fundamental freedoms

 

  • 2018 points to a new wave of citizen activism

    By Ines Pousadela

    When looking back at 2017, it is hard to lose sight of the fact that restrictions on fundamental freedoms were imposed at an ever-growing pace, even in countries that believed themselves to be immune to authoritarian temptations. However, along with increasing restrictions on civil society rights, we can also see civil society fighting back and continuing to claim rights.

    Read on : Equal Times 

     

     

  • 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 

     

  • Algeria: Marked regression in human rights underscored by proliferation of baseless terrorism prosecutions

    Arabic

    The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned and alarmed by the sustained repression of fundamental freedoms and legitimate human rights work in Algeria, including the marked proliferation of prosecutions on baseless terrorism charges against human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful activists.

     

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

    Twitter Facebook Free HRDs campaign 2

    Dear World Leaders,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We urge you to:

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

     

    Endorsed by:

     

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

     

     

  • Angola: 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

     

  • Angolan elections: Different name, same game for civil society?

    By David Kode

    Over the last 38 years, particularly since the end of the civil war in 2002, President Dos Santos has ruled Angola through securitisation of the society, repressing all dissent and restricting freedom of expression, association and assembly. Will space for civil participation open up after one of Africa’s longest serving rulers leaves power following elections this week?

    Read on: Pambazuka

     

  • Cambodia: More arrests and increased harassment of striking NagaWorld union activists

    Image NagaWorld protesters

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) are gravely concerned about the escalation of harassment against the NagaWorld union members and further arrests this week by the Phnom Penh police under the pretext of violating a pandemic law. We urge the government to release the detained activists immediately and unconditionally, and to further respect the right to peaceful assembly of the workers in Cambodia.

     

  • CIVICUS interview with Malaysia electoral reform coalition, Bersih 2.0

    In the lead up to the 14th general elections in Malaysia on 9 May, CIVICUS interviewed the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0 which means "clean" in Malay). The coalition - made up of like-minded civil society organisations - was officially launched in 2006 with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.

    Among its eights demands include: cleaning the electoral roll; reforming postal balloting; the use of indelible ink; a minimum 21 days campaign period; free and fair access to media for all political parties; strengthening public institutions to act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy and halting corruption and dirty politics.

    Since 2007, it has organized five massive street protests to the have drawn tens of thousands of people to protest on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country calling for electoral and national reform. Smallers protests have also been held in different countries across the world. Ahead of these mass rallies Bersih 2.0 organisers have been arrested or harassed by the authorities and authorities have seized their computers, mobile phones and documents.

    Over the last month, Bersih 2.0 raised concerns about the redelineation of constituencies which was done in haste in favour of the ruling government, highlighted problems with the overseas postal voting system, publicized vote buying by candidates and the manipulation and abuse of power by the Election Commission (EC) on Nomination Day

    More information on Bersih 2.0 can be found at https://www.bersih.org

     

  • Civil society organisations call on Tunisia to lift all restrictions on civic space and independent bodies and restore the rule of law

    Arabic

    Tunisia: More than 100 civil society organisations have endorsed a statement calling for an end to restrictions in Tunisia.                                                                  

     

  • Delivering emergency help for targeted activists is easier said than done

    FRENCH 

    By Lesego Moshikaro and Yessenia Soto

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Imagine you lead a non-profit feminist organisation in Egypt.

    IMG 4328Your work involves empowering women and lobbying the government to respect and protect their rights. In repressive Egypt, the authorities don’t like what you’re doing, and they want it to stop. So, they attack you – hitting you with a travel ban, freezing all your assets and charging you with receiving illegal foreign funding for your civil society organisation (CSO), which could lead to life in prison if you’re found guilty by Egypt’s notoriously biased courts. In aggressive and threatening interrogations, officials pressure you to shut down your CSO ‘voluntarily’, or things could get worse for you. 

    Photo: Activists, civil society organisations and emergency fund managers during the “Resource the resistance” convening at ICSW 2019.

     

  • Deportation of human rights defender highlights repressive environment in Vietnam

    • Vietnam arbitrarily detains and deports global human rights leader attending regional summit
    • Senior Amnesty International official also denied entry to attend World Economic Forum meeting
    • Barred entry of activists comes amid widespread repression of human rights in Vietnam
    • CIVICUS condemns actions, calls for end to harassment, intimidation, imprisonment of activists

    Global human rights groups have condemned Vietnam’s arbitrary detention and deportation of a Malaysian human rights leader who had arrived in the country to attend a regional World Economic Forum (WEF) summit.

    Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), had arrived in Vietnam on September 9 and was detained overnight at the Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport overnigh before being deported to Malaysia the following morning. Stothard, who had been invited to speak at the forum, was denied entry for “national defense, security or social order and safety” reasons. She also serves as coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma). ASEAN is the Association of South East Asian Nations, a regional political and economic bloc.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed grave concern at Stothard’s arbitrary detention and deportation and said it illustrates the repressive human rights environment in Vietnam. Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Global Operations, Minar Pimple was also barred from entering Vietnam to speak at the WEF meeting.

    “By arbitrarily detaining and deporting a representative of a well-respected international human rights organisation, Vietnamese authorities have demonstrated serious disdain for international norms. Such actions weaken Vietnam’s commitment to the sustainable development goals framework which promises respect for fundamental freedoms and support for effective partnerships with civil society,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer.

    “The authorities must allow her to participate in the forum without restrictions or reprisals” said Tiwana.

    Fundamental freedoms are severely curtailed in Vietnam, with activists, journalists and bloggers routinely arrested and imprisoned under vaguely defined national security laws. Activists also face restrictions on their movement and are subject to surveillance, harassment and violent assaults. Media outlets in Viet Nam are heavily censored and peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police.

    In April 2018, three United Nations experts urged Vietnamese authorities “not to crack down on civil society to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law”.

    These restrictions against civil society highlight relentless efforts by the Vietnamese authorities to silence individuals who have critical or dissenting views.

    In a tweet after her ordeal, Stothard said “whatever inconvenience I am being subjected to is nothing compared to the attacks on Vietnam #HumanRights defenders & the media”.

    CIVICUS calls on the Vietnam government to immediately stop these actions and unconditionally release all human rights defenders imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights. The authorities must also end all forms of harassment and intimidation against them.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, has rated the space for civil society in Vietnam is rated as closed.

    For more information, please contact:

    Josef Benedict

     

  • Ethiopia: Civil society calls for the immediate release of detained journalists

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately release 11 journalists and media workers arrested and detained since May 19 in Amhara state and the capital Addis Ababa for doing their work.

     

  • French Separatism Bill threatens fundamental freedoms, warn civil society organisations

    The proposed French "separatism" bill («Projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») could threaten rights and civil liberties, according to French and European civil society organisations including CIVICUS, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Le Mouvement Associatif (LMA) and la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH). French civil society organisations and trade unions have scheduled public demonstrations against the bill on 12 June 2021.

     

  • Gabon government goes after civil society and opposition members for failed military coup, raising concerns

    • Global rights groups concerned by Gabon government’s targeting of human rights defenders and opposition members for military coup attempt
    • Authorities shut down Internet and suspend broadcasting services following failed coup
    • Gabon under tense security in wake of coup attempt
    • The family of President Ali Bongo has held onto power in Gabon for over half a century

    Global civil society groups are concerned at indications by the government of Gabon that it intends to investigate local civil society organisations and members of the political opposition for their involvement in the recent military coup attempt.

    A small group of Gabon army soldiers seized control of the country’s national broadcasting station in the capital, Libreville, on January 7 and announced a political takeover and the setting up of a National Restoration Council to oust President Ali Bongo. The coup was thwarted after security forces stormed the building, killing two of the soldiers involved in the operation. Eight plotters have been arrested. A day after the failed coup, the government shut down the internet nationwide and suspended broadcasting services. 

    There are concerns that the Gabonese authorities might use the failed coup as a pretext to clampdown on fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association and tighten its grip on the media. 

    Amid heightened political tensions, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed serious concern at comments by government spokesperson Guy-Bertrand Mapangou that certain opposition parties and civil society would be investigated for supporting the coup.

     “We urge Gabon not to target individual human rights defenders or civil society but to instead increase the space for fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all Gabonese,” said Teldah Mawarire of CIVICUS.

    “What Gabon needs is democratic reform and the respect of the rule of law – virtues which have been absent from the country for half a century,” Mawarire said.  

    The Internet shutdown has also sparked concern, as a violation of the freedom of citizens to express themselves freely and to impart and receive information without hinderance. CIVICUS has urged the Gabonese government to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, in the wake of the coup attempt.

    President of Gabon, Ali Bongo has been away receiving medical attention in Morocco since last October. He succeeded his father Omar Bongo in 2009 in a contested election in which the opposition alleged electoral fraud. The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for 51 years. There has been an increase in restrictions on fundamental freedoms since a contested 2016 elections characterized by a media blackout, the killing of protesters, widespread arrests and intimidation and harassment of journalists.

    Last November, the authorities suspended the newspaper L’Aube for three months for publishing an article about the president’s health. The publication’s editor was banned from practicing journalism for six months. The same month, in a move widely criticized by civil society as being unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court amended the constitution to accommodate the absence of President Ali Bongo. Gabonese Civil society groups argued that the mandate of the Constitutional Court was limited to interpreting the constitution and not to change it. 

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Gabon as “Repressed”. This means that civil society organisations there operates under serious restrictions, which impede their ability to speak out on or protest any issue of concern to them.

    Following the attempted coup, the African Union (AU) commendably and swiftly condemned the action and urged a return to the rule of law. However, the AU has been encouraged to apply the same urgency to address the longstanding repression of fundamental rights by the Gabonese state.

    For more information, please contact:

    Teldah Mawarire

    Grant Clark

    Click here for our Press Centre

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/

    Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

     

  • Hongkong: Civic space deteriorates as another civil society group plans closure

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, expresses grave concern over increasing restrictions of civic space in Hong Kong exacerbated by the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). These restrictions have led to the closure of human rights organisations and independent unions and highlight the proliferation of a climate of fear for activists and those who are critical of the authorities. 

    In the most recent case, prominent human rights watchdog Amnesty International announced the closure of its local and regional office in Hong Kong. In a statement, the organisation said that the NSL “has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government”. It added that “the recent targeting of local human rights organisations  and trade unions  signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices.”

    Between August and October 2021, several other organisations announced their disbandment in the wake of the sweeping NSL. These include the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the pro-democracy group that organized some of Hong Kong's biggest protests in 2019. Other groups include the Hong Kong Alliance, responsible for organising three decades of vigils commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong Professional Teacher’s Union, the city’s largest teachers’ union and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the largest independent trade union.

    All the groups cited the drastic change in the political situation in Hong Kong and the potential risks of criminalisation under the NSL as the main driving force behind their decision.

    “The recent closure of offices announced by Amnesty International and the disbandment of other organisations out of a fear of potential reprisals send a chilling message to people in Hong Kong and across the region. It confirmed concerns raised by many when the law came about that it was not so much about security but rather designed as a tool to crackdown on civic freedoms in Hong Kong,” said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

    CIVICUS has previously documented the detrimental impact of the NSL imposed by Beijing, which criminalises four types of activities, namely secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces.” According to the law, these  carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Following the passage of the law in June 2020, several pro-democracy organisations including Demosisto, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy political groups, ceased their operations.  Some civil society staff left their jobs while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. More than a year on, it has been arbitrarily used to criminalise more than a hundred activists and opposition politicians, restrict press freedom and silence protests.

    “We stand in solidary with the people of Hong Kong and our civil society colleagues, and reiterate our calls for the government to repeal the National Security Law which is clearly in contravention of international human rights law. We further urge the international community not to remain silent in the face of increasing  restrictions on civil society but to use all avenues to speak up on these abuses” said Cornelius Hanung.

    In September 2020, CIVICUS supported the call by 50 United Nations experts calling for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China, including Hong Kong, and for an international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations. We call on delegations to the Human Rights Council to take collective, coordinated action at the next Council session to make clear that systemic human rights violations in China, including those taking place in Hong Kong, will not go unnoticed and unchecked. 

     

  • How to Undermine Democracy – Curtail Civil Society Rights

    By Cathal Gilbert, Dom Perera, and Marianna Belalba

    Recent elections and referendums in a growing number of countries from Turkey to the USA and beyond are producing leaders and policies, which directly threaten some of the core principles of democracy.  In an increasing number of established and fledgling democracies, we see ruling parties violating the fundamental freedoms to speak-out, rally behind a cause and get involved in a social movement.

    Read on:Inter Press Service 

     

  • IRAN: A new generation of civic-minded, courageous activists is rising

    Sohrab Razzaghi IranFollowing a year that was characterised by a continued crackdown on fundamental freedoms in Iran, CIVICUS speaks to Sohrab Razzaghi, Executive Director of the Volunteer Activists Institute (VA) a not-for-profit, non-partisan, independent civil society organisation (CSO) based in The Netherlands, whose primary aims are building capacity among activists and CSOs, facilitating information exchange among civil society activists, community peace-building and advocating for the expansion of democracy and human rights in Iran and more generally in the Middle East. VA is the successor of a pioneer Iranian CSO, the Iranian Civil Society, Training and Research Centre, founded in 2001 and based in Tehran until 2007. After fleeing Iran, Sohrab now lives in exile.

    Volunteer Activists recently published a comprehensive new study on civil society in Iran. What were its main findings?

    Our latest report, ‘Civil society in Iran and its future prospects’, which came out in September 2018, analyses the major developments that have taken place since the last previous comprehensive study of Iranian civil society was published in 2010.

    Not only does civil society in Iran currently face problems and challenges different from those of the past, but a whole new generation of Iranian activists has also become engaged, and they have fundamental differences with previous generations. As a result of a lack of understanding of such new phenomena, experts, policy-makers, donors and other stakeholders have not been able to understand and assess the situation accurately. The Volunteers Activist Institute (VA) took it upon itself fill this gap by undertaking a study that seeks to describe and explain major trends, challenges, opportunities and prospects of Iranian civil society, including the current situation of Iranian CSOs, their position within Iranian society and the challenges and restrictions they face.

    Among our main findings is the acknowledgment that Iranian civil society has various facets and faces, and is far from coherent and homogeneous. It comprises both traditionally structured and modern associations, including charities and CSOs focusing on health and hygiene. This branch of civil society has a long history and an extensive social base. CSOs working in these areas usually adapt to government policies and programmes. The government also favours them and encourages their expansion and development. In addition, the Iranian government uses some CSOs that focus on service delivery to advance its policies while it marginalises independent and advocacy CSOs.

    A significant recent development in Iranian civil society has been the emergence of a new generation of civil society activists in fields such as women’s and young people’s rights, community solidarity and the environment. Although their numbers are not large, this new generation has taken upon itself to expand civil society and challenge government policies on the matters they care about. They have launched a number of creative civic initiatives, both online and offline, such as I am Lake Urmia, which mobilised huge efforts to raise awareness of environmental degradation and push for action to prevent northwest Iran’s Lake Urmia from completely drying out. Another initiative, Wall of Kindness, created wall spaces across neighbourhoods where citizens could hang unneeded clothes to be taken by those in need. The Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament called attention to the scarcity of women legislators and urged for more women to be elected to parliament.

    And then there are the Girls of Enghelab Street, a series of more spontaneous women’s protests against the compulsory use of hijab. These protests were inspired by a woman who in late December 2017 stood on a box in Enghelab (‘revolution’) Street, tied her hijab to a stick and waved it at the crowd as a flag. She was arrested and remained in custody for about a month, but other women later re-enacted her gesture of defiance and started posting their photos on social media, so the protest movement grew from the ground up.

    Civic courage and audacity are two significant characteristics of this new generation of activists who have successfully torn into the power myths of the past. Social protest, including union and labour rights protests, has steadily increased in recent years, and particularly since the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Their cumulative effect is changing the landscape of Iranian civil society.

     What major changes is civil society currently experiencing in Iran?

    After President Rouhani’s inauguration, Iranian socio-political dynamics gradually started to change. Some marginalised social groups have experienced a limited and controlled comeback, and an atmosphere of societal hope started to take shape. Small openings have appeared through which a discourse on democracy, civil society and civic rights is beginning to make itself heard, although in areas that are deemed sensitive, such as women’s, labour and minority rights, the situation is still very tense and closed.

    These very minor changes have nonetheless created an atmosphere of hope, and civil society is cautiously coming back onto the social stage. But as in the 1990s, the civil society development model is still top-down, as the driving forces behind civil society are governmental agencies that view civil society as a useful tool rather than a force for social change.

    Independent civic action has increased around some issues, including the environment, youth issues and social inequalities. Organised civic action is also in the process of replacing the small, closed-group and underground activism of the period when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was President from 2005 to 2013, and recent years have seen the rise of CSOs and networks throughout the country. Some associations and networks, notably environmental ones, that had been blocked during the previous period are now regenerating and regaining force. On the other hand, the social movements that were suppressed following the controversial 2009 election, including women’s rights, student and labour movements, are still being obstructed.

    What is the current state of the freedom of expression?

    While the Constitution of Iran recognises the freedom of speech, several laws list a number of restrictions. The most important laws restricting the freedom of speech are the Islamic Penal Code and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Press Law. Articles 498, 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, among others, subordinate the freedoms of speech and association to security considerations. Article 500 of the Penal Code considers any activity that is deemed detrimental to the Islamic Republic or benefits any other group or organisation as a national security offence. Articles 498 and 499 establish that any gathering of more than two people inside the country or overseas, under any name, with the aim of disrupting Iran’s national security, or attendance at such a gathering, constitute national security offences.

    The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Press Law also introduces many restrictions on the freedom of speech. In order to be able to publish newspapers, magazines or any other publication in either print or digital form, individuals and organisations first need to acquire a licence, which is issued by a supervisory board led by the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. According to Article 9 of the Press Law, anyone who wishes to apply for such a licence must pledge allegiance to the Constitution of Iran. Chapter 4, article 6 of the Press Law introduces restrictions on the freedom of speech in the press, specifying areas that are disruptive to the foundation of Islam as well as to general and private rights. According to this article, the press cannot spread news of depravity, corruption, or contents contrary to public virtues. The restrictions far exceed these, however, as they include insult and defamation, falsehoods and rumours. Nevertheless, the law does not define any of these categories. The most problematic category is that of rumours, which applies to any lead that journalists normally follow to get to the core of the truth. Article 6, paragraph 6 also bans the publication of news on confidential issues, which go well beyond military documents to include unlicensed coverage of closed-door sessions of parliament or the courts and judicial investigations. Paragraph 1 of this article also clearly states that the publication and dissemination of so-called pagan news 0 that is, news that goes against Islamic criteria - or news that harms the foundation of the Islamic Republic is not allowed.

    All these bans restrict civil society activists in their quest for transparency and accountability in society and politics, because they are unable to voice the concerns of their stakeholders.

    What is the relationship between Iranian and regional and international civil society and human rights actors?

    Iranian activists and CSOs have been banned from joining regional and international civil society networks for decades, and therefore they have been unable to form strong coalitions and participate fully in exchanges of knowledge, experience and support. There are currently only 25 Iranian CSOs with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and most of them are quasi-governmental entities pursuing government policies rather than advancing citizens’ concerns.

    Legal restrictions and the dominant security environment prevent Iranian activists and CSOs from joining regional and international civil society networks. The Iranian government and its security apparatus are extremely sensitive towards any attempts by activists to connect with global networks and punish them with charges that go as far as espionage.

    Frail regional and international connections have also resulted from, and in turn intensified, activists’ lack of familiarity with regional and international frameworks and limited language and networking skills.

    As a result, representatives of independent civil society from inside Iran rarely attend regional and international conferences or voice civic opinions. The only CSOs that are allowed to attend gatherings such as the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the conferences of the International Labour Organization and the annual summit of the Commission on the Status of Women are quasi-governmental or government-sponsored non-governmental organisations (GONGOs) and those that are connected to the Iranian government’s security apparatus, which operate to promote government policies.

    In contrast, civil society activists, including teachers and factory workers who have tried to connect with regional and international networks, have faced severe penalties for doing so, including long-term imprisonment. Over recent months, eight environmental activists have been arrested and charged with espionage and security offences.

    It is worth noting that it is not just reaching out internationally that is penalised - the security apparatus also criminalises networking among Iranian CSOs inside the country and uses its power to either prohibit such networks from forming or weaken and neutralise existing ones.

    What needs to change for civic space to improve in Iran, and what should global civil society do to help?

    Global civil society should urge the government to establish a simple and transparent procedure for the establishment and operation of CSOs in Iran, and not to interfere in the lawful operation of CSOs.

    We need to find ways to include and engage independent Iranian civil society, as opposed to quasi-governmental civil society, with existing global networks. The initiative on this should be taken by the international civil society community. Two very helpful measures in this regard would be the provision of updated information and knowledge to Iranian activists, and the design and implementation of capacity-building and accelerator projects addressing the specific needs and shortcomings of Iranian civil society.

    Civic space in Iran is rated as ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with Volunteer Activists Institute through its website or Facebook page, or follow @sva_nl on Twitter

     

  • Khashoggi paid the price for being a 'different Saudi'

    By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead at CIVICUS

    Since Jamal Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi authorities have continuously changed their narrative of what happened. From claiming that he left alive and well, through asserting he got into a "fistfight", to insisting he was the victim of a "rogue operation", Riyadh has been unable to present a convincing, coherent explanation of what exactly happened that day in the consulate.

    Read on: Al Jazeera

     

  • Malaysia: A year after elections, fundamental freedoms still restricted

     

    A year after the electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, authorities have failed to reform repressive legislation or expand civic space, and continue to restrict fundamental freedoms and silence dissent, a new briefing from ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS said today.

    The briefing, New Government, Old Tactics: Lack of progress on reform commitments undermines fundamental freedoms and democracy in Malaysia”, concludes that, despite some encouraging early steps by Malaysia’s new political leaders, broader reform processes to protect human rights have ground to a halt. The Pakatan Harapan coalition has not followed through on commitments in its campaign manifesto to reform repressive legislation, including the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Instead, authorities have used these laws to harass and prosecute activists, government critics and others exercising fundamental freedoms.

    “The Pakatan Harapan government came to power on the back of promises to reform repressive laws and open up public spaces that have long been restricted by the previous regime. Instead, authorities have used the same old laws to silence critics, stifle unpopular opinions and control public discourse. These retrogressive tactics blemish the supposed reformist credentials of Malaysia’s new leaders, and impede the democratic transition that they promised to bring about,” said Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19’s Malaysia Programme Officer.

    While welcoming steps to establish a self-governing media council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about that the lack of progress in reforming restrictive laws that impede press freedom and the ability of journalists to report without fear of judicial harassment and criminal penalties. Further, there has been a lack of transparency in legislative and institutional reform processes, with limited opportunities for meaningful participation by civil society and other stakeholders. The decision by authorities to place the report of the Institutional Reform Committee under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), preventing its release to the public, underscores these concerns.  

    ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS’s review of the government’s record during its first year in office reveals continued restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly. Those involved in peaceful protests, including students, women’s rights activists and indigenous activists have been arbitrarily detained, threatened or investigated, while the Peaceful Assembly Act has yet to be amended in line with international law and standards. Further, the government has failed to follow through on manifesto promises to create an enabling environment for civil society and to review laws and policies that restrict the registration and operations of NGOs.

    “The government must halt the judicial harassment of demonstrators for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct police officers that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “Immediate steps must also be taken to review the Societies Act to guarantee that undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed,” Benedict added. 

    The Pakatan Harapan government faces tremendous challenges in dismantling the repressive legal and institutional framework built during 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS understand that opposition forces are determined to undermine progressive reforms in Malaysia. Nevertheless, we urge the government to follow through on its promises and undertake a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive process of legislative and institutional reform to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. Failure to act with urgency, resolve and principle in this regard will lead to the entrenchment of restrictions on civic space and call into the question the government’s commitments to fundamental freedoms.

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

     

  • Open call to all international actors: Do more to stop internet shutdowns shrouding torchings and killings in Myanmar

    Content note: this statement contains references to violence, murder, and potential war crimes.

     

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