India: Government must halt its harassment of human rights activist Harsh Mander

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, condemns the recent raid carried out on facilities associated with human rights defender Harsh Mander who serves as Director of the Centre for Equity Studies and calls on the government of India to stop targeting and intimidating human rights defenders. The raid adds to the long list of restrictions imposed on human rights defenders in the country. 

On 16 September 2021, the Enforcement Directorate under the Ministry of Finance of India conducted the raid on Harsh Mander’s residence, the Centre for Equity Studies’ office, and a children’s home run by the organisation under the pretext of investigating money laundering allegations against him. The raid happened several hours after Harsh Mander departed to Germany to attend a fellowship programme.

Harsh Mander is a prominent human rights defender and social activist who has been critical of the Narendra Modi government. He has raised concerns about how the government  handled the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing attacks on press freedom, and the discriminatory citizenship law passed in 2019 which human rights groups have called ‘unconstitutional and divisive’.

Following the raid, more than 500 activists in India issued a joint statement in solidarity with Harsh Mander and condemned the intimidation tactics.

“The authorities must halt its harassment of human rights activist Harsh Mander. These actions conducted by the Enforcement Directorate is a clear tactic to intimidate and criminalise the defender. It also creates a chilling effect on government critics and is a strategy to force many to self-censorship.”, said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher for the Asia Pacific.

Similar raids were conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in October 2020 on two children’s homes associated with him based on accusations of financial irregularities and illicit activities.

These raids highlight an ongoing pattern of baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges brought by the authorities against activists across India that has been documented by the CIVICUS Monitor.  This includes the use of a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter-terrorism legislation - to imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics.  Some have been in pre-trial detention for years.

“It is appalling that activists in India are facing harassment just for speaking up for human rights. The government must drop all charges against them and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained. It must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals,” added Benedict.

India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ in December 2019. 

 

Zambia: Guarantee human rights for all during elections period

Ahead of the highly anticipated elections in Zambia tomorrow, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the government of President Edgar Lungu to guarantee the rights of all Zambians and refrain from shutting down the internet during and after the elections. 

 

Tajikistan: release human rights lawyer ahead of 50th birthday behind bars

Russian

On 9 July 2021, Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajikistani human rights lawyer and outspoken critic of the government, will mark his 50th birthday behind bars.  Yorov was wrongfully imprisoned in September 2015 and sentenced to 22 years on trumped-up charges. Ahead of this milestone birthday,  human rights organisations CIVICUS and the International Partnership of Human Rights (IPHR) call for his immediate and unconditional release.

In 2015, Buzurgmehr was arrested after representing members and leaders of the banned opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRTP). Following his arrest, he was interrogated for ten hours and allegedly beaten. He was then detained for eight months before his trial began - during this time he was physically abused and held in solitary confinement on many occasions.  

In a series of closed and unfair trials held between October 2016 and August 2017, the human rights lawyer was convicted on various charges, including overthrowing the government, inciting unrest, and insulting the President and government officials. Although his sentence was reduced by six years in November 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of Tajikistan’s constitution, he is currently being held in the Strict Regime Prison Colony No.1 in Dushanbe.

In May 2019, the UN Human Rights Council concluded that Buzurgmehr’s arbitrary detention is against international law, and it called on the Tajikistan authorities to release him immediately. 

“The Tajikistani authorities use intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, threats and criminal prosecution to pressure independent lawyers to drop or refrain from taking up cases and issues considered to be politically sensitive. Burzurgmehr Yorov was brave enough to try to do his job despite this pressure. The international community should urge the Tajikistani authorities to implement UN recommendations and release him immediately,” said Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR. 

Buzurgmehr has repeatedly been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention, including severe beatings and periods in solitary confinement. His family are particularly concerned about his health during the COVID-19 pandemic, as several fellow prisoners have contracted the virus and died.  

Buzurgmehr Yorov has been a vocal critic of government abuse and has been awarded numerous international prizes in recognition of his contribution to democratic and civil rights in Tajikistan. After founding Sipar law firm in 2007, he frequently represented government critics and provided legal assistance to victims of human rights violations. 

Buzurgmehr’s family recalls one occasion before his detention - when the police demanded he accompanies them to the station, Buzurgmehr replied, "Here, in the office of the bar, there are people who came from afar, from different parts of the country to see me. I will never make them wait just because I am urgently called to talk to the head of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Organized Crime. Even if President Emomali Rahmon invites me to talk - until I fulfill my duties to clients, I'm not going anywhere."

Buzurgmehr Yorov SAMW

Buzurgmehr’s detention marks a concerning trend in Tajikistan, where independent lawyers are increasingly facing intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, threats, and criminal prosecution, in an attempt to stop them from taking on politically sensitive cases.  

“It is outrageous that Buzurgmehr Yorov and other lawyers in Tajikistan are being unfairly targeted and intimidated simply for doing their job - they play a vital role in protecting the fundamental freedoms of Tajik people. The authorities in Tajikistan must release him immediately and ensure that all lawyers are able to perform their professional duties without fear of reprisal,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.  

Buzurgmehr Yorov is one of the faces of CIVICUS’s international #StandAsMyWitness campaign, calling for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders across the world. Ahead of Buzurgmehr Yorov’s 50th birthday, CIVICUS and IPHR join calls for his immediate and unconditional release. The international community must continue to put pressure on the Tajikistani authorities to improve the situation of lawyers in the country and to respect fundamental rights.

Tajikistan is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, CIVICUS’s online platform that measures civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, in every country across the world.


INTERVIEWS

For more information or to arrange an interview with Buzurgmehr Yorov’s brother, or CIVICUS and IPHR, please contact:

and Mobile/Whatsapp: +27 (0)78 501 3500

+ 33 7 50803812  and/or  +33698744161

ABOUT CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of over 10,000 civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.

ABOUT IPHR

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is an independent, non-governmental organization founded in 2008 and based in Brussels, which works in partnership with civil society organizations in the former Soviet Union to raise human rights concerns at the international level and promote respect for the rights of vulnerable communities. 

 

Rights organisations call for release of activist Teresita Naul on her first anniversary in detention

  • 15 March marks one year in detention for rights activist Teresita Naul
  • Philippines Human Rights Commission says Teresita was wrongfully ‘red-tagged’
  • Teresita’s daughter fears for her mother’s life in prison

 

Tunisia: release LGBTQI+ activist Rania Amdouni and stop violence against peaceful protesters

Arabic

The sentencing of human rights defender and LGBTQI+ activist Rania Amdouni to six months in prison by a court in Tunis on 4 March 2021 for participating in peaceful protests calling for social and economic justice is an attack on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly in Tunisia. Rania is a member of Damj,

the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, and was sentenced on charges of “insulting police and abuse of morals,” after participating in ongoing protests. 

A decade after the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East, Tunisia is still suppressing fundamental democratic freedoms.  Ongoing protests that have swept Tunisia since 15 January 2021, calling for an end to corruption and policy brutality, and urging the government to implement social and economic reforms. More than 1600 protesters have been arrested so far with major concerns that security forces are specifically targeting members of the LGBTQI+ community.  

Rania had been monitored and targeted by security forces after she became a visible part of the protests, before finally being arrested on 27 February 2021.

“Ten years after the Arab Spring that led to major changes in the political dynamics in Tunisia, the Tunisian authorities are still trampling on the same rights protesters demonstrated.  The arrests of protesters and unlawful sentencing of activists like Rania Amdouni is an indication that not much has changed in terms of human rights over the last ten years,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, CIVICUS Advocacy Lead for the Middle East and North Africa, “Rania Amdouni and all those arrested in relation to the protests should be released immediately.”

Many of those arrested for their role in the protests have been subjected to physical abuse, threats and intimidation during the protests or in detention centers.  Those in detention centers are kept in crowded and unsanitary conditions, exposing them to COVID-19. Many others have fled the country or have been forced to self-censor to avoid violent repercussions.

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Tunisian authorities to release Rania Amdouni and other activists immediately, and to stop violently suppressing protests.

Background

Demonstrations in Tunisia started on 15 January 2021 as protesters raised concerns over increasing levels of corruption and inequality and called for social and economic reforms.  The protests spread in response to the violent attacks against demonstrators by security forces.  Some activists have resorted to self-censorship due to an increase in online harassment and civil society groups are calling on the Tunisian authorities to investigate all allegations of violence against protesters.

For more information on civic space violations, visit the Tunisian country page on the CIVICUS Monitor

Photo: Flickr/Amine GHRABI

 

Bangladesh: International community must respond to crackdown on freedom of expression

The Bangladeshi authorities must end their escalating crackdown on human rights, and respect and protect people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Bangladesh to curb protesters demanding justice for writer Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison on 25 February, the nine undersigned human rights organizations said in a joint statement today.

Ahmed, 53, was a Bangladeshi writer held in pre-trial arbitrary detention for nine months under the draconian Digital Security Act of 2018 (“DSA”), following his arrest in May 2020 for Facebook posts and social media communications that were deemed critical of the government. The death in prison of Mushtaq Ahmed raises serious concerns about the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to life, privacy, and the right to liberty.

Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 45, a prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist was also arrested in the same case as Mushtaq. After ten months in prison, on March 3 he was granted bail and was released on March 4 but the charges against him have not been dropped. Further, there are strong reasons to believe that Ahmed Kabir Kishore has been tortured while in custody of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a Bangladesh paramilitary force, which has been accused of serious human rights violations in the past. In addition to no longer being able to hear on his right ear, he also has difficulty walking due to pain in his left knee and ankle. Furthermore, Ahmed Kabir Kishore is diabetic and has been suffering from severely high levels of blood sugar during his detention. Without urgent and proper medical attention, he is at risk of visual impairment due to his deteriorating health.

In light of these developments, the organizations call on Bangladeshi authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into the death in prison of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and the allegations of torture against cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore. Perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice.

Authorities must also unconditionally and permanently release Ahmed Kabir Kishore, end the practice of arbitrary, pre-trial detention of people solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. 

Mushtaq Ahmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore are among hundreds of victims whom the Bangladeshi authorities have held in detention under the DSA. Nine others have been accused in the same case for publishing “false information” and “propaganda against the liberation war, the spirit of liberation war, father of the nation”, which could “deteriorate law and order” by “supporting or organizing crime” under sections 21, 25, 31 and 35 respectively of the DSA. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10 million Bangladeshi takas (equivalent to USD 115,891). These vaguely defined provisions of the law are incompatible with international human rights law and are being used to criminalize freedom of expression. The organization urge the Bangladeshi government to repeal the DSA - under which both Ahmed and Kishore were charged. All digital and cybersecurity laws must conform to international human rights law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The undersigned organizations also expressed concern over reports of police violence on peaceful protestors, including activists of opposition political parties, who took to the streets to demand justice for Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison. The violent crackdown by police has left hundreds of protesters injured, dozens detained, and several others accused of charges, including attempted murder. Bangladeshi authorities must respect and protect the people’s rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and liberty. Authorities must drop all charges against the peaceful protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release those detained.

To protect and respect the human rights, individual states should urge the Bangladeshi authorities to address the allegations of grave human rights violations being committed in Bangladesh. The international community should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for grave human rights violations in Bangladesh. Given the concerning record of human rights abuses committed by Bangladesh’s security forces and law-enforcement agencies, the UN should review their participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations.

This statement is endorsed by the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Eleos Justice - Monash University, FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture, (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

For more information, please contact:

For the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Nilda L. Sevilla;  Email:  

For Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in Bangkok, Melissa Ananthraj, Communication and Media Programme, .

For Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in Hong Kong, Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (Bangla & English): +852 6073 2807 (Mobile);

Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), Chandanie Watawala, Email:  

For CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher (English): Email:

For Eleos Justice - Monash University, Mai Sato (English): Email:  
FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,  Iolanda Jaquemet Email:

For Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in Washington, DC, Minhee Cho, Media Relations Associate (English):


The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as Repressed

 

Malaysia: New report on the state of fundamental freedoms under the Perikatan Nasional government

Joint research report on the state of civic freedoms in Malaysia

The Perikatan Nasional government has undermined and obstructed the exercise of fundamental freedoms during its first twelve months in power, said ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS in a new report published today. The government has not only failed to reform or repeal laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association but has initiated baseless criminal proceedings against government critics, human rights defenders, journalists, and individuals expressing critical opinions.

The report, “Rights in Reverse: One year under the Perikatan Nasional government in Malaysia”, highlights the Perikatan Nasional government’s record during its first year in power against its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The report highlights the government’s sustained use of repressive laws and provisions to silence dissent amid a global pandemic, when press freedom and civil society is needed more than ever to ensure reliable information and to hold the state accountable.

“The Perikatan Nasional government has been extremely secretive about its legislative agenda but has been crystal clear about its intention to continue using repressive laws to target critics and dissenters,” said Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19’s Malaysia Programme Officer. “A healthy environment for public discourse cannot be achieved until dissenting and unpopular opinions are respected and protected instead of silenced.”

Over the past year, authorities have aggressively applied the Sedition Act 1948 and Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) to investigate, arrest, charge, and convict individuals who have criticized government officials or Malaysian royalty, or who have shared opinions about sensitive issues such as race and religion. Between March 2020 and February 2021, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS recorded 66 cases involving 77 individuals who have been investigated or charged under the two laws because of their exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Over this period, at least 12 people were convicted under the CMA.

Press freedom has also declined sharply during the Perikatan Nasional government’s first year in power. This trend was highlighted by Malaysiakini’s conviction on contempt of court charges in relation to third-party comments made on its website, the unprecedented witch-hunt against Al Jazeera journalists investigating the treatment of migrants workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the targeting of journalists reporting on the actions and statements of government officials. The harassment and intimidation of journalists further demonstrates the shrinking space for free and independent media in Malaysia.

In addition to journalists, the authorities have harassed, investigated, and arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, women’s rights activists, and union leaders in an effort to silence civil society voices.

The legal framework governing the exercise of freedom of assembly and association remains highly restrictive and excessively burdensome.

The Peaceful Assembly Act falls shorts of international law and standards and denies the right to protest to children and non-citizens. It also fails to allow for spontaneous assemblies. The last year saw peaceful protesters being investigated and arrested, including health workers protesting their lack of access to adequate personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Societies Act has continued to stand in the way of enjoyment of the right to freedom of association, which is critical in a democracy. The Registrar of Societies has excessive powers and has erected barriers to registration for new opposition political parties such as Muda and Pejuang and civil society groups while simultaneously fast-tracking the registration of the Perikatan Nasional.

“The Perikatan government has attempted to silence peaceful protesters and impede the formation of political parties to keep itself in power,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Researcher. “Its attempt to join the Human Rights Council cannot be taken seriously unless it takes immediate steps to remove undue restrictions on assembly and association,” Benedict added.

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS urge the Malaysian government to undertake a comprehensive and inclusive process of legislative and institutional reform in order to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. To this end, authorities must ensure that all processes are fully transparent and facilitate full and effective participation of all concerned stakeholders, including civil society.

Malaysia’s reform process must be informed by relevant international human rights standards. The Perikatan National government should take concrete steps towards the ratification of core human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For further information:

  • Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19 Malaysia Program Officer,
  • Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher,

More information

The space for civil society in Malaysia is rated as ‘Obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic space in every country. An Obstructed rating for civic space means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association – face a combination of legal and practical constraints in Malaysia.

 

Pakistan: Rights group calls for release of activist Professor Muhammad Ismail ahead of bail hearing

  • Rights groups call for release of Professor Ismail ahead of bail hearing on 5 March
  • March 2 marks one month in detention for human rights defender Professor Ismail
  • Police evidence questioned by Pakistan National Assembly's Human Rights Committee

 

Pakistan: Rights group calls for release of activist Professor Muhammad Ismail following bail rejection

  • Anti-terrorism court refuses bail to Professor Muhammad Ismail despite his fragile post-COVID health 
  • Professor Ismail and family persecuted due to human rights work in Pakistan
  • Ismail added to #StandAsMyWitness campaign calling for release of imprisoned activists 

 

Saudi rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul spends 1000th day in prison

Loujain1000 days in detention

Today,  as Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul spends her 1000th day in prison, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Free Saudi Activists coalition call for her immediate and unconditional release. 

 

Pakistan: Human rights activist Muhammad Ismail detained and ill-treated

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the detention and ill-treatment of Mohammed Ismail, a human rights defender and CIVICUS partner, and calls for his immediate release. His detention by Pakistan’s anti-terrorism police is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted since July 2019.

Both Muhammed Ismail and his wife, Uzlifat Ismail, are currently facing baseless charges in relation to terrorism, sedition and criminal conspiracy. On 2 February 2021, human rights defender Muhammad Ismail was arrested at the Anti-Terrorism Court-III in Peshawar, following the cancellation of his interim pre-arrest bail in a case lodged by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD). He was held briefly incommunicado and is now is in the custody of the Counter Terrorism Department Police Station in Peshawar

Two days after his arrest, he was taken, bound in chains to his family home in Marghuz village, Swabi District by the Counter-Terrorism police who searched his family home, confiscating mobile phones. According to credible sources the police brought with them documents that were planted during the raid. The police also raided the homes of Muhammed Ismail’s relatives.

CIVICUS believe all cases brought against him are in retaliation against his criticism of human rights violations in the country and for the human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail, and connected with the state harassment against her. She has faced persecution from authorities for her peaceful advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people in Pakistan. She was forced to flee the country due to concerns for her safety.

“This is another example of state machinery being used in Pakistan to intimidate and silence human rights defenders like Muhammed Ismail and Gulalai Ismail, including by allegedly fabricating evidence to support baseless accusations. The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from detention and drop all charges against him and his wife,” said David Kode, head of advocacy and campaigns at CIVICUS.

Mohammed Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world.

Prior to his detention, Mohammed Ismail and his family had faced systematic harassment and intimidation from the security forces.  In October 2019, Muhammed Ismail was forcibly abducted from outside the Peshawar High Court by unidentified men, and later found in the custody of Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crimes Unit.  He was granted conditional bail after spending a month in detention. Muhammad Ismail and his wife have been placed on the Exit Control List, barring them from leaving the country.

During the pandemic, Muhammed Ismail, 66, has been forced to attend numerous court hearings, many of which has been routinely postponed on the day. During the course of this, Muhammed Ismail contracted COVID-19. It may be the case that numerous court hearings in relation to these charges exposed him to the virus and his detention could put him again at risk.

“The authorities have been using the judicial system to harass Muhammad Ismail since 2019. Given the pandemic, his age and poor health, we are particularly concerned that his detention could prove fatal” said David Kode.

CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. 

These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. 


The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as Repressed

 

Polish authorities must stop persecuting and intimidating protesters

Read the statement in Polish

  • Civil society organisations express serious concerns over civic space restrictions in Poland
  • Detention and intimidation of protesters by authorities a huge concern
  • Protests sparked by decision to impose a near-total ban on abortion

 

Polish government must stop violent crackdowns on protesters

 

Przeczytaj oświadczenie w języku polskim

Polish law enforcement and military, deployed today across the country, must refrain from using excessive force against protesters who have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.  

 

Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

Read the Thai version of the letter

Letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand as the government cracks down on peaceful protests calling for democracy, human rights and reform.


Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Office of the Prime Minister
Pitsanulok road
Bangkok 10300
Thailand

Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

We are writing to you to highlight our serious concerns about the escalating crackdown on peaceful protests in Thailand. According to reports by civil society groups, at least 80 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested since 13 October 2020. [1]

  • On 13 October, police forcibly dispersed a pro-democracy protest organised by the People’s Group at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. Police allegedly kicked, punched, and threw some protesters to the ground. At least 23 protesters including protest leader Jatuphat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa were arrested.[2]
  • On 14 and 15 October, another 34 people were reportedly arrested including protest leaders.[3] Five of the protest leaders - Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Prasit Khrutharot, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Nathchanon Pairoj were charged with “sedition” (Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code).[4] The rest were charged under the newly promulgated Emergency Decree. We are seriously concerned about reports that the police had prevented their lawyers from meeting with the arrested activists. Some have also been denied bail.
  • Activists Ekachai Hongkangwan and Boonkueanoon Paothong were also arrested on 16 October. They had reportedly shouted and held up the defiant three-finger salute when the Queen’s motorcade drove past protesters on 14 October. They have been charged under Section 110 of the Criminal Code and could face life imprisonment.[5]
  • On 16 October, police closed roads and established barricades with multiple rows of barbed wire in order to prevent people from peacefully gathering peacefully. Subsequently, police repeatedly used water cannons with chemical irritants and dye in attempts to disperse the crowd, estimated to be in the thousands.[6] Police also charged in with batons and shields to disperse the protesters.[7] 12 protesters were reportedly arrested.[8] Among those arrested include Kitti Pantapak, a journalist with Prachathai news outlet. His equipment was also confiscated.[9]
  • On 17 October, despite peaceful protests at least seven activists were reportedly arrested including student leader Panupong Chadnok.[10] On the same day, Chatchai Kaewkhampod a protest leader from Ubon Ratchathani province was also arrested.

We are also concerned about the introduction of a new emergency decree that severely restricts peaceful assembly and expression. The decree bans gatherings of five persons or more, and broadly prohibits the publication of news and information “which may instigate fear amongst the people” or that “affect national security or peace and order”.

Under the decree, authorities can arrest and detain people without charge for up to 30 days on grounds as vague as “supporting” or “concealing information” about the protests. The decree also allows those arrested to be detain them in informal places of detention and does not require access to legal counsel or visits by family members. Officials carrying out the duties under the decree enjoy legal immunity.

During the announcement of the measure, the authorities cited the need to “maintain peace and order” and that protesters had “instigated chaos and public unrest”.[11] We believe this to be a clear misrepresentation of the actions of the protesters.

The latest crackdown follows months of acts to suppress dissent, including the widespread use of judicial harassment against activists and human rights defenders. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested activists and filed charges against them under an array of repressive laws.

These actions are inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Thailand ratified in 1996. These include obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms which are also guaranteed in Thailand’s Constitution.

As such, we urge Thai authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all pro-democracy protesters detained, drop all charges against them and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and have regular access to lawyers of their choice, their family members and to medical care;
  • Revoke emergency measures imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression
  • Investigate all allegations of excessive force or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the police while dispersing protests and halt the use of water cannons water cannon unless there are situations of serious public disorder as provided by the 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Thailand’s civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above.

Yours sincerely,

David Kode
Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Civic space in Thailand is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

1 ‘Arrest Statistics’, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 18 October 2020, https://www.tlhr2014.com/?p=22156

2 Thailand: Over 20 Democracy Activists Arrested, Human Rights Watch, 13 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/13/thailand-over-20-democracy-activists-arrested

 3 Two more rally leaders arrested, Bangkok Post, 15 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2002671/two-more-rally-leaders-arrested and Thailand bans mass gatherings under emergency decree, Al Jazeera, 15 October, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/15/thailand-imposes-emergency-amid-protests-leaders-detained 

4 ‘Thailand: End crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy activists, lift emergency decree ‘ FIDH, 16 October, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/thailand/thailand-end-crackdown-on-peaceful-pro-democracy-activists-lift 5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges

5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020,  https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges 

6 ‘Thailand: Water cannons mark deeply alarming escalation in policing’, Amnesty protests’, 17 October 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/thailand-water-cannons-deeply-alarming-escalation/ 

7 Thailand: Water Cannon Used Against Peaceful Activists Human Rights Watch, 17 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/17/thailand-water-cannon-used-against-peaceful-activists 

8 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020, https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317170040169377792 

9 Prachatai's reporter, 24, arrested while covering police crackdown, Prachatai, 16 October 2020 https://prachatai.com/english/node/8848 

10 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020,  https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317482849772077061 

11 Thailand’s emergency decree ‘an excuse’ to end pro-democracy protests, MPs say’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, 15 October 2020, http://aseanmp.org/2020/10/15/thailand-emergency-decree-excuse/ 

 

India: Report highlights ongoing misuse of restrictive laws during pandemic to keep activists behind bars

  • Report highlights judicial harassment of activists, targeting of journalists and crackdown on protesters 
  • Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of activists and critics during COVID-19 pandemic 
  • CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders

The Indian government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter-terrorism legislation - to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today in a new report.

More than a year into  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office, the CIVICUS report, Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India,” shows an increasingly repressive environment for civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  The report highlights the arrest, detention and prosecution of activists, the targeting of journalists, and the unprecedented and brutal crackdown on protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act. CIVICUS is also concerned about increasing violations in Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir.

Further, India’s slide towards authoritarianism has led to the conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism, often with disastrous results for human rights defenders and activists who have been subjected to damaging smear campaigns.

The activists profiled in the report represent a small fraction of the arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments taking place across India, providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the country’s human rights defenders.

The report also highlights a series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in ongoing detention. These include the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), which is India’s primary counter-terrorism law; section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era relic; and administrative detention laws such as the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir

“The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The authorities must also drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against activists and release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher.

“The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution. Not only are the laws themselves inherently flawed, but their implementation makes it clear that they have become tools for judicial harassment, rather than for preventing or addressing criminality.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of human rights defenders and critics, many of whom have underlying medical conditions or are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. CIVICUS is also concerned about the judicial harassment of individuals and journalists who criticise the authorities’ handling of the pandemic. 

“It is appalling that human rights defenders are locked up in overcrowded prisons and continuously denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time puts them at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 and adds another layer of punishment for these activists, who have been detained just for speaking up for human rights,” said Benedict.

Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in  India are pushing back against oppression. The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. This has been evident in civil society’s crucial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in providing vital help to communities in need, defending rights, and holding governments accountable.

“As India’s political and economic influence increases, developments in the country are being closely followed by the global community. India’s quest to play a critical role on the international stage would be better served by committing to upholding democratic values and recognising the validity of people’s struggles,” said Benedict.

In the report, CIVICUS makes a number of recommendations to the Indian authorities, including:

  • Drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained;
  • Review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international standards for the protection of fundamental freedoms;
  • Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

More information

The space for civil society in India was downgraded in December 2019 from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic space in every country. A repressed rating for civic space means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association – are significantly constrained in India.


Interviews

To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

 

Cambodia: CIVICUS calls on government to release activists after wave of arrests

Protest Cambodia Rong Chhun

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is extremely concerned by an ongoing crackdown on activists in Cambodia over the last month. A chilling wave of arrests marks an escalation of attempts by the authorities to intimidate activists and silence all forms of dissent and highlights the rapid deterioration of human rights in Cambodia. 

On 31 July 2020, the authorities arrested prominent unionist Rong Chhun for ‘incitement’  after he advocated for the land rights of villagers living near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Since then, over a dozen activists have been arrested and detained for protesting his arrest On 10 August, activists Chhou Pheng, Chum Puthy and Sar Kanika, were charged with ‘incitement’ under Article 495 of the Criminal Code. 

On 13 August, two activists,  Hun Vannak and Chhouen Daravy, from youth group Khmer Thavrak were also arrested after calling for Rong Chhun’s release. Other members of the youth group have been targeted by the authorities for planned protests; On 6 and 7 September, Buddhist monk Koet Saray and Tha Lavy were arrested while activist Eng Malai was picked up by authorities after leaving the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, where she had raised security concerns. All three were charged with ‘incitement’.

The police also arrested Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), Mean Prommony, on 6 September for planning a protest while another member of KLSIA, Muong Sopheak was detained on 11 September.

“The authorities have become so fearful of losing control that anyone who dares to speak out about human rights violations in Cambodia today, including those who question wrongful and arbitrary detentions, could face arrest,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific researcher for CIVICUS.

Despite the risk of arrest and criminalisation, civil society activists have not backed down and continue to play a brave role in speaking up and exposing abuses by state and non-state actors.

On 3 September, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, and Phoung Keorasmey, activists with environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia, were arbitrarily detained while planning a peaceful march to call attention to the filling in of a Phnom Penh lake. They were charged with ‘incitement’ on 6 September.

Rapper Kea Sokun was arrested in Siem Reap on 10 September and charged with incitement under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. Sokun is understood to have been targeted as the result of a song he released in April called ‘Dey Khmer’ (‘Khmer Land’) which is about the politically sensitive topic of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. 

CIVICUS calls on the Cambodian government to cease the judicial harassment of its critics and release these activists immediately and unconditionally.

We are also concerned that the Ministry of Interior is attempting to smear civil society groups Khmer Thavrak and Mother Nature Cambodia as unauthorised organisations. The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, passed in July 2015, has been widely criticised by grassroots groups, unions, NGOs and the United Nations as inconsistent with international human rights law. It criminalises all unregistered groups and makes registration dependent on an unclear and complex bureaucratic process.

“The authorities have for years sought a variety of ways to weaken and dismantle the human rights movement in Cambodia by using a combination of restrictive laws, blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. The international community currently convening at the Human Rights Council must take this opportunity to stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and speak up,” said Benedict

Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action. In April 2020, the Cambodian government used the COVID-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

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

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

and  

 

Austria's civic space rating upgraded

Available in German

Political gains made by the Green party and increasing dialogue between government and civil society, has led to an improvement in civic space in Austria, prompting a ratings upgrade from narrowed to open. Only 3% of the world’s population lives in countries with open civic space, where citizens are free to form associations, peacefully demonstrate in public spaces and practice freedom of expression. This ratings decision by the CIVICUS Monitor was taken following a thorough assessment of conditions in the country for the free exercise of civic freedoms, as protected by international law.

In 2018 under the ÖVP-FPÖ (Peoples Party -Freedom Party Austria) coalition government, Austria was downgraded to narrow following a deterioration in civic space. During this period, the government refused to engage with civil society organisations (CSOs) but instead pursued smear campaigns against them. In addition, funding to NGOs in many sectors was also drastically reduced. More specifically, NGOs working with migrant and refugee rights were labelled as ‘human traffickers’ by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Freedom of expression came under threat as government officials attempted to prevent independent media from reporting on certain briefings and subjected them to online attacks.  

However, the September 2019 election outcome has resulted in a positive change, as the far-right FPÖ party was replaced in the coalition by the Green party. The Green party has been more open to dialogue with CSOs which presents the sector with the unique opportunity to make themselves heard again. CSOs demands are now being taken into consideration in governments current work programs.  

The financial support allocated during the COVID-19 pandemic through a 700 million Euro support fund, exclusively for Not- for Profit Organisation’s (NPOs), after consultation with the sector, is a welcome development. In an unprecedented move, on 13 May 2020, a law (20. Covid-19 Gesetz) which was passed by parliament to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, made mention - for the first time in Austrian history - of "NPOs". This signals that the sector is being recognised. Throughout this process, CSOs report that they were thoroughly involved and regularly consulted, marking a significant shift in government’s approach.

“The inclusion of CSOs in various consultation processes, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the Austrian government is an example of good practice which other states in the region should follow,” said Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher for the region.  

However, the hard-line of the government on migration-related issues persists in Austria. In a recent example, the ÖVP Foreign Minister remarked that the country will not assist with the dramatic migrant situation in the Lesbos Moria Camp in Greece after it had been set on fire, because it “does not want to send wrong signals to the migrants”.

“While we welcome these positive developments in civic space in Austria, we also want to urge the leading ÖVP party to refrain from its anti-migrant rhetoric- a tactic which has not ceased with the new governing coalition,” said Narsee.  

Austria is now rated open on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Austria’s homepage for more information and for the latest updates.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Aarti Narsee, Civic Space researcher, CIVICUS

or  

 

Killing of another human rights activist highlights climate of impunity in the Philippines

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, denounces the tragic killing of human rights activist Zara Alvarez. Her murder highlights a wider pattern of attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and critics that has increased under the Duterte administration, and the need for an international investigation into the crimes.

 

Rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case & global campaign launch

 TeresitaNaul2

  • Human rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case 17 July
  • Naul’s family concerned about her deteriorating health in prison
  • #StandAsMyWitness campaign featuring Naul and calling for release of activists in prison launches on Nelson Mandela Day 18 July

CIVICUS, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Karapatan and other human rights organisations in the Philippines call for the release of Teresita Naul, a human rights defender from the Philippines, ahead of her court case on 17 July, and the launch of a global campaign featuring Naul and other imprisoned human rights defenders. 

 

Law enforcement agencies and decision makers must respect the right to protest in the US 

  • ​​​​​​CIVICUS expresses solidarity with US protesters in their struggle for justice
  • We defend the right to peaceful assembly and condemn violent police force
  • National and global protests highlight the need to address institutionalized racism, and police impunity and militarisation

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, condemns violence against protesters by law enforcement officials over the past few days, and stands in solidarity with those protesting against deep-rooted racism and injustice.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the United States (US) to protest the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May. Their demands for justice for George Floyd and other Black people unlawfully killed at the hands of police have been met with force. Law enforcement agencies have responded to protests using rubber bullets, concussion grenades and tear gas.  

CIVICUS reaffirms that the right to protest, as enshrined in international law, must be protected. We call for an end to police violence against Black communities.

Earlier this week, as law enforcement agencies suppressed protests in Washington DC, President Trump threatened to deploy the National Guard to crush demonstrations:

“President Donald Trump is stoking violence by threatening to forcibly deploy military units in states and cities to crush the demonstrations and restore order in a constitutionally questionable manner,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief of Programmes at CIVICUS. 

There are reports that over 10,000 protesters have been arrested since protests began. CIVICUS is concerned by the arbitrary arrests of thousands of protesters, including 20 members of the press. There are numerous cases of journalists being deliberately targeted by law enforcement agencies and at least 125 press freedom violations have been reported since the start of the protests.

Demonstrations have broken out across the world in solidarity with the US protesters and their demands for justice and accountability. Our recently released State of Civil Society Report 2020 highlights the importance of people’s movements in demanding change. CIVICUS supports the right of protesters around the globe to peacefully and safely assemble during lockdown:

“These protests are a call to action to address systemic racism and unprovoked violence experienced by the Black community in the US and beyond. A systemic reckoning with unaddressed notions of white supremacy is needed,” Tiwana continued.  

As a matter of urgency, CIVICUS calls on authorities to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and expression. We urge systemic reforms to address police impunity, militarisation and institutional racism. The deliberate targeting of journalists must also end, as must the incendiary language used by President Trump and other politicians. 

We also call on law enforcement agencies to stop using violent methods to disperse protesters and call for an investigation into the unwarranted use of force.

About CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. We have over 9000 members across the globe. The CIVICUS Monitor is our online platform that tracks threats to the freedoms of assembly, association and expression across 196 countries. Civic space in the United States is currently rated as narrowed by the research and ratings platform.

 

Free Saudi Activists commemorate 2-Year anniversary of the Saudi government's arrest of women's rights defenders

COALITION TO HOST A WEBINAR ON MAY 15 PROVIDING UPDATES ON PRISONERS, STATE OF WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA AND CAMPAIGN PROGRESS

 

Free Saudi Activists commemorating 2-year anniversary of the Saudi government’s arrest & torture of WHRDs

On 15 May, Free Saudi Activists, a coalition of women human rights defenders and organisations advocating for the release of women’s rights activists from prison, is hosting a webinar to update the public on the status of those who were arrested two years ago for calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system and defying the government’s ban on women driving. The arrests involved approximately a dozen women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al-Hathloul, who remains in prison along with other activists. Reports suggest that these WHRDs have been subject to multiple human rights violations under Saudi authority, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault, and have been denied due process.

In addition to updating the public on the prisoners’ status, webinar panelists will address the state of women’s human rights across Saudi Arabia, as well as the coalition’s campaign progress and future advocacy efforts.  

What:     Representatives from the Free Saudi Activists Coalition will participate in a 1 hour webinar to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the arrest of women human rights defenders. Panelists will provide an update on the human rights violations suffered by those who remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, as well as a more comprehensive assessment of the state of women’s human rights in the kingdom. Free Saudi Activists Coalition members will also discuss their campaign efforts to date and their future plans to secure the unconditional release of the Saudi prisoners. The webinar will be followed by a Twitter storm to help raise awareness.

When:     Friday, May 15th from 3:00pm-4:00pm GMT +2

Who:     The event is organized by the Free Saudi Activists coalition, which includes Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and Women’s March Global. 

The event will be moderated by:

Uma Mishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

Webinar panelists include: 

Salma El Hosseiny – Programme manager, Human Rights Council, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Suad Abu-Dayyeh - Middle East and North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

Husain Abdulla - Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

Weaam Youssef - Programme Manager, Women Human Rights Defenders Programme, Gulf Centre for Human Rights 

Masana Ndinga Kanga - Crisis Response Fund and MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

Why:     Saudi Arabia has one of the worst international records when it comes to the protection and advancement of women’s human rights. Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are arbitrarily detained and at increased risk, must be released - including Saudi activists While Saudi authorities propagate a message of progress on its human rights record, the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of women’s human rights defenders - for peacefully protesting the ban on women driving and calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system - shows the inherent disconnect between the government’s actions and their alleged push towards respecting its human rights obligations. Continued advocacy by groups like the Free Saudi Activists and coalition members is vital to putting public pressure on Saudi authorities and the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions. 

How:     Media is invited to attend at any time during the event. 

Register HERE

ABOUT FREE SAUDI ACTIVISTS
Free Saudi Activists is a coalition of women human rights defenders advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi women’s human rights activists from prison. The coalition includes representatives from the ADHRB, CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), WHRD-MENA and Women’s March Global. 

Website: freesaudiactivists.org

 

Guinea placed on human rights watchlist ahead of referendum

  •  Guinea placed on CIVICUS Monitor watchlist ahead of referendum
  • Escalating rights violations include use of excessive force on protesters
  • CIVICUS calls for release of human rights defenders and urges President Condé to step down

Guinea has been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor human rights watchlist ahead of the proposed referendum on 22nd March. This list draws attention to countries where there has been a rapid decline in civic and democratic freedoms in recent months.

Guinea was placed on the Monitor’s watchlist in October after deadly crackdowns and arbitrary arrests of protesters. It remains on the watchlist because the CIVICUS Monitor is concerned that if the government pushes ahead with the controversial referendum later this week, then further violence and unrest will follow.

Guinea is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, which is the third worst rating a country can receive by the global index, in the same category as Mali, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In obstructed countries, civic space is often monopolised by those in power and excessive force is commonly used by law enforcement agencies.

Since October 2019, more than 30 people have been killed and dozens injured in widespread protests that have engulfed Guinea, as protesters call on the government to respect the provisions of the current constitution. The current constitution limits presidential tenures to two five-year terms and can only be changed via a referendum. If changed, it could pave the way for President Alpha Condé to remain in power.

Le Front national de la défense de la Constitution, or the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a movement composed of civil society and the political opposition, have been leading calls against a potential third term bid for President Condé.

The leaders of the FNDC, human rights defenders Ibrahima Diallo and Sekou Koundouno, were arrested by masked men from the BRI (Investigation and Intervention Brigade) on 6 March and taken to an unknown destination. They were arrested immediately after expressing concerns over the ongoing arbitrary arrests of activists during a press conference. On 12th March they were released on bail and placed under judicial control.

In October 2019 thirteen FNDC leaders were arrested ahead of planned protests in Conakry and accused of organizing banned protests and inciting civil disobedience. Five of them were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to one year. Journalists have also been physically assaulted for covering the protests and their equipment seized to prevent them from broadcasting images of the protests.

The arrest and detention of human rights defenders highlights how the Guinean authorities are trying to silence pro-democracy voices and pave the way for President Condé to extend his term in office:

“By arresting human rights defenders, the Guinean authorities aim to silence the voices of those who are against a new constitution. It is time for President Condé and his administration to respect the wishes of Guinean people and allow a political transition which will usher in a new era in Guinea’s nascent democracy,” said David Kode, head of advocacy and campaigns at CIVICUS.

CIVICUS calls on the government of Guinea to immediately release all human rights defenders in detention.

CIVICUS also calls on the African Union to ensure that the government of Guinea respects provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: it urges President Condé to respect the current constitution and step aside when his mandate ends to allow for a peaceful political transition.

ENDS

 

Contact:

Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

Email:

Phone: +27 (0)785013500

CIVICUS media team:

 

Malawi: Leading civil society organisations call for immediate release of human rights defenders

CIVICUSthe global alliance of civil society organisations, together with the Malawian Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN) and the Centre for Human rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), call for the immediate release of human rights defenders in Malawi ahead of their bail hearing today.

Gift Trapence, a human rights defender and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN), and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested on 8 March in Lilongwe and detained at Area 3 Police Station before they were taken to Blantyre.

Another human rights defender, Timothy Mtambo, head of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHHR) and Chair of HRDN, handed himself into police on 10 March.

They have not been charged and the Malawi Police Service accuse all three of violating Section 124 of the Penal Code by planning to hold protests outside State House on 25 March.

The arrests were made after the HRDC announced that it was planning to hold peaceful protests and “shut down” State House on 25 March 2020 to force President Peter Mutharika to sign electoral reform bills which were passed by Parliament in February 2020. In response to calls for protests on 25 March, President Mutharika threatened human rights defenders during a rally of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) party and called on the security forces to use all means necessary against the protesters.

Since Presidential elections were held in May 2019, the Malawian authorities have used violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, threats and harassment to curb civil society organisations -particularly those calling for reforms of the electoral commission and those who are critical of the actions of President Mutharika and his DPP party. In July 2019 Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested and detained on accusations of operating an illegal NGO, despite the fact that their NGO is registered under Malawi’s Companies Act.

The arrests of these three human rights defenders is part of ongoing efforts by the Malawian authorities to silence human rights defenders and erode civil freedoms:

“The recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders follow vile threats made by senior members of the DPP party. Since the May 2019 elections civil society groups and human rights defenders have been calling for a more transparent and accountable government. The authorities have often responded by using violence to target peaceful assemblies and arresting human rights defenders,” said CHRR’s Michael Simon Kaiyatsa.

Over the last ten months civil society groups and members of the political opposition have been holding peaceful protests calling for democratic reforms. The authorities have responded with violence and death threats against human rights defenders. In August 2019, the home and car of human rights defender Timothy Mtambo were set alight and he was threatened with death by a member of the DPP. Another human rights defender and coordinator of the HRDN, Moir Walita Mkandawire, was physically assaulted and hospitalized for injuries sustained in his eyes.

CIVICUS, CHRR and HRDN call for the immediate release of Gift Trapence, MacDonald Sembereka and Timothy Mtambo. We also ask the authorities to stop intimidating representatives of civil society and respect the rights of all Malawians to protest peacefully and raise concerns over issues affecting them.

Malawi is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks the state of civic space around the world.

ENDS

Contact:

Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

Email:

Phone: +27 (0)785013500

CIVICUS media team:

 

Michael Kaiyatsa, CHRR Programmes Manager

Email:

Phone: +265(0)998895699

 

Philippines: Raids on NGO offices, arbitrary arrests of activists and freezing of accounts

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about a crackdown against activists and progressive groups in the region of Eastern Visayas by the Philippines government. These moves highlight the hostile environment for civil society to operate and the risks activists continue to face under the Duterte government.

In two simultaneous raids in Tacloban City on 7 February 2020, by police and the army, five activists were arbitrarily arrested including Marielle Domequil, a staff member of the Rural Missionaries Philippines-Eastern Visayas; Mira Legion, a staff member of Bayan Muna; Alexander Abinguna, secretary general of Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas and Karapatan national council member for Eastern Visayas; Marissa Cabaljao of People’s Surge Network; and Frenchie Mae Cumpio, a journalist and executive director of independent news outfit Eastern Vista and Altermidya Network correspondent. Cabaljao was arrested together with her one-year-old baby. 

Police claimed they found firearms and ammunition during the raids. They also claimed that they had raided “identified Communist Terrorist Group safe houses”.

Human rights group Karapatan said that the search warrants were shown to the activists only after they were arrested and claimed that the weapons had been planted by the authorities. Currently, the five, with Marissa’s baby, are detained at the Palo PNP Municipal Police Station.

Days before the simultaneous arrests, Cumpio was reportedly tailed by men riding motorcycles, whom she believes were military personnel. Unidentified men were also seen patrolling Eastern Vista’s office in Tacloban. On 31 January, an unidentified person visited Eastern Vista’s office and was reportedly carrying a photo of Cumpio.

“The authorities must halt its harassment and criminalisation of activists critical of the state and release the five immediately and unconditionally. Accusing them of being fronts to armed groups are clearly efforts to attack and smear these groups and undermine the credibility of their demands”, said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher.

Prior to these raids, Jennefer Aguhob, a member of Karapatan, was arrested on trumped up  charges of murder in her residence in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental by the police and military on 5 February 2020. She has been accused of having links to the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. 

On 7 February 2020, the government froze several bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a Catholic church group, on suspicions of “terrorism financing.” The RMP, who work with the rural poor, has been previously tagged as a "communist front" because of their activism and their criticism of the Duterte government.

“These latest attacks show how far the authorities are willing to go to silence and shut down critical NGOs and human rights defenders under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Instead of using such appalling smear tactics, the authorities should be taking steps to protect them in accordance with their international human rights obligations,” said Benedict

The CIVICUS Monitor has documented how the Duterte government has been striving to halt or undermine the work of activists, media outlets and NGOs in the Philippines through various means. Some have been tagged as “terrorists” or “communist fronts” and vilified, particularly those who have been critical of the deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Others face judicial harassment or have been forced to disclose more information about their work and funding under the guise of fighting terrorism, or of countering corruption and money laundering.

In June 2019, 11 UN human rights experts raised concerns about the “sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights”. They called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.

The Philippines is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civic society in all countries across the globe.

 

Report: Groups attacking human rights becoming more prevalent, prominent and powerful

against the wave report cover

  • New report reveals that groups attacking hard-fought human rights are on the rise globally.
  • Groups threatening progressive rights worldwide are growing in number, are more confident, visible and better resourced, and are achieving unprecedented levels of influence and impact.
  • Excluded groups, including women, LGBTQI people and religious, Indigenous and racial minorities, and the organisations that defend them, bear the brunt of these attacks. 
  • Report outlines 10 ways that civil society organisations are fighting back, including greater international collaboration and solidarity, creative communications, reclaiming human rights language and exposing anti-rights groups.

Groups that claim to be part of civil society but attack fundamental freedoms are on the rise globally. 

From the United States to India and from Brazil to Italy, these groups are achieving unprecedented levels of influence and impact in their campaigns against the rights of marginalised and minority groups, as well as the civil society organisations (CSOs) defending them. 

This was one of the findings of a new report, released today, on a rising tide of ‘anti-rights’ groups worldwide and the efforts of progressive civil society to challenge them. 

The report, ‘Action Against the Anti-Rights Wave: Civil Society Responses’ was released by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS. The findings are drawn from a year-long research initiative that included interviews and consultations with over a thousand civil society activists, leaders and organisations in more than 50 countries. 

“Anti-rights groups are now a key part of the repression of civil society space – civic space – seen in many countries across the globe,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

Excluded groups including women, LGBTQI people and religious, Indigenous and racial minorities are bearing the brunt of these attacks. CSOs that defend their rights are also being targeted. 

“This wave of conservative and often extremist organisations that are seeking to roll back fundamental rights comes as part of a backlash to the success that civil society has won in past decades,” said John. 

Indeed, researchers noted the steady rise in the prevalence, prominence and power of such groups as the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the historic signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights last year.

According to the report, civil society has been fighting back - and needs to continue those efforts - by building connections between CSOs working on different issues; bolstering collaboration and solidarity across borders; improving creative communications; reclaiming human rights language and exposing regressive campaigns.   

Who Are These ‘Anti-Rights’ Groups?

The organisations behind attacks on excluded groups and human rights are sometimes set up as proxies of state interests and sometimes are genuine non-state groups, but often stand somewhere in between, working hand in hand with powerful political figures and repressive states.

“In some contexts, civil society reports that their main threat comes not from arms of the state but from anti-rights groups,” said Ines Pousadela, one of the report’s co-authors.

“They have been around for a while now but what is new, is that they are growing in strength, confidence, visibility, support, resources and are gaining ground in international spaces as well,” said Pousadela.

These groups are shaping public narratives, including through disinformation and manipulation, and are sowing hatred and division as well as encouraging violence. 

Movements attacking fundamental freedoms differ in membership, histories and outlooks but together are part of a growing threat to civil society and share remarkably similar tactics in attacking civil society. Examples cited in the report include ultra-conservative faith groups conspiring to block women’s access to abortion in Argentina, nationalists stoking violence against ethnic and religious minorities in India and neo-fascist activists smearing civil society and the political opposition in Serbia.

“Against a backdrop of the unprecedented rise of right-wing populism and nationalism globally, these groups seem to be reawakening, stretching their wings and becoming more powerful,” said Pousadela. 

ENDS. 

For more information or to arrange interviews on the report, please contact: 

Click here for the full report and its executive summary

About CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and individuals dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  The alliance works to protect the fundamental rights that allow us to speak out, organise and take action. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.  We strive to promote excluded voices, especially from the global south, and have a growing alliance of more than ,members in over 175 countries. 

 

Zimbabwe government must respect the right to protest and investigate abduction and torture of activists

The government of Zimbabwe must respect the right of its citizens to peacefully protest and must allow demonstrations, planned for Friday, August 16, to go ahead without violence from security forces.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has called on Zimbabwean authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms, including the right to protest. The government has banned public rallies called to protest its handling of the country’s economic crisis.

CIVICUS has also strongly condemned the abduction and torture of human rights defenders, including Tatenda Mombeyarara, earlier this week.

Mombeyara was one of at least six rights activists who were abducted by suspected state agents on August 13 and 14 from his home this week, brutally assaulted, tortured and left for dead at a stone quarry in the capital, Harare. The unidentified men accused him of being involved in organizing today’s planned protest marches. Mombeyara, who is recovering from injuries including broken bones, damaged kidneys and chemical burns, is one of seven activists arrested in May on their return from peacebuilding workshops in the Maldives and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“We are also deeply concerned about a continued repression of fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe and what appears to be a culture of impunity and a general lack of investigations into human rights violations,”, said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS.

“The abduction and torture of activists comes amid an ongoing military operation and restrictive environment for human rights defenders in the country,” Mulindwa said.

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, despite earlier promises from the Mnangagwa administration of an end to Mugabe-era repression tactics. Civic freedoms, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, are routinely and violently repressed by Zimbabwean authorities. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society around the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Zimbabwe as “repressed”. State authorities continue to harass, and arbitrarily arrest those exercising their rights to assemble and voice dissent. Human rights defenders have been subjected to assaults, arbitrary arrest, and enforced disappearance.

"The occurrences are deeply hurting,” said Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, with Zimbabwean rights NGO, Tag a Life International (TaLI).

“The security forces does not need to beat and dehumanise people but to monitor and guide peaceful activities of citizens.,” said Mashayamombe.

CIVICUS has called on the Zimbabwean security forces to avoid using excessive force against protesters as well as for a quick, fair, and independent investigation into the cases of abduction and torture of Mombeyarara and other activists.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

Paul Mulindwa

 

Laos: Government must live up to human rights obligations ahead of UN review

Manushya Foundation, CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on the Government of Lao PDR to remove all unwarranted restrictions on civic space in the country ahead of its human rights review to be held at the United Nations (UN) in January-February 2020. The review will mark five years since UN member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. As of today, the government has partially implemented only three recommendations.

Following its last review in 2015 , the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. 

In a joint submission to the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, our organisations assess the current human rights situation to track compliance with these recommendations and international human rights standards. The submission finds that Lao PDR’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to the right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

“Using unwarranted defamation, libel, and slander charges, justified by vague claims of ‘national interests’, the government increasingly restricts any speech or actions that would highlight corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.” said Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director of Manushya Foundation. “The Lao government must immediately repeal or amend legislations that do not comply with international standards and obligations through transparent and inclusive mechanisms of public consultation, end the harassment and intimidation against persons who speak up, and provide effective remedy in cases where the rights of individuals have been denied or violated.” 

Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are seriously concerned about the pervasive control exercised by the government over civil society, and the severe restrictions faced as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out. The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, and its obligations under the ICPPR. However, the legal framework – including broadly formulated, restrictive and conflicting provisions in the Constitution, the Penal Code, and other laws, as well as government decrees passed without oversight – serves to limit any independent action or information, and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. All actions taken and information shared must undergo a lengthy process of state approval and organisations are forced to maintain close ties with the State, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. 

“The laws, policies and practices of the Lao government restrict any legitimate activities that they believe could threaten the state. Constant monitoring and the detention of activists such as Bounthanh Thammavong, Lodkham Thammavong, Soukane Chaithad, Somphone Phimmasone, and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, has compounded this chilling effect to the extent that activists and journalists now avoid using ‘human rights’ language in their work,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS. “States must question these actions of the Lao government that allow for impunity for violations of civic freedoms and press the government to create a safe, respectful and enabling environment that is free of undue hindrances, obstruction, legal or administrative harassment.”

Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA also urge the member states of the United Nations (UN) to use the UPR of Laos to ensure increased transparency and accountability through law and practice in order to protect and promote the rights of civil society in Laos, especially those of human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists.

“The Universal Periodic Review of Laos is an important opportunity to hold the Lao government accountable for ongoing, serious violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights,” concluded Ahmed Adam of FORUM-Asia. “The international community cannot afford to ignore the permanent closure of civic space and criminalisation of legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly as well as work of human rights defenders in Lao.  International scrutiny is necessary to improve the human rights situation in Lao, particularly given that the government has done nothing to change a situation that has been ongoing for decades.”

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Laos as closed.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

(EN) Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS, +6010-4376376,

(EN & Lao) Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 92-901-5345,   

(TH) Suphamat Phonphra, Programme Officer, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 83-578-9879,   

(EN) Ahmed Adam, UN Advocacy Programme Manager, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), +41 (2) 10-826-4345,

 

Le rapport fait état d'une recrudescence des attaques contre les organisations humanitaires

 

  • Les travailleurs humanitaires et de la santé qui tentent d'aider les communautés touchées par l'épidémie d'Ebola en RDC sont la cible d'attaques.
  • Les défaillances du gouvernement, les élections entachées d'irrégularités et la guerre civile ont conduit à la méfiance et rendent l'accès à l'aide d'urgence de plus en plus difficile pour les Congolais déplacés et affectés.
  • Le rapport CIVICUS montre que les attaques contre les organisations humanitaires se multiplient dans le monde, dans un préoccupant déficit mondial de compassion. 

Les travailleurs humanitaires et de la santé qui tentent d'aider les communautés touchées par l'épidémie d'Ebola, qui a commencé il y a près d'un an, sont la cible d'attaques en raison de leurs efforts.

Les échecs du gouvernement, une élection récente largement considérée comme irrégulière et une guerre civile violente et qui se prolonge - il s'agit de la première épidémie d'Ebola au Congo dans une zone de guerre - ont conduit à une méfiance envers l'aide humanitaire. Ceci rend très difficile l'accès aux soins humanitaires et médicaux. pour les personnes affectées et ceux ayant fui leurs foyers dans les zones touchées par Ebola et reconnues comme particulièrement sensibles.

"C'est consternant et inquiétant que les communautés qui ont un tel besoin d'aide humanitaire d'urgence ne puissent pas l'obtenir à cause de l'hostilité envers les organisations qui tentent de fournir de l'aide," a déclaré Lysa John, Secrétaire Générale de CIVICUS. 

Mais ce n'est pas seulement en RDC que les attaques empêchent les travailleurs humanitaires de faire leur travail. Un rapport annuel de l'alliance mondiale de la société civile, CIVICUS, constate que les groupes humanitaires fournissant une aide d'urgence aux réfugiés et aux migrants, ainsi qu'à d'autres groupes vulnérables, sont de plus en plus pris pour cible alors que le monde fait face à une crise de compassion mondiale. 

Cette tendance alarmante est l'une des conclusions du Rapport sur l'État de la Société Civile 2019, qui examine les événements et les tendances ayant un impact sur la société civile.

Dans un autre exemple cité, le gouvernement italien a empêché un bateau exploité par l'ONG médicale internationale Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) d'accoster en Italie, le laissant en mer pendant une semaine avec plus de 700 passagers, dont des mineurs non accompagnés. Aux États-Unis, des organisations ont été empêchées de laisser des réserves d'eau vitales aux personnes qui traversent le désert depuis le Mexique, une traversée dangereuse.

"La société civile, agissant sur des motivations humanitaires, est confrontée à une marée montante de mesquinerie à l'échelle mondiale, remettant en question les valeurs humanitaires d'une manière sans précédent depuis la Seconde Guerre mondiale," a déclaré John. 

"Nous avons besoin d'une nouvelle campagne, aux niveaux mondial et national, pour renforcer les valeurs humanitaires et les droits des groupes progressistes de la société civile dans leur action," ajoute John. 

Selon le rapport, en Europe, aux États-Unis et au-delà - du Brésil à l'Inde - les populistes, nationalistes et groupes d'extrême droite se mobilisent pour attaquer les plus vulnérables. Cela a conduit à une attaque contre les valeurs qui sous-tendent l'action humanitaire, les gens étant encouragés à blâmer les minorités et les groupes vulnérables pour leurs préoccupations concernant l'insécurité, les inégalités, les difficultés économiques et l'isolement du pouvoir. Cela signifie que les organisations de la société civile qui soutiennent les droits des populations exclues telles que les femmes, les personnes LGBTQI, et défendent les droits du travail, sont attaquées.

Au fur et à mesure que s'affirment des notions étroites de souveraineté nationale, le système international est réécrit par des États puissants, notamment la Chine, la Russie et les États-Unis, qui refusent de respecter les règles du jeu. Les frontières et les murs sont renforcés par des dirigeants voyous qui apportent leur style de gouvernement personnel dans les affaires internationales en ignorant les institutions, accords et normes existants. 

 

Le rapport met également en lumière une série d'élections faussées et frauduleuses qui ont eu lieu dans des pays du monde entier au cours de l'année écoulée, et souligne une montée en flèche des protestations contre l'exclusion économique, les inégalités et la pauvreté. Les protestations se heurtent souvent à une répression violente.

"Les valeurs démocratiques sont mises à rude épreuve dans le monde entier par des hommes forts et irresponsables qui attaquent la société civile et les médias d'une manière sans précédent - et souvent brutale ", a déclaré Andrew Firmin, rédacteur en chef de CIVICUS et auteur principal du rapport. 

2018 a été une année où les forces rétrogrades ont semblé gagner du terrain. Selon le Monitor CIVICUS, une plateforme en ligne qui suit les menaces qui pèsent sur la société civile dans tous les pays du monde, l'espace civique - l'espace pour la société civile - est maintenant sérieusement attaqué dans 111 pays du monde - bien plus de la moitié des pays. Seul quatre pour cent de la population mondiale vit dans des pays où nos libertés fondamentales d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression sont préservées et respectées.

Mais nous voyons aussi des militants engagés de la société civile lutter contre la répression croissante des droits. Des succès du mouvement mondial pour les droits des femmes #MeToo au mouvement de réforme des armes à feu "March for Our Lives", mené par des lycéens aux États-Unis, en passant par le mouvement scolaire grandissant de lutte contre le changement climatique, l'action collective a gagné du terrain pour réclamer des avancées, selon ce rapport. 

"Malgré les tendances négatives, les citoyens actifs et les organisations de la société civile ont réussi à obtenir des changements en Arménie, où un nouveau système politique est en place, et en Éthiopie, où des dizaines de prisonniers d'opinion ont été libérés, a déclaré John.

Le rapport formule plusieurs recommandations à l'intention de la société civile et des citoyens. Elle appelle à de nouvelles stratégies pour défendre le populisme de droite tout en exhortant la société civile progressiste à offrir aux citoyens des alternatives meilleures et plus positives. Il s'agit notamment de développer et de promouvoir de nouvelles idées sur la démocratie économique pour des économies plus justes qui mettent les personnes et les droits au centre de leurs préoccupations. Le rapport appelle notamment à renforcer l'esprit d'internationalisme, l'humanité partagée et l'importance centrale de la compassion dans tout ce que nous affirmons et entreprenons.

-

Pour un résumé du rapport, cliquez ici.

Pour consulter le rapport complet, cliquez ici.

Lectures complémentaires :

Accédez au Monitor CIVICUS ici et pour plus d'informations sur les dernières évaluations du Monitor CIVICUS, cliquez ici (versions en anglais).

A propos du Rapport sur l'État de la Société Civile 2019:

Chaque année, le Rapport sur l'État de la Société Civile de CIVICUS examine les événements majeurs qui impliquent et affectent la société civile à travers le monde. Ce rapport passe en revue les événements clés de 2018 pour la société civile - les développements les plus significatifs auxquels la société civile a été confrontée, auxquels elle a répondu et qui l'ont affectée.

Notre rapport écrit par et pour la société civile, met en avant les points de vue d'un large éventail de militants et de dirigeants de la société civile qui sont proches des grands événements de notre temps. En particulier, il présente les conclusions du Monitor CIVICUS, notre plateforme en ligne qui suit les menaces qui pèsent sur l'espace civique dans chaque pays.

Pour de plus amples informations ou pour demander des entretiens avec le personnel de CIVICUS et les contributeurs à ce rapport, veuillez nous contacter à :

 

 

Malaysia: A year after elections, fundamental freedoms still restricted

 

A year after the electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, authorities have failed to reform repressive legislation or expand civic space, and continue to restrict fundamental freedoms and silence dissent, a new briefing from ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS said today.

The briefing, New Government, Old Tactics: Lack of progress on reform commitments undermines fundamental freedoms and democracy in Malaysia”, concludes that, despite some encouraging early steps by Malaysia’s new political leaders, broader reform processes to protect human rights have ground to a halt. The Pakatan Harapan coalition has not followed through on commitments in its campaign manifesto to reform repressive legislation, including the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Instead, authorities have used these laws to harass and prosecute activists, government critics and others exercising fundamental freedoms.

“The Pakatan Harapan government came to power on the back of promises to reform repressive laws and open up public spaces that have long been restricted by the previous regime. Instead, authorities have used the same old laws to silence critics, stifle unpopular opinions and control public discourse. These retrogressive tactics blemish the supposed reformist credentials of Malaysia’s new leaders, and impede the democratic transition that they promised to bring about,” said Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19’s Malaysia Programme Officer.

While welcoming steps to establish a self-governing media council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about that the lack of progress in reforming restrictive laws that impede press freedom and the ability of journalists to report without fear of judicial harassment and criminal penalties. Further, there has been a lack of transparency in legislative and institutional reform processes, with limited opportunities for meaningful participation by civil society and other stakeholders. The decision by authorities to place the report of the Institutional Reform Committee under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), preventing its release to the public, underscores these concerns.  

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS’s review of the government’s record during its first year in office reveals continued restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly. Those involved in peaceful protests, including students, women’s rights activists and indigenous activists have been arbitrarily detained, threatened or investigated, while the Peaceful Assembly Act has yet to be amended in line with international law and standards. Further, the government has failed to follow through on manifesto promises to create an enabling environment for civil society and to review laws and policies that restrict the registration and operations of NGOs.

“The government must halt the judicial harassment of demonstrators for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct police officers that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “Immediate steps must also be taken to review the Societies Act to guarantee that undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed,” Benedict added. 

The Pakatan Harapan government faces tremendous challenges in dismantling the repressive legal and institutional framework built during 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS understand that opposition forces are determined to undermine progressive reforms in Malaysia. Nevertheless, we urge the government to follow through on its promises and undertake a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive process of legislative and institutional reform to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. Failure to act with urgency, resolve and principle in this regard will lead to the entrenchment of restrictions on civic space and call into the question the government’s commitments to fundamental freedoms.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Malaysia as ‘Obstructed

 

Supreme Court set to rule on Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar

 

  • Myanmar’s Supreme Court is set to rule on an appeal by two jailed Reuters journalists on 23 April 
  • Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been jailed since December 2017, and convicted of violating a state secrets act in September 2018
  • The case highlights the increasing crackdown on press freedom in Myanmar

The Myanmar Supreme Court must order the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) said today. The two journalists, who have been jailed since 2017, are set to go before the country’s highest court on 23 April. The court will rule upon their appeal, which was submitted on grounds that lower court rulings involved errors in judicial procedure.

In December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were handed several documents during a dinner meeting that turned out to be secret government materials relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces.  They were then arrested  and charged under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and in September 2018, they were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for “illegal possession of official documents.”

During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.  

At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya minority that began in August 2017. 

An appeal by the two journalists to a lower court earlier this year on substantive grounds was rejected on the basis that lawyers failed to prove that the pair were innocent.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent 16 months in prison on spurious charges. The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to address this travesty of justice,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “No journalist should be in prison for doing their job. Their arrest and conviction have sadly created a chilling effect on the media in Myanmar.”

A UN Human Rights Council Resolution adopted at the Council’s 40th Session called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws.

“This case highlights the bleak situation for freedom of expression and press freedom in Myanmar. Overly broad, vague, and abusive laws have been systematically used to prosecute dozens of activists and journalists for the peaceful activism,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General from the Asia Democracy Network.

In March 2019, in the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar raised concerns about “a decreasing space for the expression of views that are critical” of the government and the “increasing self-censorship by journalists, as well as continued wielding of problematic laws by the government against those who speak out.” 

CIVICUS and ADN call on the Supreme Court to order the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and reiterate calls for the authorities in Myanmar to take immediate steps to ensure that journalists can do their jobs. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Myanmar as repressed.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

josef.benedict[at]civicus.org

 

International Civil Society Week closes with #FreedomRunner launch

 

Belgrade, Serbia – More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries were seen running through the streets of Serbia today – literally.

The #FreedomRunner event, held at the close of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a week-long global civil society gathering, kicked off a global campaign calling on people around the world to run in the name of human rights defenders who are currently jailed, being persecuted, or at risk for their work.

Throughout the ICSW 2019 forum, it was evident that individuals and organisations are increasingly under attack in many countries. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are often persecuted, and a historic, unprecedented rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms and sow division in many countries.

But brave women and men across the globe are refusing to be silenced.

“In every country, and often in the face of serious risks, people are standing up for their rights. Those of us with the freedom to do so need to stand - or even run - alongside them,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

The Freedom Runner campaign will be launched together with the Belgrade Marathon, a major annual event on the city’s calendar, on Sunday, April, 14.

“We are dedicating the first run within this global movement to the Marija Lukic, a Serbian survivor of sexual violence, who is still fighting her struggle for her rights on behalf of all of us,” said Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of ICSW co-host Civic Initiatives, an association of Serbian civil society organisations.

“The connections that will be made among freedom runners all around the world is a powerful tool for creating more just, inclusive societies,” said Stojanovic.

Over the coming year, runners will sign up to an online platform to track their collective runs, until they have run around the world – with some 40,075 km of running logged in the name of freedom - to arrive “back” in Belgrade.

“Running today is our way of showing how powerful we can be when we work together,” said John.

“We hope that people around the world will join us by running in their own cities and countries, so that we keep the spotlight shining on those whose basic freedoms are at risk.”

Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW brought together more than 900 delegates. This was the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, that CIVICUS hosted its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people.

This year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, set out to explore how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.

Sign up here to become a #FreedomRunner.

ENDS.  

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - just 4% of the world’s population live in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Find an album of photographs of the #FreedomRunner event here. They are free to publish. However please credit CIVICUS.

CONTACT

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please email: or contact:

Grant Clark, Senior Media Advisor, CIVICUS

Email:

Mobile/Whatsapp: +27 63 567 9719

 

Teodora Zahirovic, PR Manager, Civic Initiatives

Email:

Mobile/Whatsapp: +381 60 3624 001

 

World facing a global compassion deficit finds new CIVICUS report

  • Government attacks on humanitarian organisations on the rise globally
  • Right-wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups being mobilised to attack vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, LGBTIQ
  • Civil society organisations fighting back – 2018 saw a spike in protests against economic exclusion, inequality and poverty
  • Report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives

Civil society organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees are being targeted as the world faces a crisis of global compassion.

This alarming trend is one of the findings of the State of Civil Society Report 2019, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which looks at events and trends that impacted on civil society in the past year.

In one cited example, the Italian government prevented a boat operated by international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from docking in Italy, leaving it stranded at sea for a week with more than 700 passengers, including unaccompanied minors. In the USA, organisations were prevented from leaving life-saving water supplies for people making the hazardous journey across the desert from Mexico.

“Civil society, acting on humanitarian impulses, confronts a rising tide of global mean-spiritedness, challenging humanitarian values in a way unparalleled since the Second World War,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

“We need a new campaign, at both global and domestic levels, to reinforce humanitarian values and the rights of progressive civil society groups to act,” added John.

According to the report, in Europe, the USA and beyond - from Brazil to India - right wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups are mobilising dominant populations to attack the most vulnerable. This has led to an attack on the values behind humanitarian response as people are being encouraged to blame minorities and vulnerable groups for their concerns about insecurity, inequality, economic hardship and isolation from power. This means that civil society organisations that support the rights of excluded populations such as women and LGBTQI people and stand up for labour rights are being attacked.

As narrow notions of national sovereignty are being asserted, the international system is being rewritten by powerful states, such as China, Russia and the USA, that refuse to play by the rules. Borders and walls are being reinforced by rogue leaders who are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs by ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms.

The report also points to a startling spike in protests relating to economic exclusion, inequality and poverty, which are often met with violent repression, and highlights a series of flawed and fake elections held in countries around the world in the last year.

“Democratic values are under strain around the globe from unaccountable strong men attacking civil society and the media in unprecedented - and often brutal - ways,” said Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS’ Editor-in-Chief and the report’s lead author.

2018 was a year in which regressive forces appeared to gain ground. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, civic space – the space for civil society – is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s nations – well over half of all countries. Only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where our fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are respected and enabled.

But the past year was also one in which committed civil society activists fought back against the rising repression of rights. From the successes of the global #MeToo women’s rights movement to the March for Our Lives gun reform movement led by high school students in the USA to the growing school strike climate change movement, collective action gained ground to claim breakthroughs.

“Despite the negative trends, active citizens and civil society organisations have been able to achieve change in Armenia, where a new political dispensation is in place, and in Ethiopia, where scores of prisoners of conscience have been released,” said John.

The report makes several recommendations for civil society and citizen action. The report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives. These include developing and promoting new ideas on economic democracy for fairer economies that put people and rights at their centre. Notably, the report calls for reinforcing the spirit of internationalism, shared humanity and the central importance of compassion in everything we say and do.

Ends.

For an executive summary of the report, click here.

For the full report, click here.

Further reading:

Access the CIVICUS Monitor here and for more information on the latest CIVICUS Monitor ratings, click here.

About the State of Civil Society Report 2019

Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. This report looks back at the key stories of 2018 for civil society - the most significant developments that civil society was involved in, responded to and was impacted by.

Our report is of, from and for civil society, putting front and centre the perspectives of a wide range of civil society activists and leaders close to the major stories of the day. In particular, it presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country.

For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff and contributors to this report, please click here or contact:

 

Proposed new social media law in Nepal threatens freedom of expression

  • A new broad and restrictive law being introduced by the Nepalese government gives the authorities sweeping powers to block social media platforms and remove or criminalise defamatory posts
  • The government has also tabled legislation that restricts civil servants from sharing their views in the media including via social media sites
  • Global and regional human rights groups are concerned that these laws are to be designed to stifle dissent and silence critical voices

Nepal parliamentNew proposed laws relating to social media use in Nepal are intended to stifle dissent and silence critical voices, say global and regional human rights groups.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) say they are seriously concerned that new legislation, which has been tabled in parliament by the Nepalese government, are meant to create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.

On February 20, 2019, Nepal's government tabled the Information Technology bill in parliament, which would impose harsh sanctions for “improper” social media posts. Under the proposed law, the government would have the power to block social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, unless the owners registered their platforms in Nepal. The government can also instruct social network site operators to remove posts. Failure to do so could lead to a three-year jail term and a fine of 30,000 Nepalese rupees (US$ 262). Those responsible for social media posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty could be punished with up to five years behind bars and a fine of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees (USD 13,000).

“We are extremely concerned that this bill is overly broad and restrictive and, if passed,  could be used to block or criminalise reporting on government misconduct and the expression of critical opinions by civil society and citizens,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher.

“Any efforts to genuinely regulate online content must be approached in a transparent and consultative manner, and avoid criminal restrictions on free speech,” said Benedict. 

“We call on the Nepalese government to ensure that the legislation is in line with international law and standards in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it has ratified and that vague provisions around protecting national sovereignty should be removed”

CIVICUS and AHRC are also concerned about a new bill, tabled on February 13  2019, that prohibits civil servants from sharing their views through media including their micro-blogging sites, even after their retirement from government service. The law also prohibits speeches and writing that are considered “contrary to the policies of the Government of Nepal or to undermine mutual relationship between the Government of Nepal and the people or the relationship with any foreign country”.

 “It is extremely worrying to see such laws being introduced by the authorities that will further shrink civic space in Nepal,” said Basil Fernando, Director of AHRC.

“Criticism and dissent are essential attributes for an open and democratic society. We urge the authorities to pull the plug on such regressive legislation and instead take steps to create an enabling environment for freedom of expression to flourish,” said Fernando.

Fundamental freedoms in Nepal continue to face serious threats. Journalists have been arrested and charged under the Electronic Transaction Act 2008 for their reports and dozens have been attacked or threatened. Police have also used excessive and lethal force at demonstrations, with impunity and laws have been proposed to curtail the work of NGOs.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Nepal as Obstructed.

ENDS

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Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist

  • Global rights alliance condemns the prison detention of protesters of the ethnic Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in Pakistan and killing of one of their leaders
  • More than 80 PTM activists were arrested on 5 February for protesting the death of Arman Loni in police custody three days earlier.
  • The PTM is a social movement demanding equality for Pakistan’s Pashtun community, which has suffered systemic discrimination and human rights violations

     

Gabon government goes after civil society and opposition members for failed military coup, raising concerns

  • Global rights groups concerned by Gabon government’s targeting of human rights defenders and opposition members for military coup attempt
  • Authorities shut down Internet and suspend broadcasting services following failed coup
  • Gabon under tense security in wake of coup attempt
  • The family of President Ali Bongo has held onto power in Gabon for over half a century

Global civil society groups are concerned at indications by the government of Gabon that it intends to investigate local civil society organisations and members of the political opposition for their involvement in the recent military coup attempt.

A small group of Gabon army soldiers seized control of the country’s national broadcasting station in the capital, Libreville, on January 7 and announced a political takeover and the setting up of a National Restoration Council to oust President Ali Bongo. The coup was thwarted after security forces stormed the building, killing two of the soldiers involved in the operation. Eight plotters have been arrested. A day after the failed coup, the government shut down the internet nationwide and suspended broadcasting services. 

There are concerns that the Gabonese authorities might use the failed coup as a pretext to clampdown on fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association and tighten its grip on the media. 

Amid heightened political tensions, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed serious concern at comments by government spokesperson Guy-Bertrand Mapangou that certain opposition parties and civil society would be investigated for supporting the coup.

 “We urge Gabon not to target individual human rights defenders or civil society but to instead increase the space for fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all Gabonese,” said Teldah Mawarire of CIVICUS.

“What Gabon needs is democratic reform and the respect of the rule of law – virtues which have been absent from the country for half a century,” Mawarire said.  

The Internet shutdown has also sparked concern, as a violation of the freedom of citizens to express themselves freely and to impart and receive information without hinderance. CIVICUS has urged the Gabonese government to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, in the wake of the coup attempt.

President of Gabon, Ali Bongo has been away receiving medical attention in Morocco since last October. He succeeded his father Omar Bongo in 2009 in a contested election in which the opposition alleged electoral fraud. The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for 51 years. There has been an increase in restrictions on fundamental freedoms since a contested 2016 elections characterized by a media blackout, the killing of protesters, widespread arrests and intimidation and harassment of journalists.

Last November, the authorities suspended the newspaper L’Aube for three months for publishing an article about the president’s health. The publication’s editor was banned from practicing journalism for six months. The same month, in a move widely criticized by civil society as being unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court amended the constitution to accommodate the absence of President Ali Bongo. Gabonese Civil society groups argued that the mandate of the Constitutional Court was limited to interpreting the constitution and not to change it. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Gabon as “Repressed”. This means that civil society organisations there operates under serious restrictions, which impede their ability to speak out on or protest any issue of concern to them.

Following the attempted coup, the African Union (AU) commendably and swiftly condemned the action and urged a return to the rule of law. However, the AU has been encouraged to apply the same urgency to address the longstanding repression of fundamental rights by the Gabonese state.

For more information, please contact:

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Pakistan shuts down and kicks out 18 International NGOs, with 20 others facing expulsion

  •  Pakistan has expelled 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs)
  • Another 20 organisations are also at risk of expulsion
  • Pakistan’s policy on INGOs effectively hampers the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups

Global human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) from Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities ordered the INGOs to leave the country after rejecting their final appeals to remain. According to reports, all 18 expelled organisations, with the exception of two that are still trying to overturn their ouster in court, have closed their operations in Pakistan. Another 20 groups are reportedly also at risk of expulsion following the authorities’ singling out of a total of 38 international aid groups for closure a few months ago.  

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said this was a regressive move that will have a negative impact on thousands of ordinary Pakistani families that have been assisted by these organisations to claim their rights and build a better life.

“The Pakistani government's closure of international organisations is a clear violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

“It shows a disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who rely on and benefit from the assistance and support provided by these groups," said Kode.

On October 3, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs, including Action Aid, Plan International, International Alert and Safer World, to wind up their operations within 60 days. This followed the Ministry’s rejection of their applications for re-registration, without offering reasons, in November 2017.

Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, a fifth of which live in poverty. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The INGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.

These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry, under a new policy that worked to hamper the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.

The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in the country are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.

CIVICUS said the removal of these INGOs violates the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution and guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan is a party to. Any restriction on the right to freedom of association must be in strict compliance with international human rights law. In particular, any restriction shall be prescribed by law and must have a legitimate aim. Furthermore, the law concerned must be precise, certain and foreseeable. It shall also be adopted through a democratic process that ensures public participation and review. The recent actions fulfill none of these criteria.

“The Pakistani government must reconsider its decision to expel these groups and halt any further plans to shut down other civil society organisations.” Said Kode.

“Instead, as part of its reform agenda, it should take steps to revise its policy on INGOs to avoid contravening the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure the policy cannot be misused to restrict organisations’ legitimate work.” said Kode.

CIVICUS has urged the government to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate, in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as repressed.

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

David Kode - email:

CIVICUS Media –

 

Human rights groups globally call for end to killing of activists in record numbers

    • Human rights activists are being violently attacked and killed in record numbers 20 years after historic UN declaration adopted to protect them.
    • More than 900 organisations sign global statement raising concern about crisis for rights campaigners and calling for greater protection of activists
    • December 9 is 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
    • More than 3,500 human rights campaigners have been killed since then, mostly at the hands of governments, businesses and armed groups

Activists in Jail Around the World -- See Map & Get Involved

Exactly twenty years after the United Nations adopted a historic declaration to protect human rights defenders, activists are being violent attacked and killed globally in unprecedented numbers.

This crisis for rights campaigners has prompted more than 900 organisations working on human rights to endorse a global statement raising serious concerns about the glaring gaps between the provisions in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the treatment of those on the frontlines of the fight for human rights.

The statement comes as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9.

The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from the individual to global spheres. It affirms the responsibility and duty of states to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of their fundamental rights.

“Twenty years after the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs, HRDs across the world are exposed to excesses by state and non-state actors. There are glaring gaps in the recognition of the work of HRDs and in protecting them. A lot more needs to be done to ensure HRDs are able to do their work without fear of intimidation, threats or violence.” Said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.  

The global statement is a collective call to governments, identified as the primary perpetrators of violence against HRDs, to respect the Declaration’s provisions, recognise rights activists as key players in the development of societies and create an enabling environment for them to engage in their activism without fear of intimidation, threats and violence.

As the international community commemorates this milestone, we are reminded of the dangerous environment in which many HRDs operate. Over the past two decades, more than 3,500 rights activists have been killed for their work. Last year alone, more than 300 were murdered in some 27 countries. Despite the fact that these heinous crimes are preceded by threats, which are often reported to the authorities, in almost all cases, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. The high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of these acts are enhanced by the fact that culprits are often not prosecuted even when they are known to the authorities.

HRDs continue to be subjected to judicial persecution and are charged with serious crimes such as terrorism, secession, treason, engendering state security and drug trafficking for their part in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns. Most of these charges carry hefty penalties and, in most cases, trials are flawed.

Rights defenders are also subjected to acts of intimidation and smear campaigns and, in a time of heightened geopolitical tensions and bolstered government counter-terror programmes, are labeled “agents of foreign powers,” and “enemies of the state.” The objective is to discredit their work and force them to self-censor or leave their base communities.

Many HRDs have been abducted and simply disappeared with no official information on their whereabouts. Others have fled to other countries to avoid state reprisals. While activists are targeted for violence and attacks by states, increasingly they also face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests.  

“It is time for states to ensure that they fully commit to their international human rights obligations. Women human rights defenders, environmental, land rights and indigenous activists as well as those defending the rights of excluded communities continue to bear the brunt of attacks and restrictions by state and non-state actors.” Kode continued.

As leaders of civil society organisations working across different nations and regions at all levels, the statements’ signatories have called on governments as primary duty bearers to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their work safely, without fear of intimidation or the threats of violence. The group has urged businesses to respect the rights of people to express their views and protest, in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

David Kode

Grant Clark

 

Arrests of hundreds at demonstrations on West Papua highlight relentless suppression of dissent

  • Hundreds of West Papuans were arrested for holding peaceful protests
  • Some protesters were attacked by pro-government groups and suffered injuries
  • There has been a failure by the government to address West Papuan grievances and instead respond with repressive tactics

Mass Arrests IndonesiaIndonesian authorities arbitrarily arrested hundreds of demonstrators across West Papua and other parts of Indonesia on December 1 following peaceful pro-independence protests.

West Papua is a former Dutch colony that was placed under Indonesian rule following a United Nations-supervised referendum in 1969, which many believe to be fraudulent.

The rallies were held to mark the 57th anniversary of the raising of the Morning Star flag - a banned symbol of Papuan independence – to declare independence from the Netherlands.

Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the arrest of at least 500 activists highlights the continued repression against peaceful pro-independence activism in West Papua and the ongoing impunity for these violations.

According to reports, peaceful demonstrations took place in several locations in West Papua as well as other cities across the country including the cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Palu, Kupang, Makassar, Manado and Ambon. Most of the arrested have been released.

In Surabaya city, which saw one of the biggest rallies, protesters were allegedly attacked by pro-government nationalist groups leaving at least 17 injured.

“The weekend arrests of hundreds of West Papuan activists solely for their peaceful political expression is outrageous and another attempt to silence their ongoing demands. Despite continued promises by President Joko Widodo to address the grievances of West Papuans, all they have faced time and time again are repressive actions by the Indonesian security forces” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher.

There have been long standing demands by West Papuan groups for independence due to the exploitation of land and resources and serious human rights violations in the region. Over the decades, the Indonesian security forces have responded brutally with reports of unlawful killings and unnecessary and excessive use of force and firearms during peaceful pro-independence protests and gatherings.

Political activists and others accused of links to pro-independence groups have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during arrests. Most recently, in September 2018, at least 67 Papuan student activists were detained by the police for participating in at least three protests in Jayapura..

“The international community, especially countries in the region, cannot continue to stay silent on the abuses in West Papua. It must push for an end to the suppression of fundamental freedoms there and call for a genuine dialogue between the government and West Papuans to resolve the situation in the region.” said Benedict.

CIVICUS has called on the Indonesian government to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly and take the necessary steps to ensure that all police and military personnel who have been involved in human rights violations in West Papua are held accountable. The government must also take measures to ensure that local human rights defenders and journalists are protected and that international human rights organisations, journalists and the UN are provided unimpeded access to the West Papuan region.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Indonesia as obstructed.

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

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Bangladesh: Authorities must end smear campaign against human rights group Odhikar

  • Human rights group Odhikar is the target of a broad campaign to prevent them from exposing human rights violations in Bangladesh
  • Pro-government media are engaged in a smear campaign against Odhikar, accusing them of involvement in “murky activities” and “conspiracy against the country”
  • State agencies have used bureaucratic red tape to prevent Odhikar from receiving funding and renewing their registration with the state for past four years
  • These actions highlight a systematic pattern of discrediting activists and organisations critical of the government
  • Global civil rights alliance, CIVICUS, has called on Bangladesh, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to stop these campaigns ahead of December elections

A chilling smear campaign by government-aligned media in Bangladesh against a local human rights group is the latest in an ongoing drive to prevent efforts to expose human rights violations in the country.

Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the campaign targeting human rights organisation Odhikar highlights the repressive environment for civil society in Bangladesh.

Odhikar was founded in 1994 and is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights.

In the latest spate of incidents, the Election Commission of Bangladesh abruptly cancelled the Odhikar’s registration as an election observer on November 2018, saying that the state-run NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) had notified them that the organisation’s registration had expired.

Three days later, the daily Janakantha newspaper published an article accusing Odhikar of being involved in various “anti-state and anti-government activities”, engaged in “conspiracy against the country”. It claimed the group was “tarnishing the country’s image by providing wrong information to the international community regarding elections and the human rights situation” in Bangladesh.

The reporter also alleged that intelligence agencies recommended that the activities of Odhikar be shut down for violating NGO regulations, unlawfully taking funds from donor agencies and suspicious bank accounts. Odhikar has denied the accusations and called them completely false and fabricated.

Since then, other media reports have surfaced calling for Odhikar’s activities to be stopped, alleging anti-state actions among them, a report by private TV channel, Channel 1 on November 16, accusing the organisation of embezzling funds.

“This damaging smear campaign to discredit the work of an organization committed to upholding human rights is extremely alarming for civil society and civic freedoms in Bangladesh,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS.

“These actions are unjustifiable intimidation tactics and highlight a pattern of demonising human rights defenders who are critical of the government,” Benedict said.

Since 2014, the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), state agency, has deliberately subjected Odhikar to bureaucratic delays to deprive the organisation of financial resources, while also withholding the renewal of its mandatory registration. Odhikar has previously been publicly threatened by the police for carrying out “subversive” activities” after documenting a spate of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh in 2013. Activists working with Odhikar have come under surveillance, been targeted and arbitrarily detained for their activities.

““Bangladesh must start acting like a member of the UN Human Rights Council and take immediate steps to put an end to all forms of harassment against Odhikar and its staff,” said Benedict.

“The government must also ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.”

Bangladeshis are scheduled to go to the polls in late December to vote in national elections. Ahead of elections, scores of activists and government critics have been detained following peaceful protests with some facing criminal defamation charges. The authorities have also launched intensive and intrusive surveillance and monitoring of social media and have attempted to weaken opposition parties by arresting their members and dispersing their gatherings.

CIVICUS has called on the government to also respect the right to freedom of association, which it committed to in its recent review at the Human Rights Council and confirm Odhikar’s registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau immediately as well as reinstate the organisations registration for election observation.

Bangladesh was added to a global watchlist of countries which have seen an alarming escalation in threats to civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as ‘repressed’

ENDS.

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Free Saudi Women Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Saudi Women Activists

SaudiArabia JointStatement

 

  • Coalition of global human rights groups launch a campaign for release of all Saudi women activists behind bars
  • At least 12 women human rights defenders arrested in past six months and have had their rights violated for their activism
  • Almost a quarter of a million signatures on a petition calling on the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable 
  • More than 170 NGOs have called on the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and hold inquiry into human rights abuses
  • The coalition calls for action including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been enabling war in Yemen since 2015  

On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.

“Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.

A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.

More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s Change.org petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.

“Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.

“We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”

Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.

“Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.

“The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.

“Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.

The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.

"Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.

“Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB Executive Director.

“We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”

Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.

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About CIVICUS:

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene

 

Detention of 13 activists a sign of renewed crackdown by Turkish government

  • 13 activists and academics arrested and detained by police in clear act of intimidation
  • Prominent activist Yiğit Aksakoğlu remains in pre-trial custody
  • Recent detentions spark fears of renewed crackdown on dissent
  • Detentions come ahead of meeting between EU and Turkish officials today

Global and Turkish human rights groups fear that the detention of thirteen activists and academics could signal a new upsurge in a state crackdown on dissent in Turkey.

On October 16, police raided the homes of well-known human rights defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu and twelve other activists and academics. They were detained on suspicion of having violated Article 312 of the Penal Code, which regulates crimes such as attempts to overthrow the government, and interrogated about the Gezi protests in 2013.

The activists were accused of having connections with Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı, civil society organisations affiliated to activist and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned since 2017. Twelve of the activists have been released but Yiğit is in pre-trial detention at Silivri Prison, some 90 kilometres west of the capital, Istanbul.

Global civil society, CIVICUS, and local rights groups have condemned the detentions, which is clearly intended as an act of intimidation.

Yiğit, who is regularly under surveillance by the state, is accused of moderating meetings after the Geza protests – despite a court’s admission that the content of the meetings cannot be ascertained. The authorities claim that his meetings and telephone communications highlight plans to organise civil disobedience campaigns.

Yiğit has been active in civil society circles since the 1990s in Turkey. He is committed to promoting human rights, non-violence and pluralism. He is currently the representative of the Bernard Leer Foundation, a Dutch Foundation that focuses on early childhood development and child welfare.

“The continued pre-trial detention of Yiğit Aksakoğlu is an ominous indication of the paranoid state of democracy in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which continues to persecute those who engage in public debate on political issues,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer.

“It is a common tactic to silence intellectuals under the guise that they plan to overthrow the government despite lifting of the state of emergency in July 2018. The European Union should raise these concerns during their meeting with Turkish officials today,” said Tiwana.

The most recent detentions and persecution of Yiğit and other activists raise serious concerns over a renewed crackdown on activists and citizens in a manner similar to the wave of repression the authorities unleashed in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016. At least 136,990 activists, academics and citizens and 319 journalists have been detained since the failed coup. In addition, 189 media outlets have been shut down.

CIVICUS urges Turkish authorities to end the onslaught on democratic rights. Yiğit Aksakoğlu should be released immediately along-with others imprisoned because of their political beliefs since the crackdown on perceived government opponents began in 2016. We call on the European Union to raise these concerns with Turkish officials during the political meeting today and urge the Turkish authorities to create an enabling environment for activists, journalists and academics to do their work without fear of intimidation or arrest.

Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS

 

With social and political polarisation rising, global campaign gets people talking across divides

  • Global SPEAK! campaign counters growing divisions with a call to “speak with” those we don’t normally
  • Campaign will comprise almost 200 events in 60 countries worldwide
  • Events include dialogues countering hate speech, extremism, and religious conflict
  • Campaign timed to coincide with International Day for Tolerance

 

Journalist facing serious charges for reporting amid rising repression in Cameroon

  • Cameroonian journalist was reporting on human rights abuses when detained
  • Charges include engendering state security and cyber criminality
  • Fears of imminent terrorism charges and a trial in military court
  • Present case is the latest in ongoing anti-reporting campaign in Anglophone region

International civil society is alarmed at the rising incidents of Cameroonian journalists being detained for reporting on human rights abuses in the country’s Anglophone regions.

In the most recent case, Mimi Mefo Takambou, head of English news for the private TV Channel, Equinoxe was arrested in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala on November 7 after she responded to a police summons. The summons was issued in late October 2018 as part of an investigation into false news and cybercrime offences.

Takambou faces charges of engendering state security, spreading false news and cyber criminality. The engendering state security charge raises serious concerns that she may will be tried by a military tribunal under Cameroon’s notorious terrorism legislation. Takambou is currently being held at Douala’s notorious New Bell prison.

The journalist, who also has a blog covering socio-economic and political issues, was summoned by police after publishing information about the killing of American missionary Charles Trumann Wesco near the city of Bamenda in the North West Region on 30 October 2018. Since the start of the Anglophone crisis in 2016, journalists particularly those of Anglophone origin have been subjected to politically motivated prosecutions and jailed following the militarization of the Anglophone regions.

“The detention of Mimi Mefo and several other journalists is typical of the actions of a rogue regime,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

“In defiance of international norms, Cameroonian authorities are using indiscriminate violence and intimidation to force journalists and ordinary citizens to self-censor amid a growing political crisis and rising human rights violations in the two Anglophone regions,” said Tiwana.

The state’s targeting of journalists has intensified after disputed presidential elections on 7 October 2018, in which incumbent President Paul Biya claimed victory. This latest case serves to intimidate other journalists against reporting on the Anglophone crisis and post-election developments.

In the last month alone, at least six journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and are currently detained for coverage of the crisis and the political situation in Cameroon. On October 23, editor of the privately-owned website Hurinews, Michael Biem Tong, was summoned by the Secretariat of the State for Defence in Yaoundé after publishing information critical of the government’s response to the Anglophone crisis. Less than two weeks later, security forces assaulted, arrested and detained journalist Joseph Olinga of le Messager newspaper as part of a crackdown on peaceful protests calling for a vote re-count from the October 7 elections. Gustave Flaubert Kengne, publisher of Orientation Hebdo, a publication that focuses on human rights issues, also remains detained without charge.

CIVICUS calls on the African Union to urge the Cameroonian government to respect the rights of journalists in line with provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and immediately release Takambou and all others currently held for reporting on human rights violations.

“It is time for the African union to wake up from its slumber and call on the government of Cameroon to respect the rights of its citizens,” Tiwana said.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Cameroon as repressed. Cameroon is also on the Watch List of the Monitor.

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Ine Van Severen

Facebook: facebook/civicusalliance

Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

 

Sri Lanka government must respect the rule of law and protect civic space

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and The Innovation for Change South Asia Hub are extremely concerned about the political crisis in Sri Lanka and its impact on the rule of law and civic space in the country.

We are gravely concerned that President Maithripala Sirisena has undermined the rule of law by unconstitutionally removing the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former President and current Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa overnight. Rajapaksa’s administration was implicated in serious violations during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and the suppression of freedoms of the media, expression, and association.

This was followed by a decision to undemocratically suspend Parliament denying Members of Parliament, who exercise sovereignty on the peoples’ behalf, the ability to assemble at this crucial time. We demand that the Parliament be reconvened immediately allowing representatives of the people to decide the way forward and to prevent the nation from plunging into a state of political instability and impunity.

Our organisations are also alarmed by reports of the forcible take-over of state media institutions and intimidation of journalists disrupting the free flow of information to the public. We condemn such actions and call on the authorities to ensure that press freedom, a crucial component of a democracy is respected.

We are also concerned that these political developments may put the civic freedom of Sri Lankans at risk. Citizens must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

We hope that Sri Lanka’s democratic gains of the past several years will not be lost and we stand in solidarity with civil society and human rights defenders from Sri Lanka at this difficult time.

Contact:

Omid Salman (I4C South Asia Communications Specialist):

Josef Benedict (CIVICUS Research officer):

 

Saudi Arabia: Free Saudi activists now!

Saudi Arabia should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained activists, respect their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and put an immediate end to its nationwide crackdown, a coalition of leading human rights organizations said today. A symbolic display of the magnitude of the authorities’ crackdown has been the enforced disappearance, alleged torture and the extrajudicial killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

“The nationwide crackdown against civil society in Saudi Arabia continues unabated”, said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and lawyers are facing arbitrary arrest, detention, smear campaigns labeling them as ‘foreign agents and terrorists’, and criminalisation for exercising their fundamental human rights”, added Sriskandarajah.

As the authorities lifted the driving ban for women, they arrested dozens of women human rights defenders who have been campaigning against the ban and the male guardianship system. “These women face double the repression: they are not only targeted for speaking out against the State’s policies but also for defying patriarchy and demanding gender equality”, said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Director of Global Community for Women’s March Global.

“Jamal Khashoggi’s arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing in Istanbul demonstrates the extent to which the Saudi government is willing to go to suppress critical voices, from journalists to human rights defenders and women’s rights activists”, said Hussain Abdullah, director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.

The Saudi authorities have a long way to go to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. This includes repealing all restrictive laws on press censorship, laws to target defenders who use the Internet for their activism, laws to restrict the establishment and operations of independent civil society organizations, and counter-terrorism laws used to imprison defenders.

Yet, ahead of Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 5 November 2018, the Saudi authorities now have an important opportunity to demonstrate to the international community that they are committed to taking immediate steps to uphold their human rights obligations.

“A first step in the right direction would be releasing all those detained in association with the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly”, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council advocate.

“There has never been a more critical time for the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for years of widespread and systematic human rights violations committed with impunity including gender-based discrimination against Saudis as well as violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen”, said Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

Ahead of Saudi Arabia’s upcoming UPR, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CVICUS and Women’s March Global launch an advocacy campaign to highlight the widespread and systematic crackdown against dissent in the country.

Join us in calling for the release of Saudi women activists by signing this petition.

Join us in tweeting to #FreeSaudiActivists and #StandWithSaudiFeminists

Twitter accounts: @whrdmena, @WM_Global,  @GulfCentre4HR; @ISHRglobal ; @CIVICUSalliance; @ADHRB

 

Zimbabwe Police arbitrarily arrest trade union leaders over planned protests

  • Police arrest, assault union leaders and members ahead of planned peaceful march
  • Authorities banned demonstrations against economic crisis, citing cholera concerns
  • Protests prompted by fuel queues, new tax on money transfers impacting mostly poor
  • National, global NGO groups urge government to respect the protected rights of citizens

Global and national civil society groups have expressed concern at the arrest of trade union leaders in Zimbabwe ahead of planned peaceful protests.

Zimbabwean police pre-empted nationwide demonstrations against the deepening economic crisis in the country, scheduled for October 11, by banning them and arbitrarily arresting organisers belonging to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has urged the authorities to show restraint and respect the constitutionally protected rights of all Zimbabweans.

Police banned the protests citing concerns of a cholera outbreak in recent weeks. The unions say they are being targeted because of their dissenting message as other gatherings had been allowed to proceed.

ZCTU members were arrested in the capital, Harare as well as in the cities of Mutare and Masvingo. According to reports, police were armed with truncheons, tear smoke canisters and accompanied by water cannons during the raids. Several union members were assaulted. ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and secretary general Japhet Moyo were among those arrested.

Following a disputed 30 July 2018 election outcome, economic uncertainty has deepened in Zimbabwe, which has been struggling with foreign currency shortages, hyper-inflation and erosion of the local currency. This has triggered fuel queues as business slowed down in response to the economic decline.

The government also recently imposed a new 2% tax on mobile money transactions that the unions said will be borne mostly by the poor. Trade unions had organised a protest to highlight these trying economic circumstances to the government and raise concerns about the hardships the new tax would bring for the poor.

“It had been our sincere hope that after the election in August, the authorities would open more space for citizens, civil society and trade unions to freely express their opinions including through peaceful protests,” said Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Executive Director.

“Hence, we are disappointed that the authorities are still employing methods of an era gone by to silence dissent,” said Mandishara.

NANGO also said civil society is awaiting with much anticipation the outcome of a commission of enquiry established after six people were shot dead by the military in Harare at an election-related protest.

CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to engage with civil society and trade unions on the fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.

NANGO is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation and the official, non-denominational coordinating body of NGOs in Zimbabwe. It is mandated by its membership to coordinate the activities of NGOs, represent the NGO sector and strengthen the voice of NGOs in Zimbabwe.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Director

Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer

 

Indonesia: Shut down of civil society conference an attack on civic space

Responding to the decision by the Indonesian police to remove permission for the "Peoples' Global Conference against IMF-WB" at the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's annual meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia:

“At a time when the space for civil society and alternative voices is shrinking around the world, it is disgraceful that Indonesia, which prides itself as a champion of democracy, has decided to take such action. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Indonesian authorities to immediately review their arbitrary decision to cancel the conference and allow the event to take place. Authorities must also investigate allegations of intimidation and surveillance of the event organisers.”

“The space for critical debate in Indonesia is receding by the day with restrictions on peaceful gatherings, the arrest of activists for peaceful protests and human rights defenders facing various risks in undertaking their work.  CIVICUS calls on authorities to halt these draconian actions and instead create an enabling environment for activists and civil society to engage as well as critique the government and other actors including international financial institutions.”

Background

An alternative conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's annual meeting this week in Indonesia has been cancelled due to pressure from the police. The planned event -- the "Peoples' Global Conference against IMF-WB" -was set to kick off on 11 October 2018.  The alternative conference, involving around 300 participants from Indonesia and around the world, was to bring together dozens of civil society groups to draw attention to the impact of free trade and IMF-WB backed policies that critics say aggravate income inequality, abuse labor rights and harm the environment.

Civil society has long called for international financial institutions to integrate civic space concerns into their work and in any country specific development projects supported or initiated by them.

According to reports, police intelligence personnel had infiltrated the event planning team as volunteers, subjecting them to intimidation and constant surveillance. The organisers are looking for an alternate venue and are in negotiations with police in Bali.

Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space research officer (josef.benedict[at]civicus.org, twitter @josefroy2): 

For more information on civic space in Indonesia visit their country page on the CIVICUS Monitor.  The state of civil liberties in Indonesia is currently rated as Obstructed.

 

Tibetan activist jailed for advocating cultural rights

A Chinese court has sentenced a Tibetan activist to five years’ imprisonment under a national security law, for peacefully advocating cultural rights in Tibet.

 

Police crack down on rare protest in Djibouti

Police threw teargas grenades at a crowd to break up a protest in Tadjourah, Djibouti, on 14 May. Dozens of protesters had gathered to denounce alleged nepotism after the recruitment of 76 new civil servants linked to the construction of a new port in Tadjourah and placed stones and tyres on a main road to block traffic. According to a local civil society source, some protesters suffered gunshot wounds, including one who is severely injured.

 

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