AZERBAIJAN: Azerbaijani authorities failed to investigate serious invasion of well-known investigative journalist’s privacy

European Court of Human Rights (10.01.2019) – – In today’s Chamber judgment[1] in the case of Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan (application no. 65286/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:


two violations of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and


a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention.


The case concerned an alleged smear campaign against a well-known journalist, Khadija Rovshan qizi Ismayilova. In particular, she was sent a letter threatening her with public humiliation if she did not stop her investigative reporting. When she refused, a “sex video” filmed without her knowledge of her and her then boyfriend was posted on the Internet. Around the same time, newspapers ran stories accusing her of anti-government bias and immoral behaviour. She later discovered hidden cameras all over her flat.


The Court found that such acts had been an affront to Ms Ismayilova’s human dignity which the State had had a duty to investigate.


However, there had been significant flaws and delays in the investigation, even though there had been obvious leads. For example, no formal statement had been taken from a telephone engineer with State-owned Baktelekom who had admitted that he had been instructed to install a second telephone line in Ms Ismayilova’s flat and to trace wires to it. Most importantly, no line of inquiry had been developed to see if there had been a link between Ms Ismayilova’s being a well-known investigative journalist highly critical of the Government and the criminal acts against her.


That situation had been compounded by the articles published in allegedly pro-government newspapers and by the authorities’ public disclosure of a report on the status of the investigation which had, for no apparent reason, included information on Ms Ismayilova’s private life.


The Court took particular note of reports of journalists in Azerbaijan being persecuted and the perceived climate of impunity for such acts.


Principal facts


The applicant, Khadija Rovshan qizi Ismayilova, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1976 and lives in Baku. She has worked as an investigative journalist since 2005, reporting in particular for Azadliq Radio (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). Her work has often been highly critical of the Government. In particular between 2010 and 2012 she investigated and reported on alleged corruption by the Azerbaijani President’s family.


In March 2012 Ms Ismayilova received a threatening letter with still pictures taken from a video of her and her then boyfriend having sexual intercourse. The video had been filmed in the bedroom of her flat with a hidden camera. The letter, posted from Moscow, stated “Whore, refrain from what you are doing, otherwise you will be shamed!”.


Soon after, the video was posted on the Internet. Another two intimate videos were disseminated in 2013. Around the same time as the posting of the first video three State-controlled newspapers ran stories accusing her of a lack of professionalism, anti-government bias and immoral behaviour.


Ms Ismayilova discovered many hidden cameras in her flat, a newly installed second telephone line and data wires used to transmit footage from the cameras.


The prosecuting authorities launched criminal proceedings over the threatening letter and the covert filming. Several procedural steps were taken, including questioning Ms Ismayilova and granting her request to take a formal statement from the telephone engineer (an employee of Stateowned Baktelekom) who admitted that he had been ordered to install a second telephone line in Ms Ismayilova’s flat and to trace wires to it. Between April 2012 and August 2013, the authorities also ordered an expert examination of the threatening letter’s postal packaging, the pictures it contained and the wires found in the flat.


In response to Ms Ismayilova’s public complaints about the alleged ineffectiveness of the investigation, the prosecuting authorities published a status report in April 2012 noting that they had questioned a number of witnesses, including Ms Ismayilova’s boyfriend, friends, colleagues and members of her family.


Ms Ismayilova immediately lodged a civil claim, arguing that the report had disclosed information on her private life, namely the full names and occupations of her friends, colleagues and family, as well as her home address and the identity of the boyfriend who had featured in the video.


Her claim was dismissed, as were all her subsequent appeals. The courts found in particular that the purpose of the report had been to counter the possibility of people forming a negative opinion about the prosecuting authorities on account of Ms Ismayilova’s complaints in public about the ineffectiveness of their investigation into her case.


Between 2013 and 2014, Ms Ismayilova lodged a number of unsuccessful complaints with the domestic courts, alleging that the prosecuting authorities were delaying the investigation and, in response to her enquiries, had only vaguely indicated that the investigation was still ongoing.


Ms Ismayilova has another application (no. 30778/15) with the European Court concerning her arrest and detention in 2014 for large-scale misappropriation and tax evasion as well as abuse of power when working for Azadliq Radio. She was partially acquitted in 2016 and released.


Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court


Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence), Ms Ismayilova alleged that the State had either been directly responsible for the very serious intrusions into her private life, namely the threatening letter, the hidden cameras in her bedroom and the posting of intimate video recordings online, or, in any event, had not complied with its duty to take measures to protect her privacy rights by failing to conduct an effective investigation and identify those responsible. She further alleged under the same article that the status report had disclosed an excessive amount of sensitive personal information collected during the course of the investigation, which had added to her feeling of being in danger.


Lastly, relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), she argued that the State had either been directly involved in or had failed to take steps to prevent the systematic smear campaign against her. She submitted in particular that the harassment in her case was part of a pattern of politically motivated smear campaigns against journalists in Azerbaijan.


The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 26 September 2013.


Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Angelika Nußberger (Germany), President,

André Potocki (France),

Síofra O’Leary (Ireland),

Mārtiņš Mits (Latvia),

Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria),

Lәtif Hüseynov (Azerbaijan),

Lado Chanturia (Georgia),


and also Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar.


Decision of the Court


Article 8 (concerning the threatening letter, secret filming and posting of intimate videos online)


The Court found, on the one hand, that it had not been possible to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the State itself had been responsible for the very serious invasion of Ms Ismayilova’s privacy. Her arguments had been based on circumstantial evidence or on assertions requiring corroboration and further investigation.


On the other hand, the State had had a duty under Article 8 of the Convention to investigate acts which had been an affront to Ms Ismayilova’s human dignity. Her receipt of a threatening letter, the unauthorised entry into her flat to install wires and video cameras, the covert filming of the most intimate aspects of her private life in the sanctity of her home and the subsequent public humiliation through the dissemination of the video footage, had constituted a serious, flagrant and extraordinarily intense invasion of her private life.


However, there had been significant flaws and delays in the manner in which the authorities had investigated the case. That was despite the fact that the offences committed against Ms Ismayilova had been the result of an apparently carefully planned and executed operation involving a coordinated effort by a number of individuals, giving several obvious leads.


First, the Government had only submitted copies of decisions ordering procedural steps, without showing whether those steps had actually been carried out. Nor did they submit any formal record of the questioning of a very important witness, the Baktelekom engineer, who could have shed light on who had been giving him orders. Indeed, according to Ms Ismayilova, the investigator present at an encounter she had arranged with the engineer at her flat, just after she had discovered the hidden cameras and wires, had actively avoided recording his statements.


Furthermore, there was no material in the case file to show that the threatening letter with still pictures, apparently sent from Moscow, had been investigated. A formal request could have been made to the Russian authorities, for example.


Another immediate investigative step could also have been to identify the owners and/or operators of the two websites used to post the videos online and to determine the source of the videos and the identity of their uploaders.


Most importantly, no line of inquiry was developed to see if there had been a link between the fact that Ms Ismayilova was a well-known investigative journalist highly critical of the Government and the series of criminal acts committed against her.


Notwithstanding Ms Ismayilova’s complaints, no progress had been made in the investigation after August 2013.


In sum, the Court found that the Azerbaijani authorities had failed to comply with their positive obligation under Article 8 to protect the applicant’s private life on account of the significant shortcomings in the investigation and the overall length of the proceedings in her case.


Article 8 (concerning the publication of personal information in the report on the status of the investigation)


Ms Ismayilova complained about the excessive and superfluous disclosure of sensitive private details in the status report. The Court found that the public disclosure of such information had clearly constituted an interference with her privacy rights and had not been justified.


Other than arguing that the purpose of the status report had been “to inform the public about the progress of the investigation”, the Government had not explained what legitimate purpose had been served by publishing the address and identity of the partner of someone who had been secretly and unlawfully filmed in the privacy of their own home while having sexual intercourse.


Indeed, given that the investigation itself had concerned an unjustified and flagrant invasion into her private life, the authorities should have exercised more care so as not to compound the breach of her rights.


Article 10 (concerning the failure to protect freedom of expression)


The Court took note of the fact that the threatening letter received by Ms Ismayilova had been related to her professional journalistic activity. It also had regard to reports on the general situation in Azerbaijan concerning journalists, notably their alleged persecution, including actual physical attacks, and the perceived climate of impunity for those responsible. Ms Ismayilova herself had expressed the fear that she had been the victim of a campaign orchestrated against her in retaliation for her journalistic work.


In such a situation, the State had not just been required to take measures to protect her from intrusion into her private life, but also had a duty under Article 10 of the Convention to protect her freedom of expression. However, as the Court had found, the criminal investigation had been flawed and delayed, and the situation had been compounded by the articles published in allegedly progovernment newspapers and the authorities publicly disclosing information relating to her private life for no apparent reason. That had been contrary to the spirit of an environment protective of journalism.


Thus, the authorities had also failed to comply with their positive obligation to protect the applicant’s freedom of expression under Article 10.


Just satisfaction (Article 41)


The Court held that Azerbaijan was to pay Ms Ismayilova 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 1,750 in respect of costs and expenses.


The judgment is available only in English.


[1] Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day. Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here:



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SAUDI ARABIA: Canada flaunts diplomatic strain with the Saudis and cuts in front of Australia by flying Al-Qunun to freedom

Bangkok – Toronto: Canada’s swift action to snap up asylum-seeker Rahaf Al-Qunun and to fly her true north as Australia contemplates is sure to annoy Saudis – Social media and high visibility played a significant role but other asylum-seekers have not been so lucky.


By Keri Gibbs


British Pakistani Christian Association (12.01.2019) – – In a bold move Canada has flown Saudi asylum seeker Rafal Al-Qunun out of her week-long purgatory in Thailand to the freedom of Ontario’s crisp January air.


Canada has been very vocal in their criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record – even before the brazen murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last fall which shocked the world.


The Canadian government has granted asylum to the families of other vocal proponents of free speech in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia such as Ensaf Haider the wife of Raif Bawadi who has suffered lashes and imprisonment in Saudi Arabia for “insulting Islam on electronic channels” of the situation with Al-Qunun was swift to advocate for Al-Qunun, she tweeted:


“Any human being should act:


PLEASE HELP @rahaf84427714, she is a Saudi girl who tried to run from Saudi, but the Saudi embassy caught her in Thailand they arrested her!”


Keri-Lynn Gibbs BPCA Canada representative said:


“Canada has had an adversarial relationship with the Saudis ever since encountering retaliation for deriding their human rights record, and taking in dissidents that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would rather be silenced.


“Saudi Arabia had a significant number of university students studying in Canada, including many of who were completing residencies at medical institutions.


“In response to Canada’s criticism they pulled out their students and sent them to other countries such as the UK who are on friendlier terms with them.


She further postulated:


“In the current diplomatic environment it is not surprising that Canada was eager to cut in front of Australia’s offer of asylum to literally sweep Ms Al-Qunun off her feet and fly her to safety far away from Saudi Arabia.”


Saudi Arabia has even expelled the Canadian Ambassador and cut off diplomatic ties because of their irritation at Canada’s incessant virtue signalling as when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland chimed in on the Badawi’s situation. Ms Freeland said:


“Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”


Western Canada also has a campaign against Saudi and other Gulf States’ oil – countries whose human rights abuses coupled by a crisis in the Canadian oil and gas industry have driven the hashtag Campaign #StopSaudiOil


Another remarkable point in this case is the high visibility of Rafal Al-Qunun’s escape – as soon as she fell into trouble she posted to social media and declared her un-retractable reasons for asylum.


Declaring her atheism she cut herself off from her homeland forever and fully committed herself to being an apostate from Islam.


In his Twitter feed, Pak-Canadian journalist Tarek Fatah, a Muslim who is also a vocal critic of Islamic extremism, said:


“Had there been no Twitter, it can safely be assumed, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year old Saudi woman who fled her family, country and religion could have been dead.”


His daughter Natasha Fatah, also a journalist, fully engaged with her father and other activists such as Yasmine Mohammed and described their viral Tweetfest, tweeting:


“…al-Qunun’s story gained momentum on Twitter thanks to a handful of activists.”


Later Ms Fatah sent out a congratulatory message:


“You are welcome Rahaf! All of Canada is waiting your arrival. Many ready to welcome you and help you integrate into your new home…and if I may say, a wonderful, welcoming, progressive country!”


Keri-Lynn Gibbs form BPCA (Canada) continued:


“In my discussions with Canadian private sponsors and with our BPCA Bangkok officer, I have noticed that many people – especially in the Pak-Christian asylum community – have difficulty opening up about their need and even telling their story because their trauma is too deep.


“They are so used to keeping a low profile that the world would not even know about them unless journalists like Chris Rogers, and Mitch Potter; activists like Wilson Chowdhry, and Peter Bhatti; and exemplar politicians like Lord Alton (UK), MP Garnett Genuis (Canada), and Senator Peter Abetz (Australia) kept their plight in their respective government’s line of sight.


She further said:


“We need to speak up and break the silence on human rights violations in countries like Saudia Arabia and Pakistan, and make a serious effort to end the refugee crisis happening in transit countries like Thailand.


“This means refugees who come to western democracies must forgo their trauma-based shyness and share their real-life experiences.”


Online magazine, Newsvire reported the expeditious asylum given to Al-Qunun as compared to the 45 day detention so far of already accepted Australian refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi from Bahrain who is still being held in Thailand. They even described incidents regarding those who flee to other countries such as the Phillipines who have returned Saudi asylum seekers after attempting the exact same manoeuvre as this young woman never to be heard from again. This reminds us all of the alarming miscarriages in the asylum process that have destroyed prominent and less known victims.


In addition they pointed out that a Saudi official’ lamented to Thai officials about the quickly gathered 45,000 followers tracking Qunun’s whereabouts and well-being saying in Arabic:


“I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than [taking] her passport.”


A comment which speaks volumes of the Machiavellian nature of the Saudi government.


Perhaps even more disgracefully the Royal Thai Authorities are trying to make themselves the heroes in this recent decision. In the Newsvire article, head of Thai immigration, General Surachate Hakparn said:


“She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand,”


“No one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere.


“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”


Yet in 2014 after being forced back to Pakistan after being brutally incarcerated in the Bangkok IDC two returning Pakistani Christian men were arrested for blasphemy and in December 2018 convicted and sentenced to death. Nether these brothers nor the thousands of other Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand feel the nations is a ‘land of smiles’. You can learn more about the Pakistani Christians in Thailand.


Qunun aptly posted on social media with videos communicated the urgency of her situation, and a kind journalist: Egyptian-American Mona Eltahawy translated and shared her posts.


Hopefully that will not mean the gig is up for others using social media in their play for freedom.


Wilson Chowdhry said:


“The media plays an important role in registering a need for help and must accurately sound the alarm regardless of their personal comfort.


“When authoritarian states are allowed to sweep human right abuses under the carpet then other countries will form their foreign policy in the absence of that vital information.


“We often need to be bolder than we are at raising our voices for the disenfranchised.


“Earlier this week BPCA posted the testimony of one of our new Australian volunteers, Lara Hall, who was victimised by a Pakistani man and his family, boldly told her story. It is important to cry out at the harm done to our innocence by violations against our humanity, to tell the truth and to seek help.


“In Great Britain there are some churches and charities that do not appreciate that we at BPCA talk about the targeted sexual assaults or forced marriages that are happening to Pakistani Christian woman. Others are offended when we identify that a murder, rape or otherwise hate-crime was committed by a Muslim.


“It is necessary to bring these atrocities to light in order to extrapolate those who are suffering and to effective deal with the societal problems that arise because of them.”


BPCA is extremely pleased at the outcome for Rahaf Al-Qunun and wishes her well in her new life. To hear our BPCA (Canada) representative comment on this turn of event watch the video.




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VIETNAM: NOW! Campaign 2018 report about Vietnamese prisoners of conscience

Latest Count: Vietnam Holds 244 Prisoners of Conscience


VietnamPoCS (03.01.2019) – – Press release: According to the Now! Campaign, an initiative involving 14 international and Vietnamese civil society organizations, the government of Vietnam is holding at least 244 in prisons or similar forms of detention compared to 165 cases in November 2017, when the campaign was launched. This makes the country the second largest jailer of dissidents in Southeast Asia, only behind Myanmar.


The above number includes 224 who have been convicted, typically of political crimes such as “propaganda against the state” and “injuring the national unity,” and 20 others who are held in pre-trial detention. In addition, eight persons who participated in peaceful protests in mid-June of 2018 were given between five months and two years of suspended prison terms.


Many bloggers, lawyers, unionists, land rights activists, political dissidents, and followers of non-registered minority religions have been arrested and detained for peacefully exercising their internationally and constitutionally protected rights, principally the right to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion or belief. The list does not include individuals who have engaged in or advocated violence.


In 2018, Vietnam arrested 27 human rights activists and convicted 40 activists with a total imprisonment of 300 years and 69 years under house arrest. In addition, 64 peaceful protesters were convicted in connection to the mass demonstrations that started in mid-June, where tens of thousands of protesters opposed the two bills on special economic zones and cyber security. The demonstrators were sentenced to a total of 121 years and five months in prison and nine years of suspended prison terms.


Thirty-two of the prisoners of conscience among the 244 identified by the NOW! Campaign are female. With one exception, all of these women come from the majority Kinh ethnic group. The one exception, Rmah Hruth, is an ethnic Jarai woman who was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in March 2014. In total, 186 people, or 76.6 % of the list, are ethnic Kinh. The second largest ethnic grouping on the list are Montagnards, a loose set of religious and ethnic minorities who live in the mountains of the Central Highlands. They account for 24.2% of those on the list. Seventeen of those on the list are Hmong people and two from Khmer Krom ethnic minority.


Most prisoners of conscience have been charged with or convicted of allegations under Articles 109, 116,117, 318 and 331 in the 2015 Penal Code (previously Articles 79, 87, 88, 245 and 258 of the 1999 Penal Code, respectively):


– 45 activists convicted on subversion (Article 79 of 1999 Penal Code or Article 109 in the 2015 Penal Code);


– 23 activists convicted and five charged with anti-state propaganda (Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code);


– 53 people from ethnic minorities convicted for undermining the national unity policy (Article 87 of the 1999 Penal Code); – 13 activists convicted of or charged with “abusing democratic freedom” (Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code);


– 78 individuals convicted of or charged with “disrupting public orders” (under Article 245 of the 1999 Penal Code or Article 318 of the 2015 Penal Code). Fifty two of them were imprisoned for peaceful participation in or being suspected of planning to participate in the mid-June demonstrations and their aftermath.


– The charge(s) for 16 individuals are unknown or yet to be announced by authorities.


Note that 25 individuals in the Now! Campaign’s report dated October 1, 2018, are not listed in the year-end report due to the limited information on their cases.




In order to maintain a one-party regime, Vietnam’s communist government continues its intensified crackdown on local dissent by arresting and convicting many government critics, bloggers, Facebook users, non-violent demonstrators, environmentalists, and social activists.


To suppress the growing social dissatisfaction, silence activists and discourage critics, the government has used controversial articles in the national security provisions of the Penal Code to arrest democracy activists and human rights defenders and convict them with lengthy sentences. Democracy campaigner and environmentalist Le Dinh Luong (M) was sentenced to 20 years in prison and five years of probation, the most severe prison sentence given to an activist in the past five years.


The communist regime has employed harsh measures to prevent street demonstrations and used allegation of “disrupting public orders” under Article 318 of the 1999 Penal Code to imprison dozens of peaceful demonstrators.


The largest wave of arrests in two decades


In 2018, Vietnam arrested 26 activists and bloggers. Twenty-one of them were charged under provisions of the Penal Code while the charges against the remaining five have not been announced.


– University student Huynh Duc Thanh Binh (M) was charged with “attempting to overthrow the government” under Article 109 of the 2015 Penal Code.


– Five activists were arrested and charged with “disrupting security” in early September: Hoang Thi Thu Vang (F) and four members of the unregistered Hien Phap (Constitution) Group: Ngo Van Dung (M), Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh (F), Doan Thi Hong (F) and Ho Dinh Cuong (M). Security forces kidnapped all of them on September 1-4 without informing their families about their arrests and places of detention. They are facing imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted.


– Five activists were arrested and charged with “making, storing or spreading information, materials or items for the purpose of opposing the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117: Nguyen Ngoc Anh (M), Nguyen Dinh Thanh (M), Huynh Truong Ca (M), Nguyen Trung Linh (M) and Nguyen Van Quang (M).


– Nine activists were arrested and charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code: Do Cong Duong (M), Le Anh Hung (M), Nguyen Van Truong (M), Doan Khanh Vinh Quang (M), Bui Manh Dong (M), Nguyen Hong Nguyen (M), Truong Dinh Khang (M), and Le Minh The (M). Five of them were convicted and sentenced to between one and five years in prison while four others are in pre-trial detention.


– Charge(s) against Huynh Duc Thinh (M), Tran Long Phi (M), Do The Hoa (M) and Tran Thanh Phuong (M) have not been publicized. Police have yet to hand over their arrest warrants to their families. All of these dissidents have been held incommunicado during the investigation period. They are not permitted to meet with their lawyers, and their families are not allowed to visit them in person and must turn over to the prison authorities food, medicine and other personal necessities intended for the detainees.


In addition, Vietnam arrested hundreds of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, Dong Nai, Nha Trang, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, Binh Duong, and other localities on June 10-11. These demonstrators protested the National Assembly’s draft bills on special economic zones and on cyber security. The first bill is believed to ignore the country’s sovereignty and favor Chinese investors while the second bill is considered a draconian tool to silence online critics.


For the UN review of Vietnam’s implementation of the Convention Against Torture, held on November 14-15, 2018, BPSOS and five other civil organizations had submitted a joint report detailing the police’s heavy-handed treatment and arrest of peaceful demonstrators in June 2018. Vietnam’s security forces have used plainclothes agents to kidnap dissidents and hold them for months without publicizing charge(s) against them or informing their families about their arrest and the allegations made against them. At least ten activists were so taken into police custody in early September, and they are still held incommunicado for investigation on serious accusations including “disrupting security” under the national security provisions of the Penal Code. Among them are bloggers Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh (F), Tran Thanh Phuong (M), Hung Hung (M), Ngo Van Dung (M), Doan Thi Hong (F)and Do The Hoa (M) of the unregistered group Hien Phap (Constitution).


In its Concluding Observations following the review of Vietnam’s implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Geneva in mid November, the UN Committee Against Torture urges Vietnam to “[g]uarantee that all detained persons are afforded, in law and in practice, all fundamental legal safeguards from the very outset of their deprivation of liberty, including the right to be informed immediately of the charges against them, to have prompt access to a lawyer or to free legal aid during all proceedings, to notify a relative or another person of their choice about their detention or arrest, to request and receive a medical examination from an independent doctor, including by a doctor of their choice upon request, and to have their deprivation of liberty recorded in registers at all stages…”


Lengthy pretrial detention and failure to promptly bring detainee to court


In many cases, activists have been held for up to 28 months in pre-trial detention. For example, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (M) and his assistant Le Thu Ha (F) were in pre-trial detention from December 16, 2015 until their trial on April 5, 2018. During the pre-trial detention, activists are kept incommunicado and not permitted to meet with their lawyers or relatives. In most cases, they may have access to lawyers to prepare for their defense only a few days before being tried.


The case of blogger Nguyen Danh Dung (M) is of particular concern. On December 16, 2016, authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa arrested him and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. There has been no information about him since then. It is unclear whether he had been tried or freed or is still in pre-trial detention.


In its Concluding Observations, the UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern about the lengthy pre-trial detention faced by human rights defenders and advised Vietnam to “[e]nsure that persons in administrative detention enjoy fundamental legal safeguards such as access to a lawyer or legal aid, the right to notify their family about their detention; and that their conditions of detention and treatment are not inferior to those of other persons deprived of their liberty.”


Heavy sentences


Lengthy pretrial detention and failure to promptly bring detainee to court


In many cases, activists have been held for up to 28 months in pre-trial detention. For example, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (M) and his assistant Le Thu Ha (F) were in pre-trial detention from December 16, 2015 until their trial on April 5, 2018. During the pre-trial detention, activists are kept incommunicado and not permitted to meet with their lawyers or relatives. In most cases, they may have access to lawyers to prepare for their defense only a few days before being tried.


The case of blogger Nguyen Danh Dung (M) is of particular concern. On December 16, 2016, authorities in the central province of Thanh Hoa arrested him and charged him with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. There has been no information about him since then. It is unclear whether he had been tried or freed or is still in pre-trial detention.


In its Concluding Observations, the UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern about the lengthy pre-trial detention faced by human rights defenders and advised Vietnam to “[e]nsure that persons in administrative detention enjoy fundamental legal safeguards such as access to a lawyer or legal aid, the right to notify their family about their detention; and that their conditions of detention and treatment are not inferior to those of other persons deprived of their liberty”.


Heavy Sentences


In 2018, Vietnam convicted 40 activists, 32 of them being arrested in 2015-2017 and eight in 2018.


– As many as 16 activists were convicted on subversion. They included eight members of the banned group Brotherhood for Democracy: Nguyen Van Dai (M), Nguyen Trung Ton (M), Nguyen Trung Truc (M), Pham Van Troi (M), Truong Minh Duc (M), Tran Thi Xuan (F), Nguyen Van Tuc (M), and Le Thu Ha (F); environmentalist and democracy advocate Le Dinh Luong (M), retired teacher Dao Quang Thuc (M) and five individuals alleged to be connected to the yet-to-be-established Coalition for Self-Determination for the Vietnamese People: Luu Van Vinh (M), Nguyen Quoc Hoan (M), Nguyen Van Duc Do (M), Tu Cong Nghia (M) and Phan Trung (M). They were given harsh sentences of 7-20 years in prison and additional probation of 1-5 years.


– Seven activists were convicted on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code or “making, storing or spreading information, materials or items for the purpose of opposing the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”  under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code: Vu Quang Thuan (M), Nguyen Van Dien (M), Tran Hoang Phuc (M), Bui Hieu Vo (M), Nguyen Viet Dung(M), Huynh Truong Ca (M) and Nguyen Dinh Thanh (M). They were sentenced to between 4.5 years and 8 years in prison. The highest sentence was given to Mr. Thuan and the lightest imprisonment was given to Bui Hieu Vo, an online blogger in HCM City. Some of them were given additional four or five years of probation.


– Four activists were convicted on allegation of “abusing democratic freedom to infringe interests of the state” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code: Truong Dinh Khang (M), Nguyen Hong Nguyen (M), Doan Khanh Vinh Quang (M) and Bui Manh Dong (M). They were sentenced to 1 year, 2 years, 27 months and 30 months in prison, respectively.


– Do Cong Duong (M), an anti-corruption activist and independent journalist in Bac Ninh province, was arrested while filming an enforced land grabbing in February 2018. Later, he was convicted on allegations of “abusing democratic freedom” and “disrupting public orders” under Articles 331 and 318 of the 2015 Penal Code. He was sentenced in separate trials to 5 years in prison for the first charge and 4 years in prison for the second charge.


– Nine activists and 64 peaceful protesters in mid-June were convicted for “disrupting public orders” and sentenced to between 8 months and 6 years in prison.


Mistreatment in prison


In July – August imprisoned human rights activists Tran Thi Nga (F)and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka blogger Mother Mushroom) (F) were reportedly mistreated in prison. Ms. Nga was beaten and given death threats by an inmate. On September 29, Nga was denied of her family’s visit. The last time she met with her family was July 26. Her family is concerned about her safety. Ms. Quynh was also threatened by an inmate and was given poor-quality food. She conducted a 17-days hunger strike that lasted from July 7 to July 23 in a bid to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment.


Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (M), who is serving his 16-year imprisonment at Prison Camp No. 6 in the central province of Nghe An, started a hunger strike on August 14 to protest the bad treatment by prison authorities, which aimed to coerce him to make false confessions. The hunger strike lasted till September 16.


On August 16, 2018, appearing as witnesses at the hearing of Le Dinh Luong (M), Nguyen Van Hoa (M) and Nguyen Viet Dung (M) informed the presiding judge that their written confessions against Luong had been obtained through torture. They were both taken to another room where Hoa was beaten again by a senior police officer from the Nghe An province’s Police Department.


The Ministry of Public Security apparently transfers prisoners of conscience to prison camps far from their families as additional punishment for those who refused to admit wrongdoings. For example, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, and Tran Thi Nga were sent to prisons located between 1,000 km and 2,000 km from their families. Other documented cases are included in the following table.









Release from prison


Ten activists were released from prison this year. Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy (M), Dinh Nguyen Kha (M), Tran Thi Thuy (F), Giang A Vang (M), and Vang A Long (M) completed their sentence. The first three are still placed under probation — they are under the close surveillance of local authorities during the probation period. After years in prison, their health has worsened; diagnosed with a number of severe diseases, they need urgent medical treatment to partly recover their health.


On the other hand, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (F), Le Thu Ha (F) and Nguyen Van Dai (M) were given amnesty but forced to leave Vietnam to live in exile. On June 7, Mr. Dai, accompanied by his wife, and Ms. Ha left for Germany. On October 17, Ms. Quynh was accompanied by her two children and her mother to the United States.


International responses


Vietnam’s persecution against dissidents was met by strong international condemnation, particularly by the United States, the European Union, Germany, and the United Kingdom as well as by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Along with calling on Hanoi to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, the international community has urged Vietnam to respect international human rights treaties of which Vietnam is a state-party. The international community has also called on Vietnam to amend its Cyber Security Law, which in its current form would further restrict freedom of expression.


In its Concluding Observations dated December 28, 2018, the UN Committee Against Torture called on Vietnam to immediately cease all acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment targeting persons deprived of their liberty, especially prisoners of conscience.


The term “prisoner of conscience” (POC) was coined by Peter Benenson in the 1960s. It refers to any individual “imprisoned for his/her political, religious or conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status who have not used violence or advocated violence or hatred.”


The NOW! Campaign is a joint campaign initiated by Boat People SOS (BPSOS) calling upon the government of Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally. The campaign is supported by 14 non-government organizations:


Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Civil Right Defenders (CRD)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
Defend the Defenders (DTD)
Stefanus Alliance International
Asian Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
The 88 Project
Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)
Progressive Voice-Burma
Vietnam Women for Human Rights (VNWHR)
Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam (VN-CAT)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO)


For more information on the NOW! Campaign, visit




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SOUTH KOREA: Korea gives 2 Yemeni asylum seekers refugee status

468 Yemenis denied refugee status


By Lee Suh-yoon


The Korea Times (14.12.2018) – – Just two Yemeni asylum seekers ― a tiny percentage of the 484 on Jeju Island seeking asylum this year ― were granted refugee status in a final announcement by the immigration authorities Friday. The rest were rejected but mostly granted a one-year humanitarian stay visas.


The two successful applicants were journalists who were subject to political persecution in Yemen, the Ministry of Justice said


“Both journalists received death threats for criticizing the Houthi insurgency,” the Jeju branch of the ministry’s immigration office said in a press statement.


The announcement came after months of heated controversy over the Yemeni refugees who arrived on Jeju Island earlier this year. Their arrival incited protests fueled by Islamophobia and worries about “fake refugees” taking jobs and using up resources.


As well as the granting of refugee status to the journalists, the ministry gave 412 were given one-year humanitarian stay permits, while rejecting 56 on the basis of their criminal record and other factors.


Human rights institutions and refugees rights groups immediately protested the tiny acceptance rate, claiming the ministry’s decision was biased.


“The ministry’s decision is apparently aimed at appeasing some of the public’s negative sentiment against Yemeni refugees, rather than a decision based on individual interviews with the asylum seekers,” Choi Young-ae, head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said in a statement.


Korea, a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention, has a refugee acceptance rate of just 4 percent. Only around 580 asylum seekers have been granted such status since 1994.


“It seems like a very political decision, rejecting the vast majority to escape public criticism, but still sliding two refugees into the picture to appear less biased than they are,” Kim Dae-kwon, head of local migrant rights group Friends of Asia, told the Korea Times.


“These Yemeni asylum seekers all escaped from the worst situations, so there is no reason why more should not be granted refugee status.”


The renewable humanitarian stay visas allow the asylum seekers to leave Jeju for other parts of the country as long as they report their location to the authorities. More than 250 of 362 Yemeni refugees who were given the permits in October have moved to the mainland for better work opportunities.


Unlike refugee status, one-year humanitarian permits limit job options and block access to health care, education and welfare benefits. About 2,000 asylum seekers are staying in Korea through the permits, according to refugee rights group NANCEN.


As the situation in their home countries remains the same, if not worse, many end up living here without basic public benefits or working options for more than 20 years, renewing their one-year visas each year.


Even those granted refugee status often do not get the state support necessary to help them settle in Korea.


“We frequently get reports of accepted refugees becoming homeless,” said Koh Eun-ji, a NANCEN activist. “There is no reliable settlement process provided by the government that helps them learn the Korean language, Korean culture, or how to navigate life here.”


Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East are sending wave after wave of refugees into developed nations. This year, the number of refugee applications in Korea surpassed 10,000 for the first time ― an eight-fold increase from five years ago.




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CHINA: Facial recognition and state control (video)



The Economist (24.10.2018) – – China is the world leader in facial recognition technology. Discover how the country is using it to develop a vast hyper-surveillance system able to monitor and target its ethnic minorities, including the Muslim Uighur population.


Improving lives, increasing connectivity across the world, that’s the great promise offered by data-driven technology – but in China it also promises greater state control and abuse of power.


This is the next groundbreaking development in data-driven technology, facial recognition. And in China you can already withdraw cash, check in at airports, and pay for goods using just your face. The country is the world’s leader in the use of this emerging technology, and China’s many artificial intelligence startups are determined to keep it that way in the future.


Companies like Yitu. Yitu is creating the building blocks for a smart city of the future, where facial recognition is part of everyday life. This could even extend to detecting what people are thinking.


But the Chinese government has plans to use this new biometric technology to cement its authoritarian rule. The country has ambitious plans to develop a vast national surveillance system based on facial recognition. It’ll be used to monitor it’s 1.4 billion citizens in unprecedented ways. With the capability of tracking everything from their emotions to their sexuality.


The primary means will be a vast network of CCTV cameras. 170 million are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed over the next three years. The authorities insist this program will allow them to improve security for citizens, and if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.


But not everyone is convinced. Hong Zhenkuai is a former magazine editor who was ousted by the government. He feels like he’s under constant surveillance. Already the authorities are using facial recognition to name and shame citizens, even for minor offenses like jaywalking. In Beijing they’re using the technology to prevent people stealing rolls of loo paper from public toilets, and across China police officers are now trialing sunglasses and body cameras loaded with facial and gesture recognition technology – it’s helping them to identify wanted suspects in real-time.


What worries some people here is that as the technology develops, so too does the capacity for it to be abused. Some of those most at risk in this hyper surveillance future are the ethnic minorities in China. In Xinjiang province, the Chinese government is wary of the separatist threat posed by the Muslim Uighur population. According to local NGOs, an estimated 1 million Uighurs are being detained indefinitely in secretive internment camps, where some are being subject to abuse. It’s been called the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.


The authorities are using facial recognition cameras to scan people’s faces before they enter markets. The system alerts authorities if targeted individuals stray 300 meters beyond their home. In the future the government plans to aggregate even more data and build a predictive policing program that imposes even tighter controls here.


Without checks and balances, China will keep finding new ways to violate the human rights of its citizens. What’s already happening in Xinjiang is a warning the rest of the world must heed.


What are the forces shaping how people live and work and how power is wielded in the modern age?  NOW AND NEXT reveals the pressures, the plans and the likely tipping points for enduring global change.  Understand what is really transforming the world today – and discover what may lie in store tomorrow.




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NORTH KOREA: The EU, North Korea and the shifting discourse on human rights 

Paper presented at the 15th Meeting of the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korea Refugees and Human Rights. Seoul, 22 November 2018.


By Dr. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, Foreign Policy Advisor, European Parliament

Relatively speaking Europe remains a distant global power with limited strategic interest in Asia. Yet, notwithstanding the distance, Europe has not been a disengaged or indifferent partner for Asia in general, and concerning the situation on the Korean Peninsula in particular. In fact, Europe, as a normative power whose foreign policy is centered on human rights promotion, remains the leading voice in shaping the international narrative on human rights in North Korea.


An international organization made up of twenty-eight member states, each in full control of their own foreign policy, the EU has never seized working towards a common vision to contribute to Asia’s development. This vision remains centered on the respect of human rights, democracy and rule of law as mutually reinforcing principles. The inherent fragmentation within the EU is an important factor that has always shaped, and often limited, the EU’s external capacity and effectiveness to make a difference on a global scale.


However, in the case of North Korea, this has been less of an issue – there is wide agreement the situation in North Korea remains one of the worst human rights crises in the world. Notwithstanding differences in EU capitals, in particular those present in Pyongyang, concerning how exactly to address North Korea’s isolation, there is agreement that UN sanctions, as well as the EU’s own autonomous restrictive measures that complement and reinforce UN sanctions, must remain in place to increase pressure on North Korea to comply with its obligations and commitments.[1] The internal consensus inside the EU has enabled its institutions to jointly condemn human rights violations in North Korea and thus speak with one voice – no small task – as led by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service, and provide humanitarian assistance to the country for decades.


Broadly speaking, the key document guiding the EU’s actions in human rights, the 2012 Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy highlights a number of priorities: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly; freedom of religion; the death penalty; fair and impartial administration of justice; human rights defenders and civil society. Specific Guidelines help pursue these priorities, such as the 1998 Guidelines on the death penalty, the 2004 Guidelines on human rights defenders or the 2013 Guidelines for freedom of religion to name a few.


These same priorities have guided the EU’s approach vis-à-vis North Korea, whereby the EU has established a policy of ‘critical engagement’, meaning political dialogue with focus on human rights, humanitarian assistance and diplomatic pressure as well as targeted sanctions. The EU’s goals have been to support a lasting reduction of tensions on the Peninsula, to uphold international law, the non-proliferation regime, and to improve the situation of human rights.


Bilateral diplomatic relations were established in 2001 enabling official dialogue, dialogue being the core instrument for the EU to engage with third countries. But despite our determination and principled approach, the EU’s efforts remain limited. In fact, the EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with North Korea was suspended by North Korea in 2013. We held our last political dialogue round in June 2015, and there is no evidence of progress towards improvements in line with international standards. While there is no EU Delegation on the ground in Pyongyang, seven member states are present – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the UK, who represent the EU in a rotation system.


In the recent developments unfolding on the Peninsula including negotiations with the aim of denuclearizing North Korea, nuclear concerns seem to dominate the narrative. In this process the EU upholds that human rights, as universal fundamental principles, must be urgently addressed in parallel with nuclear talks. This is however not entirely shared in the international community; the nuclear focus remains central at the expense of human rights.


This is closely linked to a significant divergence in perceptions of human rights protection in the international community. Namely, the EU upholds that human right are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, that human dignity is the essence of human rights protection, an aspect overarching cultural differences that should provide the foundation of all human rights claims irrespective of culture and political system. But a global shift is unfolding taking the focus away from the universalist approach, with emerging countries questioning universality, in particular China, North Korea’s main ally, to the benefit of a relativist approach to the concept. China, in fact, appears to be increasingly shaping global discourse on human rights, upholding a state-centric approach, calling for “mutually beneficial cooperation” between states on human rights issues. The focus is therefore on state to state obligations, rather than on individuals.[2] This has been perceived by many as actually weakening fundamental human rights principles. This divergence in views has made prioritizing human rights when dealing with North Korea more difficult. The EU and China greatly diverge in this regard, which has been apparent in the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.


Likewise, the EU and North Korea have very different views on many issues, and this includes human rights. The EU’s ultimate aim remains North Korea’s credible re-engagement with the international community, with accountability for past crimes, in line with the 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK which urged referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court.[3] In this process, it was the EU’s and Japan’s co-sponsoring of a resolution in the HR Council in 2013 that has led to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, seen as a tangible initiative to challenge Pyongyang on human rights. The establishment of the COI, and the report it issued, have opened the path to address crimes committed by the regime. In the midst of current developments, this process has however not made much progress.


Concerning humanitarian assistance – the EU has been a provider of assistancehumanitarian and food aid – since 1995. Most of the projects it funds, under the responsibility of the European Commission, relate to food security, health, water and sanitation. These projects are carried out by various partners, such as Handicap International or Action Against Hunger (who decided to withdraw from the country).[4] World Hunger Aid (Welthungerhilfe) German NGO has been present on the ground since 1997, but has seen its chief expelled in 2015.[5] Médecins Sans Frontières closed its projects in North Korea in 2015, after 20 years of working there. Member States have their own development and aid projects in North Korea along complementary lines to those of the EU.


The reality is that as a result of North Korea’s isolation, in the absence of actual political dialogue and cooperation, and considering the divergence in the approach to human rights in the international community, the EU has been limited in engaging North Korea. Nevertheless, where the EU’s role has been important and should be acknowledged is to keep human rights on the international agenda and shape global discourse. It is in this context that the European Parliament’s activities should be mentioned, as in my view the Parliament remains the most vocal European institution on human rights shaping international discourse.


The Parliament has several tools to advocate for human rights globally. In this process it provides a platform for NGOs to raise human rights concerns and contribute with their expertise. For several years, I have been involved in such events, often partnering up with Human Rights Without Frontiers[6]. Most recently we focused on the power of information, the inflow of information into North Korea, presenting Jieun Baek’s book “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society”.[7] We have also covered the situation of overseas workers, with the expertise of Prof. Remco Breuker, in the framework of the screening of “Dollar Heroes” in the European Parliament, covering overseas workers as modern-day slaves working in Russia, China, Qatar but also Poland. [8]


Some of our tools and mechanisms are as follows:


  1. Resolutions tabled in the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)[9] and the subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI)[10] Such a resolution was adopted in January 2016.[11]
  2. DROI hearings on North Korea, hosting defectors, academics, experts
  3. Annual Report on Democracy and Human Rights.[12]
  4. Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula[13]
  5. Friendship Group established in 2015, Member of the European Parliament Paul Rübig (EPP group), bringing together MEPs with an interest in strengthening relations with the Republic of Korea with the aim of promoting deeper understanding on issues of common interest such as trade, research and development (R&D), environment, human rights and security[14]


Assessing the impact of individual actions by the EP remains difficult. Therefore, all actions undertaken by the institutions must be assessed together; it is their work together that ensures the EU’s engagement policy with human rights at the centre. It is a long-term enterprise that requires further awareness raising, so that pressure remains high on governments to demand accountability. This is critical to press Pyongyang to change.


In conclusion, cooperation within the international community is necessary to ensure that human rights remain a priority as the world witnesses fundamental changes in Pyongyang’s behaviour, without a clear knowledge of their intentions.


The EU must work together with China and other allies in the region. It is a joint responsibility to work towards a cooperative rules-based global order, as High Representative F. Mogherini has recently said in Beijing.[15] This approach and sense of responsibility as expressed by the EU’s external affairs chief indicates that the EU is ready and keen to remain an engaged and active participant in Asia, shaping future developments on the Korean Peninsula.

[1] EU measures complement and reinforce UNSC sanctions. These include total ban on EU investment in NK, total ban on sale of crude oil, on joint ventures, on export of coal, iron, seafood, no renewal of work authorization for NK nationals.


[2] The 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 23 March 2018 adopted a China’s sponsored resolution entitled building “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights”, calling on building a “community of shared future for mankind” and for a “new type of international relations with win-win cooperation”. These concepts are in fact the pillars of President Xi Jinping’s vision for China’s foreign policy. 28 states voted in favor, 17 abstained and one, the United States, voted against the resolution.

[3] Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 7 February 2014, available at

[4] Action Against Hunger stops its activities in North Korea, Reliefweb, 10 March 2000. Available at

[5] North Korea expels chief of German food aid organisation – NGO, Reuters, 2 April 2015. Available at






[11] European Parliament resolution of 21 January 2016 on North Korea (2016/2521 (RSP)) Available at

[12] See for example the 2016 Report here:



[15] Remarks by HRVP Federica Mogherini following the EU-China Strategic Dialogue with Wang Yi, China’s State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, 01/06/2018. Available at




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