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Europe: Human rights activists under unprecedented crackdown

Attacks and smear campaigns against human rights activists are happening the world over, and Europe is no exception. The EU and its member countries need to take action to stop this - both at home and abroad

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PRESS RELEASE

Europe: Human rights activists under unprecedented crackdown

-       As Hungary and Poland’s roll back on human rights is discussed by the EU this week, Amnesty International warns of the chilling effect of civil society repression

-       Amnesty International launches new global campaign, ‘Brave’, to stop the wave of attacks against those defending human rights

-       Human rights defenders facing unparalleled global assault amid demonizing rhetoric, clampdowns on civil society and rampant use of surveillance 

Journalists, lawyers and activists are among the victims of a global civil society crackdown, which has also taken hold in Europe, Amnesty International said today as it launched a briefing about, and a campaign to stop, the onslaught of attacks against brave individuals standing up to injustice.

“Attacks and smear campaigns against human rights activists are happening the world over, and Europe is no exception. The EU and its member countries need to take action to stop this - both at home and abroad,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office

In recent years, Amnesty International has documented a worrying regression on human rights and the rule of law in Poland and Hungary including attempts to smear and undermine civil society.

Poland’s human rights record is today under scrutiny as European Affairs ministers examine the rolling back of rule of law and human rights guarantees in Poland at the General Affairs Council. Amnesty International is calling on the Council to take the strongest possible action to bring Poland in line with EU law and its founding principles – including by activating Article 7 of the Treaty of the EU (TEU). This may ultimately result in sanctions, including suspension of a Poland’s voting rights within the Council of the EU.

Amnesty International is calling for the same Article 7 TEU, to be included in a European Parliament resolution on Hungary to be voted on tomorrow (17 May). The Hungarian Parliament is expected to vote on 30 May on a proposed Law on Transparency of Organizations Financed from Abroad.

The draft law has been widely criticised for seeking to label and discredit non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as foreign funded and implying they are working for foreign interests. If passed, the law would force NGOs receiving more than 24,000 EUR per year from abroad to re-register as “civic organization funded from abroad” and to put this stigmatizing label on every publication. There are concerns that similar developments may follow suit in Poland where the government has been already taking measures to restrict the freedom of assembly and expression.

These measures are reminiscent of the so called “foreign agents” law introduced in Russia in 2012. On a visit to Brussels today, Russian human rights defenders are warning how damaging the effects of such measures are for human rights and civil society.

“In spite of persecution, attempts to stop us doing our work, and even to make us outcasts in our own country, we do not consider ourselves to be victims. We are actors for change and our main motivation is people's human rights," said Valentina Cherevatenko, founder and chair of the Women of the Don Union and Foundation.

Notes to editors

To read the briefing and find out more about the Brave campaign and the cases of individuals at risk, visit here.

An embargoed copy of the briefing is available here.

Briefing on Rule of Law and Human Rights Concerns in Poland – May 2017