Russian in hunger strike against Latvian language exam

HRWF (25.10.2019) – According to the EU Observer, a Russian migrant started a hunger strike to protest the denial of his 71-year old mother-in-law’s residency permit because she was unable to pass the required Latvian language exam. The Moscow Times was cited as the primary source.


Human Rights Without Frontiers has further investigated this case and has discovered that Kirill Ivanov, a Russian citizen, migrated to Latvia in 2013 or 2014 with his wife and their parents. His wife now has a permanent residence permit, but the rest of their family has only been granted temporary permits.


Ivanov’s mother-in-law has developed dementia since they moved to Latvia and needs appropriate medical assistance. However, the EU Observer reports that the Latvian health authorities are denying that she has dementia.


According to Ivanov, his mother-in-law’s temporary permit will only be renewed if she demonstrates that she has EUR 15,500. They have appealed the refusal to issue her a permanent residence permit, and it is currently being processed by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs.


About one third of Latvia’s population are Russians, many of whom are stateless.


Recommended reading


Kirill Ivanov’s facebook:


Interview in Russian:


Mediareports in Russian:

Group of 13 North Koreans reach Southeast Asian destination after long trek through four countries

Radio Free Asia (22.10.2019)- – A group of 13 North Koreans traveled through China and crossed the Mekong River into a Southeast Asian country at the weekend, ending a grueling two-month journey which spanned 6,000 kilometers (more than 3700 miles) in a quest for asylum in South Korea.

Among the group that reached the Southeast Asian destination on Saturday were a two-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, while the rest ranged in age between their teens and 50s. Their journey took them first through China, where they had to hide out for more than a week to avoid surveillance.

Through China and then Vietnam and Laos, they used 13 means of transportation and crossed seven mountains in the darkness of night before reaching the third Southeast Asian country, which could not be identified to protect the safety of the asylum seekers.

Their fates were uncertain even as they were crossing the Mekong on a tiny boat in the pitch black darkness, because they had no clear idea who they were supposed to meet once they crossed.

Once on the other side, they were met by officials from the South Korean human rights group Now Action Unity Human rights (NAUH), who had been searching for them.

Eight of the 13 left North Korea with the intent to travel all the way to the final  Southeast Asian destination, while the remainder had first settled temporarily in China before joining the others, according the asylum seekers who hope to be eventually resettled in South Korea told RFA’s Korean Service.

A female member of the group, identified by the pseudonym Kim Jin-hye because she is concerned for her safety, told RFA’s Korean Service she left North Korea in July because she was being forced to join the military and had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor.

“Should I say I am in distress [after this journey?]” Kim asked.

“It’s only harder if you keep thinking about how hard it is. It wasn’t hard for me because I kept thinking this is the only way I can achieve my dream and [secure] my future,” she added.

Incompetence and corruption

Another woman in the group, in her fifties, identified by the pseudonym Lee Chun-hwa, said she decided to seek asylum because she hated the incompetence of North Korean authorities, who she said make strong crackdowns on minor infractions.

She also disliked the rampant corruption in North Korean society and said it was her wish to travel to other countries as she pleased. She said that even North Korea’s rich are looking for ways to get out.

“People think that the state just drains money from us. It would be nice if the state would let us be in charge of our own business,” said Lee.

“So it means that the people are all saying ‘Let’s leave. We will be able to be in charge of our own affairs in South Korea, We can enjoy freedom. Let’s go look for our freedom there.’ Many of the rich people want to come because [the authorities] are giving them a hard time,” Lee said.

After the NGO picked up the group, they spent one night in the third Southeast Asian country. They then boarded motorbikes to turn themselves in at the local police station. One of the them held a cell phone with the English phrase “I want go [sic] to South Korea.” written phonetically in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.

Another female member of the group, identified as Lee Jung-sim, is the mother of the 2-year-old. Her 12-year old niece, small enough to pass for a much younger child, was also a part of the group. Lee’s mother had escaped into South Korea 13 years ago.

“Now that I’m here, I break into tears just thinking of seeing my mother. It’s been 13 years. I have tears just thinking about meeting her for the first time in 13 years,” Lee said.

Before leaving for the police station, a 20-year-old member of the group identified as Park Soo-young vowed that the group would make something of their lives in South Korea.

“I’m so happy that you all helped us when we arrived and after all we’ve been through. Thank you to all who helped us,” said Park.

“Because of you, we were able to make it here safely to prepare for our trip to South Korea. We will live our best lives in South Korea. We’re not afraid. I know we’re on the right path,” she said.

‘Tearful goodbyes’

Ji Seong-ho, founder of NAUH, who himself escaped North Korea in 2006, led the effort to rescue the 13.

He told RFA that many people that attempt to leave North Korea are arrested in China, as Beijing intensifies crackdowns on those who try to flee. He noted that the number of North Koreans fleeing to Southeast Asia has declined in recent years, but that many still make the journey hoping to escape to freedom.

Ji said the latest rescue was nerve-racking and moving.

“Everything’s done. We were all so nervous and we were deeply moved ­— to tears,” said Ji, adding, “There were also tearful goodbyes. But this is like a gateway to South Korea, a free country.”

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for North Korean asylum seekers who usually request that they be given permanent resettlement in South Korea.

Based on previous cases, the 13 defectors are likely to be incarcerated for illegally entering the Southeast Asian country as they wait to be granted asylum.

They will undergo background checks and questioning by authorities, a process expected to last two months.

It was not immediately clear how the group were able to contact the NGO and arrange a spot to meet after crossing the Mekong, but usually NGOs are contacted by asylum seekers in China to get assistance in finding brokers that can help them reach Southeast Asia.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification more than 33,000 North Koreans have entered South Korea over the past several decades, including 546 as of June this year.

Reported by Jungmin Noh for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Abuse of pre-trial detention in the EU: Time for action

By Índigo Uriz Martínez, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (22.10.2019) – On 10 October 2019, Fair Trials hosted a meeting in Brussels to raise awareness of the issue of pre-trial detention in the EU and to advocate for effective legal assistance during pre-trial decision-making. The event brought together more than 60 European criminal justice experts and was the culmination of the two-year project “Effective Legal Assistance in Pre-Trial Detention Decision-Making” coordinated by Fair Trials with organizations from different Member States.(1)


Pre-trial detention is an exceptional measure that entails imprisoning individuals under criminal investigation until the time of their trial.(2) It must be used as a last resort and only imposed in strictly limited circumstances when non-custodial measures do not suffice.(3)


Nevertheless, it is extensively used in the EU today. The number of pre-trial detainees in the EU is estimated to be over 100,000 in 2019. This figure comprises of approximately 23% of the total EU prison population, and the percentage per country varies widely from 9.1% in Romania to 31.5% in Italy.(4)


The European Commission and Parliament have repeatedly recognized the need to address pre-trial detention, citing its contribution to over-crowding in prisons as well as the risk of human rights violations.(5) Six directives on criminal procedural rights have been adopted that have led to some changes and promising reforms in different EU Members States:


However, pre-trial detention affects fundamental rights such as the right to the presumption of innocence, liberty, legal defence and to not testify and not incriminate one-self.

Pre-trial detainees are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in reality they are often treated as if they are already convicted. They frequently share cells with convicted prisoners and are sometimes, held in worse conditions than inmates for months on end. Additionally, they cannot benefit from certain rights such as access to semi-open regime and family visits.(6)

Pre-trial detention also undermines the right to defence, to not testify and to not self-incriminate. Since these individuals are imprisoned, a common challenge is limited access to a lawyer. In some Member States, there is a maximum of 10 five-minute phone calls a week, while a small number of states deny phone calls entirely depending on the case. Detainees’ limited ability to receive assistance may result in confessions and premature reactions to the accusation. It is common for prisoners to unknowingly provide information that is then used as evidence to negatively impact their case.


In addition, the reputational damage from pre-trial detention is irreversible, especially in the professional life of the individual when this measure is accompanied by media coverage.(7)


Although pre-trial detention is legally permitted as an exceptional measure, instead it is the most frequently used one. Subsequently, until Member States use alternatives to pre-trial detention, such as house arrest or electronic monitoring, the availability and effectiveness of legal assistance during the initial phase of the process is indispensable.(8)


Research conducted by Fair Trials found that lawyers play a key role in limiting the excessive use of pre-trial detention. European Law grants anyone accused of a crime the right to legal assistance. However, in practice, lawyers typically face serious obstacles in defending their clients effectively. Some of the barriers encountered are the lack of time and confidentiality, the difficulty in accessing files, and the inability to have an interpreter.(9)


In most cases, defence lawyers are appointed to detainees at the last minute which means meeting for the first time on the morning of the pre-trial detention hearing. They do not have enough time to study the case and talk with the individual that they are representing. In some instances, this results in the lawyer and detainee meeting for the first time in the hall of the court before the hearing.


Confidentiality is another issue encountered in the implementation of the law. It is crucial that consultations are confidential to enable the lawyer to effectively prepare the defence and participate in the decision-making process of applicable precautionary measures. However, in many cases, this meeting between lawyer and client takes place in the presence of a police officer.(10)


Additionally, lawyers’ abilities to access case files as quickly as possible to develop a defence strategy and challenge pre-trial detention are impeded in practice. Despite this being stipulated by law, many European states violate this right by permitting prosecutors to refuse access to the file or by not properly addressing administrative obstacles.


Transparency regarding why a person has been arrested and their rights are basic principles under EU law.(11) Furthermore, the access to an interpreter during this process is a recognised right. However, in many Member States, information about the case is only communicated in the country’s official language, or, alternatively in English. In practice, there are many difficulties in accessing interpretation services during the pre-trial stage. It is not abnormal for lawyers to rely on other detainees to help with interpretation due to these challenges.(12)


The six directives mentioned above provide safeguards such as allowing an effective defence during the pre-trial detention phase. It is clear that more action is required and that Member States should allocate more resources into the implementation of EU standards. If lawyers are better equipped and able to effectively defend their clients, then the number of pre-trial detention orders would decrease.


Nevertheless, even if the directives and existing safeguards were fully implemented, ‘it would not provide a complete answer to the overuse of pre-trial detention across the EU’. Fair Trials recommends that the EU creates binding legislation directly addressing pre-trial detention so its utilization could become a true measure of last resort.

GERMANY / ECHR: Holocaust denial is not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights

Registrar of the Court (03.10.2019) – In today’s Chamber judgment 1 in the case of Pastörs v. Germany (application no. 55225/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that


the applicant’s complaint under Article 10 (freedom of expression) was manifestly ill-founded and had to be rejected, and,


by four votes to three that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.


The case concerned the conviction of a Land deputy for denying the Holocaust during a speech in the regional Parliament.


The Court found in particular that the applicant had intentionally stated untruths to defame Jews. Such statements could not attract the protection for freedom of speech offered by the Convention as they ran counter to the values of the Convention itself. There was thus no appearance of a violation of the applicant’s rights and the complaint was inadmissible.


The Court also examined a complaint by the applicant of judicial bias as one of the Court of Appeal judges who had dealt with his case was the husband of the first-instance judge. It found no violation of his right to a fair trial because an independent Court of Appeal panel with no links to either judge had ultimately decided on the bias claim and had rejected it.


Principal facts


The applicant, Udo Pastörs, is a German national who was born in 1952 and lives in Lübtheen (Germany).


On 28 January 2010, the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mr Pastörs, then a member of the Land Parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, made a speech stating that “the so-called Holocaust is being used for political and commercial purposes”. He also referred to a “barrage of criticism and propagandistic lies” and “Auschwitz projections”.


In August 2012 he was convicted by a district court, formed of Judge Y and two lay judges, of violating the memory of the dead and of the intentional defamation of the Jewish people.


In March 2013 the regional court dismissed his appeal against the conviction as ill-founded. After reviewing the speech in full, the court found that Mr Pastörs had used terms which amounted to denying the systematic, racially motivated, mass extermination of the Jews carried out at Auschwitz during the Third Reich. The court stated he could not rely on his free speech rights in respect of Holocaust denial. Furthermore, he was no longer entitled to inviolability from prosecution as the Parliament had revoked it in February 2012.


He appealed on points of law to the Court of Appeal which, in August 2013, also rejected his case as ill-founded. At that stage he challenged one of the judges adjudicating his appeal, Judge X, claiming he could not be impartial as he was the husband of Judge Y, who had convicted him at first instance. A three-member bench of the Court of Appeal, including Judge X, dismissed the complaint, finding in particular that the fact that X and Y were married could not in itself lead to a fear of bias.


Mr Pastörs renewed his complaint of bias against Judge X before the Court of Appeal, adding the other two judges on the bench to his claim. In November 2013 a new three-judge Court of Appeal panel, which had not been involved in any of the previous decisions, rejected his complaint on the merits. Lastly, the Federal Constitutional Court declined his constitutional complaint in June 2014.


Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court


Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial), Mr Pastörs complained about his conviction for the statements he had made in Parliament and alleged that the proceedings against him were unfair because one of the judges on the Court of Appeal panel was married to the judge who had convicted him at first instance and could therefore not be impartial.


The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 30 July 2014.


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


Yonko Grozev (Bulgaria), President, Angelika Nußberger (Germany), André Potocki (France), Síofra O’Leary (Ireland), Mārtiņš Mits (Latvia), Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria), Lado Chanturia (Georgia), and also Milan Blaško, Deputy Section Registrar.


Decision of the Court


Article 10 (freedom of Expression)


As with earlier cases involving Holocaust denial or statements relating to Nazi crimes, the Court examined Mr Pastörs’ complaint under both Article 10 and Article 17 (prohibition of abuse of rights).


It reiterated that Article 17 was only applicable on an exceptional basis and was to be resorted to in cases concerning freedom of speech if it was clear that the statements in question had aimed to use that provision’s protection for ends that were clearly contrary to the Convention.


The Court noted that the domestic courts had performed a thorough examination of Mr Pastörs’ utterances and it agreed with their assessment of the facts. It could not accept, in particular, his assertion that the courts had wrongfully selected a small part of his speech for review. In fact, they had looked at the speech in full and had found much of it did not raise an issue under criminal law.


However, those other statements had not been able to conceal or whitewash his qualified Holocaust denial, with the Regional Court stating that the impugned part had been inserted into the speech like “poison into a glass of water, hoping that it would not be detected immediately”.


The Court placed emphasis on the fact that the applicant had planned his speech in advance, deliberately choosing his words and resorting to obfuscation to get his message across, which was a qualified Holocaust denial showing disdain to its victims and running counter to established historical facts. It was in this context that Article 17 came into play as the applicant had sought to use his right to freedom of expression to promote ideas that were contrary to the text and spirit of the Convention. Furthermore, while an interference with freedom of speech over statements made in a Parliament deserved close scrutiny, such utterances deserved little if any protection if their context was at odds with the democratic values of the Convention system.


Summing up, the Court held that Mr Pastörs had intentionally stated untruths in order to defame the Jews and the persecution that they had suffered. The interference with his rights also had to be examined in the context of the special moral responsibility of States which had experienced Nazi horrors to distance themselves from the mass atrocities.


The response by the courts, the conviction, had therefore been proportionate to the aim pursued and had been “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court found there was no appearance of a violation of Article 10 and rejected the complaint as manifestly ill-founded.


Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial)


The Court reiterated its subjective and objective tests for a court or judge’s lack of impartiality: the first focused on a judge’s personal convictions or behaviour while the second looked at whether there were ascertainable facts which could raise doubts about impartiality. Such facts could include links between a judge and people involved in the proceedings.


It held that the involvement in the case of two judges who were married, even at levels of jurisdiction which were not consecutive, might have raised doubts about Judge X lacking impartiality. It was also difficult to understand how the applicant’s complaint of bias could have been deemed as inadmissible in the Court of Appeal’s first review, which had included Judge X himself.


However, the issue had been remedied by the review of Mr Pastörs’ second bias complaint, which had been aimed at all the members of the initial Court of Appeal panel and had been dealt with by three judges who had not had any previous involvement in the case. Nor had the applicant made any concrete arguments as to why a professional judge married to another professional judge should be biased when deciding on the same case at a different level of jurisdiction.


There were thus no objectively justified doubts about the Court of Appeal’s impartiality and there had been no violation of Article 6.


Separate opinions


Judges Grozev and Mits expressed a joint dissenting opinion which is annexed to the judgment.

QATAR: Empty stadiums and empty promises

The failures of the IAAF World Championships began long before the games themselves, says Human Rights Without Frontiers’ Willy Fautre.

By Willy Fautré

The Parliament Magazine (04.10.2019) – – This week commentators, athletes and spectators criticised the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over numerous failures of the 2019 Athletics World Championships in Doha.

Victory laps in front of empty stadiums, unbearable heat and collapsing runners tell the story of a very different Championships to the one promised by Qatar when they bid to host the event in 2011.

Former British Olympic Champion, Denise Lewis, is among those in the athletics community who have been outspoken about the failure of the games, saying the governing body had “let athletes down massively”.

For many, the games will go down as a PR disaster, for both the IAAF and Qatar, who’s earlier promise of “no empty seats” rings as hollow as the stadium itself.

Clearly, the execution of the Doha World Championships raises significant questions for the organisers. However, the truth is that these Championships failed long before the first starting gun was fired and it is not just the athletes who have been let down by the IAAF.

The games failed when the athletics authorities allowed their showpiece event to be built by abjectly treated migrant workers, often unpaid and, in many cases, putting their lives at risk.

Contrary to the lucrative lifestyles promised, they have found themselves victims of abusive employment practices, with neither IAAF nor the Qatari state making any effort to protect their interests.

Amnesty International has consistently highlighted the plight of migrant workers in Qatar. According to their 2016 report workers on the main Khalifa Stadium have been ‘ruthlessly and systematically exploited’.

Last week, Amnesty International released their latest report, shedding further light on the exploitation of the thousands of migrant workers in Qatar, in particular relation to these championships and the 2022 World Cup.

The report found that at least 1,620 workers from three Qatari companies involved in construction and cleaning had submitted complaints over unpaid wages.

One Kenyan worker told Amnesty: “For five months I had to live with very little food and no salary. My family was really affected. Tears come to my eyes when I remember where we used to go to find food – in the bins. The company owes me a lot of money which they refuse to pay me.”

However, let us not be fooled by these figures. The true scale of the problem is likely to be far greater.

The US State Department estimates more than 6,000 workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s new Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes last year, with hundreds returning home without compensation.

This is tantamount to slave labour, no more, no less and it is time we started calling it out for what it is.

The international community has all the facts and a clear picture of the situation, there is no excuse for inaction. The abuse these workers are facing stands in dark contrast with the values of fair and generous behaviour that great sportspeople and fans hold dear.

To further quantify this tragedy, there were zero deaths in the building of London’s Olympic Games, 10 in the construction of 2008’s Beijing Games and 21 for Russia’s 2018 World Cup.

How is anyone able to stand idly by when it is estimated that by the time of the 2022 World Cup, the toll in Qatar could reach a staggering 4,000 deaths?

There are three years until the World Cup arrives in Doha. Before then we must resolve to bring an end to the suffering of migrant workers at the hands of the Qatari state.

No sporting spectacle is worth the suffering of innocent workers, who are simply trying to provide a better life for their families.

FIFA must finally step up where the IAAF has failed, call out and sanction Qatar for their appalling treatment of workers.

CHINA: Opinion: The greatest mass murderer in history turns 70

By Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (04.10.2019) – This week, the Chinese Communist Party commemorates 70 years of brutal, totalitarian repression of the suffering people of China.   It is fitting that the CCP has celebrated its big day October 1 with a massive military display, including the unveiling of the “Dongfeng-17,” a new, hypersonic nuclear missile believed to be capable of evading the anti-missile defenses of the U.S. and its allies and to reach U.S. targets within 30 minutes.

The DF-17 weapon of mass destruction is consistent with the CCP’s unique status. In my opinion, the Chinese Communist Party is the greatest mass murderer in human history.

400 million have been “prevented” through the One Child forced abortion and involuntary sterilization policy – each one a victim of communism.  In addition, tens of millions died in the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution.  Add to this the ongoing execution of countless prisoners of conscience – including Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners — to harvest their organs for transplant, and the decimation of the Tibetan Buddhists, hundreds of whom have resorted to self-immolation to draw international attention to their plight.


The list continues with the brutal persecution of human rights lawyers and other freedom fighters, the turning a blind eye to human trafficking and sexual slavery, the construction of a truly Orwellian surveillance state, an economy based on illegal slave labor and the theft of intellectual property.  And let us never forget the thousands of unarmed student pro-democracy protestors massacred on Tiananmen Square.


The CCP seems locked in a race with North Korea for its place at the bottom of the human rights cesspool.   It leaves people and governments of conscience little choice but to resist with all our economic and moral might.


Reading the most recent Congressional-Executive Commission on China report on the current state of human rights in China is like reading an indictment.  As China’s economy has grown, so has its notorious disregard of human rights:


  • More than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim ethnic minorities are currently in “Political reeducation” concentration camps.
  • China exerts complete control and censorship of the media, jailing journalists who dare to tell the truth.
  • Xi Jinping has been consolidating his personal power.  He essentially declared himself King, abolishing term limits so that he will remain President of China for life.
  • Underground Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, have undergone a tremendous persecution, with churches bulldozed, crosses torn down, pastors and priests jailed.  In April, 2016, in Henan province, a pastor’s wife, trying to protect her church from being bulldozed, was buried alive by the bulldozer. She has become a symbol of persecution in China.
  • The coercive enforcement of their population control policies is China’s war against women.  The CCP has functioned as “womb police,” declaring life or death over every pregnancy in the land.   This coercion, begun under the One Child Policy, has continued under the Two Child Policy.


This is the hallmark of Communist regimes – the peacetime killing of their own citizens. 

The two-child policy has not stopped this slaughter. The new rule is that every couple is allowed to have two children. Therefore, it is still illegal for single women to have babies in China, and third children are still illegal.


Girls are still selectively aborted, especially second daughters.


And senior suicide has skyrocketed 500 percent in the past 20 years, because the One Child Policy has destroyed the family structure in China.  Elderly widows are abandoned, destitute, and at risk of suicide.


Gender imbalance exacerbated by the One Child Policy is driving human trafficking and sexual slavery.  In its June 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department listed China as a “Tier 3” nation, one of the worst offenders in the world. Does the CCP refuse to crack down on the trafficking of women because doing so could cause an insurrection of the 37 million men who will never find wives?


What should we do?


The fact that China is a sovereign nation and we cannot unilaterally effectuate change within its borders should not cause us to throw up our hands and do nothing. We should do what we can.


  • We should utilize the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the U.S. government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.   The Global Magnitsky Act should be used not only for family planning officials, but for all gross human rights offenders, who should be held publicly accountable.  Let all that has been hidden in darkness be brought to light.
  • The U.S. government should remain tough in the trade war with China.  Appeasement diplomacy has never worked with China.
  • Regarding the rights of women and girls, Women’s Rights Without Frontiers is the only organization in the world that has boots on the ground saving babies from sex-selective abortion through our “Save a Girl” Campaign.  We are also saving destitute and abandoned widows through our “Save a Widow” Campaign.


With 1.4 billion people, China holds almost one fifth of the population of the world. One in five people is suffering under the boot of this brutal, totalitarian regime.  The world will not be free until the people of China are free.

One-child policy – China’s War on Women! Video (4 mins)