media freedom

 

  • Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

    A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

     

  • Climate of repression a dark cloud over upcoming elections in Fiji

    By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Research Officer,CIVICUS  

    Powdery white beaches. Crystal clear turquoise water. Palm trees swaying in the breeze.

    This is the postcard picture of paradise that comes to mind when tourists think of Fiji. But for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but blissful.

    And the repressive climate in which elections are about to take place serves to highlight the decline in democracy there in recent years.

    In fact, since incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power a coup in 2006, Fijians have seen their civic freedoms increasingly restricted through repressive laws and policies.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Closed and repressed: No space for democracy to take root in Eritrea

    CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?

    Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.

    The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
    The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.

    2. What is the state of the media?

    Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
    Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.

    3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?

    According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.

    4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution

    The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.

    5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?

    For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be

    • Change of the existing government;
    • Crimes committed so far have to be addressed and perpetrators brought to justice;
    • The international community needs to support Eritreans both in the diaspora and those in Eritrea in leading a transition to democratic rule.

     

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

    Arabic

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

     

  • Hard Battle Ahead for Independent Arab Media

    By Mouna Ben Garga, Innovation Officer CIVICUS

    This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

    Sometimes a peak into the future reminds us just how stuck we are in the past and present.

    It was the talk of the Middle East’s largest annual media industry gathering: a robot journalist – the region’s first – that wowed some 3,000 industry leaders and practitioners at the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai recently.

    In an address titled “Future News Anchors”, the robot, known as A20-50, waxed lyrical about robots that would report ‘tirelessly’ all day, every day and be programmed to do any task.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

     

  • Hong Kong: Restrictions on civic space increase as independent media outlets are forced to close

    •  Prominent independent news site to cease operations 
    • Authorities using restrictive laws to silence the media 
    • The international community must take steps to restore fundamental freedoms

     

  • Hungary: CIVICUS calls on the Orbán government to stop interference within independent media

    CIVICUS calls on Hungary to respect media freedom and to stop interfering in independent news site, Index.hu.

     

  • Journalists on the front lines of global assault

    By Cathal Gilbert, David Kode and Teldah Mawarire

    With reporters under attack the world over, it is imperative that citizens rally to protect press freedom. We live in a time when hard-won human rights protections are at risk of being swept aside by a rising tide of authoritarianism, fear mongering and xenophobia. The resulting global assault on fundamental civic freedoms is, in turn, devastating press freedom and exposing an increasing number of journalists to the threat of censure, the loss of livelihood and physical attack.

    Read on: News24

     

  • New digital security law a further blow to media freedom and free expression in Bangladesh

    • The Digital Security Act was passed despite protests from civil society and journalists
    • DSA  incorporates other legislation that has been systematically used to silence dissent
    • New law comes amid a growing, brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and dissent  

       

    • NGO letter to EU Ministers on rule of law and human rights situation in Poland

      As the EU General Affairs Council prepares to hold a hearing on 22 February on the rule of law in Poland under the Article 7.1 TEU procedure, the undersigned civil society organisations would like to draw your attention to some alarming developments. Since the Council last discussed the situation in June 2021, a severe and steady decline in the respect for EU values in Poland has continued unabated. Despite the numerous actions undertaken by EU institutions since the procedure was launched in 2017, the Polish government has continued to systematically infringe upon those standards and ignore EU recommendations and the EU Court’s rulings.

       

    • Open Government Partnership undermined by threats to civil society

      • Fundamental civic freedoms seriously undermined in over a third of OGP countries – Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico fare worst
      • Worrying picture revealed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents systemic violations of rights

      Johannesburg, 2 December 2016 –People’s rights to protest, organise and speak out are currently being significantly violated in 25 of the 68 active Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

      The new tool launched in October by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS rates countries based on how well they uphold civic space, made up of three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

      The OGP brings together governments and civil society with the shared aim of making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens. OGP countries make multiple commitments relating to civil society and public participation, which include consulting with civil society and enabling citizens to input on policy.

      Of the 68 active OGP countries, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that civic space in four - Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico -  is repressed, which means that those who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Civic space is also rated as repressed in Azerbaijan and Turkey, both recently declared ‘inactive’ by the OGP’s steering committee.

      In the past six months, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented a wide variety of attacks on civil society in these four countries, ranging from the assassinations of five social leaders in just one week in Colombia, to the police’s use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse student protests in Honduras, and from the four-hour detention and questioning of a newspaper editor in Liberia to the murder of a community radio journalist in Mexico.

      A further 21 OGP countries are rated obstructed, meaning that space for activism is heavily contested through a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.

      Other commitments on civic participation and civic space that OGP countries make include releasing and improving the provision of information relating to civic participation; bringing in or including citizens in oversight mechanisms to monitor government performance; and improving legal and institutional mechanisms to strengthen civil society capabilities to promote an enabling environment for participation. 

      “The existence of significant restrictions on civil society in more than a third of OGP countries is deeply troubling and calls into question their commitment to the principle of empowering citizens upon which the OGP was founded,” said Cathal Gilbert, lead researcher on the CIVICUS Monitor. “OGP countries should be harnessing the potential of public participation in governance, rather than silencing government critics and harassing human rights defenders.”  

      Of the remaining OGP countries, civic space in 31 is rated as narrowed. A total of 12 countries are rated as open, which means that the state safeguards space for civil society and encourages platforms for dialogue. Positively, no OGP countries fall into the CIVICUS Monitor’s closed category.

      “Notably, OGP countries as a group fare better than the rest of the globe on civic space,” said Gilbert. “However, much more needs to be done collectively to ensure that commitments on public participation made by OGP countries in their national development plans are carried through.”

      As heads of state and government, members of parliament, academia, business and civil society representatives meet at the OGP Summit in Paris, France from 7-9 December, CIVICUS urges delegates to focus discussions on best practices to improve civic space conditions in OGP countries.

      ###

      For more information, please contact CIVICUS’ media team on .

      Notes to editor

      During the OGP Summit, lead researcher Cathal Gilbert will present these findings from the CIVICUS Monitor during a session from 11:15 - 12:35 on Thursday 8th December in Room 1, Palais d’Iena, Paris. For more information see here: https://en.ogpsummit.org/osem/conference/ogp-summit/program/proposal/459. CIVICUS Secretary-General Danny Sriskandarajah will take part in a high-level panel on civic space at the OGP Summit on Friday 9th December.

      The CIVICUS Monitor is available at https://monitor.civicus.org. Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society activists, regional civil society experts and research partners, existing assessments by national and international civil society organisations, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised. The CIVICUS Monitor is regularly updated during the week and users are invited to contribute. More information on the methodology is available here.

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      Annex I – CIVICUS Monitor ratings, December 2016 (Active OGP countries highlighted in bold)

      All (134) Countries:

      Closed (16 countries): Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UAE and Vietnam

      Repressed (33 countries): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, DRC, Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe

      Obstructed (29 countries): Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ukraine

      Narrowed (40 countries): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA

      Open (16 countries): Andorra, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden

      CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.

      www.civicus.org

      www.twitter.com/CIVICUSalliance

      www.facebook.com/CIVICUS

      #CIVICUSMonitor

       

       

    • Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka

      Dear Mr. President

      We, 48 undersigned organizations from 24 countries, strongly condemn the continuing wave of detentions and harassment of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, anarchists and opposition party members in Belarus.

       

    • PHILIPPINES: ‘We fear the democracy those before us fought so hard for will be erased’

      CIVICUS speaks about the recent presidential election in the Philippines with Marinel Ubaldo, a young climate activist, co-founder of the Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation and Advocacy Officer for Ecological Justice and Youth Engagement of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines (LLS).

      Founded by Catholic lay people, LLS began in 2018 as an interfaith movement calling on Filipino financial institutions to divest from coal-related operations and other environmentally harmful activities. It aims to empower people to adopt lifestyles and attitudes that match the urgent need to care for the planet. It promotes sustainable development and seeks to tackle the climate crisis through collective action.

      Marinel Ubaldo

      From your perspective, what was at stake in the 9 May presidential election?

      The 2022 election fell within the crucial window for climate justice. As stated in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius or we will suffer terrible consequences, such as a rise in sea levels that will submerge much of the currently populated land, including the Philippines. Upcoming leaders will serve for the next six years –and possibly beyond. They have the immense responsibility of putting a climate change mitigation system in place for our country and urging more countries to do the same.

      As shown by Super Typhoon Rai that hit the Philippines in December 2021, climate change affects all of us. Whole communities lost their loved ones and their homes. Young people will reap the fruits, or pay the consequences, for whatever our incoming leaders do in response to this crisis. This is why climate anxiety is so prevalent among young people.

      How did young people mobilise around this election?

      Young people campaigned house to house. We also went to grassroots communities to educate voters on how to vote wisely. Alongside other organisations that form the Green Thumb Coalition, our organisation produced a Green Scorecard and we used our social media platforms to promote the ‘green’ candidate.

      One of the biggest youth initiatives around the elections was ‘LOVE, 52’, a campaign aimed at empowering young people and helping them engage with candidates and make their voices heard in demand of a green, just, and loveable future through better governance. We wanted to shift the focus from candidates’ personality and patronage politics to a debate on fundamental issues, and to help young people move traditional powerholders towards a people-centred style of policymaking.

      We called this initiative ‘LOVE, 52’ in reference to the fact that young people – people under 40 – comprise 52 per cent of the Philippines’ voting population. We sought to appeal to younger voters’ emotions, and our central theme was love because a frequent response to the question ‘why vote?’ is to protect what we love: our families, our country, and our environment. The main element of this campaign was a ‘love letter’ drafted by several youth organisations and addressed to the country. It contained young people’s calls to incoming leaders, including those of prioritising environmental and social issues, coming up with a coherent plan to address the climate crisis, and supporting a vibrant democracy that will enable climate and environmental justice. We gathered all the love letters people wrote, put them in one envelope, and delivered them physically to the presidential candidates’ headquarters.

      What are the implications of the election results for civil society and civic freedoms?

      The results of these elections will have a lot of implications for the Filipino people. They will have a direct impact on civil society and our freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly.

      The winning candidate, senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of a former dictator, has said that he will include his family in his administration. Just today, I saw the new president’s spokesperson on the news saying Marcos will make his own appointments, bringing in the people he trusts. I think he will really try to control the government with people who follow him unconditionally. He will put such people in all the positions available, so everyone will tell him what he wants to hear and no one will disagree with him. I think this is the scariest part of it all.

      I fear in a few months or years we will be living under a dictatorship. Marcos may even be able to stay in power for as long as he wants. After trying to reach power for so long, he has finally won, and he won’t let go of power easily.

      It’s very scary because the human rights violations that happened during his father’s dictatorship are not even settled yet. More human rights violations are likely to happen. It’s a fact that the Filipino people won’t be allowed to raise their voices; if they do so, they may risk being killed. This is what happened under martial law during Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship.

      This will definitely affect civil society. It will be very difficult for humanitarian workers to respond to any crisis since Marcos will likely aspire to micro-manage everything. We fear the democracy those before us fought so hard for will be erased.

      Regarding the specifics of policymaking, we don’t really know what the plan is. Marcos campaigned on vague promises of national unity and implied that all problems would be solved if people unite behind his leadership. Needless to say, he never mentioned any policy to tackle climate change and the environmental crisis.

      Against all signals, I keep hoping the new administration will be receptive to people’s demands. I really hope our new president listens to the cries of the people. Our leaders must reach out to communities and listen to our issues. I doubt Bongbong Marcos is capable of doing that, but one can only hope.

      What support does Filipino civil society need from international civil society and the international community?

      We need to ensure the international community sends out a consistent message and stands by our side when oppression starts. We also need them to be ready to rescue Filipinos if their safety is at risk. We activists fear for our lives. We have doubts about how receptive and accepting the new administration will be toward civil society. 

      Today is a gloomy day in the Philippines. We did our best to campaign for truth, facts, and hope for the Philippines. Vice President Leni Robredo campaigned for public sector transparency and vowed to lead a government that cares for the people and bolsters the medical system. If she had won the elections, she would have been the third woman to lead the Philippines after Cory Aquino and Macapagal Arroyo.

      Leni’s loss is the loss of the Philippines, not just hers. There are still too many people in the Philippines who believe Marcos’s lies. I don’t blame the masses for believing his lies; they are victims of decades of disinformation. Our system sadly enables disinformation. This is something that needs to be urgently tackled, but the next administration will likely benefit from it so it will hardly do what’s needed.

      We now fear every day for our lives and for the future of our country.

      Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Living Laudato Si’ Philippines through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@LaudatoSiPH on Twitter and@laudatosiph on Instagram

       

    • Rwanda's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

      Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

      Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Rwanda

      CIVICUS and its partners welcome the government of Rwanda’s engagement with the UPR process and particularly for accepting 160 out 284 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the revision of the Penal Code and decriminalization of all press-related offences, including defamation; enshrining the freedoms of opinion, expression, the press, association and peaceful assembly in the Constitution; as well as expanding media space, resulting in an increase in the number of radio and television stations and of registered print and online media organizations in Rwanda.

      Notwithstanding some positive legislative developments, we are concerned about ongoing civic space restrictions, and the vast and growing disconnect between law and practice in freedom of expression and media freedoms, which remain severely and unwarrantedly restricted. We also note with concern that institutional and legal impediments for protection of human rights remain; authorities continue to target and attack HRDs despite commitments made during the second UPR cycle to strengthen policies aimed to protect them. Investigation and accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses, are still challenges for the new administration.

      We are concerned by restrictions, both by public authorities and legal frameworks, on freedom of peaceful assembly despite this right being enshrined in the constitution. The continued use of Law No. 68/2018 - Determining Offences and Penalties in General, hinders citizens from exercising their freedom to associate and assembly.

      Madame President, CIVICUS and its partners call on the Government of Rwanda to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to efforts to addressing civic space and human rights.


      Civic space in Rwanda is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor  

       

    • Singapore: Drop police report against independent media outlet New Naratif

      We, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge the government of Singapore to order the Elections Department (ELD) to immediately withdraw its police report against New Naratif, and to cease abusing the law to harass critical voices and independent journalists.

       

    • Steady old hand of repression seeks to strangle new media in East Africa

      By Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark 

      In African countries where journalists are targeted with killings and beatings while traditional news outlets have been muzzled by governments and other actors unhappy with criticism, bloggers and social media users have become the new independent media by providing much-needed coverage, commentary and analysis. 

      Read on: Inter Press Service 

       

    • Suppression of freedom of expression in Uganda increases

      CIVICUS speaks to Ugandan independent blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire (pictured). She speaks on the situation for journalists in Uganda, freedom of expression in the country and the relationship between the media and civil society in the country

      1. What is the operating environment at the moment in Uganda for the media?
      The past year 2016 has been particularly bad for media. There were been a record number of attacks due to elections that were held in February 2016. It was the 31st year of the President, Yoweri Museveni, being in power so it was a high-stakes game. The environment was hostile as the president felt really challenged. Many journalists who tried to cover opposition leaders were intimidated, attacked, harassed, restricted and pepper-sprayed. Over 80 journalists were violated in that month only by the state. Over 100 journalists were attacked by the state during the elections. For example, a huge case of intimidation was when a television journalist was arrested while broadcasting live and the police did not realise they were “live” and the nation got see there was no legitimate reason for his arrest. So it was not an easy year. Also some cases of violations were not publicly reported.

      2. Social media and the Internet were cut off on election day. What happened?
      On the day of voting, Internet, social media and access to mobile money services were cut off. We were also cut off on the day of the counting of votes. A few people were able to connect using other means such as VPN. The reason for the cut off was that government said there was a “national emergency” but they did not explain to us what sort of an emergency. The general view of the public is that the election was so tight so they needed the cover of darkness to prevent people from sharing of results from polling stations. Rigging is never done at polling stations but at the tabulation of results. So where people are not connected they could not share results of individual stations. The poll was highly fraudulent so cutting off social media was also to prevent people from mobilising to protests and to kill any planning of uprisings against the government. So you control the mood of the public and kill expectations by not having social media. The results were in favour of the opposition then suddenly overnight the results changed.

      3. How are you as online media treated by the authorities?
      The government is realising the power of online media. It was an independent blogger who exposed ghost voters on the voters roll. And this had not been identified by journalists. In terms of covering protests, we have the problem covering opposition rallies. We are generally able to cover protests but the more government feels threatened by protest, the more difficult it is to cover protests. Such as a few years ago, an army commander told journalists that their safety would not be guaranteed if they attended a particular protest. So journalists know protection is not a given.

      4. Are members of the public free to express themselves in media?
      Despite the challenges we face of shrinking civic space, Ugandans like to talk. We are able to talk in the media. We have over 200 radio stations. If you tune in, you hear people speak their minds. Off course government targets specific people. Members of public speak to media freely on the streets if their opinion is asked for. Even during Idi Amin’s time, we still expressed ourselves even though it was underground. Government has set up media Crimes Unit and people know they are being monitored but people are not afraid and use their real names even online even though we know we are being watched and have that discomfort of being watched, we still speak. Sometimes people are cautious but generally we express ourselves freely. Academics are able to also express their opinion, even those working at state universities. Although sometimes there is self-censorship on some topics as some people prefer not to speak about security or military or things to do with the first family.

      However, of concern, the Uganda government has made requests to Facebook to access certain accounts. One example is an account called TVO which does some exposès and commentary on government workings. One Ugandan Robert Shaka was arrested because government thought he is behind the account.

      5. Are journalists able to protect their sources and whistle-blowers?
      No we’ve not had public cases of intimidation of members of the media to reveal sources in 2016. Whistle blowing is generally weak in Uganda. You can get leaked stuff here and there but it’s not common. But media houses have been closed over coverage of security issues and the journalists and editors at heart of those stories face enormous pressure.

      6. What is the state of investigative reporting of both the private and public sector?
      Investigative journalism has gone low this year I think. There’s maybe sense of resignation affecting the media after the electoral outcome as the same regime has been in power for so long and maybe fear as well plays a part. I think we still have great in-depth stories on issues but newsrooms do not have dedicated investigative desks that are fully functional. Sometimes media ownership also affects how much a journalist can dig deep because owner interest may also mean the owner has a larger business empire to protect so journalists don’t want to bite the hand feeding them. The media owner may have a big empire with media being a small part of that empire that may have interests in hotels and so on, so the media has to support the rest of the owner’s business empire. Also advertising is a lifeline for media so there’s no in-depth questioning of big companies as the media wants the advertising revenue. So economic crimes go unreported unless if it’s a matter before parliament.

      7. What is the impact of terrorism on the work of journalists?
      Terror reporting is expected to be in praise of government only. We also now have anti-terror laws and the recent case of journalist Joy Biira being charged with abetting terrorism is one such case where these laws are being used. Using terrorism and treason charges as a way to stifle journalism is huge. Another journalist after the 2010 bombings, Timothy Kalyegira, faced criminal libel charges for presenting a different narrative on who was behind the bombings and role of government. Another journalist was also remanded on treason charges.

      The arrest of KTN television journalist Joy Biira in November 2016 and being charged of abetting terrorism is ridiculous and shows how far government is willing to go to intimidate journalists perceived to show their military actions in Kasese in good light. The government was trying to control a narrative on the Kasese massacre and once photos of dead bodies were leaked it was upset. These charges cannot even hold in a court of law.

      8. How far reaching is political influence over the media in Uganda? What drives this?
      You will find that most media attention goes to politicians and the elite and less on ordinary poor people. From time to time we have allegations of journalists being on “payrolls” of rich people but this is also employed as a tactic to smear journalists. The other problem is some politicians or their friends own media especially radio stations so there is that bias. Nonetheless, many good journalists continue to stand above the political interests and do their work well to deliver news to millions of Ugandans.

      9. What is the relationship between the media and civil society in Uganda? How can it be improved?
      It’s a bit of a loose relationship. Media covers civil society activities but perhaps media and civil society do not always realise and appreciate we are fighting for the same goal most times ─ public accountability.

      We can improve the relationship by highlighting the young and upcoming young people in civil society using social media who are fighting for democracy and accountability. We have to identify these good voices in civil society and make good coalitions with media. Civil society and media can work in coalition on certain causes. For example, in Uganda, in recent months an association of female lawyers highlighted cases of women in the flower industry being exposed to chemicals and being denied leave benefits. A couple of television stations and newspapers picked up on the issue and put a spotlight on this and were backed by civil society. The outcome looks good and it is still ongoing and the responsible ministers have put together a committee to investigate safety standards on flower farm workers. This is a great example of media and civil society working together to fight for those underprivileged in our society. We are a long way and need more such partnerships.

      Follow Rosebelle on Twitter on @RosebellK and read her blog on https://rosebellkagumire.com/

       

    • Tanzania: Civil society groups express concern over rapid decline in human rights

      Tanzania: 65 civil society groups call on the Tanzanian Government to address rapidly deteriorating environment for media, human rights defenders and opposition party members

       

      To President John Magufuli

      Your Excellency,

      We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the world, write to express our deep concern over the worrying decline in respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, in Tanzania. We urge your government to take proactive measures to protect these rights which are crucial to civic space and publicly recognise the essential role that a vibrant civil society and an independent media play in creating peaceful and equal societies.

      Tanzania’s long-standing commitment to improving the human rights of all people, both nationally and within the region, is notable and should be acknowledged as such.  However, we are deeply alarmed that these human rights issues are being precipitously undermined by the unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of speech online. These and other forms of harassment and persecution of civil society and media discussed below erode Tanzania’s role as a regional champion of public freedoms, peace and stability and represent a breach of its international, national and regional human rights obligations and commitments.

      New legal restrictions criminalizing freedom of expression on social and traditional media

      The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, which was signed into law in March 2018, criminalises a broad scope of legitimate forms of online freedom of expression. Under the regulation, all bloggers and persons operating online radio and television streaming services must secure a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 before they can publish any material online. Such fees are not only financially prohibitive but place an arbitrary bar to entry to exercise the right to freedom of expression. We are also deeply concerned by provisions which endow the government with the authority to revoke a permit if a site or blogger publishes content that "causes annoyance" or "leads to public disorder."

      Of equal concern are vague and overbroad provisions of the 2015 Cybercrimes Act which empower the government to arbitrarily ban and sanction the dissemination of newspaper articles or social media posts which it deems critical, including insulting the President. In particular, Article 16 criminalizes the publication of all information deemed “false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.” Persons found to have contravened the Act are subject to draconian prison sentences and harsh fines of not less than five million shillings ($2,190) or a term of not less than three years or both. Since coming into force, the law has been invoked to persecute dozens of individuals and journalists. In one week alone, five private citizens were charged under the Cybercrimes Act for statements made on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, including a three-year sentence handed down to a private citizen for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook.

      Moreover, the Media Services Act, which came into force in November 2016, allows the authorities to unilaterally determine which journalists receive licenses, forces all journalists to obtain a license, and makes defamation and sedition a criminal offense. Under the law,  the government-run Accreditation Board is empowered to “suspend or expunge journalists” for committing “gross professional misconduct as prescribed in the code of ethics for professional journalists.” The penalties for violating provisions of law are severe. According to the law, anyone found guilty of acting with a seditious intention who commits an offence is liable to a fine of not less than 5 million Shillings (approximately $2,260) or three years in prison or both.

      Suspensions, fines and banning media outlets

      Despite strong constitutional, United Nations and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights safeguards protecting the right to freedom of expression, the government has systematically targeted Tanzanian media outlets through a combination of closures and hefty fines on newspapers. This campaign of harassment, which appears to be an attempt to suppress their work to report on government policy and conduct, has resulted in four prominent newspapers being banned in 2017 and four other papers being heavily fined in early 2018.

      On 24 October 2017, the government banned the Swahili-language Tanzania Daima for a period of 90 days on specious claims of publishing false news about anti-retroviral drug use for people with HIV. This was the fourth newspaper banned since June 2017 including Mwanahalisi which was banned for 24 months in September 2017; the weekly Raia Mwema for 90 days in September and Mawio newspaper for 24 months in June 2017.

      On 2 January 2018, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined five television stations a combined 60 million Tanzanian shillings ($27,000) for broadcasting “offensive and unethical” content, in particular for airing a press statement issued on 30 November by the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC). The report by LHRC documented violations such as detentions, intimidation and physical abuse in the context of  the 6 November 2017 elections of councillors in 43 wards. The TV stations that featured the LHRC's press statement and were subsequently penalised include: Star TV, Azam Two, East Africa TV, Channel 10 and ITV.

      Judicial harassment and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders

      In stark contrast to the authorities’ human rights obligations to uphold and protect the safety of journalists, several independent media practitioners have recently been subject to physical attacks and judicial persecution. Recently on 21 November 2017, newspaper journalist Azory Gwanda was abducted by a group of unknown assailants in the Coast Region. Prior to his enforced disappearance, Gwanda who is a journalist with newspapers, Mwananchi and The Citizen, had authored a number of articles documenting the murders of several local officials and police officers. To date Gwanda’s whereabouts remain unknown.

      In August 2017, a Tanzania court began hearing a case against Micke William and Maxence Melo Mubyazi, co-owners of the whistleblower website, Jamii Forums. Both journalists were charged under the Cybercrimes Act on spurious accusations of obstructing justice for failing to disclose the identities of persons who posted details of allegedly corrupt officials on Jamiiforums. There have been over 40 adjournments of the case, including most recently on 3 May 2018. If convicted, they face fines up to 3 million shillings ($1,300) or a jail term of at least one year, or both.

      Groups and defenders advocating for the rights of LGBTI individuals have also been equally persecuted. Among a wave of recent attempts to suppress organisations and activists working on SOGI issues, in October 2017, 13 human rights lawyers and defender were arbitrarily arrested and detained on allegations of promoting “promoting homosexuality”. Three civil society representatives, including Ugandan and South African lawyers from the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa and nine members of Tanzanian Community Health and Education Services and Advocacy (Chesa), were arrested during a private meeting.

      Killings and criminal cases against political opposition members

      Since the start of 2018, scores of political opposition members and parliamentarians have been violently attacked and even killed. On 22 February, Godfrey Luena, a member of parliament with Tanzania’s main opposition party Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and a vocal land rights defender, was killed with machetes outside of his home. Mr Luena had been a critic of alleged state sponsored land-grabbing. Days earlier, on 13 February, Daniel John, a CHADEMA official in Dar es Salaam, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants using machetes. Mr John was supporting an opposition political campaign for a contested parliamentary seat in Dar es Salaam.

      A number of opposition party members and lawmakers have also been targeted in what appears to be a systematic campaign of judicial harassment. Among other worrying cases, two opposition leaders, CHADEMA MP Joseph Mbilinyi and local party leader Emmanuel Masonga were sentenced to five months on 26 February 2018 for insulting President John Magufuli during a political rally.

      Harassment, intimidation arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters

      In response to growing public frustration over human rights backsliding in the country, individuals and groups have increasingly sought to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly to air their legitimate grievances. Worryingly, the authorities, including members of the government and security apparatus, have resorted to arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and intimidation to silence these protests.

      In April 2018, Tanzanian activists called for national demonstrations to bring attention to the decline in respect for human rights in Tanzania. However, in contravention of international standards, the authorities, which require anyone seeking to hold a public assembly to secure a permit, declared the protests illegal.

      The government and police forces responded to these calls to stage public protests with severe intolerance, including hostile statements by senior government and police officials, including threats that protesters “will be beaten like stray dogs."Days before the planned 26 April demonstrations seven people were arrested in Arusha for their purported role in organising the protests. The few who dared to take part in the protests were quickly persecuted; nine protesters, who marched in Dar Es Salaam, were almost immediately arrested.

      Recommendations to the Government of Tanzania

      The undersigned groups urge your government to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Tanzania, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the guidelines on freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Tanzania has ratified both the ICCPR and the African Charter. At a minimum, the following conditions should be ensured: freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect. In light of this, the following specific recommendations are made.

      1) All disabling and restrictive provisions in the Cybercrimes Act, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations and the Media Services Act must be amended and replaced by progressive sections that will guarantee freedom of expression and the media in line with international human rights standards.

      2) The cases of newspapers banned, suspended or fined under the Media Service Act 2016 should be reviewed to enable them to continue their operations without undue interference.

      3) Independent investigations should be conducted into cases of attacks and assaults on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members with a view to bringing suspected perpetrators to justice and these attacks should be publicly and unequivocally condemned.

      4) Government officials should desist from publicly threatening human rights defenders including when activists that are working to expose corrupt practices in government or are critical of government policies and actions.

      5) Best practices on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly prescribed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association should be adopted by the Government of Tanzania including removing the permission regime and providing recourse in cases of unlawful denial of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

      Sincerely,

      1. Access Now
      2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
      3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
      4. Amnesty International
      5. ARTICLE 19 East Africa
      6. The Article 20 Network
      7. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
      8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) - Ethiopia
      9. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
      10. Bahrain Center for Human Rights - Bahrain
      11. Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)
      12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
      13. Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
      14. Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
      15. Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) - Malawi
      16. Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations
      17. Chapter Four - Uganda
      18. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE) - Eritrea
      19. CIVICUS
      20. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
      21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
      22. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
      23. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) - South Sudan
      24. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
      25. End Impunity Organisation
      26. Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP) - Ethiopia
      27. Freedom House
      28. Front Line Defenders
      29. Greenpeace Africa
      30. Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative - Zambia
      31. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (ONG GAPP-BÉNIN) - Bénin
      32. HAKI Africa - Kenya
      33. Human Rights Defenders Network - Sierra Leone
      34. International Civil Society Center (ICSC)
      35. International Rivers - Africa Program
      36. Iraqi Network of Social Media - Iraq
      37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives - East Africa
      38. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique - Mozambique
      39. Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights - Philippines
      40. Kepa - the Finnish NGO platform - Finland
      41. Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD)
      42. Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (LICHRD) - Liberia
      43. Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) - Djibouti
      44. Ligue Iteka - Burundi
      45. Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement - Senegal
      46. Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition  - Malawi
      47. Minority Rights Group International
      48. National Civic Forum - Sudan
      49. Observatoire des Droits de l'Homme au Rwanda - Rwanda
      50. Odhikar - Bangladesh
      51. OutRight Action International
      52. Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN)
      53. Public Interest Law Center (PILC) - Chad
      54. RESOCIDE - Burkina Faso
      55. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
      56. Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights | NYU School of Law
      57. Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (Serapaz) - México
      58. Sinergia - Venezuela
      59. Solidarity Center
      60. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA) - Sudan
      61. Tournons la page (TLP)
      62. West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network (WAHRDN)
      63. World Movement for Democracy
      64. The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) - Zambia
      65. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum - Zimbabwe

       

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