police state

Iran: environmentalists languish in jail

Eight environmental activists arbitrarily detained in Iran in January and February remain in detention eight months later without clear charges, Human Rights Watch said Oct. 11. The organization called upon Iranian authorities to either immediately release them or charge them with recognizable crimes and produce evidence to justify their continued detention. On Sept. 30, family members said on social media that judicial authorities had told them that the detained environmentalists can only be represented by lawyers from a pre-approved list of 20 that the judiciary had published in June. Authorities have not allowed the detainees access to lawyers of their choice, or set a trial date. "Iran's judiciary is again highlighting its role as key functionaries in a repressive state machinery rather than defenders of justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Even though the environmentalists have spent eight months in pre-trial detention, the authorities have still not come up with a criminal charge against them."

Saudi regime pressured over missing journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately account for the whereabouts of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Multiple news outlets reported Oct. 6 that Turkish authorities, who have been investigating his disappearance, believe that Khashoggi is dead and was killed inside the consulate. "CPJ is alarmed by media reports that Jamal Khashoggi may have been killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul," said CPJ Deputy executive director Robert Mahoney. "The Saudi authorities must immediately give a full and credible accounting of what happened to Khashoggi inside its diplomatic mission. The country has stepped up its repression of critical journalists in the past year at home. We hope this has not now spread abroad."

Human rights lawyer 'disappeared' in Egypt

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government Oct. 3 to immediately identify the whereabouts of and free Ezzat Ghoneim, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been missing for approximately three weeks. Ghoneim was arrested on March 1 on his way home from work. His whereabouts were not known for three days until a group of lawyers were granted access to him in a prosecutor's office in Cairo. These lawyers learned that, during the time he was missing, he was being interrogated by law enforcement officers. He was questioned as a defendant in a state security case in which he, a popular blogger, three journalists and a student were accused of spreading false news and "supporting a terrorist group." Following these interrogations, Ghoneim continued to be detained. On Sept. 4 a judge reviewed Ghoneim's detention and ordered his release conditioned on his reporting to a police station every two weeks. However, according to his wife, police refused to release him, citing the need for further "instructions from the National Security Agency." His wife again reported to the police station where he was being held on Sept. 13, when she was informed that he had already been released. She claims that neither she nor any of their friends have seen him since his supposed release.

Turkish court upholds life sentences for journalists

An Istanbul Court of Appeals on Oct. 2 upheld the life sentences of six individuals, including prominent journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak, on charges of assisting the plotters of a failed military coup in 2016. The journalists were originally sentenced in February, along with 221 other defendants, and appealed to the higher court for their release. All defendants were charged with being linked to a US-based religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. Since the coup attempt, tthe Turkish government has been carrying out purges and arrests aimed at removing supposed Gulen supporters from state institutions and society generally. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on the US to either arrest or extradite Gulen from his Pennsylvania home.

Mexican police crisis in prelude to power transition

Mexican federal police and the military have taken over policing duties in Acapulco, after the entire municipal force was disarmed Sept. 25 due to suspected co-optation by criminal gangs. The city’s police chief, Max Sedano Román, and five of his commanders were detained by Mexican naval troops. Two of the commanders were arrested "for their probable responsibility in the crime of homicide." Their weapons and other equipment of the city police force have bee seized by Guerrero state authorities. The Guerrero government said it took the step "because of suspicion that the force had probably been infiltrated by criminal groups" and "the complete inaction of the municipal police in fighting the crime wave." Acapulco had a homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, one of the highest rates in Mexico and the world. The Washington Post last year described the resort city as Mexico’s murder capital.

'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.

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