Prominent Human Rights Activist Arrested in the United Arab Emirates

 

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—On Monday, March 20th, a political activist described as a “courageous and prominent human rights defender” was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spreading hatred and sectarianism on social media. In the days prior to his arrest, Mr. Mansoor had made several posts on social media, including a tweet calling for the release of Mr. Osama Al-Najjar, an Emirati human rights defender, as well as an article that criticized the Egyptian government.

Mr. Mansoor is cited as one of the few remaining human rights activists in the country (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The political activist, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, was arrested at the home he shares with his wife and four young children, subsequent to a “surprise overnight raid[.]” Amnesty International indicated that ten male and two female uniformed law enforcement officials “stormed” Mr. Mansoor’s apartment, and engaged in a lengthy search of each room, including the bedrooms of his young children. During the search, they seized electronic devices including laptops and the family’s cellular phones, however, it was not clear whether the security officials had a search warrant prior to engaging in this search. Mr. Mansoor was arrested around 3:15 a.m., yet, his wife was not informed of where he was being taken, and his location is still currently unknown. Furthermore, he has not been granted access to an attorney and has not been permitted to see his family.

The public prosecutor stated that Mr. Mansoor had used social media “to publish false information and rumors[,]” while also “promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda[.]” The prosecutor further added that Mr. Mansoor’s posts are a threat to “national unity and social harmony[,] and damage the country’s reputation[.]”

Mr. Mansoor is noted as being one of the last human rights defenders living in the United Arab Emirates and his arrest has been harshly criticized by human rights groups worldwide. Amnesty International stated that it is “appalled” by Mr. Mansoor’s arrest, and indicated that his detention violates his freedom of expression. The rights group called upon the United Arab Emirates for his “immediate and unconditional” release from detention based on fears that he could be tortured in prison. Human Rights Watch added that Mr. Mansoor must immediately be granted access to an attorney and his family, and his whereabouts must be revealed immediately.

The United Arab Emirates, which is a monarch known for little tolerance for public criticism of its government, has prosecuted several people in the past for “insulting the country’s leaders.” In 2011, Mr. Mansoor, along with four other pro-democracy activists, had been convicted of these charges after calling for reform in Arab countries.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online—Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor arrested in United Arab Emirates—20 March 2017

Human Rights Watch—UAE: Free Prominent Rights Activist—21 March 2017

Amnesty International­—UAE: Surprise overnight raid leads to arrest of prominent human rights defender—20 March 2017

Reuters—UAE arrests prominent activist for incitement: state news—21 March 2017

OMCT World Organization Against Torture—United Arab Emirates: Arrest and detention in a secret location of Mr. Ahmed Mansoor—20 March 2017

Egyptian Journalists Union Head Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

CAIRO, Egypt– The Union Head of Egyptian Journalists was sentenced to two years in prison on November 19th.   Yahia Qalash — the head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate — and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim were convicted for harboring wanted journalists.

Yehia Qallash at a protest rally outside the Journalist Syndicate headquarters in Cairo. Photo: 4 May 2016

Yahia Qalash speaks in front of Union headquarters. (Photo Courtesy BBC)

Prosecutors ordered Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim tried for harboring wanted journalists who spread lies.  These journalists came under fire after they started protests after the Egyptian government turned over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.  Many Egyptians see this as an unconstitutional, non transparent act.

Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim have the opportunity to appeal their convictions.  In the meantime their bail has been set at $630.  They have the opportunity to go about their business as they await appeal.  This is the first time that the Union Head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate has been arrest in the unions over 75 year history.

Human rights activists are not pleased that Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim were put on trial.  Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said, “This case shouldn’t have gone to court to begin with,…the decision is political…we are not talking about the law and judiciary.”  Dozens of other opposition journalists have been arrested under President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi rule, who has ensured that dissenters are quashed quickly.

For more information, please see: 

ABC News Austrailia – Head of Egypt press union sentenced to two years’ jail for harbouring wanted journalists – 19 November 2016

BBC – Egypt journalist’ union head gets two-year jail term – 19 November 2016

Wall Street Journal – Head of Egyptian Press Union Gets Two Years in Prison – 19 November 2016

Turkish Riot Police Use Tear Gas, Water Cannon and Plastic Bullets to Disperse Protest

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish police have used tear gas, a water cannon, and plastic bullets to disperse a protest against the imprisonment of nine journalists from the secularist opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet.

Turkish police use water cannon to disperse crowds protesting arrests of journalists (Photo courtesy of Newsweek)

The protest took place hours after nine journalists were formally arrested. Approximately 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside a mosque in central Istanbul, shouting slogans denouncing the “fascist” state and vowing not to remain silent. Riot police sprayed freezing water from trucks, fired plastic bullets and used tear gas in an attempt to prevent crowds of protestors from marching to the offices of the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The nine arrested individuals include some of the most prolific journalists of the Turkish press. They were detained as part of an intensifying crackdown on oppositionists by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Following the arrests, the Turkish courts ordered a media blackout, prohibiting the press from reporting on the detention of Cumhuriyet journalists. The newspaper is known for being one of the few media outlets still critical of President Erdogan. Its reporters are suspected of crimes committed on behalf of Kurdish militants and U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of organizing the coup attempt.

The arrests come after the shutdown of over 100 media outlets and detention of dozens of journalists following July’s failed coup attempt. Prominent Turkish journalist, Can Dundar, declared his outrage over the current administration by stating “our ‘crime’ is our writing, our headlines, our news. We will write again. We will write even more…” The government has stated that the crackdown is necessary to identify terrorists, whereas critics of President Erdogan state that he is using the coup as an attempt to defeat the opposition. Recently arrested politicians stated that they are victims of a “civilian coup by the government and the palace.” Furthermore, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party outraged “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to create a Turkey where everyone is in jail?”

The recent wave of opposition arrests has sparked concern among Turkey’s allies. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief stated that she was “extremely worried” over the detentions. The U.S. State Department spokesman noted that there was a “worrisome trend” in Turkey over limiting freedom of speech.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Turkish police use water cannon to disperse protest over journalists’ arrests—5 November 2016

Newsweek—Protesters clash with Turkish authorities in continuing crackdown—5 November 2016

The Independent—Turkish police use water cannon and tear gas to disperse protest against arrest of journalists—5 November 2016

BBC News—Turkey coup aftermath: Pro-Kurdish Istanbul protests broken up—5 November 2016

 

 

 

Iranian-American Father-Son Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison by Iranian Court

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian court sentenced an Iranian-American and his father to ten years in prison and also fined them $4.8 million.

Father-son were sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $4.8 million (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

Mr. Siamak Namazi, who is a businessman in his mid-40s, was arrested in October 2015 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) while visiting family in Tehran. In February 2016, the IRGC arrested his 80-year-old dual citizen father, Baquer Namazi, who is a former Iranian provincial governor and former UNICEF official.

Siamak and Baquer were each given a single court session lasting a few hours in duration, before the sentences were given. The court proceedings were kept in secrecy and details of the allegations against them have not been publicly released. They were not permitted to hire their own defense attorney due to an Iranian law which allows only government-approved lawyers to represent defendants in cases related to national security.

In a statement, Siamak’s brother, Mr. Babak Namazi, stated that the sentences are unjust. He indicated that his father has been “handed practically a death sentence.” Baquer Namazi’s wife indicated that he suffers from a serious heart condition, as well as other medical issues, which require special mediation.

Tehran prosecutor, Mr. Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, stated that the men were sentenced to prison for spying for the U.S. and “cooperating with the U.S. government.” Mr. Javad Karimi Qudossi, a member of the security and foreign policy committee in Iran’s parliament stated that Siamak was actively “recruiting spies for America and inserting cultural, military and political spies inside the country.” Iranian officials have not clarified who is responsible for paying the $4.8 million fine. It did, however, indicate that the amount is what Siamak and Baquer had received from the U.S. “for their mission in Iran.”

These are the latest sentences against dual citizens directed by powerful Iranian judiciary and security forces following the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal. Security officials have arrested dozens of artists, journalists and businessmen, including Iranians with dual U.S., European or Canadian citizenship, as part of a “crackdown” on “western infiltration.” The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (“Campaign”) stated that the country does not recognize dual citizenship, and that it routinely “harasses citizens and dual nationals with trumped up national security charges.” Since the country does not recognize dual nationality, detainees with dual citizenship are unable to obtain consular assistance.

The sentences have attracted international attention. The U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesman, Mr. Mark Toner, indicated that the father and son had been “unjustly detained” in Iran. He stated he was “deeply concerned” by the reports and called for their immediate release. On Tuesday, UNICEF called for the release of Baquer on “humanitarian grounds.”

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times—Iranian American father and son sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, report says—18 October 2016

CNN—American father and son sentenced to 10 years in Iranian prison—19 October 2016

Reuters—Iran sentences two U.S. citizens to 10 years in prison—18 October 2016

NBC News—Iran Sentences Iranian-American, His Father to 10 Years Each in Prison—18 October 2016

 

Pepsi-Cola Workers Freed from Venezuela Plant

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Employees at a Venezuelan Pepsi-Cola plant in Caucagua, in the Miranda state were “arbitrarily detained,” according to Polar. Polar, Venezuela’s largest food and drink producer, owns the local Pepsi division. Government inspectors from the Ministry of Labour reportedly visited the plant on Friday and ordered production to restart. The manager, two human resource workers and a lawyer were arrested by police.

The logo for Polar, who owns the local Pepsi division in Venezuela. (Photo courtesy of Reuters).

A tweet released by Polar late on Sunday said that, “Pepsi-Cola Venezuela managed to obtain full freedom for its Caucagua plant workers who were arbitrarily detained on Friday.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro frequently criticizes Polar and its CEO, Lorenzo Mendoza, of participating in an “Economic War” against the people. Days before the latest National Assembly election, Maduro referred to Mendoza as the “Oligarch of the devil.”

Pepsi, like a number of other products, have been in short supply in Venezuela in recent months. President Maduro accused Mendoza and Polar of purposely slowing down production and hoarding goods.

Mendoza and Polar say that production at the plant ceased due to the unavailability of necessary raw materials, which could not be imported due to Venezuelan currency controls. Maduro’s critics highlight that currency controls and price controls make it near impossible to import machinery and raw materials, or to profit from the production of consumer goods in Venezuela.

 

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Venezuela Food producer Polar says local Pepsi workers freed – 20 December 2015 

BBC – Venezuela releases detained Pepsi workers – 21 December 2015 

Curacao Chronical – Venezuela Food Company Slams Detention of Local Pepsi Workers – 21 December 2015 

HCN Dayton News – Pepsi Employees in Venezuela Detained for Halting Operations Have Been Finally Set Free – 22 December 2015 

Child Pornographers Arrested In Chile, Over 160000 Photos Seized

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile made important steps in the fight against moral indecency this week with a series of arrests against child pornographers. The Investigations Police of Chile (PDI) arrested an interim official of the Superintendent of Education in the distract of Los Lagos for the crime of possession and distribution of child pornography. The investigation began last July after an anonymous tip on a YouTube video brought it to investigators attention.

Chile’s PDI arrested two child pornographers and confiscated thousands of videos and photos. (Photo courtesy of Terra)

Using a pseudonym, the official used websites to contact children between the ages of 6 and 14 in order to participate in sexual services for monetary compensation. The investigation led the commissioner of the Computer Crimes Squad of the PDI to vimeo.com which the accused maintained under the same pseudonym. Investigators searched through the sites history and identified at least 27 instances of explicit child pornography.

While the now former Superintendent has been arrested, and indicated that he would like to remain in custody – fearing community retribution – there is indication that he has been released on bail, subject to nightly check ins. Records indicate that when he was arrested at his home, police took from his hard-drives, CDs and DVDs more than 470 saved videos and about 160,000 images of child pornography. These materials will be used as evidence at his upcoming hearing where his charges will be formalized as distribution of child pornography in which he is expected to receive a 38 year sentence. Some of the photographs were of subjects under nine years old.

Along with the Superintendents arrest, the Cybercrime Brigade of the PDI arrested another man in Puente Alto for the storage and distribution of child pornography. Records indicate that that he lured two fifteen year old neighbors into his home under the guise of the use of his pool and gifts. He then forced them into a state of undress using death threats against them and their families. He was on parole for a 2010 charge of sexual abuse of a 14 year old. This event took place during a church retreat where the individual was serving as a catechist.

This is just the latest in Chile’s crackdown on predatory abuse of child exploitation rings. After President Sebasitan Pinera promised the creation of database and registry for child pornographers the PDI busted a large child prostitution ring in Santiago which lead to the arrest of numerous high-profile clients. Pinera has indicated that reports of child sex abuse increased 20 percent last year to 21,176.

For more information, please see:

Terra – Cybercrime Brigade Of PDI Subject Arrested Accused Of Producing Child Pornography – 21 February 2013

La Nacion – He Threatened Two Neighbors Of 15 Years And Forced Them To Produce Child Pornography – 21 February 2013

Terra – PDI Arrested Charged With Producing Child Pornography – 21 February 2013

Cronical Libre – PDI Public Official Arrested By Storing 455 videos And More Than 175,000 Child Pornography Photos – 21 February 2013

The Jakarta Post – Chile Announces Measures To Fight Child Sex Abuse – 19 July 2012