JAILED AFTER EXPOSING POSSIBLE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Transgender US Army Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on August 21, 2013, after leaking classified US government material to the website Wikileaks. Some of the documents pointed to potential human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law by US troops abroad, the CIA, and Afghan and Iraqi forces operating alongside the US army.
Chelsea says she was trying to spark a meaningful debate on the costs of war and raise awareness of US military conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. She believed that that she was exposing abuses by releasing the information, but she wasn’t allowed to present evidence that she was acting in the public interest. In fact, Chelsea couldn’t even explain her motives until the sentencing phase of her trial. What’s more, she was overcharged with offenses including ‘aiding the enemy’. It seems that her prosecution was meant to send a harsh warning to other potential whistleblowers seeking to expose U.S. Government wrongdoing.
Chelsea spent three years in detention, awaiting trial. For eleven months she endured conditions described by a UN expert on torture as ‘cruel and inhumane’. These included isolation in solitary confinement – 23 hours a day in a small cell with no window to the outside.
The US has spent far too long punishing Chelsea for revealing potential human rights abuses. She should be shown clemency and government officials should focus their energies on investigating the alleged abuses she exposed.
IMPRISONMENT AND 1,000 LASHES FOR A WEBSITE
In May 2014, Raif Badawi was jailed for 10 years. His sentence also included 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a lifetime ban from appearing on media outlets once he is released.
What was Raif’s so-called crime? Violating Saudi Arabia’s information technology law and insulting Islam through the creation of ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals,’ a website meant for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia. He is a Prisoner of Conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of his beliefs.
The charges against Raif are related to articles he wrote criticizing religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, and pieces penned by others that Raif published on the Saudi Arabian Liberals’ site. The prosecution had called for him to be tried for ‘apostasy’ or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.
Raif is one of many activists in Saudi Arabia persecuted for openly expressing their views online. Facebook and Twitter are incredibly popular in a country where people can’t openly voice their opinions in public. The authorities have responded to this increase in online debate by monitoring social media sites and even trying to ban applications such as Skype and WhatsApp, further stifling free expression.
Join us for the Pittsburgh Write-a-thon and Human Rights Festival on Monday, December 8th, 6-9 pm at Calvary Episcopal Church
COMMUNITY LEADER TARGETED FOR ACTIVISM
Palestinian activist Murad Shtewi is an outspoken human rights defender from the Palestinian village of Kufr Qadum in the occupied West Bank. Every week, his community holds a demonstration to oppose Israel’s illegal settlements and demand that their main road be re-opened. As a result of his leadership, Murad was arrested in April 2014 and charged with rock-throwing and causing a public disturbance.
The unfounded charges against Murad are meant to not only to punish him, but to silence other Palestinian activists who dare to raise their voices against Israeli military occupation and human rights abuses. The 39-year-old father of three’s arrest and detention are part of a larger pattern of harassment by Israeli forces against Palestinian human rights defenders. Israeli forces also frequently resort to unnecessary and excessive force in response to protests. Since 2011, dozens of people in the occupied West Bank have been killed and thousands injured by weapons including rubber-coated metal bullets, live ammunition, and tear gas. As Israel’s largest foreign supplier of weapons, munitions, police equipment and devices – as well as training and techniques – the United States bears a particular responsibility for these abuses.
The majority of Kufr Qadum’s lands have been seized by the Israeli authorities for the purposes of building and servicing the illegal Israeli settlement of Kedumim. In 2002, during the second Palestinian uprising, known as the Intifada, the Israeli authorities closed off the main road connecting the village to the city of Nablus. The road is still closed, and the residents of Kufr Qadum and other Palestinians are prohibited from using roads designated for use by Israeli settlers only.
TORTURED, BEATEN AND SENTENCED TO DEATH
Moses Akatugba was sixteen years old when he was arrested under suspicion of armed robbery in November 2005. Soldiers shot him in the hand and beat him on the head and back before taking him to the police station. Moses then spent more than three months in police detention, where he says that police officers repeatedly beat him with machetes and batons. He told Amnesty that they tied and hung him up for several hours, and then used pliers to pull out his toe and fingernails. Finally, Moses was forced to sign two pre-written confessions.
Last year, Moses Akatugba was sentenced to death for armed robbery, after eight years awaiting trial in prison. The sentence was based only on his forced confession and the testimony of the robbery victim, which was full of contradictions.
Moses was just a boy when he was arrested. His mother was never even informed of his arrest – she only found out the next day through a woman selling wares on the street. Under international law, he never should have been sentenced to death, as he was a child at the time of the crime.
The criminal justice system in Nigeria is weak, blighted by corruption and human rights violations. The use of torture is widespread and widely reported in Nigeria but most of the cases of torture by the security forces remain largely un-investigated.