• POLAND: ‘The crisis of democracy and human rights will deepen’

    CIVICUS speaks with Małgorzata Szuleka about Poland’s recent presidential elections, held under the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ruling party’s use of anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric to mobilise its electorate. Małgorzata is a lawyer at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) Poland, one of the largest and oldest human rights organisations in Poland and the region. HFHR Poland represents victims of human rights abuses in court proceedings, conducts research and monitors human rights violations. Since 2015 it has actively monitored the increasing rule of law violations in Poland. It works with partners in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the European Union (EU) and the USA.

    Małgorzata Szuleka

    After rescheduling, the Polish elections were held in June and July 2020. What was civil society’s position on having an election during the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The elections were originally scheduled for May 2020 and organising them posed a huge legal problem because there was no legal mechanism to postpone them. The only way to reschedule them was to announce a state of emergency, as provided for by the constitution. No elections may be organised during a state of emergency or within the next 90 days of it ending. From a constitutional perspective, an official declaration that the country was experiencing an epidemic would give the government the prerogative to introduce the state of emergency. This would automatically extend the term of office of the president until after regular elections could be scheduled, once the epidemic was over. However, the government did not follow this process. The elections were rescheduled and the run-off vote between the two leading candidates was held on 12 July 2020 on very dubious legal grounds. However, this wasn’t questioned by neither the government majority, nor the opposition.

    Civil society organisations (CSOs) first pushed the government to organise the elections in a proper way, urging it to announce a state of emergency. Once this didn’t happen, CSOs tried to raise the issue of international monitoring, mainly in terms of fairness and financing of the campaign. The problem was that the election was expected to be free but not fair. Public media was biased towards the candidate supported by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, President Andrzej Duda, and extremely critical and unprofessional towards any opposition candidate. Even though no state of emergency had been declared, many fundamental rights such as the freedoms of assembly and access to information were limited. These were major concerns.

    There was also the problem of the Supreme Court confirming the validity of the elections. On 12 July, President Duda was re-elected for a second term by a tight margin. He received 51 per cent of the vote while the opposition Civic Coalition contender received 49 per cent. Turnout was barely above 68 per cent, and more than 5,800 complaints were submitted regarding irregularities in the process. The Supreme Court ruled that 92 of those complaints were justified but had not influenced the final result, so it declared the results valid. Sadly, this decision completely ignored the problem of the constitutional and legal grounds for organising the elections in the first place.

    Were measures adopted to protect people during the campaign and voting process? Did the pandemic have any impact on turnout?

    The organisation of the campaign involved sanitary measures regarding social distancing and mask use. But these provisions were not fully respected on both sides. For campaigning purposes, the government loosened some restrictions; for example, even though face mask use was mandatory, pictures were published of the prime minister not wearing one in public. Also of concern was the fact that many public authorities engaged in political campaigning alongside President Duda. Public institutions were instrumentalised by ruling politicians. The government security centre, responsible for coordination and information in case of natural calamities or danger, sent out mass text messages on election day. Every voter received a message that said that people over 60 years old, pregnant women and people with disabilities could vote without waiting in line. This might have been used to mobilise the core electorate of the ruling party. This is just one example, but it could be an indication of the role played by official institutions to tilt the playing field in favour of the PiS party.

    Was media coverage during the election fair?

    Public media coverage was absolutely unfair. The rest of the coverage, mainly by private media, was relatively good; it definitely was not as bad as public media coverage, which was used for propaganda and enhanced President Duda’s campaign.

    One of elections complaints brought to the Supreme Court specifically referred to media coverage. It stated that public television supported the incumbent while systematically discrediting his rival, and that public institutions and officials repeatedly violated correct conduct by supporting only one of the candidates. But the problem with the entire institution of election complaints is that you need to prove not only that the alleged irregularity happened, but also that it had an impact on the election results. In presidential elections such as this one, this is very difficult to prove. Additionally, the electoral code doesn’t regulate the work of the media, so it’s hard to make the legal claim that the media should operate differently. And if you do, it is also difficult to prove that particular coverage of a particular candidate, or the lack of coverage, resulted in a particular election result. We can intuitively assume this, particularly in view of such tight results, but it is very difficult to create a solid legal case.

    What does President Duda’s re-election mean for democracy and human rights in Poland?

    It is a continuation of a very worrying trend. Out of all possible campaign issues, President Duda chose to focus on stoking homophobia. The campaign took place in a context of a years-long backsliding of the rule of law, in the middle of a crisis of relations between Poland and the EU, during a huge healthcare challenge and on the verge of an economic crisis that will affect everyone in Poland. But none of these issues were the focus of the political campaign and public discussion. President Duda mainly spoke about LGBTQI+ people posing a threat to our Christian traditional heritage, equating homosexuality with paedophilia. The issue was narrowed down to this divisive, outrageous and dehumanising narrative by the PiS party. It was a very pragmatic move from PiS spin doctors because it mobilised the very core of the electorate. All of a sudden LGBTQI+ groups and communities became the scapegoat for everything that is wrong in Poland. It is outrageous how much this issue was politicised and how it was used to dehumanise this minority group. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch.

    And the campaign was far from the end of it. President Duda is just a representative of the ruling PiS party, so he will say whatever he needs to keep them aligned. This is just a matter of calculation and internal power struggles. In June, the PiS party targeted LGBTQI+ people. In July, it targeted victims of domestic violence by starting discussion on withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention. In August, it proposed to register CSOs that are financed from abroad. Now I don’t know who is going to be their next enemy. It’s not only about being homophobic but rather about this governing majority always needing an enemy to confront or blame.

    We just entered a phase in which there will be no elections for the next three years so we can expect a huge consolidation of power and the government doing everything that it dreams of, such as creating pressure on CSOs, further polarising the media, targeting specific minority groups and escalating the conflict with the EU. We can expect all of this to happen over the next three years. The only thing that can stop them is pragmatic evaluation about whether this is needed at this time or whether there might be something more important to do. But I think the crisis of democracy and human rights in Poland will deepen.

    Civic space in Poland is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights-Poland through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@hfhrpl and@m_szuleka on Twitter.


  • Police reforms must go beyond IPCMC

    By Josef Benedict

    The change of government on May 9 has offered a real opportunity for Malaysians to fix the gaps and problems that currently plague the various state institutions in the country.

    Read on: Malaysiakini


  • POLOGNE : « La crise de la démocratie et des droits humains va s'aggraver »

    CIVICUS parle à Małgorzata Szuleka à propos de la récente élection présidentielle en Pologne, qui s'est tenue pendant la pandémie COVID-19, et sur l'utilisation par le parti au pouvoir de la rhétorique anti-LGBTQI+ pour mobiliser son électorat. Małgorzata est avocate à la Fondation Helsinki pour les droits humains (HFHR) - Pologne, l'une des plus grandes et des plus anciennes organisations de défense des droits humains en Pologne et dans la région. La HFHR Pologne représente les victimes de violations des droits humains dans les procédures judiciaires, mène des enquêtes et surveille les violations des droits humains. Depuis 2015, elle surveille activement les violations croissantes de l'État de droit en Pologne. Elle travaille avec des organisations partenaires en Europe de l'Est, en Asie centrale, dans l'Union européenne (UE) et aux États-Unis.

    Małgorzata Szuleka

    Après avoir été reprogrammées, les élections polonaises ont eu lieu en juin et juillet 2020. Quelle était la position de la société civile sur la tenue d'élections pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19 ?

    Les élections étaient initialement prévues pour mai 2020 et leur organisation posait un gros problème juridique car il n'y avait pas de mécanisme légal pour les reporter. La seule façon de les reporter était de déclarer l'état d'urgence, comme le prévoit la Constitution. Les élections ne peuvent pas être organisées pendant l'état d'urgence ou dans les 90 jours suivant sa fin. D'un point de vue constitutionnel, une déclaration officielle reconnaissant que le pays subissait une épidémie aurait donné au gouvernement la prérogative d'imposer l'état d'urgence. Cela aurait automatiquement prolongé le mandat du président jusqu'à ce que des élections régulières puissent être programmées, une fois l'épidémie terminée. Cependant, le gouvernement n'a pas suivi cette procédure. Les élections ont été reprogrammées et le second tour entre les deux principaux candidats a été reporté au 12 juillet 2020 sur la base d'arguments juridiques très douteux. Cependant, cela n'a été contesté ni par la majorité gouvernementale ni par l'opposition.

    Les organisations de la société civile (OSC) ont d'abord fait pression sur le gouvernement pour que les élections se déroulent correctement, l'exhortant à déclarer l'état d'urgence. Lorsque cela ne s'est pas produit, les OSC ont essayé de soulever la question du contrôle international, principalement en termes d'équité et de financement des campagnes. Le problème était qu’on s’attendait à ce que les élections soient libres mais non justes. Les médias publics ont fait preuve de partialité à l'égard du président Andrzej Duda, le candidat soutenu par le parti au pouvoir Droit et Justice (PiS), et se sont montrés extrêmement critiques et plutôt peu professionnels à l'égard de tout candidat de l'opposition. Bien que l'état d'urgence n'ait pas été déclaré, de nombreux droits fondamentaux, tels que la liberté de réunion et l'accès à l'information, se sont vus limités. Telles étaient les principales préoccupations.

    Il y avait aussi le problème de la Cour suprême qui confirmait la validité des élections. Le 12 juillet, le président Duda a été réélu pour un second mandat avec une faible marge. Il a obtenu 51 % des voix, tandis que son adversaire de l'opposition, la Coalition civique, en a obtenu 49 %. Le taux de participation a été légèrement supérieur à 68 % et plus de 5 800 plaintes pour irrégularités ont été déposées. La Cour suprême a jugé que 92 de ces plaintes étaient justifiées mais n'avaient aucune influence sur le résultat final, elle a donc déclaré les résultats valables. Malheureusement, cette décision a complètement négligé le problème des bases constitutionnelles et juridiques sur lesquelles ces élections avaient été convoquées.

    Des mesures ont-elles été prises pour protéger les gens pendant la campagne et le processus de vote ? La pandémie a-t-elle eu un impact sur la participation électorale ?

    L'organisation de la campagne a impliqué des mesures sanitaires en termes de distanciation sociale et d'utilisation de masques. Mais ces dispositions n'ont pas été pleinement respectées par les deux parties. Pour les besoins de la campagne, le gouvernement a assoupli certaines restrictions ; par exemple, bien que le port du masque facial soit obligatoire, des photographies ont été publiées dans lesquelles le premier ministre n'en portait pas en public. Le fait que de nombreux fonctionnaires aient participé à la campagne électorale aux côtés du président Duda est également préoccupant. Les institutions publiques ont été instrumentalisées par les hommes politiques du parti au pouvoir. Le centre de sécurité du gouvernement, responsable de la coordination et de l'information en cas d'urgence ou de catastrophe naturelle, a envoyé des SMS de masse le jour des élections. Chaque électeur a reçu un message disant que les personnes de plus de 60 ans, les femmes enceintes et les personnes handicapées pouvaient voter sans faire la queue. Cela aurait pu être utilisé pour mobiliser l'électorat du parti au pouvoir. Ce n'est qu'un exemple, mais il pourrait être révélateur du rôle joué par les institutions de l'État pour faire pencher la balance en faveur du parti PiS.


    La couverture médiatique pendant les élections a-t-elle été équitable ?

    La couverture médiatique publique était absolument injuste. Le reste de la couverture, principalement par les médias privés, a été assez bon ; il n'a certainement pas été aussi mauvais que les médias publics, qui ont été utilisés à des fins de propagande et ont renforcé la campagne du président Duda.


    L'une des plaintes électorales déposées auprès de la Cour suprême portait spécifiquement sur la couverture médiatique. Elle a déclaré que la télévision publique soutenait le président tout en discréditant systématiquement son rival, et que les institutions et les fonctionnaires publics ont violé à plusieurs reprises le code de conduite en soutenant un seul des candidats. Mais le problème avec le mécanisme de plaintes électorales est qu'il exige la preuve non seulement que l'irrégularité alléguée a eu lieu, mais aussi qu'elle a eu un impact sur les résultats des élections. Lors d'élections présidentielles comme celle-ci, c'est une chose très difficile à prouver. De plus, le code électoral ne réglemente pas le travail des médias, il est donc difficile de soutenir juridiquement que les médias devraient fonctionner différemment. Et si on y parvient, il est également difficile de prouver que la couverture (ou l'absence de couverture) reçue d'un média par un candidat particulier a abouti à un résultat électoral particulier. C'est une chose que nous pouvons intuitivement supposer, en particulier face à des résultats aussi serrés, mais il est très difficile de créer un argument juridique solide.

    Quelles sont les implications de la réélection du président Duda pour la démocratie et les droits humains en Pologne ?

    Elle représente la poursuite d'une tendance très inquiétante. Parmi tous les objets de campagne possibles, le président Duda a choisi d'alimenter l'homophobie. La campagne s'est déroulée dans le contexte d'un processus de longue date de recul de l'État de droit, au milieu d'une crise dans les relations entre la Pologne et l'UE, au cours d'un énorme défi sanitaire et au bord d'une crise économique qui touchera tous les Polonais. Mais aucune de ces questions n'a été au centre de la campagne électorale et du débat public. Le président Duda a surtout parlé des personnes LGBTQI+ qui représentent une menace pour notre héritage chrétien traditionnel, assimilant l'homosexualité à la pédophilie. La question s'est distillée dans le récit diviseur, scandaleux et déshumanisant du parti PiS. C'était un geste très pragmatique des astucieux propagandistes du PiS car il a mobilisé le noyau même de l'électorat. Soudain, les groupes et communautés LGBTQI+ sont devenus le bouc émissaire de tout ce qui ne va pas en Pologne. Il est scandaleux de constater à quel point cette question a été politisée et comment elle a été utilisée pour déshumaniser cette minorité. Ce fut un spectacle douloureux et déchirant.

    Et cela ne s'est pas terminé avec la campagne. Le président Duda n'est qu'un représentant du parti PiS, il dira donc tout ce qu'il faut pour le maintenir aligné. Ce n'est rien d'autre qu'une question de calcul et de lutte de pouvoir interne. En juin, le parti PiS a ciblé la population LGBTQI+. En juillet, elle a ciblé les victimes de violence domestique en lançant un débat sur le retrait de la Convention d'Istanbul. En août, il a proposé un système de registre pour les OSC qui reçoivent des fonds de l'étranger. Maintenant, je ne sais pas qui sera son prochain ennemi. Ce n'est pas seulement que la majorité actuelle au pouvoir est homophobe, mais aussi qu'elle a tout le temps besoin d'avoir un ennemi à affronter ou à blâmer.

    Nous venons d'entrer dans une phase où il n'y aura pas d'élections pendant trois ans, alors attendez-vous à une consolidation majeure du pouvoir qui permettra au gouvernement de faire ce qu'il veut : exercer plus de pression sur les OSC, polariser davantage les médias, attaquer les groupes minoritaires et intensifier le conflit avec l'UE, entre autres choses. On peut s'attendre à ce que tout cela se produise au cours des trois prochaines années. La seule chose qui pourrait les arrêter est l'évaluation pragmatique de la question de savoir si c'est quelque chose qui répond au besoin du moment ou s'il pourrait y avoir autre chose de plus important. Mais je crois que la crise de la démocratie et les droits humains en Pologne va s'aggraver.

    L'espace civique en Pologne est classé« rétréci »par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contactez la Fondation Helsinki pour les droits humains - Pologne via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@hfhrpl et@m_szuleka sur Twitter. 


  • RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE : « Nous avons peut-être une période de changement positif devant nous »

    DominicanRepublic FlagCIVICUS discute des élections qui ont eu lieu récemment en République dominicaine, dans le contexte de la pandémie de COVID-19, avec Hamilk Chahin, coordinateur du Manifeste citoyen pour la transparence électorale, et Addys Then Marte, directrice exécutive d’Alianza ONG. Le Manifeste citoyen, une initiative multipartite menée par la société civile, a été lancé en décembre 2019 pour suivre les élections municipales, législatives et présidentielles de 2020 et pousser à la consolidation des institutions démocratiques. Alianza ONG est un réseau comprenant 40 organisations de la société civile (OSC) de la République dominicaine. Fondé en 1995, il se consacre à la promotion du développement durable par des initiatives visant à renforcer la société civile, le dialogue intersectoriel, la formation et le partage d’informations, le plaidoyer politique et la promotion de la solidarité et du volontariat.

    Avant même l’apparition de la pandémie de COVID-19, le paysage électoral était déjà compliqué. Quelle était la situation vers mars 2020 ?

    Ces dernières années, le parti au pouvoir, le Parti de la libération dominicaine (PLD), a accumulé beaucoup de pouvoir dans toutes les institutions de l’État, affectant la qualité de la démocratie. Le même parti a été réélu pour plusieurs mandats et les élites politiques se sont bien établies dans leurs positions et ont pris l’habitude d’exercer le pouvoir pour leur propre bénéfice et au détriment des intérêts de la collectivité. Petit à petit et sans s’en rendre compte, la société a également commencé à accepter cette situation. La gestion exceptionnellement efficace des mécanismes de communication par les gouvernements successifs y a beaucoup contribué. Avec les bonnes alliances internationales et la bonne fortune dans la gestion économique, les structures de publicité et de propagande ont facilité la perpétuation du gouvernement.

    Heureusement, il existe dans chaque société une graine pratiquement impossible à déraciner : la société civile. Elle peut parfois être en état de sommeil ou en hibernation, mais à un moment donné, quelque chose se produit qui la met en mouvement. Dans notre cas, c’est l’extrême confiance de nos gouvernants dans l’assurance de leur pouvoir qui les a conduits à des pratiques de plus en plus effrontées, au point que les citoyens, qui pour la plupart les avaient longtemps tolérés, ont un jour dit que ça suffisait et sont entrés en effervescence. La première grande manifestation de cette lassitude a été le mouvement de la Marche verte, lancé en janvier 2017.

    Née de l’indignation populaire suscitée par le scandale Odebrecht, qui impliquait des hauts fonctionnaires de trois gouvernements dominicains successifs, la Marche Verte a rassemblé un large éventail d’OSC et s’est concentrée sur la mobilisation de rue. Tout a commencé par une modeste marche de protestation que nous avons organisée par l’intermédiaire d’une OSC appelée Foro Ciudadano, qui a déclenché un grand phénomène de mobilisation dont la principale réussite a été de briser l’indifférence des citoyens, de faire sortir la classe moyenne de cette zone de confort où elle critiquait sans agir. Les partis d’opposition ont commencé à profiter de cette dynamique, mais le gouvernement, certain de disposer de tous les leviers du pouvoir, lui a d’abord accordé peu d’importance. Cependant, le phénomène est allé bien au-delà des marches : des signatures ont été recueillies, des réunions communautaires ont été organisées et de nombreuses formes de mobilisation ont été encouragées. C’était un état d’éveil motivé par la dignité. Les citoyens ont perdu leur peur de s’exprimer et cela a déconcerté le gouvernement.

    Comment le processus électoral 2020 a-t-il commencé, et comment le Manifeste citoyen a-t-il été formé ?

    Le début du processus électoral a également marqué le début de la fin du gouvernement actuel. En octobre 2019, les primaires des partis politiques ont eu lieu ; il s’agissait des premières primaires à être organisées dans le cadre de la nouvelle législation sur les élections et les partis politiques, et elles ont été gérées par le Conseil électoral central (JCE). Alors que le PLD a opté pour des primaires ouvertes, permettant la participation de tous les électeurs éligibles, le principal parti d’opposition, le Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), a organisé des primaires fermées, permettant la participation de ses seuls affiliés. Les primaires du PRM ont clairement fait ressortir la candidature de Luis Abinader, qui sera finalement élu président. En revanche, à l’issu des primaires du PLD, Gonzalo Castillo n'est devenu le candidat officiel que de justesse par rapport au président triomphant à trois reprises Leonel Fernández.

    Les élections primaires du parti au pouvoir étaient bien plus qu’un processus de sélection de candidats : ce qui était réellement en jeu dans ces élections était le pouvoir du président, Danilo Medina. Au pouvoir depuis 2012, Medina avait été réélu en 2016, et avait tenté en vain de réformer la Constitution pour se faire réélire. En tant que président du parti, Leonel Fernandez s’était opposé à ces manœuvres, si bien que Medina ne l'a pas soutenu lorsqu'il a décidé de se présenter aux primaires. Il est devenu évident que le gouvernement recourait aux ressources de l'État pour soutenir l'héritier désigné de Medina ; en conséquence, le PLD s’est divisé et Fernandez a rejoint le bloc d’opposition. Ces élections ont été très contestées, et ont donné lieu à de nombreuses manipulations. Elles ont laissé un goût amer parmi les citoyens : étant donné la possibilité que la fraude ait été utilisée dans une élection primaire, beaucoup se sont demandés ce qu’il adviendrait de l’élection nationale.

    À ce moment-là, de nombreuses OSC ont commencé à réfléchir à ce qu’il fallait faire : nous avons établi des liens entre nous et avec les acteurs politiques, nous avons partagé des informations et nos évaluations de la situation. Nous avons décidé d’exprimer notre préoccupation et d’exiger des mesures correctives de la part des institutions et entités responsables de l’organisation des élections, à commencer par la JCE et en nous tournant vers le Tribunal Supérieur Electoral et le Bureau du Procureur Général de la République, qui sont chargés de poursuivre les crimes et les irrégularités. C’est ainsi qu’est née l’initiative du Manifeste Citoyen (Manifiesto Ciudadano), qui regroupe des acteurs du monde de l’entreprise, de la religion, du travail, des syndicats et du monde paysan. Nous avons fait campagne pour attirer l’attention de la société sur la nécessité de défendre et de surveiller le processus d’institutionnalisation démocratique à l’approche des élections. Et surtout, nous avons fait du plaidoyer auprès des acteurs politiques. Nous avons organisé des réunions avec les représentants des partis, afin que le manifeste bénéficie du soutien de tous les secteurs. Cela a également fait de nous un interlocuteur direct de la JCE.

    Quand les élections étaient-elles prévues ?

    Le cycle électoral comprenait une série d’élections : les élections municipales, prévues en février, et les élections nationales, tant présidentielles que législatives, initialement prévues en mai. Les élections municipales ont inauguré un nouveau système de vote double, entièrement électronique pour les zones urbaines à forte densité de population et manuel pour les zones rurales. Suite aux demandes du Manifiesto Ciudadano d’apporter certaines garanties et certitudes au processus, le système de vote électronique comportait également une composante manuelle dans la phase de dépouillement des bulletins déposés ; nous avons également réussi à faire enregistrer les décomptes et avons ajouté un système de capture des empreintes digitales et des codes QR.

    Bien que les mesures de sécurité aient été renforcées, la mise en œuvre du nouveau logiciel a posé de sérieux problèmes. Le 16 février, plusieurs heures après le début du vote, la JCE a découvert qu’il y avait un problème avec environ 60% des machines à voter électroniques, et a décidé de suspendre les élections municipales dans tout le pays.

    Cela a provoqué une crise de confiance et des milliers de personnes sont descendues dans la rue pour protester presque quotidiennement. Le 17 février, une manifestation devant le siège de la JCE a exigé la démission de tous ses membres. Le mécontentement a également touché le gouvernement, car de nombreux manifestants ont estimé qu’il avait tenté de tirer profit du mauvais fonctionnement des machines. Le 27 février, jour de l’indépendance, une manifestation massive a eu lieu pour demander une enquête sur ce qui s’était passé et une plus grande transparence dans le processus électoral. La diaspora dominicaine dans différents pays du monde a organisé des manifestations de solidarité pour soutenir la démocratie dans leur pays. 

    Les élections municipales ont été reprogrammées pour le 16 mars et se sont déroulées sans vote électronique. A cette époque, la pandémie de COVID-19 avait déjà commencé, mais suspendre les élections une seconde fois aurait été un coup dur. C’est pourquoi la République dominicaine a déclaré tardivement l’état d’urgence : le gouvernement a attendu que les élections aient lieu pour décréter trois jours plus tard l’état d’urgence et le couvre-feu.

    En avril, face à cette situation prolongée, le corps électoral a décidé de reporter les élections nationales au 5 juillet, après consultation des partis et de la société civile. Il n’y avait pas beaucoup de marge car il fallait prévoir l’éventualité d’un second tour des élections qui devrait avoir lieu avant le 16 août, date à laquelle le changement de gouvernement devait avoir lieu. Bien sûr, il a même été question de la possibilité d’un amendement constitutionnel pour reporter le jour de l’investiture ; la société civile a dû jouer un rôle important pour désamorcer ces alternatives et organiser un calendrier électoral comprenant toutes les mesures sanitaires nécessaires. Heureusement, les médias ont fourni les espaces nécessaires aux OSC ; nous disposions d’une bonne tribune de communication.

    Étant donné que les élections ont eu lieu pendant la pandémie, des mesures ont-elles été prises pour limiter le risque de contagion ?

    Du côté de la société civile, nous avons essayé de faire en sorte que des mesures sanitaires adéquates soient imposées. Nous avons exhorté la JCE à suivre les recommandations de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé et de l’Organisation des États américains afin d’avoir la certitude que les mesures nécessaires seraient prises pour que les élections puissent avoir lieu. Ce fut un effort titanesque, car en République dominicaine, nous n’avions pas encore de politique efficace de prévention et de dépistage rapide, mais nous avons pu imposer des protocoles sanitaires comprenant la désinfection et l’assainissement, la distribution de matériel de protection et des mesures de distanciation physique.

    La vérité est que l’importante épidémie de COVID-19 que nous connaissons aujourd’hui n’est pas exclusivement due au jour des élections, mais surtout aux deux mois et demi de campagne désorganisée et irresponsable menée principalement par le parti au pouvoir. Le gouvernement a tenté de tirer profit de la pandémie et des limites imposées par l’état d’urgence. Cependant, cela a pu jouer en sa défaveur. Il y a eu un tel gaspillage de ressources en faveur de la candidature du parti au pouvoir que les gens l’ont mal supporté. C’était grotesque : par exemple, tout comme en Chine, on a adopté la mesure consistant à asperger les rues de désinfectant ; mais alors qu’en Chine un robot ou un véhicule parcourait les rues la nuit et passait dans tous les quartiers, ici nous avons eu droit à un défilé d’une caravane de véhicules officiels à 20 heures, avec sirènes, drapeaux, musique, tout un spectacle de campagne. Les gens n’ont pas apprécié, car cela a été interprété comme un gaspillage de ressources à des fins de propagande qui auraient pu être utilisées pour contrôler efficacement la pandémie.

    Quelles possibilités l’opposition avait-elle de faire campagne dans le contexte de l’urgence sanitaire ?

    Les conditions de la campagne étaient très inégales, car les fonctionnaires jouissaient d’une liberté de mouvement au-delà des heures fixées de couvre-feu, et les partis d’opposition se sont plaints que le parti au pouvoir pouvait poursuivre sa campagne sans restriction alors qu’ils étaient limités aux heures autorisées. L’accès aux médias était également inégal : la propagande en faveur du candidat au pouvoir était omniprésente, car elle était confondue avec la propagande du gouvernement. Dans ce sens, il y a eu une publicité qui a généré beaucoup de malaise, qui disait quelque chose comme « restez chez vous, nous nous occupons de l’aide sociale », et comportait les images des candidats officiels à la présidence et à la vice-présidence.

    La pandémie a été utilisée politiquement de nombreuses manières. À un moment donné, la peur de la contagion a été utilisée pour promouvoir l’abstention : il y a même eu une campagne qui présentait le dessin d’une tête de mort avec le slogan « sortir tue ». Alors que nous menions une campagne avec le message « protégez-vous et allez voter », le gouvernement pariait sur l’instillation de la peur dans la classe moyenne indépendante, tout en prévoyant de faire voter ses partisans en masse. La réaction négative a été si forte qu’ils ont été contraints de retirer cette publicité après quelques jours.

    De plus, l'État a été absent de la plupart des politiques mises en œuvre contre la pandémie, et a laissé la fourniture de l’aide sociale et la prévention entre les mains du candidat du parti au pouvoir. Ainsi, ce n’était souvent pas le gouvernement qui se chargeait de la fumigation, mais les entreprises du candidat. Ce sont les jets de la compagnie d’aviation du candidat, et non les avions d’État ou militaires, qui ont ramené les Dominicains bloqués à l’étranger. Les premiers kits de test ont été apportés de Chine par le candidat lui-même, bien sûr avec de grandes opérations de propagande.

    Avec tous les atouts en sa faveur, comment expliquer que le gouvernement ait perdu les élections ?

    En effet, le candidat du PRM, Luis Abinader, l’a emporté dès le premier tour, avec plus de 52% des voix, tandis que le candidat du gouvernement arrivait en deuxième position avec 37% et l’ancien président Fernandez n’a atteint que 9%. La division du parti au pouvoir à la suite des allégations de fraude lors des primaires a eu un effet, car si le parti avait été uni et non affecté par ce scandale, les résultats auraient pu être différents.

    Face au fait qu’un seul parti a gouverné pendant 20 des 25 dernières années, les citoyens en ont eu assez et ont cherché des alternatives. Les citoyens se sont exprimés non seulement par la mobilisation et la protestation, mais aussi par un processus de sensibilisation qui durait depuis plusieurs années. Des plateformes d’expression très intéressantes ont vu le jour, comme le média numérique Somos Pueblo (Nous sommes le peuple), qui a joué un rôle très important avec sa chaîne YouTube. Le gouvernement faisant campagne dans les rues et les citoyens étant isolés par la pandémie, des stratégies créatives ont également été mobilisées pour contourner les limitations et protester sans sortir de chez soi, comme les « cacerolazos ».

    Le désir de participer afin d’obtenir un changement s’est reflété dans le taux de participation aux élections, qui a dépassé 55%. Si ce chiffre est bien inférieur à la moyenne de 70% enregistrée lors des élections de la dernière décennie, il est remarquable dans le contexte de la pandémie. Face à la mauvaise gestion de la pandémie par le gouvernement actuel, les espoirs placés dans le nouveau gouvernement sont très élevés. Si nous parvenons à surmonter ce défi, nous aurons peut-être devant nous une ère de changements positifs en termes de renforcement des institutions et de consolidation de la démocratie.

    L’espace civique en République dominicaine est classé « rétréci » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Manifiesto Ciudadano via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@ManifiestoCiuRD sur Twitter. Contactez Alianza ONG via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@AlianzaONG et@AddysThen sur Twitter. 


  • RUSSIA: ‘Human rights activism can be expected to increase in reaction to repression’

    CIVICUS speaks with Leonid Drabkin, a coordinator with OVD-Info, an independent human rights civil society organisation (CSO) that documents and helps the victims of political persecution in Russia. Through a hotline and other sources, OVD-Info collects information about detentions at public rallies and other cases of political persecution, publishes the news and coordinates legal assistance to detainees.


  • Russia’s presidential election: a decline in citizen rights

    By Natalia Taubina and Bobbie Jo Traut

    The re-election of Vladimir Putin has been preceded by a significant crackdown on freedom of assembly and rule of law. The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks and rates civil society conditions across all UN member states in close to real-time, has found that civic space in Russia has closed dramatically as civil society groups have been publicly vilified and marginalised.

    Read on: Open Democracy 



  • RUSSIE : « L'activisme des droits humains devrait s'intensifier en réaction à la répression »

    CIVICUS s'entretient avec Leonid Drabkin, l'un des coordinateurs d'OVD-Info, une organisation indépendante de défense des droits humains de la société civile (OSC) qui documente et assiste les victimes de persécutions politiques en Russie. Par le biais de sa hotline et d'autres sources, OVD-Info recueille des informations sur les arrestations de manifestants et autres cas de persécution politique, publie des informations et coordonne l'assistance juridique aux détenus.

    Leonid Drabkin

    Pouvez-vous nous parler du travail de OVD-Info ?

    Nous travaillons principalement sur la question de la liberté de réunion pacifique en Russie, en surveillant les violations et en aidant les victimes, bien que nous couvrions également d'autres cas de persécution politique non liés aux manifestations. Nous définissons la persécution politique comme une persécution par le gouvernement ou une personne liée au gouvernement qui implique la violation des libertés civiques, c'est-à-dire de la liberté de réunion pacifique, de la liberté d'expression, de la liberté d'association et de certaines libertés électorales. Nous travaillons dans deux directions : nous aidons les personnes dont les libertés ont été bafouées, et nous recueillons et diffusons des informations, qui à leur tour alimentent notre plaidoyer et nos campagnes pour le changement.

    Nous aidons les personnes détenues grâce à une ligne téléphonique qui fonctionne 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7. C'est à la fois un moyen facile de signaler une persécution et une occasion de consulter des professionnels qui savent à quoi s'attendre dans chaque situation, quoi faire et comment le faire. Notre ligne d'assistance reçoit des appels de partout dans le pays et nous recevons également des SMS via Telegram. Nous offrons une aide juridique par ces moyens et également en envoyant des avocats dans les commissariats de police où des personnes sont détenues. Nous soutenons également ceux qui sont poursuivis devant les tribunaux. Par exemple, en octobre 2020, nous avons fourni une aide juridique dans 135 affaires judiciaires - environ cinq ou six par jour ouvrable - dans différentes régions de Russie, étant donné que cette année a été assez particulière pour diverses raisons, y compris le fait que les grandes protestations à Khabarovsk, le district le plus à l'est de la Fédération, se poursuivent. Dans ce cas particulier, le décalage horaire a été un gros problème pour nous. Nous sommes basés à Moscou et nous recevions normalement des appels pendant nos heures de travail, mais durant cette période nous recevons des appels à 4 ou 5 heures du matin et nous avons dû adapter notre façon de travailler.

    Nous travaillons également avec la Cour européenne des droits humains et aidons ceux qui ont besoin de notre aide là-bas. Ce qui nous distingue, c'est notre devise « l'information protège », ce qui signifie que nous aidons non seulement en offrant une assistance directe mais aussi en diffusant des informations, si bien que nous fonctionnons également comme un média et une agence de presse. Nous avons un site Web que nous tenons à jour, et nous avons des journalistes qui font un travail d'enquête et rédigent des articles et des rapports. C'est une autre des façons dont nous aidons les gens, étant donné que ces informations sont utilisées pour tenter de changer les choses à travers un travail de plaidoyer et de clarification de la citoyenneté. Nous publions des bases de données sur une grande variété de sujets. Nous conservons bien les dossiers, donc si quelqu'un veut savoir, par exemple, combien de personnes ont été arrêtées en Russie en 2019, il peut trouver ces informations sur notre site Web.

    Je suis fier de dire que 70 à 80% de notre budget provient de sources privées. Cela reflète la force de notre communauté de donateurs, composée de quelque 6 000 personnes qui versent des contributions mensuelles. Notre organisation a vu le jour en décembre 2011, dans le contexte d'une vague de manifestations de masse qui a abouti à des arrestations massives. Cela a commencé avec une publication sur Facebook et a été fondé en tant que petit groupe de bénévoles, et neuf ans plus tard, nous sommes toujours là : nous sommes devenus une organisation plus durable avec un personnel professionnel et spécialisé, où le bénévolat et le soutien communautaire continuent de jouer un rôle important. Nous avons environ 600 bénévoles, dont certains nous aident au quotidien, tandis que d'autres le font sur une base mensuelle ou sporadique.

    De votre point de vue, quels sont les principaux risques auxquels les activistes et les journalistes sont actuellement confrontés en Russie ?

    Les activistes et les journalistes sont confrontés à de nombreuses menaces, mais peut-être en raison de l'orientation de notre travail, je dirais que les principales sont liées à la restriction de la liberté de réunion pacifique. Ces restrictions opèrent à chaque tournant. Si vous organisez une manifestation pacifique, il est fort probable que vous vous retrouviez en détention, même si cela dépend du problème, de la région où vous vous trouvez et de votre chance. Il y a beaucoup d'incertitude, donc vous ne savez jamais si vous allez être arrêté ou non.

    Avant de protester, vous devez informer le gouvernement local que vous souhaitez organiser une réunion, et pour ce faire, vous avez besoin de leur approbation. Dans de nombreux cas, le processus d'approbation échoue. Le fait même que cette procédure existe est en soi une menace. Selon les normes internationales, ce n'est pas ainsi que cela devrait fonctionner. En Russie, il est nécessaire de demander une autorisation à l'avance. Le délai varie d'une région à l'autre, mais supposons que vous deviez soumettre la demande 7 jours à l'avance, puis attendre le permis et alors seulement, s'ils vous le donnent, pouvez-vous faire votre déclaration. Cela signifie que vous n'avez pas la capacité de réagir rapidement lorsque quelque chose de grave se produit, par exemple en cas de meurtre ou en cas de doute sur les résultats des élections. Il n'est pas possible de protester en réaction à ces événements car vous devez soumettre la demande d'autorisation et attendre plusieurs jours à ce qu'elle vous soit remise, et ce si elle vous est donnée. L'enthousiasme et l'énergie que ces événements provoquent ont tendance à diminuer avec le temps, et il est fort probable que dans une semaine ou deux ils se soient calmés, ce que la législation actuelle prévoit.

    Si votre rallye est approuvé, ils ne vous arrêteront probablement pas. Mais les protestations sur des questions controversées ne sont généralement pas approuvées, et si vous n'avez pas d'autorisation et que vous vous exprimez de toute façon, il est très probable que vous soyez arrêté, puis envoyé dans un poste de police et ensuite jugé. Lorsque les manifestations sont réprimées, vous pouvez également être frappé par les forces de police. Ce n'est pas si courant, mais parfois la police a frappé les manifestants avec leurs matraques, ou leurs « démocratiseurs » comme nous les appelons.

    Si vous êtes poursuivi et qu'il s'agit de votre première violation des règles qui s'appliquent à la manifestation, vous ne serez condamné qu'à une amende, mais si vous êtes un récidiviste, vous pourriez être emprisonné pendant 10 ou 15 jours. Si vous êtes un activiste, vous faire prendre une deuxième ou une troisième fois n'est qu'une question de temps. Or, le système est absurde, car il implique que la nature du crime change lorsqu'il est commis à plusieurs reprises : lorsque vous enfreignez la réglementation pour la première fois, c'est un crime mineur qui est poursuivi par le tribunal administratif, mais quand vous le faites pour la troisième fois, il est considéré comme un crime grave, qui est donc poursuivi par le système pénal, avec d'autres crimes graves tels que le meurtre ou l'enlèvement. Nous disons que c'est le seul article politique de notre Code pénal, car il a été créé pour être utilisé politiquement et constitue une grande menace pour l'activisme.

    Les règles ou leur application ont-elles été renforcées pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19 ?

    Oui, le gouvernement russe a utilisé la pandémie comme excuse pour violer les droits humains. La Russie a été l'un des pays les plus touchés par les infections et les décès causés par le COVID-19, mais elle a également été l'un des rares pays d'Europe à autoriser les gens à se rendre dans les stades de football, les cinémas et les théâtres ; même le métro, toujours plein, fonctionne comme d'habitude, alors que toutes les mobilisations et manifestations sont interdites, selon l'allégation de la pandémie.

    La société civile comprend mieux que le gouvernement tous les impacts négatifs du COVID-19 et n'a pas l'intention de déclencher une grande manifestation. Tout ce que nous voulons, c'est que les gens puissent organiser de petites manifestations, même des manifestations à une personne ou des piquets de grève individuels, qui sont en principe les seuls types de manifestation que nous pourrions faire sans préavis ni demande d'autorisation des autorités. C'est l'une des raisons pour lesquelles les piquets individuels ont augmenté ces dernières années. Mais la répression à leur encontre s'est également intensifiée et les restrictions ont également continué de s'appliquer pendant la pandémie, même si ces manifestations ne présentent aucun risque pour la santé publique. Au cours du premier semestre 2020, quelque 200 manifestants ont été arrêtés, plus que lors de toute année précédente. En fait, j'étais l'une des personnes arrêtées, même si je n'ai pas été arrêtée en relation avec le travail que nous faisons à OVD-Info. En tant qu'OSC, nous essayons de rester politiquement neutres, tandis que moi, en tant qu'individu et activiste, j'ai fait un piquet de grève individuel et j'ai été arrêté pour cela. Je porte actuellement mon cas devant la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme.

    Y a-t-il eu des restrictions sur d'autres libertés civiques ?

    Bien que je considère que notre plus gros problème soit la restriction de la liberté de réunion, il y a bien sûr aussi une censure en Russie. Certains sites Web sont parfois interdits, mais ce n'est pas très courant. En fait, là où la liberté d'expression devient souvent problématique, c'est en relation avec la liberté de réunion. Par exemple, il y a eu le cas d'une personne qui a été arrêtée pendant 30 jours pour avoir téléchargé un message sur Facebook invitant d'autres personnes à participer à une manifestation qui n'avait pas été approuvée par le gouvernement. Bien que cette personne ait été arrêtée pour avoir exercé son droit à la liberté d'expression, la violation était associée à la restriction de la liberté de réunion, qui rend illégale la convocation à une manifestation non autorisée.

    Il existe un nombre croissant de lois qui interdisent certaines formes de discours, du « manque de respect » envers le gouvernement à la diffusion de la « propagande LGBT ». On peut être accusé d'avoir dit ou posté quelque chose de critique au point d'être perçu comme irrespectueux, ou même juste d’avoir évoqué des droits des personnes LGBTQI +, car en 2013 une loi connue comme « loi sur la propagande gay » ou « loi anti-gay » a été passée ayant supposément pour objectif de protéger les enfants en criminalisant la distribution de « propagande non traditionnelle sur les relations sexuelles » aux mineurs. Cette loi interdit fondamentalement de parler aux mineurs, et dans tout autre contexte, des sujets LGBTQI +.

    Ces dernières années, les restrictions à la liberté d'association ont également augmenté. Des dizaines d'OSC ont été classées comme « agents étrangers » et de nombreux groupes d'activistes ont été traités comme des terroristes ou des extrémistes, même s'ils n'ont rien fait. Un exemple clair s'est produit il y a quelques mois, lorsque sept jeunes activistes ont été condamnés pour extrémisme et certains ont été condamnés à plusieurs années de prison. Ils n'avaient eu que des conversations dans un groupe de discussion infiltré par un agent du FSB (Service fédéral de sécurité), qui avait poussé à un agenda politique radical pour tendre un piège aux autres participants, qui ont ensuite été contraints de faire de faux aveux.

    Compte tenu de l'accent mis par OVD-Info sur l'information, êtes-vous préoccupé par les tactiques de désinformation utilisées par les responsables du gouvernement russe ?

    Je suis de nombreux politiciens sur Facebook et parfois je vois qu'à côté de leurs messages, il y a une légende qui dit quelque chose comme « s'il vous plaît vérifiez cette information car elle pourrait être fausse », comme avec les tweets de Trump. Je ne considère pas que ce soit un si gros problème en Russie, ou peut-être que nous ne sommes pas pleinement conscients parce que cela a toujours été le cas. En interne, je ne vois pas la désinformation comme une nouvelle tactique. En Russie, nous n'avons jamais fait confiance à notre gouvernement, sur aucune question - ni en relation avec les statistiques COVID-19, ni en relation avec l'inflation ou les taux de chômage. Cela a toujours été comme ça. Les chiffres sont inventés et personne ne les croit.

    Concernant les sources d'information, je pense qu'en Russie, nous avons deux publics différents, qui se mélangent que très rarement : le public de la télévision et les internautes. Les personnes âgées et celles qui vivent dans des zones plus rurales ont tendance à regarder la télévision, tandis que les plus jeunes et ceux des zones urbaines utilisent Internet. La plupart de ce que l’on voit à la télévision est de la propagande, pas de l'information ; si vous voulez vous y référer en tant qu'information, alors ce serait une « fausse information ». Mais si vous surfez sur Internet, vous avez la possibilité de trouver des informations fiables. Il est nécessaire de bien chercher, car il y a beaucoup d'informations et souvent les informations fausses et vraies sont mélangées, mais au moins vous en avez accès.

    Pouvez-vous nous parler du référendum constitutionnel de juin 2020 ?

    Je pense que vous, qui le regardez de l'extérieur, y avez prêté plus d'attention que nous en Russie. En fait, référendum n'est même pas le mot juste. Le gouvernement n'a jamais qualifié le vote de référendum ; ils l'appelaient une « enquête nationale ». Il n'est même pas nécessaire de tenir un référendum pour amender la Constitution. En fait, il n'y a pas longtemps, lorsque la Russie a conquis la péninsule de Crimée, la Constitution a dû être amendée pour inclure une région supplémentaire de la Russie, mais aucun référendum n'a eu lieu ; d'autres mécanismes ont été utilisés à la place.

    Le gouvernement aurait pu emprunter la voie législative, mais il voulait que les modifications soient légitimées par une grande majorité de la population. Cependant, ils n'ont pas pu organiser de référendum car ce mécanisme devait être appelé des mois à l'avance et les règles permettaient uniquement aux personnes ayant des problèmes de santé de voter de chez elles. Ils ont donc appelé cela une « enquête nationale », une figure qui n'est réglementée par aucune loi - contrairement au référendum, qui doit être organisé selon des directives spécifiques. Cela a donné au gouvernement une grande souplesse en termes de dates et de règlements. Dans de nombreuses régions, les gens pouvaient voter à distance par des moyens électroniques, ce qui ne serait pas en soi négatif, mais dans ce contexte, cela offrait des possibilités supplémentaires de violations. Une semaine complète a été ajoutée pour voter avant le jour du vote, ce qui était une bonne décision du point de vue de la santé publique, mais a ajouté encore plus de possibilités de fraude. Et il n'y a pas eu de contrôle indépendant, donc les résultats ne peuvent être fiables, selon lesquels une écrasante majorité de 70% s'est prononcée en faveur de la réforme.

    J'ai été indigné par les modifications possibles de la Constitution, qui comprenaient de nouvelles dispositions faisant référence aux limites du mandat présidentiel et permettaient de ne pas compter les périodes précédemment détenues par ceux qui occupaient le poste, permettant à Poutine de concourir pour deux mandats présidentiels supplémentaires de six ans. Par ailleurs, l'accent était mis sur la « famille traditionnelle », l'introduction de l'éducation patriotique dans les écoles, une mention explicite de la foi en Dieu et une déclaration qui place la Constitution au-dessus du droit international.

    J'étais également très préoccupé par le fait que personne autour de moi n'était assez en colère. Les partis politiques et les dirigeants de l'opposition n'ont pas appelé les gens à voter contre ; ils n'ont simplement rien dit. Ils n'étaient même pas opposés au vote pendant la pandémie. Pour moi, c'était une décision criminelle, mettant inutilement en danger des dizaines de millions de personnes en les faisant voter en pleine pandémie. Je fais partie d'un comité électoral et à toutes les élections je travaille aux tables de vote ; je me présente à l'école locale et je reste assis toute la journée à chercher les noms des électeurs dans les registres, à leur remettre leurs bulletins de vote et à signer à côté de leurs noms, mais cette fois-ci je ne l'ai pas fait parce que j'avais peur pour ma santé. Je ne voulais pas être dans une pièce avec autant de monde en pleine pandémie.

    La société civile n'était pas non plus très active. L'une des OSC russes les plus connues, Golos, qui travaille sur les questions d'observation électorale, a fait la lumière sur la question, dénonçant que le vote a été manipulé et que les résultats ont été falsifiés. Mais la société civile dans son ensemble n'a pas vraiment été confrontée au problème, et je pense que la pandémie pourrait avoir quelque chose à voir avec cela, car en temps normal, elle serait sortie pour protester, mais à l'heure actuelle, la pandémie rend les choses extrêmement compliquées.

    Les activistes des droits humains ont-ils trouvé des formes de résistance créatives et alternatives ?

    Les activistes des droits humains sont comme des champignons après la pluie : nous nous multiplions en réaction aux violations des droits humains. Après chaque nouvelle vague de répression, l'activisme augmente et de nouvelles OSC émergent. OVD-Info est né en réaction à la répression des grandes manifestations qui ont eu lieu après les élections législatives, et neuf ans plus tard, nous continuons à grandir. 2019 a été une année de persécutions massives et de nombreux projets prometteurs ont été développés en conséquence. Par exemple, nous avons maintenant un excellent tchat Telegram appelé « paquets aux postes de police », qui est activé lorsqu'une personne est détenue et a besoin d'eau, de nourriture, d'un chargeur de téléphone portable ou de tout autre élément essentiel, et à travers laquelle nous nous coordonnons afin que quelqu'un aille tout simplement au poste de police et remette les éléments à la personne détenue. De cette manière, tout le monde peut exprimer sa solidarité. En participant à cette initiative, même ceux qui ont peur de protester peuvent être utiles sans risque. Nous avons une autre initiative, « taxi pour prisonniers », à travers laquelle les gens se portent volontaires pour vous chercher ou vous chercher un taxi si vous êtes détenu et ils vous libèrent au milieu de la nuit, quand il n'y a pas de transports publics. Lorsqu'ils m'ont arrêté plus tôt cette année, ils m'ont infligé une amende, et alors j'ai bénéficié d'une autre initiative qui soutient le piquetage individuel en utilisant « crowdfunding » afin de recueillir les fonds nécessaires au paiement de l'amende. De nouvelles initiatives continuent de voir le jour pour lutter contre chaque nouvelle violation des droits, et à mesure que de nouvelles restrictions sont imposées, on peut s'attendre à ce que l'activisme des droits humains s'intensifie.

    L'espace civique en Russie est qualifié de « répressif » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Entrez en contact avec OVD-Info via leursite Web ou pageFacebook, et suivez@Ovdinfo sur Twitter. 


  • SADC should urge respect of the rule of law in Zimbabwe’s post-elections crisis

    JOHANNESBURG: The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should urge Zimbabwean authorities to show restraint and respect of the rule of law in the wake of a violent crackdown on post-election protests.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is calling on SADC to engage Zimbabwe on its response to protesters who express dissatisfaction with the administration of the July 30 general elections.

    At least six people were killed and many more injured when security forces used live ammunition against protesters in the capital Harare, as the country awaited the results of the historic vote.  Riot police and military in armoured vehicles swept through the streets, targeting bystanders and forcing others to shutter businesses and return home.  Several journalists covering the event were intimidated and forced to stop working.

    On August 4, riot police dispersed a press conference organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the capital, Harare.  Before that, police raided MDC headquarters, arresting party members and charging them with inciting and engaging in political violence.  Most are currently being held in Harare’s notorious Chikarubi Maximum Security Prison.  Security forces have intimidated the political opposition and ordinary citizens, arresting supporters of the MDC.  Some have been abducted and others have gone into hiding.  The army is also harassing, under the cover of darkness, activists it suspects of leading the organization of protests.

     The release of the results of the 30 July elections and the actions of the army and riot police have brought back traumatic memories of decades of repression suffered by Zimbabweans, under the regime of ousted president Robert Mugabe.

     “The use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians can never be justified,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy lead.

    “As responsible neighbours and stakeholders of peace in the region, SADC leaders should send a clear message to Zimbabwean authorities to act with integrity and respect the rule of law including exercise of fundamental freedom.”

    The 30 July elections were expected to usher in a new era of democratic governance in Zimbabwe after the military coup in November 2017 but the post elections crisis has led to uncertainty and demonstrated that the military continues to cast an ominous shadow over politics.  Zimbabwean authorities invoked the restrictive Public Order and Security Act to enable the armed forces intervene.  

    The right to freedom of expression, association and assembly is enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. SADC should call on the government and security forces to exercise restraint and respect these fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.  

    CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, rates the space for civil society in Zimbabwe as “repressed.”



    For more information, please contact:

    David Kode


    Grant Clark



  • SERBIE : « La crise politique va s’approfondir parce qu’une grande partie des citoyens n’est pas représentée »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Ivana Teofilović sur les causes des récentes manifestations et la réaction du gouvernement à celles-ci, ainsi que sur les élections tenues en Serbie pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19. Ivana est coordinatrice du programme de politique publique à Civic Initiatives, une association de citoyens serbes qui vise à renforcer la société civile par l’éducation civique, la promotion des valeurs et des pratiques démocratiques et la création d’opportunités de participation citoyenne.


  • SINGAPORE: ‘Opposition parties were given unfavourable coverage by the state media and had difficulty accessing voters’

    CIVICUS speaks to human rights defender Jolovan Wham about the recent elections in Singapore, which were held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented the use of restrictive laws in Singapore against civil society activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, independent online media outlets and members of the political opposition, who face prosecution, including through defamation suits and contempt of court charges.

    Jolovan Wham


    Has there been any disagreement around whether elections should be held, when, or how?

    Yes. Opposition parties were largely against it as the COVID-19 pandemic had not abated and holding the elections might pose a public health threat. They were also concerned that physical rallies and door-to-door visits would be disallowed, which would hinder their campaign efforts.

    And indeed, it was more difficult to connect face to face with voters when a one-metre distance had to be maintained during walkabouts and door-to-door visits. Everyone had to give their speeches and connect with voters online.

    Some changes were introduced so elections would proceed in the context of the pandemic. Voting time was extended by two hours to take the longer queues caused by social distancing into consideration. But the possibility of online voting was not discussed. And older people and those who were frail may have not participated for fear of getting infected with COVID-19.

    What was the state of civic freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) control of all public institutions is a major civic freedom issue. It means it gets to shape the political discourse according to its agenda and set the rules of the game to its advantage. For example, the elections department, which draws electoral boundaries, reports to the prime minister himself. Most civil society groups are afraid of engaging in the elections in a meaningful way for fear of being seen as ‘partisan’. If a civil society association is associated with an opposition party, it may lose funding, support and patronage for its work.

    A recent report by the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights documented structural flaws that prevented the election from being fair, including the prime minister’s broad powers over the entire electoral process without any effective oversight. The environment in which the Singaporean people were able to exercise their right to participate in public life was heavily restricted. Key opposition candidates had been targeted with lawsuits by members of the PAP, and voters in opposition-led constituencies fear reprisals for not voting for the PAP. Fundamental freedoms, which are intrinsically linked to free elections, are limited as the government controls the media and uses restrictive laws against dissenting and critical voices.

    How did this affect the chances of the opposition?

    Opposition candidates and parties had to rely solely on social media to get their message out, because of unfavourable coverage by state media. They also had difficulty accessing voters because of the PAP’s monopoly, manipulation and control of national grassroots groups, unions and organisations, on top of the difficulties involved in holding physical rallies in the context of the pandemic.

    The elections were held on 10 July. The PAP secured 83 parliamentary seats but faced a setback as the opposition made minor but historic gains. The Workers’ party, the only opposition party in parliament, increased its seats from six to 10 – the biggest result for the opposition since independence. The PAP popular vote dipped to 61 per cent.

    What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?

    For the PAP, the campaign revolved around smearing opposition candidates, accusing them of peddling falsehoods and of having nefarious agendas and engaging in character assassination. Scaremongering tactics were also used: the electorate were told that only the PAP could get Singaporeans out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that having more opposition members in parliament would thwart these efforts.

    Opposition parties, on the other hand, focused on telling the electorate that they were in danger of being wiped out of parliament as they held fewer than 10 elected seats out of almost 90. Issues such as the high cost of living and immigration were other key issues raised by the opposition.

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


  • Singapore: Open letter to parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to prioritise fundamental freedoms

    As Singaporeans prepare to go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 10 July 2020, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists urge all parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to commit to respecting and protecting human rights, particularly fundamental freedoms, as part of their mandate.


  • SINGAPOUR : « Les partis d’opposition ont bénéficié d’une couverture défavorable de la part des médias d’État et ont eu des difficultés à accéder aux électeurs »

    Jolovan WhamCIVICUS s’entretient avec le défenseur des droits humains Jolovan Wham au sujet des récentes élections à Singapour, qui se sont déroulées sur fond de pandémie de COVID-19. LeCIVICUS Monitor a documenté l’utilisation de lois restrictives contre les activistes de la société civile, les défenseurs des droits humains, les avocats, les médias indépendants en ligne et les membres de l’opposition politique de Singapour, qui risquent d’être poursuivis, notamment par des procès pour diffamation et des accusations d’outrage à la cour.

    Y a-t-il eu des désaccords sur la question de savoir si, quand ou comment les élections doivent être organisées ?

    Oui. Les partis d’opposition s’y sont largement opposés car la pandémie de COVID-19 n’avait pas reculé et la tenue des élections pouvait constituer une menace pour la santé publique. Ils craignaient également que les rassemblements physiques et le démarchage en porte-à-porte ne soient pas autorisés, ce qui entraverait leurs efforts de campagne.

    Et, de fait, il était plus difficile d’établir un contact direct avec les électeurs lorsqu’il était nécessaire de maintenir une distance d’un mètre pendant les marches et les visites en porte-à-porte. Chacun a dû prononcer son discours et se connecter aux électeurs en ligne. Certains changements ont été introduits pour que les élections se déroulent dans le contexte de la pandémie. La période de vote a été prolongée de deux heures en prévision de files d’attente plus longues en raison de la distanciation sociale. Mais il n’a pas été question du vote en ligne. Et il est possible que les personnes âgées ou ayant des problèmes de santé n’aient pas participé par peur d’être infectées par le COVID-19.

    Quel était l’état des libertés civiques avant les élections ?

    Le contrôle du People’s Action Party (PAP) au pouvoir sur toutes les institutions publiques est un problème majeur de liberté civique. Cela signifie qu’il peut façonner le discours politique en fonction de son programme et fixer les règles du jeu à sa convenance. Par exemple, le département électoral, qui dessine les circonscriptions électorales, relève du Premier ministre. La plupart des groupes de la société civile ont peur de s’impliquer de manière significative dans les élections en raison des conséquences d’être perçus comme "partisans". Si une association de la société civile est liée à un parti d’opposition, elle peut perdre le financement, le soutien et les ressources nécessaires à son travail.

    Un récent rapport de l’ASEAN (Association des nations de l’Asie du Sud-Est) Parliamentarians for Human Rights a mis en évidence des failles structurelles qui ont empêché l’élection d’être équitable. Il s’agit notamment des pouvoirs étendus du premier ministre sur l’ensemble du processus électoral, sans qu'aucun contrôle efficace ne soit exercé. Le contexte dans lequel les Singapouriens pouvaient exercer leur droit de participer à la vie publique était sévèrement restreint. Les principaux candidats de l’opposition ont fait l’objet de poursuites judiciaires par des membres du PAP, et les électeurs des districts dirigés par l’opposition craignaient des représailles s’ils ne votaient pas pour le PAP. Les libertés fondamentales, qui sont intrinsèquement liées à l’existence d’élections libres, sont limitées car le gouvernement contrôle les médias et utilise des lois restrictives contre les voix critiques et dissidentes.

    Comment cela a-t-il affecté les chances de l’opposition ?

    Les candidats et les partis de l’opposition ont dû s’appuyer uniquement sur les médias sociaux pour faire passer leur message en raison de la couverture défavorable qu’ils ont reçue de la part des médias d’État. Ils ont également eu des difficultés à atteindre les électeurs en raison du monopole, de la manipulation et du contrôle exercés par le PAP sur les syndicats et les organisations et groupes de base dans tout le pays, auxquels s’ajoutent les difficultés liées à l’organisation de manifestations physiques dans le contexte de la pandémie.

    Les élections ont eu lieu le 10 juillet. Le PAP a remporté 83 sièges parlementaires, mais a également connu un revers, l’opposition ayant réalisé des gains plus modestes mais historiques. Le Parti des travailleurs, seul parti d’opposition présent au Parlement, a vu ses sièges passer de six à dix, ce qui constitue le meilleur résultat pour l’opposition depuis l’indépendance. Le vote populaire remporté par le PAP est tombé à 61%.

    Quelles étaient les principales questions autour desquelles s’articulait la campagne ?

    Pour le PAP, la campagne s’est concentrée autour de la diffamation des candidats de l’opposition, les accusant de colporter des mensonges et d’avoir des intentions néfastes, et s’est attachée à les discréditer. Des tactiques de peur ont également été utilisées : l’idée a été transmise à l’électorat que seul le PAP pouvait sortir les Singapouriens de la pandémie de COVID-19, et que la présence de plus de représentants de l’opposition au Parlement contrecarrerait ces efforts.

    Les partis d’opposition, quant à eux, se sont attachés à faire passer à l’électorat le message qu’ils étaient sur le point d’être éliminés du Parlement, puisqu’ils disposaient de moins de 10 sièges sur près de 90. Les autres questions clés soulevées par l’opposition étaient le coût élevé de la vie et l’immigration.

    L’espace civique à Singapour est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor. 


  • SOUTH KOREA: ‘North Korean defectors and activists face increasing pressure to stay silent’

    Ethan Hee Seok ShinCIVICUS speaks with Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a legal analyst with the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a Seoul-based civil society organisation (CSO) founded by human rights advocates and researchers from five countries. Founded in 2014, it is the first Korea-based CSO focused on transitional justice mechanisms in the world’s most repressive regimes, including North Korea. TJWG aims to develop practical methods for addressing massive human rights violations and advocating justice for victims in pre and post-transition societies. Ethan works on TJWG’s Central Repository project, which uses a secure platform to document and publicise cases of enforced disappearances in North Korea. He uses legislative and legal action to raise awareness about North Korean human rights issues.


    Can you tell us about the work being done by South Korean civil society groups about the human rights situation in North Korea?

    There is a rather broad range of CSOs working on North Korean human rights issues. TJWG has been working to prepare the ground for transitional justice in North Korea, in line with its core mission of human rights documentation.

    TJWG’s flagship project has resulted in a series of reports mapping public executions in North Korea, based on interviews with escapees living in South Korea. We record the geospatial information of killing sites, burial sites and record storage places, including courts and security service facilities, by asking our interviewees to spot the locations on Google Earth. The report’s first edition was released in July 2017 and was based on 375 interviews, and its second edition was launched in June 2019 after conducting 610 interviews.

    We are also currently in the process of creating an online database of abductions and enforced disappearances in and by North Korea, called FOOTPRINTS. This uses Uwazi, a free, open-source solution for organising, analysing and publishing documents, developed by HURIDOCS, a CSO. When launched to the public, FOOTPRINTS will provide an easily accessible and searchable platform to track individuals taken and lost in North Korea.

    Other than documentation and reporting work, we have been active in international and domestic advocacy. Jointly with other human rights CSOs, TJWG drafted and submitted an open letter urging the European Union to strengthen the language and recommendations in the annual human rights resolutions adopted by the United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly and Human Rights Council on North Korea. We have also made case submissions to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other UN human rights experts.

    In July 2020, the South Korean government revoked the registration of two CSOs and issued a notice of administrative review and inspections of ‘defector-run’ groups working on human rights in North Korea. Why are these groups being targeted?

    The direct catalyst was the June 2020 provocations by North Korea. On 4 June, Kim Yo-Jong, sister of supreme leader Kim Jong-Un and the first vice department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee, criticised the ‘anti-DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] leaflets’ flown to North Korea by ‘North Korean escapees’ and threatened the cessation of Mount Kumgang tourism, the complete demolition of the Kaesong industrial region, the closure of the inter-Korean liaison office, or the termination of the 9/19 military agreement (the 2018 agreement to create demilitarised buffer zones) unless the South Korean authorities took ‘due measures’.

    Just four hours after Kim Yo-Jong’s early morning bombshell, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced that it would prepare legislation banning the distribution of leaflets to North Korea. This was a complete reversal of the government’s longstanding position, which consistently avoided such legislation for fear of infringing upon the freedom of expression.

    On 10 June 2020, the MOU announced that it would file criminal charges against Park Sang-Hak and Park Jung-Oh, two defectors from North Korea, for violating article 13 of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, which requires prior approval of any inter-Korean exchange of goods, and would revoke the incorporation of their organisations, Fighters For Free North Korea (FFNK) and KuenSaem, for sending leaflets in air balloons and rice-filled PET bottles on sea currents to North Korea, as they did on 31 May 2020.

    While the North Korean government eventually toned down its rhetoric, the South Korean government began to take actions against North Korean human rights and escapee groups, viewed as a hindrance to inter-Korean peace.

    On 29 June 2020 the MOU held a hearing and on 17 July it announced the revocation of the legal incorporation of FFNK and KuenSaem for contravening incorporation conditions by grossly impeding the government’s reunification policy, dispersing leaflets and items to North Korea beyond the stated goals of their incorporation and fomenting tension in the Korean peninsula under article 38 of the Civil Code, a relic from the authoritarian era. 

    The MOU also launched ‘business inspections’ of other North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups among the over 400 associations incorporated by MOU’s permission, possibly with a view to revoking their incorporation. On 15 July 2020, the Association of North Korean Defectors received a notice from the MOU that it would be inspected for the first time since its incorporation in 2010. The following day, MOU authorities informed journalists that they would first conduct business inspections on 25 incorporated North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups, 13 of them headed by North Korean defectors, with more to be inspected in the future. While acknowledging that the leaflet issue triggered the inspections, the MOU added that the business inspections would not be limited to those involved in the leaflet campaign.

    How many groups have been reviewed or inspected after the announcements were made?

    Because of the international and domestic uproar caused by the obviously discriminatory nature of the inspections targeting North Korean human rights and escapee groups, the MOU has somewhat toned down its approach, and has belatedly begun to argue that it is focusing on all CSOs registered under the MOU.

    On 6 October 2020, the MOU told reporters that it had decided to inspect 109 out of 433 CSOs for failing to submit annual reports or for submitting insufficient documentation. According to the information provided, 13 of the 109 groups to be inspected are headed by North Korean escapees; 22 (16 working on North Korean human rights and escapee settlement, five working in the social and cultural fields and one working in the field of unification policy) have already been inspected and none has revealed any serious grounds for revocation of registration; and the MOU intends to complete the inspection for the remaining 87 CSOs by the end of 2020.

    In any case, the government appears to have already succeeded in its goal of sending a clear signal to North Korea that it is ready to accommodate its demands in return for closer ties, even if it means sacrificing some fundamental principles of liberal democracy. The government has also sent a clear signal to North Korean human rights and escapee groups with the intended chilling effect.

    How has civil society responded to these moves by the government?

    Civil society in South Korea is unfortunately as polarised as the country’s politics. The ruling progressives view the conservatives as illegitimate heirs to the collaborators of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945, and post-independence authoritarian rule up to 1987. The previous progressive president, Roh Moo-Hyun, who served from 2003 to 2008, killed himself in 2009 during a corruption probe, widely seen as politically motivated, under his conservative successor. The incumbent Moon Jae-In was elected president in 2017, riding a wave of public disgust at his right-wing predecessor’s impeachment for corruption and abuse of power.

    Most CSOs are dominated by progressives who are politically aligned with the current Moon government. The progressives are relatively supportive of the human rights agenda but are generally silent when it comes to North Korean human rights because of their attachment to inter-Korean rapprochement. The same people who talk loudly about Japanese ‘comfort women’ – women forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan before and during the Second World War – or authoritarian-era outrages readily gloss over present North Korean atrocities in the name of national reconciliation.

    Most North Korean human rights groups are formed around North Korean escapees and the Christian churches of the political right that passionately characterise leftists as North Korean stooges. Many are also generally hostile to contemporary human rights issues such as LGBTQI+ rights, which is rather ironic as Australian judge Michael Kirby, the principal author of the 2014 UN report that authoritatively condemned the grave human rights violations in North Korea as crimes against humanity, is gay.

    The largely progressive mainstream CSOs have not been on the receiving end of persecution by the government led by President Moon; on the contrary, prominent civil society figures have even been appointed or elected to various offices or given generous grants. Some do privately express their dismay and concern at the government’s illiberal tendencies, but few are ready to publicly raise the issue because of the deep political polarisation.

    Is the space for civil society – structured by the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – becoming more restrictive in South Korea under the current administration?

    The Moon government has displayed worryingly illiberal tendencies in its handling of groups that it views as standing in its way, such as North Korean human rights and escapee groups, who have faced increasing pressure to stay silent and cease their advocacy. 

    President Moon has reopened a dialogue with the North Korean government to establish peaceful relations, neutralise the North’s nuclear threat and pave the way for family reunification, along with other estimable goals.

    However, along with US President Donald Trump, President Moon has employed a diplomatic strategy that downplays human rights concerns. Notably, neither the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration between North and South Korea nor the Joint Statement issued after the 2018 Trump-Kim summit in Singapore make any mention of the North’s egregious human rights abuses.

    In the weeks before President Moon met North Korean leader Kim in Panmunjom, there were reports that North Korean defector-activists were being prevented from carrying out their activism. In October 2018, South Korea acquiesced to North Korea’s demand to exclude a defector journalist from covering a meeting in North Korea. On 7 July 2019, there was an extraordinary rendition of two defectors, fishers who were allegedly fugitive murderers, to North Korea five days after their arrival without any semblance of due process.

    The Moon government has resorted to illiberal tactics on other perceived opponents as well. A man who put up a poster mocking President Moon as ‘Xi Jinping’s loyal dog’ (referring to the Chinese president) at the campus of Dankook University on 24 November 2019 was prosecuted and fined by court on 23 June 2020 for ‘intruding in a building’ under article 319 (1) of the Penal Code, even though the university authorities made clear that they did not wish to press charges against him for exercising his freedom of expression. Many criticised the criminal prosecution and conviction as a throwback to the old military days.

    The government has also moved to exercise ever more control over state prosecutors. The Minister of Justice, Choo Mi-ae, has attacked prosecutors who dared to investigate charges of corruption and abuse of power against the government, claiming a conspiracy to undermine President Moon.

    Another worrying trend is the populist tactic by ruling party politicians, notably lawmaker Lee Jae-jung, of using the internet to whip up supporters to engage in cyberbullying against reporters.

    What can the international community do to support the groups being targeted?

    In April 2020 the ruling party won the parliamentary elections by a landslide, taking 180 of 300 seats, thanks to its relative success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposition is in disarray. All this has emboldened rather than humbled the government, and its illiberal tendencies are likely to continue. Due to the severe political polarisation, ruling party politicians and their supporters are not likely to pay much heed to domestic criticism.

    The voice of the international community will therefore be crucial. It is much more difficult for the government to counter concerns raised by international CSOs as politically motivated attacks. A joint statement or an open letter spearheaded by CIVICUS would be helpful in forcefully delivering the message that human rights in North Korea are of genuine concern for the international community.

    Furthermore, South Korea will soon be submitting its fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee in accordance with the list of issues prior to reporting (LOIPR). Because North Korea-related issues and concerns are not included in the LOIPR, it would be extremely helpful if international CSOs joined forces to include them in the oral discussion with the members of the Human Rights Committee and in their concluding observations.

    In the shorter run, country visits to South Korea by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders would be excellent opportunities to internationalise the issue and put pressure on our government.

    Even progressives may support a reform of the outdated law on CSO registration, for instance, as a matter of self-interest, if not of principle, in case of change of government.

    Civic space inSouth Korea is rated ‘narrowedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Transitional Justice Working Group through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@TJWGSeoul on Twitter.


  • SPAIN: ‘Democratic rules are being used to promote an anti-rights ideology’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent election in Spain with Núria Valls, president of the Ibero-American League of Civil Society Organisations (Liga Iberoamericana), a platform that brings together 29 civil society organisations from 17 Ibero-American countries, specialising in human, social and community development. Legally incorporated in Spain, the Ibero-American League has worked on childhood, youth, education and labour issues from a human rights perspective for 20 years, by providing advice to governments, monitoring and evaluating programmes and building networks and doing public policy advocacy at the local, domestic and international levels.

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    What were the causes of the political instability that required Spain to hold two elections in 2019?

    The widespread rejection of the political system that was established following the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s led to a significant deterioration of the two traditional parties: the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP). These political parties were very used to bipartisanship and ruling with the support of large majorities. When other parties appeared on stage, pacts and coalitions became necessary, which until then had only been a feature of local politics. It became necessary to include more minority parties and nationalist parties from the country’s periphery, which does not always pay electorally.

    In addition, the political conflict in Catalonia had radicalised the positions of parties present at the state level, which entered into a sort of competition to show who was the most Spanish. Even leftist parties do not dare to speak in recognition of Spain’s national plurality because the media, and particularly those from the capital, Madrid, criticise them aggressively.

    In the first elections of 2019, held in May, the PSOE felt uncomfortable when negotiating with the leftist and independent parties that had supported the motion of censure leading to the replacement of the conservative government led by the PP. On top of this, the personal ambitions of the leaders of both the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the left-wing coalition formed in 2016 by the Podemos political movement and several other political forces, made a pact impossible at that time.

    The PSOE misread the polls and believed that a second election would give them the majority, and therefore the possibility of governing alone. But ahead of the November elections, people were angry because, as they saw it, due to their leaders’ personal egos parties had not done their job, and instead had made us waste time and money. All of this further deepened dissatisfaction with politics.

    Would you say that the extreme right party Vox benefited from this?

    Vox was one of the parties that benefited the most from the second election. It doubled its number of votes and became the third most represented party, with 52 seats, right behind the two major parties.

    Traditionally in Spain it was considered that there was no extreme right because the PP encompassed the entire right wing. But Vox emerged with great force and with a Francoist, aggressive anti-human rights discourse, presenting itself as the guarantor of the unity of Spain against separatism. In fact, the way the situation in Catalonia has been handled has been a breeding ground for the acceptance of increasingly right-wing discourse, justified in the need to preserve the unity of Spain.

    Another electoral result worth mentioning is that of Ciudadanos, a seemingly liberal party, which not long ago thought it would soon be in government, but which practically disappeared given its meagre results. Ciudadanos had focused its discourse on territorial conflict and on the unity of Spain. Voters who prioritised this issue preferred Vox, which has a more radical stance.

    Despite the good results obtained by Vox, however, it was the left that won the elections and this time they worked fast. In just 24 hours a pact between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos was forged, which had previously been impossible to achieve. Citizens found it hard to understand why what a few months ago had been impossible was now possible. But what is important is that the formation of a government was prioritised against the feeling of instability and paralysis that has prevailed in recent years. Faced with this broad pact among leftist parties, the right wing reacted with a very aggressive discourse, strongly rooted in the Francoist tradition.

    Finally, due to the abstention of Catalan pro-independence parties, it was possible to form a government. Governing will not be easy, but it promises to be a very interesting experience, which offers the possibility of creating change. It will be a very broad government, with 22 ministerial portfolios, notably characterised by gender parity.

    How would you characterise Vox as a political force and ideological trend?

    Vox is a far-right party that does not hide its xenophobic anti-human rights discourse. It prioritises two major issues: the unity and centralisation of Spain, and the elimination of gender policies.

    This is a worrying phenomenon that is not only happening in Spain. Extreme right parties arise in times of citizen frustration in the face of economic and social inequalities in a globalised world. There is an international movement – which spans Brazil, France, Italy, Norway, the USA and many other countries – that focuses on stigmatising and criminalising migration and so-called ‘gender ideology’. The support for these speeches by some religious congregations should also be analysed.

    These parties use democracy’s rules to promote an anti-human rights ideology. It is paradoxical that democracy, which was born under the values ​​of participation and respect for rights, is currently being used to strengthen and foster an ideology that is totally opposed to those values.

    How did this right turn take place just a few years after so many people had taken part in protests for economic and social justice?

    An element of this turn has to do with the anger that a section of the population feels toward politics. Corruption of political parties has had a great impact on society, as people think that politicians are in politics only to enrich themselves. There is no idea of politics in the broader sense as linked to the common good.

    In particular, there is a bloc of young people who see a very difficult future for themselves. They have very low expectations and view a vote for Vox is an anti-system choice. This is the vote of those who think that migration will deprive them of jobs and state resources, and that gender policies are an exaggeration. Vox is very apt at using social media with direct messages often based on falsehoods but that are reaching the population.

    The territorial conflict between Spain and Catalonia has also functioned as a catalyst for this anger. The message of ‘we’ll go after them (‘A por ellos’) used to despatch police units from the rest of Spain towards Catalonia to try to prevent the referendum on 1 October 2017, later reinforced by a message from the King, aroused an anti-Catalan sentiment. The right bloc, and especially Vox, appropriated the defence of the monarchy against republican leftist parties.

    How is this process being experienced by civil society? Do you think that the space for civil society is being degraded in Spain?

    Organised civil society was caught a little off guard. On the one hand, we did not believe that electoral support for Vox would be so strong, and on the other hand, we had a debate about whether we should respond to them, and therefore give them more media coverage, or whether it was best to ignore them. The second option prevailed, among political parties as well. And the strategy of ignoring them contributed to the increase in votes for Vox. There was nobody left to respond to their expressions bluntly and with clear arguments.

    Now civil society debate revolves around the need to defend human rights clearly and forcefully and respond to any expression that hurts or stigmatises any population group.

    In the territories where it is governing together with the PP and Ciudadanos, such as Andalusia, Madrid and Murcia, one of Vox's first actions has been to press for the end of aid to organisations working with women or vulnerable groups.

    We are experiencing a risk of regression in freedoms and therefore it is necessary for us to work in a more united way than ever as civil society. A clear communication strategy must be developed to reach all people. Often we in civil society remain locked in our own spheres and find it hard to take our message beyond our circles.

    Another strategy used by the right wing, and especially by Vox and the PP, is to use the justice system to settle political disagreements. Much of the judiciary in Spain is still very ideological, since many conservative judges remain as heirs of the Franco regime. As a result, sentences have abounded against the freedom of expression on social media, including censorship of songs. And many people have also been convicted for protesting publicly, especially in Catalonia.

    How has the situation in Catalonia evolved since the 2017 referendum?

    The referendum of 1 October 2017 was an act of empowerment by a section of the Catalan population that participated very actively, with a collective sentiment of civil disobedience, to achieve a better future against a state that did all it could to prevent it from happening. The violent state repression unleashed during the referendum and afterwards increased the collective feeling of a big section of the population in favour of independence, and especially in favour of the right to decide through elections.

    After the referendum, repression against Catalan pro-independence groups increased, and the state put all its police and judicial machinery in motion. In addition, it launched article 155 of the Constitution, which provides the state with a coercive mechanism to bind the autonomous communities that breach constitutional or legal obligations or seriously undermine Spain’s ‘general interest’. Article 155 suspended the autonomy of Catalonia from 27 October 2017 until 2 June 2018, when new regional elections were held. It amounted to almost a year of political, financial and administrative paralysis in Catalonia.

    Previously, on 16 October 2017, the leaders of the two most representative Catalan pro-independence groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, had been imprisoned for mediating in a spontaneous and peaceful demonstration in front of a building of the Generalitat, the Catalan government, where the police were conducting a search. They were imprisoned preventively, with no possibility of release before their trial.

    Following these arrests, judicial repression against the government of Catalonia increased, culminating in the detention of the vice president and five government ministers plus the president of the parliament of Catalonia, all of whom were placed in pre-trial detention. For his part, the president of the Generalitat went into exile in Belgium along with four more ministers, and two other politicians went into exile in Switzerland. The government of Spain made statements affirming that it had decapitated the pro-independence movement.

    This entire judicial and repressive process further complicated the political situation in Catalonia. The ruling issued on 14 October 2019, which sentenced independence leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years, amounting to a total of 100 years, caused new street protests to break out.

    Unlike all previous pro-independence demonstrations since 2012, the latest protests caused many riots and faced police repression. In addition, young people were the protagonists and adopted a more radical attitude towards repression. In that context, the anonymous Democratic Tsunami movement emerged. Inspired by the Hong Kong protests, this movement uses social media to call for large peaceful mobilisations in various locations, such as the border or the airport. The police have tried to discover who is behind this movement, but it really is just an instance of collective empowerment by pro-independence civil society.

    At present, following the latest Spanish elections in which the PSOE and Unidas Podemos required the abstention of the pro-independence party Republican Left of Catalonia to be able to form a government, the picture has changed. The government has pledged to initiate a dialogue with the government of Catalonia and to bring any agreements reached through dialogue to a citizen vote. This will not be easy because right-wing parties, using any judicial remedy at their disposal, are trying to boycott the process. An effort must be made to find a solution for the situation of pro-independence prisoners that facilitates a peaceful and political way out and allows a process of real dialogue to begin.

    Civic space in Spain is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with La Liga Iberoamericana through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@LigaIberoamOSC on Twitter.



  • SRI LANKA : « Le contrôle des médias a donné au gouvernement un grand avantage »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Sandun Thudugala, directeur des programmes du Law and Society Trust (LST), au sujet des élections législatives qui ont eu lieu au Sri Lanka le 5 août 2020, dans le contexte de la pandémie de la COVID-19. LST est une organisation de recherche et de défense juridique fondée en 1982 à Colombo, au Sri Lanka, dans le but de promouvoir des réformes juridiques pour améliorer l’accès à la justice, la judiciarisation des droits et la responsabilité des institutions publiques.

    A l’approche des élections d’août 2020, le CIVICUS Monitora documenté le fait que les avocats de droits humains et les journalistes étaient victimes d’arrestations, de menaces et de harcèlement. Unrapport du rapporteur spécial des Nations unies (ONU) sur les droits à la liberté de réunion pacifique et d’association, publié en mai 2020, a également montré que la société civile était confrontée à des difficultés d’enregistrement et de fonctionnement et à divers obstacles à l’exercice du droit de manifestation.


  • SRI LANKA: ‘Media control gave the government a definite advantage’

    CIVICUS speaks to Sandun Thudugala, Head of Programmes at the Law and Society Trust (LST), about the legislative elections held in Sri Lanka on 5 August 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. LST is a legal research and advocacy organisation founded in 1982 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the goal of promoting legal reforms to improve access to justice, the justiciability of rights and public accountability.

    Ahead of the August 2020 elections, the CIVICUS Monitordocumented that human rights lawyers and journalists in Sri Lanka faced arrests, threats and harassment. Areport by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, published in May 2020, also showed that civil society faced challenges in registering and operating along with various barriers to protest.

    Sandun Thudugala

    What was the situation for civic freedoms and civil society ahead of the elections?

    As in many other countries, the situation of civic freedoms and the space for civil society has always been in a vulnerable situation in Sri Lanka. Even under the previous government, which was supposed to be more supportive towards civil society and the human rights agenda, efforts to introduce new draconian laws to control civil society and the undermining of basic freedoms in the name of counterterrorism continued.

    The situation got worse with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the new president in November 2019. His election campaign, which was built on the ideas of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, disciplined society and enhanced national security, was supported by an overwhelming majority, especially from the Sinhala Buddhist community. This result was seen as a mandate given to the government to undermine basic freedoms and civic space in the name of national security and development.

    There have been signs of an increased militarisation of every aspect of society and the undermining of democratic institutions, such as the appointment of members of Presidential Task Forces – which are accountable only to the president – to handle key governance functions. There has also been a clear message of unwillingness to cooperate with the state’s international obligations, including by complying with UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, which the previous government had co-sponsored and which was aimed at promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka after the 1983-2009 internal conflict, as well as with local human rights mechanisms.

    There have been increased surveillance of civil society activities and arrests of social media activists. This has clearly reflected a trend of undermining civic freedoms and civic space before the elections. The situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to deal with the virus has been used as an excuse to increase militarisation and the concentration of power in the hands of the president.

    What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?

    The government led by newly elected President Rajapaksa, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), was seeking a two-thirds majority in parliament to be able to amend the current constitution and give the president additional powers. That’s been the major election campaign goal of the SLPP. The need to have a strong government to protect the aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhist majority, defend national sovereignty and foster economic development were therefore among their major campaign themes. The popularity the president gained after winning the presidential election was used to mobilise voters to support the SLPP.

    The main opposition parties were divided, and their internal conflict was more prominent in the election campaign than their actual election messages. One of their major promises was to provide economic assistance for poor people who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

    Issues such as the need to strengthen democratic governance systems, justice for war victims, longer-term solutions to ethnic issues or the root causes of rural poverty, indebtedness and inequality were not highlighted during the election campaign by any of the major parties

    Was there any debate around whether the election should be held during the pandemic? 

    The government wanted to conduct the election as soon as possible. It was willing to hold the election in April 2020, as planned, even at the height of the pandemic. Almost all opposition parties were against holding the election in April. The Election Commission subsequently decided to postpone it to August 2020 due to the health risks it might entail. By August, the situation had got considerably better and there was no major opposition to conducting the elections, which took place on 5 August.

    As far as I know, online voting was not considered as an option for this election. I do not think that Sri Lanka has the infrastructure and capacity to adopt such an option at this moment. More than 70 per cent of eligible voters cast votes and apart from the people who are still in quarantine centres, people experienced no major barriers in casting their votes. There were however incidents of some private factories denying leave for their employees to vote.

    Was it possible to have a normal campaign in the context of the pandemic?

    Health guidelines were issued by the Election Commission, which imposed significant controls on election campaigning. No major rallies or meetings were allowed, but the government and the main opposition parties violated these health guidelines by convening public rallies and other meetings openly, without any repercussions. It was clear that the parties with power had a clear advantage in overstepping certain rules. Additionally, candidates from major political parties, who had more money to use for electronic and social media campaigns, had a definite advantage over the others.

    Due to its control over state media and the support it received from most private media, both electronic and print, the government had a definite advantage over the opposition during the election campaign. The smaller opposition political parties were at the most disadvantageous position, as they did not get any significant airtime or publicity in mainstream media.

    This surely impacted on the election results, in which the SLPP, led by President Rajapaksa and his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won 145 seats in the 225-member parliament. The opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya party, which was established in early 2020 as a breakaway from the right-wing United National Party, won 54 seats. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi party, which represents the Tamil ethnic minority, won 10 seats, and 16 other seats were split among 12 smaller parties. As a result, on 9 August, Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time.

    Was civil society able to engage in the election in a meaningful way? 

    Apart from being engaged in election monitoring processes, the engagement of independent civil society in the election was minimal. This is a drastic change when compared to the 2015 election, in which civil society played a key role in promoting a good governance and reconciliation agenda within the election campaign. Divisions within the opposition and the COVID-19 context made it difficult for civil society organisations to engage effectively in the process. Some organisations tried to create a discourse on the importance of protecting the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which curbed presidential powers while strengthening the role of parliament and independent institutions and accountability processes, but didn’t get any significant spaces within the media or any other public domains to discuss these issues.

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Law and Society Trust through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@lstlanka and@SandunThudugala on Twitter.


  • Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack

    Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated



  • Suppression of freedom of expression in Uganda increases

    CIVICUS speaks to Ugandan independent blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire (pictured). She speaks on the situation for journalists in Uganda, freedom of expression in the country and the relationship between the media and civil society in the country

    1. What is the operating environment at the moment in Uganda for the media?
    The past year 2016 has been particularly bad for media. There were been a record number of attacks due to elections that were held in February 2016. It was the 31st year of the President, Yoweri Museveni, being in power so it was a high-stakes game. The environment was hostile as the president felt really challenged. Many journalists who tried to cover opposition leaders were intimidated, attacked, harassed, restricted and pepper-sprayed. Over 80 journalists were violated in that month only by the state. Over 100 journalists were attacked by the state during the elections. For example, a huge case of intimidation was when a television journalist was arrested while broadcasting live and the police did not realise they were “live” and the nation got see there was no legitimate reason for his arrest. So it was not an easy year. Also some cases of violations were not publicly reported.

    2. Social media and the Internet were cut off on election day. What happened?
    On the day of voting, Internet, social media and access to mobile money services were cut off. We were also cut off on the day of the counting of votes. A few people were able to connect using other means such as VPN. The reason for the cut off was that government said there was a “national emergency” but they did not explain to us what sort of an emergency. The general view of the public is that the election was so tight so they needed the cover of darkness to prevent people from sharing of results from polling stations. Rigging is never done at polling stations but at the tabulation of results. So where people are not connected they could not share results of individual stations. The poll was highly fraudulent so cutting off social media was also to prevent people from mobilising to protests and to kill any planning of uprisings against the government. So you control the mood of the public and kill expectations by not having social media. The results were in favour of the opposition then suddenly overnight the results changed.

    3. How are you as online media treated by the authorities?
    The government is realising the power of online media. It was an independent blogger who exposed ghost voters on the voters roll. And this had not been identified by journalists. In terms of covering protests, we have the problem covering opposition rallies. We are generally able to cover protests but the more government feels threatened by protest, the more difficult it is to cover protests. Such as a few years ago, an army commander told journalists that their safety would not be guaranteed if they attended a particular protest. So journalists know protection is not a given.

    4. Are members of the public free to express themselves in media?
    Despite the challenges we face of shrinking civic space, Ugandans like to talk. We are able to talk in the media. We have over 200 radio stations. If you tune in, you hear people speak their minds. Off course government targets specific people. Members of public speak to media freely on the streets if their opinion is asked for. Even during Idi Amin’s time, we still expressed ourselves even though it was underground. Government has set up media Crimes Unit and people know they are being monitored but people are not afraid and use their real names even online even though we know we are being watched and have that discomfort of being watched, we still speak. Sometimes people are cautious but generally we express ourselves freely. Academics are able to also express their opinion, even those working at state universities. Although sometimes there is self-censorship on some topics as some people prefer not to speak about security or military or things to do with the first family.

    However, of concern, the Uganda government has made requests to Facebook to access certain accounts. One example is an account called TVO which does some exposès and commentary on government workings. One Ugandan Robert Shaka was arrested because government thought he is behind the account.

    5. Are journalists able to protect their sources and whistle-blowers?
    No we’ve not had public cases of intimidation of members of the media to reveal sources in 2016. Whistle blowing is generally weak in Uganda. You can get leaked stuff here and there but it’s not common. But media houses have been closed over coverage of security issues and the journalists and editors at heart of those stories face enormous pressure.

    6. What is the state of investigative reporting of both the private and public sector?
    Investigative journalism has gone low this year I think. There’s maybe sense of resignation affecting the media after the electoral outcome as the same regime has been in power for so long and maybe fear as well plays a part. I think we still have great in-depth stories on issues but newsrooms do not have dedicated investigative desks that are fully functional. Sometimes media ownership also affects how much a journalist can dig deep because owner interest may also mean the owner has a larger business empire to protect so journalists don’t want to bite the hand feeding them. The media owner may have a big empire with media being a small part of that empire that may have interests in hotels and so on, so the media has to support the rest of the owner’s business empire. Also advertising is a lifeline for media so there’s no in-depth questioning of big companies as the media wants the advertising revenue. So economic crimes go unreported unless if it’s a matter before parliament.

    7. What is the impact of terrorism on the work of journalists?
    Terror reporting is expected to be in praise of government only. We also now have anti-terror laws and the recent case of journalist Joy Biira being charged with abetting terrorism is one such case where these laws are being used. Using terrorism and treason charges as a way to stifle journalism is huge. Another journalist after the 2010 bombings, Timothy Kalyegira, faced criminal libel charges for presenting a different narrative on who was behind the bombings and role of government. Another journalist was also remanded on treason charges.

    The arrest of KTN television journalist Joy Biira in November 2016 and being charged of abetting terrorism is ridiculous and shows how far government is willing to go to intimidate journalists perceived to show their military actions in Kasese in good light. The government was trying to control a narrative on the Kasese massacre and once photos of dead bodies were leaked it was upset. These charges cannot even hold in a court of law.

    8. How far reaching is political influence over the media in Uganda? What drives this?
    You will find that most media attention goes to politicians and the elite and less on ordinary poor people. From time to time we have allegations of journalists being on “payrolls” of rich people but this is also employed as a tactic to smear journalists. The other problem is some politicians or their friends own media especially radio stations so there is that bias. Nonetheless, many good journalists continue to stand above the political interests and do their work well to deliver news to millions of Ugandans.

    9. What is the relationship between the media and civil society in Uganda? How can it be improved?
    It’s a bit of a loose relationship. Media covers civil society activities but perhaps media and civil society do not always realise and appreciate we are fighting for the same goal most times ─ public accountability.

    We can improve the relationship by highlighting the young and upcoming young people in civil society using social media who are fighting for democracy and accountability. We have to identify these good voices in civil society and make good coalitions with media. Civil society and media can work in coalition on certain causes. For example, in Uganda, in recent months an association of female lawyers highlighted cases of women in the flower industry being exposed to chemicals and being denied leave benefits. A couple of television stations and newspapers picked up on the issue and put a spotlight on this and were backed by civil society. The outcome looks good and it is still ongoing and the responsible ministers have put together a committee to investigate safety standards on flower farm workers. This is a great example of media and civil society working together to fight for those underprivileged in our society. We are a long way and need more such partnerships.

    Follow Rosebelle on Twitter on @RosebellK and read her blog on https://rosebellkagumire.com/


  • SWEDEN: ‘Swedish civil society needs to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis’

    Anna Carin HallAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. Following Sweden’s September election, CIVICUS speaks to Anna-Carin Hall, press officer at Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman), a Swedish civil society foundation that seeks to strengthenthe role of women in conflict regions by collaborating with women’s organisations and supporting their work to promote women’s rights and peace. Its advocacy focuses on six thematic areas: safe meeting places, the empowerment of women’s rights defenders, increasing women’s power, women’s participation in peace processes, power over one’s body and security for all.

    Sweden’s September election saw support fall for the established centre-left and centre-right parties and rise for the far-right Sweden Democrats. What factors lie behind this result, and what broader trends do you think it points to?

    First, I must emphasise that my answers reflect my own personal opinions rather than those of the organisation I work for. Kvinna till Kvinna is a politically and ideologically independent organisation and has only taken one single standpoint regarding the elections – against what we see as the Sweden Democrats’ anti-feminist policy.

    That said, the drop in support for social democratic parties, for example, is an ongoing trend all over Europe, and not just in Sweden, so one answer could be that this global trend towards a more traditional, nationalist and authoritarian climate finally got hold of Sweden, too.

    Part of the explanation is, as always, fear of globalisation, as traditional jobs move out of Sweden as a result of cost-efficiency thinking, and a large influx of migrants over a short time span, particularly in 2015, create a heavy pressure on the Swedish welfare system, including education and health services, as well as housing shortages.

    Before the election there was also public discussion about the gap between urban and rural areas in Sweden, and around health services shutting down in remote areas. Support for the Sweden Democrats is more common in regions with low education, low income and high unemployment.

    Nevertheless, the Swedish economy is still very strong, and Swedes are in no way suffering economically because of heavy immigration. But large migration centres set up in the countryside have altered the makeup of the population very quickly, causing tension in these places. Additionally, long-term studies in Sweden have shown that for many decades public opinion has been less pro-immigrant than the policies of the dominant parties, and the Sweden Democrats are now being able to capitalise on this.

    Apart from the economy, insecurity issues have also been used to stir anti-immigrant sentiment. A rising level of spectacular shootings among criminal gangs in some immigrant-dominated suburbs has attracted the attention of both Swedish and international media – one of those events was even mentioned by US President Donald Trump, who incorrectly implied that it had been a terrorist attack – and alt-right websites have used these politically a lot.

    Longer term, do you expect support for far-right causes to continue rise, or do you think it has peaked?

    There are different views on this. Some analysts say that the Sweden Democrats have become popular because the other parties in parliament have tried to shut them out. As a result, the Sweden Democrats and their supporters have been able to play the role of victims and claim that the political elite does not care for the views of the common people. Some therefore argue that the Sweden Democrats should be included in the government, and refer to the case of Finland, where Sannfinnlandarna, a nationalist party, reached the government and showed themselves unfit to govern, as a result of which support for them rapidly dropped. This is suggested as one potentially easy way to get the Sweden Democrats off the agenda.

    Several analysts have predicted that the Sweden Democrats will rise a bit more in the next election and will then start to lose popularity. The explanation for this would be that the right turn in the Western world will eventually fade out - but this is really just an assumption, with not much in terms of facts to support it.

    Are these trends indicative of rising currents of xenophobia and racism? If so, how have the more mainstream political parties responded to these and how have they impacted on rights-oriented civil society?

    There is a discussion in Swedish media right now regarding whether support for the Sweden Democrats is driven mainly by xenophobia and racism. Some opinion-makers claim this is the case, but there are surveys pointing towards the fact that Swedes think that the problem is failed integration, rather than immigration itself. Swedish society hasn´t been able to provide immigrant groups with proper education in Swedish, guidance about the Swedish community, decent jobs and so on.

    The change in the political climate manifests itself in, for example, more outspoken discussion of the costs of immigration and its impact on the Swedish welfare system. We can also see a more vivid discussion around cultural or traditional behaviour, such as honour crimes, with some claiming that for too long Sweden has not taken a strong stand against this and avoided several conflictive issues around immigration and integration that were considered culturally sensitive.

    The normalisation of the Sweden Democrats, a party that originated in the Neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s and 1980s, has also led to a louder alt-right Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden, which though still low in numbers, gets a lot of media attention. Several alt-right media outlets are spreading fake news about crime rates among immigrants. Alt-right groups are also making threats, spreading hatred and running smear campaigns in social media. This climate may very well lead to self-censorship among pro-immigration, feminist and LGBTQI groups.

    Mainstream parties have responded to all of this by moving towards a more moderate immigration policy and placing higher demands on immigrants – for instance, by introducing new requirements that they must meet in order to receive social aid and subsidies. Rights-oriented civil society groups are still trying to raise their voices in favour of a generous immigration policy based on humanitarian values, but they aren’t getting much attention these days.

    How is civil society working to combat xenophobia, racism and right-wing populism in Sweden, and what else could it do to build support for human rights and social justice?

    Open racism and xenophobia are in no way tolerated by the vast majority of Swedes, and several local rallies have been staged against racism and the Neo-Nazi movement both before and after the elections. Rights-oriented civil society has prepared for a long time to counter these trends, but stills needs the support of large groups of everyday people to have an impact on official discourse and the public conversation.

    Swedes take great pride in their open society and will likely defend the free press, the freedom of speech and gender equality, among other values. Threats and hatred against immigrants, journalists, feminists and LGBTQI activists get much attention in the media and several political actions have been organised to prevent them from happening. So, if a right-wing government forms with silent or open parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats, we will likely see a lot of strong reactions from the political and cultural establishment as well as from civil society.

    In the long run, Swedish civil society needs to work to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis, and maybe it also needs to go to the barricades to build opinion and change what could turn out to be a dangerous course of history.

    Civic space in Sweden is rated as ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Kvinna till Kvinna through its website and Facebook page or follow@Kvinna_t_Kvinna on Twitter.


  • Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to national elections


    Civil society letter endorsed by over 65 organisations to President of Tanzania ahead of 28 October National Elections 

    To: President John Magufuli


    We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the United Republic of Tanzania. In the past five years, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a  state of repression, evidenced by the increased harassment, intimidation, prosecution, and persecution of political activists, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and media houses; the enactment of restrictive laws; and disregard for rule of law, constitutionalism, as well as regional and international human rights standards. We are deeply concerned that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the country heads for general elections on 28 October 2020.[1]

    Tanzania as a party to several regional and international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has a legal obligation to respect and protect fundamental rights, particularly the right to - freedom of expression and the media, peacefully assemble, form and join associations, and to participate in public affairs, which are fundamental rights for free and fair elections in a democratic society. As a member of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tanzania has committed to uphold and promote democratic principles, popular participation, and good governance.

    Leading up to the elections in Tanzania, we have unfortunately documented an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. The role of the media in providing information and access to varying viewpoints in a true democracy is indispensable. Media houses must be allowed to provide these services without undue restrictions, yet in recent times, several independent media houses have been suspended. These have included the seven-day suspensions of The Citizen newspaper in February 2019,[2] Clouds TV and Clouds FM in August 2020, and the six-month suspension of Kwanza online TV in September 2019[3] and again in July 2020 for 11 months;[4] the online publication ban against Mwananchi news in April 2020;[5] the revocation, effective June 24, 2020, of the license of the Tanzania Daima newspaper;[6] and the fines against online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV in September 2019.[7]We note, with great disappointment, that the government is yet to comply with a ruling by the East African Court of Justice requiring the amendment of the Media Services Act to address the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression.[8]

    We are further concerned about the restrictions on individuals peacefully expressing their opinions, including criticising public officials.[9] The latter are required to tolerate a greater amount of criticism than others - a necessary requirement for transparency and accountability. Tanzania’s criminal justice system has however been misused to target those who criticize the government. Tito Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani were arrested in December 2019 and questioned over their social media use and association with certain government critics.[10] The duo were subsequently charged with economic crimes, including “money laundering” which is a non-bailable offence. Despite their case being postponed more than 20 times since December 2019, and no evidence being presented against them, they remain in pre-trial detention.[11] Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was similarly arrested and charged with “money laundering” where he was held in pre-trial detention for seven months with his case postponed over ten times.[12] Several United Nations (UN) mandate holders have raised concern about the misuse of the country’s anti-money laundering laws that “allow the Government to hold its critics in detention without trial and for an indefinite period.”[13]

    Most recently, a prominent human rights lawyer and vocal critic of the government, Fatma Karume was disbarred from practising law in Tanzania following submissions she made in a constitutional case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General.[14] Other lawyers are also facing disciplinary proceedings for publicly raising issues on judicial independence and rule of law.  Opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe was arrested and prosecuted for statements made calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings by State security agents.[15] The above cases are clear evidence of intolerance for alternative views and public debate.

    In addition, authorities should ensure respect for the right of individuals to freely form associations and for those associations to participate in public affairs, without unwarranted interference. We note the increasing misuse of laws to restrict and suspend the activities of civil society organisations.[16] On August 12, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was notified that its bank accounts had been frozen pending police investigations. THRDC’s coordinator was then summoned by the police to explain an alleged failure to submit to the State Treasury its contractual agreements with donors.[17]  Prior to this, in June 2020, the authorities disrupted the activities of THRDC for allegedly contravening “laws of the land.”[18] Several other non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment for issuing public statements critical of the government. Ahead of the elections some civil society organisations have reported being informally told by authorities to cease activities. As a result of the repressive environment, civil society organisations have been forced to self-censor activities. 

    We also note the enactment of further restrictive laws.[19] For example, the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act (The Amendment Act)[20] which has introduced amendments to 13 laws.[21] The Amendment Act requires anyone making a claim for violation of rights to have been personally affected.[22] This limits the ability of civil society organisations to carry out legal aid and law-based activities where they are not personally harmed. It violates Article 26(2) of the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of every person “to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights.[23] The Amendment Act further provides that lawsuits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but must be brought against the Attorney General.[24] This provision undermines government accountability for human rights violations. We remind the authorities that international bodies have raised concerns about Tanzania’s repressive laws.[25]

    We are especially concerned over the continued cases of verbal threats and physical attacks against members of opposition political parties.[26] We note with concern that to date, no one has been held accountable for the 2017 attack against the CHADEMA party leader, Tundu Lissu, who is a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Most recently, opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was brutally attacked and his assailants are still at large. Failure to thoroughly and impartially investigate such cases breeds a culture of violence and impunity, which in turn threatens the peace and security of the country. The government must take steps to bring perpetrators of such violence to account and to guarantee the safety of all other opposition party members and supporters.

    Earlier, in November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued a press statement on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania.”[27] The Commission specifically voiced concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities.” The ongoing crackdown on civic space in Tanzania also led the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to issue a strong warning ahead of the 28 October 2020 General Elections. At the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session, she “[drew] the Council's attention to increasing repression of the democratic and civic space, in what is becoming a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights” and stressed that “[with] elections approaching later this month, we are receiving increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society actors, activists, journalists and members of opposition parties.” She added: “Further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.”[28]

    While we acknowledge measures taken by your government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the citizens of Tanzania, we are deeply concerned that the pandemic has been used to unduly restrict fundamental freedoms. Examples are the arrest and sentencing of two Kenyan journalists for interviewing members of the public in Tanzania on the status of the pandemic in the country[29] as well as, the suspension of  Kwanza Online TV for reposting an alert by the U.S. embassy in Tanzania regarding the pandemic in the country.[30]  The rights to peacefully express one’s opinion, receive information, peaceful assembly and association, and to participate in public affairs are not only essential in the context of the upcoming elections, but also in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom of expression in particular, ensures “the communication of information to the public, enabling individuals to … develop opinions about the public health threat so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their communities.”[31]  The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Government responses to COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress individual human rights or to repress the free flow of information.[32] 

    The need for Tanzania to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law is now more than ever important as a matter of national security, following recent reports of insurgent attacks along Tanzania’s border with Mozambique.[33] Studies have shown that experiences of injustice, marginalization and a breakdown in rule of law, are root causes of disaffection and violence. A peaceful and prosperous nation requires good governance and respect for rule of law, with a society that protects fundamental freedoms and ensures justice for all.

    As civil society organisations deeply concerned about constitutionalism, justice, and democracy in the United Republic of Tanzania, we strongly urge your Excellency to adhere to your undertaking to ensure a free and fair election in Tanzania. The government has an obligation to create an enabling environment for everyone, including political opposition, non-governmental organisations, journalists, and other online users, HRDs, and other real or perceived government opponents to exercise their human rights without fear of reprisals. As such, we call on the relevant authorities to immediately drop criminal charges and release defenders such as Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani and any others being prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights. Suspensions and the freezing of assets of non-governmental organisations such as THRDC, independent media houses such as Kwanza Online TV, and members of the legal profession- particularly Fatma Karume, must be reversed.  Opposition parties must be allowed to freely and peacefully campaign and engage with their supporters without undue restrictions such as arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, forceful dispersal and intimidation of supporters, and harassment by security forces. The legitimacy of Tanzania’s elections is at stake.

    We call on Tanzania to heed the messages delivered by national, African, and international actors and to change course before the country enters a full-fledged human rights crisis, with potentially grave domestic and regional consequences.


    1. Access Now, Global
    2. Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
    3. Africa Freedom of Information Centre 
    4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
    5. AfroLeadership
    6. ARTICLE 19, Global
    7. Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF), New Delhi and Kathmandu
    8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    9. Association of Freelance Journalists
    10. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
    11. CEALDES, Colombia
    12. Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
    13. Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD), Mongolia
    14. Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada
    15. Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
    16. Child Watch, Tanzania
    17. CIVICUS, Global
    18. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
    19. CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
    20. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
    21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    22. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan
    23. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    24. Corporación Comuna Nueva, Santiago de Chile
    25. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    26. Democracy Monitor PU, Azerbaijan
    27. Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
    28. Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
    29. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
    30. Espacio Público, Venezuela
    31. Front Line Defenders, Global
    32. Gestos (HIV and AIDS, communication, gender), Brazil
    33. Greenpeace Africa
    34. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-Afrique), Canada
    35. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-BENIN)
    36. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP Mali)
    37. HAKI Africa, Kenya
    38. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
    39. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
    40. Humanium, Switzerland
    41. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HuMENA Regional)
    42. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) - Belgium
    43. Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C. (JADESOCIALES)- México
    44. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka-Burundi
    45. Maison de la Société Civile (MdSC), Bénin
    46. MARUAH, Singapore
    47. Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
    48. Nigeria Network of NGOs, Nigeria 
    49. Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile de la RD Congo (NDSCI)
    50. Odhikar, Bangladesh
    51. ONG Convergence des Actions Solidaires et les Objectifs de Développement Durable (CAS-ODD ONG) - Bénin
    52. ONG Nouvelle Vision (NOVI), Bénin
    53. Open School of Sustainable Development (Openshkola), Russia
    54. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
    55. Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
    56. RESOSIDE, Burkina Faso
    57. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Global
    58. Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
    59. Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somalia
    60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
    61. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
    62. The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), Uganda
    63. Tournons La Page (TLP)
    64. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Sierra Leone
    65. Women in Democracy And Governance, Kenya (WIDAG)
    66. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia

    [1] United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Experts call on Tanzania to end the crackdown on civic space, July 22, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E.

    [2] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen, March 01, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban/

    [3] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

    [4] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania bans Kwanza Online TV for 11 months citing ‘misleading’ Instagram post on COVID-19, July 09, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/07/tanzania-bans-kwanza-online-tv-for-11-months-citing-misleading-instagram-post-on-covid-19/

    [5] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian newspaper banned from publishing online for 6 months over COVID-19 report, May 11, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

    [6] Committee to Protect Journalist, Tanzanian government revokes license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, June 26, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/06/tanzanian-government-revokes-license-of-tanzania-daima-newspaper/

    [7] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

    [8]Committee to Protect Journalists, East Africa court rules that Tanzania’s Media Services Act violates press freedom, March 28, 2019, available at https://www.mediadefence.org/news/important-media-freedom-judgment-east-african-court-justice

    [9] We refer to cases such as the arrest of prominent comedian, Idris Sultan, in May 2020 (https://thrdc.or.tz/tanzanian-comedian-and-actor-mr-idris-sultan-charged-for-failure-to-register-a-sim-card/), and the disbarment from practicing law of prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Fatma Karume (https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/). 

    [10] Committee to protect journalists, Mwanachi, The Citizen, last seen in Tanzania, November 21, 2017, available at https://cpj.org/data/people/azory-gwanda/.

    [11] American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Tanzania: Preliminary Analysis of the criminal case against Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, July 28, 2020, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/tanzania--preliminary-analysis-of-the-criminal-case-against-tito/.

    [12] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera freed but faces hefty fines, February 24, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/02/tanzanian-freelancer-erick-kabendera-freed-but-fac/

    [13] Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Letter to President of Tanzania, Reference AL TZA 1/2020, January 31, 2020, available at https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25049.

    [14] International Commission of Jurists, Tanzania: ICJ Calls for the reinstatement of lawyer Fatma Karume’s right to practice law, October 8, 2020, available at https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/

    [15]The Citizen, Zitto Kabwe sentenced to serve one year ban not writing seditious statements, May 29, 2020, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.htm

    [16] The cancellation of a training organised by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), the subsequent arrest of THRDC’s Director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and suspension of the activities of the organisation, as well as freezing of their accounts, exemplifies the misuse of these laws against civil society (See: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tanzania-human-rights-group-suspends-operations/1945400)

    [17] DefendDefenders, Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association, August 24, 2020, available at https://defenddefenders.org/tanzania-respect-the-right-to-freedom-of-association/.

    [18] Two employees of one of THRDC were arrested in Dar es Salaam and thereafter authorities proceed to arbitrarily cancel the hosting of a three-day security training for 30 human rights defenders. The police claimed that the training was in contravention of the “laws of the land” but did not give a specific provision

    [19] These include the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations; Media Services Act; Cybercrimes Act; and Political Parties Amendment Act.

    [20] Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020)

    [21] Southern Africa Litigation Center, Joint letter, The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act no.3 ( 2020), available at https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Honourable-Minister-of-Justice-for-the-Republic-of-Tanzania.pdf-August-2020.pdf

    [22] Section 7(b) of the Written Laws Amendments Act

    [23] The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa provide that States must ensure through the adoption of national legislation that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human rights claim before a judicial body for determination because such claims are matters of public concern.

    [24] Amendments to Chapter 310 of the Law Reform (Fatal accidents and miscellaneous provisions) Act and to the Chapter 3 of the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act

    [25]   See for example communication of the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, AL TZA 3/2020, 17 July 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25442 

    [26] These include the verbal abuse and threats of execution against Zitto Kabwe, leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo opposition party (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51355148), his conviction for sedition for statements he made at a press conference in relation to alleged extra judicial killings by state security forces (https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.html), and his re-arrested together with several party members while they participated in an internal meeting (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/24/tanzanian-opposition-leader-zitto-kabwe-released-on-bail/); as well as the conviction of nine Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia(CHADEMA) party and their sentencing in March 2020 to five months in prison or an alternative fine, for allegedly making seditious statements (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8); and the attack against the party leader, Freeman Mbowe, by unknown assailants leaving him with a broken leg (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8).

    [27] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Press statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania, available at https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=459.

    [28] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people's rights,” 14 September 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226&LangID=E

    [29] Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Two Kenyan Journalists convicted and fined in Tanzania, repatriated back to Kenya, May 21, 2020, available at https://thrdc.or.tz/blog/.

    [30]American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020. See also Kwanza TV Instagram, available athttps://www.instagram.com/p/CCGT_5ECT_n/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

    [31] Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/44/49, para. 30

    [32] The Guardian, Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis, UN warns, 23 April 2020, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/coronavirus-pandemic-is-becoming-a-human-rights-crisis-un-warns. See also UNHRC,, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association, April 14, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25788&LangID=E.

    [33] BBC, Tanzania border village attack “leaves 20 dead”, October 16, 2020, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441%26Tanzania%20border%20village%20attack%20%27leaves%2020%20dead%27%262020-10-16T10%3A29%3A29.229Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:2f81fc88-030c-49d4-9d25-b8268a2dbf55&pinned_post_asset_id=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441&pinned_post_type=share