Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé freed in Equatorial Guinea

March 8, 2018

Good news is rare but deserves attention, especially when it seems to be the result of an international campaign: the global #FreeNseRamon coalition:
An Equatorial Guinean court on 7 March, 2018 released an artist imprisoned on dubious charges for nearly six months, 18 human rights groups including PEN America said today. The prosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whose work is often critical of the government, after the police officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currency admitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.  [Esono Ebalé, who lives outside of his native Equatorial Guinea, was arrested on 16 September, 2017, while visiting the country to request a new passport. Police interrogated him about drawings critical of the government, said two Spanish friends who were arrested and interrogated alongside him and were later released. But a news report broadcast on a government-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed that police had found 1 million Central African francs in the car Esono Ebalé was driving. On 7 December, he was formally accused of counterfeiting. The charge sheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked him to exchange large bills and received counterfeit notes in return.]“It is a huge relief that the prosecution dropped its charges against Ramon, but they should never have been pressed in the first place,” said Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers-in-Prison Committee. “We urge the authorities to guarantee his safe return to his family, allow him to continue creating his hard-hitting cartoons, and ensure that Equatorial Guinea respects the right to freedom of expression.”

Ramon’s release from prison is a testament of the power of collective work of hundreds of artists, concerned citizens, and NGOs,” said Tutu Alicante, director of EG Justice, which promotes human rights in Equatorial Guinea. “But we must not forget that dozens of government opponents who are not as fortunate fill Equatorial Guinea’s jails; thus, the fight against human rights violations and impunity must continue.”

(The human rights groups are Amnesty International, Arterial Network, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Asociación Profesional de Ilustradores de Madrid, Cartoonists Rights Network International, Cartooning for Peace, Committee to Protect Journalists, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price and Paul Mason, Doughty Street Chambers, UK, EG Justice, FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Freemuse, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, PEN America, PEN International, Reporters without Borders, Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.)

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What a courageous woman! Vietnamese human rights defender pledges to fight on at home

March 1, 2018

Dissident Vietnamese blogger Pham Doan Trang is shown in an image provided by the website danlambao.
 Vietnamese blogger Pham Doan Trang is shown in an image provided by the website

A Vietnamese human rights defender and blogger – now under house arrest – says she will not travel outside the country to receive a human rights award in March, vowing instead to remain in Vietnam to work for change in the one-party communist state. Pham Doang Trang, author of a recently published book on political engagement that has angered Vietnamese authorities, wrote on Wednesday on her Facebook page that she will not attempt to go abroad to receive her prize, according to Radio Free Asia on 28 February 2018.

I haven’t gone abroad and don’t plan to, not even for a few days to receive the Homo Homini Prize in the Czech Republic on March 5,” Trang said. “I will never leave Vietnam until Vietnam has changed.” “When one is like a fish that has been born in a dirty and polluted pond, one can either find one’s way to a nicer and cleaner pond nearby or to the vast ocean, or one can try to change one’s own pond to make it beautiful, breathable, and worth living in,” Trang said. “I choose this second option”.

[Trang received the 2017 Homo Homini Award from People in Need, an international human rights organization based in the Czech Republic. See :]

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(ECOWAS) Regional Court of Justice gives historical ruling for media freedom in West Africa

February 15, 2018

On 14 February 2018 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Regional Court of Justice found that Jammeh-era media laws violated the right to freedom of expression in The Gambia. The Federation of African Journalists and four Gambian journalists filed a case in the court in December 2015. They argued that their rights, including their rights to freedom of expression, had been violated by Gambia through the enforcement of laws criminalising libel, sedition and false news in the country. Two of the journalists were also subject to torture whilst in the custody of the then notorious National Intelligence Agency following their arrests under these laws.

Arguments were heard by the court in October 2016. The case was supported by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). Amnesty International filed an amicus brief in the case along with other freedom of expression organisations. Although press freedom has improved under the new government of President Barrow, who was inaugurated in January 2017, these restrictive laws are still in place.

The ruling will set an important precedent as many countries within West Africa continue to use similar repressive laws to silence freedom of expression, and hinder the vital work of journalists, in violation of international and regional human rights law. The ball is now in the court of the Adama Barrow government to repeal the said laws in order to realign the law to respect media freedoms. Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher has hailed the ruling as a historic day for The Gambian media landscape. “Today is an historic day for Gambia’s journalists and human rights defenders who, for decades, have suffered torture, imprisonment or exile just for exercising their right to freedom of expression,”Sabrina Mahtani said.

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More annual reports 2017: Freedom House

January 19, 2018

Having just blogged about the annual report of HRW and AI USA (see links below), I hasten to say that there are several other annual reports referring to President Trump’s damaging effect on human rights and democracy. Freedom House, for instance, issued its annual report 2017 which pointed out that Trump’s penchant for attacking civil society groups, the media, and even the courts have a tangible, negative impact, stating that, “the administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.” The report noted that under Trump, the United States has seen the sharpest drop in political rights and civil liberties in over 40 years.

Key Findings:

  • With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.
  • The Middle East and North Africa region had the worst ratings in the world in 2016, followed closely by Eurasia.



International Commission of Jurists joins criticism of Singapore for harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham

January 5, 2018

International Commission of Jurists urges Singapore to stop harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham

2017 was a grim year for imprisoned technologists

December 29, 2017

Prison Hands

Since its founding, EFF has highlighted and defended cases of injustice and fearmongering perpetrated against innocent technologists. We advocate for unjustly imprisoned technologists and bloggers with our Offline project. In 2017, we continue to see fear being whipped up against those who oppose oppression with modern tools—as well as those who have done nothing more than teach and share technology so that we can all use and understand it better:

Dmitry Bogatov, software developer and math lecturer at Moscow’s Finance and Law University. Bogatov ran a volunteer Tor relay, allowing people around the world to protect their identities as they used the Internet. It was one part of his numerous acts of high-tech public service, which include co-maintaining Xmonad and other Haskell software for the Debian project. For his generosity, Bogatov has now spent over a hundred days in pretrial detention, wrongfully accused of posting extremist materials that were allegedly sent via through Tor server. Law enforcement officials around the world understand that data that appears to originate from a particular Tor machine is, in fact, traffic from its anonymised users. But that didn’t stop Bogatov’s prosecutors in Russia from accusing him of sending the data himself, under a pseudonym, to foment riots—and added new charges of “inciting terrorism” when a judge suggested the earlier charge was too weak to hold Bogatov in pre-trial detention.

Ahmed Mansoor, of the United Arab Emirates. Mansoor has been a tireless voice for victims of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, amidst the Arab uprisings, he was one of five Emirati citizens to be sentenced to prison for his social media postings. That case provoked international condemnation, and the group was soon pardoned. Mansoor was subsequently targeted with sophisticated government spyware on his iPhone; he recognised and passed on the malware link to experts, which led to the discovery of three previously unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS. In April, Mansoor was seized by the UAE authorities again. On the day of his arrest, the UAE’s official news agency saying that he had been arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and accused of using social media to promote sectarianism and hate, among other charges. Mansoor’s family did not hear from him for two weeks, and he has been denied access to a lawyer. Just a year ago, Apple was able to roll out a security fix to their users because of Mansoor’s swift, transparent, and selfless actions. Millions of people are safer because of Ahmed’s actions, even as his family fears for his own physical and mental safety. []

Alaa abd el-Fattah ran Linux installfests across the Middle-East and was a key online voice in the Egyptian uprising. Since then he has been jailed, in turn, by the democratically elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and then when Morsi was overthrown in a coup, by incoming President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Alaa’s appeal against a five year prison sentence for protesting—widely seen as a means to silence him on social media—was refused in November of this yearAmnesty and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both condemned Alaa’s continuing imprisonment.

Another long-term case is that of Saeed Malekpour, who has been in jail in Iran since 2008. Malekpour returned from Canada to visit his sick Iranian father in October of that year, at a time when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was starting to target technologists and Internet experts. As an open source coder, Malekpour had written a free front-end image management utility for websites. The Guard found this software on a Farsi pornography site, and used it to as a pretext to seize Malekpour from the streets of Tehran, charge him with running the web site, and sentencing him to death. Malekpour’s death sentence has been anulled twice following international pressure, but a change of government in his home country of Canada risked reducing the level of support for Malekpour. A campaign to encourage the new Trudeau administration to continue to advocate for Malekpour, even as Canada seeks to normalize relations with Iran, seems to be working. One of Malekpour’s advocates, former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, has said that the Canadian government is now working on the case. The continuing monitoring of Malekpour’s life sentence is a small consolation, but better than the alternative.

Peter Steudtner and Ali Gharavi travel the world, teaching and advising Internet users on how to improve their privacy and digital security online (Ali was an advisor for EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defence project). The two were arrested in a raid by Turkish police on a digital security workshop in July in Istanbul, along with Amnesty Turkeys’ director, Idil Eser, and eight other human rights defenders. The two technology consultants have been accused of aiding terrorists, despite the long history of both as peaceful advocates for secure online practices. After months of detention, concentrated diplomatic and public pressure led to both being released to join their families in Germany and Sweden. We’re delighted that they are free, but their unjust prosecution—and that of their Turkish colleagues—continues in the Turkish courts. 

Bassel Khartabil, the Syrian free culture advocate. Before his arrest and torture in 2012, Bassel was the driving force behind countless projects to turn technology for the public good in his country. He founded a hackerspace in Damascus, translated Creative Commons into a Middle Eastern context, and built out Wikipedia and Mozilla for his fellow Syrians. Bassel’s generosity brought him notability and respect. His prominence and visibility as a voice outside the divided political power-bases of Syria made him an early target when the Syrian civil war became violent. Bassel was killed by the Syrian government in 2015, shortly after he was removed from a civilian prison and sent into the invisibility of Syria’s hidden security complexes.

Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova not allowed to come and pick up her award in Stockholm

November 24, 2017

The Right Livelihood Foundation stated on Friday 24 November that its 2017 prize winner from Azerbaijan, Khadija Ismayilova, would not be able to attend the 1 December award ceremony in Stockholm because of a travel ban linked to a suspended sentence she is serving. Khadija Ismayilova says that she is under the travel ban “because I criticize the government when it steals the people’s money.” Lawyers Colin Gonsalves from India and Yetnebersh Nigussie of Ethiopia share the cash award of 3 million kronor ($374,000) with Ismayilova. []

Ismayilova, Azerbaijan’s top investigative journalist, was convicted of tax evasion in 2015 in what was largely viewed as a payback for her work. She was released from prison six months later after a higher court commuted her 7 ½-year sentence and converted it into a suspended one. She is not legally allowed to travel outside the country while she is still serving the sentence. Ismayilova petitioned the court several times after her release to be allowed to travel outside the country but all of her requests have been denied.

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger – also valid in Africa

November 6, 2017

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

Columbia University opens prize nominations for “court rulings” and “legal services” supporting freedom of expression

October 24, 2017

Columbia University has opened 2018 prize nominations for judicial services and legal decisions supporting freedom of expression. What is a bit special about these awards is that they go to ‘court rulings” and “legal services” in the area of freedom of expression.

The Global Freedom of Expression initiative at Columbia University in New York City has opened nominations for its 2018 global prizes, which recognize judicial decisions and legal services strengthening freedom of expression through the promotion of international standards.

The initiative “seeks to advance understanding of the international and national norms and institutions that best protect the free flow of information and expression in an inter-connected global community with major common challenges to address.” It awards the Global Freedom of Expression Prizes, which began in 2014, every two years. “We believe that at a time when freedom of expression is threatened at a global level, there is a particular need to celebrate the victories in defense of this fundamental right”. Individuals and organizations, particularly jurists, academics and non-governmental organizations dedicated to freedom of expression, are invited to nominate court decisions or legal services from anywhere around the globe that “have had a recognizable impact on freedom of expression.” There will be separate prizes for “Court decision” and “Legal Service.” In the Legal Service Category, the awards will consider legal briefs, amicus briefs, academic or other publications.

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Nominations will close Jan. 31, 2018 and winners will be announced March 13. Forms are available in both English and Spanish.

Members of the Awards Committee are: Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University; Catalina Botero, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States; Nicolas Bratza, former President of the European Court of Human Rights; Lydia Cacho, journalist, human rights defender and author; Agnes Callamard, Director of the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression initiative; Sarah Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and member of the UN Human Rights Committee; and Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization.

The winners of the 2016 prize for Excellence in Legal Services were Professor Yaman Akdeniz, Assistant Professor Kerem Altiparmak and Attorney at Law Serkan Cengiz for fighting a court order blocking access to YouTube in Turkey. That same year, the prize for a Significant Legal Ruling was awarded for Supreme Court of Norway, Rolfsen and Association of Norwegian Editors v. the Norwegian Prosecution Authority. The court backed broad protection against journalists being forced to expose their sources.

Source: Columbia University opens 2018 prize nominations for judicial services and legal decisions supporting freedom of expression | Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

Thai Human Rights Defender ‘Pai Dao Din’ jailed for 2-and-a-half years on lese majeste charge

August 16, 2017

On 15 August 2017, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa received a two and a half years jail sentence after pleading guilty to violating the lèse majesté law. The human rights defender – also known as Pai Dao Din – has been detained since 3 December 2016 in connection with his sharing of a BBC article on the life of King Vajiralongkorn on social media. Pai Dao Din, is leader of a student activist group called Dao Din based in Khon Kaen University. ( The group advocates for community rights, social justice and democracy. He is also a member of New Democracy Movement (NDM), which opposes the military dictatorship in Thailand, a regime in place since the coup d’etat in May 2014. In May 2017, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa  was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights []The defender was originally sentenced to five years in jail, however this sentence was reduced after he pleaded guilty to sharing material deemed insulting towards the country’s monarchy.

{While authorities did not file charges or even a complaint against the London-based BBC for publishing the article, only Jatupat was arrested. His bail requests were consistently rejected as authorities regarded lèse majesté as a serious charge possibly entailing severe punishment. Domestic and international campaigns over recent months have failed to free him on bail. Prior to the court judgment, Jatupat, who had maintained his innocence for months, agreed to plead guilty after consulting with his family and legal team to get a more lenient sentence.}

 “It appears that Jatupat was singled out, from thousands of people who shared the BBC article, and prosecuted for his strong opposition to military rule rather than any harm incurred by the monarchy,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “His guilty verdict and jail sentence show yet again how Thailand’s draconian ‘insulting the monarchy’ law has been misused to punish dissenters.

Source: Activist ‘Pai Dao Din’ jailed for 2-and-a-half years on BBC Thai article lese majeste charge