The murder of Anabel Flores Salazar, reporter in Veracruz, Mexico this week has brought into the spotlight the trend of increased repression that we are seeing worldwide.
Salazar’s case is sadly not an isolated one. Egypt is systematically issuing travel bans targeting human rights defenders. In India journalist Malini Subramaniam was harassed and her house attacked, and in the Western Sahara, activist and human rights lawyer Mbarek Daoudi was just sentenced to 5 years in prison.
People feel more secure behind closed borders
In a recent video, Open Society Foundation President, Chris Stone stated that “The global trend that we are seeing is governments closing the public space available for politics, debate, and for groups to meet.”
In an interview to Vita International last year, international foundation Frontline Defenders confirmed this global trend of increased repression on civil society and human rights defenders.
Shrinking space for civil society
“We have new forms of closed society, and oppressive regimes. The techniques of manipulation have evolved, and they have endangered open society in open societies, as well as in previously corrupt societies,” said George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundation.
With the closing down of civil society spaces, power becomes concentrated into the hands of a few, and people lose their right to voice dissent and achieve change. Not only that, but it leads to discrimination, or sheer brutality - as the most recent Hong Kong Fish Ball riots would illustrate.
Governments are also developing the capacity to manipulate, monitor and subvert electronic information. Surveillance and censorship is growing
Closed borders & the fight against terrorism
In Europe we are seeing the closing of our borders. Countries building walls, raising fences, and now the possibility of increased border control within our open Schengen area is being discussed. This is the physical manifestation of the closure of our societies.
Repression is also being seen in legislation. According to Mburu Gitu, Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, there has been a lot of “anti civil-society legislation, where governments use the fight against terrorism to go after the civil society organisations they are not pleased with.”
Many in civil society are issuing warnings about the crackdown in the virtual space as well. “Governments are investing in interceptions of communications” warned Otto Saki, Cheif of Party of the USAID Rights and Rule of Law Project. "Governments are also developing the capacity to manipulate, monitor and subvert electronic information. Surveillance and censorship is growing and the lack of security for digitally stored or communicated information is becoming a major problem for human rights defenders in some countries" say Frontline Defenders on their website. They have also developed a manual and program with tools and guides for virtual security.
“The need to fight against those who want to concentrate power and close societies is still there, and it is the right struggle,” says Moisés Naím, Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
governments use the fight against terrorism to go after the civil society organisations they are not pleased with
Open dialogue and accountability for governments are amongst the solutions being proposed. “We need to continue supporting civil society, to hold governments responsible and accountable for how they use their power that is delegated to them from the people,” says Soros.
“The challenge now is for all of us to come together to think about how we are going to defend this space” says Charles Kojo Vandyck, from the West Africa Civil Society Institute.
Photo Credits: Getty Images