Lebanon must immediately cease the threats and intimidation of Mohammad Ahmad Samir Sablouh, a human rights defender and lawyer who has worked to assist victims of torture, arbitrary detention and Syrian refugees facing deportation, a UN human rights expert said today.
Mr. Sablouh has been targeted by the General Security Directorate and the Government’s Commissioner to the Military Court in relation to his legal work and inputs for a report by Amnesty International on Syrian refugees who had allegedly been arbitrarily detained on terrorism-related charges and tortured in Lebanon.
Military prosecutors requested that Mr. Sablouh’s immunity as a lawyer be lifted, in order to prosecute him under Article 403 of the Lebanese Penal Code for allegedly making false accusations. He and his clients have also been regularly questioned in relation to his work assisting Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“I am extremely concerned at the use of threats and intimidation that risk undermining the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the legitimate work of lawyers,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“The unimpeded work of human rights lawyers and human rights defenders in exposing these violations is crucial.”
The Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor the case and is in contact with the Lebanese authorities on the matter.
Human rights defender and lawyer Mohannad Karajah is due to appear in the Public Prosecution in Ramallah on 10 November 2021. The human rights defender was informed by the Public Prosecution in Ramallah of this decision on 8 November 2021. His court appearance relates to the charges of “taking part in an illegal assembly”, “incitement of hatred within the communities” and for “denouncing the Palestinian Authority” levied against him on 5 July 2021 for his active role in Lawyers for Justice.
On 4 October, human rights defender and lawyer Mohannad Karajah was threatened with arrest. The human rights defender was previously arrested on 4 July 2021 for advocating for defendants who were arrested for taking part in protests following Nizar Banat’s death. Mohannad Karajah was alleged to have “taken part in an illegal assembly” for attending the protests to monitor human rights violations. As a result, he was accused of “incitement of sectarian prejudices”, a charge often used by the Public Prosecution against human rights defenders to criminalise their human rights work.
Mohannad Karajah is a Palestinian human rights defender and attorney representing Lawyers for Justice, a Palestinian non-governmental, human rights organisation that works to support Palestinian activists and political prisoners held by the Palestinian Authority through legal aid. Lawyers for justice also works on documenting human rights violations which the Palestinians are subjected to by the Palestinian Authority.
Human rights defenders in Afghanistan report that they are now enduring a “climate of fear”, threats, and becoming increasingly desperate over conditions in the country, an independent UN expert said on Wednesday.
Stating that “the threat is very real”, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, called for an urgent coordinated response from the international community.
“Defenders tell me of direct threats, including gendered threats against women, of beatings, arrests, enforced disappearances, and of defenders being killed. They describe living in a climate of constant fear”, she said.
Those most at risk are people documenting alleged war crimes, women, in particular criminal lawyers, cultural rights defenders, especially those working in banned sectors such as musical performance, and others from minority groups.
Some told Mrs. Lawlor that they have erased their online data history to evade identification, and that the Taliban are using other ways to find them. One of them, for example, was identified by an injury to his leg.
According to her, the Taliban have raided offices of human rights and civil society organisations, searching for names, addresses and contacts.
“Many defenders are well known in their local communities, in particular in rural areas, and have left for the anonymity of the cities, but even there, they are forced to constantly change locations,” the UN expert said. “Most have also lost their source of income, further limiting their options to find safety.”
Mrs. Lawlor called for immediate international support, including an urgent plan for the evacuation of those at high risk, along with their families.
UN human rights experts* expressed deep concern about the arrest of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and woman human rights defender Chow Hang-Tung on charges of “incitement to subversion” and being a foreign agent, and urged authorities to refrain from the use of the National Security Law and reconsider its application.
Ms. Chow, a human rights lawyer, was arrested on 8 September 2021. She was a member of the Hong Kong Alliance, an advocacy group which organised the annual candlelight vigil marking the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Several other activists have been similarly arrested and charged under the National Security Law.
“Terrorism and sedition charges are being improperly used to stifle the exercise of fundamental rights, which are protected under international law, including freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs,” the experts said.
The experts have communicated in detailed written analysis their concerns to the Government of the People’s Republic of China about the National Security Law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region highlighting the law’s fundamental incompatibility with international law and with China’s human rights obligations.
The experts also raised their concerns over the qualification of “foreign agent” under the National Security Law, in which reference is made to funding received from foreign governments and activities benefitting them. The experts called on the Government to ensure that associations can seek, receive and use funding from foreign or international sources, without undue impediments.
On 8 July 2021, I wrote a letter with seven other UN Human Rights experts regarding the continued detention of human rights defender Mr. Hejaaz Omer Hizbullah, who has been charged with terrorism- related offences.
Mr. Hejaaz Omer Hizbullah is a prominent lawyer and a human rights defender, and member of the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. Mr. Hizbullah is a strong advocate against hate speech in the country and has been involved in a number of high- profile cases, including with regard to violence and discrimination towards the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Hizbullah was the subject of one previous communication sent on 22 June 2020 (LKA 4/2020). In this communication we expressed concern over the arrest and detention of Mr. Hizbullah on 14 April 2020 and his lack of access to legal counsel. Mr. Hizbullah was initially under investigation for his alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks of 2019, before the focus of the investigation was changed to his involvement with the Save the Pearls charity. The Government did not respond.
On 19 August 2020, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) filed a report regarding an ongoing investigation into Mr. Hizbullah’s activities. The report allegedly claimed that Mr. Hizbullah had acted as counsel on several occasions for individuals involved in terrorism and unlawful activity, and that he had been collecting data and information on various attacks on Muslims.
As previously communicated, the evidence allegedly incriminating Mr. Hizbullah was related to phone calls he made with a suicide bomber at the Easter Sunday attacks. It has been alleged that Mr. Hizbullah made 14 phone calls to this individual over a period of five years, being his legal representative in civil property dispute cases.
Mr. Hizbullah later faced accusations that he radicalised children at the charity, Save the Pearls. He is the only member of the organisation that has been arrested. Since his arrest, leading figures of the organisation have sworn affidavits attesting to the falsity of rumours that children were radicalised. And The former Head of Counter- Terrorism at the Sate Intelligence Services of Sri Lanka, who is also a member of the organisation, has sworn an affidavit attesting to the fact that the activities of the charity were entirely legitimate, in housing and educating vulnerable children.
During the first nine months of his arrest and detention that took place on 14 April 2020, Mr. Hizbullah was permitted just four visits from his legal counsel, all of which were supervised by the authorities. His lawyers filed a petition to the Court of Appeal, which was granted on 15 December 2020, allowing him to speak with his lawyers confidentially for the first time since his arrest. His access to lawyers is still reportedly limited and he can speak only occasionally to his family over the phone.
On 8 January 2021, at 2pm, Mr. Hizbullah was due to make his first appearance before the Colombo Fort Magistrate. At 1:55pm, Mr. Hizbullah’s lawyer was informed that Mr. Hizbullah had contracted COVID-19 and would be taken to a quarantine centre. No further information was given about Mr. Hizbullah’s condition or recovery. On 18 January 2021, Mr. Hizbullah was returned to his original cell.
On 18 February 2021, Mr. Hejaaz Hizbullah was produced before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court. The court decided the extension of his custody until 3 March 2021.
On 3 March 2021, Mr. Hizbullah was charged with “inciting communal disharmony” under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act section 2(1)(h). A few days later, on 9 March 2021, the Government issued a regulation expanding the application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. According to the text of the regulation – The Prevention of Terrorism (De- radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 1 of 2021 – persons suspected of acts of, or incitement to violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony, would be held in custody and undergo a process of “ rehabilitation ” at an undefined “ Centre ” for a maximum period of two years, instead of having the relevant authorities instituting the established judicial procedures against them.
Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed concern over arrests, harassment, criminalization and threats targeting these individuals.
“Arrests and raids on the homes of Palestinian human right defenders form part of a wider crackdown against those defending the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” she said.
Arrests, forcible transfers
Ms. Lawlor was alarmed by the arbitrary arrest and detention of Farid Al-Atrash, a human rights defender and lawyer at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).
Mr. Al-Atrash was detained by Israeli military forces after peacefully participating in a demonstration in Bethlehem on 15 June and released on bail eight days later.
The rights expert also voiced concern over the forcible transfer of Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.
“Muna Al-Kurd, Mohammed Al-Kurd and Zuhair Al Rajabi, human rights defenders at the forefront of protecting their communities against forced displacement, have been arrested and interrogated,” she said.
Another activist, Salah Hammouri, a Palestinian-French human rights defender and lawyer, is also at risk of having his permanent residency permit in Jerusalem revoked.
On the morning of 11 March 2021, Chang Weiping’s lawyers went to the Gaoxin branch of the Baoji Municipal Public Security Bureau in Shaanxi province to submit a request to meet the human rights defender and an application to end the “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL), under which the defender has been detained since October 2020. The lawyers also requested to see Xiang Xianhong, the deputy chief of the Gaoxin branch, to discuss details of the case. Xiang Xianhong was away at the time however, and spoke to the lawyers by phone.
That afternoon, Chang Weiping’s lawyers went to the Baoji Municipal Procuratorate and submitted a complaint against the Gaoxin branch of the Public Security Bureau for allegedly torturing Chang Weiping whilst detained under RSDL. The lawyers also requested that the procuratorate exercise its supervisory powers over the local public security bureau’s investigations into Chang Weiping. The procuratorate confirmed that it is yet to receive the case for prosecution review.
On 12 March 2021, Chang Weiping’s lawyers went to the Gaoxin branch again in a second attempt to meet Xiang Xianhong, however he was not present this time either. The lawyers spoke to him by phone again, but he refused to disclose any details in relation to the case. The lawyers then went back to the Baoji Municipal Procuratorate to follow up on their complaint the previous day, but were told that following “verification” with the police, the Procuratorate had concluded that Chang Weiping has not been subjected to torture by the public security bureau.
We wrote to the Ambassador of Myanmar in the United Kingdom
What’s the issue
We’re concerned about the military coup that took place in Myanmar and the violent repression of protesters, including through the firing of live ammunition which has resulted in numerous casualties.
These actions represent serious human rights abuses. We’re also alarmed by accounts of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as alleged enforced disappearances of lawyers.
We’re also alarmed about reports of ongoing intimidation and harassment of lawyers, as well as lawyers being prevented from providing legal assistance to detained protesters.
These actions deprive the citizens of Myanmar of their access to justice, violate international fair trial guarantees – including the right to have legal representation of one’s own choosing – and the principle of independence of the legal profession. These rights and principles are cornerstones of the rule of law and must be upheld.
We’re particularly concerned about the following cases: