China Charges Prominent Scholar with “Separatism”

By Brian Lanciault
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China–Security officials in China’s far western borderlands have formally arrested a scholar and hero of the country’s ethnic Uighurs on charges of provoking separatism.

Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar, was detained for over a month and is now facing charges of propagating separatism. (Photo Courtesy of New York Times).

Authorities have confirmed that the scholar, Ilham Tohti, was being held in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which is about 2,000 miles from Mr. Tohti’s home in Beijing.

The detention has been anticipated for some time, but the formal arrest of Mr. Tohti underscores the government’s determination to silence one of the few moderate voices for China’s beleaguered Uighurs, a predominantly Sunni Muslim people who speak a Turkic language.

An economics professor in Beijing, Mr. Tohti, 44, was an outspoken but careful critic of Chinese policies in Xinjian.  The energy-rich region that adjoins several Central Asian nations is a bit of a geopolitical minefield.  Tensions between Uighurs and Chinese security forces have turned increasingly more volatile, with almost weekly clashes that in recent months have taken more than 100 lives.

Security officials said Mr. Tohti had contributed to increasing such tensions through his classroom lectures and writings, a charge rejected by his supporters.

“The accusations are baseless,” said his lawyer, Li Fangping.

Mr. Tohti’s wife, Guzaili Nu’er, said her husband’s life was an open book, largely because his every word — like his movements — was closely monitored by the authorities.  “He is a sensible, educated man who just studied human rights, culture and religion in Xinjiang,” she said. “A separatist? Now that’s beyond the pale.”

Speaking from Urumqi, Mr. Li said he had been unable to see Mr. Tohti, who has been held in isolation since the police raided his Beijing apartment six weeks ago.  Security officials in Xinjiang on Wednesday did not respond to inquiries from reporters.

Even in China’s highly politicized judicial system, where political offenders almost never prevail in court, charges of separatism are notoriously and especially difficult to defend, experts say.

Under Chinese law, the mere highlighting of ethnic problems in places like Xinjiang and Tibet can be deemed as threats to national unity because the state refuses to acknowledge that such frictions exist.

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said Mr. Tohti was widely known for his advocacy of Uighur rights and autonomy — guarantees enshrined in the Chinese Constitution — but never advocated independence for China’s 10 million Uighurs.

“In the eyes of the authorities, if you are flagging legitimate problems with policies in the region, you are essentially raising the dissatisfaction level of the people who are subjected to these policies,” Mr. Bequelin said. “It’s not a legal test but a political test. There is no defense.”

The penalties range from 10 years to death.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera–China charges Uighur academic with separatism–25 February 2014

New York Times–China Charges Scholar With Fomenting Separatism–26 February 2014

UNPO–East Turkestan: Tensions Over Arbitrary Detention of Ilham Tohti–26 February 2014

Voice of America–Uighur Group Slams China’s Charges Against Intellectuals–26 Feburary 2014

Ugandan Women Protest Against Miniskirt Ban

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

KAMPALA, Uganda – Police in Uganda have prevented women from marching through the streets in the capital of Kampala, in protest of new laws banning women from wearing miniskirts.

New laws make it illegal for women to expose thighs, breasts, and buttocks (photo courtesy of BBC)

Two hundred women, upset with the ban, dressed in short skirts and gathered outside the national theatre to voice their anger.

There have been several harassments and assaults on women in the past week who were wearing short skirts.

This ban follows the signing of an anti-pornography bill, which bans “indecent” dressing.

Further, this week the President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill toughening penalties for gay people in the country.

This ban on miniskirts is known as “the miniskirt law,” which was raised with the anti-pornography legislation and after some women have been publicly undressed for wearing miniskirts.

The police have spoken out and condemned those who engage in this so-called “mob undressing.”

The women who stood outside the theatre in Kampala held up signs. One sign read: “my body my business,” and another read: “thou shalt not touch my miniskirt.”

BBC’s Patience Akumu told BBC that “I was wearing a dress I considered official. Policeman after policeman – low-ranking, high-ranking – the each told me, ‘You cannot enter this place in that miniskirt.’”

Then, Akumu stated, some officers manhandled her and confiscated her phone when she took pictures of them.

The Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network, Rita Achiro, said her organization may take legal action as the constitution guarantees equal rights for both sexes. Further, the organization would continue to urge politicians to review the law.

The anti-pornography act, or “the miniskirt law,” does not specifically ban miniskirts; however, it does ban women from exposing their thighs, breasts, and buttocks and from dressing indecently in a manner to “sexually excite.”

Achiro states that this law has emboldened men to abuse women.

“Now people are more free to do it openly. They are going to judge women according to what they see as indecent because there are no parameters defined by law,” Achiro said.

This has put women in risk in this country.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – Uganda miniskirt ban: Police stop protest march – 26 February 2014
Local UK News – Uganda police stop miniskirt march – 26 February 2014
allvoices – Uganda police stop miniskirt march – 26 February 2014
Kenya Gounna –
Uganda police stop miniskirt march – 26 February 2014


Thailand Political Crisis Turns Fatal

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Gunmen in a pickup truck opened fire on an anti-government protest in Thailand’s east, killing an 8-year-old girl, and wounding dozens, as violence in the country’s three-month-old political crisis spread outside the capital of Bangkok, officials said Sunday.

A protester injured in an anti-government rally arrives for treatment at a hospital in Trat Province, 300 kilometers east of Bangkok, on Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

Hours later, an explosion killed two people and wounded more than 20 others near an anti-government protest in the capital of Bangkok. A boy aged 12 and a 40-year-old woman died in the attack near the Central World shopping mall, officials said. A protest leader, Sathit Wongnongtoey, said Sunday’s blast in central Bangkok was caused by a grenade.

Both supporters and opponents of the protesters, as well as police, have been victims of the political violence. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra condemned the attacks, describing them as “terrorist acts for political gain”.

The attacks are the latest in a string of protest-related violence in Thailand over the past three months, in which at least 16 people have been killed and hundreds injured. The protesters want Yingluck to step down in order to make way for an appointed interim government to implement anti-corruption reforms, but she has refused.

Thailand has been divided by violent political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military rebellion after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since then taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

No group has yet taken claim to either attack. Jonathan Head, BBC’s reporter in Bangkok says it appears to be the start of retaliation by the armed wing of the so-called “red-shirt” movement that backs the governing Pheu Thai party.

Red-shirt leaders organized a mass gathering in north-eastern Thailand this past weekend to decide how they should fight back against the campaign to overthrow the government.

A spokesman for the protesters, Akanat Promphan, described the attacks as “a massacre of innocents” that was “planned and organized terror.”

“The authorities must quickly find those terrorists responsible. Yingluck must show responsibility. Otherwise, we can only assume the government and . . . Yingluck’s involvement in this atrocity,” he said.

Both sides in the ongoing political dispute have blamed the other for instigating violence.

For more information, please see:

The Japan News – Thai political crisis violence spreads beyond capital – 24 February 2014

BBC News – Thailand crisis: Deadly attacks on opposition rallies – 23 February 2013

The Japan Times – Two killed by grenade at Bangkok anti-government protest – 23 February 2014

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

Ukraine’s Ousted President Yanukovich is Wanted by Authorities for Mass Murder

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – The former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, is wanted by police for the “mass murder of peaceful citizens”, according to a warrant announced on Monday.

Ukrainian citizens mourn the victims of the violence that has recently occurred. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

Arsen Avakov, the Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister, announced the issue of the arrest warrant. This comes two days after Yanukovich fled the capital city of Kiev on Saturday, after the country’s Parliament voted to oust him from the executive seat.

“A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovich and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list,” Avakov announced via Facebook on Monday. According to the latest reports, Yanukovich has last been seen at a private home in Baclava, Crimea. However, conflicting reports have led to widespread confusion over Yanukovich’s current location.

Ukraine’s parliament voted to oust Yanukovich and temporarily transfer the duties of President to Oleksander Turchinov, who is the speaker of the assembly.

A conflict between an alliance with Russia and cooperation with the European Union has permeated the Ukrainian government for years. Turchinov stated on Sunday that the Ukraine was ready for discussions with Russia to attempt to improve relations, but made clear that Kiev’s European integration would remain a priority. Turchinov stated that Ukraine’s new administration was ready to bring Kiev-Moscow relations to a “new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice.” “Another priority … is the return to the path of European integration,” Turchinov stated in an address to the country.

Turchinov stated on Monday that the presidential election campaign would begin on Tuesday, February 25, when the election commission would start registering candidates.

The Ukranian Parliament also had voted to oust the country’s foreign minister and was told by the Ukraine’s acting prosecutor that an order had been given to detain the former incomes minister and the former prosecutor-general.

The country’s capital of Kiev was calm on Sunday, a mere one day after  protesters took control of the presidential administration building, and thousands of Ukrainians roamed the suddenly open grounds of the lavish compound just outside of Kiev, where Yanukovich was believed to live.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Yanukovich Wanted for “Mass Murder” in Kiev – 24 February 2014

BBC News – Ukraine Crisis: Russia Brands New Leaders “Mutineers” – 24 February 2014

Kyiv Post – Ousted Yanukovich Flees to Unknown Location as Acting Authorities Accuse Him of Mass Murder – 24 February 2014

New York Times – Acting Officials in Ukraine Seek Stability and Ousted Leader – 24 February 2014

Mexican Authorities Arrest Infamous Cartel Leader Joaquin Guzman

by Michael YoakumImpunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexican authorities arrested notorious drug king Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Saturday at a condominium in the resort town of Mazatlán. News spread quickly to Washington, where US Attorney’s office announced Sunday that they will seek extradition of Guzman.

Guzman was arrested in 2001 but escaped from a high security prison, evading capture for thirteen years. (photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Authorities apprehended Guzman in a raid just before dawn in Mazatlán, pinning him to a bed before he could reach a Kalashnikov rifle lying on the floor. The condominium where Guzman was captured has a reputation for being a hangout for drug traffickers.

News of Guzman’s capture has been celebrated in the US, where he is considered one of the most notorious drug traffickers, responsible for as much as 80% of the drug trade in Chicago.

Attorney General Eric Holder said of his capture, “the apprehension of Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, by Mexican authorities is a landmark achievement, and a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States.”

Holder added that he was pleased that US law enforcement was able to cooperate with Mexican authorities in capturing Guzman.

Pressure on Guzman’s gang, the Sinaloa cartel, has increased in recent months as Mexican authorities have captured or killed several lieutenants. Information gained during raids on those cartel members ultimately yielded information, namely cell phone data, that aided in capturing Guzman.

The Sinaloa cartel is considered one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in the world, having a wide reach into Europe and Asia. The cartel is heavily involved in the stream of violence in Mexico over the drug trade that has killed tens of thousands.

Despite his infamy, Guzman has been featured on Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful people with an estimated wealth of $1 billion.

In his hometown of Badiraguato, Guzman is honored in song that pays homage to his small stature but wide reaching power. The area, known for harboring some of the most notorious drug traffickers, fears and admires people like Guzman.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán: US to seek cartel leader’s extradition from Mexico – 23 February 2014

BBC News – Man and myth: Joaquin ‘Shorty’ Guzman – 22 February 2014

CNN – After years on run, Sinaloa cartel chief ‘El Chapo’ Guzman arrested – 22 February 2014

NBC News – Authorities Arrest Mexican Drug Kingpin Joaquin Guzman – 22 February 2014

The New York Times – El Chapo, Most-Wanted Drug Lord, Is Captured in Mexico – 22 February 2014