Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Morocco’s crackdown doesn’t silence human rights defenders

January 17, 2019

On 16 January 2019  (a freelance reporter based in Morocco, who worked as a correspondent at the French media site Mediapart and has written for Orient XXI, Rue89, Al-Monitor, and the Christian Science Monitor) published a long and substantive post in Foreign Policy:Morocco’s Crackdown Won’t Silence Dissent” She states that across the country, protesters are increasingly willing to criticize the government and the monarchy—even in the face of repression.

A Moroccan draped in the Berber, or Amazigh, flag shouts slogans while marching during a protest against the jailing of Al-Hirak or "Popular Movement" activists in the capital Rabat on July 15, 2018.

When she joined the National Union of Moroccan Students in 1978, Khadija Ryadi knew she’d face hardship. “At that time,” she recalled, “we were constantly followed by the police.” today life may be even harder. “Now not only are we followed but we are also listened to and photographed, and everywhere. The repression has remained, but the instruments have changed. I never feel at ease.

Recently, Ryadi, who was the president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (also known by its French acronym, AMDH) from 2007 to 2013 and won a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2013, has raised eyebrows. In interviews with the author, she denounced “a return to the Years of Lead”—a reference to the decades of harsh oppression in the 1960s to 1990s under Morocco’s King Hassan II. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/05/winners-of-2013-united-nations-human-rights-prizes-announced-today/]

Today’s repression may be much less brutal, but just denouncing the recent crackdown could land critics in jail. Indeed, in recent months, human rights defenders have pointed to a major rise in harassment, arrests, and police violence against activists.

One of them, Abdellah Lefnatsa, said that “achievements such as freedom of expression [and] the right to protest” have started to be rolled back. Over the last two years, over a thousand people have been jailed on politically related charges, according to Youssef Raissouni, an executive director at AMDH.  ……

Another Hirak activist, Mortada Iamrachen, was arrested in November 2017 and later sentenced to five years in prison after making two posts on Facebook…..

Over the summer, meanwhile, Nasser Zefzafi and three other Hirak protest leaders were sentenced to 20 years in prison for “undermining state security.” Protesters staged rallies in Casablanca and Rabat last July to condemn the harsh sentences handed down to them and 49 other Hirak activists and citizen journalists. Now housed in the Oukacha prison in Casablanca, the activists have initiated several hunger strikes to denounce their sentencing and the conditions of their detention. Zefzafi was held more than a year in solitary confinement after his arrest, in violation of U.N. standards, according to Human Rights Watch. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/30/nominees-for-the-2018-sakharov-prize-announced-by-european-parliament/]

An appeal trial for 42 of the detained—11 have been pardoned by King Mohammed VI since the verdict last June—started in Casablanca on Nov. 14, 2018, but human rights defenders aren’t optimistic. 

….Particularly worrying for the government is the spread of social movements from the big cities to smaller towns, where locals are tired of poor living conditions.

After two miners died on the job in December 2017, residents of Jerada took to the streets to demand an economic alternative to mining coal in unsafe clandestine shafts, which is one of the few options for work there.Now more than 70 people there have been held awaiting trial since March, according to AMDH and the Unified Socialist Party activist Jawad Tlemsani. Among them, 40 have been recently sentenced to up to five years in prison. For now, such incidents are isolated, but they could portend a nationwide protest movement in the near future.

And that may be why the government’s crackdown on recent protests has been harsher in many ways than its reaction to the Arab Spring, even though the activists’ demands are less extreme. The Hirak protesters have not demanded the resignation of the government but rather more spending ….

The government responded by putting back on track an ambitious development plan that it had launched two years before but had then faced significant delays. This is part of a pattern of giving activists some of what they want before cracking down again. Beyond the rise in prosecutions, AMDH and other organizations like it have recently had trouble obtaining funding and official authorizations from local authorities. This year, out of 100 AMDH bureaus, 54 have failed to get their registration documents, which means they cannot legally work. AMDH activists haven’t had to grapple with problems like this since the 1980s, the activist Lefnatsa said, when the organization was banned and its offices closed.

As repression takes root, a culture of protest is slowly emerging throughout the country. And unlike during the Years of Lead, activists and ordinary citizens are prepared to publicly criticize the government and, at times, the monarchy.

There’s no way this would have been possible” when he started out, Lefnatsa told me, looking back on his 40 years as an activist. “What people say now on social networks, it would have cost them years of prison.” Indeed, during the Years of Lead, activists were imprisoned for years simply for distributing leaflets. Even if protest remains costly today, something fundamental has changed.

Youngsters who were considered apolitical now speak up against despotism and the unequal distribution of wealth, and ordinary men and women struggle for their social and economic rights in the most remote parts of the country,” Lefnatsa said. “The repression hasn’t succeeded in suppressing the protest movement,” he added. “And that is new.”

Sketching for freedom of expression at the Frankfurter book fair

January 8, 2019

Amartya Sen supports Naseeruddin Shah for having made a video clip for Amnesty India

January 7, 2019

Amartya Sen backs Naseeruddin Shah, says actor being disturbed
Amartya Sen said that many institutions in the country are under attack. (Photo: PTI)
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Sunday 6 January 2019  came out in support of actor Naseeruddin Shah, who recently stoked a controversy with his remark on mob violence and appeared in a video for Amnesty India against alleged government crackdown on NGOs, and said attempts were being made to “disturb” the actor. In a 2.13-minute solidarity video for Amnesty, Shah had said on 4 January that those who demand rights are being locked up. [for example: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/07/india-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-abound-under-unlawful-activities-prevention-act/ ]

On being asked about the actor’s comments, Sen said, “We must protest against such attempts to disturb the actor. What has been happening (in the country) is objectionable. It should stop.” The 85-year-old economist Amartya Sen said that many institutions in the country are under attack, and their freedom is being encroached. “Even journalists are facing harassment,” he said.

Further talking about the troll attacks against personalities like Shah, Sen said, “Losing the ability to tolerate others is a serious cause for concern, it points to losing of the ability to think and analyse.”

Under the hashtag #AbkiBaarManavAdhikaar, Amnesty India had claimed that India has witnessed a massive crackdown on freedom of expression and human rights defenders. In a solidarity message in Urdu, Shah had said, “Artistes, actors, scholars, poets are all being stifled. Journalists too are being silenced.” “In the name of religion, walls of hatred are being erected. Innocents are being killed. The country is awash with horrific hatred and cruelty“. Last month, the 68-year-old also said that the death of a cow had acquired more significance than that of a police officer in the country. He was speaking in the wake of a mob violence that broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr on December 3 over alleged cow slaughter in the Mahaw village. The violence led to the death of two men, including a police inspector.

The National Award-winning actor’s visit to a literary fest in December was cancelled following protests by Hindu outfits over his comments on mob violence.

China: Weiquanwang’s annual report details more than 800 political prisoners in 2018

January 2, 2019

And for those interested in China there is a good wrap up in a piece of 31 December 2018 by Radio Free Asia. It refers to the Weiquanwang rights website which published its annual report detailing more than 800 political prisoners in China. [for some of my other posts on China: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/]

The same article details other cases such as:

Authorities in Guangdong have handed down a two-year jail term to anti-censorship campaigner Zhen Jianghua after finding him guilty of subversion. He was tried in secret in Guangdong’s Zhuhai city on Aug. 10, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment after the court found him guilty of “incitement to subvert state power,” his former defense attorney Ren Quanniu told RFA. “Given the particular circumstances of the case, two years is quite a harsh sentence,” Ren said. “They could have given him a suspended sentence for this, but this is probably because he refused to cooperate and plead guilty.” Zhen had registered a website overseas to elude ruling Chinese Communist Party censorship, and offered information about censorship, and circumvention tools for accessing the internet beyond the complex system of blocks, filters, and human censorship that make up China’s Great Firewall. [According to Frontline Defenders, Zhen had also worked as a technical consultant with Human Rights Campaign in China, as an advising expert with Chinese Wikipedia, and as a project officer of a HIV/AIDS prevention education project in Zhuhai, run by the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation.]

The tally also included Deng Yaoqiong, a woman incarcerated in a psychiatric facility in the central province of Hunan after she live-streamed video of herself splashing ink on a poster of President Xi Jinping. Dong Yaoqiong was sent for “compulsory treatment” after she streamed live video of herself splashing ink on a poster of President Xi in Shanghai, in protest at “authoritarian tyranny” on July 4. She is being held as a psychiatric patient in a women’s ward in Hunan’s Zhuzhou No. 3 Hospital. Her father Dong Jianbiao and Beijing artist-activist Hua Yong were also detained when they spoke out about her detention. Beijing artist Guo Zi said Hua Yong is now in contact with the outside world after his detention, but that nothing has been heard from Dong Yaoqiong or her father. “It’s nearly 2019 now, and it’s a great tragedy that there is still no legal framework being implemented for the freedom of speech … nearly 20 years into the 21st century,” he said.

Another political prisoner, veteran democracy activist Wang Bingzhang, has warned that his life is in danger in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for “espionage” in the southern province of Guangdong. Wang made the comments to his daughter, who visited him on Christmas Day. “In particular, he said that if he met with an unfortunate end, it wouldn’t be from health or physical problems, because his health was OK.

Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International, said the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang has been a major concern during 2018. The authorities have also stepped up a nationwide crackdown on religious believers, shutting down churches and mosques and detaining anyone who resists. “Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Hui Muslims, and other Muslim minorities have been persecuted to a high degree, and we have heard reports of torture and inhumane treatment,” Poon said. Meanwhile, a crackdown on human rights lawyers and associated activists begun in July 2015 continues to widen, while political prisoners are denied a fair trial in Chinese courts. “The Chinese government should stop all of this persecution, and respond to concern from the international community by releasing all political prisoners,“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/today-ilham-tohti-completes-his-fourth-year-in-chinese-detention/]

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/prisoners-12312018133354.html  (as reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Liu Fei for the Mandarin Service; translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie))

Happy New Year, but not for Ahmed Mansoor and Nabeel Rajab in the Gulf monarchies

January 2, 2019

First of all I wish my readers a happy 2019. Unfortunately this year augurs badly for two human rights defenders who have figured frequently in this blog: Ahmed Mansoor [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/] and Nabeel Rajab [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/20/video-statement-of-troublemaker-nabeel-rajab-who-is-on-trial-today/]. Courts in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Monday upheld the convictions of these two prominent human rights defenders serving lengthy prison terms for expressing anti-government dissent on social media. They have no right to further appeal. On 4 January 2019 there UN joined the critics of these sentences.

Nabeel Rajab, Final Nominee MEA 2012

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/uae-and-bahrain-uphold-stiff-prison-sentences-for-human-rights-activists/2018/12/31/a31a3cf2-0d1b-11e9-8f0c-6f878a26288a_story.html?utm_term=.b3d062a3f670

http://icfuae.org.uk/news/uae-10-year-prison-sentence-upheld-ahmed-manoo

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/ahmed-mansoor

https://www.denverpost.com/2018/12/31/emirati-court-upholds-10-year-sentence-against-cu-boulder-grad-for-criticizing-government/

https://www.ifex.org/bahrain/2018/12/31/nabeel-condemn-sentence-upheld/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/01/1029832

Myanmar human rights defender Maung Saung Kha wins one of the Tulip Human Rights Awards

December 19, 2018

During the year of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to give an extraordinary Tulip to the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/ ]. In addition the Ministry will also award several Human Rights Tulips to local human rights defenders around 10 December, International Human Rights Day. These Tulips will be awarded by a the Embassies of the Netherlands. [for more on the award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/tulip-award]

Maung Saung Kha, the founder and executive director of Yangon-based freedom of expression advocacy group Athan, will received the Human Rights Tulip Myanmar 2018 i The 25-year-old said he welcomed the award an international recognition for his group. “I was awarded not just because of me but me and Athan. Plus, were it not for the support of democracy and human rights activists, we wouldn’t have kept our freedom of expression movement alive,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Founded in January, Athan is one of only a few advocacy groups focusing on freedom of expression in Myanmar. From the beginning, the group has put a spotlight on issues challenging freedom of expression in Myanmar, such as the controversial Telecommunication Law and Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. It also carefully documents cases posing a threat to freedom of expression in the country while lobbying lawmakers and educating the public about the importance of free speech.

Freedom of expression and assembly in Myanmar are currently perceived by many as on the decline. As of Tuesday, according to Athan, the country has two journalists in jail, 164 cases in the courts under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law, and 51 peace activists on trial. Maung Saung Kha said he used to believe that there would be more freedom of expression under a government led by the National League for Democracy. “Seeing people brought to trial for criticizing government activities shows that it hasn’t lived up to our hope,” he said. The poet-cum-activist was arrested himself under Article 66 (d) in 2015 for posting a verse on social media with a risqué rhyme about an unnamed president. “I felt very bad because I was arrested for writing a poem,” he said. “It’s partly because I am now seriously involved in promoting freedom of expression as I don’t want others to see a fate like mine.

https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-free-speech-activist-wins-dutch-human-rights-award.html

Emirates (Mansoor) and UK (Hedges): finally someone made the point

December 6, 2018

On 4 December 2018 Jonathan Emmett wrote in a post about something that I had been wondering for weeks: “Are UK authors only prepared to defend the rights of people like themselves?”. Totally correct:

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Scholars at Risk supports photojournalist Dr. Shahidul Alam in Bangladesh

December 5, 2018

On 5 December 2018 Scholars at Risk expressed concern about the charges against Shahidul Alam, an intellectual and acclaimed photojournalist, who was just released on bail after over one hundred days in prison in apparent retaliation for his public comments on the widespread student protests in Bangladesh.

Dr. Alam is a world-renowned photographer and visiting professor at Sunderland University who has established notable photography and media institutions in Bangladesh, including the Drik Gallery, the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, and Majority World. He is well-known for photographing significant political moments in Bangladesh since the 1980s.

On August 5, 2018, Dr. Alam spoke on Facebook Live and Al Jazeera about the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh that sought safer roads, following an incident in which a speeding bus killed two college students. Earlier that day, Dr. Alam was covering one of the protests when youth league members reportedly attacked him and a group of journalists. Referencing this incident, while speaking with Al Jazeera, Dr. Alam alleged that police hired armed individuals to violently attack student protesters. Hours after the interview, a group of thirty police officers reportedly raided Dr. Alam’s home, took him into custody, and interrogated him. They then charged him under section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act (ICT Act) for electronically sharing material that “tends to deprave and corrupt” the public and causes “deterioration in law and order.” No evidence has been produced by the police in their investigation of Dr. Alam to support these charges.

On August 6, while police escorted Dr. Alam out of the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court following a hearing, Dr. Alam told reporters that police had beaten him while in custody. Dr. Alam received treatment at a hospital the following day by request of a court. On August 8, Dr. Alam was returned to jail and held for over one hundred days. On November 20, Dr. Alam was released on bail; however he still faces up to 14 years in prison based on charges under the ICT Act.

SAR asks for emails, letters, and faxes respectfully urging authorities to drop all charges against Dr. Alam that stem from his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression; and, pending this, to ensure immediately his case is addressed in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and detention, in accordance with Bangladesh’s obligations under international law.

On how to join the campaign see: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50943/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=25660

Raed Fares Assassinated in Syria [“What can they do? Kill me?”]

November 26, 2018

Raed Fares
Raed Fares’ radio station defied threats from jihadist groups and resisted orders to stop playing musicPresentational white space

Raed Fares, a well-known Syrian activist, was killed in the north-western town of Kafranbel, in the in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib. Fares and fellow activist Hamoud Jneed were attacked in their car. Jneed died immediately, while Fares was transferred to Orient Hospital, where he later died. It was not the first time the founder of Radio Fresh, an independent radio station broadcasting from inside opposition-held areas in the country, had been targeted. His activism had earned the ire of both militants and the Syrian government. Four years ago, two gunmen for the Islamic State (IS) militant group shattered several bones and punctured his lung in a failed attempt to silence Fares. More attempts on his life would follow and yet the former estate agent was determined to carry on.

It was not just Fares the militants took issue with. The radio station – with its music and female presenters – also angered the groups which overran the town and surrounding area. Four years ago, when IS had a presence in Idlib province, the station’s office was raided by militants. In 2016, Fares was detained by the Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which currently controls most of Idlib province, had ordered Radio Fresh to stop broadcasting music. The station’s response was to play long sequences of other sounds, such as tweeting birds, clucking chickens and bleating goats. “They tried to force us to stop playing music on air,” Fares told the BBC in 2017. “So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them.”

Among the many expressions of concern is the Human Rights Foundation as Fares spoke at its 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum: “We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the assassination of Raed Fares, a dear friend and esteemed member of the Oslo Freedom Forum community. Raed worked tirelessly to counter fundamentalist narratives through journalism and to empower his fellow Syrians to build a better future. His work, bravery, and determination to succeed despite the many threats on his life make him a hero of the Syrian revolution,” HRF Chairman Garry Kasparov said. … Fares first became known outside of Syria in early 2014, when he started writing eye-catching, often sarcastic protest signs and sharing photos of them on social media. ….He quickly became one of the most trusted sources of on-the-ground footage and information on Syria’s continuing conflict. With his death, many reporters outside Syria have lost a vital and increasingly rare source, and agents of misinformation will grow that much stronger in his absence.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-46320355

https://mailchi.mp/db20e9d559e0/off-speaker-raed-fares-assassinated-in-syria?e=f80cec329e

50 human rights NGOs address Joint Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi on Reuters Journalists

November 6, 2018

Over 50 NGOs have signed a joint letter to Aung San Suu Kyi requesting the immediate and unconditionally release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

TO: Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor, Myanmar

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