IGF 2016 - Day 3 - Room 5 - New Session Format: Unconference


The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Jalisco, Mexico, from 5 to 9 December 2016. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 


>> Hello.  Hi, everyone.  We are going to start.  Thanks everyone for coming.  It is great to have at least a few people here, despite the very short notice.

We will get started.

I work for Global Partners Digital, based in the UK.  We work globally.  We are lucky to be able to work with APC and bytes for all who are behind this report.  As well as for Asia who are not here.  I feel lucky to be able to help launch this report which is hot off the press in fronts of you on freedom of expression and religion in Asia.  I'll make a few introductory remarks before those who have helped to write and contribute to the report who are here with us today will introduce themselves and give background and expand on issues that are covered in this report.  The Asian continent is vast and diverse, as I'm sure you know, and defies generalization.  One of the most persistent and consistent threat, trends and threats to freedom of expression in the region is false pitting of freedom of expression and religion against each other.  Blasphemy laws and sedition laws and defamation laws always presented an obstacle to the full expression, freedom of expression, and the Internet was to present a space, alternative space for groups including minorities, and everyone, to be able to freely express themselves.  But as I mentioned, recent trends have used the premise of religion to clamp down on freedom of expression.  As this report clearly recounts with case study as well as analysis of legal developments, there is a trend to use hate speech as well which is a serious issue of course, as a pretext to clamp down on legitimate freedom of expression, which harms not only minorities and their freedom of expression on line, but the freedom of expression of everyone suffers as a result of that.

We have here four speakers we are lucky to be joined by, who will speak to these issues in more detail.  I'm going to ask them to keep their remarks to two minutes so that we have enough time for questions and discussion.

Great.  If we can start ...

>> Hi, welcome to this 4:00 p.m. unconference.  I think it's the first unconference I've been to, and it's amazing that we were able to pull it off in such short notice.  Desecrating expression is a report that was conceived as a result of Asian regional conference we had in Jakarta in 2015.  Once we wrapped up that conference, we felt that there was a significant need to put together literature and documentation of the cases that was evolving around expression and religion supposedly facing off with each other.

There were many reasons why we chose to focus on this intersection between expression and religion, quite frankly to be honest I think the most pressing reason was that many of us who are involved in the writing of this report had all personally been victims of this kind of targeting at some point of time or the other, because of our views on religion or our views on the conflation of religion and politics.

The personal aside, there was definitely a sense among us that there is definitely a rise in the use of religion or religious sensitivities as a pretext to clamp down on dissent or on legitimate expression which was unpopular or something that the majority did not agree with.  The other reason that we chose this topic is also because we sense that the international level, there was a significant shift of focus to hate speech, which is of course necessary, but what was happening is that simultaneously with the shift of focus to hate speech, we started sensing that any discussion, any expression that touched upon religion and which was inconvenient started getting branded as hate speech, not only by the Government, but unconsciously by Civil Society as well, and by people as well, and by courts as well.  This was becoming a serious problem for us, though the Special Rapporteur went to great lengths to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate speech that is inconvenient, but still we started sensing that legitimate speech which might be inconvenient or provocative was being trampled upon with the use of hate speech legislation or anti hate speech legislations as was pointed out.  What we decided to do was look at nine countries across Asia, and the reason why we couldn't do Asia wide studies is because it's impossible.  Asia is vast and it's impossible to do justice to a Asia wide study.  We picked nine countries based on an initial study we did and picked nine countries that we thought the situation was pressing, and from a region that perpendicular familiar with.  What we decided to do was based on that study, we called out regional trends.  From the regional trends we were also able to identify who were the perpetrators, common perpetrators and who were the common victims of this perpetration.  What was shocking is that these nine states had very different political and religious background.  But still the perpetrators were the same.  The victims were the same.  The context in which the perpetration happened was also the same.

For instance, against the common belief that this issue of freedom of expression and religion not being compatible is a Islamic country issue that was really something we were able to refute with this report, because this is as much an issue in India, in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, none of these are Islamic countries in a sense but these are still strong issues in these three countries.  What we felt at the end of the report of the analysis was that the key reason behind the use of religion or religious sensitivities to shut down expression was actually the conflation of politics and religion, the use of religion by political parties in electoral processes, in different political processes was really what we thought was the basis of this sort of clamp down.  Another key thing that we noticed was that the use of blasphemy laws and anti hate speech laws was now also moving to online spaces.  This was moving to online spaces in addition to off‑line laws.  What I mean to say is that off‑line laws were being used to attack this kind of expression, but specific online legislations were also being used.  If I had to take the example of Bangladesh, there have been provisions in the penal code to tackle blasphemy.  But they have specific provisions in their Internet related laws.  What they were in a sense doing was using both and creating a situation where the offenses is actually higher for having committed this sort of speech in the online space as against an off‑line space.

This is a problematic trend in Pakistan right now.  Another key issue that we began to notice as a result of this is that this blasphemy and these sort of excuses were being used to target political opponents, were being used to shut down political opposition even in terms of discourse and lastly, the key thing that stood out is that there was a legitimization of more violence against people who were supposedly accused of having committed blasphemy.  These vigilante groups were being formed legitimately from the law criminalized blasphemy.  They felt they were doing the right thing, they were doing the job of god even, you know, and this was obviously legitimized by the states and many instances, there was reports of covert or overt support by the state for this.

We felt that we needed to focus on two specific areas in the report, one is the laws as I had mentioned, second is the online spaces.  The reason why we decided to do this is because the former Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief did an excellent job of coming out with the report that looks specifically at the intersection of these two rights.  He did a fantastic job, being able to clearly put the debate to rest.  He was able to take a position that there is no such thing as defamation of religion because the right of religion is a right that individuals own and not religions as a institution.

That was a fantastic move in a sense.  He was also able to clearly state that blasphemy laws need to be decriminalized.  Unfortunately, we noted that while the report was able to address the issue at large, there were two main areas that the report fell short on.  One was the fact that the report did not address Internet spaces, and how these laws are being used on Internet.  Second is they did not take note of how these violations affect women and gender, because women suffer these violations in a very different way.  There are particular case studies in the report where you see women authors being hounded, images of them being mauled, rape threats, pictures of them being circulated on the Internet, this kind of violence being perpetrated.  Finally we moved to recommendations.  There are different stakeholders to whom we made recommendations.

But the most important recommendations are two.  One is a call for decriminalization of blasphemy laws.  Two is for the UN Special Rapporteur on expression and for the UN Special Rapporteur on religion to specifically look at this area of gender and Internet in the future work leading to intersection of expression and religion.

Thank you.

>> Thanks very much for the rich comments and detail on the report.  You mentioned the UN SR on freedom of expression and his work on this issue area.  We are lucky to have the legal advisor to David Kaye here with us.  If you would like to make brief comments, Amos.

>> Hi.  Thank you so much for the invitation to this panel.  This is really an excellent and helpful report providing an overview of the regional trends and concerns through fairly exhaustive case studies and country studies.  Congratulations to the authors.  I don't want to take away from the authors themselves.  I'm going to make two quick comments which are reflected in the report.  First we have to be careful, and this is something that David as well as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion have made in statements that the freedom of religion is not a right that attaches to religion as a whole, and it's certainly not a right to be free from any adverse comment, criticism or ridicule.  Instead it's the right of the individual to have, adopt or manifest religion.  Given that context, how do we assess assertions of religious harmony on the Government's part when they seek to restrict expression.

In our view, they have to come under assessments of necessity and proportionality as established under Article 19.3.  A broader point that comes from the report is that once you remove assertions of religious or religious based justifications for hate speech legislation or restrictions on these forms of speech, you realize that it is the same kind of power and balance as with any other traditional violation of freedom of expression.  We see on one side of the ledger that those asserting restrictions are essentially state entities, and groups that enjoy perhaps a majoritarian position in the country and on the other side vulnerable and minority communicates such as women and LGBTI communities as you rightly pointed out as well as religious minorities themselves.

In many ways that is the kind of power imbalance that freedom of expression was meant to protect in the first place and that Article 193 protections are designed to protect.  We have to use those as reference points.  I think this report definitely brings that out.  Thank you so much.

>> Thank you very much.  Because we are running very short of time, I hope you don't mind if I ask those who have come here to participate, to ask any questions if you have any, and specifically if there are any opportunities you see for collaboration on this issue, or any insights that you would like to share.

I'd like to open it up to the floor, in case, and then we can get responses from both of you and the other panelists.  Otherwise we can move to brief comments.  Yes, please.  If you could briefly introduce yourself, that would be great.

>> Hello.  I'm Stefan from Canada, member of the APC and researcher at York University.  It is a question, maybe I'll do a comment later.  But you said Civil Society sometime, I don't remember your wording, but sometime is complicit of this like hate speech thing.

Can you say more a bit about this?

>> Yes.  If you can respond to that.

>> I can give you a concrete example.  Some of the groups when we spoke to them about blasphemy laws, their position was that especially these are minority rights groups, their position sometime was that blasphemy laws should equally cover them.  They didn't actually say the fact that blasphemy laws in effect compromise the very right that it seeks to protect, because blasphemy laws are actually purported to protect religion, and therefore individual expression.  But when they shut down expression they are in effect also compromising their own ability to propagate religion, yeah?  And some of these Civil Society groups felt that opposition to minority religions, somehow incites violence by mere opposition to minority religions.  They were terming that as hate speech, because it could potentially create violence based on the fact that it was contextual.  That is what I meant there.

>> Great.  I'm aware that we are running over time.  I'm really sorry.  I wish we could continue the conversation further.  Just a few minutes.  We have a few minutes, which is a great opportunity then to bring in comments on the issue.

>> I want to add the point on impact on women and how different that is.  We heard in the previous session that in Malaysia, the women are being targeted, because they are women and because they are Muslim.  And that there are differences in terms of the violence, when they wear head scarfs or when they don't wear head scarfs, and that the violence online against women who wear head scarf normally are much worse than when they don't.

Again, I mean I think that gender aspect around the violence, because they are women and they are Muslim, is quite significant.  And I guess the other point I wanted to make is that this report hopefully might encourage reports, as you say, there are many different countries in Asia.  I think it is not just fundamentalism in terms of Islam but also fundamentalism in religion.  For example, I'm from a Catholic country and you see some of these trends as well.  I hope that can also happen in other countries.  Thanks.

>> Thank you very much for expanding on those points.  Before we wrap up, I'd like to invite comments particularly perhaps on the context in Pakistan.

>> Thank you so much.  I'm representing Pakistan advice for all who spearheaded and led this research report.  Specifically with regards to south Asian context and if you narrow it to Pakistan situation, it's something like wherever you see in that context women, if you happen to be women from the minority community, whether it's specifically from the religious minority community, then you face double kind of jeopardy, being women and being from a minority community also.

The constitution guarantees you freedom of expression, but it is being again override by some of the other provisions of the constitution, and some of the legislations which are being made by under that constitution.  The international commitments which are being made by the state, those are also guaranteeing your freedom of expression and opinion.  But when it comes to the local context, then it's being override by the dominance of the religion or the majority religious community.

At the intersection of this thematic areas, freedom of expression and religion, religion has become a great economy.  People who are preparing hate or hate speech they are being, earning leak their political gains as well from the social fabric as well because it has been penetrated into the social fabric.  It is now like multi‑dimensional thing, which is not only now in the off‑line spaces but now has become very prevalent in the online spaces as well.  Referring back to this report and recommendations in the report and the work we all did together, is something that of course the states and specifically with regards to Pakistan, when they have agreed upon in some of the international commitments specifically plan of action that requires very prominent and very significant kind of interventions in this area at the local level, so that should be done by the countries in order to expand that area of freedom of expression in the context of religion as well.  Thank you.

>> Thank you very much, Nomanna, for that.  I'm afraid we have to end here.  I'd like to thank our speakers for their contributions, and also you all for coming, and invite you to read the report of course.  There is also a online version, and to get in touch with us if you have any further questions about this, and on the action that Civil Society is taking on these issues and the advocacy engagement.  That is very much under way on this issue.  So thank you again.  And hope to see you around.

>> Hello, thank you very much.  We invite the next speaker.  It's African Internet rights.

I don't know if it's already here.

>> Okay.  Great.  Yes.  It's me again.  But a different issue, and a different context.  (chuckles).

So, I'll be doing less talking in this session.  Those of you who are here, we will be talking about the African declaration on Internet rights and freedoms, which you should have a copy of.  If you don't, please ask.  We have a few people here to be able to speak further on this initiative, and on African Internet rights advocacy more broadly.  I'd like to introduce Benga from Nigeria to give a few words and introduction to the African declaration on Internet rights and freedoms.

>> Thank you, Ishtal.  Everyone has a copy.  I want to speak to the work that was done and the context behind this.  I'm sure people followed the reports in terms of the Internet shutdowns and other activities around violations around the world in 2016.  To paint a picture, we had 50, 50 odd incidents of Internet down in 25 countries, of 25 countries 11 are from Africa.  That doesn't speak to a isolated event.  It speaks to a particular trend.  You have violations from arresting bloggers to new laws and policies that evidently go against Internet rights.  What was important was to have a set of agreed principles that apply to the context of the continent, not just in terms of the continent but in terms of what is applicable in countries within the continent regardless of what the laws were in those countries.  If you look at this, what you will see, the good news is that this has been around for a while.  I'm sure someone else will speak on the update of what has been done so far.

But from openness to freedom of expression, which is critical, because one of the things you would notice, as I speak, Ghana is waiting for results of elections.  It's important to know that activities like elections and surprisingly students writing exams and close to security excuses, security incidents have been used by governments either to shut down the Internet completely like in Gambia or shut down certain apps in Zimbabwe.  It's important the principles are articulated not just in terms of freedom of expression but assembly and association, cultural diversity, privacy and Internet protection.  There are 38 at the last count, we are sure there are more than that, 38 countries across the continent that made it compulsory for you to register your SIM card before you can use a mobile phone.  All 11 countries shut down the Internet in Africa in 2016, all require you to register SIM cards.  That is not a surprise.  Africa is a mobile continent as far as the Internet is concerned.

We have key principles of gender equality which is important, right to due process.  I'll close with due process, because it's really important.  There have been arguments and there will be arguments forever about privacy and rights.  It's important that when in the name of security, which is of course the primary objective, one of the primary objectives of Government when in the name of security things have to be done, there have to be clear guidelines.  You have a scenario where someone from the presidency doesn't call or write letter but sends a text message to Telecom company and said we need to shut down Telecom services, and that is taken as gospel, and the company does that.  That is one of the things that we have seen in the year 2016, where many Telecom companies across the continent were too quick to give up.

I say too quick to give up because for some of them they didn't get letters asking them to shut down services.  All they got was just a text message, a phone call from someone who says, my name is XYZ, I'm from the presidency, you should shut down the Internet or Telecom services, and they comply.  This is odd, because when you shut down your Telecom services, you lose money and lose customers.  Unfortunately, when you don't know that you can ask questions or say why do we have to do this and ask for due process, then we think there is a problem.  These are things that are covered by the declaration.  Thankfully everyone has a copy.  Feel free to look at it.  And don't just look at it.  Go to the Web site and please, we would love for you to endorse this so that we get more mileage for advocacy.

>> Thank you very much.  One of the reasons that we titled this session African Internet rights best practice, in terms of policy, is because the declaration had recent successes.  I want to invite the APC to talk about one of the most recent ones, which is a exciting development, advocacy win for the group behind the declaration.

>> Thanks very much.  When we started working as a Coalition on this declaration as was explained, we were trying to give African activist stakeholders, journalists and policymakers something concrete they can use to hold governments and other actors accountable.  To do that, we wanted to work with African human rights instruments.  In Africa there is the African commission on people and human rights, a strong body, been in existence for a long time.  It has its own special rapporteurs, like the Human Rights Council.  Our goal was to have a resolution that recognizes the importance of the Internet, at the commission and we succeeded.  We are excited.  It took a year and a half of effort and collaboration, and now we have something which is known as resolution 362, resolution on the right to freedom of information and expression on the Internet in Africa.

This is very significant.  It references the declaration, but it recognizes that by shutting down the Internet, governments are actually depriving citizens of the right to freedom of expression.  This enables us to use this peer review mechanisms, the reporting mechanisms, of the commission, to hold governments accountable.  It is something with teeth.  It is not just words on paper.  I'm hoping that it will be used actively in advocacy, and in dealing with rights violations.

Linked to the commission as a court, human rights court, it is similar to Council of Europe, where you have European Court of Human Rights, we have the same thing in Africa, not as powerful in terms of governments actually complying with its rulings, but it is also there, so it's a mechanism we can use to hold governments and other actors in Africa accountable for respecting human rights on the Internet.

>> Thank you very much, Annryette.  That is just the beginning of the opportunities there with that resolution for Civil Society and others to take forward the issue of Internet rights on the continent.  So we hope that lever will be used in the future.

At this point because we only have five minutes left, I want to ask if there are any questions from anyone here about anything to do with the African declaration or Internet rights advocacy on the continent.  We also have others who have been involved with the declaration work here, I can see.  If you would like to make any comments, please do jump in.

The floor is open.  Any questions, comments?  Does anyone want to make any other comments?  Or any suggestions on how we can take the advocacy on this issue forward, any suggestions at all are always welcome.  It's still quite a new initiative.  We are still always looking for ideas.

>> Thank you.  This is really great work.  My question is about how to transfer some of the lessons learned to other regions, if you have any advice for other regional groups that might be trying to duplicate, replicate some of the work, what factors contributed to the success of this initiative, and maybe any lessons learned, advice for other groups going forward.

>> You have been volunteered to take that question.

>> I think you have got to work with a collective group.  In our case we worked with a mix of media organizations, and then Internet rights organizations like Binga's initiative and APC and human rights organizations.  That is not always easy because the established human rights community can be quite hostile often, to these new upcoming, upstart Internet rights community.

That took quite a while.  But we did collective drafting, collective drafting is incredibly painful.  But it does mean that the group of people involved in that drafting feel ownership of the documents.  I think that was very important.

Then to really understand your mechanisms in your region, they are all a bit different.  In the Americas we have the OAs, organization of American states has its mechanisms, in Asia there is a mechanism, in southeast Asia, not southwest.  To find champions in those institutions, we were lucky in Africa to have the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, then became the chair of the African commission.  We could actually rush through the resolution because her term was coming to end.  She wanted something to show for it.

Understanding that, and then seizing the moment.  The fact that shutdowns in Africa became such an issue, so common, and that there are organizations like Access who is here, an African research body, paradigm initiative, who were profiling and in the media this increase in shutdowns created an awareness among the commissioners.  Specifically, I don't know how many of you notice or follow that there was a state of emergency in Ethiopia, and then in Gambia, and it happened after they, just prior to the resolution being passed.  That helped us as well because the commissioners realized that this is a problem.  That is sometimes, I think all policy advocacy is sometimes there is a window of opportunity and seizing that.  But I think the most important thing is building a Coalition, building trust and collaboration in that Coalition.  Without that, you are not going to go anywhere.

One more thing, we were criticized when the declaration was launched in Istanbul by some of the more, some human rights, Internet human rights activists because they felt the document was too mainstream.  But we actually planned that.  We planned that to use language which policymakers could identify with or who would at least not be antagonized by, because we knew we were more likely to have this resolution passed by this body, which is essentially part of a intergovernmental body.  It is part of the African union infrastructure if we used language that was more legal‑ish, referring to international human rights standards, and reinterpreting existing standards, than something that stated rights in a more protest‑y, bottom up activist type of way.

>> Let me quickly add in terms of the cross learning, this sort of platform like IGF presents one of the opportunities, and we don't lack events, global events that bring people together.  Throughout the year, we have this opportunity, and to be fair, experiences are beginning to collapse into each other.  Different countries where you go to meetings with countries that were traditionally, you hear people asking for help, and that presents a opportunity.  2016 was a interesting year.  It has been an amazing, in a way, year, sort of.  All of us are now, it is raining outside so we are all gathered under the tree for some form of protection.  So in a way we don't have a choice.  We have to make conversation around issues, because we now all kind of see the threats that we used to talk about in some of our own countries as possible reality.

There is a lot of opportunity in terms of exchanging ideas, and obviously, at the end of the day, I always love to borrow this word which is, the spirit of buntu, which is to say that I'm basically in terms of digital rights, it means that I am safe because you are safe, you are protecting me also.  If it's my turn when I'm under attack I can protect you.  We create a committee where we can learn, share experiences and if it happened in your country before, have you been able to fix the problem, I can learn from that and not have to be from ground zero.

>> Thank you very much.  I'm aware there is another session just after this.  We are going to close up.  But not before we take another comment.

>> Mohib from the media foundation for West Africa.  He made mention of the fact that telecos give up easily when they are ordered to shut down.  In the most extreme case of dictatorship and hostility against the media, you would not imagine any Government asking televisions stations, radio stations and newspapers all of them to shut down, and even if that happened, it is not very likely that you even get 50 percent of them complying.  So I think that it is important for us to engage the Internet service providers and the Telecom companies and let them understand that they have strong legal backing when it comes to such situations where governments ask them to shut down.  They are also a media, just like the newspapers, just like the radio stations, so why is it that governments find it so difficult telling the radio stations and television stations to shut down.  And yet it is so easy, as you say, sometimes even by text message from somebody, an officer at the Office of the President, or from the Ministry of Communication, informing Internet service providers to shut down and they comply.  It is important for us to engage them and let them understand that they are also a media with the same rights as the other traditional media.  They should put up some resistance when such orders come from above.  Thank you.

>> Thank you very much for those comments.

As you rightly pointed out, these issues are not specific to any stakeholder group, but they implicate all stakeholder groups, and within the declaration, there are a series of recommendations to all stakeholder groups on how to take forward these rather complicated issues on Internet policymaking, while respecting human rights.  But that is only a starting point.  As you say we need to put these into action including by engaging ISPs and other stakeholders.  And that is the aim of this initiative.  Yes, is it okay if we take one more?  Just one minute.  Thanks.

>> Efram with Access Now from Nairobi.  On his point about engaging with ISPs and telecos, we need to point out best practices.  For example, in Guinea which is a small country, ISPs pushed back when they are requested for user data of, for tax purposes, that was the purpose but then they wanted all the data.  We had a similar case in June in Kenya.  Using those stories as positive stories when talking to ISPs and asking them to publish transparency reports, last week I had a discussion in, leading ISP in the region, and for the first time, they publish transparency reports detailing how they were requested to shut off the Internet in Zimbabwe, those kinds of stories, we need to use this declaration, this African, the commission resolution also as positive stories and tell them this has happened.  This is what other ISPs are doing.  They issue transparency reports, why don't you do the same.  That will help us understand how our rights are being respected or not being respected within the region.  Thank you.

>> Thank you.  Always great to hear positive stories in a climate where there can be negativity.  2016 has not been a great year in a number of ways for human rights.  Thank you for coming.  Thank you to those whose session is next for your patience.  We encourage you to read the declaration and endorse it and spread the word.  Thanks.

>> Thank you very much.  We have connecting schools in Tunisia, the next session.  I don't know if the speaker is around.  Is IEEE speaker around?  Yes, it's you.

  (language other than English).

>> Hi, everyone.  Good afternoon.  My name is David.  This conference, it is in Spanish, but it is not complicated, Spanish is very easy.  I prefer this because I relay this conference to different parts of Latin America.  The title is in English.  I have this compressed in Spanish but questions, no problem.

  (receiving no translation).

I am working at lawyer firm, first unique law firm.

  (in Spanish, receiving no English translation).

>> Countries should not be involved, regarding decisions affecting, need to be respected, upheld ...

  (in Spanish, receiving no English translation)


  (end of session at 18:00)