Updates from April 2021

Dear friends and colleagues,

This month we participated in the 68th virtual ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission).  Despite, setbacks of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Commission’s sessions continue to offer a space to discuss the human rights situation on the continent and develop strategies to promote and protect peoples’ rights.

DefendDefenders actively took part in this session, underscoring pressing human rights issues pertaining to civic space as highlighted in its Bi-annual report. The report expresses concerns regarding increasing reports of violations of the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It further prescribes concrete recommendations to the Commission to improve country specific situations.

There is an increase in statistics of cases of human rights violations against human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists, and artists on the continent, which is alarming. 216 cases were documented in the reporting period. Our interventions emphasised the risks and challenges faced by exiled HRDs and environmental HRDs. I am happy that the Commission adopted a resolution on the need for a study on African responses to migration and the protection of migrants in a bid to develop guidelines on the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Such guidelines would set out best practices that states can adhere to ,to improve the environment for identified categories including exiled HRDs.

HRDs play a crucial role in the advancement of human rights and democracy on the continent, it is therefore paramount for states to prioritise their safety.

Yours in solidarity, 

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • DefendDefenders submitted a “Bi-annual report ACHPR68: Updates from East and Horn of Africa (October-April 2021)”, which focused on the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
  • The 68th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR 68)took place virtually from (14 April-4 May 2021).
  • AfricanDefenders hosted the Forum on the participation of NGOs in the 68th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, where they gave an update on the human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa.Catch up on the proceedings here.
  • Read the oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders at the ACHPR68.
  • Together with South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders organised a side event during the ACHPR68 on the role of the UN Commission on Human Right in South Sudan in advancing human rights, peace, and accountability.
  • The 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC47) is scheduled for 21 June to 15 July 2021, DefendDefenders will focus on Eritrea and civil society space, among other countries and issues.
  • DefendDefenders hosted three workshops for Ugandan civil society organisations working on finance and accountability, business and human rights, and human rights defenders, to equip them with knowledge on the UPR process ahead of Uganda’s review in November 2021.
  • DefendDefender’s Tech team conducted five trainings, including one joint training.
  • DefendDefenders was a partner for this year’s DataFest Kampala organised by Pollicy, which took place on 29-30 April at MoTIV.
  • DefendDefender’s protection team conducted one training and one follow up activity.
  • The Protection and Security management team provided technical assistance to Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, during his field mission in Uganda.
  • DefendDefenders delegation in Sudan met with His Excellency Nasredeen Abdulbari, the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Sudan. The delegation will work closely with the Ministry of Justice to legislate a law for the protection of HRDs in Sudan; and
  • Our protection team received 39 requests for support of which 25 were approved, 8 were rejected, 1 was referred and 5 remain pending.

Human rights updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region:

Burundi

  • The Burundian Media outlets in exile including RPA (Radio Publique Africaine), INZAMBA, and Radio Télévision Renaissance returned to air on 12 April 2021 after being suspended in March 2021. Reportedly, the Rwandan government agreed with the Burundian government that the closure of the radios would be a good step to resolve the long-standing dispute.

Eritrea

  • On 11 April 2021, Eritrean authorities released 22 of the 23 arrested Christians. Eritrean soldiers raided a prayer meeting of 23 Christians, mostly women at the end of March in Asmara. It remains unknown why one man remains in detention.

Ethiopia

  • The Federal Defense Forces arrested two journalists in Mekelle on 17 April 2021. Fitsum Berhane, an AFP news agency reporter, and Tamirat Yemane, a local media reporter were arrested for spreading “false propaganda”. The Ethiopian Defense force issued a statement claiming, “medical drugs prepared to be sent to the Junta” and electronic items used to stream the “propaganda” were confiscated. Both journalists were previously arrested in February.

Kenya

  • Police officers arrested an activist, Edwin Kiama for posting an infographic on 6 April on Twitter joining the  #IMFStopLoaningKenya discussion. Kiama was charged for violating Section 22 of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act of 2018. The courts barred Kiama from posting on social media and ordered his accounts to be blocked. He was released on a cash bail of 500,000 Kenyan shillings. On 20 April 2021, the activist was unconditionally released as the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence.
  • On 20 April 2021, the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI), George Kinoti threatened to summon a Citizen TV journalist and a few of the senior management members for questioning.  On 18 April, Citizen TV published an investigative report exposing a network of brokers and police officers who allegedly rent police equipment including guns, uniforms, and handcuffs to criminals. The journalists obtained a pistol during the investigation and handed it over to the police.  Kinoti accused the media outlet of breaching ethical codes and violating Section 89 of Kenya’s penal code which carries a 15-year prison sentence.
  • On 24 May 2021, police officers arrested nine journalists for covering a story on evictions in Makima. Reportedly, the police confiscated the journalist’s equipment and manhandled them. They were released without charges on 25 May 2021.

Rwanda

  • On 20 April 2021, Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index. Rwanda ranked 156th out of 180 countries, decreasing one rank from the 2020 Index.

Somalia/ Somaliland

  • On 4 April 2021, the Attorney General in Hargeisa, Somaliland charged six Christian converts with inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order and offences against the state religion. Three of them were additionally charged with apostasy.
  • On 14 April 2021, residents of East Burco, Somaliland protested the court’s decision to sentence a military officer, Jaamac Doolal, to two years in prison. Protestors burned tires on the main streets and were dispersed by the police, a few protestors were arrested.
  • On 21 April 2021, police officers detained Ali Said Mohamed, an independent journalist who reports for a Facebook news page, Mudug Journalist. His arrest was related to a story claiming Galkayo police arbitrarily arrest citizens and solicit bribes from detainees at the police station. The police officers released him without charges and used his phone to delete the post.

Somalia/

Somaliland

  • Astaan TV owner and CEO Abdimanan Yusuf was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine, without giving any grounds. He had been in custody since July. His popular TV channel has been suspended indefinitely. Rights groups and media houses fear for press freedom ahead of the upcoming election season.

Sudan

  • On 12 April 2021, demonstrations broke out in North Darfur capital of El Fasher, citizens were protesting poor living conditions, power outage, and a water crisis. The police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protest which led to two students sustaining injuries and requiring surgery.
  • On 29 April 2021, Sudanese authorities violently dispersed a sit-in protest injuring at least four people. The army and police forces fired live ammunition and used tear gas on the protesters in South Darfur. Residents of Buram organised the peaceful sit-in to protest inadequate electricity, water, and health services. Additionally, the police detained six members of the Resistance Committees of Bielel.

Tanzania

  • On 20 April 2021, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) announced that its bank accounts had been unfrozen. THRDC’s accounts were frozen in August 2020; this resulted in the suspension of the Coalition’s activities for eight months.
  • Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) released a statement alleging five journalists were arrested and harassed by authorities in April.
  • On 21 April, the police harassed Jesse Mikofu, a journalist working for Mwananchi Newspaper, while he was taking pictures of street vendors being evacuated. He claims that the police harassed him and destroyed his equipment.

Uganda

  • On 22 April 2021, Uganda People’s Defense Forces officers attacked an NTV correspondent, Enock Matovu. Matuvo claims he was assaulted by unidentified army officers as he was coming from the clinic with his daughter. He alleges that he was injected with an unknown substance that made him feel sick, he sustained serious injuries in the attack. According to another journalist, the attack was related to his work.
  • Military personnel assaulted a pregnant journalist and another reporter on 29 May 2021. Teddy Nakaliga, a reporter with NTV and Spark TV, and Salt TV reporter Amon Kayanja were beaten by the military police while covering a demonstration by residents protesting a two-week power blackout in Wakiso district.

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