Statement by William Browder on Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Release

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Distribution

20 December 2013 – Mikhail Khodorkovsky was freed today by his hostage
takers after being kept 10 years in captivity at the personal direction of
Vladimir Putin.

I can’t imagine the duress he must have suffered by his false imprisonment
and I’m delighted and relieved for him and his family that he is finally
free.

But we shouldn’t forget that Putin stole ten years of a man’s life for a
political vendetta.

We shouldn’t forget that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vasily Aleksenian
died at the age of 39 after being falsely arrested in the same vindictive
case and was deliberately refused medical care while he was dying, to try
to get him to testify against Khodorkovsky.

We also shouldn’t forget about the thousands of other people who have been
taken hostage and abused by corrupt Russian law enforcement officials, like
Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured to death in police custody after exposing
a corruption scheme run by senior Russian officials.

Cheap public relations tactics to promote Putin’s Sochi Olympics don’t
substitute for real justice and the victims whose lives were ruined and
continue to be ruined by the Putin regime.

For further information please contact:

Law and Order in Russia

Russian Amnesty Rule Makes Pussy Riot and Other Prisoner Releases Possible

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian amnesty law will allow several, including the Pussy Riot band members and 30 Greenpeace protesters, to go free. The decision comes three months before the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Among those to be released under the amnesty law are two members of Pussy Riot, who have been serving a two-year sentence. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

On 19 December 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to free two Pussy Riot band members under an amnesty. The two band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, have been serving a two-year prison sentence, which ends three months before their scheduled release. Their third band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, has already been freed, following a successful appeal.

On 21 February 2012, all three members of Pussy Riot were arrested for the crime of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility” after performing Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away from Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. While releasing the imprisoned band members, Putin continued to describe their protest as disgraceful.

At a news conference, Putin said, “I was not sorry that they ended up behind bars. I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behaviour, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women.”

The “punk prayer” took place at Moscow’s main cathedral, and antagonized both Putin and his ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since their arrest, both women have gone on hunger strikes, and Tolokonnikova disappeared for 21 days when she wrote an open letter in protest of prison conditions. Tolokonnikova re-appeared in a Siberian prison hospital.

President Putin’s promise to release the prisoners became possible through a new Russian amnesty law passed earlier in the week of 19 December 2013. Under that law, amnesty from imprisonment is granted to prisoners “who haven’t committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors and women with small children.”

Both women are expected to be released as mothers of small children.

While the new law also frees 30 members of a Greenpeace protest from trial, President Putin urged that the amnesty was not granted with either Greenpeace or Pussy Riot in mind. Rather, he stated that it was passed to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia’s post-Soviet constitution.

News reports have noted that releasing both groups removes “two irritants in ties with the West before Russia hosts” the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Another prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is another prisoner whose detainment was said to exemplify Russia’s abuse of its prison system. Khodorkovsky was once Russia’s richest man and oil tycoon. He was arrested in 2003 on tax evasion and fraud charges, and is expected to be released under the new amnesty law.

Regardless of motive, the world can be pleased to see some justice done in Russia.

For further information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – Putin to Pardon Jailed Jewish Tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky – December 19, 2013

Reuters – Putin: Amnesty to Free Punk Band Duo Despite ‘Disgraceful’ Protest – December 19, 2013

USA Today – Pussy Riot Members Freed from Prison – December 19, 2013

Guardian – Arctic 30 Protesters and Pussy Riot Members Set to Walk Free – December 18, 2013

Bangladesh Opposition Leader Hanged, Violent Protests Ensue

By Brian Lanciault

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh–Bangladesh has hanged notorious opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah over war crimes allegedly committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.  Mollah is the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the bloody struggle.

Bangladeshi opposition leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, was sentenced to death early last week. He was hanged on December 12, 2013, and deadly riots have ensued in the wake of the execution. (Photo Courtesy Reuters)

Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, was hanged on December 12, 2013 around 10 am in a jail in the capital, Dhaka, government officials reported.

The case against Mollah has contributed to escalating political tension in Bangladesh less than a month before elections are expected to take place. Jamaat-e-Islami is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Security was tight around the jail where Mollah was hanged. Extra police and paramilitary guards were deployed on the streets of Dhaka. Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in the city to celebrate the execution.

Moqbul Ahmed, JI’s acting leader, said in a statement on the party’s website that people would revenge Mollah’s execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The party called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.

While a strong reaction to the decision from JI was expected on the streets of Dhaka, the city remained relatively calm.

However, tensions escalated, and protests broke out across the country.  At least five people were killed earlier near the port city of Chittagong as clashes broke out between opposition activists and police over the weekend.

On Monday, clashes in the southeastern district, Satkhira, resulted in the deaths of five people, killed as police attempted to quell the violent protests.  Since the execution, JI members have taken to the streets, some wielding homemade bombs, and lodged attacks against security personnel.  So far, 25 people have died in the wake of the hanging.

Party activists also clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles, and set off homemade bombs in the cities of Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations have reported.

Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.

In eastern Bangladesh, security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka’s leading newspaper reported.

Violence spread to Laxmipur district, a few miles east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader following the execution.

The Supreme Court passed the order of a review petition filed by Mollah against its verdict, awarding him the death penalty for his wartime offences. He had originally been due to be hanged on Tuesday, his lawyer said, but the court delayed the execution to re-consider his latest petition.

His original life sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court in September, after mass protests called for him to be hanged.

A panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said.

Mollah is one of five opposition leaders sentenced to death by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities during the 1971 conflict. The conflict is marked by over three million deaths.

Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a political feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition ahead of January elections.

“The execution of… Mollah should never have happened,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh researcher. “The country is on a razor’s edge… with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests.”

But many Bangladeshis support the Court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished, underlining how the events of 42 years ago still resonate in the deeply divided nation of 160 million people.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera– Bangladesh hangs opposition leader— 12 December 2013

LA Times– Five die in Bangladesh clashes over hanging of opposition leader— 16 December 2013

CBS News– Bangladesh opposition leader’s execution sparks deadly riots— 13 December 2013

New York Times– Opposition Leader’s Execution Spurs Protests in Bangladesh— 12 December 2013

Syria: Holistic Approach Needed for Justice ICC, Other Measures Essential to Combat Climate of Impunity

Press Release

(New York, December 17, 2013) – Concerned governments should take steps toward a comprehensive approach to accountability for the serious crimes committed in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Policymakers and international donors who support credible criminal prosecutions for grave violations in Syria should learn from the successes and shortcomings of accountability efforts in other parts of the world.

The 20-page report, “Syria: Criminal Justice for Serious Crimes under International Law,” underlines the urgent need for accountability and examines a number of concrete measures that would contribute to the fair investigation and prosecution, in a properly constituted court, of people responsible for abuses in Syria. The document outlines short-term actions as well as longer-term policies and practices that countries should adopt to demonstrate their commitment to justice.

“The international community should understand that accountability for the horrendous crimes in Syria will be essential for a durable peace,” said Balkees Jarrah, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The world will need both a variety of judicial tools for justice in Syria and a long-term vision that avoids pitting one measure against another.”

Human Rights Watch outlined a series of recommendations on accountability, including on the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC), criminal prosecutions by Syrian courts, and national prosecutions in foreign courts outside of Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The paper also discusses the potential benefits of a specialized court or chamber within the national justice system that would have both international and Syrian staff and would work with the ICC and other Syrian courts on mass atrocity cases.

Human Rights Watch noted that criminal prosecutions are only one element of a larger justice and accountability process. Broader truth-telling mechanisms, reparations, vetting, economic development, and reconstruction will also be needed as part of the process of moving Syrian society forward in a sustainable way.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented abuses by government and pro-government forces and concluded that they have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government continues to conduct indiscriminate air and artillery strikes on residential areas and to arbitrarily detain, torture, and extra-judicially execute civilians and combatants.

Human Rights Watch has also documented serious abuses amounting to war crimes by some opposition groups, including the indiscriminate use of car bombs and mortars, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Human Rights Watch has also documented systematic kidnapping and intentional killings of civilians by some opposition groups that may amount to crimes against humanity.

The Syrian government has not taken any meaningful steps to bring to account government and pro-government forces responsible for violations. The authorities have demonstrated a lack of political will to ensure credible justice for past and ongoing grave human rights abuses. Moreover, there are serious concerns about whether the Syrian judicial system has the capacity to effectively address these large-scale crimes. Opposition forces have not adequately addressed accountability for abuses by their members. As a result, national prosecutions are not an option for now, Human Rights Watch said.

Against this background, Human Rights Watch has urged the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC as a crucial first step toward justice for victims of atrocities by all sides. Sixty-four countries, including six Security Council members, have expressed support for an ICC referral.

A referral to the court could yield short- and long-term benefits. Most immediately, the court’s involvement in the course of the ongoing conflict in Syria would send a clear message to all parties that the commission of grave crimes will not be tolerated and will lead to serious consequences. This credible threat of prosecution may help stem further abuses.

In a post-conflict period, the ICC can play a vital role, given that the Syrian justice sector will most likely be ill-equipped to address complex and politically charged cases. The court can also set a valuable reference point for other judicial initiatives, including national trials.

Even with the ICC’s involvement, fair and effective investigations and prosecutions at the national level will remain essential to narrow the impunity gap. However, beyond the practical difficulties posed by the scale of the violations, it will take time for the national system to be in a position to deliver meaningful justice impartially and independently, Human Rights Watch said.

Indeed, the success of any effort to bolster the national justice system will hinge on the authorities of the day. Without the necessary political commitment to credible justice at the outset, it will also be impossible to consider establishing other national judicial entities, such as a specialized court or chamber focused on atrocity crimes. Those concerns are a reminder about why the ICC was created in the first place, Human Rights Watch said.

Steps can still be taken during the conflict to help prepare the Syrian justice system for any future trials. In particular, concerned governments could support efforts to identify the necessary changes in Syrian law to ensure that domestic law covers international crimes and guarantees a fair trial, including independence of the judges.

“There will, of course, be a need for additional cases in Syrian courts to bring full accountability beyond what the ICC process could yield,” Jarrah said. “But we need to be clear-eyed about what it’s going to take in the long run for fair national prosecutions for the crimes being committed in Syria.”

“Syria: Criminal Justice for Serious Crimes under International Law” is available at: 
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/17/syria-criminal-justice-serious-crimes-under-international-law

To read a Q&A on Syria and the ICC, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/17/qa-syria-and-international-criminal-court

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Syria, please visit: 
http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/syria

Rare Winter Storm Brings Snow, Ice and Flooding to the Middle East

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A rare winter storm has brought rain and snow to the Middle East creating stunning images of a winter wonderland in the Holy Land and across the Middle East from Egypt to Syria. However, the storm System has also brought devastating flooding and freezing temperatures to the region, leaving hundreds without heat or power.

Men build a snowmen outside of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Photo courtesy of Business Insider)

On Thursday poorly built homes in Northern Gaza collapsed as a result of freezing rain and sleet from the powerful storm system, several residents began seeking refuge in local schools. The United Nations has called the most severally effected regions “a disaster area” and more than 5,000 people have been evacuated from flood-damaged homes in the region.

In a statement on Saturday the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which is reasonable for the administration of refugee camps in the Palestine territory, said “Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see.

Palestinians attempt to warm themselves by fire while seeking shelter in a local school after being evacuated from their flooded homes in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 13, 2013 (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The freezing weather, coupled with fuel shortages and the fact that many Palestinian do not live in quality homes with adequate heading systems, many Palestinian have been forced to use fires to heat their homes, which creates a risk of deadly house fires. A government spokesman said that a 22-year-old Palestinian man died as a result of smoke inhalation on Saturday which he suffered after lighting a fire to heat his home.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported 100 other people had been injured as a result of the flooding after the rising waters damaged poorly built homes along the coastal territory. Among the injured were people who had been hit by debris falling from inundated buildings. Several people were also injured as a result of car accidents on flooded roadways.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for the UNRWA spokesman, said areas near a refugee camp in northern Gaza “have become a massive lake with two-meter-high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands.”

Israel has responded to the crises by opening a main crossing with Gaza on Friday in order to allow fuel supplies and four water pumps into the territory to help victims of flood damage and to help end blackouts, which have lasted longer than 21 hours.

Gaza is home to 1.8 million people, governed by Hamas. The region has already endured blackouts caused by fuel shortages, often lasting for 12 hours of blackouts daily since Gaza’s only power plant was switched off last month due to a fuel shortage resulting from tunnels connecting the region to Egypt being shut down.

The enclave lies on the coast, sparing it the snow that has fallen across other parts of the region, but heavy rains felled trees and damaged nearly 200 homes.

Fayez al-Yazghi, a shop owner in Gaza described the crises as “the worst weather we’ve had in 20 years. There’s no electricity, fuel and cooking gas. Many homes are flooded and destroyed” he went on to say the region is in “need urgent intervention from the whole world to save our lives.”

For more information please see:

The Guardian – Gaza Receives First Fuel Shipment in Weeks after Winter Storm – 15 December 2013

ABC News – Gaza Strip Receives Fuel After Storm Batters It – 14 December 2013

The New York Times – Gaza, Vexed By Floods, Gets Fuel and Power – 15 December 2013

Scientific American – More Than 5,000 Evacuated From Gaza “Disaster Area” Floods – 14 December 2013

Al Jazeera – Icy Floods Force Gaza Residents from Homes – 13 December 2013

Press Release: New Magnitsky Justice Campaign Project Launched To Expose Russian Officials Involved in the Cover Up of Sergei Magnitsky’s Death

Press Release

16 December 2013 – Following the adoption last week of the EU-wide Magnitsky sanctions resolution by the European Parliament, the Magnitsky Justice Campaign today launches a new project: “Magnitsky Case Cover up Revealed in Persons and Documents.”

The first exposé of the new project features the role played by Russia’s Deputy General Prosecutor Victor Grin in the cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s ill-treatment and death.

“The aim of the new Magnitsky justice project is to expose the officials in the Russian government who concealed the criminal liability of those involved in Magnitsky’s torture and killing and the crimes he had uncovered,” said a Hermitage Capital representative.

The Magnitsky Law adopted in the United States [http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/pl112_208.pdf] stipulates the imposition of targeted sanctions for those involved in the efforts to conceal the legal liability for detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky.

“The new documents show that Prosecutor Grin was the key official overseeing Magnitsky’s case while Sergei was in custody. Yet, in spite of his conflict of interest, after Magnitsky’s death he was assigned as the key official deciding on whether there were any violations of the law,” said a Hermitage Capital representative.

Documents published today feature the role of Prosecutor Grin, including:

  • The failure by Deputy Prosecutor Grin to address the complaint about Magnitsky’s ill-treatment in custody filed by Magnitsky’s colleague Jamison Firestone in October 2009. It was assigned to Prosecutor Grin for an immediate probe, following an intervention from the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, ten days before Sergei Magnitsky’s death in custody[http://followmydata.net/SMRULE/D1720.pdf].

 

  • A secret conclusion issued by Prosecutor Grin 18 months after Magnitsky’s death, on 20 May 2011, which stated that there had been no violations of the law by Interior Ministry investigators who mistreated Magnitsky in custody [http://followmydata.net/SMRULE/D1910.pdf]. This decision was then used by the Russian Investigative Committee to justify their failure to prosecute Interior Ministry’s officials in the Magnitsky case.

Documents published today further show how as part of the cover-up of Interior Ministry officials, Prosecutor Grin initiated two criminal cases falsely targeting Sergei Magnitsky after he died. Lawyer for the Magnitsky’s family protested these posthumous decrees by Prosecutor Grin as being contrary to Russian domestic and international legal obligations and based on falsehoods but to no avail:

New materials also reveal that Prosecutor Grin also played a key role in the cover up of the thefts uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky.

Firstly, Prosecutor Grin was directly responsible for the failure to conduct a proper probe into the original complaint about the frauds uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky. The complaint was filed by the Hermitage Fund on 3 December 2007, three weeks prior to the $230 million theft, with General Prosecutor Chaika[http://russian-untouchables.com/rus/230m-theft-from-budget/#D250]. On 5 December 2007 this complaintwas sent to Prosecutor Grin http://followmydata.net/SMRULE/D1908.pdf] but instead of investigating it, the complaint was then forwarded to the same Interior Ministry officials who were named in the complaint and covered up.

Second, it was Prosecutor Grin who signed the indictment for the $230 million theft which found that a“sawmill employee” (Victor Markelov) was responsible for the largest known tax rebate fraud in modern Russian history. The indictment signed by Prosecutor Grin exonerated the tax officials who approved the $230 million refund stating they were “tricked” by Markelov into doing it [http://followmydata.net/SMRULE/D1022.pdf].

 “According to the documents revealed today, Deputy Prosecutor of Russia Victor Grin has been personally involved in covering up Sergei Magnitsky’s persecution and death and the criminal conspiracy that Sergei Magnitsky exposed,” said Magnitsky’s former law partner Jamison Firestone.

“Since the beginning of the campaign, we get questions all the time how it is possible that impunity continuesfor everyone involved in Magnitsky’s death in Russia. Our objective is to shed light on the materials which reveal how the cover up is done, who is involved, and who contributes to it,” said a Hermitage Capital Management representative.

Six People Killed in Grenade Attack in Nairobi

By: Danielle L. Gwozdz
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – At least six people have been killed and several injured by a grenade attack on a bus in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the interior ministry says.

The bus of the grenade attack on Saturday (photo courtesy of Reuters)

The blast hit the 32-seater near the Eastleigh suburb, which is home to thousands of ethnic Somalis.

Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said a suspect was being questioned over the attack on Saturday.

“We lost two of the victims in hospital where about 30 others are still admitted,” Kibue said. “We now have six people dead out of the incident.”

Police were trying to determine whether the powerful explosion was caused by a grenade or an impoverished explosive device and whether it was placed on the bus, carried by a passenger or flung from outside.

The blast hit several cars near the bus, killing at least one of the motorists, according to witnesses.

No group has claimed responsibility yet for the attacks.

One witness, Peterson Mwaura, said, “I was passing waiting for the traffic to clear so I can cross, then I hear a loud explosion and metals and other pieces from the vehicle were flying all over the place, and people shouting.”

“I ran back. People were crying for help, they were screaming, but the one lying here (at the scene) appeared to have died on impact.”

Kenya has been the scene of multiple terrorist attacks since the country sent its military to Somalia in 2011 to fight the extremist Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was in retribution for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. The group, which is linked to al-Qaida, had threatened large-scale attacks for years, and it has said more will be carried out unless Kenya withdraws.

Kenya has been grappling with its large population of Somali refugees since the Westgate attack, with government officials announcing plans to speed up their return home. Nearly 500,000 Somali refugees live in Kenya, most of them in the sprawling Dadaab refugee settlement near the Somali border.

In the last several years, Somali refugee camps, particularly in Dadaab, have been hit by a spate of blasts by grenades and other improvised explosive devices.

“The attack is an unfortunate and cowardice incident which will not be tolerated,” the interior ministry said on its Twitter account, appealing for information from the public.

Police said the bus had been close to a girls’ school when it was hit.

Late on Friday, at least one person was killed and three others seriously wounded when twin explosions rocked the Kenyan town of Waji near the border with Somalia, police said, indicating it was likely the work of al-Shabab insurgents or their sympathizers.

Also near the border with Somalia, gunmen on Tuesday killed eight Kenyans, including five policemen, in an ambush.

Another policeman is missing following the attack.

For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Nairobi bus hit by deadly grenade attack – 14 December 2013
South China Morning Post – Death toll from Nairobi bus blast rises to six: police – 15 December 2013
The Christian Science Monitor –
At least 3 killed in Kenya minibus attack – 15 December 2013
International Business Times – Six Dead in Nairobi Bus Attack – 15 December 2013
Time World – Explosion Inside Kenya Minibus Kills at Least 4 – 14 December 2013

 

Egypt: Constitutional Referendum Set for Mid-January

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – Adly Mansour, Egypt’s interim president called on citizens to vote “yes” for the amended constitution in a referendum vote that will be held in mid-January. Mansour said the vote, set for Jan. 14-15, would be a first step in Egypt’s transition to a modern democratic state.

Interim President Adly Mansour announces the upcoming constitutional referendum to the 50-member committee that drafted the document. (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)

Mansour told an audience of government officials, which included members of a government panel that was reasonable for drafting the constipation, and relatives of victims of the past three years of unrest across the countries that “The document in our hands today is a text that should make every Egyptian proud, and (it is) the correct starting point for building the institutions of the modern democratic state that we all aspire to,” claiming the amended constitution is a important step towards what the military-backed government calls a transition to democracy.

On Friday Egypt’s Interior Ministry reported that at least two demonstrators were killed, sixteen arrested and 54 arrested during a protest against the military-run government.

The first protester killed in during the protests was shot and killed by birdshot during clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian police in the canal city of Suez. The second Demonstrator was killed during a clash between ant-government protesters and supporters of the military-backed government in the town of Fayoum, a community south of Cairo.

Since the military-backed government seized power in July Egyptian security forces have brutally cracked down on ant-government protesters. According to Human Rights Watch more than 1,000 people have been killed the organization says has been the most violent era in modern Egyptian history. The majority of the victims have been supporters of Mohamed Morsi, who was thrown out of power in July.

Some Morsi-Supporters and Islamist groups are considering a Boycott of the upcoming constitutional referendum.  “We are heading toward a boycott campaign,” said Islam Tawfiq, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Tawfiq participating in the constitutional referendum, even with a vote of no, would be “an implicit recognition of the legitimacy” of the military-backed government’s road map for the country.

However, Some Islamists groups are planning to rally behind the new referendum. The ultraconservative political power, Salafist Al-Nour, which was the only Islamist political party to take part in the constitutional drafting process, is calling for a yes vote. The party has received harsh criticism from Morsi allies, some of whom claim the new conisation is anti-Islamic.

The adoption of the constitution is vital for the country’s current authorities as it could be interpreted as a sign of renewed popular support as voices of dissent have begun to rise even among secular, anti-Morsi forces.

Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a group that is currently carrying out a study of the amended charter, said he will recommend a vote of “no” during the referendum. He said nearly 30 articles in the 247-article draft charter are too vague; giving Egyptian authorities greater room to supress freedom of association and information. He also said other amended articles give the military too much power, “making it a state above the state.”

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Egypt President Sets Date for Referendum – 14 December 2013

Al Arabiya – Egypt Referendum to Be Held Mid-January – 14 December 2013

ABC News – Egypt to Vote on Amended Constitution Mid-January – 13 December 2013

Al Jazeera – Clashes during Egypt Anti-Military Protests – 13 December 2013

Israel’s New Migrant Detention Facility Accused of being a “De Facto” Prison

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel-In a heavy criticized decision, Israel Prison Service (IPS) opened a new detention facility for African migrants on Thursday.  IPS began the process of moving 480 migrants who are currently held in a prison in Saharonim, with 50 migrants moved so far.

A mobile home moves into the new Israeli prison facility (photo courtesy Telegraph)

The transfer was made possible after the Knesset passed an amendment to Israel’s anti-infiltration law last Tuesday.  This new entry follows the Israel Supreme Court’s cancellation of a previous amendment due to it being disproportionate.

The new amendment will reduce the maximum amount of time a migrant can be held in a detention facility, while creating a default of open detention indefinitely for migrants.  The facility will currently hold 1,000 people with expansions to 3,300 in the next few months.

“We are determined to deport the tens of thousands of illegal migrants who are here after having reduced to zero the number of illegal labor migrants who enter Israel’s cities,” said Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

He further stated, “The steps that we unanimously approved today are proportionate and necessary for maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state and will restore security to Israel’s citizens while upholding the directives of the High Court of Justice and international law.”

Agitated human rights groups have called the new facility a “de facto” prison.   A group of Israeli human rights activists said detention of African asylum seekers “is not only draconian, undemocratic, and a fatal blow to human rights, it will also do nothing to help the already marginalized residents of South Tel Aviv.”

Marc Grey, spokesperson for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “We don’t see this as an improvement…The law itself, whether it’s three years or one year…it’s still just absolutely a massive violation of asylum seekers’ rights.”

The Israeli government addressed these concerns by saying “the law creates a suitable balance between the right of the State of Israel to defend its borders and prevent infiltration, and its obligation to act in a humanitarian manner toward anyone within its borders and protect the human rights due to every person.”

Police Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonvitch, also rejected the claims that it resembled a prison.  “I invited the press in order not to conceal anything.  I wanted you to see it with your own eyes.  This will be a fenced site allowing entrance and exit through a main gate,” Aharonvitch said.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Jazeera-Israel opens ‘de facto jail’ for migrants-12 December 2013

Haaretz-Israel’s new holding center for African migrants opens Thursday-12 December 2013

Jerusalem Post-Israel to begin using ‘open’ detention facility for migrants-12 December 2013

Telegraph-Israeli to open migrant ‘detention centre’-12 December 2013

SNHR: Human Rights Defenders were Kidnapped on Human Rights Day

Human Rights Activists were shocked about the news regarding the kidnapping of Lawyer and Human Rights Activist Razan Zaitouneh, and three of her colleagues working in the same field.  Their names are: Human Rights Activist Samira Alkhalil, Mr. Wael Hamada; he is Razan’s husband, and Lawyer Nazem Al-Hamidi.  A masked and armed group kidnapped them from the Office of Violations Documentations Centre in the city of Doma, where our colleagues were working (the armed group are unknown at the moment of issuing this statement).

As known, kidnapping in general is prohibited in International Humanitarian Law and Customary International Human Rights Law; which is a binding law, so it is considered a war crime  Their perpetrators must be pursued and held accountable.

In the case of Human Rights Defenders, this is a more egregious violation regarding their value and special care.

Syrian Network for Human Rights expresses strong condemnation over the inhuman terrorist act of kidnapping, and stand by the abducted colleagues in their Rights Journey.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the Supreme Military Council should take their responsibilities in this regard, where the kidnapping incident has occurred in an area outside the regime’s control.

They should start a quick investigation, and follow up the case to the highest levels.  First: to do everything possible to release them.  Second:  hold perpetrators accountable to deter them, because it forms additional risk if we add it to the violations committed by the Syrian regime against human rights defenders, and these seriously threaten the documentation process in Syria.