Archive for the 'Civil Rights Defenders (NGO)' Category

Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2020 goes to Naw Ohn Hla

December 11, 2020
Naw Ohn Hla appears in court in Kyauktada Township in October last year on charges of organizing Kayin Martyr’s  Day. (Photo-Nay Myo Win)

Naw Ohn Hla appears in court in Kyauktada Township in October last year on charges of organizing Kayin Martyr’s Day. (Photo-Nay Myo Win) Published 11 December 2020

Naw Ohn Hla, chairperson of Democracy and Peace Women Network in Myanmar, has been presented with the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2020 by Civil Rights Defenders based in Sweden. The award announcement was made on Human Rights Day on December 10.

Naw Ohn Hla is a Karen democracy activist, politician, human rights defender, environmental rights and land rights activist for decades. She has been active in campaigning against the Letpadaung mining project in northern Burma. Naw Ohn Hla is also serving as general secretary of the United Nationalities Democracy Party.

Naw Ohn Hla has received the award for her exceptional perseverance in the fight against oppression and for her continued courage to stand up to those in power, Civil Rights Defenders said in its statement.

We are standing by the victims of human rights violations. It is now encouraging to see that not only us but also the international community is standing by this. It also encourages us to do more,” said Naw Ohn Hla.

She said she would accept the award at the headquarters of Civil Rights Defenders in Sweden together with the 2021 award winner because this year sees the Covid-19 outbreak.

For more on the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/ 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/25/civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-award-2017-goes-to-edmund-yakani-from-south-sudan/

https://elevenmyanmar.com/news/naw-ohn-hla-wins-civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-award-2020

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naw_Ohn_Hla

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

Good example of authoritarian abuse of COVID-19 emergency: Hungary

April 7, 2020

Hungary has defied calls by human rights defenders to respect human rights standards in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.  Monday 30 March 2020, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial Law on Protection against the Coronavirus, allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree for an indefinite period [!], and to jail anybody deemed to be publishing ‘fake news’ by up to five years. In the days prior, Civil Rights Defenders condemned the bill on the grounds that it is an attack on the rule of law and democracy, and presents numerous threats to human rights in the country (see https://crd.org/2020/03/24/hungary-state-of-emergency-is-no-excuse-for-undermining-rule-of-law/).

In one of its first moves, the government tabled a bill outlawing legal gender recognition which is a serious and permanent attack on the rights of Trans people. The following day, on Tuesday, it hinted it would use emergency powers to push educational reform by perusing an appalling new curriculum that will rewrite history books by promoting national pride, and making anti-Semitic authors compulsory reading. Coupled with the restrictions on media freedoms, the freedom of expression and the indefinite emergency rule, these measures are a clear overreach of emergency powers and a grave threat to democracy.

20 EU Member States have reacted in a joint-statement that they are “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures”. However, the statement’s authors did not call out countries by name, thus creating a loophole for Hungary to shamelessly became a signatory itself [SIC and SICK].

https://crd.org/2020/04/07/hungary-ignores-calls-for-respect-of-human-rights/

Cuba and EU dialogue: five empty chairs show serious shortcomings

February 9, 2020
Cuban human rights defenders who participated to the project of presenting a report on EU’s agreement with Cuba. [Civil Rights Defenders]

The EU needs to change strategy if it wishes to stand for democracy in Cuba by opening up to independent civil society, write Anders L. Petersson and Erik Jennische (of the NGO Civil Rights Defenders) on 4 February 2020. On Saturday 1 February. five Cuban democracy activists were stopped at the airport in Havana as they were on their way to Brussels to speak at the European Parliament today. They were banned from leaving the country by the Cuban authorities. Instead, the seminar at the European Parliament was held with Cuban activists based outside the country, and five empty chairs – a vivid reminder of the current strategy’s shortcomings. [Instituto Patmos has shown that at least 226 activists were banned from travelling abroad during 2019]. The five democracy activists were supposed to present their ideas on what the EU could do to promote respect for human rights and democratisation in the country. Their proposals form part of a report by Civil Rights Defenders – a total 30 letters from Cuban democracy activists and organisations – as a contribution to the EU’s policy development.

Although the EU and Cuba in their Agreement recall “their commitment to the recognised principles of democracy”, Civil Rights Defenders regrets that the EU remained silent on the sham elections and the transfer of power that followed. Apparently, it was all acceptable under the new Agreement…..When Federica Mogherini visited Cuba for the last time as High Representative for Foreign Affairs in September 2019, she rather perplexingly concluded that “after completing its generational transition and adopting a new Constitution, Cuba now faces major challenges in carrying out its economic modernization”.

….Reflecting on the stories of harassed and imprisoned activists in Cuba, we cannot afford to make such surrender again. The EU needs to change strategy if it wishes to stand for democracy in Cuba. It needs to build a formal and open dialogue with Cuba’s independent civil society. Since the negotiations began on the Agreement in the spring of 2014, the EU has not invited civil society to a single formal discussion on the content of the Agreement or its implementation. When the EU and Cuba held its human rights dialogue in October 2019, the Cuban government took the liberty to decide which European and Cuban organisations could participate. The papers in the report of CRD hold a great number of proposals and ideas – the two core messages being:

  • That both European and Cuban civil societies need to be recognised as formal partners to the EU in its relations to Cuba.
  • That the EU needs to speak out on the absence of democracy in Cuba and denounce all human rights violations.

The EU can never contribute to positive change in Cuba via a dialogue with the Cuban government. The only way is to give legitimacy and support to the civil society that openly and peacefully supports democratisation. It is time for the EU to include civil society in its relations with Cuba.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/15/new-rule-of-law-and-human-rights-in-cuba-and-venezuela-and-eu-engagement/

One of the award-winning Cuban dissident who was detained this week announced that he has been released without charge but barred from a planned trip to Europe for a meeting on human rights. Guillermo Farinas, a 58-year-old psychologist, is a leading voice in the opposition to Cuba’s communist government and won the European Parliament’s Sakharov human rights prize in 2010. Farinas was arrested Tuesday in the central city of Santa Clara, where he lives, as he planned to go to the Spanish Embassy in Havana to pick up travel documents. He had been due to take part in a meeting of the human rights commission of the European Parliament. “The main reason for my arrest was to keep me from traveling to Europe,” Farinas told AFP.

In the meantime a number Cuban and latin solidarity groups in Belgium had a quite different view: “Campaign by MEPs against Cuba rejected in Belgium. Another instance of the Empire’s vulgar and interfering policy of subversion and discredit against the Cuban Revolution. Cuba is sovereign and independent, we won’t yield to anyone”. http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2020/02/04/rechazan-en-belgica-nueva-campana-contra-cuba-de-eurodiputados/#.XjsNg2q23cd 


Five empty chairs remind of Cuba’s regime true nature

https://www.france24.com/en/20200207-cuban-dissident-freed-but-cannot-leave-country

https://www.euronews.com/2020/02/07/cuban-activists-blocked-from-attending-eu-meeting

Turkey defies European Court on Kavala and undergoes UPR review

January 29, 2020
FILE - A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.

Kavala and 15 other civil society activists are accused of supporting anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president. The protest action came to be known as the Gezi movement, named after an Istanbul park where the unrest started. Prosecutors are calling for life imprisonment without parole. The ECHR condemned the case, calling for an end to Kavala’s more than two years in prison and describing it as “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

The Istanbul court ruled Tuesday the ECHR decision was provisional because Ankara was appealing the verdict and that Kavala should remain in jail. The court’s decision is flawed because the European Court ruling was clear in its call for Kavala’s immediate release,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

We saw multiple signs of how unfair this trial is,” said Webb, speaking after attending Tuesday’s court hearing. “The lawyers for Kavala raised many objections to the way witness evidence is used in this case. The court turns a deaf ear to all objections. It’s a shocking indication that once again, Turkey’s judiciary seems to be under heavy pressure of the executive.”

Tuesday’s court hearing was marred by chaos, with Kavala’s lawyers challenging the judge’s decision to hear some witnesses without their presence, prompting the lawyers to walk out of the room. Ankara strongly rejects the ECHR verdict, maintaining that the judiciary is independent. But observers note the case has strong political undertones. Three months ahead of Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan accused him of “financing terrorists” and that Kavala was a representative for “that famous Jew [George Soros,] who tries to divide and tear up nations.” Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about George Soros, who is an international philanthropist. Erdogan’s allegations against Kavala resemble the prosecution case against the jailed activist. Kavala is a pivotal figure in Turkey, using his wealth to help develop the country’s fledgling civil society after a 1980 military coup.

“Osman Kavala is very prominent within the civil society in this country,” said Sinan Gokcen, Turkey representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. “He is not a man of antagonism; he is a man of preaching dialogue, a man of building bridges.”….

With the U.N. having few tools to sanction Turkey, the European Union is seen as offering the best hope by human rights advocates of applying pressure on Ankara. Turkey’s EU membership bid is already frozen, in part due to human rights concerns. But Ankara is seeking to extend a customs union, along with visa-free travel for its citizens with the EU. “It’s time all European countries should be speaking out very loud and clear on cases like this [Kavala],” said Sinclair-Webb. But even high-profile cases like Kavala’s have seen Brussels offer only muted criticism of Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul Friday for talks with Erdogan saw little criticism of Turkey’s human rights record. Instead, discussions focused on Ankara’s recent deployment of soldiers to Libya and the upholding of an EU-Turkish agreement controlling migrants entering Europe. “There are many issues to talk about with Turkey,” said Sinclair Webb. “Syria, Libya, Turkey, hosting so many refugees from Syria, and this often takes priority over Turkey’s domestic human rights crisis. This means there isn’t sufficient clarity on cases like this. What we are seeing is Turkey defying Europe’s human rights court.” Some analysts suggest Brussels could yet be lobbying behind the scenes for Kavala’s release, tying Ankara’s calls for extra financial assistance for refugees to gestures on human rights.

Pakistan: Release Manzoor Pashteen and his fellow human rights defenders immediately

HRW urges UN to address human rights violations in Turkey

https://www.voanews.com/europe/turkish-court-defies-europe-leaves-philanthropist-behind-bars

Civil Rights Defenders is looking for a controller with experience of working with projects

January 10, 2020

The Stockholm-based NGO Civil Rights Defenders wants to take its Finance Department to the next level and is now looking for a Controller to help develop processes and working methods. As a Controller, you are a key asset in the Finance Department. The main focus is to simplify and improve all financial areas in order to get the very best results out of our new ERP system Maconomy. As a Controller, you will be responsible for a number of departments and act as controller for important projects in close cooperation with your colleagues in Stockholm as well as the rest of the world.

Some of the key activities include

  • Setting up project budgets in consultation with our project and program managers.
  • Financial reporting of our projects to donors and auditors.
  • Supporting department managers in budgeting and forecasting.
  • Responsible for analysing projects and department results in connection with monthly, quarterly and annual reports.
  • Contact person for our departments regarding financial matters.
  • Contributing to our work with new reports and improved controlling processes.
  • Participating in improving the financial work.

We are especially interested in applicants with

  • A Degree of Master of Science in Business and Economics, or similar, with a few years working experience in controlling and project reporting.
  • Experience in a project-based work, preferably from a non-profit organisation or consultancy-driven work.
  • Strong interest in pursuing improvement, big or small.
  • Experience in managing ERP systems, such as Maconomy.
  • Good knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite and a very experienced Excel user.
  • Very good knowledge of Swedish and English, both written and verbal.

About the position

  • Permanent employment (100%) with an initial six months probation period.
  • The position is based at Civil Rights Defenders’ head office in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • The position may include some travel to Civil Rights Defenders’ local offices.

Application

To apply, submit your cover letter and CV to info@crd.org no later than 30 January 2020. Please state “Controller” in the subject line. Interviews will be conducted on an ongoing basis, meaning the position could be filled ahead of the deadline. Welcome with your application! For questions about this position, please contact Karin Ancker, CFO. Civil Rights Defenders has a local union club connected to Unionen. The union can be reached at crdunionclub@crd.org.

Civil Rights Defenders is Looking for a Controller with experience of working with projects

Colombia and Mexico: problems with national panic button devices for human rights defenders

December 24, 2019

A GPS-enabled “panic button” that Colombia‘s government has issued ito abut 400 persons is supposed to summon help for human-rights defenders or journalists if they are threatened. But it the article claims that it has technical flaws that could let hostile parties disable it, eavesdrop on conversations and track users‘ movements, according to an independent security audit conducted for The Associated Press. There is no evidence the vulnerabilities have been exploited, but are alarmed. “This is negligent in the extreme,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, calling the finding “a tremendous security failure.

Over the past four years, other “distress alarms” and smartphone apps have been deployed or tested around the world, with mixed results. When effective, they can be crucial lifelines against criminal gangs, paramilitary groups or the hostile security forces of repressive regimes. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/23/today-official-launch-of-ais-panic-button-a-new-app-to-fight-attack-kidnap-and-torture/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/04/24/the-natalia-gps-alarm-bracelet-wins-golden-egg-awards-in-stockholm/]

The “boton de apoyo,” distributed by Colombia‘s Office of National Protection is a keychain-style fob. Its Chinese manufacturer markets it under the name EV-07 for tracking children, pets and the elderly. The operates on a wireless network, has a built-in microphone and receiver and can be mapped remotely with geo-location software. A button marked “SOS” calls for help when pressed.

A company official, John Chung, acknowledged that Rapid7 notified him of the flaws in December. In keeping with standard industry practice, Rapid7 waited at least two months before publicly disclosing the vulnerabilities to give the manufacturer time to address them. Chung told the AP that Eview was working to update the EV-07‘s webserver software, where Rapid7 found flaws that could allow user and geolocation data to be altered.

Activists have good reason to be wary of public officials in Colombia, where murder rates for land and labor activists are among the world‘s highest, and there is a legacy of state-sponsored crime. The DAS domestic intelligence agency, which provided bodyguards and armored vehicles to high-risk individuals prior to 2011, was disbanded after being caught spying on judges, journalists and activists. Five former DAS officials have been prosecuted for allegedly subjecting Duque and her daughter to psychological torture after she published articles implicating agency officials in the 1999 assassination of Jaime Garzon, a much-loved satirist.

Tanya O‘Carroll of Amnesty International, which has been developing a different kind of “panic button” since 2014 , said the Colombian model is fundamentally flawed. “In many cases, the government is the adversary,” she said. “How can those people who are the exact adversary be the ones that are best placed to respond?”…

In Mexico, the attorney general‘s office has issued more than 200 emergency alert devices to journalists and rights activists since 2013. But there have been multiple complaints . One is unreliability where cell service is poor. Others are more serious: Cases have been documented of police failing to respond or answering but saying they are unable to help.

O‘Carroll of Amnesty International said trials in 17 nations on three continents—including the Philippines, El Salvador and Uganda—show it‘s best to alert trusted parties—friends, family or colleagues. Those people then reach out to trusted authorities. Amnesty‘s app for Android phones is still in beta testing. It is activated with a hardware trigger—multiple taps of the power button. But there have been too many false alarms.

Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders offers a 300-euro stand-alone panic button first deployed in Russia‘s North Caucasus region in 2013 and now used by more than 70 people in East Africa, Central Asia, the Balkans, Southeast Asia and Venezuela, said Peter Ohlm, a protection officer at the nonprofit. The organization‘s Stockholm headquarters always gets notified, and social media is typically leveraged to spread word fast when an activist is in trouble.

Colombia ‘panic buttons‘ expose activists

NGOs ask EU to intervene for human rights defender Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan

July 10, 2019

On 11 June 2019 NGOs wrote a joint Letter to High Representative Mogherini regarding detained Human Rights Defender Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan. His is a wellknown case, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/

NGO joint letter to UN Human Rights Council about Belarus

June 16, 2019
Five international human rights organisations (see below), urge the UN Human Rights Council to maintain scrutiny on the human rights situation in Belarus, including by ensuring the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and seeking preventive measures to ensure against an increase in human rights violations ahead of upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential elections in Belarus.

NGOs urge Putin not to sign Russia’s “Sovereign Internet Bill”

April 28, 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019  Igor Russak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On 24 April 2019 nine major human rights, media and Internet freedom NGOs, called on Russian President Vladmir Putin, not to sign the so-called “Sovereign Internet Bill” as it will lead to further limitations of already restricted Internet and media freedoms in the country.

The bill (No. 608767-7) amends the laws “On Communications” and “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and states its aim as enabling the Russian Internet to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. On 16 April 2019, the Russian State Duma approved the bill in the third reading amid widespread domestic criticism, protests and online campaigning around the country, and on 22 April, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, approved it. If signed by President Vladimir Putin, the bill would enter into force on 1 November 2019.

The bill creates a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia, potentially ranging from cutting access to particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through to cutting all access to the Internet throughout Russia.

The bill gives control over Internet network routing to the state regulator for Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor. It provides that the ISPs should connect with other ISPs, or “peer,” at Internet exchange points (IXes) approved by the authorities, and that these IXes should not allow unapproved ISPs to peer. The bill would also create a centralised system of devices capable of blocking Internet traffic. The bill requires ISPs to install the devices, which the government would provide free of charge, in their networks.

Under this system, Roskomnadzor would monitor threats to Russia’s Internet access and transmit instructions to ISPs through the special devices about countering these threats. Cross-border Internet traffic would be kept under close state control. The draft does not specify what the range of instructions would be, but they could potentially include partially or fully blocking traffic both between Russia and the rest of the World Wide Web, and within Russia. Nor does the draft explain how the new equipment will work, or what specifically it will do. It is clear, however, that blocking would result from direct interaction between the government and the ISP and that it will be extrajudicial and nontransparent. The public would not know what has been blocked and why.

The bill states that the new measures will be activated in the event of a ‘security threat’. The draft does not define security threats, and instead gives the government full discretion to decide what would constitute a security threat and what range of measures would be activated using the new system to address a threat.

The bill also states that Russian ISPs remain obligated to filter and block content in accordance with existing Russian law.

Further, the bill creates a national domain name system (DNS) – a system that acts as the address-book for the Internet by allowing anyone to look up the address of the server(s) hosting the URL of a website they are looking for. The bill would require Internet providers to start using the national DNS from 1 January 2021. Forcing ISPs to use the national system will give Russian authorities the ability to manipulate the results provided to the ISP outside the ISP’s knowledge and control. Authorities will be able to answer any user’s request for a website address with either a fake address or no address at all. This not only allows them to conduct fine-grained censorship but will also let the national DNS to redirect users to government-controlled servers in response to any DNS requests instead of to a website’s authentic servers.

These proposals are very broad, overly vague, and vest in the government unlimited and opaque discretion to define threats. They carry serious risks to the security and safety of commercial and private users and undermine the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

The bill contravenes standards on freedom of expression and privacy protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. Both treaties allow states to limit freedoms to protect national security but impose clear criteria for such limitations to be valid. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, commenting on the ICCPR, has reiterated that these limits should be “provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone,” and be predictable and transparent.

Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19 and other undersigned organisations are extremely concerned that the changes introduced in the bill threaten human rights and freedoms in Russia. Open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for human rights online, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly, privacy and media freedom. The bill could pose a threat to the Internet’s rights-enabling features if access to the World Wide Web is wholly or partially cut off, or if arbitrary blocking and filtering of content is carried out. It would facilitate state surveillance and curb anonymity online. It also risks severely isolating people in Russia from the rest of the world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest. The Bill’s negative impact on the freedom of expression will also affect the rights of journalists and media to work freely.

The adoption of the bill should be seen in the context of other Russian legislation that severely undermines protection of freedom of expression and privacy online and fails to meet international human rights standards. These include:

. The 2016 ‘Yarovaya Law,’ which requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government. It was adopted to allegedly counter ‘extremism’ but in practice, it creates a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access Internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

. In 2017, Federal Law 327-FZ made amendments to the ‘Lugovoi Law’ (Federal Law FZ-398, 2013) that gave the General Prosecutor or his/her deputies a right to block access to any online resource of a foreign or international NGOs designated ‘undesirable’; and, to ‘information providing methods to access’ the resources enumerated in the ‘Lugovoi Law’, i.e. including hyper-links to old announcements on public rallies not approved by local authorities.

. The recent March 2019 bills mandate blocking and penalizing websites that publish what authorities deem to be “fake news” and “insult” to authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

The President of the Russian Federation should reject the bill. The Russian Government should also review other Internet related legislation, abolish the above listed laws and bring its legal framework to full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International

Reporters without Borders

https://www.ifex.org/russia/2019/04/24/sovereign-internet-bill/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/24/joint-statement-russias-sovereign-internet-bill