Prominent Omani blogger in solitary confinement

The Emirates State Security Apparatus has transferred prominent Omani blogger Muawiya Al-Rawahi to the Al Wathba prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement. This according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). He had been detained incommunicado since February. Despite repeated attempts by his family and his colleagues, the UAE authorities have reportedly refused to disclose his whereabouts and refused to give any reason for his arrest, in addition to not revealing any specific charges against him.

On 24 February 2015, Muawiya Al Rawahi, was stopped by the UAE security intelligence agents at the border and was not allowed to return back to Oman. He managed to make contact with a fellow human rights defender and told him that he had been stopped. Since then he has remained in incommunicado detention and there are serious concerns for his safety.

In the last years Al Rawahi has been detained several times in his home country Oman. Last year he was held for almost a month in a psychiatric hospital in Muscat. For a recent report on the human rights violations in Oman see: http://en.alkarama.org/oman/1645-oman-alkarama-denounces-numerous-violations-in-view-of-the-state-s-upcoming-universal-periodic-review

Muawiya Al-Rawahi

Muawiya Al-Rawahi

Will Inter TV go off the air?

Is Ukraine rescinding the Inter Channel broadcasting license? On the 28th of May the Ukrainian Broadcasting Council had to take a decision. Inter is accused of “destructive behavior” by prominent members of Parliament and of not being patriotic enough. The station is also accused of taking a pro-Russian stance.

But the Ukraine’s government broadcasting licensing authority has postponed a hearing on whether to rescind the license of one of the country’s most popular TV channels. AP reports that “deliberations were canceled after two out of seven board members failed to attend.”

Inter television station has faced criticism from members of parliament for its purported pro-Russia stance. Along with the threat of its license being revoked, the station is facing criminal investigations.

Inter says it is victim of a political witch-hunt and says media freedoms are being curbed in Ukraine.

Any perceived sympathy for Russia has become acutely suspect in Ukraine, which is battling separatists in the east who the government says are being directed by Moscow.

Inter TV

http://www.timesunion.com/news/crime/article/TV-showdown-in-Ukraine-highlights-press-freedom-6288761.php

See also:

Updated list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan

A new list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan has just been published. The list now comprises of 80 names, as compared to the 98 which were included in the list published in August last year. Although this means that there have been some very welcome releases, the Government of Azerbaijan continues its policy of imprisoning what they consider opponents.

The last few weeks, prominent human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev were convicted to many years’ prison. In 2014, Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan received the Sakharov Freedom Award from NHC.

To draw attention to the growing number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and the unprecedented wave of repression seen of late, civil society organizations operating within the country present this report. The number of politically motivated arrests, detentions, and imprisonments has increased sharply after the 26 January 2013 defeat of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution on “The follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.”[1] Astonishingly, the situation has become even worse since Azerbaijan assumed presidency at the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 14 May 2014.

In April 2015, the report was updated; the names of the released political prisoners were removed from the list, as well as those new prisoners, who were arrested after the list of 98 political prisoners was prepared, were included in the report.

This report contains a list of cases of those currently detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges. The list has been drawn up according to the criteria set out in PACE Resolution No. 1900, from 3 October 2012.[2]

To compile this report, a series of consultations were conducted with local human rights defenders who: 1) studied relevant reports of local and international human rights organizations; 2) examined documents from influential international organizations that Azerbaijan is member of, and has commitments to – in particular, the Council of Europe; 3) monitored the press; 4) monitored court cases; 5) examined court verdicts and other legal documents; 5) and interviewed the families, lawyers, and defense committees of the political prisoners included in this report.

The report provides detailed information about each of the political prisoners, including the facts and circumstances of their arrests, political motivations, and photos. (Photos were not available for every prisoner.)

Cases included in the report are divided into seven categories:

  1. Journalists and bloggers
  2. Human rights defenders
  3. Youth activists
  4. Politicians
  5. Religious activists
  6. Life term prisoners
  7. Other cases

The last three categories are divided into subcategories, which are detailed in the report.

The full list can be found attached here.

From Den Norske Helsingforskomite (DNH) 19-5-2015


[1]              http://bit.ly/P8Z2Qy

[2]              http://bit.ly/1piq992

Azeri President should release seven jailed journalists

In a letter sent today, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) call on Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliyev, to release all seven journalists who are currently behind bars.

Download the full letter.

In recent years Azerbaijan has developed a reputation as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists. In the past 12 months numerous journalists and human rights activists have fallen victim of what appears to be a deliberate campaign to silence critical voices in the build up to the first ever European Olympics to take place in Azerbaijan in June 2015.

The imprisoned journalists include:

  1. Nijat Aliyev, arrested 20 May 2012
  2. Araz Guliyev, arrested 8 September 2012
  3. Parviz Hashimli, arrested 17 September 2013
  4. Seymur Hazi, arrested 29 August 2014
  5. Khadija Ismayilova, arrested 5 December 2014
  6. Hilal Mamedov, arrested 21 June 2012
  7. Rauf Mirkadyrov, arrested 19 April 2014

Full details of the charges against them can be found on the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists developed in co-operation with the IFJ and EFJ.

IFJ president, Jim Boumelha, said:

“We are alarmed at the scale of attacks against press freedom in a country that is a member of the Council of Europe and should abide by its principles on freedom of expression as laid down in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Our colleagues should be released immediately without condition.”

Most prominent among these is the case of Khadija Ismayilova who was arrested in December 2014 initially on spurious charges of incitement to suicide and since replaced with charges of libel and tax evasion for which she risks up to 7 years imprisonment.

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ president said:

“Given Azerbaijan’s record on press freedom, we fear that journalists travelling to report the European Olympics will face restriction and censorship. While we warn foreign journalists to take extra precaution during the coverage of the Olympics, we urge the government to ensure that both national and foreign journalists can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and conduct any journalistic activities freely and independently.”

In February it was revealed that Emin Huseynov, Director of Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has been holding up in the Swiss embassy since August 2014 fearing arrest following a raid on the IRFS offices. Huseynov was recently awarded €15.000 compensation by the European Court of Human Rights for abuse in police custody that he suffered in 2008.

In addition to jailing journalists on trumped up charges the government has successfully squeezed what remains of ‘independent’ press through a range of mechanisms, including excessive financial penalties imposed on media, government control over the advertising market and restrictions of the national distribution and printing systems. Newspapers Zerkalo and Azadliq are on the point of closure, while Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty has been closed since December.

Last month the Azeri media reported that the government was issuing warnings to journalists applying for visas to attend the European Olympics. While acknowledging the right to engage in journalistic activities the rules threaten “any media person found spreading distorted information on Azerbaijan, thus unfairly representing the country’s interests will face the full force of the law.”

The IFJ/ EFJ warned that the “continued incarceration does great damage not only to the country’s reputation, but also to its aspirations of becoming a modern, stable democracy with international standards of human rights and respect for freedom of expression.”

The IFJ/EFJ have launched a joint campaign: Hands off press freedom in Azerbaijan.

See also the campaign for jailed Azeri journalist Khadija Ismailova:http://occrp.org/free-khadija-ismayilova/Donnelly_small

Moroccan authorities persecute journalist Ali Lmrabet

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the way the Moroccan authorities continue to persecute Ali Lmrabet, a satirical newspaper editor who wants to resume publishing newspapers in Morocco now that his ten-year ban on working as journalist has expired.

Ali Lmrabet, who has dual French and Moroccan nationality, is being denied the residence certificate he needs to get a new national ID card and to renew his passport, which expires on 24 June. Without these documents, he cannot move ahead with his declared intention to relaunch his newspapers.

A Reporters Without Borders “Information Hero” and winner of the Reporters Without Borders – Fondation de France Prize in 2003, Lmrabet used to edit Demain and Demain Magazine, publications that were banned in 2003.

Officially, he has been able to resume working as a journalist in Morocco since 11 April. He wasbanned from working for ten years after being convicted of libel.

But the authorities in the northern city of Tétouan have been refusing to give him a residence certificate since 20 April. In a statement issued on 5 May, quoting the interior minister, the Tétouan local administration said it had been established that Lmrabet does not live at the Tétouan address he gave, which is his father’s home.

The Tétouan 2nd district police station had nonetheless issued the certificate to Lmrabet on 22 April, only to demand it back the next day.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Lmrabet possesses all the documentation he needs to get a residence certificate. His address is indeed his father’s and it is the one that appears in his passport.

We are perplexed by the series of bureaucratic obstacles that are being imposed on Ali Lmrabet,” Reporters Without Borders deputy programme director Virginie Dangles said.

It is not clear why the Moroccan authorities are refusing to issue him this certificate. We urge them to provide him with the requested certificate so that he can renew his documents.”

Journalism blocked

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) – which is backing him and whose president testified on his behalf – has asked the Moroccan government to intercede at the national and local level but has not received an answer.

Lmrabet is convinced that the authorities are refusing him a residence certificate in order to prevent him from publishing again.

“I am going to become Morocco’s first undocumented Moroccan,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “I would like to think that, although this government does not like me, it cannot prevent me from having identity papers.”

His lawyer, Lahbib Mohamed Hajji, confirmed that Lmrabet’s papers had the same address as his fathers. Denying him a residence certificate is a violation of his right as a citizen, Hajji said.

Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly phoned and emailed the communication ministry in an attempt to get its version, but the ministry has not as yet responded.

Morocco is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

See also: http://www.demainonline.com

Europe discusses migrant crisis: face-saving, not life-saving solutions

(26-4-2015) judithsargentini-cMartinPluimers-001European leaders agreed late on Thursday night on joint measures aimed at tackling the ever-rising number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, a crisis dubbed a “tragedy” by the European Union (EU).

At the end of a drawn-out crisis summit, the second they had held in a week, EU heads promised to mobilise all efforts at its disposal to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human emergency.

At the summit in Brussels, EU leaders honoured the more than 1,000 dead so far this year with a moment’s silence, with EU President Donald Tusk saying that saving the lives of innocent people was the “number one priority”.

They agreed on Thursday to at least triple the funding for two border control operations run by Frontex, an EU co-ordination agency. Operation Triton is a sea-based mission in the central Mediterranean, while Operation Poseidon patrols Europe’s eastern borders, between Greece, Turkey and Albania.

Meeting the problem half way

However their promises of increased financial support for a Europe-wide sea border patrol mission have already come in for harsh criticism from campaigners, with a spokesperson for Amnesty International decrying the agreement as “a face-saving not a life-saving operation”.

“All the words and resources being thrown at this problem suggest that EU leaders are being serious about saving lives at sea. But the reality is they are still only meeting the problem halfway.”

Criticism also came from within the top levels of the EU, with politicians telling MEE that the devil of the announced plans is in the detail.

Judith Sargentini, a Dutch member of the European Parliament and migration spokesperson for the European Greens, said she was “disappointed” with the outcome of the meeting, which was hailed by EU heads of state as “historic”.

“This is really not an accurate response to the migrant crisis and will not prevent more people from drowning in the Mediterranean,” Sargentini said.

Despite the promised boost to funding for both Triton and Poseidon programmes, Sargentini says the missions will remain within the mandate of Frontex.

Border control not rescue mission

“It is important to note that this mandate is in the first place to protect European borders, not to search for and rescue drowning migrants.”

“If Frontex has more boats at its disposal, it will encounter more refugees at sea of course. That is positive. But the Frontex boats are not there to look for refugees. Their purpose is to stop migrants from coming to Europe. On the contrary, Mare Nostrum, the Italian operation which was stopped last year because European funding ended, did search pro-actively for refugees.”

Mare Nostrum, the Italian-led sea mission launched after 400 migrants drowned off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, rescued tens of thousands of migrants from a certain death by drowning. During the year-long mission, Italian boats, helicopters and planes went very close to the Libyan coast to search for stricken ships. “That is outside Frontex’ area of operation,” said Sargentini. “So the precise wording of the statement is crucial. Frontex has a mandate to operate only 30 sea miles from the European coast.”

Mare Nostrum cost nine million euros [$9.78mn] per month. By tripling the funding for Triton from three to nine million, the new European operation will match the original Italian programme. But, according to Sargentini, “the really important issue is not just the budget, but also the mandate of Frontex. What are its prerogatives and where will it operate?”

She added that the rest of the plan appeared to be very repressive. “It is about capturing and destroying vessels. It is about the Common Security Defence Policy – in plain speak: European military cooperation. This has nothing to do with a new policy on refugees and migrants. I’m very concerned because there is an urgent need now to have large-scale rescue operations. That should really come first.”

EU’s broken migrant policy

The European leaders have yet to formulate a common policy on migration and postponed the discussion of a so-called European Agenda for Migration to June. Sargentini, like other European politicians, has no idea what such a European agenda would entail. “There are internal discussions and there are different opinions. Even if the European Commission would draw up a clear road map to regulate legal access to the EU for migrants and the settlement of refugees, you have to reckon with the reluctance of member states to comply.”

On the boats crossing from Libya there are broadly three categories of immigrants: political refugees; immigrants who are looking for better economic conditions; and – a smaller group – trafficked people. The refugees come mainly from Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Chad. Many of the economic migrants come from West Africa.

Instead of what some see as a piecemeal solution, Green and left politicians are demanding tough action. Firstly, they want 0.05 percent of the total EU budget to be spent on tackling the crisis. “You have to convince both groups not to board one of these vessels to cross the Mediterranean,” explains Sargentini.

“Secondly, we should discuss the need to improve European asylum and migration policy. But there is nothing concrete about that [in the statement]. Nothing is said about internal European solidarity. Nothing is said about the proposed pilot project to accept 5,000 refugees and to resettle them across several European countries. So they didn’t even agree [on accepting] 5,000 refugees; but 5,000 is peanuts considering the magnitude of the problem.”

Racist rhetoric

An increasingly racist rhetoric surrounding the issue has grown in EU countries including Italy, where the bulk of the boat-bound migrants are arriving, as reported in MEE this week. Two tweets in Italy following the sinking of the migrant boat with up to 800 drowned, included: “700 victims … too good to be true!” and “If only all of Africa would sink.” Newspaper columnists in Italy and the UK have responded to the crisis with inflammatory comments, with the UK’s Sun columnist Katie Hopkins describing the migrants as “cockroaches” and calling for gunboats to be sent to sink the boats.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Laurens Jolles said last week: “It wouldn’t have been possible in the past, the racist rhetoric, the rhetoric of intolerance. In the 60s, 70s and the 80s, we would never have accepted this.”

This leaves migrant organisations, Green and minority politicians to argue for an end to the Fortress Europe policies that have driven migrants to take the more dangerous route via Libya. Sargentini says: “I’m not arguing that you have to allow everybody into Europe. But Europe has to take away the need of would-be immigrants to resort to the dangerous and illegal sea journey. Labour migrants should be offered legal access to the European labour market. The EU does not offer legal access nowadays but millions of foreigners are working illegally in Europe.

Europe needs migrants

“They are doing work that apparently has to be done, at the bottom of the labour market as it is called, for instance in agriculture. Why don’t we legalise, regulate and facilitate this type of labour migration? Europe only facilitates migration for the top of the labour market. The consequence is that people are coming here unorganised and, once here, are often unable to leave.”

The European summit decided to reinforce the cooperation – both military and border patrol – with the countries of origin and transit, especially the countries around Libya. Sargentini questioned what kind of cooperation would be involved.

“In that case you are in fact shifting the European frontier to the South. Before the Arab spring, when the EU was still dealing with so called nice guys like Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi, we paid those regimes to patrol their own territorial waters to prevent migrants from leaving. We also paid Gaddafi to keep an eye on the border with Niger. I find that quite reprehensible and I’m not in favour to go back to such a situation.”

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/europe-discusses-migrant-crisis-face-saving-not-life-saving-solutions-1631760939#sthash.P51ld3TG.dpuf

Yemeni media freedom and human rights at risk

In May 2013 I took part in the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Sana’a. More interesting than the speeches and panel discussions was the enthusiasm of participating Yemeni journalists. Yemen was witnessing a revolution. Though there were plenty political and social obstacles, practical difficulties and a lot of violence, many young journalists I met were determined to defendtheir important role ofing the public honestly and professionally.

Two years later Yemen’s’ political process has collapsed and fighting continues to rage across the country with Saudi airstrikes targeting Houthi forces. Yemen has become an extreme hostile place for journalists and human rights defenders. This year no celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Yemen. The Gulf Center for Human Rights published a special report on “Yemeni journalists and human rights defenders at risk during wartime, 2-5-2015” (http://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/36)

Saeed Thabet addressing Yemeni journalists

The Ministry of Information, which is now run by the Houthis, warned the media that it would take action against any media outlet that opposed their policies, and “that these measures may amount to the closure of any media outlet working to stir up unrest.” And that is exactly what happened. According to the Freedom Foundation for Media Freedom, Rights and Development (http://www.freedomfoundation-yemen.org/en/) the Houthis committed many severe violations and attacks against media since they took control of Sana’a on 21 September 2015. “Press freedom and freedom of expressions faced serious deterioration unprecedented since the start of political pluralism in the country in 1990,” noted the NGO. Only recently (in March 2015) the Houthis stormed several TV channels and blocked many news websites.

But not only the Houthis are violating media freedoms and human rights. Media outlets have strongly sided with either parts of the conflict. The report quotes several experts who point out that most media outlets have constant biases.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on May 7 for the immediate release of Yemeni journalist Waheed al-Sufi, who has been held for more than a month by unidentified kidnappers. Al-Sufi is the editor-in-chief of the Yemeni weekly newspaper Al-Arabiya and its website, Al-Arabiya Online, according to news reports and his family.

Towards freedom in the Arab world, ten years on

The need for a special rapporteur

The Arab Human Development Report 2004 was published with as subtitle Towards Freedom in the Arab World. The report, published by UNDP, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social development and the Arab Gulf Programme for UN Development Organizations, concluded that freedoms, particularly those of opinion, expression and creativity, were under pressure in most Arab countries.

Journalists were repeatedly targeted for prosecution on the grounds of opinions they had expressed. Political activists and human rights defenders were attacked. There was censorship on literary and artistic works. It was not allowed to organize meetings and gatherings without explicit green light from the authorities.

The freedom to form associations was often violated by denying organisations permission to operate or by dissolving existing ones. Most restrictions had been directed against grassroots human rights organizations. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council GCC did and still do not allow the formation of political parties.

Ten years later (and an Arab spring later) the “freedom deficit” is still there. The deficit may even be bigger than 10 years ago.

Some people argue that lack of freedom; despotism is an inherent characteristic of the East and freedom a fundamental quality of the West. Some, like Geert Wilders and other right-wing-politicians in Europe, argue that Arabs or Muslims are not capable of being democrats and that there is a contradiction between Islam and Democracy. I think that the collective clamour for freedom and dignity during the Arab spring revolutions proved the opposite. Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinian, Tunisians, Moroccans, Yemeni’s, and Iraqi’s, people from the Gulf: millions and millions of Arabs called for freedom and dignity. Writers, poets, musicians and journalists in the Arab world yearn for freedom. Not only freedom in the sense of political or civil freedoms, but also the liberation from ignorance, fear, poverty, disease and hunger. Freedom in the narrow political sense and freedom in a more comprehensive form, defined as free from all factors that undermine human dignity, are –by the way- closely related. Good governance and political and civil liberties are very much linked, and without good governance the human dignity, the dignity of the individual, is compromised.

Disaster

Interestingly the Arab Human Development Report 2004 warned for a disaster scenario if the repressive situation in Arab countries would continue. The Report, written by Arab experts and intellectuals, warned for intensified societal conflict. “In the absence of peaceful and effective mechanisms to address injustice and achieve political alternation, some might be tempted to embrace violent protest, with the risk of internal disorder”, according to the Report.

Ten years later we do have bloody conflicts in large parts of the Arab world: in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. It may be a simplification to blame the freedom deficit for all problems and conflicts in the region. But the lack of political and civil participation, the lack of accountability and the lack of fundamental freedoms have certainly contributed to the sorry state the Arab world is in now.

It is sad that a new term entered recently the vocabulary of Human Rights and Freedom of Expression defenders in the Middle East: ‘post Arab spring oppression’. Leaving aside countries in war like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, this oppression is maybe strongest felt in Egypt where the human rights situation is at its worst since more than 30 years. In the Gulf, especially Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, freedom of expression is restricted, and human rights activists are frequently targeted. Activists have been imprisoned and in some cases stripped of citizenship.

The anti terror operations against ISIL served in some cases as a pretext to clamp down on political dissent, while the alliance with the US, the EU and other Western powers made it harder for these countries to criticize human right abuses of their Arab allies.

Special Rapporteur

One of the ideas I discussed earlier with Arab press freedom and human rights NGO’s, is the creation of the institution of an Independent Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom in the Arab World. Similar institutions do exist in other parts of the world. There is for instance the OSCE-representative on Freedom of the Media in Europe. There is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States. (OAS) In Africa there is the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. And the UN-Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression monitors developments in this field globally.

The question is: why not an Independent Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom in the Arab World, using standardized agreed upon monitoring criteria? Most Arab governments are not keen to have such an institution. But it could be a very useful mechanism for independent human rights and press freedom groups. It could empower them in monitoring and denouncing violations. It could arm them against accusations that they are politicised or serving certain political interests.

I’m aware that the Arab Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom still needs a lot of discussion; a lot of work and maybe this institution will remain unfeasible and unachievable in the coming years. But in the meantime Arab NGO’s could join forces by working on projects like the publishing of a joint annual report about the state of Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom in the Arab world.

(Summary of presentation during Workshop on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, 20-22 April 2015 European Union / League of Arab States, Brussels)