Posts Tagged ‘HRW’

UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender Mama Fikile

March 16, 2021

.On 15 March 2021 Katharina Rall, Senior Researcher, Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote about Mama Fikile’s murder, It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices.

South African environmental justice groups have urged the government to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into Mama Fikile Ntshangase’s killing and ensure that those found responsible are held to account. But her family is still waiting for justice.

Beyond the individual tragedy and injustice, there is another reason the UN expert, Mary Lawlor, highlights the South African case in her global report. Killings of activists create an environment of fear and can have a chilling effect on the people around them. Or, as the UN expert frames it, “[t]here is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders.

As a community rights defender opposing coal mining in Fuleni, a small rural village not far from the place where Mama Fikile was killed, Billy Mnqondo once heard gunshots at the gate of his house and was warned by community members that he and his family will be in trouble if he continues to oppose mining. When, in 2018, Human Rights Watch visited Somkhele, Fuleni, and other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016.

Violence and intimidation against those who raise their voices to defend their right to a healthy environment is endemic in South Africa.  Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report, published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice,  documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism. Most of these cases are not widely known and have not made headlines like the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe and Mama Fikile. Yet, investigations into these killings or other attacks are moving very slowly, if at all. 

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) – baseless cases brought forward by companies to intimidate and burden activists with the onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.

South African courts are beginning to take a stance against these tactics. In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process. The defamation trial may still proceed, but activists can now defend themselves by arguing that the Court should assess the SLAPP nature of the case.

Following this ruling it will be harder for corporations to use South Africa’s legal system against citizens and activists to silence and intimidate them when they raise human rights concerns or seek accountability for past abuses. The government should now do its part to follow the recommendations of the UN expert by bringing those responsible for killings of environmental defenders to justice. Unless there are prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the killings—and those responsible are brought to justice— human rights defenders will continue to live in an environment of fear.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/un-spotlight-killing-south-african-environmental-defender

Mary Robinson and the case of the Arab Princess

February 16, 2021

There’s a saying in show business that you can spend 20 years becoming an overnight star. In politics, the same is true in reverse, as the sad case of Mary Robinson and Princess Latifa of Dubai shows. Mary Robinson as former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a widely-honored human rights defender [with 9 awards to her name, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4E44A265-DF1A-45E2-8C6A-3294577EA211] was a much admired personality. For that reason I was reluctant to highlight her role in the sad case back in December 2018, although many human rights NGOs (including AI and HRW) did criticise her.

The former UN human rights Commissioner has been criticised for describing the daughter of Dubai’s ruler as “troubled” after she was reportedly forcibly returned to the kingdom after fleeing months earlier. Mary Robinson met with Sheikha Latifa on 15 December and photos released showed the two women smiling together in what appears to be a home. Ms Robinson, the former president of Ireland, told BBC’s Radio 4 the princess was a “vulnerable” woman with a “serious medical situation” for which she was receiving psychiatric care.

Immediately the highly publicised and bizarre meeting in December was panned by rights groups for being stage-managed by the Emirati ruling family (Ms Robinson is a personal friend of Sheikha Haya, a wife of the Dubai ruler.) Defending her comments, Ms Robinson released a statement saying: “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”

Toby Cadman, a barrister instructed by Detained in Dubai to act on behalf of the princess, told Review: “I am extremely disappointed that she would lend herself to what has been interpreted as a whitewash. We have requested an independent assessment of [Princess Latifa’s] state of mind and her physical well-being. It’s up to the United Nations to be satisfied that she is not being detained against her will.” Then in January 2019 Mrs Robinson stated that she contacted Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights. On 18/02/2019 Former Irish president Mary Robinson said she has no regrets over getting involved in the case of a Dubai princess who had tried to flee the UAE.

Exactly one year on from Latifa’s dramatic capture at sea, rights groups told The Independent they were deeply concerned about her welfare and still had no knowledge of what happened to her between her March 2018 capture and December when she reappeared in Dubai. Pleas to the UAE for an independent delegation to be granted access to the royal to assess her, have gone unanswered. “Human Rights Watch is still calling for her to be able to travel to a third country where we and other monitors can be assured she is able to speak freely and independently without fear of retaliation,” Hiba Zayadin of HRW told The Independent.Ms Robinson is not equipped to make an evaluation of Latifa, who was in the presence of people who allegedly forcibly disappeared her,” she added.

Amnesty International put out a similar call. “There has been no reply from the UAE, which has never responded to anything regarding domestic human-rights abuses that Amnesty International has attempted to raise with them,” said Amnesty’s Devin Kenney.

Now, 16 February 2021, after new footage was shared by BBC Panorama, in which the 35-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai has confirmed that commandos drugged her as she tried to flee by boat and flew her back to detention and accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of holding her “hostage”, Mrs Robinson has stated that she feels “horribly tricked” by the family of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, and has joined in calls for immediate international action in order to establish Princess Latifa’s current condition and whereabouts

Fortunately some of the worst rumours turn out not to be true e.g.that  Sheikha Latifa was killed during early 2019 through extreme physical torture by the female maids inside the palace.[https://www.weeklyblitz.net/news/fraud-racket-plays-new-trick-centering-a-murdered-princess/].

Robinson is rightly revered for her life’s work, and that work is not invalidated by her unacceptable interference in the case of Princess Latifa. But her reputation has been tarnished by this.

And on 25 February followed this https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/25/princess-latifa-letter-uk-police-investigate-sister-shamsa-cambridge-abduction

For those interested in the many articles about his case:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/dubai-paid-for-robinson-to-visit-runaway-princess-c3gnrv8cj
https://www.irishcentral.com/news/politics/former-irish-president-defends-decision-to-meet-princess-allegedly-detained-against-will
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-mysterious-story-of-princess-latifa-her-reported-escape-from-dubai-and-her-meeting-with-mary-robinson-37679044.html
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/mary-robinson-visit-to-dubai-a-private-family-matter-says-princess-haya-895790.html
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/robinson-writes-to-un-human-rights-chief-wp2z8vc9j
http://www.midwestradio.ie/index.php/news/28421-mary-robinson-s-address-to-ireland-s-diplomats-today-will-take-place-behind-closed-doors
https://www.wsj.com/articles/mrs-robinson-and-the-missing-princess-11547078838
https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mary-robinson-dubai-princess-latifa-escape-uae-sheikh-mohammed-haya-a8717081.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6586191/UAE-swaps-British-arms-consultant-centre-bribery-scandal-Dubai-princess.html was there a swap? https://scroll.in/latest/909621/christian-michels-family-to-move-un-after-claims-that-he-was-extradited-in-swap-for-dubai-princess
https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mary-robinson-cancels-appearance-dubai-festival-over-jailed-uae-activist-840835552
https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/uae-injustice-intolerance-repression
https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/former-president-mary-robinson-has-no-regrets-over-dubai-princess-visit-905272.html
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/letter-robinson-sent-to-un-about-princess-latifa-visit-is-not-for-public-distribution-37833996.html
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6925547/Lisa-Bloom-calls-Dubai-rulers-HORSE-banned-Kentucky-derby-protest.html
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190629-reports-dubai-princess-left-crown-prince-husband-fled-uae/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/18/uae-release-latifa-shamsa-women-rights

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/28/the-tourists-who-flock-to-dubai-seem-happy-to-overlook-a-few-missing-princesses

DR Congo should reopen inquiry into murder of Floribert Chebeya

February 12, 2021

A man wearing a T-shirt with portraits of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana attends the trial in Kinshasa on April 30, 2013 of policemen accused of killing the two men in 2010.
A man wearing a T-shirt with portraits of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana attends the trial in Kinshasa on April 30, 2013 of policemen accused of killing the two men in 2010. © 2013 Junior D. Kannah/AFP via Getty Images

On 11 February 2021 Human Rights Watch stated that The Democratic Republic of Congo government should reopen its investigation into the 2010 double murder of the leading human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and his driver, Fidèle Bazana, following new revelations about the case. Amid allegations reported by international media outlets that the murders were carried out on the orders of the police chief at that time, Gen. John Numbi, Human Rights Watch called for a credible, impartial, and independent inquiry.

On February 8, 2021, in radio interviews with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Deutsche Welle, two Congolese police officers in exile admitted to taking part in the murders of Chebeya and Bazana on the premises of police headquarters on June 1, 2010 and provided a detailed account of the murder. At a meeting in April 2019, President Felix Tshisekedi personally told Chebeya’s wife and human rights groups that he was committed to conducting an impartial investigation into the murder.

President Tshisekedi should put his words about investigating the Chebeya murder into action,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The latest revelations show the need for a new inquiry and present the best chance to see that justice is done.

On June 1, 2010, Chebeya received a telephone call asking him to attend a meeting at General Numbi’s office. The next day, the police said that Chebeya had been found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of Kinshasa, the capital. The body of his driver, Bazana, is still missing.

Speaking to RFI and Deutsche Welle from an undisclosed location abroad, the former police drivers Hergil Ilunga and Alain Kayeye revealed details about the plan to kill Chebeya and how it was carried out. They alleged that police officers asphyxiated Chebeya and Bazana, one after the other, in different police vehicles at the police headquarters.

They admitted to taking part in the murders and covering them up on the orders of Col. Daniel Mukalay, then the police intelligence chief, and Christian Ngoy, then the commander of the feared Simba battalion. The two former drivers said that both senior officers were acting upon Numbi’s instructions.

Ilunga and Kayeye said they would be ready to face justice if their safety were guaranteed. They claimed to have fled Congo in late 2020 for fear of their lives as Numbi was allegedly looking to kill them.

Chebeya was among Congo’s most vocal human rights defenders, regularly exposing abuses by the country’s security services and successive governments over many years. He was threatened and intimidated repeatedly by Congolese authorities because of his work. He received the now defunct Reebok award: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA601D45-292F-61CB-530A-17FE52D5F974

Following a widely criticized trial by a military court – with a first verdict in June 2011 and an appeal decision in September 2015 – four police officers were found guilty of murdering Chebeya and Bazana. Ngoy, along with Paul Mwilambwe and Jacques Mugabo, were tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Mukalay, the highest-ranking officer on trial, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and is currently serving his sentence at Kinshasa’s central prison. The military court also found the Congolese government at fault and ordered it to pay damages to the families of both victims.

When the trial began in November 2010, Numbi, then police inspector general, was presented to the court as a witness even though he was widely suspected to be behind the murders. In 2014, one of the fugitives, Mwilambwe, resurfaced in Senegal, where he accused Numbi of orchestrating the murders. Senegalese authorities opened an investigation and Mwilambwe was indicted in January 2015. But the proceedings stalled, and the investigation is ongoing in Senegal. Mwilambwe, a presumed key witness, has since moved to Belgium and has also said he was ready to stand trial. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/13/indictment-in-senegal-a-breakthrough-in-the-congolese-chebeya-bazana-case/]

On September 3, 2020, Ngoy was arrested in Lubumbashi and immediately transferred to Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa for possession of illegal weapons. Following his arrest, Congolese human rights organizations said that the authorities should reopen the Chebeya case.

Following these new revelations, over 100 Congolese human rights groups called for the immediate arrest of Gen. Numbi and the reopening of Chebeya’s case. Ambassadors in Congo from the EU, Belgium, and the US have also all publicly backed reopening the inquiry. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said it was “available to assist the judiciary in shedding light on the despicable murder of Chebeya and Bazana.”

“The Chebeya and Bazana families have yet to learn the full truth and obtain justice for the gruesome killings of their loved ones,” Fessy said. “With these new revelations, the Congolese government needs to act. The judiciary should provide safe conditions to hear those who have come forward while General Numbi and other senior officials implicated in the murders should be fully and fairly investigated.”

Note the latest: https://www.theafricareport.com/74437/drc-general-john-numbi-implicated-in-the-chebeya-case-has-fled-the-country/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/11/dr-congo-reopen-inquiry-prominent-activists-murder

Over 100 NGOs write to Prime Minister of Denmark to pressure Bahrain to release Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja.

January 27, 2021

Over 100 NGOs urge Bahraini king to release rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

The Danish government should renew and strengthen efforts to secure the immediate and unconditional release of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 108 international and Bahraini rights groups said on 24 January 2021 in a joint letter to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. As reported by the AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA).

The human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 59, is serving a life sentence in Bahrain’s Jaw prison for his peaceful political and human rights activities, in violation of his right to freedom of expression. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/abdulhadi-al-khawaja/]

There is no doubt that the conviction and sentencing of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was unfair and oppressive and tried to silence his prominent voice demanding the rights of Bahrainis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Al-Khawaja should not have had to spend a single minute behind bars, yet he has been unjustly detained for almost a decade.

He had worked as the Middle East and North Africa protection coordinator for Front Line Defenders from 2008 until early 2011. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-abdulhadi-al-khawaja

https://en.abna24.com/news//over-100-ngos-urge-bahraini-king-to-release-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja_1108546.html

Human Rights Watch publishes World report 2021, covering its work in 2020

January 14, 2021

World Report 2021, Human Rights Watch’s 31st annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in more than 100 countries.

In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth calls on the incoming US administration to more deeply embed respect for human rights as an element of domestic and foreign policy to counter the “wild oscillations in human rights policy” that in recent decades have come with each new resident of the White House. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, joined by China, Russia and others, other governments—typically working in coalition and some new to the cause—stepped forward to champion rights. As it works to entrench rights protections, the Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/15/human-rights-watch-issues-world-report-2020-covering-2019/

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021

Five individuals now listed as foreign agents in Russia

January 11, 2021

On 8 January, 2021 RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service reports on a worrying development in Russia: On 28 December, Russia said it had placed five people — three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL and two human rights activists — on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Previously, only foreign-funded NGOs had been placed on the registry, in keeping with Russia’s passage of its controversial “foreign agents law” in 2012. The law was later expanded to include media outlets and independent journalists [SEE: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/]

The three listed individuals affiliated with RFE/RL are Lyudmila Stavitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for the North Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service; and Denis Kamalyagin, editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province and a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

Prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/06/25/russian-ngo-for-human-rights-forcibly-evicted-from-offices/]was also named to the registry, as was activist and Red Cross worker Daria Apakhonchich.

On December 29, the ministry expanded the list again, adding the Nasiliu.net human rights center, which deals with domestic violence cases. The additions bring the total number of individuals or entities listed to 18, the majority of them affiliated with RFE/RL.

Two international rights organisations have expressed concerns:

The UN Human Rights Office regrets the inclusion of the five individuals in the foreign agents list, which targets human rights defenders and journalists and appears to be aimed at limiting their freedom of expression and speech,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, said in a comment to RFE/RL on January 8.

The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media added in a separate comment that the move “narrows the space for freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and free flow of information in the Russian Federation.

The Justice Ministry did not explain on what grounds it included the recent additions of the five individuals and one entity to the registry.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based rights group, called the law “devastating” for local NGOs, saying more than a dozen had been forced to close their doors.

RFE/RL has said it is “reprehensible” that professional journalists were among the first individuals singled out by Russia as “foreign agents.”

The Council of Europe also has expressed concerns over situation, saying that the foreign agent law in general — “stifles the development of civil society and freedom of expression.”

https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-foreign-agents-list-united-nations-regrets/31038877.html

Libyan human rights defender Hanan al-Barassi gunned down in Benghazi

November 12, 2020

International media (here CNN) reported on 11 November 2020 on the killing of prominent Libyan lawyer and women’s rights activist Hanan al-Barassi, who was gunned down by armed men Tuesday in the eastern city of Benghazi. Her killing in Benghazi, which falls under the control of the Libyan National Army (LNA), came just a day after she shared comments on social media criticizing the son of renegade military general and LNA leader Khalifa Haftar. “The assassination of human rights defenders and opinion-holders and the silencing of voices is a heinous crime and a disgraceful form of tyranny and a desperate attempt to destroy hope for the establishment of a civil and democratic state,” Libya’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, tweeted Tuesday.

According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), al-Barassi — whom the mission describes as a “vocal critic of corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations” — was shot “in broad daylight” by unidentified armed men. “Her tragic death illustrates the threats faced by Libyan women as they dare to speak out,” UNSMIL added. In videos posted publicly on her Facebook page, al-Barassi expressed criticism of figures loyal to the LNA. In a livestream shared on Monday, just a day before her killing, al-Barassi said she would not be silenced by threats. “I won’t surrender, only with bullets will I ever surrender — if I die, so be it. Only in death will I be silenced. Tomorrow I will have several surprises [to share], several surprises,” she told viewers. The LNA has not yet responded to a CNN request for comment on al-Barassi’s death.

Elham Saudi, the director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, an organization which seeks to defend and promote human rights in the conflict-ridden country, called the attack an “appalling and painful reminder of the reality on the ground” for women in Libya. “With no accountability, violators will continue to get away with literal murder in broad daylight,” she added.Al-Barassi’s killing follows a series of attacks against those critical of forces aligned to the LNA.

In 2019, one of Libya’s most prominent female politicians and a vocal critic of Haftar, Seham Sergewa, was abducted from her home in Benghazi by a militia group loyal to the LNA; while an investigation was launched into her abduction, she has yet to be found. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/28/two-years-after-murder-of-salwa-bugaighis-in-libya-still-no-investigation/]

“The killing of an outspoken lawyer in broad daylight in Benghazi will send chills through activists across the region,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This brutal killing smacks of a cold-blooded execution. The only way to end this cycle of violence is if authorities hold criminals to account for these terrible acts.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/11/africa/libya-lawyer-rights-activist-killed-intl/index.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/11/libya-outspoken-benghazi-lawyer-murdered

Women human rights defenders in Poland under severe pressure

November 2, 2020

On 2 November 2020 ILGA Europe, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freemuse and KPH Campaign Against Homophobia issued on joint statement demanding that Poland drop unfounded charges against women rights defenders for peaceful activism

Image: Elżbieta Podleśna / Image from Amnesty International UK website

Unfounded charges of “offending religious beliefs” are being brought against three women human rights defenders in Poland for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, a coalition of six nongovernmental groups said. The first hearing in their case is scheduled for November 4, 2020, in the town of Plock. 

The Prosecutor General should drop the charges – and ensure that the three women can carry out their human rights work without harassment and reprisals by the authorities. The Polish authorities should amend their legislation in line with international and regional human rights standards and abstain from using it against activists to unduly curtail their right to freedom of expression.  

The three human rights defenders, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna – whose surnames are not being used to protect their privacy – are facing trial for “offending religious beliefs” under Article 196 of the Criminal Code (C.C.) in relation to the use of posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo symbolic of the LGBTI flag around her head and shoulders. The authorities are alleging that the three activists pasted the posters on 29 April 2019 in public places such as on portable toilets, dustbins, transformers, road signs, building walls in public areas in the city of Plock and have “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”. They now face up to two years in prison if found guilty for their peaceful activism. 

The authorities arrested and detained Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019 and in July 2020, they officially charged the three activists. 

Having, creating or distributing posters such as the ones depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo should not be a criminal offence and is protected under the right to freedom of expression.  

In its current formulation, Article 196 of the Criminal Code imposes undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression by providing overly broad discretion to the authorities to prosecute and criminalise individuals for expression that must be protected. This is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations.  

Poland is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression.  

Furthermore, in 2013, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights noted that “Restrictions on artistic freedoms based on insulting religious feelings… are incompatible with [ICCPR]”. In 2019, this was again highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression who stressed that criminalising expression that insults religious feeling limits “debate over religious ideas and… such laws [enable] governments to show preference for the ideas of one religion over those of other religions, beliefs or non-belief systems”. Freemuse is particularly concerned about the policing of artistic and creative content by the authorities in Poland and regard it as an unlawful attack on freedom of artistic expression. 

Amnesty International has previously called on the Polish authorities to repeal or amend legal provisions, such as Article 196 of the Criminal Code, that criminalises statements protected by the right to freedom of expression, for example in the report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’. Many other national and international human rights organisations have criticised provisions of the Polish Criminal Code, including Article 196, as problematic because they constitute restrictions on the right to freedom of expression not permissible under international human rights law. 

International human rights law permits states to impose certain restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression only if such restrictions are provided by law and are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the protection of certain specified public interests (national security, public order, protection of health or morals) or for the protection of the rights of others (including the right to protection against discrimination). When restricting the right to freedom of expression to protect public order or morals, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the ICCPR, observed that states must not base their restrictions on principles deriving “exclusively from a single tradition” e.g. Christianity. States may impose certain restrictions on certain forms of expression if they can demonstrate that such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to the specified purpose (that is, the measure is designed to be effective in achieving its goal, lesser measures do not suffice and without putting in jeopardy the right itself). The current formulation of Article 196 of the C.C. does not appear to pass the test of proportionality and necessity. ..

The organisations recall that everyone has a right to express themselves safely and without fear of reprisals, and that the right to freedom of expression is protected, even if  some people might find the expression to be deeply offensive (Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34 on Freedom of Expression, para. 11). In the words of the European Court of Human Rights the right to freedom of expression “is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna now face up to two years in prison if found guilty under the unfounded charges brought against them. The case against them is not unique but an example of the repeated harassment activists and human rights defenders face simply for carrying out peaceful activism in Poland, which Polish and international human rights organisations have documented and denounced at length in the last several years.  

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna stood against hate and discrimination and for years they have been fighting for a just and equal Poland. They deserve to be praised and not taken to court for their activism.  

To date, around 140,000 people have joined an international campaign urging the Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights defenders. The campaign is available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/poland-activist-elzbieta-podlesna/.    

Elżbieta is one of the courageous 14 women human rights defenders who were beaten and targeted for standing up to hate in Poland during the Independence March in 2018. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/after-two-years-justice-for-14-woman-human-rights-defenders-in-poland/]

At the time of her arrest in May 2019, she had just returned from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands with Amnesty International, where she participated in several events and advocacy meetings with activists and supporters to raise awareness about the situations of peaceful protesters and the crackdown they are facing in Poland.  

https://undocs.org/A/HRC/23/34

Amnesty International, report ‘Targeted by hate, Forgotten by Law: Lack of a coherent response to hate crimes in Poland’, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur37/2147/2015/en/.

See their story at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/04/14-women-blog/.  

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https://freemuse.org/news/poland-drop-charges-against-women-rights-defenders-ngos-call-to-drop-unfounded-charges-for-peaceful-activism/

Historic Conviction Against Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party

October 8, 2020

Justice Delivered in Greece

Magda Fyssa, the mother of late Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme right Golden Dawn party in 2013, celebrates immediately after the delivery of the verdict in Athens, October 7, 2020. 
Magda Fyssa, the mother of late Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme right Golden Dawn party in 2013, celebrates immediately after the delivery of the verdict in Athens, October 7, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Living in Greece as I do, I can only warmly endorse the reactions of the international human rights community (here Human Rights Watch): In a momentous ruling today, an Athens appeals court found that the far-right neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organization. The court also found that members of the group orchestrated or colluded in the 2013 murder of 34-year-old antifascist activist and rapper Pavlos Fyssas, the 2013 murder of 27-year-old Pakistani national Shehzad Luqman, and numerous brutal attacks against migrants, trade unionists, and human rights defenders.

It’s a landmark victory for the victims, their families, and civil society says HRW. An estimated 20,000 people who gathered in downtown Athens erupted in cheers when they heard the verdict. Magda Fyssa cried out, “You did it, my son!” perhaps finally finding some meaning in the otherwise senseless loss of her son Pavlos.  

People holding a banner depicting Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme right Golden Dawn party in 2013, gather for a protest outside a court in Athens, Wednesday, October 7, 2020. 
People holding a banner depicting Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme right Golden Dawn party in 2013, gather for a protest outside a court in Athens, Wednesday, October 7, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis

It has been a long time coming. Back in 2010-2013, when Golden Dawn flourished, Greece saw an epidemic of violence. In 2011-2012, we documented dozens of attacks on foreigners, who had been beaten, kicked, and chased down the streets of Athens by gangs of Greeks linked to Golden Dawn. Victims included migrants and asylum seekers, pregnant women, and children. Many attacks went unpunished, with police doing little to intervene and courts to hold perpetrators to account.

In January 2012, Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos sat across a table from us and denied any involvement in violence. Now he and seven other former lawmakers are facing sentences of up to 15 years in jail for leading a violent, criminal organization. Many others await sentencing for membership.

Talking about Golden Dawn, Michaloliakos said to us, “We want Greece to belong to the Greeks … if that makes us racist, then yes we are.

Today’s verdict, along with the massive crowd outside the courtroom, sends the clear message that these hateful ideas, and the violence that Golden Dawn spawned, are not welcome in Greek society anymore.

See also;

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/10/greece-mps-of-golden-dawn-far-right-party-attack-minority-rights-defenders-no-police-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/08/28/documentary-exposing-golden-dawn-racism-awarded-in-sarajevo/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/08/16/knife-attack-targets-migrants-in-crete-greece/

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https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/07/justice-delivered-greece

Vietnam detaines human rights defender Pham Doan Trang just after concluding its annual human rights dialogue with the USA

October 8, 2020

Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]
Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]

On 7 October 2020 al-jazeera reported that Vietnam has detained prominent human rights defender and writer Pham Doan Trang just hours after the conclusion of its annual human rights dialogue with the United States. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/16/rsfs-press-freedom-award-2019-goes-to-three-women-journalists/]

Trang, a 42-year-old former journalist-turned-activist, was arrested at her home in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday night, and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda”, an offence that carries a jail term of long as 20 years, Defending the Defenders said in a statement.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 25 activists as well as 29 land petitioners, bringing the total number of prisoners of conscience to 258, the rights group added. Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, said Vietnam was taking a “scorched-earth response” to political dissent.

Despite suffering years of systemic government harassment, including severe physical attacks, Trang has remained faithful to her principles of peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy,” Robertson said. “Her thoughtful approach to reforms and demands for people’s real participation in their governance are messages the Vietnam government should listen to and respect, not repress.

Trang’s writing covers a wide range of issues including LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and democratic activism. Most of her work is published clandestinely including the best-selling Politics for the Common People, which is akin to a guide for fledgeling activists.

She is also known for her on-the-ground activism, taking part in rallies in support of imprisoned dissidents, the environment and in response to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Trang has been on the radar of the security forces for more than 10 years and has been detained and harassed a number of times, including while she was on her way to a meeting with then-US President Barack Obama in 2016, and, a year later, after she met a European Union delegation on a fact-finding mission ahead of its annual human rights dialogue with Vietnam.

Her latest arrest came only a few hours after Vietnam had wrapped up its annual human rights dialogue with the US. The US State Department said in a statement that the virtual meeting lasted three hours and covered a range of rights issues including “continued progress and bilateral cooperation on the rule of law, freedom of expression and association, religious freedom and labor rights”.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/7/vietnam-arrests-leading-democracy-activist-after-us-rights-talks

https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/scorched-earth-vietnam-arrests-leading-dissident-activist-and-blogger/