Stopped at the airport, Vo An Dan and his family had hoped to seek asylum in the US.
Vietnamese human rights lawyer Vo An Don and his family were stopped by police in Ho Chi Minh City this week from boarding a flight to New York, where they had hoped to apply for political asylum in the US, the well-known rights lawyer told RFA on Wednesday.
Don and other family members were barred from leaving Vietnam by police at Tan Son Nhat Airport at around 9:42 p.m. on Sept. 27, Don said, calling the action taken against him by authorities arbitrary and vindictive.
Don added that airport police told him he would need to contact immigration authorities in his home province of Phu Yen, on Vietnam’s south-central coast, for an explanation of the order barring his travel overseas.
He and his family were now on their way back to Phu Yen, Don said.
“I’ll work with the Phu Yen police tomorrow to find out why my departure was temporarily suspended,” Don said, saying that airport police had cited “security reasons” for blocking his departure in accordance with Article 36 of the Law on Entry and Exit for Vietnamese citizens.
According to Vietnamese law, citizens of the country have the right to travel domestically and overseas, Don said. “I’ll take legal action against them and file a request for compensation if they fail to give legitimate reasons for what they did,” he added.
“In the past, I used to work as a defense lawyer for ordinary, common people,” said Don, whose license to practice law was revoked in 2017 after he successfully defended the right to benefits of the surviving family members of a person who died in police custody.
The chairman of the Attorneys’ Chamber in Russia’s Udmurtia region, Dmitry Talantov, has been accused of committing five crimes and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Pervy Otdel (The First Unit), a group that unites lawyers and right defenders, wrote on Telegram on September 14 that Talantov has been charged with the distribution of fake materials inciting political hatred and discord, and two counts of inciting hatred and discord using an official position.
Talantov was arrested in the Udmurt capital, Izhevsk, and sent to pretrial detention in Moscow in late June after he criticized the Russian government and military forces over a deadly strike on a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.
He was initially charged with distributing false information about the Russian armed forces.
Earlier in April, Talantov, who has openly condemned Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, also harshly criticized Russia’s military for killing civilians in the Ukrainian towns and cities of Irpin, Bucha, and Mariupol.
Talantov was the lawyer for Ivan Safronov, a prominent former Russian journalist who was sentenced to 22 years in prison last week on a treason charge widely considered to be politically motivated.
A year since the Taliban military reoccupation of Kabul and the withdrawal of the NATO military presence, justice seems even further away for victims of war in Afghanistan. While there has been a reduction in conflict-related violence, terrorist attacks as well as the fighting between Taliban and the armed resistance in Panjshir, Baghlan, and earlier in Balkhab, Saripul has continued to cause civilian harm. Ongoing violence, coupled with lack of accountability, shrinking space for reporting and documentation of violations, and dismissal of rights institutions has created a bleak situation for victims in Afghanistan. Additionally, despite the catastrophic human rights situation inside the country, the international community and United Nations (U.N.) mechanisms have continued with their “business as usual” approach to accountability in Afghanistan, failing to take meaningful steps to deliver justice, ensure accountability, and counter impunity for gross violations of international humanitarian law in the country.
Afghan victims of war have been waiting for justice for a long time. Afghanistan has been in war for over 40 years, with direct international involvement for the past 20 years. Almost every family has experienced some form of harm by the various parties to the conflict, including the international military forces. In these past four decades, neither national governments and local actors, nor the international community that proclaimed commitments to human rights and democracy have taken meaningful steps toward justice and accountability for civilian victims of war in Afghanistan.
A year since the end of intense fighting, any attention to the victims of war in Afghanistan has faded and the discourse of victim-centered justice seems to be forgotten. Domestically, Taliban have dismantled the existing legal system, dissolving the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, replacing trained lawyers with their own members and fighters who only have religious training, and excluding female staff from the judiciary. It is unclear what legal framework is being upheld, with laws around protection of women from violence, and detainees from torture, being scrapped. The justice sector has been gutted, with professionals forced out, leaving the sector voluntarily, or fleeing the country, and decisions by Taliban judges are taken on an arbitrary basis. The legal framework and institutions that once offered some protection or legal remedy to victims of war, flawed as they were, have now been completely abolished and abandoned. Afghan civil society actors and the local human rights community are mostly now in exile or keeping a low profile in Afghanistan, unable to advocate for a just peace or victims’ rights. Even the memory boxes – exhibits honoring the memories of victims of the past four decades of war, which had been on display in Kabul until last year – and the activists collecting them have been forced into exile following the takeover by the Taliban.
While the justice sector is being dismantled and the space for documentation and advocacy has completely closed, the violations continue to cause civilian harm. Executions, enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and mistreatment by Taliban have become daily news. Taliban are exercising collective punishment against communities from Panjshir and the Hazaras. They conduct “cleaning” operations in areas of conflict such as Balkhab where they raid houses and arrest civilians on suspicion of affiliation with their enemies, including the former international coalition.
Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, who was jailed for contempt by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, in controversial circumstances on July 27, regained his freedom on Friday. He speaks with GODFREY GEORGE about his one-month prison experience
Would you like to recount what your first day was like in detention in the Ikot Ekpene Custodial Facility in Akwa Ibom state?
By the time I arrived, I was not perturbed by my sentence in any way. They first took me to the Uyo Correctional Facility but they did not admit me. They referred me to Ikot Ekpene, and I was supposed to be there for two weeks. When I got to Ikot-Ekpene, I was admitted and immediately confronted with the reality of the abominable neglect of the correctional centre in the country. Even though the Ikot Ekpene Prisons building is relatively new, as it was recently renovated by former Governor Godswill Akpabio, life there is still very horrible.
Most Nigerians may not know how bad the condition is until they experience it. I had to remove my shoes when I was admitted. They took my properties and took account of them. Then, I had to be shown the cell where I was going to spend two weeks. The custodial centre in Ikot-Ekpene is terribly and disgustingly congested. Inmates live basically like animals. There are people who do not even have a space to lie. They sit with their legs tied and others sit close to them. That is the condition that some of them have had to live for years since their sentence. I was so enraged by what looked like an attempt to replicate the Nazi concentration. But then, I was told there was what they called the ‘special cell’, some kind of ‘privileged cell’ at the Ikot Ekpene Custodial Centre. They told me that I would either adjust to the very dehumanising condition I find myself in the regular cell or I had to pay for a space in the so-called special cell.
How much did it cost?
The officers said it would cost me N50, 000. I knew I had just two weeks to stay, but I had to pay that money so I could get a space. There were three of us in the room. There was no bed; there was just a small mattress. I adjusted. As I said, I had always mentally prepared for incarceration. So, we had to sleep on the floor. There was no net for me to shield myself from mosquitoes. I had to share the toilet with other people. It wasn’t palatable. But that is what people even consider to be one of the best in the country. I don’t think that is even fit for any inmate in this country to be kept.
As August 15 marks one year since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, we again report on the plight of Afghan women. Annette Young talks to Fawzia Aminy, a Supreme Court judge who managed to escape to Britain via Greece within weeks of Kabul falling, and to the woman who helped facilitate her rescue, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. The two are seeking to help those women left behind.
Topic: arrest, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention of human rights lawyer, Mr. Youssef Mansour.
Mr. Youssef Mansour is a lawyer, formerly with the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a non-governmental organisation that shut down in January 2022. He was the defence lawyer of another human rights defender, who was sentenced in December 2021 to four years in prison.
On 24 March 2022, around 30 security personnel, who arrived in police and civilian cars, arrested Mr. Youssef. Some were armed, some were in civilian clothing, and they produced no arrest warrant but told Mr. Youssef “we are affiliated with the government,” and gave him three minutes to get ready.
It is reported that Mr. Mansour was forcibly disappeared for two days, during which his family had no information about his whereabouts. In addition, his official arrest document was dated 25 March 2022, one day later than his actual arrest. He later told his lawyers that he had been held at the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency in Cairo, and was questioned about his social media postings.
On Friday 25 March 2022, he was moved to al-Basatin police station, also without the knowledge of his family or lawyer.
On 26 March 2022, Mr. Mansour appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor (SSSP) in Case No. 330/2022 on accusations of spreading false news inside Egypt and outside. Mr. Mansour was questioned about Facebook postings he had made regarding the prison conditions of on of his clients. Mr. Mansour had mentioned in his posts that the prison service sector had refused to implement official family and lawyer visiting permits to his client, held in the maximum security facility within the Tora Prison complex south of Cairo, known as Scorpion 2. He was ordered to be held in pre-trial detention pending investigations.
Mr. Mansour was accompanied by two lawyers during the interrogation, and was allowed to meet privately with them for a few minutes after the interrogation and before he was returned to his place of detention. His lawyers were reportedly not permitted to view the charge sheet or the evidence held against him.
Mr. Mansour has since been held in al-Basatin Police Station, and his pre-trial detention has been renewed twice for 15 days each time.
According to Mr. Mansour’s lawyers, the accusations in Case 330/2022 under which he is held are based on anti-terrorist Law No. 94 of 2015, and on Penal Code No. 95 of 1937 (updated) and they include the crimes of joining a terrorist group, which carries the death penalty, or long-term detention; incitement to commit a terrorist crime, punishable by up to one year in prison; and the dissemination of false news and statements harmful to the national interest, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to LE 500 (€ 25).
Tunisia is preparing for a constitutional referendum set to take place on July 25, 2022, exactly one year after the country’s President Kais Saied set the country on an alarming trajectory. This explainer unpacks how Saied has spent the last year dismantling the independence of the judicial and legislative branches and expanding his executive authority, and details how he threatens to make permanent these steps in a new constitution.
One year of Saied’s ‘state of exception’
On July 25, 2021, Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended the activities of the Assembly of the Representatives, and lifted parliamentary immunity; on July 29, he issued Presidential Decree No. 2021-80 to formalize these steps. Thereafter, he stated that he would head the executive branch alongside a new prime minister, who was eventually announced to be Najla Bouden.
On September 22, 2021, Saied declared that he would rule by decree virtue of Presidential Decree No. 2021-117 which suspended major constitutional articles and reaffirmed the previously-announced measures subverting parliamentary privileges. This step gave the president the right to rule by decree over various areas including the judiciary, the military, civil society associations, and political parties while exempting him from judicial review. Since then, Saied’s legislative and executive powers have continued to grow exponentially in the face of undermined oversight mechanisms.
These developments occurred as Saied planted the seeds for a “new political roadmap” that was rooted in a national narrative of fighting corruption and conspiracy, and holding “traitors” to account. As he did so, he declared that the 2014 constitution would no longer be valid and that the new roadmap would be based on “legal solutions” grounded in “the will and sovereignty of the Tunisian people.”
One of the steps to translate Saied’s vision into reality became the National Consultation Process, which took place between January 1 and March 20, 2022 and served as a stepping stone for the political and electoral reforms that were to come. The consultation proposed a series of questions, with specific pre-drafted answers regarding electoral, political, economic, educational, and social issues for eligible Tunisians to select from. Despite the fact that the consultation engaged only 508,000 participants, Saied declared the process a success and proceeded with his plan to implement its alleged input into next steps. Observers and experts critiqued the consultation for its low participation and methodology which resulted in unequal representation, particularly with regards to gender and region. Head of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) Noureddine Taboubi condemned the failure to inclusively involve national actors from the beginning of the consultation. In its latest urgent opinion, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe that is composed of constitutional law experts, found fault in the president’s roadmap more generally and cast doubt over the possibility of arriving at a “constitutional synthesis” with a consultation that “ did not give rise to widespread popular support, as participation remained very little.”
In a step that further ate away at checks and balances more generally, on February 12, 2022, Saied dissolved the Higher Judicial Council (HJC) via Decree No. 2022-11. The HJC had been promulgated in the 2014 constitution and was the highest judicial oversight body in the state. Saied’s decree replaced the HJC with a Provisional High Judicial Council, retaining the same composition of the HJC, though altering the number of judges and the appointment process, and empowering the president to act as a disciplinary power and request removal of members. These changes tightened the executive branch’s control over the judiciary and expanded the president’s powers and influence. Months later, Saied would amend Decree No. 2022-11 with Decree No. 2022-35 on June 1, 2022, giving him the power to dismiss judges if they harmed the independence or the integrity of the judiciary; the amendments paved the way for the sacking of 57 judges, per Presidential Order No. 315-2022.
Key takeaways from the constitution
Consistent with the unilateral approach that Saied has taken in setting forward the political roadmap and constitutional drafting process detailed above, the latest version of the draft constitution that Tunisians are set to vote on incorporates Saied’s narrative into the preamble. It claims that July 25, 2021 was a “correction of the Revolution’s path and that of history,” and that it will enable the country to move into a “new phase in history”—an expression Saied has used multiple times in his remarks and rhetoric. The preamble refers to the national consultation process and inflates its legitimacy, stating that “hundreds of thousands of citizens” participated.
Most significantly, Saied’s draft constitution seeks to create what has been described as a “hyper-presidentialist” system, where the president has extensive executive and legislative authorities, with little checks over them. The draft grants the president executive powers found in presidential systems, while also affording him legislative powers typically enjoyed by the head of government in parliamentary systems. While Tunisia’s 2014 constitution distributed these powers between the head of government and the president in a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, Saied’s draft seeks to concentrate them, not only making the president the most consequential actor in policymaking, but also making him omnipotent, in a manner similar to the 1959 constitution.
Saied’s draft eliminates parliament’s ability to vote to impeach the president prior to adjudication by the Constitutional Court, as had been set forth by the 2014 constitution. Moreover, while the government had previously been accountable to parliament under the 2014 constitution, this draft makes the government accountable to the president, who will also enjoy the authority to appoint and dismiss the head of government and other government ministers. The new draft keeps the infamous Article 80 of the 2014 constitution—which Saied relied on to declare emergency measures under a state of exception. However, the provision is now found in the form of Article 96, which eliminates the temporal deadline to lift these emergency measures and the Constitutional Court’s ability to rule on the validity of said-measures. In eliminating these safeguards, Saied makes the provision identical to Article 46 of the 1959 constitution and further expands the president’s authorities
Also similar to the 1959 constitution, Article 116 of the new draft stipulates that in case of a second vote of no-confidence against the government, the president has the right to accept the government’s resignation or dissolve one or both chambers of parliament. Although parliament in theory can still pass a vote of no-confidence against the government—albeit with difficulty as it requires a two-third majority of both chambers—its oversight power has been further constrained alongside the president’s expanded authority.
In the new draft constitution, the president enjoys expansive legislative powers at the expense of a severely-weakened parliament. He has the authority to suggest draft bills, as well as the authority to issue decrees that enjoy the force of law during parliamentary recess periods or when parliament is dissolved. The draft stipulates that the president can also call for legislative and constitutional referendums without prior parliamentary approval. On the flip side, while parliament does enjoy the authority to draw up bills that are supported by a minimum of 10 MPs, it cannot pass legislation that touches on the president’s administrative powers or on financial issues. Important to note that until a sitting parliament is elected, Saied will continue to enjoy the legislative power that he has been exercising vigorously.
While the new constitution establishes the National Assembly for Regions and Districts as the second chamber of parliament, it does away with an entire chapter on decentralization, previously present in the 2014 constitution and heralded at the time as an important success. The draft instead stipulates that local governance will further be expanded on in the law, leaving the matter outside of the constitution and raising concerns that the president may further weaken local powers, including through future amendments to the Local Authorities Code and the Electoral Law.
The draft constitution also curtails the powers of the judiciary. It eliminates the single Higher Judicial Council that was elected and tasked to manage all types of judicial jurisdictions, and replaces it instead with three higher councils that will oversee each type of jurisdiction individually—the details of which will be left to the law; it does not guarantee their independence. Leaving this to the law, rather than protecting judicial independence at the constitutional level, creates concern that the judiciary’s role will be even further weakened down the line and its independence, further compromised. The draft dedicates a chapter to the Constitutional Court, separating it from that of the remainder of the judiciary, and changes its composition. Unlike the 2014 constitution, under which the Constitutional Court was selected by the Higher Judicial Council, parliament, and the president and was composed of judges and professors from different fields, the draft creates a court composed only of appointed judges based on seniority.
The draft constitution does away with a number of independent entities created by the 2014 constitution to act as safeguards for rights and freedom by establishing additional oversight over state institutions. The draft keeps only the Independent High Authority for Elections, albeit without specifying whether its members will be elected by parliament as had previously been the case. Though the draft does recognize and protect individual rights and freedoms, an unusually-constructed Article 5 sets forth the state as the sole entity responsible “to work, in the context of a democratic system, to fulfill the “maqasid [purposes] of Islam,” raising concerns about the state’s role in interpreting religion and on how this will manifest in practice. Civil society organizations have also raised concerns about the draft’s failure to explicitly prohibit the military trial of civilians.
Ultimately, Saied’s constitution threatens to enshrine a system of governance in which the president enjoys expansive and in many cases, unchecked authorities, while the legislature and judiciary become seriously constrained, functioning with limited, if any, independence and autonomy. The draft is a reflection of a process that has lacked transparency, inclusivity, and accountability since day one and that threatens to formalize the actions that were taken in an alleged “state of exception,” grounding Tunisia and the Tunisian people further in an alarming and undemocratic pathway.
Prominent international human rights lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher has received death threats including one saying she will be murdered like Pat Finucane
Amnesty urges ministers to step back from the irresponsible verbal attacks on lawyers and judges
‘We fear reckless rhetoric from government ministers is putting a target on the backs of lawyers. In Northern Ireland, we have seen where such dangerous talk can lead’ – Patrick Corrigan
Amnesty International is calling on UK government ministers to step back from rhetoric attacking lawyers and judges after a prominent London-based Irish barrister reported receiving death threats in recent weeks.
One of the casework focuses of IJM Kenya is combating police abuse of power in the country, and on June 23, 2016, IJM human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, IJM client Josephat Mwenda and trusted driver Joseph Muiruri were tragically the victims of the same police abuse that they were striving to combat.
Today, after almost six years of delays in trial proceedings, 3 police officers and a civilian have been found guilty and convicted of killing Kimani, Mwenda, and Muiruri.This is a significant moment for police accountability in Kenya, demonstrating that the tide is turning against impunity for perpetrators of Kenyan police abuse.
The victims were abducted in 2016 while leaving court where Kimani was accompanying IJM client Mwenda, who had been shot and falsely accused by police.
In 2015, Mwenda, a Kenyan motorcycle taxi driver, was stopped and shot by a police officer, who subsequently attempted to cover up the shooting and bring unsubstantiated and false charges against Mwenda, including drug possession, gambling, and resisting arrest, amongst other charges. Willie Kimani, a human rights lawyer working for International Justice Mission, recommended that IJM take his case.
On June 23, 2016, when leaving court, Mwenda, Kimani, and their driver, Joseph Muiruri, were abducted. A week later, the bodies of the three men were discovered in a river, over 100km away from where the men were abducted. Five people, including four police officers, were charged with murder — but the trial, which began in November 2016, has faced numerous delays and adjournments. Evidence included DNA samples, a chilling confession statement by one of the accused individuals, CCTV footage, and mobile phone data analysis.
Police abuse of power and delayed justice are widespread in Kenya, with public confidence in police very low. In 2021 alone, the Missing Voices coalition has recorded a total of 219 cases of police killings and enforced disappearances. It is still highly challenging to get cases to trial, let alone through to the point of conviction. Today, four of the five accused persons in this case have been convicted of the murders, with one police officer acquitted.
The families of victims have reacted with joy and relief at today’s long-awaited verdict.
Awaiting the swearing-in of the new Cabinet under newly elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankan military with violent force chased away all the protesters occupying the entrance to the Presidential Secretariat and the main protest site Gotagogama early hours of Friday.
Military and riot police, who entered the protest site armed with clubs and wires, attacked the protesters taking control of the protest site while arresting at least eight, including protest leaders and a lawyer.
Journalists and lawyers were not allowed to enter the area and at least two journalists who were covering the clearing off were attacked by the military.
Strongly condemning the attack and forcible removal of the protesters, the US Ambassador in Colombo Julie Chung tweeted: “Deeply concerned about actions taken against protesters at Galle Face in the middle of the night. We urge restraint by authorities and immediate access to medical attention for those injured,” the US Ambassador tweeted.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), comprising all the lawyers and judges too condemned the government’s action to attack peaceful protesters who occupied the area for more than three months and demanded the exit of former government headed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa and now the removal of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“The BASL strongly and unreservedly condemns the use of force and violence last night by the authorities in attacking protesters at Galle Face in the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat.
It is apparent that hundreds of military personnel and police had blocked the access roads to Galle Face and prevented the public from entering the area. Attorneys-at-Law who tried to enter the area have been prevented from doing so by forces personnel. The BASL has been informed that at least two Attorneys-at-Law who sought to intervene in their professional capacity had been assaulted by service personnel. Video footage also shows unarmed civilians being assaulted by the security forces,” BASL President Saliya Peiris stated.
The BASL demanded for an immediate halt to the unjustified and disproportionate actions of the Armed Forces targeting civilians and urged President Ranil Wickremesinghe to ensure that he and his government respect the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights of the people.