Freedom Alert

The brother of Syrian human rights defender and opposition figure Radwan Ziadeh, Yassein, was arrested by the Syrian Air Force on August 30 after morning prayers. According to his brother, Yassein was not involved in local protests and risks facing torture at the hands of his captors. Radwan is a visiting scholar at George Washington University and head of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies. He has been instrumental in calling attention to human rights abuses committed by the regime. As a result of Radwan’s political activity, his family has faced a travel ban since February 2008.

An amendment to China’s residential surveillance law may threaten freedom of expression by legalizing secret detentions, allowing police to hold suspects for up to six months in “secret locations” in cases involving terrorism, corruption and “national security.” Police would need permission to detain suspects in an unknown location, and would not be required to contact the suspect's family or legal counsel. The National People’s Congress will decide in March 2012 whether to approve the amendment or not.

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Shabaz Taseer, the son of a Pakistani governor killed for criticizing blasphemy laws was abducted by gunmen on Friday, August 26. His father Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab and member in the Pakistan People’s Party, was murdered by his bodyguard in January 2011 after speaking against blasphemy laws. Shabaz was reportedly kidnapped and forced into a car. His whereabouts are unknown and there is no clear motive, although his family suspects extremists are behind the kidnapping after receiving threats. Shabaz is the owner of a number of companies including Media Times Ltd, and his sister is a journalist who has spoken publicly against extremism. Extremists have kidnapped scores of people and often used them as bargaining tools to secure the release of imprisoned militants. Earlier this month a U.S. aid worker was abducted and remains missing.

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On August 25, several days after publishing a cartoon comparing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was attacked by masked men. The men dragged Ferzat from his car, beat him, broke both his hands to prevent him from drawing, and then dumped him on the side of the road. Ferzat is vocal in his criticism of Assad and the regime’s crackdown on protesters. Although cartoons about the prime minister are “forbidden,” Ferzat has frequently included Assad in his work. Ferzat published of the country’s first independent publications, satirical newspaper Al Domari, which was later shut in a crackdown on media.

Despite a May 2011 ruling prohibiting its destruction, a building in Baku, Azerbaijan that housed three NGOs: the Institute for Peace and Democracy, the Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Women’s Crisis Center, was destroyed on August 11. The demolition was part of a two-year “beautification” campaign demolishing homes and businesses instigated by the mayor of Baku and condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner as well as human rights groups. City officials reportedly did not give tenants warning or allow them remove their belongings before demolition began. Anti-corruption campaigns spearheaded by NGOs could be a potential factor in the demolition.

Journalist Niel Jimena- host of radio show “Judge”- was shot dead in the Philippines on August 22 while riding his motorcycle, according to the police. There is no clear motive in Jimena’s killing, though it most likely is linked to his criticism of local officials on his radio show. Shortly before his death, he reportedly was threatened by a local politician for remarks remarks on his radio show.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution to establish a “commission of inquiry” to investigate massive human rights violations in Syria during an emergency session in Geneva starting on August 22. Investigators are tasked with looking into possible crimes against humanity during the five-month crackdown on anti-government protesters. Thirty-three countries voted in favor of the resolution, nine abstained and four voted against it, including frequent human rights violators China, Russia and Cuba. The UN also intends to impose an arms embargo, has sent around a draft resolution that will impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad, his family and associates, and continues to send humanitarian missions to Syria.

Nearly five months after demonstrations began in Syria and an estimated 2,000 people have been killed by government forces, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. An executive order signed by the president will impose sanctions on Syria’s government, oil and gas industries and prevent any U.S. citizen from operating and investing in Syria. Freedom House, along with the Project for Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition sent President Obama a letter on August 10 calling for Assad’s immediate ouster and for concrete U.S. action against the Syrian government.

Journalist Shokrukh Saipov was attacked and beaten by unknown assailants on August 10. Saipov is a Kyrgyz citizen and ethnic Uzbek, who runs the news website UzPress, which has commented on ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. In 2007, his older brother and prominent journalist Alisher Saipov was murdered– Alisher's murder remains unsolved.

Activist and blogger Asmaa Mahfouz was arrested and charged with defaming the Egyptian military via social media websites, after criticizing the military in Facebook postings. Mahfouz is one of the leading voices of the Egyptian revolution and has galvanized Egyptians via YouTube and other online forums to participate in protests. She was released on bail and will face a military tribunal.

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