Friday, July 12, 2019


Thousands of demonstrators have been taking to the streets of Georgia’s capital starting from 20th of June, protesting against the Russian influence in the State. These have been the largest demonstrations experienced by Georgians in 7 years. People rushed out on the streets and in front of the Parliament, shouting “Russia is an occupier” and burning photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and arresting 300 people. More than 240 people were injured. As predictable, the violence has made relations between the two countries worse. 
In particular, three are the reasons why the protests sparked

1) To demand that Russia removes its forces from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

2) To call for the Georgian Interior Minister, Giorgi Gakharia, to resign, since he allowed the Russian lawmaker Sergey Gavrilov, a member of the Russian Communist Party, to take part in the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO). Gavrilov addressed delegates in Russia, angering politicians and Georgians who are opposed to Moscow's presence in the country. 

3) To protest against Putin’s decision to cancel all flights from Russia to Georgia starting from July 8. The strategy is simple: hitting Georgia’s booming tourist industry and to “ensure the national security of the Russian Federation and to protect its citizens from criminal and other illegal actions.” That same day, the Russian trading standards body, Rospotrebnadzor, said in a statement it was introducing tighter checks on wine imports from Georgia (which is 70% of Georgian exports). To further justify its actions, Russia has denounced an attack on Vladimir Putin by a Georgian TV host, Giorgi Gabunia, who insulted Putin and his dead mother on live television. 

An overview of Russian-Georgian relationship: Georgia, which is a US ally, fought and lost a short war against Moscow in 2008. The tension started when the Georgian president at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, sent troops to regain control over South Ossetia, ruled by a separatists group backed by Russia. The former Soviet Union responded by moving tanks and soldiers through South Ossetia and advancing farther into Georgian territory. When the fighting ended, Russia's military pulled back only as far as South Ossetia, which it sees as an independent state. Moreover, Georgia has ambitions to join the European Union and Nato, making Russia uncomfortable with the idea that its immediate neighbors are turning to its enemies and trying to be more independent from Russian influence. Since 2012, the government has been trying to restore relations with Putin, but, according to a 2018 survey by the Center for Insights in Survey Research, 85% of Georgians consider Russia a “political threat.” 

Giulia Mizzon


Monday, April 1, 2019


The new law against the LGBTQ community: The small and oil-rich kingdom of Brunei, a British colony until 1984 with a population of just 450,000 people, is rarely discussed in the news. Unfortunately, the country located on the island of Borneo is now at the center of a human rights crisis. The first week of April 2019, a law that will punish homosexual relations, adultery, sodomy and rape with death by stoning will be implemented and the punishment is said to be ''witnessed by a group of Muslims". The new penal code was announced in May 2014 by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as the country's prime minister. In announcing the change, government's website quoted the Sultan saying that his kingdom ''does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them''. The Sultan, who is one of the world’s richest leaders with a personal wealth of about $20bn and has held the throne since 1967, described the implementation of the new penal code as ''a great achievement'', as a form of ''special guidance'' from God and as ''part of the great history'' of Brunei. 

Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)

The reaction of the international community: There has been no vocal opposition to the law in Brunei, where public criticism of state’s policies is extremely rare. However, the news sparked horror and shock all over the world. ''Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations. The international community must urgently condemn Brunei's move to put these cruel penalties into practice.'' This is the statement by Rachel Choa-Howard, Brunei Researcher at Amnesty International, who continued: ''as well as imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it [the law] blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls.'' She added that some of the potential offences ''should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender''. The Human Rights Campaign Global Director, Ty Cobb, stated from the US that "we are facing a dangerous crisis as Brunei is close to implementing laws that impose state-sponsored torture and murder of LGBTQ people,'' and that ''it's absolutely crucial that the international community speaks out now and demand that the Sultan of Brunei stops these barbaric changes that threaten the lives of Brunei citizens. The Trump-Pence Administration must also immediately make clear that these outrageous human rights abuses will not be tolerated''. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Brunei will become the only country in Southeast Asia to punish gay sex with death if it pushes through with the law. He warned that implementation of the law ''will quickly drive the country towards human rights pariah status in the eyes of foreign investors, tourists, and international agencies''. Dede Oetomo, one of Indonesia's most prominent LGBTQ activists, stated: ''it is horrible. Brunei is imitating the most conservative Arab states''. The UK’s international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said: ''no one should face the death penalty because of who they love. Brunei’s decision is barbaric and the UK stands with the LGBT community and those who defend their rights. LGBT rights are human rights''.

Homosexuality has been illegal in Brunei since British colonial rule, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, and the country has had the death penalty on the books since it was a British protectorate, but in practice executions are not typically carried out. The new laws also introduce amputation of hands or feet as a punishment for robbery. Alcohol is already banned, as are showy Christmas celebrations, and there are fines and jail sentences for having children out of wedlock and failing to pray on a Friday. Moreover, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offences, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane. 

Giulia Mizzon 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019


The news that the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoundeh was convicted on 12th March to 33 years in prison (38 if we count a previous sentence) and to 148 lashes shocked the entire world. Nasrin was accused of representing several women who took their hijabs off during a protest against the obligation of wearing it. By doing that, she also took a stand against the application of an additional note to Article 48 of the Criminal Code, which denies the right to appoint a trusted lawyer to defendants of certain crimes, including those against national security. Therefore, the judge accused her of "collusion against national security", "propaganda against the state", "incitement to corruption and prostitution" and "appearing in public without hijab". The news of her sentence was first released on Facebook by her husband Reza Khandan, after receiving a phone call from jail.

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Fig. 1 - Nasrin Sotoudeh (source: BBC)
Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most well-know lawyer in Iran. She has focused her entire career on the protection of human rights and she has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. Sotoudeh was arrested the first time in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, where she currently is. In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison, and barred her from working again as a lawyer and from getting out of the country for 20 years. Later that year, an appeals court reduced her sentence to six years, and her practice ban to ten. She protested against her unfair conviction and treatment in prison with several hunger strikes, especially when denied visits and phone calls from her family. 

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Fig.2 - A quote by Nasrin Sotoudeh (source:

The response to her sentence from the international community was immediate: the Center for Human Rights in Iran and the UN condemned her sentence and Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty said: “Jailing a human rights defender for her peaceful activities is abhorrent".

This was the hardest condemnation inflicted in recent years against human rights defenders in Iran, confirming that the authorities, encouraged by the complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for human rights violations, are exacerbating the repression and Iran's reputation as oppressor of women's rights.

Giulia Mizzon

To sign the petition to free Nasrin, visit Amnesty's website


Thursday, March 7, 2019


Fig.1 - People demonstrating in the streets of Venezuela

What is currently happening in Venezuela is far from only being a political crisis. The widespread human rights violations are forcing 3 million people to flee and seek asylum in other countries, in what it is referred to be the biggest refugee crisis in the history of Latin America. 

How did the country reach this point? In 2013, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won the elections amid reports of corruption and unfair counting of votes. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests calling for the removal of the President at first, and then accusing him of being responsible for the economic crisis. As a matter of fact, shortly after Maduro came to power, the price of oil dropped, and because 98% of Venezuela's export earnings come from oil, the state of the country declined rapidly. The government also started printing more money, regularly increasing the minimum wage, and implementing price controls on several products. Maduro did not take responsibility for the damages, and blamed the United States and other countries for starting an “economic war” against Venezuela. 

In May 2018, the opposition contested the results of the elections for the second mandate of President Maduro and in January 2019, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself president ad-interim, as ruled by the Constitution in case the elections are proved to be rigged. Despite the recognition by the European Union, the United States, and most Latin American countries of Mr Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country, Maduro is still refusing to step down. 

While the political crisis sparked in 2013, much of the current unrest in Venezuela can be traced back to March 2017, when the Supreme Court of Justice - backed by the government - moved to take over the National Assembly, where the opposition held a majority. This triggered mass protests from April to July that were repressed by the Maduro administration through often-violent crackdowns and jailing opponents. Violence has not stopped since. 

Fig.2 - Juan Guaidó, self-proclaimed president of Venezuela (Source:

The chaos in Venezuela caused a shortage of medicines, food and water, and a generalized unsafe environment for the political opponents who are facing the risk of being jailed. Getting arrested in Venezuela often means being subjected to serious abuses that in some cases amount to torture—including severe beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation, and sexual abuse. Children and teenagers have been reportedly arrested as well, and jailed protesters have been said to have frequently been tried in military courts, which is against international law. Extra judicially killings are also worrying the international community. 

Nicolás Maduro continues to deny that the country is experiencing a human rights crisis. Therefore, he has not accepted the international humanitarian assistance that has been repeatedly offered. In some cases, convoys of trucks carrying food aid and medical supplies set off from border towns in Colombia and Brazil were attacked and burnt, and a ship carrying 250 tons of humanitarian aid from Puerto Rico was forced to turn back when the Venezuelan Navy threatened to open fire. As a result of the violence, none of the shipments has made it past Venezuelan border blockades so far. 

The impunity for the abuses and the violations of human rights above has been common since former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz was fired in August 2017. In early February 2019, the Lima Group, a coalition of several Latin American countries and Canada, called for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid and for international governments to refrain from doing business with the nation “in oil, gold and other assets.” Moreover, on 26 September 2018, six countries (Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru) referred Venezuela to the International Criminal Court. It is not clear how and when the humanitarian crisis will end, but what is certain is that the people are in need of assistance and justice. 

Giulia Mizzon

Sources and insights:

Monday, February 4, 2019


What happened: On Monday 28 January 2019, China’s second Intermediate People's Court in the city of Tianjin sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, 42, to four and a half years in prison for state subversion. It also deprived him of political rights for five years and of his legal license. Wang had defended opposition’s political campaigners, victims of land seizures and police torture, and followers of the banned spiritual Falun Gong movement (a group following traditional medical and self-cultivation practices developed in the early 1950s by members of the Chinese medical establishment). He worked for the now-shuttered Fengrui law firm in Beijing that was well known for its advocacy work.

Wang’s legal journey: Wang was charged with subverting state power in January 2016. He then spent nearly three years in detention without access to his family or lawyers. The trial was conducted in late 2018 behind closed doors with journalists and foreign diplomats barred from entering the courthouse. On 26 December 2018 the hearing ended and the verdict was announced 3 weeks later. Wang’s sentencing was lighter than expected for a charge that carries a maximum punishment of life in prison, and there is hope that his pre-trial detention would contribute to his sentence, which means he could be released as early as 2020. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, together with several NGOs and groups of activists, stated that Wang's detention is arbitrary, meaning that under international law he should never have faced a trial in the first place. 

Wang’s wife fight: Wang's wife, Li Wenzu, was banned from attending the trial and confined to her home in Beijing. She supported him through it all: she shaved her head in protest against her husband’s detention and tried to lodge a petition criticizing Wang's treatment with a Beijing court. In April 2018, Li Wenzu attempted to march 100 kilometres to the facility where her husband was being held to raise awareness but was stopped by the police before she arrived. She was forcibly returned to Beijing and placed under temporary house arrest with her five-year-old son. 

The "709" crackdown: China's crackdown on lawyers, known as the "709" crackdown because it began on 9 July 2015, has been seen by activists as a sign of a growing intolerance of dissents under President Xi Jinping. Wang Quanzhang was the last lawyer awaiting a verdict in connection with the Chinese government’s mass crackdown, which targeted nearly 250 human rights lawyers and activists. Trials for rights activists in China often prolong over years while the accused are held under harsh conditions, torture, and they are often denied the right to hire their own legal representation and receive visits from family members. 

Giulia Mizzon

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


The reports of the activists: On 14 January, the Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental LGBT rights organization working for the social acceptance and protection of the LGBT people in Russia, stated that there has been a new crackdown against gay people in Chechnya. Their statement has been reported by several major news broadcasters and newspapers, including the CNN, BBC and The Guardian. The Russian LGBT Network believes that about 40 people have been imprisoned since December 2018 – and that two of them died under torture. Activists affirmed that the people arrested are currently detained in a semi-legal facility near Argun - a town 20km from the city of Grozny. The government spokesman has dismissed their latest report as "complete lies". 

Fig. 1: The LGBT flag

A history of discrimination started in 2013: If confirmed, these events will follow another report about brutal attacks on gay men and women in Chechnya in 2017, when hundreds of men were allegedly held and tortured in detention. The suspicions about the government and its violence led to international outrage and sanctions against the region’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who denied issuing an order for the crackdown. In late 2017, Kadyrov was targeted by the US Magnitsky Act for supporting “extrajudicial killings” and an “anti-gay purge”. The Act, also known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, authorizes the US government to sanction human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and ban them from entering the American soil. 
The violations in Russia throughout the years are said to have been sparked by a "gay propaganda" measure signed by President Putin in 2013 into federal law. Human Rights Watch said it had "a deeply damaging effect on LGBT children" and "contributed to an intensification of stigma, harassment, and violence against LGBT people in Russia." The discriminations following Putin’s signature led the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to publish, in December 2018, a report documenting wide scale rights violations in Chechnya. Condemning the extrajudicial arrests, torture and killing of LGBT+ people, the report is now opening up the possibility of future prosecutions in the International Criminal Court. 

Giulia Mizzon 


· The Russian LGBT Network is the front line of efforts to protect at-risk Chechens. The group provides psychological support and organises evacuation to safer Russian regions and abroad. 

· Read this article if you are interested and want to know more. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Looking for freedom in Asia

The story: Saudi Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18 years old, was on vacation in Kuwait with her family. Without her parents knowing, she took a plane and tried to flee to Australia. She had renounced Islam, and she was afraid of her family, of her country, and for her life. As soon as she arrived to the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, to take a connection flight, she was held by Saudi embassy officials and had her passport confiscated. She asked for the protection of Thai immigration officials, which escorted her to a transit hotel. She then barricaded herself inside and posted several pictures saying she was seeking refugee status from any country that would protect her from getting harmed or killed due to leaving her religion. Her Twitter account attracted more than 50,000 followers in less than 48 hours and her story grabbed the attention of foreign governments as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which eventually granted her the refugee status. Al-Qunun's case reached the international community thank to a global social media campaign started by her supporters and human rights activists (using the hashtag #saverahaf), who are trying to urge the authorities in Thailand not to deport the teen back. The incident happens as Saudi Arabia faces scrutiny over the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Saudi Arabia and women’s rights: In Saudi Arabia, apostasy laws make it illegal for a Muslim to change his or her religion or to renounce Islam. The country adheres to strict interpretations of Sunni Islam, and has a long history of preventing women from taking on a larger role in society. Male guardians have the power to decide whether they can marry and get divorce, travel or get a job. Moreover, Saudi women who flee their families can face serious harm from relatives, especially if returned against their will. However, there has been encouraging news from Saudi Arabia in the past year, which leaves room for hope. In June 2018, Saudi Arabia issued driving licences to women for the first time in decades, just weeks before a ban on female drivers was lifted. On Sunday 6 January 2019, Saudi courts were enabled by the government to notify women by text message when they get divorced, in a new regulation aiming at ending the many cases of men secretly ending marriages without informing their wives.

Giulia Mizzon