Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Freed Egyptian blogger alleges torture behind bars

Egyptian blogger Karim el-Beheiri was released from jail along with two other labor activists Sunday, after reportedly being tortured at the hands of security officials, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

Beheiri, Tarek Amin and Kamal al-Fayoumy were arrested on April 6 in connection with riots in the industrial city of Mahalla. According to the article, the three were accused of “inciting unrest, damage to property, and demonstrating.”

A day after his release, Beheiri told reporters of the treatment and his fellow activists experienced while behind bars. “We were subjected to electric shocks, to beating and there was no food and or drink for the first few days,” he said. “We went through weeks of torture and humiliation.”

An official with the Interior Ministry denied any of the men had been mistreated during their detention. “They are false accusations,” the official said. “Everything took place within a framework of human rights.”

Beheiri reported that during interrogations at the many security centers he was taken to, he was typically questioned about his blog and connections to other bloggers. The government’s interest in his blogging is telling. Egypt’s restricted access to independent reporting has made blogs and “real time” social networking sites important venues for expressing dissent and reporting on events.

For the full article, click here.

Economic woes may lead to restrictions of democratic freedoms in Viet Nam

Viet Nam’s leaders appear to be cracking down harder on dissent as the country continues to struggle with labor strikes and rising inflation, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

According the article, political analysts believe that hard-line conservatives inside the governing Communist Party Politburo are using the inflation issue to justify more aggressive tactics against government criticism. The return to such an approach, exemplified by last month’s arrest of two Vietnamese investigative journalists, may stem from the conservatives’ growing nervousness with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s attempts to open up Vietnamese society.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian man sentenced for support of women’s rights campaign

Amir Yaghoub Ali and his lawyer announced Monday that he has become the first Iranian man sentenced for participating in the “Change for Equality” campaign against laws discriminatory to women, The Associated Press reported the next day.

According to the article, Ali was convicted of acting against national security and sentenced to a year in prison for participating in the campaign, started by Iranian women’s rights activists in September 2006.

Ali was arrested last July while collecting signatures for the campaign, which aims to change laws that refuse women access to equal rights in matters such as divorce and court testimonies. He then spent nearly a month in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison before being freed on bail.

Convicted on March 2, Ali and his lawyer were not notified of the verdict until May 25. Ali has remained free throughout this time and plans to appeal the case.

“My client is innocent,” said Nasrin Sotudeh, Ali’s lawyer.

Equally defiant, Ali has said he believes in his actions. “Changing discriminatory laws will benefit Iranians and will create a fairer social environment,” Ali said. “Our call for change is considered by the ruling Islamic establishment as crossing red lines. Authorities don’t want to allow any changes in laws in support of women rights. That’s why they seek to suppress such demands.”

According to the article, “Parvin Ardalan, one of the signature campaign leaders, said that along with Ali, about 50 women activists have been detained or summoned to court over the campaign.”

“This is a policy of intimidation by the authorities,” she alleged. “But we won’t give up.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New program aims to vaccinate a million Afghan children against polio

The World Heath Organization and the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) have begun a campaign to vaccinate over one million children against polio in three days in conflict-riddled southern Afghanistan, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported Sunday.

According to the article, deputy governor of Kandahar province Ghulam Jailani ceremoniously began the campaign by delivering doses to two children. Speaking with reporters, he explained that his staff is working with local elders to ensure that they allow the campaign’s health workers into their villages.

A UNICEF health specialist said that efforts to administer the vaccine in the precarious province have gained significant community support.

For the full article, click here.

U.S. accused of detaining suspected terrorists in ‘floating prisons”

A soon to be published report from the human rights organization Reprieve documents cases of United States ships being used as “floating prisons” to house detainees arrested in the war on terror, and says the U.S. government has attempted to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of those detained, The Guardian reported Monday.

According to the article, the report “also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.”

According to Reprieve’s research, up to 17 ships may have served as “floating prisons” since 2001. Detainees were interrogated aboard the U.S. ships, and then rendered to other undisclosed locations.

“They choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers,” said Clive Stafford, Reprieve’s legal director. “We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.”

Reprieve said that information used in the report was acquired from multiple sources, including statements from the U.S. military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the testimonies of prisoners.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan refugees deported from Pakistan have little hope of a better future back home

As Pakistan shuts down Jalozai, its largest refugee camp, over 70,000 Afghans are being forced to return to a nation that many barely remember, and one in which they face uncertain futures, VOANews.com reported Monday.

More like a small city than a refugee camp, Jalozai has housed Afghan refugees fleeing the violence of the foreign invasions and civil wars that have rocked their country since the 1970s. U.N. officials believe that the expulsion of its residents will amount to the largest repatriation of refugees in world history.

According to the article, U.N. officials also worry that the influx of this many landless, jobless Afghans will overwhelm already strained government services.

“We are worried that if the numbers [of refugees] increase, this country [Afghanistan] will face a major humanitarian crisis,” said Salvatore Lombardo from the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Egypt mulls Facebook ban as site spurs activism among nation’s youth

In an op-ed in Monday’s Los Angeles Times, Sherif Mansour of the U.S.-based human rights group Freedom House writes that the Egyptian government may soon block Facebook, the popular social networking site that he describes as a real threat to the ruling National Democratic Party.

Mansour lauds Facebook’s ability to mobilize and engage massive numbers of young Egyptians, as evidenced by the site’s critical role in organizing and supporting recent protests against textile workers’ salaries and soaring food prices. He also praises it for opening real space for free media and for providing a venue for secular activists – as opposed to the Islamist opposition represented the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

However, the Egyptian government and its state-run media are lashing out against what Mansour calls the “Facebook movement,” and authorities have jailed dissidents like Ahmed Maher, who was also tortured for his activities.

Mansour calls on the international community to support the fledgling movement, particularly a campaign by one young activist to keep the Egyptian government from blocking Facebook.

For the full op-ed, click here.

Sectarian clashes erupt over expansion of Coptic monastery

Egypt’s Coptic Christian community was up in arms Sunday after a feud over the expansion of a monastery turned into bloody sectarian clashes, Al Jazeera reported the same day.

According to Father Dumadius, who witnessed the May 31 attack in the village of Deir Abu Fana, at least 60 armed men stormed the monastery, burning and destroying property.

Protestors took to the streets in the nearby town of Mallawi on Sunday, calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to intervene and help quell tensions.

The clashes – prompted by local Muslim claims of illegal expansion on state property – left one Muslim resident dead and several Copts wounded. Three monks were kidnapped in the incident, and although they have now been released, all were in the hospital on Sunday. According to the article, the monks allege they were “tortured, tied up and beaten” by their abductors.

Last week also saw two separate attacks against Coptic jewelry stores that left four employees dead in Cairo and $28,000 worth of merchandise stolen in Alexandria. While it is unclear whether the incidents were sectarian in nature, one Coptic parliamentarian spoke out after the attacks, saying that not enough was being done to protect the Christian community.

For the full article, click here.

Iraq’s Jewish community close to extinction

Iraq’s Jewish population, which numbered over 130,000 just over fifty years ago, today stands at less than ten, not even enough to perform certain sacred rituals, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Their ties to Iraq date back thousands of years, but, as the article notes, this once “wealthy and politically active” group has, in more recent times, suffered through extreme trauma: “the 1941 Farhud pogrom in which more than 130 Jews were killed during the Feast of Shavuot, World War II, the Holocaust, the anti-Zionism of Saddam Hussein and the post-2003 rise of Islamic militants.”

The few Jews that remain today are at risk of being targeted for their beliefs, as evidenced by the fact that Baghdad’s last synagogue closed in 2003 after it became too dangerous to gather there.

An Iraqi Jew interviewed for the article wrote of the current circumstances: “I have no future her, I can’t marry, there is no girl. I can’t put my kova on my head out of the house. If I’m out of Iraq, I’ll share with people in all our feasts and do my prayer in the synagogue and will be with my family.”

For the full article, click here.