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

Congolese Elections Proceed Despite Fears of Violence and Fraud

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Despite an ongoing threat of further bloodshed, elections took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s least developed country, Monday to determine the constitution of the war-torn country’s government.  Attacks over the weekend killed at least nine people, forcing the cancellation of some campaign events.

Voters waited hours on Monday for election materials to arrive at polling stations in some locations, such as this one in Kinshasa. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Monday’s elections were only the second in which the entire country was eligible to vote.  Up to 32 million Congolese waited out delays that marred the proceedings as officials struggled to deliver materials to the polls.  In some places, polling stations opened late, while others were so remote that helicopters were deployed to bring ballots.  Though polls were supposed to have closed, they may remain open to allow all to vote because some of them never opened.

The ballots themselves were a problem in many locations.

“It was not really a ballot paper – more like a broadsheet newspaper,” said the BBC’s Will Ross, reporting from the capital, Kinshasa.  “For the national assembly election in central Kinshasa there were 13 pages packed with candidates’ faces.”

The 500-member parliament had more than 18,000 candidates running for seats.  In some districts, the candidates were listed by number and by name, a requirement for a country where a third of the adult population can neither read nor write.  As a result, some voters brought slips of paper filled out by relatives to provide their chosen politician by number.  Even with this assistance, the numbers did not always match the names.  Problems such as this lead watchers to believe that the election’s legitimacy could be delegitimized.

“It’s like leading an animal to the slaughterhouse. It doesn’t realize until it gets there what is in store for it,” said Jerome Bonso, coordinator of the Coalition for Peaceful and Transparent Elections. “They led us into this election. The population was not prepared for it. And now there is a real risk of conflict when the results come out.”

Eleven candidates are running for a five-year term as president, including incumbent Joseph Kabila, who has been accused of attempting to rig the election in his favor.  The son of Laurent Kabila, the man who overthrew longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Kabila has seen his popularity decline since his election in 2006; Mobutu’s son is one of his opponents.  United Nations observers have reported that his backers have employed multiple underhanded tactics, including stuffing ballot boxes and voter intimidation and bribery.

Despite the questions of how free and fair the elections may be, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and MP Jeremy Lefroy (Conservative – Stafford) considered the number of registered voters and registered candidates “a triumph for democracy” in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post.   But that alone is not enough.

“Often the biggest mistake made in peace-building is the belief that, when emerging from conflict, a good election will solve everything,” they added.  “But regular and sound elections are only a first step. Free and fair elections are crucial, but it is what happens between elections that is most important.”

For more information, please see:

BBC — DR Congo Votes Amid Delays and Violence — 28 November 2011

Huffington Post — Congo at a Crossroads — 28 November 2011

Jakarta Globe — DR Congo Votes after Campaign Marred by Violence — 28 November 2011

New York Times — Millions Vote in Congo Despite Fears of Violence — 28 November 2011

Star Tribune — Violence, Late Ballots in Congo May Mar Vote in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Biggest Nation — 28 November 2011

Yemeni President Cedes Power; Declares Amnesty for ‘Follies’ During Unrest

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has declared general amnesty for people who committed abuses during the uprising and political crisis that began in Yemen 10 months ago.

Yemeni President Saleh, having been granted personal immunity, announces amnesty for 'follies' committed during civil unrest (photo courtesy of National Yemen).

Last week, Saleh ceded power to the vice president, however, as his opponents point out, he has yet to step down or stop making decisions.  This has led to some confusion as to what his new role is now that he has supposedly stepped down as president.

Saleh’s opponents have called on him to stop making decisions that affect the country.

The amnesty of those who “committed errors during the crisis” does not extend to the parties responsible for injuring Saleh in a bombing at the presidential palace in June.

Saleh did not give extensive details about his offer of amnesty, but many think that it is meant to pardon his own forces that are accused of killing protesters during the many months of bloody unrest.

Yemeni lawmakers have already agreed to grant Saleh and other government officials immunity from prosecution as part of the power sharing arrangement that led to Saleh’s ceding of power.

There is a presidential election scheduled for 21 February, but currently Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi is the only candidate.   This is the result of of a deal between the ruling party and the opposition.

Despite political progress, Yemen’s armed conflicts are ongoing.  Fighting in the northern Saada Province between Houthi rebels and the government was renewed on Sunday resulting in at least 25 dead.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Friday which noted that Yemeni troops have killed at least 35 civilians in the city of Taiz since 21 October, when the United Nations Security Council issued a statement calling on Saleh to end human rights violations in Yemen.

The Yemeni opposition has demanded that the United Nations Security Council adopt recommendations contained in the HRW report.  The recommendations include an asset freeze and travel ban on President Saleh and other civilian officials.  They also ask the Security Council to disassociate itself from the agreement that offers Saleh immunity for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in exchange for leaving office.

“The army’s indiscriminate shelling in Taizz shows President Saleh’s brazen disregard for the lives of Yemeni civilians right up to the time he signed a deal to transfer power,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Because President Saleh’s signature is only as good as the actions that follow, concerned governments and the UN Security Council should still impose targeted sanctions until these unlawful attacks stop and hold Yemeni authorities accountable.”

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to meet early this week.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera — Yemen’s Saleh decrees ‘general amnesty’ — 27 Nov. 2011

Al Sahwah — Yemeni protesters demands Security Council to adopt HRW’s Recommendations — 27 Nov. 2011

New York Times — Power Ceded, Yet President of Yemen Declares Amnesty — 27 Nov. 2011

Ocala — New Turmoil as President Comes Back to Yemen — 27 Nov. 2011

Amnesty — Yemen: immunity deal would be ‘hammer blow’ to human rights victims — 24 Nov. 2011

Arab League Unveils Sanctions on Syria, Hoping to End Violence Against Protesters

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt–On Sunday 27 November 2011, The Arab League approved a set of sanctions to impose immediately on Syria, a move that it hopes will pressure the government to cease its eight-month crackdown on pro-democracy and anti-regime protesters.

Protesters in Deir Balaba supporting the continued demonstrations in the city of Homs. (Photo Courtesy of NYT)

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani reported at a press conference in the Egyptian capital that 19 of the League’s 22 member nations had approved the sanctions, leaving only three member states in opposition. The sanctions include: cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, a stop to Arab government funding for projects within Syria, a stop to trade exchange with the Syrian government, and a travel ban on Syrian officials.

Sheik Hamad expressed these sentiments during the press conference, reiterating that the Arab League desire a regional solution and do want foreign intervention.

“Today is a sad day for me, because we still hope our brothers in Syria will sign the document of the protocol and stop the killings, and to release the detainees and withdraw its military from Syrian districts. The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently. We are trying to prevent any foreign intervention into Syria. All the work we are doing is to avoid this interference.”

Syria, one of the founding members of the Arab League, responded immediately and called the sanctions a betrayal of Arab solidarity. The Syrian state television described the sanctions as “unprecedented measures aimed at the Syrian people.”

The Arab League had previously set a Friday 25 November 2011 deadline for Syria to permit human rights monitors into the country and withdraw tanks from the streets or face sanctions. The ultimatum did not elicit a satisfactory and substantial response from Syrian officials, prompting the Arab League to convene and agree on which sanctions it would impose.

Iraq and Lebanon, two nations that are neighbors to Syria, abstained from the vote. As Syria’s second-biggest trading partner accounting for 13.3% of Syria’s trade, Iraq claimed that an economic blockade would not be practical with Syria.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi shared these words with Reuters about Iraq’s decision to abstain.

“Iraq has reservations about this decision. For us, this decision will harm the interests of our country and our people as we have a large community in Syria.”

The United Nations estimated that approximately 3,500 people have died since the pro-democracy and anti-regime protests began earlier this year in March. Turkey, which attended the Arab League’s meeting as a visitor since it is not an Arab state, declared that it would nonetheless act in accordance with the Arab League’s sanctions. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shared these sentiments about the developing situation and concern for the thousands of civilians that have lost their lives protesting for change.

“When civilians are killed in Syria and the Syrian regime increases its cruelty to innocent people, it should not be expected for Turkey and the Arab League to be silent. We hope the Syrian government will get our message and the problem will be solved within the family.”

While the Arab League was announcing these sanctions, activists and protesters continued to display their displeasure and desperation for change. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition group, in the city of Homs on Sunday 27 November 2011, security forces loyal to the government were matched up against army defectors.

“Violent clashes occurred this morning between Syria’s regular army and groups of deserters in the region of Talbiseh. Two troop transporters were destroyed. The regular army is using heavy machineguns in its operations in Talbiseh, four civilians have been wounded.”

While nations around the Arab world attempt to force change upon Syria, many inside Syria fear that the sanctions will only further exacerbate the situation. The Local Coordinating Committees, a group that leads the anti-government demonstrations, supported a collective move to pressure the regime, but feared that the government would find avenues to evade the restrictions.

A 23-year-old Damascus student, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal, shared these words about the sanctions.

“I think it is time the world realized that economic sanctions are not affecting anyone but the Syrian people. Those who couldn’t afford buying bread, now can’t afford even smelling bread.”

It appears that the interests of those involved in the demonstrations and protests might further be harmed by these sanctions, even though they are designed to do precisely the opposite.

According to Al-Jazeera correspondent Nisreen El-Shamayleh, who is currently reporting on the situation from the neighboring nation of Jordan, quoted the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) that 26 individuals lost their lives on Sunday 27 November 2011. The SRGC is part of the Syrian National Council, another opposition group.

Syria continues to uphold its ban on international journalists, making it impossible to report facts on the ground. Reports coming out of Syria cannot be independently confirmed and verified.

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Arab League Approves Syria Sanctions – 27 November 2011

BBC – Syria Unrest: Arab League Adopts Sanctions in Cairo – 27 November 2011

Reuters – Arabs Impose Sanctions On Syria Over Crackdown – 27 November 2011

NYT – Arab League Punishes Syria Over Violent Crackdown – 27 November 2011

Ahram – Cracks Emerge Before Arab Vote on Syria Sanctions – 27 November 2011

CNN – Arab League Proposes Sanctions Against Syria, Including Freezing Assets – 26 November 2011

 

 

 

Alabama Slammer: One States Shot at Illegal Immigration

by Ryan Elliott
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America & Oceania

MONTGOMERY, United States –While Arizona or even Texas might come to mind when discussing tough state laws on illegal immigration, Alabama has taken center stage in what has been described as the strictest state law on illegal immigration
in the United States. This law enacted last September is so harsh that the Department of Justice said it is unconstitutional, and threatens basic human rights.

Protesters gather outside federal courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo Courtesy of Gary Tramontina/Polaris for the Guardian)

The Department of Justice filed a brief with the 11th circuit court of appeals, which according to CNN, stated that the “Constitution leaves no room for such a state immigration-enforcement scheme.” The brief also said that the law was nothing more than an attempt on the part of the state to force illegal immigrants to “deport themselves.” Reporting on the passage of the new law, CNN likened it to “the Jim Crow South,” and “the police state it has created is equally cruel.”

Assuming Alabama’s law were to be enforced in its entirety, it would, among other things: require that public schools deny admission to children who weren’t able to prove their citizenship; an individual who could not supply proper documentation could be jailed or detained indefinitely; employers or even civilians who either employ or harbor illegal immigrants would face certain legal repercussions.

Although a federal court has already stricken portions of this law, most notably the measure that requires public schools to verify the status of students, other provisions still remain. For instance, a provision of the law would allow police officers, in the course of routine traffic stops, to ask for documentation from “suspected illegal immigrants.”

Sponsors of the law, Senator Beason and Representative Hammon, have confirmed that the goal of this new law is to force illegal immigrants out of state of Alabama. But they also are careful to note that the law does not permit racial profiling. However, it is difficult to see where this line is drawn, and how such a provision would “expressly forbid” racial profiling. In fact, this provision has created a great deal of fear and anxiety among Alabama’s growing Hispanic population.

According to the Huffington Post, earlier last week, around 100 opponents of the new legislation, most of whom were young Hispanics, protested around Alabama’s Capitol and the Statehouse. Most protesters were seen holding signs and placards that criticized the new law. Police arrested thirteen protesters, who refused to cooperate with them, for disturbing the peace. A Montgomery attorney, Mike Winter, offered to represent those arrested and acknowledged that some could be held by immigration officials.

Meanwhile, supporters of Alabama’s new law claim that illegal immigrants cost Alabama taxpayers a quarter of a billion dollars each year, namely on education and social services. What’s more, with the unemployment rate hovering around ten percent, some supporters feel that illegal immigrants are creating higher unemployment in the state because illegal immigrants are taking Alabamian jobs. In short, supporters of the law feel that if the law achieves its goal, there will be more jobs for Alabama residents.

The law has already motivated some illegal immigrants to leave Alabama. Those who left Alabama did so because of the increased likelihood of being discovered. Perhaps the main factor in individual’s decision-making to leave was a provision of the  law that forbid any illegal immigrants from conducting business transactions with the state. Alabama officials interpreted this portion of the law to mean, according to CNN news, that illegal immigrants could not obtain an annual permit for their manufactured homes. The effect being, of course, that immigrant’s illegal status would become highly visible to residents and law enforcement agencies. Before there was a mass exiting of illegal immigrants, however, District Judge Thompson enjoined Alabama from denying these permits to individuals who could not supply proper documentation.

Several consequences of the new legislation still loom large, however. As in other parts of the country, a large percentage of farm workers in Alabama are illegal immigrants. As a result, many farmers believe that this new law, if enforced, would destroy their capacity to operate. The Washington Post reports that Alabama “farmers say that jobless U.S. workers, mostly inexperienced in field work and concentrated in and around cities, are ill-suited and mostly unwilling to do the back-breaking, poorly paid work required to plant and harvest tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other crops.” Furthermore, the Washington Post reports that “farmers also say that, if they were to raise wages to make the jobs more attractive, as advocates for the new law suggest, crop prices would soar, making Alabama produce uncompetitive.”

The fate of Alabama’s new law remains to be seen, but it has already been labeled many things, including unconstitutional and an “overreaching of state power” by the Obama administration. Other legislators around the nation have proposed alternative solutions to ameliorate the problems faced by illegal immigration. According to the Washington Post, these solutions might be as simple as having the federal government set a supply of visas commensurate with the demand for foreign labor, or possibly adopting a guest-worker program.
For more information, please see:

USA Today —Ruling on Ala. Immigration Law Averts Exodus, Groups Say — 25 November, 2011

CBS News —Consequences of Alabama Immigration Law Set In –23 November, 2011

Miami Herald — Alabama Lawmakers Defend Immigration Law as Congressional Democrats Challenge It  –21 November, 2011

CNN News– Alabama\’s Immigration Law: Jim Crow Revisited — 17 November, 2011

Huffington Post– Alabama Immigration Law: Police Arrest 13 Protesting Controversial Legislation –15 November, 2011

CNN News —U.S. Makes Case Against Alabama\’s Immigration Law — 15 November, 2011

Washington Post — How Alabama’s Immigration Law is Crippling its Farms–3 November, 2011

Anti-Pinochet Protest Leaves Seven Injured and Nine Arrested

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile — An event in an upscale neighborhood honoring former military officer Miguel Krassnoff left seven people injured on Monday, including six police officers, as approximately 1000 human rights activists protested against the ceremony. Krassnoff has been imprisoned since 2005 after being convicted of homicide, kidnapping and torture during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

1000 protestors attended the event honoring Miguel Krassnoff. (Photo Courtesy of Santiago Times).

The event, which was first announced last week, was meant to serve as a platform to launch a book paying homage to Krassnoff and written by historian Gisela Silva Encina. Several hundred people were in attendance. The event was organized by right wing mayor of Santiago’s Providencia district, Cristian Labbe, who, like Krassnoff, was a former member of the Pinochet-era National Intelligence Directorate.

Director of the association for Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, Mireya Garcia, believes Labbe should not have been involved in a ceremony of this particular nature. “He was elected by popular vote and as such it’s his duty to represent all residents of Providencia, not just one sector,” he said. Juan Antonio Coloma, head of Chile’s right-wing UDI party, also believed this ceremony was a mistake.

Activist Lorena Pizarro, president of a group of families of the detained and disappeared, is planning on suing Labbe if she finds that he used public funds to plan the event. “The possibility of paying homage to Miguel Krassnoff … is a product of the impunity we’re living with in the country,” she states. Despite the criticism, Labbe is still planning on seeking re-election in October 2012.

Demonstrators protesting against the homage clashed with Krassnoff supporters and police who used tear gas to control them. Many protestors threw rocks and eggs at police, and two protestors, including the daughter of a torture victim, assaulted a local Krassnoff supporter who was chanting “Long live Pinochet.” A total of nine protestors were arrested.

Krassnoff is currently serving a 144-year sentence at a special prison at an army base for crimes against humanity during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). He was charged in 23 separate cases, and has been connected to 128 deaths or disappearances and 18 instances of torture. He has not yet expressed any remorse for his big role in the kidnappings and tortures of government opponents during Pinochet’s rule.

Krassnoff’s victims include among many others: social historian Gabriel Salazar, head of the Chilean Legal Medical Service  Patricio Bustos, Socialist Dep. Osvaldo Andrade, board member for Chile’s public television station, TVN, Marcia Scantlebury, and possibly former President Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet has stated that she believes Krassnoff was present during her torture but is not completely sure because her eyes were covered the entire time.

Approximately 3,095 people were killed or disappeared during Pinochet’s dictatorship according to a national commission.

Criticism from human rights groups regarding the event has affected some members of Chile’s current government. Despite having declined the invitation to attend the event,  Chile’s President Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera has been criticized for not taking action to stop the event from occurring. His advisor, Andrea Ojeda, who also declined the invitation, resigned after being criticized for writing “best wishes of success” in her RSVP letter.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Chileans Protest Pro-Pinochet Tribute; 7 Injured – 22 November 2011

Fox News Latino – Anti-Pinochet Protest In Chile Leaves 7 Injured – 22 November 2011

NTDTV – Major Clashes in Chile over Tribute to Controversial Former Official– 23 November 2011

Santiago Times – Chileans Gather to Honor, And Shame, Former Pinochet Agent – 22 November 2011

Washington Post – Tear Gas Fired, 7 Hurt as Chileans Protest Tribute to Ex-Colonel of Pinochet Regime – 22 November 2011

Two Popular Hosts Removed From Hong Kong Show Causing Fear of Increased Control from Beijing

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG, China – Two popular television hosts have been fired in Hong Kong causing some to fear that Chinese censorship authorities are overexerting their influence to stifle media freedom.

Two popular radio show hosts have been removed causing many to speculate that China is exerting increased influence over Hong Kong's media (Photo Courtesy of South China Morning Post).

Ng Chi-sum and Robert Chow gained popularity as the hosts of two radio phone-in shows for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), a government broadcaster, until they were informed that they would not have their contracts renewed for 2012.

RTHK has denied that political motives played any role in the decision to remove the two hosts. They claim that the decision was made by production staff following lengthy discussions about ways in which the programs could be revamped to become more competitive.

RTHK spokeswoman, Kirindi Chan, stated that “there are no political factors here, and there was no pressure from Director of Broadcasting Roy Tang.”

Roy Tang’s recent arrival as the director of broadcasting made many speculate that he was behind the decision to remove Ng Chi-sum and Robert Chow.

Joining in this speculation was Robert Chow who stated, “it’s hard for me to believe that our new director of broadcasting had no hand at all in this decision.”

The sudden decision to remove the protestors prompted democratic legislator Emily Lau to urge Radio Television Hong Kong to hold a news conference to explain their decision.

Following criticism about the removal of the hosts, legislative councilors will discuss the removal at a meeting of the broadcasting panel scheduled to take place in December. According to the panel’s chairman, Wong Yuk-man, invitations to attend will be extended to Roy Tang, Ng Chi-sum, Robert Chow and the head of Radio Television Hong Kong’s public affairs unit, Leung Ka-wing.

Mr. Wong explains that he hopes the meeting will allow Mr. Tang to explain the reason for the removals and prevent further speculation about political motives.

Despite the fear that China’s influence was behind the decision, many believe that the decision was no more than a choice made by executives to improve their programming.  This has been supported by reports that prior to their removal, the hosts were told their positions would be given to civil servants, which neither of the men are, and that the decision was made many months ago although just implemented this week.

Since surrendering sovereignty to China in 1997, Hong Kong has seen a number of outspoken radio personalities removed from popular talk shows.

Although the terms of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule includes the promise that they would be allowed to maintain their freedom of expression for fifty years, many fear that they may prone to self-censorship to avoid anger officials and corporations in China.

 

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Popular Talk Show Hosts Axed – 25 November 2011

The Standard – RTHK Reform Still Up In the Air – 25 November 2011

RTHK – Legco to Discuss RTHK Departures – 24 November, 2011

The Standard – Bad News on the Lunch Menu a Little Hard to Stomach – 24 November 2011

Israeli Authorities Seized West Bank Land for Kibbutz

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Israeli authorities seized 365 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank for Kibbutz Merivav, an agriculture community located inside Israel.  Israeli authorities have annexed land in the West Bank for Jewish settlers for decades, but the seizure of land for communities in Israel is unprecedented.

Construction of a new Israeli settlement unit. (Photo Courtesy of Ma'an News)

The Israeli authorities seized the tract of land from Bardaleh, a West Bank Palestinian village.  The village is located on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier, a combination of fences and concrete walls designed to protect Israel from Palestinian attackers.  Some Palestinian farmland remains on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier, and Palestinians will cross the barrier to tend to this land.

Although Kibbutz Merivav has tended to the land for years, Israel has just recently publicly stated the land belongs to Israel.  Palestinians fear this seizure will create a new precedent for West Bank land located on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier.  The Separation Barrier has carved into 375 acres of Palestinian territory.

Guy Inbar, the Israeli military spokesperson, assured the people that although the kibbutz annexed the land, the seizure did not intent to establish a precedent.  However, Bardaleh villager Mohammed Sawafta reported the kibbutz started scaring the villagers off the land in the 1980s while the Israeli military prevented the villagers from gaining access to the land once the kibbutz began tending the land.

The Israeli government also planned to meet with construction prospects to develop 2,230 settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last week.  The Palestinian Authority strongly condemned Israel’s new settlement plans.  The Palestinian Authority Cabinet argued the public bids for new settlement properties “are a blatant example of Israel’s unilateral actions and noncommittal to international laws and understandings.”  The Palestinians called for the international community support to halt settlement activity and reiterated peace talks will only begin once Israel ceases building new settlements.

Throughout the Palestinian communities, this Jordan Valley land seizure dominated their news coverage.  The Israelis consider the seized land as absentee property, which Israeli authorities can allocate for settlement activities.

Research and activist against Jewish settlement in the West Bank Dror Etkes said, “Eventually, Israeli communities on the Israeli side of the Green Line will likely take land from Palestinians in the West Bank. . . .  It seems to be almost inevitable.”  The Green Line is the cease-fire line established prior to the 1967 Mideast War.

For more information, please see:

CBS – West Bank Land Seized by Israeli Kibbutz – 19 Nov 2011

Palestine News and Information Agency – Newspapers Review: Israeli Annexation of Jordan Valley Land Dominates Dailies – 19 Nov 2011

Press TV – Israel Continues to Confiscate Lands – 19 Nov 2011

Ma’an News – PA Cabinet Condemns Settlement Plans – 18 Nov 2011

Maoists Admit Role in Murder of Nun

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – Rights activists are urging the Indian government to take steps to insure that activists in the country are safe after an activist, the fourth to be murdered this year, is killed by a mob.

Maoist rebels have admitted their role in kill Valsa John (Photo Courtesy of BBC).

Sister Valsa John was killed last week when a mob of villagers, incited by Maoist rebels, of approximately forty-five people broke into her home and beat her to death. Her body was recovered by officials last Wednesday.

Although authorities were initially unsure  who was behind the murder their suspicions of Maoist involvement, following interviews with villagers and the discovery of Maoist pamphlets at the scene of the crime, proved correct on November 22 when Maoist rebels admitted that they were responsible for the killing.

John was involved in leading protests against the displacement of villagers caused by mining operations in the area that resulted in the forceful grabbing of land belonging to tribesmen.

According to rebel spokesperson, Somnath, John was killed because she had “let down the tribals” forcing them to “resort to the extreme step” of murdering her.

Some tribesmen were not satisfied with deals struck with mining organizations because they resulted in heavy loss of property and lives. This dissatisfaction prompted Somnath to assert the belief that John was “working for the interests” of mining companies.

There is also a report that John’s intention to accompany a rape victim to the police station to file a report incited the tribesmen, who wanted to pursue the matter out of court, to murder her.

Prior to the admission made by the Maoist rebels, the family of Valsa John believed that her murder was committed by a mafia-like coal organization that was irritated by John’s advocacy for the rights of tribesman against illegal coal mining.

Coal mining in India is largely owned, controlled and operated by these mafia-like organizations that mine illegally and sell the coal on the black market.

According to her family, Valsa John frequently received death threats from individuals believed to be members of a criminal gang profiting from illegal coal mining and had received such a threat just hours before her murder.  Conflict with the mining organization has been ongoing for years and led to her imprisonment in 2007.

In the past, these coal organizations have been accused of attacking and killing officials or rights activists who have objected to the exploitation of tribesmen.

Other activists killed in India this year are Nadeem Sayed, Shehla Masood, and Niyamat Ansari.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Maoists Admit They Killed India Nun Valsa John – 22 November 2011

Independent Online – Suspected Nun Killers Held in India – 21 November 2011

The Times of India – Jharkhand Nun Murder Case Cracked: Police – 21 November 2011

Amnesty International – India: Nun Murdered in Fourth Activist Killing n 2011 – 17 November 2011

MSNBC – Nun slain in India Faced Threats from Mine Bosses – 17 November 2011

Brazil Mobilizing Troops Along Paraguayan Border Leads to Escalating Tensions

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Tensions between Paraguay and Brazil have recently soared with the mobilization of Brazilian troops along the border of the two countries.  Brazil’s movements just across from the Paraguayan state of Alto Paraná have been attributed to a Brazilian plan to impede the illegal drug shipments occurring at the border.

Brazilian troops at a checkpoint along the border. (Photo Courtesy of Merco Press)

Paraguayans view the troops in a more suspicious light and link it to the recent unrest between Paraguayan peasants and Brazilian land-owners.  The escalating and at times violent confrontations revolve around allegations of corruption in the Paraguayan government allowing Brazilian farmers to occupy land illegally.

These land disputes across the countryside have resulted in reports of shootings.  In September of this year, Brazilian police and Paraguayan armed forces were thought to have exchanged fire.  Multiple skirmishes have occurred between the Paraguayan police and the landless peasant movement.  There has also been fighting between the peasants and armed militias, which have been formed by Brazilian farmers.

Most compelling in this recent development is the reality of Brazilian troops occupying the Friendship Bridge in the border town of Ciudad de Este.  What began as sporadic occupation is now a perpetual presence by all three branches of the Brazilian forces; air force, army and navy.  Foremost in many citizen’s minds are memories of the violent war, which occurred just over a century ago, and the subsequent Brazilian occupation of Paraguay.

Alfonso Gonzalez Nuñez, head of the Paraguayan delegation to the Paralsur, characterized the Brazilian troops as “provocative military intimidation” and points out that the huge display by Brazil of both troops and equipment are in an area that is legally protected from any type of military occupation due to international treaties regulating border relations of neighboring states.

Brazil has adamantly defended its actions with the need to establish checkpoints, along the border, to stop the smuggling of drugs and weapons that go to the gangs in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero.  They refer to the mission as “Agata 2” and plan to extend it along the border shared with Uruguay.

For now the border has not been breached by Brazilian troops so a tense acknowledgement and acceptance of their presence is the Paraguayan approach.  Paraguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, a former bishop who worked extensively with the landless poor of the country, has displayed a firm stance on the matter.

“[N]ot even one millimeter of the territorial sovereignty of the country can be bothered.  If that happens, the Paraguayan reaction will be swift,” was President Lugo’s statement.

 

For more information, please see;

In Sight – Paraguay Slams Brazil’s Militarization of Border – 21 November 2011

Merco Press – Paraguayan Lawmakers Accuse Brazil of “Provocative Military Intimidation” – 21 November 2011

New York Times – Drills Heighten Brazil-Paraguay Tension – 23 October 2011

Merco Press – Brazil Deploys 7,000 Troops Along Southern Borders to Combat Organized Crime – 20 September 2011

Egyptian Blogger’s Nude Photo Launches Global Debate on Women’s Rights in Arab World

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

CAIRO, Egypt – On October 23, twenty-year-old Aliaa Magda Elmahdy posted a full frontal nude photograph of herself on her blog as a complaint against a ban on nude models in Egyptian universities and books.  After the photo was removed from her Facebook page, she gave a friend of hers permission to post it on Twitter, under her own name and the hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary.  The tweet, first posted last week, has been viewed more than one million times, and her daring act has set off a powder keg of debate in Egypt that may affect the country’s elections scheduled for November 28.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy's decision to post a nude photograph of herself on Twitter has drawn scorn from people on both sides of the political spectrum in Egypt. She justifies her actions by calling them “echoing screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” (Photo courtesy of the International Business Times)

The mostly black and white picture depicts Elmahdy – who is naked except for a red ribbon in her hair, a pair of thigh-high stockings and red patent leather shoes – standing with her foot on a stool.  Her blog post features several other nude pictures, including a variant of the main photo that uses it in triplicate with censor bars over her eyes, mouth, and sex organs.  It is accompanied by a caption, written in both Arabic and English.

“Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity,” it urges.  “[T]hen undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.”

She later spoke to the media about the post and her motives.

“I accepted [my friend’s request to post the photograph] because I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman,” Elmahdy told CNN during an interview Saturday.

Since the early 1970s, Egypt has become one of the most conservative countries in the Middle East and Africa.  Its majority-Muslim population frowns upon nudity, even as an art form.  Most women wear veils to cover their heads.  Even those who go bareheaded generally keep their arms and legs covered.  In a Facebook post, Elmahdy described her actions as “echoing screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.”  Continuing further, she opined that women wore veils and covered their bodies due to religious and social pressure.

“The women with head veil[s] that I know wear [them] because of their families or because they don’t want to be beaten in the streets,” she wrote in another Facebook post.  “I don’t see why they always dictate to women, and not to men, what they should wear.”

Another example of such a view of women took place during a Tahrir Square sit-in after the fall of ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak’s regime.  After breaking up the protest with a series of mass arrests, security forces subjected female dissidents to virginity tests, which Elmahdy likened to rape.  Human Rights First has issued a report that decries “a pattern of targeting politically active women” in Egypt.

“Local activists report being assaulted, stripped, sexually baited, and threatened with charges of prostitution and virginity tests,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.  “There appears to be a policy of trying to intimidate women out of the political sphere through this gender violence.”

A cropped version of the nude photograph posted by Aliaa Magda Elmahdy on her blog and Twitter. (Photo courtesy of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy)

Since posting the photo, Elmahdy has been exposed to criticism from both liberal and conservative factions in Egyptian politics, especially with the election looming next Tuesday.  The hardline Islamist Salafis have run a campaign against more liberal groups by saying that the liberals will corrupt the country’s morals.  In that sense, her post could not have come at a worse time for liberal organizations.

“This hurts the entire secular current in front of those calling themselves the people of virtue,” Sayyed El-Qimni, a prominent self-described secular figure, said referring to Islamists.  “It’s a double disaster.  Because I am liberal and I believe in the right of personal freedom, I can’t interfere,” El-Qimni said Wednesday night on one of Egypt’s most popular political talk shows, 90 Minutes.

An alleged connection between her and the April 6th Movement, a liberal organization that was instrumental in the revolt that drove out Mubarak, forced the organization into damage control mode on television.  When faced with the allegations, a party spokesman said that it urged all of its members “to be role models as far as ethics are concerned,” meaning that her outrageous behavior would have precluded her joining.  Another left-leaning party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, also expressed disapproval.

“Many movements in Egypt, particularly Islamist movements, are trying to benefit,” said Emad Gad, one of its parliamentary candidates. “They say, ‘We have to protect our society from things like this, and if the liberals win then this woman will become a model for all Egyptian women.'”

Among activists and commentators, Elmahdy received a considerably more favorable reaction.  Iranian-born activist Maryam Namazie was impressed by her audacity, calling the decision “the ultimate act of rebellion” against the Islamists trying to take control of the post-Mubarak Egypt.  To Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltaway, Elmahdy served as “the Molotov cocktail thrown at the Mubaraks in our heads – the dictators of our mind – which insists that revolutions cannot succeed without a tidal wave of cultural changes that upend misogyny and sexual hypocrisy.”  Human rights activist Ahmad Awadalla also responded, tweeting: “A feminist #Jan25 revolutionary posted her nude photo on the internet to express her freedom.  I’m totally taken back by her bravery!!”

But for Elmahdy, who is suddenly a villain at home and a hero abroad, her plans are simple.  “I am a believer of every word I say and I am willing to live in danger under the many threats I receive in order to obtain the real freedom all Egyptian are fighting and dying for daily,” she said.

For more information, please see:

CNN — Egyptian Blogger Aliaa Elmahdy: Why I Posed Naked — 19 November 2011

Colombo Telegram — Egyptian Feminist’s Blog Received 2.5 Million Hits with Her Full Frontal Nude Shot — 18 November 2011

International Business Times —Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Nude Blogger, Gains Support from Egyptian Diaspora — 18 November 2011

Daily News Egypt — Activist Posts Herself Nude, Sparks Outrage — 17 November 2011

New York Times — Nude Blogger Riles Egyptians of All Stripes — 17 November 2011

International Business Times — Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Nude Blogger, Hits Back at Her Critics — 16 November 2011

International Business Times — Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Nude Blogger: The Fight for Women’s Rights in the Arab Spring — 16 November 2011

Al-Masry Al-Youm — Fury Over Young Activist Publishing Nude Self-Portrait — 13 November 2011

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s Original Blog Post — 23 October 2011