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Serbia – Serbian authorities ban Belgrade Pride Parade

9 Oct

9 October 2012

Source: Human Rights Watch
(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) – Berlin, October 5, 2012 – Serbia’s ban on the Belgrade Pride Parade, scheduled for October 6, 2012, violates the country’s international legal obligations and should be immediately repealed, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 3, the Interior Ministry announced that based on an assessment of security risks, it was blocking the peaceful demonstration and all other public gatherings on the same date.

“The government of Serbia should protect the freedom of assembly and expression of the Serbian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and their straight allies instead of forbidding them to assemble and march on the streets of Belgrade,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.”

The Serbian government also banned the Belgrade Pride Parade in 2011 on the basis that violent incidents took place during and after the 2010 parade, injuring policemen and participants. Earlier in 2012, Serbian courts convicted several people for inciting violence against LGBT people including during the 2009 and 2010 parades.

Serbia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both conventions guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and Serbia is obligated to secure their effective enjoyment. Serbian authorities therefore have a duty to take appropriate measures to safeguard peaceful gatherings and protect them from attempts to violently disrupt them. Prohibiting them in response to unlawful threats of violence is a failure to uphold these basic human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

Serbia is also a candidate for membership in the European Union. In July the European Commission confirmed that respect for the rights of LGBT people forms part of the Copenhagen Criteria for accession to the European Union. The EU should apply that criterion when assessing Serbia’s candidacy, Human Rights Watch said.

On March 31, 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted a set of recommendations to member states, including Serbia, on measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The recommendations promote tolerance and respect for LGBT people. Member states are encouraged to take measures to prevent restrictions on the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Chapter III of the Appendix to recommendation CM/Rec (2010)5 guarantees the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It reads:

14. Member states should take appropriate measures at national, regional and local levels to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as enshrined in Article 11 of the Convention, can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

15. Member states should ensure that law-enforcement authorities take appropriate measures to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations in favor of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons from any attempts to unlawfully disrupt or inhibit the effective enjoyment of their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

16. Member states should take appropriate measures to prevent restrictions on the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly resulting from the abuse of legal or administrative provisions, for example on grounds of public health, public morality and public order . . .

“The Serbian government should revoke its decision to ban the Belgrade Pride Parade and allow it to take place, while providing adequate security to all its participants,” Dittrich said.

via IFEX

Bahrain – Bahraini medics who supported peaceful demonstrations jailed

9 Oct

9 October 2012

Source: Human Rights Watch

Gulf Center for Human Rights

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) – Beirut, October 8, 2012 – Bahrain’s ruler should order the release of doctors and medical personnel jailed on October 2, 2012 following an appeals court failure to reverse their 2011 convictions by a special military court, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to expunge the convictions and criminal records of nine medical personnel whose sentences were upheld by the appeals court because the convictions were based in part on confessions obtained by torture and in proceedings that were fundamentally unfair.

Authorities took six of the nine into custody in early morning raids on their homes on October 2. The other three had finished serving their prison terms. The sentences stem from the doctors’ support of pro-democracy street protests and medical care provided to demonstrators in early 2011.

“We are reluctant to call on the king to reverse a judicial decision, but time and again we have seen Bahraini courts uphold politically motivated charges against those who peacefully dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The courts have failed to uphold Bahrain’s obligation to protect free expression and peaceful assembly.”

The Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s highest appeals court, on October 1 affirmed convictions against the nine on charges related to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including “incitement of hatred against the regime” and “participation in illegal gatherings.” There are no further avenues for appeal.

The Court of Cassation upheld a five-year sentence for Dr. Ali al-Ekri and three years for Ibrahim al-Dimistani, a paramedic, on charges including “attempting to overthrow the government.” The court upheld one-year sentences for Dr. Ghassan Dhaif, an oral surgeon, and Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji, an ophthalmologist, for “forcibly detaining a policeman in the hospital” and “incitement of sectarian hatred.” It also upheld a two-month sentence for Dheiya Jaffar, a nurse, and six months for Dr. Mahmoud Asghar for “participation in illegal gatherings.” Dr. Bassim Dhaif, Dr. Nader Diwani, and Dr. Abdulkhaleq Al Oraibi had received month-long sentences for “participation in illegal gatherings.” They have not been re-arrested on the basis that they already served their sentences during their detention, between April and September 2011.

The original convictions were based on testimony and evidence presented by military prosecutors in 2011 in Courts of National Safety, special military courts set up to try those arrested in connection with the protests. Many of the medical personnel, including those whose sentences were upheld on October 1, told Human Rights Watch that authorities subjected them to torture, did not allow them to meet with their lawyers and families for weeks, and forced them to sign coerced confessions.

In its report issued in late November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry established by King Hamad to investigate human rights abuses, confirmed that medical personnel were tortured in custody. In mid-September 2012 Bahrain’s Public Prosecution Office announced it had referred two security officers implicated in the torture of medical personnel in detention to the High Criminal Court. At the military court trials, however, judges routinely rejected complaints of torture made by defendants, including several medical personnel, without appearing to investigate whether evidence had been obtained by torture. The military court trials also failed to meet other crucial international fair trial standards, including access to counsel and the right to call and examine witnesses.

On June 14, an appellate court had reduced the sentences imposed by the military court on the nine but upheld the charges. It quashed convictions in a separate case against nine others convicted on misdemeanor offenses and upheld sentences of 15 years against two medics tried in absentia.

Many doctors and other medical personnel against whom charges were dropped have said that the authorities continued to harass them. At a news conference at the Bahrain Human Rights Society on October 2, doctors and others who were acquitted said they had received notices from the Health Ministry summoning them for further questioning by a special committee for their role in the 2011 protests.

The Bahrain Medical Society, a professional association whose board was replaced by the Health Ministry in April 2011 for “involvement in politics,” has pressed the ministry to continue investigating acquitted medical personnel on grounds of “concealing weapons at the hospital” and “refusing to treat patients,” even though those claims already were dismissed in court. On October 6, Al Wasat, Bahrain’s one independent daily, reported that a committee had been formed, pursuant to a Ministry of Health decree, to investigate the acquitted medics for attending unauthorized gatherings.

“The Bahrain government repeatedly claims to have carried out reforms while it violates the most basic human rights of its citizens,” Stork said. “This Cassation Court ruling shows that little has changed when it comes to administering justice.”

A separate trial of 28 other medics accused of minor offenses is set to be heard at the Lower Criminal Court on October 25.

via IFEX

Puntland authorities close down radio and website

9 Oct

Nairobi, October 9, 2012–Security agents in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland shuttered private broadcaster Horseed FM on Saturday morning and ordered Internet service providers in the region to block the station’s website, according to local journalists.

“The strength of a free and democratic state lies in its diversity of information and its tolerance for critical views,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call Puntland authorities to recognize these principles and immediately reverse their decision to silence Horseed FM and its website.”

Officials raided Horseed FM in the port city of Bossasso and forced it off the air without specifying whether the closure was temporary or permanent, local journalists told CPJ. Police Chief Osman Afdalow showed Horseed FM Director Abdikani Hassan an unsigned and unstamped letter ordering the closure that he said came from the police chief of operations in Garowe, the capital, local journalists and news reports said.

No official reason was given for the closure, Mahad Mussa, executive director of the station’s parent company Horseed Media, told CPJ. Mohamed Abdirahman, the president’s press adviser, told CPJ he was not aware of the closure but would be investigating.

According to local journalists, authorities also ordered local Internet service providers to block Horseed Media’s website, the first time such a directive has been issued. The site is currently blocked in Garowe, but is available in other areas of Puntland, Mahad told CPJ.

Local journalists told CPJ they suspected that a series of critical broadcasts Horseed FM had aired in September could have triggered the closure. Horseed FM had claimed that President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole was considering postponing the presidential elections scheduled for January 2013. According to local reports, Farole plans to extend his leadership for an additional year, corresponding with a new draft constitution that allows elected leaders a five-year presidential term.

The president threatened to prosecute the critical media last month after hundreds gathered in the streets to protest the postponement plans, according to news reports. In a meeting last month, the president announced that he would not tolerate “so-called websites and media who are supporting Puntland’s enemies,” news reports said. This week, Mohamed Aidid, the newly appointed Information Minister, warned the media against interviewing opposition leaders who were critical of the government’s policies, Mahad told CPJ.

Authorities in Puntland have harassed Horseed FM in the past. In August 2010, Abdifatah Jama, the station’s deputy director, spent two months in prison for airing an interview with the head of an insurgent group. Two months later, unknown assailants threw a grenade at the office, injuring one of the station’s technicians, news reports said.

  • For more data and analysis on Somalia, visit CPJ’s Somalia page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Europe and Central Asia – Concern over European project to cleanse Internet of terrorism

9 Oct

9 October 2012

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF/IFEX) – 26 September 2012 – A new project aimed at “countering illegal use of the Internet” is making headlines this week. The project, dubbed CleanIT, is funded by the European Commission (EC) to the tune of more than $400,000 and, it would appear, aims to eradicate the Internet of terrorism.

European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based organization consisting of 32 NGOs throughout Europe (and of which EFF is a member), has recently published a leaked draft document from CleanIT.

On the project’s website, its stated goal is to reduce the impact of the use of the Internet for “terrorist purposes” but “without affecting our online freedom.” While the goal may seem noble enough, the project actually contains a number of controversial proposals that will compel Internet intermediaries to police the Internet and most certainly will affect our online freedom. Let’s take a look at a few of the most controversial elements of the project.

Privatization of Law Enforcement

Under the guise of fighting ‘terrorist use of the Internet,’ the “CleanIT project”, led by the Dutch police, has developed a set of ‘detailed recommendations’ that will compel Internet companies to act as arbiters of what are “illegal” or “terrorist” uses of the Internet.

Specifically, the proposal suggests that “legislation must make clear Internet companies are obliged to try and detect to a reasonable degree . . . terrorist use of the infrastructure” and, even more troubling, “can be held responsible for not removing (user generated) content they host . . . on their platforms if they do not make reasonable effort in detection.”

EFF has always expressed concerns about relying upon intermediaries to police the Internet. As an organization, we believe in strong legal protections for intermediaries and as such, have often upheld the United States’ Communications Decency Act, Section 230 (CDA 230) as a positive example of intermediary protection. While even CDA 230’s protections do not extend to truly criminal activities, the definition of “terrorist” is, in this context, vague enough to raise alarm.

Erosion of Legal Safeguards

The recommendations call for the easy removal of content from the Internet without following “more labour intensive and formal” procedures. They suggest new obligations that would compel Internet companies to hand over all necessary customer information for investigation of “terrorist use of the Internet.” This amounts to a serious erosion of legal safeguards. Under this regime, an online company must assert some vague notion of “terrorist use of the Internet,” and they will have carte blanche to bypass hard-won civil liberties protections.

The recommendations also suggest that knowingly providing hyperlinks to a site that hosts “terrorist content” will be defined as illegal. This would negatively impact a number of different actors, from academic researchers to journalists, and is a slap in the face to the principles of free expression and the free flow of knowledge.

Continue reading

via IFEX

Philippines – Philippines Supreme Court suspends implementation of cybercrime law

9 Oct

9 October 2012

Source: Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
(CMFR/IFEX) – The Supreme Court of the Philippines restrained government agencies and officials from implementing Republic Act no. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 within 120 days starting 9 October 2012.

In a resolution dated 9 October 2012, the Supreme Court en banc “without giving due course to the petitions” issued a Temporary Restraining Order as requested by 15 groups of petitioners questioning the constitutionality of provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act. (The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility [CMFR] is one of the petitioners in G.R. no. 203453 [NUJP, PPI, CMFR et al. vs Executive Secretary et al.].)

The Court in the same resolution ordered respondents and the Office of the Solicitor General to “comment . . . within ten (10) days from notice hereof.” Oral arguments will be on 15 January 2013 at 2 p.m. (Manila time).

The Cybercrime Prevention Act took effect on 3 October 2012, 21 days after it was signed into law by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III last 12 September 2012. The law penalizes crimes committed through computers and online including libel.

Additional resources

Read the NUJP’s statement on the Supreme Court temporary restraining order

Philippines cyber crime law suspended for making online libel a crime, too

via IFEX

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