Poland Opposes Visit by White Supremacist Richard Spencer

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist, is not welcome in Poland.

Richard Spencer. Photo Courtesy of David J. Phillip.

The Polish government has issued statements condemning Spencer’s views as a threat to democracy and objecting to his upcoming visit to Warsaw. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski stated that Spencer should not appear publicly in Poland, describing him as someone who “defames what happened during World War II, defames the Holocaust.”

Spencer is the white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia rally that killed a counter-protestor in August after the rally turned violent. He has since held other rallies and is looking to expand his message to Europe.

He was invited by several far-right Polish organizations to speak at a conference in Warsaw that took place on November 10th. The National Social Congress announced that Spencer would speak at a panel discussion during its “Europe of Future” meeting. The annual conference is organized by the far-right to celebrate Polish Independence Day. In past years, marches held on November 11th by far-right extremists were some of the largest extremist gatherings in Europe.

Spencer’s followers consist of members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. They support his condemnation of diversity and embrace his far-right ideologies including nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. Studies show that anti-Semitism and xenophobia is on the rise in Poland, which will likely help Spencer draw an audience there.

The government had been pressured to prevent Spencer from speaking at the event. “Spencer’s views strike not only the Jewish community or other minority groups. The hatred that Spencer and his followers proclaim is a threat to all who are close to the values of human rights and democracy,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Central European office.

When the Polish Border Guard was contracted regarding the issue, a spokeswoman declined to divulge any information, citing privacy regulations. Spencer did not end up attending.

In 2014, Hungary Spencer’s think tank, the National Policy Institute, was prevented from holding a conference. When Spencer defied the ban, he was arrested, deported and banned from entering Europe’s 26 visa-free countries for three years.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said “As a country which was one of the biggest victims of Nazism, we believe that the ideas promoted by Mr. Spencer and his followers could pose a threat to all those who hold dear the values of human rights and democracy.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Poland to Richard Spencer – Keep Out – 27 October 2017

The New York Times – Poland Objects to Visit by White Nationalist Richard Spencer – 27 October 2017

Newsweek – Richard Spencer is too Racist for Poland’s Right-Wing Government – 27 October 2017

The Washington Times – Poland Opposes Visit From Richard Spencer, White Nationalist and Charlottesville Rally Participant – 27 October 2017

Austria turns far to the right after October election

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Sebastian Kurz walks through a crowd of supporters. Image courtesy of Sean Gallup.

VIENNA, Austria – After center-right candidate Sebastian Kurz won a surprising victory in the Austrian election, he is now calling for discussion with “alternative right” groups in the country, hoping to give them a voice in the national government.

Mr. Kurz is Austria’s current foreign minister. On October 15th, Austrians voted to give Mr. Kurz’ party, the People’s Party, the power to form the next government. This means that Mr. Kurz is likely to be Austria’s next Chancellor.

The vote reflected a right-wing shift in Austria. The third-place vote-getters were the Freedom Party, a far-right, anti-immigration party with ties to Neo-Nazism.

Mr. Kurz and his party seem to echo the sentiments of the Freedom Party.

During his time as foreign minister, Mr. Kurz was responsible for stopping the flow of refugees into Austria by shutting down borders on the Balkan route. During the campaign, he promised to do the same thing on the Mediterranean route of asylum seekers.

Mr. Kurz’s anti-Muslim sentiment has come out in other policy points. He cited a study that allegedly found that Islamic kindergartens, religious schools permitted under Austrian law, contribute to a “parallel society.”

Yet Mr. Kurz and his party insisted on the campaign trail that shifting to the right is merely an issue of popular viewpoint in Austria.

An anonymous adviser for Mr. Kurz stated that “most European populations don’t want to become half-Afghan or half-Syrian or half-African.” The adviser added that “you have to accept it. If you don’t, we’ll go to the extreme far right.”

Mr. Kurz People’s Party did not gain enough votes in the election to lead the country on their own. In a coalition government, this means that the People’s Party will have to partner with another to achieve its goals.

Mr. Kurz has said that this partner will likely be the Freedom Party.

To back up his choice, Mr. Kurz said that the Freedom Party has shown a “will to bring change in Austria together.”

Austria has been moving consistently further right in the several years since the refugee crisis began.

If the new government is a coalition between two right wing parties, it may lead to even stricter restrictions on refugees fleeing war in the middle east.

Ramazan Demir is an imam and leader of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. He has expressed concerns over where Austria is going in recent years.

“They did their politics on the backs of Muslims,” Mr. Demir said about the rise of the far-right parties in Austria.

“There’s never been this much Islamophobia in Austria.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Austria: Sebastian Kurz opens talks with Freedom Party – 24 October 2017

The Independent – Austria election winner Sebastian Kurz invites far-right Freedom Party to enter government – 24 October 2017

The Washington Post – For Austria’s Muslims, country’s hard-right turn is an ominous sign – 20 October 2017

Wall Street Journal – Austrian Election Winner Sebastian Kurz Prepares for Talks With Far Right – 20 October 2017

NPR – Austria Election: Center-Right Party Head Likely Next Prime Minister – 15 October 2017

Hate Crimes on the Rise in England and Wales

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Hate crimes are on the rise in the United Kingdom, according to authorities.

Candlelight Vigil Following Manchester Attack. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

The rise comes following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 along with a wave of extremist attacks since then.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were 80,393 reported offenses, compared to 62,518 between 2015 and 2016. This 29 percent rise is the largest since official hate crime figures were published five years ago.

The crimes spiked surrounding significant events such as the European Union referendum, known as “Brexit,” and extremist attacks on the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and the London Bridge.

Last year’s Brexit campaign was supported by many right-wing and nationalist groups. The vote spurred concerns that minorities and immigrants would be susceptible to hate crimes as a result.

Of the crimes reported, approximately 80 percent were based on race, 10 percent on sexual orientation and 7 percent on religion. A number of these crimes were recorded as disability hate crimes and others as motivated by transgender hate.

The rise in figures may partially be attributed to the broadened definition of what constitutes a hate crime. Hate crimes are now categorized if victims of verbal or physical assaults consider them as such. Public awareness and increased reporting may also be a factor, as authorities are also considered better able to record and document such incidents.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, said that “no one in Britain should have to suffer violent prejudice, and indications that there was a genuine rise in the number of offenses immediately following each of this year’s terror attacks is undoubtedly concerning.”

Governmental funds are being designated to protect places of worship and support community projects.

Tougher sentences are being handed down by courts dealing with hate crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service published data showing that sentences increased if the crimes were motivated on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

However, the number of cases being prosecuted has dropped from 15,542 between 2015 and 2016 to 14,480 between 2016 and 2017.

“We must continue to encourage all those affected by hate crimes to speak out, and in doing so send a clear message that hate and prejudice can have absolutely no place in modern Britain,” said Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum for London.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rise in Hate Crime in England and Wales – 17 October 2017

The Guardian – Hate Crime Surged in England and Wales After Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The New York Times – U.K. Reports Big Rise in Hate Crime, Citing Brexit and Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The Washington Post – Britain Reports Hate Crimes Spike After Brexit Votes, Attack – 17 October 2017

Violence at Independence Vote in Catalonia Injures Hundreds

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BARCELONA, Spain – Nearly 900 civilians and over 400 police officers were injured in clashes sparked by the Catalan independence referendum on October 1st.

A Police Officer Struggles With a Demonstrator in Spain. Photo Courtesy of Luca Piergiovanni / EPA-EFE / REX/ Shutterstock.

Videos at the scene show police dragging people out of voting stations, throwing them down stairs and kicking them. Rubber bullets were also fired at civilians.

Human Rights Watch, a human rights organization based out of New York, sent a representative to Barcelona to investigate the allegations of police brutality, declaring that the Spanish state “has a duty to protect the rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.”

Government officials in Spain defended the police action and called it proportional to the threat. Force was used under orders from Madrid to shut down voting stations and seize ballot boxes.

Citizens of Catalonia have long harbored a desire for independence from Spain. Catalonia is a region in Spain with its own language and culture. However, Spain’s constitution of 1978 gives the government exclusive power to hold referendums, and it considered the referendum to be unconstitutional.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had promised to do anything in his power to stop the referendum from taking place. He thanked the police for their “firmness and serenity” in the situation.

Over two million people were able to vote despite the violence. Of those, 90 percent voted for the secession of Catalonia. Many were prevented from casting their votes.

Eyewitnesses report that police were indiscriminate in who they targeted. There were reports of children and elderly people being injured.

“The police didn’t beat just people who were going to vote ‘Yes,” they forced and kicked at everybody, old people included,” said Pau Subira Zirita, a witness.

Violence also ensued between the Catalan regional police and the Civil Guards, a paramilitary force sent in from around Spain.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, urged Spain to conduct “swift, independent and effective” investigations into the conduct of the police and their use of force in the situation.

“I urge you to ensure, in co-operation with other authorities in charge of law enforcement, that swift, independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of police misconduct and disproportionate use of force during the events of 1 October 2017 in Catalonia,” he said.

Anais Franquesa Griso, a human rights lawyer, is working with several organizations, including Human Rights Watch, to collect information from those injured or whose rights were deprived. This information will be reported to international human rights organizations.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Catalan Vote: Claims of Police Brutality Probed – 3 October 2017

Los Angeles Times – Amid Scenes of Chaos and Violence, Catalonia Independence Vote is Projected to Pass Overwhelmingly – 1 October 2017

The Local – Council of Europe Human Rights Chief Urges Spain to Launch Probe Into Police Action in Catalonia – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Leaders Seek to Make Independence Referendum Binding – 2 October 2017

Reuters – Madrid Representative in Catalonia Apologizes for Police Violence During Independence Vote – 6 October 2017

Merkel Agrees to Limit Refugees Entering Germany

 By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a decision that has elicited both support and criticism in the nation.

Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union Party. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The German Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union  were in talks for hours before an agreement could be reached.

Many German voters had been angered with Merkel’s previous open-door policy, which effectively allowed in anyone who could reach the country. In 2015, this policy allowed over one million people in.

In July, Merkel stated “on the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”

Many see the policy as a concession to the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which was propelled in September’s elections where Merkel lost millions of voters. The AfD campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-migrant platform, becoming the third largest party in Parliament. The new measure is seen in many as a way of winning back voters.

Many believe that Merkel must negotiate with smaller parties in order to form a cohesive coalition government. Ms. Merkel believes the policy is necessary, saying that “Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position.”

In 2016, the number of refugees capped at 280,000. That number has since fallen drastically, with fewer than 124,000 people applying for asylum in the first eight months of 2017. Experts are saying that the proposed limit is in line with current immigration trends.

The new policy is not being described as a limit, as no one who is seeking asylum will be turned away at the borders once the 200,000 limit has been reached. The figure can be altered should a new refugee crisis emerge.

The policy is being criticized, with Karl Kopp, director for European Affairs at Pro Asyl, a German refugee charity, saying that the policy is “not compatible with international law” and “totally unacceptable.”

Simone Peters, head of the Green Party, claimed that “The figure is completely arbitrary, fixed purely ideologically. As far as we’re concerned the fundamental right to asylum applies. When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Merkel Changes Tune on German Refugee Cap – 9 October 2017

The Guardian – Germany: Merkel Agrees to 200,000 Refugees Cap in Bid to Build Coalition – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees – 9 October 2017

Fate of Catalonia rests on Catalan president’s shoulders

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of Catalonia’s independence wave Catalan flags in Barcelona, outside of the Catalan parliament building. Image courtesy of Nakam/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock.

BARCELONA, Spain – Catalonia has yet to determine whether they have declared independence.

On October 10th, Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont decided the southern region of Spain would not immediately declare independence from its mother country.

The statement came after Mr. Puigdemont signed an official declaration of independence. Soon after, Mr. Puigdemont announced the suspension.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has accused the Catalan president of deliberately confusing the Spanish government.

On October 11th, the government officially stated that the “ball was now firmly back in Puigdemont’s court.”

What the Catalonian government does next will determine whether the Spanish government will strip Catalonia of its autonomy using Article 155 of the federal constitution. If this happens, administrative control over Catalonia will be given to the Spanish government.

The struggles over the past several days have caused some divide within Spain itself.

The Constitution itself was established in the late 1970s after years of an authoritarian regime, where Catalans were severely oppressed by a dictator.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, of Spain’s main opposition leadership, has expressed support for using the Constitution to deprive Catalonia of its autonomy.

The support was in exchange for an agreement to form a commission to change the Constitution.

Both sides of the spectrum argue that the other side is a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Rajoy accused separatists of “foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia,” indicating that they ignore the Catalans who do not want to secede.

Yet Mr. Puigdemont, Catalonia’s president, sees Catalonia as an autonomous region that has “won the right to be independence” as a result of the vote held on October 1st.

“The people’s will” is to break free from the central government in Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont stated in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.

On the day of the election, the Spanish government sent police troops in to various towns and cities around Catalonia. This led to several clashes between Catalans and police, with hundreds reportedly injured.

The chaos that day has led to the launch of an investigation into the allegations of police brutality. The main question is whether law enforcement used excessive force against people who were peacefully assembling to vote or protest.

If the Spanish government does choose to invoke Article 155, it may cause more civil unrest similar to the kind seen on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Mr. Puigdemont told CNN that he is sending a message of “calmness”, stating, “[w]e are facing a political problem that we need to solve with politics and not with police.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Spanish PM asks Catalonia: have you declared independence or not? – 11 October 2017

The New York Times – Spain Asks Catalonia: Did You Declare Independence or Not? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia: Spain takes step towards direct rule – 11 October 2017

The Guardian – Catalonia’s suspended declaration of independence: what happens next? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia independence declaration signed and suspended – 10 October 2017

Al-Jazeera – Catalan vote: Claims of Spanish police brutality probed – 3 October 2017

 

France Passes Controversial Counterterrorism Bill

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – On Tuesday, October 3rd, the French Parliament approved a national counterterrorism security bill, significantly expanding the state’s power to fight terrorism. Activists are calling it a historic threat to civil liberties.

Demonstrators Protest Counterterrorism Bill in France. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The bill was passed in response to a wave of terrorist activity that began in November 2015 when 130 people were killed in attacks in Paris. A state of emergency was declared at the time and has been extended six times. Since then, the number of lives taken by terrorist violence has risen to 239.

The legislation, which was enacted at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron, allows French police to conduct searches and seizures and place suspects under house arrest with little court intervention or supervision. With judicial approval, police will also be able to raid private property, impose restrictions on people’s movements, and use electronic surveillance tags.

Mosques and other places of worship will be shut down if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are promoting radical ideology or justifying terrorist acts.

Activists are concerned with the abuses that may arise with this legislation and its potential to infringe on civil rights and discriminate against French Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

“A project like this one constitutes a threat to our rights because it replaces facts by suspicion,” said Jacques Toubon, who now serves as the country’s human rights watchdog.

One concern is that the legislation is too vague in its language. Police will be able to exercise the measures described in the bill if they have “serious reasons” to suspect someone is involved in terrorist activity.

Many French citizens support the bill and do not believe that it threatens their liberty. They believe that they are more vulnerable to violence without the measures in place.

Other countries have tightened up security in response to terrorist threats, but the French laws are among the broadest in scope.

The United Nations sent a letter to the French government in late September regarding the “restrictions to fundamental liberties” that would be a consequence of the law.

Other critics of the law point to the fact that since the emergency measures have been put in place in 2015, none of them have prevented terrorist attacks.

Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an advocacy group that fights discrimination, said that a result of the measures will be that “what was problematic and exceptional will now become problematic and normal.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – France Approves Tough New Anti-Terror Laws – 4 October 2017

New York Times – French Parliament Advances a Sweeping Counterterrorism Bill – 3 October 2017

Reuters – France Backs Tough Anti-Terrorism Laws After Wave of Attacks – 3 October 2017

Washington Post – French Muslims Enraged by Passage of Macron’s Version of Patriot Act – 3 October 2017

Tensions in Spain rise as court blocks Catalonia parliament from meeting

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of independence for Catalonia marching in the streets of Barcelona. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BARCELONA, Spain – Less than a week after Catalonia’s vote for independence from Spain, the highest federal court in the country has blocked the constitutionality of the vote.

On October 5th, the court ruled that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet and consider declaring independence violates the rights of the Catalonian Socialist Party’s members of parliament.

The court urged that any session of the Catalan parliament defying its decision would be “null.”

They also added that any leaders who hold the session could face “criminal action” if they choose to ignore the court’s verdict.

Despite Catalan leader’s call for “peace and accord” in their quest for independence, violence erupted after the vote on October 1st, much of it stemming from citizens clashing with Spanish police.

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, has also stated that the situation will “escalate further” if the Catalan government declares independence.

“[The] best [solution] would be a return to legality and the swiftest possible confirmation that there won’t be a unilateral independence declaration, because that way still greater harm could be avoided,” Mr. Rajoy said in a statement to the Spanish news agency Efe.

King Felipe of Spain has also condemned Catalan attempts to secede from the country, calling Catalan actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over the institutions placed there by the federal government.

The vote on October 1st has caused much division, both within the region of Catalonia and outside of it.

The New York Times reports a rise of nationalist sentiment throughout Spain, with many pushing openly against Catalonia.

And while 90% of the votes counted on the October 1 election were in favor of independence, the voter turnout hovered at only 42%. This in part may be due to the many anti-secession Catalans who boycotted the election, hoping to avoid giving “legitimacy” to the vote.

Both anti- and pro-independence rallies are reportedly planned for the next several days.

When asked what they thought about the high court’s decision, the Catalan government told CNN, “we will see.”

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether Catalonia will carry forth with their attempt to gain independence from Spain.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan crisis: Spanish court bars MPs’ independence vote – 5 October 2017

The Washington Post – Catalonia poses a real crisis for both Spain and Europe – 5 October 2017

CNN – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament’s independence move – 5 October 2017

The Guardian – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament from declaring independence – 5 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Separatism Revives a Long-Dormant Spanish Nationalism – 5 October 2017

Austria Criminalizes the Wearing of Burqas in Public

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – On Sunday, October 1st, Austria implemented a law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing Burqas in public.

Woman wearing a niqab. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

The “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” law, commonly known as the “Burqa Ban,” was approved in May of 2017 and implemented on October 1st. It prohibits women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public.

The decision to prohibit burqas comes at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is at an all-time high, both in Europe and the United States. The law has thus far garnered strong support in the predominantly Catholic country, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes.

Similar sentiments have become increasingly prevalent in other European countries. In the midst of elections in Germany in September, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party campaigned with posters featuring the slogan “Burqas? We prefer Bikinis.”

The upcoming national election in Austria is looking favorably to those who are campaigning on an anti-migrant message.

Five out of seven of those polled that support the law also said they will vote for the two parties that are linked to anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Freedom Party and the People’s Party.

Muslim women leaders are condemning the law, viewing the claim that it is intended to help women as insincere.

Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority, criticized the law. “They believe that they are ‘freeing these women’ and that they’re taking action to secure the identity of Austria, but this is hypocritical as the idea of an open society is that everybody has the liberty to act and dress as they please as long as nobody else is harmed,” she said.

Activists and experts say that the ban violates religious rights and will only perpetuate the problem of Islamophobia.

Farid Hafez, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, said that “Islamophobia is a problem in Austria as it is a problem and a challenge to democracy, human rights and religious freedom in many European countries today.”

Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister of Austria, said that the burqa “is not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society.”

Those who defy the law and continue to cover their faces can be fined up to $175. Police are authorized to use force for anyone resisting the law.

Laws such as these are already in effect in France and Belgium. The Alternative for Germany is also calling for such measures.

The ban affects approximately 150 women.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Austria’s Full-Face Veil Ban is a Kneejerk Reaction to the Rise of the Far Right – 1 February 2017

USA Today – Austria Becomes Latest European Country to Ban Burqas – But Adds Clown Face Paint, Too – 27 September 2017

PBS – ‘Burqa Ban” Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 30 September 2017

Aljazeera – Austria Face Veil Ban ‘Criminalizes’ Muslim Women – 1 October 2017

BBC – Austrian Ban on Full-Face Veil in Public Places Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

New York Times – Austria’s ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

Washington Post – ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 1 October 2017

Dozens of LGBT People Arrested and Detained in Azerbaijan

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Dozens of gay and transgender people in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku have been detained and sentenced to jail this month.

People Gather in Support of LGBT Community in Madrid, Spain. Photo Courtesy of CBC News.

Those arrested have been sentenced to up to thirty days in jail. They are also being demanded to provide names and addresses of gay and transgender acquaintances.

The detainees have been subjected to beatings and medical examinations, according to the Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights group based out of Sweden. Transgender women have been forced to have their heads shaved.

Azerbaijan government officials claim that the arrests are part of a crackdown on the illegal sex trade in Baku, but Samed Rahumli, a lawyer who is assisting the victims, said the police “targeted homosexuals in general, not prostitutes as they have claimed.”

Rahumli reported that those “detained were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture. Their heads were shaved, some were electroshocked.”

In some instances, police posed online as gay or transgender people looking for dates.

One victim, who identified himself as Hasan, reported that police claimed he was a sex worker, beat him and demanded he provided information pertaining to his alleged clients.

According to activists, the reasoning provided by the government is being used as a pretext for persecution of the LGBT community.

The detainees were being held under “administrative detention”, which is a legal practice in Azerbaijan that allows for the bypass of public hearing prior to sentencing.

A survey conducted in 2016 by a human rights organization ranked Azerbaijan as the worst of 49 European counties in which to be gay.

International organization Human Rights Watch reported that men have been outed to their families and that these relatives have been encouraged to carry out honor killings.

Several victims have been evicted from their apartments as a result of the raids.

The arrests are reminiscent of the detainment and torture of gay men in Chechnya earlier this year. In some cases there, victims were killed.

A spokesman for the country’s interior ministry said “these raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”

Evelyne Paradis, European executive director of the International Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, called “for the immediate release of anyone still in detention.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

CBC News – Azerbaijan Arresting More LBGT People ‘day by day’, Activist Says 30 September 2017

The Guardian – Outcry as Azerbaijan Police Launch Crackdown on LGBT Community – 28 September 2017

Independent – Mass Arrests of LGBT People in Azerbaijan Condemned by Human Rights Groups – 28 September 2017

NBC News – Dozens of LGBTQ Reportedly Arrested in Azerbaijan – 26 September 2017

New York Times – Azerbaijan Detains Dozens of Gay and Transgender People – 29 September 2017

Washington Post – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

Clashes with Spanish government as Catalans move to vote for independence

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Police fire rubber bullets at Catalans attempting to vote. Image courtesy of AP Photos.

BARCELONA, Spain – Despite the Spanish government deeming the vote “illegal”, citizens in the Catalonia region of Spain on October 1st held an independence referendum.

Catalonia has sought independence from Spain for several years. Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, is nestled in the region.

Catalonia has its own language, and many of its residents have never felt “Spanish”. This was part of the driving force behind the October 1st vote.

Polls suggest that 7.8 million people in Spain support Catalan independence.

Despite this, the government in Madrid has fought against allowing Catalan to sever from Spain.

The federal government has seized voting materials, imposed fines on officials for supporting the election, and sent several groups of law enforcement to prevent the vote from happening.

Protests quickly erupted in the streets of Barcelona on Sunday, October 1st, which quickly led into violent clashes between law enforcement and citizens.

The police, in riot gear, stormed into an elementary school polling station, while election activists grabbed the ballot boxes, hiding them in various places around the school.

Once the police left, voting recommenced.

However, that was not the end of the chaos.

More than 300 people were reportedly injured in clashes with law enforcement.

Some of the injuries suffered came from rubber bullets from police, who shot at crowds lined up to vote outside polling centers.

Police also faced protestors, dragging them and whipping them with batons.

The scene in Catalonia is being called a “mass act of civil disobedience”. While Spain is a democratic country, its history with authoritarian governments is still fresh in the minds of some citizens.

“The government today is in a position to affirm that we can celebrate the referendum of self-determination-not as we wanted, but [as democracy] guarantees,” Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan government, stated at a news conference.

Under dictator Francisco Franco in the early 1900s, Catalonia was heavily repressed. Citizens were barred from speaking Catalan disallowed to give children traditional Catalan names.

Democracy would not be completely established in Spain until the 1970s. The push for Catalonian independence would not come to its full extent until the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Catalonia was given autonomy, but not independence or sovereignty, by the central government in Spain five years ago.

But on election day, Spain rescinded that autonomy and took control of Catalonian’s finances.

Even with popular opinion indicating a majority of support for independence, it is unclear what will happen next.

“Spain let us vote in 2014,” one of the organizers of the October 1st vote said to ABC News. He was referring to the vote in 2014, where most people who voted said “yes” on a ballot to sever from Spain.

That vote did not go anywhere.

“This time they refuse [to let us vote] because they know it’s happening,” he added. “I hope it’s the last battle.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan referendum: ‘Hundreds hurt’ as police try to stop voters – 1 October 2017

The Telegraph – Catalan Referendum: Riot police ‘fire rubber bullets’ at crowd as they block voters at besieged polling stations – 1 October 2017

The Washington Post – Clashes during Catalan independence vote injure more than 300, including 12 police officers – 1 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalans, Elated but Fearful, Brace for Independence Vote – 29 September 2017

ABC News – What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum – 26 September 2017

BBC News – Catalonia referendum: Madrid moves to take over local policing – 23 September 2017

United Nations Reports ‘Grave’ Human Rights Abuses in Crimea

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – In a report published on September 25th, the United Nations cited grave instances of human rights abuses in Crimea.

People Wave Flags in Observation of the Third Anniversary of Russia’s Annexation of Crimea. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

“There is an urgent need for accountability,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the situation.

The United Nations ordered the human rights investigation in December 2016. The report is based on interviews conducted from Ukraine, as investigators were not allowed access into the region.

Among the abuses found are incidences of illegal arrests, allegedly taking place to instill fear and stifle opposition. There is also evidence of torture, and a finding of at least one extra-judicial execution. Additionally, between 2014 and 2015, dozens of people were abducted, and ten still remain missing.

The abuses are alleged to have been perpetrated by the Federal Security Service, Russian police officers and a paramilitary group.

Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 in a referendum that was and is not recognized by the international community. It has been condemned by the European Union as well as the United States and has resulted in sanctions against Russia.

The human rights abuses are primarily directed at the Tatars, a Turkic speaking minority in Crimea that makes up about 12% of its population.

The report states that “while those human rights violations and abuses have affected Crimean residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds, Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted especially those with links to the Mejlis.”

The Tatar parliament, the Mejelis, boycotted the referendum on joining Russia and were deemed an extremist organization and banned by Moscow in 2016. The Tatar community has since been limited in its ability to celebrate important dates and display cultural symbols.

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, states that the report is “an unjust and biased assessment of the human rights situation in Crimea.” A Crimean official has also stated that the report is not objective or indicative of reality.

Thousands of Crimean residents have fled rather than be subject to forced Russian citizenship.

The report notes that hundreds of Crimean prisoners were illegally transferred to Russian jails, an act that violates international law. Three detainees who were transferred died after they did not receive medical treatment for serious medical conditions.

“The frequency and severity of these human rights violations, together with the lack of accountability, has created an atmosphere of impunity which encourages the further perpetuation of such violations,” said Fiona Frazer, lead of the investigating mission.

For more information, please see:

Anadolu Agency – UN Says Russia Violating Crimea Tatars’ Rights – 25 September 2017

BBC News – UN Accuses Russia of Violating Human Rights in Crimea – 25 September 2017

New York Times – Russia Committed ‘Grave’ Rights Abuses in Crimea, UN Says – 25 September 2017

Reuters – Russian Occupation of Crimea Marked by Grave Human Rights Violations – 25 September 2017

Washington Post – UN Human Rights Office: Russia Violating International Law in Crimea – 25 September 2017

Syrian Activist and her Daughter Murdered in Turkey

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ISTANBUL, Turkey – A Syrian activist and her daughter, a journalist, were fatally stabbed in their home on September 21st in Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood.

Orouba Barakat and her daughter, Halla. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Orouba Barakat, 60, and her daughter, Halla, 23, were found stabbed to death in their Istanbul apartment.

Orouba was a prominent activist for the Syrian National Coalition, although she was critical of some of the opposition groups. She left Syria in the 1980s and worked for some time covering economic and political affairs for Arab newspapers. She had recently been investigating allegations of torture in prisons run by the Assad regime.

Halla was born in North Carolina. She was a freelance journalist for Orient News, TRT World and ABC News. Friends contacted police when Halla did not show up for work.

In the weeks leading up to their deaths, both women had received threats from Syrian regime supporters. A Turkish newspaper, The Cuhhiryet, published details indicating there were similarities between the killings of the mother and daughter and those known to have been committed by the Islamic State.

Family members believe that the killings were perpetrated by the Assad government. Orouba and Halla had been critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Orouba’s sister, Shaza, said of the killings “We accuse the Syrian regime, the gangs, because we are against the unjust government, this deadly oppressor, which has killed three quarters of the Syrians and displaced the rest, and destroyed all of Syria.”

Another relative, Suzanne Barakat, noted that the women “were vocal activists in the Syrian revolution, speaking truth to power, and raising awareness about the atrocities committed by the Assad regime.”

There have been four other Syrian journalists murdered in Turkey since 2015.

The US State Department released the following statement concerning the murders: “The United States is deeply saddened by the deaths of Arouba and Halla Barakat. Halla served as a journalist for Orient News and we remember the courageous work of her mother, Orouba, a Syrian activist who reported on the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The United States condemns the perpetrators of these murders and we will closely follow the investigation.”

Orouba and Halla had been friends with American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller, who was taken hostage by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria in 2013 and killed 18 months later.

Before their deaths, Orouba and Halla were preparing to start a charity for Syrian women living in refugee camps in Turkey in Mueller’s honor.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Syrian-American Journalist and her Mother, Friends of ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller, Killed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

BBC News – Syrian Activist and Journalist Daughter ‘Murdered’ in Istanbul – 22 September 2017

New York Times – Syrian Activist and her Daughter Fatally Stabbed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

People – American Journalist and Activist Mom Found Strangled and Stabbed in Turkey: Reports – 22 September 2017

Washington Post – Syrian Activist, Journalist Daughter Found Dead in Turkey – 22 September 2017

According to UN Report, Migrant Children Endure Severe Human Rights Abuses

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – According to a September 5th report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 75 percent of migrant children attempting to reach Europe are victims of severe human rights abuses.

Young Child Awaiting Rescue. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! News UK.

The findings are based on testimonies obtained from over 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children, given to the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Migration Agency.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Europe Regional Director, said of the findings, “the stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against.”

The victims reported being subjected to a myriad of abuses, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child marriage and beatings.

A 17-year-old girl from Nigeria reported being raped, held captive and threatened with violence. An Afghan boy recalled being forced into labor and beaten if he stopped working. Another child said, “if you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

UNICEF reports that children originating from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk. Those travelling from Libya along the Mediterranean route are vulnerable due to the route being laden with crime and a lack of policing. The risk also increases for children who are travelling alone and over long periods of time.

The UNICEF report comes amid a substantial increase in the number of children migrating to Europe in recent years. Between 2010 and 2011, 66,000 children travelers were reported. That number has now surged to over 300,000.

The children making these harrowing journeys are often unaccompanied. Of those under 18 years of age arriving to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea passages from North Africa in 2016, 92% were alone.

“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe, and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, Eugenio Ambrosi.

UNICEF’s report has prompted calls for the European Union and other parties to “put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children,” said Khan.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – CORRECTION: United Nations – Children Migrants Story – 12 September 2017

Abdolu Agency – UNICEF says Many Young Migrants Face Exploitation – 12 September 2017

UNICEF – Up to Three Quarters of Children and Youth Face Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking on Mediterranean Migration Routes – 12 September 2017

UN News Centre – Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking ‘Stark Reality’ for Migrant Children Trying to Reach Europe – 12 September 2017

Reuters – ‘Just Like Slaves’; African Migrant Children Face Highest Risk of Abuse: Report – 11 September 2017

Yahoo! News UK – Young Migrants Face Abuse on Way to Europe – UN – 11 September 2017

Far-right not far behind in 2017 German election results

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A far-right campaign sign urging Germans to stop “Islamification” of Germany. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term after the general election on September 24th.

The results come during a shift in European politics. Many frustrations have risen over the migrant crisis, including Germany’s high intake of refugees coming from the middle east.

Despite this, Chancellor Merkel’s conservative party won a slim majority in Germany’s coalition government. The Social Democrats, whom the conservatives work closely with, came in second with 33%.

But 13% of the vote went to the far-right party Alternative for Deutschland, raising concerns for many about potential opposition.

Indeed, Alternative for Deutschland (“AfD”) has already begun to express this sentiment.

The head of the AfD party, Alexander Gauland, has already told supporters that the government should “dress warmly” in preparation.

The vote makes AfD the third largest party in the coalition government.

This is the first time in over 60 years that a far-right nationalist party has had any control in the German government.

AfD raises many concerns within Germany. The party is vehemently anti-immigration, including the taking in of refugees, and has expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in many of its platforms.

Leaders of the party have suggested that Germany stop “apologizing” for its past Nazi ideology, stating, “If the French are rightly proud of their Emperor…We have the right to be proud of the German soldiers in two world wars.”

The AfD favors closure of German borders, citing fears over “Islamification” of the west.

Part of the policy platform includes banning the Burka, a common clothing item for Muslim women, and cutting off any foreign funding for mosques in Germany.

Its election “manifesto” contains a section explaining why the party believes that “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

“It is worrying,” said Michael Fuchs, a member of the Christian Democrat Bundestag*. “[For the first time since World War II] there will be a political party within the walls of the Reichstag building which does not distance itself from the Nazi past and which tolerates members who publicly express themselves in racist and xenophobic language.”

Political scientists in Germany cite disillusionment and frustration with establishment as two possible reasons for why AfD received such a large percentage of the vote.

“Many voters have felt that the two parties have not addressed the issue of immigration and German cultural identity,” Gideon Botsch, a political scientist from the University of Potsdam said.

“And that has led them to consider voting for the AfD.”

This election leads to a complicated situation for Chancellor Merkel. It remains to be seen whether the AfD will have any impact on the refugee population of Germany in the future.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Angela Merkel Is Headed for German Election Victory as Far Right Enters Parliament – 24 September 2017

The Guardian – German elections 2017: Angela Merkel makes gains, exit poll says – live updates – 24 September 2017

CNN – German election: Angela Merkel set for fourth term as far-right surges – 24 September 2017

The Independent – German elections: Far-right wins MPs for first time in half a century – 24 September 2017

ABC News – Merkel wins fourth term as German far-right party makes gains – 24 September 2017

NPR – Far-Right German Party Could Lead Opposition After Sunday’s Election – 22 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Who are Germany’s far-right AfD? – 21 September 2017

BBC News – What does Alternative for Germany (AfD) want? – 18 September 2017