Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 22, 2008

Egypt ruling allows for seizure of imprisoned dissident’s assets

Jailed opposition candidate Ayman Nour, the former chairman of the al Ghad party, will now likely have his assets seized, IkhwanWeb.com, the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website reported Tuesday.

The Egyptian Political Parties Affairs Committee issued the decision. The article says that the assets include, “a law office owned by his wife Gameela Ismail and his house, owned by his children Nour and Shadi, plus seizing 15 offices of the party headed by Ayman Nour.” The assets will then be given to new al Ghad leader Mousa Mostafa, who is at odds with Ismail.

This decision marks yet another injustice for Nour, who came in second in the 2005 presidential elections, but was then imprisoned on trumped up forgery charges. Nour still remains in a Cairo jail despite Ismail’s repeated calls for his release due to his failing health.

For the full article, click here.

Economic incentives for increased freedom of religion in Viet Nam

In an effort to develop its economy, Viet Nam is loosening some of its constraints on religion, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

According to the article, Viet Nam “is trying to foster the U.S. as a major trading partner as it transforms its centrally planned economy into a free-trading one dependent on exports and foreign investment.” In an attempt to diffuse tension with the United States it has, therefore, been bowing to pressure to allow greater religious freedom

The government has made efforts to improve relations with Catholic leaders, and has allowed the development of Caodaism, a new religion that attempts to fuse the best of Eastern and Western traditions.

Yet the tolerance of the government still only goes so far. “There’s a greater degree of openness on the surface, but there’s still a lot happening which isn’t visible,” said the Rev. Le Trong Cung, a Roman Catholic priest in Hanoi.

“More religious freedom hasn’t translated into further political rights or any broader freedom of expression for Vietnam’s people,” the article says. “The government frequently clamps down on any trace of dissent. A number of Protestant groups, particularly those active among tribal communities in the remote central highlands, are banned, as are some fringe Buddhist groups.”

For the full article, click here.

Violence against women in Central America constitutes ‘femicide’

Crime levels are extremely high in Mexico and Central America, but there is a particularly concerning amount of violence against women. Women’s groups have gone so far as to label the situation as ‘femicide,’ or female genocide, due to the extreme viciousness and frequency of incidents.

Guatemala City and Mexico’s border city of Ciudad Juarez have particular problems. Hundreds of women have suffered violent deaths in recent years, most of them young women between the ages of 17 and 22, and the majority of cases remain unsolved.

It is thought that a combination of drug and gang-related crimes, domestic violence, abuse of power by authorities, an extremely high level of impunity and a low regard for women has led to the increasing violence across the region.

To read a United Nations Population Fund factsheet on femicide, click here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ex-Afghan warlord and current military chief of staff ‘suspended’

The Afghan attorney general has suspended General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord, from his government position for not cooperating with a police investigation into an assault case earlier this month, BBC News reported Tuesday.

A spokesman for the attorney general stated that Dostum and his men had assaulted a former ally and rival, Akbar Bai, and some of his relatives earlier this month. The incident escalated when an armed standoff began between the general and the dozens of police surrounding his house. The situation was defused when Dostum agreed to come in for questioning. His subsequent failure to do so prompted the recent suspension.

Dostum has garnered negative international attention in the past. An ethnic Uzbeck from northern Afghanistan, he oversaw brutal campaigns as a commander during the Afghan civil war and the 2001 U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Many Afghan and international groups say Dostum should be tried for these abuses.

For the full article, click here.

Different reactions to apostasy in the Middle East

Religious freedom continues to be a point of concern in the Middle East, reports Roger Hardy, the Middle East analyst for BBC News.

Hardy quotes Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, who discusses how it is easy to convert to Islam, yet very difficult to convert to Christianity. This second process is described as frustrating, especially since the individual who is converting is required to go to court.

There is also a suppression of religious freedom through Egypt’s ID cards. Egypt only officially recognizes Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, therefore making it difficult for individuals to identify themselves as Baha’i on their identification. However, there have been two court cases of late with somewhat positive results for this religious minority.

The issue of apostasy, defined as the abandonment of one’s faith, is also a concern in other Muslim nations like Afghanistan and Iran. Some Muslim scholars prefer to punish those who leave Islam with the death penalty, while others prefer different measures. Abdal Hakim Murad, a Cambridge University lecturer, explains why there are differences in Islamic law: “There’s a few things on which everybody agrees – pray five times a day, fast in Ramadan – but, in terms of public law, on most issues there is no consensus.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mass deportation of Afghan refugees from Iran may cause humanitarian crisis

To avoid what could be a massive humanitarian crisis, officials from the Afghan government have called upon the Iranian government to hold off its planed deportation of thousands of Afghans living illegally in Iran until after the winter, IRIN reported Sunday.

“We do not have the capacity to receive a large number of deportees from Iran,” said Shir Mohammad Etibari, minister of refugees and returnees. “We will face a humanitarian crisis if Iran resumes a mass deportation of Afghans.”

377,000 Afghans have already been sent back to their home country since the beginning of 2007. The cold winter months, already responsible for killing hundreds in Afghanistan, will severely limit the country’s capacity to absorb anymore returnees.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam goes back on promise to return church land

After a month of protests and prayer vigils, Vietnamese authorities agreed at the beginning of February to return land seized from the Catholic Church in the 1950s. But now, according to Intellasia.net, the government is going back on that promise.

According to the article, “public workers have repainted the fence surrounding the site, strengthened the gates, and erected new panels with communist symbols and slogans reiterating that the building is state-owned. In addition, new security measures were imposed.”

There are now fears that the government will require further conditions be met before the land is finally returned.

Viet Nam has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with about 6 million out of a population of 84 million. January’s protests represented a significant challenge to the Communist government, which officially controls all religious activity.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian activists arrested while collecting signatures for women’s rights

Two women’s rights campaigners have been detained and accused of spreading propaganda against the Islamic state, Reuters reported on February 16.

The women, Raheleh Asgarzadeh and Nasim Khosravi, were arrested while collecting signatures for a petition demanding greater women’s rights, according to activist Sussann Tahmasebi. They are currently in Tehran’s Evin prison, notorious for its high population of dissidents and the brutal conditions faced by inmates.

Since 2006, campaigners have been attempting to collect one million signatures in support of women’s rights in Iran. Tahmasebi says that more than forty activists have been detained since the campaign began, with most being released after a few days or weeks.

Iran’s legal system severely discriminates against women when it comes to divorce, inheritance, child custody and numerous other areas. A woman’s court testimony is worth half that of a man.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese dissident’s funeral under heavy police scrutiny

At least 500 people attended the funeral of Hoang Minh Chinh, one of Vietnam’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday. Among those present, according to the article, were, “family members, dissidents, writers and poets – but also scores of undercover police, who photographed and videotaped mourners but did not obstruct foreign media.”

This was despite the fact that Vietnamese authorities made it difficult for some to attend the funeral.

According to a press release from the Democratic Party of Vietnam, a U.S. doctor who was in the country for the event was interrogated and deported.

Dr Nguyen Thi An Nhan, who is currently a heart surgeon at Stanford Medical Hospital in Palo Alto, California, has been a member of the Democratic Party of Vietnam since Hoang Minh Chinh reestablished it in June 2006.

According to the press release, the Viet Nam government ordered a team of police to enter the Sheraton Hotel in Hanoi on February 15, one day before the funeral, and forced Nhan to the nearby police station, interrogating her for more than six hours. Finally, they escorted her to the airport and demanded she leave the country that night.

At the funeral, a message was played that had been recorded by Chinh before he died. “I wish you success in the struggle for freedom and independence and happiness for all Vietnamese people,” he said.

For the full article, click here.

For the press release from the Democratic Party of Vietnam, click here.

Broken pension promises for Iraqi widows

Iraqi widows – their husbands lost over the course of years of conflict dating back to the Iran-Iraq war – were promised pension payments by the Iraqi government that have proven to be erratic and unreliable, The L.A. Times reported Tuesday.

Iraqi widows, with registered numbers of over 84,000, have been provided with little to no pension money. According to the article, “a widow without children is supposed to get about $34 a month; and a widow with five or more children, about $81 a month.” The rising number of widows has created a strain on government spending. Widows have now taken to protesting the lack of funding, with demonstrations taking place in all 18 provinces.

However, some measures are being considered to provide additional assistance to the widow population. New legislation has been introduced by Samira Musawi, a member of parliament, which if passed would, according to the article, “provide housing, education and job training for widows and other low-income women.” Also, the U.S. military and State Department have begun interviewing widows to assess their needs and concerns. “The treatment of widows ranks high among the list of things the U.S. military wants to lobby the Baghdad government about to help Anbar province,” the Times says.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan bombing claims 100 civilian lives

A suicide bomber claimed 100 lives on Sunday in Kandahar, BBC News reported Monday. The large crowd had gathered to watch a dog-fighting competition, which were banned under Taliban rule.

Sunday’s bombing created a scene of carnage, scattering body parts over a wide area and coating the public square in blood. It was reportedly the deadliest suicide bombing in Afghanistan since 2001.

The Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but the radical group is widely believed to hold the blame. Abdul Hakim Jan, a prominent police chief, tribal leader and outspoken critic of the Taliban, was listed among the dead.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

As Iraq becomes safer, preparation begins for refugee returns

In the past six months security in Iraq has improved, creating the basic conditions necessary for the potential return of refugees, BBC News reported on February 16.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Iraqi government are planning an assessment of the security situation. In December, the UNHCR had deemed the area, “not yet conducive to large-scale return.” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the BBC that additional staff would be added to the agency’s Baghdad office.

“To promote returns one needs to be sure that there is security, that they can return in safety, but also that there are conditions for a successful integration in society.” Guterres said.

For the full article, click here.

Suspicious deaths in Iranian prisons

Last October, Zahra Bani Yaghoub, a young Iranian doctor, was arrested as she walked in a park in the western city of Hamadan. After just one night in prison she was dead, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Sunday.

Police told her family that she committed suicide, but they accuse prison authorities of killing her.

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights attorney and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is handling Bani Yaghoub’s case, which is the latest in a series of suspicious deaths or tortures in Iranian prisons.

“I found many controversies in Bani Yaghoub’s case,” Ebadi said. “For instance, the exact time of Zahra’s death; also the height of the bar from which Zahra allegedly has hanged herself, and its contrast with Zahra’s height. Furthermore, the official reports about the way she was arrested and was kept in detention are dubious.”

Torture is commonplace in Iranian prisons. According to Ali Rahimi, a human rights activist, Iranian authorities see it as a deterrent to crime. “Unfortunately, it is an established method for the Iranian police,” she said. “According to this method, when a suspect enters a detention center, he has to be beaten up and insulted in order to intimidate and punish him, and supposedly, to prevent him from committing further crimes.”

For the full article, click here.

Failing economy has Egyptians delaying marriage

Job shortages and lack of income have created a nationwide trend of marriage postponement in Egypt and the Middle East, according to The New York Times. Many young adults are turning to Islam as an outlet for their frustrations.

Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid, a single, 28-year-old unemployed Muslim, recounts his broken engagement. Due to insufficient funds, Sayyid’s fiancée’s family forced the bride to cancel the wedding because Sayyid could not provide adequate housing or stability for their daughter. As a result of this devastating news, Sayyid “spun into depression and lost nearly 40 pounds,” the article says.

Sayyid’s story is not unique in the Middle East, as many young adults in the region are unable to acquire sufficient funds to marry. The economy has left many educated citizens poor, and job shortages have hindered social mobility. According to the article, this unfortunate series of events has led young adults to turn to “religion for solace and purpose.” In addition, because Islamic identity has become paramount, secular states are being forced into religious identification, and this worries many government officials. There is a common fear that an Islamic revival will usurp government power.

Hamadi Taha, a communications professor at Al Azhar University, discussed how easy it is for extremists to recruit Egypt’s youth. The young people are desperate for a change, Taha said, which makes them vulnerable to the influence of terrorists. Taha started a government-sanctioned charity that organizes mass weddings for individuals who want to marry but lack financial support. This encourages individuals to settle down instead of act out.

In Islam, the article says, “marriage is not only the key to adulthood but also a religious obligation.” Therefore, it is important to recognize the needs of individuals willing to marry and help these citizens.

For the full article, click here.

Iran cracks down on Turkmen minority

Hundreds of ethnic Turkmen have been deported by Iranian authorities since a Turkmen fisherman was killed by Iranian maritime security officers in December, Voice of America reported on February 14. The deportations have raised concern among international human rights organizations.

The fisherman, Husamettin Khadivar, was fishing without a license when he was killed.

Abdulgafur Setaesh, Director of the Center for Human Rights of Turkmenstan of Iran, said friends and relatives of Khadivar protested the killing to Iranian military authorities.

“After two days of mourning, four-hundred or five-hundred people goes to Chapaqli military center [base] and asks why? This is an eighteen-year-old young person. Why did you kill him? Now his family is without any food. Here, as usual, they [Iranian authorities] started to hit people,” he said.

Amnesty International reported that dozens of Turkmen protesters were injured and at least two hundred were arrested.

There are approximately 1.3 million ethnic Turkmen in Iran, representing about two percent of Iran’s population.

For the full article, click here.

To read more about ethnic Turkmen in Iran, click here.