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Freedom of Expression

    June 16, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged the Greek authorities against using excessive use of force against protesters during continuing demonstrations in the capital Athens.
    The call comes after a largely peaceful demonstration against government spending cuts was marred by small groups of hooded rioters who clashed with police. According to eyewitnesses, the police used excessive amounts of teargas against protesters.
    "The Greek police face a tough challenge tackling a volatile situation on the ground but they must ensure that the policing of demonstrations is carried out in a manner that complies with international standards." said John Dalhuisen, Deputy Director of Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Program.
    Video footage from yesterday's protests in Syndagma Square shows several police officers beating a demonstrator, pulling him by his hair and ripping off his top.
    Thirty-three protesters were reportedly injured and taken to hospital, most with breathing problems or minor injuries. The Greek police also reported that 36 police officers were injured. 

    June 15, 2011

    A Uighur schoolteacher is facing politically motivated terror charges in China after he reported a death in custody, Amnesty International said today following his extradition from Kazakhstan.

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday confirmed that Ershidin Israil is being held on terrorism charges as a "major terror suspect", although the charges were not substantiated.

    "It appears that Ershidin Israil's only 'crime' was to report a human rights abuse. He was living openly before fleeing the country and only appears to have become a 'major terror suspect' after divulging the inside story of torture in Chinese jails to the world," said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

    "This makes him a prisoner of conscience, detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and the Chinese authorities must release him. Currently, he is at grave risk of torture and an unfair trial."

    June 14, 2011

    Military trials against dozens of people accused of charges related to recent pro-reform protests in Bahrain continued this week amid allegations of torture and claims the proceedings are unfair and politically motivated.

    Among those on trial in the special military court in Manama are a prominent human rights lawyer and 48 medical staff arrested after they treated protesters wounded in February and March demonstrations.

    “We fear this lawyer and many of the health workers have been detained solely for political reasons after they defended or treated pro-reform protesters and spoke out against the authorities in the media,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

    “Where this is the case, we would consider the detainees to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

    Bahrain’s government set up the special military court – which is presided over by one military and two civilian judges – under a National Safety Law put in place in response to the protests. The law was revoked on 1 June.

    June 14, 2011

    A leading Russian human rights defender accused of slandering the Chechen president has been acquitted by a court in Moscow.

    Oleg Orlov, head of the NGO Human Rights Centre Memorial, was acquitted of slandering Ramzan Kadyrov during a hearing on Tuesday.  Orlov had said he believed Kadyrov was responsible for the murder of his colleague Natalia Estemirova, who was abducted and killed in Chechnya in July 2009.

    “Oleg Orlov should never have been criminally prosecuted for expressing his opinion,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern and Central Europe.

    “The decision is a small but welcome sign of respect for the rule of law and the right to freedom of expression, even as human rights defenders in Chechnya continue to suffer threats and intimidation.”

    The judge found that Oleg Orlov had only expressed his opinion, and had not knowingly made false claims about Ramzan Kadyrov. 

    It was revealed during the trial that that Natalia Estemirova had received numerous threats when she was working in Chechnya, which she had only revealed to her close friends. 

    June 13, 2011

    A military court in Bahrain has sentenced a poet to one year in prison for reading out a poem criticizing the country’s King.

    Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was sentenced in a Manama court today following her arrest in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally. She has reportedly been tortured while in detention.

    She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred towards the regime.

    "By locking up a female poet merely for expressing her views in public, Bahrain’s authorities are demonstrating how free speech and assembly are brutally denied to ordinary Bahrainis,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “The Bahraini authorities must drop the unfair charges against Ayat al-Qarmezi, and release her immediately and unconditionally."

    Ayat al-Qarmezi's family members told Amnesty International she appeared strong after the trial and her lawyer plans to appeal the ruling.

    June 09, 2011

     Independent trade unionists in Iran are imprisoned for speaking out about labour rights while independent workers’ bodies face ongoing repression Amnesty International said today, as it called on the Tehran authorities to respect basic social and economic freedoms.

    An Amnesty International report released today, Determined to Live in Dignity: Iranian Trade Unionists Struggle for Rights, reveals the harsh treatment meted out to independent trade union activists who speak up for workers’ rights under Iran's pervasive climate of repression.

    “Independent trade unionists have been made to pay a heavy price by a government that has shown itself increasingly intolerant of dissent,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The harassment and persecution they face smacks of a desperate government attempt to stave off social unrest that could arise from new hikes in the costs of fuel and power to which Iranians are now being exposed.”

    June 08, 2011

    A Bahraini poet faces possible imprisonment for reading out a poem criticizing the country’s King when a military court rules on her case next Sunday.

    Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama. She has been charged with "incitement to hatred of the regime" and has reportedly been tortured while in detention.

    "Ayat al-Qarmezi has been put on trial merely for expressing her opinion, peacefully and openly. Her case represents an appalling and sinister attack on free speech. The charge/s against her should be dropped and she should be released immediately," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    "If convicted, Ayat al-Qarmezi could face a long prison sentence. If she is imprisoned, she will be the first woman prisoner of conscience to be locked up in Bahrain for peacefully expressing her views," he added.

    While attending a pro-reform rally in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout in February, Ayat al-Qarmezi read out a poem which she said was addressed to King Hamad bin 'Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain's head of state.

    June 06, 2011

    Amnesty International has condemned Syrian authorities’ brutal treatment of protesters following one of the bloodiest weekends in months of pro-reform demonstrations, with more than 120 people reportedly shot dead.

    The call came ahead of a key UN Security Council vote expected this week on the violent repression in Syria.

    "As the death toll in Syria reaches staggering new heights, it is imperative that the UN Security Council - which has so far been silent on this issue - votes to condemn the killings," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    "It must also take decisive action and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for the brutal crackdown of pro-reform protesters must no longer be allowed to get away with murder," he added.

    Amnesty International has the names of 54 people reported to have been shot dead by the security forces on Saturday and Sunday. In the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughur, 43 people were killed on Saturday, including some attending a funeral procession.

    June 03, 2011

    Amnesty International launches a short campaign document calling on the Rwandan authorities to review ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ laws that are being used to suppress political dissent and stifle freedom of speech in the country.

    The months leading up to the August 2010 presidential elections, which President Kagame won with 93 per cent of the vote, were marked by a clampdown on freedom of expression through regulatory sanctions, restrictive laws and criminal defamation cases.

    The Rwandan government has expressed a commitment to review laws which are used to criminalize criticism, but recent trials of journalists and opposition politicians suggest that Rwanda’s critics still face prosecution and imprisonment.

    Amnesty International is calling on President Kagame to allow opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders to express their views without fear for their safety.



    Beth Berton-Hunter,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    416-363-9933, ext. 332

    June 02, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on Syria’s President to fully implement a “general amnesty” by immediately freeing all prisoners of conscience, including those detained because of their participation in peaceful protests.

    The call came amid reports that several hundred prisoners, including about nine prisoners of conscience, have already been released. But Syrian human rights activists told Amnesty International the releases appear to be at random with many hundreds of people still detained, many of them incommunicado.
    “The announced amnesty, even if it proves substantive, does not go far enough,” said Malcolm Smart.

    “If President al-Assad’s announcement is to have any credibility, all the prisoners of conscience who have languished in Syria’s jails for years must be released and he must take concrete steps to stop the security forces from committing gross human rights abuses.”

    President Bashar al-Assad announced on Tuesday that he was issuing a general amnesty for those imprisoned for offences committed before 31 May 2011, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and other “politically affiliated” prisoners.

    June 02, 2011

    Moroccan authorities must not use excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International said today, as activists called for renewed pro-reform demonstrations  across the country on Sunday.

    Scores of protesters in Morocco have been physically assaulted by security forces in recent weeks.

    Seven protesters are still detained in Tangiers and face criminal charges in relation to their participation in protests.

    “What we are witnessing is a draconian response to people merely exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly”, Amnesty International said.

    “The Moroccan security forces must not repeat the same mistakes that they have made in recent weeks, where peaceful protests were subject to a violent crackdown, “the organization added.

    The Moroccan authorities have been under pressure to respond to demands for political and human rights reform, following continuing demonstrations since 20 February inspired by events in North Africa.

    June 01, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to end their clampdown on peaceful protests following the arrest of 15 pro-reform activists in Baghdad in recent days.

    Four protesters were arrested by plain-clothed security forces last Friday morning during a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. They are still being held and are reported to be facing trial on charges of possessing  fake ID cards. 

    Eleven other activists were arrested when security forces raided the Baghdad headquarters of 'Ayna Haqqi' (Where is my right), a local NGO, on Saturday. Four were later released but the others, including the NGO’s secretary-general, Ahmed Mohammad Ahmed, are still being held, apparently because they are suspected of involvement in organizing demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

    "These arrests provide further evidence of the Iraqi authorities’ intolerance of peaceful dissent and are very worrying," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    May 31, 2011

    The struggle for basic rights in Zimbabwe will be examined in meetings and talks this week in Ottawa by Jenni Williams, the Executive Director of powerful social justice movement led by and for women called Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA).

    Jenni Williams is in Ottawa after attending a special joint Annual General Meeting of the English and French branches of Amnesty International Canada in Montreal 28-29 May marking 50 years of work by the international organization.

    WOZA was formed in 2003 to defend human rights amidst the political violence in Zimbabwe, and continues their work today by mobilizing to improve living conditions for all Zimbabweans. At the age of 47, Jenni Williams has experience more brutality than most of us will face in a lifetime. WOZA members constantly experience harassment and abuse by the police for engaging in peaceful forms of activism.

    May 31, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged the Bahrain authorities not to again use excessive force against protesters, as activists called for mass anti-government demonstrations across the country on Wednesday.

    The call for demonstrations comes as a repressive state of emergency imposed following previous protests, the State of National Safety, is set to be lifted by Bahrain’s King on Wednesday.

    “The Bahraini authorities must not make the same mistakes as in February and March, when largely peaceful protests were violently suppressed by government security forces,“ said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

    “As the state of emergency is lifted, the authorities must allow people to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association,” he added.

    The protesters are calling on the government to end human rights abuses, and have been instigated by the February 14 youth coalition, the group which called for the first protests earlier this year to demand political reform.

    May 31, 2011

    The Yemeni authorities must immediately stop killings of protesters and other human rights violations by their security forces if the country is not to descend into further chaos and possible civil war, Amnesty International said today. 

    Yemeni security forces have reportedly killed dozens of people since Sunday in the southern city of Ta’izz.  Security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and at a makeshift field hospital set up to assist the wounded. They also reportedly arrested scores of protestors and bulldozed or burned down tents at a protest camp they had established.

    “The political and human rights crisis in Yemen is rapidly going from bad to worse as President Saleh’s security forces seek to crush all opposition,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.   

    “Right now, Yemen is on a knife-edge. There is growing risk of civil war between President Saleh’s forces and those now demanding change and an end to the repression and violence that have become such a striking hallmark of his efforts to hold on to power.”


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