Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

ZOOM accused of suspending accounts of human rights defenders

July 29, 2020

Bernise Carolino on 28 July 2020 wrote in the Canadian lawyers Magazine that Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada has condemned Zoom Communications Inc.’s suspension of the accounts of human rights activists, calling it a breach of its responsibility to respect the rights to free expression, association and assembly.

A letter from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada called upon Zoom to ensure that the communications of its users are not similarly suspended or disrupted in the future. The group urged Zoom to establish a company policy to clarify how it intends to adhere to its international legal responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The group also requested that Zoom refrain from blocking participation of users based on geography.

In June, Zoom suspended three accounts of activists based in the U.S. and Hong Kong in compliance with a request from the government of China, which claimed that the activists were trying to use Zoom to host meetings commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Zoom then reinstated the accounts and said that it would not in the future permit such requests to affect individuals outside mainland China.

Despite the reinstatement of these accounts, the lawyers’ rights group took issue with Zoom’s plans to develop technology that will allow it to remove or block participants based on their location in response to requests from local authorities claiming that certain activity on the platform is prohibited based on their country’s laws.

All international businesses, including Zoom, must ensure that all their users can enjoy the rights and freedoms afforded to them under international law,” wrote Joey Doyle, a director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and an author of the letter, in the organization’s press release. “This is particularly important in this present world where most communication takes place over online platforms such as Zoom.”

Zoom has an international law obligation to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the right to access information and the right to privacy, said Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as legal bases. The group also called attention to the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognizes the right of such defenders to advance the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Joshua Lam, another director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and executive director Catherine Morris co-authored the letter, addressed to Eric S. Yuan, Zoom’s founder and chief executive officer, and Lynn Haaland, the company’s chief compliance and ethics officer.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/21/frontlines-guide-to-secure-group-chat-and-conferencing-tools/

https://www.canadianlawyermag.com/practice-areas/privacy-and-data/lawyers-rights-watch-canada-urges-zoom-to-abide-by-international-human-rights-obligations/331904

UN Human Rights Council concluds 44th session and appoints four special rapporteurs, including Irene Khan

July 20, 2020

Thanks to ReliefWeb‘s detailed coverage of the UN Human Rights Council:

On 17 july The Human Rights Council adopted four resolutions dealing with the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests ; the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic ; the Social Forum ; and the contribution of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms to achieving the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations. It also appointed four Special Procedure mandate holders, and concluded its regular forty-fourth session.

The Council also appointed four new Special Procedure mandate holders : Marcos A. Orellana (Chile) for the position the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes ; Irene Khan (Bangladesh) for the position of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression ; Tlaleng Mofokeng (South Africa) as Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health ; and Siobhán Mullallay (Ireland) as the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Yackoley Kokou Johnson, Vice-President of the Council and Rapporteur, noted that during the session, the Council had held 29 meetings, seven debates and 35 interactive dialogues, including with the High Commissioner on her annual report, as well as with 22 Special Procedure mandate holders, two commissions of inquiry and two special representatives of the Secretary-General, covering over 50 human rights themes and 40 country situations.

Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Council, concluded by thanking those present for their dedication, flexibility and creativity in implementing many precautionary measures, proving that the Council could continue to do its important work in these difficult times.

The Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold its forty-fifth session from 14 September to 2 October.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-adopts-four-resolutions-appoints-four-special-procedure-mandate__________

Signe Poulsen of Seoul U.N. human rights office to leave post

July 17, 2020

Kim Seung-yeon on 16 July 2020 reported that Signe Poulsen, Seoul office chief of the U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), will leave South Korea this week for a new position in the Philippines, ending her five-year term monitoring human rights situation in North Korea. As it it the end of her normal term it is not clear whether there is any link to her speaking out on the issue of balloons sent over the border. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/29/un-representative-in-south-korea-sees-balloon-actions-as-freedom-of-expression/]

It’s been a great inspiration interacting with civil society and activists working on North Korea’s abduction issues and separated families, and people who continue to make progress in getting their voices heard,” she told Yonhap News Agency on Thursday.

Poulsen said while she has “many regrets” over the lack of progress in improving human rights in the North, the U.N. now places far more weight on the issue compared to the past and that is a big step forward.

North Korea has not unfortunately seemed to have gotten any better since we opened the office. But the U.N. and the international community are now fully engaged on North Korea files. Firm placing of North Korea’s human rights violations in the U.N. system is important,” she said.

Leaving Seoul, she expressed hopes that inter-Korean exchanges at a humanitarian level, including reunions of separated families, will take place in a sustainable way in the long term.

The solution is ultimately for the Korean people and not for me to say. For that to happen I strongly believe human rights must be part of all those engagement and interactions,” she said.

https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20200716005600325

Even simply remembering Kem Ley is forbidden in Cambodia

July 16, 2020

Cambodia continues to block memorial activities honoring murdered political analyst Kem Ley [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/third-anniversary-kem-ley-murder-cambodia-impunity/]

Individuals and groups were blocked by police and local authorities in Cambodia from holding activities commemorating the fourth anniversary of the death of political analyst Kem Ley.

Kem Ley was killed at a gas station on July 10, 2016. Many suspect the murder was linked to his work as a commentator and political analyst. He was murdered days after he gave a radio interview about a Global Witness report detailing corruption under the Hun Sen government, which has ruled the country since 1985.

On July 8, a group of monks and young activists were prevented by police from holding a memorial service at the gas station where the late analyst was killed. They were forced instead to hold their prayers on a sidewalk more than 100 meters from the site.

A young man wearing a shirt with Kem Ley’s face printed on it was arrested that day. The next day, a group of youth leaders were blocked by security forces from travelling to Kem Ley’s family home in Takeo.

Another convoy of monks and activists was blocked on July 10. But supporters of the slain commentator continued to honor him by embarking on a march of several kilometers. Chheang Sinath, a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled vehicle) driver and member of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, criticized authorities’ actions in an interview with VOD news:

We just came to participate and show respect. Just participating and remembering [Kem Ley’s] sacrifice for society is seen as a wrongdoing [by authorities]. This is not appropriate unless we hold a demonstration or protest something. This is just a ceremony to pay gratitude to him, but authorities tried to stop us.

Venerable Bo Bet, a monk from a Phnom Penh pagoda, expressed frustration that his group of 10 monks was not allowed to pay respects to Kem Ley:

We want to pay respects at the place he was killed, and we will also hold ceremonies at other places. We come here and want to burn incense. We want to hold funeral rites at the site. We want to remember his good deeds here because we do this only once a year.

Kem Ley’s wife and kids were forced to seek asylum in Australia after his death. Bou Rachana thanked supporters of her late husband for their efforts.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/17/swedens-aid-to-cambodia-refocuses-on-civil-society/

https://globalvoices.org/2020/07/15/cambodia-continues-to-block-memorial-activities-honoring-murdered-analyst-kem-ley/

#HoldTheLine Coalition comes out for Maria Ressa

July 11, 2020

On behalf of the #HoldTheLine Coalition, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) are calling for public support for Maria Ressa and independent media in the Philippines.

On 15 June 2020, Ressa was convicted of “cyber-libel,” alongside former Rappler colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr — a criminal charge for which they face up to six years in prison. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/15/ressas-cyber-libel-conviction-in-the-philippines-shocks/

Ressa and Santos could be imprisoned if the cyber-libel case is not overturned on appeal.  Ressa is facing at least six other cases and charges. Guilty verdicts in all of these cases could result in her spending nearly a century in jail.  

Rappler is also implicated in most of these cases, with several involving criminal charges related to libel, foreign ownership, and taxes.  For independent media in the Philippines, these targeted attacks and legal threats pose a clear and present danger to press freedom.

As a matter of urgency, please sign this petition calling on the Philippine government to drop all cases against Ressa, Santos, and Rappler and cease attacks on independent media in the country. Share this appeal using the #HoldTheLine hashtag!

Credit image : Maria TAN / AFP

I sign the petition

https://rsf.org/en/free-mariaressa

UN representative in South Korea sees balloon actions as freedom of expression

June 29, 2020

The World Tribune of 28 June 2020 reports on the fight sparked by North Korean defectors sending balloons with leaflets to their former homeland, which has brought both Koreas once again to the brink of war. Now Signe Poulsen, head of the Seoul office of the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated that sending the leaflets is an exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

In this April 29, 2016 file photo, members of a South Korean civic group send leaflets denouncing the North Korean regime in Tanhyeon, Paju, near the North Korean border. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-Suk

Both the North and South Korean governments have threatened the defectors in the South who have sought to counter communist “fake news” by sending real news North over the DMZ. The leaflets also often contain U.S. one-dollar bills and USB memory sticks meant to encourage North Koreans to pick up the leaflets.

Now the defectors have been targeted by hastily-passed legislation forbidding the practice. Poulsen made the remarks amid heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North threatened to retaliate against the South for what it called Seoul’s “connivance” at the floating of anti-Pyongyang materials in large balloons.

The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-In, sought to legislate a ban on leafleting and filed a criminal complaints against two defector groups who carry out such launches, the Korea Times reported on June 23. The provincial government of Gyeonggi, located near the border with the North and where a lot of leafleting takes places, issued an administrative order last week banning the entry into border areas to fly leaflets.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/21/the-interview-sequel-plays-at-the-korean-border/

and

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_propaganda_campaigns_in_Korea

https://www.worldtribune.com/un-official-upholds-defectors-freedom-of-expression-under-attack-by-both-koreas/

Media oppression in India and elsewhere is a shifting landscape

June 29, 2020

In “Media oppression is a shifting landscape” by Sevanti Ninan (a media commentator and founder-editor of TheHoot.org) published on 29 June 2020 in the Indian Telegraph you wil find a good analysis of the problems of news gathering in the current situation. It is about India but the analysis would be valid for many countries.

Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed. Fake news is no longer seen only as an electronic menace but as reporting with malign intent, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere.
Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed. Fake news is no longer seen only as an electronic menace but as reporting with malign intent, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere. Pexels

For some years now, the growing challenge to journalism has come from the increasing use of predictable laws (think of sedition and criminal defamation in the Indian Penal Code)….but media oppression is a shifting landscape. Tracking its changing features is just the first challenge. While the onset of Covid-19 has led to the government putting hitherto under-used laws to work, such as the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act, these have been used in tandem with Sections of the IPC to criminalize reporting of the government’s response to the pandemic as well of the outcomes of its handling, such as the migrant exodus. Panicky administrations across the country have, so far, used no less than 14 Sections of the IPC and Sections of the IT Act (including the one that was struck down), the DMA, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Motor Vehicles Act and the provisions of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to issue showcause notices, lodge first information reports against reporters and arrest, confine and torture them.

If newsgathering is being criminalized in some parts of the country, it is being policed in Jammu and Kashmir… it has been gifted a 50-page media policy, which makes the government the arbiter of fake news and mandates background checks of media owners and editors if they are to receive government advertising. Charming! Who knows what will follow elsewhere in the country.

Overall then, a convergence of factors is at work. Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed.

Electronically disseminated fake news, until now, was in the domain of technology. But when the charge is levelled at reporting on the ground in far-flung areas of the country, it enters the domain of physical fact-finding. Busting fake news with internet tools is one thing. Doing it for field reporting is quite another.…..

..What support structures can be put in place? The country has a Press Council, a Human Rights Commission and numerous courts. But it needs a growing network of human rights defenders, a galvanizing force created by an alliance of journalist organizations, concerned lawyers and civil society stalwarts to map a strategy for this canvas. The Press Council is selective in what it takes note of; one must also ask whether its censure changes anything on the ground.

So far, the response to a sustained assault on journalism has been statements issued by media bodies themselves. But journalists need allies at a time like this; solidarity within their own ranks is not enough to put pressure on the oppressors. Just as civil society has come together to keep alive a human rights campaign for the release of Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bhardwaj and others in the Bhima Koregaon case, journalists, particularly the embattled, invisible ones the districts, now need ballast in their fight to keep up the pressure.

Precedents will be set if the misuse of laws goes unchallenged. District magistrates across states labelling reporting as fake news will be further emboldened without a pushback.

See also reent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/a-case-for-truth/cid/1784527

European Court of Human Rights finds France violated freedom of expression of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists

June 13, 2020

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that France violated the freedom of expression of pro-Palestinian activists who were convicted of campaigning for a boycott of Israeli products and pressuring that country to end the occupation of Palestine.

The ruling refers to a 2009 French justice conviction against 11 activists from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement for “economic discrimination” for protesting and distributing leaflets against Israeli products in a supermarket in eastern France.

BDS has called for boycotts against Israeli companies, universities and cultural institutions in what it says is a non-violent campaign against Israeli abuses in Palestine, while Israel claims that the movement masks attempts to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

This important court ruling is a decisive victory for freedom of expression, for human rights defenders and for the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” said Rita Ahmad of the Palestinian-led movement. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlement in the West Bank illegal.

The ECHR ruling orders the French government to pay € 101,000 in general damages to the activists, as the criminal conviction “had no relevant and sufficient basis” and violated the freedom of expression of the protesters. The French government has three months to appeal the decision

Israel promotes a number of legislative initiatives against BDS abroad, particularly in the United States and Europe. The United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution last year condemning the boycott of Israel as detrimental to peace efforts. The German Parliament passed a resolution last year describing the movement’s methods as “anti-Semitic” and reminiscent of Nazi-era calls to boycott Jews. BDS activists deny the charges of anti-Semitism and say discrimination laws have been used to unfairly attack them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/25/revoking-of-kamila-shamsies-dortmund-book-award-is-fiercely-contested/

Amnesty International expressed hope that the ruling “will send a clear message to all European states that they must stop the prosecution of peaceful activists.

https://www.explica.co/europes-top-human-rights-court-supports-boycott-movement-against-israel/

https://www.israelhayom.com/2020/06/12/european-court-rules-against-france-in-israel-boycott-activist-case/

Azerbaijan: OMCT campaigns for human rights defender Elchin Mammad

May 26, 2020

Azerbaijani Human Rights Defender Elchin Mammad is one the cases in the  #FacesOfHope campaign by OMCT to which I referred yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/25/faces-of-hope-campaign-human-rights-defenders-imprisoned-worldwide/].

As a human rights lawyer and journalist, Elchin Mammad is used to speaking his mind. The 42-year old attorney presides over the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), a non-governmental organisation that provides free legal assistance to low income families and non-profits. His busy schedule also includesda job as the editor in chief of Yukselish Namine, a newspaper specializing in human rights concerns. On 30 March 2020, a few days after he had published online a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, police officers arrested Elchin at his home in Sumgait, a town north of the capital Baku. The police claimed to have found stolen jewellery at his office.

The next day, Sumgait City Court remanded Elchin Mammad in custody for three months as a criminal suspect. The father of two young children remains detained under trumped-up charges at Shuvalan pre-trial detention centre no. 3. This latest twist is nothing new to Elchin. He has faced harassment from the authorities in connection with his human rights work since 2015, when his organisation was investigated. He was subjected to arbitrary detention, repeatedly summoned and questioned by the police. He was also placed under travel restrictions in connection with the investigation.

On 15 May, the government officially stated that there are 46 COVID-19 infected inmates in the country. This puts Elchin’s life at risk, particularly as he suffers from hepatitis C. Azerbaijan’s prison system is plagued by severe overcrowding, while food, medication, sanitation, and even drinking water are substandard. This has led to the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly ruling that detention conditions in the country amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. In times of pandemic, such an environment risks becoming an incubator for the novel coronavirus.

Elchin’s case is particularly emblematic of the Azerbaijani authorities’ abusive and arbitrary methods used to silence critical voices. In 2014, the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. Prominent human rights defenders joined other political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s jails, on fabricated criminal charges of financial irregularities. Although most were released after spending years in prison, as a result of international pressure, the situation of defenders remains precarious

The authorities have seized the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to intensify the crackdown on civil society. On 19 March, President Ilham Aliyev used his yearly address to the nation on the Novruz Bayrami holiday to promise “new rules” for the duration of the pandemic, threatening to clear the country of “traitors” and “enemies” and to “isolate the fifth column”. To people like Elchin, who has dedicated his life to the defence of the downtrodden, these ominous words might now ring like a death sentence.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/26/azerbaijan-finally-full-acquittal-of-ilqar-mammadov-and-rasul-jafarov/

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/azerbaijan/2020/05/d25855/

Amnesty accuses Facebook of complicity in Vietnamese censorship

April 22, 2020

On 21 April, Reuters reported that Facebook has begun to significantly step up its censorship of “anti-state” posts in the country. This follows pressure from the authorities, including what the company suspects were deliberate restrictions placed on its local servers by state-owned telecommunications companies that caused Facebook to become unusable for periods of time. The next day Amnesty International demanded that Facebook reverses immediately its decision.  “The revelation that Facebook is caving to Viet Nam’s far-reaching demands for censorship is a devastating turning point for freedom of expression in Viet Nam and beyond,” said William Nee, Business and Human Rights Advisor at Amnesty International. “The Vietnamese authorities’ ruthless suppression of freedom of expression is nothing new, but Facebook’s shift in policy makes them complicit.

Facebook must base its content regulation on international human rights standards for freedom of expression, not on the arbitrary whims of a rights-abusing government. Facebook has a responsibility to respect freedom of expression by refusing to cooperate with these indefensible takedown requests.” The Vietnamese authorities have a long track record of characterizing legitimate criticism as “anti-state” and prosecuting human rights defenders for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The authorities have been actively suppressing online speech amid the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating repressive tactics in recent weeks.  “It is shocking that the Vietnamese authorities are further restricting its peoples’ access to information in the midst of a pandemic. The Vietnamese authorities are notorious for harassing peaceful critics and whistleblowers. This move will keep the world even more in the dark about what is really happening in Viet Nam,” said William Nee.

Facebook’s decision follows years of efforts by Vietnamese authorities to profoundly undermine freedom of expression online, during which they prosecuted an increasing number of peaceful government critics for their online activity and introduced a repressive cybersecurity law that requires technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor users’ posts. “Facebook’s compliance with these demands sets a dangerous precedent. Governments around the world will see this as an open invitation to enlist Facebook in the service of state censorship. It does all tech firms a terrible disservice by making them vulnerable to the same type of pressure and harassment from repressive governments,” said William Nee…

In a report published last year, Amnesty International found that around 10% of Viet Nam’s prisoners of conscience – individuals jailed solely for peacefully exercising their human rights – were jailed in relation to their Facebook activity. In January 2020, the Vietnamese authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on social media, including Facebook and YouTube, in an attempt to silence public discussion of a high-profile land dispute in the village of Dong Tam, which has attracted persistent allegations of corruption and led to deadly clashes between security forces and villagers.  The crackdown has only intensified since the onset of COVID-19. Between January and mid-March, a total of 654 people were summoned to police stations across Viet Nam to attend “working sessions” with police related to their Facebook posts connected to the virus, among whom 146 were subjected to financial fines and the rest were forced to delete their posts. On 15 April, authorities introduced a sweeping new decree, 15/2020, which imposes new penalties on alleged social media content which falls foul of vague and arbitrary restrictions. The decree further empowers the government to force tech companies to comply with arbitrary censorship and surveillance measures.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/10/28-ngos-ask-eu-parliament-to-reject-cooperation-deal-with-vietnam-on-11-february/

Re Facebook and content moderation see also the Economist piece of 1 February 2020: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/01/30/facebook-unveils-details-of-its-content-oversight-board

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/viet-nam-facebook-cease-complicity-government-censorship/