police state

'Worst human rights crisis' in Venezuela's history

The Venezuelan government is responsible for the "worst human rights crisis in its history," intentionally using lethal force against the most vulnerable in society, Amnesty International said Sept. 20, as it published its latest research into violence and systematic abuses in the country. The report, This is no way to live: Public security and the right to life in Venezuela, shows how the Venezuelan government is failing to protect its people amid alarming levels of insecurity in the country, instead implementing repressive and deadly measures.

Iran: demand release of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Amnesty International on Sept. 4 called for the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained since June, and her husband Reza Khandan, who was arrested this week. Reza Khandan was charged by Tehran’s Office of the Prosecutor with spreading propaganda against the system, colluding to commit crimes against national security, and promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil. Khandan had raised concerns on Facebook about human rights violations in Iran and also publicly campaigned for the release of his wife. Amnesty International director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther said, "These callous actions illustrate the lengths to which Iranian authorities will go to silence human rights lawyers, even targeting their families." Currently, Sotoudeh is on a hunger strike in prison to protest the arrest of civil rights activists and the harassment of her family and friends by police forces. On Aug. 22, 60 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express concern over Sotoudeh’s imprisonment.

Woman activist faces execution in Saudi Arabia

Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At an Aug. 6 hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October.

Prisoners across US strike to protest conditions

Inmates across the US began a planned 19-day strike on Aug. 21 in protest of poor conditions, no-to-low pay for work, and racist prison administration practices. The strike, set to take place in 17 states, was organized by many groups, including the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. Those participating in the strike will not show up to their assigned jobs and will engage in sit-ins; some prisoners may elect to go on hunger strike. The strike is set to last until Sept. 9, coinciding with the start of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971. Organizers planned the strike for August after seven inmates were killed during a riot at a South Carolina prison in April.

Egypt: 'cybersecurity' law restricts social media

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a cybersecurity law Aug. 18 that gives the government broad authority to block websites deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy, imposing prison terms for anyone found guilty of running or just visiting such sites. Amnesty International described the new law as giving "the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media." The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed. There is another cybersecurity law before the president, which would place all Twitter accounts with more than 5,000 followers under government supervision. With street protests in Egypt all but banned, the Internet has been one of the last spaces left for dissent. Sisi has been in power since 2013 and won an election this past spring with 92% of the vote. Sisi ran virtually unopposed, and the turn-out was only 40%.

China: anti-Islam police state —and Muslim protest

A UN human rights committee this week raised the alarm about reports that China is holding up to a million Uighurs in what are being termed "counter-extremism centers" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region. Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised the claims at a two-day meeting on China held at the UN's Geneva headquarters. McDougall termed the centers "political camps for indoctrination,”  and raised the prospect that Beijing has "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp." Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have submitted reports to the UN committee detailing claims of mass detention. The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees are held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans.  (BBC News, Reuters)

Nicaragua 'witch-hunt' against dissent: UN experts

A group of UN human rights experts, including the special rapporteurs on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and extrajudicial exections, issued a statement Aug. 9 urging the government of Nicaragua to "stop the repression" following 100 days of unrest in which at least 317 people have been killed and 1,830 injured. "Reports indicate that there has been an increase in targeted repression, criminalization and alleged arbitrary detention, which is creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among different communities and among civil society representatives in the country," the statement said. "We are appalled that many human rights defenders, journalists and other opposition voices are being criminalized and accused of unfounded and overly punitive charges such as 'terrorism'."

China expands Indian Ocean military footprint

In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.

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