Fellowship Update: An important element of Index’s work

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Index Awards Fellowship has become an important element of Index on Censorship’s work – allowing us to help those on the frontlines of defending free speech around the world. Each fellow receives a structured programme of assistance including capacity building, mentoring and networking. Over the course of a year, we also help them accomplish a key goal that will significantly enhance the impact or sustainability of their work.

The 2018 Fellows are continuing to thrive:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”103306″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Arts fellow the Museum of Dissidence, led by artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and art curator Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, have put themselves on the line in the fight against Decree 349, a vague law intended to severely limit artistic freedom in Cuba. In November, the two were arrested for peacefully protesting the law. Index campaigned for their release at a solidarity protest at Tate Britain.

Having missed our Freedom of Expression Awards ceremony in April 2018, we were thrilled to present Nuñez Leyva and Otero Alcántara with their award in October at Metal Culture Southend, an arts centre where they were taking part in a two-week residency.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99812″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Campaigning fellows the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms continue to highlight human rights abuses and provide support for those facing repression. The group has expanded its reach by opening two new offices around the country and has benefited from technology training provided by Index. Amal Fathy, wife of ECRF executive director Mohamed Lotfy, was released from prison in late December after eight months in detention for her online criticism of sexual harassment in Egypt, but a two-year prison sentence was upheld against the activist, raising fears she could again end up behind bars. Index continues to campaign for Amal at international level.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99888″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Digital Activism fellow Habari RDC, a collective of more than 100 young Congolese bloggers and web activists, have been busily covering December’s tense election in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its fallout. Guy Muyembe, president of Habari RDC, said before the elections: “The only thing that is certain about the election is the uncertainty that comes with it.” The continuing tensions threaten to destabilise the country, insecurity and violence. Index has arranged training for Habari RDC with Protection International which will take place early this year.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99885″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Journalism fellow Wendy Funes continues to cover corruption and human rights violations in Honduras, a country where violence has become “normalised”. With the help of  Index, Wendy is in the process of securing an office for her newspaper which will create a safe space for her team to do their work. She also plans to open the space to other journalists and offer training to students. Wendy has been selected as a judge for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and has been able to attain funding which will cover some of her investigations for 2019.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”99904″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1547745843103-843df51b-4519-5″ taxonomies=”8935″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Egypt: “People are being hunted because of what they say on social media”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”99932″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]There was never any illusion that Egypt’s 2018 election would either be free or fair. The result was always going to mean a return to power for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. And with a Sisi emboldened by victory, the human rights violations that followed were equally as predictable.

“It’s a lot more difficult these days,” Ahmad Abdallah, head of the board of trustees of the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning, tells Index. “Since the election we’ve seen a lot of arrests of political activists and human rights defenders, along with bloggers and journalists.”

On 21 May Haytham Mohamadeen, a lawyer and labour rights defender, who offers pro-bono legal aid to workers, was arrested pending investigation on charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation” and “calling for illegal protests”. Members of the opposition were arrested, including former diplomat Maasoum Marzouk, who, along with six other opposition figures, was arrested in Cairo ahead of planned anti-government protests. They were accused of “aiding a terrorist group” and “participating in a criminal agreement with the purpose of committing a terrorist crime”.

“Lots of people are now being detained who wouldn’t have previously been detained, including former supporters of Sisi,” Abdallah says.

The arrests have also hit quite close to home for ECRF. In May Amal Fathy, an activist and wife of a co-founder of the organisation, Mohamed Lotfy, was arrested along with her husband and two-year-old son in the middle of the night for a video she posted to Facebook criticising sexual harassment, of which she herself is a victim.

While Lofty and their son were soon released, Fathy was charged with crimes that include membership in a terrorist organisation, calling for terrorist acts and spreading false news that “damages the public order and harms national security”.

“Amal was ill even before jail, but her imprisonment has only made her medical situation worse,”  Abdallah says. “We cannot provide her with the medications she needs while in jail, so day after day her situation is getting worse. And for what? She has done nothing — nothing at all. She simply expressed herself, and we are now unfortunately seeing what happens when someone speaks out.”

Abdallah can see firsthand that Lofty and their son are suffering also. “Lofty is usually the most active person, a spark of hope for everyone, but you can see how Amal’s detention has affected him because they are soul mates,” he says. “But Lofty is strong — he will get through this dark period.”

Index, in partnership with Doughty Street Chambers, have helped with Fathy’s case and have filed complaints to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and to the UN rapporteurs on freedom of expression and human rights defenders, which Abdallah says has been very helpful.

“We’ve expected a lot from Doughty Street and they have done a lot,” he says. “They’ve been absolutely great in their work for Amal, and she is happy with it; even though they don’t know her personally, it gives her hope and strength in prison.”

On Saturday 29 September, a court gave Fathy a two-year-suspended sentence and a fine for “spreading fake news”. The court also fined her 10,000 Egyptian pounds (£430). According to Reuters, her lawyer said she would appeal the verdict.

The Egyptian activist Haitham Mohamedeen, who works as a lawyer with ECRF, was also arrested in May in the wave of arrests targeting activists, but Abdallah explains this had more to do with his campaigning as a revolutionary socialists. Many ordinary citizens have also been caught up in the arrests, but these can receive much less attention as they don’t involve someone with an already high profile.

“We have even seen cases from non-Egyptians, one of whom is Lebanese citizen Mona el-Mazboh, who made a video criticising sexual harassment in Egypt,” Abdallah says. “She’s not an activist, she’s not connected to Egyptian activists, whether political or human rights defenders, and she’s been sentenced for several years.”

El-Mazboh was subsequently released after she was given a one-year suspended sentence.

In July Egypt’s parliament passed new a law giving the state powers to block social media accounts. Social media sites with more than 5,000 users are now classified as media outlets and users can be penalised for spreading fake news or incitement to break the law. The vague law, which Sisi says is designed to uphold freedom of expression, also prohibits journalists from filming in certain places.

“Unfortunately, in a legal framework, what the government is doing is illegal,” Abdallah says. “People are being hunted because of what they say on social media.”

ECRF has recorded 1,520 cases of enforced disappearances between 2013 until August 2018. Virtually all those who reappeared have been tortured in total impunity. Abdallah explains how these shocking numbers alone aren’t always enough to pique the interest of other members of society. “People are actually paying more attention now because the economic situation is getting worse, which is affecting their everyday life,” he says. “They are coming at it from the perspective of social and economic grievances — which of course we don’t have — not from a concern for human rights.”

With subsidies being lifted and wages stagnating, ordinary people are suffering. “Even those Egyptians with no interest in politics can see the situation is not going well,” Abdallah says.

Getting the attention of the international community is an even greater challenge. “This is because so few human rights defenders are free to speak to the press, and many have been detained,” he explains “Self-censorship is a problem among a lot of activists because everyone who is willing to speak ends up in jail.”

For Abdallah, international solidarity is a must because the situation Egypt finds itself in is identical to so many around the world. “All human rights violations affects us,” he says. “Look at the crisis in Syria, which led to a wave of migration to Europe, which has led to more restrictions — it’s all interconnected.”

“It’s very important to be connected to these activists, and learn from their experiences. It provides a seed for future work, so we can help each other.”[/vc_column_text][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjIxMDAlMjUlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjIzMDAlMjIlMjBzY3JvbGxpbmclM0QlMjJubyUyMiUyMGZyYW1lYm9yZGVyJTNEJTIybm8lMjIlMjBhbGxvdyUzRCUyMmF1dG9wbGF5JTIyJTIwc3JjJTNEJTIyaHR0cHMlM0ElMkYlMkZ3LnNvdW5kY2xvdWQuY29tJTJGcGxheWVyJTJGJTNGdXJsJTNEaHR0cHMlMjUzQSUyRiUyRmFwaS5zb3VuZGNsb3VkLmNvbSUyRnRyYWNrcyUyRjUwNjU2MzU1MSUyNTNGc2VjcmV0X3Rva2VuJTI1M0RzLUJhV1B0JTI2Y29sb3IlM0QlMjUyM2ZmNTUwMCUyNmF1dG9fcGxheSUzRGZhbHNlJTI2aGlkZV9yZWxhdGVkJTNEZmFsc2UlMjZzaG93X2NvbW1lbnRzJTNEdHJ1ZSUyNnNob3dfdXNlciUzRHRydWUlMjZzaG93X3JlcG9zdHMlM0RmYWxzZSUyNnNob3dfdGVhc2VyJTNEdHJ1ZSUyNnZpc3VhbCUzRHRydWUlMjIlM0UlM0MlMkZpZnJhbWUlM0U=[/vc_raw_html][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

Awards Fellowship

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Index works with the winners of the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship to help them achieve goals through a 12-month programme of capacity building, coaching and strategic support.

Through the fellowships, Index seeks to maximise the impact and sustainability of voices at the forefront of pushing back censorship worldwide.

Learn more about the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1538379443908-9f9e78a4-e26d-2″ taxonomies=”24135″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Doughty Street Chambers: Egypt’s arbitrary detention of Amal Fathy clear violation of her rights

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Leading human rights lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers have submitted a new complaint to the United Nations regarding Egypt’s treatment of Amal Fathy, the detained wife of a co-founder of the award-winning human rights group the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

Ms Fathy was arrested after posting a video criticising sexual harassment in Egypt – of which she herself is a victim – to Facebook. After a police raid of their home in the early hours of the morning Ms Fathy, her husband Mohamed Lotfy and their two-year-old son were taken to a police station. Mr Lotfy and their son were released several hours later, but Ms Fathy has been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and other related charges and remains detained.

Ms Fathy is a communications student and former activist and actress who is active on social media, where she advocates and expresses her views on ongoing issues in Egypt especially on women’s rights.

The complaint to the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention, submitted jointly with ECRF and global freedom of expression campaigners Index on Censorship, argues that Ms. Fathy’s arbitrary detention is a clear violation of her right to freedom of expression, her right to liberty and her right to freedom from arbitrary detention.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers said: “Amal Fathy has now been detained arbitrarily for 74 days, in unsanitary conditions, without meaningful access to her lawyers, and away from her family and young son. Egypt has failed to explain the legal basis for her continued detention, but it is clear that whatever the pretext, this is an inhumane and illegal punishment imposed simply because she and her husband have undertaken peaceful and legitimate campaigning on human rights issues. Amal Fathy spoke out about the rights of women; now the Egyptian authorities are silencing her by holding her in prison for months on end, with no proper legal basis.”

Mohamed Lotfy said “ECRF is alarmed by the unprecedented wave of arrests of Egyptian human rights defenders, and Amal is one them, which shows a new trend of violations in one of the worst crackdowns on civil society in Egypt. The most worrying aspect of these resent cases is that they were all referred to State Security Prosecution on totally irrelevant charges such as joining terrorists groups. These charges, if referred to court by the Prosecution, could lead to sever sentences of imprisonment.”

Perla Hinojosa, fellowships and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship said: “Index calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release Amal Fathy.  Freedom of expression should not be criminalised and the government’s continued attempts to silence activists and journalists through detention and the fear of detention is unwarranted.”

In May, Doughty Street — jointly with ECRF and Index on Censorship, lodged complaints with United Nations rapporteurs on freedom of expression and human rights defenders regarding Ms Fathy’s detention.   

Mr Lotfy is one of the leaders of ECRF, which has played a key role in increasing awareness of enforced disappearances, censorship, torture and violations of freedom of expression and association in Egypt. This has resulted in frequent incidents of harassment, arrest and detention of staff. ECRF received an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Campaigning Award in April 2018.

On July 15th, the Egyptian government enacted a controversial law which would monitor personal social media, blogs or websites with more than 5,000 followers. Authorities would have the power to block them if accused of publishing fake news, as interpreted by the government. This  crackdown on activists and journalists limits and controls freedom of expression further.

The organisations have asked the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention to issue a finding that Ms Fathy’s detention is arbitrary and in violation of Egypt’s obligations under international law, and to call for her immediate release, and to ask Egypt to investigate her unlawful detention and to award her compensation.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”Egypt” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”147″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Egyptian activist Amal Fathy’s pre-trial detention extended by 15 days


Activist Amal Fathy has been ordered detained. (Photo: Facebook)

Activist Amal Fathy has been ordered detained. (Photo: Facebook)

Egyptian activist Amal Fathy, who was arrested on 11 May after posting a video criticising sexual harassment in Egypt – of which she herself is a victim – to Facebook, appeared in court on 15 July only to have her hearing for a fourth time by 15 days.

Fathy has been in pre-trial detention since her arrested after publishing the 12-minute video on 9 May, during which time she has shown symptoms of acute stress and was unable to walk unassisted at her 4 July trial, having lost sensation in her left leg. Fathy has a history of chronic depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, conditions that have only worsened during her detention.

“Egypt is inciting fear on their population by limiting a fundamental human right, which includes the persecution of activists like Amal,” said Perla Hinojosa, fellowships and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship. “Index is also deeply concerned by a new bill that will allow further monitoring of social media accounts, which will make even more difficult for outspoken activists.”

Fathy, along with her husband, Mohamed Lotfy, director of the Index award-winning NGO Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, and their son, were taken into custody during an early morning raid on their home. As an activist, Fathy has also been vocal about human rights violations in Egypt, especially the arbitrary detention of other activists. Lotfy and their son – who Fathy was the primary carer of before her arrest – were later released.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1532012897356-010363ff-19af-10″ taxonomies=”147″][/vc_column][/vc_row]