As news spreads that Iran could be facing a second wave of coronavirus due to an increase in the number of cases, the health and safety of Nasrin, Yasaman and other imprisoned women’s rights activists remains at risk. Now more than ever, we must increase the pressure on Iranian authorities to release these women immediately.
Our campaigning has helped secure the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran before. Please can help us do it again. Please watch and share our post, featuring Iranian-born actress and Amnesty Ambassador, Nazanin Boniadi who has campaigned with us since 2008 on the unjust conviction and treatment of Iranian youth, women and prisoners of conscience.
A 27 year old woman in Tunisia may be imprisoned for a Facebook joke
Emna Chargui shared a Facebook post that she found on social media of a humorous text that imitates the verses of Quran to make fun of the COVID-19 situation. The text is void of any incitement to hatred or violence. It is intended to be funny and it even includes a call for staying home and washing hands. Emna now faces up to three years in prison for this post. The Court of First Instance in Tunis charged her with inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence.
Further details of this and how to take action can be found on the Ammesty site or here.
The group is occasionally able to make contributions to other human rights organisations, and, in the last month, we have been able to donate to two refugee charities which are having a particularly difficult time under COVID-19. One of them, Care4Calais, works with refugees stranded in Calais and this is from their latest report:-
Our emphasis in the last few months at Care4Calais has been on getting the refugees through the winter, distributing warm clothing and decent footwear, as well as blankets and sleeping bags. In the last few weeks this has completely changed, of course. We have been focusing on how to deal with concerns around the Covid19 virus and now with the situation of lockdown in France.
Obviously, keeping the refugees healthy, with little in the way of washing facilities, and in close proximity, is extremely hard, and also jeopardises the charity workers. Many charities have ceased operating there. The French government wants to move the refugees to confinement centres, which would be healthier, but more coercive. Shortage of money has hindered food supplies and added to transport problems, so donations are of the utmost importance.
We have also made a contribution to Safe Passage, a charity devoted to helping unaccompanied child refugees across Europe get to a place of safety, as they are legally entitled to do.
Speculation over health of Kim Jong-Un and his Nation
The unprecedented absence of North Korea’s leader from its most important state celebration, the Day of the Sun on 15 April, has fuelled speculation as to the health of Kim Jong-Un. Suggestions from Daily NK – news supplied largely from defectors – is that the leader has recently received heart surgery. No confirmation of this has been made to date however. Another theory is that the leader is being protected from Covid-19, since Kim Jong-Un is often seen in close physical contact with people, offering handshakes and hugs, which make him vulnerable to the virus.
This secrecy surrounding his health inevitably extends to the health of the entire ‘hermit kingdom’. While thousands have been quarantined, borders closed and tourists and foreign diplomats seen off, the government still insists there are ‘no cases in the country’.
Kim is however eager to be seen as pro-active in protecting the nation from the virus. He recently chaired a public health meeting and has issued hygiene advice nationwide. Pyongyang has received test kits from Russia and from China while various items of protective equipment have been donated by UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.
The ‘great leader’ would be reluctant in any case to admit to the arrival of the virus since any weakness might invite criticism of his regime. It was fear of reporting the disease to central government that allowed it initially to spread in China but whether North Korea will learn from this lesson seems unlikely. A defector who recalls practising medicine during the SARS outbreak of 2002/03 said that not only was medical equipment seriously lacking then, but deaths were going unrecorded.
Certainly the sheer length of the border between North Korea and China, and its regular use by smugglers and traffickers, would suggest that the virus might enter relatively easily. If it did, that would be a tragedy for the 40% of North Koreans reportedly undernourished. And while new hospitals have been built under Kim’s rule, experts say they mostly benefit the elite in this two-tier nation.
This month the defector Thae Yong-Ho made history by winning a constituency seat in South Korea’s government. Once deputy ambassador to the UK, he says he is determined to work for the freedom of his compatriots who live in virtual ‘slavery’. The high price defectors pay (and there are on average 1000 per year) is the knowledge that their extended families will be detained, or worse, in one of the country’s many detention centres and labour camps.
Human rights, and the health care that these insist on, are sadly in very short supply in North Korea.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees left stranded at sea
The British media is understandably filled with the effects of the pandemic on people’s lives in the UK at present and there are many who are suffering from its effects. Being in lockdown whilst living in cramped flat with no garden is extremely difficult and distressing. Those who are in insecure employement in the gig economy are also suffering financial stress. Care home and medical staff with insufficient or no PPE are daily risking their lives. Recession is inevitable the effects of which will hurt the poorest the hardest.
While there are many in the country who are suffering these things, there are those in other countries who are suffering more. In particular the Rohingya. They suffered cruelly under the Burmese military regime and had their villages burned down and were subjected to mass rape and murder at the hands of the Burmese. Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh and live in one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
There are now reports of boatloads of refugees refused entry into Burma because the Covid-19. Amnesty has received information concerning up to five boats thought to be carrying Rohingya refugees seen off the coasts of Malaysia and southern Thailand in recent days, with hundreds of people believed to be on board the vessels. Those in the boats are likely to be fleeing persecution in Myanmar or from overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
An Amnesty press release said:
On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya people from a large boat which had been turned back by the Malaysian authorities and is believed to have been at sea for two months. According to early reports, 32 people on the boat died at sea, but the figure is now thought to be almost double that. UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – has said that the survivors are severely malnourished and dehydrated.
On 5 April, another boat carrying 202 Rohingya people was intercepted by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Its passengers were brought to safety and are now in COVID-19 quarantine. 18 April 2020
Over 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are currently living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, the bulk of whom were driven out of Myanmar by a military campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that began in August 2017. As a result of that campaign, the Myanmar government and military now face accusations of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar are subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods. 18 April 2020
The genocidal policies by the Burmese have already inflicted misery on these people. Added to that, they are now subjected to further stress and misery as a result of the pandemic.
Credible evidence of prisoners killed during Covid-19 concerns
Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned. The full story can be read on Amnesty’s site:
The situation in Iran is grave and the government has relaxed social distancing rules and travel restrictions in a move that could be disasterous. The country is reeling from the continued US sanctions.
Asking TripAdvisor to pull out of illegal settlements in Israel
We in the UK are naturally engaged and concerned with the coronavirus pandemic. The media is understandably full of news about it to the exclusion of much else. However, as we navigate this strange new reality, we must not forget about the tens of thousands of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation who find themselves at risk of the virus.
Settlements have a devastating impact on a wide range of human rights of the Palestinian people. This includes their rights to an adequate standard of living, housing and crucially in these times, to health. TripAdvisor is contributing to these human rights violations.
Amnesty is asking you to share the petition with your friends and family and help us reach 40,000 UK signatures before we hand them in to TripAdvisor later this month? In the midst of a pandemic, it is even more vital that we show solidarity with the most vulnerable communities around the world.
The ongoing occupation and oppression means that Palestinians often have little access to medical care. In Gaza, hospitals and clinics have been bombed and essential supplies are virtually non-existent. With a health system on its knees, Palestinians are at an increased risk of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, tourism giants continue to boost the illegal settlements economy which has a hugely negative impact on the health of Palestinians. Together, we can let TripAdvisor know that now is the time to de-list all accommodation, activities and attractions in the illegal settlements.
We are posting this message from Amnesty HQ concerning the pandemic crisis and human rights:
[I] hope you’re well and coping with the changes to daily life the Covid-19 crisis has brought.
It’s more important than ever that we look out for our family, friends, neighbours in these difficult times, and that we show appreciation and stand up for the rights of those most at risk during this crisis. In this email there is a solidarity action to support the workers who are keeping the country going at this time of national crisis, which we hope the whole family can get involved in. We’ve called on the government to ensure that health workers haveappropriate protective equipmentand are looking at how best to support and advocate with and for groups most affected by the crisis over the coming weeks and months.
We are concerned about the likely increase in domestic violence during this period as people are required to stay in their homes. Migrant women are at particular risk, as they are often unable to access the safety and support they need. Together with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, we have written an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for emergency support for migrant victims of domestic abuse, and there’s a template letter below on this issue that we hope you’ll be able to send to your local paper.
We are monitoring the international situation carefully – Syria recently officially confirmed its first case of the disease. In a country in which only 64% of hospitals and 52% of primary healthcare centres were fully functional at the end of last year, and with thousands in detention in appalling conditions, the impact of an outbreak there would be catastrophic. Meanwhile, in Colombia, we have called on the authorities to implement a strategy for the prevention of COVID-19 infection in its dangerously overcrowded prisons. Have a look at the website for more on how we’re responding to the crisis https://www.amnesty.org.uk/coronavirus
There are many reasons to be anxious right now, but recent weeks have also seen incredible acts of kindness and humanity in communities all over the world. Showing solidarity with those in difficult circumstances is what Amnesty has been doing since the beginning, and it’s needed now more than ever. By looking out for each other, coming together in our communities to support people most at risk, we can help each other to get through these difficult times, and continue to build a stronger movement for the future.
Action to protect and promote human rights is vital right now. Please do stay in touch with each other and continue to hold group meetings, via video call or telephone conference. Please see below for instructions on how to use Zoom for meetings. It’s a video conferencing app but you can also dial in as a phone call. If you would like to use our teleconferencing service, please let us know and we can send you the details.
We plan to send email updates every two weeks during this period – they will contain a variety of campaign or solidarity actions, links to online courses, suggestions of things to do to keep busy at home and more.