Indigenous and Ethnic Minorities

Indigenous and ethnic minority leaders and activists can find themselves targeted through the courts for defending their land and their culture.

Crimea: Conviction of Crimean Tatar Leader

Nariman Dzhelyal in court

In September 2022, a Russian court in Crimea convicted Nariman Dzhelyal, one of the few remaining Crimean Tatar leader and someone who had advocated for a peaceful solution to Crimea’s occupation, to 17 years in prison. There are deep concerns about the reliability of the evidence used against him. Dzhelyal was arrested shortly after he took part in a summit convened by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy calling for an end to the occupation of Crimea and was charged with orchestrating an explosion at a gas pipeline. Our TrialWatch initiative monitored Dzhelyal’s trial, warning that the prosecution relied on statements allegedly obtained under torture as well as on the testimonies of secret witnesses whose identities were never disclosed to the defence.

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Mexico: Under Siege in the Criminal Justice System

In March 2022, indigenous activist Kenia Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in prison by a court in Mexico. After an appeal, the sentence was reduced to nine years and five months in August 2022. TrialWatch monitored the proceedings against Hernandez through its partner the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, finding in a report that Mexican authorities violated her rights to a fair trial, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from arbitrary detention. The report gave her recent aggravated robbery trial a grade of D.

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Crimea: Convicted of ‘Membership in a Terrorist Organization’

Server Mustafayev, who previously served as the coordinator of Crimean Solidarity, a civil society initiative established following the 2014 Russian occupation of Crimea, was arrested in Crimea, taken over the border into Russia, and convicted of alleged involvement with an Islamic organization that is legal in Ukraine but banned in Russia.  Following a trial where anonymous witnesses gave testimony “rife with discrepancies,” he was convicted and given a severe fourteen-year prison sentence.  CFJ and Gibson Dunn have since taken his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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Mr. Mustafayev’s trial was marred by egregious violations of due process that deprived him of any semblance of a fair trial as required under international law.

Marryum Kahloon, Associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Guatemala: Two-Year Pre-Trial Detention of Indigenous Land Activist

Abelino Chub, an indigenous land rights advocate, was charged with burning down trees and fields on a plantation operated by a banana and palm company—a partner company of which joined the proceedings against Mr. Chub as a private complaint.  Although Mr. Chub was acquitted, he spent two years in arbitrary pre-trial detention.

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It appears that Mr. Chub’s prosecution was based on improper motives; specifically, the goal of obstructing Mr. Chub’s advocacy regarding land rights.

TrialWatch Report

Thailand: Indigenous Activist Charged with Criminal Defamation

In Thailand, Wut Boonlert, an indigenous activist, and Samak Donnapee, a retired national park officer, were charged with criminal defamation for social media posts that, according to the prosecution, suggested a government official who had a long, antagonistic history with indigenous groups was misusing national forest land for private gain.

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