Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 29, 2008

Widespread poverty pushing Afghan youth into arms of Taliban

High levels of rural poverty and unemployment are believed to be driving young people to join the Taliban, IRIN reported Wednesday.

A report by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission estimated that in some parts of the country the unemployment rate was as high as 60 percent. This flies in the face of what many Afghans expected for their country after the fall of the Taliban. Edward Girardet, program director for the Media 21 Global Journalism Network, told IRIN that great improvements were expected by the Afghans - among them a rapid rebuilding of the country and its economy. The great disparity between the popular expectations and the current reality has left many feeling frustrated, angry, and desperate.

With the central government of Afghanistan failing to meet many of the essential needs for rural Afghans, joining the Taliban is becoming a tempting offer of employment and protection, especially to young men who have little to do and are often heavily courted by the insurgents.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian men angry over appointment of nation’s first female marriage registrar

This week Egypt, appointed the Middle East’s first woman “maazun,” or marriage registrar, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday. The appointment has sparked controversy in Egypt, particularly from men who see their status being challenged.

Amal Soliman, a 32-year-old graduate in civil and criminal law, is the first woman to be authorized to perform wedding ceremonies and sign marriage and divorce contracts. Soliman appears to have the full support of the national government, which is eager to portray an image of equality in a country that has a rocky history of women’s rights. Justice Minister Mamduh Mari emphasized that Soliman’s nomination was based on her abilities and not her gender. Ali Saman, former head of Al-Azhar University’s religious dialogue committee, further supported Soliman’s case for the position. “I’m not shocked at all, it’s purely a legal job, reading Koranic verses and conducting a marriage,” Saman said. “A maazun is a judicial assistant, a notary… so it’s a job that women can do.”

This support, however, was not seconded by some men in the streets of Cairo. “I completely reject the idea,” Mahmud Ali, a 40-year-old man, told reporters. “There must be religious texts forbidding this… there are also obstacles on the social level, she would always take the woman’s side.” Angry sentiments such as this were not rare, with similar opinions being voiced by many men across the country.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan women marching for peace

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, one million Afghan women across every province will march for peace in their war torn country.

A group of women in the Kandahar province, the most violent province in Afghanistan, were the first to organize the march. Soon women’s groups across Afghanistan and in Kabul were quickly attracted by the idea with over one million women pledging to take part in the simultaneous marches. The marches will be held on March 8th at 10am.

The Independent Women’s Forum, led by Associate Director of Foreign Policy and International Women’s Issues Halima Karzi, has now begun to circulate a petition in hopes of garnering support for these brave women.

To show your support, click here to sign your name.

Iranian authorities harass women’s rights campaigners

Iranian activists involved in a campaign to collect 1 million signatures in support of equal rights for women continue to face harassment, Amnesty International reported on Thursday.

Two Kurdish activists- Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi- currently remain detained without charge or trial, following their arrests in October and November 2007 for their involvement in the campaign. More than 40 others have been detained in connection with their campaign activities.

The campaign’s website has been blocked seven times.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi stated, “We are a nation bursting with female ability. We are a country blessed with hard-working women desperate to make a contribution, but one hobbled by legalized prejudice and social bigotry. Now more than ever, the women of Iran deserve our support.”

Iran’s legal system severely discriminates against women in regards to divorce, inheritance, child custody and numerous other areas. In Iran’s court system, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s.

For the full article, click here.

Dispute over Viet Nam church land continues

The dispute over Catholic Church land seized by the Vietnamese government in the 1950s is still ongoing, BBC News reported on Thursday.

Prayer vigils and demonstrations took place at the site throughout January, with some Vietnamese Catholics facing prosecution for “abusing religion to cause public disorder.”

The protests ended when the Archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, announced that the government had promised to give back the land. However this promise has yet to be acted upon.

The issue has now been complicated by state-approved claims on the land from the official Buddhist Church.

For the full article, click here.

Attitudes on rape beginning to slowly change in Egypt

Increasing awareness and rising levels of public discussion about rape in Egypt seem to be prompting a gradual change in many Egyptian’s attitudes on rape, IRIN News reported on February 19.

The rape and impregnation of Hend Farghali, an 11-year old girl, by a 21-year-old man in Cairo shocked and scandalized the country last summer. Experts like Lilli Dinesen, clinical director of Cairo’s Maadi Psychology Center, think that stories like Hend’s are helping to open up the issues for discussion. “Maybe we need everyone to see and make everyone shocked,” Dinesen said. “I think it has always existed [the discussion of rape] but it is beginning to have more focus with more focus also on women’s rights over their bodies.”

The subject of rape and its repercussions is one that is certainly in need of discussion. Hend was only one of the 20,000 women or girls raped every year in Egypt, a figure that implies an average of 55 women raped every day. This troubling statistic is probably higher as many victims are reluctant to report their cases, owing to the fear of social disgrace.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

U.N. campaign to combat violence again women to run until 2015

On Monday, the United Nations initiated for a campaign to tackle violence against women and girls, Reuters reported the same day.

“At least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The article specifically highlighted the plight of women in India, where female infanticide is prevalent because sons are considered to be better breadwinners than daughters.

According to Ban, the success of the campaign will depend upon the efforts of U.N. member states, women’s groups, men, and the private sector.

The campaign will be in effect until 2015.

For the full article, click here.
For the U.N. press release, click here.

More members of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in Egypt

Wednesday saw the arrest of 25 Muslim Brotherhood members following Tuesday’s arrest of 17 others in what looks to be a heightened crackdown by the Egyptian government against the banned organization, The Associated Press reported.

The new arrests are believed to have targeted potential candidates for the upcoming provincial council elections. The Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954, has managed to establish itself in the national legislature, with members filling more than a fifth of the seats, as independents, in its lower house.

In the last two weeks, government forces have made 264 arrests, adding to the 400 Brotherhood members already in prison from previous arrests.

The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it also wants democratic reforms in Egypt.

For the full article, click here.

Kurdish teacher tortured and sentenced to death

Human Rights Watch has condemned the death sentence of Kurdish teacher Farzad Kamangar, and on Wednesday appealed to Iran’s judiciary to revoke it.

Kamangar was arrested in Tehran in 2006 and held in various detention centers including the notorious Evin prison, where he claims that he was tortured to such an extent that he had to receive medical attention.

He was sentenced on charges of “endangering national security,” with the prosecution claiming that he is a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to his layer, he was tried without the presence of a jury.

“Farzad Kamangar’s case highlights how human rights abuses have become routine in Iran,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Kamangar was tortured, subjected to unfair trial and now faces execution.”

For the full article, click here.

Workers sentenced to lashes for participating in demonstration

Four workers and labor activists from the Iranian province of Kurdistan have been lashed by authorities for disrupting public order and participating in an unauthorized gathering, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday. An additional seven have been sentenced.

According to the article, the detainees were sentenced to ten lashes and 91 days in prison for the taking part in a demonstration on May 1 to complain about their wages and other issues.

Khaled Savari, the head of the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed workers, is one of those sentenced to ten lashes. “What crime have we committed?” he asked. “Have we broken any doors or windows? Have we set a car on fire? The only thing we did was to complain about our wages and other workers’ issues in front of the employment office.”

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam jails activists

Four Vietnamese men convicted of collecting complaints against the government and sharing them with Western news organizations have had their sentences upheld by an appeals court, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday. They will each spend between eighteen months and four and a half years in jail.

The four activists – Tran Thi Le Hong, Phung Quang Quyen, Doan Van Dien, and his son Doan Huy Chuong – have been sentenced under Article 258 of Viet Nam’s penal code, which bars “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”

They were accused of collecting complaints of government land-rights violations and passing them on to news organizations, as well as distributing anti-government leaflets at a meeting in Hanoi before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2006.

The group is linked to the pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406. Authorities have jailed as many as twelve dissidents associated with the movement over the last year.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Iranian ‘public service’ video denounces American support for regime change

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry has released a public service video that attempts to link opposition movements within Iran to the American government.

In a blog for online newspaper The Huffington Post, Sam Sedaei explains the Iranian thinking behind the video. It portrays the United States as attempting to implement regime change through support for NGOs and individuals within Iranian society, and uses this to justify limitations of freedom.

One section of the video shows three individuals discussing some sort of mission that they have planned using the Internet and satellite television, in return for which they have been promised American visas. A suspicious family member discovers a gun, and calls an Intelligence Ministry hotline number.

“Security is a blessing which depends on the vigilance of every member of the community,” says the voiceover. “We are the guardians of your information.”

For the full article, click here.

To watch the video, click here.

Democratic nations fail to adequately defend freedom of expression

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has accused public officials around the world of “impotence, cowardice and duplicity” in defending freedom of expression in its annual report, which surveys press freedom in 98 countries.

Afghanistan’s struggle with civil war has led to increasing levels of violence against journalists. Terrorists, warlords and other unknown groups regularly attacked, kidnapped and killed those involved in the media throughout 2007. Government corruption and suppression played a major role in silencing discussion: security forces harassed journalists, and a court recently sentenced a journalist to death for blasphemy.

Journalists in Iraq face extreme danger on a day to day basis, reflecting the dire situation in the country at large. At least 56 media workers were killed in 2007. Hardly anyone ever claims responsibility for the murders, and there is a lack of any serious investigation. The authorities place severe restrictions on what can be reported, and even those working for media outlets backed by political parties, religious interests or the government – which are the only publications still operating – are in great danger from groups opposed to their employers’ affiliation.

The situation in Iran is somewhat more stable but government restriction is severe. 2007 saw more than 50 journalists prosecuted in Iran, with ten of them still in prison at the end of the year. Most of those arrested are held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where they are often subject to extremely poor conditions including solitary confinement, filthy cells, limited medical care and torture. Media outlets are subject to harassment and closure. This is despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s assertions that Iranians are “the freest people in the world.”

A dozen journalists in Egypt were prosecuted for harming “the country’s interests,” “national security” and “the reputation of the judiciary.” Constitutional reform gave some new power to authorities, including the right to arrest people suspected of terrorism, search their homes, spy on their mail and tap their phones without a court order. Yet despite repression and arrests, Egyptian journalists “have made significant headway,” particularly through the Internet.

Viet Nam’s political police continued to wage a “relentless battle against opposition movements and dissident publications.” There are significant legal barriers to freedom of expression in place, and several dissidents and activists were jailed in the past year.

Robert Ménard, RSF’s Secretary-General, said that the report highlights the inaction of Western nations and international bodies. “The lack of determination by democratic countries in defending the values they supposedly stand for is alarming,” he said.

To read the full report, click here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Norwegian MP told to leave Viet Nam

A Norwegian Member of Parliament was ordered to leave Viet Nam after using his visit to meet with human rights and democracy activists, Aftenposten reported Monday.

Peter Gitmark, who was in the country on a tourist visa, was questioned by security police before being asked to leave.

According to the article, Gitmark already had a ticket to leave the country the next day and was permitted to leave on his scheduled flight. “If I hadn’t been traveling on the first flight out, they surely would have kicked me out,” he said.

Gitmark claims that the families of Vietnamese refugees in Norway face discrimination due to their relatives’ advocacy for a free and democratic Viet Nam.

For the full article, click here.

Iran to execute child offender

Human Rights Watch has called on the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, to order a stay of execution for Mohammad Reza Haddadi.

Haddadi has been sentenced to death as punishment for a crime he allegedly committed at the age of fifteen. There are claims that his co-defendants pressured and bribed him to confess.

“Executing someone for a crime committed as a child is always wrong, but the flawed trial in this case compounds the injustice,” said Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The head of Iran’s judiciary should halt the execution and order a full investigation into the case.”

The Islamic Republic is one of just four countries that have executed those who were children at the time of their offence in the past three years.

For the full article, click here.

Turkish incursion outrages Iraqi government

The Iraqi government has condemned Turkey’s incursion into the Kurdistan region, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Turkish troops entered northern Iraq last Thursday to fight Kurdish guerillas. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, denounced these actions stating, “The cabinet expressed its rejection and condemnation for the Turkish military interference, which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.” The spokesman added that the move will only weaken relations between Iraq and Turkey.

Turkish troops have been advancing on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) because, as the article notes, Turkey claims “Iraqi authorities had failed for years to crack down on the rebels.” The article adds that “Baghdad has called for a diplomatic solution to resolve the PKK problem. It says it has taken some measures to deal with the rebels but is focused on trying to stabilize the rest of Iraq.”

In response to the raid, Washington urges Turkey to make the incursion as short as possible.

According to Turkish estimates, as of Tuesday, 19 Turkish soldiers have been killed, along with at least 153 PKK fighters.

For the full article, click here.

‘National Need’ party seeks to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan

National Need, a new political party focused on women’s rights, was launched in Afghanistan on February 19, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on February 20.

Afghan parliamentarian Fatima Nazari helped to establish the party.

“I believe women understand their own problems better than men would, Nazari said. “We want to campaign for democracy, not only talk about democracy. In this way, we want to work with our brothers and the rest of Afghan society.”

Female activists throughout the country have mixed feelings about the party’s future. Maryam Panjsheri, an activist in Panjsher Valley stated: “We know our goals won’t be easy to implement, but they are realistic. We know it won't happen overnight. It may take many years.” Panjsheri believes that the most difficult hurdle will be reaching conservative families.

Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, women’s rights have increased and the National Need party looks to further this trend. The party expects to run in the next parliamentary elections, which will likely be held in three years.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan Journalist sentenced to death speaks out in interview

In an interview with the British daily The Independent on Monday, Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh had the opportunity to comment on his trial, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

The 23-year-old Afghan journalism student, who was condemned to death by a provincial court for committing blasphemy, was interviewed by the newspaper from his jail cell. Kambakhsh was given the death sentence for distributing an article he had found on the Internet that questioned the Koran’s verses on the rights of women. Kambakhsh believes that the verdict was decided before the trial began.

In the interview, Kambakhsh stated, “The way [the judges] talked to me, looked at me, was the way they look at a condemned man. I wanted to say: ‘This is wrong. Please listen to me.’ But I was not given a chance to explain.” A Balkh province attorney denies Kambakhsh’s allegations, while legal experts have begun examining the validity of the case.

Abdullah Attaei, an Afghan expert in Shari’a law, stated, “If the convicted person doesn’t admit that he wrote the article, and if he denies being quoted, then no court can judge his faith [according to Islamic Shari'a law]. When he denies that he wrote the article, then no one has the right to arrest or investigate him or even to try to prove him guilty.”

The verdict has sparked an international outcry for the journalism student’s release.

According to a chief judge from northern Afghanistan, only President Hamid Karzai is in a position to pardon Kambakhsh.

For the full article, click here.

Pakistani police crack down on lawyers’ protest

On February 21 in Karachi, Pakistan, about a dozen lawyers were arrested, and more than twenty were wounded when police charged with batons and tear-gassed a lawyers’ rally, CNN reported.

The lawyers have been protesting every Thursday to push the government to reinstate the judges President Pervez Musharraf discharged last year. So far, they have been unsuccessful, but there may be hope, as the country’s two major opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan People’s Party, have agreed to form a coalition.

Although the two parties now have the most seats in parliament, they still do not posses the two-thirds majority that would impeach Musharraf.

For the full article, click here.