More than 200 civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria, an Amnesty International report says, quoting witnesses and activists.
Amnesty International accused Russia of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs on civilian areas, and said such attacks could constitute war crimes.
Moscow insists it is targeting only the positions of “terrorist” groups.
The human rights said in its report it is also researching concerns about the US-led coalition air strikes in Syria.
The US has rarely acknowledged civilian deaths in its aerial bombardment of ISIS, which began in September 2014.
Russia began air strikes in September this year, saying it was acting at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is targeting ISIS and other groups it has designated to be terrorists, some of which are backed by the West.
In the report, Amnesty said it had “researched remotely” more than 25 Russian attacks that took place in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo between September 30 and November 29.
It had interviewed “by phone or over the internet” witnesses to the attacks, and had audio and video evidence, as well as “advice from weapons experts”, Amnesty said.
It said there was evidence that Russia’s military “unlawfully used unguided bombs in densely populated areas and inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions”.
Amnesty set out its findings into six attacks – each of which, it said, caused dozens of civilian casualties, but had no obvious military target nearby.
On November 29, for example, it said at least one suspected Russian warplane fired three missiles into a busy public market in Ariha, in Idlib province.
A local activist group said a total of 49 civilians were either killed or missing and feared dead.
“It was a normal Sunday; there was nothing unusual. People were buying goods; children were eating,” the activist, Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal, told Amnesty.
“First there was a loud explosion – dirt flying in the air – followed immediately by shock. In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos.”
Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal said the armed group Jaysh al-Fateh controlled the area, but did not have any presence inside Ariha itself.
“Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther said.
Russian officials have so far made no public comments on the report’s accusations.
However, Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked on Monday if Russia was using cluster bombs, said Moscow was “conducting its operation in strict conformity with principles and norms of the international law”.
The Kremlin has previously described similar reports as attempts to discredit its operations in Syria, describing such claims as part of “information warfare”.
President Vladimir Putin said in October that reports of alleged civilian casualties had emerged before the first air strikes were even carried out.
More than 250,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.
According to an Amnesty International reports, the torture of suspects in police detention is widespread in China with implements like spiked rods and torture chairs regularly deployed to extract confessions.
The report is based on interviews with nearly 40 Chinese human rights lawyers.
Despite China’s top court banning torture in 2013 and criminal justice reforms, rights groups say the practices are still widely used.
Chinese authorities have not responded to allegations.
After similar allegations by Human Rights Watch in May, the foreign ministry said Chinese law prohibited torture during interrogation.
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The Amnesty International report describes suspects being slapped, kicked and hit with shoes or with bottles filled with water.
It also details tools of torture including “tiger chairs” in which individuals’ legs are tightly bound to a bench, with bricks gradually added under the victim’s feet, forcing the legs backwards as well as long periods of sleep deprivation and the denial of sufficient food and water.
Amnesty International said that for police, obtaining a forced confession is still considered the easiest way to secure a conviction.
The report’s author, Patrick Poon, said local officials and police “continue to pull the strings of China’s criminal justice system. Despite defense lawyers’ best efforts, many claims of torture are simply ignored”.
The Amnesty International report comes a week before China’s human rights record is set to be reviewed by the United Nations anti-torture committee in Geneva.
Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot have signed an open letter insisting Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova not be billed as members.
The letter said Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had forgotten about the “aspirations and ideals of our group”.
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova performed alongside Madonna at a concert in New York on Wednesday.
They were jailed for two years after singing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral in 2012 but were freed in December.
Known as “Masha” and “Nadia”, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spent 16 months in prison.
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova performed alongside Madonna at a concert in New York
The six members of the collective who signed the letter – Garadja, Fara, Shaiba, Cat, Seraphima and Schumacher – say they wish to remain anonymous.
They said that their group belonged to a “leftist anti-capitalist ideology” but that the pair had become “institutionalized advocates of prisoners’ rights”.
The letter read: “Unfortunately for us, they are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group – feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment.”
The remaining members of the group criticized Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova for appearing at the Amnesty International concert in New York.
“Our performances are always <<illegal>>, staged only in unpredictable locations and public places not designed for traditional entertainment,” the group said.
The group said that although Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had repeatedly stressed they were no longer members, the public announcement before their speech spoke of “the first legal performance of Pussy Riot”.
The letter did praise the former members for their new cause.
“Yes, we lost two friends, two ideological fellow member (sic), but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders – fighters for the rights of the Russian prisoners.”
However, it added: “Unfortunately, we cannot congratulate them with this in person, because they refuse to have any contact with us.”
North Korea has been urged by Amnesty International to close two political prisoner camps, where it says torture is rampant and execution commonplace.
Amnesty International has released new satellite images of the Kwanliso 15 and 16 camps.
It quotes one former official as saying that inmates are forced to dig their own graves and women disappear after “servicing” officials.
Amnesty alleges that hundreds of thousands of people are held in detention facilities in North Korea.
The organization says it has passed its latest evidence to the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights abuses in North Korea.
The rights group says it interviewed one former security official from Kwanliso 16 last month.
North Korea has been urged by Amnesty International to close two political prisoner camps
The official, referred to as Mr. Lee, said prisoners were forced to dig their own graves and were then killed with blows to the neck.
Mr. Lee said he witnessed prison officers strangling detainees and beating them to death with wooden sticks.
He added: “After a night of <<servicing>> officials, women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps.”
The new satellite images show both camps.
Kwanliso 15 covers 142 sq miles and is in central North Korea, about 45 miles from the capital Pyongyang.
Kwanliso 16, near Hwaseong in North Hamgyong province, covers approximately 556 sq km.
Amnesty said it was not able to verify prisoner populations, but said there might have been a slight increase at Kwanliso 16 and a slight decrease at Kwanliso 15.
The report’s author, Amnesty North Korea researcher Rajiv Narayan, said: “Under its new leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea is violating every conceivable human right.
“People are sent to the political prison camps without charge, let alone a trial, many of them simply for knowing someone who has fallen out of favor.”
Rajiv Narayan added: “We are calling on the North Korean authorities to acknowledge the existence of the camps, close them, and grant unhindered access to independent human rights monitors like Amnesty International.”
Edward Snowden has been holding a meeting with leading human rights groups and lawyers at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
The fugitive US intelligence leaker requested the meeting with around 10 activists in the airport transit zone.
Edward Snowden told activists he was seeking political asylum in Russia. He had earlier dropped his application when Moscow said he could stay only if he stopped leaking US secrets.
The Kremlin reiterated this condition on Friday.
“Mr. Snowden could hypothetically stay in Russia if he first, completely stops the activities harming our American partners and US-Russian relations and second, if he asks for this himself,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Edward Snowden is wanted by the US on charges of leaking secrets about US surveillance schemes.
He has sent requests for political asylum to at least 21 countries, most of which have turned down his request.
However, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have indicated they could take him in.
It is thought he is considering seeking political asylum in Russia because he cannot fly out of Moscow.
Edward Snowden has been holding a meeting with leading human rights groups and lawyers at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow
“He wants to stay here until he can fly to Latin America,” Tatyana Lokshina of Human Rights Watch is quoted as saying.
Edward Snowden, 30, is unable to leave the transit zone without asylum documents, a valid passport or a Russian visa, none of which he reportedly has.
He has reportedly been stuck in transit since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23.
On Friday, the first photo in three weeks of Edward Snowden emerged. It was taken by Tatyana Lokshina during the airport meeting.
Other activists present at the gathering included Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, prominent Moscow lawyer Genri Reznik and Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin.
A large press scrum gathered at the airport ahead of the meeting, while Interfax reported Edward Snowden had moved from his room in the airport’s Capsule Hotel to attend the meeting.
Tatyana Lokshina earlier posted the text of Edward Snowden’s invitation email on her Facebook page.
In the message, Edward Snowden complained that the US government was waging an “unlawful campaign” to prevent him from securing asylum.
“This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution,” the message read.
The email said the fugitive wanted to discuss the “next steps forward” in his situation.
It also instructed those attending to bring a copy of the invite and identification papers, as “security will likely be tight at this meeting”.
The meeting was not open to the press. Edward Snowden said he planned to address journalists at a later stage.
Edward Snowden had previously applied for Russian asylum but President Vladimir Putin said he would only be welcome if he stopped “his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners”.
Even if a country accepted Edward Snowden’s application, getting there could prove difficult.
Last week, several European countries refused to allow the jet of Bolivian president Evo Morales to cross their airspace on its way back from Moscow – apparently because of suspicions that Edward Snowden was on board.
Washington seeks to prosecute Edward Snowden over the leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents.
The leaks have led to revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.
They have also revealed that both the UK and French intelligence agencies allegedly run similarly vast data collection operations, and the US has been eavesdropping on official EU communications.
The case has strained relations between the US and China.
President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was “disappointed” that China had chosen not to hand over Edward Snowden to the US authorities when he was in Hong Kong in June.
A US government official said the decision had undermined calls for co-operation between the two countries.
But China said Hong Kong – which allowed Edward Snowden to leave for Russia – had acted in accordance with the territory’s law.
“Its approach is beyond reproach,” Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi said.
Forced evictions in China have risen significantly in recent years as local officials sell off land to property developers, Amnesty International says.
Many cases involve violence and harassment, in what the group called “a gross violation of human rights”.
Pressure on local officials to meet economic goals and vested interests were behind the coercion, it said.
These evictions are a rumbling cause of social discontent and have led to protests across the country.
All land in China is effectively controlled by the state, and laws allow local governments to claim land for urban development projects.
Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s senior director of research in Hong Kong, said that seizing and selling off land was how local authorities were paying back funds borrowed to finance stimulus packages during the economic downturn.
“The Chinese Communist Party promotes officials who deliver growth seemingly at any cost, and land development for roads, factories, residential complexes and so on is seen as the most direct path to visible results,” she said.
Amnesty said the system was open to abuse and evictees often received little notice, no consultation and only a fraction of the value of their home in compensation.
Such cases have led to violent clashes between residents and police or private security guards on several occasions, the report said.
Amnesty interviewed lawyers, housing rights activists and academics, both in China and abroad, for its 85-page report entitled Standing Their Ground.
It looked at 40 cases of forced eviction from January 2009 to January 2012, nine of which it said culminated in deaths of people who opposed their evictions.
“The forced eviction of people from their homes and farmland without appropriate legal protection and safeguards has become a routine occurrence in China, and represents a gross violation of human rights obligations on an enormous scale,” Amnesty said.
Many cases are “sudden and violent, sometimes resulting in death”, harassment and in one instance, someone being buried alive.
Nicola Duckworth said self-immolations caused by evictions were also on the rise.
“We documented 41 reports of self-immolations from 2009 to the end of 2012,” she said.
Amnesty cited the example of Wukan village in Guangdong province in 2011, where residents demonstrated on the streets after a village negotiator protesting against local officials over a land grab died in police custody.
As a result of protests, two local officials were removed from their posts and others punished in 2012. The villagers also won the right to fresh local elections as part of the deal.
But “optimism might be premature” on the Wukan case, Amnesty said.
“To this day, there has been no independent investigation into [village negotiator] Xue Jinbo’s death. The villagers still have not got any of their land back. And there are now reports that authorities have been harassing and spying on activists in Wukan.”
The group called on China to put an immediate stop to all forced evictions and ensure safeguards were put in place in line with international law.
It also urged China to implement new regulations it adopted in 2011 providing for proper land compensation and outlawing the use of violence in these cases.
China does have laws in place to protect farmers and local residents, but these are often ignored at local level. Leaders in Beijing have acknowledged the problems and pledged to improve the situation.
Premier Wen Jiabao, in his report to the National People’s Congress in March, said that problems related to land expropriation and housing demolition “are still very serious and the people are still very concerned about them”.
Further heavy fighting took place today in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo.
Activists said government forces had stormed Hajar al-Aswad, a southern suburb of Damascus, and that the situation for residents was desperate.
State media said troops had killed many of what they called “terrorists”.
Earlier, Amnesty International warned that indiscriminate air and artillery strikes were causing a dramatic rise in civilian casualties in Idlib and Hama.
The report said the plight of people in the two provinces had been under-reported because world attention had focused on Damascus and Aleppo.
Further heavy fighting took place today in Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi held talks with President Bashar al-Assad and other officials in Damascus.
Ali Akbar Salehi said a solution to the conflict, which the UN estimates has left at least 20,000 people dead, lay “only in Syria and within the Syrian family”.
Rebels have also taken full control of the Tal al-Abyad border crossing with Turkey after a lengthy battle with government forces overnight, according to Turkish officials and witnesses.
The crossing is further to the east than any of the others previously captured by rebels, and could make it easier for them to get fighters and ammunition in and out of Syria.
On Wednesday, opposition activists said the military was attacking the south-western Damascus suburbs of Muadhamiya, Jadidat Artouz and Kanakir, Qudsaya to the north-west, and the southern districts of Qaddam, Assali, Yalda and Hajar al-Aswad.
They posted videos online which they said showed helicopter gunships firing rockets on Hajar al-Aswad, as well as the bodies of some of the more than 20 people they said had been killed in the assault. The army was destroying and setting houses on fire, they added.
State media said troops had moved into Hajar al-Aswad and clashed with an “armed terrorist group” near a cemetery, eliminating “a number of its members”, and that others had been killed as streets were “cleansed”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, later said rebel fighters had announced their withdrawal from Hajar al-Aswad, Qaddam and Assali after weeks of violent clashes.
Activists also reported that the bodies of at least 20 people executed by government forces had been found in the north-eastern district of Jobar.
In Aleppo, government forces had bombarded several central areas surrounding the Old City, including Bab al-Hadid and Bab al-Nasr, and also attacked the outlying districts of Hananu and al-Bab, they added.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said more than 62 people had so far been killed across the country on Wednesday, including 30 in Damascus. It put the death toll on Tuesday at 160.
The reports of violence came as Amnesty International said indiscriminate air attacks and artillery strikes by Syrian government forces are killing, maiming, and terrorizing civilians in the Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya and north Hama regions.
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, who recently returned from northern Syria, said there was evidence that the army and air force were increasingly using battlefield weapons in residential areas where government troops had been forced out by opposition forces, with disastrous consequences for civilians.
“They are using in equal measure air-delivered, large, old, Soviet-era unguided bombs – free-fall bombs – the opposite of smart bombs,” she said.
“They are dropped over an area. There’s no way you can target them at a specific target or specific building.”
“They fall over people’s houses, over markets, in the street. Many of those who were killed and injured are children. Every day, in the field hospitals, on the ground, in the streets and in people’s homes I was seeing the disastrous consequences of these attacks on civilians.”
Amnesty’s report says the group carried out first-hand field investigations in the first half of September into attacks which killed 166 civilians, including 48 children and 20 women, in 26 towns and villages.
In a separate development, a Syrian general who defected to the opposition told the Times newspaper that the president had discussed using chemical weapons in the conflict, and even whether they should be transferred to the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.
“We discussed this as a last resort – such as if the regime lost control of an important area such as Aleppo,” General Adnan Sillu said.
Greek police has announced that more than 1,600 illegal immigrants will be deported following a major crackdown in Athens in recent days.
More than 6,000 people have been detained, though most were released.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias defended the crackdown. He said Greece’s economic plight meant it could not afford an “invasion of immigrants”.
He called the immigration issue a “bomb at the foundations of the society and of the state”.
“Unless we create the proper structure to handle immigration, then we will fall apart,” he said.
Greek police has announced that more than 1,600 illegal immigrants will be deported following a major crackdown in Athens in recent days
Some 88 illegal immigrants were sent back to Pakistan on Sunday.
The Greek authorities have increased the number of guards at the border with Turkey amid fears there may be a sudden influx of refugees entering Greek territory as the situation in Syria deteriorates.
More than 80% of migrants entering the European Union do so through Greece, which is in the grip of its worst recession in decades.
Some Greek politicians have called for the government to adopt a harder line on illegal immigration.
In the recent election, the far-right Golden Dawn party won enough votes to enter parliament.
Last week the party distributed free food to needy people outside the Greek parliament – but only if they proved they were Greek citizens and submitted important personal information including their blood type, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.
Greece has frequently come under criticism for its handling of immigrants. Amnesty International accused it of treating asylum seekers like criminals and holding them in detention centres.
Greece has frequently called on other European nations to do more to help tackle illegal migration into the EU, arguing that it bears a disproportionate burden.
Moldovan parliament voted to make chemical castration mandatory for those convicted of violently abusing children under 15.
The new law states that both Moldovans and foreigners convicted of violent paedophile offences will be chemically castrated.
Rapists will also face castration, to be decided on a case by case basis.
Many Moldovans believe their country has become a destination for international sex tourists, AP reports.
Five of the nine people convicted for child sex offences in Moldova in the past two years have been foreigners, the agency says.
The Liberal Party MP who steered the bill through parliament, Valeriu Munteanu, said there had been 15 cases in recent years of violent paedophiles reoffending in Moldova.
Moldovan parliament voted to make chemical castration mandatory for those convicted of violently abusing children under 15
Chemical castration involves a man taking hormones which suppress the production of testosterone for three months, leading to a decreased sex drive.
Some MPs in Moldova’s parliament questioned the efficacy of chemical castration, pointing out that it is reversible – and calling for alternative methods to be considered, according to Moldovan newspaper Timpul.
Amnesty International Moldova has condemned the decision, saying it undermines the basic right to physical and mental integrity.
Executive Director Cristina Pereteatcu said chemical castration was “incompatible with human rights, which are the foundation of any civilized democratic society”.
Poland introduced mandatory chemical castration for some sex offenders in 2009, and Russia has recently introduced similar legislation.
Both Germany and the Czech Republic have been criticized by Europe’s top human rights body for using voluntary surgical castration to treat sex offenders.
Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari has been deported by Malaysian authorities over the accusations of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a tweet.
Police confirmed that Hamza Kashgari, 23, was sent back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday despite protests from human rights groups.
Hamza Kashgari’s controversial tweet last week sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats.
Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari has been deported by Malaysian authorities over the accusations of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a tweet
Hamza Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia last week and was detained upon his arrival in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
The journalist had tweeted his doubts about Muhammad on the prophet’s birthday last week. Saudi clerics condemned his remarks as blasphemous.
Hamza Kashgari apologized and deleted the tweet, but when he continued to receive threats, he left for Malaysia.
The two countries do not have a formal extradition treaty but as fellow Muslim countries Malaysia has good relations with Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia’s home ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying Hamza Kashgari would be sent back, the AFP news agency reports.
“Malaysia has a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other, and (Kashgari) will be repatriated under this arrangement,” AFP quotes the statement as saying.
Amnesty International has warned that Hamza Kashgari could be executed in Saudi Arabia if he is found guilty of apostasy.
“If the Malaysian authorities hand over Hamza Kashgari to Saudi Arabia, they could end up complicit in any violations he suffers,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty’s Middle East division.