repression

 

  • KAZAKHSTAN: ‘The quarantine became a sort of cover for the government to persecute civil society’

    CIVICUS speaks to Asya Tulesova, anenvironmental and civic rights defender from Kazakhstan. On 8 June 2020, Asya was arrested and detained after taking part in apeaceful rally in thecity of Almaty. She was released on 12 August 2020, but with restrictions on her freedom. Asya was profiled in CIVICUS’s#StandAsMyWitness campaign, launched on Nelson Mandela Day, 18 July, to call for the release of human rights defenders who areimprisoned, persecuted, or harassed for standing up for freedom, rights and democracy and calling out corrupt governments and multinational companies.

    Asya Tulesova

    Would you tell us about your background and your environmental activism?

    For the past few years, I have worked for a civil society organisation, the Common Sense Civic Foundation, that focuses on community development. We work on environmental and educational projects aimed at improving the quality of life of local communities. In 2015 we launched our air quality monitoring project in Almaty with the aim of giving give people access to free, up-to-date air quality information in the city. The project had a considerable effect on people's understanding of the importance of the issue.

    As I realised that air quality is a political issue, I tried running for the local council. However, my candidature was withdrawn due to minor discrepancies in my tax income declaration. This same reasoning was used to take down hundreds of independent self-nominated candidates all over Kazakhstan. We sued the central election commission but were unable to persuade the court to restore my candidacy regardless of the fact that we had all the evidence to support my case. My case is now being considered by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

    We continued our environmental activism by publishing articles, doing research on air pollution, participating in public events and organising public talks on the issue. In April 2019 my companion, activist Beibarys Tolymbekov, and I were arrested for holding a banner at the annual Almaty marathon; our friends Aidos Nurbolatov, Aigul Nurbolatova and Suinbike Suleimenova were fined for filming us holding the banner. As a part of a young activist movement, we wanted to draw people’s attention to the unfairness of the upcoming presidential elections and the lack of independent candidates. Beibarys and I received 15 days of administrative arrest; while under arrest I went on a hunger strike to protest against the court’s decision, and at some point I was punched in the stomach by my cellmate for refusing to comply with her demands to end my hunger strike. Our detention resulted in a series of protests around the country and a rise of youth political engagement. We continue our work in the hope that our efforts will bring more independent candidates to the elections. 

    Being an activist in Kazakhstan is associated with a certain degree of constant pressure from the government and so-called law enforcement authorities. Many activists and human rights defenders, as well as journalists, live under intense scrutiny and are under constant surveillance and intimidation by or on behalf of law enforcement agencies.

    What happened during the protest in June 2020 that led to your arrest? 

    During the protest on 6 June 2020 I witnessed police brutality towards peaceful protesters. This wasn’t the first time; every ‘unauthorised’ peaceful rally we have had so far has been accompanied by the excessive use of force by the police. But this time, I decided to stand in front of one of the police vans filled with people unlawfully detained by the police in an attempt to prevent the van from leaving. I was attacked by several officers, who dragged me away from the van and, after I attempted to return, pushed me down to the ground. In such emotional state, I then knocked off a police officer’s cap in protest against the unlawful police actions and detention of peaceful protesters. It’s hard to articulate what was going through my head at that moment. I was definitely in a state of shock.

    This was captured on video, and I was charged with “publicly insulting a representative of the authorities” under Article 378, part 2 of the Criminal Code, and with “non-dangerous infliction of harm to a representative of the authorities” under Article 380, part 1.

    What was it like to be imprisoned? Were you afraid of contracting COVID-19?

    I was in prison for more than two months. The detention facility I was placed in was located on the northern edge of Almaty. I was brought in at night and first placed in a quarantine cell for newly arrived detainees, where I spent over 10 days getting acquainted with the internal rules of the facility. After that I was relocated to a different cell.

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visits from family members and friends were forbidden. I was only able to speak to my mother twice a week for 10 minutes through a video call and receive visits from my lawyers every other week. The conditions in the facility were much better than those in the temporary detention facility at the police department where I spent two days prior to that. The cell was relatively clean and had two bunk beds for four people, a washbasin and a toilet. We would take turns cleaning the cell. Two of my cellmates smoked, in the toilet. We were fed three times a day, mostly porridge and soup. We were taken for ‘strolls’ five times a week in a specially designed facility, a cell with no windows and no roof. Our strolls would usually last 15 to 20 minutes so I had to write a complaint to the facility authorities so they would comply with their own internal regulations and allow a full hour for our strolls. We took showers once a week, 15 minutes per person.

    A few times a week I would receive care packages from family and friends. Their support was very helpful in keeping my spirits up. I received a radio from Marat Turymbetov, also an activist, whose friend, activist Alnur Ilyashev, had been detained in the same facility for his criticism of the ruling party, Nur Otan. We would spend a lot of time listening to the radio waiting for news, but most news was about COVID-19. We would also hear occasional rumours about COVID-19 cases in the facility but nothing certain, so I wasn’t particularly afraid of contracting the virus. My mother, however, was very concerned about it and would send medicine to me every now and then. The pandemic has been very tough on our country, taking the lives of many.

    This time around I personally haven’t experienced any major violations while in detention, apart from the non-observance of some internal rules by staff. I know other detainees spent months in the facility with no visits from their investigator, lawyer, or family members. I was suspicious at first when in the temporary detention facility, I was placed in a cell with the same woman who was with me in the special detention facility for administrative detainees a year earlier.

    I can’t say that I feel I have been detained for a long time, but it was long enough for me to grow appreciation and compassion for activists and other people who have spent months and years in prison. For instance, human rights defender Max Bokayev has been in prison for over four years for supporting a peaceful rally against an illegal land sale to Chinese companies. During the quarantine, many activists and politicians were subjected to searches and detention, so the quarantine became a sort of cover for the government to persecute civil society. Among the detained activists were Sanavar Zakirova, who has been persecuted for her attempts to register a political party, and activists Abay Begimbetov, Askar Ibraev, Serik Idyryshev, Askhat Jeksebaev, Kairat Klyshev and many others.

    What is your reaction to the outcome of your case?

    I do not agree with the sentence I received, which is why we are going to appeal. The court should take into account the degree of danger to society that the acts I committed pose, which hardly constitute a criminal offence. I am, however, sorry for the lack of self-control and rudeness I showed. I am a firm believer in non-violent protest and my case is a great opportunity for us and the government to condemn violence on both sides.

    What sort of support do activists like yourself need from the international community?

    I am very grateful that my case has received international attention and support. It was an honour to be represented in the CIVICUS #StandAsMyWitness campaign. I am also very grateful to my mother, my lawyers, my family, friends and supporters from Kazakhstan and around the world, who came up with a lot of creative ideas to raise public awareness and bring much-needed attention to my case and the issue of police brutality in Kazakhstan. I personally was very inspired by one of the initiatives launched by my good friends Kuat Abeshev, Aisha Jandosova, Irina Mednikova and Jeffrey Warren, Protest Körpe, a simple and visually beautiful way of showing one’s demand for justice and human rights in a very gentle, caring and loving way. It is easy to join. Most of Protest Körpe messages are universal and relevant to many countries. So let’s make our messages heard! I feel that we can learn new creative tactics from Protest Körpe and other initiatives and adapt them to our local context. Wouldn’t it be great if such campaigns and movements could establish a network to share and build on each other’s experience?

    Civic space inKazakhstan is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Asya throughFacebook.

     

     

  • LEBANON: ‘Increased popular awareness is irreversible, it will remain despite any setbacks’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), and Zahra Bazzi, ANND ProgrammesManager, about the protests that began in Lebanon in October 2019, the changes achieved and the challenges encountered.ANND is a regional network that brings together nine national networks (encompassing 250 organisations) and 23 civil society organisations (CSOs) in 12 countries. It was established in 1997 and since 2000 has had its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. It promotes the role of civil society and the values of democracy, human rights and sustainable development in the region, and advocates for socio-economic reforms aimed at sustainable development and gender justice, with a rights-based approach.

    Ziad Abdel Samad Zahra Bazzi

    What triggered the protests that began in October 2019?

    The protests were motivated by the direct repercussions of the economic and monetary crisis on the Lebanese population, but had deep roots in a structurally flawed economic system and wicked political practices and corruption embraced by successive governments for decades. The few months before the eruption of the revolution saw a looming economic crisis with an increase in government debt and questionable monetary and financial engineering coupled with a decrease in GDP growth, as well as a rise in unemployment, reaching approximately 16 per cent among the general population, and more than 45 per cent among young people, along with growing poverty and increases in the prices of essential commodities. One week before the protests, direct signs of a financial crisis had started to show, including strikes at petrol stations and the inability of the government to access new credit to import wheat and other basic goods, in addition to the eruption of roughly 100 nationwide wildfires and forest fires that destroyed massive green areas and some houses.

    Following the late adoption of the 2019 budget in July, the negotiations over the 2020 budget were being finalised in October with a clear aim of increasing state revenue at any cost and reducing the enormous deficit of 11 per cent to escape the crisis. The cabinet meeting held on 17 October suggested a new set of austerity measures, including additional indirect taxation, without envisioning the anger of the Lebanese people and the massive protests that would spread through the country that same day.

    Protesters have shared a clear vision with clear demands of the political and economic systems they want to achieve: the resignation of the government – which happened on 29 October 2019; the formation of a new government comprising people independent from the ruling parties – indeed a new government was formed on 22 January 2020, although it does it not conform to the key demands of the revolution; and the holding of democratic parliamentary elections based on a new democratic electoral law. In addition, there were demands to pass laws on the independence of the judiciary, take action to recover assets and other socio-economic demands.

    How did the government react to the protests?

    Since the first days of the uprisings, political parties and various elements of the regime felt threatened by the imminent change protesters were calling for, which would jeopardise the power they have held for decades. They reacted to this by using excessive force, teargas, rubber bullets, arbitrary detention and arrests, especially after December 2019.

    Since the beginning of the protests, several human rights violations were committed against protesters. On 23 November, five young people – including two minors – were arrested and detained by the security forces for taking down a banner belonging to a political party. On the same day, supporters of the Amal and Hezbollah movements violently clashed with peaceful protesters in Beirut and other regions to denounce the closure of roads. Violence increased, a fact that was firmly condemned by United Nations’ experts and special rapporteurs, who called on the Lebanese government to respect the right to the freedom of expression and protect protesters.

    The postponement of parliamentary consultations from 9 to 16 December, and then again to 19 December, was accompanied by increasing violence and clashes among protesters, supporters of political leaders and the security forces and army. The most violent clashes were recorded between 10 and 16 December: on 10 December, protesters toured in their cars outside the houses of the previous ministers of public works and transportation, denouncing the poor infrastructure that had caused enormous floods on main roads and highways, locking citizens for hours in their cars. Protesters were attacked ferociously by men in uniforms of the Internal Security Forces, but who were affiliated with some political parties. Cars were vandalised, and protesters and journalists were dragged out and beaten indiscriminately.

    On the nights of 14 and 15 December, security forces clashed with supporters of political parties who provoked and attacked them in different ways. Security forces also arbitrarily attacked protesters gathered in Beirut, and fired teargas and rubber bullets at them, in retaliation against the acts of some. These two days of violence ended with the arrest of 23 people, some of whom showed signs of torture after their release. More than 76 protesters reported experiencing some form of attack, either by security officials or as a result of the rubber bullets fired against them. More severely, a few reported being dragged inside the parliament building and beaten by the security forces inside. A few reported the theft of money, legal documentation, or phones.

    Violence continued until the night of 16 December, with supporters of political parties attacking the people gathered in squares in Beirut and in the south, and burning down tents and cars. This came in response to a video, probably intentionally spread on social media, of a young man from Tripoli cursing the Shia faith.

    Clashes between protesters and security forces and riot police were especially intense during the attacks protesters made against banks, and during protests and attempts to remove the massive walls and blocks unlawfully put in front of parliament, and more recently in front of the Government Palace.

    Following the arbitrary arrest of protesters, on 15 January 2020 hundreds gathered outside the detention facility to call for their release, and were subjected to excessive force by the riot police, including the indiscriminate firing of teargas. Journalists and TV reporters were directly attacked by riot police. Footage was leaked showing the security forces beating detainees while transporting them to a detention facility. Some released detainees shared stories of torture and abuse inside detention facilities.

    Recent statistics released by the Lawyers’ Committee to Defend Protesters in Lebanon show that between 17 October 2019 and 31 January 2020, around 906 protesters were arrested and detained, including 49 minors and 17 women. Roughly 546 protesters were subjected to violence at the protests or in detention facilities.

    When and how did the protests become a ‘revolution’?

    The protests are widespread across the country. They are decentralised and remain non-sectarian. As Lebanese people overcame their religious and political divergences and joined forces in an attempt to achieve real change, they made the biggest post-war civil movement in Lebanon. This change had been long-awaited, particularly by civil society, which has tried to promote partnerships and engage in policy-making at various levels for years, despite the lack of serious and effective channels for doing so. Although the term ‘revolution’ has been contested by many, protesters and activists, among others, have insisted on calling the process a revolution, particularly after the increased violence and the death of two martyrs, Hussein Al-Attar and Alaa Abou Fakher.

    Although key demands have not changed since the beginning of the protests, more demands were added as the process evolved, especially relating to the socio-economic and financial situation. More importantly, demands started off and remained socio-economic, but were always directly linked to political change.

    What role have CSOs played during the process?

    CSOs have played an important role in the revolution, which has benefited from their accumulated knowledge, communication skills and organisational capacities. Most of those organisations participated in the protests since day one, but their role went beyond protesting. CSOs are leading in coordinating the protests and organising daily discussions at various squares in Beirut and other regions. These meetings address politics, law, socio-economic policies and human rights. They address people’s concerns and ensure the availability of solutions and alternatives. Participation in discussions has steadily increased and has involved a variety of sectors of society, including young people, women, the private sector, academics, and students. However, protest camps have faced challenges following the destruction and burning of their tents in Beirut and across other areas.

    It seems that women and young people are playing increasingly prominent roles in protest movements worldwide. Has this been the case in Lebanon?

    While women in Lebanon have been at the forefront of every important political moment in our country, they have been particularly active during the revolution. Slogans and demands related to women’s rights have been very clear and evident, including the right to pass their citizenship to their families, a civil personal status law and protection from violence, Women have organised in groups, or participated individually, to form human shields at the forefront of protests to prevent violence, lead the marches and host discussions on women’s issues.

    Feminist and women’s marches were held outside Beirut, in north and south Lebanon particularly. These were bold actions that were not very common prior to the revolution. Feminists were also able to engage critically with the slogans of the revolution and to place their discourse on the table. They were able to draw attention to many patriarchal connotations in slogans, even in the national anthem. In addition to being active alongside men, and sometimes alone, closing roads and occupying squares and public facilities, women cooked meals and offered them to protesters and sitters to support them, and initiated cleaning and recycling campaigns on a regular basis. More importantly, on many occasions, they formed a shield on the front rows between protesters and security forces to minimise the clashes.

    The revolution also witnessed very active participation by young people and youth groups. These formed the backbone of the protests, as for years young people have been eager to take part in decision-making and political life. In Lebanon, people below the age of 21 are not eligible to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections, and yet they found a space in this revolution to participate and make their voices heard. As such, young voices and concerns were loud during the protests. Young people were particularly concerned with unemployment, immigration, and the brain drain and suggested bold demands, including calling for the downfall of the regime and all its political leaders without exception and the establishment of a secular system promoting social justice and gender equality.

    The revolution has been an opportunity to revive the student movement in Lebanon. Despite all the efforts made prior to the revolution to form a nationwide student movement, in the absence of a national student union the student movement was fragmented and weak. However, after 17 October, student clubs in private universities such as the American University of Beirut, Notre-Dame University and Université Saint-Joseph participated heavily in the protests in and off-campus, forming marches from universities to the main protest squares, and even setting up their own tents in downtown Beirut. Other private universities such as the Lebanese American University and the Lebanese International University held protests on and around campus. The Lebanese University (LU), Lebanon’s national university, saw the biggest student protests. The LU Student Coalition was particularly active in the revolution, from setting up a tent for protesters in Riad Al-Solh square, in downtown Beirut, to hosting various discussions, joining efforts with other student clubs and leftist groups.

    Younger school students also had a role in the revolution. Along with university student groups, they took a big part in civil disobedience actions and general strikes. Students closed their schools and universities and protested in front of the Ministry of Education and other public administration offices for many days. As 6 November marked Students’ Day, students all across Lebanon were revolting for a better future. A banner raised by one of the students says it all: “On this day I won’t be learning history, I will be writing it.”

    What have protests achieved so far, and what remains to be done?

    Within 100 days, the revolution has had an impact on the authorities and also at a popular level.

    First, it overthrew the so-called presidential settlement – an agreement among regional and internal forces and other actors – that led Michel Aoun to become president and produced a parliament based on an unconstitutional electoral law. This led to the rise of a new political majority and the formation of a coalition government including seven major political parties. This came at a high price, including the conciliation of regional and local powers, frequent disruption of the work of parliament and government, and very intense pressures especially on the political and security levels.

    Second, it overthrew the government, that is, the executive power. This was the settlement’s weakest component, as the prime minister was the weakest among power holders such as Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and the Free Patriotic Movement.

    Third, the revolution interrupted two parliamentary sessions and blocked the adoption of equivocal draft laws listed on the agenda. Mobilised citizens had never been able to cancel a parliamentary session before.

    Fourth, it caused disruption within the ruling coalition and among the authorities, as seen in the resignation of the government and the confusion that prevailed in the process of forming a new government, especially when two candidates for the role of prime minister had to be let go for failing to meet the minimum requirements demanded by the revolution, along with other reasons. During this lengthy process, acute differences and contradictions were revealed between allied parties, despite the fact that they belonged to the same block.

    Above all, the revolution has increased popular awareness, which has been reflected in thousands of initiatives and discussions. Decentralised protests have taken place across all cities and villages from the far south to the far north and east, and have included all social and age groups. This diverse and inclusive revolution has contributed to breaking the rigid sectarian and regional political discourse, disrupting traditional loyalties and breaking down barriers between social groups and regions. Some people think that this positive shift cannot be considered complete, but there is indeed a consensus that it is a very important and irreversible change, which will remain despite any setbacks. We must be confident that significant progress has been made regarding popular awareness and the ability of social movements to carry out direct political action in the streets.

    The revolution has achieved certain gains during the first round and is preparing for the next round, in which new laws and policies need to be adopted as soon as possible to overcome the ongoing financial and economic crises and set a base for a new and fairer economic paradigm.

    How connected is Lebanese civil society with its counterparts around the world, and what support does it need from international civil society in order to continue its struggle?

    Lebanese civil society is very rich and diverse, and it is connected to its counterparts around the world through different channels. It is indeed very active on the advocacy front and takes part in numerous international advocacy platforms.

    In these critical times, the country is going through, civil society is avoiding seeking any support from foreign counterparts, in order to refute all conspiracy theories and accusations that politicians and their affiliates have made against protesters and the revolution. In order to lessen all the claims fabricated against our genuine and national revolution, Lebanese civil society is very reluctant to receive any support that could amount to or be interpreted as intervention by any foreign actor. However, it would welcome solidarity actions and statements, especially those that denounce human rights violations committed against protesters.

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

    Get in touch with the Arab NGO Network for Development through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@ArabNGONetwork on Twitter.

     

  • Lettre internationale de soutien à la société civile bélarusse

    « Ils pourront couper toutes les fleurs, ils n’empêcheront pas le printemps »
    Pablo Neruda

    161 organisations de défense des droits humains appellent à la fin de la répression à l’encontre du Centre des droits humains Viasna et de tou.te.s les autres défenseur.e.s des droits humains au Bélarus. Nous condamnons les arrestations arbitraires systématiques, les coups et blessures et les actes de torture dont ils font l’objet. Malgré la répression totale exercée par les autorités bélarusses, les défenseurs des droits humains au Belarus continuent de lutter pour les droits de leur communauté. Inspirés par leur courage, nous ne cesserons de nous battre jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient toutes et tous libéré.es et puissent poursuivre leur travail de défense des droits humains librement et sans entrave.

    Au cours des derniers jours, nous avons assisté à une nouvelle vague de perquisitions et à l’arrestation de douzaines de membres de l’éminente organisation de défense des droits humains Viasna, et d’autres défenseurs des droits humains et militant·e·s bélarusses. Cette répression intervient en représailles de la dénonciation des violations de droits humains commises depuis la violente répression des manifestants pacifiques en août 2020. Depuis cette période, plus de 35 000 Bélarusses ont été arrêté.es pour avoir participé à des manifestations pacifiques, environ 3 000 instructions pénales ont été ouvertes pour des motifs politiques et au moins 2 500 cas de torture de citoyens bélarusses ont été documentés. Nous estimons que ces violations systématiques et généralisées des droits humains peuvent s’apparenter à des crimes contre l’humanité. En date du 19 juillet, 561 personnes étaient considérées comme des prisonnier·e·s politiques au Bélarus.

    Entre le 14 et le 16 juillet 2021, plus de 60 perquisitions ont été réalisées au domicile et dans les bureaux de plusieurs organisations de défense des droits humains du Bélarus et de leur personnel, dont le Centre de défense des droits humains Viasna, deux organisations membres du Comité international d’enquête sur la torture au Bélarus, ‘Human Constanta’ et ‘Legal Initiative’, ainsi que le Comité Helsinki du Bélarus, l’Association bélarusse des journalistes, le Centre de transformation juridique ‘LawTrend’, ‘Ecodom’ et bien d’autres encore. Des documents et du matériel informatique, y compris des ordinateurs portables, des téléphones portables et des ordinateurs de bureau ont été saisis au cours de ces perquisitions.

    Au total, plus de 30 personnes ont été interrogées. 13 d’entre elles ont été détenues pendant 72 heures, officiellement dans le cadre d’une enquête pour troubles à l’ordre public et évasion fiscale. La plupart a ensuite été libérée, dont Mikalai Sharakh, Siarhei Matskievich, et les membres de Viasna Andrei Paluda, Alena Laptsionak, Yauheniya Babaeva, Siarhei Sys, Viktar Sazonau, Ales Kaputski et Andrei Medvedev. Plusieurs d’entre eux restent toutefois frappés d’une interdiction de sortie du territoire et ont été mis en examen. Ales Bialiatsky, le président de Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovic, vice-président de Viasna et vice-président de la FIDH, et Uladzimir Labkovich, un avocat et membre de Viasna, restent par ailleurs toujours en détention. Le 17 juillet, ces quatre militants ont été transférés vers le centre de détention provisoire ‘Valadarskaha’. Quatre autres membres de Viasna, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova et Andrey Chapyuk, ainsi qu’Aleh Hrableuski, du Bureau de défense des droits des personnes en situation de handicap, sont quant à eux en détention provisoire depuis fin 2020 / début 2021.

    Viasna, l’une des organisations de défense des droits humains du pays, membre des réseaux de l’OMCT et de la FIDH, a été visée par le gouvernement du Bélarus pendant plus de vingt ans. En août 2011, son président Ales Bialiatsky avait été condamné à quatre ans et demi de prison sur base d’accusations montées de toutes pièces, puis libéré en juin 2014, après avoir passé 1 052 jours en détention arbitraire dans de terribles conditions. En guise de représailles pour le travail courageux et la position inébranlable de Viasna en faveur des droits humains, les autorités du Bélarus s’efforcent à nouveau de détruire l’organisation en mettant sept de ses membres derrière des barreaux.

    Les attaques ont commencé dès le lendemain de l’adoption par le Conseil des droits de l’Homme des Nations unies de la résolution condamnant la situation des droits humains au Bélarus, exigeant la libération de toutes les personnes détenues arbitrairement et une enquête sur les cas allégués de torture et d’autres violations de droits humains.

    Les 8, 9 et 16 juillet 2021, les autorités ont perquisitionné les domiciles et les locaux de plusieurs médias indépendants et de leur personnel, dont Nasha Niva, l’un des plus anciens journaux indépendants du pays, et arrêté trois de ses journalistes. Les bureaux de RFE/ Radio Liberty et Belsat, la plus grande chaîne de télévision indépendante couvrant le Bélarus, ont également fait l’objet d’une perquisition, et plusieurs de leurs journalistes ont été arrêtés. A l’heure actuelle, 30 professionnels des médias et des douzaines de blogueur·se·s sont encore en détention.

    Nous, les organisations de la société civile soussignées, condamnons la voie de la violence et les violations massives des droits humains perpétrées par les autorités du Bélarus qui pourraient, nous le craignons, provoquer encore davantage de violence. Cette dernière vague de persécutions, associée à la répression brutale des derniers mois, montre que les autorités ont pour objectif d’arrêter ou de contraindre à l’exil tou·te·s les défenseur·e·s des droits humains du pays.

    Nous exprimons notre solidarité vis-à-vis de nos collègues et nos ami·e·s détenu·e·s, harcelé·e·s et persécuté·e·s en raison de leur travail courageux. C’est avec grande tristesse et préoccupation que nous assistons à ce qu’il·elle·s doivent endurer. Nous sommes profondément inspiré·e·s par leur engagement et leur résilience.

    Nous exhortons les autorités du Bélarus à cesser le harcèlement et l’intimidation des voix critiques, et à libérer tou·te·s les défenseur·e·s des droits humains, journalistes et militant·e·s.

    Nous appelons la communauté internationale à soutenir avec force les défenseur·e·s des droits humains du Bélarus, à dénoncer publiquement cette situation et à exiger la libération de ceux·celles qui sont encore derrière des barreaux et dont le seul crime est d’avoir exigé des changements et une société basée sur la justice plutôt que sur la peur.

    Signataires

    1. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran - Iran
    2. ACAT Belgique - Belgique
    3. ACAT Burundi - Burundi
    4. ACAT España-Catalunya (Acción de los Cristianos para la Abolición de la Tortura) - Espagne
    5. ACAT Germany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) - Germany
    6. ACAT Italia - Italie
    7. ACAT République Centrafricaine – République centrafricaine
    8. ACAT République Démocratique du Congo – République démocratique du Congo
    9. ACAT Suisse - Suisse
    10. ACAT Tchad - Thad
    11. ACAT Togo - Togo
    12. Action Against Violence and Exploitation (ACTVE) - Philippines
    13. Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA) - République démocratique du Congo
    14. Advocacy Forum – Nepal - Nepal
    15. Agir ensemble pour les droits humains - France
    16. Albanian Human Rights Group
    17. ALTSEAN-Burma - Myanmar
    18. Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) - Malaisie/Asie-Pacifique
    19. Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial - Belgique
    20. ARTICLE 19
    21. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights - Indonésie
    22. Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) - Philippines
    23. Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa (ACI PARTICIPA) - Honduras
    24. Asociación pro derechos humanos (Aprodeh) - Pérou
    25. Association Mauritanienne des droits de l'homme (AMDH-Mauritanieuri) - Mauritanie
    26. Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) - Inde
    27. Association Tchadienne pour la promotion et la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ATPDH) - Tchad
    28. Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates - Tunisie
    29. Avocats Sans Frontières France (ASF France) - France
    30. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) - Inde
    31. Belarusian-Swiss Association RAZAM.CH - Suisse
    32. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee - Bulgarie
    33. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) - Cambodge
    34. Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP) - Australie
    35. Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
    36. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – États-Unis d’Amérique
    37. Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR), University of York – Royaume-Uni
    38. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (CDDHR) - Russie
    39. Centro de Derechos humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas A.c. (Frayba) - Mexique
    40. Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte - Mexique
    41. Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH) - Honduras
    42. Centro de Prevención, Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Victimas de la Tortura y sus familiares (CPTRT) - Honduras
    43. Centro de Salud Mental y Derechos Humanos (CINTRAS) - Chili
    44. Changement Social Bénin (CSB) - Benin
    45. CIVICUS
    46. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) - Suède
    47. Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH-RD) – République dominicaine
    48. Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CBDDH) - Burkina Faso
    49. Coalition Marocaine contre la Peine de Mort - Maroc
    50. Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de Mort - Tunisie
    51. Collectif des Associations Contre l'Impunité au Togo (CACIT) - Togo
    52. Comisión de derechos humanos – COMISEDH - Pérou
    53. Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH) - Honduras
    54. Comité de solidaridad con los presos políticos (FCSPP) - Colombie
    55. Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) – Irlande du Nord (Royaume-Uni)
    56. Crude Accountability - États-Unis d’Amérique
    57. Czech League of Human Rights – République tchèque
    58. Death Penalty Focus (DPF) - États-Unis d’Amérique
    59. Defenders of human rights centre - Iran
    60. DEMAS - Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights - République tchèque
    61. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights - Botswana
    62. Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) - Belgique
    63. Eleos Justice, Monash University - Australie
    64. Enfants Solidaires d'Afrique et du Monde (ESAM) - Benin
    65. Federal Association of Vietnam-Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany - Allemagne
    66. FIDU - Italian Federation for Human Rights - Italie
    67. Finnish League for Human Rights - Finlande
    68. Free Press Unlimited – Pays-Bas
    69. Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH) - Équateur
    70. GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women - Philippines
    71. German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (GCADP) - Allemagne
    72. Greek Helsinki Monitor - Grèce
    73. Helsinki Citizens' Assembly – Vanadzor - Arménie
    74. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights - Pologne
    75. Citizens' Watch Russia
    76. Human Rights Alert - Inde
    77. Human Rights Association (İHD) – Turquie
    78. Human Rights Center (HRC) - Géorgie
    79. Human Rights Center (HRC) "Memorial" - Russie
    80. Human Rights House Foundation
    81. Human Rights in China (HRIC) – États-Unis d’Amérique
    82. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) - Lituanie
    83. Human Rights Mouvement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” - Kirghizistan
    84. Human Rights Organization of Nepal - Népal
    85. Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) - Grèce
    86. Hungarian Helsinki Committee - Hongrie
    87. IDP Women Association "Consent" - Géorgie
    88. Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) - Kenya
    89. Instituto de Estudios Legales y Sociales del Uruguay (IELSUR) - Uruguay
    90. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) - Kenyan Section - Kenya
    91. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - France
    92. International Legal Initiative - Kazakhstan
    93. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) - Belgique
    94. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) - Suisse
    95. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society - Inde
    96. JANANEETHI - Inde
    97. Justice for Iran (JFI) – Royaume-Uni
    98. Justícia i Pau - Espagne
    99. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Kazakhstan
    100. Kharkiv Regional Foundation "Public Alternative" - Ukraine
    101. La Strada International - The Netherlands
    102. La Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l'Homme (VSV) – République démocratique du Congo
    103. Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC) - Lettonie
    104. Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights YUCOM - Serbie
    105. League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) - Iran
    106. Legal Policy Research Centre (LPRC) - Kazakhstan
    107. Libereco Partnership of Human Rights - Allemagne/ Suisse
    108. LICADHO - Cambodge
    109. Lifespark - Suisse
    110. Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos - Civitas (LPDHC) - Portugal
    111. Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens (LvRM) (Dutch League for Human Rights) – Pays-Bas
    112. Ligue des droits de l'Homme (LDH) - France
    113. Ligue Tchadienne des droits de l'Homme - Tchad
    114. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) - Maldives
    115. Martin Ennals Foundation - Suisse
    116. Minority Rights Group - Grèce
    117. Mouvance des Abolitionnistes du Congo Brazzaville - Congo Brazzaville
    118. Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (MIDH) - Côte d'Ivoire
    119. Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l'Homme - Laos
    120. Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH) - Brésil
    121. Netherlands Helsinki Committee – Pays-Bas
    122. Norwegian Helsinki Committee - Norvège
    123. Observatoire du système pénal et des droits humains (OSPDH) - Espagne
    124. Observatoire Marocain des prisons - Maroc
    125. Odhikar - Bangladesh
    126. OPEN ASIA|Armanshahr - France
    127. Organisation contre la torture en Tunisie (OCTT) - Tunisie
    128. Organisation Guineenne de Defense des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (OGDH) - Guinée
    129. Österreichische Liga für Menschenrechte ÖLFMR - Autriche
    130. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) - Palestine
    131. Pax Christi Uvira - République démocratique du Congo
    132. People's Watch Indie
    133. Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea) - Venezuela
    134. Promo LEX Association – République de Moldavie
    135. Protection International (PI)
    136. Public Association "Dignity" - Kazakhstan
    137. Public Association Spravedlivost Human Rights Organization - Kirghizistan
    138. Public Verdict Foundation - Russie
    139. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme RADDHO - Sénégal
    140. Repecap Academics - Espagne
    141. Réseau des Defenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) - Cameroun
    142. Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) - Haïti
    143. Rights Realization Centre – Royaume-Uni
    144. Rural People's Sangam - Inde
    145. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights – Royaume-Uni, Liban, Bahreïn
    146. Social-Strategic Researches and Analytical Investigations Public Union (SSRAIPU) – Azerbaïdjan
    147. SOHRAM-CASRA - Centre Action Sociale Réhabilitation et Réadaptation pour les Victimes de la Torture, de la guerre et de la violence - Turquie
    148. SOS-Torture/Burundi - Burundi
    149. SUARAM - Malaisie
    150. Syndicat national des agents de la formation et de l'education du Niger (SYNAFEN NIGER) - Niger
    151. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) - Philippines
    152. Thai Action Committee for Democaracy in Burma (TACDB) – Thaïlande
    153. The Advocates for Human Rights – États-Unis d’Amérique
    154. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (BHRH) - Lituanie
    155. The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) - Indonesie
    156. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
    157. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights – États-Unis d’Amérique
    158. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) - France
    159. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) - France
    160. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) - Suisse
    161. Xumek asociación para la promoción y protección de los derechos humanos - Argentine

     L'espace civique en Biélorussie est considéré comme Réprimé par le CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • MALAWI: ‘The tactics used by the current administration are the same used by its predecessors’

    Michael KaiyatsaCIVICUS speaks about recent protests in Malawi with Michael Kaiyatsa, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).

    CHRR is civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and promoting democracy and human rights in Malawi. Its mission is to contribute towards the protection, promotion and consolidation of good governance by empowering rural and urban communities to exercise their rights. Founded in 1995 by former student exiles who returned home to the promise of a new democracy, it operates through two core programmes: Community Mobilisation and Empowerment and Human Rights Monitoring and Training.

    How has the situation in Malawi evolved since the 2020 elections?

    Malawi held a presidential election in June 2020 because the 2019 election was annulled on the basis that there were massive irregularities and the court ordered a rerun. The 2020 election was won by the opposition candidate, Lazarus Chakwera.

    During the campaign, Chakwera said that if elected, he would address some key issues, including corruption in the public sector. It was the perception of public opinion that corruption was on the rise and the previous administration had not done much to tackle the problem. Chakwera promised to introduce reforms to seal all loopholes allowing for corruption and to improve the judicial system so corruption cases would not be ignored.

    However, once in power it didn’t look like these changes were effectively being implemented. As usual, the first year people gave the new administration some time. The president kept on making the same promises but made very little actual progress. 

    The second year continued in the same way and Malawians started to lose patience. People started to take their discontent out to the streets. The economic situation in Malawi also kept getting worse, with costs of living skyrocketing every day and a rise in unemployment. People looked back at campaign promises and compared them to their reality, and frustration arose.

    I wouldn’t say all campaign commitments were just empty promises and lies, because there were issues the government attempted to address, but progress has been slow. For instance, they promised to increase funding for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and ensure its independence. Funding for the ACB increased significantly, and a new law was eventually passed to amend the Corrupt Practices Act, removing the requirement of the ACB director to seek consent to prosecute corruption cases. They promised to set up special courts to prosecute corruption cases, and finally submitted a bill to amend the Court’s Act and make a provision for special courts.

    But they also promised to work to recover stolen assets and are moving at an extremely slow pace in this regard. And they also said they would create a million jobs for young people, which has never happened.

    What’s behind recent protests against the judiciary?

    Last year we started seeing lots of protests against corruption and impunity. There have been numerous cases involving government officials – including from the current administration – that have not been prosecuted. Investigations take years, and those involving senior government officials take the longest and rarely end in conviction. Recent ACB reports show that only 30 per cent of such cases have been concluded, and most of these date back to 2015.

    In sum, the wheels of justice are barely moving, and people have concluded that the government is pursuing selective justice. In a recent case, for instance, an 18-year-old man arrested for cannabis possession was prosecuted and given a sentence of eight years in prison, while people accused of serious crimes involving corruption are given three and four-year sentences, if anything at all. Ironically, before this case, a powerful business leader was accused of the same crime, marijuana possession, and was just asked to pay a fine. Such arbitrariness is pushing people to the streets.

    While selective justice is nothing new, this time around people want to hold the government accountable for the promises made on the campaign trail. As a result, pressure is also coming from the opposition to hold the government to account. When the current ruling party was in the opposition, they were the ones raising these issues. Now people are realising it is not any different from its predecessors.

    How have the authorities responded to the protests?

    The government has often tried to stop protests with the use of excessive force. Just recently, over 80 activists were detained and arrested. They were charged with holding an illegal assembly, although the constitution guarantees the freedom of assembly. Hours before these demonstrations started, some Malawians claiming to be from the business community requested the court issue an injunction to stop them. The injunction was granted late in the afternoon, so people gathered the next morning without knowing about it, and the police came in and started firing teargas, beating up people and arresting everyone they could.

    The tactics used by the current administration are the same ones used by its predecessors. The habit of getting last-minute injunctions isn’t new at all: this is what happened in July 2011, when the government got a last-minute injunction, people assembled without any knowledge of it and over 20 were killed by the police in the ensuing repression.

    What shocks me the most is the court’s interpretation of the meaning of the right to the freedom of assembly. The Police Act is very clear about what needs to be done if people stage a protest. It all starts with a notification to the authorities, but this is usually interpreted as people needing to obtain permission from the police, which is against what the law actually says.

    In the recent protest against the judiciary, we were told the demonstration would not proceed until the organisers provided a list with the protesters’ names, to be held liable if the demonstration resulted in damage to property. This is strange, as you cannot be sure who is going to attend a protest and how they will conduct themselves. It is not just the police but also the courts that are now asking for a registry of attendees, something that cannot be found anywhere in the law.

    How could the international community support Malawian civil society?

    Over the past two or three years, new civil society groups have emerged to defend human rights and economic justice, and are mobilising mostly through social media platforms and community radio, particularly in rural areas, issuing statements and calling people to the streets.

    Malawian civil society needs international protection. We need to be able to express ourselves and feel safe while doing it, so we need our international partners to send a message to the president, reminding him of his commitments and his obligations under the constitution. 

    We continue to experience the same challenges as in the past, despite the administration being a beneficiary of civil society mobilisation. In 2019 and 2020, when organisations like ours were protesting against electoral irregularities, the current authorities were by our side and supported our protest for democracy. But they are now doing exactly what they criticised when they were in the opposition, including by passing laws that restrict civil society, such as the recent NGO Amendment Act.

    Civil society also needs resources, including for legal representation. There are currently over 80 civil society activists under arrest, most of whom don’t have legal representation. As a result, they remain in custody awaiting trial. There’s no fair access to justice and they could be held indefinitely.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CHRRMalawi on Twitter.

     

  • MYANMAR : « Les militaires ont fait passer les travailleurs de la santé du statut de héros à celui de criminel du jour au lendemain »

    Nay Lin Tun MayCIVICUS s’entretient avec Nay Lin Tun, un médecin qui se porte régulièrement volontaire auprès des équipes de secours dans les zones d’urgence de la ville de Yangon au Myanmar. Depuis que l’armée a pris le pouvoir par un coup d’État le 1er février 2021, elle a lancé unerépression brutale contre le Mouvement de désobéissance civile (MDC), un mouvement de protestation qui s’est étendu à tout le pays et au sein duquel lesprofessionnels de la santé ont joué un rôle clé.

    Depuis le coup d’État, Nay Lin Tun est en première ligne pour soigner les manifestants blessés par les forces de sécurité. Il a précédemment travaillé dans l’État de Rakhine, où il fournissait des soins de santé communautaires mobiles à la population Rohingya et à d’autres personnes déplacées à l’intérieur du pays dans les zones touchées par le conflit. Il a également participé à la campagneGoalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, qui vise à accélérer les progrès vers les objectifs de développement durable des Nations unies.

     

  • MYANMAR : « Presque toutes les personnes détenues nous disent qu’elles ont été battues »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Manny Maung, chercheuse au Myanmar pour Human Rights Watch (HRW), sur la situation des droits humains au Myanmar. Manny était auparavant journaliste et a passé de nombreuses années à vivre et à travailler au Myanmar.

    Le Myanmar reste sur la liste de surveillance du CIVICUS Monitor, qui comprend les pays ayant connu un déclin récent et rapide de leurs libertés civiques. Les militaires du Myanmar ont pris le pouvoir par un coup d’État le 1er février 2021, ont arrêté les dirigeants civils du gouvernement national et des États et ont lancé une répression brutale contre le mouvement de protestation dans tout le pays. Plus de six mois après, l’assaut contre l’espace civique persiste. Des milliers de personnes ont été arrêtées et détenues de manière arbitraire. Nombre d’entre eux font l’objet d’accusations infondées et des cas de torture et de mauvais traitements pendant les interrogatoires ont été signalés, ainsi que des décès en détention.

    Manny Maung

    Quelle est la situation des libertés civiques au Myanmar plus de cinq mois après le coup d’État ?

    Depuis le coup d’État militaire du 1er février, nous avons assisté à une détérioration rapide de la situation. Des milliers de personnes ont été détenues arbitrairement et des centaines ont été tuées, tandis que de nombreuses autres se cachent et tentent d’échapper à l’arrestation. HRW a déterminé que les militaires ont commis des abus qui équivalent à des crimes contre l’humanité à l’encontre de la population. Il est donc évident que la situation est extrêmement dangereuse pour la société civile, les libertés civiques étant devenues inexistantes.

    Le mouvement de désobéissance civile (MDC) est-il toujours actif malgré la répression ?

    Des manifestations ont encore lieu quotidiennement, bien qu’elles soient moins nombreuses et plus ponctuelles. Des grèves éclair éclatent dans tout le Myanmar, et pas seulement dans les grandes villes. Mais ces manifestations sont désormais légèrement atténuées, non seulement en raison des violentes répressions des forces de sécurité, mais aussi à cause de la troisième vague dévastatrice d’infections au COVID-19. Des centaines de mandats d’arrêt ont été émis à l’encontre des meneurs des manifestations, y compris à l’encontre de près de 600 médecins qui ont participé à la MDC ou l’ont dirigée auparavant. Les journalistes, les avocats et les leaders de la société civile ont tous été pris pour cible, de même que toute personne considérée comme un leader de la manifestation ou de la grève. Dans certains cas, si les autorités ne trouvent pas la personne qu’elles veulent arrêter, elles arrêtent les membres de sa famille en guise de punition collective.

    Quelle est la situation des manifestants qui ont été arrêtés et détenus ?

    Presque toutes les personnes avec lesquelles nous nous sommes entretenus et qui ont été détenues ou raflées lors des vastes opérations de répression des manifestations nous ont dit avoir été battues lors de leur arrestation ou de leur détention dans des centres d’interrogatoire militaires. Un adolescent m’a raconté qu’il avait été frappé si fort avec la crosse d’un fusil qu’il s’était évanoui entre les coups. Il a également raconté qu’on l’a forcé à entrer dans une fosse et qu’on l’a enterré jusqu’au cou alors qu’il avait les yeux bandés, tout cela parce que les autorités le soupçonnaient d’être un leader protestataire. D’autres personnes ont décrit des passages à tabac violents alors qu’elles étaient menottées à une chaise, qu’elles étaient privées de nourriture et d’eau, qu’elles ne dormaient pas et qu’elles subissaient des violences sexuelles ou des menaces de viol.

    De nombreux manifestants qui sont toujours détenus n’ont pas eu de procès sérieux. Certains ont été inculpés et condamnés, mais il s’agit d’un petit nombre comparé aux milliers de personnes qui attendent que leur dossier avance. De nombreux détenus qui ont été libérés depuis nous disent qu’ils ont eu très peu de contacts, voire aucun, avec leurs avocats. Mais les avocats qui les représentent courent également des risques. Au moins six avocats défendant des prisonniers politiques ont été arrêtés, dont trois alors qu’ils représentaient un client dans le cadre d’un procès.

    Comment l’interruption des services d’Internet et de télévision a-t-elle affecté le MDP ?

    L’interdiction de la télévision par satellite est venue s’ajouter aux restrictions de l’accès à l’information. La junte a affirmé que des « organisations illégales et des organes de presse » diffusaient des programmes par satellite qui menaçaient la sécurité de l’État. Mais les interdictions semblent viser principalement les chaînes d’information étrangères qui diffusent par satellite au Myanmar, y compris deux diffuseurs indépendants en langue birmane, Democratic Voice of Burma et Mizzima, qui se sont vu retirer leur licence par la junte en mars. Les coupures d’accès à Internet ont également rendu difficile l’accès à l’information et la communication en temps réel entre les personnes.

    Les coupures générales de l’accès à Internet sont une forme de punition collective. Elles entravent l’accès aux informations et aux communications nécessaires à la vie quotidienne, mais surtout en cas de crise et de pandémie de COVID-19. Ces restrictions servent également de couverture aux violations des droits humains et compliquent les efforts visant à documenter ces violations.

    Pourquoi la violence dans les zones ethniques a-t-elle augmenté, et qui est visé ?

    Le coup d’État a entraîné une reprise des combats dans certaines régions du pays entre les groupes armés ethniques et l’armée. L’État de Rakhine semble être l’exception, car l’armée d’Arakan y a négocié un cessez-le-feu et les manifestations contre l’armée n’ont pas été aussi bruyantes ou répandues. D’autres groupes armés ethniques, tels que l’Armée de l’indépendance kachin et l’Armée de libération nationale karen (ALNK), ont accueilli favorablement la résistance aux militaires et offrent un refuge aux personnes fuyant les militaires dans les territoires qu’ils contrôlent. De nouveaux affrontements entre l’armée et l’ALNK ont donné lieu à un certain nombre de violations des droits humains à l’encontre de civils et ont entraîné le déplacement de milliers de personnes à la frontière entre la Thaïlande et le Myanmar.

    Que pensez-vous de la réaction de l’Association des nations de l’Asie du Sud-Est (ANASE) à la situation au Myanmar jusqu’à présent ?

    L’ANASE a tenté de suivre les voies diplomatiques, mais il ne s’agit pas d’une situation où les choses se passent comme d’habitude. Les militaires ont pris le pouvoir et ont commis des crimes contre leur propre peuple - une population civile qui a déjà voté pour le gouvernement qu’elle préfère. Après des mois de négociations futiles, l’ANASE devrait être prête à imposer des sanctions au Myanmar. En tant que nations indépendantes, les États membres de l’ANASE devraient agir ensemble et imposer des sanctions ciblées au Myanmar afin de s’assurer que les militaires n’agissent plus en toute impunité.

    La réaction du général Min Aung Hlaing, qui s’est autoproclamé Premier ministre, au plan consensuel en cinq points proposé par l’ANASE témoigne de son mépris total pour la diplomatie régionale et montre clairement qu’il ne répondra qu’à des actes durs - tels que la coupure de son accès et de celui de l’armée aux revenus étrangers par des sanctions intelligentes.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir la société civile et favoriser le retour à un régime démocratique ?

    HRW recommande au Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies (CSNU) de saisir la Cour pénale internationale concernant la situation au Myanmar. Le CSNU et les pays influents tels que les États-Unis, le Royaume-Uni, l’Australie, le Japon, l’Inde, la Thaïlande et l’Union européenne devraient appliquer des sanctions coordonnées pour faire pression sur la junte. Le CSNU devrait également adopter une résolution visant à interdire la vente d’armes au Myanmar.

    Quant aux organisations internationales de la société civile, elles doivent continuer à plaider en faveur des membres de la société civile qui se cachent actuellement ou qui sont détenus de manière arbitraire. Cela signifie qu’elles doivent continuer à faire pression pour que soit reconnue la gravité de la crise politique et humanitaire au Myanmar, et pour que les gouvernements agissent en faveur de la population du Myanmar.

    L’espace civique au Myanmar est classé « réprimé » par le CIVICUS Monitor.

    Suivez @mannymaung sur Twitter.

     

  • MYANMAR : « Si le coup d’État n’est pas renversé, il y aura beaucoup plus de prisonniers politiques »

    CIVICUS parle du récent coup d’État militaire au Myanmar avec Bo Kyi, ancien prisonnier politique et co-fondateur de l’Association d’assistance aux prisonniers politiques (AAPP). Fondée en 2000 par d’anciens prisonniers politiques vivant en exil à la frontière entre la Thaïlande et le Myanmar, l’AAPP est basée à Mae Sot, en Thaïlande, et possède deux bureaux au Myanmar, ouverts depuis 2012. L’AAPP travaille pour la libération des prisonniers politiques et l’amélioration de leur vie après leur libération, avec des programmes visant à leur garantir l’accès à l’éducation, à la formation professionnelle, aux conseils en matière de santé mentale et aux soins de santé.

     

  • MYANMAR: ‘If we fail to take appropriate action, the junta will commit more crimes’

    KyawWinCIVICUS speaks with Kyaw Win, founder and Executive Director of theBurma Human Rights Network (BHRN), about the situation in Myanmar one year after the coup. As theCIVICUS Monitor has documented, activists and journalists continue to be criminalised and killed. Political prisoners have been tortured and ill-treated and the junta continues to block aid and imposes restrictions on humanitarian workers. 

    BHRN works for human rights, minority rights and religious freedom in Myanmar. It has played a crucial role advocating for human rights and religious freedom with the international community and earned a reputation for providing credible and reliable analysis. It recently published reports oncrimes against humanity by the Myanmar military following the coup and on human rights violations and the situation inRohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. 

    What led you to found BHRN?

    I was born and brought up in a predominantly Muslim township in Yangon and lived there for 30 years. But in 2009 I had to leave the country and stayed at the Thailand-Myanmar border, temporarily leaving my family. Because I was not able to go back, I eventually moved to the UK and after one-and-a-half years I was reunited with my family.

    In 2012, when violence against Muslims erupted in Myanmar, I felt I needed to take action and founded BHRN, which was registered in the UK in 2015. Despite progress in the transition to democracy, we decided to keep BHRN underground. This surprised many, but we felt the situation could reverse easily. Unfortunately, this came true with the February 2021 military coup.

    BHRN tracks hate speech both online and offline. We believe hate speech is very dangerous and monitoring it helps us predict impending violence. As we are underground, we are able to collect data on the ground even if it’s very risky. We work in Myanmar and have staff there, including in Rakhine State, as well as in Bangladesh and Thailand. We see the need to expand because as a result of the coup there are restrictions on movement.

    We have experts on various themes, including on freedom of religion and Rohingya issues, and we produce monthly reports. We also undertake international advocacy to share our research with decision-makers such as United Nations (UN) representatives, European Union officials and staff of the US State Department, as well as decision-makers in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

    We also work with young people in Myanmar and build capacity around human rights, democracy and pluralism.

    A year on from the coup, what is the situation for activists and civil society in Myanmar, and how are human rights groups outside the country responding?

    The military has accused civil society activists of leading the resistance against the coup with backing and funding from the west. The military wants to destroy civil society, and many are being attacked and killed, so there is a lot of fear. Those in detention are in terrible conditions. Many have been tortured.

    Other activists who became aware that the coup was imminent were able to flee the country or leave the cities. They now operate from the outside, in Thailand and at the Thailand-Myanmar border, supporting those still in the country.

    We are calling for justice and the removal of the military from power. We have been calling for international sanctions since 2017, following the Rohingya genocide. However, at the time the international community was unwilling to take strong action, as they hoped that democratic reforms would be undertaken by the government of the National League for Democracy. There was only symbolic action but no targeting of the government at that time.

    Following the coup, we made clear to the international community that if we fail to take appropriate action, the junta would be emboldened to commit more crimes. Now, finally, targeted economic sanctions have been imposed and some companies, such as Chevron and Total, have decided to leave Myanmar. Some argue that economic sanctions will push Myanmar closer to China, but those people forget that in 2007, following sanctions after the Saffron Revolution, there was an internal revolt that led to the transition to a civilian government. The junta can’t survive long-term economic sanctions. The people of Myanmar know they may suffer due to sanctions, but many have told me they welcome them as long as they hit the military.

    We are also pushing for an arms embargo and to stop the sale of jet fuel to the junta, which they have used to bomb civilians. Another thing we request from the international community is humanitarian support.

    We are concerned about the UN’s position, which appears to view the military as a stakeholder in a potential power-sharing agreement. The UN Special Envoy recently expressed this position and we were very disappointed.

    We also have concerns with the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) formed in exile by those who had been democratically elected, because we have observed the exclusion of minorities. The NUG has no Muslim representation, so we don’t have a voice. This also affects the NUG’s credibility.

    How do you assess the response to the military coup by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)?

    In April 2021, a five-point consensus plan was agreed at an ASEAN summit. This included an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate dialogue, the provision of humanitarian assistance and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.

    However, ASEAN is not united on this. It includes three groupings that cannot agree on anything. For instance, Vietnam is close to Russia and would block any arms embargo. Thailand seems to support the military junta. Indonesia and Malaysia have taken a strong stand; we have engaged with them since day one and they have supported us. Singapore has also spoken up.

    It doesn’t help that the permanent members of the UN Security Council are toying with ASEAN, using this regional body as their proxy. They have passed the buck to ASEAN to resolve an issue that they have failed to tackle.

    We can’t expect more from ASEAN than it can deliver. We want the military to be removed from power and replaced with a civilian government, and this is something many ASEAN governments don’t understand. ASEAN’s five-point consensus plan has not been implemented. ASEAN has no weight on Myanmar unless China or the USA move. 

    We seem to have excessive expectations placed on ASEAN, while in fact there is not much it can do. The rest of the international community should step up and do more.

    What can international civil society do to support activists in Myanmar and hold the junta accountable?

    In the past we only focused on human rights investigations, but now we are also doing humanitarian work. We are renting and setting up safe houses to hide people and helping them leave the country. Costs have greatly increased but funding has remained the same.

    Those working in the country need the support of international civil society, and new ways to deliver support need to be devised because it has become dangerous to receive funds as the junta is monitoring bank accounts. There are also issues of accountability and transparency, as we cannot disclose the names of the people we are helping.

    However, I believe if we overcome this challenge, Myanmar’s civil society will emerge very strong. But we need more understanding and engagement with us.

    I believe nothing lasts forever and this too will pass. The junta will have to leave at some point. While the situation is quite bad, a good sign is that many military personnel have changed sides and now support the NUG. But we need to continue our struggle with a clear vision of the future that is centred on human rights and democracy. And we need support from the international community so those struggling on the ground will one day see their dreams come true.

    Civic space inMyanmar is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with BHRN through itswebsite and follow@kyawwin78 on Twitter. 

     

  • MYANMAR: ‘The ruling military junta uses fear as a domination tool’

    Myanmar coup protests 3 Gallo

    CIVICUS speaks about the human rights situation and prospects for democracy in Myanmar with a civil society activist based in Myanmar, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    What is the current situation in Myanmar, a year and a half on from the military coup?

    Myanmar has been in turmoil since February 2021. The coup halted the fragile democratisation process. All branches of government – legislative, executive and judiciary – were concentrated in the hands of the junta and fundamental rights were suspended.

    The rule of law has been significantly degraded at every level. In the business sector, the junta’s inconsistent regulations make it impossible for investors to make decisions. Foreign investors are increasingly withdrawing from Myanmar, and the telecom sector fell into the hands of the junta’s cronies. The junta has questionable capacity to manage the economy, and inflation has pushed up the prices of essential commodities.

    The degradation of the rule of law puts people’s everyday life and livelihood at risk. Repression and fundamental rights violations make everyone feel unsafe and spread fear. The junta uses fear as a domination tool. Even once-peaceful villages in central Myanmar have become conflict zones where the junta’s troops have destroyed tens of thousands of people’s humble homes.

    What effects has the coup had on civil society?

    The post-coup setting is very challenging. The coup set back civil society, which had been slowly growing since the late 2000s, when young democracy and human rights activists who had survived the military dictatorship started getting together and organising to pursue common objectives.

    Our organisation came into existence in the early days of Myanmar’s political transition. There were limited freedoms and rights and limited space for civil society organisations. Our objective was to create a gathering space and provide support for political and civic activists. Within a decade, we adopted the broader objective of promoting civic space in Myanmar. We use technology to reach the right audiences and promote civic awareness, participation and engagement.

    Right now our work is severely restricted. A few organisations have relocated their offices to border areas or neighbouring countries, but we continue operating inside Myanmar. Since speaking out entails security risks, along with many other activists and organisations we have changed our approach, keeping a low profile. We are also conducting research as a tactical response to understand the challenges and find possible ways out.

    For some of Myanmar’s local civil society activists, life under a repressive regime is not a new experience: they operated under similar conditions before the 2010s. They continue to take numerous risks to serve their communities. Some organisations have also managed to channel international humanitarian assistance to conflict areas and vulnerable populations.

    What kind of work are pro-democracy groups doing and what backlash do they face?

    Restoring democracy is hard work. Pro-democracy groups are working to force a return of power to an elected government. They discuss things such as interim arrangements, political pacts for federalism and a transitional constitution. On the ground, they promote rights and freedoms and defend people from the junta’s repression.

    Having expressed their wish for democracy in the 2020 general election, the public supports pro-democracy groups in various ways, such as by taking part in peaceful demonstrations and campaigns for the suspension of tax payment, boycotting the junta’s products and brands, and joining in so-called ‘social punishment’, a form of protest that consists of doxing members of the junta and their family members – revealing information about their businesses and family connections. Many people inside Myanmar and in the diaspora also contribute financially to support the security of people in conflict areas and provide emergency humanitarian supplies.

    The vital goal of pro-democracy protests is to sustain awareness of fundamental rights and freedoms, provide encouragement and show determination to take action rather than be the junta’s victims. In the earlier days, the protests were joined by people from all walks of life, including young people, students, members of civil society and political parties, government staff and celebrities. Even as the junta used lethal force and arbitrary arrests and committed atrocities, they continued to demonstrate daily in some rural regions and hold occasional flash mobs in urban areas.

    The junta keeps trying to clear out pro-democracy groups and to get the endorsement of the international community. As it finds the latter quite hard, it increasingly focuses on the former. They apply the so-called ‘four cuts’: they try to cut off financial support, rations, information and recruitment by pro-democracy groups. They arrest high-profile businesspeople suspected of supporting them and strictly regulate financial transactions. They deploy police and troops at every crossroads, equip their supporters with weapons and train informants. They have banned numerous news agencies and publications that could counter their propaganda and torched villages that were believed to host pro-democracy groups.

    What will be the consequences of the recent executions of pro-democracy activists?

    In late July the military executed four pro-democracy activists. It was the first time the death penalty was imposed in Myanmar in decades.

    For the junta, this means there is no turning back. They meant it as a message to shock and paralyse people and comfort their hard-line supporters. But it backfired: it fuelled robust determination among pro-democracy groups.

    Internationally, the executions showed that the junta will not play by the rules to gain international recognition. In fact, it has continued to show muscle, using hostage diplomacy. A former British ambassador, recently jailed, became one of the victims of this.

    When they lose power, they will have to face justice. Any transition will have to contemplate transitional justice arrangements to hold everyone who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes accountable in domestic and international courts. They shall not enjoy impunity anymore.

    How can the international community help Myanmar’s civil society?

    Myanmar needs attention and practical coordination. The international community must listen to our people’s voices and reflect on their agendas by following up with quick and responsive actions. Paying attention to local concerns and voices and developing effective international assistance will make people feel more hopeful and maintain their resilience.

    Meanwhile, the junta is trying to boost its legitimacy by holding a controversial election. Elections under its iron fist will never be free and fair. The international community must be clever enough not to recognise such elections, which are a rotten trick the military have used for decades. Endorsing the junta as a legitimate ruler will only prolong the crisis.

    So we ask the international community: please listen to and amplify Myanmar people’s voices!


    Civic space inMyanmar is rated ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • MYANMAR: “If this coup is not overturned, there will be many more political prisoners”

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent military coup in Myanmar with Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner and co-founder of theAssistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP). Founded in 2000 by former political prisoners living in exile on the Thai-Myanmar border, AAPP has its headquarters in Mae Sot, Thailand and two offices in Myanmar that opened in 2012. AAPP advocates for the release of political prisoners and the improvement of their lives after their release, with programmes aimed at ensuring access to education, vocational training, mental health counselling and healthcare.

     

  • MYANMAR: “Nearly everyone detained tells us they were beaten”

    CIVICUS speaks to Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), about the human rights situation in Myanmar. Manny was previously a journalist and spent many years living and working in Myanmar,

    Myanmar remains on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist as a country that has seen a recent and rapid decline in civic freedoms. The Myanmar military seized power in a coup on 1 February 2021, arrested the civilian leaders of the national and state governments and launched a brutal crackdown against the protest movement. More than six months on, the assault on civic space persists. Thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many face baseless charges and there have been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody.

    Manny Maung

    What is the situation of civic freedoms in Myanmar more than five months after the coup?

    Since the military coup on 1 February, we’ve seen a rapid deterioration of the situation. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundreds have been killed, while many more are in hiding and trying to evade arrest. HRW has determined that the military has committed abuses that amount to crimes against humanity against its population, so quite clearly the situation for civil society is extremely dangerous as civic freedoms have become non-existent.

    Is the civil disobedience movement (CDM) still active despite the repression?

    Protests are still being held daily, although they are smaller and more ad hoc. Flash strikes are popping up all over Myanmar, not just in major cities. But these demonstrations are now slightly muted, not just due to the violent crackdowns by the security forces, but also because of the devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued for protest leaders, including against almost 600 medical doctors who participated in or led the CDM earlier on. Journalists, lawyers and civil society leaders have all been targeted and so has anyone who is deemed to be a protest or strike leader. In some cases, if the authorities can’t find the individual who they are targeting for arrest, they arrest their family members as a form of collective punishment.

    What is the situation of protesters that have been arrested and detained?

    Nearly everyone we speak to who was detained or rounded up during widespread crackdowns on protests tells us they were beaten when they were arrested or being held in military interrogation centres. One teenager described to me how he was beaten so hard with a rifle butt that he passed out in between beatings. He also described how he was forced into a pit and buried up to his neck while blindfolded, all because the authorities suspected him of being a protest leader. Others have described severe beatings while being handcuffed to a chair, being denied food and water and deprived of sleep, and experiencing sexual violence or the threat of rape.

    Many protesters who are still detained have not had serious trials. Some have been charged and convicted, but that’s a small number compared to the thousands who are waiting to have their cases move forward. Many detainees who have since been released from prison tell us they had minimal contact, if any, with their lawyers. But the lawyers who represent them also face risks. At least six lawyers defending political prisoners have been arrested, three of them while representing a client in a trial proceeding.

    How has the disruption of internet and television services affected the CDM?

    Bans on satellite television have added to the restrictions on access to information. The junta claimed that ‘illegal organisations and news organisations’ were broadcasting programmes via satellite that threatened state security. But the bans appear primarily targeted at foreign news channels that broadcast via satellite into Myanmar, including two independent Myanmar-language broadcasters, Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima, both of which had their media licences revoked by the junta in March. Internet shutdowns have also made it difficult for people to access information and communicate with each other in real time.

    Blanket internet shutdowns are a form of collective punishment. They hinder access to information and communications that’s needed for daily life but especially during crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. The restrictions also provide cover for human rights abuses and complicate efforts to document violations.

    Why has violence in the ethnic areas increased, and who is being targeted?

    The coup sparked renewed fighting in some parts of the country between ethnic armed groups and the military. Rakhine State appears to be the exception, as the Arakan Army has negotiated a ceasefire there, and protests against the military have not been as vocal or widespread. Other ethnic armed groups such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) have welcomed resistance to the military and are providing safe haven to those fleeing from the military in the territories they control. Renewed clashes between the military and the KNLA have resulted in a number of human rights violations on civilians and have displaced thousands on the Thai-Myanmar border.

    What do you think of the response by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the situation in Myanmar so far?

    ASEAN has attempted to follow diplomatic channels, but this is not a situation where it’s business as usual. The military has seized power and has been committing crimes against its own people – a civilian population that has already voted for its preferred government. After months of futile negotiations, ASEAN should be prepared to impose penalties on Myanmar. As independent nations, ASEAN member states should act together and impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar to ensure the military no longer acts with total impunity.

    The reaction by General Min Aung Hlaing, who has made himself the Prime Minister, to the five-point consensus plan proposed by ASEAN shows his utter disdain for regional diplomacy and makes it apparent that he will only respond to tough acts – such as cutting off his and the military’s access to foreign revenue through smart sanctions.

    What can the international community do to support civil society and push for a return to democratic rule?

    HRW recommends that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) refers the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The UNSC and influential countries such as the USA, the UK, Australia, Japan, India, Thailand and the European Union should apply coordinated sanctions to pressure the junta. The UNSC should also pass a resolution to ban the sales of weapons to Myanmar.

    As for international civil society organisations, they should continue to advocate on behalf of civil society members who are currently in hiding or being held in arbitrary detention. This means continuing to push for recognition of the severity of the political and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and pushing for governments to act in favour of the people of Myanmar.

    Civic space in Myanmar is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Follow @mannymaung on Twitter.

     

  • MYANMAR: “The military turned medical workers from heroes to criminals overnight”

    Nay Lin Tun May

    CIVICUS speaks to Nay Lin Tun, a medical doctor who regularly volunteers with rescue teams in emergency areas in the city of Yangon, Myanmar. Since the military seized power through a coup on 1 February 2021, the army has launched abrutal crackdown against the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a protest movement that spread across the country.Medical workers have played a key role in the movement.

    Ever since the coup, Nay Lin Tun has been on the frontline treating protesters injured by the security forces. He previously worked in Rakhine State providing mobile community-based medical care to Rohingya people and other internally displaced populations in conflict-affected areas. He was also involved in theGoalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator campaign dedicated to accelerating progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    What has the situation been since the coup? How has the medical system been affected?

    Since the military coup occurred on 1 February, our lives entered darkness: internet access, the freedom of expression, the freedom of speech and all our basic human rights have been denied. I cannot believe that such a military coup can still happen in the 21st century. We live in a cycle of fear every day and are afraid of getting arrested or killed for no reason.

    People were already in a stage of desperation before the coup, due to the social and economic hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. They were hoping that their business would recover and grow when COVID-19 infection figures fell in Myanmar. Now, all these plans are gone. People have said they would rather die fighting for a democratic future than live under a military junta.

    Almost all government departments and ministries are shut down because the CDM is boycotting all services linked to the military and promoting labour strikes and walkouts by civil servants and other workers. Health systems have all collapsed.

    Worryingly, COVID-19 prevention and control mechanisms have also stopped since the coup, as has the vaccination campaign. The authorities bought 30 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the Indian government, which were shipped in January and April 2021. But there are lots of data discrepancies between those who have received the first dose and those who have received the second: 1.54 million people have received the COVID-19 vaccine once but only 0.34 million have been vaccinated for a second time. This shows the failure of the vaccination programme. In addition, the COVID-19 surveillance system has been slow and has low testing capacities. This puts many people at risk in case a third or fourth wave of COVID-19 hits Myanmar.

    How are medical workers responding to the pandemic and the coup?

    Myanmar healthcare professionals have shown their strength and commitment, and have been hailed as COVID-19 heroes, since the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. At that time, there were not enough resources to treat those infected and cases began rising; deaths reached a total of 3,209 (according to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) website, COVID-19 Dashboard data updated on 4 May 2021). But, due to our admirable health heroes and good leadership, the slope of COVID-19 infections declined in late 2020 and people in Myanmar began to receive vaccines in the last week of January 2021. Myanmar was the third country to have a COVID-19 vaccination programme in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region, right after more developed countries such as Indonesia and Singapore.

    But all these positive developments have been destroyed overnight. On 1 February, all elected government officials, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were detained. People have not been willing to accept this takeover by an abusive military junta and are showing their anger on the streets. The military forces have brutally cracked down on the protests with lethal weapons and real bullets. This has led to 769 people being killed as of 4 May, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). Due to the military coup, government workers left their jobs to join the CDM. It was medical workers from the MOHS who initiated this movement, and they were followed by those in other departments and ministries.

    Therefore, the military has targeted government staff involved in the CDM protest movement and those who support them. They have tried to arrest them using a new provision in the Penal Code, Section 505A, that can be used to punish comments regarding the illegitimacy of the coup or the military government, among other violations. These are punishable with up to three years in prison.

    By doing so, the military turned medical workers from heroes to criminals overnight. The military spokesperson for the Tatmadaw Information Team, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, has even accused government doctors who withdrew their services after joining the CDM of murdering people in cold blood.

    In reality, CDM doctors are helping the public in various ways, including by providing free treatment at private hospitals and charity clinics, making home visits and providing telephone counselling. Due to the military coup, people have faced numerous challenges and insecurity both day and night. Curfews are in place from 8 pm to 6 am in all states and regions except Rakhine State. In addition, the internet is blocked for those accessing it via SIM cards and Wi-Fi services; as a result, most people lack internet access and the flow of information is restricted. All these conditions have had a major impact on people’s ability to reach out to healthcare services on time.

    What risks do medical workers face for speaking out?

    Currently, all the medical doctors who help anti-coup protesters risk arrest and those who joined the CDM are on an arrest list. Up to now, according to AAPP data, more than 4,700 people, including elected leaders, election commissioners, anti-regime protesters, teachers, doctors, journalists, writers, artists and civilians, have been arrested since the coup. Therefore, if we speak out, we face a high risk of arrest anytime, any day in any place.

    According to the latest information, not even free charity clinics are now allowed to accept CDM doctors or admit wounded patients for treatment. The military is also acting against private hospitals, which are forced to shut down, and have their doctors arrested if they accept CDM doctors’ consultations.

    Have you witnessed military violence against civilians?

    On the evening of 9 April, reports began emerging that security forces had killed scores of people in the city of Bago, about 80 kilometres north-east of Yangon, after unleashing heavy weapons and grenades to disperse protesters occupying barricades. Before launching the operation in Bago, the armed forces had blocked the roads, preventing ambulances from picking up the wounded, many of whom were eventually dumped in a monastery compound.

    At least 80 people were killed in Bago that day, but the final death toll will probably never be known. Something else we will likely never know is how many of the wounded died because they did not receive treatment. I arrived in Bago three days later to help treat the wounded. It was a difficult task. Many injured protesters were in hiding, for fear they would be arrested if they sought treatment. We were also told that volunteer medical workers had been detained by the security forces.

    As a frontline medical volunteer, I have regularly witnessed the brutality of the junta’s operations to disperse protesters. The first time was during a protest near Thanlyin Technological University in the outer south-eastern Yangon Region on 9 March. Troops had occupied the campus, and students were protesting peacefully to demand that they leave. The security forces suddenly opened fire with live rounds, leaving several people injured. We began treating some of the injured in a safe house not far from the site of the protest, but then soldiers arrived nearby, and we had to quickly evacuate the patients to another safe house. Thankfully, we managed to get them to a safe location and continued treating them.

    How can the international community support medical workers?

    Attacks on health facilities and personnel must be documented by national and international bodies. We are lucky that the World Health Organization has a surveillance system on attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel, which are recorded daily. From 1 February to 30 April, there were at least 158 attacks on healthcare facilities, vehicles, staff and supplies, as well as against patients, resulting in 11 deaths and 51 injuries. These facts help people understand the scope of the problem and can guide the design of interventions to prevent and respond to the attacks. But in Myanmar, there isn’t a leading organisation that can take action to prevent attacks and violence against healthcare personnel. Therefore, we need international pressure on Myanmar authorities and need international humanitarian organisations to address this issue seriously. 

    The international community should stand together with us in condemning the attacks on healthcare facilities and workers and unite with Myanmar healthcare workers in speaking out forcefully against all acts of discrimination, intimidation and violence against healthcare workers and facilities. Support to frontline medical workers in the form of medicines and other emergency aid would also be welcome.

    What is your hope for Myanmar?

    I wish for a day when all our healthcare workers receive full respect in accordance with our professional role. In other countries, medical professionals also held protests against their government, but their governments engaged with them and worked out agreements to end the protests because medical workers deal with millions of patients and in a democracy, their protests could have an impact on elected officials. Therefore, doctors’ strikes in other countries did not last long.

    It is the opposite in Myanmar. The military has unleashed a brutal crackdown on striking doctors and has arrested health workers. Doctors who are involved in the CDM can be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment. CDM doctors have also been arrested at their homes and even in their clinics while providing treatment to patients. Therefore, it will be a very meaningful day for all our medical workers in Myanmar when we get full respect for our work.

    We also aspire to have a professional body that can protect all healthcare workers from attacks. The Myanmar Medical Association and Medical Council have silently witnessed the arrest of our brothers and sisters in the medical sector. We should receive full protection from a strong medical association.

    Last but not least, according to medical ethics reflected in the Hippocratic Oath, we have a full duty of care for the safety of patients that require treatment. Treatment of needy patients in an emergency should not be seen as a crime. But our medical teams are targeted for arrest for providing medical assistance. We wish one day all our medical workers will have freedom of care with no limitation.

    Civic space inMyanmaris rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘For the government, these fraudulent elections were a total failure’

    CIVICUS discusses the recent elections in Nicaragua, characterised by the banning of candidates, fraud and repression, with a woman human rights defender from a national platform of Nicaraguan civil society, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

    Nicaragua elections Nov 2021

    What was the political context in which the 7 November presidential election took place?

    The context began to take shape in 2006, with the pact between the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Daniel Ortega, and the then-ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), led by former president Arnoldo Alemán. The aim of the so-called ‘Alemán-Ortega pact’ was to establish a two-party system dominated by both leaders, which did not work out for both: it resulted in a complete restructuring of the political system, including a reform of the constitution and the modification of election dates, which allowed the FSLN – which had failed to win the presidency on several occasions – to win the 2006 election with 38 per cent of the vote, never to leave power since.

    Once in power, the FSLN carried out several constitutional and electoral law reforms ordered by Daniel Ortega, in collusion with legislative, judicial and electoral institutions, to impose a constitution tailored to its needs and to allow himself to be re-elected indefinitely.

    Since the most recent package of electoral changes, carried out in May 2021, the electoral stage was already set so that the current government would win the election. The changes gave the FSLN control of the entire electoral structure, gave the police the power to authorise or ban opposition political rallies and took away funding for candidates.

    Already in December 2020, the National Assembly had passed a law to neutralise opposition candidacies: under the pretext of rejecting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs, it prohibited the candidacies of people who had participated in the 2018 protests, labelled by the government as an attempted coup d’état financed by foreign powers.

    All these laws were applied by state institutions in a way that resulted in the banning of all democratic candidates who could in any way be viewed as positioned to defeat the FSLN candidate. The result was an election lacking all real competition.

    Was there any attempt to postpone the election until the proper conditions were met?

    First, in the context of the 2018 protests, which were heavily repressed and resulted in hundreds of deaths, several groups, including the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, proposed holding an early election to resolve the crisis. Some also considered the possibility of forcing the resignation of the president due to his responsibility for the systematic human rights violations committed in the context of the 2018 protests.

    But Ortega refused to call an early election, and instead challenged the alleged ‘coup perpetrators’ protesting against him to get the people’s vote in the 2021 election. In the meantime, instead of proceeding with the electoral reform that had been demanded for years, he set about preparing the ground so that no one could challenge him in the elections.

    With the 2021 electoral process already underway, and in view of the fact that there would be no real competition, voices from civil society recommended suspending and rescheduling an election that would be clearly illegitimate and lacking in credibility, but this call was not echoed.

    How do you assess the election results?

    Clearly the overwhelming majority of Nicaraguan citizens viewed these elections as illegitimate, since only about 10 per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote. Some of those who did vote are government supporters, while others – such as members of the military and police and public servants – were compelled by fear and their work circumstances.

    These claims are supported by polling data from various civil society groups inside and outside Nicaragua, such as Coordinadora Civil, Mujeres Organizadas and Urnas Abiertas. On election day, some of these organisations did a quick poll on the ground, twice – morning and afternoon – and documented. through photos, videos and testimonies by some election observers invited by the government, that the majority of the population did not turn out to vote.

    From civil society’s perspective, these elections were a complete failure for the government, as they gave us all the elements to demonstrate at the international level that the president does not meet the minimum conditions of legitimacy to remain in office. It is not only Nicaraguans who do not recognise the results of these elections: more than 40 countries around the world have not recognised them either. The government conducted a fraudulent election to gain legitimacy, but it failed to do so because no one recognises it at the national or international level.

    What is the outlook for Nicaraguan civil society following the election?

    The panorama has not changed. What awaits us is more of the same: more repression, more persecution, more kidnappings, more political prisoners, more exiles. At the same time, this unresponsive and unaccountable government is completely incapable of solving any of Nicaragua’s problems, so poverty, unemployment and insecurity will also continue to deepen.

    In response, we can do nothing but sustain resistance and try to break the chains of fear, because fear is what this illegitimate government rules through.

    What kind of international support does Nicaraguan civil society need?

    Nicaraguan civil society needs all kinds of support, from support for building and strengthening alliances to amplify our voices, so we can publicise the political situation in Nicaragua and demand action in international forums, to financial and in-kind support to equip us with the tools with which to do our work, sustain our organisations and provide protection for human rights defenders who are being persecuted and attacked.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Nicaragua is currently on ourWatch List, which includes cases in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place. 

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘María Esperanza’s case is part of a growing process of criminalisation of social protest’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ana Lucía Álvarez, Nicaragua officer of the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), about the case of María Esperanza Sánchez, unjustly imprisoned in Nicaragua since March 2020, and the ongoing campaign for her release.

    IM-Defensoras is a network of activists and organisations from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua that seeks to provide a comprehensive, regional response to the increasing violence against women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica. Founded in 2010, it seeks to empower and connect women defenders involved in various organisations and social movements to strengthen networks of protection and solidarity among them and to increase the visibility, recognition and impact of their human rights work.

    Ana Lucia AlvarezEntrevista

    How long has María Esperanza been in prison, and why?

    María Esperanza was captured on 26 January 2020. She is an activist who for a long time accompanied relatives of political prisoners. I believe she began her activism and her organisation after the citizens’ uprising of April 2018. She was already being persecuted, so she was staying in a safe house. The police illegally and arbitrarily raided the house, without a search warrant, and arrested her. She was accused of trafficking narcotics, psychotropics and other controlled substances to the detriment of public health. Her trial is being handled by lawyer Julio Montenegro, who specialises in cases of criminalisation of protest and judicial prosecution of activists and human rights defenders. 

    Do you consider María Esperanza’s case to be part of a broader attack on civic space in Nicaragua?

    There is definitely a growing process of criminalisation of social protest in Nicaragua. The first upsurge in criminalisation came after Operation Clean-up, which ended around August 2018. This was a pseudo-military operation carried out by police and para-police forces to dismantle any organisation of territorial protection that the population had built through barricades in neighbourhoods and roadblocks around the country.

    Once Operation Clean-up was over, the criminalisation of those who had taken part in the civic struggle began. More than 800 people became political prisoners, before being released in 2019 by unilateral decision of the government through the Amnesty Law.

    María Esperanza had already been persecuted, harassed, put under surveillance and threatened before she was imprisoned for her human rights work. Her arrest and trial, like those of so many others, were plagued by irregularities. Violations of due process are systematic. In Nicaragua, the justice system is totally co-opted. It has collapsed and is under the control of the presidential couple: President Daniel Ortega and his vice-president and wife, Rosario Murillo.

    How has the situation of civil society changed since the 2018 wave of protests?

    More than 350 people were killed in a span of six months during the 2018 protests. The symbolic and emotional weight of that death toll in a country that has experienced civil wars, dictatorships and armed uprisings has been tremendous. In Nicaragua there has never been accountability, there have always been policies of wiping the slate clean, which has deepened the wounds.

    In addition to the suffering of the 350 dead, there were over 800 people imprisoned for political reasons, and while many have since been released from prison, we purposefully say that they have been released rather than that they are free, because after their release, political persecution has not ended for them. Systematic harassment by police and para-police forces continues, and it becomes an obstacle to the enjoyment of many rights, including the right to work.

    For these people, the effects of the economic crisis that the country is currently experiencing are compounded by the difficulties brought about by political persecution. They often cannot leave their home because there is a patrol outside, or they go out and they are followed, and then those who follow them learn the names of their employers and start to harass them as well.

    Persecution happens at the local, neighbourhood level. The ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, has established various structures that are used to maintain territorial control through surveillance and repression: Councils of Citizen Power, Family Cabinets and Sandinista Leadership Committees. If you are an opponent or a human rights defender, there will always be a neighbour of yours who is involved in one of these structures and informs the regime and the police of what you are doing, and then you start to be persecuted and harassed, and maybe at some point you get arbitrarily arrested.

    Harassment and hypervigilance cause psychological damage not only to the persecuted individual but also to their family. This has had an impact on the increase in emigration, which is a dual phenomenon, caused by both political persecution and social need. Since 2018, 120,000 people have left Nicaragua, a huge number for a country of just six million.

    The 2021 presidential election openly exposed the regime’s lack of legitimacy. On what basis does the government stand?

    In the run-up to the 2021 election, persecution was only exacerbated. In order to carry out the electoral farce of November, the government imprisoned 10 presidential pre-candidates and many people with a key role in the electoral process and in the formation of alternatives. This sent a very clear message, as a result of which there is still a lot of self-censorship.

    Daniel Ortega has continued to concentrate and consolidate his power. We are currently living under a regime that has become totalitarian, where all freedoms are totally restricted. This is the only way the government can sustain itself, because it has no legitimacy. That is why repression and social control continue to increase rather than decrease. In the absence of such levels of repression and social control, the very high level of popular rejection of the regime would make it impossible for it to maintain political control.

    As a result, repression, territorial control, neighbourhood repression, the criminalisation of protest and social dissent, and the closing of spaces for the exercise of the freedom of expression and media freedoms can be expected to continue.

    Now a combination of laws has been passed that includes a Cybercrime Law. And we have already seen the first political prisoner convicted under this law, which does nothing other than criminalise the freedom of opinion.

    What the government is looking for with political prisoners is to use them as hostages. Among the people arrested recently are presidential candidates, businesspeople, bankers, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders. The government is trying to negotiate their release to gain legitimacy and international approval.

    The truth is that the government has no international support. The only foreign leaders who attended the presidential inauguration were Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and outgoing Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández.

    How can the international community support Nicaraguan civil society in its struggle for the recovery of democracy and human rights?

    We need to amplify denunciations of violations and sharpen accountability mechanisms. Civil society in Nicaragua has made a tremendous effort not only to document human rights violations but also to identify their perpetrators. Given that the justice system in Nicaragua has collapsed, and that civil society is doing everything within its power, the onus is on the international community to push for accountability and punishment of those responsible.

    Daniel Ortega’s regime is no longer a political project but an economic enterprise. Its control of the state allows Ortega to use corruption networks to his advantage. In the light of this, the international community should fine-tune its mechanisms, review economic sanctions and identify the companies that continue to do business, not always entirely legally, with the Ortega regime. Since many association agreements have democratic and anti-corruption clauses, they need to be made operational. Personal sanctions must also be imposed on the architects of corruption and repression.

    What kind of pressure should be exerted to get María Esperanza Sanchez released?

    María Esperanza was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Everything that has happened to her and to the rest of the political prisoners is completely arbitrary; that is precisely why we consider them to be political prisoners. What we demand is the unconditional and guaranteed release of them all.

    What happens to them will depend to a large extent on the strength with which the opposition and the international community manage to exert pressure, and on the correlation of forces that is established between the Nicaraguan government and the human rights movement.

    We must campaign and keep up the pressure. We must continue to put our finger on all the arbitrariness, illegalities and human rights violations. There are still people in Europe and other parts of the world who think Ortega is the idealistic revolutionary of the past, and not the despot he has become. The best way to expose dictators and human rights abusers is to keep communicating the truth on the basis of well-documented evidence.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Nicaragua is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with IM-Defensoras through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@IM_Defensoras on Twitter.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘The regime seeks to annihilate all forms of autonomous citizen organisation’

    CIVICUS speaks with María Teresa Blandón, a Nicaraguan human rights defender and director of Feminist Programme La Corriente, a civil society organisation (CSO) whose legal status was recently cancelled by the authoritarian regime led by President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo.

    Maria Teresa Blandon

    What is the reason for the current wave of intensified in repression in Nicaragua?

    Repression increased on the eve of the fraudulent 2021 elections, when the state specifically targeted the leaders of the main opposition groups who had been building alliances to participate in the elections, because even though they knew that conditions were extremely adverse, they insisted that this was the way out of the crisis.

    From January 2022 onwards, the Ortega-Murillo regime further escalated its offensive, possibly due to a failure in its political calculations: it had thought that once the electoral fraud had been consummated and the opposition was thrown in jail, the opposition would abdicate its role and the regime would obtain the endorsement of the international community.

    But neither of these things happened: the opposition did not resign itself and there was no international support; on the contrary, the regime’s isolation only deepened. The Nicaraguan opposition continued to constantly denounce the establishment of a de facto police state and to call for the regime’s exit through civic means. The CSOs that managed to remain in the country continued to denounce systematic human rights violations and repression, hence the approval of new laws to strip them of their legal status and assets.

    Faced with a lack of legitimacy, the Ortega-Murillo regime has deepened its strategy of annihilating any form of citizen organisation that is not subordinate to its interests. To date, more than 1,600 CSOs have been eliminated by the National Assembly and in many cases their assets have been confiscated through the application of laws that openly violate our country’s constitution, which recognises the right to free association and expressly prohibits confiscation.

    Until very recently, the power to cancel an organisation’s legal personality was in the hands of the National Assembly, but a new law assigned it to the Ministry of the Interior, which now has the absolute power to decide who has the right to associate and who does not. The procedure has been expedited and there is no recourse to appeal, which clearly speaks of the situation of defencelessness Nicaraguan civil society finds itself in.

    The judiciary has remained silent in the face of the unconstitutionality appeals filed in 2021, following the approval of the Law on Foreign Agents, which obliges CSOs that receive funds from international cooperation sources to report their activities at a level of detail that makes it practically impossible for them to operate.

    This way, the regime eliminates all forms of autonomous participation, leaves activists and human rights defenders in a more precarious situation, and obtains the resources it needs to feed the clientelist practices that are its trademark.

    One of the problems faced by the regime is precisely its lack of resources to sustain the community development projects carried out by many of the eliminated CSOs. It can no longer count on support from Venezuela, nor can it continue to expand the family businesses that the Ortega-Murillo clan has built while in power. Many of these companies have been sanctioned, including the one that monopolises the fuel business, which has forced them to carry out various manoeuvres to keep them active.

    What work does your organisation do?

    Feminist Programme La Corriente has existed for almost 30 years and was born with the aim of contributing to generating critical thought and encouraging new forms of participation by women in Central America. Over the last 15 years we have expanded our work with young people and sexual and gender dissident collectives.

    Throughout our journey, we have contributed to challenging heterosexism, misogyny and macho violence and built vital networks for the defence of rights. We have prioritised issues related to the prevention of violence, voluntary motherhood, women’s right to decide about their bodies and respect for sexual and gender diversity.

    Efforts to research the reality experienced by women, young people and dissident bodies have been key to the development of training and public communication programmes. For us it is of vital importance to strengthen collective action through social movements capable of thinking and acting on the changes required by Nicaraguan society. We are also part of Central American and Latin American networks and alliances, from where we contribute to advocacy processes with governments and global institutions.

    Precisely because we generate critical thought and defend rights, in May this year the National Assembly cancelled our legal status and in early July the police took over our facilities.

     

    On what grounds was the organisation ordered to shut down?

    Generally speaking, the arguments put forward by the Sandinista deputies who control parliament include an unfounded accusation that CSOs are potential money launderers because they receive funding from foreign sources, deliberately ignoring the fact that these sources are linked to governments and duly established cooperation agencies.

    They also cite alleged bureaucratic infractions such as the expiry of the term of the board of directors, failure to update statutes and refusal to provide information requested by the Ministry of the Interior. On the latter point, it is worth highlighting the abusive ministry’s intervention: in accordance with the new law, it requires CSOs to submit detailed information on each activity to be carried out and personal data of the people with whom they work.

    Such demands denaturalise the meaning of CSOs, turning them into an extension of the state, clear evidence of the totalitarian zeal of this regime. It is clearly an attempt to impose a model of absolute control that requires the dismantling of all forms of autonomous civil society participation.

    Likewise, by shutting down CSOs that work with low-income groups of the population, the regime is trying to regain control of what it thinks of as its social base, which it seeks to recover or retain by means of clientelist policies. This is why it has eliminated organisations that promote access to education for low-income children and young people, fulfil the needs of people with disabilities, promote access to land and other resources for rural and Indigenous women and provide sexual and reproductive health services and support for women who are victims of violence, among others. 

    CSOs that work in the field of citizen participation from a rights-based perspective and with a clear focus on the defence of democratic values have also been closed. They have been declared opponents of the regime and their representatives have been subjected to surveillance, threats, exile and imprisonment. It is also a kind of revenge for generating evidence that contradicts the official discourse and denouncing the systematic violation of rights by the Sandinista regime.

    Why has the regime specifically targeted feminist organisations?

    Hostility against Nicaraguan feminists dates back to the 1980s. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), as a guerrilla force turned into party that came to power, never really reflected on the patriarchal logics of power, but simply replicated them unceremoniously.

    The feminists of my generation had to endure an authoritarian and abusive relationship with the Sandinista government, which at different times expressed discomfort with the existence of women’s organisations, because from their perspective this weakened the unity of revolutionary forces.

    They exercised their veto power to prevent women’s collectives from placing demands related to macho violence and sexual and reproductive rights on the public agenda. The leaders of these collectives were silenced and forced to take on the priorities set by the ruling party leadership.

    The watershed that marked the feminist movement’s definitive break with the FSLN occurred in the late 1990s, when Zoilamérica Narváez, daughter of Rosario Murillo, who is both Daniel Ortega’s wife and Vice President, denounced the abuses committed by her stepfather for more than 20 years. When feminists clearly stood on the victim’s side it meant a break with the FSLN leadership, which has since perceived us as enemies. Zoilamérica’s denunciation encouraged further accusations involving other members of the FSLN national leadership, including the late Tomás Borge.

    Additionally, during the 2005-2006 electoral campaign, part of the feminist movement participated in an electoral alliance of opposition parties that included the Sandinista Renovation Movement, now UNAMOS, which the FSLN considers traitors to the revolution for having demanded democratisation of the party and questioned Ortega’s authoritarian and strongman leadership.

    As he returned to power in 2007, it immediately became clear that Ortega’s strategy was to dismantle feminist networks, which by that point had increased their capacity to put forward ideas and influence Nicaraguan society. The stigmatisation campaign began with a speech by Murillo in which she accused feminists of trafficking in women’s suffering and of wanting to impose a way of life alien to Nicaraguan culture. That same year, the government began to pressure international aid agencies to suspend their support for feminist collectives, causing many of them to leave the country.

    Among the main strands of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s discourse was its supposed commitment to gender equality: they proclaimed as a key advance the achievement of gender parity in all branches of government. This idea was taken up by United Nations (UN) bodies and multilateral financial institutions, but feminists provided clear evidence confirming the persistence of inequalities and the absence of public policies to address women’s demands.

    The absolute criminalisation of abortion, the absence of policies to prevent and punish macho violence, including sexual abuse against girls and adolescents, which is prevalent in Nicaragua, the absence of sex education, the failure to comply with the law that established the creation of a fund to distribute land to rural women and the violation of the labour rights of workers in foreign factories are among the many problems that remain unresolved by a regime that dares to compare itself with the countries that have made the most progress in terms of gender equality in the world.

    What should donors, and the international community in general, do to help Nicaraguan civil society?

    In such turbulent times and with so many hotspots of tension in the world, it is hard to appeal for solidarity with Nicaraguan society, which continues to bet on civic and peaceful change to move away from this new dictatorship and lay the foundations for the country’s democratisation.

    However, we must continue to appeal to democratic governments, regardless of their ideology, so they do not look away from what is happening in Nicaragua and support our just demands for the immediate release of political prisoners, the suspension of the police state, an end to the persecution of CSOs and the Catholic Church and the full restoration of our rights.

    We call for a coherent position on the part of democratic governments, UN agencies, multilateral financial institutions, regional integration blocs and political party forums to avoid any action that could contribute to prolonging the stay of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship in power.

    At this point it is inadmissible that they denounce the regime’s systematic human rights violations, including the commission of crimes against humanity, while at the same time voting in favour of granting loans to the very same regime, which in addition to increasing a debt that is already greater than the country’s GDP gives it greater room for manoeuvre to remain in power.

    Active support for human rights defenders, independent journalists and CSOs is vital to sustain hope for democratic change that does not impose further suffering on the Nicaraguan people.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with La Corriente through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@LaCorrienteNica on Twitter. 

     

  • Pakistan:‘International support to civil society must come with understanding of our political & societal context’

    Rabia Mehmood

    CIVICUS speaks about the political situation in Pakistan since the removal of its Prime Minister Imran Khan with journalist and researcher Rabia Mehmood.

    Rabia Mehmoodis the co-founder of a bi-lingual multimedia news outlet Naya Daur TV and a web-show host covering human rights and social justice stories. She is the former South Asia Researcher for Amnesty International. Her work focuses on state repression, impunity and persecution of religious minorities.

    What led to the ousting of Imran Khan as prime minister through a no-confidence vote?

    Khan was ousted from power in April through a constitutional vote of no confidence brought about by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a parliamentary coalition of multiple parties. The coalition secured 174 votes in the 342-member house in support of the no-confidence motion.

    That was the tipping point after weeks of political upheaval. Khan’s administration was criticised by the opposition for failures in governance, soaring inflation and for plunging the country into a diplomatic crisis as his foreign policy distanced Pakistan from the USA.

    To try to block the vote, Khan dissolved the lower house of parliament, but the Supreme Court declared the dissolution unconstitutional. Following the parliamentary vote, Shehbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was appointed the new Prime Minister. Sharif is a long-time rival of Khan.

    Since the July 2018 election, the opposition claimed that Khan’s ascent to power was enabled by political engineering by the country’s military establishment. His administration was termed a ‘hybrid regime’, in which Khan was the civilian face of the generals. The key reason behind Khan’s removal is believed to be his falling out with powerful forces within the military, often referred to as the ‘deep state’.

    Regarding the involvement of the military in Pakistan’s political unrest, it is important to note that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is considered by many to be the most powerful position in Pakistan. The current COAS, Qamar Bajwa, appointed by Nawaz Sharif in 2016, is finally due to retire in November after six years.

    Sharif was disqualified in 2017 and put behind bars following a corruption scandal. But after Khan won the election in 2018, he granted Bajwa an extension in August 2019. Bajwa was at the time known to be a great believer in the Khan project, along with the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Faiz Hameed, now Commander of Peshawar Corps. But Bajwa, it appears, has now withdrawn support from Khan.

    Hameed is known to have a different relationship with Khan, and Khan was reliant on him. He was deeply involved in the Khan administration’s repression, in addition to engineering unrest on the streets by an alt-right Islamist group in 2017, which led to further disruption of Sharif’s party.

    It remains to be seen whether Bajwa is seeking yet another extension in November or a safe and comfortable exit, which would pave the way for a new COAS. Analysts estimate that Khan had to be got rid of due to these possible changes in November, and it was an easy task for the military to replace Khan because of his administration’s unsatisfactory governance and economic performance.

    The military has repeatedly claimed to be a ‘neutral umpire’ during this political fiasco. In the run-up to Khan’s ousting and afterwards, Khan’s tactics, of slamming the armed forces and the current ISI chief, show his dissatisfaction with the military institution’s neutrality.

    How has Khan responded?

    In response to the vote of no confidence, Khan also accused the US government of orchestrating regime change in Pakistan. This allegation is based on a diplomatic cable that he claimed was ‘evidence’. When Khan dissolved the assembly ahead of the vote, he had resolved to present the diplomatic cable as evidence of foreign intervention.

    It was later reported that the military explained to parliament’s National Security Committee in March that it had found no evidence of US involvement in regime change, something the White House concurred with.

    In April, as soon as Khan was ousted, he and his party leaders began using terms like ‘American conspiracy’ and ‘international conspiracy’, online and offline. Khan called his opponents ‘thieves’ and ‘traitors’, and one of his close aides called in a public rally for the execution of the ‘traitor opposition’. During his public and press addresses, Khan has called for mutiny, incited his party supporters to commit civil disobedience and encouraged them to retaliate physically.

    Since then Khan has held multiple public rallies across Pakistan and in July his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), swept by-elections in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, and traditionally a PMLN stronghold. Now the already weak incumbent central government in the centre is facing further hostility from Punjab.

    Khan has been calling for general elections. His narrative has a strong following in the country, and his support base appears to be in resurgence.

    What is the current political and economic situation?

    Pakistan is stuck in limbo due to a worsening political, legal and economic crisis. The leadership is divided between the Sharif-led coalition government and federal ministries led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), such as the ministry of foreign affairs. Provinces are also split between different parties, with Khan’s PTI leading in the two provinces.

    The coalition government is weak and uncertainty over its immediate future looms large. Analysts assume that the ‘deep state’ will not allow for a strong civilian central government, and that a divided parliament is what it seeks to achieve.

    The new government has taken over a fragile economy. Pakistan entered the International Monetary Fund programme in 2019, and the most recent funding was due in February, but fuel and power tariff caps imposed by the Khan administration halted the next cycle. The new government has now managed to negotiate and get clearance for another payment, but this has come at the price of tough economic decisions, with the burden impacting on the working masses and the salaried class.

    Fuel prices have increased exponentially, which are causing a rise in commodity prices and exacerbating food inflation. Meanwhile, political and economic uncertainty is also causing the currency to depreciate quickly. In the budget for the current fiscal year, the government increased tax and hiked fuel prices. Pakistan’s foreign debt is US$6.4 billion, but at least the immediate risk of bankruptcy has reduced for now.

    Access to basic services, free healthcare and education and adequate housing is increasingly out of reach of most of Pakistan’s 220 million people. Pakistan is essentially a poor country with some very rich families and an army with a massive budget. Instability is having severe repercussions for citizens in terms of their rights and the rule of law.

    Civilian and military rulers have been too reliant on seeking bailout packages instead of focusing on long-term solutions such as taxing the rich and the corporate sector, or developing agriculture and increasing industrial exports. Economic stagnation, however, is not the fault of just one government.

    Has the removal of Khan had a positive influence on Pakistan’s repressed civic space?

    Pakistan’s track record on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression has been murky for decades. Civil society groups and activists have long been labelled as foreign agents, funded by anti-Pakistan forces. It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist in. Religious minorities are persecuted and discriminated against through institutions, draconian laws and violence. Ethnic minorities are brutalised for demanding basic rights and protections from the state. The military establishment and security agencies operate with impunity.

    In that context, the battle to defend civic space and media freedom is not new. But since the run-up to the July 2018 election, Pakistanis have been subjected to one of the most repressive eras of the country’s history. Press censorship has been widespread, curtailing any media attempts to question or report on significant issues such as Sharif’s disqualification, the role of the judiciary and military and reports of election rigging.

    Khan established his place as a populist leader, and was called a press predator by Reporters Without Borders. During the Khan administration, journalists, human rights defenders (HRDs) and dissenting citizens were targeted with trumped-up charges of sedition, cyber terrorism and defamation of national institutions, along with arbitrary arrests, raids, disappearances, surveillance and beatings. Journalists were arbitrarily arrested for questioning and reporting on the alleged involvement in corruption of Khan’s wife, Bushara Bibi. Mainstream cable news networks were only allowed to attack opposition parties and their leaders, and portray Khan as the supreme leader. Civil rights movements, such as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Mahaz, were subjected to a discriminatory crackdown. Their rights to freedoms of movement, peaceful assembly and expression, online and offline, have been continuously violated.

    To a degree, Khan’s ousting has given slight breathing space to Pakistan’s repressed HRDs, civil society and journalists. The difference could be that reprisals can be documented in the press, by domestic rights monitors and be televised, with less fear. But this is only relative, as red lines for both the media and civil society still exist.

    The threats and discrimination against ethnic, religious and sexual minorities continue. There are incidents of the use of force against peaceful protesting families of disappeared members of Baloch people, enforced disappearances and discriminatory harassment of Baloch students. A former journalist was arbitrarily detained over online criticism of the army chief. While peacefully protesting, civil society collectives, HRDs and families of the disappeared were shelled in the city of Quetta on 21 July.

    Severely partisan journalists who acted as agents of disinformation and supported the Khan administration by actively targeting minorities, critical media, HRDs and the opposition are now on the receiving end of hostility from security agencies, as they are questioning the military over its alleged role in Khan’s ousting and lack of support for him.

    What is the future of Pakistan’s democracy?

    It appears to be bleak. Pakistan’s democratic process has been undermined severely by decades of dictatorships, the military establishment’s concealed intervention in civilian rule, the dubious role of the judiciary and a short-sighted, craven approach by civilian political parties.

    Since its inception, Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators directly for 33 years, and they have controlled who gets to rule and how from behind the scenes. No civilian prime minister has ever completed their full five-year term. Real power lies in the hands of the generals, who set up hybrid regimes in collaboration with civilian leaders.

    General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the government of PPP’s charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a coup d’état in 1977. In 1979, Bhutto was executed by a severely partisan Supreme Court, while Zia became president. Over the decades, the capitulation of the civilian ruling elite and the role of the judiciary in sanctioning coups have also contributed to the derailing of the country’s ever-fragile democracy.

    For example, former Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification was widely believed to have been a consequence of a ‘judicial coup’. The National Accountability Bureau chaired by a former Supreme Court judge was severely partisan and flawed, and used to victimise leaders of the PMLN and PPP.

    Decades of conflict in the north-western region, the military’s reliance on militant groups as its proxies and the current resurgence of militant outfits at the border all pose a threat to Pakistan’s stability and consequently its democracy. Sectarian outfits are enduring. Nationalist ethnicities in Sindh and elsewhere are treated with extreme suspicion, which causes the growth of their young people’s resentment towards the state.

    For example, the armed insurgency in Balochistan province has its roots in a lack of trust in the military and the state’s discriminatory policies. The people of the mineral-rich province are poor and have been subjected to human rights abuses and violence for years. Meanwhile, barely any efforts to build trust among Baloch people have been made by state institutions. The militarisation of multiple regions and violence perpetrated on citizens are contrary to democratic norms.

    Unless the constitution and parliament are held supreme in the true sense of the word, and intervention by the powers-that-be isn’t kept in check, Pakistan’s democracy will not be able to address its many challenges and will remain at risk.

    How has civil society engaged with political developments? What kind of international support does Pakistani civil society need?

    Civil society and collectives of HRDs have responded to the political developments with caution but courage. Civil society and HRDs understand where the centre of power lies in Pakistan. Yet it has not stopped them from asking the right questions and leading human rights campaigns. Overall, from larger civil society organisations to smaller but critical collectives, civil society has stood in support of the primacy of parliament, the constitution and democratic processes.

    Years of demonisation of civil society and labelling of HRDs and journalists as anti-state and servers of foreign, western agendas have made it easy for propagandists and authoritarian sections of the state to put targets on the backs of people. International solidarity is essential for Pakistani civil society. But now with disinformation and propaganda smear campaigns on the rise, the support must come with an understanding of the political and societal context of Pakistan.

    Religious, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities, journalists, civil society workers and HRDs remain at risk, not only due to state reprisals but also the threat of violence from extremist groups.

    Relief and protection of at-risk communities are not possible without the support and alliance of regional and like-minded international civil society networks. Exchange among civil society networks across regions must also continue to come up with new ways of fighting systems of oppression.


    Civic space in Pakistan is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Rabia Mehmood through her Twitter account@Rabail26.

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘The counter-terrorism law is used to restrict political work in Palestine & shrink civic space in Israel’

    CIVICUS speaks withEinat Fogel-Levin, International Advocacy Coordinator for the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), about growing restrictions on Palestinian civil society. HRDF is an Israeli civil society organisation (CSO) working to protect Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders (HRDs) by providing legal aid and defence to those facing various forms of legal persecution and fending off attacks on their bodies, persons and work.

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘They label us antisemites or terrorists to silence us and paralyse our human rights work’

    NadimNashifCIVICUS speaks about civil society’s online activism against repression and oppression in Palestine with Nadim Nashif, executive director and co-founder of 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.

    7amleh is a civil society organisation that advocates for Palestinian digital rights. With the aim of creating a safe, fair and free digital space for Palestinians, it researches digital rights, provides training to Palestinian activists and organisations and leads local and international advocacy campaigns.

    What is the focus of 7amleh’s work?

    We focus on digital rights and digital activism. Palestinian people have been living under occupation for the past seven decades. This kind of occupation obviously involves lots of violence, repression and oppression.

    As technology progressed and the internet became part of our lives, the same power relations were replicated in the online world. Palestinians live under siege from the Israeli government. This siege is not only physical; it has also migrated to the virtual world.

    There are frequent attempts to prevent Palestinians from exercising their freedom of expression online. This is done by pressuring companies to exclude Palestinians. For instance, many social media platforms are biased in their policy toward Palestinian content and many digital payment platforms don’t allow Palestinians to use them under various excuses due to Israel’s pressure. PayPal, for instance, is available to Israelis but not Palestinians. Palestinians’ freedom of expression is also limited because they can be arrested for what they post on social media. There’s an evident practice of discrimination against Palestinians.

    Our organisation is recording all these cases of restriction and documenting them to fight for the rights and freedoms of Palestinians.

    How have Palestinians worked around these restrictions to make themselves heard?

    The Palestinian identity is under attack. For instance, the Israeli army doesn’t let the Palestinian flag be raised. But Palestinians have tried to find creative ways to express their identity. For example, to represent their flag while not raising an actual flag, they have chosen to display the flag’s colours. These are the colours that can be found in watermelons, so they will instead draw a watermelon.

    Social media platforms use the available technology, their algorithms and search engines, to cooperate with the Israeli authorities by monitoring speech and deleting content when certain keywords come up. For example, Palestinian political movements are considered by Israel and the USA to be terrorist organisations, so their names are banned from social media. But digital activists are finding ways to write them that trick artificial intelligence, such as by adding full stops between letters. This is how they can still express themselves and find ways not to be banned entirely online. Those are some tactics Palestinians are using to refuse to play by the rules of those who want to limit them and tell them how to think, write and express their national identity.

    Digital activism is key. When you experience human rights violations on a daily basis, the camera becomes a tool of resistance. For many Palestinians, it is the only defence from soldiers and violent settlers attacking them constantly. In many cases, home evictions were prevented because they were livestreamed. That’s why the Israeli government initiated legislation to criminalise photography and video-making.

    Online global solidarity is also key, as shown by the 2021 case of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, in which online solidarity movements applied pressure to prevent house evictions. As a result, the Israeli government’s plan didn’t succeed.

    How have the authorities reacted to this activism?

    They have constantly tried to silence the Palestinian narrative and raise the Israeli one, by criminalising Palestinian activists and sending them to jail. There are cases in which you don’t even understand why someone is in jail.

    I remember the case of a young teenager from Jerusalem who posted on Facebook some phrases about Palestinians needing to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it from Israeli settlers. He spent one and a half years in jail because of this, which was not a call to violence at all. He just said, ‘Hey, this is our holy place, we need to protect it’. You can be sent to jail for saying something about protecting a place! This example is just one of many.

    The Israeli government is pushing many laws and regulations to be able to do this. One of them is the so-called ‘Facebook law’ it is trying to pass. Officially, it’s meant to help deal with harmful content. But it aims to grant Israeli courts the power to demand the removal of user-generated content on social media platforms that can be perceived as inflammatory or as harming the security of the state, people or the public. It is so vague that anything the Israeli authorities don’t like will be sent to the courts, without those affected being able to defend themselves. Using ‘secret evidence’, Israel can order companies to take down content they consider to be illegal. This would obviously be used exclusively against Palestinians.

    Many tactics of online repression are already being used, including lots of online brigading – coordinated actions by groups constantly reporting social media content to the Cyber Unit. Palestinians are under surveillance 24/7, especially on social media. Accounts are continually under surveillance and reported to social media companies. These companies are taking down almost 90 per cent of what the Israeli government asks them to.

    How can international civil society and the international community best support Palestinian civil society?

    I think they must take a firm stand when human rights violations happen. There’s an ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian civil society by labelling us as antisemites or terrorists. These accusations have profound effects: they aim to paralyse Palestinian civil society and prevent it recording human rights violations and atrocities – war crimes – committed against Palestinians.

    Internationally recognised Palestinian human rights organisations have been on the ground for more than four decades and have recorded everything. They clearly have nothing to do with terrorism or antisemitism – all they care about is human rights and democratic values. But many governments around the world fail to reject the accusations against them. Why?

    Any outstanding personality or activist standing up for Palestinians faces a smear campaign. We are trying to develop tools that help us deal with this, but it’s not simple. Palestine is not the only place where this is happening. We’ve seen shrinking civic space and civil society activists and organisations stigmatised as terrorists or terrorist supporters in many other countries in the global south, with many countries of the global north cooperating and supporting the regimes that oppress them.

    No human being would accept having their freedoms taken away without fighting back, as Palestinians do; it’s a natural human reaction. We hope allies and friends from global rights movements, political movements and civil society organisations will stand up for us and raise their voices on our behalf.

    Civic space in Palestine is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with 7amleh through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@7amleh and@NadimNashif on Twitter.

     

     

  • PERU: ‘Political and social instability has already cost dozens of lives’

    NadiaRamosCIVICUS speaks about the political crisis in Peru with Nadia Ramos, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Centre of the Americas and official spokesperson for the Hemispheric Network Somos Lideresas, two organisations that promote women’s leadership and empowerment in Peru and Latin America.

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘If we don’t fight against the system, people will continue to die’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Jhewoung Capatoy, a young climate defender from the Philippines. Jhewoung is a community youth organiser with Young Bataeños Environmental Advocacy Network, a youth environmental organisation that promotes environmentally sustainable development and seeks to create awareness among youth to act to conserve the environment.

    jhewoung capatoy

    Why did you become an activist?

    I come from the Lamao Limay Bataan community, which is about three hours away from the capital of the Philippines, Manila. I decided to get involved because local communities are suffering as a result of the establishment of coal-fired power plants. People are suffering from health issues and are dying as a result of environmental disasters. And people who speak up against this are also getting killed. Being an activist is dangerous, but if no one speaks up and acts against this, the situation will become normalised. If we don’t fight against the system, things will continue to be the way they are: people will continue to die and the impacts of the climate crisis will become unbearable to our communities. Most likely, a lot more people will die.

    Deep down, one reason why I’m doing this is that I have lost people who were very dear to me. I went through an experience that marked me for life when I was in first grade, about seven years old, in 2004. A flash flood killed two neighbours who were also my close friends. Flash floods were caused by the construction of an energy plant in the area. Later on, when I started high school, I got in touch with a youth organisation that worked to protect Mother Nature. I got involved because I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I had realised that my friends had been killed by a corporation that only cared about making money, and by our own government, which colluded with the corporations and allowed everything to happen. Together, corporations and government are too powerful and if nobody stood up against them, they would be able to kill whoever they want. If nobody fought for it, our community would likely be gone in the near future.

    However, being an activist also meant that I would continue to lose people. Soon after I got involved one colleague, a well-known climate defender, Gloria Capitan, was killed. She led the fight against coal-fired power plants because the pollution caused by these corporations in her area were causing people serious respiratory problems and other issues. We believe that both the corporations we were protesting against and our local government are responsible for her killing. We know who shot Gloria Capitan, but the police did not listen. They tried to cover everything up and have the case dismissed.

    Can you tell us more about the work that you do?

    We organise campaigns to educate people about the effects and impacts of dirty industries and how corporations are threatening our right to a secure environment. We organise people and we protest, mostly against coal-fired power plants. We also try to reach policy-makers and bring human rights violations to the attention of human rights bodies. We were once able to reach the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, which investigated what was happening and issued a resolution that acknowledged that these corporations were causing human rights violations in our community, as well as in other communities that have dirty industries in the Philippines. That was one of our greatest achievements because if the resolution is eventually disseminated to the public, we can find a way to hold corporations accountable and bring some reparation to the affected communities.

    Did you take part in the global climate mobilisations in 2019?

    Yes, our youth organisation, Young Bataeños for Environmental Advocacy Network, participated in the global climate strike in September 2019 by holding a local event. There also was a mobilisation in Manila, but we decided to protest locally, staying in the place where the coal-fired power plants are having their worse effects. The reason why we mobilised is that we want to hold these corporations, as well as the government that lets them have their way, responsible for what they are doing to our communities.

    We had been mobilising and protesting since before the global strike, but the global climate strike was a good opportunity to put our issues out there. It was very useful as a framework because it was a global call to make corporations responsible for emissions. But we chose to participate in this global call from our own local communities, without going to demonstrate in Manila, in order to communicate that the reason why we are fighting is that the people in these communities are suffering the worst effects of global warming and the climate crisis. It is the rich of the global north who profit from these big corporations that emit carbon gases, but it is always us, the poor communities of developing countries, who suffer the worst environmental impacts of these industries.

    True, people in developed countries are striking and mobilising, and it is good that they have called attention to what is happening, but let’s always remember that the impacts of the climate crisis are extremely unequal. The impacts that people in the global north are facing are not as devastating as the ones we are suffering in the Philippines. That’s the reason why we are mobilising: because it is us who are experiencing the consequences of their actions. It is not even a matter of choice really. We are a poor country in which people are dying due to the climate crisis, so we are fighting for our lives.

    Have you had any participation in global climate forums?

    Our youth organisation has not been able to take part in any international gathering. We basically have no access to that kind of spaces. Our organisation is local and no one has yet given us the opportunity to be under the spotlight. It would have been good if we had been invited because that would have meant an opportunity for us to represent people at the grassroots level. It is important to advocate for the environment, but you also have to make sure that you are representing the people who are most vulnerable. It is not enough not be there just because you believe that the climate crisis is happening. People should represent the real experiences and those who are negatively impacted by climate change.

    The very people who are suffering the most from the climate emergency should be given the opportunity to speak for themselves. They should be invited to these forums so they can tell the world about their experiences. Those forums are big and impersonal and it would be important for participants to hear the stories of the people who are living in the areas where climate change and dirty industries are having their strongest impact. They are the ones who can really tell what’s happening, beyond what the media is covering, which is far from enough.

    What support does your movement need from international sources, including international civil society?

    Taking part in global networks is very useful for us. For instance, we’ve asked young people from Taiwan, who were participating in the 2019 Climate Action Summit, to send letters to our national and local governments to urge them to stop giving permits for corporations to increase their operations. Our government has planned to authorise two dozen new coal-fired power plants by the year 2030, so we are asking young people from other countries who are better connected to put pressure on our government. Letters coming from outside the country would mean a lot because they would show that our stories are not staying inside the country, that people from the outside world are listening and reacting to the pain and the suffering of the people in the Philippines.

    International organisations like CIVICUS could also help amplify our stories and attract the attention of our government. This then could make our government rethink the path they have taken in generating energy.

    It would be an even bigger help if the international community could help us financially in order to continue with our work. As climate activists, working with the local communities that are directly affected by climate change is always a challenge. I have had to leave my comfort zone, drop out of school and be away from my family. I stay in a community where there is little internet access or transportation. I go to work kilometres away from my house, to organise people, to give them updates and reassure them that I am with them for real. I do it because people need someone they can lean on, someone they can trust their stories with, someone they feel could help them.

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

    Get in touch with the Young Bataeños for Environmental Advocacy Network through itsFacebook page.