Iranian blogger detained for criticising regime dies in custody

Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti was allegedly tortured to death in a prison in Tehran on Thursday (8 November). Beheshti, 35 was arrested on 28 October by Iranian police on charges of “actions against national security on social networks and Facebook.” The human rights defender had received death threats as a result of his anti-government blog and had reportedly filed a complaint about torture during his time in the detention facility. His family say they were told by police to pick up his body on Wednesday and have been prevented from visiting his grave, with the exception of his brother-in-law. France and Britain have called on Tehran to investigate.

Azerbaijan: “Tortured” singer flees country

A 24-year-old Azerbaijani musician who says he was tortured by police after he insulted the country’s president during a concert has fled to Germany over concerns for his safety. Jamal Ali had criticised President Ilham Aliyev and his late mother during the concert in Baku in March, and was charged with hooliganism after an argument with the concert’s organisers. He and two other musicians were sentenced to 10 days’ detention, during which time Ali claims he was tortured. His escape comes just days before the Eurovision song contest, due to be held in the former Soviet country on 26 May.

Yu Jie: An exile at heart

The defection of Chinese writer and dissident Yu Jie last week revealed shocking allegations of torture and beatings more usually associated with rogue American troops in Iraq.

Yu, a close friend of imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, is most famous for his mocking attack on the country’s premier, China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, published in Hong Kong in late 2010.

Yu fled with his family to the US on 11 January. Shortly after, he held a press conference in Washington and released a written statement on why he had chosen to defect. Below we pick out the most shocking of these claims.

Though I was physically in China, I became an ‘exile at heart’ and a ‘non-existent person’ in the public space.

Illegal house arrests, torture, surveillance, tracking, and being taken on ‘trips’ became part of my everyday life.

Several of the plainclothes officials came at me again and began beating me in the head and the face without explanation. They stripped off all my clothes and pushed me, naked, to the ground, and kicked me maniacally. They also had a camera and were taking pictures as I was being beaten, saying with glee that they would post the naked photos online.

They forced me to kneel and slapped me over a hundred times in the face. They even forced me to slap myself. They would be satisfied only when they heard the slapping sound, and laughed madly. They also kicked me in the chest and then stood on me after I had fallen to the ground.

The head state security officer told him:

If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour, and no one on earth would know… If the central authorities think that their rule is facing a crisis, they can capture [all China’s dissidents] in one night and bury them alive.

While the post-Tiananmen Square period was a time when Chinese dissidents defected in their droves, there is still a steady trickle of Chinese who seek refugee status overseas. Some of them leave legally, while others, who are denied passports or the right to leave smuggle themselves out, usually via Vietnam. They include fellow writer Liao Yiwu, who has been living in Germany since 2011;  Chinese diplomat, Chen Yonglin, who fled to Australia in 2005; and AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, who left for the United States in 2010.  The wife of Chinese dissident human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, Geng He, has also been living in the US for the past two years. Her husband is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for violating probation rules, having been missing for more than a year.

Using WikiLeaks to justify torture?

Osama bin Laden’s death two weeks ago has prompted a bitter debate on US op-ed pages and cable TV shows over one of the major legacies of the Bush Administration: “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Defenders of the administration (and many of its former officials, who have rarely been heard from over the past two years) have emerged to insist bin Laden’s death vindicates the intelligence-gathering-at-all-costs strategy of the US War on Terror. (more…)