• Nearly 70 human rights groups condemn state violence in Eswatini

    To the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

  • ‘Due to the communications blockade in Kashmir, news of protests went largely underreported’

    On 5 August 2019, the government of India revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which guaranteed the autonomous status and rights of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government also imposed a severe communications blockade that impacted on the daily lives of Kashmiri people, including by affecting access to medical care, basic necessities and emergency services. Hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders and community leaders have been reported. CIVICUS speaks about this situation with Natasha Rather, Regional Campaign Officer for the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, linked to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation that focuses on enforced disappearances in the region, monitors the human rights situation and documents abuses.

    Natasha Rather interview

    What was the situation of civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the revocation of its special status under Indian administration?

    During the first half of 2019, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (JK) witnessed continued and increased violence and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, following a militant attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the Jammu–Srinagar highway that resulted in the killing of 48 Indian soldiers in February 2019. Following this attack, Kashmiri people living in various cities and towns of India became targets of hate crimes. Thousands of Kashmiri students were forced to flee from their colleges and universities and return back to Kashmir. People living in JK feared the attack would have dreadful consequences – which turned out to be true.

    The frequency of cordon and search operations (CASOs) and crackdowns increased in the aftermath of the attack. CASOs are a form of harassment that breach people’s right to privacy. According to a report by the APDP and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, at least 177 CASOs were conducted by the Indian armed forced in JK, which resulted in the killing of at least 118 militants and four civilians and the destruction of at least 20 civilian properties.
    In February 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Kashmir Chapter of Jamaat-i-Islami were banned and hundreds of their leaders and workers were arrested.
    Ahead of the elections to the Indian Parliament, held in JK in April and May 2019, 100 additional companies of soldiers were deployed in Kashmir and mass arrests of political and religious leaders were carried out. During polling days there were complete shutdowns, violence and killings.

    The use of administrative detention under the provisions of repressive Public Safety Act (PSA) led to many arrests and detentions. Between January and June this year, at least 25 people were booked under the PSA.

    Internet shutdowns have also been a common practice in JK. Internet services were curtailed 51 times in the first half of the year.

    How did people in Jammu and Kashmir respond to the revocation of the state’s special status?

    Before revocation was formally announced by the Indian government, many rumours made the rounds and people guessed that something sinister was underway. Official orders by the state administration added to the apprehension. People prepared themselves for a complete lockdown, drawing from their previous experience when the Indian government imposed curfews and shut down phones and the internet.
    When revocation of the special status was announced amidst a complete blockade of communication and full restrictions on movement, people were not greatly shocked. The autonomy guaranteed to JK under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws – but it had been greatly eroded before revocation of the special status, which downgraded JK from a state to a union territory, and there was nothing much left in it for the benefit of the people.

    There have been concerns attached to the revocation of Article 35a, which permits the local legislature in Indian-administered Kashmir to define who are permanent residents of the region. People have speculated that demographic changes might be underway, designed and strategised along the same lines as the occupation of Palestine, including the demographic changes introduced by Israel in Palestine. While there are fears of demographic changes, the majority’s response has been not to fight against revocation of the state’s special status, as this would have meant legitimising the occupation of the region. The larger struggle is for the right to self-determination.

    We have read reports of civic space restrictions, including a ban on meetings, restrictions on freedom of movement and arrests of leaders. Can you provide more information about this?

    The announcement of the revocation of JK’s special status was accompanied by widespread restrictions. There was an increased deployment of Indian armed forces at all roads and intersections across the valley, and the unyielding troops have strictly restricted the movement of people. For the first few weeks, people were not even able to reach hospitals and doctors. Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, which bans public gatherings of more than four people, was imposed despite a curfew being in place since the night of 4-5 August. This prevented people from organising protest gatherings and meetings.

    According to a government report dated 6 September, more than 3,800 people had been detained since 5 August and only about 2,600 of them were subsequently released. Those detained include political leaders from both pro-India and pro-independence parties, civil society members, lawyers and protesters. Three former Chief Ministers of JK – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been detained since 5 August. On 16 September, Farooq Abdullah was detained under the PSA. Leaders and politicians like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Farooq Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin and M Y Tarigami have been under house arrest. Hotels and government guesthouses have been turned into detention centres. Many leaders and civil society members have been lodged in jails in India.
    There has been an extensive use of the PSA to detain people, especially young people. Many young people were detained without being formally charged and were released only after the signing of community bonds. Many young people and most political leaders continue to be detained.

    Have people protested? How have the security forces responded to protests?

    Despite the severe restrictions imposed on the movement and assembly of the people, there have been many protests across the valley of Kashmir, with people taking to the streets and shouting slogans demanding freedom from the Indian state. The Indian media has claimed that there were negligible protests against the abrogation of Article 370, making it seem like there is normality and acceptance of the Indian state’s decisions. Since the local media has not been able to report on these protests, stories from them have not come to the fore. There were many protests in Kashmir valley, but due to the communication blockade and restrictions on the movement of journalists and media, news of protests from other districts went largely underreported.

    Protesters have been met with excessive force by the Indian armed forces. For instance, on 9 August, several people were injured during protests in the Soura area of Srinagar. A doctor confirmed that at least 53 young people were treated for injuries at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura. Reports also emerged that five people have been killed in separate incidents as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in the policing of protests since the start of the clampdown.

    How has the internet shutdown affected the work of activists and journalists?

    The communication clampdown has greatly affected the work of journalists and activists. Owing to the shutdown of internet services and curbs on the movement of journalists, it has been a huge challenge for journalists to collect and file stories. The administration set up a Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar where journalists are allowed to access the internet and email their stories. No such facilities are available in other districts of Kashmir. Newspapers in Kashmir have been publishing with a reduced number of pages. Journalists have been forced to rely just on state-issued press briefs once or twice a week, without any means to verify the stories. There has been news of journalists facing reprisals for filing stories on Kashmir’s ongoing situation.

    Also, since 5 August, civil society in JK has been under threat and dealing with a very precarious situation, as many civil society members have been detained and jailed under the PSA. In this way the Indian state has put pressure on Kashmiri civil society to remain silent about the current situation, and therefore their space is completely choked. There is a lot of resistance and criticism of the communications clampdown that is preventing civil society from carrying out its work.

    In this context, the support required from the international community is that they should increase their understanding of the Kashmir conflict and talking about it so as to prevent this human rights crisis from worsening.

    Civic space in India is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow @natasha_rather on Twitter.

  • ‘No abandonaremos nuestra lucha; las empresas y gobiernos que invierten en proyectos extractivos deben saber que se están comprando un problema’



    Medardo Mairena Sequeira HRC

    CIVICUS conversa con Medardo Mairena Sequeira,Coordinador del Consejo Nacional para la Defensa de la Tierra, Lago y Soberanía, un movimiento social organizado en oposición al proyecto de construcción del Canal Interoceánico en Nicaragua. En septiembre de 2017 Medardo Mairena integró la delegación de CIVICUS en el 36ª período de sesiones del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas y participó como orador en un evento paralelo sobre las restricciones del espacio cívico que enfrentan los movimientos indígenas y ambientalistas en todo el mundo.

    1. ¿Cuáles son las razones de la movilización contra el proyecto del Canal Interoceánico? ¿Qué consecuencias tendría la construcción del canal?

    La concesión para construir y operar el canal por 50 años, prorrogables por 50 más, fue entregada en junio de 2013 a la empresa china HKND (Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company). Fue otorgada mediante la Ley 840, conocida como “ley canalera”.

    El canal tendría unos 500 metros de ancho y 30 metros de profundidad, un área restringida de 10 kilómetros a ambos lados y 278 kilómetros de largo. Además incluiría un lago artificial de 400 kilómetros cuadrados y otro lago para una central hidroeléctrica, más aeropuerto y cantidades de comercios que ocuparían enormes extensiones de territorio.

    Se estima que los desplazados, es decir los afectados directos, serían más de 350 mil personas. Muchas más serían afectadas de manera indirecta, ya que los desplazados tendríamos un impacto allí donde nos moviéramos: tendríamos que ocupar otras propiedades, dado que ya no existen en Nicaragua tierras libres adonde pudiéramos ser reubicados, pese a lo que ha dicho el gobierno en algunas ocasiones.

    Las tierras que atravesaría el canal son las mejores tierras de Nicaragua: tienen agua, se pueden cultivar, y es donde vivimos los campesinos. El canal también atravesaría y arruinaría el Lago Cocibolca, que es el único reservorio de agua dulce que tenemos no solo en Nicaragua sino en toda Centroamérica. La contaminación de estas aguas es la muerte, porque miles de hermanos toman agua de ese lago.

    Yo vivo en una zona que está en el camino proyectado para el canal. Estoy en Punta Gorda, cerca de un territorio indígena y de la Reserva Indio Maíz, la Reserva Natural Punta Gorda, los humedales de San Miguelito y el Refugio de Vida Silvestre Río San Juan. Somos vecinos y tenemos muy buena relación con los hermanos indígenas, y al igual que a ellos nadie nos ha consultado. No nos han preguntado si estamos de acuerdo en vender, arrendar o entregar nuestras tierras. En los cuatro años desde que se vendió la concesión, el gobierno aun nunca ha pedido la opinión de los afectados directos. Todo lo que ha hecho es militarizar la zona, poner cantidades de militares y policías que reprimen al pueblo. Así, en la franja canalera encuentras campesinos humildes que han sido intimidados e incluso sufrido torturas.

    MedardoSequeira2Pero tenemos una posición muy firme: no entregaremos nuestras propiedades ni aceptaremos la destrucción que el canal causaría en el medio ambiente, y en cambio exigimos la derogación de la Ley 840. El artículo 12 de la ley dice que “es de interés público del pueblo de la República de Nicaragua la expropiación de cualquier bien inmueble o derecho sobre un bien inmueble que sea razonablemente necesario para efectuar todo o una parte de El Proyecto”. Pero obviamente no es en nuestro interés que nos quiten nuestras propiedades para que el gobierno pueda hacer sus negocios con los chinos.

    2. ¿Qué acciones realiza el movimiento anti-canal para exigir la derogación de la ley?

    Hemos hecho más de 90 marchas en diversos lugares del país, y seis marchas nacionales. Las marchas locales han tenido siempre entre 3000 y 7000 personas, mientras que las nacionales han juntado desde 18 mil hasta 30 mil.

    Además de marchar, trabajamos continuamente para dar a conocer la ley canalera. Hacemos foros en municipios, comarcas y distritos para explicarle a la gente la situación y nuestra lucha. Sucede que esta ley se hizo a espaldas del pueblo, y por eso la mayoría de los nicaragüenses no sabe lo que significa ni cómo los amenaza. A partir de los foros ellos han sentido la necesidad de organizarse, y así es como ha avanzado el movimiento.

    También hemos seguido todo el procedimiento legal que establece nuestra Constitución política para las iniciativas ciudadanas. La Constitución de Nicaragua dice que con las firmas de por lo menos 5000 ciudadanos se puede presentar una iniciativa ya sea para derogar una ley o para proponer una nueva. En abril de 2016 llevamos a la Asamblea Nacional un petitorio para derogar la ley canalera que tenía más de 28 mil firmas, pero la Asamblea se declaró incompetente diciendo que no tenía atribuciones porque la ley canalera tenía rango constitucional, y que por lo tanto no podía derogarla. Pero nosotros tenemos claro que los diputados están autorizados para hacer y deshacer, así que presentamos un recurso de revisión, pero este fue enseguida rechazado. Así que siguiendo los pasos que indica la Constitución presentamos un recurso de amparo ante la Corte Suprema de Justicia. Al cabo de ocho meses La Corte Suprema también falló en contra de nosotros los campesinos, violando así nuestros derechos constitucionales. Una vez que agotamos todas las vías legales en Nicaragua, demandamos al Estado ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) en Washington por violación de nuestros derechos humanos.

    El gobierno dice que el proyecto del canal es apoyado por la mayoría de los nicaragüenses, pero esto no es cierto. Esto se evidencia en la cantidad de gente que se ha unido a nosotros pese a que no contamos con recursos económicos para movilizarnos. Con los pocos recursos que tenemos hemos hecho enormes movilizaciones, y si tuviéramos más recursos quedaría claramente en evidencia que la realidad es exactamente la contraria de lo que el gobierno está diciendo.

    El gobierno no nos escucha, al punto que después de cuatro años de lucha todavía no nos reconoce como organización, pese a que hemos liderado grandes movilizaciones. Y de remate, acaba de reestructurar la ley para poder explotar los recursos naturales sin siquiera hacer estudios de impacto ambiental. Para la construcción del canal nunca pudo presentar ningún estudio de impacto ambiental ni socioeconómico, porque ha manejado todo a escondidas: hizo la ley, vendió nuestras tierras a un empresario y luego quiso justificarlo con supuestos estudios. Pero como no tiene los estudios que necesita, porque todos los estudios dicen exactamente lo contrario, finalmente modificó la ley y ahora puede construir sin hacer un estudio de impacto ambiental, lo cual es una violación más de nuestros derechos constitucionales.

    3. ¿Han tenido libertad para movilizarse contra el canal?

    Hemos encontrado muchos obstáculos para movilizarnos y hemos sido muchas veces reprimidos; por ejemplo el 29 de noviembre de 2016 intentamos hacer una marcha nacional y tuvimos que suspenderla ante la represión de la policía y el Ejército. Desde el día anterior el gobierno puso obstáculos en los caminos, organizó retenes y requisó vehículos en todas las entradas y salidas a la capital. Los manifestantes que intentaban llegar a Managua fueron atacados por la policía antimotines. Hubo infiltraciones, provocaciones y violencia; varios campesinos fueron heridos; uno de ellos, que tuvo heridas graves, sigue mal, ya ha tenido dos operaciones.

    La persecución y la criminalización son permanentes. La represión es cada día más fuerte y nuestras familias sufren. Cuando salimos de la casa los hijos piensan que algo nos puede pasar, porque el gobierno es capaz de cualquier cosa con tal de mantenerse en el poder, desde intimidar hasta asesinar. Algunos líderes que han luchado contra el régimen hoy están muertos, y nunca se ha sabido porqué, cómo ni por quién. La impunidad es total.

    4. Usted no solía dedicarse a la política. ¿Cómo llegó a liderar esta lucha?

    Nosotros nos organizamos por necesidad, porque los campesinos nos dedicamos a trabajar la tierra y no estamos acostumbrados a andar en estas cosas. Los que hemos emprendido esta lucha somos campesinos: es decir, somos autónomos, no dependemos de nadie más que de nosotros mismos. Nos organizamos por nuestros propios medios, aunque las organizaciones de derechos humanos nos han apoyado y ahora que hemos presentado nuestra demanda esperamos también el respaldo de la CIDH.

    5. ¿El movimiento anti-canal mantiene vínculos con otros movimientos sociales que también están siendo atacados y reprimidos?

    Hemos estado en contacto con otros movimientos y hemos tratado de hacer alianzas para fortalecernos. De hecho, el proyecto del canal se coloca en el marco de un modelo extractivista más amplio, que requiere de la entrega de grandes cantidades de tierras y trae mucha destrucción. Los movimientos que oponen resistencia contra la minería o la siembra de monocultivos y las comunidades indígenas que defienden sus territorios están en la misma situación que nosotros, ya que son amenazados por las mismas leyes que los exponen a la expropiación, y son reprimidos por el mismo gobierno.

    El gobierno hace negocios con proyectos extractivistas entregando concesiones sin consultar ni con las comunidades indígenas – no se han hecho las consultas previas, libres e informadas que exige la ley – ni con nosotros los campesinos. El gobierno solo quiere seguir enriqueciéndose para mantenerse en el poder. El proyecto del canal es tan innecesario que cabe pensar en las peores motivaciones: por ejemplo, que se busca dar movilidad sin controles a negocios oscuros, incluso ilícitos. Nosotros no estamos en contra del progreso, pero el progreso puede y debe ser amigable con el medio ambiente y respetuoso de los derechos humanos.

    6. Usted sufrió recientemente una instancia de criminalización. ¿Nos puede contar qué pasó?

    Yo había viajado a Costa Rica porque tenía a mi hijo enfermo allá; estuve cinco días hospitalizado con él. Cuando venía de regreso para Nicaragua, visé mi pasaporte en Costa Rica, pagué los impuestos, pasé la frontera, y luego del lado nicaragüense me sellaron el pasaporte, me requisaron la mochila como de costumbre – todo normal. Y cuando ya estaba por volver a abordar el bus me alcanzó alguien de Migraciones de Nicaragua para decirme que querían hablar conmigo. Llegaron dos antimotines, me pusieron las esposas y me llevaron a empujones. Yo pregunté porqué me detenían, si tenían orden de captura, qué delitos se me imputaban, y pedí que me dejaran hacer una llamada telefónica a mi familia para que supieran que estaba siendo detenido, pero nunca me explicaron nada: solo me decían que querían hablar conmigo. Primero me tuvieron unas dos horas ahí en la frontera, y después llegó una patrulla de policía y me llevaron a la estación policial. Cuando les preguntaba cuál era mi delito me respondían que era una investigación y que la ley les daba facultades para detener a una persona por 48 horas para hacer averiguaciones. Yo les decía que yo no soy una persona desconocida ni ando escondido, y que si me hubieran dado una cita yo hubiera ido a la estación de policía para una entrevista si querían hablar conmigo; no era necesario que me pusieran las esposas o me encerraran.

    Me llevaron a una cárcel de Managua que es una cárcel de tortura. Gracias a Dios a mí no me torturaron físicamente, pero torturaron psicológicamente a mi familia, porque desde el momento en que me desaparecieron sin dejarme hacer una llamada, considero que fue un secuestro. Mientras tanto me estuvieron interrogando; me hicieron preguntas ilógicas, me tuvieron dos días detenido y al final cuando ya me iban a liberar me dijeron que los disculpara, que no tenía ningún delito, que tenía razón, que lo que les había dicho era cierto…

    Yo creo que intentan intimidarnos para que dejemos esta lucha. Pero estamos seguros de que es una lucha muy justa, de modo que vamos a seguir. En mi caso hubo mucha presión de organizaciones de derechos humanos que estuvieron preguntando por mi desaparición, de campesinos que ya se estaban movilizando en toda Nicaragua para protestar, algunos medios de comunicación, las redes sociales… esta presión ayudó mucho para que el caso saliera a la luz.

    7. ¿Qué clase de apoyo necesita el movimiento de parte de la comunidad internacional?

    Necesitamos espacio en los medios para divulgar nuestra lucha. Queremos que el mundo entero sepa lo que está ocurriendo en Nicaragua.

    Queremos mandar un mensaje a las empresas y gobiernos que pudieran estar interesados en invertir en el proyecto del canal interoceánico. Ellos deben saber que las tierras sobre las que se piensa construir el canal no son de Daniel Ortega sino de los nicaragüenses, y que los nicaragüenses, y sobre todo los campesinos, estamos organizados y tenemos una posición muy firme en defensa de nuestra tierra. Nosotros vivimos en el campo y esta es la única forma en que sabemos sobrevivir. No podemos ir a la ciudad; allí nadie nos espera. Antes que morir de hambre, preferimos morir defendiendo nuestras tierras.

    Las empresas y gobiernos interesados no deben malinvertir su dinero y el de sus pueblos. Tienen que saber que estamos firmes en esta lucha y que vamos a llevarla hasta el final, de modo que si tratan de invertir aquí se estarán comprando un problema.

    El espacio cívico en Nicaragua es clasificado en elCIVICUS Monitor en la categoría “obstruido”.

    Visite el perfil deFacebook del Consejo Nacional para la Defensa de la Tierra, Lago y Soberanía.

  • Activism and the state: How African civil society responds to repression

    By David Kode and Mouna Ben Garga

    In most African countries, freedom of expression, assembly and association are stifled by state and non-state actors through the use of restrictive legislation, policies, and judicial persecution as well as physical attacks, threats and detention of activists and journalists. While these restrictions generally occur when civil society groups speak out in direct opposition to public policy, there is strong evidence that restrictions increase during politically sensitive periods, like elections and prior to constitutional changes on term limits of political leaders. African citizens, activists and organisations are finding new and innovative ways to resist, organise and mobilise in the face of mounting restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

    Read on: Pambazuka 

  • AFGHANISTAN: ‘Open-source monitoring reveals both the clampdown on women’s rights and the impact on their lives’

    AfghanistanWitness LogoCIVICUS speaks about the situation of human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan with Anouk Theunissen and Humaira Rahbin, researchers with Afghan Witness, and Meetra Qutb, Afghan Witness’s communications specialist.

    Afghan Witness is a project run by the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience, aimed at independently collecting, verifying and preserving information on human rights in Afghanistan. It seeks to provide reliable data to international organisations, governments, the media and civil society and to create awareness about the realities of everyday life in Afghanistan. Its team includes people on the ground as well as international researchers, analysts, journalists and experts. Most of its team members’ identities are kept confidential for safety reasons.

  • AFGHANISTAN: ‘The risks posed by Taliban rule are too grave for the international community to ignore’

    Ehsan ShayeganCIVICUS speaks about the situation of human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan with Ehsan Shayegan, founder and president of the Porsesh Policy Research Institute (PR).

    Initially founded in 2015, and re-established in the USA in 2022, PR is an independent, nonprofit policy research think tank focusing on excluded communities and human rights and working to counter disinformation, misinformation and lack of systematic information. Formerly based in Afghanistan, it was forced to leave the country after the 2021 Taliban takeover and is now based in the USA.

    What’s the current human rights situation in Afghanistan?

    Afghanistan’s human rights situation is extremely concerning. Recent reports indicate a return to traditional Taliban practices, including public executions in stadiums. These executions have occurred in various regions such as Ghazni in southern Afghanistan and Sheberghan in the northern region. Additionally, there have been reports of numerous members of former government forces being killed or disappearing at the hands of the Taliban.

    Arbitrary arrests are rampant, with widespread surveillance through social media and Taliban local intelligence networks. Freedom of speech and expression are not protected under Taliban rule, leading to the imprisonment or silencing of activists advocating for democracy and human rights.

    It is exceedingly challenging to conduct human rights work in Afghanistan. The Taliban persecutes people who oppose their ideology and interests, regardless of the legitimacy of their activism. The level of restrictions and surveillance imposed on activists, journalists and researchers is staggering.

    The situation is particularly dire for women. Misogyny is systemic and women’s access to education and healthcare is severely restricted. The Taliban’s hostility and brutality towards women exacerbate existing patriarchal social structures. Harassment and rapes perpetrated by the Taliban often go unreported due to threats and stigma.

    This is a disturbing reality that the global community should be aware of. It is essential for the international community to take action to address these atrocities.

    How is PR working to address these issues?

    PR originated in the challenging environment of 2015 Kabul, and was established to address the pervasive issues of misinformation, disinformation and the lack of systematic information regarding Afghanistan’s excluded ethnic groups and communities.

    Throughout Afghan history, critical decisions and policies were often based on inaccurate or biased data, serving the interests of political elites. The government and its affiliated institutions exerted significant control over information and lacked genuine commitment to principles of democracy and fairness. As a result, civil society voices, particularly those of minorities, were deliberately excluded across various realms, including education, history, literature and policymaking.

    PR aimed to provide an impartial, community-driven perspective within Afghanistan’s highly politicised information landscape. Despite evolving and expanding our strategic focus areas and geographical coverage, PR remains steadfastly committed to prioritising community needs. In an era marked by rapid advancements in information technologies, PR recognises the importance of maintaining a human-centred and community-centred approach to information.

    Traditional research institutions often focus solely on decision-making centres, but PR believes that in the age of democracy and information, data and research must be shared with the public and decision-makers alike. By using virtual public spaces, PR aims to facilitate the generation and dissemination of information, ultimately fostering a more democratic and informed society.

    As civil society, it is our responsibility to produce and share evidence-based studies of the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and advocate for Afghan people, particularly those most vulnerable under Taliban rule.

    What’s it like to have to work from so far away?

    Working on Afghanistan from a distant location presents significant challenges, primarily because there’s a constant risk of overlooking crucial local perspectives. However, we are fortunate to maintain strong connections with communities in Afghanistan and rely on our local researchers, who we consider the unsung heroes of our work. They assist us in coordinating data collection efforts on the ground. In instances where the safety of our local collaborators is at risk, we use secure virtual means to reach research participants.

    We closely monitor developments in Afghanistan through various channels, including mass and social media, along with insights from our local informants. We rely extensively on our local researchers and informants to gain insights into realities on the ground and verify facts. We maintain daily communication with them to stay updated on unfolding events.

    However, it’s important to note that the Taliban takeover significantly disrupted the flow of information. It requires a deep understanding of Afghanistan’s social dynamics to navigate restrictions and risks. Fear makes it challenging for people to share information freely, so effective data collection requires the establishment of trustful relationships within communities. Overall, working on Afghanistan remotely demands a nuanced approach and a thorough understanding of the risks involved.

    What should be done to keep the attention of the international community on Afghanistan?

    While there has been a noticeable decline in international interest, particularly amid ongoing crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, it’s challenging to imagine Afghanistan fading from global consciousness. The plight of roughly 40 million people subjected to one of the most brutal tyrannies on the planet cannot simply be overlooked.

    The international community is also partly responsible for Afghanistan finding itself in such dire circumstances in the first place. The collapse of Afghanistan represents a failure of collective action. As someone born in Afghanistan and engaging with it professionally, I firmly believe that if it’s left unattended, its problems will continue to haunt the international community indefinitely.

    The risks posed by Taliban rule – ranging from radicalisation to the flourishing opium trade, human rights violations and geopolitical alliances with radical authoritarian governments – are too grave to ignore.

    It’s crucial for the international community to recognise the stark misalignment between Taliban ideology and human rights values. This is often overlooked. Following the US-Taliban Doha agreement in 2020, some believed that a second Taliban rule would be more moderate on issues concerning women’s rights and civil society. But many local activists and researchers remained sceptical, viewing such optimism as based on a misleading, politically motivated narrative.

    The current reality demonstrates they were right. The Taliban continue to hold the entire country hostage, with minimal acceptance of genuine civil society presence or meaningful human rights activism. The international community must listen to authentic local voices and ensure they are included in discussions and decision-making.

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

    Get in touch with the Porsesh Policy Research Institute through itswebsite orFacebook page,and follow it on Instagram andTwitter.

  • ALGERIA: ‘The authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society’

    Rachid AouineCIVICUS speaks about the situation of human rights and civic freedoms in Algeria with Rachid Aouine, Director for SHOAA for Human Rights.

    SHOAA for Human Rights is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and protecting human rights in Algeria. Founded in 2020 and based in London, UK, it raises human rights awareness and monitors, documents and denounces abuses committed against citizens by those in power.

    What is the current situation of human rights and civic space in Algeria?

    As a result of the escalation of repressive practices by the Algerian authorities, human rights are in a critical state. Arbitrary arrests have increased, targeting journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists and political activists associated with political parties linked to the Hirak protest movement for their exercise of the rights to the freedoms of association, expression, belief and peaceful assembly. In recent months they have been criminalised in an unprecedented way.

    The authorities are unjustly prosecuting people for their alleged association with the political opposition movements Rachad and the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, which in May 2021 were designated as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the High Security Council. This is a consultative body chaired by the president. It has also blamed these organisations for the devastating forest fires that overtook north-eastern Algeria in August 2021 and the murder of activist and artist Djamel Bensmaïl while he was in police custody. It announced it would intensify efforts to arrest their members until their ‘total eradication’.

    Since early 2021, prosecutions on bogus terrorism charges have proliferated alarmingly. For those convicted of these charges, the Penal Code dictates sentences ranging from one year in jail to lifelong imprisonment and the death penalty.

    Of course, those arrested and prosecuted have seen their due process and fair trial guarantees systematically violated.

    A new wave of arrests started in February 2022. Why are the authorities targeting human rights defenders in such large numbers?

    The Algerian authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society. Human rights defenders are the only limit to their power, because they are the only ones defending and advocating for human rights in Algeria. Their elimination would effectively end the flow of information about the human rights violations they commit to the outside world.

    Rather than addressing the problems that civil society denounces, the authorities are attacking those advocating for change, because they view change as a threat and a limitation to their power. To cover up the ongoing human rights violations, they are using systematic repression, specifically targeting human rights defenders and the exercise of the freedom of expression.

    Three years after the Hirak protests, the authorities continue to restrict protests. What tactics of suppression do they use?

    Indeed, three years after Hirak (which stands for ‘movement’ in Arabic) peacefully pushed for political change and forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, at least 300 activists, many of them associated with Hirak, are being held by the authorities.

    Through presidential decrees, the Algerian authorities have recently enacted new legislation hostile to the freedoms of expression and assembly. In June 2021, the Penal Code was amended by presidential decree, leading to the expansion of an already too broad definition of terrorism. People are now being accused of crimes such as ‘offending public bodies’, ‘spreading false information’, ‘membership of a terrorist group’, ‘apology for terrorism’, and ‘conspiracy against state security’. A Facebook post may lead to charges such as ‘using information technologies to spread terrorist ideas’ and ‘disseminating information that could harm the national interest’. Even a simple remittance is listed as an act of treason.

    All human rights defenders and advocates who fall under the thumb of these new laws, in particular articles 87 bis and 95 bis of the Penal Code, are automatically slapped with vague charges such as ´undermining national unity’ as well as bogus terrorism-related charges. Despite the presentation of evidence of their innocence by their defence, judicial authorities impose the verdicts sought by the authorities.

    The authorities are also accusing pro-Hirak CSOs of allegedly holding activities contrary to the objectives listed in the Law on Associations and in their own by-laws. On this basis, some of them have been dissolved, including Rassemblement Action Jeunesse and the cultural association SOS Beb El Oued, whose president was sentenced to a year in prison for ‘undermining national unity and national interest’ in connection with the association’s activities.

    Political activists and leaders of parties linked to Hirak are also punished for ‘crimes’ such as ‘calling for a gathering’, and parties are accused of not complying with the Law on Political Parties by organising ‘activities outside the objectives stipulated in its by-laws’. This happened, for example, after several activists gathered to discuss the establishment of a united front against repression.

    What needs to change in Algeria?

    Civil society must be preserved while there is still something left. Civil society plays a major role in any movement for change. When CSOs are absent or disabled, people are left without protection and guidance. This is especially true in efforts to avoid violence and prevent human rights violations; when a society is devoid of CSOs, people lack guidance in knowing what steps to take and human rights violations go unaccounted for. Civil society associations, centres and bodies are key for framing the protest movement – to provide it with structure, strategy and a goal.

    If nothing is done about it, the authorities will continue repressing independent civil society and the human rights situation will worsen. If nothing is done, the goal of democracy and respect for human rights will float further and further away, until it’s completely out of reach.

    How can international civil society support Algerian civil society in its struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms?

    Algerian civil society cannot achieve its goals on its own; it needs cooperation and support from the international community. To address human rights violations and promote democratic freedoms in Algeria, domestic civil society must establish relationships of cooperation and work jointly with international organisations.

    Algerian civil society can develop an effective strategy by opening international lines of communication and becoming a major source of information on the real conditions of human rights on the ground. On the basis of this information, international organisations can help activate international monitoring mechanisms and put pressure for change on Algerian authorities.

    Civic space in Algeria is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with SHOAA for Human Rights through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@shoaa_org on Twitter.

  • ALGERIA: ‘The state must respect the freedoms of those calling for truth and justice on enforced disappearances’


    CIVICUS speaks about the repression of civil society in Algeria with Nassera Dutour, a Franco-Algerian human rights activist and president of the Collective of Families of People Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA) and the Euro-Mediterranean Federation against Enforced Disappearances.

    The CFDA was founded in Paris in May 1998 by Algerian mothers living in France who had relatives who had disappeared in Algeria. It defends the right to truth and justice of the families of the disappeared and has worked from the outset to raise national and international public awareness of the scale of human rights violations in Algeria.


    What’s the reason for the recent increase in repression in Algeria?

    In February 2019, the people of Algeria mobilised spontaneously and peacefully to demand democratic change. They took to the streets of Algiers and other cities to protest against incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term. Even after his resignation, the protest movement, known as the Hirak, lost none of its momentum, broadening its demands to call for a radical overhaul of the regime, a civilian government and a ‘free and democratic Algeria’.

    Although the COVID-19 pandemic put the demonstrations on hold from March 2020 onwards, mobilisation resumed in February 2021 before experiencing a definitive decline, partly due to concerted pressure from the authorities to suppress the movement. Human rights activists, particularly those who dare to criticise the government’s rhetoric and policies, are constantly harassed and intimidated. The security forces monitor and threaten them, creating a climate of fear that is gradually becoming fatal to human rights activism. In some extreme cases, activists face physical violence, which compromises their safety and their ability to continue their essential work.

    Algerian courts have used numerous provisions of the Penal Code to silence critical voices online and offline. Journalists such as Mustapha Bendjama, Khaled Drareni, Ihsane El-Kadi and Rabah Karèche have been targeted with long prison sentences for exposing corruption and abuse. The authorities have also arbitrarily restricted or blocked access to independent news websites, further undermining access to diverse information.

    Among other tactics, the authorities have often invoked the ‘national interest’ to restrict the freedom of action of human rights defenders. For example, Nacer Meghnine, president of the SOS Bab El Oued association, was sentenced in 2021 for publications found at his association’s headquarters denouncing repression, arbitrary arrests and torture. The judges considered that these writings tarnished Algeria’s international image, and that by criticising Algeria for failing to apply the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture, he was inciting foreign interference. Nacer Meghnine was also convicted of direct incitement to unarmed assembly for leaflets displaying portraits of prisoners of conscience. One of the most formidable tools used by the authorities to repress dissent is anti-terrorism legislation, which has broadened the definition of terrorism.

    Are independent civil society organisations able to operate in Algeria?

    The CFDA remains a clandestine association despite numerous attempts to legalise it with the Ministry of the Interior and the prefecture. There has never been any justification from the government for refusing to authorise its registration.

    From 2001 to 2013, the CFDA had to move its offices in Algeria every year, due to intimidation of the owners by the Algerian authorities. In France, there were two particularly violent intrusions into our offices, which were completely ransacked. The Algerian government puts a great deal of psychological pressure on the members of the organisation both in Algeria and France.

    In 2023, police officers came to the Algiers offices and threatened members of the association. No action was taken, although the association’s lawyer tried to find out whether there was an investigation file on the CFDA or on the owner of the premises.

    When we were organising a conference in Algiers, the authorities came to the hotel and ‘suggested’ that we should not hold the conference. CFDA staff and partners tried for hours to stand up to the police and gendarmerie, but they forced us to leave. This international seminar, which was to have been held over two days on the theme of ‘Truth, Justice and Conciliation’, was simply banned.

    Our telephone and internet have been regularly cut off without any explanation, and our website and social media accounts have been hacked twice. The CFDA radio station that we set up in 2016 was immediately censored and made inaccessible in Algeria. Six years later, the site was hacked and the CFDA was forced to create another site under a different name.

    CFDA members have been subjected to psychological harassment, including repeated death threats. In 2002, the French authorities warned me that Algeria had given the order to kill me.

    In addition, recourse to foreign funding is drastically limited, while it is virtually impossible to gain access to state funding, which is only available to organisations affiliated with the Algerian state.

    Since the Hirak, the dissolution of associations has increased exponentially. An association can be suspended if it ‘interferes in the country’s internal affairs or undermines national sovereignty’. The Youth Action Gathering and the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights have been dissolved.

    Demonstrations organised in Algeria to defend human rights are often repressed by the police, with numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, cases of short and long-term enforced disappearances and incidences of torture.

    As a result of this repression, many human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists have had to leave Algeria for France or other European countries. But the diaspora continues to present a united front through joint actions such as demonstrations in Paris every Sunday, advocacy missions to national, European and international institutions, documentation and the drafting of reports for decision-making and investigative and judicial bodies, the publication of press articles and official press releases, conferences and round tables, and social media campaigns.

    How does the CFDA work to protect and promote human rights in Algeria?

    The CFDA advocates with international bodies and invites human rights activists and members of civil society in Algeria to take part.

    The CFDA immediately informs the public as soon as it becomes aware of a human rights violation in Algeria. However, we don’t stop at denunciations: we make calls on states in writing and urge international bodies to take action through urgent appeals to various UN special procedures and to the commissioners of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

    The CFDA has produced several reports on human rights in Algeria, the non-independence of the judiciary, women’s rights, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.

    In 2014 in the city or Oran, we inaugurated the Centre for the Preservation of Memory and the Study of Human Rights. This is a space open to the public for documentation, meetings and reflection on human rights issues. It has a wide range of publications on enforced disappearances and transitional justice.

    The CFDA trains and informs people. It provides information through its social networks and website, as well as through its online radio station, Radio of the Voiceless. Since 2016, the radio station has covered human rights issues through regular podcasts and interviews. It is an integral part of our memorialisation work because it offers a space for expression to people who have been silenced. Since 2019, the radio station has also been following up and commenting on the Hirak and the authoritarian excesses of the Algerian regime.

    The CFDA trains human rights activists in international and African human rights protection mechanisms, internal and external communication and conflict management. It invests heavily in the independence of the judiciary because it believes that the rule of law and democracy cannot exist without an independent judiciary, and that without the rule of law, the truth about enforced disappearances in Algeria will never be established.

    What are your demands to the Algerian government?

    With regard to the search for the truth, we demand an exhaustive and impartial investigation into all cases of disappearance so that the victim, if alive, is placed under the protection of the law, and if not, their remains are returned to their family. All those concerned by the disappearance must have access to the final results of the investigation.

    The authorities must use all technical and legal means available to locate mass graves and unmarked graves, identify bodies, clarify the circumstances in which they were buried and return the remains to the families. They must set up a DNA database for identification purposes.

    To put an end to impunity, the authorities must carry out immediate and impartial investigations into each alleged case of disappearance in which the instigator, perpetrator or accomplice is a public official. Any criminal complaint against an unknown person or public official must be declared admissible and investigated immediately. The state must also take urgent measures to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

    In addition, appropriate and adequate reparations must be made to the victims, including adequate financial compensation, moral and psychological rehabilitation, and the fullest and most visible remembrance possible.

    To ensure that the crimes of the past are not repeated, the state must respect, protect, guarantee and promote freedoms of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly for those who demand truth and justice. It must protect all the victims and their families against potential attacks on their physical and moral integrity that they may suffer as a result of their demands.

    What support does Algerian civil society receive from international allies, and what other international support do you need?

    International civil society organisations such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights are constantly alert to the Algerian government’s repression.

    In addition, these organisations, along with the CFDA and other Algerian organisations, have led and taken part in advocacy missions to international bodies, particularly in Europe, for the release of prisoners of conscience. We have obtained three resolutions from the European Parliament on human rights violations in Algeria.

    Despite these actions, to our knowledge and great despair, no state has spoken out or denounced the repression in Algeria.

    In this context, it is necessary to strengthen international solidarity to show a united front in order to create a balance of power that leads states to urge the state of Algeria to respect its international obligations regarding collective and individual freedoms and the establishment of the rule of law in Algeria, starting with judicial independence.

    As for enforced disappearances, it is necessary to raise international awareness of the fact that this practice can occur under any repressive government and concerns all societies, all the more so in a globalised world where intergenerational traumas and practices are particularly mobile. This tactic first surfaced in the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s, and is now used on every continent by authoritarian regimes of all political persuasions. Yet decision-makers and various stakeholders have shown themselves to be disengaged. We absolutely must mobilise a broad public and organise internationally to combat and prevent this crime.

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

    Get in touch with CFDA through itswebsite, Instagram account orFacebook page, and follow@SOS_Disparus on Twitter.

  • Algeria: Global Campaign urges authorities to lift restrictions on civic space

    CIVICUS joins 37 other organisations today in announcing a 10-day campaign against the increasing government repression of individuals and groups defending human rights in Algeria.

    A year ago, Algerian authorities shut down the “Hirak” pro-democracy protests in most of the country. Since then, the number of unfounded terrorism prosecutions has soared, problematic amendments to the Penal Code were adopted, legal actions were initiated against civil society organisations and opposition political parties, and the crackdown on human rights defenders and the media has intensified, while authorities have continued to obstruct independent unions’ registration and activity. 

    #NotACrime is an online campaign aiming to draw attention to the ways in which Algerian authorities have increasingly attempted to stifle dissenting voices and independent civil society. Launched by 38 Algerian, regional and international organisations, the campaign will be conducted between 19-28 May on the organisations’ respective social media accounts.

    The campaign calls on Algerian authorities to end their repression of human rights, immediately and unconditionally release those detained solely for the peaceful  exercise of their human rights and allow everyone to freely enjoy their rights. Those suspected of responsibility for grave human rights violations should be brought to justice in fair trials, and the authorities should provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims. The campaign calls on all individuals, organisations and relevant parties to contribute in collectively demanding an end to the criminalisation of the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Algeria, using the #NotACrime hashtag. 

    At least 300 people have been arrested since the beginning of 2022 (as of 17 April) for exercising their right to free expression, peaceful assembly or association, according to Zaki Hannache, a human rights defender, though some have since been released. Arrests and sentencing of peaceful activists, independent trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders have continued unabated, even after the protest movement was shut down. Algerians jailed for their speech have repeatedly carried out hunger strikes - El Hadi Lassouli since 3 May for instance - above all to protest their arbitrary imprisonment. According to the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), these figures underrepresent the reality because many cases are not communicated due to fear of reprisal.

    The death in detention of Hakim Debbazi on 24 April, after he was placed in pretrial detention on 22 February for social media postings, shows what is at stake when people are detained  simply for exercising their human rights. 

    While international scrutiny has remained scarce, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in her update to the Human Rights Council on 8 March 2022 , expressed concern over "increasing restrictions on fundamental freedoms" in Algeria and called on the government "to change course." Ahead of the examination of Algeria’s human rights record in November by the UN Human Rights Council, within the Universal Periodic Review process, the undersigned organisations express serious concern and hold Algerian authorities responsible for the dangerous backsliding in Algeria, notably in the rights to express one’s opinion, assemble and associate peacefully, and share and access information. 

    The campaign will extend until the anniversary of the death of Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a human rights defender who died in detention on 28 May 2019 after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment for expressing views critical of the government. He had been charged with undermining state security and inciting racial hatred. On 11 December 2016, a British-Algerian journalist, Mohamed Tamalt, also died in custody following a hunger strike during his imprisonment for Facebook posts deemed offensive by the authorities. Algerian authorities have failed to adequately investigate both of their deaths.

    Exercising the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, and defending human rights is #NotACrime. 


    1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France)
    2. Action for Change and Democracy in Algeria (ACDA)
    3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    4. Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH)
    5. Amnesty International 
    6. ARTICLE 19
    7. Autonomous General Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA, Algeria)
    8. Autonomous National Union of Electricity and Gas Workers (SNATEG, Algeria)
    9. Autonomous National Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP, Algeria)
    10. Burkinabè Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
    11. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
    13. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
    14. Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)
    15. Collective Action-Detainees (Algeria)
    16. Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA)
    17. Confederation of Trade Union Workers' Commissions (CCOO, Spain)
    18. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
    19. DIGNITY - Danish Institute against Torture
    20. Euro-Mediterranean Federation against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED)
    21. Euromed Rights
    22. Free Algeria
    23. Front Line Defenders
    24. General Confederation of Labour (CGT, France)
    25. Human Rights League (LDH, France)
    26. Human Rights Watch 
    27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    28. International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles
    29. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
    30. Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CIDDH)
    31. Justitia Center for Legal Protection of Human Rights in Algeria
    32. MENA Rights Group
    33. Public Services International (PSI)
    34. Riposte Internationale (Algeria)
    35. Shoaa for Human Rights (Algeria)
    36. Syndicate Union – Solidaires (France)
    37. Tharwa N’Fadhma N’Soumer (Algeria)
    38. Trade Union Confederation of Productive Forces (COSYFOP, Algeria)

     Civic space in Algeria is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

  • ALGÉRIE : « L’Etat doit respecter les libertés de ceux qui réclament la vérité et la justice sur les disparitions forcées »


    CIVICUS échange sur la répression de la société civile en Algérie avec Nassera Dutour, militante franco-algérienne des droits humains, présidente du Collectif des Familles de Disparu.e.s en Algérie (CFDA) et de la Fédération Euro-Méditerranéenne contre les Disparitions Forcées.

    Le CFDA a été fondé à Paris en mai 1998, sous l’impulsion de mères algériennes vivant en France dont des proches avaient disparu en Algérie. Il défend le droit à la vérité et à la justice des familles de disparu.e.s et s’emploie depuis sa création à sensibiliser l’opinion publique nationale et internationale à l’ampleur des violations des droits humains en Algérie.


    Quelle est la raison de l’augmentation récente de la répression en Algérie ?

    En février 2019, la population en Algérie s’est mobilisée de manière spontanée et pacifique pour exiger un changement démocratique. Elle est descendue dans les rues d’Alger et d’autres villes pour protester contre la candidature d’Abdelaziz Bouteflika, président en exercice, à un cinquième mandat. Même après sa démission, le mouvement de contestation, appelé « Hirak », n’a pas perdu de son élan, élargissant ses revendications pour la refonte profonde du régime, en quête d’un gouvernement civil ainsi que d’une « Algérie libre et démocratique ».

    Bien que la pandémie de Covid-19 ait mis un frein aux manifestations à partir de mars 2020, la mobilisation a repris en février 2021 avant de connaître un déclin définitif, en partie dû aux pressions concertées des autorités pour réprimer le mouvement. Le harcèlement et l’intimidation des militants des droits humains, en particulier de celles et ceux qui osent critiquer les discours et politiques du gouvernement, sont incessants. Les forces de sécurité les surveillent et les menacent, créant ainsi un climat de peur qui devient progressivement fatal à l’action pour la défense des droits humains. Dans certains cas extrêmes, des militants sont même confronté.e.s à des violences physiques, compromettant leur sécurité et leur capacité à poursuivre leur travail essentiel.

    Les tribunaux algériens se sont appuyés sur de nombreuses dispositions du Code pénal afin de bâillonner les voix critiques aussi bien en ligne qu’hors ligne. Des journalistes tels que Mustapha Bendjama, Khaled Drareni, Ihsane El-Kadi et Rabah Karèche ont été ciblés et condamnés à des peines de prison lourdes pour avoir dénoncé la corruption et les abus. Les autorités ont également arbitrairement restreint, voire bloquer l’accès à des sites d’information indépendants, minant davantage l’accès à une information plurielle.

    Entre autres tactiques, les autorités ont souvent invoqué l’atteinte à l’« intérêt national » pour restreindre la liberté d’action des défenseurs des droits humains. C’est ainsi que le président de l’association SOS Bab El Oued, Nacer Meghnine, a été condamné en 2021 pour des publications trouvées au siège de son association dénonçant la répression, les arrestations arbitraires et la torture. Les juges avaient en effet considéré que ces écrits ternissaient l’image de l’Algérie à l’international, et qu’en épinglant l’Algérie pour n’avoir pas appliqué la Convention des Nations Unies contre la torture, il incitait à l’ingérence étrangère. Nacer Meghnine a, par ailleurs, été condamné pour incitation directe à attroupement non armé, pour des tracts affichant des portraits de détenus d’opinion. L’un des outils les plus redoutables employés par les autorités pour réprimer la dissidence est la législation contre le terrorisme avec une définition du terrorisme élargie.

    Les organisations de la société civile indépendantes peuvent-elles toujours opérer en Algérie ?

    Le CFDA demeure une association clandestine malgré les nombreuses relances réalisées pour la légaliser auprès du ministère de l’Intérieur et de la préfecture. Il n’y a jamais eu de justification de la part de l’Etat expliquant ce refus d’autoriser l’enregistrement.

    De 2001 à 2013 le CFDA a dû déménager chaque année ses bureaux en Algérie, en raison de l’intimidation exercée sur les propriétaires par les autorités algériennes. En France, il y a eu deux intrusions particulièrement violentes dans les bureaux, qui ont été complètement saccagés. L’Etat algérien exerce une très forte pression psychologique chez les membres de l’organisation tant en Algérie qu’en France.

    En 2023, des policiers sont venus dans les bureaux d’Alger en menaçant les membres de l’association. Il n’y a pas eu de suites alors que l’avocate de l’association a cherché à déterminer l’existence d’un dossier d’enquête sur le CFDA ou sur le propriétaire des lieux.

    Lors de l’organisation d’une conférence qui devait se dérouler à Alger, les autorités sont venues à l’hôtel en nous « suggérant » de ne pas tenir la conférence. Les équipes du CFDA de ses partenaires ont essayé pendant des heures de tenir tête aux autorités policières et de gendarmerie, mais ils nous ont obligé à quitter les lieux. Ce séminaire international qui devait se tenir sur deux jours sous l’intitulé « vérité, justice et conciliation » a été tout simplement interdit.

    Le téléphone ainsi qu’internet ont été régulièrement coupés sans aucune explication et le site internet ainsi que les réseaux sociaux se sont fait piratés à deux reprises. La radio du CFDA crée en 2016 a été immédiatement censuré dans la mesure où il n’était plus accessible en Algérie. Six ans plus tard, le site a été piraté et le CFDA a été dans l’obligation de créer un autre site sous une autre enseigne.

    Les membres du CFDA ont subi un harcèlement psychologique allant jusqu’aux menaces de mort à répétition. En 2002, les autorités françaises m’ont prévenu que l’Algérie avait donné l’ordre de me tuer.

    En outre, le recours aux financements étrangers est drastiquement limité alors qu’il est quasiment impossible d’avoir accès à des financements de la part de l’Etat, dont seules les organisations « affiliées » à l’Etat algérien bénéficient.

    Depuis le Hirak, la dissolution des associations s’est intensifiée de manière exponentielle. En effet, une association peut être suspendue « en cas d’ingérence dans les affaires internes du pays ou d’atteinte à la souveraineté nationale ». Le Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse ainsi que la Ligue Algérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme ont été dissoutes.

    Les manifestations organisées en Algérie pour défendre les droits humains sont souvent réprimées par la police, avec des nombreuses arrestations et détentions arbitraires, de cas de disparitions forcées de court et longue durée, et de cas de torture.

    En raison de cette répression, plusieurs défenseurs et défenseures des droits humains, avocates et journalistes ont dû quitter l’Algérie vers la France ou d’autres pays Européens. Mais la diaspora continue de faire front uni en menant des actions communes telles que des manifestations à Paris tous les dimanches, des missions de plaidoyer auprès des institutions nationales, européennes et internationales, la documentation et la rédaction de rapports à l’attention des organes décisionnels, d’investigation et judiciaires, la publication d’articles de presse et de communiqués officiels, des conférences et tables-rondes et des campagnes de plaidoyer sur les réseaux sociaux.

    Comment travaille le CFDA pour protéger et promouvoir les droits humains en Algérie ?

    Le CFDA mené des actions de plaidoyer auprès des instances internationales et invite des militants des droits humains et des membres de la société civile en Algérie à participer.

    Le CFDA informe immédiatement le grand public, dès qu’il a connaissance d’une violation des droits humains en Algérie. Cependant, on ne s’arrête pas à des dénonciations : on interpelle les États par des écrits ainsi que les instances internationales par des appels urgent adressées aux différentes procédures spéciales des Nations Unies et auprès des commissaires de la Commission africaine des droits de l’Homme et des peuples.

    Le CFDA a produit plusieurs rapports sur les droits humains en Algérie, sur la non-indépendance de la justice, sur le droit des femmes, sur les détentions arbitraires et les disparitions forcées.

    En 2014, on a inauguré le Centre pour la Préservation de la Mémoire et l’Etude des Droits de l’Homme à Oran. Il s’agit d’un espace de documentation, de rencontre et de réflexion sur des thématiques liées aux droits humains ouvert à tout public. Il dispose d’un vaste panel de publications concernant les disparitions forcées et la justice transitionnelle.

    Le CFDA forme et informe. En effet, on informe par nos réseaux sociaux et notre site internet, mais aussi par notre radio en ligne, « La radio des sans voix ». Depuis 2016, la radio aborde, dans des podcasts et interviews réguliers, des sujets liés aux droits humains. Elle fait partie intégrante de notre travail de mémoire, parce qu’elle offre un espace d’expression aux personnes qui ont été mises sous silence. Depuis 2019, la radio suit et commente également le Hirak et les dérives autoritaires du régime algérien.

    Le CFDA forme les militants des droits humains sur les mécanismes internationaux et africains de protection des droits humains, sur la communication interne et externe ainsi que sur la gestion des conflits. Il s’investit énormément sur l’indépendance de la justice car il estime que l’Etat de droit et la démocratie ne peuvent exister sans indépendance de la justice et que sans Etat de droit, la vérité sur les disparitions forcées en Algérie ne sera jamais établie.

    Quelles sont vos demandes au gouvernement algérien ?

    En ce qui concerne la recherche de la vérité, nous exigeons une enquête exhaustive et impartiale sur tous les cas de disparitions afin que la victime, si elle est vivante, soit placée sous la protection de la loi, et si elle ne l’est pas, que sa dépouille soit restituée à sa famille. Toutes les personnes concernées par la disparition doivent avoir accès aux résultats finaux de l’enquête.

    Les autorités doivent utiliser tous les moyens techniques et légaux pour localiser les charniers et tombes anonymes, identifier les corps, clarifier les circonstances dans lesquelles ils ont été enterrés et restituer les dépouilles aux familles. Elles doivent mettre en place une base de données ADN à des fins d’identification.

    Pour mettre fin à l’impunité, les autorités doivent mener des enquêtes immédiates et impartiales sur chaque cas présumé de disparition dont le commanditaire, auteur ou complice aurait la qualité d’agent de l’Etat. Toute plainte pénale contre un inconnu ou un agent public doit être déclarée recevable et faire l’objet d’une enquête immédiate. L’État doit également prendre des mesures urgentes pour garantir l’indépendance et l’impartialité du pouvoir judiciaire.

    En outre, des réparations appropriées et adéquates doivent être accordées aux victimes, incluant une indemnisation financière appropriée, une réhabilitation morale et psychologique, et un travail de mémoire le plus exhaustif et visible possible.

    Pour s’assurer que les crimes du passé ne se répètent pas, l’État doit respecter, protéger, garantir et promouvoir les libertés d’opinion, d’expression, d’association et de réunion pacifique de ceux qui réclament la vérité et la justice. Il doit protéger toutes les victimes et leurs familles contre les atteintes potentielles à leur intégrité physique et morale qu’elles pourraient subir en raison de leurs revendications.

    Quel soutien la société civile algérienne reçoit-elle de ses alliés internationaux, et de quel autre soutien international auriez-vous besoin ?

    Les organisations non-gouvernementales internationales telles que Amnesty International et la Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains sont constamment en alerte quant à la répression du gouvernement algérien.

    De plus, les organisations ainsi que le CFDA et d’autres organisations algériennes ont mené et participé à des missions de plaidoyer auprès des instances internationales et notamment européennes concernant la libération des détenus d’opinions. Nous avons obtenu trois résolutions du Parlement européen concernant les violations des droits humains en Algérie.

    Malgré ces actions, à nos connaissances et à notre grand désespoir, aucun Etat ne s’est prononcé ou dénoncé la répression en Algérie.

    Dans ce contexte, il est nécessaire de renforcer la solidarité internationale pour montrer un front uni pour créer rapport de force qui amènerait les États à demander à l’Algérie de respecter ses obligations internationales et de ce fait, respecter le droit de toutes les libertés collectives et individuelles et l’instauration d’un Etat de droit en Algérie en commençant par l’indépendance de la justice. 

    Quant aux disparitions forcées, il est nécessaire de sensibiliser l’opinion internationale sur le fait que cette pratique peut arriver sous n’importe quel gouvernement répressif, et concerne de fait toutes les sociétés – d’autant plus dans un monde globalisé où les traumas intergénérationnels et les pratiques sont particulièrement mobiles. Apparue dans les dictatures d’Amérique latine dans les années 70 et 80, cette pratique est désormais utilisée sur tous les continents par des régimes autoritaires de tous bords politiques. Pourtant, les décideur.euses et différentes parties prenantes se sont montrées désengagées. Nous devons absolument mobiliser un large public et s’organiser à l’internationale pour combattre et prévenir ce crime. 

    L’espace civique en Algérie est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez le CFDA sur sonsite web, son compte d’Instagram ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@SOS_Disparus sur Twitter.

  • ALGÉRIE : « Les autorités arrêtent les défenseurs des droits humains pour étouffer la société civile »

    Rachid AouineCIVICUS évoque la situation des droits humains et des libertés civiques en Algérie avec Rachid Aouine, directeur de l’organisation SHOAA for Human Rights.

    SHOAA for Human Rights est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) indépendante dont le but est de soutenir et de protéger les droits humains en Algérie. Fondée en 2020 et basée à Londres, au Royaume-Uni, elle fait un travail de sensibilisation à la question des droits humains et surveille, répertorie et dénonce les exactions commises contre les citoyens par les personnes au pouvoir.

    Quelle est la situation actuelle en matière de droits humains et d’espace civique en Algérie ?

    En raison de l’escalade des pratiques répressives de la part des autorités algériennes, la situation en matière des droits humains est extrêmement préoccupante. Les arrestations arbitraires se sont multipliées, ciblant des journalistes, des défenseurs des droits humains, des militants de la société civile et des militants politiques associés à des partis politiques liés au mouvement de protestation du Hirak. Tous se font arrêter pour avoir exercé leurs droits de liberté d’association, d’expression, de croyance et de réunion pacifique. Au cours des derniers mois, ils ont été incriminés comme jamais auparavant.

    Les autorités poursuivent injustement des personnes pour leur association présumée avec les mouvements d’opposition politique, à savoir « Rachad » et le Mouvement pour l’autodétermination de la Kabylie, qui ont été qualifiés en mai 2021 d’organisations terroristes par le Haut Conseil de sécurité, un organe consultatif présidé par le président algérien. Le Haut Conseil de sécurité a imputé à ces organisations la responsabilité des incendies de forêt dévastateurs qui ont ravagé le nord-est de l’Algérie en août 2021 et l’assassinat du militant et artiste Djamel Bensmaïl, alors qu’il était en garde à vue. Il a annoncé qu’il intensifierait ses efforts pour arrêter les membres de ces organisations jusqu’à leur « éradication totale ».

    Depuis le début de l’année 2021, les poursuites sous de fausses accusations de terrorisme se sont multipliées de manière alarmante. Pour les personnes reconnues coupables de ces accusations, le code pénal dicte des peines allant d’un an de prison à l’emprisonnement à vie et à la peine de mort.

    Bien entendu, les garanties de procédure et de procès équitable des personnes arrêtées et poursuivies ont systématiquement été violées.

    Une nouvelle vague d’arrestations a commencé en février 2022. Pourquoi les autorités ciblent-elles les défenseurs des droits humains en si grand nombre ?

    Les autorités algériennes arrêtent les défenseurs des droits humains pour étouffer la société civile. Les défenseurs des droits humains sont la seule limite à leur pouvoir, car ils sont les seuls à défendre et à promouvoir les droits humains en Algérie. Leur élimination permettrait de mettre fin dans la pratique aux flux d’informations concernant les violations des droits humains au reste du monde.

    Plutôt que de résoudre les problèmes que la société civile dénonce, les autorités s’en prennent à ceux qui prônent le changement, car elles considèrent le changement comme une menace et une limite à leur pouvoir. Pour dissimuler les violations continues des droits humains, elles ont recours à une répression systématique, ciblant spécifiquement les défenseurs des droits humains et la liberté d’expression.

    Trois ans après les manifestations du Hirak, les autorités continuent de restreindre les manifestations. Quelles tactiques de répression utilisent-elles ?

    En effet, trois ans après que le Hirak (qui signifie « mouvement » en arabe) a fait pression de manière pacifique pour un changement politique et a contraint le président Abdelaziz Bouteflika à démissionner, au moins 300 militants, dont beaucoup sont associés au Hirak, sont détenus par les autorités.

    Par le biais de décrets présidentiels, les autorités algériennes ont récemment promulgué une nouvelle législation hostile aux libertés d’expression et de réunion. En juin 2021, le code pénal a été modifié par décret présidentiel, ce qui a abouti à l’élargissement d’une définition déjà trop large de la notion de terrorisme. Des personnes sont désormais accusées d’infractions, telles que « l’offense aux organismes publics », « la diffusion de fausses informations », « l’appartenance à un groupe terroriste », « l’apologie du terrorisme » et « la conspiration contre la sécurité de l’État ». Une publication sur Facebook peut entraîner des accusations telles que « l’utilisation des technologies de l’information pour diffuser des idées terroristes » et « la diffusion d’informations susceptibles de nuire à l’intérêt national ». Même un simple envoi de fonds est considéré comme un acte de trahison.

    Tous les défenseurs des droits humains et les avocats qui tombent sous le coup de ces nouvelles lois, en particulier les articles 87 bis et 95 bis du code pénal, sont automatiquement visés par des accusations vagues, telles que « l’atteinte à l’unité nationale », et par de fausses accusations liées au terrorisme. Malgré la présentation de preuves de leur innocence par leur défense, les autorités judiciaires imposent les verdicts souhaités par les autorités.

    Les autorités accusent également les OSC pro-Hirak de mener des activités soi-disant contraires aux objectifs énumérés dans la loi sur les associations et dans leurs propres statuts. C’est ainsi que certaines de ces OSC ont été dissoutes, notamment le Rassemblement Action Jeunesse et l’association culturelle SOS Bab El Oued, dont le président a été condamné à un an de prison pour « atteinte à l’unité nationale et à l’intérêt national », en lien avec les activités de l’association.

    Les militants politiques et les dirigeants des partis liés au Hirak sont également sanctionnés pour des « délits » tels que « l’appel à un rassemblement », et les partis sont accusés de ne pas respecter la loi sur les partis politiques en organisant « des activités en dehors des objectifs fixés dans ses statuts ». C’est ce qui s’est passé, par exemple, après que plusieurs militants se sont réunis pour discuter de la création d’un front uni contre la répression.

    Que faut-il changer en Algérie ?

    La société civile doit être préservée tant qu’il en reste quelque chose. Elle joue un rôle majeur dans tout mouvement en faveur du changement. Lorsque les OSC sont absentes ou dissoutes, les personnes se retrouvent sans protection ni conseils. Cela est particulièrement vrai s’agissant des efforts de lutte contre la violence et les violations des droits humains : lorsqu’il n’y a pas d’OSC, les personnes ne sont pas renseignées sur les mesures à suivre pour faire valoir leurs droits et les violations des droits humains ne sont pas comptabilisées. Les associations, centres et organismes de la société civile sont essentiels pour encadrer le mouvement de protestation - pour lui donner une structure, une stratégie et un objectif.

    Si rien n’est fait, les autorités continueront à réprimer la société civile indépendante et la situation des droits humains s’aggravera. Si rien n’est fait, l’objectif de la démocratie et du respect des droits humains s’éloignera de plus en plus, jusqu’à devenir complètement hors de portée.

    Comment la société civile internationale peut-elle soutenir la société civile algérienne dans sa lutte pour les droits humains et les libertés démocratiques ?

    La société civile algérienne ne peut atteindre ses objectifs à elle seule ; elle a besoin de la coopération et du soutien de la communauté internationale. Pour lutter contre les violations des droits humains et promouvoir les libertés démocratiques en Algérie, la société civile nationale doit établir des rapports de coopération et travailler conjointement avec les organisations internationales.

    La société civile algérienne peut développer une stratégie efficace en ouvrant des lignes de communication internationales et en devenant une source majeure d’informations sur la situation réelle des droits humains sur le terrain. En s’appuyant sur ces informations, les organisations internationales peuvent contribuer à activer les mécanismes internationaux de surveillance et faire pression sur les autorités algériennes pour qu’elles changent.

    L’espace civique en Algérie est classé comme « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Prenez contact avec l’organisation SHOAA for Human Rights via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@shoaa_org sur Twitter.

  • ARMENIA: ‘As people leave their homes in search of safety, humanitarian organisations must support their basic needs’

    ShushanikNersesyanCIVICUS speaks about the civil society humanitarian response to the Azerbaijani blockade and military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh – the disputed territory within Azerbaijan that until recently was governed by ethnic Armenians – withShushanik Nersesyan,Media and Communication Manager at People in Need (PIN) Armenia.

    Founded in 1992 bya group of journalists involved in the 1989 Czechoslovak ‘Velvet Revolution’, PIN is a civil society organisation (CSO) working in the fields of humanitarian aid, human rights, education and social work. Since it was established in 2003, its permanent office in Armenia has worked to strengthen Armenian people’s abilities to improve their lives and the communities they live in.

    How did the Azerbaijani blockade affect people in Nagorno-Karabakh?

    It all started in December 2022, when Azerbaijani civilians identifying themselves as environmental activists began obstructing the Lachin corridor, which links Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2023 Azerbaijan set up an official checkpoint that largely cut off the passage of people and goods between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Once it was under Azeri control, it was possible to use the corridor only in exceptionally urgent cases, through the intermediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Russian peacekeepers.

    On 29 July Azerbaijani authorities abducted V Khachatryan, a 68-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh resident who was being evacuated by the ICRC for urgent medical treatment through the Lachin corridor. Khachatryan remains in captivity. Another incident occurred in late August when three Nagorno-Karabakh students were captured by Azerbaijani border guards while travelling to Armenia via the corridor. They were only released 10 days later. Free movement of people to Armenia became impossible.

    The prolonged blockade led to a humanitarian crisis due to shortages of essential goods – including electricity, fuel and water – and the closure of basic services. People in Need, along with Action Against Hunger and Médecins du Monde France, condemned it but, regrettably, our efforts to open to road for the trucks with food to Nagorno-Karabakh were thwarted.

    The situation changed with the shelling that caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people on 19 and 20 September. Since 24 September, over 100,000 people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenian regions, where they are also facing an emergency situation due to food and hygiene needs, plus longer-term issues of housing, education and jobs.

    How has Armenian civil society responded to the humanitarian crisis?

    CSOs including PIN deployed humanitarian projects to help blockade-affected people. CSOs conducted visits and issued statements. In Kornidzor, on the border, representatives from dozens of Armenian CSOs gathered during the blockade, urging the international community to uphold human rights and ensure the passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The unimpeded delivery of essential goods, including food, hygiene items, medicine and fuel, as well as the unrestricted movement of people, including critically ill patients, are fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law.

    What work is PIN doing in this context?

    Since 1992, as a newly established organisation, PIN has been there to help people affected by the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which lasted from February 1988 to May 1994. We have actively contributed to the growth of Armenian civil society, which has remained resilient throughout this crisis. We coordinate our efforts with the government and local authorities to closely monitor the situation on the ground and carry out numerous humanitarian projects.

    We continue assisting the most vulnerable populations. Since September 2020, we have provided essential humanitarian aid and long-term efforts for the social and economic integration of thousands of people.

    As a humanitarian organisation, we advocate for rights and a peaceful resolution of conflicts in adherence with international law. Along with our partners, we have expressed our concerns, called for measures to prevent the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe and continuously raised internal and donor funds to help people in need.

    When people started fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, we immediately mobilised PIN funds to support the first recipient centre in the Syunik border region to deliver aid such as food, clothes and blankets to forcibly displaced people and create a special space for children’s activities while their parents dealt with registration and searching for accommodation. Additionally, we launched the SOS Armenia appeal and new humanitarian assistance projects funded by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union, the Netherlands Refugee Foundation, Start Network and USAID.

    As people continue to leave their homes in search of safety without being able to take their belongings, humanitarian organisations must continue providing assistance to support their basic needs.

    Civic space in Armenia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with People in Need Armenia through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@PIN_Armenia on Twitter.

  • ARMENIA: ‘Lack of compelling international action allowed the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh to occur’

    LidaMinasyanCIVICUS speaks about the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh– the disputed territory within Azerbaijan that until recently was governed by ethnic Armenians –withLida Minasyan, a feminist peace activist and Resource Mobilisation Consultant at theCentral Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central and North Asia (CEECCNA) Collaborative Fund.

    Founded in 2022, the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund is a feminist fund that mobilises sustainable resources for social justice movements across the CEECCNA region.

    What is the current security and human rights situation in Nagorno-Karabakh?

    The ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was forcibly displaced within days of the Azerbaijani government launching a full-scale attack on 19 September. A week later, 100,632 people had arrived in Armenia, having left behind their homes, their belongings and the lives they had built.

    Several actions deliberately targeted against civilians occurred before the start of the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, leaving the 120,000 Armenians who lived there completely isolated. People endured nine months of severe food insecurity, fuel shortages, electricity outages, communications breakdowns and medical supply shortages. This resulted in a humanitarian crisis that put people, particularly those with vulnerabilities, at risk. Many pregnant women had miscarriages and stillbirths, people with chronic illnesses couldn’t receive their medication and treatment, and risk of infection increased due to the lack of hygiene products. These were just a few of the severe challenges people faced during the blockade.

    The Lachin road was reopened several days after the Azerbaijani offensive, when people, already traumatised and starving, experienced a direct threat to their lives. They had no choice but to leave their homes in search of safety in Armenia.

    Why did Azerbaijan initiate the blockade and military offensive?

    The nine-month blockade and the offensive were meant to achieve the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The intentional deprivation of essential resources for survival followed by the direct attack to take over Nagorno-Karabakh, along with the creation of conditions for the Armenian population to leave, indicate that Azerbaijan is not contemplating any peaceful end to the conflict or human rights guarantees for Armenian people to feel safe in their homes and continue living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

    By leveraging additional threats against Armenians and Armenian sovereign territories, demonstrating its military power, and consistently introducing new conditions in the negotiation process with Armenia, Azerbaijan intends to assert its dominance. This approach reinforces a policy of hatred towards Armenians spanning decades and undermines the peacebuilding process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    How has Armenian civil society responded to the humanitarian crisis?

    Displaced people endured a journey of over 20 hours to reach Armenia, during which they had no access to food, water or sanitation facilities. As a result, most of them arrived thirsty, hungry and in need of medical attention. When they began arriving, local organisations, activists and volunteers were among the first to give them food, hygiene products and assistance to register for the state support system.

    Local civil society organisations engage in continuous needs assessments of displaced people, using dynamic data collection approaches, as the situation is changing rapidly. In addition to the immediate provision of goods, there are medium and long-term needs to address. Displaced people need psychological assistance to overcome trauma, sustainable medical support, permanent housing, access to education and employment and services to prevent and address gender-based violence.

    As part of the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund, we provide timely updates about the situation to our international partners and mobilise and direct resources to local organisations. Due to limited resources, Armenian civil society activists worked under a lot of pressure because they had to initiate fundraising efforts while simultaneously providing emergency response.

    The Armenian government has provided displaced people with one-time financial support, essential products and access to temporary accommodation. For all its good intentions, however, the government also lacks resources and capacity to provide adequate long-term assistance to displaced people.

    Has the international community’s response been adequate?

    The response has been slow and inadequate. A few months into the blockade, the international community refused to call the situation a humanitarian crisis and many turned a blind eye to the deteriorating conditions of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population.

    After numerous appeals and demands from civil society, some international agencies began releasing statements urging the Azerbaijani government to open the Lachin corridor. They mainly referred to the International Court of Justice’s orders of 22 February and 6 July 2023, which unequivocally mandated Azerbaijan to ensure unrestricted movement of people, vehicles and cargo along the corridor in both directions.

    Despite these decisions, the road remained blocked. A group of four United Nations experts also expressed their concern about the continued closure of the Lachin corridor and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly reinstate unimpeded and safe movement along the road, as stipulated by the November 2020 ceasefire agreement.

    The lack of more compelling action by the international community created an unhindered environment for the attack to occur. Many organisations are currently responding by issuing new alerts and appeals, along with providing much-needed humanitarian support. However, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia require sustainable peace and human security, which will only be achievable through a negotiation that is inclusive of the voices of those most profoundly affected by the conflict. We advocate specifically for the inclusion of women in formal negotiations, in order to pave the way to sustainable peace.

    The international community’s crisis-response support is highly appreciated, but it should be complemented by long-term funding for dialogue, peacebuilding and the reestablishment of human security. Armenian civil society working to alert about potential risks of conflict escalation on the borders of Armenia could also benefit from their support.

    Civic space in Armenia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Learn more aboutCEECCNA Collaborative Fund in thisblog.

  • AZERBAIJAN: ‘Operating on the ground has become increasingly difficult due to security concerns’

    KateWattersCIVICUS speaks about the links between the exploitation of fossil fuels and human rights violations in Azerbaijan with Kate Watters, Executive Director of Crude Accountability.

    Founded in 2003, Crude Accountability is a civil society organisation that works to protect the environmental and human rights of people in the Caspian and Black Sea regions and in areas of Eurasia affected by oil and gas development.

    How do extractive industries fuel human rights violations in Azerbaijan?

    The key problem is corruption, which results from the close relationship between the executive branch of government and the oil industry. The use of the state oil company by the regime led by president Ilham Aliyev is a key feature of Azerbaijan’s kleptocracy.

    Corporations operating in Azerbaijan handle vast sums of money and oversee massive projects. For example, British Petroleum (BP), the largest foreign investor, is involved in many of the key fossil fuel projects and is the majority shareholder and operator of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, through which around 80 per cent of Azerbaijan’s oil is exported. BP has a monopoly in the industry that dominates the national economy, with oil and gas accounting for 95 per cent of all exports, 75 per cent of government revenue and 42 per cent of national GDP.

    Those in charge of the oil and gas sector control the financial and economic dynamics of the whole country. The vast revenues generated by the hydrocarbon industry make it difficult for smaller environmentally sustainable alternatives to gain traction and create fertile ground for corruption and secrecy. International mechanisms that promote transparency in the industry rely on a level of adherence to the rule of law that Azerbaijan lacks.

    That’s why Crude Accountability’s advocacy efforts focus on advancing transparency and accountability. We aim for the adoption of cleaner technologies that ensure the wellbeing of local communities and call for international financial institutions to cease financing fossil fuels and redirect their investments toward sustainable green energy projects. We urge companies to be transparent about the social and environmental impacts of their operations and strive for continuous improvement.

    What work do you do in Azerbaijan?

    Crude Accountability’s involvement in Azerbaijan dates back to the early 2000s. We work with communities, organisations and people affected by oil and gas developments. Our efforts encompass extensive research, educational and advocacy activities that address the specific impacts of the hydrocarbon industry, such as gas flaring from the BP’s Sangachal Terminal, which is causing villagers health problems and sleep disruption, along with  the broader impacts of onshore and offshore oil and gas development in Azerbaijan.

    As an organisation, we’ve shed light on previously undisclosed areas. One of our achievements is the collaborative report ‘Flames of Toxicity‘, produced in partnership with Omanos Analytics. Using satellite imagery and other technologies, we proved that oil spills and flaring were happening during extraction and refining processes in several locations. By doing this we reminded industry stakeholders that, even when it’s unsafe for activists to conduct extensive on-site verification, there are technologies we can use to gain insight into environmental and human rights violations.

    For the past few years, operating on the ground in Azerbaijan has become increasingly difficult due to security concerns for our partners. Since mid-2023, our primary focus in Azerbaijan has shifted to advocating for the release of Gubad Ibadoghlu, a prominent economist and anti-corruption activist. He was arbitrarily detained in July 2023 and is currently held in miserable conditions in a pretrial detention centre outside the capital, Baku, facing mistreatment and denial of medical attention. During his arrest, both he and his wife were severely beaten after the car they were driving was surrounded and forced to stop. The physical violence perpetrated against Ibadoghlu and his wife during arrest is extremely concerning.

    We are part of an international coalition of activists, academics, policymakers and journalists that works for the release of Gubad Ibadoghlu and other Azerbaijani political prisoners, including independent journalists affected by the recent crackdown on civil society.

    Is the level of repression in Azerbaijan increasing?

    Repression has intensified over the last five years, and particularly in the past couple of years, as President Ilham Aliyev and the presidential apparatus have sought to solidify their position and power. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, authoritarianism and the repression of civil society have escalated across Eurasia. This is certainly the case in Azerbaijan.

    Azerbaijani people are afraid to speak out about the Azerbaijani offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh. Even those who refrain from criticising the offensive and work to address other related issues risk being labelled as ‘pro-Armenian’, a smear used by authorities against activists and dissenters.

    The snap presidential election scheduled for 7 February will serve to further consolidate Aliyev’s rule amidst regional turmoil. In this context, independent journalists face a heightened risk of repression. In June 2023, protests erupted in the village of Soyudlu, already threatened by environmental degradation, against the construction of an artificial lake to contain waste from the nearby Gadabay goldmine. Police severely beat community activists and journalists who came to cover the story. The village remains under lockdown, and although it appears that the goldmine’s activity has been limited or halted, it remains a challenge to obtain verified information. The community has been under stress since the incident.

    Environmental activists are also at risk. People with information about issues such as flaring or emissions are often afraid to speak out. Sometimes they have family members employed by the oil company or refinery and fear that they may lose their jobs, jeopardising the family’s livelihood. Fear of repercussions silences environmental activists and others who are aware of environmental violations. Still, some environmental and human rights defenders continue to operate discreetly in Azerbaijan.

    What forms of international support does Azerbaijani civil society currently need?

    Azerbaijan’s selection as the host for this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP29, poses significant challenges from both a human rights and an environmental perspective. Azerbaijan has fallen short of its climate commitments. It hasn’t signed the Global Methane Pledge, a step taken even by countries like Turkmenistan. There are also serious concerns about civil society’s ability to participate in COP29 due to ongoing repression and severe human rights violations taking place in the host country. The imprisonment of a prominent Azerbaijani economist investigating corruption in the oil and gas sector raises further concerns.

    The international community should demand transparency and accountability from the Azerbaijani authorities in the run-up to COP29 and throughout the conference. A legitimate discussion on climate change in the framework of sustainability and human rights can only occur with the active participation of civil society.

    It is also very important to building international coalitions to confront authoritarianism, repression and closed civic space. Autocratic governance seeks to make people feel isolated and disunited, so collaborative efforts are vital. By working together, sharing resources and leveraging each organisation’s expertise for knowledge exchange, we can enhance our impact.

    Azerbaijani civil society requires financial resources, solidarity and support from the international community. The more we can offer to activists on the ground, the more successful our collective efforts will be.

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

    Get in touch with Crude Accountability through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow it onLinkedIn andTwitter.

  • BAHRAIN: ‘Had there been civic freedoms, the authorities would have known of the deep suffering at Jau Prison’

    JawadFairoozCIVICUS speaks about the situation of political prisoners on hunger strike in Bahrain withJawad Fairooz, founder and director of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR).

    Founded in 2012, Salam DHR is a human rights civil society organisation (CSO) registered in France, Switzerland and the UK. It undertakes research and advocacy for the advancement of democracy and human rights, mainly in relation to Bahrain, but also in the wider Gulf and Middle East and North Africa regions.

    Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of imprisoned human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, intends to return to Bahrain imminently to ensure her father gets medical treatment and press for his immediate and unconditional release. Yet she, too, faces possible arrest. What’s your assessment of the situation?

    Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 62, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, is the co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and has a long history of activism. He was arrested by the government of Bahrain in 2004, 2007 and again amid mass unrest in April 2011. After this he faced a grossly unfair trial before a military court, including on charges of ‘seeking to overthrow the government’. He was tortured in pretrial custody and since his arbitrary imprisonment he has been repeatedly denied access to adequate healthcare.

    On 9 August he joined some 800 other hunger strikers. They called for an end to lockdown policies that require them to spend up to 23 hours of the day in their cells, the suspension of solitary confinement, the opportunity for collective or congregational prayer in Jau Prison’s mosque, face-to-face meeting rights with family members without a glass screen and access to healthcare commensurate with that available to the public, among other improvements in prison conditions.

    On 13 September the mass hunger strike ended with the authorities reportedly meeting many of these demands. This came as Bahrain’s Crown Prince visited Washington, DC, where he met with senior members of the Biden administration: the problem had to go away.

    Maryam nevertheless intends to travel and she has our full support. We continue to call for Abdulhadi’s immediate and unconditional release. The Danish and European Union (EU) authorities must do more.

    What is at the core of this problem is the absence of civic space in Bahrain. If there was space for independent civil society, then CSOs would have effectively alerted the authorities to prison conditions and they could have addressed the situation. An independent civic space makes it possible to find a balance in government conduct.

    What does this mean for Maryam al-Khawaja and our courageous colleagues travelling with her? It means they should be allowed to enter Bahrain and make their demands. The government should engage with them in a spirit of transparency. The absolute worst that could happen is for dissent to be tolerated just a little bit more. While this seems unlikely to happen, it is what the government should do. We wish them all Godspeed.

    How is it possible to conduct human rights activism in such a closed environment? How does Salam DHR do it?

    Bahrain has closed civic space. Government officials decide which CSOs can be registered and who can stand for their boards. They prevent people from engaging in public life who have no criminal records or public complaints but rather perhaps a past association with a political movement or party that was unfairly banned years ago.

    The Bahraini constitution provides for freedoms and safeguards similar to many other states, but the reality is that the government continues to carry out arbitrary arrests and stage unfair trials for acts that are not internationally recognised as crimes. The authorities torture detainees and use the death penalty, despite domestic opposition and international condemnation. They have stripped hundreds, including myself, of citizenship, depriving us of even the right to have rights in our homeland. They use the digital space to monitor and punish dissent and to foment religious and sectarian strife.

    Activists linked with Salam DHR cannot, in effect, exercise their right to peaceful assembly, let alone openly campaign for freedoms of association and expression, the release of prisoners unfairly tried and imprisoned or a moratorium on the death penalty. They would risk arrest if they did that.

    Yet engaging in civic activism is not totally impossible, only very challenging. Alongside CIVICUS and other partners, Salam DHR engages with allies and like-minded activists as well as the few CSOs that openly but cautiously raise human rights concerns so that the wider Bahraini society hears our message. We echo and amplify their appeals.

    We are a catalyst: we help Bahraini activists access platforms to reach domestic and international audiences and provide training and development opportunities such as internships. Alone and in partnership with others, we research, document and publicise developments, grounding our message in article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

    How useful for advocacy purposes was theglobal event held by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in March 2023?

    It was mixed: Danish parliamentarians and those from other countries addressed human rights issues and the absence of an independent civic space. The IPU’s human rights team raised concerns about freedom of expression and violations against Bahraini parliamentarians. But despite the IPU’s affiliated status with the United Nations (UN), the government still denied access to independent observers and human rights organisations, denying them either visas or access and turning at least one around at the airport. This was the authorities once again restricting civic space.

    A few days before the IPU meeting officially began, Bahraini lawyer and activist Ebrahim Al-Mannai called for parliamentary reforms on social media. He and three others who shared his post were arrested for publishing material that could ‘disturb public order’.

    At the event itself, the government appeared uninterested in seriously engaging with visiting parliamentarians on human rights issues, despite attempts from the Danish delegation and representatives from Finland, Iceland and Ireland. Our message is clear: open up civic space, free up CSOs and political parties and liberate discourse, otherwise the cycle of political unrest will continue.

    Reports indicate that the mass hunger strike in Jau Prison has ended. What’s your assessment of this episode?

    The painful August 2023 mass hunger strike was wholly avoidable. It happened mainly due to the government’s stubborn and short-sighted refusal to allow civic space to exist even to a minimum degree. Had there been freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, they would have known of the deep suffering at Jau Prison. If you don’t let people say what they think, then public life can only lurch from crisis to crisis.

    The hunger strike was the expression of the accumulation of a number of factors that have been present in Bahraini prisons for years and it was based on grievances that have been repeatedly expressed: prison conditions and ill treatment of prisoners amounting to torture. The abuses worsened and conditions deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, medical neglect resulted in the deaths of two prisoners, Hussein Barakat and Abbas Mallalah.

    We appeal once more to the authorities to allow for the opening of civic space and provide a social vent to end the cycle of human rights crises we face.

    Is the international community doing all it can to support the struggle for democracy and human rights in Bahrain?

    International human rights organisations, UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures and partner states, for instance in the context of the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review process of Bahrain, have all joined us in calling on the government of Bahrain to abide by its international human rights obligations, starting with the basic step of letting people have a voice in public life.

    Today, 15 September, is International Day of Democracy, and we are joining the UN in calling on the government of Bahrain to empower the next generation by ensuring that their voices are included in the decisions that will have a profound impact on their world. In his address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that ‘walls are closing in on civic spaces’. Those walls are also the walls of Jau Prison, where it took 800 detainees’ unjust suffering for the government to even take notice.

    But the UN has also let neighbouring United Arab Emirates, which is as closed as Bahrain, host the forthcoming COP28 climate change summit. Lack of civic space means there can be no activism for climate justice in Bahrain – for instance, no public demands for accountability can be expressed over costly and environmentally damaging land reclamation in Bahrain’s northeast, which has already eroded the livelihood of fishing communities. We need to be able to address these challenges openly, with a rights-based approach, to avoid a future calamity.

    And powerful states that could be putting some pressure for change are avoiding the issue. Right now, Bahrain’s Crown Prince is wrapping up meetings with senior Biden administration officials, none of whom appear to have raised civic space concerns or addressed the needless suffering of 800 Bahraini prisoners. The UK has removed Bahrain from its list of ‘countries of concern’ at the same time as it trumpeted a billion-dollar Bahraini investment in the UK. In October the EU will recommence its cycle of so-called human rights dialogues.

    The international community’s inexplicable complacency over the festering human rights quagmire in Bahrain will further embolden the government in crushing civic space. Many leaders miss the point when it comes to Bahrain and its Gulf neighbours: they appear to accept the facade of what is presented as pragmatic autocracy and appear to accept regional rulers’ colonial-mindset contention that democracy will destabilise the region.

    Democracies have in fact produced the most stable, enduring and dynamic systems in the world. Human rights and democracy are essential for Bahrain and its neighbours because their deficits continue to be the primary cause of resentment and unrest. A security-based approach does not remedy these problems. Bahrain’s history has shown these methods to be a failure, as it has endured continuous waves of mass unrest followed by violent crackdowns.

    Authoritarianism and the forms of violence it fosters are the real destabilising forces, a cycle that can only be broken through the recognition and enactment of democratic rights. The first step towards this goal is simply letting civic space exist.

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

    Get in touch with Salam for Democracy and Human Rights through itswebsite and follow @SALAM_DHR and@JawadFairooz on Twitter.

  • BANGLADESH: ‘The government is banishing the opposition in the run-up to the election’

    ZamanAshrafCIVICUS speaks with Zaman Ashraf about the current pre-election crackdown in Bangladesh.

    Zaman is a Bangladeshi human rights defender who advocates for the rights of survivors of torture and victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and seeks stronger legal protections for human rights in compliance with international law. He currently lives in exile in Hong Kong, since human rights activism has become increasingly risky in Bangladesh.

  • BANGLADESH: ‘This is a one-sided election in which we already know who the winner will be’


    CIVICUS speaks with Dr Mubashar Hasan about the ongoing crackdown on dissent in Bangladesh ahead of 7 January general elections.

    Mubashar is a Bangladesh-born academic and social justice activist. He is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, Norway.


    What’s the current political climate in Bangladesh?

    The political climate in Bangladesh is tense. The election is being organised under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the world’s longest-serving female head of government. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has said it’s not going to participate in an election held under this administration, arguing that there isn’t a level playing field for parties to compete freely and fairly.

    Judicial harassment is rife. In September, the New York Times reported that 2.5 million opposition activists faced judicial cases, with each facing multiple cases and some up to 400. Journalists have found that many cases against the opposition were fabricated. The police have even reportedly filed cases against BNP activists who were long dead or living abroad.

    On 28 October 2023, the opposition organised a massive rally. To stop this becoming a full-blown people-led movement, the government aggressively repressed it. A few opposition activists retaliated and then the government blamed the violence on the opposition. At least 15 people were killed, including two police officers. More than 20,000 opposition activists have been incarcerated since late October.

    This election-related violence is largely the result of state violence. Human Rights Watch recently described the ongoing developments as an autocratic crackdown. Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are being restricted and forcefully violated, affecting the legitimacy of the election process. Extremely politicised state institutions are being used as an extension of the ruling party, a trend many argue could lead to the materialisation of a totalitarian state.

    Is there any space for civil society to operate in Bangladesh?

    The space for civil society in Bangladesh is closed. Civil society organisations are free to operate only as long as they don’t challenge the ruling system.

    Just as in any autocratic country, there is an increasing activism going on in the diaspora. There are many Bangladeshi activists living in Australia, as well as in Malaysia, Sweden, the USA and elsewhere. BNP leader Tarique Rahman lives in exile in London.

    People in the diaspora are using the leverage that comes with living under democratic governments to spread information about what happens in Bangladesh. Those diaspora activists argue that it is their duty to expose what is going on back home.

    There are also key investigative journalists working from exile. A site called Netra News runs out of Malmö in Sweden, and it is still quite influential in exposing serious illegal acts by the government. There are several emerging YouTube commentators and analysts who have been very courageous. They have millions of followers.

    How big a problem is disinformation in Bangladeshi politics?

    Disinformation has always been a problem. Authoritarian governments don’t like the free flow of information. They want to control information and seek to discredit independent voices, just as Trump did in the USA, trashing fact as fiction and making fiction fact. And he was the authoritarian leader of a democratic country, which Bangladesh is not.

    Partisan elements within the government of Bangladesh and ruling party members treat those who dare challenge the official narrative as enemies. As I mentioned in one of my recent articles for the Diplomat Magazine, the government is the dominant force promoting political disinformation. The main opposition party has also promoted disinformation in some instances but independent factcheckers have concluded that the volume of political disinformation promoted by the opposition is miniscule compared to the government.

    There has been recent reporting by the Financial Times focused on how the Bangladeshi ruling party is using AI-driven disinformation to disrupt the upcoming election. But this is a one-sided election in which we already know who the winner will be. In this election voters do not have real choice. Why the ruling party is promoting AI-driven disinformation is therefore a mystery.

    What are your expectations for election day and its aftermath?

    Many things will unfold in the coming days. Voter turnout will most likely be low. The government will deploy military forces nationwide, perhaps even putting them in charge of distributing ballot boxes and election materials.

    There will be some violence, probably by the opposition, followed by arrests. The opposition will persist in demanding a free and fair election and the resignation of the government. Some loss of life is sadly to be expected.

    This election is also taking place within a wider geopolitical context. China, India and Russia are strongly supportive of the Bangladeshi government, whereas the USA keeps talking about free and fair elections, which puts it on the side of Bangladeshi people.

    At this point, not much is in the hands of Bangladeshi people. Without effective external pressure towards democracy, change is unlikely. Civil society’s work will only become more challenging in Bangladesh as the government steps up its repression. 

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

    Get in touch with Mubashar through hiswebpage and follow@mh23rights on Twitter.

  • BELARUS: ‘Despite the repression, we haven’t halted our work for a single day’


    CIVICUS speaks with Marina Kostylianchenko of Viasna about the closure of civic space and criminalisation of activism in Belarus.

    Viasna (‘Spring’) is a Belarusian human rights civil society organisation (CSO) that provides assistance to political prisoners and their families. It was founded in 1996 in response to large-scale repression of protests by the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. In 2003 it was shut down by the government and subsequently persecuted for operating as anunregistered organisation. Repression increased in reaction to 2020 protests that followed a presidential electionwidely seen as stolen. Viasna founder Ales Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. In 2023 he wassentenced to 10 years in prison and Viasna was declared an ‘extremist group’.


    What tactics of repression have the authorities used against Viasna?

    Ever since it was established in 1996, Viasna has been under scrutiny. It was able to operate officially for only a very short period, as the Supreme Court dissolved it as early as 2003. Successive attempts to secure legal status have been unsuccessful so we have continued working without official approval. Just like other people in Belarus, we have faced repression, including detentions, fines and imprisonment for our human rights activism.

    A big shock came in 2011 when Viasna founder and leader Ales Bialiatski was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison on fabricated charges of tax evasion. He was unexpectedly released under an amnesty nearly three years later.

    An unprecedented peak in repression followed the 2020 mass protests. This had a profound impact on the operation of human rights organisations. For example, Viasna expanded its scope to include a hotline for people to seek advice and report detentions and other human rights violations. We also started collecting information about politically motivated criminal prosecutions and recognising detainees as political prisoners, documenting instances of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and ultimately launching the #FreeViasna campaign for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders.

    In 2021 the government focused on dismantling civil society. Security forces conducted home and office searches and issued arrest orders targeting Viasna staff and staff of other CSOs and independent media. On 14 July, 15 Viasna members and volunteers were detained nationwide, including Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valentin Stefanovich and lawyer Vladimir Labkovich, who are still in custody. In 2023 they were sentenced to 10, nine and seven years in jail respectively, along with substantial fines, for allegedly smuggling money and financing protests. The coordinator of the Viasna volunteer service, Marfa Rabkova, and volunteer Andrei Chepyuk, also remain in prison, with sentences of almost 15 and six years respectively.

    In August 2023, Viasna was declared an extremist organisation, which in line with recent amendments to the Criminal Code means that any staff member could be criminally prosecuted and sentenced in absentia. Anyone might also face criminal liability for providing information or contributing to Viasna’s work in any way.

    The authorities are trying to erect a barrier between us and the people we help. But despite the repression, we haven’t halted our work for a single day.

    In what conditions does Viasna currently work?

    We operate in exile. Most members of Viasna had to leave Belarus in 2021 to avoid prison and be able to continue their human rights work.

    Forced relocation has implications, as over time a gap inevitably emerges between those who left and those who remain in Belarus.

    Moreover, new challenges and areas of work have arisen. For instance, an increasing number of people are being released after completing their sentences and require medical care, rehabilitation and help with adjusting back into society. Those who left Belarus face difficulties in adapting to a new environment and struggle with getting legal status, employment, housing and everyday matters.

    Even though the coordinator of the Viasna volunteer service has been imprisoned for over three years, our work with volunteers both inside Belarus and among the diaspora has never ceased. Volunteers are mainly engaged in research and data collection, translation of texts into multiple languages and the creation of illustrations and designs. They also assist at events we organise or participate in.


    Do imprisoned activists face further pressure while in jail?

    In 2023, all our colleagues were transferred to reformation colonies to serve their sentences. The conditions there are particularly harsh, primarily due to severe restriction of communication with the outside world. Unlike in pretrial detention facilities, where human rights activists could receive letters, parcels and money transfers from sympathisers, now only close relatives, usually only one or two people, are allowed to call or send mail and parcels. Even then, calls are limited to a maximum of 10 minutes a week and parcels to one or two per season.

    Another form of pressure exerted on political prisoners is confinement for 10 or more consecutive days in cold punishment cells where they are not allowed to have warm clothes or other belongings, including books and pens. Inmates are punished for any reason, such as not adhering to the prescribed greeting procedure, failing to fasten a button or neglecting to shave. If a political prisoner commits several such violations, they are classed as a ‘persistent violator of internal regulations’, which justifies further pressure.

    All prisoners, except older ones and those with disabilities, are required to work, usually in hazardous industries or cold rooms for eight or more hours a day. Wages are symbolic: after subtracting various payments for their maintenance in prison, only tiny amounts are transferred to prisoners’ personal accounts, which are then used to pay off fines.

    We practically have no information about our imprisoned colleagues’ health conditions, but we know barely any medical care is provided in prison facilities.


    How have you organised to support your imprisoned colleagues?

    In 2021, in collaboration with Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Libereco, Ostgruppen and other partners, we initiated a solidarity campaign to advocate for the immediate release of our imprisoned colleagues.

    We’re continually exploring new modes of engagement with Belarusian civil society and other communities to advance our cause. For instance, on 8 December 2023 we unveiled an art installation, ‘Unbreakable’, in the heart of Vilnius, depicting the faces of five Viasna political prisoners and featuring descriptions in three languages – Belarusian, Lithuanian and English. We participate in any event available to speak about the plight of our colleagues criminalised for their commitment to human rights.

    Several international awards have significantly bolstered attention for our cause. In 2022 Viasna was honoured with the Tulip of Human Rights award from the Dutch government, and Ales Bialiatski became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate alongside the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties and the Russian organisation Memorial. As a result of the Nobel Prize people in other countries found out who Ales is and why he is in prison, and expressions of support and solidarity increased.

    What support do you receive from the international community, and what further support do you need?

    A coalition of international human rights organisations has repeatedly issued joint statements urging the immediate release of Viasna’s political prisoners. Representatives of the United Nations, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have also been vocal about the more than 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus.

    Unfortunately, we haven’t yet identified the leverage that would foster the immediate release of Viasna activists. At the same time, the authorities are doing everything to isolate our colleagues and make them believe they’ve been forgotten. That’s why it’s so important to show support by sending them letters and postcards, helping their families and friends, signing petitions and holding solidarity actions around the world. For example, Libereco activists stage monthly rallies in Berlin and Zurich and organise solidarity races to raise awareness.

    Every show of support matters. We urge people to join our initiatives, spread information as widely as possible and come up with new forms of solidarity actions. To this end, we have created free-of-charge designs for printing on T-shirts, posters, leaflets, stickers and postcards. We would also appreciate support for our activities and our incarcerated colleagues through a subscription on Patreon or a one-time donation via Stripe.


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

    Get in touch with Viasna through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@Viasna onTwitter. Contact the#FreeViasna campaign through itswebsite and follow@FreeViasna onTwitter.

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

  • BOLIVIA: ‘Civil society, like political society, is deeply divided’
    CIVICUS speaks about the 2019 protests and elections in Bolivia with Eliana Quiroz, Executive Director of Fundación Internet Bolivia (Bolivia Internet Foundation), an organisation dedicated to strengthening free and secure access to the web. In its work to defend online human rights against censorship, surveillance, manipulation, extortion and other harmful practices, the Bolivia Internet Foundation focuses its actions on capacity strengthening among vulnerable publics, the promotion of open discussion spaces and the development of knowledge and technology-based strategies.
  • BURKINA FASO: ‘Pro-democracy civil society is practically paralysed by the intensity and ferocity of the repression’


    CIVICUS speaks with Ousmane Miphal Lankoandé, Executive Secretary and Coordinator of the governance and citizen mobilisation programme at Balai Citoyen (‘Civic Broom’) about human rights and civic space in Burkina Faso.

    Founded in 2013, Balai Citoyen is a civil society organisation (CSO) that mobilises citizen action to promote democracy, government integrity, justice and the rule of law in Burkina Faso.

    How have human rights and civic freedoms deteriorated under Burkina Faso’s military junta?

    Since the rise of the military to power in January 2022, there has been a clear deterioration in human rights and civic freedoms, a phenomenon that became even more marked following the second coup in September 2022. Any voice of dissent from the official line of the military regime is systematically repressed.

    To achieve this, the regime gradually introduced insidious measures. Initially, it suspended the activities of political parties, even after it restored the constitution following a temporary suspension. In addition, some international media have been banned from broadcasting and some national media have been suspended. Journalists and activists are subjected to intimidation and threats, and some have been kidnapped. The fate of several, including two Balai Citoyen activists, remains unknown to this day.



25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

11 Avenue de la Paix
Tel: +41.79.910.34.28

CIVICUS, c/o We Work
450 Lexington Ave
Nueva York
NY 10017
Estados Unidos