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Attacks on human rights activists reach crisis point globally

18 May 2017
[International Secretariat]

Community leaders, lawyers, journalists and other human rights defenders across the world are facing unprecedented levels of persecution, intimidation and violence.

“From President Putin to President Xi and President el-Sisi, leaders across every continent are increasingly dismantling the foundations needed for a free, just and equal society.

Those defending human rights face the unprecedented dangers. It has become an increasingly deadly pursuit: In 2016, 281 people were killed globally for defending human rights, up from 156 in 2015, according to evidence from the NGO Front Line Defenders.

Now in 2017, the plight of human rights defenders has reached crisis point because of the measures abusive states have taken.

Among the emerging trends is the rampant use of new technologies and targeted surveillance, including online, to threaten and silence activists.

Exiled Bahraini human rights activists are tracked by their government using spyware, and governments across the world are ordering companies to disclose encryption keys and decrypt personal online communications. In the UK, police have put journalists under surveillance in order to identify their sources.

In places like Mexico, Russia and Sweden, troll networks are increasingly generating trending misinformation campaigns to discredit and stigmatize human rights defenders like journalists.

These new trends include killings and enforced disappearances, crackdowns on the right to peaceful protest and misuse of criminal, civil and administrative laws to persecute human rights defenders.

Amnesty International notes that in 2016:

-       At least 22 countries saw people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights;

-       In 63 countries, they faced smear campaigns;

-       In 68 countries, they were arrested or detained solely because of their peaceful work; and

-       In 94 countries they were threatened or attacked.

“When they are not threatening or harassing them, governments of all persuasions are attempting to cultivate open hostility towards human rights defenders by peddling demonizing rhetoric that portrays activists as terrorists or foreign agents.

Amnesty International demands that countries implement what they committed to when the United Nations adopted the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. The Declaration calls on states to recognize the key role and contribution of those who defend human rights and to establish effective measures to protect them.

Amnesty International will spotlight the cases of individuals facing imminent danger because of their human rights work, and lobby governments and put pressure on decision-makers to strengthen legal frameworks. Amnesty International will also continue to investigate attacks against activists, and work hand-in-hand with local communities and campaigners to mobilize people to take action.

16 May 2017

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