Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of speech’

Greece: MPs of Golden Dawn far-right party attack minority rights defenders – no police action

January 10, 2017

On 6 January 2017 the International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requested urgent intervention in the following situation in Greece.

OMCT-LOGO Read the rest of this entry »

Help free my mother, Souad Al-Shammary, human rights defender in detention in Saudi Arabia

November 10, 2014

Help free my mother, Souad Al-Shammary, prominent human rights activist and women's rights advocate
Change.org is carrying a petition submitted by Worldwide Women’s Support Circle. It concerns the human rights defender Souad Al-Shammary in Saudi Arabia. The story is very effectively put in the mouth of her daughter who asks for her release:  “My mother’s name is Souad Al-Shammary. She is a liberal activist in Saudi Arabia who has called for the government to distance itself from radical Islamic clerics and to provide women with equal rights. On October 28th she was arrested and jailed for speaking out against the government — and I need your help to get her back.

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Europe’s Sakharov Prize in trouble with regard to Arab nominees

October 11, 2014

Under provocative title “Can Arabs be Human Rights Defenders?”  the on-line newspapers Mada Masr and Jadaliyya published a piece setting out how 3 Arab nominees were suddenly dropped by their nominators in the European Parliament  over a few Israeli-bashing tweets that were indeed on the verge of acceptability (even in the context of rough twitter talk) especially when calling for or condoning killing of Zionist civilians.

I referred to the nominations in my post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/nominees-for-sakharov-prize-2014-announced/.

I consider the post’s title  provocative (or perhaps ironic) as even a cursory glance of human rights documentation – including this blog – shows that there are hundreds of human rights defenders in the Arab world whose credentials are not disputed or totally defensible.

Please read the whole piece for yourself as this is both a complicated and sensitive matter.

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Pussy Riot freed in Russia but the bigger issue is blasphemy laws everywhere

December 24, 2013

Demonstrators wear "Free Pussy Riot" balaclavas as they protest at the security fence surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013

(Pussy Riot’s members with their distinctive coloured balaclavas)

The two remaining members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose incarceration sparked a global outcry, have been released under an amnesty law, but Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina dismissed the amnesty as a publicity stunt before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.They both promised to continue their vocal opposition to the government. The women were jailed in August 2012 after performing a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. Alyokhina’s first words and actions after being freed serve as a sign that this fight is likely to go on. The case divided Russia with many feeling the women were being too harshly treated and made examples of as part of attempts to clamp down on opposition to the government. But others felt their actions were a gross offence to the Orthodox faith. The act was seen as blasphemous by many others e.g. in Greece here and was condemned by several Orthodox Churches. However, their conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” was criticised by rights groups [AI declared them prisoners of conscience], celebrities [such as Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Yoko Ono ], anti-Putin activists and foreign governments.

This should make us look again a the issue of blasphemy in general. The crime of criticizing a religion is not always called blasphemy; sometimes it is categorized as hate speech (even when it falls well below any sensible standard of actually inciting hatred or violence) because it supposedly insults the followers of a religion. These crimes—of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings—are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries.

Recently, Ireland and the Netherlands started the process of removing some or part of their blasphemy laws. The arguments in these debates have universal validity.

Human Rights First and other NGOs have reported on human rights abuses caused by the use of blasphemy laws around the world.  These laws are often vague and can be subject to abuse, either by the authorities or citizens who can accuse a fellow citizen of blasphemy with a personal complaint to the prosecutor. The concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards, which protect the rights of individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Those accused of blasphemy are frequently threatened or attacked even before any investigation. People take to the streets and violence stoked by religious extremists ensues. Blasphemy laws have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities. Blasphemy laws enable governments to restrict freedom of expression, thought, and religion. Application of the laws can result in devastating consequences for religious minorities. This has been the case for Christians in Pakistan and Egypt, Ahmadi followers in Indonesia, and non-believers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In many instances, officials fail to condemn abuses or to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. And the police often fail to stop violence against religious minorities or to protect those endangered on account of such laws.

In the past few years, several bodies of the United Nations have examined the relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in relation to religious issues. After extensive consultation with governments and civil society, the Rabat Plan of Action was published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2012. This document outlines how blasphemy laws are problematic.  Since 2011, a new process dubbed the Istanbul Process was launched as a result of resolutions adopted at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The idea is to combat religious intolerance without restricting freedom of speech but whether that is possible is a big question.

Lessons of the Debate Over Ireland’s Blasphemy Law | Human Rights First

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/12/netherlands-scraps-blasphemy-law–but-seeks-a-way-to-replace-it

BBC News – Pussy Riot: Russia frees jailed punk band members.

Amnesty International calls on Cuba to Release five prisoners of conscience

August 5, 2013

Today Amnesty International urges the Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release five men who have been named prisoners of conscience.Amnesty-Internationa

The cases of the five men Read the rest of this entry »

State surveillance and freedom of expression as seen by UN Rapporteur Frank La Rue

June 7, 2013

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

For those who missed it or did not want to read the whole report, Carly Nyst wrote on 4 June 2013 an excellent summary of the recent landmark report by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Right to Privacy, Frank la Rue.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: non-cooperation should not pay!

April 22, 2013

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan’s highly repressive policies are coming up for rare international scrutiny as from today (22 and 24 April 2013), Human Rights Watch said today. United Nations member countries gathering at the Human Rights Council in Geneva under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure should seize the opportunity to expose and denounce the ongoing repression in both countries and press for concrete steps to end abuses.HRW_logo

The governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan stand out as among the most repressive in the world, Human Rights Watch said. Both also stand out for their failure to heed recommendations made during their previous Human Rights Council reviews, in December 2008. “The extraordinarily high levels of repression in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, coupled with their governments’ refusal to acknowledge problems, let alone to address them, underscores the need for a strong, unified message,” said Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

In submissions on Turkmenistan and on Uzbekistan Human Rights Watch highlighted key concerns with respect to both countries, and the steps needed to address them. One immediate step – and crucial if crime should not pay ! – is that both governments should be urged to end their longstanding denial of access for the UN’s own rights monitors. Ten UN rapporteurs have requested such access to Turkmenistan, while the number of UN rapporteurs barred from Uzbekistan has reached 11!  Cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC is another pressing issue [On April 12, the ICRC took the unusual step of announcing publicly its decision to end prison visits to detainees in Uzbekistan].

Other key concerns in Turkmenistan include: The government’s longstanding use of imprisonment as a tool for political retaliation and draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and association, which authorities enforce by threatening, harassing, or imprisoning those who dare to question its policies, however modestly. The severe repression of civil society activism makes it impossible for independent human rights defenders and journalists to work openly.

via Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan: Abuses in International Spotlight | Human Rights Watch.

 

Two prominent Saudi Human Rights Defenders heavily sentenced

March 12, 2013

KSA_Riyadh_QahtaniAlHamid_After_Hearing_Credits_SultanAlfifi

Last Saturday, two distinguished human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia were sentenced to jail in Riyadh for establishing an unlicensed human rights organization. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Abdullah Al-Hamad (or Hamid) established the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) in 2009. The organization’s mission is to promote human rights awareness within the Kingdom. ACPRA called for political representation of Saudi citizens and creation of laws to protect minorities. The organization also worked on documenting human rights abuses within the Kingdom. Despite multiple efforts to license ACPRA, the organization’s petitions were rejected and the group was eventually banned by Saudi authorities. The two men were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison on accusations including the rather illiberal sounding “breaking allegiance to the King”, “disseminating false information through foreign entities” and “forming an unlicensed organization“. This trial and the ensuing heavy sentence are clearly linked to them exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and association.

Russian “homosexual propaganda” law risks to target human rights defenders

February 7, 2013

A draft law to criminalise “homosexual propaganda”, currently being considered by the Russian parliament, flagrantly violates international human rights laws and standards, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). The ISHR is particularly concerned that the law will be used to target, intimidate or harass human rights defenders and those who speak out on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. “States have an obligation not only to respect and protect human rights, but also to respect and protect those who stand up and speak out for human rights. Russia’s draft law is manifestly incompatible with this obligation,” said Ms Collister of the ISHR.ISHR-logo-colour-high

ISHR’s statement comes as three United Nations Independent human rights experts have also called on Russian parliament to scrap the draft Bill. In a joint statement issued by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the experts state, “The draft legislation could further contribute to the already difficult environment in which these defenders operate, stigmatizing their work and making them the target of acts of intimidation and violence, as has recently happened in Moscow.”

For further comment, contact Heather Collister, International Service for Human Rights, on + 41 79 920 3805 or h.collister@ishr.ch.

 

Human rights defender in Thailand severely punished for using freedom of expression

January 24, 2013

This press release by the Asian Human Rights Commission gives ample detail on the (ab)use of ‘lesé’ majesté‘ articles in the Thai system. It explains that even being associated with someone who offends the King is enough to trigger prosecution and incur extremely heavy penalties.

THAILAND: Verdict in case of human rights defender is a serious threat to freedom of expression — Asian Human Rights Commission.