Freedom of Expression
Saudi Arabia’s authorities have begun the year with an intensified crackdown against human rights activists dealing another heavy blow to the last vestiges of the country’s embattled civil society, said Amnesty International.
A string of activists have been detained or appeared in court in recent weeks in connection with their peaceful human rights work signalling that the authorities plan to continue with their ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent. Among those affected is an activist who faced charges for providing information to Amnesty International.
“The latest string of arrests has sparked fears that 2017 will be yet another dark year for human rights in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities continue with their attempts to crush any semblance of a human rights movement in the country,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional office.
Armoured vehicle sales, forgotten residential school survivors, Bangladeshi climate refugees and Tanzanian girls fleeing FGM are among the human rights issues recently explored by Canadian journalists. Today, journalists who have pursued these stories, are recognized as winners of the 2016 Amnesty International Canada Media Awards.
The Ethiopian government systematically and illegally blocked access to social media and news websites in its efforts to crush dissent and prevent reporting of attacks on protesters by security forces during the wave of protests that started in November 2015 and led up to the state of emergency, a new report released today shows.
Research conducted by Amnesty International and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) between June and October 2016 shows that access to WhatsApp was blocked, as well as at least 16 news outlets.
“It’s clear that as far as the Ethiopian government is concerned, social media is a tool for extremists peddling bigotry and hate and therefore they are fully justified in blocking internet access. The reality, though, is very different. The widespread censorship has closed another space for Ethiopian’s to air the grievances that fueled the protests,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Today’s appeal court ruling reducing the prison sentence of trade union leader Han Sang-gyun cannot mask the authorities’ intolerance of the right to peaceful assembly in South Korea, Amnesty International said.
The judges reduced Han Sang-gyun’s jail sentence to three years for public order offences and violations of the problematic Assembly and Demonstration Act, during a series of demonstrations in 2014 and 2015. Han was also held responsible for sporadic clashes with police at a series of anti-government protests he helped organize.
“Han Sang-gyun should not be held criminally responsible for violent acts taken by a small number of individuals, simply because he was one of the organizers of protests that were largely peaceful,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director.
“His prosecution and upheld conviction underlines the authorities’ intolerance of the right to peaceful assembly.”
Han, who is president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, was originally handed a five-year prison sentence at his initial trial in July.
Authorities in Cameroon must investigate the use of excessive and unnecessary force that led to the deaths of between two and four people during a protest in the north western city of Bamenda yesterday, Amnesty International said today.
Eye witnesses recounted that security forces fired live rounds and teargas in reaction to people throwing stones, describing how they saw the bodies of two men who had been shot dead. Media reports quoting police sources have reported that at least four people were killed.
Security forces were also seen launching teargas into an area apparently unrelated to the protests, as well as firing live ammunition in the air.
“Authorities in Cameroon must shed light on the circumstances of these killings and injuries by immediately conducting thorough, impartial and effective investigations. Those reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for these deaths must be brought to justice,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher.
A 10-year jail sentence handed by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes in Azerbaijan to Bayram Mammadov, a youth activist who has been detained since May 2016 after spraying graffiti on a statue of the former President of Azerbaijan, is a shameless attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to crush dissent out of existence, Amnesty International said today.
“Bayram Mammadov was arrested for painting a slogan on a statue, and was later tortured into ‘confessing’ to serious drug crimes. The charges against him were clearly fabricated with the sole purpose of punishing him for his activism. This outrageously long sentence following already prolonged, unnecessary and arbitrary detention is a blow to all peaceful activists in Azerbaijan,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release photojournalist Mohammed Abu Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan, who has spent more than three years in detention and whose court hearing takes place on Saturday 10 December, Amnesty International said today. The authorities must also drop all charges against him.
“Mohammed Abu Zeid was simply doing his job when he was arrested, taking photographs of the violent dispersal by security forces of a sit-in at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Square in Cairo in 2013 that led to horrific mass killings. His detention by the Egyptian authorities is clearly politically motivated and he should not be held for another day – taking pictures is not a crime,” said Najia Bounaim, Deputy Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Tunis Regional office.
In response to announcement that President Yahya Jammeh has accepted his defeat following the presidential election, Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s Researcher for West and Central Africa currently in Gambia said:
“For many years the people of Gambia have suffered numerous abuses, including horrific human rights violations and oppression.”
"The last two weeks have shown how much Gambians of all parties value free speech. There is a huge obligation now for the future administration to transform the human rights situation in Gambia, freeing political prisoners, removing repressive laws and entrenching newly found freedoms."
Today the President of the Electoral Commission announced that opposition candidate Adama Barrow (Coalition 2016) has won yesterday’s election by more than 50,000 votes. President Yahya Jammeh (APRC – Alliance for Patriotic Reconstruction and Construction), has accepted his defeat.
In response to the news that access to Doha News, Qatar’s leading independent English language daily news site has been blocked to internet users inside the country, James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Global Issues said:
“This is an alarming setback for freedom of expression in the country. Deliberately blocking people in Qatar from accessing a legitimate news website would be an outright attack on media freedom.
“As the nation that founded the Al Jazeera media network and which hosts a centre dedicated to promoting global media freedom, Qatar should be at the forefront of those championing freedom of the press.
Israeli authorities must drop all charges against Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro, who is facing prison time for his internationally recognized peaceful activism against Israel’s illegal settlements in the city of Hebron, Amnesty International said today.
Issa Amro’s trial is due to begin on 23 November at Ofer Military Court in the occupied West Bank.
“The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny. In their determination to silence him and stifle his human rights work, the Israeli authorities have apparently even reopened a closed case file. If he is convicted we will consider Issa Amro a prisoner of conscience,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“As well as dropping the baseless and politically motivated charges against Issa Amro, the Israeli authorities should investigate his allegations of beatings in custody, and the physical and verbal abuse hurled at him by settlers, the army and the police. People who speak out about human rights abuses should be protected, not assaulted and harassed.”
By Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International
Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn are among the tech firms expected to be on a charm offensive with Chinese officials at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, which started November 16.
The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.
China has made clear to Western companies what tune they must dance to if they want to gain or keep access to the riches of the Chinese market, currently dominated by national players like Tencent and Sina.
A new Cyber Security Law passed in China last week goes further than ever before in tightening the government’s already repressive grip on the internet, embodied by its “Great Firewall”. It is a vast human and technological system of Internet censorship without parallel in the world. The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.
The Indonesian police should immediately drop the criminal investigation into Jakarta’s governor for alleged blasphemy, Amnesty International said today.
The organization’s call came as the Indonesian police named Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta better known as ‘Ahok’, as a suspect in a blasphemy complaint filed by some religious groups. Ahok, a Christian, is the first member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community to be elected Governor of Jakarta.
“By carrying out a criminal investigation and naming Ahok as a suspect, the authorities have shown they are more worried about hard-line religious groups than respecting and protecting human rights for all,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Among the police, opinion is divided on whether the case should proceed, showing that the decision to open an investigation against Ahok is a controversial step.”
Leaders from the tech industry gathering in Wuzhen, China, this week for the third World Internet Conference, should send a clear message to the Chinese government that they are not prepared to be complicit in the widespread abuse of the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
The conference comes a week after China’s legislature rubber-stamped a draconian new Cyber Security Law which would require any tech company operating in China to undertake unprecedented levels of censorship and pass on personal information to the authorities with insufficient safeguards to protect freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
Mauritania’s appeals court must quash jail terms of up to 15 years handed down to 13 anti-slavery activists and release them from prison immediately, Amnesty International said ahead of their hearing on Monday.
“This is an open and shut case of the government trying to silence anti-slavery activists in Mauritania,” said Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner.
“From the outset this trial has been marred by irregularities, and allegations of torture that have not been investigated. The authorities have failed to prove any criminal responsibility for the acts of violence these individuals have been accused of. The Appeal Court must put an end this farce.”
Amnesty International has designated the 13 activists as prisoners of conscience.
The activists were originally sentenced on 3 August to between three and 15 years in prison on trumped up charges of rebellion, use of violence, attacks against the police and judicial officials and membership of an unrecognized organization.