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Freedom of Expression

    March 16, 2016

    The release last night of Mohammed al-‘Ajami, also known as Ibn al-Dheeb, is a welcome development that ends a needless four year ordeal for the Qatari poet.

    Amnesty International has spoken to Mohammed al-‘Ajami’s legal representative, who said that relatives of the poet confirmed to him that the poet was released around 7.30pm Doha time on 15 March. The organization has also seen video footage of him after his release.

    “The release of Mohammed al-‘Ajami is long overdue good news,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program,

    “It is absurd that he had to spend more than four years behind bars, when his poetry was simply the peaceful expression of his conscientiously held beliefs.

    “We hope that the authorities will take the opportunity of this release to review Qatar’s criminal justice system and ensure that such flagrant violations of the right to freedom of expression are not repeated. This case has been a blight on Qatar’s international reputation.”

    March 11, 2016

    Messages from Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot will be broadcast across the internet by AdBlock and Amnesty International on the World Day against Cyber Censorship, 12 March 2016.

    Throughout the day, AdBlock’s 50 million users will be shown messages from Amnesty International where ads would usually appear. The messages will click through to content from people who governments have tried to silence. 

    “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded,” said Edward Snowden in one of the messages.

    “Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one,” said Ai Weiwei in his message.

    “Authorities don’t just use handcuffs and arrests, but also media attacks,” said Pussy Riot.

    March 09, 2016

    Gambia should free an ailing journalist who has been arbitrarily detained since July 2015 and drop all charges against him, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

    Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay, the managing director of the independent radio station Teranga FM, has been charged with sedition and “publication of false news.”  He has been hospitalized twice since the beginning of 2016. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Gambia last week to release Ceesay and drop all charges against him.

    “The use of archaic sedition laws to harass and lock up critics is a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa. 

    “Alagie Ceesay’s case is a further example of Gambia’s blatant disregard for freedom of the press, and he should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

    March 08, 2016

    Posted at 0001hrs GMT   9 March 2016

    Restrictions on communications compound North Korea’s dire human rights situation

    Ordinary North Koreans caught using mobile phones to contact loved ones who have fled abroad, risk being sent to political prison camps or other detention facilities as the government tightens its stranglehold on people’s use of communication technology, reveals Amnesty International in a new report published today.

    Connection Denied: Restrictions on Mobile Phones and Outside Information in North Korea, documents the intensified controls, repression and intimidation of the population since Kim Jung-un came to power in 2011.

    “To maintain their absolute and systematic control, the North Korean authorities are striking back against people using mobile phones to contact family abroad," said Arnold Fang, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

    March 01, 2016

    Musicians and filmmakers around the world are being asked to join forces with Amnesty International activists to call on the Iranian authorities to quash the torture-tainted convictions of filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, his brother Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, both musicians, ahead of Music Freedom Day on Thursday.

    The three men are at risk of imminent arrest after an appeal court upheld their prison sentences for ludicrous charges related to their artistic work, Amnesty International warned today amid an ongoing crackdown on artists and freedom of expression in Iran.

    “These sentences lay bare the absurdity of Iran’s criminal justice system, which brands individuals as criminals merely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression through making music and films. These young men should never have been arrested, let alone brought to trial,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

    February 28, 2016

    The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) violation of the rights of detainees will come under increased scrutiny over the next couple of weeks as a series of counter-terror trials reach their end, said Amnesty International. 

    Since 2011 scores of Emiratis and non-Emiratis have been arbitrarily arrested using broad counter-terrorism laws.

    “In recent years the UAE authorities have increasingly resorted to using catch-all ‘terrorism’ or national security allegations to arbitrarily detain suspects. In many cases they are held in secret detention for months on end, in some cases reporting torture or other ill-treatment, before being put through deeply unfair trials,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

    February 27, 2016

    The Republic of Congo’s refusal of entry and return of an Amnesty International research manager on mission is another worrying sign of the government’s attempt to muzzle criticism ahead of Presidential elections, Amnesty International said today.

    Late on Friday 26 February, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Stephen Cockburn, was refused entry at the border and sent back to Dakar, despite having a valid visa, invitation letter and confirmations of meetings with authorities including the Minister of Defense and officials from the Ministry of Justice.

    “Stifling independent human rights monitoring is unacceptable, and will do little to build confidence as Congo prepares for elections, especially in a context where political opponents have been detained and protestors killed,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

    February 26, 2016

    The Ugandan government is continuing to violate the human rights of leaders of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and undermining the ability of their party to legally challenge the results of the 18 February elections, said Amnesty International in a statement, as the 10-day deadline for filing presidential election petitions looms.

    Security forces have repeatedly arrested the aggrieved presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye, and some of his party leadership colleagues and supporters. They have also besieged his home, and raided the party’s main office in the capital Kampala.

    “The FDC has a legal right to challenge the election results and it must be allowed to do so,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

    “It is unacceptable for the government to stifle a lawfully-registered party from pursuing the only legal recourse available for it to contest the electoral outcome.”

    February 26, 2016

    Today Palestinian residents and activists in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron are holding demonstrations marking 22 years since the Israeli authorities first closed al-Shuhada Street, formerly the city’s commercial centre. They are protesting against illegal Israeli settlements and demanding the removal of the restrictions on their movement, which are applied only to Palestinians and not to Israeli settlers.

    Following a surge in violence and civilians in Hebron and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank in October 2015, the Israeli military intensified the long-standing restrictions, declaring parts of Hebron’s Old City a “closed military zone” and barring access to Palestinians living elsewhere in the city, as well as human rights defenders. There has also been an escalation in attacks on human rights defenders – Palestinian, Israeli and international – by Israeli forces and settlers in and around the Old City.

    February 24, 2016

    The sentencing of Bahraini political activist Ebrahim Sharif to one year in prison simply for making a speech calling for reform is yet another example of Bahrain’s intensified crackdown on peaceful critics, said Amnesty International.

    “The sentencing of Ebrahim Sharif to yet another year in prison simply for calling for reform in a speech is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression and the latest example of the Bahraini authorities’ insidious clampdown on government critics. No one should be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views. Ebrahim Sharif’s conviction is a blatant attempt to punish him for speaking out, serving as a warning to all dissidents, and must be quashed immediately,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

    February 11, 2016

    Five years after a wave of protests demanding widespread reform rocked Bahrain, hopes for progress on human rights and accountability for past and present abuses have faded, said Amnesty International.

    The mass protests which began on 14 February 2011 were met with violence by the security forces, who shot dead and injured protesters. Others died in custody after being tortured.

    “Five years since the uprising, torture, arbitrary detention and a widespread crackdown against peaceful activists and government critics have continued. Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticize the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

    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. 
     

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