BBC News – Israel Condemned Over Evictions– 2 August 2009

New York Times – Israel Evicts Palestinians from Homes– 2 August 2009

Canadian Gets Life Sentence in Ethiopia on Terror Conviction

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopian-born, Bashir Makhtal, was charged with being a member of the  separatist group, Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is fighting for the independence of an ethnically Somali part of the country.

The conviction is debated because human rights groups say the prosecution failed to produce credible evidence and witnesses proving Bashir’s guilt.  The prosecution was pushing for him to be executed, but the judges decided against it, sentencing him to life in prison instead.

In response to the allegations of a one sided trial, the Ethiopian government has denied the trial was unfair in any way.

Bashir denies being the leader of the separatist group, saying he was prosecuted because his grandfather had helped fund the rebel group decades ago. Bashir, a 40-year-old Canadian left Ethiopia at age 11 and does not speak the local Amharic language.

“In fact, I am a victim of the ONLF,” said Bashir when he testified at his trial.

In 2006 Bashir was among dozens of people arrested when Ethiopia invaded Somalia.  His family in Canada says he was held in solitary for almost two years with no access to lawyers or embassy officials.  Bashir’s relatives also said he was a businessman, selling second-hand clothing in Kenya and that he was in Mogadishu on a business trip when the he was captured.

“The only hope that I have now is the government of Canada,” said Bashir. “I don’t see any fair treatment here and won’t see any … as long as I’m in their hands.”

Regardless, the Addis Ababa court found him guilty on four charges. He was found guilty of being a member of the ONLF central committee, for recruiting and training members of the ONLF at a military camp, for leading a contingent of the ONLF in the field, and for collaborating with Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts in Eritrea in an effort to overthrow the Ethiopian government.

Bashir’s lawyers plan to appeal against the conviction.
For more information, please see:

AFP – Ethiopia Jails Canadian for Life on Terror Charges – 3 August 2009

BBC – Ethiopia Jails Canadian For Life – 3 August 2009

Reuters – Ethiopia Jails Canadian ONLF Rebel for Life – 3 August 2009

The Toronto Star – Canadian Gets Life Sentence in Ethiopia on Terror Conviction

Polls on King Mohammed Get Two Magazines Banned

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RABAT, Morocco – A poll published in two  Moroccan magazines on King Mohammed VI’s ten years in power has resulted in a ban on the two magazines for this month’s issue.   

The poll was conducted by the French daily Le Monde, and asked what 1,108 people thought of their 46-year-old leader during his time in office, and what kind of a job King Mohammed was doing.  

The Independent weeklies Tel Quel in French, and Nichane in Arabic, had their most recent issues banned for failing to follow the 1958 press code.  The 1958 Press code gives the Minister of the Ministry of Information permission to administratively seize a newspaper or periodical that “is of a nature to disturb public order” and can suspend periodicals that “attacks the political and religions institutional foundations of the kingdom.” 

Moroccan minister of communications Khalid Nariri told the associated press that “any publication, be it foreign or Moroccan, that publishes the poll in Morocco will be banned.” Additionally, Nariri announced that “Monarchy cannot be the subject of opinion polls, and those who practice this sport are aware of the consequences.”

Both the Tel Quel and the Nichane  have a history with censorship and the Moroccan Government.  Both were seized in 2007 for publishing editorials that were deemed “bellow stoking.” Additionally, Nichane’s former editor also received a three-year jail sentence for an article that was found to be defamatory to Islam.

Although the poll showed that most Moroccans were please with their ruler, the government maintains its decision to ban the magazines. According to the poll, ninety-one percent of those surveyed said that they had a positive opinion of their King. The issue that Moroccans were most unhappy about was a lack of improvement of Morocco’s poverty. 

Some people polled also expressed a dislike for the Moudawana bill, which granted many marital rights to women.

A blogger that blogs for the Media Line under the psudonym Labri, says that freedom of the press is protected in  Morocco, so long as the as the article does not touch on Islam, the Sahara, or the Monarchy.

The magazines that have published the poll are only banned for the issues that contain the poll.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Moroccans Like Their King: Banned Opinion Poll – 3 August 2009

Al Arabiya – Banned Survey Shows Moroccans Like Their King – 3 August 2009

The Media Line – Two Moroccan Magazines Banned over Commemorative Poll – 2 August 2009

News Day – 2 Moroccan Magazines Banned for Poll on King – 2 August 2009

Uzbek Journalist Jailed for Over 12 Years


By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan – Independent journalist, Dilmurod Saidov, was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison following what many call a “flawed” trial.

The trial was brought on by politically motivated charges according to Human Rights Watch, and was riddled with “procedural violations.” Several witnesses withdrew their testimony claiming to have given false evidence earlier. Saidov was arrested on February 11 at his home in Tashkent and accused of extortion by Asliddin Urinboev, head of the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park. Urinboev alleged that Saidov had sought to extort $15,000.00 from him with the help of another individual, Marguba Juraeva. After both their arrests, Juraeva gave written testimony implicating Saidov, but rescinding her testimony the following day saying she was under the influence when she had given it.

Saidov was convicted of extortion and forgery in a closed session at the Tailak District Court. Neither Saidov’s lawyer nor his public defender were informed of the trial date in advance. The court secretary said the sentencing was closed “in the interest of security” and did not comment further.

Local human rights agencies on ground in Uzbekistan believe that Saidov was prosecuted and convicted because of his efforts to expose local officials’ abuse of power and corruption. Uzbekistan has a history of jailing reporters and human rights activists according to Human Rights Watch. “Dilmurod Saidov is well known for his courageous work to expose rampant corruption in Uzbekistan and this conviction is clearly an attempt to stop him,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The trial was a travesty of justice, and Saidov should be freed immediately.”

The investigation and trial were plagued with inconsistencies and violations according to Human Rights Watch. Court hearings were repeatedly conducted without prior notice to Saidov’s attorneys. Other witnesses who spoke out against Saidov claimed they had been detained for two days in pretrial detention and pressured into making allegations against Saidov.

Saidov is amongst 13 other human rights defenders and journalists currently being detained in Uzbekistan pending trial. Several other civic activists and independent journalists are serving sentences on what many groups call “politically motivated charges.”

 

For more information, please see:

Ferghana – Free-Lance Journalist Saidov Jailed to 12.5 Years – August 3, 2009  

Human Rights Watch – Free Journalist Sentenced to Over 12 Years – Augu  st 3, 2009

Nasdaq – Uzbek Journalist Jailed for 12 Years – August 3, 2009

Woman Dares Court Over Flogging for Wearing Trousers

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – On July 3, police arrested Lubna Al Hussein and eighteen other women.  Their charge: dressing indecently in public.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information there is only one punishment under Sudanese law for an indecent clothing charge – 40 lashes in public.

Hussein is a journalist who worked for the media department of the UN mission in Sudan until recently.  At the time of arrest, she was wearing trousers, a blouse, and a hijab (headscarf).  The police say her trousers were too tight and that her blouse (Source: Sudan Tribune) was too transparent.

Her trial is set to begin on Tuesday.

“They ought to stop it,” said Nabil Adib, lawyer for Hussein. “It is quite unnecessary and degrading. It is harassment.”

Adib believes the charges will be dropped saying, “These things have their ups and downs.  These laws have generally relaxed as a matter of policy. But they are still sometimes enforced.”

Although some believe that the Sudanese government’s threat of flogging is a form of retaliation for Hussein’s criticism of the Sudanese regime, Adib does not believe that his client was targeted.

“There are round-ups that they do and it is indiscriminate,” he said. “I don’t think she was targeted specifically. They attack public and private parties and groups. They are called ‘morality police’ and she was just a victim of a round-up.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called flogging “against the international human rights standards.”  He said he would protect his staff member with every effort but her lawyer says she resigned from her position with the UN to avoid the immunity she would have received.

Hussein will maintain her position of no wrongdoing.

For more information, please see:

The Age – Sudanese Woman to Dare Court Over Flogging – 03 August 2009

ABC News – Pants-wearing Woman Not Afraid of Flogging – 01 August 2009

Sudan Tribune – UN Ban Ki-Moon Says Deeply Concerned by Sudan Trousers Trial – 01 August 2009

Telegraph – ‘Whip Me if You Dare’ Says Lubna Hussein, Sudan’s Defiant Trouser Woman – 01 August 2009

CNN – Sudanese Lawyer Calls Woman’s Flogging Punishment ‘Degrading’ – 30 July 2009

French Polynesian President Seeks France’s Help to Attend Leader’s Retreat

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

PAPEETE, French Polynesia – French Polynesian president, Oscar Temaru, is appealing to French leaders to support his bid to join the leader’s retreat for the Pacific Islands Forum this week in Cairns.
Mr. Temaru says that it is important he attend the leader’s retreat and not be excluded from participation.

Radio New Zealand International reported, “The leaders’ retreat offers an opportunity for private discussions once the formal summit is concluded. Mr Temaru says although French Polynesia has only become an associate Forum member, it’s not normal that he is excluded from the retreat. He says the French President’s Office has now written to the Forum secretariat in Suva. This comes after his earlier letter, soliciting Forum support for Tahiti’s decolonisation, went unanswered.”

Mr. Temaru said he was interesting in gaining French support after he spent a month in Paris for medical care.

The Pacific Forum is a union of Pacific Leaders from 16 countries. Members meet to discuss regional economic and political issues affecting the region.

For more information, please see:Radio New Zealand International – French Polynesian President Wants Help from Paris to be Allowed into Forum Leader’s Retreat – 02 August 2009

Protest in Malaysia Against Detention Without Trial

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia– Thousands of Malaysians protested in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, against a controversial and archaic law enacted during the British colonial era called the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

Malaysia protest security law Police using water cannon against protesters (Source: Reuters)

5,000 police, using tear gas and water cannons, clashed with 15,000 protesters.  This protest, which was unauthorized by the government, led to more than 200 arrests, and many protesters ran to local shops and alleys in order to avoid being arrested.  In Malaysia, meetings of more than four people require permits, and the police have previously used tear gas and chemical-laced water against demonstrators.  The Malaysian government and the police had warned that they would not allow this protest as allowing such a rally would undermine public peace.

The protest was backed by Malaysia’s biggest opposition party, and the protesters had originally planned to march peacefully to the national palace and submit a petition to the king denouncing the Internal Security Law.  Opposition activists have long claimed that this law is sometimes used to imprison government critics or to dampen dissent.  Malaysia’s prime minster had promised to consider amending the Internal Security Act, but other government officials have repeatedly stated that the Act is necessary for national security.  Nazri Aziz, Cabinet Minister responsible for legal affairs, said, “The [Internal Security Act] will not be abolished.”

Malaysia protest security law2 Police and protesters in Kuala Lumpur (Source: AP)

Regarding the police blockade and the government’s refusal to allow the protest, the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, said, “The police are really brutal.  This clearly shows [the government’s] intolerance to any dissent…We gather here today to fight a cruel law.”

Human rights groups have estimated that at least 17 people are being held under the Internal Security Act, mainly for links to militants or document forgery. 

For more information, please see:

AP – Malaysian police tear gas, scuffle with protesters – 1 August 2009

BBC – Protest at Malaysia security law – 1 August 2009

Philstar – Malaysia activists protest detention without trial – 31 July 2009

.S. Reviews the Need for Continued Sudan Sanctions

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States is reviewing its stance on Sudan sanctions after U.S. envoy, General Scott Gration told law makers that there is no evidence to support keeping Sudan on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The U.S. is reviewing how best to deal with the Sudanese government and the crisis in the nations Darfur region, where roughly 300,000 people were killed and over 2 million were forced into refuge.  As of now, no formal decision has been made on whether to remove Sudan from a list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

“We have made no decision to lift the listing on the terrorist list of Sudan. As you know, there is a very intensive review going on within the administration concerning our policy toward Sudan, but no decisions have been made,” said Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State.

At a Senate hearing Gration called the terrorism designation “a political decision” and said it is hindering his work.  He believes that lifting the sanctions, which include restrictions on aid, would allow for heavy equipment and for other assistance to flow more easily to the people of Sudan who are still desperately in need.

Committee Chair, Senator John Kerry, appeared to support Gration’s thoughts on Sudan saying that after a visit to Khartoum last April he “came away convinced that we need to build a strategic framework that moves beyond simple oppositions…”

P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesperson, said there is no split on whether the U.S. is shifting gears towards Sudan, and that although Sudan has improved its counter-terrorism cooperation, the country is on the “list” and will “remain on the list.”

“There’s a set process in law – and where we have been with Sudan, where we are with Sudan, where we want to go with Sudan is all incorporated into this review. And it is ongoing, and we expect this review to be completed.  At that point, I think the President and the Secretary will lay out where we’re going to go with Sudan going forward,” Crowley said.

Although the envoy’s remarks are a persuasive signal that the U.S. is considering a change of heart, the decision would not go without protest.  Advocacy groups and American Christian groups blame the North Sudanese government for the devastating violence and genocide in Darfur.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Does Envoy’s Approach Hint at U.S. Shift on Sudan? – 1 August 2009

Sudan Tribune – Clinton Says Sudan Policy Still Under Review – 1 August 2009

AP – Sudan Pleased With US Envoy’s Remarks on Terrorism – 31 July 2009

CNN Politics – Administration Denies Split on Sudan Policy – 31 July 2009

Reuters – Clinton Says No Decision to Ease Sudan Sanctions – 31 July 2009

Mass Trial for Reformers, Moderates Begins in Iran

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
 

TEHRAN, Iran – On August 1, over one hundred Iranians were put on trial in what the leading reform party called a “laughable show trial.”

Those on trial were arrested during protests following the disputed June 12 presidential election, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory over the reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Thousands of Mr. Mousavi’s supporters took to the streets, saying the election had been rigged.

The charges levied against the arrested protestors include vandalism and acting against the national security. State Iranian television showed images of the prisoners, all in blue jumpsuits and surrounded by armed guards, some were shackled. The number of prisoners shocked Iranians, as only a few days prior, the government had said that only twenty people would go on trial. Aside from the state television camera, the courtroom was closed to the press, and lawyers were not allowed in.

The men in the blue jumpsuits included almost every major figure in the Iranian reform movement, and many of them had served in the administration of former President Mohammad Khatami. Muhammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric who served as vice president under Khatami, was among those arrested soon after the June 12 election and had reportedly appeared in a videotape, tearfully confessing to the government charges. Human rights groups and the defendants appearing in court today have said that such videotaped confessions are common practice, and are almost always made under duress.

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel peace laureate, denounced the trial, and called for European nations to pull their representatives from Tehran. Ms. Ebadi said that she believes reform will come to Iran, but not through foreign influence.

“Reforms only come from within,” Ebadi said. “One day we will realize reform in a real sense.”

For more information, please see:

The Times – Iran’s Arrested Activists Find Champion in Lilac Tweed – 2 August 2009

Al-Jazeera – Iran Puts Protestors on Trial– 1 August 2009

BBC News – Iran Reformers Slate Trial “Sham”– 1 August 2009

Los Angeles Times – Iran: Trials Start for 100 Reformists, Moderate Politicians in Iran– 1 August 2009

New York Times – Mass Trial for Protestors Begins in Iran– 1 August 2009