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Freedom of Expression

    April 04, 2011

    The detention of China’s most famous artist and political critic Ai Weiwei is a troubling development in a widening crackdown on dissent which has seen dozens of activists detained over the last few months, Amnesty International said today.

    Police detained Ai Weiwei at Beijing airport on 3 April. His wife and several members of his studio staff were also briefly detained on the weekend.

    “Ai Weiwei was not even involved in any call for ‘Jasmine’ protests. There seems to be no reason whatsoever for his detention, other than that the authorities are trying to broadcast the message that China’s time for open dissent has come to an end” said Sam Zarifi,

    Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific. Since online calls for Chinese ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests inspired by people’s movements in the Middle East and North Africa began circulating in late February, the Chinese authorities have rounded up dozens of activists, lawyers and bloggers.

    April 01, 2011

    The reimposition of 20-year jail terms on seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i religious minority is “outrageous”, Amnesty International said today as it made a renewed call for their immediate release..

    The seven had previously had their sentences cut from 20 to10 years by an Iranian appeal court, only for the authorities to reverse the decision.

    "Yet again, the Iranian authorities are manipulating their own justice system to persecute members of a religious minority,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “Instead of doubling their sentences, the authorities should be setting the Baha’i leaders free, right now, and guaranteeing their freedom to practice their religion free from threat or persecution.

    “Such arbitrary and vindictive acts are a salutary reminder of why the UN Human Rights Council voted recently to create a Special Rapporteur on Iran. The Council’s decision came not a moment too soon.”

    The seven Baha’i leaders, two women and five men, are held in harsh conditions at Reja'i Shahr (also known as Gohardasht) prison in Karaj, near Tehran.

    April 01, 2011

    The Zimbabwean police authorities must end the systematic harassment and intimidation of human rights groups, Amnesty International said today after an NGO leader became the latest activist targeted with politically motivated charges.

    Abel Chikomo, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, was on Wednesday charged with running an illegal organization.

    “The charges against Abel Chikomo appear to be part of an orchestrated strategy by the Zimbabwean police and other state security organizations to silence critics of their human rights record," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

    "The charges against him must be dropped immediately."

    Since the beginning of February, Chikomo has been under police investigation and subject to regular interrogation, mainly on his organization’s work on transitional justice.

    The police have alleged that he has been managing and controlling the operations of an illegal Private and Voluntary Organisations (PVO) - charges he denies.

    April 01, 2011

    Nigerian political candidates must rein in their supporters to put a stop to continuing violence on the eve of national polls, Amnesty International said today.

    “Words alone are not enough. Politicians must demonstrate that they are serious about putting an end to the clashes between supporters.” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa, Tawanda Hondora.  
    “The violence is causing immense damage to the country and its institutions.  Politicians need to immediately take responsibility for their actions and rein in their supporters before the elections dissolve into chaos.”

    “We receive consistent reports that politicians, both candidates and those in office, instigate political violence, despite their statements to the contrary.”

    In the past two weeks at least 20 people have died in political attacks and clashes throughout the country. Many others have been injured and scores of cars and buildings burned.

    March 31, 2011

    Canada’s standing as an international human rights champion has dropped. In the days leading to the election all parties must make concrete commitments to help to restore its leadership role, says Amnesty International. As Canadians go to the polls they have a crucial opportunity to reflect on these fundamental issues.

    “Deep at the core of the well-being, safety and prosperity of a country, and its place in world, is the approach a country takes to human rights issues,” says Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “Canada must reclaim its leading role in human rights.”

    In a report released today Getting Back On The “Rights” Track , Amnesty International outlines a human rights agenda for Canada. It provides a blueprint for leadership at home and a consistent and principled stand for Canada abroad that should be adopted by all politicians during the election campaign. And it must be implemented by those who win the election.

    March 31, 2011

    The Egyptian authorities should scrap a draft law aimed at criminalizing strikes and protests, Amnesty International said ahead of demonstrations against the law set for Friday.

    “Any move to curb freedom of assembly and the right to strike in Egypt would be an alarming step backwards and an insult to those who risked - and lost - their lives calling for change over the past two months," said Amnesty International.

    "It is vital in this transitional period that the Egyptian authorities guarantee basic human rights such as the right to carry out peaceful protests and strikes."

    Activists are set to gather in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand that Egypt's interim military government scrap the proposed ban and push through human rights reforms.

    The Egyptian cabinet last week proposed the new law, which would make participating in protests and strikes that "hinder the work of public institutions or authorities during a state of emergency" illegal.

    Under the proposed law, protesters and anyone deemed to be inciting protest could face jail or a hefty fine.

    March 31, 2011

    The Azerbaijani authorities must end their clampdown on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today after 11 more political activists were arrested ahead of Saturday's planned "Day of Wrath" protest.

    Activists' recent attempts to hold protests inspired by popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have been violently suppressed.

    "The Azerbaijani government's pre-emptive crackdown on those seeking reform has been wide-reaching and ruthless," said John Dalhuisen, Deputy Director for Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.

    "As the environment inside Azerbaijan becomes ever more hostile towards all dissenting opinion, new cases of harassment of Azerbaijani journalists and activists have sent chilling messages to those seeking to exercise their right to freedom of expression."

    The 11 activists detained today ahead of Saturday's Facebook-organized protest include Ilham Huseynli, Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP), APFP member Karim Mehdiyev, Classical Popular Front Party member Yagub Babanli and youth activists Khalid Amanli, Rovshan Nasili and Tabriz Qasimov.

    March 29, 2011

    The Chinese authorities must reveal the whereabouts of a political blogger and commentator who has not been seen since Sunday and is believed to be detained, Amnesty International said today.

    Chinese-born former diplomat Yang Hengjun, an Australian national, informed his blog administrator in a phone call on Sunday that he was at Guangzhou Airport in southern China

    Since then, those close to him have told Amnesty International that he has been detained by the Chinese authorities, although his whereabouts are unknown.  

    “Yang Hengjun’s disappearance is extremely worrying, especially as it comes during one of the biggest round-ups of activists and critics for years,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific.  

    “He joins a long list of peaceful reformists who have gone missing or been arrested in China in the last month.”
    Chinese government spokespeople have so far denied knowledge of Yang’s whereabouts in response to requests from the Australian government.  

    March 25, 2011

    The Chinese authorities should immediately release prominent pro-democracy activist Liu Xianbin, Amnesty International said today, after the dissident was jailed for 10 years for writing articles critical of the government.

    “Ten years imprisonment for writing articles is an appalling sentence, and a travesty of justice,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific.  “Liu Xianbin is not guilty of any crime. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately.”

    “The Chinese authorities are shooting the messenger rather than heeding the message, when even Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged the need for political reform,” said Catherine Baber.

    Liu Xianbin was convicted by a court in Sichuan province of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ in a trial that lasted only a few hours.

    This is the third time Liu Xianbin has been imprisoned for his political beliefs and activism.

    After his last release from prison in late 2008, Liu became a public signatory to the ‘Charter 08’, a proposal for legal and political reform that was co-authored by Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.  

    March 25, 2011

    At least 55 people are believed to have been killed during a week of unrest in and around the Syrian town of Dera’a, Amnesty International said today as protests spread across the country.

    Security forces again opened fire on protesters in al-Sanamayn and carried out arrests in Damascus, according to reports on Friday, a day after the authorities pledged to investigate the violence.

    "The excessive force apparently again being used by security forces is the latest example of the Syrian authorities' appalling and brutal response to recent dissent, and make their pledge to investigate the violence sound rather hollow " said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy director for Middle East and North Africa.

    “If the words we heard from the Syrian government yesterday are to mean anything, they must immediately issue clear orders to restrain the security forces to prevent further loss of life."

    The names of 55 people who were killed in the Dera’a area before Friday’s protests have been passed to Amnesty International by credible organizations and contacts.

    March 24, 2011

    China should release a veteran democracy activist instead of putting him on trial tomorrow, Amnesty International has said. 

    Liu Xianbin is being tried in Sichuan province for “incitement to subvert state power” over articles he wrote in 2009 that urged democratic reforms. 

    “Liu Xianbin is not guilty of any crime, and should never have been arrested for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific

    "He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately.”

    The 43-year-old became an activist during the 1989 student-led democracy movement, and was a founder of a local branch of the banned China Democracy Party (CDP).

    Liu has been denied access to lawyers for months. The charge of ‘inciting subversion’ could see him facing up to five years imprisonment, or longer if the court considers his crime to have been especially grave. 

    March 23, 2011

    Amnesty International has today called on the Egyptian authorities to investigate serious allegations of torture, including forced ‘virginity tests’, inflicted by the army on women protesters arrested in Tahrir Square earlier this month.

    After army officers violently cleared the square of protesters on 9 March, at least 18 women were held in military detention. Amnesty International has been told by women protesters that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges.

    ‘Virginity tests’ are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.

    "Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women," said Amnesty International. "All members of the medical profession must refuse to take part in such so-called 'tests'."

    March 18, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged the Nigerian authorities to act to stem a rising tide of political, ethnic and religious violence that risks threatening the stability of April elections.

    The short report entitled Loss of life, insecurity and impunity in the run up to Nigeria’s elections highlights how hundreds of people have been killed in politically-motivated, communal and sectarian violence across Nigeria ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls.

    Authorities have failed to bring suspected perpetrators to justice, or to prevent further human rights abuses. Investigations are infrequent and often inadequate.  Hardly anyone has been convicted for the killings.

    “The Nigerian authorities must act to protect people’s lives and all political candidates should denounce violence and tell their supporters to campaign peacefully” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa, Tawanda Hondora.

    “Candidates should tell voters what they will do to stop the senseless killings and improve security and justice in Nigeria. The Presidential Debate on Friday 18 March is an excellent opportunity to make such a commitment.”

    March 18, 2011

    The Malaysian government’s prosecution of 54 anti-racism protestors violates freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today.

    On 4 April, hearings begin for participants in a peaceful rally against racial discrimination, held by Hindraf Makkal Sakthi and its affiliated Human Rights Party in Kuala Lumpur on 27 February.

    Hindraf, a nongovernmental organization which advocates for equal rights for Malaysians of Indian origin, was banned as an “unlawful society” in 2008 under the Societies Act.

    P. Ramesh, the national secretary of Hindraf, and five others are scheduled to appear in magistrates’ court in Ipoh. They have been charged with being members of an “unlawful society” under Section 43 of the Societies Act. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison and a fine of 5,000 ringgit (US$1,600).

    March 18, 2011

    The Yemeni authorities must immediately act to bring to justice those responsible for an apparently co-ordinated sniper attack on protesters in Sana’a today that has left dozens dead.

    At least 40 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in the incident, which took place following Friday prayers as protesters gathered near.  

    “This appears to have been a sniper attack with security forces deliberately shooting to kill protesters from strategic vantage points,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  

    “Such attacks are deplorable and the Yemeni authorities must investigate and bring to justice those who ordered and carried them out. If they do not do so immediately, this crisis is only likely to deepen further.”

    Protesters were reportedly chanting anti-government slogans at a protest camp near Sana’a University when at around 1.30pm local time, armed men in plain clothes, believed to be members of the security forces, started shooting live rounds from the top of nearby buildings.


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