Now he is cast in the darkness of his land. The newspaper he founded: Novaya Gazeta, discontinued. Muratov is under hostile attacks and lives insecurely in an increasingly authoritarian Russia.
There were probably more than me who thought a little bit about the concept of freedom on May 17th this year
He is not alone. A few weeks ago, Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Okla was shot while covering the conflict in the West Bank. In 2021, 45 journalists were killed in the course of their work. This is 15 more than the previous year, no significant increase.
It is critical to critical voices at the moment. The scope of the Basic Civil Code is getting smaller and smaller. This does not only apply to freedom of expression. The freedom to organize and participate in assemblies is also under severe pressure. These are the rights that the governing authorities of any country have a duty to protect. Unfortunately, more and more states are doing the opposite, banning, threatening and suppressing civil society.
These are events that threaten security, but also dry up the very glue in society that holds us together, creates trust and makes us human. It is civil society. The courtroom itself. In English, this space is called “civil space”. It can be said as follows: “The civic sphere is created by a universally accepted set of rules, which allow people to organize, participate and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance, and in this way influence the political and social structures around them.” In other words: freedom.
Living in such a free civic space today is a privilege that few people enjoy. According to the latest CIVICUS report, only three percent of the world’s population has no restrictions on what they can participate in, or be a member of, say, say and write.
There were probably more than me who thought a little bit about the concept of freedom on May 17th this year. Not only because it was the first major popular celebration in three years, but also because of today’s bleak international backdrop.
CIVICUS is a global coalition that monitors freedom and justice in 197 countries. The latest report from CIVICUS Monitor shows that the number of people living in countries with significant restrictions on civil rights, including freedom of expression and the right to organize and assembly, now includes nearly 89 percent of the world’s population. More countries will end up lower in terms of courts in 2021, including four countries in Europe: Poland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Belarus.
Nearly two billion people in the world live under the most dangerous level of CIVICUS, which is “closed”. Why do those in power fear the rights of their citizens?
Because it can lead to criticism, opposition and political turmoil. This fear increases if organizations and groups receive support from foreign donors. Behind this fear of the “Fifth Colonists”. Some countries use words such as “agents” or “spies” about groups receiving funding from abroad.
This is often used to prohibit and limit foreign donations. Since 2011, more than 20,000 NGOs in India have been denied access to funds from abroad.
But also groups and associations that do not receive foreign support are at risk. Several methods are used to undermine the right to assemble and organize. Repeated requests from the government to report, register and re-register is one way to break up organizations.
For those of us who work to contribute to development in poor countries, a vibrant and emerging civil society is pivotal. Let’s pause for a moment on why: First, it’s an end in itself. In Norwegian foreign policy and development policy, we try to promote rights and freedom for people, among other things, by supporting an active civil society. All developed societies have a fairly strong civil society, which can organize itself and establish meeting places independent of the state. Secondly, it is an instrument of social and economic development. 23 percent of the Norwegian development aid budget goes to civil society partners. These often have the best ability to reach the poorest, making sure that money is spent where it is most needed.
Several NORAD partners report significant pressure and diminishing room for maneuver. Last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council was suspended and bank accounts in Ethiopia were frozen for about five months. The official reason was administrative matters and “public letters”. This happened after Jan Egeland had risen to the scene internationally with criticism of the terrible behavior during the early months of the Tigray conflict.
The Corona pandemic is still an excuse to restrict rights. “Governments around the world have set a very dangerous precedent by using the health crisis as a smokescreen to quell protests and pass or change legislation that further weakens people’s rights,” said Bilalba Barreto of CIVICUS.
The annoying thing is that we are used to it. We must not do this, on the contrary, we must direct our attention to it. So what’s the answer for those of us uneasy: Yes, plus political pressure that civil court space matters. Assistance should help strengthen civil society in weak countries. And document what happens, as Civecus does. And above all: don’t give up.
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