Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

Rights group slams Gulf states for ‘toying’ with people in Qatar row

June 11, 2017


© Stringer, AFP | Passengers wait to check-in at the Hamad International Airport in Doha on June 7, 2017.

Latest update : 2017-06-11

Amnesty International said on Saturday that the Gulf states opposed to Qatar were “toying” with thousands of ordinary individuals after Saudi Arabia and its allies cut ties with the emirate over its alleged support to terrorism.

Amnesty International warned that the sea and land blockade and other “drastic” measures against Qatar were taking their toll on families, workers and students.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents as part of their dispute with Qatar, splitting up families and destroying people’s livelihoods and education,” the London-based watchdog said.

Human rights of potentially thousands of people in Gulf affected by steps imposed after political dispute with Qatar 

It noted that Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had warned of harsh punishment, including up to 15 years in jail, if people “dare to criticise these measures” against Qatar.

The measures include banning Qatar Airways from airspace and closing Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia. The Arab states have also ordered Qataris out within 14 days.

“These drastic measures are already having a brutal effect, splitting children from parents and husbands from wives,” said Amnesty after its researchers interviewed dozens of people affected by the crisis.

“People from across the region… risk losing jobs and having their education disrupted.”

Amnesty, quoting Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, said more than 11,000 nationals of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE live in Qatar, while many Qataris are residents of the three other Gulf states.

Qatar said on Sunday that citizens of states that have cut ties with the emirate will be allowed to stay in the country despite measures against its own nationals.

Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the Gulf

The blockade is widely seen as a way to punish Qatar for its good relations with Tehran, as part of the larger struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Tehran reacted by showing its support for the emirate, sending five planes of food to Qatar.

“So far five planes carrying perishable food items such as fruit and vegetables have been sent to Qatar, each carrying around 90 tonnes of cargo, while another plane will be sent today,” Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi told AFP news agency on Sunday.

“We will continue deliveries as long as there is demand” from Qatar, Noushabadi added, without mentioning if these deliveries were exports or aid.

Three ships loaded with 350 tonnes of food were also set to leave an Iranian port for Qatar, the Tasnim News Agency quoted a local official as saying.

Qatar hires former US attorney general

Qatar has denied Saudi accusations and dispatched Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on a diplomatic offensive to enlist support from abroad.

Russia called Saturday for dialogue to resolve a dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, as Riyadh and its allies welcomed US President Donald Trump’s demand that Doha stop funding extremist groups.

Qatari authorities also hired John Ashcroft, the US attorney general during the September 11 attacks, in a bid to rebut accusations from US President Donald Trump and its Arab neighbours that it supports terrorism.

Qatar will pay the Ashcroft Law Firm $2.5m (€2.2m) for a 90-day period as the country seeks to confirm its efforts to fight global terrorism and comply with financial regulations including US Treasury rules, according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, filing on Friday with the Justice Department.

The Ashcroft Law Firm was hired to do a compliance and regulatory view of Qatar’s anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing framework, Ashcroft partner Michael Sullivan said in an email.

“Qatar is confident that the review and analysis will confirm that Qatar has significant measures in place to prevent and detect efforts to launder funds and/or to use its financial systems to finance terrorist organisations,” he said.


Myanmar Muslims again forced out of Buddhist-majority areas — The Humanitarian disaster Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has been unable to fix

June 8, 2017


By Wa Lone and Yimou Lee | YANGON/RAMREE, MYANMAR

When Nwe Nwe Oo left Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State for the commercial hub of Yangon with a $590 government stipend in her pocket, she hoped to escape persecution against minority Muslims and start a new life.

Two months on the 50-year-old widow, who had lived in the rundown camp for displaced people since Rakhine was roiled by communal violence in 2012, has already spent more than half of the money to rent a room of 8 square meters (86 sq ft). With few job prospects and high living costs, she struggles to feed her two daughters in a strange city 500 km (310 miles) from home.

“What do we eat after the money runs out? We are all very worried. I can’t find a job here,” said Nwe Nwe Oo. The family is dependent on her elder daughter who earns $88 a month in a tea factory.

The authorities began shuttering her small camp in the town of Ramree in April, the start of a push by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to close down all such camps in Rakhine within five years, following a recommendation from a commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

Men from a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016. Picture taken October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Humanitarian experts back the eventual closure of the camps but criticize the way the government has begun the task, which they say sets a worrying precedent for the handling of much larger camps elsewhere in Rakhine where tens of thousands of people still live.

Without more efforts to bring peace and stability to Rakhine, “by closing camps one will simply be transferring the problem to another place,” said Mark Cutts, Head of U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

Nwe Nwe Oo had little choice in moving to Yangon. The authorities said it was not safe for the 128 Muslim residents of the camp in Ramree, a coastal town in southern Rakhine, to remain in the town, where they had lived before the violence.

“We don’t have enough police force to prevent conflict happening again,” said Min Aung, spokesman of the Rakhine State government. “That’s why we allow them to relocate to other places as they want to.”


Nwe Nwe Oo’s family belongs to the Kaman Muslim minority, who, unlike the more numerous Rohingya Muslims from northern Rakhine, have Myanmar citizenship and are officially recognized as an ethnic group.

The homes of Kamans in Ramree were burned in the clashes between Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that killed nearly 200 and displaced tens of thousands in the state.

“The new government helped us move to Yangon, but what we hoped for was to return to our homeland. I don’t know whether that will ever happen,” Nwe Nwe Oo told Reuters.

She was among nearly 100 Kaman Muslims from the camp who since April were offered bus fares, air tickets as well as additional modest financial support if they chose to leave the Buddhist-majority area.

The OCHA’s Cutts said the Ramree Kamans told U.N. staff they were not allowed to go back to their original land and were given no viable options other than to leave.

In contrast to the Kaman Muslims, the government in April resettled nearly 300 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, displaced in the same conflict, to 65 houses in the neighboring Kyauk Pyu area, local officials, residents and OCHA officials said. Each family was offered about $294 to settle in their newly-built homes with water, electricity and drainage systems.

Rights groups say that if the Kaman were not allowed to return to their places of origin, there is little prospect of a workable solution for the 120,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims still living in camps in Rakhine.

“If the government can’t facilitate the safe and voluntary return of the Kaman, a group they officially recognize as citizens, what hope is there for the Rohingya?” said Amnesty International researcher Laura Haigh.


Kaman residents said apartheid-like conditions in Ramree, where some bus drivers refuse to carry Muslims, give them little chance of finding a job or a good education for their children in the Buddhist-majority town of 97,000.

“I really love my homeland, but I will face so many problems if I stay,” said 55-year-old Tin Hla, a father-of-four and one of the last remaining residents of the camp, who is planning to move to Yangon this month.

Some former residents, though, remain hopeful that the closure of the camp will improve their daily lives.

Back in the Yangon suburb, another recently arrived Kaman Muslim, 28-year-old Kyaw Soe Moe, anxiously awaited the outcome of a job interview with a construction material company.

While life in the country’s largest city could be tough, the newly-arrived man said it’s an improvement compared with the days in the Ramree camp, where their movements were restricted and job prospects bleak.

“At least there’s freedom here,” he said.

(Reporting by Wa Lone and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson and Antoni Slodkowski)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets Merkel in Berlin as Europe pivots to Asia

June 1, 2017

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In a week during which a Europe-US rift seems to be deepening, the Chinese premier became the second major Asian leader to arrive in Berlin. Talks will focus on closer cooperation on trade and climate issues.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Germany on Wednesday evening, greeted by full military honors.

China’s number two official kicked off two days of meetings in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of wider meetings with European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

His visit came amid a deepening rift between the US and Europe . After “unsatisfying” G7 talks last week , Merkel said that Europe now has to forge its own path forward, as the US and Britain were no longer reliable partners – comments that made waves through Europe.

This has been a week of Germany reaching out to Asia, with Merkel signing a range of agreements with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin on Tuesday.

Talks on climate

The EU has been turning to China to bolster leadership on climate change following speculation that the US President Donald Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The EU and China plan to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement during a bilateral summit in Brussels on Thursday, according to a briefing by an EU official and a draft joint statement statement seen by news agencies AFP and DPA.

“The EU and China consider the Paris Agreement as an historic achievement further accelerating the irreversible global low greenhouse gas emission and climate resilient development,” the nine-page draft joint statement said.

“The EU and China underline their highest political commitment to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement in all its aspects.”

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said “the EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.”
Germany’s Asian Pivot – Trade with China in focus as Germany’s transatlantic ties waiver

In just over five weeks, Germany is hosting the G20 leadership summit in Hamburg, in which it plans to push climate change onto the agenda. Li was meeting with Merkel to discuss economics and trade issues and prepare ground for the summit.

Several Chinese ministers traveled to Berlin with Li and were due to meet with their German counterparts in the evening.

Talks on trade

The EU has also been increasingly looking to China for support on free trade, after a shift towards protectionism from the US. Last week German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met his counterpart in Beijing, and signed a joint commitment on promoting free trade.

The head of the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business, Hubert Lienhard, called on China to make good on its commitments to open markets.

As Li arrived in Germany, the country’s biggest lender Deutsche Bank announced US$3 billion (2.7 billion euros) worth of investments in cooperation with the China Development Bank as part of the Belt & Road Initiative. 

The two banks signed a memorandum of understanding expressing “interest in promoting the renminbi’s internationalisation and in financing economic cooperation between China, Germany and other Belt and Road Initiative countries,” according to a statement.

Human rights organizations called on Merkel to urge Li to take concrete steps to improve human rights in China. Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Tibet and the media organization Reporters Without Borders criticized President Xi Jinping’s as being responsible for systematic repression of human rights.



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German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before German-Indian government consultations at the chancellery in Berlin on Tuesday. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

Reflecting on the fraught new era of U.S. relations with Germany, and Europe at large, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Sunday at a beer hall, and contended that her continent-mates “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

Those jitters about already weakening transatlantic alliances were surely heightened as President Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning and accused Germany of maintaining a trade imbalance and under-contributing to NATO. Trump has also suggested that he might withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, which Merkel has championed.

Merkel on Tuesday reiterated her sense that Europe must seek new alliances, telling reporters in Berlin, “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”

“Others,” in this case, seems to be a euphemism; Merkel was clearly talking about the United States.

On Tuesday, Merkel met with Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, and on Wednesday she will meet with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Although Merkel has sought to dampen the notion that she wants to pivot Germany and Europe away from the United States and toward Eastern powers, Tuesday’s meeting with Modi could not have been more positive and cordial.

“We are meant for each other,” Modi told Merkel, smiling widely.

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China Sees an Opening in Rift Between Trump and Germany

The New York Times

BERLIN — Exit President Trump, offending almost everyone. Enter China, eager to talk.

In a geopolitical whirl this week, the new American president had barely left Europe to face his Russia troubles at home before Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Continent’s No. 1 leader, suggested that Mr. Trump’s America was no longer a reliably close ally.

An outcry ensued, with analysts on both sides of the Atlantic talking of an epochal shift in relations. And that was even before reports began to emerge from the White House on Wednesday that Mr. Trump was expected to withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord.

Ms. Merkel and Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China listened to their national anthems at the chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday. Credit Michele Tantussi/Getty Images
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Amnesty International Says Egypt Law is a “Death Sentence” for Rights Groups

May 30, 2017

CAIRO — Rights group Amnesty International says a new law ratified by Egypt’s president that imposes unprecedentedly harsh restrictions on NGOs could be “a death sentence” for human rights groups in the country.

In a Tuesday statement, it called the law, signed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi a day earlier, “a catastrophic blow for human rights groups working in Egypt.”

The law comes as part of el-Sissi’s wider crackdown on dissent since he rose to power in 2013, when he led a military overthrow of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.

Supporters believe that the law is necessary to regulate the groups accused of feeding chaos starting from the 2011 popular uprising that led to the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.


Egypt’s President Enacts Law Placing Severe Restrictions on Aid Groups

CAIRO — President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Monday enacted a law that imposes strict new regulations on aid groups, stoking fears that his government intends to accelerate its harsh crackdown on human rights activists before a presidential election scheduled for next year.

The new law, which some aid groups predict will force them to shut down, was approved by Egypt’s Parliament in November, but Mr. Sisi hesitated to sign it after trenchant criticism from Western officials, most notably the Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who threatened to restrict American aid to Egypt if the legislation was approved.

But recently Mr. Sisi has appeared emboldened by a burgeoning friendship with President Trump, who has hailed the Egyptian strongman as a “fantastic guy” and indicated that he did not intend to allow human rights issues to sour their relationship.

Having welcomed Mr. Sisi to Washington last month, Mr. Trump met with him again during his visit last week to Saudi Arabia, where the two leaders were photographed touching a glowing orb alongside Salman, the Saudi king. On his return to Egypt, the Sisi government pushed through new news media restrictions and prosecuted a rival political leader in the courts, further squeezing political rights and free speech.

“Egypt and other regimes like Bahrain definitely feel they have a green light from Trump to undertake repressive actions in the name of counterterrorism and to anticipate that the Trump administration will not issue a word of criticism,” said Amy Hawthorne, an Egypt expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington.

Mr. Sisi argues that harsh measures are needed to counter the threat from violent extremists like the Islamic State, which since December has killed more than 100 Christians in a campaign of sectarian violence. In the latest attack, on Friday, gunmen killed 30 people as they traveled to a monastery in southern Minya governorate.


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Philippines’ Duterte mulls imposing martial law nationwide — “Martial law of Mr Marcos was very good,” Duterte said — (The most lawless nation in Asia goes one step beyond…)

May 24, 2017


© AFP | Philippine policemen check a car at a checkpoint in Iligan City, on the southern island of Mindanao, on May 24, 2017


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he may impose martial law throughout the nation, after declaring military rule in the southern third the cof ountry to combat Islamist militants.

Duterte on Tuesday announced the imposition of martial law in the region of Mindanao, home to about 20 million people, after militants who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group rampaged through a city there.

Duterte said he was considering also imposing martial law through the central third of the Philippines known as the Visayas, because this region is very close to Mindanao.

He then also raised the prospect of the northern third of the Philippines, known as Luzon and home to the capital of Manila, falling under martial law.

“If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon, and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people,” he said.

Duterte warned martial law would be similar to military rule imposed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos a generation ago.

Marcos’s two-decade rule ended in 1986 when millions of people took to the streets in a famous “People Power” revolution.

“Martial law of Mr Marcos was very good,” Duterte said.

Duterte said his own version of martial law meant security forces could conduct searches and arrest people without warrants.

He also said there would be curfews for some provinces in Mindanao.


 (with links to related reports)




President Duterte Once called The Philippine Police “Corrupt To The Core” — When will it get better? — Maybe When China Takes Over

May 23, 2017

Philippine Inquirer


The streets of Manila are stressful to drive in on a daily basis. The heavy traffic is enough to make anyone groan, and bad drivers can get pretty ruthless. While there needs to be better law implementation and effective enforcement from the police, we don’t see any progress at all.

Recent incidents also heightened calls for safer and organized streets, especially when police officers are either confused or ignorant of the law. As concerned citizens, we want to bring up a few points on what can be improved when it comes to driving.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) talks to Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa (R) during a press conference at the Malacanang palace in Manila on January 30, 2017. © NOEL CELIS / POOL / AFP

When the Anti-Distracted Driving Law was put into motion, I thought it was about time that drivers were told to not use their phones. But mere days after its implementation, both police and drivers are dumbfounded by the law’s grounds. There were stories that ride-sharing vehicles were being stopped because they were looking at Waze from their dashboards. This is despite the fact that it’s allowed as long as it doesn’t obstruct your view.

Not only that, even rosaries and other religious icons were being banned under the law. Of course, this garnered a reaction from the church, saying that the LTFRB “is absolutely missing the point.” And they’re not wrong.

This prompted senators to call for the law’s suspension until it’s fixed and made less complicated. “We rarely hear of road accidents that result from the use of navigational apps,” said Sen. JV Ejercito. Definitely, texting and tinkering with a mobile phone while driving is a no-no. But when it is used as a navigational aid and it is properly place, it is okay.”

However, that’s not the only issue that citizens face with the police. Coleen Garcia recently recounted how an ex-cop harassed her driver and scratched her face. What made the ordeal worse was that police officers were merely watching and not helping the actress. “I’m still disappointed by the way the marshals handled (or failed to handle) the situation, but the police officers at the station were very helpful with everything,” she wrote on her Facebook account.

She also emphasized how ex-cops in the Philippines “can get away with anything he wants” regardless if they throw threats or pull out a gun.

This is just a few instances wherein the police force somehow doesn’t do their job right to ensure our safety. This should open our eyes to the reality that there still needs work to be done with these matters, be it traffic regulation or abuse of power.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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 (Contains links to related articles)
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Discarded — The body of a dead Filipino girl — killed in President Duterte’s war on drugs — looks like it has been put out with the trash….. Presidential spokeman Abella said the war on drugs is for the next generation of Filipinos.



Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kline also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

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No automatic alt text available.

Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

 (December 23, 2016)


 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)

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High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo, Jean-Marc Ferré

Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)

 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa

Amnesty International: ‘We’re living in a world of fear and division’

May 17, 2017

Murder, assault and surveillance: 2016 was not a good year for human rights defenders, according to Amnesty International. 281 activists were killed, many more silenced. We need better protection, says Guadalupe Marengo.

Türkei Demo gegen Protest-Verbot Taksim Square in Istanbul (Imago/Haytham Pictures)A silent protester on Taksim square in Istanbul. Amnesty International say we need to protect human rights defenders

Interview with Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International

DW: Why has 2016 been such a bad year for human rights?

Guadalupe Marengo: We are now living in a world where it’s us versus them, a world of fear and division, a world of demonization. And I think human rights have been caught in that sort of world in the last year. That is why we have launched this campaign – to aim for everybody to recognize and protect human rights defenders.

The human rights community, and the international community in particular, committed to recognizing and protecting human rights defenders twenty years ago. All the countries that are part of the United Nations voted unanimously – we now have a declaration that clearly says, let’s recognize these people, but also let’s implement measures to protect them.

Here we are almost 20 years later and hundreds of human rights defenders continue to be killed; at least 3500 have been killed since 1998, when the international community committed to recognizing and protecting them. If we do the math that’s one death every other day. And last year, in particular, the rise was among those defending land rights, and the environment.

Which countries are the worst offenders – where are human rights activists the most at risk?

If you look at the brief that we’ve published – Human Rights Defenders under threat – it’s world-wide. Just a few days ago in Mexico, Miriam Rodriguez, a woman who campaigned tirelessly to get justice after her daughter was abducted and killed, was shot dead.

So the attacks continue, and they can be prevented. Often what happens is that people ask for protection for years, and Amnesty and other organizations ask for protection for them too. But that protection isn’t given. It isn’t taken seriously and we end up with many deaths.

Your report is called Human Rights Defenders – a shrinking space for civil society. How has that space been diminished in the past? Are you referring to police crackdowns of peaceful demonstrations, such as the Standing Rock water protection movement in the US?

That is one example, but online surveillance is also shrinking this space. It’s very difficult to say anything without being attacked.

But yes, there is what we call excessive use of force by police when people go out and protest. We have various examples – the example you mentioned in Dakota, but also in other parts of the world – in Egypt, Turkey and Venezuela. When people go out on the streets, police use force, instead of allowing assembly and association, which is a right we all have under international law.

Amnesty International Guadalupe Marengo (Amnesty International/Mark Allan)Amnesty’s Marengo says we need to do more to protect human rights activists

You’ve highlighted the risk that comes with mass surveillance and new technology. Has it simply become easier to track and harass activists?

I think you put it perfectly: it has become easier. Because there’s always been surveillance, even before social media and the internet. The thing is that, now, it’s very difficult to protect yourself.

Smear campaigns spread quickly. Human rights defenders are accused of being anti-development, of being criminals, of defending terrorists, or of not having morals, because they are defending sexual productive rights or LGBTI rights. That is a total affront to human rights and those who defend them.

Does the rise of online trolls play a role in this?

In countries like Venezuela, if you’re attacked via social media, you’ll find it very scary to leave your home. Nobody’s really protecting you. What are our leaders doing? They’re not sending a clear message that this isn’t going to be tolerated.

And that’s what we’re hoping happens with this campaign: that we change the narrative and show the world that human rights defenders are ordinary people taking injustice personally and wanting a fairer world. And to make our leaders commit to saying: we’re not tolerating attacks on these brave people. We should applaud them and we should all become human rights defenders. We will then live in a much better world.

Guadalupe Marengo is the head of Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Defenders Team.

Syria has executed thousands of prisoners and burned the dead bodies in a giant crematorium, US administration claims

May 15, 2017

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  • Around 50 people per day are hanged and burned at Saydnaya military prison, claims US
  • Stu Jones, top US diplomat for the Middle East, said Assad’s regime has ‘sunk to a new level of depravity
  • State Department said thousands of mass killings have been carried out
  • It said crematorium is being used to hide extent of the executions 
  • A satellite image of a prison in Syria with a section of the snowy roof having melted backs up the claims 

The Syrian government has been accused of carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners by the US government – which released a satellite image to prove it.

Diplomat Stuart Jones said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government ‘has sunk to a new level of depravity’.

The Trump administration claims the bodies of those killed were burned in a large crematorium outside the capital.

The allegation matches an Amnesty International report released in February which claimed up to 13,000 people – mostly civilians opposed to the government – have been hanged in secret at the prison.

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium

President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of sinking to a 'new level of depravity'

President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of sinking to a ‘new level of depravity’

The State Department says about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes from Damascus.


Hangings at Saydnaya are carried out once or twice a week, usually on Monday and Wednesday, in the middle of the night, according to insiders.

Those whose names are called out were told they would be transferred to civilian prisons in Syria.

Instead, they are moved to a cell in the basement of the prison and beaten severely.

They are then transported to another prison building on the grounds of Saydnaya, where they are hanged.

Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks.

‘They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,’ said a former judge who witnessed the hangings.

Detainees held in the building in the floors above the ‘execution room’ reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.

(Source: Amnesty International) 

It says the crematorium is being used to hide evidence of the extent of the killings.

A satellite image provided by the State Department taken in January 2015 shows a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium. The snow on one section of the roof is melted in the photo.

In February Amnesty International claimed as many as 13,000 people had been hanged in secret.

It claimed the executions have happened at a rate of around 50 a day between 2011 and 2015.

Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut, said: ‘The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population.

‘We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria.

‘Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.’

The US State Department has released newly-declassified photographs showing what it says is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium.

Jones, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, said the crematorium could be used to dispose of bodies near a prison where tens of thousands of people have been detained during the country’s six-year-old civil war.

Jones also said the United States has ‘reason to be skeptical’ about a deal to set up ‘de-escalation zones’ brokered by Russia during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week.

The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium. The photographs taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use.

One photograph taken in January 2015 shows one area of the building’s roof cleared of snow due to melt.

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China releases human rights lawyer Li Heping

May 11, 2017

Li Heping was held in secret for two years and deprived of all contact with his family but is now back home

Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping (right) is released from custody after two years in which he was tried in secret. Photograph: Handout

Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping (right) is released from custody after two years in which he was tried in secret. Photograph: Handout Photograph: Handout

The last time Terry Halliday saw Li Heping, just a few days before he was snatched by police in the summer of 2015, he remembers sitting down to lunch with a stimulating, thoughtful and physically fit man.

“Slim, yes, but not emaciated. A man clearly in his 40s … A man who was fully present,” the American Bar Foundation scholar recalled.

Just days later Li, a crusading Chinese human rights lawyer, was spirited into secret custody at the start of an unprecedented government crackdown on his trade that has drawn widespread international condemnation.

On Tuesday afternoon, after almost two years languishing behind bars, Li finally emerged, having been secretly tried and handed a suspended sentence for “subversion of state power” at the end of last month.

Photographs and a brief video clip posted online showed the Christian attorney, now 46, being reunited with his wife and daughter, Wang Qiaoling and Li Jiamei, at their family home in Beijing.

“I have to say I didn’t recognise him in the [photo],” said Halliday, the author of a book on China’s human rights lawyers, who like many was disturbed at the toll incarceration appeared to have inflicted on his friend.

“[He looked] very thin. He’s aged about 20 years. His hair has gone grey. He’s gone through a torturous time, I would say,” Halliday added. “I would defy anybody … to imagine that so much transformation could have occurred over two years.”

“The only thing that I recognised was his smile: that wonderful smile of his that has always been a reflection of his warmth and his kindness.”

As news of Li’s release spread on social media, friends and supporters expressed a similar mix of relief and outrage.

“This is Li Heping? Almost unrecognizable!” Liu Xiaoyuan, a prominent rights lawyer who clients have included the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, tweetedalongside an image of the lawyer’s homecoming.

“Hair completely white,” tweeted Zhang Dajun, a Chinese legal scholar.

Read the rest:


From Amnesty International

China: Human rights lawyer released on bail amid relentless crackdown

10 May 2017, 14:48 UTC

The release of Xie Yang on bail does not represent a break in China’s relentless crackdown against human rights lawyers, Amnesty International said today.

Xie Yang was tried in Changsha City Intermediate People’s Court in southern China on 8 May for “inciting subversion of state power” and “disrupting court order” and apparently released on bail even though a verdict has not been announced.

“This unusual sequence of events does nothing to alleviate the concerns about torture in this case,” said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International. “While it is a relief that Xie Yang is no longer in detention, it doesn’t diminish the fact that he should never have been arrested in the first place.”

“While on bail, Xie Yang is likely to experience constant surveillance and severe restrictions to his freedom of movement as we have witnessed in other such cases,” said Patrick Poon. “Such tactics appear to be the authorities’ modus operandi against those defending human rights.”

The court announced the trial would be broadcast on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, only approximately 20 minutes before it began.

At the trial Xie Yang said that he was not tortured, contradicting what he told his lawyers in January when he recounted prolonged torture he had suffered during his detention, including lengthy interrogations, beatings, and deprivation of water and sleep.

Xie Yang is one of almost 250 lawyers and activists targeted in an unprecedented crackdown by the Chinese government which started in July 2015.

The charges against Xie Yang are baseless. The authorities know it and that is why they have resorted to torture and other forms of coercion against him and his family
Patrick Poon


After accounts of Xie Yang’s torture were made public by his lawyers in January 2017, the authorities have rejected any further requests from his lawyers to meet with their client. Another detained human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, was seen “confessing” on mainland media in March 2017 to fabricating the evidence of Xie Yang’s torture.

Xie Yang’s family had also been threatened in an attempt to coerce him to “confess” and provide incriminating statements against other human rights defenders.

Xie Yang was represented at the trial by court-appointed lawyers after those hired by his family were removed from the case by the authorities.

The authorities have repeatedly warned Chen Jiangang, one of Xie Yang’s original defence lawyers, to stop discussing the case with international media and initiated an investigation into Chen’s own eligibility to practice law.

Chen Jiangang and his family and activist Zhang Baocheng and Zhang’s wife, Liu Juefan,were taken away by police in Yunnan when they were travelling there on 3 May. After they were released, Chen had to drive back to Beijing from Yunnan, escorted by public security officers while Chen’s wife and their two young children were allowed to take a flight back to Beijing.

“The charges against Xie Yang are baseless. The authorities know it and that is why they have resorted to torture and other forms of coercion against him and his family” said Patrick Poon.

Relentless crackdown

The detention of lawyer Wang Yu and her family on 9 July 2015 marked the beginning of an unprecedented government crackdown on human rights lawyers and other activists. Over the following weeks, almost 250 lawyers and activists were questioned or detained state security agents, and many of their offices and homes were raided.

Apart from Xie Yang, another five have been convicted of “subverting state power”. In August 2016, activists Zhai Yanmin and Gou Hongguo, aka Ge Ping, were given suspended prison sentences. Activist Hu Shigen and lawyer Zhou Shifeng were sentenced to seven and a half years and seven years’ imprisonment respectively. Lawyer Li Heping was tried in Tianjin on 25 April and then sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, on 28 April. His whereabouts remained unknown after the verdict until he returned home on 9 May, although images show he has lost weight and his hair has turned noticeably grey.

Three others remain in detention and are awaiting trial dates or verdicts. The trial date of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang still has not been set. Activists Yin Xu’an and Wang Fang are still waiting for their verdicts after appearing in court in September last year and in February this year respectively.

China lawyer’s wife seeks US asylum after brazen escape

May 10, 2017


© AFP/File / by Joanna CHIU | Chen Guiqiu (3rd L), the wife of detained human rights lawyer Xie Yang, is seeking US asylum after fleeing China on foot and brazenly escaping a Thai jail with her two daughters, aided by US officials

BEIJING (AFP) – Chen Guiqiu fled China on foot with her two daughters, only to end up in a Thai prison until US officials helped them sneak out dramatically through a back door.

Now Chen is safe in Texas with her daughters, hoping to obtain US asylum after her extraordinary caper across the world.

But her husband, prominent human rights lawyer Xie Yang, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to inciting subversion during a one-day trial in central China this week.

While US President Donald Trump has been accused of glossing over human rights abuses in certain countries, Chen’s account shows US officials went to great lengths to help her escape China’s clutches.

Chen had been a vocal defender of her husband, whose case drew international concern after he accused the police of torturing him.

She said that because of her activism authorities interrogated her repeatedly, harassed her family members and threatened to evict her and get her fired from her job as professor of environmental engineering at Hunan University.

She and her daughters, who are aged four and 15, first tried to take a train to Hong Kong from southern Guangdong province earlier this year.

“That’s when I realised we were on a travel blacklist. At the train station, they prevented us from boarding then separated me from my older daughter and detained her somewhere I couldn’t see. My heart hurt, not knowing what she was feeling,” Chen told AFP.

They left their home in central China again in mid-February with only bare essentials in their backpacks.

They spent four days walking long distances to evade border guards.

On their way to Thailand, supporters escorted them on different legs of the journey, travelling by foot and car, until they arrived in a safe house in Bangkok.

– ‘A miracle’ –

But Thai officials took them to an immigration court, which ordered them to leave the country.

Chen was not worried because they had permits to travel to the US. But while they were in the immigration detention centre, Chinese agents showed up to take them away, Chen said.

“I was in shock and my daughters were terrified. Inside the immigration prison, my phone was taken away and I was not expecting any rescue… I really can’t thank the Americans enough,” she said.

The US diplomats convinced Thai officials to let the family leave the facility.

But the Chinese agents pursued them to the Bangkok airport, where the three countries’ representatives engaged in a noisy argument.

The incident happened on March 3 — weeks before Trump met Xi at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where their conversations seemingly had little to do with human rights.

Chen said she can’t say what happened after the airport standoff, because of “diplomatic sensitivities”, but confirmed they arrived safely in Texas on March 17.

Now, Chen and her older daughter have started the process to seek asylum in America.

“We have a lawyer. … We met with staff from the Trump administration, who were very supportive,” Chen said.

Chen’s four-year-old daughter is an American citizen by birth. Her nationality meant the US was exercising a legitimate consular role in staging the dramatic intervention.

“It’s a problem only if the Chinese government chooses to see it that way. It’s normal and indeed obligatory for the US and other governments to assist citizens in distress,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Image may contain: text

Bob Fu, an American activist who planned the daring escape, said: “It was the most challenging rescue I have ever done. Indeed a miracle.”

Asked about Chen’s escape, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said authorities had already released information on Xie’s case, adding: “If you are interested in that, you can check it on the internet. I have no more information to offer.”

– A ‘sham’ trial –

Xie had worked on numerous politically sensitive cases, such as defending mainland supporters of Hong Kong democracy activists.

Image result for Hong Kong pro-democracy, photos

Hong Kong democracy activists

He pleaded guilty on Monday to charges of inciting subversion of state power after telling the court he had been brainwashed while receiving training in Hong Kong and South Korea to “overthrow” China’s system.

Xie also told the court he had not been tortured by Chinese authorities. Amnesty International called the trial a “sham.”

Chen has not seen her husband since his arrest in 2015.

“Even if he is released from jail, as long as he is in China, he will never be free,” she sighed.

Her daughters “like it a lot in Texas because there are no police following them anymore,” she said.

by Joanna CHIU