How freedom of expression is fought in countries like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, but also in Hungary, is dramatic. Those in power not only act politically ruthlessly, but also do not shy away from violence. Actually a case for the UN Human Rights Council. Actually.
In Germany, you can be fired for dissenting your opinion, but you cannot be imprisoned. The life of those who think differently is touched, but not destroyed. In public discourse, the pugnacious spirit meets a multitude of trolls, but never his torturer. Comparing is therefore allowed, equating is not.
What we are currently experiencing in Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul and Tehran – but also in Hungary – is a veritable multi-front war against those who think differently. The use of batons, tear gas and firearms is not related, nor is it unrelated.
With a new mixture of political ruthlessness and technological sophistication, they campaign against conscientious objectors in Russia, Erdogan critics in Istanbul, women’s rights activists in Iran and opponents of the no-Covid strategy in China.
If things were right in international relations, the United Nations Human Rights Council would have to hold a special session today. Because Article 19 of the UN Human Rights Charter (“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.”), Article 20 (“All people have the right to peaceful assembly.”) and also the anti-torture Article 5 (“No one may subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.”) are now being violated en masse and with great shamelessness. Here are the crushing facts:
Anyone protesting against the Chinese government’s no-Covid strategy these days is putting their very existence at risk. More than 1,000 demonstrators were counted in Beijing and Shanghai each, but no one can say with certainty how many there are across the country.
The protesters hold up white, blank sheets of paper to evade arrest for banned slogans. And to say what they cannot say. Irony in the service of resistance.
In Iran, even taking off a headscarf in public places violates the religious laws of the mullahs’ regime. Anyone who falls into the clutches of the vice squad faces the death penalty. Between September 16 and November 25 alone, at least 448 protesters were killed, including 63 minors, according to the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).
The protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She died in police custody after being arrested for wearing a headscarf that did not fit properly.
In Russia, opponents of the war and anyone who resists being drafted into the Ukraine war are punished with up to ten years in prison. A popular opponent of Putin like Alexei Navalny – who was banned from running for the presidential elections in 2017 – is now in a solitary cell 200 kilometers from Moscow.
The anti-corruption foundation that supports him, with around 130 employees, had to be relocated to neighboring Lithuania for security reasons.
In Turkey, the authorities first banned and then prevented demonstrations by women in several cities last Friday. They wanted to take to the streets on the occasion of the “International Day against Violence against Women”.
A journalist from the Associated Press reported how three buses full of arrested protesters were taken to a nearby police station.
The Erdogan regime is constantly arresting journalists, members of the opposition and human rights activists – without Berlin, Brussels or Paris noticing it. Amnesty International says:
“The serious shortcomings in the justice system have not been remedied. Opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and others face unfounded investigations, prosecutions and convictions.”
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Even within the European Union, the right to freedom of expression, which is part of the European canon of fundamental values, cannot be exercised everywhere. The Hungarian government passed a law in June 2021 that is said to protect children from non-heterosexual orientations.
With this justification, the government intervenes deeply in the socio-political discourse, progressive voices are de facto sidelined under the banner of “child protection”. For Ursula von der Leyen, the law is a “disgrace”. According to the EU Commission, the country is “fundamentally, regularly and far-reaching” in violation of democratic principles.
Conclusion: Perhaps it would be time to set up a universal injustice charter in contrast to the human rights charter to identify the cynics of all countries as such:
Article 1: The government allows all opinions, provided they are their own.
Article 2: Difference constitutes oppression.
Article 3: Irrespective of gender, origin and religion, everyone is equal before the legislature in their lack of rights.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.