Cuban Prisoners Faced with Inhumane Conditions; No Investigations Permitted

Cuban Prisoners Faced with Inhumane Conditions; No Investigations Permitted

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HAVANA, Cuba – A recent report and unverified video came out this last week showing the horrible conditions of Cuban prisons.  The environment in many of the 200 prisons throughout Cuba is inhumane and not fit for anyone.  The beds, toilets, food, and treatment of the prisoners are all inappropriate and appalling.

The Miami Herald reports that Cuba has between 70,000 and 80,000 inmates in about 200 prisons and labor camps on the island.  There are 11.2 million peoples in the country, making this a very high incarceration rate – 625 persons per 100,000.  Just for reference, the United States leads the way with 743 persons per 100,000 who are incarcerated.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas program at Human Rights Watch, said that prisoners told him back in 1995 that conditions were “absolutely awful, terrible, inhuman,” according to The Miami Herald.

Douglas Moore is an American convicted of a drug offense serving time in a Cuban prison, according to CNN.  In the hidden camera video released last week to publicize the terrible conditions, many of the inmates spoke about the atrocities.

Moore says in the video, “I cannot count all the times that I have been chained by my hands and legs and beaten mercilessly, then robbed of my meager possessions by the [guards] here at Combinado del Este,” reports CNN.  Complaints from other prisoners include meager rations of food, dilapidated cells, moldy walls, overcrowding, limited exercise hours, and persistent sewage leaks.

The major problem, reports CNN, is that the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights groups are unable to investigate conditions at the Combinado del Este.  A state released video in 2004 showed Cuban prisoners learning computer skills and exercising on a lawn.

According to an article by NBC Miami, Albert Mueller explains some of his time behind bars and the terrible things he went through.  He said that the prison was unsanitary, deteriorating, and unstable and that was over 40 years ago.  He recalls his first day in prison: “I [had] to suffer a simulation of a firing squad…It was a very bad experience.”

The narrator of the video wants it to be shared, and wants a change in the prisons in Cuba.  The Global Post reports the narrator says, “Show this video to the international community, how this miserable dictatorship commits cruelties against humanity.”  Hopefully the publicity will help the prisoners facing intolerable conditions there.

For more information, please visit:

Global Post — Cuban Prison Videos Filmed by Inmates Expose Living Conditions — 18 Mar. 2012

CNN – Cuban Prisoners Said to Make Videos Exposing Prison Conditions — 17 Mar. 2012

Miami Herald — Many Have Complained About Cuban Prisons, but No Independent Inspections Have Been Allowed — 16 Mar. 2012

NBC Miami — Ex-Cuban Prisoner Remembers his 15 Years Behind Bars — 15 Mar. 2012

Russian Ambassador Denies Intent To Seek Posthumous Magnitsky Conviction

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, issued a statement denying reports of a posthumous prosecution of deceased Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  Yakoveno’s statement contradicts documentary evidence that Russian authorities are preparing to prosecute Magnitsky.

Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

Magnitsky was a lawyer for Russian company Hermitage Capital.  In 2008 Magnitsky uncovered a tax fraud scheme coordinated by one of Hermitage Capital’s clients.  Upon reporting the fraud the Russian government turned the blame on Magnitsky.  He was imprisoned in depraved conditions, denied access to urgent medical care, and was allowed to die on the floor of the prison.

Several documents contradict Yakavenko’s assertion that Russian officials never planned on prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously.  A letter from Major Smirnov of the Russian Interior Ministry to Magnitsky’s mother, dated 10 February 2012 read, “During preliminary investigation, no grounds in support of the rehabilitation of deceased S. Magnitsky have been established, and under these circumstances his case must go to trial on common terms.”

Another letter on 24 February 2012 from General Romanov, the Deputy Chief of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee, to Magnitsky’s family stated, “The reopening of the preliminary investigation into S. Magnitsky has a direct aim to determine…all circumstances of the case in support of the accusation against S. Magnitsky and decide on that basis the matter about his guilt or innocence in the incriminated acts.”

And on 6 March 2012, Boris Kibis of the Russian Interior Ministry wrote a letter to Magnitsky’s mother naming her as a defendant in Magnitsky’s prosecution.  “You have been made a participant in the criminal case and now have the rights of a defendant.”

In his statement, Yakovenko gives an explanation for the continued proceedings involving Magnitsky and denies intentions to convict him.

 In accordance with general rules of the Russian penal legislation, a criminal investigation is discontinued in case of death of the accused person.

However, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has recently decided that such a criminal investigation may be resumed or continued in case the person’s relatives insist on his posthumous rehabilitation. According to the information available, this is precisely what the mother of Sergey Magnitsky and his advocates insist on.

In this connection, the court is the only authority to decide on rehabilitation of Sergey Magnitsky or discontinuation of this criminal case “on account of the death of the defendant”. Russian law does not envisage conviction of a deceased person.

Thus, allegations of a posthumous prosecution of Sergey Magnitsky spread by the Hermitage Capital investment fund and some international organizations have no legal grounds.

Yakovenko’s statement follows a long debate in the British Parliament earlier this month, which concluded with a recommendation to impose sanctions against Russian officials for their role in Magnitsky’s death.

Througout the debate in Parliament, members of the British Parliament accused Yakovenko of attempting to gag discussions of sanctions.  These accusations stem from Yakavenko’s letter to British MP Dominic Raab complaining of “errors” in Raab’s motion for sanctions against Russian officials.

Raab responded to the letter by saying, “It’s bad enough Mr Putin’s regime corrupting elections in Russia. But it adds insult to injury for him to send envoys to try to subvert democracy in this country.”

Since the proceedings against Magnitsky began last July his family has sent over twenty complains to Moscow courts against the Russian Interior Ministry and General Prosecutor.  All of the complaints have been denied.

For more information please see:

Law and Order in Russia — Russia’s UK Ambassador Joins Cover Up In Magnitsky Case — 18 March 2012

The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — On The Magnitsky Case — 16 March 2012

RIANOVOSTI — British MPs Urge Magnitsky List Sanctions — 8 March 2012

The Telegraph — Russia ‘Tries To Gag British Parliament’ — 7 March 2012


Bahrain Prosecutes Medics as Protesters Seek Underground Aid

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Bahraini government is continuing its prosecution of a group of medics who treated wounded protesters during an Arab Spring inspired uprising last year.  The continuation of the internationally criticized high profile case comes despite a statement from the prosecutor suggesting that most of the charges would be dropped.

Bahrain medics have become a target for helping injured protesters (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

Last week it was announced that charges would only be pursued against five of the 20 medics that are involved in the case.  The other medics’ cases would be sent to a professional tribunal.

So far none of the charges have been dropped, and there has been no pronouncement as to why.

There appears to be some problem within the Bahraini government as to the policy that should be applied.

“It looks like various people are making decisions in the Bahrain government without an agreed policy. What’s happening with the medics smells of incoherence and incompetence,” said Brian Dooley of the US-based Human Rights First.

The prosecution has inspired a lot of international ire, as rights groups claim that the medics are being punished for helping civilians who had been attacked by state security forces during anti-government demonstrations.

This case is technically a retrial.  The original trial took place in a military court where the medics received jail terms of up to 15 years on charges including incitement to overthrow the government and attempting to occupy a hospital.

Some of those charged are said to have taken part in a protest inside the Salmaniya hospital.  Government witnesses claim that there was a plan to stockpile weapons inside the hospital and take hostages.

The prosecution of these medics is just one portion of a larger story.  There is currently a push in Bahrain for injured protesters to seek out underground medics rather than risk hospitals.

Police have been setting up shop in hospitals to interrogate the admitted injured. Some reports talk of interrogations happening in circumstances where the injured was barely conscious or unaware of their situation.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed al-Jaziri was seriously injured when he was struck in the face with a tear gas canister on February 18.  He was taken to the hospital, where, within ten minutes of arriving, police attempted to interrogate him despite the fact that he was heavily bleeding.  Throughout the night, the police repeatedly attempted to interrogate Mohammed, even though he was only semi-conscious.  His brother, Hussein, begged the police to leave him alone, but the next day Mohammed was subjected to a three-hour interrogation by a public prosecutor who refused to identify himself.

The treatment of patients like Mohammed has led many protesters and their families to distrust hospitals.

Last month Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority issued a warning to all private hospitals and clinics.  It said: “Providers must report cases with injuries due to suspected criminal activities irrespective of their causes to concerned authorities.” The letter added that failure to do so “constituted collaboration and is criminalized by law”.

While reporting criminal behavior is a norm in many societies, in Bahrain, where the act of going out and protesting is a crime, the repercussions are more severe.

“Calling for freedom and democracy in the streets makes me a criminal in Bahrain,” says Zainab al-Khawaja, a veteran human rights campaigner.

If an individual is injured during the protests they are likely to face interrogation and the possibility of criminal charges if they seek medical aid in a hospital.

This had led to a noticeable decline in the number of people being admitted into emergency rooms.  Some estimates show that admittances have been halved since the protests began in February 2011.

While the number of people seeking aid from hospitals has decreased, all signs show that violence between protesters and the police is escalating, and so is the number of injuries.

The need for non-hospital medical care has led many medics to begin practicing underground medicine on the side, despite the risks of facing criminal charges themselves.

For more information, please see:

RT — Bahrain retries convicted protest doctors — 23 Mar. 2012

Al-Jazeera — Bahrain to go ahead with medics trial — 21 Mar. 2012

International Business Times — Bahrain Pushing the Trial of Medics Who Treated Protesters — 21 Mar. 2012

Chicago Tribune — Bahrain to push on with medics trial, not drop cases — 20 Mar. 2012

BBC — Bahrain’s ‘underground medics’ secretly treat injured protesters — 24 Feb. 2012


“Sperm Hunters” Causing Trouble in Zimbabwe

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Reports of gangs of beautiful women picking up male travelers to have sex and harvest their sperm in condoms have been gripping Zimbabwe recently.

Sophie Nhokwara, 26, Netsai Nhokwara, 24, and Rosemary Chakwizira, 28, leave a court after being charged in attacking men for their sperm. (Photo Courtesy of The Daily Mail.)

Local media in Zimbabwe have reported that male victims have been drugged, subdued at gun or knife point, given a sexual stimulant and forced into repeated sex before being dumped on the side of the road.

The so-called sperm hunters first appeared in the press in 2009, but police have only arrested three women, found with a plastic bag of 31 used condoms in October.  The women were alleged to have violated 17 men.  However, the women have received a large amount of press attention and public anger, including death threats.

Technically, though, what these women are doing is not illegal.  No law in Zimbabwe criminalizes rape by women.  As a result, the women have been charged with 17 counts of aggravated indecent assault.

So far, local authorities are unable to tell exactly how many incidents have occurred.  Nakai Nengomasha, a counselor who’s worked with some of the male victims, suggested there could be more cases which have gone unreported.

“I think there has been a lot of under-reporting because the victims will feel not man enough to talk about such issues and that will hinder them from speaking out,” Nengomasha told the BBC.  “Some have to deal with the issue of seeing the assault as a loss of manhood and feel disgusted with themselves.

The sperm’s exact use is not clear, but it is thought to be intended for “juju” or traditional rituals to bring luck.  It is also not known why the semen is taken forcibly from strangers.  A spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association suggested that one reason why the harvesters do not solicit sperm from their loved ones is the belief that sperm used in “jujus” could bring on trouble for the man.

The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association slams the practice, mainly because they believe it to be form of witchcraft.  Additionally, “it has really frightened people,” said spokesman George Kandiyero.  “It has really brought in a bit of shock because normally it was the other way round, normally we know of men raping women, not women raping men.”

“Now, men fear women,” said 19-year-old Susan Dhliwayo.  Dhliwayo was shocked was she pulled her car over to pick up a group of male hitchhikers and they refused to get in.  “They said: ‘we can’t go with you because we don’t trust you’.”

Not everyone is outraged or shocked at the stories.   Tende Marahu, 24, tells stories of “sugar mamas” picking up young men from the streets to collect their sperm secured in a knotted condom after sex.  “It started a long time back,” Marahu said, adding that while he had not been involved, he would happily do so for the money.  “To me, I didn’t get shocked because I already knew it was happening.”

As well, a Zimbabwean women’s rights group has criticized the spotlight shifting to male rape victims.  The group paid for a newspaper advertisement to deplore that violence against women in the country is not met with the same degree of shock.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Mail – Men fear women in Zimbabwe after spate of rapes to harvest their sperm – 23 March 2012

International Business Times – Zimbabwe ‘Sperm Hunters’ Raise Fear Among Hitchhikers – 23 March 2012

The Raw Story – Sperm-hunting women prowl Zimbabwe highways – 22 March 2012

City Mayor Accused of Factory Shooting Not Charged

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Thursday March 15, Cambodian chief prosecutor Hing Bunchea stated that Chhouk Bandit, a former city governor and the lone suspect in a factory shooting, had not been charged despite admitting to a shooting that resulted in injuries for three women.

A former governor has avoided charges in a factory shooting despite admitting guilt (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America).

The incident involving Chhouk occurred on February 20 when Chhouk allegedly opened fire on a group of approximately 1,000 protestors outside of Kaoway Sports Ltd factory.

The protestors were demanding an increase in their pay and better working conditions when the suspect stepped out of his car, pulled out a hand gun and began to fire on the protestors.

As a result of the shooting, three women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three suffered gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital.

Despite the fact that Chhouk Bandit was subsequently fired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, many fear that he is using his money and influence to avoid being charged for the shooting.

Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng has identified Chhouk as the shooter leading NGO’s and rights groups  to “…strongly urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to make the suspect’s arrest an utmost priority.”

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, stated that the shooting is a criminal matter and Chhouk “…can’t use his money to shut people up.” He continued to state that there should be “…an investigation into who is trying to convince the court to drop the case. This kind of impunity sets a bad example for the country.”

Also fueling accusations of legal impropriety are the statements of the Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor.

Last week the prosecutor issued a summons for Chhouk rather than an arrest warrant citing his belief that the police report was unconvincing despite the fact that the former governor had been identified by the Interior Minister.

Initially, and following a meeting with Chhouk, the prosecutor had stated, “I already questioned him this morning. He was accompanied by his lawyer. He confessed to the shooting, but he gave me many reasons for that…It is my right not to arrest [him]. I don’t see it as important.”

Despite the admission, however, Chhouk left court without being arrested. Following this statement the prosecutor then changed his account of the deposition and stated that Chhouk had fired his gun in the air only to change his story again a few days later by stating that Chhouk had a gun but was unaware that it had discharged.

Kaoway Sports Ltd factory sources products for major clothing companies leading a consortium of clothing retailers including Puma, Gap and H&M to demand that the Cambodian government “…conduct a full and transparent investigation into the shooting and [to] hold those responsible for injuring workers accountable.”

For more information, please see:

Khmerization – Prosecutor’s Account of Questioning Varies – 20 March 2012

Khmerization – Factory Shooter Confesses – 17 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – Prosecutors Slammed for No Arrest – 15 March 2012

Voice of America – Bavet Mayor Identified as Suspect in Bloody Shooting – 1 March 2012