Welcome to Civil Society Watch Monthly Bulletin, an e-newsletter of updates and analyses concerning civil society's rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression around the world. The Bulletin is compiled by the staff at Civil Society Watch, a programme of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. Please feel free to forward the Bulletin to friends and colleagues. We welcome your comments and contributions!
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
EARLY WARNING SYSTEM
RESOURCES AND PUBLICATIONS
RESOURCES AND PUBLICATIONS
Interview with Muzi Kamanga of
Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) on the 2009 Zambia NGO
CIVICUS press release on
suspension of NGOs in Ethiopia
Early Warning System: Enabling
effective and pre-emptive responses to threats to civil society
Crisis Response Fund: Civil
Society Watch takes action ahead of Zambia NGO Bill 2009
Elections in Kyrgyzstan
marred with violence and corruption.
Cambodia: Civil society condemns deteriorating environment for free expression
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a network of civil society organisations advocating for freedom of expression, has issued an open letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen denouncing a "rapidly and palpably deteriorating environment for free expression in Cambodia". The letter addressed increased repression and limits on freedom of expression in Cambodia, citing a spike in the number of attacks targeting members of the media, the legal community, members of parliament, and human rights defenders.
China: Legal aid centre shutdown in Beijing
Lawyers handling sensitive cases in China continue to face increased repression after the licenses of more than 50 lawyers were revoked and Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative), a Chinese legal aid and research institute, was shut down on 17 July 2009. The closure of Gongmeng came only two days after it was fined for failure to pay taxes and for failing to register as an NGO. Lawyers from Gongmeng, however, contend that there was an issue involving taxes but they were paid, and the organisation was registered as a charitable foundation that operated legally after being refused by Beijing’s civil affairs bureau to register as an NGO.
Cuba: International Press Institute calls for release of journalists
Recommendations put forward by the UN Human Rights Council to lift restrictions on freedom of expression, including media restrictions, in Cuba were welcomed by the International Press Institute (IPI), which also called for the release of 22 journalists imprisoned in the country since 2003. Additionally, in a report adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June as part of its Universal Periodic review, concerns regarding achievements in the promotion of freedom of expression and rights to education, health and food were raised by IPI.
Ethiopia: Anti-terror law adopted in Ethiopia
Despite criticism from international human rights organisations and opposition party members within the Ethiopian government, Ethiopia’s controversial “Anti-Terror Proclamation” was adopted on 7 July 2009 after the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives voted in favour of the legislation. The law contains an ambiguous definition of torture, enhanced surveillance by police and restricts media freedom.
Fiji: A call to lift emergency regulations
Pacific Freedom Forum, an advocacy group set up in August 2008 in response to threats against media and other freedoms in Fiji, has condemned the extension of the ‘Public Emergency Regulations’ by the government of Fiji. The Public Emergency Regulations have been in effect since 10 April 2009, resulting in the suspension of the 1997 Constitution.
France: Proposed law feared to infringe on privacy by enabling increased police surveillance
Reporters Without Borders has expressed concern over a new bill that would enable French police to use computer ‘spyware’ in order to obtain information from internet-cafes and privately-owned computers in order to combat organised crime. France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Freedom, which examined the bill upon request by the government, has also emphasised that the bill threatens the January 1978 law protecting personal data in addition to other rights to privacy.
Gambia: Journalists in Gambia accused of sedition face unfair trial
Seven journalists accused of sedition, now face an unfair trial, according to the advocacy group, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Following the arrest of seven journalists and executive members of the Gambian Press Union (GPU) accused of publishing materials with ‘seditious intentions’, IFJ has voiced concerns over two actions of a Gambian High Court judge in Banjul, who recently overruled all applications made by the defence team representing the seven journalist.
Greece: Human Rights Watch documents the plight of refugees and calls on authorities in Greece to halt the latest crackdown
As Greece continued to implement its tough stance on refugees seeking protection in Europe, several organisations have condemned Greece’s refugee policies. Human Rights Watch called on the European Union to hold Greece accountable for its latest acts, which are contrary to international and European human rights and refugee law. Large numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers have been arrested or forced to cross the Greece-Turkey border. Fears of additional expulsions among refugees and organisations advocating on their behalf continue.
Iran: The world reacts to repressive measures
Demonstrators marched in dozens of cities across the world on 25 July 2009 to protest against Iran’s human rights abuses. The global action day was an event organised by United4Iran with demonstrators calling for the release of hundreds of activists in the on-going Iranian crackdown on civil society and political opposition activities.
Lithuania: Proposed law violates gay, lesbian and bisexual rights
Despite a veto by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on a proposed law banning references to gay, lesbian, and bisexual relations in public places, Lithuania's Seimas (Parliament) is reconvening for a plenary session to decide whether to overturn the presidential veto on 23 June 2009 that struck down the proposed legislation. Critics and advocacy groups claim limits on speech under the proposed law are both discriminatory and in violation of Lithuania’s joint statement on human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity, which was presented by 66 nations at the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 2008.
Nicaragua: One year after total ban on abortion, women’s rights continue to deteriorate
Amnesty International reports that ten year after Nicaragua's total ban on abortion came into effect, the number of maternal deaths has risen and the rights of women have continued to deteriorate. Nicaragua is one of only a handful of countries that has criminalised abortion in cases of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger.
Niger: Presidential decree increases repression of media
Following unsuccessful attempts to extend his stay in power, Niger President Mamadou Tandja, who has been operating under a declared state of emergency in Niger since 29 June 2009, issued a sweeping presidential decree to further regulate the media. The decree gives the Counsel Superieur de la Communication (CSC), the media regulatory body in Niger, the power to unilaterally regulate the country's media, including the power to close media outlets deemed to threaten state security or undermine public order.
Poland: Concerns about media law
Concerned that Poland’s proposed “Media Law” fails to provide for the financial and editorial independence of public service media from political pressure, ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression issued a statement on 16 July 2009 urging Polish President Lech Kaczynski to veto the Law on Public Activity within the sphere of media services.
Russia: Impunity blamed as the cause of Natalya Estemirova’s death
Russian activists blame the continued impunity in Chechnya and lawless atmosphere the cause for the death of human rights defender and journalist Natalya Estemirova. A wave of targeted killings and harassment of journalists and other defenders of civil society and civil liberties have continued unabated in recent years.
Saudi Arabia: Crackdown on terror results in arbitrary detention of thousands
According to a newly released report by Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia, a sweeping crackdown by state security in the name of counter terrorism has resulted in the arrest and detention of thousands of people. According to the report, increased security measures adopted after September 2001 have resulted in the denial of due process, unfair trials, torture, and the deaths of terrorist suspects.
South Africa: Civil society calls on South Africa to cooperate with the International Criminal Court
Following the African Union’s decision to withhold cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in respect of the arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, a number of civil society leaders issued an open letter urging South African President Zuma to uphold the country’s obligations under international law and cooperate with the ICC.
South Korea: Human rights violations raised with Special Rapporteur
A series of human rights violations by the Lee Myungbak government in South Korea were appealed by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. PSPD cited three human rights abuses in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Turkey: Repression of trade union leaders and protestors continues
Following the detention, harassment and dismissal of members and leaders of their common affiliate, the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (KESK), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have issued a letter of protest to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In violation of Council of Europe and ILO standards, 32 persons involved in labour protests remain in prison and have been denied the right to due process.
Venezuela: More than 200 radio and broadcasting licenses revoked
Restrictions on independent media in Venezuela continue as the Venezuela government increases measures to curtail the independence of privately-held media outlets. More than 200 radio stations are expected to lose broadcasting privileges for failing to submit documentation of ownership to the country’s telecommunications regulator, CONATEL, within a three week deadline that ended on 23 June 2009. The new media restrictions also force private cable and satellite broadcasters to broadcast live speeches by President Hugo Chávez. In a move to regulate broadcasters’ content, six privately operated cable broadcasters are being charged under Article 24 of the 'Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television,' for airing content compiled by two NGOs in opposition to a draft law which threatens private property rights.
Vietnam: Pro-democracy activists arrested for disseminating anti-government propaganda
A 60-year-old pro-democracy activist and a young blogger engaged in the promotion human rights and democratic ideals in Vietnam were arrested and now face possible criminal charges under Article 88 of the Vietnam Criminal Code for spreading propaganda against the government. Nguyen Tien Trung, a recent university graduate, and Tran Anh Kim, a longtime activist, were both members of the Vietnam Democracy Party.
Yemen: Security forces kill 12 protestors
At least 12 people are dead after security forces opened fire on anti-government protestors in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, over 5,000 demonstrators were showered with gunfire from over 100 security agents in the city of Zinjibar in Abyan province when they gathered to protest against a lack of public services in the formally independent south.
Uganda: Terrorist suspects denied due process
On 17 July
2009 Human Rights Watch, in a press release, urged the Ugandan government
to charge or release five detainees that were arrested by agents from the
country’s Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force (JATT) last year. In violation
of the Ugandan constitution, the five have reportedly been denied access
to a lawyer, are unable to communicate with their families, and have never
been before a magistrate or charged with any crime throughout their
Zimbabwe: Disruption of National Constitutional Assembly meeting
Opposition groups led by the Zimbabwe's National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a leading civic group in Zimbabwe, have vowed to fight proposed changes to the country’s constitution, convening what it calls a “people’s convention”. The first convention organised by NCA, which was attended by over 3,500 delegates in opposition to proposed constitutional changes, quickly ended after it was disruption by rowdy members of the Zanu-PF party.
Iran: 140 protestors released
The Iranian government has released 140 protestors jailed following the widespread demonstrations in opposition to the country’s June presidential elections. The demonstrators who were detained for over a month did not include any significant political figures.
Nigeria: Proposed law to outlaw torture
According to a report from media outline This Day, the use of torture by security agents may be outlawed in Nigeria before the end of the year. The new law is inline with international law, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the bill is now working its way through the committee stages of the National Assembly.
“INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CIVIL SOCIETY LAW VOLUME VII ISSUE III JULY 2009”
“The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009” FiDH
“Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo” Human Rights Watch.
Report: Journalists in Exile 2009”
Committee to Protect Journalists
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CIVICUS is an alliance of members and partners in over 100 countries, dedicated to strengthening civil society and citizen action around the world. Civil Society Watch is a programme of CIVICUS, which seeks to expose, address and prevent threats to civil society's rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly. For more information, visit www.civicus.org and www.civilsocietywatch.org
The views expressed in this bulletin are a reflection of those contained in the original reports to which they are linked here, and are not necessarily those of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.