media freedom

 

  • “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

     

  • A Free and Diverse Media is Essential to Protecting Democracy in the 21st Century

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Images of protestors flooding the streets – whether in Caracas, Bucharest, Istanbul or Washington DC – send a powerful message to those in power, especially when they are plastered across newspaper front pages. In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for citizens to organise and undermine the ability for dissent to be reported. Even in the most mature of democracies, the ability of citizens to organise and mobilise, and the freedom of journalists to report when they do, are being undermined. In an era of rising populism and spreading curbs on fundamental freedoms, we need to do more to protect civic rights and press freedom.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Inés Pousadela
    CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
    +598 2901 1646

     

  • Angola: Restrictions on fundamental freedoms continue ahead of elections

    Portuguese 

    The arraignment of two journalists in Angola on spurious charges is the latest assault on fundamental freedoms as the government increases restrictions on civic space ahead of crucial elections scheduled for 23 August 2017.  Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the government of Angola to stop the judicial persecution of journalists, and calls on international observers to ensure freedom of expression is respected in the run up to the elections.

    On 20 June 2017, journalists Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenço were indicted by the Office of the Attorney General and charged with “outrage to a body sovereignty” and “insult against public authority” under the Law on Crimes Against the State and Penal Code respectively.

    The charges stem from an article published by Rafael Marques on 26 October 2016 on his website Maka Angola, in which he exposed details of the dubious circumstances in which the Attorney General Joao Mana Moreira de Sousa purchased a piece of land in 2011. Mariano Bras Lourenço, Director of the O Crimenewspaper, was charged after he re-published Rafael’s article. Both journalists could face up to six years in jail.

    “The judicial persecution of journalists is one of several strategies used by the Angolan government to silence critical voices in the lead -up to elections next month,” says Ine Van Severen,

    Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “Angola is one of the most repressive states in the Southern Africa region as the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos has shown complete disregard towards human rights norms.”

    Marques has been a victim of judicial persecution in the past. In 2015, he was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence after he was found guilty of defamation for publishing a book titled Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, in 2011. In the book, he revealed details of hundreds of killings by security guards and soldiers and human rights violations in the diamond fields of the Lundas region. 

    The Angolan authorities continue to use violence to disperse peaceful protests.  On 24 June 2017, protests led by the Movimento do Protectorado Lunda Tchokwe (MPL-T) in the provinces of Moxico, Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul, were violently repressed by security forces.  One person died, at least 13 were wounded, and over 78 protesters were detained.   MPL-T has been demanding for autonomy for the Lundas region.  More protests are planned for 29 July 2017.

    In February 2017, security forces again used brute force to disperse peaceful protests in Luanda and Benguela. Demonstrators were calling for the resignation of the Minister for Territorial Administration because of a perceived conflict of interest in his position as a candidate for the ruling party in the August elections and his responsibilities to oversee the voter registration process.

    Even though President José Eduardo dos Santos has agreed to step down after 38 years in power, his government is doing everything possible to ensure that the ruling party, the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), maintains its grip on power. 

    CIVICUS calls on the Government of Angola to stop the judicial persecution of media and respect the rights of all citizens to peacefully assemble. 

    Angola is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform tracking track civic rights violations around the world.

    ENDS

    For more information, please contact:

    Ine Van Severen

    Policy and Research Analyst

    CIVICUS

     

    Grant Clark

    Media Advisor

    CIVICUS

     

  • As reprisals continue in Zimbabwe, CIVICUS calls on international bodies to intervene

    (Johannesburg 7 August 2020) CIVICUS calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to denounce ongoing human rights violations in Zimbabwe and act decisively against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Increasing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, together with the silence of the international community, have prompted an online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. There have been more than 700,000 tweets in the last few days as people from across the world express their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

     

  • Bangladesh: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    To

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

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

    Subject: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    Your Excellencies

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

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

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

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

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

    Sincerely,

    List of signatories (in alphabetical order)

    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

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

    Asian Human Rights Commission

    CIVICUS

    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

    Human Rights Watch

    Odhikar

    People’s Watch

    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

     

  • Burundi: four journalists still in jail one year after they were arrested

    • Burundian authorities should release four journalists and drop charges against them
    • Journalists added to #StandAsMyWitnesscampaign calling for release of all human rights defenders
    • Media freedoms and civic rights declining in Burundi

     

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

    Free Arbitrarily Detained Media Workers, Restore Media Licenses

     

  • CIVICUS concerned about repressive wave in Cuba

    Spanish

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is deeply worried about rising repression in Cuba. Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the expectations generated by the possibility of an imminent lifting of sanctions, Cuban journalists and civil society activists and their organisations are facing a serious clampdown for exercising their rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly.

    “As activists attempt to reclaim public space following recent political developments, short-term detentions have been on the rise as a way to discourage acts of democratic dissent,” said Inés Pousadela, policy and research officer with CIVICUS. “In addition to high-profile activists and protest-oriented organisations who have been traditionally targeted, groups engaged in research, monitoring and providing information to citizens have also faced increased government repression.”
     
    In October, several journalists were victims of raids on their homes and subjected to verbal threats, physical violence and the confiscation of equipment in clear acts of intimidation intended to stop them from doing their work. The Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) denounced a wave of repression directed against nine independent journalists for cooperating with the organisation. A group of journalists of the new independent media project Periodismo de Barriowere detained for reporting on the effects of Hurricane Matthew without a permit.
     
    In September, the offices of the Center of Legal Information (Cubalex), which provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and reports on human rights issues, were raided. Police sought to justify breaking into Cubalex’s offices, intimidating its staff and confiscating paperwork and equipment on the grounds that its lawyers were carrying out “illicit economic activity” even though Cubalex does not charge for its services. The organisation’s application for legal status has been rejected by the Cuban Justice Ministry and its Director, Laritza Diversent has repeatedly faced harassment for engaging with regional and international human rights bodies.
     
    CIVICUS calls on the Cuban government to enable the exercise of civic freedoms to speak up, organise and petition the authorities. Accordingly, we urge Cuban authorities to (i) cease the harassment of activists and journalists carrying out their regular legitimate activities, (ii) begin a process of dialogue to create a more enabling environment for civil society and the independent media, and (iii) initiate reforms to give legal recognition to a wider plurality of civil society endeavours.
     
    Cuba is listed in the ‘closed’ category of the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • CIVICUS condemns conviction of Reuters journalists on trial in Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ENDS.

    For more information, contact:

    Clementine de Montjoye

     

     

     

  • CIVICUS urges release of Cameroonian activists

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the release of recently arrested leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) and all activists and citizens unlawfully detained in a wide ranging crackdown on peaceful protests ongoing since October 2016. 

    “The situation in Cameroon is extremely serious and is being closely followed by the Chairperson of the African Union who has urged restraint and dialogue,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “We are deeply concerned about the arbitrary actions of the government and about the well-being of detained, citizens, protestors and civil society members.”

    On 17 January 2017 authorities in Buea, the South West Region, arrested CACSC leaders Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba.  Both were taken to the Military Mobile Intervention Unit, also known as the GMI, in Buea before being transferred to the capital, Yaoundé. There are serious concerns about the well-being and safety of the two civil society members as others arrested under similar circumstances have been tortured, and several remain unaccounted for. 

    Agbor Balla is the President and Fontem Neba is the Secretary General of CACSC, a network of civil society organisations, unions and citizens of Anglophone Cameroon advocating for, and seeking dialogue around, the rights of English speaking Cameroonians. The South West and North West regions are the only 2 Anglophone territories -  the other 8 regions are French-speaking.   The arrest of the two CACSC leaders has been swiftly followed by the arrest of activist Mancho Bibixy, in Bamenda, North West region, shortly after midnight on 19 January 2017.  He has been taken to an unknown destination.

    Since October 2016 citizens, lawyers and teachers’ unions of Anglophone Cameroon have stepped up their efforts to raise concerns over the suppression of the identity of Anglophone Cameroon. They have called for a review of the imposition of civil law practices and civil law trained judges in courts which have common law tradition, as well as raised concerns about the challenges faced by teachers, students and civil servants in Anglophone Cameroon. 

    Over the last three months, security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters, resulting in several deaths. There are also reports of arbitrary detention and torture while in custody. The whereabouts of several detainees remain unknown. Following the violent response of the authorities towards peaceful protests, CACSC is now coordinating a boycott of schools and academic institutions and a campaign of non-participation in economic, legal and social activities in the two Anglophone regions of Cameron. 

    Cameroonian authorities have responded by imposing power outages and internet blackouts in the North West and South West provinces in order to impede debate on social media and online platforms.  On 10 January 2017, the authorities closed down private radio station Radio Hot Cocoa, accusing it of unethical behaviour for broadcasting Anglophone Cameroonian concerns. The government has authorised aggressive security tactics in the affected regions including the maintaining a high military presence and carrying out of random house-to-house searches, arbitrary arrests and torture of occupants. 

    CIVICUS calls on the international community, including the African Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to urgently engage President Paul Biya to resolve the crisis and end violations of democratic rights.

    Cameroon is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    ENDS 

     

  • CIVICUS warns of grave dangers to civil society activists in Kenya

    Johannesburg. 18 May 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation warns that the operating environment for civil society in Kenya remains fraught with danger. As the spotlight is focused on impunity in Kenya by the international community including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and special representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), civil society activists are facing grave risks.

    Groups advocating for ending impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and those that have documented the violations are particularly threatened. On 4 May 2010, a meeting organised by Bunge la Mwannanchi on the post election violence in Kenya was dispersed and four of its activists were detained and later released without charges. In April this year, Kenneth Kirimi, a member of the civil society group, Release Political Prisoners, was arbitrarily detained and severely tortured by security operatives requiring him to need medical treatment. He was questioned with regard to his work on collecting information about extra-judicial killings and sharing of information with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston.

     

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

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


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

     

  • Civil society letter to U.S. State Dept on Human Rights Defenders

    80 civil society organisations from 30+ countries urge Honarable Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to strengthen U.S. government foreign policy to support human rights defenders globally


    Hon. Antony Blinken Secretary of State

    United States of America

    CC:      Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman,Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Senator James Risch, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman,House Committee on Foreign Affairs

    Representative Michael McCaul, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

     Dear Secretary Blinken:

    We, the undersigned organisations, work to promote human rights, democracy, media freedom, environmental sustainability, and an end to corruption around the world. The protection of human rights defenders — such as activists, lawyers, and journalists — is critical to each of our missions. We are deeply concerned by the unabated rise in reprisals against human rights defenders, both globally and within the United States, and the chilling effect that these attacks have on fundamental freedoms and civic space.

    We would like to request the opportunity to begin a discussion with the incoming State Department political leadership on the role that the Biden Administration will play in protecting human rights defenders.

    As the Administration prepares to re-engage the U.S. government at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, we encourage you to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to play a global leadership role on this issue.

    Read the full letter here

    Signed by

    1. Access Now
    2. Accountability Counsel
    3. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies Al-Haq
    4. Alliance of Baptists Amazon Watch
    5. American Jewish World Service
    6. Amnesty International USA
    7. ARTICLE 19
    8. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
    9. Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc (BALAOD Mindanaw)
    10. Bank Information Center
    11. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    13. Center for Civil Liberties
    14. Center for Human Rights and Environment
    15. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
    16. China-Latin America Sustainable-Investments Initiative Church World Service
    17. CIVICUS
    18. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Committee to Protect Journalists
    19. COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peacebuilding Nigeria
    20. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
    21. Crude Accountability
    22. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    23. EarthRights International
    24. Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines Equitable Cambodia
    25. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders FORUM-ASIA
    26. Freedom House
    27. Freedom Now
    28. Front Line Defenders
    29. Gender Action
    30. Global Witness
    31. Green Advocates International (Liberia)
    32. Greenpeace
    33. Human Rights First
    34. Inclusive Development International Indigenous Peoples Rights
    35. International International Accountability Project International Rivers
    36. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives Kenya
    38. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space Just Associates (JASS)
    39. Kaisa Ka (Unity of Women for Freedom) KILUSAN
    40. Latin America Working Group
    41. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
    42. National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
    43. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - NISGUA
    44. Network Movement for Justice and Development
    45. Odhikar – Bangladesh OECD Watch
    46. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union Azerbaijan
    47. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    48. Open Briefing
    49. OT Watch
    50. Oxfam America
    51. Peace Brigades International - USA (PBI-USA)
    52. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies
    53. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
    54. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
    55. Project HEARD
    56. Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) - Latin American NGO
    57. Protection International
    58. Rivers without Boundaries Coalition Mongolia Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    59. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
    60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network Swedwatch
    61. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
    62. Transparency International
    63. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
    64. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    65. Witness Radio – Uganda

    Civic space in United States of America is rated Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

     

     

  • Civil Society Organisations condemn the continued investigation of ex-RFA journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin

    Phnom Penh, 07 October 2019 -We, the undersigned civil society organisations strongly condemn the decision by the Municipal Court judge to continue the investigation into unsubstantiated espionage charges against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. The pair were arbitrarily arrested, detained and charged for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and for their work as investigative journalists on issues of social justice. Yesterday’s hearing showed that there is a complete lack of evidence in support of these baseless charges exposing fair trial rights violations and highlighting the trial as a blatant affront to freedom of expression and media freedom in Cambodia. We urge the authorities to immediately drop all charges against the pair.

    exRFA journalists

    Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, were arrested on 14 November 2017 and detained in Prey Sar prison. They were provisionally charged four days later with ‘supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence’, under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. The pair – who worked for RFA’s, now closed, Cambodia bureau – were denied their first bail application on appeal before the Supreme Court on 16 March 2018 and soon afterwards were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with the alleged production of pornography under Article 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. As a result of the accumulated charges, each face 16 years in prison. On 21 August 2018 they were both released from Prey Sar prison on bail, after more than nine months in pre-trial detention, however remain under judicial supervision.

    The original verdict hearing was scheduled for 30 August 2019 but on the morning of the hearing it was delayed due to an unannounced absence of the judge. It was subsequently scheduled for 03 October 2019, however the Phnom Penh Municipal Court again failed to deliver a verdict on the grounds that further investigation was required. The failure to reach a verdict is indicative of a lack of credible evidence against the pair and as such illustrates that there is insufficient evidence to hold them criminally liable as per the burden of proof standards enshrined in Article 38 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (Constitution). Throughout the process of their arrest, detention, and ongoing trial, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin have been denied the rights to fair trial, liberty and security protected under domestic and international human rights law.

    Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), incorporated into domestic law by the Constitution, states that ‘no one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.’ Article 14 thereafter preserves the rights to ‘be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law’ and to presumption of innocence. The charges levelled against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin are unsubstantiated and lack a clear legal basis. Instead, they have been employed as a means to punish the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and silence journalism critical of the government. The pair had previously reported on a wide range of human rights issues.

    In addition to baseless charges, the holding of these two men in pre-trial detention in deplorable conditions for more than nine months, and their continued placement under judicial supervision of already 12 months, violates their right to liberty and to a fair trial guaranteed under international law and the Constitution. International law stipulates that people charged with criminal offenses should not, as a general rule, be held in custody pending trial - a requirement not adhered to in Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin’s case.

    In May 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion on the case, finding that the Cambodian government had failed to (1) establish a legal basis for arrest and detention, and (2) provide proof that it had considered alternatives to pre-trial detention. Concluding that the pre-trial detention of the journalists resulted from their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and the freedom of expression, the Working Group found their deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary.

    The prosecution of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin is but one piece of the broader legal assault on journalists, human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, union leaders, activists, civil society representatives and individuals expressing their views on matters of public interest, including expressions of critical dissent. While the situation of press freedom was already constricted prior to 2017, since then Cambodia has seen almost all of its independent and local media silenced. Critical Khmer-language media outlets have had their activities severely restricted, including via the closure of 32 radio stations relaying RFA, Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD). RFA closed its Cambodia bureau in September 2017, citing the repressive environment and ongoing harassment of their journalists. The change of ownership of the Phnom Penh Post in May 2018, Cambodia’s last remaining independent English-Khmer language daily, was widely regarded as the last blow to press freedom in Cambodia. The space for freedom of expression online is also severely curtailed, illustrated through the increase in harassment of individuals who merely peacefully dissent or express their opinions through shares, posts or likes on Facebook.

    The right to freedom of expression, protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 41 of the Constitution, is essential for the guarantee of the exercise of all human rights, including the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of information, and the right to develop one’s personality and private life. As such, the importance of creating an enabling environment in which journalists are free to conduct their work – including by exposing corruption, expressing diverse viewpoints and shedding light on human rights violations – cannot be understated.

    The failure to vacate the charges against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin strikes yet another blow against what little remains of freedom of expression and media freedom in Cambodia. This case sends a clear warning to individuals who dare to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression and fosters an environment of intimidation and censorship. The legitimate and invaluable work of these individuals should be recognized, in line with Cambodia’s human rights obligations, and they should be able to carry out their activities in the future without fear of reprisal, obstruction or threat of prosecution. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to cease its intimidation and harassment of all individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and to re-establish an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media and a thriving civil society in line with its obligations under the Constitution and international human rights law.

    This joint statement is endorsed by:

    1. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
    2. Amnesty International
    3. Article 19
    4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    6. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
    7. CamAsean Youth’s Future (CamASEAN)
    8. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
    9. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
    10. Cambodian Food And Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
    11. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    12. Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA)
    13. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)
    14. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
    15. Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability (CISA)
    16. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
    17. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
    18. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
    19. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    20. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    21. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
    22. Independent Trade Union Federation (INTUFE)
    23. Indradevi Association (IDA)
    24. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    25. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
    26. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
    27. Klahaan
    28. Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (L.R.S.U)
    29. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
    30. People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center)
    31. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
    32. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    33. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
    34. Urban Poor Women Development (UPWD)
    35. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    36. Youth Education for Development and Peace (YEDP)
    37. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)

     

  • Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

    A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

     

  • Climate of repression a dark cloud over upcoming elections in Fiji

    By Josef Benedict, Civic Space Research Officer,CIVICUS  

    Powdery white beaches. Crystal clear turquoise water. Palm trees swaying in the breeze.

    This is the postcard picture of paradise that comes to mind when tourists think of Fiji. But for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but blissful.

    And the repressive climate in which elections are about to take place serves to highlight the decline in democracy there in recent years.

    In fact, since incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power a coup in 2006, Fijians have seen their civic freedoms increasingly restricted through repressive laws and policies.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Closed and repressed: No space for democracy to take root in Eritrea

    CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?

    Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.

    The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
    The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.

    2. What is the state of the media?

    Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
    Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.

    3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?

    According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.

    4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution

    The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.

    5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?

    For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be

    • Change of the existing government;
    • Crimes committed so far have to be addressed and perpetrators brought to justice;
    • The international community needs to support Eritreans both in the diaspora and those in Eritrea in leading a transition to democratic rule.

     

  • Egypt: open letter calling for an independent investigation into the death of Shady Habash

    Arabic

    CIVICUS, together with more than 60 organisations, calls for an open and independent investigation into the jailing and death of filmmaker hady Habash. 

     

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