Activists’ arrest prompts call for sanctions against Azeri officials


AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISA leading human rights group has strongly condemned the arrest of human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband on charges of of high treason and other crimes.

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety denounced the “trumped-up legal assault” as “the most recent in a host of troubling moves by the Azerbaijani government that demonstrate how far Azerbaijan has strayed from international standards of human rights and rule of law.”

“Leyla Yunus is the latest victim of the Azerbaijani authorities’ merciless campaign of repression in the wake of 2013 Presidential Election”, said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov:

The move comes on the heels of the Presidential office-orchestrated campaign against civil society that has included a state-controlled media smear campaign; the raids on NGOs; confiscation of equipment; arrest of NGO bank accounts which led to de facto shutdown of several NGOs; the intimidation and legal pursuit of NGO workers inside and outside the country, including IRFS partners–International Media Support, IREX and National Endowment for Democracy.

The raids – in which officials from the prosecutor’s office, tax inspectorate and ministry of justice comb through registration and financial documents -are being conducted under controversial amendments to the law, requiring NGOs to register their grants within Ministry of Justice.

While Azerbaijani tax and Ministry of Justice do have powers to supervise that non-profit entities comply with legislation in force, the context in which the current NGO inspections are being carried out coupled with their scope and nature can only create the impression that they are aimed at intimidating and putting pressure on NGOs, in particular those that benefit from foreign grants for public advocacy work on human rights and related issues.

Since President Aliyev assumed his third term in October 2013, we have witnessed a wave of repressive measures in the country that have sought to silence civil society, the group notes.


U.S. should embrace Africa’s democrats


AFRICAN CIV SOCA specter is haunting Africa — the specter of impunity, notes analyst Helen Epstein. Many countries the United States considers allies are in the grip of corrupt, repressive tyrants; others are mired in endless conflict, she writes for the New York Times:

As Washington prepares to host the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, American policy makers must acknowledge their contributions to this dismal situation. By lavishing billions of dollars in military and development aid on African states while failing to promote justice, democracy and the rule of law, American policies have fostered a culture of abuse and rebellion. This must change before the continent is so steeped in blood that there’s no way back….

President Obama and other Western leaders should learn from this pattern of atrocities, particularly since some currently peaceful countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya are also imperiled by a culture of impunity. The West must use all means, including aid cuts, trade sanctions, travel bans and forceful public statements, to punish governments that abuse their own people — before it’s too late.

“The U.S. must develop closer ties with democratic leaders in places such as Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania, Mauritius and Botswana who came to power through democratic elections and have championed good governance and economic development at the regional level,” argue analysts Jeffrey Smith and Todd Moss.

“We must also forge carefully calibrated relationships with strategically important allies that nevertheless continue to struggle with governance issues, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria,” say Smith, a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a former senior U.S. State Department official.

China in particular has been at the forefront of a purposeful investment drive across the African continent over the past decade and a half, leading to a 20-fold increase in trade to $200bn in 2013, the FT reports:

Compared with China’s 150 or so commercial attaches, the US has just eight in sub-Saharan Africa. By their own admission, US-Africa envoys tend to devote most of their time on flashpoints and crises than to build long-term relations.

“We are focused on putting out forest fires...and we should be spending a lot more time planting trees and growing forests, building stronger relationships,says Johnnie Carson, a veteran US diplomat whose career with the Foreign Service began in Africa at the height of the cold war and ended last year when he stood down as assistant secretary of state.

In part the new direction has been forced on Washington. China’s aggressive pursuit of markets and resources, meanwhile, together with its hands off approach to debt financing and aid, has helped rewrite the ground rules over the past decade. Beijing has also courted African political leaders with several summits while its leaders have travelled extensively through the continent.

Jennifer Cooke, head of Africa at the Brookings Institution, a US-based think-tank, says the US “must increasingly compete in Africa for influence and appeal with a new set of emerging powers, influences, and ideologies”.

The reemergence of unconditional solidarity among Africa’s incumbent leaders is threatening respect for human rights and good governance throughout the continent, says Freedom House associate Alyssa Rickard.

“The phenomenon is obviously bad for the people of Africa and for the overall progress of democracy,” she writes for Freedom at Issue. ‘But the worst consequence of many African leaders’ support for even their most authoritarian colleagues is the growing regional acceptance—and in some cases promotion—of deeply repressive policies.”


Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the White House’s African Leaders’ Summit, the National Endowment for Democracy and a range of other leading democracy and human rights organizations will convene a concurrent African civil society conference, Towards an Action Program for Democracy, on August 5th and 6th in Washington, D.C. :: MORE

Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.


Technology is connective, but is it democratizing?

Many commentators mistakenly interpreted the Arab Spring in 2011 as a harbinger of democratic movements everywhere, and now the pendulum of punditry seems to have swung hard in the opposite direction, says Sheldon Himmelfarb of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Contrary to this doom-saying, however, opportunities for citizen participation in political processes have never been greater, thanks to the ingenuity of a new generation of activists and technologists, he writes for Foreign Policy:

Three recent studies of “peacetech” tools have documented their use and promise, as well as their limitations. The first, “Citizen Participation and Technology,” released in May by the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute (NDI), reviewed nine international programs with which NDI collaborated in countries such as Uganda, Mexico, and Egypt. The programs attempted to leverage technology to improve citizens’ participation in politics.It found, broadly, that technology is expanding this participation and is changing the relationship citizens have with organizations and public institutions, even in places where these effects might not be obvious.

“According to New York University professor Clay Shirky, social media is a tool that strengthens the public sphere — and a robust and active public sphere is necessary to increase political freedoms around the world and to create political change,” Himmelfarbd notes:

larryDiamondLarry Diamond, a founder of the liberation-technology program at Stanford University, echoes this sentiment and points toward a highly controlled society — China, where citizens have used microblogging site Weibo to identify corrupt officials — to best understand this phenomenon…For experts like Diamond and Shirky, the Internet’s decentralized architecture, the spread of cell phones, and the sheer popularity of social-network applications have combined to produce a revolution in social activism. Others, however, have taken issue with this. Writer Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has argued in the New Yorker that a crucial distinction exists between traditional activism and its online variant. Social media, he says, is effective at building loosely affiliated networks, which are the opposite in structure and character of effective social-change movements of the past.

“It is too early to tell the outcomes of today’s violent conflicts that are spawning the chorus of calls for more inclusive governments,” he argues. “But this is certain: The public sphere is growing. And in a world where 3 billion people are expected to enter the global middle class over the next two decades and have greater access to technology in their daily lives, the power of technology-enabled citizen networks to pressure governments and large institutions to act is only going to grow — putting new potential to prevent wars and solve humanity’s most pressing problems within reach, if not in our grasp.”


Pakistan: Resisting Extremism through Media

In some schools of Islam, the artistic portrayal of people and animals is often perceived as idolatrous, or at the very least offensive or sacrilegious. Following the 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban and the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy, Pakistan is experiencing a new wave of restrictions on the production of visual arts.

This trend is part of a broader agenda by intolerant and extremist elements in Pakistan to limit freedom of expression and curtail cultural activities, including dance, music, and theater, that they believe offend Islam. Moreover, recent attacks on journalists by extremists not only serve to silence moderate voices but reinforce and propel a conservative ideology. The challenge now is to reclaim the power of images and to assert cartoons as a medium through which artists can convey messages across cultural and linguistic divides.

Resisting Extremism through Media: Claiming a Space for Political Cartoons in Pakistan : watch the discussion on YouTube, above, featuring:

Sabir Nazar (@sabirnazar), Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, National Endowment for Democracy;

with comments by

Brian Joseph (@NEDemocracy), National Endowment for Democracy;

moderated by

Mark Nelson (@CIMA_Media), Center for International Media Assistance.