Solidarity with the Belarusian people, sanctions on their oppressors
November was another month of repression, resistance and tragedy in Belarus. But it was also one that saw great acts of global solidarity and a ramping up of international pressure on President Lukashenka’s regime.
Mid-month, IFEX member the Belarusian Association of Journalists won the First Canada-UK Media Freedom Award in recognition of its stellar work in the face of the ongoing, brutal crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Around the same time, the Belarus Free Theatre (a theatre group that has fought against the regime for many years) was awarded the Magnitsky Human Rights Award for Courage under Fire. (This followed on nicely from last month, which saw the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded to Belarus’s democratic opposition.) Another highly significant act of solidarity took place towards the end of November, when US President-elect Joe Biden invited exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to his inauguration in January 2021.
HOW the EU/US/UK/Canada can help Belarus:
– tougher sanctions, against state comp. & businesses close to Lukashenka
– help with intern. investigation & filing Belarus. case in intern.courts
– emerg. funding for repressed, media, workers, students, people of sports/culture, medics
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) November 22, 2020
November also saw EU foreign ministers agree to push ahead with a new round of sanctions targeting senior officials in Lukashenka’s regime and entities that finance his government. Rights experts also delivered important statements and reports: UN Special rapporteurs called for an independent investigation into violence against protesters and condemned the targeting of women human rights defenders; an EU resolution condemned the murder of protester Raman Bandarenka and demanded an investigation into the many rights violations carried out by Lukashenka’s regime; a hard-hitting OSCE report under the Moscow Mechanism was published, calling for new elections in line with international standards, the release of all prisoners held for political reasons and the establishment of an independent, international investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
The numbers of arrests and rights violations that have taken place over the last few months is staggering. A document leaked this month showed that almost 26,000 people had been detained since the rigged presidential election on 9 August. According to statistics collated by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 393 journalists have been detained, beaten or harassed by the authorities since the day of the election.
#Belarus A document was leaked from the Interior Ministry to the opposition revealing that since August, more than 25,800 people have been detained. This figure is higher than in the list collected by human rights defenders. The real statistics are usually higher indeed pic.twitter.com/2RIUmSnp6J
— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) November 14, 2020
To stay up to date with the rights situation in Belarus, check out the work of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, PEN Belarus, the Belarus Free Theatre, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19, PEN International and PEN America.
France: Protests protect the right to information
Massive protests across France on the final Saturday in November have forced lawmakers into declaring that they will rewrite a draconian draft law that would, as it stood at 30 November, seriously infringe on journalists’ ability to do their jobs.
The rewrite may take a little time, but, as it currently stands, this draft legislation – known as la loi “Sécurité globale” (the “Global Security” law) – would make it a criminal offence to film or take photos of police with “intent to cause harm”; those convicted of doing so would face up to one year in prison and fines of up to 45,000 euros. It is this section of the bill that lawmakers have said they will rewrite.
In developing their security laws, Member States need to find the right balance between ensuring public safety and protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms.
In times of a crisis, it is more important than ever that journalists can do their job freely and safely. https://t.co/5ovEc2MCjB
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) November 23, 2020
As if to illustrate the danger that such a law would present to the right to information, video footage surfaced days before the protest of police officers brutally assaulting and racially abusing a black music producer in his Paris studio.
— Ricardo Gutiérrez (@Molenews1) November 28, 2020
After the beating was made public, the demonstrations in support of a free press and the right to information also became a protest against police violence. In Paris, there were clashes between a small number of protesters and the police which resulted in injuries on both sides. Police officers used tear gas and batons, and left Syrian photojournalist Ameer Alhalbi (who was covering the event) with head and face injuries.
Place de la Bastille, ajd, le jeune photographe indépendant d’origine syrienne Ameer al Halbi, collaborateur de l'@AFP et de @polkamagazine, a été blessé au visage par un coup de matraque. Identifiable comme journaliste, il couvrait la #marchesdeslibertes (Photo Gabrielle Cezard) pic.twitter.com/3SJUm4C4Ii
— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) November 28, 2020
Gender focus: Hungary and Poland
Mid-month, European Union Vice-President, Vera Jourova, and Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, launched the first EU LGBTIQ Strategy 2020–2025. The initiative was warmly welcomed by ILGA-Europe, who described it as “a significant step forward for the European Commission in protecting and ensuring LGBTI rights”. The strategy sets out a series of targeted actions across four pillars: 1. Tackling discrimination against LGBTQI+ people; 2. Ensuring LGBTQI+ people’s safety; 3. Building LGBTQI+ inclusive societies; 4. Leading the call for LGBTQI+ equality around the world. ILGA-Europe has drafted an easy-to-read digest of the strategy.
A strategy is much needed, as a small number of EU members – in particular Poland and Hungary – are intent on rolling back LGBTQI+ rights.
In Hungary, a few days before the EU strategy was launched – and on the same day that lawmakers voted to extend PM Orban’s state of emergency for 90 days – the government presented to parliament a number of constitutional amendments, one of which would restrict adoption to married couples by effectively excluding LGBTQI+ people and unmarried couples. As Human Rights Watch remarks, the bill also ‘includes language that stigmatizes transgender people, stating that “children have the right to their identity in line with their sex at birth” and rejecting diversity and inclusivity by mandating that children’s upbringing should be “in accordance with the values based on our homeland’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.” For an analysis of this bill, and other recent legislative developments, check out the recent report by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party has been promoting “LGBT-free zones” for some time, with its leaders often spewing homophobic rhetoric in political speeches and generally fostering a climate of intolerance towards LGBTQI+ people. One result of this is that, early in November, a bill proposing the banning of all pride marches was submitted to parliament. This draft law is a citizens’ initiative driven by the anti-abortion group Life and Family and it will receive its first reading within the next three months.
Poland’s assault on LGBTQI+ rights is part of PiS’s ongoing war against “gender ideology” (a far right term of disparagement for LGBTQI+ rights, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights). PiS has been trying to roll back reproductive rights for a long time and last month saw a big step taken in that direction when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion due to foetal defects was unconstitutional (thus removing the constitutional basis for approximately 98% of all legal abortions in Poland). However, the backlash from women was huge: women’s groups organised massive demonstrations in cities across the country and the government was forced into delaying the implementation of the court ruling.
These protests are ongoing, and have been the scene of brutal rights abuses by the police, who, as ARTICLE 19 reports, have responded to demonstrators and journalists covering the events with excessive use of force and arbitrary detentions. One journalist who suffered this fate was Agata Grzybowska, who was detained in Warsaw on 23 November and charged with “violating the physical integrity” of a police officer (even though video footage taken at the time of her arrest does not show her behaving aggressively to anyone).
Women’s rights and LGBTQI+ activists have also had to deal with often shocking aggression from far right mobs. After the mayor of Warsaw banned the Polish Independence Day march on 11 November, these groups organised their own demonstration, where they clashed with the police and fired flares at apartments flying LGBTQI+ and women’s strike flags, setting at least one home on fire.
Footage of participants in the Independence March throwing flares at a building where LGBT and Women's Strike flags were hanging. They started a fire in the apartment below. The fire brigade confirm that no one was hurt pic.twitter.com/yxJQs2GXU6
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 11, 2020
There was good news for human rights and bad news for those who violate them in late November, when it was reported that the EU would formally sign off (on 10 December – Human Rights Day) on a European Magnitsky Act. So, from December, the EU will be able to freeze assets and impose travel bans on individuals involved in human rights abuses.
Recent months have seen some momentum gathering in the movement to protect journalists from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). In November, 87 rights organisations (including many IFEX members) published a statement calling on the EU for a law to protect the press from these vexatious lawsuits. Later in the month, Index on Censorship launched an interactive tool aimed at helping journalists to understand whether the legal threats or actions they are facing could be considered a SLAPP action.
In Russia, a draconian bill was introduced, which, if passed, will allow the authorities to completely block websites considered to have censored content produced by Russian state media organisations. Platforms that could be targeted include Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which the authorities accuse of censoring material from RT, Ria Novosti and others.
Another draft law introduced in Russia this month would, if passed, tighten the authorities’ chokehold on civil society: it would greatly expand the range of individuals and groups that can be designated “foreign agents” and increase restrictions and reporting requirements. The media would be obliged to identify these individuals or groups as “foreign agents” whenever mentioning them.
In Turkey, an appeals court overturned the acquittal on “terrorism propaganda” charges of Reporters Without Borders’ Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu and his two co-defendants, human right defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and the writer and journalist Ahmet Nesin. They are now facing the possibility of up to 14-and-a-half years in prison.
Source: MEDIA FEED