Freedom of expression

  • Pakistan: WHRD target of ambush
    November 6, 2012

    On 2 November 2012, unidentified gunmen attacked prominent rights activist Marvi Sirmed in Islamabad. She escaped unharmed.

    The gunmen, who were in a black car, fired at Ms. Sirmed’s vehicle at Murree Road near Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad while she was returning home from work. Sirmed has received threats from extremist groups several times in the past. They tried to target Ms. Sirmed twice and fired several shots at my car which they missed. The driver of the care could sped away.

    Ms. Sirmed is an outspoken defender of democracy and human rights, especially the rights of minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Shias. She has received threats from rightwing and extremist groups several times in the past, forcing her to change her residence frequently. Often seen wearing a sari and a bindi, Ms. Sirmed has also faced accusations of being “pro-Indian” from extremists. She was recently at the forefront of a campaign to prevent the abduction and forcible conversion of Hindu girls.

    Ms. Sirmed, who works as the manager of a UN project to strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and parliament, also played a key role in the recent campaign to free Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was wrongly accused of blasphemy after a Muslim cleric planted evidence against her.

    Friends who had visited Sirmed at work two days ago said they had spotted a suspicious looking car parked outside her office late at night. Police officials said they had launched an investigation into the shooting. No group claimed responsibility for the incident.

  • China: HRDs still affected 1 year after call for Jasmine Revolution
    September 1, 2012

    Since mid-February of 2011, China Human Rights Defenders has documented a total of 52 individuals who the Chinese government has criminally detained as part of the crackdown after anonymous calls for “Jasmine Revolution” rallies first appeared online in China. Currently, 11 of those detained are known to have been formally arrested. Of these, eight are known or believed to have been convicted of crimes and sent to prison, one more has had their case transferred to a court for prosecution, and two were sent home and placed under “residential surveillance.” Also, five individuals have been sent to Re-education through Labor (RTL) camps, 35 have been released (including 22 released on bail), and one is believed to still be in criminal detention.

    In addition, two individuals are known to have been held in psychiatric hospitals. Four others had been placed under illegal residential surveillance outside of their homes. It is believed that they either have been sent away from their area of primary residence or are home, perhaps under police monitoring with and with restrictions placed on their communications and movement.

    At least 24 individuals have been subjected to enforced disappearance during the crackdown, including some who have been missing since it began. At least two activists are known still to be missing.

  • China: Tibetan Buddhist monk receives 7 years prison sentence for spreading information about Tibet
    August 30, 2012

    On 18 June 2012, the prominent Tibetan Buddhist monk Yonten Gyatso, was sentenced to seven-year imprisonment for spreading information about Tibet. The sentence was handed down by the Ngaba Intermediate People’s Court. His friends and family, and the news organizations to which he contributes, only came to know about the verdict 2 months later, on 22 August 2012.
    Yonten Gyatso is serving his sentence in Mianyang prison in the western Chinese province of Sichuan. He is a senior monk in Ngaba County and is the founder of a primary school in the village of Khashishul where the Tibetan language is taught. He is accused of sharing photographs and information about the self-immolation of the Buddhist nun Tenzin Wangmo in October 201.
    On 18 October 2011, he was arrested at the Khashi Gyephel Samtenling monastery and taken to a detention centre in the Bhugang district of Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital. It is reported that he was beaten and tortured by officers of the local State Secrets Bureau.

  • Maldives: Blogger advocating for freedom of religion attacked
    August 27, 2012

    On 4 June 2012, prominent Maldivian blogger and journalist Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed was stabbed in the neck near his house in Male. Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that Rasheed was stabbed around 8:15pm and was undergoing emergency treatment in ADK hospital. An informed source at ADK hospital said Rasheed was bleeding but conscious when he was brought to the hospital, and that he was expected to remain in surgery until 2:30am. Early morning of 5 June 2012, Rasheed’s condition had stabilized.
    Rasheed, a once outspoken blogger against extremism and former editor of newspaper Haveeru, was previously attacked by a group of men on 10 December 2011 – Human Rights Day – while attending a protest calling for religious tolerance. A group of men attacked the protesters with stones, and Rasheed was taken to IGMH with a fractured skull. He was subsequently arrested by police for questioning over his involvement in the protest
    Rasheed’s popular and controversial blog, www.hilath.com, was blocked in November 2011 by the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material, CAM confirmed at the time. Hilath claimed he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith.
    “I call upon all concerned to amend the clause in the constitution which requires all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslims only,” his statement read. “‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,’ and ‘There is no compulsion in religion’,” he said, quoting Qur’an 109:6 and 2:256. Following the blocking of his blog and his attack in December, Rasheed became less outspoken on the subject of religion and withdrew from the public spotlight.
    On 12 May 2012 he tweeted his intention to stop blogging altogether, and stated that he had “repented and am now a Muslim. But a very tolerant one at that.”

  • Sri Lanka: HRD target of smear campaign in media after engaging with UN Human Rights Council
    August 26, 2012

    Mr. Visuvalingam Kirupaharan has been subjected to harassment and intimidation as a result of an ongoing smear campaign against him, by various newspapers and websites in Sri Lanka. It is alleged that the articles are published in pro-Government newspapers, in English, Singhalese, and Tamil. As a result of this smear campaign, Mr Kirupaharan has received numerous threatening phone calls. Mr. Kirupaharan has engaged with various UN mechanisms and brought to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council the situation on human rights in Sri Lanka. He exposed the alleged lack of adequate investigations into human rights violations.

    On 30 January 2011, a Sri Lankan newspaper called Divaina published an article claiming that Mr. Kirupaharan, along with 20 others, were wanted by Interpol for his alleged contact with people from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, Interpol reportedly holds no information concerning Mr. Kirupaharan in its files. The articles reportedly branded Mr. Kirupaharan as a “traitor” stating that he is an agent of the LTTE and suggested that “these people should be kept out of the UN”. The publication of this article reportedly forms part of an ongoing smear campaign against Mr. Kirupaharan.

    It is alleged that a similar article was previously published by Divaina on 21 March 2010, labelling Mr. Kirupaharan a non-patriot and a terrorist, who had betrayed Sri Lanka and should therefore not be permitted access to the UN. The article was printed alongside a photograph of Mr. Kirupaharan which was taken as he attended the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 March 2010. The photograph was reportedly taken by a driver for the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission whose name is known by the Special Rapporteur, while Mr. Kirupaharan was speaking to another Sri Lankan human rights defenders at gate 40 of the UN Palais des Nations. Approximately 15 minutes after the photograph was taken, Mr. Kirupaharan was approached by the same man who had photographed him, who asked him to confirm his name. The man then allegedly asked Mr. Kirupaharan to accompany him to a quieter location within the Palais de Nations, where they spoke briefly. It is alleged that the objective of this conversation was to threaten Mr. Kirupaharan.

  • Malaysia: 13 HRDs banned from remaining in, entering and passing through Kuala Lumpur during Bersih 2.0 protest on 9 July 2011
    August 26, 2012

    On 7 July 2011, the Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Lumpur reportedly issued a restriction order prohibiting a total of 91 individuals, including 13 human rights defenders, from remaining in, entering or passing through the capital of Malaysia. The 13 HRDs are Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Mr. Ong Boon Keong, Ms. Enalini A/P Elumalai, Mr. Zaid bin Kamuruddin, Mr. Syed Shahir, Mr. Wong Chin Huat, Mr. Syed Ibrahim, Mr. Haris Ibrahim, Ms. Fadiah Nadwa, Mr. Kohila A/P Yanasekaran, Mr. Muhammad Hilma Idham, Mr. Mohd Shukri Che Ab Razab and Mr. Arutchelvan A/L Subramaniam.These HRDs are members of different organizations such as the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (MANFREL), Network of Oppressed Peoples (JERIT), Malaysian Students Solidarity (SMM) and the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih). The other individuals to whom the order applied were allegedly members of political parties.

    The order prohibits the 13 human rights defenders, many of whom live in Kuala Lumpur, from passing through the city between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. whether on foot or by means of public or private transport. Allegedly, under Malaysian law, the ban can remain in place for up to seven days. If any of the individuals are found to be in breach of the ban they can reportedly be arrested immediately and fined up to RM2,000(€468) and/or imprisoned for up to six months.

    Most of the human rights defenders are affiliated with the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih), which is composed of 62 civil society organizations. In fact, it is alleged that the Court issued the order amid preparations for a ´Walk for Democracy´ demonstration organized by Bersih, which took place on 9 July 2011. The aforementioned demonstration had as objectives to call for free and fair elections and to demand all public institutions to act according to the law and the protection of human rights. It was further alleged that the order also follows the arrests of more than a hundred activists prior to 9 July 2011, after their participation in supporting the demonstration, such as for wearing t-shirts and handing out leaflets. SUARAM and FORUM-ASIA made public statements during the period of 28 June and 7 July 2011, condemning theses arrests and calling on the authorities to desist from detaining persons in connection with the demonstration.

  • China: Journalist detained
    August 25, 2012

    On 25 June 2007, Mr. Qi Chonghuai was arrested after posting an article on corruption by local government officials in the city of Tengzhou. On 13 May 2008, he was reportedly condemned to a four year sentence on charges of extortion and blackmail.

    His release was scheduled for 25 June 2011. However, on 27 April 2011, it is reported that Mr. Chonghuai was interrogated by the police and told that he would be detained beyond his sentence. It is further alleged that on 4 May 2011, Mr. Chonghuai was subjected to another interrogation by the police and he was allegedly denied access to his lawyers. It is alleged that a new trial for charges of “embezzlement” and “extortion and blackmail” was reportedly scheduled for 9 June 2011, for which the lawyers of Mr. Chonghuai were given solely 12 days to prepare the defence. It is reported that a guilty verdict was delivered against Mr. Chonghuai and he was sentenced to a further eight years of imprisonment. The sentence was released 16 days before Mr. Chonghuai was due to be released on completion of a four year previous sentence. Mr. Chonghuai denied the charges of embezzlement, extortion and blackmail.

    The charges were brought against Mr. Chonghuai due to his decision of writing exposés when in prison. In fact, it is alleged that in 2009, Mr. Chonghuai smuggled a number of letters outside of Tengzhou prison in which he described regular beatings at the hands of the prison guards and other prisoners, with one such beating reportedly resulting in him losing consciousness for three days

  • Sri Lanka: HRDs subjected to smear campaign as reprisal for UN advocacy
    August 21, 2012

    Since January 2012, threats, harassment, intimidation, vilification and incitement to violence against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in connection with their views on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. These threats are part of a hate campaign directed against human rights defenders who have engaged with the 19th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (Council) and supported the recent adoption of the Council resolution on “promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka” (A/HRC/19/L.2). The resolution urges the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and probe alleged abuses of international humanitarian law at the end of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

    Human rights defenders present at the Council in Geneva and repeatedly identified, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Ms. Sunila Abeysekera and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, are particularly targeted for their support of the resolution. They have been depicted as traitors and accused of supporting the LTTE as well as spreading lies about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, with the view to undermine the legitimacy of their work.
    Furthermore, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella insinuated that the defenders present at the Council “betrayed the motherland for dollars after enjoying free education and health services,” and that “they are worse than the foreign elements”.
    The present series of accusations started in January 2012 and have been spread through State-controlled TV and radio stations and appear in pro-government print and online news in Sri Lanka. The continuous daily coverage, which provides names and photographs of the defenders, contains thinly-veiled threats of retaliation which has only compounded the climate of fear under which defenders work in the country and has had a chilling effect as comments to online news items by the general public have clearly incited violence. One comment to an article questioned whether there was anyone willing to set fire to Ms. Sunila Abeysekera’s home. Another article suggests that in a country like Iran these “kinds of bastards would be stoned in public”.

    The adoption of the Council’s resolution on 22 March 2012 has further intensified the hate campaign against supporters of the resolution. On 23 March 2012, speaking at a protest against the UN resolution on Sri Lanka, Minister of Public Relations Mervyn Silva named Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Nimalka Fernando and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya as traitors. He threatened to “break their limbs” in public if they dare to set foot in the country. The Minister also claimed responsibility for the eventual exile of journalist and free press activist Mr. Poddala Jayantha, who left Sri Lanka in 2009 after being abducted and severely beaten up. He stated that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would not take any action against him as “even if a tsunami flowed from Sigiriya, no tsunami would flow against him from Rajapaksa”.
    On 23 March 2012, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay warned that there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders. She noted with concern the unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the Sri Lankan government delegation. During the plenary sessions of Council as well as in parallel events, members of Sri Lanka’s delegation carrying diplomatic UN identity cards were seen photographing at close range Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Ms. Sunila Abeysekera and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya and harassing them verbally.
    In a statement released by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Ms. Nimalka Fernando and Ms. Sunila Abeysekera on 21 March 2012, they expressed that as human rights defenders they will remain committed to their ideals and goals to defeat impunity in Sri Lanka and to build strong system of justice and accountability for human rights violations.

  • China: HRD under ‘residential surveillance’ in unknown location
    August 21, 2012

    On 9 August 2012, the wife of human rights defender Mr Zhu Chengzhi, received official notice from the authorities in Shaoyang City, Hunan Province, that her husband was being charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’
    It is thought that the charges relate to Zhu Chengzhi’s questioning of the official version of events regarding the death of his friend and fellow human rights defender Mr Li Wangyang in June 2012. Zhu Chengzhi is reportedly being held incommunicado in a detention centre in Shuangqing District, Shaoyang City.
    Following the death of Li Wangyang in a hospital in Shaoyang City on 6 June 2012, Zhu Chengzhi circulated photographs online which called into question the official explanation of Li Wangyang’s death as suicide. The photographs showed Li Wangyang’s body with his feet planted on the ground and his face free from any signs of distortion, with a piece of cloth slung around his neck and tied to the window. Li Wangyang was in very poor health at the time of his death, and in addition to Zhu Chengzhi, his family questioned how Li Wangyang, who had difficulty walking, would be able to hang himself.
    On 9 June 2012 Zhu Chengzhi was detained by police in Shaoyang City after reportedly refusing to sign a document guaranteeing he would stop questioning the causes of Li Wangyang’s death. Zhu Chengzhi was sentenced to a ten day period of administrative detention for ‘disrupting social order’. On 18 June 2012, the date he was due to be released, authorities informed Zhu Chengzhi’s family that he had been transferred to a detention centre while his case was investigated further. He has remained in detention since then. The new charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ reflect an escalation in the seriousness with which the authorities are treating his case.
    UPDATE 17/01/13: Zhu remains in custody, his whereabouts are unknown, and he has never been formally prosecuted. On 4 January Zhu’s lawyer was summoned to the Shaoyang procuratorate and informed that Zhu would be held for a further six months under ‘residential surveillance.’ It is thought that he is being held under guard at a hotel.

  • Indonesia: Lecturer dismissed after criticizing government
    August 18, 2012

    On 17 July 2012, the Indonesian Defense University dismissed one of its non-permanent lecturers, Al Araf, after the media publicized the latter’s opinion pieces, which criticized the alleged irregularities in the government’s weapon procurement projects. Rector, Lt. Gen. (ret) Syarifuddin Tippe, confirmed that the dismissal had been linked to Al Araf’s recent opinion pieces in a number of national newspapers including The Jakarta Post and Kompas dailies.

    Al Araf is the program director of human rights watchdog Imparsial. He is considered as one of the most prominent young leaders of Indonesian civil society, and he has been at the forefront in criticizing government policies on Papua, procurement programs, intelligence and other topics related to Indonesia’s defense sector. His opinion articles are often published by The Jakarta Post and Kompas newspapers.

    Al Araf has been employed as a non-permanent lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University. After publishing several articles emphasizing peculiarities in the arms procurement procedures, he was suspended from his teaching position at the University.