The Great Civil Society Choke-out

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
kenroth

Civil society is under more aggressive attack than at any time in recent memory. Facing independent civic groups that have further reach, and more outlets to publish their findings and make their case, governments around the world have begun working to silence them by depriving them of their right to seek funding abroad, even when domestic funds are unavailable. From Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia, autocrats have claimed that they are fighting foreign interference to brush aside domestic and international protest over these restrictions.
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Police detain a protester outside the Zamoskvoretsky courthouse in Moscow on February 21, 2014.
©2014 Reuters

This effort to choke off funding of civil society is replete with hypocrisy and violates basic rights of expression and association. At its heart, it is an attempt to avoid organized oversight of governance. If the world allows it to succeed, it will leave empty shells of democracy — even when periodic elections are held, people will lack one of the principal tools to make their concerns heard.

A vigorous civil society helps to ensure that governments serve their people. Joining together in civic groups amplifies isolated voices and leverages their ability to influence governments — to ensure that they build schools, secure access to health care, protect the environment, and take countless other steps to pursue a popular vision of the common good. When leaders are primarily interested in advancing themselves, their families, or their cronies, however, an empowered public — able to investigate, publicize, protest, and rectify government corruption, malfeasance, or incompetence — becomes a threat.

Recently, it’s become a more insistent one. The rise of social media, especially on mobile devices, has meant that people can bypass traditional media and speak to large numbers without a journalist intermediary. People’s voices can reach broader audiences and, despite the efforts of pro-government trolls, are harder to censor or counter. The Arab uprisings that began in late 2010, Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution, and the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong all demonstrate what can happen between a restless public and activists adept at using social media. From China to Venezuela to Malaysia, civil society groups have used this new microphone to pressure governments to be more accountable to the people below.

In a different era, autocrats might have dispensed with any pretense of democracy and simply ruled without elections. But just as authoritarian rulers learned to hold elections (while manipulating votes) to maintain a facade of democracy, they are now working between ballots to prevent an empowered public from impeding their authoritarian aims. By closing the political space in which civic groups operate — interfering with the funds that allow groups to organize, investigate, and agitate — autocrats are trying to suck the oxygen from organized efforts to challenge or even criticize their self-serving reign.

Such a strategy is extraordinarily dangerous for civil society. Many countries are too poor to have a pool of donors capable of significant financial contributions to civic groups. When individuals are wealthy enough to make such gifts to groups critical of the authorities, autocrats can often dissuade them, attacking their business interests, threatening a tax investigation, withholding necessary licenses, or restricting business with the government.

When would-be domestic donors are too frightened or lack the means to give very much, civic groups naturally exercise their right to seek support abroad — and this is where governments are breaking new ground. Often, the first move has been to cut off foreign sources of funding for groups that defend human rights or hold the government to account.

India, its democratic traditions notwithstanding, has been a long-time practitioner of this technique — its Foreign Contribution Regulation Actrequires government approval before any civic group can receive a contribution from abroad. The government’s willingness to allow such contributions tends to bear an inverse relationship to the sensitivity of the group’s work: While groups that offer humanitarian services operate relatively unhindered, human rights organizations are often restrained. More recently, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, environmental groups have been particularly victimized because of perceived challenges to official development plans.

India is hardly the only bully, however.

Russia has applied such restrictions aggressively — first tarring Russian groups that accept contributions from abroad as “foreign agents” (which in Russian has the unsavory connotation of “traitor” or “spy”), then banning certain donors as “undesirable foreign organizations,” with criminal penalties applicable to anyone who cooperates with them. Donors that have been banned include the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.

Other former Soviet states have started to emulate Russia. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is considering its own “foreign agents” law, which borrows heavily from Russia’s. Kazakhstan adopted legislation that requires funding for civic groups to be channeled through a single government-appointed “operator” with discretion over the dispersal of funds.

Belarus requiresregistering all foreign funding with a government agency that can reject it if its purpose is not on a narrow officially approved list. Azerbaijan opened a criminal investigation into a handful of the most prominent foreign donors, froze the bank accounts of dozens of their grantees, jailed key veterans of the human rights movement, and required government licensing of all foreign donors and official approval of each funded project.
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Members of Journalists Without Borders protest against Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev during his visit to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, January 21, 2015.
© 2015 Reuters

Some of China’s most important organizations — particularly those that try to uphold human rights — are largely dependent on outside funding, but the government is expected to soon adopt a foreign NGO management law that in all likelihood would enable it to exert tighter control of overseas funding. Organizations that engage in advocacy — rather than service delivery — would be particularly vulnerable.

Some African regimes have been at the cutting edge of these efforts. In 2009, Ethiopia began restricting the foreign funding of any group working on human rights or governance to 10 percent of its revenue, effectively shutting down most organizations that monitored the government’s conduct. Kenya,claiming that backers of the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of officials for violence after the 2007 elections are promoting a “foreign agenda,” is considering a similar 15 percent cap.

Angola banned funding from foreign entities that are not approved by a government body. And Morocco is prosecuting five civil society activists for “harming internal security” for accepting foreign funding to organize a workshop to empower citizen journalism through a smartphone app.

In Latin America, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that any group receiving foreign funding could be prosecuted for “treason,” while the National Assembly, then ruled by a pro-government majority, prohibited international assistance to any group that would (in a transparent display of its fear) “defend political rights” or “monitor the performance of public bodies.”

Autocrats who favor restricting access to foreign donors for civic groups that monitor their conduct often dress it up as fighting foreign interference. Yet these same governments actively promote foreign investment and foreign trade deals, while allowing those businesses to lobby for beneficial laws and regulations and to take part in debates about public policy. Many eagerly solicit foreign aid, for themselves and encourage such aid to groups that provide services that the government otherwise would have to deliver — even when that aid comes with conditions attached.

Ironically, many of the same governments that restrict civil society’s right to seek funding abroad themselves spend copiously on lobbyists or public relations firms to spruce up their own images overseas. Governments such as those of Russia, China, Egypt, and Azerbaijan have spent millions of dollars in Washington alone to put a benign face on their repression, while starving civil society as it tries to alleviate that repression at home. Their concerns about cross-border funding influencing the public debate thus seem to depend on whether the funding contributes to scrutinizing or reinforcing the government line.

When seeking to justify new restrictions, autocratic governments often compare them to policies in established democracies. For example, some democracies bar political candidates from receiving foreign contributions. Yet the restrictions preventing civic groups from receiving funds from abroad extend well beyond the electoral context. They limit civil society’s ability to organize and speak out on a wide variety of issues that have nothing to do with elections. Neither international human rights law nor any proper understanding of democracy permits restricting independent groups from seeking foreign funding, as U.N. Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai explained in a 2013 report.

In other cases, governments invoke laws such as the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires those acting on behalf of a foreign government to register as its agent. Yet that law addresses only people or entities that act as “agents” of a foreign government or at its “direction or control.” Few if any contributions to civil groups are sufficiently directive to establish anything remotely like an agency relationship. Moreover, in many cases, the foreign funder is not a government at all but a private individual or foundation.

Some governments — including Cambodia, Egypt, Tajikistan, and India — justify restrictions on foreign contributions to civic groups as necessary to fight terrorism. China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh also invoked the terror threat in introducing draft measures containing similar foreign-donor restrictions. But since terrorist groups can as easily set up businesses as voluntary organizations to finance their crimes, the differential treatment again reveals other concerns.

Efforts to restrict civil society’s access to foreign donors are not about transparency or good governance. They are about avoiding organized oversight of governance, about blocking what is often the sole source of independent funding for such efforts when domestic sources do not exist or have been scared off. If governments really wanted to shelter their societies from foreign funds, they could emulate the reclusiveness of North Korea. But what these governments truly desire is a selective cutoff, enabling commercial funds and international aid they deem beneficial while restricting those that might be used to hold them accountable. Any such governmental distinction between commercial and charitable funds, or between aid to themselves and aid to civic groups, should be seen for what it is: an effort to block citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and association, and the accountable governments they foster.
Source : Human Rights Watch

anzania: 16 Billion/ – Sent to Schools to Prop Free Education

By Alvar Mwakyusa

Dodoma — The government disbursed last month capitation funds amounting to 15.71bn/- to public primary and secondary schools countrywide in implementation of free education policy, the National Assembly heard.

In the same development, Deputy Minister for Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, Engineer Stella Manyanya, stressed yesterday that no students in public schools will be compelled to pay fees or any other contributions.

“As the government implements the free education policy from primary to ordinary level, a circular number 6 of 2015 was issued which stipulates obligation of every stakeholder in realising the plan,” Eng. Manyanya explained.

She made the explanation while responding to a basic question by Ndanda MP, Mr Cecil Mwambe (Chadema) who had wanted to know whether the government was fully prepared to put the plan into action.

“Is the government well prepared to ensure students are not sent back home for failing to make contributions to pay salaries of guards or purchase of chalks and desks?” the MP queried.

In response, the deputy minister assured the lawmaker that the capitation grant disbursed to schools are meant to foot all costs, which were hitherto borne by parents and guardians.

“The funds are allocated to cater for operation costs, tuition fees and meals for students in boarding schools. “Heads of government schools have been given directives on how the money should be spent to purchase teaching and learning materials as well as footing other costs such as printing of examinations and paying security guards,” she elaborated.

She went on to state that each financial year, the central government and local governments will allocate funds to purchase desks in public schools. “The public and other education stakeholders could however continue supporting the government to provide desks as they wish,” Eng Manyanya said.

She added: “I declare before this House that the government is committed to provide free education. No student will be compelled to make financial contributions because this is the responsibility of the government.”

On the other hand, Eng. Manyanya said plans are still underway to put up vocational training centres in all districts. “A study was conducted to construct the centres in districts, which lack either public or private vocational training centres,” she stated.

Eng Manyanya was responding to another question by the Ndanda lawmaker, who had tasked the government to build such a centre in Masasi District.

However, the deputy minister explained that Masasi District would not be considered for now since it has two vocational training centres run by religious organizations.

They include Ndanda and Lupaso – with the capacity of admitting 180 and 38 students. Eng. Manyanya explained further that the government has upgraded 25 community development colleges across the country to enable them provide vocational training.
Source : Tanzania Daily News

Tanzania: Free Education – a Noble Initiative

By Anne Robi

Tanzania has effectively started implementing free education policy by issuing a circular on how it would be executed from this January.

The government Circular Number 5 of 2015 is part of implementation of the Education and Training Policy 2014 and realisation of President John Magufuli’s pledge to provide free education to Tanzanian children.

The directive revokes all other previous circulars that were providing for various parents’ and guardians’ contributions in public schools. The circular provides that the provision of free education means pupils or students will not pay any fee or other contributions that were being provided by parents or guardians before the release of new circular.

The government’s move aims at giving an opportunity to children from low income families have access to free education as well as lessening parents’ burden of excessive fees and other contributions.

The free education policy targets children studying at public schools from standard one to secondary schools at ordinary level (Form Four). Before the release of a new circular, secondary school students studying in day schools were paying 20,000/- fees while those in boarding schools were paying 40,000/-.

Over 18bn/- was disbursed for the month of January and distributed to bank accounts of all schools across the country. The government set aside a total of 137bn/- to implement the promised free education.

According to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, the money will serve to cover the first half of the year, January to June 2016. He noted that the government had already calculated and established the amount needed for food in both boarding and day schools saying that the government is comfortable to afford the cost of providing free education.

The PM went on to announce that the government will also pay examination fees for the students, an expense that usually costs 10,000/- for secondary school students.

The funds have been disbursed to various regions to be used for various education activities in both primary and secondary schools to fulfill the free education pledge.

The immediate impact of free education scheme is that it has accelerated pupil enrolment, and reduced teacher-student conflicts over fee collection, and teachers-versus school heads over expenditure.

Various challenges emerged including complaints from some schools over insufficiencies of the budget allocation. The challenges were largely caused by school heads who might have overlooked some aspects while preparing their budgets before sending them to their municipal councils. Also heads were supposed to prepare their budgets in line with the number of students they have and their expenses.

Parents or guardians will be involved in ensuring that students get school and sports uniforms, minor studying materials like exercise books, pens, medical expenses while also playing a role in giving proper guidance on good conduct and discipline.

Even when education was made free, families can still pay significant amounts for their children’s education, despite the policy having stated to revoke all the contributions that were being contributed by the parents and guardians.

As the process to address the challenges goes on, the government and other stakeholders should conduct countrywide public awareness and make familiar the teachers and parents including other stakeholders all about the new policy to guard free education.

The government however has intervened and pledged to address all the shortcomings in the coming months. The government should endeavour to find long-term solutions to teachers’ grievances such as lack of decent accommodation, lack of promotion, delays in adjusting salaries after being promoted, and accumulation of arrears covering vacation allowances.

Furthermore, collective efforts embracing the government, parents and other education sector stakeholders should be made to create a conducive learning environment. This includes collaboration in the construction of classrooms.

As the funds goes to the schools, definitely to cover for all the contributions that were being provided by parents and or guardians before, some of the head teachers are still demanding some funds from the parents, a move that had raised eyebrows among the parents and guardians considering the fact that government announced to cover all the expenses.

The comprehensive public awareness would help address quickly some of the challenges mostly raised by head teachers and parents on the concept of free education.

The move will also help point out the roles of parents and guardians and the government towards the implementation of the new system.
Source : Tanzania Daily News

Tanzania: Enrolment Up Thanks to Free Education ‘Offer’

By Ambrose Wantaigwa

Tarime — Following parents’ positive response to the Fifth Phase Government’s commitment to announce the provision of free education in primary and secondary schools starting January this year Sirari Ward Secondary School in Tarime District has been overwhelmed by the large number of students who are supposed to be registered for Form One.

The school’s board of directors is putting up strategies to embark on urgent measures to help 400 students who have reported to commence Form One this year.

The efforts include building more classrooms. The outgoing Board chairman, Mr Joel Mwita, told the ‘Daily News’ in an interview that a gathering of parents had agreed to move forward by voluntarily contributing towards daily running expenses including provision of food to help pupils come from distant localities to attend classes comfortably.

He said they had also introduced a new awareness campaign including traditional elders to motivate parents to support the government’s move to call upon communities to shun female genital mutilation or marrying them off in exchange of dowry.

Mr Mwita revealed that since time immemorial the institution has enrolled the highest number of girl students after the traditional initiation ceremonies in the district that are held here towards the end of every two consecutive years.

He said parents and guardians have shown interest to continue footing minor expenses while supporting the relevant grants that will be disbursed to the school from the central government to cover education costs following the cancellation of school fees.

According to the school head, Mr Jonathan Masambu, they have put precautionary measures to check that no foreign student is enrolled by inspecting birth certificates and a special TSM9 form certifying the selection of each pupil after completion of primary school education because the school is situated only a few kilometres from the Kenyan border.
Source : Tanzania Daily News

Cote d’Ivoire: Former President Gbagbo Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ of Crimes Against Humanity

The trial has begun for the former leader of the West African nation accused of various crimes during the war that began in 2011. His case is also seen as a major test for the ICC.

Laurent Gbagbo pleaded not guilty on Thursday during the opening of his trial in The Hague, which drew droves of supporters for the former president, the first head of state to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Gbagbo, as well as his co-accused Charles Ble Goude, face four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and persecution.

His crimes were allegedly committed during the war that began in the Ivory Coast in 2011, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. Gbagbo refused to step down after his rival Alassane Ouattara won elections in November 2010, sparking a civil war between supporters of the two politicians that didn’t end until France – the country’s former colonial power – intervened.

A test for the ICC

Reuters reported that hundreds of people gathered in front of the court to voice their support for Gbagbo, insisting he was being punished for standing up to France.

One Ivory Coast woman told the news agency that the trial was an example of “neo-colonialism.”

The trial is also a test for the ICC, which garnered criticism for its haphazard attempt to try Kenya’s former president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told DW’s Conflict Zone that despite the criticism the ICC is widely supported by people in Africa.

She also dismissed the accusation that the ICC was entirely focused on African cases.

“I think it is correct to say that most of our cases or all of our cases at the moment are in Africa. But that is not the whole picture,” she told Conflict Zone’s Tim Sebastian.
Source : DW

Wannabe bank robber nabbed after leaving four Midtown branches empty-handed

By Thomas Tracy

A not-so-savvy, fresh out-of-prison bank robber was arrested after hitting three Midtown branches Thursday, but coming away empty-handed each time, authorities said.

Abdul Harley, 43, was taken into custody about 12:30 p.m. after three failed bank robberies between Park and Second Aves. in the East 20s and East 60s, officials said.

After the first robbery, cops in the area were alerted on their new, department-issued cell phones.

The only thing he got away with was a dye pack, which he dumped right before it exploded on Park Ave. near E. 52nd St., police said.

QUEENS TD BANK ROBBED AT GUNPOINT BY ‘NEWER BONNIE & CLYDE’
NYPD officers investigate the scene of a bank robbery Thursday at 345 Park Avenue South in Manhattan.
Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News
NYPD officers investigate the scene of a bank robbery Thursday at 345 Park Avenue South in Manhattan.

The would-be robbery spree began when he entered a Park Avenue Chase branch and passed a threatening note to a teller but ran off without getting any money, cops said.

Over the next half hour, he entered a Banco Popular on Park Ave., where he was given the dye pack, an HSBC bank on Third Ave. and a TD Bank on Second Ave., officials said.

In the last two heists, apparently unnerved by the dye pack incident, he ran into the bank but said nothing and ran off without demanding money, police sources said.

Harley was also charged in five earlier bank heists, from Nov. 24 to Jan. 22. The Nov. 24 job occurred a day after his release from prison on robbery charges.
Source : NY Daily News

Buhari’s Govt. Will Determine The Extent of Change-Prof. Olagoke

A Muslim cleric and founder Shafaudeen worldwide, Professor Sabitu Olagoke has declared that the much talked about change by the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration in Nigeria, would only be determined by the President and his men.

Professor Olagoke made this declaration at Shafaudeen’s annual convention, held at Wakajaiye, Ibadan, Nigeria.

”It is only the people in government that would determine the readiness of the people for change, when government is able to role model what they preach or the ideals they fight for. And that is why they are impressing upon those leaders that they must lead by example, rather than precept”, he concluded.

Supreme Court: Life sentences on juveniles open for later reviews

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that those sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they should be released from prison.

The ruling expanded the court’s 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles and said it must be applied retroactively to what juvenile advocates estimate are 1,200 to 1,500 cases.

More than 1,100 inmates are concentrated in three states — Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Michigan — where officials had decided the 2012 ruling was not retroactive.

They should have a chance to be resentenced or argue for parole, said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the new 6-to-3 decision.

Kennedy has been the court’s champion in a line of cases that declare that juveniles convicted of even the most heinous crimes must be treated differently than adults. The court in 2005 ruled out capital punishment for juveniles and later said they could not be locked away for life for crimes other than murder.

The 2012 case ruled out mandatory life imprisonment without parole, which was the situation facing Henry Montgomery of Louisiana, who brought Monday’s case. In 1963, when he was 17, Montgomery shot and killed Charles Hurt, a sheriff’s deputy.

Montgomery is now 69 and says his rehabilitation in prison should make him eligible to be considered for parole. The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected his plea, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama was not retroactive.

The six-member majority, which in addition to Kennedy included Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s liberals, said on Monday that it was.

“Prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy acknowledged that the court’s 2012 Miller decision recognized that a judge “might encounter the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible and life without parole is justified.”

But he said the ruling’s overarching lesson was that “children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change” cast doubt on mandatory sentences, and that this “harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

In a dissent that described Kennedy’s ruling as “astonishing” and “sleight of hand,” Justice Antonin Scalia said the majority’s goal was abolishing life imprisonment without parole for juveniles.

There are two pending cases asking the court to do that. And Christopher Slobogin, a juvenile-justice expert at Vanderbilt Law School, wondered what the next step might be for a court majority that thinks the immaturity and impetuous behavior of juveniles, as well as their potential for reform, makes them different from adults.

“The next step might be no mandatory sentences for children at all,” he said.

Many states that previously allowed life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders had already agreed that those sentenced under the old codes could have their sentences reviewed. Others, such as Arkansas and Texas, have enacted mandatory sentences — 40 years, for instance — before parole can be considered.

But seven, including Louisiana, had said the court’s ruling was not retroactive. Most changes in criminal law do not apply to settled cases.

But Kennedy said the Miller ruling was a substantive change in the law that must be applied to earlier sentences.

“A penalty imposed pursuant to an unconstitutional law is no less void because the prisoner’s sentence became final before the law was held unconstitutional,” Kennedy wrote. “There is no grandfather clause that permits states to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.”

Scalia retorted: “There most certainly is a grandfather clause — one we have called finality — which says that the Constitution does not require states to revise punishments that were lawful when they were imposed.”

Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty of determining decades later whether a judge was correct to have justified sentencing a youth to life imprisonment because of “irretrievable depravity.”

But he said the situation could be remedied by giving the offender a parole hearing.

“Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences,” Kennedy wrote. “The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition — that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”

Scalia said that was a power play that showed the majority’s true goal of getting rid of life imprisonment for juveniles.

“In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole,’ ” Scalia wrote. “Mission accomplished.”

Scalia was joined in dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Kennedy said Montgomery will still have to prove his case but that he had a good case to make.

“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison,” Kennedy wrote, but added that Montgomery “has discussed in his submissions to this court his evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community.”

Those inmates affected by the court’s decision will probably have to bring individual claims or requests for parole, juvenile-justice experts said.

Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center said there could be special proceedings to deal with those inmates. For instance, of about 500 serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania, she said, about 300 are from one county, Philadelphia.

The Supreme Court’s decisions on juvenile sentencing have featured sharp debates between Kennedy and Scalia, and Monday’s was no different.

“This whole exercise,” Scalia wrote, “is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders. But, without mentioning Kennedy by name, Scalia said such a straightforward acknowledgment would have been “an embarrassment.”

One of the justifications the court gave in Roper v. Simmons for ending the death penalty for juvenile murderers was that life without parole was a severe enough punishment, Scalia said.

“How could the majority — in an opinion written by the very author of Roper — now say that punishment is also unconstitutional?” Scalia asked. Since it couldn’t, he answered, they made it “a practical impossibility.”

The case is Montgomery v. Louisiana.

Source : The Washington Post

Condolence Visit By Executive of BRACED Development Association To Family of Late Olubadan

The BRACED Development Association is the umbrella body of the South/South indigenes, resident in Oyo state. The association comprises Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta states.

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President of BRACED, Chief Michael Obasohan, signing the condolence register at the late Monarch’s residence at Monatan, Ibadan, Nigeria.

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Some of the Executive members of BRACED(left), the late monarch’s first son, Professor Femi Lana(sitting, right)

Kuwait: New Cyber Crimes Law restricts expression and targets online activists

ARTICLE 19, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are seriously concerned about the impact of the new Cyber Crimes Law no. 63, which comes into force on 12 January 2016, on freedom of expression and online activism in Kuwait. The law was published in the official newspaper on 07 July 2015 after being approved by the National Assembly on 16 June 2015.

The new legislation contains 21 articles which seek to regulate a number of online activities in Kuwait. In particular, we are concerned that the new law, especially articles 4, 6 and 7, could be used to limit freedom of expression on the Internet, as well as to target online activists including bloggers and citizen journalists.

Under international human rights law, any restriction on freedom of expression must meet the three-part test under Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR’), i.e. it must be (1) provided by law; (2) pursue a legitimate aim as enumerated under Article 19 (3); and (3) be necessary and proportionate [in a democratic society]. We believe that the Kuwaiti Cybercrimes law fails those tests and is therefore in breach of international law.

  • Overly Broad Restrictions on Public Morality Grounds: Article 4 (4) punishes by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years and a fine of not less than two thousand dinars and not exceeding five thousand dinars: “Item 4. Whoever establishes a website or publishes or produces or prepares or creates or sends or stores information or data with a view to use, distribute or display to others via the Internet or an information technology device that would prejudice public morality or manages a place for this purpose.”

In our view, Article 4 is overly broad. In particular, it fails to define what constitutes ‘prejudice to public morality’. We are therefore concerned that this article could be used to target online activists expressing controversial views on religious or other matters of public interest on spurious “public morality” grounds.

  • Overly Broad Restrictions Based on the Press and Publications Law: Article 6 is based on Article 27 (1, 2 and 3) of the Press and Publications Law (no. 3/2006) which punishes editors and writers who commit acts that are described in article 19, 20 and 21 of the law, with up to one year imprisonment and a fine of up to 20,000 Dinars. We are concerned that items (1, 2, 3 and 4) of Article 27 give powers to the Criminal Court to punish any of the described acts by revoking the license or shutting down a newspaper for a period not exceeding one year, as well as the confiscation of published copies. Some of the acts described in articles 19, 20 and 21 are listed below:
  1. Criticizing the Head of State, which is in this case the Emir himself.
  2. The publication of anything that would:

A. Show contempt or disdain for the State Constitution.

B. Insult or demonstrate contempt for the judiciary or prosecutors or prejudice the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary or interfere with what the courts and investigating authorities decide should not be disclosed.

C. Prejudice public morals or incite to breach public order or violation of laws or to commit crimes even if the crime did not occur.

In our view, Article 6 of the Cybercrime Law and Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Press and Publications Law are excessively broad. In particular, we are concerned that Article 6 will significantly threatens freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet and the right to receive and impart information of Internet users in Kuwait. Furthermore, Article 6 appears to be designed to target activists and citizens journalists who are expressing their opinions about ongoing events in their country on social networking sites. While Kuwait has generally demonstrated considerable respect for freedom of expression compared to other Gulf countries, we are concerned that this article will turn Kuwait into a much more repressive state where bloggers and Kuwaiti citizens are punished for expressing dissenting or critical viewpoints on the Internet.

  • Sedition: We are further concerned about Article 7, which includes punishment not exceeding 10 years for a number of acts listed in Article 28 of the Press and Publications Law (no. 3/2006), including “the publication of incitement to overthrow the regime in the country.”  Human rights organisations, as well as individual human rights defenders, are also likely to be targeted under this article.

We firmly believe that the new Cyber Crimes Law is a direct assault on the right to freedom of opinion and belief and the right to freedom of expression and it is going to be used by the authorities in Kuwait to restrict freedom of expression and opinion on various social media networks. We are also very concerned that it could be used against human rights defenders, including bloggers and online activists, who cover human rights issues in their writings and bring them to the attention of international human rights bodies or organisations.

We therefore urge the relevant Kuwaiti authorities to:

  • Immediately repeal Articles 4, 6 and 7 of the Cybercrimes Law. At the very least, the application of Articles 4, 6 and 7 should be suspended pending its repeal so as to ensure that bloggers and activists are not unduly targeted.
  • Immediately repeal the Press and Publications Law. At the very least, the application of Articles 19, 20, 21, 27 and 28 should be suspended pending the repeal of the law.
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, including online activists, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions including judicial harassment.

Signed,

ARTICLE 19

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Source : Article 19