human rights defenders

  • Honduras: After two years in pre-trial detention, release arbitrarily detained Guapinol human rights defenders
    • Today marks exactly two years since Guapinol human rights defenders were jailed
    • Human rights defenders featured in CIVICUS’s Stand As My Witness Campaign
    • United Nations declared their detention is arbitrary and calls for their release
    • Detention unlawfully extended for further six months in August
    • Honduras one of the most dangerous places for environmental rights defenders

    For two years, eight members of the Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Assets (CMDBCP) have been held in pre-trial detention in Honduras for defending protected water sources and natural resources of communities in danger of mining related contamination. The Guapinol human rights defenders have been advocating against the Guapinol mining project in Tocoa, in the department of Colón in Honduras. They were initially detained on 1 September 2019, and are being kept arbitrarily in pre-trial detention without any legal basis.

    The eight defenders are Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz, José Abelino Cedillo Cantarero, José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbin Nahuan Hernández, Arnol Javier Alemán and Jeremías Martínez. They were initially arrested on 26 August 2019, while protesting against the mining activities of the Honduras company Inversiones Los Pinares (ILP), which threatens the safety and livelihood of thousands of people in communities in the department of Colón. ILP was granted mining concessions by the state of Honduras in 2014 and its ongoing mining projects have contaminated water sources. Projects are being implemented without adequate consultations with communities affected.

    “There is absolutely no basis for Honduras to detain the eight human rights defenders and to continue to keep them in pre-trial detention. Despite numerous calls from the international community, including from United Nations bodies for their release, the Honduran authorities continue to disregard the rule of law and have held them for two years now,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

    The CMDBCP was set up primarily to raise awareness about the impact of the Guapinol project mining activities and to advocate against the actions of mining communities on behalf of the people affected. More than 32 members of CMDBCP have been subjected to judicial persecution and arbitrary detention, 6 have been killed and many more face threats and intimidation. These restrictions are symptomatic of the violence and human rights violations which target environmental and land rights activists, which makes Honduras one of the most dangerous countries for activists working on climate justice and environmental rights in the world.

    On 9 February 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions established that the deprivation of the liberty of the Guapinol human rights defenders is arbitrary and called on Honduras to release them immediately.

    “The continuous detention of the Guapinol human rights defenders violates Honduras’ regional and international human rights violations and exposes the defenders to severe health risks in the context of a global pandemic,” David continued.

    The Guapinol human rights defenders are part of the CIVICUS #StandAsMyWitness campaign - a global campaign that advocates for the rights of human rights defenders and calls for their release.

    CIVICUS calls on the Honduras government to respect the rule of law and immediately release the Guapinol human rights defenders and hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable.

    For more information on civic space violations, visit the Honduras country page on the CIVICUS Monitor

  • HONG KONG: ‘Any activism that the government dislikes can be deemed a national security violation’

    AnoukWearCIVICUS speaks about the persecution faced by Hong Kong activists in exile with Anouk Wear, research and policy adviser at Hong Kong Watch.

    Founded in 2017, Hong Kong Watch is a civil society organisation (CSO) based in the UK thatproduces research and monitors threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy, basic freedoms and the rule of law. Itworks at the intersection between politics, academia and the media to help shape the international debate about Hong Kong.

    What challenges do Hong Kong activists in exile face?

    Hong Kong activists in exile face the challenge of continuing our activism without being in the place where we want and need to be to make a direct impact. We put continuous effort into community-building, preserving our culture and staying relevant to the people and situation in Hong Kong today. 

    When we do this, we face threats from the Chinese government that have drastically escalated since the National Security Law (NSL) was imposed in 2020.

    This draconian law was enacted in response to the mass protests triggered by the proposed Extradition Bill between Hong Kong and mainland China in 2019.

    The NSL broadly defines and criminalises secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. In 2022, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee concluded that the NSL is ‘vague and ambiguous’.

    In practical terms, any activism the Hong Kong government dislikes, including meeting a foreign politician, organising an event and publishing an article, can be deemed a violation of the NSL, according to the government’s interpretation. This means we don’t know what is legal and what is not, and many people end up self-censoring to protect themselves.

    On 3 July 2023, the government issued new arrest warrants for eight activists in exile, including three in the UK – Nathan Law, Finn Lau and Mung Siu-tat – and offered bounties of around £100,000 (approx. US$130,000) each for anyone providing information leading to their arrest. All of them are accused of breaching the NSL. Despite having no legal basis for applying the NSL in the UK, the Hong Kong government continues to threaten and intimidate activists abroad.

    To what extent are civil society and independent media in exile able to continue doing their work?

    Since the imposition of the NSL, over 60 CSOs, including political parties, trade unions and media groups, have disbanded. Many have relocated abroad, including over 50 CSOs that signed a joint statement urging government action following the Hong Kong National Security arrest warrants and bounties this month. 

    There is a strong network of Hong Kong activists in exile, and activists in exile are still able to do their work. However, we have great difficulty collaborating with activists still in Hong Kong because of the risks they face. For example, last week, five people in Hong Kong were arrested for alleged links to activists in exile who are on the wanted list. Collaborations must now be even more careful and discreet than they already were.

    What kind of support do Hong Kong activists and journalists in exile receive, and what further international support do you need?

    In November 2022, Hong Kong journalists who relocated to the UK collaborated with the National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland to launch the Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals. They pledged to focus on freedom of the press in Hong Kong and provide mutual assistance for professionals who have relocated overseas.

    There is also extensive support among Hong Kong activists and CSOs in exile, from civil society of host countries and from the international community, as can be seen in the joint response to the arrest warrants and bounties issued on 3 July.

    However, more coordinated action is needed to respond to Beijing’s threats, particularly from the governments of host countries. There needs to be more assurance and action to reiterate that Beijing and Hong Kong do not have jurisdiction abroad and there will be serious consequences to their threats. 

    Hong Kong activists in exile are now making submissions to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which will review China’s human rights record since 2018.

    We urge UN member states, CSOs and journalists to use this opportunity to highlight the drastic changes that have taken place in Hong Kong and to continue supporting our fight for democracy, rights and freedom.


    Civic space in Hong Kong is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Hong Kong Watch through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@hk_watch and@anoukwear onTwitter.

  • HONG KONG: ‘We urge governments to protect exiled human rights defenders within their jurisdictions’

    anouk-wear.png

    CIVICUS speakswith Anouk Wear, research and policy adviser at Hong Kong Watch, about recent district council elections held in Hong Kong amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

    Founded in 2017, Hong Kong Watch is a civil society organisation (CSO) based in the UK thatproduces research and monitors threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy, basic freedoms and rule of law. Itworks at the intersection between politics, academia and the media to shape the international debate about Hong Kong.

     

    What was the significance of Hong Kong’s 2023 district council elections?

    On 11 December 2023, Hong Kong held elections spanning 18 district councils with a total of 479 seats. District councillors advise the Hong Kong government on local issues within their districts and have funding to promote recreational, cultural and community activities.

    These elections were especially significant because following the previous round, held in 2019 and won by pro-democracy candidates by a landslide, the Hong Kong government introduced several changes to ensure that the pro-China camp would maintain the majority in future elections.

    The 2023 election was marked by a record-low voter turnout of just 27.5 per cent. Many people abstained because they felt a sense of despair given that all candidates had to be vetted and approved by the Chinese state. This left no opposition voices to vote for, diminishing the significance of the election.

    We want genuine universal suffrage, not a ‘democracy with Chinese characteristics’, as the founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, Martin Lee, aptly warned in 2014. Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened since then.

    What tactics did the government use to control the election?

    As analysed in a briefing we published recently, the election fit into a broader trend of democratic erosion in Hong Kong.

    In 2021, changes to Legislative Councils were introduced under the slogan ‘Patriots Governing Hong Kong’,  aimed at screening out democrats and ensuring that only pro-establishment candidates aligned with Beijing could run for seats. To that effect, candidates are now required to pass two major political barriers before participating in the election.

    First, they must secure nominations from all five sectors of the Election Committee, a 1,500-member electoral college made up of representatives of various constituencies, including industry, professions, grassroots organisations, the government and Hong Kong representation in Chinese bodies. Second, they are screened by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, mainly composed of government officials. Candidates who don’t have a strong pro-China agenda can be disqualified on grounds of not being ‘patriotic’ enough.

    A similar approach was applied to district council candidates. In April 2023, Chief Executive John Lee announced that upcoming district council elections would be open exclusively to patriots, with only a certain number of ‘depoliticised’ seats focused on administrative tasks elected by the public. He added that people who love the country and are willing to serve can participate in district councils through ‘various other ways’. In line with these reforms, only 88 seats were directly elected by the public, compared to 452 in the previous election, with 179 to be appointed by the chief executive.

    Moreover, in the lead-up to the elections, three members of the League of Social Democrats were followed and arrested for planning a protest against the election, which they called a ‘birdcage’, stating that ‘Hong Kong people’s right to vote and to be elected seems to be absent’.

    What should be done to restore democratic freedoms in Hong Kong?

    Civil space has drastically shrunk since the 2019 district council elections. Following the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020, over 60 organisations have been disbanded, including CSOs, political parties, trade unions and media outlets. Many organisations have relocated abroad, while others have adjusted the scope of their work to protect their members who remain in Hong Kong.

    It’s crucial that discussions are continued, the human rights situation is monitored and detailed reports are provided as steps towards restoring democratic freedoms in Hong Kong. We shouldn’t accept new repressive laws as the norm but instead stay vocal about any regressive legislation and rights violation.

    It’s important to keep speaking up for people in Hong Kong and human rights defenders in exile. For example, recently the Hong Kong national security police issued five arrest warrants offering HK$1 million (approx. US$ 128,000) bounties for exiled pro-democracy Hong Kong activists based in the UK and USA. We strongly condemn this illegal attack against our friends and colleagues. We urge governments to take a stand and protect Hong Kong human rights defenders within their jurisdictions.

    How is Hong Kong Watch working towards this end, and what international support do you need?

    We work to inform and educate legislators, policymakers and the media, as well as raise awareness among the wider public about violations of human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong. We advocate for actions to assist victims of rights violations through a combination of in-depth research reports, opinion editorials, monthly media briefings, interviews and advocacy campaigns.

    It’s crucial to hold Hong Kong and China accountable for their violations of international human rights law and urge them to fulfil their obligations. For instance, the 2022 review of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, tasked with monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found that Hong Kong violated its international legal obligations and recommended that the authorities take tangible steps, with a clear timeline, to introduce universal suffrage and reform the electoral system in compliance with the ICCPR.

    We’re engaging in this effort through submissions to the Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as to the upcoming Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council.

    We deeply appreciate the support we receive from governments, legislators, civil society and people worldwide. But we need more international solidarity, particularly at the governmental level, to pressure Hong Kong authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and ensure that other states refrain from conducting business as usual with Hong Kong, in view of the grave and systematic nature of human rights violations the current regime commits.

     


    Civic space in Hong Kong is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Hong Kong Watch through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@hk_watch and@anoukwear onTwitter.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • Hong Kong: Chow Hang Tung remains in detention for one year since her arrest

    Today, we mark a year since the arrest of human rights defender and lawyer Chow Hang Tung.

  • HRC49: Open letter to States on the draft resolution on human rights defenders

    At its current session, the UN Human Rights Council will be discussing a draft resolution on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations.  This is a useful and timely focus providing a means to give effect to a range of recommendations including those contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in 2020. 

  • Human Rights Defenders Need to be Defended as Much as they Defend our Rights

    By Micahel Frost, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and a speaker at the International Civil Society Week, 8-12 April 2019, in Belgrade, Serbia

    This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW)

     They are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, brothers, friends. But for me they are extraordinary people – the ones who have the courage to stand up for everyone else’s rights. They are the human rights defenders.

    Last year, according to reliable sources, 321 of them were killed, in 27 countries. Their murders were directly caused by the work they do to ensure the rest of us enjoy the rights we claim as purely because we are human.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

  • Human rights groups globally call for end to killing of activists in record numbers
      • Human rights activists are being violently attacked and killed in record numbers 20 years after historic UN declaration adopted to protect them.
      • More than 900 organisations sign global statement raising concern about crisis for rights campaigners and calling for greater protection of activists
      • December 9 is 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
      • More than 3,500 human rights campaigners have been killed since then, mostly at the hands of governments, businesses and armed groups

    Activists in Jail Around the World -- See Map & Get Involved

    Exactly twenty years after the United Nations adopted a historic declaration to protect human rights defenders, activists are being violent attacked and killed globally in unprecedented numbers.

    This crisis for rights campaigners has prompted more than 900 organisations working on human rights to endorse a global statement raising serious concerns about the glaring gaps between the provisions in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the treatment of those on the frontlines of the fight for human rights.

    The statement comes as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9.

    The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from the individual to global spheres. It affirms the responsibility and duty of states to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of their fundamental rights.

    “Twenty years after the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs, HRDs across the world are exposed to excesses by state and non-state actors. There are glaring gaps in the recognition of the work of HRDs and in protecting them. A lot more needs to be done to ensure HRDs are able to do their work without fear of intimidation, threats or violence.” Said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.  

    The global statement is a collective call to governments, identified as the primary perpetrators of violence against HRDs, to respect the Declaration’s provisions, recognise rights activists as key players in the development of societies and create an enabling environment for them to engage in their activism without fear of intimidation, threats and violence.

    As the international community commemorates this milestone, we are reminded of the dangerous environment in which many HRDs operate. Over the past two decades, more than 3,500 rights activists have been killed for their work. Last year alone, more than 300 were murdered in some 27 countries. Despite the fact that these heinous crimes are preceded by threats, which are often reported to the authorities, in almost all cases, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. The high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of these acts are enhanced by the fact that culprits are often not prosecuted even when they are known to the authorities.

    HRDs continue to be subjected to judicial persecution and are charged with serious crimes such as terrorism, secession, treason, engendering state security and drug trafficking for their part in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns. Most of these charges carry hefty penalties and, in most cases, trials are flawed.

    Rights defenders are also subjected to acts of intimidation and smear campaigns and, in a time of heightened geopolitical tensions and bolstered government counter-terror programmes, are labeled “agents of foreign powers,” and “enemies of the state.” The objective is to discredit their work and force them to self-censor or leave their base communities.

    Many HRDs have been abducted and simply disappeared with no official information on their whereabouts. Others have fled to other countries to avoid state reprisals. While activists are targeted for violence and attacks by states, increasingly they also face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests.  

    “It is time for states to ensure that they fully commit to their international human rights obligations. Women human rights defenders, environmental, land rights and indigenous activists as well as those defending the rights of excluded communities continue to bear the brunt of attacks and restrictions by state and non-state actors.” Kode continued.

    As leaders of civil society organisations working across different nations and regions at all levels, the statements’ signatories have called on governments as primary duty bearers to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their work safely, without fear of intimidation or the threats of violence. The group has urged businesses to respect the rights of people to express their views and protest, in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    David Kode

    Grant Clark

  • Increased targeting of members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission

    Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Service for Human Rights, condemn the killing of two employees of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Fatima Khalil and Ahmad Jawed Folad, on 27 June 2020. The AIHRC staff were killed by an improvised explosive device while on their way to work in the organisation’s official vehicle in Kabul. We believe the killing is a direct reprisal for their human rights work.

  • INDIA: ‘The government is dealing with dissent in very concerning ways’

    Sudha BharadwajCIVICUS speaks Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer and long-time human rights defender working for the rights of workers and Indigenous peoples in India.

    Sudha wasarrested and detained in August 2018 under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations. Alongside 15 other human rights defenders, she was further accused of conspiring to incite violence among the Dalit community. Despiteproof that incriminating evidence against them was planted,concerns expressed by United Nations (UN) experts about the arbitrary charges and UN calls to release political prisoners from crowded jails during the pandemic, requests for Sudha’s release, including on health grounds, were repeatedlyrejected. She was finallyreleased on bail in December 2021 after three years in detention.

    How did you get involved in human rights work?

    For the last 35 years I have been working in Chhattisgarh, an area in eastern India that is very rich in mineral resources. I began around 1986 as a trade unionist and worked with a legendary union leader, Shankar Guha Niyog, who was organising iron ore miners. Conditions were appalling. Workers were not unionised, working hours were long, wages were very paltry and even the very basic labour laws of our country were not being applied.

    I became a lawyer basically because my trade union needed one. I graduated in 2000, at the age of 40. I initially took up matters of our own union and later I shifted to work at the high court, where I realised contractual workers, farmers resisting land acquisition and Adivasi Indigenous groups resisting mining projects were forced to face very expensive corporate lawyers without any real legal assistance. They needed lawyers who understood them and who could devise legal strategies compatible with the tactics of their movements.

    I started a group of lawyers to provide legal aid to unions, farmers’ and village organisations, Adivasi communities, and civil society organisations (CSOs). Around this time, I became involved in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), one of the oldest human rights organisations in India. We dealt with various human rights issues, including attacks and harassment of minorities and the criminalisation of Dalits and Adivasis under false accusations of having links with armed Maoist groups, also called Naxals. We took up several cases in which security forces fired on villagers accused of being Naxalites. We were eventually able to prove that these were false accusations.

    I dealt with cases against big corporations, so I made powerful enemies. By taking up cases of Adivasis I also annoyed the government. In 2018 I was teaching a course at the national lawyer’s university in Delhi and that’s when I was arrested.

    Can you tell us about your experience in detention?

    Because the case was in Pune, I was initially sent to the women’s wing of the Yervada central jail, which is a prison for convicts. I was taken there with another activist, Shoma Sen. As soon as we were brought there, we experienced attacks on our dignity. We were asked to strip and squat. We were isolated: kept in separate cells, unable to communicate with other prisoners, led out into a yard for only half an hour a day. We were under constant surveillance.

    In the winter it was very cold. We spend most of the time reading, although we struggled to get books. Because the library was in the men’s side of the jail, only 25 books were brought at a time. We were allowed to keep only two or three with us in our cell. We also had issues with access to water and sometimes had to carry in buckets. Shoma struggled with severe arthritis. 

    Later on, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over our case, so we were moved to Byculla jail in Mumbai. This jail was extremely overcrowded, and we lacked any privacy. We would sleep right next to one another on coffin-sized strips of the floor which were allotted to us by the kamwali (staff) in charge of the barracks. There were also limited bathrooms to share.

    Social distancing was impossible, and during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many detainees got infected and were stuffed in a quarantine barrack. I did not become seriously sick but both Shoma and I requested medical bail due to underlying conditions. This was systematically denied.

    Due to the pandemic, we were totally cut off from the outside world and were not taken to the courts for about five or six months. Then PUCL and other groups requested the Bombay High Courts to authorise telephone calls and we were allowed to speak to our families for 10 minutes once a week. Our lawyers could talk to us by sending an email to the jail, and the jail would allow us to phone them back - for 10 minutes, twice a week. That’s how we were able to tell them about prison conditions. I also tried to help people around us who were old or sick to write petitions.

    How did you feel when you were finally granted bail, and what’s next?

    The bail order was issued on 1 December 2021. I felt extremely disappointed that other activists linked to the case were not released with me. My request for bail was accepted on technical grounds. I heard the NIA appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn my bail, but it was immediately dismissed.

    On 8 December I was taken to the court, given cash bail, and asked to produce sureties. When I came back to the jail, many detainees celebrated for me and gave me their requests. I was released the next day.

    The bail conditions have restricted me to Mumbai, which is not my city. Friends have been very helpful, but I don’t have a home or work here so I’m still trying to adjust to the situation. I would like to continue my practice on behalf of prisoners and trade unions. For now, I have to attend court hearings and check-in at the police station every two weeks.

    How have the conditions for activism in India changed while you were in jail?

    Even before I went to jail things were already challenging, but since I was released, I have seen increasing attacks against minorities, notably Muslims. There has been a rise in hate speech, which seems to be manufactured and copiously funded, especially on social media.

    The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed in December 2019, is discriminatory against minorities. There was a strong movement against the CAA law, in many places led by Muslim women, but this was shut down due to the pandemic.

    We are also seeing that many institutions that are supposed to be independent – such as the Election Commission and investigating agencies – are being manipulated by the government. There are even concerns about the independence of the National Human Rights Commission, which has failed to take a proactive role on many important issues. The undermining of these institutions will affect their roles in their future, even if the government changes.

    The government is dealing with dissent in very concerning ways. One clear example is the increasing surveillance of journalists, activists, and advocates. A lot of us involved in the case had our phones infected by Pegasus spyware. We have approached the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Committee looking into the use of Pegasus against Indian citizens and it has decided to request our phones from the NIA and undertake an inquiry.

    There are also concerns about the impacts of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) on civil society. If you advocate for workers, Indigenous peoples or poor communities, your work is considered a political activity and you are barred from doing it. Larger CSOs with FCRA registration should be able to support smaller CSOs on the ground, but the government is depriving them of the ability of distributing funds to local grassroots groups and reaching out to real beneficiaries.

    Where do you see positive change coming from in India?

    One beacon of hope is the farmers’ movement. The opposition was against the farm bills proposed by the government, but it was unable to stop them. It was farmers themselves who stopped them, by standing their ground for almost one year in the heat, cold and rain. Thousands of criminal cases were brought against farmers, and they were smeared as terrorists. But they managed to hold their ground, build unity and push back. The key lesson here is that people must get organised.

    I think that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, the anti-CAA law movement would have had similar results. Students are also an important force, but we are seeing them facing attacks to prevent them organising and speaking up. But they will find a way to continue their struggle.

    At a time when many internal mechanisms are failing us, international scrutiny and pressure are also key to improving the situation. There are international standards India cannot ignore. But of late, the Indian government has taken a problematic attitude towards UN bodies, including UN missions to Kashmir, and has gone as far as preventing people from speaking at or participating in international conferences. When UN Special Rapporteurs have made comments on human rights in India, the response has been dismissive and disparaging.

    The government often uses terrorism and national security as an excuse for all kinds of human rights abuses. It is important to put the spotlight on this and not let the government get away with it.

    Civic space inIndia is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. 


    Sudha was one of our #StandAsMyWitness faces. The campaign advocates for the release of Human Rights Defenders behind bars. In 2021, we welcomed the news of the release of three Human Rights Defenders -including Sudha-, and we continue to use our voices to call for the release of all other detained activists. Head to the official campaign page to read more about the current faces featured and join us in standing as their witnesses!

    StandAsMyWitness released HRDs

     

  • India: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Khurram Parvez

    Khurram ParvezHuman rights defender Khurram Parvez, 44, is the Programme Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) which is a coalition of various campaign, research and advocacy organisations based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir which monitor and investigate human right abuses. He is also the Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) a collective of non-governmental organisations from ten Asian countries that campaign on the issue of enforced disappearances.

    Khurram has documented serious human rights violations in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, including enforced disappearances and unlawful killings. He was detained in November 2021 and is accused ofbeing in contact with individuals linked to a Pakistani militant group. He is facing multiple charges  under the Penal Code and draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA), related to conspiracy and terrorism, which CIVICUS believes have been trumped up by the authorities because of his activism.

    He has faced systematic harassment to advocate against human rights violations in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. In September 2016, the Indian authorities arrested him a day after he was barred from travelling to Switzerland to attend the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. He was charged under the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows detention without charge for up to two years. He was released after 76 days in detention.

    In October 2020, nine simultaneous raids were conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the houses and offices of several human rights defenders, non-governmental organisations and newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir - including the house of Khurram Parvez.

    Updated September 2023

    2021

    22 November 2021: Officials from the National Investigation Agency (NIA), assisted by the local police, conducted raids on the house of Khurram Parvez and the JKCCS office in the city of Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, for approximately 14 hours. Parvez’s mobile phone, laptop, and several books were seized. On the evening of the same day, Khurram Parvez was taken for questioning to the premises of the NIA in Srinagar. At around 6pm, his family members received a phone call from NIA officers who requested them to bring him clothes. Upon arrival at the premises of the NIA they were given an arrest memo for Parvez, which was issued on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the NIA on 6 November 2021.

    According to the arrest memo, Khurram Parvez faces charges of “criminal conspiracy”, “waging war against the government of India”, “punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India” (Sections 120B, 121, and 121A of the Indian Penal Code, respectively), and “raising funds for terror activities”, “punishment for conspiracy”, “recruiting any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act”, “offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation” and “offence of raising funds for terrorist organisations” (Sections 17, 18, 18B, 38, and 40 of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), respectively).

    24 November 2021: Khurram Parvez was taken to New Delhi where he remained detained under NIA’s custody.

    30 November 2021:Appeared at the NIA court.

    2 December 2021: United Nations human rights experts expressed concern over the arrest of Khurram Parvez under the stringent UAPA anti-terror law and called for his release. They said: “We are concerned that one month after Mr. Parvez’s arrest, he is still deprived of liberty in what appears to be a new incident of retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender and because he has spoken out about violations.”

    4 December 2021: Khurram Parvez appeared before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court in New Delhi, after 12 days under NIA’s custody. Judge Parveen Singh extended his detention for another 20 days and ordered that he be transferred to the Tihar maximum security prison, in New Delhi.

    25 December 2021: Judicial custody extended for 30 days until 21 January 2022.

    2022

    24 January 2021:Judicial custody extended for 40 days. His family was barred from meeting him due to COVID-19.

    12 February 2022:The court extended his judicial custody for a further 40 days.

    24 March 2022: An NIA Court extended his judicial custody for 50 days.

    27 March 2022: The NIA carried out another raid of the residence of Khurram in Srinagar.

    13 May 2022: The NIA filed a charge sheet against Khurram Parvez and seven others before the NIA Special Court in New Delhi. He was charged under Sections 120B and 121A of the Indian Penal Code (“criminal conspiracy” and “punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India”, respectively), Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (“taking gratification, in order, by corrupt or illegal means, to influence public servant”) and Sections 13, 18, 18B, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) (“unlawful activities”, “conspiracy”, “recruiting any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act”, “offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation” and “giving support to a terrorist organisation”, respectively). 

    In the chargesheet the authorities accused him and others of supporting a Pakistan based proscribed militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to fund and recruit operatives for providing support in planning and execution of terrorist activities in various parts of India including Jammu & Kashmir.

    21 June 2022: A resolution introduced in the US Congress House of Representatives condemning human rights violations in India highlighted the case of Khurram Parvez

    6 July 2022: Khurram’s first hearing at the NIA Special Court in New Delhi took place. Lawyers were asked if they had received his chargesheet and other documents. The court also set the date for the next hearing

    16 November 2022: Khurram's case was raised by the UN Secretary General in its report on reprisals against individuals seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

    21 November 2022: One year anniversary of Khurram's detention. 12 NGOs issue a statement calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

    22 November 2022: UN experts issued a statement stating that the arrest and detention of Khurram Parvez has a chilling effect on civil society, rights activists and journalists in the region, They reiterated their call for his immediate and unconditional release by the Indian Government.

    2023

    19 January 2023: Khurram Parvez won the Martin Ennals Award, one of the world’s most prestigious human rights prizes. The organisation said that Khurram “relentlessly spoke the truth and was an inspiration to civil society and the local population.”

    13 March 2023: Khurram Parvez was interrogated by the NIA on two consecutive days in the week of 13 March 2023 in the Rohini High Security Prison in New Delhi.

    20 March 2023:  Kashmiri human rights defender and journalist Irfan Mehraj was arrested by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the NIA in New Delhi on 8 October 2020, under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). On the same day, the NIA published a press release framing the arrest of Irfan Mehraj as part of an “NGO Terror Funding Case”. The statement noted Irfan Mehraj was a “close associate of Khurram Parvez and was working with his organisation JKCCS”. The press release added that “investigations revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the valley and had also been in propagation of secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights”.

    22 March 2023:Khurram Parvez was transferred from Rohini Central Prison to the Patiala House Court in New Delhi, where Irfan Mehraj was produced and arrested in this second case. Khurram was then remanded to the NIA’s custody for 10 days.

    26 April 2023: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) searched Khurram's office in the Dandoosa area of the central Kashmir district.

    5 June 2023: In an opinion adopted on 28 March 2023 and released on 5 June 2023, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said Khurram's detention was “arbitrary”. It called on the Indian authorities to immediately release him and to provide him with an “enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

    13 June 2023: A Delhi Court extended judicial custody of Khurram Parvez for another 45 days after the NIA sought more time to complete the investigation.

    9 August 2023: Communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Indian government was published.

    21 August 2023: Khurram Parvez and Irfan Mehraj's cases were included in the Report of the Secretary-General on reprisals against human rights defenders that had cooperated with United Nations bodies

    16 September 2023: NIA files a charge sheet against Khurram Parvez and Imran Mehraj accusing the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) of allegedly funding terrorism


    India is rated 'Repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

  • India: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Sudha Bharadwaj

    SudhaSudha Bharadwaj, aged 60, is a human rights lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She was detained in August 2018, arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on trumped up accusations of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations, based on evidence believed to befabricated. It is alleged that she and 15 other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

  • India: Civil society orgs call for the Council's attention on the deteriorating human rights situation

    Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Delivered by Ahmed Adam

    On behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    Mr. President,

    We call for the attention of the Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in India.

    Since 2014, India has witnessed a sharp rise of authoritarianism accompanied by systematic erosion of the rule of law and independent institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission, Elections Commission and the judiciary, that are mandated to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    Indian authorities have escalated crackdowns on and persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and critics through restrictive laws and counter-terrorism legislation that do not comply with India’s international obligations. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) continues to be applied as part of a broader systematic repression of civil society and opposition voices. It fails to comply with international standards and must be repealed or reviewed.

    The government continues its assault on fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, media, peaceful assembly, association and movement, in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez, and journalists Fahad Shah remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in a deliberate attempt to obfuscate and stifle independent reporting on the extent and gravity of human rights implications of its policies in Kashmir.

    At the same time, majoritarian and ultranationalist narratives actively promoted or endorsed by public and religious officials as well as discriminatory legislation such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and policies, and police inaction, continue to fuel hatred, discrimination, and violence against minorities, especially Muslims.

    We call on Indian authorities to end repression of civil society and media, end harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists and critics, and release all those who are arbitrarily detained for their legitimate work including human rights defender Khurram Parvez and journalist Fahad Shah.

    The Council must act urgently and appropriately to prevent further escalation of violence, discrimination, and hatred against minorities which, if left unchecked, could lead to gross and systematic violations.

    Thank you


     Civic space in India is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor 

  • India: Halt harassment and release human rights defender Teesta Setalvad

    Free Teesta Protests Gallo

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, condemns the recent arrest of Teesta Setalvad and calls on the government of India to stop targeting human rights defenders. The arrest is the latest attempt by the Modi government to criminalise activists and undermine civic space in the country.

  • India: Human rights defender Khurram Parvez marks 150 days arbitrarily detained on baseless charges

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Amnesty International condemn the way in which the authorities have targeted and harassed human rights defender Khurram Parvez through the misuse of the justice system, 150 days on, from his arbitrary detention. Our organisations call on the government of India to immediately and unconditionally release him and drop the baseless charges that have been brought against him.

  • India: Human rights defender Sudha Bharadwaj spends another birthday in detention

    Human rights defender and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj will be spending her 60th birthday in detention today, more than three years after she was arrested on baseless charges under a draconian anti-terror law. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to halt the ongoing persecution against her and release Bharadwaj immediately and unconditionally. 

    Bharadwaj has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations. She and 15 other human rights defenders were further accused of conspiring to incite members of the marginalised Dalit community in relation to violence which erupted in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018.  

    Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. This is her fourth birthday in prison. 

    “Instead of celebrating her birthday with family and friends, Sudha will be alone in Byculla prison because she chose to speak up for the rights of Indigenous people and workers. Her detention highlights the systematic misuse of security laws by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders”, said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific researcher. 

    Her multiple pleas for bail including for underlying health issues have been opposed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. There are  serious concerns about the validity of evidence against her. A report in March 2021 by a U.S. digital forensics firm has raised questions about incriminating letters presented as evidence to implicate Bharadwaj and the other activists. The letters were found on an activist’s laptop which is thought to have been hacked. 

    UN experts have expressed concerns about the terrorism charges laid against Bharadwaj and about the UAPA in general, particularly with regards to its vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ which have been routinely used by the government to stifle dissent. 

    “The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and dissenters. The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations and become tools for judicial harassment” added Benedict 

    Sudha Bharadwaj is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. CIVICUS encourages people to share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness. 

    India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ in December 2019.  

  • India: Joint statement on the deteriorating health of G. N. Saibaba in Nagpur Central Jail

    Seven human rights organisations expressed concerns about the deteriorating health of the activist and Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba in Nagpur Central Jail, Maharashtra State, and called on the Indian authorities to provide urgent access to health care.

  • India: Ongoing targeting of activists under anti-terror laws for their protests against citizenship law

    India jail

    We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of 18 human rights defenders under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in reprisal for their advocacy work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. Thirteen of those arrested under the UAPA are currently in Rohini, Tihar, and Mandoli jails, New Delhi. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the human rights defenders arrested, and the dismissal of all charges against them.

  • India: Release human rights defender Khurram Parvez & stop harassment of activists in Jammu & Kashmir

    Stand with Khurram TW

    Ahead of his upcoming hearing on 21 January 2022, CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, calls on the government of India to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Khurram Parvez. The judicial harassment he is facing highlights the repressive environment for activists and critics in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir.

  • Indonesia: Government should immediately withdraw arbitrary charges against Fatia Maulidiyanti & Haris Azhar

    The Indonesian government should put an end to the judicial harassment against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar, and uphold the right to freedom of expression, a group of human rights organisations said.

    ‘The Government of Indonesia must uphold its international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as its own national constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression,’ said the groups.

    The groups urged the Indonesian government to ensure that all persons can express their opinions without fear of reprisals and to ensure its actions are compliant with Indonesia’s Constitutional protections for human rights and the ICCPR, of which Indonesia is a State Party. The National Human Rights Institution, Komnas HAM, must also work towards ensuring the protection of defenders facing judicial harassment, the groups said.

    On 22 September, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment filed a police report against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti, Coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), and Haris Azhar, Founder of Lokataru Foundation. The police report alleges that the two individuals violated criminal defamation provisions (Article 310 (1) of the Penal Code), and the controversial Electronic Information and Transaction law (EIT Law). Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan has reportedly demanded IDR 300 billion, approximately USD 21 million, in compensation.

    The report was filed after subpoenas were earlier sent to the two human rights defenders, following a talk show on Haris Azhar’s YouTube channel, titled ‘Ada Lord Luhut di balik Relasi Ekonomi-Ops Militer Intan Jaya!! Jenderal BIN Juga Ada!!’, (There is Lord Luhut behind the relation of Economy-Military Operation Intan Jaya!! General of State Intelligence Agency is also there!!) in which Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti discussed the findings of a multi-stakeholder report revealing the alleged involvement of active and retired Indonesian army officials in the business operations of the gold mining sector.

    In the report, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan was identified as being affiliated with mining company PT Madinah Qurrata'ain, which holds the Derewo River Gold Project permit in Papua Province's Intan Jaya Regency, located along the Derewo fault zone, northwest of Grasberg and Wabu.

    Through shareholding, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is affiliated with PT Toba Sejahtera, whose subsidiary PT Tobacom Del Mandiri or PT Tambang Raya Sejahtra is said to have acquired a 30 percent stake in PT Madinah Qurrata'ain. 

    The report also recorded the escalation of violent and armed conflict triggered by military operations, one of which occurred in the Intan Jaya Regency. The conflict resulted in the loss of civilian lives and the displacement of thousands of people, including children and women.

    ‘The legal actions by the Coordinating Minister constitute judicial harassment and abuse of power. It criminalises the rights of these two human rights defenders to express their opinions on public affairs and creates a chilling environment for individuals who criticise the government,’ the groups said. 

    ‘We call on the Indonesian government to amend all repressive laws and legal provisions that hinder the protection of freedom of expression, and ensure the laws align with international human rights standards. The criminalisation of defamation is an inherently disproportionate and unnecessary restriction to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, under international human rights law. Indonesia must immediately drop the charges against Fatia and Haris and take steps towards preventing the misuse of litigation against human rights defenders and civil society that erode the exercise of their rights,’ they concluded.

    Endorsed by the following organisations:

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship 

    • Manushya Foundation
    • SAFEnet
    • Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
    • Access Now
    • ELSAM
    • ALTSEAN-Burma

    Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    Front Line Defenders (FLD)
    Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) 
    Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) 
    Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) 
    OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated 'obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.


    CONTACT INFO:

    For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff, please contact:

  • Indonesia: Intimidation against human rights activists exemplify narrowing civic and democratic space

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is highly alarmed by the Indonesian authorities' decision to name human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar as suspects in a defamation case for speaking up about human rights violations connected to corporate crime in Papua allegedly linked to government officials.

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