Posts Tagged ‘journalists’

Canada puts its money where its mouth is: ‘human rights defenders’ to be fast tracked as refugees

July 19, 2021

On 16 July 2021 Reuters reported that Canada is establishing a dedicated refugee stream for “human rights defenders,” including journalists, who may need to seek asylum to escape persecution in their country,

The stream – the first of its kind in the world, according to the UN refugee agency – will accommodate 250 people a year, plus their families, and focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, journalists and LGBTQ2 rights advocates.

We must not overlook those who bear witness to these human tragedies, who are active through demonstration and reporting so the rest of us can be informed. But in doing so they risk persecution, arrest, torture and even death,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said on Friday in a virtual news conference from Toronto.

One example a spokesperson gave of a person eligible under this program is an activist against the regime in Belarus who had fled to Poland but needed permanent refuge.

Canada aims to resettle 36,000 refugees this year, almost four times its total of 9,200 resettled in 2020. But by the end of April, only 1,630 resettled refugees had arrived in Canada, according to government figures.

https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/28355/feds-announce-dedicated-refugee-stream-for-human-rights-defenders

https://www.reuters.com/article/canada-refugees/canada-to-welcome-human-rights-defenders-including-journalists-as-refugees-idUSL1N2OS12Q

International abductions are becoming ‘mainstream’ human rights defenders find

July 15, 2021

Shawn Utley reports in the Madison Leader Gazette of July 14, 2021 on a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad.

A newly released Justice Department indictment charging four Iranian intelligence operatives with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist who had criticized the Iranian regime, dramatically underscores how transnational abductions are becoming the new “normal” for repressive regimes around the world, two human rights activists said Wednesday.

“It’s a horrific attempt to silence dissent,” Saudi activist Lina Alhathloul said during a Freedom House “webinar” about the alleged Iranian plot to lure Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad to a third country so she could be forcibly rendered to Iran.

Her sister, prominent women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, was abducted in Dubai in 2018 and flown to Saudi Arabia, where she was thrown in prison and tortured under the direction of a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, according to U.S. officials and the accounts from the Alhathloul family.

This is very much a moment when we see this phenomenon is becoming mainstream,” added Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House, “It’s becoming something that dozens of governments around the world use to control exiles and diaspora members. Countries do it because they can get away with it and because the consequences are not there.”

The comments came during a Freedom House-sponsored panel dedicated to the growing threat of the transnational repression trend, as detailed in a recent report and video from the group, and to the new season of Yahoo News “Conspiracy land” an eight-episode podcast that uncovered new details about the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

As was noted in the panel discussion, there are striking parallels between the Saudi plot to assassinate Khashoggi and the alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Alinejad. Both targeted journalists who, after criticizing their governments, had moved to the United States to live in exile. Khashoggi had excoriated the harsh crackdowns by MBS, including the detention of Loujain Alhathloul. Alinejad had criticized the corruption and repressive measures of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images)
Jamal Khashoggi. (Getty Images)

Both plots involved extensive surveillance on U.S. soil. In Khashoggi’s case, Saudi operatives recruited spies inside Twitter to steal personal data about regime critics and later used sophisticated spyware to hack the phones of one of those critics who was in extensive contact with the Saudi journalist. In Alinejad’s case, Iranian intelligence operatives used private investigators to follow, photograph and video-record the Iranian-American journalist and members of her family in Brooklyn, according to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who on Tuesday brought the indictment against the Iranian operatives, all of whom reside in Iran..

https://wmleader.com/general-other/103482/iranian-kidnapping-plot-shows-that-transnational-abductions-are-becoming-mainstream-human-rights-activists-say/

https://freedomhouse.org/article/iran-plot-kidnap-american-writer-highlights-threat-transnational-repression

Three Democratic Voice of Burma journalists and two activists risk refoulement by Thailand

May 11, 2021

The DVB made on 10 May 2021 the following emergency statement :

Three senior DVB’s journalists and two activists, who escaped to Thailand after the
military crackdown in Burma, were arrested by the police on Sunday, May 9th in
Chiang Mai, Thailand. They were arrested during a random search by the police
and charged for illegal entry into Thailand.
DVB strongly urges the Thai authorities to not deport them back to Burma, as their
life will be in serious danger if they were to return. They have been covering the
demonstrations in Burma until March 8 – the day the military authority revoked
DVB’s TV license and banned DVB from doing any kind of media work.
We also appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok
to intervene to help guard their safety. We request the international community to
help call the Thai authorities to waive their deportation.
Thank you in name of all DVB journalists,
Aye Chan Naing, Executive director and chief editor DVB

See also: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/myanmar-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalist-jailed/

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00174/thailand-prevent-pushbacks-establish-protection-mechanisms-for-refugees-fleeing-myanmar.htm

Journalists and HRDs pay the price of authoritarian impunity

May 6, 2021

Regan Ralph on 2 May 2021, in Open Democracy, writes: “When authoritarians get a free pass, activists pay the price”. It is a rich piece.

Much ink has been spilled about US president Joe Biden’s non-response to the confirmation by US intelligence services that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. Most of it, like Joseph S. Nye, Jr.’s recent article ‘Biden and Human Rights’, focuses on the political consequences.

The real price of authoritarian impunity, however, is paid by the victims. Pulled punches – like refusing to sanction the crown prince – endanger the lives of brave individuals standing up for democratic values. If the Biden administration is to deliver on its promise to “stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, [and] the rule of law”, it must make protecting the lives of activists a priority.

In 2020, 50 journalists were killed worldwide. For activists and advocates, the numbers are even grimmer – at least 331 human rights defenders in 25 countries were murdered. Countless others were detained, beaten, and threatened with worse. Women, especially, are singled out for sexualized violence and harassment. And the number of human rights activists killed, harassed, or thrown in jail is steadily rising. According to UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, 1,300 peaceful activists were murdered between 2015 and 2019.

Like journalists, frontline activists are targeted by the powerful institutions they publicly criticize. Last month marked five years since the murder of Honduran environmental justice advocate Berta Caceres. She was gunned down in her home on the night of 2 March 2016, after a years-long campaign of harassment and intimidation. Caceres was killed because of her peaceful struggle against the Agua Zarca dam project, which threatens the land and livelihoods of indigenous Lenca communities in western Honduras. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/]

Investigations into Caceres’s murder indicated an elaborate web of co-conspirators, including high-level government officials, former military personnel, and top executives at Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA)—the company building the dam. Seven men, hired by DESA executives, were convicted in 2018 for Caceres’s murder. DESA’s president, a former military intelligence officer, will stand trial next month. He is indicted as the “intellectual author” of the assassination.

These brutal murders are tragedies. They also reveal the costs incurred when we indulge authoritarians as they crack down on voices of dissent.

Not long ago, it seemed that the price of oppression was on the rise. There was a growing consensus that brutal, autocratic actions would isolate a country from the international community. Powerful actors on the world stage, including the US State Department, could and did support the right of independent voices to criticize abuses of power and call for accountability.

Then the new authoritarians came to power. In countries across the world, illiberal and autocratic strongmen granted each other the gift of impunity and permission to silence critics without consequence. Human rights advocates watched with grim resignation as former president Donald Trump’s administration excused gross rights violations and embraced abusive regimes.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day

The now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), for example, was established in 2006 with political and financial support from the United States and the United Nations. It scored groundbreaking victories against corrupt and abusive political and military figures. In 2015, Joe Biden, then US vice-president, helped keep the CICIG alive while the then Guatemalan president Perez Molina – later imprisoned on corruption charges – tried to shut it down. But in 2019, when the Guatemalan government dismantled the CICIG, there was nary a peep from Washington.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day. As the Trump administration turned a blind eye, the Egyptian government cracked down on critics, harassing or jailing thousands of activists and journalists. Local advocates say President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been emboldened by the lack of consequences over his government’s flagrant disregard for human rights.

Civil society activists are vulnerable wherever they live and travel. Khashoggi’s murder shows the lengths to which an unchecked authoritarian will go to silence critics. This is what happens when heavyweight governments like the United States abdicate their moral leadership—frontline advocates everywhere in the world pay the price. It is unfathomably cruel to valorize the bravery of human rights advocates on the one hand and refuse to hold their murderers accountable on the other.

US leadership should offer the kind of moral suasion that will effectively counter and curtail attacks on human rights defenders. Others, including Khashoggi’s own colleagues at The Washington Post, have outlined the immediate actions Biden can take to hold Saudi Arabia’s crown prince accountable. But beyond sanctions for egregious violations, the Biden administration must do more to proactively support the thousands of courageous individuals who risk their lives to promote democracy and justice.

First, the administration should consistently apply the human rights norms it espouses—at home and abroad. Second, it must lend political and, where appropriate, financial support to those building democratic movements and institutions, especially when their efforts are attacked. Last, it should explore the creation of a novel global security compact, following the collective protection model pioneered by local activists. The safety of human rights defenders anywhere is the concern of governments everywhere, and policymakers must take measures to ensure that all civil society actors can carry out their vital work in safety.

The schoolyard teaches us that bullies don’t back down when they get what they want; instead, they demand more. It’s time to stand up to autocratic bullies and hold them accountable for their actions. The lives of countless brave activists may depend on it.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/when-authoritarians-get-free-pass-activists-pay-price/

Shelter City Netherlands: Call for Applications for September 2021

April 29, 2021

Justice and Peace Netherlands is launching a new call for applications for at risk human rights defenders to participate in Shelter City. The deadline for applications is 14 May 2021 at 23:59 CEST (Central European Time). Please be aware that special conditions apply because of the COVID-19 situation (see conditions below).

Shelter City provides temporary safe and inspiring spaces for human rights defenders at risk where they re-energise, receive tailor-made support and engage with allies. The term human rights defender is intended to refer to the broad range of activists, journalists and independent media professionals, scholars, writers, artists, lawyers, civil and political rights defenders, civil society members, and others working to advance human rights and democracy around the world in a peaceful manner.

From September 2021 onwards, several cities in the Netherlands will receive human rights defenders for a period of three months. At the end of their stay in the Netherlands, participants are expected to return with new tools and energy to carry out their work at home.

Journalists’ Safe Haven Initiative

Justice and Peace aims to promote the safety of journalists, and in particular women journalists, worldwide so that they can build new strategies and continue their important work for freedom of expression in their country of origin. With the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Peace will be able to provide two additional temporary safe spaces per year in The Hague for journalists at risk and provide them with tailor-made support.

Shelter City and COVID-19

Please note that the current situation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) may pose certain challenges to the stay of human rights defenders in the Netherlands in 2021. These challenges can include:

  • Limitations and/or changes in the programme that we can offer human rights defenders during their stay in the Netherlands;
  • New measures and restrictions (including a lockdown) taken by the Dutch government;
  • Cancellation of flights to/from the Netherlands;
  • Postponement of return to the home country after 3 months because of travel restrictions;
  • Participants might be requested to self-quarantine for 5-10 days upon arrival in the Netherlands (the Shelter City programme will be adapted accordingly) and to take other preventive measures due to COVID-19 (including a COVID-19 test before travelling to the Netherlands).

Please consider these potential challenges carefully before applying to the programme.

Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:

In order to be eligible to the Shelter City programme, applicants must meet the following conditions:

  1. They implement a non-violent approach in their work;
  2. They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work;
  3. They can be relocated for a maximum period of 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
  4. They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
  5. They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows;
  6. They have a conversational level* of English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
  7. They are willing and able to come to The Netherlands without the accompaniment of family members;
  8. They have a valid passport (with no less than six months of validity) or be willing to carry out the procedures for its issuance. Justice and Peace covers the costs of issuing a passport and/or visa (if applicable);
  9. They are not subjected to any measure or judicial prohibition to leaving the country;
  10. They are willing to begin their stay in The Netherlands around September 2021.

Note that additional factors will be taken into consideration in the final round of selection, such as the added value of a stay in the Netherlands as well as gender, geographic, and thematic balance. Please note that we can only accept human rights defenders currently residing in a third country under exceptional circumstances.

To apply or submit the application of a human rights defender, please fill in the form by clicking ‘Apply Now’ below. Application forms must be completed by 14 May 2021, at 23:59 CEST (Central European Summer Time). An independent commission will select the participants.

Note that the selected human rights defenders will not automatically participate in Shelter City as Justice and Peace is not in control of issuing the required visas to enter the Netherlands.

For last year’s call see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/24/new-call-for-applications-for-human-rights-defenders-at-risk-to-participate-in-shelter-city-netherlands/

Apply now for Shelter City 2021

For more information, please contact us at sheltercity[at]justiceandpeace.nl.

World Press Freedom Index 2021 is out

April 24, 2021

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation.

This year’s Index, which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that journalism, which is arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation, is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent 73% of the countries evaluated. These countries are classified as having “very bad,” “bad” or “problematic” environments for press freedom, and are identified accordingly in black, red or orange on the World Press Freedom map. To compare with last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

The Index data reflect a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. Will this access be restored when the pandemic is over? The data shows that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The 2021 Edelman Trust barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false. In reality, journalistic pluralism and rigorous reporting serve to combat disinformation and “infodemics”, including false and misleading information.

Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring  that  public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

For example, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil (down 4 at 111th) and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (down 1 at 148th) promoted medically unproven Covid-19 remedies. Their false claims were debunked by investigative journalists at media outlets such as Brazil’s Agência Pública and in-depth reporting by Venezuela’s few remaining independent publications. In Iran (down 1 at 174th), the authorities tightened their control over news coverage and stepped up trials of journalists in order to weaken the media’s ability to scrutinise the country’s Covid-19 death toll. In Egypt (166th), President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government simply banned the publication of any pandemic statistics that didn’t come from the Ministry of Health. In Zimbabwe (down 4 at 130th), the investigative reporter Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested shortly after helping to expose the overbilling practices of a medical equipment supply company.

Biggest movements in the Index

Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year. The 2021 Index demonstrates the success of these Nordic nations’ approach towards upholding press freedom.

The World Press Freedom map has not had so few countries coloured white – indicating a country situation that is at least good if not optimal – since 2013, when the current evaluation method was adopted. This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries (8%) last year. The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers  during protests against pandemic restriction….The country that fell the furthest in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 at 119th), where the problems include a recent “anti-fake news” decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth. Big descents were also registered by Comoros (down 9 at 84th) and El Salvador (down 8 at 82nd), where journalists have struggled to obtain state-held information about the government’s handling of the pandemic.

https://rsf.org/en/2021-world-press-freedom-index-journalism-vaccine-against-disinformation-blocked-more-130-countries

A new tool to champion human rights defenders

March 2, 2021

Pip Cook published on 2 March 2021 a piece in Geneva Solutions which is hard to ignore for me in view of my own participation in it: the Digest: “A new tool to champion human rights defenders“. [see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/]

From left to right: Neri Colmenares, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Juwairiya Mohideen, Nemonte Nenquimo and Intisar Al-Amyal. (True Heroes Films)

A new online tool has been launched to champion human rights defenders and bring greater recognition to their work. Launched this month by True Heroes Films, a Geneva-based media organisation which uses digital storytelling to raise the profile of human rights defenders around the world, the Digest of Human Rights Awards includes over 2,800 winners of 220 prestigious awards.

The Digest, while raising awareness about the work of human rights defenders, also  aims to serve as a useful tool for both the media and the human rights world to go beyond the often fleeting publicity that surrounds award ceremonies and ensure their work is not forgotten.

Hans Thoolen, co-founder of True Heroes and the Martin Ennals Award, told Geneva Solutions that the idea for the digest came out of a research project he undertook in 2013 into the value of human rights awards.

Awards help bring greater recognition to a cause, boosting an individual’s profile and granting them greater protection, be it through prize money or the support of NGOs. However, many awards remain relatively unheard of and receive very little publicity, which Thoolen said is “absolutely crucial” to their value.

Journalists are incorporated into the broad human rights movement. Without publicity, human rights defenders would be working mostly for nothing,” said Thoolen. “They need public attention for their cause and what they are trying to change. Without it, nobody would know what they are doing.

In fact, the Digest reveals journalists make up the largest professional group of award recipients, with more than 400 laureates from the media. The database also provides images of the laureates and biographies of their life and work, as well as details of the awards themselves.

Human rights awards generally try to achieve three main objectives,” explained Thoolen. “One is recognition at a psychological level, which should not be underestimated. Many human rights defenders are not very popular in their own society, sometimes not even within their own family, so when they get recognition that can be a very important boost to their mental health.

The value of awards also lies in “concrete support”, be it in the form of prize money or training opportunities, or the chance to connect with others working in the same field. They also provide protection for the laureates, which is another reason publicity is essential – to make it known that the world is watching. Although this publicity can bring with it some risks, Thoolen explains that his long career working in the human rights world has shown him that these are outweighed by the benefits.

The feedback we get from lawyers is always the same: the [human rights defenders] have already taken enormous risks by going public. They are not afraid, and clearly the publicity helps them.

Showcasing the work of thousands of people from all different backgrounds, championing everything from women’s rights to freedom of speech, Thoolen also hopes the Digest will serve as a “hall of fame” for role models to inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Most people get into human rights work when they’re hit by something, but usually it’s not by reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Thoolen. “What inspires people is seeing and hearing a person: a human rights defender. They are the entry point into the much broader human rights movement.

The piece then gives some recent winners of prestigious human rights awards featured in the Digest:

Abdul Aziz Muhamat – Martin Ennals Award, 2019. 

Juwairiya Mohideen – The Front Line Defenders Award, 2020. 

Nemonte Nenquimo – Goldman Environment Award, 2020.

Mohammad Mosaed – International Press Freedom Awards and Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech, 2020. . 

Rugiati Turay – Theodor Haecker Prize, 2020. 

Intisar Al-Amyal – Per Anger Prize, 2020. 

Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Turkmen President – On YouTube

February 23, 2021

Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)
Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)

On 19 February 2021 RFE/RL reported that 71-year-old Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Central Asian nation’s authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, criticizing him and his government in a video posted on YouTube for failing to provide proper heating and water supply to Ashgabat residents during winter.

In the video statement that appeared on YouTube late on February 18, Achilova, who has previously worked as a reporter for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, said she will no longer call Berdymukhammedov “respected” because “millions of Turkmen had stopped respecting you long ago.”

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Such an act of public dissent is a rare occurrence in Turkmenistan, where Berdymukhammedov has run the former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 2006, becoming the center of an elaborate personality cult

Last month, Achilova was named as one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders for her reports from Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world. SEE ALSO: Turkmen Journalist Achilova Among Finalists For Top Human Rights Prize [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/%e2%80%8b%e2%80%8bmartin-ennals-award-finalists-2021-announced/]. See also: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/soltan-achilova/#film

Achilova also criticized Berdymukhammedov and his government for what she called a “failure to provide” ordinary people with decent food at acceptable prices, adding that “miserable pensions and salaries in the country” do not provide people with the means to shop for regular items at local markets. Achilova added that the heating system in her apartment had been switched off several times in recent days, which she called an intentional warning over her journalistic activities.

Our fellow Turkmen citizens working in foreign countries have staged several protests recently demanding your resignation. We join those protests and demand your resignation as well because you are incapable of carrying out your duties. We are suffering and you do not even care about it. All you are capable of is ruining our homes and causing our people to suffer,” Achilova said.

Based in Ashgabat, Achilova is currently a contributor to the Vienna-based independent news website Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan), which focuses on news and developments in Turkmenistan.
Turkmen authorities, who don’t tolerate an independent press, have targeted Achilova in the past for her work as a journalist. SEE ALSO: RFE/RL Correspondent Roughed Up — Again — In Turkmenistan

https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-journalist-achilova-rare-public-rebuke-president-berdymukhammedov/31111278.html

https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/23482-turkmenistan-journalist-posts-rare-public-rebuke-of-president-on-youtube

The Guardian starts new series ‘Rights and freedom’

February 23, 2021
Humanity United

On Monday 22 February 2021 the Guardian announced that it will be reporting on human rights worldwide, elevating the voices of those working on the frontline to protect rights and freedom.

A year on from the start of the world’s biggest health crisis, we now face a human rights pandemic. Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities and fragilities of health and political systems and allowed authoritarian regimes to impose drastic curbs on rights and freedoms, using the virus as a pretext for restricting free speech and stifling dissent.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, attacks on journalists, and a roll out of invasive tracking apps and extreme surveillance measures that are likely to far outlast the virus. Over the coming years, the economic fallout of the pandemic will hit millions. Those already facing stigma and marginalisation will suffer the most: women, girls, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous communities.

Human rights crises in countries including Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and South Sudan threaten lives, health and freedoms. Yet the pandemic has also seen a growing global momentum of resistance, a fight back to protect hard-won rights. Journalism has always been a crucial tool in holding those in power to account and highlighting the drivers and systems that violate the fundamental rights of every human being, as enshrined in law. With over 200 laureates, journalists are the single biggest professional group among the winners of human rights awards [see: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates]

At this critical moment, there is an urgent need to focus attention on those who are suffering and what can be done to help them. Rights and Freedom is a new Guardian reporting series to investigate and expose human rights abuses, and elevate the voices of people working on the frontline, fighting back for themselves and their communities.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-violations-against-journalists/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/18/journalists-on-the-ground-are-often-the-real-heroes/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/rights-and-freedom-welcome-to-our-series

Journalists on the ground are often the real heroes

February 18, 2021

Janine di Giovanni, Senior Fellow at Yale University, wrote on 9 February 2021 in iwpr.net/ a piece “The real heroes are the journalists on the ground, fighting to bring truth to light”

Based on her many years of reporting in North Africa and the Middle East and observing revolution after revolution she published the book: The Morning They Came for Us. Here she looks back on the Arab spring and the current situation. Journalists are indeed among the most targeted as also shown by the Digest for Human Rights Laureates recently launched by THF: there are some 450 journalists and media workers among the laureates [see:https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates].

Spotlight

Back in 2011, it was a revelation to see thousands of people marching for freedom. Each demonstration, each revolution was different but there were common themes. The main rallying cry from the crowds in Tahrir Square or Ben Ghazi or Homs or Aleppo or Tunis was always the same: we want our freedom.

It was exhilarating. Crowds were rising up against decades of dictatorships, of corruption, voicing their frustration at the lack of opportunity. What they wanted was the right to speak and write and live in accordance with their personal liberties. 

As someone who grew up first in North America, later in the UK and France, freedom of speech was a tenet of human rights I took for granted. Not so for my colleagues in Tunis who had to work underground with white-hat hackers like Anonymous to overthrow Ben Ali’s ministry of information and get their messages out. Not so for my Syrian colleagues in Aleppo or Damascus who risked everything to plead for freedom, and if they were caught, were thrown into prison and tortured or killed. Or my Egyptian friends who were tortured in prison and stripped of all rights. 

What the authorities want to say is, “It’s dangerous to speak out”. The number of the missing in Syria, the number of imprisoned in Egypt is enormous: many of them are our comrades and colleagues who tried to express and explain what was happening. These activists and journalists are what their repressive governments say is a threat to “national security”. 

Ten years on, what have we learned? Egypt under General Sisi remains even more repressed and dangerous for journalists than ever. The proportions of journalists attacked in 2020 as opposed to ten years ago is shocking:  according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 27 journalists are imprisoned, two murdered and one missing. 

This includes Aamar Abdelmonem, a freelancer, imprisoned in December 2020 on false charges, denied medication in prison (he is diabetic) and his eyeglasses. When I read about the cases of my colleagues who are incarcerated for simply telling the truth, I realize how lucky I am to live in a society where I can write what I choose. 

Always, when I think of press freedom I think of my colleague Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by henchmen under the order of Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Jamal’s work is not over – it lives on in the spirit of every reporter working to bring truth to light. They are not only journalists but also lawyers, human rights defenders, members of civil society. You might not hear about them – because they are working quietly but with great precision and care. They are my heroes.

As an international journalist, I am forever grateful to the journalists working under the radar in these countries – the ones who risked arrest to meet with me or speak with me or share their experiences or notes, the ones who came to my hotel in Cairo, risking everything, the ones who met me in Damascus cafes under the eyes of the mukhabarat, then saw the security guards and had to flee. The ones on the ground working when the international press cannot. 

They are our heroes, our inspiration and above all, our colleagues. We must not forget them – and we must do everything in our power to protect them. Part of the reason I am proud to be a part of the IWPR international board is to spread the word of the excellent work that is done on the ground by my colleagues. In the words of the former assistant secretary general for human rights at the United Nations, Andrew Gilmour, we are living in times when the pushback to human rights has never been greater. Which means those of us who can raise our voices louder to protect our friends on the ground must do so, with conviction and passion.

Janine di Giovanni is a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, IWPR international board member and the author of nine books. In 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave her their highest prize for non-fiction for her lifetime body of work, which largely focuses on human rights.

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/why-local-voices-matter