Financial Times: Time to turn the screw on human rights abusers by Katrina Lantos Swett

Time to turn the screw on human rights abusers

Magnitsky laws must be enacted and enforced on a greater scale

by Katrina Lantos Swett

As autocratic leaders ascend in many parts of the world and unjustly brutalise their citizens, responsible democratic governments require sharp tools to hold such human rights violators accountable. One of the most important tools available to any government is one first crafted in the US, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows the government to sanction human rights offenders by freezing their assets and restricting travel. The creation of this powerful tool has changed how governments are able to respond to human rights abusers and is truly changing the world.

The story of how Magnitsky sanctions came to be is a powerful example of heroism and the pursuit of justice. Sergei Magnitsky was a young and idealistic lawyer who uncovered and brought to light huge tax fraud perpetrated by Russian officials. In an effort to cover up the crimes he had exposed, those officials had Magnitsky arrested and thrown into prison, where he spent 11 months refusing to admit any guilt or to implicate others. He was moved to increasingly squalid quarters, threatened, tortured, and neglected — until ultimately, he was found dead in his cell in November 2009. Magnitsky uncovered the tax fraud while working for London-based investment manager Bill Browder, and his passing left Browder with a life-altering choice: turn away from this injustice or confront it head-on.

Browder bravely chose the latter. That decision defines him as a champion for human rights and has earned him deserved recognition including the Lantos Human Rights Prize. With remarkable skill, persuasiveness and a businessman’s drive, Browder worked to overcome opposition and secure the adoption of the groundbreaking Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act by the US Congress, signed in 2012.

 

This bipartisan law, whose scope was extended through the subsequent Global Magnitsky Act, is arguably the most powerful tool introduced in the past four decades for holding human rights abusers accountable — if not in their home countries, then at least in the countries where they have long felt free to invest and frolic. Since its enactment, the US has sanctioned more than 70 officials in over a dozen different countries. Most recently, Magnitsky sanctions were enacted to penalise Saudi Arabian officials implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

While the Magnitsky Act has proven itself a useful tool for the US government, its effectiveness will be undercut if other governments provide safe havens within their borders or in their financial markets for human rights abusers. That is why it is so important that similar versions of the Magnitsky Act have passed in Canada, Estonia, the UK, Latvia and Lithuania, and it is why the passage of similar laws by the EU, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Italy, Ukraine and many others — where they are currently being considered — is so critical. Each new country that adopts such a law strengthens the ability to enforce human rights standards around the world. 

As the rest of the world grapples with how to move forward on their own Magnitsky Sanctions, it is vital that the US and other Magnitsky countries be judicious and active in sanctioning obvious human rights abusers. There have been calls for more than a year for the US to sanction Chen Quanguo, the Chinese official responsible for the concentration-style camps that house well over 1m Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province. These calls have been bipartisan and bicameral on Capitol Hill in the US, and have been widespread throughout the human rights community worldwide. What kind of example does it set to those considering their own Magnitsky sanctions if countries like the US are unwilling to show strong leadership and demonstrate by example how effective sanctions can be in punishing human rights abusers and preventing future abuses? 

Sadly, Chinese officials are hardly the only group that deserve the wrath of Magnitsky sanctions. Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia continues to crack down on its citizens, with reports of widespread beatings, arrests and detentions during this summer’s protests calling for fair elections. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni recently allowed his former police inspector general to take the Magnitsky hit for corruption and brutal human rights abuses against Ugandan citizens, but there is likely to be more government-sponsored violence on tap as a contentious presidential campaign mounts. The list sadly goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. 

Imagine the impact on Chinese officials if the US, the EU, the UK and a dozen other countries simultaneously issued Magnitsky sanctions on Chen Quanguo. Not only would this brutal man be justly brought to light as a human rights abuser and have his ability to frolic outside China seriously curtailed, but other Chinese officials might think twice before undertaking their own vicious human rights abuses lest the same fate befall them. And if the UK would issue its very first set of Magnitsky sanctions against any number of Russian officials who so richly deserve them, would that not send a shocking signal to other Russian abusers who have become quite fond of London in recent years? 

The personal cost of Browder’s crusade for justice has been high. Attacks on both his character and safety continue to intensify as the Magnitsky Act has gained traction across Europe, but he refuses to stop pushing. Browder told me: “Sergei gave his life for me in extremely horrific circumstances, and it’s my duty to him to do whatever I have to do. I’m not going to back down because of threats, because of inconveniences, because of financial losses.”

The US, the EU and other governments around the world have the opportunity to work together to honour Sergei Magnitsky’s sacrifice and ensure that human rights abusers cannot find refuge within their borders. They must seize it — they cannot back down.

The Hill : Hong Kong protesters win in court of public opinion — but need our legal defense

chowagnes_wongjoshua_09042019_1.jpg

Hong Kong protesters win in court of public opinion — but need our legal defense 

BY KATRINA LANTOS SWETT, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 09/05/19 11:00 AM EDT

This week’s announcement that Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam will formally and fully withdraw the dangerous Chinese extradition bill that sparked democracy protests is an enormous victory for the courageous, determined people of Hong Kong. The law would have allowed China to extradite people from Hong Kong to face kangaroo courts in an utterly corrupt legal system. It was a dangerous new gambit in China’s plan to gradually strangle the freedom and unique vibrancy of this extraordinary place. 

Hong Kongers recognized early on that the bill posed an existential threat to any semblance of independence and freedom. Over the past three months, they have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to defend their city and their rights. The government’s decision to withdraw the bill is inspiring evidence that even an oppressive, authoritarian behemoth such as China cannot ignore the voices of millions of resolute and brave citizens. This victory is enormously significant — but it is not the end of the story. 

The overwhelming majority of the protesters have been peaceful, but the response of the police and the mainland gangs who have attacked them has not been. Since June, thousands of protestors have been injured and over 1,100 people have been detained. Those arrested for peacefully protesting have been charged with offenses that could put them in jail for many years. But these charges are only a flimsy cover; their true crime in the eyes of Communist China is inspiring fellow Hong Kongers to take to the streets in defense of freedom and the rule of law. 

None of us knows what will happen next as this fight for the future of Hong Kong unfolds, but the world’s attention will remain fixed on this small but extraordinarily vibrant outpost. It is vital that the U.S. government speak with one voice in urging Lam and her Chinese overlords to work with this citizens’ power movement to meet their reasonable demands for an independent inquiry into police violence. Those leaders also should immediately drop spurious legal charges against those who have not engaged in violence. 

The world may watching Hong Kong, but history also will take a snapshot of those of us enjoying our own freedom and democracy. In 2018, the Lantos Foundation was proud to give our highest award, the Lantos Prize, to perhaps the most high-profile and charismatic of the democracy movement’s leaders, Joshua Wong, the secretary-general and co-founder of Demosisto, a political party in Hong Kong. He was among activists arrested late last month.

While recognizing such leadership is important, we believe that those of us who live in freedom owe these brave democracy crusaders more than just our words of support. We must equip them to defend themselves against the crushing apparatus of the Chinese communist state. For that reason, we have established a legal defense fund to support Joshua Wong and his compatriots as they defend themselves against false accusations that could land them in prison for years to come.

We encourage everyone who stands with the people of Hong Kong to match their words and good wishes with the resources to help defend those who are on the front lines of this fight for freedom. 

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett serves as president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. She has taught at Tufts University and the University of Southern Denmark, served as director of the graduate program in public policy at New England College, and worked for then-Sen. Joe Biden as deputy counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Follow her on Twitter @LantosSwettK and @LantosFndn.

Lantos Foundation Statement : Arrest of Joshua Wong & Agnes Chow

The Lantos Foundation condemns the Friday arrest of democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow in Hong Kong. In 2018, Wong was the recipient of the Lantos Human Rights Prize which is awarded each year to individuals who have provided exceptional leadership on behalf of human rights and democracy. Because the government of Hong Kong refused Joshua permission to travel to Washington DC to receive the Prize in December 2018, Wong’s colleagues Agnes Chow and Nathan Law came to accept it on his behalf and spoke eloquently about the threats facing the people of Hong Kong.

Over the past four months, the world has watched the incredible determination and courage of the Hong Kongers who have peacefully taken to the streets to protest China’s efforts to strangle their freedom and rule of law. Joshua and Agnes are among the key leaders of the movement to defend Hong Kong’s independent system and their arrests send a chilling message regarding China’s intentions.

Despite China’s intimidation efforts, these brave young leaders have made their intentions clear. Speaking following his release on bail Joshua said, “We shall never surrender. I urge the international community to send a clear message to President Xi: sending troops or using an emergency ordinance is not the way out. We will continue our fight no matter how they arrest or prosecute us.”

The people of Hong Kong have made three simple and reasonable demands:

1.       They have asked that the pernicious Extradition Law be withdrawn.

2.       They have called for an end to police brutality.

3.       They have demanded that they be allowed to freely elect their own leaders as promised in the past.

The Lantos Foundation calls on the United States government to express, in clear and unmistakable terms, its support for the millions of Hong Kongers who have peacefully demanded their fundamental human rights as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We also call on the US Government to warn the Chinese government that any violent crackdown against this grass roots democratic movement will have grave consequences for future US/China relations. 

‘We Shall Not Surrender,’ Says Hong Kong Activist After Arrest

Watch The New York Times Video.

Agnes Chow at the 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize Ceremony.

Agnes Chow at the 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize Ceremony.

Joshua Wong.

Joshua Wong.

2019 Lantos Human Rights Prize to be Awarded to Bill Browder

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Contact : Denise L. Perron
Phone : 603.226.3636

Email : deniseperron@lantosfoundation.org

2019 Lantos Human Rights Prize to be Awarded to Bill Browder
Father of Magnitsky Sanctions Honored for Dedication to Human Rights Enforcement

The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice announced today that their highest honor, the Lantos Human Rights Prize, will be awarded in 2019 to Bill Browder. As the driving force behind the Magnitsky Sanctions, the most consequential enforcement mechanism of the modern human rights movement, Browder will receive the award in Washington, DC on September 27, 2019.

Sergei Magnitsky, an idealistic young Russian lawyer who uncovered massive tax fraud perpetrated by Russian officials, was, in a truly Kafkaesque twist, charged with the very offenses he had uncovered. In an effort to cover up the crimes he had exposed, Magnitsky was sent to prison in 2008 where he later died from abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Bill Browder, for whom Magnitsky had worked, vowed to dedicate himself to seeking justice for Sergei and this crusade has made him a global human rights leader. First passed by the US Congress in 2012, the Magnitsky Act (later the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act), authorizes sanctions of government officials implicated in serious human rights abuses. Sanctions can include freezing of US based assets and travel restrictions. Since its enactment, the US Government has sanctioned more than 70 officials in over a dozen different countries. Most recently, Magnitsky sanctions were enacted to penalize those Saudi Arabian officials implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Bill Browder’s campaign for justice and accountability did not stop in the United States. Since 2012, similar Magnitsky laws have been enacted in Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom. Despite fervent opposition from Russia and other lawless regimes that prefer to have their human rights abuses go unnoticed and unpunished, the European Union and many of its member countries are considering the passage of their own Magnitsky laws.

The incredible leadership and courage demonstrated by Bill Browder to honor his friend and hold accountable those who commit grievous crimes has come at a steep personal cost. Browder remains a top public enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has had multiple bogus charges brought against him in Russian courts. Putin has also tried to drag Browder back to Russia where he could be unjustly imprisoned. He has done this through rampant abuse of the Interpol Red Notice system which is being used by the world’s worst thugs and dictators to hound and persecute rights activists around the world. Putin, who is desperate to silence Bill Browder, even suggested he might “cooperate” in the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election if the US would help return London-based Browder to Russia.

Lantos Foundation President Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett said in a statement regarding the 2019 Lantos Prize:

“Bill Browder’s commitment to honoring Sergei Magnitsky, his drive to create and enact this vital sanctions act, and his unwavering dedication to standing up to injustices wherever they happen in the world is both noteworthy and inspiring. Because of Bill Browder’s tireless work, human rights defenders have a powerful new tool in the arsenal of justice. Equally importantly, those who act as the thugs and enforcers for despotic governments across the world will now face consequences for their despicable human rights abuses. Thanks to Bill Browder’s efforts, they will face a measure of accountability – if not in their home countries, then at least in the countries where they have long felt free to invest and frolic. Browder’s ingenuity, bravery, and grit make him a worthy recipient of the Lantos Human Rights Prize.” 

Upon learning of his selection for the Lantos Prize, Mr. Browder issued the following statement:

“I am honored and humbled that the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice has chosen me for this important and prestigious prize and accept it with great pride.”

The Lantos Foundation established the Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2009 to honor and bring attention to heroes of the human rights movement. It is awarded annually to an individual or organization that best exemplifies the Foundation’s mission, namely to be a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice in every corner of the world. The prize also serves to honor the memory and legacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a leading advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades as a U.S. Representative. Past recipients of the Prize include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Elie Wiesel, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Iraqi Parliamentarian Vian Dakhil, Father Patrick Desbois, “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, and Hong Kong Democracy activist Joshua Wong.

2019 #SolidaritySabbath Initiative

60713662_2257171557695246_7098253567760269312_n.jpg

The Lantos Foundation’s 2019 #SolidaritySabbath focused on Religious Prisoners of Conscience. Every day in May, the Lantos Foundation profiled a different prisoner languishing because of their religious beliefs or personal convictions. PoCs came from a range of nations, religious beliefs, and backgrounds. We shine the light on these prisoners to honor their sacrifice, to make sure their stories don’t go untold, and to pressure repressive governments into embracing religious tolerance and freeing those unjustly held.

5/30/19 : Since 1999, the Chinese government has been engaged in a brutal campaign of persecution against the Falun Gong community. The effort to wipe out this peaceful spiritual practice has been likened to genocide by numerous international observers. Perhaps millions of practitioners have been detained in so-called re-education camps where they have been subjected to forced labor and torture. Further, it is believed that thousands of Falun Gong have been killed in order to illegally harvest their organs for China's lucrative transplant tourism. In December 2017, the Falun Gong crackdown resulted in the arrest of 37 practitioners with Fen Junling, Huang Junjuan, and Jin Zhi sentenced to prison terms of 3-10 years for simply practicing their faith.

5/29/19 : In 2017, Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov of the Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in northwest Tajikistan was arrested and imprisoned after being charged with “singing extremist songs in church and inciting religious hatred”. In Tajikistan, religious literature, even that of registered churches, must be approved by the state. Church communities are often targeted on account of to their church properties and affiliated enterprises (hospitals, schools, etc.) over which the government wants to gain control.

5/28/19 : Since the majority Christian country of South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, the Christians in the Northern country of Sudan have been regularly arrested, harassed, flogged, and detained for violations of Sharia Law. In 2018, arrests increased for offenses ranging from wearing “immoral dress” directed at women who dared to wear pants to Christian services, to simply interacting with Muslims. Though long-term imprisonments are rare, harassment has continued, even after the ouster of the Sudanese dictator al-Bashir.

5/27/19 : Mohammad Ali Taheri founded a spiritual movement that has been targeted by Iranian authorities. In 2010 he was arrested on charges of "acting against national security" and was held in solitary confinement for 67 days. In 2011, he was arrested again and has been in prison since that time. Ali Taheri was sentenced to five years in prison for blasphemy, 74 lashes for touching the wrists of female patients, and 900 million Toman for "interfering in medical science" among other charges.

5/26/19 : Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was arrested in 2014 after blogging critically about the caste system (justifying the slavery of people descended from craftsmen) in Mauritania. His writings were deemed an affront to the Prophet Mohammed and he was charged with apostasy. Initially sentenced to death in 2015, his sentence was reduced to two years in prison. Mkhaitir remains in prison in an unknown location today.

5/25/19 : Patriarch Thich Quang Do is the head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and is currently held under house arrest at Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. Vietnamese officials have monitored, harassed, and detained the now 90-year-old Patriarch for years based on his religious practice, as well as his continued advocacy for religious freedom and human rights.

5/24/19 : According to JW.org, as of May, 2019, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia being prosecuted for their faith was 197. Vladimir Atryakhin, Yury, Belosludtsev, Irina Buglak, Sergei Sergeev, Evgeny Spirin, and Aleksandr Shevchuk are 6 new victims on the list, simply for practicing their chosen faith. There is a growing crisis in Russia for Jehovah’s Witnesses as the Putin government has intensified arrests, imprisonment, prosecutions, and based on recent reports, even torture for practitioners. We reject Russia’s claims that Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an extremist organization, and call on all faiths to denounce this blatant discrimination.

5/23/19 : In 2013, Hamid Kamal Mohammad bin Haydara, a member of the Baha’i Faith Community in Yemen, was arrested by authorities linked to the Houthi-run National Security Bureau. He was held for 2 years before he was charged, in part, with attempting to convert Muslims to the Baha’i Faith. He was sentenced to death in 2018.

5/22/19 : Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim born Christian convert, has been a frequent target of officials over the last 13 years. He has been arrested and charged with “apostasy” and “evangelism” multiple times, once resulting in a death sentence that was later overturned under tremendous international pressure. In 2016, he was again detained and charged with “acting against national security” and after an extensive court battle was jailed in the notorious Evin prison.

5/21/19 : Mo Xiufeng served as a Christian church leader in Zhejiang Province, China. In 2017, Mo was arrested and interrogated along with 11 other members of the Church. Police subjected her to sleep deprivation and other forms of torture in an effort to force her to relinquish her beliefs. She was questioned about the identities of other Church members and the location of Church assets. Charged with “organizing and using a “Xie Jiao” ("evil cult") organization to undermine law enforcement, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.

5/20/19 : Iranian Political activist Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was imprisoned for charges related to an unpublished story she wrote criticizing the practice of stoning in Iran. A fictional character in her story burns the Qur’an in an emotionally charged moment. The story was discovered when authorities ransacked her home without a search warrant. During interrogation, she was pressured to confess guilt under threat of execution and was questioned while listening to her husband being tortured in a nearby room. In 2015, she was charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. On April 8, 2019, Iraee was released from prison after posting bail. Despite her release, she faces additional charges for her political activism while in prison.

5/19/19 : Uighur Muslim Gulmira Imin participated in a demonstration protesting the deaths of Uighur migrant workers in Guangdong Province in 2009. Initially peaceful, under provocation some protestors turned violent. Ms. Imin did not engage in violence but nonetheless was arrested after authorities claimed she had organized the "illegal demonstration". She was sentenced to life in prison. She alleges she was tortured and forced to sign documents while in detention and was not allowed to meet with her lawyer until the trial.

5/18/19 : his past April, 3 US citizens, known only as Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph, were detained by police in Laos as they volunteered to visit villages in the Louang Namtha province to distribute religious material. Authorities of Laos consider Christianity to be a "foreign religion". Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph remain in detention.

5/17/19 : Ebrahim Firouzi has been in and out of Iranian prisons since 2011 as a result of his active Christian faith. In 2015, Ebrahim was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after being charged with “forming a group to disturb the country’s security”.

5/16/19 : Human Rights activists are often targeted in Saudi Arabi, and those fighting for women’s rights are high-profile targets. While campaigning for allowing women to drive and other basic rights, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi, and Aziza al-Youssef were arrested for the supposed crime of “undermining the kingdom's stability with financial assistance from abroad and for subverting national and religious traditions”. These prominent activists have been held since May 2018 and have yet to be sentenced.

5/15/19 : In 2006, Chinese authorities in Beijing detained Pastor David Lin under circumstances that remain unclear. In 2009, he was accused of contract fraud and sentenced to life imprisonment. Before his imprisonment, Pastor Lin was active in Beijing’s house church movement, which has long faced hostility from Chinese authorities.

5/14/19 : In 2018, 15 year old Leah Sharibu was abducted along with more than 100 of her classmates by extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. Leah is the last remaining captive from the group for refusing to deny her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Last year, Leah sent a note to her mother through a released classmate that read: “I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today, May 14th, is Leah's 16th birthday.

5/13/19 : In 2014, South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong Uk was sentenced to life imprisonment in labor camp after entering North Korea with religious materials – he was charged with spying and trying to set up an underground church. For years, Kim worked in a North Korean border town, providing humanitarian assistance and religious comfort to North Korean refugees.

5/12/19 : Andrzej Oniszczuk was detained in Russia on extremism charges in 2018 for singing Bible songs and studying religious literature. The Polish citizen was arrested after Russia outrageously labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization. A Jehovah's Witness spokesman has said that Andrzej was been kept in solitary confinement for over five months and is prohibited from lying down for 15 hours during the day.

5/11/19 : In Russia, it is not only dangerous to practice an unauthorized religion, but also to study one. In 2017, Yevgeny Kim was tortured in pre-trial detention before being sentenced to three years and nine months in prison for studying Muslim theologian Said Nursi's works. Kim was charged with organizing the activities of an organization Russia falsely labled as extremist.

5/10/19 : Pastor Wang Yi is a persecuted writer, editor, and human rights activist. For the simple “crime” of planning a prayer in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, he was arrested for “inciting subversion of state power”. Arrested in 2018, he faces up to 15 years in prison. Pastor Yi was quoted saying, "the right to speak is an inalienable one; one which is laid down in black and white in China’s constitution.”

5/9/19 : Indonesian pastor Abraham Ben Moses, a former Muslim, was arrested in 2017 after a video showing him sharing his Christian faith with a Muslim taxi driver was widely circulated. In 2018, he was sentenced to four years in prison on blasphemy charges for religious defamation.

5/8/19 : Bishop James Su Zhimin was falsely deemed "counterrevolutionary" for refusing to join the national Chinese Catholic Church (which is separated from the Roman Catholic Church) He was arrested in 1996 for conducting unregistered religious activities. Bishop Zhimin has spent 40 years in prison without charge or trial and has not been seen since 2003.

5/7/19 : Rmah Hlach (aka Ama Blut) is an ethnic Jrai Christian who was an activist for indigenous rights and religious freedom. He was arrested for these activities in 2009 and was sentenced to 12 years with an additional three years of house arrest. His whereabouts are currently unknown. Vietnam’s Communist Government continues to systematically suppress religious activities that are not approved of and controlled by the state.

5/6/19 : Danish citizen and Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen was arrested in 2017 and charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization during a church service. Twenty months later, he was sentenced to six years in prison amid Russia’s nationwide campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Russian Supreme Court has designated Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization, threatening all members of the faith in Russia. Congregants have been subjected to police raids, detentions and criminal prosecutions.

Learn more about Dennis Christensen’s arrest, detention, and conviction here : tinyurl.com/yxkvum73


5/5/19 : Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. After his selection at the age of six, he was taken into what the Chinese communist government euphemistically described as “protective custody” – a more apt description would be that he was kidnapped. His whereabouts have been unknown and he is referred to as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". He has not been seen by any independent observer for nearly 24 years.

5/4/19 : Abune Antonios is the third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. He has been under house arrest since 2007 when he was removed by the Eritrean government. In 2017, Antonios was allowed to make a public appearance for the first time in over a decade. Under heavy security, he attended Mass in Asmara, but was prevented from giving a sermon or speaking with congregants.

5/3/19 : The spiritual leader of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg, Ivan Matsitsky has been held since 2017 on charges of creating an extremist community and illegal entrepreneurship along with four other colleagues and is currently awaiting trial. Russia has repeatedly banned Scientology organizations and their activities, despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that denying the Church’s legal existence is a violation of freedom of religion.

5/2/19 : Professor Ilham Tohti, Uyghur economist, is known as a vocal advocate for Uyghur rights and regional autonomy laws in China. His initial detention began in 2009 after his writings were falsely blamed for ethnic rioting between Uyghurs and Han in the capital of Xinjiang. He is currently serving a life sentence in China, on separatism-related charges. Meanwhile over one million of his fellow Uyghurs are held in concentration-style camps in Xinjiang Province in one of the largest mass incarcerations since WWII.

5/1/19 : Saudi writer, activist, and dissident, Raif Badawi, was arrested in 2012 for simply establishing his website, set up for peaceful discussion about religion and reform in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison & 1000 lashes for this “crime”. Before his arrest, Raif was quoted saying, "To me, liberalism means simply to live and let live." Today, his exact location is unknown.





UNITED NATIONS DECLARES DETENTION OF ALEXEY PICHUGIN, RUSSIA’S LONGEST SERVING POLITICAL PRISONER, VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL LAW AND DEMANDS HIS IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MEDIA RELEASE
June 7, 2019

UNITED NATIONS DECLARES DETENTION OF ALEXEY PICHUGIN, RUSSIA’S LONGEST SERVING POLITICAL PRISONER, VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL LAW AND DEMANDS HIS IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, D.C. – Today, international counsel for Russian political prisoner Alexey Pichugin has made public Opinion No. 89/2018 (Russia) of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Working Group), which concludes that Pichugin is being detained in violation of international law and urges his immediate and unconditional release. In its decision, the Working Group states:

The deprivation of liberty of Alexey Pichugin, being in contravention of articles 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 7, 9, 10, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I, III and V [of the Working Group’s Revised Methods of Work] . . . . The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Pichugin immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

The full text of opinion No. 89/2018 is available here.

Under Category I, the Working Group determined that there is no legal basis for Pichugin’s ongoing detention because authorities arrested him without a warrant, failed to inform him of the reasons for his arrest, and failed to inform him promptly of the charges against him. The Working Group also expressed “grave concern” at the allegations that Pichugin was held incommunicado for a period of time.

Under Category III, the Working Group concluded that the due process and fair trial violations in Pichugin’s case were “of such gravity” as to render his detention arbitrary. Specifically, the Working Group noted that the Government subjected him to extended pretrial detention; failed to respect his right to legal assistance; failed to give his counsel full access to the case file in time to adequately prepare his defense; failed to give him an adequate chance at trial to confront the witnesses and evidence against him or to present his witnesses and evidence to the court; closed one of his trials to the public without adequate explanation; and violated his presumption of innocence.

Importantly, under Category V, the Working Group found that the criminal charges against Pichugin were pretextual. The Working Group stated: “Pichugin has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty because of his failure to cooperate with the authorities in the Government’s open persecution of Yukos . . . . The Working Group is thus of the view that the discrimination of Mr. Pichugin by the Government on the basis of his association with the Yukos company is the only plausible explanation for his arrest, detention, and imprisonment.”

Commenting on Pichugin’s case, Congressman Jim McGovern noted in an op-ed published today in The Hill:

“[Some political prisoners held by the Kremlin] are individuals who have done nothing more than follow their conscience, carry out their jobs or exercise their fundamental rights in peaceful ways.

“Take the case of Alexey Pichugin, identified . . . as Russia’s longest-serving political prisoner. Pichugin was a mid-level security manager who was targeted because he worked at Yukos, an oil company owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently released a detailed opinion that finds that Pichugin has been arbitrarily detained for nearly 16 years and calls for his ‘immediate and unconditional release.’ President Putin will likely ignore the ruling – as he ignored two prior judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which held that trials to which Mr. Pichugin was subjected were unfair and violated due process and the presumption of innocence.”

In response to this decision, Pichugin’s international counsel, Jared Genser, stated:

“Today’s decision corroborates what my client has been saying for over 15 years – that he was convicted on fabricated charges in sham trials that violated his fundamental rights under both Russian and international law. Alexey is no criminal, but rather the last remaining hostage of Putin’s personal vendetta against the Yukos oil company and its outspoken former executives. We demand that Russia immediately and unconditionally release Pichugin and prosecute those responsible for his arbitrary arrest and lengthy detention.”

BACKGROUND ON THE CASE

Early in the morning of June 19, 2003, nearly two dozen armed security officials showed up on Pichugin’s doorstep. He was arrested without a warrant and taken to a detention center where he was repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer. He has been detained ever since.

At the time of his arrest, Pichugin was a mid-level security manager at Yukos, then one of Russia’s biggest oil companies. Yukos’ CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had been critical of Putin’s government and was funding opposition parties. Pichugin’s arrest was part of Putin’s persecution of Khodorkovsky and his business and civil society partners. In fact, Pichugin was repeatedly pressured to falsely implicate Khodorkovsky and Khodorkovsky’s partner, Leonid Nevzlin, in criminal activity.

Pichugin was initially charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. However, during his trial, the prosecution presented no physical or direct evidence linking him to the crimes. Instead, they relied on the hearsay and double-hearsay testimony of Pichugin’s co-defendant and other previously-convicted felons. Moreover, some of the witnesses later admitted they were coerced into falsely implicating Pichugin. In addition, Pichugin was denied access to counsel, given limited access to case materials, prevented from cross-examining the key witness against him, and tried in closed proceedings.

Despite these due process violations, Pichugin was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. Soon after, Pichugin was charged with additional counts of murder and attempted murder. After another trial marred by blatant due process violations – including restrictions on his ability to introduce exculpatory evidence and public statements by government officials affirming his guilt – he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Having already served over 15 years, he is now Russia’s longest serving political prisoner.

The European Court of Human Rights has held, in two separate judgments, that Pichugin’s detention violates international law. Moreover, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution addressing Pichugin’s case, deeming it “a clear case of non-conformity with the rule of law.” Prominent non-governmental organizations such as Memorial Human Rights and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights have recognized Pichugin as a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is an independent and impartial body consisting of five members appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The members are currently from Australia, Benin, Latvia, Mexico, and South Korea. The Working Group has the authority to investigate and issue legal opinions about alleged cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Contact:

Jared Genser

jgenser@perseus-strategies.com

+1 202 320 4135

New Episode of The Keeper Podcast - Ensaf Haidar

We kicked off our #SolidaritySabbath prisoner posts on May 1st with the story of Raif Badawi and are very excited to share the link for a special podcast episode of The Keeper featuring Ensaf Haidar, the wife of the imprisoned Saudi blogger.

As you may remember, our 2015 #TakeLashes4Raif campaign centered around support for Raif amid his unjust imprisonment. We are thrilled to share the conversation with Ensaf, whose tireless efforts on behalf of her husband have made Raif's plight into an international human rights cause célèbre. You won't want to miss this episode of The Keeper.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

Poway Synagogue Shooting – the Ongoing Threat of the Hater Next Door

According to Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, the former Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and President of the Lantos Foundation, “If civilized societies are not willing to accept this level of racist carnage as the new normal, we will need to develop tough new strategies that combat these Internet incubators of hate and violence.” Lantos Swett went on to say, “We are mindful of the important value of free speech, but we must find constitutional ways to hold the websites that host and propagate this incitement accountable for the foreseeable harm they nurture and spread.”

Read the full release by clicking the image below.

Lantos Foundation Launches 2019 Solidarity Sabbath

April 30, 2019
For Immediate Release
Contact: Denise L. Perron
Executive Director
(603) 226-3636
info@lantosfoundation.org

Lantos Foundation Launches 2019 Solidarity Sabbath
31 Religious Prisoners of Conscience to be Profiled

CONCORD, NH – The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice will launch its 2019 Solidarity Sabbath Project on May 1st focusing on Prisoners of Conscience (PoCs) held for their religious beliefs. Each day of May, our social media feeds will feature a prisoner currently being held across a wide array of nations and from many different religious beliefs and backgrounds. The intent is to not only provide much needed attention to the prisoners’ unjust plight, but to expose and shame the authoritarian governments that trample on the fundamental right of religious freedom. 

“Prisoners of conscience often say that their darkest fear is that they will be forgotten.  We want to use our 2019 Solidarity Sabbath to not only reassure them that we will never forget them, but to provide renewed hope as we raise their profile, tell their story, and continue their fight for justice,” said Lantos Foundation President Katrina Lantos Swett. “Many of those we will profile have been imprisoned for nothing more than sharing their faith, or for questioning the imposed state orthodoxy. In a world that suffers from so much hatred and violence stemming from religious intolerance, it is vital to recognize that religious liberty is a central value of a healthy, rights-based society.  Robust protection for freedom of religion, conscience and belief is a distinguishing characteristic of stable societies, and it helps ensure religious tolerance and pluralism. We must continue to expose those that deny these freedoms, and never forgot those that suffer at their hands.”

In addition to sharing the stories of these 31 Religious Prisoners of Conscience, the Lantos Foundation plans to work with the Defending Freedoms Project of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project to ensure that all highlighted PoCs are adopted by Members of Congress and/or USCIRF Commissioners. We hope that this additional exposure during Solidarity Sabbath will ensure that more PoCs are “adopted” by these vital programs, giving more voice to their stories and increasing the pressure for them to be released.

About the Solidarity Sabbath:

Each year in the month of May, the Lantos Foundation observes Solidarity Sabbath in which we organize to draw attention to embattled faith communities and to encourage our leaders to act boldly on their behalf. The Solidarity Sabbath reminds us of the powerful human rights advocacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos - the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. Congressman Lantos often said, “The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest”.


Additional information on the Defending Freedoms Project can be found here: https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/defending-freedom-project

Additional information on the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project can be found here:

https://www.uscirf.gov/uscirfs-religious-prisoners-conscience-project

Major Global Human Rights Groups Launch Landmark Report on the Kremlin's Political Prisoners

MEDIA ADVISORY                                                                
April 29, 2019

Contact Information:
Katrina Lantos Swett
Lantos Foundation
info@lantosfoundation.org

Washington, D.C. –Today, in a press conference at the National Press Club, major rights groups launched a 282-page report on the Kremlin’s political prisoners.  The report – The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Advancing a Political Agenda by Crushing Dissent– was authored by the public interest law firm Perseus Strategies, with support from Memorial Human Rights Centre (Russia), and was commissioned by the Free Russia Foundation, Human Rights Foundation, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, and Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Writing in an oped in today’s Wall Street JournalIrwin Cotler (Wallenberg Centre) and Katrina Lantos Swett (Lantos Foundation), representing two of the co-sponsoring organizations said:
 
“At a moment when Russia’s nefarious attempts to interfere in the U.S. electoral process are top news, we could easily overlook the horrific ways in which Russia tramples on fundamental human rights within its borders.  Case in point: the growing ranks of political prisoners in the brutal grasp of Vladimir Putin’s expanding police state.”
 
The Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, a group of more than a dozen major global NGOs who have joined together advocating for their freedom, added in its statement:

“The Coalition highlights the report as a novel piece of scholarship that analyzes how, particularly in the last few years, the Kremlin has increasingly imprisoned . . . [its] opponents with absolute impunity.”

The report documents how,decades after the last Soviet-era political prisoners were released, the Kremlin, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, is once again engaged in the widespread detention of activists, regime opponents, and disfavored minorities.  In the last four years alone, the number of political prisoners has increased five-fold from 50 to more than 250.  While some of these political prisoners were convicted of fabricated crimes they simply did not commit, the majority are detained as a result of engaging in activities that are clearly protected under international law, such as posting on social media, participating in peaceful protests, practicing their religion, or associating with certain groups.  This persecution is enabled by an ever-increasing array of laws specifically designed to criminalize acts of everyday life and, therefore, allow the authorities to arrest, detain, and imprison anyone they want.

While anyone in Russia or Russia-occupied Crimea can become a victim of politically-motivated prosecution, certain groups are more frequently targeted.  Political opponents, civil society activists, journalists, Ukrainian activists and citizens, religious and ethnic minorities, alleged spies, and LGBT individuals are at particular risk.  The report provides individual case studies for these commonly targeted groups, including Alexey Pichugin, Oleg Sentsov, Anastasia Shevchenko, Igor Rudnikov, Dennis Christensen, and Svyatoslav Bobyshev.
 
The Kremlin’s arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing, and imprisonment of political prisoners violates several multilateral treaties to which Russia is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  In particular, the Kremlin is violating political prisoners’ rights to political participation and freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.  Moreover, political prisoners are routinely denied basic due process rights – including access to counsel, the presumption of innocence, the presumption of bail, and a fair trial, and political prisoners are often subjected to torture to force them to falsely confess.

While countless government officials are complicit in the Kremlin’s persecution of political prisoners, this report identifies 16 individuals that may bear particular responsibility.  This includes eight high-level officials potentially liable under the principle of command responsibility – President Vladimir Putin; Alexander Bortnikov, Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB); Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council; Yuri Chaika, Prosecutor General; Gennady Kornienko, Director of the Federal Penitentiary Service; Aleksandr Konovalov, Minister of Justice; Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Minister of Internal Affairs; and Alexander Bastrykin, Chairman of the Investigative Committee.  The report also identifies eight judges, prosecutors, and investigators that have been involved in multiple political prisoner cases.

The international community has spoken out forcefully against the Kremlin’s detention of political prisoners, but thus far taken only limited concrete action. One of the most promising developments for potential accountability has been the enactment of “Magnitsky” laws in an increasing number of countries; these laws allow targeted individual sanctions (e.g., asset freezes and travel bans) to be imposed on perpetrators of gross human rights abuses.  Within Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea, activists, independent media, and opposition leaders continue to work in an increasingly hostile environment to provide reliable information to the outside world, support political prisoners and their families, and where possible, secure the release of prisoners.
 
The Kremlin has been highly resistant to international efforts and outside pressure to release political prisoners.  However, a sporadic but significant pattern of pardons, amnesties, and other early releases demonstrates that dedicated advocacy can have tangible results.  The report makes five specific recommendations to increase the pressure on the Kremlin to release its political prisoners:

1.  Individual countries and multilateral institutions should investigate the 16 perpetrators identified in the report and, if appropriate, consider imposing targeted sanctions.

2.  Like-minded governments should work collaboratively through key bodies. This includes adopting statements and resolutions through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), European Parliament, UN General Assembly, and UN Human Rights Council.

3.  National governments throughout the world should frequently and consistently highlight the Kremlin’s political prisoners through statements by high-level officials, legislative resolutions, and public hearings and by raising the issue in every meeting with relevant Kremlin officials.

4.  To coordinate advocacy and amplify their impact, civil society organizations should join the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners.

5.  Civil society organizations and government officials should engage with the media and share information about the Kremlin’s political prisoners. 

Sergei Davidis, Head of the Political Prisoners Support Program at Memorial Human Rights Centre and Galina Starovoitova Fellow at the Kennan Institute, stated: “This report is the most comprehensive analytical description of the Kremlin’s political prisoners ever made.  I admire the work done by the authors.  It is especially important that this report is addressed directly to Western audiences. The report marks a new level of attention to the problem of political prisoners and human rights in Russia.”
 
Natalia Arno, President of the Free Russia Foundation, added: “This new report on political prisoners does an incredible job of bringing the Kremlin’s increasing repression to light – the current Russian regime is employing an entire arsenal of coercive tools and adopting an ever-growing list of repressive laws to imprison and silence its opponents.  It is my hope that this report will help show Russians and the international community the scale of the Kremlin’s brutal abuses and lead to meaningful actions to support the victims of the regime.  The continued existence of political prisoners in Russia in the 21st century is shameful and should not be tolerated.”

Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, noted: “The Human Rights Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to co-sponsor this groundbreaking legal report which tells the story of some 250 of Vladimir Putin’s political prisoners, and denounces the torture and degrading conditions that many of them suffer routinely. The report honors the legacy of great human rights heroes like Elena Bonner, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who exposed the Kremlin’s twentieth century crimes. Unfortunately, such horrific crimes have continued under Putin’s authoritarian rule.”
 
Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, observed: “Magnitsky sanctions are the single most effective weapon in our modern human rights arsenal, and no country is more richly deserving of being singled out for widespread Magnitsky action than Russia. This powerful report is a stunning and revealing reality check on the Putin regime’s brutal persecution of political prisoners that turns the focus from the persecuted to the persecutors. This very significant perspective does more than name those responsible for these abuses;  it also allows for a thorough examination of the environment that has allowed this vile behavior to not only continue, but to flourish under Putin’s watchful eye.  We call on the United States Government to immediately review those identified in the report for Magnitsky action, and to continue to prioritize human rights and the rule of law in all interactions with Russia.”
 
The Honorable Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights remarked “This landmark report describes, in great and graphic detail, Putin’s unprecedented persecution and prosecution of political prisoners.  Indeed, over the last four years alone, there has been a five-fold increase in the numbers of verified political prisoners from 50 to more than 250 today, with the reality on the ground expected to be even more pernicious and pervasive.  These are figures that would make most other despots blush.  This report also exposes and unmasks the Kremlin’s culture of corruption and criminality that underpins it all, where mass domestic repression and the crushing of dissent are enshrined in law.  We have identified the individual architects of this repression, and are calling for their targeted sanctioning under Magnitsky legislation.  Naming and shaming these human rights abusers is a crucial expression of solidarity with their victims and of ending the culture of impunity that underpins such criminality.”

Jared Genser, Managing Director of Perseus Strategies, concluded: “For too long the world has focused on the Kremlin’s nefarious activities around the world and failed to highlight that the biggest victims of Vladimir Putin are his own people. From Alexey Pichugin, the Kremlin’s longest-serving political prisoner, held in captivity since June 2003 despite rulings calling for him to receive a fair trial by the European Court of Human Rights, to Anastasia Shevchenko, imprisoned just this year, these cases can no longer be ignored.  It is time for the international community to impose serious consequences on the government officials responsible for the widespread detention of political prisoners in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea and demonstrate unequivocally that such repression will not be tolerated.”