Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Report Freedom on the Net, 2021

October 12, 2021

Freedom on the Net 2021 finds that while some democratic governments have made good-faith attempts to regulate the technology industry, state intervention in the digital sphere worldwide has contributed to the 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom.

Governments around the world are increasingly asserting their authority over technology platforms, forcing businesses to comply with censorship and surveillance and contributing to an 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released today by Freedom House.

Global norms shifted dramatically toward greater state intervention in the digital sphere over the past year. Of the 70 states covered by Freedom on the Net 2021, 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. Some measures reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices. Many governments, however, proposed new policies that obliged businesses to remove content and share personal data with authorities, at great cost to free expression, privacy, and public accountability.

This change in the balance of power between companies and states has come amid a historic crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.

“The rights of internet users around the world, especially the rights to free expression and privacy, are being massively violated as a result of recent state actions,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Instead of using regulation to curb the immense power of tech companies, many governments are wielding it for their own repressive purposes.”

The decision by several platforms to deactivate the accounts of outgoing US president Donald Trump—in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol—intensified concerns about the arbitrary power of a few firms to shape political debate, as well as their responsibility to stem offline violence. The move sparked a plethora of new regulatory and legislative proposals, including bad-faith attempts to prevent companies from moderating the accounts of politicians and state-run media. Tech companies faced high-profile showdowns with illiberal and authoritarian leaders in India, Nigeria, Russia, and Turkey that will have global implications for the future of free expression online.

“In these high-stakes battles between governments and tech companies, human rights risk becoming the main casualties,” said Adrian Shahbaz, director for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “Given the examples to date, you can hardly blame people for being skeptical that government regulation will lead to greater protection of their rights online. Regulations should ensure that power does not accumulate in the hands of a few dominant actors, whether in government or the private sector.”

Internet freedom plummeted by 14 points in Myanmar—the largest annual decline ever recorded on Freedom on the Net’s 100-point scale—after the military refused to accept the results of the November 2020 general elections and launched a deadly coup in February 2021. Electoral disputes also led to major internet freedom declines in Belarus, where authoritarian incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in a fraudulent presidential election in August 2020, and Uganda, where authorities shut off the internet and blocked social media platforms during marred general elections in January 2021. In addition, officials in both Myanmar and Belarus sought to silence independent online media by shutting down news outlets and harassing, assaulting, and torturing online journalists.

“Governments everywhere are invoking a vague need to retake control of the internet—whether from foreign powers, multinational corporations, or even civil society,” said Shahbaz. “In the absence of a shared vision for a free and open internet, many states are imposing restrictions on the free flow of information across borders, denying people access to life-changing tools based solely on their location. This fragmentation is diminishing the emancipatory power of the internet.”

“The daunting complexity of internet regulation makes it all the more important for democracies to take the lead and set a high bar by introducing regulatory approaches that protect human rights online and preserve a free and open internet,” said Allie Funk, senior research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “The laissez-faire approach to the tech industry spurred some forms of innovation, but it has also created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance. Democratic governments should pursue well-crafted regulations that tackle these problems while protecting people’s rights to express themselves, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.”

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises.
  • Governments clashed with technology companies on users’ rights. Authorities in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition over the past year. With a few positive exceptions, the push to regulate the tech industry, which stems in some cases from genuine problems like online harassment and manipulative market practices, is being exploited to subdue free expression and gain greater access to private data.
  • Free expression online is under unprecedented strain. More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
  • China ranks as the worst environment for internet freedom for the seventh year in a row. Chinese authorities imposed draconian prison terms for online dissent, independent reporting, and mundane daily communications. The COVID-19 pandemic remains one of the most heavily censored topics. Officials also cracked down on the country’s tech giants, citing their abuses related to competition and data protection, though the campaign further concentrated power in the hands of the authoritarian state.
  • The United States’ score declined for the fifth consecutive year. False, misleading, and manipulated information continued to proliferate online, even affecting public acceptance of the 2020 presidential election results. The new administration took promising steps to enforce stronger protections for internet users.
  • State intervention must protect human rights online and preserve an open internet. The emancipatory power of the internet depends on its egalitarian nature. To counter digital authoritarianism, democracies should ensure that regulations enable users to express themselves freely, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.

Freedom on the Net 2021 assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 88 percent of internet users worldwide. The report focused on developments that occurred between June 2020 and May 2021. Detailed country reports, data on 21 internet freedom indicators, and policy recommendations can be found at freedomonthenet.org.

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties. Illustration by Mitch Blunt

Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released by Freedom House. Read the Report

https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-global-battle-over-internet-regulation-has-major-implications-human-rights

Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for freedom of expression

October 8, 2021

On 8 October 2021 the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse. Maria Ressa has received earlier recognition with 5 human rights awards [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/c048da20-ba0f-11ea-a77e-f524f6fc9aaa]

Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.

Muratov dedicated his award to six contributors to his Novaya Gazeta newspaper who had been murdered for their work exposing human rights violations and corruption. “Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize,” Muratov said, reciting the names of slain reporters and activists whose portraits hang in the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

For more on the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards on freedom of expression see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/F8EA8555-BF30-4D39-82C6-6D241CC41B74

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/

https://www.reuters.com/world/philippines-journalist-ressa-russian-journalist-muratov-win-2021-nobel-peace-2021-10-08/

Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundations, publishes an important opinion

July 22, 2021

On July 21, 2021, Project Syndicate 2020 published his piece called” The Fight for Open Societies Begins Again”:

Democracy is back on policymakers’ minds. US President Joe Biden plans to host a summit on the theme, and invitations to a host of events on democracy and human rights fill my inbox.

This renewed focus is not good news. Rather, it reflects the erosion of both democracy and respect for human rights in recent years.

Freedom House reports that less than 20% of the world’s population now live in what it categorizes as fully free societies, the lowest share in more than a quarter-century. Many countries are drifting steadily toward authoritarianism.

Freedom is in trouble for well-known reasons. In many countries, increasing inequality and marginalization of different groups has fueled an embrace of right-wing (and in some cases left-wing) authoritarianism.

As the world grapples with rapid technological change and economic restructuring, many are far from convinced that democracies have the edge in terms of adaptation and forward-looking policymaking. The pandemic – which many democracies mishandled – deepened these doubts.

These are difficult times for those of us who profoundly believe that the absolute, non-negotiable basis of good government is a free, democratically empowered citizenry protected equally under law.

In 1980s Eastern Europe, the problem was sclerotic, aging communist governments that could no longer deliver for their people. Today’s situation is more complicated.

I am president of the largest private philanthropy in this domain. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that our traditional models of advancing democratic values and institutions are struggling.

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) was founded in the 1980s on the assumption that there was an urgent global public demand for freedom, and that a growing number of governments around the world were embracing its rules and norms.

That allowed us (in partnership with local activists) to use a mixture of shaming and encouragement to persuade governments to adopt and respect human-rights laws and democratic procedures.

Whether our work concerned the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, LGBTQI communities in Africa, ethnic minorities in South and East Asia, women’s rights in Latin America, or worldwide migrant and refugee protection, it seemed that we were pursuing a historic mission. And one day, that pursuit might lead to all individuals enjoying full and equal rights and opportunities.

Today, however, a rising human-rights tide is not lifting all boats; on the contrary, it seems that all are at risk of sinking. This recent sharp reversal of 20 years of human-rights gains is forcing us to think again.

As a foundation chaired to this day by its founder, George Soros – a survivor of Nazism and a refugee from communism in his native Hungary – we will not move on to less challenging issues.

After all, Soros started the foundation when prospects for human-rights advances looked as difficult as they do today.

Presidents stole additional terms, official corruption surged, and agreements between states brushed aside people’s rights. Nowadays, human-rights defenders and those who support them are not welcome in much of the world.

So, the mission is non-negotiable. But we must revisit our approach. We must ask how to recover public support for democratic and human-rights norms, while also identifying more clearly the enemies of open societies and what will lead them, even grudgingly, to respect their obligations again.

In 1980s Eastern Europe, the problem was sclerotic, aging communist governments that could no longer deliver for their people. Today’s situation is more complicated.

True, a bipolar world again threatens freedom. Biden’s forthcoming Summit for Democracy is in part an effort to rally like-minded governments but also the wider world against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism. That may mean democracies have some uncomfortable bedfellows as pragmatism risks trumping values.

A dense web of trade, investment, education, and technology links mean China is tied to the West, and vice versa, in ways that the Soviet Union never was.

A relationship that is more economic than military gives democracies an array of options – from governmental and consumer boycotts to a more coherent international containment and engagement strategy – for pressing Xi’s regime to accept norms of good behavior at home and abroad.

Leaders on both sides will frame this contest primarily in terms of economics, but human rights can also be a big winner – or a big loser.

Soros has always called OSF’s work “political philanthropy.” What he means is that we need to engage with the wider dynamics of change and find entry points to champion our issues.

Whereas strong states were the sole or leading human-rights violators during the Cold War, today’s world is one of multidimensional human-rights menaces. Inequalities exacerbated by unregulated transnational financial and corporate power, together with dramatic shifts in individual states’ fortunes, are creating an ever more challenging landscape. The world is becoming more unequal – and angrier.

Many view the renewed attention to deep-seated institutional racism in the United States and around the world – and the recognition that marginalization based on race, gender, religion, and class is often mutually reinforcing – as exposing the limits of a human-rights agenda.

That anger is amplified (and fueled) by social-media platforms where polarization, abuse, and lies undermine trust in institutions. A technology that many saw just a few years ago as an enabler of citizens’ rights has become in many cases a tool for manipulating minds and closing societies.

The insidious copycat behavior that Donald Trump’s four-year presidency allowed and encouraged in regimes around the world accelerated a crisis of respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Presidents stole additional terms, official corruption surged, and agreements between states brushed aside people’s rights. Nowadays, human-rights defenders and those who support them are not welcome in much of the world.

Yet malign governments and globalization, with its unintended financial and corporate consequences, are only half the problem.

Many view the renewed attention to deep-seated institutional racism in the United States and around the world – and the recognition that marginalization based on race, gender, religion, and class is often mutually reinforcing – as exposing the limits of a human-rights agenda. Human-rights remedies, victims argue, have scratched the surface, not reached the roots.

Human-rights work needs to become more political: tougher and smarter in its attacks on oppressors, and clearer about being on the side of the oppressed.

We need to address the challenges people actually face, looking beyond narrow political rights to address the deeper causes of economic and social exclusion.

Call for the Immediate Release of Human Rights Defender Andrei Aliaksandrau in Belarus

July 14, 2021

Thirteen Organisations Call for the Immediate and Unconditional Release of Journalist and Human Rights Defender Andrei Aliaksandrau - Protection

Image credit: Volha Khvoin / BAJ

On 2 July 2021, ARTICLE 19 and 12 other media freedom organisations unreservedly condemn the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of human rights defender and journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau, who is now facing up to 15 years in prison on baseless charges of “treason to the state”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/06/anais-marin-un-expert-on-belarus-full-scale-assault-ongoing-against-civil-society/

Aliaksandrau has long been a defender of freedom of expression in Belarus and beyond, having previously held positions at the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Index on Censorship, and Article 19 among other media and free speech organisations.

Aliaksandrau was detained in January 2021. The Investigative Committee, Belarus’s criminal investigation service, indicted him on public order offences, for which he was facing up to three years in prison. The charges stem from allegations that Aliaksandrau paid the fines of journalists and protesters whom authorities detained during last year’s pro-democracy protests, triggered by the highly disputed August 2020 presidential election. The Belarusian Investigative Committee and other law enforcement agencies wrongly equated this with financing unlawful protests.

On 30 June, Belapan reported that Aliaksandrau has now been charged with “treason to the state” based on the same set of allegations. 

“More than €530,000 worth of fines were imposed on protesters between 9 August and the end of 2020. It is absurd to conflate efforts to help pay those fines with a public order offense, let alone treason,” the organisations said. 

Belarusian authorities created a new mark of tyranny by laying treason charges against Aliaksandrou. While we urge the release of all 529 political prisoners currently detained in Belarus, which include at least 15 journalists, we are at this point in time expressing special concern for Aliaksandrau. To date, he is the only detainee facing the fabricated charge of treason.”

Aliaksandrau has already spent 172 days in prison for his alleged “crime”. We call for his immediate and unconditional release,” the organisations said.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19

East European Democratic Centre (EEDC) 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

Index on Censorship

International Media Support (IMS)

PEN America 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

https://www.article19.org/resources/call-for-release-of-andrei-aliaksandrau/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/15/belarus-unprecedented-raids-human-rights-defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/belarus-coordinated-searches-and-detentions-of-journalists-and-human

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/belarus-following-the-adoption-of-the-un-resolution-valiantsin

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/16/belarus-police-raid-homes-of-journalists-in-continuing-crackdown

Delhi High Court re-establishes that criticism is not sedition

June 16, 2021

Lawyers have welcomed the decision by Delhi High Court stating that protesters have the right to criticise the government. They also hailed the Court’s verdict defining the lines between criticism of the government and activities that destabilize the country.

Aneesha Mathur in India Today of 16 June 2021 reports that -with the Delhi High Court rapping the government and Delhi Police over imposing UAPA on activists in connection with the clashes, following the anti-CAA protest – lawyers and jurists have said the verdict was significant since it has tried to define the line between criticism of the government, which is a Constitutional right, and activities that destabilize the country.

Former Supreme court justice Madan B Lokur welcomed the High court verdict.: “The judgment is welcome. It’s about time the courts told the State that draconian laws like the UAPA, NSA, sedition and so on may be used, if at all, very rarely and only if there is clinching evidence. Draconian laws cannot and must not be abused otherwise our braveheart judges will strike down arbitrary actions. The Delhi High Court has opened the door for interference and other High Courts should follow quickly while recognising that human rights are for humans and not the faceless State,”.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/07/india-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-abound-under-unlawful-activities-prevention-act/

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave told India Today TV that the court had “not said anything new but laid down the law on the facts of the case.” Dave also called for “proactive and expeditious” movement from the judiciary on similar cases, and said that the activists “had lost one year of their life,” for no reason.advertisement

We are the world’s largest democracy. We will not be able to call ourselves a democracy if such laws are used to suppress dissent.” Speaking to India Today TV, Dave said despite “rule of law”, India had “become a police state.”

“Not only is BJP government abusing UAPA, but the Congress government also abused POTA and thousands were put in jail,” said Dave.

Lawyer Vrinda Grover also said the HC verdict was “significant” since there has been indiscriminate use of the law in recent years.

“Over the last few years, we see the police frequently using UAPA and sedition to silence critical citizens’ voices by placing them behind bars under stringent anti-terror law. The High Court has pierced through the indiscriminate use of UAPA by the police and unwarranted labelling of activities as terrorism. The Court has reiterated that non-violent contestation of government policies and laws is a constitutionally protected right to protest. Finally, the court has also reminded that if the speedy trial is not possible they must be granted bail,” said Grover.

He added: “In this context, we must raise the issue of incarceration of 16 human rights defenders in the Bhima Koregaon case under UAPA for almost three years and the trial is yet to commence. The judiciary must intervene and not allow the criminal legal machinery to be used by the State to suppress fundamental freedoms of citizens, otherwise democracy is in peril.”

“Anti-terror laws are made very strict because they are meant to handle terrorism cases. The government must balance the right of the citizens to protest and criticise with the need of the state. But governments tend to treat criticism as sedition and anti-national, which is wrong. The two judges have shown courage in calling this out,” said Senior advocate Geeta Luthra.

Former Law Commission chairman, Justice BS Chauhan said that while the potential for misuse “cannot mean repeal of an act”, there is a “need to define the contours of the law, as the UAPA is a wide provision” as it was meant to combat serious threats.advertisement

“Courts need to define contours of sedition and UAPA otherwise they can cover freedom of speech and expression,” said Chauhan.

https://www.indiatoday.in/law/story/wrong-to-treat-criticism-as-sedition-lawyers-welcome-delhi-hc-verdict-quashing-uapa-case-against-activists-1815309-2021-06-16

“Unshuttered voices” an IFEX exhibit and a call to action

May 19, 2021

Matt Petras in the Shit.nes of 18 May 2021 reports how IFEX, a global freedom of expression network, partnered with the International Free Expression Project (IFEP) earlier this month to launch a street-level art exhibition in Pittsburgh displaying the faces and telling the stories of brave practitioners and defenders of free expression from around the world, including slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/70b0bee4-9af2-40c6-a11e-5b9ad159b96f]

The exhibit, which draws from IFEX’s Faces of Free Expression series that profiles “changemakers,” can be seen by anyone walking by on the street, housed in street-level windows of the massive, historic former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building. The PG, which has since relocated elsewhere in the city, has won Pulitzer Prizes for its journalism and continues to serve as the most prominent news outlet covering the Pittsburgh region for nearly a century. At an opening ceremony kicking off the exhibit’s launch, a small group, including beloved PG columnist Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and IFEP founder Greg Victor, gave small speeches lauding the ‘Faces of Free Expression’ project.

Those honoured in the ‘Faces’ exhibit represent thousands of others from across the world who are fighting this struggle as well,” Victor said at the event.

Vietnamese singer Mai Khoi performed at the event. Khoi was already a popular musician in her home country when she became more and more of an activist as she experienced increased censorship of her music by the Vietnam government. Often compared to Lady Gaga and Pussy Riot, Khoi performs unique, exciting, and often politically charged pop music. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/de4d9180-f67a-11e9-9715-b5590d668968]

Portrait illustrations, blurbs and quotes adorn several sets of vertical, rectangular windows facing the street in Downtown Pittsburgh. Most of the windows contain a single portrait or bit of text but the exhibit also boasts some larger spreads that incorporate clusters of nearby windows to create bigger images, such as a wonderful photo of Khoi against a black background, joined by a short biography for passers-by to read.

Other individuals featured include Nabeel Rajab, a human rights defender jailed in Bahrain for tweets critical of the government, and Agnès Callamard, a lead investigator into the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia. [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6C9DB4EE-91C2-A69B-3839-6D1D5EC91AD1]

Jamal Khashoggi and Daphne Caruana Galizia are among the journalists and human rights defenders featured in the exhibition. Photo: Matt Petras.

The faces of the project represent just a small selection of the individuals responsible for the fight for freedom of expression.

“All of these people, they’ll say they didn’t do it alone, and they didn’t,” Game said. “It takes so many people, who get up every day in their work, to do this kind of advocacy, to address these kinds of challenges.”

IFEP hopes to incorporate its ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ proposal into the historic PG building, which would create a space for artists doing important work. “Being artists ourselves, having a place like this would be great,” Jones said.

Brown appreciated the exhibit and the goals outlined by IFEP for what it represents for his neighbourhood. “This is something Pittsburgh needs, being able to have your voice be heard and your expressions,” he said.

Yet the message of the ‘Faces of Free Expression’ exhibit extends far beyond the images and text on the wall that people can see on this street in Pittsburgh. “It shows this has a global impact,” Game said. “It brings the many free expression issues the world is facing to this wall in Pittsburgh.”

https://theshiftnews.com/2021/05/18/unshuttered-voices-a-collaboration-an-exhibit-and-a-call-to-action/

Maria Ressa of the Philippines winner of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2021

April 28, 2021

UNESCOA screenshot of Maria Ressa during a UNESCO online dialogue on press freedom in 2020.

On 28 April 2021 UNESCO named investigative journalist and media executive Maria Ressa of the Philippines as the recipient of its 2021 press freedom award. For more on this and other UNESCO awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/8F8DB978-CD89-4CFB-1C26-D5FEE5D54855

For over three decades, Ms. Ressa has been involved in many initiatives to promote press freedom and currently manages the online outlet, Rappler. Her work however, also made her a target for attacks and abuse, UNESCO – the UN agency tasked with defending press freedom – said in a news release.

Ms. Ressa was chosen for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize following the recommendation of an international jury of media professionals.

Maria Ressa’s unerring fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world. Her case is emblematic of global trends that represent a real threat to press freedom, and therefore to democracy”, Marilu Mastrogiovanni, Chair of the Prize’s international jury and an investigative journalist from Italy, said.

The award ceremony will take place on 2 May in Windhoek, Namibia, during the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference. It will be streamed online.

Hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Namibia, the 2021 World Press Freedom Day Global Conference will be held from 29 April to 3 May under the theme of information as a public good, and will focus on topics such as transparency of online platforms and the importance of media and information literacy.

The conference will also tackle ways to promote and support independent media struggling to survive a crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when national and local media everywhere face financial instability and other pressures threatening their survival and their journalists’ jobs. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/04/1090792

25 March: IACHR Hearing on Internet Content Moderation

March 22, 2021

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is in the middle of its 179th Period of Sessions, which is being held again in an all-virtual format.  The IACHR has called a hearing on its own initiative (an ex officio hearing) on the important topic of content moderation: “Internet content moderation and freedom of expression in the Americas”, scheduled for Thursday 25 March 2021, from 2-3:30pm ET.

For some of my earlier posts on this topic, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/content-moderation/

To register to watch the virtual hearing on Internet Content Moderation, visit: https://cidh-org.zoom.us/j/85942567179?pwd=SWY1cTVTOUp6MmhyTjR6bFNPZTV1Zz09

Event: IACHR Hearing on Internet Content Moderation and the Freedom of Expression in the Americas

Profile of Muay: A Laotian Woman Human Rights Defender

March 18, 2021

On 17 a blog post in hrcessex by Sarah Mui profiles Muay: “A Fierce Woman Human Rights Defender”

Houayheung (“Muay”) Xayabouly is not only a mother, small business owner and the primary breadwinner of her family, but shehas also been breaking down stereotypical gender roles by being a fierce human rights defender and environmental activist in Laos.She is viewed as a public figure among her community because of her work to shed light onto the countless human rights violations that she and fellow Lao people have endured at the hands of the national government. In 2019, the Lao government decided to make an example out of Muay and unjustly sentenced her to five years in prison, for which she was stripped of all fair trial guarantees. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I urge all who read this to remember her name, learn her fight and spread awareness to demand that all charges be dropped and Muay be set free.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundatio

In 2017, Muay began raising awareness on social media over the excessive tolls that she along with other people in her community were being charged when crossing a bridge on the border of Laos and Thailand. The cost of the toll was equivalent to several meals, but Lao people relied on it to travel to and from work each day, including Muay herself. It turned out that the Lao government had given the private international company, Duangdee, the concession to charge the toll when it constructed the bridge in the first place. This concession left her community in an impossible situation where they were perpetually indebted to this private company who took advantage of the bridge’s necessity. Muay’s video about the toll deeply resonated with the Lao people, who agreed that the government benefited from the financial relationship with Duangdee. This made Muay realize the importance of using her voice to speak up for Lao people, and it was then that she made the decision to dedicate her life to fighting for them.   

The Lao government did nothing in response to their people’s outcry over the excessive tolls, but rather chose to focus attention on finding ways to intimidate Muay. Soon after the video went viral, the police were sent to her location to warn her to not criticize it.

In 2018, Muay challenged the Lao government over the corrupt hiring practices of public sector and governmental positions in that they were being appointed on the condition of bribes instead of through proper hiring procedures. This was quite personal for Muay because her own brother had been deeply impacted by this practice. He had always aspired to become a police officer but was cheated out of money and the position of his dreams due to these dishonorable practices. Muay’s video discussing the topic received over 320,000 views as of July last year. 

Soon after Muay’s widely viewed video, she was fired from her job as a tour guide for “unknown” reasons other than the fact her employer had been mysteriously pressured to do so. 

Muay was not going to let the government deter her from helping Lao people. Later that year, she decided to create a school for Lao children to address the dire inequalities that they faced in accessing education. The current practice was for parents to pay a bribe to secure a spot for their children, otherwise they could not provide them an education. She started multiple fundraisers to accomplish this goal, including selling shirts that said, “I don’t want to buy government positions,” referencing the Lao government’s corrupt hiring practices in addition to holding a concert featuring a number of local performers. 

Again, instead of actually listening to the suffering of its people, the government chose to continue to try to intimidate Muay by shutting down the fundraising concert and prohibiting the selling of shirts. 

The year 2018 was also troubling because that summer a dam collapsed in Attapeu Province, which led to numerous deaths, disappearances and displacements of Lao people. The government purportedly underreported the impact of the collapse and restricted access to the scene by the media and independent aid organizations. Muay decided to take matters into her own hands and post her own videos of the disaster and its significant effect on the community. 

In response to the shocking video, Muay was called to the police station and was told to cease all criticism of the Lao government. 

Around the same time, Muay had learned that donations for the impacted families of the dam collapse were being sold by Lao police for their own monetary gain. She could not allow her community to suffer so she started collecting donations for them herself. She documented and shared this all on social media.

Within a few days, the Lao government issued a press statement advising the public against reading “unofficial news” about the collapse. 

In the autumn of 2019, the Lao people who lived close to the dam were again harmed after a tropical storm caused major flooding, leaving over 100,000 displaced from their homes. Again, disturbed by the Lao government’s indifference towards its people, Muay posted another video calling the government out for its slow response and its lack of preventative measures which could have mitigated the storm’s impact.  

Around the same time, the Lao government sent police to arrest Muay without a warrant while she was dining at a restaurant. She tried to post a video about what had happened, but she was forced to delete it. She was then placed in pre-trial detention long before her hearing and was denied an impartial lawyer and the ability to challenge her detention. She was subject to repeated long interrogations where she was coerced to confess to “spreading propaganda against the Lao government.” She was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, for which she visitation has been limited and closely monitored. She has not been able to see her young daughter but a handful of times and international NGOs have been completely barred.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundation

The Lao Government is Using Muay as an Example to Silence Dissent 

Muay is a strong and dedicated woman human rights defender and environmental activist who has fought endlessly for her community. Instead of taking accountability and listening to the suffering of its people, the Lao government has instead chosen to turn a blind eye to its human rights obligations and punish Muay for her significant contributions to her country. Until now, Muay’s story has only been made available by a few NGOs working hard to shed light onto her fervent advocacy and now wrongful detention. To spread the word about her fight, please share this blog, follow #FreeMuay and visit this link to demand that Muay be set free!

About the Author: Sarah Mui is an American human rights lawyer currently in the LLM for International Human Rights Law program at the University of Essex. She is also a research assistant with the Manushya Foundation located in Bangkok. Sarah hopes to work in the field women’s rights upon graduation. 

https://hrcessex.wordpress.com/2021/03/17/muay-a-fierce-woman-human-rights-defender/

Clooney Foundation for Justice to observe trial of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan

March 2, 2021

On 25 February, 2021 the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced it will monitor the trial of award-winning Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan who has been detained in Kashmir for over two and a half years and faces the death penalty if convicted. [See https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/15/trialwatch-finds-its-feet-in-2019/.

Sultan is a journalist who wrote stories about human rights and political issues for the Kashmir Narrator. He has been imprisoned since his arrest in August 2018 and was only indicted 5 months later. He is now charged with supporting a terrorist group (the Hizbul Mujahideen) and conspiring to kill a police officer, and if convicted after trial, faces the death penalty. Press and human rights organizations believe the charges actually stem from Sultan’s coverage of a Kashmiri militant killed by Indian security forces, whose killing set off anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016. The indictment cites Sultan’s social media posts and possession of letter pads of the Hizbul Mujahideen in his home as evidence of his involvement with the banned group. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after CPJ called for Sultan’s release in The Washington Post, the Jammu and Kashmir police responded on Twitter that Sultan was not being held for his work but for “hatching a criminal conspiracy, harbouring and supporting terrorists who martyred a police constable.”

Sultan, who has received the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award from the American National Press Club in 2019, featured in TIME magazine’s 10 ‘Most Urgent’ cases of threats to press freedom around the world last year.

Sultan’s trial is restarting after multiple delays by the State, including absences by key prosecution witnesses,and again afterthe2 019 revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. He is one of a number of journalists in Kashmir who appear to have been detained, investigated, and/or prosecuted in connection with their journalistic activities under Indian counterterrorism and related laws. Detained for over two and a half years in Kashmir Central Jail, where COVID cases have been mounting since the summer of 2020, Sultan’s next bail hearing is scheduled for February 26, 2021. The Clooney Foundation for Justice calls on the authorities to ensure that Sultan’s bail hearing is conducted in accordance with international human rights law and any proceedings against him respect his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression.

https://thewire.in/media/clooney-foundation-to-monitor-trial-of-kashmiri-journalist-detained-for-over-2-years