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Middle East: Human Rights

Human Rights Highlights - Middle East



Middle East Human Rights Highlights


Syria - Congratulations to President Bashar al Assad, elected by 97.6 of the votes in 2007. Nobody was running against him of course. Only the Baath party and some small satellite parties are legal. The constitution requires that the president must be a Muslim. The Kurdish minority faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression. The 2001 press law requires that owners and top editors of publications be Arabs. Some 200,000 Syrian Kurds are deprived of citizenship and unable to obtain passports, identity cards, or birth certificates, which in turn prevents them from owning land, obtaining government employment, and voting. Suspected Kurdish activists are routinely dismissed from schools and public-sector jobs.  The government continues to detain dozens of Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) members. It has arrested hundreds of other Kurdish activists in recent years and prevented many from traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan. Syrians can access the internet only through state-run servers, which block access to Kurdish, opposition, foreign-based, and other websites. Previously available networking sites such as Facebook were blocked in 2007. E-mail correspondence is monitored by the intelligence agencies, which often require internet cafe owners to spy on customers. All posters for blogs and websites must publish their names and e-mail addresses. In September 2007, Blogger Ali Zine al-Abidine Mejan was convicted of “writings unauthorized by the government that harm ties with a foreign state” and sentenced to two years in prison.ref

Libya - Political parties have been illegal for over 35 years. The government strictly monitors political activity, and those who appear to be attempting to establish anything akin to a political party face imprisonment...

Corruption is pervasive in both the private sector and the government in Libya, which ranked 131 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index...


The government does not uphold freedom of assembly.... In February 2007, the authorities arrested 12 men for planning a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli to commemorate clashes between security forces and demonstrators the previous year.ref


Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy. The country’s 1992 Basic Law declares that the Koran and the Sunna (the guidance set by the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad) are the country’s constitution...The al-Saud dynasty dominates and controls political life in the kingdom. The royal family forbids the formation of political parties...Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia. Islam is Saudi Arabia’s official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims. The government prohibits the public practice of any religions other than Islam ... Although the government recognizes the right of non-Muslims to worship in private, it does not always respect this right in practice.  Academic freedom is restricted in Saudi Arabia. Informers monitor classrooms for compliance with limits on curriculums, such as a ban on teaching Western philosophy and religions other than Islam. Women may not legally drive cars, and their use of public facilities is restricted when men are present. By law and custom, women cannot travel within or outside of the country without a male relative. In November 2007, a court sentenced a Shiite woman from Qatif, who had been gang raped by seven men, to 200 lashes and six months in jail for being alone with a man who was not her relative at the time of the attack. ref

During 2007 according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the press reported 153 beheadings of individuals who were convicted of murder, narcotics‑related offenses, and armed robbery, as well as of rape, sorcery and adultery.  The government also punished persons for various offenses with amputations for theft, and lashings, including for alcohol‑related offenses or for being alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite sex. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports of lashings in the women's prisons. ref

Egypt - Egypt has had non-stop emergency rule ever since 1981. On the early 1990s, the government introduced anti-terror laws giving the security and intelligence services greater powers of arrest and detention and rounded up thousands of suspects. While fiercely suppressing opposition political activists, the authorities gave the conservative religious establishment the authority to censor artistic expression, intellectual debate touching on matters of religion, and social mores.

The state of emergency enables the authorities to arrest people deemed "a threat to national security and public order" and hold them without charge for prolonged periods, even years. The state also uses emergency rule to refer civilian defendants to military courts or to exceptional state security courts, in effect creating a parallel court system under direct government control.

These measures have been used widely against Egyptians attempting to exercise peacefully basic political rights like freedom of association or freedom of expression, as well as persons accused of committing or advocating acts of violence. Non-governmental organizations, professional associations, the media, trade unions and political parties - all have had their work hampered by laws aimed at silencing them and increasing governmental control over their activities. One recent high-profile example was the Supreme State Security Court conviction of sociology professor and democracy advocate Saadeddin Ibrahim in a politically motivated trial. He was sentenced to seven years; five of his associates also received prison terms, and his Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies was forcibly closed down.

Torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic. Security forces and the police routinely torture or ill-treat detainees, particularly during interrogation. In his January 2001 report to the Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture cited thirty-two cases of death in custody, apparently as a result of torture, occurring between 1997 and 1999. Confessions extracted under torture are commonly used as evidence in political trials and form the basis for convictions.

The government does not provide information on the number of detainees held in prisons and other places of detention, but there is reason to believe that thousands continue to be held in connection with real or suspected membership of banned Islamist groups. Many are held under administrative detention -- in other words, without trial -- and in some cases have been held for more than ten years.

The 1992 Anti-Terror Law also criminalized non-violent political opposition, and was used to arrest and bring to trial persons not accused of committing or advocating violence but simply of alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Since 1995, over one hundred defendants were tried and dozens sentenced to terms of up to five years after being convicted of membership in an illegal organization.

To stifle free political participation, the government strictly limits the number of licensed political parties. To ensure a comfortable victory for the ruling National Democratic Party in these elections, the government routinely arrests opposition candidates and their supporters in the run-up to elections.

Emergency legislation prohibits strikes, public meetings, and election rallies. The government has taken arbitrary measures to stifle the voices of trade union activists who have been outspoken around issues such as worker safety in the state sector. In some cases the authorities issued threats to persuade activists to withdraw their candidacy in union elections. The government controls the electronic media and on occasion has shut down newspapers and periodicals that cross red lines.


In May 2001 the authorities arrested a group of fifty-two men for alleged homosexuality. In a trial that began in July, they were charged with committing "obscene behavior," and two of them also faced additional charges of "contempt for religion." Their trial before the Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors allows for no right of appeal upon conviction, and the court has declined to investigate statements by some of the defendants that they had been tortured to obtain confessions. They face prison terms of up to three years on the "obscenity" charge, and five years on the "contempt for religion" charge. ref

Iran - On July 5, 2007 officials in the Qazvin province carried out a death sentence by stoning against Jafar Kiani, defying a 2002 moratorium on the practice put in place by Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Shahrudi. On April 18, the Supreme Court overturned the murder convictions of six members of the Basij for five killings in 2002 on the grounds that the Basij members stated they believed Islam permitted the killings because the individuals were engaged in "morally corrupt" behavior. In 2002 the Basij members reportedly killed the five individuals by stoning, drowning, and burying one person alive. The lower court previously found all six men guilty of murder.

Zahra Kazemi, a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, was a photojournalist arrested for taking pictures outside Evin Prison during a student-led protest, died in custody in 2003 after security forces tortured her. Tehran General Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, was reportedly involved in her death.

The Iranian-American Jewish Federation reported that 11 Jewish men who disappeared in 1994 and 1997 were still missing, but some were reportedly alive, as witnesses claimed they saw some of the men in Evin Prison. The authorities did not provide information on whether the individuals were in custody.

There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year. Plainclothes officers or security officials reportedly often seized journalists and activists without warning and held them incommunicado in detention centers for several days before permitting them to contact family members.

There was no further information about the 2005 disappearance of a number of evangelical Christians. ref



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Human Rights in the Middle East


Torture in the Middle East


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Human Rights Highlights - Middle East