Please click here to download MARUAH’s statement in PDF.
MARUAH wishes to congratulate ASEAN for organising an ASEAN Special Summit Meeting on the 24th of April 2021 to discuss Myanmar and find a collective path to restore peace, non-violence, and democracy in the country. We state that this Special Summit is crucially important to the people in Myanmar and for ASEAN as a regional body of 10 member states. We also appreciate Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for the discussions he had with ASEAN member states of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia which have also been working towards this special Summit. We note that call made by ASEAN’s foreign ministers for a halt to the escalating violence and dialogue to end the crisis.
But we need to underscore the importance of having a legitimate representation from Myanmar at the Special Summit meeting, as it is also part of ASEAN’s responsibility to the people in Myanmar and in ASEAN. We are of the view that this dialogue effort to negotiate for an agreement towards non-violence, peace and democracy would be derailed if Myanmar’s junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the sole representative for Myanmar. We note with concern the announcement made by Thailand that General Min Aung Hlaing is set to attend the ASEAN Special Summit meeting.
The Tatmadaw’s leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the key person, responsible for the: coup; denunciation of last year’s legitimate elections where the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won decisively and fairly; ongoing violent assaults on people, continued air raids targeting ethnic groups and the severe restrictions and censorship imposed on the people. The net result is one that shows Myanmar’s people fleeing to other countries, an internal humanitarian crisis, of more than 700 civilians, including 50 children, having been killed by Myanmar’s security forces since February 1st and the possibility of a civil war as 10 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups have recently thrown their support behind the movement for democracy, peace and free and fair elections.
Hence, we state that recognising Gen Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s political leader to be the sole representative at the Special Summit, would be a travesty to the rule of law, the principles spelt out in the ASEAN Charter and a gross injustice, a betrayal, to the people in Myanmar, many of whom are willing to die for their country.
We ask instead that the Special Summit asks for representatives from: the National Unity Government (NUG) that has been formed; the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) which is a body formed of elected lawmakers from Myanmar’s ousted civilian government; and the tatmawdaw. This way it also anchors ASEAN as the neutral mediator focused on key political players being at the dialogues. It is also an opportunity for ASEAN to establish itself as the regional body that endorses peace, harmony and democracy in the region as also endorsed in the preamble of the 1976 Treaty of the Amity And Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
In summary, we urge that this ASEAN Special Summit does:
- include representatives from Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) and Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)
- explicitly state that General Min Aung Hlaing is attending as a representative of the Tatmadaw, not as leader of Myanmar
- make a clear stand that ASEAN is functioning by the Responsibility to Protect principles and its principles for peace, democracy, and rule of law.
Statement issued by MARUAH Secretariat
20th April 2021
 “CONVINCED that the settlement of differences or disputes between their countries should be regulated by rational, effective and sufficiently flexible procedures, avoiding negative attitudes which might endanger or hinder cooperation; BELIEVING in the need for cooperation with all peace-loving nations, both within and outside Southeast Asia, in the furtherance of world peace, stability and harmony;”. https://asean.org/treaty-amity-cooperation-southeast-asia-indonesia-24-february-1976/
February 11, 2021
MARUAH unequivocally condemns the military takeover of Myanmar on February 1, 2021.
The Tatmadaw (military) overthrew the elected government of Myanmar, detained government leaders, civil service officers, activists and human rights rights defenders, imposed a year-long Emergency on the country and has blocked intermittently access to Internet. To date the military has given no official data on the state of well-being of the elected leaders of the Myanmar government, their locations, the number of people arrested and information on who have been arrested.
The Tatmadaw acted deliberately and intentionally. This is a coup d’état. The fragile democracy in Myanmar is in tatters. Military personnel have become the new political leaders of the country. The military supporters and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and Buddhist nationalists jointly presented themselves as custodians of Buddhism in the 2020 General Elections, saying that the National League Democracy political party as being anti-Buddhism. Currently this joint force is patrolling the streets alongside uniformed soldiers and police to arrest, threaten and beat-up thousands of protesters in the streets. People in Myanmar are saying clearly that they do not wish to be under military rule as they had experienced it over 50 years (1962-2011). The Tatmadaw in the past had suppressed Buddhism, resulting in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, but now has an ally in the Buddhist Nationalists. Reports are coming in on protesters being arrested, beaten, tear-gassed and shot at across Myanmar, in Naypyidaw, Bago, Magway and Mandalay. MARUAH finds this new kinship between Buddhist nationalists and the military disconcerting as its puts into jeopardy the lives, safety and well-being of people of different religious beliefs amongst the 135 ethnic groups as well as the Rohingyas.
MARUAH also recalls the people’s experiences when the country was under successive military regimes. They were times of long imprisonments, solitary confinements, tortures, extreme poverty, starvation, lack of medical attention, low development, fear and distrust. In recent years we saw the persecution of the Rohingyas, many of whom fled the country. The track record of the past and current governments has been to uphold Myanmar’s sovereignty in the face regional and international interventions on human rights violations and to dismiss the UN reports as being biased and hypocritical. Universally, we presided over an impasse as a million refugees continued
to live in poor conditions and the incessant armed conflicts between the Tatmadaw and rebel forces, resulting in deaths, injuries, rapes and destructions of homes. MARUAH emphasises this blatant disregard shown by the Myanmar governments to abide by the Responsibility to Protect principles. MARUAH also deplores the indifference given to protecting people against Covid-19 in this planned coup.
MARUAH has been in solidarity with many civil society actors in expressing their deep concerns over this 10-day-old takeover. But we make this statement, appealing for a deeper cognizance of the character of the people in Myanmar and for actions to protect them. They are, by thousands, in the streets picking up the cudgels to fight for their democracy and to be governed by an elected government, not a military force that usurped the power. They are reaching out to the global community, risking their safety, to share detailed accounts on what is going on in the country.
We appreciate deeply the prompt response from our own government, Singapore, as well as statements from Association of Southeast Nations’ (ASEAN) leaders and the United Nations. We are particularly pleased that United States of America and New Zealand have declared that they will not recognise the new government of Myanmar. We have also noted reports emerging from both state-level and private sector investments and business partnerships in Myanmar. Based on the series of crimes against humanity over 50 years, the lack of culpability by the government of Myanmar, and the resilience of the people in Myanmar in fighting for their freedom and rights, MARUAH urges strongly that we cannot become witnesses to a blood bath in Myanmar. MARUAH asks for a deeper commitment, beyond the suggested meetings to seek negotiation and reconciliation with the Tatmadaw. We ask for a clear course of steps that underscore the unacceptability of this coup, the non-recognition of the Tatmadaw as the government and that economic partnerships be reviewed. To prevent an escalation into a civil war and to protect the people, we humbly make a call for governments, ASEAN and the UN, to:
- fundamentally, focus on protecting the people of Myanmar whose security and freedom are under threat;
- develop access routes on funding and prepare safe places as people are fleeing Myanmar to seek refuge in other countries;
- ask for information on prisoners and their release;
- ensure that people in Myanmar have an unfettered access to Internet and communication tools, with an understanding that social media platforms will suspend harbingers of ‘hate speeches’;
- reaffirm the principles of democracy and fair play as a rule of law and conduct as prescribed in the ASEAN Charter and United Nations Declaration of Human Rights;
- officially, not recognise the Tatmadaw as the government of Myanmar;
- institute a process for an interim government of multi-stakeholder representatives, including some military officials to be set up;
- institute a neutral and independent body of global experts on a fact-finding mission to ascertain if there was electoral fraudulence;
- appoint a UN Special Rapporteur to investigate and document the human rights situation in Myanmar;
- recommend UN bodies and International Criminal Court to issue an Inquiry on the Tatmadaw, based on charges of the coup d’etat and crimes against humanity;
- review the nature of investments made in Myanmar and abide by the principles of ethical investing, ethical business conduct, and put in place targeted sanctions against the military and their partners’ enterprises;
- impose an embargo on the arms trade into Myanmar;
- build on an alliance with China to be a partner in non-recognition of the military-led government of Myanmar.
Issued by MARUAH Singapore.
About MARUAH Singapore
We are a Singapore human rights NGO.
MARUAH means Dignity in Malay, Singapore’s national language. Human rights are all about maintaining, restoring and reclaiming one’s dignity at the individual, regional and international level.
We seek to:
- promote and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of human rights and human rights and related issues at the national, regional and international levels, in Singapore, ASEAN and elsewhere
- provide a civil society perspective on human rights and related issues at the national, regional, and international levels
- advocate for and work towards the respect for and upholding of human rights in accordance with international and other norms
- foster national, regional, and international co-ordination and development of all activities in relation to human rights and related issues facilitate the education, participation and
- engagement of persons, groups and organisations in Singapore with respect to human rights and related issues.
MARUAH is also the Singapore focal point for the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The Working Group has national representatives from all of the founding Member States of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
The Working Group is an NGO officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as a stakeholder in ASEAN.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the detention of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other political leaders on the eve of the opening session of Myanmar’s new Parliament. He expresses his grave concern regarding the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military. These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.
The 8 November 2020 general elections provide a strong mandate to the National League for Democracy (NLD), reflecting the clear will of the people of Myanmar to continue on the hard-won path of democratic reform. The Secretary-General urges the military leadership to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms, with any differences to be resolved through peaceful dialogue. All leaders must act in the greater interest of Myanmar’s democratic reform, engaging in meaningful dialogue, refraining from violence and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Secretary-General reaffirms the unwavering support of the United Nations to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General
- ASEAN Member States have been closely following the current developments in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
- We recall the purposes and the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including, the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- We reiterate that the political stability in ASEAN Member States is essential to achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community.
- We encourage the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.
24 December 2020
We, the undersigned organisations, strongly condemn the killing of elections monitor and democracy advocate Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed in Afghanistan and urge the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
On the morning of 23 December 2020, Rasheed, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), was shot by unknown gunmen in Kabul when he was traveling to his office. He later died from injuries in the hospital.
The killing and ongoing threats of violence aim at creating fear and intimidation among those promoting peace and democracy in Afghanistan. In recent months, targeted killings and threatening of prominent figures, including civil society activists, journalists and politicians have been increasing disturbingly. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 934 civilian casualties caused by targeted killings from January to September 2020, a 39 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.
We condemn this heinous crime and stand by the people of Afghanistan in support of their aspirations for sustainable peace and democracy. It is essential for the Government of Afghanistan to conduct fair and impartial investigations into these cases and end the impunity of those responsible for the attacks.
- Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
- Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
- Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI)
- Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), Sri Lanka
- Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sri Lanka
- Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan
- Civil Network OPORA, Ukraine
- Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), Malaysia
- Committee for Free and Fair Election (COMFREL), Cambodia
- European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO)
- Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), Pakistan
- Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM)
- Jaringan Pendidikan Pemilih Untuk Rakyat (JPPR), Indonesia
- Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu (KIPP), Indonesia
- MARUAH, Singapore
- National Democratic Institute (NDI)
- National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), Nepal
- Nepal Law Society, Nepal
- Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), Cambodia
- Odhikar, Bangladesh
- People Network for Elections in Thailand (P-NET), Thailand
- People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), Myanmar
- People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Sri Lanka
- Perkumpulan untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi (PERLUDEM), Indonesia
- Transparency Maldives (TI Maldives), Maldives
- Transparent Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), Afghanistan
- Women Caucus for Politics, Timor-Leste
Last update: 28 December 2020 (11.30am UTC+7)
[Joint statement] Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to national elections2 November 2020
To: President John Magufuli
We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the United Republic of Tanzania. In the past five years, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a state of repression, evidenced by the increased harassment, intimidation, prosecution, and persecution of political activists, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and media houses; the enactment of restrictive laws; and disregard for rule of law, constitutionalism, as well as regional and international human rights standards. We are deeply concerned that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the country heads for general elections on 28 October 2020.
Tanzania as a party to several regional and international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has a legal obligation to respect and protect fundamental rights, particularly the right to – freedom of expression and the media, peacefully assemble, form and join associations, and to participate in public affairs, which are fundamental rights for free and fair elections in a democratic society. As a member of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tanzania has committed to uphold and promote democratic principles, popular participation, and good governance.
Leading up to the elections in Tanzania, we have unfortunately documented an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. The role of the media in providing information and access to varying viewpoints in a true democracy is indispensable. Media houses must be allowed to provide these services without undue restrictions, yet in recent times, several independent media houses have been suspended. These have included the seven-day suspensions of The Citizen newspaper in February 2019, Clouds TV and Clouds FM in August 2020, and the six-month suspension of Kwanza online TV in September 2019 and again in July 2020 for 11 months; the online publication ban against Mwananchi news in April 2020; the revocation, effective June 24, 2020, of the license of the Tanzania Daima newspaper; and the fines against online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV in September 2019.We note, with great disappointment, that the government is yet to comply with a ruling by the East African Court of Justice requiring the amendment of the Media Services Act to address the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression.
We are further concerned about the restrictions on individuals peacefully expressing their opinions, including criticising public officials. The latter are required to tolerate a greater amount of criticism than others – a necessary requirement for transparency and accountability. Tanzania’s criminal justice system has however been misused to target those who criticize the government. Tito Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani were arrested in December 2019 and questioned over their social media use and association with certain government critics. The duo were subsequently charged with economic crimes, including “money laundering” which is a non-bailable offence. Despite their case being postponed more than 20 times since December 2019, and no evidence being presented against them, they remain in pre-trial detention. Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was similarly arrested and charged with “money laundering” where he was held in pre-trial detention for seven months with his case postponed over ten times. Several United Nations (UN) mandate holders have raised concern about the misuse of the country’s anti-money laundering laws that “allow the Government to hold its critics in detention without trial and for an indefinite period.”
Most recently, a prominent human rights lawyer and vocal critic of the government, Fatma Karume was disbarred from practising law in Tanzania following submissions she made in a constitutional case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General. Other lawyers are also facing disciplinary proceedings for publicly raising issues on judicial independence and rule of law. Opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe was arrested and prosecuted for statements made calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings by State security agents. The above cases are clear evidence of intolerance for alternative views and public debate.
In addition, authorities should ensure respect for the right of individuals to freely form associations and for those associations to participate in public affairs, without unwarranted interference. We note the increasing misuse of laws to restrict and suspend the activities of civil society organisations. On August 12, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was notified that its bank accounts had been frozen pending police investigations. THRDC’s coordinator was then summoned by the police to explain an alleged failure to submit to the State Treasury its contractual agreements with donors. Prior to this, in June 2020, the authorities disrupted the activities of THRDC for allegedly contravening “laws of the land.” Several other non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment for issuing public statements critical of the government. Ahead of the elections some civil society organisations have reported being informally told by authorities to cease activities. As a result of the repressive environment, civil society organisations have been forced to self-censor activities.
We also note the enactment of further restrictive laws. For example, the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act (The Amendment Act) which has introduced amendments to 13 laws. The Amendment Act requires anyone making a claim for violation of rights to have been personally affected. This limits the ability of civil society organisations to carry out legal aid and law-based activities where they are not personally harmed. It violates Article 26(2) of the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of every person “to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights. The Amendment Act further provides that lawsuits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but must be brought against the Attorney General. This provision undermines government accountability for human rights violations. We remind the authorities that international bodies have raised concerns about Tanzania’s repressive laws.
We are especially concerned over the continued cases of verbal threats and physical attacks against members of opposition political parties. We note with concern that to date, no one has been held accountable for the 2017 attack against the CHADEMA party leader, Tundu Lissu, who is a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Most recently, opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was brutally attacked and his assailants are still at large. Failure to thoroughly and impartially investigate such cases breeds a culture of violence and impunity, which in turn threatens the peace and security of the country. The government must take steps to bring perpetrators of such violence to account and to guarantee the safety of all other opposition party members and supporters.
Earlier, in November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued a press statement on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania.” The Commission specifically voiced concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities.” The ongoing crackdown on civic space in Tanzania also led the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to issue a strong warning ahead of the 28 October 2020 General Elections. At the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session, she “[drew] the Council’s attention to increasing repression of the democratic and civic space, in what is becoming a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights” and stressed that “[with] elections approaching later this month, we are receiving increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society actors, activists, journalists and members of opposition parties.” She added: “Further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.”
While we acknowledge measures taken by your government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the citizens of Tanzania, we are deeply concerned that the pandemic has been used to unduly restrict fundamental freedoms. Examples are the arrest and sentencing of two Kenyan journalists for interviewing members of the public in Tanzania on the status of the pandemic in the country as well as, the suspension of Kwanza Online TV for reposting an alert by the U.S. embassy in Tanzania regarding the pandemic in the country. The rights to peacefully express one’s opinion, receive information, peaceful assembly and association, and to participate in public affairs are not only essential in the context of the upcoming elections, but also in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom of expression in particular, ensures “the communication of information to the public, enabling individuals to … develop opinions about the public health threat so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their communities.” The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Government responses to COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress individual human rights or to repress the free flow of information.
The need for Tanzania to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law is now more than ever important as a matter of national security, following recent reports of insurgent attacks along Tanzania’s border with Mozambique. Studies have shown that experiences of injustice, marginalization and a breakdown in rule of law, are root causes of disaffection and violence. A peaceful and prosperous nation requires good governance and respect for rule of law, with a society that protects fundamental freedoms and ensures justice for all.
As civil society organisations deeply concerned about constitutionalism, justice, and democracy in the United Republic of Tanzania, we strongly urge your Excellency to adhere to your undertaking to ensure a free and fair election in Tanzania. The government has an obligation to create an enabling environment for everyone, including political opposition, non-governmental organisations, journalists, and other online users, HRDs, and other real or perceived government opponents to exercise their human rights without fear of reprisals. As such, we call on the relevant authorities to immediately drop criminal charges and release defenders such as Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani and any others being prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights. Suspensions and the freezing of assets of non-governmental organisations such as THRDC, independent media houses such as Kwanza Online TV, and members of the legal profession- particularly Fatma Karume, must be reversed. Opposition parties must be allowed to freely and peacefully campaign and engage with their supporters without undue restrictions such as arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, forceful dispersal and intimidation of supporters, and harassment by security forces. The legitimacy of Tanzania’s elections is at stake.
We call on Tanzania to heed the messages delivered by national, African, and international actors and to change course before the country enters a full-fledged human rights crisis, with potentially grave domestic and regional consequences.
- Access Now, Global
- Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
- Africa Freedom of Information Centre
- Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
- ARTICLE 19, Global
- Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF), New Delhi and Kathmandu
- Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
- Association of Freelance Journalists
- BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
- CEALDES, Colombia
- Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
- Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD), Mongolia
- Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada
- Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
- Child Watch, Tanzania
- CIVICUS, Global
- Civic Initiatives, Serbia
- CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
- Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan
- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
- Corporación Comuna Nueva, Santiago de Chile
- DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
- Democracy Monitor PU, Azerbaijan
- Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
- Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
- Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
- Espacio Público, Venezuela
- Front Line Defenders, Global
- Gestos (HIV and AIDS, communication, gender), Brazil
- Greenpeace Africa
- Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-Afrique), Canada
- Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-BENIN)
- Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP Mali)
- HAKI Africa, Kenya
- Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
- Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
- Humanium, Switzerland
- HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HuMENA Regional)
- International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) – Belgium
- Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C. (JADESOCIALES)- México
- Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka-Burundi
- Maison de la Société Civile (MdSC), Bénin
- MARUAH, Singapore
- Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
- Nigeria Network of NGOs, Nigeria
- Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile de la RD Congo (NDSCI)
- Odhikar, Bangladesh
- ONG Convergence des Actions Solidaires et les Objectifs de Développement Durable (CAS-ODD ONG) – Bénin
- ONG Nouvelle Vision (NOVI), Bénin
- Open School of Sustainable Development (Openshkola), Russia
- Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
- Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
- RESOSIDE, Burkina Faso
- Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Global
- Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
- Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somalia
- Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
- Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
- The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), Uganda
- Tournons La Page (TLP)
- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Sierra Leone
- Women in Democracy And Governance, Kenya (WIDAG)
- Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
 United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Experts call on Tanzania to end the crackdown on civic space, July 22, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E.
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen, March 01, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban/
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania bans Kwanza Online TV for 11 months citing ‘misleading’ Instagram post on COVID-19, July 09, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/07/tanzania-bans-kwanza-online-tv-for-11-months-citing-misleading-instagram-post-on-covid-19/
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian newspaper banned from publishing online for 6 months over COVID-19 report, May 11, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/
 Committee to Protect Journalist, Tanzanian government revokes license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, June 26, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/06/tanzanian-government-revokes-license-of-tanzania-daima-newspaper/
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/
Committee to Protect Journalists, East Africa court rules that Tanzania’s Media Services Act violates press freedom, March 28, 2019, available at https://www.mediadefence.org/news/important-media-freedom-judgment-east-african-court-justice
 We refer to cases such as the arrest of prominent comedian, Idris Sultan, in May 2020 (https://thrdc.or.tz/tanzanian-comedian-and-actor-mr-idris-sultan-charged-for-failure-to-register-a-sim-card/), and the disbarment from practicing law of prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Fatma Karume (https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/).
 American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Tanzania: Preliminary Analysis of the criminal case against Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, July 28, 2020, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/tanzania–preliminary-analysis-of-the-criminal-case-against-tito/.
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera freed but faces hefty fines, February 24, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/02/tanzanian-freelancer-erick-kabendera-freed-but-fac/
 Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Letter to President of Tanzania, Reference AL TZA 1/2020, January 31, 2020, available at https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25049.
 International Commission of Jurists, Tanzania: ICJ Calls for the reinstatement of lawyer Fatma Karume’s right to practice law, October 8, 2020, available at https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/
The Citizen, Zitto Kabwe sentenced to serve one year ban not writing seditious statements, May 29, 2020, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.htm
 The cancellation of a training organised by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), the subsequent arrest of THRDC’s Director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and suspension of the activities of the organisation, as well as freezing of their accounts, exemplifies the misuse of these laws against civil society (See: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tanzania-human-rights-group-suspends-operations/1945400)
 DefendDefenders, Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association, August 24, 2020, available at https://defenddefenders.org/tanzania-respect-the-right-to-freedom-of-association/.
 Two employees of one of THRDC were arrested in Dar es Salaam and thereafter authorities proceed to arbitrarily cancel the hosting of a three-day security training for 30 human rights defenders. The police claimed that the training was in contravention of the “laws of the land” but did not give a specific provision
 These include the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations; Media Services Act; Cybercrimes Act; and Political Parties Amendment Act.
 Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020)
 Southern Africa Litigation Center, Joint letter, The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act no.3 ( 2020), available at https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Honourable-Minister-of-Justice-for-the-Republic-of-Tanzania.pdf-August-2020.pdf
 Section 7(b) of the Written Laws Amendments Act
 The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa provide that States must ensure through the adoption of national legislation that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human rights claim before a judicial body for determination because such claims are matters of public concern.
 Amendments to Chapter 310 of the Law Reform (Fatal accidents and miscellaneous provisions) Act and to the Chapter 3 of the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act
 See for example communication of the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, AL TZA 3/2020, 17 July 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25442
 These include the verbal abuse and threats of execution against Zitto Kabwe, leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo opposition party (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51355148), his conviction for sedition for statements he made at a press conference in relation to alleged extra judicial killings by state security forces (https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.html), and his re-arrested together with several party members while they participated in an internal meeting (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/24/tanzanian-opposition-leader-zitto-kabwe-released-on-bail/); as well as the conviction of nine Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia(CHADEMA) party and their sentencing in March 2020 to five months in prison or an alternative fine, for allegedly making seditious statements (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8); and the attack against the party leader, Freeman Mbowe, by unknown assailants leaving him with a broken leg (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8).
 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Press statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania, available at https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=459.
 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people’s rights,” 14 September 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226&LangID=E
American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020. See also Kwanza TV Instagram, available athttps://www.instagram.com/p/CCGT_5ECT_n/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet
 Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/44/49, para. 30
 The Guardian, Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis, UN warns, 23 April 2020, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/coronavirus-pandemic-is-becoming-a-human-rights-crisis-un-warns. See also UNHRC,, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association, April 14, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25788&LangID=E.
 BBC, Tanzania border village attack “leaves 20 dead”, October 16, 2020, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441%26Tanzania%20border%20village%20attack%20%27leaves%2020%20dead%27%262020-10-16T10%3A29%3A29.229Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:2f81fc88-030c-49d4-9d25-b8268a2dbf55&pinned_post_asset_id=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441&pinned_post_type=share
We, the undersigned, call for a comprehensive review of the death penalty and death row inmates’ rights in Singapore, made more urgent by the following points that have surfaced in relation to recent death penalty cases.
An overly high threshold for review applications
On 19 October 2020, the Court of Appeal set aside 32-year-old Malaysian Gobi Avedian’s death sentence, reinstating the original sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane given to him by the High Court in 2017.
The Court of Appeal reviewed Gobi Avedian’s case after the application filed by his counsel cleared the threshold as set out in Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). However, we are nevertheless concerned that the threshold to review cases that have already been through the appeals process is extremely high, and would preclude the possibility of many other death row cases being reviewed, even if there are still outstanding questions and doubts.
For example, under s394J of the CPC, a case can only be reviewed if there is material that could not have been adduced earlier. Furthermore, in the latest Court of Appeal judgment for Gobi Avedian, it was made clear that it is not enough for there to be a “real possibility” that the court’s earlier decision was wrong — there has to be a “powerful probability”.
It is very alarming, in the context of the death penalty, that it is insufficient for there to be a real possibility that the court was wrong. Our position is that this is a matter of life and death, so any possibility that a mistake has been made should be closely scrutinised and reviewed.
Given that the death penalty is an irreversible punishment, it is important that every opportunity is given to the inmate to seek legal counsel and bring up matters before the court, regardless of what stage their case is at. Inmates might also be represented by different lawyers at different stages of their case, who might have advised them differently. They should not be prevented from submitting material for a review simply because their counsel had failed to present it to the court at an earlier stage.
A need for automatic review of death row cases following changes in law
Gobi Avedian’s death sentence was able to be set aside because of, among other things, developments in case law from a Court of Appeal ruling in 2019. It is unknown how many other death row inmates’ cases could be impacted by such developments.
In Gobi’s case, he was fortunate to have had a lawyer take another look at his case at a very late stage, and identify how developments in the law have made his case worth reviewing. This is very unusual: after their initial appeals have been exhausted, it is difficult for death row inmates to find lawyers to represent them or review their case.
If there are changes or developments in the law, it should not be left to a death row inmate’s fortune in finding legal counsel before their case is reviewed.
The need for accountability for breaches in lawyer-client privilege
In dismissing Syed Suhail’s criminal motion, the Court of Appeal said that M Ravi had failed to show any evidence that there had been any prejudice against his client even after it was revealed that the prison had forwarded letters that Syed had written to his then-defence counsel and his uncle, to the prosecution.
We are deeply concerned that the Singapore Prison Service breached lawyer-client privilege in such a way. Even though inmates are under the prison’s custody, it is highly unethical to copy and forward their privileged and personal communications on to a third party, much less the prosecution. Prisoners also have an expectation of privacy, and this right should be respected.
Although the deputy prosecutor had declared to the court that he had not read the letters, there has been no independent investigation into the matter.
We hope that there will be a clear accounting to the public of how something like this could have happened, and why the Attorney-General’s Chambers did not recognise that this was a breach right away, instead waiting two years to bring this matter to light.
Threats against lawyers representing death row inmates at a late stage
In dismissing a criminal motion filed by death row inmate Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, the Court of Appeal warned against invoking the review process too “lightly”, adding that defence counsels could be sanctioned for abusing the court process if they do so. The Attorney-General’s Chambers is also applying for a cost order against Syed’s lawyer, who is also M Ravi.
Following Gobi Avedian’s acquittal from his capital charge, the AGC has also taken issue with M Ravi expressing his opinions on the prosecution’s conduct in his client’s case, demanding that he apologise and retract his comments. They have since lodged a complaint against him to the Law Society.
We strongly condemn harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates, particularly M Ravi, who has taken on multiple death row inmates at a late stage. Death row inmates already face great barriers in looking for lawyers who will review their case and advise them at a late stage. Imposing the threat of penalties, or actual penalties, against lawyers who are merely doing their best to lobby for their clients raises those barriers further by deterring lawyers from wanting to take on late-stage capital cases.
We are relieved that a man has been saved, but are alarmed by how close we have come to a wrongful execution. We note that Gobi Avedian had already exhausted his legal appeal as well as the clemency process, and was at risk of imminent execution. If not for M Ravi’s intervention at a late stage, Gobi could have been executed without anyone realising that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
In the case of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi as well, his team of pro bono lawyers fought for him to be acquitted of a capital drug trafficking charge, which he was convicted of by the Court of Appeal in 2015. Ilechukwu is now able to return home to Nigeria after living on death row in Singapore for years, only because his lawyers didn’t give up even at a late stage.
This highlights a serious problem with capital punishment. It is a harsh and irreversible punishment, and a life, once taken, cannot be returned. One innocent life taken by the state is one too many — this is why the death penalty should be abolished as soon as possible.
- Repeal Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code that sets a high threshold for cases to be reviewed
- When there are changes to laws or case law that will affect death row inmates, their cases should be automatically reviewed
- Launch an independent investigation to look into how often the prison might have forwarded inmate correspondence, including privileged communication, to the AGC
- Put an end to the harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates
- An immediate moratorium of the death penalty, with a view to abolish capital punishment
Transformative Justice Collective
Community Action Network
No Readgrets Book Club
Beyond the Hijab
SG Climate Rally
We Who Witness
The Bi+ Collective
Tow Ying Xiang