Index on Censorship https://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:21:39 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=479 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Free_Speech_Bites_Logo.jpg https://www.indexoncensorship.org Rasul Jafarov’s conviction: Latest human rights violation in Azerbaijan https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/rasul-jafarovs-conviction-latest-human-rights-violation-in-azerbaijan/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/rasul-jafarovs-conviction-latest-human-rights-violation-in-azerbaijan/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:20:21 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65633 The Sport for Rights coalition resolutely condemns yesterday’s sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, a prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender, to 6.5 years in prison on politically motivated charges. The coalition calls for his immediate release.

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(Photo: National Endowment for Democracy)

(Photo: National Endowment for Democracy)

The Sport for Rights coalition resolutely condemns yesterday’s sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, a prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender, to 6.5 years in prison on politically motivated charges. The coalition calls for his immediate release.

“This is just the latest example of the brutal crackdown on civil society by the host government of the forthcoming European Games,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of Article 19. “This ridiculous sentence is a punishment for Jafarov’s human rights activism. The authoritarian regime in Baku are scared of the attention Jafarov would bring during the high profile sport events they are proudly hosting – the European Games in June this year and the Formula One Grand Prix in 2016”.

The coalition calls for the EU and its Member States to impose targeted sanctions – for instance visa ban– against those members of the regime who systematically abuse fundamental human rights of citizens of Azerbaijan. At the same time, given the unprecedented human rights crisis in Azerbaijan, the coalition calls for the European Olympic Committee to establish a working group to examine specific cases of right abuses that violates the spirit and letter of the Olympic Charter and the atmosphere of the first European Games.

“A robust response from the European Olympic Committee is required, together with sanctions from the European Union and United States. This is the only way to bring about the release of Rasul Jafarov and other political prisoners, including prominent human rights defenders Leyla Yunus, Emin Huseynov, Anar Mammadli, award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova and well-known politician Ilgar Mammadov” , said Emma Hughes of Platform London.

“The Baku games should not be used as a means to blind the wider world to the appalling treatment being meted out to journalists and activists in Azerbaijan. The international community must unite in condemning the Azerbaijani government and in calling for the immediate release of Rasul Jafarov and his compatriots.”, Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.

“The authorities of Azerbaijan has now come to an absolute low point of the regressive trend we have seen over the past years. An even lower point will be reached with the expected sentencing of human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev next week. We expect governments, international organisations and corporate businesses that have relations with the Azerbaijani government to hold Azerbaijan accountable and react firmly. Profound actions and sanctions must be taken as a response to Azerbaijan’s severe crackdown on independent civil society and human rights defenders – and to Azerbaijan’s total disrespect of international agreements and responsibilities,” urges Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

On 16 April 2015, Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. He is also prohibited from holding any office for 3 years. He was convicted under Articles 192 (illegal business), 213 (tax evasion) and 308 (abuse of power) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. During the trial, all the prosecution witnesses testified in his favor, and the prosecution failed to prove his guilt.  After the verdict, Jafarov reiterated that the charges against him are politically motivated and fabricated.

Jafarov’s work has focused on violations of the right to freedoms of expression, assembly and association. At the time of his arrest in August 2014, he had collected information on over 100 cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. He had also called for the foundation of a new NGO coalition, “Sport for Rights”, to raise awareness on Azerbaijan’s human rights record in the run up to the European Games in Baku.

With his colleagues and allies, Rasul Jafarov has advocated for the dozens of journalists, activists and human rights defenders who are behind bars on illegitimate grounds.  As a result of relentless repression enacted by the Azerbaijani government, key human rights activists and journalists have been jailed, exiled, or forced into hiding.

The next person to be sentenced in Azerbaijan is the human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev. He has filed numerous cases with the European Court of Human Rights and as leader of the Legal Education Centre trained a whole generation of lawyers in Azerbaijan. He was awarded with the Homo Homini Award in 2012. He is charged with the same charges as Rasul Jafarov. The next hearing in his case will be on 21 April 2015 and he might be sentenced the following day with up to 10 years imprisonment.

For example, well-known Azerbaijani human rights defender Emin Huseynov has been in hiding in the Embassy of Switzerland in Baku for almost eight months. He sought shelter at the Embassy in order to avoid imminent arrest on fabricated charges—an act of revenge by the regime in response to his criticism of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record in the international arena. Emin faces charges under three articles of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan: articles 308 (abuse of office), 213 (tax evasion) and 192 (illegal business).

Hard-hitting investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been thrown into jail on similarly fabricated charges – embezzlement, illegal business, tax evasion, and abuse of power. She has been in pretrial detention since December 5 on a separate charge of inciting a man to commit suicide. As reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a member of the Sport for Rights coalition, Azerbaijan is the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia with at least eight journalists in prison.

Another prominent critic of the Azerbaijan regime, Leyla Yunus, who was calling for the boycott of the European Games due to Baku’s appalling human rights records, was arrested on 30 July on trumped-up charges of treason and other crimes. Her husband, Arif Yunus, faced travel restrictions until he too was arrested on 5 August, on similar charges.  Leyla, who—has been denied necessary medical attention since her arrest, is currently being held in a detention center in Baku, just a few miles from the arena where the European Games will soon be inaugurated.

The Sport for Rights coalition demands the immediate release of Rasul Jafarov and other human rights defenders and activists in Azerbaijan, and calls for robust sanctions against Azerbaijan unless the government takes concrete steps to halt this crackdown.

Sport for Rights Coalition including:

Article 19

Center for Civil Liberties

Committee to Protect Journalists

Freedom Now

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights House Foundation

Index on Censorship

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Nesenhuti

Platform London

You Aid Foundation

For more information, contact:

Dominika Bychawska, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights at d.bychawska@hfhr.org.pl

Gulnara Akhundova, International Media Support at ga@mediasupport.org

Nina Ognianova, Committee to Protect Journalists at nognianova@cpj.org

Melody Patry, Index on Censorship at melody@indexoncensorship.org

Background to Rasul Jafarov’s case:

Rasul Jafarov is a lawyer and prominent human rights activist based in Azerbaijan. He is the founder and chairman of the Human Rights Club and coordinated the ‘Sing for Democracy Campaign’, which used the publicity surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku to shed light on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. In October 2014, Rasul Jafarov, together with other prominent Azerbaijani human rights activists, was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. In the same year, he was nominated for the Human Rights Tulip Award, an accolade presented by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to courageous human rights defenders who promote and support human rights in innovative ways.

Rasul Jafarov was arrested on 2 August 2014 and subsequently charged with illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. On 12 December 2014, additional charges were brought against him, including embezzlement and forgery. At a hearing on 9 April 2015, the prosecutor recommended a prison sentence of 9 years.

An analysis of trial procedures conducted by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) raises serious doubts whether the defendant’s fundamental right to a fair trialhas been adequately protected.During the initial stage of the trial, the accused and his lawyers already encountered problems in accessing investigation materials. During the first two hearings, Jafarov was brought into court in handcuffs and kept in a metal cage, which hindered communication with his lawyers. On one occasion, guards seated next to the accused during the hearings obstructed communication with his lawyers, in breach of the guaranteed secrecy of such communication. During the trial, Jafarov stated that he had faced ill-treatment—for example, he was deliberately woken up very early on the days of his trial, and kept waiting for several hours in a special (is this the right word? Small?) room. He was transported to the hearings in an overcrowded vehicle.

The prosecution’s arguments concerning the charges were vague. During the trial, the prosecution neither elaborated upon nor justified the charges, in particularly the charges of abuse of office and service forgery, as no evidence of significant damage to the interests of physical or legal persons or national or societal interests (according to Articles 308.2 and 313 of the Criminal Code) was presented. The lack of precision in regard to the charges and the lack of respect for Jafarov’s right to understand and respond to accusation has raised another challenge to procedural fairness.

During the trial, the Court heard more than a dozen witnesses. Although the prosecution considered some of these individuals as victims, the witnesses stated that they did not feel victimized by the defendant and have no claims against him. According to their testimonies, Jafarov paid them regularly and all financial documentation was completed in conformity with Azerbaijani law.  The defence lawyers filed unsuccessful motions to revoke the “victim status” of most of the witnesses. No clear justification for the rejection of this motion was provided. Moreover, during questioning of the alleged victims, the judge commented on their responses and guided their answers. Some of the alleged victims brought documents confirming that they had been paid for their work, but the judge refused to look at this crucial evidence.

The defence requested that the Court conduct an independent expert analysis of the document presented by the prosecution as a proof of alleged forgery by the accused. This motion was rejected by the Court, and so the defence presented the results of forensic analysis stating that the signatures on financial documents and invoices were authentic. Although the court accepted the expert analysis as evidence, it rejected the motion to hear the forensic expert.

The defence also submitted letters from 20 donor organizations stating that all grant funds were spent as intended. In addition, the court was presented with five CDs containing supporting documents. The prosecution opposed the presentation of these documents, arguing that they could be forged. However, the court accepted the defence’s submission.

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Bahrain must release Nabeel Rajab https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/bahrain-must-release-nabeel-rajab/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/bahrain-must-release-nabeel-rajab/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:23:12 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65631 Ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix this weekend in Bahrain, Index on Censorship calls on the government of Bahrain to release human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and fellow human rights defenders.

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Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab (Photo: The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy)

Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab (Photo: The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy)

Ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix this weekend in Bahrain, Index on Censorship calls on the government of Bahrain to release human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and fellow human rights defenders.

Rajab — a winner of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in 2012 — was arrested on April 2 on charges involving a series of recent tweets and an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post. If he is convicted on all current charges, Rajab — who was only released from jail last May after two year’s detention — could face more than 10 years in prison.

His last jail sentence followed protests during the Formula One race in April 2012, and he was a leading mediator in securing a commitment from Formula One — announced last week — to respect human rights in Bahrain and other countries in which it conducts business. It is the first time in its history that Formula One has committed publicly to respecting internationally recognised human rights in all of its operations. 

Rajab’s continued harassment and prosecution is a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”.

Index calls on the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab from custody and drop all charges against him. We also urge Bahrain to uphold its international commitments to supporting human rights, including free expression, and call on the international community to ensure Bahrain meets those commitments.

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Padraig Reidy: Sentenced to death for not believing in God https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/padraig-reidy-sentenced-to-death-for-not-believing-in-god/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/padraig-reidy-sentenced-to-death-for-not-believing-in-god/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:27:14 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65593 Washiqur Rahman and Ajivit Roy were killed because they were atheists who refused to keep quiet about their beliefs

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Blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in (Photo: Avijit Roy/Facebook)

Blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in February. (Photo: Avijit Roy/Facebook)

Washiqur Rahman was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

On the morning of 30 March 2015, the 27-year-old was set upon by three machete-wielding attackers and hacked to death because he did not believe in God.

The previous month, 42-year-old Avijit Roy was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

One of the accusations most often levelled at self-proclaimed atheists is that they go on about it too much. What is there even to talk about? Why join, say the British Humanist Association or a university atheist group? What do you do? Go to meetings and drone on about not believing in God? And someone should just get that Richard Dawkins off Twitter, right?

Rahman and Roy were the kind of vocal atheist that tends to prompt eye-rolling in liberal secular countries.

Roy was a frontrunner, a star. He was the creator of Mukto-Mona, which claimed to be the first secular humanist web portal in South Asia. He described Mukto-Mona’s mission as “to build a society which will not be bound by the dictates of arbitrary authority, comfortable superstition, stifling tradition, or suffocating orthodoxy but would rather be based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science.”

Based in the US, Roy had returned to Bangladesh to visit his sick mother, despite warnings that the country was no longer safe for him. He was well-known enough to be stopped in the street for autographs. An appearance at a book fair in Dhaka had alerted Islamist extremists to his presence in the country.

Rahman was an up and coming blogger with a big Facebook following. He wrote under the name Kutshit Hasher Chhana (The Ugly Duckling), satirising religion and believers. Like many online activists, he had been horrified by the murder of Roy, and had lent support to a campaign calling for the prosecution of his killers, posting to the #IAmAvijit hashtag.

This, it seems, was enough to get him killed. Suspicion for the killings of both bloggers lies with the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an extremist organisation said to take inspiration from Anwar al-Awlaki, the American preacher killed by a US drone attack in 2011. The group, which was formed in 2013, has been implicated in the murder of atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February of that year. The organisation recently hit the headlines in Bangladesh after it called for a jailbreak to free prisoners tied to Jamaat-e-Islami, who are on trial for war crimes that took place during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan.

The International Crimes Tribunal has been the backdrop for a fraught few years in Bangladesh. The tribunal has been criticised for lacking impartiality, particularly after leaked Skype conversations between the presiding judge, Mohammed Nizamul Huq, and a war crimes activist were published by The Economist, via Oliullah Noman, a journalist for opposition newspaper Amardesh in December 2012.

Increasing divisions were exacerbated by the governing Awami League’s decision to abandon the usual protocol of making way for an interim government to oversee the January 2014 election. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotted the election in protest, and the Commonwealth, the EU and the US declined to send monitors, calling the legitimacy of the result into question. The political division in Bangladesh operates roughly on a secular/religious line, with the Awami League seen as more secular and the BNP representing a more religious viewpoint.

Amidst all this upheaval, online atheists are under pressure. The two murders this year followed the attacks in 2013. Meanwhile, in spring 2013 four secularist bloggers were arrested for “offending religious sentiment” by denigrating the Prophet Mohammed, a colonial era law which is the closest Bangladesh comes to an official blasphemy statute.

Bangladesh is not Pakistan. It retains a secular identity that is fast slipping (it’s hard now to imagine a Pakistani atheist blogger operating for 13 years, as Roy did). But it cannot be entirely immune to the cross-border influences of extremist Islamism and jihadism unless it protects the free expression of non believers.

That is why the reaction to the murder of Washiqur Rahman from the deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan police made depressing reading:

“Those who killed him differed on his ideologies about religion. He was not an atheist. He was a believer. But the way he followed religion was different from the way radical groups insist,” Biplob Kumar Sarkar told the Guardian.

Though Sarkar may have been attempting to calm the situation, the statement is a gross display of disrespect to the murder victim and his views.

Moreover, it’s a refusal to confront the prime motivation for his killing, and that of Ajivit Roy. They were killed because they were atheists who refused to keep quiet about their beliefs.

Washiqur Rahman was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

Avijit Roy was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

This column was posted on 16 April 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Azerbaijan: Six-year jail sentence for human rights activist https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/azerbaijan-six-year-jail-sentence-for-human-rights-activist/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/azerbaijan-six-year-jail-sentence-for-human-rights-activist/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 11:31:45 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65592 Rasul Jafarov, one of Azerbaijan’s most well-known government critics, has been sentenced on charges believed to be linked to his campaigning work

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Rasul Jafarov (Photo: Melody Patry)

Rasul Jafarov (Photo: Melody Patry)

Rasul Jafarov, one of Azerbaijan’s best-known human rights activists and government critics, was sentenced on 16 April to six years and six months in prison on charges including tax evasion and abuse of power. He has also been barred from holding any office for three years following his release, reports contact.az.

The charges have been widely dismissed as trumped up and linked to Jafarov’s campaigning work in a country that has been continually criticised for its poor human rights record. Jafarov was notably behind the Sing For Democracy campaign when Azerbaijan hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, and among other things met with eventual winner Loreen to discuss the human rights situation in the country. When he was arrested in August 2014, Jafarov was also planning a Sports For Rights campaign in connection with this summer’s inaugural European Games. Backed by the European Olympic Committees (EOC), the games will be held in the capital Baku from 12 June.

“The sentencing of Rasul Jafarov is just the latest chapter in Azerbaijan’s ongoing attack on civil society. We must not allow the glitz of the Baku 2015 European Games to whitewash President Ilham Aliyev’s abysmal record on human rights,” said Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

After the announcement of the verdict, Jafarov said he believes the case against him is fabricated and politically motivated.

Jafarov’s arrest is part of an unprecedented crackdown on prominent journalists, activists and others critical of the leadership of President Aliyev. It was also announced this week that the prosecution is seeking ten years in prison for human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, who was detained around the same time as Jafarov.

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Gunter Grass: The past has left its mark on what we thought was virgin territory https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/gunter-grass-past-has-left-its-mark-on-what-we-thought-was-virgin-territory/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/gunter-grass-past-has-left-its-mark-on-what-we-thought-was-virgin-territory/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:44:41 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65581 Günter Grass, a German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, died on April 13 at the age of 87.

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Gunter Grass in 2006 ("Günter Grass auf dem Blauen Sofa" by Blaues Sofa from Berlin, Deutschland - Günter Grass im Gespräch mit Wolfgang HerlesUploaded by Magiers. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Gunter Grass in 2006 by Magiers. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Günter Grass, a German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, died on April 13 at the age of 87.

Grass authored two articles for Index on Censorship magazine, both of which have been made freely accessible.

September 1999: After the fall: The year is 1989. A wave of revolution, unexpected and uncontrolled, is gathering momentum on the fringes of the USSR. Within a year or two, it will have swept away the entire Soviet Empire and brought the Cold War to an end

January 2001: I remember: Whenever we make our plans for the future, the past has left its mark on what we thought was virgin territory; it has set up signposts that just lead us back to what we have already lived through

Subscribe to Index on Censorship magazine.

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South Africa must support novelist Zainub Priya Dala https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/index-condemns-treatment-of-south-african-novelist/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/index-condemns-treatment-of-south-african-novelist/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:28:13 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65551 Index calls on South Africa's government to protect the right of individuals to freedom of expression guaranteed by the country's constitution. Further, South Africa must provide protection for Dala.

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ZP Dala (9News / YouTube)

Zainub Priya Dala (9News / YouTube)

A South African novelist has been subjected to harassment and violently assaulted for expressing an opinion of Salmon Rushdie’s work. Zainub Priya Dala, a psychologist and a physiotherapist specialising in autism, recently published her first novel, What About Meera.

While speaking at a school literary event in March, Dala expressed admiration for Rushdie’s work. The following day she was threatened by three men in a parking lot. The assailants placed a knife to her throat and hit her in the face with a brick, calling her “Rushdie’s bitch.” The attack ended when a minibus entered the lot. Dala said she believes she would have been stabbed had the attack not been interrupted.

Dala reported that she has come under pressure from some of Durban’s religious leaders to renounce her statements on Rushdie and his work. She has been told to say the prayers and seek forgiveness.

Diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, Dala is currently being treated at a hospital, where she went reluctantly and where she is being held against her wishes. Index is pleased to hear that she has now been discharged from the facility.

Index calls on South Africa’s government to protect the right of individuals to freedom of expression guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Further, South Africa must provide protection for Dala.

“South Africa is a modern democracy that has publicly committed to upholding the values of free expression and the rights these values afford individuals,” said Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “It is incumbent on South Africa to show it believes and supports these principles by supporting Zainub Dala and by taking action against those who would silence her.”

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End reprisals against leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/end-reprisals-against-leading-human-rights-defender-nabeel-rajab/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/end-reprisals-against-leading-human-rights-defender-nabeel-rajab/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:12:09 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65558 We in the Bahrain and international human rights NGO community condemn the arrest and detention of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

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Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab (Photo: The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy)

Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab (Photo: The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy)

We in the Bahrain and international human rights NGO community condemn the arrest and detention of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

On 4 April, the Bahrain Public Prosecution Office renewed Mr. Rajab’s pretrial detention for a further 15 days. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Rajab and to drop all charges against him.

On 2 April 2015, security forces surrounded Mr. Rajab’s home and arrested him in relation to two new charges involving a series of recent tweets and an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post. The first charge is for “insulting a statutory body” in connection to his documentation of mistreatment and torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison. The second charge of “spreading rumors during wartime” relates to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of the conflict. If he is convicted on all current charges, Mr. Rajab could face more than 10 years in prison.

At the request of the public prosecution, Bahraini authorities advanced Mr. Rajab’s scheduled appeal hearing from 15 April to 5 April, only to adjourn it to 5 May. This appeal concerns the six month sentence handed down to Nabeel Rajab on 20 January in relation to a tweet critical of the Bahraini Ministries of Interior and Defense.Mr. Rajab’s continued harassment and prosecution is a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 of the UDHR states that, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression…” while Article 19 of the ICCPR provides that, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

We therefore call on the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nabeel Rajab from custody and drop all charges against him. We further call on Bahrain to ensure free and peaceful expression, and to cease all harassment of and restrictions against civil society and human rights defenders in Bahrain.

Sincerely,
•Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
•Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
•Bahran Human Rights Society (BHRS)
•Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
•CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
•English PEN
•European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
•FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
•Index on Censorship
•International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
•No Peace Without Justice
•OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
•Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
•VIVARTA
•World Movement for Democracy

bahrain-letter-logos

Background:
Index award winner Mr Nabeel Rajab is the President and Co-Founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Board.

Bahrain authorities have previously prosecuted Mr. Rajab on politically motivated charges. They have never presented any credible evidence that Mr. Rajab has advocated, incited or engaged in violence.

Mr Rajab was detained from 5 May to 28 May 2012, for Twitter remarks criticizing the Interior Ministry for failing to investigate attacks carried out by what Mr. Rajab said were pro-government gangs against Shia residents. On 28 June 2012, a criminal court fined him 300 Bahraini Dinars (US$790) in that case. Authorities again detained Mr. Rajab on 6 June 2012, for another Twitter remark calling for Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa to step down. On 9 July 2012, a criminal court convicted and sentenced him to three months in prison on that charge. A court of appeal overturned that verdict, but in a separate case a criminal court sentenced him to three years in prison for organizing and participating in three unauthorized demonstrations between January and March 2012. An appeals court reduced the sentence to two years, which Mr. Rajab completed in May 2014.

In September 2014 Mr. Rajab traveled to Europe to call for stronger international action on Bahrain. He met with representatives of various governments, the European Union, the European Parliament, and participated in the 27th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On 1 October 2014, less than 24 hours after his return to Bahrain, Mr. Rajab was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) Cyber Crimes Unit for interrogation, where officers arrested and interrogated him for a number of hours in relation to a tweet he published while abroad. This arrest ultimately lead to Mr. Rajab’s conviction on 20 January 2015, on charges of “insulting public institutions,” referring to the Bahrain Ministries of Defense and Interior. The Bahraini government charged him in relation to a tweet in which he criticized members of the Bahraini security forces who have joined the ISIS extremist group. Mr. Rajab was charged under Bahrain’s penal code which unduly restricts and criminalizes, “[offending] by any method of expression the National Assembly, or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies.” The court sentenced him to six months in prison. Following international attention in his case, Mr. Rajab was released on bail pending the completion of his appeal.

Most recently, Mr. Rajab was arrested on 2 April 2015 on separate charges of insulting a statutory body, and spreading rumors during wartime. The former charge is related to Mr. Rajab’s documentation of human rights abuses at Bahrain’s Jaw Prison on social media. The latter is related to his documentation and criticism of Bahraini involvement in the Yemeni conflict in an opinion piece written for the Huffington Post.

Simultaneously, Mr. Rajab’s previous case has been reopened by the public prosecution, impeding his appeal. If these charges are upheld, and he is convicted of the new charges, Mr. Rajab may face over 10 years in prison.

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Angola’s sovereign fund pays $100 million to a shell company https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/angolas-sovereign-fund-pays-100-million-to-a-shell-company/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/angolas-sovereign-fund-pays-100-million-to-a-shell-company/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 12:01:37 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65546 Rafael Marques de Morais, joint winner of the 2015 Index journalism award, is currently facing criminal defamation charges for his work exposing human rights abuses in Angola. Despite the current charges, Marques de Morais continues to work for a fairer Angola.

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Rafael Marques de Morais, joint winner of the 2015 Index journalism award, is currently facing criminal defamation charges for his work exposing human rights abuses in Angola. Despite the current charges, Marques de Morais continues to work for a fairer Angola. On April 12, he published this story the investigative journalism site MakaAngola.org.

BKI shares its only office with its shell company Kijinga S.A. (MakaAngola.org)

BKI shares its only office with its shell company Kijinga S.A. (MakaAngola.org)

On 22 January 2015, Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (FSDEA) transferred the sum of 9,948,750,000 kwanzas (equivalent at the time to US$100 million) to the company Kijinga S.A. This company is nothing more than a shell company set up as a front for shady transactions by Banco Kwanza Invest (BKI), a bank created by the 36-year-old José Filomeno dos Santos “Zenú”, the current chair of the FSDEA and the son of the president of the republic.

Kijinga S.A. shares an office with BKI at 150 Avenida Comandante Jika, next to the Maternity Hospital in Luanda. This address has only one business door, which opens into a small waiting room where there is a reception area and two chairs for visitors. One of these chairs is usually occupied by a security guard, in addition to the guard on duty outside the door. The windows are darkened glass, which does not allow a glimpse inside.  From the waiting room all one can see is a door leading to the bank and of Kijinga S.A.

According to documents in the possession of Maka Angola, FSDEA transferred the funds already mentioned from its account at the state-owned Banco de Poupança e Crédito, to account AO06005700000014010400124, which is in the name of Kijinga S.A. at BKI. The transfer was carried out with the knowledge of the Central Bank of Angola.  The transfer is identified only as the payment of a bill dated 13 January 2015.
A document from the General Tax Administration of the finance ministry, in the possession of Maka Angola and dated 5 February 2015, shows that Kijinga S.A. does not have a single employee.

How can a company without a single employee provide services to the Sovereign Wealth Fund valuing nearly US $ 100 million? That is the question.

What is Kijinga S.A.?  

Kijinga S.A. was legally constituted on 4 December 2012.  Its formal shareholders are Pascoalina Natacha Daniel Sambo, Sendji Alexandre Vieira Dias, Mário Augusto dos Santos Mangueira, Cira Cláudia Ferreira Custódio Medrôa and Djanir de Nazaré Ferreira da Conceição (now Junqueira).

Maka Angola has conducted a brief investigation into these shareholders.  Pascoalina Sambo’s CV states that she has served as a sub-director of the BKI legal department since July 2012.  Cira Cláudia Ferreira Custódio Medrôa has been on the staff of BKI since October 2012. According to her CV, she stared working at the bank as executive secretary and supervisor of the receptionists, and is currently the compliance officer.

Djanir de Nazaré Ferreira da Conceição (now Junqueira) was also working at BKI at the time when the company was set up.

Mário Augusto dos Santos Mangueira has since 2012 been a manager of the Fundo Activo de Capital de Risco (FACRA)  a venture capital fund created by President José Eduardo dos Santos, through presidential decree 108/12, using public money, to support micro, small and medium-sized businesses. FACRA’s funds are exclusively managed by BKI.

The chief nominal shareholder of BKI, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, who holds 85% of the bank’s shares, is one of three members of FACRA’s highest body, the Supervisory Council. FACRA’s investment committee is chaired by Marcel Kruse, BKI’s CEO.

In 2013 BKI already held deposits from FACRA worth 6.7 billion kwanzas (US $70.5 million at the time) according to its statement of that year. In January 2015, FACRA announced that it had US $240 million available to support micro, small and medium-sized businesses.

The only individual on the list who does not appear to have any institutional links with BKI or its shareholders or managers is Sendji Alexandre Vieira Dias, who works for the state diamond company, Endiama.

When contacted by Maka Angola, Mário Augusto dos Santos Mangueira denied having any relationship with BKI or with Kijinga S.A. “It is very strange that you are phoning me to ask this question,” he stated. He promised to organise a meeting to discuss the matter when his schedule permitted; however, a month later he has not found the time to do so.

Pascoalina Natacha Daniel Sambo explained to Maka Angola that “we [the named shareholders] transferred the ownership of our shares to Banco Kwanza the moment the company was set up”.

When asked other questions about the company’s activities and the fact that the figureheads are still named as the company shareholders, she referred this to the owner of the company. “The questions must be addressed to Banco Kwanza,” she said.

Kijinga S.A describes its role as “delivering management and support services to businesses, performing and developing all manner of studies and projects, including agricultural and industrial projects, property development, the sale, purchase and sourcing of mobile or fixed assets, general bulk or retail trade, including import and export, and, in general, the direct or indirect execution of any activities of a commercial or industrial nature allowed by the law”.

The company also states that it is able “to acquire or dispose of shares in companies, whether constituted here or abroad, whose aims are the same as or different from its own, as well as to associate itself with other legal persons in order to establish new companies, groups of companies, consortia.”

The Fund’s reaction and the silence of BKI

Maka Angola contacted  Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, and received the following response from its chairman, José Filomeno dos Santos, via e-mail: “The Angolan Sovereign Fund provided the equity capital of 9.950.750.000,00 Kwanzas for a company which is focused on setting up incubators for micro-business for Angolan businesspeople. This initiative represents the first project of social integration in the country undertaken as a sustainable business enterprise.”

“FSDEA has scheduled the public announcement of this investment in the coming days, in tandem with five other investments funds recently certified, which all aim for social and economic development in Angola and for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. We invite you to refer to these imminent announcements for any additional information”, wrote José Filomeno dos Santos.

Meanwhile, all the efforts to obtain a response from BKI failed. Maka Angola went to the bank, and asked for a contact in its legal department given the unavailability of the directorship. A staff member, who introduced himself as Paulo Ngunza, explained that “the bank does not have a legal department.”

Shell companies and money laundering  

A government jurist, who prefers to remain anonymous, commented on the non-existence of Kijinga S.A.’s staff: “If the company does not have staff, it does not exist. Even if it is in an embryonic phase of being established, even then it would have to have a number of legally established representatives, according to the type and the nature of the company.”

For an international expert on money laundering, who is familiar with the Angolan banking system “there is clearly something hidden in the relationship between FSDEA, Kijinga S.A. and Banco Kwanza Invest. The company is clearly a front for the bank.”
“Banking activity should not be mixed up with other types of business at the same premise. This is something shady, which violates international standards on banking that Angola has adopted and which must be respected,” the lawyer told Maka Angola.

According to the same expert, “the banking sector is highly regulated. There is a likelihood that people close to the president’s son, who is a politically exposed person, are carrying out money laundering activities through BKI. There must be a serious investigation into the matter.”

Angola’s Law to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Finance defines “politically exposed persons” as “all individuals who are fulfilling or who have fulfilled within the past year duties of a political or public nature, as well as close members of their families and persons with whom they are recognised as having close social or business relationships”.

The shady Banco Kwanza Invest 

In June 2012, José Filomeno dos Santos formally resigned as a board director of BKI, in which he was the main (45.33%) shareholder. He also announced he would sell his shares so as to avoid conflicts of interests with his executive role in the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

The shares were transferred to one Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais,a Swiss-Angolan national, who initially owned 39,67% BKI. Bastos de Morais thus found himself in possession of 85% of the shares in the bank. Yet BKI’s reports and accounts for 2012 and 2013 make no mention of the deal.

In addition to its connection with the president’s son, the bank is noteworthy for the controlling interest of Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, who is to a large extent Zenú’s mentor and his business partner, and for its lack of transparency.

Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais described himself as “I am a machine of ideas” in an interview with a Swiss newspaper in 2012.  He told the Handelszeitung that it had been his idea to set up FACRA and that the Minister of the Economy, Abraão Gourgel, served as a vehicle for its implementation. This is the same Abraão Gourgel who, while acting as governor of the National Bank of Angola, granted BKI management contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.

Apparently unable to keep his mouth shut, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais told the Swiss newspaper that he was the “brain” behind the idea of setting up Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Meanwhile, in 2013 BKI’s CEO, Marcel Kruse, told Deutsche Welle that BKI had offered its management services to FACRA.

“We are one of 23 banks, but the only one specialised in investment banking. Our client, the Angolan state, is of the opinion that all the other banks would have conflicts of interest and that we would be the best placed to offer this service,” Marcel Kruse emphasised.

Although the bank has obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in Angolan state funds, the way it is managed raises many questions about the integrity of its owners and managers.

For its 2011-2012 audit, the first to be made public since the bank was founded in 2008, the accountants, A. Paredes e Associados – Angola, Auditores e Consultores Lda., told the bank’s management that “up until the date of this report, we have not obtained answers to a significant number of requests to confirm account balances, transfers and other information that was requested from various entities, and it was not possible to put in place effective alternative procedures with reference to the missing sums owed and owing under the headings of ‘other assets’, ‘deposits’ and ‘other liabilities’ as detailed below (sums owed / sums owing).

The lack of information about BKI prompted Maka Angola to enlist the help of experts in reviewing the bank’s latest report and statement of accounts, dated 2013, to help readers to understand how the bank is managed. In 2013 BKI was US $225 million in debt, which with no plausible explanation was transformed into US $283 million in credit.  This is in part to do with the lack of information in the report. Both the balance and the profit and loss statement are accompanied by explanatory notes that explain little or nothing.

There is no information at all about the bank’s organisational structure, its areas of business and the people who occupy key positions: all of this is information required by Angolan law.

The bank’s balance sheet triples from assets through “investments”, and from “liabilities” through “other funds”, without any explanation on what these other funds are.  One suspects that they are not deposits, capital, senior debt or subordinated debt, since these categories have their own entries.

The bank presents negative results that somehow lead to a positive balance. However, there is no explanation of what these “charges on the current result” are. The fundamental question is how a negative result of US $225 million  (item XIX of profit & loss statement) becomes a net result for the year of US $283 million (item XX of profit & loss statement). Page 14 of the report merely offers notes on US $247 million from “creditors for goods provided”. Such a substantial amount of money deserves at least a better explanation than it currently receives.

BKI’s chief executives, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais (majority shareholder) and Marcel Kruse, were both convicted in the Canton of Zug on 13 July 2011 for “repeated acts of qualified criminal management”.

The sovereignty of the Fund  

José Filomeno dos Santos “Zenú” during an art exhibit in Luanda.

Last year, José Filomeno dos Santos, denied publicly that the Sovereign Wealth Fund that he chairs had any business dealings with BKI. In addition to its capitalisation of US $5 billion when it began in 2012, the fund receives the value of 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day, in accordance with Presidential Decree 48/11.

Dos Santos has had also to explain why Quantum Global Investment Management (QGIM) was chosen to manage US$3 billion of the Sovereign Fund’s assets. According to the QGIM website, its founder and chairman is none other than Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais.  This company, based in Switzerland, won Zenú’s trust, it appears, because of its success in managing funds for the Central Bank of Angola.

The friendship and business relationship between José Filomeno dos Santos and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais took off in 2007 when they both set up a number of businesses, in association with Mirco de Jesus Martins, Vice President Manuel Vicente’s stepson and his figurehead in various companies. Between June and October that year, they set up five companies, Augra S.A., Benfin S.A., Benguela Development S.A., Calfisa S.A. and Sociedade de Urbanização da Graça S.A. All these companies were set up to work mainly in Benguela province, particularly in the sectors of civil construction, trade, import and export and other “activities of a commercial or industrial nature allowed by the law.”

It has been a long time since José Filomeno dos Santos established himself in the business world as a fish merchant. On 20 September 1996, he registered one of his first businesses, as co-owner of the fishing and fish marketing company Staze – Captura e Comercialização de Pescado, Lda.

This article was originally published at MakaAngola.org on 12 April 2015 

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10 June: The new civility: are religious freedom and freedom of speech intertwined? https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/10-june-the-new-civility-are-religious-freedom-and-freedom-of-speech-intertwined/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/10-june-the-new-civility-are-religious-freedom-and-freedom-of-speech-intertwined/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 17:08:41 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65505 Index on Censorship magazine are holding a big debate, in partnership with the Leeds Big Bookend festival. Does freedom of religion and freedom of speech come as a package or can you pick and choose? Do those people who suggest freedom of expression should be “civilised” and that we should be wary of causing offence […]

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Index on Censorship magazine are holding a big debate, in partnership with the Leeds Big Bookend festival.

Does freedom of religion and freedom of speech come as a package or can you pick and choose? Do those people who suggest freedom of expression should be “civilised” and that we should be wary of causing offence to people’s religious sensibilities have a point? Or is the world full of offended people and any idea of holding back ends up with us not being able to talk about important issues?

Panellists: Anthony Clavane, playwright, journalist and author of Promised Land: A Northern Love Story; Chris Bond, journalist with the Yorkshire Post; Chief Imam Qari Muhammad Asim MBE of Leeds Makkah Masjid; BBC Radio York’s Rev Dr Stephen Sorby of Ebor Ministries; Rachael Jolley, editor of the Index on Censorship magazine

WHEN: Wednesday 10th June 2015, 6.30pm
WHERE: Waterstones, Albion Street, Leeds
TICKETS: £3 / available here

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23 May: The Index Debate: Diss my mother; expect a punch https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/23-may-index-at-hay-festival/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/23-may-index-at-hay-festival/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 16:09:31 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65496 Index at the Hay Festival What are the limits of free speech and civility? What is the nature of “offence”? What earns “respect”? If words can hurt you, are sticks and stones and broken bones the answer? Index on Censorship magazine will launch its spring issue at this year’s Hay Festival on Saturday 23 May, […]

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Index at the Hay Festival

What are the limits of free speech and civility? What is the nature of “offence”? What earns “respect”? If words can hurt you, are sticks and stones and broken bones the answer?

Index on Censorship magazine will launch its spring issue at this year’s Hay Festival on Saturday 23 May, along with a debate discussing the limits of free speech and the nature of offence. Speakers include: Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, Index chair David Aaronovitch, editor of Index on Censorship magazine Rachael Jolley and academic Sarah Churchwell.

Where: Llwyfan Cymru – Wales Stage, Hay Festival
When: Saturday 23 May 2015, 8.30pm
Tickets: £8 / order here

Index is also holding a debate on 24 May at Hay Festival, find out more here

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