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Prisoner of Conscience

    July 03, 2014

    Today’s court decision to acquit two Zambian men accused of having consensual sex with each other because the case had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt is the right decision for the wrong reasons, Amnesty International said today.

    “It is appalling that these men have spent over a year in prison awaiting trial charged with something which should not be a crime,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s Zambia researcher.

    “To imprison people on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation is unjust and a breach of international law. Amnesty International has always regarded these men to be prisoners of conscience.”

    James Mwape and Philip Mubiana, were freed today after having been held for over a year after being charged with having sex “against the order of nature”. The judge said that the state had not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.   

    July 01, 2014

    Posted at 0001hrs GMT 2 July 2014

    Nine peaceful government critics are believed to be suffering ill-treatment in an Abu Dhabi prison a year after a grossly unfair trial led to their incarceration, Amnesty International said as it called for their immediate and unconditional release.

    “The only reason these nine individuals are behind bars is because they dared to call for peaceful democratic reform, which seems off-limits in the UAE. They are prisoners of conscience and they must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

    “World leaders must not prioritize business interests over human rights, by ignoring serious violations in the UAE. They should use their influence with the authorities to ensure all prisoners of conscience are released and their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are respected.”

    June 30, 2014

    The early release of Do Thi Minh Hanh, a woman labour activist and prisoner of conscience, in Viet Nam is a positive step but authorities must now follow up and release the scores of other peaceful activists still behind bars, Amnesty International said.

    Hanh, 28, was released on 26 June by Vietnamese authorities and arrived home yesterday. She had been imprisoned for seven years in 2010 for “conducting propaganda against the state”, after handing out leaflets in support of workers demanding better pay and conditions.

    “We are of course delighted that Do Thi Minh Hanh has been released, but she should never have been locked up in the first place. Sentencing someone to seven years in prison for handing out leaflets is ludicrous, and a sad indictment of the Vietnamese authorities’ long-lasting crackdown on dissent,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.

    “The Vietnamese authorities must now follow up and immediately and unconditionally release all others who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

    June 27, 2014

    The conviction of a human rights lawyer jailed for taking part in a peaceful protest must be overturned, said Amnesty International ahead of an appeal hearing in the case on Saturday 28 June.

    Mahinour El-Masry, who is well known in Egypt for her political activism and human rights work, was sentenced to two years in prison last month after she participated in a protest last December. The protest was peaceful, but some of the demonstrators turned to violence after police forcibly dispersed the assembly.

    “There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Mahinour El-Masry was involved in violence against the security forces. Her case is just the latest in a series of examples of the Egyptian authorities’ systematic attempts to stifle dissent, including by using the repressive protest law enacted last November,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

    “Mahinour El-Masry is a prisoner of conscience, convicted and sentenced solely for protesting peacefully. She should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

    May 15, 2014

    The Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Abdallah Elshamy, an Al Jazeera Arabic journalist who has been placed in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison and denied medical care for an ongoing hunger strike, said Amnesty International today.

    Abdallah Elshamy has been on hunger strike since 21 January 2014 and his health has deteriorated severely, according to recent reports. On Monday, he disappeared from his cell in Tora Istiqbal Prison and the authorities did not disclose information about his location to his family or lawyer, despite repeated appeals.

    His family, who was able to visit him briefly yesterday, said that he was moved to solitary confinement in al-Aqrab Prison (known as “The Scorpion”) as a punitive measure for his hunger strike. After his transfer, Abdallah Elshamy spent three continuous days in his cell without security officials checking on him once.

    April 16, 2014

    Saudi Arabia must immediately release prominent human rights activist and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was arrested following his fifth hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court on Tuesday and taken to al-Ha’ir prison without an explanation, said Amnesty International.

    Waleed Abu al-Khair was detained in connection with his human rights work. He is now facing charges almost identical ones he was convicted of by another criminal court back in October 2013.

    “Authorities in Saudi Arabia are clearly punishing Waleed Abu al-Khair for his work protecting and defending human rights. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

    “Waleed Abu al-Khair’s detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.”

    April 16, 2014

    Ten years after serving a full sentence for his revelations to the press about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, Mordechai Vanunu still faces severe restrictions that arbitrarily infringe on his freedom of movement, expression and association, said Amnesty International.

    The former nuclear technician served an 18-year-prison sentence, the first 11 years of which were in solitary confinement, for disclosing information to journalists about Israel’s nuclear arsenal during the 1980s. 

    Since his release in 2004, renewable military orders, have placed Mordechai Vanunu under police supervision. Among other things, he is banned from leaving the country and participating in internet chats. He must also seek permission to communicate with any foreign nationals, including journalists.

    “The authorities’ continued punishment of Mordechai Vanunu appears to be purely vindictive. The government’s arguments that these severe restrictions are necessary for national security are ludicrous,” said Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser at Amnesty International.  

    April 14, 2014

    The early release in Viet Nam of several prisoners of conscience is welcome, but serves to highlight the situation of at least 70 others who remain jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions, Amnesty International said today.

    Nguyen Tien Trung, Vi Duc Hoi and Cu Huy Ha Vu have all been released over the past week.

    “We are delighted that these men are out of prison but they should never have been locked-up in the first place,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

    “The releases are a step in the right direction for freedom of expression and we hope that they reflect a shift in Viet Nam’s commitment to respecting human rights.”

    Amnesty International has documented the cases of 75 individuals who have been imprisoned after being tried and convicted for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and raised some of these cases in a recent visit to Viet Nam.

    April 07, 2014

    A Cairo appeals court today upheld the conviction of three government critics for taking part in an “unauthorized” protest, a further sign that the Egyptian authorities are tightening the vice on freedom of expression and assembly, Amnesty International said.

    The defendants, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, both activists with the 6 April Youth Movement, and well-known blogger Ahmed Douma, are to serve three years in prison with labour and a 50,000 Egyptian pound (US$7,185) fine. The court also ruled they should serve three years’ probation following their release.

    “This appeals court ruling tightens the vice on freedom of expression and assembly and is yet another sign of Egypt’s growing climate of intolerance towards any legitimate criticism of the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

    “Repression goes unabated in Egypt. Those who were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising are now jailed for a mere peaceful protest. 

    March 18, 2014

    Today’s unlawful detention of a respected magazine editor and human rights lawyer for their criticism of the judiciary in Swaziland is another shocking example of the southern African kingdom’s intolerance of freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.

    Bhekithemba Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s monthly news magazine The Nation and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko are being held at Sidwashini Remand Prison in Mbabane, after highly irregular legal proceedings. They were arbitrarily arrested under defective warrants, denied access to their lawyers and remanded in custody after summary proceedings held behind closed doors.

    “These arbitrary arrests and highly irregular legal proceedings amount to judicial retribution rather than justice being delivered, and are further evidence of Swaziland’s intolerance of freedom of expression. It violates international human rights standards and has no basis in Swaziland’s domestic law,” said Mary Rayner, researcher on Swaziland at Amnesty International.

    March 14, 2014

    Azerbaijan should immediately and unconditionally release two political leaders who have been behind bars for more than a year on fabricated charges, Amnesty international said.

    On 17 March, the Shaki District Court is expected to announce the verdict against Tofig Yagublu and Ilgar Mammadov – two prisoners of conscience who were arrested more than a year ago after they observed riots in the northern city of Ismayili.

    “The authorities in Azerbaijan seem to stop at nothing to crush dissent. All Tofig and Ilgar did was visit Ismayili to observe and report on these events. They are being punished simply as critics of the government,” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

    Tofig Yagublu is an independent Azeri journalist and the deputy chair of the opposition Musavat party and Ilgar Mammadov is leader of the Azeri opposition group REAL. If convicted, Tofig Yagublu and Ilgar Mammadov face up to 12 years in prison.

    March 05, 2014

    Last night’s release of Jabeur Mejri, a prisoner of conscience who spent two years in prison for publishing online articles and cartoons deemed offensive to Islam, is long overdue and must be followed by the authorities quashing his sentence and conviction, said Amnesty International.

    The organization had campaigned heavily for his release, including as part of its annual Write for Rights campaign in December 2013.

    “Jabeur Mejri’s release is a huge relief for his family and a victory for all the activists who have campaigned on his behalf across the globe. Putting him behind bars for two years for the images he posted online was a travesty that risked crushing all hope of genuine progress on freedom of expression in post-Ben Ali Tunisia,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

    March 03, 2014

    The authorities of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must immediately quash the conviction of a Qatari medical doctor who has been sentenced to seven years in jail today after a grossly unfair trial, said Amnesty International.

    Mahmoud Abdulrahman al-Jaidah was arrested more than a year ago over alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood and faced torture and ill-treatment in detention. He was denied access to a lawyer while held in secret detention and given limited access to one during his trial, in flagrant violation of international fair trial standards. He has no right to appeal his sentence.

    “Today’s disgraceful sentencing of Mahmoud al-Jaidah is a farce and makes a mockery of the UAE’s claim to be a progressive country that respects human rights.  He was arrested without a warrant, blindfolded and flung into solitary confinement before being repeatedly tortured, ill-treated and forced to sign papers he wasn’t allowed to read,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

    February 27, 2014

    Omid Kokabee was arrested at the airport as he was leaving Iran on January 30, 2011.  He was returning to his PhD studies in physics at the University of Texas. He was held for 15 months in pre-trial detention, before his trial in May 2012 on charges of “contact with hostile countries” and "receiving illicit payments”. The payments referred to a stipend he received from the University of Texas for his studies. His televised trial, alongside 12 others, was unfair. 

    No evidence against him was presented in court and he was not allowed to speak with his lawyer beforehand. 

    Omid Kokabee was held in solitary confinement, interrogated for long periods and pressured to make “confessions”. He says he was made to write down details of people he had seen in embassies or at conferences; his interrogators then accused some of those people of being CIA operatives.

    February 25, 2014

    Egypt’s armed forces must end the military trial of two journalists, release them immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against them, Amnesty International said as it named both men prisoners of conscience.

    Amr Al Qazaz and Islam Farahat are to appear before the North Cairo Misdemeanour Military Court on 26 February 2014, on charges of illegally obtaining and publishing classified military documents and videos – including interviews with Egypt’s Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. If convicted, both men could face up to three years in prison.

    “The two journalists are prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression by performing their jobs,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.

    “The Egyptian authorities must release them immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against them. Journalism is not a crime, and civilians, including journalists, should never face trial in military courts.”

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