Human rights activists are in danger | News | DW | 09.12.2016
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Human rights activists are in danger

Many people are risking their lives in the fight for human rights. More 150 activists were killed 2015. That violent suppression is only increasing, according to Amnesty International.

"Just yesterday, we were handed a financial fine of 30,000 rubles," Russian human rights activist Grigory Okhotin told a press conference hosted by Amnesty International in Berlin.

Okhotin sits on the board of the Russian NGO Memorial International. A Russian law requires all non-governmental organizations that receive funding from abroad to register as a so-called "foreign agent." Memorial's refusal to do so landed it the subsequent penalty of around 5,000 euros ($5,305).

"That was big shock," Okhotin said. Russian NGOs are currently under significant pressure to continue operating. "They defame us, they label us as enemies of the state or supporters of terrorism," Okhotin explained, referring to state media broadcasts and regular demonstrations held outside his organization's office. "If they get aggressive, the police simply refuse to intervene." 

Deutschland Amnesty International PK in Berlin zum Tag der Menschenrechte - Grigory Okhotin, Russland (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen)

"The state is defaming us" - Grigory Okhotin of the Russian NGO, Memorial International

Attacks on civil society

According to Amnesty International, 27 of the 148 Russian NGOs registered as "foreign agents" have been forced to suspend their operations. However, in many other countries, human rights activists have found themselves increasingly repressed and even exposed to violence. At least 156 human activists have been killed in the past year, Amnesty International reported. "The situation is alarming," the organization said in commemoration of International Human Rights Day.

Amid the violent backdrop, the United Nations and International Criminal Court should see their powers enforced. Meanwhile, Amnesty International intends to make the safeguarding of human rights a key focus in the coming year.

Human rights abuses in Turkey

Deutschland Amnesty International PK in Berlin zum Tag der Menschenrechte - Markus N. Beeko, Generalsekretär (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen)

"Turkey is torturing" - Amnesty General Secretary Markus Beeko

Amnesty International has decried the current situation in Turkey, where the government has issued an ongoing state of emergency since the failed military coup attempt in July. "The UN's special rapporteur on torture has reported of widespread instances of torture following the botched coup," Markus Beeko, Amnesty International's Secretary General in Germany, said. "Based on our observations, torture continues to be carried out in Turkey." Independent inspectors must therefore be granted unimpeded access to police stations and prisons.

 "Freedom of expression, as well as right of assembly and association, remain significantly restricted as part of the Turkish government's systematic crackdown against any form of critism," Beeko said. Since the state of emergency was issued, more than 160 media organizations have been shut down, while 130 journalists have been detained. 

Further, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has ordered the closure of 375 NGOs, including lawyers' associations, women's rights organizations and leading children's rights bodies.

Türkei Kurde Demonstration (Reuters/S. Kayar)

Turkey's crackdown has seen a wave of dismissals and arrests following the failed coup attempt

Dismissed for voicing criticism

Zeynep Kivilcim, a professor of Internatioinal Law at Istanbul University, has been personally affected by the restrictions imposed on civil society. In October, she was dismissed for signing a petition entitled "Academics for Peace." More than 2,000 Turkish academics and scientists had added their name to the petition to speak out against the Turkish government's violent civic crackdown, particularly in the Kurdish region. Kivilcim first found out about her of dismissal while staying in Germany.

Speaking at the Amnesty International press conference, she said she faces a prison sentence of up to seven years in Turkey. She intends to remain in Germany for the time being.

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