Is Internet Access A Human Right?

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An internet cafe in Istanbul. (UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A curious op ed appeared in The New York Times recently, titled “Internet Access is Not a Human Right.” In this piece—which I read as I do most news and media, via my computer—Vinton Cerf, a “father” of the Internet, makes an argument that despite the critical role of Information Communication Technologies (the internet) in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, access to the Internet is not a human right.

I should note that his right to express himself so is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


Jabbar Savalan Freed!

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“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.


Saudi Arabia Silencing Dissent in the Name of 'Security'

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Ahmad AbbadThere’s one thing more concerning than a government with a history of using security issues to justify human rights abuses passing a new anti-terrorism measure. What would be more scary is if that government passed new counter-terrorism legislation and then kept the details of the new law from the public.

That’s the situation in Saudi Arabia, where what we know of a draft anti-terrorism law comes only from a document leaked to Amnesty International. Under the draft law, the definition of terrorist crimes is so broad that legitimate dissent would, in effect, be criminalized. Authorities would be allowed to prosecute peaceful dissent with harsh penalties such as “terrorist crime.”


5 Countries Where Your Online Comments Could Land You in Jail

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free jabbar savalan facebook page

When you log onto Facebook, you might expect to hear from long-lost friends or to see pictures from the latest family reunion. Maybe you follow Amnesty on Facebook or Twitter, read and comment on this blog, or keep a blog yourself.

But when you log off at the end of the day, you probably don’t expect the police to come knocking on your door. For people in some countries, that’s exactly what can happen. A 2011 study by Freedom House examining 37 countries found that 23 of them had arrested a blogger or internet user for their online posts. These encroachments on internet freedom – regardless of laws – come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide. Governments are clearly terrified because they know that information is power.


Egypt Returns to Bad Old Days of Repression

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An Egyptian youth waves the national flag

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag with slogan in Arabic that reads. "25th of January, Day of the Freedom" © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a return to the bad old days of repression for Egypt.

Last week, the military regime took a significant step back – severely threatening free speech, free association and assembly, and the right to strike – by expanding the government’s “emergency powers.”

These “State of Emergency” powers are the same ones the Mubarak regime used in its assault on human rights. The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days of repression.

And with the coming parliamentary election, the timing couldn’t be worst.  The Egyptian people have waited so long for free elections, but even the most devoted of Egyptian democracy activists knew that a lot of difficult work had to be done in little time to build the foundations of free press, independent judiciary and other pillars needed for free elections.


Egyptian Blogger Imprisoned for Facebook Comment on Hunger Strike

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Image via Facebook

An honest voice of the Egyptian uprising is in danger of being silenced unless the Egyptian government listens to domestic and international pressure to release  prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil Sanad.

Sanad, whose Facebook postings criticized abuses by the Egyptian military, began a hunger strike on Aug. 23. This week, his family told Amnesty International that his health has greatly deteriorated.

The blogger started the hunger strike to protest his detention in an Egyptian prison north of Cairo. Sanad was arrested on March 28 at his home in Cairo, tried in a military court on April 10 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for publicly insulting the army through comments he made on Facebook, and for allegedly spreading lies and rumors about the armed forces on his blog.


Egypt Continues Media Crackdown

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Protests in Egypt continued into a seventh day today as thousands of Egyptians demonstrated against widespread corruption, police brutality and poverty in their country.  The Egyptian government has tried hard to censor its citizens — cutting off internet and phone access — and now journalists find themselves a target in the crackdown on freedom of expression.

Demonstrators have used phone cameras to expose police abuses © Demotix / Nour El Refai

Al Jazeera English said that six journalists were detained today at an army checkpoint outside Cairo’s Hilton hotel. The journalists were held only briefly but their cameras and other equipment was confiscated.

Yesterday, the Cairo bureau of the Al Jazeera network was officially shut down by order of Egypt’s Information Ministry, the network said.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“This government action against Al Jazeera is just its latest attempt to close down reporting of the protests on the streets and the free flow of information.

“The authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the media and to prevent the truth coming out about abuses by its security forces, as they struggle to maintain their grip on power in the face of unprecedented protests and demands for fundamental change.”

Local and international journalists were assaulted, arrested and their equipment confiscated by security forces throughout recent mass protests against poverty, police abuse and corruption.

The government must not be allowed to put the whole country under an information blackout, and that message needs to be sent to them very clearly by their friends and allies abroad.  You can help send that message by emailing US authorities now and urging them to use their influence to stop these abuses.


A Theater of Abuses in Post-Election Belarus

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Since Sunday’s controversial presidential election in the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus, where incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka pronounced himself the winner, a wave of human rights violations has been hitting opposition voices in the country (like it wasn’t bad enough in the first place). Among the silenced are Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kolyada, the founding couple of Belarus Free Theater who – according to The New York Times – “are now in hiding” after the arrest of their colleagues.

When my colleague phoned the Embassy of Belarus in Washington D.C. for a response on the Times report, she was told that the Embassy doesn’t comment on foreign newspaper content.

Here are other questions that the Belarus government doesn’t want to be asked:

Why have seven of the nine opposition presidential candidates  been detained along with as many as 500 peaceful demonstrators, opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists, many of whom were beaten by riot police?

Why was there no autopsy to investigate the allegedly suicidal death of Aleh Byabebin, founder of the unofficial news website Charter’97, who had just joined the campaign team of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov (Sannikau)?

– And why are candidate Sannikau’s legs broken and why is he not receiving medical care in detention?

Freedom of Expression, Incessantly Suppressed in Latin America

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The Inter American Press Association has been calling attention to numerous governmental acts intended to censure and inhibit freedom of expression in Latin America. As political leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been leading the efforts in funding media outlets that do little else than disseminate political propaganda, the problem is spreading fast throughout the entire region.

Silence Image

In Ecuador, the federal government seized the newspaper El Telégrafo, after they also confiscated the assets of banker and major shareholder Fernando Aspiazu, who was jailed on charges of fraud and unlawful activity in the now defunct Banco de Progreso he owned.  The authorities redesigned the newspaper and are now using it to spread hard-hitting official advertising campaigns.

In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner declared the two leading newspapers in the country, El Clarin and La Nacion, as enemies of her government. Since then, she has tried to find ways to control their activities. With this objective in mind she took over the nation’s main supplier of newsprint, alleging that the two leading newspapers illegally conspired with dictators to control the company three decades ago and then used it to drive competing newspapers out of business.

In Brazil, with the blessing of the federal government, at least five states are trying to enact legislation intended to create agencies that would allow the local Executive Power to control and overrule local media’s activities.

In Mexico, it is not the action of the government, but its inaction that is affecting local media. In the past six months 14 journalists have been killed. The headquarters of the Newspaper “El Sur”, in Acapulco, were attacked by drug cartels, all because the reporters and the media dared to denounce the illegal activities and organized crimes in the country.

The examples go on and on.  Authorities in Latin America are trying to suppress freedom of expression.  Without these vital components of democracy, the livelihood of the nations is endangered at its very core. Hundreds, if not thousands of people throughout the region have given money, work and their lives to ensure that their countries may one day enjoy true freedom of expression, uncensored and unadulterated by their governments.  But, with the most recent actions (or inactions) of the regions governments, all pro-democratic efforts may result in vain.  The progress that had been made is being reversed. The days in which one could give an opinion may soon come to an end.  Authorities must stop.  And civil society must act now.

To those of you who are reading this article, realize that you are doing so precisely because some freedom of expression is still possible.  Together we can and we must ensure that oppressive governments do not put an end to our rights.

Why Is Kareem Amer Still in an Egyptian Detention Center?

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Kareem Amer

Kareem Amer should never have been in jail in the first place.  Now the Egyptian blogger and prisoner of conscience is wondering why he remains in jail after serving the entirety of his four-year sentence.

Amer, who was jailed for criticizing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog, is being held at a State Security Intelligence (SSI) detention center in Alexandria despite being due for release on Nov. 5. Lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that he has been beaten and abused by State Security Intelligence (SSI) officers.

This isn’t the first time Egyptian officials have held individuals beyond the termination of their sentence.  In fact many who are detained for political activities never even make it to trial.

The State of Emergency, which has been in force in Egypt since 1981, gives the government sweeping powers to detain individuals.  Time and time again, authorities have used these powers arbitrarily and aggressively with the intention of muzzling civil society. The continued detention of Kareem Amer is part of that picture.

But compared to other recent events that seemed to offer hope that the government showed partial signs of liberalization, this new step raises disturbing questions.  What stands out about this case is the high level of interest it has received by US leaders, who have raised concerns about the charges against Amer from the very beginning.  In short, the US government has done just about everything we would want them to do when faced with a human rights violation in an allied state like Egypt.

And yet, we are left with the current situation: Amer, beaten and still detained, not even in a public prison but a notorious SSI detention center. It’s hard not to speculate that certain Egyptian security officials decided to use Amer to send a message that nobody in the US, in the West or even in Egypt is going change Egypt’s record on human rights.

If that is true, it is a reminder that to be effective, human rights work must be based on a single standard. Focusing on favored individual cases never provides a long-term solution and rarely helps the specific individual. If the US government wants Kareem Amer to be released, their best tool is to insist that Egypt release all prisoners of conscience including the imprisoned Muslim Brothers, and – as Amnesty calls for in its statement – “curb the powers of the SSI and ensure that SSI officials who breach the law or are responsible for abusing prisoners are brought to justice.”