Investigation into Mexican Politician’s Assassination Questioned

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Activists and politicians questioned the probe of a local politician’s assassination this week, calling the lead investigator too biased to do the job.

Activists and politicians question the alleged motive in the killing of state legislator-elect Eduardo Castro Luque. (Photo Courtesy of Hispanically Speaking News)

Members of the Citizen Movement for Water and politicians in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) cast doubt on the ability of the top prosecutor in the northern border state of Sonora to be objective.

The prosecutor, Carlos Navarro Sugich, has blamed the killing of Eduardo Castro Luque, a state legislator-elect, entirely on Luque’s designated substitute.

“We don’t trust the investigation is taking in consideration all different motives,” said Alberto Vizcarra, a spokesperson for the water group, which has asked federal prosecutors to take over the case.

The group’s members called Luque a strong opponent of a controversial water project that would move billions of gallons of water from the farming city of Ciudad Obregon to the state capital of Hermosillo.  The aqueduct was a focus during Luque’s campaign, and he criticized the state governor for violating judicial orders in building the project.

“You should never rule out motives, especially in the case of a politician,” Vizcarra said.

Luque was shot six times by outside his home by a motorcyclist on Sept. 14, two days before he was expected to take office.  He was a PRI member, the same party of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who takes office in December.

On Monday, state prosecutors announced the killing was staged by Manual Fernandez Felix, who ran with Luque as the person who would fill the legislative seat if Luque could not fulfill his duties.  They said Felix wanted to take over the seat.  Police had questioned Felix but released him, and he is now considered a fugitive.

But PRI members argued the alleged motive does not make sense.  Local PRI Chairman Adrian Manjarrez said Felix had to be persuaded to replace Luque.

“When this all happened, his parents told us they didn’t want him to take office because they were scared something would happen to him, too,” Manjarrez said.

Luque’s death marked the second killing of a PRI legislator in as many weeks.  On Sept. 16, Jaime Serrano Cedillo died from stab wounds that prosecutors said were inflicted by his wife.

Cedillo represented the Mexico City suburb of Nezahualcoytl.  His killing prompted the Mexican government to send more than 1,000 soldiers and police into Nezahualcoytl for the first time as part of an effort to combat a rise in drug violence.

For further information, please see:

Hispanically Speaking News — Mexican Politician Killed by Fellow PRI Member — 25 September 2012

The Washington Post — Water-rights Activists Question Prosecutor Theory on Slaying of Mexican State Legislator-Elect — 25 September 2012

The Huffington Post — Mexican Legislator Killed by Political Rival — 24 September 2012

Hispanically Speaking News — Mexican PRI Lawmaker Stabbed to Death by Wife — 22 September 2012

Reuters — Mexico Deploys Troops to Outskirts of Mexico City — 20 September 2012

Former Tunisian Presidential Advisor of Media Convicted for his Speech

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUNIS, Tunisia – This past Friday, the military court in Tunis found former presidential advisor Ayoub Massoudi guilty of “defaming a civil servant” and “undermining the reputation of the army.”

Ayoub Massoudi was found guilty by a military tribunal for his criticisms of two high-ranking army officials. (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International)

For his remarks, Massoudi was given a DT1 fine. The former presidential advisor of media resigned from his position two days after the extradition of former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al Mahmoudi this past June. On August 15, Massoudi was arrested and charged regarding his public criticism of the extradition.

Tunisian President and Commander-in-Chief Moncef Marzouki never wanted Mahmoudi extradited because he knew Mahmoudi would not get a fair trial in Libya. Despite Marzouki’s opposition, Prime Miniser Hamadi Jebali sent Mahmoudi back to Libya with the help of Rachid Ammar, the Tunisian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff, and Minister of Defense Abdelkrim Zbidi.

In response to the government’s actions, Massoudi went on the Attounisia television channel and remarked that the extradition was a, “treason against the State” because Ammar and Zibidi “were aware of the extradition, its time, and all of its circumstances…did not utter a word, and did not inform the President who is the Commander-in-Chief.”

He claims his statement was directed specifically at those two officers and did not extend to Tunisia’s military forces in general. Massoudi thus reasoned that his criticism should not violate article 91 of the Military Code.  Massoudi also had some critical words for how the government dealt with the protests in Sidi Bouzid, which he posted on his blog.

Massoudi was not originally notified that charges were being brought against him. He tried to leave the country to visit his family in Paris for the Eid festivities, but was stopped at the Carthage Airport and informed that a travel ban had been imposed on him. Throughout his hearings, Massoudi tried to get it lifted, but he was unsuccessful.

The Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said that, “Friday’s verdict against Ayoub Massoudi is yet another blow to the right to freedom of expression in Tunisia and should be quashed immediately.”

Sahraoui further believes that Massoudi never had a chance at a fair trial because he was tried by a military tribunal. Since he was a civilian and not a military officer, trying him in front of a military tribunal disregards basic international human rights standards. He also tried attempted to transfer his case to a civil court during his hearings, but his requests were denied.

Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, agreed with Sahraoui.

“The right to subject public officials to scrutiny and criticism is one of the most basic elements of freedom of expression, a hallmark of democracy, and essential to promote debate about matter of public interest,” he said.  “These charges and the laws they are based on, should have no place in a democratic Tunisia that respects human rights.”

According to Human Rights Watch, “the charges brought against Massoudi by the military tribunal violate his right to free expression, protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Tunisia is a party.”   In its 2011 omments regarding Article 19 and the ICCPR, the United Nations Human Rights Committee placed specific emphasis on states not inhibiting expression pertaining to issues of public debate about public figures.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Tunisia: Former Presidential Adviser Convicted for Criticizing the Army – 24 September 2012.

Tunisialive – Court Case Continues Against Former Presidential Adviser for Remarks Against Military – 30 August 2012

Global Voices – Tunisia: Former Presidential Advisor Faces Military Trial Over Army Criticism – 23 August 2012

Human Rights Watch – Tunisia: Drop Charges for Criticizing Army – 22 August 2012

Tunisialive – Former Presidential Adviser Ayoub Massoudi Faces Military Trial Today – 17 August 2012

Russian Businessman Says Hooliganism Charge is Politically Motivated

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Alexander Lebedev, Russian media and banking businessman and critic of the Kremlin, has been charged with hooliganism, which could entail up to a five year sentence.  Last year, Lebedev struck Sergei Polonsky, a property developer, during a televised event.   Lawyers and analysts have suggested that a similar assault would normally carry a fine or very brief incarceration. Yet, after a yearlong investigation, Lebedev questions whether the charges against him are politically motivated.

Lebedev, part owner of opposition paper Novaya Gazeta and a champion of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, calls the charges against him politically motivated. (Photo Courtesy of the Independent)

Lebedev has been charged with hooliganism motivated by political hatred, under the same article used to sentence three members of the punk band Pussy Riot last month to two years imprisonment for their anti-government protest in a church.

He was also asked to sign a court document pledging not to travel during the trial, or leave the country.  Lebedev refused to do so.

The Novaya Gazeta, a critical investigative newspaper, is partly owned by Lebedev.  Lebedev has also supported opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. Lebedev suggests that he is facing trumped-up charges because of his criticism of the Kremlin.

“It’s part of a campaign, and it’s not to do with my businesses . . .” Lebedev claimed.  “This is either to do with Novaya investigations, or it’s because they really think I am some kind of genuine clandestine opposition figure.”

Lebedev, who is worth 1.1 billion according to Forbes, has also suggested that authorities want him out of the country.  His National Reserve Bank is under investigation after being raided by armed masked men, surveillance of his business and home have been raised, and a sex tape was leaked onto the internet recently.

“They are hoping I will leave the country,” Lebedev said. “It’s a standard procedure: first they go against your business, then second is a smear campaign and third is the most threatening weapon – first the threat of prison and then, if you don’t emigrate, you go to trial on some fabricated case.”

Since Putin returned to the office of president in May, he has initiated a widespread crackdown on growing opposition against him, as seen in part by the sentencing of the members of Pussy Riot.

The imprisonment of businessmen for supporting opposition politics is not unprecedented.  In 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the now bankrupted oil company Yukos, was arrested and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion in a case critics say was launched funding the opposition without Kremlin approval.

Lebedev knows he faces the threat of a notoriously politicized justice system. When asked if he was ready to go to prison, he said: “I don’t think anyone can be ready for that, especially someone with a family”.

However, Lebedev is determined to fight. “There has been pressure on me to leave Russia, but I am going to stay here and fight it.  Other things against me are also being worked on, and I know about them. But having taken a kind of civic stand, it wouldn’t be right just to leave.”

 For further information, please see:

The Independent –Charges Against me are Politically Motivated, says Alexander Lebedev – 27 September 2012

The Moscow Times –Billionaire Lebedev Charged With Hooliganism – 27 September 2012

Radio Free Europe – Billionaire Kremlin Critic Charged With Hooliganism – 27 September 2012

BBC News – Russian Tycoon Alexander Lebedev Charged over Punch-up – 26 September 2012

The Guardian –Alexander Lebedev Charged with Hooliganism and Battery in Russia– 26 September 2012

The Telegraph – Russian Media Mogul in Talk Show Brawl– 18 September 2011

Syrian Revolution Digest – Wednesday 27 September 2012

Kill Us Maybe!

The killing spree by pro-Assad militias escalates as their sense of insecurity increases. Meanwhile, the global debate on intervention continues. But rockets speak louder than words, and actions count more than intentions.  

Wednesday September 26, 2012

Today’s Death toll: 343. The Breakdown: 162 in Damascus and Suburbs (including 107 martyrs in the massacre in Dhiabieh, 19 in Barzeh, 8 in Hajar Aswad, 6 in Douma, and 4 in Assali), 48 in Deir Ezzor (most field-executed in Jourah), 37 in Hama (most in Masha Al-Arba’een), 34 in Homs (including 18 in the massacre in Bayada), 29 in Aleppo, 27 in Daraa (including 15 in Ibta’a) and 6 in Idlib (LCC).

Highlights (LCC):

Damascus Suburbs: Al- Dhiabieh Reports of 107 martyrs found, most of which women and children who were field executed, including 9 from Al-Rifaie whose throats were slit with knives. 4 bodies were found in front of the Al-Ashra Mosque, 3 bodies in Al-Mashrou Al-Jadid, 5 bodies in Souk Al-Sabet. The number of martyrs will likely increase, but due to continued shelling, activists were unable to recover all bodies.

Damascus City: Barzeh: 15 martyrs were named in a massacre committed by shabbiha in the neighborhood, most victims were children and women. Assali14 bodies of martyrs, who were field-executed, were found near Al-Mustaqbal Swimming Pool.

Daraa: Ibtaa Regime forces launched a barbaric military campaign in the town where they detained and slaughtered dozens of residents. Fifteen bodies were just recovered from the rubble after regime forces shelled civilian homes with heavy artillery stationed in the surrounding areas. In addition, regime forces used warplanes and gunship helicopters to comb areas surrounding Abtaa, Da’el, and Sheikh Miskeen. Intermittent gunfire was also reported by helicopter machine guns across the area which has led to a massive exodus, and the complete destructions of dozens of homes, including underground make-shift shelters.

Deir Ezzor City: Dozens were martyred due to regime shelling using rockets and missiles in Jabalieh, Aarafi, and Hamadieh neighborhoods.

Hama: Hama City Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces were reported in Aleppo Road neighborhood and sounds of intense gunfire are heard in the vicinity of the neighborhood. Shahshabo Mountain Warplane shelling at Rasha and Moneir villages was reported and 6 explosive barrels landed, which causes a case of panic and fear among residents.

Lattakia: Turkman Mountain Fierce clashes were reported in Soulas village between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces.


Special Reports

Meanwhile, exiled activist Ammar Abdulhamid interpreted the attack in a very different way: “Assad’s grip over Damascus has become tenuous at best. Rebels are able to conduct bombings and attacks even in the most secured areas aided by informants embedded within Assad’s own security establishment. The battle of Damascus is set to begin at earnest soon, in what promises to be a very bloody development.”

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

Video Highlights

Lebanon’s Manar TV broadcasted the following report of a gun battle that reportedly took place in the security headquarters in Omayad Square, Damascus City, that was the target of an attack by local rebels groups earlier in September 26. While rebels report that dozens of pro-Assad militias were killed during the attack. The report here claims that the attack allowed for three “terrorists” to infiltrate the building and were later surrounded by the regular army and killed. The battles we see were obviously staged. This Manar version, which jives with the official version, fails to explain how three terrorists managed to occupy the security headquarters on their own, emptying it out in the process and necessitating an attack by hundreds of soldiers to retake it The view from afar by activist cameras , ,

Regime propagandists continue to be quite creative. A few days ago, and after rebels in Eastern Ghoutah managed to bring down a helicopter gunship, official media claimed that the pilot flew too high to avoid being shit and ended up colliding with a civilian airplane. No worries though, the plane and its passengers were unharmed.

In Dhiabieh, Damascus City, some of the 107 victims of summary executions by pro-Assad militias , , ,

In nearby Barzeh, local bury their dead of the day vowing never to kneel but before God

Deir Ezzor City: pulling bodies of victims from under the rubble , , , , , , , Martyrs A local martyr taking his last breaths Earlier in the day, MIGs took part I pounding the city

MIGs take part in pounding of Alboukamal near the borders of Iraq , , ,

Locals in Ibtaa, Daraa Province, try to identify the bodies of the martyrs

The pounding of the town of Rastan, Homs Province, continues ,

Dozens of Saudis Arrested after Prison Protest

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Dozens of men were arrested on Monday by Saudi security forces in the desert around Tarfiya prison in central Qassim province, where more than 100 demonstrators staged a one-day protest to press for the release of relatives.  The arrests happened after the police confined protesters to a desert area outside the prison, where they were kept without food or water for nearly a day.

Saudi police forces detained and transported dozens of protestors to an unknown location on Monday. (Photo Courtesy of the Tehran Times)

Protestors say they ended the demonstration when police forces confronted them with shields and batons, telling them that “their message had been heard and their demands would be looked into.”

Referring to Monday’s arrests, Reema Al-Juraish, who protested her husband’s incarceration, said “[w]hen we left the ‘Emergency Forces’ followed our cars.  They chased us to detain the men.  I saw them grab five and when I tried to intervene they pushed me and hit me with a baton.”

Al-Juraish claimed that she saw the police arrest up to 60 men, who were then taken to an unknown location.  Saudi Arabia says that it is holding protestors’ relatives for reasons of security.  The activists believe that their family members were detained for purely political activity and have never been charged with crimes.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry claimed that those accused of “terrorism related” activity were undergoing a fair judicial process.  “As for the gathering of a limited number of relatives of the detained people at a prison, they have been stopped according to legal procedures and will be dealt with if they are found in violation of the laws,” the spokesman said in reference to the protestors.

The Interior Ministry says that 5,080 of the nearly 5,700 people it detained last year on security grounds were put on trial.

In Riyadh, a separate protest took place in front of the Saudi Human Rights Commission.  Ever since uprisings took place last year, the country has been criticized for its human rights record regarding prisoners detained for participating in anti-government protests.  Rights activists say hundreds of political prisoners remain incarcerated in harsh conditions without access to a lawyer.  People have even been arrested by police forces for “looking suspicious,” and have been held for many years without ever being formally charged for a crime.

One such prisoner, human rights campaigner Mohammed Al-Bajadi, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison last April.  He had been accused of forming a human rights association, tarnishing Saudi Arabia’s reputation, questioning the independence of the judiciary, and owning illegal books.

The non-governmental Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association claims that some 30,000 political prisoners are currently being held by Saudi forces.

For further information, please see:

The Daily Star — Dozens Arrested After Prison Protest in Saudi Arabia — 25 September 2012

Tehran Times — Saudi Forces Detain Dozens of Protesters — 25 September 2012

Al Jazeera — Dozens of Saudis ‘Detained’ After Jail Rally — 24 September 2012

Reuters — Dozens Arrested After Saudi Prison Protest — 24 September 2012


CPN Bans Hindu Music and Indian Automobiles in Nepal

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Today, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) Maoists implemented a ban on the screening of Hindu films and automobiles bearing Indian license plates in ten (10) districts of the country.

One of ten districts affected by the ban. (Photo Courtesy of India TV News)

In June of this year, the CPN split from the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal and thus, districts in the Tamsaling state committee are now within the CPN’s jurisdiction.

According to Hindu Times, Nepal’s state-owned news agency, Rastirya Samachar Samiti, confirmed the ban’s enactment.

This ban will be enforced for two months until November 25th with the following districts affected: Chitwan, Dhading, Kavre, Rasuwa, Nauwakot, Sindhuli Makwanpur, Sindhupalchowk, Ramechap, and Dolakha.

According to Nepal News, CPN spokeswoman Pampha Bhusal said that the ban’s aim is to “promote economic development based on national independence, protection to local employment opportunities, utilisation of Nepali investment and in view of obstruction on the operation of Nepali’s transportation means in India.”

“Our party has also decided to ban Indian films that defame and disrespect Nepal and Nepalis, promote obscenity and spread cultural pollution,” read CPN’s statement.

Furthermore, senior CPN-Maoist leader Dev Gurung believed that the prohibition of Hindu movies and songs will promote Nepali films and songs. 

Because the CPN uncovered that many automobiles with Indian plates transported agricultural goods from India, it implemented its ban against such vehicles to increase the domestic produce market.  However, said automobiles are still permitted to use Nepal’s roads with the caveat of paying daily nominal charges at border check points, where temporary license plates are issued.

Moreover, the reason behind the automobile is twofold.  According to Nepal News, India first banned automobiles bearing the Nepalese plates.

“This is unfair. We should not allow Indian-plate [sic] vehicle in Nepal until India allows Nepali vehicles, shared a spokeswoman from Nepal News.

Though some broadcast media stations have requested the ban to be lifted, two districts, Chitwan and Makawanpur, have ceased playing Hindi songs.

Kathmandu’s Indian embassy has chosen to not react to the ban at the moment.

For further information, please see:

Economic Times – CPN-Maoist bans Hindu films, Indian vehicles in 10 districts – 26 September 2012

Hindu Times – Breakaway Maoist faction in Nepal bans Indian vehicles, films, music – 26 September 2012

Indian Express – CPN-Maoist bans Hindu films, Indian vehicles in 10 districts – 26 September 2012

Nepal News – CPN Maoist declares nationwide ban on Hindu movies, Indian plate vehicles – 26 September 2012


Bloggers imprisoned in Vietnam for Writing “Anti-State Propaganda”

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – Bloggers in Vietnam were given lengthy prison sentences for speaking out against corruption and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Communist government.

Bloggers protesting in Hanoi. (Photo Courtesy of International Business Times)

Three prominent bloggers from the “Free Journalists Club” were given multi-year sentences ranging from four to twelve years.  Nguyen Van Hai, aged 60, from the northern port city of Hai Phong received a sentence of twelve years with an additional five years of probation after his release.  Ta Phong Tan, aged 44, from the southern province of Bac Lieu received ten years in prison.  Phan Thanh Hai, aged 43, from the city of Hanoi received a four year sentence with an additional five years of probation.

State officials first arrested the bloggers in April for distorting the truth and posting anti-state propaganda which violated criminal codes.  The jury, when handing down the sentences, alleged that such anti-state propaganda negatively impacted national security and Vietnam’s international image.

Ta Phong Tan, a formal police officer, posted about the alleged abuse of police powers in the country.  After she was arrested, her mother set herself on fire in protest over the mistreatment of her daughter.  Ta Phong Tan’s mother died from her injuries en route to the hospital.

Phan Thanh Hai, in charge of the law and science arm of the blog, challenged the state’s current course of action and called for political and social change in Vietnam.  After Phan Thanh Hai was charged with violating national security and posting anti-state propaganda, all allegations were denied.

The bloggers from 2007 to 2010 posted over 400 stories criticizing the deep corruption in the Communist government following debt scandals and economic slowdowns in what was once a bustling economy.  Local news sources characterized the bloggers’ internet posts as opportunistic and taking advantage of the new internet freedoms afforded to the Vietnamese people.  The bloggers were accused of eroding the general population’s trust in the central government by distorting the state’s image.

The U.S. has criticized the verdicts and lengthy prison sentences given to the bloggers.  The U.S. embassy released a statement saying they were deeply concerned with what has transpired and believes that imprisoning these people contradicts Vietnam’s commitment to international human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also voiced her concerns over the potential human rights violations of the bloggers.  President Barak Obama also recently mentioned the persecution of the Vietnamese bloggers and called for greater international freedoms in the expression of the media.  The U.S., however, has chosen not to sanction Vietnam’s less than sterling historical record involving human rights violations.


For further information, please see:

People’s Army Newspaper – Three jailed for anti-State propaganda – 25 September 2012

Saigon Giai Phong – Three bloggers receive prison term for anti-gov’t propaganda – 25 September 2012

Viet Nam News – City court jails anti-state propagandists – 25 September 2012

The Guardian –Vietnam jails three bloggers for ‘anti-state propaganda’ – 24 September 2012

International Business Times –  Vietnam Jails Three Anti-Government Bloggers Including Renowned Dissident Dieu Cay – 24 September 2012

Reuters – Vietnam jails three bloggers in crackdown on dissent – 24 September 2012

‘Oops…’ Error When Accessing Account: Iran Blocks Google and Gmail

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Mobile phone users and television viewers in Iran were notified on Sunday that their access to Google and Gmail would be censored for the foreseeable future.

Western websites are regularly blocked in Iran. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Iranian officials have claimed that the block on the search engine, Google, and its e-mail service, Gmail, is in response to the anti-Muhammad film that has recently enraged Muslims across the Middle East. Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, a representative of Iran’s state run agency in charge of online censorship and computer crimes, states that many Iranians urged the agency to block the sites because they contain links to the film.

Many do not believe that the film had anything to do with the governments filtering measures. A popular sentiment expressed is that many in Iran are not as upset about the anti-Muhammad film as other neighboring countries, and that the government is using the film as propaganda. To those people, the true motive behind the recent actions instead has to do with Iran’s government’s urge to create a national intranet, separate from the worldwide internet.

“This is a pre-determined scenario to block Google in Iran, they wanted to do this since long time ago,” tweeted Hadi Khezriyan.

These restrictions are not the first that this Iranian regime has implemented. Google and Gmail were both blocked last February, just prior to parliamentary elections. YouTube has been blocked since mid-2009, after people used the tool to contest the validity of President Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Other sites routinely blocked and censored are the Guardian, BBC, CNN, Facebook, and Twitter. There are few countries that are censored more often than Iran.

Last year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set up the Supreme Council of Virtual Space to watch over the country’s internet. Since then, the group has been planning to create a national intranet. Experts believe that Iran is doing this to protect sensitive information like military and banking records from an outside cyber-attack. Others feel that Iran just wants to control the outside information that is coming into the country and pull out of the worldwide web all together.

Ali Hakim-Javadi, the country’s deputy communications and technology minister, said that, “[i]n recent days, all governmental agencies and offices have been connected to the national information network.” The fear is that the next step will be getting all the regular citizens onto the national intranet.

Many Iranians have taken to social networking sites to complain about the recent ban. Golnaz Esfandiari, who writes a blog for Persian Letters, a website run by Radio Free Europe, wrote, “By blocking Gmail/Google, #Iran government punishes its own people over anti-Islam movie.  Most Iranians have not seen it/don’t care.”

For some, anger about the prohibition is more a matter of principle than practicality. Iranians can still access Gmail by using virtual private networks (VPNs). Many already use these VPNs to gain access to blocked Western sites, despite government restrictions.

“[E]very schoolchild knows how to bypass restrictions by using VPNs, it’s very common in Iran,” said Mahmood Tajali Mehr, an Iranian telecommunications consultant.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Iran Blocks Access to Google and Gmail – 24 September 2012

BBC – Google Search and Gmail Censored in Iran – 24 September 2012

Guardian – Iran set to Block Access to Google – 23 September 2012

BBC – Iran’s Supreme Leader Sets up Body to Oversee Internet – 7 March 2012


Uruguay May Become First in South America to Legalize Abortion

By Margaret Janelle R. Hutchinson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Earlier today it appeared that Uruguay’s Congress had the necessary votes to pass legislation that would allow women to seek an elective abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – a crime in every other country in South America.

People demonstrate against abortion legalization in downtown Montevideo, Uruguay, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012.  Demonstrators protested the day before a congressional bill legalizing abortion is voted on.  The headbands read in Spanish “yes to life.” (Photo Courtesy Fox News)

Colombia and Argentina both have laws on the books that allow abortions in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is endangered.  Colombia also allows the procedure when there is proof of fetal malformation.  Every other country in South America criminalizes abortion for any reason.

The law that is currently being voted on by Uruguay’s Congress is the result of much compromise.  Consequently, parties on both sides of the issue are disappointed with provisions of the law and gathered Monday to protest.  Once it gets through Uruguay’s lower house, the measure would go back to the Senate for approval of changes, but President José Mujica has said he will allow it to become law.

The measure would give women the right to a legal abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and decriminalize later-term abortions when the mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus is so deformed that it wouldn’t survive after birth.  In cases of rape, abortions would be legal during the first 14 weeks.

The goal is to reduce the number of illegal abortions in Uruguay, Congressman Iván Posada of the center-left Independent Party told his fellow lawmakers Tuesday.  Posada wrote the measure and is expected to provide a key 50th vote against the opposition of 49 other lawmakers.

“They talk of 30,000 a year, a hypothetical number, but whatever the number is, it’s quite dramatic for a country where 47,000 children are born each year,” Posada explained earlier in an Associated Press interview.

A key compromise in the legislation is the mandatory meeting a woman must have with a panel of three professionals.  A gynecologist, psychologist and social worker would explain to the woman her other options including adoption.  The woman would then have to “think it over” for another five days before she would be allowed to have an abortion.

“It’s important that the woman who decides to have an abortion attend this meeting where she will be informed, where they’ll explain all the options including alternatives that she is free to choose from,” stated Posada.

Women’s rights advocates are furious with this requirement.  They believe it will be used to manipulate and stall access to abortions, potentially delaying to the point where the 12 week window had passed.

According to the World Health Organization, “Death due to complications of abortion is not uncommon, and is one of the principal causes of maternal mortality” and of an estimated 300,000 hospitalizations annually.

Globally, unsafe abortion – defined by the World Health Organization as termination of a pregnancy by providers lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not meet minimal medical standards – claims the lives of more than 47,000 women annually.  In Latin America, unsafe abortions account for 12%, or the fourth most common reason, of what would otherwise be preventable maternal deaths.

Uruguay has been clear that women from other parts of South America would not be allowed into the country for abortion procedures.  Women must prove citizenship or at least one year of residency to be eligible.

For further information, please see:

CBS News – Uruguay Poised to Legalize Abortion – 25 September 2012

Fox News Latino – Uruguay Set to Legalize Abortion; Only 2nd Country in Latin America to Legalize Measure – 25 September 2012

Huffington Post – Uruguay Poised to Legalize Abortion – 25 September 2012

Montevideo Portal – Nobleza obliga – 25 September 2012

Amnesty International – Total Abortion Bans in Latin America Risk Women’s Lives – 28 September 2011



Syrian Revolution Digest – Monday 24 September 2012

The Bloodshed Continues!


Monday September 24, 2012


Today’s Death toll: 123. The Breakdown: 42 in Aleppo, 37 in Damascus and Suburbs, 18 in Daraa, 14 in Homs, 7 in Hama, 3 in Latakia, 1 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Idlib (LCC).












An independent journalist who asked to remain anonymous, said rebel fighters were attacking a military base near town of Atarib when the jet flew over.


Special Reports



Lebanese living along the Syrian border are reporting rashes and other ailments. They suspect Syrian biological weapons are to blame, although weapons experts say that is unlikely.



With Syrian rebels sheltering in Lebanese border towns and Syrian Army troops planting land mines on both sides of the border, Lebanese fears of getting dragged into the conflict are rising.



“While opponents of the regime and activists are chased down by regime forces and subjected to arbitrary arrest and liquidation in areas under regime control, by contrast, regime supporters in areas controlled by the FSA can express their opinions freely. We can even find them sitting in the village guest house sharing jokes and drinking tea in one of the most beautiful scenes of the revolution that I have seen.”



When the uprising against the Assad regime began, Syria’s half-million-strong Palestinian population was reluctant to join in. Now, some have fled, while others have joined in the fight.



(Reuters) – Thirty years ago Hafez al-Assad cut phone lines from Hama to stop word spreading of his bloody crackdown on an uprising in the city, ensuring that the 1982 Syrian revolt was crushed and many thousands killed before the world even knew of it.


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


Video Highlights


Rebels groups in the western parts of Aleppo Province get united under the nameAl-Mostasim Brigades But while the video is meant to show unity, it unintentionally reveals the degree of fragmentation involved in the rebellion movement when the leaders of over 20 different units introduce themselves and take the pledge. Regional and ideological differences are pretty apparent and the prospects of a lasting union seem dim. But for now, attempts at consolidation continue.


Restive neighborhoods in Damascus City are shelled again ,


The town of Na’eemeh, Daraa Province, comes under heavy shelling  ,


The town of Al-Atareb, Aleppo Province, get pounded with fighter jets dropping TNT barrels ,


In Aleppo City’s Sheikh Khodr Neighborhood, the bodies of victims of snipers line the streets


The pounding of Old Homs continues The pounding of Rastan continues


14 Sentenced to Death by Egyptian Courts for Sinai Attacks

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Fourteen reportedly militant Islamists’ death sentences were upheld by the Supreme State of Emergency Court on Monday for their part in a deadly attack on a bank and police station. The strike killed an army officer, five policemen, and a civilian in the North Sinai town of Arish last year.  The jihadists were originally sentenced to death on August 14 by a court in Ismailiya, northeast of Cairo. Four men received life sentences for their parts in the attack, while six were acquitted.

A Bedouin man in Sinai investigates the scene of an explosion. (Photo Courtesy of Egypt Independent)

Those who were sentenced belonged to the “Tawhid wal Jihad” (Monotheism and Holy War) organization.  The group was accused of killing 34 people in a series of bombings that were carried out  against tourist resorts in South Sinai in 2004 and 2005.  Ever since the Mubarak era, North Sinai villages have dealt with many issues involving Islamic jihadists who seek an Emirate in Sinai.  After its founders were killed by police following the attack, the group kept a low profile, but experienced a resurgence after President Mubarak was overthrown.

Mohamed Zare’ a human rights lawyer who is also the head of the Arab Organization for Penal Reform, described the ruling as “deterrent, especially because of what is being carried out in Sinai.  It also is proof of fears the country has of Jihadists.”  Zare’ believes that the ruling is proof of the executive and judicial bodies’ awareness of the issues that Sinai currently faces.

Nageh Ibrahim, former fighter who is now an Islamist researcher, agreed with Zare’.  In an interview with Al Jazeera, he said that “[t]his court decision is a milestone.  It gives a strong message to the militant groups that the state, President Mohamed Morsi’s government, will not tolerate attacks on the Egyptian armed forces and police.”

Tarek Abdel-A’al, head of field work for the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, disagrees, finding the sentence to be “very harsh,” especially considering the modern trend many countries are following in abandoning the death penalty.

Those convicted blame President Mohamed Morsi for the court’s decision.  After the verdict, one defendant was heard shouting that “Morsi is an infidel and those who follow him are infidels.”

Al Jazeera reported that the Egyptian government and Israel are currently coordinating on a security operation which involves hundreds of Egyptian troops with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters in a joint operation with police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects, and seize weapons.  Yet there is still little information over whether this will be enough to bring Sinai back under government control.

For further information please see:

Al Bawaba — Egypt: Six Islamists to be Executed — 24 September 2012

Al Jazeera — Egypt Upholds Death Penalty in Sinai Attacks — 24 September 2012

Daily News Egypt — Over a Dozen Sentenced to Death for Deadly Attack in North Sinai — 24 September 2012

Egypt Independent — Egypt Condemns 14 to Death for 2011 Sinai Attack — 24 September 2012

Russia Demands Ban on YouTube Over Anti-Islamic Film

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – On the heels of multiple nations banning the Anti-Islamic film, The Innocence of Muslims, the Russian government recently threatened to ban the video-sharing online resource, YouTube, unless the company takes down the extremely controversial film that flared multiple violent protests.

Russia threatens to ban YouTube over controversial Anti-Islamic film. (Photo Courtesy of FoxNews)

On Monday, Russian communications chief, Nikolai Nikiforov, used Twitter to announce that Russia may take the necessary steps to completely block YouTube if they do not agree to the removal of the Anti-Islamic film.

The Russian prosecutor general has already categorized the film to be extremist and desires a court decision to ban it in Russia. However, if a court rules that YouTube is not required to take down the heated film, access to the website will simply be limited.

Russia plans to utilize a controversial new law that allows authorities to block entire websites over offensive content on a single page. Nikolai Nikiforov also wrote on twitter, “It sounds like a joke, but because of this video… all of YouTube could be blocked throughout Russia.”

In fact, various Internet providers through the Russia’s Chechen Republic were already instructed to block YouTube to prevent access to the Anti-Islamic movie mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

One Internet provider in Chechnya, Orange Company, already blocked YouTube. Furthermore, the republic’s prosecutor general officially ordered the three remaining providers, MTS, Megafon and Vympelkom, to block access to YouTube.

Ultimately, Google refused to take down the Anti-Islamic movie all together. However, the Internet company agreed to remove content that violates local laws to “maintain a balance between free speech and censorship.”

A YouTube spokes person states, “We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.”

Rachel Whetstone, Google’s director of global communications and public affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, wrote that Google is not “the arbiter of what does and does not appear on the web”.

Whetstone also states, “We try to take into account local cultures and needs – which vary dramatically around the world – when developing and implementing our global product policies. Dealing with controversial content is one of the biggest challenges we face as a company.”

For further information, please see:

RFE/RL — Internet Providers In Chechnya Instructed To Block YouTube Over Anti-Islam Film – 24 September 2012

BBC – YouTube under new pressure over anti-Muslim film – 19 September 2012

FoxNews — Russia may block YouTube over anti-Islam film – 18 September 2012

Los Angeles Times — More countries push to block YouTube over anti-Islam video – 18 September 2012

$135 Million of Russian Government Money Stolen by the Criminal Group Exposed by Sergei Magnitsky Has Been Found in Eight Different Countries

Press Release
Hermitage Capital

24 September 2012 – After two years of a forensic investigation involving the authorities and courts in four different countries, journalists from Novaya Gazeta and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project have identified where $135 million of the money stolen from the Russian treasury by a criminal group exposed by the murdered lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, ended up.  The money was traced through U.S., Swiss, Moldovan and Russian bank records to accounts in 8 different jurisdictions, 62 offshore accounts and 20 different banks. The money was found in Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Cyprus, Hong Kong and three Baltic republics.

This is the largest single discovery outside of Russia of bank accounts and individuals who were involved in the corrupt conspiracy to steal Russian treasury funds uncovered by late Sergei Magnitsky.

One of the most significant discoveries from this new investigation is documentary evidence showing a link between the funds from the Russian treasury through 10 different banks in 4 different jurisdictions and the accounts at Credit Suisse Private Bank in Zurich of a company belonging to Vladlen Stepanov, ex-husband of former head of Moscow tax office number 28.  The money from this account was shown to have been used to pay for multi-million dollar properties in Dubai for Vladlen Stepanov ( and two officials of the Moscow Tax Office 28 – Olga Tsareva and Elena Anisimova – and their relatives (,

Another important trail from the stolen treasury funds was a $1,468,023 payment to accounts at UBS in Zurich.  Previous investigations have revealed that $800 million was stolen by the Russian officials and criminals exposed by Sergei Magnitsky using the same scheme during a four-year period of 2006-2010, including $230 million paid in taxes to the Russian government by Hermitage Fund’s Russian companies in 2006.  This money was illegally refunded in one day, on 24 December 2007, under the guise of a “tax refund” by criminals working with Russian tax and Interior Ministry officials. Families of those officials have since been shown to have become rich well in excess of their government salaries.

Hermitage Capital has filed 8 criminal complaints with the prosecutors and police in the eight foreign jurisdictions, alerting them to the stolen funds and asking for the accounts to be frozen and criminal investigations to be opened.  The applications say:

“Our clients have discovered that the funds held at and which moved through these accounts represent a portion of some $800 million in illicit proceeds generated in a criminal scheme involving the theft of funds from the Russian Treasury, as well as proceeds of similar crimes earlier, payments to corrupt Russian officials and members of their families involved in the scheme, and fraud, of which $230 million relates to taxes paid to the Russian Treasury by Hermitage and the Hermitage Fund, as well as to other ongoing criminal activity.”

“Because the Russian authorities have blocked all applications to investigate the money trail and to bring implicated Russian officials to justice, our efforts have been focused on criminal justice opportunities outside Russia,” said a Hermitage Capital representative.

Sergei Magnitsky who uncovered the unprecedented fraud against the Russian people and the Russian state, was arrested by officers he had implicated, tortured and killed in custody. In November 2010, he was posthumously honored by Transparency International with the Integrity Award ( for his fight against official corruption.

As of now, not a single member of the Russian government has been prosecuted for the theft of the funds or the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.  Earlier, Magnitsky’s former boss, U.S. lawyer Jamison Firestone, filed three applications with the Russian Investigative Committee seeking to open a criminal inquiry into the Russian tax officials who authorized the tax refunds, and into the high-ranking government officials who have been blocking any investigation.   Firestone also filed seven requests to investigate the illicit wealth of the families of tax and police officials implicated in the thefts, and the criminal activities of the Klyuev organized crime group since 2002. The Russian authorities have not opened any probes into anyone named in Firestone’s applications.


For further information please contact:

Hermitage Capital
Phone:             +44 207 440 1777
Twitter:           @KatieFisher__
Livejournal:    //

Investigation by Novaya Gazeta here:

Investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:

OTP Weekly Briefing: Shortlist of Deputy Prosecutors, Gender Justice Events, Preliminary Examination in Mali

ICC Office of the Prosecutor Weekly Briefing 28 August – 11 September 2012, Issue #130

Child Abuse In Buenos Aires Runs Rampant

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – In a worrying turn of events, a report has surfaced that indicates that about “four out of ten minors” living in public institutions in the province of Beunos Aires, Argentina have suffered from some sort of abuse.

Child Workers in Argentina. (Photo Courtesy of Press TV)

According to documents released by UNICEF Province, “43.7 percent” of  male youths who were housed in homes and similar institutions like foster care were subject to abuse. The report indicates that about 1680 children were subjected to various forms of violence and abuse from their parents, relatives or care takers.

The data, collected by the Unified Statistical Register (REUNA) of the Ministry of Children and Adolescents indicates that the levels of abuse are wide ranging. About 1680 kids out of 3846 investigated and surveyed suffered some sort of violence including “physical psychological, or emotional, sexual abuse or neglect” or a simple lack of basic care.

The report continued that of the remaining 56.3% of children who were placed in homes, 7.9% of these children were abandoned by their parents and another 18.7% were under supervised before being taken from their parents.

9.3% of children and adolescents who had placed into public institutions admitted to having problems with addiction. Another 2% admitted to vulnerable disabilities with their psychopathology.

According to the Ministry of Children and Adolescents, psychological abuse includes “psychological or emotional abuse” and can include “Verbal hostility… insults, ridicule, contempt, criticism or threats of abandonment.

Sebastian Gastelu, the Undersecretary for Promotion and Protection of rights reiterates that “child abuse is a problem of society, regardless of class or any other,” and that this is not just “physical violence and sexual abuse, but also verbal abuse, humiliation and psychological abuse.”

The report was released during the latest meeting of the Interministerial Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Rights held in the city of Junín, in the province of Beunos Aires in Argentina. Pablo Navarro, the Secretary for Children and Adolescents pledges a “strong commitment to direct public policy towards strengthening mechanism for preventing and addressing violence against children.”

Whatever the ultimate solution is, the world is looking towards Argentina with a watchful eye.

This is just the latest in Argentina’s fight with human rights abuses of children. Earlier this year Argentina’s parliament introduced a new bill to fight child labor. Official statistics show that over “450,000 children are forced to work in agriculture, mining and fishing activities and domestic service in Argentina.”


For further information, please see:

Aninoticias – Over 40% Of Children Were Abused Housed In Homes – 23 September 2012

Diario Hoy – More Than 43 Percent of Children Living In Homes And Other Institutions Were Abused – 23 September 2012

Impulso baires – Province of Beunos Aires: Four In Ten Children Housed In Foster Abuse Entrants – 23 September 2012

La Nacion – Nearly Half Of Children Were Abused Housed In Homes – 23 September 2012

Press TV – Argentina’s Parliament Passes New Anti-Child Labor Bill – 9 August 2012