Kyrgyzstan Court Raids Independent TV Station

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Central Asia is known for its repressive regimes, yet Kyrgyzstan stands out with its partnerships that promote democracy. Even being labeled a “Partner for Democracy” and holding elections in 2017, the country still has a ways to go to improve democracy and human rights.

The closing of an independent national television station, NTS, is another act in the long list of media freedom violations that have occurred in 2017. The station was closed late in the year, on the 19th of December. A court order froze NTS’s property and court officers raided the station. The order reads that all “properties, assets, equipment and everything else must be seized.” The officials registering the equipment stated that they did not intend to interrupt broadcasting, and the show did continue with its normal broadcast.

NTS Building. Photo Courtesy of RFE|RL.

In the meantime with NTS is off the air, Jalbyrak is available online. It’s a new Internet TV Channel company officials launched in the aftermath. As of the 21st of December, some programs of NTS are allowed to continue broadcasting.

The Director-General Jainak Usen plans to challenge the court ruling. The Supreme Court officials have also stated that they are looking into the court order against NTS as the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Committee for National Security say they have no information on the freezing of NTS’s assets and equipment.

The court decision comes after a lawsuit filed by Grexton Capital LTD and Ayant LLC against NTS.

NTS happens to be owned by the opposition runner-up from the 2017 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, Omurbek Babanov. Shortly after the election, there was an investigation into his campaign election as it is reported that he stirred up ethnic tensions. Babanov has since left the country and his location is not known.

Additionally, a sister radio station to NTS closed in November as a result of authorities not renewing their license to broadcast.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Another Blow to Media Freedom in Kyrgyzstan – 20 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz Officials Impound TV Station Property Owned By Opposition Politician Babanov – 19 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz NTS TV On Air Despite Impoundment Of Property – 21 December 2017

bne – Kyrgyz court officials raid election runner-up Babanov’s TV station – 21 December 2017

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is a leading human rights organization in Cambodia. It was created in 2002 by Kem Sokha to promote International Human Rights Law and to provide free legal aid to victims. Kem Sokha is also the leader of the opposition party and was recently jailed by the Prime Minister.

On 26 November 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the Center for Human Rights to be closed down. He accused foreigners of creating the center to push their agendas. He went further to accuse the CCHR of taking orders from foreigners. Sen said that if the CCHR had been created by a person of the Khmer nationality there would be no issue with the organization.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

The Center for Human Rights believes that this is just a stunt pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold onto power; however, acts like this just draw criticism from the Cambodian people. The director also feels that citizens do not believe the accusations as many people are in favor of the Western political alignment.

The Director put out an official statement that read: “CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved.”

The CCHR indicated that any neutral and impartial investigation would find no evidence of wrong actions.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Hun Sen Seeks to Shut Major Rights Group – 27 November 2017

Voice of America – Cambodian Rights Group Next in Long Line – 27 November 2017

Reuters – Cambodia’s Hun Sen calls for closure of rights group founded by rival – 26 November 2017

Vietnamese Student Sentenced to Jail for Anti-government Post

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – On 25 October 2017, Vietnamese student, Phan Kim Khanh went to trial for spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese government under article 88 of their penal code. He was arrested in March 2017. While his trial only lasted half day, he will be serving 6 years in jail followed by 4 years probation.

Picture of Phan Kim Khanh. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch/ private. 

Khanh owns two blogs titled “Vietnam Weekly” and “Newspaper of Anti-Corruption.” He also manages several social media accounts and a YouTube channel. The main purpose of these was to expose corruption not to spread propaganda. He pleaded that he didn’t realize that was a crime. Human Rights Watch reported that the Vietnamese Government vaguely interprets many of the countries security provisions to target critics.

The evidence provided in court against Khanh was vague and groundless. The Court accused him specifically of promoting multiparty democracy and press freedom.

Kahn is a well-distinguished university student with multiple honors from both his university’s student association and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League of the Thai Hanoi section. He is also a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

This is not the first ‘crackdown’ of dissent in Vietnam. More than 100 people are in jail for freedom of expressions violations. The only crimes that Phan Kim Khanh and the other committed were expressing a political opinion that differed from the government of Vietnam. Human Rights Watch Asia Director says that these claims of propaganda are just “ designed to silence peaceful critics of the Vietnamese authorities.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Vietnam jails student activist six years for propaganda against the state – 25 October 2017

The Washington Post – Vietnam jails student activist for anti-state propaganda – 25 October 2017

Human Rights Watch – Vietnam: Drop Charge Against Student Activist – 24 October 2017

U.S. Stops Funding for Demining in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Years after the Vietnam War, Cambodia remains littered with mines. Cambodia is ranked as one of the highest countries with unexploded ordnances. Approximately 2 Cambodians die or are injured every week from encountering hidden mines.  A large portion is of U.S. origin.

Sight of a mine in Cambodia. Photo Courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy/ AFP.

However, on 7 November 2017 the United States announced that it will be cutting $2 million in grant money to Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). This will go into affect next year.  For the moment this years efforts will not be affected.  No reason was given for why the funding was recalled.

The Director General of CMAC was not aware of any dispute between them or the U.S. Government in how matters were being handled.   Even during meetings held in July and early fall with the State Department over the 2018 budget, there were no mentions of cuts. The Director general finds this decision rather disappointing as the U.S. has “a moral obligation and goodwill obligation because they dropped a lot of bombs on the Cambodian people.”

Finding new donors in time to fund next year’s work shall be tricky as this was a last minute decision. The Cambodian Government does not appear to be concerned about the cut in funding for de-mining processes. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister pledges to support CMAC’s efforts.

This lack of funding will have a huge impact on the work that CMAC does. Up to 300 mine clearing employees could have their jobs impacted. Additionally, this will affect the number of mines that CMAC can reach next year. Which means that less people can be taken out of the way of danger in their day-to-day life. A second issue is that farmland will continue to be rendered useless because of the presence of mines. This means that farmers are limited in the crop size they produce for market. More than 80% of Cambodians rely in this land for their survival.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Demining Cut Provokes Cambodia – 7 November 2017

Reuters – U.S. cuts $2-mln funding to Cambodia’s mine removal effort amid crackdown – 7 November 2017

The Phnom Penh Post – US cuts funding to CMAC amid government’s war of words with superpower – 7 November 2017

North Korean Soldier Shot Defecting Across DMZ

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – On 13 November 2017, an unarmed, low-ranking member of the North Korean military attempted to escape to South Korea.  He did so through the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  He drove to the border through what is known as a ‘peace village’ until a wheel fell off his vehicle.  From there he proceeded on foot.  The North Korean military opened fire on him, totaling 40 rounds.  He was hit in the shoulder and the elbow.  He managed to take cover behind a South Korean structure inside the DMZ.  Later, U.S. and South Korean soldiers crawled out to rescue him.

He was air lifted to a hospital, where doctors began work immediately.  While his injuries are critical, doctors believe his life will be saved.  There are also reports of severe intestinal damage.  Doctors identified enormous numbers of parasites in his body that complicate the man’s recovery.  The doctor reported that he had never seen anything like this during his career spanning 20 years.

Hospital where North Korean Soldier is being treated. Photo Courtesy of Hong Ki-won.

This is the first defection to occur across the DMZ this year and the third to ever occur since the end of the Cold War.  Most defectors cross the border with China, as the security is less intense.  The North Korean military has been increasing border control recently, and South Korea has seen a reduction of defectors coming in.  So far this year, 780 North Koreans fled to South Korea.

North Korea has yet to release a statement or say anything about the event.  South Korea broadcasted, over the loudspeaker in the DMZ, that doctors were treating the soldier.

This is also the first time that North Korean soldiers fired shots in the direction of the South.

For more information, please see:

The Times – Lousiana Man Arrested After Trying TO Cross into North Korea for ‘Political Purposes’-  13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean soldier shot while defecting at DMZ to South – 13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean defector found to have ‘enormous parasites’ – 17 November 2017

Reuters – Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets – 14 November 2017

Rights Activists Threatened in Turkmenistan

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ASHGABAT, TurkmenistanIn one of the world’s most repressive nations, two female journalists were verbally and physically attacked on the 14th and 15th of November 2017.   These were not isolated attacks but rather just one attempt in a long string of attacks to silence these two journalists, among others.

Soltan Achilova is an independent journalist who works for Radio ‘Azatlyk’, a service of Radio Free Europe|Radio Liberty.   On 14 of November two men followed her in a car as she made her way to the US Embassy Information Center. On the same day, while photographing people in line at a grocery store, a man came up to her and grabbed her, yelling, “I will take a rock and hit you on the head. If you ever use a camera again, I will smash it together with you! Go home and never go out again. Otherwise you will die.” She was also followed back to her house by men in a car.

Achilova working. Photo Courtesy of azathbar.com.

Earlier in the year, men also broke into Achilova’s son’s car in an attempt to get to her. This is the fourth attack against her this year.

Galina Kucherenko is a human rights activist.  On 15 November police called her demanding that she sign a police summons and report to the police station. The reasoning was that another activist had filed a complaint against her.  After the phone call, men knocked on her door, demanding that she sign the police summons. She did not let them in.  However, they hung around her building for another 25 minutes before leaving. Kucherenko is continuously watched by surveillance agents, and has had her internet and phone services cut off.

Men have been stationed outside these activists’ homes in plain clothes.  They follow them in broad daylight whenever the activists leave. The surveillance men try to avoid having their imaged captured, though, turning their backs to cameras or stepping back.

Human Rights activists are concerned that the back-to-back attacks indicate an increase of journalist repression. International Partnership for Human Rights director says that these attacks underline the extreme extent that the government goes to create an atmosphere of nonexistent free speech.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Turkmenistan: Activists Threatened – 21 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Journalists and activists in Turkmenistan again subjected to surveillance and assaults – 19 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Correspondent Soltan Achilova again assaulted in Turkmenistan – 17 November 2017

International Partnership for Human Rights – Turkmenistan: Activists threatened- Space for freedom of expression shrinks – 22 November 2017

Potential ICC Investigation Into the Actions of the Taliban, the United States, and Afghanistan Authorities

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – On 3 November 2017 Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), put forth a request to start an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. Her investigation will focus on crimes committed since 1 May 2003 in Afghanistan as well as others linked to the armed conflict since 1 July 2002.

Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

She completed a preliminary examination of the events in Afghanistan and believes that all requirements, stated in the Rome Statute, to develop a case are present. The analysis began more than ten years ago.

In order for a case to develop in the ICC, a prosecutor must bring forth a case with evidence to a Pre-Trail Chamber. After listening to the case and reviewing the evidence provided from the preliminary investigation, the ICC can approve or deny the request for a formal judicial investigation.

Bensouda identified three categories of actors that would be involved in ICC investigations. She believes abuses were committed by the Taliban, U.S. Soldiers/Central Intelligence Agency officials, and Afghanistan government officials. The Rome Statue, which governs the actions of the ICC, states that anyone can be prosecuted for crimes that happened within a country that signed the Rome Statue. Therefore, despite the U.S. not being a signatory of the ICC, U.S. officials could still be tried in court.

Human Rights supporters applaud this movement. Many crimes have gone unnoticed and unpunished in Afghanistan over the past 10 plus years. They hope that this investigation will shed light on what has been happening as well as bring justice to the victims.

 For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Inching Closer to Justice in Afghanistan – 3 November 2017

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, regarding her decision to request judicial authorisation to commence an investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 3 November 2017

The Washington Post – ICC seeks investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan since 2003 – 3 November 2017

International Criminal Court – Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2016 – 14 November 2016

Religious Discrimination in Indonesia Creates Adoption Issues

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BINJAI, Indonesia – The adoption rules and religious differences in Indonesia mix together to prevent providing children better lives. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation with Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist religious minorities among other traditional religions.

Islam is the majority religion in Indonesia. Photo Courtesy of Y.T Haryono.

There are several religious laws that prohibit freedom of practice of religion in Indonesia. The “Religious Harmony, Empowering Religious Harmony Forums, and Constructing Houses of Worship” decree is one such law. Religious forums must be created in each province favoring the religious majority in the area.  It restricts constructions of houses of worship, requires a list of at least 90 attendees, letters of support from 60 people, and recommendations from the local religious forum. There is also the Blasphemy law, which sentences people to jail for 5 years for deviations from one of the 6 officially protected religions.

Religious laws even infiltrate into adoptions. A 2014 law states that, “Adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child.”

This came into contention when a Christian woman tried to adopt an orphaned baby. Indonesian law states that “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.” The child was to be assimilated into the Muslim faith not the Christian faith, thus the woman could not adopt the child.

Ida Maharani Hutagaol, a policewomen in Binjai found the child almost dead in a cardboard box . She was part of the team that brought the child to the hospital. Since then she had become attached to the child, visiting him frequently.

She had filed the paperwork, met the requirements for income, health, and family background. The child was even to be listed as her sole inheritor. However, the Social Service rejected her.

This law, while discriminating against religious beliefs, also hinders child development of orphans in Indonesia. It makes it difficult for qualifying homes and families to adopt abandoned children because they are assimilated into the Muslim faith. The child is still reported to be in the orphanage.

The Social Services report that if the policewoman is still interested in adopting a child it is easy to do so if she visits an orphanage of her faith.

 For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Indonesia’s Religious Minorities Denied Adoption Rights – 23 October 2017

Coconuts – Viral photo of policewoman, unable to adopt abandoned baby because she’s not from ‘majority religion’, pulls heartstrings in Indonesia – 10 October 2017

The Jakarta Post – Adoption rule strips kids of right to family life – 12 October 2017

Religious Leaders Convicted in Myanmar Court

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Two religious figures in Myanmar who were arrested in late 2016, received their sentences in court on 27 October 2017.

Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 67, is an assistant pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).  He is a member of the Kachin minority in Myanmar. He received a sentence of 4 years and 3 months in jail.

Langjaw Gam Seng is a KBC youth leader.  He is 35 years old and is also a member of the Kachin ethnic minority.  He will be serving 2 years and 3 months in jail.

Image of Dumdaw Nawng Lat (L) and Langjaw Gam Seng (R). Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia, Myanmar Military Photo.

Both were convicted under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act. The court convicted them for aiding a rebel army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).   However, sentences under the Act can include convictions for operating an unlicensed motorcycle under the Export/Import Act.  Nawng Lat received an additional charge under the Penal Code, section 500 as a result of sharing information with Voice of America about the military’s airstrikes. It is reported that the defense attorney is preparing for an appeals court case.

In 2016, Nawng Lat and Gam Seng accompanied journalist documenting airstrike damages around a Catholic Church and civilian structures in Muse. The photos were published in December 2016. Kyaw Myo Min Latt of Myanmar Army Battalion 99 summed both to the compound on 24 December 2016, where they were promptly arrested. They stayed at the Kalaya 123 military base for close to 30 days incommunicado.

The military handed over Nawng Lat and Gam Seng to the police on 20 January 2017 after international outcry over the whereabouts and treatment of the two men. According to reports, the two had been interrogated by the military. Signed statements that the two were involved with the KIA were also released to the police.

Fortify Rights and Human Rights Watch produced joint statements on the arrest and court verdict of Nawng Lat and Gam Seng. The two religious figures from the Kachin minority were arrested for simply exposing crimes of the Myanmar military.

The Myanmar military has been involved in several incidents of violence across the country including the recent attacks against the Rohingya Muslims in the North.   This is one more event in which the Myanmar government and military are avoiding accountability for state related crimes and instead defer blame to a small minority.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director of Asia, Phil Robertson, says, “Myanmar’s government should be prosecuting military personnel who are responsible for serious abuses – not activists who are bringing those abuses to light. Myanmar’s military has for decades violated the rights of the country’s ethnic minorities without ever having to fear being brought before a court.”

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Kachin Baptist Leaders Sent to Prison on Association, Defamation Charges – 27 October 2017

Fortify Rights – Myanmar: Drop Case Against Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Voice of America – Myanmar Court Convicts Ethnic Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Human Rights Watch – Myanmar: Drop Case Against Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Cambodian Government Files Case to Dissolve Opposition Party

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Next year, Cambodia is set for a presidential election. For the most part the country has a two party system- the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  There are a handful of other smaller political parties, but they do not hold any seats in Parliament nor do they have popular backings.

The current political party in control is the CPP under the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is a former member of the Khmer Rouge, the violent Communist group that was in power from the late 1960s to 1979. Hun Sen has served as Prime Minister since 1989.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring.

In 2013, the CPP only narrowly won the election over the CNRP. During the local elections this past June the CPP lost ground. Polls suggest that the CNRP is gaining more support and will likely win the Presidential elections next July.

As a response, Prime Minister Hun Sen is cracking down on the opposition party in Cambodia. A new law was passed that allows the government to abolish any political parties while leaders face criminal charges. This poses a threat to the CNRP as the current government accuses the leaders of plotting a coup. Accordingly, on October 6, 2017 the current government filed a case to dissolve the CNRP.

In September the leader of the CNRP, Ken Sokha, was arrested on the charge of treason. In early October Sen threatened further arrests on the same charge. A government official leaked to the deputy President of the CNRP that she was also targeted for arrest. She has since fled the country. Many other CNRP parliament members have done so as well.

Prime Minister Hun Sen states that he is trying to protect Cambodia from outside influences and preserve peace and stability in the country.   In particular he believes that the U.S. is interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia via backing the CNRP coup.

The group denied the allegations calling them politically motivated and an attempt to end democracy in Cambodia.  Deputy President of the CNRP, Mu Sochua, is calling for international sanctions on Sen and his ‘cronies.’  She believes that other nations should take a stand on democracy and human rights to demonstrate to Sen that his behavior is not acceptable and must change.

She says, “The time for statements has passed. It’s time for sanctions, targeted sanctions. Also suspension of technical aid to the government of Cambodia.  Time is up for democracy.”

There are 8 months until the elections in Cambodia.  Socha hopes the sanctions will push Sen to ensure free and fair elections or risk not being a recognized government.

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera – Cambodia moves to dissolve opposition party CNRP – 6 October 2017

BBC – Cambodia opposition politician Mu Sochua ‘feared arrest’ – 6 October 2017

Reuters – Exclusive: Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions on leadership – 4 October 2017

Security Intensifies with China’s Party Congress Meeting

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The 19th Party Congress of China meets in Beijing 18 October through 24 October 2017. Over 200,000 delegates descend on the city during this time.   During this party election the next president of China will be elected for 5 years. It will most likely be the current president, Xi Jinping.

Additional Security at Subway Stations. Photo Courtesy of Gilles Sabrié. 

However, as the meeting approached and during the meeting Beijing officials cracked down on security. The city is what some call a ‘lockdown.’

Several human rights activists have been detained or forced to leave. Several others are under surveillance. Police fill the streets both day and night carrying assault weapons. Documents are checked in the street frequently, and people are stopped for questioning.  Internet censorship increased. Those who come into the city to raise questions about unpaid salaries, corruption, and pollution see an increase in pressures, including arrest.

Additionally, the Beijing government closed restaurants, meeting halls, and nightclubs to curb large gatherings of people. To discourage travel into the city Airbnb and other similar home-sharing companies are closed temporarily.

Traveling within the capital city takes longer when the Party Congress is in session.   Increased security at subway stations created insanely long lines. One blogger quipped that it might be faster to skateboard, take a boat or a horse.

These increased security measures are Xi Jinping’s way of showing that he is not afraid to show a “heavy hand on those who dare to exist with differing views.” In his opening speech at the 19th Party Congress he vowed to keep foreign influence low, calling China a “strong and great power” by itself. His speech invoked heavy nationalist vibes.

Some Chinese Human Rights activist are fearful that Jinping’s ‘neo- totalitarian’ ideology will be written into the party constitution. There are also concerns over whether a successor will named to replace him after his second 5 year term or whether he will continue on as president.   

For more information, please see:

NY Times – China’s Party Congress Brings Crackdown on Critics, Nightclubs and Airbnb – 20 October 2017.

The Washington Post – China’s president just laid out a worrying vision for the world – 18 October 2017

The Diplomat – 3 Major Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s Speech at the 19th Party Congress – 18 October 2017

‘Braid Chopping’ Attacks on Women in Kashmir

Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

SRINAGAR, Kashmir – Women in Kashmir are facing an attack of a new type- ‘braid chopping.’   Masked perpetuators attack women and then proceeded to cut their hair.  These types of attacks have happened both public spheres as well as private homes.  Within the past 2 month over 200 women reported such abuses.

A women with her chopped hair. Photo Courtesy of Farooq Khan.

The attackers spray some type of chemical in the women’s faces before chopping their victim’s hair off.  Many women are knocked unconscious in the process.  The chopped hair is not stolen by the attackers.

Attacks such as these have also been reported in other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana.  Even New Delhi, the capital, has seen similar cases.

Women reported the events to the police.  The region’s police say that these incidents are being treated as a crime.  There is a $9,000 reward for information on the culprits.

However, they believe that the police are not following up in an appropriate manner.  The police response impedes women’s empowerment.  Despite there being a high reward for information, many local police do not take the complaints seriously.  They accuse of the women of hallucinating or having a history of mental illness.  This response breaks down a woman’s credibility as well as not reassuring her of her safety.

Women have begun to gather in the streets to protest.  One such demonstration ended in stones thrown at the Indian Police.  Vigilante groups have also formed in some villages as a response mechanism.  There is a real fear of being accused of being a ‘braid-chopper.’

These attacks cause fear to grow among the female population in Kashmir.  Women are afraid to go out in public or be left alone. The fear caused by the attacks takes away the women’s peace  of mind and independence.

Additionally, the attacks degrade the women.  Kashmir is a typically conservative Muslim territory.  Women tend to not cut their hair and keep it covered as doing otherwise is dishonorable.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Braid-chopping sparks fear and unrest in Kashmir – 12 October 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Braid Chopping in Kashmir sparks mass panic and mob violence – 11 October 2017

USA Today – Mysterious ‘braid-choppers’ are drugging women and cutting off their hair in India – 17 October 2017

British Human Rights Activist Denied Entry to Hong Kong

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG – The city of Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 from its Colonial overseer, the UK. As part of this deal, Beijing would honor a system called the “one country, two systems” that would allow Hong Kong to remain more open and more democratic than the rest of China. It also allows Hong Kong to control its own immigration policies.

Benedict Rogers was barred from entering Hong Kong. Photo curtsey of The Guardian.

However, this ‘one country, two systems” idea was challenged when a British Human Rights activist, Benedict Rogers, was denied entry into Hong Kong by Chinese Immigration officers. Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong implied that Beijing officials were behind the decision.

Even with repeatedly asking why he was turned away, Rogers was never given any explanation as to the reasoning. He further went on to say, “I feel it is yet another example of, if not the death, then the death throes of ‘one country, two systems’.” The purpose of his trip was to visit friends and learn about the current political situation.

In the past Rogers was vocal about the imprisonment of three pro-democratic activists and Beijing’s political crackdowns in Hong Kong. The Chinese Embassy in the UK warned Rogers that he might be banned from traveling to Hong Kong.

Human Rights activists see this action form Beijing as a threat to the “high degree of autonomy” that Hong Kong was granted in 1997 with the “one country, two systems” policy.  There is a chance that any dissidents will be banned from entering Hong Kong in the future. Denying entry to the UK activist is seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to crack down on dissent and silence opposition.

China says they hold the right to deny entry to Hong Kong.  They justify this by saying that the central government is in control of the foreign matters related to the city.  This is allowed within China’s sovereignty.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – China rebuffs criticism of decision to bar British activist from Hong Kong – 12 October 2017

The Guardian – British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

The Telegraph – Boris Johnson demands ‘urgent explanation’ from China after activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

Reuters – China says it has the right to bar people from HOng KOng after British activist expelled – 12 October 2017  

Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Fields

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – Cotton drives the Uzbek economy. The country is the sixth largest producer of cotton. It is commonly known as “white gold.” Historically, it has a long tradition as part of the economy, being cultivated as far back as the 5th or 6th century. As part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan’s cotton industry boomed. The state controlled the production, output, input, and quotas of collective farms.

Uzbek child doing mandatory labor in cotton fields. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Twenty-six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Uzbekistan government still controls the cotton industry. The government controls extensive acres of cotton fields throughout the country.  They continue to control the production and harvest of the cotton.

Cotton grown in Uzbekistan is not harvested by machines, but rather hand picked by 2 million forced laborers. The government calls on citizens to go into the field during the harvest for “work-for-the-nation days”. Laborers include teachers, nurses, university students, children, government employees, the unemployed, and those benefiting from government aid. It is considered their patriotic duty to do so.

This causes issues of child labor, children missing school, significant lack of teachers in classrooms, and too few medical staff present in hospitals.

The forced laborers are coerced to do so. Refusal to work leads to threats of penalties, dismissal and expulsions from jobs, and loss of benefits. For those who can afford it, one can pay for a “replacement” in the field or even pay to avoid work completely. The cost can be up to half the monthly salary of a citizen.

Each day of work, individuals are required to meet a quota of 50 kilograms. Most workers serve on average 12 days. They are paid roughly 5 cents per kilo collected.

There is immense pressure for farmers and overseers to produce large yields to support the economy. One such official, Asilbek Yusupov , received a brutal verbal attack for not meeting quotas early in October. The insulting language, derogatory words and language left Yusupov so shaken that he suffered a stroke moments after returning to his office.  He later died in hospital.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Some Wokers Excused from Cotton Fields – 5 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Rights Group Says Political Will Needed To End Forced Labor In Uzbekistan – 5 October 2017

Azernews – Uzbekistan to switch to mechanized harvesting of cotton – 6 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – 5 Cents Per Kilo: Why Uzbek Government Still Forces People To Pick Cotton – 11 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Uzbek Official Collapses, Dies After Being Disgraced For Bad Cotton Harvest –9 October 2017

Instability Amid Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Race

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Former Soviet territory, Kyrgyzstan, is set to hold Presidential elections on 15 October 2017. This will be the second presidential election since a Constitutional change in 2010. Presidents can only serve one 6-year term.  There are 13 candidates at the moment running for the position.   Parliamentary elections concluded the first week of October.

Citizens rally to support free and fair elections. Photo Courtesy of RadioFreeEurope|RadioLiberty.

Since the candidates were announced on 10 September, the campaign has been characterized by smear tactics and intimidation.

According to the electoral law of Kyrgyzstan, the media must present unbiased information and treat candidates equally. Free airtime in 15 minute slots is provided to all candidates.

However, contender Bakyt Torobaev, claims that the Public Television and Radio Corporation broadcasted harmful material to damage his reputation. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was asked to monitor the elections, reports that the number of instances where public officials filed cases for civil defamation has increased recently.

A second point of concern is that influential members of society endorse politicians in very public manners. For example, an ex-mufti, Chubak azhy Zhalilov, stated that he would vote for Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Zhalilov is one of the country’s most famous imams. The Central Election Committee (CEC), which is in charge of monitoring and running the election, says religious authorities may not interfere in the election process. During the 2015 Presidential Elections the CEC issued Zhalilov two warnings about involvement in the elections. This round, he has received none.

Analysts from the Institute for Public Analysis argue that Zhalilov didn’t receive warnings because he favors the current government’s favored candidate. However another well-known religious leader found speaking about Candidate Jeenbekov’s opponent is involved in an ongoing investigation about his endorsement.

A third issue is the concern about the misuse of administrative resources. There are reports of bribery and use of political positions to pressure civil servants and students to vote for Jeenbekov. There are fears that if they don’t they could suffer uncertain futures.

There have even been arrests on 30 September around a coup plot supposedly developed by a MP supporter of Omurbek Babanov, the main opponent against Jeenbekov. Supposedly, if Babanov does not win the election, violent unrest would ensue to put Babanov into the seat of power. Babanov believes that this accusation is just a ‘black pr’ tactic used to smear his campaign.

Citizens rallied together in Bishkek at the end of September. Approximately 1000 people attended. They demanded fair and clean elections in response to the bribery, administrative resource misuses, and endorsements.

On October 15, Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, receiving 54.3 percent of the approximate 1.7 million votes cast. 

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg Politics – Jeenbekov Wins Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Election – 15 October 2017

Radio Free Europe – Following The Twists, Turns In Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Race – 26 September 2017

OSCE – Interim Report – 29 September 2017

Eurasianet – Kyrgyzstan: Smears Soil Election Campaign– 2 October 2015

Radio Free Europe – “Rally Held ‘For Fair Elections’ in Bishkek Ahead of October Presidential Vote” – 30 September 2017

Institute for War and Peace – Kyrgyzstan: Religion and Politics Prove Sensitive Mix – 29 September 2017