Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

The pen mightier than the sword: award courageous writers

November 19, 2019

On 18 November 2019 Emma Frost wrote in the Boar a piece extolling writing as an act of courage. She refers to courageous laureates and concludes that “unfortunately, the need for such awards merely confirms the continual existence of persecution, state-sponsored violence and oppression in our world”. THF’s digest lists more than 40 international awards under the theme freedom of expression: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest.

Befeqadu Hailu is an Ethiopian writer, blogger, and human rights activist who recently was awarded the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize for International Writer of Courage. Before achieving this prestigious title, Befeqadu had been imprisoned, brutalised, dehumanised and labelled a ‘terrorist’ by his own government for exercising what should be a basic human right: freedom of speech. …However, Befeqadu isn’t the only writer who has faced such injustice. Instead, he is one of thousands of courageous individuals who dare to speak and write about the truth of their society, and who are consequently punished for doing so. Many readers will recognise the story of Malala Yousafzai, a girl from Pakistan who was almost assassinated by the Taliban in 2012 for her blog posts to BBC Urdu about life under the terrorist organisation and her campaigning for female education. She was only 15 years old when she took that famous bullet to her head.

Female author Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1982 in Iran for campaigning for civil and female rights. She used her time in prison as an inspiration for her novel The Secret Letters From X To A, a beautifully written book that ponders the responsibility of publishing an individual’s truth in the face of personal danger for doing so. More recently, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in 2017,as a consequence for her dedication to exposing the corruption of Maltese politicians through her blog, ‘Running Commentary’.

These examples are testaments to the importance of writing. Without the written records of their struggle and their defiance, the the courage of brave individuals would remain unheard and we would remain in ignorance of their plight. In a world where it is safer not to write about injustice, writers make a valiant choice every day to speak out, knowing the risk of exile, imprisonment, or even death. The former 2015 PEN Pinter award winner Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger for his website ‘Free Saudi Liberals’ and activist for greater human rights in Saudi Arabia, is currently imprisoned to this very day and his exact whereabouts are unknown.

The significance of awards such as the PEN Pinter Prize for International Writer of Courage cannot be exaggerated. They validate the heroic and life-threatening efforts by writers to create a better world and convey to those who are imprisoned for their literature that they are seen, they are heard, and that they won’t be abandoned. The Civil Courage Prize is another such human rights award that recognises “steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk”. This award was inspired by the story of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book The Gulag Archipelago exposed the true horrors of the Russian gulag system through the use of interviews, diaries, legal documents and his own experience as a gulag prisoner.

Unfortunately, the need for such awards merely confirms the continual existence of persecution, state-sponsored violence and oppression in our world. It signifies that human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have a long way to go in achieving freedom for everyone. In spite of this, I have hope that these brave individuals won’t give up and will continue to write for the sake of a better humanity. All of this reaffirms my steadfast belief that the pen truly is mightier than the sword, and that writing is the most important political tool of our century.

Writing as an act of courage

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

Sweden defies Chinese threats after award to book publisher Gui Minhai

November 19, 2019

the Swedish PEN’s Tucholsky Prize was presented to jailed Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai, . EPA-EFE/Fredrik Sandberg SWEDEN OUT
New Europe reports that Sweden’s culture minister defied a Chinese threat on Friday 15 November after she had awarded a Swedish human rights prize to detained Chinese-Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai.  The ceremony at Sven-Harry’s Art Museum in Stockholm, took place on 15 November 2019.  The Swedish section of the International organization PEN awarded its free speech Tucholsky Prize free speech prize to the 55-year-old Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen now detained in China. The Tucholsky Prize was established in 1984 and is named after German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who sought asylum to Sweden fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It has been previously awarded to writers such as Adam Zagajevski, Nuruddin Farah, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Svetlana Alexievich.

Gui Minhai published stories about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop. He disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015. He then appeared on Chinese state television confessing to a fatal drink-driving accident from more than a decade earlier. He served two years in prison, was released in October 2017, and then arrested again while travelling on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/]

Those in power should never take the liberty to attack free artistic expression or free speech,” Swedish Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind said during the ceremony. An empty chair symbolically represented the writer at the ceremony in Stockholm. The Chinese Ambassador to Stockholm, Guy Congyou, opposed both the award and its presentation by a Swedish government official. Gui Congyou told Radio Sweden that there would be “serious consequences” and “countermeasures” against Sweden.

More specifically, Gui Congyyou told Swedish news agency TT that any government representative attending the ceremony would be unwelcome in China. The Chinese Ambassador maintains that Gui Minhai is not a persecuted author but a criminal who has “committed serious offences in both China and Sweden.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made clear that his government would not back down: “We are not going to give in to this type of threat. Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period,” Lofven told Swedish Television. “We have made it clear to China’s representatives that we stand by our position that Gui Minhai must be released and that we have freedom of expression in Sweden,” Lind told TT. Sweden’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday calling on China to release Gui and made an official representation to Chinese authorities over the ambassador’s statements.

China’s sensitivity on this issue has been a constant feature as shown in one of my earliest blog posts in 2012: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/

How social media companies can identify and respond to threats against human rights defenders

October 15, 2019

global computer threats

Image from Shutterstock.

Ginna Anderson writes in the ABA Abroad of 3

..Unfortunately, social media platforms are now a primary tool for coordinated, state-aligned actors to harass, threaten and undermine advocates. Although public shaming, death threats, defamation and disinformation are not unique to the online sphere, the nature of the internet has given them unprecedented potency. Bad actors are able to rapidly deploy their poisoned content on a vast scale. Social media companies have only just begun to recognize, let alone respond, to the problem. Meanwhile, individuals targeted through such coordinated campaigns must painstakingly flag individual pieces of content, navigate opaque corporate structures and attempt to survive the fallout. To address this crisis, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube must dramatically increase their capacity and will to engage in transparent, context-driven content moderation.

For human rights defenders, the need is urgent. .. Since 2011, the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR) has ..noted with concern the coordination of “traditional” judicial harassment of defenders by governments, such as frivolous criminal charges or arbitrary detention, with online campaigns of intimidation. State-aligned online disinformation campaigns against individual defenders often precede or coincide with official investigations and criminal charges.

……

While social media companies generally prohibit incitement of violence and hate speech on their platforms, CHR has had to engage in additional advocacy with social media companies requesting the removal of specific pieces of content or accounts that target defenders. This extra advocacy has been required even where the content clearly violates a social media company’s terms of service and despite initial flagging by a defender. The situation is even more difficult where the threatening content is only recognizable with sufficient local and political context. The various platforms all rely on artificial intelligence, to varying degrees, to identify speech that violates their respective community standards. Yet current iterations of artificial intelligence are often unable to adequately evaluate context and intent.

Online intimidation and smear campaigns against defenders often rely on existing societal fault lines to demean and discredit advocates. In Guatemala, CHR recently documented a coordinated social media campaign to defame, harass, intimidate and incite violence against human rights defenders. Several were linked with so-called “net centers,” where users were reportedly paid to amplify hateful content across platforms. Often, the campaigns relied on “coded” language that hark back to Guatemala’s civil war and the genocide of Mayan communities by calling indigenous leaders communists, terrorists and guerrillas.

These terms appear to have largely escaped social media company scrutiny, perhaps because none is a racist slur per se. And yet, the proliferation of these online attacks, as well as the status of those putting out the content, is contributing to a worsening climate of violence and impunity for violence against defenders by specifically alluding to terms used to justify violence against indigenous communities. In 2018 alone, NPR reports that 26 indigenous defenders were murdered in Guatemala. In such a climate, the fear and intimidation felt by those targeted in such campaigns is not hyperbolic but based on their understanding of how violence can be sparked in Guatemala.

In order to address such attacks, social media companies must adopt policies that allow them to designate defenders as temporarily protected groups in countries that are characterized by state-coordinated or state-condoned persecution of activists. This is in line with international law that prohibits states from targeting individuals for serious harm based on their political opinion. To increase their ability to recognize and respond to persecution and online violence against human rights defenders, companies must continue to invest in their context-driven content moderation capacity, including complementing algorithmic monitoring with human content moderators well-versed in local dialects and historical and political context.

Context-driven content moderation should also take into account factors that increase the risk that online behavior will contribute to offline violence by identifying high-risk countries. These factors include a history of intergroup conflict and an overall increase in the number of instances of intergroup violence in the past 12 months; a major national political election in the next 12 months; and significant polarization of political parties along religious, ethnic or racial lines. Countries where these and other risk factors are present call for proactive approaches to identify problematic accounts and coded threats against defenders and marginalized communities, such as those shown in Equality Labs’ “Facebook India” report.

Companies should identify, monitor and be prepared to deplatform key accounts that are consistently putting out denigrating language and targeting human rights defenders. This must go hand in hand with the greater efforts that companies are finally beginning to take to identify coordinated, state-aligned misinformation campaigns. Focusing on the networks of users who abuse the platform, instead of looking solely at how the online abuse affects defenders’ rights online, will also enable companies to more quickly evaluate whether the status of the speaker increases the likelihood that others will take up any implicit call to violence or will be unduly influenced by disinformation.

This abuser-focused approach will also help to decrease the burden on defenders to find and flag individual pieces of content and accounts as problematic. Many of the human rights defenders with whom CHR works are giving up on flagging, a phenomenon we refer to as flagging fatigue. Many have become fatalistic about the level of online harassment they face. This is particularly alarming as advocates targeted online may develop skins so thick that they are no longer able to assess when their actual risk of physical violence has increased.

Finally, it is vital that social media companies pursue, and civil society demand, transparency in content moderation policy and decision-making, in line with the Santa Clara Principles. Put forward in 2018 by a group of academic experts, organizations and advocates committed to freedom of expression online, the principles are meant to guide companies engaged in content moderation and ensure that the enforcement of their policies is “fair, unbiased, proportional and respectful of users’ rights.” In particular, the principles call upon companies to publicly report on the number of posts and accounts taken down or suspended on a regular basis, as well as to provide adequate notice and meaningful appeal to affected users.

CHR routinely supports human rights defenders facing frivolous criminal charges related to their human rights advocacy online or whose accounts and documentation have been taken down absent any clear justification. This contributes to a growing distrust of the companies among the human rights community as apparently arbitrary decisions about content moderation are leaving advocates both over- and under-protected online.

As the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression explained in his 2018 report, content moderation processes must include the ability to appeal the removal, or refusal to remove, content or accounts. Lack of transparency heightens the risk that calls to address the persecution of human rights defenders online will be subverted into justifications for censorship and restrictions on speech that is protected under international human rights law.

A common response when discussing the feasibility of context-driven content moderation is to compare it to reviewing all the grains of sand on a beach. But human rights defenders are not asking for the impossible. We are merely pointing out that some of that sand is radioactive—it glows in the dark, it is lethal, and there is a moral and legal obligation upon those that profit from the beach to deal with it.

Ginna Anderson, senior counsel, joined ABA CHR in 2012. She is responsible for supporting the center’s work to advance the rights of human rights defenders and marginalized dommunities, including lawyers and journalists at risk. She is an expert in health and human rights, media freedom, freedom of expression and fair trial rights. As deputy director of the Justice Defenders Program since 2013, she has managed strategic litigation, fact-finding missions and advocacy campaigns on behalf of human rights defenders facing retaliation for their work in every region of the world

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-can-social-media-companies-identify-and-respond-to-threats-against-human-rights-defenders

Revoking of Kamila Shamsie’s Dortmund book award is fiercely contested

September 25, 2019

Kamila Shamsie.
Kamila Shamsie. Photograph: Teri Pengilley/The Guardian

The judges had initially chosen Shamsie for writing that “builds bridges between societies”, but changed their minds on learning she backed the BDS movement, saying that her “political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott … contrasts with the claim of the Nelly Sachs prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures”.

Shamsie’s supporters reply asks: “What is the meaning of a literary award that undermines the right to advocate for human rights, the principles of freedom of conscience and expression and the freedom to criticise? … Without these, art and culture become meaningless luxuries.”

The revoking of Shamsie’s award follows a motion passed in May by the German parliament that labelled the BDS movement antisemitic. But the letter writers point to a decision earlier this month in the administrative court of Cologne ruling that Bonn city council’s decision to exclude the German-Palestinian Women’s Association from a cultural festival because of its support for BDS was unjustified. The writers highlight the statement last year from more than 40 progressive Jewish organisations arguing that conflating anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid “undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism”.

The letter also criticises the German city of Dortmund, which runs the award, for refusing to make public Shamsie’s written response to the decision.

Shamsie, winner of the UK’s Women’s prize for fiction, had called it a “matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modelled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust”. Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for the city of Dortmund said that the jury had decided not to give any further statements. “The council has legitimated the jury of Nelly Sachs prize to choose an awardee,” she said. “The jury is autonomous in its decision and gave reasons in the press release. There has been no council meeting after the jury’s decision, so the withdrawal has not been a topic for the council yet.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/23/hundreds-of-authors-protest-after-kamila-shamsies-book-award-is-revoked

https://www.timesofisrael.com/writers-defend-uk-author-stripped-of-prize-for-her-support-of-israel-boycott/

http://english.wafa.ps/page.aspx?id=qfv8dda113530808358aqfv8dd

https://www.dawn.com/news/1507849

UAE: whitewashing specialists get help from the UK

September 14, 2019

Aimed at students aged between 16 and 18, guidelines for entrants urge them to consider “What can the world learn from the UAE’s model for tolerance?” and “How does the Year of Tolerance reflect the already established values of diversity within the UAE?”

UAE launches ‘pledge of tolerance’ despite continued crackdown on dissent

But the guidelines also tell entrants that they must abide by media laws in the UAE, which forbid criticism of the Emirati government and ruling families, its monarchical system, political decisions or “defaming public officials”. Earlier this year, the UAE upheld a 10-year jail sentence for Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati blogger, for “insulting the UAE’s leaders online.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/political-prisoners-in-the-emirats-are-detained-indefinitely-even-after-release-date/]

Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf Rights expert for Human Rights Watch, criticised the British government for its participation in this initiative and said it was “helping whitewash” the UAE government. “It is not just ironic to host such an initiative in one of the world’s most repressive countries, but downright irresponsible,” Zayadin told Middle East Eye. “The UAE is a country where the red lines are constantly shifting, and where journalists, academics and critics have been targeted, harassed, threatened, and jailed simply for expressing their opinions.” She added: “By launching such an initiative, the British embassy is not supporting the growth of journalism around the world so much as it is helping to whitewash a repressive regime’s near-obliteration of the space for free speech.”

Press freedom in the UAE has been a constant source of criticism for the Emirates. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked the UAE at 133rd in its 2019 Press Freedom Index and described the country as the “masters of the online surveillance of journalists”.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uk-under-fire-launching-uae-press-scheme

48 Human Rights groups intervene for detained Nigerian Omoyele Sowore

August 26, 2019

On 23 August 2019 48 NGOs issued an urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and detention of Omoyele Sowore, Nigerian journalist and human rights defender, to the UN and African human rights bodies. Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said: “Index on Censorship urges the Nigerian authorities to release the prominent journalist and campaigner Omoyele Sowore immediately. The arrest and detention are a shocking violation of Mr Sowore’s human rights, which calls into question Nigeria’s willingness and ability to meet international human rights obligations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omoyele Sowore (Photo: Mohamed Nanabhay / Wikipedia)

To the members of the Working Group and the Special Rapporteurs:

We, 48 human rights and press freedom organisations, respectfully request that you consider this urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and arbitrary detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender Omoyele Sowore who was arrested by the authorities following a call for peaceful protest. We request that you urgently intervene to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore and declare his arrest and detention a gross violation of his human rights, including the right not to be arbitrarily detained as protected by Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter); the right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter; the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 19 ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter; the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as protected by Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter; and his rights as a human rights defender as outlined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

Background 

  1. Mr Sowore is a prominent journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. He is the founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency based in New York City that focuses on corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria. Challenging government corruption and speaking truth to power has been the constant thread throughout Mr Sowore’s career, from the leading of student protests in the 1990’s to his recent campaign running for Presidential office in Nigeria.

Omoyele Sowore’s arrest and detention 

  1. Mr Sowore was arrested on 3 August 2019 in his hotel room during a trip to Lagos. Security agents forcefully detained Mr Sowore without informing him of any charges against him and flew him to Abuja, where he is currently being detained at the facility of the headquarters of the Nigerian State Security Service. Mr Sowore has access to food and water, but no access to the outside world: no newspapers, television or phone, and he spends most days in isolation. He was held incommunicado until 6 August, during which time Mr Sowore refused to answer any questions without consulting with his lawyer. He was allowed access to his lawyers only on 7 August, 4 days after his arrest.
  2. Based on Section 35 of the Nigerian Constitution, Mr Sowore should have been arraigned before a court within 48 hours. As of today, Mr Sowore has not been arraigned in any court.
  3. However, on 6 August, 3 days after his arrest, the State Security Service did seek an ex- parte order from the Federal High Court in Abuja to detain Mr Sowore under Section 27(1) of the Terrorism Act 2013, which enables the detention of anyone planning to “commit an act of violence”. The Court’s order of 8 August, made within 48 hours after the State Security Service’s request, granted the authorities permission to detain Mr Sowore for 45 days. Within 24 hours, his legal team, led by Mr Femi Falana, filed a motion to set aside the order and requested Mr Sowore’s immediate release, arguing that his detention was contrary to the Nigerian Constitution. At the time of writing, this request has not been heard by the courts and no date for hearing has been fixed. Importantly: no formal charges have been filed against Mr Sowore.

Mr Sowore’s call for a peaceful #RevolutionNow protest 

  1. The arrest of Mr Sowore appears to be the direct consequence of his call for a peaceful protest scheduled to take place on 5 August 2019, using the hashtag #RevolutionNow.

The objective of the protest was to demand that the Nigerian government end corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all. That the protest Mr Sowore and the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) movement he founded called for was a peaceful one is made clear at the very outset of the call for protest, issued on 27 July, which starts by setting out the “rules of engagement”:

We eschew all forms of violence. No protester should throw any object as little as stones or attack any security officials. We are aware of their intent to provoke the mass unduly by using undue tactics and sponsored agents, so as to give the protest a bad name. We encourage all Nigerians to remain calm as we are ready to fight these injustices to a logical conclusion. 

  1. A week earlier, in an interview with the Arise News channel, Mr Sowore stated that “Nigeria needs revolution, not war,” clearly distinguishing his call for substantial change from a call to violence. Mr Sowore has used the word “revolution” contextually to mean “change for the better” since 2006, when he founded Sahara Reporters. Mr Sowore then stated that he would “revolutionise” the way news is being reported in Nigeria –– something he actually did with the investigative citizen journalism the website publishes.
  2. Despite Mr Sowore’s arrest and detention, the 5 August #RevolutionNow protests took place in Abuja, Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Cross River. Protesters met a police force that dispersed them with teargas and gunshots. Numerous protesters, including several of Sahara Reporters’ journalists, were arrested and charged with illegal assembly.

Request for urgent action 

  1. It is clear that Mr Sowore’s arrest on apparent grounds of suspicion of terrorism is unfounded. Mr Sowore did what he has done throughout his career as a journalist and human rights activist: exercise his right to freedom of expression and seek to bring about change through peaceful means, in this case a peaceful protest. The use of the emotive term “revolution” merely underlines his desire for transformative change in what he considers the shortcomings of the current government. There are strong suspicions that Mr Sowore’s arrest stems from ulterior motives than responding to any supposed criminal wrongdoing. This is further highlighted by the fact that the authorities failed to define a charge against him for the first few days after his arrest; the investigations that were subsequently instigated against him under the Terrorism Act were clearly only created to serve the purpose of silencing Mr Sowore.
  2. As such, the arrest and detention of Mr Sowore amount to a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained as guaranteed under Article 9 ICCPR and Article 6 of the Banjul Charter. The fact that the charges brought against him most likely stem from his call for a peaceful demonstration and his critical stance on the Nigerian government also violates Mr Sowore’s right to free expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter and his right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association under Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter. Not properly arraigning Mr Sowore before a competent court within the time limit mandated by the Nigerian Constitution and not allowing him access to a lawyer during the initial days of his detention violates his right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter. The foregoing also constitutes a violation of his rights as a human rights defender as defined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
  3. As a State Party to both treaties, Nigeria is under an obligation to guarantee these rights to all its citizens, as specified under Article 2(1) of the ICCPR and Article 2 of the Banjul Charter. Accordingly, we appeal to the Working Group and UN and AU Special Rapporteurs to:
  • intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore; and
  • declare his arrest and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.

SIGNED BY:
All Workers’ Convergence (AWC) 

Afrika Movement for Freedom and Justice (AMFJ)

Agege Women Agenda (AWA)

ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa

Centre for Constitutional Rights

Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ)

Chidi Odinkalu Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria) & Senior Fellow, Open Society Justice Initiative

Coalition for Revolution (CORE) 

Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) 

Community Women Initiatives (CWI) 

The Concerned Forum 

Congress of Progressive Youths (COPY) 

Democratic Youth League

Edo State Civil Society Organisation (EDOSCO)

Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria 

Freedom of Expression Hub

Gani Fawehinmi Apostles 

Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Organization (gafam.org) 

Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN)

Global Voices Sub-Saharan Africa

Grassroot Justice Centre

Human and Environment Development Agenda (HEDA) 

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-UGANDA)

IAmVocal

Index on Censorship 

Media Legal Defence Initiative

Media Rights Agenda

Moshood Abiola Vanguard for Democracy (MAVD)

Movement For People’s Rights

National Conscience Party (NCP), Lagos State Branch

Nigerians in Diaspora Europe, Belgium-Luxembourg (NIDOE-BeLux)

Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Nigeria Office

Paradigm Initiative

People’s Alternative Front (PAF)

Peoples’ Unite

Rivers State Civil Society Coalition (RIVSCO)

Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) 

Save Lagos Group

Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT) 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

Sovereign Vital Force 

Spaces for Change 

Take-It-Back (TiB) Movement 

Talakawa Parliament

Veteran Group for Operation Clean Crusade (VGOCC) 

Women for Leadership Change

Workbond International Network (WIN)

Youth In Good Governance Initiative (YIGGI) 

New documentary series highlights the struggle of women human rights in Vietnam

August 7, 2019

A new series of video interviews highlights the perspectives and struggles of human rights women in Vietnam.

The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defenders-in-vietnam/

Other women including social activist and blogger Tran Thi Nga, who is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, have also been seriously injured following physical attacks, often conducted by hired men. Tran Thi Nga’s attack was documented and posted on Youtube with recordings of her being wheeled into a hospital accompanied by her two young children. According to family reports, Tran Thi Nga has been subjected to both physical and psychological harassment after her arrest, receiving death threats and beatings from a cellmate.

According to the 88 Project database, there are currently more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with over 30 identifying as female. Bloggers and journalists are frequently arrested and charged for “activities attempting to overthrow the state” or “conducting propaganda against the state”. According to Amnesty International, the Vietnamese government has been conducting a growing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism over the past few years.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a photojournalist and the woman who has served the longest time in prison so far, is expected to be released at the beginning of August.

International support for the staff of “The Intercept” website in Brasil

August 2, 2019

On 31 July a number of and leading international and Brazilian free speech organizations appealed for support for the staff of The Intercept Brasil, a Rio de Janeiro-based investigative news website that has been the target of a fierce campaign of harassment and intimidation since 9 June. The Intercept Brasil’s revelations about the “Operation Car Wash” corruption case triggered a wave of verbal attacks and threats against the website’s representatives. The most serious recent attacks include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s public threat on 27 July to imprison The Intercept Brasil founder and editor Glenn Greenwald. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/15/edward-snowden-gets-another-human-rights-award-in-berlin/]

The 26 press freedom and human rights organizations and media outlets named below strongly condemn the recent wave of attacks and threats against the investigative news website The Intercept Brasil. We call on the authorities to ensure respect for the constitutionally guaranteed right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

The attacks began on 9 June after The Intercept Brasil published the first of a series of reports revealing apparent irregularities in the “Operation Car Wash” investigation, one of the most important corruption investigations in Brazilian history. To publish these revelations, which are based on documents provided by an anonymous source, The Intercept Brasil partnered with several Brazilian media outlets including the Folha de São Paulo newspaper and Veja magazine.

Since then, the staff of The Intercept Brasil and in particular, its founder Glenn Greenwald, have been subjected – especially on social networks – to countless insults, slurs and death threats accompanied by false information designed to undermine the credibility of its reporting. This harassment is symbolic and symptomatic of the difficulties encountered by all media workers who investigate sensitive stories in Brazil, where the journalists are often the targets of intimidation and persecution campaigns.

Regardless of their provenance, the attempts to undermine and attack the credibility of The Intercept Brasil and its partners are viewed by the signatories of this appeal as a grave threat to the freedom to inform. Not only are they designed to deflect the public’s attention from the content of the revelations but above all, they reinforce an increasingly hostile work environment for the media and especially for investigative journalism.

We remind the authorities that the Brazilian state has a duty to guarantee the protection of journalists and to investigate the serious threats received by the journalists at The Intercept Brasil and its partners.

Freedom of the press and information are pillars of democracy. They transcend political divisions and must be protected and guaranteed at all costs.

Signatories:

Agência Pública de Jornalismo Investigativo

Amnesty International Brazil

Article 19 Brasil

Asociación de la Prensa de Madrid (APM)

Associação Brasileira de Imprensa (ABI)

Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji)

Associação dos Correspondentes Estrangeiros (ACE) de São Paulo

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas (FENAJ)

Federación de las Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE)

Freedom House

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Global Editors Network (GEN)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

Index on Censorship

Instituto Vladimir Herzog

Interamerican Press Association (IAPA/SIP)

International Press Institute

Intervozes

Mediapart

Observatório da Imprensa

PEN International

Reporters sans frontières (RSF)

The Guardian

Witness Brasil

Mauritanian blogger freed after being held for nearly six years

August 1, 2019

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is delighted to report that Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Mkhaitir, a Mauritian blogger who had been held for more than five and a half years and who was originally sentenced to death for apostasy, was released at dawn yesterday. When contacted by RSF after his release, Mkhaitir thanked all the organizations who have been campaigning on his behalf ever since his arrest in January 2014. He was arrested for a Facebook post criticizing the use of religion to justify discriminatory practices against the blacksmith community to which he belongs. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/24/ngos-demand-the-release-of-mohamed-cheikh-ould-mkhaitir-in-mauretania/

The death sentence he received in December 2014 on a charge of apostasy was eventually commuted to two years in prison by a Nouadhibou appeal court in November 2017. He should then have been released but many demonstrations calling for his execution had been held during his trial and the authorities continued to detain him on “security grounds”, denying him access to his family and lawyers.

“We are deeply relieved that he has finally been freed after being held for more than five and a half years in almost total isolation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “For nothing more than a social network post, he was subjected to a terrible ordeal that violated a decision by his own country’s judicial system. This blogger was francophone Africa’s longest-held citizen-journalist. We thank all those who contributed to his release.”

Mkhaitir had made formal statements of repentance on Facebook and TV in the past few weeks. This was the condition that was set for his release after a meeting at the start of July between outgoing President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and several religious officials. The new president, former defence minister Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, is to be sworn in on 1 August. Mkhaitir’s release was the outcome of a major international campaign to which RSF, many other NGOs and his lawyers all contributed. …. Mainly because of Mkhaitir’s arbitrary detention, Mauritania has fallen 46 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index since 2016 and is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Index. Aside from Tanzania, no other country has fallen so sharply in the same period.

https://rsf.org/en/news/mauritanian-blogger-freed-after-being-held-nearly-six-years