Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 25, 2008

Egypt on edge as Mubarak’s 80th birthday nears

The subject of President Hosni Mubarak’s successor began to emerge as a topic of discussion in Egypt after an assassination attempt in 1995. The matter came to the fore again after he fainted while giving a speech in 2004. Now, as his 80th birthday approaches, Egyptians our examining what a post-Mubarak Egypt will look like, writes Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayed in a column for Asia Times.

Supporters of Mubarak may point to a growing economy and increasing foreign investment, but the majority of Egyptians are far from satisfied with Egypt’s current situation. Growing inflation and unemployment, coupled with increasing food prices, have antagonized Egypt’s large lower class, while political oppression and attacks on the press continue to anger the traditionally vocal middle class.

For the full column, click here.

Efforts to improve local governance in Afghanistan showing signs of progress

A new Afghan agency, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, is working to extend of the central government’s presence into provinces in danger of falling under Taliban control, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Led by Jelani Popal, deputy finance minister and founder of the Afghan Development Association, the new agency plans to concentrate on 11 priority provinces where the Taliban is beginning to make inroads or the breakdown of government is the most threatening. The idea is to catch a deteriorating province before the Taliban can take advantage of the instability.

To do this, Popal has put special emphasis on repairing the government’s relationship with the ordinary Afghans. Alienation, he argues, has had a disastrous effect across the country, making it essential to “bring the decision-making as close as possible to the people.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S. citizen expelled from Viet Nam for torch protest plans

Viet Nam has expelled a U.S. national of Vietnamese origin whom it suspects of attempting to sabotage the Olympic torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City, Reuters reported Friday.

Voice of Vietnam radio said authorities believed the man wanted “to try to snatch the torch” during the relay on April 29. When checking his luggage, security and customs officers found “some T-shirts with prints and images and letters, all with content of distorting the Olympic torch relay and inciting sabotage,” the report said.

The expelled man, Vuong Hoang Minh, is a registered member of the People’s Democratic Party, one of several outlawed pro-democracy groups.

For the full article, click here.

Congressional Gold Medal for Burma’s Suu Kyi

The Congressional Gold Medal is to be awarded to the leader of Burma’s democratic opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, Agence France-Presse reported Friday. She has spent 12 out of the past 18 years under house arrest, and is the only recipient in the award’s 232-year history to be given it while imprisoned.

The medal is the highest civilian honor the legislature can bestow, and has previously been awarded to Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, former South African president Nelson Mandela and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Suu Kyi’s latest period of detention began in 2003 after a deadly attack on her convoy by supporters of the ruling military junta. There is no sign that the generals plan to free her.

“This Congressional Gold Medal is a tribute to Suu Kyi's courage and conviction, and a symbol of solidarity with the oppressed people of Burma,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who proposed the legislation with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

For the full article, click here.

Armenia commemorates Genocide anniversary

To remember the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of Armenians marched solemnly on Thursday to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial outside Yerevan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday.

Marking the 93rd anniversary of the beginning of the Genocide, President Serzh Sarkisian called the Ottoman Empire’s mass killings “a crime against humanity,” but maintained that Armenia only seeks recognition of the Genocide, not “vengeance and enmity.”

Sarkisian once again reiterated that Armenia is ready to normalize relations with Turkey.
Turkish-Armenian relations have been strained over the subject of the Genocide, which Turkey denies.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Olympics protesters arrested in Viet Nam

Viet Nam continues to hold prisoners of conscience, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported Tuesday. A leading Vietnamese blogger is among several people who have been arrested for demonstrating against human rights violations in China.

According to the article, the blogger, Nguyen Hoang Hai, was being closely watched by police, who had threatened to let Chinese agents kill him.

The press freedom organization has called for all journalists and cyber dissidents to be released before the arrival of the Olympic torch in Ho Chi Minh City on April 29. “When the Olympic torch relay takes place in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnamese government should release all prisoners of conscience and implement the Olympic Charter, which defends human dignity,” RSF said.

For the full article, click here.

Nobel peace laureate’s memoirs warn against military intervention

In her book “Iran Awakening” human rights lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi warns of the dangers of U.S. military intervention in Iran, says Betty Jean Craige in a review for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ebadi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, writes that she “can think of no scenario more alarming, no internal shift more dangerous than that engendered by the West imagining that it can bring democracy to Iran through either military might or the fomentation of violent rebellion.”

Warning against threatening military force, she writes that this gives the authorities a pretext to crack down on legitimate opposition and undermines the development that is being achieved.

“The threat of regime change by military force, while reserved as an option by some in the Western world, endangers nearly all of the efforts democracy-minded Iranians have made in these recent years,” she argues.

For the full article, click here.

Hmong ‘facing annihilation’ in Laos

The ethnic minority Hmong living in Laos are “facing annihilation” and “eking out an existence” writes Tom Rainey-Smith, coordinator of Seoul’s English speakers’ chapter for Amnesty International Korea, in The Seoul Times. Many are on the run living in “forced primitivism; a hunter gatherer subsistence where they are the hunted.”

The Hmong are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Southeast Asia, with a population of 450,000 in Laos alone. They are also one of the main groups who were recruited by the CIA to fight against communist forces in Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War.

The Lao military has been targeting the Hmong ever since, forcing them to flee. Many attempt to escape by seeking asylum in neighboring Thailand, but face forced repatriation.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi bill would ban toy guns

With the culture of violence growing, Iraq’s parliamentary committee on children and women is drafting a bill that would ban toy gun and firework imports, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Lawmakers hope the bill will, according to the article, “curb increasingly aggressive behavior among children who have grown up amid real war.” The legislation, if enacted, would “provide either a fine of 3 million Iraqi dinars (about $2,500) or at least three years in prison for importing toy guns and fireworks,” the AP adds.

The article also notes that according to a 2007 World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad, “47 percent of them had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the preceding two years. Of the latter group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Since the beginning of the war, the article says that “Hundreds, possibly thousands [of Iraqi children], have been killed or wounded in the violence.”

It is unclear if locally made toy guns and fireworks will be permitted under the bill, which is scheduled to be presented to parliament on Wednesday.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi women take charge, becoming heads of households during war

As violence has taken their husbands, many Iraqi women have assumed new roles in an effort to keep their families safe, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Sabriyah Hilal Abadi, a mother of four from Baghdad, tells the story of a fight for her home and the search for security. At the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion, Abadi was optimistic about her country’s future. However, she quickly realized that things would go from bad to worse. After her rent skyrocketed, Abadi was forced to squat in an old Baath Party building that had been looted and destroyed. Twenty-seven other families followed in what now is essentially a large extended family occupying the building.

The families now face an order to move out, making it likely that Abadi’s son will have to drop out of college to support the family. “This is how you push young men to become terrorists,” Abadi said of the situation.

Stories like Abadi’s are common among displaced Iraqis who have been moved from place to place as a result of “a campaign to evict squatters from buildings [that] was one of the cornerstones of a plan launched last year to improve security,” the article notes.

There are over one million Iraqi widows or divorcees, and women like Abadi are often forced to find alternative living situations in hopes of keeping their families together, while also working to generate income.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian women’s rights activists accused of disrupting national security

Three Iranian women’s rights campaigners have received suspended lashing and jail sentences, Reuters reported Tuesday.

They were all charged with taking part in an illegal gathering and collusion with the intent to disrupt national security, disruption of public order and refusal to follow police orders, said fellow activist Sussan Tahmasebi.

The sentences are suspended, meaning that they will only be carried out if they are found guilty of another crime within the next two years.

“Women’s rights activists particularly object to sentences that include lashing,” said Tahmasebi. “These sentences are intended to embarrass and humiliate human rights activists.”

Women face institutionalized discrimination in Iran. Tahmasebi is herself appealing a partly suspended two-year prison sentence for her role in a banned demonstration in Tehran in 2006.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iraqi children begging to attend school

Iraqi children, desperate to learn, attend classes in overcrowded rooms in neighborhoods threatened by violence, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The Iraqi education system, once envied in the Middle East, has been severely damaged by the war. Many schools have been forced to shut down due to a lack of security brought on by unstable conditions. Thus, schools deemed ‘safe’ are overcrowded and underprepared for the new influx of students traveling far distances for an education.

According to the article, “Violence, a collapse of school infrastructure and the mass displacement of both pupils and teachers have turned many of Iraq's schools into fetid overcrowded ruins, jeopardizing the futures of millions of children.”

Even in classrooms that lack running water and reek of raw sewage seeping from leaky pipes, students are not deterred. Their primary focus is receiving an education and the threat of violence will not prevent them reaching for their goals.

For the full article, click here.

Iran reaffirms death sentence against Kurdish activist

Kurdish activist Hiwa Butimar has had his appeal rejected and has been sentenced to death by Iran’s Revolutionary Court, the Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO) reported on April 18.

The 29-year-old journalist and environmental campaigner has been accused of selling arms to Kurdish guerrilla fighters connected to the P.K.K. According to IMHRO, this has been strongly repudiated by all of the Kurdish political parties.

Butimar’s appeal against the sentence was referred to the same judge as the original case, who confirmed it for a second time.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Kurdish newspaper closed down in Iran

A Kurdish language newspaper has been permanently closed down in Iran on the grounds that it received money from abroad, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported on April 18. The criminal court in Sanandaj, in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region, asserted that it broke the law by selling copies across the border in the Kurdish part of Iraq.

The publication, Rouji Ha Lat, is one of the18 newspapers that have been suspended in Iran since the start of 2008.

Three of the newspaper’s journalists were fined 300,000 toumen ($475) and detained for a month before being freed on bail.

“It seems that any pretext will do in order to silence independent news media,” the press freedom organisation said. “The Iranian judicial system undermines its own credibility each time it hands down such absurd and iniquitous decisions.”

For the full article, click here.

Right of appeal granted to Afghan journalist on death row

The Afghan journalist who was sentenced to death in January for disseminating articles critical of Islam has been granted the right of appeal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on April 17.

Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old journalism student, was initially arrested for allegedly writing an article that expressed feminist criticisms of Islam.

According to Jean Mackenzie, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Afghanistan country director, international protests from governments and NGOs played a role in the Afghan government’s decision to allow Sayed his right of appeal. She added that protests in cities across Afghanistan organized by domestic groups also brought attention to the case.

For the full article, click here.

Food shortages emboldening Egypt’s democratic opposition

In Egypt, political submission has been bought with subsidized bread for the last 50 years. But now, soaring global wheat prices and an entrepreneurial black market are making it impossible for the government to keep bread on the shelves. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl believes the latest bread crisis has triggered the democratic opposition’s revival, and may be creating the “first, tentative alliance between Egypt’s angry workers and its alienated middle class.”

The bread crisis came to a predictable result on April 6, Diehl writes. Unable to feed themselves or their families, textile workers in Mahalla el-Kubra, attempted to strike. They were met by “a massive deployment of security forces.” Violence broke out, and riots shook the city for two days, leaving two demonstrators dead after police open fire into the crowds. After the situation had calmed, the government came into town with its traditional carrot and stick tactics. The alleged riot organizers were all immediately rounded up and arrested, while bread, wage bonuses and new medical clinics were promised to the areas affected by the unrest.

What should have been “business as usual” for the government of President Hosni Mubarak instead took a new turn. Learning of the workers’ plans for the Mahalla strike, a loose alliance of activists called for a national strike on the same day, Diehl notes. They used cellphones and the Internet to spread their message. A Facebook group advertising the strike was even created; and it now has over 72,000 members.

With the bread crisis continuing and another national strike planed for Mubarak’s 80th birthday, Egypt may be witnessing the “birth of a new political movement,” dubbed “the Facebook party,” by one analyst, Diehl writes.

For the full op-ed, click here.