Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges an end to the pervasive crackdown against English speaking Cameroonians as three respected civil society members - Barrister Felix Agbor Balla, Dr Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy - are due to appear before a Military Tribunal in the capital Yaoundé on 23 March 2017.
Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Mexican CSO Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca (Consorcio Oaxaca) are deeply concerned about the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture against human rights defenders in Mexico. A recent report, jointly published by 11 Mexican and international human rights organisations, sets out how such practices are extensively used to restrict the work of human rights defenders.
CIVICUS joins civil society groups from around the world in demanding the immediate release of Ameer Makhoul, Director of Ittijah, an association of community-based Arab organisations based in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ameer Makhoul, a prominent human rights activist and prisoner of conscience was arrested under questionable circumstances on 6 May 2010.
Ameer Makhoul remains in prison despite the lack of evidence against him. During his latest appearance in the District Court in Haifa on 16 September, the cross examination of the policemen who arrested Ameer on 6 May revealed that during the Shabak (GSS) investigations, Ameer was denied sleep and access to the restroom for more than 24 hours. It was also revealed that there was no evidence on his computer and cell phone to prove he was involved in espionage or any conspiracy with a Hezbollah agent - charges levelled against him by the Israeli government.
According to local sources, Ameer was detained incommunicado for six days following his arrest where he was given no explanation of the charges brought forth against him and was denied access to a lawyer during that time. Ameer is charged with violating "security" regulations, allegedly meeting and conspiring with an alleged Hezbollah agent while abroad who supposedly recruited him to engage in espionage against Israel. The Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has refused to reveal any evidence supporting the charges against Ameer.
During all of his seven meetings with his lawyers in prison, Ameer was denied his constitutional right to consult with lawyers privately and confidentially. According to Provision 45 of the Prisons Ordinance, clients and lawyers should not be separated, conversations should not be recorded or listened in on and it should be possible for lawyers to exchange documents relevant to the legal proceedings of the case. However, during each of the consultations, communication was only allowed via telephone, separated by a glass screen, or with prison guards listening into the conversations.
The following civil society organisations from around the world and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen consider Ameer as a prisoner of conscience, who has been arbitrarily arrested and detained for his lawful work with Ittijah, a civil society group which promotes the rights of Palestinian Arab civil society and advocates for political, economic and social change for Palestinians who are denied equal access to infrastructure and services. We call upon on the Israeli Government to respect its international human rights obligations by restoring to Ameer Makhoul his rights to freedom of expression, movement and proper due process of law. His next appearance in court will be October.
This Public Statement has been endorsed/signed by the following:
Karapatan, Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights - Philippines
Association of NGOs of Aotearoa - New Zealand
Development Services Exchange - Solomon Islands
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement - Egypt
Cook Islands Association of NGOs - Cook Islands
National Association of NGOs - Zimbabwe
National Council for Voluntary Organisations - England
NGO Coalition on Child Rights - Pakistan
Nigerian Network of NGOs - Nigeria
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations - Scotland
Sinergia, Venezuelan Association of Civil Society Organisations - Venezuela
Russian | Belarusian
‘You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep the Spring from coming’
161 human rights organisations demand an end to the repression against the Human Rights Center Viasna and all other human rights defenders in Belarus. We condemn the systematic arbitrary arrests, beatings and acts of torture they are subjected to. Despite all-out repression by the Belarusian authorities, human rights defenders in Belarus continue to strive to protect human rights. Inspired by their courage, we will not stop fighting until they are all released and able to continue their human rights work freely and unhindered.
Over the past few days, we have witnessed another wave of raids and detentions against Belarusian human rights defenders and activists. This repression is a blatant retaliation for their work denouncing and documenting human rights violations ongoing since the brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters in the wake of the August 2020 election. Since August 2020, more than 35,000 Belarusians were arrested for participating in peaceful protests, around 3,000 politically motivated criminal cases were initiated, at least 2,500 cases of torture of Belarusian citizens were documented. We believe these systematic and widespread human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity. As of July 19, 561 persons in Belarus are considered political prisoners.
Between July 14 and 16, 2021, more than 60 searches were conducted at the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organisations and their staff, including the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’, two member organisations of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, Human Constanta and Legal Initiative, as well as the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Legal Transformation Center LawTrend, Ecodom and many others. Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers were seized during the searches.
During these latest raids, more than 30 people were interrogated. 13 of them were detained for a 72-hour period, reportedly in connection to an investigation into public order violations and tax evasion. Most of them were subsequently released, namely, Mikalai Sharakh, Siarhei Matskievich, and Viasna members Andrei Paluda, Alena Laptsionak, Yauheniya Babaeva, Siarhei Sys, Viktar Sazonau, Ales Kaputski and Andrei Medvedev. Several of them, however, remain under travel ban and face criminal charges. Notably, Ales Bialiatsky, Viasna Chairperson Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna Deputy Head and Vice-President of the FIDH, and Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and Viasna member, remain detained. On July 17, all four were transferred to a pre-trial detention center “Valadarskaha”. Four other Viasna members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapyuk, as well as Aleh Hrableuski of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, remain in pre-trial detention since late 2020 or early 2021.
Viasna, one of the country’s top human rights organisations, and a member of the OMCT and FIDH networks, has been targeted by the Belarusian government for over two decades. In August 2011, its chairperson Ales Bialiatsky was sentenced to four and a half years of imprisonment on trumped-up charges, and released in June 2014 after spending 1,052 days in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions. In retaliation for Viasna’s courageous work and unwavering stance for human rights, the Belarusian authorities are trying to destroy the organisation by putting seven of its members behind bars.
The raids started only one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the situation of human rights in Belarus, demanding the release of all persons arbitrarily detained and an investigation into allegations of torture and other human rights violations.
On July 8-9 and July 16, 2021, the authorities also raided the homes and premises of various independent media outlets and their staff, including ‘Nasha Niva’, one of country’s oldest independent newspaper, and detained three of its journalists. The offices of RFE/Radio Liberty and Belsat, the largest independent TV channel covering Belarus, were also searched, and several of their journalists were detained. As of now, over 30 media workers and dozens of bloggers remain in detention.
We, the undersigned civil society organisations, condemn the massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Belarusian authorities, which we fear may trigger more violence. This latest wave of repression, together with the brutal crackdown over the last months, demonstrates that the authorities aim at having every human rights defender either detained or exiled.
We stand in solidarity with our colleagues and friends who are detained, harassed, and persecuted for their brave work. We regard their struggle with great concern and sorrow, and we are inspired by their commitment and resilience.
We urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the harassment and intimidation of critical voices, and to free all unjustly detained human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
We call on the international community to take a strong stance in support of the Belarusian human rights community, and to speak out for the release of all those who are still behind bars, and whose only crime is to demand a society based on justice instead of fear.
1. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran - Iran
2. ACAT Belgique - Belgium
3. ACAT Burundi - Burundi
4. ACAT España-Catalunya (Acción de los Cristianos para la Abolición de la Tortura) - Spain
5. ACAT Germany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) - Germany
6. ACAT Italia - Italy
7. ACAT République Centrafricaine - Central African Republic
8. ACAT République Démocratique du Congo - Democratic Republic of Congo
9. ACAT Suisse - Switzerland
10. ACAT Tchad - Tchad
11. ACAT Togo - Togo
12. Action Against Violence and Exploitation (ACTVE) - Philippines
13. Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA) - Democratic Republic of Congo
14. Advocacy Forum – Nepal - Nepal
15. Agir ensemble pour les droits humains - France
16. Albanian Human Rights Group
17. ALTSEAN-Burma - Myanmar
18. Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) - Malaysia/Asia-Pacific
19. Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial - Belgium
20. ARTICLE 19
21. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights - Indonesia
22. Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) - Philippines
23. Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa (ACI PARTICIPA) - Honduras
24. Asociación pro derechos humanos (Aprodeh) - Peru
25. Association Mauritanienne des droits de l'homme (AMDH-Mauritanieuri) - Mauritania
26. Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) - India
27. Association Tchadienne pour la promotion et la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ATPDH) - Tchad
28. Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates - Tunisia
29. Avocats Sans Frontières France (ASF France) - France
30. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) - India
31. Belarusian-Swiss Association RAZAM.CH - Switzerland
32. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee - Bulgaria
33. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) - Cambodia
34. Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP) - Australia
35. Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
36. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) - United States of America
37. Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR), University of York - United Kingdom
38. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (CDDHR) - Russia
39. Centro de Derechos humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas A.c. (Frayba) - Mexico
40. Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte - Mexico
41. Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH) - Honduras
42. Centro de Prevención, Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Victimas de la Tortura y sus familiares (CPTRT) - Honduras
43. Centro de Salud Mental y Derechos Humanos (CINTRAS) - Chile
44. Changement Social Bénin (CSB) - Benin
46. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) - Sweden
47. Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH-RD) - Dominican Republic
48. Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CBDDH) - Burkina Faso
49. Coalition Marocaine contre la Peine de Mort - Morocco
50. Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de Mort - Tunisia
51. Collectif des Associations Contre l'Impunité au Togo (CACIT) - Togo
52. Comisión de derechos humanos – COMISEDH - Peru
53. Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH) - Honduras
54. Comité de solidaridad con los presos políticos (FCSPP) - Colombia
55. Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) - Northern Ireland (UK)
56. Crude Accountability - United States of America
57. Czech League of Human Rights Czech Republic
58. Death Penalty Focus (DPF) - United States of America
59. Defenders of human rights centre - Iran
60. DEMAS - Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights - Czech Republic
61. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights - Botswana
62. Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) - Belgium
63. Eleos Justice, Monash University - Australia
64. Enfants Solidaires d'Afrique et du Monde (ESAM) - Benin
65. Federal Association of Vietnam-Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany - Germany
66. FIDU - Italian Federation for Human Rights - Italy
67. Finnish League for Human Rights - Finland
68. Free Press Unlimited - The Netherlands
69. Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH) - Ecuador
70. GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women - Philippines
71. German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (GCADP) - Germany
72. Greek Helsinki Monitor Greece
73. Helsinki Citizens' Assembly – Vanadzor - Armenia
74. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights - Poland
75. Citizens' Watch Russia
76. Human Rights Alert - India
77. Human Rights Association (İHD) - Turkey
78. Human Rights Center (HRC) - Georgia
79. Human Rights Center (HRC) "Memorial" - Russia
80. Human Rights House Foundation
81. Human Rights in China (HRIC) - USA
82. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) - Lithuania
83. Human Rights Mouvement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” - Kyrgyzstan
84. Human Rights Organization of Nepal - Nepal
85. Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) - Greece
86. Hungarian Helsinki Committee - Hungary
87. IDP Women Association "Consent" - Georgia
88. Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) - Kenya
89. Instituto de Estudios Legales y Sociales del Uruguay (IELSUR) - Uruguay
90. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) - Kenyan Section - Kenya
91. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - France
92. International Legal Initiative - Kazakhstan
93. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) - Belgium
94. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) - Switzerland
95. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society - India
96. JANANEETHI - India
97. Justice for Iran (JFI) - United Kingdom
98. Justícia i Pau - Spain
99. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Kazakhstan
100. Kharkiv Regional Foundation "Public Alternative" - Ukraine
101. La Strada International - The Netherlands
102. La Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l'Homme (VSV) - Democratic Republic of Congo
103. Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC) - Latvia
104. Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights YUCOM - Serbia
105. League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) - Iran
106. Legal Policy Research Centre (LPRC) - Kazakhstan
107. Libereco Partnership of Human Rights - Germany/ Switzerland
108. LICADHO - Cambodia
109. Lifespark - Switzerland
110. Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos - Civitas (LPDHC) - Portugal
111. Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens (LvRM) (Dutch League for Human Rights) - The Netherlands
112. Ligue des droits de l'Homme (LDH) - France
113. Ligue Tchadienne des droits de l'Homme - Tchad
114. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) - Maldives
115. Martin Ennals Foundation - Switzerland
116. Minority Rights Group - Greece
117. Mouvance des Abolitionnistes du Congo Brazzaville - Congo Brazzaville
118. Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (MIDH) - Côte d'Ivoire
119. Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l'Homme - Laos
120. Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH) - Brazil
121. Netherlands Helsinki Committee - The Netherlands
122. Norwegian Helsinki Committee - Norway
123. Observatoire du système pénal et des droits humains (OSPDH) - Spain
124. Observatoire Marocain des prisons - Morocco
125. Odhikar - Bangladesh
126. OPEN ASIA|Armanshahr - France
127. Organisation contre la torture en Tunisie (OCTT) - Tunisie
128. Organisation Guineenne de Defense des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (OGDH) - Guinea
129. Österreichische Liga für Menschenrechte ÖLFMR - Austria
130. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) - Palestine
131. Pax Christi Uvira - Democratic Republic of Congo
132. People's Watch India
133. Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea) - Venezuela
134. Promo LEX Association - Republic of Moldova
135. Protection International (PI)
136. Public Association "Dignity" - Kazakhstan
137. Public Association Spravedlivost Human Rights Organization - Kyrgyzstan
138. Public Verdict Foundation - Russia
139. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme RADDHO - Senegal
140. Repecap Academics - Spain
141. Réseau des Defenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) - Cameroon
142. Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) - Haïti
143. Rights Realization Centre - UK
144. Rural People's Sangam - India
145. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights - UK, Lebanon, Bahrain
146. Social-Strategic Researches and Analytical Investigations Public Union (SSRAIPU) - Azerbaijan
147. SOHRAM-CASRA - Centre Action Sociale Réhabilitation et Réadaptation pour les Victimes de la Torture, de la guerre et de la violence - Turquie
148. SOS-Torture/Burundi - Burundi
149. SUARAM - Malaysia
150. Syndicat national des agents de la formation et de l'education du Niger (SYNAFEN NIGER) - Niger
151. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) - Philippines
152. Thai Action Committee for Democaracy in Burma (TACDB) - Thailand
153. The Advocates for Human Rights - United States of America
154. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (BHRH) - Lithuania
155. The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) - Indonesia
156. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
157. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights United States of America
158. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) - France
159. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) - France
160. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) - Switzerland
161. Xumek asociación para la promoción y protección de los derechos humanos - Argentina
Civic space in Belarus is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor
Chow Hang-Tung is a human rights lawyer, pro-democracy activist and was one of the four vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China (HKA). The HKA was the main organiser of the annual Tiananmen vigils – an event of remembrance of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. She had also been proactively campaigning to release political prisoners and safeguard democracy in Hong Kong.
On 13 December 2021, the courts convicted her and sentenced her to 12 months imprisonment for participating in an unauthorised assembly and inciting others to do the same concerning the Tiananmen vigil in June 2020. On 4 January 2022, she wassentenced to an additional 15 months in jail, with five to be served concurrently, for inciting others to participate in the 2021 Tiananmen vigil by publishing two pieces calling on Hong Kong residents to mark the day by lighting candles.
She is alsofacing charges of "inciting subversion of state power and "not complying with the requirement to provide information" under Article 43 of Hong Kong's National Security Law.
Updated March 2023
4 June 2021: Chow Hang-tung was arrested by Hong Kong police on the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for inciting an unauthorised assembly after she urged people to mark the Tiananmen Massacre by lighting candles and said she would do so in a public space.
5 June 2021: Chow was released on bail.
30 June 2021: Police re-arrested Chow and her bail was revoked for allegedly encouraging others to join a banned rally for the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China that was to be celebrated on 1 July 2021. No charges were brought against her in connection with the banned event.
2 July 2021: Chow appeared before the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, which refused to grant her bail. She was detained at the New South Territories police station.
5 August 2021: Chow was granted bail by a Hong Kong court after being remanded in custody for over a month. Chow had to pay a cash bail of HK$50,000, offer a surety of HK$50,000, hand over all travel documents, and submit a declaration that she does not hold a BNO passport.
25 August 2021: The standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance including Chow received letters from the police national security unit. The letters required them to provide information under paragraph 5 of Article 43 of the National Security Law. Police officers visited the homes of the organisation’s committee members to serve the letters.
8 September 2021:Chow and several members of The Hong Kong Alliance were arrested after the group was accused of working as a "foreign agent". The arrests were made under the national security law
10 September 2021: Chow and two others were charged with subversion. A Hong Kong court denied her bail.
24 September 2021: Chow appeared before the West Kowloon Magistrates Court for her second bail review hearing. The judge denied her bail on the same basis as the last review, that he has "insufficient ground for believing she would not continue to commit acts endangering national security."
25 September 2021: The Hong Kong Alliance announced it was disbanding. Authorities froze 2.2 million Hong Kong dollars (USD 283,000) of the group’s assets this month after it was charged
29 September 2021: The National Security Department informed the Hong Kong Alliance that its assets, including bank accounts and a property, were frozen under the Implementing Rules of Article 43 of national security law.
30 September 2021: The West Kowloon Magistrates' Court denied bail for the third time
11 October 2021: the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court denied bail for the fourth time.
12 October 2021: Four UN experts, namely the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the Rights to Freedom of Expression, and on Human Rights Defenders raised concerns over the arrest of Chow and highlighted the urgent need for the Hong Kong government to review the draconian National Security Law.
22 October 2021: The presiding judge granted bail, for the first time, to Chow and four other human rights defenders. However, Chow Hang-tung remained in remand on a separate charge of "inciting subversion of State power
26 October 2021: The Chief Executive ordered the Hong Kong Alliance be removed from Companies Register because the Alliance’s work, including organizing peaceful assemblies, undermines the Central governments’ “ability to safeguard national security and to maintain public safety and order”
1 November 2021: Chow pleaded not guilty to the charges levelled against her for their role in the Tiananmen vigil
6 December 2021: Chow's application for bail, the sixth since her arrest in September 2021, was denied by a Hong Kong court
9 December 2021: A Hong Kong court found Chow and two other prominent pro-democracy activists guilty over an unauthorised assembly on 4 June 2020 to mark Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square.
13 December 2021: Chow received a 12 month sentence.
4 January 2022: Chow was sentenced to 15 months in prison for incitement of a banned vigil to commemorate those who died in Beijing’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. During Chow’s trial, prosecutors said the activist had incited others to take part in the vigil through articles published on her Facebook account and in the Ming Pao newspaper. The judge said five months of the sentence will run concurrently, meaning Chow will serve 10 months in addition to her current sentence.
14 February 2022: Chow made an application to the magistrate asking that the court reporting restrictions about her case under s87A(2) of the Magistrates Ordinance be lifted.
25 April 2022: The application asking that the court reporting restrictions to be lifted was refused by Principal Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen.
31 May 2022: Chow launched a legal bid against a magistrate’s decision not to lift reporting restrictions for a national security case. The application was made against the decision of Principal Magistrate Peter Law, who is also a hand-picked national security judge, not to lift reporting restrictions on committal proceedings for the Alliance’s national security case. Reporting restrictions surrounding committal proceedings – whereby a magistrate determines whether there is enough evidence for case to be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court for trial or sentence – mean that written and broadcast reports are limited to including only the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.
17 June 2022: Chow has sought to appeal her conviction and sentence linked to last year’s June 4 assembly, which was banned by police for public health concerns. Judge Judianna Barnes of the High Court will hear Chow’s argument on 11 October 2022.
29 June 2022: It was reported that Chow had been denied access to some details of the prosecution’s case against her, two weeks ahead of the national security case going to trial. Chow made the request on for the particulars of the prosecution’s case accusing the group acting as a foreign agent in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. She told the court that it would be “impossible” for her to prepare her case without knowing on what basis the prosecution was accusing the Alliance functioning as a foreign agent.
12 July 2022: Chow asked Hong Kong’s High Court to open committal proceedings in her case to the media, but a government lawyer objected on the grounds that this may jeopardise a fair trial.
13 July 2022: A Hong Kong court was asked to determine if Chow and two former members of the Hong Kong Alliance can challenge the legality of a national security data probe. The trio were accused of “failing to comply with [a] notice to provide information” from the national security police.
27 July 2022: The UN Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong to repeal the national security law and, in the meantime, refrain from applying it. They also called on Hong Kong authorities to “refrain and reconsider” security law charges against human rights barrister Chow Hang-tung
2 August 2022: The High Court quashed the court reporting restriction. The High Court Judge Alex Lee Wan-teng ruled in favour of Chow’s application and overturned Law’s decision, asking him to grant an order that Law shall lift the reporting restrictions when handling Chow’s next application, which will allow open reporting of pre-trial proceedings – known as committal hearings - in a Hong Kong national security case for the first time. In the judgement, Lee mentioned the magistrate had no discretion but to lift the reporting restrictions when the applicant made a request under s87A(2), and Law’s denial would impede a fair trial and that the application was ultra vires. Lee also said the court “rejects” a contention by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice that lifting the reporting restrictions “would frustrate the ultimate aim of doing justice.”
17 August 2022: Principal Magistrate Peter Law lifted the court reporting restriction for the upcoming preliminary inquiry of Chow Hang-tung’s NSL case, following the decision from the High Court. The preliminary hearing, a process for Magistrates to determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to make a case against the defendant, would be conducted in an open court.
2 September 2022: Preliminary inquiry for Chow Hang-tung was conducted, with Veronica Heung as the Acting Principal Magistrate. The process was conducted as an open court.
9 September 2022:The National Security case against Chow Hang-tung was moved to the Court of First Instance, after Acting Principal Magistrate Veronica Heung ruled in the preliminary inquiry that the prosecution had sufficient evidence against her. The highest penalty for incitement to subversion is ten years imprisonment.
11 October 2022:Chow Hang-tung appeared before Judge Judianna Barnes of the High Court seeking an appeal against her conviction and 15-months sentence over the 2021 banned commemoration. The Judge will hand down the judgement at the end of December.
26 October 2022: In a trial held at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court against her and two other former standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong, who stand accused of not complying with national security police’ request for information on the investigation under the National Security Law, Principal Magistrate Peter Law barred Chow Hang-tung from using the phrase “Tiananmen massacre” during the national security trial, with a magistrate instead urging her to use “proper terminology.”
14 December 2022: Chow won an appeal against the conviction and 15-month prison term over the banned 4 June vigil in 2021. In a written judgement, Court of First Instance judge Judianna Barnes said police did not exercise their responsibility in allowing and facilitating a peaceful public assembly wherever feasible, as stated in the Public Order Ordinance. The judge added that while Chow had called for people to gather at Victoria Park, her action was not a crime as the ban was not legally sound. While her 15-month sentence, which was meant to end in January 2023, has been repealed, Chow will remain in detention over her two national security cases.
4 March 2023: Three former leaders of the disbanded Hong Kong Alliance which organised Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigil, including Chow Hang-Tung were convicted under the Beijing-imposed national security law for failing to give police information on members and other data. The other two were Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong.
11 March 2023: The three were sentenced to four and a half months in jail. Chow was defiant, while criticising what she described as the “political” nature of the case, and the decision of the court to withhold key facts. She said: “We will continue doing what we have always done, that is to fight falsehood with truth, indignity with dignity, secrecy with openness, madness with reason, division with solidarity. We will fight these injustices wherever we must, be it on the streets, in the courtroom, or from a prison cell.”
Photo credit: Hong Kong Watch
CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, and Asia Democracy Network (AND) are appalled by the conviction of six pro-democracy figures affiliated with the-now defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Support Fund (the 612 Fund) - for failing to register the fund. The court’s decision is another blow to freedom of association in Hong Kong and clearly highlights the regression of civic and democratic space in the region.
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, condemns the recent arrest of Teesta Setalvad and calls on the government of India to stop targeting human rights defenders. The arrest is the latest attempt by the Modi government to criminalise activists and undermine civic space in the country.
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, Freedom House, and Front Line Defenders condemn yesterday’s conviction of four human rights defenders from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and a National Election Committee (NEC) official, in what we see as a clear attack against their legitimate human rights work.
On 26 September 2018, senior ADHOC staff members – Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Lim Mony, and Yi Soksan – were convicted of ‘bribery of a witness’ under Article 548 of the Criminal Code, while a NEC official and former ADHOC staff member Ny Chakrya was found guilty as an accomplice under Articles 29 and 548 of the same Criminal Code. Each has been given a five-year sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with 14 months and one day considered served and the rest of the sentence suspended.
Read more on Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is alarmed that the military’s takeover of control of Myanmar from the civilian government represents a sharp reversal of the partial yet significant progress toward democracy made in recent years following five decades of military rule and international isolation.
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 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.
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.
Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, an imprisoned opposition activist and human rights defender, has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021. He is protesting against persistent ill-treatment at the hands of Jau Prison authorities, the main prison in Bahrain, restrictions imposed during COVID19 limiting prisoners contact to only five numbers, and to demand that a book he wrote in prison that was confiscated be immediately handed to his family, a coalition of 16 rights groups stated today.
A respected academic and blogger, Dr AlSingace has spent the last decade in prison serving a life imprisonment sentence. He was amongst 13 opposition activists arrested between 17 March and 9 April 2011, including high-profile political opposition leaders, activists and human rights defenders, who were then convicted by a military tribunal for their roles in the 2011 pro-democracy protest movement.
According to the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Bahraini authorities placed Dr AlSingace in solitary confinement for two months and subjected him to torture following his arrest, including being repeatedly beaten and “sexually molested”.
Dr AlSingace launched a hunger strike on 8 July 2021 in response to degrading treatment he was subjected to by a prison officer, to protest the restriction of being permitted to call only five numbers during the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, and to demand the return of his book, confiscated by prison guards on 9 April 2021, and on which he worked for at least four years. We understand the book to be a study of linguistic diversity among Bahraini Arabic dialects, without any political content, yet the book has not been returned despite repeated promises by prison authorities.
On 19 July, the Office of the Public Prosecution referred AlSingace’s case to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior (the Ombudsman). The statement from the Public Prosecution incorrectly provided that AlSingace’s hunger strike was also related to “the refusal of the [Jau’s Reformation and Rehabilitation] centre’s administration to allow him to contact his relatives”.
According to the Ombudsman, who cleared the prison officials from any wrongdoing and accused Dr AlSingace for alleged “smuggling” of his own work, Dr Al Singace “was not subjected to mistreatment”. This conclusion was reached without Dr AlSingace’s testimony as he refused to be interviewed. Human Rights Watch has found that the Ombudsman has repeatedly failed to investigate credible allegations of prison abuse or to hold officials accountable. The UN Committee against Torture has also raised concerns that these bodies were neither independent nor effective.
Although the Ombudsman states that prison authorities “did not intend to confiscate the papers”, it confirms “that the reason for [Dr AlSingace’s] hunger strike was the confiscation of the papers he wrote” and that his work cannot be returned until a “legal decision” is taken.
Many imprisoned political leaders in Bahrain are older and suffer from pre-existing health conditions and consequences of their torture in 2011, which today make them particularly vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19. Dr AlSingace has several chronic illnesses, suffering from post-polio syndrome, vertigo, causing him to lose his balance and fall, a slipped disk in his back and neck, causing chronic pain, and paresthesia in his muscles and limbs. Consequently, AlSingace requires the use of crutches or a wheelchair and is among those most at risk. Dr AlSingace has faced sustained medical negligence by prison authorities throughout his 10-year imprisonment, namely the prison’s regular refusal to take him to appointments with medical specialists over the past four years.
We are thus deeply disturbed receive reports from family members that on 18 July 2021 Dr AlSingace was transferred to the Ministry of Interior medical facility in al-Qalaa for monitoring and to be given intravenous fluids; by 29 July AlSingace had reportedly already lost 10kg. Recent outbreaks of COVID-19 reported at Jau Prison create an additional threat to Dr AlSingace’s health.
Since his imprisonment, the international community has made consistent calls for his immediate and unconditional release, including the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, leading international human rights organisations, and American, British and European legislators.
The confiscation of Dr AlSingace’s book is an unjust punishment and the authorities must ensure the protection of his rights, including the return of his intellectual property. We call for Dr AlSingace’s immediate and unconditional release and for his work to be immediately given to his family.
1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
2. Amnesty International
3. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
4. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
7. English PEN
8. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
10. Human Rights First
12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
13. PEN International
14. Scholars at Risk
16. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Civic space in Bahrain is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor