Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Suspicious Death of Investigative Journalist John Williams Ntwali in Rwanda

January 24, 2023
John Williams Ntwali.
John Williams Ntwali. © Private

Human Rights Watch and others demand that the Rwandan authorities allow an effective, independent, and transparent investigation into the suspicious death of John Williams Ntwali, a leading investigative journalist and editor of the newspaper The Chronicles. Ntwali was regularly threatened due to his work as a journalist exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda and had expressed concern about his safety to Human Rights Watch and others.

John Williams Ntwali was a lifeline for many victims of human rights violations and often the only journalist who dared report on issues of political persecution and repression,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are many reasons to question the theory of a road accident, and a prompt, effective investigation, drawing on international expertise, is essential to determine whether he was murdered.

News of Ntwali’s death emerged in the evening of January 19, 2023. Police asked Ntwali’s brother to identify his body at Kacyiru Hospital morgue, telling him that Ntwali had died in a road accident the night of January 17 to 18. The police told the New Times website that Ntwali died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali, on January 18 at 2:50 a.m., but to date, have not provided details of the accident such as a police report, its exact location, or information on the others involved. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any reports about an alleged accident coming to light until the evening of January 19.

Ntwali was regularly threatened and attacked in the pro-government media for his investigative reporting. He played a leading role in covering and bringing attention to the plight of Kangondo neighborhood residents, who are in a long-standing dispute with authorities over land evictions. Recently, he also published videos on his YouTube channel about people who had suspiciously “disappeared.” His last video, posted on January 17, was about the reported disappearance of a genocide survivor who had spoken out about being beaten by police officers in 2018.

Ntwali was also one of only a few journalists independently covering high profile, politicized trials of journalists, commentators and opposition members, and posting videos about their conditions in prison. In June 2022, he told Human Rights Watch about the torture wounds he had seen on some of these critics and opponents. He also told Human Rights Watch:

I don’t know what’s going to happen to me after CHOGM [the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which took place in Kigali in June 2022]. I’m told that after CHOGM, they won’t play around with us anymore. I’ve been told five or six times. I receive phone calls from private numbers. Some [intelligence] people have come to my house twice to tell me. NISS [National Intelligence and Security Services] has told me: ‘If you don’t change your tone, after CHOGM, you’ll see what happens to you.’

On July 12, he told a friend he had survived a number of “staged accidents” in Kigali. “He was telling me about ordeals and threats he faces for his journalism,” his friend told Human Rights Watch.

Given these circumstances, Rwanda has a legal obligation to ensure a prompt, effective investigation that is capable of determining the circumstances of Ntwali’s death and identifying those responsible, with a view to bringing them to justice. An effective investigation must be independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent, conducted in full compliance with the Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death).

Because Rwandan authorities have consistently failed to ensure credible investigations into and accountability for suspicious deaths of political opponents or high-profile critics, such as Kizito Mihigo in February 2020, foreign experts such as the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions should be involved in the investigation, Human Rights Watch said. All Rwandan authorities should fully support and cooperate with the investigation, and the Commonwealth, which Rwanda currently chairs, should publicly call for such an investigation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/16/call-for-independent-investigation-into-rwandan-singer-kizito-mihigos-death/

Rwandan authorities have long targeted Ntwali. He was arrested in January 2016, in the lead up to the 2017 elections, and accused of raping a minor. Judicial officials later changed the charge to indecent assault and eventually dropped the case for lack of evidence.

At the time, Ntwali had been investigating several sensitive issues, including the death of Assinapol Rwigara, a businessman and father of would-be independent presidential candidate Diana Rwigara, whose candidacy to the 2017 elections was later rejected. The police said that Assinapol Rwigara died in a car accident in February 2015, but his family contested the authorities’ version of events.

Ntwali had also been arbitrarily arrested several other times and his website was blocked by a government regulator, apparently in retaliation for his reporting that was critical of the government.

“It is an embarrassment for the Commonwealth and a problematic message about its values that the country that presides over it is a place where the suspicious deaths of journalists and activists can be swept under the carpet,” Mudge said. “Rwandan authorities should not only not harm journalists but should be actively protecting them, and Rwanda’s partners should be holding the government to account in full for its obligations under international human rights law.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/20/rwanda-suspicious-death-investigative-journalist

https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/john-williams-ntwali-rare-rwandan-journalist-critical-govt-dies-2023-01-20/

Twitter’s dangerous new direction

November 30, 2022

Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group – on 29 November 2022 – published a blog post,Twitter’s descent reminds us of the dangers of free speech absolutism” which is worth reading in full:

..A decade ago normative interpretations of freedom of expression under international human rights law and under relevant resolutions of the Human Rights Council were fairly finely balanced between the ‘anything goes’ ideology espoused by the United States (US) as well as by American human rights lawyers and experts (including several Special Rapporteurs) on the one hand, and those States and experts (especially from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – OIC) advocating a far more interventionist approach, on the other. However, over recent years the needle has shifted discernibly towards the latter view.

There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important are, first, a growing recognition, initially on the part of European countries but also increasingly in the US, of the growing threat posed by incitement to religious or racial hatred (i.e., ‘hate speech’) to human rights in the digital age, and second, a growing acknowledgement that disinformation (or ‘fake news’) spread online can no longer be held in check by societal checks and balances (i.e., the long-held American view that ‘best antidote to bad speech is more speech’) and thus poses a direct threat to democracy. In a stark example of the latter point, the administration of President Joe Biden has repeatedly acknowledged, and promised to respond to, the key role that disinformation about US elections (i.e., ‘stop the steal’) played in inciting the mob that attacked Congress in January 2021.

Today, the international community, including members of the Human Rights Council, while certainly not united on the thorny question of the threshold between speech that is ok and speech that is not, at least share something of a (albeit wide) common ground.

What is more, that growing intergovernmental consensus has been reflected in the operations of another former absolutist bastion of free speech: the social media giants. Meta (formerly Facebook) and Twitter have been at the forefront of this shift, bringing in increasingly sophisticated content moderation protocols heavily influenced by international human rights law and by guidance provided by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and UN frameworks like the Rabat Plan of Action.

Is Larry soaring or hurtling towards the ground?

Which makes recent developments at Twitter (Larry is the name of the blue Twitter bird), following the company’s takeover by Elon Musk, all the more dispiriting – but also all the more instructive (i.e., demonstrating that the Human Rights Council and the wider UN have been moving in the right direction over the past ten years).

Elon Musk is a freedom of expression absolutist who, moreover, subscribes to the widely held view among such extremists that free speech is being threatened by a censoring ‘woke’ orthodoxy.

Musk arrived at Twitter with a hard-line approach based on a belief that the platform’s efforts over recent years to check hate speech and malicious disinformation is part of some left-wing plot to destroy free speech and thus, in his mind, to threaten democracy. That is why he is now on a crusade to allow suspended users back on to the platform. The accounts of Donald Trump, Kanye West, and Jordan Peterson have been reinstated, along with nearly all those that were suspended for falling foul of old Twitter’s content rules on abuse, disinformation, and hate speech.

This means that Twitter is about to turn into a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous experiment in the reality of free expression without limit.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/

Cambodia: Quash Convictions of ‘ADHOC 5’

June 22, 2022
201808asia_cambodia_adhoc
© 2018 ADHOC

The Cambodian authorities should quash the baseless criminal convictions of four members and one former member of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Human Rights Watch said on 22 June 2022. On June 21, 2022, four of the defendants, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, and Ny Chakrya appealed a May 23 appeals court ruling upholding their convictions to the Cambodian Supreme Court.

From the very beginning, the Cambodian authorities have sought to unjustly punish the ADHOC 5 as a way to intimidate all civil society activists from criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donor agencies should urge the authorities to drop these cases and end all repression of human rights defenders.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/11/even-landmark-un-decision-does-not-change-cambodias-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/

In April 2016 the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit arrested ADHOC members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, along with the former ADHOC member Ny Chakrya, who was then deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee, and accused them of making false statements regarding a criminal case against the then-opposition leader Kem Sokha.

The five activists spent 14 months in pretrial detention. During their criminal trial, the prosecution failed to present any of the witnesses mentioned in the case or provide any credible evidence to substantiate the charges.

On September 26, 2018, the Phnom Penh municipal court convicted Vanda, Sokha, Soksan, and Mony of “bribery of a witness” (article 548 of Cambodia’s criminal code) and Chakrya of being an accomplice (articles 28 and 548). All five received suspended five-year prison terms, minus 14 months of time served.

On October 24, 2018, the defendants appealed the guilty verdicts to the Court of Appeal. The prosecutor’s office also filed an appeal, seeking to have the defendants serve the remainder of their suspended sentence in prison. The Court of Appeal denied both appeals on May 23, 2022.

The ADHOC 5 case arose during a broader government crackdown on civil society and the political opposition, specifically on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which the government-dominated Supreme Court later dissolved in a politically motivated ruling.

The former CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, continues to face unsubstantiated, politically motivated treason charges brought in September 2017. While he is no longer detained, his trial only recommenced in January, after being suspended for two years ostensibly because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government deemed his case to not be a “priority”. The allegations against Sokha are based on the government’s groundless claim that the CNRP fomented a “color revolution” to overthrow the government.

Human Rights Watch has documented the situations of more than 50 current political prisoners in Cambodia, including both those in pretrial detention and those serving prison sentences following politically motivated convictions. They include political opposition members, human rights defenders, land and environmental rights activists, and journalists.

“The Cambodian authorities should recognize that every day the ADHOC 5 case persists, the greater this travesty of justice inflicts harm to the government’s reputation,” Robertson said. “The only way for justice to be served is for the prosecutor to quash the convictions and provide the defendants with an appropriate remedy for the years of hardship the case caused them.”

see also: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/the-khmer-5/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/22/cambodia-quash-convictions-adhoc-5

Emirates’ claim to improve its legal system are nonsense

June 7, 2022

Human Rights Watch on 5 June 2022 published a detailed piece showing that wide-ranging legal changes introduced by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late 2021 fail to address the long-standing and systematic restrictions on citizens’ and residents’ civil and political rights. The new laws maintain previous provisions and include new ones that pose grave threats to fundamental human rights.

As reported by the state news agency WAM in November, the legal changes include amendments to over 40 laws including on crime and punishment, cybercrimes, and drugs, aiming “to strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities, in addition to maximizing social stability, security and ensuring the rights of both individuals and institutions.” While the changes allow for a moderate broadening of personal freedoms, the new legal framework retains severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

While the UAE government and its state-controlled media outlets trumpeted these new legislative changes as a massive step forward for economic and social freedoms, they will further entrench government-imposed repression,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE government has chosen to squander an opportunity to improve freedoms across the board and instead has doubled down on repression.”

Human Rights Watch conducted a comprehensive legal analysis of two of the new laws, the crime and punishment law and the cybercrimes law, to identify any changes related to the rights to free expression and free assembly. Both laws went into effect in January 2022.

The laws continue to prohibit criticism of rulers and speech that is deemed to create or encourage social unrest, imposing severe penalties for vaguely defined charges. They maintain provisions that criminalize defamation and both verbal and written insults, whether published or made in private, as prosecutable offences. New provisions criminalize “false” and “misleading” information, sharing information with foreign groups or countries, and “offending foreign states.” Protests and demonstrations would still be prohibited.

UAE authorities have also spied on international journalists, activists, and even world leaders using sophisticated Israeli and EU-produced spyware, or with the help of former US intelligence officials. Some of those whose communications and devices were targeted by the government surveillance and who are residents of the UAE, were subsequently arrested and abused in detention. Among them is the prominent Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]. A UAE court sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison in May 2018 following a grossly unfair trial, partly based on private email exchanges and WhatsApp conversations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/05/massive-call-in-support-of-ahmed-mansoor-at-his-50th-birthday-how-can-emirates-remain-deaf/ and https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A

The UAE authorities should take immediate steps to bring the penal code and cybercrime law into line with international and regional standards on free speech and individual freedoms, Human Rights Watch said. The UAE has not ratified the ICCPR, article 19 of which outlines the right to freedom of opinion and expression. But it is a state party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Article 32 of the Arab Charter ensures the right to information, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, and article 24 guarantees the right to freedom of political activity, the right to form and join associations, and the right to freedom of assembly and association.

The UAE cannot market itself as a reformist and tolerant state while introducing new laws that increase its already alarming levels of repression and censorship,” Page said….

The piece further provides a detailed analysis of penal and Cybercrimes Law.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/05/uae-sweeping-legal-reforms-deepen-repression

Many NGOs join to demand release of human rights defenders in Algeria

May 23, 2022

38 NGOs, including HRW and AI, ask Algeria to end the repression of human rights and the “immediate” release of detainees. They have launched a campaign calling on Algeria to end the repression of Human Rights and demand the immediate release of people detained in the country for exercising their freedom of expression. “The campaign calls on all relevant individuals, organizations and parties to contribute to collectively demanding an end to the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Algeria using the label At least 300 people have been arrested since the beginning of 2022, and until April 17, in the country for exercising their right to free expression, peaceful assembly or association, according to human rights defender Zaki Hannache. “The arrests and sentences of peaceful activists, independent trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders have not decreased, even after the protest movement was closed,” they said in a statement. The organizations have given the example of the hunger strike of the Algerian activist, Hadi Lassouli, to protest against his arbitrary imprisonment, as well as the case of Hakim Debazi, who died in custody on April 24 after being placed in preventive detention on April 22. February for social media posts. “Those suspected of criminal responsibility for serious human rights violations must be brought to justice in trials with due guarantees, and the authorities must provide victims with access to justice and effective reparations,” they have requested. This awareness campaign will be carried out until the anniversary of the death of Kamel Eddine Fejar, a human rights defender who died in custody on May 28, 2019 after a 50-day hunger strike. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was “concerned” last March at the increase in fundamental restrictions in the country, including an increase in arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, as well as members of civil society and political opponents. “I call on the government to change course and take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of its people to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” she said in a statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

https://www.indonewyork.com/breaking/38-ngos-including-hrw-and-ai-ask-algeria-to-end-the-repression-of-human-h30616.html

Sedition law suspended by India’s Supreme Court

May 12, 2022

Having posted before about this nefarious law [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/16/delhi-high-court-re-establishes-that-criticism-is-not-sedition/], it is good news that on 11 May 2022 India’s Supreme Court suspended this law which activists say is often used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to target free speech and dissent.

Mr Modi’s critics say that the law, which was once used by Britain to target independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, has been abused by his government against many journalists, activists, and students. Section 124A of the Indian penal code gives wide-ranging powers to the police to arrest people, who can even face life imprisonment, for an act or speech that “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government”.

India’s official crime data says 236 people faced sedition charges between 2018 and 2020. India sparked global outrage last year after 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for sedition for allegedly creating a “toolkit” to aid anti-government farmer protests.

See also:

The rigours of Section 124A (are) not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime,” India’s chief justice N V Ramana, part of a three-judge bench hearing a petition against the law, said. Mr Ramana asked the government not to file any new sedition cases and pause ongoing sedition investigations.

All pending trials, appeals and proceedings” under sedition, the court said, “be kept in abeyance” until the “re-examination of the provision is complete“.

The government had said Monday that it had decided to “re-examine and reconsider” the law but it remained in force. The top court also urged people jailed for sedition to approach local courts for bail.

Amnesty International welcomed the Supreme Court’s order “For far too long, authorities have misused the sedition law to harass, intimidate, and persecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, filmmakers, singers, actors, and writers for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Aakar Patel, Chair of Amnesty International India’s Board, said. “Sedition has been used as a tool of political repression by successive governmens”i

Nagpur-based lawyer Nihalsingh Rathod, who represents many accused in the Elgar Parishad case said the legislature should have re-examined the relevance of sedition a long time ago. The Supreme Court’s interim order was an important step in rights jurisprudence, he said.

“It won’t bring complete respite as no state invokes an isolated provision. In present cases too they invoke many provisions, including UAPA. But still, it brings hope that the process of looking at sedition and jurisprudence around it is being re-examined. It offers some hope that sedition law will undergo some churn that has never happened,” he said…

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/indias-top-court-suspends-use-of-controversial-sedition-law/wy0racqs4
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/sedition-law-lawyers-and-free-speech-activists-welcome-sc-order/articleshow/91500777.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

Facebook’s ‘supreme court’ is not a court

April 21, 2022
author profile picture

Abe Chauhan (a BCL candidate at the University of Oxford) wrote an interesting opinion about Facebook’s Oversight Board.

The Oversight Board is an independent institution created by Meta which reviews – in light of human rights law – the decisions of its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, on whether posts violate their policies and should be removed. The Board represents a novel, decentralised approach to protecting freedom of expression and other rights, calling into question whether private entities should perform judicial human rights functions.See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/facebook-launches-a-human-rights-policy-and-fund-aimed-for-human-rights-defenders/

Following calls for more robust, transparent and accountable regulation of Facebook, and after a year of consultations, interviews and research, in October 2020 the Facebook (now Meta) Oversight Board became operational. It is an independent institution, funded indirectly by Meta through a $130 million trust arrangement, which makes binding determinations on content decisions appealed by users. Board members include law professors, human rights practitioners and civil society actors from around the world. Under Article 2, Section 2 of the Board’s Charter, it applies Meta’s Community Standards “in light of human rights norms protecting free expression”. At the time of writing, the Board has released 23 decisions on posts concerning various issues ranging from unmarked graves at former residential schools in Canada to the promotion of ayahuasca. The most widely publicised of these concerned an appeal against Facebook’s decision to block then-President Donald Trump from the platform following his posts in relation to the attack on the US Capitol. The Board decided to uphold the decision, but criticised Facebook’s use of the penalty of indefinite suspension, requiring it to determine a proportionate response. In that case, the Board engaged in extensive discussion on freedom of expression under the ICCPR, deriving a requirement for proportionate limitation from international jurisprudence and developing a number of factors influencing how this assessment should operate.

What, then, is the legal character of the Board? Although it applies human rights law in representative appeals from around the world, like an international human rights court, the Board is a private body and its determinations cannot preclude individual petitions. In this light, the Board is just an additional stage to Meta’s internal review procedure. What cannot be understated, however, is the reach of the Board’s decisions – it makes binding determinations on content decisions about the posts of Facebook’s 3 billion and Instagram’s 1.5 billion active users. Not only are its decisions wide-reaching, but they may have norm-shaping effect as a subsidiary means for interpreting human rights law. Many of the Board’s members are highly qualified human rights scholars and the unanimous decision-making system it applies increases the normative weight of decisions. While in a formal sense the Board is little more than an arbitral tribunal binding only Meta, its decisions have material effects on the rights enjoyment of many individuals around the world. This suggests that rather than merely an internal review procedure, the Board is a private human rights court. Viewed in this light, the Board fills a gap. The effectiveness of the human rights regime depends on the ability of States to protect rights. However, it is large multinational social media corporations which have factual control over many forums of expression. States can only indirectly regulate these, with potentially limited actual impact on the enjoyment of freedom of expression by users. The Board fills this ability gap by implementing rights adjudication internally within Meta.

Some might welcome this novel approach as it signals the greater horizontalisation of human rights. However, while it may be correct that these organisations ought to bear obligations to respect, protect and promote human rights violations, the role the Board is playing goes much further than this. In making final determinations on human rights limitations by Meta, it subsumes – de facto rather than de jure – part of the exclusively State function of human rights adjudication. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it is unacceptable for private institutions to make rights determinations with wide-ranging effects, absent a delegation of this power by the State. Secondly, alongside this absence of legitimacy, the Board may slowly diminish rights protection. Even if it acts in the public interest, the Board is free to develop its own jurisprudence. As Benesch suggests, over time it will have to depart from international human rights law because this field was not designed for application by private companies and its norms and principles need to be adapted accordingly.

While the Board may well be an effective institution – its initial decisions apply close analysis to human rights issues and frequently overturn Meta’s content decisions – it is highly questionable that a private institution should perform the exclusive State function of human rights adjudication.

https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/the-facebook-supreme-court-and-private-human-rights-adjudication/

IFEX at Canadian parliament: do more to protect human rights defenders

April 4, 2022

IFEX Deputy Executive Director Rachael Kay delivered a presentation on the situation of human rights defenders, journalists, and media organisations to the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

…Like everyone, we see the expansion of authoritarianism in all its forms. Information is being weaponized in ways that has a profound impact on people and is creating a kind of information chaos. In our network alone, we’ve seen how misuse of access to information legislation, internet shutdowns, misinformation, attacks on media and of course the murder of journalists is becoming routine. When those targeted directly with online disinformation and smear campaigns are women, the form the attacks take is usually gendered and often results in self-censorship.

The aim is to silence these voices, and it is doing just that.

We can see this played out in the current context. Immediate action is required in the most urgent situations, Ukraine/Russia, Afghanistan, Belarus, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Sudan, just to name a few. It is imperative that coordinated systems of emergency support for journalists at risk and their families are created, something where we see Canada is already moving in the right direction. But we must continue to increase our effectiveness.

And to be effective, these systems should include providing emergency visas that have simple and secure methods of submission and, in the absence of such, they must expedite the processing of visas for journalists and their families, as well as ensure safe passage. Key to the success of any intervention is effective coordination with local and international civil society organisations working to protect and evacuate journalists.

We see that media freedom has never been more crucial. Democracies cannot survive and flourish without free, independent and pluralistic media. We need to reverse engineer the current branding of the media as fake news and the enemy of the people as normal. It has been the lexicon adopted around the world – language mimicked and acted upon that includes continued verbal and physical attacks on the media with total impunity. This has had a profound impact on press freedom and journalists in particular. And be sure, no country, including Canada, is exempt from this trend.

The narrative needs to be countered forcefully with words and actions. Outside of intervening in urgent situations, the government must play a significant, ongoing role in reinforcing the need for press freedom and respect for journalists in its own national context.

There is also the need for accountability. The criminalisation of journalism and abuse of law by state actors has to end and we call on multilateral relationships and institutions to ensure that those who attack the media face real consequences for their actions – otherwise attacks against the press will continue to escalate and any standards championed by Canada will remain empty.

…..

At IFEX our network of over 100 member organisations in more than 70 countries actively advocate for freedom of expression and information as a fundamental human right – many do so in very dangerous circumstances. The targeted repression of press freedom advocates and journalists, and attacks on communities and institutions, see accepted norms being increasingly undermined and weakened.

We have been called on to do more direct support for our members, across all regions, who find themselves increasingly under attack by authoritarian states focused on shutting down the voices of civil society and threatening dissent at any price.

Organisations whose offices and staff are targeted and harassed with no other aim but closure and erasure need to be supported, funded and engaged with – because these are the voices that call for accountability and if these voices are shuttered it will leave a vacuum for democracy.

We know these issues are complex. IFEX’s members and allies around the world have been working on them, doing grassroots advocacy, publishing reports, indexes and offering solutions and campaigning for years. They are a rich pool of knowledge that could inform Canada’s policies and discussions with nuance and a national and global perspective. As part of your efforts in focusing on press freedom we would welcome being a conduit to these sources.

Governments and civil society groups need to continue to find ways to collaborate, to be at the table together.

Grim times for human rights defenders and real journalists in Russia

April 1, 2022
Svetlana Gannushkina and Oleg Orlov in court. @MemorialMoscow / Twitter.com

While understandably most attention goes to the real war in Ukraine, we should keep an eye on the worsening situation in Russia itself. See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/05/ngos-express-great-worries-about-human-rights-situation-in-russia-at-un-human-rights-council/

Michael Mainville for AFP on 31 March 2022 is writing about this very intelligently:

For many years, veteran Russian human rights defender Oleg Orlov thought his country’s darkest days were behind it. Not anymore. “I don’t think I have ever seen a darker period,” says Orlov, 68, who began a lifetime of activism in the early 1980s handing out leaflets against the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

What is happening now cannot be compared with anything that happened before in Russia, maybe anywhere in the world… when a country that left totalitarianism behind went back.”

For Orlov and other activists of his generation, the conflict in Ukraine has marked the definite end of a hopeful time that started with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years later, Russian troops are again fighting and dying abroad, Kremlin opponents are in jail, independent media have been shut down and thousands of Russians have decided to flee the country.

“The hopes we had did not come true, there have been terrible disappointments,” says Svetlana Gannushkina, 80, one of Russia’s most prominent post-Soviet rights activists. “Today we have a country that can no longer be called authoritarian, this is already a totalitarian regime.

Orlov and Gannushkina are two of the last few critical voices still at work in Russia, and in interviews with AFP in Moscow this week both said they had no plans to quit or to leave. Orlov was in the offices of Memorial, which was shut down last year after decades as Russia’s most prominent rights group, where bookcases sat empty, desks had been cleared and packing boxes were piled on the floor. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/29/russias-supreme-court-orders-closure-emblematic-memorial/]

“I don’t see myself outside Russia. I… have always wanted to live and die in this country,” says Orlov.

A biologist by training, Orlov joined Memorial in the late 1980s when the group was set up to document Soviet-era crimes. He went on to record rights abuses in a series of post-Soviet conflicts, especially in Russia’s two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s.  In 1995 he was part of a group who swapped themselves for hostages taken by Chechen fighters and were eventually released, and in 2007 he was abducted, beaten and threatened with execution by a group of masked gunmen in Ingushetia next to Chechnya. After serving two years in the mid-2000s on Russia’s presidential human rights council, Orlov has since been active in opposing President Vladimir Putin. He was arrested at a March 6 protest against the military action in Ukraine, and returned home one day this week to find his front door painted over with the letter “Z” — a symbol used to show support for Russia in the conflict — and a sign reading “collaborator.”

The harsh new political climate and impact of severe sanctions have prompted thousands of Russians to leave in recent weeks, including many of the country’s young, opposition-minded liberals. Gannushkina has seen it at her Civic Assistance Committee, the group she founded in 1990 to help refugees and migrants in an often-hostile environment. “Unfortunately, our wonderful young people, who followed their hearts to our organization, are leaving,” she says…These young people, who we had so much hope for, feel in danger and helpless, so they leave. And we are left here with this insanity...”

The former mathematics professor set up the Civic Assistance Committee to help the thousands displaced by conflicts as the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. From its modest Moscow offices, it provides legal assistance and help with finding jobs and housing, as well as campaigning for the rights of marginalized groups. Gannushkina also worked with Memorial and like Orlov served on the presidential human rights council before resigning in 2012. A letter of thanks for her service signed by Putin still hangs on her office wall. She remains very active, taking the time to meet individually with people seeking help.  [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/215E5731-7786-434A-9C20-923168E65F44]

“No, I don’t think about leaving,” Gannushkina says, though she admits she is glad her children and grandchildren live abroad. I am happy they are not here, because it gives me the chance to say what I think, to everyone and everywhere.”

We had a chance to create a normal federation, which would be governed in the way other federations are governed in democratic regimes. We missed that chance,” she says. All she can do now, Gannushkina says, is “hope that time will pass and we will get another chance. “But most likely I won’t be here to see it.”

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Also on 31 March 2022 The Washington Post had an editorial: A generation of independent Russian journalists meets its grim end:

In his lecture accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, the editor of the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, declared that “journalism in Russia is going through a dark valley.” He said more than 100 journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations have been branded “foreign agents,” a label equivalent to “enemies of the people.” Many journalists lost their jobs and fled the country. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/bdbb2312-8b7a-4e44-bb4c-1864474daec7]

Now Novaya Gazeta itself has suspended publication, threatened by the government for failing to label a group as a “foreign agent” and because of an onerous new law that makes it a crime with penalties up to 15 years in prison to “discredit” the armed forces — including use of the words “war,” “invasion” or “attack” to describe President Vladimir Putin’s onslaught against Ukraine. A day after the invasion, Novaya Gazeta expressed outrage with a front-page three-word banner headline against a black background: “Russia. Bombs. Ukraine.” The paper continued to report, including from a correspondent in Ukraine, until it could no longer. The decision to suspend was portrayed by Mr. Muratov as temporary, but the future for all independent media in Russia appears grim.

This is a tombstone moment for a generation of independent journalists. In the final years of Soviet glasnost and in the unbridled and exuberant first years of Russia’s democracy, they threw off the straitjacket of censors and state-dominated media outlets to create newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television broadcasts and digital and social media that drew large and information-hungry audiences. To be sure, the audiences often were liberal, elite and urban, but at the very least, Russians benefited from information sources outside state control. Even in the authoritarian years of Mr. Putin’s rise, some were permitted to function. Novaya Gazeta distinguished itself with hard-hitting investigations, as Mr. Muratov noted in his lecture, fearlessly exposing money-laundering and the exploitation of Siberian forests, among other topics. Six of the paper’s reporters have been killed over the years.

But now it seems that Russia is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, where the state can no longer tolerate any independent outlets. Echo Moskvy, a bastion of open discussion on radio and online, has been silenced and closed. TV Dozhd, founded in 2010, has suspended operations, and some of its journalists have fled. The popular news website Znak.com has also closed. A similar trend has swept independent media in Russia’s regions.

Mr. Putin completely missed the ferment and exhilaration of the late-1980s glasnost years — he was serving in the KGB in East Germany — and in his two decades in power, he has shown little patience for free speech. Lately, dozens of people have been arrested for expressing anti-war sentiments. Vera Bashmakova, the editor of a popular science magazine, was detained for several hours when she showed up at preschool to pick up her daughter with a “No to war!” sign in her car window. She was charged with “discrediting the army.” This is indeed a “dark valley” for Russia, and it is growing darker by the day.

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/03/31/shattered-hopes-and-dark-days-for-longtime-russian-rights-activists-a77158

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/31/generation-independent-russian-journalists-meets-its-grim-end/

Naty Castro freed by Philippine court order

March 31, 2022
Philippine court frees human rights doctor

Photo: Rappler.com

On 30 March, 2022, the good news arrived: A human rights activist and doctor arrested in the Philippines last month on rebellion and kidnapping charges has been freed from detention after a court dismissed the case against her and condemned the manner of her arrest. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/10/naty-castro-human-rights-defender-in-the-philippines-arbitrarily-detained/]

Dr. Maria Natividad (“Naty”) Castro, 53, walked free from detention on March 30 after the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court ordered her release on March 25. The judge called the arrest ‘repugnant to her right to liberty’

She had been held since her arrest in Manila on Feb. 18 for allegedly being a fundraiser for the Communist Party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army. She was also accused of being involved in the kidnapping of a government-backed militia member in 2018 while helping indigenous communities in Mindanao.

https://www.ucanews.com/news/philippine-court-frees-human-rights-doctor/96721

http://davaotoday.com/main/human-rights/agusan-sur-court-dismisses-charges-vs-red-tagged-community-doctor/