Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, July 18, 2008

Iran’s rights violations widespread and on rise

Iran’s human rights record has deteriorated to new lows under the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, furthering a precipitous decline set into motion by the 1979 Islamic revolution, Nir Boms and Shayan Arya write in an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Times.

Boms and Arya detail a wide array of abuses, including executions of juveniles, religious persecution, and imprisonment of nonviolent political dissidents and rights activists. They note the case of Iraqi refugee and activist Hassan Abdul Hussein Tafah, who was sentenced to 15 years in an Iranian jail for attending an international conference that included discussion of human rights issues. They also call attention to a bill under consideration in the country’s parliament “that could result in the death penalty being used for those deemed to be promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet.”

For the full piece, click here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

U.S. lawmakers blast Viet Nam for rights violations in advance of PM’s June meeting with Bush

In an article published on Asian Fortune News.com, Jackie Bong-Wright reports on a June 19 Capitol Hill press conference that saw Members of Congress and human rights advocates, including the Leadership Council for Human Rights, denounce the Vietnamese government for its record of abuses.

Speaking just days before Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung discussed bilateral cooperation at a White House meeting with President Bush, the lawmakers and activists took Hanoi to task for violations related to, among other issues, religious freedom, political prisoners, freedom of the press, and human trafficking.

“The thugs in Hanoi continue to imprison and torture at will,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “The regime must be held accountable for its actions.”

For the full article, click here.

Critics say Egyptian government absolved of blame in film on Muslim-Christian divisions

Critics of a new Egyptian film that takes a lighthearted look at Muslim-Christian relations in the North African country say it doesn’t do enough to address the government’s role in exacerbating religious tensions, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

According to the article, in “Hassan wi Morkos” (Hassan and Morkos), the lives of a Muslim sheikh and a Christian priest are put in danger, forcing each “to go into hiding and take on new identities from the other side of the sectarian divide.”

Some say the film only scratches the surface of Egypt’s sectarian issues, though. The film “does not come anywhere near to dealing with the problem because it is too deep, especially in the last few years, as opposed to the 1930s and 1940s when Hassan and Morkos would have loved each other,” film critic Tarek Shennawi told AFP, adding, “The state itself is behind the spread of corruption among the security apparatuses who have taken on the sectarian issue, turning the tensions into the full-blown crisis that we are witnessing today.”

For the full article, click here.

Iran again holding Baha’i leaders incommunicado

In spite of the fact that no charges have been filed against them, seven leaders of Iran’s oppressed Baha’i community remain in prison and without access to an attorney, Baha’i World News Service reported on July 4. No contact has been made with the individuals since they were each allowed one brief phone call several weeks ago.

Six of the leaders were arrested in pre-dawn raids on May 14. The seventh was detained in early March. It is thought that the group is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Baha’i spokeswoman Bani Dugal rejected suggestions by Iranian officials that the arrests are “related to security.”

“Such allegations are utterly baseless,” Dugal said. “They are not new, and the Iranian government knows well that they are untrue. The documented plan of the Iranian government has always been to destroy the Baha’i community as a viable entity in Iran, and these latest arrests represent an intensification of this campaign.”

For the full update, click here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Afghan female athlete is threatened, seeks asylum in lieu of attending Olympics

Instead of competing in the Olympics this August as planned, Afghan athlete Mehboba Ahdyar is instead seeking asylum in Europe after receiving death threats from religious extremists. According to a report Monday in Spiegel Online, Ahdyar, 19, ran away from a training camp in Italy because of the negative reaction she has faced since receiving media attention earlier this year. Neighbors accused her of prostitution and extremists objected to her participation in sports as a Muslim woman.

According to the article, after disappearing, “she told [her family] that she was in Europe and would not be coming back. She said she was scared of reprisals because of her sports career. Her parents are now reportedly under pressure from members of the Afghan Olympic Committee, who say that if she does not come back they will be held responsible and could be thrown in jail.”

For the full story, click here.

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Tortured Iranian activist finds asylum in U.S.

An article in Sunday’s New York Times provides a window into the harrowing experiences of prominent Iranian dissident Ahmad Batebi.

Batebi arrived in the U.S. in June, ending a chapter in his life during which he endured nearly eight years in Iranian prison. During his detention, he was subjugated to repeated episodes of torture and months of solitary confinement. According to the article, Batebi’s “jailers thrashed him with a metal cable, beat his testicles and kicked in his teeth…They held his face down in a pool of excrement. They tied his arms behind his back and hung him from the ceiling.”

Batebi was initially arrested at 20 for his involvement in the large-scale student protests of 1999 – his role indelibly captured on an Economist magazine cover featuring hum holding the bloody T-shirt of a fellow demonstrator. After gaining medical leave in March of this year due to a stroke and several seizures, he began his escape. With the help of volunteers from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, he made his way to the Erbil, Iraq offices of the U.N. refugee agency, where his placement in the U.S. was arranged.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan refugees bearing brunt of mismanaged reconstruction effort

In a July 10 Newsweek blog, Katie Paul describes the dire circumstances facing Afghan refugees.

In one telling example, Paul writes of a Refugees International (RI) team that found in the northwestern area of Taghi Naghi a haphazardly planned land allocation site for returning refugees. The government had ignored U.N. recommendations and built shelters in the desert as part of the $2 million project, one of 55 planned across the country. To make waters worse, access to water and employment was blatantly inadequate.

According to a recent RI report, Afghanistan’s worsening food crisis and security situation have made life more difficult for returnees. In addition, Paul writes that “an impending Pakistani threat to bulldoze camps in their country by the end of 2009 has contributed an added time pressure to deal with the problems.”

The report says an ill-planned and coordinated reconstruction effort lies at the heart of the refugee crisis and it urges international donors to help resolve the situation at a joint U.N. and Afghan conference in Kabul in November.

“What we’d like to see is the returnees being integrated into the mainstream national programs,” said RI advocate Patrick Duplat.

For the full post, click here.

Viet Nam to consider reduction in crimes punishable by death

In an effort to make its legal system more in line with international norms, Viet Nam’s National Assembly will vote on eliminating the death penalty for 12 crimes, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing state media.

According to the article, the offenses range “from fraud and bribery to counterfeiting, hijacking and war crimes.”

If the move goes through, it would follow another significant measure nine years ago that cut the number of crimes punishable by death from 44 to 29.

According to state media, Viet Nam handed down 116 death sentences in 2006 and 95 last year.

For the full article, click here.

Iran detains university students on counter-revolutionary charges

Iran has detained two university students on charges of having contacts with anti-government groups based outside the country, Reuters reported Monday, citing the state-run IRNA news agency.

IRNA named the two individuals in question as Bahareh Hedayat, a woman, and Mohammad-Taghi Hashemi, a male student.

According to a source at Tehran’s revolution court, the charges stem from the students’ “contacts with illegal, counterrevolutionary groups outside the country” and are not related to their “university student activities.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sweden no longer haven for Iraqi refugees

In an article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, writer Kim Murphy tells the story of Naseir, an Iraqi Christian man who took his family from Baghdad to Sweden, but is now facing deportation as the Scandinavian country tightens its standards for Iraqi asylum seekers.

Earlier this year an appeals court ruled that there is no armed conflict in Iraq, exacting a major blow to Iraqis looking to join the thousands of their brethren who have already gained refuge in Sweden. Approvals on Iraqi asylum cases have dropped from 72 percent last year to 43 percent this year.

“I’m afraid that what is really happening is the system is sending political signals to the courts and to the migration boards,” said Kalle Larsson, a Left Party member of parliament who has sought to preserve asylum opportunities in Sweden. “And these signals are saying, ‘There are too many people coming to Sweden.’”

For the full article, click here.

Sudan’s Bashir charged with genocide

In its first indictment of a sitting head of state, the International Criminal Court on Monday charged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with genocide, The Washington Post reported the same day.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also accused Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In his remarks, Ocampo said Bashir “masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part” three ethnic groups in the country’s western Darfur region that the government considered rebel constituencies.

Khartoum said Monday that it would mount a legal battle against Ocampo’s accusations. Over the weekend, the government warned of “dire” consequences should Bashir be indicted and, according to the article, “moved several fighter jets into the western region.” As a precautionary measure in case of retaliation, all non-essential U.N. staff are being temporarily removed from Darfur.

For the full article, click here.