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Published on July 7th, 2008 | by Impunity Watch Archive

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Syrian Prison Guards Kill Rioting Inmates; US Agrees to Remove Immunity for Private Security Guards; Case Against Rights Activist and Al Jazeera Bureau Chief Begins in Morocco

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On July 5, prisoners at the Sidnaya Prison clashed with guards and resulted in the death of several inmates.  Confusion surrounds the incident as there are varying accounts of the riot from the prisoners via human rights groups and the guards via the state run news agency.

According to London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the incident began when prisoners reacted to “aggressive raids” that targeted Islamist inmates.  Guards responded by firing live ammunition and killing at least 25 prisoners.  One inmate reported that the guards “shackled our hands behind us, confiscated our clothes and possessions, and beat us. And they insulted the Koran, they trod on the Koran.”

However, on July 6, SANA, the state run news agency, reported that the “prisoners sentenced for crimes of terrorism and extremism caused trouble… They attacked their comrades during a prison inspection.”  The agency did not comment on the number of casualties.

Sidnaya Prison currently houses thousands of Islamists on political and security charges as well as, liberal or moderate political prisoners.  According to the Observatory, many of the Islamist prisoners have been at Sidnaya for years without trial.  The organization also reports that the raids were in response to protests held by the prisoners calling for improved prison conditions.

For more information, please see:

Financial Times – Confusion Clouds Fate of Prisoners in Jail Riot – 7 July 2008

BBC – Syria Blames Inmates in Jail Riot – 6 July 2008

Reuters – Syria Prison Riot Draws Conflicting Accounts – 6 July 2008

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BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi Foreign Ministry stated that the US has agreed to remove immunity for private security guards working in Iraq.  The lifting of immunity for foreign private security guards would make them subject to prosecution under Iraqi law.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari statement was made just prior to briefing Iraqi MPs on the controversial US-Iraq long-term security pact which is being negotiated.  Currently, US troops operate under a United Nations mandate, which expires in December.

According to Falah Shanshal, a lawmaker from the Sadrist bloc, Iraqi negotiators are working “to submit the American soldiers, their security companies and their movements and behaviors in military operations to Iraqi law.”  In addition to removing immunity for private security guards, some Iraqi politicians are working to remove immunity for US troops as well.

Immunity for private security guards became an issue last September when a Blackwater shooting in Baghdad in September left 17 Iraqis dead.

For more information, please see:

AFP – US Agrees to Scrap Immunity for Security Guards in Iraq – 2 July 2008

Al Jazeera – Immunity for Iraq Guards Removed – 2 July 2008

New York Times – U.S. Agrees to Lift Immunity for Contractors in Iraq – 2 July 2008

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RABAT, Morocco – On July 1, the Rabat Court of First Instance began hearing a case against Al Jazeera’s Rabat Bureau Chief Hassan Rachidi and human rights activist Brahim Sab’alil.  The two are charged with the dissemination of “false information” for reporting that people were killed in clashes with security forces.  The alleged incident occurred in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni on June 7 in a protest over poverty and rising unemployment.

Sab’alil is the president of the Sidi Ifni section of the Moroccan Center for Human Rights (Centre Marocain des droits humains, CMDH), an organization that provides ongoing information about human rights conditions in Sidi Ifni.

He was arrested on June 27, after he took part in a press conference in Rabat, where he presented evidence of human rights violations during the June 7 protest.  Rachidi was arrested for airing these claims on the network.

In addition to the charges, Rachidi also had his journalistic accreditation cancelled.

For more information, please see:

AHN – Morocco Under Fire Over Charges Against Journalist – 1 July 2008

Al Jazeera – Al Jazeera Trial to Open in Rabat – 1 July 2008

Human Rights Watch – Morocco: Drop Criminal Charges Against Rights Defender, Journalist – 1 July 2008

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