freedom of expression

  • Corruption in Zambia: 42 fire trucks for $42m

    By Teldah Mawarire and Laura Miti

    The African Union (AU) will host a heads of state summit in Mauritania on June 25, under the theme Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa's Transformation. Zambia's President Edgar Lungu will also be at the summit, showing support for its cause. Yet on the very same day his country will be moving further away from the anti-corruption ideals of the AU. As Lungu sits down with other African leaders to talk about possible ways to eradicate corruption, six Zambian activists will sit in a dock in Lusaka to be prosecuted for protesting against corruption.

    Read on: Al Jazeera

  • COVID-19 and freedom of expression: A global snapshot of restrictions

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor finds:

    • New censorship controls have been implemented during the pandemic
    • The pandemic has expanded the use of laws criminalising misinformation - new or amended measures in over 35 countries
    • Journalists detained in over 30 countries for their reporting on the pandemic

    Over a year has passed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. During this period, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented ongoing and unjustifiable restrictions to civic freedoms. The latest research brief focuses on the state of freedom of expression and violations committed as a direct response to the pandemic.

    The research covers the period from January 2020 to February 2021 and highlights where governments are using COVID-19 as a pretext to censor the media and silence dissent. In some countries, governments have passed laws and regulations which impose undue restrictions on press freedom and access to information.

    Censorship and the detention of journalists are some of the violations covered in the research brief. From Tanzania to Turkmenistan, governments have banned and blocked media for their COVID-19 related coverage. While in Chile and China, governments have put journalists in jail for their reporting on the pandemic.

    The research brief how of journalists, media workers and civil society organisations have been the target of government overreach and provides over 60 country case studies that illustrate three trends:

    • The use of restrictive legislation to silence critical voices, including the use of misinformation legislation
    • Censorship and restrictions on access to information, including the suspension of media outlets due to their COVID-19 coverage
    • Attacks on journalists over their reporting of the pandemic, including physical attacks and arrests


  • Cuba: Statement against the application of Decree Law 370 and Limits On Freedom of Expression

    A total of 47 human rights organisations and independent press media denounce the violation of fundamental human rights caused by the application in Cuba of Decree Law 370.

  • Deportation of academic increases the chilling effect on freedom of expression in Fiji

    USP Fiji

    The recent deportation of academic Professor Pal Ahluwalia is alarming and highlights the restrictive environment for freedom of expression in Fiji, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.

  • Despite progress, freedom of expression still under threat on the African continent

    To commemorate International Human Rights Day, CIVICUS speaks to the Chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) - Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula about the state of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

    1. What in your view is the current state of human rights in Africa as we celebrate Human Rights Day?
    The African continent has made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, many countries hold regular elections and cases of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leader after an election are increasing. The Gambia is the most recent example. Progress has also been made in areas such as the adoption of laws to criminalize torture, adoption of Access to Information laws, the abolition of the death penalty, with an increase in the number of countries observing a moratorium on the death penalty to give a few examples. Despite these positive developments, challenges remain. These include terrorism and violent extremism in a few countries, continued conflict and acts of armed groups in others which have had a detrimental effect on civilians. There are also cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition, violent protests and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies during peaceful protests and violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation.

    2. Do women face the same human rights challenges as men and why?
    Yes they do due to the patriarchal nature and continuing gender stereotypes in African societies. Although a number of countries have adopted legislative and other measures to advance the rights of women, the effective implementation of these measures remains a challenge, particularly in areas such as the economic empowerment of women, access to land, female genital mutilation, to mention a few.

    3. What are some of the successes resulting from the ACHPR’s interventions in Africa?
    We have witnessed the adoption of laws to criminalize child marriage, the recognition of the rights of indigenous populations in Africa, observation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in a number of countries. We have also experienced the opening of spaces for dialogue on sexual orientation, irrespective of the difficulty of the dialogue, the initiation, drafting and submission to the African Union for consideration of draft human rights instruments such as the draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the draft Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft Protocol on Specific Aspects of the Right to Nationality in Africa.

    4. What is the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa?
    Although the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa is steadily improving in that there is an increase in the number of countries with Access to Information laws and a decrease in the number of murders of journalists, challenges remain. Very few countries have decriminalized laws that limit freedom of expression such as criminal defamation, insult laws, publication of false news and continue to use these laws to prosecute and harass journalists. The jamming of internet signals and the blocking of social media in the run up to and during elections and demonstrations in the name of protection of national security is a worrying and increasing trend on the continent.

    5. Do you think civil society has engaged the ACHPR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adequately?
    I believe so. The ACHPR in general and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in particular would not have achieved what it has without the support of and engagement with civil society organizations. For example, CSO's have provided technical and other support to the Commission and its Special Mechanism in drafting standard setting documents such as the Model law on Access to Information in Africa, Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa, General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 .1 (a), (b) and (f) and Article 14.2 (a) i (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to mention a few.

    6. What message to you have for Africans on this human rights day?
    One of the paragraphs in the Preamble of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights recognizes freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. We should always draw inspiration from these powerful words in our quest to improve the situation of human rights on our beloved continent.

  • EGYPT: ‘Activists who work from abroad are being targeted through their families’


    CIVICUS speaksabout the ongoing repression of dissent in EgyptwithAhmed Attalla, Executive Director of the Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR).

    Founded in 2017 and registered in the Czech Republic, EFHR is a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes human rights in Egypt, with a specific focus on criminal justice, through advocacy, research and legal support.

    What are the conditions for civil society in Egypt?

    Civic space in Egypt has remained highly restricted for the past decade, with the authorities consistently targeting civil society activists, journalists, political dissidents and human rights advocates.

    The 2019 NGO law restricts the rights of CSOs. It mandates their registration and enables the government and security forces to interfere in their operations and order the cessation of activities deemed sensitive by the government, such as monitoring human rights conditions and denouncing violations. Organisations registered under this law may also face funding restrictions.

    Some CSOs had to shut down because the authorities targeted them with counter-terrorist measures or prosecuted their directors in Case no. 173 of 2011, commonly known as the ‘Foreign Funding Case’. In some instances, the directors of these organisations were prohibited from leaving the country and their assets were frozen. Some courageous organisations have persisted in their work even in the face of attacks against their directors and staff.

    In September 2021, the government launched the National Human Rights Strategy, a propaganda tool aimed at concealing the human rights crisis ahead of hosting the COP27 climate summit in 2022. As part of this initiative, it took steps to release some political prisoners and engaged in a national dialogue that contained a broader spectrum of political actors, including civil society representatives.

    How has Egyptian civil society organised in the face of repression?

    Civil society has adapted to the ongoing repression in various ways. Many CSOs have decided to limit their public engagement and abstain from taking to the streets or limit their work to the provision of legal aid while refraining from undertaking research and international advocacy, especially with international human rights mechanisms. Other organisations have been forced to relocate their operations abroad to safeguard their staff and ensure the continuity and integrity of their work, which has had the opposite effect of facilitating their advocacy efforts with international mechanisms and among European Union (EU) member states.

    In response to the continuous pressure, many organisations have started collaborating more closely. In 2019, EFHR coauthored a joint report with eight other CSOs for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and participated in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in which Egypt’s human rights record was examined. In 2023, we jointly submitted another report for Egypt’s UPR. We have also engaged in joint campaigns and participated in the formation of coalitions aimed at addressing specific challenges. Egyptian CSOs are increasingly recognising the importance of working together to amplify their impact and advocate for change.

    How does EFHR work in such a repressive context?

    When it was founded in 2017, EFHR was officially registered in the Czech Republic with affiliates in Egypt, where our team of researchers and lawyers provides crucial legal support by attending daily court hearings and working directly with victims of prosecution. We have successfully coordinated work between our overseas office and our colleagues based in Egypt. Our work focuses on issues that are ignored by the Egyptian authorities, including issues concerning criminal justice, detention conditions and gender-based violence.

    We take various security measures to protect the identities of our staff. For instance, our research publications don’t include author names or contact details, and we maintain the anonymity of our legal team. These precautions give us some space to work and leverage our findings and expertise with international mechanisms, by engaging with UN Special Rapporteurs and working groups and collaborating with EU diplomats.

    However, we have also faced some challenges. Three of our lawyers have been implicated in state security cases, facing accusations of affiliating with terrorist groups and potentially engaging in the use of force. We have managed to relocate other at-risk colleagues to ensure their safety. The same is happening to other Egyptian human rights organisations, whose members either managed to flee the country or were arrested and remained in prison for least two years.

    How do you support Egyptian activists under threat?

    We provide legal assistance to those who have been arrested or targeted by the authorities and take measures to ensure activists’ digital security and protect their anonymity, enabling them to continue their work. We collaborate with partners and foreign embassies to put pressure on the Egyptian government, but sometimes this doesn’t work.

    Within Egypt, there are a few tools available to protect our colleagues at risk. Even political parties cannot protect their members in Egypt, so they also face regular detentions. Parties often attempt to exert pressure on the authorities to release arrested politicians but after releasing them the government arrests other members of the same organisations.

    Are Egyptian activists safe in exile?

    Activists who work from abroad are being targeted through their families. For example, the Egyptian-American human rights advocate Mohamed Soltan, who filed a case against former prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi, saw his five family members harassed and arrested as a result of his activism. A German resident, Alaa Eladly, was arrested upon landing in Cairo just because his daughter, Egyptian activist Fagr Eladly, criticised President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi president over human rights abuses at a 2015 press conference between the president and then German chancellor Angela Merkel . The father of Belgium-based journalist and human rights advocate Ahmed Gamal Ziada has recently been detained and accused of misuse of communication, spreading false news and joining a banned group. This strategy aims to silence activists and impose an even higher personal cost for doing their work.

    What can the international community do to support Egyptian civil society?

    To gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation in Egypt it is important to listen to the perspectives of local human rights defenders. Our international allies and partners must exert pressure on the Egyptian government to open civic space, stop targeting journalists, civil society activists and political figures and filing trumped up charges against them, and release all political prisoners detained for defending the fundamental rights to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    EU member states must revise their terms of cooperation with Egypt to prioritise human rights. For instance, they should include human rights considerations as a conditionality for providing financial aid. It is imperative to strike a balance between the interests of governments and the demands of Egyptian civil society. It is also essential to sustain financial support for Egyptian CSOs, especially now that the economic crisis has also hit civil society.

    Civic space in Egypt is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with EFHR through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@egyptian_front onTwitter.

  • Egypt: open letter calling for an independent investigation into the death of Shady Habash


    CIVICUS, together with more than 60 organisations, calls for an open and independent investigation into the jailing and death of filmmaker hady Habash. 

  • Egypt: Solidarity statement with poet Galal El Behairy on the 5th anniversary of his arbitrary arrest and his announcement of a hunger strike

    The undersigned organisations express their full solidarity with poet Galal El Behairy on the fifth anniversary of his arbitrary arrest and detention solely on the basis of his peaceful expression, an anniversary on which he has announced a hunger strike. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) filed complaint no. 15196/2023, requesting the Public Prosecution to open an investigation into El Behairy’s hunger strike, to ensure prompt medical intervention and to order his release. Throughout his five years of detention, El Behairy has been denied his right to a fair trial and has been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and medical negligence, which has led to the deterioration of his health. 

  • Egypt: Uphold rights to free expression at environmental summit


    36 organisations urge Egyptian authorities to end crackdown on civil society organisations and peaceful protests for a successful COP27

    Egyptian authorities should ease their grip on civic space and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly to enable a successful climate summit, known as the COP27, in Egypt, 36 organisations said today.

  • Eritrea: a real challenge to the UN system and the international community

    Statement at the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

    Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on human rights situation in Eritrea

    Delivered by Sibahle Zuma

    Thank you, Mr President,

    Despite being elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2022-2024, Eritrea poses a real challenge to the UN system and the international community. Its continued failure to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and implement the recommendations of human rights bodies calls the credibility and integrity of the entire UN human rights system into question.

    We remain deeply concerned by reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detentions perpetrated by the Eritrean government, indefinite military service, lack of freedom of expression, opinion, association, religious belief, and movement. 

    Over 20 journalists and politicians remain in detention since their arrests more than 20 years ago, they are the longest detained persons in the world. Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigrayan conflict significantly resulted in abhorrent human rights abuses which included the recruitment of child soldiers and the kidnapping and forced conscription of Eritreans to fight in the conflict.

    We call on the Eritrean government to release all detained journalists, civil society activists and illegally detained Eritreans from prison.

    Special Rapporteur, what should the Council do to ensure steps are taken towards meeting the five benchmarks for progress recently enshrined in the Human Rights Council’s resolution 50/2? 

    We thank you.

    Civic space in Eritrea is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • FIJI: Contempt proceedings over highlighting spelling mistake inject climate of fear

    Amnesty International and CIVICUS call on the Fiji government to drop contempt charges against a lawyer in Fiji for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. On 27 June 2022, Fiji’s Attorney General filed charges for contempt of court against senior lawyer Richard Naidu for highlighting on social media an error in a court judgment where the word ‘injection’ was used instead of ‘injunction’. Amnesty International and CIVICUS believe that the charges are an excessive and politically motivated response to pointing out a spelling error in a court judgment and violate the right to freedom of expression.

  • GABON: ‘Civic space and the conditions for the exercise of human rights were difficult under the former regime’

    GeorgesMpagaCIVICUS discusses the military coup in Gabon with Georges Mpaga, National Executive President of the Network of Free Civil Society Organisations of Gabon (ROLBG).

    Over the past decade, ROLBG has focused on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention. It advocates to improve civic space in Gabon and Central Africa and campaigns on inhumane detention conditions.

    What’s your opinion on Gabon’s recent elections and subsequent military coup?

    The 26 August elections were undoubtedly fraudulent, as were the previous ones. The regime led by predatory dictator Ali Bongo had banned international and domestic observer missions and international media. ROLBG was the only organisation that carried out citizen observation through the parallel vote tabulation system. Because of Bongo’s despotic will, the election was held under totally irregular conditions, in flagrant violation of international norms and standards. The vote count was held behind closed doors, in an opaque context that allowed for large-scale electoral fraud and falsified results.

    On 30 August 2023, the salutary intervention of the defence and security forces put an end to this aberration. For me, as someone from civil society, what has just happened in Gabon is by no means a military coup; it is quite simply a military intervention led by patriots within the army, under the leadership of General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, that put an end to a 56-year imposture, a predatory system and an infernal cycle of rigged elections often punctuated by massive human rights violations. This is our reading of the situation, and it is the general opinion of the Gabonese people, who have just been freed from a criminal dictatorship and oligarchy.

    Why has military intervention taken place now, after so many years of Bongo family rule?

    The military intervention on 30 August was justified as a response to the desire shown by the Bongo clan and its Gabonese Democratic Party to remain in power by will or by force, through fraudulent elections and police repression orchestrated by the defence and security forces, which were instrumentalised and took orders from the former president.

    The Gabonese armed forces intervened to avert a bloodbath and replace the Bongo regime: an unrelenting regime that was ruthless towards the Gabonese people, tainted by clientelist relationships, shady business deals, predatory corruption and widespread violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, all sanctioned by fraudulent elections.

    In this sense, the coup in Gabon is not part of a regional trend, but the result of a purely internal process resulting from 56 years of dictatorship and its corollary of human rights violations and the destruction of the country’s economic and social fabric. However, the events underway in Gabon obviously have repercussions in the Central African region, home to some of the worst of Africa’s dictatorships.

    What’s your perspective on international criticism of the coup?

    Civil society welcomed the military intervention because it sounded the death knell for more than half a century of deceit and predation at the top of the state. Without this intervention, we would have witnessed an unprecedented tragedy.

    The Gabonese army, under the leadership of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), the military junta in power, allowed the country to escape a tragedy with incalculable consequences. Seen in this light, the military should be celebrated as heroes. As soon as he took power, General Oligui set about uniting a country that had been deeply divided and traumatised by such a long time of calamitous management by the Bongo family and the mafia interests around them.

    The attitude of the international community is unacceptable to civil society, human rights defenders and the people of Gabon, who have long paid a heavy price. In 2016, when Bongo planned and carried out an electoral coup followed by atrocities against civilians who opposed the electoral masquerade, the international community remained silent, leaving Gabon’s civilians to face their executioner. In view of this, we categorically reject the declarations of the international community, in particular the Economic Community of Central African States and the African Union, two institutions that have encouraged the manipulation of constitutions and presidencies for life in Central Africa.

    What were conditions like for civil society under Bongo family rule? Do you think there is any chance that the situation will now improve?

    Civic space and the conditions for exercising democratic freedoms and human rights were difficult under the former regime. The rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression were flouted. Many civil society activists and human rights defenders, including myself, spent time in prison or were deprived of their fundamental rights.

    With the establishment of the transitional regime, we are now seeing fundamental change towards an approach that is generally favourable to civil society. The new authorities are working in concert with all the nation’s driving forces, including civil society, which was received on 1 September by General Oligui and his CTRI peers, and I was the facilitator of that meeting. The transitional president, who was sworn in on 4 September, took to work to restore state institutions, human rights and democratic freedoms, and to respect Gabon’s national and international commitments. A strong signal was given on 5 September, with the gradual release of prisoners of conscience, including the leader of Gabon’s largest civil service union confederation, Jean Remi Yama, after 18 months of arbitrary detention.

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

    Get in touch with Georgesthrough hisFacebook page and follow@gmpaga on Twitter.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • GERMANY: ‘Our street blockades hurt society the least and put no one’s life in danger’

    ZoeRugeCIVICUS speaks with Zoe Ruge of Last Generation about climate activism and its criminalisation in Germany.

    Last Generation is an international network of climate activists using civil disobedience to urge governments to address the climate emergency, enabling citizen participation and financially supporting the global south as a primary victim of climate change that it hasn’t caused.

    What forms of protest has Last Generation deployed in Germany?

    Last Generation has come to dominate the climate movement in Germany, so its tactics have become the prevailing tactics. The most common form of climate protest in Germany is currently street blockades, and blockades of public infrastructure more generally, because they are efficient at creating a certain level of disruption. A small number of people protesting peacefully is all it takes to generate a wide public reach. Additionally, street blockades are a platform to have talks with politicians and citizens about the climate crisis, do media work and underline our demands.

    Alongside disrupting everyday traffic, we draw attention to the major responsibility of the richest one- to-10 per cent of the population. To target them specifically, we block airports, spray-paint private jets, disrupt big events and bring protests into museums and other public spaces.

    Our street blockades hurt society the least and put no one’s life in danger. We take adequate security measures, for instance to make sure no emergency vehicle gets stuck in traffic. In case of an emergency, we are ready to open the blockade and clear the street.

    We know the kind of civil disobedience tactics we use face criticism, and we constantly reflect on our practices and take all feedback into consideration. We have aimed to choose a protest form that effectively rises awareness and is the least disruptive for people, and we think the street blockade is one such form. It may cause people to get to work half an hour late one day, but it provides a much-needed opportunity to stop people’s everyday routine and encourage them reflect on what we’re doing and where it’s leading us.

    What have been your biggest achievements?

    More people are realising the seriousness of the crisis we’re facing. Street blockades allow us to talk to people who would normally not get involved but are forced to listen and ask questions about our reasons to be there and our demands. Through disruption, we’ve been able to bring a lot of climate-related topics into public discourse, not only through media coverage but also thanks to local, face-to-face conversations. We are seeing rising awareness, which is necessary to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis.

    In terms of policies, one of our demands during the first protest wave was a law similar to the one France has, to save food from going to waste in supermarkets. One third of all food is lost in the production chain, which equates to a lot of preventable CO2 emissions. Such a law is currently being discussed in several federal states.

    In terms of public awareness, when street blockades began about a year ago they attracted 25 to 30 people, and now they bring thousands to the streets in Berlin. Churches are standing behind us and civil society groups are also voicing demands for climate action.

    Overall, we are receiving increasing support from the whole society. We get invitations to discuss the climate crisis with politicians, artists, at schools and with other parts of civil society. In response to the criminalisation we are facing, which has included the freezing of some of our assets, we have also seen a rise in donations from the public.

    What are your demands to the German government?

    What Last Generation demands are pretty simple things that must be done to tackle the consequences of the climate crisis and prevent it escalating. We demand a speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour in Germany, which would bring a reduction of more than 6.7 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, and a permanent €9 (US$9.90) monthly ticket to make public transportation affordable. This was tested last year and was a huge success, as many people shifted from using cars to using public transport – but now it’s quite expensive again.

    Our third demand is the establishment of a citizen assembly as a long-term mechanism for us to deal with the climate crisis as a society and end the use of fossil fuels in a socially just manner by 2030. Since our politicians are not even able or willing to implement a speed limit, we need citizens to be able to help tackle the climate crisis through more direct democratic tools.

    As part of a global movement, Last Generation works in close cooperation with Debt For Climate, a grassroots global south-driven initiative connecting social justice and climate justice struggles with the aim of freeing impoverished countries from a debt burden that is often used as a tool for further natural resource extraction. We support their demand for financial support because they are the primary victims of climate change that they haven’t caused. German politicians tend to argue that the climate catastrophe isn’t happening in Germany, although it is indeed taking place, maybe to a lesser extent. But in other parts of the world people are already dying because of it while more developed countries continue benefiting from their resources.

    How have German authorities reacted to your demands?

    Reactions have varied at different government levels. We’ve had very productive talks with local politicians who have shown openness and understanding. But at the federal level we’ve faced a harsh and criminalising public discourse. Last Generation is being called a criminal group and increasingly treated as such.

    We face accusations that we are hurting the cause of climate protection because our tactics are scaring people away. But it’s not true. The government is just trying to shift the focus from the substance of our demands to the form of our actions and avoiding our questions of why we still don’t have a speed limit and why we still don’t have proper affordable public transportation even though we have the resources for it.

    The fact that our government isn’t willing to act as the climate emergency demands and is instead turning against us is the main challenge that we as climate activists currently face.

    How is the government criminalising climate activism?

    There are between 3,000 and 4,000 cases coming to court soon, mainly connected to street blockades. In Germany, this kind of spontaneous demonstration is protected by law, but once the police intervene and tell you to leave, it’s not so clear whether the assembly continues to be legally protected. There are also accusations of vandalism on the basis that people have damaged walls by spray-painting them.

    A serious accusation being used against climate activists is that of being part of a criminal group. Based on section 129A of the German Criminal Code, when the police start an investigation on these grounds they can listen to your phone calls, read your messages and search your homes. This is weird because Last Generation is so transparent that anything the government would like to know about us – our structures, our funding, our planned protests – is publicly accessible. We have nothing to hide.

    This June, some of us experienced searches of our homes, our website was taken down, our bank accounts were frozen and we had work materials confiscated. Activists are struggling because it’s scary to feel that the police could force their way in, search your entire home and take away whatever they want.

    A friend of mine, Simon Lachner, was recently taken from his home to the police station and kept there for the entire day, just because he had publicly announced a protest scheduled for that afternoon. In Bavaria, people have been repeatedly taken into preventive custody for long periods of time to keep them from protesting. This form of preventing protests is becoming more common.

    What kind of support are you receiving, and what further support would you need to continue your work?

    The criminalisation of peaceful protests organised by people who aren’t trying to hurt anyone but who want to protect lives elicits instant solidarity. Thousands of people have joined Last Generation’s protest marches. Frozen funds have been almost fully replaced by donations pouring in. People contact us to ask how they can play their part in climate activism.

    We’re also part of the A22 international network of climate movements that use civil disobedience tactics, and this also supports us, especially in the face of criminalisation. Other organisations from all around the world are reaching out to us and offering help such as legal support.

    What we need is for everybody to consider their potential role in building a more resilient society. One of the most efficient ways to fulfil our collective responsibility is by exercising our right to protest within a democratic system.

    Civic space in Germany is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Last Generation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@AufstandLastGen onTwitter.

  • GUATEMALA: ‘Judicial harassment and criminal prosecution have wearing effects’

    CarlosChocOn World Press Freedom Day, CIVICUS speaks with Carlos Ernesto Choc, a Q’eqchi’ Mayan journalist with almost two decades of experience, about the criminalisation of journalism and the media in Guatemala.

    What are the conditions for journalists in Guatemala?

    The conditions for the practice of journalism in Guatemala are quite difficult. We face criminal prosecution by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and threats from various sources, including public officials that journalists are questioning or investigating. Defamation campaigns against journalists are also very concerning.

    The internet and social media are full of trolls who send threatening and defamatory messages. They discredit journalistic work and attacks naturally follow. These even come from the state, and particularly from public security agencies. The National Civil Police attack the media and journalists both in the context of demonstrations and at other times and places where they do not want coverage of events in order to preserve impunity for crimes or violations of rights perpetrated on the ground.

    Since 2015, aggressions against the press have only escalated. Now as well as being criminally prosecuted, judicially harassed, threatened, intimidated and vilified, you can be thrown into prison. To be able to do this, they accuse you of charges that are normally used to fight organised crime, such as illicit association, as in my case, or money laundering, as in the case of my colleague Rubén Zamora. In other words, we are accused of being criminals and prosecuted under accusations of having links to organised crime, leading land invasions or instigating crime. These are clearly fabricated accusations, so we are baselessly, illegally detained. They ultimately have no way of proving their accusations, but in the meantime you remain subject to lengthy criminal proceedings.

    While all journalists are vulnerable in this country right now, those of us who investigate environmental aggression, human rights violations and issues related to drug trafficking and corruption are particularly vulnerable. These are really complicated issues and some investigate them anonymously because many have been murdered, the most recent being Eduardo Mendizabal, just over a month ago.

    The situation is getting more complicated by the day and some community journalists have chosen to emigrate and quit journalism. It is sad to see colleagues leave, and under the current government there have been more and more of them. I don’t see myself in exile, but I view this as an option of last resort.

    What is your situation after the criminalisation you have experienced?

    Mine has been a case of judicial persecution that has been used to attempt to silence me. It started in 2017 when I was investigating the pollution of Lake Izabal. I was documenting protests by fishers against mining and I captured the exact moment when a protester was killed by shots fired by the National Civil Police. The accusation against me came from the mining company, Solway Investment Group – a Russian-owned company based in Switzerland. In August 2017, a warrant for my arrest was issued. One hearing after another was postponed so only in January 2019 could I finally give testimony before the court, as a result of which I was handed an alternative measure to prison.

    When you have an alternative measure to imprisonment you are free under certain conditions: you are forced to visit the Public Prosecutor’s Office every 30 days to sign in and forbidden to be in any place where alcoholic drinks are sold, among other things. The security forces, the police, the authorities are watching where you are and waiting for you to commit a breach to be able to prosecute you. I see these alternative measures as forms of punishment that imply restrictions and limitations on your right to inform and be informed.

    In January 2022, I was criminally prosecuted again, under accusations by the National Civil Police of instigating violence during a protest by Indigenous communities in Izabal against the country’s largest active open-pit mine, owned by Solway’s subsidiary Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel. Thirteen police officers accused me of having physically assaulted them, when all I was doing was documenting the moment when security forces repressed people with teargas. Since then I could not continue doing my job as a journalist, nor move around freely, until my lawyers managed to prove to the judge that I really am a journalist and not a criminal. In September the charges against me were dropped. It has been very exhausting: judicial harassment and criminal prosecution have wearing effects.

    What strategies have journalists adopted to be able to continue working?

    Strategies to break through censorship are renewed every day and are often focused on both physical and digital security, particularly concerning the security of documents and files. Local, national and international networking among journalists and alternative and independent media is also very important.

    Such networks have made possible works such as Green Blood, published in 2019, and Mining Secrets, published in 2022. Both were led by Forbidden Stories, an organisation based in France that supports the publication of the work of journalists facing threats, criminalisation and violence in their countries. Green Blood was the result of research conducted in three countries on three continents: Guatemala, India and Tanzania, and looks into the mining industry’s tactics to hinder journalistic work and criminalise those who oppose its practices. Mining Secrets arose from the leak of a huge amount of Solway’s internal files concerning the operation of its Fénix mining project in Izabal. A consortium of 20 media outlets from 15 countries around the world carried out an investigation, with information corroborated by 65 journalists, including the Prensa Comunitaria team I was part of.

    It is all about finding a way to continue doing the work you are doing. Like many others, I do journalism out of passion and conviction. I don’t expect a prize or international recognition. I know that what I am doing is going to help my community and society in general. I believe that shedding light on environmental damage and human rights violations is very important.

    What kind of support do journalists and community media in Guatemala currently receive, and what additional support would they need?

    We receive support mainly in the form of accompaniment: legal accompaniment, accompaniment from human rights organisations and accompaniment from communities and community authorities who support our work.

    This is very important, but much more is needed. A difficulty that criminalised or at-risk journalists experience is that of surviving economically and supporting their families, which is why economic support is important. The same goes for health support, because there are times when, due to all you are going through, your body no longer responds. Finally, it is key to provide opportunities for exchange with other journalist colleagues. It helps a lot to learn about the experiences of others.

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

    Follow@CarlosErnesto_C on Twitter.

  • HONG KONG: ‘Any activism that the government dislikes can be deemed a national security violation’

    AnoukWearCIVICUS speaks about the persecution faced by Hong Kong activists in exile with Anouk Wear, research and policy adviser at Hong Kong Watch.

    Founded in 2017, Hong Kong Watch is a civil society organisation (CSO) based in the UK thatproduces research and monitors threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy, basic freedoms and the rule of law. Itworks at the intersection between politics, academia and the media to help shape the international debate about Hong Kong.

    What challenges do Hong Kong activists in exile face?

    Hong Kong activists in exile face the challenge of continuing our activism without being in the place where we want and need to be to make a direct impact. We put continuous effort into community-building, preserving our culture and staying relevant to the people and situation in Hong Kong today. 

    When we do this, we face threats from the Chinese government that have drastically escalated since the National Security Law (NSL) was imposed in 2020.

    This draconian law was enacted in response to the mass protests triggered by the proposed Extradition Bill between Hong Kong and mainland China in 2019.

    The NSL broadly defines and criminalises secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. In 2022, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee concluded that the NSL is ‘vague and ambiguous’.

    In practical terms, any activism the Hong Kong government dislikes, including meeting a foreign politician, organising an event and publishing an article, can be deemed a violation of the NSL, according to the government’s interpretation. This means we don’t know what is legal and what is not, and many people end up self-censoring to protect themselves.

    On 3 July 2023, the government issued new arrest warrants for eight activists in exile, including three in the UK – Nathan Law, Finn Lau and Mung Siu-tat – and offered bounties of around £100,000 (approx. US$130,000) each for anyone providing information leading to their arrest. All of them are accused of breaching the NSL. Despite having no legal basis for applying the NSL in the UK, the Hong Kong government continues to threaten and intimidate activists abroad.

    To what extent are civil society and independent media in exile able to continue doing their work?

    Since the imposition of the NSL, over 60 CSOs, including political parties, trade unions and media groups, have disbanded. Many have relocated abroad, including over 50 CSOs that signed a joint statement urging government action following the Hong Kong National Security arrest warrants and bounties this month. 

    There is a strong network of Hong Kong activists in exile, and activists in exile are still able to do their work. However, we have great difficulty collaborating with activists still in Hong Kong because of the risks they face. For example, last week, five people in Hong Kong were arrested for alleged links to activists in exile who are on the wanted list. Collaborations must now be even more careful and discreet than they already were.

    What kind of support do Hong Kong activists and journalists in exile receive, and what further international support do you need?

    In November 2022, Hong Kong journalists who relocated to the UK collaborated with the National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland to launch the Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals. They pledged to focus on freedom of the press in Hong Kong and provide mutual assistance for professionals who have relocated overseas.

    There is also extensive support among Hong Kong activists and CSOs in exile, from civil society of host countries and from the international community, as can be seen in the joint response to the arrest warrants and bounties issued on 3 July.

    However, more coordinated action is needed to respond to Beijing’s threats, particularly from the governments of host countries. There needs to be more assurance and action to reiterate that Beijing and Hong Kong do not have jurisdiction abroad and there will be serious consequences to their threats. 

    Hong Kong activists in exile are now making submissions to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which will review China’s human rights record since 2018.

    We urge UN member states, CSOs and journalists to use this opportunity to highlight the drastic changes that have taken place in Hong Kong and to continue supporting our fight for democracy, rights and freedom.

    Civic space in Hong Kong is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Hong Kong Watch through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@hk_watch and@anoukwear onTwitter.

  • HONG KONG: ‘The National Security Law infringes on freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship’

    CIVICUS speaks with Patrick Poon, an independent human rights researcher, on the human rights situation in Hong Kong after a new National Security Law (NSL) was passed in June 2020. Patrick is a PhD researcher at the University of Lyon, France, and has previously worked as a China Researcher at Amnesty International and in various positions at China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Independent Chinese PEN Center and China Labour Bulletin. 

    Civic space in Hong Kong is under renewed attack sincemass protests for democratic freedoms, sparked by a proposed Extradition Bill, began in June 2019. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented excessive and lethal force by the security forces against protesters, arrests and the prosecution of pro-democracy activists as well as a crackdown on independent media.

       Patrick Poon

    Why has the NSL been imposed in Hong Kong and what have its impacts been so far?

    The NSL, imposed by the Chinese government on 20 June 2020, without any consultation or legislative oversight, empowers China to extend some of its most potent tools of social control from the mainland to Hong Kong. The law includes the creation of specialised secret security agencies, allows for the denial of the right to a fair trial, provides sweeping new powers to the police, increases restraints on civil society and the media and weakens judicial oversight.

    The new law undermines Hong Kong’s rule of law and the human rights guarantees enshrined in Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law. It contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is incorporated into Hong Kong’s legal framework via the Basic Law and expressed in its Bill of Rights Ordinance.

    The Chinese government’s intention is to use the NSL to curb advocacy and support for independence as more people, especially young people, have increasingly embraced Hong Kong’s autonomy and their identity as Hongkongers. Although Hong Kong’s Basic Law enshrines a high degree of autonomy, the Chinese government apparently regards calls for autonomy and self-governance as a ‘danger to national security’.

    The NSL has seriously infringed Hong Kong people’s freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship in the city. Under the NSL, people who advocate for independence, as well as politicians and prominent figures who support foreign governments’ sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials who are responsible for enacting the NSL, have been the target of the arbitrary arrests. The government is obviously attempting to scare off others not to follow these people’s calls. 

    Independent media have also been affected by the crackdown. The arrests of Jimmy Lai, media mogul and founder of popular local paper Apple Daily, and senior executives in his company, signify the government’s attempt to punish news media that are critical of it. Reports about criticism against the NSL and calls for sanctions by foreign government officials become the excuse for the crackdown on independent media. This will have long-term impact on Hong Kong media, even further intensifying self-censorship for some media outlets.

    How have civil society and the pro-democracy movement responded?

    Civil society has reacted strongly against the law because the process to enact it violated the principle of the rule of law and procedural justice in Hong Kong, and the vague and broad definitions of various provisions of the law exceed the normal understanding of law in the city. Pro-China politicians and government officials have been trying hard to justify the law, but their arguments are preposterous. 

    How have the opposition and civil society reacted to the government’s decision to postpone the legislative election due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council election was originally scheduled for 6 September 2020, but in July the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, cited an upsurge in COVID-19 infections and used her emergency powers to postpone it for a whole year, so now it’s expected to take place on 5 September 2021. She denied that the change was due to any political speculation, but it was in fact a blow for pro-democracy activists, who were seeking a majority on the Legislative Council. 

    In the midst of massive protests, pro-democracy candidates had already won by a landslide in the 2019 District Council election. Along with the new NSL, the postponement of the election was viewed as part of the government’s strategy to neutralise the pro-democracy movement. Just prior to the announcement that the election was being postponed, 12 opposition candidates were disqualified from running, and four young former members of a pro-independence student group were arrested under the NSL for their pro-independence posts on social media.

    The postponement of the election created some conflict among the pro-democracy camp, with some calling for keeping up the fight in the Legislative Council and others urging a boycott over the government’s decision to postpone the elections. From the government’s decision to disqualify some pro-democracy candidates for their political views, it is clear that the government doesn’t want to hear any opposition voices in the legislature.

    What can the international community and international civil society organisations do to support civil society in Hong Kong?

    Civil society in Hong Kong needs to work together to ensure that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government will not abuse the NSL to curb all dissenting views and closely monitor if the government abides by the principle of the rule of law and international human rights standards.

    The international community should continue speaking up against the Chinese and Hong Kong government’s crackdown on  civil society and keep raising concerns about the NSL, which is being forcibly imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government in the name of national security, but in fact is no more than an attempt to silence dissenting views in the city. The international community should send a clear message that national security should not be used as an excuse to crack down on the freedom of expression.

    Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. 

  • HUNGARY: ‘The government is masking anti-LGBTQI+ legislation under the narrative of children protection’

    ImreZsoldosCIVICUS speaks about the Hungarian government’santi-LGBTQI+ campaign with Imre Zsoldos of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance.

    Founded in 2009, theHungarian LGBT Alliance is an umbrella civil society organisation (CSO) that brings together seven LGBTQI+ groups with the aim of promoting communication, cooperation and joint action to confront social rejection, prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities in Hungary.

    What are the latest developments in the government-led anti-LGBTQI+ campaign?

    To begin with, Hungarian legislation explicitly forbids same-sex registered partners from adopting children. There is another law prohibiting unmarried single people from adopting children unless they have a special permit issued by the Minister for Families, which has been made almost impossible to get to prevent same-sex parents adopting separately.

    On top of this, in April 2023 the Hungarian parliament passed a bill enabling people to anonymously report on same-sex couples raising children, or those who contest the ‘constitutionally recognised role of marriage and the family’ or children’s rights ‘to an identity appropriate to their sex at birth’. This law specifically targeted rainbow families and transgender young people. No specific evidence or details would be needed to report same-sex families and other ‘offenders’ to the authorities. The law also mandated the establishment of a reporting platform.

    President Katalin Novak did not sign the bill into law, arguing it weakened the protection of fundamental values, and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration. My assumption is that parliament will pass it again with some changes.

    Previously in March, the government filed a counter claim to the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) to defend an education law passed in 2021, which was in fact just another anti-‘gay propaganda’ law. Initially, the law was meant to impose harsher punishment for sexual offences against minors, but legislators from the ruling Fidesz party introduced several changes so that the law ended up criminalising the portrayal or ‘promotion’ of homosexuality or sex reassignment to minors and restricting sexual education in schools. It was condemned by 17 EU member states.

    The 2021 Child Protection Act enshrines children’s right to ‘education in accordance with the values based on Hungary's constitutional identity and Christian culture’. The government is masking anti-LGBTQI+ legislation under the narrative of child protection, portraying LGBTQI+ people as paedophiles and claiming it is trying to ‘save the children’ from us.

    The same narrative is also used to criticise the EU: the government claims the EU suspended over €6 billion (approx. US$6.5 billion) in funds for 2021-2027 because it promotes paedophilia, while in fact the funds were cut off due to a decline in the rule of law and judicial independence and concerns about corruption.

    How is the government’s anti-LGBTQI+ campaign affecting people?

    This hostile rhetoric resembles the way Jewish people and other minorities were targeted in the run-up to the Second World War. We are losing the feeling of security in our own society. We feel outlawed and can’t understand how this can be happening in Europe nowadays. Many LGBTQI+ people are starting to think about whether we should leave the country before it’s too late.

    Public attitudes to the government’s anti-LGBTQI+ campaign are shifting both ways, since everyone is reacting to the portrayal of LGBTQI+ people as a public enemy. On one side of the divide, people are getting outraged by the government’s propaganda and hence showing more support and understanding. On the other side, people are beginning to feel emboldened and legitimised to express discriminatory thoughts and act in discriminatory ways.


    What are the conditions for LGBTQI+ organisations in Hungary?

    The majority of Hungarian LGBTQI+ organisations are run by volunteers because they very rarely have resources to pay employees, especially in fixed positions. Our funding is strictly tied to projects to be implemented.

    As all the major media platforms are in the hands of the government, our opportunities to shift public opinion are really limited. We can only use CSOs’ social media and websites for advocacy. For example, one of the members of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance is the Rainbow Families Foundation. It ran a large campaign, ‘Family is Family’, that reached an extensive audience thanks to a TV station broadcasting the campaign in prime time. But then the media authority fined the TV station, saying it’s only allowed to broadcast this kind of advertisement at night because its depiction of homosexuality sensitively affects children under 16, causing misunderstanding, tension and uncertainty among them. A court eventually nullified the media authority’s decision, but this kind of decision is why there is almost no newspaper or TV station where we could have the space to effectively resist the government’s anti-LGBTQI+ campaign.

    Activists are targeted by the authorities in diverse ways, such as smear campaigns fuelled by the dissemination of fake information about them, as well as audits and controls on their private or family businesses or pressure in their workplaces or on family members who hold any state position. This creates a constant stress situation, since we never know when, where or how we will be targeted.

    But despite the hardship, we are doing our best to create safe places, build a community and provide legal and other forms of help to LGBTQI+ people.

    What further support does Hungarian civil society need?

    Alongside financial support, it would be extremely helpful – not only for LGBTQI+ people but also for other minorities, the political opposition and civil society as a whole – to have a widely accessible communication platform to reach older people beyond the capital, Budapest. While we can easily reach out to young people through social media, we are unable to reach those who get their information from television, newspapers and their churches, all of which are predominantly controlled by the government.

    Civic space in Hungary is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Hungarian LGBT Alliance through itswebsite or itsFacebook page.

  • INDONESIA: ‘The new Criminal Code spells danger for civil society’

    FatiaMaulidiyantiCIVICUS speaks about the new criminal code passed in Indonesia withFatia Maulidiyanti, Executive Coordinator of KontraS/The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence.

    KontraS is an Indonesian civil society organisation (CSO) established in 1998 to investigate enforced disappearances, acts of violence and other human rights violations.

    What are the main changes introduced in the new Criminal Code?

    It is KontraS’s opinion that this Criminal Code Bill will have effects well beyond hampering people’s right to privacy. Many of its articles seek to legitimise the ongoing restrictions that are shrinking civic space, bringing back the spirit of the authoritarian Suharto era.

    For example, articles 218 and 219 introduce the crimes of defamation and insult against the president and vice president. This will allow the criminalisation of government critics. Similarly, article 240 bans defaming and insulting the government, and article 351 makes it a crime to defame or insult any authorities or state institutions. These articles are meant to criminalise the publication of any kind of research, data or criticism of the government and the state institutions.

    This amounts to the reintroduction of a once repealed lèse-majesté clause dating back to Dutch colonial times, which of course has long been repealed in the Netherlands. And it spells danger for civil society. It is worth noting that the policing and judicial systems in Indonesia are very problematic. Police standards are low and there is a lot of corruption. Arbitrary arrest and detention are commonly used, as are unfair trials. This already hinders the ability of civil society movements to exist and sustain their work.

    There are also several problematic articles related to the need to request and obtain permits to conduct demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings.

    What are the forces behind the changes?

    There have been too many obscure political bargains between the government and parliament to accommodate the interests of all political parties at the expense of civil rights and fundamental freedoms.

    While there seems to have been a group of academics supporting the drafting process, there has been no consultation with or participation of civil society or business interests. At the centre of the new criminal code is an attempt to secure power, guarantee public order and gain control in preparation for the 2024 presidential election.

    What do you make of the changes regarding ‘morality’ issues such as sex outside marriage?

    Regression on morality issues may be counterproductive at a time when the government is trying to prevent mass protests against their policies, particularly in view of the upcoming election.

    But the criminalisation of private relationships, acts and behaviours can also be seen as a bargaining chip as the current government is trying to bring Islamic fundamentalist groups into the fold. They are trying to ensure their loyalty by showing they are willing to safeguard conservative religious values. LGBTQI+ rights have been at the forefront of the battles waged by fundamentalist political and religious groups, so they have been the first to go.


    How has civil society tried to stop these changes from happening?

    We often discussed with our allies whether and how to provide inputs and recommendations to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights and to the House of Representatives during the process. We did have meetings and took part in various consultations, but as it turned out, these just went through the motions of public engagement, keeping the formalities but disabling any meaningful opportunity to influence the outcomes.

    Numerous CSOs across Indonesia have been protesting about this since at least 2019. There was a big campaign, #ReformasiDikorupsi (‘corrupt reform’) followed by a series of demonstrations against the enactment of the criminal code. However, the government and parliament chose to continue ignoring our objections and instead accelerated the process.

    What kind of support does Indonesian civil society need from the international community?

    We need all sectors of the international community, including international CSOs, foreign governments and their diplomatic missions and United Nations bodies, to send a clear warning to the Indonesian government against continuing to shut down civic space.

    We really hope the movement to warn the government of Indonesia comes not only from domestic civil society, but also from our international counterparts.

    Investors should also use their leverage, as the government is trying to attract foreign investments while the human rights situation continues to deteriorate on the ground.

    The Indonesian state should be held accountable and be persuaded to step back and change course.

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with KontraS through itswebsite and follow@kontras_update on Instagram and@KontraS on Twitter.

  • Indonesia: Academic at risk of imprisonment for online criticism of university hiring procedures

    Joint NGO Statement by CIVICUS, Article 19, KontraS Aceh, LBH Banda Aceh, KontraS and YLBHI

    Saiful Mahdi

  • Indonesia: Government should immediately withdraw arbitrary charges against Fatia Maulidiyanti & Haris Azhar

    The Indonesian government should put an end to the judicial harassment against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar, and uphold the right to freedom of expression, a group of human rights organisations said.

    ‘The Government of Indonesia must uphold its international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as its own national constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression,’ said the groups.

    The groups urged the Indonesian government to ensure that all persons can express their opinions without fear of reprisals and to ensure its actions are compliant with Indonesia’s Constitutional protections for human rights and the ICCPR, of which Indonesia is a State Party. The National Human Rights Institution, Komnas HAM, must also work towards ensuring the protection of defenders facing judicial harassment, the groups said.

    On 22 September, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment filed a police report against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti, Coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), and Haris Azhar, Founder of Lokataru Foundation. The police report alleges that the two individuals violated criminal defamation provisions (Article 310 (1) of the Penal Code), and the controversial Electronic Information and Transaction law (EIT Law). Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan has reportedly demanded IDR 300 billion, approximately USD 21 million, in compensation.

    The report was filed after subpoenas were earlier sent to the two human rights defenders, following a talk show on Haris Azhar’s YouTube channel, titled ‘Ada Lord Luhut di balik Relasi Ekonomi-Ops Militer Intan Jaya!! Jenderal BIN Juga Ada!!’, (There is Lord Luhut behind the relation of Economy-Military Operation Intan Jaya!! General of State Intelligence Agency is also there!!) in which Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti discussed the findings of a multi-stakeholder report revealing the alleged involvement of active and retired Indonesian army officials in the business operations of the gold mining sector.

    In the report, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan was identified as being affiliated with mining company PT Madinah Qurrata'ain, which holds the Derewo River Gold Project permit in Papua Province's Intan Jaya Regency, located along the Derewo fault zone, northwest of Grasberg and Wabu.

    Through shareholding, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is affiliated with PT Toba Sejahtera, whose subsidiary PT Tobacom Del Mandiri or PT Tambang Raya Sejahtra is said to have acquired a 30 percent stake in PT Madinah Qurrata'ain. 

    The report also recorded the escalation of violent and armed conflict triggered by military operations, one of which occurred in the Intan Jaya Regency. The conflict resulted in the loss of civilian lives and the displacement of thousands of people, including children and women.

    ‘The legal actions by the Coordinating Minister constitute judicial harassment and abuse of power. It criminalises the rights of these two human rights defenders to express their opinions on public affairs and creates a chilling environment for individuals who criticise the government,’ the groups said. 

    ‘We call on the Indonesian government to amend all repressive laws and legal provisions that hinder the protection of freedom of expression, and ensure the laws align with international human rights standards. The criminalisation of defamation is an inherently disproportionate and unnecessary restriction to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, under international human rights law. Indonesia must immediately drop the charges against Fatia and Haris and take steps towards preventing the misuse of litigation against human rights defenders and civil society that erode the exercise of their rights,’ they concluded.

    Endorsed by the following organisations:

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship 

    • Manushya Foundation
    • SAFEnet
    • Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
    • Access Now
    • ELSAM
    • ALTSEAN-Burma

    Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    Front Line Defenders (FLD)
    Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) 
    Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) 
    Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) 
    OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated 'obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.


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