New Charges Against Peaceful Protesters in Myanmar

On January 20th, a new charge was brought against six human rights defenders in Myanmar for staging an unauthorized protest in violation of Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. They have been charged with various offenses, including protesting without permission, and have been held in detention since their arrest on December 30th 2014 for participating in a peaceful protest against the shooting and killing of a protester the week before.

Daw Naw Ohn Hla, Daw Sein Htwe, Daw San San Win, Ko Nay Myo Zin,  Ko Tin Htut Paing and Ko Thant Zin are environmental rights defenders who have been instrumental in calling for the suspension of the controversial Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing region, which they believe is harming the environment. Villagers have protested the project over the lack of fair compensation for their confiscated lands as well as environmental destruction and defilement of religious structures.

On December 30th 2014, human rights activists Daw Naw Ohn Hla, Daw Sein Htwe, U Nay Myo Zin and Ko Tin Htut Paing were arrested for participating in a peaceful protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, the day before. They were among around 100 protesters calling on the Myanmar authorities to carry out an investigation into the death of Khin Win. She was shot dead on December 22nd when police opened fire on her and other protesters demonstrating against land being taken over for the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sagaing region.

The six human rights defenders were informed of the fresh charge when they appeared in the second hearing of the trial against them. The charge relates to their participation in a protest of approximately 100 people in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon on December 30th 2014. Daw Naw Ohn Hla, Daw Sein Htwe, Ko Nay Myo Zin and Ko Tin Htut Paing were arrested at the demonstration and Daw San San Win and Ko Thant Zin presented themselves to the authorities and were detained on January 13th and 20th 2015.

The defenders are currently being detained in Insein prison in Yangon, and have been accused by the Dagon Township Court of committing violations of the Penal Code, including publishing or circulating information which may cause public fear or alarm and may incite persons to commit offences “against the State or against the public tranquillity” (Section 505(b)); assaulting or preventing a public servant from the discharge of his duty (Section 353); rioting (Section 147); doing obscene acts in public (Section 294); and “intimidation” (Section 506). If convicted on all charges, they face a possible sentence of over eight years’ imprisonment.

Daw Naw Ohn Hla has faced ongoing judicial harassment due to her opposition to the mining project. She was given an award from the N-Peace Network along with other Asian peace activists at a ceremony in Bangkok on October 24th 2014. N-Peace, a network of peace advocates in Asia honored Daw Naw Ohn Hla for her work to advance women, peace and security.

International human rights organization Front Line Defenders is concerned at the detention and charging of the six defenders and says the charges are directly related to their environmental rights activities.

The organization is urging the authorities in Myanmar to immediately drop all charges against, and unconditionally release them. Front Line Defenders believes that they are being held solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights.

Amnesty International is also calling on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop the charges against them. The organization is urging the authorities to ensure that they are not tortured or otherwise ill-treated; that they have regular access to family members and lawyers of their choosing; that they are not transferred to remote prisons; and are provided with any medical treatment which they may require.

In addition, Amnesty calls on Myanmar authorities to conduct a ”prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the killing of Khin Win’’ and other allegations that police used excessive force against the Letpadaung protesters and bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness, without recourse to the death penalty.

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Laos Must Immediately Act on Human Rights, End Disappearances

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. Photo courtesy his family.

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. Photo courtesy his family.

The government of Laos should take the opportunity to pledge concrete measures to address its pervasive human rights problems as the United Nations Human Rights Council reviews that country’s record, rights groups say.

Laos will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review on Tuesday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) says that this represents an important opportunity for Laos to strengthen its commitment to human rights at home, by guaranteeing the freedom and protection of civil society through official provisions.

In a June 2014 submission to the council, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the enforced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms to expression and assembly, the denial of labor rights and abusive drug detention centers.

“The lack of progress in the disappearance of a leading activist is sadly emblematic of the Lao government’s failure take action on a wide range of serious human rights problems,” said Philippe Dam, acting Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should make clear their dissatisfaction with Laos’ inaction and insist upon genuine reform.”

There are serious risks facing HRDs, according to ISHR. The climate of fear and intimidation is such that sensitive topics are avoided. Human rights defenders prefer to be known as ‘community workers’ and are afraid of reprisals if they are associated with regional and international human rights organisations. There are at least nine unresolved cases of enforced disappearance, following the arbitrary detention by Laos’s security forces, in November 2009, of activists in various locations across the country.

The International Federation for Human Rights and Laos Movement for Human Rights expressed their deep disappointment that Laos completely ignored the recommendations made by the European Union regarding enforced disappearances, and says that Laos ‘’has failed to respect the international treaties that it has signed or ratified, as well as several provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’’

Defamation and misinformation are criminal offences, carrying lengthy prison terms and even the possibility of execution. Due to high levels of official and self-censorship, legal cases are in fact extremely rare.

According to the United States Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, authorities may prohibit the dissemination of materials the Ministry of Information and Culture deemed indecent, subversive of ‘national culture’, or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to the national culture may face a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.

Defenders working on land and environment rights are particularly threatened. Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders from 2008-2014, expressed her concern about cases of land rights defenders in the country, who remain at risk of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance as a result of exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of association and of expression.

Civil society activists told Human Rights Watch that the Sombath case has had a severe chilling effect on activism in Laos, which has made them fear raising the case with the authorities.

Despite having accepted relevant recommendations during its previous UPR, Laos signed in 2008, but has not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which rights groups say Laos must do. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the government has ratified, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.

Lao authorities’ have not made progress in the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone in Vientiane in December 2012. Although closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage captured him being apprehended at a police checkpoint, Lao authorities have recently claimed someone other than Sombath was shown being driven away. They continue to refuse offers of technical assistance from governments to assess the video footage or provide other investigative support.

Human Rights Watch says that Laos is obligated under international human rights law to prevent and remedy any enforced disappearances. Despite widespread calls for accountability, both regionally and internationally, questions about the enforced disappearances are met with denials or silence by senior officials of the Lao government.

ISHR recommends that the Government of Laos immediately establish an independent commission to carry out a thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, to make his fate and whereabouts known, and to bring those responsible to justice.

The Constitution of Laos guarantees the right to freedom of expression. In practice, however, this right is heavily restricted. The government has long controlled all newspapers, television and radio in the country, and bars media reporting if it considers it contrary to undefined “national interests” or “traditional culture and dignity.” On January 27th 2012, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism ordered Ounkeo Souksavanh, host of the country’s only call-in radio show, ‘Wao Kao’, to cancel his program. Ounkeo had discussed sensitive topics with callers to the show, including government land seizures.

The Penal Code prohibits organizing or participating in protest marches or demonstrations ‘with the intention of causing social disorder’. Those who do organize protests, or who attempt to do so, can receive sentences of up to five years in prison.

In September 2014, the Lao government adopted a draconian Internet decree that significantly restricts freedom of expression online using provisions that go well beyond internationally accepted limits on free speech contained in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Laos ratified in 2009.  The law sharply limits the types of information that can be shared — including “false information” about the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, or any information the government finds “distorts truth or tarnishes the dignity and rights of individuals, sectors, institutions and organizations.”

Workers are prohibited from establishing or joining a trade union of their own choosing since all unions must be part of the government-controlled Lao Federation of Trade Unions. They are also unable to exercise their right to strike because of restrictions in labor law and authorities’ proven willingness to forcibly break up workers’ protests.

Laos has also tightened government control in the operating guidelines for the Non-Profit Associations (NPAs), local civil society organizations, as well as the decree overseeing the activities of international NGOs. These increase requirements for notification and permission to receive or spend international development funds; limitations on areas of permitted work; and limitations or prohibitions on any speech or activities deemed to offend government-defined notions of peace and social order. The result will be greater bureaucratic scrutiny over programs and budgets of non-governmental groups working in development and other grassroots projects in the country, Human Rights Watch says.

The Lao government maintains a system of drug detention centers where detainees are held for months and sometimes years without a court ruling, judicial oversight, or an appeal mechanism. Human Rights Watch found that detainees at the Somsanga center outside Vientiane received little effective medical treatment, and were instead locked in cells inside barbed wire compounds, and subjected to beatings.

“The Lao government has a long record of using enforced disappearances, oppressive laws, and long prison terms to silence its critics,” Dam said. “Governments should use the opportunity of UN review of Laos to make clear they stand with ordinary citizens against the abuses by unaccountable Lao officials.”

The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, human rights defenders, independence of judges and lawyers, and torture received reports of alleged torture by detention personnel, denial of legal aid for detained human rights defenders and refusal of their requests to meet with family and lawyers.

In its last Universal Periodic Review in May 2010, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) received a total of eight recommendations with respect to human rights defenders (HRDs), five regarding the right to the freedom of assembly and expression, and three regarding the free activities and safety of civil society, in particular calls to free activists detained owing to their participation in peaceful demonstrations. Laos accepted only one of these recommendations, committing to allow media and civil society to undertake education, advocacy, monitoring, and reporting of human rights issues.

Laos also has not taken significant steps to meet commitments the government made during its first Universal Periodic Review in 2010, Human Rights Watch said. The government has failed to end severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and the media, association and peaceful assembly.

ISHR says that Laos should develop and enact specific laws and policies to recognise and protect the work of HRDs, facilitate the establishment of non-governmental organisations and give full force and effect to the international Declaration on Human Rights Defenders at the national level. Laos should demonstrate strong, high-level political support for HRDs through public statements by its officials which recognize their important and legitimate work.

Additionally, Laos should combat impunity by undertaking a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation of all allegations of enforced disappearances and all violations against HRDs, and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators and access to effective remedies for victims.

The government should also address the on-going repression of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, to ensure protection of all human rights defenders and members of civil society. Specifically, Laos should remove restrictions in the Penal Code on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, should decriminalize defamation and misinformation, and should repeal the law which restricts online communications.

Finally, ISHR recommends that Laos ensure the creation of a strong, independent National Human Rights Institution, which adheres to the Paris Principles and includes a focal point for HRDs.

Laos is ranked in 171st place out of 180 in Reporter’s Without Borders’ 2014 Press Freedom Index.

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EU Must Pressure Vietnam on Human Rights During Upcoming Dialogue

The European Union (EU) should use upcoming talks with Vietnam to demand that Hanoi urgently address serious human rights violations, rights groups said Friday. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) made the call ahead of the fifth EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, which is scheduled to begin January 19th in Brussels as Vietnam continues to repress human rights defenders who suffer ongoing harassment, arbitrary detention and imprisonment.

“As the human rights situation in Vietnam shows no signs of improvement, the EU must use the dialogue to present clear, measurable, and time-bound recommendations for the Vietnamese government to implement,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The organizations say that EU recommendations must include an end to the harassment and arbitrary arrest of bloggers, activists, religious followers, and human rights defenders as well as the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

In 2014, Vietnam detained or imprisoned at least 12 bloggers and human rights defenders and it currently holds about 200 political prisoners, the largest number in Southeast Asia, the largest number in Southeast Asia.

Towards the end of 2014, Vietnamese authorities intensified the crackdown on freedom of expression with the arrest of three prominent bloggers. Hong Le Tho and Nguyen Quang Lap were detained on November 29th andDecember 6th, respectively, under Article 258 of the Criminal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.” On December 27th, Nguyen Dinh Ngoc was arrested for “illegal activities” and detained on unspecified charges. Many activists were also harassed and assaulted by covert security agents for reporting human rights abuses, including independent journalist Truong Minh Duc in November 2014.

Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Vietnam is the world’s second biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China. It is also on RSF’s list of Enemies of the Internet because of its persecution of bloggers and cyber dissidents.

The organizations say the EU must also demand that Vietnam urgently repeal or amend various provisions of the Criminal Code that authorities continue to use to imprison peaceful dissidents. In addition to Article 258, other draconian provisions that are not in line with international law include: Article 79, which sanctions “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”; Article 87, which punishes activities “undermining national solidarity, sowing divisions between religious and non-religious people”; and Article 88, which outlaws “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

With regard to economic, social, and cultural rights, the EU must urge Vietnam to implement all the recommendations made by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on December 15th 2014. The CESCR’s concluding observations echoed the findings and recommendations contained in a report that documented serious and ongoing jointly released by FIDH and VCHR on 11 November 2014 violations of economic, social and cultural rights in Vietnam.

The CESCR denounced the absence of effective and accessible remedies for victims of violations of economic, social, and cultural rights. It expressed concern over the intimidation of individuals who claimed violations of their rights, such as those protesting against forced evictions or poor working conditions. The CESCR also deplored the widespread economic exploitation of children and the adverse impact of development programs on the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights by ethnic minorities.

The CESCR called for the establishment of a national human rights institution that complies with the Paris Principles and the creation of an enabling environment for the free establishment and functioning of independent civil society organizations. It urged Vietnam to improve worker rights by removing excessive restrictions on the right to strike, enabling citizens to form and join trade unions of their choice, and repealing legislation that authorizes child labor.

“The UN Committee’s conclusions are significant because they underscore the link between economic activities and human rights abuses in Vietnam,”said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “In an effort to strengthen economic relations and regain its position as Vietnam’s biggest export market, the EU must not overlook the serious human rights violations that continue to take place in the country.”

On August 7th 2014, FIDH and VCHR filed a complaint to the EU Ombudsperson to demand that the office address the European Commission’s refusal to take human rights into account in negotiations for trade and investment agreements with Vietnam. As a result of the complaint, the EU Ombudsperson formally opened a case on September 3rd 2014.

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Myanmar Must Amend Citizenship Law, End Discrimination Against Rohingya Muslims

An overpopulated IDP camp outside Sittwe. Tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled their homes in June 2012 now reside in such camps. The government constructed semi-permanent shelters in some camps, raising concerns about the government’s willingness to respect the rights of the displaced persons to return home. © 2012 Human Rights Watch

An overpopulated IDP camp outside Sittwe. Tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled their homes in June 2012 now reside in such camps. The government constructed semi-permanent shelters in some camps, raising concerns about the government’s willingness to respect the rights of the displaced persons to return home.
© 2012 Human Rights Watch

The government of Myanmar should comply with the United Nations’ call to allow Rohingya Muslims to be citizens, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. In a letter to President Thein Sein, the human rights organization expressed serious concerns about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims and says that the said that the practice of depriving citizenship is discriminatory and contributes to long-standing human rights abuses.

The 1982 Citizenship Law must be amended to grant full citizenship rights to Rohingya on the same basis as all other ethnic groups in the country, Human Rights Watch said. On December 29th 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the Burmese government to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law so that it no longer discriminates against the Rohingya.

Successive Burmese governments, including the current administration of Thein Sein, have used the law to deny citizenship to an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million Rohingya by excluding them from the official list of 135 national races eligible for full citizenship. The effective denial of citizenship to Rohingya has resulted in various human rights violations against them, including restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, arbitrary detention and taxation, forced labor, and arbitrary confiscation of property, Human Rights Watch says.

“Burma’s discriminatory citizenship law not only deprives Rohingya of citizenship, but for decades has encouraged systematic rights violations,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Amending the law to bring it in line with international standards is the first step for resolving this long-standing human rights abomination.”

The UN resolution also called on the Burmese government to take measures to conduct independent investigations into rights abuses, to ensure that the Rohingya can safely return to their communities, “and to promote peaceful coexistence.” Human Rights Watch said that the resolution is a powerful reminder that the international community will continue to take the treatment of the Rohingya very seriously.

A Rohingya family at the "unregistered" IDP site known as Ohn Taw Gyi, or the "coconut garden,” prepares locally gathered plants to eat. They are facing food shortages because the government does not permit humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to thousands of displaced who are not registered in official IDP sites. Photo © Steve Sanford/Human Rights Watch.

A Rohingya family at the “unregistered” IDP site known as Ohn Taw Gyi, or the “coconut garden,” prepares locally gathered plants to eat. They are facing food shortages because the government does not permit humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to thousands of displaced who are not registered in official IDP sites. Photo © Steve Sanford/Human Rights Watch.

The Burmese government should request assistance from the UN to amend the citizenship law to meet international standards, Human Rights Watch says. This would include providing Rohingya full citizenship on a non-discriminatory basis and ensuring that children are never made stateless. The category of “associate citizen” and other forms of second-class citizenship that give local officials legal tools and bureaucratic latitude to deny minority groups their full rights should promptly be eliminated.

“The appalling treatment of the Rohingya is a major blight on the Burmese government’s efforts to bring human rights reform,” Adams said. “Failing to redress the misery inflicted by government policies on the Rohingya is a recipe for prolonged repression.”

Sectarian violence between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya and other Muslims erupted twice in 2012, leading to approximately 167 deaths and widespread property destruction. A second round of violence in October 2012 resulted in government-backed crimes against humanity amounting to a campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed to drive the Rohingya from urban areas of Arakan State.

There are currently approximately 145,000 displaced people in camps in Arakan State, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the majority in Sittwe township. Many Rohingya have been receiving only rudimentary and inadequate assistance due to government restrictions and Arakanese ultra-nationalist intimidation against international aid workers.

The March-April 2014 census conducted by the Burmese government with assistance from the United Nations Population Fund did not enumerate people who self-identified as Rohingya. Preliminary results released in August estimated that 1.09 million people were not counted.

In response to the prolonged displacement, the government formulated a draft Rakhine Action Plan, which was disclosed by the media in September 2014. The plan contained discriminatory provisions that could, if enacted, ensure long-term segregation of displaced Rohingya and enshrine statelessness as a national policy. Months after a promised release, the Rakhine Action Plan has yet to be made publicly available, which adds to concerns in affected communities.

Thein Sein needs to ensure that any “action plan” to address displacement and other humanitarian issues in Arakan State does not include forced relocation, segregation of ethnic groups, or measures in violation of international human rights law. Instead, the government should establish conditions and provide the means to allow displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or other places of voluntary resettlement.

“The Burmese government is planning policies that will enshrine permanent segregation and denial of basic freedoms for the Rohingya,” Adams said. “Concerned governments shouldn’t be playing along with this charade, but insisting on the granting of full citizenship on the basis of equality under the law.”

Human Rights Watch has long documented serious abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar, including ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

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Facebook Under Fire for Deleting Tibetan Video

Mark Zuckerberg shows Lu Wei a book by Xi Jinping (inset) neatly laid out on his desk. Facebook users are reading something into it. Photo: CRIENGLISH.com.

Mark Zuckerberg shows Lu Wei a book by Xi Jinping (inset) neatly laid out on his desk. Photo: CRIENGLISH.com.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) says that Facebook is denying Tibetans the right to be heard by banning videos posted by Tibetans to the social media site. Facebook came under fire January 2nd when the ICT launched a petition to CEO Mark Zuckerberg after a video of a self-immolation in Tibet posted by a prominent Tibetan writer was deleted. The company has responded but the ICT says that it is not enough and that the company must restore the video to its site.

On December 26th, Tibetan writer and activist Tsering Woeser used her Facebook page to post a report and video of a Buddhist monk’s self-immolation in Tibet, Kalsang Yeshi. Within hours, Facebook deleted the post because it allegedly violated the social media giant’s “community standards.” Four days later, Liao Yiwu, a Chinese writer who has been based in Berlin for the last four years, was locked out of his Facebook account, after posting photographs of a mostly-nude protester.

The two incidents follow a visit of China’s Internet chief Lu Wei to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook offices in the U.S. earlier in December 2014. Photos were posted of Lu Wei, who heads up China’s systematic internet censorship operation to block information, with the Facebook CEO, who has a book by Xi Jinping prominently placed on the desk. There is speculation that Zuckerberg is trying to win favor with Chinese government officials in hopes of expanding his business to China.

ICT President Matteo Mecacci posted his concerns regarding the deletion on his blog: ‘’Thinking about the sense of loss and of desperation suffered by the communities and families of these Tibetan men and women is deeply saddening and should be a wake-up call for all of us: we must tell China that enough is enough.’’

ICT President Matteo Mecacci in a photo courtesy ICT.

ICT President Matteo Mecacci in a photo courtesy ICT.

Meccaci further explained “Over the last years, Facebook has been a formidable digital platform allowing millions of people to freely share information online. The existence of freedom of expression on any media can be fully assessed only when social and political activism is taken into account. China’s ban on Facebook reflects that so far the social media’s giant had refused to apply the censorship standards typical of China’s social media. It was therefore worrying to see a video posted by Woeser about Kalsang Yeshi’s self immolation deleted by Facebook, as other recent interference with individual accounts. We are seeking a full explanation and calling on Facebook to fully uphold the freedom of expression that has become an integral part of its “brand”.

On Tuesday, Debbie Frost, Vice President for International Communications and Public Affairs at Facebook posted a response on Mecacci’s blog stating ‘’Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events. Where such expression involves graphic videos, it needs to be shared responsibly, so that younger people on Facebook do not see it, and it doesn’t appear without warning in peoples’ News Feeds. While we continue to work on ways of giving people ways to share graphic expression responsibly, we will remove video content of this nature from our service. 

We took the action in question because of violations of our Community Standards. These standards apply to everyone who uses our service regardless of where there are located. Any suggestion that we took action because of politics, philosophy or theoretical business interests is completely false.”

Facebook has also come under pressure from the Kremlin, leading commentators to warn of the “end of the Facebook revolution”. A week before deleting Tsering Woeser’s post, Facebook blocked an announcement inviting Muscovites to attend a rally this month in support of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who is under house arrest and about to be sentenced to a long prison term on trumped-up charges.

In 2014, there were 11 self-immolations in Tibet. These self-immolations, like the other 125 to have taken place since 2009, did not injure anyone else. No Chinese official, business or passerby has ever been hurt by these tragic sacrifices, which have sought to try to bring the attention of the outside world to the situation in Tibet and to ask for the return of the Dalai Lama. Despite these deliberate choices to carefully avoid hurting anybody or anything, over 100 Tibetans (many of them friends or family of the self-immolators) have been sentenced to prison terms for “inciting” or “cooperating” with self-immolators, adding shades of illegal and repulsive collective punishment to these tragic losses. Notably, in 2014, almost all 11 self-immolations took place near either a local government office or a local police station.

Meccai said that he welcomed the decision by Facebook to respond and that he appreciates ‘’the opportunity to have a dialogue on a critical issue that has raised the concerns of Facebook users and many other citizens. At the same time, I believe that this response misses the main point that led us to take the decision to launch this petition.’’

He also said that ‘’The point is that the existence of freedom of expression can be seriously assessed only when ‘controversial’ issues, and in particular social and political events, are considered. Strong emotions can be stirred up in the political arena, and only there can the respect of freedom of expression, and its limits, can be properly evaluated.

Now, clearly, a public self-immolation is an inherently political action (whether or not one agrees with this kind of action is not the point under discussion here) and although the images can be very graphic and disturbing, the decision to ban or delete such videos from Facebook is not purely a technical choice, but rather a very serious political decision.

The International Campaign for Tibet’s petition, quickly signed by almost 8,000 people from all over the world, calls on Facebook to consider these videos for what they are: a tragic call for attention by people who have no freedom of expression and who are crying for the help of the outside world to end China’s repression in Tibet.’’

He stressed that Facebook operates in the so-called free world and these individuals are taking these actions in a closed society precisely so the free world will take note and do something to intervene.

Meccaci said it was disturbing after the head of the Chinese internet censorship machine was welcomed at Facebook headquarters and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly praised a book of speeches by Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, telling his staff that “I want them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics”, according to Meccaci.

If Facebook wants to be believed when saying that “Any suggestion that we took action because of politics, philosophy or theoretical business interests is completely false,” Meccaci insists that it has only one simply way to prove it: restore the video on Woeser’s account.

‘’If you wish, as we do, you can add a warning about the graphic images for the viewers to see, so they can make an informed choice. Deleting it is not really the way to go,’’ he said.

You can view the ICT’s petition here.

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Chinese Scholar Who Helped Chen Guangcheng Escape Formally Arrested

Guo and Pan in a photo posted to Pan Haixia’s Sina Weibo on November 7th 2014.

Guo and Pan in a photo posted to Pan Haixia’s Sina Weibo on November 7th 2014.

Chinese scholar and human rights defender Guo Yushan was formally arrested on charges of “illegal business activity” in Beijing on January 3rd. Guo Yushan was instrumental in aiding blind activist Chen Guangcheng to escape from brutal house arrest in 2012 and flee to the US Embassy. Guo is being held in Beijing’s No.1 Detention Center, where he has been since he was initially detained by police on October 9th 2014. It is unknown what the charges relate to.

Guo Yushan is the founder of the Transition Institute, an independent think tank in Beijing which focuses on political and economic liberalization, and carries out research on civil society in China. The Transition Institute, founded in 2007, has carried out investigations in the fields of fiscal reform, local elections, legal reforms, business regulations, citizen participation and education rights.

Before founding the Transition Institute, Guo Yushan was also a co-founder of Gongmeng (also known as the Open Constitution Initiative) alongside fellow human rights defenders Xu Zhiyong and Teng Biao. Gongmeng provided legal support to activists campaigning for political representation, land rights, migrant rights and other reforms. Gongmeng was declared illegal in 2009 and earlier this year Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years imprisonment for his work with the New Citizens Movement.

Human rights organization Front Line Defenders on Tuesday expressed its concern at the arrest of Guo Yushan, which it says is solely related to his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

In the early hours of October 9th 2014 Guo Yushan was taken from his home by police in Beijing and was detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” , a charge often used to silence critics.

At approximately 2am on October 9th, around twelve police officers reportedly arrived with a warrant at the home of Guo Yushan in Beijing. In addition to detaining the human rights defender, a computer, an iPhone, an iPad and a number of hard drives were confiscated.

Guo Yushan is one of dozens of activists who have been detained in mainland China in recent months. Most of those detained had expressed support for the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. These include Beijing poet Wang Zang, who was detained on October 1st after uploading to Twitter a photograph of himself holding an umbrella with the Taiwan flag in the background. The umbrella has become a symbol of the protest movement in Hong Kong. According to friends of Guo Yushan however, he had recently been keeping a very low profile, and is not known to have made any public statements of support for the pro-democracy protests.

Pan Haixia, the wife of Guo Yushan, has posted two letters online that she wrote to her husband, the first after his arrest in October and the second on November 7th 2014.

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On Veng Sreng Anniversary, Still Waiting for Justice in Cambodia

On the one year anniversary of the state violence which led to the deaths of at least four men and the hospitalization of dozens in early January 2014 in Cambodia, the disappearance of a teenage boy and the wrongful imprisonment of 23 union leaders, activists and workers, civil society organizations are condemning the lack of progress made in investigating these human rights violations and in punishing those responsible.

On January 3rd, hundreds of people will gather at the site of the shootings on Veng Sreng road to mark the one year anniversary of the violence and to call for justice for those affected.

“On Saturday we will gather to remember those killed and missing as a result of last January’s violence and to stand with their families and friends,” said Moeun Tola, Head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program. “As we do so we also recall and condemn the government’s continued failure to establish a credible and independent investigation into the bloodshed.”

January’s violence followed days of widespread strikes over the minimum wage which converged with long-standing protests by the CNRP over the conduct and results of the July 2013 National Assembly election. As the peaceful protests continued to grow the government’s patience wore thin and the mass protests were brought to a swift and brutal end on January 3 when mixed security forces shot and killed at least four people.

Monitors from the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) witnessed security forces using live ammunition to shoot directly at civilians. According to monitors, the clash started when the authorities used electric batons toward the protestors, who then replied by throwing stones. In response, the military used disproportionate force by firing live ammunition in the crowd.

At least 38 others were taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries, mostly from bullet wounds. 15-year-old Khem Sophath disappeared that day having last been seen lying on the ground with an apparent bullet wound to his chest.

In the days immediately after the killings, rather than making efforts to identify those responsible, the government violently broke up a peaceful occupation of Freedom Park, issued summons for opposition party leaders and detained activists who were attempting to protest against the imprisonment of the 23 people who were arrested on January 2nd and 3rd.

A government “investigation” into the violence headed by the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng is reported to have lasted just three weeks. Few of its findings have been made public and no action is known to have been taken as a result of the investigation. Not one member of the security or armed forces has been suspended, let alone prosecuted in connection with the incidents. In contrast the 23 arrested were held in pre-trial detention for five months and convicted following a manifestly unfair trial.

“What we saw in the days leading up to January 3rd last year was something really positive, a real surge in non-violent, social activism from people making simple demands for better wages and fair elections. But rather than listening to the people the government responded with murderous violence showing that it would rather kill than pursue much needed reforms.” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.

On May 24th 2014 two men found fragments of bones and remains of burned tires at a Military Brigade 70 base in Kampong Speu province, leading to speculation that the remains were those of Khem Sophath. Brigade 70 soldiers blocked rights workers and police investigators from accessing the site for two days and when police were finally allowed to visit on May 27, the site had apparently been destroyed by heavy machinery and covered with soil. When they dug up the area they found parts of the burned tires and bone fragments.

The government claims to have investigated Khem Sophath’s disappearance, to have conducted forensic tests on the remains and determined that they are not those of Khem Sophath. However authorities have provided no details of the investigation or forensic examinations nor how they were able to determine that the remains did not correspond to those of Khem Sophath. DNA samples of Khem Sophath’s relatives, which would be required to conduct such tests, have not been sought by the authorities.

The organizations say that failure to punish crimes by state forces and those in power is nothing new in Cambodia. However, the lack of any proper investigation into the violence committed at the start of 2014 has compounded the already existing environment of impunity and further strengthened a climate in which police, military police, district security guards and soldiers are able to use violence against civilians on a regular basis, confident in the knowledge that they will suffer no repercussions.

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Relentless Repression of Independent Voices Continues in Vietnam

Bui Thi Minh Hang is an undated photo courtesy of Frontline Defenders.

Bui Thi Minh Hang is an undated photo courtesy of Frontline Defenders.

The upheld convictions and jail sentences of three human rights defenders in Vietnam on trumped-up charges is the latest act of the government’s relentless repression of independent voices and a shameful example of a failed judiciary, rights groups say.

An Appellate Court upheld on December 12th the previous sentence handed down to human rights defenders Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang and two other protesters Mr. Nguyen Van Minh and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, who were imprisoned on charges of “causing public disorder” under Article 245 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code.

“The conviction of Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh, and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a stark reminder of the absence of an independent judiciary in Vietnam,” said International Federation for Human Rights President Karim Lahidji. “The three must be immediately released and provided adequate compensation for their unjust imprisonment.”

Police arrested Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh, and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh on February 11th 2014, in Lap Vo District, Dong Thap Province, as the three were travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Thap Province to visit former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife. Two days earlier, police had raided the couple’s home and taken Truyen into custody. Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, and Nguyen Van Minh are well known for their peaceful campaigns for religious freedom, the release of political prisoners, and their support to victims of land confiscation.

On August 26th,  in a one-day trial, Bui Thi Minh Hang was sentenced by the Court of First Instance to three-years’ imprisonment. Her co-defendants, Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, religious workers from the independent Buddhist Church, faced two-and-half-year and two-year sentences respectively. The three remain detained in Dong Thap Province.

A human rights defender and blogger, Bui Thi Minh Hang publishes information on human rights violations in Vietnam and provided support to victims of land grabs. She was one of 21 people beaten and detained when they attempted to visit the partner of a detained human rights lawyer who defends victims of forced evictions. The visit was meant to provide support and solidarity to the lawyer’s family after his detention during a police raid on their house on February 9th 2014. Nineteen of those arrested were released the next day, but Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh remained in detention and were charged under article 245 of Vietnamese Penal Code for “causing public disorder.”

Bui Thi Minh Hang was previously sent to a “re-education camp’’ for two years where she says she was  psychologically and physically terrorized. Her conviction is believed to have resulted from the human rights defender’s work on land rights.

Rights organization Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned about the recent verdict of the Dong Thap Appellate Court and the continued imprisonment of human rights defender Bui Thi Minh Hang. The organization urges the authorities in Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release her and her co-defendants.

“Today’s verdict is a harsh reality check for those in the international community who are seeking to improve economic and military ties with Hanoi with the expectation that the Vietnamese government would embark upon reforms to show it respects the people’s fundamental rights,”  said Vietnam Committee on Human Rights President Vo Van Ai. “More international pressure on Hanoi is needed to ensure that arbitrary arrests and imprisonments stop and that all political prisoners, including human rights defenders, are released,” he urged.

In recent weeks, Vietnamese authorities have intensified the crackdown on freedom of expression, arresting two prominent bloggers. On November 29th, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained blogger Mr. Hong Le Tho, 65, charging him with “abusing democratic freedoms against the interest of the State” under Article 258 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. The authorities accused Hong Le Tho of posting articles in his blog which included false information that ‘’with bad content and false information that discredit and create distrust among people about state agencies” .

On December 6th 2014, the police in Ho Chi Minh City detained blogger Mr. Nguyen Quang Lap, 58, under the same charges for posting articles online criticizing the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party and the government.

“The ongoing harassment, arbitrary detention, and imprisonment of human rights defenders illustrate Vietnam’s failure to live up to its repeated pledges to protect human rights,” said Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “At the end of its first year as a UN Human Rights Council member, Vietnam’s rights record remains abysmal and its authoritarian tendencies are increasing.”

Since January 2014, Vietnam has detained or imprisoned at least 11 bloggers and human rights defenders and it currently holds about 200 political prisoners, the largest number in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. It is also on the Reporters Without Borders list of Enemies of the Internet because of its persecution of bloggers and cyber dissidents.

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‘China’s Youngest Prisoner of Conscience’ Granted Asylum in United States

Anni and Lily Zhang, with American parents Reggie Littlejohn and husband Robert. Photo courtesy Women's Rights Without Frontiers.

Anni and Lily Zhang, with American parents Reggie Littlejohn and husband Robert. Photo courtesy Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.

On International Human Rights Day, some good news: Anni and Ruli Zhang have been granted political asylum in the United States. Detained overnight as a 10-year-old, Anni is known as “China’s youngest prisoner of conscience.” She and her older sister, Ruli, are the daughters of veteran prodemocracy activist Zhang Lin, who is currently serving a three-and-a-half year jail sentence for standing up for Anni’s right to go to school.

Anni has been dubbed “China’s youngest prisoner of conscience” after she was taken out of school and detained for several hours in February 2013, denied food water and a blanket, and later prevented from attending school and held under house arrest, according to rights groups.

With the help of brave activists in China and the U.S., Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (WRWF) President Reggie Littlejohn was able to secure safe passage to the U.S. for the girls. She and her husband Robert have taken the girls into their home and are raising them as their own daughters.

Littlejohn commented ‘’It is a great honor to be able to help a hero like Zhang Lin by caring for his daughters.  He has given up everything for freedom and democracy in China, and is now on his fourth jail sentence. It is a travesty that he is in jail simply for standing up for his daughter’s right to go to school.’’

‘’We are absolutely thrilled that Anni and Ruli have been granted asylum and can remain indefinitely in the United States.  We are very grateful to Attorney Jessica Kim, whose outstanding legal representation played a huge role in obtaining this excellent result. We are also grateful to Congressman Chris Smith and blind activist Chen Guangcheng for the letters they wrote on behalf of the girls’ asylum case,’’ Littlejohn said in a statement.

Zhang Lin (L) and his daughter Zhang Anni (R) in an undated photo. Photo courtesy the Zhang family.

Zhang Lin (L) and his daughter Zhang Anni (R) in an undated photo. Photo courtesy the Zhang family.

Zhang Lin, 51, is a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui and was jailed several times for his political activities since the banning of the opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998. He was imprisoned most recently in the crackdown on peaceful assembly, association and expression, which began in earnest in March 2013.

His three-and-a-half-year prison sentence was announced by the Bengshan District People’s Court in Bengbu City on September 5th. Authorities seized Zhang in apparent retaliation for protests in support of his ten-year-old daughter, Anni Zhang, who was blocked by authorities from attending school in Hefei City. On February 27th 2013, Anni was removed from Hefei Hupo Elementary School and detained before she and her father were put under house arrest.

In April 2013, Zhang Lin along with several activists and lawyers tried to help Anni return to her school by staging rallies and hunger strikes in front of government buildings, but with no success. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Human Rights Report on China, ”Under government pressure, Hupo Elementary School refused to enroll Zhang Anni for seven weeks.”

“According to their Open Letter, Anni and Ruli are delighted with their new lives in the United States, but they are justifiably concerned about their father. First of all, they are outraged by the injustice done him, as he has done nothing wrong. In addition, their father has been moved from a jail in his hometown, where his elderly parents could visit him, to a city several hours away, where his parents will not be able to visit often. If family members do not bring money to the jail for food, he will be fed only a thin, rice gruel with an ounce of salty vegetable. WRWF is sending money to Zhang Lin’s parents on his behalf, but if his parents cannot visit him, we have no means of getting the money to the jail to ensure that he can eat properly. His health is delicate, and we are worried that if he has to subsist on gruel, his health will break down,’’ Littlejohn said.

According to his daughters, Zhang has suffered numerous illnesses from past detentions and his health is in decline. Chinese Human Rights Defenders recently added Zhang to a watch list of Chinese detainees in urgent need of medical attention, as he is suffering from a condition in his vertebrae, a dental disease, and an eye infection that is threatening his vision.

Depriving medical treatment to individuals in custody is a life-threatening form of torture. Authorities’ failure or refusal to provide adequate medical care for detainees violates Chinese law and, among other international standards, the Convention against Torture, theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.

In the Concluding Observations from its review of China in May 2014, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed its concern about reports that detained Chinese activists and lawyers have been deprived of medical care as a form of government reprisal. Recognizing this serious issue, the Committee urged China to guarantee these individuals “have adequate access to health care in all circumstances.”

The deprivation of medical care to further persecute detainees and prisoners of conscience reflects a tacit central government policy and a systematic pattern in practice, says Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

This form of abuse has led to the death of activists, as seen most recently in the tragic case of Cao Shunli. Ms. Cao was managing health conditions at the time she was seized in September 2013, but she was not allowed to take medication that she had brought into detention. After not receiving adequate medical treatment, Cao eventually died in March 2014 from complications of illnesses that worsened or came about during over five months in custody. Others who have died after not being provided medical care in custody include Chen Xiaomin, Duan Huimin, and Goshul Lobsang.

The girls have appealed to US President Obama for the to intervene on their father’s behalf. Zhang supported and participated in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and was sentenced to two years in prison. After his release, he spent a total of six years in Re-education through Labor camps, and another four years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” for his continued activism on labor rights, democracy, and justice.

Zhang was one of the initial signatories of Charter 08, a manifesto on human rights and democracy in China. His autobiography, A Pathetique Soul, recounts his journey as an activist and received widespread acclaim, including from the Chinese Independent PEN Center.

Littlejohn reflected: ‘’Rob and I enjoy being the American parents of Anni and Ruli, and we are very proud of them.  Both girls have made an astonishing transition to life in the United States.  At home, we have them on a program of learning 50 English words a day. This may seem like a lot, but they are extremely smart and have been keeping pace without a problem.’’

“We will always remember Jing Zhang of Women’s Rights in China for connecting me with the Zhang daughters and helping get them out of China. We also thank Chinese activist Hu Jia, as well as the three activists who remain wrongfully jailed for helping Anni: Yao Cheng, Zhou Weilin, Li Huaping. Women’s Rights Without Frontiers demands their immediate, unconditional release,” Littlejohn added.

Since March 2013, Chinese police have taken into custody dozens of activists, lawyers and other citizens in a crackdown meant to suppress peaceful assembly, association, and expression around the country. The strident response by authorities has partially been triggered by advocacy campaigns waged against official corruption and other politically sensitive issues.

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Cambodia Must Close Detention Centers After Recent Death

A detainee peers out from behind a gate in the Social Affairs “Youth Rehabilitation Center” in Choam Chao, near Phnom Penh, 2001. Photo ©2001 Roberta Valerio / Human Rights Watch.

A detainee peers out from behind a gate in the Social Affairs “Youth Rehabilitation Center” in Choam Chao, near Phnom Penh, 2001. Photo ©2001 Roberta Valerio / Human Rights Watch.

The Cambodian government must immediately close all centers which arbitrarily detain people outside the criminal justice system, Licadho and Human Rights Watch say. The abusive nature of these centers was highlighted by the death of a man on November 26th who was arbitrarily detained and denied medical treatment at the Prey Speu center outside Phnom Penh. Licadho, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have documented torture and systematic cruel and inhumane treatment, as well as rapes, killings and other abuses at the Prey Speu center since it became operational in 2004.

“Keeping Cambodia’s detention centers open is an endless invitation to the authorities to violate the human rights of people deemed ‘undesirable,’” said Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho. “The systematic abuse of Cambodia’s most vulnerable people occurs at these centers and the government should close them immediately.”

The two human rights organizations say that around November 2nd authorities brought a man named Phea to Prey Speu’s Po Senchey Vocational Training Center, according to a center official and other witnesses. Phea had been picked up during “sweeps” by security forces in Phnom Penh to clear homeless people and others considered “undesirable” off the streets prior to Cambodia’s traditional Water Festival being held from November 5-7.

The sweeps, which are part of an operation that also aimed to deter anti-government protests during the holiday, were carried out by police, para-police “public order” contingents and heavily-armed gendarmes acting on orders from Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatevong. The governor, through the municipal Department of Social Affairs, Veteran, and Youth Rehabilitation, has authority over the Prey Speu facility.

Phea, who had been living on the streets, was seriously ill when taken into custody. He was extremely thin and covered with infected wounds on his legs and other parts of his body. Sources said that during his weeks-long detention, the center staff made no effort to provide him medical treatment and refused to take him elsewhere for care. He died on the morning of November 26th, after which his body was taken for immediate cremation at Wat Sopheakhuon, a Buddhist temple. Police failed to launch any proper investigation into his death.

The United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provides that medical care and treatment shall be provided to detainees whenever necessary and free of charge. Whenever a person dies in detention, “an inquiry into the cause of death … shall be held by a judicial or other authority.” In addition, “[t]he findings of such inquiry … shall be made available upon request.”

The poor conditions at the Prey Speu center resulting in Phea’s death are faced by other detainees at the facility, Licadho and Human Rights Watch say. Approximately 30 other people were in Prey Speu at the time of Phea’s death. These include two small children who were with their physically ill mother, and a third small child who was with his or her father, in violation of international law prohibitions against the arbitrary detention of children. All are being held without charge or trial. A late-term pregnant woman detained at the center escaped when she believed she was going into labor, fleeing with a transgender person who was also being held, according to one source.

“Cambodian authorities need to admit that it’s impossible to transform Prey Speu and similar centers into institutions that respect human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The latest death at Prey Speu should be the last straw for donors, UN agencies, and embassies, who should together demand Prey Speu be shuttered, and commit to back genuinely voluntary services to assist marginalized Cambodians.”

In late 2008, following public revelation of abuses at Prey Speu and other centers run by the Ministry of Social Affairs, government authorities claimed that Prey Speu had stopped arbitrarily detaining people. While there were initial indications that some people were released and others held for shorter periods, in more recent years the Prey Speu center has reverted to detaining people against their will for weeks and sometimes months.

Across Cambodia, authorities routinely detain alleged drug users, homeless people, “street” children, sex workers and people perceived to have disabilities in a haphazard system of detention centers around the country. Some of those detention centers are ostensibly for drug treatment, while others are ostensibly for “social rehabilitation.”

In addition to Prey Speu, the Ministry of Social Affairs also has authority for the Phnom Bak center in Sisophon town, Banteay Meanchey province, and jointly manages a drug detention center with the military on a military base in Koh Kong town, Koh Kong province. There are a further six drug detention centers across the country that each year hold at least 2,000 people without due process.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented how guards and other staff whip detainees with rubber water hoses, beat them with bamboo sticks or palm fronds, shock them with electric batons, sexually abuse them, and punish them with physical exercises intended to cause intense physical pain. The organization says that individuals in these centers are not being treated or rehabilitated but rather than they are being illegally detained and often tortured. Detainees from some centers have been forced to work on construction sites, including in at least one instance to help build a hotel.

Authorities hold out the prospect of on-site treatment by nongovernmental organizations of a small number of mentally-ill “residents” to justify Prey Speu’s continued existence. There is no reason why this treatment cannot be provided on a voluntary basis, outside the confines of a center in which systemic abuses occur and that has proved stubbornly resistant to reform, Licadho and Human Rights Watch said. Homeless and other marginalized people who remain there “voluntarily” often do so because they fear being harmed on the streets by the security forces and believe there are no voluntary, community-based services available to them.

In March 2012, 12 United Nations agencies, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and UNAIDS, issued a joint statement calling for the closure of drug detention centers and the release of detained individuals “without delay.” However, international donors continue to provide funding and other support to many centers, despite the human rights consequences.

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