Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ayman Nour accuses officials of presenting false medical reports

From his isolated jail cell, former leader of al-Ghad party Ayman Nour protested the presentation of false reports on his health to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva last week, the online daily Almasry Alyoum reported on Friday.

Nour, who is serving a prison sentence for supposedly forging documents during his presidential run in 2005, insists that he was never examined by any of the four committees that prepared the medical report. He further charged that important information describing his severe medical conditions and his chances of contracting serious illnesses in captivity were stricken from the report.

Nour accused several high ranking officials of being involved in this conspiracy, and officially lodged his complaint with the Attorney General earlier this week.

For the full article click here.

LCHR condemns Iran’s new draft penal code

Iran’s parliament is currently reviewing a new draft penal code in which apostasy will, for the first time, be punishable by death.

According to Article 225-7, punishment for an Innate Apostate- an individual born to at least one Muslim parent who has declared him/herself a Muslim after the age of maturity, before then leaving the religion- is death.

Parental Apostates, those who were born to non-Muslim parents and became a Muslim independently before then leaving the religion, have a three day grace period in which they may decide to rejoin Islam, thus avoiding the death penalty.

It is thought that Article 225-11 specifically targets the Baha’i faith when it states that “any Muslim who invents a heresy in the religion and creates a sect based on that which is contrary to the obligations and necessities of Islam, is considered an apostate.”

LCHR denounces the draft penal code, which clearly violates Iran’s commitments under the International Covenants on Human Rights.

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.” Executions for crimes “beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences,” are considered to violate the Covenant.

To read the draft penal code, click here.

New Kurdish organization to reduce violence against women

“Murder under any circumstances cannot be justified, and yet in most eastern societies, where women are considered a symbol of weakness, the execution of a woman does not provoke a second thought,” asserts Aram Eissa, columnist for Soma: An Iraqi-Kurdish Digest.

On July 4 2007, in the Kurdish region of Slemani, a new administration that specializes in violence against women was established in order to change the current Iraqi criminal law, in place since the days of Saddam Hussein, which handles crimes against women as ordinary crimes.

According to Colonel Nareman Abdulla Qadir, the head of this new organization, “statistics show that these procedures are not enough to stop or even to reduce the number of crimes against women.”

The administration’s mandate includes pressuring the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “to take stronger legal measures” against this violence, as well as “chasing up and investigating every single case involving violence against women.”

The organization has also called for a campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence.

The problem faced by the administration is how to differentiate between ordinary crimes that happen to have been committed against women, and crimes that target women specifically. This task, Qadir says, “should be delegated to women’s organizations.”

It has been asserted that the creation of a separate group to deal specifically with women’s issues can lead to women being ignored by all other sectors of government. It must be hoped, therefore, that people recognize that, in Qadir’s words, “putting an end to violent crimes against women is the collective responsibility of all members of society.”

For the full article, click here.

12 activists detained in Syria, 8 beaten

At least 12 pro-democracy activists have been detained and at least 8 have been beaten by State Security officials during interrogation as part of a crackdown on opposition since the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change (NCDD) was held on December 1, Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday.

The activists have been arrested based on “politically motivated charges” during a government crackdown.

One of those detained includes Riad Seif, a former member of parliament who has prostrate cancer and a heart condition. Like the other detainees, Seif has been exposed to cold weather, by not being allowed to sleep on a mattress or to change his clothing since December.

“Syrian prison authorities are mistreating these activists,” said Joe Stork, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These people should not be in prison in the first place.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Iranian Arab with links to opposition groups arrested in Syria

Syrian authorities have arrested an Iranian Arab suspected of having links with an Iranian opposition group, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. A local human rights group has expressed concern that Mohammad Nohairi Bani-Skini, 36, will be handed over to Iran, where he could face severe punishment. Syria and Iran are close allies.

Bani-Skini, a registered refugee with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, was detained at the Department of Passports and Migration in Damascus where he had gone to stamp his passport before leaving the country.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria has urged Syrian authorities to release him immediately, asserting that his detention violates all international conventions.

The NOHR report could not be independently confirmed. Syrian officials do not usually comment on arrests or other security matters.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Extreme poverty forces Afghan parents to sell children

It has been reported by the Integrated Regional Information Network that the recent sale of three Afghan girls in separate incidents by parents blaming severe poverty has led to concern for the safety of poor children in Afghanistan and the inadequate legal mechanisms available to address these types of incidents

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has expressed alarm over the sale of the children. “We are shocked over these cases,” Hangama Anwary, AIHRC’s commissioner of the rights of children told IRIN in Kabul. “They pose a serious warning about a possible catastrophe which may affect poor Afghan children.”

The parents of the children denied any wrongdoing, citing their inability to feed their children, while those who purchased the children claimed they were only intending to protect the children from hunger and cold. Despite the shocking nature of these incidents, and the large percentage of the Afghan population that is under 18, the country still does not have any specific laws related to child abuse or the sale and trafficking of children.

For the full article, click here.

Human Rights Watch appeals to Iran to prevent imminent executions by stoning

Human Rights Watch has appealed to the head of Iran’s Judiciary to revoke the decision to sentence three people to death by stoning. In separate cases, two sisters from the town of Shahriar in Tehran Province and a man from the town of Sari in the province of Mazandaran have been found guilty of adultery, HRW reported Wednesday.

According to the rights group’s press release, the sentences have already been approved by the Supreme Court, meaning that only intervention by the country’s highest judicial official, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, can prevent the stoning from being carried out.

Human rights activists within Iran are defying pressure from the government in continuing a ‘Stop Stoning Forever’ campaign, but the practice continues.

“The Iranian government is set to execute three of its citizens in a horrendously brutal manner,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Judiciary must act now to end this inhuman form of punishment once and for all.”

For the full article, click here.

Children being used by al-Qaeda in Iraq

U.S. raids of al-Qaeda in Iraq hideouts uncovered videotapes depicting the training of children, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The videotapes include scenes of mock kidnapping, house raids, and suicide bombing, and featured children appearing as young as 10. The American military discovered the tapes back in December and said that al-Qaeda has begun to use more and more children to implement acts of terror.

“Al-Qaeda in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis,” said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman. “It is offering children as the new generation of mujahedeen…We believe this video is used as propaganda to send out to recruit other boys ... and to send a broader message across Iraq to indoctrinate youth into al-Qaeda.”

Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Askari told reporters that militants are kidnapping more and more Iraqi children. These children are not used strictly for terrorist actions, but also as ransom to keep al-Qaeda operations running. Children are kidnapped and held at ransom to fund Al-Qaeda.

The U.S. military is unaware of the exact number of women and children utilized by al-Qaeda, but the two groups are now at greater risk.

For the full article, click here.

Kurdish women facing obstacles to higher political standing

Four months ago, 30 female members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) submitted a proposal to the Kurdistan parliament that would make it mandatory for political parties to allocate 25 percent of their leadership positions to women, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

The two dominant parties of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK have both rallied for women to have equal constitutional rights. However neither party has a large percentage of women represented in higher positions. Still, members say they recognize the need for female leaders. Emad Ahmed, a member of the PUK’s 15-member politburo stated that, “As a socialist, democratic party, we have thought about the fact that we need to promote women politicians within our party. The situation is upsetting.”

Kurdish women within the parties attribute their inability to break the glass ceiling to deep-seated societal traditions. A female member of the KDP, Pakhashan Zangana said that politics is still considered the domain of men in northern Iraq. Mihabad Qaradakhi added, “Women being involved in politics in Kurdistan is considered shameful for her family, because the patriarchal mentality is dominant.”

For the full article, click here.

Release of Vietnamese activist ‘a rare bright spot’

The January 31 release of Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, a writer and pro-democracy campaigner, has been welcomed by Human Rights Watch, according to Intellasia News Online, but, “like dozens of other peaceful dissidents who’ve been imprisoned in Vietnam she should never have been arrested in the first place,” says Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia.

Viet Nam continues to crack down on dissidents, with 20 people jailed for conducting anti-government propaganda in 2007.

According to Richardson, the government has been emboldened to make more arrests since it joined the World Trade Organization in late 2006. “By granting Vietnam that trade status the world has really given away some of the most effective means of leverage it had over the Vietnamese government.”

However, there have been some signs of progress, including mass protests against the seizure of Catholic Church land. Richardson says that membership of opposition groups, including Block 8406, is now sufficiently widespread that it will be "challenging for the government to shut it down entirely."

For the full article, click here.

New U.S. ambassador to Egypt appointed

President Bush on Tuesday named a new ambassador to Egypt, Scripps Newspaper Group – Online reported the same day. Margaret Scobey, a career foreign service officer and former ambassador to Syria, will assume the post.

Scobey was recalled from Syria in 2005 when the country’s relationship with U.S. became further stained over the assignation of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – a crime for which the U.S. believed Damascus was responsible.

Scobey has additional experience in the Middle East, having served in Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Yemen. She was also the deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Saudi Arabia.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam may return Church land

Viet Nam's government has signaled that it may return Church land seized in the 1950s, Agence France-Presse reported Monday. Catholics have been holding prayer vigils since mid-December, with protests reaching their peak last week when thousands attended a rally coinciding with Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung's 90th birthday.

According to one priest, the Vatican has asked the Catholics to leave the land and try to find a compromise. “During a meeting with the deputy minister of public security (Nguyen Van Huong), they have promised to give us back the land,” he said, “But when and how is the problem. We have nothing written.”

Although there has been some dialogue with Catholic groups in recent years, all religious activity officially remains under state control in Viet Nam.

For the full article, click here.

Grandson of revolutionary leader barred from Iranian election

Iran's conservative-controlled Guardian Council, the body responsible for vetting potential election candidates, has barred a grandson of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from running in the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 14, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Ali Eshraghi, a 39-year-old civil engineer, says that the reasons for his disqualification have not been made clear. “My neighbors told me they were questioned about my private life, including ... whether I shaved, whether I pray or fast or smoke,” he said.

Eshraghi is just one of thousands who have not been permitted to run in the upcoming elections.

The Guardian Council has the power to bar any candidate it considers to be disloyal to the principles of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan president expresses concern for condemned reporter

The office of President Hamid Karzai has recently articulated its concern on the death sentence given to an Afghan journalist for allegedly insulting Islam, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday. Karzi spokesperson Homayun Hamidzada said that the president will not intervene in the case against the journalist until an appeals court makes a ruling, yet he said, “Of course the president is concerned. And we are watching the situation very closely.”

The journalist, Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh was charged with blasphemy after he took an opinion piece from the Internet and distributed it to students. The opinion piece drew condemnation from the local religious establishment because it questioned the interpretations of the Koran dealing with the treatment of women.

For the full article, click here.

Human Rights Watch calls on Egypt to stop criminalizing HIV

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Egyptian authorities to overturn the convictions of four men for the supposed “habitual practice of debauchery” and several others who are held waiting for a trial. The convictions seem to be purely motivated by one of the men’s admittance to being HIV-positive.

“These shocking arrests and trials embody both ignorance and injustice,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt threatens not just its international reputation but its own population if it responds to the HIV/AIDS epidemic with prison terms instead of prevention and care.”

The first arrests occurred in October 2007, when a man stopped by police admitted that he was HIV-positive. The police immediately took him, and the man he was speaking with at the time, into the custody of the Morality Police. For days afterwards they were interrogated, beaten, forcibly given an HIV test, and subjected to forensic anal examinations in order to “prove” that they were practicing homosexuals. Police officers then arrested two more acquaintances of the men whom they subjected to similarly invasive interrogation and abuse. Before long, additional men were also arrested simply for moving into the vacant apartment of one of the originally arrested men.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Egyptian government to adhere to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which affirms the rights of prisoners against cruel and inhuman treatment. Egypt has been party to this covenant since 1982.

For the full release, click here.

Gaza-Egypt shooting leaves one dead, scores wounded

Gunfire erupted between Egyptian border guards and armed Gazans on Monday, resulting in the death of one Palestinian and injuring 38 Egyptian police, BBC News reported the same day.

The shooting began only one day after the border was resealed by Egyptian construction workers. The recent suicide bombing attack in Israel prompted tighter security at the border crossing check points, with Egyptians police no longer allowing Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return home. Anger grew on both side of the border, with some of the thousands of Gazans stranded in Egypt demanding that Egyptian officers let them pass. Palestinian youths began to pelt the border guards with stones, to which the Egyptians responded with tear gas. Gunfire then erupted from both sides of the border.

It is unclear who fired first.

The firefight began late in the afternoon but could still be heard intermittedly late into the night.

For the full article, click here.

Two women sentenced to be stoned to death in Iran

A court in Karaj, outside Tehran, has condemned two women to be stoned to death after they were convicted of adultery, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

Zohreh and Azar Kabiri had already been detained for a lesser crime, having “illegitimate” relations with other men, a crime for which they have been whipped. The Iranian courts reportedly disregarded procedures and tried and sentenced the sisters twice for the same crime – once for “illegitimate” relations and once more for adultery.

The lawyer for the women, Jabbar Solati, is desperate to contact judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. “If he is informed on the matter he would react immediately,” Hashemi-Shahrudi said. “He knows it is illegal to process a case twice.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Iraqi parliament raises new flag

The new temporary flag of Iraq was raised over parliament for the first time on Tuesday, Reuters reported Tuesday.

According to the article, “Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presided over the flag-raising outside his offices in central Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone during a ceremony watched by cabinet members and leading dignitaries.” The development of the new flag was in large part in response to demands from Iraqi Kurds, who, as the article notes, “said the old banner was a reminder of the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s rule.” The new flag still has the original phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), however the script has been changed because it was previously in Hussein’s handwriting. The colors of red, black, and white also remain.

The new Iraqi banner will be flown for one year and then a permanent design will be chosen. Kurdish officials had refused to fly the old flag because of its association with the Hussein regime. However many Iraqis do not approve of the new design and are flying the old banner in signs of protest. In Falluja, officials refuse to fly the new flag, with Mayor Saad Rasheed, saying of the new banner: “This is a disaster ... I am using the old flag in my office and at home!”

As the article notes, most Iraqis wish the government would focus more on changes that would better the society as a whole, such as improving basic services like electricity and water.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Egypt reseals Gaza border with aid from Hamas

Egypt reseals Gaza border with aid from Hamas
According to The Washington Post, Egyptian construction workers were able to seal the last breach in the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt this Sunday with the aid of armed Hamas officials. Sealing the final breach in the wall re-established Egyptian control of the frontier after Palestinian guerrillas had knocked down portions of the barrier 11 days ago.

“Egyptian and Palestinian forces had been signaling for days that the border would be sealed again soon, slowly chocking off access for hundreds of thousands of Gazans who had sought to leave the strip when the wall fell,” the Post said.

The affair has highlighted the plight of the Gazans trapped inside the Hamas controlled territory, as well as the ambiguous relationship between Egypt and Hamas, an organization that both the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization. Hamas officials declared that the destruction of the barrier had constituted a “moral victory,” further proclaiming that “the people of Palestine will not go back to their cage.” In reality though, it seems that Hamas leaders have decided to appease Egypt’s desire to control the border breach, leaving many inside Gaza to wonder what it was all for.

For the full article, click here.