Human Rights Monitoring Group Update – February 2017

Posted: 03/02/2017

Human Rights Monitoring GroupThe Law Society’s Human Rights Monitoring Group is a group of appointed benchers, established in 2006, to monitor human rights violations that target members of the legal profession and the judiciary as a result of the discharge of their legitimate professional duties.

On February 24, 2017, the Law Society released 14 public statements expressing grave concerns about the following human rights lawyers:

Murder of lawyer Arlan Castañeda in the Philippines

Arlan Castañeda was a Filipino lawyer and former town councillor. According to reports, on December 20, 2016, he and his security aide Melito Binag attended dawn mass at a local church in San Pablo, Isabela. As they were leaving the church, the two men were shot by gunmen on motorcycles. Arlan Castañeda died on the way to the hospital, while his aide died immediately. Police believe that the shooting may have been related to Arlan Castañeda’s legal work, as he had been handling controversial land dispute cases at the time of his death.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Arlan Castañeda of the Philippines.

Murder of lawyer U Ko Ni in Myanmar

U Ko Ni was a prominent human rights lawyer and legal adviser to the National League for Democracy, the ruling party in Myanmar. He was also one of the most prominent Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and was known for promoting religious harmony and supporting constitutional reform. The Law Society recently learned that on January 29, 2017, U Ko Ni was shot at close range in the head by a gunman as he was preparing to leave Yangon International Airport. He had just returned from a government-organized visit to Indonesia where he and approximately 20 other Burmese government officials and civic leaders discussed democracy and conflict resolution. A taxi driver who tried to apprehend the gunman as he attempted to flee the scene was also shot and later died in hospital. The shooter has been identified as 53-year-old Kyi Lin, a professional hitman. Another man, Myint Swe, has also been arrested. According to leaked police documents, Myint Swe allegedly hired Kyi Lin back in December 2016 to assassinate U Ko Ni.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding U Ko Ni in Myanmar.

Ongoing harassment of lawyer Bakhrom Khamroev in Russia

Bakhrom Khamroev is a human rights lawyer and the head of Erdam, an organization that works to protect Central Asian migrant workers in Russia. He is known for representing persecuted Uzbekistani political refugees. It has recently come to the Law Society’s attention that on September 29, 2016, 20 armed officers from the Federal Security Service (“FSB”) conducted an eight-hour raid on Bakhrom Khamroev’s home in Moscow, confiscating various documents and technical equipment. He was detained and taken to FSB headquarters where he was questioned about his political viewpoints and his knowledge of two Uzbekistanis who had been charged with terrorism for their alleged involvement in the Islamic political organization “Hizb ut-Tahrir”. He was told he was now a witness in the case against the two Uzbekistanis. Bakhrom Khamroev had previously represented these two individuals on a separate matter. He was later released, but warned that he would be summoned for further questioning. According to reports, Bakhrom Khamroev has been targeted in the past for his human rights work. The Law Society is concerned that the raid, the seizure of Bakhrom Khamroev’s property and his detention and questioning are an attempt to intimidate him and prevent him from continuing to represent migrant workers and Uzbekistan citizens living in the Russian Federation.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Bakhrom Khamroev of Russia.

Detention of Dr. İştar Gözaydın in Turkey

Dr. İştar Gözaydın is a professor of law and politics and founder of the human rights NGO the Helsinki Citizens Assembly. She is known for her positions against capital punishment and mob violence in Turkey. The Law Society recently learned that Dr. İştar Gözaydın was taken into custody on December 20, 2016, and formally arrested on suspicion of “being a member of an armed terror organization” on December 28, 2016. The charge is based on the alleged testimony of a secret witness and an intelligence report. During her first days in detention, Dr. İştar Gözaydın was denied proper access to her lawyer. Although her lawyer was eventually permitted to see her, he has been barred from accessing the investigation file on her case. While the investigation into Dr. İştar Gözaydın is based on allegations that she is connected to terrorist organizations, human rights groups believe that her detention is a form of retaliation for her human rights activities.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Dr. İştar Gözaydın of Turkey.

Harassment of lawyer Eric Iga Iga in Gabon

Eric Iga Iga is one of two lawyers who represented opposition leader Jean Ping before the Constitutional Court in September 2016 when Mr. Ping sought to challenge the re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. According to reports, Eric Iga Iga vanished without explanation on December 8, 2016. Immediately prior to his disappearance, he reportedly told a colleague that a suspicious car was waiting at his house and that he was trying to find out more. Late that evening, men identifying themselves as members of the military police executed a search of his home in the presence of his children. For several days thereafter, his family and colleagues remained without news from or of him. Then, on December 13, 2016, it was revealed that Eric Iga Iga had sought and found refuge with a foreign embassy in Libreville, Gabon. Based on the above, it would appear that Eric Iga Iga has been harassed as a result of his legal work. His safety and security continue to be at risk.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Eric Iga Iga of Gabon.

Arrests and detentions of lawyers in Turkey: Seher Acay, Fevzi Adsiz, Ziya Baği and Mahmut Bingöl

Seher Acay, Fevzi Adsiz, Ziya Baği and Mahmut Bingöl are all human rights lawyers and members of the Human Rights Association, a Turkish human rights non-governmental organization. They are also members of the Mesopotamia Lawyers Association, which was shut down pursuant to an emergency decree by the Turkish government on November 24, 2016. The Law Society recently learned that on November 21, 2016, the four lawyers were arrested and taken to Mardin Police Headquarters pursuant to an arbitrary order issued by Public Prosecutor Vural Eker and that the four lawyers remain in detention. During their first five days in detention, they had no access to their lawyers. From thereon, their access to their lawyers was severely limited by the police. In addition, it is reported that the lawyers are being held with five other people in a cell designed for two people and that they have been denied medical check-ups. According to most recent reports, the police have not yet taken the statements of the four detained lawyers or filed formal charges against them. There is speculation in the local press that their arrests and detentions may be linked to their activities as counsel for the city of Mardin, whose mayor was accused of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and consequently taken into custody on November 21, 2016. The Law Society is concerned that the arrests and detentions of lawyers are tied to their human rights work.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding lawyers Seher Acay, Fevzi Adsiz, Ziya Baği and Mahmut Bingöl of Turkey.

Detention of lawyer Jiang Tianyong in China

Jiang Tianyong is a Chinese human rights activist and former lawyer who is well known for his advocacy on behalf of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters, and fellow human rights lawyers. The Law Society recently learned that Jiang Tianyong disappeared on November 21, 2016. On December 16, 2016, Chinese authorities finally confirmed that Jiang Tianyong had been detained (for nine days, his lawyer later learned) at a police station in Changsha for allegedly using fake identification to buy [a] train ticket. The police also accused him of “illegally possessing documents classified as State secrets” and “illegally disseminating State secrets to overseas [sources]”, political charges frequently levelled against dissidents and activists to secure prosecution and conviction. On December 23, 2016, authorities informed Jiang Tianyong’s family that he had been put under residential surveillance at an undisclosed location on suspicion of “inciting subversion of State power”. On December 29, 2016, his lawyer’s request to visit him was refused. Additionally, since his arrest, several members of Jiang Tianyong’s family have been harassed by the police. Human rights organizations fear that Jiang Tianyong’s disappearance and detention may be directly linked to his human rights activities, including a meeting he had with United Nations officials in August 2016. There is also concern that he may be at risk of torture. Jiang Tianyong was disbarred in 2009. Since then, he has taken an active role in organizing Chinese human rights lawyers to provide legal counsel to victims of human rights abuses and criticized authorities’ violations of human rights.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Jiang Tianyong of China.

Licence suspension of lawyer Li Jinxing in China

Li Jinxing is a prominent human rights lawyer who is well known for his advocacy for civil liberties. He is also a founder of the Innocence Project of China, a collective of lawyers which has successfully fought to overturn several wrongful convictions in China in recent years. In a notice dated December 2, 2016, the Justice Bureau in the provincial capital of Jinan stated that it was imposing a year-long suspension on Li Jinxing’s law licence. According to the notice, the basis for the suspension was the unruly behaviour Li Jinxing displayed in court while defending Yang Maodong (aka Guo Feixiong), a free-speech activist who was sentenced to six years in prison in late 2015 on charges of disturbing the public order and “provoking trouble” after displaying banners which called on officials to disclose their assets. More specifically, the Justice Bureau claimed that Li Jinxing had made statements without the court’s permission, interrupted a judge, verbally attacked court officials and interfered with the normal order of the court. The Law Society is deeply concerned about Li Jinxing’s situation and the harassment and intimidation of other lawyers and human rights defenders in China. Reports indicate that since July 2015, hundreds of lawyers and human rights defenders in China have been questioned, detained or charged as a result of their human rights work.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Li Jinxing of China.

Arrest and detention of lawyer Felix Agbor Balla in Cameroon

Felix Agbor Balla is a human rights lawyer with a long history of international and domestic human rights work, including service with both the United Nations and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is the president of the recently banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (“CACSC”), an organization which works to promote anglophone rights in primarily French-speaking Cameroon. It has been brought to the Law Society’s attention that on January 17, 2017, Felix Agbor Balla and CACSC Secretary General Fontem Neba were arrested after organizing “ghost towns” — stay-at-home protests against “oppression, marginalization, and deprivation”. Earlier that day, the Minister of Territorial Administration banned the activities of the CACSC. On January 24, 2017, the two men were officially charged with terrorism, rebellion against the state, incitement of civil unrest and breach of the constitution. Their trial, which was initially scheduled to begin on February 1, 2017, officially commenced before a military court in Yaoundé, Cameroon on February 13, 2017. At the hearing, Felix Agbor Balla and his colleague pleaded not guilty to the various charges brought against them. The trial was then adjourned to March 23, 2017, and it is expected that witnesses and evidence will be called at that time. If convicted, the two men could face the death penalty. Felix Agbor Balla and his colleague have remained in detention since their arrests.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Felix Agbor Balla of Cameroon.

Travel ban against Malek Adly in Egypt

Malek Adly is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of Lawyers Network at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (“ECESR”). The ECESR seeks to promote and mobilize social movements to spread awareness for human rights. He is also one the founders of the Front for Defending Egypt’s Protesters, a group comprising of 34 human rights organizations and several lawyers which documents illegal practices carried out by state police forces against peaceful protesters. According to reports, as he was preparing to board a flight to Paris at the Cairo International Airport on November 2, 2016, Malek Adly was accosted by a member of the Egyptian National Security, interrogated about the purpose of his travel and informed that he was under a travel ban. No reasons or explanations were given with respect to the travel ban.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Malek Adly of Egypt.

Arrest and detention of lawyer Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem in Bangladesh

Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem is a Bangladeshi human rights lawyer and a member of the Bar Council of England and Wales. He defended his father, Mir Quasem Ali, the leader of the opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, against accusations of war crimes. Following a trial that was considered unfair by several international non-governmental organizations, Mir Quasem Ali was convicted in November 2014 and executed in September 2016. Although the Bangladeshi government has denied that it is holding Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem in custody, his family has learned that he was first held at the headquarters of the Rapid Action Battalion before being moved to the headquarters of the Detective Branch. The most recent reports indicate that the charges against Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem have not yet been disclosed to his family, he has not been produced before a magistrate as required by law, and he has not been allowed access to his family or lawyers.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem of Bangladesh.

Harassment of lawyer Noemi Mendez in the Dominican Republic

Noemi Mendez is a prominent human rights lawyer known for her advocacy on behalf of migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent. She has represented several individuals affected by the September 2013 judgment of the Constitutional Court, which arbitrarily and retroactively deprived generations of people born and raised in the Dominican Republic of their Dominican nationality. Human rights lawyers working to overturn the ruling have been subjected to threats and other acts of intimidation, including smear campaigns, harassment on social media, criminalization and violent attacks. According to reports, on December 12, 2016, Noemi Mendez arrived at work to find that the glass entrance door of her office in San Pedro de Macorís had been broken. No valuables appeared to have been taken and nothing seemed to be missing. That said, this damage to her property does not appear to be an isolated incident, as her car had been vandalized just a month prior.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Noemi Mendez in Dominican Republic.

Harassment of lawyer Simon Lilan in Kenya

Kenyan lawyer Simon Lilan received death threats and experienced other forms of harassment as a result of his advocacy on behalf of the late Kenyan politician Mark Too. According to reports, on the belief that his client Mark Too had been assassinated, Simon Lilan sought and obtained an injunction to halt Mr. Too’s burial until Mr. Too’s body had been examined by independent pathologists. When the injunction was subsequently revoked, Simon Lilan threatened to seek new orders to have the body exhumed. For “[his] stand on the death of Mr. Too”, he reportedly received death threats from “powerful people [who] want to finish [him]”.[1]  The harassment appears to have been so severe and the threat to his safety so tangible that Simon Lilan felt compelled to go into hiding on January 9, 2017. When he came out of hiding on January 20, 2017, he explained that he went into hiding after being followed by two vehicles and after receiving calls from senior politicians who wanted him to drop the case. The police reportedly did nothing when he turned to them for protection. Relatedly, when his office was burgled on January 17, 2017, the local police stated that their preliminary investigations showed no signs of a break-in. [2]

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Simon Lilan in Kenya.

Disbarment of three Burundi lawyers – Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize – and suspension of lawyer Lambert Nigarura

Burundian human rights lawyers Armel Niyongere, Lambert Nigarura, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Vital Nshimirimana have been openly critical of the Burundian government’s human rights violations and have represented victims of such crimes before international courts. The four contributed to a report on human rights violations in Burundi and the report was discussed during a session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture. In July 2016, the president of the Bar Association in Bujumbura, Burundi received a request from the Attorney General of the Court of Bujumbura, Burundi to disbar the four lawyers. The lawyers were accused of non-compliance with professional ethics and several criminal offences, including “involvement in an insurrectionist movement” and an attempted coup. The president of the Bujumbura Bar Association, in September 2016, dismissed the Attorney General’s request and refused to sanction the four lawyers because no criminal case had been brought against the lawyers and no other justification for the requested disbarment existed. This decision was appealed to the Bujumbura Court of Appeal and overturned on January 16, 2017. Consequently, three of the four lawyers were disbarred from the Bujumbura Bar Association, while one, Lambert Nigarura, was suspended for one year and excluded from the Council of Bujumbura Bar for five years.

Read the Law Society’s complete public statement regarding Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Lambert Nigarura in Burundi.

[1] Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, “Kenya: Immediately Investigate and Remedy Enforced Disappearance of Lawyer Simon Lilan | Letter” (14 January 2017), online: <http://www.lrwc.org/kenya-immediately-investigate-and-remedy-enforced-disappearance-of-lawyer-simon-lilan-letter/#_ftn2>.

[2] Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, “Kenya: Immediately Investigate and Remedy Enforced Disappearance of Lawyer Simon Lilan | Letter” (14 January 2017), online: <http://www.lrwc.org/kenya-immediately-investigate-and-remedy-enforced-disappearance-of-lawyer-simon-lilan-letter/#_ftn2>.