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    August 02, 2011

    Bloodshed in Bab Qebli: portrait from Syria’s violent crackdown on Hama
    The Syrian authorities continue their violent crackdown on protests nationwide

    Shortly after breakfast, Khaled al-Hamedh left his home to buy medicine for his four-year-old brother, who had a fever.

    He never came home.

    Several hours later, family members laid him to rest in the garden of nearby al-Serjawi mosque, a bullet wound in his back and his body crushed by a tank.

    As the 21-year-old construction worker walked out into Hama’s Bab Qebli neighbourhood on Sunday morning, Syrian security forces were encroaching on the city with tanks, firing into residential areas.

    The scene was by now all-too-familiar in cities across Syria, as the authorities continued to try to put down months of mainly peaceful protests calling for government reform.

    Khaled had himself finished military service in January, a few months before he was faced with tanks on the streets of his hometown.

    July 26, 2011

    Two months ago, when prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni finally stepped onto the streets of Damascus after completing a five year jail sentence, he walked out into a changed world.

    On a personal level, the nightmare of his prison existence- a prisoner of conscience surrounded by convicted criminals and living in fear of attack by both inmates and guards - was finally over. But, more broadly, the popular protests that had erupted two months earlier meant that Syria itself had been transformed. He and other human rights defenders no longer felt alone.

    “In the past, only a few of us dared to call for freedom and human rights.”  he told Amnesty International. “We used to feel isolated, as the majority of people avoided us out of fear of retribution from the authorities. After my release, I have realised that my demands became the demands of all the Syrian people.”

    July 25, 2011

    Access to Amnesty International’s website has been blocked in Saudi Arabia today following the organization’s criticism of a draft anti-terror law that would stifle peaceful protest in the kingdom.

    Amnesty International published its analysis of a leaked copy of the draft law on Friday. The organization condemned the proposed law’s treatment of peaceful dissent as “terrorist crimes”, as well as the wide-ranging powers the Minister of Interior would hold, free from judicial authorization or oversight.  

    Several journalists and human rights activists based in Saudi Arabia independently confirmed that they were unable to access the website today.  

    “Instead of attacking those raising concerns and attempting to block debate, the Saudi Arabian government should amend the draft law to ensure that it does not muzzle dissent and deny basic rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

    July 22, 2011

    Gambia must act to improve the deteriorating human rights situation across the country, Amnesty International said in a campaign document released today.

    Climate of Fear Continues: Enforced disappearances, killings and torture in Gambia details how cases of enforced disappearances are yet to be resolved after several years, those involved in unlawful killings have not been identified and brought to justice, and torture is still widely used by the security forces.

    “President Jammeh marks July 22 each year as ‘Freedom Day’ and yet Gambia is ruled with an iron fist by a government that ruthlessly quashes all forms of dissent,” said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director.

    “Instead of celebrating ‘Freedom Day’, the Gambian authorities must act to end human rights abuses and the culture of fear.”

    July 22, 2011

    A draft Saudi Arabian anti-terrorism law obtained by Amnesty International would allow the authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime.

    The organization has obtained copies of the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism, which would also allow extended detention without charge or trial. Questioning the integrity of the King or the Crown Prince would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

    The leak of the draft comes as ongoing peaceful protests across the Middle East and North Africa are being met with government repression.

    “This draft law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in the Kingdom in the name of preventing terrorism,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.

    “If passed it would pave the way for even the smallest acts of peaceful dissent to be branded terrorism and risk massive human rights violations.”

    A Saudi Arabian government security committee reviewed the draft law in June but it is not known when or if it might be passed.

    ‘Terrorist crimes’

    July 19, 2011

    Dozens of men are being held incommunicado at unknown locations and are at risk of torture after the Syrian security forces conducted mass arrests in a Damascus suburb over the weekend, Amnesty International said today.

    Tanks and armed men moved into Qatana, south-west of the capital, on Saturday, opening fire on unarmed residents and carrying out raids randomly arresting dozens of men between the ages of 18 and 40. Amnesty International is particularly concerned for their given reports of rampant torture across Syria.

    Journalist and political activist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah, aged 61, is among those being held incommunicado at an unknown location after his arrest on Sunday.

    “Syrian authorities must reveal the whereabouts of ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah and the other Qatana detainees and ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment while held,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.

    July 19, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged Sudanese authorities to ensure that a UN worker being held in South Darfur is not subjected to torture and is given immediate access to his family and any needed medical care.

    Idris Yousef Abdelrahman, a civil affairs officer from the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) based in Nyala, was charged on 12 July with “undermining the constitutional system” and “waging war against the state”. Both crimes are punishable by death under Sudanese law.

    He had gone missing in late April after being called to a meeting with the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), which on 10 May confirmed his detention. NISS detainees have frequently reported being tortured and ill-treated.

    “For more than two months, the Sudanese intelligence agency has held Idris Yousef Abdelrahman without giving him access to his family or medical treatment, and there is a legitimate concern he is at risk of torture,” said Erwin Van Der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director.

    July 14, 2011

    A Chilean judge is turning the historic case of a priest tortured on board a Pinochet-era 'torture ship' into a travesty of justice, Amnesty International said today, after the dropping of charges against most of those implicated in his death.

    Tomorrow is the hearing of a fresh appeal launched by the family of Father Michael Woodward against the presiding judge’s recent decisions, including the absolving of 19 out of 29 former naval and police officials initially indicted.

    The Catholic priest and dual British-Chilean national is believed to have died following torture aboard the naval vessel Esmeralda in 1973, which served as an interrogation centre for scores of prisoners that year.

    The boat still serves as a naval training vessel and a ‘roving ambassador’ for the Chilean government. 

    “This judge is turning Michael Woodward’s case into a travesty of justice,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Americas.

    “The throwing out and watering down of charges for crimes under international law, even after reported admissions of guilt by some of those under investigation, is an utter disgrace.”

    July 14, 2011

    The Sudanese authorities must immediately release a journalist who faces fresh charges despite completing a year's prison sentence.

    Abuzar Al Amin, deputy editor-in-chief of Rai Al Shaab newspaper, was convicted on 14 July 2010 for undermining the Constitution and publishing false news after he published articles critical of the government.

    He has alleged that he was tortured while in prison.

    Abuzar Al Amin was due to be freed on 3 July 2011, but two weeks before his release two new claims were brought against him by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

    Based on these claims, numerous charges under the 1991 Criminal Act have been made against him, including criminal conspiracy and undermining the constitution. If convicted he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

    "Abuzar Al Amin is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for expressing his opinions and this is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prolong his detention using what appear to be politically motivated charges," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's Director for Africa.

    July 07, 2011

    The Tajikistani authorities must immediately release a BBC journalist, apparently held solely for his writing work, who is alleged to have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention, said Amnesty International.

    Urunboy Usmonov was arrested on 13 June and has been charged with participation in the banned Islamic movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

    State security officials said on Wednesday that, despite earlier allegations made by the Interior Ministry, Urunboy Usmonov was not accused of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir but that their investigation was still focusing on his involvement in the organization.

    He is being held in pre-trial detention in the northern city of Khujand.

    Family members reported that Urunboy Usmonov appeared to have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention. A BBC colleague who was allowed to visit him in detention said that he appeared "frail mentally and psychologically".

    July 05, 2011

    The brutal methods used in a devastating Syrian security operation in the western town of Tell Kalakh may constitute crimes against humanity, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

    Crackdown in Syria: Terror in Tell Kalakh documents deaths in custody, torture and arbitrary detention that took place in May when Syrian army and security forces mounted a broad security sweep, lasting less than a week, against residents of the town near the Lebanese border.

    “The accounts we have heard from witnesses to events in Tell Kalakh paint a deeply disturbing picture of systematic, targeted abuses to crush dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

    “Most of the crimes described in this report would fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. But the UN Security Council must first refer the situation in Syria to the Court’s Prosecutor.”

    The paper’s findings are based on interviews carried out in Lebanon and by phone with more than 50 people in May and June. Amnesty International has not been allowed to enter Syria.

    July 04, 2011

    Two women remain in detention after being arrested in Riyadh on Sunday during a protest to demand fair trials for their relatives, sources told Amnesty International.

    Some 15 women and five children were arrested yesterday outside the Ministry of Interior. They had been calling for fair trials for their male relatives, who are being detained without charge – in some cases for up to 10 years.

    All but two women were released after they were believed to have signed pledges not to protest again.

    “If these women were arrested solely for peacefully demonstrating in public, we would consider them to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

    “The Saudi Arabian authorities must ensure they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment while in detention, and they must be given regular access to family and lawyers, as well as any medical treatment they may need.”

    July 01, 2011

    The US Attorney General must immediately reconsider his decision to close inquiries into some 100 cases of alleged torture of detainees held in CIA custody, Amnesty International said today.

    Eric Holder announced  on Thursday that he is opening a criminal probe into the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody, but is closing investigations into the treatment of any other cases since 2001.

    "Closing these cases is a complete travesty of justice. The scores of closed cases include ones that raise serious and credible allegations of torture,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International. 

    “We welcome the decision to conduct a criminal investigation into the two deaths, but investigations must not end there. The Attorney General should immediately review these cases and act to bring the United States in line with international law," he said.

    Among the closed cases, Amnesty International is aware of three that involved torture. Guantanamo detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, ‘Abd al Rahim al Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were all subjected to waterboarding during their detention – a fact confirmed by US authorities.

    June 30, 2011

    President should establish a Presidential Accountability Commission on political killings, enforced disappearances and torture, Amnesty International said today.

    Nearly one year after Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III became President of the Philippines, his administration has shown little progress in addressing serious human rights problems affecting Filipinos.

    Amnesty International today released Progress, Stagnation, Regression? The State of Human Rights in the Philippines under Aquino. The 18-page briefing examines the Aquino administration’s progress on 26 key human rights recommendations, which the organization put forward to candidates in the presidential election in February 2010 and again to newly-elected President Aquino in June 2010.

    “Aquino has shown that human rights are still not a priority for his administration,” said Aurora Parong, Director of Amnesty International Philippines. “For the past year Aquino has been saying that he inherited these human rights problems from his predecessor. But after a full year in charge, it is time for him to take responsibility for protecting the human rights of Filipinos.”

    June 29, 2011

    Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to ensure that justice is done in the case of Khaled Said, an Egyptian allegedly beaten to death by two police officers one year ago.

    A verdict in the case of the two police officers accused of killing Khaled Said last June in Alexandria is expected on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old was allegedly dragged out of an internet cafe by police officers in June last year and beaten to death.

    Shocking pictures of his barely recognizable face taken in the morgue were widely circulated online and his case became a rallying cry for pro-reform protesters in Egypt earlier this year.

    “A year after his death, Khaled Said’s family still wait for justice. His case highlights the widely shared belief that the Egyptian authorities are still not doing enough to deliver justice  - not only for Khaled Said but for all those unlawfully killed and injured by the security forces during mass protests earlier this year,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.


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