Archive for the 'Index on Censorship' Category

48 Human Rights groups intervene for detained Nigerian Omoyele Sowore

August 26, 2019

On 23 August 2019 48 NGOs issued an urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and detention of Omoyele Sowore, Nigerian journalist and human rights defender, to the UN and African human rights bodies. Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said: “Index on Censorship urges the Nigerian authorities to release the prominent journalist and campaigner Omoyele Sowore immediately. The arrest and detention are a shocking violation of Mr Sowore’s human rights, which calls into question Nigeria’s willingness and ability to meet international human rights obligations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omoyele Sowore (Photo: Mohamed Nanabhay / Wikipedia)

To the members of the Working Group and the Special Rapporteurs:

We, 48 human rights and press freedom organisations, respectfully request that you consider this urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and arbitrary detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender Omoyele Sowore who was arrested by the authorities following a call for peaceful protest. We request that you urgently intervene to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore and declare his arrest and detention a gross violation of his human rights, including the right not to be arbitrarily detained as protected by Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter); the right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter; the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 19 ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter; the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as protected by Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter; and his rights as a human rights defender as outlined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

Background 

  1. Mr Sowore is a prominent journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. He is the founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency based in New York City that focuses on corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria. Challenging government corruption and speaking truth to power has been the constant thread throughout Mr Sowore’s career, from the leading of student protests in the 1990’s to his recent campaign running for Presidential office in Nigeria.

Omoyele Sowore’s arrest and detention 

  1. Mr Sowore was arrested on 3 August 2019 in his hotel room during a trip to Lagos. Security agents forcefully detained Mr Sowore without informing him of any charges against him and flew him to Abuja, where he is currently being detained at the facility of the headquarters of the Nigerian State Security Service. Mr Sowore has access to food and water, but no access to the outside world: no newspapers, television or phone, and he spends most days in isolation. He was held incommunicado until 6 August, during which time Mr Sowore refused to answer any questions without consulting with his lawyer. He was allowed access to his lawyers only on 7 August, 4 days after his arrest.
  2. Based on Section 35 of the Nigerian Constitution, Mr Sowore should have been arraigned before a court within 48 hours. As of today, Mr Sowore has not been arraigned in any court.
  3. However, on 6 August, 3 days after his arrest, the State Security Service did seek an ex- parte order from the Federal High Court in Abuja to detain Mr Sowore under Section 27(1) of the Terrorism Act 2013, which enables the detention of anyone planning to “commit an act of violence”. The Court’s order of 8 August, made within 48 hours after the State Security Service’s request, granted the authorities permission to detain Mr Sowore for 45 days. Within 24 hours, his legal team, led by Mr Femi Falana, filed a motion to set aside the order and requested Mr Sowore’s immediate release, arguing that his detention was contrary to the Nigerian Constitution. At the time of writing, this request has not been heard by the courts and no date for hearing has been fixed. Importantly: no formal charges have been filed against Mr Sowore.

Mr Sowore’s call for a peaceful #RevolutionNow protest 

  1. The arrest of Mr Sowore appears to be the direct consequence of his call for a peaceful protest scheduled to take place on 5 August 2019, using the hashtag #RevolutionNow.

The objective of the protest was to demand that the Nigerian government end corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all. That the protest Mr Sowore and the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) movement he founded called for was a peaceful one is made clear at the very outset of the call for protest, issued on 27 July, which starts by setting out the “rules of engagement”:

We eschew all forms of violence. No protester should throw any object as little as stones or attack any security officials. We are aware of their intent to provoke the mass unduly by using undue tactics and sponsored agents, so as to give the protest a bad name. We encourage all Nigerians to remain calm as we are ready to fight these injustices to a logical conclusion. 

  1. A week earlier, in an interview with the Arise News channel, Mr Sowore stated that “Nigeria needs revolution, not war,” clearly distinguishing his call for substantial change from a call to violence. Mr Sowore has used the word “revolution” contextually to mean “change for the better” since 2006, when he founded Sahara Reporters. Mr Sowore then stated that he would “revolutionise” the way news is being reported in Nigeria –– something he actually did with the investigative citizen journalism the website publishes.
  2. Despite Mr Sowore’s arrest and detention, the 5 August #RevolutionNow protests took place in Abuja, Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Cross River. Protesters met a police force that dispersed them with teargas and gunshots. Numerous protesters, including several of Sahara Reporters’ journalists, were arrested and charged with illegal assembly.

Request for urgent action 

  1. It is clear that Mr Sowore’s arrest on apparent grounds of suspicion of terrorism is unfounded. Mr Sowore did what he has done throughout his career as a journalist and human rights activist: exercise his right to freedom of expression and seek to bring about change through peaceful means, in this case a peaceful protest. The use of the emotive term “revolution” merely underlines his desire for transformative change in what he considers the shortcomings of the current government. There are strong suspicions that Mr Sowore’s arrest stems from ulterior motives than responding to any supposed criminal wrongdoing. This is further highlighted by the fact that the authorities failed to define a charge against him for the first few days after his arrest; the investigations that were subsequently instigated against him under the Terrorism Act were clearly only created to serve the purpose of silencing Mr Sowore.
  2. As such, the arrest and detention of Mr Sowore amount to a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained as guaranteed under Article 9 ICCPR and Article 6 of the Banjul Charter. The fact that the charges brought against him most likely stem from his call for a peaceful demonstration and his critical stance on the Nigerian government also violates Mr Sowore’s right to free expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter and his right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association under Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter. Not properly arraigning Mr Sowore before a competent court within the time limit mandated by the Nigerian Constitution and not allowing him access to a lawyer during the initial days of his detention violates his right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter. The foregoing also constitutes a violation of his rights as a human rights defender as defined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
  3. As a State Party to both treaties, Nigeria is under an obligation to guarantee these rights to all its citizens, as specified under Article 2(1) of the ICCPR and Article 2 of the Banjul Charter. Accordingly, we appeal to the Working Group and UN and AU Special Rapporteurs to:
  • intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore; and
  • declare his arrest and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.

SIGNED BY:
All Workers’ Convergence (AWC) 

Afrika Movement for Freedom and Justice (AMFJ)

Agege Women Agenda (AWA)

ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa

Centre for Constitutional Rights

Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ)

Chidi Odinkalu Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria) & Senior Fellow, Open Society Justice Initiative

Coalition for Revolution (CORE) 

Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) 

Community Women Initiatives (CWI) 

The Concerned Forum 

Congress of Progressive Youths (COPY) 

Democratic Youth League

Edo State Civil Society Organisation (EDOSCO)

Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria 

Freedom of Expression Hub

Gani Fawehinmi Apostles 

Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Organization (gafam.org) 

Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN)

Global Voices Sub-Saharan Africa

Grassroot Justice Centre

Human and Environment Development Agenda (HEDA) 

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-UGANDA)

IAmVocal

Index on Censorship 

Media Legal Defence Initiative

Media Rights Agenda

Moshood Abiola Vanguard for Democracy (MAVD)

Movement For People’s Rights

National Conscience Party (NCP), Lagos State Branch

Nigerians in Diaspora Europe, Belgium-Luxembourg (NIDOE-BeLux)

Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Nigeria Office

Paradigm Initiative

People’s Alternative Front (PAF)

Peoples’ Unite

Rivers State Civil Society Coalition (RIVSCO)

Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) 

Save Lagos Group

Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT) 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

Sovereign Vital Force 

Spaces for Change 

Take-It-Back (TiB) Movement 

Talakawa Parliament

Veteran Group for Operation Clean Crusade (VGOCC) 

Women for Leadership Change

Workbond International Network (WIN)

Youth In Good Governance Initiative (YIGGI) 

Maldives’ Mohamed Nasheed: from human rights defender to president to exile

June 26, 2017

On 23 Jun 2017 the Human Rights Foundation published the above video from its May Oslo Freedom Forum. Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was first arrested for founding an underground newspaper when he was just 17 years old. This, however, wasn’t the last time the former president would be punished for his activism. Describing his journey from democracy dissident to president of the Maldives to ousted leader championing human rights in exile, President Nasheed shares how he perseveres despite the many challenges he has faced. Although the fight for freedom is difficult, he tells us not to give up – because that’s exactly what the dictators want you to do: “Giving up is exactly what the dictators want you to do. It’s why they jail, beat, and torture. It’s why they fine newspapers and murder people who speak out. We can only beat them by not giving in.”
https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/16/amal-clooney-speaks-about-the-maldives-at-ai-side-event/
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/

EU and Human Rights NGOs urge Bahrain to end crackdown – as reported by Iranian news agency

September 15, 2016

The widely-supported call to free Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/nabeel-rajab/]was also taken up by the Iranian Tasnim News Agency (operating in English since 2013). This of course most welcome but begs the question why other such calls for human rights defenders, e.g. in Iran, do not get such attention [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/iran/] or the persist lack of cooperation with the UN is not critically reported [see yesterday’s: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

خبرگزاری تسنیم

The explanation is to be found in ‘about us’, where the agency says: Defending the Islamic Revolution against negative media propaganda campaign and providing our readers with realities on the ground about Iran and Islam, specially current wave of the Islamic Awakening in the region are top on our agenda in Tasnim News Agency. The Islamic nature of the developments in the region and similarities between the Islamic Awakening Movement, which swept the Middle East and North Africa since 2011, and Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution have unveiled Islamic Revolution’s inspiring role in the region. The development came despite efforts made by opponents and enemies of Iran to block the country’s growing influence in the region and in the world……Tasnim News Agency will do its best to bring to light the true aspects of events and developments in Iran and in the world, and will also cover the latest developments regarding the Islamic Awakening Movement.

That Nabeel Rajab is Shia may well be relevant.

Read the rest of this entry »

Coalition of NGOs call for freeing of UAE human rights defender Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith

May 18, 2016

A group of 10 NGOs has called on the authorities to immediately release human rights defender and professor of economics Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, who remains in detention in an unknown location in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for his social media posts and human rights activities.

Nasser Bin Ghaith has been denied proper access to his lawyer or family since his arrest in August 2015, and reportedly subject to torture in custody. The continued detention and charges violate his human rights, including his right to free expression. On 18 August 2015, security officers in civilian clothes arrested Dr Bin Ghaith in Abu Dhabi and searched his home and confiscated personal items including electronic memory sticks. He was held incommunicado until finally being brought to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on 4 April 2016, when he told the court he had been tortured and beaten in detention and deprived of sleep for up to a week. On 2 May 2016, a second hearing took place to examine charges against Dr Bin Ghaith relating to his online postings. He stated that he is still being held in secret detention, a fact he had previously brought to the judge’s attention during his hearing on 4 April. The judge refused to listen to his complaints for a second time. Neither his family nor his lawyer knows where he is being detained, and his lawyer’s request to visit him has been denied repeatedly.

Dr Bin Ghaith is one of a group of men known as the “UAE5” who were imprisoned in 2011 and tried for “publicly insulting” UAE officials. That trial also breached international human rights law and was widely criticised by human rights groups, including signatories of this letter.

A further charge brought against Dr Bin Ghaith of allegedly “posting false information about UAE leaders and their policies, offensively criticizing the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, and instigating the people of the UAE against their leaders and government” was related to a statement he made on Twitter intending to promote tolerance.

The court ordered the case to be adjourned until 23 May when the defence’s arguments will be heard.

Source: UAE: Free human rights defender Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith – Index on Censorship | Index on Censorship

for other posts on the UAE: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/united-arab-emirates/

Bahrain Chamber of Commerce assesses press freedom….

May 4, 2015

The 2015 Press Kowtow award should probably go to the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) which – as reported by the equally sharp Bahrain News Agency (BNA) on 3 May 2015 – saluted the national press strides over the past years“. It issued this statement as Bahrain joined other nations in marking the World Press Freedom Day, being held this year under the theme “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age”. It lauded His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa and His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier for their support…..

As Brian Dooley of Human Rights First rightly points out today on Twitter (https://twitter.com/dooley_dooley): Bahrain scored 163rd [!!] place in the Index on Censorship survey, Read the rest of this entry »

Time for Azerbaijan to quit the Council of Europe !

November 14, 2014

This video clip is an excellent introduction to the the question of whether Azerbaijan still belongs in the Council of Europe.

Azerbaijan wrapped up its chairmanship on November 13 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Azerbaijan took over as chair of the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s executive arm and decision-making body, back in May. Over the course of its six-month term, authorities in Baku bullied and imprisoned scores of  journalists and human rights defenders, jailing some of the country’s most prominent such as Leyla and Arif Yunus, on trumped-up charges. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov attended a ceremony in Strasbourg on November 13 marking the transfer of the chairmanship from Azerbaijan to Belgium. A document posted on the Council of Europe’s website states that “Azerbaijan deployed considerable efforts in furthering the objectives of the Council of Europe around its three key pillars – human rights, rule of law and democracy.”

This assertion makes a mockery of reality as shown by the statements of a great many actors from international NGOs, OSCE to regional defenders networks:

  • Giorgi Gogia, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch: “It can be said without exaggeration that Azerbaijan’s tenure represented an assault on the institution and everything it [the Council of Europe] stands for”.
  • Two regional networks, the Human Rights House Network and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders, addressed an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev, detailing government rights abuses and calling for immediate changes. “We specifically call upon you [Aliyev] to immediately and unconditionally release all civil society actors currently detained due to their engagement in human rights activities and for raising critiques against Azerbaijan’s authorities”.
  • Another rights network called the Civic Solidarity Platform released the No More Business as Usual video at the top of this post,  urging policymakers in European Union member states to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its rights violations. “It is a disgrace Azerbaijan used its chairmanship … not to improve its human right record, but, on the contrary, to jail activists and journalists and to get further away from international standards of democracy and rule of law.”
  • Dunja Mijatovic, media representative of the normally careful 57-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in a statement “Practically all independent media representatives and media NGOs have been purposefully persecuted under various, often unfounded and disturbing charges“. [She spoke after Azeri blogger Mehman Huseynov was detained at Baku international airport earlier in the day while trying to depart for Georgia to attend the 11th South Caucasus Media Conference on the invitation of the OSCE. Huseynov was released after several hours of questioning. In 2012 he was hit with a three-year travel ban after being convicted of resisting and insulting police.
  • Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), on 31 October cited the case of Azerbaijani human rights defender and journalist Khadija Ismayilova in calling on OSCE participating States to refrain from pressuring or harassing individuals for their legitimate activities in supporting the promotion and protection of human rights. “Ismayilova was detained and questioned at the end of September upon returning from the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, where she raised concerns over failures by the Azerbaijani authorities to meet the country’s commitments in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Link said. “I raised her case yesterday in my first report to the OSCE Permanent Council, stressing that human rights defenders have to be able to work free of harassment and intimidation.” A clear case of reprisal!
  • The Sakharov Freedom Award went to 98 Azeri prisoners: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/sakharov-freedom-award-goes-to-98-azeri-political-prisoners/
  • Several other human rights defenders were sentenced to varying prison terms earlier this year on charges included tax evasion, illegal business activity and hooliganism. Defense lawyers called the charges unfounded and politically motivated. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/azerbaijan-a-hot-summer-in-summary/

Among the many sources used:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/10/us-azerbaijan-rights-idUSKCN0IU1TG20141110

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/70901

No more business as usual for Azerbaijan – Index on Censorship | Index on Censorship.

http://www.osce.org/odihr/126225

http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/20559.html

The EU and freedom of expression as seen by Index on Censorship

January 16, 2014

Index on Censorship is basing a series of articles on its larger report by Mike Harris, Time to Step Up: The EU and freedom of expression.

On 14 January 2014 came the one the ‘southern neighbourhood’ arguing that the credibility of the EU’s swing in focus from economic development towards human rights (after the outbreak of the Arab spring) is low.

The EU’s  communication “A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the southern Mediterranean“ (published on 8 May 2011) addresses the EU’s commitment to financially support transition to democracy and civil society and heralds the creation of the Civil Society Facility for the neighbourhood (covering both the southern and eastern neighbourhoods), while the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) deployed a number of operations in the region to protect and promote freedom of expression, often without the consent of the host country. Still, the article argues, european countries are often still seen as former allies of repressive regimes.

http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/01/eu-freedom-expression-southern-neighbourhood/

The one of 15 January, entitled ‘The EU and free expression: Human rights dialogues’, looks at the situation that the EU runs 30 human rights dialogues across the globe, with the key dialogues taking place in China, Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Belarus. It also has a dialogues with the African Union. The article is more detailed on China 

The article concludes: “With criticism of the effectiveness and openness of the dialogues, the EU should look again at how the dialogues fit into the overall strategy of the Union and its member states in the promotion of human rights with third countries and assess whether the dialogues can be improved.

The EU and free expression: Human rights dialogues – Index on Censorship | Index on Censorship.