freedom of expression

  • The Press and the New President: A Review of Freedom of Speech in Kyrgyzstan

    By Ann-Sofie Nyman and Bobbie Jo Traut

    In November, Kyrgyzstan inaugurated its new president Sooronbay Jeenbekov who has promised to continue the previous presidential administration’s policies. This does not bode well for independent journalists and other critical voices who were publicly labeled as national enemies, threatened and taken to court under the previous president’s tenure. 

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier 

  • Togo’s violations of the press are out of step with democratic norms


    CIVICUS speaks toKoffi Déla Frack Kepomey, the executive director of Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo (CNSC-Togo) concerning the recent closure of a television and radio station by the regulatory authority as well as the torture of a journalist.

    1. Two independent media outlets, LCF television station and radio City FM, were closed by the media regulatory authority High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication  (HAAC) on 6 February 2017. Can you detail these closures?

    The High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) issued a communiqué on 19 September and 26 December 2016 respectively saying that it had informed media outlets LCF and City FM which are under the media group Sud Média, of irregularities and invited them to comply with the rules before 5 February 2017. A failure to comply would lead to the withdrawal of their licenses the HAAC said.

    During a press conference convened by the president of the HAAC, Pitang Tchalla, on 3 February 2017, he declared that he was not aware of the existence of documents constituting a file of the Sud Média group and announced they will be closed after 5 February 2017.

    The director of the Sud Média group, Luc Abaki, confirmed that the Sud Média group complied with the rules and that all documents had been provided to the then HAAC president Philippe Evegno.

    Some questions remain to be clarified after the closure such as what exactly is the Sud Média group being blamed for? What are the underlying and unsaid reasons for this case?

    Although it is the HAAC that attributes frequencies to radio and television stations, and gives authorisation to the written press, the HAAC also does not have the authority to cancel frequencies from those with legal existence. This power belongs to the justice arm of the state. Article 130, title IX of the Constitution states, among others that “… the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations to new installations of private television and radio stations”. Additionally, article 24 of the Organic Law establishing the HAAC specifies that the HAAC has the competence to grant authorisations for the installation and operation of television and radio stations. Analysing these two situations shows clearly that the powers that be have decided to muzzle the press.

    CNSC remains particularly concerned about the increasing restrictions for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Togo.

    2. Journalist Robert Avotor was violently attacked on 7 February 2017 and tortured for two hours by security forces when reporting on a land dispute in Akato-Viépé. What happened?

    The journalist Robert Avotor was carrying out his reporting work when he was arrested, handcuffed and tortured. This happened in Akato-Viépé, a suburb of Lomé, where he was reporting on a land dispute.

    According to the journalist there is a land dispute in Akato-Viépé following a decision of the Supreme Court ruled that some buildings had to be demolished. Gendarmes came to force people from the area. There were about one hundred men in combat uniforms. Robert went there to do a report. He had his press vest and his press card. He descended from his motorcycle and approached the gendarmes and presented himself and requested to speak with the chief of the gendarmes.

    Here are the facts as described by the journalist in his own words: “One of them asked me who I am and I repeated to him that I am a journalist. They responded that there was no chief among them, that they were all chiefs. After this, they asked me to show my press card, which I did. Afterwards they said: ‘We don’t eat cards here’. One of them ordered me to leave the premises. He had hardly finished saying that when he started to beat me. I ran but other gendarmes caught me and started clubbing me. They then handcuffed me, put me in a corner and walked away. Some minutes later, they came back and asked me for which press organisation I work for. I told them I came from L’Alternative. They asked me who the director was. I said it was Ferdinand Ayité. They responded, ‘This time, we have you. We always come across this name. We will make you feel what we are capable of. When you are in the crowd, you make noise. Today, it’s you alone.’ They left me in the corner. They handcuffed my hands behind my back. From time to time they came back to tighten my handcuffs. This hurt my wrists.

    At a certain point, I felt the need to relieve myself. I asked them if they would permit me to urinate. They categorically refused. I then urinated in my pants and this amused them. They also brought in another person that they had discovered filming the eviction. I was there, handcuffed, for more than two hours. They then handcuffed us together (with the other person that had also been arrested), and we got into their vehicle. Once we arrived at the Gendarmerie of Sagbado, they erased all the images in our phones and on our devices. They gave us back our phones and asked us to leave. They took note of our identity numbers and we left around 14.30.”

    According to Ferdinand Ayité, director of L’Alternative, journalist Robert Avotor has been subject to anonymous calls and harassment since the attack on 7 February. On the night of 19 February, while going home by motorcycle, he was followed by a car that sped up and hit the rear of his motorcycle, leading him to fall.

    The Minister of Security, Yak Damehame, has received the journalist a couple of days later, together with the director of l’Alternativenewspaper and other media actors, in which he reassured to take the necessary sanctions to those responsible.

    3. How would you describe the situation of freedom of expression in Togo?

    The closure of these two independent media described above and the attack on and torture of journalist Robert Avotor by security forces are incidents that bear a heavy cost for freedom of expression in Togo.

    The mission of the High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communication (HAAC) is “to guarantee and ensure the freedom and protection of the press and other ways of mass communication” and the first article of Organic Law 2004-021/PR of 15 December 2004 regulating the HAAC, modified  by Organic Law  2009-029 of 22 December 2009 and Organic Law 2013-016 of 8 July 2013 says the HAAC is an “independent institution, independent of the administrative authorities, of all political power, of all associations and pressure groups”. The HAAC does not have the calling/ vocation to close media.

    Togo has ratified international agreements, and in particular, it has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and also its Constitution does not permit torture.

    These incidents constitute an obstacle to the exercise of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression, also protected by the Togolese Constitution and are an attack on human rights. They risk to annul all the efforts the government has implemented in that sense, and above all eligibility for different programmes of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

    4. How has Togolese civil society reacted to these developments?

    Confronted with these events, civil society in Togo has mobilised to express their indignation through press statements, open letters and public marches. A public march was organised on 25 February in Lomé by CSOs and press organisations, joint by certain political parties, to condemn the closure of LCF and City FM. Although the march was authorised by municipal authorities, the crowd was dispersed by security forces using teargas grenades and batons, and chased protestors into the compound of the University of Lomé. CSOs and press organisations condemned strongly this violation of peaceful assembly.

    Joint press statements were organised to denounce the violations of the freedom of expression, and open letters were written to government structures to use their influence to guarantee the freedom of expression. For example, CNSC has written to the MCA Cell, a structure put in place by the government to assist Togo to benefit from the Treshold and Compact of the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

    5. Can you tell us some more about the environment for civil society in Togo?

    At the moment we can say that there is a beginning of awareness within Togolese civil society in terms of mobilisation that needs to be encouraged. However, civic space is still under threat and there is need for more sensitisation and capacity enhancement to preserve civil society.

    6. What support can international and regional groups offer to CNSC-Togo and other civil society organisations in the country?

    Togolese CSOs not only need capacity enhancement for the effective preservation of civic space but also institutional support. There is a need to strengthen CSOs and activists on the preservation of civic space by accentuating the use of technology and including them in regional and international networks in order to share experiences and information.

    Institutional support is a big need of CSOs in Togo, for them to achieve increased effectiveness and sustainability. Additionally regional and international groups must advocate, to the international community and the partners for Togo to respect regional and international instruments in practice.

    Confronted with this situations, CNSC-Togo has addressed a communication to the Coordinator of the Cell MCA – Togo, a cell that was set up by the state to improve the indexes of development, freedom, corruption in order for Togo to benefit from the Millenium Challenge Corporation. We have asked the cell to use its influence to bring the president of the HAAC to reconsider its decision to withdraw the authorisation to close the LCF and City FM stations of the Sud Média group.

    • For more information on CNSC-Togo and their activities, visit their website,
    • Please describe in one paragraph what CNSC-Togo does.CNSC (Concertation de la Société Civile du Togo) is a Togolese civil society network with 72 member organisations, working mainly on the themes of democracy, good governance, and the promotion and protection of individual and collective rights of Togolese citizens.

    Togo is ranked as obstructed by the CIVICUSMonitor.

  • TURKEY: ‘All critical voices are repressed under the pretext of combating disinformation’

    FatihPolatIn the run-up to Turkey’s general election, CIVICUS speaks with Fatih Polat, editor-in-chief of Evrensel, about the state of press freedoms and the Turkish government’s attacks on critical media.

    Founded in 1995, Evrensel is an independent daily newspaper. In August 2022, the Turkish Press Advertisement Agency permanentlybanned all public announcements and advertisements with Evrensel despite the Turkish Constitutional Court’s decision that advertisement bans on Evrensel and other newspapers violated freedom of expression and press freedom.

    What are the conditions for the exercise of journalism in Turkey?

    In Turkey state representatives routinely refuse to answer journalists’ questions. In any developed western democracy, this would be a serious matter and would be considered an obstruction of journalistic work. But in Turkey, this is no longer seen as a problem. For a very long time, the government has routinely imposed a variety of obstacles both on the critical Turkish press and on our foreign colleagues covering Turkey for international press organisations.

    Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained power 21 years ago, independent media have been in trouble. The government pressures critical media both financially and politically. It seeks to financially asphyxiate them by blocking the flow of official announcements and advertisements and imposing fines for alleged infractions concerning news, commentaries or television programmes. Political pressures range from lawsuits filed against individual journalists and newspaper managers to the detention, arrest and use of torture against journalists.

    Critical television channels can also be subjected to temporary screen blackouts. Online media, which have developed significantly over the past 20 years, experience pressures ranging from court-ordered removal of content to lawsuits. Even cartoonists are subjected to punishment and arrest. Moreover, journalists are frequently exposed to police violence and detained while following the news on the streets.

    On top of this, if the government is uncomfortable with the publication of a newspaper, a state official calls the agency that distributes advertisements and makes veiled threats to stop the flow of private advertisements. In contrast, newspapers and TV channels supporting the government receive serious financial aid from the state.

    How has Evrensel been specifically targeted?

    Evrensel is a 28-year-old, well-established newspaper that stays afloat thanks to readers’ contributions and advertisements placed by municipalities run by the opposition. On 22 August 2022, the Turkish Press Advertisement Agency, whose budget comes from tax money, banned Evrensel from receiving any public announcements and advertisements. This tactic is aimed at making a newspaper financially unviable. In response we filed a lawsuit, which is currently underway.

    The new press law, which was recently introduced by the government under the pretext of ‘combating disinformation’, has led to a new period of repression of anyone who expresses a critical stance towards the regime. Lawsuits are filed against us for news and articles published in our print newspaper and on our website. Our website is frequently subjected to access-blocking orders.

    Are journalists from certain groups particularly vulnerable?

    The Kurdish media are under particularly strong attack. There is an ongoing conflict between the state and various Kurdish insurgent groups who demand either separation from Turkey or greater autonomy within Turkey. The government has increased pressure on Kurdish media, and on all Kurdish actors, after putting an end to negotiations. For example, Kurdish journalists have been arrested alongside legislators and politicians of the pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP), including the HDP’s co-presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, and mayors have been replaced by trustees. In April and early May alone, 34 Kurdish journalists and press workers have been arrested.

    How has the repression of press freedoms affected the popularity of the ruling regime?

    Your question reminds me of another important element of repression. In Turkey, insulting the president is punishable with prison sentences of up to six years. I am among the many journalists who have been tried for insulting the president; I was acquitted in 2019. This has been applied not only against journalists but also against social media users.

    But for a significant segment of AKP voters, media censorship or corruption allegations against the president are not that important. Only bad economic performance can result in the erosion of their support.

    On 14 May Turkey will hold a critical general election, both for president and parliament. The unity of the opposition has brought hope for a change. Right now, the prospect of a time when we will be able to breathe a little more freely again seems within reach.

    What kinds of domestic or international support do Turkish independent media and journalists currently receive, and what would help?

    There are several domestic journalists’ organisations in Turkey. For example, I am a member of the Journalists’ Union of Turkey and the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, the largest press unions in the country. In the last 15 to 20 years, various international journalists’ organisations have also provided important support, standing in solidarity with the independent press and journalists from Turkey, spreading awareness and advocating for our rights. It is very valuable for us that they follow the many cases of repression of critical media and include them in their countries’ political agenda.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Evrensel through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@EvrenselDaily and@fpolat69 onTwitter.

  • TURKEY: ‘For the embattled LGBTQI+ movement, simply persisting in taking to the streets is an achievement’

    DalmaUmutUzunCIVICUS speaks about 2023 Pride and the civil society response to the Turkish government’s anti-LGBTQI+ campaign with Damla Umut Uzun, international relations and fundraising officer atKaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL).

    Founded in 1994, Kaos GL is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQI+ organisations in Turkey, dedicated to creating visibility and understanding and promoting LGBTQI+ human rights.

    How have Turkish authorities reacted to Prideevents?

    Since 2015, Pride events have been increasingly banned by city governors. The first ban was introduced in Istanbul, which in 2014 had the largest Pride gathering, with at least 50,000 participants. But despite the growing number of bans, the number of Pride events across the country has also consistently increased.

    This year in Istanbul, several Pride events were banned by district governor offices, resulting in detentions, police brutality and restrictions on journalists. A Pride movie event organised by the University Feminist Collective in Şişli was banned for ‘potentially causing societal resentment’ and ‘threatening social peace’. The screening of the film ‘Pride’, scheduled by the cinema collective, and a tea gathering event organised by the LambdaIstanbul LGBTQI+ Solidarity Association were banned in Kadıköy district. The police detained and later released at least eight people who came to watch the film, using physical violence. The LGBTQI+ group Queer Baykuş of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University had their posters violently confiscated by the university’s security units before a planned press release. On 18 June, during the Trans Pride Parade in Beyoğlu district, the police handcuffed and detained 10 people, including a child, and released them later that day after taking police statements. Journalists were prevented from taking pictures during the intervention.

    The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey compiled a detailed report of rights violations in the context of 2023 Pride events between 2 June and 10 July 2023. Various Pride celebrations, including parades, picnics and press statements, were banned by multiple governorships and disrupted due to targeted threats and societal reactions in Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Eskişehir, Izmir, Kocaeli and Muğla. A total of 241 people, including four minors and seven lawyers, were detained on the grounds of Article 2,911 of the law on gatherings and demonstrations. The main reasons cited by authorities were non-compliance with regulations, disruption of public order and violation of ban decisions. Although most detainees were typically released on the same day, they might face prosecution and lawsuits months later.

    Police interventions during Pride events are a reflection of the government’s hostility towards LGBTQI+ people. They are waging a kind of war against us. The recurring violence is fuelled by a sense of impunity: the fact that law enforcement officials face no consequences for harming, insulting or harassing LGBTQI+ people further emboldens them.

    Why is the Turkish government hostile towards LGBTQI+ people?

    Oppression of the LGBTQI+ community in Turkey is not new: the government’s crackdown first intensified following the 2016 attempted coup. But the main reason behind the increasing hatred is the attempt of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to mobilise conservative segments of society. To mask the effects of its corrupt rule and economic mismanagement, the government is employing populist rhetoric and polarisation tactics, seeking to designate an enemy to blame.

    Repression hasn’t been limited to LGBTQI+ people but rather targeted at any opposition or independent views. Dissenting voices, including those of Kurdish people, feminists and human rights defenders, are labelled as ‘terrorists’.

    Among these groups, LGBTQI+ people are a particularly easy target due to societal conservatism and religious tendencies. Censorship and rights violations of LGBTQI+ people affect all aspects of life, including access to goods and services, education, healthcare and housing and media representation. In line with the global anti-gender trend, the government has employed a rhetoric focused on ‘protecting the sacred Turkish family structure against perversion’, using LGBTQI+ people and feminists as scapegoats.

    What role did anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric play in the2023 presidential elections?

    Anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric played a significant role in the election campaigns of the AKP government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, aimed at mobilising conservative voters, including those on the left side of the political spectrum. Former Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu openly mobilised hate speech against LGBTQI+ people at public events. President Erdoğan used similar rhetoric, accusing the opposition of being ‘pro-LGBTQI+’.

    Unfortunately, two radical Islamist parties, Hüdapar and New Welfare, have entered parliament, and their primary election promise was to close down LGBTQI+ organisations. They are now working actively towards this goal, and we anticipate that such rhetoric and efforts will intensify in the run-up to local elections in a few months.

    How are LGBTQI+ organisations, including Kaos GL,responding to these attacks?

    Despite facing oppressive conditions and lack of opportunities, the LGBTQI+ movement in Turkey remains resilient and strong. Alongside feminists, we are the only groups that continue to take to the streets and demonstrate for our rights, showing immense bravery in the face of police violence and detention. Simply persisting in organising demonstrations is an achievement in itself.

    In addition to street activism, Turkish LGBTQI+ organisations are actively engaged in advocacy, the promotion of visibility and capacity building. We recognise that we won’t be able to change policies at the national level due to the AKP’s absolute majority, so we focus our efforts on grassroots societal transformation. We educate professionals who encounter LGBTQI+ people in their daily work, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and social and municipal workers, to increase their understanding and capacity to work with LGBTQI+ people and respond to their needs in the respectful manner.

    We document human rights violations and hate crimes, providing a factual basis for our advocacy campaigns. We also report on the situation of LGBTQI+ employees in the public and private sectors. Other organisations focus on reporting the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ students, people living with HIV, elderly people and refugees.

    We also organise cultural events, including queer film festivals such as Pink Life Queer Fest and exhibitions and art programmes like the Ankara Queer Art Programme and the Women-to-Women storytelling contests, aimed at fostering expression and community engagement.

    What obstacles do you encounter in your work, and what supportdo you need?

    Since the attempted coup, the government has intensified its crackdown on civil society organisations (CSOs), subjecting them to frequent state audits to identify alleged mistakes, impose fines or even shut them down. Laws such as the Law on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction have made it increasingly difficult for CSOs to receive funds, further hindering their work.

    Turkish LGBTQI+ organisations maintain close contact with European human rights organisations, Council of Europe representatives, the European Union (EU) delegation and United Nations mechanisms. We regularly update them about the developments and shrinking human rights space in Turkey, and in turn, they issue statements expressing deep concern about the government’s actions. However, these efforts have proven ineffective as the AKP government demonstrates a complete lack of regard and even fails to implement decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

    Turkish LGBTQI+ organisations have generally benefitted from EU funding, but this has started to decrease. It appears that the EU has somewhat given up on Turkey, since the government is making no effort to improve human rights standards. Additionally, the fact that Turkey is keeping millions of refugees out of Europe has limited the EU’s consistency in supporting human rights in Turkey.

    As LGBTQI+ individuals living in Turkey, we are constantly pressured to hide our identities, pushed to the margins of society and silenced. But as LGBTQI+ organisations we continue to fight for our rights and freedoms. To advance our cause, we need more systematic financial resources, increased collaboration with international organisations, more vocal campaigns and international pressure on the Turkish government.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Kaos GL through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@KaosGL on Twitter.

  • TURKEY: ‘The government does not tolerate opinions different from its own’

    ErenKeskinCIVICUS speaks with lawyer Eren Keskin, chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), about the Turkish government’s attacks on critical media and the state of press freedoms in the context of Turkey’s current elections.

    Founded in 1986, IHD is one of Turkey’s oldest and largest human rights civil society organisations. It documents human rights violations and campaigns for the protection of human rights and civic freedoms in Turkey.

    What are the conditions for journalism in Turkey?

    Problems in the area of freedom of expression have existed in Turkey since the foundation of the republic. From the very beginning there were issues that the republic’s official ideology of Turkish-Islamic synthesis prohibited speaking about. Issues such as the Kurdish conflict, the 1915 Armenian Genocide and, later on, Turkey’s military presence in Cyprus, have long been forbidden topics.

    What’s changed under the present government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party is that the opposition’s freedom of expression has been severely restricted across the board. As a result, obstacles have mounted for opposition journalists to express their views.

    The government does not tolerate opinions different from its own. It recklessly issues arrest warrants for articles, speeches and social media messages if they express diverging opinions. The state of Turkey recognises freedom of expression in its domestic legislation and is bound to respect it as a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it continues to violate its own laws and the international conventions and covenants it has signed.

    What tactics does the government use against independent media and how have you been affected?

    Because it does not tolerate any kind of diverging opinion, the government is extremely aggressive towards independent media and the free press, the majority of which are Kurdish media outlets.

    Dissident journalists are commonly charged with making propaganda for an illegal organisation. Particularly with news reports on the Kurdish war, most lawsuits are filed on charges of making propaganda for the Kurdish political movement or Kurdish armed forces. Apart from this, a large number of cases are filed on charges of insulting the president, insulting the forces of the state and inciting the public to hatred and enmity.

    Many journalists are under arrest or subject to international travel bans merely for expressing their thoughts in writing. There is almost no journalist who is not being subjected to judicial control.

    I was once the volunteer editor-in-chief of the daily Özgür Gündem, one of the newspapers that has faced the most repression, and have stood trial in 143 cases just because my name appeared on the newspaper as volunteer editor-in-chief.

    I’ve been sentenced to a total of 26 years and nine months in prison for alleged crimes such as membership of an illegal organisation, making propaganda for an illegal organisation and insulting the president, even for articles I did not write. These sentences are pending a decision of the Court of Cassation. As soon as they are final, I may go to prison. I have also been unable to travel abroad for six years now because of an international travel ban.

    Has the intensification of repression affected the popularity of the president in any way?

    Considering that the ruling regime is the main culprit for all the rights violations currently taking place in Turkey, and that power is concentrated in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it must be admitted that the main perpetrator of rights violations is the president himself. The judiciary is completely dependent on the president. Judges and prosecutors render compliant decisions out of fear. Where judges and prosecutors are afraid, it is unthinkable for the judiciary to be independent.

    The president’s attitude towards the press, especially the opposition press, and the language of hatred and violence he uses, does not detract from his popularity but is instead a major reason his followers support him. However, we think that a large part of society, hopefully a growing part, is also disturbed by his blatant violations of freedom of expression.

    What do you make of the results of the 14 May general election?

    The AKP had relative success in the presidential and parliamentary elections held on 14 May. The president did better than expected, considering the economic situation and the criticism he’s faced over the response to the earthquakes in February. His party has maintained control of parliament. But he didn’t win re-election outright: he received 49.5 per cent of the vote while his opposition challenger, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) received almost 45 per cent. Now there’s going to be a runoff on 28 May.

    None of this should come as a surprise. Society has become extremely polarised, especially as a result of Erdoğan’s rhetoric of fear, hatred and violence. We also witnessed many practices that violated the constitution and electoral laws, such as government ministers becoming parliamentary candidates without resigning and therefore using state resources for campaigning. The ruling party monopolises a large part of the media and used it exclusively on its own behalf. The elections were therefore held under extremely unequal conditions.

    It’s hard to predict what the outcome of the runoff will be. The election may end in favour of Erdoğan or Kılıçdaroğlu. Much will depend on the practices that develop during the election.

    How will the situation of vulnerable minorities in Turkey be affected by the election results?

    Erdoğan uses language that is completely against human rights and the AKP has retained its parliamentary majority by coalescing with an extremist party. The situation will become dangerous if Erdoğan wins once again, especially for women, LGBTQI+ people and Kurdish people.

    Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence – has already affected the feminist movement a lot. Now Law No. 6,284 on violence against women is being questioned. This poses a great danger for women and LGBTQI+ people.

    Similarly, if Erdoğan wins again, pro-security approaches to the Kurdish issue will continue to dominate, preventing progress towards peace.

    As for Syrian asylum-seekers, the AKP presents itself as having provided a good environment for them, but it is not really the case. Asylum-seekers in Turkey do not qualify as refugees because of the state’s reservation to the 1951 Refugee Convention. They are subjected to racist attacks. They work as cheap labour in extremely difficult conditions. Women and girls live under permanent risk of violence. An AKP win will not give them a chance.

    But it must be noted that the CHP’s proposal regarding refugees is not any more democratic or inclusive, and its discourse also has racist overtones. Therefore, first and foremost, the discriminatory, double-standard approach to the Refugee Convention should be questioned.

    What kinds of domestic or international support do Turkish independent media and journalists currently receive, and what more would you need?

    Journalists working in independent media in Turkey, and especially in Kurdistan, are clearly not receiving sufficient international support. The Republic of Turkey is a state party to many international conventions that guarantee freedoms of expression and the press. The state has committed to respecting them on paper, but it violates them in practice. All these conventions have monitoring mechanisms, but unfortunately, they are not being properly implemented for Turkey. In this sense, the European Union has left Turkey alone.

    We believe that Turkey should be questioned more, especially by western media organisations and by Turkey’s co-signatory states of international rights conventions, to contribute to the lifting of repressive measures against the dissident press.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Human Rights Association through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@ihd_genelmerkez on Twitter.

  • Turkey: CIVICUS joins call for the release journalist Sedef Kabaş

    We join the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) and other press freedom organisations and journalists in calling on Turkey to release senior journalist Sedef Kabaş.

  • TURKMENISTAN: ‘There is nothing resembling real civil society – and no conditions for it to emerge’

    Farid TukhbatullinCIVICUS speaks with Farid Tukhbatullin, founder and director of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), about the upcoming election and the environment for civil society in Turkmenistan.

    TIHR is a civil society organisation (CSO) based in Austria, where Farid lives in exile, that collects information from sources inside Turkmenistan to report internationally on human rights and civic space violations and advocate for democratic change.

    What is the state of the space for civil society in Turkmenistan?

    In the early 1990s, several independent CSOs appeared in Turkmenistan. The fingers of one hand were enough to count them. These included our organisation, Dashoguz Ecological Club.

    But by the late 1990s, the first president of the country, Turkmenbashi, viewed them as a danger to the system he was building. Independent CSOs were liquidated and only a few quasi-CSOs remained - the Union of Women, the Union of Veterans and the Union of Youth, all of which were remnants of the Soviet era.

    Turkmenistan not only lacks anything resembling real civil society – it also does not meet the minimal preconditions for its emergence.

    There are no independent media outlets in Turkmenistan. Not surprising, in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, the country constantly ranks second-to-last or last, next to North Korea.

    People who dare express opinions critical of the government publicly, through YouTube or on social media, end up in prison. Recent examples include Murat Dushemov and Nurgeldy Khalykov, both sentenced to four years in prison, and Pygamberdy Allaberdiyev, who received a six-year sentence.

    Special services also harass relatives of activists who are working or studying abroad and run opposition blogs from outside the country. They try to silence them by threatening their families back home.

    What have been the implications of Turkmenistan’s policy of insisting it has no COVID-19 cases?

    Unfortunately, there is no reliable information regarding the real impact of the pandemic in Turkmenistan, and of course no assistance for those who have been badly hit. According to our sources, the number of people hospitalised is now decreasing. But before this there was a large number of deaths. Small towns were holding several funerals a day. According to local traditions, a large part of the local population takes part in funeral rites, so the whole town knows who died and when.

    Why has President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov called an early election, and what is its likely outcome?

    President Berdimuhamedov started promoting his son Serdar as his heir quite a long time ago. We became aware of the planning of an extraordinary meeting of the People’s Council, the upper house of parliament, in November 2021. The idea of holding early presidential elections was voiced at this meeting; that’s when preparations for the next step for a formal change of power began.

    But there is no reason to believe this process will trigger real political change in Turkmenistan. No one doubts that on 12 March the younger Berdimuhamedov will become the country’s next president. But his father is not going to give up the reins. In violation of the constitution, he is now both president and leader of the People’s Council. After the election, he will retain his second position.

    Moreover, it has already been announced that changes will be made to the constitution. We have no details yet, but changes will surely create further opportunities for father and son to lead the country in tandem.

    Even leaving the presidency to his son frightens President Berdimuhamedov. The younger Berdimuhamedov will certainly want to make changes in the cabinet of ministers, replacing some with proxies of a younger age, and this may create some turbulence in the highest spheres of power. So Gurbanguly will most likely remain the real ruler at the beginning, with Serdar’s leadership a formality.

    How is civil society, and TIHR specifically, working to defend human rights and monitor violations in Turkmenistan?

    A CSO, the Helsinki Group of Turkmenistan (HGT), was founded in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in July 2002 to monitor the human rights situation on the ground. HGT was the predecessor organisation to TIHR. It operated underground and its members were systematically persecuted and repressed. I was detained on 23 December 2002 and sentenced to three years in prison for my peaceful activism. Fortunately, the campaign ran by international CSOs and pressure from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) paid off and I was pardoned and released on 2 April 2003. I left the country in June and received refugee status in Austria in November 2003. I led the establishment and registration of TIRH in Austria in November 2004.

    TIHR has the vision of a democratic Turkmenistan based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and cooperation with civil society. We work to create the conditions that would allow for the emergence and evolution of a so far non-existent civil society and to raise citizens’ legal awareness, particularly regarding human rights. 

    We collect, analyse and publish information on various human rights issues, including prison conditions, the treatment of ethnic minorities, child labour, the education system and restrictions on the freedom of association. Our reporting is based on information from sources inside Turkmenistan whose identities we must keep confidential to protect them and their families.

    In 2006 we established a website, Chronicle of Turkmenistan, which provides first-hand information in English, Russian and Turkmen and has become one of the most widely cited sources on Turkmenistan. And in 2007 we started making YouTube videos. We have so far published 244, which have overall reached almost 50 million views.

    This format has allowed us to use humour effectively as a political tool. For instance, in August 2017 we published one of our many satirical videos about President Berdimuhamedov, based on official state TV footage of his meetings with military personnel Rambo-style. The video instantly became a meme on social media and was republished by leading global media outlets. The president with the ‘hard-to-pronounce last name’ became a YouTube star and we gained millions of viewers.

    The popularity snowball effect reached the USA with Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show, which in February 2018 awarded President Berdimuhamedov the prize for ‘best performance by a dictator in a propaganda video’. And in August 2019, it further snowballed when John Oliver reused our content in a Last Week Tonight episode about the Turkmen president, amassing 10 million clicks. Finally, in December 2019 Netflix released the action movie ‘6 Underground’, about the overthrow of the dictator of the fictional state of Turgistan, which very much resembled Turkmenistan.

    We do all this to shed light on the human rights violations that continue to happen in this very isolated country. We have submitted several shadow reports – 16 since 2008 – to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and to nearly all UN treaty bodies, often together with other human rights organisations. We have also submitted dozens of analytical reports and briefing papers to intergovernmental organisations, and have published countless statements and open letters, often in cooperation with other CSOs. In 2020 alone, we published 10 analytical reports, four briefing papers, two press statements and six open letters.

    Our analytical reports include a series focusing on civic space, which since 2017 we have published quarterly together with CIVICUS and the International Partnership for Human Rights. We cooperate with all major international human rights CSOs, all of which rely – at least partly – on our work when it comes to Turkmenistan.

    What can the international community, including international civil society, do to support civic space and human rights in Turkmenistan?

    What helps the most is targeted advocacy at the international level and reporting to inform, shape and guide the policies of outside actors – international institutions such as the European Union, OSCE and UN, but also individual governments and others that have political or economic interests in the country – with respect to human rights issues in Turkmenistan.

    Civic space in Turkmenistan is rated ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with TIHR through the Chronicles of Turkmenistanwebsite orFacebook page. 

  • UAE: Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times

    Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times, not only tolerated during Hay Festival Abu Dhabi


    As the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi opens on 25-28 February 2020 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we the undersigned call on the Emirati authorities to demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online, including academics, writers, a poet and lawyers. In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions. We support the efforts of festival participants to speak up in favour of all those whose voices have been silenced in the UAE. We further support calls for the UAE authorities to comply with international standards for prisoners, including by allowing prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials.

    The country’s most prominent human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on the spurious charge of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” in reprisal for his peaceful human rights activism, including posts on social media.

    Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi, in dire conditions with no bed or books. In the nearly three years since his arrest in March 2017, he has only been permitted to leave his small cell for a handful of family visits, and only once has he been allowed outside to the prison sports yard for fresh air. In protest, he went on two separate hunger strikes which have harmed his health - harm which has been exacerbated by the lack of adequate medical care. By holding Mansoor in such appalling conditions, the UAE authorities are violating the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under international law. We urge the Emirati authorities to comply with international law and we appeal to the humanity of members of the government to provide Mansoor with acceptable conditions until he is released.

    Mansoor, who has four young sons, is also an engineer and a poet. He serves on the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. In October 2015, Mansoor gained international recognition for his vital work when he received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

    Mansoor undertook a month-long hunger strike in March 2019 to protest his punitive prison conditions, arbitrary detention, and unfair conviction. In May, seven United Nations independent experts expressed grave concern about Mansoor. Again, in early September 2019, after being tortured through beatings by prison guards, he began a second hunger strike. Due to the lack of independent human rights NGOs in the country, it is very difficult to obtain news about his current situation, including whether or not he remains on the hunger strike since the last report that he was still not eating solid food in January 2020, leaving him unable to walk.

    In October 2019, over 140 NGOs worldwide appealed to the UAE authorities to free Ahmed Mansoor, who spent his 50th birthday in isolation and on hunger strike.

    UAE Activists

    Other prisoners have been tortured in prison in the UAE. A Polish fitness expert, Artur Ligęska, was held in the same isolation ward as Mansoor, in conditions he described as “medieval”. After his charges were dismissed and he was freed in May 2019, Ligęska wrote a book in which he recounted the prison conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subjected to torture, abuse and sexual assault. He was instrumental in getting the news about Mansoor’s hunger strike out to the world from prison in March 2019, at great personal risk.

    Other human rights defenders have faced similar mistreatment in prison, where they are often held in isolation, resorting to hunger strikes to try to bring attention to their unjust imprisonment and ill-treatment in detention.

    Human rights lawyer Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, who has been detained since July 2012 solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association, including through his work as a lawyer, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for signing - along with 132 other people - an online petition calling for political reform. He was convicted and sentenced following a grossly unfair mass trial of 94 people (known as the “UAE 94” trial) including human rights lawyers, judges and student activists. Among them, was another human rights lawyer, Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori who was also arrested in July 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dr Al-Mansoori had not been allowed to contact his family for over a year, and was only permitted to do so recently. Both men are being held in Al-Razeen prison, a maximum-security prison in the desert of Abu Dhabi, which is used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. They face arbitrary and unlawful disciplinary measures, such as solitary confinement, deprivation of family visits, and intrusive body searches.

    Dr Al-Roken was a member of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and the International Bar Association, and both Dr Al-Roken and Dr Al-Mansoori served as president of the UAE’s Jurists Association before its arbitrary dissolution by the Emirati authorities in 2011. Dr Al-Roken has authored books on human rights, constitutional law, and counterterrorism. He dedicated his career to providing legal assistance to victims of human rights violations in the UAE, for which he was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2017. Over two dozen NGOs called for his release in November 2019.

    Academic and economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Paris-Sorbonne University, was sentenced on 29 March 2017 to 10 years in prison for critical comments he made online about human rights violations in the UAE and Egypt.

    In a letter written from prison, Dr. Bin Ghaith stated that “the verdict proves that there is no place for freedom of speech in this country” and announced that he would begin a hunger strike until he was released unconditionally. He has also undertaken subsequent hunger strikes to protest conditions in Al-Razeen prison, including to demand his immediate release following the pardon of British academic Matthew Hedges on 26 November 2018, a week after he was sentenced to life in prison on spying allegations. Hedges was held, mainly incommunicado and in degrading and inhuman conditions for seven months, until he faced an unfair trial on charges of spying for the United Kingdom government.

    In October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, calling on the UAE to, among other demands, stop all forms of harassment and immediately lift the travel ban against human rights defenders, and urging the authorities to “guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, both inside and outside the country, without fear of reprisals”.

    The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices. Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favourable image to the outside world.

    With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen or go outside in the sun. In particular, we ask that Ahmed Mansoor be given a bed and a mattress so that he no longer has to sleep on the floor, and that prison officials cease punishing him for public appeals that are made on his behalf. We ask the authorities to improve their prison conditions as a sign of goodwill and respect for people who wish to organise and participate in events in the UAE, such as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi or the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, in the future. By doing so, the UAE would demonstrate that the Hay Festival is an opportunity to back up its promise of tolerance with actions that include the courageous contributors to freedom of expression who live in the country.


    Access Now
    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

    Amnesty International

    Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

    Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 

    Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC)

    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

    Campaign to FreeLatifa


    Committee to Protect Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

    Detained in Dubai

    Detained International

    Electronic Frontier Foundation

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights 

    FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Front Line Defenders

    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)


    International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

    International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 

    International Press Institute (IPI)

    International Publishers Association (IPA)

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada 

    Maharat Foundation

    MENA Rights Group

    No Peace Without Justice 

    Norwegian PEN

    PEN America

    PEN International

    Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

    Rights Realization Centre

    Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties

    Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights

    Tunis Center for Press Freedom

    Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, Tunisia

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    April Alderdice, CEO MicroEnergy Credits

    Fadi Al-Qadi, author and MENA human rights expert

    Noam Chomsky, Professor

    Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto

    Brian Dooley, human rights advocate

    Drewery Dyke, human rights advocate

    Jonathan Emmett, author

    Stephen Fry, author and presenter

    Ahmed Galai, Ex-Vice President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (member of the National Dialogue Quartet, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2015)

    Melanie Gingell, human rights lawyer

    Chris Haughton, author

    Matthew Hedges, PhD candidate and former prisoner in the UAE

    Bill Law, journalist

    Artur Ligęska, Polish activist and former prisoner in the UAE

    Danielle Maisano, novelist, poet and activist

    Michael Mansfield QC, Barrister

    Albert Pellicer, poet and lecturer

    Simone Theiss, human rights advocate

  • UN CYBERCRIME TREATY: ‘This is not about protecting states but about protecting people’

    StephaneDuguinCIVICUS speaks withStéphane Duguin aboutthe weaponisation of technology and progress being madetowards a United Nations (UN) Cybercrime Treaty.

    Stéphaneis an expert onthe use of disruptive technologies such as cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and online terrorism and theChief Executive Officer of the CyberPeace Institute,a civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 2019 to help humanitarian CSOs and vulnerable communitieslimit the harm of cyberattacks andpromote responsible behaviour in cyberspace. It conducts research and advocacy and provides legal and policy expertise in diplomatic negotiations, including theUN Ad Hoc Committee elaborating the Cybercrime Convention.

    Why is there need for a new UN treaty dealing with cybercrime?

    Several legal instruments dealing with cybercrime already exist, including the 2001 Council of Europe Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the first international treaty aimed at addressing cybercrimes and harmonising legislations to enhance cooperation in the area of cybersecurity, ratified by 68 states around the world as of April 2023. This was followed by regional tools such as the 2014 African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, among others.

    But the problem behind these instruments is that they aren’t enforced properly. The Budapest Convention has not even been ratified by most states, although it is open to all. And even when they’ve been signed and ratified, these instruments aren’t operationalised. This means that data is not accessible across borders, international cooperation is complicated to achieve and requests for extradition are not followed up on.

    There is urgent need to reshape cross-border cooperation to prevent and counter crimes, especially from a practical point of view. States with more experience fighting cybercrimes could help less resourced ones by providing technical assistance and helping build capacity.

    This is why the fact that the UN is currently negotiating a major global Cybercrime Convention is so important. In 2019, to coordinate the efforts of member states, CSOs, including CyberPeace Institute, academic institutions and other stakeholders, the UN General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee to elaborate a ‘Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communication Technologies for Criminal Purpose’ – a Cybercrime Convention in short. This will be the first international legally binding framework for cyberspace.

    The aims of the new treaty are to reduce the likelihood of attacks, and when these happen, to limit the harm and ensure victims have access to justice and redress. This is not about protecting states but about protecting people.

    What were the initial steps in negotiating the treaty?

    The first step was to take stock of what already existed and, most importantly, what was missing in the existing instruments in order to understand what needed to be done. It was also important to measure the efficacy of existing tools and determine whether they weren’t working due to their design or because they weren’t being properly implemented. Measuring the human harm of cybercrime was also key to define a baseline for the problem we’re trying to address with the new treaty.

    Another step, which interestingly has not been part of the discussion, would be an agreement among all state parties to stop engaging in cybercrimes themselves. It’s strange, to say the least, to be sitting at the table discussing definitions of cyber-enabled and cyber-dependent crimes with states that are conducting or facilitating cyberattacks. Spyware and targeted surveillance, for instance, are being mostly financed and deployed by states, which are also financing the private sector by buying these technologies with taxpayers’ money.

    What are the main challenges?

    The main challenge has been to define the scope of the new treaty, that is, the list of offences to be criminalised. Crimes committed with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) generally belong to two distinct categories: cyber-dependent crimes and cyber-enabled crimes. States generally agree that the treaty should include cyber-dependent crimes: offences that can only be committed using computers and ICTs, such as illegally accessing computers, performing denial-of-service attacks and creating and spreading malware. If these crimes weren’t part of the treaty, there wouldn’t be a treaty to speak of.

    The inclusion of cyber-enabled crimes, however, is more controversial. These are offences that are carried out online but could be committed without ICTs, such as banking fraud and data theft. There’s no internationally agreed definition of cyber-enabled crimes. Some states consider offences related to online content, such as disinformation, incitement to extremism and terrorism, as cyber-enabled crimes. These are speech-based offences, the criminalisation of which can lead to the criminalisation of online speech or expression, with negative impacts on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    Many states that are likely to be future signatories to the treaty use this kind of language to strike down dissent. However, there is general support for the inclusion of limited exceptions on cyber-enabled crimes, such as online child sexual exploitation and abuse, and computer-related fraud.

    There is no way we can reach a wide definition of cyber-enabled crimes unless it’s accompanied with very strict human rights safeguards. In the absence of safeguards, the treaty should encompass a limited scope of crimes. But there’s no agreement on a definition of safeguards and how to put them in place, particularly when it comes to personal data protection.

    For victims as well as perpetrators, there’s absolutely no difference between cyber-enabled and cyber-dependent crimes. If you are a victim, you are a victim of both. A lot of criminal groups – and state actors – are using the same tools, infrastructure and processes to perform both types of attacks.

    Even though there’s a need to include more cyber-enabled crimes, the way it’s being done is wrong, as there are no safeguards or clear definitions. Most states that are pushing for this have abundantly demonstrated that they don’t respect or protect human rights, and some – including China, Egypt, India, Iran, Russia and Syria – have even proposed to delete all references to international human rights obligations.

    Another challenge is the lack of agreement on how international cooperation mechanisms should follow up to guarantee the practical implementation of the treaty. The ways in which states are going to cooperate and the types of activities they will perform together to combat these crimes remain unclear.

    To prevent misuse of the treaty by repressive regimes we should focus both on the scope of criminalisation and the conditions for international cooperation. For instance, provisions on extradition should include the principle of dual criminality, which means an act should not be extraditable unless it constitutes a crime in both the countries making and receiving the request. This is crucial to prevent its use by authoritarian states to persecute dissent and commit other human rights violations.

    What is civil society bringing to the negotiations?

    The drafting of the treaty should be a collective effort aimed at preventing and decreasing the amount of cyberattacks. As independent bodies, CSOs are contributing to it by providing knowledge on the human rights impacts and potential threats and advocating for guarantees for fundamental rights.

    For example, the CyberPeace Institute has been analysing disruptive cyberattacks against healthcare institutions amid COVID-19 for two years. We found at least 500 cyberattacks leading to the theft of data of more than 20 million patients. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    The CyberPeace Institute also submits recommendations to the Committee based on a victim-centric approach, involving preventive measures, evidence-led accountability for perpetrators, access to justice and redress for victims and prevention of re-victimisation.

    We also advocate for a human-rights-by-design approach, which would ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms through robust protections and safeguards. The language of the Convention should refer to specific human rights frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is important that the fight against cybercrime should not pit national security against human rights.

    This framing is especially significant because governments have long exploited anti-cybercrime measures to expand state control, broaden surveillance powers, restrict or criminalise freedoms of expression and assembly and target human rights defenders, journalists and political opposition in the name of national security or fighting terrorism.

    In sum, the goal of civil society is to demonstrate the human impact of cybercrimes and make sure states take this into consideration when negotiating the framework and the regulations – which must be created to protect citizens. We bring in the voices of victims, the most vulnerable ones, whose daily cybersecurity is not properly protected by the current international framework. And, as far as the CyberPeace Institute is concerned, we advocate for the inclusion of a limited scope of cybercrimes with clear and narrow definitions to prevent the criminalisation of behaviours that constitute the exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights.

    At what point in the treaty process are we now?

    A consolidated negotiating document was the basis for the second reading done in the fourth and fifth sessions held in January and April 2023. The next step is to release a zero draft in late June, which will be negotiated in the sixth session that will take place in New York between August and September 2023.

    The process normally culminates with a consolidation by states, which is going to be difficult since there’s a lot of divergence and a tight deadline: the treaty should be taken to a vote at the 78th UN General Assembly session in September 2024.

    There’s a bloc of states looking for a treaty with the widest possible scope, and another bloc leaning towards a convention with a very limited scope and strong safeguards. But even within this bloc there is still disagreement when it comes to data protection, the approach to security and the ethics of specific technologies such as artificial intelligence.

    What are the chances that the final version of the treaty will meet international human rights standards while fulfilling its purpose?

    Considering how the process has been going so far, I’m not very optimistic, especially on the issue of upholding human rights standards, because of the crucial lack of definition of human rights safeguards. We shouldn’t forget negotiations are happening in a context of tense geopolitical confrontation. The CyberPeace Institute has been tracing the attacks deployed since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We’ve witnessed over 1,500 campaigns of attacks with close to 100 actors involved, many of them states, and impacts on more than 45 countries. This geopolitical reality further complicates the negotiations.

    By looking at the text that’s on the table right now, it is falling short of its potential to improve the lives of victims in cyberspace. This is why the CyberPeace Institute remains committed to the drafting process – to inform and sensitise the discussions toward a more positive outcome.


    Get in touch with the CyberPeace Institute through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CyberpeaceInst and@DuguinStephane on Twitter.


  • UN Human Rights Council: Civic Space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
    General Debate – civic space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

    CIVICUS is concerned about the situation in Egypt where authorities have arrested, interrogated and detained several activists, bloggers and journalists over the last few weeks, indicating a significant escalation in the crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country. While we welcome the release during Aid last Friday of many prisoners, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently being held for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, and for authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.

    CIVICUS is also deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation in Tanzania. Although it has long been a model for democratic pluralism, the last three years have been marked by a worrying decline in respect for the rights fundamental to civic space. These include 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. Mr. President, we call on the Council to urge the authorities to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with its international obligations.  

    Finally, since 9th June  mass nationwide demonstrations have arisen in several major cities across Vietnam. The protests we have emerged in response to two controversial bills on Special Economic Zones (SEZ), currently before the National Assembly, and on Cyber Security, which was approved this month. Security officials responded to the rare protests with violence and arbitrary arrests, and activists have reported ill-treatment and physical abuse in detention. We call on authorities to allow the peaceful expression of dissent and to release all protestors and investigate and prosecute security personnel responsible for the excessive use of force. 

  • UN resolution needed to help address human rights crisis in Cambodia

    To Members and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    Dear Excellency,

    The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to request your support for a resolution ensuring strengthened scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”).

    National elections in July 2018 were conducted after the Supreme Court, which lacks independence, dissolved the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Many believe that this allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen to secure all 125 seats in the National Assembly and effectively establish one-party rule. Since the election, respect for human rights in Cambodia has further declined. Key opposition figures remain either in detention – such as CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is under de factohouse arrest – or in self-imposed exile out of fear of being arrested. The CNRP is considered illegal and 111 senior CNRP politicians remain banned from engaging in politics. Many others have continued to flee the country to avoid arbitrary arrest and persecution.

    Government authorities have increasingly harassed opposition party members still in the country, with more than 147 former CNRP members summoned to court or police stations. Local authorities have continued to arrest opposition members and activists on spurious charges. The number of prisoners facing politically motivated charges in the country has remained steady since the election. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

    It is expected that a resolution will be presented at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for another two years. We strongly urge your delegation to ensure that the resolution reflects the gravity of the situation in the country and requests additional monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mandated OHCHR monitoring of the situation and reporting to the Council, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, would enable a comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia, identification of concrete actions that the government needs to take to comply with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, and would allow the Council further opportunities to address the situation.

    Since the last Council resolution was adopted in September 2017, the situation of human rights in Cambodia, including for the political opposition, human rights defenders, and the media, has drastically worsened. Developments since the 2018 election include:

    Crackdown on Political Opposition

    On March 12, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. The charges were based on baseless allegations of conspiring to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony. In September 2018, authorities transferred CNRP head Kem Sokha after more than a year of pre-trial detention in a remote prison to his Phnom Penh residence under highly restrictive “judicial supervision” that amounts to house arrest. Cambodian law has no provision for house arrest and there is no evidence that Sokha has committed any internationally recognizable offense.

    During 2019, at least 147 arbitrary summonses were issued by the courts and police against CNRP members or supporters. Summonses seen by human rights groups lack legal specifics, containing only vague references to allegations that the person summoned may have violated the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the CNRP in November 2017.

    Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters

    In November 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that criminal charges would be dropped against all trade union leaders related to the government’s January 2014 crackdown on trade unions and garment workers in which security forces killed five people. However, the following month, a court convicted six union leaders – Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun, and Mam Nhim – on baseless charges and fined them. An appeals court overturned the convictions in May 2019, but in July 2019 the court announced its verdict in absentia convicting Kong Atith, newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of intentional acts of violence in relation to a 2016 protest between drivers and the Capitol Bus Company. The court imposed a three-year suspended sentence, which will create legal implications under Article 20 of the Law on Trade Unions, which sets out among others that a leader of a worker union cannot have a felony or misdemeanour conviction.

    In December 2018, Thai authorities forcibly returned Cambodian dissident Rath Rott Mony to Cambodia. Cambodian authorities then prosecuted him for his role in a Russia Times documentary “My Mother Sold Me,” which describes the failure of Cambodian police to protect girls sold into sex work. He was convicted of “incitement to discriminate” and in July 2019 sentenced to two years in prison.

    In March 2018, the government enacted a lese majeste (insulting the king) clause into the Penal Code, and within a year four people had been jailed under the law and three convicted. All the lese majeste cases involved people expressing critical opinions on Facebook or sharing other people’s Facebook posts. The government has used the new law, along with a judiciary that lacks independence, as a political tool to silence independent and critical voices in the country.

    In July 2019, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. The authorities charged both with incitement to commit a felony, a provision commonly used to silence activists and human rights defenders. Authorities arrested seven people in total for commemorating the anniversary; monitored, disrupted, or cancelled commemorations around the country; and blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party on their way to Takeo province – Kem Ley’s home province.

    Attacks on Journalists and Control of the Media

    Prior to the July 2018 election, the Cambodian government significantly curtailed media freedom, online and offline. In 2017, authorities ordered the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies that aired independent news programs by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. RFA closed its offices in September 2017, citing government harassment as the reason for its closure. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air.

    Since 2017, two major independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, were subjected to dubious multi-million-dollar tax bills, leading the Phnom Penh Post to be sold to a businessman with ties to Hun Sen and The Cambodia Daily to close.

    Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. In May 2018, the government adopted a decree on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via the Internet and the Law on Telecommunications, which allow for arbitrary interference and surveillance of online media and unfettered government censorship. Just two days before the July 2018 elections, authorities blocked the websites of independent media outlets – including RFA and VOA – which human rights groups considered immediate enforcement of the new decree.

    Since then, Cambodian authorities have proceeded with the politically motivated prosecution of two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. They were arrested in November 2017 on fabricated espionage charges connected to allegations that the two men continued to report for RFA after RFA’s forced closure of its Cambodia office. They were held in pre-trial detention until August 2018. Their trial began in July 2019 and a verdict on the espionage charges is expected late August. They face up to 16 years in prison.


    The Cambodian government’s actions before and since the July 2018 election demonstrate a comprehensive campaign by the ruling CPP government to use violence, intimidation and courts that lack judicial independence to silence or eliminate the political opposition, independent media, and civil society groups critical of the government.

    We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the human rights situation and the risks it poses to Cambodia’s fulfilment of its commitments to respect human rights and rule of law as set out in the Paris Peace Accords 1991. It is crucial that concerned states explicitly condemn the Cambodian government’s attacks on human rights norms and take steps to address them.

    For these reasons, we call on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and outline actions the government should take to comply with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner should report to the Council at its 45th session followed by an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures, and members of local and international civil society.

    We further recommend that your government, during the Council’s September session, speaks out clearly and jointly with other governments against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

    We remain at your disposal for any further information.

    With assurances of our highest consideration,

    1. Amnesty International
    2. ARTICLE 19
    3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    5. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
    6. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
    7. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
    8. Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
    9. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    10. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
    11. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
    12. Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
    13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
    14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    15. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
    16. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    17. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
    18. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
    19. Fortify Rights
    20. Human Rights Now
    21. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    22. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    23. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
    24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    25. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
    26. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
    27. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF)
    28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 
  • UN resolution needed to help protect freedom of expression

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression

    Madame President, Special Rapporteur;

    We thank the Special Rapporteur for his timely report.

    The CIVICUS Monitor watchlist highlights countries where there is a serious and rapid decline in respect for civic space, including where undue restrictions on freedom of expression – whether pre-existing, or introduced in response to the pandemic – consolidate authoritarian power and further human rights violations.

    Currently, this includes the Philippines, where a provision in the emergency law introduced in response to the pandemic penalises the spreading of "false information," which could curtail freedom of speech and silence the media. Journalists and social media users have already been targeted. We also stand with prominent journalist Maria Ressa, who was convicted for ‘cyberlibel’ last month in a politically motivated case.

    It also includes Hungary, where an act was passed in March criminalising spreading false information in connection with the pandemic. This could lead to further censorship of independent media in Hungary and the erosion of media freedom. Access to information for journalists has already diminished.

    In Niger, authorities have used the 2019 Cybercrime Law against critics, including over social media posts and even private WhatsApp messages. Journalist and blogger Samira Sabou was arrested in June over a Facebook post. The National Assembly approved a law allowing for the interception of communication in May 2020.

    In Azerbaijan, at least six activists and a pro-opposition journalist have been sentenced to prison after criticism of the government.

    Finally, in the USA, journalists covering Black Lives Matter protests have been physically attacked, detained and had equipment seized by law enforcement. These are not isolated cases but reflect mounting hostility against the press in the country, with several cases of vilification, harassment and smear campaigns against journalists from both state and non-state actors.

    We remind States that free flow of information will be paramount in our collective recovery from the pandemic. We call on the Council to support the resolution protecting freedom of expression currently before it, and to commit to ensuring protection for journalists, and for those who speak out.

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor



  • Urgent Appeal: Civil Society Call for Moroccan Authorities to Cease Intimidation of Journalist Omar Radi


    The undersigned civil society organisations call for an immediate and unconditional end to the intimidation and harassment of independent Moroccan journalist, Omar Radi, who has been summoned by police to appear for interrogation seven times over the past several weeks. Radi has been targeted by the authorities for his critical investigations and reporting, as one of the few journalists in Morocco who covers the corruption and business relations of the monarchy and its networks. Radi had been subjected to a sophisticated spyware attack, whereby his private communications were intercepted by a third party as documented in a public report by Amnesty International. Since the release of the report, the Moroccan government has undertaken an intimidation and harassment campaign, and has accused Radi of working with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, among other unsubstantiated allegations.

  • Zambia: Immediate drop-off trumped-up charges on Journalist Eric Chiyuka

    CIVICUS calls on the Zambian authorities to immediately drop all the charges against journalist and activist Eric Chiyuka.

  • ZIMBABWE: ‘This so-called election was a circus and a waste of resources’

    ObertMasaraureCIVICUS speaks about Zimbabwe’sAugust general election and its aftermath with Obert Masaraure, national president of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and spokesperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which brings together 84 Zimbabwean civil society organisations (CSOs).

    What was at stake in this election?

    This was an important election. We were expecting both a democratic and an economic breakthrough after years of dictatorship and economic stagnation. Millions of young people are dropping out of school, thousands are dying after failing to secure healthcare and millions are unemployed. We expected change to happen.

    But we were disappointed. Civil society tried to engage with the electoral process and play a monitoring role but was criminalised. Those who were doing voter tabulation were arrested. After the Election Management Board barred civil society groups we had to monitor the electoral process clandestinely. In the run-up to the election we also did a lot of voter education. We managed to generate excitement among voters, but on voting day they were frustrated.

    What’s your assessment of the credibility of the results?

    According to the results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on 26 August, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) received 52.6 per cent of the vote, while the leading opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), received 44 per cent. But these results are not credible because the polls were held on a flawed electoral field and the ZEC failed to discharge its duty to run a reasonably free and fair election, as evidenced by multiple acts and omissions.

    First, the ZEC didn’t supply ballot papers or the voter roll in time to many polling stations in the provinces of Bulawayo, Harare and Manicaland, which are traditional opposition strongholds. This was a clear attempt to suppress voters and help the incumbent stay in power.

    The Electoral Act mandates ZEC to display the voter roll at all polling stations 48 hours before the polls open, but most polling stations only received it on election day. This had consequences for the opposition, because in urban areas, where the opposition is stronger, at least 180,000 voters couldn’t find their names at the designated polling stations on election day. Their names had been moved after a shambolic delimitation process but as voter rolls had been unavailable until the last minute, these voters were unable to locate their new polling stations.

    According to a ZEC statement, only 23 per cent of polling stations opened on time in Harare, with 75 per cent doing so in Bulawayo and 85 per cent in Manicaland. Some polling stations in Harare were still waiting for ballot papers as late as 6pm, one hour before closing. In contrast, in the majority of the ruling party’s strongholds, typically in harder-to-reach areas, election materials were received early and all polling places were open at the scheduled time.

    In urban areas there were waiting times of up to 12 hours. Many people were unable to vote within that period and voting had to be extended to 48 hours. In rural areas, where the ruling party is strongest, the maximum waiting period was 30 minutes. Additionally, an estimated 42,000 civil servants who were working as polling officials could not vote after the ZEC refused to facilitate their voting.

    The overall impact of this was to disenfranchise millions of voters and suppress opposition voters while encouraging those of the ruling party.

    There were also lots of fraudulent and deceptive practices. There were cases where local candidates were taken off the ballot, as happened to CCC’s Shepherd Sithole in ward 1 of Bulawayo. A shocking incident was also recorded in which party symbols for ZANU-PF and the CCC were switched, confusing voters and making it impossible to record their actual choice.

    There were reports from at least 50 polling stations in rural areas that the supposedly indelible ink used could easily be washed away. This was suspected to be a deliberate attempt to allow rural voters to vote multiple times to inflate the results for ZANU-PF. The postal ballot mechanism also appeared to be abused for ballot stuffing, as at least 35 polling stations reported receiving more postal ballots than they had voters registered.

    There were numerous instances of intimidation at polling stations. A ZANU-PF affiliate, Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), set up ‘exit survey tables’ in at least 1,340 polling stations. Individual voters were asked to declare who they had voted for and provide their personal details. FAZ also recorded the serial numbers of voters’ ballot papers and told voters they would be able to tell who they voted for. Needless to say, this intimidated voters who have experienced a long history of serious political violence.

    This was a sham, not an election. It was a circus and a waste of resources that subverted the will of the people and illegally kept the incumbent in power.

    What needs to happen next to bring about democracy in Zimbabwe?

    The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has demanded the immediate announcement of a date for a fresh free, fair and credible election. We must put an end to the long history of disputed elections in Zimbabwe and usher in a legitimate government that can lift Zimbabwe up from the category of a pariah state, rebuild its economy and improve the lives of its people.

    Zimbabwe needs an inclusive national dialogue to broker a political settlement leading to credible elections supervised by the Southern African Development Community and the African Union. Zimbabweans should play their role in exerting pressure on the government to force it to agree to dialogue.

    Zimbabwean pro-democracy organisations must be strengthened through international support so that they can play their proper role in a transition to democracy. The international community is also invited to exert pressure so that the government agrees to engage in an inclusive national dialogue. And while it does not, the international community must isolate the country from the family of nations. A dictatorship does not deserve a seat on any international platform.

    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Obert Masaraure through itsFacebook page and follow@omasaraure on Twitter

  • ZIMBABWE: ‘We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights’

    Ernest NyimaiCIVICUS speaks about a proposed NGO bill and the threat it represents for Zimbabwean civil society with Ernest Nyimai, the Acting Executive Director of Zimbabwe’s National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO).

    NANGO is the umbrella body of civil society organisations (CSOs) operating in Zimbabwe, mandated by its membership to coordinate CSO activities, represent the sector and strengthen its voice.

    How do you think the proposed NGO bill would affect civic space in Zimbabwe?

    In our view as the umbrella body of CSOs operating in Zimbabwe, the proposed Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Amendment Bill presents the danger of further shrinking civic space should it sail through in its current form. The bill will put at further risk the fundamental freedoms that civil society is supposed to have to be able to do its work to improve people’s lives. This is due to quite significant proposed amendments that in our view are repressive. 

    Currently, more than 60 per cent of NANGO members are legally registered as trusts, and some are registered under Common Law Universitas. If this bill is passed as it is, they will be automatically deregistered and required to apply for re-registration under the new proposed PVO guidelines.

    The PVO Amendment Bill proposes to criminalise CSOs that support, oppose or finance a political party or candidate. The clause does not clearly specify what supporting or opposing a political party or candidates entails. If a CSO opposes a party’s policy or governance practice, does this amount to opposing a political party? If a CSO gives legal support in an election challenge, does this amount to supporting a political party or candidate? This provision can be abused, especially against CSOs that work on democracy, governance and human rights issues. This provision is contrary to the right to the freedom of association provided for in section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment for violation of this provision without any justification or regard to civil remedies or administrative fines is grossly arbitrary.

    Another reason the PVO bill can affect civic space is that it is phrased in a way that would make room for selective application during its administration. If an organisation is deemed to be operating outside its mandate, its board can be immediately suspended and an interim one can be appointed to act in its stead while a final decision is made. But procedures are not clear, so there is room for the responsible minister, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, to arbitrarily suspend an organisation’s board due to personal interests. This kind of interference in the operation of CSOs would limit their independence and autonomy. 

    The PVO bill was prompted as a way to ensure compliance with Recommendation 8 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which requires governments to review the adequacy of laws and regulations that govern non-profit organisations so that these organisations cannot be abused for money laundering and financing of terrorism. But in my view, the government deployed an omnibus approach to pursue many other interests besides the fulfilment of FATF Recommendation 8 requirements.

    The bill in fact violates the FATF’s balanced approach, which stipulates the need to maintain an enabling operating environment to fulfil FATF requirements. The government has not concluded a risk assessment indicating which CSOs are at risk of being used for money laundering and financing terrorism. This is the ideal procedure as required by FATF to ensure the application of the risk-based approach to mitigating vulnerabilities to money laundering and financing of terrorism.

    How would the PVO Bill, if implemented, affect NANGO’s work?

    NANGO is registered under the existing PVO Act. But if the amendment bill goes into effect, many of our members will be automatically deregistered, which will have immediate repercussions on NANGO, whose greatest strength is precisely our membership. Besides, there are various clauses that impose sanctions and restrictions in terms of programming areas and NANGO is of no exception to this potential criminalisation of CSO work.

    The new legislation will also weaken our eligibility for funding due to increased government interference in the operations of CSOs. The donor agencies we work with require recipient organisations to be independent and autonomous for the purposes of grant compliance. But the implementation of the new proposed PVO Amendment bill will potentially affect our independence and limit our autonomy. Development partners and donors may decide to stop funding CSOs in Zimbabwe if they view it as becoming too risky.

    As CSOs we exist to protect the rights and dignity of people. If the new bill forces many CSOs to stop operating, the vulnerability of communities they serve and human rights abuses will likely increase. We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights in an enabling operating environment. CSOs promote and protect human rights, but through the increased surveillance of CSO operations by security agencies, many activists, human rights defenders and civil society members will be abducted and tortured, and the security threat will increase.

    How is civil society responding to this threat?

    We have used a multifaceted approach, taking advantage of the various strengths we have as a large and diverse group of organisations. In the initial stages, we tried to push back against the PVO bill in many ways, including through litigation to expose the ways in which it would violate constitutional provisions. We also assessed the bill against the core humanitarian standards that we adhere to as CSOs.

    Unfortunately, the bill has nonetheless progressed, so we are currently conducting scenario planning in which the law might be passed. Most of our efforts are focused on engaging, having a dialogue and negotiating with government officials for revision of repressive clauses of the bill. The bill is currently being debated in parliament following its second reading, so we are also advocating with parliamentarians to get them to really understand how this bill is going to affect the work of CSOs and those they work with.

    We are also engaging with the body that administers the PVO Act, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, which played a key role in drafting the bill. We are trying to engage it in discussing the potential political, social and economic impacts of the bill. CSOs are a significant contributor of foreign currency in Zimbabwe: close to one billion dollars per year are coming in the form of official development assistance that is channelled towards various programmes implemented by CSOs. CSOs employ around 18,000 people. If they shut down or their activities are limited, barriers to overcoming unemployment will rise. Our desire and hope is to have an enabling instrument guaranteeing the space for civil society to continue its good work.

    How can the international community help Zimbabwean civil society?

    Zimbabwe is a member of various regional and continental organisations, which we have used to our advantage. We have engaged with regional and continental pressure groups, and especially the FATF, and they have shared their technical expertise on advocacy and lobbying, while also leveraging their convening power to help us engage with our government.

    The international community should continue to assist us as mediators, especially in light of the hostility and limited confidence and trust between civil society and the government. It is very important that they highlight how the bill will affect the general role of CSOs in Zimbabwe. There is also politicisation of CSO work due to misinterpretation of the general role of CSOs in the national development discourse. For example, civil society has the key responsibility of holding the government accountable and advocating for people’s rights, and this bill threatens our ability to fulfil it. We need regional, continental and global organisations to help us advocate with the Zimbabwean government to ensure an enabling operating environment for civil society in line with the ‘whole of society’ approach that the government subscribes to.

    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with NANGO through itswebsite orFacebook page, or by emailing, and follow@ErnestNyimai and@nangozimbabwe on Twitter.



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