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Virus on Freedom of Expression: Press Freedom in three Not-Free Countries Before, During and After the Covid-19 Pandemic: China, Turkey and Russia
DATE: 18 August 2020
COMMITTEE: FreeWord Committee
On 18 August 2020, the FreeWord Committee of the Human Rights Solidarity hosted a series of panels on the situation of freedom of expression in three countries deemed as NOT FREE by Freedom House: China, Turkey and Russia. Hold under the Covid-19 Pandemic, the panels also looked at how the Pandemic did and would worsen the situation in these countries.
Already before the Pandemic the three countries in our radar had the worst press freedom reports in the world, with China and Turkey competing with each other by means of the number of journalists jailed every year, and Russia surpassing all nightmares with 58 journalists killed and seven gone missing only in 2019.
When Covid-19 hit the world, idealist-futurists hoped that the pandemic would open our eyes to the sufferings of others and teach us a valuable lesson of empathy. Unfortunately, expectations proved wrong when countries started to close their borders.
Just within a few weeks’ time, COVID-19 had radically transformed us, the society, and our governments. With its call for strict tracking mechanisms and limited freedom of movement, Covid-19 was now threatening the future of liberal democracies and their very values.
However, a greater challenge that remains is how the authoritarian governments of China, Turkey and Russia use this pandemic as a leverage to spread their own propaganda of their so-called success in controlling the infection. Starting from the authoritarian countries, executive branches of governments all over the world asked for further powers of controlling mobility of people and goods. Unfortunately, history proves that the powers attained at times of emergencies tend to become the new normalcies.
Our panellists discussed, not only the past and future of the freedom of press in these countries, but also alternative solutions peoples of these countries are innovating.
The webinar started with the keynote speech of Jeremy Dear, the Deputy General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists for 10 years. Jeremy worked for 25 years as a freelance journalist in the UK and Latin America covering human rights and freedom of expression issues. Jeremy has written for The Guardian and New Statesman among others. His keynote speech can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9LasgLSAGs
In Russia session we listened to three speakers; Dr James Rodgers, Gulnoza Said and Sofya Orlosky. The whole of the Russia Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPjJKaAIhEQ
Dr James Rodgers is a Reader in International Journalism, responsible for the MA International Journalism at the City University of London. James was a journalist for twenty years. He spent fifteen years at the BBC, completing correspondent postings in Moscow, Brussels, and Gaza, as well as many other assignments. His particular areas of interest in international journalism are Russia and the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. His presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXo7vtotwhc
Our second speaker on Russia was Gulnoza Said. Gulnoza is a journalist and communications professional with over 15 years of experience in New York, Prague, Bratislava, and Tashkent. She has covered issues including politics, media, religion, and human rights with a focus on Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey. Gulnoza Said is the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in Committee to Protect Journalists. Her presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hk-LCHuvjw
The third speaker of the Russia Session was Sofya Orlosky, a senior program manager of Eurasia at Freedom House. Prior to joining Freedom House Sofya was based in Moscow, with various local Russian NGOs and later with the National Democratic Institute for International Relations, designing and conducting immersion training for civic activists, local government officials and political party members on various aspects of civic engagement and political participation. Sofya’s presentation is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G9IITpCn9M
In the Turkey Session, we listened to three speakers: Yavuz Baydar, Julie Ward, Abdullah Ayasun. The whole of the Turkey Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdQLOYa8DZ0
The first speaker of the Turkey Session was Yavuz Baydar, an award-winning journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Ahvalnew.com. Ahval has become one of the few breathing places of the independent Turkish media. It is published in English, Turkish and Arabic. Ahval’s podcasts are some of the most listened podcasts about Turkey. Baydar blogged with the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera, sharing his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom and history. Baydar’s presentation can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3rvvPXIYKI
The second speaker of the Turkey Panel was Julie Carolyn Ward, a British Labour Party politician who served as a Member of the European Parliament. During her term in the office, she supported several campaigns for freedom of the press in Turkey, including personally flying to Turkey and observing court cases of prominent journalists. In 2016 she was even arrested while flying to Diyarbakir to attend a conference. So she had the first-hand experience of issues of freedom of thought and expression in Turkey. Her speech is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZviF610T34
Our third Turkey Session speaker was Abdullah Ayasun, a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. Abdullah has been contributing to Huffington Post, the Globe Post, Irish Times and appeared at CNN and BBC on occasions. He writes on American political affairs, Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond. His presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WEBkT79u-Y
In the China Session, we will be listening to four speakers: Melissa Chen, Jemimah Steinfeld, Megha Rajagopalan and Evan Fowler. The whole of the China Session can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHB8f5S1RPo
The first speaker of our China Session was Melissa Chen, the Managing Director of the nonprofit organization “Ideas Beyond Borders”. Melissa is also the New York Editor of Spectator USA the American edition of the oldest English language magazine in publication. She is a human rights activist and a classical liberal who regularly talks on various podcasts, TV news, and at conferences. Her speech can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f_QqQsCPMI
Our second speaker at the China Session was Jemimah Steinfeld, a journalist who has worked and lived in China. She has worked for the Global Times in Beijing. She also wrote freelance articles for CNN, Time Out and the Huffington Post on issues relating to China. She currently works at London’s Asia House in charge of their literature programme and is the Contributing Editor (China) for Index on Censorship magazine. Her presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfvfgIN97oM
Our third speaker at the China Session was Megha Rajagopalan, an award-winning international correspondent for BuzzFeed News. She has been a staff correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in China and Thailand as well as in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and before that, she was a political correspondent for Reuters in China. Rajagopalan was the first journalist to find and visit an internment camp for Uighur Muslims in China’s far west. She is a recognized expert on the subject of mass surveillance in authoritarian contexts. Megha’s presentation is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dro2vNMbqxo
Our last speaker at the China Session was Evan Fowler, an independent writer and researcher focusing on Hong Kong and China. He is co-founder and director of Hong Kong Free Press and a director of Stand News. He was also the China representative for the Kennedy Center for Human Rights. Evan’s presentation is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJOaSFP7kSY
Closing the Event
This half day event was finally closed by the closing remarks of Merve Aslangoren, the Co-Chair of Human Rights Solidarity. Merve is a law student at Coventry University. Her closing remarks can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRH3UlDK2A8
DATE: 18 July 2020
COMMITTEE: Human Rights Defenders Committee
On the occasion of the the Human Rights Defenders Committee of the Human Rights Solidarity invited Dr. Rajendran T Govender, an anthropologist and social cohesion expert from South Africa, to lecture about the lessons we the human rights activists can learn from Nelson Mandela’s life and doctrine.
Although he died in 2013 at the age of 95, Nelson Mandela’s entire life still stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit and that life continues to inspire liberation fighters and human rights defenders alike. When he opted for a peaceful end to the Apartheid, Mandela taught the humanity a vital lesson: It is possible to be a great political leader and a great human being at the same time.
He himself passed through challenges of apartheid, physical imprisonment, betrayals and doubt, but when he acquired the power position he reached out to his old enemy. That wisdom made him one of the world’s greatest-ever humanitarians.
Human rights defenders often are challenged with similar dilemmas: The offenders of human rights are also human beings.
Can we learn from Nelson Mandela’s legacy?
After all, Mandela was not only a liberation leader. He ushered hundreds of women into the political sphere and made them into actors of history. Though late, he joined the fight against HIV/AIDS and promoted scientific and environmental education. He brought education to rural areas of his country and fought for children. He established a rule of law culture in his country and left behind a legacy that would contribute to peace and justice around the world.
What does his life tell us about our fight on the face of a global human rights abuse pandemic?
This YouTube interview-lecture was hosted by the Human Rights Defenders Committee of the Human Rights Solidarity. The panel consists of an overview human rights activism and the effect of Mandela’s beliefs on modern day human rights practices with Dr. Rajendran T Govender.
The interview-lecture is available at our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz8RXzAP-fE
We can’t breathe either!
Events take on new meanings from the past as they roll into the future.
As HRS, we are truly saddened and angry at the unprovoked killing of unarmed George Floyd in police custody on May 25. Our pain, outrage and frustration are a backwash of deep-seated, virtually institutionalized racism in law enforcement agencies. They are also a backwash of prevalent disbelief in a better future.
We are angry, not only because George – a father, a brother, a son, a friend, a human – was killed in cold blood. We are angry also because similar killings of the past went unpunished, because they didn’t awaken us from our centuries-old ignorance and aloofness to the sufferings of others, because they didn’t trigger national and international reforms in policies of policing, education, communication, and arts.
We are angry, because past killings didn’t stop George’s killers!
We are angry, yet again, because the grossly familiar scheme of blaming protestors for vandalism of the few among them foretells what is to come…
George’s sacrifice won’t prevent future killings…
George’s life will be wasted…
Unless we prevent this outcome… unless we establish mechanisms to unlearn the ingrained racism in our law enforcement systems.
That is the challenge for human rights defenders and activists.
As HRS, we stand with those who are calling out the institutionalised racism and violence toward people of colour in our countries. We have had enough of “but we should respect our law enforcement agencies” sermons. We have had enough of “we will do everything to assure this will never be repeated” promises.
Riots are the language of the unheard; they are the outcry of the unpeople.
We won’t fall for the scheme of blaming the many for the mistakes of the few.
We won’t fall prey to the trap of trivializing unprovoked killing of an innocent person by the very hands of officers who should be protecting his life, on the face of excesses of angry and often provoked rioters.
A wrong does not right another wrong.
We call on all human rights defenders to maintain the present momentum to bring about real and sustainable change.
We call for the upbringing of a new generation of human rights activists who will prioritise the rights of future generations over their own.
We call on authors, writers, bloggers, and intellectuals to rewrite the future, for which current gloom does not promise breathable air.
With that future on the horizon, we can’t breathe either!
We need air!
More air! More air!
IMAGE CREDITS: Talula Cedar-James (Link to Original)
DATE: 15-21 June 2020
COMMITTEE: Immigration Committee
Refugee Solidarity Week is a week of celebration started by Human Rights Solidarity in 2020. It celebrated in the week containing the World Refugee Day (June 20) and it is aimed at celebrating, empowering and inspiring refugees with programs throughout the week. Since the week was launched under the pandemic conditions, a week-long live programme was conducted in which we published a live episode every day for Refugee Solidarity Week. Each episode contained creative arts and music performances done by refugees, interviews with well-established refugees to inspire new-coming refugees to the UK and interviews with charity founders and activists appealing to the refugees.
Some of our guests were:
- Becky Dell; Musical director of Citizens of the World Choir
- Lord Roger Roberts; Former president of the Welsh Liberals and Mark Lavender
- Gulwali Passarlay; Bestselling author of “The Lightless Sky”
Here are a volunteer’s words for their experiences at the Refugee Solidarity Week:
“Refugee Solidarity Week was a great experience – one I feel especially privileged to have been given a role in. I’ve been involved in many activities with HRS, seeking awareness for issues across the globe, but Refugee Solidarity Week has a different feel to it. A week full of interviews, musical performances, stories, arts, crafts and many more. Despite the busyness, intensity and fatigue, seeing the outcome and the positive impact it has on people makes it all worth the effort. Thanks to everyone who made this possible!”
The programs can be watched at our YouTube channel here:
- 15 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA00wqMBIRw&t=1937s
- 16 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-9-0rjUeX0
- 17 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tziseYa318A&t=2139s
- 18 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_2Xgzmk_bo&t=53s
- 19 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_mfp8GLdmo
- 20 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddb9JqO4tMg&t=3s
- 21 June 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfOBXjodXc4&t=18s
DATE: 7 March 2020
PLACE: Oxford Street & Trafalgar Square, London
COMMITTEE: Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee
The Million Women March of 2020 was the first major event volunteers of Human Rights Solidarity participated under the brand of HRS. To this day, HRS volunteers look at this event as the birthday of their organized activism.
The Million Women March of 2020 was held on Saturday, 7th of March. The event incorporated a protest march through Oxford Street and a rally at the Trafalgar Square. The volunteers of HRS participated the event with a symbolic prison cell, connoting the imprisoned women of Turkey and calling for an immediate release of mothers who are incarcerated with their under 6 children. The founding chair of HRS’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, Ms Nazli Bozdemir, walked in the prison cell, with a baby in her arms, to that end.
The peak of the event for HRS was when Miss Anonymous, a masked and unnamed volunteer of HRS ascended the stage set at the center of the Trafalgar Square and shouted: Ain’t I a woman?
You can watch the touching pome of Miss Anonymous, accompanied with scenes from the march, here: