HRC40: Oral statement to item 4 general debate


ARTICLE 19 delivered the following oral statement to the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th Regular Session in the General Debate on Item 4, raising our concerns on freedom of expression in Turkey, Iran and Myanmar.

Mr President,

ARTICLE 19 is disturbed by the routine, and often flagrant violations of the right to freedom of expression by States in this room, which contravene both international human rights law and the commitments made in resolutions of this Council.

In Turkey, despite the formal end of the state of emergency in July 2018, the assault on freedom of expression has continued. Over 140 journalists are arbitrarily detained, the majority prosecuted under spurious national security charges in manifestly unfair trials. The failed appeal of Cumhuriyet journalists and indictment of Osman Kavala ahead of local elections this month, are a worrying sign of a renewed crackdown on civic space. This Council must speak out.

In Iran, the extraordinarily harsh sentencing yesterday of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, to 38 years’ imprisonment and 148 lashes, for national security related offences, is indicative of the deteriorating situation for human rights defenders, journalists, and protesters. Efforts to obstruct the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, online and offline, must be reversed.

In Myanmar, we deplore the ongoing abuse of restrictive legislation to silence dissent and criticism of the state and its policies, in particular of human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces. We continue to call for the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who reported on the Inn Dinn massacre – sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act – and former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe – sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under incitement provisions (article 505(b)) in the Penal Code – for recounting his experiences to the media.

We condemn the unlawful use of force and arbitrary arrest to suppress peaceful protests. Kachin youth activisits Nang Pu, Lum Zwang, and Zau Ja, are serving a 6-month sentence for their peaceful anti-war protest, in a defamation suit filed by a Tatmadaw officer: they should never have been charged. Proposed restrictive amendments to the Peaceful Procession and Peaceful Assembly Act would further limit the right to protest: they must be withdrawn, and the law reformed.

“Hate speech” has thrived in the absence of principled leadership by senior politicians speaking out against discriminatory hatred, and troubling examples of their active engagement in spreading inflammatory rhetoric. We call on the government to prioritise a comprehensive plan to promote pluralism, diversity, and inclusion in Myanmar, in line with Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action. The deeply flawed “anti-hate speech bill” currently before the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs would only increase the legal tools available to target minority voices, and must be abandoned.

Thank you Mr President.