UAE Publishes Video to “Cure” Homosexuality

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) produced a six-minute video entitled “Be Yourself” to cure gay men of homosexuality.  This “tutorial” posted by the government last week on YouTube shocked the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

A scene from "Be Yourself", the UAE produced film. (Photo Courtesy of Instinct Magazine)

Link to the UAE film \”Be Yourself\”.

Set in a typical suburban area in the UAE, the video tells the story of five young men: Rashid Al-Muaini, Majid Al-Muaini, Ali Al-Ghaithi, James Al-Ghaithi, and Mohammed Eissa.  Two of the characters dressed in traditional Emirati greet a third character in a t-shirt and jeans.  In his apparent shy and effeminate manner, he says “Hi guys” to the other characters in a high-pitched voice while he plays with his long hair and daintily shakes their hands.

The final two characters wearing western-style clothing join the trio and greet them in a masculine manner.  The effeminate character receives an invitation to join the other characters in an adjacent villa.   In the villa, the men tell the effeminate character he needs to change his personality.  He agrees.

As part of his straight makeover, the effeminate man mimics manly gestures.  The other men scrub his hands and face, and they cut his hair and nails.  When the newly masculine man departs, he says “Bye guys” in a high-pitched voice.  The men slap him and command him to thicken his voice.

Once the makeover concludes, the men appear pleased and proud of their work.  They also thank Allah for enabling the man’s “change.”

24-year-old founder of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights UAE Abdullah responded the video “angers me to no end, but it also saddens me.”  The video reminded him of hot afternoons when he was a teenager.  He forcibly observed men interacting or drinking coffee, so he could mimic them and make his father proud.

The UAE has enacted federal legislation that prohibits homosexual acts throughout the country.  The country can punish men engaging in consensual sodomy with fines, ten to fourteen years in prison, deportation, flogging, or death.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual Rights UAE activist network informed the Canadian Prime Minister and Human Rights Minister, the United Nations, and various media outlets of the continued persecution their community faces.  For example, the network stated UAE officials used hormonal treatments to “cure” homosexuals.

Dubai resident and gay activist Omar said, “This is the only way to enable our rights as citizens because activism on the ground here will lead to our arrest and jailing.  We struggle.”

For further information, please see,

Albawaba  – UAE Gay “Cure” Video Causes Sting in LGBT Community – 31 Jan 2012

International Business Times – Gay Man ‘Cure Video’ Sparks Outrage in UAE – 31 Jan 2012

Huffington Post – United Arab Emirates’ ‘Be Yourself’ Video Shows Gay Men Being ‘Cured’ of Homosexuality – 30 Jan 2012

Pink News – Video: UAE ‘Straight Makeover’ Video Slammed – 30 Jan 2012

2nd Journalist in Six Weeks Killed in Somalia

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Hassan Osman Abdi, 29, was shot outside his home in Mogadishu on Saturday and died on the way to the hospital.  Abdi was the director of Shabelle Media Network and had done some freelance work for CNN, according to the National Union of Somali Journalist (NUSOJ) and Reporters Without Borders.

Hassan Osman Abdi is the second journalist to be killed in the last six months in Somalia. (Photo Courtesy of Shabelle Media Network.)

“This is a terrible tragedy, both for Hassan Osman Abdi’s family and for the Somali journalist community,” said Omar Faruk Osman, secretary general of the NUSOJ.

Abdi is the third Shabelle Media Network director to be murdered, said Reporters Without Borders.  Shabelle Media Network director Bashir Nur Gedi was murdered in 2007, and his successor Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe was killed in 2009.  Local journalists believe that Abdi was likely killed because of his role in reporting on politics and corruption cases.

Abdi’s colleagues and friends told the Associated Press they were too scared to attend his funeral because militants in Somalia have targeted such gatherings in the past.

Journalist Mohamed Bashir Hashi, 23, read a death threat sent to his mobile phone: “If God wills it, you will be the next apostate to be killed.”

“Deciding to stay here is so discouraging,” said Hashi.  “We can’t even pay respects to our fallen colleague since al-Shabaab is threatening us.”

Somalia is the deadliest country in Africa for media personnel, and Mogadishu ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists in 2011, according to Reporters Without Borders.  In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Somalia as the most dangerous for journalists when nine journalists were killed.

Abdi’s murder was the second targeted killing of a Somali journalist in less than two months.  Abdisalan Sheik Hassan, a journalist with Horn Cable TV, was shot dead in December.

“We trusted the situation would improve but it’s getting worse now.  Nowhere is safe,” said Mu’awiye Ahmed, a producer and photographer at Horn Cable TV.  However, he vowed to continue working: “They can’t prevent me from my work.”

Amnesty International is urging the international community to call on the Somali authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks on journalists.  “The numerous attacks on journalists in Somalia have been part of an attempt to silence reporting about human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in the country,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa.

A major international conference on Somalia will take place in London on February 23.  Meanwhile, Somalia’s president strongly condemned the killing of a leading journalist as a “senseless murder,” suggesting that Al-Shabaab may have been responsible.  In a statement, President Sharif Ahmed condemned and expressed grief and sorrow at the murder.  He also urged the public to help the police investigate the killing.

“It has long been the strategy of groups like Al-Shabaab to target public figures in our society with the aim of spreading fear and panic,” said President Ahmed.  “We will not be intimidated or threatened by such odious acts.”

Minister of Information Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed Jaahweyne called the killing an “outrageous assassination.”  He called Shabelle “one of the most important and pioneering media houses serving the country.”

Shabelle is one of Mogadishu’s most popular radio stations.  It frequently reports on government corruption, abuses by al-Shabaab militants against civilians, and extortion by government troops.

Al-Shabaab appeared to claim responsibility for Abdi’s death, saying on its website that the killing would serve as a “lesson” to other journalists.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Somalia: Journalist killing highlights need for international action on impunity – 30 January 2012

The Washington Post – Fear in Somalia’s journalist community after 2nd killing in less than 2 months – 30 January 2012

CNN – Somalia president decries journalist killing – 29 January 2012

 

Mexican Ambassador and Wife Kidnapped in Venezuela

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela  — Mexico’s ambassador to Venezuela, Carlos Pujalte, and his wife were kidnapped by armed men on Sunday night and then released four hours later. Pujalte’s abduction is a troublesome trend in the recent string of high-profile kidnappings in Venezuela, a country now considered one of the most dangerous in Latin America.

Police officials inspect the car of Mexico"s ambassador to Venezuela in Caracas. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

Pujalte’s and his wife were leaving a reception in a wealthy Caracas neighborhood on Sunday night when four armed men seized them in their car and held them for four hours before safely releasing them in a slum before dawn on Monday. The kidnapping has been dubbed an “express kidnapping” because of it’s short duration. In express kidnappings, abductors hold their victims for a short period of time for lower ransom demands or simply to rob the victims.

The details surrounding the kidnapping and if any ransom was paid remain unsealed by Venezuelan authorities. According to the Venezuela’s government, security forces launched an operation which forced the armed men to free the Pujaltes. The vehicle used for the kidnapping was found in another part of the city.

Pujalte’s kidnapping highlights a troublesome trend in Venezuela where violent crime is routinely named a top concern for Venezuelans. Leaked government reports have shown that since President Hugo Chavez first took office 13 years ago, crime has surged with the number of murders per year doubling since 1999. According to Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-profit organization, at least 19,336 people were killed in Venezuela last year.

Pujalte is the seventh foreign officer who has been held hostage in less than one-year term. Last November, Chilean consul, Juan Carlos Fernandez, was kidnapped in Caracas and severely injured by his abductors before being released. Within the same week, Major League Baseball player, Wilson Ramos was kidnapped during his visit home and released two days later with the help of Venezuelan security forces.

Chavez, who is seeking his third six-year term, denies that crime in Venezuela has increased since he first took office, and instead, blames high crime rates on historical roots of lawlessness dating back to the administration of former President Carlos Andres Perez in the late 1980s.

Despite souring crime rates and violent crime being a top issue for Venezuelans, a recent poll by the local Hinterlaces company shows that Chavez’s approval rating remains high. As of recently, Chavez has a 64 percent approval rating, with 50 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote for him again in the up-coming presidential elections.

“Chavez supporters have a strong emotional attachment to him and this has led some of them to fail to assess the situation objectively despite the statistics and the growing evidence of the government’s responsibility (for the crime problem),” says Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuelan analyst of the IHS Global Insight thinktank.

 

For further information, please see:

El Universal – Seven Kidnapped Diplomats in One Year in Venezuela – 31 January 2012

CNN – Officials: Mexico’s Ambassador to Venezuela Kidnapped, Freed – 30 January 2011

CBS News – Mexican Ambassador in Venezuela Kidnap Drama – 30 January 2012

Reuters – Mexican Envoy Kidnapped, Freed in Venezuela – 30 January 2012

The Wall Street Journal  – Mexico Envoy to Venezuela Free After Kidnapping – 30 January 2012

Sudan Rebels Promise to Free Captured Chinese Workers

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, SUDAN – Monday signified a potential avoidance of further strife in Sudan.  The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which captured more than 70 road workers, including 29 Chinese, in South Kordofan on Sunday, vowed to release the remaining Chinese from its custody.

Earlier in the day, 14 Chinese laborers were freed from rebel hands by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).  They were kidnapped when the insurgents attacked a camp in South Kordofan, a state that is rich in oil and the focus of intense fighting with South Sudan.  Those rescued were found in good condition and brought to Al-Obeid, the capital of neighboring North Kordofan, according to the South Kordofan governor.  The SPLM-N took credit for the abduction, which garnered 70 workers and nine members of the SAF.

“I want to assure you right now they are in safe hands,” SPLM-N spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi told Agence France Presse.

The captured laborers, which consisted of Chinese and Sudanese workers, were building a road to connect remote areas according to media in China.  According to the rebels, they were held for their own safety in the aftermath of a battle with the SAF.  They had been caught in crossfire between the two sides.  The organization has also made clear that it has no issue with China or Chinese people.

“The leadership of the [SPLM-N],” a statement said, is “exerting the maximum effort to obtain accurate information from our forces in the field regarding the Chinese who were detained in Southern Kordofan.”

Secretary General Yasir Arman, though uncertain of whether his group had the workers, said that the SPLM-N is in contact with Beijing as part of the effort to secure their release.

The abduction’s report soon became one of the top stories in China.  The two countries are in the midst of emergency discussions.

China has long been a key player in the development of Sudan, buying billions of dollars’ worth of oil from the turbulent sub-Saharan country.  It considers this necessary because Western nations had already secured pipelines in more stable countries.  It also is aggressive in constructing infrastructure here, and in other similarly dangerous nations.  This has proven to be a boon for business, but also has potentially great costs.

According to IHS Global Insight Asia and Pacific analyst Neil Ashdown, Chinese companies sends more of its people to work on projects abroad than Western firms, which has two effects.  One is that the workers’ families tend to join them, creating even more potential peril.  The other is that the insistence on using its own workers runs the risk of alienating local populations.  But the general outcome is one of efficiency and easy business.  Most countries will not attempt projects of this nature in places like Sudan because of the constant strife.

South Kordofan has been near the center of the current strife along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, which became independent in July 2011.  The SPLM-N is allied with South Sudan.  The two countries are currently mired in discussions over how to share profits from oil, and South Sudan has threatened to cut off the supply until an agreement is reached.  The region produces 500,000 barrels of oil per day, according to the New York Times.

For more information, please see:

BBC — China Doubts Sudan Workers Freed in South Kordofan — 30 January 2012

New York Times — Sudan Says It Freed Some Kidnapped Chinese Workers — 30 January 2012

Sudanese Media Center — Haroun: Armed Forces and Security Authorities Liberate 14 of the Kidnapped Chinese Workers — 30 January 2012

Sudan Tribune — Sudan’s Rebels Promise to Release Kidnapped Chinese Workers — 30 January 2012

Sudan Tribune — Sudan Says 14 Chinese Workers Freed in South Kordofan — 30 January 2012

New York Times — Sudan Rebels Are Said to Hold Road Crew from China — 29 January 2012

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Unable to Pay Cambodian Employees

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Approximately 300 Cambodians working at the Khmer Rouge tribunal will not be paid for their work in the month of January. Some Cambodians, including judges, have not been paid since October. International staff is paid by the United Nations and will continue to receive their salaries throughout the tribunal.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (Photo Courtesy of The Phnom Penh Post )

The reason why Cambodians are going without pay is because funds from donor countries have ran out according to tribunal spokesman, Huy Vannak. However, Vannak explained “despite the fact that no key donor countries have pledged any new financial assistance, the court pursues its work as normal.”

In a “town hall” meeting on Friday administration directors told Cambodian staff for the tribunal that they would not be paid any salary until April at the earliest. The acting director of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said that what he wants to see in the future is that when funds are received by the United Nations, these funds should be split between the Cambodian and International side of the court.

Under ECCC law expenses and salaries of the Cambodian staff “shall be borne by the Cambodian national budget.” Huy Vannak acknowledged the law but said this has not been the practice of the court. He continued “the Royal Government of Cambodia contributes funds for water, electricity, security, transportation of staff, and outreach activities.”

An unofficial translation of the 2012 Budget Law does not contain any appropriations for the tribunal. Cheam Yeap, Chairman of the National Assembly Finance and Banking Commission, said the government has a separate budget for the tribunal but has not received any budget proposals for 2012.

Anne Heindel a legal adviser at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia said it has been common practice for Cambodian salaries to be paid from voluntary international contributions to the Cambodian government. “Donors either give money to the UN side or the Cambodian side,” Heindel said.

A tribunal official explained that funds are usually applied for in November and received annually. However, this year directors did not fly to New York to apply for funds although a tentative plan is in place for the directors to visit New York next month.

David Scheffer, a United Nations appointed Special Expert, said last week it was his “job” to ensure there was adequate financial support for the tribunal. He continued to say “we need to ensure that there’s that infusion of funding from relevant sources into the tribunal on a regular basis.”

For more information please see:      

The Phnom Penh Post – KRT Pay Freeze Will Linger — 30 January 2012

CBS News –Khmer Rouge Tribunal Halts Salaries for Cambodians – 26 January 2012

Washington Post – Salaries Stopped for Cambodian Staffers at Khmer Rouge Tribunal Due to Funding Cuts – 26 January 2012

The Phnom Penh Post – Cash Crunch at KR Tribunal – 19 January 2012

Protests in Bahrain Still Drawing Questions About Treatment of Detainees

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain–Bahraini detainees and activists who were convicted for taking part in anti-government protests last year began a hunger strike on Sunday January 29 2012. The strike was announced as the Gulf kingdom’s interior minister called for punishment against those “attacking policemen” to be raised to a 15-year prison term.

Young protesters carry independence flags in Bahrain. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), shared these words with the AFP concerning the hunger strike.

“This evening, they will have their last meal.”

BYSHR stated that 14 prevalent human rights activists and opposition leaders would begin a hunger strike “in solidarity with pro-democracy protests and in protest against the brutal crackdown.” Also, that detainees held in police stations and the Dry Docks detention center would also participate in the strike as well as BYSHR activists not presently behind bars.

The 14 leading individuals in jail include several opposition leaders who wee convicted last year of plotting to overthrow the regime of the Sunni Al-Khalifa after security forces ended a month-long protest movement demanding democratic changes. But the conflict between members of the Shiite majority and police have intensified recently as the first anniversary of protests that began on 14 February 2011 gets closer.

According to the BNA state agency, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa said on Sunday 29 January 2012 that the recent clashes have seen an “increase in violence and attacks on security personnel.” He also stated his intention to urge parliament to pass laws to punish “assailants and the instigators” of attacks that target security forces with jail sentences lasting up to 15 years.

“My responsibility is to call for the strengthening of law protecting police as there are no deterrent laws so far.”

The interior ministry has reported that some 41 officers were injured in orchestrated attacks on police on Tuesday 24 January 2012 with protesters in Shiite villages, while the opposition said one protester was killed and several others were injured.

In addition to dealing with alleged attacks on officers, the Bahraini government is also refuting opposition claims that security officers were responsible for the deaths of anti-government protesters, stating that they died of “natural causes.”

The death of teenager Mohammed Ibrahim Yacoub was one of four deaths reported by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Also, the opposition group al Welfaq accused Bahraini authorities of running over Yacoub with a police car. According to the Bahrain News Agency, the Ministry of Health denied the allegation.

Luma Bashmi, a spokeswoman for the president’s office at the Information Affairs Authority, stated to CNN on Friday 27 January 2011, that the 17-year-old had “died from complications of Sickle Cell Anemia following his arrest on Wednesday 25 January for rioting in Sitra.”

Yacoub, whose age was previously reported as 19, reportedly told police about his medical condition when he began to feel ill during his interrogation. Then, police took him to a medical center but his condition continued to worsen. Intensive care doctors were not able to resuscitate him, due to internal bleeding and a fatal drop in blood pressure.

As part of the Health Ministry’s defense, it released a video purportedly taken at the time of the arrest that it allegedly shows Yacoub unharmed. It also released a medical report that indicated the boy’s cause of death was “sickle cell complications” and that his body had remained free of injuries.

According to a BNA report, Yacoub was arrested on Wednesday 25 January 2012 for participants in act of violence and vandalism.

Bashmi, of the Information Affairs Authority, also reported on the deaths of two more protesters. The first, Saeed Ali Al-Sikri, reportedly fell in the bathroom of his residence on Wednesday 25 January 2012 and later was pronounced dead in a hospital. The public prosecutor ordered forensic blood tests but no results have been released at this point. The second, Abbas Al-Shakikh, had been diagnosed with cancer last year. He was admitted to a hospital but his condition quickly deteriorated and he passed away on Wednesday January 25 2012.

The demonstrations and protests in Bahrain began on 14 February 2011, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. But unlike other nations in the Arab Spring, the movement in Bahrain failed to gain any real traction and have been repeatedly quelled by crackdowns backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In November 2011, Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report highly critical of the crackdown. Set up by the king, the commission concluded that police had indeed used excessive force and torture during last year’s crackdown on protests. Commission chairman Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni stated at the time that abuse of detainees included beatings with metal pipes and batons and threats of rape and electrocution. Additionally, the report stated that the mistreatment included physical and psychological torture, intended to extract information or to punish those held by security forces.

The report recommended reforms to the country’s laws and better training of its security forces. But the reports surrounding the death of protests such as Mohammed Ibrahim Yacoub make it clear that change has not happened at all and that civilians continue to suffer.

 

 

For more information, please see: 

ABNA – Iran Condemns Bahrain’s Cruelty Against Peaceful Demonstrators – 30 January 2012

Ahram – Bahrain Detainees To Begin Hunger Strike – 29 January 2012

Reuters – Bahrain Wants Stiffer Penalties For Security Staff Attackers – 29 January 2012

CNN – Bahrain Government Refutes Claims Over Protester Deaths – 28 January 2012

BBC – Bahrain Criticized Over ‘Inappropriate’ Use of Tear Gas – 27 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Bahrain Confirms Teen Died In Police Custody – 26 January 2012

NYT – In Bahrain, Worries Grow of Violent Shiite-Sunni Confrontation – 25 January 2012

 

 

 

As Arab League Vacates Syria, Civilians Continue To Pay The Toll

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–The Arab League suspended its mission in Syria on Saturday 28 January 2011, opening the door for more unabated violence in the country. The Syrian military has launched an offensive to regain control of the suburbs east of Damascus. Soldiers stormed neighborhoods and clashed with groups of army deserters in fighting that has caused civilians to bear the burden.

A Syrian army defector holds his rifle and independence flag in the Damascus suburb of Saqba.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Activist groups say that at least three civilians were killed on Sunday 29 January 2012 in the eastern region of Damascus. Six soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb detonated near a bus line they were traveling on in the south of the capital. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 66 people, including 26 civilians, were killed across the country. The London-based right group reported that 26 soldiers, five other members of the security forces, nine army deserters were also among those killed as regime soldiers cracked down on protesters.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Anita McNaught spoke with activists in Al-Ghouta, approximately 10 kilometers from the city center of Damascus, and shared these sentiments. Al-Ghouta is historically known for being a hub of dissent against al-Assad’s regime and the crackdown appeared to deter any sort of mass-movement resembling what has occurred in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

“People we’ve spoke to are too frightened to leave their homes, they’re locked themselves in.”

Dozens of amateur videos have surfaced from Al-Ghouta and Zamalka depicted tanks rolling into both cities. In the southern province of Deraa, there were reports that security forces had killed two students when they broke into a school in the town of Jasim.

The international community has come out with a strong response against the Arab League’s decision to end its observer mission in Syria. Considering the escalating violence, the Arab League said that the situation demands additional deployment of monitors and not their suspension. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, offered strong words of criticism against the Arab League’s decision to end the mission.

“We would like to know why they are treating such a useful instruments in this way. I would support an increased number of observers. We are surprised that after a decision was taken on prolonging the observers’ mission for another month, some countries, particularly Persian Gulf countries, recalled their observers from the mission.”

Since the Arab League ended its observer mission on Saturday 28 January 2012, allowing a spike in bloodshed to occur in the crackdowns on anti-regime protests. In the past four days alone, several hundred individuals have lost their lives. Jim Muir, reporting for the BCC in Lebnanon, stated that both the upsurge and suspension mean that even more attention to be put on the UN Security Council’s attempts this coming next to get a tough resolution on Syria.

The Syrian government expressed its own concern with the surprise and disagreement over the Arab League’s decision to end its observer mission. The Syrian Television gave the following statement concerning the exodus of the observers.

“Syria regrets and is surprised at the Arab decision to stop the work of its monitoring mission after it asked for a one-month extension of its work. This will have a negative impact and put pressure on the Security Council’s deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence.”

Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League chief, headed to New York City on Sunday 29 January 2012, hoping to win support from the United Nations Security Council for a plan to end violence in Syria by asking President Bashar al-Assad to step down. He shared the following words with reporters in Cairo concerning his visit to New York City.

“We will hold several meetings with representative from members of the Security Council to obtain the council’s support and agreement to the Arab initiative.”

As the international community continues to debate the future of Syria, its people continue to suffer and perish under the current conditions. One activist in the town of Saqba discussed the deplorable conditions.

“They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating.”

In December 2011, the UN reported that more than 5,000 people had been killed since the demonstrations and protests began against the government of President al-Assad first began in March. On Tuesday 24 January 2012, Arab nations voted to extend the mission for another month. In less than a week, the Arab League has gone back on its decision to extend the mission.

The ban on international journalists that has been imposed for the last 10 months is already expected to extend its “authority” again. Journalists had been allowed in on short visas in recent weeks per partial fulfillment of Assad’s deal with the Arab League. But since the observers are departing, the agreement protecting the journalists seems to already be fading.

A western diplomat shared the following words with The Guardian concerning the absence of observers and the media in Syria.

“With no Arab observers and not much media presence left things could now get a lot worse. Any constraining hand has gone. It makes it all the more urgent to achieve something at the UN this week and that can’t be taken for granted.”

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Syrian Forces Kill 33 In Attack On Rebel-Town Residents – 29 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Army In Offensive Near Damascus – 29 January 2012

BBC – Syrian Army Moves To Wrest Damascus Suburbs From Rebels – 29 January 2012

CNN – Arab League Suspends Syria Mission Amid Violence – 29 January 2012

The Guardian – Syria Hurtling Towards A Bloodier Crisis – 29 January 2012

NYT – Sharp Rise In Violence Halts Monitoring By League In Syria – 28 January 2012


Iran Extinguishing Expression Prior to March Elections

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — In recent weeks, both the United States and Human Rights Watch have accused Iran of attempting to quash free expression ahead of the country’s March elections.  Since the beginning of 2012 at least ten reporters and bloggers have been arrested.

There is an outcry to allow freedom of expression in Iran (Photo courtesy of Veezzle).

“This wave of arrests against journalists and bloggers is a brazen attempt by the authorities to exercise absolute control over information available to the citizens,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials should immediately release all journalists and bloggers currently languishing in Iran’s prisons without ever being publicly charged and presented with the evidence against them, or serving time for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Authorities have refused to publically announce many of the charges against the journalists and bloggers, however two of the bloggers have received death sentences for the charge of “spreading corruption.”

On January 24, BBC Persia reported that judicial authorities in Iran had acknowledged the existence of a “temporary detention” order for one of the journalists, but friends and family of the detained say that they have been denied access and have yet to be told the charges levied.

There are rumors of charging the journalists and bloggers with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime,” however these have yet to be confirmed officially.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland noted U.S. concern over the treatment of the detained, and Iran’s apparent disregard for due process.

“We are deeply concerned by the alarming increase in the Iranian regime’s efforts to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections,” she said.

“Iranian courts confirmed death sentences for bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, both of whom were not accorded due process and now face imminent execution on charges of ‘spreading corruption.'”

The U.S. is urging Iran to respond to the international calls “to abide by its commitments to protect the rights of all citizens and uphold the rule of law.” They are also asking Iran officials to cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur who began a special assignment investigating human rights in Iran late last year.

Iran has also recently increased its efforts to censor free expression the internet. On January 4, local newspapers printed new regulations from Iran’s cyber police unit that gave internet cafes 15 days to install security cameras and to begin collecting personal information from customers for tracking purposes.

Recent interruptions in internet connectivity and an increase of blocked websites have some thinking this is evidence that Iran is testing a national intranet.  In March 2011, Iranian authorities announced that they were funding a multi-million dollar project to build a special Iranian internet to protect the country from socially and moral corrupt content.

For more information, please see:

AFP — US says Iran seeking to snuff out free expression — 27 Jan. 2012

U.S. Department of State — Wave of Arrests, Harassment, and Death Sentences in Iran — 26 Jan. 2012

Washington Examiner — Iran arrests journalists, to execute bloggers — 26 Jan. 2012

Human Rights Watch — Iran: New Assault on Freedom of Information — 25 Jan. 2012

Petitioners Thrown Into ‘Black Jails’

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Chinese petitioners describe being beaten and detained by Chinese authorities for unfurling a banner in Tiananmen Square on behalf of jailed fellow activists.

Chinese petitioners have been detained in unofficial facilities known as black jails (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Following the unfurling of the banner, which read: “the victims locked up in the Qiutaoshanzhuang black jail in Shaanxi wish the central government leaders a happy new year,” the Beijing police detained more than twenty people who were protesting the illegal detentions of in an unofficial detention center, known as a “black jail.”

Chinese petitioners claim that they are sent to black jails, where they are beaten and harassed, when they try to complain about the local government to the higher government.

Many of those put into black jails have spent decades trying to win redress for forced evictions, beatings while in custody and corruption regarding lucrative land sales.

Petitioner Zhang Wuxue described, “we were locked in the basement and got nothing to eat or drink, and we couldn’t get out, and the security guards swore at us and beat us.”

A recently freed detainee of a black jail stated that, “when we were detained, we were starved and humiliated. We were sick but couldn’t get any medical help. One of the elder petitioners was sick for four or five days and couldn’t get any medicine, even though he was going to pay for it himself.”

According to rights lawyer Liu Anjun authorities are cracking down in dissent in the capital in comparison with past years.

Chinese citizens have experience an increase in government crackdown on dissidents following the uprisings in the Middle East almost a year ago. Many speculate that the government is in fear of losing the control it has over it’s citizens to rebellions inspired by the Middle East protestors.

 

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Petitioners Thrown in ‘Black Jails’ – 26 January 2012

NTD – Petitioners Rescued From Beijing Black Jail – 18 January 2012

Human Rights Watch Brings Focus to the Problem of Elderly Prisoners

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – According to figures from 2010, eight percent of the prison population (or 124,400 inmates) is 55 years old or older.  This number is up from three percent in 1995.  A report released by Human Rights Watch acknowledged this change and demonstrated why this is such a problem.

The growing elderly prison population causes problems for states, facilities, officers, and the prisoners themselves. (Image courtesy of CNN)

Human Rights Watch issued a 106-page report titled “Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States.”  Not only does the report outline the problems, but also calls for changes on harsh sentencing rules, mandatory minimum sentences, reduced opportunities for parole, and additional changes in prison facilities.

Not only does the aging prison population cause problems for the prisons themselves, but also for taxpayers and policymakers.  According to CNN, older prisoners incur medical costs that are three to nine times higher than younger prisoners.

Jamie Fellner, a Human Rights Watch special adviser who wrote the report, sees extreme comparisons between prisons and geriatric facilities.  “U.S. corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars,” Fellner said, as reported by TIME.

Elderly prisoners face many issues within the prisons themselves.  The facilities are not equipped for wheelchairs; the elderly cannot easily climb into top bunks or up sets of stairs.  Some facilities struggle with whether they need grab bars and handicap toilets for elderly inmates.

A.T. Wall is the director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators.  According to TIME, Wall said “Dementia can set in, and an inmate who was formerly easy to manage becomes very difficult to manage.”  He continued on to explain, “There are no easy solutions.”

While the report wants changes in many areas of sentencing, Human Rights Watch is not advocating for complete release.  According to The New York Times, Fellner said, “Age should be a get-out-of-jail-free card, but when prisoners are so old and infirm that they are not a threat to public safety, they should be released under supervision.”  Fellner goes on to argue that if changes are not made soon, “legislatures are going to have to pony up a lot more money to pay for proper care for them behind bars.”

Besides lengthy sentences and more life sentences, the other factor that contributes to the elderly inmate population is that the number of old people entering for the first time, according to The New York Times.

Although the lacking budget in most states hinders significant change, some states are really making an effort.  For example: The Louisiana State Penitentiary has a hospice program where fellow prisoners provide care for their fellow dying inmates.  They provide everything from changing diapers to saying prayers, according to TIME.

Other states like Washington and Montana are looking into opening assisted living facilities for elderly inmates.  Each facility is small – capacities of 74 and 120 beds respectively – but will provide specialized treatment for the elderly inmates.

The biggest dilemma is that some of the inmates are still dangerous and some are not, so it is difficult to create a bright line rule for release.

In a nation where sentences seem to get longer and longer, the problem is only going to get worse.  The report points out that almost 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence, according to CNN.  Furthermore, another 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.

While facility changes are beginning, the report points out the fact that guards and other correctional officers are not trained properly to deal with the elderly.  Linda Redford, director of the geriatric education center at the University of Kansas Medical Center has helped train prison staff and inmates to better deal with geriatric prisoners.  Even the medical staff is not prepared to deal with it: “They’re used to having to deal with issues of younger prisoners, such as HIV and substance abuse,” Redford said, according to TIME.

States and prisons will continue to try to deal with caring for elderly patients.  Often times they are disregarded due to their inmate status.  The Human Rights Watch report will hopefully point out some of the common problems across the nation.

According to the Lawrence Journal World, Feller begs us to ask the question, “How are justice and public safety served by the continued incarceration of men and women whose bodies and minds have been whittled away by age?”

For more information, please visit:

CNN — Human Rights Watch Expresses Concern for Aging Prisoners — 27 Jan. 2012

Lawrence World Journal — As Inmates Age, Medical Costs Soar — 27 Jan. 2012

TIME/AP — Number of Elderly Inmates Surges — 27 Jan. 2012

The New York Times — Older Prisoners Mean Rising Health Costs, Study Finds — 26 Jan. 2012

 

Turks Call France’s New Genocide Law a ‘Massacre of Free Speech’

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France–Late Monday night the French Senate passed a new genocide law that could be signed by French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, in just two weeks; the new law elicited angry reactions from Turkey.

Franco-Turkish people protest the French Genocide Law near the French Senate in Paris. (Photo Curtesty of TVNZ).

The new legislation provides that, “those who have publicly denied or trivialized crimes of genocide” could be subject to a year in prison and/or a 45,000-euro fine (the equivalent of $58,00). Although the law does not mention specifically the “massacre of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks,” the seven-hour debate in the French senate on Monday focused primarily on the memory of the Armenian genocide.

As a nation, Turkey has, and continues to deny that the killing of 1.2 million ethnic Armenians was “genocide.” The United Nations has defined genocide as “the killing of, injuring of, or displacing of members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with the intent to destroy the group.”  Turkey claims that the estimated 1.2 million deaths is a gross exaggeration and that “there was no attempt to wipe out the whole group,” instead arguing “that hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians and Muslim Turks died from intercommunal violence, disease and general chaos.” Moreover, under Turkish law today, recognizing these particular deaths as genocide is an “insult to Turkish identity” that could result in a criminal conviction.

Notwithstanding Turkey’s strong and passionate denial, France, along with many other countries throughout the world, have in fact declared the 1915 killings “genocide.” In 2001, France enacted a law codifying this belief. As such, if the latest genocide law is signed by President Sarkozy, any person that denies the 1915 killings as being a genocide could face severe penalties.

While Armenia’s foreign minister, Edward Nalbandian, recognized Monday as a day which will be “written in gold,” and avowed France as “a genuine defender of universal human values,” the Turkish government, and supporters of the government, could not have been less enthusiastic. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed that the French legislation “represented evident discrimination, racism and massacre of free speech,” adding that “we have not lost our hope yet that this mistake can be corrected.” Various headlines found on Turkish newspapers screamed “Guillotine to History” and “Guillotine to Thought.” Yet another said, “He Massacred Democracy” next to a photo of Sarkozy.  

Despite the Bill’s seemingly good intentions, even Amnesty International has agreed with Turkish sentiment. Nicola Duckworth, the Director of Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty Internationa,l claimed that the legislation “would violate freedom of expression by making it a criminal offense to publicly question events termed as ‘genocide’ under French law,” a principal that has been repeatedly upheld by the European Court of Human Rights. She went on to explain that “this bill…would have a chilling effect on public debate and contravene France’s international obligations to uphold freedom of expression…People should be free to express their opinions on this issue—in France, Turkey and elsewhere.” In short, should this bill be enacted, it will be clear that “French authorities are failing to comply with their international human rights obligations,” she said.

In addition to violating international law, the direct conflict between France’s new law and Turkish law, not to mention Turkish nationalism, could cause “permanent harm to Franco-Turkish relations.” When the French lower house of parliament passed the genocide law in December, Turkey withdrew Tahsin Burcuoglu, the country’s ambassador, from Paris and suspended military ties with France. Additionally, some Turkish politicians have warned of further sanctions and the permanent removal of the ambassador while the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul wasted no time declaring that the “bilateral relations are at a different level from now on.” The Nationalist Movement Party expressed a desire to terminate the Turkish and French friendship parliamentary committee.

For more information, please visit:

Ekklesia—France’s Armenian Genocide Bill Threatens Free Speech, Says Amnesty—26 January 2012

RFI—France’s Armenian Genocide Bill—Who? What? When? Where? Why?—25 January 2012

New York Times—French Bill on Genocide Is Denounced by Turkey—24 January 2012

 CNN—Turkey Blasts French Passage of Genocide Law—24 January 2012

Human Rights Watch Report: French Police Engage In Racial Profiling

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France — Human rights watch issued a report Thursday documenting discriminatory practices of French police.  The report accuses the police of “using overly broad powers to conduct unwarranted and abusive identity checks on black and Arab young men and boys.”

French police are accused of discriminating against young black and Arab boys (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Details of the discriminatory acts in the report, entitled “The Root of Humiliation: Abusive Identity Checks in France,” include probing questioning, invasive patdowns, and sometimes excessive force.  Usually the checks are done without any indication of wrongdoing and at times involve the use of racial slurs.  The report focuses its attention on minority communities in the cities of Paris, Lille, and Lyon.

Judith Sutherland, a Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said, “It’s shocking that young black and Arab kids can be, and are, arbitrarily forced up against walls and manhandled by the police with no real evidence of wrongdoing.  But if you are a young person in some neighborhoods in France, it’s a part of life.”

This kind of behavior by the police is allowed under French law, which affords broad discretion to police for search and seizure.  The police do not systematically record the searches nor do they give documentation explaining to those searched the premises of the check.

The political climate in France seems to foster this kind of discrimination.  In the last presidential election law enforcement and reducing crime were top issues.  President Nicholas Sarkozy came to power with a “law-and-order” image.  Now far-right politicians who take hard-line stances on immigration are registering high poll numbers.

Farid A., who lives outside of Paris, said that he and his friends were stopped three times near the Eiffel Tower.  “We came out of the metro, a check. We walk 200 meters, another check. We walk 200 meters, and another check.  There were a lot of people, but they stopped only us.”

Incidents of violence were also noted in the report.  On 17-year-old boy gave his account of an encounter with the police.  “When we were there with our hands against the wall, I turned toward him [the officer who was frisking him] and he hit me on the head. I said something like why are you hitting me, and he said to shut up, ‘You want a shot of [tear] gas or what?”

In its report, Human Rights Watch warns that ethnic profiling by the police works to divide the community.  France should be especially sensitive to animosity between races following the 2005 riots that grew out of tension between police and ethnic minorities.

“Frankly, police-community relations in France are dismal, and everyone knows it,” Sunderland said. “Taking concrete steps to prevent abusive identity checks – one of the main sources of tension – would be a real step forward and would make a genuine difference in people’s daily lives.”

Pascal Garibian, the national spokesman for the police, dismissed the Human Rights Watch report as a caricature of the police and called it unfair and unscientific.

This is not the first report documenting racial profiling by French law-enforcement authorities.  A report from 2007-2008 by Open Society Justice Initiative found that black people are six times more likely to be searched by police and Arab people are eight times more likely to be checked by the police.

Included in the report were several statements from French citizens who recount unreasonable searches by police.  Here are a few.

Ouamar C., 13 years old, Paris

“I was sitting with some friends…and they came to do a stop. I didn’t talk because if you talk they take you downtown. They opened my bag. They searched my body too. Like every time. They didn’t find anything on me. That was the first time it happened in front of my school. They say, ‘Up against the wall.’ They search, and when it’s over they say thank-you and leave…I was scared at first, now I’m getting used to it.”

Haroun A., 14 years old, Bobigny:

“I was at the shopping mall with some friends having fun. They [the police] come with their weapons and point them at us. There were three of them. They said: ‘Identity check.’ Two of them had their Flash-Balls [a gun that shoots rubber bullets] in their hands. There were five or six of us. We weren’t doing anything. They just stop us all the time like that. When there’s a group of us, they stop us right away. They asked if we had stuff.  They put us against the wall. They search even in our socks and shoes.  They didn’t find anything. They don’t always ask for our papers.”

Halim B., 17 years old, Lille:

“The bus stops and the police come on. I was sitting in the back. It was 7:20 in the morning. The bus was full…They pointed to one guy and said, ‘You get up and get off with us.’ I was watching. I thought he was a criminal. And then they pointed at me to get off too. Three people had to get off, and two of them were Arabs. The bus was full. There were plenty of people standing. There were more [white] French on the bus…They [the police] have the right to do these checks whenever they like but honestly I was upset. I felt like I was a burglar, a wanted criminal. I was scared when they told me to get off. I wondered what I’d done. When I got off [the bus], they said, ‘contrôle [identity check], do you have anything illegal on you, empty your pockets.’ They searched my bag and then let me go. I got to school a bit late.  Honestly, I wasn’t poorly dressed or anything, I was going to school.”

For more information please see:

BikyaMasr — French Police Abuse Power With Black And Arab Men, Says Report — 27 January 2012

Connexion — ‘Excessive’ Police Force Criticized — 27 January 2012

OnIslam — Police Under Fire On Minority Abuse — 27 January 2012

RFI — French Police Accused Of Racial Profiling By Human Rights Group — 27 January 2012

Human Rights Watch — France: Abusive Identification Checks Of Minority Youth — 26 January 2012

Jordanian Activist Guilty of Burning King’s Image

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch, Middle East

A Jordanian activist has been found guilty of “harming the king’s dignity” for burning a street poster of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Jordan's King Abdullah (Photo courtesy of Ahram).

Odai Abu-Issa,  an 18 year old from Madaba, 40 kilometers south of Amman, and a member of the Youth Movement for Reform, torched the poster in front of government office in southwest Jordan two weeks ago.

The charge is included among several acts that prohibit insulting the king, for which article 195 of Jordan’s penal code imposes sentences of between one and three years.

Abu-Issa was also charged with setting property on fire, which is punishable with hard labor.

While no clear motive for Abu-Issa’s actions has been reported, he belongs to a small group of young Jordanians who have been demanding that the king’s absolute powers be curbed.

A military prosecutor said the verdict was issued Thursday by the military State Security Court.

Human Rights Watch had been calling on Jordan’s prosecutor to drop the charges since they were first issued.  Although criminal prosecutions for the destruction of other people’s property is permissible, criminalizing insults against a head of state is incompatible with international human rights standards protecting the right to freedom of expression, Human Right Watch said.

“Burning a royal’s image as a political statement should not be criminally prosecuted,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To prosecute this act would send a chilling message that criticizing the king is off limits.”

Abu-Issa’s lawyer, Moussa Al-Abdallat, called the sentence “harsh” and said that he will appeal.

In December 2011, the State Security Court detained and charged Abu-Issa for slogans he shouted against the king during a protest in Madaba.  The trials for this charge are still currently in progress.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of Jordan charging individuals under the laws prohibiting insulting the king, including incidents at a barbershop, during parliamentary campaigning, and for poetry published on facebook.

In early August, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a new general comment on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 19.  “The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties…in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases [of dangerous speech] and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.”

King Abdullah signed a law in September that restricts the State Security Court’s jurisdiction over civilians to four types of offenses – high treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug trafficking – but these changes do not go into force for three years. The Jordanian Parliament voted down proposals to remove the court’s entire jurisdiction over civilians.

For more information, please see:

Ahram — Jordan activist jailed for burning king’s picture — 26 Jan. 2012

Boston Globe — Jordan youth critical of king gets jail time — 26 Jan. 2012

Press TV — Jordanian jailed for burning king image — 26 Jan. 2012

IEWY — Jordan: Drop Charges for ‘Undermining Royal Dignity” — 24 Jan. 2012