Human Rights Defender Maryam Al Khawaja stopped at Bahrain airport; may appear in court tomorrow

September 1, 2014

HRF logo today (1 September 2014) expressed fears for leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja, who landed at Bahrain airport last night on a visit home and has been held by Bahraini authorities. Reports state that al Khawaja, a Danish citizen, was immediately detained and will be held at the airport until tomorrow. Bahrain is consistently revealing itself as a place where voices on human rights are not welcome,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “In the last two months, a U.S. diplomat, a member of Congress, and the NGO Human Rights First have either been kicked out of or not allowed into the country. Now Maryam has been taken into custody and will appear in court tomorrow after trying to visit her family, including her father who is on hunger strike in prison there. Lets hope the United States, United Kingdom, and other governments  will respond to whats happening to her with more than just an awkward silence.

For more information please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb[at]humanrightsfirst.org.

via Leading Bahrain Human Rights Defender Stopped at Airport, May Appear in Court Tomorrow | Human Rights First.


Ebola used as threat against human rights defender in Sierra Leone

August 29, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped reports that  on 28 August 2014, human rights defender Mary Conteh [national coordinator for Women's Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR) in Sierra Leone] received a call from an unknown number where the caller threatened to spread false information that she contracted Ebola if she does not stop her human rights work. This comes just two days after she recorded a statement  with the police denouncing threats pronounced against her as a result of her recent investigation on reports of misuse of public funds.  On 24 August, she had visited the office of Mr. Osman O. Sesay, who represents the constituency in which WOCEGAR is located, to inquire about reports suggesting that the grant assigned to his constituency had not been used for its original purpose. The member of parliament reportedly argued that the fund was placed on a personal account and that he was not accountable to any member of the local human rights groups. As the discussion proceeded, he reportedly started hurling insults at her and eventually threatened that he could make her disappear.

(In early August 2014, Mary Conteh and her colleagues received information that members of the Sierra Leonean parliament had each received from the government a grant estimated at US$20,000 for the purpose of fighting the outbreak of Ebola in their respective constituencies.)


Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs states position on Human Rights Defenders

August 29, 2014

While the statement does not contain any really new position I recommend to read it because it is a good indication of how Austria has moved to join the small group of countries that makes Human Rights Defenders a central piece in their approach: Read the rest of this entry »


Veteran human rights defender Ahmed Seif Al Islam dies in Egypt

August 29, 2014

On 21 August I reported on the travails of an Egyptian family of human rights defenders [http://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/an-exceptional-egyptian-family-of-human-rights-defenders/], a week later Mona Seif’s father has died. Ahmed Seif Al Islam was a veteran Egyptian lawyer, activist and former political prisoner. Arrested and tortured by State Security Investigations officers in 1983 for his political activity, he served five years in prison. Founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, which since 2008 has been providing legal assistance to protesters. The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC ) monitored state violence during the 2011 protests, and became a gathering place for human rights activists during the revolution. Ahmed Seif was arrested by Military Intelligence with his staff at the height of the protests.
Seif, a human rights lawyer, was on the legal defense team in numerous high-profile trials of human rights, labor, and more broadly political activists in the Hosni Mubarak years, but he was above all an activist himself. The was more often than not the coordinating center for planning peaceful demonstrations and then, invariably, for deploying lawyers to various detention centers in response to the usual mass arrests that followed such events.In a conversation I had with Seif several years ago, in February 2007, he told me how he became engaged in human rights activism and lawyering:

Read the rest of this entry »


THF and ISHR produce new video on reprisals against human rights defenders

August 28, 2014

In this new video produced by ISHR and True Heroes Films [THF] you hear about 4 cases (from Russia, China, Sri Lanka and DRC) of reprisals against human rights defenders who have bravely engaged at the UN. It would seem that the political costs of silencing and intimidating HRDs is not high enough for certain States to desist from this terrible practice. [for more posts on reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]

ISHR-logo-colour-highTHF_LOGO

 


NGOs urge Sri Lanka to stop intimidating human rights defenders

August 27, 2014

Sri Lankan flag

(Sri Lankan flag)

A joint letter by 6 international NGOs (International committee of Jurists, Amnesty International, Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, CIVICUS, the International Movement Against Discrimination and All Forms of Racism, and the International Service for Human Rights) to the UN Human Rights Council and the Sri Lankan government cites a number of recent incidents in which human rights defenders in the country were intimidated. Sri Lanka has vowed not to cooperate with the UN probe saying it infringed on the country’s sovereignty. Sri Lanka has rejected a UNHRC resolution in March that called for an international investigation into allegations that 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the civil war that ended in 2009.

The government spokesman and media minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, has reportedly threatened all those who intend to provide information to the UN investigation and promised to “take appropriate action based on the evidence the detractors give“. “We stress that threats, harassment, intimidation and reprisals against persons who engage with the UN are prohibited by international human rights law,” the letter said. “While we affirm the importance of exercising the right to free expression by journalists and others, we stress that the exercise of speech that serves to significantly risk inciting violence, hostility or discrimination against persons is unacceptable“.

via Rights groups ask Sri Lanka to stop intimidating them.

see my earlier: http://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-champion-retaliator-against-human-rights-defenders/


Thailand: cases of judicial harassment illustrate plight of human rights defenders

August 26, 2014

Coup d’etat in Thailand or not, judicial harassment continues to rack the lives of human rights defenders. A Statement of 24 August by the Asian Human Rights Commission [AHRC] concerns Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a human rights defender and director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), who received a warrant summoning her to report to the police station by 25 August 2014. The warrant is in relation to an investigation carried out pursuant to a legal complaint of libel and defamation filed against her by Army Task Force 41. The complaint accuses Pornpen Khongkachonkiet of causing damage to the reputation of the Army by disseminating an open letter about a case of torture. (The Army has claimed that the young man was not tortured, and so therefore the open letter constitutes libel and defamation.)

The judicial harassment of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is part of a broader pattern of harassment and legal proceedings against human rights defenders in Thailand, such as the following 3 examples show: Read the rest of this entry »


How the mighty fall in Uzbekistan: Gulnara Karimova asks human rights protection

August 22, 2014

Gulnara Karimova

Gulnara Karimova (pictured above), the glamorous daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, used to be one of the more powerful people in Central Asia. But now, in secret recordings obtained by the BBC, she says she and her teenaged daughter are being treated “worse than dogs” and need urgent medical help since she has fallen out with her dictator father President Islam Karimov. The BBC news correspondent Natalia Antelava on 21 August reports on this exceptional story.  Natalia Antelava reports that in March 2014, she received and authenticated a handwritten letter from Karimova, in which she said she and her daughter had been placed under house arrest and now the short audio recordings were smuggled out of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has a history of human rights violations and Karimova has fully played her role in this sorry state of affairs (see e.g. http://thoolen.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/daughter-of-uzbek-dictator-loses-defamation-case-in-paris/. Stroehlein of Human Rights Watch (which will publish next month a report on wrongfully imprisoned people in the country) is understandably cautious when it comes to Karimova’s recent concern for human rights in Uzbekistan, since it follows a decade-long period when the woman known as “Googoosha” wielded immense power in the country. “She almost certainly had top-level regime access to critical information regarding serious and systematic rights abuses in Uzbekistan, and she has had many opportunities to hand that information over to journalists and human rights groups,” he says . “She hasn’t.” 

Read the rest of this entry »


Early human rights defender Helen Bamber dies aged 89

August 22, 2014

Helen Bamber dies

(Photograph: Helen Bamber Foundation/PA)

Many newspapers, including the Guardian of 21 August, carry the news of the demise of human rights defender and early member of Amnesty International, Helen Bamber. She died aged 89. Bamber was a psychotherapist who began helping victims of torture and atrocities aged 20 when she started working with survivors of the Holocaust.

She used her vast experience to work with actor Colin Firth on his film The Railway Man, an account of a British officer captured by the Japanese during the second world war and made to work on the Thai-Burma railway.  Firth said his encounter with Bamber was life-changing and the compassion she showed had touched him for life. He said that even in old age and ill-health Bamber continued to be determined to do all she could to help those affected by slavery, torture and human rights abuses: “Her courage, wisdom and pragmatism were formidable – and what she did worked.”

Actress Emma Thompson, who is president of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “Not only is she a great listener and an incredible interpreter, but she never lets her imagination run dry…She resists institutionalism. She knows which borders should be crossed and melds them together.”

via Human rights campaigner Helen Bamber dies aged 89 | World news | The Guardian.

for contributions: https://www.justgiving.com/HelenBamberMemorialFund/


An exceptional Egyptian family of human rights defenders

August 21, 2014

The family of MEA 2013 Final Nominee, Mona Seif, continues to be under the greatest strain in Egypt. Front Line Defenders reports that on 18 August 2014, her brother, human rights defender Mr Alaa Abd El Fattah, began a hunger strike to protest his detention [http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/AlaaAbdElFattah] and said that he will remain on hunger strike until he is released. Her sister human rights defender Ms Sanaa Seif also continues to be imprisoned. [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/26336]. Her father, human rights defender Ahmed Seif El-Islam is in the Intensive Care Unit of Qasr el-Eini hospital. Her family had tried several times to visit the father, but in vain.


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