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

Belarusian Journalist Murdered in Car Bombing

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine —  Prominent Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed this past week after an explosive device placed on his car detonated in Kiev, Ukraine.  Sheremet worked for the news reporting website Ukrainska Pravda, and was traveling to host a morning radio show at the radio station Radio Vesti when the explosive was detonated.   Ukrainska Pravda is a respected site known for its tendency to cover media topics relating to corruption.

The car Sheremet was driving exploded on a main road in Kiev, Ukraine (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Investigators suspect a homemade explosion device attached to the bottom of the car with 400-600 grams of a substance similar to TNT was detonated via remote control.  The explosion itself occurred about a half mile away from a popular protest site in Ukraine.  At the time of the explosion, Sheremet was driving his partner Olena Pritula’s car.  Pritula is the owner of Ukrainska Pravda, leaving police to wonder whether Sheremet was actually the target of the explosion.

Many speculate that Sheremet was targeted because of his line of work.  Sheremet was one of several well-known journalists who moved from Russia to Ukraine, where restrictions on the media are known to be looser than they are in Russia.  Sheremet was previously jailed for his critical reports regarding political oppression against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and was known to be an advocate for independent media in Ukraine.  As an expert in political corruption, Sheremet was widely known for his criticism of the Kremlin and mistakes made by Ukraine in its 2014 revolution and ensuing separation from Russia.

Police are investigating the possibility that the attack was an attempt by Russia to destabilize Ukraine, however the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced this notion.  The Ministry labeled Sheremet as a “known and respected journalist in Russia and a top professional.”  Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, stated that the Kremlin was “seriously disturbed” by the attack, and expressed his hopes for a “rapid and impartial investigation.”

Ukrainian President Peter Poroshenko, however, is “not excluding the possibility of some foreign interest” in the explosion, and hints at the involvement of Russia in the killing.  Poroshenko has requested the assistance of foreign agencies from the United States and the European Union to assist in the investigation.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Pavel Sheremet: Murdered Journalist Buried in Belarus — 23 July 2016

NBC — Car Bomb Murder of Pavel Sheremet Dashes Hopes in Post-Maidan Ukraine — 23 July 2016

CNN — Journalist Pavel Sheremet Killed in Kiev — 20 July 2016

The Guardian — Car Bomb Kills Pioneering Journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kiev — 20 July 2016

NY Times — Pavel Sheremet, Journalist in Ukraine, is Killed in Car Bombing — 20 July 2016

Egyptian Courts Sentence Three Journalists to Death

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian Court sentenced six people to death including two Al Jazeera journalists. The six people convicted were accused of espionage in relation to leaked documents to Qatar.

Judge Mohammed Shrin Fahmy presided over the case (Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

The presiding judge in the case, Judge Mohammed Shirin Fahmy, recommended the death sentence for the six people accused of leaking secret documents to Qatar. All capital offense cases are then delivered to Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the nation’s top Muslim theological authority, for approval. Judge Fahmy quoted the Mufti’s office saying that the six defendants brought harm to their country by providing Qatar with documents concerning the Egyptian army. Judge Fahmy stated they betrayed their country for ideology.

The two Al Jazeera journalists were identified as Ibrahim Mohammed Helal, former director of news at Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, and Alaa Omar Mohammed Sablan, former Al Jazeera producter. The other journalist convicted was Asmaa Mohammed al-Khatib, a reporter for Rasd. Rasd is a media network widely suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. All three journalists were tried in abstentia.

Al Jazeera condemned the verdicts against their former employees stating that the sentences were “politicized” and  “legally baseless.” Amnesty International also called for the “ludicrous charges” to be dropped. Both organizations stated these kinds of convictions of journalists are an affront to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Along with the six death sentences, the Egyptian Court also sentenced ousted President Mohammed Morsi to life in prison. Morsi, the first democratically elected Egyptian president, was ousted by the Egyptian army in 2013 following a popular uprising against Morsi’s leadership. Morsi was found guilty of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party that is now-banned in Egypt. Morsi was acquitted of espionage charges.

Since Morsi’s ouster by the military, Egypt’s relations with Qatar have been strained. During Morsi’s time in power, he was supported by Qatar, a tiny but wealthy nation in the region. Egypt claims that Qatar undermines its national security by supporting Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar stated that the convictions went “against the truth” and that they harm relations between the two countries.

For more information, please see

ABC News — Egyptian Court Sentences 2 Al-Jazeera Employees to Death — 18 June 2016

Chicago Tribune — Egyptian court sentences 2 Al-Jazeera journalists to death, former president to 25 years — 19 June 2016

CNN — Egypt sentences 6 people to death, including 2 Al Jazeera journalists — 19 June 2016

The Star — Qatar slams Egypt over death sentences in Al Jazeera espionage case — 19 June 2016

Yahoo — Egypt sentences 2 Al-Jazeera journalists to death, ousted president Morsi gets life — 19 June 2016

Colombia Investigating Disappearances at Notorious Prison

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian government has launched an investigation into disappearances in Colombian prisons between 1999 and 2001. The investigation is focusing on La Modelo prison in Bogota. The dismembered remains of at least 100 persons were found in the sewer system of the prison.

La Modelo prison in Bogota, Colombia (photo courtesy of BBC). 

La Modela is one of Colombia’s biggest prisons, and significantly overcrowded. During the period in question, the prison was divided and controlled by left-wing and right-wing paramilitary groups. Allegedly, faction leaders bribed prison officials to look the other way while they maintained control over their part of the prison. The paramilitaries allegedly patrolled their so-called “territory” armed with grenades and automatic weapons.

Rumors of disappearances in the prison have spread since the dismembered remains of an inmate was found stuffed in a drain in 2000. He had disappeared eight days earlier. The next day, 17 inmates disappeared during a fight between different factions. Their remains were never found.

Investigators believe that there may be more remains hidden in the sewer systems of other prisons throughout Colombia.

The investigation was prompted by the prosecution of paramilitary leaders Mario Jaimes Mejía, called “El Panadero” (“the Baker”) and Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco. The two face charges of kidnapping, torture, and rape in the attack of Jineth Bedoya. Bedoya, a journalist, was one of the first to bring attention to the disappearances at the prison, after she noticed the numbers of inmates and visitors to La Modelo that went missing.

In 2000, Bedoya was abducted while visiting La Modelo (for the purpose of interviewing El Panadero). She was taken to the countryside where she was tortured and raped. The perpetrators left her tied up in a rubbish pile ten hours later.

Bedoya says she is “grateful for the actions being taken today, but it should’ve happened years ago. El Panadero’s testimony taken more than 15 years ago, his version of the story, which is completely false, was endorsed by a prosecutor (with the Colombian attorney general’s office) and that allowed for the process to stall and the case to remain in impunity.” Bedoya sued the Colombian government in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for “unwillingness to do justice in her case.”

Finding the truth of the disappearances at La Modelo, according to Bedoya, is “a debt that ht estate owes not only to Jineth Bedoya but the hundreds of victims of La Modelo Prison and the paramilitary forces.”

The current prosecutor, Caterina Heyck announced in a press conference on February 17th that El Panadero had confessed to ordering the attack on Bedoya, and that Cárdenas had admitted to being one of her abductors. She has also requested that the two men not qualify for lighter sentences under the Justice and Peace Law. The law allows former paramilitary members to receive lighter sentences for laying down arms and confessing to their crimes.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Scores of dismembered bodies found in Colombian jails – 17 February 2016 

BBC – Colombia probes disappearances from Bogota prison – 18 February 2016

CNN – Remains of at least 100 may have been tossed into sewers under prison – 18 February 2016

Latin Post – Colombian Jails Have Secrets That Can Give Your Nightmares – 18 February 2016

Mirror – Gruesome mystery as body parts of 100 prisoners and visitors found in sewer – 18 February 2016

Time – 100 Dismembered Bodies Found Beneath Colombian Prison – 19 February 2016 

Vice News – Colombia is Investigating Whether 100 Bodies Were Stuffed in a Prison Sewer – 19 February 2016