Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Nigeria: almost a hundred NGOs call on the Senate to reject Anti-Social Media Bill

March 5, 2020

Gabriel Ewepu in the Vanguard of 5 March 2020 reports that 95 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), under the auspices of Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Protection of Civic Space, called on the Nigerian Senate to reject the Anti-Social Media Bill. This call was contained in a statement signed by leaders of the 95 during a media conference in Abuja. The statement reads in part:

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Call for nominations for Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press goes ahead in MENA region

February 28, 2020

The European Union launched a call for nominations for the “Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press” at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon. During the press conference, Ambassador Ralph Tarraf reaffirmed the European Union’s commitment to pursue Samir Kassir’s struggle for free speech and an independent free press. [for more on this and many other awards relating to freedom of the press, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/samir-kassir-award-for-freedom-of-the-press]
The contest is open to candidates from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Gulf until 1 April, 2020, and three awards will be granted for: the best opinion article, investigative article, and audiovisual news report. The contributions must be centered on subjects relating to rule of law, human rights, good governance, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, democratic development and citizen participation. The jury will be composed of seven voting members from Arab and European media and one observer representing the European Union. The names of the jury members will be communicated during the prize-awarding ceremony, which will take place on 2 June 2020 in Beirut, marking the 15th memorial of Samir Kassir’s assassination.

https://en.annahar.com/article/1131572-european-union-launches-the-15th-editionon-of-the-samir-kassir-award-for-freedom

Hay Festival in Emirates promotes freedom of expression but not for its citizens

February 26, 2020

As the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi opens on February 25–28, 2020 in the United Arab Emirates, we the undersigned call on the Emirati authorities to demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online, including academics, writers, a poet, and lawyers. In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions. We support the efforts of festival participants to speak up in favor of all those whose voices have been silenced in the UAE. We further support calls for the UAE authorities to comply with international standards for prisoners, including by allowing prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials.The country’s most prominent human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on the spurious charge of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” in reprisal for his peaceful human rights activism, including posts on social media. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]……

Other prisoners have been tortured in prison in the UAE. A Polish fitness expert, Artur Ligęska, was held in the same isolation ward as Mansoor, in conditions he described as “medieval.” After his charges were dismissed and he was freed in May 2019, Ligęska wrote a book in which he recounted the prison conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subjected to torture, abuse, and sexual assault. He was instrumental in getting the news about Mansoor’s hunger strike out to the world from prison in March 2019, at great personal risk.

Other human rights defenders have faced similar mistreatment in prison, where they are often held in isolation, resorting to hunger strikes to try to bring attention to their unjust imprisonment and ill-treatment in detention, such as human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori...

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The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices. Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events, and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favorable image to the outside world.

With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen or go outside in the sun. In particular, we ask that Ahmed Mansoor be given a bed and a mattress so that he no longer has to sleep on the floor, and that prison officials cease punishing him for public appeals that are made on his behalf. We ask the authorities to improve their prison conditions as a sign of goodwill and respect for people who wish to organize and participate in events in the UAE, such as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi or the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, in the future. By doing so, the UAE would demonstrate that the Hay Festival is an opportunity to back up its promise of tolerance with actions that include the courageous contributors to freedom of expression who live in the country. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/26/celebrity-endorsements-and-the-dubai-expo-on-the-one-hand-and-the-other/]

for names see: https://pen.org/open-letter-ngos-and-individuals-to-uae-authorities/

Gui Minhai: 10 years jail sentence in China

February 25, 2020

Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong.
Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

A court in Ningbo said on Tuesday that Gui had been found guilty and would be stripped of political rights for five years in addition to his prison term. The brief statement said Gui had pleaded guilty and would not be appealing against his case. The Swedish foreign minister, Ann Linde, told Radio Sweden: “We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai be released so he is able to reunite with his daughter, his family and that demand remains…We demand immediate access to our Swedish citizen in order to give him all consular support that he is entitled to.

Gui appears to have been tried and convicted in secret, denying him any chance of a fair trial,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International, calling the verdict “deplorable” and based on unsubstantiated charges.

For previous posts on this shocking story:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/10/sweden-charges-ex-ambassador-to-china-over-pressure-on-daughter-of-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/sweden-defies-chinese-threats-after-award-to-book-publisher-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/25/gui-minhai-detained-hong-kong-bookseller-jailed-for-10-years-in-china

Burundi elections start with convicting 4 journalists

February 5, 2020

In Memory of Tunisian human rights defender Lina Ben Mhenni

January 29, 2020

On 28 January 2020 The Human Rights Foundation in New York expressed its sadness at the passing of Tunisian activist, journalist, and educator Lina Ben Mhenni, after a long battle with a chronic illness (1983-2020).

Lina was a force who fought tenaciously until her last breath. She fought censorship, corruption, and human rights abuses, all while grappling with serious illness. But nothing stood in her way. Her voice and cause will resonate with generations to come,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “She will forever be an inspiration to all of us at HRF and in the Oslo Freedom Forum community to never give up even in the darkest moments. We will truly miss our beloved friend Lina.

Lina was one of the only Tunisians to criticize the repressive government openly on international broadcasts before the Jasmine Revolution began in 2011. She is often described as one of the bravest bloggers in the world, whose work was instrumental in documenting, informing, and mobilizing citizens during the Revolution. Lina’s impactful achievements led her to be nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She authored and published a book the same year entitled, “Tunisian Girl: A Blogger for an Arab Spring.” Much of her writing was focused on freedom of expression and rights of women and students in Tunisia.

 

 

Lina’s life experiences went beyond her 36 years. Many people know about Lina – whether through the media or different social platforms – but no amount of reporting on her could do justice to the values and principles for which she fought during Tunisia’s era of tyranny and after the Revolution,” said Aymen Zaghdoudi, MENA Legal Advisor at Article 19 in Tunisia. “Lina stood with the weak, the deprived, and the oppressed – even at the expense of her own health – and turned her pain into inspiration and hope for those around her.”

Lina spoke at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum, urging the outside world to continue to pay attention to events in Tunisia and other Arab countries where recent revolutions appeared to have ended. Upon joining the HRF community that year, she was actively involved in the discussions unfolding about the Arab Spring.

In recent years, Lina continued to press for human rights and continued democratic reform. In 2016, she started a campaign called “Books to Prison,” to counter extremism within Tunisia’s prisons. She was inspired by her father, who was a political prisoner, and had once told her that prisoners had so little to read to change their minds or be inspired. By November 2019, her campaign had collected more than 45,000 books, helping to free the minds of tens of thousands of people.  Apart from her calls for democratic reform, Lina taught linguistics at a university in Tunisia and was a professional translator. She also brought awareness to the issue of organ donation and after a kidney transplant, amazingly received silver medals in the World Transplant Games.

You can read Lina Ben Mhenni’s blog “A Tunisian Girl” here.

https://mailchi.mp/609e2865ee85/hrf-mourns-the-passing-of-suleiman-bakhit-287648?e=f80cec329e

ICJ Report on freedom of information in South East Asia especially on-line

December 23, 2019

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))
Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))

On 16 December 2019 Dave Kendall wrote in the Bankok Post about the International Commission of Jurists(ICJ), having released a report called Dictating the internet: Curtailing free expression, opinion and information online in Southeast Asia. The report was presetned at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where some of the human rights defenders featured in the case studies participated in a panel discussion. The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/fight-through-cartoons-zunar/] drew a cartoon live on stage; it showed a government figure placing handcuffs around the two ‘O’s in the word Google.

The ICJ has a slightly different take from other non-governmental organisations that seek to protect freedom of speech. For the ICJ, the law is both the problem and the solution: Southeast Asian governments use existing laws and draft new ones to stifle dissent, violating international statutes upholding freedom of expression that they themselves have signed onto. The report calls for governments in Southeast Asia to “repeal, amend or otherwise rectify existing legal and regulatory frameworks to bring them in line with their international obligations” — and argues that “legislation framed in human rights terms is also the best and most effective way to protect against the very real threats posed by the spread of hate speech, disinformation online, cyber-attacks and other cybercrimes.

From left: ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific Frederick Rawski, Myanmar surgeon Ma Thida, human rights defender Sutharee Wannasiri, Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham and Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Photo by Dave Kendall)

“It’s not a pretty picture,Frederick Rawski, ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific told the forum. “Laws are used to harass and threaten human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others…New legal frameworks are being seen as an opportunity to consolidate and protect political power.” Corporations, too, have joined the party. “Businesses are using strategic lawsuits to avoid criticism, claiming they are protecting their businesses interests,Sutharee Wannasiri told the audience. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/04/international-civil-society-week-3-human-rights-defenders-engaging-business/]. The human rights activist is out on bail.

Governments have often cited vague concepts of “national security” and “public order” to justify using disproportionate means to shut down opposing views, sometimes even when privately expressed. “I was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1993,” said Dr Ma Thida, a Myanmar surgeon, writer, and human rights activist. “The first charge was ‘endangering national serenity’.” She said the use of speech-suppressing colonial-era laws such as the National Secrets Act has actually increased since Aung San Suu Kyi joined the Myanmar government.

Governments across Southeast Asia vary in the subtlety — or otherwise — they employ in using the law to stifle dissent. “The police were very nice to me,” recalled Jolovan Wham, a Singaporean civil and labour rights activist [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/24/human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham-in-singapore-sentenced-ngos-dismayed/]. “They asked me, ‘Is the room too cold? Would you like some biscuits?’ Singapore introduced its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act this year. “Singapore has a very good PR machine… they use democratic processes for authoritarian ends,” said Mr Wham. “They made a show of democratic consultation to justify this repressive law.

The ICJ report was welcomed by Sutawan Chanprasert, the founder of DigitalReach, a new organisation campaigning to protect digital rights in Southeast Asia. “The report shows that while technology gives more opportunities for people to express themselves on social media, the state is moving to control the online space too,” she told the Bangkok Post. “Under repressive ‘fake news’ laws, any content can be interpreted as ‘fake’, ‘false’ and ‘misleading’. And tech has provided a new kind of threat to freedom of expression– digital surveillance of political dissidents.

Thailand: Amnesty and UN Rapporteur agree on misuse of lese-majeste

December 23, 2019

Thailand: Amnesty International published a special 30-page report “They Cannot Keep Us Quiet” on Wednesday 11 December 2019. It is sub-titled “The criminalization of activists, human rights defenders and others in Thailand.” It was released hours after David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, after meetings on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on what he called misuse of laws prohibiting defamation of the monarchy. “Thai authorities are waging a campaign to criminalise and punish dissent by targeting civil society and political activists who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” the Amnesty report said.

Mr Kaye said at a media briefing: “Lese-majeste provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution.

And both singled out the refusal of the regime to back bail for dissident Jatupat Boonpatararaksa, better known as Pai Daodin.

https://wellstonjournal.com/un-envoy-amnesty-denounce-regime-ways.html

UN envoy, Amnesty denounce regime ways

More on Ozil and self censorship by western companies

December 20, 2019

deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders) Arsenal player was right to speak up, and western companies should remember that staying silent is no guarantee of China’s favour. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/16/china-arsenal-ozil-and-freedom-of-expression/]

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China.
Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

..Arsenal’s response has been a cynical attempt to placate government-manufactured outrage in the pursuit of profits over principles. Executives should remember that critical Chinese voices face detention and censorship. Following in the footsteps of many brands that adopted the Chinese Communist party (CCP) political stance, the club released a Chinese-language statement that “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.” The statement still does not appear on its English-language social media accounts or website.

As many NBA fans found out in October, when the Houston Rockets manager sparked a major crisis for briefly supporting the Hong Kong protestors, sports clubs are not prepared to stand up to the Chinese government for fear that it will shut down a significant source of revenue. Though global football institutions stayed silent when Uighur footballer Erfan Hezim was sent to an internment camp, they should not look away now that one of the sport’s most prominent players has forced the issue. China will host the 2021 Club World Cup and Xi Jinping has his eye on hosting the World Cup. Human rights abuses should not be swept under the rug.

No matter how much brands grovel to the Chinese government, they will always be vulnerable to nationalist sentiment inflamed by the Communist party that has tied its legitimacy on having led the country out of its “century of national humiliation”. Self-censorship is not a guarantee of protection for western brands and only exposes their hypocrisy to fans back home in democracies. Instead of falsely claiming they do not involve themselves in politics, Arsenal should use this opportunity to stand up for human rights.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/commentisfree/2019/dec/18/mesut-ozil-china-row-western-brands-be-warned-self-censorship-wont-protect-you

The pen mightier than the sword: award courageous writers

November 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing as an act of courage