Freedom of Expression
The sentencing of opposition leaders Aleksei Navalny and Leonid Volkov to 20 days in administrative detention is yet further evidence of the Russian authorities’ relentless stranglehold on civil society, said Amnesty International. The organization is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of both men.
“The arrest of Aleksei Navalny and Leonid Volkov comes as no surprise. It is a blatant attempt by the Russian authorities to suppress and suffocate any dissenting voices and intimidate people trying to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“Peaceful protest is a right, not a crime nor a privilege which the authorities can bestow on a whim to people in Russia. The activists’ imprisonment embodies the everyday harassment of civil society across the country, including many of Navalny’s supporters. Over the last few months, scores of activists across Russia have been subjected to arbitrary detention, over-the-top fines, beatings and intimidation.”
AI observers confirm the dangerous and inappropriate use of riot control equipment, including beating of defenceless people offering no resistance, and calls for a swift, thorough and impartial investigation into the events
Amnesty International has directly confirmed on the ground that members of the National Police force's Police Intervention Unit (UIP) and Civil Guard officers used excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators who were passively resisting in the streets and at the entrances to polling stations. The security forces were acting on the ruling of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC), which ordered them to prevent the holding of a referendum. The Ministry of the Interior reports that the security forces intervened and shut down 92 polling stations. According to information from the Generalitat (the government of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia), there were a total of 2,315 polling stations, 400 of which were shut down by court order.
The Hong Kong government must drop prosecutions aimed at having a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the city, Amnesty International said ahead of the third anniversary of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.
Three years on from the start of the unprecedented 79-day protest in late 2014, scores of protesters, who were arrested for their involvement in the largely peaceful protests, remain in legal limbo, uncertain if they will face charges.
“Three years since the Umbrella Movement protests, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Hong Kong. The government’s stance is having a chilling effect on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.
“The government must drop prosecutions which have the effect of deterring people from participating in peaceful protests, particularly on sensitive issues such as Hong Kong’s autonomy and democracy. The authorities’ continued obfuscation has left protesters in legal limbo and is detrimental to human rights in Hong Kong.”
In the last week Saudi Arabian authorities have intensified their crackdown on freedom of expression, detaining more than 20 prominent religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and activists, said Amnesty International.
“In recent years we cannot recall a week in which so many prominent Saudi Arabian figures have been targeted in such a short space of time,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle East.
“It is clear that the new leadership under Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman is sending a chilling message: freedom of expression will not be tolerated, we are coming after you.”
Those arrested include prominent Islamic clerics such as Sheikh Salman al-Awda, an influential religious figure who has over 14 million followers on social media, detained on 9 September. He is known for his calls for reforms and as an advocate for greater respect of human rights within the Islamic Shari’a.
A new report published by Amnesty International today sheds light on the repressive tactics used by the Bahraini government over the past year to crush civil society and violently crack down on protests, leading to the deaths of six people, including one child.
‘No one can protect you’: Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent documents how, between June 2016 and June 2017, at least 169 government critics or their relatives were arrested, tortured, threatened or banned from travel by the authorities.
“Using an array of tools of repression, including harassment, arbitrary detention and torture, the government of Bahrain has managed to crush a formerly thriving civil society and reduced it to a few lone voices who still dare to speak out,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risks of expressing their views have become too high in Bahrain.”
Responding to the news today that the Egyptian authorities have blocked access to the website of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Head of Campaigns for North Africa said:
“The decision to block access to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms website is the latest signal that the Egyptian authorities are determined to silence independent voices and stamp out online criticism of their human rights record.
“In recent months the Egyptian authorities have cut off access to dozens of news websites with a wave of digital censorship, and now it looks like human rights NGOs are set to be the next target. Last month, access to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, one of the oldest NGO websites in Egypt, was also blocked.
“Human rights groups in the country have already come under unprecedented attack through asset freezes and travel bans against their staff, and a draconian NGO law signed earlier this year which has imposed harsh restrictions on their work.
The Cambodian authorities’ closure of the country’s longest running English-language newspaper today represents a new and disturbing escalation in the pre-election crackdown on government critics, Amnesty International said. The closure comes a day after the prominent opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on trumped up charges.
The Cambodia Daily was today forced to shut down after it failed to meet a deadline to pay a multi-million dollar tax bill the government imposed on the newspaper in August. The Daily, founded in 1993, was one of the few media outlets in the country not controlled by the government.
“This is a disturbing day for freedom of expression in Cambodia. It is chilling how ruthlessly and quickly the authorities have been able to move to shut down one of the country’s few, independent voices in the media,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The arrest of a Palestinian human rights defender today who criticized the Palestinian authorities on Facebook is a shameless attack on freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.
Issa Amro, a Hebron-based coordinator for Youth Against Settlements and a former field researcher for the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, was detained at around midday local time today by Palestinian Preventive Security
Forces, after he posted comments on his Facebook page criticizing the arrest of a local radio journalist yesterday by the same Palestinian security forces.
“It is outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online. Criticizing the authorities should not be a criminal offence. Issa Amro’s arrest is the latest evidence
that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech,” said Magdalena Mughrabi Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
The arrest of four officials from the opposition in Venezuela, the removal from office of a further 11 and the issuing of arrest warrants against another five, demonstrates the Maduro administration’s tightening stranglehold on any form of dissent, taking repression to a frightening new level, said Amnesty International.
“By removing opposition officials from their posts for no legitimate reason, the Maduro administration is crossing a very delicate line,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The justice system should never be abused to silence the opposition, particularly those who have been elected to office.”
“First they came for those taking to the streets, then for those who represent them in office. How much further is the Venezuelan government willing to go in order to silence those who think differently? The answer is terrifying,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
Responding to the arrest of Medha Patkar, of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Asmita Basu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India said:
"The right to protest peacefully and without arms is a fundamental right in India. The Madhya Pradesh government must immediately release Medha Patkar and 11 others who were arrested on 9 August when they were on their way to meet people protesting against their displacement by the Sardar Sarovar Project".
Medha Patkar, a former commissioner on the World Commission of Dams, along with others, joined the evictees from the Sardar Sarovar dam, to stage an indefinite fast demanding the satisfactory rehabilitation of the evictees. According to Patkar, there are no basic amenities, including water, for evictees in the rehabilitation sites. Patkar, along with 11 others, were forcibly removed from the protest site on 7 August and then admitted in different hospitals. After being discharged from hospital, they were arrested by the Madhya Pradesh Police on charges of kidnapping, criminal intimidation, rioting and assaulting a public servant.
Amnesty International welcomes the release of Lim Hyeon-soo to receive urgent medical treatment. The Canadian pastor and humanitarian worker has been detained in North Korea for the past two and a half years.
He was convicted of “plotting to overthrow the government” and sentenced to life in prison with hard labour in December 2015 after spending almost one year in detention. The Canadian government has confirmed that Lim Hyeon-soo will be soon be reunited with his family in Canada. According to North Korean state media, Lim Hyeon-soo was released “on sick bail” for “humanitarian reasons”.
He had developed a host of health problems including malnutrition, high blood pressure, arthritis, and stomach problems as a side effect of medicine that was not properly administered prior to his release. International civil society and governments have been pressuring North Korea to release Lim Hyeon-soo and to allow him to return to Canada. His release took place amid high military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was previously imprisoned in North Korea and returned to the United States in a coma.