Posts Tagged ‘political intimidation’

Sri Lanka: Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders, and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

July 30, 2020

In a joint statement published on 29 July 2020 entitled “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack” by Human Rights Watch and 9 other major NGOs confirms what many have been fearing since the presidential election of November 2019, [See: defenders-in-sri-lanka-fear-return-to-a-state-of-fear/]:

The United Nations, as well Sri Lanka’s partners and foreign donors, should immediately call for full respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and particularly to halt the reversal of fragile gains in the protection of human rights in recent years.

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Serving and retired military officers have been appointed to a slew of senior government roles previously held by civilians. The authorities have recently  established military-led bodies such as the Presidential Task Force to build “a secure country, disciplined, virtuous and lawful society,” which has the power to issue directives to any government official. This represents an alarming trend towards the militarization of the state. Many of those in government, including the president, defense secretary, and army chief, are accused of war crimes during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.

Dissident voices and critics of the current government, including lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of past abuses, are being targeted by the police, intelligence agencies and pro-government media.

Since the presidential election in November 2019, anti-human rights rhetoric intended to restrict the space for civil society has been amplified by senior members of government. On 6 July 2020, at an election rally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that “NGOs will be taken into a special attention under the new government formed after the General Election, specifically, how foreign monies and grants are received to the NGOs from foreign countries and further, activities of the international organisations will be observed.” The government has also announced a probe into NGOs registered under the previous government.

In the months following the November 2019 presidential election, a number of organizations reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programs and funding, in particular, organizations in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country. Such visits are blatant attempts to harass and intimidate Sri Lankan civil society.

In February, the acting District Secretary in the Mullaitivu District (Northern Province) issued a directive that only non-governmental organizations with at least 70 percent of their activities focused on development would be allowed to work, effectively enabling arbitrary interference with and prevention of a broad range of human rights work. A Jaffna-based think-tank was visited several times, including soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, and questioned about its work, funding and staff details.

Lawyers taking on human rights cases have been targeted through legal and administrative processes and have faced smear campaigns in the media. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a human rights lawyer, was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Jaffna. He appeared as counsel on behalf of victims in the case of 24 Tamil youth who were subjected to enforced disappearance while in military custody at Navatkuli in 1996. In November 2019, Guruparan was banned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) from teaching law while also practicing in court. The ban was following a letter sent by the Sri Lankan army to the UGC questioning why Guruparan was permitted to engage in legal practice while being a member of the faculty. Guruparan resigned from the University on 16 July 2020.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/02/sri-lankan-human-rights-defender-barred-from-legal-practice-appeals-to-supreme-court/

On 14 April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was arrested under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He is being held illegally without charge and without being produced before a magistrate for over 90 days. He has had limited access to his lawyers and family members. The day before his arrest, Hizbullah joined others in submitting a letter addressed to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa criticising the denial of burial rights to the Muslim community under Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 regulations.

Achala Senevirathne, a lawyer who represents families in a case involving the enforced disappearance of 11 youth in 2008, in which senior military commanders are implicated, has been attacked on social media, including with threats of physical violence and sexualized abuse. The police have failed to act on her complaints of threats to her safety.

On 10 June, Swastika Arulingam, a lawyer, was arrested when she inquired about the arrests of people conducting a peaceful Black Lives Matter solidarity protest. Other lawyers, not named here for reasons of security, have also been visited at their homes by security officials, or called in for lengthy interrogations linked to their human rights work.

Journalists and those voicing critical opinions on social media, have been arbitrarily arrested. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression, including the 1 April announcement by the police that any person criticizing officials engaged in the response to Covid-19 would be arrested. It is unclear whether there is any legal basis for such arrests. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has cautioned against “an increasing number of such arrests since the issuing of a letter dated 1 April 2020”.

Media rights groups have condemned the targeting of journalists since the presidential election, with threats of arrest, surveillance, and lengthy police interrogations linked to their reporting. Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a contributor to the New York Times, her family, and associates, have been persecuted by Sri Lankan police in retaliation for her work. Since December 2019, authorities have attempted to link Bastians to the disputed abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee in Colombo. The government claims the alleged abduction was fabricated to discredit the government. Since Bastians had reported on the incident as a journalist, the police have obtained and published her phone records, searched her house, and seized her laptop computer.

On 9 April, a social media commentator Ramzy Razeek was arrested under Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act and the Computer Crimes Act. He approached the Sri Lankan police for protection following online death threats linked to his social media posts condemning all forms of extremism. Instead of receiving protection, he was jailed and denied bail. His hearing has been postponed, despite his failing health and the heightened risk posed by the pandemic in prisons.

The targeting and repression of journalists and human rights defenders is not only an assault on the rights of these individuals, but an attack on the principles of human rights and the rule of law which should protect all Sri Lankans. These policies have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are crucial for the operation of civil society and fundamental to the advancement of human rights. Those working on ending impunity and ensuring accountability for past crimes, and especially victims, victim’s families, members of minority communities, and networks in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment.

The Sri Lankan authorities must end all forms of harassment, threats, and abuse of legal processes and police powers against lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Ramzy Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah must be released immediately. Human rights defenders living and working in Sri Lanka should be able to carry out their peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, which requires a safe and enabling environment in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deny Sri Lankans the ability to promote and defend human rights, particularly targeting members of civil society, we call upon the international community, including states and the United Nations, to demand that Sri Lanka live up to its international human rights obligations.

Sri Lankan human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists need to be protected now.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2020/07/Final%20-%20Joint%20Statement%20on%20Sri%20Lanka%2029%20July.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sri-lanka-human-rights-under-attack

Urgent: award-winning cartoonist Zunar under threat in Malaysia needs support

May 19, 2016

On 3 May 2016 Malaysian cartoonist Zunar was one of the winners of the international Cartooning for Peace Prize [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/cartoonists-gado-kenya-and-zunar-malaysia-get-2016-cartooning-for-peace-prize/].
Back home the backlash has started and he has asked for support:
– Malaysian ministers threaten him anew;
– a government-backed NGO is going to protest at Kofi Annan’s office.
The award was presented by ex-UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the winners were given a chance to exhibit their artworks at Lac Léman in Geneva. Zunar’s cartoons covers issues such as corruption, freedom of expression, conspiracy against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and the new National Security law.
In reaction Deputy-Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi hinted that the police may take action on him. Ahmad Zahid added that he hopes that Zunar will repent and find other ways to express himself. “I think in this regard, I am seeking Allah to open his (Zunar) heart so that he quickly repents and uses other approaches to express opposing opinions,” he said ( http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/05/14/zahid-hopes-zunar-repents-criticise-but-dont-insult/ )

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Zimbabwe court orders another human rights defender (Beatrice Mtetwa) to be released

March 26, 2013

Having reported on 9 March 2013 on the case of Mukoko, who was arrested and ‘released’ a few days later (although the case against her remains pending), there is now the case of another well-known woman lawyer who was arrested and released after 8 days: As AP reports from Harare on 25 March:  “Zimbabwe’s High Court on Monday freed on bail a top rights lawyer who had been held for eight days on allegations of obstructing the course of justice…. She told reporters outside the courthouse that her arrest was a ploy to intimidate human rights defenders ahead of elections scheduled around July. “It is a personal attack on all human rights lawyers but I was just made the first example.Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested on March 17 along with four officials from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party. ….Mtetwa was accused of shouting at police officers who were conducting a search at Tsvangirai’s staff offices when she demanded to see a search warrant.Mtetwa and the four officials deny any wrongdoing. High Court Judge Joseph Musakwa ruled early Monday that Mtetwa was following professional legal procedures when she demanded to see a search warrant from police at the offices of the four officials.”She was entitled to be appraised of the legality of the search,” Musakwa said. Critics have cited the arrests as the start of a fresh wave of political intimidation against opponents of President Robert Mugabe by loyalist police and judicial officials ahead of elections.

Last week police ignored an earlier High Court order to free Mtetwa and on Wednesday the lower Harare magistrates court ordered her held in custody to reappear in that court on April 3. Charges of obstructing justice carry a maximum of two years imprisonment. Mtetwa said she was not well-treated while in police custody. She wasnt allowed to take a bath and was denied access to her lawyers and family. But she said she will not give up the fight for human rights. The judge said Mtetwa should not have been denied bail because of her “professional standing.”

Mtetwa is a recipient of awards from international jurists groups including the American Bar Association … state media controlled by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has criticized Judge Charles Hungwe, who issued the first order for Mtetwa’s release. It said his actions pointed to the need for some judges to come under closer scrutiny over their rulings, and accused him of inefficiency and negligence in hearing other cases.  Mugabe’s party claimed Hungwe illegally made the first ruling not in a court but at his private home during the night after her arrest without giving police the right to state their case against freeing her. The Sunday Mail newspaper criticized lawyers who thought themselves “untouchable” and said Mtetwas “stage-managed antics in and outside the courts” earned her “dubious awards” from African and international lawyers groups.

via Zimbabwe court orders rights lawyer to be released – Yahoo! News.