Children in Prison Allege Being Tortured by Kurdish Security Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Seventeen children imprisoned by the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) stated that they were tortured or abused by government security forces while in detention. Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) reported that the children were detained due to suspicion of involvement with the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

Children allege being burned with cigarettes and electrocuted during interrogations (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

 

HRW stated that it had privately interviewed nineteen boys, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, who were being held on suspicions of terrorism. The interview took place at the Women and Children’s Reformatory without the presence of a security or intelligence official. The rights group reported that the children were “held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, punched and kicked, beaten with plastic pipes and cables, and shocked with electricity” by the KRG. A young boy stated that he “felt that my eyes were popping out” while being interrogated with an “electricity machine” after being drenched in water. Another child indicated that he could not breathe after his face was covered up with a towel and tied with tape. He was subsequently beat for over eight hours while being told to confess. The officer then pulled down the young boy’s pants and “threatened to rape him if he did not confess an ISIS affiliation.” Furthermore, five children also reportedly had marks from cigarette burns or electric shocks administered during interrogation.

Most children stated that they denied any involvement with ISIS. Others, however, admitted that they were associated with the group because of “family connections, desire to earn money or pressure from recruiters.” A deputy director at HRW, Ms. Lama Faikh, indicated that security forces are not granted permission to “beat, manhandle or use electric shocks on children” on the basis of “legitimate security concerns.” While characterizing children escaping from ISIS as “victims,” she stated that many are faced with further abuse from Kurdish security forces. Ms. Faikh strongly urged the KRG to “thoroughly investigate” the allegations of child abuse in prisons, and prosecute those who may be responsible.

The seventeen children are among at least 183 other boys under the age of eighteen who have been imprisoned by KRG based on alleged ISIS involvement. Most, if not all, are being held without charge, and were not permitted access to an attorney during interrogation. The report further indicates that government officials have not informed the children’s families of their whereabouts, and most children have not been permitted to contact their families since being detained.

In response to the HRW report, the KRG denied the allegations of torture by Kurdish security forces. The Head of the KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, Dr. Dindar Zebari, stated that KRG authorities are “strongly prohibit[ed]” from using physical and psychological torture on prisoners. He stated that detainees’ rights are protected through established policies, legislations and practices against torture.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’—29 January 2017

Human Rights Watch—Children Allege Torture by Security Forces—29 January 2017

RT—Kurdish militia tortured children to extract ISIS confessions – HRW—29 January 2017

International Business Times—Beaten, electrocuted and abused: Kurds accused of torturing Isis child soldier suspects—29 January 2017

ARA News—Iraqi Kurds deny torturing ISIS child soldiers—30 January 2017

 

Saudi Arabia Extends Prison Sentence of Human Rights Activist

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi Arabian court extended a human rights activist’s jail sentence by two years, from nine to eleven years.

Human rights activist Issa Al-Hamid will now serve eleven years in prison (Photo courtesy of Arabian Business)

Mr. Issa Al-Hamid, a Saudi Arabian human rights defender, had received a prison sentence of nine years in April 2016 for a “long list” of charges, which included “communicating false information to undermine the image of the state.” The charges referenced online articles written and statements made by Mr. Hamid in which he had called upon the Saudi king to order an investigation into rights abuses. He had further spoken about issues such as the right to demonstrate.

Following an appeal, on December 1st, the Specialized Criminal Court of Saudi Arabia increased Mr. Hamid’s prison sentence to eleven years. It further imposed a travel ban of equal duration, in addition to a fine of 100,000 Saudi Riyals (approximately $27,000 USD).

The group with which Mr. Hamid was associated, Saudi Arabia’s Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was shut down by Saudi authorities in 2013. All of its founders have subsequently been sentenced to prison in connection with their “peaceful human rights activities.”

Mr. Samah Hadid, Deputy Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International, stated that the extended prison sentence is another example of the authorities’ “continuous ruthless and relentless crackdown on political dissidents” in the country. He indicated that the decision is a reflection of the “regime’s unabated persecution of human rights defenders.”

Mr. Hadid stated that these “blatantly unfair proceedings” appear to be “designed to silence” individuals who are attempting to “expose the Kingdom’s incessant human rights violations.” He urged Saudi authorities to “urgently quash the unjust conviction” of Mr. Hamid, as well as the convictions of all other human rights defenders. He further stated that Mr. Hamid and his two brothers, who are both doctors, have paid a high price for defending human rights, and noted that such individuals should be “protected and recognized, not sentenced and imprisoned.”

Saudi Arabia has long been the subject of international criticism due to its lack of protection for human rights, “draconian restrictions on freedom of speech,” and severe punishments for those opposing the regime.

For more information, please see:

Press TV—Saudi court increases human rights activist’s prison sentence by two years—2 December 2016

Middle East Online—Saudi increases jail term for rights activist to 11 years—1 December 2016

Amnesty International—Saudi Arabia increases ruthless sentence in unfair trial of human rights defender to 11 years—1 December 2016

 

Egyptian Lawyer Set Free Following Delayed Release

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Malek Adly, an Egyptian human rights lawyer, was released from prison on Sunday after he was arrested in May 2016 over protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian human rights lawyer Malek Adly (Photo Courtesy of Daily News Egypt)

In April 2016, President Sisi handed over the two islands, Sanafir and Tiran, to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that they had always belonged to the country and were only leased to Egypt. This act was criticized by Egyptians as unconstitutional, leading to widespread protests throughout Egypt. Mr. Adly argued that the islands belonged to Egypt, and joined a group of journalists supporting the protests. Following the rallies, the Egyptian government arrested over 100 people for either participating in peaceful protests or spreading false information.

Mr. Adly was arrested in May 2016 on accusations of plotting a coup and spreading false information. His spouse and lawyers stated that he was placed in solitary confinement, denied visits for two weeks, and assaulted by guards. Following Mr. Adly’s arrest, in May 2016, reporters for the United Nations issued a statement expressing concern over the “worsening crackdown on peaceful protests” in Egypt. These reporters further urged the government to bring an end to “disproportionate reactions.”

On Thursday, August 25th, a Cairo court accepted Mr. Adly’s petition against his detention, and granted a release. The prosecution, however, filed an appeal against this decision to extend his detention. On Saturday, August 27th, the Egyptian courts rejected this appeal, and ordered his release. Despite issuance of this order, Mr. Adly had not been set free as of the morning of Sunday, August 28th. Rights groups and activists criticized the delayed process. A statement signed by sixteen entities, including political parties and NGOs, indicated that delays such as this were “common.” The statement further provided that the practice is considered unlawful detention as the aim in the delay is to obstruct the releasing procedures.

Mr. Adly was eventually released from prison on Sunday, August 28th. His lawyer, Mr. Mahmoud Belal, however, stated that he does not know what will happen next as the Egyptian government could try to detain him once again.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press — Egypt Court Releases Lawyer Who Defied President — 28 August 2016

BBC News — Egypt crackdown widens with arrest of leading rights lawyer — 6 May 2016

Daily News Egypt — Condemnations pour after Malek Adly’s delayed release — 28 August 2016

Human Rights Watch — Egypt: Scores of Protesters Jailed Unjustly — 25 May 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

 

Prison Riots Leaves 57 Dead In Overcrowded Venezuelan Prison

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – 57 prisoners were killed in one of the bloodiest prisoner riots to strike Venezuela.in a routine and peaceful inspection prison guard met armed resistance from irate prisoners in the Uribana prison in Venezuela’s Lara province.

The National Guard taking action against rioters in Venezuela’s Uribana prison. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Early Friday prison guards and the National Guard planned an operation in an attempt to disarm prisoners from the violent prison facility. Sparked by a surge of prison violence earlier in the week as internal gangs battled for control, the guards had hoped for a peaceful inspection. Instead, as the sun rose Guardsmen were met with gunfire from an entrenched inmate position. When the dust settled and the National Guard had quelled the riot Nearly 60 people were dead, with another 120 wounded. While the official reason for this uprising is being investigated, human rights experts note that Venezuelan prisoners are notoriously overcrowded and filled weapons and drugs that have been smuggled in by corrupt prison guards and gang ‘mafias.’ Beyond the dead inmates, two protestant pastors and one soldier was killed in firefight.

Originally designed in 1997, the model prison of Uribana was built to hold 850 prisons, however when violence erupted the 23,500 square meter penal colony was holding 2,400.

Criticism has been levied on the nature of the inspections and the administration itself. Humberto Prado, leader of the activist group Venezuelan Prisons Observatory stated “It’s clear that the inspection wasn’t coordinated or put into practice as it should have been. It was evidently a disproportionate use of force.” He continued that while necessary, they should not be carried out in the warlike attitude that they have been.

Since peace has been restored, the surviving 2003 male and 132 female inmates have been moved to nearby prisons, and while another 49 inmates were discharged, 46 prisoners remain hospitalized.

The National Assembly has since begun investigating the causes of the riot at Uribana and what protocol steps can be taken in the future.

With allegations from abuse from prisoners, Correctional Service Minister Iris Varela has officially denied any allegations that inmates were run over by the National Guard, or that the population was naked while the National Guard was hitting them. Henrique Capriles, opposition leader against President Chavez’s levied heavy criticism on the administration. Stating that the vice-president ordered an investigation and then went to summit in Chile in contrast to President Rousseff of Brazil cancelled his trip. Taking advantage of the situation Capriles continued “Here, they go away to a summit. They dispose of it as if it were one more matter, one more little problem.”

For more information, please see:

Venezuela Al Dia – Parliament Began Research On Violent Events In Uribana – 28 January 2013

El Universal – Uribana Was Designed As A Model Prison – 28 January 2013

US News – Inmates Moved After Bloody Venezuela Prison Clash – 27 January 2014

El Nacional – Varela Announced That 58 Prisoners Were Killed By Violence In Uribana – 27 January 2013

CNN – Report: Prison Riot Kills Dozens In Venezuela – 26 January 2014