Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 02, 2008

Iranian representatives accuse minorities of terrorism

Representatives of Iran verbally attacked a delegation of Ahwazi Arab human rights activists at the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, according to the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS).

Several of the Iranians present banged on the table throughout a speech by Karim Abdian, Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, and accused them of terrorism.

The numerous indigenous minorities in Iran face significant barriers to their human rights. According to Abdian, “Iran’s indigenous Ahwazis are kept backward, poor and illiterate. The illiteracy rate is four times and unemployment is six times the national average ... Only one out of four Ahwazis graduates from high school. According to government’s own data, 80 percent of the Arab children suffer from malnutrition.”

“The regime maintains anyone who supports indigenous rights in Iran is a secessionist and terrorist, without offering any supporting evidence,” said BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad. “Even if the delegation had sworn allegiance to the Supreme Leader, they would have been denounced as terrorists and separatists for even raising the issue of indigenous rights in Iran,” he added.

For the full article, click here.

Life ‘getting worse’ for women

“Oppression, abuse, violence and degradation are on the increase,” wrote Joan Bakewell in The Independent on Friday.

Specifically mentioning Iran and Iraq, she described the worrying trends that are seeing women “being driven back to ancient and punitive ways of life.” Since 1991 there have been 4,000 honor killings in Iraq, she said, and the number of women burning themselves to death is growing at an alarming rate.

“These communities are returning to feudal ways of living where women are the voiceless victims,” she wrote. “Moreover, when a people are ravaged by war and invasion, the damaged pride and powerlessness of their men can turn into rage and violence against those they perceive as weak.”

Bakewell added: “This is history running backwards, and we seem helpless to stop it.”

For the full article, click here.

Converts from Islam face rights violations

Apostasy is a growing and often overlooked human rights concern according to Ziya Meral, a Turkish convert from Islam to Christianity. Writing in The Guardian on the release of new research findings, he said that converts face significant suffering.

Though the death penalty for apostasy is only a possibility in Sudan, some Malaysian states, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran, apostates across the Middle East face a broad spectrum of other rights violations.

These include the annulment of marriage, removal of custody and inheritance rights, termination of citizenship, confiscation of identity papers and the loss of further social and economic rights, as well as the risk of extra-judicial killings.

Reformist Muslims in the West argue that the justification of the death penalty for apostasy is based on a misinterpretation of the Qur’an. However, “arguments about the exact text of Qur’an do little to help apostates suffering gross human rights abuses today,” Merel said.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam arrests seven anti-China protesters

Seven protesters were arrested in Viet Nam prior to the arrival of the Olympic torch in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, The Guardian reported the same day.

Witnessed reported that several of the demonstrators were detained after unfurling a banner and shouting “Boycott the Beijing Olympics” through a loudhailer at a market in the capital, Hanoi.

The torch has seen protests against China’s human rights record at many of its 18 stops around the world. According to the article, Viet Nam had assured its communist ally it would not let demonstrators disrupt the parade.

For the full article, click here.

Democracy activists jailed in Viet Nam

Three Vietnamese democracy activists have been sentenced to between two and five years in prison on charges of conducting propaganda against the state, The Earth Times reported on April 26.

According to the newspaper Nhan Dan (The People), the group “uploaded distorted information on the internet in the period between April and August 2006 to ignite demonstrations and slander the party and government leaders, with the aim of sabotaging the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

A least one of those arrested is a member of the exiled pro-democracy group Bloc 8406. Several of its members have been jailed since 2007, including the Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly and the human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan.

For the full article, click here.

Murderers of journalists let free in 13 countries

A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists determined that at least 13 countries consistently allow their killers to get away with the murder of journalists, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

“The committee said governments in the 13 countries have consistently failed to solve murders where journalists were targeted from 1998 through 2007,” the article says. “There are at least 199 unsolved murders in these countries during that 10-year period – 79 in Iraq, 24 in the Philippines, at least 20 in Colombia, 14 in Russia, 9 in Sierra Leone, 8 in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, 7 in Afghanistan and Mexico, and 5 in Somalia, Nepal and India.”

“The index was compiled by examining every nation in the world and calculating the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of their population,” the article added, citing Joel Simon, the committee’s executive director. “Only countries with five or more unsolved murders were included.”

The committee cites a lack of political will as the reason countries do not seek killers of journalists. It hopes that the compiled list will embarrass these governments and spur must-needed action on the hundreds of homicides in need of investigations and prosecutions.

For the full article, click here.

Baha’is still awaiting new identity papers

In Egypt, Baha’is, a religious minority group, are still unable to obtain the identity papers promised to them in a landmark court ruling earlier this year, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The unrecognized group should be able to obtain identity cards if they omit their faith from the ID, an Egyptian court ruled in early January. However three months later, Baha’is are still without the necessary identity documents, which are needed to marry, drive a car, or enroll in school.

The group was encouraged when the Egyptian government did not file an appeal over the court’s decision, however they are frustrated that action has not yet occurred in their favor. Baha’is have been denied proper documents since 2004.

“Many Muslims regard Baha’is, who number between 500 and 2,000 in Egypt, as heretics,” the article notes. “Rights activists say they face systematic persecution in socially conservative Egypt, the most populous Arab country.”

For the full article, click here.

Domestic violence prevalent among Iraqi refugees in Jordan

A report conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that economic instability and societal pressures have caused an increase in domestic violence among Iraqi refugees in Jordan, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Tuesday.

Fifteen percent of women interviewed in female-only study groups reported an increase in household violence. “The fact that most men are forced to stay at home due to the lack of jobs, and the lack of social interaction among the refugees, has heightened tension in households,” the study reported.

Over half a million refugees have sought shelter in Jordan since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. As the war continues, refugees have found their funds depleted because of the scarcity of jobs. According to a recent study by the Norway-based FAFO Institute for Applied International Studies, only about 22 percent of Iraqi adults in Jordan work; the rest are jobless.

Activists in Jordan have opened their doors to women Iraqi refugees who are victims of domestic violence, in an effort to provide a safe haven for affected family members.

For the full article, click here.

Violence against female journalists on rise

“More and more women journalists are the victims of murder, arrest, threats or intimidation,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on March 8, the 30th commemoration of International Women’s Day.

The proportion of women journalists who have been killed has never been as high as it is today. This is in part due to the increasing number of female journalists willing to risk their lives for the press. However, the threat these women face has become more severe as tensions have heightened worldwide.

“Women reporters have been among the victims of the violence by armed groups in Iraq,” the article notes. “Atwar Bahjat of the Al-Arabiya TV station was killed after being abducted with her crew while covering the aftermath of the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. Unusually in Iraq, her murderer was caught and sentenced to death a few months later.”

The article highlights several women who have been jailed for their reports in opposition of various governments.

RSF salutes women press freedom activists for their bravery and courage.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

International community continues to support Afghan journalist on death row

The call for the acquittal and release of condemned journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh continues to echo around the globe, lead in part by a petition by The Independent that has garnered over 100,000 signatures, The Independent reported Tuesday.

Kambaksh was arrested for distributing a pamphlet containing a feminist critique of women’s rights in Islam. He was quickly tried and convicted for blasphemy in a case that his supporters deem illegitimate and flawed. Kambaksh is currently awaiting his appeal in Kabul’s notorious Pol-i Charki prison.

Kambaksh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, has thanked the international community and those organizing the petition.

“If it wasn’t for the petition we would be alone,” Ibrahimi said. “There are a lot of pressures inside Afghanistan from the fundamentalists. They are trying to execute my brother. Fortunately, against them, there is pressure from the international community, and The Independent petition. I really believe it will help us.”

For the full article, click here.
To sign the petition for Sayed Pervez Kambaksh’s release, click here.

Food insecurity displacing hundreds of Afghans

Hundreds of Afghans have deserted their homes and migrated to urban areas because of scarce food supplies, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Wednesday.

According to the article, some 1,000 “food-insecure people” have been forced to abandon their homes in several parts of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Zabul, and Helmand provinces over the last month.

The price of food, including critical wheat flour, has increased by over 100 percent in Afghanistan over the past year. The effects of the price hikes are compounded by drought and the poor harvests seen so far in 2008, as well as a strict ban imposed by Pakistan on wheat flour exports as it tries to solve its own food crisis.

For the full article, click here.

Iraq peace talks held in Finland

Iraqis of different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds met in Helsinki, Finland on Sunday to discuss the future of their country, Reuters reported the same day.

Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds gathered at a conference on healing divided societies to discuss ways to end the violence in Iraq. The Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a nongovernmental organization headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, organized the event. .

“The conferees adopted a set of principles for joint national action in addition to a set of implementation mechanisms with the aim of advancing national reconciliation in Iraq,” CMI said in a statement.

The attendees are slated to meet in Baghdad within the next three months to continue to work towards a national agreement.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Landmark women’s conference held in Kirkuk

The inaugural Northern Iraq Women’s Conference was held on a military base in Kirkuk, Iraq on April 20, News Blaze reported Sunday.

One-hundred women – both Iraqi and American professionals – participated. According to the article, issues discussed included, “juggling careers and family, domestic violence and other topics similar to both cultures.”

Maj. Naheda Ahmed, a commander of a Sulaimaniyah-based Peshmerga women’s Regiment, had this to say about the conference: “It is important to start a dialogue about women’s issues affecting women in Iraq with our American counterparts...we are their voices. It is our responsibility to inform as many people as possible so they can be heard. We all face the same problems and issues...only another woman can understand.”

For the full article, click here.

Egyptians blame poverty and police for food riots

BBC News published on Tuesday, April 22 comments from six residents of Egypt’s northern industrial town of Mahalla, where police and locals clashed on April 6 and 7. The residents blamed the unrest on poverty and the police.

Amani Mohammed, a 35-year-old banana seller, says that food prices keep rising for a population that is already poor enough. She buys bananas at about 46 cents, and sells them for around 61 cents. “Life is expensive, I can barely afford to keep myself and my daughter,” Mohammed said. She added that she blames the riots on the police, who shot rubber bullets at people on the streets and in the market.

Hashma Saleh, a 40-year-old nurse, was shot in her leg and chest during the riots as she was making her way back from work. She too, expressed her discontent at rising food prices, saying, “I can’t afford it. I can’t save a penny.”

A cloth seller, Mohamed Selim, age 54, had to remove his son from school due to rising prices, and will have to do the same for his daughter as well. Like everyone else, he is frustrated by the poverty. “We have children; they need food and they need to go to school,” he said.

Mona Mostafa, a 50-year-old single mother, used to live with her son before he was taken by the police on April 6. He was the family’s breadwinner. She has been unsuccessful in finding new information on his whereabouts. “I am going out of my mind; I just want my son back,” Mostafa said.

Mohamed Al-Sayed, a factory worker, age 35, said the workers had nothing to do with the clashes and have traditionally staged peaceful walkouts. In addition to frustration over low salaries amidst the higher cost of food and housing, there is also irritation over the poor transportation system. “It is bad for everyone,” he said. “Prices used to go up annually, now they go up every hour.”

Elham Mohamed, a street vendor, draws parallels between the riots and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because the people had stones while the police held guns. He explains how all prices are rising. “We are starving now,” he says.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Armenian president agrees to PACE demands

President Serzh Sarkisian has established a working group charged with implementing the demands of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which include convening an inquiry into deaths stemming from the March 1-2 post-elections protests, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

The working group is to suggest within two weeks specific actions to be taken in order ensure the creation of an “independent, transparent, and credible inquiry,” into the deaths.

Another study into the deaths of the protestors was published in an 80-page report by Armenian human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian. Harutiunian’s study did not come to any conclusion, but questioned the outgoing administration’s opposition towards any investigation into the tragedy, and critiqued Armenia’s political atmosphere and social divisions.

For the full article, click here.

Government crackdown on freedom of expression continues in Egypt

Egyptian authorities have intensified their crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, AllAfrica.com reported on April 23, citing a press release by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (IFEX).

According to the article, security forces raided the offices of Cairo News Company, a prominent satellite equipment leasing company. This latest seizure can be added to a growing list of attacks against the press, which have included the banning of three other satellite television channels.

In a country once at the forefront of press freedom in the Middle East, “the Egyptian government is building a wall around Egyptian citizens and is imposing an information blackout on them,” says the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information.

Opponents of the crackdown say the fact that it has come amid soaring food prices and subsequent demonstrations is no surprise. In Egypt, the prosecution of journalists, activists, and bloggers is an all-too common response to legitimate public protests, they say.

“There were no legal grounds for these arrests,” Reporters Without Borders said in reference to arrests made after a protest in Mahalla el-Kubra on April 6. “The authorities do knot know who is behind the protest because it was launched on the Internet. So they are cracking down on anyone who may have issued the strike call, and bloggers are likely suspects.”

For the full article, click here.

For the IFEX press release, click here.

Militants attack Afghan president at ceremony in Kabul

President Hamid Karzai was attacked by militants with automatic rifles and rockets as he attended a ceremony in Kabul Sunday. The attackers missed Karzai but killed three others, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident.

In this, the fourth attempt on the president’s life, six militants positioned from an apartment building 300 yards away opened fire on the area where the Karzai and government officials were sitting during the ceremony’s 21-gun salute. The ceremony was held to mark the 16th anniversary of the mujaheddin victory over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The ceremony was being televised when the attack began. Before the transmission was cut, images of hundred of people fleeing in terror, including army and police forces, were broadcast around the nation.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan president criticizes U.S. handling of war

In an interview with The New York Times on April 25, President Hamid Karzai forcefully criticized British and American forces for their handling of the war in Afghanistan.

Karzai addressed several points, but focused on the high number of civilian casualties and the aggressive campaign of arrests that were scaring away Taliban fighters looking to lay down their arms and assimilate. Karzai said that coalition forces should be looking for its enemies in the terrorist sanctuaries of northern Pakistan and "not in Afghan villages."

These comments came as Karzai begins his re-election campaign in the face of domestic and international criticism. Both Afghan and international politicians have labeled him as weak and inefficient in his dealings with corrupt warlords and his efforts to curb narcotics trafficking.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi teen murdered by father in ‘honor killing’

Rand Abdel-Qader, a 17-year-old Iraqi girl from Basra, has been murdered by her father for falling in love with a British soldier, The Observer reported Sunday.

Rand met the 22-year-old infantryman “while working on an aid project for displaced families,” the article says. Upon learning of his daughter’s love, her father killed her to keep his family’s honor. The article states that Rand was, “suffocated by her father and then hacked at with a knife.”

Rand’s father was detained after the murder but was released soon after. “Not much can be done when we have an ‘honour killing,’” said Sgt. Ali Jabbar of the Basra police. “You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws.”

After her daughter’s murder, Rand’s mother divorced her husband and is now in hiding after being threatened by her husband’s family.

In Basra last year, at least 47 women were victims of honor killings, with only 3 people convicted of their crimes.

For the full article, click here.