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Freedom of Expression

    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 called on the Moroccan authorities to allow mass peaceful demonstrations planned for this Sunday to go ahead peacefully, following a crackdown on similar protests last weekend.

    Thousands are expected to take to the streets across the country on Sunday to demand political and human rights reform but there are fears the authorities may resort to heavy-handed tactics to quell the protests.

    Last Sunday, scores were injured and at least 120 were briefly detained when security forces used unjustified force to break up a protest in central Casablanca.

    “The unnecessary acts of violence witnessed last weekend are a disturbing regression and make a mockery of the Moroccan King’s promise a few days earlier to undertake fundamental reform and uphold human rights,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “Moroccans must be allowed to peacefully protest without fear, rather than face attacks by security forces just for demanding their rights.”

    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.

    March 17, 2011

    Amnesty International today revealed evidence of the Bahraini security forces’ systematic use of excessive force in cracking down against protesters, as fresh violence left as many as eight people dead.

    In a new report released today, Bloodied but Unbowed: Unwarranted State Violence against Bahraini Protesters, the organization documents how security forces used live ammunition and extreme force against protesters in February without warning and impeded and assaulted medical staff trying to help the wounded.

    The report, which is based on firsthand testimonies given to an Amnesty International team in Bahrain, comes as the country is gripped by further violence, after Saudi Arabian and UAE forces entered the small Gulf state three days ago and Bahrain's King declared a national state of emergency.

    "It is alarming to see the Bahraini authorities now again resorting to the same tactics that they used against protesters in February but on an even more intensive scale,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    March 17, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged several US states to abandon planned legislation that would drastically restrict workers' rights.

    States including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee have proposed bills severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of trade union members. A similar bill was passed in Wisconsin on Friday.

    "State governors must withdraw support for these measures which, if adopted, would violate international law," said Shane Enright, Amnesty International’s trade union adviser.

    “The US has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers - including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively."

    Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Friday that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.  

    March 16, 2011

    The Cuban authorities are continuing to stifle freedom of expression on the island in spite of the much-publicised recent wave of releases of prominent dissidents, Amnesty International warned today on the eighth anniversary of a crackdown on activists.

    Hundreds of pro-democracy activists have suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest in recent weeks as the Cuban government employs new tactics to stamp out dissent.

    Of 75 activists arrested in a crackdown around 18 March 2003, only three remain in jail after 50 releases since last June, with most of the freed activists currently exiled in Spain. Amnesty International has called for the remaining prisoners to be released immediately and unconditionally.

    "The release of those detained in the 2003 crackdown is a hugely positive step but it tells only one side of the story facing Cuban human rights activists," said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty International.

    "Those living on the island are still being targeted for their work, especially through short-term detentions, while repressive laws give the Cuban authorities a free rein to punish anyone who criticises them.”

    March 16, 2011

    Amnesty International has condemned the Syrian authorities’ crackdown on protests in the country amid a continuing wave of unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

    A small demonstration gathered today outside the Ministry of the Interior to submit a petition for the release of political prisoners, led by relatives of the imprisoned. Shortly afterwards the group was violently dispersed by plain-clothed security officers wielding batons.

    Witnesses told Amnesty International that at least 30 people were arrested and taken to unknown locations.

    Several people were also arrested after protesting yesterday in Damascus and Aleppo during peaceful demonstrations calling for more freedoms. At least two have reportedly been released.

    “Like many of the political prisoners whose release they were calling for, protestors appear to have been arrested simply for the peaceful expression of their views,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  

    March 16, 2011

    Bahraini protesters today told Amnesty International of bloody scenes on the streets as government security forces stepped up their violent crackdown on demonstrations and blocked access to hospitals.

    At least six people were reportedly killed in the capital Manama amid continuing protests as the army used tanks to flatten the peaceful protest camps set up in recent weeks to demand reform in the Gulf state.

    Government forces also surrounded hospitals and attacked doctors trying to help the wounded.

    "The distressing reports and images coming out of Bahrain today provide further evidence that the authorities are using lethal and other excessive force to crush protests, with reckless disregard for human life," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director.

    "Wounded protesters have also been prevented from accessing medical attention by government forces.. The Bahraini authorities must immediately put a stop to this bloodshed."

    Security forces attacked the mainly Shi’a protest camp at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout camp early on Wednesday.

    March 15, 2011

    Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty has urged the UN to support human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, as protests calling for reform continued to erupt.

    In a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York yesterday, Shetty urged the UN to do more to help combat human rights violations in Libya, and to push for human rights to be put at the centre of political reform in Egypt and Tunisia.

    The UN Secretary-General is visiting Egypt and Tunisia later this week, and his Special Envoy Abdul Ilah Khatib has arrived in Libya.

    In their meeting Shetty asked Ban to make it clear to the Libyan authorities, and to Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi in particular, that further violations of human rights will not be tolerated.
     
    “Now more than ever, we need the United Nations to help put human rights at the heart of reform in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Salil Shetty.

    March 15, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to immediately restrain their security forces after an anti-government protester was shot dead in Bahrain today and many others sustained gunshot injuries.

    Eye-witnesses told Amnesty International that Bahraini riot police and plain-clothed security forces used shotguns, rubber bullets and teargas against demonstrators in Sitra and Ma’ameer. Several ambulance drivers were attacked by riot police with batons as they tried to reach the wounded.

    An eyewitness told Amnesty International that riot police blocked access to the Sitra Health Centre where many of the injured were taken, while leaving other injured people lying unassisted in the streets. The electricity supply to the centre was cut.

    “The Bahraini authorities must immediately rein in their security forces and end their use of excessive force, and the Saudi Arabian authorities should demand this too if they are not to appear complicit,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director. “All those involved must act with restraint to prevent further loss of life.”

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