Religion Becomes New Question as Islamists Join Tahrir Protests

Religion Becomes New Question as Islamists Join Tahrir Protests

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt The continued protests against Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) suddenly changed their tone on Friday.  Tens of thousands of Islamists flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of the African kingdom’s continued push for democracy that has spanned past several weeks, and recited anthems calling for a country governed by Islamic Sharia law.

Islamic activists gathered in Cairos Tahrir Square Friday, many of whom waved signs or held banners such as the one shown here. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Islamic activists gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday, many of whom waved signs or held banners such as the one shown here. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The impressive demonstration was the largest to take place since the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power in February.  Originally advertised as a peaceful rally dubbed the “Friday of unity and closing ranks” that was meant to reiterate the revolution’s demands, it was instead dominated by Islamic groups, including fundamentalist Salafis and the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, two of the demonstration’s organizers.  Some secular activists who attended claimed to have been silenced, leading twenty-eight secular organizations to withdraw from the square in protest to the event.  The famed April 6th group, one of the leading secular groups, denied that report.

After years of suppression by Mubarak, the demonstration marked a resurgence of religious organizations as a political force in Egypt.  The clearest sign of this development was the chants heard Friday, many of which played off of those said during prior demonstrations.  Instead of “Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian,” nationality was replaced by religion, using “Muslim” as the final word in the slogan.  To participants, the rally was a signal of how efficiently Islamists could organize themselves.  “We’re showing today — to both the people and to the military leadership — that we’re the majority of the population,” Haithem Adli, a participant who held up a banner that read in part, “Together on the path to heaven,” told the New York Times.

“If democracy is the voice of the majority and we as Islamists are the majority, why do they want to impose on us the views of minorities — the liberals and the secularists?” asked Mahmoud Nadi, a student who built off of Adli’s comments. “That’s all I want to know.”

Among secular activists who witnessed the spectacle, reaction was mixed.  Some of them believed that the performance would have little overall effect.  One such activist, Mohammed Deraz, accepted the Islamists’ presence, but felt that they were only trying to capitalize on the momentum created by people like himself in starting and continuing the revolution.  “We made this revolution and we will continue,” he said.  “…[N]obody will steal my revolution. I made it by myself and I will continue to the end or I will die.  Give me liberty or give me [death], that’s what I’m doing.”  Another secular protester believed that this rally was a one-time event, and that the Islamists would leave the square and let the ongoing sit-in continue.

In the aftermath of the rally, top analysts believe that the demonstration was a show of power that could not be exceeded.  Emad Gad, a political analyst with the Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, said that it “represent[ed] the full capacity of the Islamist forces[.]”  Additionally, the different groups would need to be treated differently, according to Rabab Al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.  “There are different trends, the Salafis, former militant groups like the Gamaa Islamiya, the Muslim Brotherhood and they all have different ideas on how to conduct politics and what they mean by an Islamic state,” she said.

And because of how the event quickly became an Islamist demonstration, the overall impact for the organizers could be a negative one.  Such a result is already proving true.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party rejected the slogans vocalized on Friday.  Party Vice Chairman Essam al-Erian wrote on the Party’s website that it had previously rejected such demands and did so again after participants attempted to impose their views.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s transition to democracy appears to be critical.  But what that role is remains unclear, leading to continued speculation.

For more information, please see:

Agence France-Presse — Egypt rally not harbinger of Islamic state: analysts — 31 July 2011

Australian Broadcasting Corporation — The growing power of Egypt’s Islamists — 29 July 2011

Al-Masry Al-Youm — Freedom and Justice Party rejects Islamist slogans in Tahrir — 29 July 2011

New York Times — Islamists in Egypt Flood Square in Cairo in Show of Strength — 29 July 2011

Voice of America — Islamists Show Solidarity in Massive Egypt Rally — 29 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly — The Islamists are coming — 28 July 2011

China tightens Wi-Fi Regulations

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – New Chinese internet regulations will require bars, restaurants, and bookstores that offer internet access (Wi-Fi) throughout the country to install new web monitoring software reports the New York Times. The software, which costs approximately 3,100 (USD), allows security officials to access the identities of internet users in public places.

A soon-to-be monitored cafe patron uses the internet (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)
A soon-to-be monitored cafe patron uses the internet (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

The software will also give officials the ability to know what the internet user is viewing. Business owners who fail to abide by the new regulations may be subject to a 23,000 dollar fine and the lost of their business license.

China already has some of the strictest internet regulations in the world. When the Apple “iphone” was first released in China, Wi-Fi capabilities had to be disabled in order to be legally sold in the country. Since then Apple has modified its products to meet the specifications set forth by the government reports the Wall Street Journal.

Last year, the government blocked more than one million websites from viewers. While many of the websites were pornographic, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were also blocked reports the New York Times.

Although the new regulations do not directly decrease the availability of the internet to Chinese citizens, many people are concerned. “From the point of view of the common people, this policy is unfair,” said Wang Bo, the owner of L’Infusion, a cafe that features crepes, waffles, and Wi-Fi. Wang Fang, 28, an advertising sales agent explained “To be honest, I can get internet at home or at work, but it’s nice to just sit in a comfortable place and surf the Web.”

Business owners who rely on Wi-Fi to attract customers are concerned about the costs associated with the new regulations. A manager of a local café called Kubrick told the New York Times that it unplugged its router earlier in the month to avoid paying for the software. However, the manager explained that the loss of Wi-Fi has led to a thirty percent decrease in business because people do not have a reason to come anymore.

Another bookstore owner told the New York Times she unplugged her router because she refuses to play a role in the government monitoring what citizens view on the internet. Ray Heng, the owner of a Mexican restaurant, told the New York Times that he feels the government should foot the bill for the new software if it is so concerned about monitoring the internet.

The Dongcheng Public Security Bureau has not commented on the new regulations, but according to its publicly issued circular, the measure is designed to frustrate criminals who use the Internet to “conduct blackmail, traffic goods, gamble, propagate damaging information and spread computer viruses” reports the New York Times.

China has vigorously defended its position on internet regulations in the past. In fact, China has responded to U.S. criticisms over internet monitoring by stating the U.S. acts in the exact same manner under the Patriot Act.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald — Officials in China to monitor public Wi-Fi use – 28 July 2011

New York Times — China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Driving Many Wi-Fi Users Away – 25 July 2011

Wall Street Journal — Apple Eyes Bigger Slice of Chinese Market – 19 July 2011

BBC — China tightens internet censorship control — 4 May 2011

China Daily — Google’s excuse about censorship unacceptable, netizens say – 22 March 2010

Former soldiers on trial for civil war massacre in Guatemala

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The trial of four former Guatemalan soldiers accused of killing more than 220 people during the country’s civil war began earlier this week.  Particularly, the four men are accused of being a part of a counter-insurgency unit that carried out a massacre in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982.

The four soldiers - Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin - in court during their trial, in Guatemala City, on July 26.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN/AFP)
Former soldiers - Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin - in court during their trial, in Guatemala City, on July 26. (Photo Courtesy of CNN/AFP)

All four soldiers have pled not guilty.

The soldiers on trial – Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez – were part of the Guatemalan Special Forces, known as the Kaibiles, during the civil war. Under the order of then military ruler General Efrain Rios Montt, a unit of the Kaibiles carried out the massacre in Las Dos Erres. It is alleged that the four soldiers on trial were a part of that unit.

According to BBC News, Los Dos Erres was targeted in December of 1982 because the military suspected the villagers were supporting or harboring left-wing guerrillas.

“Over a period of three days, the Kaibiles interrogated and then killed the inhabitants, including children, women and the elderly,” BBC News reported.  “Many inhabitants were raped and beaten before they were shot or bludgeoned to death.”

The civil war between Guatemala’s right-wing military government and its left-wing rebels finally ended in 1996, after 36 years. At least 200,000 people had either “disappeared” or been killed; most of the victims were members of the indigenous Mayan population.

In the late 1990s, following the end of the war, an investigation was launched into the massacre in Las Dos Erres, but the case dragged on for years in Guatemalan courts.

Finally, in 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Guatemala to investigate the massacre and to prosecute those who carried out the killings.

According to CNN, the state-run AGN news agency reported that early in the trial, survivors took the stand and testified about the disappearance of their families.

Petronila Lopez Mendez testified about the loss of her husband and two teenage sons during the massacre. As CNN recalled from the AGN report, Mendez also accused one solider, Carias, of withholding information about the whereabouts of her family in the aftermath of the incident. According to her testimony, she paid Carias money in exchange for her family, but they never reappeared.

As the trial of the four soldiers continues, several other suspects remain at large.

One other soldier suspected of involvement in the 1982 massacre – Pedro Pimentel Rios -was deported from the United States earlier this month. His trial date has not been set.

For more information, please see:

The Tico Times – Guatemala massacre trial begins – July 29, 2011

CNN – Guatemalan massacre trial underway – July 28, 2011

RTT News – Trial Of Former Guatemalan Soldiers Over Civil War Massacre Begins – July 25, 2011

BBC News – Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins – July 25, 2011

Light Sentences for Those Responsible for the Murder of Three Minority Sect Members in Indonesia

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Twelve Indonesians who played a role in a mob attack that killed three members of a minority Muslim sect were sentenced to serve light sentences ranging from three to six months.

Indonesia is under fire for the light sentences given to those responsible for murdering three members of a minority Islamist sect (Photo Courtesy of CNN).
Indonesia is under fire for the light sentences given to those responsible for murdering three members of a minority Islamic sect (Photo Courtesy of CNN).

The attack occurred on February 6 when a mob of people armed with knives and stones attacked about 25 Ahmadiyah members. The attack was caused by the mob’s opposition to the presence of the sect, which many Muslims consider to be heretical in their beliefs, and they demanded that they end their activities.

During the trial of the twelve attackers, victims of the attack were not permitted to testify against their attackers. One victim, Ahmad, expressed his anger by stating, “Seeing their sadistic behavior toward us, chopping up bodies, kicking, hitting and stabbing us. Some of them (victims) were even burned. We didn’t get call. They only called defense witnesses.”

Video footage of the attack showed a crowed of approximately 1,500 people attacking a handful of members of Ahmadiyah with clubs, rocks and machetes. Attackers were also seen stabbing and beating the bodies of the dead as they lay in the street. The video also revealed the presence of police officers who refused to take any action against the attackers as they beat and mutilated Ahmadis.

While various charges were brought against the attackers, none of them were charged with murder and while the most serious crime that the attackers were charged with allowed a maximum penalty of nine years, the prosecutors only demanded a maximum sentence of seven months.

One of the attackers, Dani bin Misra,  who was caught on video smashing in the skull of one of the victims with a rock was sentenced to only three months in jail for public incitement, destruction of property and an attack that led to death.

Another attacker, Idris bin Mahdani only received a five and a half month sentence for illegal possession of a sharp weapon and involvement in the attack despite the fact that he was the individual who led the mob to the home where the followers of the sect were gathering.

While Indonesia has generally been regarded as a religiously tolerant nation, in recent years extremists have become increasingly vocal in their views.

The Indonesian government issued a ministerial decree in 2008 that prohibited the sect from spreading its beliefs. This decree has led to attacks on sect followers by individuals who take the law into their own hands.

Human Rights Watch has called on Indonesia to revoke the 2008 decree and has called the light sentences given to the twelve attackers a “setback for religious freedom in Indonesia.”

For more information, please see:

The Jakarta Post – Muhammadiyah Chairman ‘Hurt’ by Cikeusik Punishment – 29 July 2011

MSNBC – No Justice for Victims of Islamic Sect Attack – 29 July 2011

CNN – Indonesia Under Fire for Light Sentences in Islamic Sect Attack – 28 July 2011

The New York Times – Rights Advocates Criticize Light Sentences in Sectarian Killings in Indonesia – 28 July 2011

Canada Releases Names and Profiles of Suspected War Criminals

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – Over the weekend, the Canadian government released the names and photos of thirty suspected war criminals allegedly living in Canada.  Many fear that the recent announcement will pave the way for xenophobia and vigilantism, according to The Montreal Gazette.  On the other hand, Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney believes that releasing the names is a good thing, as two of the men have already been arrested.

Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney responding to questions from the House of Commons. (Image Courtesy of The Canadian Press)
Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney responding to questions from the House of Commons. (Image Courtesy of The Canadian Press)

As reported by The Canadian Press, 42-year-old Arshad Muhammad was arrested in Toronto when a police officer recognized him.  He is allegedly linked to an Islamic organization in Pakistan.  Additionally, 44-year-old Cristobal Gonzalez-Ramirez was arrested in Alberta.  He allegedly has ties to a special army unit in his homeland of Honduras.

According to the public safety minister’s office, Canada says that this is a “pilot project.”  Mike Patton, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews thinks that the project is working.  He said, “Clearly it’s been excellent thus far,” as reported by The Toronto Sun.

On the other hand, many groups feel that releasing the names and photos unfairly labels people who have never even been tried in a court of law.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (“CCLA”) said that this list is both alarmist and misleading, as reported by The Montreal Gazette.  The profiles on the war criminals do not tell the public what the men are suspected of, causing many to overreact, imagining the worst crimes against humanity when some may have been messengers or drivers.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, also with the CCLA, finds the list very worrisome.  “I see this as a very worrying and increasing trend of fanning the flames of racism, of xenophobia, of anti-immigrant sentiment by trying to create associations between immigrants and refugees and all these other terrible things,” according to The Toronto Sun.

Canada has often been criticized for their somewhat lackadaisical policies on immigration.  The Obama administration wants stricter enforcement of immigration laws and more cooperation between Ottawa and Washington.  Marshall Drukarsh, immigration attorney, is skeptical of this “more Americanized attitude” on immigration.

Kenney says that dozens of tips have come in since the government posted the list.  If this ‘project’ goes well, Canada will continue to release names of other suspected war criminals allegedly living in Canada.

For more information, please visit:

The Toronto Sun — Going Public With War Criminals ID’s a ‘Pilot Project’ — 25 July 2011

CTV News (The Canadian Press) — Kenney Credits Suspected War Criminal List for Quick Arrests — 24 July 2011

The Toronto Sun — War Criminal Nabbed in Toronto — 23 July 2011

The Montreal Gazette — Feds Say 30 Men Suspected of ‘War Crimes’ Are Living In Canada — 22 July 2011

The Wall Street Journal — Canada Says 30 Immigrants Suspected of War Crimes — 22 July 2011