Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

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

July 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14, 2021

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

Image credit: Volha Khvoin / BAJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19

East European Democratic Centre (EEDC) 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

Index on Censorship

International Media Support (IMS)

PEN America 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

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

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

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

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

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

Delhi High Court re-establishes that criticism is not sedition

June 16, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 March: IACHR Hearing on Internet Content Moderation

March 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

Profile of Muay: A Laotian Woman Human Rights Defender

March 18, 2021

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

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

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundatio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Journalists on the ground are often the real heroes

February 18, 2021

Janine di Giovanni, Senior Fellow at Yale University, wrote on 9 February 2021 in iwpr.net/ a piece “The real heroes are the journalists on the ground, fighting to bring truth to light”

Based on her many years of reporting in North Africa and the Middle East and observing revolution after revolution she published the book: The Morning They Came for Us. Here she looks back on the Arab spring and the current situation. Journalists are indeed among the most targeted as also shown by the Digest for Human Rights Laureates recently launched by THF: there are some 450 journalists and media workers among the laureates [see:https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates].

Spotlight

Back in 2011, it was a revelation to see thousands of people marching for freedom. Each demonstration, each revolution was different but there were common themes. The main rallying cry from the crowds in Tahrir Square or Ben Ghazi or Homs or Aleppo or Tunis was always the same: we want our freedom.

It was exhilarating. Crowds were rising up against decades of dictatorships, of corruption, voicing their frustration at the lack of opportunity. What they wanted was the right to speak and write and live in accordance with their personal liberties. 

As someone who grew up first in North America, later in the UK and France, freedom of speech was a tenet of human rights I took for granted. Not so for my colleagues in Tunis who had to work underground with white-hat hackers like Anonymous to overthrow Ben Ali’s ministry of information and get their messages out. Not so for my Syrian colleagues in Aleppo or Damascus who risked everything to plead for freedom, and if they were caught, were thrown into prison and tortured or killed. Or my Egyptian friends who were tortured in prison and stripped of all rights. 

What the authorities want to say is, “It’s dangerous to speak out”. The number of the missing in Syria, the number of imprisoned in Egypt is enormous: many of them are our comrades and colleagues who tried to express and explain what was happening. These activists and journalists are what their repressive governments say is a threat to “national security”. 

Ten years on, what have we learned? Egypt under General Sisi remains even more repressed and dangerous for journalists than ever. The proportions of journalists attacked in 2020 as opposed to ten years ago is shocking:  according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 27 journalists are imprisoned, two murdered and one missing. 

This includes Aamar Abdelmonem, a freelancer, imprisoned in December 2020 on false charges, denied medication in prison (he is diabetic) and his eyeglasses. When I read about the cases of my colleagues who are incarcerated for simply telling the truth, I realize how lucky I am to live in a society where I can write what I choose. 

Always, when I think of press freedom I think of my colleague Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by henchmen under the order of Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Jamal’s work is not over – it lives on in the spirit of every reporter working to bring truth to light. They are not only journalists but also lawyers, human rights defenders, members of civil society. You might not hear about them – because they are working quietly but with great precision and care. They are my heroes.

As an international journalist, I am forever grateful to the journalists working under the radar in these countries – the ones who risked arrest to meet with me or speak with me or share their experiences or notes, the ones who came to my hotel in Cairo, risking everything, the ones who met me in Damascus cafes under the eyes of the mukhabarat, then saw the security guards and had to flee. The ones on the ground working when the international press cannot. 

They are our heroes, our inspiration and above all, our colleagues. We must not forget them – and we must do everything in our power to protect them. Part of the reason I am proud to be a part of the IWPR international board is to spread the word of the excellent work that is done on the ground by my colleagues. In the words of the former assistant secretary general for human rights at the United Nations, Andrew Gilmour, we are living in times when the pushback to human rights has never been greater. Which means those of us who can raise our voices louder to protect our friends on the ground must do so, with conviction and passion.

Janine di Giovanni is a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, IWPR international board member and the author of nine books. In 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave her their highest prize for non-fiction for her lifetime body of work, which largely focuses on human rights.

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/why-local-voices-matter

Prominent human rights defender Eren Keskin given six-year jail sentence in Turkey

February 16, 2021

I have been prosecuted many times and jailed for my thoughts. I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere’ – Eren Keskin tweeted after she was sentenced.

Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing of four Turkish human rights defenders on “terrorism-related” in a case involving Özgür Gündem – a daily newspaper that was closed down in 2016. Eren Keskin, a prominent human rights defender and lawyer in Turkey – was sentenced to six years in jail for supposed “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BFDBB222-0FE0-32BF-ADD6-4D342A315C22

Zana Kaya, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief was sentenced to one year and 13 months in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.” Özgür Gündem’s former publisher, Kemal Sancılı and the newspaper’s managing editor İnan Kızılkaya have been sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation” – the same sentence as Eren Keskin’s.

All four remain at liberty pending their appeals. This case is latest where anti-terrorism laws used to criminalise legitimate and peaceful activity in Turkey. Milena Buyum, Turkey Campaigner at Amnesty International said: “Today a human rights lawyer who has spoken out against injustice for more than three decades, has become the victim of injustice herself.

Eren Keskin has dedicated her life to defending the rights of women, prisoners and fought for justice for the families of the disappeared. This verdict is yet another shocking example of anti-terrorism laws being used to criminalise legitimate, peaceful activities.See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/martin-ennals-award-finalist-eren-keskin-honoured-in-ankara/

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/turkey-human-rights-lawyer-eren-keskin-given-six-year-jail-sentence-terrorism