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November 21, 2015

Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences him to death

Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences him to death

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

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A file photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Saudi-born Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on Tuesday for allegedly committing apostasy, a crime that is punishable by capital punishment under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Sharia Law. The court decision was brought to light on Friday by Adam Coogle, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch.

Fayadh has previously posted a video online showing religious police lashing a person in public. Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait asking for Fayadh’s release, said that “some Saudis think this was revenge by the morality police.”

Police detained Fayadh in August 2013, accusing him of blasphemy and promoting atheism through his poems. According to Fayadh, this stemmed from a dispute with a fellow artist. He was soon released under bail.

Fayadh was again arrested in January 2014. He was tried at a court in Abha in February under allegations of committing blasphemy, promoting atheism, and having illegal relationships with women. He was sentenced in May that year to 4 years of jail and 800 lashes. Fayadh appealed the decision, and the case was retried by another judge, who sentenced him to death.

Activist Mona Kareem said that the judge for Fayadh’s retrial “didn’t even talk” to Fayadh before he “just made the verdict.”

Fayadh was given 30 days to appeal the court ruling, but according to Kareem Fayadh was unable to be assigned a lawyer because “his ID was confiscated when he was arrested” in January 2014.

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle called the court ruling an example of Saudi Arabia’s “complete intolerance for anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political, and social views.”



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Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences to death

Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences to death

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

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A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Saudi-born Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on Tuesday for allegedly committing apostasy, a crime punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Sharia Law. The court decision was brought to light yesterday by Adam Coogle, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch.

File photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law.
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

Fayadh has previously posted a video online of a public lashing by religious police. Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait calling for Fayadh’s release, said “some Saudis think this was revenge by the morality police.”

Fayadh was detained by police in August 2013, accused of blasphemy and promoting atheism through his poems. According to Fayadh, this stemmed from a dispute with a fellow artist. He was soon released under bail.

Fayadh was again arrested in January 2014. He was tried at a court in Abha in February under allegations of committing blasphemy, promoting atheism, and having illegal relationships with women. He was sentenced in May that year to four years of jail and 800 lashes. Fayadh appealed the decision, and the case was retried by another judge, who sentenced him to death.

Activist Mona Kareem said the judge for Fayadh’s retrial “didn’t even talk to [Fayadh], he just made the verdict.”

Fayadh was given 30 days to appeal the court ruling, but according to Kareem, Fayadh “was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested” in January 2014.

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle called the court ruling an example of Saudi Arabia’s “complete intolerance for anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political, and social views.”



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May 11, 2014

Amended USA Freedom Act draws questions from civil liberties groups

Amended USA Freedom Act draws questions from civil liberties groups

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

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The USA Freedom Act, introduced in to the US House of Representatives as HR 3361 and to the US Senate as S. 1599, on Thursday passed out of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and on to the House floor. Foreign Policy reported the bill was “the most aggressive NSA reform bill under consideration in Congress”, however, after amendment, the bill has been questioned for extending the Patriot Act and the reduction of reform to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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The USA Freedom Act had the stated goal of ending the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata, ending the secret laws created by the FISA court, and introducing a “Special Advocate” to represent public and privacy matters before the FISA court.

In May 2014, the US House Judiciary Committee posted a “Manager’s Amendment” on its website. Title VII of the Amendment read “Section 102(b)(1) of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (50 U.S.C. 1805 note) is amended by striking ‘June 1, 2015’ and inserting ‘December 31, 2017′”, extending the USA PATRIOT Act through the end of 2017. A number of organizations have taken stances against the Patriot Act, for example, the American Library Association became so concerned it urged its members to defend free speech and protect patrons’ privacy against the Act.

According to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, even if the Freedom Act becomes law, the NSA could continue its bulk collection of American’s phone records. He explained that “it’s going to depend on how the [FISA] court interprets any number of the provisions” contained within the legislation. Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at Stanford Law School, stated:

The Administration and the intelligence community believe they can do whatever they want, regardless of the laws Congress passes, so long they can convince one of the judges appointed to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to agree. This isn’t the rule of law. This is a coup d’etat.

Cynthia Wong of Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern that “the bill does not address needed reforms to surveillance programs that affect millions of people outside US borders.” This being a key problem that plagues US surveillance activities according to HRW.

Mike Rogers, a defender of the NSA’s surveillance practices and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called the proposed amendments a “huge improvement”. On the other hand, USA Freedom Act co-author and Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy commented that he “remain concerned that the legislation approved today does not include some of the important reforms related to national security letters, a strong special advocate at the FISA Court, and greater transparency. I will continue to push for those reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act this summer.”



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September 8, 2012

Human Rights Watch publishes documents that alleges the United States cooperated with Libya regarding torture

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

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The human rights group, Human Rights Watch has published a 154-page document accusing the United States of cooperating with Libya under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, in the interrogation and torture of members of the armed group, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), according to a report in the Huffington Post.

The report alleges that the United States and Libya, together with governments from Africa, Asia, and Europe such as the United Kingdom, collaborated in detaining former members of LIFG living outside Libya then deporting them back to Libya where they were allegedly tortured. According to the report, some of those detained where abused even before the were returned to Libya such as those held in United States military bases in Afghanistan. News reports have revealed that the abuse may have occurred between April 2003 and April 2005.

Upon the release of the document, Human Rights Watch has stated that their key source of information came from a pile of abandoned documents found on September 3, 2011 from the offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa. They also said that they have interviewed 14 former detainees who allege that they were subjected to abuses ranging from waterboarding, sexual assault, stress positions, beatings, and sleep deprivation.

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Human Rights Watch publish documents alleging US cooperated with Libya on torture

Human Rights Watch publish documents alleging US cooperated with Libya on torture

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

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The nurse office inside the Parwan Detention Facility, Bagram Airbase in 2009
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The human rights group Human Rights Watch has published a 154-page document accusing the United States of cooperating with Libya under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, in the interrogation and torture of members of the armed group, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), according to a report in the Huffington Post.

The report alleges that the United States and Libya, together with governments from Africa, Asia, and Europe such as the United Kingdom, collaborated in detaining former members of LIFG living outside Libya then deporting them back to Libya where they were allegedly tortured. According to the report, some of those detained where abused even before the were returned to Libya such as those held in United States military bases in Afghanistan. News reports have revealed that the abuse may have occurred between April 2003 and April 2005.

Upon the release of the document, Human Rights Watch has stated that their key source of information came from a pile of abandoned documents found on September 3, 2011 from the offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa. They also said that they have interviewed 14 former detainees who allege that they were subjected to abuses ranging from waterboarding, sexual assault, stress positions, beatings, and sleep deprivation.

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May 23, 2012

Twitter restored in Pakistan after block over Muhammad images

Twitter restored in Pakistan after block over Muhammad images

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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The Pakistani government has temporarily blocked social networking website Twitter in relation to posts on the site promoting a Facebook contest involving drawings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The block was reportedly lifted after a few hours Sunday.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman Muhammad Yaseen confirmed that the agency had managed to persuade social networking site Facebook to remove the postings from their site but said about Twitter: “We have been negotiating with them until [Saturday night], but they did not agree to remove the stuff, so we had to block it”. During the imposition of the block, Mohammad Younis Khan, a spokesperson for the agency, explained that while Facebook had “agreed to remove the stuff”, Twitter was “not responding to us.” The “blasphemous material” was placed by those organising the competition on Facebook in an attempt “to hurt Muslim feelings”, according to Khan, who confirmed Sunday Twitter service had “been restored” on the orders given to the agency, although he did not know of any reason why this order had been made.

Facebook has confirmed that material on its website had been made unavailable in Pakistan at the request of authorities, with a spokesperson for the website explaining: “Out of respect for local laws, traditions and cultures, we may occasionally restrict [certain content’s] visibility in the countries where it is illegal, as we have done in this case”. Twitter has not made any comment other than to clarify that no modifications or removals of content occurred to ensure the site’s restoration.

Human rights organisation Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan director Ali Dayan Hasan condemned the Twitter block as “ill-advised, counter-productive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be”, while former United States Department of State spokesperson Philip J. Crowley described the decision as “another sign of the civilian government’s weakness”.

This incident bears resemblance to one which occurred two years ago Saturday, when a court order blocked Facebook in the country for around two weeks due to a page on the site, called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day“, asking users to upload caricatures of Muhammad. In the Islam faith, depicting any prophet is prohibited as it is regarded as blasphemy.



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April 26, 2012

Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor convicted in war crimes trial

Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor convicted in war crimes trial

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

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Former President of Liberia Charles Taylor was today found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands. Taylor was acquitted of actually ordering the offences or being part of a joint enterprise to conduct them.

A school destroyed by RUF rebels.
Image: Laura Lartigue.

The eleven-count indictment produced a four-year trial that heard allegations of rape, murder, sexual slavery, cannibalism, arms dealing, “blood” diamond trade, and use of child soldiers. Prosecution witnesses totalled 94 whilst the defence had 21 including the accused. Taylor spent his seven months of evidence claiming he was a peacemaker.

The allegations date to civil war in Sierra Leone, which ran from 1991 to 2002. Taylor, who had been a warlord since the ’80s, backed the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Taylor was elected Liberian president in 1997 after a different civil war concluded.

Six years later he was ousted when an arrest warrant was issued and fled to Nigeria. He was arrested there in 2006 whilst again trying to flee. Taylor, who had been facing a rebellion against him since 1999 in Liberia, had received training from Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Testimony included claims that Taylor-backed fighters adorned roads with human intestines and ate human flesh. One claimed to have seen Taylor himself eat human liver, something Taylor denied. One described asking RUF rebels to sever his only hand in exchange for his young son’s life.

Further allegations said teenage children were involved in the fighting and that Taylor sold illegally mined diamonds to finance arms purchases for the RUF. Western celebrities Naomi Campbell, a model, and Mia Farrow, an actress, described an incident at a charity dinner held by Nelson Mandella, then South Africa’s head, in 1997. Campbell and Farrow said Taylor gifted Campbell a number of diamonds. Taylor is claimed to have ordered seizure of Sierra Leone’s diamond deposits by RUF soldiers.

It was claimed in court that child soldiers were used in conflict, as diamond mine guards, and to carry out amputations. Allegations of forced amputation were made.

The court, which has spent a year considering its verdicts, unanimously found Taylor guilty. It ruled Taylor knew at least from 1997 the full extent of RUF activities in Sierra Leone, and that he helped bankroll activities dealing in blood diamonds. A judge said more than a thousand youngsters had ‘RUF’ carved into their skin to prevent escape. From the moment he receives the full judgement Taylor has two weeks in which to file an appeal.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International welcomed the verdict, which is the first conviction of a head of state before an international court since the Nuremburg trials prosecuted Nazi leaders after World War Two. Karl Dönitz was convicted after he took brief control of Germany in the aftermath of Adolf Hitler‘s suicide.

Former President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic faced trial but died before a judgement was handed down. Laurent Gbagbo, once Presldent of the Ivory Coast, is in custody at The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court. Taylor joins eight other Special Court convicts, all of whom are from Sierra Leone. He is the first African ruler to appear in The Hague.

The Special Court was formed jointly by Sierra Leone’s present administration and the United Nations.

The Netherlands agreed the process could be held there on the condition Taylor did not serve sentence there if convicted. He is expected to be sent to the UK, where Foreign Office has promised to uphold an agreement to imprison him there made by ex-Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.



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December 5, 2011

Human Rights Watch report talks of South Africa\’s LGBT people \’in constant fear\’

Human Rights Watch report talks of South Africa’s LGBT people ‘in constant fear’

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Monday, December 5, 2011

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has today published a report based on 121 interviews which talks of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people “[living] in constant fear of harassment as well as physical and sexual violence” in South Africa.

South Africa’s constitution upholds LGBT freedoms but the report comments “constitutional protections are greatly weakened by the state’s failure to adequately enforce them.” Lead researcher Dipika Nath of HRW said authorities must act to enforce existing rules protecting LGBT people.

Lesbians in South Africa often face “corrective rape” and the perpetrators’ promise “We’ll Show You You’re a Woman” gave the report its title. One woman reports being raped thrice: by a cousin, by a football coach, and by a pastor. She gave birth after one attack. Some attacks have proved fatal; recent times have seen several murders of lesbians in the nation.

Lesbians at a gay pride event in South Africa.
Image: Diricia De Wet.

Nath says lesbians and transgender men often left education and lost jobs. Many hide their orientation, and avoid public appearances and particularly men, according to the report. It says those who ignored socially accepted dress and behaviour standards were at a particular risk. Across Africa, both politicians and the Christian church express distaste for LGBT people.

South Africa’s legal position, which recognises gay marriage, is one of Africa’s most LGBT-friendly. Earlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Council passed its first resolution condemning anti-LGBT discrimination. The resolution faced African opposition but was proposed by South Africa.

The report says “activists in South Africa have recorded and analyzed dozens of incidents of sexual and physical violence against lesbians and transgender men, including rape and murder,” and notes social attitudes are the root of the issue. The report claims the jobless and the working classes are at highest risk.

“A segment of the South African population lives in terror and feels like there is no one to turn to, including the police,” according to HRW’s Graeme Reid, who said the study is to help victims. “We are not asking for a lot.”



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June 28, 2011

Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed as Chinese Premier Wen visits Britain

Chinese political dissident Hu Jia freed as Chinese Premier Wen visits Britain

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hu Jia
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The Chinese government released human rights activist Hu Jia from prison on Sunday after he had served over three years for subversion. His release, which had been scheduled in advance, occurred just days after controversial artist Ai Weiwei was unexpectedly released on bail after three months of detention.

Hu was released on the same day that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began his visit to Britain, the first country on his three-nation Europe trade tour.

Described by the Irish Times as a “mild-mannered, slight figure who suffers from liver ailments”, the 37-year-old Hu is a prominent Chinese dissident who had spent years campaigning for civil liberties, environmentalism, and on behalf of suffers of HIV/AIDS before his imprisonment. He was imprisoned in April 2008 for “inciting to subvert state power” by writing articles about human rights in the period before the 2008 Olympic Games. He had also given many interviews to foreign news media and government embassies. He was first detained in December 2007 and his arrest came after he had spent more than 200 days under house arrest. In 2008 while in prison, he won the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, awarded by the European Parliament.

Hu’s wife Zeng Jinyuan said via Twitter that her husband lost his political rights upon his release and cannot speak to the media for a period of one year.

Cquote1.svg (My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don’t confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country’s absolute power to violate people’s dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful. Cquote2.svg

—Hu Jia, human rights activist

Hu was briefly interviewed on Sunday via telephone by Hong Kong’s Cable TV, and indicated that despite the danger, he would not give up his work. “(My parents) have told me to just be a normal citizen and don’t confront the system because this system is very cruel, using the country’s absolute power to violate people’s dignity without restraint. But I can only tell my parents I will be careful”, he said.

Although recent releases of high-profile dissidents such as Hu and Ai may seem to some that China is loosening its repressive policies against dissidents, activists and academics said yesterday that the determination of the Chinese government to silence dissent has not lessened and those speaking up continue to be rounded up and detained.

Huang Qi, a dissident released this month from prison and interviewed by telephone, said, “We closely follow dozens of rights’ defense cases, and I’ve found that that at the grassroots and lowest levels of society in China, the rights defense environment has not seen any fundamental improvements.” He warned, “One cannot count how many ordinary people are being locked up or taken away every day.”

However, Wan Yanhau who is a Chinese activist living in the US said there might be a short term diminishing of the crackdowns on human rights activists. He suggested the government could be realizing that the harsh treatment of dissidents has not stopped recent episodes of unrest. The riots by migrant workers in the Guangdong province and protests by ethnic Mongolians are recent examples. Further, China is receiving harsh criticism from European countries with which it wants to increase trade.

But illegal detentions are increasing, according to Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch, and are signs that China is not moving toward compliance with international norms.



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June 18, 2011

UN passes LGBT rights resolution

UN passes LGBT rights resolution – Wikinews, the free news source

UN passes LGBT rights resolution

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The United Nations Human Rights Council has for the first time passed a proposal condemning discrimination against LGBT people. The vote in Geneva passed 23–19, with opposition coming from African and Islamic Arab nations.

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Image: Wilfried Huss / Anonymous.

South Africa proposed the resolution, which calls for a report on global discrimination based upon sexual orientation and announces “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” “The resolution before us today does not seek to impose values on other states,” said South African delegate Jerry Matthews Matjila, presenting his nation’s proposal on the final day of the council’s latest eighteen-day session. “It seeks to initiate a dialogue which will contribute to us ending discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Cquote1.svg The resolution before us today … seeks to initiate a dialogue which will contribute to us ending discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Cquote2.svg

—South African delegate Jerry Matthews Matjila

The European Union, United States, and Latin American nations including Brazil agreed. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia were among the opposition; five members did not take either side — China, Burkina Faso, and Zambia entered abstentions, Kyrgyzstan failed to vote and Libya is suspended.

Nigerian delegate Ositadinma Anaedu said, “We are dealing with a matter that falls outside of human rights,” and Pakistani Shafqat Ali Khan said on the Organisation of the Islamic Conference‘s behalf “We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument.”

Amnesty International rejected this notion. “The principle of non-discrimination and equal protection of the law applies even to people who are excluded sometimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Whitney Brown said for the organisation. “You can see [the resolution] as an authoritative interpretation of binding treaty law, which does prohibit discrimination.” Amnesty claims 76 nations prohibit same-sex relationships.

Cquote1.svg The Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off-limits. Cquote2.svg

—Human Rights Watch

South Africa was accused by other African nations of failing to support its neighbours in favour of Western nations. A Mauritanian diplomat alleged the resolution seeks “to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.” South Africa is the first nation to specifically address sexual discrimination in its constitution, which was written in the 1990s.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the move. “The Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off-limits,” said Graeme Reid, head of LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. “Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said gay rights campaigners ARC International‘s John Fisher. Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, also welcomed the resolution: “This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.”

The review of anti-LGBT discrimination is anticipated to be over by the year’s end.



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