Vietnam: Immediately release journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang

 

Ahead of her upcoming trial on 4 November, the undersigned 28 human rights and freedom of expression organizations today condemn the ongoing arbitrary detention of independent journalist and woman human rights defender Pham Doan Trang. We call on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against her. The persecution of Doan Trang and other human rights defenders, including independent writers and journalists, is part of the worsening assault on the rights to freedom of expression and information in Vietnam.

Pham Doan Trang was arrested more than a year ago in Ho Chi Minh City, on 7 October 2020, and initially charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and its successor provision, Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, which both criminalize ‘making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’ She is now being charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, according to the indictment made public on 18 October 2021.

A month before her arrest, Doan Trang was the subject of a joint communication issued by five UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs (independent experts) responding to mounting harassment against her and other independent writers and journalists. In its December 2020 response, the government of Vietnam denied all allegations of wrongdoing and, without providing evidence, justified Doan Trang’s arrest as a response to her alleged abuse of the internet to overthrow the State.

It is clear that Pham Doan Trang is being persecuted for her long-standing work as an independent journalist, book publisher, and human rights defender, known for writing about topics ranging from environmental rights to police violence, as well as for her advocacy for press freedom. Vietnamese authorities have regularly used Article 88 (and later Article 117) of the Penal Code to punish human rights defenders, independent journalists and writers, and others who have peacefully exercised their human rights.

International human rights experts have repeatedly called on Vietnam to amend the non-human rights compliant provisions of its Penal Code and bring them into line with international law. In 2021, four UN Special Rapporteurs noted that Article 117 is ‘overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others.’ In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Vietnam ‘as a matter of urgency’ to revise vague and broadly formulated legislation, including Article 117, and to end violations of the right to freedom of expression offline and online.

In June 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, responding to the detention of an Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam member, pointed to a ‘familiar pattern of arrest that does not comply with international norms, which is manifested in the circumstances of the arrest, lengthy detention pending trial with no access to judicial review, denial or limiting of access to legal counsel, incommunicado detention, prosecution under vaguely worded criminal offences for the peaceful exercise of human rights, and denial of access to the outside world. This pattern indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Vietnam which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law.

Since her arrest, Doan Trang has been held incommunicado, until 19 October 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year. Prolonged incommunicado detention is a form of prohibited ill-treatment under international law under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam has ratified. As a result of this denial of her rights to a fair trial, liberty, and security, she has faced increased risk of torture and other ill treatment.

On 30 August 2021, following the conclusion of the police investigation, the Hanoi Procuracy Office issued its formal indictment against Doan Trang. Alarmingly, her family did not learn of this until more than a month later, on 7 October, and only after having requested information from the authorities. The family and lawyers were again denied visitation. Authorities at the time also refused to provide Doan Trang’s lawyers with a copy of the indictment or access to the evidence they had prepared against her. This undue delay in the proceedings and refusal to grant access to a lawyer of her choosing amounts to a violation of her right to a fair trial under Article 14 of the ICCPR.

According to the indictment, which was only made public on 18 October—more than a year after her arrest—Doan Trang is being charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for alleged dissemination of anti-State propaganda. The authorities dropped the similar charge under Article 117 of the amended Penal Code.

The indictment calls attention to three specific pieces of writing. It mentions a book-length report Doan Trang wrote with Green Trees, an environmental rights group, about the 2016 Formosa Ha Tinh Steel disaster; a 2017 report on the freedom of religion in Vietnam; and an undated article titled ‘General assessment of the human rights situation in Vietnam.’ The indictment also accuses her of speaking with two foreign media, Radio Free Asia and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to allegedly defame the government of Vietnam and fabricate news. These publications highlight Doan Trang’s vital work as an author, journalist, and human rights defender who has worked tirelessly for a more just, inclusive, and sustainable Vietnam. Her peaceful activism should be protected and promoted, not criminalized, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the undersigned organizations said.

The use of human rights reports as evidence in a criminal prosecution sends a chilling message to civil society against engagement in human rights documentation and advocacy, and increases the risk of self-censorship. In light of the fact that Doan Trang’s report on Formosa was also part of direct advocacy with the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights in 2016, its inclusion as evidence against her may constitute an act of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the UN and consolidate an environment of fear, as already noted by several UN actors.

Ahead of her 4 November 2021 trial, Doan Trang was only granted her first meeting with her lawyer on 19 October 2021. While the lawyer noted Doan Trang’s overall positive attitude, he also recounted several serious medical concerns. Doan Trang’s legs, which were broken by the police in 2015, have been in greater pain as a result of the denial of adequate medical care during her detention. She has not been allowed to visit a doctor to treat other preexisting conditions, including low blood pressure, and as a result she has lost 10 kilograms.

We denounce this unacceptable denial of her rights to a fair trial and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and call for an immediate end to her arbitrary detention, and for all charges against her to be dropped.

Doan Trang’s background as an independent journalist and human rights defender

Doan Trang is among the leading voices and best-known independent writers in Vietnamese civil society and recognized internationally for her human rights advocacy. She is the author of thousands of articles, blog entries, Facebook posts, and numerous books about politics, social justice, and human rights.

She is the co-founder of the environmental rights group Green Trees, and the independent media outlets Luat Khoa Magazine, The Vietnamese Magazine, and the Liberal Publishing House. Doan Trang is the recipient of the 2017 Homo Homini Award presented by Czech human rights organization People in Need and the 2019 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award Prize for Impact. In 2020, the International Publishers Association awarded her organization, the Liberal Publishing House, with their Prix Voltaire Award.

Pham Doan Trang is no stranger to harassment and intimidation by the State for her writing and human rights advocacy. This has included torture and other ill-treatment, including physical assault. In 2015, she was beaten so badly by security forces that she was left disabled and has since often needed crutches to aid her mobility. In 2018, she was hospitalized after being subjected to torture in police custody. For three years preceding her arrest, she was forced to move constantly and lived in fear of intimidation and harassment by police and other State authorities.

In view of the above, we call on the government of Vietnam to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against Pham Doan Trang and all other human rights defenders currently imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Pending her immediate and unconditional release, guarantee humane treatment and conditions, and ensure prompt access to medical attention;
  • Guarantee Doan Trang unrestricted access to and regular communication with her family and confidential access to legal assistance of her choosing;
  • Ensure that her chosen lawyers are promptly provided with timely access to all relevant legal documentation and granted unrestricted communication and access in confidentiality with Doan Trang and adequate time and facilities to prepare for her defense;
  • Ensure the trial is open to the public, including diplomatic and human rights civil society observers and the media, and refrain from any arbitrary restriction on travel or interference of trial observers, media, and civil society preceding and during the trial;
  • Repeal or substantially amend the Penal Code and other non-human rights compliant legislation, used to harass and imprison individuals—including independent journalists and human rights defenders—for the exercise of their fundamental rights, and bring them in conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam has been a State Party since 1982, and other applicable international law and standards.

Signatories

  1. Access Now
  2. ALTSEAN-Burma
  3. Amnesty International
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. Asia Democracy Chronicles
  6. Asia Democracy Network
  7. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  8. Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
  9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  10. Committee to Protect Journalists
  11. Defend the Defenders
  12. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  13. Front Line Defenders
  14. Green Trees
  15. Human Rights Watch
  16. International Commission of Jurists
  17. International Publishers Association
  18. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam
  19. Open Net Association
  20. PEN America
  21. People in Need
  22. Que Me - Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  23. Reporters Without Borders
  24. Safeguard Defenders
  25. The 88 Project
  26. Vietnam Human Rights Network
  27. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
  28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Civic space in Vietnam is rated 'closed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

Anniversary Marks Ongoing Assault on Women’s Rights, Rule of Law

Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment.

Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances.

“The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.”

The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021.

This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders.

Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month.

Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services.

Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered.

In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group.

Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them.

In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events.

The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them.

“Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.”

The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights.

Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.

The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties.

The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion.

The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament.

“Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Poland, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/poland

For more information, please contact:
For Human Rights Watch, in London, Hillary Margolis (English): +1-917-385-4107 (US mobile) or +44 (0)7733-486-524 (UK mobile); or . Twitter: @hillarymargo
For Human Rights Watch, in Brussels, Philippe Dam: (French, English): +32-495-45-22-71 (mobile); or . Twitter: @philippe_dam
For Human Rights Watch, in Budapest, Lydia Gall (English, Swedish, Hungarian): +36-702-748-328 (mobile); or . Twitter: @LydsG
For Abortion Support Network (part of Abortion Without Borders), in London, Mara Clarke (English): +44 (0) 7913-353-530; or
For Amnesty International, Alison Abrahams: +32-483-680-812 or +44-20-7413-5566; or ; or . Twitter: @amnestypress     
For the Center for Reproductive Rights, in New York, Geraldine Henrich-Koenis (English): +1-703-314-1137; or . Twitter: @ReproRights
For CIVICUS, in Johannesburg, Aarti Narsee: ; or . Twitter @ajnarsee
For FIDH, in Brussels, Elena Crespi (English, French, Italian, Spanish): +32-484-875-964. Twitter: @ecrespi_fidh
For FIDH, in Paris: Marc de Boni (French, English): +33-6-722-842-94. Twitter: @MarcdeBoni
For Federa, in Warsaw, Urszula Grycuk (Polish, English): .
For International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or . Twitter: @ippfen
For the Polish Women’s Strike, in Warsaw, Anna Styrańczak: +48-881-718-904; or .

Civic space in Poland is rated as narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Sudan: Stop harassing journalists and human rights defenders

The ongoing prosecution, harassment, and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders by the Sudanese transitional authorities is a clear violation of Sudan’s international human rights obligations and poses major setbacks to the democratic commitments of the transitional leadership, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS today.

 

Afghanistan: Assault on peaceful protests highlight deteriorating space for civic freedoms

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns the excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by Taliban security forces as they crack down on protests in Afghanistan. Such actions highlight the deteriorating space for civic freedoms in the country and the need to ensure independent mechanisms to hold Taliban authorities accountable.

 

Honduras: After two years in pre-trial detention, release arbitrarily detained Guapinol human rights defenders

  • Today marks exactly two years since Guapinol human rights defenders were jailed
  • Human rights defenders featured in CIVICUS’s Stand As My Witness Campaign
  • United Nations declared their detention is arbitrary and calls for their release
  • Detention unlawfully extended for further six months in August
  • Honduras one of the most dangerous places for environmental rights defenders

For two years, eight members of the Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Assets (CMDBCP) have been held in pre-trial detention in Honduras for defending protected water sources and natural resources of communities in danger of mining related contamination. The Guapinol human rights defenders have been advocating against the Guapinol mining project in Tocoa, in the department of Colón in Honduras. They were initially detained on 1 September 2019, and are being kept arbitrarily in pre-trial detention without any legal basis.

The eight defenders are Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz, José Abelino Cedillo Cantarero, José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbin Nahuan Hernández, Arnol Javier Alemán and Jeremías Martínez. They were initially arrested on 26 August 2019, while protesting against the mining activities of the Honduras company Inversiones Los Pinares (ILP), which threatens the safety and livelihood of thousands of people in communities in the department of Colón. ILP was granted mining concessions by the state of Honduras in 2014 and its ongoing mining projects have contaminated water sources. Projects are being implemented without adequate consultations with communities affected.

“There is absolutely no basis for Honduras to detain the eight human rights defenders and to continue to keep them in pre-trial detention. Despite numerous calls from the international community, including from United Nations bodies for their release, the Honduran authorities continue to disregard the rule of law and have held them for two years now,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

The CMDBCP was set up primarily to raise awareness about the impact of the Guapinol project mining activities and to advocate against the actions of mining communities on behalf of the people affected. More than 32 members of CMDBCP have been subjected to judicial persecution and arbitrary detention, 6 have been killed and many more face threats and intimidation. These restrictions are symptomatic of the violence and human rights violations which target environmental and land rights activists, which makes Honduras one of the most dangerous countries for activists working on climate justice and environmental rights in the world.

On 9 February 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions established that the deprivation of the liberty of the Guapinol human rights defenders is arbitrary and called on Honduras to release them immediately.

“The continuous detention of the Guapinol human rights defenders violates Honduras’ regional and international human rights violations and exposes the defenders to severe health risks in the context of a global pandemic,” David continued.

The Guapinol human rights defenders are part of the CIVICUS #StandAsMyWitness campaign - a global campaign that advocates for the rights of human rights defenders and calls for their release.

CIVICUS calls on the Honduras government to respect the rule of law and immediately release the Guapinol human rights defenders and hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable.

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

 

Uganda: Lift restrictions on NGOs and respect freedom of assembly and expression

CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world is seriously concerned over a decision by the Ugandan authorities to close and suspend the operations of 54 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

On 20 August 2021, The National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Bureau) under the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a decree, revoking operational licences and certificates of 15 NGOs and halting the operations of 36 others. Many of those affected highlight human rights violations and have contributed to civil society development in Uganda. The Ugandan government accuses the NGOS of failing to register with the NGO Bureau or for operating with expired NGO permits. Those indefinitely suspended are accused of consistently failing to file annual returns and audited books of accounts and for failing to comply on other issues.

“The dissolution of these organisations is a new low for human rights in a country that has continuously failed to respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association. The closure and suspension of organisations is intended to silence independent civil society voices committed to defending human rights and civic space in Uganda,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS.

The closure and suspension of these organisations follows several restrictions imposed on NGOs, including a national validation exercise in 2019. Government justified the restrictions by stating they were needed to identify entities involved in “unscrupulous activities,” and to prevent unregistered NGOs from laundering money. Although the Public Order Management Act was constitutionally nullified by the court in March 2020, it is still being used by the government to limit fundamental freedoms including the right to assemble and association.

The NGO Bureau has imposed the current restrictions on civil society organisations at a time when members of security personnel continue to enjoy high levels of impunity for targeting human rights defenders and journalists.

CIVICUS calls on the government of President Yoweri Museveni to rescind the suspensions of all NGOs affected, respect its international human rights obligations, and create an enabling environment for civil society organisation and human rights defenders.

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 Uganda as repressed.

For more information, please contact:
David Kode
Advocacy and Campaigns Lead
Email:

 

Myanmar: Activists behind bars

MyanamrActivistsinPrison Banner1

Following the February 2021 military coup, thousands in Myanmar have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and attacked including human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, political and student activists, poets, writers, and monks. 

As documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, many are facing baseless charges and there have also been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody. The following are some of the human rights defenders and activists who have been detained by the junta.


Min Htin KoKo Gyi1Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi  

Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the military coup. He is a prominent filmmaker and founder of the Human Dignity Film Institute. He produced an award-winning documentary Floating Tomatoes about the disastrous effect that pesticides are having on Myanmar's Inle Lake.

In August 2019, he was previously arrested and sentenced under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code to a year in prison by the Insein Township Court for a series of Facebook posts critical of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and the military’s role in politics.


(Photo Credit: Myanmar NOW) 

Ko Min Thway Thit1Student activist Ko Min Thway Thit 

Student activist Ko Min Thway Thit was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. He was previously imprisoned in 2015 for his role in the protests against the new education bill and released in 2016.

He was also among four fined 30,000 kyats for organising a protest without permission on 7 July 2019 to commemorate Ne Win’s 1962 massacre of student activists.

 

(Photo Credit: Burma News International) 

ko mya aye kyaukse88 Generation activist, Mya Aye 

Prominent democracy activist and one of the leaders of the 88 Generation was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. Mya Aye was arrested twice under the former junta for his political activism during and after the 1988 uprising and served a total of 12 years in prison.

He faces hate speech charges under Article 505(c) of the Penal Code for incitement, which carries up to two years in prison.

 

(Photo Credit: The Myanmar Times)

Shwe Nya Wah SayadawPro-democracy Buddhist monk, Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw 

Buddhist monk Shwe Nya War Sayadaw was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. He was detained by the military at his monastery in Yangon. He is an outspoken monk and has been critical of the 969 movement, which is backed by nationalist Buddhist monks.

In 2012, he was ordered to leave his monastery in Yangon because of a speech he gave at a pro-democracy event at the Mandalay office of the National League for Democracy, where he had publicly called for the release of political prisoners and the end of ongoing civil wars.

 (Photo Credit: Kaung Htet/ The Myanmar Times)

Thin Thin Aung1Women human rights defender Thin Thin Aung 

Thin Thin Aung was arbitrarily arrested on 8 April 2021 from Botahtaung Township in Yangon and taken to the Yay Kyi Ai military interrogation centre in Yangon’s Insein Township. On 9 April 2021, military security forces raided her apartment in Yangon and seized her belongings, including her computers. She was taken to the Mingalardon interrogation centre (Yay Kyi Aing) on the same day. After being tortured for two weeks, she was transferred to Yangon’s Insein prison on 21 April 2021. She has been charged under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code.

She is a co-founder of Mizzima News Agency and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), the founder of Women for Justice formerly known as Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma (WRWAB). Since the 1988 uprising, Thin Thin Aung has dedicated her life to the fight for democracy and human rights in Myanmar. She has spent most of her time advocating locally and internationally for justice for women’s human rights. 

Ko Wai Moe Naing1Protest leader Ko Wai Moe Naing 

Ko Wai Moe Naing, a prominent anti-junta protest leader in Monywa, Sagaing Region, was beaten and dragged away by junta forces after his motorcycle was rammed on 15th April 2021.  A photo apparently showing him to have been badly tortured went viral the day after his arrest

Wai Moe Naing met with his lawyers for the first time on 27th May 2021, more than a month after his arrest The meeting took place during a court hearing in Monywa Prison, where he is currently being held. He reportedly faces a total of 10 criminal charges, including treason, murder, incitement, unlawful association, wrongful confinement, and armed robbery.

(Photo Credit: Myanmar NOW) 

Myo Aye1Trade union leader, Ma Myo Aye 

One of Myanmar’s leading trade union leaders, Ma Myo Aye was arrested on 15th April 2021. She was arrested at her office in Yangon’s Shwepyithar Township by around 40 members of the military junta’s security forces. Myo Aye was then taken to a police station for interrogation.

She is director of Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM) and has been one of the most prominent union leaders in the civil disobedience movement, which has been organising national strikes and protests since the military seized power. 

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter/@cleanclothes) 

Man Zar Myay Mon1Land and environmental rights defender, Man Zar Myay Mon 

Man Zar Myay Mon is a land and environmental rights defender in Sagaing Region. He was detained on the morning of 8 June 2021, by soldiers while he was attempting to flee Shan Htoo Village, Chaung-U Township, Sagaing Region. The soldiers shot him in the leg while he was riding a motorbike, immediately captured him, handcuffed him, and blindfolded him. He is being held at an interrogation center at the headquarters of the Tatmadaw’s Northwestern Command in Monywa, Sagaing Region

After he became a leading figure of peaceful anti-coup protests, in March 2021 Man Zar Myay Mon was charged with “incitement” under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code for his participation in the demonstrations and an arrest warrant was issued against him, which forced him to go into hiding. He has worked for many years to promote accountability of the extractive industries for the benefit of local communities. He was also active as one of the community leaders in the Letpadaung mine protests in Sagaing Region.

(Photo Credit: The Irrawaddy)

Ma Chun BuJournalist Ma Chan Bu 

Security forces beat and arrested reporter Ma Chan Bu from the 74 Media on 29 March while she was covering a protest in Myitkyina, Kachin State. She was arrested with Ko La Raw, who is with Kachin Wave. Both media outlets are based in the Kachin State capital. She has been charged under Section 505a of the Penal Code.

According to reports as of 15 July 2021, nearly half of the 87 journalists arrested by Myanmar’s junta in the five months since the coup remain in detention. 31 reporters were released prior to 30 June 2021 when the junta declared a general amnesty and freed 2,300 prisoners from the country’s jails, including another 14 journalists. In most cases, authorities charged reporters with defamation of the military under Section 505 (a). Dozens of reporters are currently in hiding.

(Photo Credit: BNI Multimedia Group)

 

Zambia: New government must lift restrictions on civil liberties

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS congratulates President Hakainde Hichilema on his election as the new President of Zambia and commends the millions of people of Zambia for participating in the electoral process that has seen the transition of power from former President Edgar Lungu to a new government. The people of Zambia braved the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns of violence, and internet restrictions ahead of the elections to exercise their civic duty.

“Zambians have demonstrated to the world a resolve to chart their own democratic path in a constitutional way; to return to a space where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted, and protected. We urge the government of President Hichilema to promote and protect human rights principles and good governance for a better Zambia.” Said Dr Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

Over the last five years in Zambia civil liberties deteriorated as Zambian authorities arrested journalists, suspended independent media platforms and subjected human rights activists to judicial persecution. Several activists have been targeted particularly for calling for accountability in the management of state finances and for protesting against corruption.

President Hichilema’s government has a responsibility to initiate broad consultations with civil society, reverse civic space restrictions imposed by his predecessor and respect fundamental freedoms in line with Zambia’s constitution and international human rights obligation.

We urge the new government to:

  • Carry out an independent investigation into the violence ahead of the elections and bring the perpetrators to justice. Lift the ban on all independent media outlets, particularly Prime TV, and lift all restrictions on online freedoms and create an enabling environment for independent media, journalists, and activists to freely express their views without fear of intimidation and harassment.
  • Adhere to and respect the provision of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, including not restricting access to internet as a standard practice in future elections.
  • Honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and all other human rights obligations and commitments.
  • Fulfil the promises made during the electoral processes including building a better Zambia, based on democratic principles.

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 Zambia as Obstructed.

 

Pakistan: Three years on, Prime Minister Imran Khan has overseen an assault on civic freedoms

PM Imran Khan1
Three years after Imran Khan took office as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in August 2018, global civil society alliance CIVICUS has documented an ongoing assault on civic freedoms. Human rights defenders and critics have been harassed, criminalised and forcibly disappeared. There have been ongoing efforts to censor the media and to target journalists, and the crackdown on the Pashtun movement including enforced disappearances of activists has persisted. The culture of impunity in the country has meant that perpetrators of these abuses have not been held accountable.

As a current member of the Human Rights Council, Pakistan has a duty to uphold the highest human rights standards. However, the documented violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

Human rights defenders at risk

The Pakistani authorities have harassed, and at times, prosecuted activists for criticising government policies. Among those targeted since Imran Khan came to power include human rights defender Idris Khattak who was forcibly disappeared from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in November 2019 for seven months. Nearly seven months later, in June 2020, the Ministry of Defence finally admitted that human rights defender Khattak was being held in state custody. He is now facing prosecution in a military court. Women human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was forced to leave the country in September 2019. She and both her parents, activist Professor Mohammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail, have been facing harassment for the last two years and are also facing trumped up terrorism charges.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has raised concerns that women human rights defenders are frequently subjected to reprisals, harassment and threats. One stark example of this has been the response to the ‘Aurat March’, a march held yearly in towns and cities across Pakistan to mark International Women’s Day and for women to reclaim their space, speak up for their rights and demand justice. Women rights activists involved in the march have routinely been subjected to intimidation and threats. The Imran Khan administration has systematically failed to speak out or take action against the perpetrators. On the contrary, in March 2021, a court in Peshawar ordered the registration of a first information report (FIR) against the organisers of the march in Islamabad.

NGOs shut down or expelled

The government has shut down numerous civil society organizations over the last three years under the guise of combating terrorism, money laundering or for promotion of an ‘anti-state’ agenda. In December 2018, not long after the Prime Minister assumed power, Pakistan expelled 18 international NGOs from the country when their renewal of registration was rejected arbitrarily without reason. Local NGOs have had their funds frozen. The procedures for NGOs to obtain foreign funding lacks transparency, remains cumbersome and applied in a discriminatory manner.

Assault on press freedom

Press freedom in Pakistan has also continued to deteriorate under Imran Khan’s leadership. The military has set restrictions on reporting, including barring access to regions, encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation against both reporters and editors, and even allegedly instigating violence against reporters.

In 2019, several journalists were placed on a “watch list” by the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing over criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan. In October 2019, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia programme, Steven Butler, was denied entry into Pakistan and deported because his name was on a “stop list of the Interior Ministry”. In 2020, government officials and supporters mobilised a cyber-harassment campaign against women journalists and commentators whose views and reporting have been critical of the government and more specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Journalists have been criminalized and even abducted. Rizwan Razi was arrested in February 2019 in Lahore over a series of social media posts allegedly critical of the judiciary, government and intelligence services. In July 2020, Matiullah Jan was abducted by unidentified armed men from a busy street in Islamabad and released 12 hours later. Jan is known for his criticism of the country’s powerful institutions, including its military, and has been labelled “anti-state”. In May 2021, journalist Asad Ali Toor was assaulted by three unidentified men, believed to be agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad. They interrogated, gagged and beat him.

Crackdown on the PTM movement

There has been a systematic crackdown against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM have mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people. They have demanded the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.

Instead of addressing these concerns, the Imran Khan administration has arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted on spurious charges scores of PTM activists since the beginning of the protests. These activists have been accused of sedition and other crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code, and of terrorism charges.

Some PTM activists have been killed. In February 2019, PTM leader Arman Loni died in police custody Loralai in Baluchistan. He had suffered blows to the head and neck when police officers physically assaulted him with rifle butts. Arman’s death was not registered by the police for another two months. In May 2020, Arif Wazir, a PTM leader, died in Islamabad following an attack by unidentified assailants outside his home in Wana, South Waziristan. He had been detained and charged for his activism, and had previously been considered ‘anti-national’ by authorities. No one has been brought to justice for these killings.

Authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. An article by Manzoor Pashteen published in the New York Times in February 2019 was censored by its local publisher. Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants.

Enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances targeting human rights defenders, political activists, students, journalists and others have continued relentlessly under the Imran Khan administration. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance has received 1144 cases of allegations of enforced disappearances from Pakistan between 1980 and 2019 with more than 731 cases pending at the end of 2019. According to human rights groups, in some instances, people are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, and often authorities deny information to families about where their loved ones are being held. Many of those forcibly disappeared have been subjected to torture and death during detention.

The government had committed to criminalising enforced disappearances when it came to power in 2018. However, the bill to do so languished at the draft stage for more than two years before it was finally introduced to the National Assembly in June 2021.

Recommendations

After three years in power, the current administration continues to fall far short of its human rights obligations.

We urge the government of Pakistan to undertake the following as a matter of urgency:

• Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in Pakistan are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances and conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
• Drop all charges against human rights defender Idris Khattak and release him immediate and unconditionally. End all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level and restrictions on freedom of movement - against Muhammad Ismail, his wife Uzlifat Ismail and Gulalai Ismail.
• Take measures to foster a safe and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the freedom of association. This includes removing all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding, in line with international law and standards; refrain from acts leading to the closure of CSOs or the suspension of their peaceful activities and consult meaningfully with civil society in any review of these laws and regulations.
• Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom, both online and offline, by bringing all national legislation into line with international law and standards and ensuring that journalists are able to work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may find sensitive. Any forms of harassment and attacks against journalists must be promptly and impartially investigated immediately and perpetrators brought to justice;
• Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals. Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the killing of PTM leaders and activists Arman Loni and Arif Wazir, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
• Ensure efforts to criminalise enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime move swiftly and that the law in in line with international law and standards. The government must also ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

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.

 

CIVICUS stands with indigenous peoples and calls for a new social contract

Global civil society society alliance, CIVICUS, stands in solidarity with  indigenous peoples in celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, which this year is calling for a new social contract that puts the voices, needs and concerns of indigenous peoples at the forefront. 

Since 1994, the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples marks an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous Peoples, and provide an opportunity to raise awareness on critical issues relevant to indigenous peoples.

Across the world, indigenous peoples marginalised and excluded by governments from participating in public affairs. They routinely face evictions from their lands without compensation, and are currently impacted by the harshest consequences of climate change. Moreover, human rights defenders seeking to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous peoples continue to be killed, intimidated, and harassed for defending their indigenous land and natural resources, and for advocating for the rights of indigenous communities.  

On 20 April 2021, Liliana Pena Chocue was killed by unidentified individuals in Colombia. In February 2021, two other indigenous rights defenders. Yenes Ríos Bonsano and Herasmo García Grau were killed in Peru. All three were members of Indigenous patrol and forest control groups.

Across the world, indigenous peoples communities have had their lands appropriated for development projects without their consent. These include the Himba community in Namibia, Biafra Indigenous People of Nigeria, Basarwa in Botswana, Benet and Batwa in Uganda, Ogiek and Endorois in Kenya, to name just a few. 

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives indigenous peoples the right “to maintain, protect and have access to their ancestral lands, religious and cultural sites. 

CIVICUS stands in solidarity with indigenous communities across the world that continue to experience human rights violations from state and non-state actors. In this regard CIVICUS supports the demands of Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya to regain their ancestral lands at Embobut. CIVICUS stands with Batwa indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region, the Baka and Bagyelis in Cameroon who remain vulnerable, marginalised, and landless with no compensation following the eviction from their ancestral lands by their governments.

“In this period of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, focusing on Sustainable Development, and specifically, its pledge of “leave no one behind”, every stakeholder must ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind in every process of development, including promoting and protecting their rights, if SDGs are to be effectively achieved,” said Paul Mulindwa CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaign’s Lead for Africa.

As we celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, CIVICUS calls on state and non-state actors to 

  1. Carry out independent investigations into the killings of all indigenous rights activists this year and hold the culprits to account. 
  2. Ensure that the rights and identities of indigenous peoples are recognised and respected at all times 
  3. Ensure that the benefits from commercial or development projects done in their ancestral lands are shared with affected communities 
  4. Empower indigenous peoples and their future generations to break the social, legal, political, and economic barriers that have kept their communities from the benefits of development and transformation taking place in Africa
  5. Guarantee effective consultations with Indigenous Peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent for decisions that affect them.
  6. Ensure effective participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in public spheres.
  7. Promote and protect the land rights of indigenous peoples by ensuring clear land tenure systems that promotes communal ownership.

 

Thailand: Immediately repeal emergency regulation that threatens online freedoms

Seventeen (17) international human rights organisations today denounced the Thai government’s newly announced Regulation No. 29, which empowers the authorities to censor online expression, and investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for communications that may “instigate fear”. The Regulation is the government’s latest attack on the right to freedom of expression and information in Thailand.

 

Cambodia: A year on, the persecution of human rights defender Rong Chhun and other activists continue

Stand with Rong Chuun

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Cambodian authorities to drop the baseless charges against trade union activist and human rights defender Rong Chhun and to release him immediately and unconditionally. One year on from his arrest, his ongoing persecution highlights the unrelenting government repression against activists in the country and his ongoing detention during a pandemic is putting his life at risk.

Rong Chhun, the President of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, was arrested on 31 July 2020. He has been a vocal human rights defender and has long raised concerns about the plight of farmers’ and workers’ rights.

Chhun was charged with incitement under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code after he advocated for the land rights of villagers living near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was jailed at Prey Sar Prison and his trial began in January 2021. He has been denied bail amid an unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia’s prisons.

“The authorities must drop the politically-motivated charges that have been brought against Rong Chhun. Speaking up for local communities should never be a crime. The persecution against him exemplifies the systematic weaponization of the courts by the Hun Sen regime to target activists and silence all forms of dissent,” said Lisa Majumdar, CIVICUS Advocacy Officer.

Rong Chhun’s arrest last year sparked a wave of arrests in relation to planned protests to demand his release. Many of the activists arrested remain in detention and have also been denied bail. They include Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, and Eng Malai (aka So Metta), who are members of Khmer Thavrak and Sar Kanika a former activist for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).  Others detained include Muong Sopheak and Mean Prommony, member and Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA).

“It is extremely disturbing that activists in Cambodia have been denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time poses a serious risk to their lives - and adds another layer of punishment for these activists. The international community must do more to stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and demand their release,” said Lisa Majumdar.

Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken 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. They have also been ongoing police ill-treatment against the families and relatives of detained activists  from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been holding protests.

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

 

Indonesia: Unilateral renewal of Special Autonomy and arbitrary arrest of protesters in West Papua

CIVICUS and TAPOL regret the revision and renewal of the Special Autonomy Law in West Papua (Papua and West Papua Provinces), which further strips critical aspects of decentralisation and autonomy for the region. We are also extremely concerned about the arbitrary arrest of people protesting the renewal and forcible disruptions of protests.  Despite such protests and the lack of consultation with the people of West Papua, the law was passed by the Indonesia House of Representatives on 15 July.

Papua protest July 2021

Demonstrations held in the last week marked the latest in a series of protests by West Papuans opposing the Indonesian government's decision to extend Special Autonomy status and demanding an internationally supervised independence referendum. Police arrested 23 students and activists in Jayapura on 14 July 2021, and four protesters were injured. On 15 July, 18 demonstrators were arrested in Kaimana, West Papua, and a protest in Manokwari was blocked. Another 50 protesters were arrested and beaten in front of the House of Representatives in Jakarta on 15 July just prior to the passage of the law.

We call on the Indonesia authorities to halt their repression of peaceful protest against the extension of the Special Autonomy Law. The right to peaceful protest is an essential part of a democracy, which Indonesia needs to immediately realise in West Papua. 

The Special Autonomy Law in West Papua was first enacted in 2001 and has now been extended for another 20 years, with some concerning new amendments. The originally-enacted law had itself long been rejected by many West Papuans as failing to realise meaningful autonomy. 

Eighteen articles of the revised law were amended and two articles were added, with serious implications for issues of decentralisation and autonomy. According to Article 76, the central government can now decide on the creation of new regencies and districts. This has been opposed by many West Papuans because it could lead to further marginalisation and militarisation in the region. Two sections of Article 28 were omitted, which removed the right to form local political parties. A new rule is now in place that the vice president will have an office in the provinces to oversee the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law.

Kaimana protest arrests papua

The Papuan People’s Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua/MRP) was excluded from the amendment discussions despite its inclusion in consultations being explicitly required by the law. The MRP had stated that the renewal is not the wish of West Papuan people. The Papuan People’ Petition (Petisi Rakyat Papua/PRP), which consist of 112 mostly Indigenous groups, collected 714,066 grassroot West Papuans’ signatures against Special Autonomy.

The unilateral decision by the Government of Indonesia to revise and extend the Special Autonomy Law is a flagrant violation to the right to self-determination of West Papuan people.

We urge the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo to issue a regulation in lieu of law (Peraturan Pemerintah Pengganti Undang-undang/Perppu) to annul the Special Autonomy Law. Instead of forcing this extension, the authorities should instead hold meaningful consultation with the West Papuan people to address their grievances, deal with the injustices they have faced and to seek an end to the conflict. This includes releasing all political prisoners detained for their activism including Victor Yeimo, ending the harassment of human rights defenders, activists, students and others in Papua and ensuring that all serious crimes committed by Indonesian security forces are investigated, findings made public and that victims and their families receive reparations.


CIVICUS: 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.

TAPOL campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia. We are based in the UK and work to raise awareness of human rights issues in Indonesia, including in the contested territory of West Papua. Founded on grassroots campaigning, TAPOL works closely with local organisations in West Papua and Indonesia to advocate for truth and justice and encourage the international community to take action. 

 

India: Death of priest highlights persecution of human rights defenders under Modi government

The death of Jesuit priest and human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, today, has deeply shocked and outraged global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Swamy’s death is a result of the persecution he has faced by the Modi government after revealing abuses by the state.

 

Eswatini: Respect democratic rights and stop violence against peaceful protesters

Eswatini authorities must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protesters and respect the rights of people to demand democratic reform. CIVICUS calls on the authorities in Eswatini to protect the right to protest, which is enshrined in the Eswatini constitution and in international human rights law.

 

Cambodia: Government must end the persistent judicial harassment of environmental defenders

Mother Nature activists

The Government of Cambodia must drop the charges against Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC) environmental defenders and immediately release them, said human rights groups Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asia Democracy Network (ADN), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Earth Rights International (ERI), and Front Line Defenders.

On 20 June, environmental defenders Sun Ratha, Yim Leanghy and Ly Chandaravuth were charged with conspiracy against the government (Article 453 of the Criminal Code), which carries a sentence of five to ten years. Sun Ratha and Yim Leanghy were further charged with insulting the king (Article 437 bis), which carries a sentence of up to five years.  MNC founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was charged in absentia for both offences. Another human rights defender, Seth Chhivlimeng who had earlier been arrested was detained for 24 hours and released without charge.

The Interior Ministry spokesperson had earlier accused them of using foreign money to commit ‘rebellious actions’ against the Government.

‘The judicial harassment of these human rights defenders is part of the government’s systematic campaign against environmental defenders who try to hold them to account for violations of environmental rights. It sends a chilling message that instead of taking steps to address the environmental damage brought on by businesses and development activities, they will target the defenders,’ said Olive Moore, Deputy Director at Front Line Defenders.

The activists were arrested on 16 June 2021 for documenting the sewage discharge into the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh. The environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia has consistently advocated for the protection of the environment through peaceful activism and worked to expose corruption behind development activities. 

For their advocacy, they have faced reprisals from the government. In May 2021, MNC activists Thon Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuong Keo Raksmey, Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson and Khmer Thavrak Youth Movement activist Chea Kunthin were sentenced to between 18 and 20 months’ imprisonment for incitement. Three of them, Thon Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuong Keo Raksmey, had been in pre-trial detention since September 2020, while Kunthin and Gonzales-Davidson were charged in absentia. 

The charges of conspiracy and insulting the King, point towards an escalation of harassment against defenders. 

‘Within a repressed civic space, these charges of conspiracy and insulting the king demonstrate the extent to which the government will use its arsenal of repressive laws against human rights defenders they see as a threat. These arbitrary and vague laws continue to be used to stifle dissent and peaceful advocacy and are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations,' said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher.

The groups call on the international community, including the United Nations, to condemn the harassment of environmental defenders, and to stand for the causes they fight for.

‘The international community must condemn this systematic targeting of human rights defenders and call for their immediate and unconditional release. They must take a stand against the escalation of harassment against defenders, including through the arbitrary use of repressive laws meant to intimidate dissenters. The protection of defenders must be of utmost priority and these attacks cannot be justified,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. 

‘Further, they must ensure any agreements or engagements they have with the government or with its businesses comply with international human rights standards including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and do not further cause harm to defenders who continue to fight for the environment despite the massive risks they face,’ said the groups.


The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - www.forum-asia.org

The Asia Democracy Network (ADN) www.adnasia.org

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation - www.civicus.org

EarthRights International - www.earthrights.org

Front Line Defenders - www.frontlinedefenders.org

 

Bangladesh: Hold security forces accountable for torture

Rights Groups Call for Decisive Action on International Day for Victims

The Bangladesh government has failed to address widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment by its security forces, ten rights groups said on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The groups called on the United Nations and concerned governments to take decisive action.

Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in Bangladesh, including both the police and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement are credibly accused of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and suspects. Such acts have included: beatings with iron rods, belts, and sticks; using electric shocks on their ears and sexual organs; waterboarding; hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; deliberately shooting to maim, including knee-capping them; forcing prolonged exposure to loud music and sounds; committing mock executions; and subjecting them to forced nudity. Hundreds have become victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

“Bangladesh human rights activists, international groups, and UN experts have all raised concerns about security force abuses including ill treatment in custody only to be met with denials and lies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Over the past several decades Bangladesh leaders pledged reform but each government has scaled up such atrocities, fostering a culture of abuse and impunity among security forces.”

The Bangladesh government failed to follow-up as required in August 2020 after the UN Committee against Torture made concrete recommendations to prevent and address torture during the country’s review under the Convention against Torture in July 2019. These recommendations included official statements at the highest levels that torture will not be tolerated and that law enforcement authorities must end unacknowledged detentions. 

The committee said that the government should establish an independent mechanism to investigate all allegations of torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, enact legislation to protect victims and witnesses, and publish a list of all detention sites. 

Following the review, the UN human rights body described the police as a “state within a state,” asserting that “in general, one got the impression that the police, as well as other law enforcement agencies, were able to operate with impunity and zero accountability.” 

Seven years after its implementation, in 2020, a Bangladesh court ordered the first ever conviction under the 2013 Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act. Activists hoped this would pave the way for investigations and accountability for the dozens of documented reports of torture by security forces. However, following the 2020 conviction, the victim’s family told the media that they faced repeated pressure, threats, and offered bribes by law enforcement to drop the case. Furthermore, Bangladesh police have repeatedly called for the government to amend the 2013 Torture Act to make it less prohibitive, casting doubt on the hope some harbored that Bangladesh’s security forces may be serious about ending torture. 

Mushtaq Ahmed, a writer, died in prison on February 25, 2021, after being held in pretrial detention for nine months for posting on Facebook criticism of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. His death caused a public outcry. Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist, who had been detained with Ahmed by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was released on bail. Kishore filed a legal claim alleging that he was tortured, and also described the torture Ahmed said he had undergone while they were illegally detained. 

“Mushtaq was smelling strongly of urine,” Kishore said. “He too had been picked up a few days ago and had been beaten a lot. He was electrocuted in the genitals. There were newspapers on the floor and I asked Mushtaq to use that to clean himself. He took off his underwear and threw it away—I saw that it had excrement in it. He had defecated in his pants from the torture, he told me.”

When 13 Diplomats expressed grave concern about Ahmed’s death in custody and called for “a swift, transparent, and independent inquiry into the full circumstances” of his death, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media to “stop giving publicity to this sort of nuisance.” The government has yet to hold an independent and transparent investigation into Ahmed’s death.

Rights groups have extensively documented crimes of torture, extrajudicial killing, and enforced disappearances, in particular by the Detective Branch of police and the RAB, a paramilitary force notorious for committing acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, and have called for RAB to be disbanded. In March 2021, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet affirmed that “[a]legations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern.”

In October 2020, US senators published a bipartisan letter calling for targeted sanctions against top RAB officials for torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances under all applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The US government should swiftly move forward with these measures and should be joined by other concerned jurisdictions with similar sanctions regimes including the UK, EU, and Canada. 

The UN Committee against Torture has expressed concern “that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions” and called for an independent inquiry into allegations of grave abuses by the Rapid Action Battalion. Bangladesh is the top contributor of peacekeeping troops in the world, yet these troops are not being sufficiently vetted to ensure abusive practices inculcated at home are not tacitly condoned and exported to missions abroad, the groups said. 

“The United Nations should stand with victims of torture in Bangladesh by ensuring that abusive security forces cannot ‘blue-wash’ their reputations through deployment in UN peacekeeping operations,” Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer of the Asian Human Rights Commission. “The UN department of Peace Operations should start by taking a serious look at how their human rights vetting policy is being applied in Bangladesh.”

The UN should undertake a comprehensive review of its ties with the Bangladesh military. All discussions about increasing Bangladeshi troop deployments in UN missions and high-rank posts should be put on hold pending the results of such an investigation, the groups said. The UN Department of Peace Operations should sever all ties with any units, soldiers, and commanders found responsible for serious human rights abuses, including commanders who failed to prevent or punish abuses by individuals under their command. 

In addition, the UN department of Peace Operations should carry out increased vetting for all personnel with a history of RAB affiliation under the 2012 UN policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel which requires verification that any individual serving the United Nations has not committed any “violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” 

The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution on enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. 

“Bangladesh authorities have long been sweeping allegations of torture under the rug,” said Angelita Baeyens, Vice President of International Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The government should heed recommendations by the UN rights bodies and address abuses by its security forces.”

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) 
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 
  3. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 
  4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) 
  5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  6. Eleos Justice, Monash University 
  7. Human Rights Watch 
  8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
  9. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  10. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

 

 

Malaysia: Authorities reverting to repressive tactics of former governments to throttle expression online

 

French Separatism Bill threatens fundamental freedoms, warn civil society organisations

The proposed French "separatism" bill («Projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») could threaten rights and civil liberties, according to French and European civil society organisations including CIVICUS, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Le Mouvement Associatif (LMA) and la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH). French civil society organisations and trade unions have scheduled public demonstrations against the bill on 12 June 2021.

 

Bangladesh: No accountability for killing of Mushtaq Ahmed 100 days on

100 days on since the death in custody of writer and critic Mushtaq Ahmed, no one has been held accountable for his killing. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately establish an independent investigation into his death and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

 

The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties

Dear Commissioner Didier Reynders,

Dear Michael O’Flaherty,

Cc: Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Vice President Vera Jourová


The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties: the European Commission must question France

We, civil society organisations that advocate for rights and values, for the defence of civil liberties and the rule of law, and against any form of discrimination, are writing to raise concerns about the French “separatism” bill («projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») currently under discussion in Parliament.

Numerous actors including associations in France[1], the national human rights body[2] and European organisations[3] have expressed major concerns over the bill and the implications it would have for rights and civil liberties. Among the provisions raising worries is a so-called “Contract” of Republican Engagement, that the Government will introduce by a Decree, which will give administrative authorities the right to withdraw public funding and extended possibilities for dissolution with a limited role for the judiciary. Additionally, it introduces unnecessary controls on foreign funding that cast a negative presumption on all civic organisations receiving funding from abroad.

The bill may be considered by EU institutions as implementing EU law on combating terrorism, racism and xenophobia and its provisions may lead to disproportionate restrictions of freedom of association (article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU - CFR), freedom of expression (art. 11 of CFR) and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 10 CFR), as well as to the violation of the right to non-discrimination (art. 21 CFR). There is concern that the bill as currently drafted will affect minorities based on their ethnic origins, Muslim populations or people considered to be Muslim, and associations standing up for their rights.[4]

Organised civil society is a key pillar of French democracy and an important watchdog in ensuring the respect for the rule of law. We are alarmed by the fact that the law is dramatically increasing the control of public authorities and institutions on the right to associate, departing from the more than centennial liberal framework that made the French civil society sector one of the strongest and most vibrant in Europe and the world. Our concern extends to the fact that the French Government is restricting parliamentary debate to pass the law by a fast-track procedure and without consultation with civil society ahead of the legislative process.

If the law is passed in its current form, it will also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe. As a recent case in point, legislation stigmatising and restricting access to foreign funding to associations in Hungary was later proposed in Poland and Bulgaria[5].

The European Commission recognises the important role of civil society in the “ecosystem” of access to rights by all in the EU. The recognition of civil society’s role in safeguarding the rule of law was expressed in the Commission’s first rule of law report, and through the infringement procedure against Hungary’s law on the transparency of organisations supported from abroad. Another very positive development is illustrated by the Citizens, Equality, Rights & Values (CERV) programme funding’s increase for the 2021-2027 period.

We urge the Commission to show a similar willingness to support civic actors in France by expressing concerns about the draft law. In particular, we call on the European Commission to:

  • Question publicly the provision restricting the right to associate and civil liberties included in the draft proposal, with no delay;
  • Open discussions with the French authorities on the current state of civic space and rule of law in the country and associate French civic actors in appropriate forms.

We are counting on the European Commission and the European Fundamental Rights Agency to act swiftly in raising concerns regarding restrictions to rights and civil liberties with regards to the draft bill.

LIST OF SIGNATORIES

European and global Networks

  • CIVICUS - Global
  • Civil Society Europe - Europe
  • Equinox - Europe
  • European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) – Europe
  • European Civic Forum (ECF) - Europe
  • European Network Against Racism (ENAR) - Europe
  • Reclaim EU - Europe

French organisations

  • Le Mouvement Associatif – France
  • Ligue des droits de L’Homme (LDH) - France
  • Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) - France
  • Alliance Citoyenne – France

France Separatism bill

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[1] See, for example, Joint open letter – for the attention of senators: Bill “reinforcing respect for the principles of the republic”, 7 April 2021,  the national platform, Le Mouvement Associatif, “Projet de loi Respect des principes républicains: propositions du Mouvement associative” (lmahdf.org), 13 January 2021; The coalition for associative freedoms, a Coalition bringing together more than 10,800 supporters: "Separatism law": associative freedoms in danger.

[2] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme , Second avis sur le projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République, 4 April 2021.

[3] COE, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all, 31 March 2021, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all - Newsroom (coe.int); ECNL, France aims to strengthen respect of republican values: but how does it affect civic space?, 10 December 2021.

[4] ADM analysis of the « projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République » 

[5] European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Poland, 30 September 2021, pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf (europa.eu), p. 16; European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Bulgaria, 30 September 2021, bg_rol_country_chapter.pdf (europa.eu), p. 20.


 Civic space in France is rated "Narrowed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Call on UNHRC to adopt a resolution on human rights situation in Occupied Palestine

HRC 30th Special Session: Call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in IsraelOn 27 May 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will hold a Special Session in relation to the escalating human rights violations against the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line.

A draft resolution from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the issue was circulated to UN member states. There is still time to call on our respective governments to support the resolution ahead of the vote in the UN Human Rights Council on 27 May 2021. Let’s act now!

Israel’s repression against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line intensified in May 2021 in response to widespread Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s imminent threat of eviction and displacement of eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. This is only the latest in a series of measures, which form part of Israel’s decades-long institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole. While the international community has ensured Israel’s impunity since 1948, enabling Israel to continue to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and refugees and exiles abroad, are denied their right of return and continue to steadfastly resist 73 years of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.

What can you do?

This resolution needs all the support it can garner. Encourage your friends and colleagues throughout the world to mobilize their networks. In particular, we seek support from human rights and anti-racism movements in in all parts of the world to place pressure on their governments to support a commission of inquiry.

  1. Sign the petition through this link
  2. Write to your foreign ministry calling on it to support the OIC resolution and the establishment of an ongoing commission of inquiry on violations committed on both sides of the Green Line and to reject any proposed amendment that would undermine or seek to restrict or undermine the commission of inquiry. A list of contact information for foreign ministries can be found here.
  3. Send a copy of the correspondence to your country’s ambassador in Geneva. Contact information can be found here.
  4. Follow the Special Session, which will be livestreamed and use social media to tweet at your representatives and @UN_HRC with #SupportPalestineCOI to raise awareness about the debate and the call for an independent commission of inquiry.

What is the Special Session about?

The special session was convened based on a request by Pakistan, on behalf of the state members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other UN members and observers indicated below. 

In addition to the debate, the OIC has presented a resolution requesting that the HRC appoint an ongoing independent commission of inquiry to investigate, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, all violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law since 1 April 2021, which will also be mandated to study all underlying root causes, including Israel’s systemic discrimination and repression, thereby encompassing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.

This comes following years of work by civil society, including Palestinian, regional and international human rights organisations, urging states to address the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid imposed over the Palestinian people as a whole. 

Palestinian civil society, supported by a broad coalition of 120 regional and international organisations, urged member states to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry to monitor, document and report on all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the latest Israeli attacks against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line and address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression. In addition, the organisations called for the mechanism to address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression.

What is a commission of inquiry?

UN commissions of inquiry are international independent investigative bodies designed to examine serious situations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Based on their mandates, they collect information on violations, establish the facts, and identify perpetrators. As such, these investigatory bodies can play an important role in promoting accountability for violations and preventing future violations.

Why is this important?

This is an important resolution as it is the first time the Human Rights Council:

  • Addresses the root causes of Israel’s systemic discrimination, including Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid, by establishing a commission of inquiry, which would address Israeli violations against the Palestinian people;
  • Includes a geographic scope encompassing, for the first time, Israeli violations targeting the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, in recognition that Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression targets the Palestinian people as a whole.

What is at stake?

  1. Some delegations may attempt to change the language and weaken the resolution given that the proposed commission of inquiry has a real potential to begin to address the root causes of human rights violations in Palestine, to seek meaningful accountability, and to preserve evidence that can be used in international criminal proceedings to hold perpetrators accountable.
  2. We need UN member states to take the opportunity to establish an ongoing commission of inquiry that addresses the current systematic violations but also future violations in the context of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people, with the aim to bring an end to decades of impunity and international inaction in the face of mass atrocities against Palestinians.

 

Cambodia: Stop silencing critical commentary on COVID-19

We, the undersigned international human rights organisations, call on the Cambodian government to immediately stop its assault on freedom of expression in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent months, the government has warned against public criticism of its actions, prevented independent journalists from reporting on the pandemic, prosecuted individuals for criticising the inoculation campaign, and threatened journalists and social media users with legal actions on the spurious grounds of provoking “turmoil in society.”

While Cambodia was spared from high numbers of severe COVID-19 cases in 2020, beginning in February 2021 there has been a spike in cases to which the government responded with disproportionate and unnecessary measures in violation of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. This includes a campaign against freedom of expression that further constricts media freedom and promotes fear and self-censorship in the country. These measures serve to undermine, not advance, efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Cambodian authorities placed a de facto ban on independent reporting in Phnom Penh’s red zones—areas deemed to be high risk for COVID-19 transmission. On 3 May 2021, the Ministry of Information announced that only state media or journalists invited by the government would be permitted to report from red zones. The next day, the Ministry of Information issued a letter warning journalists not to disseminate information that could “provoke turmoil in society” and threatening legal action against those who disobey. The letter followed viral livestream footage from multiple Facebook news outlets of long queues of COVID-19 patients outside government treatment centres.

The government’s campaign to silence critical commentary has extended beyond journalists to ordinary people, in a manner incompatible with international human rights standards.

In a press release dated 1 May 2021, the Government Spokesperson Unit demanded the immediate cessation of social media posts intended to “provoke and create chaos” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to such posts as “acts of attack” that must be punished. The press release concluded by praising the efforts of government officials to curb the spread of COVID-19 but did not provide any legal justification for imposing these possible restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

On 30 April 2021, Kandal provincial authorities warned farmers in Sa’ang district not to post images of vegetables spoiling in their fields due to the closure of markets, stating that such communications are bad for morale. One farmer, Tai Song, was pressured by the provincial authorities to sign a document agreeing not to post such content again after he shared a photo on Facebook showing his vegetables rotting and stating that he had to clear and throw away his crops.

The Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of individuals for expressing critical opinions about the government’s COVID-19 response, including at least six individuals for their criticism of the government’s vaccination campaign. One Chinese journalist, Shen Kaidong, was subsequently deported for publishing a story deemed ‘fake news’ in which multiple Chinese nationals reported receiving a text offering them the Sinopharm vaccine for a service fee.

Authorities have also prosecuted at least three individuals—Korng Sambath, Nov Kloem, and Pann Sophy—for posting TikTok videos criticising the use of Chinese-made vaccines under the new, overly broad and vague Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases (the COVID-19 Law).

These actions are consistent with the government’s systematic and relentless crackdown on freedom of expression and information spanning far beyond the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest surge contributes to the government’s broader efforts to silence all critical voices in Cambodia.

The right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, and by Article 41 of Cambodia’s Constitution.

Protecting public health is the grounds on which the government is purporting to restrict freedom of expression. While there is a legitimate need to counter the spread of misinformation online to protect public health during a pandemic, this objective must be provided by a clear and accessible law and pursued using the least intrusive means, rather than unnecessary and disproportionate measures like unwarranted arrests, detentions, and criminal prosecutions.

In its General Comment 34, the UN Human Rights Committee emphasised the essential role of the media in informing the public and stated that “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures … the value placed [on] uninhibited expression is particularly high.” A 2017 Joint Declaration of four independent experts on freedom of expression stressed that “general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas” are incompatible with international human rights standards.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasised in General Comment 14 that the protection of freedom of expression is a key component of the right to health—enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—enabling vital information collected by the public and journalists to reach policymakers. We therefore strongly condemn the Cambodian government’s efforts to inhibit the free flow of information relevant to the pandemic. Such actions will negatively impact the quality and reliability of news reporting and undermine the government’s own ability to respond to COVID-19.

Open dialogue and robust investigative journalism are critical during times of crisis, including public health emergencies. The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has emphasised the crucial role of the media in ensuring accountability in health systems. During a pandemic, free and independent media can help identify viral hotspots or outbreaks, monitor national and international responses, and promote transparency and accountability in the delivery of necessary public health services.

The Cambodian government’s clampdown on free speech is having a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression in Cambodia. The authorities’ actions are reinforcing the already widespread atmosphere of self-censorship, preventing participation in governance and public affairs, and extinguishing an important safeguard for government accountability.

We therefore call on the Cambodian government to end the harassment of independent journalists reporting on COVID-19 and individuals who voice critical opinions or fears about the pandemic on social media platforms and to take steps to ensure a free, independent, and diverse media environment. We urge the Cambodian authorities to substantially amend or repeal the new COVID-19 Law and other non-human rights compliant legislation that criminalise or unduly restrict freedom of expression and information. The Cambodian government should uphold the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information instead of using a public health crisis as an excuse to extinguish dissent.

This statement is endorsed by:

1. Access Now
2. Amnesty International
3. ARTICLE 19
4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
7. Human Rights Watch
8. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
10. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
11. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
12. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Civic space in Cambodia is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Belarus: Release arrested journalist after forced emergency landing at Minsk Airport

Journalist, Roman Protasevich is wanted by the government for broadcasting the government’s violent response to last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko

 

India: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Sudha Bharadwaj

SudhaSudha Bharadwaj, aged 59, is a human rights lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on trumped up accusations of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations, based on evidence believed to be fabricated. It is alleged that she and 15 other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

 

Afghanistan: Joint call for immediate end to attacks against HRDs & need for protection & accountability

Afghanistan Statement on Security of HRDs May2021

The threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and media workers in Afghanistan must end – the undersigned international human rights organisations said.  

From September 2020 until May 2021, a total of 17 human rights defenders have been killed, including nine journalists, based on information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee (AHRDC). Nine of those killed were in the first five months of this year. During this period, over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported that they were receiving serious threats to the AHRDC and the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee. A report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in February 2021, noted that 65 media practitioners and human rights defenders have been killed since 2018. In most of these cases, no perpetrators have been held to account. These attacks are aimed at silencing peaceful dissent and those working on human rights, especially women’s rights, as well as those seeking justice and accountability for human rights violations. The timing of escalating attacks against human rights defenders, activists, and journalists appears to be linked to the ongoing peace process between the Government of Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban.

It is vital to uphold and prioritize freedom of expression during this critical time in Afghanistan and for its future. The progress made on creating safe space for human rights defenders especially women human rights defenders and journalists is at stake with the United States and NATO forces’ full withdrawal announcement from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. The attack targeting school children in Kabul on 8 May, is a devastating reminder of escalating violence against civilians, especially against women and girls. The international community, as stakeholders of the current political processes, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and NATO member States, should under international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, protect the rights of all, especially those being targeted such as human rights defenders and civil society activists. However, with the announcement of unconditional withdrawal and no progress on the peace process, the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders and journalists do not seem to be a priority.   

The lack of respect for International Humanitarian Law and the absence of accountability for attacks against human rights defenders and activists, have only increased the danger to defenders and emboldened perpetrators. Afghan authorities and the international community must call on all parties to stop using civilian targets for military gains and safeguard the progress in human rights made over the last two decades and ensure that they are not scaled back as a result of the ongoing negotiations. 

Civil society members, women human rights defenders, and journalists are systematically threatened and attacked for the work they carry out. Those working outside the capital are especially exposed to serious threats due to the lack of support available in Kabul and through some international networks and embassies. Many of these defenders have had to relocate within Afghanistan and, in some cases, even temporarily leave the country with their families for safety concerns. Defenders fear publicly denouncing attacks they are subjected to due to concerns over the security and sustainability of their work. This demonstrates the immense pressure under which Afghan defenders, activists, and journalists are forced to live and work. 

State mechanisms for the protection of defenders including the recently appointed Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have yet to be operationalized. The government has failed to adequately respond to complaints of threats and early warning signals of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists. Defenders are faced with the impossible choice of balancing their commitment to work in their country with threats against themselves and their families.  We call on the Government of Afghanistan to take greater responsibility to ensure the safety and security of defenders, activists, and journalists, and to end impunity for the attacks against them. 

Women human rights defenders,  journalists, and minority groups in Afghanistan have been among the worst affected.  Many women defenders have been compelled to relocate internally or outside the country, stop their work, or stay at home. Attacks on women defenders have included harassment of family members and colleagues. Women who have campaigned for years for equal rights, and equal participation in public spaces, including the peace process, have found themselves under attack in reprisals against them for their work.  

The Government of Afghanistan and international stakeholders and facilitators in the ongoing peace process must take responsibility through their conduct and engagement in the country to stop the increase in violent attacks against human rights defenders.  Rights groups and the United Nations have consistently called for the effective participation of civil society representatives, especially women human rights defenders, in the peace process given its huge impact on security on the ground. Despite this, and even though rights groups and women defenders have worked continuously to engage with the peace process, the Moscow summit in March 2021 did not see effective representation of women.  A peace process, or negotiation, that fails to include women representatives adequately and effectively, and in parallel engages with the Taliban without benchmarks on human rights, undermines women’s safety and progress made on human rights over the past years. Much more must be done to ensure that the peace process takes into account the threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks occurring in the country and to ensure that it does not exacerbate people’s suffering.  

The crisis unfolding in the country requires a strong commitment to direct engagement and support for Afghan defenders to work and live in safety and dignity. It requires the international community to proactively support those defenders who have worked to promote and protect human rights, at great personal cost. As human rights organizations focusing on the protection of human rights defenders, we call for an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Afghanistan.  We, therefore, call on the Government of Afghanistan and relevant international actors to take the following measures: 

  • The newly established government-led Joint Commission must deliver on its objectives to provide effective protection to human rights defenders at risk. We call for access to information on the measures that the Joint Commission has taken so far to provide immediate protection to defenders, investigate the threats against them, and bring suspected perpetrators to justice. 
  • Ensure that human rights standards and the protection of human rights defenders are articulated as key benchmarks for any sustainable peace process. The Taliban and others targetting civilians and human rights defenders must immediately halt violence and prioritize intra-Afghan peace talks as a way to ensure sustainable peace. 
  • Offer human rights defenders immediate practical support on the ground at all levels, including through diplomatic and political channels. 
  • Actively ensure justice and redress for violence and threats against defenders especially by local authorities and law enforcement to ensure prompt responses to security threats. 
  • Establish a national monitoring mechanism, and an impartial and independent mechanism internationally to investigate the killings of human rights defenders, journalists, clarifying the circumstances in which the defenders were killed, expeditiously bringing those responsible to justice. 
  • Collaborate with human rights defenders and civil society organisations for designing and implementing robust protection policies with a gender perspective and an intersectional approach.
  • Ensure effective representation of human rights defenders, especially women, in any peace process that has a bearing on their security, including but not limited to the peace process. Participation must include guarantees of safety and effective and equitable representation of views. 

Signatory Organisations: 

  1. Amnesty International 
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  5. World Organisation Against Torture 
  6. (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. South Asians for Human Rights 
  9. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific
  10. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

For further information, please contact: 

  • Front Line Defenders: Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications & Visibility – - +1-202-294-8813
  • South Asians for Human Rights: Anushaya Collure, Programme Coordinator – +94)-11-2695910
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - .
  • Amnesty International: Samira Hamidi, Regional Campaigner,
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation: Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher -
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Juliette Rousselot, +33 (0)6 81 72 10 73,
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications - - +41 79 539 4106
  • Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific -
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: Tessa Cerisier <>;

 

Indonesia: Activists at risk in the Papua region

Indonesia military in Papua

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the risks facing activists in the region of Papua following new counter-insurgency operations in the region since late April 2021. The Indonesia authorities must ensure that these operations do not lead to abuses and that activists are not targeted.

On 9 May 2021, police arrested Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence activist and international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat/KNPB), who has been vocal about human rights violations perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces in Papua. 

He is being detained at the Police’s Mobile Brigade Headquarters in Abepura where he was taken without prior notice to his lawyers and denied access to his family. He has been charged for treason, broadcasting false information, disrespecting the national flag and other charges for his involvement in 2019 anti-racism protests in the province, where there were some incidents of violence and arson. The protests were met with excessive force by the security forces and the prosecution of dozens of activists. One of the reasons cited for his arrest was also his participation in the Human Rights Council in March 2019, which is a clear case of reprisal.

According to a human rights group, Papua’s police chief, Mathius Fakhiri, said that the police are still “digging up” cases against Yeimo. With the climate of impunity in the region, the activist remains at risk of torture and ill-treatment.

“Victor Yeimo’s arbitrary arrest and detention appear to be simply retaliation for speaking up about abuses by security forces and for his political activism. Unless the authorities produce credible evidence that he was involved in any violence, the charges against him must be dropped and he must be released immediately,” said Josef Benedict, a researcher from CIVICUS.

Indonesian military operations in Papua intensified in response to the 25 April killing of the head of the State Intelligence Agency, Brigadier General Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha, in the Puncak Regency by the West Papua National Liberation Army (WPNLA). President Joko Widodo responded to the killing by ordering the security forces to arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. The Jokowi administration later declared an unnamed “armed criminal group” a terrorist organization, apparently referring to the WPNLA. 

“The designation of the armed movement as terrorists would undermine any peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict and only increase human rights violations by the security forces in the region. It will also put peaceful pro-independence activists and others working to end the conflict in Papua at risk,” added Benedict.

There have also been concerns about internet disruption around the military operations which human rights groups believe have been done deliberately by the authorities. In 2019, the government shut down internet service in Papua region during weeks of protests. The shutdown was later found to be unlawful.

There have been severe human rights violations in the Papuan region by the Indonesian security forces spanning arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment and unlawful killings, including of activists, under the guise of suppressing separatism.  Dozens of peaceful pro-independence political activists have been prosecuted for treason (Articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code) for raising the Morning Star flag– a symbol of Papuan independence - or participating in peaceful protests over the last two decades. Access to foreign journalists and human rights observers have also been restricted.

Despite continued promises by President Joko Widodo to address the grievances of Papuans, they continue to face discrimination and exploitation in the resource-rich region.

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

 

Uganda: Stop arrests, detention, and targeting of opposition leaders and activists ahead of inauguration

Ugandan authorities must stop targeting opposition leaders and arresting and detaining political and civil activists ahead of the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni on 12 May 2021, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS.

Violence and arbitrary detentions have been unleashed on members of the opposition, and the homes of Bobi Wine, Leader of the National Unity Platform, and Dr Kizza Besugye, four-times presidential candidate, are currently under siege.

Key political figures and activists have had their fundamental freedoms violated in the run-up to the swearing-in of President Museveni, who starts his sixth term in office following much-disputed elections. The arrest of over 40 activists ahead of the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni must be condemned.

Background: Uganda went to the polls on 14 January 2021 for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. The electoral process was marred by violence, intimidation, illegal detention, and killings. Opposition leaders were repeatedly hounded and arrested, and several activists and journalists were arrested and detained. In November 2020 over 70 activists were killed during a protest in Kampala while over 250 were kidnapped and others arrested. To date more than 60 activists remain in detention without charge.

The presidential electoral outcomes have been denounced by many former presidential candidates, who have since rejected invitations to attend the swearing-in ceremony.

Civic space in Uganda is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. 

 

Chad: Stop violence against peaceful protesters and respect democratic rights of Chadians

Chadian authorities must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protesters and ensure an immediate democratic transition in Chad, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Unrest is likely to continue if the military does not allow for a civilian-led government.  
 
On 8 May 2021, security forces used violence against peaceful protesters who denounced a military takeover in Chad following the death of long-term President Idriss Déby Itno on 20 April 2021.  
 
More than 5 people were killed and several others wounded during similar protests held on 27 April. Led by a coalition of civil society groups and members of the political opposition, the protests condemn the continuation of a Chad dynasty after President Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, succeeded his father and appointed a military transitional government.  
 
“The Chadian military has once again chosen to ignore an opportunity to put in place democratic reforms, reset Chad’s political trajectory and respect constitutional and international human rights obligations.  The military continues a pattern of violence over dialogue and continues to trample on democratic norms,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS  
 
Background
 
Ahead of Chad’s recent elections in April 2021, the authorities imposed a ban on peaceful protests to deter members of civil society and the political opposition from protesting President Idriss Déby Itno’s decision to stand for a sixth term in office.  In February 2021, more than 100 people were arrested for protesting and several were later charged with disturbing public order.  President Idriss Déby was killed fighting rebels in April. Since then, civil society and the political opposition have been protesting the Transitional Military Council and calling for a return to civilian rule. 

Civic space in Chad is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Colombia: Stop brutal attacks and killings of protesters

Colombian authorities must stop brutally repressing protesters and investigate the killings, attacks, and excessive use of force by police officers and military personnel against demonstrators, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS. 

Since April 28, people in Colombia have taken to the streets to demand social justice and oppose a tax reform. Protests take place against a backdrop of growing inequality and violence, sparked by failure to implement the 2016 peace agreements and exacerbated by the pandemic. Protesters have been heavily repressed by police in various cities across the country. The military has been deployed to police the protests, which is only allowed in exceptional cases and on a temporary basis according to international law.  

On Sunday May 2, President of the Republic Iván Duque Márquez withdrew the controversial tax reform bill but protests have continued. Last week DANE (Colombia’s statistics body) announced that poverty increased in 2020, affecting nearly half of the population.  Growing inequality has intensified unrest and violence in the country. 

Serious human rights violations, including disproportionate use of force by the police, violent suppression of protests, the killing and disappearance of protesters, sexual abuse, arbitrary detention and use of firearms have been condemned by civil society organisations in Colombia. 

The use of violence against protesters occurs in a context of heavy stigmatisation against the demonstrators. Civil society in Colombia has condemned national and local government pronouncements against the mobilisation, which compared demonstrators to “vandals” and suggested they are linked to illegal armed groups. 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that while they were on a verification mission on the night of May 3, police opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people in the city of Cali. Human rights groups accompanying OHCHR were attacked, threatened and shot by police. This was confirmed by the representative of OHCHR in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, who added that none of the members of the mission were injured.

In one week of protests, monitoring organisations have documented hundreds of human rights violations. As of May 3, Colombia’s Ombudsperson had registered at least 19 people killed since the beginning of the protests – with more cases reported by civil society that are yet to be confirmed. Human rights group Defender la Libertad says around 300 people were wounded and almost a thousand protesters detained. Civil society group Temblores also documented nine cases of sexual violence by the public forces and 56 reports of disappearances during the protests. The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) also documented 70 attacks against the media. 

“What we are seeing now is an escalation of violence from the Duque government against social mobilisation, which is becoming more and more lethal. The introduction of ‘military aid’ action has legalised the use of military force to suppress the legitimate right to protest and peacefully demonstrate,” said Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

“CIVICUS reminds the government of Colombia that freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right articulated in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to gather to express collective views is a cornerstone of a free and open society,” said Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America.

“Even if an assembly includes violent participants, human rights law does not permit the authorities to use excessive force against protesters. When using force, enforcement agencies and officers must not use firearms to disperse crowds and cannot indiscriminately use non-lethal weapons such as tear gas,” Gomez Peña continued.

CIVICUS calls on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression, security, life and integrity of all people participating in the national strike. 

Colombia is rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring the state of civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, in all countries.


INTERVIEWS

Interviews are available with:

  • Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America;
  • Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

Please contact: or  


ABOUT CIVICUS

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

 

 

Cambodia: Conviction of environmental defenders another blow to civil society

Cambodia jailed activists

From left to right: Long Kunthea, Thun Ratha and Phuon Keoreaksmey

The conviction of environmental defenders today highlights again the rapid deterioration of human rights and space for civil society in Cambodia, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. The defenders sentenced must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Three environmental rights defenders from Mother Nature Cambodia – Phuon Keoreaksmey, Long Kunthea and Thun Ratha – were today sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to jail for 18 to 20 months after being convicted for ‘incitement’. Two others were found guilty in absentia. 

Thun Ratha was handed 20 months in jail and a fine of 4 million riel (USD 1,000). Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the group’s co-founder who has been deported from Cambodia, was tried in absentia and given the same sentence.  Keoreaksmey, Kunthea and Chea Kunthin, a youth activist also tried in absentia, were given 18 months and the same four million riel fine. The court also issued arrest warrants against Gonzalez-Davidson and Kunthin and ordered the confiscation of materials belonging to them.

“The authorities have in recent years devoted ever more time and energy to weaken and dismantle the human rights movement in Cambodia. Those speaking up, even simply for protecting the environment, have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. These convictions today are part of this trend,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS’s Asia researcher. “The international community must not remain silent at this injustice but stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and take action to protect its members.”

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 and former members of the banned opposition party Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) continue to be targeted. 


Background

On 3 September 2020, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoung Keorasmey, activists with environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia, were arbitrarily detained while planning a protest to call attention to the filling in of a lake, one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh to create a military base and its impact on the biodiversity of the area. On 6th September 2020, the three were charged with ‘incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest’ (articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed in pre-trial detention.  They were also denied bail.

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people by providing them with training and financial support.

 

Myanmar: ASEAN meeting outcomes ignores assault on rights and civil society

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is disappointed that the outcomes of the regional ASEAN summit held in Jakarta fell short of what is necessary to address Myanmar’s human rights crisis, including by failing to call for the immediate release of human rights activists, journalists and others arbitrarily detained. This failure undermines any chance of ensuring a genuine dialogue and transition back to democratic civilian rule.

A statement released after the summit said the leaders and foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had reached a consensus on five points. They included asking for an immediate stop to the violence and opening a dialogue between the military and civilian leaders, with that process overseen by a special ASEAN envoy who would also visit with a delegation. The group also offered humanitarian assistance. The statement offered no timeline for these actions to be taken or an implementing mechanism.

No mention was made of the nearly 4,000 people who have been arbitrarily detained by the military, including activists, peaceful protesters, and journalists, some in unknown locations and denied access to lawyers or family members. Many are facing serious and baseless charges, including treason.

“Millions of people in Myanmar were hoping that ASEAN would, for once, uphold the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter including the rule of law and respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and were once again tremendously disappointed. ASEAN has failed the thousands of political prisoners including activists and journalists by not calling for their immediate and unconditional release, which should be an integral part of any successful efforts to restore democracy,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

The summit also failed to acknowledge the National Unity Government (NUG) that was formed on 16 April 2021 representing elected members of the Union Parliament. It also ignored the serious violations that have occurred in Myanmar since the coup which left around 750 dead, including children and thousands injured due to the use of lethal force by the security forces to crack down on protests, the ill-treatment by the security forces during night-time raids and the internet shutdowns. No mention was made of UN resolutions on the crisis adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council since the coup. Nor was there any acknowledgment of or offering of support to the UN mechanisms mandated to monitor and report on human rights violations relating to the coup. 

“The failure to acknowledge and engage with the legitimately elected representatives of the people of Myanmar shows that ASEAN leaders’ talk of democracy is only lip service. We call for ASEAN to put their words into action by demanding an end to the state of emergency and for the elected civilian government to be restored,” said David Kode.

Since the meeting, the junta already seem to be backtracking from their already minimal promises. Myanmar military junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said he will consider proposals by ASEAN to solve the ongoing crisis in Myanmar only after peace and stability are restored in his country. 

CIVICUS reiterates calls for an immediate end to the escalating violence by the military, the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained, and for steps to be taken by the international community, including ASEAN, to hold those responsible for the serious human rights violations to account.

 

A year after imprisoned Saudi activist Abdullah al-Hamid’s passing, NGOs call for accountability & release of all HRDs

April 24, 2021 marks one year since prominent Saudi human rights defender Dr Abdullah al-Hamid passed away, while serving an 11-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges. Before his passing, Dr al-Hamid was suffering from heart conditions and was advised to undergo surgery. However, prison authorities delayed his operation for several months, leading to the deterioration of his health. As a consequence, on April 9, 2020, he suffered a stroke in al-Ha’ir prison, entered into a coma, and eventually passed away. 

 

ASEAN summit must call on Myanmar's military to end the violence and restore elected government

 

Re: ASEAN summit must address grave violations in Myanmar by security forces
To: H.E. Lim Jock Hoi
Secretary-General of ASEAN
70A Jalan Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta 12110, Indonesia
CC: ASEAN Foreign Ministers
Members of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
ASEAN Missions to the United Nations Office in Geneva
Le Thi Nam Huong, ASEAN Assistant Director Human Rights Division

 

Dear Secretary General,

CIVICUS: 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 with regards to the ongoing human rights crisis in Myanmar following the military coup and declaration of the state of emergency on 1 February 2021 and ahead of the planned summit by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the crisis scheduled for 24 April 2021. As violence escalates, the situation poses a severe risk to humanitarian and political security in the region. ASEAN has both a critical role to play in addressing this crisis, and also a responsibility to protect those on the ground, including the millions of people in Myanmar who face ongoing human rights violations. Further, with elections overturned, the coup has deprived the people of Myanmar of their elected government which is inconsistent with the principles in the ASEAN Charter.

We have been documenting the state of civic freedoms in the country and are extremely concerned about the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and civilians by the security forces, which continue unchecked. At least 700 people have been unlawfully killed or extrajudicially executed, including children, as security forces have resorted to violent tactics and battlefield weapons.1 Thousands have also been injured.

Security forces have also unleashed a campaign of random terror at night in residential areas of Yangon and other cities and towns. They are conducting house-to-house searches beating, arresting and even murdering people apparently at random, while destroying or looting private property.2

The security forces have also taken over 3,000 people into custody including politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, and protesters and refused to confirm their location or allow access to lawyers or family members.3 Many are facing charges including treason, for causing fear, ‘spreading fake news or agitating against government employees’ under section 505(A) of the Penal Code and other laws, some which have been tightened following the coup, removing rights with respect to liberty and security of person and due process. 4

The junta has also continued to impose an internet shutdown. Multiple telecoms companies have been ordered to shut off various internet services like mobile data, roaming and public wi-fi for different lengths of time. The efforts appear designed to interfere with protestors organising and to prevent Myanmar citizens, journalists and human rights activists from easily broadcasting what’s happening on the ground to the rest of the world.

Despite these repressive actions by the military junta, the brave people of Myanmar have continued to mobilise to demand that democracy be restored. Further, on 8 February, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) was formed, representing elected members of the Union Parliament from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a National Unity Government was formed on 16 April 2021.

International and regional response

Since the coup we have seen strong condemnation from the international community with regards to the severe human rights violations in Myanmar. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on states with influence to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.5

On 24 March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution on Myanmar which mandates dedicated monitoring and reporting from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights focusing on accountability, and on rule of law and security sector reform following the coup. It furthermore calls for an assessment by the High Commissioner on the implementation of recommendations relating to the economic interests of the military.6

On 17 March 2021, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar - created by the United Nations Human Rights Council - said it was closely following events and collecting evidence regarding arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances and the use of force, including lethal force, against those peacefully opposing the coup.7 On 2 April, the UN Security Council “strongly condemned” the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Myanmar, in a unanimous statement. It also called on regional organizations, in particular ASEAN, to address the situation in Myanmar.8

A number of countries have also since imposed sanctions against military officials including the Tatmadaw's Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and Deputy-Commander-in-Chief, Soe Win as well as two military holding companies, Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC).

Within ASEAN, Brunei, the current chair has called for a “return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar" adding that "we recall the purposes and the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including, the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore have all expressed alarm over the killings of demonstrators.9

CIVICUS believes this summit is a critical opportunity for ASEAN governments to take necessary steps to address the human rights violations in Myanmar. Failure to do so risks further damaging ASEAN’s reputation as an effective regional body that can meaningfully contribute to a strong and viable community of nations.

Therefore, we call on ASEAN governments to:

  • Call upon the Myanmar military regime to respect the will of the people as expressed by the results of the general elections of 8 November 2020, to end the state of emergency and to restore the elected civilian government. Consider suspending Myanmar from ASEAN if these calls are not met;
  • Call on the military regime to release all individuals arbitrarily detained, including government officials and politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society members; immediately refrain from the use of excessive force and firearms against protesters and respect people’s right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
  • Urge the military regime to allow unfettered Internet access, including on all mobile phone networks and lift all restrictions on access to media sites, social media platforms and refrain from imposing any further restrictions against use of internet;
  • Take proactive steps in providing humanitarian assistance particularly in ethnic and ceasefire areas, including by optimizing the role of ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) and ensure there will be no deportation of those fleeing the repression in Myanmar;
  • Deny recognition of the military junta and instead engage with the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar;
  • Urge the Security Council to immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and cooperate fully with UN mandates.

We urge all ASEAN member states to address these issues as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you on our concerns, as soon as possible.

Regards,

David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


1. Arrests, deadly attacks on protest movement escalate despite condemnation, sanctions on Myanmar, CIVICUS Monitor, 9 April 2021, https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2021/04/09/arrests-deadly-attacks-protest-movement-escalate-despite-condemnation-sanctions-myanmar/

2.  ‘The Cost of the Coup: Myanmar Edges Toward State Collapse’, International Crisis Group, 1 April 2021, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/b167-cost-coup-myanmar-edges-toward-state-collapse

3.  ‘Myanmar: Hundreds Forcibly Disappeared, Human Rights Watch’, 2 April 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/02/myanmar-hundreds-forcibly-disappeared 

4.  ‘Deadly violence against protesters by security forces as crackdown escalates in Myanmar’, CIVICUS Monitor, 9 March 2021, https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2021/03/09/deadly-violence-against-protesters-security-forces-crackdown-escalates-myanmar/

5.  ‘Myanmar heading towards a ‘full-blown conflict’, UN human rights chief warns’, UN News, 13 April 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/04/1089612

6.  ‘UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on Myanmar’, CIVICUS, 24 March 2021,  https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/5005-un-human-rights-council-adopts-resolution-on-myanmar 

7.  ‘IIMM: Recipients of illegal orders should contact us’, United Nations, 17 March 2021, https://iimm.un.org/iimm-recipients-of-illegal-orders-should-contact-us/ 

8.  ‘UN Security Council Press Elements on Myanmar’, United Nations Myanmar, 1 April 2021, https://myanmar.un.org/en/123792-un-security-council-press-elements-myanmar   

9.  ‘ASEAN leaders to meet over Myanmar, says chair Brunei’, Reuters, 5 April 2021, https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/asean-leaders-meet-over-myanmar-says-chair-brunei 

 

Cuba: Int’l action needed to hold Cuban government accountable for human rights violations

The international community must demand accountability from the Cuban government for its actions and to immediately stop unlawful short-term arbitrary detentions, house arrests, forced exile, and smear campaigns against dissenting voices

In response to the aggressive acts committed by police officers in recent weeks against Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) activists on hunger strike; the beatings and arrests of members of the San Isidro Movement; the forced exile imposed on Cuban citizens, making them stateless; permanent house arrests; and smear campaigns against journalists, artists, and dissidents, the undersigned 7 organizations issue the following statement:

 

UK: Stop the violence against protesters and amend the Policing Bill

The use of violence against peaceful protesters in the United Kingdom (UK), who are protesting against the draconian police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, is a major assault on the right to peaceful assembly in the UK and indicative of how peaceful protesters will be treated if this bill is eventually passed into law.

 

Thailand: NGO law would strike ‘severe blow’ to human rights

The Thai authorities’ adoption of a draft law to regulate non-profit groups would strike a severe blow to human rights in Thailand, several international organizations said today. The bill is the latest effort by the Thai government to pass repressive legislation to muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

 

Bangladesh: Authorities must conduct investigations into death of protesters

The Bangladeshi authorities must conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into the death of at least 14 protesters across the country between 26 and 28 March, and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, said 11 human rights organisations in a joint statement today. The organisations also called on the international community to urge Bangladeshi authorities to put an end to the practice of torturing and forcibly disappearing opposition activists.

 

Pakistan: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Muhammad Ismail

Prof Ismail

Pakistani human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail, aged 66, is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF), an umbrella body of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Since July 2019, Muhammad Ismail and his family have faced systematic harassment and intimidation from the security forces. Muhammad Ismail is currently in detention on trumped-up charges.

 

Poland: Escalating threats to women activists

Investigate, Protect Rights Defenders, End Hateful Rhetoric

 

More must be done to ensure women in civil society are protected

Arabic

Twenty-five years since the ratification of the Beijing Platform for Action, and a year since women across the world participated in the Women's Global Strike - gender justice is still not a reality for most women. Despite mass mobilisations globally with women at the forefront, and despite numerous campaigns and policy interventions orchestrated by women civil society leaders, activists and lawyers, women across the world struggle to achieve full equality.

 

Denmark: Reject discriminatory "Security for all Danes” Act and respect freedom of assembly

Members of the Danish Parliament Folketinget

Christiansborg 1240 Copenhagen K

Tel.: +45 3337 5500

E-mail:


URGENT: Reject discriminatory "Security for all Danes” Act and respect freedom of assembly.

Dear Members of the Danish Parliament,

The undersigned civil society organisations wish to express our serious concerns over restrictive provisions in the proposed “Security for all Danes” Act which we believe could potentially limit civic freedoms in Denmark and undermine the country’s commitments to international human rights standards and European Union Law. Submitted to parliament in January 2021, the draft law follows previous measures by the government intended to address insecurity in vulnerable areas but which, in reality, sow division and inflame discrimination against excluded groups.

Concerns over harsh and disproportionate draft law

We are particularly concerned that the draft law “Security for All Danes” seriously contravenes the basic democratic right to peaceful assembly. We believe this law to be excessively strict; the introduction of Section (6b) to the Act of Police Activities empowers police to unilaterally issue a broad ban on peaceful assembly in a specific place for up to 30 days with the possibility of a 30-day extension.

Additionally, the bill proposes penalties of imprisonment of up to one year for those who are deemed to violate the law and a fine of a minimum of DKK 10,000 (USD 1600). The fines proposed are harsh and the threat of detention is a disproportionate response to the right to freely assemble. We are equally concerned about the absence of clarity on effective remedy for those whose fundamental rights are violated. International law says the authorities should provide some form of independent and transparent oversight panel that can determine if the person received timely access to legal help and if they were offered remuneration for any wrongs committed against them.

Impact on Denmark’s human rights record

Denmark is rated ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that measures the state of civic freedoms in over 196 countries across the world. Only 3.4% of the world’s population live in ‘open’ countries where democratic rights, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly and association, are recognised. The publication of the draft law may affect Denmark's reputation as a robust advocate for human rights in the international community. There are also serious concerns from civil society that the law may be used to justify unlawful actions by people who violate human rights.

Denmark has historically advocated for the promotion and protection of human rights in different countries across the world, making a difference in many communities. We urge the Danish government not to tarnish its human rights record by implementing this bill.

Potential to incite hate and division

If implemented in its current form, the Act would incite hate and division and seriously undermine the rights of excluded groups, such as those who are nationally in the minority.

The Act aims to put an end to citizens’ feelings of insecurity caused by the “appearance and behaviour of young men.” While announcing the law to Parliament on 6 October 2020, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen alluded to a link between criminality and people from so-called “non-Western” backgrounds. This law follows other packages which target “non-Western” neighbourhoods, such as the ‘Ghetto Package,’ a law permitting the sale of apartment blocks in areas largely inhabited by immigrants.

According to the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), such legislation is at odds with EU rules on the prohibition of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin and with fundamental rights of freedom of assembly as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which also prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, social origin, race, and membership of a national minority.

Ahead of the next sitting in Parliament to discuss this restrictive draft law, we call on Danish Parliamentarians and the government to:

  • Reject the proposal as it stands;
  • Request the Ministry of Justice to carry out a review of the proposal and involve civil society, targeted communities and other interested parties;
  • Assess the impact of this law against international standards and compliance with EU law;
  • Refrain from statements inciting hate and discrimination against minority

CC/bbc

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen

Minister for Justice, Nick Hækkerup

Minister of Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye

Endorsed by CIVICUS

  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) European Civic Forum
  • ARCI, Italy 
  • New Europeans, Europe Advocates Abroad, Greece Osservatorio Repressione, Italy Peace Institute, Slovenia Obywatele RP, Poland BlueLink Foundation, Bulgaria
  • Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PIC), Slovenia Umanotera, Slovenia
  • CNVOS, Slovenia
  • International Institute for Nonviolent Action - Novact, Spain Bulgarian Fund for Women, Bulgaria
  • Ligue des droits de l’Homme, France
  • The Voice of Civic Organizations, Slovakia
  • Nexus (Consulting and support for Alert and Mobilization initiatives), France Spiralis, Network of the development of NGO´s, Czech Republic
  • European Movement Italy, Italy
  • NETPOL - Network for police monitoring, United Kingdom New Europeans Minsk, Belarus
  • Human Rights House Zagreb, Croatia Irídia - Center for Human Rights, Spain Gong, Croatia
  • Netherlands Helsinki Committee, The Netherlands Associazione Antigone, Italy
  • Grup de Periodistes Ramon Barnils (Ramon Barnils Group of Journalists) / Observatori Crític dels Mitjans Mèdia.cat (Mèdia.cat Critical Media Watchdog), Spain
  • Društvo Asociacija, Slovenia
  • Focus, Association for Sustainable Development, Slovenia Institute of Public Affairs (ISP), Poland
  • Europe Section of the National Network for Civil Society (BBE), Germany Òmnium Cultural, Spain
  • Statewatch, United Kingdom Civil Society Advocates, Cyprus ENAR, Europe

 

India: Women human rights defenders still in pre-detention after 300 days

INDIA Protests DevanganaKalita NatashaNarwal

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Front Line Defenders call for the immediate release of women human rights defenders Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal who have now spent 300 days in pre-trial detention.

Devangana and Natasha were arrested on 23 May 2020 due to their peaceful campaign against the regressive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The women human rights defenders have faced multiple cases (First Information Reports) including under the anti-terror law, aimed at prolonging their detention. Devangana and Natasha’s arrest and continued incarceration highlights the escalating crackdown on dissent by Indian authorities.

Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal are founding members of the Pinjra Tod, a collective of women students and university alumni from across Delhi, who advocate on women’s rights, student’s rights and to lessen restrictions, placed on female students. The collective argues against using concepts of safety and security to silence and suppress women’s rights to mobility and liberty. Since the CAA was passed in December 2019, the women human rights defenders had played a critical role in peacefully protesting and mobilising against the law. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the law as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’.

On 23 May 2020, the Special Crimes Cell of the Delhi Police arrested Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in connection with their alleged role in a sit-in protest against the CAA that took place at Jaffrabad metro station in Delhi in February 2020. Among the charges laid against them include obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions, wrongful restraint, and assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty. The defenders were granted bail the following day (24 May) by the Metropolitan Magistrate Delhi. In the order granting bail, the judge noted that the defenders were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression by protesting and did not engage in any form of violence.

Despite being granted bail, the defenders were never released. In what has become a familiar pattern for arrest of human rights defenders, Devangana and Natasha were rearrested on 26 May by a Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch of the police and remanded in Tihar jail. The new charges include serious offences of murder, attempted murder, criminal conspiracy and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under the Penal Code; offences under the Arms Act and the Prevention of Destruction of Public Property Act.

Natasha and Devangana were subsequently charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), India’s primary counter-terrorism law which has been increasingly misused by the government of Narendra Modi. The UAPA has become the weapon of choice to detain human rights defenders, journalists and protesters under catch-all charges. For Natasha and Devangana, each time they were granted bail by court, a further FIR with more severe charges was filed against them, preventing release. Multiple cases culminated in FIR 59/2020 which includes sections of the UAPA, under which Natasha, Devangana and several other human rights defenders are currently jailed.

“The arbitrary detention of Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal for 300 days now, is aimed at punishing them for their human rights work. The Indian authorities must drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against them and release the women human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally” said Olive Moore, Deputy Director - Front Line Defenders.

Human rights defenders across India have been arrested and detained for long periods for their involvement in protests or criticising the authorities. A series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws are being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in detention. These includes the UAPA, section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, 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 laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations and highlight the increasingly repressive civic space we have seen in India under the Modi government,” said David Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

In December 2019, India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent during 2019 and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

For further information, please contact:

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation: Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher –

Front Line Defenders: Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications & Visibility – - +1-202-294-8813

 

Philippines: Government should be held accountable for the killings of activists

The Philippine Government must face international accountability for its widespread killing of activists and human rights defenders, and the grave human rights violations it has committed, seven human rights groups said in a statement today.

 

Call for independent investigation into Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo’s death

Open letter to all Commonwealth Heads of Government

Civil society organisations around the world are calling on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into the death in custody of Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and peace activist. As your governments mark Commonwealth Day today and prepare to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June, we are writing to ask you to engage with your counterparts in the Rwandan government in support of this call.

 

Algeria: Assertive public position from international community crucial to protecting Algerians on Hirak anniversary

 

Read the statement in Arabic

On 18 February 2021, with the potential resumption of protests on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the “Hirak” pro-democracy protest movement, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a presidential pardon for at least thirty Hirak detainees. As of 21 February, thirty-eight prisoners of conscience were released according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), although it remains unclear how many were pardoned. At least nineteen of them were only released conditionally while awaiting judgment, such as journalist Khaled Drareni, union activist Dalila Touat and political activist Rachid Nekkaz.

Throughout the past year, President Tebboune issued several presidential pardons in February, April and July 2020 for a total of 19,502 detainees, out of which thirteen were Hirak detainees. These releases, while a welcome development for the detainees and their families, have not yet indicated any willingness from authorities to reverse an unrelenting crackdown on civic space.

On the anniversary of the Hirak, the undersigned organisations reiterate their call for the international community to urge the Algerian government to put an end to policies aimed at silencing those who seek peaceful outlets and means of expression, in line with the Algerian Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

We appeal to the international community to take a more assertive public position clearly condemning human rights violations, with the aim of protecting Algerian citizens striving to safeguard their fundamental freedoms. The international community should call on the authorities to release all arbitrarily-held detainees and cease all judicial harassment and intimidation against them and the judiciary. Increased scrutiny on Algeria is direly needed, and international actors are urged to closely monitor the human rights situation and trials of activists, journalists and human rights defenders.

International actors should further ensure the prompt investigation of allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in detention, such as those raised by student Walid Nekkiche on 1st February 2021, after fourteen months of arbitrary pre-trial detention, and suspected perpetrators should be held accountable.

As the Hirak became a largely online movement after protests were voluntarily halted in March 2020, authorities have accelerated the arbitrary prosecution and harassment of individuals, including activists and journalists, in most cases merely for expressing their opinion online.

The number of prisoners of conscience has doubled in the second half of 2020 according to the documentation of the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), overshadowing the presidential pardons, and illustrating the increased criminalisation of public freedoms. About one thousand prosecutions stemmed from individuals exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly in 2020, as reported by the Collective of Lawyers for Prisoners of Conscience. Sixty-three individuals have been prosecuted on charges of offence to the President, a charge not used more than four times in twenty years under the Bouteflika presidency.

Among those targeted, Algerian women’s rights organisations recently jointly denounced the arbitrary detention and sentencing of activists Dalila Touat and Naïma Abdelkader. Other prisoners of conscience include activist Oussama Taifour, sentenced in October 2020 to one year in prison after he denounced online a work suspension related to his activism; activist Zoheir Kaddam, sentenced in June 2020 to one year in prison, although he had neither access to his legal file nor his lawyers present; or activist Khaldi Ali[1], sentenced in November 2020 to three years in prison based on critical social media publications. Furthermore, in September 2020, two men were sentenced to three years of prison and forty-two others to suspended terms after police raided what they alleged was a “gay wedding”.

In January 2021, Judge Saad Eddine Merzouk was sanctioned by the Superior Judicial Council with a six months’ suspension after making critical public declarations. Prior to this, in February 2020, prosecutor Mohamed Belhadi was transferred, seemingly arbitrarily, after he requested the acquittal of sixteen protesters.

Amendments to the Penal Code passed in April 2020 now allow for the criminalisation of free expression, assembly and association. Executive decree 20-332 in November 2020 tightened controls over digital media, including a regime of prior authorization, which added to an already restrictive legal framework under the Law 12-06 on Associations or the 2012 Information Law.

At least thirteen media outlets have been made unavailable on Algerian networks in 2020[2], adding to five others in 2019[3]. Journalists Khaled Drareni, Abdelkrim Zeghileche, Mustafa Bendjama – who says he was arrested at least fifteen times - and Said Boudour are among those sentenced and/or repeatedly prosecuted.

A top-down constitutional revision, adopted in December 2020 following a referendum with a historically low official turnout rate, was largely criticised for its lack of transparency and inclusivity. The revision does not bring about tangible progress on the rule of law, but instead constitutionalizes the army’s political role, includes weak guarantees on rights and freedoms – deleting the right to freedom of conscience – and perpetuates the executive authorities’ domination over all institutions.

In addition to the erosion of fundamental freedoms witnessed in the past year, the weaponizing of the pandemic against civil society and journalists has defied calls by the United Nations to decongest detention facilities, and only serves to foster conditions for violence and instability.

Signatories

  • Article 19
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • National Centre for Development Cooperation (CNCD-11.11.11)

[1] Also identified as Khaldi Yacine.

[2] Casbah Tribune, Tariq News, Twala.info, Maghreb Emergent, Radio M, Interlignes, Dzvid, Le Matin d’Algérie, L’Avant-Garde, Ultra Sawt, Yabiladi.com, Essaha.com and Shihab presse.

[3] Tout sur l’Algérie (TSA), Observ’Algérie, Algérie Part, Algérie Patriotique and Ma Revue de Presse DZ.

 

Civil society letter to U.S. State Dept on Human Rights Defenders

80 civil society organisations from 30+ countries urge Honarable Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to strengthen U.S. government foreign policy to support human rights defenders globally


Hon. Antony Blinken Secretary of State

United States of America

CC:      Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman,Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Senator James Risch, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman,House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Representative Michael McCaul, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

 Dear Secretary Blinken:

We, the undersigned organisations, work to promote human rights, democracy, media freedom, environmental sustainability, and an end to corruption around the world. The protection of human rights defenders — such as activists, lawyers, and journalists — is critical to each of our missions. We are deeply concerned by the unabated rise in reprisals against human rights defenders, both globally and within the United States, and the chilling effect that these attacks have on fundamental freedoms and civic space.

We would like to request the opportunity to begin a discussion with the incoming State Department political leadership on the role that the Biden Administration will play in protecting human rights defenders.

As the Administration prepares to re-engage the U.S. government at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, we encourage you to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to play a global leadership role on this issue.

Read the full letter here

Signed by

  1. Access Now
  2. Accountability Counsel
  3. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies Al-Haq
  4. Alliance of Baptists Amazon Watch
  5. American Jewish World Service
  6. Amnesty International USA
  7. ARTICLE 19
  8. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
  9. Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc (BALAOD Mindanaw)
  10. Bank Information Center
  11. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
  12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  13. Center for Civil Liberties
  14. Center for Human Rights and Environment
  15. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
  16. China-Latin America Sustainable-Investments Initiative Church World Service
  17. CIVICUS
  18. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Committee to Protect Journalists
  19. COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peacebuilding Nigeria
  20. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
  21. Crude Accountability
  22. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  23. EarthRights International
  24. Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines Equitable Cambodia
  25. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders FORUM-ASIA
  26. Freedom House
  27. Freedom Now
  28. Front Line Defenders
  29. Gender Action
  30. Global Witness
  31. Green Advocates International (Liberia)
  32. Greenpeace
  33. Human Rights First
  34. Inclusive Development International Indigenous Peoples Rights
  35. International International Accountability Project International Rivers
  36. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives Kenya
  38. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space Just Associates (JASS)
  39. Kaisa Ka (Unity of Women for Freedom) KILUSAN
  40. Latin America Working Group
  41. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
  42. National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
  43. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - NISGUA
  44. Network Movement for Justice and Development
  45. Odhikar – Bangladesh OECD Watch
  46. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union Azerbaijan
  47. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  48. Open Briefing
  49. OT Watch
  50. Oxfam America
  51. Peace Brigades International - USA (PBI-USA)
  52. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies
  53. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
  54. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
  55. Project HEARD
  56. Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) - Latin American NGO
  57. Protection International
  58. Rivers without Boundaries Coalition Mongolia Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  59. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
  60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network Swedwatch
  61. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
  62. Transparency International
  63. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
  64. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
  65. Witness Radio – Uganda

Civic space in United States of America is rated Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

 

Bahrain: Joint Letter to EU Ahead of Meeting With Bahraini Delegation

Please note: This letter was sent on 25 January and it was acknowledged by the European External Action Service (EEAS). The Bahraini foreign minister visit to Brussels has been rescheduled to the 10th of February 2021. The EU Bahrain interactive human rights dialogue is now scheduled for the 22nd of February 2021.


Re: EU-Bahrain Cooperation Agreement Must Depend on Human Rights Improvements

 

To:

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission

Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

 

Your Excellencies,

In light of the meeting between Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European External Action Service currently scheduled to take place in Brussels on 26 January 2021, we are writing to raise concerns about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, following a year in which Human Rights Watch reports that the Bahraini government has “escalated repression” against critics.

As the informal EU-Bahrain Human Rights Dialogue originally scheduled for November 2020 has been indefinitely postponed, it is vital that human rights concerns are placed at the centre of your conversations with Bahraini officials during this upcoming meeting.

Bahrains Crackdown on Political Opposition and Civil Society

Bahrain’s February 2011 Arab Spring uprising was an event which many hoped would herald a new era of democracy in the country. However, since the government’s violent suppression of the protests, promised reforms have failed to materialise. The leaders of the protest movement, some of them now elderly, continue to languish in prison.

Since 2017, authorities have outlawed all independent media and dissolved all political opposition parties. Among the most prominent prisoners currently incarcerated are high-profile political opposition leaders, activists, bloggers and human rights defenders sentenced to life imprisonment for their roles in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. These include Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil AlSingace, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, Sheikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad and Abdulwahab Husain. In 2018, the leader of Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc, Sheikh Ali Salman, was sentenced to life in prison following trials on speech charges and spurious accusations of espionage.

Over the last four years, political activists have borne the full brunt of political repression in Bahrain, facing arbitrary arrest and lengthy prison terms, and in some cases torture, for opposing the government. Hundreds have been arbitrarily stripped of citizenship, while activists and journalists who continue their work from exile risk reprisals against family members who remain in the country.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least six journalists are currently imprisoned for their work in Bahrain, while the country has fallen to a lamentable 169/180 on the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Bahrain scored a paltry 1/40 for political rights in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report.

In addition, Bahrain’s government has increasingly turned to repressive cybercrime legislation to further restrict civic space, with prominent defence lawyers, opposition leaders and human rights defenders prosecuted over their social media activity since 2018. As Amnesty International has reported, Bahrain’s authorities have used the COVID-19  pandemic as a pretext “to further crush freedom of expression.”

Medical Negligence and Mistreatment in Jau Prison

Bahrain’s prisons remain overcrowded and unsanitary, and human rights groups have called on the government to release those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression in light of the threat posed by COVID-19. Prisoners are frequently subjected to humiliating treatment and denied adequate medical care, in violation of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations. These include Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, who suffer from a range of chronic medical conditions, as well as human rights activists Ali AlHajee and Naji Fateel.

Other prominent prisoners include two European-Bahraini dual citizens, the Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and the Swedish-Bahraini Sheikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad, both of whom are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, having been prosecuted and sentenced to life imprisonment for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including denial of medical care. 

In April 2011, security forces violently arrested Al-Khawaja and broke his jaw, leading to surgery for four broken bones in his face. Security officers tortured Al-Khawaja directly after his major jaw surgery, while blindfolded and restrained to a military hospital bed, which forced the doctor to ask the security officers to stop as it would undo the surgical work. Almost ten years later he still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional surgery to remove the metal plates and screws that were used to reattach his jaw.

AlMuqdad, who was tortured by methods including severe beating and electrocution, suffers from multiple health problems, including a hernia likely caused by his torture, but is being denied proper health care. As of January 2021, in addition to the need for urgent surgery to repair the hernia, AlMuqdad is in need of heart surgery to unblock his coronary arteries and examination by a urologist to diagnose a prostate problem. The prison administration continues to delay the surgeries and specialist appointments, blaming the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Death Penalty and Arbitrary Killings

In 2017, Bahrain abandoned a de facto moratorium on the death penalty and has since conducted six executions, five of which were condemned as arbitrary by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. According to recent research by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Reprieve, 26 death row inmates currently face imminent execution in the country, nearly half of whom were convicted on the basis of confessions allegedly extracted under torture in cases related to political unrest. 

These include Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa, whose death sentences were upheld in July 2020 despite credible evidence that both men were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained under torture. Independent experts at the International Committee for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims concluded that investigations by Bahrain’s human rights oversight bodies into the torture of the two men “fail[ed] to meet the minimum professional standards and the minimum international legal standards”, while the Bar Human Rights Council of England and Wales warned that “upholding the convictions would be wholly inconsistent with Bahrain’s international obligations”. Both men are at risk of imminent execution. Three UN human rights experts warned on 12 February 2020 that carrying out these death sentences would constitute an arbitrary killing. 

Our Requests

Bahraini authorities have engaged in widespread violations of human rights enshrined in both Bahrain’s national legal system as well as in multiple international human rights treaties to which Bahrain is a state party. 

Furthermore, a prevailing culture of impunity has allowed suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations to avoid accountability. In light of the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, we therefore ask that during the meeting the EEAS:

  • Urges the unconditional and immediate release of all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil AlSingace, Abdulwahab Husain and Sheikh Ali Salman;
  • Urges for the unconditional and immediate release of Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Swedish-Bahraini Sheikh AlMuqdad;
  • Calls for an independent review of the cases involving those facing the death penalty, including the cases of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa; as well as for the ultimate revocation of their death sentences;
  • Urges Bahraini authorities to reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty;
  • Pressures Bahrain to end the use of torture and other -ill-treatment and to tackle the culture of impunity by holding suspected perpetrators accountable and ensuring effective mechanisms for victims to receive justice and restitution;
  • Urges Bahrain to rescind its arbitrary bans on opposition parties, civil society groups and independent media and encourage the development of civic space in Bahrain;
  • Urges the Bahraini Government to ensure its respect to, and protection of, the right to freedom of expression, and to take necessary steps to ensure freedom of the press; and
  • Persuades Bahrain’s government to take concrete and measurable steps towards justice reform and respect for human rights.

Sincerely, 

  1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  6. CIVICUS
  7. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  8. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
  9. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  10. Freedom House
  11. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  12. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  13. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  14. Index on Censorship
  15. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  16. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  17. PEN International
  18. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  19. Reprieve
  20. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 Civic space in Bahrain is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

 

 

Standing in solidarity with Venezuelan human rights defenders

The recent, ongoing and unwarranted detention of five members of the Venezuelan NGO ‘Azul Positivo’ is one more event in a series of threats, harassment, attacks, restrictions, reprisals and criminal proceedings against Venezuelan civil society organizations and human rights defenders, which has been intensifying since November 2020. In recent months and weeks, state agents have forcibly entered the offices of civil society organizations; public threats have been made against defenders who have been engaging with human rights mechanisms, NGO bank accounts have been frozen and arrest warrants issued for aid workers.

 

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

USP Fiji

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

 

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