Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia

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Freedom of expression is an essential cornerstone of any democratic society. Constructive dialogue is only achieved when ideas of all types, however unfavourable, are discussed and valued. In a modern democracy, ideas are communicated in three main domains – through traditional media outlets, in public demonstrations and over the internet. In Russia, the opportunity for free expression is being thwarted in all three arenas of dialogue.

Under Putin government legislation has seen the content of mainstream media become dispiritingly predictable. Fines and penalties are levied on media not conforming to the Kremlin’s political narrative. As a result, independent outlets have either closed down due to lack of funds or been forced into self-censorship. The remaining mainstream media companies are either state controlled or funded by government loyalists, effectively silencing the voice of the opposition.

During the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections, for example, the RIA media company would often quote Alexei Navalny, the anti-government candidate, in its campaign news reports. Needless to say Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexei Gromov, directly contacted the agency’s editor-in-chief warning her that a state news agency must not work against the state’s own interests by promoting the opposition.

However, the internet has presented Putin’s opposition with a new platform to challenge the government. At the end of 2011, mass anti-government protests were organised through social media, highlighting the effectiveness of the internet as a tool for political mobilisation. In response to these demonstrations, the government introduced new legislation allowing them to censor and block internet content and in recent times has introduced significant restrictions on online speech.

Online space for the public debate of sensitive issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and LGBT rights, has begun to shrink and people have even been arrested for blogging their views. In the same way that media companies were forced into self-censorship, members of the public have become increasingly insecure about limits of acceptable speech. Combine this with the spate of arrests at the recent nationwide anti-corruption protests and it becomes clear that the opportunity for public dialogue is being stifled in all spheres.

Putin’s brand of authoritarianism treats freedom of expression not as a right but as an impediment. This ‘we-know-best’ policing of anti-government ideas reflects the insecurity of Putin’s government. 20th-century political history tells you that fear mongering and the suppression of dialogue are the foundations on which oppressive political regimes are built. The Russian people must be granted their right to receive and spread all types of information.

 

On Barcelona

panorama-427997_1920The events in Barcelona are a crime at the most fundamental level, a crime that offends all that stands for justice and peace.  What was done was profoundly wrong.

Nice on Bastille Day, Germany’s Christmas Market, Stockholm, Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Finsbury Park, Charlottesville – and now Barcelona. Add to this terrorism by bomb and bullet and the list would seem unending.

Barcelona is unique amongst the cities of the world. Barcelona, the city of hope sheltering under the shadow of the exquisite spires of Gaudi’s fairy-tale church of the Sagrada Família.

In Barcelona they commit this crime? May God forgive them.

This heinous act redoubles our determination to build a world founded on a new kind of social contract, a society that measures progress in terms of our opportunity and freedom to each have a role we find meaningful.

God be with the wonderful people of Barcelona. And God be with this wonderful world. We shall be unbowed. We shall build a new tomorrow, build a world based on love, trust and inclusivity, and turn our backs on madness, hatred and rage. Because we must. Because our children both expect and deserve this of us. Because of Barcelona.

Jinnah’s Vision 70 Years On

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This month Pakistan celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence from British colonial rule. Since the foundation of Pakistan, the state has been ruled by various military dictatorships and corrupt ruling elites, a vision far from the ideals of its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

The latest celebrations take place amidst yet another political change – the removal of Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Following the Panama Papers case, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Nawaz Sharif should be disqualified from his position on the grounds of dishonesty and corruption, and ordered a criminal probe into his family’s wealth. Sharif resigned shortly after.

The current interim prime minister is Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a known Nawaz Sharif loyalist. Since his disqualification, Nawaz Sharif has filed three appeals in the Supreme Court to review its Panama Papers verdict.

The cycle of corruption will continue. The only way for Pakistan to move forward is to look back at Jinnah’s vision of a democratic state – one that is free from the corruption that he described as ‘poison’. Prime Minister Abbasi alluded to the difficulty of this in his Independence Day address, saying that, while Jinnah had envisioned Pakistan as a modern democratic entity, “This dream faces myriad of challenges.”

NCF granted UN status

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The Next Century Foundation has been granted Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This enables the NCF to submit written statements on subjects on which it has special competence for circulation by the Secretary General to members of the council. When appropriate the NCF is also enabled to make oral statements to the council. It is our intention to consider making representations on areas in which we have special interest – possibly as early as next month. These areas might well include The Kingdom of Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Gaza Strip. Issues the NCF may raise in this context may be the treatment of prisoners; the treatment of non combatants by combatants (i.e. collateral damage and / or collective punishment); and matters regarding free and fair elections.

We commend the practice of acquiring consultative status with the UN. If you have links to an NGO that wishes to acquire such status information on how to do so can be found here:

How to apply for Consultative Status

Senegal Stepping Backwards

Senegal was once hailed as a shining example of democracy in post-colonial Africa, but recently things have not been good. It is vital that Senegal’s government seeks to heal divisions within society. The presidential elections in 2019 will offer an opportunity for Senegal to resume its position as a champion of acceptance and inclusivity.

With a large Sufi majority and widespread rejection of extremism, Senegal is one of the most tolerant countries in Africa. There is a real chance for Senegal to now adopt a form government based upon the Sufi principles of compassion, freedom and hope.

Senegal’s recent elections were at odds with such principles. The elections were marred by fraud. Many voters were turned away for not having identity cards and many had been left off of polling lists altogether.

The governing coalition won 125 of 165 seats in the National Assembly, increasing the likelihood of President Mackay Sall being elected for a second term in the 2019 Presidential elections. But the lasting memory of this election will be of protestors being met with riot police and tear gas, in a country traditionally associated with peaceful demonstration.

Either Maduro abandons his experiment with Marxism or Venezuela faces Civil War

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Only an optimist could have hoped that Election Day in Venezuela would give all Venezuelans a chance to vent their frustration at the ballot box, and bring about change through democratic means. When the desperation and divides within Venezuelan society are considered, it is not surprising that the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) boycotted the vote and anti-government protests continued on polling day.

The MUD argued that there had been several irregularities in the election and that it could not therefore accurately represent the will of the Venezuelan people. As such, any vote would have been undemocratic in their eyes and the turnout of less than 42% makes the final count essentially meaningless.

While President Maduro continues in his quest for a Cubanesque revolution, the country is falling apart at the seams. As inflation has soared above 700%, the majority of people who cannot get dollars to exchange on the black market often have no means of securing their most basic needs. Food and medicine are increasingly hard to come by, street violence continues to terrorise the population, crime is out of control.

The problems faced by Venezuela are great. Yet most of these problems are underlined by economic mismanagement and could be addressed if the government decided to work for the people rather than for their own political aggrandizement. President Maduro now faces a choice: end his futile experiment with Marxism, or plunge his country into civil war.

Temple Mount crisis: Why is there no peace process?

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On Sunday night, Israeli police officers arrested 33 people in a series of raids on suspicion of involvement in the violent clashes resulting from the Temple Mount crisis.

In response to the shooting of two Druze police officers serving in Israel’s Border Police, a paramilitary force, on July 14th, Israel’s government installed metal detectors and cameras at the entrance to the site which prompted violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israel’s police forces over the past two weeks. Three died as a result.

These arrests highlight the lack of a successful resolution of the spat, despite Israel’s government removing the metal detectors from the site. It was hoped this could have signalled an end to the crisis. With more attention having been given to Syria and Iraq in recent times, this crisis has reminded us of the importance of fostering a peace process in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

It should not require such violence to bring the Israel-Palestine question to the attention of the international community. Steps should be taken to ensure that Jews and Muslims can coexist peacefully. This can only be achieved through dialogue and  negotiation. Acts of violence, police raids and rioting merely encourage retaliation.