Militant Group Attacks Church in Kenya

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya—Early this morning, Sunday, September 30, 2012, a grenade attack on an Anglican church in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi left a child dead and seven other children injured. This attack has been viewed as a response by the Somali militant group Al Shabab to the Kenyan troops’ capture Al Shabab’s stronghold a couple of days ago on Friday.

One Child Was Killed in the Attack and Seven Others Were Injured. (Photo Courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor)

Currently, no suspects have been caught but suspicions have been placed on this group as there have been several other attacks on churches and public gathering spots in Kenya that have been attributed to Al Shabab.

Kenyan officials, however, noted that they do not believe that some of the smaller attacks are the work of Al Shabab. They commented that typically Al Shabab members have been trained in terrorist tactics and have often killed hundreds of people with large suicide bombs. But, the police also added that Al Shabab’s supporters in Kenya probably do not have the skills or the supplies to carry out a large scale operation and have now turned to less complicated attacks like the one today.

The Kenyan police chief Moses Nyakwama told the press that thirteen people were injured in this revenge attack and that two police officers were killed in the nearby town of Garissa—near the border of Somalia.

The reports of the attack suggest that many of those injured at the church were actually injured in the stampede after the attack. Police spokesman, Charles Owino, said, “These are the kicks of a dying horse since, of late, Kenyan police have arrested several suspects in connection with grenades.”

Irene Wambui, a woman who was at the church at the time of the grenades described the attack saying, “We were just worshipping God in church when suddenly we heard an explosion and people started running for their lives. We came to realize that the explosion had injured some kids who were taken to hospital and unfortunately one succumbed.”

The Kenyan military pushed deeper into Somalia and braced themselves for this kind of reprisal attack after the military staged an attack on Kismayu, the stronghold for Shabab militants, which allowed them to control a large area of the country. However, the Shabab have been slowly losing territory this past year against the Kenyan national army.

A member of the country’s Parliament appealed to the nation’s people when he said, after the attacks, “Religious wars have destroyed countries everywhere. That should not be replicated in Kenya.”

 

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Deadly Kenya Grenade Attacks Hits Children in Church – 30 September 2012

Christian Science Monitor – Child Killed in Kenya Church Attack: Revenge for Kismayo? – 30 September 2012

The New York Times – Blast Kills Boy at Church in Kenya – 30 September 2012

All Africa – Kenya: KDF Takes Kismayo – 29 September 2012

Sharp Increase in Violence in Iraq

By Emily Schneider
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunday marked the deadliest day in Iraq in nearly a month with a number of bombings that killed at least thirty-two people and wounded approximately one hundred.  The insurgents seem to be targeting Iraq’s Shiite Muslim community.

Residents inspect the rubble at the site of a bomb attack in the town of Taji. (Photo courtesy of Rueters)

Baghdad’s Shiite-majority government blames the recent attacks on Sunni insurgents with ties to al Qaeda.  A local news source noted that insurgents are have recently been regarded as weaker than before by the public but are still able to carry out mass-casualty attacks.  Twenty people were killed in the seven explosions in and around Baghdad, while at least thirty-seven others were wounded in explosions in al-Mashada and al-Amel, neighborhoods closer to the city center.

“I was in my shop and I heard the sound of a very powerful explosion,” said Abu Ihab, a shop owner in central Baghdad’s Karada district. “Dust was everywhere.”

“We were sitting in the shop while police were collecting flesh,” he said. “Human flesh was on the sidewalk, being collected and put in plastic bags.”

“When the explosion happens…I sit in my shop and I am afraid for my life,” Ihab told reporters.

Abu Ihab had good reason to be afraid, as the blast was followed by another car bomb that hit the same area.

Later in the day, a Shiite shrine in al-Madaan, about 20 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, was the target of a car bomb. Four people were killed by the blast, and nineteen others were wounded. Four of the wounded were Iranians who had traveled to the shrine on a religious pilgrimage from Iran.

In Kut, a predominately Shiite city about 110 kilometers south of Baghdad, a car exploded at a police checkpoint, killing six people. Three of those killed were members of the Iraqi police.

These explosions demonstrate a marked increase in violence after a relatively calm period. The last outburst of violence occurred on September 9, when 63 people were killed and around 200 wounded. Most of those victims were Iraqi security forces and took place in Shiite areas.

Infighting among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds has been common in Iraq, and was particularly terrible in 2006. Although the level of violence has generally been on the wane since the war in 2005 and 2006, recent months show that the violence is escalating again. This past July, the death toll reached a two-year high of 325 reported casualties.

The recent events have raised concerns that the political conflict will continue to escalate and return to the high level of violence that plagued the country a half-dozen years ago.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Many Killed in String of Iraq Attacks – 30 September 2012

CNN – Iraq Suffers Deadliest Day in Nearly a Month – 30 September 2012

Khaleej Times – Wave of Iraq Attacks Kills At Least 32 – 30 September 2012

Rueters – String of Iraq Blasts Kills at Least 32 – 30 September 2012

Muslim Women Refused Entry to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Wednesday, the Nigerian government reported that approximately 200 of its women were deported from Saudi Arabia.  Another 900 had been detained in Mecca, and three planes were turned around from Medina.  The women had attempted to enter the country to take part in a hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, that is mandated by their religion. They were turned away for not having a male guardian with them.

Almost 1,000 Nigerian women were held in detention when they showed up for hajj without male supervision. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

In the the eyes of Saudi law, women are no different from children.  As legal minors, they cannot work, leave the country, and often, receive medical treatment, without the consent of a male relative. These women flew into Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah airport, expecting to take part in a holy pilgrimage. Abubakar Shehu Bunu, Nigeria’s Saudi ambassador, claimed it had been agreed that the Nigerians could partake in their hajj as long as they were chaperoned by local authorities.  But instead, the Saudi ministry would not permit any woman under the age of forty-five to enter the country without a male guardian.

Those who were detained reported horrendous treatment by the Saudis. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria remarked that the women had been kept “in very poor living conditions” where some needed “urgent medical attention.”  Nigeria is home to approximately eighty million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa.  One of the five pillars of Islam mandates that all Muslims who are able to must make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetime.

Halima Muhammad was one of the women who had been detained. She claimed that, “[f]rom the airport we were all rounded up and taken to a facility that is not fit for humans. No one offered us anything, we had only water and slept on bare floors.”

“Some of us were kept in two halls for five days in humiliating conditions with little food, water and other basic needs and inadequate toilet facilities,” reported Zainb Mohammed, another detainee. “Many of us have cold and fever. We did not have blankets and it was cold, especially at night.”

Saudi Arabia’s actions have greatly disturbed relations between itself and Nigeria. Namadi Sambo, Nigeria’s Vice President, said that if Saudi Arabia was not going to permit its pilgrims to perform hajj that it should have let them know that in advance. Bunu has filed a formal complaint with the Saudi authorities.  In response to the deportations and detentions, former governor and Nigerian Muslim leader Lawan Kaita called the incident “a slap in the face for Nigeria and all Muslims. Saudi Arabia has the privilege of being hosts, but it shouldn’t stop others from coming to do the hajj.”

These women came to Saudi Arabia from Nigeria believing that they were fellow Muslims, but ultimately ended up feeling as if they were infidels.

“We were held like criminals in debasing conditions,” stated Maryam Abdulah, another one of the many who were denied access.  “We deserve human treatment and as women and mothers, we deserve to be treated with honour but the Saudis have shown that they have no heart.”

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Nigeria Stops Hajj Flights Over Deportations – 28 September 2012

The National – Detention of Almost 1,000 Femal Haj Pilgrims Causes Diplomatic Rift – 28 September 2012

Arabian Business – Nigeria Says Saudi Deported 150 Female Pilgrims – 27 September 2012

Guardian (UK) – Nigeria Protests After Saudis Deport Female Hajj Pilgrims – 27 September 2012

Radio Netherlands Worldwide Africa – Saudi Denies Entry to Some 1,000 Nigerian Women for Hajj – 26 September 2012

Legislation Expanding Treason Definition in Russia Could Criminalize Foreign-funded Organizations

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian Parliament’s State Duma has, in its first reading, unanimously approved a bill that would broaden the definition of treason, equating it to espionage and potentially criminalizing many kinds of international advocacy.   According to rights activists, this legislation appears to be part of a widening crackdown on dissent.  Lawmakers claim that it would make law enforcement more effective.

The Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the KGB, drafted the legislation widening the definition of treason.

Recently the Kremlin has moved to force the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) out of Russia.  Opposition demonstrators have seen strict criminal charges.  (See Pussy Riots and Osipova.)

In what is seen as the latest crackdown on dissent, the proposed legislation would open up the definition of treason to include financial or consultative assistance to a foreign state or organization.  The definition of high treason would include activities harming Russia’s external security.

This legislation results from Kremlin concern that foreign funding is adverse to the interests of the Russian government.  “We should include international organizations on the list of agents that can be charged with treason due to the fact that foreign intelligence agencies actively use them to camouflage their spying activity,” FSB deputy head Yury Gorbunov told the Duma.

The legislation specifically defines expands treason as “providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organization . . . directed against Russia’s security, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”

Many Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rely on foreign funding; such funding would be difficult to receive under the new legislation.  NGOs may be further inhibited from working with Russian citizens because the legislation would allow Russian citizens providing assistance to foreign states or international organizations to be charged with treason.

And, a person or group could be charged with high treason and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if found to be relaying a state secret to a “foreign government or international, foreign organization.”

Environment and Rights Center (ERC) Bellona chairman Alexander Nikitin says, “This is yet another bill from the series of recent laws meant to tighten the noose around the necks of Russia’s citizens, especially those who work with NGOS, who work as journalists, who work as researchers as well as those who work as scientists.”

Furthermore, a law passed in July, which takes effect November 20, requires NGOs, or civil society organizations, that advocate and receive foreign funding to register with the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents.”  Failure to register carries large fines and closure for the NGO and up to two year’s prison time for employees.  Status as a “foreign agent” must be stated on all literature and websites.  As the term has roots to the Stalinist purges, many NGOs are concerned that the measure is designed to destroy their credibility.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva a human rights advocate of the Moscow Helsinki Group, which has also pledged not to register as a “foreign agent,” said the treason bill is aimed at “ending any independent public activism.”

Veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, pointing to the “very broad definitions of treason and espionage” said the legislation could be used to prosecute government critics.  He explained that “everyone who accidentally becomes aware of secret information can be convicted” and that Russian leaders “have now chosen an ideological course — you can even call it a national idea — to search for external and internal enemies.”

Before the legislation becomes law, it must go through two more readings in the Russian Parliament and be signed by President Putin, who is expected to support it.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – The Kremlin May Call It Treason – 28 September 2012

Bellona – Russian Parliament Votes in First Reading to Expand Treason Laws – Casting a Darker Shadow on the Future of NGOs – 24 September 2012

The Moscow Times – Treason Bill Gains Momentum – 23 September 2012

The New York Times – Russia Moves to Broaden Definition of High Treason – 21 September 2012

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – New Russian Bill Would Widen Definition of Treason – 21 September 2012

Kenyan Minister Suspended for Hate Speech Against Maasai

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – On Thursday, Assistant Minister for Water and Irrigation, Ferdinand Waititu was suspended from his government office after the Kenyan court charged him with hate speech, along with inciting ethnic violence.

MP Ferdinand Waititu under police custody for hate speech and inciting ethnic violence. (Photo courtesy of Capital FM News)

The charges were rooted in a statement Waititu gave to Kayole residents — most of whom belong to a lower-class residential area in Nairobi — where he encouraged them to evict members of the Maasai tribe. “All Maasais must leave; they are from Tanzania and without identification cards …. We do not want Maasais in Kayole,” he told the community.

Waititu’s statements were directed at Kayole residents who were protesting the alleged killing of a man by security guards thought to be Maasai. These protests eventually led to a full-scale ethnic riot, leaving at least two people dead. According to prosecutors, conflict between the non-Maasai and the Maasai further escalated as a result of Waititu’s statements.

As argued by prosecutor Lilian Obuo, “the utterances made by [Waititu] incited communities … and caused the crowd to hunt for the Maasai people.” “The words were calculated to bring violence to the Maasai community working in Kayole,” she added.

In his defense, Waititu said his statement was misinterpreted. According to him, he was merely referring to the security guards in particular. He claimed that it was only incidental that these security guards were from Tanzania and were Maasai. He did not intend to incite violence against the Maasai people. “When I used the word Maasai, I saw that it had come out wrongly. I accept that mistake and I apologise. Nobody can claim that they have never made such mistakes, even you, in your house, your tongue does slip, and that’s very normal,” Waititu said to the press on Tuesday. In addition to his apology, he insisted that “nobody was hurt” after his comments. The chaos already took place before his remarks and it was even him who quelled the turmoil when he visited Kayole, he argued. Waititu asserted that blaming him for the unrest was “all politics.”

The day after his suspension and subsequent arrest, however, Waititu was released after depositing a 1 million KES bond. The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) disagreed with the Kenyan court’s decision to grant his bail. The DPP objected on the ground that because he is a “serial offender”, it is likely that he will abscond. Waititu has reportedly refused to honor previous police summons.

 

For further information, please see:

Bernama – Kenyan Assistant Minister Suspended for Making Hate Speech – 28 September 2012

Capital FM News – Waititu pays Sh1m cash for freedom – 28 September 2012

Al Jazeera – Kenyan minister suspended for hate speech – 27 September 2012

Capital FM News – Kibaki suspends Waititu as assistant minister – 27 September 2012

BBC News – Kenya MP Ferdinand Waititu accused of ‘hate speech’ – 25 September 2012

Chemical Weapons Moving in Syria

By Emily Schneider
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – As the civil war rages on, the Syrian government has taken action to safeguard its chemical weapons. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Friday that there had been “limited movement” to secure the chemical weapons.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens to a question during at a news conference at the Pentagon. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Syria has admitted to having a large stockpile of chemical weapons but has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.  According to CIA intelligence, Syria has had a chemical weapon program for years and has developed mustard gas and Sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent. The C.I.A. also believes that the country has attempted to develop more toxic nerve agents, such as VX gas. A report citing Turkish, Arab, and Western intelligence agencies put its stockpile at around 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stored across 50 towns and cities.

Mr. Panetta told a news conference at the Pentagon on Friday: “We continue to have a concern about the security of the CBW [chemical and biological weapons] sites.”Although he added that the major sites “still remain secured by the Syrian military” there has been intelligence that there has been “some movement in order for the Syrians to better secure… the chemicals.”

“There has been intelligence that there have been some moves that have taken place. Where exactly that’s taken place, we don’t know,” Panetta told reporters. “I don’t have any specific information about the opposition and whether or not they’ve obtained some of this or how much they’ve obtained and just exactly what’s taken place.”

These chemical weapons can be deployed using aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets.  There is no evidence that Syria has used them in the 18-month conflict with the rebel forces, but has threatened to use them if the country came under attack.

President Barack Obama has declared that the threat of chemical or biological warfare in Syria is a “red line” for the U.S. meaning the U.S. will not tolerate it if the weapons fall into the wrong hands.

If the weapons do fall into the hands of militant groups, President Obama has said that at that point, it’s “an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us.” With the recent, more intensified fighting throughout the country, the possibility of militant groups obtaining the chemical weapons is becoming real.

“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” said President Obama.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Syria ‘Moving Chemical Weapons to Safety’ – Panetta – 28 September 2012

Huffington Post – Syria Chemical Weapons Moved, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Says – 28 September 2012

Washington Post – Panetta: Intelligence Suggests Syria Moving Some Chemical Weapons – 28 September 2012

CBS News – Obama: Chemical Weapons in Syria are a ‘Red Line’ – 20 August 2012

Many Internally Displaced People in Sri Lanka Left to Roam

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – On Monday, the Menki Farm displacement camp’s remaining 1,160 Sri Lankan Tamils departed.  At one point, the Menik Farm lodged 300,000 people and was considered the world’s largest camp for internally displaced people (IDP).

A family finally returning home after leaving the Menik Farm camp. (Photo Courtesy of UNHCR)

In 2009, the Sri Lankan government opened the 700-hectare Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka as an IDP location.

According to Reuters, after approximately three years succeeding the Sri Lankan civil war, authorities have closed Menik Farm, which previously housed tens of thousands of war-affected civilians.  When it the displacement camp shut down on Monday, there were 346 people left.

Although the United Nations (UN) has approved of the closing of the displacement camp, it cautioned that many still need help to restore their lives.

“This is a milestone event towards ending a chapter of displacement in Sri Lanka some three years after the civil war which ended in May 2009,” said Subinay Nandy, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Sri Lanka, this past Tuesday.

According to BBC, some are “left in the jungle” with no resources to rebuild their homes and lives.  One hundred and ten (110) families from Keppapilavu village said that they were prevented from returning home and were subsequently redirected to patches of vacant jungle area instead.

However, Sri Lanka’s army spokesman Vijtha Ravipriya rejected such claims and believed that most people were “very happy” with the help they received from the army.  “People have to go to their villages. The military is helping them renovate and reconstruct their homes so the people are very happy,” said Mr. Ravipriya.

Furthermore, erected army camps were only designated on government land.  “I categorically reject the complaints.  Some areas are no-go to prevent unnecessary accidents.  There are only very limited areas of army camps and they are on government land,” continued Mr. Ravipriya.

Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, a politician from the small and radical Tamil National People’s Front party has been publicizing the situation of the displaced persons.  “The government hurried to empty the Menik Farm camp because of the universal periodic review on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation coming up soon in Geneva,” Mr. Ponnambalam relayed to BBC.

Civil society activists estimate that about 26,000 people remain displaced by military occupation of their land in Sri Lanka.

For further information, please see:

Tamil News – Sri Lanka: Displaced Tamil families ‘left in jungle’ – 28 September 2012

BBC – Sri Lanka: Displaced Tamil families ‘left in jungle’ – 27 September 2012

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Sri Lanka’s displacement chapter nears end with closure of Menik Farm – 27 September 2012

Reuters – U.N. welcomes closure of controversial Sri Lankan “war” camp – 26 September 2012

 

Syrian Revolution Digest – Friday 28 September 2012

The Way Out Goes Further In!

All scientific studies confirm that the world does indeed go on even after one buries one’s head in the sand. The fires in Syria will not burn themselves out, and as they continue to rage unabated, they will burn more and more people in the process. But you cannot fight fire from a safe distance. 

Friday September 28, 2012 – Dedicated to the unity of the Free Syrian Army

Today’s Death toll: 167. The Breakdown: including 15 due to aerial shelling, 4 children and two women. 57 in Aleppo City (including 25 field-executed in Al-Rashideen), 48 in Damascus and suburbs (including 10 field-executed in Barzeh, and 17 in Qudsaya), 22 in Deir Ezzor, 14 in Aleppo Province, 10 in Daraa (including two martyred in Damascus), 7 in Hama, 5 in Homs, 2 in Raqqah and 1 in Lattakia  (LCC).

News

Special Reports

Op-Eds

While our allies could take the lead in maintaining the no-fly zone, it is necessary in Syria, as in Libya, for America to take the lead in establishing it; only our Air Force and Navy have the weaponry needed to dismantle Syria’s Russian-designed air defenses with little risk. A “lead from behind” approach can work in Syria. President Obama need only apply it.

Even at 8.1 percent unemployment, America has historical responsibilities, which are also historical privileges. Even on the back burner, the world burns.

Ammar Abdulhamid & Khawla Yusuf: The Shredded Tapestry: The State of Syria Today

FSA Unity? Col. Mithqal Al-Bateesh announces the creation of a joint command of all revolutionary military councils http://youtu.be/s40a7fLHwjY Once again, the move underlines not growing unity, but increasing rivalry between different rebel groups on the one hand, and between different factions in the Antakya-based officers on the other. Despite dedicating this Friday’s rallies to the unity of the Free Syrian Army, unity remains elusive.

Habeet, Idlib Province: people remain defiant as fighter jets fly over their anti-Assad rally http://youtu.be/cwi_h2J9hCo

Aleppo city: Rebels declare the liberation of the neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud http://youtu.be/HgmwK5u17MI

Fire rage near the Syrian-Turkish borders http://youtu.be/RLOM9XJS26s

The continuing bombardment of Eastern Ghoutah Region in Damascus Province leaves any communities destroyed and farms on firehttp://youtu.be/KcKAJzJXImE , http://youtu.be/l_8PzVz62-g

The pounding of Homs City continues: Hamidiyeh http://youtu.be/KZLnUfWksq8http://youtu.be/PmDRZuk72rM Sultaniyeh http://youtu.be/Gm0I-FLuFMo The nearby town of Rastan was also pounded http://youtu.be/mFaAe622QX0

Syrian-American protesters assault the Iranian UN Ambassadorhttp://youtu.be/gmER3d_0duo

Despite the continuing shelling and battles, hundreds of rallies took place across the country. This is a small sample:  

Kafar Yahmoul, Idlib: http://youtu.be/iOIf-wfeq5E

Harasta, Damascus: “the people the unity of the Free Syrian Army”http://youtu.be/r23tvy7WL3c

Saqba, Damascus: http://youtu.be/whjE7lqOQO0

Douma, Damascus: http://youtu.be/xy6IZW06Tdk

Al-Wa’er, Homs City: http://youtu.be/WaDLHaCMegc

Chilean Student Protests Lead To Arrests

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

SANTIAGO, Chile — Approximately 70,000 Chileans marched in Santiago and eight other cities, demanding free quality education for the entire population of Chile. The students have advocated for a stronger public education sector and an end to state subsidies to private education.

Masked Chilean protesters march for education sake. (Photo Courtesy of Peoples Daily Online).

The march, while intended to peacefully influence the budget bill of 2013, ended with violent clashes with the police. At least 59 individuals were arrestedt by special police forces after the protest. Noam Titelman, president of the Federation of Catholic University Students of Chile explains, “[we are] mobilizing because we believe that so far there has been no real debate about public education.” He continues to demand that if the politicians want to earn the respect and participation of the young than they need to address their needs.

The movement still seems to have broad public support despite the length of the protest. The message of fair and free public education seems to have resonated with demonstrators elsewhere in the world. Other Latin American countries have seen students challenge their education systems, causing some to raise the Chilean flag as an example.

The government claims that the private sector involvement should be welcomed, however only 16% of higher education spending comes from public sources and three-quarters of Chile’s universities are privately owned. This privatization continues to high school as less than half of Chile’s students go to fully state-funded schools.

The first clash occurred when masked and hooded individuals threw objects at uniformed police. In response Special Police Forces used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters, those peaceful and disruptive alike.

The remaining protesters made their way to the staging area to hear the leaders of the movement speak and listen to local bands. And while students claim that they had at least 70,000 attendees, the police estimate only about 5,000 protesters.

The Chilean government has refused to respond to all the demands of the movement. In response students have planned two new protests on October 11 and 16. According to spokesman of the National coordinator of Secondary Students, Cristofer Saravia, “The 2013 budget… affects us, [and] is a small battle in the middle of our great struggle for a change in the structure of Chilean education.” He and other student leaders have promised to continue protesting until their demands to increase in the allocation of resources for public education in the National budget are met.

Of the 59 arrested, 23 were adults and 36 were minors.

 

For further information, please see:

Cooperativa – Amounted To 70,000 Students Attending The March In Santiago – 27 September 2012

La Segunda – Incidents Are Recorded At The End Of The Student March – 27 September 2012

Peoples Daily Online – Chilean Students March For Education Retake – 27 September 2012

The BBC – Chile’s Student Protests Show Little Sign Of Abating – 24 October 2011

Deportation May Be Put on Hold for Gay Couples

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — New guidelines from the U.S. Homeland Security Department mean immigration agents can consider an undocumented immigrant’s same-sex relationship in deciding whether to pursue deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a new immigration policy that could spare some same-sex couples from deportation proceedings. (Photo Courtesy of Newsday)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a memo to Congressional members on Thursday that gay and lesbian partners in committed relationships are now considered family members when it comes to immigration policy.  Under the Obama Administration’s “prosecutorial discretion” initiative unveiled last summer, agents have leeway in taking certain factors—such as family members—into account when deciding who should be deported.

“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano wrote.

Supporters of the change called the new policy a turning point that shows the government intent is not to split families up through deportation.

“It will mark the very first time that lesbian and gay couples have been recognized within immigration policy for relief,” said Steve Ralls, a spokesperson Immigration Equality, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender immigrants.

Relationships would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and the move only grants a potential reprieve from deportation.  It does not grant same-sex couples an automatic stay, nor does it let them file petitions for legal residency and citizenship, as it does for immigrants with opposite-sex couples.

“It’s not equal access to green cards, which is what we really need,” said Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven.  “But it’s certainly another building block.”

The change was prompted by requests from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).  They and other members of Congress said same-sex couples should not have their families needlessly torn apart.

There are an estimated 29,000 same-sex couples nationwide involving a U.S. citizen and an immigrant, according to The Williams Institute, a think-tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Opponents say the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in the United States as between one man and one woman, should prohibit same-sex couples from applying for immigration benefits.

The Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA, but that has not stopped the issue from being played out in court.  Newsday reported on Friday that a Long Island couple was among several who filed a lawsuit in April to have their immigration petitions recognized.

It was unclear Friday how DOMA might affect the new immigration policy.

For further information, please see:

The International Business Times — Same-Sex Relationships Can Help Undocumented Immigrants Avoid Deportation — 28 September 2012

Newsday — Deportation Cases to Consider Gay Couples — 28 September 2012

USA Today — Gay Couples Could Get Reprieve in Deportation Cases — 28 September 2012

The Washington Times — DHS Grants Gay Partners Discretion in Deportation Cases — 28 September 2012

New “Cybercrime” Law in the Philippines Abridges Freedom of Expression

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILLA, Philippines – The Filipino legislature introduced a new “cybercrime” law, Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which will increase punishment for criminal libel.  Furthermore, it grants authorities the power to shut down Internet websites and monitor online traffic.

Petitioners outside court. (Photo courtesy of Inquirer News)

In the statute, a section states that criminal libel apples to conduct “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

According to Business Mirror, the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMO) believes that the law “will not curtail freedom of expression and of the press, but will also allow the government to bring down web sites [sic], blogs[,] and social networking sites with ‘libelous’ contents.”

The “cybercrime” law augments the minimum punishment from six (6) months to six (6) years with the potential of the maximum punishment of twelve (12) years, doubling the minimum.

According to the Guardian,  Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that the punishment for Internet libel is a blatant and grave threat to freedom of expression, specifically, freedom of press.

“The cybercrime law needs to be repealed or replaced,” urged Brad Adam, HRW’s Asian Director.  “It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law.”

Recently, a number of journalists in the Philippines have been imprisoned for libel.  For example, radio journalist Alexander Adonis, convicted five (5) years ago, spent two (2) years in jail.

In regards to Mr. Adonis’s case, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concluded that the Filipino government violated the international covenant of political and civil rights.

For further information, please see:

Guardian – Philippines law threatens press freedom – 28 September 2012

National Inquirer – ‘Cybercrime Prevention Act unconstitutional’ – Senator Guingona – 27 September 2012

Business Mirror – Law vs cybercrime to curtail press freedom-groups, senator – 25 September 2012

National Union of Journalists – Cybercrime law threatens freedom of expression – 18 September 2012

 

 

Greece Budget Cuts Spark Violent Protest

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ATHENS, Greece – On Wednesday, tens of thousands of protestors flooded the streets of Athens for a nationwide strike to challenge new government measures that are expected to cut wages, pensions and healthcare. The potential cuts in Greece aroused anger and fear of increased insolvency as the nation begins its third round of austerity measures in the past three years.

A protestor in Athens flees police as strike becomes violent. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

Similarly, Spain also experienced two days of violent protests due to cuts to public benefits and jobs. Workers across Greece and Spain have recently watched various jobs disappear and wages cut. Both countries continue to make budget cuts to pay debts created by overspending.

A gathering that started out as a peaceful protest to demand their governments to slow down budget cuts to avoid bankruptcy, quickly turned into a massive violent riot. Over 50,000 employees, such as hospital doctors, pensioners, teachers and shopkeepers, were among the demonstrators that participated in over 60 walkout rallies throughout Greece.

In an attempt to gain control, Athens police fired stun grenades at protestors who simultaneously hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks. Police fired back in an effort to scatter the angry crowds around the parliament building.

A worker, Maria Vasiliandi, who took part in the march said, “People were just protesting against the new austerity measures, and it suddenly started raining flash-bang grenades and Molotov cocktails, so we had to leave the square.”

Roman Gerodimos, senior lecturer at Bournemouth University in the U.K, states, “There’s a lot of frustration and a sense of public disappointment. People feel like there is no progress, that they’re sacrificing their welfare for nothing.” A physics researcher, Dimitris Palles, said, “I feel my country is on auction and we’re just an economic experiment.”

As a result of various budget cuts, chemists and pharmaceutical companies have stopped producing drugs  to medical insurers because they claim they have not compensated by the state. Furthermore, Greece’s power company cut the electricity at a kidney hospital on the island of Aegina for a period of time while the patients were experiencing blood dialysis.

Anna Afanti, a teacher, removed a surgical mask she wore to protect herself from the tear gas to say, “They just want to impoverish us, to bring our salaries down to the level in India and swoop in and buy everything on the cheap. I should have left this country a long time ago. Now I’m stuck here.”

For further information, please see:

The Independent — Day of rage in Greece as more stringent cuts loom – 27 September 2012

USA Today — Protests against budget cuts in Spain, Greece rock world markets – 27 September 2012

NBC News — Rage against austerity: Protesters in gas masks, helmets clash with Greek police – 26 September 2012

The New York Times — Markets Falter in Europe Amid Protests on Austerity – 26 September 2012

Chinese Court Imposes $2.4 Million Fine on Activist Ai Weiwei

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A Chinese court upheld the decision to impose a 15 million yuan, roughly $2.4 million, tax fine against Ai Weiwei in an alleged attempt to silence the activist’s dissidence.

Ai Weiwei cruises the streets of Beijing. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Ai has experienced a host of troubles with the Chinese government due to his activism including a three month detention last year.  He was held without cause for 81 days, sparking international opposition to his detention because of the implications of a possible human rights violation.

Ai’s latest troubles, the tax fines imposed upon him and his company Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, has gone through several appeals without any relief in sight.  The latest appeal in the Chaoyang District Court was Ai’s last hope to overturn the Beijing tax agency’s tax fine.

Beijing Fake Cultural Development is the company which produces Ai Weiwei’s art and designs.  The Beijing tax agency is alleging that the company owes millions in back taxes, and the tax fine was imposed due to the back taxes and past tax evasion perpetrated by the art firm.  Throughout his five month long battle with the tax agency, Ai has denied all claims of owed back taxes and tax evasion by himself and his company.

Ai alleges that the Chinese legal system is “barbaric and backwater” because they have consistently failed to properly follow basic procedures and repeatedly denied him his legal rights.  The court was required to notify Ai of its ruling in writing three days before the public announcement, but the only notification the court provided was a telephone call to Ai’s wife the day before the ruling was handed down.  Ai also alleges that he has yet to see any of the evidence that supposedly proves his and his company’s guilt.

Ai’s passport was also confiscated during his three month detainment, and it has yet to be returned to him.  The passport was supposedly set to be returned after Ai’s three month detainment in addition to a probationary period which ended in June.  The delay has directly hindered Ai’s ability to work since he is unable to travel outside of the country to attend his exhibitions and other work obligations abroad in Washington, New York, and Berlin.

Ai and his supporters allege that the claims against him are complete fabrications brought by the government due to AI’s role as an outspoken critic of the government in China.  He believes that the government is attempting to quell more of the rising dissidence in the country, using the inherently unfair justice system as its attack dog to silence any opposition.

Ai, however, says that this tax fine will do little to silence him.  He has gotten thousands of donations from supporters to help him pay prior fines and expenses throughout his ordeal with the tax agency.  Ai has also refused to pay the remainder of the tax fine claiming that the actions of the government are disgraceful and, perhaps, a clear violation of the basic rights of citizens.

 

For further information, please see:

BBC – China artist Ai Weiwei court challenge fails – 27 September 2012

The Guardian – Ai Weiwei loses appeal against $2.4m tax fine – 27 September 2012

International Business Times – Chinese court upholds fine against dissident Ai Weiwei – 27 September 2012

Reuters – Chinese court upholds fine against dissident Ai Weiwei – 27 September 2012

Taiwan News – China’s Ai Weiwei loses appeal against tax fine – 27 September 2012

Nigerian Government Gives Saudi Arabia a 24-Hour Ultimatum to Resolve Issue on Detained Female Pilgrims

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – Yesterday, the Nigerian Federal Government told the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that it had 24 hours to resolve the issue regarding the detention of approximately 900 female Nigerian pilgrims on their way to Makkah.

Female pilgrims detained in Saudi airport. (Photo courtesy of Naijaleaks)

Vice President Namadi Sambo held a meeting with the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Khaled Abdrabuh, to urge the Saudi government to speed up its decision on the matter so Nigeria will have an idea what actions it will take to help its stranded citizens in the Kingdom.

“Should the Saudi authorities not desire our pilgrims to perform this year’s Hajj, they should let the country know,” said the Vice-President in a press statement issued yesterday. According to him, “caution and flexibility” must be applied by the Saudi government in dealing with the issue of whether or not it will allow the Nigerian female pilgrims’ performance of the Hajj to prevent a dispute between the two countries from arising and more importantly, to prevent these women from being “manhandled”. He said he has received reports that the Nigerian pilgrims were being subjected to dehumanizing treatment in the Kingdom.

It has almost been a week since Saudi authorities held hundreds of female Nigerian pilgrims at the King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah. These pilgrilms were heading to Makkah to perform this year’s Hajj, a mandatory pilgrimage for Muslims. However, their journey was cut short by Saudi immigration officers. The pilgrims were barred from leaving the airport on the ground that these women did not have a male relative, otherwise known as Muharram or Mahram, to escort them for the Hajj.

This came as a surprise to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.”This is the first time pilgrims have faced the possibility of mass deportation over the male escort issue”, the commission stated. According to the Uba Mana, a spokesman for the Commission, there is an existing agreement between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria that exempts female pilgrims from the male escort requirement. In fact, for the past years, state pilgrimage officials were allowed to stand in place as relatives of the women pilgrims.

The Saudi government has released stricter policies on the Hajj this year, particularly on prohibiting women pilgrims to perform the Hajj alone. There have been reports where the Saudi immigration even stopped women who traveled with their husbands.

Today, the Nigerian Senate has officially condemned the action of the Saudi government describing the issue as “beyond diplomatic”. It has also called on President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene and urge the Saudi government to release the stranded pilgrims.

 

For further information, please see:

The Associated Press – 908 Nigerian female pilgrims held in Saudi Arabia – 27 September 2012

IOL News – Nigerian women stranded in Saudi – 27 September 2012

All Africa – Nigeria: Senate, House – Committee of Ulamas Should Dialogue With Saudis – 27 September 2012

Reuters – Saudi deports 150 female pilgrims, holds 1,000 more, Nigeria says – 27 September 2012

All Africa – Nigeria: FG Gives Saudi Arabia 24 Hrs to Resolve Issue Surrounding Detention – 26 September 2012

Mining Strikes Shift to Truck and Transportation Sector in South Africa

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

CAPE TOWN, South Africa—The mining strike from the past several weeks has evolved into violence and destruction being caused by truck drivers east of Johnannesburg. The Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said that the striking truck drivers who committed the violence would be approached and the situation handled by law enforcement. Mthethwa noted, “We are monitoring the situation and frankly, what we have been observing is pure criminality.”

Mining Strikes Now Shift to Trucking Sector in South Africa. (Photo Courtesy of Business Day Live)

The Union decided to strike since there has been a deadlock in wage negotiations since June of this year.

About 20,000 workers in the freight transport sector have been on strike over their wages since Monday of this week. An extended strike will affect not only the delivery of goods but also the delivery of gasoline and food products. This strike, including the mining strike will likely put a damper on South African’s economy should it continue.

Mthethwa further noted that these acts of violence and intimidation toward innocent people cannot be justified as a form of public protest. The police intend to act harshly against this type of lawless behavior and arrests will be imminent.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) recently sent delegation to Ekurhuleni today in order to investigate problems being caused by the striking truckers. The police counted three people injured just this morning by the striking truck drivers. Also this morning, a light delivery truck was burned and the group of strikers stoned two trucks on the road.

Yesterday, two other vehicles were set on fire by the strikers in the Western Cape of the country. The Congress of South African Trade Unions spokesman Patrick Craven said today that “the Federation therefore joins Satawu in appealing to the workers on strike to avoid any resort to violence, even when provoked, and to implement Cosatu’s longstanding policy of protesting in a peaceful, lawful and disciplined manner.”

The Unions now demand a 12% increase after already rejecting a lower offer made by the employers on Tuesday. While talks have finished up for the day, no resolution was reached. However, the spokeswoman for the Road Freight Employers’ Association said that “[the Association] has committed [themselves] to being available for further talks. Nothing has been forthcoming thus far and we shall see where we go.”

 

For further information, please see:

Business Day Live – Satawu Sends Delegation to Investigate Violence by Striking Truckers – 27 September 2012

The Washington Post – South Africa Labor Strikes Spread to Transport Sector – 27 September 2012

Associated Press – South Africa Strikes Spread to Transport Sector – 26 September 2012

All Africa – Trucker Violence Condemned – 25 September 2012