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Freedom of Expression

    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 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.”

    May 31, 2011

    Any investigation into the abduction and reported death of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad must include the country’s feared security and intelligence agencies, especially the ISI, Amnesty International said today.

    The body of Saleem Shahzad, who went missing on Sunday 29th May, was found close to his abandoned car in the north-west of the country, Pakistani media reports say. Reports also suggest that evidence of torture was found on the body.

    “Pakistan’s intelligence agencies face serious allegations that they been involved the numerous killings of activists, lawyers and journalists,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

    “Early indications from this case suggest an alarming expansion of the ‘kill and dump’ operations previously seen mostly in the Balochistan province.”

    “The Pakistan authorities must hold those responsible to account and protect journalists targeted merely for doing their jobs.”

    Saleem Shahzad had published an article on the 27th May reporting on a terrorist attack at a Pakistan Naval base, and alleging links between al-Qaida and Pakistan Naval officials.

    May 26, 2011

    The release today of prominent newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev is a step in the right direction for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, Amnesty International said today.

    He was released shortly after a presidential pardon and is now at home with his family.
    The organization has led an international campaign for his release and named him a prisoner of conscience after his arrest and imprisonment in 2007 on trumped-up charges of terrorism and defamation

    “Eynulla Fatullayev’s pardon and release are cause for celebration, but we still urge the Azerbaijani authorities to quash his convictions,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

    “As we celebrate Eynulla’s release we must not forget that many others are still being held on trumped-up charges in Azerbaijani prisons for no other reason than that they have criticized the authorities. We are calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan and an end to the recent clampdown on dissenting voices, whether online or on the streets.”

    May 25, 2011

    Leaders of the G8 industrialized nations should take bold action to support human rights in the Middle East and North Africa following a wave of pro-reform protests across the region, Amnesty International said today.

    “The popular protests across the Arab world this year are a clarion call that people in the region are fed up with the status quo and want full recognition of their fundamental human rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “G8 leaders should seize this historic opportunity to ensure that protecting and promoting human rights is at the core of their engagement with governments throughout the region.”

    The G8 is set to gather in France later this week, where they will discuss the promotion of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of this year’s protests

    The Prime Ministers of Tunisia and Egypt have been invited to participate in this year’s summit.

    May 25, 2011

    The Honourable John Baird
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    125 Sussex Drive
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0G2

    May 25, 2011

    Dear Minister Baird,

    Today, around the world, Amnesty International will be delivering to Syrian Embassies copies of a recent petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, calling on the Syrian government to bring the current human rights crisis in the country to an end.  Most immediately and urgently the petition calls on the Syrian government to rein in the country’s security forces and end unlawful killings and other gross human rights violations including arbitrary arrest and torture.

    At the same time, we are turning to the international community and urging all governments to intensify pressure on Syrian authorities to end the abuses.  To that end, Amnesty International has called on the UN Security Council to:

    May 24, 2011

    The Saudi Arabian authorities must release a woman detained for her involvement in campaigning against the ban on women driving in the Kingdom, Amnesty International said today.

    Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, was arrested on 22 May, the day after she was stopped by police while driving in al-Khobar city in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She had previously uploaded a YouTube video of herself driving a car on 19 May in support of an online campaign, “Woman 2 Drive”, which calls for Saudi Arabian women to be permitted to drive.

    “Women face severe discrimination on account of their gender in Saudi Arabia and the ban on driving is one aspect of this that perpetuates the restrictions on their freedom of movement,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

    “The government has done nothing to remove the ban despite calls from women activists and as such these activists are left with little option other than to resort to challenging these restrictions through peaceful means.”

    May 23, 2011

    New European Union sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria should prompt the UN and Arab League to take tougher action against Syria over its violent crackdown against protesters, Amnesty International said today.  

    The European Union today imposed fresh sanctions on Syria, including personal asset freezes and travel bans on President al-Assad and other senior government figures.  

    “We welcome the measures that the EU and the US government have now taken against President al-Assad and those around him, but the danger is that this will prove to be too little too late,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The UN Security Council must now take more determined action on Syria and follow the precedent it set when Colonel al-Gaddafi’s government began attacking its own people in Libya.”

    “This is precisely what the Syrian government has been doing for weeks and it is high time that the Security Council also referred Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.”

    May 19, 2011

    The US President must use his speech on the Middle East to commit to the pursuit of a more even-handed approach to Arab states, one which has the protection and promotion of human rights at its heart, Amnesty International said today.

    Barack Obama is set to make the speech, his first major address following the wave of mass protests that has swept the Middle East and North Africa, later today.

    “The US President must make clear that the US has learnt from the mistakes of the past when it supported governments such as those in Egypt and Tunisia whose claim to provide ‘political stability’ was based on widescale repression and abuse of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director

    “The US administration has rightly condemned the gross abuses that have been committed by Colonel al-Gaddafi's forces in Libya and the Assad government in Syria, and continuing repression in Iran.”

    May 18, 2011

    Amnesty International is calling on the Moscow authorities to overturn their ban on the city’s gay pride event, which had been set to take place on 28 May.

    Moscow’s Deputy Mayor told the event organizer, Nikolai Alekseyev, and confirmed to Amnesty International, that his application to hold the event had been rejected due to the large number of objections it had received from members of the public.  

    “The Moscow City Authorities must overturn their decision to ban this year’s Moscow Gay Pride.  So-called public morality concerns can never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Nicola Duckworth, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.

    “The right response to such objections is not to cave in to their demands, but to ensure that those seeking to exercise their rights lawfully are able to do so in safety and in dignity.”

    For the last six years, gay rights activists in Moscow have been denied permission to organize a pride event. Events that have taken place have been violently dispersed by law enforcement officials.

    May 18, 2011

    The Omani authorities must say where and why they are holding some six people arrested during a recent peaceful protest in the capital Muscat, Amnesty International said today, as more than two dozen others faced trial on protest-related charges.

    Fifteen people were arrested by Omani security forces on 14 May during a protest in Muscat calling for the release of others detained two days earlier in pro-reform protests.

    Prominent female lawyer Basma al-Kiyumi was released on 16 May, and on 17 May some eight other activists were released, among them Muhammad al-Habssi and Ibrahim Sa’id al-Hajri. It is not known where the remaining six – including Nabhan al-Hanashi – are, or if any charges have been brought against them

    “The authorities in Oman must immediately provide details on the whereabouts of all protesters being held and either charge them with a recognizable criminal offence or release them,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director.

    “If they are being detained solely for participating in a peaceful public protest they should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

    May 18, 2011

    The trials of eight activists convicted over their involvement in pro-reform protests in Bahrain that began in February, were politically motivated and unfair, Amnesty International said today.

    A military court in Bahrain's capital city Manama has sentenced the eight activists, in two separate cases, to between one and four years imprisonment for "participating in illegal demonstrations and inciting hatred against the regime" during popular protests in February and March.

    One of the activists, Fadhila Mubarak Ahmad, is the first woman protester to be convicted as a result of the recent unrest in Bahrain. She was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

    "These trials and convictions represent yet further evidence of the extent to which the rights to freedom of speech and assembly are now being denied in Bahrain," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for Middle East and North Africa.


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