Germany′s Human Rights Commissioner: ′We are committed to improving the situation for activists in danger′ | DW Freedom | Speech. Expression. Media. | DW | 18.07.2016
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Germany's Human Rights Commissioner: 'We are committed to improving the situation for activists in danger'

Attacks on bloggers, journalists and activists in Bangladesh and other countries have shocked the world in recent years. A new international campaign by DW is seeking to raise awareness on the issues activists face.

Deutschland Bärbel Kofler Menschenrechtsbeauftragte

Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler

The campaign was presented at the Global Media Forum in Bonn in June 2016. The campaign demands that freedom of expression be recognized worldwide and asks Western countries to understand the necessity of granting asylum to activists whose lives are at risk.

Discussing the situation with Bengali bloggers and publishers at the GMF, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid Bärbel Kofler said there were three ways in which Western countries could assist people under threat. "Germany is cooperating with 29 other countries in the Freedom Online Coalition," Kofler said. The aim was to build an international framework to support those engaged in activism. Secondly, the UN recently appointed a special rapporteur regarding a declaration on the right to privacy in the digital age. The politician said Germany also financially supported the "Open Observatory of Network Interference," a software aimed at detecting censorship, surveillance and traffic manipulation on the Internet.

At the Global Media Forum, Kofler was joined by publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury and bloggers Shammi Haque and Ananya Azad, all from Bangladesh. Haque and Azad were granted asylum in Germany and Chowdhury in Norway.

Chowdhury, who in 2015 left behind a business and home that took nearly 20 years to build, said: "Bangladesh is truly passing through a difficult time. To the naked eye, you see a democratic country with no civil war, no troubles. Yet bloggers and others are being attacked and killed. Some people are living in exile in their own homes. Some are trying to obtain tourist visas to escape to neighboring countries. When they go to the police, they are told to go abroad, that Bangladesh is not a country for free thinkers."

However, leaving the country is not at all easy, nor is it an option open to many of the activists who find themselves on black lists of Islamic fundamentalists. "I left Bangladesh seven months ago," said Azad. "Some friends have fled to family in India or Nepal." However, life in exile, he added, cannot compare to the life he had in Bangladesh. Haque, who left her home country after receiving death threats, added: "It is very difficult to live here because I am so alone."

Bärbel Kofler also attended another panel at the Global Media Forum, hosted by the Federal Foreign Office, to discuss crises that appear to be forgotten by the global media. She was joined by young journalists from Yemen, Egypt and Germany, as well as Ute Schaeffer, Director of Media Development at DW Akademie.

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