Posts Tagged ‘bloggers’

The pen mightier than the sword: award courageous writers

November 19, 2019

On 18 November 2019 Emma Frost wrote in the Boar a piece extolling writing as an act of courage. She refers to courageous laureates and concludes that “unfortunately, the need for such awards merely confirms the continual existence of persecution, state-sponsored violence and oppression in our world”. THF’s digest lists more than 40 international awards under the theme freedom of expression: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest.

Befeqadu Hailu is an Ethiopian writer, blogger, and human rights activist who recently was awarded the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize for International Writer of Courage. Before achieving this prestigious title, Befeqadu had been imprisoned, brutalised, dehumanised and labelled a ‘terrorist’ by his own government for exercising what should be a basic human right: freedom of speech. …However, Befeqadu isn’t the only writer who has faced such injustice. Instead, he is one of thousands of courageous individuals who dare to speak and write about the truth of their society, and who are consequently punished for doing so. Many readers will recognise the story of Malala Yousafzai, a girl from Pakistan who was almost assassinated by the Taliban in 2012 for her blog posts to BBC Urdu about life under the terrorist organisation and her campaigning for female education. She was only 15 years old when she took that famous bullet to her head.

Female author Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1982 in Iran for campaigning for civil and female rights. She used her time in prison as an inspiration for her novel The Secret Letters From X To A, a beautifully written book that ponders the responsibility of publishing an individual’s truth in the face of personal danger for doing so. More recently, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in 2017,as a consequence for her dedication to exposing the corruption of Maltese politicians through her blog, ‘Running Commentary’.

These examples are testaments to the importance of writing. Without the written records of their struggle and their defiance, the the courage of brave individuals would remain unheard and we would remain in ignorance of their plight. In a world where it is safer not to write about injustice, writers make a valiant choice every day to speak out, knowing the risk of exile, imprisonment, or even death. The former 2015 PEN Pinter award winner Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger for his website ‘Free Saudi Liberals’ and activist for greater human rights in Saudi Arabia, is currently imprisoned to this very day and his exact whereabouts are unknown.

The significance of awards such as the PEN Pinter Prize for International Writer of Courage cannot be exaggerated. They validate the heroic and life-threatening efforts by writers to create a better world and convey to those who are imprisoned for their literature that they are seen, they are heard, and that they won’t be abandoned. The Civil Courage Prize is another such human rights award that recognises “steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk”. This award was inspired by the story of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book The Gulag Archipelago exposed the true horrors of the Russian gulag system through the use of interviews, diaries, legal documents and his own experience as a gulag prisoner.

Unfortunately, the need for such awards merely confirms the continual existence of persecution, state-sponsored violence and oppression in our world. It signifies that human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have a long way to go in achieving freedom for everyone. In spite of this, I have hope that these brave individuals won’t give up and will continue to write for the sake of a better humanity. All of this reaffirms my steadfast belief that the pen truly is mightier than the sword, and that writing is the most important political tool of our century.

Writing as an act of courage

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

RSF’s Press Freedom Award 2019 goes to three women journalists

September 16, 2019

On 12 September Reporters Without Borders (RSF) awarded its 2019 Press Freedom Prize to Saudi journalist Eman al Nafjan, Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang and Maltese journalist Caroline Muscat, at a ceremony held for the first time in Berlin. The award used to be called the Reporters Without Borders Prize {see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/reporters-without-borders-prize} but is increasingly referred to as Press Freedom Award which could be confusing as there are other awards with that name such as: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-press-freedom-awards-canada and http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-press-freedom-awards-cpj.

The Prize for Courage, which is given to journalists, media or NGOs who demonstrate courage in the practice, defence or promotion of journalism, was awarded to Saudi journalist Eman al Nafjan. The founder of the SaudiWoman.me website and author of many articles in the international media including the Guardian and New York Times, Eman al Nafjan spearheaded the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive and against Saudi Arabia’s oppressive male guardianship system. Arrested along with other women’s rights activists in May 2018, she was freed conditionally on 28 March 2019. According to the Saudi media, she is accused of endangering “national security,” maintaining “suspicious contacts with foreign entities” and of being a “traitor,” for which she could be jailed for up to 20 years.

The Prize for Impact, which is given to journalists whose work has led to concrete improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or to an increase in awareness of these matters, was awarded to Vietnamese journalist and blogger Pham Doan Trang. She is the founder of Luât Khoa, an online magazine that specializes in providing information about legal issues, and she edits another, thevietnamese, which also helps Vietnamese citizens to defend their rights and resist the Communist Party’s arbitrary rule. The author of many books including one defending the rights of Vietnam’s LGBT communities, she has been beaten by the police because of her work and was detained arbitrarily twice for several days in 2018.

The Prize for Independence, awarded to journalists for resisting financial, political, economic or religious pressure, went to Malta’s Caroline Muscat. After fellow Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in October 2017, she helped to create The Shift News, an independent investigative news website committed to combatting corruption and defending press freedom in Malta. In this small island nation where most media outlets are subservient to the government, she has exposed many cases of corruption implicating local politicians. Although the repeated target of gag suits, The Shift News has refused to comply with content take-down demands from Henley & Partners, a British firm that advises governments on residence and citizenship-by-investment policy. She received an award from the European Commission in 2015 for her journalism,

Every year, award-winners are unable to attend because the leaders of their countries prevent them,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “Two of this year’s three laureates have been unable to collect their awards personally,………… These journalists, who should be honoured in their countries, are denied the freedom to travel and often their freedom, period. But their commitment transcends borders without the dictators being able to do anything to prevent it.”

https://rsf.org/en/news/journalists-saudi-arabia-vietnam-and-malta-honoured-rsfs-2019-press-freedom-awards

New documentary series highlights the struggle of women human rights in Vietnam

August 7, 2019

A new series of video interviews highlights the perspectives and struggles of human rights women in Vietnam.

The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defenders-in-vietnam/

Other women including social activist and blogger Tran Thi Nga, who is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, have also been seriously injured following physical attacks, often conducted by hired men. Tran Thi Nga’s attack was documented and posted on Youtube with recordings of her being wheeled into a hospital accompanied by her two young children. According to family reports, Tran Thi Nga has been subjected to both physical and psychological harassment after her arrest, receiving death threats and beatings from a cellmate.

According to the 88 Project database, there are currently more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with over 30 identifying as female. Bloggers and journalists are frequently arrested and charged for “activities attempting to overthrow the state” or “conducting propaganda against the state”. According to Amnesty International, the Vietnamese government has been conducting a growing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism over the past few years.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a photojournalist and the woman who has served the longest time in prison so far, is expected to be released at the beginning of August.

Human Rights Defender Jolovan Wham in Singapore sentenced – NGOs dismayed

February 24, 2019

The five undersigned human rights organisations, strongly condemn the prosecution of Singaporean human rights defender Jolovan Wham. After convicting Wham in January 2019 of “organising a public assembly without a permit,” the State Court sentenced him, on 21 February, to a fine of S$3,200 (US$2,367), or by default, 16 days in prison.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/05/international-commission-of-jurists-joins-criticism-of-singapore-for-harassment-of-human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham/]

Bloggers and technologists who were forced “offline” in 2018

January 8, 2019

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger – also valid in Africa

November 6, 2017

In a new report launched at the 61st session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) finds that amid growing restrictions on civic space in the sub-region, journalists play a critical role in exposing human rights violations and providing vital information and analysis of current events. Simply documenting and sharing information can simultaneously place them at risk and at the forefront of human rights defence.
In “Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Journalists as Human Rights Defenders in the East and Horn of Africa”, DefendDefenders examines the challenges journalists face, and provides an overview of the various strategies they have used to circumvent and continue their work amid these restrictions. Overall trends, legal frameworks, and case studies from 11 countries in the East and Horn of Africa provide an understanding of the capacity, risks, and needs of journalists reporting on human rights issues. Over 60 journalists, bloggers, and media professionals from the sub-region were interviewed, in addition to significant input from civil society organisations dedicated to free expression and the protection of journalists.
Central to the report is the question of whether journalists, by nature of their work, should be considered HRDs. Nearly all journalists interviewed for this report considered themselves to be HRDs, but many had doubts over whether this also applied to all their colleagues. Some interviewees claimed to actively seek out human rights stories, especially in conflict situations, while others also advocated for freedom of expression, often from exile.
Journalists are increasingly faced with new threats to their work and security, including harassment, arbitrary detentions, and imprisonments and prosecutions under spurious laws, both online and offline. These threats intensify amid violent conflicts and political crises, and often force journalists into exile, where they face new challenges. The report offers concrete solutions to online and offline challenges and makes key recommendations to governments and civil society to ensure that a free media environment in the region is protected and promoted.
Download “Don’t Shoot the Messenger!” here.

The 4th Werner Lottje Lecture showcases the Zone-9 Bloggers from Ethiopia (15 February)

January 26, 2017

This year’s Werner Lottje Lecture is dedicated to freedom of speech in Ethiopia, to which two Zone-9 bloggers (Zelalem Kibret und Jomanex Kasayehave been invited. The Zone-9 bloggers were finalists for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (of which the late Werner Lottje was one of the founders). See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/16/and-a-lot-more-about-werner-lottje-the-great-german-human-rights-defender/

The event “We blog because we careDas Recht auf Meinungsfreiheit in Äthiopien” takes place in Berlin on 15 February 2017 at 17h30 in there building of Bread for the World– Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst, Caroline-Michaelis-Straße 1, and is co-organised with the German Institute for Human Rights. To attend please contact Alexandra Prieß: alexandra.priess@brot-fuer-die-welt.de.

2000 appr Werner LottjeSee also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/10/18/2nd-werner-lottje-lecture-on-10-november-in-berlin-with-alejandra-ancheita-and-michel-forst/

UN Rapporteurs urge Ethiopia to end violent crackdown and impunity

February 10, 2016

On 21 January 2016 a group of United Nations Rapporteurs (Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances) called on the Ethiopian authorities to end the ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests by the country’s security forces, who have reportedly killed more than 140 demonstrators and arrested scores more in the past nine weeks. “The sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government of Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner,” the independent experts said, while also expressing deep concern about allegations of enforced disappearances of several protesters.

The current wave of protests began in mid-November, in opposition to the Government’s ‘Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan’ to expand the capital’s municipal boundary. The ‘Master Plan’ could reportedly lead to mass evictions and the seizure of agricultural land in the Oromia region, as well as extensive deforestation. The UN experts welcomed the Government’s announcement on 12 January 2016 suspending the implementation of the ‘Master Plan’, but were concerned about continuous reports of killings, mass arrests, excessive use of force and other abuses by security forces. “The Government’s decision is a positive development, but it cannot be seen as a sincere commitment until the security forces stop their crackdown on peaceful protests,” they said. “The role of security forces should be to protect demonstrators and to facilitate peaceful assemblies, not suppress them.”

We call on the Government to immediately release protesters who seem to have been arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, to reveal the whereabouts of those reportedly disappeared and to carry out an independent, transparent investigation into the security forces’ response to the protests,” the experts said.  “Impunity, on the other hand, only perpetuates distrust, violence and more oppression.

The UN independent experts also expressed grave concern over the Ethiopian Government’s application of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009 to arrest and prosecute protesters, labelling them as ‘terrorists’ without substantiated evidence. This law authorises the use of unrestrained force against suspects and pre-trial detention of up to four months. “Ethiopia’s use of terrorism laws to criminalize peaceful dissent is a disturbing trend, not limited to the current wave of protests,” they experts noted. “The wanton labelling of peaceful activists as terrorists is not only a violation of international human rights law, it also contributes to an erosion of confidence in Ethiopia’s ability to fight real terrorism. This ultimately makes our world a more dangerous place.”

How the law was used recently is clear from the case of the “Zone 9” bloggers. Fortunately, on 16 October 2015 Front Line was able to report that all “Zone 9” bloggers were cleared of terrorism charges by the Federal Court in Addis Ababa. All bloggers and journalists whose terrorism charges have been dropped are members of the “Zone 9” and prominent social media activists. With the exception of Soliana Shimelis, the other human rights defenders, namely Mss Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye and Messrs Natnael Feleke, Befekadu Hailu, Atnaf Birhane, Zelalem Kibret, Abel Wabela, Tesfalem Weldyes and Asmamaw Haile Giorgis, were arrested on 25 and 26 April 2014 and remained in detention for over a year before being freed.  The human rights defenders’ lawyer stated that “all the evidence presented was very weak to prove they were planning any kind of terrorism”. However, charges of inciting violence remain pending against Befekadu Hailu, who might face a ten-year imprisonment sentence if convicted. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/29137

On Ethiopia: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/suffocating-dissent-in-ethiopia-counterpunch-tells-the-facts-and-names-the-names/

http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16977&LangID=E