Kyrgyzstan: Charges, Raids Against Independent MediaJournalists Detained, Equipment Confiscated, Censorship

The Kyrgyz authorities should drop criminal cases of “war propaganda” and “calls to mass disorder” initiated against several independent media outlets, eight human rights groups said today in a joint statement.The groups facing charges include 24.KG, Temirov Live, Ayt Ayt Dese, Alga Media, Archa Media, and Politklinika, all in clear retaliation for their independent reporting. In an escalation of pressure on independent media. On January 15 and 16, 2024, Kyrgyz law enforcement agents and security services carried out early morning raids targeting media outlets and reporters. The authorities should stop intimidating and harassing journalists, and allow them to carry out their work without obstruction.The groups issuing that statement are Human Rights Watch, Civil Rights Defenders, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Norwegian Helsinki Committee, People in Need, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and International Federation for Human Rights and World Organisation Against Torture within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.On January 16, Kyrgyz police raided the homes of at least 10 current and former journalists with Temirov Live, Ayt Ayt Dese, Alga Media, Archa Media, and Politklinika; confiscated equipment; and detained several of them for interrogation, Kyrgyz media reported. According to 24.KG, Kyrgyz police said in a statement that the raids and detentions were part of a criminal investigation under Article 278.3 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes “calls to disobedience and mass riots.”The Interior Ministry’s press service told local media that the agency opened the investigation after linguistic experts, commissioned by the police in late December 2023, allegedly concluded that some publications contained signs of such calls. It is unclear what publications these charges concern. The Criminal Code provision is vaguely worded and has repeatedly been used to initiate criminal charges against critics of the authorities. It provides for penalties up to eight years in prison.On January 15, the Kyrgyz State Committee on National Security  raided the newsroom in Bishkek of the independent news agency 24.KG, confiscated equipment and detained the outlet’s director Asel Otorbayeva and its two chief editors Makhinur Niyazova and Anton Lymar, holding them for nearly four hours for interrogation. The security agency also confiscated mobile phones of other 24.KG reporters, sent them home, and sealed the office, local media reported. A post on X, formerly Twitter, on January 15 from the 24.KG account said: “24.KG newsroom is being raided. GKNB agents are in the premises. [Our] Lawyers are barred entry.”Citing the security agency’s press service, Kyrgyz media reported that the agency took actions against 24.KG in connection with a criminal case the agency had initiated. on charges of “war propaganda” under article 407 of the Kyrgyz Criminal Code. The agency said that the Pervomayski District Court in Bishkek had approved the raid. This criminal provision carries a sentence of heavy fines or imprisonment of up to seven years with a ban on carrying out professional activities for up to three years.Before being taken for interrogation, Niyazova told journalists that the criminal case against 24.KG was related to its reporting on the war in Ukraine. Upon their release Niyazova and her colleagues told journalists that they had been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement for the duration of the criminal investigation, so were unable to share any further information.The outlet’s lawyers reported being denied access to the 24.KG office during the raid as well as to the 24.KG representatives during their interrogation on security agency premises.The actions against 24.KG and others come in the context of a worsening campaign against free speech in Kyrgyzstan and are likely to reinforce a climate of fear among independent media outlets, the groups issuing the joint statement said.In the last few years, independent media and journalists, bloggers, and others critical of the Kyrgyz government’s policies have faced increasing pressure, including politically motivated criminal cases, arrests, and imprisonment. The websites of independent news sites have been arbitrarily blocked and the authorities have attempted to close down media organizations because of their independent reporting, such as in an ongoing court case against Kloop and an earlier case against the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in which its bank account was frozen.Previously another independent outlet, Kaktus Media, came under investigation on charges of war propaganda because of its reporting on hostilities at Kyrgyzstan’s border with Tajikistan. Bolot Temirov, a journalist at Temirov Live whose wife and colleagues were targeted by the raids on January 16, was stripped of his citizenship and deported because of his outlet’s investigations into high-level corruption.Freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan will further deteriorate if a repressive draft media law, which is currently under consideration in parliament, is adopted. The draft law would significantly expand government control over the media and grant the authorities wide powers to deny media outlets registration, obstruct their work, and close them down. The draft media law has been severely criticised by the media community, human rights groups and international human rights experts. On January, 15, the parliamentary committee on international affairs postponed its consideration of the draft law, saying it needed additional revisions.The Kyrgyz authorities need to take immediate and decisive steps to bring the country’s respect for press freedom in accordance with its international obligations, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the groups said. They should immediately cease their repressive actions against independent media outlets and journalists and allow them to report on events in the country and the rest of the world without fear of retribution. The authorities should also refrain from pursuing the draft media law in its current format. The Kyrgyz authorities’ respect for freedom of expression should be an important consideration by the EU and other actors seeking closer engagement with the country.


Lebanon: Gaddafi Son Wrongfully Held for 8 YearsEnd Politically Motivated Detention


Lebanese authorities should immediately release Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of Libya’s former leader, who has been held in pretrial detention on spurious charges since his arrest in December 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Nearly 80 percent of Lebanon’s prison population is in pretrial detention, some held for many years and without charge.Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, which oversee prison operations, took custody of Gaddafi in December 2015, alleging that he had a connection to the disappearance of a Lebanese Shiite Imam, Moussa al-Sadr, and two of his companions in Libya after an official visit in August 1978. Even though Gaddafi was only two years old in 1978 and held no senior official position as an adult, Lebanese authorities charged him with “withholding information and subsequently interfering in the crime of continued kidnapping” of Imam Sadr, said one of his lawyers.



“Hannibal Gaddafi’s apparent arbitrary detention on spurious charges after spending eight years in pretrial detention makes a mockery of Lebanon’s already strained judicial system,” said Hanan Salah, associate Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanese authorities have long since exhausted any justification for continuing to detain him and should drop charges and release him.”Human Rights Watch wrote in July 2023 separately to the Lebanese Internal Security Forces director-general, Major General Imad Othman, and to Judge Zaher Hamadeh, the judicial investigator in charge of the case, requesting detailed information on Gaddafi’s judicial status and health, but has not received a response.The lawyer told Human Rights Watch that Gaddafi went on a hunger strike from June to October 2023 to protest his continued arbitrary detention as well as detention conditions that resulted in him losing considerable weight and repeated hospitalization. Prison conditions in Lebanon have dangerously deteriorated since the country’s slide into a serious economic crisis in 2019. Conditions include inadequate health services, insufficient and poor quality food, and severe overcrowding that authorities blame on an increase in crime rates, slow trial proceedings, and the inability of many who have served their sentences to pay fees required for their release.Unidentified armed men kidnapped Gaddafi in 2015 in Syria near the Lebanon border after he was reportedly misled to believe that he would be interviewed by a newspaper. Instead, the men transferred him to Lebanon, where they tortured him, demanded information on Imam Sadr’s disappearance, and demanded a ransom, the lawyer said. Gaddafi had been living in Syria with his family after fleeing Libya at the onset of the 2011 revolution that toppled his father’s regime and after some time living in Algeria and Oman.Lebanese authorities freed Gaddafi from his captors but reportedly arrested him within days and kept him detained at the Internal Security Forces Information Branch after Judge Hamadeh issued an arrest warrant accusing him of concealing information about the disappearance of Imam Sadr. Gaddafi was formally charged 2016, apparently based on reports that he knew where Sadr had been held between 1978 and 1982. Gaddafi and his lawyer have denied this allegation.In December 2015, Lebanese authorities detained a former Hezbollah member of the Lebanese parliament, Hassan Yaacoub, for his alleged role in Gaddafi’s kidnapping. He is a son of Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub, a Sadr aid who disappeared with him in Libya. The authorities released Yaacoub without charge in July 2016.In 2018, a court handed Gaddafi a 15-month prison sentence in a separate case for “insulting” the Lebanese judiciary as well as a one-year travel ban.The disappearance of Sadr, the Iranian-born cleric and popular founder of the Lebanese Shiite political party and armed group Amal, caused a rupture in relations between Lebanon and Libya. Muammar Gaddafi during his lifetime maintained that Sadr and his two travelling companions, Yaacoub and a journalist, Abbas Badreddine, left Tripoli in 1978 on a flight to Rome, but Italian authorities denied the claim and Sadr’s followers accused Gaddafi of disappearing and subsequently killing all three over disagreements on payments to militias in Lebanon.Lebanese authorities have claimed that Hannibal Gaddafi provided an affidavit during his detention with information on Sadr and his aides’ alleged detention in Libya after their disappearance, but a lawyer for Gaddafi in 2022 dismissed these claims, stating that Gaddafi had been forced to sign a document under duress, without the presence of a lawyer.Throughout Gaddafi’s imprisonment, Lebanese authorities have released little information on his judicial status and the legal basis for his ongoing detention. It remains unclear which judicial entity periodically signs off on his continued detention, and how often Gaddafi is taken before a judge.In January 2019, then-Lebanese Justice Minister Selim Jreissati asked the head of the Judicial Inspectorate, the state body in charge of supervising the judiciary and the work of the judges, to assess whether Gaddafi’s continued detention without trial remained judicially relevant, but the results were not made public. Libyan authorities in August 2023 also questioned the legality of Gaddafi’s detention and said that Lebanese authorities should release him and allow him to return to Syria to his family, but Lebanese authorities did not respond.Under international law, detention is subject to strict due process, in particular informing the person of the reasons for arrest; basing detention on clear domestic law; promptly taking the person before a judge and charging or releasing them; providing a judicial ruling on the legality of detention; the right to a speedy trial or release from detention; and providing regular opportunities to challenge the lawfulness of a long-term detention. Failure to respect such procedural safeguards makes a detention arbitrary. Under international law, pretrial detention should be the exception, not the rule.Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Lebanon ratified in 1972, specifies that “[n]o one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”“It’s understandable that people want to know what happened to the Imam Sadr,” Salah said. “But it is unlawful to hold someone in pretrial detention for many years merely for their possible association with the person responsible for wrongdoing.”


Indonesia: Protect Newly Arrived Rohingya RefugeesInvestigate, Prevent Anti-Rohingya Violence in Aceh


Indonesian authorities should immediately stop all pushbacks of boats carrying ethnic Rohingya refugees, and investigate and end all assaults on refugees, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should allow the asylum seekers to disembark in the nearest safe port, provide protection and humanitarian assistance, and investigate online incitement of violence against them.On December 27, 2023, more than 100 students broke through police lines and stormed a car park in the city of Banda Aceh, where 137 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, had been temporarily placed. The students verbally and physically assaulted the refugees, then forced them onto trucks, which transported the refugees to the government office responsible for immigration where the students demanded the refugees be deported. Elsewhere in Aceh province, residents have tried to prevent Rohingya boats from reaching the shore, and surrounded the tents of Rohingya on beaches and other temporary locations, and demanded that they be relocated.“The Indonesian government should ensure that Rohingya boat refugees are immediately brought ashore and protected, not pushed back to die at sea, or be attacked by anti-Rohingya mobs,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should investigate and hold accountable whoever has been mobilizing an online campaign inciting violence against Rohingya arrivals.”The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that since November, 11 Rohingya boats have landed and the refugees relocated to informal sites, mostly in Aceh and one in North Sumatra. At least 1,700 Rohingya refugees, more than 70 percent of them women and children, have landed in the two provinces since November.A Rohingya refugee who has been living in Aceh since early 2023 told Human Rights Watch that his wife, their two children, and his brother were part of the group attacked on December 27.“In the video on social media, I saw my kids hit by things the students were throwing,” he said. “My wife was crying along with other Rohingya, and my brother was lying on the ground. He was so hungry because the group didn’t have food for many days while they were floating out at sea.”The man said he has been unable to reunite with his family due to the risk of further attacks, and is regularly receiving calls from traffickers threatening to kidnap his family from their temporary shelter.On December 27, UNHCR said that the Rohingya have faced “a coordinated online campaign of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech against refugees and an attempt to malign Indonesia’s efforts to save desperate lives in distress at sea.”Recently created anonymous accounts on Instagram, TikTok, and X, formerly known as Twitter, have spread disinformation and misinformation about Rohingya refugees that has put their safety at risk. Anonymous accounts also identified local UNHCR staff in Aceh and published personal information (“doxing”), leading to numerous online threats and personal risks in carrying out their work. The social media monitoring and fact-checking organization Drone Emprit analyzed posts from December 2-8 and found a campaign of false information and hate narratives against Rohingya.The Indonesian authorities should urgently investigate alleged organizers of incitement against Rohingya refugees and take appropriate action to hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said.On December 28, the Indonesian navy pushed a Rohingya boat back out to sea off Weh Island, Aceh’s northernmost area. This contravened Indonesia’s search-and-rescue obligations at sea and international legal obligations to provide access to asylum and to not return anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other ill-treatment. The pushback was also not in keeping with Indonesia’s longstanding humanitarian reputation for assisting refugees at sea, including Rohingya.Southeast Asian governments should undertake greater regional and international cooperation to respond to boats carrying Rohingya refugees in distress, including coordinated search-and-rescue operations and timely disembarkation at the nearest safe port, Human Rights Watch said. The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand should provide Rohingya refugees with access to fair asylum procedures and ensure that they are not indefinitely detained, held in inhospitable conditions, or threatened with being forcibly returned to Myanmar.Rohingya are being driven to high-risk sea voyages due to growing restrictions and hopelessness in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and unending oppression and violence in Myanmar. Most are looking to ultimately reach Malaysia where an existing Rohingya community holds the promise of work, although many who arrive end up in immigration detention. More than 3,500 Rohingya attempted dangerous sea crossings in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in 2022, a fivefold increase over the previous year, at least 350 of whom died or were reported missing.In the past two years, the one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have faced escalating gang violence and ration cuts and increasing restrictions by the authorities.The Rohingya who remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are subject to persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods. Conditions for the safe, sustainable, dignified return of Rohingya refugees currently do not exist, given the frequent serious human rights violations by the Myanmar junta and ongoing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.“The Indonesian authorities should fully investigate who is disrupting the practice of fishermen and villagers in Aceh to assist Rohingya refugees arriving in rickety boats and offer them assistance,” Robertson said. “Indonesia should not join other Southeast Asian countries that have been pushing back Rohingya boats and letting these desperate people float away to their deaths.”

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