Archive for the 'AI' Category

New SG for Amnesty International: Agnès Callamard

March 30, 2021

On 29 March 2021 Amnesty International announced the appointment of Dr. Agnès Callamard, a leading international human rights expert, as its new Secretary General, effective immediately. 

Dr. Callamard has recently been the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. In that role, she led ground-breaking investigations including into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/09/agnes-callamard-calls-overturned-verdict-in-khashoggi-case-parody-of-justice/]

As Secretary General, Dr. Callamard will be the Chief Executive of Amnesty’s International Secretariat and the principal spokesperson of the global Amnesty movement, which has some 10 million supporters, and offices in more than 70 countries.

At a time when human rights are under unprecedented threat around the world, Dr. Callamard will lead, excite and rally the entire Amnesty movement to meet these challenges head-on,” said Sarah Beamish, Chair of the International Board, in announcing the appointment.  “The combination of her intellectual acuity, her deep global human rights experience, and her courageous voice makes her highly qualified to front our movement. We are delighted she has accepted this challenge to take us boldly into our next phase.

Where governments and corporations seek to silence those who speak out against their abuses, to obfuscate the truth, and to undermine or reject human rights norms, the rigorous investigations and uncompromising campaigns of Amnesty International are more vital than ever.” Agnès Callamard

  “I am honoured to take up the post of Secretary General and work alongside Amnesty’s supporters around the world so that together we defend and demand respect for all human rights for all,” Dr Callamard said. 

Dr. Callamard, a French national, has built a highly distinguished career in the international human rights and humanitarian sectors, working across NGOs, academia, and the United Nations. Alongside her role as a United Nations independent human rights expert, she held the role of Director of the Global Freedom of Expression Project at Columbia University. Previously, she has been the Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression organization ARTICLE 19 and was the founder and Executive Director of HAP International (the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership).

Dr. Callamard worked with Amnesty International from 1995-2001, including as Chef de Cabinet for then-Secretary General Pierre Sané.  She has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries and published extensively on human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression, refugee movements, and the methodology of human rights investigations.

See also 7 April interview: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/7/leaders-of-the-world-have-failed-us-qa-with-agnes-callamard

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/dr-agnes-callamard-appointed-as-secretary-general-of-amnesty-international/

Stansted 15 convictions quashed: “No case to answer”

January 30, 2021

The Court of Appeal held on Friday 29 January 2021 that a group of activists who broke into Stansted Airport in an act of protest should “never have been prosecuted” for an “extremely serious” terror-related offence under s.1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 (“AMSA”).

It overturned the Stansted 15’s convictions.

Lord Burnett said the protestors should not have been prosecuted for the extremely serious offence … because their conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence. “There was, in truth, no case to answer.

See : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/07/the-stansted-15-story-ends-well-but-not-good-enough/

This case has been controversial, drawing attention both nationally and internationally. Following the initial convictions, a joint letter was sent to the Government by UN experts, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur in the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms when countering terrorism. The UN experts urged the UK government not to use security and terrorism-related legislation to prosecute peaceful protesters.

The failure of the ground relating to necessity, duress and s.3 CLA are unlikely to surprise those with experience of defending protestors in direct action cases. Nevertheless, it is notable that the actions of the appellants did prevent the deportation of five persons on the flight who have consequently been able to establish their legal right to remain in the UK, including three on human rights grounds. One of those has been granted asylum as a victim of human trafficking. In total, of the 60 persons due to be on the deportation flight, eleven reportedly remain in the country.

Amongst the human rights group who have celebrated the ruling are Amnesty UK, who welcomed “a good day for justice” and Liberty, who hailed “a major victory for protest rights” and deprecated the now-quashed convictions, calling them “part of a sustained attack on the right to protest.”

https://www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/19049773.stansted-15-protestors-convictions-overturned-appeal/

Sri Lanka: damning UN report deserves follow up

January 28, 2021

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) must take urgent steps to address the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said Amnesty International, on 27 January 2021 following the release of a damning UN report on the country’s efforts to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the civil conflict.

Almost twelve years on from the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the report, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that the country’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations.’ [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/sri-lanka-lawyers-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-arrested-threatened-intimidated/]

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would no longer cooperate with the UNHRCs landmark resolution 30/1, which promotes reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in the country, and would instead pursue its own reconciliation and accountability process. This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country. The seriousness of these findings highlights the urgent need for the UN Human Rights Council to step up its efforts in Sri Lanka,” said David Griffiths.

“For more than a decade, domestic processes have manifestly failed thousands of victims and their families. Given the government’s decision to walk away from resolution 30/1, and regression on the limited progress that had been made, the Human Rights Council must send a clear message that accountability will be pursued with or without the cooperation of the government.”

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to implement the report’s key recommendations to put in place more stringent oversight on Sri Lanka, including more robust monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions. 

UN member states should learn from past experience, and this time heed the early warning indicators identified by the UN’s top human rights official.” said David Griffiths

The OHCHR report, published on 27 January 2021, is available to download here:.  The Human Rights Council will meet for its 46th session from 22 February to 23 March, during which Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the UK – the current core group of states leading on Sri Lanka – are expected to present a resolution in follow-up to the OHCHR report.

Amnesty International published an assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, setting out clear expectations for HRC action, earlier this month. The High Commissioner’s report supports the call for more robust monitoring and reporting on the situation, as well as the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/01/sri-lanka-damning-un-report-stresses-need-for-urgent-international-action-on-accountability/

Egypt decade after Arab spring: Amnesty and UN express concern over detention

January 27, 2021

The human rights organization Amnesty International published a scathing report on 25 January 2021 decrying the inhumane conditions in Egyptian prisons. The report comes a decade after the Arab Spring uprising.

The report detailed the experiences of 67 individuals in detention, 10 of whom died in custody and two who died shortly after being released. It was carried out primarily between February 2020 and November 2020 and focused on 16 prisons. It found that:

  • Prisoners were kept in squalid conditions and received unhealthy food;
  • There was no proper access to health care, which may have resulted in death;
  • Overcrowding, poor ventilation and limited access to water and toilets led inevitably to outbreaks of coronavirus.

The report also found that some prisoners were deliberately denied access to health care due to their political affiliations. Activists, politicians and human rights defenders were denied basic treatments available to other inmates. There was also evidence of prison authorities “targeting prisoners critical of the government and denying them adequate food or family visits,” Markus Beeko, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany, asserted. According to UN estimates, there are 114,000 people incarcerated in the north African country.

On 22 January 2021 Mary Lawlor also deplored the arrest and prolonged pre-trial detention of  human rights defenders and bloggers, and their  accusation of being members of a terrorist organisation, continuing Egypt’s practice to intimidate and criminalise human rights defenders, journalists and their families.

I am extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent and shrink civic space in the country, despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur said she was disturbed by the detention since 2018 of human rights defender and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan, also known as ‘Mohamed Oxygen’, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “misuse of social media” in retaliation for his posts and videos reporting on human rights issues. He was granted conditional release by the Cairo Criminal Court in November last year but was attached to a new case on charges of joining a terrorist organisation and kept in detention. He remains in pre-trial detention in Al-Aqrab Prison, south of Cairo.

Lawlor said that human rights defenders such as researcher and post-graduate student Patrick Zaki, who was arrested in February last year, have endured repeated renewals of detention without trial. “Pre-trial detention should only be used as the exception to the rule, rather than the default approach,” said Lawlor.

Not only are these human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors unduly targeted for their legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they are wrongfully accused of belonging to terrorist organisations and portrayed as a national security threat under vague legal provisions,” the Special Rapporteur said. “This is an issue which I and a number of UN experts have previously communicated our concern about to the Egyptian authorities.

The Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In the meantime also a tiny sparkle of good news: Egypt’s Administrative Court overturned on Thursday a 2016 decision by Cairo governorate to close El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/25/ai-germany-award-goes-to-egypts-nadeem-center-for-torture-victims/.

Ten years after the Tahrir square protests in Cairo, Egypt’s human rights record is disastrous. On the occasion of the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, several international campaigns are calling for the release of imprisoned activists writes Sofian Philip Naceur in Qantara.de Violent, authoritarian and extremely paranoid: since his bloody takeover in 2013, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has restored a regime whose brutality far outstrips even the reign of long-term ruler Hosni Mubarak. Hopes for real political and social change after the mass uprising that forced Mubarak out of office after 30 years in power have faded away, leaving a disillusionment that is omnipresent.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/arab-spring-information-technology-platforms-no-longer-support-human-rights-defenders-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa/

Countless people who, before and after the 2011 revolt, campaigned in various ways for “bread, freedom and social justice” in Egypt, are today intimidated and politically inactive, or have fled the country to live in exile. Tens of thousands, however, remain imprisoned in Egypt for political reasons, paying a hefty price for their activism and courage.

Egyptian opposition figures are using the current media attention around the tenth anniversary of the “25 January Revolution” to highlight the fate of those currently in prison for their political engagement. Some have been sentenced to heavy jail terms, while others are subjected to pre-trial detention lasting years by the Egyptian security forces and the country’s judiciary. European opposition politicians are also participating in corresponding campaigns.

Eight politicians from Germany’s left-wing party – Die Linke – have signed a solidarity statement calling for the immediate release of all political detainees, which explicitly highlights the fate of six detained leftist activists, journalists and trade unionists. Although the campaign specifically highlights six individual cases, it expresses solidarity not only with Egyptian leftists, but with all those “who are resisting Sisi’s dictatorship”. In addition to journalist Hishem Fouad, who advocated for striking workers and independent trade unions long before 2011, the German politicians are also calling for the release of novelist Ayman Abdel Moati, lawyer and trade union activist Haitham Mohamadeen and trade unionist Khalil Rizk. All four are detained on flimsy, terrorism-related charges.

https://www.dw.com/en/egypt-amnesty-slams-inhumane-prison-conditions/a-56331626

https://en.qantara.de/content/human-rights-violations-in-egypt-demanding-president-sisi-free-his-political-prisoners

english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/1/399358/Egypt/Egypt-court-overturns-closure-of-human-rights-NGO-.aspx

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-amnesty-condemns-prison-conditions

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/27/the-social-media-myth-about-the-arab-spring

https://www.yenisafak.com/en/news/academic-urges-new-era-for-political-prisoners-in-egypt-3559752

Palestinian human rights defender Amro Issa convicted for speaking out

January 7, 2021

On Wednesday morning 6 January 2021 an Israeli military court convicted Palestinian Human Rights Defender Issa Amro for peacefully protesting and civil disobedience. The Israeli military judge announced the verdict in a hearing attended by representatives of British, European, EU and Canadian consulates. Amnesty International issued a statement calling to drop all the “politically motivated” charges.

Today Israel announced that Palestinians are not allowed to peacefully protest the Israeli occupation without a permit from the occupier,” Amro stated. “This conviction is the military system against the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It aims to suppress my voice and end all activism against the Israeli occupation.” Amro’s Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky added that “The military court is just an organ of occupation. The [indictment for nonviolent protest] is an example of how the courts are used in order to deter the important voices of human rights defenders.”

Amro is a founder of the Youth Against Settlements group in Hebron, which organises non-violent activism against the illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron and the discriminatory restrictions placed on Palestinians by the Israeli authorities in the city. Amro first appeared in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “participating in a march without a permit”. Some of the charges dated back to 2010.

The indictment, first presented in 2016, included 18 charges related to Amro’s community organizing deemed “baseless,” “politically motivated” or “physically impossible” by Amnesty. The military judge convicted Amro on six counts: three counts of “participating in a rally without a permit,” two counts of “obstructing a soldier,” and one count of “assault.” These surround Amro’s participation in the peaceful “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration in 2016; Amro’s participation in the nonviolent “I Have a Dream” demonstration from 2013 in which participants wore masks of Obama and Martin Luther King; one count of obstruction relates to a nonviolent sit-in protest in 2012 calling to re-open the old Hebron municipality building; one count of “assault” by “shoving someone” related to a previously-closed case from 2010, an incident for which the indictment had included an obstruction charge (acquitted) for Amro yelling “I am being assaulted” in the Israeli police station prior to Amro being carried out to an ambulance on a stretcher.

In 2019, UN Special Rapporteurs called for Amro’s protection and expressed “concern” over the charges. In 2017[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/11/un-rapporteurs-intervene-again-for-palestinian-human-rights-defender-issa-amro/]; thirty-five U.S. House Representatives and four Senators including Bernie Sanders sent letters highlighting that some charges were not internationally recognizable offenses and that Amnesty would consider Amro a “prisoner of conscience” if convicted. Issa Amro is the co-founder and former coordinator of the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements initiative. In 2010, he was declared “Human Rights Defender of the year in Palestine” by the UN OHCHR and he is formally recognized by the European Union. He won the One World Media Award in 2009 for his involvement in B’Tselem’s camera distribution project. He was a guest of the U.S. State Department in 2011 and has spoken at the UN Human Rights Council on numerous occasions. The sentencing is scheduled for 8 February.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/21/palestinian-human-rights-defenders-continue-to-be-persecuted/

Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: “The Israeli authorities must end their campaign of persecution against Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is a prominent voice against Israel’s regime of discrimination and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Hebron.”

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2101/S00025/israeli-military-court-convicts-un-recognized-palestinian-human-rights-defender-for-protesting-without-a-permit.htm

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/30290

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

https://mailchi.mp/3fff66fe2a8b/military-court-convicts-human-rights-defender-issa-amro?e=51113b9c0e

New Year, New Charges against Thai Protesters – the Lese-majesty law in Thailand

January 4, 2021

Thai authorities on 1 January 2021 made their 38th arrest of a pro-democracy activist in recent weeks under the country’s tough lèse majesté law as authorities crack down on the country’s unprecedented protest movement. That law, Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, forbids defamation of the king and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations.The law had been dormant since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King  Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The Thai government, though, is now using it to try to stamp out continuing protests calling for the government to resign, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy

Thailand’s authorities must stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into dialogue, according to the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, who warned the country risks sliding into violence. Clément Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express alarm at the use of the fierce lese-majesty law against dozens of protesters, including students as young as 16.

It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.

So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.

Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges. This includes the student activists Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.

The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura
The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura speaks from a stage outside Bang Khen police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Protesters – who have faced various other charges over recent months, including sedition – declined to participate in a government reconciliation panel in November, rejecting it as an attempt to buy time. The recent cases come after months of demonstrations in which protesters have made unusually frank and public calls for reform to the monarchy.

Benja Apan, 21, one of 13 people facing charges over a demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok, said legal action was unlikely to deter protesters from coming out in the new year. “I actually think it will bring more people out, because it is not fair,” she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to drop charges pressed on a number of activists for their role in the pro-democracy movement and to repeal, or at least amend, Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law. According to the campaign, at least 220 people, including minors, face criminal charges for relating to their actions in the pro-democracy movement. Activists are calling on government and monarchy reform, raising issues considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society. Thailand must amend or repeal the repressive laws it is using to suppress peaceful assembly and the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

Amnesty International is calling on people to take action and send a letter to the prime minister, calling on the Thai government to change their approach when handing the ongoing protests to protect human rights. Sample letter by AI’s campaign calls on Prayut to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all criminal proceedings against protesters and others charged solely for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
  • Cease all other measures, including harassment, aimed at dissuading public participation in peaceful gatherings or silencing voices critical of the government and social issues
  • Amend or repeal legislation in order to ensure it conforms with Thailand’s international human rights obligations on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and to train state officials to carry out their duties confirming to Thailand’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

On Saturday 19 December 2020 Maya Taylor in The Thaiger had already reported that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has expressed shock and dismay at Thailand’s use of its strict lèse majesté law against a 16 year old pro-democracy activist. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani has called on Thailand to refrain from using the law against those exercising their right to freedom of speech, as she expressed alarm that a minor was being charged under the law. “It is extremely disappointing that after a period of 2 years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offences under the Computer Crime Act. Again, such charges have been filed against a minor, among others.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that detention of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression or other human rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention. We also urge the government to amend the lèse majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has played down the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ criticisms over the kingdom’s enforcement of the Lese Majeste law.

See also in 2019: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/thailand-amnesty-and-un-rapporteur-agree-on-misuse-of-lese-majeste/

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/pro-democracy-movement-making-little-headway-monarchys-powers-remain-untouched

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/un-thailand-protesters-royal-insult-law-lese-majesty

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/new-year-new-charges-thai-protesters-slapped-royal-defamation-charges

Facebook and YouTube are allowing themselves to become tools of the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship and harassment

December 1, 2020

On 1 December 2020, Amnesty International published a new report on how Facebook and YouTube are allowing themselves to become tools of the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship and harassment of its population, in an alarming sign of how these companies could increasingly operate in repressive countries. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/].

The 78-page report, “Let us Breathe!”: Censorship and criminalization of online expression in Viet Nam”, documents the systematic repression of peaceful online expression in Viet Nam, including the widespread “geo-blocking” of content deemed critical of the authorities, all while groups affiliated to the government deploy sophisticated campaigns on these platforms to harass everyday users into silence and fear.

The report is based on dozens of interviews with human rights defenders and activists, including former prisoners of conscience, lawyers, journalists and writers, in addition to information provided by Facebook and Google. It also reveals that Viet Nam is currently holding 170 prisoners of conscience, of whom 69 are behind bars solely for their social media activity. This represents a significant increase in the number of prisoners of conscience estimated by Amnesty International in 2018.

In the last decade, the right to freedom of expression flourished on Facebook and YouTube in Viet Nam. More recently, however, authorities began focusing on peaceful online expression as an existential threat to the regime,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

Today these platforms have become hunting grounds for censors, military cyber-troops and state-sponsored trolls. The platforms themselves are not merely letting it happen – they’re increasingly complicit.

In 2018, Facebook’s income from Viet Nam neared US$1 billion – almost one third of all revenue from Southeast Asia. Google, which owns YouTube, earned US$475 million in Viet Nam during the same period, mainly from YouTube advertising. The size of these profits underlines the importance for Facebook and Google of maintaining market access in Viet Nam.”

In April 2020, Facebook announced it had agreed to “significantly increase” its compliance with requests from the Vietnamese government to censor “anti-state” posts. It justified this policy shift by claiming the Vietnamese authorities were deliberately slowing traffic to the platform as a warning to the company.

Last month, in Facebook’s latest Transparency Report – its first since it revealed its policy of increased compliance with the Vietnamese authorities’ censorship demands – the company revealed a 983% increase in content restrictions based on local law as compared with the previous reporting period, from 77 to 834. Meanwhile, YouTube has consistently won praise from Vietnamese censors for its relatively high rate of compliance with censorship demands.

State-owned media reported Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung as saying in October that compliance with the removal of “bad information, propaganda against the Party and the State” was higher than ever, with Facebook and Google complying with 95% and 90% of censorship requests, respectively.

Based on dozens of testimonies and evidence, Amnesty International’s report shows how Facebook and YouTube’s increasing censorship of content in Vietnam operates in practice.

In some cases, users see their content censored under vaguely worded local laws, including offences such as “abusing democratic freedoms” under the country’s Criminal Code. Amnesty International views these laws as inconsistent with Viet Nam’s obligations under international human rights law. Facebook then “geo-blocks” content, meaning it becomes invisible to anyone accessing the platform in Viet Nam.

Nguyen Van Trang, a pro-democracy activist now seeking asylum in Thailand, told Amnesty International that in May 2020, Facebook notified him that one of his posts had been restricted due to “local legal restrictions”. Since then, Facebook has blocked every piece of content he has tried to post containing the names of senior members of the Communist Party. 

Nguyen Van Trang has experienced similar restrictions on YouTube, which, unlike Facebook, gave him the option to appeal such restrictions. Some appeals have succeeded and others not, without YouTube providing any explanation.

Truong Chau Huu Danh is a well-known freelance journalist with 150,000 followers and a verified Facebook account. He told Amnesty International that between 26 March and 8 May 2020, he posted hundreds of pieces of content about a ban on rice exports and the high-profile death penalty case of Ho Duy Hai. In June, he realized these posts had all vanished without any notification from Facebook whatsoever.

Amnesty International heard similar accounts from other Facebook users, particularly when they tried to post about a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which opposed local villagers to military-run telecommunications company Viettel. The dispute culminated in a confrontation between villagers and security forces in January 2020 that saw the village leader and three police officers killed.

After Facebook announced its new policy in April 2020, land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu reported that all the content they had shared about the Dong Tam incident had been removed from their timelines without their knowledge and without notification.

On 24 June 2020, the pair were arrested and charged with “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code after they reported extensively on the Dong Tam incident. They are currently in detention. Their Facebook accounts have disappeared since their arrests under unknown circumstances. Amnesty International considers both Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu to be prisoners of conscience.

The Vietnamese authorities’ campaign of repression often results in the harassment, intimidation, prosecution and imprisonment of people for their social media use. There are currently 170 prisoners of conscience imprisoned in Viet Nam, the highest number ever recorded in the country by Amnesty International. Nearly two in five (40%) have been imprisoned because of their peaceful social media activity.

Twenty-one of the 27 prisoners of conscience jailed in 2020, or 78%, were prosecuted because of their peaceful online activity under Articles 117 or 331 of the Criminal Code – the same repressive provisions that often form the basis of ‘local legal restrictions’ implemented by Facebook and YouTube. For every prisoner of conscience behind bars, there are countless people in Viet Nam who see this pattern of repression and intimidation and are understandably terrified about speaking their mind. Ming Yu Hah

These individuals’ supposed “crimes” include peacefully criticizing the authorities’ COVID-19 response on Facebook and sharing independent information about human rights online.

For every prisoner of conscience behind bars, there are countless people in Viet Nam who see this pattern of repression and intimidation and are understandably terrified about speaking their minds,” said Ming Yu Hah.

Amnesty International has documented dozens of incidents in recent years in which human rights defenders have received messages meant to harass and intimidate, including death threats. The systematic and organized nature of these harassment campaigns consistently bear the hallmarks of state-sponsored cyber-troops such as Du Luan Vien or “public opinion shapers” – people recruited and managed by the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV)’s Department of Propaganda to engage in psychological warfare online.

The activities of Du Luan Vien are complemented by those of “Force 47”, a cyberspace military battalion made up of some 10,000 state security forces whose function is to “fight against wrong views and distorted information on the internet”.

While “Force 47” and groups such as Du Luan Vien operate opaquely, they are known to engage in mass reporting campaigns targeting human rights –related content, often leading to their removal and account suspensions by Facebook and YouTube.

Additionally, Amnesty International’s investigation documented multiple cases of bloggers and social media users being physically attacked because of their posts by the police or plainclothes assailants, who operate with the apparent acquiescence of state authorities and with virtually no accountability for such crimes.


Putting an end to complicity

The Vietnamese authorities must stop stifling freedom of expression online. Amnesty International is calling for all prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam to be released immediately and unconditionally and for the amendment of repressive laws that muzzle freedom of expression.

Companies – including Facebook and Google – have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate. They should respect the right to freedom of expression in their content moderation decisions globally, regardless of local laws that muzzle freedom of expression. Tech giants should also overhaul their content moderation policies to ensure their decisions align with international human rights standards.

In October 2020, Facebook launched a global Oversight Board – presented as the company’s independent “Supreme Court” and its solution to the human rights challenges presented by content moderation. Amnesty International’s report reveals, however, that the Board’s bylaws will prevent it from reviewing the company’s censorship actions pursuant to local law in countries like Vet Nam. It’s increasingly obvious that the Oversight Board is incapable of solving Facebook’s human rights problems. Ming Yu Hah

“It’s increasingly obvious that the Oversight Board is incapable of solving Facebook’s human rights problems. Facebook should expand the scope of the Oversight Board to include content moderation decisions pursuant to local law; if not, the Board – and Facebook – will have again failed Facebook users,” said Ming Yu Hah.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/11/algorithms-designed-to-suppress-isis-content-may-also-suppress-evidence-of-human-rights-violations/]

“Far from the public relations fanfare, countless people who dare to speak their minds in Viet Nam are being silenced. The precedent set by this complicity is a grave blow to freedom of expression around the world.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/12/viet-nam-tech-giants-complicit/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/01/facebook-youtube-google-accused-complicity-vietnam-repression

https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/facebook-vietnams-fickle-partner-in-crime/

Thailand: joint statement by International NGOs on Pro-Democracy Protests

November 29, 2020

A group of 13 important human rights NGOs – in a joint statement – condemn the Thai police’s unnecessary and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters marching to the national parliament in Bangkok on November 17, 2020. They are concerned that authorities could employ similar measures when facing protesters who have declared they will march to the Siam Commercial Bank headquarters on November 25.

On November 17, police set out barriers and barbed wire to prevent a peaceful march organized by pro-democracy movements from reaching the parliament. Protesters planned to protest outside the parliament as members of parliament and senators debated seven different proposals for constitutional amendments, including an amendment proposed by the lawyers’ non-governmental organization iLAW (Internet Law Reform Dialogue), which was supported by the People’s Movement and its allies. Police refused to let protesters through the barriers, and when the demonstrators acted to breach those barriers, police crowd control units used water cannons laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas grenades and pepper spray grenades, to forcibly disperse thousands of demonstrators, including students, some of whom are children. Water cannons were first used at approximately 2:25 pm and police continued their efforts to disperse protesters, with constant use of water cannons, teargas and pepper spray into the evening.

Police also failed to prevent violence between pro-democracy protesters and royalist “yellow shirts” near the Kiak Kai intersection, near the parliament. Initially, riot police separated the two groups. However, video posted on social media later showed police officers informing the royalist protesters that they would withdraw and seconds later they vacated their position between the two groups. During the ensuing skirmishes, both sides were filmed throwing rocks and wielding clubs. Live broadcasts included sounds that appeared to be gunfire.

The Erawan Medical Centre reported that there were at least 55 protesters injured, mostly from inhaling teargas. It also reported that there were six protesters who suffered gunshot wounds. The injured included children: a kindergartener and elementary school students….

On November 18, the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “expressed concern about the [human rights] situation in Thailand … it’s disturbing to see the repeated use of less lethal weapons against peaceful protesters, including water cannons … it’s very important that the government of Thailand refrain from the use of force and ensures the full protection of all people in Thailand who are exercising a fundamental peaceful right to protest.”

We call on the Thai government to respect, protect and fulfill the right of demonstrators to peacefully protest, in line with Thailand’s international obligations under the ICCPR and customary international law. Specifically, Thailand should:

1.     Permit the People’s Movement march to proceed on November 25 and allow for non-violent protesters, including those who are children, to peacefully protest in front of the Siam Commercial Bank headquarters.

2.     Protect the rights of protesters, including those who are children, in accordance with the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 37 on the Right of Peaceful Assembly.

3.     Facilitate the exercise of the right to peacefully assemble and refrain from dispersing assemblies by using weapons, including less-lethal weapons, against protesters in line with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and UN and other guidance on less-lethal weapons.

4.     Protect protesters, including those who are children, from violence and interference by non-State actors, while also protecting the rights of counter-demonstrators.

5.     Take steps to ensure accountability for rights violations associated with the government’s crackdown on the protest movement and to ensure that those whose rights have been violated enjoy the right to an effective remedy, as guaranteed under ICCPR article 2(3).

Signed by:

Amnesty International

Article 19

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Asia Democracy Network

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Civil Rights Defenders

FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Fortify Rights 

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

Manushya Foundation

———–

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/25/statement-international-ngos-pro-democracy-protests-november-17-and-25-2020

As Iran prepares to execute Ahmadreza Djalali, the world reacts

November 26, 2020

Around the world, shock and outrage has been the reaction to the news that Iran is preparing to execute Swedish-Iranian emergency medicine specialist Dr Ahmadreza Djalali. In a call from Evin Prison on 24 November, Ahmadreza told his wife Vida, who lives in Sweden, that he believed he may be executed in less than a week. He has been transferred into solitary confinement and it has been reported that he will shortly be sent to Rajai Shahr Prison where this draconian death sentence would be delivered.

Dr Djalali has been used as a bargaining chip as part of Iran’s hostage diplomacy. A dual national, illegally detained in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer before being sentenced to death in October 2017. The court based their sentence for “corruption on earth” on “confessions” elicited after torture, threats to kill Ahmadreza Djalali’s wife and two young children, solitary confinement and his prolonged ill treatment.

The UN, EU, Council of Europe, European governments, worldwide academic institutions, civil society and thousands of individuals have all called for Dr Djalali’s release.

UN experts Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued a statement saying: “We are horrified by the reports that Mr. Djalali is soon to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. His torture, arbitrary detention, death sentence and now reported imminent execution are unconscionable acts that should be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms. We urge the Iranian authorities to take immediate action to reverse this decision before it is too late.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, said:

“We call on members of the international community to immediately intervene, including through their embassies in Tehran, to save Ahmadreza Djalali’s life before it is too late.”

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights said: “We stand in support of Dr Djalali and his family. Ahmadreza has already suffered gross injustice, pain and the cruel separation from his wife and two children. For three years he has faced a baseless death sentence while Iran has used him as a bargaining chip and sought to gain leverage with the international community by unjustly incarcerating Dr Djalali and other dual nationals. Now is the moment for the Islamic Republic to act to cease this action to execute Dr Djalali and instead, release him to return his life in Sweden with his family.

https://researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-europe-universities-2020-11-academic-groups-sound-alarm-over-djalali-death-sentence/embed/#?secret=xEX33rLMOr

Loujain al-Hathloul’s trial: Judge transfers her case to even worse court

November 26, 2020

Following up on my post from yesterday [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/25/loujain-al-hathloul-to-stand-trial-in-saudi-arabia-today/] Amnesty International reported on 25 November 2020 that a Saudi Arabian judge has decided to transfer human rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul’s case to Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/saudi-arabia-loujain-alhathlouls-trial-exposes-hypocrisy-on-womens-empowerment/