Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 11, 2007

Female activist’s book withdrawn from publication in Egypt

Nawal Al Saadawi’s book was recently withdrawn from publication by the Egyptian government for “offending religious sensibilities,” according to the Assyrian International News Agency. Even though 31 female judges were appointed by Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council last month, the withdrawal is proof that women’s rights continue to be violated Egypt.

Islamic Fundamentalism is also growing in the region, as evidenced by the fact that 98 percent of Egyptian girls are subjected to female genital mutilation, a practice that The Muslim Brotherhood openly supports.

While human rights violations are widespread in Egypt, women are victims of gender-specific abuses. Moreover, most are relegated to second-class citizenship and subordinated to a male counterpart throughout their lives.

For the full article, click here.

Two more Vietnamese activists sentenced to prison

A Hanoi court sentenced two lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhang, to jail terms of five and four years, respectively, on the grounds that they disseminated anti-government propaganda and defamed Ho Chi Minh, Voice of America reported today .

Both lawyers support alternative political parties in Viet Nam and are members of the prominent Vietnamese democratic movement “Bloc 8406.” The sentences are the latest in an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Viet Nam that has drawn the ire of Western countries and human rights organizations.

For the full article, click here.

Child labor in eastern Afghanistan raises serious concern

According to Save the Children, there are 5,000 children working in brick factories in eastern Afghanistan, the Integrated Regional Information Networks reported Thursday. Rahattulah, 7, works in with his father and 12-year-old brother in one of the many brick factories in Sorkhroad. He said that even though he wants to go to school like other children his age, he cannot because his family is poor and he has to work to help meet their needs.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is considering establishing community schools near brick factories to improve educational access in the region, said Saeed Mohammed Saeed, UNICEF office director in Nangarhar.

For the full article, click here.

Greater U.S. response to crackdown in Viet Nam called for at Congressional briefing

Rights activists and U.S. officials gathered at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing in Washington Thursday to urge the U.S. government to do more to promote reform in Viet Nam in light of an ongoing crackdown on dissent that has left a number of the country’s leading pro-democracy activists in jail or awaiting trial.

In the wake of securing several key economic and political benchmarks – notably accession to the World Trade Organization, Permanent Normal Trade Relations status with the U.S. and removal from the State Department’s list of countries of particular concern (CPC) for violations of religious freedom – Hanoi has in recent months stepped up efforts to silence voices for change. On Thursday, three members of a banned democratic party were given multi-year sentences for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda. Religious leaders, human rights lawyers, union organizers, and academics have also been detained in the crackdown.

Those present at the briefing expressed their outrage and posited recommendations for further U.S. and international intervention. CPC reinstatement was a central demand, but other issues were also addressed. Dr. Richard Land of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stressed the need for assistance in the country’s central highlands, where ethnic Montagnards face persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Land called for full implementation of a recently-created U.S. development program in the highlands, and suggested that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates extend his Viet Nam-based call center initiative to the region. “I would think that anyone on the ground in Viet Nam would be more concerned with the Montagnards than any other group,” Land said.

Humanitarian assistance and promotion of alternative media outlets were also key concerns. T. Kumar of Amnesty International called on the U.S. to spend millions of dollars to help clean up areas contaminated by Agent Orange left over from the Viet Nam War. Do Hoang Diem, the chairman of the reformist Viet Tan party, urged the U.S. to break up Hanoi’s tight grip on the media by implementing internet freedom legislation and demanding that Viet Nam stop jamming Radio Free Asia broadcasts. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) agreed with Do on the importance of RFA as a mechanism for laying the groundwork for nonviolent democratic change and echoed his call for the utilization of an intermediate wavelength as a way extending coverage. Additionally, both Do and human rights activist Jane Tien Dobui expressed hope that the internet, which can be accessed by one-fourth of Vietnamese citizens, will serve as a medium for social change among the younger generation.

Dr. Quan Nguyen, a leading political activist, was also present at the briefing and spoke about a letter that he sent to U.S. Ambassador to Viet Nam Michael Marine’s that was met with a prompt reply assuring Nguyen that Hanoi’s backsliding on human rights would not be tolerated. Still, Nguyen said that Washington must do more to punish the government for the crackdown, urging the U.S. not to support Viet Nam’s candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council and calling for the postponement of non-humanitarian aid to the nation.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Three pro-democracy activists imprisoned in Viet Nam

Three Vietnamese dissidents were jailed today for three to five years for spreading propaganda against the state, Yahoo! News reported. All three individuals are members of the banned People’s Democratic Party and each will face two years probation upon release from jail.

During the trial, the prosecutor said the three had “carried out activities that aimed to end the leadership of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, demanding pluralism and a multi-party system.”

According to the article, “Foreign media were allowed to watch proceedings on closed-circuit television, but foreign diplomats were barred from entering the building.”

For the full article, click here.

Media freedom debated in Afghan parliament

The Afghan parliament is currently debating media law amendments that have many journalists concerned about government control over an independent press, according to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty article on Wednesday.

“The media commission, which monitors complaints, has been a great support for journalists in the past. Unfortunately the new law abolishes this commission. Also, the Afghan Radio and Television [broadcaster] was a public service company. Now, National Radio and Television will work under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Culture,” said Said Agha Fazil Sanjaraki, the head of Afghanistan’s National Journalists’ Union.

Accusations of government media control have been publicly denied by Afghanistan’s Information and Culture Ministry. A media advisor to the Ministry stated, “What the Afghan government wants or doesn’t want is one thing, and what the Afghan government can and cannot do is another. According to our media law, the government has no such right [to control the media]. So, even if there were someone in the Afghan government who wanted to take control of the media, they would not legally be able to do so.”

Nonetheless, journalists remain concerned about the implications of such changes.

For the full article, click here.

Apostasy bill could make Pakistan one of ‘world’s worst violators of fundamental rights’

Pakistan’s National Assembly is currently considering a new apostasy draft bill, according to an Institute on Religion and Public Policy press release Wednesday. If passed, the release says the bill “would sentence to death all Muslim men found guilty of leaving Islam. Muslim women would face life in prison for the same crime.”

One section of the bill states that two adults testifying that an individual has renounced his or her Muslim faith is all that is needed for a conviction. “Denounced by many in the minority religious community in Pakistan, including the Archbishop of Lahore, the draft bill would commit Pakistan as one of the world’s worst violators of fundamental rights,” the release says.

“This legislation is a clear demonstration that fundamental freedoms are of no importance to the National Assembly of Pakistan. Passage of this bill would usher in a new age of religious bigotry in a county that prides itself on being a strong and committed ally in combating global terrorism,” said Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph K. Grieboski.

For additional information on the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, click here.

Wilson center scholar jailed in Tehran

Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who serves as Director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, D.C., was jailed Tuesday in Tehran’s Evin prison after four months of being barred from leaving the country, according to a New York Times article Wednesday.

Since December, Esfandiari has been repeatedly interrogated about her work in the country. On December 30, masked gunmen, possibly sent by the Intelligence Ministry, stole her luggage, including both her Iranian and American passports. She was later sequestered for interrogation after she attempted to replace her passport.

Possible reasons for Tehran’s actions against Esfandiari, as speculated by other Iranian-American scholars, include a government perception of a link between academic institutes and efforts to change the government. Others say that she may have simply been caught in the middle of political rivalries between supporters of the current Iranian president and his predecessor.

Lee H. Hamilton, director of the Wilson Center and a former congressman, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in February seeking Esfandiari’s release, but never received a reply.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Egyptian bloggers continue to face incarceration for dissent

In recent months the Egyptian government has intensified its crackdown on dissent. Internet blogging has become a popular forum for voicing such criticism, and now a prime target in the crackdown, according to a recent article in Britain’s Telegraph.

“Human rights activists claim that the about-turn follows the U.S. administration’s decision to relax pressure on Middle Eastern governments to enact democratic reforms,” the article says. Some say that the crackdown is not having its intended effect though. “Some people are intimidated but overall it’s producing the opposite effect,” one blogger said. “It is radicalising the blogosphere even more. We have bloggers joining every day.”

For the full article, click

U.S. overlooking backsliding on democracy in Egypt

In a New York Times editorial on Sunday, Egypt’s human rights abuses, and America’s minimal reaction to them were examined. The Time suggests that while Cairo is furthering its restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, the recent statements of the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt seem to indicate otherwise.

The Times writes that in a recent television interview in Cairo, the Ambassador, while appropriately acknowledging that “some infringements and violations” of human rights do exist, “declared himself ‘optimistic’ about democratic progress in Egypt, adding that the judiciary and the governments ‘commitment to the opinion of the common Egyptian citizen’ would carry the day.” According to the editorialist, “Happy talk and denial just damage America’s credibility and enable more repression.”

For the full editorial, click

Chemical Ali’s lawyer’s motions holding up Anfal trial

Closing remarks were heard Sunday by the Iraqi High Tribunal during the trial of several Iraqi officials who served under Saddam Hussein and are being tried for their participation in the “Anfal campaign,” Jurist reported the same day. The defendants, including Ali Hassan al-Majid – commonly known as “Chemical Ali” – are being tried for their involvement in the killings of tens of thousands of Kurds by using nerve agents and mustard gas. The defendants are waiting for the court to rule on several motions.

The defense lawyer in the case, Giovanni Di Stefano, said he possesses evidence that Saddam Hussein did not order “chemical attacks or weapons to be used.” Di Stefano added: “He further ordered that villages be ‘relocated’ not destroyed as the documents show. It was for this reason that there was a rush to execution of Saddam Hussein as I would have introduced these and more documents in my possession to the court.”

Additionally, Di Stefano submitted a motion calling for the exhumation of the deceased for forensic testing. In a recent statement defending his request for the defense’s own independent forensic pathologist and toxicologist, he said: “The indictments claim that the victims were murdered using chemical weapons. No post mortum or autopsy reports have been furnished to the defence (and Court) proving that anyone died from chemical attacks.”

For the full article, click here.

Fading hope for Iraqi national unity

In the midst of increasing sectarian violence, hope is fading in the hearts of some Iraqis. “When the Baathist regime collapsed, I initially felt that there was a good chance for national unity, that Sunnis and Shiites would band together in the absence of a dictator who had played them against each other. Talking to [a childhood friend], I realized how wrong I had been,” Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a media analyst who grew up in Baghdad, writes in a New York Times op-ed on Monday.

To some Iraqis, the idea that Iraqis no longer see themselves as Iraqi, but rather as Sunni, Shiite, etc., provokes fear of a greater divide. Abdul-Hussain’s friend recently said to him: “When we fought the Persians during the 1980s, we were wrong. We’re Shiites before being Iraqis. Sunnis invented national identity to rule us.” In the presence of such ideas, hope for common ground seems dim, Abdul-Hussain argues.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Indigenous peoples’ call on U.N. member countries to adopt a declaration protecting their rights

An 11-day forum to support a proposed United Nations declaration to protect the land and resource rights of the world’s indigenous peoples convened in New York on Monday in the presence of more than 1000 delegates, Agence France Presse reported the next day.

The aim of the forum is to persuade the United Nations General Assembly members to adopt the declaration. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Philippine chair of the Forum, expressed concern as to the exploitation of indigenous peoples’ territories and resources, and called the declaration “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous people.”

For the full article, click here.

Stoning leads to spate of slayings in northern Iraq

Monday’s Independent reports that a wave of violence in northern Iraq has been incited by the stoning of a 17 year-old Yazidi girl name Doaa in April. The stoning has led to several gruesome attacks including an incident on April 23 in which unidentified gunmen murdered a group of Yazidi factory workers who had been traveling on a bus from Mosul to Bashika.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, roughly 800 Yazidi students at Mosul University have been forced to flee for security reasons. In addition, Yazidis, Christians, and Shiites face constant threats from Sunni insurgents who regard them as heretics. And many Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay for protection or be murdered.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is now investigating the stoning incident.

For full article, click here.

Afghan media beset by threat of government control

While the Afghan media law was liberalized under President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan government is now considering amendments that critics say would restrict freedom of the press, The New York Times reported Sunday.

After saying that Karzai still firmly supports freedom the press, Khaleeq Ahmad, Karzai’s spokesman, said that the amendments are needed in order to prevent journalists from acting irresponsibly and printing erroneous material. The minister of information and culture, Abdul Karim Khuram, also said he supports the amendments and said that Afghan National Radio and Television should remain state run. “The current situation regarding security, and social, political and cultural needs is such that the government should have its own radio, television and newspapers,” he said.

According to the article, the proposed amendments mainly prohibit “coverage seen as violating the provisions of Islam or insulting other religions” and also coverage insulting “individuals and corporations, without allowing truth as a defense.” The amendments also seek to replace Afghan’s independent media commission, which according to the article, “monitors the application of the law and judges complaints,” with by a body under stricter government control.

Meanwhile, the upper house of Afghan Parliament issued an amnesty bill on Sunday aimed at, according to the article, “factions and political groups involved in past hostilities.” While the United Nations, human rights organizations and some members of Parliament have criticized the bill, supporters call it a necessary step for national reconciliation and peace.

For the full article, click here.

6 Vietnamese dissidents to stand trial for establishing political parties

Six Vietnamese political activists will stand trial this week for spreading anti-government propaganda and forming political parties in opposition to The Communist Party of Vietnam, Reuters reported on Sunday.

Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales in Canberra , a prominent observer of Vietnam , says that the trials are an indication that Hanoi does not want anything to disturb May’s National Assembly elections. He added that despite “measurable improvement” for tolerance of political criticism, there were “three no’s – no political pluralism, no multiparty system and no political opposition.”

A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the arrested persons are being tried for disobeying the law and not “due to their political views or religion.”

For the full article, click here.

Attacks on Iraqi Christians cause mass exodus

Christians living in Iraq no longer feel safe and it is estimated that roughly half have already fled the country, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

“There is no future for us in Iraq” said Farouq Mansour, an Iraqi Christian. Mansour now lives in Syria after fleeing Iraq following his kidnapping by al-Qaeda gunmen. The gunmen ordered Mansour and his family to convert to Islam or pay a US $30,000 ransom for his release. His family paid the ransom after Mansour was held in captivity for 15 days.

Mansour’s case is not an isolated one. More and more Iraqi Christians are being forced to flee out of fear. They have been targeted in church bombings, threats and personal attacks, and some are allegedly being forced to pay the jizya, a fee for protection.

Violence against the Christian minority has increased in Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003 and some Islamic insurgents view Christians as being loyal to the U.S. However, Iraq’s tiny Christian community does not have enough political or military influence to defend itself from attacks. A report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday states that Christians and other non-Muslims in Iraq “suffer pervasive discrimination and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias.”

A local Sunni human rights organization has denounced attacks on Christians and asked the Iraqi government to protect all Iraqis saying the “actions violate the values of Islam.”

For the full article, click here.

Hussein’s defense minister denies receiving orders to use chemical weapons

Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Saddam Hussein’s former defense minister, said he did not receive orders to use chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds during the Anfal campaign in the 1980s, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Al-Tai nonetheless added that he would have carried out the orders had he received them. The defense’s closing statement stressed that al-Tai was only defending Iraq against Iranian attacks in the northern part of the country and that he was promised “protection and good treatment” by Americans before his arrest. The chief prosecutor presented a letter from al-Tai’s superiors asking the defendant to use “special ammunition against enemy poison” as proof of al-Tai’s guilt.

Al-Tai along with other former officials under Hussein, including Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka “Chemical Ali”, are currently being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They could be sentenced to death by hanging if found guilty at the end of the trial.

For the full article, click here.

Glossing over rights violations in Egypt

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has recently ordered the closing of some trade union centers and detained a number of dissidents in the wake of the passage of a set of controversial constitutional amendments that are said to further entrench executive authority. Despite all this, the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt declared that the government has “a commitment to the opinion of the common Egyptian citizen” in a recent interview on Egyptian television (See Friday’s post for more details). The International Herald Tribune derides the Ambassador’s statements in an editorial Sunday.

The editorial rails against the human rights violations being perpetrated by the Egyptian government. Government critics, bloggers, journalists, and protesters have been imprisoned and beaten over the past months. The piece also denounces the U.S. government’s silence and denial and calls for a firm reaction. Apart from allowing more repression in Egypt, U.S. passivity damages America’s image, the Tribune argues, given that the U.S. State Department’s latest human rights report clearly shows that, as the editorial says, “Egypt’s rights record remain poor.”

For the full article, click here.