Kinshasa, 7 March 2016 – Defending the rights of victims of injustice and exercising one’s fundamental freedoms remains a challenge in DR Congo. Faced with an often failing legal system and, at times, intimidation, men and women still pursue an ideal: to live in a fairer world. Second of three interviews: journalist Nathalie Kapela, specialised in covering justice matters.
Born in Kinshasa, Nathalie Kapela has a background in communication and has been active in the field of information since 2000. She is very quickly interested in sensitive issues such as overexploitation of forests and the lack of respect for legislation in this area. However the Congolese media lacks resources: 80% of television and radio channels are commercial and therefore dependent on advertisers, or are supported by politicians. “Under these kind of conditions it quickly becomes problematic to tackle committed issues“, explains Nathalie Kapela.
The young woman’s interest in legal issues was confirmed during the production of a TV report in a township on the outskirts of the Congolese capital city. “I was shocked when I discovered how precarious the living conditions were. The discrepancy between what I was telling people on air and the reality on the ground was enormous“, the journalist and anchorwoman tells. She decided to leave the television company who employed her and devote herself instead to human rights and good governance issues.
In 2008, she set up her own video production company. Her first report focused on corruption in the judiciary. “I wanted to show that anyone who breaks the law, whether rich or poor, should be punished“, she recollects.
The reports produced for her programme Actualité judiciaire (The Judiciary Today) are being broadcast on television, thanks, in particular, to international financing. She then took the administrative steps in order to protect the concept of her programme but very soon noticed how obstacles were put in her way, up to ministerial level. “I therefore decided to denounce this situation on air. After that, it’s as though I’ve been hit by a thunderbolt: my programme was suspended!” In the face of this suspension, the journalist filed a complaint with the Conseil Supérieur de l’audiovisuel et de la communication (High Council for Audio-visuals and Communications). But this was unsuccessful, in spite of public support from a number of European countries. “Subsequently, I was summoned for false accusation. I even received threats by text messages on my mobile phone“, testifies Nathalie Kapela.
Today, her request to withdraw the suspension of her programme is pending before the Supreme Court. “Since 2014, ASF has supported me with two lawyers who are pursuing the matter at Court level“, explains the journalist, who, in the intervening time, has been producing new reports for other TV channels.
Whilst waiting for a court decision, Nathalie Kapela continues with her fight, in spite of the pressure and the intimidation to which she and her team are subjected. “What do I fear the most? Not seeing my goal being achieved: living in a country without injustice. Because here, the poverty is striking and corruption is an everyday practice. But with our programmes, the legal culture is making progress. People are keeping themselves informed, they are being responsive. It’s this conviction,that things will change in favour of observing human rights, that keeps me going.”
Picture: Freedom of press in DR Congo remains a challenge. Kinshasa, 2015 © ASF / G. Van Moortel
Rabat/Brussels, 15 January 2016 – Hicham Mansouri, the Moroccan human rights activist, will be released on 17 January, having previously been sentenced to a 10-month prison term and a fine of 20,000 dirhams for the offence of complicity in adultery. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is concerned about the judicial harassment of those who support freedom of speech. With the release of its observation report on the trial, the NGO wishes to emphasise again the absolute importance of respecting the right to a defence and the requirements for a fair trial.
On 17 March 2015 around ten police officers in plain clothes broke into Mr. Mansouri’s home in Rabat. No arrest warrant had been served on him at the time of his arrest. Mr. Mansouri had been assaulted and forced to undress there and then, before being placed in preventive custody to await trial. Moreover, Mr. Mansouri had not been able to contact his family or his lawyer during the first twenty-four hours of his detention.
On 30 March 2015 the Rabat Court of First Instance sentenced Mr. Hicham Mansouri to ten months in prison and a fine of 20,000 dirhams (almost 2,000 euros) for complicity in adultery under Morocco’s Penal Code.
ASF had arranged for the judicial observation of this trial through a lawyer who was a member of ASF’s International Legal Network. This intervention took place in the context of ASF’s Kalima project, which aims to promote freedom of speech and the protection of journalists and bloggers in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
With Mr. Mansouri’s release from prison, ASF is publishing the observation report of his trial. This report raises some crucial questions about what was supposedly just a simple adultery affair: why was the defendant held in preventive detention? Why did the judicial authorities deal with this case so quickly? Why did the security services put in place such major security measures during the hearings?
“These various measures may be related to the political dimension of this case. Hicham Mansouri is a human rights activist who is known for his commitment to the promotion of civil liberties and in particular the freedom of the press. His trial can be seen as part of a practice that unfortunately is quite common, involving efforts to impede the work of people who stand up for freedom of speech, through judicial actions under ordinary law”, suggests Chantal van Cutsem, ASF Strategic Coordinator for the countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
Two weeks after his release Mr. Mansouri will have to appear again before the Rabat Court of First Instance alongside six other human rights activists and journalists. These defendants face accusations relating to endangering the security of the State because of their activities in the defence of human rights. On 19 November 2015 they had been summoned to appear before the Rabat Court of First Instance, which had then decided to postpone the trial until 27 January 2016. In this regard it is worth noting that the court did not consider it appropriate to order the police to present Mr. Hicham Mansouri for this hearing, while he was serving his prison sentence.
“At a time when the trial of these activists is about to begin, the judicial harassment of those who defend freedom of speech and human rights is worrying”, notes Chantal van Cutsem.
ASF reiterates the importance of the right to defence and of compliance with both the requirements for a fair trial and international standards. Continue reading “Mansouri trial: adultery case or judicial harassment?”
Cairo/Brussels, 31 August 2015 – In a judgment delivered on Saturday by the Cairo Criminal Court, the Al Jazeera English journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste (in absentia) and producer Baher Mohamed, as well and three co-defendants, were found guilty for not being registered as journalists, publishing false news, and having operated from a Cairo hotel without a licence, among other charges. They have been sentenced to 3 years of prison, Baher Mohamed to 3 years and 6 months. Two defendants were acquitted. Having jointly observed the entire trial, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF) and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) deplore this ruling which is a new defeat for freedom of expression in Egypt. Moreover, the organisations are highly concerned by the conditions under which the case was conducted and used as efforts to increase the control on the Press in Egypt.
This ruling is related to the arrest, on December 29, 2013, of several journalists and technicians who worked for a branch of the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera Media Network, the Al-Jazeera English (AJE) channel. The journalists were prosecuted together with a group of individuals arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood. The group was later banned in Egypt and accused by the Egyptian authorities of being responsible of terrorist attacks in the country.
With a joint team of four observers, ASF and the ECRF have observed the entire re-trial (12 hearings since February 2015). The trial presented significant guarantees in the conduct of the proceedings, which demonstrated, to a certain extent, a willingness to guarantee the fairness of proceedings.
Both associations however express their concerns with regards to the way this case was built by the prosecution and treated by the Judiciary, from its very outset.
It was observed that some of the accusations on which the judicial proceedings were initiated, more specifically the ones related to the affiliation to a terrorist organization, have being neither debated during hearings nor backed up by factual evidence. This amounts to a breach of the fundamental rules of criminal proceedings.
As a direct consequence of the terrorist charges brought against the journalists, the case was brought in front of a specialized court. Moreover, the case hearing was held at a court room in the prison complex, totally controlled by the Interior Ministry and not a public judicial place hence limiting access to the public. In addition, the set up of the courtroom violated defendants’ fundamental human rights: the defendants were placed in a glass cage which impacted their defense.
This case is being perceived by the international community as emblematic of the treatment of journalists as suspected terrorists by the application of abusive judicial proceedings. “The case remains an example of how an issue on the freedom of the press can be considered and treated as a terrorist case, with grave and irreversible consequences for the journalists involved”, says Chantal van Cutsem, ASF Strategic Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
Recognizing this, the ECRF and ASF call upon the Egyptian authorities to unconditionally respect the Egyptian Constitution, which guarantee the respect of press freedom and journalists.
They also urge the Egyptian authorities to reform the media legislation to be in line with international standards on the freedom of the press and other media and, in particular, to decriminalize the practice of journalism without being affiliated with the Journalists’ Syndicate.
The Egyptian authorities are also urged to review the conditions and procedures of international correspondent working in Egypt to insure that journalists are able to report freely, independently and without intimidation.
Download the full press release (pdf)
Picture: © Youtube/Al Jazeera English
Bujumbura, 19 May 2015 – While the situation remains tense in Burundi, Burundian lawyers are pressing ahead with an active campaign to provide legal assistance. The aim is to ensure that the rights of the hundreds of people arrested during the events of recent weeks are respected and to prevent political motives from encroaching on the pursuit of justice. Mr Salvator Kiyuku, president of the bar association at Bujumbura Court of Appeal, explains the background to this operation initiated by the bar association and supported by ASF.
Question: What triggered the mobilisation of Burundian lawyers?
Mr S. Kiyuku: Tensions have been running high in Burundi following the President’s intention to run for a third term. Widespread demonstrations have taken place in protest in Bujumbura and some parts of the interior of the country and there has also been an attempted military coup. It wasn’t long before the police embarked on waves of indiscriminate arrests in the streets and neighbourhoods of the city of Bujumbura. The authorities are using the motive ‘participation in an insurgent movement’ to justify these mass arrests. This is not a valid legal justification. As “men of the law” we had to react.
Q.: How many people have been arrested in these round-ups?
S.K.: Some sources put the numbers arrested at between 600 and 700, mainly in Bujumbura. Men, women and youths were arrested indiscriminately. Some of the arrests had troubling consequences. It is estimated that one in three people were beaten, stripped or even tortured. The police are clearly partisan, poorly trained and on edge to say the least. Then there are also those who were arrested and detained following the attempted coup; the exact number remains unknown.
Q.: What form does the assistance provided by the lawyers take?
S.K.: Very quickly (by 5 May 2015 – Ed.), more than half of the 450 lawyers belonging to the Bujumbura bar association mobilised themselves. In just one week, they managed to meet and advise 350 people who had been arrested arbitrarily. Thanks to this assistance, 70% of them were released. Even though the prosecutors can’t be said to be truly independent, cooperation with the lawyers was fairly good. We also had access to police stations and prisons. On the other hand, we are still being refused access to national security service premises, the so called ‘documentation’.
Q.: Do you intend to carry on assisting those who have been arrested?
S.K.: Absolutely. Besides those detained following the coup, hundreds of others are still being held, including in Mpimba and Muramvya prisons. Our campaigns to assist demonstrators still being held in preventive detention outside the capital will continue in partnership with ASF, which is offering us logistical and methodological assistance. Whatever exceptional circumstances our country faces, human rights – including that of defence – must be respected.
Cover picture: Demonstration in Bujumbura, May 2015 © Desire Nimbona – IRIN
Tunis, 13 May 2015 – ASF (Avocats Sans Frontières) and a dozen other international non-governmental organisations for the defence of human rights raise the alarm about the risks associated with the passing of a security bill. The bill before the Tunisian parliament concerns state secrets and the “denigration” of the security forces. Some of its provisions pose a threat to freedom of expression. ASF is calling for this bill to be brought into line with international standards and the Tunisian Constitution.
Following the attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis on 18 March 2015, the government put in April 2015 a controversial bill concerning the repression of attacks against the armed forces before the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP).
The security situation in the country has undoubtedly been shaken in recent months by a series of deadly attacks leaving both civilian and military victims. However, having analysed the bill, the international NGOs fear that certain provisions could hinder freedom of expression and help to establish impunity for the security forces.
“These provisions, such as the introduction of the offence of denigrating the police and other security forces, are troubling. They could criminalise the behaviour of journalists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and any other individual who criticises the police”, says Antonio Manganella, ASF Head of Mission in Tunisia. “In its current form, the bill also authorises the security forces to use deadly force, even if this is not strictly necessary to protect human life”, continues Mr Manganella.
Like other NGOs, ASF believes that the bill must be amended to bring it into line with international human rights standards and the Tunisian Constitution. If the Tunisian security forces need to be able to protect the people against potential attacks, this must take place with respect for human rights. It follows that international standards, such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials must be respected.
“If the government does not withdraw the bill in its current form, we call upon the Representatives of the People to radically amend it when it is debated in parliament”, calls the ASF Head of Mission in Tunis.
ASF’s call is part of a widespread movement among civil society within Tunisia and internationally. Tunisian organisations, including several partners of ASF, have also recently expressed their opposition to the bill.
The controversy surrounding this bill falls within a specific political context. Following the 2014 elections – the second democratic elections to be held since the 2011 revolution – the new government should concentrate its efforts on consolidating constitutional measures in order to guarantee the freedom and protect the rights of citizens in the face of the abuses which characterised the Ben Ali regime.
Joint statement (English and Arabic) by ASF and Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Action of Christians Against Torture, Réseau Euro-méditerranéen des Droits de l’Homme, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, International Media Support, Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture, Oxfam, Reporters Sans Frontières, and The Carter Center.
Cover picture © Haifa Gebs/ASF/March 2015
Bujumbura/Brussels, 12 February 2015 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) questions the legality of judicial proceedings against the journalist Bob Rugurika and his continued detention ordered by the high court of Bujumbura on 4 February 2015. ASF calls on the Burundian authorities to ensure absolute respect for the law in this case and for the fundamental rights of Mr Rugurika, director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA).
Bob Rugurika was arrested and detained on 20 January of this year. The authorities suspect him of being implicated in the murder of three Italian nuns on 7 and 8 September 2014 in Kamenge, a district of Bujumbura. At the time of his arrest, the RPA had been broadcasting the results of its inquiries into this case for several days, including the names of alleged perpetrators and senior officials in the Burundian intelligence and security forces.
At present, Bob Rugurika is accused of complicity to murder, failure to uphold public solidarity, harbouring a criminal and violating confidentiality in a criminal investigation. Specifically, it is the fact the journalist authorised the broadcast of information relating to this case rather than forwarding it to the case’s investigative agency which led the Burundian authorities to bring charges against him.
However, given the alleged facts, ASF considers that there is no objective evidence to link this act, performed in the ordinary course of a journalist’s work, to the offences in question. “The simple fact of publishing information relating to a crime or getting in touch with individuals who admit to having committed the crime in no way demonstrates complicity in its execution or an obstacle to the vital work of the investigators”, says Céline Lemmel, ASF Head of Mission in Burundi. “Moreover, Burundian law provides very strict conditions for establishing these offences and, on the face of it, these conditions are not met”, she adds.
At present, the detention of Bob Rugurika is an abusive preventive measure. Indeed, the act of detention must be a response to exceptional risks established by law, which was not the case here. In its decision of 4 February, the high court of Bujumbura moreover fails to establish the exceptional risk that Bob Rugurika’s freedom would pose to the proper continuation of the case.
This reaction by the judge to the work of journalists of the RPA could rapidly develop into very serious abuses of justice. “It is certainly important to regulate the work of human rights defenders, such as NGO workers, lawyers or journalists, but not to the detriment of the freedom to exercise their professions”, concludes the ASF Head of Mission in Burundi.
ASF invites the appeal judge to make a better reading of the law in order that freedom may truly remain the rule and detention the exception, always and everywhere.
Cover picture: Bob Rugurika © RPA
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights #CharlieHebdo Continue reading “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”