Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 18, 2008

Experts speak at press conference on political persecution in Turkey

The National Press Club hosted a press conference Thursday on political prosecution in Turkey. The event featured two well known speakers on the subject, Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University and former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, and Taner Akçam, Visiting Associate Professor, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Both speakers expressed their utmost concerns, specially highlighting the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, which occurred one year ago Saturday. After Dink’s murder, his son Arat was jailed for simply writing an article about his father. As such, Akhavan stressed that Turkey must repeal Article 301, which runs counter to the basic tenets of free speech by allowing for the detention of any person that insults ‘Turkishness.’ The article has been much-criticized within the international human rights community, with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Union all coming out against it.

“Article 301 of the Turkish penal code has become a painful reminder of the open wounds of genocide and its denial,” Akhavan said. “Because of Article 301 the name of so distinguished a journalist – a figure honored everywhere for his courage and decency – has been added to the list of victims of hate, racism, and extremism.”

Akçam, who ha received hate mail and death threats and has even been described as a terrorist working for the Secret Service, recounted Dink’s story, beginning his account in February 2004. On February 6, he said, Dink, editor of the newspaper Agos, published a story that argued that Turkey’s first woman pilot, Sabiha Gokcen, was an Armenian orphan adopted after the events of 1925. On February 24, Dink was called to the Istanbul Governor’s office where it is said he was threatened by two people in the presence of the Vice-Governor. The next day, Dink was accused of insulting ‘Turkishness.’ Almost one year later, after many threats from the nationalist group Ulku Ocaklary, Dink’s lawyer appealed to the public prosecutor’s office for an investigation into a threatening letter Dink received from Ahmet Demir, who wrote “Your end has come. First we will kill your son and then you.”

On January 19, 2007 Dink was attacked after leaving the Agos offices. According to Akçam, the police knew about everything. He said there are records of a phone conversation between police and the assassinator, with the police asking the assassinator why he didn’t act according to the plan. All of this was organized, Akçam said.

Beyond the Dink controversy, both speakers stressed the importance of Turkey joining the European Union, as they argued that this step would help to break down strict Turkish policies.

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Cairo threatens to sever ties with EU over EU human rights resolution

With the European Union passing a resolution Thursday criticizing Egypt’s human rights record, Cairo said it may cut ties with the assembly, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.

“The European Parliament is sovereign and decides what it wants to decide,” Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit told AFP in Strasbourg. “If we have to criticize the rights situation in Egypt or Guantanamo or anywhere else, we're going to do it. I couldn’t care less what they think in the Egyptian capital.”

According to the article, “The resolution criticizes Egypt over the status of religious minorities, alleged torture practices and the decades-long state of emergency. It also calls for the immediate release of jailed dissident Ayman Nour, who mounted an unprecedented campaign against President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections.”

AFP noted that Nour “was jailed for five years for fraud in a conviction widely seen as politically motivated.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry notified EU ambassadors of its “complete rejection of a draft resolution over human rights in Egypt,” spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

The ministry “will not accept any attempt by any country to comment on the human rights situation in Egypt, as it will not allow itself to lecture other countries over their domestic affairs,” Zaki said.

“The People’s Assembly (Egypt’s lower house) will consider cutting ties with the European Parliament... as long as it continues to use the language of commands and condescension,” Fathi Surur, the speaker of Egypt’s parliament, told the official MENA news agency, rejecting the draft text as a “flagrant interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.”

He said the resolution threatened to “harm the historic relationship between Egypt and Europe.”

For the full article, click here.

Hanoi demands Catholics cease ‘illegal’ prayer vigils

Catholics in Viet Nam, who have been holding prayer vigils for almost a month in protest over church land seized by authorities in the 1950s, have been told to stop their “illegal activities” or face government action, intellasia.net reported on Friday, citing Agence France-Presse.

The instruction came in a letter from the Hanoi People’s Committee, a copy of which was published on a Vietnamese language Catholic website. “Those activities have disturbed public order and negatively affected the good cooperative relations between the Vietnamese bishop’s council, the archbishop and the local authorities,” the letter said.

There had been hope that the standoff would be resolved after Prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung – who a year ago became the first communist Vietnamese leader to visit the Vatican – met Archbishop Kiet during a mass prayer meeting in late December and pledged to consider the issue.

Although dialogue with Catholic groups began in the 1990s, all religious activity officially remains under state control: according to the article, that the current vigils represent “the faith’s largest challenge so far to the communist government.”

Viet Nam has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Phillipines, with about 6 million out of a population of 84 million. “Christian festivals such as Christmas have become popular, with thousands of followers now crowding churches, but religious issues remain sensitive, and hundreds of police have been deployed to the Thai Ha and Ha Dong vigils,” the article said.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt’s bread subsidy system plagued by corruption

An article by Michael Slackman in Thursday’s New York Times uses the issue of subsidized bread to spotlight Egypt’s corruption problems.

“It is hard to make ends meet in Egypt where about 45 percent of the population survives on just $2 a day,” Slackman writes. “That is one reason trying to buy subsidized bread can be a fierce affair, with fists and elbows flying, men shoving and little children dodging blows to get up to the counter.”

He continues, “Egypt is a state where corruption is widely viewed as systemic, which is also why the crowd gets aggressive trying to buy up the subsidized bread. Cheap state bread can be resold, often for double the original price.”

Slackman later adds, “Much of what ails Egypt seems to converge in the story of subsidized bread. It speaks to a state that is in many ways stuck in the past, struggling to pull itself into the future, unable, or unwilling, to conquer corruption or even to persuade people to care about one another.”

“The most corrupt sector in the country is the provisions sector,” said a government inspector who asked not be identified for fear of punishment. The article says that his job is “to go to bakeries to ensure they are actually using the cheap government flour to produce cheap bread that is sold at the proper price.”

“The inspector explained why the system was so open to abuse,” Slackman writes. “The government sells bakeries 25-pound bags of flour for 8 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of about $1.50. The bakeries are then supposed to sell the flatbread at the subsidized rate, which gives them a profit of about $10 from each sack. Or the baker can simply sell the flour on the black market for $15 a bag.”

For the full article, click here.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bush visit spotlights fraying U.S., Egypt relationship

President Bush’s brief stop in Egypt, near the end of his Middle East tour, says much about the fraying state of the U.S.-Egypt relationship, Reuters reported Monday.

“The real value of the U.S. aid package has been falling yearly, reducing U.S. leverage over the Cairo government,” the article says, adding later, “The United States provided about $2 billion a year to Egypt for years after it signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.”

It is also noted that “Egypt protested last year when U.S. lawmakers threatened to withhold $200 million in military funds, which help Cairo buy military hardware and finance U.S. military training.”

“The Mubaraks do not give a damn about the civilian part which has steadily declined,” said prominent Egyptian dissident and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, referring to President Hosni Mubarak, and his son – and, many say, eventual successor – Gamal. “But they went bananas when Congress put some mild conditional ties (on the military aid)... The regime is totally dependent on the army’s support.”

For the full article, click here.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Iranian security forces attack mosque

At least fifty, and possibly up to three hundred, members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community have been detained by security forces after an attack on the Hamzeh mosque in Ahwaz City, southwestern Khuzestan province, Voice of America reported on Wednesday.

“Those arrested and injured have been taken to an unknown location and their family members have, as yet, received no information as to their whereabouts or well-being,” said Fakhteh Zamani, Director of the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran. “We fear that they could be tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention. Also the injured have not been taken to any hospital.”

Between two and four million Ahwazi Arabs live in Khuzestan province, where human rights groups report regular discrimination and the ill-treatment of activists and their families.

For the fully story, click here.

Child offenders executed in Iran

Iran continues to sentence child offenders to death, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported on Tuesday. The article highlights the case of Mohammed Latif, who was just 14 when he was arrested and convicted of murder. Latif says that he was attacked by an older boy with a knife, and the ensuing fight resulted in the boy’s death.

According to the article, “In most countries, minors under 18 convicted of capital crimes face less severe sentences than adults. There is a broad consensus, reflected in the UN's International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), that minors cannot fully grasp the consequences of all their actions – and so, are legally less liable for them than adults.”

Iran has joined the CRC, but Latif’s appeal has been rejected and the death sentence finalized, meaning that the case is now in the hands of the Head of Iran’s judiciary, Mahmud Shahrudi.

The article also notes the case of a 16-year old girl who was hanged in 2005 for having what was called “illegitimate sexual relations.”

According to the article, Amnesty International and other human rights groups believe that there are currently 70 to 80 child offenders facing the death penalty in Iran.

The Islamic Republic is one of just four countries that have executed those who were children at the time of their offense since 2004.

For the full article, click here.

Bush’s Egypt visit clouded by failed democratic push

President Bush’s push for greater democracy in the Middle East is today viewed by many as a failed effort. Egypt, a stop on Bush’s Mideast tour Wednesday, was once seen as a test case but is now mired in stalled reforms and resentment over the jailing of hundreds of dissidents, The Associated Press reported today.

“Activists say the U.S. democracy push has taken a back seat to politics,” the article says. “They blame Washington for easing its pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to win his support on key regional issues such as Iraq and the Israeli-Arab peace process.”

In President Bush’s speech on democracy Sunday he did not mention Egypt “expect for what was widely seen as an implicit criticism of the country’s crackdown on political opponents,” the article states.

It notes later that: “Ayman Nour, a top opposition leader who ran against Mubarak in 2005, was sentenced to five years in prison on forgery charges that his supporters say were trumped up.”

“What is the benefit of talking (about democracy) any more, it is futile,” said Gameela Ismail, Nour’s wife.

U.S. criticism has been tepid or silent. While U.S. officials insist they have kept up the pressure privately, reformists question Washington;s sincerity on democracy.

The response from Washington is that pressure has been applied privately, however, the article says that “reformists question Washington’s sincerity on democracy.”

It adds: “Over the past year, several secular newspaper editors have been tried, some sentenced to prison, for anti-Mubarak writings. Egypt’s most outspoken government critic, Egyptian-American Saad Eddin Ibrahim, has gone to the United States for fear of arrest in Egypt, where he faces trial on accusations of harming national interests.”

For the full article, click here.

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Global freedom in retreat

World freedom decreased in 2007, according to an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties released by Freedom House today.

“This year’s results show a profoundly disturbing deterioration of freedom worldwide,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “A number of countries that had previously shown progress toward democracy have regressed, while none of the most influential Not Free states showed signs of improvement. As the second consecutive year that the survey has registered a global decline in political rights and civil liberties, friends of freedom worldwide have real cause for concern.”

Though the report sees little change in the numbers of countries classified as Free, Partly Free or Not Free, there have been significant setbacks within these categories. According to the press release, “nearly four times as many countries showed declines during the year as registered improvement.”

The statement highlights the cases of Egypt and Pakistan, both already defined as Not Free, as examples of the decline in political rights and civil liberties over the past year through government suppression of democratic opposition, civil society and independent media.

“Right now, authoritarian regimes have been able to use their influence to slow freedom’s advance and, in some cases, reverse positive progress,” said Jennifer Windsor, the executive director of Freedom House. “Democratic governments have not worked together effectively to counter these trends.”

For the full statement, and to read the report, click here.

U.S. body on religious freedom expresses concern over targeting of Iraqi Christians

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal body, on Monday issued a statement expressing alarm over multiple bomb attacks against Iraqi churches and monasteries last week.

According to USCIRF, the attacks were directed at “Iraq’s shrinking non-Muslim population, many of whose members” have fled their communities due to the targeted violence.

USCIRF notes that: “At least six people were reportedly wounded in seven separate attacks in Baghdad and Mosul as Christians were celebrating Christmas and the Epiphany on Jan. 6; three days later, bombs targeted three churches in Kirkuk.”

“Iraq’s smallest religious minorities lead a very tenuous existence, and such attacks targeting them on religious holidays underline the specific and immediate threat they face,” said Commission Chair Michael Cromartie. “The Iraqi government must do much more to protect these minorities from violence.”

The statement adds: “The U.S. government should do more to aid those members of Iraq’s smallest religious minorities who have fled persecution in Iraq and who wish to seek refuge in the United States. The Commission has long recommended the establishment of a so-called “Priority 2” category for members of these groups, which would allow them to apply directly to the U.S. Refugee Program without having to go first through the process of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees. Such a designation does not necessarily nor automatically guarantee every applicant refugee status or resettlement in the United States, but it would acknowledge that Iraq’s smallest religious minorities face targeted abuses, speed up the resettlement process, and allow UNHCR to focus on other vulnerable groups.”

For the full statement, click here.


Wilson Center holds forum on prospects for an Iranian nuclear deal

The Woodrow Wilson Center held a forum on January 11 entitled, “Prospects for an Iranian Nuclear Deal,” with an expert on the subject, Gary Samore, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, serving as the main speaker

Iran is still a few years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons, Samore said. He doesn’t expect that it could happen until somewhere between 2010 and 2015.

Regarding the political dimension of the situation, Samore, said this comes down to a clash of international interests rather than simply good versus evil is not about good or evil. Balance of power is usually how such a clash is solved, he maintained. Samore said that when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Iran became fearful, but now the balance of power has shifted and Iran realizes that it holds a good position in the region. Now, with oil at such a high price, Tehran has the ability to absorb its domestic support.

Nether Russia or China wants Iran to build nuclear weapons, Samore said, but he argues that since they have come to terms with the fact that Pakistan has nuclear capabilities they can do the same with Iran. However, Samore argued that the Western powers have another view, and do not trust Iran. As the situation stands now, though, China and Russia will continue to buy oil and trade with Iran, he stated.

On the topic of resolving the predicament with Iran, Samore stressed the importance of correctly packaging the deal. All suggestions are going to be read in Tehran, which will make it more difficult and weaken the U.S. position, he said. Furthermore, any talks with Tehran, will be viewed by American allies as weakening the US position, and indicating an acceptance of Iran. In addition, Samore maintained that it is not even certain that a deal is possible, saying that Iran will not settle for less then what they started with. Given these potential outcomes, there are different ways of approaching the deal, with the removal of sanctions one option. However, if the U.S. chooses to move in the other direction, anti-American hostility could increase.

Samore stressed that the U.S. must collaborate with other nations to apply pressure on Tehran, but added that this will be difficult as Iran is privy to this strategy. He also cautioned that with negotiations going forward, Iran will make promises that it will not keep. According to Samore, a large burden rests on the administration of the next American president, with the Bush administration now in its “lame duck” period.

Explaining Iran’s view of the situation, Samore said that Tehran asserts that it needs nuclear power programs for regional security. However, he stated that the country must not be allowed to develop these programs. “We can not trust their intentions,” Samore cautioned. Additionally, if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would want to do the same. This sentiment might even extend to countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, Samore added.

Samore also explained that Israel feels the most threatened by Iran’s nuclear programs and are in favor of U.S. intervention. As of today, an Israeli attack on Iran is more likely than an U.S. one, he said.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Women leaders making their voices heard, even in Afghanistan’s more conservative regions

In many instances, women are more organized and better able to articulate their concerns then their male counterparts, with Afghanistan serving as a case in point, according to The Canadian Press.

The articles describes the scene at a joint shura, or town council meeting, in Kandahar, where more than 20 burka-clad women took a seat in the board room.

“It is a women’s event and I think women are much more organized and better concerned about the problems in society than men,” Rangina Hamidi, a well-known women’s rights advocate and one of the group’s leaders said after the meeting.

According to the article, “The event last month was a combined effort of the Women’s Problem Solving Committee and the provincial women’s shura, Hamidi said. Its goal was to discuss the problems facing Kandahar women and to make decisions on how best to address those problems.”

The article added that: “The women also gloated in the fact that many men were completely taken aback after hundreds of Afghan women across the country held simultaneous peace prayers last month to call for an end to the war and destruction that has claimed the lives of so many of their husbands, sons and brothers.”

For the full article, click here.


Amnesty International condemns execution by stoning in Iran

In announcing the release of a report on Tuesday on the continued use of stoning as a means of execution in Iran, Amnesty International has “called on the country’s authorities to immediately abolish this grotesque punishment, which is specifically designed to increase the suffering of its victims.”

Iran’s penal code currently prescribes execution by stoning as punishment for adultery, and although there have been some moves towards amending the Penal Code, the practice has continued. Several stonings have taken place in recent years despite official claims to the contrary and the declaration of a moratorium on the practice in 2002.

According to the article, “The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women. Women are not treated equally with men under the law and by courts, and they are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because their higher illiteracy rate makes them more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit.”

Human rights activists in Iran are defying pressure from the authorities in continuing their Stop Stoning Forever campaign, and believe that the international publicity generated will help their cause.

“We urge the Iranian authorities to heed our calls, and those of the Iranians who are striving relentlessly to obtain an end to this horrendous practice,” said Malcolm Smart, the director of Amnesty International’s Middle East Program.

For the full article, and to read the report, click here.

Rape used as a weapon of war in Congo

In some Congolese villages up to 90 percent of women have been raped, CBSNews.com reported Sunday.

There is a risk of rape in any war zone, but “what’s different in Congo,” says Anneka Van Woudenberg, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch, “is the scale and the systematic nature of it, indeed, as well, the brutality. This is not rape because the soldiers have got bored and have nothing to do. It is a way to ensure that communities accept the power and authority of that particular armed group. This is about showing terror. This is about using it as a weapon of war.”

The current situation stems from the genocide in neighboring Rwanda over a decade ago. In the years since, the Congolese army, foreign-backed rebels and home grown militias have fought over power and Congo’s mineral-rich land.

Despite the presence of 17,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops and personnel, who recently created a fragile peace and oversaw the first democratic elections in the country in 40 years, fighting has broken out once again. Each battle sees horrific violence and the displacement of countless persons.

For the full article, click here.

Thai journalist held without charge in Viet Nam

The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed grave concerns about the continued detention of Thai journalist Somsak Khunmi, arrested shortly after reporting on a protest held in Ho Chi Minh City.

In a letter to Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, dated January 11, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said that “despite detaining Somsak for nearly two months and running photographs of his interrogation sessions in the state media, your government has failed to lodge any formal, evidence-based charges against him.”

He added, “Article 69 of your country’s constitution broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression. In practice, however, successive Communist Party-led administrations have applied criminal and national security laws to arbitrarily stifle these essential democratic freedoms.

Not only does the imprisonment of Somsak raise disturbing questions about your government’s commitment to upholding the national constitution, but the broader crackdown now under way on freedom of expression in Vietnam greatly undermines your government’s reform credentials in the wider world.”

For the full letter, click here.

Hudson Institute holds symposium on ‘Post CPA Sudan: Ongoing violence and violations and the effect on civil society”

The Hudson Institute held a symposium on January 11 to discuss “Post CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] Sudan: Ongoing violence and violations and the effect on civil society.” The assembled panel included knowledgeable experts from different fields.

The Rt. Reverend Alapayo Manyang Kuctiel, Bishop of Rumbek, Episcopal Church of Sudan, began his speech by thanking the Institute for spotlighting the subject and the audience for attending. Then, he said, “We need the United States to come, we need to put our hands together America, Sudan and the international organizations.” He continued by saying that the Sudanese government is now just buying time.

Alapayo also said that the first 6 months of the next American president’s term will be very important. He sought to convey the message that post-Bush administration policy will be very critical for Sudan. In reference to the run-up to the last presidential election, he said that Sudan did not feel the threat of forthcoming pressure as they did not think that President Bush was going to be reelected. In light of this, Alapayo maintained that it is critical that the next president take the right stance on Sudan from the outset.

Roger Winter, former Special Representative of the Deputy Secretary of State for Sudan, also talked about the importance of the next administration. Winter raised the issue of Abyei, a small place with a small population, but a locale of great importance to the CPA. Winter said that the question of Abyei was rejected. The region, considered a bridge between northern and southern Sudan, has been a flashpoint since the end of colonial rule. For several years now, there have been attempts to give Abyei the right to a referendum that would determine whether the region would fall under the administrative control of the North or the South. However, a referendum provision has never been implemented.

“Abyei is at its maximum vulnerability and the U.S. has paid no attention to it,” Winter said.

Jimmy Mulla, President, Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom, said that “the post CPA has dampened hopes and the effects on the civil society in terms of, security, political stability, peace and provision of services is huge.” He added that, in this context it is important to take a close look at the situation in Sudan, analyzing the drawbacks and making necessary adjustments in order to help avert a return to war. Mulla said that even since the signing of the CPA, Khartoum’s actions have proven that there is serious lack of political will on the part of the country’s National Congress Party (NCP) to consider a new political dispensation. With its newfound economic wealth from oil revenues, the NCP-dominated government in Sudan is more like a private enterprise under the monopoly of the powerful few, Mulla said, adding that the NCP controls the economy and makes all kinds of deals to retain power. “There is therefore no incentive to change the status quo any time soon,” he added.

Many nations have interests in Sudan and Mulla referred to some as “bad actors,” including China, Russia, the Arab League countries and other African Union countries. “Due to its economic interests and huge demand for oil, China continues to provide political and diplomatic cover to Sudan,” Mulla stated. On the Arab League, he said that these countries have put their interests first and have not been forthcoming in terms of stronger international action to ensure Sudan’s compliance to United Nations Security Council resolutions. Mulla stressed that applying pressure on both the Sudanese government and other actors as China, Russia and the Arab League is critical to the advancement of the peace process to move peace forward. He closed his presentation by saying that there is still a window to change the situation in Sudan.

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Abu Fana Monastery attack under investigation

A recent attack on Egypt’s Abu Fana Monastery, located near Minya in Upper Egypt, is now under investigation, according to Afriquenligne.

A monk, Father Mina, described the incident: “They attacked us with machine guns, tractors and cars. Eight hermitages were destroyed, bibles and crosses were burnt.”

“It is not the first time we were attacked,” Father Mina said, adding that on January 1, a man opened fire on them.

“We filed a complaint at the police station but they didn’t start an investigation,” he said of the previous attack.

According to the advocacy organization Free Copts, the monks targeted cited a desire to seize monastery land as a motive for the attackers.

For the Free Copts article, click here.

For the Afriquenligne article, click here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Iranian activists pursue women’s rights despite crackdown

Iranian activist Nahid Keshavarz recently endured two weeks in jail, but she is not allowing it to stop her from trying to collect one million signatures for a women’s rights petition, Reuters reported on Sunday.

“No one wants to go to prison,” she said, “But if we have to pay a price then we will, like women have all over the world.”

Keshavarz is just one of the dozens of Iranian women who have been detained since 2006 as part of Tehran’s crackdown on dissent.

Though they recognize that there has been progress in areas such as access to higher education, Iranian women are actively campaigning in areas such as divorce, inheritance and employment rights, where institutionalized discrimination makes them “second-class citizens.”

“There seems to be no end in sight to the Iranian government's persecution of women’s rights activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

For the full article, click here.

Growing disenchantment spurs 7,200 Iranians to sign up for election run

Approximately 7,200 people, 590 of them women, have registered to run in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which will be held in March, Reuters reported Saturday.

Opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are hoping to benefit from growing disenchantment with his failure to deliver on promised economic change. However, it is expected that the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which vets election candidates, will block many of the candidates.

Though the results of this election will not directly influence major policy decisions, such as those relating to Iran’s controversial nuclear program – which are decided upon by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – those elected may influence the debate and provide political challenges to Ahmadinejad.

For the full article, click here.

Afghans demonstrate for release of journalist accused of ‘mocking Islam’

Afghan activists and journalists demonstrated in the northern Balkh Province on Sunday to demand the release of a 23-year-old newspaper reported detained by Afghan security forces for alleged blasphemy, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday citing Bakhtar news agency and other Afghan media.

According to Bakhtar, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a student at Balkh University, has been detained for three months “accused of mocking Islam and the Holy Koran” and for distributing an article saying the Prophet Mohammad “ignored the rights of women.”

“Demonstrating outside the Human Rights Commission’s office in the provincial capital of Mazar-e Sharif, protesters said that the accusation is false and demanded Kambakhsh’s release,” RFE/RFL noted. “Afghanistan is experiencing a boom in media activities and relative journalistic freedom since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001; however, charges of blasphemy still carry the death penalty.”

For the full article, click here


Egyptian woman freed in religious identity case

A Coptic Christian woman jailed several months ago was released Sunday at the order of Egypt’s attorney general, Agence France-Presse reported today. She was jailed due to a mix-up over her religion after her father converted to Islam over 45 years ago, her lawyer said.

“The attorney general felt that the judgment was made on the basis of erroneous information,” said her lawyer Ramses El Naggar.

“Shadia Nagui Ibrahim, 47, was sentenced to three years in prison after she listed her religion as Christian not knowing her father’s three-year term as a Muslim in 1962 made her official religion Islam,” the article said. “Nagui Ibrahim left home when his daughter Shadia was two, converted to Islam but reconverted to Christianity and had his documents forged to change his religion back to its original.”

The article adds: “In 1996, the man who forged Ibrahim’s documents was detained for falsifying dozens of documents and confessed to changing Ibrahim’s papers. Authorities detained Ibrahim and also informed his daughter that on paper, Ibrahim was still a Muslim and therefore so was she.”

For the full article, click here.