Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

Reproduced from the Daily Mail and other sources. At Wellthisiswhatithink we are hugely in favour of clean energy and clean cars. But the world needs to tackle this scandal:

  • Sky News investigated the Katanga mines and found Dorsen, 8, and Monica, 4
  • The pair were working in the vast mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • They are two of the 40,000 children working daily in the mines, checking rocks for cobalt

Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.

His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain and other countries and cart manufacturers to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars  and switch to electric vehicles.

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Young children are working at Congo mines in horrific conditions. A future of clean energy, free from pollution is proposed, but such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve this goal.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain.

Goldman Sachs, the merchant bank, calls cobalt ‘the new gasoline’ but there are no signs of new wealth in the DRC, where the children haul the rocks brought up from tunnels dug by hand.

Adult miners dig up to 600ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery.

Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse.

Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it – cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death.

Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.<

Dorsen’s friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day ‘everything hurts’.

In a country devastated by civil wars in which millions have died, there is no other way for families to survive. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is donating £10.5million between June 2007 and June 2018 towards strengthening revenue transparency and encouraging responsible activity in large and small scale artisanal mining, ‘to benefit the poor of DRC’.

There is little to show for these efforts so far. There is a DRC law forbidding the enslavement of under-age children, but nobody enforces it.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as ‘one of the worst forms of child labour’ due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

he worldwide rush to bring millions of electric vehicles on to our roads has handed a big advantage to those giant car-makers which saw this bonanza coming and invested in developing battery-powered vehicles, among them General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Tesla, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler.

Chinese middle-men working for the Congo Dongfang Mining Company have the stranglehold in DRC, buying the raw cobalt brought to them in sacks carried on bicycles and dilapidated old cars daily from the Katanga mines. They sit in shacks on a dusty road near the Zambian border, offering measly sums scrawled on blackboards outside – £40 for a ton of cobalt-rich rocks – that will be sent by cargo ship to minerals giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt in China and sold on to a complex supply chain feeding giant multinationals.

Challenged by the Washington Post about the appalling conditions in the mines, Huayou Cobalt said ‘it would be irresponsible’ to stop using child labour, claiming: ‘It could aggravate poverty in the cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local miners.’

Human rights charity Amnesty International also investigated cobalt mining in the DRC and says that none of the 16 electric vehicle manufacturers they identified have conducted due diligence to the standard defined by the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

Monica, just four-years-old, works in the mine alongside Dorsen and Richard

Encouragingly, Apple, which uses the mineral in its devices, has committed itself to treat cobalt like conflict minerals – those which have in the past funded child soldiers in the country’s civil war – and the company claims it is going to require all refiners to have supply chain audits and risk assessments. But Amnesty International is not satisfied. ‘This promise is not worth the paper it is written on when the companies are not investigating their suppliers,’ said Amnesty’s Mark Dummett. ‘Big brands have the power to change this.’

After DRC, Australia is the next biggest source of cobalt, with reserves of 1 million tons, followed by Cuba, China, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Car maker Tesla – the market leader in electric vehicles – plans to produce 500,000 cars per year starting in 2018, and will need 7,800 tons of cobalt to achieve this. Sales are expected to hit 4.4 million by 2021. It means the price of cobalt will soar as the world gears itself up for the electric car revolution, and there is evidence some corporations are cancelling their contracts with regulated mines using industrial technology, and turning increasingly to the cheaper mines using human labour.

After the terrible plight of Dorsen and Richard was broadcast in a report on Sky News, an emotive response from viewers funded a rescue by children’s charity Kimbilio. They are now living in a church-supported children’s home, sleeping on mattresses for the first time in their lives and going to school.

But there is no such happy ending for the tens of thousands of children left in the hell on earth that is the cobalt mines of the Congo.

Image Copyright Amnesty International- Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

As many as 13,000 people, most of them civilian opposition supporters, have been executed in secret at a prison in Syria, Amnesty International says.

A new report by the human rights group alleges that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015.

Amnesty says the alleged executions were authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

The government has previously denied killing or mistreating detainees.

However, UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that “deaths on a massive scale” were occurring in custody.

Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and prison officials for its report.

A detainee before his imprisonment, and after, his release from the prison.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Former detainee Omar al-Shogre before his imprisonment, and after his release from the prison.

It alleges that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus. They are by no means all opposition fighters. They include lawyers, doctors, journalists, and other professionals whose only “crime” is to be “on the other side”, even if their relationship with “the other side” may be nothing more than a geographical location.

Before their execution, detainees were brought before a “military field court” in the capital’s Qaboun district for “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, the report says.

A former military court judge quoted by Amnesty said detainees would be asked if they had committed crimes alleged to have taken place. “Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law,” he chillingly said.

According to the report, detainees were told on the day of the hangings that they would be transferred to a civilian prison then taken to a basement cell and beaten over the course of two or three hours.

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Then in the middle of the night they were blindfolded and moved to another part of the prison, where they were taken into a room in the basement and told they had been sentenced to death just minutes before nooses were placed around their necks, the report adds.

The bodies of those killed were allegedly then loaded onto lorries, and transferred to Tishreen military hospital in Damascus for registration and burial in mass graves located on military land.

On the basis of evidence of the testimony of its witnesses, Amnesty estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya over five years.


Witness accounts

A former judge who saw the hangings:

“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks.”

‘Hamid’, a former military officer who was detained at Saydnaya:

“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then.”

Former detainee ‘Sameer’ describes alleged abuse:

“The beating was so intense. It was as if you had a nail, and you were trying again and again to beat it into a rock. It was impossible, but they just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more.”

Source: Amnesty International


Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died.

Amnesty says these practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also notes that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.

Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 – when the uprising against President Assad began – and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.

These are the people that the West have stood by and idly watched as Putin and others have rained bombs on civilians. Certainly some of the Opposition in Syria are bad guys, too. No question. But many – and many of those killed in the war or in prison – are democrats who thought they could wrest their country from the grip of a cruel fascist dictator and turn it to democracy.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

Those who have been freed from Saydnaya, and those who have escaped its clutches, and those who have avoided being murdered by the secret police and paramilitary forces, and those who have escaped the barrel bombs and the poison gas, largely make up – with their families – those who have desperately fled Syria looking for refuge. Looking for the right to live in peace, free from fear of persecution.

You know: the ones that Donald Trump thinks are dangerous. To us. But Mr Putin and his cronies? They’re OK.

gresteA highly-credentialled and well-respected Australian journalist (and his two Egyptian colleagues) are now in jail for at least seven years, after a farce of a trial that conclusively failed to produce any evidence that they had done anything wrong at all.

Peter Greste slammed the cage he was being held in when he heard his fate, in a mixture of distress and anger. And well he might. His family and supporters reeled with shock at both the conviction and the savagery of the sentence.

Fairfax Media laid out the background to this case.

Egypt faces international condemnation over the harsh jail sentences handed down to three al-Jazeera journalists – including Australian Peter Greste – with human rights groups describing the verdict as a black day in the country’s unrelenting assault on the freedom of expression in the press and elsewhere.

Egypt’s relentless pursuit of Greste, Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was vindictive and politically motivated, Amnesty International said. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in jail and Mohammed was sentenced to 10 years.

Al-Jazeera journalist and Australian citizen Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during the trial.

Al-Jazeera journalist and Australian citizen Peter Greste stands inside the defendants’ cage in a courtroom during the trial. Photo: AP

The prosecution had produced no evidence to back its claims or to support a conviction, Amnesty said. Instead, the three were “pawns” in the bitter geo-political dispute between Egypt and Qatar, the oil-rich Gulf country that finances al-Jazeera.

Qatar has long been perceived as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the multinational religious and political group labelled a terrorist organisation in Egypt late last year as part of a vicious government security crackdown on the group and its supporters.

The Qatari government pumped billions of dollars in aid to support Egypt’s sinking economy during the 11-month term of the Muslim Brotherhood backed president, Mohamed Mursi.

The Australian ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, right, sits next to Andrew Greste, brother of defendant Peter Greste during the sentencing hearing.

The Australian ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, right, sits next to Andrew Greste, brother of defendant Peter Greste during the sentencing hearing. Photo: AP

Once Mursi was forced from power by the Egyptian military, acting on what it described as a groundswell of public support, the retribution against the Brotherhood and its backers was swift and brutal.

“The truth is that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program Deputy Director.

As journalists in Eqypt reeled at the implied threat from the kangaroo court trial, Peter Greste’s stunned family regrouped to plan the next phase of their campaign to free him from one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons where he has spent the past six months in a 3mx4m cell with his colleagues, the censures poured in from world leaders.

The fiancee of journalist Mohamed Fahmy is consoled by a friend following the verdicts in the sentencing hearing for al-Jazeera journalists.

The fiancee of journalist Mohamed Fahmy is consoled by a friend following the verdicts in the sentencing hearing for al-Jazeera journalists. Photo: AP

Just a day after he visited Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to announce the United States had released $US575 million in military aid that had been frozen since the ousting of Mursi last July, US Secretary of State John Kerry was scathing in his criticism of the verdict.

“Today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three al-Jazeera journalists and 15 others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt’s transition.

Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister [Sameh] Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.”

Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict from inside the defendants' cage.

Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict from inside the defendants’ cage. Photo: AFP

Mr Kerry urged the Egyptian government to review all political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.

But despite his strong words there was no indication that the newly unfrozen military aid (including anti-personnel helicopters) would have any human rights conditions attached.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed Egypt’s ambassador would be summoned to the Foreign Office over the sentencing, which he described as “unacceptable”. The Dutch took similar action, with Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans confirming the Netherlands had summoned the Egyptian ambassador.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the government was “bitterly disappointed with the outcome” – it is understood the Egyptian ambassador to Australia would be meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday.

“The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry appeared to reject the wave of international criticism, putting out a statement on Monday evening claiming the country’s judiciary “enjoys full independence, and the new constitution provides safeguards to ensure media freedom and to guarantee due process in judicial proceedings”.

“The defendants in this case were arrested in accordance with warrants issued by the relevant investigative body, the Office of the Public Prosecutor; due process was adhered to with all of the defendants,” the ministry said, noting the journalists still had the right to appeal.

But the ministry’s statement fell on deaf ears.

Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed received a 10-year term. Out of six others on trial alongside the journalists, two were acquitted and four were sentenced to seven years. The court also sentenced a number of other journalists to 10-year sentences in absentia, including al-Jazeera journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, both from the UK and the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who has no association with al-Jazeera.

Egypt’s prosecutor general claimed the journalists had used un-licensed equipment to broadcast false information to defame and destabilise Egypt. Fahmy and Mohamed were further accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All deny the charges, as do the others who were charged and tried in absentia.

Outside the court, Greste’s brothers Andrew and Michael struggled to make sense of the guilty verdict and the harsh sentences – both have been in court over the past six months and like all observers did not see any evidence presented that backed the prosecution’s claims.

“Gutted,” Andrew Greste said when asked how he was feeling outside the court at Tora Prison in Cairo. “All those words really don’t do my emotions justice.”

Vowing that the family would fight on against the conviction, Andrew said the Egyptian authorities assured his family the trial would be fair and the justice system independent.

“It definitely wasn’t an outcome we were expecting … we have had a family representative at each of the court sessions and I find it very difficult to understand how we get a decision like that.”

“[Peter] is not going to give up,” Andrew said. “Obviously he is going to be shattered as well as I am sure it was not an outcome he was expecting.”

The family is considering both a legal appeal to Egypt’s Court of Cassation and an appeal for clemency or a pardon from President al-Sisi. The difficulty is than any judicial appeal, which should pre-date an appeal for clemency, could take six to twelve months.

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also condemned the al-Jazeera verdicts.

Along with Saturday’s confirmation by an Egyptian court of the death penalty for 183 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters convicted in an earlier mass trial, the journalists’ sentences are the latest in a string of prosecutions and proceedings that have been “rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law,” Ms Pillay said.

“It is not a crime to carry a camera, or to try to report various points of views about events,” Ms Pillay said. “It is not a crime to criticise the authorities, or to interview people who hold unpopular views.

“Journalists and civil society members should not be arrested, prosecuted, beaten up or sacked for reporting on sensitive issues. They should not be shot for trying to report or film things we, the public, have a right to know are happening.”

What can ordinary folks do?

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens of the world are left to wonder what can be done to impress upon the regime in Egypt how seriously people regard this fundamental attack on press freedom and individual rights.

Don't do business with Egypt. Full stop.

The immediate family – and the Governments concerned – must, to some degree, remain very diplomatic in their protestations for fear of enraging an already sensitive situation further, which would do Greste and his colleagues no good at all.

Even so, calls are already being made by politicians and others for formal sanctions on the Cairo regime and its supporters, such as reductions in foreign aid, financial penalties and travel bans. It is unclear whether such things may eventuate.

However such self-imposed restrictions on expressing anger need not apply to general public opinion, and the behaviour of individuals.

Eqypt relies heavily on foreign trade to support its economy.

One obvious opportunity is that if millions of people around the world decided to boycott Egyptian goods and services – and to refuse to take holidays in the country, as the Egyptians are very keen to increase their tourism trade – until Greste and his colleagues are released, and until the Government shows its bona fides on the rule of law and democratic freedom generally, then the newly-installed Egyptian regime would surely be immediately obliged to act.

So one option is to vote against this outrage with your own money. If you decided to do so, it would make sense to tweet your actions. We could suggest using the hashtag #BoycottEgypt, for example. If you do, contact the media and tell them why you intend to #BoycottEgypt until the men are released. Express your feelings to letters columns, journalists, tweet to news organisations – tell anyone and everyone. Better to tell them ten times than not tell them at all.

What else can you do?

Raise awareness. You can re-post this blog, re-tweet it, stick it on Facebook, tell your friends.

You can write, respectfully, to Egyptian embassies and to the Eqyptian government telling them why you are participating. And write to your own Government and insist they get involved. Google the details, they will be freely available.

The other opportunity is to get involved with the Amnesty International campaign to free the journos.

Take a photo of yourself holding a sign saying #freeajstaff with tape on your mouth, and make the point that journalism is not a crime. Tweet the photo using the hashtags Freeajstaff, #amnesty, #egypt, and #sisi.

(The newly elected leader of Egypt can be reached at #Sisi.)

Copy any activity to #petergreste which is the hashtag used by the Greste family to co-ordinate news and raise awareness of the case if for no other reason than to let them know they are supported.

 

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We would like to stress, we are not affiliated with any Egyptian pressure group or political movement. We long for good relations with Egypt to be re-established and we would be delighted to announce tomorrow that any boycott or any other action is unnecessary because this decision has been reversed. We do not wish to harm or disrespect the people of Egypt.

Please: act now.

In a case which has shocked the world, CNN reports a Christian in Sudan has been sentenced to death for her faith; ‘I’m just praying,’ her husband says.

Watch this video

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Meriam Yehya Ibrahim’s lawyer says she refused to recant her Christian faith in court
  • Husband tells CNN: “I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do.”
  • Ibrahim, 27, has been convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death
  • She considers herself Christian, but a court says she is Muslim
Hours after a Sudanese court sentenced his pregnant wife to death when she refused to recant her Christian faith, her husband told CNN he feels helpless.

“I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do,” Daniel Wani told CNN on Thursday. “I’m just praying.”

This week a Khartoum court convicted his wife, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith.

Ibrahim is Christian, her husband said. But the court considers her to be Muslim because her father was.

The court also convicted her of adultery and sentenced her to 100 lashes because her marriage to a Christian man is considered void under Sharia law.

The court gave her until Thursday to recant her Christian faith, something she refused to do, according to her lawyer.

During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, a sheikh told the court “how dangerous a crime like this is to Islam and the Islamic community,” said attorney Mohamed Jar Elnabi, who’s representing Ibrahim.

“I am a Christian,” Ibrahim fired back, “and I will remain a Christian.”

Her legal team says it plans to appeal the verdict, which drew swift condemnation from human rights organizations around the world.

In the meantime, Ibrahim, who is eight months’ pregnant, remains in prison with her 20-month-old son.

“She is very strong and very firm. She is very clear that she is a Christian and that she will get out one day,” Elnabi told CNN from Sudan.

Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left when she was 6 years old, and Ibrahim was raised by her mother as a Christian. However, because her father was Muslim, the courts considered her to be the same, which would mean her marriage to a non-Muslim man is void.

The case, her lawyer said, started after Ibrahim’s brother filed a complaint against her, alleging that she had gone missing for several years and that her family was shocked to find she had married a Christian man.

A family divided

The court’s ruling leaves a family divided, with Ibrahim behind bars and her husband struggling to survive, Elnabi said. Police blocked Wani from entering the courtroom on Thursday, Elnabi said. Lawyers appealed to the judge, but he refused, Elnabi said. Wani uses a wheelchair and “totally depends on her for all details of his life,” Elnabi said.

“He cannot live without her,” said the lawyer.

The couple’s son is also having a difficult time in prison.

“He is very affected from being trapped inside a prison from such a young age,” Elnabi said. “He is always getting sick due to lack of hygiene and bugs.”

Ibrahim is having a difficult pregnancy, the lawyer said. A request to send her to a private hospital was denied “due to security measures.”

There also is the question of the timing of a potential execution.

In past cases involving pregnant or nursing women, the Sudanese government waited until the mother weaned her child before executing any sentence, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide spokeswoman Kiri Kankhwende.

Rights groups, governments ask for compassion

Amnesty International describes Ibrahim as a prisoner of conscience.

“The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is abhorrent and should never be even considered,” Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher, said in a statement. ‘Adultery’ and ‘apostasy’ are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of ‘most serious crimes’ in relation to the death penalty. It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law,” the researcher said.

Katherine Perks with the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studiessaid the verdict goes against Sudan’s “own Constitution and commitments made under regional and international law.”

“Meriam has been convicted solely on account of her religious convictions and personal status,” she said.

Foreign embassies in Khartoum are urging the government there to reverse course.

“We call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 Interim Constitution,” the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Netherlands said in a statement.

“We further urge Sudanese legal authorities to approach Ms. Meriam’s case with justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people,” it read.

‘Egregious violations of freedom of religion

Attempts to contact Sudan’s justice minister and foreign affairs minister about the Ibrahim case were unsuccessful.

Sudan is one of the most difficult countries in the world to be a Christian, according to international religious freedom monitors.

Under President Omar al-Bashir, the African nation “continues to engage in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2014 report.

The country imposes Sharia law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike and punishes acts of “indecency” and “immorality” by floggings and amputations, the commission said.

“Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death, suspected converts to Christianity face societal pressures, and government security personnel intimidate and sometimes torture those suspected of conversion,” said the commission, whose members are appointed by Congress and the president.

The Sudanese government has arrested Christians for spreading their faith, razed Christian churches and confiscated Christians’ property, the commission said.

Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has called Sudan one of the worst offenders of religious rights, counting it among eight “countries of particular concern.”

“The government at times enforced laws against blasphemy and defaming Islam,” the State Department said in its most recent report on religious freedom, from 2012.

The State Department’s other countries of concern, all of which impose strict penalties on Christians or other faiths, are: Myanmar (also known as Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Among all religious groups, Christians are the most likely to be persecuted worldwide, according to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center.

Between June 2006 and December 2012, Christians were harassed by governments in 151 countries, Pew reported. Islam was second, with 135 countries. Together, Christians and Muslims make up half of the world’s population, Pew noted.

Lawyer says he’s gotten a death threat

Elnabi says he got a death threat a day before the controversial court hearing, with an anonymous caller telling him to pull out of representing Ibrahim or risk attack.

“I feel very scared,” he said. “Since yesterday, I live in fear if I just hear a door open or a strange sound in the street.”

Still, the lawyer said he’ll continue representing Ibrahim.

“I could never leave the case. This is a matter of belief and principles,” he said. “I must help someone who is in need, even if it will cost me my life.”

As soon as we discover where people can register a protest against this barbaric judgement, Wellthisiswhatithink will post the details. If you happen to know, please tell us.

UPDATE We are indebted to Marian for providing us with this link to an Amnesty USA PDF which refers to the case and provides email addresses for the relevant Sudanese officials. We urge you to email them politely asking for the ruling to be reversed.

http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/uaa11814.pdf

Please share this story as widely as you can.

UPDATE It has been reported that Meriam has had her baby in prison, where her 22 month old is also living with her. Her husband was not allowed to attend the birth.

Saudi Arabia behads about 80 people a year

Saudi Arabia beheads about 80 people a year

A Sri Lankan woman who was employed as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia was beheaded by the Saudi authorities on Wednesday after she was accused of murdering an infant in her charge and then sentenced to death in a case that the Sri Lankan government and human rights groups said was deeply flawed.

The Saudi Interior Ministry announced in a brief statement released by the official Saudi news agency that the woman, Rizana Nafeek, had been executed. It said she strangled the infant because of differences between her and the baby’s mother. She was detained and interrogated and was sentenced after trial, the Saudi ministry reported. She had been on the job for only six weeks before the accusation was made against her in 2005.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended. Rizana’s parents.

Her mother, Rafeena, told the BBC at the family’s tiny village home, where they keep one cow, that Rizana Nafeek went to Saudi Arabia to earn money to educate her three younger siblings.

In 2005, war was returning to this part of Sri Lanka between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Rizana’s father, Sulthan, could no longer go to the jungle to collect wood, which had been his job.

n Saudi Arabia, their daughter got domestic employment but was also given childcare duties, something her parents say she was not expecting.

Weeks after her arrival, tragedy struck. The baby in her care, Naif al-Quthaibi, died. A Saudi court convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. She says that Naif choked during a feeding session and she was unable to save him.

The evidence that the accused was a minor when the alleged crime was committed is compelling.

The BBC visited her old school, the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya, and saw a register which says she was born in 1988. That matches her birth certificate.

Rizana Nafeek's name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Rizana Nafeek’s name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Her passport says she was born in 1982, but her family and neighbours say this was falsified by an unscrupulous Sri Lankan job agent.

If the 1988 date is correct, she was definitely only 17 and therefore a juvenile when the alleged crime took place.

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had made several appeals to the Saudi government to halt the execution. Sri Lanka also sent ministers to the kingdom on similar appeals and arranged for the woman’s parents to visit their daughter in prison in 2008 and 2011, the Sri Lanka statement said.

“President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid,” it said.

Ms. Nafeek’s case was shrouded in controversy all along. Human Rights Watch, which along with other rights organizations had urged the Saudi government to halt the execution, said that she should have been treated as a minor in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, and it also questioned whether she had been given a fair trial:

Though she was arrested in 2005, she did not have access to legal counsel until after a court in Dawadmi sentenced her to death in 2007. Nafeek has also retracted a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms. Nafeek’s birth certificate showed that she was 17 at the time of her arrest, but that a recruitment agency in Sri Lanka had altered the birth date on her passport to present her as 23 so she could migrate for work. Her birth certificate says she was born in 1988, said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview, adding that she has a scanned image of the document.

The High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for falsifying her travel documents, she said.

In a statement that was released this week and updated on Wednesday when the sentence was carried out, Human Rights Watch said that international law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18.

“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” Ms. Varia said. The others are Iran and Yemen, she said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that as a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on people under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense, and that if there was doubt, the courts were required to treat the suspect as a juvenile until the prosecution can confirm the age.

After the sentence was handed down in 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called on the Saudi authorities for clemency, but the sentence was appealed and then later ratified by the country’s Supreme Court. King Abdullah signed off on it this week, Amnesty International said.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, Ms. Nafeek said she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the Court of First Instance in 2007. Amnesty International said it also appeared that the man who translated her statement to the court might not have been able adequately to go between Tamil and Arabic.

She also had no access to lawyers either during her pretrial interrogation or at her trial in 2007. Amnesty International said that although she initially confessed to the baby’s murder during her interrogation, “she later retracted and denied it was true, saying she had been forced to make the ‘confession’ under duress following a physical assault.”

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in  the case.

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in the case.

Ms. Varia said she had spoken on Wednesday to the Sri Lankan ambassador in Riyadh, who told her that Ms. Nafeek was unaware she was to be executed. Ms. Nafeek, a Muslim, is from an impoverished family. Her father is a woodcutter. “In cases where girls are migrating so young it shows how desperate families are for income,” she said.

The news of the execution came on the same day that the United Nations’ International Labor Organization issued a report saying that of the 52 million domestic workers worldwide, only 10 percent are covered by labor laws to the same extent as other workers, and more than one-quarter are completely excluded from national labor legislation. It called on countries to extend protections to such workers.

Saudi Arabia in particular was not keeping up with the international trend to improve protections for domestic workers, Ms. Varia said.

Wellthisiswhatithink has had cause to draw attention to the inadequacies and brutalities of the Saudi legal system before including the case of a woman executed for “witchcraft”. Other commentators have also noticed what’s going on, including threatening the death sentence to bloggers. And this story will again fuel the racist and ignorant perception that this is a country unworthy of acceptance into the modern world, but also – more accurately – one where justice is medieval, capricious, and biased against women and the poor.

The West will soon free itself of reliance on the oil under Saudi Arabia which has made its occupants so accidentally, ludicrously and obscenely rich. When that day comes, and they find world opinion firmly against them, they may regret the death of young girls like Rizana, made to kneel in the sand in terror while their head is brutally struck from their shoulders.

May she rest in peace.

Troy Davis and his family

Troy Davis and his family before the jail cut off "contact visits"

Readers of this blog will remember that I and many others spent a few weeks a while back focused with increasing horror and dread on the case of Troy Davis, an innocent man on Georgia’s Death Row who, despite all evidence against him crumbling over the course of his incarceration, and an international outcry and campaign by literally millions of people, was executed on September 21.

If you search Troy Davis on this site you will find innumerable articles outlining why he was – unquestionably – wrongly executed, to the eternal shame of all those involved in killing an innocent man.

Remember, what happened to Troy Davis could happen to anyone.

Remember, what happened to Troy Davis could happen to anyone.

Strapped to a gurney waiting for the chemicals to flood through the tubes into his veins so he could die, Troy Davis’s last words were to pray forgiveness for those about to put him to death. I have no doubt that he watches us now from somewhere in Paradise, just as I am certain that a special place in Hell has been reserved for those members of the Georgia judicial system that callously sent him there.

I spent several weeks campaigning on the Troy Davis case, but some people have spent several years, such as Jen Marlowe. Working with Amnesty International, she came to know and love the Davis family, and her work on their behalf continues – in no small part because their tragedies didn’t end with Troy’s execution.

Indeed, the tragedies didn’t even start there. Troy’s mother Virginia died suddenly in April 2011, a death her daughter Martina was sure was a result of simple heartbreak over Troy’s failure to win a commutation of his sentence. Martina herself had been struggling with breast cancer for a decade when Troy was killed; two months after burying her brother, Martina herself died.

The boy they all left behind, De’Jaun Davis-Correia, is an outstanding high school student who looked up to his uncle as a father-figure and is today hoping to attend Georgia Tech, where he wants to major in industrial engineering. It is a sign of the strength and the beauty of this family that De’Jaun is already a dedicated death penalty activist, and has been named by The Root as one of its “25 Young Futurists” for 2012.

As Emily Hauser (who wrote the original of this article, which I am merely editing) “I cannot imagine how he gets up in the morning, much less makes plans.”

But sorrow and loss aren’t the end of it. Three funerals in the space of seven months and years of cancer-related hospitalizations have resulted in bills that would overwhelm anyone.

For that reason, Jen (who is currently working on a book about Troy and Martina) is raising funds for the Davis family. Here’s the letter she sent out this week:

The Davis family lost three warriors for justice in the past seven months. Virginia Davis, the matriarch of the family, passed in April, just two weeks after the US Supreme Court denied Troy’s final appeal, paving the way for the state of Georgia to set a new execution date.

According to Martina, her mother died of a broken heart–she couldn’t bear another execution date. Troy was executed on September 21, despite an international outcry over executing a man amid such overwhelming doubt.

Troy’s sister and staunchest advocate, Martina, succumbed to her decade-long battle with cancer on December 1, exactly two months after her brother Troy’s funeral, leaving behind a teenaged son.

There are still outstanding medical and funeral bills that the Davis family must pay.

The Davis family has had to bear more tragedy and sorrow than any family should ever have to. Together, we can ensure that the financial aspect of these losses will not be a burden to them.

I have set up a simple way to contribute online to the family. I hope you will choose to help, and that you will share this information with others. All you have to do is click this link: https://www.wepay.com/donations/fund-for-troy-davis-s-family 

Any amount will be highly appreciated and will help them greatly!

Please circulate this information to others you think may be interested in helping.

Any questions can be directed to Jen Marlowe at donkeysaddle@gmail.com.

In solidarity with all the Davis family has been fighting for and in sorrow for all they have had to endure,
Jen Marlowe
Troy Davis Campaign

If you are in a position to help, please do so. I will certainly be turning out my spare change pocket to see what I can do.

As Emily says: Troy Davis is not here to help his family through this ordeal – those of us who fought for his life must now do so for him.

Perhaps, in some small way, we can all make the world a better place by getting this innocent family back on track. And pray that no member of our family is ever caught up, inextricably, in a legal nightmare that ends in their cold-blooded judicial murder.

Don’t think about doing something another time: click the link and send whatever you can, right now:

https://www.wepay.com/donations/fund-for-troy-davis-s-family

A million people have signed petitions, from around the USA and around the world. One million people have weighed the evidence, and found it fatally flawed. ONE MILLION.

Troy Davis dies at 7pm unless we can save him

Troy Davis dies at 7pm unless we can save him

People like the Pope, Archbishop Tutu and President Jimmy Carter have condemned the conviction as unsafe. A host of conservative figures are among those who have advocated on Davis’ behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr and former Texas Governor Mark White (both death penalty supporters), ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson and one-time FBI Director William Sessions.

And yet the fools on the Georgia Parole and Pardons Board know better. Is it that they simply believe that some black man has to die for the death of a white officer, so it may as well be Davis? They clearly don’t care that killing him lets the true murderer walk free.

Despite the late hour, there is still time to appeal to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm by signing the Amnesty petition to him here, even if you have previously signed the larger petition given to the paroles board: http://tinyurl.com/4y67t93

Chisholm is pretending he doesn’t have the power to intervene. In my opinion he is blatantly just trying to defuse the heat in the situation and ducking his responsibility. Let us hope that the uproar if Troy is killed will cost him his job.

Yahoo reported the news as follows: “The board has considered the totality of the information presented in this case and thoroughly deliberated on it, after which the decision was to deny clemency,” the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles said in its statement on Tuesday.

The five person parole board that will allow Troy to be killed

The five person parole board that will allow Troy to be killed

The panel, which convened on Monday in the state capital, Atlanta, and deliberated overnight, added that board members “have not taken their responsibility lightly, and certainly understand the emotions attached to a death penalty case”, but nevertheless had rejected his appeal for clemency.

(However, the sole woman on the Board used to be with a police dept, one member was the ex-counsel of the Prosecuting Attorneys Assoc. of Georgia and one was a former Commissioner of Corrections in Georgia. Not likely to have the backbone to grant clemency for an alleged cop killer no matter how obvious it is that they got the wrong guy for the crime.)

Davis was convicted of shooting to death an off-duty police officer who intervened in a brawl in a car park in Savannah, Georgia in 1989, but there was no physical evidence and seven out of nine witnesses later recanted their testimony, some (including a boy who was 16 at the time of the shooting) claiming police coercian and threats of being jailed themselves. Seems like the good old boys are alive and well in the southern states of the US.

Davis escaped three previous dates with death during more than two decades of appeals. All avenues now appear exhausted as Georgia’s governor does not have the power to stay executions and experts said any last-minute filings to the state courts or the US Supreme Court would likely prove to be unsuccessful.

Barring an unexpected turn of events, Davis will be put to death by lethal injection at 2300 GMT on Wednesday (0900 AEST Thursday) at a prison in Jackson, south of Atlanta, with the victim’s widow and children looking on.

Davis repeatedly has maintained his innocence and his supporters pointed to a corrupted justice system in the deep South, saying a black man was wrongly and hastily convicted of killing a white police officer.

“I am utterly shocked and disappointed at the failure of our justice system at all levels to correct a miscarriage of justice,” Davis lawyer Brian Kammer said as rights groups and anti-death penalty activists rushed to condemn the decision.

Amnesty International said the prosecution’s case against Davis long ago had been shown to be flawed.

“Seven out of nine original state witnesses recanted or changed their original testimonies, some alleging police coercion,” said Amnesty’s US director, Larry Cox. “Ten people have pointed to one of the remaining witnesses as the actual killer. There is no murder weapon that links Davis to the crime. Any notion of physical evidence that demonstrates Davis’ guilt has been debunked.”

Amnesty called a protest rally at the Georgia state capitol exactly 24 hours before Davis is due to become the 34th person to be executed in the United States this year.

At a protest outside Monday’s parole board hearing, an estimated 150 to 200 demonstrators carried signs saying “Justice, Free Troy Davis” and “We are Troy Davis”. Another placard read “Too much Doubt. Save Troy Davis.”

Supporters have appealed for Davis to be allowed to take a polygraph test, and a Georgia State Senator has urged prison staff to strike to prevent the execution going ahead. But as things stand, Troy will be dead a little after 7pm Thursday.

Personally, I trust Satan has a special place in Hell reserved for those who have allowed this to happen. Their immortal souls are doomed. One can only hope they reflect on this as they head to Church next Sunday. Hypocrites and cowards the lot of them.

Having signed the latest petition, all we can really do is pray. For a peaceful calm for Troy as he walks to an unjust death, and for the tears of his family as they watch him die.

Troy Davis is going to die if we do nothing.

Troy Davis is going to die if we do nothing.

Troy Davis is almost certainly innocent on the crime for which he is about to be executed. At the very least, his sentence should be commuted while new evidence is properly examined, because the laws of his state, Georgia, insist that no execution can proceed when there is doubt about the conviction. Read this fine article, and weep:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/explaining-the-death-penalty-to-my-children/245020/

If you haven’t done so already, please sign the Amnesty International petition here:

http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=12970

Imagine walking into the execution chamber, to have your life snuffed out for something you – and tens of thousands of other people – know you didn’t do. Imagine how that feels. Imagine how it feels for your family, watching you walk to your certain death.

And then sign the petition. And ask your friends to do the same. At least then, if they do murder Troy Davis, you can say as you look around at your own family eating dinner or watching TV, or you lie down to sleep at night, “Well, at least I tried”.

New Amnesty International ad

Let's get rid of cluster bombs - forever.

Amnesty International need your help to run an ad that will stop the Royal Bank of Scotland – rescued from its own incompetence with public money, of course – from funding companies that make cluster bombs. 98% of cluster bomb victims are civilians – 30% are children. Are you happy that your money is being used to do that? Find out more here:

http://amn.st/qFLG6G