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CLD’s Initial Input for Consultations on Canada’s OGP National Action Plan

16 October 2020.

CLD has submitted initial input for the idea-generation phase of consultations hosted by the Government of Canada as part of preparations for Canada’s fifth Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan. The text of our submission is available below.

 

Centre for Law and Democracy
16 October 2020
Initial Input for the Idea-Generation Phase of Consultations

At this point in the consultation process, we are focusing on just two issues: 1) the need, finally, to conduct the full review of the Access to Information (ATI) Act that the Government of Canada has been promising both the OGP and its citizens for years; and 2) the nature of the consultative process, given that it will take place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We may broaden our focus in future rounds of the consultation.

Review of the ATI Act

Our main substantive priority for Canada’s fifth OGP National Action Plan is reform of the ATI Act. This is an area where Canada is significantly behind good practice globally, let alone represents better practice. The Act ranks an embarrassing 50th place out of the 128 countries with national ATI laws globally (see www.rti-rating.org), even taking into account the amendments enacted in 2019. Although Canada was once a leader in this area, international standards on ATI have developed and clarified significantly since the Act was first adopted in 1983, and Canada has simply not kept up.

The 2019 amendments did include a very welcome change, namely giving the Information Commissioner order-making power, something CLD has long called for. However, otherwise, the amendments were minor in nature, earning Canada only an additional three out of the 150 points on the RTI Rating, and therefore represent a repeated failure of the government to live up to their promises. These were first articulated by the Liberal Party in their 2015 election platform, which promised to substantially expand the coverage of the Act, then set out more expansively in Canada’s third, 2016-2018 OGP Action Plan, which promised “a full review of the Act, no later than 2018” and then in Canada’s fourth, 2018-2020 OGP Action Plan, which promised, once again, to “undertake a full review of the Access to Information Act”. Although a review was announced in June 2020, no substantive details or timeline for public consultations have so far been announced and it is clear at this point that Canada will not fulfil this commitment.

Very major problems with the ATI Act remain, of which the three most serious are:

  1. The coverage of the Act: It still does not apply to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the judiciary, the legislature and a number of other bodies which are covered in better practice legislation.
  2. Time limits: Issues here include the absence of any requirement to respond to requests as soon as possible and, most seriously, the power of public authorities to extend time limits essentially indefinitely, which is roundly and almost routinely abused in practice.
  3. The regime of exceptions (exemptions and exclusions): Issues here include a number of exceptions which are overbroad from the beginning, a number of other exception which lack a harm test and the lack of a general public interest override for many exceptions.

All of these three issues were recognised as areas needing review in the 2018-2020 Action Plan.

It is now time for Canada to recommit to comprehensive reform of the ATI Act and, this time, actually to deliver on that commitment. Indeed, we believe this should be a key priority in the fifth National Action Plan. We also call on the government to make more concrete and ambitious commitments this time. A more detailed timeline for the process should be given and this should not just involve a review of the law but a specific commitment to table legal reforms in Parliament well before the end of the period of the Action Plan. Additionally, where these can help improve implementation of the Act, for example in the area of timeliness, a commitment should be made to introduce rapidly specific policy reforms while waiting for the law reform process to reach fruition. We will make more detailed recommendations on this in our next submission to this consultation process.

Consultations

We assume that consultations around the National Action Plan will need to be exclusively digital in nature given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas in previous rounds regional consultations were held in person, we recommend that a number of dedicated thematic webinars, along with a more open-ended session to cover residual issues, should be held this time. The selection of thematic focus areas should be based on the issues which non-governmental stakeholders have consistently raised in past consultations, as well as new issues raised in this current initial consultation which attract a higher degree of interest.

We strongly recommend that one thematic session should focus specifically on the ATI Act, to include both law reform and improving implementation. Canada’s repeated promises in this area and its failure to fulfil them demand this. This session should not include open data issues, which have characteristically occupied pride of place in Canada’s OGP Action Plans. Although open data is technically part of ATI, since it represents a form of proactive disclosure, it raises very distinct issues and bundling this with a discussion about the ATI Act would at least distract from, and potentially overwhelm, the needed focus on that Act.

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Hong Kong: Joint Statement Calling for Canadian Government Action

15 October 2020.

CLD joins with community leaders, over 50 other Canadian civil society groups and over 50 parliamentarians in calling for Canadian government action to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials and protect Hong Kongers at risk of political persecution. The statement is as follows:

Joint statement calling for sanctioning of Chinese and Hong Kong officials and protection for Hong Kongers at risk of political persecution

We, the undersigned, call upon the Government of Canada to take action in light of the mass arrests and assault on civil rights following the unilateral imposition of the new National Security Law in Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong fear they will face the same fate as the student protestors in Tiananmen Square, defenders’ lawyers, and millions of interned Uyghurs, Tibetans, and faith groups whose rights of free expression and worship are denied.

We urge the Government of Canada to offer a “Safe Harbour Program” with an expedited process to grant protection and permanent residency status to HongKongers at risk of political persecution under the National Security Law, including international students and expatriate workers who have been involved in protest actions in Canada.

Furthermore, Canada must invoke the Sergei Magnitsky Law to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who instituted the National Security Law, as well as other acts violating human rights; and to ban them and their immediate family members from Canada and freeze their Canadian assets.

Canada needs to work closely with international allies with shared values to institute a strong policy toward China. It is time for Canada to take meaningful action to show leadership on the world stage.

Signatories:

Civil society organizations
Action Free Hong Kong Montreal
Canada-Hong Kong Link
Canada Tibet Committee
Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture
Canadian Friends of Hong Kong
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Centre for Law and Democracy
Democracy & Human Rights for China
Democratic Party of China, Canada Committee
East Turkistan Association of Canada
FAPA Canada
Federation for a Democratic China
Friends of Canada India Organization
Friends of Hong Kong Calgary
Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada
Gurukul Cultural Society
Halifax Hong Kong Link
International Support for Uyghurs
McMaster Stands with HK
Movement for Democracy in China (Calgary)
Mustard Seeds Hong Kong Concern Group
One Free World International
Ontario Universities Hong Kong Awareness Group
Ottawa Post-Secondary Institutions’ Hong Kong Awareness Group
Ottawan Stand With Hong Kong
PEN Canada
Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
Regional Tibetan Youth Congress Toronto
Saskatchewan Stands with Hong Kong
SFU HK Awareness & Action Group
Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
Students for a Free Tibet
Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto
Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada
Toronto Association for Democracy in China
Toronto Falun Gong Human Rights Group
Torontonian HongKongers Action Group
University of Calgary Hong Kong Concern
University of Manitoba Hong Kong Concern
University of Toronto Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group
Uyghur Refugee Relief Fund
Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project
Vancouver Hong Kong Political Activists
Vancouverites Concerned About Hong Kong
Vancouverites Stand with Righteousness
Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement
Vancouver Society of Freedom
Vancouver Uyghur Association
Victoria BC Hong Konger
Viet Tan
Waterloo Lion Rock Spirit
Winnipeg Hong Kong Concern
World Press Freedom Canada
World United Formosans for Independence Canada Chapter
York University Hong Kong Politics Awareness Group

Community Leaders
Charles Burton, Senior Fellow, Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Marcus Kolga, President of the Central and Eastern European Council in Canada
Amita Kuttner, Green Party activist
Joe Tay, Hong Kong actor and singer in exile
Rukiye Turdush, independent researcher and human rights activist

Parliamentarians
Ziad Aboultaif, Member of Parliament
Scott Aitchison, Member of Parliament
Hon. Denise Batters Q.C., Senator
Kelly Block, Member of Parliament
Alexandre Boulerice, Member of Parliament
John Brassard, Member of Parliament
Colin Carrie, Member of Parliament
Kenny Chiu, Member of Parliament
Laurel Collins, Member of Parliament
Hon. Consiglio DiNino, former Senator
Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament
Scott Duvall, Member of Parliament
Dave Epp, Member of Parliament
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Member of Parliament
Hon. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, Member of Parliament
Hon. Linda Frum, Senator
Hon. Dr. Hedy Fry, Member of Parliament
Leah Gazan, Member of Parliament
Randall Garrison, Member of Parliament
Hon. Stephen Greene, Senator
Jasraj Singh Hallan, Member of Parliament
Jack Harris, Member of Parliament
Hon. Leo Housakos, Senator
Carol Hughes, Member of Parliament
Hon. Peter Kent, Member of Parliament
Tom Kmiec, Member of Parliament
Michael Kram, Member of Parliament
Damien Kurek, Member of Parliament
Jenny Kwan, Member of Parliament
Hon. Frances Lankin, Senator
Philip Lawrence, Member of Parliament
Hon. Michael MacDonald, Senator
Paul Manly, Member of Parliament
Hon. Elizabeth Marshall, Senator
Lindsay Mathyssen, Member of Parliament
Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament
Kelly McCauley, Member of Parliament
Phil McColeman, Member of Parliament
Hon. John McKay, Member of Parliament
Hon. Marilou McPhedran, Senator
Heather McPherson, Member of Parliament
Hon. Percy Mockler, Senator
Hon. Jim Munson, Senator
Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo, Senator
Hon. Dennis Patterson, Senator
Jeremy Patzer, Member of Parliament
Hon. Donald Plett, Senator
Yasmin Ratansi, Member of Parliament
Brad Redekopp, Member of Parliament
Hon. David Richards, Senator
Hon. Judy Sgro, Member of Parliament
Nelly Shin, Member of Parliament
Derek Sloan, Member of Parliament
Warren Steinley, Member of Parliament
David Sweet, Member of Parliament
Corey Tochor, Member of Parliament
Cathay Wagantall, Member of Parliament
Kevin Waugh, Member of Parliament

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Joint Statement on International Right to Know Day: Right to Information is Crucial in a Crisis

28 September 2020.

On this International Right to Know Day, the Centre for Law and Democracy joins with other civil society organisations from around the world in calling on governments to avoid using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext for limiting the right to information. Instead, we are urging governments at least to restore and preferably to improve legal and practical measures for ensuring the right to information.

“The public’s ability to access information held by governments is especially important during times of crisis, such as a pandemic, when other accountability mechanisms are not functioning at full capacity,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The right to information is critical for protecting public health, avoiding corruption in the use of crisis-response funds and ensuring that economic policy measures are properly designed.”

The Joint Statement is available at: https://www.transparency.org/en/press/the-right-to-know-is-crucial-in-a-crisis

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Happy International Right to Know Day!

28 September 2020.

28 September, International Right to Know Day, is a day when people around the world celebrate the importance of the right to access information held by public authorities (the right to information).

This year, International Right to Know Day also represents the 10th anniversary of the launch of the RTI Rating, which assesses the strength of right to information laws globally. In honour of this anniversary, CLD has published a Trends Snapshot highlighting the trends in RTI legislation globally, as shown by the RTI Rating data. We have also, as usual, updated country scores for the Rating. No new countries adopted RTI laws this year but a number of countries, including China and Zimbabwe, adopted new laws, while others made amendments to their legal frameworks.

“This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the right to information both to ensure that people have the information they need to protect themselves and as a key accountability system,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “Governments should be treating this right as an essential service – part of the response to the crisis – rather than taking advantage of the crisis to limit it.”

CLD is also collaborating with Canadian information commissioners to host two webinars at the conference on Celebrating the Right to Know Across Canada. The first is on The Need for Access to Information Law Reform in Canada, given that a process of reforming the federal Access to Information Law is about to be launched. The other focuses on COVID-19’s Impact on Access to Information, looking at international better practices around protecting access to information during a crisis and the need for Canada to do more to ensure the realisation of this right.

Toby Mendel and Laura Notess, Legal Officer, CLD, delivered a joint keynote speech at the Scottish Public Information Forum’s celebration of International Right to Know Day on 24 September. The focus here, once again, was on COVID-19 and RTI, looking at the COVID-19 Tracker that CLD developed in April and CLD’s report on Maintaining the Right to Information During Health Emergencies.

Finally, Toby Mendel will also participate as a moderator and speaker in the series of panels on RTI hosted by UNESCO this week.

The Trends Snapshot is available at: RTI Rating Trends Snapshot.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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CLD Director to Moderate UNESCO High-Level Panel

27 September 2020.

UNESCO is hosting a series of events to celebrate the United Nations’ International Day for Universal Access to Information or International Right to Know Day, 28 September. Toby Mendel, CLD Executive Director, will moderate the High-Level Panel, taking place from 1400-1530 Paris time that day. The panel, titled Access to Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!, will host UNESCO’s Director-General, Twitter’s Vice-President Public Policy EMEA and WHO’s Director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, among others, as speakers.

UNESCO is also hosting a number of other panels. Mendel will speak at a panel at 1630 Paris time on 29 September titled Implementation of Laws, on access to information during times of crisis. Other panels will focus on Access to Information and Openness (1600 on 28 September), Disinformation and Access to Information (1100 on 29 September), Measuring SDG 16.10.2 (1500 on 29 September), Infodemic and Youth (1500 on 30 September) and Open Access (1630 on 30 September).

Those interesting in registering for these events can do so at: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/accesstoinformationday.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

3 September 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is seeking a Legal Officer to begin working with us as soon as possible. We are looking for a successful, highly motivated person who will work from Halifax, Canada. The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting legal work in countries all over the world, high-level representational opportunities and the chance to participate in a wide range of different types of activities.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, with a focus on freedom of expression, the right to information, freedoms of association and assembly and the right to participate, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top-level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is an important part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings (although this is currently subject to COVID-19 restrictions).

We expect the Legal Officer to be based out of our office in Halifax, Canada, subject to arrangements being made that are consistent with the current rules relating to COVID-19.

About the Organisation

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Canada, which provides expert legal services globally on foundational rights for democracy, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information, digital rights and the right to participate. Our major ongoing projects include:

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in different countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into legal development and reform processes in a range of countries, such as Vietnam, Samoa and Jordan.
    • Supporting strategic litigation on the human rights issues we focus on.
    • Maintaining a global ranking of right to information laws (RTI-Rating.org) and a methodology for assessing the quality of implementation of right to information laws (RTI-Evaluation.org).
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D. or equivalent).
    • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high-level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation and policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
    • Strong interpersonal skills and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • A degree in another field relevant to our area or work (journalism, digital technology, international development studies, etc.)
    • Prior experience working or volunteering in the human rights field, including on freedom of expression or the right to information
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
    • Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South
    • Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets
    • Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their resume, cover letter and latest law school transcripts (unofficial are acceptable) to laura@law-democracy.org. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled but we will start reviewing applications on 28 September 2020 and will prioritise applications received by that date.

The salary range for this position will be CAD 60,000-70,000 depending on experience. The position is a full-time, one-year contract subject to renewal. The language of work is English. For a description of job duties, see Legal Officer Job Description.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage all applicants without regard to race, colour, religion, gender, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other legally protected ground. This commitment applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits and termination.

Centre for Law and Democracy
39 Chartwell Lane
Halifax, N.S., B3M 3S7
Canada

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Hong Kong: Joint Statement on the Decline of Press Freedom

19 August 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy has joined a number of other organisations in issuing a Joint Statement condemning the adoption, on 30 June 2020, of the new national security law by the top legislative body in China and the subsequent active use of the law by Hong Kong authorities. These actions have seriously eroded respect for both democracy and freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

“The new law contains a number of vague restrictions on content that can be used to curtail perfectly legitimate forms of expression,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD.  “This was seen in the charges laid under the law against Jimmy Lai, founder of the popular journal, Apple Daily, as well as those against many others.”

The Joint Statement calls on the governments of China and Hong Kong to respect democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, noting that a failure to do so will undermine not only individual freedoms but also the stability and economic success of Hong Kong.

The Joint Statement is available at: Statement on Hong Kong.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Final Regional Report on Law and Policy Environment for Civic Space: Sub-Saharan Africa

11 August 2020.

Today, CLD is releasing its fifth and final regional report in its series on the law and policy environment for civic space globally, covering seventeen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It highlights legal restrictions which pose more serious risks to the ability of civil society to operate freely in each country, with the goal of providing a guide for where reform is needed.

This series represents the public launch of law and policy reviews commissioned by Transparency International last year covering five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The earlier reports in the series are available online: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and Middle East and North Africa.

The report identifies the following general trends across the region:

    • Regulatory regimes for non-governmental organisations are typically overly complex or unclear, and many include burdensome reporting requirements or grant broad discretion to authorities to refuse to register or dissolve organisations.
    • Despite a welcome trend of decriminalising defamation, criminal reputation offences remain in many countries, along with other problematical content restrictions (such as on sharing false information).
    • Cyber laws introduce new restrictions on speech, including some instances of effectively re-criminalising online defamation. Government authorities have improperly broad authority to block the Internet or specific websites.
    • Media regulators are not independent, despite having significant regulatory powers.
    • Some countries require prior authorisation before organisers may hold demonstrations and some even require notice of any public meeting.
    • Limited oversight of security institutions, combined with expansive definitions of seditious or terrorist acts, pose a risk to peaceful civil society activities.
    • Whistleblower protection laws in the region are rare, while five countries also lack right to information laws.

The Sub-Saharan Africa regional report is available at: Sub-Saharan Africa Report.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234 4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Regional Report Series on Law and Policy Environment for Civic Space: Middle East and North Africa

4 August 2020.

CLD has released its regional report on the legal environment for civil society in the Middle East and North Africa. The report, the fourth in our global series, highlights laws and policies in the region which prevent civil society from organising, meeting, fundraising, advocating, researching, expressing their opinions and otherwise operating. The report highlights more problematical laws, as a means of encouraging reform and openness in the region.

This series represents the public launch of law and policy reviews commissioned by Transparency International last year covering five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Three prior reports have already been launched, including Asia Pacific (available here), Europe and Central Asia (available here) and Latin America (available here).

The report identifies the following general trends across the region:

    • States in the region, particularly in the Gulf, have extensive powers over civil society organisations, including the ability to deny them recognition, dissolve them, require changes to their internal structures or mandate government attendance at meetings.
    • Both press laws and criminal codes contain numerous content restrictions which are vague and do not accord with international human rights standards.
    • Media regulators are not independent and journalists, newspapers and news websites are typically required to obtain a licence from the State to operate.
    • National security and anti-terrorism laws contain provisions which are often abused against peaceful civil society actors.
    • Some countries restrict public meetings as well as demonstrations while, more generally, authorities have significant discretion to ban assemblies.
    • Most countries do not have right to information laws and, instead, have broad secrecy rules.

The Middle East and North Africa regional report is available at: Middle East and North Africa Regional Report.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234 4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Regional Report Series on Law and Policy Environment for Civic Space: Latin America

28 July 2020.

CLD today released the third regional report in our global series on the law and policy environment for civic space. The report focuses on nine countries in Latin America, highlighting laws and policies which restrict the ability of organisations to establish themselves and obtain funding, to conduct activities safely and to engage freely in advocacy. In identifying more problematic laws, the report and series seek to provide guidance to those working to create a more open civic space in the region and globally.

This series represents the public launch of law and policy reviews commissioned by Transparency International last year covering five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Asia Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia reports have already been launched and are available here and here respectively.

Some of the general trends which can be observed in Latin America include the following:

    • Many countries in the region still retain “desacato” laws prohibiting the insult of public officials, along with general criminal defamation laws.
    • Strong securitisation policies have led to ambiguous emergency, national security and anti-terrorism laws which do not adequately protect peaceful civil society activity.
    • There is a trend towards the increasing criminalisation of protests.
    • Stronger legal regimes are needed to protect media regulators against political or commercial interference and to promote media diversity.
    • Typically overbroad secrecy laws often override rules providing for access to information in right to information laws.
    • Eight of the nine countries lack comprehensive whistleblower protection laws and, while the creation of safety mechanisms for journalists and others in some countries is a welcome development, some of these mechanisms lack adequate resources.

The Latin America regional report is available at: Latin America Regional Report.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234 4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Regional Report Series on Law and Policy Environment for Civic Space: Europe and Central Asia

21 July 2020.

Today, CLD released a report on the legal environment for civil society in the Europe and Central Asia region. This report is part of a series evaluating laws which enable or restrict civil society from engaging freely in basic activities, including researching, advocating, fundraising and organising. By highlighting laws which are problematic, we hope to offer guidance for advocates seeking to create a more open civic space and raise awareness about what is needed to create an enabling environment for a vibrant civil society sector.

This series represents the public launch of law and policy reviews commissioned by Transparency International last year covering five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Asia Pacific report was launched last week and is available here.

The second report in the series covers nine countries in the Europe and Central Asia region. It takes a detailed look at the law and policy environment in each country. Across the nine countries, some trends can be noted:

    • Some governments have inappropriately broad powers to interfere in the internal affairs of civil society organisations.
    • Four of the countries have significant restrictions on the ability of civil society to fundraise or access foreign funding, while such laws have also been proposed or debated in other countries in the region.
    • Stronger legal guarantees for media diversity and independence are needed.
    • Criminal content restrictions which do not accord with international human rights standards remain a recurrent concern.
    • Some national security laws use definitions which could cover peaceful civil society activity, while three countries give authorities unduly broad powers to declare states of emergency.
    • Legal frameworks fail to provide adequate protection against arbitrary surveillance.
    • Secrecy laws and overly broad regimes of exceptions undermine the right to information.

The Europe and Central Asia regional report is available at: Europe and Central Asia Regional Report.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234 4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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#HoldTheLine Coalition Calls for Criminal Tax Charge to be Dropped as Maria Ressa Returns to Court

20 July 2020.

CLD is one of 78 organisations who have formed a coalition in support of Maria Ressa and independent media in the Philippines. Today, the #HoldTheLine Coalition released the following statement:

#HoldTheLine Coalition Calls for Criminal Tax Charge to be Dropped as Maria Ressa Returns to Court

The #HoldTheLine Coalition  demands the Philippines authorities drop a barrage of bogus tax and foreign ownership cases against internationally celebrated journalist Maria Ressa and Rappler – the news organisation she founded.

“The prosecution of baseless financial charges and cases represents an attempt to use tax law and foreign ownership regulations as another weapon to criminalise journalism and silence Ressa and Rappler as threats to press freedom and democracy escalate in the Philippines,” said the #HoldTheLine steering committee. “We urge the government to drop all charges and cease and desist its orchestrated harassment campaign.”

The Coalition – a global collective of 78 civil society and journalism organisations – was formed to defend the prominent Filipino-American editor after she was convicted on a trumped-up criminal cyber libel charge in June.

The Coalition’s call for the dismissal of all tax and foreign ownership cases and charges comes as Ressa prepares to return to court in Manila on July 22nd on a baseless criminal tax charge, amid concerns about a  suspected COVID-19 outbreak involving the death of a worker at the Pasig Regional Trial Court where the hearing will take place.

Ahead of this appearance, this Court has an opportunity to quash the criminal taxation charge on which Ressa faces arraignment. The #HoldTheLine Coalition urges the state to immediately drop this charge and end the prosecution of the other charges and cases associated with it.

Convictions against Ressa in three related tax cases cumulatively represent prison sentences of 44 years. They hinge upon the bogus notion that Rappler’s parent company, Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC), is not a holding company for a news organisation but rather a ‘dealer in securities.’

“Legal acrobatics – that’s what all these cases show. In order to charge me with tax evasion, the government reclassified Rappler as a ‘dealer in securities’ – we’re obviously a news organisation. It’s absurd!” Ressa said. “From inciting hate on social media to weaponising the law to using the full force of the state against journalists trying to hold power to account … it’s a war of attrition, tearing down trust and credibility. This is how democracy dies by a thousand cuts.”

It is notable that the arrest warrant in the criminal case associated with the July 22nd arraignment was issued in the immediate aftermath of Ressa being honoured with two prestigious international journalism awards in November 2018 — from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which together with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) form the #HoldTheLine Coalition Steering Committee.

The tax-related cases and charges are predicated on another suite of charges and cases connected to alleged foreign media ownership breaches designed to shut Rappler down. They cumulatively represent maximum prison sentences of up to 36 years.

Together with the criminal libel conviction, which is currently under appeal, and a second pending libel action, convictions in all these cases could theoretically lead to a century in jail for  Ressa.

Further, the Coalition calls on the Pasig Regional Trial Court to conduct proceedings remotely on July 22nd to ensure the safety of Ressa, her legal representatives, media and court staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. We note that in addition to this court being associated with what appears to be a deadly COVID-19 outbreak, Ressa was forced into lockdown following her appearance in June before a different court which was also the subject of a COVID-19 scare.

This demand from the #HoldTheLine Coalition echoes the call by more than 10 thousand signatories who have signed a petition calling on  the Philippine government to drop all cases against Ressa, her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr, and Rappler, and to cease attacks on independent media in the Philippines. Once again, we also note the devastating blow to media freedom and access to information caused by the Duterte administration’s permanent shuttering of the national TV station ABS-CBN.

Contact #HoldTheLine Steering Committee Members for further details: Julie Posetti (jposetti@icfj.org); Rebecca Vincent (rvincent@rsf.org); Courtney Radsch (cradsch@cpj.org).

Note: The #HoldTheLine Coalition currently comprises 78 organisations. This statement is issued under the authority of the #HoldTheLine Steering Committee but it does not necessarily reflect the position of all or any individual Coalition members or organisations.

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Launch of Regional Report Series on Law and Policy Environment for Civic Space: Asia Pacific

14 July 2020.

Civil society can only flourish if a country has put in place an enabling legal environment that supports organisations’ right to organise, communicate, research, advocate and fundraise freely. In recent years, global observers have expressed increasing alarm at the growing number of legal burdens and restrictions that governments are imposing on civil society. A closed legal environment prevents civil society from fulfilling crucial roles such as raising awareness on matters of public interest, holding governments to account and advocating for particular approaches to social issues.

Last year, Transparency International commissioned CLD to conduct a review of laws and policies governing the environment for civic space in countries in five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. We are now launching publicly the results of this review as a series of five reports.

The first of these reports, released today, covers the Asia Pacific region, focuses on the legal and policy environment for civic space in 15 countries. Some of the trends in the region highlighted in the report which are of concern include:

    • Stricter administrative requirements which make it challenging to register organisations, increase the discretion of authorities to dissolve organisations and restrict access to foreign funding.
    • Insufficient protections for freedom of expression due, among other things, to criminal defamation laws, overbroad content restrictions and a lack of independence among media regulatory bodies.
    • New restrictions on digital communications, sometimes with harsh penalties.
    • Broad secrecy laws and poor implementation of access to information laws, both of which limit public access to information.
    • An absence of enabling rules such as whistleblower protection laws or clear procedures for registering civil society organisations.

The Asia Pacific regional report is available at: Asia Pacific Regional Report.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234 4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Joint Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Myanmar Raises Freedom of Expression Concerns

9 July 2020.

CLD and 12 other organisations have highlighted ongoing concerns with freedom of expression in Myanmar in a Joint Submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Myanmar. The UPR process is conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council and involves a review of human rights issues in a given country. 

The Submission highlights weaknesses in the legal framework for freedom of expression, notes threats and violence against those exercising their right to freedom of expression and ongoing prosecutions of journalists and human rights defenders, and stresses the ongoing absence of a comprehensive right to information law. It also calls for protection for media freedom, the right to freedom of assembly and digital rights, as well as steps to combat discrimination and intolerance.

The Joint Submission is available at: Joint Submission to Myanmar UPR

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#HoldTheLine: 60 organisations, including CLD, call for support for Maria Ressa and media in the Philippines

9 July 2020.

CLD is one of 60 organisations and supporters who have formed a coalition in support of Maria Ressa and independent media in the Philippines. Ressa is a prominent Filipino-American journalist and founder of the news website Rappler. On 15 June 2020, she was convicted of cyber-libel along with her former Rappler colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. The conviction relates to a story about corruption from 2012 – before the law was even enacted – and hung on the correction of a typo.

The campaign takes its name from Ressa’s commitment to ‘hold the line’ in response to sustained state harassment. Those interested in showing support can sign the petition available here: https://rsf.org/en/free-mariaressa

The full #HoldTheLine campaign announcement, along with contact information for those interested in joining the coalition, is available here: #HoldTheLine Campaign Announcement.

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Civil Society Statement on Myanmar’s Internet Shutdown

22 June 2020.

CLD has signed a civil society statement calling for an end to the shutdown of all mobile internet access in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States. The 21 June marked the first anniversary of the shutdown, now the longest in the world. The full statement and list of signatories is available here

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Executive Summary of CLD’s Report on the Right to Information during Health Emergencies in Arabic, English, French and Spanish

16 June 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised challenging new questions about the extent to which States may restrict human rights during public health emergencies.  Some States have chosen to restrict the normal rules governing the processing of requests for information, while others have tried to continue to respond to requests. Those that have introduced restrictions have justified them on the basis of operational challenges around staff working remotely and increased burdens on some departments to respond to health and economic challenges.

On 27 May 2020, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) released a report analysing the international human rights standards that should guide States when it comes to the right to information, Maintaining Human Rights during Health Emergencies: Brief on Standards Regarding the Right to Information. The Brief also looks at measures States have put in place to alter right to information regimes during the pandemic. In making recommendations based on international standards, the Brief stresses the particular importance of maintaining the right to information during public emergencies and that any restrictions on this right must be strictly required, in accordance with human rights law. The Brief builds on the COVID-19 Tracker, which documents legal changes to right to information regimes around the world. We are continuing to update the Tracker.

Today, we are releasing the Executive Summary of the Brief in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

The full Brief is available in English at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/maintaining-the-right-to-information-during-health-emergencies.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Maintaining the Right to Information During Health Emergencies

27 May 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created both significant burdens for governments, as they are called upon to protect citizens’ health and minimise the economic impact of the pandemic, and significant operational challenges, as many staff are working from home. Many States have responded by imposing limits on the right to information while others have refrained from doing so. Today, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is releasing a report, Maintaining Human Rights during Health Emergencies: Brief on Standards Regarding the Right to Information, setting out and analysing the international standards that should guide State behaviour in this area.

“Many States responded to the pandemic in a knee-jerk way by restricting or even suspending the right to information,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “We believe that this right is more important now than ever and that, instead of limiting it, States should protect it as an essential service which helps improve government responses to the emergency.

CLD’s Brief outlines relevant international standards, as well as the main ways in which States have limited the right to information during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter builds on the COVID-19 Tracker, which captures legal changes to the rules relating to requests for information. The Brief then analyses what international standards mean for States, providing a number of key principles that States should respect during public health emergencies.

Some of the key principles in the Brief are:

    • General emergency legislation authorising limits on the right to information should require those limits to be necessary, taking into account all of the circumstances.
    • There should be no blanket suspension of the right to information, or even blanket extensions to time limits. Instead, public authorities should be required to justify any extensions which they claim are authorised under new rules.
    • No limits should be placed on requests for information relating to the emergency, especially where the purpose of the request is to provide information to the public. Instead, such requests should be prioritised.
    • Records management practices should be adapted to ensure continuity in the recording of government decisions and actions despite changed working conditions.

CLD’s Brief and Executive Summary are available at: Maintaining Human Rights during Health Emergencies: Brief on Standards Regarding the Right to Information.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688

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Puerto Rico: Right to Information Laws Adopted Recently are Weak

6 May 2020.

An assessment of two laws adopted recently in Puerto Rico to establish a legal right to access information held by government reveals the laws are very weak, according to an Analysis published today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). According to the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org), the two laws – the Transparency and Expeditious Procedures for Access Public Information Law (Access Law) and the Open Data Law (Open Data Law) – score just 73 out of a possible maximum of 150 points, putting them in 88th position relative to the 128 national laws assessed on the Rating, in the bottom one–third.

“Puerto Rico needs stronger rules on the right to information if it is to implement its constitutional guarantee for this right properly,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The current laws are far weaker than most of the national laws that have been adopted in the Americas.

CLD prepared the Analysis at the request of Red de Transparencia, a local civil society transparency network. The laws will be discussed today at an open public conference being hosted at the Facultad de Derecho, Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico from 4.30-6pm.

While Puerto Rico has strong guarantees for the right to information and the scope of coverage of the two laws is broad, some of the key weaknesses with them are as follows:

    • There are important gaps in the procedures for making and responding to requests for information.
    • The regime of exceptions is far too broad, earning just 23% of the available points on the RTI Rating.
    • There is no independent administrative level of appeal.
    • The system of sanctions and protections is very limited.
    • There are few promotional measures to help support strong implementation.

CLD’s Analysis is available in English here and in Spanish here. The Executive Summary is also available in English and in Spanish.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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2020 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections

30 April 2020.

Today, the specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS and OSCE launched their annual statement, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age. The Joint Declaration, which was drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), sets out standards for both State and non-State actors regarding communications during elections.

The Joint Declaration breaks new ground in several respects”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Some key areas it addresses include extending certain types of rules which apply to legacy media, such as on spending and transparency, to digital media, respecting the right to privacy when using personal data to micro-target messages and, for digital actors, avoiding measures which limit the diversity of information available to users or the ability of certain parties and candidates to disseminate messages.

Some of the specific standards in the Joint Declaration include:

    • Rules on election spending should apply equally to both legacy and digital media, taking into account their differences.
    • Using personal data to target advertising should be done only where those concerned have consented to this sort of use of their data.
    • Parties and candidates should be required to be transparent about election spending, including on both legacy and digital media.
    • Digital media and platforms should ensure that automated tools do not, intentionally or unintentionally, prevent users from accessing a diversity of information.
    • Parties, politicians and candidates should not limit the ability of certain media to access their public communications.

The Joint Declaration is available:
Here in Arabic
Here in English
Here in French
Here in Russian
Here in Spanish

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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