Today, Amnesty International released its annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide. Although 2013 saw more executions than in previous years and several countries resuming executions, there was also progress towards abolition in all regions of the world. Below, see the top 10 things you need to know from our newest report:
Governments and other organizations across the world are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on corruption and human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges and removing work licenses to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are repressed and prevented from reporting freely and fairly.
1. Physical Attacks
In some countries such as Syria, Turkmenistan and Somalia, governments, military forces and armed groups attack and even kill journalists who are seen to be critical of their policies and practices.
In May 2012, 18-year-old citizen journalist Abd al-Ghani Ka’ake was fatally shot by a government sniper in Syria while filming a demonstration in Aleppo. Armed opposition groups have also attacked and killed journalists.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I know you have a lot on your plate as you begin your first trip overseas as Secretary of State. You’ll be visiting America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, by my count nine countries in eleven days. According to press reports, the on-going conflict in Syria is going to be at the top of your agenda, which is as it should be. The latest estimates by the United Nations indicate that at least 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since unrest began. Human rights violations there have been appalling and wide-spread.
While you continue your important work on Syria, however, I hope that you can spare some time for the on-going human rights violations elsewhere in the Middle East. Sadly, many of these violations are undertaken by America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Check out our list of 10 absurd arrests and sentences of the year. You might be surprised to learn what can get you thrown in jail in a few places around the world, and how harsh the sentences are once you’re there.
1. Posting photos of teddy bears.
Anton Suryapin of Belarus spent more than a month in detention after posting photos of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane. The bears were part of a stunt by a Swedish advertising company calling for freedom of expression in Belarus. Anton is charged of “organizing illegal migration” simply because he was the first upload photos of the teddy bears, and still faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.
After allegedly “publicly insulting the King” on Twitter, a Bahraini man had his six-month prison sentence upheld on appeal, while three others are serving four-month prison sentences. Article 214 of Bahrain’s penal code makes it a crime to offend the King.
3. Opposing the death penalty.
In the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, a man by the name of Nabeel Rajab is sitting in jail for the “crime” of peaceful protest. But the government that has imprisoned him is a U.S. military ally, and the Obama Administration has done little to push for his release. When U.S. officials arrive in Bahrain this weekend for a global conference, will they finally change course?
Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and this fact has everything to do with his three year prison sentence. That’s why Amnesty International members worldwide are calling for his freedom, as part of our global “Write for Rights” campaign.
Like Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region, Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family has imprisoned many people who have dared to criticize the government. And while the U.S. government has issued mild statements of concern along the way, the Obama Administration has fundamentally failed to hold its repressive military ally accountable.
On August 16th, Bahraini political activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in jail for his peaceful role in protests critical of Bahrain’s monarchy. He had already been in prison since July 9th, when he was convicted of libel after sending a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister.
But despite all of this, the US State Department did not publicly call on its military ally to release Nabeel Rajab until after his three year sentence had already been handed down.
Why did the US State Department wait so long to come to Nabeel Rajab’s defense?
There were plenty of missed opportunities along the way. One such moment was on August 1st, when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner testified (see pg 16) at a congressional hearing focused on Bahrain. In his written testimony (pg 4), Assistant Secretary Posner called on the Government of Bahrain to “drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.”
Update: Nabeel Rajab was found guilty today August 16, of taking part in an “illegal gathering” among other charges in relation to a protest in the capital this past February.
Just this afternoon, 19 Members of Congress sent a letter urging Bahrain’s King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to release Nabeel Rajab, a man imprisoned for a tweet.
Nabeel is one of the “Bahrain 14” – 14 political activists sentenced to everything from three months to life in prison simply for engaging in nonviolent speech, expression, or association. Seven of the 14 have been given unbelievable life sentences in prison for their activism.
Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country. Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.
The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.
These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like. Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media. And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Despite an outpouring of global concern, news reports indicate that the Government of Bahrain has still not dropped its charges against 11 year old Ali Hassan.
As I wrote earlier this week, Bahraini police arrested the young boy in mid-May on a street that is both near his home and the site of a protest. The police denied him access to a lawyer for 23 days of his nearly one month of detention.
Amnesty International is confirming the details of yesterday’s court decision regarding the young boy’s sentence. According to news reports, the Government of Bahrain has allowed Ali to live at home, but is requiring him to be subjected to government monitoring for a year. The reports also indicate that the original charge of “illegal gathering” and disturbing “public security” has still not been dropped.
On the one hand, the young boy appears to have been spared the worse case scenario of several years in jail. This demonstrates the power of the global human rights spotlight, in which worldwide concern for Ali put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to keep him out of prison. But at the same time, Ali appears to still be facing criminal charges.