Freedom of Expression
Amnesty International has reiterated its call on the Tunisian authorities to respect human rights amid a renewed wave of anti-government protests across the country today. Police in the capital Tunis reportedly used tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators calling for the party of ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to relinquish power, ahead of the expected formation of a new coalition government.
A state of emergency was imposed in Tunisia as Ben Ali fled the country on Friday.
"Amid political uncertainty in Tunisia, the government must do all it can to protect Tunisians from further violence," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International.
"After 23 years of abuses, human rights must be a top priority for any new unity government. It means first and foremost that the security forces that have been used as a tool of repression in Tunisia must be reined in."
On Friday, security forces were granted permission to "shoot on sight", with anyone breaking the current 5pm curfew at risk. All gatherings of more than three people were also banned.
The Tunisian authorities must either release or promptly charge two men arrested after one of them gave media interviews about ongoing protests, Amnesty International said today. Hamma Hammami, spokesperson for the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (Parti Communiste des Ouvriers Tunisiens, PCOT) was arrested at his home in Tunis on 12 January. Around 20 members of the Presidential Security unit are reported to have detained him together with his colleague, Mohamed Mzem, a lawyer, and Mounia Obaid, a friend who was later released.
Hamma Hammami’s family believe he was arrested for speaking to journalists about the protests.
“The Tunisian authorities must release Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Mzem unless they are to be promptly charged with recognizable criminal offences, and guaranteed fair trials,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty International’s call comes amid continued disturbances throughout Tunisia that have left scores killed and injured.
Amnesty International is today calling on the Tunisian authorities to rescind permissions to "shoot on sight", after a wave of protests led to the reported departure from the country of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and a state of emergency imposed. Amnesty International’s investigative team in Tunisia has reported media broadcasts warning that gatherings of more than three people will not be tolerated, and that anyone breaking the curfew exposes themselves to the risk of being shot. After the announcement, the team reported hearing shots.
“It is simply irresponsible to grant the power to ‘shoot on sight',” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, “It is not by continuing to shoot demonstrators that public order will be restored. The bloody crackdown must end."
This power appears to grant official sanction to the Tunisian security forces to commit extrajudicial executions – in violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to life and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life.
Amnesty International today called for the unconditional release of 16 Belarusian activists and journalists charged with ‘organizing mass disorder’ following a post-election demonstration in December, and declared them prisoners of conscience.
Twenty-five opposition activists and journalists, including six presidential candidates, have been detained and charged for their participation in a 19 December demonstration in Minsk following the presidential elections. They are expected to face trial in two to three months.
The detainees are currently being denied adequate access to lawyers and doctors despite some having been severely injured by riot police on the day of the demonstration.
“Sixteen of these detainees are prisoners of conscience, facing trumped up charges purely because of the peaceful expression of their political opinions. They should be immediately and unconditionally released, and all charges against them should be dropped” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
Amnesty International today condemned an ongoing crackdown by Tunisian authorities on a wave of protests sparked by the attempted suicide of a young fruit seller who later died of his injuries. At least two protesters have been killed during demonstrations following the attempted suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate who set himself on fire in front of a government building in the town of Sidi Bouzid in early December after police confiscated his fruit cart for selling without a permit. He died from his injuries in hospital on 4 January.
Mohamed Bouazizi’s attempted suicide on 17 December sparked protests over rising prices, unemployment and corruption in Tunisia that have sometimes turned violent as they continue to spread.
“Tunisians must be allowed to express their grievances and freely protest. The authorities made empty promises of work opportunities which were followed by a crackdown on protestors,” said Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of three Russian opposition activists detained in Moscow after a peaceful and sanctioned rally calling for freedom of assembly and later sentenced to administrative detention. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and opposition activists, Ilia Iashin and Konstantin Kosiakin were among about 70 arrested at the rally in Central Moscow on 31 December 2010, the latest in a regular series of rallies in the Russian capital demanding to uphold the right to freedom of assembly.
They were sentenced on 2 January 2011 to 15, five and 10 days of administrative detention respectively for allegedly failing to follow police instruction, despite eyewitnesses reporting that they had not obstructed police officers.
“Yet again, the Russian authorities have failed in their obligations to protect the rights to freedom of assembly, a right guaranteed by the Russian Constitution” said Andrea Huber, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.
Amnesty International is calling on the Turkmenistani authorities to immediately lift the suspension of the operation of the country’s largest mobile phone service provider until arrangements can be made to provide an alternative service enabling them to access independent news sites. Earlier this week, the authorities suspended the operation of the privately-owned and Moscow-based service provider, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), leaving around 2.5 million people, half of the country’s population and 80 per cent of the mobile phone-users, suddenly unable to use their mobile phones or access the internet.
“With their arbitrary actions the Turkmenistan authorities are severely restricting communications within the country and with the outside world,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director.
“This measure will unlawfully interfere with correspondence and violate the right of many people in Turkmenistan to receive and impart information in breach of international human rights standards.”
Hungary’s newly adopted media law will impose potentially wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of expression, Amnesty International warned today. In a move unprecedented within the European Union, the Law on Media and the Freedom of Press, coming into force on 1 January 2011, imposes the same restrictions on all media content, whether broadcast, print or web-based, whether public or privately owned. It also grants broad powers to a new media authority to enforce ill-defined standards.
“The breadth of the restrictions on media content, the lack of clear guidelines for journalists and editors, and the strong powers of the new regulatory body all risk having a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Hungary,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director.
A newly created National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) will have the power to impose heavy fines, ranging from up to 35,000 Euros for periodicals to up to 730,000 Euros for broadcast media, for content it considers to run counter to the “public interest”, “common morality” and “national order”. Fines can also be imposed for “unbalanced” news reporting.
Eyewitnesses have told Amnesty International that abductions, disappearances and physical abuse are increasing as post-election violence escalates in Côte d’Ivoire. Amnesty International has received a growing number of reports of people being arrested or abducted at home or on the streets, often by unidentified armed attackers accompanied by elements of the Defence and Security Forces and militia groups.
Gendarmes and police officials are accused of attacking a mosque in Grand-Bassam, using live ammunition on crowds and of beating and groping female protestors.
“It is clear that more and more people are being illegally detained by security forces or armed militiamen and we fear that many of them may have been killed or have disappeared,” said Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.
Amnesty International has condemned the violent dispersal of a mainly peaceful demonstration in the aftermath of Sunday’s presidential election in Belarus which was marred by irregularities. In what appears to be a clampdown on opposition activities, seven of the nine opposition presidential candidates have been detained along with as many as 500 peaceful demonstrators, opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists, many of whom were beaten by riot police.
Earlier today the Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Kuleshov, said that the activists were charged with organizing an unsanctioned meeting and could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment. According a local non-governmental organization, 14 people, including five former presidential candidates, have been charged with this offence.
“The events of the last 24 hours obliterate the fragile signs of openness in the run-up to the presidential election,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s expert on Belarus.
International controversy over the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables continues to rage. In recent days, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard have barred their users from donating to Wikileaks, alleging that the site may be engaged in illegal conduct. Amnesty International examines some of the human rights issues at stake.
Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?
The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents. A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.
According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest.
There is going to be one empty place at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony. Amongst the pomp and circumstance, before a packed house of a thousand invited guests and dignitaries gathered for the century-old event, the chair of this year’s recipient, Liu Xiaobo, will be vacant. Liu Xiaobo would have sat on the podium alongside the members of the Nobel Committee in Oslo’s cavernous City Hall as he was honoured for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He would have given a speech, accepted his medal and diploma and continued his call for peaceful legal and political reform in China. He would have posed for pictures, given interviews, briefly enjoyed the glow of international recognition and then he would have gone home.
Amnesty International is today calling on the Chinese government to end its intensifying crackdown on Chinese human rights activists ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo on 10 December.
Amnesty International and Chinese human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of people being detained, interrogated, or arrested in advance of the event honouring jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
“The Chinese government’s travel restrictions target not just human rights defenders, but also ordinary travellers who somehow trigger the government’s suspicion,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “This reaction violates Chinese law as well as China’s international obligations and constitutes a serious breakdown in the rule of law.”
Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power" for his part as the leading author behind “Charter 08”, a manifesto calling for the recognition of fundamental human rights in China.
Chinese diplomats in Norway have been systematically pressurizing Chinese residents into joining anti-Nobel demonstrations, which are planned to take place in Oslo on Friday, Amnesty International has learned. Amnesty International has been informed by reliable sources in the Chinese diaspora that mainland Chinese residents in Norway have been repeatedly visited and called to meetings over the last two months by representatives of the Chinese government.
The pressure exerted by these representatives is perceived by those visited or attending the meetings as threats, with concrete and serious consequences for the future livelihood of Chinese residents who fail to show up for these demonstrations.
“We are shocked that Chinese authorities would bring the oppressive atmosphere of Beijing to Oslo,” said John Peder Egenæs, Director of Amnesty International Norway. “It’s shameful and saddening that Chinese people feel pressured to demonstrate against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize on a day that should be one of pride and celebration.”