Missing Burundi Journalist Yet to Be Found

Missing journalist,  Jean Bigirimana has been missing since  22 July, 2016 and there has not been any evidence that he is dead.

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His colleagues in Iwacu Press Group, recently marked the first anniversary of his disappearance.

Bigirimana’s wife and children are worried, they are at a lose as to what has happened to their breadwinner. Read more…..

Activist who accused Bahrain security forces of sexual assault is rearrested

A  prominent human Rights Activist,Ebtial-Saegh has been arrested and  detained by Security agents in Bharain for tweeting remarks considered  to be attacks on the   kingdom’s ruler and security forces.

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However, the activist is accusing the members of the security agency of sexually assaulting her. Read more……

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Mexico: Investigate state wrongdoings, not watchdogs

                                                        Statement

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ARTICLE 19 is extremely concerned about yesterday’s statement by the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, in relation to recent revelations documented by ARTICLE 19 Mexico and partners on the use of surveillance technology against journalists, victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders in Mexico. In his statement, the President asserted that the state prosecutor should launch an investigation of those who have raised “false accusations.” Read more….

Zimbabwe: Linda Musarira, Others Nabbed Over Toy Gun

Police have denied access to medication to the three human rights activists who were arrested for an alleged illegal possession of a “fire arm” in central Harare on Wednesday.

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Linda Masarira, Zimbabwe National Students Union secretary general, Makomborero Haruzivishe, and the Young Voters’ Platform national programs coordinator, Desmond Sharukai, were arrested at a local restaurant where they were having a drink Wednesday night for allegedly possessing a gun.

Fellow activists, who witnessed the arrest of the three, said Linda and friends were apprehended after they had an altercation with the workers of the restaurant they were having “drinks” at.

“Linda had a misunderstanding with one of the workers at the restaurant and she pointed a toy gun at him,” said the activists who requested not to be named.

According to their attorney, Obey Shava, from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, one of the activists who are detained at Harare Central police station, Haruzivishe, was assaulted during the skirmishes at the scene of their arrest and sustained a “fractured” leg.

“The police have denied my clients access to medication after spending the whole day negotiating with them to have them taken to the hospital so that they can be attended to by doctors,” Shava told NewZimbabwe.com in Harare Thursday.

“They denied the request to have them sent to hospital for treatment despite serious and visible injuries,” he said.

Shava also said the police were yet to prefer charges against the three activists.

“This is an illegal detention which my clients continue to be under given the fact that it is now than 17 hours since they were arrested.

“If they are to charge them I suspect that they might charge them with assault and possible pointing a gun at someone, but they are yet to charge them,” said Shava.

Source : New Zimbabwe(London)

Egypt: Blocking news websites violates the constitution and international obligations

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the unprecedented situation of restrictions on freedom of the press and the free flow of information in Egypt, following the announcement by the Egyptian state-run news agency, Mena, on 24 May 2017 that the Egyptian authorities had blocked 21 news websites.

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The blocking included Egyptian news websites known for criticizing authorities such as Mada Masr, and the websites of foreign outlets such as Al Jazeera, Huffpost Arabi and Al Sharq TV.

“Recent blocking measures indicate a continuing and serious deterioration of media freedoms and reflect a decline in human rights in general in Egypt, where the authorities have so far ignoredthe warnings of local and international human rights organizations,” said Saloua Ghazouani, director of ARTICLE 19 Middle East and North Africa.

“The blocking measures are further evidence that the authorities tolerate only the voices that support the regime and are silent about its serious human rights abuses,” stated Ghazouani.

The blocking measures violate the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 and also Egypt’s international obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 70 of the Egyptian Constitution states that “Freedom of the press, printing and paper, visual, audio and electronic publication is guaranteed.” Article 71 states that “It is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way.”

In recent years, Egypt’s rankings in the World Press Freedom Index, prepared by Reporters Without Borders, have been steadily deteriorating. In 2017, Egypt is on the “blacklist” of countries where the situation for freedom of expression is “very dangerous,” with journalists jailed or detained for long periods.

In 2017, Egypt ranked 161 out of the 180 countries included in the report, down from 159 in 2016 to 158 in 2015.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Egyptian authorities to restore access to the 21 news websites and ensure access to information through a free and independent media for all in Egypt.

Uganda: Abuse of Social Media Forcing Govt to Filter Content, Says ICT Minister

Kabarole — The minister for Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance, Mr Frank Tumwebaze has said the increasing public abuse of social media is forcing the hands of government to regulate the use of the platforms.

Speaking at the 51 celebrations of the World’s Communication Day at Virika Parish, Fort Portal Diocese in Fort Portal Municipality on Sunday, Mr Tumwebaze said there is need to filter social media content that the public posts on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

“In other countries such as UK, everything that goes on air is first filtered but here in Uganda we have not reached that, but we need to be ambassadors of our information,” Mr Tumwebaze said.

He said some people have taken advantage of such platforms to terrorise the country and warned such users to desist and use the new innovations to transform the country.

Mr Tumwebaze who asked the public to be security conscious of cybercrimes, rallied Ugandans to register their SIM cards before August 30 as his ministry and Uganda Communication Commissions will switch off all subscribers who will fail to register or verify their SIM cards.

He warned that there won’t be any more extension after the three month’s grace period allowed for subscribers to register. Fort Portal Dioceses Bishop Robert Muhirwa, expressed concern on misuse of social media platforms to spread pornographic information to the public and asked the government regulate such content.

“Somebody used my name on Facebook and started asking people for money allegedly for helping needy people, and this is wrong. Government should help us” Bishop Muhirwa said.

To mark the World’s Communications Day, Pope Francis asked the media users to be objective and help their nations through spreading good news since bad news disorganises communities.

Why Day is celebrated

World Communications Day was declared by Pope Paul VI in 1967 as an annual celebration that encourages reflection on the opportunities and challenges that the modern means of social communication, including the press, motion pictures, radio, television and the internet, afford the Church to communicate messages of the Gospel.

This year’s World’s Communications Day was celebrated under the theme; “Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

Source : The Monitor(Kampala)

UK: Whistleblowers and journalists face prison for revealing information that could be obtained under FOI

New proposals by the UK Law Commission to reform the 1989 Official Secrets Act (OSA) could lead to the imprisonment of civil servants and journalists for disclosing information that would be available to anyone asking for it under the Freedom of Information Act, say the Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFOI) and ARTICLE 19.


The Law Commission is proposing to make it easier to secure convictions under the 1989 OSA by weakening the test for proving an offence. But the proposed weaker test would catch information that would have to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, say the CFOI and ARTICLE 19.

In a joint response to the Law Commission proposals, ARTICLE 19 and the CFOI are concerned that:

  • Whistleblowers and journalists could be convicted for revealing information about defence, international relations or law enforcement that is unlikely to cause harm
  • Leaking information that anyone could obtain by making an FOI request could be an offence
  • It would not be a defence to show that the information had already lawfully been made public under the FOI Act or otherwise – unless the information had also been ‘widely disseminated’
  • Someone revealing danger to the public, abuse of power or serious misconduct would not be able to argue that they acted in the public interest
  • Maximum prison sentences on conviction, currently 2 years, would be increased.

CFOI director Maurice Frankel said: “These proposals are not only oppressive but unworkable. It is beyond common sense to make it an Official Secrets offence to leak information which anyone could obtain under FOI. The proposals would deter officials from discussing information that has lawfully been made public. It will set the FOI Act and the Official Secrets Act on a collision course. It is not the Law Commission’s job to make an ass of the law but that’s what its proposals would do.”

ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes said: “In many countries in the world, secrecy laws are abused to imprison and harass journalists, whistleblowers and civil society, in particular in many Commonwealth countries where these laws are a legacy of British colonial control and oppression. If taken forward, the Commission’s proposals would move the clock backwards, undoing improvements in the UK’s 1989 Official Secrets Acts, and setting a dangerous example of eroding freedom of expression protections, which may be copied by oppressive regimes globally.”

The 1989 Official Secrets Act makes the leaking of information in certain areas, and the publication of those leaks, an offence.  Some offences are committed regardless of whether the information is shown to be harmful. Others require proof that a disclosure is ‘likely’ to damage defence, international relations, or law enforcement, or falls into a ‘class’ of information likely to damage the security services’ work.

The Law Commission says the ‘likely to damage’ test prevents prosecutions being brought, because proving this requires even more damaging information to be revealed in court. The CFOI and ARTICLE 19 point out that sensitive evidence can be given in camera during a trial of OSA offences and say the Commission has not explained why this very considerable safeguard is inadequate.

The Commission wants the harm test to be reduced from ‘likely’ to cause harm to ‘capable’ of causing harm, but the FOI Act only exempts information about defence, international relations and law enforcement if disclosure would be ‘likely’ to harm those interests.* Leaking information which is capable of but very unlikely to harm, say, law enforcement would therefore become an offence – although such information must be disclosed to anyone who asks for it under FOI.  An official would face the threat of imprisonment for making an unauthorised disclosure of information which anyone could obtain on request.

ARTICLE 19 and the CFOI are extremely concerned about the Law Commission’s proposals and the quality of the analysis which supports them. The proposals would substantially and unnecessarily extend the reach of the Official Secrets Act 1989, and threaten journalists and whistleblowers who release information about danger to the public, abuse of power or serious misconduct. The example this sets internationally is further cause for concern.

Uganda: Fresh Torture Accusations Leveled Against Uganda’s Police

Press Release

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Last week, Uganda’s police were – again – accused of torturing suspects to illicit confessions. First, defendants charged in the murder of police commander Andrew Kaweesi had visible injuries during their court appearance. They complained in court of being beaten in Nalufenya police station in Jinja, Eastern Uganda. Then, photos leaked of the hospitalized mayor of Kamwenge, who had horrific injuries including gaping wounds on his knees and ankles, which he said resulted from beatings by police who were investigating the same murder.

The ensuing police denials ring hallow.

Over the last 15 years, Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of Ugandans who say they were tortured by police, specifically by a string of units which have changed name and location over the years, but whose brutality repeats itself over and over again. First, Operation Wembley in Clement Hill, then Violent Crimes Crack Unit in Kireka, then Rapid Response Unit, also in Kireka and now the Special Investigations Division, at times assisted by staff from the Flying Squad, in Nalufenya. Scores of victims across Uganda have described nearly identical treatment during interrogations, including beatings on the joints with batons over several days, at times while handcuffed in stress positions with their hands under their legs. All of this units have defied laws regulating arrest and detention with no consequences.

In December 2011, General Kayihura, the inspector general of the Uganda Police Force, disbanded Rapid Response Unit, in part due to human rights violations by its officers. But without investigations into those violations and prosecutions of those responsible, the very same officers have continued to commit abuses as part of a new unit, with a new name. The lack of investigations and failure to remove abusive officers from police ranks, despites decades of allegations, only reinforces the problem – that Uganda’s police too often rely on forced confessions. They beat suspects to bypass the tough work of carefully investigating crimes and gathering credible evidence that could stand up to scrutiny in court.

Uganda’s police leadership need to stop facile denials that torture festers in Uganda’s police cells, and particularly nowadays, in Nalufenya. Police should take suspects’ allegations seriously, investigate officers for torture and mistreatment, and work with prosecutors to finally bring charges under Uganda’s never-used Anti Torture Act. Officers who commit torture should be removed from police ranks. Police shouldn’t be allowed to commit crimes while seeking to fight them.

Maria Burnett is the Director, East Africa and the Horn.

Source : Human Rights Watch(Washington DC)

Uganda: Councillor Ssegirinya Holds ‘Salt’ Prayers to Curse Middle East Employers

Jocular Kawempe North Kampala Capital City Authority councillor Muhammad Ssegirinya has today perfected the ‘bush prayers’, a tradition started by his comrade-in-comical politics Mubarak Munyagwa (FDC, Kawempe South MP).

In an early morning video, Mr Ssegirinya is seen in the company of other individuals wearing the traditional Muslim men head gear, absorbed in prayers cursing tormentors of Uganda’s overseas labourers.

Mr Munyagwa controversially made the infamous “edduwa ya Kamulali,” translated to mean the hot pepper supplication, where he burnt the choking plant, praying amid the fuming smoke.

His student Mr Ssegirinya has instead replaced pepper with salt, asking God to descend his wrath on the Arab employers whom he accuses of torturing Ugandan employees.

Recently, Mr Ssegirinya claimed to have travelled to the United Arab Emirates, where he commiserated with Ugandans he said are under-going extreme abuse and exploitation.

When Mr Munyagwa said his hot pepper sprayer last year, it earned him a shouting match with the Kibuli based Muslim establishment spokesperson Sheikh Nooh Muzaata.

Mr Ssegirinya organized his controversial prayer to coincide with the International Labour day celebrations, which he said was unnecessary to celebrate in Uganda given what he termed as the suffering endured by Uganda’s workers in Middle East.

Dr Abdulhafiz Walusimbi, a Sharia expert at the Islamic University in Uganda dismissed Mr Ssegirinya’s duwa as having no legal basis in Islam.

“Such kinds of duwa are not acceptable in Islam because the Prophet Muhammad’s way of supplication was very normal, this salt duwa has no legal basis in Islam,” he said.

He added that the method employed by the cheeky politician is “intimidating but illegal.”

The acting chairperson of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), Ms Lillian Keene Mugerwa, recently told the Parliamentary Committee on Gender that up to 65,000 Ugandans are doing odd jobs in the Middle East.

This is 15,000 higher than the number that was working there one year ago.

Most of them are working as either cleaners, waiters/waitresses, drivers, tailors, construction and factory workers or security guards.

“Their annual contribution in the form of remittances is $400,000,” said Ms Mugerwa.

Unemployment

Due to unemployment in Uganda, some of the Ugandans now working in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, sold family property to finance their travel to the Middle East.

Many Ugandans have been made to believe that the ‘returns’ there would be higher than they would ever make in Uganda.

In January 2016, the government banned the export of maids. The ban came on the heels of reports that many Ugandan workers were being mistreated by their Saudi Arabian employers.

According to Action Aid (2012), six in every 10 Ugandans are unemployed. Some lack the skills employers need. In other cases, the economy is not expanding as fast as the labour force.

Turkey: Concerns for freedom of expression deepen after referendum

On 16 April 2017, President Erdogan declared victory in a constitutional referendum, granting him significantly increased presidential powers and enabling the Turkish authorities to further dismantle the current system of democratic checks and balances. The referendum took place under a state of emergency, and was marred by widespread violations of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights. The outcome of the referendum is likely to jeopardise guarantees for human rights in Turkey, already under sustained attack.

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 “The ‘Yes’ result enables the incorporation into law of many of the temporary emergency powers that Erdogan invoked in the wake of the failed coup attempt in July 2016, which have been systematically used to stifle dissent over the past months,” said Katie Morris, Head of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19.

By removing guarantees of political and judicial oversight over the executive, the constitutional amendments mean there will be little to stop President Erdogan from completely immobilising remaining independent media and political opposition”, she added.

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ARTICLE 19 calls on the government of Turkey to ensure the full protection of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights following the referendum outcome. Other States, including through European and International intergovernmental bodies, must redouble their efforts to ensure the Turkish government upholds human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

An assault on constitutional guarantees of democracy and protections for human rights

According to the State-run Andalou news agency the Turkish population voted 51.18 percent to 48.82 percent in favour of 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish Constitution. The opposition is calling for an annulment of the results, alleging multiple violations of electoral law. After the referendum results were declared, President Erdogan again raised the prospect of re-introducing the death penalty, which could result in Turkey leaving the Council of Europe and could potentially be applied to those facing serious criminal charges on the basis of their expression. Following the referendum, the state of emergency was also immediately renewed by the cabinet for a further three months allowing the continuation of extraordinary measures which have weakened the rule of law in Turkey and enabled an unprecedented crackdown on the media. The constitutional amendments fundamentally alter Turkey’s democratic path and will grant the president powers to rule by decree – ensuring that a power he has enjoyed under the state of emergency becomes a permanent state of affairs.

The constitutional amendments threaten guarantees for democracy and further endanger human rights protections in Turkey. Prior to the referendum, the Venice Commission, an independent commission of legal experts affiliated with the Council of Europe, warned that the constitutional changes would “lead to an excessive concentration of executive power in the hands of the president and the weakening of parliamentary control of that power”, creating a system which “lacks the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against becoming an authoritarian [regime].”

The Venice Commission also raised concerns that the amendments allow the President to control judicial appointments, severely jeopardising the independence of the judiciary. Judicial independence had already been seriously undermined through legal changes in 2014 allowing the Justice Minister more control over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. While most of the constitutional amendments brought about through this referendum will come into effect in 2019, the changes will immediately give President Erdogan increased authority over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, further cementing the domination of the executive over the judiciary. Since the coup attempt in July 2016 and the declaration of the state of emergency, judges have been subject to criminal prosecutions, and have been removed from their positions without ensuring due protections for the independence of the judiciary. ARTICLE 19 has also observed trials of journalists, which were visibly politically motivated.

Restrictions on freedom of expression during campaigning period

The referendum took place in an environment that was far from free and fair, with people denied access to adequate and equitable information on campaigns. There were very limited opportunities for opposition and independent media to argue in favour of a ‘no’ vote to the proposed amendments, against a backdrop of a severe crackdown on freedom of expression.

Preliminary conclusions  issued by OSCE-ODIHR and Council of Europe election observers have criticised the referendum, arguing that it was ‘contested on an unlevel playing field, and the two sides in the campaign did not have equal opportunities’, to make their case to the voters. They also raised concerns that ‘under the state of emergency… fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed.’

Since the failed coup attempt and in the run-up to the referendum, several members of opposition political parties have been arrested on terrorism-related charges, thousands of public employees, including academics and opponents to the constitutional reforms, were dismissed in February, and some of the most outspoken “No” campaigners were arrested. In an interim monitoring report, OSCE election observers noted that the ‘No’ campaigners had been subject to bans, police interventions, and violent scuffles at their events, while the ‘Yes’ campaign had dominated television coverage of the referendum.

Moreover, election monitors reported that the ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, including the closure of media outlets and arrests of journalists, further undermined the referendum.

Recommendations

Turkey is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and of the European Convention of Human Rights, and is therefore obliged to protect human rights, including the rights freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

Electoral violations during the referendum campaign, and the proposed amendments clearly contravene OSCE commitments, Council of Europe standards and other international obligations regarding freedom and equality in the campaign. Turkey’s international partners and the guardians of these bodies must respond strongly to the constitutional amendments, making clear that Turkey must guarantee the independence of the judiciary. They must use all their leverage to work with Turkey to promote observance of its international commitments.

ARTICLE 19 calls on Turkey to:

  • End the state of emergency and reinstate rights and freedoms curtailed by the emergency decrees;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all writers, journalists and media workers detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Guarantee the independence of the judiciary;
  • Ensure forthcoming OSCE-ODIHR recommendations are fully implemented, in particular those related to freedom of expression and freedom of the media;
  • Ensure that the death penalty is not reintroduced.

ARTICLE 19 recommends to the international community:

  • For Member States of the UN Human Rights Council to raise the deteriorating situation for freedom of expression in Turkey during its 35th Session in June 2017.
  • Make clear that any attempt to reinstate the death penalty is unacceptable.
  • Specifically, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should reinstate full monitoring of Turkey.
  • Source : Article 19