Posts Tagged ‘criminalisation’

Criticizing Kremlin leads to treason charges

October 8, 2022
Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza in Moscow.
Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza in Moscow. © 2021 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

On 7 October 2022 Human Rights Watch criticised sharply the Russian charge of high treason against an opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza. It is “a blatant attempt to quash any criticism of the Kremlin and deter contact with the international community“, Human Rights Watch said. 

This is the third baseless criminal charge against Kara-Murza since he was detained in April 2022. He has already been indicted for spreading “fake news” about the Russian Armed Forces because he publicly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and for alleged involvement with an “undesirable” foreign organization. He now risks an additional sentence of up 20 years if convicted on high treason charges. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/14/human-rights-defender-vladimir-kara-murza-arrested-in-russia/]

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a longstanding proponent of democratic values and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir  Putin and Russia’s war on Ukraine,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is painfully obvious that the Kremlin sees Kara-Murza as a direct and imminent threat.  These charges against him and his prolonged detention are a travesty of justice. Russian authorities should immediately and unconditionally free Kara-Murza and drop all charges against him.” See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/34e43b60-3236-11ea-b4d5-37ffeeddd006

Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, said the high treason charges relate to Kara-Murza’s  public criticism of the Russian authorities in international forums.

Kara-Murza has called for sanctions against the Kremlin and has spoken in person before national political bodies throughout Europe and in the United States, and at many international and intergovernmental forums, including at the United Nations. He was a key figure advocating for the US Magnitsky Act that gave rise to the Global Magnitsky sanctions regime for serious human rights violations.

Kara-Murza was also a close friend of the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. He survived two near-fatal poisonings, in 2015 and 2017, which Bellingcat investigative journalists reported was most likely orchestrated by the Russian Federal Security Service and which the Russian authorities have failed to investigate. 

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February, the Russian authorities have expanded their repressive toolbox. In March, Russian authorities criminalized calls for sanctions against Russia, and in July also criminalized “confidential cooperation” with foreign states, international or foreign organizations as well as public calls for action that are “against national interests.”

These new provisions cannot be applied retroactively to the years of advocacy by Kara-Murza, Human Rights Watch said, and so he is being charged with high treason under Russia’s criminal code, which was expanded in November 2012. The definition was expanded to include consultations or any other assistance to a foreign state or international or foreign organizations…

Russia’s rules on prosecution and trial of treason cases also breach human rights safeguards, in particular fair trial guarantees. For example, the criminal case materials in such proceedings are classified so that the defense team may not have access to key pieces of evidence, and the trial takes place behind closed doors, preventing public scrutiny.

Ivan Safronov, a journalist, was recently convicted of high treason and sentenced to 22 years in maximum security prison and given a substantial fine for his journalistic investigations of defense contracts, spotlighting how treason cases are handled.  He was tried behind closed doors, key evidence obtained by fellow journalists was not accepted by the court, and his defense team came under immense pressure. Two of his lawyers had to flee the country, and a third was detained on accusations of spreading false information and remains in detention.

“Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect that fair trial standards will be observed in Kara-Murza’s case,” Williamson said. “By jailing leaders like him, Russian authorities are attempting to instill fear in the Russian people and eradicate any opportunity for civil society to mobilize and oppose the Kremlin and its war.” 

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/07/russia-first-treason-charges-criticizing-kremlin

Global Witness report 2021: continued disaster

October 5, 2022

Stuti Mishra in the Independent of 29 September 2022 summarises and analyses the report “A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide” by Global Witness

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2022/09/27/13/10185902.jpg?quality=75&width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quot; alt="<p>A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru (EPA)

More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world in the last decade with one death reported every other day on average…The report titled A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide, released by Global Witness, reveals the increasing threats environmental activists are facing as the climate and biodiversity crisis worsens.

The research states that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past 10 years trying to protect their land and resources. That is an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years.

The report shows Brazil has been the deadliest country for environmental defenders with 342 lethal attacks reported since 2012 with over 85 per cent of killings within the Brazilian Amazon.

The data found within the report also shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in three countries — Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines — with around 300 killings reported in these countries.

Mexico and Honduras witnessed over 100 killings while Guatemala and India saw 80 and 79 respectively, remaining one of the most dangerous countries. The report also reports 12 mass killings, including three in India and four in Mexico.

Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings in 2021, totalling 54 killings, up from 30 the previous year. Almost half of those killed were again Indigenous people while over a third were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.

The report also reveals that over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, a big majority of 78 per cent of these attacks occurred in the Amazon.

Meanwhile, the biggest increase in lethal attacks was witnessed in Brazil and India in 2021 with 26 deaths reported in Mexico, up from 20 and 14 in India, up from four.

Both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in killings to 33 in 2021 from 65, and 19 from 30 in 2021 respectively. Yet overall they remain two of the countries with the highest numbers of killings in the world since 2012.

2021 Highlights from Global Witness report

  • Around 200 Land and Environmental Defenders were killed in 2021 – nearly four people a week
  • Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America
  • Nearly 40 per cent of all attacks reported were against Indigenous people
  • Mexico recorded the highest number of killings in 2021
  • Brazil and India both saw a rise in lethal attacks in 2021
  • 50 of the victims killed in 2021 were small-scale farmers
  • Around 1 in 10 of the defenders recorded killed in 2021 were women, nearly two-thirds of whom were Indigenous [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo remained the country with the highest number of attacks — eight defenders were killed there in 2021. All eight of these killings were in Virunga National Park, which remains extremely dangerous for the park rangers protecting it.

The organisation began collecting data on attacks against those defending land and the environment in 2012 and found that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened. Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land, it states. The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks — nearly 40 per cent — even though they make up only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

However, the research found that the figures also do not capture the true scale of the problem, as tightened control on media has led to severe underreporting in some countries where environmental defenders are most vulnerable. Research has also found that few perpetrators of killings are rarely ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes.

While a majority of these attacks are not properly investigated or reported on, a big proportion of these attacks were linked to sectors like mining and infrastructure, including large-scale agribusiness and hydroelectric dams.

Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests, the report says.

All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

They play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritising profit over human and environmental harm.

a spokesperson for Global Witness said

With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems,” a spokesperson for Global Witness said, adding that the organisation makes an “urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”

Apart from killings, the report also reveals a number of tactics being used to silence them, like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/decade-defiance/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/global-witness-report-environment-defenders-threat-b2176247.html

Stop Reprisals Against Mongolian Human Rights Defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren

August 22, 2022

An astonishing 128 organisations joined Forum Asia on 18 August 2022 in signing the joint letter in support of the Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren which strongly condemns the criminalization and smear campaigns against her,

They call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, international embassies, international investors or private companies – to publicly speak out in support of Sukhgerel, use their leverage to strongly condemn reprisals, and take any action they can to ensure Sukhgerel can continue to safely carry out her work.

Who is Sukhgerel Dugersuren?

Sukhgerel Dugersuren is an internationally renowned human rights defender and the Executive Director of the Mongolian organizations Oyu Tolgoi Watch and Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia. She has a long trajectory of exposing human rights abuses and defending the rights of herder and rural communities in Mongolia. Her courageous and inspirational work is admired by scores of international and local civil society organizations, as well as UN Special Rapporteurs and experts, who have closely worked with her.

In the past decades, Sukhgerel has supported dozens of communities negatively affected by large-scale projects, such as mines and hydropower dams. She has helped these communities in denouncing the harmful impacts of these activities and bringing their grievances to the attention of the Mongolian government, development banks, and international organizations. For example, she supported complaints to the independent accountability mechanisms of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.

What happened and why is she being criminalized?

According to Front Line Defenders, on 2 August 2022, Mongolia’s General Intelligence Agency informed Sukhgerel that she is under investigation for committing crimes under the Mongolian Criminal Code Article 19.4, which prohibits the “illegal cooperation with foreign intelligence agency, agent.” Although no other details around the investigations have been shared, we fear Sukhgerel might be at risk of imminent arrest and we are deeply concerned for her safety.

Sukhgerel is being subject to a clear criminalisation process, where the law is used to limit civic freedoms and punish human rights defenders. The undersigned human rights organizations consider these accusations false and baseless, as they appear to be related to Sukhgerel’s support to the communities impacted by the Erdeneburen hydropower plant, funded by China’s EXIM Bank, and her legitimate requests for access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and transparency.

On 3 August 2022, during a government briefing, Mongolia’s Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, H. Nyambaatar, stated that the construction of the Erdeneburen hydro plant had been suspended for two years, as a result of a letter from the local communities to the Chinese authorities. He also said that when development projects are interrupted by a civil society organization or person, then a task force should be established to investigate these cases as ‘sabotage’ under Criminal Code Article 19.6 and that the government could claim compensation for the lost economic opportunity. This concerning statement was shared just a few days before the visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to Ulan Bator on 7 and 8 August to discuss economic cooperation between the two countries and who specifically mentioned the Erdeneburen hydropower plant in his remarks.

The Mongolian Minister’s statement could be construed as a direct threat of reprisal against human rights defenders like Sukhgerel. It also sends a very chilling message to all individuals and communities peacefully raising concerns or opposing harmful projects, especially in a context where several environmental activists have already been threatened and criminalized.

Sukhgerel is also facing a worrying and orchestrated smear campaign in online media and social media. We are deeply worried about the criminalization and smear campaign against Sukhgerel, which puts her at additional risk and constitutes a threat to all human rights defenders and civil society groups in the country.

They call on the government and other relevant authorities in Mongolia to:

  1. Immediately investigate and unconditionally cease all attempts to target and criminalize Sukhgerel Dugersuren, as well as other human rights defenders and individuals expressing their opinion or raising concerns about development projects in the country;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mongolia are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, in line with Mongolia’s international human rights obligations and commitments, including its recently approved law on human rights defenders;
  3. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Publicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and a safe environment for human rights defenders, to help ensure development projects are truly sustainable for Mongolia.

https://www.forum-asia.org/

Human rights defenders in Greece, my adopted country: not doing well

July 28, 2022
OHCHR | Ms Mary Lawlor

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, conducted an official visit to Greece from 13 to 22 June 2022, to assess the government’s efforts towards creating an enabling environment for those seeking to protect and promote human rights.

Human rights defenders in Greece, particularly those working on migration, operate in an environment of pervasive fear and insecurity, concluded Mary Lawlor. “I am concerned about the increasing criminalization of humanitarian assistance in Greece. Solidarity should never be punished and compassion should never be put on trial,” she said while presenting her preliminary findings at the end of a 10-day mission in the country.

With Greece facing intense international criticism over unlawful pushbacks of migrants at its borders and wider human rights concerns related to migration and asylum, the Greek government has moved to silence groups and individuals documenting these abuses. While acknowledging Greece’s migration challenges and government efforts to address them, Lawlor criticized burdensome rules for the registration of nongovernmental organizations working on migration, introduced in 2019, calling them discriminatory and in violation of Greece’s international human rights obligations. See my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/17/greeces-mistaken-deterrence-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-heavy-prison-sentences/

The UN expert noted that human rights defenders not only face criminal sanctions for their activities, but are operating in an increasingly hostile environment where the general public is influenced by negative rhetoric from high-ranking officials and their unfavorable portrayal in the media, which often conflates their activities with traffickers and criminal networks.

Greece fell 38 positions within a year in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 report on the Press Freedom Index, with the organization marking it the lowest-ranked European Union country for press freedom. “Journalists who counter the government’s narrative on the management of migration flows are often under pressure and lack access to mainstream media outlets.… Journalists reporting on corruption are sometimes facing threats and even charges,” Lawlor said. She noted that journalists have very limited or no access to facilities where migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are being held, further contributing to a general lack of transparency regarding the government’s policies in this area.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/18/greek-court-fails-human-rights-defenders-on-antisemitism/

Lawlor will present a detailed report with her findings at the March 2023 session of the UN Human Rights Council. The government should listen to what the UN expert has to say and champion human rights defenders. The European Commission, which noted in July last year the narrowing space in Greece for groups working with migrants and asylum seekers, should step up its engagement on the issue and press Greece to stop harassing civil society groups and activists.

https://www.ohchr.org/en/media-advisories/2022/06/un-human-rights-expert-visit-greece-assess-situation-human-rights

https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/06/greece-migration-policy-having-suffocating-effect-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/europe-and-central-asia/greece/report-greece/

see also later:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/31/greece-should-face-more-checks-over-asylum-seeker-treatment-eu-official

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/31/i-was-close-to-death-syrian-man-tells-how-greek-officials-pushed-refugees-back-out-to-sea

And on 7 November : https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/07/greeces-surveillance-scandal-puts-rights-risk

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

Prosecution of human rights defender Öztürk Türkdoğan in Turkey should be dropped

February 23, 2022

All charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of Turkey’s most prominent human rights organisation and a respected lawyer, should be immediately dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of his trial. Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), faces baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”, “insulting a public official” and “insulting the Turkish nation and the Turkish state” for public statements he made in relation to his association’s human rights work.
See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/22/turkey-arrests-and-backsliding-on-femicide/.


The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan is an undisguised attack on this one human rights defender and also on all those who speak out for human rights in Turkey,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Research for Europe. “With these spurious charges against the co-chair of Turkey’s longest-standing human rights organisation, the prosecuting authorities send a chilling message that increases the climate of intense fear among Turkey’s already beleaguered human rights community.

According to IHD’s records, over 200 separate criminal investigations and prosecutions of IHD members and elected representatives of the organization are ongoing across Turkey.

The criminalization of human rights defenders and of the Human Rights Association are the true insults here. The authorities’ unrelenting attack on Öztürk Türkdoğan and Turkey’s civil society movement has to end,” said Julia Hall. “Turkey must immediately drop all charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan and create an enabling, protective environment for civil society in line with its obligations under international human rights law.”

In December 2021, the Turkish authorities initiated three separate prosecutions against Öztürk Türkdoğan. He was tried under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code allegedly for “insulting” a public official in a statement published on the IHD website on 29 June 2018. The first hearing of this prosecution, in which the Minister of Interior is the alleged victim, was held on 18 February 2022. The next hearing will be held on 11 May.

He was also charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the penal code after the authorities detained him and searched his home on 19 March 2021. During the search, his phone and laptop were confiscated. The first hearing for this case will take place on 22 February 2022.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/02/turkey-baseless-prosecution-of-ozturk-turkdogan-an-attack-on-all-those-who-speak-out-for-human-rights/

https://www.arabnews.com/node/2029361/middle-east


2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

January 18, 2022

The new #PeoplePower2021 report shows where civil society conditions are improving and getting worse. A closer look at top violations & trends.

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

  • 9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted 
  • Country downgrades include Poland, Singapore, Nicaragua, Jordan and South Africa
  • Detention of protesters is the top violation of civic freedoms in 2021
  • COVID-19 continues to be used as a pretext to restrict rights across the globe

The fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to deteriorate year after year worldwide, according to a global report released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The new report, People Power Under Attack 2021, shows that the number of people living in countries with significant restrictions on civic rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, amount to almost 89% of the population this year. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/26/10th-edition-of-civicuss-state-of-civil-society-report-2021/

The CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only 3.1% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.

Nearly two billion people live in countries with the worst rating, ‘closed’, where the authorities are routinely allowed to imprison, injure and kill people for attempting to exercise their fundamental freedoms. China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and 21 other countries fall under this category – Nicaragua and Belarus joined their ranks this year. 

It is nearly two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus is having a dire impact on civic freedoms globally, one that will have lasting impact if remedial action is not taken. Our research shows the detention of protesters and the use of restrictive laws to muzzle dissent are becoming more prevalent, as governments use the pandemic to introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms. 

“Governments across the world are setting a very dangerous precedent by using the health emergency as a smokescreen to crack down on protests and enact or amend legislation that will further limit peoples’ rights. Specifically, disinformation legislation is being enacted and used to criminalise speech, a concerning practice that could become the new norm to crush dissent,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Cluster Lead. 

This year, 13 countries have been downgraded and only one improved their rating.  The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about civic space restrictions in Europe, where four countries dropped a rating: Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Poland. Europe has the greatest number of ‘open’ countries, but year after year we continue to see signs of serious deterioration.

Also alarming is the deterioration of civic space conditions in Africa, where South Africa, Botswana, Mali and Mozambique all dropped ratings. In the Americas, Nicaragua joined Cuba in our worst category, ‘closed’. The Middle East and North Africa retained its status as the region with the worst civic rights record, with Jordan being downgraded to ‘repressed’. In Asia, Singapore also fell into the ‘repressed’ category, as a persistent clamp down on dissent and opposition voices continues. 

https://monitor.civicus.org/widgets/world

“What we are seeing is not a proportional reaction to a health emergency, where restrictions are meant to be extraordinary measures to deal with a crisis that is temporary. On the contrary, governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to further accelerate the crackdown on human rights that we have been documenting over the past years.” 

Although only one country – Mongolia – improved its rating in 2021, it is important to highlight the resilience of civil society. Governments have not been successful in silencing alternative voices or limiting their activism. Despite increasing restrictions, civil society has found ways to continue to speak up and claim their rights.  

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021. 

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

As the climate crisis intensifies and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate social and economic inequalities, the efforts of civil society are fundamental to achieve tangible results and systematic change. However, a new report by CIVICUS shows how activists, human rights and environmental defenders face profound barriers: not only are governments and businesses failing to take urgent steps to mitigate the climate crisis; they are also actively trying to silence activists, disrupt and prevent climate actions and repress environmental, land and Indigenous rights defenders. In addition, companies play a crucial role in limiting human rights activism.

CIVICUS’ report highlights the role of companies across the world in perpetrating, contributing to, or allegedly benefiting from attacks on human rights defenders and rights groups, including: Feronia PHCFormosa Plastics GroupSOCFINNewmont Mining CompanyXiang Lin SI LtdGreat Season LtdChevron EnergySomkhele and Tendele Coal Mining, PanAust, Oxec, OCP Ecuador and Petroecuador, SG Interests, Celtejo, Mineral Commodities (Ltd) (MRC) and Mineral Sands Resources, PetroTal, Enbridge, Lydian Armenia, andthe RWE Group. The report also highlights positive developments from Chevron and the Mizuho Financial Group.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) had already asked most of these companies to respond to the allegations included in the report, previously. Responses can be found in the companies’ dashboard. BHRRC asked RWE Group to respond to the allegations; RWE’s response is included below.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/civicus-report-highlights-role-of-companies-in-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-amid-increasing-restrictions-on-civil-society/

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

See also in March 2022: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/17/ray-hope-fight-against-greeces-border-abuses,

and on 12 April: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/04/un-committee-enforced-disappearances-publishes-findings-greece-and-niger

Team 29, prominent legal defense group in Russia, folds under state pressure

July 24, 2021

Tanya Lokot on 21 July 2021 in Global Voices wrote about the closure of Team 29:

For almost seven years, Team 29 (Komanda 29), a group of independent lawyers, attorneys, advocacy experts and journalists, has fought for the rights of Russian activists, political prisoners, and other citizens. On July 19, the group announced it was shutting down its operations in order to protect its staff and clients from possible criminal prosecution. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/13/russian-human-rights-defenders-try-technology-and-gaming-innovations/

The decision to suspend their work comes after Russia’s internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Team 29’s website—allegedly, for publishing content produced by Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), a Prague-based non-profit organisation which the Russian state had labelled as an “undesirable organisation” earlier in June 2021.

In a July 18 post on their Telegram channel, Team 29 said the Russian prosecutors had “conflated” the group with the Czech NGO (implying they were the same organisation), a charge that Team 29 denies.

While its lawyers plan to appeal the allegations as “arbitrary and contrived”, the group decided to act swiftly out of an abundance of caution to prevent further criminal charges against its staff, collaborators and supporters.

Under these circumstances, the continued activity of Team 29 poses a direct and obvious threat to the safety of many people, and we cannot ignore this risk. We are making the difficult decision to suspend the activity of Team 29. The attorneys and lawyers will continue to work on their client’s cases in a purely private capacity, unless the defendants refuse their services given the current situation.

We are closing all of the Team 29 media projects and purging the archive: all (!) texts, guides, reports, investigations, legal explainers, stories of political prisoners, court documents, interviews, podcasts, our literary project, our social media posts—the existence of this content online can be construed as “disseminating materials of an undesirable organisation” according to the logic that was used to block our website.

In their Telegram statement, the group also implored its supporters to delete any direct links or reposts of their content, as these could be interpreted as participating in the activity of an “undesirable organisation”. However, mentioning the organisation or sharing opinions about the situation was not illegal, according to the team.

Additionally, Team 29 said it was shutting down its crowdfunding efforts, and would refund subscribers for any funds that were unspent.

The founder of Team 29, Saint Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov, is himself currently under investigation and facing felony charges for his work defending Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who is accused of treason. Though he now heads Team 29, Pavlov was previously the inaugural president of the Czech NGO, but hasn’t been involved with the Freedom of Information Society in any official capacity for the past five years.

Though it’s their digital footprint that is facing pressure from the authorities, Team 29 is best known for their legal support and human rights work in Russia. Writing on his own Telegram channel, Ivan Pavlov argued that it was this work on the ground, defending Russian citizens, that got Team 29 in trouble:

Our authorities have done everything to criminalize the activity and even our very name, Team 29. This is a peculiar sort of recognition of the effectiveness of our work and a compliment from our procedural opponents, who once again have been exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior.

Founded in 2014 by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Team 29 has long been a thorn in Kremlin’s side. After authorities blacklisted Pavlov’s previous organisation, Institute for the Development of the Freedom of Information, as a “foreign agent”, Team 29 was born.

Since then, the group of defense lawyers, attorneys and reporters has taken on some of the most high-profile political cases in the country, including the trial of scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev on treason charges, the court battle around the designation of Alexey Navalny’s political movement and anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and the case of Karina Tsurkan, a former energy executive who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in December 2020.

Apart from defending political prisoners and activist groups in court, Team 29 has also published legal advice guides (archival link), spearheaded creative anti-corruption investigations, and even provided legal representation for a whistleblower from the infamous “troll factories” who took their Internet Research Agency to court in a labour dispute.

In an interview to independent Russian news website Meduza, Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer formerly with Team 29, said that the latest events were likely “a cumulative effect” of all of their high-profile work. He said both he and Pavlov have received threats implying they were “like a bone in the throat not only for investigators, but also other people and state agencies”, so “that is why the decision was made to bomb us with everything they have”.

Despite the closure of their website, the group said its individual group members would continue their ongoing legal defense work as private individuals. According to Ivan Pavlov‘s Telegram post, Team 29 was “never a formal organisation, but rather a collective of like-minded people” and that “as long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new projects”.

The International Service for Human Rights publishes its Strategic Framework for Human Rights Defenders 2021 – 2025

January 18, 2021

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS are people who promote and protect the human rights of others, whether individually or in association with others. They are people who act with humanity, serve humanity and bring out the best in humanity. For all of these defenders, international and regional human rights mechanisms can protect and amplify their work and impact on the ground. This strategy has been developed in a context characterised by uncertainty and change, including a worsening climate emergency, a global pandemic and associated financial crisis, deepening inequalities, worsening authoritarianism and populism, as well as the erosion of multilateralism, and the rule of law. It is also a context characterised by increased awareness and action at the local, national, regional and international levels. Human rights defenders are mobilising around issues such as environmental justice, racial justice, gender equality, freedom of For many defenders working in restrictive national contexts, regional and international mechanisms may be the only platforms available. For these mechanisms to be effective, however, they need to be credible, accessible and responsive to defenders, providing them with a safe and influential platform from which to demand justice, push for accountability, and contribute to positive change. freedom of expression and association, access to information, democratic representation and participation, the redistribution of economic and political power, and state and corporate accountability for intersecting human rights violations and abuses.

On many of these issues, we are at an inflection point; a point at which the work of human rights defenders is perhaps more imperilled but more important than ever. For example:

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, whose knowledge is vital to live more responsibly and sustainably, are being killed and displaced for their work to prevent exploitation and to protect precious forests and oceans.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS mobilising online and offline to call for democratic freedoms and protest against authoritarianism are being surveilled, harassed and criminalised under abusive counter- terrorism laws.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS taking to the streets to demand racial justice are being met with disproportionate force from police and security forces.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS are being detained and tortured in retaliation for their work to challenge patriarchy and demand an end to discrimination and violence.

AT-RISK MIGRANT ACTIVISTS AND HUMANITARIAN WORKERS who support migrant rights are being criminalised and prosecuted as threats to national security.

The freedom, safety and work of these and many other human rights defenders is vital to build a better future for all. The purpose of this Strategic Framework is to guide the effective pursuit of ISHR’s Vision, Mission and Values, and the achievement of ISHR’s Overall Goals. It articulates Strategic Goals and a framework for identifying priorities, and maps an organisational structure and working methods that will ensure agility and sustainability in a fast changing world. The strategy was developed through a highly consultative process over a 10 month period with extensive and invaluable inputs from human rights defenders, NGOs working at the national, regional and inter-national levels, human rights experts, and diplomatic and financial partners, as well as ISHR Board and staff. It is complemented with a results framework, and implemented through an annual activity plan and budget, and reviewed and updated on a biennial basis to ensure it remains relevant, responsive, ambitious and agenda setting. The framework provides the structure for our planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning process.