Keeping power in check: this week in human rights

Keeping power in check: this week in human rights
Blog: A weekly digest of the main human rights issues across the Arab world for the week 27 April-1 May 2015.
5 min read
01 May, 2015
Nearly 1,250 people have died so far in over a month in Yemen [AFP]

Journalism is not a crime

The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression.

     If you dare to report on human rights issues you should be ready to spend time in prison or even be killed

But it has become pretty evident that this "freedom of expression" comes at a cost.

According to Reporters without Borders, 22 journalists and media workers have been killed and more than 160 have been imprisoned so far this year.

Last year 17 journalists were killed in Gaza - the most violent year on record in the enclave for the profession.

Nearly 100 media professionals were killed because of their work in 2014.

Abu Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist known as Shawkan, has been in custody for more than 600 days as punishment for taking pictures of the violent dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in August 2013.

He is yet to be formally charged with any crime and is languishing in a small cell in the infamous Tora prison in Cairo.

Journalist Hamza Idris has faced intimidation at the hands of the Nigerian security forces because of his reporting. In 2014, after he published an article criticising the military’s failure to properly protect civilians, eight soldiers stormed his office.

The Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters, Ned Parker, had to leave Iraq in April after he was threatened on social media and on a TV channel owned by a Shia militia. The intimidation followed his reporting on human rights abuses committed by government forces and Shia militias during the retaking of Tikrit from the Islamic State group.

"The message seems to be ‘if you dare to report on human rights issues you should be ready to spend time in prison or even be killed'," Amnesty International's Media Director Susanna Flood said.

In a 2011 article, the United Nations named journalism as one of the world's most dangerous professions, but this has not, and will not, prevent journalists from doing what they do.

"Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power" UN officials Ban Ki-Moon, Irina Bokova and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.  

"For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety" the statement added.

'Freedom' of expression

While we are on the topic of freedom of expression, let's look at Turkey.

Umut Kilic, 24, is one of several people facing charges of defaming the president over the past few months and Human Rights Watch is calling on Turkey to stop putting people on trial for insulting public officials. 

Prosecution for insulting the president can result in a sentence of up to four years, increasing by one-sixth if committed publicly.

"It is vital to Turkey’s democracy and rule of law for the courts to protect free speech in line with international standards and for the Turkish government to stop misrepresenting ECHR case law," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Saudi Arabia was in the news recently for its 'significant shakeup'. But, this power shift probably won't shift much else in the country, which is still facing criticism for the case of blogger Raif Badawi.

Authorities arrested Badawi on 17 June 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam on his Free Saudi Liberal Network website.

His case bounced back and forth between courts until 7 May 2014 and the Criminal Court pronounced a sentence of 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$ 266,600).

Protests condemning and calling for his release continue in a number of countries:

The worse is yet to come

Nearly 1,250 people have died so far in over a month of fighting that has devastated Yemen, according to World Health Organisation figures released on Friday.

The UN's health agency described a "deteriorating" humanitarian situation in the country, where it said fighting and airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed 1,244 people and injured 5,044 as of April 27.

UN has received 44 alerts of suspected disease outbreaks, including measles, dengue fever and meningitis and has warned that the delivery of life-saving medicines is becoming a serious challenge as most roads connecting Sanaa to the governorates of Aden, Taez, Al-Dhaale, and Lahj gradually become inaccessible.

Yemen was already the poorest Arab country even before this conflict and now its condition is only getting worse.

Just like Iraq.

The head of the European Union's humanitarian aid department, Jean-Louis de Brouwer has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly.

Fighting in Iraq has displaced some 2.7 million people inside the country, including 110,000 who fled from renewed fighting in and around the city of Ramadi in the western Anbar province in the past two weeks. 

De Brouwer said that the number of displaced people in Iraq has quadrupled in the last year and shows no signs of decreasing.

"The situation is deteriorating and humanitarian aid is becoming even more essential than it was" said de Brouwer, adding that "the worst is still to come."

All lives matter

It becomes a matter of grave concern when we as humans have to be reminded about the significance of human life.

Last week I spoke about the migrant crisis, and the importance of recognising the fact that these are humans, not just numbers.

It is essential to remember that the deaths by drone strikes in Pakistan, or in the ongoing Syria conflict, in Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria and the surge of African-American deaths in the United States are not just figures to register, but people with names and families.

Such issues cannot be overlooked.

The fact that even in 2015, even with a black president, we still need hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #MuslimLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, is indeed a terrifying thought, and one that can no longer be muted.

We'll be keeping our eye on human rights transgressions across the region and bringing you another weekly digest next Friday. If you want to share any information or bring our attention to any campaigns please tweet us at @alaraby_en.