Archive for the 'Amnesty international' Category

PCIJ and Luistro receive Filipino human rights defenders award

May 29, 2020

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On 28 May 2020 Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) reported that Amnesty International Philippines has recognized the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Br. Armin Luistro for exposing inequalities and standing up for the vulnerable sectors of the society.

PCIJ—an independent, non-profit media agency—was named as the Ignite Awards’ most distinguished human rights defender in the group category. It produced investigative reports on President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, election spending of senatorial candidates, the government’s brutal drug war, the country’s congested jails, among others.

Luistro was conferred the most distinguished human rights defender in the individuals category. Aside from PCIJ and Luistro, Lorenzo Miguel Relente and Michael David Tan were the recipients of Young Outstanding Human Rights Defender and Art that Matters for Literature, respectively.

This season’s recipients come from varying rights backgrounds, from press freedom and right to education to gender equality and SOGIESC rights but they share one dedication, that is to the fight for basic rights of Filipinos,” Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director, said.

NGOs express solidarity with Amnesty staffer Abu Zeyad

May 26, 2020

NSO versus Whatsapp continues in court

May 5, 2020

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

The NSO Group has always maintained its innocence insisting that its spyware is purchased by government clients for the purpose of tracking terrorists and criminals and that it had no independent knowledge of how those clients use its spyware. This claim is contradicted by court documents in WhatsApp’s lawsuit filed last year against the Israeli firm. While bringing the lawsuit, WhatsApp said in a statement that 100 civil society members had been targeted and called it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse”. New documents seen last week indicate that servers controlled by NSO Group and not its government clients, as alleged by the Israeli firm, were an integral part of how the hacks were executed. “NSO used a network of computers to monitor and update Pegasus after it was implanted on users’ devices,” said WhatsApp, “these NSO-controlled computers served as the nerve centre through which NSO controlled its customers’ operation and use of Pegasus [software used to hack computers and phones].”NSO Group is also accused by WhatsApp of gaining “unauthorised access” to its servers by evading the company’s security features.

n the ongoing legal battle between Facebook and software surveillance company NSO Group, the social media giant is trying to get NSO Group’s legal counsel dismissed because of an alleged conflict of interest. In a court filing made public this week, Facebook asked a federal judge to disqualify law firm King & Spalding from representing NSO Group because the firm previously represented Facebook-owned WhatsApp in a different, sealed case that is “substantially related” to the NSO Group one. King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based firm with a range of big corporate clients, has denied there is a conflict of interest, according to the filing.“Any attorney defending this suit would love to have insight into how WhatsApp’s platform and systems work,” the court filing states. “And King & Spalding has that insight—because it was once WhatsApp’s counsel.”The dispute with Facebook is one of multiple legal battles currently facing NSO Group. Amnesty International is trying to get an Israeli court to revoke NSO Group’s export license in Israel, citing Pegasus’s alleged role in humans rights abuses. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/]

https://www.cyberscoop.com/nso-group-lawsuit-whatsapp-conflict-of-interest-king-spalding/

Israel’s NSO Group accused of ‘unmistakable pattern of abuse’ in hacking case

Saudi Arabia ends death penalty for minors and flogging but Abdullah al-Hamid dies in detention

April 27, 2020

Many media reported on Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman having ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and to floggings, which should indeed be considered progress. King Salman’s son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp Saudi Arabia’s reputation globally. He’s also overseen a parallel crackdown on liberals, women’s rights activists, writers, moderate clerics and reformers. The 2018 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by agents who worked for the crown prince drew sharp criticism internationally. [for some ealrier posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

The latest royal decree could spare the death penalty for at least six men from the country’s minority Shiite community who allegedly committed crimes while under the age of 18, including Ali al-Nimr, who had participated in anti-government protests. Such activity carries terrorism-related charges in the kingdom for disturbing order and disobeying the ruler. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long called on the kingdom to abolish the use of the death penalty, particularly for crimes committed by minors. The president of the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, confirmed the latest decision in a statement Sunday, saying it helps the kingdom establish “a more modern penal code and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms.” He said “more reforms will be coming,” and that the two decisions “reflect how Saudi Arabia is forging ahead in its realization of critical human rights reforms even amid the hardship imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Five years ago, prominent Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was given 50 lashes before hundreds of spectators in the metropolitan city of Jiddah. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/]. It drew outrage and condemnation from around the world, including from many of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies.

In the meantime long prison sentences carry their own risk as seen in the case of Saudi human rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, has died in custody in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, according to the Right Livelihood Foundation, which awarded a prize [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/14/right-livelihood-award-urges-freedom-for-3-saudi-laureates/]. It said on Friday that al-Hamid, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence, was taken to hospital after suffering from ill-health in a Riyadh prison earlier this year. He subsequently had a stroke and fell into a coma in early April, according to rights groups including Amnesty International. “Dr al-Hamid was a fearless champion for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said in a statement.

The Right Livelihood Foundation said al-Hamid was repeatedly denied crucial medical care and “paid the ultimate price for his convictions”. Ole von Uexkull, head of the foundation, blamed Saudi authorities for his death, saying that al-Hamid’s “unlawful imprisonment and inhumane treatment … led to his death“.

Amnesty accuses Facebook of complicity in Vietnamese censorship

April 22, 2020

On 21 April, Reuters reported that Facebook has begun to significantly step up its censorship of “anti-state” posts in the country. This follows pressure from the authorities, including what the company suspects were deliberate restrictions placed on its local servers by state-owned telecommunications companies that caused Facebook to become unusable for periods of time. The next day Amnesty International demanded that Facebook reverses immediately its decision.  “The revelation that Facebook is caving to Viet Nam’s far-reaching demands for censorship is a devastating turning point for freedom of expression in Viet Nam and beyond,” said William Nee, Business and Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International. “The Vietnamese authorities’ ruthless suppression of freedom of expression is nothing new, but Facebook’s shift in policy makes them complicit.

Facebook must base its content regulation on international human rights standards for freedom of expression, not on the arbitrary whims of a rights-abusing government. Facebook has a responsibility to respect freedom of expression by refusing to cooperate with these indefensible takedown requests.” The Vietnamese authorities have a long track record of characterizing legitimate criticism as “anti-state” and prosecuting human rights defenders for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The authorities have been actively suppressing online speech amid the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating repressive tactics in recent weeks.  “It is shocking that the Vietnamese authorities are further restricting its peoples’ access to information in the midst of a pandemic. The Vietnamese authorities are notorious for harassing peaceful critics and whistleblowers. This move will keep the world even more in the dark about what is really happening in Viet Nam,” said William Nee.

Facebook’s decision follows years of efforts by Vietnamese authorities to profoundly undermine freedom of expression online, during which they prosecuted an increasing number of peaceful government critics for their online activity and introduced a repressive cybersecurity law that requires technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor users’ posts. “Facebook’s compliance with these demands sets a dangerous precedent. Governments around the world will see this as an open invitation to enlist Facebook in the service of state censorship. It does all tech firms a terrible disservice by making them vulnerable to the same type of pressure and harassment from repressive governments,” said William Nee…

In a report published last year, Amnesty International found that around 10% of Viet Nam’s prisoners of conscience – individuals jailed solely for peacefully exercising their human rights – were jailed in relation to their Facebook activity. In January 2020, the Vietnamese authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on social media, including Facebook and YouTube, in an attempt to silence public discussion of a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which has attracted persistent allegations of corruption and led to deadly clashes between security forces and villagers.  The crackdown has only intensified since the onset of COVID-19. Between January and mid-March, a total of 654 people were summoned to police stations across Viet Nam to attend “working sessions” with police related to their Facebook posts connected to the virus, among whom 146 were subjected to financial fines and the rest were forced to delete their posts. On 15 April, authorities introduced a sweeping new decree, 15/2020, which imposes new penalties on alleged social media content which falls foul of vague and arbitrary restrictions. The decree further empowers the government to force tech companies to comply with arbitrary censorship and surveillance measures.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/10/28-ngos-ask-eu-parliament-to-reject-cooperation-deal-with-vietnam-on-11-february/

Re Facebook and content moderation see also the Economist piece of 1 February 2020: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/01/30/facebook-unveils-details-of-its-content-oversight-board

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/viet-nam-facebook-cease-complicity-government-censorship/

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Amnesty International

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by Amnesty International as posred on 8 April in Reliefweb: “Human rights defenders: We need them more than ever! States worldwide must protect Human Rights Defenders in the current COVID-19 crisis“:

At a time when some of our human rights have been restricted in order to implement public health measures, human rights defenders are more crucial than ever in our struggle to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that no one is left behind…..

Crisis like this one put these commitments to the test. It is paramount that states around the world recommit to protect and recognize those who individually or collectively take action to protect our human rights, including in the context of the pandemic. In particular, states must ensure that all measures restricting the right to defend human rights, including those imposing limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, are strictly necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health. The authorities must not use restrictions imposed during the pandemic to suppress relevant information uncomfortable for the government or use the situation as a pretext to crack down critics and human rights defenders. States must recognise that human rights defence is an essential activity during emergency periods and ensure that human rights defenders can exercise their work free from reprisals, intimidation or threats, so that together we can all face up to this crisis.

Human rights defenders, including those working in the field of research, health and social care, journalism and other areas, have been key in informing the public about the challenges posed by COVID-19 at all stages of the crisis. Their work is essential in ensuring states provide accessible and reliable information in a fair and transparent manner and can raise the alarm when measures are damaging or inadequate. Governments must ensure that those carrying out this role can continue to do so. They must respond by being accountable and open to scrutiny as well as by providing evidence-based and accurate information as the pandemic unfolds. Other activists, including women and LGBTI human rights defenders, trade unionists, environmental and land defenders, refugees and migrants’ rights defenders and indigenous rights defenders, are also helping the public understand the impact and implications of COVID-19 in their communities and how it affects different sectors of society, particularly the most marginalized and at risk.

Human rights defenders play a key role in watching that the measures taken by authorities do not infringe unduly on human rights – for example on the right to freedom of expression, on the right to privacy, or on the rights to health, housing and to an adequate standard of living – and speak out when this happens.

Human rights defenders raise the alarm and demand action when marginalized groups or individuals are being disproportionately affected or forgotten by the new measures, that is those historically discriminated against: people in the informal economy, people at risk of domestic violence, refugees and migrants, or people in detention, for example.

Human right defenders keep a check on the misuse of power of non-state actors. For example, they raise their voice against abuses by businesses and corporations, including when they fail to uphold labour and human rights standards in their responses to the pandemic, or when they shift the economic impact on workers, or when they fail to provide adequate protection from contagion for workers at risk.

Health and social care workers are at the frontline of this pandemic, continuing to deliver services despite the personal risks to them and their families, including contracting COVID19 while doing their jobs, working long hours, enduring psychological distress and fatigue. At the same time, thousands of individuals are volunteering to help those in need and provide crucial services. Many others, such as those involved in cleaning, sanitation and domestic work, in running transport systems, in the production of food, and other key workers, are also providing critical services, sometimes without adequate protection for themselves. All these individuals are not only doing their jobs, they are also protecting everybody’s right to health despite serious challenges and risks. They should be given with urgency adequate and quality tools, protection measures and any other support they need to carry out their work in safety.

Without all the individuals and collectives who defend our human rights worldwide, it would be almost impossible to tackle COVID-19 and save as many lives and livelihoods as possible. It is therefore not just states’ obligation, but it is in the interest of states and society at large to recognise, protect and enable human rights defenders to carry out their crucial work so that the harshest impact of the crisis can be mitigated and ensure that no one is left behind.

Recommendations

In the weeks since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a flourishing of solidarity and empathy towards people in need and those most at risk, including a revival of community initiatives and self-help groups. It is time for those in power to recognise and protect human rights defenders, who are precisely those leading the way in showing how to include all sectors of society in the effort against the pandemic. Human rights defenders have long led the way in delivering justice, equality and rights for all without discrimination, with their empathy, activism, passion and hope. They must be protected!

Authorities worldwide must send a clear, unequivocal message in all their communications stating that:

  • Human rights defenders are key allies to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore will be recognised and protected without discrimination at all times
  • Physical or verbal attacks against human rights defenders will not be tolerated and, where applicable, those responsible will be brought to justice in fair trials
  • Human rights defenders are key to overcoming the pandemic in a way that is inclusive and respectful of human rights, and therefore need to be included in any collective actions to tackle it
  • Those human rights defenders on the frontline of the pandemic must be given the necessary information, the tools and the protective equipment they need to carry out their human rights activities in safety

US section of Amnesty International has virtual meeting on Human Rights Defenders

April 9, 2020

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Amnesty International USA is holding its annual meeting on-line: “Under Siege: The Persecution of Human Rights Defenders Around the World and What You Can Do to Support Them!”
Human rights defenders around the world are routinely the target of death threats, smear campaigns, imprisonment, sexual violence, torture, and even assassination. Since 1998, over 3,500 human rights defenders have been killed worldwide. In 2018 alone, 321 human rights defenders were killed. Come and learn about very concrete ways that you can help protect Brave human rights defenders in such countries as Colombia, Saudi Arabia, & the Philippines. 30 April 2020 08:00 PM in Eastern Time (US)
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https://zoom.us/meeting/register/upIudOyprTwrYfg3Ewag_yYS_CPyyruu5Q

Wang Quanzhang must be granted freedom, not ‘non-release release’ and on 22 April that happened

April 5, 2020

On 3 April 2020 Michael Caster wrote “If you care about human rights in China, April 5 – this Sunday – should be circled on your calendar. On that day, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, my old friend and colleague, after an outrageous series of abuses by the Chinese state, is set to walk free. Wang, a defender of villagers’ rights and religious minorities, has been disappeared into Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), hidden under a false name in pre-trial detention for years, and subjected to a secret trial where he was refused legal representation.

wang quanzhang

An activist holds a sign calling for Wang Quanzhang’s release in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

…..China law scholar Jerome Cohen coined the term “non-release release” in 2016, then discussing the fake release of human rights lawyer Wang Yu. Like Wang Quanzhang, she had been held in secret for months under RSDL, where she was also tortured….Since Wang was disappeared, his wife Li has also become a fierce defender, despite mounting intimidation from the police. On March 24, Li received a hand-written letter from Wang in prison saying that after release he will likely have to return to his hometown in Jinan. Those of us who know China can read between the lines. Wang risks being forcibly sent away, where he will be kept, apart from his police escorts, away from all others including his family. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/05/li-wenzu-wife-of-wang-quanzhang-wins-2018-edelstam-award/

Responding to the release of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang after four and a half years in prison for “subverting state power”, Amnesty International’s China Researcher Doriane Lau said on 5 April 2020: “There are reasons to fear that Wang Quanzhang’s release from prison offers merely the illusion of freedom. The Chinese government has a history of monitoring and controlling human rights defenders even after they’re released from jail…..Wang Quanzhang was targeted by the government for his work defending human rights and helping to expose corruption. It is an outrage that he was ever jailed in the first place, but now he has served his sentence the authorities must immediately lift all restrictions on him and allow him to return to his family home.

And then on 27 April 2020: ‘Feels Like a Dream’: Teary Reunion for Freed Chinese Human Rights Lawyer and Family

Many activists and lawyers targeted in the 2015 crackdown were subject to heavy surveillance and deprived of freedom of movement after they were released from prison or detention. Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong went missing immediately after finishing a two-year prison sentence. He was subsequently sent back to his hometown, where he and his family were closely monitored and followed by the authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/jiang-tianyong-chinese-defender-of-defenders-sentenced-to-2-years-jail/]

5 june 2020: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/05/chinese-human-rights-lawyer-released-after-4-years-0

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/china-wang-quanzhang-freedom-an-illusion-until-government-lifts-ruthless-restrictions/

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

Click to access EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

Human rights defenders in Afghanistan: crucial role

March 3, 2020

While uncertainty about the status of a peace accord in Afghanistan continues to feature in the main media, this opinion piece by Samira Hamidi in Khaama, Afghanistan/ of Wednesday, 26 February 2020 is most timely: “Human rights defenders strategy: From commitments to action”. Samira Hamidi is Regional Campaigner for Amnesty International’s South Asia Regional Office. She was the former Country Director for Afghan Women’s Network and has also chaired the board of AWN and Human Rights Defenders Committee.

Wherever there is injustice in Afghanistan, you will find some of the bravest people fighting against it. They are lawyers and activists supporting women who have suffered violence and discrimination. They are teachers who are supporting the right to education of girls and boys. They are journalists who advance the right to freedom of expression. They are whistleblowers who expose allegations of corruption and other abuses of government and its officials. They are all human rights defenders, as they work to contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country

Human rights defenders in Afghanistan have played a crucial role in bridging the gap between the government and the people. They have been key actors in protecting and promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law, often at great risk to themselves, their families and communities, and to the organizations and movements they represent. For decades, they have advocated humanity’s core values of equality, justice, fairness and non-discrimination. They have not only contributed to the development and progress of communities and the country but have also paid a high price for the work they do.

Despite the positive contributions they make, human rights defenders face hostility from different state and non- state actors. They have been subjected to threats, intimidation, harassment, violence and even death. The human rights defenders and women human rights defenders are questioned for their human rights work, labeled as ‘anti-religion’ and ‘anti-culture’ and are targeted for challenging injustices. There have been systematic attacks on human rights defenders in Afghanistan in the last couple of years, which notably increased in 2019.

In May last year, a female journalist and activist, Mena Mangal was shot dead in Kabul. In July, Saeed Karim Musawi a well-known human rights defender and civil society activist was shot and killed by two gunmen who were riding on a motorbike and escaped the scene in Kunduz province. … Abdul Samad Amiri, a human rights defender and head of the Ghor provincial office for Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was kidnapped and killed on his way to Ghor province. In November, two prominent human rights defenders from Logar province were forcibly disappeared and then detained for exposing alleged sexual abuse against children. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/afghanistan-human-rights-defenders-targeted-but-fearless/]

These attacks on human rights defenders, and many more that are yet to be documented,…There are also examples where human rights defenders were advised to silence themselves, claiming officials are not capable enough to provide them protection. In certain cases, human rights defenders were even told to acquire weapons to protect themselves.

….Over recent months, the human rights community with the support of Amnesty International collaborated in devising a protection strategy for human rights defenders in Afghanistan. This maiden effort addresses the protection of human rights defenders, the need for investigations of threats, calls for bringing suspected perpetrators to justice and encourages collaboration between the government and international community specifically for the protection of human rights defenders.….The international community has a key role to play here as well. For years, human rights defenders have worked with these actors to provide first-hand information about violations taking place in Afghanistan. The international community has encouraged them to speak out against human rights violations and abuses and to promote human rights values. When these same human rights defenders are at risk, the international community has a responsibility to stand up for them – as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders demands.…..As human rights defenders emphasized during the launch of the human rights defenders protection strategy, it is time for the Afghan government and the international community to put their commitments to action.


 

Human rights defenders strategy: From commitments to action