Spanish Journalists Arrive Home After Being Kidnapped in Syria Back In September

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – Two Spanish journalists that were detained for over six months in Syria finally arrived back in Spain on Sunday.

Espinosa reunited with his son. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

El Mundo staff correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were both reunited with friends and family on the tarmac of the of the Torrejon de Ardoz military airport in Madrid.

The two journalists had were kidnapped back in September at the Tal Abyad checkpoint in the Syrian province of Raqqa. They were close to the Turkish border, and had been prepared to leave Syria after covering the situation for two weeks. The kidnappers were thought to be members of a group linked to al Qaeda and Syria and had not revealed their demands to free the two journalists.

“We want to thank everyone who has worried about us and who has made it possible for us to return home, and as you can see, we are perfectly well,” Espinosa stated at the airport on Sunday.

The two men later went to the El Mundo newsroom where they were greeted with ovation and tears of joy. “Thank you so much. I’m sorry for what we have made you go through,” Espinosa stated to those gathered in the newsroom.

El Mundo had reported early Sunday that the two men had been freed in Syria, but it did not delve into any details of their release.

Espinosa, 49, and Garcia, 42, have both traveled to Syria many times, often together. Garcia had been traveling with Espinosa even though he was not on assignment for El Mundo. Espinosa was previously kidnapped while covering the conflict in Sierra Leone, and Garcia was kidnapped in 2012 in Syria for nearly two weeks. In 2012, Espinosa was in a make-shift press center in Baba Amr in the province of Homs, where correspondent Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London and French photographer Remi Ochlik were both killed.

The most recent kidnappers of the two stated that they wanted to make sure that the two men were not spies. Espinosa and Garcia had been traveling with four fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who were also kidnapped, but they were released twelve days later.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Spanish Journalists Home After Syria Ordeal – 30 March 2014

BBC News – Syria Crisis: Freed Spanish Journalists Back in Spain – 30 March 2014

CNN – Report: 2 Spanish Journalists Kidnapped in Syria Arrive Home – 30 March 2014

Fox News – 2 Spanish Journalists Freed From Captivity in Syria – 30 March 2014

Egypt Sentences Two Morsi Supporters to Death

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt-Two supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi have been sentenced to death for their actions during a protest after Morsi was ousted.  The two supporters threw two youth off the roof of a building during the violent protests.

One of the youths being pushed off the wall during a Muslim Brotherhood supported protest (photo courtesy of Ahram Online)

The traumatic event occurred on July 5 of last year, two days after Morsi was ousted.  Witnesses claimed it to be one of the most dramatic acts of violence on a day where sixteen other people were killed in Alexandria.

Egypt’s state news agency reported that a court in Alexandria found the two men guilty of murdering a child and a young man during the mass protests.  Judge Sayed Abdel-Latif stated he would issue the verdict against another sixty defendants charged with violence on that day in another two months.   Why the ruling was split, is unclear.

The boy who was killed was nine-year-old Hamada Badr.  Witnesses to the incident, including an Associated Press journalist, reported that the boy was stabbed and then thrown off the roof.

“But I want all the Brotherhood leadership tried and sentenced to death,” said Badr Hassouna, the boy’s father who said the verdict was partial vindication.

The other victim was a man in his early twenties who was hurled to his death and Morsi supporters proceeded to beat his lifeless body.

That same day, another twelve people were killed elsewhere in Egypt as tens of thousands of infuriated Morsi supporters took to the street in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Since then, violence has continued.

Last week, 529 Islamists were sentenced to death for killing a policeman in Minya, a province south of Cairo.  Morsi and most of the Brotherhood leadership are detained and awaiting trial from charges ranging from murder to incitement of violence to conspiring with foreign destabilization groups.

Almost no official has been held accountable for the killing of protesters.  Eight months after Morsi’s ouster, his supporters still protest, sparking clashes in the streets with security forces and political opponents.

Last Friday saw the latest act of violence where five people were killed, including a young female journalist who was shot in the head.  Hisham Abdel Hamid, a spokesman for CBC-TV, reported that four others were shot in the head and the chest.

Of the five people killed, one was a Christian woman who was pulled out of her car when protesters spotted a cross inside.  She was then shot dead.

For more information, please see the following: 

Ahram-Two Islamists sentenced to death for throwing children off roof last July-30 March 2014

Al Jazeera-Egypt sentences Morsi supporters to death-30 March 2014

Huffington Post-Egypt Court Sentences 2 Morsi Supporters To Death-30 March 2014

NBC News-Egyptian Court Sentences Two Morsi Supporters to Death-30 March 2014

Nine Nuclear Commanders Fired in Cheating Scandal

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – Nine Air Force commanders were fired Thursday after being implicated in scandal involving cheating on nuclear proficiency tests.  Air Force leadership additionally will discipline dozens of junior officers posted at Malmstrom Air Force Base, a nuclear missile base in Montana.

Col. Robert Stanley, who was led Malmstrom’s 341st Missile Wing, reportedly resigned in light of the cheating scandal. (photo courtesy of BBC News)

Though not directly involved in the cheating scandal, the nine commanders held leadership positions at Malmstrom.  Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the nine “failed to provide adequate oversight of their crew force.”  Those firings were in addition to Col. Stanley, who resigned from his post Thursday.

“Leadership’s focus on perfection led commanders to micromanage their people,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command.  Wilson added “Leaders lost sight of the fact that execution in the field is more important than what happens in the classroom.”

Officers at Malmstrom were under pressure to achieve 100% proficiency on regular tests when only 90% was required, perhaps precipitating the cheating scandal.

James indicated Thursday that 100 junior officers were implicated in the cheating scandal, either for participating or overlooking the cheating. Nine of those officers were cleared of charges while the remainder received punishments ranging from letters of counseling to courts-martial. 30-40 of those officers are expected to be retrained and returned to duty.

Disciplinary measures are one of a variety of changes expected to affect the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile programs, according to both James and Wilson.  Other issues to be addressed are morale and the micromanagement of lower-level officers.  James, while optimistic about the changes, cautioned that progress will likely be slow.

“The issues that we have before us today are tough, and they didn’t come overnight . . . While we have progress in certain areas in recent years, there is more work to be done,” James said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also expressed concern about the state of morale and discipline among nuclear officers.  Hagel instituted a review of nuclear forces to look into the impact of these issues.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Nine fired in US nuclear force cheating scandal – 27 March 2014

CNN – 9 Air Force commanders fired from jobs over nuclear missile test cheating – 27 March 2014

Fox News – Commanders fired in nuclear missile exam cheating scandal – 27 March 2014

Russia Today – Nine nuclear base commanders fired from US Air Force over cheating scandal 27 March 2014

The Washington Post – Nuke test cheating linked to flawed leadership – 27 March 2014

Same-Sex Marriages Begin in Britain

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Britain recognized same-sex marriages at midnight on 29 March 2014, a historic change that many couples did not wait until dawn to celebrate.

The first same-sex marriage ceremonies took place as early as 12:01 a.m. on 29 March 2014. (Photo courtesy of Irish Times)

Around the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government passed a law that banned schools and local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or depicting it as “a pretended family relationship.”

In 2003, Britain repealed that law without the large street protests against same-sex marriage that appeared in France. By 2005, British law provided a civil partnership that provided same-sex couples all legal protections and rights afforded heterosexual married partners, except for the label of marriage.

And in July 2013, Parliament legalized same-sex marriage by a wide margin, with the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, who stated that no two people should be denied the right to marriage based on their sexuality. Polls demonstrated that two-thirds of Britons—especially young adult Britons—supported same-sex unions. However, BBC research suggested that a quarter of the women and half of the men surveyed would turn down an invitation to a same-sex wedding.

At midnight on 29 March 2014, Britain’s new same-sex marriage law came into effect. Couples began celebrating Britain’s first same-sex marriages within minutes. One marriage, that of Londoners Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway, included approximately one hundred guests at a town hall in Camden, and concluded at 12:10 a.m. Camden Mayor Jonathan Simpson officiated the ceremony. Adl-Tabatabai and Treadway emerged to loud applause, as well as Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.”

“It’s amazing and surreal,” Adl-Tabatabai said. “It did feel like a historic moment.”

“For the first time, the couples getting married won’t just include men and women – but men and men, and women and women,” Cameron said in a statement. “When people’s love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change.”

“What has amazed me is how much of Britain, how quickly, has moved toward backing us on this,” said columnist and former Conservative lawmaker Matthew Parris.

Britain exempted religious groups from conducting same-sex weddings, unless a group chose to opt in. While Quakers and Liberal Judaism have opted to conduct same-sex weddings, the Church of England, the country’s biggest faith, does not conduct same-sex weddings.

“These weddings will send a powerful signal to every young person growing up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual – you can be who you are and love who you love, regardless of your sexual orientation,” said Ruth Hunt, acting Chief Executive for leading gay rights charity Stonewall.

Scottish law will begin recognizing same-sex marriages in October 2014.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – UK Holds First Gay Marriage Ceremonies – March 29, 2014

BBC News – Swansea and Caerphilly Couples among First in UK to Have Same-Sex Weddings – March 29, 2014

Independent – Gay marriage: ‘When People’s Love Is Divided by Law, It Is the Law That Needs to Change,’ Says David Cameron as First Same-Sex Couples Tie Knot – March 29, 2014

Irish Times – First Gay Couples Marry in UK at Stroke of Midnight – March 29, 2014

TIMES – First Couples Wed as Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in UK – March 29, 2014

Pakistani Christian Receives Death Penalty for Blasphemy

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

LAHORE, Pakistan – A Pakistani Christian man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, in a case which sparked fierce rioting in the eastern city of Lahore last March.

Christian families had already fled when the rioters struck. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Sawan Masih, a government sanitation worker, was given the death penalty after the court listened to testimony about how he had allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohamed. The 35-year-old Mr. Masih, who has two children, has pleaded not guilty and will appeal to a higher court.

Mr. Masih was part of an altercation between him and two other men in Lahore’s Joseph colony, home to many Christian families, when he was accused of blasphemy.

Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in Pakistan, where 97% of the population is Muslim.

The police arrested the government worker as word of what had happened spread, a mob descended on Joseph Colony and set fire to scores of homes and two churches. “Sever the head of the blasphemer,” the crowd is said to have chanted.

Several recent cases have prompted international concern about the application of blasphemy laws. However, because of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, it is unlikely that Mr. Masih will face the gallows any time soon.

Since the 1990’s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed. Campaigners say very often the accusation of blasphemy is used to settle personal grievances and squabbles. Once an accusation is made, it is almost impossible for the authorities to ignore it.

While most of those convicted have been sentenced to death by lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence. Sawan Masih now has 30 days to appeal.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Sawan Masih: Pakistani Christian gets death penalty for blasphemy – 28 March 2014

The Independent – Pakistani man sentenced to death for blasphemy over ‘Prophet Mohamed insult’ – 28 March 2014

The Telegraph – Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan – 28 March 2014

The Huffington Post – Pakistani Christian Sawan Masih Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy Against Prophet Muhammad – 28 March 2014