Disputes rise among European nations over refugee crisis

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Migrants line up for food in a migrant camp in Rome, Italy. Image courtesy of Reuters.

EUROPE – The European Union has begun legal action on June 13 against three member countries for not taking in their fair share of refugees. The action will be brought in the European Court of Justice.

The Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary are the countries that may face fines for ignoring EU plans to resettle asylum seekers in the region. This proposal, formed in 2015, was to relocate 160,000 refugees across the European mainland.

In March, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern suggested cutting EU funds to nations that refuse to comply with the measures.

Hungary has taken hardline measures in its asylum policy. They passed a law that would detain asylum seekers into border camps for them to wait for their cases to be handled.

Under the EU plan, each country is assigned to take a certain number of refugees or migrants from the vast number of those coming in. Poland has not accepted any. The Czech Republic has taken 12 of their 2,000 allotment.

Further south, the populist mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has asked the national government not to send any more migrants into the city. Italy has had an influx of refugees and migrant workers coming in from North Africa for the past three years.

In March, when the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban passed the bill allowing detainment of migrants before asylum, he reinforced his hardline stance on immigration. He claimed that immigration is the “Trojan horse of terrorism,” and argued that this was necessary to “defend [Hungary’s] borders…[So] no one will try to come to Hungary illegally.”

The rising fears among Europe regarding refugees are often based on security concerns. With the recent terror attacks in the United Kingdom, member nations of the EU remain on guard. Anti-immigrant sentiment is by and large in the continent and is an especially popular topic of discussion in local elections.

Immigration advocates push against the rhetoric pushed by anti-refugee leaders around the world. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called Hungary’s law an act “[promoting] toxic notions of ethic purity”.

Human rights group Amnesty International has also been outspoken against the anti-immigration sentiment of the three countries involved in the EU legal action. The European office director of the group, Iverna McGowan, said that the EU’s action shows that “countries will not be allowed to get away with dragging their feet to avoid accepting refugees.”

She continues, “Solidarity is the key to a fair and humane response to refugees in Europe.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Don’t send more migrants, Rome mayor tells Italy’s government – 13 June 2017

BBC News – EU targets Poland, Hungary, and Czechs for not taking refugees – 13 June 2017

New York Times – E.U. Move Against 3 Countries That Don’t Take Refugees – 13 June 2017

ABC News – EU warns 3 countries of legal action over refugee plan – 13 June 2017

Reuters – Rome’s 5-Star mayor calls to half migrants’ flow into city – 13 June 2017

The Guardian – Austria threatens EU funding cuts over Hungary’s hard line on refugees – 8 March 2017

BBC News – Hungary to detain all asylum seekers in border camps – 7 March 2017

 

 

Theresa May suggests altering human rights laws to fight terrorism

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks on election day in Norwich, England. Image courtesy of Associated Press.

LONDON, United Kingdom – On June 5, a van ran onto the sidewalk of London Bridge and swerved back to hit a crowd of pedestrians. Amid the chaos, the attackers exited their van and proceeded to continue their attack on bystanders with knives and fake bomb belts. At least seven people were killed.

The United Kingdom is still reeling from the Manchester bombing on May 22. The bridge attack was quickly found to be terrorism related to the Islamic State.

In response, Prime Minister Theresa May suggested that the UK will change their human rights laws in order to prevent more terror attacks in the country.

These changes, she said, may include longer prison terms for convicted terrorists and simplified deportation methods for “foreign terror suspects.” It has also been speculated that the United Kingdom may seek to opt-out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR began in 1953 after the European Convention in Rome in 1950. Article 15 of the treaty would allow the UK to disregard certain aspects of the Convention under certain circumstances. One of the strict circumstances that would permit the UK to forgo their obligations would be a public emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.”

Prime Minister May argues that the United Kingdom should do what it takes to fight the terrorism problem in Britain. She told the British magazine The Sun on Wednesday, “if human rights laws get in the way of doing these things, we will change those laws to make sure we can do them.”

Critics, among them the Labor Party and the Liberal Democratic party, say that P.M. May’s statements are “cynical”. Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told the BBC that P.M. May’s “[attack] of the principles of human rights legislation is not the right way to keep us safe”.

Given the results of the general election on June 7, it is uncertain whether Prime Minister May will remain in power much longer. Her Conservative party lost the majority in Parliament by a handful of votes. With this, it is unclear whether the Prime Minister’s plans to rollback human rights laws will come to fruition.

For more information, please see: 

NBC News – London Bridge Attack: 18 Minutes of Chaos in Borough Market, on Streets – 5 June 2017

ABC News – Who’s who, what’s at stake in Britain’s unexpected election – 7 June 2017

BBC News – Theresa May: Human rights laws could change for terror fight – 7 June 2017

CNN – Theresa May: UK will change human rights laws if needed for terror fight – 7 June 2017

NBC News – U.K. Election: British PM Theresa Under Pressure After Shock Vote – 11 June 2017

Former SS officer awaiting jail sentence dies at 95

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Hanning is pictured as a young SS officer during World War II. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BERLIN, Germany – One of the few remaining former-Nazi officers died on June 1 while waiting to serve his time in prison.

Last June, Reinhold Hanning, a former Nazi officer at Auschwitz was convicted for crimes committed during World War II. Hanning was charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Yesterday, Hanning died at 95 years old.

Hanning was expected to serve five years in prison.

Hanning was an SS officer between 1942-1944. He was placed at Auschwitz Birkneau, the most notorious concentration camp set up by Hitler to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe.

After a trial that lasted months, Hanning appealed the conviction. His lawyers claimed that, because he personally did not kill anyone, he should not be charged. Up until recently, prosecutors were required to prove that defendants on trial for World War II atrocities had been directly involved with the murders.

In 2011, this requirement was altered when a German judge found that working at a concentration camp for the Nazis is considered to be “complicity in mass murder”.

As for Hanning, the Court sentenced him, despite his appearance of regretting the atrocities. He was handed his sentence and quickly appealed.

While waiting for the appeals process to be complete, Hanning passed away.

During the Holocaust, millions of Jews were tortured and killed at concentration camps. Other groups targeted included the disabled, Gypsies, and those who spoke out against the Nazi regime.

Only one former SS guard remains. At 96 years old, Oskar Gröning waits for his four year sentence to begin. Currently, he waits for the prosecutors to collect medical evidence to determine that he can spend time in prison and still receive appropriate care.

It has been over 70 years since the genocide in Europe.

Many of the victims, and their families, present at Hanning’s trial last June expressed that they were relieved that he had at least been brought to justice.

The Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, told the New York Times that “the biggest aim was achieved”.

This aim, he says, was to ensure that the judgment of guilt was passed onto those involved in the atrocities.

The most important thing is for people to remember these types of events in order to not repeat the horrors.

“You cannot forget Genocide,” Heubner says. “Even if you try for years to repress it.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Reinhold Hanning: Convicted Nazi guard dies before doing to prison – 1 June 2017

NBC News – Reinhold Hanning, Convicted Former Auschwitz Guard, Dies at 95 – 1 June 2017

BBC News – Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning convicted – 17 June 2016

The New York Times – Reinhold Hanning, Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted a Year Ago, Dies at 95 – 1 June 2017

The Washington Post – Reinhold Hanning, former Auschwitz guard convicted last year of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder, dies at 95 – 1 June 2017

United Kingdom’s terror threat level lowered to “severe” in wake of Manchester terror attack

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

A vigil is held in central Manchester to honor the victims of Monday’s attack. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – Five days after the devastating events of May 22 in Manchester, England, British Prime Minister Teresa May lowers the terror threat level from “critical” to “severe”. Wounded survivors are treated by medical staff in hospitals in the city. Families begin the grieving process after losing their loved ones.

It is the aftermath of another terror attack that has shaken the world. This time, during the closing set of American pop star Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom.

Late Monday night, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in the space between the Manchester Arena and the Victoria train station.

The blast led to the deaths of 22 people, with reports of 59 others left wounded, some critically.

Reports suggest that this is the worst attack in the United Kingdom since the London Underground bombing of 2005.

The concert venue was filled to capacity with Ms. Grande’s fans. The majority of the concertgoers were young women and teenagers. In the aftermath, a nearby hotel opened up its doors for those who were looking for family members.

Though the Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, this has not been verified. The British authorities continue to investigate and make arrests on those they find were involved in the planning of the attack. As of May 27, 11 people are currently detained in connection with the events.

Terrorism is used as a way to threaten the rights of others through violence and fear. Some have seen this attack as an attack on young women, who were the predominant patrons of the concert. Some find it as a general threat against democracy and individual freedoms.

Yet others are using the events to fuel hate crimes against others as they affiliate terrorism with a specific religion. The Greater Manchester Police told the BBC News on Wednesday that reports on hate crimes doubled from 28 to 56 after Monday’s attack. These included a bomb threat to a school after students were asked if they were Muslim.

Mohammed Ullah, Muslim chaplain of Manchester’s Metropolitan University told the BBC, he “encourage[s] the people to remain undivided.”

Ms. Grande would likely echo this sentiment. Upon her return to the United States, she sent a message out on her Instagram.

“Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and live more kindly and generously than we did before,” she writes.

“We will continue to honor the ones we lost.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Manchester attack: Hate crime ‘doubles’ after incident – 27 May 2017

CBC News – U.K. lowers threat level as 2 more bomb suspects arrested – 27 May 2017

NBC News – Britain’s Terror Threat Level Reduced to ‘Severe’ After Raids Linked to Manchester Bombing – 27 May 2017

The New York Times – The Latest on the Manchester Bombing Investigation – 24 May 2017

Reuters – Twenty in critical condition after Monday’s Manchester bombing – 24 May 2017

CNBC  – Manchester Arena suicide bombing: 22 die at Ariana Grande concert – 23 May 2017

CNN – 22 dead after blast at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester – 23 May 2017

NPR – Why I Think The Manchester Attack Was Aimed At Women And Girls – 24 May 2017

Ariana Grande – Instagram Photo – 26 May 2017 

Western Europe cracks down on racially charged harassment of government officials

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Sylvana Simons speaks to the public about her newest book in March. Image courtesy of the Associated Press.

In Italy, a member of the European Parliament was ordered to pay $55,670 in damages to another member of the Parliament, Cecile Kyenge. Ms. Kyenge is Italy’s first black minister, born in the Congo but educated as an ophthalmologist in Italy. Her harasser, Mario Borghezio, had said in a 2013 radio interview that  Ms. Kyenge had “[taken] away a job from an Italian doctor” and that he did not want her to “impose her tribal traditions from the Congo” on Italians.

Before deciding to press charges against Mr. Borghezio, Ms. Kyenge had been given police protection after being physically harassed at a political rally. At the rally, she had bananas thrown at her and was compared to an orangutan by the harassers.

This ruling came at the same time as 20 people in The Netherlands were convicted of online racial and sexist hate speech. Sylvana Simons is a black politician and media personality who had received harassing comments from thousands of people on the internet. Ms. Simons was born in Suriname but raised in the Netherlands. One of her harassers had photo-shopped her face onto a picture of a Ku Klux Klan lynching.

Mr. Borghezio believed that his remarks about Ms. Kyenge were within his rights as a lawmaker to criticize a government minister. He felt as if he was being “politically prosecuted”.

In the Netherlands, four of the 20 convicted were charged with community service while the rest were fined $165 to $500 for their behavior.

Though free speech is valued in both countries, the Dutch court said that when the opinion is an “insult, threat, riot, or discrimination, there is a criminal offense.”

Ms. Kyenge, like Ms. Simons, hope that this verdict will show that racist harassment won’t be tolerated by her country. The Dutch court said they hope that this will deter people from engaging in harassing behavior in the future.

These stories come at a time where right-wing populism is on the rise, bringing with it the resentment of political correctness, or the “culture of tolerance”. It is left unclear whether the decisions by these courts really will prevent future cases of hate speech and defamation.

For more information, please see: 

New York Times – 20 Are Convicted for Sexist and Racist Abuse of Dutch Politician – 18 May 2017

BBC News – Italy’s first black minister ‘vindicated’ by racist slurs verdict – 19 May 2017

New York Times – Italian in Europe’s Parliament Convicted of Defamation for Racial Insult – 19 May 2017

BBC News – Dutch race hate row engulfs presenter Sylvana Simons – 25 November 2016

Aljazeera – Sylvana Simons: Racism is accepted in the Netherlands – 18 January 2017

 

Russian blogger convicted for inciting religious hatred

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Ruslan Sokolovsky awaits sentencing in a Russian court. Image courtesy of Reuters.

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted by a Russian criminal court on May 11 for insulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred. These actions are criminal offenses under Russian criminal codes.

The conviction comes after nearly a year of criminal proceedings after his arrest. Last August, Sokolovsky entered an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg while playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go on his smartphone. He had posted a video of himself playing the game on YouTube. At the end of the video, he said what many perceived to be an anti-religious insult. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel included other videos that were seen as being against the Russian Orthodox Church.

After searching his apartment in September, authorities arrested Sokolovsky. They initiated another charge against him in January after months of house arrest. Sokolovsky had pled not guilty to any of the charges.

Religion has not always been a concern in Russia. Before the past few years, Russia was officially an atheistic country with no state religion. The Kremlin is now known to use religion as a means of pushing a state agenda. This year the highest court in the country banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they are an extremist group. In 2012, two members of the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot were charged with inciting religious hatred, the same conviction that Sokolovsky faces.

“Insult” was added as a crime to the criminal code of Russia after the members of Pussy Riot were arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, the crime of insult is defined as “a public action expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers”. Critics see these laws as restrictions on freedom of expression.

Sokolovsky will face a suspended jail sentence of 3 and ½ years. He will also have to perform 160 hours of community service and cannot be seen in public places where people are meeting.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Russian Who Played Pokemon Go in Church Convicted of Inciting Hatred – 11 May 2017 

BBC News – Pokemon Go: Russian Blogger Suspended – 11 May 2017

Reuters – Russian court gives suspended sentenced to man who played Pokemon Go in church – 11 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Pokemon Go Blogger Convicted – 11 May 2017

German Parliament Passes Partial Burqa Ban

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — On April 27, German lawmakers passed a bill that partially bans face coverings such as the burqa and niqab.  The lower house of parliament approved a draft law that, if passed, would prevent civil servants, judges, and soldiers from wearing full face veils at work.  The law, which still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament, might also require Germans to remove face coverings for identity checks when voting, as well as at universities and public demonstrations.

A woman wears a burqa in Afghanistan (Photo Courtesy of Telegraph)

Supporting its law, the German government released a statement saying that the “religious or ideological covering of the face contradicts the neutrality required of state functionaries.”  According to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, “[i]ntegration also means that we make our values clear ​​and express the limits of our tolerance to other cultures.”  Maiziere believes that the draft law is important step towards that integration.  Maiziere also commented that “[w]e are an open society. We show our faces. We do not [wear] burqa.”

Some see the law as symbolic, as the burqa is not overly abundant in Germany.  Hamed Abdel-Samed, Egyptian-German political scientist, estimated in 2016 that only about 200-300 people wear a burqa in Germany.

The new law proposes a partial ban, which falls short of the right wing’s call for a blanket ban on the burqa similar to the one recently enacted in France, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for a burqa ban “wherever legally possible.”

Legal experts claim that a blanket ban is impossible to enact under the German constitution, and would be struck down by the courts. In 1 2014 parliamentary research document, Germany’s constitutional court established that “in a society that gives space to different religious beliefs, individuals do not have the right to be shielded from professions of faith by others.”

Critics addressed Maiziere’s ideas on the new law, believing that a “dominant culture” would become a source of social tension and would hinder multicultural development.  Chair of the Free Democratic Party in Germany, Christian Lindner, accused Maiziere of distracting voters from real issues before elections.  Lindner accuses Maiziere’s and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party of being unable to develop a sufficient immigration policy, and is “[re-igniting] old debates instead.”

 

For more information, please see:

RT — ‘We do not Wear Burqa:’ Germany’s Interior Minister Favors Introduction of ‘Dominant’ Culture — 30 April 2017

EuroNews — Germany Approves Partial Burqa Ban — 28 April 2017

Newsweek — German Parliament Passes Partial Burqa Ban — 28 April 2017

The Telegraph News — Limited Burka Ban Approved by German Parliament — 28 April 2017

Ireland Votes to Amend Abortion Laws

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

DUBLIN, Ireland — Members of the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland voted for a constitutional amendment that would mandate the Oireachtas to deal with the issue of abortion.  The vote came out 51-38, and resulted in the decision that Article 40.3.3 (the Eight Amendment, which protects the “right to life of the unborn”) “should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman.”

Protestors rally in Dublin to demand more liberal abortion laws (Photo Courtesy of the Independent)

The alternative option was for Article 40.3.3 to be “replaced or amended with a constitutional provision that directly addresses the termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman.”  This option would have specified in the constitution under which circumstances abortion would be allowed, and would limit the powers of the Oirechtas to legislate on the issue.

Pro-choice activist groups are disappointed that Citizens’ Assembly did not recommend the law be repealed entirely.  The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign commented that they are “disappointed that after six months of deliberations – which included the heartfelt testimony of women forced to travel for abortions – that the Citizens’ Assembly has opted against recommending the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment.”  The group did note, however, that they are “heartened that 87 per cent of members did vote for some form of constitutional change – proving the majority believe the Eighth is not fit for purpose.”

Brian Murray SC addressed members of Citizens’ Assembly on the same issue previously, and warned that a complete repeal of the Eighth Amendment might not lead to a more liberal abortion regime.

Some heated exchanges took place after the vote between Assembly members.  Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy commented that it was a “fraught” day for members, and asked members to be “respectful of [their] fellow citizens and alternative viewpoints” in the final session on Sunday.   Ms Justice Laffoy hopes that the members will “regain collegiality.”

This upcoming Sunday, members will analyze eight different scenarios in which the Oireachtas might legislate on the issue of abortion.  Some of these issues include a real and substantial physical risk the woman’s life, a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the woman, and availability upon request with no restrictions as to reasons for the abortion.

 

For more information, please see:

Dublin Live — Citizens’ Assembly: 87% in Favour of Changing Ireland’s Abortion Laws — 22 April 2017

The Guardian — Abortion in Ireland: Committee Votes for Constitutional Change — 22 April 2017

Independent — Irish Citizens Assembly Votes to Amend Abortion Laws — 22 April 2017

Irish Times — Assembly Votes to Mandate Oireachtas to Legislate for Abortion — 22 April 2017

Thousands of Hungarians Protest in Support of Central European University

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Over 70,000 people rallied in Budapest on Sunday in support of a university founded by American George Soros.  Soros, who was born in Hungary, founded Central European University (CEU) in 1991.  CEU has been operating in Hungary as a partial American institution with little Hungarian oversight and control.  The bill was set forth by the ruling Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.  Hungarian President Janos Ader must sign the bill by Monday in order to make it law.

Protestors rally against the proposed higher-education law in front of the Hungarian Parliament on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post).

The bill arguably affects two dozen universities, however many believe its main target to be CEU.  The bill would require CEU to change its name, open a campus in the United States, and become part of binding university agreements between Hungary and the U.S.  The bill also includes a provision which would restrict the independence of universities that offer diplomas from countries where they do not have a campus or offer courses, which is a restriction that would only affect CEU.

Many see the university as a target for Orban and his “illiberal policies.”  The proposed law has been criticized by the U.S. government, European Union, and leading academics across the world.  Protestors shouted phrases such as “What do we want Ader to do? Veto,” and “Free country, free university” in hopes of convincing Ader to reject the bill and consider it under constitutional review.

Kornel Klopfstein, a protest organizer and PhD student at the University of Bielefeld, commented that “[t]he government wants to silence pretty much everyone who doesn’t think the same as them, who thinks freely, who can be liberal, can be leftist.”  Michael Ignatieff, CEU rector, assured that CEU will remain open and demanded the law be thrown away.  Ignatieff also suggested that additional international safeguards for academic freedom should be added to current legal policies.

On Friday, Orban commented that CEU’s status as a partial American institution gives it an unfair advantage over other Hungarian universities. Orban also commented that CEU conducted a “fraud” and that billionaires are not above the law.

CEU enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries, and is currently an accredited school in New York state.

Orban and his party have recently faced criticism for targeting nongovernmental organizations, most of which rely on financing from Soros and are critical of Orban’s administration.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC — Hungary: Thousands Rally in Support of Soros-Founded School — 9 April 2017

The Guardian — Thousands Protest in Hungary Over Threat to Soros University — 9 April 2017

The Washington Post — Why is Hungary Trying to Close George Soros’s Prestigious University — 7 April 2017

NY Times — Hungary’s Parliament Passes Law Targeting George Soros’s University — 4 April 2017

Germany to Investigate Suspected Turkish Spying

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany — Thomas De Maiziere, German interior minister announced last week that it will no longer tolerate “foreign espionage” within its country.  The announcement was made following reports that Turkish secret services were spying on supporters of the Gulen movement within Germany.

Turkish voters in Berlin, Germany wait in line at the Turkish consulate to vote in a constitutional referendum on March 27, 2017 (Photo Courtesy of U.S. News & World Report)

The Gulen movement originated with Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who has a large following in Turkey and is accused of orchestrating the coup in Turkey last July.

At a security conference in February, Hakan Finda, head of Turkey’s intelligence service MIT, allegedly gave a list of 300 people and 200 organizations that are suspected to be involved in opposition movements to his German counterpart Bruno Kahl.  The list reportedly includes surveillance photos taken by hidden cameras, and personal data.  Finda’s apparent goal in handing over the list was to convince German authorities to assist Turkey’s efforts of surveilling these individuals.

De Maiziere affirmed that Germany has “repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable.”  He also noted that despite any amount of evidence that Turkey might have on the Gulen movement, “German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries.”

The espionage claims further the strain in the relationship between Germany and Turkey, who are Nato allies and have had recent disputes regarding human rights issues.  Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the German state Lower Saxony, called the Turkish espionage “intolerable and unacceptable” and publicly deplored the “intensity and ruthlessness” of Turkey’s attempt to spy on Turks living in foreign countries.

A spokesperson for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Germany confirmed that they have launched an investigation against an “unnamed entity on suspicion of espionage.”  The spokesperson declined to comment on which specific entity was being investigated, however federal prosecutors will be looking into how Turkey compiled such detailed information on the people on their list.

This Turkish espionage effort is not the first that Germany has seen.  In February, German police raided the homes of four Turks who were suspected of spying on alleged Gulen supporters on behalf of Erdogan’s government.

Germany’s foreign secret service has not yet commented on the situation.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Turkey ‘Spied’ on Pro-Gulen Opponents in Germany — 28 March 2017

Daily Mail — Germany Opens New Probe into Suspected Turkish Spying — 28 March 2017

The Guardian — Germany to Investigate Claims of ‘Intolerable’ Spying by Turkey — 28 March 2017

U.S. News & World Report — Germany Tells Turkey not to Spy on Turks Living on its Soil — 28 March 2017

Hundreds Arrested, Beaten Amidst Protests in Belarus

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

MINSK, Belarus — According to a Belarusian human rights group, over 400 people were arrested, and many were beaten, in Belarus on March 25 amidst protests against a tax on under-employed citizens.  The law, known as the “anti-parasite” law, demands a $250 tax on anyone who works less than six months each year who does not register with the state labor exchange.  Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko insists that the tax will not be eliminated and believes it disciplines those who are “workshy.”  Lukashenko has, however, suspended the tax for the year.  Opponents to the new law believe it punishes those who cannot find work.

An opposition activist who was detained at a protest is escorted by a police officer upon his arrival for a court hearing in Minsk on Monday, March 27, 2017. (Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post)

About 700 people marched on Saturday in a demonstration along Minsk’s main street, however were blocked by police holding shields and clubs.  According to demonstrator Alexander Ponomarev, the police were “beating the participants, dragging women by the hair to buses.”  More arrests took place on Sunday when other demonstrators demanded to know the whereabouts of those arrested the previous day.

Prior to the weekend, over 100 opposition supporters were sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.  Police raided human rights group Vesna’s office and detained more than 50 people.  20 journalists were among those arrested according to the Belarusian Journalists’ Association.  BBC Belarus correspondent Sergei Kozlovsky told reporters that “[the police] grabbed everybody indiscriminately, both young and old” and that they were “treated very harshly.” Known opposition supported Vladimir Neklayev was allegedly removed from a train by police as he was traveling to Minsk overnight.

About 150 of those arrested were sentenced to jail terms of up to 25 days.  Opponents of Lukashenko ran the protests in Minsk and in other cities across Belarus.  Vladimir Lobkovich, of Vesna, called the jail sentences a “judicial conveyor.”

Demonstrators shouted slogans such as “Shame!” and Basta! (Enough!)” and displayed the opposition’s red and white flag.  “Petrol bombs and “arms-laden cars” were found near the protest in Minsk according to the foreign ministry.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Dzmitryy Mironchyk called the actions of the police “completely appropriate.”  Mironchyk said that because the rallies were unauthorized, “specific consequences” would have been justified “in any country of the world.”  He further commented that no tear gas or water cannons were used by the police.

 

For more information, please see:

U.S. News & World Report — Rights Group: More than 1,000 Arrested in Belarus Protests — 27 March 2017

The Washington Post — Rights Group: More than 1,000 Arrested in Belarus Protests — 27 March 2017

BBC — Belarus Protests: Government Defends Mass Arrests — 26 March 2017

Hawaii News Now — Belarus Police Arrest over 400 Protesters; Many are Beaten — 25 March 2017

 

Eta Militant Group in Spain to Disarm by April 8th

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

MADRID, Spain — The Basque Militant Group Eta is rumored to fully disarm by April 8, 2017 according to sources who have spoken with Basque separatists and the Spanish government.  Pro-Basque independence and environmental group Bizi is credited with the disarmament.  Eta has killed over 800 people over the course of more than four decades, and a permanent ceasefire was declared six years ago however the group refused to give up any of its weapons.

People protest against the Basque militant group Eta (Photo Courtesy of The Local ES)

Eta has grown significantly weaker in recent years after many of its members were arrested and police officers seized several of the group’s weapon stashes.

Inigo Urkullu, Basque regional government leader, assured that his administration considered the rumored disarmament to be credible and that his authority would do everything within their power for the “disarmament to come through well.”  He commented that he hoped the disarmament would be “definitive, unilateral, irrevocable, complete and legal.”  However, Urkullu added that “not everything is in [his administration’s] hands” and asked that both Madrid and Paris help mediate talks between the group and the government.

No formal announcement has been made regarding the disarmament, however Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido stated in a tweet that Eta must “dissolve itself and disappear. It has had time to disarm and it must know that it won’t get anything in exchange” for doing so.  Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed that Eta will not receive anything in exchange for the disarmament.

The Spanish government cautioned that the group has made similar promises in the past, however has not followed through.  Rajoy commented that “ETA has made the umpteenth announcement and says it will disarm.”  In the past, Eta has unsuccessfully tried to wager deals with the Spanish and French governments in exchange for disarmament on several occasions.  The Spanish and French governments denied the proposed deals and insisted only that the group hands over their arsenal.

Both the United States and the European Union consider Eta to be a terrorist organization.  The group reportedly hopes to negotiate its disarmament in exchange for amnesty or improved prison conditions for hundreds of its members who are currently being held in Spain and France.

 

For more information, please see:

The Japan News — Spain: ETA Gets Nothing in Return for Disarmament — 20 March 2017

BBC — Spain: Eta Militant Group ‘to Disarm Fully by 8 April — 17 March 2017

The Local ES — Basque Separatist Group Eta to Fully Disarm by April 8th — 17 March 2017

The New York Times — Basque Separatist Group ETA is Said to Promise to Disarm — 17 March 2017

Hungary Tightens Asylum Laws

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary — On Tuesday, Hungary’s parliament voted to detain all asylum seekers within the country over the age of 14. Expected to take effect later this month, the new law will mandate authorities to detain all asylum seekers who are currently in guarded and enclosed migrant camps. Hungary previously detained all asylum-seekers, however suspended the practice in 2013 after pressure from the United Nations refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.

A Hungarian Police Officer stands guard at a makeshift migrant camp on the border between Serbia and Hungary (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

Asylum seekers will be detained until their applications are reviewed, which is a process that usually takes months to complete. The process will be termed “assigned residency,” however is considered by many to constitute detention. The new law will apply to newly-arrived asylum seekers as well as those who are currently in the country waiting for their applications to be processed.

Human rights advocates called the new law a “reckless breach of international law.” According to Cecile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the new law means that “every asylum seeker, including children, will be detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor wire fence at the border for extended periods of time.” The UNHCR predicts that the new legislation will “have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.”

Human rights groups protested the new asylum law, including Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Association for Migrants and the Migrant Solidarity Group for Hungary. These groups insist that the law would “serve the government’s xenophobic and discriminatory political propaganda purposes.”

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, justified the measure in saying it will help secure the European Union’s borders from migrants. Orban also believes the law act as a deterrent against migration, which he called the “Trojan horse of Terrorism.” Orban noted that the “flood of migration has slowed down but has not stopped” and that Hungary’s laws “apply to everyone” including “migrants who want to cross Hungary’s border illegally.” According to Orban, the laws which are applicable to everyone “is the reality, which cannot be overruled by charming human rights nonsense.”

Other nations restrict the movement of migrants for security reasons, however Hungary would be the only European nation with such restrictive measures.   The new law can still be vetoed by the Hungarian president, but is not expected to happen.

 

For more information, please see:

USA Today — Hungary Will Detain Asylum Seekers in Shipping Containers — 8 March 2017

The Washington Post — Hungary Votes to ‘Detain’ All Asylum Seekers in Camps — 8 March 2017

Hungary Today — Hungary Parliament Tightens Asylum Law to Throw Migrants Back to the Other Side of the Border – Updated — 7 March 2017

The New York Times — Hungary Approves Detention of Asylum Seekers in Guarded Camps — 7 March 2017

 

Sweden Reinstates Draft

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Amidst heightening tension with Russia, Sweden reintroduced conscription, or compulsory military service.  The draft, which has not been active since Sweden abolished the 109-year practice in 2010, will be implemented on a gender-equal basis.  In 2010, after suspending conscription, Sweden adopted a voluntary recruitment system.

The Wartofta tank company in Gotland, Sweden is temporarily defending the island while a new, permanent group is training to take its place. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

Peter Hultqvist, Swedish Minister of Defense, called the move a “response to the new security situation” in Europe.  Hultqvist cited Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine, and increased military activity in Europe as some of the triggers behind the decision.  Though it is not a member of NATO, Sweden is strengthening its ties with the organization.  Sweden is also strengthening its military cooperation with Finland.

The new draft will aim to ensure there are 6,000 full time members, and 10,000 part-time members.  According to Marinette Nyh Radebo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, men and women born between 1999 and 2000 will undergo testing on July 1 to see if they are eligible for the draft.  The goal is to gather 13,000 men and women in the correct age category and have them undergo physical and psychological tests.  Recruits will then participate in their first military exercise on January 1, 2018, and will spend nine to eleven months in training before they choose whether to continue in the military, or join as a reserve soldier.

This is the first time that Sweden will include women in the draft.  There will not be a quota system to ensure an equal ratio between men and women, however the “gender equal” policy should ensure there will be an increase of women in the armed forces.  Sweden’s gender-neutral policy will mirror that of Norway’s, which features one of the only gender-neutral military forces in the world.

17-year old Sofia Hultgren told reporters that others her age view military careers as old-fashioned.  However Hultgren welcomed the revival of conscription, and said she would consider participating in training activities even though she might not want to make it a career.  Hultgren thinks conscription “can give a feeling of comfort” and believes that it will strengthen Sweden’s defense.

Sweden is not alone in reinstituting conscription.  In 2015, Lithuania reinstituted the draft, and the Ukraine did the same in 2014.

For more information, please see:

The Atlantic — Why Sweden Brought Back the Draft — 3 March 2017

CNN — Sweden Reintroduces Conscription as Tensions Rise over Russia — 3 March 2017

The New York Times — Sweden Reinstates Conscription, With an Eye on Russia — 2 March 2017

Reuters — Sweden Returns Draft Amid Security Worries and Soldier Shortage — 2 March 2017

Report Shows 10 Hate Crimes Per Day on Refugees in Germany in 2016

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — According to a report conducted by the German Interior Ministry, over 2,500 migrants in Germany were attacked in 2016 as the result of hate crimes.  560 migrants were injured, including 43 children.  Nearly 1,000 of the attacks were on migrant housing, and 217 of the attacks were on refugee organizations and volunteers.  An average of 10 attacks per day occured.

Police in Heidenau secure a refugee center from attacks from far-right extremists opposed to asylum accommodation (Photo Courtesy of The Independent)

In February 2016, a neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall which housed refugees and caused $3.7 million worth of damage.  In another instance, a group of onlookers cheered as an asylum shelter in eastern Germany was engulfed in flames.

German authorities have recently tightened their refugee procedures, practicing stricter benefit rules, speeding up the process of removing failed asylum seekers, and paying refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries.  Though the country is still struggling with a backlog of asylum applications, Germany’s intake of refugees fell in 2016 to 280,000 from 890,000 in 2015.

The German government issued a statement strongly condemning the violence on refugees, commenting that “people who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter.”

A left-wing politician with the Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blames the violence on far-right extremism, and called upon the government to take stronger action to eliminate the violence.  Jelpke asked whether “people have to die before the right-wing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda” and called on the government to “stop giving the impression through new tougher asylum laws that refugees are a threat.”

International human rights group Amnesty International commented that “there are structural problems in Germany with how it prevents and deals with hate crimes.”  Amnesty called for “better risk assessments, more protection at certain locations and prosecutions of these appalling racist crimes.”

2016 was the first year in which data was collected on the amount of attacks on refugees, so the total number of attacks cannot be compared with those of previous years.

 

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera — ’10 Attacks a Day’ Against Refugees, Shelters in 2016 — 26 February 2017

BBC — Germany Hate Crime: Nearly 10 Attacks a Day on Migrants in 2016 — 26 February 2017

The Independent — Nearly 10 Attacks on Refugees a Day in Germany in 2016 — 26 February 2017

International Business Times — Germany sees Hate Crimes Against Migrants Surge in 2016 to 3,500 — 26 February 2017