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Brave Women Detained For Challenging Governments

Nasrin Sotoudeh with her son after release from prison (Pic. PEN)

PEN America has recorded International Women’s Day (March 8) by posting stories of brave women who suffer for their activism in support of freedom of expression and human rights. While there are glimpses of hope because some have been released from prison and they are back fighting for causes dear to them, others are not so fortunate: they languish in detention or survive constant intimidation and harassment.

“There are so many women around the world who have been persecuted for their poetry, their journalism, their choice of partner, but have stood stronger than the obstacles they face,” says Sarah Hoffman.
The article focuses on Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Liu Xia has been under house arrest in hospital for three-and-a-half years, battling depression and severe heart condition, but barred from going overseas to seek treatment. 
The lives and fortunes of other brave women activists highlighted are: Ayse Berktay (Turkey), Nasrin Sotoudeh (Iran), Reeyot Alemu (Ethiopia) and Dina Meza (Honduras).
Click hereto read the article.

Concern For Lives Of Journalists In Hong Kong

Journalists of Ming Pao at Sunday’s rally (Pic. Reuters)

As thousands of protestors in Hong Kong on Sunday condemned the knife attack on Kevin Lao, believed to be because of his hard-hitting writing on corruption and human rights abuses, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched the Chinese version of its ‘Journalists Security Guide.’

“The guide has been available in other languages for more than a year but, frankly, we didn’t see a Chinese version as a priority… The Chinese version has been up for a few days, but now, in the wake of Wednesday’s attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to in Hong Kong, seems a good time to draw attention to it,” writes Bob Dietz, director Asia programme at CPJ.
Reuterssaid that over 13,000 demonstrators had participated in the march which was 8600 strong at its peak. Journalists, wearing black with blue ribbons, had carried a large banner saying, “They can’t kill us all,” while others read “Freedom from fear” and “Protect press freedom.”
Lao was stabbed in his back and legs, Wednesday, by two men riding a motorbike who are yet to be apprehended. It is believed the motive for Lao’s attack, and others on media organisations and journalists recently, is to stifle mounting criticism in the Hong Kong media of the anti-democratic practices of Beijing and Hong Kong SAR.
“We’re not going to bow to the intimidation,” said Shirley Yam, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, one of the organizers of the protest, reported Reuters. “That’s the strong message we want to send whoever it is that the Hong Kong media is going to stand firm and do whatever’s best for press freedom and the right for our citizens to be informed.”
While journalists on Sunday came together to protest repression and the stifling of free speech, CPJ’s ‘Journalists Security Guide’ deals with more immediate concerns of journalists protecting themselves while doing their job.
“There are several sections of the guide that deal with being aware of one’s surroundings, varying one’s routes (Lau was apparently attacked outside his regular morning restaurant stop), and responding to threats – though there have been no reports of threats directed toward Lau. There is also a valuable section on information security, and for Hong Kong journalists working under ever-closer scrutiny, it is a useful resource,” says Dietz.
Click for Journalists Security Guide in English hereand in Chinese here

UN Committee Adopts Resolution Against Mass Internet Surveillance

The United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee unanimously adopted a resolution on November 26 reaffirming privacy as a human right and that it is an integral aspect in individuals exercising their freedom of expression. Although the resolution has largely symbolic value, the United States and its allies successfully lobbied to delete a clause in an earlier draft stating that mass surveillance is a violation of human rights.    

The resolution, sponsored by Brazil and Germany, would extend to all people the right to privacy and to protect them from unlawful surveillance. Earlier this year, documents collected by Edward Snowden revealed that US’s National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the communications of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among millions of others, when trawling for electronic communication data from phone records and the and internet.
“Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said the resolution ‘establishes for the first time that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and therefore need to be protected online and offline,'” said an Associated Press (AP) report on the resolution.
AP said the unanimous adoption of the resolution in the 50-member Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural Rights) meant that it would also pass the 193-member UN General Assembly. However, UNGA “resolutions aren’t legally binding but reflect world opinion and carry political weight,” AP said.
But unanimity in the Committee was achieved only after the US, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand comprising the ‘five eyes’ network that share intelligence, succeeded in diluting the resolution by lobbying to delete a clause stating that mass interception and collection of personal data constituted a human rights violation.
“[w]e must note that the resolution was weakened by the United States and its allies who stripped out a sentence that explicitly defined mass surveillance as a violation of human rights. The US also tried (and failed) to remove any suggestion that privacy protestions apply extraterritorially. The final text of the draft resolution noted that states have only ‘deep concerns’ with the ‘negative impacts’ of surveillance and collection of personal data, at home and abroad, when carried out on a mass scale,” said the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that studies digital censorship.
EFF also said “[t]he draft resolution is important in restating an already accepted international legal principle: states must comply with their own commitments under human rights law when exercising their power outside their borders. In other words, if a state is conducting extraterritorial surveillance it remains bound to upholding the right to privacy for everyone.”
The resolution also establishes the principle that privacy is essential for the right to the freedom of expression. EFF quoted UN Special Rapporteur of the Freedom of Expression Frank LaRue’s report that says, “Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can both directly and indirectly limit the free development and exchange of ideas…. An infringement upon one right can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.”
To read the Resolution click here