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Middle East and North Africa
2012 confirmed what started to emerge at the end of the previous year: the Arab Spring gave hope to thousands of people in virtually every country of the region, but to date it has only brought limited real change.Human rights defenders in Egypt continued to struggle against harassment and legislative restrictions. In countries such as Algeria and Bahrain, where mass protests failed to bring significant changes or reforms, HRDs have been arrested and sentenced.
While there was a transition in Yemen, the new government continues to face seemingly insurmountable security, development and financial problems which have made progress for HRDs elusive. The most tangible change is ongoing in Tunisia. There as well, however, there were some reasons for concern: the current draft of the new Constitution includes provisions undermining respect of international human rights treaties as well as of freedom of expression, opinion and belief,women’s rights and non-discrimination.
Continuing popular mobilisations in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE and post Mubarak Egypt were met with violent repression and arbitrary arrest. In Bahrain and Kuwait, the authorities banned all public gatherings in October. The Moroccan government continued to employ violent tactics against peaceful protesters and HRDs in the Western Sahara cities of Laayoune, Dakhla and Smara.
Arrest and detention remained the single most frequent violation against HRDs in the region, accounting for nearly three quarters of the cases Front Line Defenders reported on. Fabricated charges and unfair trials were reported in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and UAE. In Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Al Qahtani and Abdalla Al Hamid, co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), faced trial on charges including establishing an unlicensed association, providing false information to United Nations human rights bodies, inciting international organisations against the country, and mobilising public opinion against the authorities by accusing them of abuses. The charges may result in up to 30 years in prison. In Palestine, human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested by Israeli security forces and secret evidence was used against them.
In Syria, against the backdrop of the ongoing uprising, a number of HRDs were forced to flee the country. Scores of those who remained were arrested and held in undisclosed locations, which increased fears they may be subjected to torture. Widespread use of torture by State security personnel was documented by a report issued in July. The 2012 Front Line Defenders Award went to blogger and HRD Razan Ghazzawi, who was arrested in February for disseminating information on human rights abuses by Syrian security forces. Many of her colleagues remained in detention at year’s end.
The arrest of HRDs, journalists and bloggers remained widespread in Iran. In March, prominent human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and banned from practising law for 20 years. A number of other HRDs remained in detention, sentenced after unfair trials on vaguely defined charges including propaganda against the government, endangering national security, or attempting to overthrow the government. Reports of physical and psychological torture against detained HRDs were frequent. In November, Sattar Beheshti, a blogger, died while in detention after reports that he had been tortured. The targeting of those using the Internet to promote human rights was particularly strong in Gulf countries, where HRDs rely extensively on online platforms due to the very limited access to broadcast and print media. In Oman, websites deemed sensitive or controversial, including news and human rights websites, were blocked. Several HRDs also had their personal pages on social networking sites hacked or blocked. Nine human rights defenders were sentenced in September and December on charges including insulting Sultan Qaboos and violating the information technology law. In the UAE, following criticism of the government expressed online, several political reformists and HRDs were stripped of their nationality in January and a prominent blogger and online media activist was deported in July, after two months in detention. Several HRDs are amongst dozens of individuals held in detention without charges as a result of their peaceful calls for political reform.
Human rights defenders were targeted by new legislation in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Israel. In Egypt, there were proposals to make more prohibitive the already restrictive 2011 law no. 34, which assigns prison sentences and significant fines for peaceful protests and strikes. The latest draft of a new NGO bill was presented in October and remained pending at year’s end; it eliminates some of the existing restrictions on local NGOs but maintains prior government approval for foreign funding as well as heavy criminal sanctions for violations of the law, and requires foreign NGOs to obtain a permit. In Israel, a bill on Foreign Funding of NGOs under consideration since late 2011 was eventually put on hold due to strong international and domestic criticism, but remains formally pending in parliament. In Iraq, draft legislation limiting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remained pending at year’s end. Also pending remained an Information Crimes bill, about which there are fears that it may be used to target bloggers and critical voices. If put into law, it would allow the authorities to prosecute Internet users on ill-defined grounds of, inter alia, undermining economic or political interests of the country – a crime which carries a life sentence.
In Bahrain, more than a year after the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, the authorities have failed to implement many of its recommendations, continued to suppress protests and arrest human rights defenders. In September, a court upheld the life sentence against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and former Front Line Defenders staff member, on fabricated charges of organising and managing a terrorist organisation and attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country. Almost all the most vocal Bahraini HRDs were in detention at year’s end.
Bahrain: Human rights defender, Hussain Jawad, detained amid campaign of defamation against Bahraini activists
Kuwait: Human rights defenders Mr Abdullah Al-Rfdi, Ms Rana Al-Saadoun, and Mr Monzer Al-Habeeb on trial for allegedly 'insulting the Emir'
19 November 2013
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04 September 2012
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10 February 2009
25 June 2007
- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
- B’tselem (Israel-Palestinian Authority-Occupied Territories)
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights
- Checkpoint Watch (Israel-Palestinian Authority- Occupied Territories)
- Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights
- Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
- Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD)
- Organization of Human Rights in Iraq
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
- Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue & Democracy
- Physicians for Human Rights (Israel-Palestinian Authority-Occupied Territories)
- Rabbis for Human Rights (Israel-Palestinian Authority-Occupied Territories)