Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, August 10, 2007

Egyptian courts issue contradictory decisions in case of detained Quranists

The case of a group of detained Egyptian activists affiliated with the Quranist religious movement has remained under close wraps in the wake of June’s parliamentary elections, according to a recent update from the International Quranic Center.

One of the detainees, Amr Tharwat, claims to have tortured by authorities immediately following his arrest and has requested to be transferred to a hospital for immediate medical attention.

Until now, little information has been disclosed concerning the detainees’ charges and location. According to the update, the accused received contradictory decisions from two separate courts.

The Supreme State Security Court reportedly granted the release of the men while the Shubra Misdemeanor Court rejected an appeal to release them from custody.

The unconventional decisions were no less puzzling than the actual trial proceedings, where relatives of the detainees were barred from the courtroom and the detainees themselves were only allowed inside the courtroom for a few minutes.

Ultimately, the judge decided to continue to detain the men.

The detainees’ defense team intends to appeal the decision after the end of a two week period.

For the full article, click here.

U.S. counternarcotics plan for Afghanistan announced, expert opinion mixed

The United States government on Thursday announced a new counternarcotics program in an attempt to thwart Afghanistan’s growing opium trade, Reuters reported the same day.

The program will allot as much as $50 million to reward provinces that make significant progress against drugs. In addition to funding the drug program, the U.S. plans on promoting public education about the country’s opium problems and providing troops to aid Afghan forces who combat drug traffickers.

While praising some elements of the plan, analysts still anticipate the ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach will prove ineffective against the magnitude of both poppy production and government corruption in the country.

Analysts like Anthony Cordesman of Washington’s CSIS think tank predict that the plan will be unsuccessful. “It probably plays out very badly and that’s simply because Afghanistan is too unstable, too poor, and its officials are too corrupt.”

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the plan should focus more on immediate action against major drug traffickers.

For the full article, click here.

For the full text of the joint statement, click here.

Iranian journalist sentenced to death is finally allowed to see family

The following piece was written by LCHR Fellow LaChelle Amos, who is currently supporting the Leadership Council’s initiatives on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan.

After months of obfuscation in the case of two Kurdish journalists sentenced to death for ties to foreign media, Iranian officials on Tuesday revealed their whereabouts and granted family visitation rights to one of the men, a family member of the accused said Thursday.

The mother of Adnan Hassanpur was allowed to visit her son in a Sina prison on Tuesday, the first time she had seen him since his arrest in late January, despite visitation promises made by officials months ago, Adnan’s sister Leili Hassanpur told a Leadership Council employee working in Iraqi Kurdistan. There is no indication that family members of the other journalist involved in the case, Abdolvahed “Hiwa” Butimar – also being held in Sina – have been allowed similar visits.

Butimar and Hassanpur were arrested this past winter and found guilty of “moharebe,” or taking up arms against the Islamic state, and espionage – the result of phone interviews with foreign media. After Hassanpur’s arrest, eight Iranian security agents reportedly raided his home, confiscating his personal computers and other items, Leili said. The two men have since been held in isolation at various times during their imprisonment, Hassanpur for 61 days and Butimar for one month, according to Leili. Execution sentences for both men were announced on July 17.

Both men are reportedly now in poor health, having carried out hunger strikes since the day their sentences were announced, Leili said.

Supporters of Butimar and Hassanpur gathered at a hotel in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah on Monday to discuss the situation. Mohammed Ezady and Madih Ahmady, the organizers of a campaign to free the men, and Aso Jabar, a prominent Kurdish writer, led the press conference.

Three other Kurdish journalists, Aku Kordnasab, Eilal Qavami and Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, were arrested during the past month, and Kaveh Javanmard was arrested in May and sentenced to two years in prison. Kaboudvand, the president of a Kurdish human rights organization, is reportedly being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison; he is apparently in poor health and being denied family visitation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Vietnamese gong culture gets boost from U.N.

The Vietnamese highland province of Dak Nong will receive United Nations funding to preserve gong culture, an instrumental part of the province’s ethnic minority traditions, according to Thanhnien News.

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has offered $91,000 to the Dak Nong administration, and the Vietnamese government has made a complementary pledge of $43,000 to help support the project.

The funds will promote gong playing, performance, training classes, and the revival of traditional gong music festivals in the country’s Central Highlands.

In a related development, the administration of the highland province of Dak Lak recently announced plans to allocate $372,000 for a gong culture preservation project.

For the full article, click here.

Flooding in Vietnam leaves 43 dead, thousands hungry

At least 43 people have died and thousands more are in need of aid after severe flooding in central Vietnam, Reuters reported today, citing the Vietnamese government and state-run television.

“Thousands of people are facing hunger and need food aid in the two provinces of Ha Tinh and Quang Binh,” the Vietnam Television (VTV) station said in a news bulletin.

Army high speed boats are attempting to take aid to about 60,000 people who have been displaced by the water, a government disaster report said. However, serious road damage has prevented rescue workers from quickly delivering aid.

According to the article: “ […] Waters were receding in other flood-hit central provinces, leaving dirt, garbage and the carcasses of dead livestock in water supply sources, officials said.”

For the full article, click here.

Kristof calls for international cooperation in Darfur

In a recent column in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof makes some suggestions to President Bush about how to handle the growing humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

Kristof lays out a host of recommendations, one of which implores the U.S. to shift its locus of support from U.N. peacekeepers to the rebel front.

He also calls for the release of Suleiman Jamous, a prominent rebel leader, and an increase in intelligence coverage over camps and villages in the Darfur area.

Many of his suggestions emphasize mutual cooperation with countries like France and China, who each have their own source of political leverage over Sudan.

Numerous aid workers have expressed concern over some of Kristof’s suggestions, however, he asserts that “I think we need to show President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that he will pay a price for genocide. And he values his gunships and fighter bombers in a way he has never valued his people.”

For the full New York TimesSelect article, by subscription only, click here.

Liberal Muslim group finds new place in Afghan society

The Hazaras, one of the most liberal Islamic ethnic groups in Afghanistan, have secured greater status in post-Taliban society, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The group faced abuse and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Taliban, and oppression for centuries before their rule. However, some members of the group are now thriving under the government of President Hamid Karzai. Hazaras hold positions in Karzai’s cabinet and have access to higher education.

This progress has been welcomed by activists and scholars.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Nour and Ghad Party receive another blow from court

Imprisoned Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour and his supporters received another blow from a Cairo court on July 31, further weakening the liberal Ghad Party, according to Al-Ahram Weekly.

The court rejected Nour’s claim of ill-health and reasserted that the party leader will serve his five-year sentence. However, according to the article, “the court obliged the concerned administrative bodies, including the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor-general, to provide Nour with specialized healthcare in and out of prison.”

One hour after the ruling, Nour received another legal blow when the Political Parties Committee named Moussa Mustafa Moussa, a Nour rival, the Ghad Party’s sole legitimate leader.

Gameela Ismail, Nour’s wife and deputy chairman of the Ghad Party, has continued to head the legal battle for what may be a sinking political party. She described the Political Parties Committee decision on Moussa as “the last episode in the scandalous state serial aimed at undermining what is left of Nour and his party.”

According to the article: “Political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie said Nour’s twin setbacks have closed the file of someone who was once a fiery opposition figure. Rabie said they also amounted to a challenge from the Egyptian government to the U.S. administration which has been pressing for Nour’s release.”

“While in most cases, we find the regime responding to U.S. demands, it sometimes adopts a defiant stance when it realizes that such demands may threaten the regime’s own interests,” Rabie said.

It is clear that the rulings contain both political strings and messages regarding foreign policy. Rabie insists the Cairo knows that the Bush administration is in need of Egyptian support for U.S. policies in the region. “That’s why they do not take U.S. pressure seriously, even if the U.S. threatens to cut the $200 million from the annual military aid allocated to Egypt if Cairo does not take steps towards political reform,” Rabie said.

As the article notes, “The money, part of the $1.3 billion the U.S. gives Egypt, will be decided upon in October.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S. aid to Afghanistan will decrease by 50 percent

In 2008, the United States will cut aid to Afghanistan by 50 percent, according to the U.S. State Department. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Monday that assistance will be cut from $10.1 billion in 2007 to $4.7 billion next year.

The high funding in 2007 was provided as an economic catalyst, intended to “jump-start” crucial programs for development and military training, claims U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher.

Although the drop is significant, the secretary did not express concern. It remains uncertain as to how the decrease in aid will affect ongoing development programs and the Afghan economy in general.

For the full article, click here.

Honor killings on the rise in Iraqi Kurdistan

Violence against women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region is in the spotlight after the recent death of Shawboo Rauf Ali, 19, who was murdered by her husband and several other men upon suspicion of extra-martial relations, according to Inter Press Service.

Her death is only one among a number of “honor killings” that have been increasing since 2006, according to a Kurdistan parliament report. Most of the victims are married women.

A variety of factors have contributed to the rising violence in the region. “Honour has been the prime motivator of violence against women, because in such a patriarchal society women are considered the honour of their men,” Hawjin Hama Rashid, a woman activist in Erbil told IPS. “I believe that today honour has become a new weapon of mass destruction.”

Others cite the leniency of authorities and corruption as factors – despite the Kurdish government’s claim that it has already taken “decisive measures” against honor killings.

Additionally, the war in Iraq has significantly influenced the economic and social climate in Kurdistan, in particular the status of women. Kurdish women’s new independence and social openness has spurred some more conservative elements of society to impose restrictions.

And while women’s rights now hold a prominent place in public discourse, activists fear that the region will not see major change in the near future.

For the full article, click here.

Iran dismisses EU protests

In response to an increasing number of executions in Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hosseini asserted that states address convicted criminals in accordance with their laws, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday, citing ISNA. Hosseini went on to say that the case involving the two Kurdish journalists sentenced to death – which has sparked an international outcry – is an internal matter. He also rebuked what he deemed to be the Western media’s misconception of the issue, emphasizing that Iran’s own laws address offenses and not ethnicity or occupation. However, the EU and international rights groups have protested to bring publicity to the journalists’ plight as well as to shed a broader light on the increasing number of executions in Iran. The two journalists, Adnan Hasanpur and Abdulvahed Butimar are convicted of anti-state activities but have not yet received a formal sentence.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Egypt will lift 25 year state of emergency in 2008

After 25 years, Egypt will lift its state of emergency, declared Judicial Affairs Minister Mufid Shehab on Saturday. “Whether the law on terrorism is passed by this date or not, the government will lift the state of emergency by the end of June 2008,” Shehab said, according to the Egyptian state-run news agency Mena.

The state of emergency was first declared in 1967 and remained intact even after President Hosni Mubarak pledged to lift it in 2005.

Both nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties have voiced concern that new anti-terrorism legislation that would replace the emergency law will threaten human rights even more.

Recently, Egypt has been criticized domestically and abroad for a host of rights violations. Rights groups like Amnesty International fear that Mubarak’s proposed anti-terror legislation, which allows authorities to search homes and intercept mail without a judicial mandate, will only further erode Egyptian rights.

For the full article, click here.

Christian convert challenges ID card impasse in Egypt

Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, who converted to Christianity from Islam at age 16, has filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian government for denying him the ability to have this conversion reflected on his official identification documents, Compass Direct News reported Monday.

Currently, Egyptian law does not forbid conversion to Christianity, but it also has no legal remedy to make such a change. Because of the tense political climate in Egypt, Muslims who convert to Christianity usually conceal their identity to avoid persecution from their families and the government’s security police, the SSI.

Hegazy, now 24, is the first Muslim by birth to openly challenge the government restriction of conversion to religions other than Islam. Although his lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhla of the Kalema Center for Human Rights, has received death threats from the SSI for taking the case, Hegazy believes the benefits of legal recognition of his religion are worth the risk.

“I think it is my natural right, to embrace the religion I believe and not to have to have a double personality for me as well as for my wife and my expected baby,” said Hegazy.

This legal change would also allow his child to take Christian religion classes in school, marry in a church, and attend religious services without harassment.
“This is the first such case in the history of Egyptian justice,” Nakhla told Agence France-Presse on August 2.
Although this case is said to be unprecedented, it is but a small reflection of the struggles of a much larger community of Egyptian Christians, known as Copts.
Addressing a group of converts from Islam to Christianity recently, Hegazy said: “Get out of your ghetto and establish organizations to speak for yourselves and defend your rights. The answer is not to escape or to leave the country, but to fight and struggle for our rights here in our own country.”
For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan now supplies 95 percent of world’s poppy, U.N. says

Afghanistan now supplies 95 percent of world’s poppy, U.N. says
After the harvest of this year’s crop, Afghanistan will supply 95 percent of the world’s poppy, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The U.S. and NATO allies have proposed $475 million counternarcotics program, but debate has surfaced regarding the feasibility of the plan and its potential impact on Afghanistan’s poor agricultural communities.

“Afghanistan is providing close to 95 percent of the world’s heroin,” the State Department’s top counternarcotics official, Tom Schweich, said at a recent conference. “That makes it almost a sole-source supplier” and presents a situation “unique in world history.”

Officials argue that the eradication goals of the current proposal are too weak to combat the sheer volume of Afghanistan’s crop, which, the State Department estimates, has a “street value” of $38 billion. Schweich advocates a more extensive plan and asserts that farmers must be punished for not switching to other crops.

However, many question the offensive approach of the plan and if, in fact, it is beneficial to people who live among poverty and a Taliban insurgency in rural Afghanistan. The poppy crop has become a means of income for many poor Afghan farmers. Groups like the U.S. Agency for International Development express concern that a sudden removal of this income could not only perpetuate poverty in these regions but potentially funnel poppy farmers to extremist groups.

For the full article, click here.