Freedom of Expression
By Gloria Nafziger: Refugee and Migrant Rights Coodinator
On August 21, as Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa finished a marathon at the Rio Olympics, he crossed his arms above his head in a gesture of solidarity with the Oromo people in Ethiopia. He is reported as saying, “The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”
He did not return to Ethiopia, and is reported to be seeking asylum in either Brazil or the United States.
Feyisa Lilesa is right to be concerned about human rights violations targeting the Oromo in Ethiopia.
Early in August of this year, at least 97 people were killed and hundreds more injured when Ethiopian security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across Oromia region and in parts of Amhara. A disproportionate violent police response to protests has resulted in over 500 protestors’ deaths recorded in Oromia region since November 2015 and over 100 others in the Amhara and Oromia region in the month of August.
Responding to the decision of France’s highest administrative court to overturn the ban on the burkini on a French beach, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director said:
“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand.”
“French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to non-discrimination.”
“These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation. Not only are they in themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, the enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls,”
Failure to overturn the ban on the burkini would be a missed opportunity to end an assault on women’s freedoms of expression and religion as well as the right to non-discrimination, said Amnesty International as France’s highest administrative court considers a challenge to the ban.
“The case being considered today offers an opportunity for the French justice system to overturn a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“French authorities should drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices, violate their rights and lead to abuse.”
Singapore’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill is a broad and vaguely worded law that will impose yet another undue restriction on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
“Under the guise of protecting the judicial system, the new law threatens to criminalise people for criticising the courts or the administration of justice in Singapore,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
The new law, which was passed by Singapore’s parliament yesterday, includes punishments of up to three years in jail and $100,000 (US) in fines.
Several sections in the new law grant the authorities far-reaching powers to crack down on any discussion, debate and criticism of cases under review by the judiciary.
Section 11 of the Act, for example, widens the scope of already stifling restrictions on what can be said or written on the internet. All material that can be accessed by people in Singapore, regardless of whether it originated from there, can be subjected to the new legislation.
Bangladeshi authorities should immediately end the illegal detentions of Mir Qasem Ali and Humman Qader Chowdhury, arrested respectively on 9 August and 4 August, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.
Both men were arrested without warrants or charges, have not been produced before a magistrate, and have not been allowed access to family or lawyers.
“There is no question that Qasem Ali and Chowdhury are subject to an enforced disappearance in the custody of the security forces. Yet the government continues to deny having them. Both men have been refused access to lawyers and their families, and production before a magistrate,” said Champa Patel, South Asia Director at Amnesty International.
“This is a practice which has unfortunately become completely routine in Bangladesh, and has to end.”
CLEVELAND, OH – Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has deployed human rights observers to monitor protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, OH, this week and will do the same at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA, next week. The following is a statement from Eric Ferrero, AIUSA’s Deputy Executive Director for Strategic Communications and Digital Initiatives, on the protests in Cleveland on July 21:
“Amnesty International USA's delegation of human rights observers were at protests and marches throughout the day and night Thursday. As they have all week, the observers saw mostly peaceful protests with police largely protecting the rights of people to take to the streets to express their opinions. The observers continue to gather and analyze information about several situations this week, including two dispersal orders and a number of arrests. The team is also compiling its records on some of the entrance or exit routes to protests. As they have throughout the week, the observers noted a heavy law enforcement presence, with police sometimes outnumbering protesters.
The Hong Kong authorities’ prosecution of three pro-democracy student leaders sends a chilling warning for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the city, Amnesty International said today, after Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law were found guilty for their roles in events that triggered 2014’s Umbrella Movement.
The city’s Eastern Magistrates’ Court found Joshua Wong and Alex Chow guilty of “taking part in an unlawful assembly”. Joshua Wong was acquitted on a second charge of “inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly”, but Nathan Law was found guilty on the same charge. Sentencing was adjourned until 15 August.
“The prosecution of student leaders on vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities,” said Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.
“The continued persecution of prominent figures of the Umbrella Movement is a blow to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.”
Chinese authorities must end their ruthless assault against human rights lawyers and activists, Amnesty International said ahead of the first anniversary of the start of an unprecedented crackdown.
At least 248 human rights lawyers and activists were targeted during the nationwide sweep which began on 9 July 2015. One year on, 18 17 individuals caught up in the onslaught remain detained, eight nine of whom could face life imprisonment after being charged with “subverting state power”.
“Human rights lawyers have faced the full wrath of China’s secretive machinery of repression. The detained lawyers must be released and this systemic assault against individuals defending the rights of Chinese people must end,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.
“President Xi Jinping has the gall to claim the Chinese government upholds the rule of law even when lawyers face life in jail for trying to do just that.”
The Israeli military today renewed for six months the detention of Palestinian circus performer Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha, who has been held without charge since his arrest in December 2015, in a case that exemplifies the authorities’ arbitrary and repressive use of administrative detention, said Amnesty International.
Mohammad Abu Sakha performs as a clown and teaches at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, near Ramallah, where he specializes in working with children with learning difficulties.
“The arbitrary detention of Mohammad Abu Sakha is yet another shameful example of the Israeli authorities’ abusive use of administrative detention. He has already spent more than six months behind bars without being charged or allowed to stand trial - he has been denied even the slightest semblance of justice,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“The Israeli authorities must either charge Mohammad Abu Sakha with a genuine criminal offence or order his release. For decades, Israel has relied upon administrative detention, in many cases as an alternative to bringing
The Fijian parliament must overturn the suspension of an opposition MP for merely exercising her right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
“Parliaments can only be worthy of their name when all members can speak freely on all issues,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
“Unless this suspension is immediately reversed, the Fijian authorities are proving they are intent on silencing critical voices.”
Tupou Draunidalo, an indigenous Fijian parliamentarian and member of the National Federation Party was suspended following a parliamentary motion on 3 June 2016 for calling a government minister “a fool” while responding to comments deriding opposition members of parliament.
Draunidalo asked the government minister if he was suggesting herself and other indigenous members of the opposition were “dumb natives”.
Vietnamese authorities must end their crackdown on peaceful protesters and release all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International said today.
As Viet Nam hosts US President Barack Obama on a three-day visit, the authorities have pressed ahead with their assault on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly by arresting six peaceful activists and orchestrating a campaign of intimidation and harassment against dozens more.
“Even as it faces the glare of global attention with the US President’s visit, the Vietnamese authorities, shamefully, are carrying out their repressive business as usual,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
The six peaceful activists who have been arrested in recent days are: Nancy Nguyễn, Nguyễn Viết Dũng, Phạm Đoan Trang, Vũ Huy Hoàng, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, and Nguyễn Bá Vinh.
The Bangladeshi authorities’ treatment of a prominent 81-year-old journalist, who has been held in solitary confinement for several weeks and denied medical care for chronic and life threatening health conditions, is an act of cruelty, Amnesty International said today.
Shafik Rehman, editor of the monthly Mouchake Dhil magazine, was arrested on 16 April suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate Sajib Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must end the prolonged solitary confinement of Shafik Rahman and ensure his well-being. It is absolutely shocking that an 81-year-old diabetic man with a history of heart problems is being denied the medical care he needs,” said Champa Patel, Director of Amnesty International’s South Asia Regional Office.
According to Shafik Rehman’s lawyer and family members, he has been kept in isolation since 27 April in Kashimpur Central Jail, a maximum security prison, where he is not allowed to interact with other prisoners. He has had minimal access to both his legal team and family members since he was first arrested.