By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – One-quarter of U.N. member states have carried out suspected reprisals against activists who cooperate with the world body on human rights issues, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday.
China, Egypt, Iran, and Vietnam were among states named in his annual report who rejected the allegations during a two-hour debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“Acts of serious cruelty have continuously been reported against those who dare to come to the UN or share information with us – incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and even deaths in custody,” Andrew Gilmour, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, told the Geneva forum in presenting the report.
Their family members, legal representatives, and witnesses were also being targeted, he said.
Intimidation was occurring “right under our noses”, with activists filmed or secretly recorded at U.N. events, Gilmour said, adding: “Retaliation is frequently reported against certain individuals when they return home”.
Online hate speech and cyberbullying of activists is growing, the report said.
It documented reprisal cases in 48 countries across all regions in the year through May, against 38 in the previous report.
The report came in the context of a “seriously worrying global crackdown on civic space and freedoms”, Gilmour said. Some authorities invoke national security as justification or charge critics with terrorism and other crimes, he said.
In China, activists and lawyers reported having been “targeted for attending training sessions” or engaging with U.N. human rights instruments, the report said.
“Reprisals reportedly included detention and prison sentences, ill-treatment while in detention, seizure of property and surveillance,” it said.
It cited five cases including human rights lawyer Liu Zhengqing whom the government said in January had been disbarred on the grounds that his public defence statements had endangered national security.
China’s delegation said it was a country governed by the rule of law where all citizens’ rights are protected.
“At the same time however…those who violate the law will be held accountable and prosecuted,” China’s first secretary Dai Demao told the forum.
“Cooperating with the U.N. cannot become a pretext to place someone above the law, anyone who uses human rights as a banner to fan secessionist activities, challenge the political system and undermine stability will be dealt with by the law,” he said.
The report said journalists of the BBC Persian and BBC Farsi language services had reported “patterns of harassment and threats”.
Iran said that journalists should comply with ethics codes or they might “jeopardise internal peace and national security of countries”. Iranian diplomat Javad Kazemi said BBC Persian had propagated fake and fabricated news.
Egyptian diplomat Ayman Ammar said of his country: “These persons who alleged that they are targeted by acts of reprisals had in fact perpetrated crimes punishable by law and were subjected to legal measures such as investigation, arrest or trial.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)