Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

New Year, New Charges against Thai Protesters – the Lese-majesty law in Thailand

January 4, 2021

Thai authorities on 1 January 2021 made their 38th arrest of a pro-democracy activist in recent weeks under the country’s tough lèse majesté law as authorities crack down on the country’s unprecedented protest movement. That law, Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, forbids defamation of the king and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations.The law had been dormant since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King  Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The Thai government, though, is now using it to try to stamp out continuing protests calling for the government to resign, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy

Thailand’s authorities must stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into dialogue, according to the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, who warned the country risks sliding into violence. Clément Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express alarm at the use of the fierce lese-majesty law against dozens of protesters, including students as young as 16.

It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.

So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.

Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges. This includes the student activists Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.

The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura
The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura speaks from a stage outside Bang Khen police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Protesters – who have faced various other charges over recent months, including sedition – declined to participate in a government reconciliation panel in November, rejecting it as an attempt to buy time. The recent cases come after months of demonstrations in which protesters have made unusually frank and public calls for reform to the monarchy.

Benja Apan, 21, one of 13 people facing charges over a demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok, said legal action was unlikely to deter protesters from coming out in the new year. “I actually think it will bring more people out, because it is not fair,” she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to drop charges pressed on a number of activists for their role in the pro-democracy movement and to repeal, or at least amend, Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law. According to the campaign, at least 220 people, including minors, face criminal charges for relating to their actions in the pro-democracy movement. Activists are calling on government and monarchy reform, raising issues considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society. Thailand must amend or repeal the repressive laws it is using to suppress peaceful assembly and the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

Amnesty International is calling on people to take action and send a letter to the prime minister, calling on the Thai government to change their approach when handing the ongoing protests to protect human rights. Sample letter by AI’s campaign calls on Prayut to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all criminal proceedings against protesters and others charged solely for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
  • Cease all other measures, including harassment, aimed at dissuading public participation in peaceful gatherings or silencing voices critical of the government and social issues
  • Amend or repeal legislation in order to ensure it conforms with Thailand’s international human rights obligations on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and to train state officials to carry out their duties confirming to Thailand’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

On Saturday 19 December 2020 Maya Taylor in The Thaiger had already reported that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has expressed shock and dismay at Thailand’s use of its strict lèse majesté law against a 16 year old pro-democracy activist. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani has called on Thailand to refrain from using the law against those exercising their right to freedom of speech, as she expressed alarm that a minor was being charged under the law. “It is extremely disappointing that after a period of 2 years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offences under the Computer Crime Act. Again, such charges have been filed against a minor, among others.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that detention of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression or other human rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention. We also urge the government to amend the lèse majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has played down the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ criticisms over the kingdom’s enforcement of the Lese Majeste law.

See also in 2019: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/thailand-amnesty-and-un-rapporteur-agree-on-misuse-of-lese-majeste/

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/pro-democracy-movement-making-little-headway-monarchys-powers-remain-untouched

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/un-thailand-protesters-royal-insult-law-lese-majesty

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/new-year-new-charges-thai-protesters-slapped-royal-defamation-charges

Writer Tran Duc Thach sentenced to 12 years in Vietnam

December 22, 2020

PEN America reported on 17 December 2020 that writer Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in Vietnamese prison.

This picture taken and released by the Vietnam News Agency on 15 December 2020 shows Vietnamese writer Tran Duc Thach during his court trial in Nghe An province, as he was sentenced to 12 years in jail. -/Vietnam News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Vietnamese writer Tran Duc Thach was convicted on charges of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s criminal code. He was arrested in April for Facebook posts criticizing corruption in government and human rights abuses in the country.

Poet, blogger, and human rights defender Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years probation. PEN America condemned the sentencing today as a repressive attack on free expression in the country. “This is a shocking and shameful outcome in a case that never should have been brought to trial in the first place. Thach should be celebrated for his civic engagement and advocacy, not subjected to mistreatment and imprisonment,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “This draconian sentence is another blatant violation of basic human rights and stifling of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese state in the name of national security. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thach was initially arrested on April 23 for “activities against the people’s government.” Authorities reportedly used several Facebook posts he published criticizing government corruption and human rights violations as the primary implicating evidence. During the trial, provincial prosecutors claimed that Thach’s activism and writings “threatened social stability, encroached upon national independence and socialism, reduced people’s trust in the political institution of the state of Vietnam, and infringed upon national security and social safety and order.”

Thach is a prolific writer, whose work includes his 1988 novel Doi Ban Tu (Two Companions in Prison), his memoir Ho Chon Nguoi Am Anh (A Haunting Collective Grave), and his poetry collection Dieu Chua Thay (Things Still Untold). His writing commonly deals with human rights issues within Vietnam. Thach is also co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society group that has been repeatedly targeted by authorities for their activism, with several members of the group apprehended in recent years. Thach has faced repeated harassment for his writing and his activism.

Thach is just one of those who has been targeted by the Vietnamese government’s heightened campaign against internet personalities, rights advocates, and independent journalists, a campaign that has become more pronounced in the run-up to the country’s 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021. According to the NGO Vietnam Human Rights Defenders, there have been 17 subversion-based convictions this year alone while 31 individuals are currently held in pre-trial detention. Additionally, the government has leveraged the pandemic to arrest dissidents on the pretext of public security and stifling COVID-related disinformation.

PEN America has been active in advocating for other targeted or imprisoned Vietnamese writers, including Pham Doan TrangNguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”), and Nguyen Huu Vinh, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In PEN America’s 2019 Freedom to Write Index, released earlier this year, the organization noted that the lengthy imprisonment of bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Ho Van Hai “demonstrate the longstanding risks associated with online expression in the country.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/01/facebook-and-youtube-are-allowing-themselves-to-become-tools-of-the-vietnamese-authorities-censorship-and-harassment/

Arab Spring: information technology platforms no longer support human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa

December 18, 2020

Jason Kelley in the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) of 17 December 2020 summarizes a joint statement by over 30 NGOs saying that the platform policies and content moderation procedures of the tech giants now too often lead to the silencing and erasure of critical voices from across the region. Arbitrary and non-transparent account suspension and removal of political and dissenting speech has become so frequent and systematic in the area that it cannot be dismissed as isolated incidents or the result of transitory errors in automated decision-making.

Young people protest in Morocco, 2011, photo by Magharebia

This year is the tenth anniversary of what became known as the “Arab Spring”, in which activists and citizens across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) used social media to document the conditions in which they lived, to push for political change and social justice, and to draw the world’s attention to their movement. For many, it was the first time they had seen how the Internet could have a role to play in pushing for human rights across the world. Emerging social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all basked in the reflected glory of press coverage that centered their part in the protests: often to the exclusion of those who were actually on the streets. The years after the uprisings failed to live up to the optimism of the time. Offline, the authoritarian backlash against the democratic protests has meant that many of those who fought for justice a decade ago, are still fighting now.

The letter asks for several concrete measures to ensure that users across the region are treated fairly and are able to express themselves freely:

  • Do not engage in arbitrary or unfair discrimination.
  • Invest in the regional expertise to develop and implement context-based content moderation decisions aligned with human rights frameworks.
  • Pay special attention to cases arising from war and conflict zones.
  • Preserve restricted content related to cases arising from war and conflict zones.
  • Go beyond public apologies for technical failures, and provide greater transparency, notice, and offer meaningful and timely appeals for users by implementing the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation.

Content moderation policies are not only critical to ensuring robust political debate. They are key to expanding and protecting human rights.  Ten years out from those powerful protests, it’s clear that authoritarian and repressive regimes will do everything in their power to stop free and open expression. Platforms have an obligation to note and act on the effects content moderation has on oppressed communities, in MENA and elsewhere. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/]

In 2012, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook, wrote

By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored. Over time, we expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through intermediaries controlled by a select few.

Instead, governments around the world have chosen authoritarianism, and platforms have contributed to the repression. It’s time for that to end.

Read the full letter demanding that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube stop silencing critical voices from the Middle East and North Africa, reproduced below:

17 December 2020

Open Letter to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube: Stop silencing critical voices from the Middle East and North Africa

Ten years ago today, 26-year old Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over injustice and state marginalization, igniting mass uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries across the Middle East and North Africa. 

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, we, the undersigned activists, journalists, and human rights organizations, have come together to voice our frustration and dismay at how platform policies and content moderation procedures all too often lead to the silencing and erasure of critical voices from marginalized and oppressed communities across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Arab Spring is historic for many reasons, and one of its outstanding legacies is how activists and citizens have used social media to push for political change and social justice, cementing the internet as an essential enabler of human rights in the digital age.   

Social media companies boast of the role they play in connecting people. As Mark Zuckerberg famously wrote in his 2012 Founder’s Letter

“By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored. Over time, we expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through intermediaries controlled by a select few.”

Zuckerberg’s prediction was wrong. Instead, more governments around the world have chosen authoritarianism, and platforms have contributed to their repression by making deals with oppressive heads of state; opening doors to dictators; and censoring key activists, journalists, and other changemakers throughout the Middle East and North Africa, sometimes at the behest of other governments:

  • Tunisia: In June 2020, Facebook permanently disabled more than 60 accounts of Tunisian activists, journalists, and musicians on scant evidence. While many were reinstated, thanks to the quick reaction from civil society groups, accounts of Tunisian artists and musicians still have not been restored. We sent a coalition letter to Facebook on the matter but we didn’t receive a public response.
  • Syria: In early 2020, Syrian activists launched a campaign to denounce Facebook’s decision to take down/disable thousands of anti-Assad accounts and pages that documented war crimes since 2011, under the pretext of removing terrorist content. Despite the appeal, a number of those accounts remain suspended. Similarly, Syrians have documented how YouTube is literally erasing their history.
  • Palestine: Palestinian activists and social media users have been campaigning since 2016 to raise awareness around social media companies’ censorial practices. In May 2020, at least 52 Facebook accounts of Palestinian activists and journalists were suspended, and more have since been restricted. Twitter suspended the account of a verified media agency, Quds News Network, reportedly on suspicion that the agency was linked to terrorist groups. Requests to Twitter to look into the matter have gone unanswered. Palestinian social media users have also expressed concern numerous times about discriminatory platform policies.
  • Egypt: In early October 2019, Twitter suspended en masse the accounts of Egyptian dissidents living in Egypt and across the diaspora, directly following the eruption of anti-Sisi protests in Egypt. Twitter suspended the account of one activist with over 350,000 followers in December 2017, and the account still has yet to be restored. The same activist’s Facebook account was also suspended in November 2017 and restored only after international intervention. YouTube removed his account earlier in 2007.

Examples such as these are far too numerous, and they contribute to the widely shared perception among activists and users in MENA and the Global South that these platforms do not care about them, and often fail to protect human rights defenders when concerns are raised.  

Arbitrary and non-transparent account suspension and removal of political and dissenting speech has become so frequent and systematic that they cannot be dismissed as isolated incidents or the result of transitory errors in automated decision-making. 

While Facebook and Twitter can be swift in responding to public outcry from activists or private advocacy by human rights organizations (particularly in the United States and Europe), in most cases responses to advocates in the MENA region leave much to be desired. End-users are frequently not informed of which rule they violated, and are not provided a means to appeal to a human moderator. 

Remedy and redress should not be a privilege reserved for those who have access to power or can make their voices heard. The status quo cannot continue. 

The MENA region has one of the world’s worst records on freedom of expression, and social media remains critical for helping people connect, organize, and document human rights violations and abuses. 

We urge you to not be complicit in censorship and erasure of oppressed communities’ narratives and histories, and we ask you to implement the following measures to ensure that users across the region are treated fairly and are able to express themselves freely:

  • Do not engage in arbitrary or unfair discrimination. Actively engage with local users, activists, human rights experts, academics, and civil society from the MENA region to review grievances. Regional political, social, cultural context(s) and nuances must be factored in when implementing, developing, and revising policies, products and services. 
  • Invest in the necessary local and regional expertise to develop and implement context-based content moderation decisions aligned with human rights frameworks in the MENA region.  A bare minimum would be to hire content moderators who understand the various and diverse dialects and spoken Arabic in the twenty-two Arab states. Those moderators should be provided with the support they need to do their job safely, healthily, and in consultation with their peers, including senior management.
  • Pay special attention to cases arising from war and conflict zones to ensure content moderation decisions do not unfairly target marginalized communities. For example, documentation of human rights abuses and violations is a legitimate activity distinct from disseminating or glorifying terrorist or extremist content. As noted in a recent letter to the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, more transparency is needed regarding definitions and moderation of terrorist and violent extremist (TVEC) content
  • Preserve restricted content related to cases arising from war and conflict zones that Facebook makes unavailable, as it could serve as evidence for victims and organizations seeking to hold perpetrators accountable. Ensure that such content is made available to international and national judicial authorities without undue delay.
  • Public apologies for technical errors are not sufficient when erroneous content moderation decisions are not changed. Companies must provide greater transparency, notice, and offer meaningful and timely appeals for users. The Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, which Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube endorsed in 2019, offer a baseline set of guidelines that must be immediately implemented. 

Signed,

Access Now
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information — ANHRI
Article 19
Association for Progressive Communications — APC
Association Tunisienne de Prévention Positive
Avaaz
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
The Computational Propaganda Project
Daaarb — News — website
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor
Global Voices
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hossam el-Hamalawy, journalist and member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists Organization
Humena for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
IFEX
Ilam- Media Center For Arab Palestinians In Israel
ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies
Initiative Mawjoudin pour l’égalité
Iraqi Network for Social Media – INSMnetwork
I WATCH Organisation (Transparency International — Tunisia)
Khaled Elbalshy – Daaarb website – Editor in Chief
Mahmoud Ghazayel, Independent
Marlena Wisniak, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Masaar — Technology and Law Community
Michael Karanicolas, Wikimedia/Yale Law School Initiative on Intermediaries and Information
Mohamed Suliman, Internet activist
My.Kali magazine — Middle East and North Africa
Palestine Digital Rights Coalition (PDRC)
The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy
Pen Iraq
Quds News Network
Ranking Digital Rights
Rima Sghaier, Independent
Sada Social Center
Skyline International for Human Rights
SMEX
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
Taraaz
Temi Lasade-Anderson, Digital Action
WITNESS
Vigilance Association for Democracy and the Civic State — Tunisia
7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/12/decade-after-arab-spring-platforms-have-turned-their-backs-critical-voices-middle

Legal fund in Malaysia to protect freedom of expression of human rights defenders

December 10, 2020

Centre for Independent Journalism executive director Wathshlah Naidu said the fund will be financed by a number of international groups. (Facebook pic)

Imran Ariff – on 9 December 2020 reports that a coalition of NGOs has joined forces to launch a legal defence fund to protect individuals who speak out on issues of human rights. This is to ensure their freedom of expression is not suppressed. Organised by the CSO cluster on Freedom of Expression (FOE), the fund is the first of its kind in Malaysia. It is currently being financed by a number of international groups which have funded similar overseas initiatives, including hosting crowdfunding efforts

At a press conference to announce the launch, Centre for Independent Journalism executive director Wathshlah Naidu said the fund comes at an important time as she believes the government has allowed the reform agenda to “take a backseat” to prioritise its own “political survival at all costs”.

She added that “what we have seen for the last eight to nine months is a government that is focused primarily on initiating all efforts to silence dissent or those who are critical and completely shutdown alternate discourses or narratives that challenge or question their positions and policies.”

The fund will cover legal fees and other expenses incurred by human rights defenders and members of the public facing investigation or prosecution due to them exercising their right to free speech.

Applications will go to a committee which will rule on the eligibility of the individuals and decide on the amount of assistance that needed to be meted out..

In addition to the fund, the CSO cluster called for the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act to be repealed and for the Finas Act 1981, Film Censorship Act 2002 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to be reviewed.

They said these legal reforms will allow for greater freedom of expression across various mediums. These will allow the public to better hold the government accountable for their actions and policies.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/23/zambian-ngo-establishes-fund-to-assist-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/12/09/legal-fund-to-protect-freedom-of-expression-of-human-rights-defenders/

Virtual Side Event on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Academic Freedom today 9:00-10:00 EST in New York

October 21, 2020

Co-organizers:

●UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

●Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN

●Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the UN

●Open Society Foundations’ Education Program

●Scholars at Risk

Context: On Friday 23 October 2020 the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly will consider the report on academic freedom presented by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The report focuses on the ways in which the freedom of opinion and expression protect and promote academic freedom, and the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society when assured of institutional autonomy and self-governance. Without academic freedom, societies lose their capacity for self-reflection, for knowledge generation and for a constant search for improvements of people’s lives and social conditions. Drawing on examples from all regions of the world, the report highlights the repression and harassment of scholars and students, unlawful restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression that interfere with research, teaching, debate and discussion by the academic community in their institutions or in other fora, and various measures, from funding of research to hiring of professors and administrators, that are used to erode and attack the autonomy of academic institutions.The report provides clear guidance on the scope of academic freedom, recognizing that it is protected by a wide range of human rights norms and principles, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression. It encourages individuals and organizations to articulate their claims as violations of academic freedom, and concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions and civil society. The side event is aimed at discussing how the report’s findings and recommendations can be used to ensure the realization of the freedom of opinion and expression to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers as an integral aspect of academic freedom and enhance the ability of academics and institutions to contribute to democracy and development around the world.Objectives

This side event will provide a forum to discuss the challenges to academic freedom, including social harassment and political repression of scholars, students, and institutions around the globe, as well as legal protections offered by international human rights law, including in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and how the report’s analysis and recommendations can be used to protect the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom worldwide.Modalities.

The one-hour moderated discussion will have the following format:

Opening remarks: H.E. Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-ThaniPermanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations and H.E. Juan Ramon de la Fuente Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations

Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Presentation of the main findings and recommendations of the report Prof. David Kaye, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Panel discussion:

●Ms. Camilla Croso, Director of the Education Program of the Open Society Foundations, will highlight the role of academic freedom and its importance in advancing open and democratic societies

●Dr. Maleiha Malik, Executive Director, Protection of Education in Insecurity and Conflict, Education Above All Foundation, will discuss the particular challenges to academic freedom in countries affected by conflict

●Mr. Robert Quinn, founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, will describe some current legal challenges and responses to pressures on academic freedom around the world

Concluding remarks: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur.

Journalism Under Fire – A Global Surge in Violations Against Journalists

October 16, 2020

On 14 Aya Wietzorrek posted a good overview piece on freedom of the press in the Organization for World Peace

…..Functioning as a “watch-dog” of these freedoms, journalism can be considered a public good, as it serves to inform citizens on political, economic, and social issues and ensures governance is transparent and accountable.

Acknowledging the many challenges journalism is currently facing…the focus of this article is on the everyday violations against journalists. This September, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) published a report with findings revealing a “wider upward trend” in the use of unlawful violence by police and security forces against journalists over the last five years. Attacks were reported across 65 countries, and many of the tactics used, violate international laws and norms. Globally, journalists are facing censorship, surveillance, detention and physical attacks by law enforcement. The reported abuses against journalists include harassment, intimidation, beatings, being shot with non-lethal as well as lethal ammunition, sometimes even resulting in death.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, commented that around 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last decade – and that 9 in 10 cases “are unresolved”. The murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 in Malta, Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in Turkey and Francisco Romero Díaz in 2019 in Mexico are only a few examples. Horrified by the fates of their colleagues, these events have deterring effects for other journalists. Besides the attacks on journalists being a deeply concerning issue in their own right, such attacks thus also constitute a direct threat to civil society and democracy. In democratic states, with separate legislative, executive and judiciary branches, a free press is often considered to be the 4th pillar of democracy. According to Freedom House, however, elected leaders in many democracies have made direct attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen ones that provide favourable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles….

To intercept this upward trend of unlawful violence reported by UNESCO, and to ensure that journalists can serve society and do their job, we can improve and implement the following. Firstly, in terms of prevention, developing standard operating protocols and increasing training for law enforcement on the freedom of expression and appropriate behaviour in dealing with journalists – respecting their special status as ‘watch-dogs’ – is vital. Such training would include dialogues between law enforcement and journalists, to establish working relationship between the two groups, respecting the roles of each in society. It is imperative that national legal frameworks for police use of force align with the international standards of necessity and proportionality. Secondly, in terms of protection, countries should renew their international human rights pledges, review relevant domestic laws and practice and revise them as necessary, to ensure conformity with states’ obligations under the UDHR and ICCPR. These legislative frameworks should be subject to periodic review by independent expert bodies, such as Human Rights Watch for instance. Thirdly, as the Committee to Protect Journalists has pointed out in its “Global Campaign Against Impunity”, murder is the ultimate form of censorship and the statistic that justice is not served in 9 out of 10 murders, highlights that urgent action is needed on this front. In terms of prosecution, appointing national ombudsmen to hold police accountable for the unlawful use of force against journalists is key. The implementation of such ombudsmen and the strengthening of criminal law provisions should also operate to deter offences against journalists. Internationally, the freedom of press is only implicitly protected by Article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and deserves to be explicitly mentioned and protected. The appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists, as proposed by Reporters Without Border and 70 media groups and freedom of expression NGOs, would be a valuable appointment. This proposal was officially rejected in 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The creation of such a position would however help prevent resolutions and treaties from being largely empty words and would have the political weight, the capacity to move quickly and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change.

….. The international community has repeatedly stated the need for a more effective implementation of existing international and regional standards, yet the work still lies ahead of us. Governments should pro-actively (re-)establish their commitment to a free press and the protection of journalists as it is imperative that civil societies across the globe continue to defend right to freedom of expression. This is necessary for the enhancement of people’s lives and for the creation and maintenance of stable and healthy democratic societies.

Aya Wietzorrek

Aya Wietzorrek is a graduate in International Development from The University of Manchester and is currently a research intern in the Governance and Inclusive Development Group at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

.https://theowp.org/reports/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-unlawful-violations-against-journalists/

The clock of Mubarak is ticking….

October 6, 2020

Humanist International created an ingenious way to show how long Mubarak Bala is being held illegally in detention:

Mubarak Bala has been detained arbitrarily
without charge for
:

 161  DAYS :    13  HOURS :    37  MINUTES :    00  SECONDS

banner mb homepage take 4.png

Mubarak Bala is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. He has beenheld in detention without access to a lawyer since his arrest on 28 April 2020 in connection with a Facebook post.

Humanists International believes that Mubarak Bala is being targeted for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, and calls for the case against him to be dropped, for Mubarak Bala to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the Nigerian authorities to ensure his safety upon his release.

read the latest updates on mubarak bala

Sign the Statement

https://www.tickcounter.com/widget/countup/180906

https://freemubarakbala.org/

ZOOM accused of suspending accounts of human rights defenders

July 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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