human rights defenders

 

  • BANGLADESH: HRD tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges be dropped

     

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    Bangladesh authorities must immediately release human rights defender Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who has been allegedly tortured in custody during his arbitrary detention. The fabricated case filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA)-2018 and other penal laws should be dropped immediately.

    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has verified information that Mohammad Abdul Kaium, a human rights defender associated with Odhikar, an independent rights organisation working on key issues of civil and political rights, is facing state-orchestrated persecution from the Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh.

    Kaium edits online news portal www.mymensinghlive.com and is a journalist with www.bdpress24.com. He is also a web developer. In 2018, Kaium signed an agreement to provide web-development service for Idris Ali Khan, a close relative of a Member of Parliament of the ruling party, whom Kaium had criticised in the past. The agreement was worth BDT 120,000 (USD 1,394).

    On 11 May 2019, Idris Khan summoned Abdul Kaium to his office to receive his payment. Upon Kaium's arrival Idris Khan offered USD 200, significantly lower than the agreed amount. Kaium refused to take the lower payment. As he left Idris Khan's office in Kristopur, Mymensingh district town – an area which is under the Kotwoali police station's jurisdiction – two plain-clothed officers of the Detective Branch (DB) Police arrested him. The police officers also seized a cell phone from Kaium.

    The DB police ordered Abdul Kaium to give them ‘the USD 200' and searched him. Failing to find the money, the police tortured him and ordered Kaium to confess that he extorted money from Idris Khan. While he was in detention, a team of plain-clothes detectives raided Kaium's house in the Bhatiashor area of Mymensing town without a search warrant. The police seized the files and other items, including the signed web development agreement between Kaium's company and Idris Khan, as well as the key to Kaium's room. However, the police have not yet submitted a list of seized items to the court.

    Kaium has told AHRC's Human Rights Fact-Finding Team that on the evening of 11 May, from his cell, he overheard Idris Khan bribing the police officers to torture him. Kaium also saw from his cell DB police Sub Inspector (SI) Akram placing money in the drawer of his office desk.

    Later the same evening, DB Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shah Kamal, SI Akram, SI Monju, SI Jewel and SI Porimol ordered Kaium to confess to receiving US dollars from Idris Khan.   Kaium refused, and asked the police officers why he was being kept in detention without a court appearance. Kaium reports that the DB officers became angry and threatened to kill him under the pretext of 'crossfire' unless he provided a confessional statement on his alleged involvement in an illegal currency-exchange business. As Kaium continued to refuse, he was subjected to a prolonged physical attack by all officers present, including being slapped, punched, hit with his belt and struck with a wooden chair. The police also seized Kaium's National Identity Card and forced him to divulge the passwords of his social media and email accounts, and the login details of his online news portal.

    On 12 May, a case was brought against Kaium by police in response to a complaint filed with Trishal Police Station by Idris Ali Khan on the same day.

    It includes the following charges under the repressive Digital Security Act of 2018:

    • Section 23 – digital or electronic fraud; punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a BDT 500,000 (USD 5,809) fine; or seven years’ imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD 11,619) fine;
    • Section 25 – publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 300,000 to one million fine;
    • Section 29 – publishing, broadcasting, etc., defamatory information, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 500,000 to 1 million fine.

    The police also accused Kaium of offences under the Penal Code of 1860:

    • Sections 385 – putting a person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion punishable by five to 14 years' imprisonment with fines; and,
    • Section 386 – extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with fine.

    On 13 May, Kaium was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Mymensingh. The police requested he remain in police remand for five days while Kaium's lawyer sought bail. On 14 May, the Magistrate rejected both petitions for remand and bail and ordered that Kaium be detained in prison. On 23 May, the Sessions Judge's Court rejected Kaium's bail petition.

    The factual information in relation to Kaium's detention establishes that the police illegally arrested and detained him a day before the case was fabricated against him. Although according to the First Information Report the alleged incident occurred in the jurisdiction of the Kotowali police, the complaint was registered in a different jurisdiction. The police arbitrarily detained Kaium for over 36 hours following his arrest in violation of Article 33 (2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Section 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898.

    The Court failed to protect Kaium's right to liberty and also ignored the fact that the police officers tortured Kaium in custody. It indicates that the Court's complicity in maintaining the culture of impunity in Bangladesh.

    Bangladesh authorities must halt the practice of fabricating cases against independent human rights defenders and journalists.

    TheCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Bangladesh asrepressed.

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher,


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  • “Fake news” violates citizens’ right to be informed

    CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.

    1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
    Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.

    As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.

    So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.

    2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
    The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.

    This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.

    As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.

    3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
    Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.

    4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
    Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?

    Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.

    5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
    Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.

    In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change. 

    Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands

     

  • 25 organisations' urgent appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab

    25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

    Read the full letter here

     

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

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

     

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

    Afghanistan Statement on Security of HRDs May2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Signatory Organisations: 

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

    For further information, please contact: 

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

     

  • Afghanistan: UN and Member States must take urgent steps to protect civil society

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and staff of civil society organisations in Afghanistan following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the takeover by the Taliban.

    As called for by UN experts, we urge UN member states to take immediate steps to protect them as well as urgently call for a Special Session at the Human Rights Council on Afghanistan which will include a discussion on the speedy establishment of a fact-finding mission to be deployed to assess the situation on the ground and report back.

    The Taliban have a track record of abusing human rights, coordinating reprisals against their critics and attacking civilians with impunity. Following the takeover of Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes. Human rights defenders trying to leave the country have also been prevented from boarding planes as foreign missions have prioritised evacuating their own nationals and staff. Others have gone into hiding and fear for their lives.

    The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns about early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women.

    “The crisis unfolding in Afghanistan requires an urgent and resolute response from the UN and member states. Proactive steps must be taken to ensure the security and protection of human rights defenders especially women. Many are at risk of being targeted by the Taliban because of their work and there must be efforts taken to evacuate and resettle them and their families,” said CIVICUS’s Civic Space Researcher, Josef Benedict.

    CIVICUS has documented attacks on civil society by the Taliban in recent years. Human rights defenders particularly women have been facing threats for undertaking their work and some have been abducted and killed. Many have had to relocate due to safety concerns even as perpetrators have not been held accountable. Recent peace negotiations failed to adequately and effectively include civil society, especially women human rights defenders.

    According to information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders’ Committee (AHRDC) 17 human rights defenders were killed between September 2020 and May 2021 alone. Over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported receiving serious threats. In light of the present conflict conditions and political instability, these threats have magnified.

    The UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ on 16 August urged the international community to speak in one voice to uphold human rights in Afghanistan is a step in the right direction.

    “The UN Security Council must seize the current opportunity to quickly restart the stalled intra-Afghan peace talks and ensure effective representation of civil society especially women. It must also call on the Taliban to respect international human rights law, protect civilians, and end reprisal attacks”, said Josef Benedict.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Afghanistan as Repressed.

     

  • Algeria: Critically-ill activist Abdallah Benaoum must be immediately released

    بالعربية

    The Algerian authorities have accelerated the arbitrary detention and prosecution of activists and journalists amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently refusing requests to provisionally release and provide adequate medical care for Algerian activist Abdallah Benaoum, imprisoned solely for his critical views of the authorities' crackdown on Hirak protests, ten national, regional and international groups said today, ahead of his trial scheduled on 27 October. Lawyers and family members fear for Benaoum’s life. 

    Abdallah Benaoum has been in pre-trial detention for eleven months for Facebook posts he published criticizing the authorities and opposing the holding of presidential elections. He is in urgent need of a heart surgery that authorities are denying by his continuous unlawful detention and their refusal to grant him access to the medical care he requires. 

    On 28 May 2019, human rights defender Kamel Eddine Fekhar died in custody at the age of 55 after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his unlawful detention for expressing views critical of the government and his prison conditions. On 11 December 2016, British-Algerian freelance journalist Mohamed Tamalt, 41, died in custody in a hospital in Algiers, following a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment during his imprisonment for Facebook posts "offending" then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

    To avoid a similar fate for Abdullah Benaoum, the undersigned organisations call on Algeria to abide by its commitments under international human rights law, release Benaoum immediately and unconditionally, and allow him to undergo his heart surgery in accordance with his wishes. 

    Police in Oued Rhiou, a town in Relizane province, arrested Benaoum and another activist, Khaldi Ali, on 9 December 2019, three days before contentious presidential elections. A prosecutor in the Relizane First Instance Tribunal charged both men with "insulting state institutions," "undermining the integrity of the national territory," "harming national interest," “undermining army morale,” “attempting to pressure judges on pending cases” and "incitement to an unarmed gathering" under Articles 146, 79, 97, 75, 147 and 100 of the Penal Code. 

    None of these charges are legitimate offences under international human rights law since they impose undue restrictions to the right to freedom of expression. The case file indicates that the prosecutor presented as evidence videos and publications found on Benaoum's personal Facebook account, in which he called for the boycott of presidential elections, writing "no to military elections," "Hirak students in all governorates are faced with the harshest repression." In the posts he also criticized the light sentencing of a police officer for the killing of a young man in Oued Rhiou. The prosecutor submitted this as evidence that Benaoum was inciting disobedience and undermining state security.

    On the day of his trial on 16 July, Benaoum was unable to stand on his feet and talk, according to his lawyer. The judge eventually agreed to call a doctor three hours after the opening of the trial. The doctor concluded that Benaoum was unfit to stand trial. However, despite this, the judge refused his lawyer's request for provisional release. On 2 September, the judge again rejected another petition for his provisional release. The hearing is now scheduled for 27 October. 

    Benaoum suffers from a heart condition – atherosclerosis - which can lead to a heart attack and requires urgent medical intervention. He underwent a first heart surgery in 2018, but his health condition started to deteriorate after an incarceration later that year and deteriorated further after his latest arrest in December 2019. Doctors established that he needed a second surgery. 

    In a hand-written letter submitted to his lawyers on 4 September 2020, the activist complained of poor medical care and ill-treatment in detention.

    The authorities have denied multiple requests for provisional release on the motive that the allegations against him constitute serious crimes.  Authorities have been transferring Benaoum back and forth between a prison in Relizane near his hometown and two prisons in the Oran province, at 160 km from his place of residence, which has further deteriorated his health. He is currently detained in the Oran central prison.

    Denying a prisoner much-needed medical care violates the rights to health and to life and may amount to torture and other ill-treatment in certain circumstances. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, require states to ensure that people in detention can enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, adequate or appropriate and timely medical care must be provided to all detainees as part of state duties. Similarly, according to Algerian law, “the right to medical care is guaranteed for all categories of detainees. Medical services are provided to inmates, in the establishment's infirmary or, if necessary, in any other health structures.”

    Pre-trial detention must be an exceptional measure and based on an individualised determination that it is reasonable and necessary, specified in law and without vague and expansive standards. The Algerian authorities have failed to justify the need for the imposition of this measure, notably against a prisoner of conscience whose health and life are at risk. The decision to hold Benaoum in pre-trial detention despite the circumstances contravenes article 123 of the Algerian Code of Criminal Procedure as well as Algeria’s obligations under international human rights law

    The National Union of Magistrates has denounced the pervasive and abusive recourse to pre-trial detention as well as the lack of independence of the justice system from executive authorities, in a country where members of the judiciary have been sanctioned professionally for working independently or calling for judicial independence. 

    The authorities’ refusal to release him also runs counter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendation to release detainees to contain the spread of COVID-19, notably those who have underlying medical conditions and those held simply for expressing dissenting views. The  recent death of two detainees and the infection of at least eight others illustrates the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in in Algeria’s prisons. 

    Benaoum’s lawyers and his mother were not able to visit him on 1st and 2nd October 2020. Prison authorities claimed to his family that Benaoum himself had refused visits and claim he is refusing medical care. According to his lawyers, however, this is inconsistent with Benaoum’s request not to stop visiting him, which he wrote in a hand-written letter on 4 September, and the activist only requested for his doctor, who did his first surgery in 2018, to be able to supervise the second surgery. In July, in another letter, Benaoum complained of isolation from the outside world and difficult prison conditions. The activist had not been able to receive any family visits from March to September 2020 due to restrictions related to COVID-19. 

    Benaoum had only been free for five months before his new arrest in December 2019. The activist was incarcerated between April 2018 and June 2019 on charges of "offending the President of the republic" and "reviving the wounds of the national tragedy" under article 46 of the Law on Peace and National Reconciliation of 2006, which prohibits publications about the Algerian civil war. He was conditionally released following a request from his lawyers, 10 months before the end of his sentence. In 2013, Benaoum had also been the subject of two communications from UN Special Procedures in relation to arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force.  

    Signatories

    • Amnesty International
    • Article 19 
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    • CGATA (General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria)
    • CIVICUS
    • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    • Riposte Internationale
    • SNAPAP (Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel)
    • SESS (Solidarity Union of Higher Education Teachers)
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

     

  • An Urgent Call to Release Human Rights Defenders in Honour of Nelson Mandela Day

    Twitter Facebook Free HRDs campaign 2

    Dear World Leaders,

    On Nelson Mandela Day, civil society organisations across the globe call on you to release imprisoned human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

    Like Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid, there are thousands of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience wrongfully accused and in jail around the world. They have been imprisoned for seeking gender, social, political, economic and environmental justice, for defending excluded people, and for promoting democratic values. 

    Many of these human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience are serving sentences for crimes they never committed, after being convicted in unfair trials. Our organisations have for several years documented the unlawful jail terms handed down to human rights defenders in several countries.

    We are particularly concerned that the authorities in many countries continue to detain human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise the governments of Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey, Bahrain and Cameroon for releasing prisoners as part of their response to this unprecedented health crisis. However, not many human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were included, and it is now more urgent than ever to release them.  

    There are also hundreds of human rights defenders who remain in pretrial detention who have not been charged or tried. Overcrowding and poor sanitation in jails increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and should be strong factors for the reduction of prison populations.

    We also urge you to stop the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in jail solely for reporting on human rights violations during the pandemic. Although COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in some parts of the world, some countries have used the pandemic as a pretext to restrict civic freedoms. Journalists and human rights defenders have been physically assaulted and subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial persecution for reporting on the virus. 

    We need human rights defenders now more than ever. It is their duty to hold governments to account, to ensure states respect international human rights laws during the pandemic, and to tackle environmental degradation and inequalities that have accelerated the impact of COVID-19.

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, recently said:

    “Governments are facing huge demands on resources in this crisis and are having to take difficult decisions. But I urge them not to forget those behind bars, or those confined in places such as closed mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages, because the consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic.”

    Sadly, some imprisoned human rights defenders have died under suspicious circumstances in various countries during the pandemic.

    As we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July, we remember that Mr. Mandela urged all of us to take on the burden of leadership in addressing social injustices. We call on you to give millions of families, friends and colleagues of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience around the world a reason to renew their hope for a better future during these unprecedented times.

    We urge you to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in jail solely for their peaceful human rights activities, and stop all judicial persecution against them.
    • Prioritise and release detainees who have not been charged, and those held in pretrial detention.
    • Stop carrying out new arrests and detentions, particularly on journalists and activists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, and those accused of breaking lockdown regulations.

     

    Endorsed by:

     

    1. A Common Future
    2. A.C. Reforma Judicial
    3. Abraham's Children Foundation
    4. ACPDH
    5. ACSIS
    6. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture
    7. Action D'urgence pour Toute Détresse
    8. Action for Humanity and Social Progress
    9. Action pour la Lutte Contre l'Injustice Sociale
    10. Action pour le Développement
    11. Action To Heal Foundation Sierra Leone
    12. Actions pour la Protection des Femmes
    13. Active  Vision
    14. Admiral development organization
    15. Adolescents Initiatives Support Organization
    16. Afghanistan Democracy and Development Organization
    17. Africa Intercultural Development Support Trust
    18. Africa Rise Foundation
    19. African Center for Solidarity and mutual Aid between the Communities  CASEC - ACSAC
    20. AFRICAN FOUNDATION FOR ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT - AFED
    21. African Holocaust
    22. African Observatory Of Civic Freedoms And Fundamental Rights OCFFR-AFRICA
    23. AJBDEM DURABLE
    24. ALUCHOTO
    25. Amis des Étrangers au Togo
    26. Amnesty International
    27. Asia Pacific Forum on Families International
    28. Association des blogueurs pour une citoyennetà active
    29. Association Femmes et Enfants
    30. Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives Trust
    31. Association for Health, Safety and Environmental Awareness International
    32. Association pour les droits de l'Homme et l'Univers Carcéral
    33. Association pour les victimes du monde
    34. Association pour l'Integration et le Developpement Durable Durable au Burundi, AIDB
    35. ASUTIC Senegal
    36. Avenir Jeune de l'Ouest
    37. AWHES
    38. Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights
    39. Banjul Youth in Community Services
    40. Banlieues Du Monde Mauritanie
    41. Bareedo Platform Somalia
    42. Bella Foundation for Child and Maternal Care
    43. Bousla Organisation
    44. BRIGHTER FUTURE FOUNDATION
    45. Burundi Child Rights Coalion
    46. CAHURAST-Nepal
      Campaign Against Ignorance and Illiteracy
    48. Capellanes conacce
    49. CAPTE - Uruguay Silvia FLORES MOSQUERA
    50. CareMe E-clinic
    51. CEAMUJER
    52. Center for the Development of Civil Society
    53. Centre d'Initiatives et d'Actions pour le Développement durable au Burundi
    54. Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement CEFSAN
    55. Centre Oecuméniquepour la Promotion du Monde Rural
    56. Centro para la Acción Noviolenta y Cultura de Paz en CentroamÃrica
    57. CESPHA
    58. ChildHelp Sierra Leone
    59. Circles of Hope Community Support Group for PLHIVAIDS
    60. CIVICUS
    61. Commonwealth Society of Nigeria
    62. Cooperation for Peace and Development
    63. Corporacion Regional Yariguies GEAM
    64. COSAD BENIN
    65. Differentabilities
    66. DISCOURAGE YOUTHS FROM POVERTY
    67. Domestic workers Union
    68. DreamBoat Theatre for Development Foundation
    69. Droits de l'homme sans frontières 
    70. Edmund Rice International
    71. Edo Civil society organisations
    72. EIP
    73. Fater Bibi Technologies
    74. FCPEEP
    75. FEDERATION DES FEMMES POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT INTEGRAL AU CONGO
    76. FINESTE
    77. Formidable Initiatives for Women and Girls
    78. Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance
    79. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights-Birati
    80. Free political prisoners
    81. FUNDACION SIMAS
    82. Fundación T.E.A. Trabajo - Educación - Ambiente
    83. FUTURE LEADERS SOCIETY
    84. Global Witness
    85. Give Hope Uganda
    86. Governance and Forest Initiatives
    87. GreenLight Initiative
    88. Hadejia youth movement for social cohesion
    89. Health NGO's Network
    90. Healthy Choices Ic.,
    91. Human Rights Committee
    92. Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons
    93. IFAN
    94. INSPIRIT Creatives UG NGO
    95. Institute for Public Policy Analysis and Implementation
    96. Integrated Agricultural Association-I,A,A
    97. International Dalit Solidarity Network
    98. International Falcon Movement - Socialist Educational International
    99. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    100. Iraqi journalists right deafenc association
    101. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    102. Justice Acess Point
    103. JusticeMakers Bangladesh
    104. Key Populations Alliance of Zambia
    105. Khpal Kore Organization
    106. Kibera Joy Initiative
    107. Kumakomo Community Radio
    108. Le Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
    109. Leadership initiative network for the Advancement of women and youth
    110. Local  Community Development Association
    111. Lumiere Synergie Developpement
    112. Maecenata Foundation
    113. MAMAS FOR BURUNDI ASSOCIATION
    114. Manna Development AGency
    115. Marketplace 247
    116. MFFPS
    117. Millennium Sistahs Trinidad and Tobago Inc
    118. Missing Link Uganda
    119. Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi
    120. Mouvement Populaire pour la Santé au Gay
    121. Movement for Social Justice MSJ-4
    122. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda
    123. Network of Civil Society Organisations for Election Observation and Monitoring - ROSE
    124. Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago  for the Advancement of Women
    125. New Owerri Youth Organisation
    126. NGO Collective for Food Security and Rural Development - COSADER
    127. NGO CONSTRUISONS ENSEMBLE LE MONDE
    128. NGO Defensoria Ambiental
    129. NGOs Council ASDGC Kenya
    130. Nipe Fagio
    131. Nouveaux Droits de l'homme Congo Brazzaville
    132. ONG ASSAUVET
    133. ONG BAL'LAME
    134. ONG Programa sociocultural CRP
    135. Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations Network
    136. PAMOJATWASIMAMA
    137. Partenariat pour la Protection Integree
    138. PAYNCOP
    139. Peace and Life Enhancement Initiative International
    140. PHY ORG
    141. Plan international
    142. Princegnf
    143. Prisma European Network
    144. Psychologues du Monde Afrique
    145. Reacción Climática 
    146. Real Agenda For Youth Transformation Trust
    147. REDHNNA-Red por los Derechos Humanos de los niños, niñas y adolescentes
    148. REPONGAC
    149. Research and Advocacy Unit
    150. Root Change
    151. Ruheso Tanzania
    152. RUKIGA FORUM FOR DEVELOPMENT
    153. Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization
    154. Save Our Continent, Save Nigeria.
    155. Save the Climat
    156. Secours de la Femme Rurale au Developpement, Safrd
    157. SHAKHI 'Friends of Women'
    158. Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care
    159. She's  Writes
    160. Sierra Leone School Green Clubs
    161. Social Justice Forum
    162. Social Mission Catalysts LLC
    163. Solidarity health Foundation
    164. Solidarity Youth Voluntary Organisation
    165. SOS Jeunesse et Enfance en Détresse - SOS JED
    166. South Sudan Civil Society Forum
    167. Sustainable Develipment and Peace Building Initiatives
    168. Tanzania Development Trust
    169. Tanzania Peace Legal Aid and Justice Center  PLAJC
    170. Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
    171. the  Wuhan election campaign
    172. The Angelic Ladies Society
    173. Transitional Justice Working Group
    174. Tsoro-o-tso San Dev Trust
    175. Ugonma Foundation
    176. Ukana West 2 Community Based Health Initiative
    177. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social- UNITAS
    178. Unique Foundation The Gambia
    179. Vijana Corps
    180. Wacare Organization
    181. Welfare Association for Development Alternative -WADA
    182. Women Against Violence and Expediency Handling Initiative
    183. Women Friendly
    184. Women Working for Social Progress
    185. World Federalist Movement Canada
    186. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    187. WORLDLITE
    188. Young Professional Development Society Nepal
    189. Your Health Your Responsibility
    190. Youth Alliance for Rural Development in Liberia Inc.
    191. YOUTH AND ENVIRONMENT VISION
    192. Youth Arm Organization
    193. Youth For The Mission
    194. Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana
    195. YOUTHAID-LIBERIA
    196. Zambian Governance Foundation
    197. Zimbabwe We Want  Poetry Campaign

     

     

  • ANGOLA: “The ruling party sees local elections as a threat”

    View the original interview in Portuguese here

    Pascoal Baptistiny 1CIVICUS speaks about the situation in Angola with Pascoal Baptistiny, Executive Director of MBAKITA  – Kubango Agricultural Benevolent Mission, Inclusion, Technologies and the Environment, a civil society organisation based in the Cuando Cubango province in southern Angola. Founded in 2002, MBAKITA defends the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities, denounces the discrimination they suffer and the expropriation of their lands, and promotes a more just, democratic, participatory, tolerant, supportive, healthy and humane society.

    What is the state of civic space in Angola, and what are the main constraints faced by Angolan activists?

    The repression of civic space in Angola is one of the biggest challenges facing Angolan civil society today. Activists suffer arbitrary and illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment, abductions, killings, harassment and disappearances by government forces, police and state intelligence services. This repression has made many Angolans careful about what they say in public. The few organisations that defend human rights in Angola often do so at great risk to the activists involved and their families.

    Could you tell us about the restrictions you and your colleagues faced in 2020?

    In 2020, my MBAKITA colleagues and I faced obstacles aimed at preventing, minimising, disrupting and reversing the impact of our organisation’s legitimate activities that focused on criticising, denouncing and opposing rights violations and ineffective government positions, policies and actions.

    The various forms of restriction we experienced included arbitrary restrictions and the interruption of demonstrations and meetings; surveillance; threats, intimidation, reprisals and punishments; physical assaults; smear campaigns portraying MBAKITA members as ‘enemies of the state’ and mercenaries serving foreign interests; judicial harassment; exorbitant fines for the purchase of means of transport; burglary of our offices and theft of computer equipment; search and seizure of property; destruction of vehicles; the deprivation of employment and income; and travel bans.

    In addition, 15 activists were arbitrarily detained and ill-treated during the COVID-19 prevention campaign. On 1 May my residence was invaded, and its guards were teargassed. On 16 November, two female activists were raped. Fatalities for the year included three of our activists and one protester.

    What kind of work does MBAKITA do? Why do you think it has been targeted?

    MBAKITA is an organisation that defends and promotes human rights. We work to promote, protect and disseminate universally recognised human rights and freedoms, and especially the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the freedom of the press, the right to self-determination by Indigenous peoples, the rights to land, adequate food, clean water and the environment, and the fight against torture and ill-treatment.

    We challenge violations of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of Indigenous and migrant people, ethnic and linguistic minorities, LGBTQI+ people and people with disabilities.

    My organisation uses peaceful and non-violent means in its activities. However, we have faced incalculable risks as a result of our human rights work in the southern provinces of Angola.

    MBAKITA has been systematically attacked for several reasons. First, because in 2018 we denounced the death of four children during Operation Transparency, an action against diamond trafficking and undocumented migrants carried out by the Angolan police and armed forces in the municipality of Mavinga, in the Cuando Cubango province. Second, because in 2019 we denounced the diversion of funds intended to support drought victims in Angola’s southern provinces by provincial governments. Third, because in April 2019, two activists of the organisation denounced the illegal appropriation of land by political businesspeople – generals, legislators and governors – in territories belonging to the San and Kuepe Indigenous minorities and used for hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits, which make up the diet of these groups. Fourth, because in February 2020 MBAKITA denounced the diversion of funds designated for the purchase of biosecurity products for the prevention of COVID-19 and the diversion of food destined for the Basic Food Basket Assistance Programme for Vulnerable Groups. Fifth, because we participated in and conducted an awareness-raising campaign on COVID-19, which included the distribution of biosecurity materials purchased with MISEREOR-Germany funds. And finally, because we participated in all demonstrations held by Angolan civil society, including the most recent one on 9 January 2021, focused on the fight against corruption and the demand for local elections, under the slogan ‘Local elections now, 45 years in power is too long!’ and for the fulfilment of various electoral promises, including those of 500,000 jobs, the reduction of the cost of living for families and the socio-economic inclusion of Indigenous minorities.

    Why were the elections scheduled for 2020 cancelled?

    For one thing, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But aside from this deadly pandemic, the government was never interested in holding local elections in 2020. The ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), sees local elections as a threat to central power and fears losing its grip on power. It fears introducing an element of voter control over local government, that is, citizen participation and control over the management of public funds. The government thinks that the people will wake up to the idea of the democratic state and the rule of law, and that many people will become aware of their rights and duties. This would run counter to the MPLA’s intention, which is to perpetuate itself in power.

    The promise of local democracy in Angola has been a failure. Three years into his term in office, President João Lourenço has failed to deliver even 10 per cent of his electoral promises, leaving 90 per cent of Angolans in a state of total scepticism.

    In Angola, the party that has been in power for more than 45 years does not tolerate free people. Today, human rights defenders lose their jobs, are unable to feed their children, lose their careers and even their lives if they dare to be free, to desire democracy and to exercise their freedom.

    What are the prospects that the situation will change in the near future?

    For the situation to change, civil society has a lot of work to do. The most important and urgent actions are acquiring training in individual, institutional and digital security, learning English, obtaining observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, observing and participating in demonstrations and other public events, advocating and lobbying for the legalisation of human rights organisations, conducting prison visits, including interviews with prisoners and gathering evidence of torture, ill-treatment and imprisonment conditions, observing trials of activists in the lower courts, fundraising for the sustainability of human rights defenders’ activities, and monitoring the 2021 local elections and the 2022 general elections.

    What kind of support do Angolan activists need from international civil society to be able to continue their work?

    Needs are enormous and varied. Activists urgently need protection and security, including training in risk analysis, security planning and international and regional human rights protection mechanisms, as well as skills in investigating, litigating, documenting, petitioning and reporting human rights violations. Specifically, MBAKITA would like to receive technical assistance to assess what security arrangements could be put in place to increase the physical protection of the organisation’s office and my residence, as well as financial support for the purchase of such arrangements, such as a security system or a video surveillance camera.

    Assaulted activists, and especially the 15 MBAKITA activists who have been direct victims of repression and torture at the hands of government forces, also need post-traumatic psychological assistance. Financial assistance would help us pay the fees of the lawyers who worked for the release of six activists who were imprisoned between August and November 2020. It would also help us replace stolen work equipment, without which our ability to work has been reduced, including two vehicles, computers, memory cards, a digital camera and a camcorder.

    In the case of activists threatened with arbitrary detention, kidnapping or assassination, who have no choice but to leave the country or their region of origin quickly, we need support for transportation and provisional accommodation. Our activists would also benefit from exchanges of experience, knowledge and good practice, opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of digital security, training in journalistic and audio-visual techniques and the acquisition of English language skills.

    Finally, the operation of organisations and their sustainability would be helped by obtaining support for the installation of internet services and the creation of secure websites, the acquisition of financial management software and resources to recruit permanent staff, so that staff members are able to support their families and fully dedicate themselves to the defence of human rights.

    Civic space in Angola is rated ‘repressed’ by thehere.
    Get in touch with MBAKITA through itsFacebook page.

     

     

  • Are Rising Attacks On Human Rights Defenders The ‘New Normal’?

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    At CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance working to strengthen citizen participation, we receive bad news of attacks on compatriots every day. In the past few years, with nauseating regularity, we’ve heard from colleagues who’ve been arbitrarily imprisoned, had their organisations’ starved of resources or have had their life’s work to create just, inclusive and sustainable societies ridiculed by crafty politicians.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Bahrain: End Degrading Treatment of Activists

    Bahraini authorities’ treatment of wrongfully imprisoned detainees violates international standards on prisoner treatment and in some cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, a coalition of ten rights groups said today. The authorities should ensure that all detainees are treated with humanity and in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, including access to the adequate medical care they require and contact with their relatives.

    Family members of 12 opposition activists or human rights defenders held in Building 7 of Jaw Prison have told rights groups that under new regulations the authorities shackle the men, many of them elderly and in poor health, whenever they leave their cells, including for medical visits. The men are serving long prison terms in connection with their prominent and peaceful roles in the pro-democracy uprising in February 2011.

    “These new regulations degrade and humiliate prisoners who clearly pose no escape risk,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities can take reasonable measures to prevent escapes, but shackling infirm patients, many of them torture victims, clearly goes beyond any need for security.”

    The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the groups said.

    On April 12, 2017, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights defender held in Building 7, began a hunger strike to protest the new regulations at Jaw Prison, which the prisoners believe are a disproportionate response to the escape of 10 prisoners from another part of Jaw Prison on January 1.

    In addition to the shackling, which has led the detainees to refuse to attend medical appointments in protest at what they perceive as degrading treatment, the authorities have cut visiting hours and the time for phone calls with their relatives.

    Since the escape, which resulted in the death of a police officer, family members of the opposition and human rights activists and several other prisoners have told the rights groups that the authorities’ treatment of their relatives has worsened significantly.

    Since March 1, authorities have shackled prisoners in Building 7 whenever they leave their cells. This practice is contrary to Rule 47 of the Mandela Rules, which states that restraint instruments should only be used as a precaution against escape or to prevent prisoners from injuring themselves or others. Family members of prisoners in other buildings have also told rights groups that their relatives are shackled whenever they leave their cells and that since the escape, their cells are locked most of the day, meaning that those without toilet in their cell have only limited access to toilets.

    International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment. The prison authorities appear willing to abide by some of the Nelson Mandela Rules by transferring patients requiring specialized treatment to specialized institutions or civil hospitals. But the disproportionate use of physical restraints is degrading and is preventing detainees from getting the health care they require.

    Family members of Al-Khawaja, 56, told rights groups that he had an appointment with an eye specialist at the Bahrain Defense Forces military hospital on March 12 because of headaches and vision problems. But the prison administration insisted that he had to wear the prison uniform, have his legs and ankles shackled, and submit to full body strip search.

    The family said he refused because of the humiliation involved. Al-Khawaja wrote to the prison authorities in March requesting a new medical appointment and to be allowed to go without a strip search and shackles, but has received no response. On April 12, he began a hunger strike. His family expressed concern about the impact of his hunger strike on his already deteriorating health and said that on April 15 he refused medical attention to address a low blood sugar level in protest at the regulations.

    On April 20, Al-Khawaja began to take necessary liquids to avoid losing consciousness and being transferred to hospital, where he feared he would be force-fed, as in past hunger strikes. He suffers from exhaustion, general weakness, and dizziness. He has lost weight and his blood sugar remains low.

    A family member of Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, 55, who requires crutches or a wheelchair as the result of polio and sickle-cell anemia, told rights groups that he refused to attend medical appointments, including a March 12 appointment with a hematologist and an appointment in early March to deal with a shoulder infection, because of the prison authorities’ insistence on shackling him with chains during the transfer.

    Family members say that Mohamed Hassan Jawad, 69, and Hasan Mshaima, 69, have also refused essential medical appointments in protest over the authorities’ insistence that they be shackled and wear the prison uniform. Mshaima has heart problems and is a former cancer patient who requires regular checks-ups. His family said that he needs Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans every six months and that the last one was over eight months ago.

    “These leading Bahraini political and human rights activists have suffered deteriorating health during their prolonged arbitrary detention since 2011,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “Shackling these prisoners of conscience is not a legitimate prison security measure but is intended to degrade and humiliate them. The international community must not forget these long-term prisoners of conscience and should work to end their unjust and punitive detention.”

    Since March 1, the prison administration has reduced all prosioners’ family visits from one hour to 30 minutes, once every two or three weeks, and that prisoners are now separated from their families by a glass barrier during visits. Since June 2016, phone calls to their families, which they are allowed to make up to three times per week, have been cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes combined for all calls. On March 20, prison authorities stopped providing the detainees with toilet paper or tissues.

    On March 1, the detainees in Building 7 and others in Jaw Prison began boycotting family visits in protest.

    “These opposition activists are prisoners of conscience who should not have spent even a single day in prison,” said Lynn Maalouf, research director at Amnesty International’s Regional Office in Beirut. “The authorities must immediately put an end to the collective and arbitrary punishment of the entire Jaw prison population as a result of the escape of a group of prisoners; they must release all prisoners of conscience without delay and ensure all prisoners are treated humanely and receive the adequate medical treatment they require.”

    Rule 36 of the Nelson Mandela Rules states that discipline and order shall be maintained with no more restriction than is necessary to ensure safe custody, the secure operation of the prison, and a well-ordered community life. Thus, while authorities can take steps to minimize the risk of further escapes, the measures they introduce must be proportionate, should not impinge on prisoners’ dignity, and should not unnecessarily aggravate the suffering inherent in the deprivation of liberty.

    Any deliberate infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners should be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

    Eleven of the 12 detainees in Building 7 were sentenced in trials that did not meet international standards on fair trials and convicted of crimes that included alleged involvement with a group whose purpose was to replace Bahrain’s monarchy with a republican form of government. The evidence produced against them at their trial consisted only of public statements advocating reforms to curtail the power of the ruling Al Khalifa family and “confessions” that were coerced while they were in incommunicado detention. The twelfth detainee, Sheikh Ali Salman, whose nine-year prison sentence was reduced to four years on April 3, was convicted in relation to peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, following a grossly unfair trial.

    The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s report of November 2011 said that authorities subjected the group to a “discernible pattern of mistreatment,” including torture, after their arrests in some cases. Authorities have not provided physical or psychological rehabilitation for detainees who were tortured.

    Signatories:
    • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    • Amnesty International
    • Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
    • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • English PEN
    • European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    • Human Rights First
    • Human Rights Watch

     

  • 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.

     

  • Blocage de l'accès internet au Cameroun prive la société civile des ressources essentielles

    English

    Le Cameroun a vu l'État imposer toute une série de restrictions aux droits fondamentaux de la société civile en 2017, notamment une fermeture d'Internet de quatre mois dans les régions anglophones du pays en réponse aux protestations contre la marginalisation de ces régions. CIVICUS parle avec Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Directrice du Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC). Créé en 2007, le REDHAC est un réseau d’activistes et d’organisations de la société civile d’Afrique centrale qui compte des membres dans huit pays de la région et se concentre principalement sur la protection des droits humains fondamentaux.

    1. Comment décririez-vous l'état actuel de la démocratie au Cameroun? La pratique de la démocratie dans le pays a-t-elle changé au cours des dernières années?

    La démocratie est actuellement en recul au Cameroun malgré des nombreuses structures successivement mises en place par le gouvernement pour garantir la pratique démocratique. Tels sont les cas de l’Observatoire National des Élections (ONEL), une structure indépendante de supervision et contrôle du processus électoral créé en Décembre 2000; et ses successeurs l’ONEL1 et ELECAM (Elections Cameroun) de 2006. Tous les membres d’ELECAM sont des cadres du Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC), le parti au pouvoir, nommées par décret présidentiel et financés par le gouvernement. En conséquence, son impartialité n’est pas garantie.

    Il y’a une décennie on observait que la pratique démocratique se mettait en place étant entendu que c’était un processus. Mais cela n’a été que de courte durée car en 2013 le président a déclaré la guerre à la secte terroriste Boko Haram qui sème la terreur à l’Extrême Nord du Cameroun. En conséquent, la démocratie a pris un coup dur, sous la forme d’une loi électorale qui ne favorise pas la transparence et l’alternance, qui n’est pas indépendante et qui limite la participation par les coûts exorbitants, alors que le salaire minimum est de 25000 francs; des lois restrictives des libertés fondamentales; de l’absence d’application des lois votées; et de l’établissement d’un État de non droit.

    L'Etat du Cameroun reste répressif. Nous assistons chaque jour à la violation des libertés fondamentales, et en particulier de la liberté d'expression et de la liberté d'association. La prédominance du pouvoir exécutif sur les pouvoirs législatif et judiciaire reste constante. La pratique de la démocratie n'a véritablement pas changé au cours de ces dernières années, car nous avons toujours eu le même président depuis 35 ans. En plus de cela il y a l’absence véritable d'un vrai parti d'opposition car toute manifestation d'un parti autre que le parti au pouvoir est réprimée par le gouvernement.

    1. La société civile est-elle actuellement en mesure de contribuer à la gouvernance démocratique au Cameroun?

    On peut répondre par oui et non: Oui, car elle reste la moins corrompue et la plus neutre parmi les autres forces (traditionnels, religieuses, élites, administratives); et non, parce qu’elle est déstructurée, amateur, sans financement.

    1. Comment les restrictions récentes à la liberté d'expression, telles que le blocage de l'accès à Internet, ont-elles affecté la société civile?

    Les restrictions à la liberté d’expression sont devenues une règle au Cameroun, et incluent la censure, des menaces, des arrestations et détentions arbitraires, des intimidations, des cambriolages dans les locaux des OSC, des fermetures des medias, des impôts très élevés pour les patrons de télévision privés, et la mise en résidence surveillée. De novembre 2016, date à laquelle la crise a commencé dans le Nord-Ouest et le Sud-ouest du Cameroun, on a assisté à des restriction additionnelles: la coupure de la connexion internet pendant trois mois (janvier-avril 2017) et des perturbations de la communication et coupures dans les organisations de la société civile hors des deux régions où les activistes qui manifestait avaient été arrêtés. En conséquent, la société civile a été privée d’accès à l’information, de moyens pour diffuser et partager de l’information et pour s’organiser efficacement, et de la possibilité de recevoir des rapports pour poursuivre des activités, ce qui a produit des retards auprès des bailleurs et le ralentissement de la mise en œuvre des activités. En plus, la société civile a été affectée par l’interruption du soutien financier par des partenaires en raison de leurs délais dans la soumission des rapports narratifs.

    1. Comment la société civile y a-t-elle réagi?

    La société civile a très mal appréhendé la coupure d’internet dans les régions du nord et du sud-ouest Cameroun suite à une décision du gouvernement. Du coup elle a mobilisé toutes ses forces et énergies afin de convoquer ce dernier à rétablir la connexion internet dans ces deux régions. Plusieurs organisations de la société civile d’autour le monde, et notamment les sociétés civiles camerounaises à l’instar du REDHAC, se sont démarquées par ses multiples communiqués de presse condamnant ce geste du gouvernement. Bien plus, le représentant spécial du Secrétaire général et chef du Bureau régional des Nations Unies pour l’Afrique centrale (UNOCA), François Louncény Fall, a décrit la décision du gouvernement comme ayant créé une «situation déplorable». Après d’énormes efforts et de multiples combats fournis par les organisations de la société civile, internet fut rétablit trois mois plus tard.

    1. Quel soutien ou solidarité la société civile internationale peut-elle vous offrir en ces temps?

    Nous avons besoin de plusieurs formes de soutien. Premièrement, de soutien financier à moyen et à long terme et avec une certaine souplesse dans la soumission des projets et rapports, ainsi que des fonds d’urgence permanents capables de réduire les vulnérabilités des défenseurs en danger. Deuxièmement, on a besoin de soutien technique, sous la forme par exemple de l’approvisionnement de matériel sophistiqué de sécurité (cameras de surveillance, systèmes d’alarme, empreinte digital, cameras photo avec la capacité d’authentifier des photos et vidéos lors du monitoring et la soumission de rapports) et autres outils informatiques sécurisés. Finalement, on a besoin aussi des formations permanentes pour renforcer les capacités de la société civile en termes de sécurité numérique, physique et de gestion de leurs données informatiques; des formations relatives à la consolidation de la démocratie et l’état de droit et à l’implication au processus électoral et à la bonne gouvernance; des formations sur la surveillance et le signalement des violations des droits humains en toutes circonstances et en particulier dans les périodes de conflit ou de terrorisme; et des formations en plaidoyer national, régional et international.

    ·         L'espace civique au Cameroun est classé comme ‘répressif’ par leCIVICUS Monitor,indiquant de sérieuses restrictions aux libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.

     

     

     

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

    Stand with Rong Chuun

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action. They have also been ongoing police ill-treatment against the families and relatives of detained activists  from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been holding protests.

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

     

  • Cambodia: Drop Fabricated Charges against ‘ADHOC 5’

    Cambodian authorities should immediately drop politically motivated bribery charges against five human rights defenders known as the ADHOC 5 (“FreeThe5KH” in social media campaigns), five international organizations said today. The trial of the five – four current and one former senior staff members of the nongovernmental Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) – is scheduled for August 27, 2018, after lying dormant for a year. If convicted, each faces between 5 and 10 years in prison.

     

  • 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 and Colombian Confederation of NGOs concerned about aggressions and impending restrictions on civil society

    Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Colombian Confederation of NGOs (CCONG) are deeply worried about the growing challenges faced by civil society in Colombia. Several activists have been attacked while potentially restrictive legislation is underway and would curtail civil society organisations’ ability to contribute to the implementation of the peace agreements.

     

  • CIVICUS and Consorcio Oaxaca demand the immediate release of unjustly detained Mexican human rights defenders

    Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Mexican CSO Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca (Consorcio Oaxaca) are deeply concerned about the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture against human rights defenders in Mexico. A recent report, jointly published by 11 Mexican and international human rights organisations, sets out how such practices are extensively used to restrict the work of human rights defenders.

     

  • CIVICUS Calls For Calm and Respect of Voters’ Rights in Kenya Elections

    As Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow to vote in general elections, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS calls on the authorities, leaders of political parties and communities to adhere to democratic principles and respect the will of all Kenyans.

    Kenya has a history of violence during election seasons and fear of a recurrence has dominated the period of political campaigns. Kenyan authorities and leaders of political parties have a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and transparent election, which will enhance Kenya’s democratic credentials.

    Human rights violations committed over the last few months have raised security concerns and increased calls for all involved in the vote to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007-2008 elections in which over 1,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 internally displaced.  

    Last week, Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) head of Information, Communication and Technology, was found dead after being missing for three days.  Msando had played a key role in the development of a new electronic ballot and voter registration system and complained of death threats shortly before he was killed. 

    Since Msando oversaw the new electronic system regarded as key to eliminating vote rigging and ensuring the credibility of the elections, his killing raises serious concerns over threats of violence related to electoral malpractices. Prior to the adoption of the new system, Kenya’s High Court nullified a contract awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair Printing and Publishing, a company with alleged links to President Uhuru Kenyatta.  Following the court’s 9 July ruling, President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Coalition questioned the independence of the judiciary and accused it of supporting the political opposition.  

    The election campaign period has also been dominated by an exchange of accusations between President Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition leader, Raila Odinga.  The President accused Odinga of trying to divide Kenya and provoke violence and Odinga, in turn, accused the President of planning to rig the vote. While the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, violence erupted following the 2007 elections after political figures encouraged supporters to protest election results.  

    “Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnic affiliations and the views of political figures are taken seriously.  It will be very important for leaders to avoid using language that may incite the population and instigate violence during and after tomorrow’s elections.   Said David Kode, CIVICUS’ Head of Advocacy and Campaigns.

    There has been violence among rival parties’ supporters during the nominations of candidates for positions of president, legislators and local councillors.  Human rights defenders and journalists have also been attacked, intimidated and vilified as they sought to access voter registration stations and polling booths and report on political campaigns. On 18 June 2017, Walter Menya of the Nation newspaper was arrested and held at an undisclosed location for two days before being released without charge. Some communities have heightened tensions by accusing activists and journalists of anti-nationalist agendas for making representations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 polls. 

    CIVICUS calls on the Kenyan authorities, politicians and leaders to act in a responsible manner and respect the will of the electorate during and after the elections. 

    Kenya’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe. It is currently on the Monitor’s Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    Watch our interview with activist and poet Sitawa Namwalie talking about about her hopes and fears for 2017 Kenyan Elections. 

    ENDS

    For more information, please contact:

    Grant Clark

    Senior Media Advisor

    CIVICUS

    Email:

    T: +27 63 567 9719

     

    David Kode

    Head of Advocacy and Campaigns

    CIVICUS

    Email:

     

  • CIVICUS calls on interim government of Kyrgyzstan to cease intimidating civil society activists

    30 June 2010. Johannesburg. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is concerned that two prominent human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan -- who are among the leading voices documenting the ongoing crisis -- were detained and interrogated by the Office of the Prosecutor of the Osh Oblast, Kyrgyzstan on 28 June. This action of the authorities sends a negative message to civil society groups working towards restoring peace in the country.

    According to local sources, Tolekan Ismailova of Human Rights Center "Citizens against Corruption" and Aziza Abdirasulova of Public Foundation "Kylym Shamy" were interrogated as witnesses, related to misinformation about death toll published in the online newspaper 24.kg.

    Although the news site journalist received news of 20 deaths during the military operations in Nariman village of Karasuu district on 21 June via online mailing lists, Ismailova and Abdirasulova feel they were wrongly accused of spreading misinformation. Ismailova had immediately contacted 24.kg upon hearing the news, to inform the paper that the actual death toll was two individuals.

     

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