For the second time this month, Tajikistan’s government has allowed a child of exiled dissidents to leave the country and re-unite with their family living abroad.

Tajik authorities have placed 10-year-old Fatima Davlyatova, daughter of peaceful political activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova, on a watch list and prevented her from leaving to Europe to reunite with her mother.


© Khudoydodova family

The children – Ibrohim Hamza, aged 4 and Fatima Davlyatova, aged 10 – are unrelated apart from one thing: They had effectively been held hostage for years—banned from leaving the country since a severe human rights crackdown picked up steam in 2015 – to punish their parents abroad for peaceful political and human rights work.

It was just over a week ago that authorities pulled Fatima Davlyatova, aged 10, along with her grandmother and uncle from an international flight just before take-off, blocking them from traveling to Europe to reunite with  Fatima’s mother, activist Shabnam Khudoydodova.

But a dramatic reversal happened two days ago, on August 11: Following an international outcry, security officers – with apparent support from top government officials – gave the family new tickets to fly out.

In Hamza’s case, the travel ban could have killed him. Hamza is severely ill but Tajik authorities had prevented him and his mother travelling abroad for necessary treatment, before finally relenting on August 2. His father and grandfather are both opposition politicians living in exile.

Even though the government’s actions were very late in coming, it has acted correctly in allowing ordinary Tajik citizens to leave the country. As Hugh Philipott, the UK’s ambassador to Tajikistan tweeted about Fatima’s flight out, the government’s “excellent decision” allowed “three generations (to be) reunited.”  #TheRightThingToDo, he added.

However, allowing these children to leave is only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of ending the government’s practice of harassing relatives of exiled activists and politicians, or indeed of ending the human rights crisis that has gripped the country for the last three years. In September 2015, the main opposition party was banned, kicking off an intense downward spiral of repression and human rights abuses.

Yet change has to start somewhere for the poorest country in Central Asia, already facing many development and security challenges. Let’s hope the happiness allowed to two small children could also be a turning point in the government’s’ respect for human rights.  

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Activist Tep Vanny takes part in a land rights protest in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 7, 2012.


© 2012 Reuters

(New York) – Cambodian authorities should quash the politically motivated conviction of prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny and unconditionally release her, Human Rights Watch said today. Tep Vanny was arrested on August 15, 2016, and convicted on baseless charges to silence her peaceful activism on behalf of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh.

“Tep Vanny has now spent two years behind bars on fabricated charges and should be released immediately,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “This is just one of many outrageous cases in which the authorities have misused Cambodia’s justice system to harass and imprison peaceful land rights activists.”

Tep Vanny, 38, is a recipient of the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for her efforts to defend the Boeung Kak Lake community from government land grabs and to demand respect for basic freedoms.

Since her arrest, Tep Vanny has been held at Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 2. A week after her arrest, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced her to six days in prison on spurious charges of insulting a public official at one of the “Black Monday” protests to demand the release of wrongfully detained human rights activists. Having already served the six-day sentence in pretrial detention, Vanny should have been released, but was instead transferred back to prison based on a series of dormant charges reactivated by the prosecutor.

Previous reporting by Human Rights Watch concluded that in this and other criminal trials against Tep Vanny, the charges had no factual basis and were apparently fabricated. Trial judges did not require the prosecution to present evidence to substantiate the charges, unjustifiably disallowed testimony by defense witnesses, and arbitrarily rushed proceedings to prevent cross-examination of prosecution evidence.

In 2013, Tep Vanny joined protesters in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to peacefully call for the release of a detained fellow community member. Authorities arrested her but did not prosecute her at the time and let the case lie dormant.

However, after the government suddenly activated the case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her on February 23, 2017, under article 218 of the criminal code for intentional violence with aggravating circumstances. The judge sentenced her to two and a half years in prison and ordered her to pay a fine of 5 million Cambodian riels (US$1,250). The court also ordered her to pay 9 million riels (US$2,250) in compensation to two security guards who alleged injury. On August 8, 2017, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, as did the Supreme Court on February 8, 2018.

On February 23, 2017, state security officials kicked, shoved, and dragged activists who had gathered outside the courthouse, injuring two Boeung Kak activists and a pregnant woman. Video footage of the incident shows para-police chasing demonstrators into a neighboring mall, and guards repeatedly punching and kicking one of them with evident excessive use of force.

The authorities also prosecuted another long-dormant case against Tep Vanny, relating to her participation in a 2011 protest, but have yet to order her to serve the sentence. On September 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Vanny and three other Boeung Kak Lake community members – Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, and Heng Mom – for obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances and insulting a public official under articles 502 and 504 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. The judge sentenced all four to six months in prison.

On February 23, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld their conviction and sentence, as did the Supreme Court on December 8. However, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court has left the enforcement of the prison sentence to the discretion of the prosecutor, who so far has not acted.

Other affected land communities who had sought justice and engaged in peaceful activism have also been heavily harassed through arbitrary arrests, detention, and criminal prosecution. One of the more prominent examples is the Borei Keila community, whose activists were also at the forefront of and arrested in response to the Black Monday campaign. Authorities had arrested more than 38 Borei Keila activists by the end of March 2017.

The prosecution of Tep Vanny and other activists violates the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to a fair trial, protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party. These rights are also contained in Cambodia’s constitution.

“Tep Vanny’s plight should be at the center of demands by foreign governments and donors to the Cambodian authorities to immediately release all political prisoners,” Robertson said. “The government’s treatment of Vanny and other detained activists is a critical indicator of its engagement with the international community after the widely derided July elections.”

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Azerbaijani opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov, amid a crowd of supporters just after being released from prison. Aug 13, 2018.


© 2018 Aziz Karimov

This morning, I could not believe it when I got a text saying that Ilgar Mammadov, my friend, former colleague, and a prominent political activist from Azerbaijan, was released from prison. After being behind bars for five years, Mammadov was finally reunited with his family.

Azerbaijani authorities arrested Mammadov in February 2013, shortly after he announced plans to challenge President Ilham Aliyev in the October 2013 presidential election. In a total mockery of justice, the authorities convicted Mammadov of inciting violence and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

But today’s ruling made by a court in Azerbaijan’s Sheki district reduces Mammadov’s remaining two-year jail sentence to a suspended term. While this is a moment of tremendous relief, Mammadov’s rights continue to be violated, by virtue of the fact his guilty verdict still stands and the authorities will still limit his freedoms – including his freedom of movement.

Mammadov should have never been imprisoned in the first place. In two separate judgments, the European Court of Human Rights found Mammadov’s detention illegal, that the charges against him were in retaliation for his criticism of the authorities, and his conviction a violation of fair trial norms. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe had called for Mammadov’s immediate release at least a dozen times. In addition, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe initiated a rare inquiry into Mammadov’s continued detention, and in an unprecedented move, the Committee of Ministers decided to trigger legal proceedings against Azerbaijan, referring the case back to the court last fall.

It’s not just Mammadov who was unfairly imprisoned. In a vicious crackdown against critics, Azerbaijani authorities have jailed dozens of human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists. The government adopted a range of draconian laws and regulations, impeding independent groups’ work and their ability to secure funding.

Understandably, Azerbaijan’s international partners are issuing statements to welcome Mammadov’s release, but they should refrain from heaping praise on the government. Every one of Mammadov’s 2,015 days in prison was a violation of his rights, and the authorities still have to right this wrong. Azerbaijan’s international partners should insist authorities fully exonerate Mammadov, ensure his compensation for damages is paid in full, and lift all restrictions on his freedom —to travel, to speak out, to engage in political activism. They should also urge authorities to release the others imprisoned for speaking up for freedom in Azerbaijan.

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The post Iran’s theocrats ‘under growing pressure’ as sanctions intensify unrest appeared first on Democracy Digest.

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The post Iran’s theocrats ‘under growing pressure’ as sanctions intensify unrest appeared first on Democracy Digest.

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Students gather at Elephant Road Circle beside Dhaka College demanding road safety and justice for the traffic deaths, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on August 4, 2018.


© 2018 Turjoy Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An 18-year-old student, recovering from severe injuries he received during street protests in Bangladesh, recently contacted Human Rights Watch. He is concerned for his country, he said, and wants to speak out, but fears not only arbitrary arrest, but also that his attackers will return to ensure his silence. “Let them know about us. Let us feel we are not alone. It’s too much,” he said.

Indeed, it is too much. Like him, tens of thousands of students took to the streets calling for better road safety after a speeding bus killed two university students late last month. Students demanded safer roads, but also accountable governance and the rule of law: the protests’ slogan is “we want justice.” They filled the streets of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, bringing the city of 18 million people to a standstill.

But the Bangladesh government responded to the peaceful protests with force, using tear gas and rubber bullets. Students, parents, teachers, or just appalled citizens have been sending to Human Rights Watch pictures and videos of men identifying themselves as ruling Awami League supporters beating up the student protestors, even including schoolchildren in uniform.

The 18-year-old said he was taking pictures of the protests on August 3 when a group of men – some alleged members of the Awami League student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League – attacked him. “They wanted my camera,” he said. He saw the police watching while the thugs beat him with sticks, pipes, and machetes. “They did nothing,” he said.

Instead of prosecuting the attackers, the Bangladesh government has been monitoring social media accounts to shut down criticism. At least 20 people have been arrested, including the renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, for speaking out against the violent crackdown.

This needs to end. The Bangladesh authorities should release Shahidul Alam and others, address violence by everyone, including its supporters, and instead uphold the right of everyone, even children, to peacefully protest. Because nobody – not least young students – should fear violence or arrest just for speaking out.

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