Human Rights Watch News en DR Congo: Peaceful Protests Violently Repressed <p>(Kinshasa) – Police violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 20, 2023, arresting dozens of people and seriously injuring at least 30, Human Rights Watch said today. The police said they have opened an investigation into the violence against the protesters and announced that they had arrested three policemen for beating a child.<br /><br /> On May 22, President Felix Tshisekedi publicly congratulated the police chief who oversaw the police operations, in which police beat protesters in Ngaba commune and dispersed them with tear gas: “You are a very good citizen, you deserve to rise in rank and you will rise again, you are a true professional,” he said. “Bravo for the work you have done, zero deaths ... the thugs have been controlled, it’s very good.” Tshisekedi's comments raise serious concerns that the police investigation into the violence will not be impartial, and that the government is encouraging excessive use of force by the police in future demonstrations.<br /><br /> “The Congolese police’s brutality against protesters is an attempt to silence dissent and deter future demonstrations,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The president should not be rewarding senior officers when demonstrators are violently repressed, but instead ensuring that investigations are credible and fair and that all found responsible for abuse are appropriately sanctioned or prosecuted.”<br /><br /> A coalition of opposition political parties announced the march on May 12 to denounce the high cost of living, the opacity of the electoral process, and the persistent insecurity in eastern Congo. Participants included Martin Fayulu of Commitment to Citizenship and Development (Ecide), Moise Katumbi of Together for the Republic, Matata Ponyo of Leadership and Governance for Development (LGD), and Delly Sesanga of Set of Volunteers for the Recovery of the DRC (Envol).<br /><br /> Bienvenu Matumo, an activist and member of the citizen movement La Lucha, said: “A dozen police officers came to disperse us. I resisted because I wanted to participate in the march, so they punched me. They then took me to a police cell where I was held for more than five hours.”<br /><br />Several videos that went viral on social networks show police officers alongside people in civilian clothes beating peaceful demonstrators, including a child, with wooden sticks, which have sparked an outcry throughout the country. In Ngaba neighborhoods, police dispersed protesters by firing tear gas. Some demonstrators, reacting to the police violence, threw stones and projectiles at the police officers.<br /><br /> The Kinshasa provincial police commissioner reported that 30 police officers were injured, including 27 by demonstrators and 3 by gang members; 20 people were arrested for vandalizing a police bureau, and 3 police officers were arrested for brutalizing demonstrators and a minor.<br /><br /> Several authorities commented on the crackdown. The minister of human rights, Albert Fabrice Puela, issued a statement on the same day, condemning the violence and calling for an urgent investigation to establish responsibility for the rights violations and “end the cycle of violence.”<br /><br />Members of civil society groups, the European Union, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), the US Embassy, and the Roman Catholic Church all condemned the violent crackdown and called for the respect of civil liberties in the period leading up to the election, expected in December 2023.<br /><br /> At the same time, the governor of Kinshasa, Gentiny Ngobila, said that protesters did not abide by the government’s rules and failed to follow the authorized itinerary for their demonstration. Ngobila said he would file a complaint against the organizers of the march for alleged acts of vandalism by political party militants. The Congolese government is obligated under the constitution and international human rights law to respect and uphold the right to peaceful protest.<br /><br /> Congolese authorities should direct security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said. The Basic Principles state that security forces shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved, minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life. The Basic Principles also provide that in case of death or serious injury, “a detailed report shall be sent properly to the competent authorities.”<br /><br /> “As Congo prepares for elections later this year, the government should take all necessary steps to ensure that everyone is able to peacefully express their views without fear of being arrested or beaten by the security forces,” Kaneza Nantulya said.<br /><br /></p> Mon, 29 May 2023 03:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Cluster Munitions: Renew Global Momentum for Ban Click to expand Image Collected remnants of Russian cluster munition rockets that were used to attack the city of Kharkiv, at a storage area in Kharkiv, Ukraine, December 22, 2022. © 2022 Evgeniy Maloletka / AP <p>(Washington DC, May 29, 2023) – Greater global efforts are needed to ensure that the international treaty banning cluster munitions achieves its goal of ending the suffering and harm caused by these indiscriminate weapons, Human Rights Watch said today. May 30, 2023 marks 15 years since the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted in Dublin, Ireland.</p> <p>“Fifteen years after its adoption, the international ban on cluster munitions is being tested as never before,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. “To prevent further human suffering, governments need to make greater efforts to ensure that the treaty banning cluster munitions succeeds in eradicating these heinous weapons.”</p> <p>Cluster munitions are delivered by artillery, rockets, missiles, and aircraft. They open in mid-air and disperse dozens or hundreds of submunitions, also called bomblets, over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that can indiscriminately wound and kill, like landmines, for years until they are cleared and destroyed.</p> <p>The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, production, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles. The treaty’s humanitarian provisions also require countries to clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants and provide victim assistance.</p> <p>There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by the 123 countries that have signed or ratified the convention. However, a handful of countries outside the convention have produced or used cluster munitions.</p> <p>A 2023 Human Rights Watch report details how Russian armed forces have repeatedly used cluster munitions in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022 in attacks that have caused hundreds of civilian casualties and damaged civilian objects, including homes, hospitals, and schools. A single Russian cluster munition attack on a train station in Kramatorsk on April 8, 2022, killed at least 58 civilians and wounded 100 others. The stigma created by the convention has led to widespread international condemnation of these attacks.</p> <p>Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions on several occasions.</p> <p>In Syria, the Syrian-Russian military alliance used cluster munition rockets in attacks on camps for internally displaced people in Idlib governorate on November 6, 2022, killing and wounding civilians. Myanmar’s air force used an apparent domestically produced cluster bomb in an attack on July 2, 2022, according to Amnesty International and the Cluster Munition Monitor.</p> <p>The Convention on Cluster Munitions’ member states include 17 former producers of cluster munitions. However, 16 non-signatories have not ended production, including China and Russia, which are both actively researching and developing new types of cluster munitions. The United States last produced cluster munitions in 2016, but still has not heeded calls to reverse a 2017 policy that opened the path for it to restart production of these weapons.</p> <p>Since the convention was adopted, 37 states parties have altogether destroyed a total of nearly 1.5 million stockpiled cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions. The total is 99 percent of all cluster munitions that states parties have reported stockpiling. </p> <p>States parties Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia continue to make progress toward meeting the treaty’s stockpile destruction obligation. In 2021 and the first half of 2022, the three countries collectively destroyed at least 1,658 stockpiled cluster munitions and 46,733 submunitions. South Africa also stockpiles cluster munitions, but does not appear to be on track to destroy them by the deadline of November 1, 2023, despite its commitment to do so.</p> <p>The pace of countries joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions has slowed significantly, but in February, Nigeria became the first country to ratify the convention in more than three years.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to promote universal adherence to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.</p> <p>The 11th annual meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be held at the United Nations in Geneva on September 11-14, under the presidency of Ambassador Abdul-Karim Hashim Mostafa of Iraq.</p> <p>“The record of compliance by countries that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions is impressive, but today’s challenges need to be overcome if the treaty is to achieve its goals,” Goose said. “Countries that have endorsed the ban on cluster munitions have a collective responsibility to end the suffering caused by these weapons.”</p> Mon, 29 May 2023 00:01:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Namibian Court Recognizes Foreign Same-Sex Marriages Click to expand Image A rainbow LGBT pride flag. © Wikimedia Commons <p>Namibia’s Supreme Court has issued a long-awaited ruling recognizing same-sex marriages performed abroad. The ruling is a victory for Namibians and their foreign spouses, who risked deportation and the denial of benefits when their marriages were not recognized by the state.  </p> <p>The litigation was brought by two binational couples, one married in Germany and another married in South Africa, who had settled in Namibia. The foreign spouses were denied residency permits under the Immigration Control Act, which did not recognize them as a “spouse.” This restrictive understanding would have left their unions unrecognized for immigration purposes and would have forced the couples to leave the country or live apart.</p> <p>In 2022, the country’s High Court, one level below the Supreme Court, considered the claims and ruled that it was unable to grant immigration benefits under existing precedent but expressed concern that the couples' rights had been violated and emphatically decried discrimination against same-sex couples.</p> <p>The Supreme Court agreed that their rights had been violated, finding that the discriminatory provisions of the Immigration Control Act violated the constitutional guarantees of dignity and equality. Its decision adds to a growing body of jurisprudence in the region, recognizing the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.</p> <p>Earlier this month, Nepal’s Supreme Court similarly ordered its government to recognize a foreign same-sex spouse for immigration purposes. The European Court of Justice has also found that refusing to recognize foreign same-sex marriages jeopardizes the right to freedom of movement and rights of same-sex couples. </p> <p>The ruling does not guarantee full equality in Namibia, where same-sex activity is criminalized and same-sex couples cannot enter civil partnerships or marriages under domestic law. Still, the decision recognizes that couples who marry abroad have entered a legal union, and that ignoring or invalidating that union jeopardizes their human rights. That recognition is critically important for binational couples and offers a practical option for many to remain and build a life with their families in Namibia.</p> Fri, 26 May 2023 13:20:28 -0400 Human Rights Watch Chad: Still No Reparations for Hissène Habré’s Victims Click to expand Image Hissène Habré’s victims march for reparations, Ndjaména, Chad © Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré, May 2022 <p>(Dakar) – The victims of the late Chadian President Hissène Habré have yet to receive court-ordered reparations, seven years after his landmark conviction in Senegal in 2016, seven Chadian and international organizations said today. Just days before the anniversary, two more victims’ leaders passed away.</p> <p>On May 30, 2016, an African Union (AU)-backed Senegalese court in Dakar convicted Habré of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, including sexual violence and rape, and sentenced him to life in prison. Habré died in prison in August 2021. In a separate trial in Chad, a court on March 25, 2015, had convicted 20 Habré-era security agents on murder and torture charges. Both courts ordered millions of dollars in victim compensation. The AU and the government of Chad should fulfill their obligations to the victims under these court orders, the organizations said.</p> <p>“Habré’s victims are heroes who fought relentlessly for 25 years to bring him and his henchmen to justice, and were awarded millions of dollars, but they haven’t seen one cent in reparations,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, lead counsel for the victims. “Two of the most active victims have just died and many others are in poor health and in desperate need.”</p> <p>On May 15, 2023, Ginette Ngarbaye, who was tortured and raped and gave birth in a secret Habré prison, died after a long illness. She was secretary of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH) and a leading witnessat Habré’s trial. The same day, Fatime Kagone Tchangdoum, whose husband had been murdered by Habré’s security forces in 1983 and who became an AVCRHH activist, also died. According to the victims’ group, some 400 direct and indirect victims have passed away since the 2016 verdict.</p> <p>The Habré trial remains the only one in the world in which the courts of one country convicted the former ruler of another for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is widely considered, as the New York Times wrote, “a milestone for justice in Africa.” The AU welcomed the judgment as “significant in that it reinforces the AU’s principle of African solutions to African problems.”</p> <p>When an appellate court in Dakar confirmed Habré’s conviction in April 2017, and awarded 82 billion CFA francs (approximately US$130 million) to 7,396 named victims, it mandated an AU trust fund to raise the money by searching for Habré’s assets and soliciting contributions. Although the AU has allocated US$5 million to the trust fund, the fund has yet to begin work, six years after the appeals court order.</p> <p>In September 2021, following Habré’s death while serving a life sentence and a renewed international interest in the victims’ plight, the AU sent a delegation to Chad, which it described as “a decisive turning point in the process of reparations for the victims,” and announced that it was “working to render the Fund operational within the shortest possible time.” It would take almost another year until a second AU delegation arrived in August 2022 to “set up the fund’s provisional secretariat … establish a work plan and set the modalities of the reparations process.” But it left Chad without doing so.</p> <p>On September 19, 2022, Chad’s presidency wrote to the trust fund announcing that the government had allocated 10 billion CFA francs ($16.5 million) for it. According to the AU, however, that money has not been received. On May 2, 2023, Chad’s transitional president, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, told a delegation from the victims’ group that he had asked the finance minister to make Chad’s contribution available to the victims.</p> <p>In the Chadian trial of Habré’s henchmen, the court also awarded 75 billion CFA francs (US$119 million) in reparations to 7,000 victims, ordering the government to pay half and the convicted agents the other half. It ordered the government to erect a monument “in not more than one year” to honor those killed under Habré and to create a museum in the former political police headquarters, where detainees were tortured. The government has not complied with any of these orders.</p> <p>“The African Union and the Chadian government need to come together and implement these court decisions so that the victims, at long last, can receive reparations for what we suffered,” said the AVCRHH president, Adoumbaye Dam Pierre, a former prisoner under Habré. “We fought for decades for those decisions and now we have to fight again to get the decisions enforced.”</p> <p>Habré’s one-party rule, from 1982 to 1990, was marked by widespread atrocities, including targeting certain ethnic groups and committing severe sexual and gender-based violence. The organizations calling on the AU and the government of Chad to make reparations are Amnesty International, the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH), the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH), Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, REDRESS, and the Rose Lokissim Association. </p> Fri, 26 May 2023 06:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Egypt: Pretrial Detention Renewals by Video Click to expand Image The courthouse at the new Badr Prison in Badr city, 65 kms east of the Egyptian capital Cairo, during a government-guided tour for the media, January 16, 2022.  © 2022 Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images <p>(Beirut) – The Egyptian authorities have widely deployed a videoconference system since 2022 to remotely conduct pretrial detention hearings and permanently avoid bringing detainees to court in person, Human Rights Watch said today. The system is inherently abusive as it undermines detainees’ right to be brought physically before a judge to assess the legality and conditions of detention, the well-being of detainees, and for the detainees to be able to speak to the judge directly and to their lawyers in private.</p> <p>The flawed videoconference system exacerbates longstanding abusive pretrial detention practices and flagrant due process violations, and effectively contributes to covering up abusive detention conditions. Vulnerable detainees remain isolated and arbitrarily denied visits or correspondence with family and lawyers for up to months or years.</p> <p>“The Egyptian authorities have stifled impartial justice by undermining the requirement for a judge to review whether someone should stay in pretrial detention,” said Amr Magdi, senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should scrap the remote detention renewal system, reform abusive pretrial detention practices, and guarantee due process rights.”</p> <p>On December 20, 2021, Justice Minister Omar Marwan issued Decree No. 8901 of 2021, allowing judges to conduct pretrial detention renewal hearings remotely “using technology” while “observing all legal guarantees.” The decree did not explain what these guarantees entail or link using the procedure to a specific emergency or situation. According to media reports, the authorities began using the system on a limited scale beginning in October 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch interviewed six Egyptian human rights lawyers who represented detainees during remote detention renewal sessions. The lawyers said that all remote hearings they attended were overseen by terrorism courts (part of the Badr criminal court) in the new Badr prison complex, east of Cairo. Human Rights Watch interviewed relatives of six people who have been in pretrial detention for up to months or years and whom authorities transferred in 2022 to Badr. The family members said that prison authorities have deprived their detained relatives of regular visits by family and lawyers, in some cases for up to eight years, as well as written or phone communication.</p> <p>The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, an independent rights group, said in a 2023 report that the terrorism circuits in Badr court reviewed 25,035 pretrial detention renewal orders in 2022, mostly for offenses related to political activism. Judges upheld all but 1.4 percent of detention orders. The lawyers and family members said that for the hearings, the defendant is escorted by prison officers to one room in the prison while judges, prosecutors, and lawyers gather, without the detainees, in a courtroom. The two sides communicate using video conference technology. Lawyers said the remote hearings have removed the opportunity for confidential communication with their detained clients.</p> <p>All six lawyers said that judges frequently did not allow the lawyers or detainees sufficient time to speak, and muted and silenced detainees when they attempted to complain about detention conditions. The lawyers also said that, when a case involved several detainees, judges typically reviewed the case collectively instead of addressing each detainee’s legal situation separately. Judges routinely prevent lawyers and detainees from reviewing the exact charges or the prosecution files as a longstanding practice in “state security” cases.</p> <p>Such due process violations effectively deprive detainees of the right to an adequate defense and impartial judicial review of their detention, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>Lawyers also said that because detainees attend video sessions in the presence of prison officers, they may feel that they cannot speak about detention abuses without retaliation.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch and other organizations have in recent years documented that the authorities have routinely undermined the right to legal counsel by preventing lawyers’ visits. However, during past in-person court hearings, detainees inside detention cells in courtrooms sometimes had a narrow window –  usually 5 to 15 minutes – to hurriedly speak with lawyers and see family members, though from behind a barrier. Relatives and lawyers said that these brief moments allowed families to get a sense of the well-being of their detained relatives when authorities prevented prison visits, but that is no longer possible under the remote hearing system.</p> <p>A family member of Anas al-Beltagy, who has been in arbitrary detention for more than nine years without a criminal conviction, said that the authorities denied family visits for seven years while holding him in solitary confinement and that in-person detention renewal sessions were the only opportunity he had to leave his cell. “Since these [remote] sessions started, I know nothing about him – sometimes I ask myself if he is alive or dead,” the relative said.</p> <p>Lawyers said that in several sessions, judges ended the video meeting abruptly, which terminated the entire series of hearings for that detention facility, and renewed without reviewing the detention of all remaining cases there.</p> <p>One of the six lawyers said that judges in several sessions asked the prison officers to entirely remove detainees from the room where they attended the video meeting because detainees were “talking too much,” while claiming there was not time to hear everyone because of the large number of cases.</p> <p>During a remote pretrial detention renewal session before Badr court in February 2022, a judge ended the video calls with detainees in Badr 1 and Abu Z’abal prisons because several detainees spoke about their dire detention conditions for roughly two minutes, said a lawyer who attended the session. On November 27 and December 21, and 28, 2022, judges also ended video calls with detainees in Badr 3 prison after detainees spoke about violations in detention, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights reported.</p> <p>The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Freedoms, a leading Egyptian human rights organization, said in March that the Badr court canceled remote pretrial detention renewal sessions of detainees in Badr 3 prison for a month under the pretense of “technical issues.” This cancellation coincided with news reports that several detainees went on hunger strikes or attempted suicide due to detention conditions while being denied visits.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch sent a letter with detailed questions to the offices of the justice minister and prosecutor general on April 18 but received no response.</p> <p>The Human Rights Committee overseeing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, said that people detained on criminal grounds must be brought physically before the judge, particularly if this presence would “serve the inquiry into the lawfulness of detention or where questions regarding ill-treatment of the detainee arise.” Under international law, all detainees should have the right to confidential legal assistance while being interviewed and during any other procedural actions.</p> <p>Since 2014, under the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the authorities have held tens of thousands of detainees, particularly in political cases, in prolonged arbitrary pretrial detention without presenting evidence of wrongdoing, often for merely exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression. Egypt’s Criminal Procedural Code is flawed and does not meet international requirements, as it allows prosecutors, not judges, to order detention for up to 150 days. The code also allows for keeping detainees in pretrial detention for up to two years, but authorities have often kept detainees beyond that limit.</p> <p>International and African human rights law require the authorities to use pretrial detention as an exception, not the rule, and only when demonstrably necessary for specific reasons, and for the shortest time possible. The defendant should be brought to trial within a reasonable time and should have the right to appear before a judge to seek a ruling on the legality and necessity of their detention.</p> <p>“Instead of fixing its abusive pretrial detention laws and practices that contributed to jailing tens of thousands of people unjustly, the Egyptian authorities are using a system that prevents their contact with lawyers and family, and effectively covers up abuses against them,” Magdi said.</p> Fri, 26 May 2023 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Japan: ‘Hostage Justice’ System Violates Rights <p>(Tokyo) – Japan’s system of “hostage justice” denies criminal suspects the rights to due process and a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.</p> <p>The 101-page report, “Japan’s ‘Hostage Justice’ System,” documents the abusive treatment of criminal suspects in pretrial detention. The authorities strip suspects of their right to remain silent, question them without a lawyer, coerce them to confess through repeated arrests and denial of bail, and detain them for prolonged periods under constant surveillance in police stations. The Japanese government should urgently undertake wide-ranging reforms, including amending the criminal procedure code, to ensure detainees their fair trial rights and make investigators and prosecutors more accountable.</p> <p>“Japan’s ‘hostage justice’ system denies people arrested their rights to a presumption of innocence, a prompt and fair bail hearing, and access to counsel during questioning,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “These abusive practices have resulted in lives and families being torn apart, as well as wrongful convictions.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch conducted research in eight prefectures – Tochigi, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, and Ehime – between January 2020 and February 2023. Researchers interviewed 30 people either in person or online who were facing or have faced criminal interrogation and prosecution. Human Rights Watch also spoke to lawyers, academics, journalists, prosecutors, and suspects’ family members. </p> <p>Japan’s Code of Criminal Procedure allows detaining suspects for up to 23 days before indictment by a judge. The authorities interpret the procedure code to allow interrogations throughout this period. Investigators press suspects to answer questions and confess to the alleged crimes even if they invoke the right to remain silent. </p> <p>Many suspects are detained in cells in police stations under constant police surveillance, without contact with family members when a contact prohibition order is issued.</p> <p>Judges routinely allow investigators’ requests for rearrest and prolonged detention. The 23-day detention limit provides no real restriction on pretrial detention, as investigators can use detention for separate, minor crimes or split up charges based on the same set of facts as an excuse to rearrest and detain suspects repeatedly.</p> <p>Hidemi T. was arrested in September 2018 on suspicion of abusing her 7-month-old son and charged with causing injury. The charge was later dropped due to insufficient evidence. She described to Human Rights Watch how her interrogation continued after she exercised her right to remain silent. “I told the police that I would remain silent immediately after my arrest. The police then became frustrated and continued to interrogate me, still trying to get me to confess that I had assaulted my son.”</p> <p>Detainees are not allowed to request bail while in preindictment detention. Even when the detainee is indicted and finally allowed to request bail, those who have not confessed or who have remained silent often have a harder time persuading a judge to approve their bail request. Pretrial detention can last for months or even years.</p> <p>According to Human Rights Watch, judges approved 94.7 percent of prosecutors’ requests for pretrial detention in 2020, and the conviction rate at trial is 99.8 percent.</p> <p>The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Japan is a party, states that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge must be “promptly” charged before a court. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that provides authoritative analysis of the covenant, has said that 48 hours is ordinarily sufficient time to bring someone before a judge and that any longer delay “must remain absolutely exceptional and be justified under the circumstances.” Furthermore, under the covenant, as a general rule people should not be detained prior to trial.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch and Innocence Project Japan, a Japanese nongovernmental group, also announced today that they are planning a campaign beginning in June 2023 to end “hostage justice.”</p> <p>“Japanese authorities should act urgently to reform the criminal justice system to respect everyone’s rights to due process and to a fair trial,” Doi said. “Japan should ensure the right to apply for bail during preindictment detention and reform the bail law to bring it in line with international standards of presumption of innocence and individual liberty.”</p> <p> </p> <p> </p> <p>Selected Quotes</p> <p>Yasutaka Sado, was arrested in October 2017 and remained in custody for 14 months before being released on bail. He said:</p> <p>I attempted to maintain silence but was constantly berated, being told things like “you are maintaining silence because you are guilty” or “don’t you understand how much trouble you are causing to others by maintaining silence?” I was interrogated by the prosecutors three times a day, mornings from 9 a.m. to noon, afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and nights from 7 or 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. This continued for 20 days. The only break was a lawyer meeting or a visit to the hospital.</p> <p>Kazuya Yoshino, who was prosecuted and tried for “injury causing death,” talked about his being interrogated in 2010:</p> <p>I told the police my version of events clearly, but they treated the story as if it were a completely different case. Immediately after arrest, the interrogation continued throughout the night – then around 5:30 a.m. they took me to a detention center and the interrogation started again after breakfast. On the second day of my detention, I was taken to see a prosecutor. The prosecutor wanted me to confess that I was in rage and punched the attacker many times to hurt him. I was being interrogated from morning until evening by the police and the prosecutor. As soon as my interrogation with the police ended, I was taken – tied by a rope and in handcuffs – to see the prosecutor. I was made to wait there until around 8 p.m. The actual interrogation by the prosecutor was very brief and I was asked if I “had changed my mind” and would “talk now.” That happened every day – being harassed and forced to confess.</p> <p>In 2015, Kayo N. was arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud. After her arrest and detention, the judge issued a contact prohibition order on the grounds that she might conspire to destroy evidence. Kayo N. was not allowed to see anyone but her lawyer for one year, could not receive letters, and could only write to her two adult sons with the permission of the presiding judge. She said:</p> <p>After I was moved to the Tokyo detention center, I was kept in the “bird cage” [solitary confinement] from April 2016 to July 2017. It was so cold that it felt like sleeping in a field, I had frostbite. I spoke only twice during the day to call out my number. It felt like I was losing my voice. The contact prohibition order was removed one year after my arrest. However, I remained in solitary confinement. </p> Thu, 25 May 2023 15:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch US Sues Online Learning Company Over Students’ Data Privacy Click to expand Image © Andrea Devia Nuño, Hero Studios <p>The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made history by suing an online learning company, Edmodo, for collecting and using children’s data to target them with behavioral advertising. The proposed $6 million fine, which awaits a final ruling, comes one year after Human Rights Watch uncovered how Edmodo and other online learning products authorized by governments during the Covid-19 pandemic infringed on children’s privacy.</p> <p>Edmodo was a website and app widely used by children in kindergarten, elementary, and middle schools across the US until September 2022, when the company pivoted to only selling its product to governments. The company benefited from explosive demand in 2020, reporting a 1,500 percent increase in users in the first five months of the pandemic as governments and schools rushed to connect children to online learning.</p> <p>An investigation by Human Rights Watch in May 2022 found that Edmodo was designed with the capacity to surveil children and harvest their personal data for advertising. Our technical analysis found that Edmodo could not only invisibly tag children and identify their devices for the sole purpose of advertising to them, but also enabled other advertisers to do the same by embedding ad-specific third-party code on its platform. After multiple requests for comment, Edmodo told Human Rights Watch in July 2022 that it did “not share [its students’] personal data with any Edmodo business partners or third parties.”</p> <p>The FTC evidently disagreed: Its complaint, filed by the US Department of Justice, matches our findings.</p> <p>The FTC is sending a strong message to “others in the ed tech industry,” and the suit marks the first time the agency has moved to ban a company from compelling children to give up their privacy in order to learn.</p> <p>Too often, governments leave children unprotected on the internet. Most companies we investigated continue to surveil children online, many citing the lack of laws compelling them to do otherwise. The FTC could only build its case against Edmodo on the narrow grounds that the company had violated a privacy law so outdated that Senator Ed Markey, one of its authors, is seeking to replace it.</p> <p>President Joe Biden has twice called on Congress to pass comprehensive child data protection laws, and the Surgeon General has appealed to policymakers to compel companies to protect children’s privacy. Congress is long overdue on its homework: it should pass strong laws protecting all children as they spend increasing amounts of their childhood online.</p> <p>Learn more about our global campaign, #StudentsNotProducts, to demand online protections for children.</p> <p> </p> Thu, 25 May 2023 14:23:54 -0400 Human Rights Watch Fresh Details on Russia’s Forcible Transfer of Ukrainian Children Click to expand Image Kherson Children’s House, an orphanage from which Russian forces allegedly took 49 children in Kherson, Ukraine, November 27, 2022.  © 2022 Chris McGrath/Getty Images <p>The Russian authorities’ forced transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children has made headlines, and last week’s meeting between Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova – wanted by the International Criminal Court for her alleged role in these crimes – and a top UN official on children and armed conflict stirred controversy.</p> <p>Earlier this month, more details on these transfers came to light through the findings of an investigation by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).</p> <p>Human Rights Watch has extensively documented how Russian officials and their proxies used coercive measures to forcibly transfer Ukrainian civilians, including those fleeing hostilities, to Russia or Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. We have also documented the forced transfer of children and the war’s devastating impact on children in residential institutions.</p> <p>Although the new report, issued under the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism, acknowledges uncertainty regarding exact numbers, its conclusions are certain: Ukrainian children were forcibly deported to Russia or transferred within Russian-controlled territory. This constitutes a war crime. It also concluded that forcibly deported Ukrainian children had been subjected to “numerous and overlapping violations” of their rights.</p> <p>The report noted that forcibly deported children were placed in an unfamiliar environment far removed from Ukrainian language, culture, customs, and religion. It also found that many such children were exposed to military training and “to pro-Russian information campaigns often amounting to targeted reeducation.”</p> <p>The report also underscores how changes in Russian law enabled authorities to swiftly give Russian citizenship to Ukrainian children, facilitating their guardianship and adoption by Russian families in Russia, even though many of the children may have living relatives, including in Ukraine.</p> <p>The report found that Russian authorities didn’t promote the return of Ukrainian children to their home country or the reunification of Ukrainian children separated from their families. In fact, the report says, Russia seems to be creating obstacles for reunification. Russia has no centralized list of transferred children. Additionally, the children are repeatedly moved from place to place, and sometimes referred to by Russian, not Ukrainian, names. Even if Ukrainian families manage to locate a child, they encounter numerous logistical and financial difficulties in returning that child to Ukraine.</p> <p>Russia should comply with its international obligations and ensure the immediate return of Ukrainian children to their country and families.</p> Thu, 25 May 2023 12:14:41 -0400 Human Rights Watch Nigeria: New Government Should Improve on Human Rights Click to expand Image Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (R) and Nigeria's newly declared winner of 2023 presidential election, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (L) pose for a photograph in Daura, Nigeria, March 1, 2023. © 2023 Nigeria's Presidency/Handout via REUTERS <p>(Abuja) – Nigeria’s incoming President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should ensure that human rights are central to all his policies both at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today in an agenda outlining key human rights priorities for the new administration.<br /><br /> Human Rights Watch, in the agenda, urges the new administration to prioritize improvements in five key areas. They are: to promote civilian protection in conflict areas; respect and protect media freedom and the right to free expression; bolster the social safety net to tackle entrenched poverty and inequality; protect and promote the rights of internally displaced people; and to adopt a foreign policy that centers human rights.<br /><br /> “Tinubu is set to take the reins at a time of deep uncertainty about the nation’s affairs including worsening poverty and inequality, high levels of insecurity, and recurrent violations of civil and political rights,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Once in office, the president-elect should focus on these critical issues and make efforts to reverse course on significant human rights backsliding.”<br /><br /> Tinubu, who was declared winner of the February 2023 presidential elections, is to be inaugurated on May 29 for a four-year term. The elections were marred with irregularities including violence at the polls and an inability to upload election results from polling units in real time. The inauguration is taking place amid ongoing petitions challenging Timbu’s victory at the Court of Appeal, which functions as the presidential election tribunal.<br /><br /> In his campaign manifesto, Tinubu emphasized “security of life and property” as a top priority for his administration. He stated that part of his strategy to achieve this is to “first pull most Nigerians out of poverty and provide the basic needs for a decent life and social justice for all, irrespective of region, tribe, and religion.”<br /><br /> Human Rights Watch urges President-elect Tinubu, once in office, to act on his campaign promises to tackle critical levels of insecurity, ensure civilian protection and accountability for rights abuses, protect Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, and prioritize efforts towards the realization of an adequate standard of living for all. The incoming administration should also support constitutional democracies, especially in West Africa, and stand up for fundamental rights and democratic freedoms in its foreign policy considerations.<br /><br /> Nigeria has been failing to ensure economic and social rights for everyone, including the right to an adequate standard of living, Human Rights Watch said. According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 133 million people in the country live in multidimensional poverty, experiencing high levels of deprivation in areas including sanitation, health care, food, and housing. Inequality has also reached extreme levels as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen at an alarming rate.<br /><br /> However, the country lacks a functioning social security system to protect against economic shocks and income insecurity throughout people’s lives, including during common life events such as old age, unemployment, sickness or giving birth, and caring for dependents.<br /><br /> In the Northwest, gangs commonly called “bandits” carry out widespread killings, kidnappings, sexual violence, and looting. In the Northeast, the conflict between the Islamist armed group Boko Haram, its breakaway factions, and the Nigerian security forces has killed an estimated 350,000 civilians and created a humanitarian crisis that includes the displacement of more than 2 million civilians within Nigeria and over 280,000 to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the Southeast, anti-government groups apparently clamoring for secession kill and maim people to enforce their sit-at-home order requiring people to stay home, with the aim of shutting down all public places, including businesses and schools.<br /><br /> Security forces responding to the insecurity and in other instances across the country are implicated in gross human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, and extrajudicial killings. Security forces also use excessive force to suppress citizens’ rights to protest, while the authorities have repeatedly failed to hold officers responsible for abuses to account.<br /><br /> Government actions also indicate significant regression on the right to free expression and media freedom. These include an eight-month ban on Twitter in 2021, efforts to introduce a social media bill aimed among other things at criminalizing government critics, arrests and detentions of critics and journalists, and sanctions on media outlets for critical reporting.<br /><br /> “Tinubu promised to address the cycle of violence, injustices, and endemic poverty that millions of Nigerians face every day,” Ewing said. “The incoming president should put his words into action by taking steps to improve human rights and ensuring that his administration shows the utmost regard for the rule of law and democratic principles.”<br /><br /></p> Thu, 25 May 2023 01:30:01 -0400 Human Rights Watch Cambodia: Casino Union Leader Chhim Sithar and Strikers Convicted Click to expand Image NagaWorld's union leader, Chhim Sithar, sits in a prisoner van outside the municipal court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 25, 2023. © 2023 AP Photo/Heng Sinith <p>(Bangkok) – Cambodian authorities should immediately quash the convictions and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar, leader of Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, and eight other fellow union members or former members, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said today. The union members were prosecuted solely for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.</p> <p>On May 25, 2023, a Phnom Penh court found the trade unionists guilty of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security” under criminal code articles 494 and 495, and sentenced Sithar to two years in prison and the other union members to between one to one and a half years. Only Sithar was transferred to prison while the others received suspended sentences or terms of judicial supervision. These politically motivated charges arose directly from Sithar and the LRSU’s work defending workers’ rights and constitute a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.</p> <p>“The convictions of Chhim Sithar and the others is a blatant attack on unions and workers fighting for their fundamental rights,” said Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s interim deputy regional director for research. “This verdict is a reminder that the Cambodian government would rather side with corporations than protect the rights of its people.”</p> <p>In April 2021, NagaWorld, a Hong Kong listed company that operates the sole legal casino in Phnom Penh, laid off 1,329 casino workers, including the union leadership, prompting workers to allege they were unfairly dismissed and leading to strike actions that continue until the present.</p> <p>Cambodian authorities have commonly used the bogus charge of “incitement to commit a felony” against union members undertaking a strike action as part of broader government efforts to crack down on dissent.</p> <p>“From the very start of the casino workers’ strike, the Cambodian government has sided with NagaWorld management to persecute Chhim Sithar and the union’s leaders and crush the strike,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of respecting workers’ rights to freedom of association, bargain collectively, and strike, the government has used every repressive trick in the book to intimidate their union.”</p> <p>The authorities initially charged Sithar on January 3, 2022, with the crime of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security.” The following day, plainclothes security officials approached Sithar in a crowd and violently arrested her by grabbing her around the neck and dragging her into a car as she attempted to join the ongoing strike action.</p> <p>Sithar was held for 74 days in pre-trial detention before being released on bail in March. The authorities re-arrested Sithar on November 26 as she returned to Cambodia after participating in the World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), hosted by the ACTU in Melbourne, for violating bail conditions on international travel. Neither she nor her lawyer had been informed about the travel restrictions, and she had travelled to Thailand in September and October without consequences.</p> <p>“The Australian union movement condemns the verdict against Chhim Sithar and her fellow unionists. This is a clear case of the Cambodian government waging an anti-union campaign against Chhim Sithar and her union, the LRSU,” said ACTU President Michele O’Neil. “We stand in solidarity with Chhim Sithar and the LRSU and call on the Cambodian government to release her immediately, stop persecuting trade unionists and respect workers’ rights to freedom of association.”</p> <p>Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACTU are extremely concerned that the re-arrest of Sithar, and subsequent conviction, stems in part from her meeting with other trade unions and the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and association. The imprisonment of a union leader also undermines workers’ rights to organize, bargain collectively, and take industrial action.</p> <p>'A State obligation to protect rights of workers’</p> <p>The Cambodian authorities have attacked, harassed, arbitrarily arrested, and ultimately imprisoned members of the LRSU. After NagaWorld laid off the 1,329 casino workers in April 2021 and the workers engaged in a peaceful, well-publicized strike, the police physically assaulted and arrested striking workers. NagaWorld filed baseless criminal complaints against those arrested in an attempt to intimidate other union members.</p> <p>Under international human rights law and standards, workers cannot be discriminated against or targeted for participating in trade union activities. This protection against anti-union discrimination includes not being dismissed for participating in union activity. The Cambodian government has an obligation under international human rights law not only to respect the rights of workers but also to protect these rights from abuse by private actors.</p> <p>These obligations are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as in International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87, which protects the right to freedom of association, and ILO Convention No. 98 on the right to organize and collectively bargain. Cambodia has ratified all of these above-mentioned instruments.</p> <p>The harassment of LRSU has gone beyond Sithar and her co-defendants, the organizations said. In January 2022, authorities arrested 28 additional members of the LRSU. The next month, six LRSU members were arrested as they left a Covid-19 testing site, following a government order that all those involved in the NagaWorld strike action should be tested for Covid-19.</p> <p>The authorities later charged three of those workers with “obstruction of Covid-19 measures” under Covid-19 regulations introduced in 2021, which carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years. While those workers were released on bail, the charges against them are still pending. In September 2022, NagaWorld also filed criminal complaints against four LRSU members for trespassing, aggravated intentional damage, and unlawful confinement.</p> <p>The authorities have also used unlawful force against members of the LRSU. On at least two occasions, police violently attacked strikers peacefully exercising their rights, punching, kicking, and hitting them with walkie-talkies, injuring at least 17 women, one of whom was hospitalized.</p> <p>Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACTU call upon the Cambodian authorities to immediately quash the convictions and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar and her fellow union members who have been detained solely for their defense of workers’ rights. Cambodia should bring its laws and regulations into full compliance with international human rights laws, including the provisions of ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98 that it has ratified, thereby guaranteeing the rights to freedom of association and to organize and collectively bargain across the country.</p> Thu, 25 May 2023 00:40:41 -0400 Human Rights Watch Universal Social Security Can Reduce Poverty, Inequality Click to expand Image Dilli Haat open air market in New Delhi, India, April 21, 2023. © 2023 Sipa via AP Images <p>(New York) – Governments and international lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank should create and support universal social security systems in accordance with their human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch and Development Pathways said today in releasing a question-and-answer document about the subject. Amid intersecting conflicts, economic crises, and climate shocks, governments’ long-term investment in universal social security is more important than ever.</p> <p>Social security is premised on people enjoying their rights at all stages of life, irrespective of their circumstances. It encompasses a web of government programs that provide support in various situations that may affect a person’s ability to earn an adequate income, such as sickness, disability, old age, unemployment, and childrearing. However, more than half of the world’s population lacks access to any form of social security. Even in wealthier countries, significant gaps exist in coverage and adequacy, limiting the effectiveness of social security systems.</p> <p>“Social security is a key tool for governments to reduce inequality and protect people from experiencing poverty, hunger, or homelessness,” said Lena Simet, senior researcher on poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch. “The compounding economic, food, and climate crises should move governments to build security systems that protect human rights, not cut back on existing programs.”</p> <p>The organizations explain in the question-and-answer document the human rights obligations and responsibilities of governments and entities that influence social spending, and the importance of universal social security to meeting them. They also explain the basics of universal social security, how it can reduce and prevent poverty and inequality and protect human rights, including in times of crisis, and how governments can overcome impediments to providing it.</p> <p>Social security for all members of a society is both a human right and a necessary condition for the realization of other economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the rights to food and to adequate housing. International law obligates governments to provide social security as well as to ensure access to quality public services essential to human rights, such as education, health care, water, and sanitation.</p> <p>More than four billion people lack access to any social protection, the term often used by United Nations agencies and international development organizations. This lack of coverage is most concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, which face significant financing gaps between their current investments and what is needed to support a basic level of social security. Coverage is lowest in Africa, where merely 17.4 percent of the population are covered by at least one form of social security benefit. Though coverage is higher in Europe and North America, Human Rights Watch has documented the failure of many wealthier nations to realize the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain.</p> <p>The organizations describe in the question-and-answer document how governments can address gaps in social security coverage and adequacy. The also explain why governments should shift away from narrowly means tested targeted programs toward more universal systems.</p> <p>The groups outline how countries can close financing gaps in ways that protect human rights, such as through progressive taxes on wealth and excess profits of large corporations, combating tax evasion and avoidance, and eradicating illicit financial flows. Human Rights Watch also urges wealthier nations to help advance equitable social security financing by promoting a Global Fund for Social Protection that complies with human rights requirements.</p> <p>Governments should address gaps in social security coverage and adequacy and urge creditor nations to commit to rights-respecting debt restructuring processes that enable governments to fund universal social security, Human Rights Watch and Development Pathways said. Powerful international lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank should ensure that their lending programs do not undermine the right to social security, as it may happen for instance by imposing strict limits on government spending as conditions of lending programs.</p> <p>“Universal, rights-aligned social security systems are much more effective than poverty-targeted systems at reducing poverty and achieving more equitable outcomes for all members of society,” said Dr. Stephen Kidd, Development Pathways’ CEO. “And they are more likely to support economic growth and strengthen progressive social contracts, meaning that they are also more sustainable, both financially and politically.”</p> Thu, 25 May 2023 00:30:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Thailand: Lao Refugee Gunned Down Click to expand Image UNHCR refugee card of murdered Lao human rights and democracy activist Bounsuan Kitiyano. © Private <p>(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the killing of an exiled Lao political activist, Bounsuan Kitiyano, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>On May 17, 2023, Bounsuan’s body was found with three gunshot wounds in the forest in Si Mueang Mai district, Ubon Ratchathani province in northeastern Thailand, bordering Laos. The initial police investigation indicated that he was shot while riding alone on his motorcycle through the forest.</p> <p>“This cold-blooded killing of a prominent exiled Lao political activist demands an immediate response from the Thai authorities,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government should urgently conduct a credible and impartial investigation into Bounsuan’s death and bring to justice all those responsible.”</p> <p>Bounsuan, 56, was a former member of the Free Laos group and was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He was involved in several protests in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok calling for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.</p> <p>The killing of Bounsuan in Thailand sends a spine-chilling message that nowhere is safe for critics of the Lao government. On April 29, an unidentified gunman shot and seriously wounded Anousa Luangsuphom, an activist and online critic of the Lao government, in the capital, Vientiane.</p> <p>Even activists who have fled persecution in Laos to neighboring countries have not been safe. Od Sayavong, a leading Lao human rights and democracy activist living in Bangkok, Thailand, has been missing since August 2019. On October 1, 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three UN special rapporteurs issued a joint statement expressing concerns regarding Sayavong’s case.</p> <p>The Thai government has consistently failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against political critics of repressive neighboring governments of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>“The Thai government’s unacceptable deference to abusive neighbors is once again taking priority over its international human rights and legal obligations,” Pearson said. “The new government that will take office following the May 14 elections has an urgent agenda to reestablish Thailand as a place where refugees are protected.”</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 12:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Cambodia: Land Rights Activists Face Baseless Charges Click to expand Image Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) supporters march to the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh on May 22, 2023, to demand the release of three of their members charged with plotting and incitement.  © LICADHO <p>(Bangkok) – A Cambodian court brought politically motivated charges against three land rights activists on May 22, 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release them.</p> <p>The Ratanakiri Municipal Court brought charges against three staff members of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), a community organization that defends land rights of farmers. The court charged them with plotting and incitement under articles 453 (plotting), 494, and 495 (incitement to commit a felony) of the Cambodian criminal code, and ordered them placed in pretrial detention. If convicted on all charges, the three activists could face between 5 to 10 years in prison, and fines.</p> <p>“Fabricating these bogus charges against prominent civil society leaders shows how far the government is willing to go to silence critics in advance of the Cambodia elections in July,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There needs to be a chorus of international condemnation targeting Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government to demand an end to these intimidating tactics.”</p> <p>The authorities detained Theng Savoeun, president of the farmers’ group; Nhel Pheap, a senior officer; and Than Hach, a project officer on May 17 while they were traveling to Phnom Penh after holding an internal team building and training workshop in Ratanakiri province.</p> <p>Based on information the authorities said they found about the workshop, Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak accused the CCFC of starting a “peasant revolution.” He claimed without presenting any evidence that the three CCFC leaders were involved in revolutionary activities similar to those that caused the deaths of millions of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.</p> <p>Media reported that the police stopped the bus carrying the organization’s staff members and pulled 17 staff off the bus. Police questioned them continuously from around 1 p.m. until approximately 10 a.m. the next day. Questions reportedly focused on the content and focus of the training workshop.</p> <p>While other staff were released, the police continued to hold the three leaders. The three were briefly allowed access to a lawyer on May 19, but the police did not allow them to meet privately, a right guaranteed by international human rights law and article 98 of the Cambodian criminal procedure code. The lawyers were barred from meeting with the three as questioning continued through the weekend.</p> <p>The CCFC works to support the land rights of farmers across the country. On May 18, CCFC communities organized and traveled to Phnom Penh to publicly protest, calling for the release of their detained leaders. However, in Koh Kong province, police stopped a minivan carrying members of the group and prevented them from leaving the province. On May 19, more than 200 farmers from five provinces gathered in front of the Interior Ministry with a petition demanding the immediate release of Savoeun and his two colleagues.</p> <p>“Cambodia’s human rights situation is spiraling inexorably downward to the point where the government responds to any sort of challenge, real or perceived, with a maximum display of intimidation and punishment,” Robertson said. “This campaign starts at the top, with Prime Minister Hun Sen as he pursues another fake electoral mandate from a rigged election.”</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 09:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Vietnam: Activist Charged With “Propaganda” Click to expand Image  Bui Tuan Lam at Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review session at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, February 2014.  © 2014 Private <p>Update: On May 25, 2023, a court in Da Nang sentenced Bui Tuan Lam to five years and six months in prison and four years of probation after his release.</p> <p>(Bangkok) – A Vietnamese rights activist, Bui Tuan Lam, is scheduled to go on trial on May 25, 2023, on charges of propaganda against the state for his online criticism of the government. If the court convicts him at his trial on May 25, 2023, he faces up to 12 years in prison under article 117(1) of the penal code. The authorities should drop the charges against him.</p> <p>Over the past decade, Bui Tuan Lam has publicly advocated democracy for Vietnam. He has said that his “ideology and passion” is “to advocate for freedom, democracy and human rights,” and he expressed longing for “human rights to become universal in his homeland.”</p> <p>“The Vietnamese authorities deem just about anything as ‘propaganda against the state’ to crack down on activists and dissidents,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Vietnamese government should abolish rights-abusing article 117 of the penal code and stop prosecuting Bui Tuan Lam and others for criticizing the Vietnamese Communist Party.”</p> <p>Bui Tuan Lam (also known as Peter Lam Bui or Green Onion Bae), 39, became famous in November 2021 for making a parody video of himself spreading green onion on noodle soup, imitating the celebrity chef Salt Bae, who was seen spreading salt over a US$2,000 gold-encrusted steak and spoon-feeding it to Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam. Ironically, the minister was visiting London as the head of the government delegation to the global climate change conference, COP26. Police summoned and interrogated Bui Tuan Lam several times, and pressured him to close his noodle soup shop which he did for a few days.</p> <p>He has participated in many anti-China and pro-environment protests over the years. He once joined the now-dormant No-U FC (No U-line Football Club), a soccer team whose members made it their cause to speak out against China’s territorial claims on maritime areas claimed by Vietnam.</p> <p>He participated in a No-U humanitarian group to provide assistance to impoverished people in remote areas and victims of natural disasters in Vietnam. In April 2020, the Da Nang police harassed and threatened him for providing food relief to local people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bui Tuan Lam frequently voiced support for fellow activists, political prisoners, and their families.</p> <p>In February 2014, Bui Tuan Lam travelled to Geneva to participate in a civil society campaign for human rights during Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review session at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Facing the risk of retaliation from Vietnamese government officials, he prepared a video before he returned to Vietnam, asking supporters to release it if he was detained and calling on them to continue campaigning for freedom and democracy. When he returned to Vietnam, police detained him at the airport, interrogated him for hours and confiscated his passport. He has not been allowed to leave Vietnam since then.</p> <p>In April 2014, when Bui Tuan Lam was returning from visiting the house of the former political prisoner Huynh Ngoc Tuan, men in civilian clothes assaulted and beat him brutally.</p> <p>The police have frequently harassed and threatened him for his activism. When he lived in Ho Chi Minh City working as an advertising designer, the police pressured his landlord to evict him and compelled his employer to fire him. Bui Tuan Lam was forced to move back to his hometown, Da Nang, where he opened a sidewalk food stand to earn a living.</p> <p>The police accusation against him in the current case states that: “since 2013, Bui Tuan Lam frequently uses the social network to post many articles and videos and livestream with contents that distort the guidelines and policies of the Party and the State, supporting activities that oppose the Party and the State. In addition, Bui Tuan Lam published and shared articles that insult leaders, and the honor and reputation of law enforcement individuals and organizations, with the desire and purpose of changing the regime of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, sowing confusion and anger among the people.”</p> <p>On April 6, 2023, the police informed his defense lawyer that the investigation had been completed, and his case had been transferred to the People’s Procuracy of Da Nang, which acts as a prosecutor. However, on April 18, his defense lawyer received a document dated April 12 from the People’s Procuracy, claiming that Bui Tuan Lam refused to be represented by a lawyer. Le Thanh Lam, Bui Tuan Lam’s wife, then filed a petition demanding a meeting with her husband to hear directly from him whether he waived his right to have a defense lawyer.</p> <p>On April 24, the procuracy issued a notice to allow lawyers to represent Bui Tuan Lam. But when lawyer Le Dinh Viet requested a meeting with Bui Tuan Lam later that day, the authorities rejected his request on the grounds that the court needed more time to examine the case. It was not until May 8 that the authorities allowed defense lawyers to meet with Bui Tuan Lam.</p> <p>“Beyond the usual due process violations, the case against Bui Tuan Lam has been further marred by the authorities’ bogus claims that he waived his right to a defense lawyer after holding him incommunicado for more than seven months,” Robertson said. “Vietnam should promptly amend its criminal procedure code to ensure all detainees have full access to the legal counsel of their choice upon arrest.”</p> <p>In the indictment, the Da Nang People’s Procuracy accused Bui Tuan Lam of publishing 19 posts on Facebook between April 17, 2020, and July 29, 2021, and 25 videos on YouTube between December 4, 2021, and September 7, 2022, that “affect the confidence of the people about the state’s leadership.”</p> <p>Among these are Facebook posts of a letter by the prominent human rights blogger Pham Doan Trang published on the day she was arrested, in which she urged people to advocate for genuinely free elections in Vietnam and promoted her books criticizing the government, including Politics for the Masses, A Handbook for Families of Prisoners, On Non-violent Resistance Techniques, Politics of a Police State, and Citizen Journalism. The authorities said that Pham Doan Trang’s letter violates the law because “it has the content of calling for struggling for freedom and democracy based on Pham Doan Trang’s way of thinking.” The indictment also lists two video clips of her trial.</p> <p>Among the videos listed in the indictment are five recorded songs. Three are performances of a human rights song, “Return to the People,” written by the former political prisoner, Viet Khang. The lyrics open with, “Return to the people the rights to freedom; human rights; the rights to see, to hear, to speak; the rights to choose the truth and freedom; the rights to remove a dictatorship.” The second song, “Where is my Vietnam?” also by Viet Khang, contains content opposing China. The third is a famous anti-war song, “Mother’s Legacy,” written in 1965 by Vietnam’s most beloved song composer, the late Trinh Cong Son.</p> <p>“The list of posts and videos listed as ‘evidence’ of Bui Tuan Lam’s ‘crimes’ shows the extreme lengths to which the Vietnamese go to block any sort of online criticism of the government,” Robertson said. “For the Vietnamese leadership, even songs are a threat to their monopoly of power.”</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 08:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Mexico: Public Accountability, Privacy Under Threat Click to expand Image A police officer walks outside the offices of the National Institute for Transparency and Access to Information and Data Protection (INAI) in Mexico City, Mexico. © 2016 Archivo Agencia EL UNIVERSAL/RCC (GDA via AP Images) <p>(Washington, DC) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and legislators from his party have effectively paralyzed the country’s independent transparency and data protection agency by blocking nominations to fill vacant seats on its board, Human Rights Watch said today. The Senate should move swiftly to fill the three vacant seats.</p> <p>The National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information, and Data Protection (INAI) is the independent agency charged with enforcing transparency and data protection rules in Mexico. It has played an important role in ensuring the right to privacy of ordinary Mexicans and ensuring that journalists and human rights defenders can obtain the necessary information to document and expose human rights violations and corruption. President López Obrador and legislators from his party have repeatedly proposed eliminating the agency, claiming it is unnecessary.</p> <p>“By intentionally paralyzing the transparency agency, the Mexican government is undermining Mexicans’ right to access public information and to make decisions about how their personal data is used,” said Tyler Mattiace, Mexico researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Until the Senate names new transparency commissioners, Mexicans will have no way to easily appeal to an independent watchdog when the government denies them access to public information or when private companies misuse their personal data.”</p> <p>The agency has the authority to require government agencies, political parties, labor unions, or other public bodies to comply with freedom of information requests from individuals or organizations. It also can require entities that hold personal data, such as government agencies, banks, or hospitals, to allow people to view, change, or eliminate data about themselves.</p> <p>If a public entity refuses to respond to an information request, or provides incomplete information, the person who requested it can appeal to the agency, which can issue a legally binding decision compelling it to comply or pay a fine. The agency reviewed more than 20,000 such cases and issued more than 11,000 decisions compelling public bodies to comply with requests between October 2021 and September 2022, according to its most recent annual report.  The agency also takes judicial action to challenge laws that wrongly limit access to public information or threaten Mexicans’ right to privacy.</p> <p>The agency’s seven commissioners are appointed by the Senate to serve seven-year terms. By law, the board needs at least five commissioners to meet, review cases, or issue decisions. Currently it has only four. No new commissioners have been appointed to replace the three who completed their terms in March 2022 and March 2023. Since March 31, the INAI board has not had enough members to hold meetings or issue decisions. As of May 10, it had 3,947 pending cases, which it was unable to review.</p> <p>In March, the Senate, which is controlled by legislators from President López Obrador’s coalition, voted to appoint two commissioners to fill the seats that had been vacant since April 2022. However, President López Obrador vetoed the appointments, alleging wrongdoing in the nomination process.</p> <p>In April, senators from the president’s party voted down a second proposal to fill one of the vacant seats. The Senate president, a member of the president’s party, introduced a bill that proposed eliminating the agency but then retracted it. Opposition senators staged a protest, taking over the Senate floor and refusing to discuss other issues until a commissioner was appointed. The Senate president refused and instead reconvened the Senate in a different building to continue voting on other bills. The Senate went into summer recess on April 30 without having appointed new INAI commissioners.</p> <p>A federal judge has repeatedly ruled, most recently on May 11, that the Senate’s failure to fill the vacant seats on the INAI board violates Mexicans’ constitutional right to access public information. The judge ordered the Senate to name at least one commissioner to enable the agency to resume normal functions.</p> <p>The agency has played a key role in enabling Mexicans to uncover serious human rights violations and government corruption schemes. For example, a 2015 ruling forced Mexico’s attorney general to release the records of its investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, revealing major inconsistencies, including that key suspects had been tortured. Hundreds of freedom of information requests made through the agency have enabled activists to determine the location of more than 2,000 mass graves across Mexico. They have also allowed reporters to uncover corruption schemes that diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from public services like health care and education.</p> <p>The agency has also enabled Mexicans to access personal information about themselves in government records. Prior to a 2003 decision by the agency’s predecessor public hospital medical records were considered government property. Requests for medical records, pension contribution records, and other personal information held by the government continue to be one of the main types of information requests made through the agency.</p> <p>President López Obrador and legislators from his party have repeatedly proposed eliminating the agency and transferring its functions to government auditing agencies like the Ministry of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública), which is responsible for auditing the finances and performance of the executive branch of the federal government and reports directly to the president, or the Supreme Audit Office of the Federation (Auditoría Superior de la Federación), which is charged with auditing the use of the federal budget and reports to Congress. These institutions report to the same politicians and leaders they would be expected to hold to account, which means they would not serve as an independent check on government secrecy, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>President López Obrador issued an executive order in November 2021 designating all government infrastructure projects matters of national security, enabling officials to deny access to information about them. The transparency agency challenged the executive order before the Supreme Court, which voted to overturn it on May 18 as a violation of the constitutional right to access public information. Hours after the Supreme Court ruling, President López Obrador issued a nearly identical executive order. The agency responded with a formal complaint, which is now pending with the Supreme Court. However, the transparency agency cannot present a new legal case while its board lacks the five members required issue formal decisions.</p> <p>The right to information is a recognized human rights norm. It includes the right of access to information held by public institutions and information on public affairs. Access to this information is also an important means of exercising the human right to participation in public affairs. Mexico should ensure easy, prompt, effective, and practical access to this information, including by establishing and guaranteeing procedures for obtaining the information and by processing requests for information in a timely manner.</p> <p>Mexico should also ensure that every person can ascertain what personal data is being processed and stored about them and why, and that they can request to view, correct, and in some cases erase that information, whether it is held by the government or private companies.</p> <p>Mexico has accepted specific obligations to establish an independent authority with the powers to investigate and take legal action for violations of personal data protection laws. In addition, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression has recommended that an independent specialized agency be responsible for reviewing and deciding on government denials of requests for information.</p> <p>“The INAI has empowered journalists and activists in Mexico to uncover horrific abuses and massive corruption scandals precisely because it is independent from the government,” Mattiace said. “Eliminating the INAI and transferring its powers to an agency that reports directly to the politicians it is intended to hold to account, especially given Mexico’s long history of official secrecy and cover ups, would be the perfect recipe for abuse.”</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 02:01:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch EU: Flawed Reliance on Audits for Raw Materials Rules Click to expand Image European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and EU Commissioner Thierry Breton during a press conference on EU Critical Raw Materials Act and EU Competitiveness in Brussels, Belgium on March 16, 2023. © 2023 Sipa via AP Images <p>(Brussels) – European governments risk relying too much on voluntary audit and certification initiatives to protect rights in European Union minerals supply chains, Human Rights Watch said in a question-and-answer document released today. EU laws, including the draft Critical Raw Minerals Act released in March 2023, need to recognize that compliance with voluntary standards is no substitute for rigorous regulatory scrutiny and enforcement.</p> <p>Audit and certifications initiatives purport to assess and certify companies' respect for human rights and the environment by auditing their compliance with a voluntary standard. The draft Critical Raw Materials Act, which aims to secure a sustainable supply of strategic materials for the EU, relies on audit and certifications to verify whether new mines, refineries, and other projects are sustainable enough to merit government support. Research has shown, however, that third-party audits have inherent limitations and that voluntary initiatives frequently lack the detailed criteria and rigorous methodology needed to properly evaluate companies’ compliance with human rights or environmental standards.</p> <p>“The European Union shouldn’t outsource oversight of mines, refineries, and smelters to voluntary initiatives,” said Jim Wormington, senior corporate accountability researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Audits or certifications provide no guarantee that a company respects human rights or the environment.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive research into the operation and effectiveness of voluntary audit and certification initiatives. This research has focused in particular on initiatives related to jewelry sourcing, including standards developed by the Responsible Jewelry Council and the London Bullion Market Association, as well as standards used by the global car industry, particularly the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative.</p> <p>The mining, refining, and processing of minerals has a long track record of human rights abuses, including violations of Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent for decisions affecting their land and resources; child labor; unsafe working conditions; forced displacement; land loss; and devastating waste spills. Due to skyrocketing demand for minerals for new energy technologies, such as electric cars and solar panels, mining is expanding into new regions and communities, creating new risks of human rights abuses and threats to the environment.</p> <p>Increased recognition of the human rights and environmental risks in mineral supply chains has led to a proliferation of voluntary audit and certification initiatives. Some initiatives conduct on-the-ground audits of mines and other facilities in minerals supply chains, while others focus on auditing the sourcing practices of companies that purchase raw materials. Several initiatives do both.</p> <p>In addition to the draft Critical Raw Materials Act, the EU has also integrated audits and certifications into the Conflict Minerals Regulation, which entered into force in 2021, and a forthcoming Batteries Regulation.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch work, and research by other civil society organizations, has shown the serious shortcomings of voluntary audit and certification initiatives. Many standards were developed and are governed primarily by mining companies and industry groups, which can compromise their ability to develop strong standards and audit processes.</p> <p>Audit methodologies frequently do not include adequate participation, if any, from communities and workers, and focus too much on companies’ internal policies and practices rather than their on-the-ground impact on human rights.</p> <p>Many voluntary initiatives also do not require companies to share detailed audit results, information on the audit process, or findings of noncompliance. They also do not adequately involve workers, Indigenous peoples, affected communities, and other relevant stakeholders in determining the corrective action needed for human rights and environmental harm.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch is a board member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), the only mining sector audit initiative that it is equally governed by civil society and the private sector. IRMA is comparatively the strongest standards initiative that mining companies can use to provide transparency on their conduct and practices, although it needs significant improvement to safeguard the independence of audits and more effectively push mining companies to remedy harms.</p> <p>Instead of relying solely on audits and certifications, the Critical Raw Minerals Act should require the European Commission to conduct its own independent analysis of whether a project meets the sustainability and human rights standards set out in the law, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>The act should explicitly require the commission’s analysis to draw on a range of sources, including information in audit and certification reports but also interviews with and reports from community groups, unions, and worker-led organizations, and consultations with nongovernmental organizations.</p> <p>The commission, when weighing information in audits against other sources, should consider the credibility of the standards and methodology used to conduct the audit. Under no circumstance should the fact that a company conducted an audit or received certification prevent it from being held liable for human rights and environmental harm.</p> <p>“Audits and certifications have serious limitations and should only be one of many tools used to assess companies’ practices,” Wormington said. “Regulators should not equate compliance with voluntary mining standards and respect for human rights.”</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 00:30:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Uzbekistan: Backsliding on Religious Freedom Promises Click to expand Image Muslim worshippers pray during Friday prayers at the Khazrati Imam Mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, October 22, 2021. © 2021 Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP The Uzbek government is restricting religious freedom despite promises to eliminate restrictions. The Uzbekistan authorities still consider legitimate expression of religious sentiment or belief “extremism,” and peaceful religious communities and individuals are paying the price. Uzbek authorities should ensure that rights-violating provisions related to freedom of religion in the Criminal Code and in the 2021 religion law are amended in line with international human rights law. <p><br /> (Berlin, May 24, 2023) – The Uzbek government is restricting religious freedom despite promises to eliminate restrictions, Human Rights Watch said today. The government is preventing registration of religious communities, subjecting former religious prisoners to arbitrary controls, and prosecuting Muslims on overly broad and vaguely worded extremism-related charges.</p> <p>A 2021 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations retains restrictive and rights-violating provisions. And the authorities are prosecuting people under overbroad religious extremism-related provisions in Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code, while ignoring allegations of abuse in custody.</p> <p>“President Shavkat Mirziyoyev received credit early on for initiating reforms granting more religious freedoms in Uzbekistan, but what we’re seeing today is a mixed record, in which serious abuses occur with impunity,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uzbekistan authorities still consider legitimate expression of religious sentiment or belief ‘extremism,’ and peaceful religious communities and individuals are paying the price.”</p> <p>The Mirziyoyev government put an end to the routine mass arrests of Muslims – common under the late President Islam Karimov – released hundreds of people imprisoned for their peaceful religious activities or beliefs, and reported that thousands of citizens were removed from security service “blacklists.’’ Yet, the Uzbek government still appears to view religion as a threat and, as a result, imposes undue restrictions on peaceful religious communities and people. </p> <p>Sergey Artyushev, a Tashkent-based Jehovah’s Witness representative, told Human Rights Watch: “The main problem is that the [Uzbek] government treats freedom of religion as a privilege, not a right.” Muslim activists noted that while “religion is formally separated from the government,” state officials heavily control religious practice through both the Muftiyat, the Muslim spiritual board, and the State Committee on Religious Affairs, a government body that oversees religious practice in Uzbekistan.</p> <p>Between March 6 and 10, 2023, Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 human rights defenders, bloggers, lawyers, and victims of religious freedom violations in Tashkent and Fergana regions in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court material in nine cases, as well as media reports on religion-related criminal cases. Additional interviews had been carried out remotely between November 2021 and August 2022.</p> <p>In late April, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Uzbek government to share its preliminary findings and request information about restrictions on religious freedom in Uzbekistan. In a written response, the Uzbek government did not acknowledge any restrictions and claimed that the “legal framework [in Uzbekistan] fully meets international standards and ensures the rights of everyone to freedom of conscience and religion.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch documented seven cases in which Uzbek authorities in the last three years brought criminal charges against people for storing or sharing content containing “religious extremist” ideas, in violation of their right to freedom of religion or belief and expression. In a recent case, a Tashkent court sentenced a 20-year-old economics student to three years in prison for downloading a religious song authorities had deemed “extremist,” and sharing it with some classmates in a Telegram chat.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch also documented several cases in which Muslims who had fled Uzbekistan under President Karimov fearing religious persecution were arrested and prosecuted when they returned on religious extremism-related criminal charges. In some cases, the people interviewed said the police had given them or their loved ones assurances that they would not be prosecuted or imprisoned upon their return.</p> <p>Despite many recommendations from the United Nations and other international bodies that the government should amend its overbroad and vague definition of “extremism,” Uzbek law does not distinguish between violent and nonviolent extremism. Extremism-related provisions in the criminal code are used against people solely for their peaceful religious activity or expression. This may violate international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of religion, expression, and association, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch also documented several cases in which police allegedly ill-treated and tortured people who were being held on religious extremist-related offenses. The authorities have failed to investigate or hold the abusers accountable.</p> <p>Several people expressed concern about requirements to register religious groups. Although the registration process was simplified in the 2021 religion law, the government continues to impose undue obstacles and interfere with registration efforts, people interviewed said. Jehovah’s Witnesses have made multiple attempts to register in Tashkent and Samarkand since 2021, all unsuccessfully. A human rights activist in the Fergana region estimated that about 10 people who were struggling to register mosques in their neighborhoods had come to him for advice.</p> <p>Two men formerly imprisoned on religion-related charges said that years after they had served their prison sentences in full, courts had imposed temporary administrative oversight limiting their movement and requiring them to regularly check in with the police. The arbitrary restrictions violated their rights to liberty and freedom of movement, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>Uzbekistan’s international partners should urge Uzbekistan, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief. Human Rights Watch echoes the recommendation of the United States International Commission on Religious Freedom in its 2023 annual report to reinstate Uzbekistan on the United States’ State Department’s Special Watch List.</p> <p>Uzbek authorities should ensure that rights-violating provisions related to freedom of religion in the Criminal Code and in the 2021 religion law are amended in line with international human rights law. The government should ensure that Muslims are able peacefully to express their religious views, including by storing and sharing religious materials even if these are deemed radical by the authorities. The authorities should drop all criminal charges and take steps to quash convictions in cases involving the storage of materials deemed “extremist” that do not involve use, or intent to use, such material to incite or commit violent acts.</p> <p>Uzbek authorities should review the practice of imposing administrative oversight on former religious prisoners, with a view to ending such arbitrary restrictions, and ensure that religious communities are able to register without undue government interference.</p> <p>“It’s clear that Uzbek authorities need to do much more to ensure that freedom of religion is fully respected and upheld in Uzbekistan,” Rittmann said. “Uzbekistan’s partners should urge the Uzbek government to renew stalled reform efforts and stop all harassment and persecution of peaceful religious communities and people.”</p> <p>For detailed findings on religion-related human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, please see below.</p> <p>In some cases, people interviewed are identified by a pseudonym or are not quoted by name for their protection.</p> <p>2021 Religion Law</p> <p>In early July 2021, Uzbekistan adopted a new Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations. The law addressed some of the limits on freedom of religion and belief that had existed in the 1998 religion law it replaced, but retained several provisions contrary to international human rights law. Before its adoption, experts including members of the Venice Commission and the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief had urged Uzbek officials to amend the draft religion law to bring it into full compliance with international standards.</p> <p>In a joint communication to President Mirziyoyev on July 29, 2021, five UN special rapporteurs expressed serious concern about the rights-violating provisions that remain in the new law, including bans on all forms of peaceful missionary activity; on the manufacture, import, and distribution of non-state-approved religious material; and on non-state-approved religious education. The rapporteurs also noted that “the registration process [for religious groups] remains onerous and needlessly prohibitive,” and urged the government to “maintain a definition of extremism and terrorism consistent with the core legal meanings.”</p> <p>In answer to Human Rights Watch’s question about what steps the government is taking to ensure the law meets international standards, the Uzbek government stated: “The legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan fully complies with international standards for ensuring the protection of human rights, including … the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan ‘On freedom of conscience and religious organizations.’”</p> <p>Prosecution for Storage, Dissemination of Banned Religious Material</p> <p>While large-scale arrests of Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls stopped after President Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, the authorities appear to be increasingly targeting Muslims under article 244-1, part 3, of the criminal code for storing or sharing “materials threatening public safety and public order,” including materials containing “religious extremist” content, such as songs or “nasheeds,”a type of Islamic religious song, on social media networks or their phones. Uzbek authorities declined to tell Human Rights Watch how many people had been prosecuted between 2017 and 2023 on this charge.</p> <p>International human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have expressed concern that these provisions are overly broad and vaguely worded, and urged the Uzbek government to “review and revise all provisions relating to freedom of religion or belief” and to narrow the definition of “extremism,” to ensure they comply with international human rights standards. In its written communication to Human Rights Watch, the authorities said that “the concept of extremism and extremist activity … fully meet the requirements of international standards.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch documented seven cases over the past three years in which people were sentenced to between three years of restricted freedom and five years in prison for storing or sharing “religious extremist” content in Tashkent, Namangan, and Andijan. Human rights activists and bloggers said that they are aware of many more such cases.</p> <p>In at least two of the cases, the police apparently gained access to and searched through the person’s phone without authorization, a violation of Uzbek law. Courts also appear to have ignored whether there was any evidence of criminal intent or incitement to violence, instead convicting defendants solely for storing or sharing religious material deemed “extremist.” The UN special rapporteur for countering terrorism expressed concern in February 2022 about how “article 244 criminalizes, de facto, the mere fact of keeping materials considered to be radical, thereby impinging on the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of thought.”</p> <p>On May 8, 2023, a Tashkent court sentenced Zhahongir Ulugmurodov, a 20-year-old economics student, to three years in prison for downloading and sharing a religious song with some classmates in Telegram, a messaging app. The State Committee on Religious Affairs concluded that the song “is filled with fundamentalist ideas.” Neither Ulugmurodov, nor the text in question, which Human Rights Watch has on file, calls for violence. Ulugmurodov’s family told the media they plan to appeal the verdict.</p> <p>On January 30, 2023, a Tashkent court sentenced Sardor Rakhmonkulov, 22, an IT university student, to five years in prison after police found he had downloaded and shared a banned religious song with a friend on Telegram. Abdurakhmon Tashanov, head of the human rights organization Ezgulik and Rakhmonkulov’s public defender, told Human Rights Watch that there was no criminal intent in Rakhmonkulov’s actions: “[Rakhmankulov] doesn’t understand Arabic. It was just music and he shared it with a friend. Not because he understood the essence of it.”</p> <p>On appeal, a verdict that Human Rights Watch also has on file, the court considered Rakhmonkulov’s time in pretrial detention to be time served, reduced his five-year prison sentence to four years, four months, and twenty-one days, and suspended his sentence with two years of probation. However, the court upheld the ruling to block his social media accounts and destroy his phone.</p> <p>In mid-February 2023, another Tashkent court sentenced “Abror A,” 25, to three years of restricted freedom for sharing a religious song in a group chat. A human rights activist familiar with the case told Human Rights Watch that Abror had “heard some religious song, shared it with his family, and then forgot about it.” The guilty verdict, a copy of which Human Rights Watch has on file, was based on the conclusions of the State Committee on Religious Affairs that “the material in the seized file is impregnated with fundamentalist ideas.”</p> <p>In the case of Oybek Khamidov, 34, a former religious prisoner from Andijan who was accused of “spreading materials with fundamentalist ideas” for sending unauthorized religious material to his wife on social media, an Andijan court on May 17, 2022, sentenced him to five years in prison. Khamidov denied the charges.</p> <p>After “Solikha S” wrote several posts on social media complaining about socioeconomic issues in her Tashkent neighborhood, police detained her and confiscated her phone. Police questioned her for several hours, including about when she started wearing a headscarf and how often she prayed. Ultimately, the police let her go, but they “made me leave my phone at the police station,” she said.</p> <p>In January 2023, a Tashkent court sentenced her to 5 years of restricted freedom under article 244-1, part 3, for posting banned religious content on her social media account several years earlier. “There was no information then that the information [I posted] was banned,” she said. “Nobody told us that it wasn’t allowed.”</p> <p>The Uzbek government informed Human Rights Watch that it carries out “extensive explanatory measures … among the population” and “systematically” publishes lists on the Supreme Court and Justice Ministry websites to inform the public what constitutes prohibited extremist material, but did not provide additional details.</p> <p>Allegations of Ill-Treatment and Torture</p> <p>Torture and ill-treatment of detainees is a serious problem in Uzbekistan, and often occurs with impunity. In several cases Human Rights Watch investigated, people detained in recent years on religious extremism-related charges alleged that police had beaten or otherwise mistreated or tortured them, and that the abusers were not held accountable. The government said in its written communication to Human Rights Watch that video surveillance cameras have been installed in pretrial detention centers to prevent torture but acknowledged that no one had been convicted for torture in 2022.</p> <p>Police detained “Odil O.” 45, in January 2017 on charges of illegal border crossing, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, and sharing of “religious extremist” material. A Tashkent court convicted him and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Describing his ordeal when first detained, he said:</p> <p>For over 10 hours, police beat me to give testimony against people I did not know…. Police threatened to rape my wife and to kill my children. … [The police] beat me up, they beat my heels 40 times with batons.</p> <p>He said that the police had tortured him on multiple occasions during his time in detention and escalated their abuse after he refused to confess:</p> <p>[The police] put out a rubber mattress which had electrified wires and water all over it. I had to walk barefoot on that mattress. I felt anguish in my whole body, my teeth, eyes, fingers. After about 15 minutes, I passed out. A white substance came out of my mouth.</p> <p>While he was in pretrial detention, police physically and psychologically abused Fazilhoja Arifhojaev, a Muslim blogger sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in January 2022 for threatening public security, said his lawyer, Sergey Mayorov. He said that in late September 2021, police handcuffed Arifhojaev to a pipe and made him sit in a stress position for nearly 12 hours, causing him excruciating pain, a form of torture.</p> <p>The mother of Rakhmonkulov, the IT student who was convicted for sharing a religious song, Saida Saidalieva, said that he had been tortured while in pretrial detention. In an interview with the BBC, Saidalieva said what her son had told her, that the police had tried to coerce a confession from him:</p> <p>After three days in a cell, [Sardor] was brought to the Tashkent GUVD [city internal affairs department, ed. BBC]. … They [the police] put a plastic bag on his head and held him until he couldn’t breathe…. Four employees without uniforms kicked him one after another.</p> <p>Rakhmankulov’s public defender, Abdurakhmon Tashanov, told Human Rights Watch: “Sardor’s lawyer filed a complaint during the trial [alleging torture], but the court didn’t react. When it comes to torture, [authorities] claim they’re investigating, but by the time a trial is over, they’re not working on it anymore.”</p> <p>Alimardon Sultonov, a trauma surgeon and a devout Muslim from Nukus, Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region in Uzbekistan, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in May 2022 on multiple religious extremism-related charges, was also reportedly abused by police in pretrial detention. According to the religious freedom watchdog Forum18, a police officer beat Sultonov and hit him in the stomach, arms, and legs. The Tashkent-based human rights defender Elena Urlaeva, who was at Sultonov’s trial in Nukus, told Forum18 that the judge ignored Sultanov’s allegations of torture.</p> <p>A female relative of “Sherzod S.” a man in his thirties who was convicted in the Ferghana region in 2018 on religious extremism and terrorism-related charges, said that after police detained him at their home, he was held incommunicado for three days: “No one knew where he was. My family searched for him, reached out to the prosecutor’s office. For three days no one would tell us where he was.” The female relative said that Sherzod’s co-defendant testified at trial that police had beaten of them and administered electric shocks.</p> <p>Prosecution of Muslims on Extremism-Related Charges</p> <p>Uzbekistan authorities no longer carry out routine mass arrests of Muslims on vague and overbroad anti-state and religious extremist charges, in which authorities often characterized individuals’ peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of conscience, expression, and association as attempts to overthrow the government. Yet as recently as this year, the government has pursued Uzbek Muslims living abroad on such charges.</p> <p>In the last two-and-a-half years, Uzbek authorities have prosecuted on religious extremism-related charges at least four people who had previously fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan but later returned. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that Uzbek police or security services contacted some Uzbek Muslims living abroad and encouraged them to return to Uzbekistan, and in some cases, reportedly assured them verbally that they would not be prosecuted or imprisoned, only to arrest them upon their return.</p> <p>Alijon Mirganiev</p> <p>On June 22, 2022, police detained Alijon Mirganiev, a 52-year-old Muslim, at the Tashkent airport upon his return to Uzbekistan. Mirganiev had previously served five-and-a-half years in prison on religion-related charges and was released in 2012. Mirganiev fled Uzbekistan in 2013, fearing rearrest.</p> <p>“[The authorities] wanted to imprison him again,” Mirganiev’s brother told Human Rights Watch. “They even carried out a search of his home [in 2013]. He was sick of it. His wife was working in Turkey [at the time] – so he left.”</p> <p>Police who contacted Mirganiev before his return to Uzbekistan told him that he would not be prosecuted. They wanted only to speak to him, his brother said. Instead, when he arrived, the police detained Mirganiev and later charged him with illegal border crossing involving minors – his children – and participating in a religious extremist organization under articles 127-3, 223-2b, and 244-2, part 1 of the criminal code. His trial began in September 2022.</p> <p>His brother said:</p> <p>The investigator in the anti-terrorism department came to the airport to meet [Mirganiev] and took him to the police station. They told me he would be held in Tashturma [Tashkent prison] for three days. They promised that he would be questioned and then released. But once they detained him, they didn’t release him again.</p> <p>His brother said that, at the trial, prosecutors did not present any material evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and witnesses who had earlier claimed they saw Mirganiev in Syria recanted their testimony. He said Mirganiev and his lawyer also provided official documentation from the Turkish authorities that he did not cross the Turkey-Syria border. Nevertheless, on October 18, 2022, a Tashkent court sentenced Mirganiev to seven years in a strict regime prison. In March 2023, an appeals court reduced his prison sentence by six months.</p> <p>Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov </p> <p>On June 23, 2022, a Bukhara region court convicted Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, a 48-year-old Muslim who follows the teachings of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi and who had fled Uzbekistan in 2010, to five years and one month in prison on extremism-related charges under articles 244-1 and 244-2 of the criminal code.</p> <p>In February 2022, after Russian authorities refused to allow Tukhtamurodov to remain in Russia, where he had been living, Tukhtamurodov contacted Uzbek authorities, who apparently assured him that he would not be arrested if he returned to Uzbekistan, people familiar with the case told Forum18, the religious freedom watchdog. They said that “he was arrested when he arrived in Tashkent International airport on April 11, 2022, and immediately transferred to a Bukhara prison.”</p> <p>Registration Obstacles for Religious Communities </p> <p>The 2021 religion law revised registration procedures for religious groups, ostensibly making it easier to fulfill registration requirements. The number of people required to register a religious group was reduced from 100 to 50, and the neighborhood committee no longer has to approve registration. According to the Uzbek government, the Justice Ministry has registered 34 religious groups in the last 2 years, including a Shia mosque in Bukhara and four Christian churches. However, people interviewed said that the registration process remains burdensome and lengthy, and in some cases, the authorities continue to impose arbitrary registration requirements.</p> <p>Jehovah’s Witnesses have made many attempts over the years to register their communities in Uzbekistan. Buoyed by comments by the then-Uzbek ambassador to the United States, who said in May 2018, “Smaller religious denominations, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, from now on, will be able to get registered much easier,” and by the adoption of the 2021 religion law, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tashkent and Samarkand have since 2021 repeatedly tried to register, to no avail. </p> <p>“If they didn’t register us before because the neighborhood committee could say they were opposed to it, now authorities are demanding documentation from the Fire Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Architecture,” said Sergey Artyushev, a Jehovah’s Witness’s representative in Uzbekistan. “We need sign off from the city administration now.”</p> <p>Five human rights defenders and bloggers in the Ferghana and Tashkent regions similarly identified mosque registration as a key religious freedom issue in Uzbekistan.</p> <p>Sharifakhon Madrahimova, a journalist in the Fergana Region, said that she knows of two neighborhood mosque groups that have been trying unsuccessfully for years to register. “In order to register [a mosque], you need permission from the regional governor. But he’s not giving permission,” she said about one of the mosques in the Buvaida district, Fergana.</p> <p>Ahmadjon Madumarov, the rights defender from Margilon, said in March 2023 that he has struggled for over a year to get approval from local authorities to register his neighborhood mosque, called Boi Makhalla. In early May, the regional governor received Madumarov and apparently instructed his staff to approve the necessary documents for the mosque’s registration. But Madumarov is still waiting for registration.</p> <p>Abdusalom Ergashev, a veteran human rights defender from Fergana City, said:</p> <p>After President Mirziyoyev came to power, it became clear that they were fighting to improve the country’s image. They lightened punishments [of Muslims], and many [religious prisoners] were released. … But as far as registration is concerned, there hasn’t been any improvement whatsoever. Many of the mahalla mosques are without registration. That’s the situation across the country. … I personally know at least 10 people who are struggling to register mosques in their neighborhoods, who have come to me for advice.</p> <p>Administrative Supervision of Former Religious Prisoners</p> <p>Article 8 of the 2019 Law on Administrative Supervision provides that former prisoners, convicted of crimes qualified in Uzbek law as “grave or especially grave,” and who, after having fully served their sentence and being released from prison, commit two or more administrative offenses within a one-year period, may be put under state supervision from six months to one year. The authorities appear to impose administrative supervision frequently in cases related to “religious extremism,” which may constitute a violation of former prisoners’ rights to liberty and freedom of movement.</p> <p>“Over 70 percent of former religious prisoners are subjected to administrative supervision,” estimated Akhmadjon Madumarov, a veteran human rights defender from Margilan. “Local authorities write them up for crossing the street in the wrong place, parking their car in a no-parking zone, or violating traffic rules. But that’s just pretext.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed one former religious prisoner whose name is withheld who spent several years under administrative supervision after his release from prison in late 2016. “There were talks that they would impose restrictions again, in 2020, so I went to ask the police not to do that,” he said. “I talked to the senior neighborhood police officer, but he just said ‘it’s necessary, it’s necessary and that’s it.’ They didn’t provide any more explanation than that.”</p> <p>Another former religious prisoner living in Tashkent whose name is also withheld said that he was not subject to any restrictions after his release from prison in 2020. However, in mid-2022, after he was fined on two separate occasions for minor traffic violations, a court imposed administrative supervision on him for six months. “The neighborhood police officer threatened me, saying if I commit any more traffic violations, there’s no guarantee they won’t put me [back] in jail,” he said.</p> <p>Restrictions on Muslim Dress</p> <p>The 2021 religion law lifted the ban on women wearing the hijab in public places, and there is no law prohibiting men from wearing a beard in Uzbekistan. Yet, media and local rights groups have reported multiple incidents in recent years of police forcing men to shave off their beards. Uzbek authorities have denied accusations that they forced men to shave.</p> <p>“Alisher A.” a pious Muslim whose brother is serving a religion-related prison sentence, told Human Rights Watch that police searched his home in November 2021. At the police station, officers searched through his phone and forced him to shave off his beard, threatening to register his name with police for regular check ins if he refused.</p> <p>In May 2022, several Muslim men in Tashkent reported to the media that police had threatened them with 15-day administrative arrest unless they shaved their beards.</p> Wed, 24 May 2023 00:00:01 -0400 Human Rights Watch Poland: Proposed Law Threatens Children’s Rights Click to expand Image People attend a “Stop Lex Czarnek” protest at the Main Square in Krakow, Poland on February 15, 2022. © 2022 Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via AP Photo <p>(London) – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has published proposed legislation that, if passed, would undermine children’s rights to education, health, and information, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>On May 4, 2023, the PiS announced its draft amendment to the Education Law Act called “Protect Children, Support Parents,” which would restrict access to schools for nongovernment organizations providing sexuality education. Such groups are often the only reliable source of this material due to a restrictive  and discriminatory national curriculum. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said the proposed law is intended to curb the “sexualization of children” and “all sorts of strange ideas.” This is the government’s latest attempt to eliminate comprehensive sexuality education.</p> <p>“Sex education run by expert nongovernmental organizations is crucial in a country where the official curriculum results in children rarely learning about their own bodies, consensual relationships, and reproductive health,” Kyle Knight, a senior researcher on health and LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch said. “Far from ‘sexualizing children,’ these groups provide critical lessons about relationships, autonomy, safety, and health.”</p> <p>If the proposed draft becomes law, it would have a chilling effect on nongovernment organizations and the few teachers who provide comprehensive sexuality education, and make it excessively difficult for Polish schools to address topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, and reproductive rights, Human Rights Watch said. This bill is the latest in a string of dangerous curbs on sexual, reproductive, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights that European Union leaders should examine as they gather to discuss Poland and Hungary’s respect for EU laws and values on May 30.</p> <p>The new proposed law prohibits such groups from activities that “sexualize children,” which would likely restrict access for them providing age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health in kindergartens and primary schools, which includes students up to age 15. In high schools and professional and technical schools, which include students up to age 20, the proposed law would require approval of the school’s principal and parents’ council – a body representing parents of the school’s students – before any nongovernment group enters the school. In addition, students participating in group-led educational activities would be required by law to provide written consent from their parents.</p> <p>Even for organizations who pass these new hurdles to work in kindergartens or primary schools, the proposed law contains a vague definition of “sexualization of children,” meaning any organization providing information on sexual or reproductive health, healthy relationships, or sexual orientation and gender identity could run afoul of it. Past proposed legislation and statements by PiS politicians have defined “sexualization of children” as discussions of sexual health, intimate relationships, sexuality, LGBT people's lives, which PiS erroneously claims increases children's propensity to engage in sexual activity or identify as LGBT.</p> <p>Nongovernmental organizations are often the only providers of comprehensive sexuality education in Poland. The national “Preparation for Family Life” curriculum currently taught in schools includes misinformation about reproductive health and sexuality and perpetuates myths and discriminatory stereotypes rather than provide evidence-based sex education in line with international and regional standards. Poland’s “Preparation for Family Life” course constitutes “abstinence-only” education, meaning its primary or exclusive purpose is preventing premarital sexual intercourse. Previous Ministry of Education guidance on the curriculum discouraged contraceptive use, stated that masturbation is linked to “addiction to pornography, addiction to sex,” and erroneously said that emergency contraception is an “early pregnancy termination drug because conception occurs in the fallopian tube and not in the uterus.” Without education offered by nongovernment groups, most students across Poland have no school-based exposure to scientifically accurate sexual health information.</p> <p>Accurate and inclusive quality sex education helps reduce adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV, and promotes healthy relationships. Children have a right to age appropriate, inclusive sexual and reproductive health education, based on scientific evidence, Human Rights Watch said. Children’s right to information includes states not interfering with private parties’ provision of this information and also a positive responsibility to provide complete and accurate information necessary for the protection and promotion of rights, including the right to health.</p> <p>The new law PiS is proposing is similar to legislation put forward twice by PiS politician and Minister of Education Przemysław Czarnek. President Andrzej Duda vetoed both versions of that bill, the latter following widespread protests from students, teachers, and civil society groups. PiS leaders have repeatedly used fearmongering around sexuality education to foster anti-LGBT and anti-choice sentiment and smear human rights defenders, accusing organizations and schools providing comprehensive sexuality education of threatening so-called traditional families and “morally corrupting” children.</p> <p>An earlier bill introduced by right-wing PiS allies, currently with parliamentary committees, would amend the criminal code to criminalize “anyone who promotes or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity,” essentially criminalizing anyone providing sexuality education or information, with potential prison sentences of up to three years. Under the PiS government, teachers and school administrators who support sexuality education or reproductive rights have been harassed, dragged through administrative proceedings, and had their jobs threatened. Since coming to power in 2015, PiS has carried out a sustained attack on sexual and reproductive health rights, LGBT rights, and human rights defenders.</p> <p>PiS has presented the draft as a “citizens’ initiative,” meaning party members need to collect 100,000 signatures by July 19 for it to be introduced in parliament. Unlike bills introduced by politicians, citizens’ initiatives do not require a public consultation period, which accelerates the legislative procedure.</p> <p>PiS leader Kaczyński has used “sexualization of children” rhetoric to promote an anti-LGBT agenda in the past. In an April 2019 speech about “protecting families,” he committed to defending Polish families from being destroyed and children from being sexualized. By the end of 2019, nearly 100 anti-LGBT resolutions – known as “LGBT Ideology Free Zones”– had been declared by municipal and regional governments. Fifty-one officially remained in place at this writing. Kaczyński has said women’s rights protesters demonstrating against a near-ban on abortion are “attacking our country, fatherland” and called them “evil.” He has claimed young women’s alcohol consumption is to blame for Poland’s low birth rate.</p> <p>“Access to information about gender and sexuality is already bleak for youth in Poland,” Knight said. “This proposed law doesn’t protect anyone, but it does cut off kids from the services they need to thrive, and in some cases even survive.”</p> Tue, 23 May 2023 00:01:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Indonesia: Student Media at Risk Click to expand Image Student journalists pose under a street sign in Pekanbaru, Riau, named for their magazine, Bahana, which played an important role in 1998 when local groups sought a bigger say in their province after President Suharto’s authoritarian rule ended in May 1998. © 2022 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch <p>(Jakarta) – The Indonesian government should support the national Press Council’s efforts to protect university media outlets and mediate their disputes with school authorities, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 22, 2023, more than 150 college journalists will begin a week-long conference in Solo, Central Java, to discuss intimidation, attacks, and forced closures of university media, and the need for government action.</p> <p>“Student journalists in Indonesia face abuses ranging from intimidation and censorship to defamation charges and newsroom shutdowns, and they have been left defenseless in this onslaught against press freedom,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government and Press Council need to expose this media crisis and act to protect and support these student journalists.”</p> <p>Between 2020 and 2021, the Indonesian Student Press Association (Perhimpunan Pers Mahasiswa Indonesia) recorded 48 cases of university administrators intimidating or shutting down student media outlets among the 185 cases of alleged press-related abuses on campuses in the country. The abuses included threats, intimidation, physical assault, closure of media outlets, and expulsion of students because of their journalism work.</p> <p>Most Indonesian universities have at least one student media outlet, such as a newspaper, magazine, or online news site, and many of the older universities have several. While some of the older student press organizations produce printed publications, including some that have been published continually since the 1960s, both older and newer outlets publish their content on internet websites and use social media.</p> <p>The 1999 Press Law, which set up the Press Council to mediate defamation disputes, defines a press organization as media that has an independent legal status like a limited corporation, a foundation, or a cooperative. However, student media operates under the official purview of their educational institution, and by extension, the Ministry of Education for non-Islamic schools and the Ministry of Religious Affairs for Islamic schools. For this reason, the Press Council systems don’t protect student media outlets.</p> <p>While student media organizations operate within the structure of their universities, many student media outlets operate like traditional independent newsrooms. This has often brought these organizations into conflict with the university administration when student reporters uncover and report on malfeasance, corruption, sexual misconduct, and other sensitive issues at their university.</p> <p>Under a 2017 memorandum of understanding between the Press Council and the National Police, any report of alleged defamation involving the media should be referred to the Press Council. The National Police agreed that they would only process a defamation case against the media if the complainant had already reported the case to the Press Council. Such Press Council mediation has played an important role in resolving such complaints and protecting freedom of the press.</p> <p>However, criminal defamation cases involving student journalists and publications are directly handled by the local police station, where officers are more easily swayed by influential local elites pressing cases against student publications.</p> <p>The national Press Council in Jakarta should engage with national police, the Education Ministry, and the Religious Affairs Ministry, and seek an agreement that would direct all college media disputes to be mediated by the Press Council, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>In March 2019, the North Sumatra University in Medan shut down the Suara USU newsroom after a lesbian love story went viral, ordering the 18 student journalists linked to the news website to vacate the newsroom within 48 hours. The students filed a lawsuit against the university in July 2019 but lost at the Medan administrative court in November 2019. In January 2020, they set up Wacana news website, operating outside the campus structure, and thus without financial support.</p> <p>In March 2022, the Ambon Islamic State Institute closed the Lintas student magazine, ordering campus security to seal the newsroom and seize all equipment, after accusing its reporters and editors of “defaming” the campus. The story that angered the administration documented a highly disturbing atmosphere of impunity for sexual assault of students on campus, and the university leadership’s failure to address it. Five men who said they were relatives of an implicated lecturer assaulted two student journalists. Abidin Rahawarin, the university’s rector, reported nine other student journalists to the police for criminal defamation.</p> <p>Lintas had spent five years investigating accounts of sexual assault on campus and had interviewed 32 survivors (27 female and 5 male students). After mediation, the university rector agreed to not press the criminal defamation complaint but replaced all the Lintas staff with other students.</p> <p>Research by the Indonesian Student Press Association found that the most common actions against student media outlets are intimidation and threats by university leaders, administrators, and other powerful people on their campuses. The most frequent demand was for post-publication censorship, usually to remove certain news stories from the student news websites. Even university lecturers have been involved, as in August 2021, when Anhar Anshori, the head of university book publications, demanded that the Poros student news site at the Ahmad Dahlan University in Yogyakarta remove a story about another lecturer selling a book he wrote on campus.</p> <p>Student journalism has a long history in Indonesia. Several of Indonesia’s founders, including Mohammad Hatta and Sutan Sjahrir, respectively Indonesia’s first vice president and prime minister in the 1940s, were student journalists in the Netherlands in the 1920s. The student press association has at least 400 members from various college media organizations on the major Indonesian islands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. Some other islands also have their own associations, as do several cities.</p> <p>“The Indonesian government should provide a meaningful response to student media leaders for the serious issues they have identified,” Robertson said. “Key government agencies and the Press Council should set up a task force to devise and put in place an agreement to protect student journalists and their publications.”</p> Mon, 22 May 2023 09:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Pakistan: Mass Arrests Target Political Opposition Click to expand Image Police detain a supporter of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan during clashes, in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 12, 2023. © 2023 W.K. Yousafzai/AP Photo <p>(New York) – Pakistani police have carried out mass arrests and detained more than 4,000 people in the wake of protests over the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, including members of the political opposition, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>Police have arbitrarily detained many opposition political party members as well as people appropriately arrested for engaging in violence. Many have been charged under vague and overbroad laws prohibiting rioting and creating threats to public order. Pakistani authorities should release all those held for peaceful protest or supporting the political opposition and respect the due process rights of all those detained.</p> <p>“The Pakistani authorities should end their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone committing violence should be appropriately charged and their due process rights respected.”</p> <p>Violence swept across Pakistan after the police arrested former Prime Minister Khan on May 9, 2023, on corruption charges. Many of Khan’s supporters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, and in a few cases, used assault rifles to attack police, and set fire to ambulances, police vehicles, and schools. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and charged protesters with batons. In the ensuing days, police arrested hundreds of members of Khan’s political party, Tehrik-i-Insaaf, on charges of criminal intimidation, rioting, and assault on government officials. On May 12, Khan was released on bail.</p> <p>A tense standoff continued between the police and Khan supporters in the city of Lahore, raising concerns about further violence. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that security forces must use the minimum necessary force at all times. In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when using less harmful means are not practicable, and only to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally resort to lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect life. </p> <p>On May 17, police arrested two former parliament members, Shireen Mazari and Maleeka Bukhari. After the Islamabad High Court granted them bail, the police immediately rearrested them on new charges. Mazari’s family members said that she has medical needs that require urgent attention. The authorities should release both women, drop all charges unless for a legally recognizable offense, and ensure that Mazari has immediate access to medical care.</p> <p>Pakistani law requires all detainees to be brought before a court within 24 hours, which is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a party.</p> <p>“The authorities should display restraint and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gossman said. “Fundamental guarantees of peaceful protest and due process should not become casualties of Pakistan’s political conflict.”</p> Sat, 20 May 2023 09:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch