Amnesty: Arab freedom struggle 'on knife edge'

Syrian security forces pictured on a mobile phone in Damascus, 24 April 2011
Image caption Syrian authorities are among those to have cracked down on protesters

A fightback by repressive governments is putting at risk a historic struggle for freedom and justice in the Arab world, Amnesty International says.

Publishing its annual report, the rights group highlights the fight for control over communications technology.

It criticises Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen for targeting peaceful protesters to stay in power.

And it says repressive regimes in China, Iran and Azerbaijan have tried to pre-empt uprisings.

The campaign group released its report on human rights around the world following months of mass demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Long-serving presidents in Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled, but leaders in other states have tried to face down protests with a combination of political concessions and the use of force.

'Governments scrambling'

Amnesty said the outcome of the uprisings was "on a knife-edge".

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, paid tribute to youthful protesters who were "standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and tanks".

"This bravery - combined with new technology that is helping activists to outflank and expose government suppression of free speech and peaceful protest - is sending a signal to repressive governments that their days are numbered," he said.

"But there is a serious fightback from the forces of repression. The international community must seize the opportunity for change and ensure that 2011 is not a false dawn for human rights."

Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, which have resisted anti-government movements, "have shown a willingness to beat, maim or kill peaceful protesters to stay in power", Amnesty said in a statement.

And it pointed to a "critical battle" for control of access to information, means of communications and networking technology.

"Governments are scrambling to regain the initiative or to use this technology against activists," the group said.

It called on companies that provide internet access, mobile communications and social networking sites to respect human rights and not become accomplices to repressive governments.

European deportations

Amnesty's main report documents the state of human rights in 157 countries and territories worldwide during 2010. The group also published a special update on the Middle East and North Africa in the first four months of this year.

In its report Amnesty raises concern over:

  • conflict wreaking havoc in a number of sub-Saharan African states, including the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia
  • a deteriorating situation for activists in Ukraine, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan
  • a growing willingness by European countries to send people back to states where they risk persecution
  • increasing threats to indigenous peoples in the Americas

Amnesty also pointed to gains, including the release of political prisoners and the dissolution of internal security forces blamed for repression in Tunisia and Egypt.

The main report noted the steady retreat of the death penalty, improvements to maternal health care in countries including Indonesia and Sierra Leone, and progress in bringing to justice those responsible for abuses under Latin American military regimes.

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