Posts Tagged ‘independent journalists’

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

Profile interview with Ahmer Khan, a journalist from J&K with a mission

November 4, 2020

On 18 October 2020 the Week published an interesting interview with Ahmer Khan, an award winning multimedia journalist under the title: “Covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the trauma of J&K, my homeland’’

ahmer-khan Ahmer Khan, multimedia journalist from Kashmir

Ahmer Khan is an award-winning, multimedia journalist from Kashmir. He was nominated for the Emmys 2020 for the Vice News film, India Burning, which focused on the plight of the 200 million Muslims in the country after the rise of Hindu nationalism. Khan is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize by European Commission 2018, AFP Kate Webb Prize 2019, and the Human Rights Press Award 2020. He is also among the finalists for the Rory Peck Award 2020. He has contributed to major international publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, TIME, Al-Jazeera, Radio France International,, The Christian Science Monitor and Vice News, among others. Khan talks to THE WEEK about his career and what it is to be a journalist in Kashmir.

Edited excerpts:

Was it the camera or telling stories through visuals that you were attracted to? 

Well, it was a little bit of both. Kashmir and photography are directly proportional to each other. First, I used to click pictures with a Sony Ericson handset. But I always knew what I was going to do in future. So I studied journalism and worked simultaneously.   

What exactly did your work consist of in ‘India Burning’? 

..I was a local producer of the film and I shot some parts of the film as well. My responsibility was to take care of everything in Assam. From set-up to the execution.

Is there a reason why you work with international media rather than the national media?  

Yes, of course. I have never worked with any Indian organisation purposely. I did not want my stories to get distorted and manipulated the way editors of most of the Indian organisations do. I am grateful that I have found work elsewhere because there is too much saturation and it is hard for stories to get accepted anywhere now.  

How did you establish your name in the industry? 

I think I chose to report outside Kashmir from the beginning. I didn’t restrict myself to Kashmir or even India. I have reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That is something not everyone does.  

Has living amidst the conflict in Kashmir, in any way, affected you as a person and as a journalist?

Our home is a dystopian state. We all have had encounters affecting our lives forever. My father passed away when I was 10 years old. I think every job/assignment in Kashmir is scary. The fear of uncertainty is always there. 

You deal with more humanitarian stories, you are always in the middle of conflict and turbulence, you report on natural disasters and political disruptions. What is it that drives you to this beat? 

It all comes from the basic human tendency of wanting to explore more of what you have grown up seeing. I grew up in the ’90s in Kashmir when the turmoil was at its peak and then I witnessed the uprising from 2008, 2010 and the following years. I, like any other Kashmiri, witnessed young Kashmiris being killed, tortured and extreme human rights violations on the streets. It is too much to handle and process, but when one looks at the other side of the world, we see pain everywhere and start being grateful for what we have. I think for me, covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the daily trauma of my own homeland.  

How is covering stories in Kashmir different from other places in India?

In Kashmir, everything is way too personal. At times, we have to cover the stories while looking at the dead bodies of our own people. It is hard to keep aside your human side. But covering other human rights stories elsewhere and in mainland India, including Assam and Delhi has surely strengthened me more. Although, in Kashmir, it is getting extremely difficult to work freely as days pass. There is a constant fear of being muzzled for telling the truth. And, I think it’s happening across the South Asian countries.

You deal with a lot of life-threatening situations, you have also been harassed by the authorities. How does that make you feel? 

Most people in the media in Kashmir have faced harassment and intimidation by the state. We have recently seen journalists being booked in stringent terror laws. We are living through one of the most dangerous periods of all times for the Kashmiri press to work. It is natural to feel worried. There is a continuous fear of life for all of us. .. 

You identify yourself as a multimedia journalist. How is covering a story through writing, photography and videography different? 

I am quintessentially a photographer and videographer. I started writing because I know the media nowadays is shrinking into one multimedia space. One skill isn’t enough. So the work adds. When you go to cover the story, you have to shoot, take quotes, video interviews and also make sure that you have got all aspects of the story in terms of text, video and photos. It is hard work but satisfactory in many ways. I also do radio stories. In fact, my Lorenzo Natali Media award was for my first radio story for Radio France International. Being a freelance journalist, you have to keep up with the demands of editors as there is a lot of uncertainty. 

What do you have to say about the mainstream journalism that is turning blasphemous? 

What they are doing is not journalism. It is dangerous and authoritarian. If a journalist does not report about the oppressed, undermined or underprivileged, he or she is just doing PR. …

https://www.theweek.in/leisure/society/2020/10/18/covering-other-humanitarian-stories-helped-me-process-the-trauma-of-jandk-my-homeland.html

Burundi elections start with convicting 4 journalists

February 5, 2020

Acquitted journalist Santosh Yadav about his ordeal in India

January 10, 2020

In a blog post by Kunal Majumder, CPJ India Correspondent on 8 January 2020, Indian freelance journalist Santosh Yadav says “I feel like a weight has been lifted’ as Chhattisgarh court ends four-year legal nightmare.

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019. A court on January 2 acquitted Yadav of several charges, ending a four-year legal battle. (CPJ)

Freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, left, with human rights defender Shalini Gera and CPJ India Correspondent Kunal Majumder, during a convention on journalist safety in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in February 2019 (CPJ)

On January 2, 2020 freelance journalist Santosh Yadav got his life back when the National Investigation Agency court in Jagdalpur acquitted him of charges of helping Maoists militants. The ruling marked the end of a legal nightmare that lasted over four years for Yadav, who says that he was threatened and beaten in custody, before being released on bail under restrictive conditions.

Yadav’s ordeal started in September 2015, when police in India’s Chhattisgarh state arrested him on accusations of aiding and abetting Maoist militants. The journalist’s colleagues and his lawyer, who spoke with CPJ at the time, said they believed the arrest was in connection to his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by police.

The journalist, who at the time was a contributor to the Hindi-language newspaper Navbharat in Bastar district, was charged with 28 counts including associating with a terrorist organization, supporting and aiding terrorist groups, taking part in a Maoist-led ambush against security forces, rioting with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, attempt to murder, public mischief and criminal conspiracy. He was held in pre-trial detention for one and a half years. Yadav told CPJ that during that time, police beat him regularly and threatened to have him killed. When he was released on bail, the court imposed several restrictive measures.

The day after the January 2 ruling that exonerated Yadav, the journalist spoke with CPJ about his struggle during the four years since his arrest. Here some excerpts from this interview :

Congratulations. So does this court ruling mean you are a free man?

Yes, all charges have been dropped. The judge said that I’m innocent and have been exonerated of all charges. He added that there is no evidence to prove the police charge that I’m a Maoist.

Prior to your 2015 arrest, had police contacted you about your reporting? Were there any signs or warning that police were unhappy with your journalism?

There were numerous incidents when local police officials would express displeasure over my reporting. I never thought it was anything serious. However, before my arrest, police started picking me up from my home at random hours, once at 3 a.m. They would threaten to arrest me, kill me. They even offered money in exchange for information on Maoists. They would keep me in lock-up the whole day and release me in the evening. I had a feeling that my life was at threat. I informed several journalists and human rights defenders including Malini Subramaniam [one of CPJ’s 2016 International Press Freedom Awardees], Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal that the police might arrest me.

……..
Previously, you told CPJ and other outlets that you were beaten and threatened even inside jail. Could you describe your time in prison?

I was beaten repeatedly, especially when I would go for bathing. I even started a protest fast, which several prisoners supported. The prison guards retaliated by beating us with batons. At that point, I didn’t know if I would live or die. After beating me mercilessly, I was stripped and put in solitary confinement for 11 days. Then they moved to me Kanker jail. [Kanker is 122 miles from Yadav’s hometown of Darbha.] Even there I was beaten up. The prison guards singled me out for my protests in the Jagdalpur jail and targeted me…

……..


Annual reports 2019: Tanzania mostly a bad year

December 31, 2019

And here the last of my selected annual reports of 2019:

..Should the country’s human rights defenders have any New Year resolutions of ensuring some notable rights violations are brought to an end, they must brace to encounter setbacks and frustrations from what is happening on the ground. Concerns on declining press freedom, the ban on political rallies, the push for an arrangement that would ensure a free and fair elections are some of the issues that continued to test the commitment of authorities in ensuring respect for human rights principles…

While it is true that there were many incidents which activists have described as blatant violations of human rights and the rule of law, the most recent is the ‘kidnapping’ of rights activists Tito Magoti and Theodory Faustine. Their earlier absence in the public eyes sent people into a frenzy which forced the police to clarify that it was they who ‘arrested’ the two. Mr Tito Magoti and Mr Theodory Giyan face three counts of leading a criminal gang, possession of a computer programme designed to commit an offence and money laundering. The former is a Public Affairs’ officer with the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) while the latter is associated with a digital solutions company, iPF Softwares. They are both at Segerea Remand prison awaiting their case scheduled on January 7, 2020 for mentioning.

..Journalists and the press, in general, were neither spared from the wreck of 2019 violations of people’s basic freedoms. According to the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), a local press freedom advocacy group, incidents of violations of press freedom, including threats and interference in editorial independence, increased in Tanzania from eight in 2015 to 28 cases in 2019. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/journalist-kabendera-in-tanzania-now-suddenly-held-on-economic-charges/]

..Perhaps the serious blow to the country’s human rights landscape came from the government’s decision to withdraw its declaration it made under Article 34(6) of the Protocol establishing the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) which gives individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) a direct access to the court once the national judicial mechanisms have been exhausted. The decision came soon after the African Union rights body condemned massive human rights violations by authorities, especially reluctance to investigate serious human rights breaches like that of the disappearance of freelance journalist Azory Gwanda. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/06/tanzania-wants-to-withdraw-right-to-complain-to-african-court/]

..Meanwhile, the political parties continued to raise the alarm; that they were operating under stringent conditions in the past three years as the government’s ban on political rallies remained in force. The year 2019 also witnessed the passing of amendments into the Political Parties Act which Tanzania’s political observers described as draconian.

.. Amidst these negative developments, nonetheless, there was also some positive steps taken by the government to try expressing its commitments to issues pertaining to human rights and good governance. This includes the revival of the State human rights and good governance commission. Since the stepping down of the former chairman, renowned lawyer Bahame Tom Nyanduga and his commissioners, the CHRGG remained inactive, making many of its tasks taken over by independent rights organisations which are blaming authorities over alleged failures to uphold the principles of human rights and the rule of law . President John Magufuli finally sworn-in the new CHRGG commission and asked the officials to go and help people whose rights are violated. President Magufuli’s directives to the commission were timely, to say the least, as they came immediately before Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released scathing reports on the human rights situation in Tanzania. Launched on October 28, 2019, the two organisations expressed concerns the state of human rights in Tanzania.

..Other human rights-related concerns in 2019 were the frequent anti-human rights statements made by senior government officials which are often followed by cracking down on individuals and organisations.

Rights activists have also expressed uneasiness with the rhetoric, often coupled with arbitrary arrests and threats to deregister nongovernmental groups, which they think has stifled independent reporting by journalists and public discussion on human rights violations and abuses including in the context of the upcoming elections. “Tanzania should show true commitment to protecting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression and association. The authorities need to put a stop to harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, and opposition members,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

RSF’s Press Freedom Award 2019 goes to three women journalists

September 16, 2019

On 12 September Reporters Without Borders (RSF) awarded its 2019 Press Freedom Prize to Saudi journalist Eman al Nafjan, Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang and Maltese journalist Caroline Muscat, at a ceremony held for the first time in Berlin. The award used to be called the Reporters Without Borders Prize {see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/reporters-without-borders-prize} but is increasingly referred to as Press Freedom Award which could be confusing as there are other awards with that name such as: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-press-freedom-awards-canada and http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-press-freedom-awards-cpj.

The Prize for Courage, which is given to journalists, media or NGOs who demonstrate courage in the practice, defence or promotion of journalism, was awarded to Saudi journalist Eman al Nafjan. The founder of the SaudiWoman.me website and author of many articles in the international media including the Guardian and New York Times, Eman al Nafjan spearheaded the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive and against Saudi Arabia’s oppressive male guardianship system. Arrested along with other women’s rights activists in May 2018, she was freed conditionally on 28 March 2019. According to the Saudi media, she is accused of endangering “national security,” maintaining “suspicious contacts with foreign entities” and of being a “traitor,” for which she could be jailed for up to 20 years.

The Prize for Impact, which is given to journalists whose work has led to concrete improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or to an increase in awareness of these matters, was awarded to Vietnamese journalist and blogger Pham Doan Trang. She is the founder of Luât Khoa, an online magazine that specializes in providing information about legal issues, and she edits another, thevietnamese, which also helps Vietnamese citizens to defend their rights and resist the Communist Party’s arbitrary rule. The author of many books including one defending the rights of Vietnam’s LGBT communities, she has been beaten by the police because of her work and was detained arbitrarily twice for several days in 2018.

The Prize for Independence, awarded to journalists for resisting financial, political, economic or religious pressure, went to Malta’s Caroline Muscat. After fellow Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in October 2017, she helped to create The Shift News, an independent investigative news website committed to combatting corruption and defending press freedom in Malta. In this small island nation where most media outlets are subservient to the government, she has exposed many cases of corruption implicating local politicians. Although the repeated target of gag suits, The Shift News has refused to comply with content take-down demands from Henley & Partners, a British firm that advises governments on residence and citizenship-by-investment policy. She received an award from the European Commission in 2015 for her journalism,

Every year, award-winners are unable to attend because the leaders of their countries prevent them,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “Two of this year’s three laureates have been unable to collect their awards personally,………… These journalists, who should be honoured in their countries, are denied the freedom to travel and often their freedom, period. But their commitment transcends borders without the dictators being able to do anything to prevent it.”

https://rsf.org/en/news/journalists-saudi-arabia-vietnam-and-malta-honoured-rsfs-2019-press-freedom-awards

First “True story award winners” named in Bern

September 2, 2019

The winners of the first-ever True Story Award were announced during a ceremony at the Reportagen Festival in Bern on Saturday 31 August 2019. Three journalists from three countries were given top honours for their exceptional and courageous reporting:

Journalist Aleksandr Burtin was awarded first prize and CHF30,000 for his profile of Chechen human rights activist Oyub Titiyev, who was imprisoned on fabricated charges. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/11/two-welcome-paroles-in-russia-and-zimbabwe-but-justice-is-still-to-be-done/] His report Monitor 1, first published in the Russian-language paper Meduza, was commended for its excellent narrative and the unexpected way it shined a spotlight on a forgotten war.

Second prize went to the American journalist Mark Arax for A Kingdom from Dust – a sweeping, in-depth investigation into the world of agribusiness in California. Arax was recognised for weaving social themes such as climate change, water resources and California history into the narrative.

Chinese journalist Du Qiang received the third spot for The Vagabond Club, capturing the lives of a rebellious group of migrant workers in Shenzhen. Qiang’s report was “the most surprising story of all the entries” according to the jury and was praised for the way it captured an unknown aspect of society.

The winners were chosen from 39 nominees who were selected from more than 900 submissions from 98 countries in 21 languages. All nominees were invited to the Reportagen Festival taking place on August 30-September 1, of which 36 are attending and sharing their stories throughout the weekend. The True Story Award is a global journalism prize. It aims to recognize quality journalism and make reporters’ voices known beyond the borders of their home countries, and in doing so to increase the diversity of perspectives offered in the media. Winners were chosen by an eight-member jury from eight countries that evaluated submissions based on their depth of research, the quality of the journalism and social relevance.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/true-story-award_winners-of-first-global-journalism-prize-named-in-bern/45198318

48 Human Rights groups intervene for detained Nigerian Omoyele Sowore

August 26, 2019

On 23 August 2019 48 NGOs issued an urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and detention of Omoyele Sowore, Nigerian journalist and human rights defender, to the UN and African human rights bodies. Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said: “Index on Censorship urges the Nigerian authorities to release the prominent journalist and campaigner Omoyele Sowore immediately. The arrest and detention are a shocking violation of Mr Sowore’s human rights, which calls into question Nigeria’s willingness and ability to meet international human rights obligations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omoyele Sowore (Photo: Mohamed Nanabhay / Wikipedia)

To the members of the Working Group and the Special Rapporteurs:

We, 48 human rights and press freedom organisations, respectfully request that you consider this urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and arbitrary detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender Omoyele Sowore who was arrested by the authorities following a call for peaceful protest. We request that you urgently intervene to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore and declare his arrest and detention a gross violation of his human rights, including the right not to be arbitrarily detained as protected by Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter); the right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter; the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 19 ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter; the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as protected by Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter; and his rights as a human rights defender as outlined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

Background 

  1. Mr Sowore is a prominent journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. He is the founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency based in New York City that focuses on corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria. Challenging government corruption and speaking truth to power has been the constant thread throughout Mr Sowore’s career, from the leading of student protests in the 1990’s to his recent campaign running for Presidential office in Nigeria.

Omoyele Sowore’s arrest and detention 

  1. Mr Sowore was arrested on 3 August 2019 in his hotel room during a trip to Lagos. Security agents forcefully detained Mr Sowore without informing him of any charges against him and flew him to Abuja, where he is currently being detained at the facility of the headquarters of the Nigerian State Security Service. Mr Sowore has access to food and water, but no access to the outside world: no newspapers, television or phone, and he spends most days in isolation. He was held incommunicado until 6 August, during which time Mr Sowore refused to answer any questions without consulting with his lawyer. He was allowed access to his lawyers only on 7 August, 4 days after his arrest.
  2. Based on Section 35 of the Nigerian Constitution, Mr Sowore should have been arraigned before a court within 48 hours. As of today, Mr Sowore has not been arraigned in any court.
  3. However, on 6 August, 3 days after his arrest, the State Security Service did seek an ex- parte order from the Federal High Court in Abuja to detain Mr Sowore under Section 27(1) of the Terrorism Act 2013, which enables the detention of anyone planning to “commit an act of violence”. The Court’s order of 8 August, made within 48 hours after the State Security Service’s request, granted the authorities permission to detain Mr Sowore for 45 days. Within 24 hours, his legal team, led by Mr Femi Falana, filed a motion to set aside the order and requested Mr Sowore’s immediate release, arguing that his detention was contrary to the Nigerian Constitution. At the time of writing, this request has not been heard by the courts and no date for hearing has been fixed. Importantly: no formal charges have been filed against Mr Sowore.

Mr Sowore’s call for a peaceful #RevolutionNow protest 

  1. The arrest of Mr Sowore appears to be the direct consequence of his call for a peaceful protest scheduled to take place on 5 August 2019, using the hashtag #RevolutionNow.

The objective of the protest was to demand that the Nigerian government end corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all. That the protest Mr Sowore and the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) movement he founded called for was a peaceful one is made clear at the very outset of the call for protest, issued on 27 July, which starts by setting out the “rules of engagement”:

We eschew all forms of violence. No protester should throw any object as little as stones or attack any security officials. We are aware of their intent to provoke the mass unduly by using undue tactics and sponsored agents, so as to give the protest a bad name. We encourage all Nigerians to remain calm as we are ready to fight these injustices to a logical conclusion. 

  1. A week earlier, in an interview with the Arise News channel, Mr Sowore stated that “Nigeria needs revolution, not war,” clearly distinguishing his call for substantial change from a call to violence. Mr Sowore has used the word “revolution” contextually to mean “change for the better” since 2006, when he founded Sahara Reporters. Mr Sowore then stated that he would “revolutionise” the way news is being reported in Nigeria –– something he actually did with the investigative citizen journalism the website publishes.
  2. Despite Mr Sowore’s arrest and detention, the 5 August #RevolutionNow protests took place in Abuja, Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Cross River. Protesters met a police force that dispersed them with teargas and gunshots. Numerous protesters, including several of Sahara Reporters’ journalists, were arrested and charged with illegal assembly.

Request for urgent action 

  1. It is clear that Mr Sowore’s arrest on apparent grounds of suspicion of terrorism is unfounded. Mr Sowore did what he has done throughout his career as a journalist and human rights activist: exercise his right to freedom of expression and seek to bring about change through peaceful means, in this case a peaceful protest. The use of the emotive term “revolution” merely underlines his desire for transformative change in what he considers the shortcomings of the current government. There are strong suspicions that Mr Sowore’s arrest stems from ulterior motives than responding to any supposed criminal wrongdoing. This is further highlighted by the fact that the authorities failed to define a charge against him for the first few days after his arrest; the investigations that were subsequently instigated against him under the Terrorism Act were clearly only created to serve the purpose of silencing Mr Sowore.
  2. As such, the arrest and detention of Mr Sowore amount to a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained as guaranteed under Article 9 ICCPR and Article 6 of the Banjul Charter. The fact that the charges brought against him most likely stem from his call for a peaceful demonstration and his critical stance on the Nigerian government also violates Mr Sowore’s right to free expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter and his right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association under Articles 21 and 22 ICCPR and Articles 10 and 11 of the Banjul Charter. Not properly arraigning Mr Sowore before a competent court within the time limit mandated by the Nigerian Constitution and not allowing him access to a lawyer during the initial days of his detention violates his right to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 ICCPR and Article 7 of the Banjul Charter. The foregoing also constitutes a violation of his rights as a human rights defender as defined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
  3. As a State Party to both treaties, Nigeria is under an obligation to guarantee these rights to all its citizens, as specified under Article 2(1) of the ICCPR and Article 2 of the Banjul Charter. Accordingly, we appeal to the Working Group and UN and AU Special Rapporteurs to:
  • intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore; and
  • declare his arrest and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.

SIGNED BY:
All Workers’ Convergence (AWC) 

Afrika Movement for Freedom and Justice (AMFJ)

Agege Women Agenda (AWA)

ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa

Centre for Constitutional Rights

Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ)

Chidi Odinkalu Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria) & Senior Fellow, Open Society Justice Initiative

Coalition for Revolution (CORE) 

Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) 

Community Women Initiatives (CWI) 

The Concerned Forum 

Congress of Progressive Youths (COPY) 

Democratic Youth League

Edo State Civil Society Organisation (EDOSCO)

Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria 

Freedom of Expression Hub

Gani Fawehinmi Apostles 

Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Organization (gafam.org) 

Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN)

Global Voices Sub-Saharan Africa

Grassroot Justice Centre

Human and Environment Development Agenda (HEDA) 

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-UGANDA)

IAmVocal

Index on Censorship 

Media Legal Defence Initiative

Media Rights Agenda

Moshood Abiola Vanguard for Democracy (MAVD)

Movement For People’s Rights

National Conscience Party (NCP), Lagos State Branch

Nigerians in Diaspora Europe, Belgium-Luxembourg (NIDOE-BeLux)

Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Nigeria Office

Paradigm Initiative

People’s Alternative Front (PAF)

Peoples’ Unite

Rivers State Civil Society Coalition (RIVSCO)

Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) 

Save Lagos Group

Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT) 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

Sovereign Vital Force 

Spaces for Change 

Take-It-Back (TiB) Movement 

Talakawa Parliament

Veteran Group for Operation Clean Crusade (VGOCC) 

Women for Leadership Change

Workbond International Network (WIN)

Youth In Good Governance Initiative (YIGGI) 

International support for the staff of “The Intercept” website in Brasil

August 2, 2019

On 31 July a number of and leading international and Brazilian free speech organizations appealed for support for the staff of The Intercept Brasil, a Rio de Janeiro-based investigative news website that has been the target of a fierce campaign of harassment and intimidation since 9 June. The Intercept Brasil’s revelations about the “Operation Car Wash” corruption case triggered a wave of verbal attacks and threats against the website’s representatives. The most serious recent attacks include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s public threat on 27 July to imprison The Intercept Brasil founder and editor Glenn Greenwald. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/15/edward-snowden-gets-another-human-rights-award-in-berlin/]

The 26 press freedom and human rights organizations and media outlets named below strongly condemn the recent wave of attacks and threats against the investigative news website The Intercept Brasil. We call on the authorities to ensure respect for the constitutionally guaranteed right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

The attacks began on 9 June after The Intercept Brasil published the first of a series of reports revealing apparent irregularities in the “Operation Car Wash” investigation, one of the most important corruption investigations in Brazilian history. To publish these revelations, which are based on documents provided by an anonymous source, The Intercept Brasil partnered with several Brazilian media outlets including the Folha de São Paulo newspaper and Veja magazine.

Since then, the staff of The Intercept Brasil and in particular, its founder Glenn Greenwald, have been subjected – especially on social networks – to countless insults, slurs and death threats accompanied by false information designed to undermine the credibility of its reporting. This harassment is symbolic and symptomatic of the difficulties encountered by all media workers who investigate sensitive stories in Brazil, where the journalists are often the targets of intimidation and persecution campaigns.

Regardless of their provenance, the attempts to undermine and attack the credibility of The Intercept Brasil and its partners are viewed by the signatories of this appeal as a grave threat to the freedom to inform. Not only are they designed to deflect the public’s attention from the content of the revelations but above all, they reinforce an increasingly hostile work environment for the media and especially for investigative journalism.

We remind the authorities that the Brazilian state has a duty to guarantee the protection of journalists and to investigate the serious threats received by the journalists at The Intercept Brasil and its partners.

Freedom of the press and information are pillars of democracy. They transcend political divisions and must be protected and guaranteed at all costs.

Signatories:

Agência Pública de Jornalismo Investigativo

Amnesty International Brazil

Article 19 Brasil

Asociación de la Prensa de Madrid (APM)

Associação Brasileira de Imprensa (ABI)

Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji)

Associação dos Correspondentes Estrangeiros (ACE) de São Paulo

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas (FENAJ)

Federación de las Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE)

Freedom House

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Global Editors Network (GEN)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

Index on Censorship

Instituto Vladimir Herzog

Interamerican Press Association (IAPA/SIP)

International Press Institute

Intervozes

Mediapart

Observatório da Imprensa

PEN International

Reporters sans frontières (RSF)

The Guardian

Witness Brasil