Russian Activist Punk Band Press Conference Disrupted by Protestors in Sochi

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Demonstrators disrupted Russian punk band Pussy Riot as the former political prisoners attempted to hold a press conference.

Costumed heckler, joined by five university students, disrupted Pussy Riot’s press conference for the punk band’s newest anti-Putin music video. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

In 2012, Russian dissident musicians Pussy Riot rose to international fame by storming a Moscow cathedral, where they performed a provocative song that denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin. Band members Maria Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina imprisoned for hooliganism and inciting religious hatred. Authorities released them, alongside other political prisoners, shortly before the Olympics began in Sochi.

However, Pussy Riot immediately returned to denouncing the Kremlin, as well as conditions inmates endure in Russian prisons.

On 18 February 2014, police in Sochi detained members of Pussy Riot, human rights activists, and journalists in connection with an alleged theft at the band’s hotel. All charges were dropped and the detainees released within hours.

On 20 February 2014, Pussy Riot released an angry music video—“Putin Will Teach You to Love Your Country”—against Putin’s crackdown on free expression, as well as the Sochi Olympics’ price of $50 billion. In the song, Pussy Riot sings about the “constitution being lynched,” government pressure against Russia’s independent television station, and last week’s sentencing of environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to a penal colony for three years.

“The goal is to show what it’s like to be a political activist in Olympic Sochi,” said Pussy Riot member Tolokonnikova.

The video included the previous day’s footage of Cossacks—descendants of the former patrolmen of Russian borderlands—whipping the band members shortly after their song began near a “Sochi 2014” sign.

While foreign media prepared for a news conference with the band at a Sochi hotel, a hotel employee informed journalists that the conference room was unavailable. Several dozen journalists went outside, where uniformed police and undercover security officers waited for band members to arrive.

As the four Pussy Riot members approached with arms locked, five male university students, accompanied by a man dressed in a giant chicken suit, pulled out raw chickens and chanted, “We like sex with chicken” in mangled English. Then the students and costumed chicken attempted to disrupt the news conference.

The man in the chicken costume said, “We don’t like people who have sex with food. We don’t want them here.”

“We don’t understand their behavior and that’s why we’re protesting,” said 23-year old Sergei Barashov, one of the anti-Pussy Riot demonstrators. Barashov expressed concern that the punk band would desecrate a recently-built Russian Orthodox cathedral on the outskirts of Sochi’s Olympic Park.

For further information, please see:

CNN International – Beaten But Hardly Tamed, Pussy Riot Strikes Back in Sochi – February 20, 2014

Guardian – Pussy Riot’s Tour of Sochi: Arrests, Protests – and Whipping by Cossacks – February 20, 2014

New York Daily News – Bondy: Pussy Riot Slams ‘Total Police and Security Control’ of Winter Olympics at ‘Secret’ Press Conference – February 20, 2014

Reuters – Pussy Riot Mocks Russia’s Olympics in Music Video – February 20, 2014

New York Times – Members of Russian Protest Group Attacked by Cossacks in Sochi – February 19, 2014

Truce Between Ukrainian Government and Opposition Deteriorates As 100 Killed in Latest Fighting in Kiev

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – Gunfire erupted between government security forces and opposition protesters at Independence Square in Kiev on Thursday.

The aftermath of the latest violence in Kiev on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The latest violent scuffle occurred just two days after a breakout of violence that left 28 people dead, and mere hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce between government security forces and opposition leaders on late Wednesday evening.

As a result of the latest violence, approximately 100 people were killed and 500 were injured in the clashes, according to the opposition forces’ medical team. The Ukrainian government has not released its own casualty numbers, but Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko stated that 25 police officers were injured and an unknown amount were killed. There were also allegedly hostages taken during the violence.

The Ukraine’s hostile situation began in November, when President Yanukovych nixed a trade deal with the European Union, and decided to deal with Russia. A conflict between an alliance with Russia and cooperation with the European Union has permeated the Ukrainian government for years.

It is not specifically known exactly what sparked Thursday’s violence, as conflicting reports indicate protestors throwing Molotov cocktails, and security forces pursuing opposition forces. Interior Minister Zakharchenko stated the violence was “provoked exclusively by the opposition leaders.” President Yanukovych’s office also indicated that the protesters of broke the truce. “The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters,” a statement from the President’s office said.

An individual working for the opposition as a medical respondent accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by “professional snipers.” “They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck. They didn’t give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives,” she stated.

European Union officials were scheduled to meet to discuss possible sanctions against the Ukrainian government on Thursday, which could include freezing assets and restricting the visas of officials deemed responsible for violence in that country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged President Yanukovych to accept EU aid in negotiations with the opposition. Russia’s foreign ministry, however, appeared to criticize Western diplomatic efforts. “The ongoing attempts to obtrusively intervene from outside, threat with sanctions or trying to influence the situation in any other ways are inappropriate and can’t lead to anything good but can only aggravate the confrontation,” Russian spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich stated.

Ukrainian athletes dawned black mourning bands and held a moment of silence Thursday at the Sochi Olympics.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Truce Crumbles Amid Gunfire in Ukraine, Protesters Claim 100 Dead – 20 February 2014

Reuters – Ukraine Truce Shattered, Death Toll Tops 50 – 20 February 2014

The Telegraph – Ukraine Protests Live: Death Toll Mounts Amid “Sniper Attacks” As Fresh Fighting Breaks Truce – 20 February 2014

New York Times – Ukraine Leader Strains For Grip As Chaos Spreads – 19 February 2014

 

*For live video coverage of the Events in Kiev, click here.

 

 

 

Moqtada al-Sadr Announces his Retirement to Public Life

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prominent Iraqi Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced Sunday that he would be retiring from political life in Iraq in a letter to his website he announced that he would close all his political office, that he would not hold any political office in the country nor would a block represent him in the Iraqi Parliament.

al-Sadr’s image, seen as a face of the anti-occupation movement, became commonplace in Iraqi cities throughout the U.S. led occupation of Iraq. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Al-Sadr inspired the Sadrist movement in Iraq, which gained popularity amongst Shiite groups across the country, especially amongst the Shiite urban poor. The Sadrist movement is a political movement follows the structure of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement by building on the Shiite faith, promoting military strength and populist programs in order to add to the movement political strength.

While Moktada al-Sadr holds no formal official position in the Iraqi government he continues he has become one of the most high profile figures in the country holding significant influence over politics in the country. Al-Sadr came to prominence in Iraq for his role in founding the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia group that fought against both Iraqi Sunni groups and U.S. and coalition forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Mehdi Army consistently clashed with U.S. and British forces throughout the occupation’ publicly demanding an end to the occupation.  In 2008 the Mehdi Army clashed with the Iraqi army, commanded by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, resulting in the arrest of many of his followers. Ultimately the Mehdi army agreed to give up arms and disband.

Ultimately al-Sadr reached a truce with Prime Minister al-Maliki. During the 2010 national elections in Iraq al-Sadr demonstrated his influence over Iraqi politics by backing Prime Minister al-Maliki of the Islamic Dawa Party. However, al-Maliki and al-Sadr relationship has become strained since the 2010 elections with the two men becoming strong political rivals, it is unclear how al-Sadr’s withdrawal from public life will affect the Prime Ministers influence in the country.

Saad Saloom, a professor of political science at Al Mustansiriya University, based in Bagdad, argued that al-Sadr’s followers may now through their support behind al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party. This could give al-Maliki a much stronger hold over Iraq’s Shiite majority populations, which may fear could further weaken the influence of the country’s Sunni minority. Saloom also argued of al-Sadr’s withdrawal from political life that it is “the first modern, unique step from a religious leader to put religion away from politics.”

Prime Minister al-Maliki will face a re-election challenge in April. While the ultimate impact of al-Sadr’s departure from public life will be for Iraq it is clear that the sudden retirement of al-Sadr will have an immediate effect on the Sadrist movement and the candidates it once backed.

For more information please see:

The New York Times – Iraqi Cleric, Exiting Politics, Urges Others to Keep Serving – 18 February 2014

Al Jazeera – Iraqi Cleric Sadr Retires From Politics – 16 February 2014

BBC News – Radical Iraqi Cleric Moqtada Sadr ‘To Retire From Politics’ – 16 February 2014

The New York Times – Iraqi Cleric Says Again He’ll Quit Politics – 16 February 2014

Boko Haram Crisis in Nigeria

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

ABUJA, Nigeria – There are reports of a “massive” attack in northern Nigeria in the town of Bama. This occurred after the presidential spokesman said the army was “winning the war” against Islamist militants.

Attacks in Nigeria have intensified (photo courtesy of AFP)

 

The attack on Bama lasted four hours on Wednesday morning.

Several thousands have lost their lives since the Boko Haram uprising which began in 2009.

Residents have contacted BBC to report the attack, but details of the attack are still unclear.

Last year, a state of emergency was called in Borno and in two neighboring states. Thousands of extra troops were sent into the region, but the attacks have continued despite this effort.

BBC has stated that the army sometimes takes hours to even respond to an attack by Islamist militants. This allows the militants to kill; destroy homes, schools, and mosques; and loot before retreating.

On Saturday, 106 people were killed in an attack.

Governor Kashim Shettima called in for reinforcements for these attacks, but said the insurgents were “better armed and better motivated” than the security forces.

Governor Shettima has said that “it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.”

This statement, however, was denied.

Another stated that Nigeria’s army was one of the best equipped in Africa, going against Shettima’s statement.

“We state authoritatively without any fear or equivocation whatsoever that Nigeria is already winning the war against terror and the activities of the insurgents will be terminated within the shortest possible time,” a spokesman said.

For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Nigeria’s Boko Haram crisis: Bama attack mars victory claims – 19 February 2014
Myjoyonline – Boko Haram attack mars Nigeria’s victory claims – 19 February 2014
Wopular –
Attack Mars Nigeria’s Victory Claims – 19 February 2014
DailyPost –
Boko Haram: Shettima replies Presidency, says FG insensitive to plight of Borno State – 19 February 2014

Russian Ethnic Minority Leader Arrested Near Sochi After Group Protested Genocide

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOCHI, Russia – A leader of Russia’s Circassian ethnic minority was arrested by authorities on Friday in the latest instance of Russia’s crackdown on protestors near the Sochi Games.

A protester dawns a Circassian flag at the Sochi Olympic site. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Asker Sokht, a moderate Circassian activist who has been considered an ally to the Kremlin, was arrested after dozens of Circassian activists were arrested on February 7th while attempting to protest at the Sochi Olympics. On Friday, Sokht was detained and sentenced to eight days in custody for “hooliganism and disobeying police.”

Last week, Sokht was quoted criticizing the Sochi Olympics for its opening ceremony. The February 7th opening ceremony traced the cultural history of Russia, but did not acknowledge the Circassian ethnic minority group.

“It is clear that behind the alleged hooliganism or disobeying charge against him are his critical statements about the Olympics in Sochi,” a Circassian activist group stated in a letter addressed to the regional governor demanding Sokht’s release.

Thousands of Circassians were displaced out of the Sochi Region by the Tsarist army when it invaded the Persian-controlled North Caucasus region. This event led to a fifty year war which killed thousands more Circassians.

Circassian activists have expressly opposed the Winter Olympics being held in Russia, as the Circassians claim that Sochi is the site their people’s expulsion from Russia. In 2007, an anti-Olympics campaign called No Sochi 2014 was created with the aim to “strip Russia of the Sochi Olympics based on it being the location of the Circassian Genocide.”  Circassians view the Sochi Games as particularly offensive because they fall on the 150th anniversary of the alleged genocide.

Circassian activists have attempted to convince the Kremlin to acknowledge the Circassian persecution. “This is deeply sad for Circassians. Even those who weren’t strongly associated with the nationalist movement and were fairly assimilated in Russia interpret this as an insult to the Circassian people,” stated Adam Bogus, the leader of a Circassian council in the town of Maykop, which is roughly 150 miles from Sochi.

Russia has enforced a large-scale ethnic crackdown in the North Caucasus region, where Islamic insurgency has caused conflicts for years. Citizens in this region allege invasive security measures and racial profiling both ahead of, and during the Sochi games.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Russia Detains Circassian Leader Protesting Sochi Olympics – 17 February 2014

CNN – Russia Arrests Leader of Circassian Ethnic Minority – 17 February 2014

International Business Times – Circassians Protest Winter Olympics Being Held at Sochi Genocide Site – 17 February 2014

Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty – Circassian Leader Reportedly Detained Near Sochi – 17 February 2014

 

NSA Ally Spying On Indonesian Government’s Communication With US Law Firm

By Brandon R. Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – In a document released by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the United States National Security Agency (“NSA”), an Australian intelligence agency kept tabs on communications between a US law firm and the Indonesian government and shared their findings with the NSA.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Indonesia Foreign Minister g Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta on Monday (Photo Courtesy The Guardian).

Though the US law firm has not yet been positively identified, it is believed to be the Chicago based firm, Mayer Brown, which had been retained by Indonesia.  Indonesia had needed legal advice as it was in a trade dispute with the United States.  The communications involved here were protected by the attorney-client privilege, yet could still lawfully be used by the NSA so long as it was for intelligence purposes.

While it is not yet known whether this data was collected so that the US would have leverage in any future talks with Indonesia, the data would be “highly useful intelligence for interested US customers.”  The N.S.A. has since declined to answer any questions regarding this incident, including whether the collected information was shared with any of the United States trade officials or negotiators working on the Indonesia dispute.

Duane Layton, a Mayer Brown lawyer involved in the trade talks, said he did not have any evidence that he or the firm had been subject to surveillance but said that he “always wonder[s] if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age.”

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not issued a specific statement regarding the document, but did say that any material gathered by Australia is “for the benefit of our friends and to protect our citizens and the citizens of other countries.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa meanwhile does not understand how a dispute over shrimp exports from Indonesia to the US would have an impact on global security.  Additionally, he said that “neighbors like Indonesia and Australia should be looking out for each other, not turning against each other . . . we should be listening to each and not listening in.”

The Obama Administration routinely emphasizes the NSA’s sweeping power as necessary to fight terrorism, yet recent documents released by Snowden show that that the NSA spies on trade negotiations, and communications among economic officials in other countries.  While the NSA has not denied that they possess such information, they remain steadfast in denying engagement in economic espionage.

Australia, which is part of the Five Eyes Alliance (the other members include Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States), is often accused of helping the NSA collect data that it would otherwise unlawfully be able to collect, though the NAS has repeatedly said it does not utilize such measures.

 

For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Uncalled for Clarifications by Tony Abbott – 16 Feb. 14

NY Times – Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm – 15 Feb. 14

The Voice of Russia – NSA’s Australian Allies Spied On Indonesia-Contracted US Law Firm – 16 Feb. 14

Washington Post – Indonesia Baffled By Spying On Shrimp Spat – 17 Feb. 14

Violent Protests Erupt in Bangkok, 4 Killed

By Brian Lanciault
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand–Gun battles exploded Tuesday between Thai police and anti-government protesters in Bangkok.  Four people were killed and dozens have been wounded as authorities made their most aggressive attempt yet to remove demonstrators from the streets.

Several riot officers were injured after multiple grenades were launched during the violence between protesters and state authorities. (Photo Courtesy of Euro Pressphoto Agency)

In the midst of growing developments in Thailand’s long-standing political crisis, the country’s anti-corruption body announced it would file charges against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra regarding a rice subsidy scheme that has fuelled middle-class opposition to her government.

The troubled rice scheme, now on the verge of collapse, suffered another hit when the Government Savings Bank (GSB) said it would scrap a loan to a state-owned farm bank that could have been used to prop the scheme up in the face of a depositors’ revolt.

The clashes were some of the most intensive between protesters and security forces since efforts to dispose of Yingluck began last November. The military, which has determined to remain neutral unless police lose control, has not publicly commented on the violence.

The protests are the latest episode of an eight-year political saga broadly pitting the Bangkok middle-class and royalist groups against the poorer, and largely rural supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Witnesses reported hearing gunfire and seeing police fire weapons in the Phan Fa Bridge area near the old quarter of the city. Police said they had come under fire from a rooftop sniper and M-79 grenades.

A policeman was killed by a gunshot and several were wounded by a grenade, security officials said.

The Erawan Medical Center said on its website that three protesters had been killed in the gunfight. The Center said 64 people were wounded but did not indicate how many were police and how many were civilians.

Security officials reported earlier that 15,000 officers were a part of the operation, “Peace for Bangkok Mission”, to reclaim protest sites around central Bangkok’s Government House and other government offices to the north of the capital.

Yingluck has abandoned her offices in Government House in response to protesters, led by a former deputy premier, Suthep Thaugsuban, who have also blocked major intersections since mid-January.

Suthep told supporters at an evening rally in Bangkok’s central business district that protesters would gather on Wednesday outside Yingluck’s temporary offices at a Defence Ministry facility in north Bangkok.

“We are not afraid anymore. Tomorrow we will go to the Defence Ministry office… we will chase them (Yingluck and her ministers) out. No matter where Yingluck is, we will follow.”

Police said they arrested 183 people at two protest sites near the Energy Ministry, which had been cleared of protesters, and Phan Fa Bridge.  The protesters were detained for violating a state of emergency declared last month.

The violence began when clouds of teargas poured out near Government House and soon police were crouching behind riot shields as officers clashed with protesters. It was not clear who had fired the teargas and the authorities blamed protesters.

By the afternoon, police had mostly withdrawn from the sites and the streets were quiet. National Police Chief, Adul Saengsingkaew, told Reuters there were no plans to continue the operation on Wednesday.

The protesters are aiming to oust Yingluck, who is understood to be a proxy for her brother Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon-turned-premier, ousted by the army in a 2006 coup.

The military has remained aloof from the latest crisis, but has a long history of intervening in politics, generally in support of the Bangkok establishment that includes the top brass, royal advisers and old-money families.

At the forefront of the protesters’ grievances is the rice subsidy scheme, a populist move to pay farmers an above-market price that has proved hugely expensive and run into massive funding hang-ups.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission announced an investigation last month and on Tuesday said it was summoning Yingluck to hear charges against her on February 27.

“Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to cause losses to the government so we have unanimously agreed to charge her,” Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a statement to reporters.

The GSB said on Sunday it had lent 5 billion baht ($155 million) to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which manages the rice program and has exhausted all of its resources to pay farmers.

Some GSB depositors, either worried that the loan could destabilize the bank or unwilling to see their money used to help the government, have been rapidly withdrawing their cash. On Monday alone, 30 billion baht ($930 million) was withdrawn.

The protests have also sent ripples through the economy. Data published on Monday showed growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2013. The baht currency has already weakened after Tuesday’s violence.

Yingluck called a snap election in December and has since led a caretaker administration with limited powers.  The elections were met with similar protests.

The main opposition party boycotted the February 2 election and protesters disrupted the process in Bangkok and the south, the powerbase of the opposition. It may be many months before there is the necessary quorum in parliament to elect a new prime minister.

The government, haunted by memories of a bloody 2010 crackdown by a previous administration that killed dozens of pro-Thaksin “red shirt” activists, has until now largely tried to avoid confrontation.

Tuesday’s fatalities brought the number of people killed in sporadic violence between protesters, security forces and government supporters to 15 since the demonstrations began. Hundreds have been hurt.

For more information, please see:

Wall Street Journal– At Least Four Dead in Bangkok Clashes–18 February 2014

CNN News–Thai police clash with anti-government protesters in Bangkok–18 February 2014

Reuters–Four killed in Thai clashes; PM to face charges over rice scheme–18 February 2014

Globe and Mail–Four dead, dozens injured in Thailand clashes–18 February 2014

Bangkok Post–PM charged for rice graft–18 February 2014

BBC–Thailand police and protester clash fatally in Bangkok–18 February 2014

Crimes Against Humanity Found in North Korea

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

GENEVA – United Nations investigators say North Korea has committed crimes against humanity in an effort to sustain its political system and will call for an international criminal investigation.

The North’s leaders are frequent targets of angry protests in the South. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

A report to be released Monday draws on testimony of survivors and those who escaped the country. It is the most authoritative account yet of rights violations by North Korean authorities. The report details how North Koreans have been summarily executed, subjected to rape, forced abortions and enslavement, and have suffered persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds. There is even evidence of a widespread campaign of abductions of individuals in South Korea and Japan.

While the report does not examine individual responsibility for the crimes, it recommends steps towards accountability.

Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge and chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry, said the report “calls for attention from the international community”.

“At the end of the Second World War so many people said ‘if only we had known… if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces'”, he said.

“Well, now the international community does know… There will be no excusing the failure of action because we didn’t know,” he said at a news conference at UN headquarters in Geneva.

The three-member commission, led by Kirby, was set up by the U.N.’s top human rights body last March in an attempt to probe evidence of systematic rights violations in the authoritarian state notorious for its political prisons camps, and repression and famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the 1990s.

The commission, which was never allowed into North Korea to conduct public hearings, recommends that the U.N. Security Council refer its findings to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Yet, there are several procedural hurdles. For example, permanent council members that have veto power, such as Chine, are unlikely to support any referral to the court. Another obstacle is that the court’s jurisdiction does not extend to crimes committed before July 2002.

When the Human Rights Council authorized the commission last March, the North denounced it as politically motivated by “hostile forces” trying to discredit it and change its socialist system.

A spokesman for North Korea’s U.N. Mission in New York who refused to give his name told the AP, “We totally reject the unfounded findings of the Commission of Inquiry regarding crimes against humanity. We will never accept that.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – World must act on North Korea rights abuse, says UN report – 17 February 2014

CNN – ‘Abundant evidence’ of crimes against humanity in North Korea, panel says – 17 February 2014

The New York Times – U.N. Panel Finds Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea – 15 February 2014

The Associated Press – Crimes against humanity in NKorea, UN panel finds – 14 February 2014

 

Venezuela Anti-Government Protests Ends in Deadly Violence

By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – At least three people were shot dead as violence erupted during anti-government protests in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on February 12.

Opposition demonstrators throw stones against riot police during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas February 15, 2014. REUTERS-Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition demonstrators throw stones against riot police during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas on February 15, 2014. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

A crowd of demonstrators, many of them students, marched to the federal prosecutor’s office to demand the release of 13 protesters who they say were illegally detained in previous marches. The demonstration was the latest in a series of mass protests against the policies of President Nicolas Maduro.

A small group of protesters stayed behind after the end of the main march and clashed with security forces. It was at that time that a number of armed men on motorcycles shot at the crowd, triggering a stampede. Two people died after the gunmen opened fire and a third died in later clashes.

Authorities on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez, head of the Venezuelan opposition party, Popular Will, on charges including conspiracy and murder in connection with the recent clashes. President Nicolas Maduro accused Lopez of instigating violence that led to the death of three people during the protests on February 12. Lopez, who has maintained his innocence, said he only called for peaceful protests. Military officials visited Lopez’s house in Caracas, and the residence of his parents, yesterday and showed a warrant that included the charge of intentional homicide.

Lopez said he’ll lead a march on February 18 to the Interior Ministry in Caracas where he’ll enter alone and present four petitions that declare the government responsible for the February 12 violence, ask for the release of students currently being held, and ask for the disarmament of pro-government groups known as collectives.

Young Venezuelans clashed again Friday where police used teargas and water cannon to clear some 1,000 protesters from Altamira Square in eastern Caracas, where some of them had lit trash bonfires and blocked streets. On Saturday, supporters of the opposition gathered again to sing and chant slogans in the square. Many then set off to block a major highway.

President Nicolas Maduro condemned the incidents, which he blamed on a “neo-fascist upsurge”. The president called for peace, but stressed that those who engaged in violence would not go unpunished. Maduro said state and senior military officials will work together to reduce violence.

Venezuela’s state prosecutor said 25 of 99 people arrested in connection with this week’s violence had been freed pending trial.

Maduro insists he is facing a slow-motion coup. “I want to alert the world. We are facing a developing coup plan against the democracy and the government that I preside over, orchestrated by a small group of irresponsible leaders, violent, full of hatred and personal ambitions,” he said Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the state of affairs in Venezuela. “We are deeply concerned by rising tensions, by the violence surrounding this February 12 protest and by the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf. “We join the secretary general of OAS (Organization of American States) in condemning the violence and calling on authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the death of peaceful protesters.”

Students are fed up with the lack of security and the poor state of Venezuela’s economy. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world and is deeply politically polarized, with the opposition blaming the government for the country’s economic troubles and for shortages of basic products in stores. Inflation, at 56.2%, is the highest in the world. Amid stringent price and exchange controls, Venezuela is running out of hard currency to pay foreign suppliers of goods and services.

Maduro’s critics say he is ruining the economy by sticking with failed Chavez-era policies such as currency and price controls, which many local economists blame for the shortages.

For more information please see:

Fox News Latino – Venezuela Anti-Government Protests: Security Forces Search For Opposition Leader – 16 February 2014

Bloomberg News – Venezuela Opposition’s Lopez Says He’s Willing to Face Arrest – 16 February 2014

Reuters ‘Chavistas’ march in Venezuela, opposition protests continue 15 February 2014

CNN Protests, violence continue in Venezuela 14 February 2014

BBC Venezuela student protest ends in deadly violence 13 February 2014

NSA Forces Out Individuals Alleged to Have Aided Snowden

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – According to an NSA memo, a civilian NSA employee resigned last month after having his security clearance revoked for aiding Edward Snowden in acquiring confidential information. Representatives from the NSA told Congress that the civilian employee was forced out after an investigation to “assign accountability” for Edward Snowden’s disclosure of classified materials.

Snowden obtained the civilian employee’s log-in information which allowed him to access more classified materials. (photo courtesy of The Washington Post)

Two other individuals, an active duty military member and a civilian contractor, have been implicated in aiding Snowden in gathering materials, according to the NSA memo, and have been barred from accessing NSA headquarters.

The memo, authored by the director of the agency’s legislative affairs office, Ethan L. Bauman, was intended to answer Congressional inquiries about who, other than Snowden, would be held accountable for his disclosure of classified documents. The memo indicates that no senior level NSA officials will be disciplined for Snowden’s actions.

It said that an NSA civilian, reportedly Snowden’s supervisor, gave Snowden his Public Key Infrastructure certificate, the first step in a process to access restricted files. Snowden then captured the NSA civilian’s password when he entered it on Snowden’s computer.

Snowden denied in past interview that he stole passwords from colleagues in order to gain access to classified documents.

The Washington Post reports that a senior official working on the investigation assured that the three individuals accused of aiding Snowden were not being accused of colluding. Rather, investigators suspect that Snowden independently used the three individuals to help gain access to classified materials.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Snowden took advantage of a “perfect storm” of security flaws.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Clapper said. “And it was his job as assistant administrator to arrange across a lot of the databases. And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

Since the breach, the NSA has introduced policies to prevent similar breaches; system administrator positions will no longer be filled by contractors and access to information will divided among several individuals.

For more information, please see:

The LA Times – Three former NSA workers accused of aiding Snowden – 14 February 2014

The New York Times – N.S.A. Forces Out Civilian Employee With Snowden Tie – 13 February 2014

The Washington Post – NSA employee implicated in Snowden probe resigned, memo says – 13 February 2014

TIME – NSA Memo Says Snowden Tricked Colleague to Get Password – 13 February 2014

NBC News – Exclusive: Snowden Swiped Password From NSA Coworker – 12 February 2014

Spanish Border Authorities Shoot at Migrants, Government Offers Millions Spanish Nationality

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe


MADRID, Spain
– The European Union wants answers regarding at least fourteen migrants who drowned after Spanish border authorities fired rubber bullets at them. This comes amidst a possibility that Spain will offer nationality to any of the world’s nearly five million Sephardic Jews, as amends for their ancestors’ exile.

Amidst possible nationality offer for hundreds to millions, Spain admits that its border authorities fired rubber bullets to deter immigration. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Each year, thousands of immigrants attempt to reach Europe near Melilla and Ceuta, both Spanish territories along Morocco’s Mediterranean coastline. Many migrants are sub-Saharan African and, currently, Syrian refugees.

On 6 February 2014, a few people attempting to cross the border drowned. They belonged to a group of nearly 200, some of whom tried to climb the razor-wire-lined frontier fence. Those who jumped into the sea hoped to swim around a man-made breakwater separating Moroccan and Spanish waters.

On 13 February 2014, Spain admitted that its border police fired rubber bullets at fourteen persons in attempt to push them back. While all fourteen drowned, only nine bodies were recovered.

“The Ceuta Civil Guard have found at 12:30 this morning on the beach of Almadraba, five meters (16 feet) from the shore, the dead body of a sub-Saharan immigrant. It is the second body found today,” Spanish officials said in a statement.

The European Commission promised to ask Spain to explain why police fired rubber bullets. The Spanish opposition has call for National Police director Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa to step down over the incident.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said she was “very concerned about Spanish police using rubber bullets to deter migrants.”

“I expect clarifications from the authorities,” Malmstrom tweeted.

“This loss of life is appalling,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, “and the Spanish authorities must come clean on what happened – particularly as the Minister’s version of events contradicts earlier official statements. They must determine what went wrong and bring those responsible to account as a matter of urgency.”

“Regardless of whether any of the migrants were hit,” Tigani said, “it will be up to an independent investigation to determine whether the Civil Guard and border authorities acted appropriately. The results of any such investigation must be made public, and anyone responsible for human rights violations brought to justice.”

The news of migrants kept out of Spain comes amidst the Spanish government’s plans to make historic amends for Sephardic Jews who were exiled five centuries ago. In coming weeks or months, a new law would require a grant of Spanish nationality to those who can prove they are descendants of that exile’s victims.

While nearly three million Sephardic Jews can already travel to the EU from Israel with ease, the possibility of an EU passport provides access to residence, employment, and subsidized education throughout the entire 28-country bloc.

Before Spain makes amends for past atrocities, the EU Member State needs to answer for what appears to be a current anti-immigration atrocity.
For further information, please see:

Reuters – Bodies Found in Spain’s North Africa Waters Likely Brings Migrant Drownings to 14 – February 15, 2014

RT – EU ‘Very Concerned’ by Spanish Police Use of Rubber Bullets to Deter Migrants – February 15, 2014

Amnesty International – Spain: Accountability Urged for ‘Appalling’ Migrant Deaths in Ceuta – February 14, 2014

BBC News – EU to Probe Spain over Rubber Bullets Fired at Migrants – February 14, 2014

Seattle Times – Spain Opens Door to Sephardic Jews after Historic Expulsion – February 14, 2014