Saturday, August 23, 2014

Belarusian Rights Activist Sentenced To Three Years In Prison

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

A Belarusian court on August 12 convicted human rights defender Andrey Bandarenka on charges of hooliganism and assault and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Bandarenka is accused of assaulting people in three different incidents. He denies the charges.

He is the leader of Platform Innovation, a group involved in defending the rights of inmates in Belarusian prisons.

Bandarenka, 41, has been in police custody since his arrest in Minsk in April. His trial began in July.

Amnesty Says No Justice For Afghan Civilian Deaths In U.S.-NATO Attacks

A demonstration at a Kabul university to protest Afghan civilian deaths.

Bruce Pannier

Amnesty International has released a report documenting the inability of the families of Afghan civilians killed in attacks by U.S. and other foreign forces to obtain justice.

The report, titled "Left In The Dark," calls on the Afghan government to ensure that accountability for unlawful civilian killings is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States. 

David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, told RFE/RL that the report contains three key conclusions -- that Afghan civilians have nowhere to turn for justice; that the military justice system of foreign forces does not ensure accountability for these cases; and that the failure to properly address the grievances of Afghan civilians leaves behind "a dangerous legacy of resentment."

Amnesty interviewed 125 Afghan civilians who give firsthand accounts of air strikes and raids that left civilians injured or killed between the years 2009 and 2013.

Amnesty said it had documented attacks that left scores of Afghan civilians dead, including pregnant women and children. It said some of these attacks could qualify as war crimes.

Amnesty notes, however, that foreign forces have made improvements in distinguishing combatants from civilians in recent years and points out that the Taliban is overwhelmingly responsible for Afghan civilian deaths.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured since 2001," Griffiths said, "but they have no access to the military justice system of the countries -- and we’re talking specifically about the U.S. in our report -- and so they have nowhere to turn. In nine out of the 10 cases that Amnesty International investigated...[the families or victims] said that they had not been interviewed by any military investigators at any stage."

Soldiers Protected

Agreements signed between the Afghan government and foreign governments, particularly the United States, prevent foreign soldiers from being brought before Afghan courts.

Amnesty also details initial denials of wrongdoing from foreign officials, both military and civilian, as well as official statements that Amnesty said misrepresented the facts of the incidents.

Relatives recounted to Amnesty not only encountering obstacles in trying to see the guilty parties punished but having in some instances to bring the bodies of their slain kin to the offices of local officials before international forces admitted there had been wrongful deaths.

"There was a harrowing case in September 2012," Griffiths said. "A large group of women were collecting firewood in the mountains in Noorlam Valley in Laghman Province and they were hit by an air strike. Seven women were killed and seven were seriously injured.... Immediately after the attack, there was no acknowledgement that civilians had been killed and so villagers had to resort to taking the bodies of these women and girls to the provincial governor's office to show them, to give them proof of what had happened.

"And while the U.S. and ISAF reportedly investigated the case and gave an apology," Griffiths continued, "there was no thorough investigation. They did not make an effort to meet with the victims and their families."

The watchdog also said it had found that local officials and police were often not informed of the attacks and raids and so could not render timely assistance to affected civilians.

"The U.S. military justice system does not ensure accountability," Griffiths said. "We're aware of just six cases in five years in which criminal prosecution for unlawfully killing Afghans civilians have taken place. And so with the withdrawal of international forces on the horizon at the end of this year, we feel that it is very important to raise these issues and to highlight the lack of accountability for civilian casualties in advance of that so that the U.S. and other international forces do not leave behind this legacy of impunity and resentment."

Azerbaijani Rights Activist Jailed For Three Months

Intiqam Aliyev was awarded the Homo Homini human rights award in the Czech Republic in 2013.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports that human rights activist Intigam Aliyev has been detained in Baku.

A court in Baku charged Aliyev on August 8 with tax evasion, abuse of office and illegal entrepreneurship.

His lawyer, Anar Gasymly, said a court swiftly jailed Aliyev for three months.

Aliyev has denied the allegations and said that his arrest is politically motivated.
Aliyev is a veteran rights activist and was awarded the Homo Homini human rights award in the Czech Republic in 2013.

Czech NGO People in Need said, "It is shocking that this is all happening as Azerbaijan is heading Europe's top rights watchdog -- the Council of Europe."

Aliyev is the latest rights defender to be detained in Azerbaijan.

Rasul Jafarov was detained on August 2 for alleged tax evasion and abuse of authority.

Leyla and Arif Yunus are also in custody after being arrested on charges of treason, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship.

Court Rejects Prosecutors's Demand To Arrest Navalny

A court in Moscow has rejected a prosecutor's demand to place Russia's outspoken opposition blogger Aleksei Navalny into pretrial detention.

The court started preliminary hearings into a case against Navalny and his brother Oleg on August 1.

The prosecution asked the court to incarcerate Navalny, saying that he had violated his house arrest conditions by using the Internet.

Navalny wrote on Twitter that he used the Internet to post some documents related to the case.  

The Navalny brothers face charges of stealing and laundering $760,000 from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.

Navalny has been under house arrest since February and banned from using the Internet.

The case is one of several targeting Navalny, who is already serving a five-year suspended sentence on a separate 2013 theft charge.

He denies any wrongdoing, saying all probes against him are politically motivated.

Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS


Russia's Controversial Law For Bloggers Comes Into Force

A law seen by rights defenders as another move to curb freedom of expression has come into force in Russia as of August 1.

The new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in May, obliges bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with the mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and conform to the regulations that govern Russia's regular media outlets.

According to the law, bloggers cannot remain anonymous, while social networks must maintain data on their users for six months.

The information must be stored on servers based in Russian territory, so that authorities can gain access.

Hugh Williamson, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the law after it was adopted by the Russian parliament in April "another milestone in Russia's relentless crackdown on free expression."


Based on reporting by Interfax, ITAR-TASS and

Kazakh Inmates Reportedly Maim Themselves To Protest Conditions

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

Relatives of four inmates have gathered near a penal colony in Kazakhstan’s southern city of Shymkent to demand that they be allowed to see incarcerated relatives who may have maimed themselves.

The relatives told RFE/RL on July 31 that the officials at the penitentiary refused to allow them to see the inmates, saying that they were currently in solitary confinement.

The relatives said they had received information that the inmates have cut their abdomens open to protest "colony conditions and humiliation by the guards."

Last month, several inmates reportedly cut their abdomens open in a prison near the capital Astana.

Earlier this month, a prison riot in Kazakhstan's northwestern city of Aqtobe was quashed by authorities.

For years, prisoners in Kazakh penitentiaries have rioted to protest jail conditions, often maiming themselves to draw attention to their plight.

Azerbaijani Rights Activist Charged With Treason

Azerbaijani rights advocate Leyla Yunus (right) was detained in Baku with her husband in April.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 30.07.2014 17:14

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus has been charged with several crimes, among them treason, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship.

Yunus was forcibly brought to the Prosecutor-General's Office on July 30 and then charged with the crimes.

A Baku court ordered Yunus to be held in pretrial detention for three months while prosecutors prepare a case against her.

In April, Azerbaijani authorities prevented Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, from leaving the country, saying Leyla Yunus had been summoned as a witness in a probe against journalist Rauf Mirqadirov, who had been arrested for allegedly spying for Armenia.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said Leyla Yunus was not cooperating with investigators in the probe against Mirqadirov.

Yunus has been actively involved for years in people-to-people diplomacy with Armenian rights activists.

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More