Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

Pakistani human rights activists targeted in Facebook attacks

May 15, 2018

Is the Government of Pakistan behind the Facebook attacks on Pakistani human rights activists Diep Saeeda?

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Diep Saeeda
Diep Saeeda has been a human rights activist for 25 years

In December 2016 Diep Saeeda, an outspoken human rights activist from the Pakistani city of Lahore, received a short message on Facebook from someone she didn’t know but with whom she had a number of friends in common: “Hy dear.”

She didn’t think much of it and never got round to replying.

But the messages weren’t coming from a fan of Mrs Saeeda’s activism – instead they were the start of a sustained campaign of digital attacks attempting to install malware on her computer and mobile phone to spy on her and steal her data.

Over the next year, she received multiple messages from the same Facebook account, apparently run by a young woman calling herself Sana Halimi, claiming to work for the United Nations.

However, the attackers targeting Mrs Saeeda made crucial mistakes that allowed researchers from human rights group Amnesty International to trace a number of individuals linked either to the operation or to the malware used.

They include a British-Pakistani cyber security expert running a company he claims to be based in Wales, and another who used to work for the Pakistani army’s public relations wing.

Mrs Saeeda is clear whom she believes is ultimately responsible for the attacks: “I’m convinced these are intelligence agencies… They try to harass people and force them to leave the country.”

A screenshot of Sana Halimi's Facebook profileImage copyrightDIEP SAEEDA
Image captionMrs Saeeda was contacted by “Sana Halimi” a year before the account began sending her malware

She says in the past they targeted her for promoting dialogue between ordinary Pakistanis and Indians.

“There was a time they would visit my home or office on a daily basis. When I get up in the morning, there would be two people outside my home.”

But she says the malware attacks were more invasive than anything she had previously experienced.

Crackdown fears

Amnesty International has spoken to three other Pakistan human rights activists who have been targeted in the same way.

They discovered that the main piece of malware being used had also been used in previously documented attacks on Indian military and diplomatic officials.

Amnesty International say they have no evidence of Pakistani state involvement and are unable to say who is ultimately responsible for conducting the attacks.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, director of global issues at Amnesty, told the BBC they were calling on the Pakistani authorities to investigate the attacks “as a matter of urgency… and to ensure that human rights defenders are adequately protected both online and offline”.

Human rights groups have repeatedly warned that the Pakistani intelligence services appear to be cracking down on activists who criticize them.

In January 2017, a group of bloggers went missing for a number of weeks before being released. Two subsequently told the BBC that they had been detained by the security services and tortured.

An activist vanishes

A year after first establishing contact with Mrs Saeeda, “Sana Halimi” sent her the first messages with malware attached.

Mrs Saeeda was at the time in a state of panic. One of her closest friends, fellow activist Raza Khan, had disappeared.

The 40-year-old, who worked on promoting better relations between Pakistan and India, had been attending a talk on extremism on 2 December 2017.

He hasn’t been seen since leaving the event. The next day, friends found his door locked and light on – his computer missing.

They believe he was taken into custody by the intelligence services.

A few days after Mr Khan’s disappearance, as Mrs Saeeda was becoming increasingly vocal in the media, she received her first malware attack.

“Sana Halimi” sent her a fake Facebook login page via Facebook Messenger. Had she clicked on it, the site would’ve recorded her Facebook password.

She didn’t though and a few weeks later received another malware attack, again from “Sana Halimi.” This time the message contained a link – apparently to a set of New’s Year’s Eve-themed photo filters.

In fact, it was malware designed to hack into her mobile phone and intercept text messages.

Again, Mrs Saeeda didn’t click on the link. The attackers changed tactics.

“Sana Halimi” messaged Mrs Saeeda, telling her she needed to talk to her privately about the disappearance of her friend Mr Khan.

Mrs Saeeda, desperate for anything that could help locate Mr Khan, became suddenly interested.

A screenshot of the conversation between Mrs Saeeda and Sana HalimiImage copyrightDIEP SAEEDA

The messages continued for over two weeks and culminated in a message from “Sana Halimi” purportedly containing an attached document that would help her “understand” what had happened to Mr Khan.

Mrs Saeeda attempted to download it but it was blocked by her computer’s antivirus software. The document appeared to be another piece of malware.

Over the subsequent weeks and months, Mrs Saeeda was repeatedly targeted in further attacks, this time over email.

One email she received claimed to be from the office of the chief minister of Punjab, the province she lived in.

It said the chief minister would be visiting her office to discuss the case of her still missing friend Mr Khan.

By this time though, Mrs Saeeda was aware she was being targeted and forwarded the emails to Amnesty International instead of downloading the files.

A screenshot of the email Mrs Saeeda received reportedly from the chief minister of Punjab.Image copyrightDIEP SAEEDA

They discovered Mrs Saeeda had been sent at least two different pieces of malware, one by Facebook, and one by email.

The malware attached to the email could, amongst other things, “log passwords, take pictures from the webcam, activate and record audio from the microphone, steal files from the hard disk”.

They identified this malware as a software called Crimson.

Crimson attacks have been documented before. A number of cyber security firms wrote about the malware in March 2016 after discovering it was being used to target Indian military and diplomatic figures.

Claudio Guarnieri, from Amnesty, told the BBC the Crimson malware used to target Mrs Saeeda was “almost identical” to that used in the past.

An independent cyber security firm told the BBC it was “highly confident” the attacks documented by Amnesty had been carried out by the same group behind the attacks on Indian targets.

‘Digital spy services’

Amnesty was able to use the malware they examined to identify some of those associated with creating it.

They discovered the malware linked to the New Year’s Eve photo filters that “Sana Halimi” had sent to Mrs Saeeda via Facebook would send any stolen data to a server registered in Lahore.

The owner of the server was a man called Faisal Hanif whose email address and phone number were listed in the server details.

Pakistani human rights activists hold images of bloggers who have gone missing during a protest in Islamabad on January 10, 2017.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe disappearance of the bloggers last year prompted a number of protests

These linked to a Facebook profile revealing that Mr Hanif owned a company called Super Innovative.

On its website, Super Innovative advertises digital spy services, which allow you to monitor calls, text messages and emails of your “children, company employees or loved ones” whilst remaining “unnoticeable”.

The company website claims to be based in Penarth, Wales.

When the BBC visited the property, a woman living at the address admitted knowing Mr Hanif and told the BBC he did occasionally visit from Pakistan. But she said she knew nothing about the company Super Innovative.

Mr Guarnieri says there is no evidence Mr Hanif or Super Innovative were involved in sending the malware to Mrs Saeeda but his research connects Mr Hanif to the creation of the malware used to target her.

“What we believe is that they were the ones tasked to create these tools, but not necessarily the ones that used it.”

When contacted by the BBC, Mr Hanif denied involvement in the attacks on Mrs Saeeda.

He said he believed he had been hacked – and his details falsely used to register the server linked to the malware. He denied having created any spyware that could be used to steal mobile phone data.

Shortly after the BBC contacted Mr Hanif, the server linked to the attacks was taken down.

No more email attachments

In researching the creators of a previous version of the Crimson malware, the Amnesty team came across a massive lapse in security by those linked to it.

A folder containing as yet unreleased copies of the malware was left publicly accessible.

Mr Guarnieri told the BBC it was a “pretty common mistake” for those working in the field to make.

As well as copies of the malware they found a word document that appeared to be an outline of an online team dedicated to targeting perceived opponents of the Pakistani army.

The document states that part of their role consists of checking different websites “to see if there are any anti-army content on it, so we try to take them down or at least trace the administrators… We are working on different target accounts to trace their IP addresses or to compromise their accounts.”

By establishing the email address associated with the metadata of the document, Amnesty researchers traced it to an Islamabad-based cyber security expert, Zahid Abbasi.

When confronted by the BBC, Mr Abbasi confirmed he had previously worked for a year for the Pakistani military’s public relations team (ISPR) and that the document was genuine.

He admitted his role included tracing the IP addresses of “people abusing institutions” online and “compromising their accounts” by, for example, sending them fake Facebook login pages.

However, he denied that human rights activists were amongst those targeted or that he had any connection to the Crimson malware.

There is no evidence that Mr Abbasi was involved in the attacks on Mrs Saeeda.

There was no immediate response to the BBC’s request for comment from the Pakistani army.

Mrs Saeeda told the BBC: “After these attacks I feel insecure – even my own children sending me an email, I’m scared someone is using their name. I don’t open emails with attachments.”

She added tearfully, “The people who are doing it are spending their resources and their energy on a person who has given 25 years in [peace] activism.”


China: Report of First Death in New Discipline System Censored

May 13, 2018

The secretive extra-legal shuanggui  system operated by the Party’s internal disciplinary organs attracted sustained criticism for reported abuses and lack of accountability. According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, detainees were routinely subjected to “ and other ill-treatment including beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation, and being forced to stand or maintain uncomfortable positions for hours or even days,” leading to at least 11 known deaths since 2010. News last October of its impending abolition and replacement as part of broader supervisory reforms did little to reassure critics, however: as HRW’s Sophie Richardson commented, “putting a veneer of legality on an extra-legal detention system makes it no less abusive.”

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On Wednesday, Caixin reported the first death within the new regime of liuzhi 留置, or “retention in custody”: that of Chen Yong, the 45-year-old former driver of a Fujian official who had come under investigation for corruption. Chen’s death illustrates the expanded scope of the new system, and supports fears that liuzhi will replicate its predecessor’s abuses.

But when his family arrived last week to visit him, they were taken to a dimly lit funeral parlor, where, in a morgue refrigerator, they found him dead and “with a disfigured face,” Chen’s sister told Caixin.

[…] Chen was a driver hired by the Jianyang district government in Fujian’s Nanping city from 2006 to 2016. He was detained last month so authorities could gather information into Lin Qiang, a vice director of the district, who was suspected of corruption, according to Chen’s sister.

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[…] “I pulled his shirt up and saw a cave-in in his chest and black and blue bruises on his waist, but was stopped when I tried to check his lower body,” his sister said.

[…] When confronted by Chen’s family, the local branch of the commission admitted to certain negligence, but rejected request for access to video recorded during his interrogation, despite such requests being guaranteed by law, Chen’s sister said. [Source]

Caixin’s Chinese-language report has been removed, but remains available in Google’s cache and, thanks to Donald Clarkeat

The NGO RSDL Monitor highlighted the case in the context of similarly abuse-prone secret detentions outside the official disciplinary apparatus:

Liuzhi replaces the much feared and extremely secretive  system for CCP party members, but has expanded its reach to include all party and government workers. Theoretically, even teachers, nurses and doctors could be detained under Liuzhi. The legal framework for the system is very similar to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), a system for secret, prolonged, incommunicado detention that has so far mostly been used on lawyers, journalists and rights defenders.

The news of this first death under liuzhi is extremely concerning. Like RSDL, the new liuzhi system will likely significantly expand cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and maltreatment. [Source]

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The group’s work includes a recent study on Chinese authorities’ use of televised confessions and a collection of RSDL accounts by former detainees.

Amnesty International’s William Nee commented:

U.S. Chief Complaints With The Philippines Remain: Extrajudicial Killings, Impunity, Rule of Law, Human Rights Abuses

April 21, 2018
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Photo: Journalists and photograpphers have documented thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during the Duterte administration. AP/Bullit Marquez, File photo
State Department report: EJKs still ‘chief’ human rights concern in Philippines

Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( – April 21, 2018 – 11:21am

MANILA, Philippines — The alleged cases of summary execution in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war remains a major human rights concern in the Philippines, amid rising impunity following a dramatic surge in police killings, the US State Department said in its global rights report for 2017.

“Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,” read the report released Friday (Washington time).

Duterte, who is notorious for his defiance of international pressure and rejection of criticisms on his rights record, easily won the race to Malacañang on a brutal law and order platform.

Human rights monitors say most of the fatalities in the government’s anti-narcotic drive are extrajudicial killings committed by cops taking a frontline role in the lethal campaign and unknown assailants.

But the force had vehemently denied executing suspected drug traffickers in cold blood, saying deaths in police shootings were done in self-defense.

Amid the mounting death toll, critics say Duterte is waging a “war on poor,” making him liable for crimes against humanity for giving cops the “license to kill.”

Citing the 900 drug-related deaths reported by media from January to September last year, the State Department said concerns about police impunity “increased significantly.”

The US government also expressed doubt over the accuracy and legitimacy of Duterte’s list of alleged drug personalities.

“Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings,” the report read in part.

“Some civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings,” it added.

Aside from the drug war, the report likewise flagged other “most significant” human rights issues in the country, including life threatening prison conditions, warrantless arrests, the state’s “disregard” for due process, violence against the free press and rights activists, and forced labor, among others.


The report’s release comes at a time of improving Manila-Washington ties, as US President Donald Trump cozies up to Duterte, whom the American leader said was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

In a departure from previous policy of past American leaders to call out human rights violators, Trump had also reportedly said that “Filipinos don’t have drug problem [because] they just kill them.”

Asked how the State Department report is consistent with the human rights policies of Trump—who has been criticized for his apparent affinity for leaders accused of being authoritarian like Duterte—senior State Department official Michael Kozak maintained that the report is “factual.”

“Now, does that mean that the President should never speak to these people? We’re trying to keep the report as the factual baseline for what we’re going to do in policy terms or sanctions as the secretary was mentioning. So we can learn a lot from this, and we can use it to formulate a policy,” Kozak, who helped oversee the report, said in a press conference.

“But usually part of your policy is engaging with the people whose behavior you’re trying to change at some level. And I don’t think those two things are in distinction,” he added.

“The fact is, these other governments and their populations do read the report… And when the President speaks to their leader, often he’s talking about these issues, so it’s – it’s complementary, it’s not a – two things that are in conflict.”




 (Includes FT Op-Ed)


Campaign targets Apple over privacy betrayal for Chinese iCloud users

March 30, 2018

From Amnesty International

Amnesty International is launching a new social media campaign targeting Apple over its betrayal of millions of Chinese iCloud users by recklessly making their personal data vulnerable to the arbitrary scrutiny of the Chinese government.

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Amnesty is urging Apple CEO Tim Cook not sell out iCloud users in China.

In a nod to Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ advert, the campaign takes an Orwellian theme with the line “All Apple users are equal but some are less equal than others”. It launches as the tech company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, touches down in Beijing to co-chair a prestigious business forum.

Apple’s pursuit of profits has left Chinese iCloud users facing huge new privacy risks.
Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International.

“Tim Cook is not being upfront with Apple’s Chinese users when insisting that their private data will always be secure. Apple’s pursuit of profits has left Chinese iCloud users facing huge new privacy risks,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International.

“Apple’s influential ‘1984’ ad challenged a dystopian future but in 2018 the company is now helping to create one. Tim Cook preaches the importance of privacy but for Apple’s Chinese customers’ these commitments are meaningless. It is pure doublethink.”

“By handing over its China iCloud service to a local company without sufficient safeguards, the Chinese authorities now have potentially unfettered access to all Apple’s Chinese customers’ iCloud data. Apple knows it, yet has not warned its customers in China of the risks.”

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at China’s World Internet Conference in December 2017. VCG/VCG via Getty Images

On 28 February, Apple transferred the operation of its iCloud service for Chinese users to Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. The move affects any photos, documents, contacts, messages and other user data and content that Chinese users store on Apple’s cloud-based servers.

On 1 February, Amnesty International wrote to Apple raising our concerns about the changes and asked the company to provide further information. Apple has yet to respond to the request.

    Cook might be setting himself up for a fall over privacy issues in China. — AP

    Cook might be setting himself up for a fall over privacy issues in China. — AP

    Privacy threat

    New Chinese legislation enacted in 2017 requires cloud services to be operated by Chinese companies, meaning companies like Apple must either lease server space inside China or establish joint ventures with Chinese partners.

    Chinese domestic law gives the government virtually unrestricted access to user data stored inside China without adequate protection for users’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression or other basic human rights.

    As a result, Chinese internet users can face arrest and imprisonment for merely expressing, communicating or accessing information and ideas the authorities do not approve of.

    Amnesty’s online campaign urges consumers to tell Tim Cook to reject double standards when it comes to privacy for Apple’s Chinese customers, whose personal data is now at risk of ending up in the hands of the government.

    Think Different

    Apple’s chief executive will be in Beijing on 24-26 March to co-chair the China Development Forum, which aims to foster relationships between the Chinese government and global business leaders. Apple reported record revenues of US$17.9 billion for Greater China in the last quarter.

    “While Apple may claim it treats its customers equally, some are less equal than others. Profits should never threaten privacy. It’s time for Apple to Think Different when it comes to the privacy of its millions of Chinese customers,” said Nicholas Bequelin.

    “Apple needs to be much more transparent about the risks to privacy posed by recent changes to the iCloud service in China.”


    Directed by Ridley Scott, Apple’s 1984 advert of the same year is considered to be one of the greatest TV commercials of all time. Scores of grey clad clones are fixated on a giant screen as Big Brother celebrates “Information Purification Directives”. An athletic woman in bright clothes storms past troops to take a sledge-hammer to the screen unleashing an explosion. A voice over says “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”


    Apple stores up Yahoo-like trouble in China — Amnesty International fighting Apple in China

    March 30, 2018


    Friday, 30 Mar 2018

      Cook might be setting himself up for a fall over privacy issues in China. — AP

      Cook might be setting himself up for a fall over privacy issues in China. — AP

      HONG KONG: Apple boss Tim Cook could turn out to be the yin to Yahoo’s Jerry Yang. The link between technological eras is the matter of data privacy in China.

      A few weeks ago, Apple began storing Chinese iCloud accounts inside the People’s Republic. New rules meant it had to do so or stop providing the service. Cook reckoned his company could offer its customers better security than the alternatives.

      The change also means, however, that local law dictates what information authorities can demand. Human rights activists are worried. Amnesty International started a social-media campaign against Apple on March 22. 

      Facebook’s latest data crisis is indicative of the risks. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network lost more than US$50bil (RM193.28bil) – or about a tenth – of its market value early last week after media investigations revealed that information from 50 million user profiles could have been misused by a political consultancy. Back when Yahoo was a web powerhouse, it suffered an even more relevant experience.

      Mere hours before their testimony, shares of Chinese e-commerce outfit, in which Yahoo had bought a 40% stake to further its PRC ambitions, had tripled in their Hong Kong debut.

      Yang defended himself at the time by saying that to do business in China meant “we have to comply with local law.” At a conference in Guangzhou last December, Cook struck a similar note: “When you go into a country and participate in the market, you are subject to the laws and regulation of that country.” Apple is by no means alone. Amazon, Microsoft and others are playing by Beijing’€™s rules, too.

      Nevertheless, Cook oversees the US$854bil (RM3.30tril) gorilla of tech. He also rejected FBI demands to unlock an alleged killer’s iPhone, establishing himself as a defender of privacy even if the nuances of the case were complicated. That makes him a bigger and easier target. Apple and its investors should brace for the blowback.

      — Reuters


      Philippines: NGO’s in collusion with narcotics syndicates in the anti-Duterte campaign — 20,000 summary executions just to make Duterte Look Bad?

      March 27, 2018

      Collusion between rights groups and drug lords to bring down President Duterte?

      Image result for Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, photos

      Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano

      The possibility was raised by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano although he said that non-government organizations (NGO) may have been unwittingly cooperating with narcotics syndicates in the anti-Duterte campaign.

      The war on drugs of Rody has created enough turbulence to create an unlikely alliance between both groups.

      Drug syndicates are frantic over the tight Philippine market where sales are drastically reduced as the crackdown continues.

      The rights groups, in turn, harp on extrajudicial killings (EJK) which the political opponents of Rody such as Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV tries to periodically jack up and lately had claimed 20,000 summary executions supposedly by the police.

      The actual number, however, is more than 3,000 deaths from legitimate anti-narcotics police operations.

      Image result for Duterte, photos

      Without giving names, Cayetano said NGOs were being unwittingly used by drug lords to demonize Rody.

      NGOs such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) always append a solicitation message at the end of derogatory stories or statements on Rody which make it appear that the ultimate goal is to make money out of the mostly false allegations.

      Without naming the groups, Cayetano said advocates who accused the administration of being behind summary killings and rights abuses were helping the cause of drug traffickers to frustrate Rody’s desire to rid the country of illegal drugs.

      The commensal relations of rights groups and drug syndicates revolve around the use of the human rights mechanism that was supposed to assist the government in complying with human rights standards.

      In the field of biology, a relationship among organisms in which one benefits from the other without serious effects on their true nature is called commensalism.

      It is easy picking for traffickers to choose rights groups and by association, Rody’s critics, as cover for the effort to remove him from the Philippine equation.

      It was easy to deduce that rights sensitive European countries will step up the pressure on Rody as the deaths in the war on drugs pile up.

      It would not matter whether the deaths are indeed not undertaken by the police since the police forces being in the forefront of the campaign are liable to commit mistakes, which some say can also be induced by drugs money.

      Cayetano said NGOs espousing human rights have become “big shots” in international conferences just by attacking Rody without exerting any effort to take an impartial look at the human rights situation in the Philippines.

      The illicit relations among rights groups, Rody’s political foes and drug syndicates can be clearly illustrated in the recent trip of Trillanes in Austria to speak before United Nations (UN) Medication and Crime Convention, which was the same forum in which Vice President Leni Robredo made famous her “palit-ulo” video.

      Trillanes in the forum did not represent himself but as a member of NRCNet which was the group that provided Robredo’s video to the UN body.

      Robredo’s video cited the 7,000 deaths associated with the war on drugs that in turn Trillanes lawyer Jude Sabio used as basis for the filing of crimes against humanity charges against Rody before the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has nothing to do with the ICC preliminary examination of its prosecutor. The Sabio complaint was being used for political purposes by Trillanes and the yellows.

      Trillanes nonchalantly admitted in a television interview that he did attend the UN forum in Vienna as representative of the NGO.

      There is something strange in senator’s presence in the UN forum representing an NGO that advocates the legalization of drugs, the same way as rights groups suddenly became active and famous in keeping constant pressure on Rody.

      In all these strange relations, the vile shadow of drug syndicates is ever present. / Written by  Tribune Wires  / Tuesday, 27 March 2018 00:00


      Vietnam briefly detains dissident singer after European tour

      March 27, 2018


      HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese singer and activist Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, an outspoken campaigner for free speech, was briefly detained at an airport in the capital Hanoi on Tuesday after flying home from Europe, her husband told Reuters.

       Image result for Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, photos

      Vietnamese singer Do Nguyen Mai Khoi sings at a performance in Hanoi, Vietnam May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

      Often dubbed a Vietnamese version of “Pussy Riot” or Lady Gaga because of her activism and provocative style, Mai Khoi was among dozens of dissidents on the watch-list of Communist-ruled Vietnam for her strong words against the system.

      “When Mai Khoi landed at Noi Bai airport, at 9:15 am this morning, she texted me to say: ‘Love, I just landed’,” Mai Khoi’s Australian husband, Benjamin Swanton, posted on her Facebook page, which has some 46,000 followers.

      “At 9:39 am, she texted another message: ‘Detained’.” Swanton wrote.

      Mai Khoi updated her Facebook page later in the day to say that she has been released after eight hours.

      “Thank you everyone for your care. I’m now on a public bus back to Hanoi,” Khoi said alongside a photo of herself she posted to the page.

      Calls to authorities at Noi Bai International airport and Mai Khoi’s mobile phone went unanswered. Her husband confirmed she had been released.

      “We have been evicted from our house three times now,” Swanton said.

      At least 129 people are currently detained in Vietnam for criticizing or protesting against the government, according to a February report by Human Rights Watch.

      A crackdown on dissent last year caused scores of activists to flee the country, according to Amnesty International.

      Mai Khoi, who last year protested beside U.S. President Donald Trump’s motorcade during his visit to Vietnam by holding up a poster which said “Piss on you Trump”, had not yet been subjected to a travel ban by the Vietnamese authorities.

      The 34-year-old has courted controversy under a government which, despite overseeing sweeping economic reforms and growing openness to social change, does not tolerate criticism.

      In 2016, she was one of a handful of activists who tried and failed to obtain a seat in the Communist party-dominated National Assembly. She met former U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit in Vietnam in 2015.

      The title of her new album “Bat Dong”, which she had been in Europe to promote, translates to “Disagreement”. Her song “Please, sir” pleads with the leader of the Communist Party to allow ordinary Vietnamese people to sing, publish, share and travel freely.

      Editing by James Pearson and Nick Macfie

      Nigeria’s Buhari meets with Dapchi girls — Boko Haram expected to strike Again — Terrorism and Corruption in Africa

      March 23, 2018


      © AFP / by Ola Awoniyi | A total of 113 children were seized from the school in Dapchi, in northeastern Nigeria on February 19, all but two of them girls

      ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari received the released Dapchi girls on Friday in a meeting clouded by the absence of a Christian student still held by Boko Haram for refusing to convert to Islam.”We entered into negotiation solely to make sure that no single girl was hurt. This strategy paid off as the girls are being released without any incident,” Buhari said to reporters at the presidential villa in Abuja.

      The girls, dressed in brightly coloured hijabs, enthusiastically sang the national anthem before posing for photos with Buhari outside in a garden.

      Describing the release of the 107 youngsters — 105 schoolgirls and two young boys — as a “cheery and hearty” development, Buhari pledged to recover “every abducted citizen in Nigeria.”

      “While parents of the Dapchi girls rejoice because of the reunion with their children, I want to appeal to the Chibok community never to lose hope or despair. We are determined as never before to bring back our remaining Chibok daughters,” he said.

      The latest mass kidnapping from the town of Dapchi was an embarrassment for Buhari whose government has repeatedly claimed that the Boko Haram Islamist group is close to defeat.

      – Dialogue ongoing –

      A total of 113 children were seized from the school in Dapchi, in the northeastern state of Yobe, on February 19, all but two of them girls.

      On Wednesday morning, 105 of the girls were brought back by the jihadists, who drove freely into the town in a convoy of vehicles waving the black Boko Haram flag and met by cheering residents.

      “The insurgents’ only condition was their demands for a cessation of hostilities and a temporary ceasefire to enable them to return the girls (to) the point they picked them (up),” security director Lawal Daura said.

      “The remaining six Dapchi girls are yet to be accounted for and dialogue on these students is still on-going,” he said.

      Five girls are said to have died in the initial stages of the kidnapping, while one girl — the only Christian — is still being held, with Buhari on Friday promising to free her.

      – ‘Praying for her return’ –

      Leah Sharibu is still with her captors, apparently because she refused to convert to Islam.

      “It is disheartening that one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity,” said Buhari on his official Twitter account.

      “We will do everything in our power to bring Leah back safely,” he said.

      “There is no news that they have seen my daughter,” Leah’s father Nata Sharibu told AFP over the phone.

      “People pray that my daughter will come.”

      The Dapchi kidnapping revived painful memories in Nigeria of the April 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town also in the northeast, which caused global outrage.

      While some of the Chibok girls have been freed in exchange for ransom and the release of top Boko Haram commanders, a total of 112 remain in captivity.

      Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools giving a so-called Western education in the mainly-Muslim region as part of an insurgency that has killed at least 20,000 people since 2009.

      According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, more than 2,296 teachers have been killed and some 1,400 schools destroyed in the wider northeast.

      On Wednesday, the Borno state government announced that all boarding secondary schools outside Maiduguri and the town of Biu would be closed indefinitely with immediate effect.

      Boko Haram has increasingly turned to kidnapping for ransom to raise funds for their operations in the Lake Chad region.

      While a 2015 offensive launched by Buhari successfully reclaimed swathes of territory back from the jihadists in Nigeria, the group still stages deadly attacks on both military targets and civilians.

      by Ola Awoniyi

      Nigeria: Security forces failed to act on warnings about Boko Haram attack hours before abduction of schoolgirls — Government corruption?

      March 23, 2018

      Amnesty International

      Leah Sharibu, only Dapchi schoolgirl in Boko Haram captivity.

      Nigerian security forces failed to act on advance warnings that a convoy of Boko Haram fighters was heading towards a town where they abducted 110 schoolgirls last month, an investigation by Amnesty International has revealed.

      The military failed to respond while Boko Haram conducted an armed raid on the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe state, on 19 February in an assault with chilling echoes of the infamous Chibok girls’ abduction of 2014.

      “The Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director.

      “As an even greater priority, the government must use all lawful means at its disposal to ensure that these girls are rescued.

      “The authorities appear to have learned nothing from the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state in 2014 and failed to ensure protection for civilians in northeast Nigeria, specifically girls’ schools.”

      In response to the Chibok abduction, the Safe Schools Initiative – which is currently coordinated by the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative – was launched to improve security around schools. However, no framework seems to be in place to prevent further abductions and it appears that the Nigerian military is unable to protect schools from attack.

      “Evidence available to Amnesty International suggests that there are insufficient troops deployed in the area, and that an absence of patrols and the failure to respond to warnings and engage with Boko Haram contributed to this tragedy,” said Osai Ojigho.

      “The Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago. Despite being repeatedly told that Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears that the police and military did nothing to avert the abduction.”

      The Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago. Despite being repeatedly told that Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears that the police and military did nothing to avert the abduction.
      Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director

      Amnesty International gathered testimonies from multiple credible sources showing that the Nigerian army and police received multiple calls up to four hours before the raid on Dapchi, but did not take effective measures to stop the abduction or rescue the girls after they were taken by Boko Haram fighters.

      The military withdrew troops from the area in January, meaning the closest personnel were based one hour’s drive from Dapchi.

      Between 2pm and 6.30pm on 19 February, security forces received at least five calls warning them that the armed group was on the way to Dapchi.

      The first call was made to the army command in Geidam, 54km from Dapchi, informing them that Boko Haram fighters had been seen at Futchimiram heading to Gumsa, a village about 30km from Dapchi. However, the evidence documented by Amnesty International shows that the military did nothing to engage with Boko Haram and ensure the protection of civilians.

      Commander ‘aware of Boko Haram movement’ four hours before abduction

      The sighting of an armed convoy at Futchimiram immediately sparked several phone calls to alert authorities. Sources who informed the military commander in Geidam at 2pm report that he responded to them by saying he was aware of the situation and was monitoring it.

      At around 3pm, the convoy arrived in Gumsa, where they remained till 5pm. People in Gumsa called Dapchi villagers to warn them that Boko Haram fighters were on their way. One villager who received such a call said he informed a police sergeant who promised to notify the Dapchi Division Police Officer (DPO).

      At around 6:30pm, when residents were heading to the mosque for evening prayers, Boko Haram members entered Dapchi. Witnesses said Boko Haram fighters asked for directions to the military post, the local government office and the girls’ school.

      A police source in Dapchi told Amnesty International that officers fled because they feared the Boko Haram fighters would overpower them.

      Government must investigate root causes of failure to respond

      A source based in northeast Nigeria told Amnesty International: “All the military needed to do was send troops towards Gumsa from Geidam or Babban Gida, while telling its troops in Damasak, Kareto, Gubio and Magumeri to be on the lookout or be on patrol.”

      A review of the Nigerian army’s actions by Amnesty International’s crisis advisor for military operations also concluded that the military’s response was woefully inadequate. The review took into consideration the locations of the soldiers and the time it would take to get to Dapchi, as well as the route taken by Boko Haram.

      According to victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, Boko Haram left Gumsa for Dapchi at around 5:00pm, arriving at around 6:30pm. They left Dapchi at around 7:30pm in the direction of Gumsa, where villagers say they arrived at around 9:00pm.

      During the attack, army officials both in Geidam and Damaturu were again alerted. The military only arrived in Dapchi shortly after Boko Haram left.

      Villagers in Dapchi and Gumsa said a military jet arrived about one hour after Boko Haram left Dapchi.

      Six days after the abduction, on 25 February, a security meeting was held at the governor’s office in the state capital Damaturu attended by state and federal government officials, security chiefs, the military officials operating in the area and representatives from the school and parents. The authorities were aware that the military was notified at least four hours before the attack that suspected Boko Haram fighters were heading to Gumsa. No one appears to have asked why the military did not respond adequately or why there were not enough troops.

      President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently ordered an investigation into the response to the abduction.

      “The government’s failure in this incident must be investigated and the findings made public – and it is absolutely crucial that any investigation focuses on the root causes,” said Osai Ojigho.

      The government’s failure in this incident must be investigated and the findings made public – and it is absolutely crucial that any investigation focuses on the root causes.
      Osai Ojigho

      “Why were insufficient troops available? Why was it decided to withdraw troops? What measures has the government taken to protect schools in northeast Nigeria? And what procedures are supposed to be followed in response to an attempted abduction?”

      Families of abducted girls left without any information

      The abduction was followed by confusion. Initially, the authorities denied any girls were abducted, then the Yobe state authorities stated that the military had rescued the girls. But the girls did not return home, and on 22 February the state government confirmed the abductions.

      One parent told Amnesty International: “That night we heard their voices when they were being taken, but there was nothing we could do. Everyone was scared. Boko Haram did not stay in the town for more than one hour.”

      That night we heard their voices when they were being taken, but there was nothing we could do. Everyone was scared. Boko Haram did not stay in the town for more than one hour.

      Another parent described how the girls’ relatives were not given any information until the following day, and had to wait outside the school to find out if their loved ones were safe.

      “Many parents were hopeful that their daughters were inside. We stood there from morning till around 5pm in the evening, when they let the students out. It was at that point it dawned on me that my daughter was among those abducted,” he said.

      Another parent whose daughter returned said: “Nobody told parents officially that their daughters were taken. While I was glad seeing my daughters, I felt bad for other parents whose daughters could not be found.”

      No lessons learned from 2014 Chibok abduction

      The response to this abduction has chilling similarities to the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state in April 2014.

      On that occasion, the military also had four hours’ advance warning but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, with most military personnel withdrawn shortly before the abduction.

      Similarly, the abduction was followed by a climate of confusion and suspicion, which appeared to slow down the Nigerian authorities’ efforts to locate and free the abducted girls.

      After the Chibok abduction, the military initially said that almost all the abducted girls had been rescued, but later had to retract that statement.

      The authorities under President Goodluck Jonathan originally investigated Boko Haram’s responsibility for the Chibok abductions but never made the report public. In January 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered another investigation into the government’s response to the Chibok abduction. This report was also never made public.

      “Regrettably, no lessons appear to have been learned from the terrible events at Chibok four years ago. What happened in Dapchi is almost a carbon copy of what happened in Chibok, with the security forces failing to respond to warnings – and the same result for another hundred girls and their families,” said Osai Ojigho.

      “All authorities must now work together to ensure the girls are brought home safely and this never happens again. This abduction is a war crime and those responsible must be brought to justice. As a first step, the two reports into the Chibok abductions should be made public.”

      Amnesty International is calling on Boko Haram to immediately release the girls and all others in its captivity.


      A team of Amnesty International researchers visited Dapchi and interviewed 23 people, including girls who escaped, parents of the abducted girls, local officials and eyewitnesses, to document this abduction. They also interviewed three security officials.

      The sources independently verified a list of Nigerian security officials who were alerted on 19 February, before and during the raid on the Government Girls Science and Technical College. They have been kept anonymous for their safety.

      The sources and eyewitnesses in Dapchi confirmed that approximately 50 Boko Haram fighters arrived in Dapchi in a convoy of nine vehicles with Arabic inscriptions on them, seven Landcruiser trucks, one Hilux and a Canter truck.


      Integrated Bar of the Philippines urges ending current ouster efforts against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno — “Duterte wants her out so she’s out.”

      March 23, 2018


      The 40,000-strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines insisted that the Supreme Court should junk the petition for quo warranto against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as she can only be ousted through impeachment.  The STAR/Boy Santos

      Kristine Joy Patag ( – March 23, 2018 – 2:14pm


      MANILA, Philippines — The Integrated Bar of the Philippines is the latest to ask the Supreme Court to junk the petition for quo warranto against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
      The 40,000-strong IBP on Friday asked the SC to allow their opposition-in-intervention against Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition that seeks the nullification of Sereno’s appointment as chief justice.
      The IBP, through its president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, argued that Sereno could only be removed through impeachment as stated by the 1987 Constitution.
      “[T]he Constitution admits of no other mode of removal of impeachable officers for impeachable offenses is clear from the text of Article XI, Section 2,” the IBP said.
      The said provision of the Constitution provides that the “President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”
      Calida sought the SC to nullify Sereno’s appointment in 2012 as chief justice, arguing that Sereno “flunked the test of integrity” when she failed to meet the Judicial and Bar Council’s requirement for submission of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
      On Thursday, two groups also filed their motions urging the high court to dismiss Calida’s petition.
      READ: Makabayan bloc to oppose Calida’s ouster plea vs Sereno | Petitioners question timing of Calida’s ouster plea

      ‘Sereno deemed qualified by JBC, president’


      The group of lawyers also stressed that Sereno was deemed qualified for a position at the high court by the JBC, mandated by the Constitution to screen applicants for the bench, twice.
      “The first being her appointment as an Associate Justice in 2010 and the second being her appointment as Chief Justice in 2012. Both instances are deliberate exercises of specific constitutional power, the parameters of which are defined by the actors, not by outsiders,” the IBP said.
      “To impose the subjective judgment of an outsider to the process confined by the Constitution to specific actors would enable an intrusion that the Constitution neither defines or allows,” the IBP added.

      Calida’s case


      Central to Calida’s argument is Sereno’s failure to submit 10 of her SALNs when she applied for the position in 2012. During the probable cause hearing on Sereno’s impeachment case by the House justice panel, it was raised that the chief justice only submitted three of her SALNs.
      But the IBP noted that the JBC accepted Sereno’s letter explaining that some of her SALNs could not be located by the University of the Philippines.
      READ: Sereno to present ‘missing’ SALNs
      The acceptance of Sereno’s letter and her inclusion on the short list presented to then-President Benigno Aquino III “carries the weight of its constitutional duty, which in the absences of any clear indication, as in this case, cannot be overturned on the mere subjective judgment of outsiders,” the JBC said.
      Sereno has been on an indefinite leave since March 1. She said that this is in preparation for her looming impeachment trial at the Senate.



      Peace and Freedom comment:

      Without a hearing, it seems she’s been found guilty of something and now there is a discussion on how best remove her. This is more “extra-legal” Shinanigans in the Philippines. People in the Philippines tell us, Duterte wants her out so she’s out.”


      All this makes one wonder: does the Philippines know what it is doing with China? In the South China Sea?  Benham Rise? Is Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ICC, and is Agnes Callamard  (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the UN) correct in saying the Philippines is guilty of gross illegalities under international law? Is the Philippine government being run by people who don’t understand the law? Is the move for a “Federal form of Government” based upon any good thinking?