Rights activists face torture and repression, says AmnestyHuman rights activists in the Middle East and North Africa still face the prospect of persecution, torture and repression for defending others, according to a new report by Amnesty International released on Wednesday. The report entitled 'Challenging Repression' looked at 20 countries on the region and said Iran, Syria and Egypt were among those that adopted a harsh response to human rights.
"Governments should be heralding the crucial role of human rights defenders in promoting and defending universal rights," said Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa.
"Instead, too often, they brand them as subversives or trouble-makers and use oppressive means to impede their activities. People are languishing in jails across the region simply for peacefully exercising their right to expression, association or assembly."
Amnesty said unfair trials that hand down severe punishments are carried out by courts in Syria and Egypt, which cite decades-long states of emergency, while online bloggers and Egyptian Coptic Christians are also subjected to harassment.
The report said any peaceful acts or expression deemed critical of Syrian authorities can be suppressed under a decree that penalises opposition to the socialist system or state.
"These offences can be punished by sentences ranging from imprisonment with hard labour to death," said Amnesty.
In Iran vague offences such as "insult", "slander", "dissemination of false information", and "anti-state propaganda" are routinely used to silence human rights activists, the report said.
Amnesty also said Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and Bahai communities suffered discrimination "in law and practice".
"A climate of fear and repression prevails in Iran," said the report.
Rich Gulf countries were also singled-out for their arbitrary anti-terrorism laws such as the United Arab Emirates' decree law on the fight against terrorist crimes, which penalises even non-violent attempts to "disrupt public order, undermine security, expose people to danger or wreak destruction of the environment".
Bahrain and Qatar were praised by Amnesty for having established human rights organisations and committees, while Morocco was lauded for having the Arab world's first "truth commission", created to investigate four decades of human rights violations between 1956 and 1999.
However, Amnesty said Morocco continues to repress human rights defenders in the Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975, and Bahrain can use vague laws such as "encouraging hatred of the state" in order to prosecute human rights defenders.
The report attacked neighbouring Algeria for "continuing harassment and pressure from the authorities" against the human rights community, and said human rights defenders continued to face harassment in Tunisia.
Amnesty praised Israel for having outlawed the use of torture by Israeli forces in 1999 as a result of the many cases filed by Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders.............
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