U.S. Envoy Travels to North Korea in Attempt to Free Jailed American

By Brandon Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, is expected to arrive in North Korea today and will ask for release of Kenneth Bae.  King’s trip is the first public trip to North Korea by a U.S. official in over two years.

Kenneth Bae. (Photo Courtesy CNN)

The North Koreans imprisoned Bae, a 45-year-old American citizen and Christian missionary, last November for planning an operation against Kim Jong Un’s regime through religious activities.  Specifically, the North Koreans charged Bae with setting up bases in China for the purpose of toppling Kim’s regime, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and spreading false propaganda.  The North Korean government also claims that Bae used his tourism business to form groups that could overthrow the government.

North Korea does allow religious freedom, but such religious freedom yields to “total loyalty to the Kim dynasty,” which has ruled for three generations.  Bae’s family believes that it was not Bae’s religious beliefs that got him in trouble, rather his sympathy toward North Korean orphans.

Online posts, however, which have since been taken down, showed Bae describing himself and a party of people that he took to North Korea as “warriors for Christ.”  Bae had also talked of bringing three hundred people into North Korea to emulate the biblical destruction of the walls of Jericho.

Bae was sentenced in May to fifteen years of hard labor.  Although he has only served ten months of his sentence, Bae has already spent more time in North Korean custody than any other American.  Additionally, Bae’s health has deteriorated and he is spending time in a hospital.  It is reported that he is suffering from leg and back pain.  Bae has also lost more than fifty pounds, has kidney stones, dizziness and loss of vision.  Prior to his arrest, Bae suffered from diabetes and an enlarged heart.

The White House hopes that the government of North Korea will “grant special clemency to Mr. Bae immediately and allow him to return home with Ambassador [Robert] King.”  While King’s visit may improve political relations with North Korea, the U.S. State Department stated that the immediate release of Bae is the sole purpose of the envoy.

Since 2009, six Americans have been detained by North Korea.  Former U.S. Presidents Clinton and Carter have both successfully negotiated the release of American detainees.  Hopes are also high that Bae will be released, as several years ago King led a U.S. delegation, which resulted in the release of an American who had been detained by the North Koreans for several months.

UPDATE: As of 11:20am EDT North Korea has rescinded its invitation for the U.S. envoy to visit North Korea and try to secure the release of Bae.


For further information, please see:

BBC – US Envoy due in North Korea to Seek Prisoner Release – 30 August 2013

CNN – N. Korea Rescinds Invitation to U.S. Envoy over American Prisoner – 30 August 2013

CNN – U.S. Envoy set to Travel to North Korea to try to free Kenneth Bae – 30 August 2013

Times of India – US Envoy on Mission to Free American in North Korea – 30 August 2013

MSNBC – US Envoy Seeks Prisoner Release in North Korea – 29 August 2013

Guatemalan Journalist Shot to Death

By Brandon Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Carlos Alberto Orellana Chavez, 62, was found Monday shot to death.  The shooting came hours after Chavez, a broadcast journalist, was reported missing.  With his passing, a total of four journalists have been murdered in Guatemala this year.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina. (Photo Courtesy BBC)

Chavez’s shooting comes one week after Freddy Rodas, a regional correspondent, was seriously wounded in a shooting.  Guatemalan police do, however, have a suspect in custody regarding Rodas’ shooting.  Additionally, last week gunmen shot at the home of Vernick Gudiel, an investigator for a Guatemala City daily newspaper.  No injuries were reported in that shooting, however.

Carlos Lauria, coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, has called for the authorities to “thoroughly investigate the murder of Carlos Alberto Orellana Chávez and the shooting of Fredy Rodas, determine the motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

As authorities continue to investigate the murder, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez rejected the notion that journalists as a group are under attack.  Lopez believes that the shootings are based on personal motives, indicating that Chavez may have been killed during a carjacking.

Maria Martin, director of the Guatemalan journalism training organization Gracias Vida, rejects Lopez’s notion and offers two additional explanations.  First, Martin states “organized crime and the drug cartels are gaining more power . . . and that makes it more dangerous for rural and regional journalists.”  Additionally, she states, “you have Guatemala between Honduras and Mexico, where the killing of journalists has become an open sport . . . it was just a matter of time before the bad guys would take a lesson from both of these countries, where journalists are killed and no one is called into account.”

President Otto Pérez Molina, meanwhile, announced the creation of a task force that will investigate the murders of all four journalists that have been murdered this year.  Molina said that, “we put together a special team to run the investigation so we can make sure this does not go unpunished.”  He also announced a new program that is aimed at protecting journalists who work in Guatemala.


For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Guatemalan Journalist Shot to Death – 22 August 2013

Info Sur Hoy – Guatemala Task Force to Probe Journalist Deaths – 21 August 2013

Journalism in the Americas – Regional Reporter in Guatemala Gunned Down, the Fourth This Year – 21 August 2013

One India – Journalist Slain in Guatemala, one Suspect Held – 21 August 2013


Saudi Arabia Bans Domestic Abuse

By Thomas Murphy
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On Wednesday, Saudia Arabia’s cabinet passed the “Protection from Abuse” law. The purpose of the law is to protect women, children, and workers from domestic abuse. The law is the country’s first of its kind and has been celebrated by human rights activists.

A poster utilized in the King Khalid Foundation’s campaign against domestic abuse. (Photo Courtesy of the King Khalid Foundation)

The law explicitly lays out that physical and sexual abuse both at home and in the workplace are illegal. Anyone found guilty of abuse under the new law may face up to a year in prison and $13,300 in fines.

“This is a good law that serves major segments of the society in the kingdom, including women, children, domestic workers and non-domestic workers,” said Khaled al-Fakher, secretary-general of the National Society for Human Rights, a government-licensed body.

“We are always in favour of an explicit law that does not need interpretations or personal judgment,” said Fakher, whose organisation helped draft the law.

The passage of the “Protection from Abuse” law comes after years of international pressure from other countries, human rights groups, and the United Nations. Local organizations such as the King Khalid Foundation were a driving force behind the law’s passage as well.

In April, the King Khalid Foundation began an anti-abuse campaign that encouraged women report cases of domestic abuse. The campaign’s calling card became an advertisement (shown above) that featured a veiled woman with a bruised eye and the slogan “Some things can’t be covered. Fighting women’s abuse together.” The advertisement quickly gained notoriety for its portrayal of a typically taboo topic.

While the new law is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, many are waiting to see how it is implemented.

Rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair said the law gives women some independence: “Women were required to bring in a male relative if they showed up at a police station to file a complaint,” he said. This will not now be necessary.

However, women are still required to receive permission from a male guardian to carry out business, apply for jobs, or travel out of the country. Further, women are often accompanied by a male guardian whenever they leave the home, which may inhibit a victim’s ability to report abuse.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Saudi Arabia outlaws domestic violence –  30 August 2013

Guardian – Saudi Arabia passes law against domestic violence  – 29 August 2013

Huffington Post – Saudi Arabia Passes Domestic Abuse Ban For First Time – 29 August 2013

BBC – Saudi Arabia cabinet approves domestic abuse ban – 28 August 2013

Iran Passes Bill to Sue U.S. for Involvement in 1953 Military Coup

Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran—Preliminary approval has been given by the Iranian Parliament to a bill that will allow the Government to sue the United States for its connection to the 1953 coup overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Minister Mossadegh.

Iranian Parliament meets to discuss to possibility of suing the United States (photo courtesy of Global Post)

The coup, which reinstated exiled Shah Mohammed Reza—later again deposed during the 1979 Iranian Revolution—was code-named Operation TPAJAX.  Information regarding the coup recently surfaced from newly declassified documents offering more information about the CIA’s involvement of the overthrow of Mossadegh.

The document, titled “The Battle for Iran”, describes how the military coup was carried out under the direction of the CIA as an act of U.S. foreign policy at the highest levels of government.  Lawmakers claim the documents prove a history of U.S. bad intentions towards Iran.

Lawmaker Mahdi Mousavinejad stated, “America’s oppressive behavior shows that the Iranian nation has to stand up and pursue its trampled rights,” in support of Iran taking legal action to ensure U.S. responsibility for the coup.

However, other lawmakers have taken different views about parliament’s passing of the bill.  Mohammad Mahdi Rahbari opposed the bill saying, “Pursuing this bill has no benefits for our country.  It will waste the parliament’s time.”

Iran’s Parliament consists of 290 seats, and of the 196 parliamentarians who were in attendance, 167 voted in favor of the bill while only five opposed it.  The bill establishes a committee to study the process of bringing a lawsuit, and provides for six months to determine if legal action is appropriate.

The possibility of a lawsuit comes amidst ever growing tensions between Iran and the U.S.  In the 1980s, when Shah Reza was hospitalized in the U.S. after being deposed, relations began to crumble.  The US embassy hostage crisis, where pro-revolution partisans held the embassy severed more diplomatic ties.

Iran’s ties to nuclear weapons has also hindered relations, with the West claiming that Iran aims to further develop nuclear weapons to which Iran denies, claiming their nuclear programs are used for peaceful purposes.

At this point, it is unclear whether the lawsuit will ever come to fruition or have any sort of bearing in the international courts.  However, it could open the door for Iran to be susceptible to U.S. lawsuits claiming damages due to the Iranian hostage crisis.

For more information, please see the following: 

Aljazeera-Iran moves to sue US over 1953 coup-August 28, 2013

Business Line-Iran okays bill to sue US over 1953 coup-August 28, 2013

Global Post-Iran debates suing US over Mossadegh coup in 1953-August 28, 2013

Washington Post-Iran’s parliament approves bill to sue US over 1953 coup involvement-August 28, 2013