Fatah Admits Torturing Hamas Prisoners As It Pushes For Reconciliation Deal

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad impliedly admitted in a report released on January 3 that forces in the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, had tortured Hamas detainees for the past two years. The Associated Press reported that most of the torture in West Bank prisons had ended by October 2009.

 

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is predominated by members of the Fatah Party, while the Gaza Strip is ruled by the PA’s rival party—Hamas. In his statement on January 3, Prime Minister Fayyad said that there was a “dramatic change for the better” in West Bank prisons, and that forty-three prison officers had been jailed, fired, or demoted for torturing inmates. Fayyad claimed that torture was never an official policy of the PA, but rather were the product of a “flawed culture of revenge.” According to the Associated Press, some Hamas prisoners were beaten so badly at the hands of PA officers that eight detainees have died in West Bank prisons since 2007. The AP report drew on interviews with both PA officials and Hamas inmates.

 

There has been long-standing animosity between the two parties, often triggering retaliation and violence between members of the two Palestinian parties; Fayyad’s statement was also the first time that the PA has admitted that Hamas prisoners are arrested on their political affiliation alone. Fayyad’s cabinet issued a supporting statement, expressing its commitment to reforming the PA prison system.

 

The PA announcement comes as Fatah and Hamas continue to work toward a reconciliation agreement. Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip after a violence coup in 2007, and has been at odds with the PA ever since. In the last months of 2009, Egypt attempted to broker a deal between the two parties, and sources inside the negotiations have said the two sides are close to a deal. Saudi officials are also reportedly involved in reconciliation negotiations. The reported deal would require Palestinian elections be held in June 2010 in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had earlier announced that he would not seek reelection from the June ballot.

 

For more information, please see:

 

Jerusalem Post – Hamas: Torture Ends in PA Jails – 4 January 2010

 

Ma’an News Agency – Fayyad Concedes PA Tortured Hamas Detainees – 4 January 2010

 

Al Jazeera – Palestinian Reconciliation “Close” – 3 January 2010

 

Ha’aretz – Fatah to Hamas: Want to Reconcile? Sign Deal – 3 January 2010

Western Countries Consider Battling Terror in Yemen

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen – On January 4, France became the third country to close its embassy in Yemen in two weeks.  The French Foreign Minister explained the closing, saying that their “ambassador decided on January 3 not to authorize public access to the diplomatic mission until further notice.”  Following the attempted bombing on Christmas Day, the U.S. and British embassies have also closed.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], a Yemen-based branch of the terrorist organization, claimed the attack and continues to make threats.  According to AQAM, Umar Farouk Abdulmullatab, the 23-year-old Nigerian man involved in the attack, received his materials and instruction from AQAM when he was in Yemen.  Abdulmullatab spent several months in Yemen in 2009; he claimed to be there to study Arabic.

John Brennan, a U.S. counterterrorism official, gave a statement to CNN saying that there are “indications that [AQAM] is planning an attack against a target in Sana’a.” 

Concern about Yemen’s effect on the region, as well as the rest of the world, continues to be echoed in the statements of other U.S. politicians as well.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on January 4 that “the instability in Yemen is a threat to regional stability and even global stability.”  Clinton explained that the U.S. is working closely with other countries to try to determine the best approach. 

Brian Whitaker, in an article in the U.K.’s Guardian, suggests that the best approach does not involve the Yemeni Government.  Whitaker goes on to suggest that the U.K. and the U.S. should focus on aid to the people of Yemen, particularly those affected by the conflict between the Huthi rebels.  An article in Al Jazeera reinforces the desire for a non-military solution in the region.  Arguing that military action in Yemen will reflect the U.S. offensive in Somalia in the early 1990s, the article goes on to say that military action “will aggravate a fragile state of Yemen into a failing state.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Yemen, The Joke is On You… – 5 January 2010

AFP – Yemen Instability Threatens Regional Stability: Clinton – 4 January 2010

CNN – Yemen Fertile Ground for Terror Groups – 4 January 2010

Guardian – Help Yemen, Not It’s Government – 4 January 2010

Financial Times – Third Western Embassy Closes in Yemen – 3 January 2010

Victims Speak Out About Khmer Rouge Pain

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, CambodiaThree decades have passed since the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians. Despite the long-awaited, and much-delayed, Khmer Rouge tribunal, many survivors and families of victims are beginning to speak out against the lack of justice, even though for the first time at an international criminal tribunal, victims have been represented as well as the defense and prosecutors.

Chem Mey, a 78-year old survivor, commented that he, “lost my family,” and that the regime “killed my children and my wife. Nobody had rights or freedom then. That’s why now I want to find justice – for the victims and the younger generation.” The former mechanic not only lost his family to the Khmer Rouge, he also suffered torture and beatings at the notorious S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh. At least 14,000 inmates passed through the tiny cells of Phnom Penh and torture chambers in the late 1970s; and Chum Mey is one of only three confirmed, living survivors.

At the tribunal, along with almost a hundred other people, Chum Mey was accepted as a civil party in the trial of the man who ran S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly referred to as Comrade Duch.

After closing statements in November, civil parties like Chum Mey felt that their rights to speak and question witnesses had been restricted. Lawyers of many civil parties complained that little interest was shown in their testimony. According to one civil party lawyer, Silke Studzinsky, “They felt that the trial chamber was not very receptive to their sufferings.” She went on to say that “This left for them the impression that the trial chamber was rather uninterested in their stories.” Despite the frustration, various local and international lawyers worked with several different groups of victims through the closing statements, but there seemed to be little coordination among them.

Although it is too late to impact the trial of Duch, a second trial, believed unlikely to start until the middle of 2011 is expected to take a different approach to give voice to victims such as Chum Mey. Instead of a myriad of lawyers, there will be one lead counsel for the civil parties to mirror the approach taken by the prosecution and defense.

For more information, please see:

BBC World NewsKhmer Rouge survivors feel justice denied -January 4, 2010

Earth Times Historic Khmer Rouge tribunal has lessons for the world – December 13, 2009

Phnom Penh PostGenocide charges laid at KRT – December 17, 2009

Several Foreigners Among Detainees in Iran

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – The Iran State Media released information that several foreigners were detained during violent protests in December 2009. 

A video of the clashes with police posted to the internet.  Courtesy of YouTube.com.

In a speech made on state television, Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi told the people of Iran that several foreigners had been arrested during the protests.  He went on to explain that these detainees are suspected of “pursuing propoganda and psychological warfare” against the government of Iran.  Several of the foreigners had arrived in Iran only two days before the protests; Moslehi explained that their belongings, including cameras and equipment, have been seized. 

Moslehi did not specify an exact number of foreigners seized, only that several were detained.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic News Agency, an state-run Iranian company, released a report on January 4 that accuses sixty-two American and European institutes and foundations of assisting with the political disturbances following the Iranian presidential election in 2009.  The report accused these foundations and institutes of participating in false “public diplomacy” and “media diplomacy,” while creating a “soft war” against the government of Iran. 

The report named several of the accused institutions, including the Woodrow Wilson Center, Freedom House Charities, the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, Yale University and all affiliated centers and programs, and Human Rights Watch.  According to a statement by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Information, cooperation with these organizations is considered contrary to the Holy Islamic Republic.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Foreign Nationals Among Protest Detainees, Says Iran – 4 January 2010

Al Jazeera – Foreigners ‘Among Iran Arrests’ – 4 January 2010

Islamic Republic News Agency – نقش 62 بنياد و موسسه امريکايي و اروپايي در ايجاد اغتشاشات پس از انتخابات (The Role of 62 American and European Institutes and Foundations in Creating Disturbances After the Election)[Available in Farsi only] – 4 January 2010

Reuters Canada – Iran Says Several Foreigners Arrested in Protests – 4 January 2010

YouTube – نبرد تن به تن و نفس گیر مردم با گارد ویژه – عاشورا (Video of Protests on Ashura) – 30 December 2009

Turkey Vows Changes in 2010

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey– Recently, critics across the globe have said that Turkey is drifting away from the West in its foreign policy.  In response, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, predicts a strong Turkey in 2010 by which the country will have a 360-degree view of the globe from Ankara.

Davutoglu expects a very strong Turkey in the upcoming year.  “Turkey’s foreign policy has three main principles: it is vision oriented, not crisis oriented; it is proactive, not reactive; and it is integrated and systematic beyond just a single axis,” said Davutoglu last week during his last press conference of 2009.

In further explaining his visions for the coming year, Davutoglu foresees an EU-member Turkey that is able to spread peace to its neighboring countries in addition to becoming one of the ten most influential countries in the world.

To that end, Davutoglu said there was no room for terror and human rights violations in that vision.  “Freedoms and security should not be set against one another.  The two are valuable once they are both together.  The more the sphere of democracy gets wider, the less the sphere terrorism covers,” said Davutoglu.

In meeting that vision, Turkey’s foreign policy will act quickly in the New Year.  Davutoglu is traveling to Saudi Arabia this week to discuss Turkish foreign policy.  In addition, all of Turkey’s ambassadors throughout the world will convene in Ankara the first week of January to discuss all aspects of the country’s foreign policy.  This meeting, titled “Democracy, Security and Stability: Outlook for 2010 in the World and in Turkish Foreign Policy,” is a full scale attempt by the government in Ankara to generate solutions to problems in the twenty-first century.

Despite their promises to spread peace in the region, Turkey’s recent moves have raised fear among rivals in the region and those in the West because the move comes after years of Turkey ignoring those in the region and so their newfound motive is being questioned.

For more information, please see:

Hurriyet Daily News- Turkish Foreign Minister Meets with Saudi King– 3 January 2010

Hurriyet Daily News- Foreign Minister Vows a Stronger Turkey in 2010– 31 December 2009

Sunday’s Zaman- A Stronger Turkey Means More Rivals in the Region– 13 December 2009

Aftermath of Russian Prison Scandal Results in Wider Prison Reforms

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed legislation this week aimed at reforming his country’s prison system.

Under the new legislation, which amends the country’s criminal code, those who commit a tax crime but then agree to pay the back taxes, as well as the appropriate fine, will avoid any jail time.  Those awaiting trial for tax crimes also can no longer be jailed during the pretrial proceedings.  The requisite amount of money that will qualify a particular situation for the application of more serious tax evasion charges has also been increased.  Responsibility for future alleged tax crime investigations will also be shifted from the Interior Ministry to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Medvedev has indicated that it is his hope that these changes will decrease the common practice in Russia of prosecutors attempting to force suspects in giving confessions rather than carrying out a proper investigation.

These changes are part of a larger groups of proposed reforms that President Medvedev says are necessary to modernize Russia criminal justice system which “has not changed for decades”.  There are also expected to be additional changes in the future regarding those convicted of economic and non-violent offences.  These reforms come in the aftermath of the death of lawyer Sergei L. Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion for more than a year.  Regional and international focus on this incident increased the pressure on Russia’s leaders to take this action.

Medvedev also dismissed Alexander Piskunov, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service system.  Piskunov’s dismissal marks the twentieth firing of a leading prison system official since the death of Magnitsky this past December.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Medvedev bans imprisonment of tax offence suspects – 29 December 2009

CBS – Russian President Bans Tax Crime Suspects’ Jailing – 29 December 2009

MOSCOW TIMES – No Jail for Tax Suspects – 21 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Russia: No Jail for Tax Fraud Suspects – 29 December 2009

RT – Medvedev goes mild on tax evasion – 29 December 2009

Volleyball Bomb Death Toll Climbs to More Than 90

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-The death toll from a suicide attack on a volleyball match in northwest Pakistan has risen as rescuers searched for bodies at the scene.  Ninety-three people have been confirmed dead after the bombing in Lakki Marwat.

Police say elderly people and children were watching the game when the suicide-bomber drove his vehicle onto the field.  Police state that at least six children were among those killed and more than 100 people were injured.  It was the deadliest attack in the region since a Peshawar bombing in October which killed over 100.

Since the beginning of October more than 600 people have died in militant attacks, most of which are believed to be in retaliation for the Pakistan army’s new campaign against the Taliban.

Attacks on sporting events is unusual, and no group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but analysts say that is not uncommon when many civilians are killed. Police say the attack may have been retaliation for attempts by local residents to get rid of militants.  Chief Ayub Khan told news agencies ” Locals set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area.  This attack seems to be a reaction to their expulsion.” Among those killed are believed to be members of a local peace committee who have been campaigning for an end to the violence.

A member of the committee, Mushtaq Marwat, said the attack occurred as the committee met in a nearby mosque. On Saturday, body parts remained strewn across the field and emergency services were still searching the rubble for victims in the attack.  A man injured in the explosion said: “All the people had gathered together watching [the game], when suddenly a [Mitsubishi] Pajero came in the middle of the field and blew up…Suddenly there was a huge blast.  We went out and saw bodies and injured people everywhere.”

The military was deployed to help authorities with the clean-up process. Lakki Marwat lies near North and South Waziristan, where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan, as well as into parts of Afghanistan.  In response to the attack , security was increased as a precaution for a boxing tournament in Karachi on Saturday, featuring teams from India and China.

This is the second bombing in a week. On Monday a bombing left 43 people dead in a Shiite Muslim march, an attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

For more information, please see:

BBC News- Pakistan Volleyball Bomb Toll Climbs To More Than 90– 2 January 2010

SkyNews- Death Toll Rises In Volleyball Game Attack – 2 January 2010

ABC News- Volleyball Blast Death Toll Rises To 93– 2 January 2010

Chinese Activist Camped Out at Tokyo Airport

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NARITA, Japan– Since November 4, 2009, Feng Zhenghu has been living at Japan’s Narita International Airport.  Feng sleeps on a plastic bench at the airport and survives on crackers and noodles from the airport staff and passengers.

Feng is a Japan-educated Chinese scholar and human rights activist who has been barred from returning to China.  Although Feng carries a valid Chinese passport, he has been denied entry into his homeland China eight times since last June.

He last attempted to return to China in November and got as far as Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, but Chinese officials forced him back on the plane to Japan.

Chinese at naritaFeng Zhenghu at Japan’s Narita Airport. Courtesy of BBC.

Feng said, “I’m a Chinese citizen, and I just want to go back to China.  It’s outrageous that I can’t return to my own country.”

China has denied Feng’s re-entry because of his writings on the misconduct of Chinese authorities and for his support of student protests, which have angered the Chinese authorities.

Frustrated, Feng has decided to camp out in Japan’s Narita Airport.  He wears a shirt that says “Return to China” in English and spends time on his mobile phone and laptop talking to his supporters and reading the news.

Confined to an area that leads to immigration control, Feng has no access to shops.

Narita Airport’s Security Director Teruhisa Misu commented, “Mr. Feng is camping out at the restricted area where people are not supposed to stay…[w]e worry about his health.  It gets colder…and I’m not sure he is getting enough to eat.”

Japanese officials have urged Feng to enter Japan, but he has declined.  Chinese officials have not said much regarding Feng’s case, but did insist that Feng be dealt with the relevant Chinese law.  Feng has also declined refugee status from the UN.  This deadlock can potentially last until June when Feng’s visa expires.

Feng did acknowledge that he knows he is causing trouble for Japan, but has criticized the Chinese government for being responsible for the problem and for not taking steps to resolve his predicament.

He added, “There’s no shower, no bath.  It’s very difficult because people stare at me as though I’m a beggar.  It’s very, very difficult.  It’s very hard to endure psychologically.”
For more information, please see:

BBC – China activist in for long haul at Tokyo airport – 10 December 2009

Guardian – In the next decade, I hope for a spirit of ‘sharism’ – 3 January 2010

The New Zealand Herald – 50 days camped out in an airport – 24 December 2009

Ugandan Troops Kill LRA Leader in CAR

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda – A Senior Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army militant group in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been killed.

On Friday, along with one of his fighters, Bok Abudema was killed.  According to military and intelligence officials, he was effectively the militant group’s second-in-command, since the wounding of Deputy Commander Okot Odhiambo about a year ago.

“After Odhiambo sustained serious injuries, Abudema took over as the overall commander and deputy to Kony,” said an unnamed intelligence officer.  “[The captured rebel fighters] know him as the most senior after Kony until we got him.”

He added, “To us at the moment [Odhiambo] is immaterial because he is no longer a threat.”

Two women were found with the men and were freed, according to an army spokesman.

In a campaign to destroy the LRA, the Ugandan army is operating outside of its own borders.  The LRA was once largely concentrated in northern Uganda until a successful campaign by the army drove the group out.  The Ugandan army has since deployed to northern Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Sudan, and the CAR, where the LRA moved.

The LRA is scattered across dense forests and swamps, savannah, and deserts in a remote area, ideal locations for guerilla operations.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye reported that LRA Leader Joseph Kony was moving between the CAR and Sudan’s Darfur region in order to escape Ugandan army patrols.

“This was a New Year’s gift to Uganda,” said Lt. Col. Kulayigye.  “He was a notorious commander but his life has come to an end.”

A number of senior commanders in the LRA have been killed.  In November, Okello Kutti, another senior commander of the LRA, was killed.  In September, a top bodyguard to Kony was captured.

Last month, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay demanded the capture of LRA leaders for crimes against humanity, including killings, torture, rape of hundreds of civilians, and abducting women and children for use as sex slaves and porters.

“[The carefully synchronized attacks on villages], and systematic and widespread human rights violations carried out by the LRA…may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Pillay’s report.  “The international community, including governments in the region, should cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to search for, arrest, and surrender the LRA leaders accused of crimes against humanity.”

Kony and two other LRA leaders are wanted by the ICC on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A peace agreement was reached by rebel leaders and the Ugandan government in April 2008 but Kony has repeatedly failed to appear to sign the deal.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Ugandan Rebel Leader Killed in Cent.Africa Republic – 02 January 2010

BBC – Uganda Reports Killing LRA Commander Abudema in CAR – 02 January 2010

NY Times – Uganda Troops Kill a Rebel Leader – 02 January 2010

Mousavi Responds to Iranian Government

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi released a statement denouncing the Iranian government’s actions and calling for changes.  In the statement, he criticized the government crackdown on the protesters and called for a restoration of civil liberties to those detained in the aftermath.  Mousavi went on to say that the threats to his life would not deter him, and that he was ready to be a martyr, if necessary.

In his statement, Mousavi gave the government five proposals.  First, Mousavi argued that the administration must be accountable to the people and to parliament.  He stated that it must also be accountable to the judiciary and that the government must take resposibility for its actions.  The reformist explained that the people will not consider the administration to be competent and legitimate unless they take these actions. 

In his second proposal, Mousavi explained that Iran must draft a transparent and reliable election law.  He stated that the law should reassure the people that their elections are fair and unaffected by fraud and intervention. 

Next, Mousavi demanded that the government release the political prisoners.  He also asked that the government reestablish the reputations of those detainees. 

In his fourth demand, he asked the government to lift the restrictions on freedom of the press and and that the newspapers that were closed be allowed to reopen.

Finally, Mousavi has asked that the government respect the human and civil rights contained within Article 27 of the Constitution which allows people to gather and grants the right to freedom of association.

Iranian media has interpreted Mousavi’s proposals as his acceptance that the elections are over and that the result will not change.  Tehran Times posted that Mousavi also condemned the protesters for their actions on the during Ashura.  Western media, on the other hand, has not reported any statements condemning the protesters and continued to report only on his statements against the government.

For more information, please see:

Financial Times – Opposition Chief in Iran Ready for Martyrdom – 2 January 2010

Tehran Times – Mousavi Makes Five Proposals – 2 January 2010

CNN – Iran Reformist Criticized Government Crackdown – 1 January 2010

Los Angeles Times – Opposition Leader Denounces Iran’s Crackdown – 1 January 2010

Wall Street Journal – Opposition Leader Strikes Back in Iran – 1 January 2010

Western Writers Rally for China’s Dissident

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW YORK, United States– Several prominent American authors gathered by the steps of the New York Public Library rallying for the release of Liu Xiaobo, a famous Chinese literature professor and dissident who was sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges last week.

PEN Writers call for Liu’s release.  Courtesy of CBS.

The rally was organized by the PEN American Center, which is an international human rights group that defends the rights of writers around the globe.

One of the protesters, E.L. Doctorow said, “The civilization of China…can’t move forward when its poets and writers and artists, its thinkers and intellectuals are muzzled in silence.  Under such conditions[,] the genius of a nation withers and dies.”

Liu returned to China in 1989 after giving up his position at Columbia University to participate in the Tiananmen Square protests.  Since then, he has published essays criticizing the Chinese government, especially of its human rights abuses and its strict control of freedom of expression on the Internet and in foreign journals.

Liu’s verdict was handed down on Christmas Day, and Beijing justified imprisoning Liu because “he [Liu] wrote the documents and used the Internet…to slander and urge other people to overthrow our country’s democratic dictatorship…the published documents…[p]eople read them and they have a bad effect.”

However, the coalition of writers who are lobbying for Liu’s release condemned China for its “sorry record of artist intimidation.”

The protesters marched to the Chinese consulate in New York City to deliver a letter opposing Liu’s conviction.

Critics have raised concerns that Liu’s harsh punishment is most likely the Chinese government’s warning against other Chinese activists.  Moreover, many have criticized Beijing for not affording Liu a fair trial since Liu’s trial, which was hastily scheduled, lasted only three hours and the defense was not allowed to present any evidence.

Anthony Appiah, a writer and the president of PEN American Center, left a message for Liu, saying, “Old friend, we will not forget you.  We will not rest until you are free.”
For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Doctorow, Albee Protest 11-Year Sentence for Chinese Writer Liu – 31 December 2009

CBS – Writers Rally for Jailed Chinese Dissident – 31 December 2009

JoongAng Daily – China’s way on human rights – 30 December 2009