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German-Iranian dissident arbitrarily jailed

Jamshid Sharmahd - © Private
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 Jamshid Sharmahd, a resident of the USA, was the spokesperson of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran (also known as Anjoman-e Padeshahi-ye Iran), an Iranian opposition group based in the USA that advocates for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic system, including through violence, and a return to a pre-Islamic Iran. He also created and managed the group’s website, Tondar, and hosted its radio and video broadcasts. The website includes statements from the Kingdom Assembly of Iran claiming responsibility for explosions inside Iran. Jamshid Sharmahd’s family has denied his involvement in the violent acts attributed to him by the authorities. Amnesty International is concerned that Jamshid Sharmahd is at risk of the death penalty as two men, Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, were executed in Iran in January 2010 after being convicted in grossly unfair trials of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) in relation to their real or perceived membership of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran.

On 1 August 2020, the ministry of intelligence announced in a statement that its secret agents, referred to as the “unknown soldiers of Imam Zaman” had arrested Jamshid Sharmahd following a “complex operation” without providing further details. The same day, Iran’s minister of intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi, stated that Jamshid Sharmahd was “heavily supported by the intelligence services of the USA and Israel” and that he had been “led” into Iran though “complex operations” and taken into the custody of the ministry of intelligence. This was widely understood to have meant that he was abducted by Iran’s intelligence agents from abroad – Jamshid Sharmahd had been in the UAE – and forcibly taken to Iran. Jamshid Sharmahd’s forced “confessions” have been aired on Iranian state television on multiple occasions while he has been held in pre-trial detention. In one propaganda video, released on January 2021, his “confessions” are interspersed with clips of his broadcasts for the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, with him identified as the group’s leader and a “terrorist”. In an episode of the Iran-produced fictional television series Safe House, which was first aired in late December 2020, Jamshid Sharmahd was mentioned as belonging to the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, conducting “secret” work and having ties to the USA and Israel; in a 14 February 2021 media interview, Mahmoud Alavi said the ministry of intelligence helped produce this television series. In a late November 2020 telephone call, Jamshid Sharmahd told his family he was being held in Tehran’s Evin prison; but in subsequent calls, he said he was no longer there, though was unable to say where he was being held. He also reported during a 23 March 2021 phone call that he had lost nearly 20kg in weight and that some of his teeth had been pulled while in detention without elaborating further. 

Since 2019, Amnesty International has documented two other cases involving the abduction of dissidents based abroad by Iran’s security and intelligence agents and their forcible return to Iran. Dissident journalist Rohoullah Zam, who had been granted asylum in France, was abducted during a visit to Iraq in October 2019 by the Revolutionary Guards, apparently with the assistance of Iraqi intelligence authorities, and forcibly returned to Iran. He was executed in December 2020 following a grossly unfair trial (for more information, see…). Another example is of Iranian-Swedish national Habib Chaab, a political dissident from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority, who disappeared shortly after arriving in Turkey on 9 October 2020. In late October 2020, Iranian state media announced his detention in Iran, and state media outlets broadcast his televised “confessions” of capital crimes which carry the death penalty. 

While every government has a duty to bring to justice those responsible for violent criminal acts, anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge, including those related to “terrorism”, must be treated in full compliance with Iran’s human rights obligations including rights to a fair trial. These include the rights to choose one’s own lawyer; to access effective legal assistance from the time of arrest and throughout the pre-trial and trial proceedings; to be brought promptly before a judge; to challenge the lawfulness of detention before an independent, impartial tribunal; to be presumed innocent; to remain silent and not to be compelled incriminate oneself or to confess guilt; to obtain full access to relevant evidence; to not be detained on vague charges; to examine and cross-examine witnesses; to receive a fair, public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal; and to be provided with a public, reasoned judgement. Amnesty International has documented a pattern of systematic violations of the rights to a fair trial in Iran from the time of arrest and throughout the investigation, trial and appeal proceedings. Courts routinely ignore allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, without ordering an investigation, and rely on torture-tainted “confessions” to issue convictions and sentences, including in death penalty cases. 

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Health of death row prisoner in sharp decline

Shafqat and Shagufta
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According to a 2014 medical assessment, Shafqat was diagnosed as a paraplegic and suffered from large pressure sores. His lawyers say that he has never received appropriate medical treatment for his injuries, some of which originated from a gunshot wound (unrelated to the events that led to his imprisonment and death sentence). Shafqat’s family stated that he was in a coma for three days in March 2021 but was not shifted to a proper medical facility.

The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health including preventative, curative and palliative health care, is enshrined in international human rights law and standards. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Pakistan in 2008, stipulates the obligation under Article 12 “to respect, protect and fulfill the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including those who are imprisoned or detained.”

In addition to Shafqat’s health, his death sentence makes the situation even more precarious. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously vague and carry heavy penalties. Based on evidence that fails to meet the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt.”, the accused can face a death sentence. The blasphemy laws violate Pakistan’s obligations to respect human rights and pave the way for other abuses, including death threats and killings. Judges are pressured and intimidated into sentencing the accused, lest they become the next target. Defence lawyers have been killed in court. Witnesses and families of victims have had to go into hiding. 

When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. Bowing to public pressure from angry crowds, including religious clerics and their supporters, they frequently pass cases on to prosecutors without scrutinising the evidence. And once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.

The threat of violence follows many people accused of blasphemy, with groups or individuals taking the law into their own hands to threaten or kill the accused and other people associated with them, including their lawyers, members of their families, and members of their own community.

A pall of fear also hangs over those working in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, preventing lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges from carrying out their jobs effectively, impartially, and free of fear. A concerning pattern of delaying tactics in Shafqat and Shagufta’s trial appears to be emerging, where at their last two hearings – one scheduled on 15 February, and the latest on 24 February – the judges have excused themselves from hearing their appeal, citing that court hours for the day had come to an end. Amnesty International has documented that postponements have been a common factor in several other cases of people accused of “blasphemy”, with judges often suspected of employing these tactics out of reluctance to pass judgments exonerating the accused. Indeed, trials of people accused of serious charges, including blasphemy, can take many years to conclude in Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

In a report published in 2016 Amnesty International showed how the blasphemy laws enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. It also showed how the laws have been used to target some of the most vulnerable people in society, including members of religious minorities. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations” and are driven by ulterior motives. Amnesty International has found that such motives are rarely scrutinized by the authorities and can vary, from professional rivalry, to personal or religious disputes, to seeking economic gain.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or the circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

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Farmers face trial amid environmental work

Syamsul Bahri
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Syamsul and Samsir were detained on 10 February 2021 and spent 14 days in prison until they were released on bail by the police on 24 February. In early March, the police handed over the investigation dossier to the Langkat Regency Prosecutor’s Office. The latter had submitted the dossier to the Langkat District Court, which is scheduled to start the trial on 29 March. The prosecutors are expected to read out the indictment on the first hearing. If found guilty under Article 170 (1) of the Criminal Code, they could face up to 5 years and 6 months in prison.

In late 2017, the government granted the Nipah Farmer community the right to manage a 242-hectare land in Kwala Serapuh Village, North Sumatra province, for sustainable use under a social forestry permit. The community has since then been working to rehabilitate mangrove forests in this area. The community is protesting the operation of a palm oil company that owns a plantation on land the community claims the right to manage. 

The accusation filed against Syamsul Bahri and Samsir dates to a case in December 2020 while members of the Nipah Farmer community were working on an environmental rehabilitation project on the land they manage under the social forestry scheme. According to witness testimonies collected by local NGOs, including WALHI North Sumatra, LBH Medan, and Srikandi Lestari, two people arrived at the site on 18 December and took pictures of their activities. 

Syamsul Bahri, the community’s chairman, questioned the two individuals on their intention of visiting the area. Afterwards, one of the individuals walked away and called his friend saying that he was “being beaten up” in a loud voice so that others could hear, before jumping into the river. The Nipah Famer community quickly rescued him with a boat and took him to safety before asking him to clarify the statement he had previously made in the call. The individual then said that he was not being beaten up by any of the community members and his statement was recorded in a video by a member of the community. The man’s friend came to pick him up not long after.

Almost two months later, on 8 February 2021, Syamsul Bahri and Samsir received a letter of summons by the Tanjung Pura Police to appear for questioning on 10 February as suspects regarding allegations brought by one of the men who had filed a report to the police stating that Syamsul and other farmers assaulted him on 18 December 2020. The two were charged under Article 170 (1) of the Criminal Code on group violence. The dubious charges against the pair have raised questions since Syamsul and Samsir had never been questioned as witnesses or asked to comment on the report before. 

Local NGOs who advocate for the case believe the arrest to be based on false accusations against Syamsul Bahri and Samsir and to be a form of criminalization aimed to stifle the community’s work in conserving the mangrove forests and claiming their rights linked to access to land. In a statement to the coalition of NGOs, Langkat Regency Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Edi Suranta Sinulingga denied concerns over criminalization and claimed the police have collected evidence over the assault.

Environmental human rights defenders in Indonesia who work to protect and promote environmental rights and those linked to access to land are increasingly harassed and criminalized when state and economic actors perceive their activities as a hindrance to the implementation of development policies. One of the most notable cases of criminalization occurred in 2017 with the sentencing of environmental activist Heri Budiawan, also known as Budi Pego, to four years in prison for spreading communism in relation to his work to protest gold mining activities in Tumpang Pitu, Banyuwangi, East Java province. 

In 2020, Amnesty International recorded the arrest, attack, and intimidation of at least 202 human rights defenders in Indonesia, including environmental activists who defended their rights to land and a healthy environment. 

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Egypt: jailing of activist Sanaa Seif 'another crushing blow' for human rights

Sanaa Seif's mother and two siblings have also been targeted © Private

Film editor jailed for ‘false news’ and insulting a police officer Along with her mother and sister, was attacked by mob with connivance of police ‘Today’s verdict is yet another crushing blow for the right to freedom of expression in Egypt’ - Amna Guellali Responding to today’s jailing of the prominent Egyptian human rights activist and film editor Sanaa Seif after she was convicted of spreading “false news”, “misusing social media” and insulting a police officer on duty, Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said: “Today’s verdict is yet another crushing blow

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Release activist and end prosecution

Russian Federation map
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The “undesirable organizations” law was adopted in May 2015 as part of the Russian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on freedom of association and expression (see details here: and introduced amendments to several Russian laws. According to the law, the Office of the Prosecutor General can designate a foreign or international non-governmental organization “undesirable” if it deems that the organisation poses a threat to the country’s “constitutional order, defence potential or state security”. An “undesirable” organization must immediately stop all activities in Russia from which point any cooperation or association with it is deemed unlawful and an offense. Following two penalties within a year’s period under Article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Offences for cooperation with an “undesirable” organisation, the “offender” can be prosecuted under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code for further violations of the law on “undesirable” organizations. The law has been used arbitrarily to ban from Russia a number of foreign organisations, mostly those providing funding for civil society. Currently, the “undesirable organizations” register includes 31 organizations. 

On 26 April 2017, the Prosecutor General’s Office declared “undesirable” the UK-registered organisations Otkrytaya Rossia and Open Russia Civic Movement (both founded by an exiled critic of President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky). There is a Russian movement Otkrytaya Rossia (Open Russia) - an initiative that brought together activists in Russia - which is neither a registered “organisation”, nor is a foreign one. Nonetheless, activists who are associated with Otkrytaya Rossia are regarded by the Russian authorities as members of a banned foreign organisation and face prosecution. Dozens of activists have been fined for their activities under the Code of Administrative Offences. Three people have so far been convicted for alleged cooperation with an “undesirable” organization. In February 2020, a court in Yekaterinburg (the Urals) sentenced Otkrytaya Rossia’s ex-coordinator Maksim Vernikov to 300 hours of community service. In October 2020, a court in Krasnodar (southern Russia) sentenced another former Otkrytaya Rossia coordinator and activist Yana Antonova to 240 hours of community service. Finally, on 18 February 2021, a court in Rostov-on-Don (southern Russia) sentenced Anastasia Shevchenko - also a former co-ordinator of Otkrytaya Rossia and the first person to face criminal prosecution under this law - to four-year suspended imprisonment and four years on probation.

Mikhail Iosilevich is a civil society and political activist and the local leader of Pastafarians (or followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). He supported and organized a number of local events, including an anti-corruption rally, a “Monstration” (a march under absurd slogans in protest against restrictions of freedom of expression) and other events. He was fined twice in July 2019 and June 2020 under Article 20.33 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences (“Carrying out activities of an undesirable organization”) for providing the premises (his café, which also houses the local Pastafarian church) for civic initiative Free People forum attended by opposition activists, including those from Otrkytaya Rossia.

The criminal case against Mikhail Iosilevich was initiated on 29 September 2020. The investigation alleges that between 2 and 9 September 2020 Mikhail Iosilevich provided his café to an opposition group associated with Otkrytaya Rossia, for the training of election monitors. On 1 October, law enforcement officials conducted searches in Mikhail Iosilevich’s flat, his café and homes of five other Nizhnii Novgorod activists, including prominent independent journalist and editor of online media Koza Press Irina Slavina. The day after the search, Irina Slavina committed suicide by self-immolation in front of the local Ministry of Interior. She had left a message on her Facebook page saying; “Russian Federation is to blame for my death”. For months, the authorities had targeted her with prosecution and fines. 

In January 2021, a second criminal case was initiated against Mikhail Iosilevich for his alleged failure to report his second (Israeli) citizenship to the Russian authorities. The activist maintains that he had duly informed the authorities as prescribed by law.

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Free journalist jailed for covering protests

Social media graphic
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Authorities in Somalia’s Puntland regional state have escalated their crackdown against journalists, including intimidation and arrests, as the country heads towards presidential and parliamentary elections. Kilwe Adan Farah, and 3 other journalists -Ahmed Botan Arab, Abdifatah Abdullahi Farah and Ahmed Botan - have been arbitrarily arrested in Puntland’s capital Garowe and the sea-side town of Bosaso in the past two and a half months in what is a worrying development for media freedom in the region as the country inches towards an election, which has been delayed.

Amnesty International has previously reported on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom in south central Somalia. As the country prepares for its upcoming elections, it is important for the authorities at both regional and federal levels to protect, promote and respect freedom of expression and media freedom.

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Assistant judge risks double prosecution

Hatsyar Wshyar
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In 2017, the Union of Judges filed multiple lawsuits against Hatsyar Wshyar for “using unseemly phrases on his private social media accounts targeting certain individuals” under article 236 of the penal code. He frequently published posts on his social media accounts, criticizing the justice system in Sulaymaniya and what he saw as corrupt practices in the courthouse. He was detained for 50 days and sentenced to four months in prison, during which time he was dismissed from his position. He was released in January 2018 and pursued legal action against the courthouse for firing him.
On 24 November 2019, the Asayish forces arbitrarily arrested him during his court hearing, searched his family home, taking official documents related to his case, his mobile phone and laptop. Hatsyar Wshyar remained in solitary confinement with the Asayish for seven days, where he was reportedly blindfolded and tortured. He was transported directly by the Asayish to face a closed hearing on 2 December 2019, where he was sentenced to one year in prison for “misuse of electronics” under article two of the penal code after he was denied access to his own lawyer and appointed a court lawyer instead and was not allowed to speak. He remained on hunger strike for more than two months after his sentencing, during which his health significantly deteriorated.

After serving his sentence on 2 December 2020, Hatsyar Wshyar was not released, and was transferred to the custody of Asayish Sulaymaniyah. Since then, he was only able to call his family three times, each time lasting less than one minute, and was only able to see his lawyer once with Asayish forces present, and was thus not able to inform his lawyer of his conditions. By 2 March 2021, the lawyer still did not have access to the case file against Hatsyar Wshyar.

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Four Bahraini minors tried as adults

AI Mission to Bahrain - © Amnesty International
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In February 2020, Husain Abdulrasool Salman Abdulla Husain’s family received a phone call for his father to accompany Husain Abdulrasool Salman Abdulla Husain to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). Father and son attended the CID building where Husain was interrogated alone without a lawyer and without his father present in the room. Husain Abdulrasool Salman Abdulla Husain was informed of the charges against him and made to sign a document and told that he would be kept under surveillance before being released. His father was simultaneously and separately questioned about his son and while waiting for Husain, he heard the investigators screaming at his son to confess. Husain Abdulrasool Salman Abdulla Husain later told his family that he had also been slapped in the face.

On 30 November 2020, Husain Abdulrasool Salman Abdulla Husain was summoned again to the CID which he attended with his father and was detained. During his interrogation without a lawyer he admitted his involvement in burning tires and handling Molotov cocktails on 14 February 2020 as well as that of three other boys. The case was referred to the prosecution unit for terrorism crimes, who officially charged him under Articles 277 (1), 277(bis), 277(1 bis) and 277 (2 bis) of the Penal Code with premeditated arson; fabricating with other unknown persons Molotov cocktails with the aim of using them and endangering life and property; possessing and obtained Molotov cocktails with the aim of using them and endangering life and property; and using Molotov cocktails with the aim of using them and endangering life and property on 14 February 2020 in Karrana, a village north west of the capital Manama. He was also charged under Articles 178 and 179 of “participating with others in an illegal gathering of more than five people, in order to disturb public security by way of violence”. The case was referred to Branch Four of the High Criminal Court. The referral document named the four boys and stated that three of them, Sayed Hasan Ameen Jawad Abdulla, Faris Husain Habib Ahmed Salman, and Mohammed Jaafar Jasim Ali Abdulla were on the run.

Sayed Hasan Ameen suffers from sickle-cell disease and reduced heart function. He was twice hospitalized in October and November 2020. During the first hospitalization he spent a week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Salmaniya Medical Complex including for vaso-occlusive crisis due to sickle-cell disease, muscular seizure, and encephalopathy.

On 14 February 2021, the King ratified Law No 4 of 2021 on the promulgation of the Corrective Justice Law for Children and their Protection from Ill-Treatment. The new law will consider anyone who committed an offence when under the age of 18 to be a child and as such would be tried by Juveniles Courts.

At present, under the 1976 Bahraini Juvenile Law, a juvenile is someone not exceeding 15 years of age. As such, Bahrain is in breach of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which it is a party.

Article 37 of the CRC states that: States Parties shall ensure that: (d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action. Furthermore, Article 40 also states: 2(a) No child shall be alleged as, be accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law by reason of acts or omissions that were not prohibited by national or international law at the time they were committed; 2(b)(ii) To be informed promptly and directly of the charges against him or her, and, if appropriate, through his or her parents or legal guardians, and to have legal or other appropriate assistance in the preparation and presentation of his or her defence and 2 (b)(iv) Not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt; to examine or have examined adverse witnesses and to obtain the participation and examination of witnesses on his or her behalf under conditions of equality.

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Mar 15 2021 10:13PM
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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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