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Freedom of Expression

    January 27, 2016

    Today’s appeal court ruling upholding a two-year prison sentence for five activists, who were convicted of allegedly taking part in a protest last year, is yet another example of the unfair and arbitrary nature of Egypt’s criminal justice system, Amnesty International said.

    Surgeon and poet Ahmed Said was among the five activists who were arrested and jailed in November 2015 for allegedly taking part in a protest. However, according to defence lawyers working on the case, there is no evidence proving that the protest, as stated in the National Security Agency’s investigations report, actually took place.

    The report is based on the investigations of a single National Security Agency officer, but at least two of the activists say they were tortured and ill-treated during interrogation. Some of the offences for which they were convicted, such as assembling without a permit, are in themselves contrary to international standards as they criminalize the exercise of protected human rights, while others, such as disrupting traffic, were unfounded.

    January 26, 2016

    Tomorrow’s trial of seven Moroccan journalists and activists on charges including “undermining state security” and “failing to report foreign funding”, is part of a calculated crackdown on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.

    The seven are due to face trial for taking part in a foreign-funded project to train people to use smartphones for citizen journalism. The court papers show that authorities believe that grassroots journalism may “destabilize Moroccans’ trust in their institutions”.

    “This case clearly demonstrates that Morocco's government is stepping up its attacks on press freedom. Helping Moroccans harness smartphone technology to report on what is going on in the country is not a crime, and it is outrageous that it is being treated as a state security offence. Moroccans have the right to receive and spread information about what is happening in their country,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

    January 26, 2016

    Malaysia is spiralling into a dark era of repression as the government has launched an unprecedented crackdown through the Sedition Act over the past two years to silence, harass and lock up hundreds of critics, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.

    Critical Repression: Freedom of expression under attack in Malaysia shows how the use of the Sedition Act – which gives authorities sweeping powers to target those who oppose them - has skyrocketed since the Barisan Nasional coalition government narrowly won the 2013 general elections, with around 170 sedition cases in that period.

    In 2015 alone, at least 91 individuals were arrested, charged or investigated for sedition – almost five times as many as during the law’s first 50 years of existence.

    “Speaking out in Malaysia is becoming increasingly dangerous. The government has responded to challenges to its authority in the worst possible way, by tightening repression and targeting scores of perceived critics,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Deputy Campaigns Director.

    January 16, 2016

    The detention of 19 academics in Turkey represents a new assault on the imperilled right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today. 
           
    The wave of detentions started on Friday, targeting academics who had signed a petition calling for peace and criticising Turkish military operations in the south-east. Signatories have also received death threats on social media, and have been compared to terrorists by President Recep Tayip Erdoðan earlier today. 
     
    “The military operations taking place under round-the-clock curfews are generating huge suffering and widespread human rights violations.  The Turkish authorities should be listening to those that are speaking out, not arresting them,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher. 
     

    January 14, 2016

    Released 00:01 GMT Friday 15 January 2016 

    -        Top scholars call on Chinese government to respect academic freedom, in an open letter to President Xi Jinping on second anniversary of Uighur academic’s seizure

    Four hundred academics from across the world have called on China’s President Xi Jinping to immediately release Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti, on the second anniversary of the day he was taken into custody by authorities.

    In an open letter to President Xi, scholars from globally recognized academic institutions - including Harvard University, The University of Hong Kong, and the University of Oxford, among many others - write that the immediate and unconditional release of Professor Ilham Tohti would be “an important way of demonstrating China’s commitment to academic freedom”.

    January 14, 2016

    The grenade attack on the offices of ARY TV in Islamabad represents yet another strike against freedom of expression in Pakistan, underscoring the growing peril faced by media workers in the course of their work, Amnesty International said today.

    Two attackers riding a motorcycle threw a grenade and reportedly fired gunshots at the ARY TV offices late on Wednesday. A video editor at the station was injured by shrapnel from the blast.

    “This is the latest, depressing addition to a series of brazen attacks in which media workers in Pakistan have been targeted for doing their jobs,” said Champa Patel, Director of Amnesty International’s South Asia Regional Office.

    Pamphlets left at the scene said the attack had been carried out by Islamic State Wilayah Khurasan, an armed group that claims allegiance to the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), in retaliation for ARY TV’s reporting of Pakistani military offensives.

    January 12, 2016

    The arrest of Samar Badawi, a prominent human rights defender, is the latest example of Saudi Arabia’s utter contempt for its human rights obligations and provides further damning proof of the authorities’ intent to suppress all signs of peaceful dissent, said Amnesty International.

    Read Samar Badawi's blog:  "My Husband is in Prison for Supporting Human Rights in Saudi Arabia"

    January 11, 2016

    A new cybercrimes law, which is due to take effect on 12 January 2016, will add a further layer to the web of laws that already restrict the right of people in Kuwait to freedom of expression and must be urgently reviewed, said Amnesty International today.

    The law includes criminalization of a range of online expression – in particular, criticism of the government, religious figureheads or foreign leaders. Dozens of people in Kuwait have already been arrested and prosecuted under other legislation for comments of this kind made on social media sites such as Twitter.

    “This repressive law is the latest, flawed strand in a tangled web of legislation that is designed to stifle free speech,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.

    “Like anyone else in the world, Kuwaitis have a right to peacefully express their opinion, including by criticizing their own or other governments online without fear of imprisonment.”

    January 07, 2016

    Posted at 0001hrs  8 January 2016

    The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has steadily deteriorated over the year since blogger Raif Badawi was publicly flogged for exercising his right to free expression, said Amnesty International the day before the first anniversary of the flogging.

    The past year has seen the Kingdom’s human rights record go from bad to worse. Most recently the mass execution of 47 people in a single day, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, sent shockwaves across the region.

    Despite the much hailed participation of women in municipal elections last month, Saudi Arabia continued its sweeping crackdown on human rights activists and led a devastating air bombardment campaign in Yemen that saw the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.

    December 23, 2015
    The Thai Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a guilty verdict against the director of an online news site sets an appalling precedent for freedom of expression - particularly online - in a climate where official contempt for free speech has hit new lows, Amnesty International said.   The Supreme Court today upheld the guilty 2012 verdict by the Court of First Instance against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of independent news site Prachatai (“Free People”), for not removing comments from the website which authorities characterised as insulting to the monarchy. Since the verdict in 2012, Prachatai has suspended its online forum.   The Supreme Court also upheld Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s punishment of a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 30,000 Baht (USD830) under the Computer Crimes Act in May 2012, reduced to eight months’ imprisonment and a 20,000 Baht (USD550) for cooperation.  
    December 22, 2015

    The three year suspended prison sentence handed down against human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to shackle a champion of freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

    On Tuesday, a court in Beijing sentenced Pu Zhiqiang to three years in prison, suspended for three years, for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and “inciting ethnic hatred”. The conviction was primarily based on seven social media posts, in total approximately 600 characters, in which Pu criticized government officials and polices.

    “Clearly it is positive that Pu Zhiqiang is unlikely to spend another night in jail, yet that cannot hide the gross injustice against him. He is no criminal and this guilty verdict effectively shackles one of China’s bravest champions of human rights from practicing law,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

    December 17, 2015

    Yesterday’s banning of the Communist Party in Ukraine is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and association and should be immediately overturned, said Amnesty International.

    The District Administrative Court of Kyiv upheld the request of the Ukrainian Minister of Justice to ban the Communist Party. It will no longer be able to officially operate or participate in local elections.

    “The banning of the Communist Party in Ukraine sets a very dangerous precedent.  This move is propelling Ukraine backwards not forwards on its path to reform and greater respect for human rights,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director of Europe and Central Asia.

    Under four new laws adopted in May 2015, collectively known as “decommunization” laws, displaying Communist or Nazi symbols can lead to criminal prosecution and up to ten years imprisonment. The use of the term “communist” is explicitly prohibited by this legislation. However, the Communist Party of Ukraine refused to make changes to its name, logo or its charter.

    December 16, 2015

    Authorities in Viet Nam must immediately and unconditionally release human rights lawyer Nguyễn Vãn Ðài, who has been detained on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state” shortly after the EU-Viet Nam Human Rights dialogue was held in the capital Ha Noi, Amnesty International said today.

    According to a statement by the Ministry of Public Security, Nguyễn Vãn Ðài was taken into police custody on Wednesday and charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, which has frequently been used to imprison peaceful activists and human rights defenders. A search warrant was issued for his house in Ha Noi. The arrest comes a month before the once every five years National Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam which is often preceded by a crackdown on dissent.

    December 16, 2015

    Released 11:30am local time Kuwait / 08:30am GMT Wednesday 16 December 2015

    The Kuwaiti authorities have arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned scores of peaceful activists, including human rights defenders and political opponents, in their efforts to silence critics and punish dissent, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.

    The ‘iron fist policy’: Criminalization of peaceful dissent in Kuwait, details the clampdown on freedom of expression in Kuwait since 2011, in the context of an overall deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, and highlights how the authorities are increasingly resorting to a multitude of restrictive laws to muzzle critical voices.

    “In the five years since a wave of popular protests swept across the Arab world we have witnessed a steady, relentless eroding of human rights in Kuwait as the authorities step up the clampdown on dissent. Scores of peaceful critics have been arrested and imprisoned simply for speaking out against a spectre of widespread repression,” said James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

    December 10, 2015

    Cuban human rights activists are at increased risk of detention or harassment from the authorities amid demonstrations on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, said Amnesty International following a wave of almost 1,500 arbitrary arrests in just over a month.

    Yesterday, police in the capital Havana arbitrarily restricted the movement of members of the prominent Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) group of activists as they prepared for today’s demonstrations. This came after at least 1,477 politically motivated detentions in November 2015, the highest monthly total in many years, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).  

    “For weeks on end, the Cuban authorities have used a spike in arrests and harassment to prevent human rights activists and dissidents from protesting peacefully. This is a systematic problem that silences Cuban activists in their own streets. For years, harassment on Human Rights Day has been the rule rather than the exception, and is absolutely unacceptable,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

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