Posts Tagged ‘anti-terrorist laws’

Turkey: who will defend the human rights defenders?

February 16, 2020

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International, wrote on 14 February 2020 a moving piece on the detention and suffering of her fellow human rights defenders in Turkey.

Some moments in life are forever etched in our minds. Everyone recalls where they were when they heard their favourite rock star died, or how they felt around the birth of a child. For me, 6 June and 5 July 2017 are two dates that will forever be on my mind. They are the days when I learned that my friends and colleagues, human rights defenders, had been detained by Turkish police…On 6 June 2017, I was in Istanbul on a work visit, meeting with journalists and lawyers ahead of the start of the trial of two writers. It had almost been a year since the attempted and bloody military coup of July 2016. The Turkish government had responded with a sweeping crackdown on dissenters from all backgrounds, which was continuing to gather pace. I was with the editor of a small newspaper when I heard that my colleague Taner Kılıç had been detained. I will never forget the sinking feeling during those first moments. Trying to make sense of the nonsensical is always difficult. Knowing about the crackdown had not prepared me for how I’d feel when someone I knew was caught up in it.

…..

It was around 8pm on 5 July when I saw several missed calls from a colleague in Turkey. When I rang back, I learned that Amnesty’s Director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine others were in detention after being arrested  while attending a workshop on the island of Buyukada. My friend and sister Ozlem was among them. I recall vividly the ensuing hours, making frantic calls to whoever I could think of to try and find out where they were and what was going on. How could people be arrested for attending a human rights workshop? It made no sense.

…….

This week, I will be in Istanbul for the verdict in the case of Taner and the Buyukada 10. If found guilty of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, they could face up to 15 years behind bars. At the last hearing in November, I was in the courtroom when the state prosecutor requested that Taner and five of the Buyukada 10 – Idil, Ozlem, Gunal, Nejat and Veli – be convicted, and recited those initial absurd allegations that had been destroyed under the weight of the evidence their defence had provided. This included the allegation that Taner had the secure messaging app ByLock on his phone. Since the coup attempt the authorities have used this allegation against tens of thousands of people to try to prove they were part of an armed terrorist organization. In Taner’s case it was proven to be baseless, including by the state’s own reports to the court. In fact, after 10 hearings in the case, all the accusations made against them have been shown, one by one, to be entirely baseless. How is it possible that the state is still asking for the convictions of our colleagues and friends? The situation facing them is not unique. Their situation is in many ways emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life prison for them… [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/29/turkey-defies-european-court-on-kavala-and-undergoes-upr-review/]

I have been in that courtroom for this trial ever since it began. Each time, the absurdity of the prosecution and the complete lack of evidence of any crime having been committed – let alone under terrorism laws – struck everyone in attendance as reserved to the pages of a nightmarish novel. When I walk into the Istanbul courtroom next week, I know there is only one outcome that could deliver justice.  Taner, Ozlem, Idil, Nala. Seyhmus, Ilknur, Ali, Peter, Veli, Gunal and Nejat must all be acquitted. For defenders of human rights, for our friends, for human rights in Turkey, this is the only way just end to this long saga.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/who-will-defend-the-defenders/

“The Animal People”, how terrorism charges were laid against animal rights activists

December 16, 2019

In the Intercept of 12 December 2019, use the release of the new documentary film “The Animal People” – which is available on demand as of this week  – to focus on the story of Harper and his co-defendants, all of whom were convicted under spurious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism — though none of whom were found to have participated directly in any illegal acts. These were activists who attended raucous but legal protests, shared publicly available information about corporations on their website, and celebrated and supported militant actions taken in the name of the SHAC campaign. That is, they were convicted as terrorists for speech activity. It sounds eerily like the criminalisation fo human rights defenders today:

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Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protesters. Still: Courtesy of Virgil Films

The SHAC 7 case is a lesson in how legal instruments can be deployed to shut down dissent. At a time of renewed criminalization of protest activity nationwide, the so-called green scare stands as a worrying benchmark for the repression of political speech and the re-coding of protesters as criminals and terrorists. The capricious application of conspiracy charges — which we have seen recently deployed against protesters from Black Lives Matter advocates to Standing Rock water protectors — was mastered in the SHAC 7 prosecution. But “The Animal People” doesn’t only emphasize the excesses of the corporate-state power nexus; it recalls the passionate moral commitments of the SHAC members, and reminds us of a potent protest strategy and set of tactics, which I for one would happily see deployed again.

 

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The first half of the film traces the rise of what seemed, at certain times, to be an “unstoppable” movement. What began as a series of protests in the U.K. soon spread to the U.S., as activists in cities across the country took it upon themselves to confront Huntingdon-affiliated companies and shareholders. Some of the most committed organizers spent hours on complicated research into Huntingdon’s financial infrastructure, following the money to find any and every chokepoint on which to put pressure: be it the major banks and insurance firms propping up the company, or even the janitorial services contracted by a given Huntingdon lab. The information about potential targets was then shared on the SHAC website for activists to use as they saw fit.

……

SHAC tactics were, as any radical political experiment necessarily is, imperfect. Under the campaign’s banner, some activists exposed the names of children of targeted executives —  an outlier action, to be sure, but one that visibly still haunts a number of the SHAC defendants in the documentary. The prosecution also made much of the publication on the SHAC website of such information, even though the defendants had no direct involvement. (In the only incident of human harm associated with the movement to shut Huntingdon down, U.K. activists at one point assaulted CEO Brian Cass.)

Skepticism also hovers around the decision to focus wholly on closing Huntingdon, given the prevalence of abusive animal testing. The idea had only been to start with the company, which had already come under public scorn following the release undercover video footage of animal abuse in their labs (parts of which are replayed in “The Animal People”). The activists had planned to win against HLS and expand from there; the biochemical and pharmaceutical industry, with the weight of the federal government behind them, ensured otherwise. Huntingdon has since changed its name to the banal and faux-Latinate “Envigo.”

…..

“The Animal People,” along with most every decent retelling of the SHAC 7 case, makes clear that the six individuals indicted on terror charges were fall guys in the government’s scrambling attempt to put a stop to a movement, which was, against all odds, bringing major corporations to heel. “Corporations get to do what they want — that’s a rule in our society,” Lauren Gazzola, a former SHAC 7 defendant with a robust knowledge of constitutional law, tells the filmmakers. “We challenged the right of this corporation to exist.”

The story of who gets to be a labeled a “terrorist” in this country reflects the ideological underpinnings behind government policy and law. Under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, expanded in 2006 into the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a terrorist is someone who intentionally damages or causes the loss of property — including freeing animals — used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so. It is an obscene state sanctification of corporate private property over life.

…..

As I have written, the current pattern in law enforcement of labeling protests as “riots,” invoking slippery statutes of collective liability, and attempting to justify harsher crackdowns are all troubling for the same reason……

“The animal rights movement has really been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to modern government repression of activist campaigns,” the film’s co-director Denis Henry Hennelly told me by email. The sentiment was echoed by Potter, the journalist. “This is the new playbook for the criminalization of dissent,” he told me. “I’ve already seen it applied to other social movements, both here in the U.S. and internationally. In the years since the trial, though, it has only become more prescient.”

For viewers with little to no knowledge of this history of animal liberation struggle and its repression, “The Animal People” offers a compelling primer, organized through archival protest footage, old home videos of some of the SHAC 7 defendants, interviews with legal experts and investigative journalists, one smug businessman who was targeted by a SHAC campaign, and more recent interviews with the former defendants. As with any 90-minute film, the story the directors, Suchan and Hennelly, chose to tell is only one slice of an international and dispersed movement’s history. But for a documentary with some Hollywood backing — animal lover Joaquin Phoenix is an executive producer — “The Animal People” stands uncomplicatedly on the side of the SHAC defendants and doesn’t dampen their anti-capitalist message.

For Stepanian, this element of animal liberation and the necessary connection with anti-capitalist environmental activism can’t be forgotten. “In terms of the direct-action animal liberation movement today, it’s largely impotent compared to the time period of the SHAC campaign, because most messaging falls squarely in what is safe within the framework of capitalism: Much of the activity revolves around better consumer choices,” Stepanian told me. “I’d like to see another campaign with a lens critical of capitalism, which understands that it is this socioeconomic system which rewards the worst practices when it comes to the treatment of animals as resources, and rewards rapacious attitudes towards the environment.”

The film closes with a montage of uprisings, from students in Hong Kong, to the gilets jaunes in France, to Black Lives Matter activists in the U.S., and marchers for liberation in Palestine. It’s a minimal gesture toward intersectionality in a film that underplays the aspects of SHAC that were dedicated to shared struggle. “It’s not OK to be singular in your solidarity; justice and liberation for all life is paramount,” Stepanian told me, recalling how, prior to his indictment, he went on two organizing road trips with former Black Liberation Army member Ashanti Alston. “We are all intersectional activists,” he said of his former co-defendants.

Jake Conroy of the SHAC 7, who joined one of the road trips, comments near the film’s end: “It’s not just about earth liberation, it’s not just about human liberation, and it’s not just about animal liberation. It’s about collective liberation.”

https://theintercept.com/2019/12/12/animal-people-documentary-shac-protest-terrorism/

In Turkey: two journalists and activist acquitted of terrorism charges – there is hope

July 17, 2019

Today, 17 july 2019, a Turkish court has acquitted two journalists and one human rights activist of terrorism charges. The three defendants had been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for their work with a Kurdish newspaper, which has since been closed down.  Applause erupted in the courtroom as the verdict was read out, the BBC’s Mark Lowen reported from Istanbul.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Ahmet Nesin, and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chairwoman of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, were arrested in June 2016. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/05/turkish-human-rights-defender-and-forensic-doctor-sebnem-korur-fincanci-honoured/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/eren-keskin-in-turkey-sentenced-to-prison-and-more-to-come/]

RSF’s annual press freedom index ranks Turkey 157th out of 180 countries, in part because Turkey is the world’s largest jailer of journalists. Last year, Turkey imprisoned 68 journalists in total – the highest of any country in the world.

Mr Onderoglu, Mr Nesin and Ms Fincanci guest-edited the Kurdish paper Ozgur Gundem in 2016, which saw them accused by the authorities of making propaganda on behalf of the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). They each faced 14 years in prison. Two months after their arrest, in August that year, the Ozgur Gundem offices were raided and then permanently shut down. In her closing remarks, before the verdict was read out, Ms Fincanci told the court: “The only crime here was a crime against freedom of speech.”

In a statement released in April, Mr Onderoglu said: “I regard this trial as a part of an effort to intimidate journalists and rights defenders in Turkey. It is a heavy burden for anyone who yearns for democracy to be tried based on their professional activities or solidarity.’ “We are not concerned with being pushed around or harassed by the threats of persecution like the Sword of Damocles. Our concern is for the entire society; it is our concern for the erosion of a sense of justice which holds us all together.

RSF responded to the acquittal on Twitter, saying it was “deeply relieved“. The organisation also called for the scrapping of another trial against Mr Onderoglu, which is due to start in November. Christophe Deloire, RSF’s secretary general, tweeted that the verdict was “a great victory for justice and press freedom, both of which are violated on a daily basis in [Turkey]”. “It represents a huge hope for all the journalists who remain arbitrarily detained,” he added.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49017181

Controversial spyware company promises to respect human rights…in the future

June 19, 2019

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Newspapers report that controversial Israeli spyware developer NSO Group will in the coming months move towards greater transparency and align itself fully with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the company’s owners said over the weekend. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

Private equity firm Novalpina, which acquired a majority stake in NSO Group in February, said that within 90 days it would “establish at NSO a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights.” It said it sought “a significant enhancement of respect for human rights to be built into NSO’s governance policies and operating procedures and into the products sold under licence to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The company has always stated that it provides its software to governments for the sole purpose of fighting terrorism and crime, but human rights defenders and NGOs have claimed the company’s technology has been used by repressive governments to spy on them. Most notably, the spyware was allegedly used in connection with the gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year and whose body has never been found.

Last month London-based Amnesty International, together with other human rights activists, filed a petition to the District Court in Tel Aviv to compel Israel’s Defense Ministry to revoke the export license it granted to the company that Amnesty said has been used “in chilling attacks on human rights defenders around the world.”

On Friday the Guardian reported that Yana Peel, a well-known campaigner for human rights and a prominent figure in London’s art scene, is a co-owner of NSO, as she has a stake in Novalpina, co-founded by her husband Stephen Peel. Peel told the Guardian she has no involvement in the operations or decisions of Novalpina, which is managed by my husband, Stephen Peel, and his partners and added that the Guardian’s view of NSO was “quite misinformed.”

And Citizen Lab is far from re-assured:  https://citizenlab.ca/2019/06/letter-to-novalpina-regarding-statement-on-un-guiding-principles/…

https://www.timesofisrael.com/controversial-nso-group-to-adopt-policy-of-closer-respect-for-human-rights/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/whatsapp-spyware-israel-cyber-weapons-company-novalpina-capital-statement

CIVICUSat the 40th Human Rights Council: counter-terrorism, environmental defenders and more

February 28, 2019

During the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO CIVICUS will be presenting research and conducting advocacy activities and is organising a number of side events, issuing advocacy statements and supporting our members engage in official proceedings, where they can inform government and UN officials on the state of civic space conditions in their countries.

Panel discussions CIVICUS will be co-organising:

Friday, 1 March, 13:00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | The Role of Counter-Terrorism Laws in the Closing of Civic Space | Civic Space Initiative (Article 19, CIVICUS, ECNL, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy)

This event will examine the misuse of counter-terrorism laws by States to target government critics and human rights defenders. The panel will look at how states are abusing security legislation to curtail civic freedoms. See full invitation. Speakers include:

Tuesday,  5 March, 13.00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | Escazú and Beyond: Strengthening the Global Normative Framework on Protecting Environmental Defenders | Article 19, Centre for Environmental Rights, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, Ground Work, Human Rights Watch,  International Land Coalition

This side event will review State obligations for protecting the rights of environmental defenders and how the recently adopted Escazú Agreement can inform the work of the Human Rights Council. The panel will look at how the standards of the regional Escazú Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean can support global efforts to end the widespread attacks against environmental and land rights activists. See full invitation. Speakers include:

  • Leiria Vay, Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, CODECA Guatemala
  • Matome Kapa, Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights, South Africa
  • Marcos Orellana, Director Human Rights and Environment Division, HRW
  • David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
  • Moderator: Natalia Gomez, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

Other events that CIVICUS is co-sponsoring at the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, include:

  • 5 March (10:00-11:00) | The case for international action on Bahrain | Room XV
  • 6 March (11:00-12:00) | Women Human Rights Defenders: Local Realities & Shared Global Challenges | Room XXI
  • 8 March (12:00-13:00) | East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project – Human Rights in South Sudan | Room XXVII

CIVICUS will be live-streaming events through its Facebook page and posting updates on Twitter.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/3753-civicus-at-the-40th-human-rights-council

The “Stansted 15” story ends ‘well’ but not good enough

February 7, 2019

PA WIRE/PA IMAGES

Kate AllenDirector of Amnesty International UK, wrote a blog post on 7 February 2019 in the Huffington post about the ‘Stansted 15’: 

After nearly two long years the news is that the Stansted 15 will not be going to jail. On Wednesday, the 15 arrived at Chelmsford Crown Court with their bags packed for their anticipated prison stints. Given that they were staring down the barrel of a possible life sentence, they were contemplating the worst. ..a happy ending? Well, not really. [see also the recent: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/25/stansted-15-ordered-back-to-court-on-aggravated-trespass-charge]

This group of human rights defenders remain convicted of a serious terrorism-related offence. They were tried in relation to their attempt to prevent the deportation of a group of people at Stansted Airport in 2017. Their actions – which at no point harmed anyone – prevented the flight from leaving. Of the 60 individuals due to have been deported, at least two have since been granted permission to remain in the UK, with others still pursuing their claims.

Initially, we should recall, the Stansted 15 were charged with aggravated trespass, a relatively minor charge of the type that has often been used to prosecute people who have undertaken similar protests. But four months in, this was changed to “endangering safety at aerodromes” – a very serious terrorism-related charge which came onto the books following the Lockerbie bombings – and one which has a maximum penalty of life in prison.

….The way the Stansted 15 have been treated should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who cares about human rights in the UK. This case is a canary in the coalmine and we should be alert for the chilling effect this trial could have on peaceful protest in the UK….It’s easy to see how what has happened to them might give pause to others seeking to stand up against perceived injustice.

Throughout this case it’s been clear these are human rights defenders, motivated by conscience and compassion for their fellow humans. 

 

 

Emma Hughes grew up in Epsom and was one of 15 activists who helped block a charter flight at Heathrow airport in March 2017.  Emma Hughes is a charity worker who recently gave birth to a son, Fen. In December last year before learning of her sentence, she told the Surrey Comet that the trial and subsequent conviction, which she might have faced up to life imprisonment, had severely impacted her pregnancy. Hughes said: “My partner faces not just me going to jail but his first child as well. It’s very scary for everyone’s families as well as us.” 12 of the activists, including Hughes, received community service sentences, while three others were given suspended prison sentences.

Raj Chada, Partner from Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented all 15 of the defendants said: “While we are relieved that none of our clients face a custodial sentence, today is still a sad day for justice. Our clients prevented individuals being illegally removed from the UK and should never have been charged under counter terrorism legislation. We maintain that this was an abuse of power by the Attorney General and the CPS and will continue to fight in the appeal courts to get these wrongful convictions overturned.

Eleven of the people on the halted March 2017 flight are still in the UK and have been able to keep fighting their cases. The Stansted 15 have been described as‘heroes’ by one of those people, a man who has lived in the UK for over a decade. As he sat on the flight, waiting for it to leave, his mother and two children were also in Britain, as well as his pregnant partner. The delay to the flight meant that he was able to successfully appeal against his deportation and be at his partner’s side while she gave birth to their daughter. He wrote for the Guardian: “Without the Stansted 15 I wouldn’t have been playing football with my three-year-old in the park this week. It’s that simple. We now have a chance to live together as a family in Britain – and that is thanks to the people who laid down in front of the plane.”

It will be interesting to see what the UK Government will reply to the UN in a few weeks time. (see Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/07/un-tells-uk-stop-using-terror-charges-against-peaceful-protesters)

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/stansted-15-trial_uk_5c5bfdcee4b09293b20bbfbd

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/amy-hall/uk-human-rights-defenders-escape-jail-for-stopping-deportation-flight

Another call for NGO action on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders.

February 6, 2019

Every year the UN Secretary General publishes a Report on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders. On 5 February 2019  (President of the Association of World Citizens) summarized it for Global Solutions, lists the main culprits and calls for more action by the NGO community.

Reprisals on Human Rights Defenders: Need for NGO Action

On 23 January 2019, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement listed States which had carried out reprisals or intimidation including killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests against individuals cooperating with the United Nations on human rights issues.  He said, “The world owes it to these brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information and to engage with the United Nations to ensure their rights to participate is respected.  Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.”  …“Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation of security.”…

The information (provided mostly by NGOs) is collected at the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva and is evaluated to see if the information fits into a pattern of continuing human rights violations or if it is an individual event. 

Wadlow presents the States listed by broad geographic region rather than all together in alphabetical order as they are in the U.N. statement as other States in each region may also have human rights violation issues, often inter-related to the State named.  Thus, the list of States is only those which the U.N. is aware that there have been reprisals against individuals who have given information to the U.N. units. 

Middle East

 Bahrain,  Egypt,  Israel,  Saudi Arabia,  Morocco

Africa

 Cameroon,  Democratic Republic of Congo,  Djibouti,  Mali,  Rwanda,  South Sudan

Asia

 China,  India,  Maldives,  Myanmar,  Philippines,  Thailand

Latin America

Colombia,  Cuba,  Guatemala,  Guyana,  Honduras,  Trinidad and Tobago,  Venezuela

Europe

 Hungary,  Russian Federation

Central Asia

 Kyrgyzstan,  Turkmenistan

The impact and increasingly higher profile of human rights informants has left them more and more exposed to a high risk of harassment, repression, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial executions.  Governments are not the only actors.  Depending on the country, there can be gangs, militias, paramilitary and other non-governmental groups who also menace people thought to be giving information to the U.N. or to international human rights organizations

The publication by the U.N. of its list is done with the hope that governments themselves will take positive action to protect.  In some countries, internal security services or police-related “death squads” may act without the knowledge of the highest authorities of the State.  In other States, there is little repression that does not come on orders of the higher authorities. There is a need for representatives of NGOs and also the media to be alert, especially for violations in States which are not otherwise in the news. Active networking remains crucial.

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

https://globalsolutions.org/reprisals-on-human-rights-defenders-need-for-ngo-action/

NGOs express fear that new EU ‘terrorist content’ draft will make things worse for human rights defenders

January 31, 2019

On Wednesday 30 January 2019 Mike Masnick in TechDirt published a piece entitled: “Human Rights Groups Plead With The EU Not To Pass Its Awful ‘Terrorist Content’ Regulation“. The key argument is that machine-learning algorithms are not able to distinguish between terrorist propaganda and investigations of, say, war crimes, It points out that as an example that Germany’s anti-“hate speech” law has proven to be misused by authoritarian regimes. Read the rest of this entry »

Attack on human rights defenders in India are an attack on the very idea of India

September 22, 2018

When India was named as a major sinner in this year’s report on reprisals against human rights defenders, there was understandable shock. Many NGOs and newspapers reported on this (a small selection below).

ARUNA ROY published on 21 September a piece called: “Attack on the conscience keepers; Attempt to silence the messenger”, which is an excellent overview of the issues at stake:

There have been a set of simultaneous raids and arrests of eminent social activists and public intellectuals over which the BJP government in Maharashtra and the Centre, and many human rights organizations have been locked in a sharp polarized debate. The arrest of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira, in the Bhima Koregaon is a case that has all the elements of an attempt to use an FIR to target a particular kind of dissenting voice, and use undefined terms like “urban naxal” to divert from the main issue itself. This is not just baffling for the ordinary reader – but is a new kind of threat to the democratic practices in India. 

The attack on human rights workers is an attempt to silence the messenger. Given the very high credibility of the people concerned, an orchestrated campaign with the media has been used. News has itself become a strange brew of half-truths, rhetorical statements and deliberate mis-communication. In addition, the state and corporate interests exercise huge commercial control over the media, and many of the causes of tribal communities that are espoused by these activists are in direct conflict with the commercial interests of the media ownership. Users of “social media” advocate causes, make twisted statistical representations, and generate propaganda –all under the credibility that “media” enjoys in large part. The citizen is caught in a web of cross cutting information, where truth is elusive, and it is difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Let’s try and examine some of the facts of this FIR. The Elgar Parishad was an event organized by Dalits in celebration of an old tradition- a historic defeat of the Peshwas at the hands of the Mahars in the 1800s. Two ex judges, Justice Patil and Justice Sawant, former Supreme Court judge and former Chair of the Press Council, were part of the organizing team. On January 1, 2018, there was a clash between the Dalits and the upper castes. FIRs were lodged by the Dalits and a cross case later by the others. The accusations now added to the list, were not in the FIR and none of those arrested were present either at the Elgar Parishad, or on the of January 1. The first claim made by the Pune police was, that these were Maoists responsible for planning and fomenting the violence that took place on January 1. The claim that the arrested activists were a threat to the state and national security has been added subsequently.

There is no doubt that rising inequalities in India are the leading marginalized communities – particularly Dalits and Tribals– to organize to fight for survival and reclaiming citizenship. The citizen’s exercise of sovereignty, ie asking questions about land and natural resources, non-delivery of services, justice and dignity, especially for the most marginalized and discriminated, is branded as anti- national to escape scrutiny. Their advocates suffer the same fate and are hounded to prevent the amplification of the voices against corruption and injustice. The categorization of “anti-national” has now a twin in “urban naxal”. Vague and subjective and incomprehensible; and yet they are used to prosecute and silence people.

The governments, normally riddled with corruption and arbitrary use of power, are afraid of disclosures, accountability and the rule of and by law. When they are confronted by public scrutiny into the exercise of unconstitutional power, they take refuge in accusations of terrorism, sedition etc. to suppress all questioning. The suffering communities and individuals are often the victims of the privileged elite. The RTI has legitimized questioning and the corrupt system is feeling threatened by it, as the attempts to amend and the killing of RTI users amply prove.

Branding of opposition as “Maoists or terrorists”, and “urban naxalites” has enabled governments to build public acceptability, supporting arbitrary decisions made in camera. Rationality falls victim to the fear of government vendetta and silence prevails.

The system protects its charges with dossiers and secret files created to indict activists. The use of the RTI has proven quite clearly that the sovereign citizen is often in ignorance of acts done in her/his name. Therefore any claim of “evidence” is suspect unless it is allowed public scrutiny. There are few tools besides the RTI to test sources of the evidence and the veracity of the testimonies.

This attack on civil rights defenders is in some ways worse than the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, where the motivation was to cling to political power. This is not just about political power, but to change the ideas of justice and equity. Like then, civic space is being narrowed down and an atmosphere of fear is created. But today, people who have dedicated their lives to and speak for constitutional rights are branded as criminals and terrorists and there is a vicious attempt to destroy their credibility. An attack on the rights of civil society by gagging its spokespersons will destroy the idea of India. This idea was crafted carefully by the constituent assembly to give legitimate space for the peaceful and just co-existence of disparate cultures, ideologies and thought, to enable a steady, though difficult journey towards a more just and equitable India.

For some of my earlier posts on India: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/india/

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http://www.catchnews.com/politics-news/attack-on-the-conscience-keepers-attempt-to-silence-the-messenger-133682.html

https://www.newsx.com/world/india-human-rights-un

https://thewire.in/external-affairs/india-a-history-sheeter-in-un-records-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-activists

https://www.counterview.net/2018/09/suspend-all-agreements-with-india-till.html

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/India,-five-Modi-critics-arrested.-Attempt-to-%27create-a-culture-of-silence%27-44800.html

Honduras, already the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, to get deadlier

October 2, 2017

 
Demonstrators protest in the wake of the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Source: Creative Commons / Flickr–PBS NewsHour 

The article describes how activists in Honduras could soon face up to 20 years in prison for simply marching in the streets after Congress passed an article of the new Criminal Code last week that opposition lawmakers claim criminalizes social protest as a form of “terrorism.”…..Human rights defenders have raised alarm over the proposed reform, arguing that the sweeping definition of “terrorism” in the bill leaves activists and social leaders vulnerable to harsh criminalization and violence at the hands of military and police forces. As the piece is long and copyrighted, here just the link.

Earlier posts on Honduras, which is one of the most dangerous in the world for human rights defenders, include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/ .

Source: Honduras, the Deadliest Country in the World for Environmental Defenders, Is About to Get Deadlier – Upside Down World