Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Iranian dissident Poet Baktash Abtin dies of Covid in arbitrary detention

January 10, 2022

On 8 January 2022 the Iranian poet Baktash Abtin died in Tehran after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison. Abtin, who died after being put into an induced coma while hospitalized, is the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On January 1, Kian Adelpour died after going on hunger strike to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial.

This is a preventable tragedy and more prisoners’ deaths are inevitable because there is no accountability in the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Abtin was imprisoned in Iran because the government wanted to muzzle him with a jail cell; the state killed him.” Abtin had been serving a five-year prison sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.

A group of main NGOs had addressed a joint letter to Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei on 7 January repeating their call that Abtin be given access to the best possible medical care as he battles for his life. In addition, we urge that: he and all those unjustly detained for their writing or expression be immediately and unconditionally released; that authorities refrain from summoning political prisoners to serve their sentences while the conditions inside Evin and other Iranian prisons remain unsafe; and that any who do contract COVID-19 or other serious illnesses while in jail be granted speedy access to all needed medical care or a medical parole on humanitarian grounds.

While offering condolences to Abtin’s family and friends, the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) where Abtin, 48, was a board member, released a statement on January 8 on the “injustice that was committed against Abtin”: “Baktash Abtin is alive because the spirit of freedom-seeking and the fight against tyranny and injustice is alive,” said the statement.

Fellow IWA board member Reza Khandan Mahabadi was also sentenced to five years in prison and Keyvan Bajan to three years and six months. An international chorus has condemned the IWA writers’ imprisonment, with dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures including Nobel laureates calling for the writers’ acquittal.

At least 11 writers are known to be either currently imprisoned or living with an unserved prison sentence hanging over their heads in Iran as they await an appeal or to be summoned to jail, according to a list compiled by CHRI.

In an interview with CHRI in May 2019 after his trial, Abtin forcefully said the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran.

“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/07/joint-ngo-letter-khamenei-baktash-abtins-condition

Vilma Nuñez, human rights defender, who stays in Nicaragua

December 24, 2021

The long-time president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, doesn’t rule out the possibility of being jailed by the Ortega-Murillo regime. Re-published on 11 December in Havana Times:

Vilma Nuñez learned about Nicaraguan jails when she was just a child. She was eight years old when they took her to visit a political prisoner – her father. He had been imprisoned by Somoza’s National Guard, the same repressive body that years later would also jail and torture her.

In the course of over six decades of work, she’s become the veteran defender of Nicaraguans’ human rights. Founder and current president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), she confesses that she decided to study Law to fight against the outrages she’d experienced since childhood. Her law career has spanned 63 years, although she was very seldom the prosecutor, but almost always worked on the side of defense. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/nicaragua-moves-against-women-human-rights-defenders/

Through Cenidh, Nuñez continues her struggle for the liberation of the Ortega regime’s political prisoners, just as she did in 1958, when she formed part of the Leon student movement. Through that organization, she became involved in the Committee for the Liberation of the Political Prisoners during the the Somoza regime. On one occasion, she recalls, they requested and received an audience with Luis Somoza Debayle, effectively Nicaragua’s dictator from 1956–1967. Together with university chancellor Mariano Fiallos Gil, she met with the man who had inherited the Somoza dynasty. The dictator became enraged when they demanded the release of the prisoners.

Twenty-one years after that meeting, Nuñez was jailed and tortured with electric shocks by order of the dynasty’s final successor, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. It’s not surprising, then, that the current situation of the political prisoners brings her back to the days of that other terrible dictatorship that – like the current regime – wouldn’t tolerate criticism.

In addition, Nuñez is a survivor of the student massacre of July 23, 1959. She has felt in her own flesh what it means to be jailed for false crimes because of having protested. At 83, it’s been her destiny to once more live under attack from a new dictatorship.

At the end of 2018, the Ortega regime ordered the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly to strip Cenidh of the non-profit status it had held since its founding in 1990. It also confiscated its offices.

“They’ve struck us a blow, but it doesn’t hurt us,” the Cenidh president declared defiantly. “A serious human rights organization can’t be dissolved by a resolution from a political organ with no autonomy or independence; nor can they dissolve our commitment and accompaniment of the Nicaraguan people,” she affirmed, in reference to the legislature’s decision…

According to Nuñez, all the attacks are because they won’t forgive her for having accompanied the case of Zoilamerica Narvaez, Daniel Ortega’s stepdaughter. In 1998, Narvaez filed formal accusations of 19-years of rape and sexual abuse and harassment against Ortega.

The issue most disturbs Dr. Nuñez at present is not being able to accompany the victims at the site where the human rights violations are occurring. She can’t even file an appeal, because the entire state apparatus is controlled by the Ortega regime.

“No one listens or does anything, which generates a situation of powerlessness. You can’t protest, or do anything, and for that reason I’ve said that I feel I’m a prisoner in Nicaragua,” she explains.

Vilma Núñez Cenidh

Nevertheless, she insists that she won’t cease in her struggle for the defense of human rights and the search for justice. “Fear has been one of the most powerful weapons wielded by the dictatorship, and I won’t let it dominate me,” she declares.

The human rights defender doesn’t rule out the fact that they may want to jail her. Every day, she says, she once again conquers that fear. “The authentic defense of human rights isn’t restricted to the use of the Law. Although the national and international statutes are always useful, they go hand in hand with less formal mechanisms, and one of the most effective of these is the public denunciation,” Nuñez notes.

“I’m going to continue on in Nicaragua. My commitment is to keep standing beside the people, denouncing and defending human rights as long as I can. It’s always been my lot to be standing on the sidewalk, right in the nose of the tyrants and human rights violators,” Vilma Nuñez says.

Antonia Urrejola, president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: “Ever since I first met her, [Dr. Nuñez’] strength has impressed me (…) if there’s a person who’s always been present in the denunciations of human rights violations in Nicaragua, it’s her. She’s an example of strength and courage.”

Gonzalo Carrion, Nicaragua Nunca + Human Rights Collective: “The history of the human rights movement in the last sixty years in Nicaragua chronicles a people suffering and resisting two different dictatorial dynasties. Whoever writes [that story] will inevitably have to tell of Vilma Nuñez’ activism and commitment.”

Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan writer: “Who hasn’t seen Doña Vilma traveling to the most remote places to accompany victims whose rights have been violated? No one, more than you knows how to be at the side of the Nicaraguan people.”

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

Alaa Abdel Fattah, and two others receive heavy prison sentences in Egypt

December 21, 2021

Egypt on Monday 20 December 2021 sentenced Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading figure in the 2011 revolution, to five years in jail, with two others receiving four years, his sister Mona Seif and a judicial source said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/06/re-issued-passionate-plea-for-help-in-open-letter-by-mona-seif-from-egypt-about-targeting-of-her-family/]

A computer programmer, blogger and high-profile activist who mobilized youths in the uprising that unseated autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah had been in pre-trial detention since September 2019.

Abdel Fattah, his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim were convicted of “broadcasting false news” in their trial in Cairo.

A judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the verdict and sentencing to AFP.

Rulings in the court cannot be appealed. They require final approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Washington, which has already frozen 10 percent of its aid to Egypt over repeated rights violations, said it was “disappointed” by the sentence. “Journalists, human rights defenders, and others seeking to peacefully exercise their freedom of expression should be able to do so without facing criminal penalties, intimidation, harassment, or any other form of reprisal,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The Committee to Protect Journalists decried Monday’s ruling as “unacceptable”.

The verdict “demonstrates the lengths to which authorities are willing to go to punish these journalists for their work”, said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator. “Both journalists have already spent several years in prison on bogus charges, and authorities must release them immediately and unconditionally,” Mansour added.

Human Rights Watch on Sunday slammed “the government’s rush to use emergency courts… after holding people illegally for years in pretrial detention”. The New York-based rights watchdog then said that if Abdel Fattah and the other activists were to be sentenced, this would confirm “that fierce repression of peaceful critics remains the order of the day in Egypt”.

Abdel Fattah has spent most of the past decade in jail at Tora, one of the country’s most notorious prisons, after previous convictions. His mother, mathematics professor Laila Soueif, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece published on Saturday that “the outside world, once so inspired by the Egyptian revolutionaries, is looking away. His crime is that, like millions of young people in Egypt and far beyond, he believed another world was possible. And he dared to try to make it happen.

Prolific writer Abdel Fattah’s critically acclaimed essay collection “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” was published in October.“At its fundamental core, his writing is attached to justice,” Soueif told AFP in October when the book was released.

Ahead of the trial session, Egypt’s foreign ministry lambasted the German government on Saturday for a statement calling for a “fair trial” and the release of the three dissidents. Cairo described the German foreign ministry’s call as “a blatant and unjustified meddling in Egyptian internal affairs”.

Rights groups say Egypt is holding some 60,000 political prisoners, many facing brutal conditions and overcrowded cells. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/27/egypt-decade-after-arab-spring-amnesty-and-un-express-concern-over-detention/

In a 2019 interview with the show 60 Minutes on US broadcaster CBS, Sisi said there were no political prisoners in Egypt. And – of course – the official reaction to interventions was: Egypt’s foreign ministry stressed on Monday that it was absolutely not appropriate to comment on or in any way refer to an independent judicial process.

https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2021/12/20/Egypt-prison-sentences-three-activists-2011-uprising/9611640051667/

2021 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards

November 21, 2021

On 20 November 2021 Pacific Media Watch reported that the 2021 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards have been given to Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan in the courage category, Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona in the independence category, and the Pegasus Project in the impact category.

RSF president Pierre Haski announces the 29th RSF Press Freedom Awards in Paris. Video: RSF

RSF’s press freedom prizes are awarded every year to journalists or media that have made a notable contribution to the defence or promotion of freedom of the press in the world. This is the 29th year they have been awarded. The 2021 awards have been given in three categories — journalistic courage, impact and independence.

Courage Prize
The 2021 Prize for Courage, which aims to support and salute journalists, media outlets or NGOs that have displayed courage in the practice, defence or promotion of journalism, has been awarded to Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan.

Zhang Zhan

Despite constant threats, this lawyer-turned-journalist covered the covid-19 outbreak in the city of Wuhan in February 2020, live-streaming video reports on social media that showed the city’s streets and hospitals, and the families of the sick. Her reporting from the heart of the pandemic’s initial epicentre was one of the main sources of independent information about the health situation in Wuhan at the time.

After being arrested in May 2020 and held incommunicado for several months without any official reason being provided, Zhang Zhan was sentenced on 28 December 2020 to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. In protest against this injustice and the mistreatment to which she was subjected, she went on a hunger strike that resulted in her being shackled and force-fed. Her friends and family now fear for her life, and her health has worsened dramatically in recent weeks. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/06/chinese-journalist-zhang-zhan-at-imminent-risk-of-death/

Independence Prize
The 2021 Prize for Independence, which rewards journalists, media outlets or NGOs that have resisted financial, political, economic or religious pressure in a noteworthy manner, has been awarded to Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona.

Majdoleen Hassona
Majdoleen Hassona

Before joining the Turkish TV channel TRT and relocating to Istanbul, this Palestinian journalist was often harassed and prosecuted by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities for her critical reporting. While on a return visit to the West Bank in August 2019 with her fiancé (also a TRT journalist based in Turkey), she was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and was told that she was subject to a ban on leaving the territory that had been issued by Israeli intelligence “for security reasons”. She has been stranded in the West Bank ever since but decided to resume reporting there and covered the anti-government protests in June 2021 following the death of the activist Nizar Banat.

Impact Prize
The 2021 Prize for Impact, which rewards journalists, media outlets or NGOS that have contributed to clear improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or increased awareness of these issues, has been awarded to the Pegasus Project.

The Pegasus Project
The Pegasus Project

The Pegasus Project is an investigation by an international consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets* in 11 different countries that was coordinated by the NGO Forbidden Stories with technical support from experts at Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Based on a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers targeted by Pegasus, spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group, the Pegasus Project revealed that nearly 200 journalists were targeted for spying by 11 governments — both autocratic and democratic — which had acquired licences to use Pegasus. This investigation has made people aware of the extent of the surveillance to which journalists are exposed and has led many media outlets and RSF to file complaints and demand a moratorium on surveillance technology sales. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

“For defying censorship and alerting the world to the reality of the nascent pandemic, the laureate in the ‘courage’ category is now in prison and her state of health is extremely worrying,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“For displaying a critical attitude and perseverance, the laureate in the ‘independence category has been unable to leave Israeli-controlled territory for the past two years. “For having revealed the scale of the surveillance to which journalists can be subjected, some of the journalists who are laureates in the ‘impact’ category are now being prosecuted by governments.

https://rsf.org/en/news/chinese-journalist-palestinian-journalist-and-pegasus-project-receive-2021-rsf-press-freedom-awards

Report Freedom on the Net, 2021

October 12, 2021

Freedom on the Net 2021 finds that while some democratic governments have made good-faith attempts to regulate the technology industry, state intervention in the digital sphere worldwide has contributed to the 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom.

Governments around the world are increasingly asserting their authority over technology platforms, forcing businesses to comply with censorship and surveillance and contributing to an 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released today by Freedom House.

Global norms shifted dramatically toward greater state intervention in the digital sphere over the past year. Of the 70 states covered by Freedom on the Net 2021, 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. Some measures reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices. Many governments, however, proposed new policies that obliged businesses to remove content and share personal data with authorities, at great cost to free expression, privacy, and public accountability.

This change in the balance of power between companies and states has come amid a historic crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.

“The rights of internet users around the world, especially the rights to free expression and privacy, are being massively violated as a result of recent state actions,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Instead of using regulation to curb the immense power of tech companies, many governments are wielding it for their own repressive purposes.”

The decision by several platforms to deactivate the accounts of outgoing US president Donald Trump—in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol—intensified concerns about the arbitrary power of a few firms to shape political debate, as well as their responsibility to stem offline violence. The move sparked a plethora of new regulatory and legislative proposals, including bad-faith attempts to prevent companies from moderating the accounts of politicians and state-run media. Tech companies faced high-profile showdowns with illiberal and authoritarian leaders in India, Nigeria, Russia, and Turkey that will have global implications for the future of free expression online.

“In these high-stakes battles between governments and tech companies, human rights risk becoming the main casualties,” said Adrian Shahbaz, director for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “Given the examples to date, you can hardly blame people for being skeptical that government regulation will lead to greater protection of their rights online. Regulations should ensure that power does not accumulate in the hands of a few dominant actors, whether in government or the private sector.”

Internet freedom plummeted by 14 points in Myanmar—the largest annual decline ever recorded on Freedom on the Net’s 100-point scale—after the military refused to accept the results of the November 2020 general elections and launched a deadly coup in February 2021. Electoral disputes also led to major internet freedom declines in Belarus, where authoritarian incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in a fraudulent presidential election in August 2020, and Uganda, where authorities shut off the internet and blocked social media platforms during marred general elections in January 2021. In addition, officials in both Myanmar and Belarus sought to silence independent online media by shutting down news outlets and harassing, assaulting, and torturing online journalists.

“Governments everywhere are invoking a vague need to retake control of the internet—whether from foreign powers, multinational corporations, or even civil society,” said Shahbaz. “In the absence of a shared vision for a free and open internet, many states are imposing restrictions on the free flow of information across borders, denying people access to life-changing tools based solely on their location. This fragmentation is diminishing the emancipatory power of the internet.”

“The daunting complexity of internet regulation makes it all the more important for democracies to take the lead and set a high bar by introducing regulatory approaches that protect human rights online and preserve a free and open internet,” said Allie Funk, senior research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “The laissez-faire approach to the tech industry spurred some forms of innovation, but it has also created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance. Democratic governments should pursue well-crafted regulations that tackle these problems while protecting people’s rights to express themselves, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.”

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises.
  • Governments clashed with technology companies on users’ rights. Authorities in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition over the past year. With a few positive exceptions, the push to regulate the tech industry, which stems in some cases from genuine problems like online harassment and manipulative market practices, is being exploited to subdue free expression and gain greater access to private data.
  • Free expression online is under unprecedented strain. More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
  • China ranks as the worst environment for internet freedom for the seventh year in a row. Chinese authorities imposed draconian prison terms for online dissent, independent reporting, and mundane daily communications. The COVID-19 pandemic remains one of the most heavily censored topics. Officials also cracked down on the country’s tech giants, citing their abuses related to competition and data protection, though the campaign further concentrated power in the hands of the authoritarian state.
  • The United States’ score declined for the fifth consecutive year. False, misleading, and manipulated information continued to proliferate online, even affecting public acceptance of the 2020 presidential election results. The new administration took promising steps to enforce stronger protections for internet users.
  • State intervention must protect human rights online and preserve an open internet. The emancipatory power of the internet depends on its egalitarian nature. To counter digital authoritarianism, democracies should ensure that regulations enable users to express themselves freely, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.

Freedom on the Net 2021 assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 88 percent of internet users worldwide. The report focused on developments that occurred between June 2020 and May 2021. Detailed country reports, data on 21 internet freedom indicators, and policy recommendations can be found at freedomonthenet.org.

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties. Illustration by Mitch Blunt

Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released by Freedom House. Read the Report

https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-global-battle-over-internet-regulation-has-major-implications-human-rights

Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for freedom of expression

October 8, 2021

On 8 October 2021 the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse. Maria Ressa has received earlier recognition with 5 human rights awards [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/c048da20-ba0f-11ea-a77e-f524f6fc9aaa]

Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.

Muratov dedicated his award to six contributors to his Novaya Gazeta newspaper who had been murdered for their work exposing human rights violations and corruption. “Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize,” Muratov said, reciting the names of slain reporters and activists whose portraits hang in the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

For more on the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards on freedom of expression see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/F8EA8555-BF30-4D39-82C6-6D241CC41B74

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/

https://www.reuters.com/world/philippines-journalist-ressa-russian-journalist-muratov-win-2021-nobel-peace-2021-10-08/

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/