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    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 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.”

    March 14, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged the Yemeni authorities to identify and prosecute members of the security forces responsible for the killings of at least eight anti-government demonstrators over the weekend.

    Two protesters were killed and over 1,000 injured in the capital Sana’a on Saturday when security forces opened fire on members of a protest camp during their early morning prayer, while pro-government “thugs” were reported to have attacked ambulances trying to attend to the wounded.

    At least six other protesters were killed on Saturday and Sunday after being shot in the cities of Aden and al-Mukalla, bringing the total death toll among protesters since calls for reform in the country began last month to at least 40.

    “It is disturbing that Yemeni security forces appear to be targeting protesters in a way that maximizes death and serious injury,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “To strike when protesters are most vulnerable, such as during prayer, and to then prevent medical staff from doing their work shows that the security forces are acting above the law.”

    March 13, 2011

    Amnesty International has today condemned the killing of Al Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan Al Jaber in Libya and warned of a campaign of attacks and harassment on journalists.

    "It appears that the Al Jazeera team was brutally and deliberately targeted" said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director.

    "Coming so soon after the detention and torture by Colonel Gaddafi's forces of three BBC staff -- who were subjected to beatings and mock executions -- and the detention of other journalists, this killing is most disturbing."

    "It is essential that this killing and the other abuses against journalists are investigated as part of the UN Human Rights Council's investigation into the situation in Libya. Those responsible for the killing of Ali Hassan Al Jaber must be held accountable for their actions."

    Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a Qatari national born in 1955, was killed after being ambushed near Benghazi. A colleague travelling with him was also injured. An Al Jazeera reporter Benghazi said Ali Hassan Al Jaber was hit by three shots and was wounded through the heart.

    March 11, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the Cuban authorities to release an activist on hunger strike who was detained for his human rights work three months ago and is set to face trial at the end of March.

    Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, the president and co-founder of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, was arrested last December in relation to a meeting he organized at his home in August 2010 and anti-government banners he displayed outside his home.

    Néstor, his brother Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and three other members of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy - Enyor Díaz Allen, Roberto González Pelegrín and Francisco Manzanet - have been charged with public order offences relating to an attack on his home by a mob opposed to the meeting.

    The five men were arrested in August 2010 but released the following month. Only Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina was rearrested.

    March 11, 2011

    As the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar presents his report to the 16th session of United Nations Human Rights Council, governments should speak with one voice on Myanmar’s long-standing failure to address widespread and systematic human rights violations in the country.

    While a new administration has been appointed following elections, not only has the human rights situation in Myanmar not improved, it shows no signs of changing in the foreseeable future.  Nearly 2,200 political prisoners remain behind bars, most of whom are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.  Censorship and other serious restrictions on freedom of expression remain, and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against ethnic minorities - including acts against the civilian population which constitute crimes against humanity - continue. 

    March 11, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini authorities to ensure the safety of three human rights activists after text messages were yesterday circulated to many people in Bahrain calling for them to be killed.

    The messages contained personal details of the activists and labelled them "advocates of subversion". One of the three then received a series of anonymous threats from callers to his phone.

    "The Bahraini authorities must mount an immediate, thorough investigation to identify the source of these threats and bring to justice those responsible for inciting murder and issuing death threats," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    "The government must also ensure the safety of the three activists who have been named in these threats and any others who may be targeted in the same way, and afford them all possible protection."

    March 10, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to reverse the ban on peaceful protest in the Kingdom, amid fears of a violent crackdown on mass demonstrations planned for Friday's “Day of Rage”.

    Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the country’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday that “reform cannot be achieved through protests”, while the protest ban, confirmed on Saturday, was backed by religious and security bodies.

    "Instead of banning peaceful protests the Saudi Arabian authorities should address the need for major human rights reform in the country," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

    “They must heed the growing calls for change within Saudi Arabia”.

    Saudi Arabia's "Day of Rage" was organized online using Facebook. One page has over 33,000 followers.

    Media reports over the weekend suggested that some 10,000 Saudi troops would be deployed to crack down on any protests.

    March 09, 2011

    The Yemeni authorities must end deadly night raids and other attacks on protests, Amnesty International said today, after one protester was killed and around 100 injured in the capital Sana’a late last night.

    According to media reports, security forces used live rounds and tear gas against protesters camped outside Sana’a University. Protesters are demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule.

    “This is the second time in three weeks that protesters have been killed in late night raids by the security forces in the capital,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “These disturbing heavy-handed tactics used with lethal effect against protesters must stop immediately. People must be allowed to assemble and protest in peace.”

    Some 30 people have reportedly now been killed in Yemen during ongoing unrest which began early last month. Protesters are demanding government reform and an end to corruption and unemployment.

    March 07, 2011

    An ethnic Uighur website manager who was sentenced to seven years in jail in China after a secret trial is the latest in a series of Uighur writers imprisoned for peaceful expression of cultural or political views, Amnesty International said today.

    Tursunjan Hezim, a 38-year-old former history teacher, was reportedly detained shortly after the 5 July, 2009 protests in Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which turned violent after police cracked down on initially peaceful protesters.

    His family was never informed of the charges against him and his whereabouts remain unknown. The government has not publicly stated the grounds for his detention.

    "This trial is typical of the way the Chinese government has worked in secrecy to persecute Uighurs in China for peaceful expression of their views," said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.

    “If Hezim faces recognizably criminal charges, the Chinese government should put him on trial with due process. Otherwise, he should be released immediately.”

    March 07, 2011

    Amnesty International has called on the Saudi Arabian government to allow peaceful protests after the authorities confirmed a ban on all demonstrations in the Kingdom.

    On Saturday, The Ministry of Interior said that security forces would take “all necessary steps against those who attempt to disrupt order.”

    Confirmation of the ban, which was first referred to in 2008, comes amid growing calls for reform in the country. Further protests are planned for Friday 11 March.

    “The Saudi Arabian authorities have a duty to ensure freedom of assembly and are obliged under international law to allow peaceful protests to take place,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

    “They must act immediately to end this outrageous restriction on the right to legitimate protest.”
    Some 24 people were detained on 3 and 4 March following protests in the city of al-Qatif, denouncing the prolonged detention of Shi’a prisoners.

    March 07, 2011

    Amnesty International is calling on Azerbaijan’s authorities to immediately end their crackdown on activists preparing for a March 11 protest inspired by recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Activists say they have been detained, tortured and refused access to legal advice as part of a clampdown on the protest, which has been organized using social networking websites including Facebook.

    “The Azerbaijani authorities must stop this crackdown immediately and allow activists to organize peaceful protests,” said John Dalhuisen, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program.

    Activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, 29, was detained on 4 March for allegedly breaching a court order not to leave his native town of Ganja and was questioned by police about his views posted on Facebook.

    He was remanded in custody for two months by a court in Ganja later the same day, pending a trial for evading military service. He could face two years in prison if convicted.

    March 03, 2011

    China’s recent crackdown on foreign journalists covering potential protests inspired by events in the Middle East and North Africa signals the government’s fear of popular protests, Amnesty International said today.

    “The authorities must honour the commitments they made before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to allow the foreign press to conduct interviews in China without official interference,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.

    “These new restrictions on foreign journalists are part of the overall crackdown on freedom of expression and opinion that has also seen arrests and detentions of Chinese activists and lawyers.”  

    The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said more than a dozen reporters, including from the BBC, CNN, and Bloomberg, were beaten or detained by security officers as they went to cover possible protests in the city's Wanfujing shopping district on Saturday.

    Plain clothes officers beat and kicked a video journalist, who required hospital treatment.

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