A UN expert today said she feared three human rights defenders serving 10-year prison sentences in the United Arab Emirates are being mistreated in conditions that may amount to torture and urged authorities to release them.
“Issuing long-term prison sentences to human rights defenders, in connection to their human rights work, is a practice that cannot continue, and is an issue I will be prioritising during my mandate” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“Not only have Mohamed Al-Roken, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser Bin Ghaith been criminalised and imprisoned for their non-violent and legitimate calls for respect for human rights in the UAE, they have been subjected to ill-treatment in prison,” Lawlor said. “Reports I have received indicate that the conditions and treatment that these human rights defenders are subjected to, such as prolonged solitary confinement, are in violation of human rights standards and may constitute torture”.
Lawlor said Mohamed Al-Roken, imprisoned since 2012 on charges of “plotting against the government”, is subjected to intermittent periods in solitary confinement, allegedly without justification or explanation. In 2013, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found this detention to be arbitrary and requested his immediate release.
Three lawyers are said to be recovering after being assaulted by police in the wake of protests in the Tunisian capital on Saturday.
According to the Tunisian Bar Association, Yassine Azaza and Rahhal Jallali were attacked by officers while they were making their way home after the demonstrations in Tunis. A third lawyer, Abdennaceur Aouini, was photographed surrounded by police officers in the city’s main street.
Saturday’s protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations since mid January. Tunisian police appear to have been targeting protesters and activists in response to the “humiliation” the police unions claim members experienced during a previous protest when activists threw paint at police lines and posed for images in front of officers holding riot shields.
Serving officers and social media accounts linked to unions appear to have been threatening protesters photographed at previous demos.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company had taken down some of the threats: “Keeping people safe is something we take extremely seriously and it is against our community standards to share personally identifiable information about others when it could lead to physical harm. In this case, we have removed a number of pieces of content for breaking these standards, including our rules on bullying and harassment.”
Encouraged by many of the civil society groups that now resist them, Tunisia’s security sector trade unions emerged after the country’s historic revolution of 2011, with the initial aim of securing rights denied to officers under past autocracies.
But the unions have been accused of having gone to extraordinary lengths to protect members’ interests. In addition to the targeting of protesters, this is said to have included the manipulation of evidence after an alleged assault on a lawyer by police officers and the storming of a court after the trial of five colleagues who had been accused of torture.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday fined Turkey over the local prison administration’s refusal to grant a request for access to certain Internet sites lodged by lawyer Ramazan Demir in the course of his pre-trial detention in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison, where most political prisoners are held, in 2016.
The rights court also ordered Turkey to pay 1,500 euros in compensation to Demir.
Demir, a human rights lawyer, represents Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, before the ECtHR. Accused of membership in a terrorist organization and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization, Demir was put in pre-trial detention on April 6, 2016 and released on September 7 of the same year.
On April 12, 2016 Demir asked the prison administration to allow him to access the Internet sites of the ECtHR, Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the Official Gazette so he could obtain legal information needed to follow his clients’ cases before these two courts and to prepare his own defense in the criminal proceedings against him.
Citing Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Demir complained that his right to receive information had been violated by Turkish prison authorities and courts.