#FreeRaif: US should press for release of Saudi blogger

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

By Ensaf Haidar, via The Washington Post

On June 17, 2012, my husband, Raif Badawi, the father of my three children and my best friend, was arrested in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. For nearly three years, as he has languished in prison, my family has been trapped in a nightmare.

Raif is a man of principle and a respected activist in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, he started a blog where readers could openly discuss politics, religion and other social issues. But in Saudi Arabia, one can pay an unthinkable price simply for blogging. Raif was convicted of insulting Islam and violating the kingdom’s repressive information-technology laws. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Egyptian Blogger Imprisoned for Facebook Comment on Hunger Strike

Image via Facebook

An honest voice of the Egyptian uprising is in danger of being silenced unless the Egyptian government listens to domestic and international pressure to release  prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil Sanad.

Sanad, whose Facebook postings criticized abuses by the Egyptian military, began a hunger strike on Aug. 23. This week, his family told Amnesty International that his health has greatly deteriorated.

The blogger started the hunger strike to protest his detention in an Egyptian prison north of Cairo. Sanad was arrested on March 28 at his home in Cairo, tried in a military court on April 10 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for publicly insulting the army through comments he made on Facebook, and for allegedly spreading lies and rumors about the armed forces on his blog.


Meet China's 'Jasmine' Activists

Following the revolutions in the Middle East earlier this year, government fears of a “Jasmine Revolution” in China have led to dozens of government critics, lawyers, activists, bloggers, artists and “netizens” being arrested since February. Meet a few of those brave activists.

Liang Haiyi aka Tiny
Status: In detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power.”
In her own words: “When the country cannot protect a beggar, it cannot protect the emperor!”

Liang Haiyi was an early victim of the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown. Her blog has not been updated since February 19, when she posted: “How far away are Nazis from us? Would dictatorship reappear in Germany? Secondary school teachers did a little test and got an alarming answer that history can be repeated so easily, and therefore pay a painful price.” She also posted a video that can no longer be viewed.


New Generation of Online Activists Targeted in China

Hua Chunhui was detained after tweeting about the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ © Amnesty International

Jasmine Revolution.  Those two words simply uttered online elicit enough fear in Chinese leaders’ hearts to throw the writer in jail.

Online activists have long been at risk in China but the recent spate of arrests — following online calls for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China — has gotten out of hand.  Chinese authorities are not only detaining seasoned dissidents; they are trying to silence a whole new generation of online activists.

More than 100 activists, many of them active on Twitter and blogging networks, have been detained, subjected to monitoring and intimidation by the security forces, or have gone missing since late February. The sweep is the worst since 2009 when thousands were detained following deadly riots in Urumqi.

The call for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in February consisted of online instructions to ‘stroll’ through designated public places on Sunday afternoons. Faced with a large state security presence, no significant gatherings took place.


Azerbaijan: Both 'Donkey Bloggers' Are Free!

It is rare to have back-to-back good news on human rights from Azerbaijan. This week is an exception, though. Remember how the Amnesty International USA intern, born in Azerbaijan, shared her happy tears with us about her friend Adnan Hajizade’s release yesterday? Well, there is more cause for celebration – Adnan’s colleague and fellow digital dissenter and prisoner of conscience Emin Abdullayev Milli is also a free man.

‘Donkey bloggers’ Adnan and Emin reunited after release (via Global Voices Online)

While Adnan’s and Emin’s release is great news, Azerbaijan has a long way to come clean with the oppression of dissenters, including that of the ‘Donkey bloggers.’ The young bloggers’ fabricated conviction of hooliganism (which was actually for a YouTube video in donkey-suit mocking corruption in Azerbaijan), for one, must be overturned. And, most urgently, Azerbaijan must release imprisoned journalist and human rights defender (I would also add, peace activist) Eynulla Fatullayev.

Azerbaijan: Blogger and Prisoner of Conscience Released!

Adnan Hajizade, a blogger imprisoned in Azerbaijan, is now a free man! Shabi, an Amnesty International USA intern who was born in Azerbaijan, sent out the following email this morning:

I am from Azerbaijan and the main reason behind my choosing to do internship at Amnesty was that my two friends – Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli had been prisoned last year because they had criticized the government and Amnesty was one of the few organizations, which did research on them and called them ‘prisoners of conscience.’ So, I have wonderful news!!! Adnan Hajizada was released from prison today!

So I thought I should share these great news with you and it’s worth sharing it with all the activists, who have been taking actions in this case. I am just happy to tears and I pray for each prisoner of conscience to be freed just like this.

Thank you so much for all your work!!!

While this is positive news, Adnan’s fellow digital dissenter Emin Milli is still in prison. So is Eynulla Fatullayev who remains in prison despite a reluctant Azerbaijani Supreme Court dropping most of the fabricated charges against him this week.

Thank you for taking action for Adnan.

UPDATE: Emin is also free!!!

Why Is Kareem Amer Still in an Egyptian Detention Center?

Kareem Amer

Kareem Amer should never have been in jail in the first place.  Now the Egyptian blogger and prisoner of conscience is wondering why he remains in jail after serving the entirety of his four-year sentence.

Amer, who was jailed for criticizing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog, is being held at a State Security Intelligence (SSI) detention center in Alexandria despite being due for release on Nov. 5. Lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that he has been beaten and abused by State Security Intelligence (SSI) officers.

This isn’t the first time Egyptian officials have held individuals beyond the termination of their sentence.  In fact many who are detained for political activities never even make it to trial.

The State of Emergency, which has been in force in Egypt since 1981, gives the government sweeping powers to detain individuals.  Time and time again, authorities have used these powers arbitrarily and aggressively with the intention of muzzling civil society. The continued detention of Kareem Amer is part of that picture.

But compared to other recent events that seemed to offer hope that the government showed partial signs of liberalization, this new step raises disturbing questions.  What stands out about this case is the high level of interest it has received by US leaders, who have raised concerns about the charges against Amer from the very beginning.  In short, the US government has done just about everything we would want them to do when faced with a human rights violation in an allied state like Egypt.

And yet, we are left with the current situation: Amer, beaten and still detained, not even in a public prison but a notorious SSI detention center. It’s hard not to speculate that certain Egyptian security officials decided to use Amer to send a message that nobody in the US, in the West or even in Egypt is going change Egypt’s record on human rights.

If that is true, it is a reminder that to be effective, human rights work must be based on a single standard. Focusing on favored individual cases never provides a long-term solution and rarely helps the specific individual. If the US government wants Kareem Amer to be released, their best tool is to insist that Egypt release all prisoners of conscience including the imprisoned Muslim Brothers, and – as Amnesty calls for in its statement – “curb the powers of the SSI and ensure that SSI officials who breach the law or are responsible for abusing prisoners are brought to justice.”

Ask Obama to Help Donkey Bloggers

A year after being arrested for digital dissent (official charge was “hooliganism”) including a YouTube conference in donkey suit mocking Azerbaijan’s government, bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade are still behind bars.

Now, Adnan’s father and Emin’s wife have drafted a petition asking US President Barack Obama “to raise this issue in [his] discussions with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and call for the release of Hajizada and Milli” during the upcoming 65th United Nations General Assembly in New York.

I just signed the letter and ask you to do the same (click here to sign the letter).

The bloggers’ relatives need 1,000 signatures by September 20th.

For more background on the bloggers, see my earlier post.

There's No Free Press in Egypt

That’s some bad timing U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey had last week.  Speaking at a public conference in Egypt, Scobey declared that “Egyptians are very free to speak out. The press debates so many things.” She then implied human rights organizations are free to investigate human rights abuses.

Activists call for the release of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Karim Amer

Activists call for the release of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Karim Amer

It didn’t take long for the Egyptian government to undercut the ambassador’s comments.  Today, Egyptian human rights activists announced their support for one of their own, blogger Hani Nazeer Aziz, when the government refused to implement for the fourth time a court order demanding his release from jail.  Aziz has been detained without charge at Borg AlArab prison since October 2008, activists say because the government wanted to silence his pro-democracy writings.

Scobey didn’t mention Aziz in her conference.  Nor did she mention arrested blogger Karim Amer, who is an Amnesty prisoner of conscience; nor did she cite a former POC Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger detained for more than a month in 2007 for denouncing torture ; nor did she mention novelist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, known by his pen name Musaad Abu Fagr, who is a subject this month of Amnesty International’s Write-a-Thon.  Earlier this month, one of the most famous bloggers in Egypt, Wael Abbas, was convicted in absentia to 6 months in jail on charges of sabotage.


Unsilence Azerbaijan's Donkey Bloggers!

A satirical YouTube video showing a press conference by a blogger in a donkey costume was meant to make a point in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan. Instead, it got the activist and his associate behind bars. Now in jail and convicted of “hooliganism,” youth activists Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade hope that an appeals court will overturn their sentence next week. Both men (adopted by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience) can really use your help. Take action now!

A Voice of America editorial summarizes the case:

Human rights monitors and many members of the international community are concerned over an Azerbaijan court’s decision to imprison Azerbaijan youth leaders Emin Milli [Abdullayev] and Adnan Hajizade to prison terms of 2-and-a-half years and 2 years respectively. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST