Press review - The world in brief: 19 December 2017

NEWS RELEASES – The International Center for Peace and Human Rights’ (CIPADH) press review aims to provide a brief overview of current affairs pertaining to human rights. This week, we cast an eye on three events: Saturday’s execution of ten people charged with drug related crimes in China, the rejection of an El Salvadorian woman’s appeal on her 30 year long prison sentence for a miscarriage, and the Tanzanian government’s decisions to arrest pregnant schoolgirls and to pardon two convicted child rapists.


Simple Globe - source: Wikimedia Commons

Executions in China

On Saturday 16th of December, ten people were sentenced to death for drug crimes in southern Guangdong (China), according to South China Morning Post. The court decision was handed down in a public trial held at a Lufeng stadium, where thousands of locals attended. The region is known to be a big spot for crystal meth production and exportation, and is a focus of the government’s war on drugs campaign. The Saturday events represent the second sentencing of the year, after eight other people were executed six months ago for similar charges. The article reminds the reader that China’s death penalty is believed to be the highest in the world, as Amnesty International puts the number (official rates are unknown to the public) to thousands every year. The Guardian added that the ten convicted individuals were executed right after the sentencing in a remote location, seven for drug related crimes and the remaining three for counts of murder or robbery. Local residents were supposedly invited to the event through an official notice on social media. Furthermore, the author claimed the country’s justice system famously favors prosecutors - leading to China’s 99,9 % conviction rate-, and compared this week’s events with the public open-air denunciations of capitalists and landowners in the early days of the People’s Republic.      

El Salvador: 30-year jail sentence in stillbirth case

Costa Rica News disclosed on Monday 18th of December the recent developments in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, an El Salvadorian woman accused in 2007 of inducing an abortion,  who was charged with aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. She later appealed the court decision and attempted to prove she had been victim of a miscarriage, but the decision to uphold her sentence was announced this week. Alijazeera discussed the strict pro-life laws in El Salvador, where abortion under any circumstances - including in the case of rape or if the woman’s health is at risk-, has been illegal since 1998. The journal revealed that between 2000 and 2014, 147 cases of women charged under these laws have been reported. Following the news of Vasquez’s rejected appeal, human rights groups have called the court’s decision an “outrageous step backwards for justice”, and Human Rights Watch has claimed the anti-abortion laws pose serious threats to women’s lives and health. Finally, The Guardian mentioned the “Las 17” online campaign, launched in 2014 by a coalition of NGOs demanding the release of women charged for facing obstetric problems. Three women have already been released, and the group declared they will continue to file cases and protest the court until all women are set free. Hope rose earlier this year as a result of the introduction of a parliamentary bill to allow abortion in cases of rape, human trafficking, when the foetus is deformed, or to protect the mother’s health.       

Tanzania: arrest of pregnant schoolgirls and pardon of child rapists

On Wednesday 13th of December, regional authorities of Mwanza (Tanzania) issued orders to arrest all local pregnant teenagers, a decision that was said to be motivated by the desire to discourage other young girls to engage in sexual activity, reports Buzz Nigeria, a social news and media outlet.  Educational officers in the region have claimed that the pregnancies hinder young girls’ performance in school, as in 2017 alone, 33 students dropped out, and 55’000 pregnant girls were expelled over the last decade. In June, Tanzanian president John Maguli had upheld a 2002 law banning girls from returning to school after giving birth, and had called for the fathers to be imprisoned for 30 years. In parallel to these events, Africa News informs us that Maguli ordered the immediate release of 1’828 prisoners and the reduction of 6’329 other sentences, to celebrate the country’s 56th independence anniversary. Among the pardoned prisoners were Nguza Viking and his son Johnson Nguza, condemned for child rape, and we are told their newfound freedom was met with “mixed reactions”. On the one hand, some Tanzanians gladly welcomed back Nguza, a popular African singer, and on the other, activists from all over the world were outraged with this decision. Indeed, The Guardian covered this story by focusing on the subsequent backlash, quoting Kate McAlpine, director of the Community for Children Rights, who argued that the president seems to have a “punitive attitude towards young children” in light of the concurrence of these two developments. Furthermore, the journal announced that Tanzanian leaders were accused of promoting a culture of human rights violations “in which young victims of sexual violence are being punished while perpetrators are going free”, as worded by Fazia Mohamed, director of Equality Now’s Africa office. People also took to social media to express their discontent, and a petition has already gathered 66’000 signatures.  

By Manon Fabre – Research Assistant at CIPADH