October was marked by general and regional elections in the region. Unfortunately, the runoff to the elections and poll days were periods of exacerbated attacks on press workers. Violence was also observed in the context of the many protests that took hold of capital cities across the continent. Demonstrators were jailed, injured, and sexually abused. Those reporting on this were also repressed.
Protests shake the region
In Ecuador demonstrations spread through the streets of Quito in October. Protesters questioned the austerity measures adopted by President Lenin Moreno. A general strike was called on 3 October when the end of fuel subsidies was announced.
The 24 organisations that form the IFEX-ALC network condemned the threats, violence, harassment and censorship against media outlets and journalists during this period, as well as the repression against those that took to the streets to show their discontent with the economic measures adopted by the government.
As a final toll, after 12 days of unrest, Fundamedios reported 116 attacks had been committed against the press and 138 against journalists. The perpetrators were not only security forces, but demonstrators, as well.
By the end of the month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced a mission to Ecuador. According to the Commission, the objective of the working visit to the country (scheduled for 28 to 30 October) was to observe the situation of human rights on the ground in the context of the growing protests and reported acts of violence, and to learn about the state’s responses since the beginning of October and any developments.
As the situation seemed to be getting less convoluted in Ecuador, demonstrations were sparked in Chile. There, protests started when it was announced that Metro ticket prices would be increased. Students initially blocked Metro stations, but the demonstrations rapidly expanded. The situation deteriorated when the government declared a state of emergency and called on the military, who established a curfew in the country’s capital, Santiago.
IFEX-ALC member Derechos Digitales severely condemned the criminalisation of protests and of the protesters’ legitimate demands, as well as the militarisation of the conflict, which led to an escalation of repression and excessive use of force.
Chile’s National Institute for Human Rights registered hundreds of violations of the rights of demonstrators and started 120 legal procedures against state agents, including 5 relating to murders, 94 for torture and 18 for sexual assaults. Many women protesters reported being violated by police and military officers. In its latest account, the Institute reported 4271 protesters detained and 1305 injured.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced a mission to the country in late October and the IACHR opened a call to those interested in taking part in a hearing on Chile to take place during the 174th Period of Sessions of the IACHR, in November.
Elections and the press
In Bolivia, the National Press Association (ANP) reported attacks against the press and difficulties in the access to electoral stations during the presidential elections held on 20 October. ANP also documented, up to 30 October, 15 cases of aggression against journalists that took place after the vote. The IACHR expressed concern with the grave acts of violence in the country in the context of the electoral process.
Regional elections also mobilised Colombia this month. From the beginning of the electoral campaign till the day of the elections, FLIP registered 44 press freedom violations. This is double the number of cases registered in 2015, during the previous regional elections. This year, the most frequent perpetrators were civil servants, responsible for 16 cases.
Ortega’s stranglehold on media
Nicaragua continues to face serious restrictions to freedom of expression and press freedom. The OAS has recently stated that no investigations have taken place into the circumstances around the death of the victims of the country’s political crisis. The Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) also reported that “all democratic spaces” are being closed down and police brutality continues. It also reported systematic persecution and repression against media outlets and independent journalists in the country. By the end of September, the newspaper El Nuevo Diario announced it was cancelling both its digital and print editions. The embargo to paper imports continues to this date.
This state of affairs has also been lamented by journalists and activists interviewed by IFEX. They shared their assessment and perceptions about the UN Human Rights Council review process, as well as the joint mission organized by IFEX-ALC, AMARC-ALC and IAPA.
In late October, the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression reported having received information on violence against journalists covering protests around the capital.
A new mechanism in Venezuela
After more than a year in jail, journalist Pedro Jaimes was released in October. He had been accused of cyber espionage, interfering with the operations of civil aviation and illegally revealing political secrets, 3 alleged crimes that, according to Espacio Público, had no basis in evidence or facts.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had requested the Venezuelan government on 13 September immediately adopt all necessary measures to remedy the situation of Mr. Jaimes and adjust it to relevant international standards. Espacio Público recalls that the recent release of Mr. Jaimes does not lead to the conclusion of his case. The organisation demands that the Venezuelan state:
- Provide him appropriate and complete medical attention
- Publicly recognise that the detention was arbitrary
- Declare the end of pending legal procedures, confirming that Jaimes is fully innocent of the crimes mentioned above.
On 21 October, the OAS IACHR announced the installation of the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE, for its acronym in Spanish), with the objective of strengthening the use of protection and monitoring mechanisms and responding quickly and effectively to new challenges related to the serious human rights crisis in the country.
Another voice is silenced – Néhémie Joseph killed in Haiti
The OAS IACHR and its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression expressed concern over the violence and increased political tensions in Haiti. AMARC-ALC also expressed its preoccupation and highlighted the important role being played by community radio in the country in support of democracy. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked for an immediate investigation into the murder of journalist Néhémie Joseph from Radio Panic FM.
Political leaders calling for dictatorial measures – is Brazilian democracy up to the challenge?
In Brazil, the president’s son and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro defended the use of legal measures similar to those from the military dictatorship to deal with protests and political dissent. In an interview, he suggested the return of ‘AI-5’, in reference to the decree adopted in 1968 that suspended Congress and imposed grave restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association in the country.
Meanwhile, his father, President Jair Bolsonaro, threatened to not renew the broadcasting license of TV Globo after the TV station reported on the fact that the president’s name was mentioned in investigations surrounding the murder of council member Marielle Franco, shot to death in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.
Surveillance of activists
WhatsApp and Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) revealed that more than 1400 individuals from at least 20 countries around the world were attacked with the malware Pegasus, exploiting a vulnerability in the instant messaging platform. If has been reported that more than 100 journalists, activists, human rights defenders and members of civil society organisations are part of this group. According to data disclosed by WhatsApp about the reach of the attacks, a number of attacks were still taking place in Mexico in early 2019. Members of IFEX in Mexico – ARTICLE 19 Mexico and R3D – released a statement about the case.
An overview of human rights in Honduras
The IACHR has published a report on the situation of human rights in Honduras, based on fact finding missions, interviews and other sources. It addresses the overall rights context in the country, with a focus on the post-electoral conflict, public security, administration of justice, freedom of expression, and economic, social and cultural rights.
Censorship or legitimate restrictions?
A public library in Canada has been severely criticised for refusing to cancel a talk in which feminist writer Meghan Murphy would participate, after her controversial views on the rights of transgender persons fuelled protest. Diverse views on the matter, including contradictory conceptions of freedom of expression, have been heard and published. The library issued a statement about not cancelling the event.
Banned books in America?
PEN America has published a policy paper in which it details books banned from access by inmates in US prisons. The organisation describes arbitrariness and lack of transparency in the manner in which these prohibitions are implemented. According to PEN, lack of monitoring has allowed the banning of works by Nobel Prize laureates and other important historical authors.
If you enjoyed this, check out all the October regional roundups!
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Source: MEDIA FEED