freedom of expression

 

  • ‘Due to the communications blockade in Kashmir, news of protests went largely underreported’

    On 5 August 2019, the government of India revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which guaranteed the autonomous status and rights of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government also imposed a severe communications blockade that impacted on the daily lives of Kashmiri people, including by affecting access to medical care, basic necessities and emergency services. Hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders and community leaders have been reported. CIVICUS speaks about this situation with Natasha Rather, Regional Campaign Officer for the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, linked to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation that focuses on enforced disappearances in the region, monitors the human rights situation and documents abuses.

    Natasha Rather interview

    What was the situation of civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the revocation of its special status under Indian administration?

    During the first half of 2019, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (JK) witnessed continued and increased violence and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, following a militant attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the Jammu–Srinagar highway that resulted in the killing of 48 Indian soldiers in February 2019. Following this attack, Kashmiri people living in various cities and towns of India became targets of hate crimes. Thousands of Kashmiri students were forced to flee from their colleges and universities and return back to Kashmir. People living in JK feared the attack would have dreadful consequences – which turned out to be true.

    The frequency of cordon and search operations (CASOs) and crackdowns increased in the aftermath of the attack. CASOs are a form of harassment that breach people’s right to privacy. According to a report by the APDP and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, at least 177 CASOs were conducted by the Indian armed forced in JK, which resulted in the killing of at least 118 militants and four civilians and the destruction of at least 20 civilian properties.
    In February 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Kashmir Chapter of Jamaat-i-Islami were banned and hundreds of their leaders and workers were arrested.
    Ahead of the elections to the Indian Parliament, held in JK in April and May 2019, 100 additional companies of soldiers were deployed in Kashmir and mass arrests of political and religious leaders were carried out. During polling days there were complete shutdowns, violence and killings.

    The use of administrative detention under the provisions of repressive Public Safety Act (PSA) led to many arrests and detentions. Between January and June this year, at least 25 people were booked under the PSA.

    Internet shutdowns have also been a common practice in JK. Internet services were curtailed 51 times in the first half of the year.

    How did people in Jammu and Kashmir respond to the revocation of the state’s special status?

    Before revocation was formally announced by the Indian government, many rumours made the rounds and people guessed that something sinister was underway. Official orders by the state administration added to the apprehension. People prepared themselves for a complete lockdown, drawing from their previous experience when the Indian government imposed curfews and shut down phones and the internet.
    When revocation of the special status was announced amidst a complete blockade of communication and full restrictions on movement, people were not greatly shocked. The autonomy guaranteed to JK under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws – but it had been greatly eroded before revocation of the special status, which downgraded JK from a state to a union territory, and there was nothing much left in it for the benefit of the people.

    There have been concerns attached to the revocation of Article 35a, which permits the local legislature in Indian-administered Kashmir to define who are permanent residents of the region. People have speculated that demographic changes might be underway, designed and strategised along the same lines as the occupation of Palestine, including the demographic changes introduced by Israel in Palestine. While there are fears of demographic changes, the majority’s response has been not to fight against revocation of the state’s special status, as this would have meant legitimising the occupation of the region. The larger struggle is for the right to self-determination.

    We have read reports of civic space restrictions, including a ban on meetings, restrictions on freedom of movement and arrests of leaders. Can you provide more information about this?

    The announcement of the revocation of JK’s special status was accompanied by widespread restrictions. There was an increased deployment of Indian armed forces at all roads and intersections across the valley, and the unyielding troops have strictly restricted the movement of people. For the first few weeks, people were not even able to reach hospitals and doctors. Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, which bans public gatherings of more than four people, was imposed despite a curfew being in place since the night of 4-5 August. This prevented people from organising protest gatherings and meetings.

    According to a government report dated 6 September, more than 3,800 people had been detained since 5 August and only about 2,600 of them were subsequently released. Those detained include political leaders from both pro-India and pro-independence parties, civil society members, lawyers and protesters. Three former Chief Ministers of JK – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been detained since 5 August. On 16 September, Farooq Abdullah was detained under the PSA. Leaders and politicians like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Farooq Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin and M Y Tarigami have been under house arrest. Hotels and government guesthouses have been turned into detention centres. Many leaders and civil society members have been lodged in jails in India.
    There has been an extensive use of the PSA to detain people, especially young people. Many young people were detained without being formally charged and were released only after the signing of community bonds. Many young people and most political leaders continue to be detained.

    Have people protested? How have the security forces responded to protests?

    Despite the severe restrictions imposed on the movement and assembly of the people, there have been many protests across the valley of Kashmir, with people taking to the streets and shouting slogans demanding freedom from the Indian state. The Indian media has claimed that there were negligible protests against the abrogation of Article 370, making it seem like there is normality and acceptance of the Indian state’s decisions. Since the local media has not been able to report on these protests, stories from them have not come to the fore. There were many protests in Kashmir valley, but due to the communication blockade and restrictions on the movement of journalists and media, news of protests from other districts went largely underreported.

    Protesters have been met with excessive force by the Indian armed forces. For instance, on 9 August, several people were injured during protests in the Soura area of Srinagar. A doctor confirmed that at least 53 young people were treated for injuries at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura. Reports also emerged that five people have been killed in separate incidents as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in the policing of protests since the start of the clampdown.

    How has the internet shutdown affected the work of activists and journalists?

    The communication clampdown has greatly affected the work of journalists and activists. Owing to the shutdown of internet services and curbs on the movement of journalists, it has been a huge challenge for journalists to collect and file stories. The administration set up a Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar where journalists are allowed to access the internet and email their stories. No such facilities are available in other districts of Kashmir. Newspapers in Kashmir have been publishing with a reduced number of pages. Journalists have been forced to rely just on state-issued press briefs once or twice a week, without any means to verify the stories. There has been news of journalists facing reprisals for filing stories on Kashmir’s ongoing situation.

    Also, since 5 August, civil society in JK has been under threat and dealing with a very precarious situation, as many civil society members have been detained and jailed under the PSA. In this way the Indian state has put pressure on Kashmiri civil society to remain silent about the current situation, and therefore their space is completely choked. There is a lot of resistance and criticism of the communications clampdown that is preventing civil society from carrying out its work.

    In this context, the support required from the international community is that they should increase their understanding of the Kashmir conflict and talking about it so as to prevent this human rights crisis from worsening.


    Civic space in India is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow @natasha_rather on Twitter.

     

  • Alert: Continued deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela

    Spanish

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) are deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela. On 28 and 29 March 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) issued rulings No. 155 and 156 by which it declared the National Assembly in contempt of court, stripped legislators of parliamentary immunity, and assumed congressional powers as well as the prerogative to delegate them to whoever it decided, namely the Office of the President.

    In practice, many civil society organisations in Venezuela have expressed an opinion that these rulings amounted to an attempted coup against the legislative branch of government, a fundamental pillar of democratic institutions and the embodiment of the people’s right to be represented in the arena where key decisions concerning their lives and rights are made. Similarly, the Venezuelan Attorney General considered these decisions represent a rupture of the Constitutional order.

    The latest developments are the culmination of a several years’ long process of erosion of congressional authority which has plunged the country into a deep social crisis. Through the past year and a half, the TSJ issued more than 50 rulings that undermined the functions of the National Assembly and conferred unlimited powers onto the executive branch of the state. This is the reason why the backing down by the TSJ on its latest rulings did not amount to a restoration of the separation of powers and the rule of law. The fact that this reversal was executed at the executive’s request further emphasised the judiciary’s lack of independence and the on-going degradation of Venezuelan republican institutions.

    Over the years, the erosion of constitutional checks and balances and the resulting political polarisation have progressed hand in hand with increasing restrictions on civic freedoms, namely the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly without which an empowered and enabled civil society cannot exist.

    In turn, the increasing concentration of decision-making powers in the executive leadership has led to serious policy-making failures, thereby intensifying rather than resolving the social crisis facing the country, including acute shortages of food and other basic goods, challenges with the public health system and a spike in street violence which disproportionately affects impoverished communities. We are also concerned about state repression against individuals and civil society groups when they speak up, organise and protest about their troubles.

    In the face of this multidimensional crisis, we call on Venezuelan Government to:

    • Restore the constitutionally defined functions and resources of the National Assembly as well as the prerogatives of its members, devolve the extraordinary powers conferred onto the executive by subsequent TSJ rulings, and introduce measures to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
    • Repeal the current state of exception, established through an executive decree, and comply with human rights commitments under international law to guarantee basic enabling conditions for human rights defenders and civil society organisations. 
    • Guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression. Security forces must refrain from the use of force against, or the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors.
    • Engage in dialogue with relevant national actors, including civil society, to resolve the current crisis; and ensure access to food and medicine for the entire population.

    We also urge the international community and in particular, the Organization of American States and its members to assist in resolution of the social and political crisis facing Venezuela.

    Contact:
    Eleanor Openshaw, ISHR NY Office: +1 212 490 2199,
    Inés Pousadela, CIVICUS Policy and Research: +598 2901 1646,

     

  • Alert: Is the Ugandan administration "doing an Ethiopia"? CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Contactos:
    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York
    +12124902199

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

    Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

    Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

    A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

    A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

    Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

    1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
    2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
    3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
    4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
      Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

    Contactos:
    Eleanor Openshaw,
    ISHR Oficina de Nueva York
    +12124902199

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Bahrain: On 7th anniversary of beginning of popular movement, NGOs call for end to systematic targeting of human rights defenders and journalists

    Arabic

    On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Out of fear, people are being silent’

    CIVICUS speaks with Aklima Ferdows, who works with the Centre for Social Activism in Bangladesh, about civil society’s challenges and support needs in the face of a sustained government crackdown.

    Can you tell us about your background and work?

    I have a civil society background, working with civil society organisations (CSOs) for almost 10 years, mostly on advocacy and capacity development. I also have law background and voluntarily work with the Centre for Social Activism (CSA), whose work focuses mostly on the freedom of expression and protection of human rights defenders. CSA documents human rights violations and advocates for the rights of marginalised communities on the ground.

    What are the current challenges around the freedom of expression in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh had a long struggle for freedom and finally got independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a nine-months’-long war. But unfortunately, although we achieved our independence, our freedom is not assured even after so many years of independence. For civil society workers, human rights defenders, journalists and citizens in general, there is an environment of fear and self-censorship in the country now. Out of fear, people are being silent or are speaking on relatively ‘softer issues’ such as the rights of poor people, women and children. Because of fear of reprisal, people are refraining from doing things they used to do or not protesting or speaking openly. People need to think several times before they speak and act.

    Social media and online content monitoring are becoming strict, and you can see the changes in social media use. People used to share various types of news, updates and their thoughts. Now they mostly use social media for sharing their personal stuff or family related activity. People also complain about their calls being recorded. There were efforts to make people register to use social media with their national identity document. Some websites and online portals have been banned, contents are blocked and there are occasional internet shutdowns and slowdowns, including during elections. We have had several killings of online activists in recent years. Other online activists have left the country or gone silent. People’s ability to express themselves freely and creatively is limited and people are more fearful about sharing their views with other people.

    As an example of how the freedom of expression is restricted, in August 2019 a local councillor filed a case in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts area against one of the reporters of the Daily Star, a major daily newspaper, simply because the reporter had used the word ‘Indigenous’ in a report. The plaintiff alleged that the journalist had intentionally made a provocation to destroy peace in the hills in the report, titled, ‘Three Indigenous villages face land grabbing’. The police were ordered to investigate. Although the court dismissed the case, it showed how sensitive the authorities can be. The people living in the country's plains and hills have long been demanding constitutional recognition as Adibashi (‘Indigenous’ in English). The Press Information Department issued a release (reference no. 2,704) in March 2015 urging the media, experts, university teachers and civil society members to avoid that word in discussions and talk shows on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. There is no legal barrier to using the word ‘Adibashi’ anywhere in the country, but it seems that we are trying to push a group of people in their own country into a status of denial.

    Eighty-three lawsuits were filed against the Daily Star’s editor, Mahfuz Anam, by plaintiffs across the country, in 56 districts, who were not personally aggrieved. The matter began on 3 February 2016 when the editor of a TV talk show made an introspective comment about a lapse in his editorial judgment in publishing reports, based on information given by the Taskforce Interrogation Cell during the rule of the 2007-2008 caretaker government, without being able to verify those independently. He was accused of defamation and sedition. The number of cases show how many people can be mobilised against one. Allegations and legal actions can be brought against anyone on the grounds that they are trying to instigate communal violence, hurt religious sentiment or cause law and order violations.

    What are the other key restrictions against civil society freedoms, and what are the impacts on civil society?

    People need to get permission from the local authorities to hold an assembly or gathering. This has become very strict now. In some cases, people don’t get permission and, in some instances, permission have been withdrawn at the last moment.

    Another source of fear is the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement agencies. It is being used against opposition parties and their related organisations, but also against civil society, garment workers, student groups and cultural activists. The police force is often aggressive and there is impunity. So, people are reluctant about organising collectively as they did before. There are clear, direct threats as well as intimidation and there are also smears. For example, anti-corruption campaigners have been accused of avoiding paying taxes. And then there are repressive laws, which affect the freedom of expression and other freedoms of the people.

    Cases are being brought to harass people under the Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018. The law brought in jail sentences to a maximum of three years or fines of 300,000 taka (approx. US$3,750), or both, for publishing or assisting in the publication of information that is offensive or is known to be false with the intention of tarnishing the image of the state, or spreading confusion, or sending or publishing information intended to annoy or humiliate someone. The punishments can be almost doubled for a second offence. Now anyone can claim that someone is spreading rumours or is humiliating someone else, even if they are just sharing news online without any intention of spreading confusion or humiliating someone.

    The law also brought in a sentence of seven years in jail for hurting religious sentiment and values, and there are sentences of up to 14 years in jail or 2,500,000 taka (approx. US$29,450) in fines, or both, for charges of computer spying or digital spying for collecting, preserving, or sending any secret documents through a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network, or any electronic form. Journalists fear that the provisions of this Act will work against conducting investigative journalistic work and compromise the quality and freedom of journalism in Bangladesh. Under an earlier law, the ICT Act of 2016, several cases were brought against activists, journalists and activists. Now the police don’t even need a warrant to take someone in for questioning; it can be done based on mere suspicion.

    Another key obstacle for civil society is the restriction of funding. This has been going on for some time. The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act controls foreign funding for CSOs. There is also a funding shortage from foreign donors and development partners for rights advocacy programmes following the passing of the NGO Law and development partners have shifted their priorities to other regions. One of the provisions of the NGO law allows the NGO Affairs Bureau to suspend the registration of a CSO or to close it down if it makes any ‘derogatory’ remarks about the constitution or constitutional bodies.

    Any CSO or person receiving funding from a foreign entity must have permission. To get permission you need to give a copy of the proposal to the NGO Affairs Bureau, which sits in the prime minister’s office. Permission is sometimes withheld. Critics of civil society have occasionally raised concerns about some CSOs, alleging they could have links to terror financing, or that they are doing different work in the name of development. There is a fear that anything that doesn’t go well with the authorities could be blocked and the CSO denied funding.

    Then there is the new draft Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act of 2019. According to media reports, the draft says that all CSOs will have to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare, and any receiving foreign funding will also have to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau. CSOs cannot set up and operate unless they do so. Section 10 states that all CSOs will be able to work in only one district when they first register. After registration, CSOs can expand their scope of work, but only to five districts at a time. We have 64 districts, so this is the most restrictive.

    Section 14 requires CSOs to have an account with a state-owned bank and conduct all financial transactions via state-owned banks. It requires CSOs to submit their annual workplans, audit reports and activity reports. It also requires CSOS to submit tri-monthly bank statements to the local social welfare office and registration authorities. Section 11, in sub-sections 1 and 2, states that registrations must be renewed every five years, and failure to reregister or the refusal of registration will result in an organisation being dissolved.

    Incredibly, section 16 says that the government can expel the heads of CSOs and replace them with a government-appointed five-person committee and section 17 says that CSOs can be dissolved if they are believed to not be working in the best interests of the public or to have broken the law.

    According to the NGO Affairs Bureau, between March and June 2019, the government cancelled the registration of 197 CSOs.

    Civil society members are in a very tight situation now. They have become very cautious and are playing safe out of fear. If they don’t compromise, they might lose the funding they have and face threats. We are not seeing CSOs making many statements on human rights issues. Many CSOs are struggling for funding. There are some social movements starting up, working on issues such as the protection of natural resources and against gender-based violence, but they are being cautious about talking about gross human rights violations.

    What impacts did the December 2018 general election have on civil society?

    In advance, people felt a participatory election might not be held. I went out one day just to see how many posters in the vicinity were from the opposition. In my neighbourhood, I would say 99 per cent of the posters were of the ruling party candidate. Opposition party candidates and activists were not fully free to campaign, and the election was allegedly manipulated.

    Fears increased during the election, in which the ruling party won a landslide victory, because it confirmed the ruling party’s power. The ruling party has everything and after the election, we hardly hear the strong voice of opposition.

    What role is being played by student groups affiliated with ruling party?

    One of the main sources of attack are by the non-state actors linked to the ruling party, particularly its student and youth wing. Academic institutions such as universities are controlled by ruling party student activists. At protests, ruling party student groups work alongside law enforcement officers to attack people and harass them. This sometimes includes sexual harassment of women protesters.

    Given these challenges, what are the main support needs of Bangladeshi civil society?

    Bangladeshi civil society voices should be raised with unity and there is a need to raise concern about Bangladesh at the international level more and more. At the international level, the rights of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have received huge attention, which is necessary, but this should not be used to overshadow other human rights violations in the country.

    We also need security and protection initiatives for CSO members. Bangladeshi CSOs should be developing these but they do not have funding for this, and requests for security and protection in funding proposals do not get much attention. There is also a need to explore flexible funding for CSOs.

    There is a need for more solidarity actions with local civil society. Those few organisations that are still trying to defend human rights, and local and grassroots groups, urgently need solidarity.

    Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Bangladesh: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    To

    The President of Bangladesh, H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    The Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, H.E. Kazi Reazul Hoque

    Subject: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    Your Excellencies

    We write to you as international civil society organisations engaged on human rights and sustainable development issues in Bangladesh. We are concerned that in the current political climate in Bangladesh, which is narrowing avenues for free debate and legitimate democratic dissent in the country, the Bangladesh Digital Security Bill 2018, likely to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, fails to protect the right of the media, civil society and members of the general public to freely express their opinions on policies and actions of decision makers.

    Many of our organisations have closely followed debates about this bill over the years. In the past we have raised concerns about the existence of overbroad definitions and harsh punishments in the bill which, if enacted, would severely undermine freedom of expression as well as the freedom of the press. From available information, it appears that our concerns about the bill’s provisions as likely to impinge on constitutional rights and well as Bangladesh’s commitments under international law persist. Both Article 29 of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allow the imposition of restrictions on the right to freedom of expression only in very limited and clearly defined circumstances.

    In the present situation we recommend that the bill’s provisions are carefully considered from a constitutional and international law standpoint. Mr. David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, has done extensive work on the subject including on the exercise of the freedom of expression in the digital age. We believe that the government would greatly benefit from engagement with Mr. Kaye, who could advise on the permissible limits on the freedom of expression under international law.

    Furthermore, we urge the government to seek assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on measures to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the country in line with constitutional and international standards. We are concerned to hear that an official visit to Bangladesh by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein has been postponed and request the facilitation of a such a visit at the earliest opportunity.

    We believe that Bangladesh’s democracy and commitment to human rights and sustainable development will be strengthened through constructive engagement with UN human rights experts. We urge you to kindly consider the above requests in the interests of the people of Bangladesh.

    Sincerely,

    List of signatories (in alphabetical order)

    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

    Asian Human Rights Commission

    CIVICUS

    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

    Human Rights Watch

    Odhikar

    People’s Watch

    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

     

  • Bangladesh: Open Letter to Prime Minister about controversial digital security bill

    Conditions for human rights defenders and journalists in Bangladesh are dire, and appear to be worsening according to the CIVICUS Monitor. A declining respect for democracy has precipitated the closure of civic space through a systematic clampdown on independent dissent. This intensifying crackdown on civil society has led to a de facto ban on public meetings, mass arrests of activists and reports of abductions and torture. Civil society actors documenting human rights violations perpetrated by the government are particularly vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

    The authorities in Bangladesh continue to target civil society, most recently through draconian legislation designed to undermine the sector's independence. In  October 2016, parliament passed an amendment to the widely-criticised Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill (FDRB). The law strengthens the government's power to revoke CSO licenses for a variety of offences, including defamation, involvement in subversive activities and terrorist financing. The Digital Security Bill placed in Parliament is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression in Bangladesh and impede independent journalism. See full details of the Security bill in a joint leter below to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh:

    H.E. Sheikh Hasina Wazed
    Prime Minister of Bangladesh
    c/o Md. Nojibur Rahman
    Principal Secretary to the HPM
    Prime Minister’s Office
    Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215
    Bangladesh

    Dear Prime Minister,

    Open Letter: Proposed Digital Security Bill will restrict free expression and promote self-censorship in Bangladesh

    FORUM-ASIA, the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) are writing to you, as civil society organisations, to express our grave concern about the implications of the proposed Digital Security Bill 2018 on the right to freedom of expression of the citizens of Bangladesh. 

    We understand that the draft bill was presented before the parliament and was sent to a Standing Committee on 9 April 2018 and is expected to be reviewed over the next four weeks. 

    We believe the 2018 Digital Security Bill contains provisions that are overly broad and vague, and that impose disproportionate sentences and prescribe lengthy prison sentences for violators. The bill, if adopted, will exacerbate a range of legal restrictions that will impinge on the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution and the country’s obligations under international law, in particular the ICCPR, which was ratified by Bangladesh in 2000.
    We are particularly concerned about the follow aspects of the bill: 

    • The bill proposes to empower low ranking police officers with wide discretionary powers to conduct investigations, searches and seizures without applying normative digital evidentiary standards and without judicial oversight. 
    • The bill lacks a precise definition of what is considered a cybercrime and criminalises the use of electronic devices to “cause deterioration to law and order”, harm "religious sentiments”, cause incitement "against another person or organization”, and carry out “acts of defamation” - all of which have been incorporated from section 57 of the ICT Act. The bill simply splits these offences into four separate sections (21, 25, 28 and 29) with punishment ranging from three to 10 years' jail term. 
    • There are concerns around the inclusion of the crime of “carrying out negative propaganda" against the Liberation War (1971 War of Independence) or the ‘Father of the Nation’ (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president) that carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years' in jail or a fine of up to Tk 50 lakh (60,000 USD) or both. These provisions are in contravention of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
    • Section 32 of the draft bill related to "espionage” could be used against journalists, online activists and lawyers who investigate and expose controversy or illegality within the government. 
    • The bill also stipulates some crimes are “non-bailable” and authorises security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant if a police officer believes that an offense under the law has been committed or there is a possibility of crimes. Such provision often encourages abuse of power by law enforcement officers and promotes self-censorship.

    We are concerned that, according to reports, although the draft bill is currently under consideration in parliament, cases filed under section 57 of the ICT Act will continue to be investigated and if necessary, prosecuted.

    Section 57 of the ICT Act violates the right to freedom of expression by both criminalising legitimate forms of expression and through its vague wording that allows the authorities to arbitrarily and abusively apply the law. Scores of journalists have been arrested under section 57 of the Act for their reporting; around 700 cases have been filed under this Section since 2013. The provision has also been described as a “de facto blasphemy law”, as it criminalises several forms of online expression including anyone who “causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief”.

    In 2017, the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations raised concerns about the arrest of journalists, “secular bloggers” and human rights defenders under the ICT Act and called for the government to “repeal or revise the [ICT law] with a view to bringing it into conformity with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression”.

    We are also highly concerned by the government's lack of meaningful consultation regarding the bill with key stakeholders including journalists, civil society and the human rights community. We urge the government of Bangladesh to prioritise a collective review of the proposed Digital Security Bill to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and to repeal Section 57 of the ICT Act. The government must ensure that any future legislative proposals that have implications for the media or civil society are developed in full consultation with all stakeholders.

    Freedom of expression is of critical importance to hold those in power accountable. There should be no limitations on the freedom of expression and personal opinion, particularly those that systematically violate democratic spaces and practices.

    It is crucial that the government takes steps to develop an enabling environment for freedom of expression in line with international standards and end its willful misuse of restrictive legislation to subvert free speech.

    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa it is a membership alliance with more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    FORUM-ASIA is a regional human rights group with 58 member organisations in 19 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expression, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratization.

    For further details, contact: 


    AHRC, bangladeshATahrc.asia 
    CIVICUS, josef.benedictATcivicus.org
    FORUM-ASIA, sasiaATforum-asia.org

     

  • Bangladesh: Stifling expression using Digital Security Act must not be the norm to address COVID-19 pandemic

     
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    A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS

    The Bangladesh government has resorted once again to its notorious Digital Security Act-2018 to muzzle freedom of expression, arresting 11 individuals following criticism of the governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Four people have been detained since 5 May 2020 under the draconian digital law, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, IT specialist Md. Didarul Islam Bhuyan, and Dhaka Stock Exchange Director Minhaz Mannan Emon. A further seven people have been charged. 

    All four detainees were forcibly disappeared for hours after they were picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from different locations in Dhaka on 5 May 2020. Following a social media outcry, the RAB officially handed them over to the Metropolitan police on 6 May at around 7:45 PM, and a case under the Digital Security Act was filed against them by Abu Bakar Siddique, the Deputy Assistant Director of RAB. They remain in detention.

    The seven other individuals accused in the same case are Tasneem Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, which the government has blocked in Bangladesh since it was launched last year from Sweden; Saer Zulkarnain; Shahed Alam; Ashik Imran; Shapan Wahed; Philip Schuhmacher; and Asif Mohiuddin, a blogger of Bangladeshi origin living in Germany.

    All 11 have been charged under various provisions of the Digital Security Act including ‘propaganda or campaign against liberation war’ and ‘publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information’. Authorities have confirmed that the charges relate to allegedly ‘spreading rumours’ over the coronavirus pandemic on social media. If convicted, they could each face up to seven years in jail. 

    The Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018 to replace the often-misused Information and Communication Technology Act, included harsher provisions that have been used to penalize criticism of the government. The law gives the power to security agencies to hold individuals indefinitely in pretrial detention. And, it has created a chilling effect among activists and journalists. Despite repeated calls to bring the law in line with Bangladesh’s international commitments to protect freedom of expression, the government has refused to revise the law.

    In times of crisis, people’s health depends at minimum on access to information both off and online. Silencing journalists and activists and blocking websites, is not an effective public health strategy. We urge the authorities to end its use of restrictive laws to silence critics and amid the pandemic ensure the right to seek, receive, and share information relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    We further call on the government of Bangladesh to immediately release the detained critics and drop the charges brought against them and seven other individuals under repressive legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to use state forces to stifle freedom of expression.

     

    Background:

    The pandemic has exposed failings by the government in addressing a public health emergency. Patients with symptoms of COVID-19 were denied access to public and private hospitals and died without treatment. The country’s healthcare system failed to provide adequate protective equipment and necessary infrastructures in hospitals to treat the pandemic. Within weeks, hundreds of doctors and nurses were infected with COVID-19, according to the Bangladesh Medical Association. 

    Persistent suppression of freedom of expression and censorship under the government of Sheikh Hasina has continued amid the pandemic. The authorities have blocked international news outlet Al-Jazeera and numerous other news portals and websites critical of the state. A monitoring body established by the Ministry of Information to monitor if private television channels were “running any propaganda or rumours about the novel coronavirus outbreak” was scrapped after public outcry.

    Due to the muzzling of the press by the authorities, social media has become the preferred platform for those critical of the regime. In response, the police and the RAB have started picking up people for their Facebook posts. On 10th of April 2020, it was reported that at least 50 people were arrested in the country for allegedly spreading rumors. The government has also blocked dozens of websites and Facebook profiles as of late March after the government officially acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthcare workers, who spoke out about the problems they have been facing, have been barred from talking to media

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

     

     

  • CAMBODIA: ‘We need to bring back to life the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement’

    Flag map of Cambodia.svgThe conditions for civil society in Cambodia have continued to deteriorate. In 2018, the government imposed further restrictions on the right to the freedom of expression and grew increasingly intolerant of public protests in the run-up to elections, ahead of which the main opposition party was banned. CIVICUS speaks about these restrictions with a civil society representative who asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns. Our interviewee reflects on the conditions that should be met so that Cambodia can evolve from aone-party state to a functioning democracy.

    What restrictions were imposed around the July 2018 elections, and to what extent was civil society able to work around them?

    Cambodia held an election of representatives for the National Assembly on 29 July 2018. This was an election without an opposition, because after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made unprecedented gains in the June 2017 local elections, it was dissolved by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it fostered dissent with the assistance of foreign powers. As was expected, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won nearly all the 125 seats that were at stake.

    The government had initially invited international civil society organisations (CSOs) to take part in the election monitoring process. However, most declined when they confirmed that there were structural issues, including the dissolution of the opposition party and the lack of independence of the National Election Committee, that would make the elections unfair and non-inclusive.

    There was very little space for civil society to engage with the government. Due to the vague requirement of ‘political neutrality’ imposed by the 2015 Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), CSOs are supposed to be politically neutral even when they take part in dialogue forums related to political processes. The political neutrality clause has been repeatedly used to shut down independent CSOs or deny them registration. On top of this, the informal election monitoring platform run by civil society was banned the government. The government-approved monitoring groups, which went on to endorse the results, had close ties to the ruling party.

    A number of laws and regulations were used against civil society, including but not limited to the LANGO, the Anti-Corruption Law and the Taxation Law. Anti-corruption charges against CSO activists, the shutdown of media channels and various forms of intimidation introduced additional restrictions on the operations of civil society. The government applied a regulation, Notice No. 175 - which was rescinded afterwards, in November 2018 - that required CSOs to notify the local government three days in advance of conducting any field activities. Seeing regulations being introduced and strictly enforced, civil society also resorted to self-censorship around the elections.

    Additionally, a document produced by the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, the White Paper on the Political Situation in Cambodia, singled out several CSOs as being linked to an allegedly foreign-backed attempted ‘Colour Revolution’. Pro-government media also disseminated the idea that some CSO leaders had engagements with the Colour Revolution and the CNRP. On top of this, some CSO leaders moved from civil society into the political arena. All of these had a negative impact on the visibility of civil society to the public.

    Most independent media channels were shut down or suspended. As a result, civil society lacked the appropriate channels to voice its concerns. Alternative spaces on social media also declined, as cases proliferated of social media activists being arrested for their online posts or blogs. There was a crackdown on online freedoms before the elections, and internet censorship increased. Surveillance technology was used to monitor digital communications. Lots of conversation clips involving opposition party members, civil society activists and CSO leaders were released and used as proof to support accusations against civil society.

    In sum, the already-reduced space for civil society shrank even further around the elections, due to the existence of extremely limited opportunities for multi-stakeholder dialogue, the intensive use of a repressive legal framework, attacks against the image of civil society and a reduced public visibility, and lack of access to traditional media along with online restrictions and digital security issues.

    What needs to happen so that Cambodia can advance towards democracy?

    In my personal opinion, in order to become a democratic state with a plural regime, the government of Cambodia should, first of all, provide opportunities for the leaders of the former opposition party to resume their activities, even through new political parties. If votes could be cast for individuals rather than political parties, that could help.

    Second, it needs to bring back the culture of dialogue between the ruling party and the former opposition party and see how best they can understand each other and ensure that their activities cause minimal harm to each other and to the nation.

    Finally, the government should request support from the international community, and particularly from the signatory states of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement (PPA) that put an end to the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. As well as providing for a ceasefire, the end of outside military assistance and the withdrawal of foreign forces, the PPA included provisions to ensure the exercise of the right of self-determination by the Cambodian people, through free and fair elections, and on national reconciliation. We need to bring back to life the spirit of the PPA.

    How is the international community helping, and what more should it do to help?

    It is my general understanding that various actors of the international community have adopted different positions. Western states such as European countries, the USA and Australia have shown concern about the lack of progress towards democracy in Cambodia, as well as the lack of guarantees for the electoral process. They have made some key asks and put some pressure on the government to address their concerns. They have pressed the government by placing conditions on future collaboration, suspending Cambodia’s preferential trade benefits under the European Union’s (EU) Everything But Arms (EBA) free trade scheme and withdrawing support from specific sectors.

    At the same time, China and other countries maintained their full support of the government during the electoral process and, more recently, as the EU initiated procedures to suspend Cambodia’s trade preferences temporarily. Overall, Cambodia is seen as standing between two powers and need not take either side.

    It is very important to note that, besides hurting the government, any diplomatic or trade conflict between Cambodia and other countries would also have a lot of negative impacts on the public, including civil society. For example, the suspension or elimination of EBA benefits would cause several challenges as a result of its effect on the trade balance, employment and investment.

    I would like to see the international community establish effective coordination mechanisms among its various parties in order to have a unified voice on the situation in Cambodia. They should use an existing powerful mechanism such as the PPA, which is still in effect, and which makes it binding for all signatory states to support Cambodia in its path towards full peace and prosperity.

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

     

  • Cambodia’s Government should stop silencing journalists, media outlets

    Free Arbitrarily Detained Media Workers, Restore Media Licenses

     

  • Case of Zambia’s 42-for-42 tests freedom of expression and assembly

    On May 17, six Zambia activists, civil society leader’s and a musician will appear before the magistrates in Court 3 in the capital Lusaka. This is not the first appearance as their case has been postponed several times. The six (pictured) are jointly charged with disobeying lawful orders after they held a protest last September questioning the government why it has used 42-million Kwacha to purchase 42 firetrucks, a cost that the six say is exorbitant. Laura Miti of theAlliance for Community Action who is also one of the six accused tells CIVICUS briefly about the case and why it is important.

    Defiant and standing strong: Six of the Zambian activists and civil society leaders at one of the many court appearances after they held a protest in Lusaka last year questioning the government over expenditure

    1. Can you tell us more about the court case in which you are appearing for in court on May 17?

    The court case is the result of a peaceful protest that the Alliance for Community Action led on Parliament on 29 September 2017. The protest was called for together with civil society organisations and the general public to demand that accountability for a purchase by government of 42 fire trucks for 42 million Kwacha. Protesting and freedom of expression are both values enshrined in our Constitution so we were not breaking the law. The protest was broken up by the police and 6 protesters arrested and charged with disobeying lawful orders. Instead we were arrested and held for 10 hours and later released after being charged.

    2. What does this case mean for the state of the freedom to protest and freedom of expression in Zambia?

    By misapplication of the Public Order Act, Police in Zambia routinely prevent or break up protests that are even mildly critical of the government. However, protests or marches in support of government are allowed to go on even if the protester are openly breaking the law by being carrying weapons and being violent. The way this case has been held is an assault on both freedoms and it is concerning for us.

    3. What challenges do you face as a woman human rights defender?

    The terrain for women who speak out and challenge authorities is not easy for activists and it is even tougher for women due to the patriarchal nature of our society. As happens with all female activists, those who are unhappy with my work tend to attack my person and speak about my private life rather than engage with the issues at hand. This then discourages other women from speaking out and holding the state to account.

    4. How can international civil society support you and the other 5 you are jointly charged with?

    The defence of human rights in Zambia is for Zambians to ensure but a breakdown of human rights anywhere in the world, affects us all. We therefore believe that the excesses of the Zambian government should be called out by all who believe in a just world. When representatives of the Zambian government travel to international fora, they should be asked to explain the steep degeneration of the Zambian democratic space and respect for human rights in the last few years.

    5. Please describe in one paragraph what you or your CSO does in Zambia

    The Alliance for Community Action (ACA) works to grow the routine demand and supply of public resource accountability in Zambia, with focus on instituting the demand in the general public. The ACA would like Zambians to routinely link the quality of services they access to the budgetary and expenditure choices made by government and to demand accountability. The ACA encourages Zambians to speak up and ask targeted questions about how public money is spent and capacitates ordinary citizens to do so.

     

  • CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

     

     

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

     

  • CIVICUS condemns conviction of Reuters journalists on trial in Myanmar

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, believes the conviction of two journalists employed by global news agency, Reuters, who have been on trial in Myanmar is a dark day for press freedom in Myanmar. The two journalists have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

    Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12, 2017 under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The reporters, who were facing up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted, were arrested after being handed documents by police officers during a dinner meeting, that turned out to be secret government documents relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces, according to the country’s Information Ministry.

    At the time of their arrest, the journalists, who both pleaded “not guilty” to charges, had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown in that state against the Rohingya minority that began last August. During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.

    In recent months, there have been continued attacks on fundamental freedoms in Myanmar with dozens being arrested and charged for peaceful protests or for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

    “We believe the verdict in this trial is a travesty of justice and sends a chilling message to all journalists in the country,” said Clementine de Montjoye, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS:

    “Prosecutions on spurious grounds serve to intimidate local journalists and activists, and this trial is representative of the Myanmar government’s repeated attempts to cover up its actions,” said de Montjove.

    “Given the state-sponsored atrocities being committed in Myanmar today, the government’s crackdown on independent investigations and dissent is hardly surprising”.

    In an End of Mission report issued in July, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said “the democratic space in Myanmar continues to sharply deteriorate”. Her report also highlighted concerns about the use of repressive laws to suppress political dissidents, youth, human rights defenders and activists and the arrest of demonstrators around the country.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, has rated civic space in Myanmar as repressed. CIVICUS stands in solidarity with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and all Myanmars who work to promote democracy and the protection of fundamental freedoms.

    ENDS.

    For more information, contact:

    Clementine de Montjoye

     

     

     

  • CIVICUS condemns crackdown on Civil Society in Bahrain

    Johannesburg. 10 December 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned about the deteriorating operating environment for civil society in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The past few months have been marred by growing intolerance towards dissenters, which began in the run up to the October elections and continues in the post election phase.

    Authorities in Bahrain are waging a relentless campaign against activists whose views are not in line with the official position. Currently, 24 prominent human rights defenders are facing trial under Bahrain's anti-terrorism laws. They have been charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information. They have also been accused of forming terrorist networks, destruction of public and private property and defaming the authorities.

    The arrested activists have complained about torture and abuse meted out to them by the National Security Agency. They have so far appeared in court on four occasions and the next hearing has been scheduled for 23 December. During their first appearance in court on 27 October, detainees informed the court that while in detention they were beaten, electrocuted, verbally and physically assaulted and denied adequate sleep. Those detained were not allowed access to legal representation during interrogation and some family members did not know where they were being detained for two weeks after their arrest. It has also been reported that prior to, during and after the elections about 350 other activists have been arrested.

    "In a worrying trend, it has become commonplace in Bahrain to arrest activists for writing articles and delivering speeches which are critical of the government's discriminatory policies and official corruption,"  said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS' Director of Policy and Research. "Persecution and torture of public-spirited individuals offering legitimate criticism against official policies and the clampdown on their organisations amounts to a repudiation of Bahrain's accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture."

    The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), a CIVICUS partner for the Civil Society Index and one of the few remaining independent groups striving for the protection of civil and political freedoms in the country, has been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 6 September, the Ministry of Social Development issued an order to dissolve the Board of the BHRS and went ahead to appoint an administrator 'an employee from the Ministry' to lead the BHRS. The BHRS has had to go to court in response to these arbitrary actions and its fate currently depends on the court's response. The first hearing of the case scheduled for 26 October has been postponed to 4 January 2011.

    According to Abdullah Aldorazi of BHRS, "The unfair order issued by the Ministry of Social Development to dissolve the Board of the BHRS is a security strategy aimed at preventing the documentation of atrocities carried out by the authorities during the crackdown and preventing families of the detainees from using the society as a safe haven."

    CIVICUS urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to live up to their commitments under international law and guarantee civil society the space to freely express, associate and assemble.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.


    For more information please contact CIVICUS:


    Jessica Hume ( , +27 82 768 0250), Communications Manager

    or

    David Kode ( , +27 73 775 8649), Policy Officer
    Office Tel: +27 11 833 5959

    CIVICUS House, 24 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, Newtown 2001, Johannesburg, South Africa
    PO Box 933, Southdale 2135, Johannesburg, South Africa
    tel: +27-11-833-5959 | fax: +27-11-833-7997 | email:
    web: www.civicus.org

     

  • CIVICUS expresses solidarity with embattled Swazi Civil Society

    Johannesburg. 17 November 2010.The Swazi Trade Union Movement is undertaking Global Days of Action on 16 and 17 November to raise awareness and demand for human rights and justice for the people of Swaziland. CIVICUS extends its whole-hearted support to Swazi civil society in this endeavour and remains deeply concerned about the freedom of civil society in the country.

    “Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and the government’s tight control and frequent crackdowns on opposition parties and pro-democracy movements are unacceptable in today’s world,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “It is high time the government accepts the legitimate aspirations of the people of Swaziland to enjoy democratic rights.”

    The space for civil society to freely express, associate and assemble remains constrained in Swaziland.  Statements in the press on 19 October by Swazi Prime MinisterBarnabas Sibusiso Dlamini outlined his intentions to propose legislation to force columnists to request prior permission before publishing comments that criticise the government. The Prime Minister stated that columnists write pieces that are harmful to the image of the country and that they receive compensation from foreign sources with interests in Swaziland. The Prime Minister’s statement insinuates that newspaper pieces which are critical of the government will be censored before they are published.

    Enactment of such a law will breach freedom of expression guarantees in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the country’s own Constitution. Moreover, it would repudiate the aims and objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth, of which Swaziland is a member.

    “CIVICUS remains deeply concerned about the censorship of the press in Swaziland and the frequent government crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations organised by civil society groups,” says David Kode, Policy Officer at CIVICUS. “The Swazi security forces have used the Suppression of Terrorism Act, enacted in November 2008, to justify the use of force and intimidation in suppressing dissent, including demonstrations.”

    In September 2010, security forces disrupted pro-democracy demonstrations, detaining and releasing some activists without charge and deporting foreign human rights activists and trade unionists in the country to show solidarity with Swazi civil society. The government approved these actions, claiming that intimidation and torture are tools for government use to suppress opposition to the state and those acting on behalf of foreign forces.

    CIVICUS urges the Swazi government to respect the rights of the people of Swaziland to express democratic dissent and demand the reform of authoritarian institutions.

    CIVICUS:  World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries.  The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.  In 2009, CSW tracked threats to civil society in over 75 countries around the globe.


    For more information please contact CIVICUS:

    Jessica Hume ( , +27 82 768 0250), Communications Manager

    or

    David Kode (david.kode@civicus,org, +27 73 775 8649), Policy Officer
    Office Tel: +27 11 833 5959

     

  • CIVICUS Monitor: a new effort to study civic space

    After two years of deep thinking and hard work, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS has launched the beta version of the CIVICUS Monitor – the first ever online tool specifically designed to track and rate respect for civic space, in as close to real-time as possible.

     

  • CIVICUS urges Iran to stop persecuting human rights defenders and implement Universal Periodic Review recommendations

    Johannesburg. 22 June 2010. Earlier this month, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and a number of civil society groups censured Iran at the UN Human Rights Council for outright refusal to accept key recommendations made during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

    Iran rejected 45 of the 188 recommendations made to it by diplomatic delegations of different states and took back 20 recommendations to Tehran for further review. Notably, the rejected recommendations included "end to severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association and assembly" (United States) and the "end to the detention and trials of writers solely for the practice of their right to freedom of expression" (Slovenia).

     

  • Civil Society deeply concerned about roll back in democratic freedoms in South Africa

    12 August 2010. Johannesburg. Civil society organisations express deep apprehension at the recent attempts to strangle the media and the freedom of expression in South Africa. On 3 August, Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested by a large posse of policemen in what appear to be intimidating tactics. He was arrested without a warrant for purportedly being in the possession of a forged letter announcing the resignation of the premier of Mpumalanaga province. He had recently authored a media report on 1 August in which he questioned the police chief's decision to lease a building to house the top brass of the police at a sum of 500 million rand for ten years. 


    Relations between the government and independent media groups have been strained of late particularly in respect of the controversial Protection of Information Bill which impedes access to information, and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal to adjudicate perceived misleading reports by the media. 

     

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