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Middle East and North Africa
2013 continued to see important changes in the region. Arab Spring states faced great challenges in achieving stability and the establishment of democratic institutions. Political instability, unrest and violence have had profound effects on the work of HRDs. In some cases, HRDs found themselves in situations of acute political polarisation and were caught between armed confrontations.
This was true in particular for Libya, Syria, Yemen and the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, where the proliferation of non-state actors, including fundamentalist Islamic groups, has emerged as a significant threat to HRDs. Those who resisted their influence, or condemn human rights violations committed by these groups, faced serious risks, including death threats, violent raids, and forced disappearances.
In Syria, the mass popular uprising evolved into an internal conflict involving a number of different armed groups. A very high number of HRDs continued to flee the country in 2013. Those who remained and who continued their human rights work were targeted for their attempts at reporting human rights abuses. Two members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression were released in February while three remained in detention at year’s end. Their trial on fabricated terrorism-related charges remained pending. A number of other HRDs remained in detention, including secret detention as in the case of Khalil Matouq of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research. Four HRDs, including Razan Zeitouneh, were abducted in December and remained missing at year’s end.
In Egypt, the emerging democratic experiment collapsed again in July with the ousting of President Morsi by the military, after mass protests against him and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to which he belonged. This was followed by violent dispersals of pro-MB protests, which resulted in 700 deaths. Repressive practices through the use of police or prosecutions continued throughout the year, and political groups used their supporters to engage in violence against protesters, political opponents and other critical voices. During this wave of violence many HRDs were physically attacked.
Use of force by police against protesters was reported in many other countries, including Bahrain, Morocco- administered Western Sahara, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. In Western Sahara, nine HRDs were convicted in February, together with 16 other individuals, in relation to mass protests in El Ayoun in 2012. They were sentenced to heavy penalties ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation and using violence against public officials.
The situation deteriorated in Sudan, where the year witnessed repeated crackdowns on civil society. Between December 2012 and January 2013, three civil society groups (Sudanese Studies Centre, ARRY Organisation for Human Rights and Development, and the Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development) were forcibly closed down by the authorities. Mass protests were met with excessive force by the security forces, and there were reports of beatings and arrests of journalists, student activists and HRDs, especially during demonstrations in September and October. Arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions and torture of HRDs by the Sudanese military and security forces were also reported.
Restrictive NGO legislation was pending in Egypt, where the new regime announced plans to introduce a law which would reinforce government control over civil society organisations. A new law on demonstrations was passed in November which banned overnight protests as well as gatherings of more than ten people without government approval. It is also feared that the law may be used to justify the use of lethal force by the police. Concerns that the NGO Law passed in Algeria the previous year would be used against HRDs were validated in May when Abdelkader Kherba received a two-month suspended sentence and a fine for distributing leaflets on unemployment. In Israel, proposals were made to introduce a bill imposing a 45% tax on foreign donations to NGOs supporting campaigns for boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or calling for the prosecution of members of the Israeli Defence Forces in international courts.
Judicial harassment was widely reported across the region, in particular in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel- OPT, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. In Morocco, two journalists were put on trial on terrorism-related charges for their legitimate reporting on the use of anti-terrorism legislation. In Saudi Arabia, in June, a court in Dammam sentenced women’s rights defenders Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni to ten months in prison, on charges of ‘undermining the marriage’ of a woman they sought to assist. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian HRD Hasan Karajah remained detained by the Israeli military, pending trial, since his arrest in January in connection to his legitimate involvement in the Stop The Wall movement. In July, human rights lawyers Mohammed Al-Roken and Mohammed Al-Mansoori in the United Arab Emirates were sentenced to ten years in prison on false charges of ‘plotting to overthrow the state’.
In Bahrain, the Government failed to change its repressive policy towards HRDs. Throughout the year, numerous instances of arrest, prosecutions based on fabricated charges, assaults, ill-treatment and torture in detention were reported. The Government continued its practice of imposing penalties of long-term imprisonment. In September, Naji Fateel of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights was sentenced to a 15-year prison term under the controversial Terrorism Act; the appeal remained pending at year’s end and evidence that he was tortured in detention was not considered by the court. The Government failed to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation to review the convictions it found to be fundamentally flawed, including that of former Front Line Defenders staff member Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
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- 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)