Egyptian Human Rights Activist Sentenced
On May 21, at the conclusion of a trial widely regarded as politically motivated, an Egyptian military court in Cairo sentenced human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years of imprisonment and hard labor on charges ranging from defaming Egypt’s reputation abroad to accepting foreign funding without government permission. Ibrahim, who was arrested along with 27 co-defendants in July 2000 for his work as director of the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, has been an indefatigable advocate of democratic values for more than 25 years. His statement responding to the charges against him was published in the October 2000 issue of the Journal of Democracy under the title “A Reply to My Accusers.” During his prolonged detention, Western governments and human rights groups criticized the Egyptian government for holding him.
The verdict can only be appealed before the Cassation court, Egypt’s highest. During the appeals process, Ibrahim will be required to serve his sentence. While his lawyers proceed through the legal system, his supporters have formed the Ad Hoc Support Committee for the Ibn Khaldun Center to coordinate a campaign for his release. For more information, see www.ibnkhaldun.org.
Human Rights Activists Look Back in Russia
On May 12-14, some 400 human rights activists, diplomats, and international visitors gathered in Moscow to attend the Moscow Helsinki Group’s twenty-fifth anniversary conference. Five of the group’s founding members participated in the conference, including Natan Sharansky, Yuri Orlov, and current president Ludmilla Alexeyeva, who has worked to revitalize the group since her return from exile in the United States in 1995. Looking back [End Page 189] at the state of human rights under Soviet rule, conference participants recognized the progress that has taken place over the last quarter-century and underscored the continuing importance of working to strengthen human rights in Russia. Founded by a few human rights advocates in May 1976 to monitor the Soviet govern-ment’s compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the Moscow Helsinki Group continues to track the state of human rights in Russia today.
The Internet and Democracy
On April 27-28, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored a workshop at Wilton Park on “The Internet and Democracy Building,” bringing together policy makers, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, specialists from the information-technology industry, and researchers to explore the ways in which the Internet and other advanced technologies can be used to promote democracy.Participants included Mahnaz Afkhami (Women’s Learning Partnership); Tom Carothers (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); Peter Ferdinand (Centre for the Study of Democratisation, University of Warwick); Jeff Fischer (International Foundation for Election Systems); Carl Gershman (National Endowment for Democracy); Patrick Molutsi (International IDEA); Ayo Obe (Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria); Michael Pinto-Duschinsky (Brunel University); Livingstone Sewenyana (Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Uganda); and Trefor Williams (Westminster Foundation for Democracy).
On April 30, Freedom House released a report concluding that Internet freedom exceeds press freedom in most countries, including some governed by authoritarian regimes. The report forms part of Freedom House’s annual Survey of Press Freedom, a country-by-country analysis measuring levels of freedom of expression. The global survey examined 131 countries, of which 58 (44 percent) were considered to have the “least restrictive” access to the Internet, 55 (42 percent) were rated “moderately restrictive,” and 18 (14 percent) were deemed “most restrictive.” The report found that while there is a strong correlation overall between a free press and open Internet access, some of the most repressive and closed societies are relatively open regarding access to the Internet. The full text of the Survey of Press Freedom may be found online at www.freedomhouse.org.
OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy
The 2001 OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy will be awarded posthumously to Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze and Spanish journalist José Luis López de Lacalle at the opening session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Paris on July 6-10. López de Lacalle is believed to have been killed by the armed Basque separatist group ETA for his writings against the use of violence for political [End Page 190] ends. Gongadze, an Internet journalist and leading critic of corruption among Ukraine’s government and business leaders, disappeared on 16 September 2000; his beheaded body was found in the woods outside Kiev two months later. A former presidential bodyguard then released tape recordings allegedly implicating president Leonid Kuchma in the murder, sparking a political crisis in Ukraine. Opposition leaders have held ongoing demonstrations calling for Kuchma to step down. Gongadze’s wife and daughters were granted political asylum in the United States in April.
The $20,000 prize is awarded to journalists who have promoted human rights, democracy, and freedom of information. Past winners include Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, Polish writer and editor Adam Michnik, British journalist Timothy Garton Ash, and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
World Press Freedom Day
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, UNESCO’s Advisory Group for Press Freedom awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Burmese newspaper editor U Win Tin for his outstanding contribution to the defense of press freedom. Until his arrest and imprisonment in July 1989, Tin was editor of the daily Hanthawati, a founder of the National League for Democracy, and vice-chair of the Myanmar Writers’ Association. Tin, whose prison sentence will extend to July 2008 unless he agrees to renounce all political activities, is reported to be seriously ill. The World Press Freedom Prize is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated by the drug cartels in 1986. For more on World Press Freedom Day, including the text of a joint statement by Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, and Ko§chiro Matsuura, please visit www.unesco.org/webworld.
Democracy Conference in Thailand
On March 2-4, King Prajad-hipok’s Institute (KPI), an academic institution designed to develop democracy in Thailand through research and training, held its second congress in Pattaya, with close to 400 participants attending. The topic of the conference, “Public Participation: Sustainability of Democracy,” was selected in recognition of “the growing importance of public participation in Thai politics.” Panel discussions focused on civic education, alternative dispute settlement, electoral processes, natural resource management, and mass movements. Keynote addresses were delivered by former Philippine president Corazon Aquino and former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun.
Report on NED’s International Forum
On April 11, the International Forum for Democratic Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International [End Page 191] Center for Scholars cosponsored a meeting on “Political Reform in the Middle East: Opportunities and Constraints.” The meeting was composed of two panels, the first examining the state of efforts at political reform in five Middle Eastern countries and the second considering what useful lessons might be learned from experiences with political reform in other regions of the world. The first panel, moderated by Jon Alterman of the U.S. Institute of Peace, featured presentations by Abdou Filali-Ansary (editor of Prologues) on Morocco, Jillian Schwedler (University of Maryland-College Park) on Jordan, Alan Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy) on Syria, Mohammad Zaimaran (Tehran Art University) on Iran, and Man-soor Al-Jamri (editor of Islam 21) on Bahrain. The second panel, moderated by Marc F. Plattner (International Forum), included presen-tations by Daniel Brumberg (Georgetown University), E. Gyimah-Boadi (University of Ghana), Seymour Martin Lipset (Woodrow Wilson Center), and Guillermo O’Donnell (University of Notre Dame).
On April 25, the Forum held a roundtable discussion with Slovak parliamentarians František Šebej (Democratic Party) and Peter Weiss (Party of the Democratic Left) on “Making Coalition Government Work in Slovakia: Perspectives and Experiences.”
On May 1, the International Forum sponsored a luncheon seminar by Zora Bútorová, visiting fellow at the Forum and resident scholar at the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava, on “Women in Slovakia: New Opportunities and Old Problems.”
On May 23, the Forum hosted a luncheon seminar on “The Prospects for Political Reform in China,” featuring remarks by Liu Junning, a researcher at the Institute of Chinese Cultural Studies in Beijing, and comments by Minxin Pei, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Approximately 60 representatives from Washing-ton’s academic, public policy, and NGO communities attended the luncheon.
The next meeting of the Democracy Forum for East Asia, a joint project of the International Forum and the Sejong Institute of Korea, will be held in Seoul on June 28-30 and will focus on political-party and election-campaign finance in East Asia. A more detailed report will appear in our next issue.
The International Forum is planning to establish the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., to enable democracy activists, practitioners, scholars, and journalists from around the world to deepen their understanding of and enhance their ability to promote democracy. Contingent on receipt of grant funds authorized by the U.S. Congress, the Forum plans to host its first cohort of fellows in Spring 2002, with the possibility of offering a few fellowships in the fall of 2001. For more information on the program and how to apply, please visit www.ned.org, or contact Zerxes Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press