Jurist

Saudi Arabia detains human rights lawyer

Notable human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was taken into custody in Saudi Arabia April 15 after a hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Abu al-Khair, founder and chief of the Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights, faces charges that include inciting public opinion. Amnesty International (AI) condemned Abu al-Khair's imprisonment demanding his immediate release. In their press release AI criticized Saudi authorities stating that "Waleed Abu al-Khair's detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression." According to AI, Abu al-Khair faces charges including breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, offending the judiciary, inciting international organizations against the Kingdom and founding an unlicensed organization. In October Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison on similar accusations related to "ridiculing or offending" the Saudi Arabian judiciary.

NYPD disbands Muslim surveillance program

The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) William Bratton announced April 16 the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit, established in 2003, utilized plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for "hot spots" of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 "ancestries of interest." At a pretrial examination (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.

Iraq temporarily closes Abu Ghraib prison

The Iraqi Justice Ministry on April 15 temporarily closed Abu Ghraib prison due to security concerns. Reports indicate that Iraqi authorities are concerned about the growing power of a Sunni-backed insurgency within the Anbar province, in close proximity to the prison grounds. A government official reportedly announced wednesday, however, that the prison's closure was temporary until security issues can be resolved. In the meantime, the government has transferred approximately 2,400 inmates to other high security prisons throughout the nation.

Egypt: Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis a terrorist organization

An Egyptian court on April 14 ruled that the militant organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (BBC backgrounder) be officially considered a terrorist group. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which means "Warriors of Jerusalem," has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks on Egyptian military and police that have occurred since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July. The US Department of State on April 9 also designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization. Egypt's military said that this designation will not change its strategy toward fighting the group, but it will make punishments more harsh for members of the group who are captured.

AI: Egypt president should reject anti-terror law

Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern April 11 over the new Egyptian anti-terror law set to be approved by interim president Adly Mansour. The law, which was passed in response to an attack on Cairo University, is aimed at deterring the recent escalation of terrorist violence in Egypt during its transition following the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi. Included in the amendments to the law are provisions increasing the penalties for those acts deemed as "terrorist acts" as well as provisions broadening the scope of the law itself. The main problem with such changes, AI contends, is that they allow the government to levy terrorism charges on a broad range of offenses and could be used as a tool to root out dissent. The laws also make no mention of respecting human rights of the accused. AI called upon Mansour to reject the draft laws which were passed earlier this month.

Iran: political prisoners denied medical treatment

Experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern on April 10 about the lack of medical treatment to two political prisoners in Iran who are at risk of dying in detention. The experts have urged the Iranian government to provide medical care to the two prisoners, blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari and religious leader Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi. The experts found that the prison physicians have recognized the prisoners' need for specialized medical treatment, but that the government has not responded to the requests. They have stated that the deteriorating health of the prisoners is due to abuse, poor living conditions, long-term solitary confinement and torture occurring in the prison. Pourshajari was arrested in 2010 for "propagating against the regime" and is currently suffering from a recent heart attack, prostate disease, kidney stones, high blood pressure and breathing problems. Boroujerdi was arrested in 2006 for criticizing political Islam, and is currently suffering from Parkinson's disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney stones, a heart condition and breathing problems.

Egypt: court upholds sentences of activists

An Egyptian court of appeals on April 7 upheld the jailing of three men who co-founded the April 6 opposition movement which played a large role in the country's 2011 revolution. The ruling has been described as part of a crackdown on those opposed to the military-backed government, and critics have called it an attempt to stifle the street activism that has become common since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Sentences for the three activists, Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, for protesting without permission and assaulting the police were handed down by a court last December. The verdict was the first under a controversial anti-protest law requiring police permission for public demonstrations. Though the men have one more chance to appeal to a higher court, analysts do not foresee the verdict being overturned. One of the defense lawyers, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, has said that he plans to challenge the ruling, and that if it cannot be overturned he will take the case to the African Court on Human and People's rights.

Sri Lanka: no cooperation with war crimes inquiry

Sri Lanka's foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris announced on April 7 that Sri Lanka would not cooperate with a UN investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the country's civil war. The UN Human Rights Council last month  voted to launch an investigation into alleged violations committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 towards the end of the civil war. However, speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association forum, Peiris signaled Sri Lanka's intent not to cooperate due to concerns over legality, fairness, and conflict of interest. Peiris also expressed criticism of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has previously been accused of being partial given her Tamil background.

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