Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.

Russia’s “foreign agents” bill goes in overdrive

November 19, 2019

Prominent Russian human rights defender Sergei Sharov-Delone dies at 63

November 10, 2019

Sergei Sharov-Delone
Sergei Sharov-Delone
RFE/RL’s Russian Service reported on 8 November 2019 that one of Russia’s most prominent human rights defenders, Sergei Sharov-Delone, has died at the age of 63. Sharov-Delone’s son, Aleksandr Sharov, and the chairwoman of the Russia Behind Bars rights organization, Olga Romanova, said that Sharov-Delone had died late in the night on November 7 after suffering from cancer. Sharov-Delone was a member of the May 6 Committee that investigated police brutality against protesters during demonstrations in Moscow in May 2012 ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a third term as president.

He actively assisted imprisoned activists via the Russian Behind Bars group and coordinated operations of the Moscow-based Public Defenders’ School. Sharov-Delone was a cousin of Soviet-era dissident Vadim Delone — one of seven Soviet dissidents who openly protested on Moscow’s Red Square against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

In 2017, RFE/RL released a documentary about Sharov-Delone’s life and activities entitled Defender.

https://www.rferl.org/a/sergei-sharov-delone-/30260023.html

https://www.bignewsnetwork.com/news/263008507/prominent-russian-rights-defender-sergei-sharov-delone-dies-at-63

Russian human rights defenders try technology and gaming innovations

September 13, 2019

Tatiana Tolsteneva has written in Global Rights of 12 September, 2019 a very interesting piece about wether technology and gaming innovations can bring new life to Russian NGOs and appeal to younger audiences. Tatiana Tolsteneva has 10 years of managing experience in the Russian non-profit sector, with a focus on human rights defenders initiatives. She has a Master’s degree in Law from Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod (UNN) and is finalizing her Master’s Degree in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics. It is long read but contains some fascinating insights:

While there is significant debate over foreign funding issues and closing civic space in Russia, a key problem of the Russian non-profit sector is its “catch-up” form of development. Due to limited resources, this sector develops much more slowly than media or information technologies, for example. In Team 29, an informal association of lawyers and journalists, we are trying to change this, primarily by introducing new media technologies in the non-profit sector.

Lawyers of Team 29 are known not only for taking up cases considered hopeless in which the state accuses people of crimes against national security, but also for seeking so-called “justice in Russian.” That is, fighting for a sentence below the lower limit established by the Criminal Code or for a pardon by the president. In a country in which acquittals account for only 0.02% of total cases, this is considered a success.

In addition, our journalists have developed a niche media resource covering a wide range of issues regarding the relationships of citizens and the Russian government. The Team advises citizens on what actions to take if subjected to searches or questioning, how to find information in governmental databases, and how to protect one’s private data. Through this work, Team 29 is changing the concept of what a human rights activist in Russia can be, and we seek to explain the complexities of this work. The main problem of human rights defenders in Russia for a long time was separation from “ordinary people”. The positioning, language, and public image of human rights defenders were such that average citizens did not understand what human rights workers were doing and how it related to them. Team 29 was one of the first human rights organizations to adopt modern explanatory journalism techniques to strengthen communication with its target audience. In other words, we started to translate from “legal” to “human” language, and to make our materials more engaging to win the online struggle for reader attention.

The positioning, language, and public image of human rights defenders were such that average citizens did not understand what human rights workers were doing and how it related to them. 

In 2015, we joined our legal skills with explanatory journalism technologies in order to develop what are now called “legal handouts”. These are texts providing legal advice, in plain language, mostly on how to deal with unexpected clashes with Russian law enforcement. For example, the handouts explain a person’s rights and how citizens can protect themselves from mistakes often related to lack of knowledge. Each handout has had an average of 100,000 views, and work on these handouts resulted in the subsequent creation of Team 29’s online mini-media resource. Its average monthly attendance amounts to at least 50,000 unique visitors.

The problem in these developments was that the major audience of Team 29’s media projects was people between 25-44 years old, while it is the Y generation—people younger than 25—that has been a driving force of socio-political processes in Russia. For example, this younger age category of Russian citizens has been the one most actively involved in the public mass protests of recent years.

We made it a goal to reach out to that audience with mobile games, which have a huge audience in that demographic and can be played offline. In fact, pro-social games—games with grounded social impact—are an advanced tool in media and non-profit fields abroad. But until now, there have been no such games in Russia.

To develop this new game in Russia, we had to decide what software could be developed with limited resources. We chose “text quests” since they are the least expensive for production and easy in their mechanics. Text quests are a type of game in which interaction with the player is through textual information. The plot of the quest is not rigidly fixed and can change depending on the actions of the player. An important aspect of a text quest is story-telling; we tried to make the plot of our quest fascinating for the player, based on real events, and causing empathy for the main character.

Gebnya is a mobile text quest game that tells users how to communicate with the police and security services in Russia.

The result is Gebnya, a mobile text quest game that tells users how to communicate with the police and security services in Russia, and how to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s information. The Android version of the app was released on October 6, 2017, and the iOS version on April 18, 2018. At present, the game has been downloaded more than 70,000 times, and the majority of its audience (57%) are people younger than 24. However, less than 15% of users are women.

We also have found that mobile apps can be a part of an alternative business model for human rights NGOs. We have received $1,020 through in-game payments, with most of this revenue (87%) being micro-payments ($1 or 100 rubles).

In the first version of the game, through the in-game payments, it was possible to take part in the crowdfunding of the development of new scenarios. In later versions, we added the ability to pay for the game without ads, as well as for additional gaming options, a standard business model for so-called free-to-play mobile games.

We believe that it can be more important to experiment with something new than to continue with traditional methods that may not be working. 

Once we established the demand for this type of game, we decided to expand it. First, we held a hackathon called “More Games Needed”, which helped non-profit projects of St.-Petersburg to create game software products of their own. A project dedicated to preventing domestic violence called Where Can Couplehood Lead won the hackathon and received mentorship from our experts. We expect the game to release in October 2019. We also intend to release another project together with the educational project Teplitsa (Greenhouse) – Technologies for Social Good.

Second, since Gebnya has currently attracted very few women, we decided to develop a game on problems important for women in Russia and the post-Soviet space. The game dedicated specifically to women’s issues is now under development, and its beta version should be released in November 2019. We decided to focus on three of the many problems faced by women in Russia: cyberbullying, stalking, and intimate partner violence. The game’s plot is designed to help recognize these phenomena, help build personal boundaries, and to get acquainted with legal and psychological defense tools and relevant professional assistance centers.

Team 29 plans to continue this pro-social game development as a project separate from our journalistic and legal work, and we are currently working on additional games with a number of other Russian NGOs.

While developing Gebnya in 2017, we were in fact rather skeptical about the project’s prospects, but we decided to pursue it anyway. We believe that it can be more important to experiment with something new than to continue with traditional methods that may not be working. After all, the non-profit sector cannot survive without innovations.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/technology-and-gaming-innovations-bring-new-life-to-russian-ngos/

See also other posts on communication: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/communication/

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

European Court rules on Sergei Magnitsky’s death

August 29, 2019

Human rights defenders of minorities having a hard time in the UN finds UNPO

July 19, 2019

On 17 July 2019 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is launched a report, Compromised Space: Bullying and Blocking at the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, with its partners at the University of Oxford and Tibet Justice Centre which details how China, Russia, Iran and other repressive regimes are manipulating the United Nations Human Rights System to block and attack those seeking to hold them accountable for gross human rights violations perpetrated against minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples…

The report is based on three years of study conducted by the UNPO and its partners at the University of Oxford and the Tibet Justice Center, supported by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. It is based largely on interviews and testimonies from 77 human rights defenders working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other people living in nation states whose political systems do not create governance structures representative of all. It identifies a systemic attack on the United Nations human rights system by these governments, led largely by China, Russia and Iran, designed to shield them from accountability for human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This includes efforts to deny civil society groups participatory status at the UN (so called “ECOSOC status”), to bully and block them when they are able to access the UN, to crowd out the UN space with “GONGOs” – government-sponsored organisations posing as NGOs – and to harass, intimidate and take reprisals against activists and their families, whether at home or abroad.

Among the indicative findings of the report are the facts that:

China has regularly detained or imprisoned activists from its Southern Mongolian, Uyghur and Tibetan communities who have sought to travel to the UN, with such success that, for example, no Tibetan from Tibet who is acting independently of the Chinese government has ever managed to leave Chinese- occupied Tibet to testify at the UN in Geneva or New York, and then return safely;

Russia, in order to shield itself from accountability for its crimes in Russian-occupied Crimea, has asked for rules of participation in forums, such as the UN Minority Forum, to be changed to restrict NGO participation to groups acceptable to Russia, and its Crimea occupation authorities have attacked Crimean Tatar activists and destroyed or confiscated their passports in order to prevent their travel;

Iran regularly engages in practices designed to intimidate activists from their minority communities, even while they are operating within the United Nations buildings, and have taken out reprisals against the family members of these activists still living within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The story of Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress and Vice President of the UNPO, is indicative of all of these actions. Mr. Isa and his organization have regularly been denied ECOSOC status at the United Nations, his access to the UN buildings and events have been restricted due to Chinese demands, he and his supporters have been followed and harassed in the UN building, his mother was held in China’s anti-Muslim concentration camps as a result of his work and for many years his ability to travel freely around the world was frustrated by Chinese efforts to involve European and other states in his persecution by falsely labelling him a “terrorist”.

Reacting to the launch of the report, UNPO’s General Secretary, Ralph Bunche, stated that “the report presents the disturbing finding that the United Nations Human Rights system, which is the only outlet for many peoples living under repressive regimes to seek accountability for crimes committed against them, is being systemically undermined by perpetrator regimes. Unfortunately, democratic states are not doing nearly enough to push back against this phenomenon and in some instances are even adopting the conduct that we see from the repressive states. The withdrawal of the USA from the UN’s Human Rights Council has certainly not helped matters, but other states are simply not doing enough to counter this problem and protect human rights defenders.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE

https://unpo.org/article/21583

NGOs remember 10th Anniversary of Natalia Estemirova’s murder

July 15, 2019

On the 10th anniversary of the murder of Natalia Estemirova, Chechnya’s most prominent human rights defender, nine international and two Russian human rights groups, jointly with FIDH and its member organization, Human Rights Centre “Memorial,” call on the Russian authorities to finally fulfil their obligation to conduct a thorough, impartial and effective investigation into her killing, bring the perpetrators to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts, and end impunity for human rights violations in Chechnya.

Two welcome paroles in Russia and Zimbabwe but justice is still to be done

June 11, 2019

Having reported earlier on the Oyub Titiev case in Russia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/] and that of the seven human rights defenders arrested in Zimbabwe [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/four-zimbabwe-human-rights-defenders-detained-at-at-the-mugabe-airport-on-their-return-from-foreign-trip/], I am now happy to report some progress:

Responding to news that Shali City Court in Chechnya has granted parole to the imprisoned human rights defender Oyub Titiev after almost one-and-a-half years behind bars, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said: “We have been calling for Oyub Titiev’s immediate and unconditional release since his detention. The real agenda behind his criminal prosecution on trumped up charges was to stop a human rights defender from doing his lawful human rights work….In spite of overwhelming evidence that the case against him had been fabricated, the authorities in Chechnya crudely abused the justice system to convict an innocent man. Today the court decided to at least partially amend the gross injustice by releasing Oyub in ten days time.” But if justice is to prevail, Oyub Titiev’s conviction should be quashed, and he must be given access to an effective remedy, including compensation, for his unlawful imprisonment.  “This decision comes just days after prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was detained and charged with supplying drugs amid allegations that he was framed, held incommunicado and beaten in custody. He is currently under house arrest and we call on his allegations against the authorities to be immediately investigated.”

High court Judge Justice Army Tsanga ordered for the release of the two activists seized at the Robert Mugabe International Airport upon arrival from Maldives. The state is alleging that the accused are members of the civil society organizations who connived with their accomplices went to Maldives where they underwent a training workshop by a Serbian non-governmental organisation called Center for Applied Non-Violent Action Strategies (Canvas) with intend to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

———-

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/russia-titievs-parole-a-welcome-step-but-not-justice/

Breaking: Five Zim ‘Terrorists’ Out On Bail

Human Rights Foundation announces its first 10 Freedom Fellows

May 22, 2019

Yesterday I referred to the new look of the Human Rights Foundation [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/human-rights-foundation-uses-2019-oslo-freedom-forum-for-rebranding/], here is a substantive new proframme. On 21 May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a program that awards 10 human rights defenders, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to increase the impact of their work. HRF is partnering with the Center for Applied Nonviolent Tactics and Strategies (CANVAS), founded by Srdja Popovic. The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.
The first ‘class’ comprises:

  • Rania Aziz , Sudanese activist organizing professional and youth groups in the country against the dictatorship of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. She is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed group of unions currently leading protests in the country.
  • Fred Bauma. Congolese human rights activist also known as “Congo’s Gandhi”. He is the leader of the pro-democracy youth group LUCHA, which advocates for nonviolent, community-level change and governmental reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/amnesty-internationals-annual-write-for-rights-campaign-focuses-on-freedom-of-expression/]
  • Vanessa Berhe, Eritrean free-speech and democracy activist. She is the founder of One Day Seyoum, a human rights organization that campaigns for the release of jailed Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, and raises awareness around a continued crackdown on democratic ideals in Eritrea.
  • Andrei Bystrov, lawyer, historian and democratic activist from Moscow. He is a co-founder of the December 5 Party, a pro-democracy political party that was born out of the 2011 anti-Putin protests.
  • Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is a student activist, publisher, and author who advocates for education reform in Thailand. He founded Education for Liberation of Siam, a student group that challenges the Thai military junta’s unjust actions in the country’s education system.
  • Rodrigo Diamanti, Venezuelan human rights activist and nonviolence expert. He founded the international NGO, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, which has coordinated creative protests against Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship in more than 52 countries.
  • Edipcia Dubón, Nicaraguan pro-democracy and women’s rights advocate. She is the coordinator of Dialogue of Women for Democracy, a think tank that promotes open discussions about the challenges faced by women in Nicaragua.
  • Asma Khalifa, Libyan activist and researcher who has worked on human rights, women’s rights, and youth empowerment since 2011. She is the co-founder of Tamazight Women’s Movement, an organization working on gender equality and research on the indigenous women of Libya and North Africa.
  • Farida Nabourema, Togolese writer and democracy activist who began her career in activism when she was 13 years old. She co-founded the Faure Must Go movement, a hallmark of the Togolese struggle against Faure Gnassingbé’s oppressive rule.
  • Johnson Yeung, Hong Kong human rights advocate who works on freedom of assembly and expression, protection to HRDs, and capacity building to right-based CSOs. He is the chair of the board of the Hong Kong Civil Hub, which produces regular briefings on Hong Kong shrinking civic space, and builds solidarity around international rule of law and human rights communities.


In partnership with CANVAS, HRF launched the Freedom Fellowship in 2018 with a pilot opportunity for Jhanisse Vaca Daza, a civil society activist from Bolivia. During her Freedom Fellowship experience, Vaca Daza co-founded the Bolivian movement: Ríos de Pie (Standing Rivers), which has quickly gained a national following, becoming one of the leading nonviolent resistance movements in response to Evo Morales’ authoritarian regime. Vaca Daza will provide her insights from the past year as the manager for the Fellowship. “This is a truly diverse class of fellows, and they are going to learn as much from each other as from their mentors,” said Vaca Daza. “Anyone running a non-profit or civil society organization or start-up needs help and guidance with personal leadership, movement building, marketing and media strategy, fundraising, and digital security. My own experience was transformative, and I’m looking forward to bringing world-class expertise in each of these areas to 10 new Fellows.”

The Fellows will meet one another as a group for the first time at this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, which will be held from 27-29 May in Norway. There will be special programming curated to begin their Freedom Fellowship experience starting May 25. If you would like more information about the program, please contact: jhanisse@hrf.org.

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