More than 90 organizations and civil society groups in Tunisia on July 24, 2018 issued a Pact for Equality and Individual Freedoms, outlining the fundamental rights that all Tunisians should enjoy. This pact is being issued to confirm a commitment to a civilian and democratic Tunisian Republic in the wake of the publication of the report of the presidentially appointed Commission for Individual Freedoms and Equality on June 12.
The commissions’ proposals aim to place human rights at the heart of the Tunisian justice system and to get rid of laws that governments had long used as tools of repression. The signatories outline 10 points based on the commission's main recommendations and call on the authorities to integrate them into legislation as soon as possible. An event to mark the adherence to the pact will be held at 5 p.m. on July 24 in the Omar Khlifi room of the Cité de la Culture.
“Tunisia is at an important turning point in its history,” said Yosra Frawes, president of the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats. “Its recent gains in the field of democracy will remain very fragile unless the foundation of individual freedoms and equality among all Tunisian citizens is strengthened.”
The struggle for freedom of speech in Tajikistan: Khayrullo Mirsaidov and the question of international responsibility
By JOHN HEATHERSHAW and SAIPIRA FURSTENBERG
Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a well-respected independent journalist in Tajikistan, was arrested on 5 December 2017, after he publically appealed to the country’s president regarding corruption in the northern city of Khujand. On 11 July 2018, Khayrullo was sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court in Khujand convicted him of embezzlement, forging documents and providing false testimony.
Mirsaidov is a well-known and respected journalist. He worked as a regional correspondent for Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus and Germany’s Deutsche Welle, as well as for various development projects funded by western donors. As noted by Michael Andersen, an independent journalist and close friend of Khayrullo, in a meeting at the UK Parliament on 20 June: “Mirsaidov spent all of his life fighting against corruption. The fact that the government is prosecuting someone who has been fighting against corruption his whole life shows how the government and the prosecutors are acting with complete impunity.”
Mirsaidov is an extreme case of a wider problem. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 20 journalists have fled the country within the past year, fearing persecution for their professional activities.
A host of austerity measures implemented by the Chadian authorities is pushing people into deeper poverty, undermining access to necessary health care and putting education beyond the reach of many, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.
‘Strangled budgets, silenced dissent: The human cost of austerity measures in Chad’ documents the impact of drastic spending cuts on the rights to health and education. It also charts the government’s crackdown on protesters and activists opposed to the austerity measures implemented in response to an on-going economic crisis.
“We spoke to pregnant women who were forced to delay important ante-natal health checks because they couldn’t afford to pay for these crucial services. We also met students whose bright futures have been thrown into doubt because their scholarships were withdrawn without advance notice,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“The Chadian government must recognize the cruelty of these austerity measures, and that an economic crisis is no excuse for undermining people’s rights, including the rights to health and education. The government must also stop repressing and silencing those who dare to express criticism of these harsh measures.”
The Chadian government started to implement severe austerity measures in 2015 following an economic crisis linked to the sharp fall in the price of crude oil, exacerbated by a lack of economic diversification. International financial institutions who loaned the government money during the crisis made their assistance contingent on general spending cuts. This steered the government towards policies that have undermined people’s economic, social and cultural rights including the rights to education and the right to health of thousands of people.
Amnesty International spoke to 176 people including government officials in the capital N’Djamena, and several other cities like like Massaguet, Massakori and Sarh, and visited 32 health facilities in eight regions.
A local health officer from the Sarh Regional Sanitary Delegation told Amnesty International that the government had reduced funds to different health facilities by two thirds in 2017: “Resources are rare … It is difficult to implement activities on the ground.”
Chad’s health budget was slashed by over 50 per cent from 2013 to 2017. Items such as subsidies and credit lines to hospitals were reduced.
The cuts in health spending have also reduced expenditure on the national emergency healthcare programme by 70 per cent, which was set up in 2006 with the aim of meeting the costs of emergency care in hospitals, including childbirth and obstetric and neonatal care.
For example, Alain a 40-year-old driver said he spent US$ 41-representing the third of the monthly minimum wage in Chad which is US$ 113- - when his wife gave birth to their son in October 2017.
He told Amnesty International:
“My pregnant wife did not benefit from the free emergency healthcare programme, despite being entitled to it. I paid for everything including tests, gloves, a plastic sheet for the delivery bed and drugs. There was no such thing as free emergency healthcare. We paid for everything. They did not give us anything free other than the vaccines for my new-born. Before, we would have gotten these things for free. Now, we have to pay for them.”
Amnesty International also spoke to 12 pregnant women, some of whom had walked up to 15km to reach a health centre. They were all around five to six months pregnant, and every woman, except for one, was attending her first ante-natal check-up. When asked why they waited so long for a check-up, the women said they did not have the money to pay for ante-natal care.
“Our research indicates that following the austerity measures, the minimum core content of the right to health is no longer protected. There is no justification for undermining the minimum, essential levels of the right to health even during an economic crisis,” said Samira Daoud.
The report also documents regular shortages of essential drugs and products such as paracetamol and disinfectants, including alcohol, in health facilities.
Education is another major casualty of the government’s spending cuts. Between 2014 and 2016, the Chadian authorities cut spending on education by 21 per cent as part of their austerity measures.
Scholarships of US$ 53 per month and per student were withdrawn for all university students, except those in medical and national vocational schools.
The fee to register in public universities was also doubled to US$ 94 in October 2017, while introducing a re-registration fee of US$ 53 for returning students. The registration fee was subsidized by the government before.
As a result, many students interviewed by Amnesty International expressed fears they would be forced to drop out of university as the government did not put in place alternatives, especially for economically vulnerable students and those who come from rural areas.
Some students have found part-time jobs for which they often miss classes in order to make ends meet.
Mamadou, a student at N’Djamena University, told Amnesty International that since his scholarship was cancelled, he can no longer afford to buy books and food from the university canteen or renew his subscription to the library.
“This situation has forced me six months ago to look for a job. I now drive a motorcycle taxi. I rent the bike at a rate of 3,000 CFA francs per day (US$6) … And very often, I have to choose between my classes or the work that allows me to support myself. It is very difficult because I cannot study as I used before.”
Recently, on top of a reduction of civil servants’ benefits by 50 per cent, the government made additional reforms to widen the tax base. New items of public servants’ salaries, which were not taxed until 2018, were taxed. These reductions combined with the rising tax on basic commodities and increased cost of living have made it difficult for public sector workers to support their family members.
A teacher told Amnesty International that following the new tax measures, his total net monthly salary including benefits and bonuses had fallen by 37 per cent to US$385 a month in 2016.
Anti-austerity protests quashed
Dozens of anti-austerity protests took place across main Chadian cities, including the capital N’Djamena, between January and March 2018. All the protests but one were repressed by security forces who fired tear gas at demonstrators, arrested more than 150 people including students and children and tortured at least two anti-austerity activists. The authorities have accused demonstrators of stoning police officers and destroying public administration and private cars.
Alain Didah Kemba, spokesperson of the youth movement IYINA was arrested on 19 February and taken into custody at the N’Djamena Police headquarters. According to the Police spokesperson, Alain Kemba Didah was arrested because a police commander had alleged seeing him with a bottle of gasoline in his hand and about to burn a pile of tyres. Alain has denied this allegation.
Alain told Amnesty International that he was tortured by police officers, including their supervisor, who beat him on the soles of his feet and joints. Alain said that he was forced to move from a room to another with his legs tied up to his hands behind him. He said the police accused him of leading protests against austerity measures. A few days later, he was released on bail for medical reasons and on 26 February, all charges against him were dropped.
Amnesty International is calling on the Chadian government to take immediate steps to address the impact of austerity measures on economic, social and cultural rights, including people’s rights to health and education. Authorities must also end the rampant violations of the people’s rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Published on Amnesty International on July 16, 2018
By NAW BETTY HAN, THOMPSON CHAU
Two local reporters accused of breaking Myanmar’s “draconian” secrecy law for their investigation of the Rakhine crisis are now charged by a court. Rights groups said the ruling deals a “hammer blow” to press freedom in the country, is a “black day” for all journalists and reporters working here, and has thrown serious doubt on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
On Monday, Yangon district judge Ye Lwin decided to allow the Reuters case to proceed to trial, setting a first court date for July 16. Section 253(1) of Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure requires a judge to dismiss charges against accused persons if the evidence presented fails to warrant a conviction. A motion for charges to be dismissed on this basis, submitted by defence lawyers, was effectively rejected by the decision on Monday.
A Turkish court’s June 27 ruling that journalist and writer Mehmet Altan be released after spending nearly two years in prison is a welcome first step for free expression in Turkey, and it should be followed by the release of his brother Ahmet Altan and other unjustly-held journalists, PEN America said in a statement today.
Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet, along with Nazli Ilicak, were sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2018 for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through the use of force and violence.
The June 27 decision by the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice was based on the Turkish Constitutional Court’s January 2018 ruling that Altan’s personal liberty and security and the freedom of the press were being violated by his continued imprisonment while his case is being considered.
Although he was released that evening, Altan must report weekly to the local police to sign in and he is under a travel ban. His co-defendants in the case remain in prison, and their appeal will be heard starting on September 21.
“The detention of these journalists was a violation of their rights from the very start,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “This ruling, while very welcome and a great relief for Mehmet and his family, is only a first step in restoring justice in this case. Press freedom in Turkey remains under grave threat until all imprisoned journalists are released and free to write, speak, and travel.”
The case began in September 2016, when Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July coup attempt.
Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show hosted by Ilicak, the Altan brothers and Ilicak were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force. The three have been serving time in pre-trial detention since their 2016 arrests. In February 2018, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.
Published on PEN America on July 3, 2018
The Egyptian authorities are pushing through new media and cybercrime laws that would give the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media. Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian parliament to reject these draconian bills and on the president to return the cybercrime law back to the parliament for amendment.
“These proposed laws would increase the Egyptian government`s already broad powers to monitor, censor and block social media and blogs, as well as criminalize content that violates vaguely defined political, social or religious norms,” said Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaigns in North Africa at Amnesty International.
The proposed cybercrime law was submitted to the president on 5 June for ratification. If passed, it will allow investigative authorities and the police to monitor and block websites for vaguely worded offences, such as publishing content that could incite crime or harm national security.
“Over the past year, the Egyptian authorities have blocked hundreds of websites without legal basis. If passed, these laws would legalize this mass censorship and step up the assault on the right to freedom of expression in Egypt, which is already one of the world’s most oppressive environments for media and journalism.”
The other three draft laws on media, initially approved by parliament on 10 June, also seek to increase the mandate of the media regulation body, known as the Supreme Council for the Organization of Media (the Supreme Council), to include the blocking of websites.
Over the past year, the Egyptian authorities have blocked 500 websites including independent news platforms and pages belonging to rights groups. Security agencies have ordered this without legal basis. In May 2017, the daily al-Masry al Youm newspaper published a report it said it had received from a security agency that claimed that the websites were "publishing false information" or "harming national security".
The Egyptian government claims there is a "need to organise digital news platforms" through the new laws. However it is clear these bills are a way to restrict the right to freedom of expression in a way that violates both international standards and the Egyptian Constitution. The proposed laws seek to allow the blocking of news websites, under the pretext of “protecting national security and public decency”.
The proposed media bills give the Supreme Council the right to block websites and file criminal complaints against digital media platforms and individuals on the basis of vaguely worded offences such as "inciting people to violate laws" and "defamation against individuals and religions”. They also prohibit news websites from creating smartphone apps unless they have special permission from the Council, and prohibit websites from selling any advertising spaces if they are not registered with the Council.
The new bills also create a number of bureaucratic and financial hurdles for digital media outlets. Establishing an online video channel on a website now requires a company to have capital of 2,500,000 EGP.
“Every day we receive reports about people from all levels of Egyptian society who have been persecuted for Facebook posts, tweets, art work, and even personal, unpublished writing that has fallen into the hands of the Egyptian authorities,” said Najia Bounaim.
“This grim situation will be made much worse if these restrictions are written into law, giving the Egyptian authorities sweeping new powers to monitor online content. It is not too late for the authorities to withdraw these laws and commit to allowing a safe and open space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”
The first law, known as the Law of the Organisation of Press, Media and the Supreme Council of Media, governs the establishment of private media platforms and the behaviour of private and public media. The second law, known as the Law of the National Authority of Press, focuses on the organization of newspapers and news websites run by the state. The third law, known as the Law of the National Authority of Media, focuses on the organization of TV channels and radio stations owned by the state. The Law on Combating Crimes of Information Technology focuses on websites that publish content considered harmful to the national economy or national security.
The Supreme Council was established by presidential decree No. 158 in 2017. Since its establishment it has committed numerous violations against the media, including referring journalists to disciplinary investigations in the Press Syndicate solely for doing their work.
Published on AI on July 2, 2018
A tax on social media use in Uganda, which came into effect on 1 July, is a clear attempt to undermine the right to freedom of expression and must be scrapped, Amnesty International said today.
President Yoweri Museveni announcing the tax in March said it was aimed at platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber, to curtail “gossip”, a clear infringement on the right to freedom of expression.
“It is not the place of the Ugandan authorities to determine which discussions taking place on social media platforms are useful. Rather, it is their responsibility to uphold and nurture unfettered enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have opened up cheaper avenues of communication and information sharing in Uganda. By making people pay for using these platforms, this tax will render these avenues of communication inaccessible for low income earners, robbing many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights. This is a clear attempt to silence dissent, in the guise of raising government revenues.”
Amnesty International urges the Ugandan authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of expression without any encumbrances whether it is exercised offline, or online on social media platforms, as guaranteed in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Uganda has ratified.
Uganda’s parliament in May 2018 passed a new tax targeting what was described as “gossip” on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber in a bid to raise revenue for the government. The tax came into force on 1 July 2018.
Published on AI on July 2, 2018
By Vladislav Lobanov
In the early hours of May 18, a team of police and security services’ agents raided the apartment of Viktor Korb, a journalist from Omsk. One of the agents shoved a search warrant in Korb’s face and the team conducted a 10-hour search, turning his home upside down. They seized all electronic devices, documents, and archives belonging to Korb and his family. This was how Korb learned that on May 16, the Omsk Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against him. Two and half weeks later, he found out the charges: incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, or terrorist propaganda.
The charges stem from a court transcript posted on April 21, 2015 on Korb's web-site, Patriofil, which he has been running and moderating for eight years. It’s the transcript of a fragment of the closing speech made by a controversial Russian blogger, Boris Stomakhin, at his trial in April 2015. The court found Stomakhin guilty of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to five years in prison for his publication about the December 2013 Volgograd bombings. Stomakhin, who ran his own publication, titled Radical Politics, has two prior criminal extremism convictions, from 2006 and 2014, also connected to his writing.
Stomakhin’s closing speech indeed contains odious, offensive views. The transcript posted on Patriofil is based on a publicly available YouTube video of Stomakhin’s court speech. Nowhere in the publication does Korb express support of what Stomakhin said in this speech.
This is not the first time the authorities have gone after Korb. In 2015, they fined him for “disseminating extremist materials” after he posted on Patriofil a cover of Radical Politics. In 2014, a hosting provider unexpectedly shut down Patriofil without warning or notification. After Korb moved his site to another hosting platform, the site has been functioning with no problems.
But Korb told me that at no point in the past three years did the authorities issue him any warning about the posting of Stomakhin’s closing speech, or any other activities.
Now, Korb faces similar criminal charges as Stomakhin, and up to seven years in jail. On May 20, police detained Korb at the airport as he was about to leave Omsk for Moscow. Officials kept him in custody until his plane departed without him. Korb said that when the police released him they “politely but firmly” told him he was not allowed to leave Omsk due to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases of Russian authorities bringing groundless charges for online speech, including for reposting alleged “extremist” information. Now there is one more. The charges against Korb should be dropped.
Published on Human Rights Watch on June 19, 2018
By Victor Muisyo
The EU on Monday night called for “respect for freedom of expression” after an opposition-organized protest was dispersed last weekend my Malian security forces, events that left several people injured.
“The demonstrations must be peaceful and all actors including the police must exercise restraint,” said a spokesman for the European Union in a statement.
“It is important that the 2018 presidential election be held in peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive conditions in order to strengthen Mali’s stability,” he added.
“The EU will remain fully committed to contribute through, inter alia, the deployment of an election observation mission,” he continued.
The Malian government had declared Sunday “false and slanderous” the statements of the opposition, which had initially reproached it for having used “live bullets” during demonstrations the day before in Bamako before demanding an “investigation”, two months to the presidential election on July 29.
In the aftermath of the clashes that left 25 wounded according to a hospital source, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was worried the situation in Mali could escalate when he visited the country last week.
Published on Africa news on June 4, 2018
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School