Index calls for immediate release of Lina Attalah

Index calls for the immediate release of Lina Attalah, the editor and co-founder of the Egyptian news website Mada Masr, one of the few independent news outlets in the country to offer an alternative narrative to government-controlled media.

Attalah was arrested outside Tora prison while attempting to interview the mother of Egyptian blogger and political activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who had been arrested in September 2019 after writing a critical column in Mada Masr. He is currently on hunger strike protesting his pretrial detention conditions.

Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship, said: “Lina was doing her job and reporting on a climate of crackdown and fear in Egypt right now, where news coverage happens under extreme pressure. We call on the international community not to ignore what is going on in Egypt.”

Mada Masr, which was shortlisted in the journalism category in Index’s 2016 Freedom of Expression Awardswas one of 21 websites blocked by the Egyptian authorities in 2017 for “supporting terrorism and extremism and spreading lies” in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Freedom of expression is coming under increasing attack in Egypt and media critical of the government of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi face huge challenges in doing their important work.

Index on Censorship calls on French authorities to reverse decision on visa for artist

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”74843″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Murad Subay, a Yemeni street artist and the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Arts Fellow, was rejected for a visa to study at Aix-Marseille University as part of a one-year grant for threatened artists.

Subay, who creates murals protesting against Yemen’s civil war, was given a grant to study under the Institute of International Education’s Artistic Protection Fund, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which makes fellowship grants to artists from any field of practice, and places them at host institutions in safe countries where they can continue their work and plan for their futures.

The visa that would have allowed Subay to study was rejected by authorities on Friday, he told Index via email.

“This rejection highlights a spreading hostility to artistic freedom around the world. From Uganda to Indonesia to Cuba, proposed legislation threatens to control artists, while a growing number of supposedly democratic countries such as the UK frequently refuse visas to foreign authors, musicians and activists for events or training. This reinforces notion that constraining artistic freedom is acceptable,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship said.

“We ask French authorities to reverse this decision and allow Murad, an Index fellow, to study.”

Subay’s murals grew from the frustration he felt as his homeland descended into chaos and factionalism. Amid the destruction and anger, Subay picked up his brush. He went out into the streets with friends and began painting in broad daylight. After a few days he was joined by people from the community driven by their desire for peace amid Yemen’s civil war.

The Yemeni civil war has been raging since 2015.  An estimated 13,600 people have been killed, including more than 5,200 civilians. The strife has contributed to the death of an estimated 50,000 people from an ongoing famine. In 2018, the United Nations warned that 13 million Yemeni civilians face starvation in what it says could become “the worst famine in the world in 100 years.”[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1556538997921-272e591f-f0ed-0″ taxonomies=”8196″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Bolo Bhi: Still much work to be done to oppose Pakistan’s Cyber Crimes Bill


Farieha Aziz, director of 2016 Freedom of Expression Campaigning Award winner Bolo Bhi (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

It has been eight months since the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), also known as the cyber crimes bill, was passed and enacted in Pakistan. The law, which has been in place since August 2016, is meant to limit the amount of hate speech online and protect internet users against malicious cyber crimes, however, many are concerned that it has not followed up on these promises.

Bolo Bhi, a non-profit organisation and activist group and winners of the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning, has been vehemently opposed to PECA from the beginning because of its potential human rights violations and threats to the right to privacy and freedom of expression as the law would allow more unchecked government power and internet regulation.

Farieha Aziz, the director of Bolo Bhi, told Index on Censorship that there are simply not enough rules, oversight, and public awareness for the law to truly be effective in preventing cyber crime.

“If the government was really serious about the implementation of the law for the protection of the people, eight months on, where are the rules? Courts? Capacity of the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, prosecutors and courts to deal with cases?” Aziz said. “Why the deafening silence on this both the government and the opposition?”

Aziz said that government critics and other dissenters have been silenced as a result of the law, but the government has yet to make any effective moves against real malicious threats. She noted that the Khabaristan Times, a satirical media organisation, was recently blocked online under Section 38 of PECA which allows the government to remove and censor any “objectionable content”.

“This essentially stems from a failure to still grasp how the internet and technology function, and where and how the law can or cannot be applied,” Aziz said.

Bolo Bhi has published a document on its website titled “Recommendations for Implementation and Oversight” to solve the numerous problems regarding effective and fair enforcement of PECA.

One of the main problems, Bolo Bhi noted, is confusion and lack of clarity among the public of PECA’s rules and regulations.

“Social perceptions of what constitutes stalking, harassment, bullying, etc. and the legal definitions of these as well as what constitutes a crime under law can be very different,” Bolo Bhi said in the document.

In order to combat this, Bolo Bhi recommended increasing public awareness through various resources including public service messages and helpline numbers. Bolo Bhi also suggested the creation of an online complaint facility and a more transparent case management and tracking system that would be available to the public.

Another problem with effective enforcement of PECA includes a lack of financial resources and qualified professionals for online surveillance and responding to cases.

The PTA, one of the most prominent government agencies involved with the implementation of PECA, told the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology on the 5th of April that they do not have enough resources to properly manage and surveil all online content. Instead, the PTA suggested, the government should build closer relationships with social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to help find and block and unacceptable or blasphemous content.

Bolo Bhi, however, suggested that the government itself should be held responsible for increasing the amount of trained investigation officers and state prosecutors who can properly handle an increasing caseload. If there is more legal and technical training for judicial officers, Bolo Bhi said, then cyber crimes can be dealt with more quickly and efficiently. Bolo Bhi also recommended increasing the number of third-party forensic labs in order to avoid further backlogging of cases.

Despite PECA’s lack of progress in creating a safe and sustainable internet for Pakistan, Bolo Bhi continues to fight on for fair and effective implementation of the Cybercrimes law.

“The law alone is no solution,” Bolo Bhi said. “Awareness of its existence, knowledge of the procedures, willingness to use it and them proper implementation for deliverance of justice that is tied with our criminal justice system and courts are all components of this, which need to be addressed simultaneously.”[/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:1492103286683-011373cf-290a-6″ taxonomies=”8093″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Zaina Erhaim: “No one is left in Aleppo”


The 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellow Zaina Erhaim (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

The Index Award-winning journalist Zaina Erhaim was due to travel to the USA this month along with three other Syrian women to screen their documentary series, Syria’s Rebellious Women. But President Donald Trump’s executive order on the travel ban for seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, saw the US State Department-funded tour cancelled.

Syria’s Rebellious Women, a documentary filmed by Erhaim in 2015, tells the stories of women who are doing all they can to help her country survive during this horrific time. Explaining how the film came about, she told Index: “I put three of the five profiles online because the women filmed agreed on putting them. I met them while living inside Syria.”

Speaking about Khaled Issa, who featured in Syria’s Rebellious Women before he died from injuries sustained from a blast that targeted his home in Aleppo, Erhaim said: “Sadly it’s not a unique incident, but not all the media activists are ‘lucky’ enough to get the media attention and concern that Khaled did.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row equal_height=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1488992779654{background-color: #dd3333 !important;}” el_class=”text_white”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Protect Media Freedom” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]

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We monitor threats to press freedom, produce an award-winning magazine and publish work by censored writers.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″ css=”.vc_custom_1488991756172{background-image: url( !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The cancellation of the US tour is the second time within six months that Erhaim had been made to feel completely unwelcome by the authorities of a Western country. In September 2016, when entering the UK on invitation of Index on Censorship to speak about her experiences alongside veteran journalist Kate Adie, the journalist’s Syrian passport was confiscated at the request of the Syrian government.

In December 2016, the last civilians of Aleppo were evacuated, including Erhaim’s husband Mahmoud Rashwani, who is now in Edlib. “No one is left in Aleppo,” Erhaim explained. “For activists, living in an Assad-controlled area means being arrested or killed. Many families of the activists were arrested for staying.”

In a recent column for The Guardian, Erhaim described how residents of Aleppo often burn their photos and other important possessions as they left Aleppo to prevent soldiers from getting their hands on them. She told Index that people also burned their cars and other useful possessions so that the militias can’t use them.

The 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellow Erhaim was named one of Reuters’ Unsung Heroes of 2016. She said that while it’s great to be remembered among “actual heroes”, she doesn’t feel that she did enough to be included with them.

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