AIDS Activists Face Pressure From Chinese Authorities

AIDS Activists Face Pressure From Chinese Authorities

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – In anticipation of world AIDS day, prominent AIDS activists Hu Jia and Tian Xi have faced pressure from authorities for attempting to bring attention to difficulties faced by individuals living with AIDS in China.

AIDS activist Hu Jia in June 2011 (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Hu Jia was released from prison in June after serving a three-year jail sentence for subversion. As a condition of his release, Hu must undergo one year of constant surveillance and “…is tracked and videotaped by Domestic Security police.”

Despite his own recent release from prison, Hu has expressed his fear for fellow activist Tian Xi, who was recently released after serving a one year sentence for staging a protest on world AIDS day in 2009, by stating that “[i]f [Tian] is put back in jail by the authorities, I don’t think he will come out alive.”

Hu claims that Tian has been emotionally unstable since his release leading Hu to advocate for better treatment for AIDS patients on his behalf to prevent his re-imprisonment.

Despite his attempts to engage authorities, Hu has been unable to find a willing audience in the health ministry who has consistently ignored his requests and has threatened him with detention if he publicly protests or gives an interview.

Hu stated that in the past ten years he has approached the health ministry to discuss potential solutions to the problems facing AIDS patients at least sixty times but has received no response.

Tian Xi’s plight against AIDS and the government began when he pursued compensation after being infected with HIV through a tainted blood transfusion following a head injury he received at the age of nine.

In compensation for his contraction of HIV Tian was given 30,000 yuan which is the equivalent of $4,404 American dollars.

Rights activists allege that people with AIDS are often refused treatment and AIDS infected children are denied access to schools. In addition, the medication that is provided by local governments is substandard and becomes ineffective after three to five years.

Although health authorities maintain that sex and drug use are the main causes of HIV contraction, gynecologist Gao Yaojie, who was forced into exile, urges that tainted blood transfusions continue to infect blood recipients in the Hunan province.

An expert panel consisting of members from China’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS estimate that China will have 154,000 AIDS patients by the end of the year. The total infected population in china is estimated at approximately 780,000 people.


For more information, please see:

Xinhua Net – China’s HIV/AIDS-Infected Population Estimated at 780,000 – 29 November 2011

Epoch Times – Activist Hu Jia Assists AIDS Patient’s Appeal – 28 November 2011

Radio Free Asia – AIDS Activists Under Pressure – 28 November 2011

Former Ivory Coast President Gbagbo Taken into Custody by ICC; Charges Filed

By Tamara Alfred

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was taken into custody by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Wednesday to face charges of murder, rape and other crimes allegedly committed by his supporters after last year’s election.  He is scheduled to appear before judges at a hearing Monday afternoon to confirm his identity and that he understands his rights as a suspect and the charges against him.

A photo taken on April 11 shows Laurent Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, after their arrest. (Photo Courtesy of CNN.)

Gbagbo, 66, is the first former head of state arrested by the court since it was established in 2002.  After having been under house arrest since his arrest in April, Gbagbo was transferred to the court in The Hague on an overnight flight on Tuesday.  He is the sixth suspect taken into custody by the court, which has launched seven investigations, all of them in Africa.  In fact, Gbagbo will now be sharing a cell block with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is awaiting for a verdict in his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of orchestrating atrocities in Sierra Leone.

“Mr. Gbagbo is brought to account for his individual responsibility in the attacks against civilians committed by forces acting on his behalf,” Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.

The court charged Gbagbo with individual criminal responsibility as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts.  In his application for authorization to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, Moreno-Ocampo cited sources who said at least 3,000 people were killed, 72 people disappeared and 520 other were subject to arbitrary arrest and detentions after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat following the presidential election last year.  President Ouattara eventually took power in April of this year after help from French and United Nations (UN) forces.

Gbagbo, a history professor, came to power in a flawed election in 2000.  He failed to hold elections when his first five-year term expired and reschedule the vote a half-dozen times before it finally went ahead in November 2010.

News of Gbagbo’s arrest sparked both elation and anger in Abidjan, which is still divided into neighborhoods supporting Gbagbo or Ouattara.

“This is a great day for Laurent Gbagbo’s victims, for the people of Cote d’Ivoire, for international justice,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.  “This is a very important message to all the leaders in the world that if they use the atrocities and crime to stay in power that they too could face justice.”

Adama Diomande, a local leader of Ouattara’s political party, says there are 42 bodies in the mass grave and a total of 91 people were killed in the neighborhood during the post-election fighting.

Moreno-Ocampo stressed, however, that both sides of the political divide in Ivory Coast committed crimes and that his investigation is continuing.  “We have evidence that the violence did not happen by chance: widespread and systematic attacks against civilians perceived as supporting the other candidate were the result of a deliberate policy,” he said.

The UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have all documented how forces loyal to Ouattara torched villages that voted for Gbagbo, and executed those that could not run away.  The elderly and the disabled were killed by rolling them inside mattresses and then setting them on fire.

Brody said Gbagbo’s indictment was only half the story as victims of crimes by forces loyal to Ouattara have so far gone unpunished.  “This created the perception of victor’s justice.  And if the cycle of violence in Cote d’Ivoire is to stop there has to be justice that is even handed and justice for the victims on both sides.”

“Ivorian victims will see justice for massive crimes,” Moreno-Ocampo said.  “Mr. Gbagbo is the first to be brought to account, there is more to come.”

Additionally, Gbagbo’s arrest comes a week before parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Ivory Coast.  Three political parties in an umbrella coalition with Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivoirien issued a statement saying they would boycott the elections as a result of Gbagbo’s transfer.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Former Ivory Coast president in international court custody – 30 November 2011

Huffington Post – Laurent Gbagbo: International Criminal Court Charges Former Ivory Coast President With Crimes Against Humanity – 30 November 2011

Reuters – Gbagbo faces charges of crimes against humanity: ICC – 30 November 2011

Van der Sloot , Accused of Flores Murder and Suspected in Holloway Disappearance, Suing Chilean Government for $10 Million

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – Joran Van der Sloot, the Dutch citizen accused of murdering Peruvian student, Stephany Flores, has brought a suit demanding US $10 million in damages from the Chilean government.  Van der Sloot claims that his human rights were violated in extraditing him from Chile to Peru.  He has filed his claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Van der Sloot in the custody of Peruvian police June 2010. (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)

In the petition Van der Sloot names the Chilean government, the former Peruvian President Alan García, former Peruvian Minister of the Interior Octavio Salazar, the Chilean police generals Miguel Hidalgo and Cesar Guardia and even the father of his victim, Ricardo Flores.

The claims made by Van der Sloot are varied.  First he claims that then-Peruvian President García used pressure to force the Chilean government to extradite him to Peru in May of 2010.  Next, is his contention that when he was taken into custody, Chilean police refused to allow him access to a phone or any other form of communication to speak with his family.   Van der Sloot also says he was denied the right to legal counsel and a fair trial.

This is not the first complaint that Van der Sloot has made about violations of his rights.  A previous suit was filed alleging that Peruvian officials did not have a warrant for his arrest and that he was denied a translator which lead to his confusion during initial questioning.  Peruvian courts dismissed this claim.

Van der Sloot’s current complaint was filed just days after a judge’s ruling that he would stand trial for the murder of Stephany Flores beginning on 6 January.  On 30 May 2010, Flores’ body was found in Van der Sloot’s hotel room in the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima.  Hotel employees witnessed Van der Sloot and Flores entering the room together and then 4 hours later Van der Sloot left the room alone.

On 3 June 2010 he was picked up by Chilean police as he tried to flee from Santiago.  Initially, he confessed to murdering Flores, but later retracted his statements

“The girl intruded into my private life. … We argued, and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck, and I hit her,” was Van der Sloot’s alleged statement to police. 

Police believe, from his statements at the time, that he killed Flores in a fit of anger as she used his laptop to find out about his role in the Natalee Holloway case.  Van der Sloot is widely believed to have murdered 18 year old Holloway.  She disappeared in 2005 from Aruba and he remains the lead suspect; however he has never been indicted due to a lack of evidence.

Peruvian prosecutors are going for a 30 year life sentence for the combined murder and robbery of Flores.  They are also seeking a restitution payment that would go to her family.  Originally, the death sentence was sought by the Flores family against Van der Sloot.


For more information, please see;

Radio Netherlands – Van der Sloot Sues Chile for 10m Dollars – 30 November 2011

NY Daily News – Joran Van der Sloot Sues Lima Murder Victim’s Dad, ex-Peruvian President – 29 November 2011

The Huffington Post – Joran Van der Sloot  Names Former President and Stephany Flores Father in $10 Million Lawsuit – 28 November 2011

Peru This Week – Van der Sloot Names Former President García in $10 Million Suit – 28 November 2011

The Santiago Times – Dutch Murder Suspect to Sue Chilean State – 28 November 2011

“Uncle SMS” Receives 20 Years in Jail for Text Messages

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Ampon Tangnoppakul, a retired truck driver was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Wednesday under Thailand’s controversial lese majeste laws for sending text messages offensive to Thailand’s monarchy. The sixty-one year old Tangnoppakul was known by his family and friends as “Grandpa” but now is known as “Uncle SMS” throughout the country.

King Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit, and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (Photo Courtesy of AFP)

The court ruled that the text messages sent to the then-prime minister’s private secretary defamed, insulted, and threatened King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit. However, the contents of the messages were not presented in court and remain unknown to the public. One of Uncle SMS’s lawyers, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, explained that Uncle SMS received five years in jail for each text message.

Since Uncle SMS was arrested last August he has proclaimed his innocence. In court on Wednesday Uncle SMS explained that he does not know how to send text messages, his phone was being repaired at the time the messages were sent, and he does not know Somkiat Krongwattanasuk (the then-prime minister’s secretary) or his cell phone number.

When reviewing the charges the court found that Uncle SMS’s defenses could not be proven and therefore were irrelevant according to the Bangkok Post.  For example, the court decided it could not determine whether or not Uncle SMS knew how to send text messages or if he knew Mr. Krongwattanasuk’s phone number.

Uncle SMS also claimed that someone could have counterfeited the phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number to frame him. Two experts were brought into the trial to testify about the possibility of falsifying an IMEI number. One expert testified that an IMEI number could not be forged while the other expert said it was possible. The court found that Uncle SMS could not prove his cell phone number was tampered with and therefore the court did not accept his IMEI defense.

Critics of the lese majeste laws point to the speech the King gave on his birthday in 2005 to support their claim that such convictions are unjust. In the speech the King said “actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know… But the King can do wrong.”

The tightening of lese majeste laws is also expanding to the internet. According to Human Rights Watch, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) minister Anudith Nakomthap said the ministry told Facebook to block accounts with lese majeste content. Over 60,000 URLs were blocked in October and November and government officials have warned that those who “like” offensive material to the King on Facebook could also be prosecuted under lese majeste laws.

For more information, please see:

Bangkok Post – The Saga of ‘Uncle SMS’ – 27 November 2011

The Guardian – Thai Facebookers Warned Not To “like” Anti-Monarchy Groups – 25 November 2011

AFP – Thai Man Gets 20 Years for Anti-Royal Texts 23 November 2011

New York Times – 20-Year Sentence for Text Messages Against Thai King – 23 November 2011

A New Report Implicates Russian Authorities in Magnitsky’s Death

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GUERNSEY, Britain – Hermitage Capital has released a 74-page report allegedly proving that Russian police murdered Sergei Mag­nit­sky and explaining in detail how the Russian police carried out the murder.  The report, called, “The Torture and Murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the Cover Up by the Russian Government” also shows how Russian authorities have consistently lied and tried to cover up Magnitsky’s death. The document contains pictures and other documents showing how Russian officials arrested, tortured, and eventually killed Magnitsky.

Funeral of Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of RIA Novosti)
Funeral of Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of RIA Novosti)

“This report shows irrefutable doc­u­men­tary evi­dence of the roles of spe­cific high level offi­cials in the false arrest, tor­ture and mur­der of Sergei Mag­nit­sky and the cover-up that fol­lowed. This is a unique record of the injus­tice that was done to Sergei Mag­nit­sky, and it also lays bare the inner work­ings of the cor­rup­tion inside the Russ­ian crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” said a Her­mitage Cap­i­tal spokesman.

The report contains photos of Magnitsky just hours before he died.  The photos reveal deep lacerations and bruises believed to be caused by being beaten by rubber batons.  It also contains a Russian internal report from Matrosskaya Tishina showing that Fikhret Tagiev authorized the use of the rubber batons and then ordered the closure of any further probe eight days after Magnitsky died.

The report also contains documents revealing Magnitsky’s repeated requests for medical attention.  According to the report, he wrote at least seven letters to top Russian officials in different agencies requesting medical attention but his requests were never granted.  The time, place, and other circumstances surrounding Magnitsky’s death were also fabricated by the detention center officials, according to the report.  Finally, the report also shows how Russian officials refuse to open an investigation despite the Kremlin’s human rights council admitting Magnitsky was beaten before he died.

The report concludes that the Russian government failed to investigate Magnitsky’s death and the ensuing cover up in an impartial and independent way.  In fact, the “investigation” of his death was conducted by the very same authorities that arrested Magnitsky. Russian authorities have absolved anyone of wrongdoing and have even promoted and granted state honors to some of those individuals.  None of the people that Magnitsky accused of tax fraud, torture and unlawful arrest have been prosecuted.

Magnitsky was originally arrested in 2009 by Russian authorities on charges of tax evasion.  He died nearly a year later at age 37.  It is believed that Russian authorities withheld necessary medical care that could have saved his life.  Magnitsky accused Russian authorities of withholding and stealing Hermitage fund documents as part of scheme to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.  If true, this would have been the largest known tax refund fraud in Russian history.

The United States retaliated by banning certain Russian officials from entering into its country as a result of the alleged human rights violations.  Russia responded by blacklisting several United States authorities on alleged similar grounds.

The report was the result of a private investigation believed to be funded by the British-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, for which Magnitsky worked before his arrest.

For more information, please see:

Law and Order in Russia – The Story Behind the Largest Tax Fraud in Russian History – 28 November 2011

The Moscow Times – Magnitsky’s Deadly Beating Documented – 28 November 2011

Voice of America – Report: Russian Lawyer Beaten to Death in Jail – 28 November 2011