ECHR Demands the Release of Opposition Leader Navalny from Russian Prison Over Concern for his Life

By: Hannah Gavin

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – In February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECRH) stood in clear opposition against Russian leader Vladimir Putin by issuing a written statement calling for the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Woman examines poster depicting opposition leader Navalny in Rome. Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Navalny has created a firestorm of opposition in recent months against Vladimir Putin and his regime. However, Navalny’s calls have been silenced as he sits in a Russian Prison. The ECHR stated in their press release that Navalny’s arrest was necessary for his own safety. The Court cited a recent attack on his life as the main catalyst for their opinion.

Navalny was arrested in mid-January on a return flight from Germany to Moscow. His flight to Russia was following his absence in the country for months following an extended hospital stay in Berlin. In late August of 2020, Navalny had been traveling on a flight from Siberia to Moscow when he suddenly fell into a coma. He was eventually taken to a hospital in Berlin where a Soviet-era nerve agent was found to have poisoned him. Although Putin has denied Navalny’s accusations that he was behind the poisoning, much of the World assumes Putin was involved. A week prior to his arrest, the Russian Prison Service issued a warrant for Navalny’s arrest stating that he violated the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement. This charge was already ruled on by the ECRH in 2017 and found to be unreasonable. Although the warrant was issued, Navalny believed his arrest would be “impossible” upon his arrival to Moscow and chose to fly back regardless. Since his arrest, Navalny has now also been charged with insulting a WWII veteran. Another move that many believe is meant to silence his opposition. 

In a nation long shut off from the progressing World in many respects, Navalny offered promises of globalism. His goal for Russia was simple, in theory. He wanted a European Russia. A nation connected with the whole of the continent and one that participated in free and fair commerce, communication, and travel. Navalny pushed against the Putin regime which has continued to rule without the true will of the people. For a younger generation of Russians and many of their elder cohorts, Navalny signaled change. However, despite his poisoning and arrest, Navalny continues to inspire. After his poisoning, last year and continuing to today, widespread and often violent protests have ignited across Russia. Navalny’s return to Russia amidst imminent threat only bolsters his supporters. Such an extreme show of bravery and care of Russia reminds the people that what they are fighting for is worth it.

However, regardless of how the ECRH or the globe has responded to Navalny’s arrest, Russia has a different tale. Top Russian officials described the ECRH release as unlawful and claimed it was the Western World attempting to meddle in a domestic issue. Russia’s Justice Minister said that the opinion was not based on even a single fact. He claimed there was no reason to release Navalny under Russian law. He further went on to say that the Court’s issue is impossible to fulfill and was a political move that only exacerbates an already strained relationship.

The implications for Russia’s arrest of Navalny extend beyond the obvious threat he posed to Putin’s grip on unwavering power. Navalny became the figurehead of a movement in Russia, the force of which has not been seen in decades. Navalny’s principals stood in stark opposition to those and gave millions in Russia a sense of hope for the future. With Russia facing potential expulsion from the European Council and sanctions by many Western nations, this may be a turning point for the country. Although Russia is notoriously secretive, the World will wait with bated breath to see if the ECHR ruling will hold any ground. Until then, Russian citizens supporting Navalny will continue to organize and fight for the nation at the center of it all.

For further information, please see:

AP News – Russia Rejects European Rights Court’s Order to Free Navalny – 17 Feb. 2021                     

DW News – ‘Release’ Alexei Navalny, European Court of Human Rights tells Russia – 17 Feb. 2021

DW News – Alexei Navalny: Prosecutors Urge Fine in Slander Case – 16 Feb. 2021

European Court of Human Rights – The Court Grants an Interim Measure in Favour of Aleskey Navalnyy and Asks the Government of Russia to Release him – 17 Feb. 2021

Politico – Kremlin Critic Navalny Arrested After Landing in Moscow – 17 Jan. 2021

Reuters – Russia Dismisses European Court of Human Rights’ Call to Free Navalny – 17 Feb. 2021

Former President of Peru on Trial for Forced Sterilization Program in the 1990s

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

LIMA, Peru – Earlier this month, hearings resumed against former president Alberto Fujimori for the hundreds of thousands of women forcibly sterilized under his tenure in the 1990s.

Former President Alberto Fujimori at his hearing. Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press.

The judicial process began last Monday against Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru. The trial focused on his participation in the Peruvian government’s role in the sterilization of over 270,000 indigenous women without consent in the 1990s. Those women brought this case against Fujimori, not only for the blatant offenses against female autonomy but also for the long-lasting effects from infections.

The prosecutor in the case brings charges specifically on behalf of the families of five dead women, and 1,301 others who allege being sterilized against their will. Currently, the 82-year-old Fujimori is serving a 25-year prison sentence for various murder charges of his own citizens by his military.

Peruvian women—victimized by Fujimori with his sterilization policies in the 1990s—are now demanding justice. They allege these sterilizations were part of Fujimori’s “family planning” policy—a euphemism for what he considered a solution to overpopulation he referred to as the “Indian problem.”

In one particular situation, Mrs. Magna Morales was denied the right to sue the government because of her agreement to the procedure, having been incentivized with gifts of food and clothing. In this instance, Mrs. Morales died of complications from the surgery.

Fujimori’s defense is that, because when he was extradited from Chile in 2007 sterilization charges were not included, he should not be judged on those crimes now. He later boasted his program as reducing the birth rate of Peru in comparison to China’s one-child policy.

The case was reopened in 2011 when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pressured Peru to investigate. In 2014, more than 2,000 cases were closed for insufficient evidence. The indigenous women persisted, pushing for the current trial and maintaining an online database called “Quipu” to track those subjected to this forced sterilization policy.

Hearings resumed this month, giving hope to thousands of women that they will receive some semblance of justice.

For further information, please see:

ABCNews – In Peru, Sterilization Case Against Fujimori Goes to Court – 1 Mar. 2021

New York Times – Using Gifts as Bait, Peru Sterilizes Poor Women – 15 Feb. 1998

Yahoo! – Forcibly Sterilized During Fujimori Dictatorship, Thousands of Peruvian Women Demand Justice – 3 Mar. 2021


47 Hong Kong Activists Charged with “Conspiracy” Under New National Security Law Denied Bail

By: Timothy Murphy

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HONG KONG, China — The ongoing strife in Hong Kong continues as 47 activists and politicians were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” on February 28th. These pro-democracy activists, who were charged under the new “National Security Law,” had been arrested by authorities in early January of 2021. The National Security Law is another step in the string of continued attempts by mainland China to subvert the independence of the Hong Kong region.

Hundreds of Hong Kong citizens gathered in protest outside the courthouse as the 47 activists awaited charges. Photo Courtesy of BBC/Reuters.

The group that was charged consists of 39 men and 8 women and includes well-known figures who led pro-democratic movements in Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing’s strengthening grip on the region. Hong Kong, which was once a British colony, has long remained independent of its sovereign nation, China. Beginning in 2019, mainland China has been putting increased pressure on the freedom of Hong Kong, which has led to widespread protests from the citizens of the region.

The pro-democratic activists were arrested in January for running unofficial primary polls last summer in order to prepare for the upcoming election for Hong Kong’s legislative body: the Legislative Council. In a further attack on democratic principles, the election was postponed, the purported reason being safety precautions related to the pandemic. Officials have described these polls as an attempt to undermine the Hong Kong government.  

After four days of bail proceedings, fifteen of the activists were granted bail. However, they were not allowed to leave custody due to a subsequent appeal filed by prosecutors. Under the controversial National Security Law, they face up to life in prison for the charge of “conspiracy to commit subversion.”

In 2020, Beijing pushed for the creation of the “National Security Law” in an attempt to chip away at the independence and self-governance of Hong Kong. The law, which was put into effect on June 30th of 2020, reduces the self-governance powers of Hong Kong and criminalizes acts of secession, subversion against the central government, terrorism, and collusion. The law gives Beijing sweeping new powers to regulate the freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and even reserves interpretation of the broad law for Beijing: leaving room for even more power to be milked from the law with future judicial decisions. 

The passage of the National Security Law is a massive victory for mainland China in its efforts to further subjugate Hong Kong. It was met with protests from Hong Kong citizens. The charges laid against the 47 activists makes it clear that it is only becoming more dangerous for Hong Kong citizens to speak out against mainland China’s attempts to further subjugate the region.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong charges 47 activists in largest use yet of new security law – 2 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong protest held as 47 activists appear in court – 1 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying? – 30 June 2021

Hong Kong Free Press – 47 democrats charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ over legislative primaries – 28 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Hong Kong: 47 Charged Under Abusive Security Law – 2 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – National security law: 15 out of 47 Hong Kong opposition figures granted bail, but ordered to remain in custody pending prosecutors’ appeal – 4 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – Hong Kong national security law: election bans, travel curbs, and more time in jail. What future awaits city’s opposition with 47 defendants charged in biggest case yet? – 5 Mar. 2021

The Economist – Hong Kong’s new security bill is being put to its biggest use yet – 6 Mar. 2021

The Political Turmoil Continues to Escalate Under the Military State in Myanmar

By: Kirsten Rasmussen

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

MANDALAY, Myanmar – The political turmoil in Myanmar has escalated in the last few days, with former leader Aung San Suu Kyi being charged with two new offenses on Monday. The unrest follows a coup on February 1st, which overthrew the democratic government that had been re-elected for a second 5-year term.

Civilians take to the streets in an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar. Photo Courtesy of Associated Press.

This coup reversed several years of progress for Myanmar’s path towards democracy. Since a 1962 coup, Myanmar had been without a democratic government until recently. For the last several decades the country was a military state. In 2011, the military relinquished some power to allow for the creation of a quasi-democratic system to be put into place. However, following the coup on February 1, 2021, the military has taken control of the country.

Leading members from the governing party, named the National League of Democracy, have been arrested. One of those arrested was Aung San Suu Kyi, she has been charged with violation of telecommunications law and inciting public disorder. The military has also claimed she failed to comply with coronavirus restrictions and that she illegally imported walkie-talkies.

Public outcry against the coup and its perpetrators has been seen across Myanmar. Protests have been growing across the country.

In response, the military state has also been escalating its attempts to end the protests. Security forces have made mass arrests and appear to be using lethal force as well as tear gas, flash-bang grenades, stun grenades, and water cannons. Violent police crackdowns have happened across the region in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago, and Pokokku. Reports have come in stating that at least 18 people have died and 30 were wounded in the crackdowns on Sunday. However, there are reports on social media that the number of fatalities is much higher.

As of February 28th, the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners has confirmed 1,132 people have been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the coup. Thein Zaw, a journalist with AP, was detained by police while covering the protests on Saturday. As of the last update, Zaw is still in custody.

Ambassador Kyan Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, spoke at the UN general assembly urging all countries to condemn the coup and to refuse to recognize the military regime. He also called for “the strongest possible action from the international community,” to restore democracy and the rightful government.

The military state then removed Ambassador Tun from his position stating Tun had, “betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador.”

The United Nations has strongly condemned the deadly crackdowns and has called on the military to “immediately stop using force against peaceful demonstrators.” However, further action from the UN may be limited due to the veto power of Russian and China in the Security Council. Many countries – including the United States – have condemned the coup and its use of force against the protesters. Several countries have already levied sanctions.

For further information, please see:

AP News – Associated Press Journalist detained by police Myanmar – 28 Feb. 2021

AP News – Defying deadly crackdown, crowds again protest Myanmar – 1 Mar. 2021

AP News – Myanmar police deploy early to crank up pressure on protests – 27 Feb. 2021

AP News – Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country – 26 Feb. 2021

Euronews – Myanmar coup: Junta blocks internet as well as social media amid growing anti-coup protests – 6 Feb. 2021

Euronews – Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi charged with new offences as tear gas is fired at protesters – 1 Mar. 2021

Euronews – Protestors in Myanmar call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – 17 Feb. 2021

African Court Weighs in on Right to Fair Trial Claims in Three Cases from Tanzania

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On February 26, 2021, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Court) made three decisions regarding claims of violations to the right to a fair trial, all coming out of Tanzania. The Court found such a violation in two of the cases but did not find a violation in the third.

The judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights seated in front of the Court’s location in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Charter) is what gives the Court jurisdiction over matters appealed on from member states of the Organization of African Unity. It also establishes norms regarding civil and political rights of individuals within member states. In particular, Article 7 of the Charter grants individuals the right to a fair trial. This includes the “right to appeal… against acts violating his fundamental rights,” the “right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty,” the “right to be defended by counsel of his choice,” and the “right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time by an impartial court or tribunal.”

The first case, Zanzibar v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of rape and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The petitioner, a Mr. Mussa Zanzibar, argued that the District Court in Chota made three errors that violated his right to a fair trial: 1) that the District Court convicted him based on the testimony of a single witness whom the court did not satisfy was telling the truth, 2) that the District Court failed to resolve contradictions and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence, and 3) that the District Court failed to warn itself that there needs to be evidence to satisfy the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.

Even though the petitioner did not specifically cite a violation of Article 7 of the Charter, the Court found that he did substantially implicate the same right Article 7 concerns itself with. The Court dismissed Mr. Zanzibar’s claims regarding the District Court’s partial assessment of the evidence because it did not find a basis for interfering with a municipal court’s findings. The Court did, however, find that there was still a violation of Article 7 due to the fact that the District Court did not offer free legal assistance to Mr. Zanzibar. While the Charter does not specify a right to free counsel, the Court looked to its past interpretations of the Charter in which it held that “the right to defense includes the right to be provided with free legal assistance,” even if the petitioner did not request such legal assistance, as was the situation in the present case.

The second case, Zuberi v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of the rape of a ten-year-old girl and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The petitioner, a Mr. Mhina Zuberi, argued that the District Court of Muheza made three errors that violated his Article 7 rights: 1) that the District Court did not provide legal counsel to him, 2) that the District Court did not allow him to call for his own witnesses, and 3) that there were errors in the assessment of law and fact in the evidence.

The Court, like in the Zanzibar case, dismissed the claim of partial assessment of evidence. The Court also dismissed the claim of Mr. Zuberi not being able to call witnesses due to the lack of evidence. However, like in the Zanzibar case, the Court found that the District Court had deprived Mr. Zuberi of his right to be provided with free legal assistance.

The third case, Rutechura v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of a murder committed during the course of a burglary and sentenced to death by hanging. The petitioner, a Mr. Evodius Rutechura, argued that the High Court of Mwanza made three errors that violated his Article 7 rights: 1) that the High Court improperly dismissed his request for extension of time to file an application of review, 2) that the High Court failed to provide free legal assistance to him, and 3) that the High Court improperly assessed evidence against him.

The Court found there was no miscarriage of justice in the High Court’s denial of the time extension request, as the High Court followed its own rules in the dismissal. The Court also found that the High Court did provide Mr. Rutechura with free legal counsel. For this, the Court held that the right to have free legal assistance of one’s own choosing was not absolute, and that “the important consideration is whether the accused was given effective legal representation rather than whether he or she was allowed to be represented by a lawyer of their own choosing.” Lastly, the Court found that there was no showing that there was an improper assessment of evidence simply because the three eyewitnesses to the crime were related.

The Court granted reparations to the petitioners in the Zanzibar and Zuberi cases, each being awarded 300,000 Tanzanian Shillings (129.37 USD). The Court, however, dismissed both petitioners’ requests to be released from prison. The Court also dismissed Mr. Rutechura’s case on all claims.

For further information, please see:

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Jun. 1981

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Evodius Rutechura v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Evodius Rutechura v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mhina Zuberi v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mhina Zuberi v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mussa Zanzibar v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mussa Zanzibar v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021