freedom of expression
Saudi rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul spends 1000th day in prison
Today, as Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul spends her 1000th day in prison, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Free Saudi Activists coalition call for her immediate and unconditional release.
Sex Education Deemed Illegal in Uzbekistan
Johannesburg. 16 March 2010.Uzbek HIV activist, Maxim Popov, has been sentenced to seven years in prison apparently as punishment for his work to raise public awareness on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Although the sentence was given in September 2009, this news became public only in late February 2010.
According to local sources, Maxim Popov was charged with embezzlement of funds, involving minors in anti-social behavior, molesting individuals, involving individuals with drugs, and tax evasion. Two of his colleagues were also charged with embezzlement, tax evasion and violations of foreign currency regulations and were given one-year suspended sentences. Mr Popov is the leader of NGO Izis, which focuses on work with drug addicts, sex workers and on HIV prevention. He is also the author of the book "HIV and AIDS Today", which was published with the support of UNICEF and Population Services International. This book, explaining STD prevention, was deemed "illegal" by the criminal court of Tashkent, based on the findings of a commission of experts that it is disrespectful of the national culture and the Uzbek people.
SINGAPORE: ‘Opposition parties were given unfavourable coverage by the state media and had difficulty accessing voters’
CIVICUS speaks to human rights defender Jolovan Wham about the recent elections in Singapore, which were held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented the use of restrictive laws in Singapore against civil society activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, independent online media outlets and members of the political opposition, who face prosecution, including through defamation suits and contempt of court charges.
Has there been any disagreement around whether elections should be held, when, or how?
Yes. Opposition parties were largely against it as the COVID-19 pandemic had not abated and holding the elections might pose a public health threat. They were also concerned that physical rallies and door-to-door visits would be disallowed, which would hinder their campaign efforts.
And indeed, it was more difficult to connect face to face with voters when a one-metre distance had to be maintained during walkabouts and door-to-door visits. Everyone had to give their speeches and connect with voters online.
Some changes were introduced so elections would proceed in the context of the pandemic. Voting time was extended by two hours to take the longer queues caused by social distancing into consideration. But the possibility of online voting was not discussed. And older people and those who were frail may have not participated for fear of getting infected with COVID-19.
What was the state of civic freedoms ahead of the elections?
The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) control of all public institutions is a major civic freedom issue. It means it gets to shape the political discourse according to its agenda and set the rules of the game to its advantage. For example, the elections department, which draws electoral boundaries, reports to the prime minister himself. Most civil society groups are afraid of engaging in the elections in a meaningful way for fear of being seen as ‘partisan’. If a civil society association is associated with an opposition party, it may lose funding, support and patronage for its work.
A recent report by the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights documented structural flaws that prevented the election from being fair, including the prime minister’s broad powers over the entire electoral process without any effective oversight. The environment in which the Singaporean people were able to exercise their right to participate in public life was heavily restricted. Key opposition candidates had been targeted with lawsuits by members of the PAP, and voters in opposition-led constituencies fear reprisals for not voting for the PAP. Fundamental freedoms, which are intrinsically linked to free elections, are limited as the government controls the media and uses restrictive laws against dissenting and critical voices.
How did this affect the chances of the opposition?
Opposition candidates and parties had to rely solely on social media to get their message out, because of unfavourable coverage by state media. They also had difficulty accessing voters because of the PAP’s monopoly, manipulation and control of national grassroots groups, unions and organisations, on top of the difficulties involved in holding physical rallies in the context of the pandemic.
The elections were held on 10 July. The PAP secured 83 parliamentary seats but faced a setback as the opposition made minor but historic gains. The Workers’ party, the only opposition party in parliament, increased its seats from six to 10 – the biggest result for the opposition since independence. The PAP popular vote dipped to 61 per cent.
What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?
For the PAP, the campaign revolved around smearing opposition candidates, accusing them of peddling falsehoods and of having nefarious agendas and engaging in character assassination. Scaremongering tactics were also used: the electorate were told that only the PAP could get Singaporeans out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that having more opposition members in parliament would thwart these efforts.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, focused on telling the electorate that they were in danger of being wiped out of parliament as they held fewer than 10 elected seats out of almost 90. Issues such as the high cost of living and immigration were other key issues raised by the opposition.
Civic space in Singapore is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Singapore: Anti-fake news bill another tool to suppress criticism and dissent
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, are extremely concerned by a new bill that has been proposed by the Singaporean authorities to counter false news. Our organisations believe that the stated aim of the bill - to deal with online misinformation - is merely a smokescreen to increase curbs on the freedom of expression, and to further silence dissent in this already tightly controlled State. We urge the authorities to discard the bill immediately.
Singapore: Drop investigations and cease harassment against human rights defenders
Seven (7) human rights organisations urgently call on the Singaporean authorities to drop their criminal investigations of human rights defenders Kirsten Han and Rocky Howe and cease harassing them through legal processes for their work.
Singapore: Drop police report against independent media outlet New Naratif
We, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge the government of Singapore to order the Elections Department (ELD) to immediately withdraw its police report against New Naratif, and to cease abusing the law to harass critical voices and independent journalists.
Singapore: Open letter to parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to prioritise fundamental freedoms
🇸🇬Singapore: Three civil society organisations call on parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to commit to respecting and protecting human rights, particularly fundamental freedoms, during and after the #SGElection https://t.co/kpDykUxFZw pic.twitter.com/EGyzabme4h— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) July 3, 2020
As Singaporeans prepare to go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 10 July 2020, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists urge all parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to commit to respecting and protecting human rights, particularly fundamental freedoms, as part of their mandate.
Singapore: Withdraw Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill
Today, eleven undersigned organizations called on the Government of Singapore to withdraw the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (‘FICA’). FICA’s provisions contravene international legal and human rights principles – including the rights to freedom of expression, association, participation in public affairs, and privacy – and will further curtail civic space, both online and offline.
On October 4, 2021, the Parliament of Singapore passed FICA, three weeks after it was tabled on September 13 by the Ministry of Home Affairs purportedly to “prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in (...) domestic politics”. This was despite serious concerns that the law could undermine civic freedoms – raised by members of the public, civil society, legal fraternity, independent media, political opposition, academia and industry in Singapore. The bill went through both its second and third readings in one parliament sitting and FICA was passed without significant amendments to address key concerns.
While the protection of national security may be a legitimate aim, FICA contravenes the rule of law and the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality under international human rights law. Overbroad and ambiguous provisions draw within its scope a wide range of conduct, activities and communications “directed towards a political end in Singapore”. As a result, almost any form of expression and association relating to politics, social justice or other matters of public interest in Singapore may be ensnarled within the ambit of the legislation – making it difficult, in turn, for the average individual to reasonably predict with precision what conduct may fall foul of the law. Vague provisions also allow for unfettered executive discretion in interpretation and implementation of the law. Unlimited executive discretion – together with severe penalties under the law – can result in executive overreach into what it deems permissible as civic discussion and public debate. FICA also provides no mechanism for independent judicial oversight or provision of remedy where human rights violations occur as a result of the enforcement of its provisions. The law thus fails to provide for the least intrusive mechanisms to achieve its stated aim of protecting national security while greatly enhancing the risk of executive abuse.
FICA empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to order the removal or disabling of online content – undermining the right to freedom of expression. The Minister is, for example, empowered to order publication of mandatory messages drafted by the authorities, ban apps from being downloadable in Singapore, and order disclosure of private communications and information, when the Minister “suspects or believes” that someone is undertaking or planning to undertake online communications activity “on behalf of a foreign principal”, and that it is in the “public interest” to act. The law makes it a criminal offence to undertake “clandestine” electronic communications on behalf of a foreign principal under certain circumstances, including when that activity “diminishes or is likely to diminish public confidence in (...) the Government or a public authority” or “is likely to be directed towards a political end in Singapore”. Activity “directed towards a public end” includes conduct influencing or seeking to influence government decisions or public opinion on matters of “public controversy” or “political debate” in Singapore. The government can also designate individuals as “politically significant persons” after which they can be required to follow strict limits on sources of funding and disclose all links with foreigners or foreign entities.
FICA’s provisions can also facilitate violations of the rights to freedom of association and participation in public affairs. “Conduct” committed in connection with a “foreign principal” and “directed towards a political end in Singapore” is criminalized where this involves “covert” communication or “deception” – which is defined as including any “deliberate” use of “encrypted communication platforms”. The expansive and vaguely worded definition of activities “directed towards a political end” can cover a broad range of activities – including social justice advocacy, artistic commentary, academic research, social enterprise or journalistic reporting – carried out by, among others, members of civil society, academia, media, the arts and industry. Meanwhile, the overbroad configuration of connection with a “foreign principal” as “arrangements” with any “foreigner” or “non-Singapore registered entity” that can be “written or unwritten” brings within the law’s remit nearly all forms of cross-border collaboration or engagement. Use of “encrypted platforms” as a reflection of “covert” communications also allows for criminal intent to be inferred from a wide range of modes of communications via modern electronic devices and platforms – including through encrypted messaging and email services; and the use of online platforms through secure connection services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs).
FICA will disproportionately impact members of civil society, independent journalists, academics, researchers, artists, writers and other individuals who express opinions, share information and collaborate to advocate on socio-political issues and matters of public interest. As their work can involve critical opinions and is often underpinned and supported by cross-border collaboration, research and funding, they are exposed to increased scrutiny and sanctions under FICA. The issues on which they work will also come under increased State oversight and control. Executive oversight and control can, in turn, infringe not only their rights to freedom of expression and association but the rights of other individuals in Singapore who rely on their work to participate in public affairs, which includes conduct of citizens to “exert influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize”.
Severe penalties under FICA are disproportionate. In addition, many of those penalties may be imposed without adequate independent oversight or remedy in case of human rights violations, which can result in a chilling effect on civic space and discussion. Directions can be issued by the authorities to censor, restrict or block access to online content, accounts, services, apps or locations deemed to violate the law. The law also allows for the authorities to designate “politically significant” individuals and entities and order them to “disclose foreign affiliations” and “arrangements” or to end “reportable arrangements”. However, there is a lack of independent oversight over these restrictions and designations. These directions may only be appealed to a Reviewing Tribunal appointed by the President on advice of the Cabinet, and decisions made by this Tribunal cannot be appealed to the High Court except for non-compliance with procedural requirements. Further, individuals can face criminal sanctions under the law for “clandestine foreign interference by electronic communications activity” and non-compliance with directions, which may result in steep fines and imprisonment terms. These criminal offences are arrestable and non-bailable.
These penalties and restrictions not only risk undermining the right to privacy, but increase the risk of individuals self-censoring and deliberately deciding not to participate in or engage with cross-border networks to avoid potentially falling foul of the law. Their negative impacts can be particularly severe on independent online platforms, which can be banned from receiving funding or other financial support from foreign individuals or entities, and on journalists, political commentators, civil society members and community researchers who often nurture public opinion and debate through information, opinions and advocacy shared online.
In light of these significant concerns, we request that the Government of Singapore withdraw FICA. The law risks imminently and substantially narrowing already limited civic space in the country – particularly where this space is significantly restricted through abuse of other existing laws such as defamation and contempt of court provisions; the Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the Public Order Act and the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. The imminent enactment and future enforcement of FICA will significantly undermine the Government of Singapore’s obligations under international law to protect, promote and fulfil human rights – instead allowing for the State to expand curtailment of civic freedoms to the detriment of its people.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Digital Defenders Partnership
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
Summary Legal Analysis
International legal principles are clear that even as the protection of national security is a legitimate purpose for the restriction of certain rights, restrictions must be narrowly defined, strictly necessary and proportionate to this aim. The UN Human Rights Committee has clarified that this three-part test of legality, necessity and proportionality applies to freedom of expression. Limitations on this right must “conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality” and be “directly related to the specific need on which they are predicated”. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression also negatively impact upon the rights to association and participation in public affairs as freedom of expression underpins the “free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives”. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted that the three-part test also applies to the right to privacy in the digital age – noting that any interference with privacy must be “necessary and in proportion to” a legitimate aim, “be the least intrusive option available,” and “not render the essence of the right meaningless”.
Overbroad and ambiguous provisions
FICA’s overbroad and ambiguous provisions allow for abusive interpretation and implementation by the authorities, while failing to provide clarity to the public on what conduct would fall foul of the legislation. Its potential to encompass a wide range of conduct fails to ensure compliance with the principle of legality and confers overbroad discretion in interpretation and implementation upon those charged with enforcement of the law.
FICA applies to “conduct” engaged on behalf of a “foreign principal” directed “towards a political end in Singapore”. (ss 4; 8) This includes “arrangements” with any “foreigner” or “non-Singapore registered entity” that can be “written or unwritten” to “influence or seek to influence” “public opinion” on matters of “public controversy” or “to promote or oppose political views, or public conduct relating to activities that have become the subject of a political debate”. (ss 4; 5; 8(f); 8(g))
Criminal penalties apply where a person “undertakes electronic communications activity on behalf of a foreign principal” in a “covert” or other manner that “involves deception” which results in the publication in Singapore of “information or material” which “is likely to be prejudicial” to “public tranquillity” or “public order”; “likely to diminish public confidence in the Government” or is “likely to be directed towards a political end.” (ss 17-19)
The expansive and vaguely worded definition of activities “directed towards a political end” encompasses a broad range of activities – including social justice advocacy, artistic commentary, academic research, social enterprise or journalistic reporting relating to a “political” issue – of civil society, academia, media, the arts and industry, amongst others. Individuals and organizations are therefore unable to accurately define what conduct can risk violating the law. Engagement “on behalf of a foreign principal”, for example, can also cover collaboration with foreign actors to conduct and share research; receive funding to hold events or implement projects; and cross-border training and education.
Matters of “public controversy” and “political debate” can also overbroadly apply to pertinent issues of public interest on which individuals engage – potentially limiting their rights to freedom of expression, association and participation in public affairs. This risks impacting particularly on civil society engaging in research and advocacy – whose purpose is specifically to nurture and direct “political debate” on matters of public interest, including “controversy”, and to oversee and check powers of the executive. There is a risk that the authorities may bring within FICA’s remit civil society’s cross-border engagement and information-sharing, both of which are fundamental to policy and advocacy work, thereby negatively affecting collaboration among civil society actors in Singapore and organizations based outside the country, such as the organizations that are signatories to this statement.
“Public tranquillity” and matters which “likely diminish public confidence in the Government”also allow for an overly broad interpretation to target critical commentary on government policy even in the absence of any legitimate reason to limit freedom of expression. “Covert” conduct includes “deliberately moving onto encrypted communication platforms” (p. 205), which can apply to the use of most modern electronic devices and be relied on to infer criminal intent from a broad range of potential communications – including through encrypted messaging and email services; and the use of online platforms through secure connection services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs).
Unfettered executive discretion
FICA allows for unfettered executive discretion to censure expression and association deemed impermissible by the State. In fact, it provides for wide potential for the authorities to encroach on the rights to free expression, association, participation in public affairs, and privacy, even in circumstances when such encroachment is not strictly necessary to achieve the purported aim of protecting national security.
FICA allows authorities to designate individuals and entities as “politically significant” if their activities are “directed in part towards a political end” and if “it is in the public interest”. (ss 47, 48) This can result in any individual being potentially targeted under the law for expression or advocacy on issues relating to politics or public interest in Singapore. It can also apply to any individual currently working on these issues for a foreign organization or in collaboration with foreign actors – either through academic, civil society or other modes of arrangement.
Designated “politically significant” individuals and entities can be ordered to “disclose foreign affiliations” and “arrangements” through reports to the authorities on their activities, even where they are “not directed towards a political end in Singapore”. (ss 76, 78) The authorities can also direct these “reportable arrangements” to end. (s 84) This can result in infringements of the rights to privacy and association of designated individuals working on issues of social concern in Singapore – particularly journalists, academics and researchers who may be required to reveal information and communications with foreign actors in contravention of professional ethics. Designated “politically significant” journalists and independent media outlets can also be issued a “transparency directive” – requiring them to disclose any “political matter with a foreign link” published in Singapore and identify the author’s name and nationality and any links to a “foreign principal”. (s 81)
FICA also prohibits “politically significant” individuals and entities from accepting “donations” from “impermissible donors” who are not Singaporean individuals or companies (ss 55, 56); caps anonymous donations at S$5,000 a year (ss 57, 58); and bans foreigners from provision of “voluntary labour” to such individuals and entities. (ss 55, 56) These provisions risk being abused to muzzle social justice initiatives, civil society organizations and independent media outlets that rely on independent funding and potential support of individuals who are not Singaporeans to volunteer work or research time.
Notably, FICA empowers the authorities to order any person to “provide any document or any information or material” on activities “directed towards a political end in Singapore” where it is deemed “necessary” for the exercise of powers under FICA. (s 108) This potentially violates the rights to privacy and association of any individual in connection with any individual or entity in relation to any matter under FICA – with a penalty of a fine of up to S$5,000 (approx. US$3,685) and continuing fines of up to S$500 (approx. US$368) for “every day or part of a day” of non-compliance. (s 108)
Severe penalties can result in a chilling effect on the free exercise of the rights to expression, association, and participation in public affairs. Directions can be issued by the authorities under Part 3 of the law to “stop”, “disable” or “block access to” online content; and “restrict accounts or services” and “remove apps” for apparent violations. An online location which is deemed a “proscribed online location” by the Minister (s 24) on a Part 3 direction can then be prohibited from “soliciting or procuring” “any expenditure to operate”or for “services” provided for the platform. (s 39) Non-compliance with these restrictions amounts to a criminal offence, which is arrestable and non-bailable. Individuals can be slapped with severe criminal sanctions for alleged “clandestine foreign interference by electronic communications activity” – they can be fined up to S$100,000 (approx. US$74,000) and/or imprisoned for up to fourteen years. (ss 17 – 19)
The UN Human Rights Committee has noted that criminal sanctions constitute severe interference with the right to freedom of expression and are disproportionate responses in all but the most egregious cases. These severe penalties are likely to exert a chilling effect on everyone, and particularly on journalists, political commentators, civil society members, academics and community researchers, who often publish information and opinions online.
Lack of independent judicial oversight
FICA does not provide for any independent oversight or remedial mechanism to address potential human rights violations. Appeals against Part 3 directions and Part 4 designations are provided for under the law – however, they are to first be made to the Minister in charge of issuing the order in the first place (ss 92, 93) and/or to a “Reviewing Tribunal” chaired by a Supreme Court Judge but consisting of three individuals closely linked to the government, “each of whom is appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet”. (s 94) The rules for such Tribunal’s proceedings are to, in turn, be determined by the Minister for Home Affairs. (s 99)
Independent judicial review is severely limited as any appeal decision made by the Reviewing Tribunal, Minister or other authorities is “final” and “not to be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court” – except where the requested review of the Tribunal’s or Minister’s decision refers to procedural requirements, that will not analyze substantive questions relating to executive implementation of the law. (s 104) This limitation on the judiciary’s review powers undermines the rule of law, which requires judicial oversight as a check and balance against the executive’s exercise of discretionary power. Lack of oversight accentuates risks of violations perpetuated by severe penalties and the law’s stipulation that non-compliance with any order is an offence with penalties incurred from the time of alleged offending, regardless of any appeal.
Civic space in Singapore is rated as "obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor
Somaliland poet’s three-year prison sentence a shameful attack on free expression
The three-year conviction of Somaliland poet and peace activist Nacima Abwaan Qorane this week highlights the increasingly repressive environment in Somaliland for peaceful expression, said global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
Spotlight on Cameroon: Reverse the suspension of journalists
CIVICUS condemns the decision by Cameroon's National Communications Council to suspend journalists Séverin Tchounkeu (CEO) and Cédrick Noufele (Editor-in-chief and presenter), who are working with the privately-owned broadcaster Equinoxe TV for one month.
Sri Lanka: Release youth activist Nathasha Edirisooriya and drop charges
CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, urges the government of Sri Lanka to immediately release youth activist and stand-up comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and drop the charges against her unconditionally. Her arrest and detention go against the country’s international human rights obligations to protect fundamental freedoms.
Nathasha Edirisooriya was arrested on 27 May 2023, accused of insulting Buddhism and hate speech for two jokes made during a comedy performance published on YouTube three days earlier. An edited clip of the performance was circulated, resulting in severe social media backlash. She retracted the video the same day and publicly apologised.
On the night of 27 May 2023, Nathasha was prevented from travelling and subsequently arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the Bandaranaike International Airport. The police initially refused access to lawyers or her partner.
Despite her apology, online harassment and threats against her escalated, and the location of her residence was shared online. She faced trolling, serious threats of violence, and rape.
On 28 May, she was charged under Section 3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007, Section 291A (deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person) and 291B (deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka and the Computer Crimes Act. She was denied bail on the basis that her release would result in ‘public disturbance’ and was remanded until 7 June 2023. Her bail was then extended until 21 June.
“The arrest of Nathasha Edirisooriya highlights the increasing intolerance in Sri Lanka towards freedom of expression, including satire. Her detention is a clear attack on artistic expression and a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The charges against her must be dropped immediately,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.
Nathasha Edirisooriya is one of the few practicing women stand-up comedians in Sri Lanka. She has actively created and defined a space for herself as a feminist who addresses issues of gender, sex, chauvinism and misogyny, moral and religious hypocrisy, education, family life and mental health through her stand-up comedy.
She has also been part of the CIVICUS Youth Action Lab for grassroots Global South youth activists building resilient and sustainable movements for a more equitable world. In 2021 she conducted a piece of research titled ‘Decoding Sexual Harassment’ to understand the instigation of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka.
CIVICUS is also concerned about the use of ICCPR Act against Nathasha Edirisooriya, which among other provisions, criminalises the advocacy of “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. No credible evidence has been presented to substantiate the charges. Further, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented how the law has been misused over the years to criminalise activists, stifle freedom of expression and detain and silence poets, writers and others.
“This is another example of the authorities' blatant misuse of the ICCPR Act. It has been systematically misused to silence free speech and to keep individuals behind bars for long periods. The law must be amended so that it is not used to deter or discourage individuals from freely expressing their opinions,” added Kode.
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has pointed out that the present Act is not fully compatible with Article 19 of the ICCPR. Instead of being used to protect minorities against incitement, it has been invoked to protect religions or beliefs against criticism or perceived insult. The UN Human Rights Committee also raised concerns on the misuse of the law and stated in March 2023 that the authorities have failed to grant bail in a timely manner to individuals charged under the Act.
Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.
SRI LANKA: ‘Media control gave the government a definite advantage’
CIVICUS speaks to Sandun Thudugala, Head of Programmes at the Law and Society Trust (LST), about the legislative elections held in Sri Lanka on 5 August 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. LST is a legal research and advocacy organisation founded in 1982 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the goal of promoting legal reforms to improve access to justice, the justiciability of rights and public accountability.
Ahead of the August 2020 elections, the CIVICUS Monitordocumented that human rights lawyers and journalists in Sri Lanka faced arrests, threats and harassment. Areport by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, published in May 2020, also showed that civil society faced challenges in registering and operating along with various barriers to protest.
What was the situation for civic freedoms and civil society ahead of the elections?
As in many other countries, the situation of civic freedoms and the space for civil society has always been in a vulnerable situation in Sri Lanka. Even under the previous government, which was supposed to be more supportive towards civil society and the human rights agenda, efforts to introduce new draconian laws to control civil society and the undermining of basic freedoms in the name of counterterrorism continued.
The situation got worse with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the new president in November 2019. His election campaign, which was built on the ideas of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, disciplined society and enhanced national security, was supported by an overwhelming majority, especially from the Sinhala Buddhist community. This result was seen as a mandate given to the government to undermine basic freedoms and civic space in the name of national security and development.
There have been signs of an increased militarisation of every aspect of society and the undermining of democratic institutions, such as the appointment of members of Presidential Task Forces – which are accountable only to the president – to handle key governance functions. There has also been a clear message of unwillingness to cooperate with the state’s international obligations, including by complying with UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, which the previous government had co-sponsored and which was aimed at promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka after the 1983-2009 internal conflict, as well as with local human rights mechanisms.
There have been increased surveillance of civil society activities and arrests of social media activists. This has clearly reflected a trend of undermining civic freedoms and civic space before the elections. The situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to deal with the virus has been used as an excuse to increase militarisation and the concentration of power in the hands of the president.
What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?
The government led by newly elected President Rajapaksa, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), was seeking a two-thirds majority in parliament to be able to amend the current constitution and give the president additional powers. That’s been the major election campaign goal of the SLPP. The need to have a strong government to protect the aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhist majority, defend national sovereignty and foster economic development were therefore among their major campaign themes. The popularity the president gained after winning the presidential election was used to mobilise voters to support the SLPP.
The main opposition parties were divided, and their internal conflict was more prominent in the election campaign than their actual election messages. One of their major promises was to provide economic assistance for poor people who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
Issues such as the need to strengthen democratic governance systems, justice for war victims, longer-term solutions to ethnic issues or the root causes of rural poverty, indebtedness and inequality were not highlighted during the election campaign by any of the major parties.
Was there any debate around whether the election should be held during the pandemic?
The government wanted to conduct the election as soon as possible. It was willing to hold the election in April 2020, as planned, even at the height of the pandemic. Almost all opposition parties were against holding the election in April. The Election Commission subsequently decided to postpone it to August 2020 due to the health risks it might entail. By August, the situation had got considerably better and there was no major opposition to conducting the elections, which took place on 5 August.
As far as I know, online voting was not considered as an option for this election. I do not think that Sri Lanka has the infrastructure and capacity to adopt such an option at this moment. More than 70 per cent of eligible voters cast votes and apart from the people who are still in quarantine centres, people experienced no major barriers in casting their votes. There were however incidents of some private factories denying leave for their employees to vote.
Was it possible to have a normal campaign in the context of the pandemic?
Health guidelines were issued by the Election Commission, which imposed significant controls on election campaigning. No major rallies or meetings were allowed, but the government and the main opposition parties violated these health guidelines by convening public rallies and other meetings openly, without any repercussions. It was clear that the parties with power had a clear advantage in overstepping certain rules. Additionally, candidates from major political parties, who had more money to use for electronic and social media campaigns, had a definite advantage over the others.
Due to its control over state media and the support it received from most private media, both electronic and print, the government had a definite advantage over the opposition during the election campaign. The smaller opposition political parties were at the most disadvantageous position, as they did not get any significant airtime or publicity in mainstream media.
This surely impacted on the election results, in which the SLPP, led by President Rajapaksa and his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won 145 seats in the 225-member parliament. The opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya party, which was established in early 2020 as a breakaway from the right-wing United National Party, won 54 seats. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi party, which represents the Tamil ethnic minority, won 10 seats, and 16 other seats were split among 12 smaller parties. As a result, on 9 August, Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time.
Was civil society able to engage in the election in a meaningful way?
Apart from being engaged in election monitoring processes, the engagement of independent civil society in the election was minimal. This is a drastic change when compared to the 2015 election, in which civil society played a key role in promoting a good governance and reconciliation agenda within the election campaign. Divisions within the opposition and the COVID-19 context made it difficult for civil society organisations to engage effectively in the process. Some organisations tried to create a discourse on the importance of protecting the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which curbed presidential powers while strengthening the role of parliament and independent institutions and accountability processes, but didn’t get any significant spaces within the media or any other public domains to discuss these issues.
Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with the Law and Society Trust through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@lstlanka and@SandunThudugala on Twitter.
SRI LANKA: ‘We’ve held Pride celebrations since 2004; we’re very proud of what we have achieved’
CIVICUS speaks about the status of LGBTQI+ rights and progress being made towards decriminalising homosexuality in Sri Lanka with Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, founder and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND.
Founded in 2004, EQUAL GROUND is the oldest LGBTQI+ civil society organisation (CSO) in Sri Lanka. It fights for the recognition and realisation of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and focuses on empowerment, wellbeing and access to health, education, housing and legal protection services for Sri Lanka’s LGBTQI+ people.
How has the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Sri Lanka recently changed?
We still have laws inherited from British colonial times that date back to 1883. These are articles 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, which criminalise ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ and ‘acts of gross indecency’. Both of these target LGBTQI+ people.
Sri Lanka is among over 40 former British colonies that also criminalise same-sex sexual relationships between women. In 2018, I filed a complaint with the United Nations (UN) Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In its decision, finally taken in February 2022, the Committee requested that the Sri Lankan government decriminalise homosexuality in general and between consenting same-sex women specifically.
Soon after, in August 2022, a private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality was put forward in parliament. In February 2023, in response to Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, where most LGBTQI+ organisations requested the repeal this legislation, the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs said that Sri Lanka would follow this recommendation, while making clear it would not legalise same-sex marriage. We understand that’s a fight for another day.
In the meantime, the bill reached the attorney general of Sri Lanka, who released an order that both articles of the Penal Code were to be repealed rather than amended, which made us very happy. But as soon as the bill started being discussed in parliament, a petition was filed claiming it was unconstitutional. There were more than 12 intervening petitions filed to counter this petition, and in response the Supreme Court issued a ground-breaking decision stating that the bill amending the Penal Code to decriminalise consensual same-sex behaviour does not violate the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The case specifically touched upon the concepts of human dignity and privacy underlying equal rights for all, because the preamble of our constitution recognises the value of dignity. The Supreme Court of India used a similar argument in a 2018 case on the right to equality, saying that ‘life without dignity is like a sound that is not heard. Dignity speaks, it has its sound, it is natural and human’.
Now, the bill is up for a parliamentary vote, and all it needs to pass is a simple majority. While the government has said it will decriminalise homosexuality, there are still homophobes in the government. But we hope that the vote will turn out positively.
What role has civil society played in the case?
EQUAL GROUND was among the organisations that submitted petitions in the case that was filed with the Supreme Court. Not only LGBTQI+ organisations, but many other CSOs and individuals also took part in the process. Petitions were also filed by a former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and by professors, lawyers, activists and people from all walks of life. The was a lot of positive media coverage, on top of civil society work to create awareness and take to the media to promote the issue.
Of course, there has also been backlash, with some members of parliament attacking the bill and others reconsidering support following a recent Pride march that many thought was not appropriate to Sri Lankan culture due to partial nudity and problematic messaging.
How would you describe relations between Sri Lanka’s LGBTQI+ people and state authorities?
The police have played a huge role in subjugating LGBTQI+ people in Sri Lanka. Not coincidentally, the first event at Colombo Pride 2023 will be devoted to discussing the more than 200 human rights violations against LGBTQI+ people that have been recently recorded in Sri Lanka. In most cases the perpetrator has been linked to the police.
In 2021, EQUAL GROUND filed a case against the police for hiring a motivational speaker who propagated among officers a narrative connecting child abuse and homosexuality. We won the case and the police have been forced to distribute instructions to all police stations alerting officers to be very mindful of their treatment of LGBTQI+ people, particularly transgender people. This has made it clear that asking for sexual favours, blackmailing LGBTQI+ people and stopping them on the streets with no probable cause is against the law.
With the aim of protecting LGBTQI+ people from police brutality, we reopened the case, and the police have recently promised to the court that they will change the terminology to make it inclusive of all LGBTQI+ people. Our strategy was to engage only three LGBTQI+ people along with several heterosexual people, to show the court this was an issue for everyone and not just LGBTQI+ people. Doing it with straight support also showed that not everyone shared anti-LGBTQI+ prejudice. The fact that we filed these cases and got some form of commitment from the authorities was ground-breaking.
Our upcoming Pride march has been sanctioned by the police. We sought their permission, and we’re proud to say that we have been the first organisation to officially get it. Right now, we have a very good Inspector General of Police, he’s easy to talk to, but there’re rumours he will be replaced in three months. I would say there are mixed elements in the current relations between LGBTQI+ people and the authorities.
How does EQUAL GROUND advocate for LGBTQI+ rights?
Our fight, even after decriminalisation is achieved, will continue to aim to integrate LGBTQI+ people into our society. This is the cause we have been working on for the last 19 years.
We’ve held sensitising and educational programmes around the country. We’ve run a lot of social media and mainstream media campaigns, produced research backing our claims regarding the number of people who identify as LGBTQI+ in Sri Lanka and the kind of challenges they face, and have created self-help books for families and allies of LGBTQI+ people. We have an ongoing campaign that has been running for over a year called ‘Live with Love‘, targeted at people who are not haters but are rather neutral or in-between, and could be swayed either way.
All that’s happened over the last 19 years has given rise to many other LGBTQI+ organisations in Sri Lanka that have become involved in advocacy and the struggle for non-discrimination and decriminalisation. When we established our organisation back in 2004, we were the only ones fighting for all LGBTQI+ people, and we remained alone in this journey for a very long time. Only after 2015 did other organisations and people start coming out and getting involved. Until then we lived under a dictatorship and it was difficult to be open, but we have held Pride celebrations since 2004. Our Pride celebrations are turning 19 this year, and so is EQUAL GROUND. We’re very proud of what we have achieved so far.
What forms of international support are Sri Lanka’sLGBTQI+ organisations receiving, and what further support would you need?
We are quite underfunded due to inflation and the ever-rising cost of living, so we aren’t sure that we can retain good staff considering the scale of wages we’re able to pay. We’ve also lost funding due to the fluctuating exchange rate. The state of the economy is one of our major issues, so funding is always welcome.
EQUAL GROUND has been constantly involved in various networks internationally that have opened up avenues of funding and learning, including the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) and ILGA Asia, Innovation for Change (I4C), and the Commonwealth Equality Network, a network of Commonwealth countries and their LGBTQI+ organisations.
Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Sudan: Civilian and political leaders must be immediately released
🇸🇩#Sudan: Military leaders must exercise restraint amidst political tensions & refrain from the use of excessive force.— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) October 29, 2021
Our statement on the recent events & concerns about internet shutdowns and restrictions on peaceful protests: https://t.co/JY5r31Wtoi #SudanCoup pic.twitter.com/0LYdKZTsPG
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS calls on the Sudanese military to stop using violence against peaceful protesters and respect the transitional government. On 25 October 2021, the Sudanese military dissolved the civilian government and proceeded to arrest and detain political leaders including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. These actions by the military contravene the Constitutional Declaration (Charter) and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people gained following nation wide protests in 2019. These developments pose major setbacks to the democratic commitments of the transitional leadership in Sudan and threaten to reverse any gains made over the last three years. More than seven protesters have been killed and 140 wounded as the military have used violence to quell peaceful protests calling for the transitional administration to be respected.
The Sudanese military has arrested and detained many members of the Sovereign Council – the body tasked with managing the political transition ahead of planned elections, government officials, politicians, civilians, and the director of a public broadcaster. The military has also disrupted telecommunications and internet connectivity, restricting access to information. The disruption of the internet now limits freedom of expression and there are serious concerns that the military will resort to increased violence as protesters demonstrate against the military take over. Connectivity to the internet, the right to freedom of assembly and expression are crucial to the success of the democratic transition ahead of planned elections and the consolidation of democracy. These restrictions imposed by the military will derail the transition process and threaten stability ahead of elections.
We call for the immediate release of detained civilians and politicians, who have been unlawfully arrested. All parties must exercise restraint, resumedialogue and engage in good faith within the framework of the Political Declaration and the Constitutional Decree to restore peace and constitutional order,said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Africa Lead for CIVICUS. To this end, it is critical that telecommunication and internet connectivity are immediately restored.
On 16 October 2021, Prime Minister Hamdok, cautioned that Sudan was experiencing the “worst crisis” of its transition to civilian rule following the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. His remarks pointed to the tensions between those who believe in a transition towards democracy and civilian leadership and those who want a return to military rule following a thwarted coup attempt on 21 September 2021.
Sudan’s Sovereign Council is charged with leading the country through the current transitional process that would lead to elections in November 2022. Military and civilian leaders have been at odds since the establishment of the transition government in 2019. On Saturday, 23 October 2021, thousands of military-aligned protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace in the capital, Khartoum, calling for the resignation of the Sovereign Council. This protest was called by a military-aligned faction of the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance (FFC), that participated in the 2019 civil protests, which removed the former president al-Bashir. Amidst the current crisis, Sudan remains in a deep economic crisis and sharp division. The dissolution of transition government and military takeover exacerbate the situation.
Tanzania: Civil society groups express concern over rapid decline in human rights
Tanzania: 65 civil society groups call on the Tanzanian Government to address rapidly deteriorating environment for media, human rights defenders and opposition party members
#Tanzania: 65 rights groups urge government to end attacks on activists, journalists and members of the opposition party. #Civicspace in rapid decline https://t.co/PVn1DdeCM8 pic.twitter.com/UfSocmIx9p— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) May 10, 2018
To President John Magufuli
We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the world, write to express our deep concern over the worrying decline in respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, in Tanzania. We urge your government to take proactive measures to protect these rights which are crucial to civic space and publicly recognise the essential role that a vibrant civil society and an independent media play in creating peaceful and equal societies.
Tanzania’s long-standing commitment to improving the human rights of all people, both nationally and within the region, is notable and should be acknowledged as such. However, we are deeply alarmed that these human rights issues are being precipitously undermined by the unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of speech online. These and other forms of harassment and persecution of civil society and media discussed below erode Tanzania’s role as a regional champion of public freedoms, peace and stability and represent a breach of its international, national and regional human rights obligations and commitments.
New legal restrictions criminalizing freedom of expression on social and traditional media
The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, which was signed into law in March 2018, criminalises a broad scope of legitimate forms of online freedom of expression. Under the regulation, all bloggers and persons operating online radio and television streaming services must secure a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 before they can publish any material online. Such fees are not only financially prohibitive but place an arbitrary bar to entry to exercise the right to freedom of expression. We are also deeply concerned by provisions which endow the government with the authority to revoke a permit if a site or blogger publishes content that "causes annoyance" or "leads to public disorder."
Of equal concern are vague and overbroad provisions of the 2015 Cybercrimes Act which empower the government to arbitrarily ban and sanction the dissemination of newspaper articles or social media posts which it deems critical, including insulting the President. In particular, Article 16 criminalizes the publication of all information deemed “false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.” Persons found to have contravened the Act are subject to draconian prison sentences and harsh fines of not less than five million shillings ($2,190) or a term of not less than three years or both. Since coming into force, the law has been invoked to persecute dozens of individuals and journalists. In one week alone, five private citizens were charged under the Cybercrimes Act for statements made on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, including a three-year sentence handed down to a private citizen for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook.
Moreover, the Media Services Act, which came into force in November 2016, allows the authorities to unilaterally determine which journalists receive licenses, forces all journalists to obtain a license, and makes defamation and sedition a criminal offense. Under the law, the government-run Accreditation Board is empowered to “suspend or expunge journalists” for committing “gross professional misconduct as prescribed in the code of ethics for professional journalists.” The penalties for violating provisions of law are severe. According to the law, anyone found guilty of acting with a seditious intention who commits an offence is liable to a fine of not less than 5 million Shillings (approximately $2,260) or three years in prison or both.
Suspensions, fines and banning media outlets
Despite strong constitutional, United Nations and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights safeguards protecting the right to freedom of expression, the government has systematically targeted Tanzanian media outlets through a combination of closures and hefty fines on newspapers. This campaign of harassment, which appears to be an attempt to suppress their work to report on government policy and conduct, has resulted in four prominent newspapers being banned in 2017 and four other papers being heavily fined in early 2018.
On 24 October 2017, the government banned the Swahili-language Tanzania Daima for a period of 90 days on specious claims of publishing false news about anti-retroviral drug use for people with HIV. This was the fourth newspaper banned since June 2017 including Mwanahalisi which was banned for 24 months in September 2017; the weekly Raia Mwema for 90 days in September and Mawio newspaper for 24 months in June 2017.
On 2 January 2018, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined five television stations a combined 60 million Tanzanian shillings ($27,000) for broadcasting “offensive and unethical” content, in particular for airing a press statement issued on 30 November by the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC). The report by LHRC documented violations such as detentions, intimidation and physical abuse in the context of the 6 November 2017 elections of councillors in 43 wards. The TV stations that featured the LHRC's press statement and were subsequently penalised include: Star TV, Azam Two, East Africa TV, Channel 10 and ITV.
Judicial harassment and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders
In stark contrast to the authorities’ human rights obligations to uphold and protect the safety of journalists, several independent media practitioners have recently been subject to physical attacks and judicial persecution. Recently on 21 November 2017, newspaper journalist Azory Gwanda was abducted by a group of unknown assailants in the Coast Region. Prior to his enforced disappearance, Gwanda who is a journalist with newspapers, Mwananchi and The Citizen, had authored a number of articles documenting the murders of several local officials and police officers. To date Gwanda’s whereabouts remain unknown.
In August 2017, a Tanzania court began hearing a case against Micke William and Maxence Melo Mubyazi, co-owners of the whistleblower website, Jamii Forums. Both journalists were charged under the Cybercrimes Act on spurious accusations of obstructing justice for failing to disclose the identities of persons who posted details of allegedly corrupt officials on Jamiiforums. There have been over 40 adjournments of the case, including most recently on 3 May 2018. If convicted, they face fines up to 3 million shillings ($1,300) or a jail term of at least one year, or both.
Groups and defenders advocating for the rights of LGBTI individuals have also been equally persecuted. Among a wave of recent attempts to suppress organisations and activists working on SOGI issues, in October 2017, 13 human rights lawyers and defender were arbitrarily arrested and detained on allegations of promoting “promoting homosexuality”. Three civil society representatives, including Ugandan and South African lawyers from the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa and nine members of Tanzanian Community Health and Education Services and Advocacy (Chesa), were arrested during a private meeting.
Killings and criminal cases against political opposition members
Since the start of 2018, scores of political opposition members and parliamentarians have been violently attacked and even killed. On 22 February, Godfrey Luena, a member of parliament with Tanzania’s main opposition party Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and a vocal land rights defender, was killed with machetes outside of his home. Mr Luena had been a critic of alleged state sponsored land-grabbing. Days earlier, on 13 February, Daniel John, a CHADEMA official in Dar es Salaam, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants using machetes. Mr John was supporting an opposition political campaign for a contested parliamentary seat in Dar es Salaam.
A number of opposition party members and lawmakers have also been targeted in what appears to be a systematic campaign of judicial harassment. Among other worrying cases, two opposition leaders, CHADEMA MP Joseph Mbilinyi and local party leader Emmanuel Masonga were sentenced to five months on 26 February 2018 for insulting President John Magufuli during a political rally.
Harassment, intimidation arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters
In response to growing public frustration over human rights backsliding in the country, individuals and groups have increasingly sought to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly to air their legitimate grievances. Worryingly, the authorities, including members of the government and security apparatus, have resorted to arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and intimidation to silence these protests.
In April 2018, Tanzanian activists called for national demonstrations to bring attention to the decline in respect for human rights in Tanzania. However, in contravention of international standards, the authorities, which require anyone seeking to hold a public assembly to secure a permit, declared the protests illegal.
The government and police forces responded to these calls to stage public protests with severe intolerance, including hostile statements by senior government and police officials, including threats that protesters “will be beaten like stray dogs."Days before the planned 26 April demonstrations seven people were arrested in Arusha for their purported role in organising the protests. The few who dared to take part in the protests were quickly persecuted; nine protesters, who marched in Dar Es Salaam, were almost immediately arrested.
Recommendations to the Government of Tanzania
The undersigned groups urge your government to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Tanzania, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the guidelines on freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Tanzania has ratified both the ICCPR and the African Charter. At a minimum, the following conditions should be ensured: freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect. In light of this, the following specific recommendations are made.
1) All disabling and restrictive provisions in the Cybercrimes Act, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations and the Media Services Act must be amended and replaced by progressive sections that will guarantee freedom of expression and the media in line with international human rights standards.
2) The cases of newspapers banned, suspended or fined under the Media Service Act 2016 should be reviewed to enable them to continue their operations without undue interference.
3) Independent investigations should be conducted into cases of attacks and assaults on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members with a view to bringing suspected perpetrators to justice and these attacks should be publicly and unequivocally condemned.
4) Government officials should desist from publicly threatening human rights defenders including when activists that are working to expose corrupt practices in government or are critical of government policies and actions.
5) Best practices on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly prescribed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association should be adopted by the Government of Tanzania including removing the permission regime and providing recourse in cases of unlawful denial of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
- Access Now
- African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
- Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
- Amnesty International
- ARTICLE 19 East Africa
- The Article 20 Network
- Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
- Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) - Ethiopia
- Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights - Bahrain
- Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
- Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
- Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) - Malawi
- Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations
- Chapter Four - Uganda
- Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE) - Eritrea
- Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
- Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) - South Sudan
- DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
- End Impunity Organisation
- Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP) - Ethiopia
- Freedom House
- Front Line Defenders
- Greenpeace Africa
- Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative - Zambia
- Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (ONG GAPP-BÉNIN) - Bénin
- HAKI Africa - Kenya
- Human Rights Defenders Network - Sierra Leone
- International Civil Society Center (ICSC)
- International Rivers - Africa Program
- Iraqi Network of Social Media - Iraq
- Jamaa Resource Initiatives - East Africa
- JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique - Mozambique
- Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights - Philippines
- Kepa - the Finnish NGO platform - Finland
- Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD)
- Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (LICHRD) - Liberia
- Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) - Djibouti
- Ligue Iteka - Burundi
- Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement - Senegal
- Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition - Malawi
- Minority Rights Group International
- National Civic Forum - Sudan
- Observatoire des Droits de l'Homme au Rwanda - Rwanda
- Odhikar - Bangladesh
- OutRight Action International
- Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN)
- Public Interest Law Center (PILC) - Chad
- RESOCIDE - Burkina Faso
- Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
- Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights | NYU School of Law
- Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (Serapaz) - México
- Sinergia - Venezuela
- Solidarity Center
- Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA) - Sudan
- Tournons la page (TLP)
- West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network (WAHRDN)
- World Movement for Democracy
- The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) - Zambia
- Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum - Zimbabwe
Tanzania: upsurge in restrictions on fundamental freedoms
Tanzania has been placed on a watch list of countries in which there are growing and worrying threats to civic space. The country is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform tracking civic violations around the world, who issue a quarterly watch list to highlight ongoing concerns in countries demonstrating worrying trends.
THAILAND: ‘People understood election monitoring was important to ensure checks and balances’
CIVICUS speaks about the 14 Mayelection in Thailand with Yingcheep Atchanont, executive director ofInternet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw).
Founded in 2009, iLaw is a civil society organisation (CSO) that campaigns for democracy, freedom of expression and a fair and accountable justice system in Thailand. Alongside Amnesty International Thailand, in 2020 iLaw developed the websiteMob Data Thailand that compiles protest data and jointly with other groups it exposed the use ofPegasus spyware against prominent leaders of Thailand’s pro-democracy protests.
Thailand: Concerns regarding the right to peaceful assembly
1 September 2021
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Royal Thai Government
1 Pitsanulok road
Re: Concerns regarding the right to peaceful assembly in Thailand
Dear Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha,
We, the 13 undersigned organizations, write to express our concern regarding violence and the excessive use of force by police at recent protests in Bangkok. We are troubled by the disproportionate response of riot police to provocations by protesters. We are also concerned by the arbitrary detention of protest leaders who have recently faced new criminal charges and have been denied bail and detained. Thailand needs to do more to protect protesters from violence and ensure that the public can safely exercise the right to peaceful assembly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent weeks, both riot police and protesters have contributed to a significant escalation in violence at political protests in Bangkok. In August alone, police have forcibly dispersed at least ten demonstrations using rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas. At several protests, demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, launched fireworks, and used slingshots to shoot nuts and bolts at riot police. Many of the clashes have occurred near Din Daeng intersection, which is close to the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division of the Royal Guard. Youth participation in these protests has been high, with a large proportion of protesters under the age of 18.
Crowd control measures and other actions taken by law enforcement officers have frequently violated the human rights of protesters and international standards on the policing of protests. Police officers have repeatedly fired rubber bullets at protesters in an indiscriminate fashion. Footage from a recent protest shows riot police firing rubber bullets from a highway overpass at a distance too great to ensure the targeting of violent individuals in a manner consistent with international standards. In other videos, police officers appear to shoot rubber bullets at individuals passing on motorcycles, including at point blank range. Journalists, including those who visibly identified themselves as press, have also reported being hit with rubber bullets at protests.
Police have reportedly fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters. On 13 August 2021, a protester, Thanat Thanakitamnuay, was hit in the face by an object believed to be a tear gas canister fired by police at Din Daeng intersection and has reportedly lost sight in his right eye.
The recent use of firearms by unknown assailants at a protest raises further grave concerns. On 18 August 2021, three teenage protesters were shot with live ammunition in front of the Din Daeng Police Station. One of the victims—a 15-year-old boy—was hit by a bullet in the neck and remains in intensive care. According to a hospital report he is suffering from paralysis of both arms and legs and is not responding to stimulus. The other two injured protesters were reportedly 14 and 16 years old. The police have denied using live ammunition during the protest and said they are investigating the shooting.
In addition to cracking down on street protests, Thai authorities have continued their harassment of protest leaders and participants through legal processes. Since July 2020, more than 700 individuals, including at least 130 children, have been investigated in connection to their protest activities. Between 7 and 9 August 2021, at least 32 protest leaders and participants were arrested and charged with a variety of offences. Ten were arbitrarily denied bail and subjected to pre-trial detention.
Two of the protesters who were arrested, Arnon Nampa and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, are Gwangju Prize for Human Rights laureates. Arnon was charged, inter alia, with lèse-majesté (defaming the monarchy) in relation to a speech he gave on monarchy reform at a protest in Bangkok on 3 August 2021. Jatupat was charged with, inter alia, violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation after he organized a protest in front of Thung Song Hong Police Station on the same day. Seven other protest leaders—Parit Chiwarak, Nutchanon Pairoj, Sirichai Natueng, Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, Panupong Chadnok, Thatchapong Kaedam, and Panadda Sirimatkul—were all charged, inter alia, with violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation as a result of their participation in a peaceful protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters on 2 August 2021. Sam Samart, a 19-year-old, was arrested on 7 August and charged, inter alia, with violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation in relation to the protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters on 2 August 2021.
Many of these activists have previously been detained, prosecuted, and imprisoned for their protest activities. In 2016, Jatupat was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after he was convicted of lèse-majesté. Earlier this year, Parit was detained for 91 days on similar charges. Arnon, Panupong, and Phromsorn were also arrested earlier this year and were released from pre-trial detention in June.
The court determined that the activities of key protest leaders including Arnon, Parit, and Jatupat violated the bail conditions connected to their previous lèse-majesté cases, which prohibited them from participating in political protests or further defaming the monarchy. They could face years of pretrial detention.
At least eight of the detained protesters have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 while jailed. On 26 August 2021, the Court of Appeal granted bail to Sirichai Natueng, Panadda Sirimasakul, and Sam Samart, and they were released from custody. Even though prisons are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, the other seven protest leaders remain in pre-trial detention, each having been denied bail at least twice.
Thailand’s obligations under international law and relevant standards
Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. While some restrictions on assembly are permissible under international law, any restriction on this right must be ‘imposed in conformity with the law and . . . necessary in a democratic society.’ ICCPR Article 21 enumerates a list of the permissible justifications for a restriction on assembly: to protect national security, public safety, public order, public health, public morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. No other governmental interest can justify a restriction on peaceful assembly.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Thailand ratified in 1992, protects children’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
In its General Comment No. 37, the UN Human Rights Committee elaborated on the importance of the right to peaceful assembly:
Together with other related rights, [the right to freedom of peaceful assembly] constitutes the very foundation of a system of participatory governance based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and pluralism. Peaceful assemblies can play a critical role in allowing participants to advance ideas and aspirational goals in the public domain and to establish the extent of support for or opposition to those ideas and goals. Where they are used to air grievances, peaceful assemblies may create opportunities for the inclusive, participatory and peaceful resolution of differences.
The right to peaceful assembly is foundational to many other rights and, in particular, helps to ensure economic, social, and cultural rights are upheld. Moreover, protest is often one of the most effective tools available for marginalized individuals and groups to successfully advocate for change.
For these reasons, international law is especially protective of protests with a political nature. According to the Human Rights Committee, ‘assemblies with a political message should enjoy a heightened level of accommodation and protection.’ As such, the creation of perimeters around government buildings or official locations that demarcate where assemblies may not take place ‘should generally be avoided, inter alia, because these are public spaces. Any restrictions on assemblies in and around such places must be specifically justified and narrowly circumscribed.’
The threat to public health posed by the COVID-19 pandemic may justify narrow restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but such restrictions must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality under international human rights law. In assessing whether a measure is necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim, consideration should be given to whether the measure in question is the least intrusive means of achieving that aim. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued guidance on issues affecting civic space in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that:
States should ensure that the right to hold assemblies and protests can be realized, and only limit the exercise of that right as strictly required to protect public health. Accordingly, States are encouraged to consider how protests may be held consistent with public health needs, for example by incorporating physical distancing.
In April 2020, UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups warned against the excessive use of force to enforce COVID-19-related restrictions on protesters, stating, ‘emergency measures can be a more direct threat to their life, livelihood, and dignity than even the virus itself.’ Moreover, aggressive police action against protesters may defeat the purpose of emergency measures. Arrest, detention, the use of force, and dispersal of protests can increase the risk of virus transmission for protesters and law enforcement officials alike.
States have an obligation to protect journalists, monitors, and members of the public - as well as public and private property - from harm. As such, state actors must take steps to ensure that protesters can exercise their rights safely, while exerting the ‘minimum force necessary’ to reduce the likelihood of injuries and property damage.
In a joint statement, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the freedoms of association and expression declared that there is ‘no such thing in law as a violent protest’. Rather, there are only violent protesters who should be dealt with individually. According to the Special Rapporteurs and Human Rights Committee, the right to peaceful assembly is an individual right, not a collective right, and must be treated as such. Any isolated act of violence by some participants must not be attributed to other participants in the assembly. In addition, so long as organizers take reasonable efforts to encourage peaceful conduct during an assembly, they may not be held responsible for the violent actions of others.
State authorities may only disperse assemblies when ‘strictly unavoidable,’ such as when there is clear evidence of an imminent threat of serious violence that cannot be dealt with by targeted arrests or other less drastic actions. Before dispersing a crowd, law enforcement officers must take all reasonable measures to enable the assembly by providing a safe environment. Even if some protesters act violently, all those involved retain all their rights under the ICCPR, including, of course, the right to life and protection against arbitrary detention.
Law enforcement officers should only resort to force in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. Any use of force must only be the minimum amount necessary, targeted at specific individuals, and proportionate to the threat posed. The restrictions on the use of force at assemblies are even more important when police use lethal force, including the use of firearms. When policing an assembly, firearms may only be used when strictly necessary to counter an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Rubber bullets can also be deadly. The OHCHR Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement states that ‘kinetic impact projectiles should generally be used only with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.’ Rubber bullets should not be used as a general tool to disperse protesters, nor should they be fired indiscriminately into a crowd.
Tear gas and other ‘area weapons’ also pose risks to protesters and should only be used in response to widespread violence with the sole purpose of dispersal and as a measure of last resort after giving an audible warning and providing reasonable time for protesters and bystanders to vacate the area. Tear gas cartridges and canisters may not be aimed at individuals or used in confined spaces. Their use on a person who is already restrained amounts to a violation of the prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law.
According to the Human Rights Committee, states should ‘consistently promote a culture of accountability for law enforcement officials during assemblies.’ As such, it is essential that police receive adequate training to facilitate assemblies. Law enforcement officers must understand the legal framework governing assemblies, their obligation to enable peaceful assemblies, and the importance of political assemblies in a rights-respecting society. They should receive training on proper techniques to manage crowds and how to avoid escalation while responding to violence by protesters. Any use of force must be investigated to determine whether the force was necessary and proportionate. States have ‘an obligation to investigate effectively, impartially and in a timely manner any allegation or reasonable suspicion of unlawful use of force or other violations by law enforcement officials … in the context of assemblies’.
In March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release ‘every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By continuing to detain protest leaders despite high infection rates and overcrowding in prisons, the Thai government is unnecessarily putting their lives at grave risk.
In order to fulfill its human rights obligations, the Thai government should not only refrain from suppressing protests but also needs to create a safe and enabling environment for members of the public to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We call on the Thai government to ensure that law enforcement officials only resort to the use of force against protesters in full compliance with international human rights law and standards. In particular, authorities must not use greater force than necessary to achieve a legitimate objective and must not cause greater harm than the harm they seek to prevent. Any use of force must be proportionate to a legitimate law enforcement objective, such as meeting any threat of violence. We further call on your government to ensure that all law enforcement personnel present at protests have been properly trained in strategies and tactics that comply with international human rights law and standards. Authorities should promptly, effectively, impartially, and independently investigate any violations of domestic law and international standards and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
We further call on the Thai government to immediately end its harassment of protest leaders and participants. Individuals detained solely because of their exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, including protest leaders recently denied bail, should be immediately and unconditionally released. No one should be detained merely for exercising a human right, such as the rights to peaceful assembly or freedom of expression.
We urge you to initiate a review of all laws and policies impacting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Thailand. Laws and policies that unjustifiably restrict the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression should be amended in line with international law and standards.
Thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations raised in this letter. We would welcome the opportunity to assist and support the Thai government in meeting its human rights obligations.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Asia Democracy Network
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Rights Defenders
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
Police General Suwat Jangyodsuk,
Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police
Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan
Civic space in Thailand is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 21.
 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 15.
 Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 37, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/37, para. 1, (23 July 2020) [hereinafter General Comment No. 37]. Unofficial Thai language translation is available at: https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/1.-ไทย_GC-37.pdf
 Id. at para. 2.
 Id. at para. 32.
 Id. at para. 56.
 See Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 37, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/37, para. 45, (23 July 2020) [hereinafter General Comment No. 37].
 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Civic Space and COVID-19: Guidance’, 4 May 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/CivicSpace/CivicSpaceandCovid.pdf.
 UN OHCHR, ‘COVID-19 security measures no excuse for excessive use of force, say UN Special Rapporteurs’, 17 April 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25802&LangID=E.
 Amnesty International, ‘COVID-19 Crackdowns: Police abuse and the global pandemic’, 2020, p. 25, available at: https://policehumanrightsresources.org/content/uploads/2020/12/ACT3034432020ENGLISH.pdf?x96812.
 Id. at paras. 74, 76.
 Id. at paras. 76, 79.
 UN OHCHR, ‘UN rights experts urge lawmakers to stop “alarming” trend to curb freedom of assembly in the US’, 30 March 2017, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21464&LangID=E.
 Id. See also: General Comment No. 37 at para. 4.
 Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies, U.N. Doc A/HRC/31/66, 4 February 2016, at para. 26 [hereinafter HRC 31/66].
 HRC 31/66 at para 61; General Comment No. 37 at para. 85.
 General Comment No. 37 at para. 9.
 HRC 31/66 at para. 57.
 Id. at paras. 57–58.
 General Comment No. 37 at para 88; HRC 31/66 at para. 59. See also: Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, principles 9 and 14; Amnesty International, Dutch Section, ‘Use of Force: Guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’, August 2015, section 2, available at: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/use_of_force.pdf, [hereinafter Amnesty International, ‘Use of Force’].
 United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, para. 7.5.8, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CCPR/LLW_Guidance.pdf [hereinafter Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons].
 Amnesty International, ‘Use of Force’, section 7.4.2.
 Id. at para. 87.
 Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons, paras. 7.3.6-8.
 General Comment No. 37 at para. 89.
 HRC 31/66 at para. 42.
 General Comment No. 37 at para. 91.
 Id. at para. 90.
 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, ‘Urgent action needed to prevent COVID-19 “rampaging through places of detention”’, 25 March 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25745&LangID=E.
Thailand: Immediately repeal emergency regulation that threatens online freedoms
🇹🇭#Thailand: Joint statement by 1⃣7⃣ international CSOs calling on the authorities to immediately repeal emergency regulation that threatens online freedoms. This regulation is incompatible with international law on freedom of expression & information.— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) August 3, 2021
Seventeen (17) international human rights organisations today denounced the Thai government’s newly announced Regulation No. 29, which empowers the authorities to censor online expression, and investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for communications that may “instigate fear”. The Regulation is the government’s latest attack on the right to freedom of expression and information in Thailand.
THE NETHERLANDS: ‘People are beginning to realise that we need real and systemic change’
CIVICUS speaks with Sieger Sloot, an actor and climate activist from a Dutch branch of Extinction Rebellion (XR), about climate protests and the criminalisation of climate activism in the Netherlands.
XR is a global decentralised network of climate activists working to compel governments to address climate change and prevent biodiversity loss and ecological collapse through the use of non-violent civil disobedience tactics.
What forms of protests has XR deployed in the Netherlands, and what have you achieved?
In the Netherlands, XR organised over 300 protests in 2022 alone. One of the most successful was a blockade of the A12 highway in The Hague city centre. We were 30 people when we started blocking the road last June, and since then, the number of participants doubled or tripled every time, so we grew exponentially. On 11 March 2023, around 4,000 protesters blocked the same spot.
It is XR’s strategy to use non-violent disruptive actions like blockades to draw attention to the climate crisis, and especially to the €30 billion (approx. US$32.9 billion) annual fossil fuel subsidies provided by the government. These attract way more media coverage than regular protests. The Dutch law allows a great deal of protesting and XR is actively investigating the limits of what is allowed.
These forms of protest have had a huge effect on Dutch society. For the first time we witness mainstream media talking about fossil fuel subsidies. Some 400 Dutch economists wrote an op-ed on why and how fossil fuel subsidies should be terminated. Members of parliament are making proposals for ending fossil fuel subsidies. The Dutch Secretary for Climate has announced a press conference on the climate crisis. A wave of famous musicians, actors, writers and directors are joining the XR movement. So our tactics are proving to be quite effective.
What are your demands to the Dutch government, and how has the government reacted?
The Dutch government promised to end fossil fuel subsidies in 2020 but still hasn’t done it, so with every blockade XR demands it end all fossil fuel subsidies immediately, or otherwise the protesters won’t leave. Until now, the government hasn’t complied with our demand. Instead, police have arrested protesters who weren’t willing to leave and fined others. They also used water cannon to disperse crowds and tried to infiltrate XR.
Over the past months, between 40 and 50 climate activists have been prosecuted in the Netherlands. The accusations vary from vandalism, which can be just about spray paint, to not following police orders and trespassing, all the way to sedition.
This included eight activists arrested for sedition because they posted on social media about their intention to go to the protest and block the highway. This had never happened before: it is a totally unprecedented attack on free speech and freedom of assembly. This provoked a lot of anger among Dutch people, since according to both Dutch and European Union law it’s allowed to block roads while protesting. Over 70 civil society organisations showed their solidarity with XR following the arrest of those eight activists by joining the A12 protest.
I think the Dutch government is criminalising climate activists just to ‘restore law and order’, but it has totally backfired on them. The District Attorney (DA) is prosecuting the eight activists, probably to make a case that not all ways of protesting are allowed – even though XR’s actions are always non-violent. We’ve had some quite violent farmers’ protests in recent years, but it seems that the DA didn’t dare to make a case against them. Of course they have tractors and aren’t as easy to target as climate activists.
What kind of support are your receiving from international allies?
We get a lot of international support online, which is absolutely awesome. Right now, I think we’re really thriving and growing rapidly. It feels as if XR is becoming more and more accepted and mainstream every day. Along with other activists I’ve started giving ‘Headed for Extinction’ talks to all kinds of people, which translated into more attention for our story from people in power and in the media. More and more people are now joining us because they see it’s the logical thing to do. A lot of powerful and smart people are beginning to realise that we need change, real and systemic change.
Civic space in the Netherlands is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.