Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cambodia: Systematic Erosion of Freedom of Expression Puts Democracy at Risk

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September 2010

Cambodia: Systematic Erosion of Freedom of Expression Puts Democracy at Risk

ARTICLE 19, Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and 15 other Cambodian and international organisations and unions are launching a new report, titled Cambodia Gagged: Democracy at Risk? in which the organisations highlight the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in the country. The report also shows how each of the pillars of democracy are being systematically silenced by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC).

The report, which was coordinated by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), raises concern over the continued erosion of the right to freedom of expression, especially how the judiciary is being used as an organ of repression in silencing dissent and opinion critical of the government. Despite Cambodia’s commitments to protect the right to freedom of expression through domestic and international laws, the freedom of expression situation in the country is deteriorating.

“In recent years, acts of intimidation, harassment and the inappropriate use of criminal law to thwart criticism, have created a climate of fear and widespread self-censorship, depriving Cambodians of their rights to expression and information that are crucial to genuine democratic participation,” says ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Agnès Callamard.

The government’s crackdown on freedom of expression includes the targeting and silencing of parliamentarians, the media, lawyers, human rights activists and the general public. One of the key findings of the report is that such systematic attacks on freedom of expression are putting democracy at risk.

As noted by CCHR President Ou Virak, “With the use of state power to silence debate and close the space for pluralism and diversity of opinion, we fear the emergence in Cambodia of an autocratic, authoritarian political system seriously eroding the rights and freedoms of all Cambodians. The government can however still turn the tide and give democracy a real chance by protecting and encouraging freedom of expression.”

In conclusion, the report provides a series of recommendations for the government to protect and promote freedom of expression, and recommends ways in which the international community can demand greater accountability from the government regarding respect for freedom of expression and other human rights.


• The Report is available at:
• For more information please contact: Amy Sim,, +44 20 7324 2500, or Chor Chanthyda,, +855 12 515 506
• The Cambodian Center for Human Rights is a non-political, independent, non-governmental organization, which works to promote democracy and respect for human rights throughout Cambodia.

UN urged not to support laws prohibiting "defamation of religion"

29 September 2010

UN urged not to support laws prohibiting "defamation of religion"

Five IFEX members urged the UN not to pass a law that would make defamation of any religion an internationally endorsed offense. Statements exposing the anti-free expression repercussions of such a law were made during a panel that was held to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on 16 September. The panel was hosted by International PEN and sponsored by the Norwegian and American PEN Centers, Index on Censorship, the International Publishers Association, and ARTICLE 19.

"Human rights are attached to individuals, not to states or organised groups or ideas," said John Ralston Saul, International PEN president, while chairing the two-hour session.

The UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly have passed several resolutions in the last few years that call on countries to ban "defamation of religions." Interest in such laws has grown in light of recent events around the globe, including a Florida pastor's Koran-burning attempt, bans on the construction of minarets in Switzerland and France's recent move to outlaw Islamic face veils, said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 director.

While noting that these developments are indeed alarming, the panelists argued that already existing laws on discrimination and preaching hate are sufficient to address hateful attacks on religious groups.

Budhy Rahman from the Asia Foundation said Indonesia's religious defamation laws "punish the peaceful criticism of ideas and disfavoured political or religious beliefs." Indonesia's blasphemy laws were passed in April 2010 and impose jail sentences of up to five years for those who "deviate" from the teachings of the country's official religions. Several IFEX organisations filed an amicus curiae brief urging Indonesia's Constitutional Court to repeal the laws, but the laws were ultimately upheld.

In March 2010, 40 IFEX members sent a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council to express their dismay over the Council's recently passed resolutions on "defamation of religion."
In the collectively signed letter, the members said any law protecting religion from defamation is "counterproductive to its apparent objective" because, in practice, it would allow for "state practices which discriminate against religious minorities, dissenting voices and non-believers."

In a video statement during the panel, writer Azar Nafisi asked the particularly poignant question, "What will happen to women right now who are fighting against being stoned to death?"

Brutal repression of human rights

29 September 2010

Brutal repression of human rights defenders in historic crackdown

BCHR president Nabeel Rajab is skyped into a Human Rights Council meeting on Bahrain, organised by CIHRS.
BCHR president Nabeel Rajab is skyped into a Human Rights Council meeting on Bahrain, organised by CIHRS.

Hundreds of Bahraini political activists, human rights defenders and Shiite religious figures have been arrested in recent months - many of them tortured in detention - in the worst crackdown on free expression the country has ever seen, report the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Human Rights Watch. Authorities have blocked numerous websites, shut down independent rights groups and threatened rights defenders who have criticised the torture of prominent activists.

The international community's silence about repressive measures in Bahrain only gives tacit support to authorities to continue stifling dissident voices who are potential monitors to parliamentary elections on 23 October, say 26 rights groups, including BCHR, CIHRS, ANHRI and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). It is widely expected that there will be elections abuses as part of a long-held pattern of political marginalisation of Shiite and opposition communities.

To prevent independent and critical information from being published, the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority has censored the website of Al-Wefaq Society, the largest political society in the country. The Society had recently announced plans to launch a visual and audio service on its website, as well as plans to participate in the elections.

There has been a systematic campaign to create a complete media blackout, says BCHR. Among the blocked websites is, known for its rapid media coverage and photos of protests. Most of the blocked websites are discussion forums that belong to Shiite villages that continue to deal with unrest and arrests of protesters.

The Information Affairs Authority has also banned the publication of information about detained activists and has ordered all civil society organisations to support the regime or face harassment. As a result of this intense repression, BCHR and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) have been forced to temporarily relocate to Europe. Some human rights activists have been prevented from travelling, including Nabeel Rajab of BCHR, and Laila Dashti of BYSHR, who was supposed to attend the 15th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, where CIHRS was organising events on Bahrain, including delivering an oral intervention before the Council.

The minister of development and social solidarity issued a decree to dissolve the managing board of the Bahraini Association for Human Rights and replace the elected chairman with a government official - guaranteeing the government's control over the organisation. This decision came after the organisation expressed solidarity with victims of the crackdown. The society has made several statements affirming the basic rights of detainees, including access to lawyers and family members and their right to a fair trial.

BCHR and other local human rights groups have also strongly criticised the government's treatment of detainees and published reports saying that security forces have carried out torture.

Human Rights Watch has called on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to conduct an independent investigation into recent allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prominent opposition leaders and demonstrators by security forces. Recent arrests of high-profile opposition leaders and activists are linked to their criticism of government policies.

In response to the crackdown, rights organisation Front Line went on a mission to Bahrain that was completed on 29 September. The mission focussed on the case of imprisoned blogger and human rights activist Ali Abdulemam, who has been held incommunicado for the last three weeks, denied so much as a phone call.

Iran : A blogger been sentenced 19.5 years in prison

29 September 2010

The "Blogfather" gets 19 years in regime's war on opinion

One blogger has just been sentenced to 19.5 years in prison, another faces the death penalty and three journalists have been handed multi-year prison terms in Iran, report IFEX members. Take action now to support "The Blogfather," as Hossein Derakhshan is known, by signing the petition at:

The 19.5-year sentence for Derakhshan, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, has shocked free expression advocates around the world, many of whom admire the 35-year-old for being the first to post Farsi instructions on how to blog in 2001. ARTICLE 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Index on Censorship and PEN Canada have prepared a joint action on Derakhshan's case, which they have appealed to other IFEX members to sign.

Calling on Iran to immediately release Derakhshan and for the international community to step up pressure in support of Iran's political prisoners, the statement attests that, "Prison is no place for Hossein Derakhshan or for the dozens of other writers, journalists, academics and bloggers who continue to languish in Iran’s jails."

Derakhshan's sentencing occurred in a closed-door courtroom on 28 September, but was confirmed by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) with his family in Canada, who were informed via a telephone call from the judge on the case.

Derakhshan returned to Iran from Canada in November 2008 after authorities promised him he would not face charges. Yet, he was arrested at the airport on grounds of "insulting government leaders and Islam's holy texts." The blogger has published posts critical of Ahmadinejad and other fundamentalist clerics in the past but, in light of his recent writings in support of Ahmadinejad's policies, Derakhshan did not think he would be prosecuted, let alone tortured in prison.

The lengthy term does not bode well for Vahid Asghari, a 24-year-old pro-reform blogger and student who is currently awaiting sentencing and for whom prosecutors have suggested the death penalty, report several IFEX organisations. Asghari was arrested in the spring of 2008 and tortured into falsely confessing that he ran an online pornographic network. His actual crime, however, was hosting the websites of dissidents and opposition members.

Meanwhile, three journalists arrested in the months following Iran's disputed June 2009 elections, have been sentenced to prison. Shiva Nazar Ahari is a 26-year-oldreporter for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters and an advocate for women's, children's and prisoners' rights. She has been convicted of "waging war against God" among other crimes and sentenced to six years. She had been facing the death penalty.

Emadeddin Baghi also received six years for a 2007 interview he conducted for the BBC during which he challenged a since-deceased cleric. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is calling his sentence "punitive and absurd."

Finally, CPJ reports that prominent columnist Issa Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years on 27 September for "insulting the Supreme Leader." Saharkhiz, a veteran journalist, has already reportedly suffered a heart attack while behind bars since he was detained shortly after the elections.

Behind the ludicrous charges is Iran's notorious security agency, the Revolutionary Guards, which was created a few months prior to the country's last election. Amid the mass street protests and state killings that marked the summer of 2009, the Revolutionary Guards announced they were going after a "network" of supposedly incendiary bloggers and journalists that were "urging the population to rebel," says RSF.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, urged the Iranian regime to consider the geopolitical consequences of its actions at a time when appeals to consciousness seem to fall on dead ears: "Going further into repressing opposition voices and violating public freedoms will only bring about more animosities with the international community at the time Iran is in bad need to keep good relations."