Posts Tagged ‘freedom of information’

Assange’s persecution or prosecution? Marjory Cohen knows the answer

May 31, 2017

Marjorie Cohn – professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers – wrote a perhaps controversial but clear piece about the case of Assange under the title:  The Meaning of Assange’s Persecution. In Consortiumnews of 29 May 2017 you will find the full piece.  She concludes that the long legal ordeal of Julian Assange – and the continuing threats against the WikiLeaks founder – make a mockery of the West’s supposed commitment to press freedom and the public’s right to know. Here some excerpts:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (Photo credit: Espen Moe)

….Although the Swedish investigation has now been dropped, the threat of arrest persists. The London police have indicated they will arrest Assange for failure to appear in a London Magistrates Court if he leaves the embassy. Britain would then likely extradite Assange to the United States for possible prosecution.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared in April that arresting Assange is a “priority” for the Department of Justice, even though the New York Times indicated that federal prosecutors are “skeptical that they could pursue the most serious charges, of espionage.” The Justice Department is reportedly considering charging Assange with theft of government documents. A decision to prosecute Assange would mark a 180-degree change of direction for President Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks” after it published confidential emails from the Democratic National Committee that some U.S. intelligence agencies claim were obtained by Russian hackers (although Assange denies getting the material from Russia).

In March, WikiLeaks published CIA documents containing software and methods to hack into electronics. This was the beginning of WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” series, which, Assange wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post, contained “evidence of remarkable CIA incompetence and other shortcomings.” The publication included “the agency’s creation, at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, of an entire arsenal of cyber viruses and hacking programs – over which it promptly lost control and then tried to cover up the loss,” Assange added. “These publications also revealed the CIA’s efforts to infect the public’s ubiquitous consumer products and automobiles with computer viruses.”

CIA Director Michael Pompeo called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” Pompeo said, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” Pompeo declared, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges. He is not a U.S. citizen.” But, the Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution applies to non-Americans, not just U.S. citizens. And, when the Obama Justice Department considered prosecuting WikiLeaks, U.S. officials were unable to distinguish what Wikileaks did from what the Times and Guardian did since they also published documents that Manning leaked. WikiLeaks is not suspected of hacking or stealing them.

…….

As Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, wrote at Just Security, Comey was drawing the line “not between leaking classified information and publishing it, but between publishing it for ‘good’ reasons and publishing it for ‘bad’ ones.” And, “[a]llowing the FBI to determine who is allowed to publish leaked information based on the bureau’s assessment of their patriotism would cross a constitutional Rubicon,” Goitein wrote.

Other advocates for civil liberties also defended WikiLeaks as a news organization protected by the First Amendment. “The U.S. government has never shown that Assange did anything but publish leaked information,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the Times. Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, stated in an interview with the Times, “Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public.”

Assange’s Detention Called Unlawful [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/07/on-assange-there-is-more-to-the-decision-than-knee-jerk-reactions/]

In 2016, following a 16-month investigation, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange’s detention by Britain and Sweden was unlawful. It stated, “[A] deprivation of liberty exists where someone is forced to choose between either confinement, or forfeiting a fundamental right – such as asylum – and thereby facing a well-founded risk of persecution.”….Thus, the U.N. group concluded that Assange’s continued stay in the embassy “has become a state of an arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

….Even some mainstream news organizations that have been critical of WikiLeaks for releasing classified U.S. information have objected to the idea of criminal prosecution. A Washington Post editorial in 2010 entitled “Don’t Charge Wikileaks” said: “Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.”

In the U.S. government’s continued legal pursuit of WikiLeaks, there is much more at stake than what happens to Julian Assange. There are principles of press freedoms and the public’s right to know. By publishing documents revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes, emails relevant to the U.S. presidential election and proof of CIA malfeasance, Assange did what journalists are supposed to do – inform the people about newsworthy topics and reveal abuses that powerful forces want concealed. Assange also has the right to freedom of expression under both U.S. and international law, which would further argue for Great Britain dropping the failure-to-appear warrant and allowing Assange to freely leave the embassy and to finally resume his life.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/marjoriecohn.

Source: The Meaning of Assange’s Persecution – Consortiumnews

Video interview with Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez, human rights defender from Guatemala

February 5, 2017

Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez  is an indigenous rights defender working for several organisations in Guatemala. She talks – in English – to ISHR (International Service for Human Rights) about her work to build up community media so the voices of indigenous people are  heard and the violations they face are publicly unveiled.

Why do Gandhi and Martin Luther King scare the Angolan government?

March 29, 2016

On 28 March 2016 the New York based Human Rights Foundation strongly condemned the convictions and sentences handed down by a court in Angola against a group of 17 youth activists for reading a book that advocates nonviolent resistance to dictatorship. The court declared the activists — including prominent Angolan rapper Luaty Beirão — guilty of “rebellion against the president” and “planning a coup,” sentencing them to prison terms that range from two to eight years. Beirao, also known by his stage name Ikonoklasta, has been an outspoken critic of the government, calling for a fairer distribution of the southern African state’s oil wealth. His term is five-and-a-half years.

Angola: HRF Condemns Convictions and Demands Release of Youth ActivistsSource: Vice News

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Adoption of North Korean Human Rights Act (by South Korea) welcomed by Human Rights Foundation

March 3, 2016

Promoting human rights in North Korea

 

 

 

On 2 March 2016) South Korea’s legislature passed the North Korean Human Rights Act. The new law mandates the promotion of freedom in North Korea by funding North Korean defector and and refugee organizations, creating a North Korean human rights foundation, and establishing an archive of human rights violations perpetrated against the North Korean people by the Kim regime. The US-based Human Rights Foundation welcomed the Act as the NGO has advocated for such an action and in 2015 established the Global Coalition for the North Korean Human Rights Act.

This is an astonishing moment. The Republic of Korea has taken its head out of the sand and has finally confronted the cruelty and horror of the North Korean dictatorship. It is a victory for all who support human rights and human dignity,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. “We in the Global Coalition are delighted that the South Korean government will—for the first time ever—finance the defector organizations that send films, e-books, radio broadcasts, and educational materials to the North Korean people.”

The North Korean Human Rights Act also establishes a public campaign to raise awareness about North Korea’s human rights violations and takes steps to ensure that South Korean humanitarian aid is not misused by the Kim regime. The goal of establishing the human rights archive, inspired by the post-war German model, is to monitor and document the crimes of the North Korean dictatorship. It is vital to note that no such archive or record has ever existed in South Korea.

The law’s passage comes at a time when the rest of the world unanimously agrees on the extent and gravity of the crimes of the North Korean dictatorship. Earlier today, the U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 to toughen sanctions on the regime.  “People inside the North will know about the law’s enactment and it will put considerable pressure on the political elite in Pyongyang,” said South Korean politician Kim Moon-soo, who first drafted the law in 2005.

For more information contact: Noemi Gonzalo-Bilbao, (212) 246-8486, noemi@hrf.org

Source: North Korea: HRF Celebrates Overdue South Korean Law Promoting Human Rights

See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/north-korean-defector-ji-seong-ho-in-video-talk/

Gilbert Sendugwa: African human rights defender and freedom of information campaigner

May 15, 2015

 

Interview with Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator of Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a pan-African network based in Kampala, Uganda, published by the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] on 28 April 2015:

Before I started working with the Centre, I worked with issues of health and education. And it was always a big issue: information. I always asked: How do we get the information we need? How do people get the information they need from the Government in order to get on in life?’ In 2010 Gilbert went to work for AFIC, a network which has grown to 35 member organisations from 22 African countries, which are working on issues of access to information at the national level.

The main focus of the Centre so far has been to push for ratification of the many African instruments which enshrine the right of freedom of information, as well as ensure that these rights are reflected in national legislation and practice’. They do this through international advocacy campaigns and supporting national strategies. And with a good degree of success. In 2010 Angola, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe were the only States with Freedom of Information Legislation. The number now totals 16, and with Tanzania likely to become number 17 next month….

Nonetheless, as Gilbert says ‘We have come to see that the passage of laws might be the easiest part’. Therefore AFIC is putting increasingly more energy into initiatives for implementation.

The objective of these laws is to empower the people. Implicitly, this means taking power away from those who have it and giving it to the population, so that they can help themselves advance in all of their rights. However, sometimes this provokes fear in the powerful and a reluctance to provide the information’.

Gilbert suggests that this fear can manifest itself in two ways: some Governments will not legislate on the issue, whilst others do, but ensure that the environment for civil society is not conducive to people having the confidence to use the law. He says that in many States fear of reprisals deters requests for information. A successful law on access to information, it seems, must go hand in hand with a safe and enabling environment for human rights defence in general. However he points out that a common mistake of advocates on this issue is to see the State as a monolith. Rather, he argues, when it comes to implementation it is necessary to look at the various agencies from which you are soliciting information. ‘It is them who can grant the information or not. If you look at Uganda –  as pointed out in their review by the ACHPR this week – some ministries have responded to all requests for information, whilst the response rate from the ministries for finance and education, for example, is zero’.

AFIC is pushing for implementation by training civil society on accessing information and producing a manual for them. They are also increasing their work with States, having seen results when these two approaches work in parallel. Developing a website with the Ugandan Government led Rwanda to follow, whilst they have also trained officials and are producing a separate manual for them.

As ISHR prepared to make a statement on the importance of an enabling environment for human rights defenders working on corporate accountability, Gilbert admitted that this was one of the most challenging areas for freedom of information activists across the continent. ‘It is very difficult and risky to request information, whether it be regarding concessions, payments or environmental impact. But at the end of the day we are simply talking about the ability for communities to evaluate the impact of a project upon their lives and check the level of compliance of a business or a State with human rights law’.

Gilbert Sendugwa can be contacted at gilbert@africainfocentre.org. Follow him on Twitter: @GilbertSendugwa

Gilbert Sendugwa: Human rights defender and freedom of information campaigner from Uganda | ISHR.

Suffocating Dissent in Ethiopia: CounterPunch Tells the Facts and Names the Names

February 14, 2015

The long-read for the weekend comes from Counterpunch, 13/15 February 2015 where Graham Peebles treats the horrible media situation in Ethiopia. Basing himself on a variety of UN and NGO sources – including the recent report by Human Rights Watch – he describes in detail and by name what happens to journalists and human rights defenders who try to cover reality.

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Reporters Without Borders published its 2014 World Press Freedom Index

February 14, 2015

couverture classement 2014

Reporters Without Borders recently published its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. It has a nice easy-to-use and colorful map. The accompanying text spotlights the negative correlation between freedom of information and conflicts, both open conflicts and undeclared ones. In an unstable environment, the media become strategic goals and targets for groups or individuals whose attempts to control news and information.

The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. Despite occasional turbulence in the past year, these countries continue to be news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them. This year’s index covers 180 countries.

Reporters Without Borders.

Saudi Arabia: persecution of human rights defenders continues as usual

April 25, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

reported two more cases of persecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. On 17 April 2014, the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced human rights defender Mr Fadel Al-Manasef to 15 years’ imprisonment, issued a travel ban against him for 15 years and fined him €19,300. Fadel Al-Manasef is a writer and blogger, and a founding member of Al Adalah Center for Human Rights, a Saudi Arabian NGO that documents and monitors human rights violations and provides supports to victims. He has been in detention since his arrest on 2 October 2011.

[In the same hearing, the judge dismissed two more cases against the human rights defender dating from 2009 and 2013. During the trial, Fadel Al-Manasef declared to the court that he had been subjected to torture and other forms of ill treatment during interrogations, however the court failed to address the allegations.] For more information: <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/16118> .

On 15 April 2014, human rights defender Mr Waleed Abu Al-Khair was arbitrarily detained, while at the premises of the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. The human rights defender was attending the fifth session of an ongoing trial against him at that court. Neither  Waleed Abu Al-Khair’s family nor his lawyer have been informed of the reasons for the arrest. Waleed Abu Al-Khair is a lawyer and head of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.  The  application to register the organisation as a human rights NGO was rejected.

[29 October 2013, the human rights defender was sentenced to 3 months in prison by a Jeddah court on charges including “organising illegal gatherings” and “insulting the judiciary”. Waleed Abu Al-Khair had been waiting to be informed of when the sentence would be carried out. In addition, in Riyadh, the human rights defender faces charges including: “striving to overthrow the state and the authority of the King”; “criticizing and insulting the judiciary”; “assembling international organizations against the Kingdom”; “creating and supervising an unlicensed organization, and contributing to the establishment of another”; and, “preparing and storing information that will affect public security”. see:  <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/25289> ]

 

Journalists get training in Africa: examples from Tanzania and South Sudan

April 9, 2014

Like other people, journalists have personal interest in the rights that allow them to live in freedom and to be free from fear or oppression…” said Onesmo Olengurumwa, National Coordinator of  Tanzania Human Rights Defenders – Coalition (THRD-C).  He was speaking recently in Dar es Salaam at a 3-day seminar for journalists meant to train them in Security Management and Risk Assessment. Similar trainings will be conducted periodically to ensure journalists are equipped with the knowledge on how to best respond and tackle volatile and potentially dangerous situations. “Media owners, editors, journalists, human rights NGOs, community and the government should take security and protection issues for journalists much more seriously,” said Olengurumwa. He also reminded journalists that their personal behaviour, lifestyle and how they approach their work may place them at risk. “Investing on security management and protection for journalists should be undertaken by all media owners,”

Journalists, CSOs, Human Rights and CBOs representatives posing for a group photo during the two-day training on Human rights in NBGS. [Gurtong| Abraham Agoth]

group photo of training on Human rights in NBGS. [Gurtong| Abraham Agoth]

On 28 March 2014 Abraham Agoth in “Oye! News from Africa” reported that Journalists and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has completed a Human Rights Defenders training course organised by the Human Rights Protection and Civil Affairs Departments of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Speaking at the closing ceremony, the acting UNMISS state coordinator, Numa Shams urged the participants to apply what they learnt during the training in their daily work so that human rights abuses are minimized. “We hope this work will be incorporated into your daily activities of monitoring human right in your respective working locations and within your communities,” he said. I have seen your participation and commitments in this training. It clearly shows that you have learnt something and are eager to learn more,” said Mary Makelele, the director general in the state ministry of Information, “My appeal to everyone is that; do not take these skills for granted but instead use them to educate others.” During the training, it was generally observed that human rights have been mostly violated due to negligence and ignorance.

Journalists, CSOs Complete Human Rights Defenders Training | Oye Times.

Committee to Protect Journalists publishes New Risk List: Where Press Freedom is going down

February 8, 2014

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] has published its Risk List, indicating where press freedom is in decline. In determining the list, CPJ staff examined six press freedom indicators: fatalities, imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile. Countries named to the Risk List are not necessarily the world’s worst places for journalists; such a list would include nations like North Korea and Eritrea, where free expression has long been suffocated. Instead, the Risk List identifies the 10 places where CPJ documented the most significant downward trends during 2012. Those trends included:

  • High murder rates and entrenched impunity in Pakistan, Somalia, and Brazil.
  • The use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in Ecuador, Turkey, and Russia.
  • The imprisonment of large numbers of journalists, typically on anti-state charges, to thwart critical reporting in Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, and Syria.
  • An exceedingly high fatality rate in Syria, where journalists faced multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.

CPJ, which is publishing its Risk List for the first time, identified Syria and Somalia, which are racked by conflict, along with Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, nations that are ruled with an authoritarian grip. But half of the nations on the Risk List– Brazil, Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia, along with Ecuador–practice some form of democracy and exert significant influence on a regional or international stage.

Threats to press freedom were not confined within the borders of these nations. Four Risk List countries sought to undermine international or regional press freedom initiatives during the year. Russia pushed for centralized control of the Internet ahead of the World Conference on International Telecommunications. Ecuador led an effort, supported by Brazil, to weaken the ability of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in cases of systemic or grave press freedom abuses. Brazil and Pakistan were among a handful of countries that tried to derail a U.N. plan to improve journalist security and combat impunity worldwide.

Setbacks in Brazil are particularly alarming given its status as a regional leader and home to a diverse array of news media. But a spike in journalist murders, a failure to address impunity, and a pattern of judicial censorship have put Brazil’s press freedom at risk, CPJ found. Turkey, too, has projected an image as a regional model for freedom and democracy. But while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed a commitment to press freedom, his administration has wielded an anti-terror law as a club to jail and intimidate journalists.

Less surprising, but no less worrisome are setbacks in Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Iran. Though Ethiopia and Vietnam have been applauded for economic strides, both countries have lagged in terms of openness and freedom of the press. Conditions worsened in 2012, as Ethiopian and Vietnamese authorities ramped up efforts to stifle dissent by imprisoning journalists on anti-state charges. Iran, ignoring international criticism of its press record, has intensified an assault on critical voices that began after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

In Syria and Somalia, where journalists faced risks from multiple sides, the death tolls have mounted. Crossfire was the leading cause of death for journalists in Syria, although at least three journalists were assassinated, CPJ research shows. Both rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been implicated in acts of violence against the press. All 12 journalists killed in Somalia in 2012, the country’s bloodiest year for the press, were targeted in direct reprisal for their reporting. Both insurgents and government officials were suspected of involvement. In both countries, the ranks of young journalists, many with little training and experience, have been particularly hard hit.

In the full report below you can find capsule reports on the 10 nations named to the CPJ Risk List:

 http://www.cpj.org/2013/02/attacks-on-the-press-cpj-risk-list.php