Stress fractures: The impact of judicial harassment and travel bans on rights defenders

    Stress fractures: The impact of judicial harassment and travel bans on rights defenders

    Aug.14, NY: Torture. Enforced disappearances. Imprisonment. When learning about the attacks on human rights defenders around the world, these are the types of incidents that make the news. What we rarely hear about is the steady drip of government harassment many activists are subjected to on a long-term, low-level basis that affects them both psychologically and professionally but isn't captivating enough to make headlines.

    Governments around the world use various forms of repression to silence human rights defenders, and they justify their actions in myriad ways. Travel bans, judicial harassment, questioning, smear campaigns, surveillance, and intimidation are just a few of the tactics that happen to fly under the international community's radar.

    According to research carried out by Frontline Defenders, judicial harassment remains one of the most commonly used strategies around the world, the use of travel bans is on the rise, and summonses to appear for questioning before police are used to create a climate of fear within the human rights community.

    In cases of judicial harassment, rights advocates are subjected to lengthy proceedings drawn out over several months and sometimes years. Even when eventually acquitted of the oftentimes-fabricated charges against them, judicial harassment diverts time, energy, and resources away from their human rights work. Every unduly postponed hearing takes the wind out of international solidarity campaigns meant to keep the individuals' plight in the public eye.

    Travel bans, often imposed without prior legal procedures, are used to stop advocates from delivering their messages to the international bodies that matter. By taking away their freedom of movement, they effectively render individuals prisoners – just of a larger prison in this case.

    Questioning and interrogations, often tactics that precede judicial targeting, are used to keep human rights defenders consistently on high alert, make them aware they are being watched, and pressure them to self-censor.

    All of these tactics have been used against human rights workers in the IFEX network: a global network dedicated to defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression.

    As we write, at least three members of the network are being subjected to restrictions that put enormous stress on their personal and professional lives; Gamal Eid, Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) in Egypt, Erol Önderoglu, journalist and free speech activist at the IPS Communication Foundation – Bianet in Turkey, and Nabeel Rajab, imprisoned head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

    All three have been targeted using the judicial system – a system meant to protect every person's rights, yet one which has been accused of bias, partiality, and lack of independence in each of their respective countries; Egypt, Turkey and Bahrain. They are our colleagues. Their stories can be read as examples of the kind of 'legal' harassment that thousands of other human rights defenders are subjected to around the world.

    The Oslo Times International News Network/IFEX