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Iran: UK must act after fresh uncertainty over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's fate

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since April 2016 © FreeNazanin campaign

‘It remains vital that the UK government makes urgent representations to get this second trumped-up case against Nazanin dropped’ - Kate Allen Responding to reports today that the British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will receive a verdict in a new Iranian Revolutionary Court case against her within the next week, Kate Allen, Director at Amnesty International UK, said: “This is exactly the kind of fresh uncertainty that we and the family had feared would arise from today’s hearing. “More delay equals more stress and more anxiety for Nazanin on top of everything she’s already been through

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Saudi Arabia: failure to quash Loujain al-Hathloul's conviction condemned

Loujain al-Hathloul was released last month © Private

Women’s rights activist’s appeal against conviction rejected ‘They consider peaceful activism a crime and consider activists to be traitors or spies’ - Lynn Maalouf Responding to today’s decision by Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court to uphold the conviction against women’s rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, following a deeply unfair trial, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said: “By failing to quash Loujain al-Hathloul’s conviction, the Saudi Arabian authorities have clearly demonstrated that they consider peaceful activism a crime and consider

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Mar 6 2021 5:59PM
Friends & Families of Syria’s Disappeared Develop a Roadmap for Justice

Kristyan Benedict - @KreaseChan In the autumn of 2019, Syrian survivors of torture and familes of those still missing, gathered in rural Holland to work on what would become, nearly 18 months later, the Truth and Justice Charter. I...

IRAQ/KRG: JOURNALISTS MUST BE RELEASED IMMEDIATELY

Journalists must be released immediately

Kurdistan Region of Iraq
5
days left to take action

The Kurdish security forces Asayish arrested all five activists and journalists in October 2020 and were immediately charged with “being spies” and “destabilizing national security”. In the case documents made available to the lawyer, Sherwan Sherwani was accused of being a spy based on his activism and travel to attend journalism trainings abroad, including as a result of receiving payment of 5,000 USD from the American Bar Association. The lawyer was not able to review the case documents of the others.

KR-I Prime Minister Masrour Barzani had previously claimed the detainees were spies and saboteurs and accused them of working for foreign governments to plot terrorist attacks. Dr. Zebari, KRG’s Coordinator for International Advocacy, denied that the five activists and journalists were sentenced for their journalistic work.

According to information available to Amnesty International, Asayish forces raided the homes or place of work of all five journalists, arrested them and in some cases the arrests became brutal and inhumane. In one case, the Asayish pulled Guhdar Zebari from his bed, covered his eyes and handcuffed him without even presenting an arrest warrant.  In another case, the Asayish and local Erbil police- arriving in six police cars and 4-wheel-drive cars- surrounded the home of Sherwan Sherwani at approximately 4:30pm on  7 October 2020, in the city of Erbil, and immediately trapped members of his family in a room in the house. Asayish members proceeded to raid Sherwan Sherwani’s home, confiscating electronics, including his laptop, camera, phone and documents before putting him in handcuffs. They held him at gun point and then dragged him out of the house.

Amnesty International has received a copy of the verdict which stated that all five men were sentenced to prison based on the provisions of Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003 issued by the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region and Articles 47, 48 and 49 of the Iraqi Penal Code. The court also decided to place them under police surveillance for a period of five years after the completion of their sentences, and to confiscate their mobile phones, laptops and cameras. Following the sentencing of the five journalists, the court issued an arrest warrant for the brother of Shvan Saeed, Ayhan Saeed. Two additional arrests warrants were also issued for journalist Difaa Harki and activist Qaidar Hussein. All three arrest warrants mention charges of national security under the Law 21.

Amnesty International has in the past documented the violent dispersal and mass and pre-emptive arrest of protesters in the KR-I and specifically in the governorate of Duhok. In January 2020 Asayish members carried out a wave of arrests in the governorate of Duhok, of tens of protesters, activists, journalists, and individuals who may have been bystanders during a protest. Asayish members also arrested a journalist and two online activists in the area of Baadre, Duhok governorate, who according to their relatives, were on their way to Duhok to join a peaceful gathering.
 

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ACTIVIST SUBJECTED TO TORTURE AND CHARGED WITH SUBVERSION

Activist subjected to torture and charged with subversion

Xu Zhiyong
9
days left to take action

Xu Zhiyong was among dozens of lawyers and activists who attended an informal gathering held in Xiamen, a city on China’s southeast coast, in December 2019. Many presents at this private gathering had been active in the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who aimed to promote government transparency and expose corruption in the early 2010s. At the meeting, they discussed the situation of civil society and current affairs in China. Since 26 December 2019, police across the country have been summoning or detaining participants of the Xiamen gathering. 

Friends of Xu Zhiyong say he went into hiding after the meeting in December 2019. In early February 2020, Xu criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and called on him to resign. On 15 February 2020, Xu was detained while staying at the home of a fellow activist and held incommunicado until 21 January 2021. 

Xu Zhiyong’s situation is very similar to human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, who was detained at the same time after attending the Xiamen gathering. The authorities investigated their cases together until 20 January 2021, after which their charges were changed to “subversion of state power” and their lawyers were informed that their cases would be handled separately. No trial dates have yet been confirmed Li Qiaochu, a labour rights and feminist activist and Xu Zhiyong’s partner, was held in secret detention from February to June 2020. As a result of her continued call for Xu’s release and better treatment, Li was again detained by the authorities on 6 February 2021 and is currently being held in the same detention centre as Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi. It is currently unclear whether her case is being handled together with either Xu or Ding. 

Xu Zhiyong is a prominent Chinese legal scholar and rights activist known for his work on behalf of disadvantaged groups and his promotion of a “New Citizens’ Movement”, a loose network of activists founded by Xu to promote government transparency and expose corruption in 2012. He has been jailed previously for his peaceful activism, spending four years in prison on trumped-up public order charges from 2013 to 2017. 

Since the massive crackdown on lawyers and activists in 2015, the Chinese authorities have been systematically using national security charges with extremely vague provisions, such as “subverting state power” and “inciting subversion of state power”, to prosecute lawyers, scholars, journalists, activists and NGO workers. 
 

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Conviction of former Syrian official in Germany for crimes against humanity 'historic victory for justice'

Women, men and children at a rally in London, UK carrying Syria flags
Demonstrators carrying Syria flags at a UK rally in Trafalgar Square, as part of the Global Day of Action on the Middle East and North Africa © Amnesty International (photo: Imran Uppal)

‘We call on more states to follow Germany’s example by investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of committing war crimes or other crimes under international law in Syria’- Lynn Maalouf Responding to a decision of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, which has sentenced Eyad al-Gharib, a former Syrian security officer, to four-and-a-half years in prison for his role in aiding and abetting the torture of detained protesters in Damascus, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf said: “Today’s historic verdict – the first of

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BRITISH-IRANIAN LABOUR ACTIVIST DETAINED

British-Iranian labour activist detained

Iran Map
2
days left to take action

 
The efforts of workers, trade unionists and labour rights activists in Iran to raise concerns about unpaid wages, precarious working conditions, staggering inflation and poor living standards have consistently led to crackdowns by the Iranian authorities. Despite undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association and a ban on independent trade unions in Iran, many workers and their allies continue to courageously form such unions and workers’ rights organizations. Their efforts have often led to dismissals without justification or being forced into early retirement, attacks and beatings by security forces policing workers’ protests, reprisals for organizing or participating in peaceful protests, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and long prison sentences on spurious national security charges. At least one labour rights activist, Arash Johari, who was arrested during the crackdown in October 2020, has since been sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with his labour rights activism, leading to fears that others, including Mehran Raoof, could also face harsh prison sentences. 

Amnesty International has documented a pattern of systematic violations of the right to a fair trial in Iran, beginning from the time of arrest right up until when defendants stand trial. Individuals detained, investigated and prosecuted, especially those who are dual nationals or who are arrested on politically motivated charges, including human rights defenders, are subjected to grossly unfair judicial proceedings. Most are arrested without warrants and held in undisclosed locations without access to their families or lawyers. Prosecution authorities and interrogators belonging to security and intelligence bodies, including the Revolutionary Guards, systematically deny detainees their right to access a lawyer from the time of arrest, including even lawyers vetted and approved by the judiciary, and during the investigation phase of their case. Torture and other ill-treatment against individuals arrested in politically-motivated cases is widespread and systematic, especially during interrogations, and prison and prosecution authorities also deliberately deny prisoners of conscience and other prisoners held for politically motivated reasons access to adequate health care, including medication. Intelligence and security agents often hold detainees in poor and unsanitary conditions in prolonged solitary confinement, including in section 2A of Evin prison, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, for up to 24 hours a day for weeks or months and only remove them from their cells for interrogations. Detainees in solitary confinement are held without any access to natural light and fresh air, often in filthy cells that are infested with insects. Such cells often lack adequate sanitary facilities and products for detainees to maintain personal hygiene, detainees sleep on the floor with typically one blanket and are given meagre rations of poor-quality food. Former detainees interviewed by Amnesty International have consistently said that detention in prolonged solitary confinement caused them immense psychological pain and suffering and was used to coerce them to make “confessions”. Under such circumstances, prolonged solitary confinement in and of itself amounts to torture. Forced "confessions" obtained under torture and other ill-treatment and without a lawyer present are consistently used as evidence by courts to issue convictions.

International human rights law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that detention can be arbitrary even when allowed by domestic law if it contravenes international standards or is incompatible with other human rights such as the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Detainees have a right to communicate with the outside world and to receive visits. Prolonged solitary confinement, that is solitary confinement imposed for periods beyond 15 days for 22 hours or more a day, violates the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. Torture is an international crime and its use is prohibited under all circumstances. Statements elicited as a result of torture, ill-treatment or other forms of coercion must be excluded as evidence in criminal proceedings, except those brought against suspected perpetrators of such abuse. The right to a fair trial is legally binding on all states as part of customary international law. Those facing criminal proceedings must have the right to access legal counsel of their choosing from the time of arrest and throughout the pre-trial and trial proceedings; not to be compelled to testify against themselves or to confess guilt; not to be detained on vague charges; to receive a fair, public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal; and to be provided with a public, reasoned judgement.
 

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CHECHEN MAN FACES DEPORTATION TO RUSSIA

Chechen man faces deportation to Russia

Amnesty International Annual Report Launch 2017 - © Amnesty International
0
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A.S., a Chechen man, arrived in France in 2008, obtained refugee status in 2009, and has been living there ever since together with his family, including his wife, five children and his parents all of whom are also refugees. On 27 July 2016, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) revoked his refugee status under the state of emergency because of alleged links of A.S. with an individual labelled as “dangerous” by the Ministry of Interior. 

When A.S. was summoned by the OFPRA in June 2016 for an interview on the grounds of the decision of revocation, OFPRA confirmed the revocation of his refugee status alleging that he had failed to contest or otherwise challenge the allegations against him. His residence permit, linked to his refugee status, was valid until 2020. An application to renew the permit, on the basis of professional or family integration, was denied. Subsequently, he received a deportation order under an “absolute emergency" procedure which means the Minister can deport a foreign national very quickly and without seeking the opinion of the deportation commission. 

A.S.’s application for asylum in the deportation centre ("review request") was denied on 12 February 2021 on the basis that according to OFPRA, he is not at risk in Russia.

In similar cases, Chechen refugees who were returned to Russia have been forcibly disappeared, confirming the risk of torture and ill-treatment. A.S. stated that before he fled Russia in 2004, the police tried to arrest him at his house, but as he had already left at the time, they instead detained his father who was kept in custody for five days. 
Amnesty International regularly addresses cases of forcible returns or planned forcible returns to the Russian Federation from countries in western Europe and elsewhere of ethnic Chechens and others who have fled from the North Caucasus. Amnesty International considers that an internal flight alternative elsewhere in the territory of the Russian Federation is not available to former asylum seekers from Chechnya. The organization does not believe that internal flight alternative is a viable alternative to international protection for those people because the real risk of persecution or other forms of serious harm they face emanates from the federal state authorities and therefore applies in Chechnya and across the territory of the Russian Federation.  

Returning A.S. to a country where his life and safety are at risk, would be a clear breach of France’s obligations under international human rights law and standards which enshrine the absolute ban on torture and other ill-treatment. This includes a prohibition on sending anyone to a place where they would be at risk of such abuse, regardless of their alleged offence (the principle of non-refoulement). The principle of non-refoulement applies to everyone including persons who are excluded from refugee protection and persons who have committed any crime. The European Court of Human Rights has categorically concluded that balancing the risk of harm to the person if removed from the country against the danger a person presents to the community if not sent back is misconceived and unlawful. 

The French authorities have increased their targeting of the Chechen community in France after the killing of Samuel Paty on 16 October 2020. On 18 October, the media reported that Gérard Darmanin, the Minister of Interior, intended to tighten French asylum laws and practices with a view to “avoiding granting refugee status almost automatically to citizens of specific countries”. The Minister of Interior also announced the planned expulsion of 231 foreign nationals who are suspected of “radicalization”. The announcement followed the release of information that the murder suspect in the case of Samuel Paty had refugee status in France.  
 

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TWO FAMILY MEMBERS DISAPPEARED IN CHECHNYA

Two family members disappeared in Chechnya

Russia Map
0
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Twenty-year-old Salekh Magamadov and 17-year-old Ismail Isaev have long been targeted by the Chechen authorities. According to media reports, in 2019, at the age of 16, Ismail Isaev faced violence and persecution for his real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. He was captured by the police, beaten and held at a secret location for seven days and released for ransom. On 30 March 2020, Ismail Isaev and Salekh Magamadov, were arbitrary detained by the Chechen police and held at the premises of the patrol police regiment. There, according to their account, they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated in retaliation for moderating a youth Telegram channel “Osal Nakh 95” which contained posts critical of the Chechen authorities and traditions. They were released in May after a video with their forced “apologies” had been published on the Internet. Fearing further reprisals, including in connection with their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, they fled Chechnya in July 2020. The Russian LGBT Network helped Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev move to Nizhnii Novgorod, in Central Russia, due to ongoing concerns over their safety.

On 4 February, the LGBT Network reported that police detained Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev at the flat in Nizhnii Novgorod where they were staying. One of them managed to quickly call the LGBT Network while the flat was being raided, and the LGBT Network immediately sent them a lawyer. The lawyer discovered an empty flat and evidence of the violent raid. He eventually managed to get confirmation from the local police that Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev had been apprehended by the police, and that they were taken by car to Gudermes, in Chechnya. The police did not disclose any other circumstances of the case.

Upon arrival in Gudermes in the afternoon of 6 February, Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev were questioned at the local police station. Their lawyer was not allowed access to his clients nor was he provided with the details of the case. They were released at around 8pm but immediately re-arrested as soon as they left the police compound, without any explanations, and taken by car to the village of Sernovodskoe, around 90km away, also in Chechnya. Their father and the lawyer followed them. In Sernovodskoe, the lawyer was once again not allowed to see his clients, nor was he allowed into the police station. According to the lawyer, at around 11pm, a senior Chechen official arrived at the police station and, together with police officers, forced his clients’ father to give up any attempts to see them, despite being the legal guardian of the underaged Ismail Isaev, or to have the lawyer represent them. Following this, the LGBT Network sent another lawyer to Chechnya. 

When the new lawyer arrived the next day, 7 February, the police did not allow him to see his clients and refused to accept his formal complaint. A local commanding police officer told the lawyer that Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev were being questioned by another agency, the Investigation Committee for the Chechen Republic, but refused to disclose the grounds for their detention or share any case file materials. Since then, their whereabouts has been unknown, to their lawyer and their father. On 8 February, the European Court of Human Rights requested that the Russian authorities take urgent steps to ensure that Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev are provided with immediate and unimpeded access to the lawyer of their choice and to their family members, and are immediately examined by an independent health professional.

Over the years, human rights defenders have documented widespread human rights violations in Chechnya, including mass arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial killings. Those who criticise the Chechen authorities, including in social media, face severe reprisals. In September 2020, 19-year-old Salman Tepsurkaev, moderator of a popular Telegram channel “1ADAT”, was abducted from Krasnodar region in southern Russia by men presumed to be Chechen law enforcement officials and taken to a secret location in Chechnya. His fate and whereabouts have remained unknown since, despite a criminal investigation having been nominally opened into Salman Tepsurkaev’s enforced disappearance, in late November 2020.
 

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LOUJAIN AL-HATHLOUL CONDITIONALLY RELEASED

Loujain al-Hathloul conditionally released

Loujain al-Hathloul
0
days left to take action

On 13 March 2019, Loujain al-Hathloul was among 11 women’s rights activists brought to trial before the Criminal Court in Riyadh. The court session was closed, and diplomats and journalists were banned from attending. Several women activists faced charges of contacting foreign media, other activists and international organizations including Amnesty International. Some of them were also accused of “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system.”

The trial of several women human rights defenders (WHRDs) arrested between May and July 2018 resumed in 2020 and resulted in a number of prison sentences being handed down following unfair trials. After months of delays and prolonged detention without their trials proceeding, in November 2020 Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani, were brought before the Criminal Court in Riyadh in separate trial sessions. Loujain al-Hathloul’s case was transferred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in December 2020 after the Criminal Court concluded that it was “outside its jurisdiction”. The SCC specializes in trying terrorism-related cases and should not be trying and sentencing peaceful activists.

The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to arbitrarily detain without charges and try individuals for their peaceful expression and human rights work. Amongst those are: Mohammed al-Bajadi, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and prominent human rights defender who has been detained without charges or trial since May 2018; and Salman al-Awda, a reformist cleric who faces a death sentence for his peaceful expression.

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