Monday, November 29, 2010

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman released

I don't remember the last time I received good news remotely related to human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt. This explains why I warmly welcome and celebrate the release of Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman -  a prominent Egyptian blogger who was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting islam and defaming the Egyptian President (by linking him to dictatorship and tyranny) on his blog. Kareem was released on 16 November 2010 after spending four years behind bars, despite campaigns by local and international human rights groups to secure his release.

You'd recall that in an article, published on 13 May 2010 about the young Egyptian blogger imprisoned, I stated (and I maintain) that the imprisonment of an individual simply because a government thinks his/her expressed views are flawed is a violation of the basic right to hold and express opinions on or offline.

It is worth mentioning that I was positively impressed by a heartwarming message of gratitude to everyone who supported the campaign to free Kareem, published on following the release of the blogger. Let me be clear: I supported the cause simply because I'm a firm believer in fundamental rights and freedoms.

Abdel Kareem Nabil is now free, but numerous bloggers remain jailed in many countries around the world, including Vietnam, Iran, Syria and Bahrian. Governments should take crucial steps to uphold freedom of expression.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

White bank robber disguised as black male

Photo of Conrad Zdzierak with and without mask.
Two days ago, a friend shared a compelling article on Facebook. The article tells the story of Conrad Zdzierak - a white bank robber in Ohio who disguised like a black man during his robberies.

He allegedly robbed four banks before he was arrested in April 2010. Yes, this happened way back in April but it's a story worth retelling - in case you missed it.

As you'd expect, the police went looking for an African-American suspect. Fortunately, no case of wrongful arrest was reported., but you can only imagine what could have happened if Conrad left no trace.

He confidently and successfully robbed four banks because he was aware of the fact that police officers were on the lookout for the "usual suspects". This case echoes wrongful arrests and convictions in the United States and beyond, and challenges the authorities to broaden the scope of investigations.

The disguise was, arguably, a calculated attempt by 30-year old  Conrad Zdzierak to evade justice and further stigmatize a vulnerable group of people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahmed Shaaban: Tortured to death by Egyptian police?

It was with a heavy heart that I read the story of Ahmed Shaaban - another young Egyptian allegedly brutalized to death by Egyptian police at Sidi Gaber police station in Alexandria on 7 November 2010.

Photo: Egyptian Chronicles.
According to Ahmed Shaaban's family, as reported by Amnesty International, the 19-year old disappeared in police custody on 7 November 2010 after he was arrested at a police checkpoint and transported to the now notorious Sidi Gaber police station in Alexandria. On 11 November 2010, the family was informed that the young Ahmed Shaaban's bruised body had been found in the Mahmoudia canal.

It is worth mentioning that the death of Ahmed Shaaban comes only 5 months after another young Egyptian - Khaled Mohammed Said was reportedly tortured to death by Egyptian police in the same police station.

Egyptian bloggers have expressed concern about Egyptian police brutality and the recent role of the Sidi Gaber police station - raising an important question: how many more young Egyptians have to be tortured to death before police brutality in Egypt is stopped?

The role of the police is to protect; not torture civilians. Egypt consented to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1986 and thus has an obligation under international law to protect civilians against torture. Needless to say, drawing from many reported cases of torture by state agents, the state has failed so far to meet this obligation.

Amnesty International has urged Egyptian authorities to fully investigate the death of Ahmed Shaaban.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Egypt: Respect court ruling against police presence on university campuses

It is no secret that human rights in Egypt is nothing to write home about. Since the imposition of Emergency Law in 1981, Egyptians have suffered violations of basic, fundamental and inalienable rights and freedoms, including freedom to hold and expression opinions, right to privacy and confidentiality of correspondence, freedom of association, right to free, fair and speedy trial, right to life, freedom from torture, just to name a few. Under Egypt's 29-year old "state of emergency", the police enjoy extensive powers and crack down on civilians with impunity. Continued police presence in public places, including university campuses, is reportedly typical.

A video published by CNN on 11 November 2010 highlights the ills of Emergency Law in Egypt and clearly captures unprecedented police presence on the campus of Cairo University. Watch...

The fact that someone interrupted the above CNN video coverage by covering the lense of the camera is testament to the high level of repression and press censorship in Egypt.

Police presence on University campuses does not create a condusive atmosphere for studies. Besides, university students are genuinely worried since police brutality is not uncommon in Egypt: in June 2010, 28-year old Khaled Mohammed Said was brutally killed in Alexandria. Egyptian authorities should respect the Supreme Court ruling against police presence on university campuses. Continued massive police presence on university campuses is attributable to a police state, and screams repression.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Justification of torture by George W. Bush sends wrong message

In his first interview since leaving office in 2009, former U.S. President George W. Bush shouldered responsibility for authorizing torture, and sent across a wrong message by attempting to justify waterboarding - a form of torture, and other cruel and inhuman practices against detainees.

Watch part of the compelling interview below:

The U.S. is party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which it ratified in October 1994.

For clarity, article 1 of the Convention defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

With the consent and authorization of George W. Bush, detainees in detention facilities like Guantanamo Bay were intentionally tortured for the purpose of obtaining information or confessions.

The U.S. has a moral, and legal obligation under international law to prosecute the perpetrators of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees. The victims are numerous and the perpetrators, including state agents who destroyed evidence of torture, are within reach. Failure to prosecute the culprits, even after such a public confession and shocking justification of cruelty by former President George W. Bush would further weaken the position of the U.S. in human rights discourse both at home and abroad.

As stipulated in article 2(2) of CAT, there is no exception to the law against torture. Freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is a non-derogable right.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Different colors by Lucky Dube

This evening, like most Friday evenings, I spent some time listening to music. I must tell you - very few songs impact me like a song by Lucky Dube, an iconic South African musician. The song in question titled, "Different colors" conveys a message of unity and is a commendable attempt to break racial barriers and unite all natural persons, irrespective of race or color.

Sadly, Lucky Dube is no more. But through his music, he continues to inspire listeners.

In the following video and lyrics, Lucky Dube denounces racial discrimination and urges everyone - including governments, politicians and, of course, YOU - to refrain from separating "the people". Watch...

Lyrics (unofficial):

Breaking those barriers
All over the world
Was not an easy thing
Yesterday your mouth was shut yeah
Couldn' t make a sound eh boy
But it' s such a good feeling today
When I can hear them from
Across the ocean singing this song
That the whole world should be singing
All the time

Chorus: (x3)

We' re...
Different colours / one people
Different colours / one people

Hey you government
Never try to separate the people
Hey you politician
Never try to separate the people

They were created in the image of God
And who are you to separate them
Bible says, he made man in his image
But it didn' t say black or white
Look at me you see BLACK
I look at you I see WHITE
Now is the time to kick that away
And join me in my song

Chorus: (x3)

Hey you politician
Never separate the people here
Hey you man hey you man
Never try to separate the people

Some were from America
We were from South Africa
Some were from Japan
We were from China
Some were from Australia
We were from the U.K.
Some were from Zimbabwe
We were from Ghana
Some were from Jamaica
We were from Russia
Some were from Aha-ha-ha
We were from Uhu-hu-hu.

Although bridging racial divide remains an uphill battle, you can't stop trying. And as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African human rights activist, Christian cleric and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, once said, "... never let anyone tell you that what you're doing is insignificant."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ugandan newspaper editor advocates hate and homophobia on CNN

It is no secret that homosexuality is a taboo in many African countries, but recently, a proposed controversial bill that promulgates life imprisonment and the death penalty for homosexuals, as well as the publication of a list of names, pictures and addresses of homosexuals in Uganda catapulted the East African country to the rank of [arguably] the most homophobic country on the planet.

You've probably heard that last month, a two- month old newspaper in Uganda that has adopted the name of a famous U.S magazine - Rolling Stone - published the names and photographs of 100 "top" homosexuals in Uganda and urged the police to "investigate", "prosecute" and "hang them". As if this is not enough, on 1 November 2010 the newspaper published, with impunity, more names and photographs.

Giles Muhame, editor of the newspaper, in a shocking interview with CNN, defiantly justified the publication of names, photographs and addresses of "top homosexuals." Watch...

While it is true that many Africans subscribe to this hateful and homophobic school of thought, it is also true that people of conscience worldwide believe that no natural person should be investigated, prosecuted and hanged on the basis of sexual orientation.

The publication of names, photographs and addresses of unsuspecting Ugandans does not only put the latter in harms way, but violates the fundamental right to privacy and security of persons.

A High Court judge in Uganda ordered the newspaper to stop publishing the names of people it says are homosexual because the publication is "an infringement or invasion of the right to privacy." This is a move in the right direction, but more could and should be done to bring the "Rolling Stone" impostor to justice for violating the right to privacy and inciting hate and violence against a vulnerable group of individuals.

It is worth mentioning that the renown U. S magazine Rolling Stone has condemned the Ugandan newspaper that bears its name and demanded they seize using the name.

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