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The ruling government of Democratic Republic of Congo(DRM) grants amnesty to 110 prisoners

The Justice Minister signed the order pardoning prisoners who were guilty of insurrection, acts of war and political offences against the ruling government

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FILE - Edem Kodjo, center, a former chairman of the Organization of African Unity, sits with diplomats during the opening of a Congolese political dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, Sept. 1, 2016. Source: VOA
  • On Friday, September 9, Democratic Republic of Congo’s government released 110 prisoners as a demand for opposition party’s condition to continue further dialogues
  • Edem Kodjo, African Union’s facilitator for the political dialogues between the two parties, welcomes this move
  • According to Human Rights Watch, it is not clear whether the 110 prisoners amnestied, will include long-time political prisoners or leaders of political party

KINSHASA(DR Congo), September 9, 2016: The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government on Friday announced the release of another wave of prisoners in response to demands from opposition parties as a precondition to their involvement in a political dialogue in Kinshasa.

Last week, the government responded by releasing eight pro-democracy activists and another 170 prisoners held for various offenses.

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On Friday, the justice minister signed a ministerial order for the release of 110 prisoners found guilty, according to the order, of ‘insurrection, acts of war and political offences’.

The news was welcomed Friday by Edem Kodjo, the African Union appointed facilitator of the DRC’s political dialogue that started this week.

He told media: ” A short while ago I received from the justice minister an order amnestying 110 political prisoners who were already concerned by the amnesty law of 2014. 110 are being released this evening or tomorrow. So we are making progress.”

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Kodjo said he and others had been lobbying for the release of a number of prisoners whose names has been given to him by a group of opposition parties known as the G7.

Human Rights Watch said last week that it had documented at least 20 long-term political prisoners who remained in detention in DRC, including leaders of political parties. It was not clear whether any were among the 110 listed for release.

Samy Badibanga, an opposition politician taking part in the dialogue, welcomed the latest releases as proof that the dialogue was achieving results. Each of these measures was positive, he said, adding that he hoped there would be more such measures in the future.

During a dialogue debate Friday, the ruling coalition, and opposition maintained opposing positions on the order of upcoming elections. The opposition wants presidential elections to be held first, while the ruling coalition wants local elections held first. (VOA)

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Nearly 150 Bangladeshis Victims of Forced Disappearances at the Hands of Police since 2016

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Bangladeshis Victims
Police escort government critic Farhad Mazhar (center) who was found about 18 hours after he was reported missing, July 4, 2017. Benar News
  • At least 90 people were victims of secret detentions in 2016 and another 48 were reported in the first five months of 2017, according to Human Rights Watch
  • Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal refuted the report’s findings
  • The report calls for the government to investigate allegations of deaths in “so-called crossfire or gunfights after they were already in security force custody”

Dhaka, July 9, 2017: Nearly 150 Bangladeshis were victims of forced disappearances at the hands of police since the start of 2016, Human Rights Watch alleged in a new report published on Thursday, adding that some were tortured or mistreated while in secret custody.

The New York-based rights watchdog said it had documented at least 320 such cases in Bangladesh since 2009 when the Awami League took power amid a promise of adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward human rights violations.

“The disappearances are well-documented and reported, yet the government persists in this abhorrent practice with no regard for the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia Director Brad Adams said in a news release accompanying the 82-page report, titled “‘We Don’t Have Him’: Secret Detentions and Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh.”

At least 90 people were victims of secret detentions in 2016 and another 48 were reported in the first five months of 2017, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Bangladesh security forces appear to have a free hand in detaining people, deciding on their guilt or innocence, and determining their punishment, including whether they have the right to be alive,” Adams said.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal refuted the report’s findings.

“The HRW operated a negative campaign (against us) during the trials of war criminals. This new report is a part of that campaign,” he told reporters on Thursday.

HRW released its reports a few days after a prominent government critic, who was said to be missing following reports that he had been abducted, was found alive hours later. Police said they located Farhad Mazhar about 200 km (120 miles) from his home in Dhaka, about 18 hours after he was reported missing.

‘Police don’t violate the law’

In documenting cases of forced disappearance, HRW said it based its report on interviews with more than 100 people, including victims’ relatives and witnesses. The watchdog blamed the Bangladeshi police’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and detective branch (DB) for many of the abductions.

Police officials who spoke to BenarNews challenged the complaints against RAB and DB.

“Sometimes criminals use our name for kidnapping people. If someone identifies himself as law enforcement agency personnel, it should be challenged and the victim should contact us immediately,” said Mufti Mahmud Khan, the director of RAB’s legal and media wing.

“As a law enforcement agency, police don’t violate the law,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masdur Rahman said.

Not all abductees have been freed, according to the report. Many are still in custody while others have died in secret detention, with as many as 50 being killed over the years, HRW said.

“[T]here is an alarming trend of deaths occurring in secret detention of state authorities. In one such case, on June 13, 2016, Shahid Al Mahmud, a student activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was ‘dragged outside [his house] and taken into a black microbus,’ his father, Rajab Ali, told Human Rights Watch. Rajab Ali said that police officers were present during the arrest, although they later denied they were holding his son,” HRW said.

“Two weeks later, on July 1, police said they found Shahid’s body after a gunfight with criminals. Shahid’s father told Human Rights Watch that the police are lying: ‘The police abducted my son and staged a gunfight drama to justify the killing.’”

A senior lawyer at Supreme told BenarNews that he had not read the report but was familiar with its allegations.

“The volume of missing, disappearances, murders and kidnappings we are hearing about is alarming. In order to bring the confidence back to the law enforcement agencies, each of these cases should be investigated, because the law enforcement agencies are directly being accused for these crimes,” Shahdeen Malik said.

Recommendations

A key recommendation from the report is to invite the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other relevant organizations, to visit Bangladesh to “investigate and make appropriate recommendations to ensure justice and accountability.”

The report calls for the government to investigate allegations of deaths in “so-called crossfire or gunfights after they were already in security force custody,” and to comply with the law that all detained people must appear in court within 24 hours.

HRW also recommends that the government promptly investigate existing allegations of enforced disappearances, locate and release those held by security forces and prosecute the perpetrators.

Home Minister Khan said police have always presented suspects before a judge within 24 hours of their arrests. “There are examples of taking law enforcement agency personnel to justice if found involved in crime,” he said, responding to HRW’s recommendations.

But a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission said each complaint should be investigated.

“Ensuring citizens’ security is the main responsibility of the state,” Mizanur Rahman told BenarNews. “Citizens lose their confidence in law enforcement agencies if they don’t get any information about a missing person after filing a case.” (Benar News)

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Turning Point for Human Rights? Passing of Cuban PM Fidel Castro can be the Beginning of Hope for People who Suffered under him, feel Cuban Americans

The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible

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People place candles beside a picture of Fidel Castro, as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 26, 2016. VOA

Nov 27, 2016: Six decades after declaring history would absolve him, Fidel Castro’s life has ended and his troubled human rights legacy can be considered.

Cuban-Americans took to the streets of Little Havana on Saturday, saying the passing of one man could be the beginning of hope for the many who had suffered under him.

“A bad dictator that had Cuba under oppression and repression for almost six decades is no longer with us, and that will give an opportunity to the Cuban people to start the journey to freedom and democracy,” Cuban-American Jose Sanchez told VOA as he celebrated with hundreds of other Cuban-Americans in Miami.

The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible. Click To Tweet

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Under Castro’s rule, three generations of Cuban people lacked nearly all basic civil and political freedoms, including the rights to expression, assembly and association. The communist government routinely detained journalists and dissenters while denying independent human rights monitoring organizations access inside the country.

“This is a man who is deeply admired in the rest of the region for standing up to the United States,” said Eduardo Gamarra, professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University. “But at the same time, and it’s very important to remember, he also presided over a tyrannical regime, a regime that was responsible for the deaths by firing squad of hundreds of people and somebody who jailed people for their political views.”

FILE - U.S. and Cuban flags hang on a wall at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015. VOA
FILE – U.S. and Cuban flags hang on a wall at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015. VOA

U.S.-Cuba relations

Even the restoration of relations with the United States, starting in December 2014, didn’t loosen limitations on freedoms.

According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, internet access in Cuba was still severely limited despite the opening of 35 Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide, and the government continued to control nearly all media outlets. The number of jailed dissidents remained consistent at between 8,000 and 9,000 prisoners each year.

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Now it will be up to Raul Castro, who had gradually taken over control of the communist island nation starting in 2006, to decide whether his brother’s death marks the end of an era.

“The symbol is dead,” Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, professor of public affairs and security studies at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said of Castro’s death.

Cabrera said Raul Castro’s control over the country had already opened the door for normalization of relations with the United States, and with the death of Fidel marking the end of an era, even more opportunities could arise.

“He needs to change his approach and allow the country to be more open,” Cabrera said.

FILE - Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, an opposition group, is detained by Cuban security personnel after a weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, Sept. 13, 2015. VOA
FILE – Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, an opposition group, is detained by Cuban security personnel after a weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, Sept. 13, 2015. VOA

Human rights

Human rights concerns have long shaped U.S. relations with Cuba, playing an often crucial role in presidential politics. In the hours after Castro’s death, many U.S. lawmakers took to Twitter to recall Castro’s legacy and express the hope his passing would begin a new chapter for the country.

“While some may wish to paint a rosy picture of communism and this dictator’s leadership, any account that ignores his bloody atrocities and human rights abuses, economic persecution and support for terrorism abroad does no justice to the survivors and victims of his legacy,” U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on foreign affairs, said in a statement released Saturday.

Even as the aging leader slipped from public view, the memory of his rule remained alive in the minds of the generations he marked — a psychological toll that could have very real consequences as the nation moves forward.

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“We knew that as long as the dictator who founded the Cuban revolution was alive and in Cuba, change would be very difficult. But now this represents an opportunity — especially for those freedom fighters in Cuba, the opposition leaders who have been risking their lives, their security, their well-being, for years to fight for a better country. Now they’re going to be stronger,” U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida told VOA.

But change in the wake of Castro’s death could come at a steep cost, exacted by the communist government still in place.

“The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible, and while dissidents still have the potential to create the kind of unrest that might unsettle a Cuban leadership, they’ll continue to repress,” said Brian Fonseca, director at Florida International University’s Public Policy Institute.

FILE - A young woman walks near graffiti that reads "Freedom" in Havana, Feb. 21, 2016. VOA
FILE – A young woman walks near graffiti that reads “Freedom” in Havana, Feb. 21, 2016. VOA

Create ‘fissures’

“If the social fissures sort of begin to manifest because of changes in the emotional temper of the Cuban people, and if that does occur, given that preservation of power is most critical to the Cuban political elite, then I think you may find political repression going up, at least in the short term,” Fonseca said.

Back in the streets of Little Havana, many realized the end of the era of Castro is in many ways just the beginning.

“We’re here honoring all our grandparents and that entire generation that wasn’t here to experience it today, but for them we’re here, and hopefully this is the beginning of freedom for Cuba,” said Lissette Calderon, a Cuban-American woman who has never set foot on the island but brought her children out to witness the historic moment.

“The people of Cuba do not have free elections; there’s no democracy. I think those of us aren’t going to rest until we see freedom for the people of Cuba,” Calderon said. (VOA)

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124 Prisoners in Trinidad could have gone to Both Catholic and Hindu Pilgrimages

The event was intended as a pilgrimage for the prisoners to walk through The Mercy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

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A Hindu Ritual, Kartik in Chaguaramas , Photo Courtesy Dr Kumar Mahabir

– by Kumar Mahabir 

Nov 15, 2016: It was reported in the mainstream media on Sunday that 124 inmates from seven prisons in Trinidad attended a Roman Catholic church service in Port of Spain.

The event was intended as a pilgrimage for the prisoners to walk through The Mercy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Were the inmates exclusively Catholics? If so, why the preference for Catholic prisoners to be let out of prison?

On that same Sunday, as well as the next day, Hindus were also engaged in a pilgrimage to the sea in observance of Kartik. During this ceremony, devotees worship mainly Ganga Ma who is believed to preside over sanctified, clean rivers and oceans. Bathing, or merely touching the holy water, symbolises the removal of sins and the purification of the body and soul.

Kartik in Chaguaramas, Photo by Dr Kumar Mahavir
Kartik in Chaguaramas, Photo by Dr Kumar Mahavir

The prisoners could have also been taken to this pilgrimage but isolated from the mass of devotees for security and other reasons. This multi-faith event would have required a religious paradigm shift that would have been historic as well as liberating. But would the Commissioner of Prisons and the Minister of National Security have granted permission?

The response is embedded in the question: What is the relationship between the State and Religion, particularly non-Christian faiths. Clearly, the State is partial to Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism.

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Discrimination against non-Christian religions by the State is exhibited every year. At the ceremonial opening of each law term, services are held in the Holy Trinity Cathedral rather than rotated in a mandir or mosque.

Kartik in Chaguaramas, Photo by Dr Kumar Mahabir
Kartik in Chaguaramas, Photo by Dr Kumar Mahabir

The Prison Service has set a precedence by allowing inmates to attend mass at the Cathedral in Port of Spain.

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Now Hindus and Muslim priests can demand that prisoners be released to attend religious services in their respective places of worship. Imams, for example, can demand that inmates be taken to perform itikaaf in a mosque during Ramadan.  Itikaafis a form of meditation intended to beg for forgiveness from Allah.

(Dr. Kumar Mahabir is the chairman of Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre in Trinidad and Tobago)