The New York Time’s Cartoon Suppression Sparks Worry

The news that shook the world’s largest daily newspaper, the New York Times International. After one month of controversy following an image deemed antisemitic, starting July 1st, there will no longer be political cartoons in the newspaper’s opinion section. This decision foreshadows a complicated future for newspaper cartoonists.


A single stroke of the pen was enough to unleash a worldwide controversy.


In the April 27th issue, there is an an image of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, depicted as a dog with a star of David around his neck. Behind him, the American president, Donald Trump, is shown blind holding the « dogs » leash with a yamaca on his head.

After public outcry, the New York Times appoliogized in a letter, calling it an « error of judgement ». A justification that convinced neither American not Israeli medias.

The Israeli ambassador to the United States addressed the journal and stated « Today, the New York Times has made these pages a dream for those who hate the Jewish State. » He declared in Washington on April 29th.

The journals publication director, A.G. Sulzberger, launched a disciplinary procedure against the editor who chose this image. He also decided to no longer use cartoons coming from an outside company. (The images deemed to be antisemitic came from an outside company.)

From the White House, Donald Trump was offended for not being cited in the newspapers letter of appology. Finally, the New York Times surrendered to social media pressure and announced the end of its cartoon pages

Is freedom of opinion being threatened?

New York Times International will only be remove cartoons from the opinion section. They will not remove cartoons from from the entire newspaper.

Press cartoons are bought, sometimes in an image bank like the image by Antonio Moriera  that started the controversy. Patrick Chappatte, artist from the New York Times expressed his disappointment on his blog following this announcement.

« In these past few years, some of the best newspaper cartoonists in the US (…) have lots their jobs because their editors found them too critical of Trump (…) Maybe we should start to worry. And revolt. The newspaper cartoonists were born with democracy and when these freedoms are threatened, they are too » he condemned on his blog.

Interviewed by France Inter, Plantu declared that he is « worried for the future of our democracies and for freedom of opinion. » The artists of the world are outraged to see a journal as prestigious as the New York Times succumb to pressure from social media. « If it is pleasing to all, the freedom of the artists is going to be reduced (but that is secondary), but it is freedom of journalists, freedom of citizens and freedom of opinion that is going to fall apart. »

For Terry Anderson, illustrator and general director of Cartoonist Rights Network International, « It is undeniable that the decision from the New York Times is apart of a worldwide trend and continues to reduce the public space for cartoonists. […] This is why we whole-heartedly condemn it.

Antonio Moreira Antunes

Freedom of expression has already been previously attacked.

Antonio Moriera Antunes, author of controversial cartoon has been regularly published in Portuguese magazines and journals since 1975. This is not the artist’s first controversy, in 1992, he published a cartoon in Expresso (Portugese newspaper) that became famous and hotly contested: Pope Jean-Paul II represented with a condom on this nose. This image was put on a petition signed by 15,000 of the Portugese demanding for censorship of this cartoonist.

Charlie Hebdo

Known for its provocative images & its quirky and satirical humor, Charlie Hebdo provoked many national controversies regarding freedom of the press and opinion. In 2006, Charlie Hebdo published Danish cartoons (from the Jyllands-Posten Journal) of the prophet Muhammad. The Union of Islamic Organizations of France and The Grand Mosque of Paris started a penalty procedure against Charlie Hebdo for « slander published against a group of people due to their religion. »

Charlie Hebdo became the target of numerous amounts of threats from radical Islamists following this controversy. On January 7th, 2015, the editoral board was targeted with an attack killing 12 people, including some of the most famous artists: Cabu, Charb, Wolinsky and Tignous.

Alex

Most recently, the newspaper cartoonist, Alex was a received of death threats following the January publication of a cartoon  in « Le Courrier Picard ». The image mocked Eric Drouet, a controversial figure from the Yellow Vest Movement, caricatured as a small yellow bird being hunted by Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a French politician from the National Assembly).

« There are people, journalists but other also who knock and demolish » recalled Alex, who is worried about both the current social climate in France and the anti-media hate that has been proliferating.

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Impacts and Revelations from Disclose’s Investigative Journalists Regarding the Sale of French Arms to Saudi Arabia

On Tuesday May 28th at 7:30, there was a conference broadcast over Facebook Live at « Le Grand Bréguet », a Parisian bar to explain what happened during the explosive investigation « Made in France ». On April 15th, Disclose (a French NGO for investigative journalism) published an investigation that exposed the problem of selling french arms to Saudi Arabia.

Following this investigation, on May 14th, Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal were summoned by the DSGI (General Direction of Internal Security) – France’s internal intelligence service and judicial police of the French Ministry charged with maintaining national security.

Both journalistes were suspected of compromising national defense secrets by publishing a « confidential defense » report. A total of eight journalists from this affair were summoned by the DGSI.

Disclose accepts their decision to investigate the selling of French armes to Saudi Arabia and claims responsibility for this type of investigative journalism. Disclose is a french non-profit investigative media for general interests launched on November 6, 2018.

During the facebook live, Mathias Destal, one of its cofounders started by discussing the relevance of « Made in France » for its first investigation. The investigations concerns the selling of French arms to Saudi Arabia which will be used in the war against Yemen. Geographically, the conflict’s victims are situated thousands of miles from France.

In fact, due to the information hierarchy, information about places far from France spark less interest within the general public who are either not concered or minimally concerned about this selling of arms.

« The international organizations know the truth about these arms being sold, but this knowledge was conditional and lacked evidence » confirms one of Disclose’s cofounders. This selling of arms, supported for months by NGO’s like Amnesty International was finally proven. Disclose started their investigation after leaked documents, classified as a « Confidential Denfense » report, drafted by the DRM (Direction of Military Reassingment) in September 2018 were brought to their attention. (The DRM is a French Intelligence Agency that collects and centralizes military intelligence information for the French Armed Forces).

This was the first time that an official authority confirmed the suspicions of the NGOs. It was out of the question for Disclose’s cofounders and journalistes to disregard information that can be classified as general interest. Without knowing if the investigation would explode in French Society, the journalists had been working for many months in order to cross-check all the nessicery information to prove that this was happening.

Disclose’s motivation in this investigation was to inform the public at large about the truths omitted by the executive powers.

« The goal is to inform the public at large about the truths that were omitted by exectutive powers. » For Michel Despratx, a journalist in this investigation, it was « a great time to put an end to the substantial debate between the NGOs and the French government » regarding the selling of arms. However, spreading documents classified as « Confidential Defense », is classified as an criminal offense punishable on average with 5 years of prison and a 75,000 euros fine for each person involved.

Journalists have a professional framework: the law regarding Freedom of the Press from 1881 that that needs to be acklowledged. On the other hand, they are also protected by their status as journalistes and their need to inform the public when the investigation sparked public interest. Despite all this, the government strongly reacted, and many summons were given by the DGSI.

Benoit Collombat, one of Disclose’s journalists testifies « DGSI wanted my sources, they asked me questions about how we work. » According to them, the message behind the convictions is « Stop your interests in these subjects! » For him, it is a kind of intimidation that does not scare him and will not stop him from contining to do his job and to inform the public.

Virginie Marquet, a lawyer for the Disclose journalists in this affair confirms that the framework from the 1881 law is not without fault and divulging documents classified as « confidential defense » is a new criminal offense. This framework is not protective enough for journalists.

« A journalist’s mission is to inform, fundamental liberty and they must be protected in the professional framework of this important mission for all of the citizens. The freedom of information and expression makes our society a democracy. Journalists should benefit from protection given to their work that is, in the end, a social mission.« 

The status of journalists is challenged

In some court meetings held by the DGSI, there was no reference to their quality of their journalism. The journalists were summoned as their personal titles, meaning their status as a journalist would be disregarded in these meetings and they would be considered ordinary citizens who had committed these offenses, thus separating their identities.

This was established with the goal of obtaining as much information as possible. « The fact that they are heard as a witness, for example, gives them less rights » Virginie Marquet confirms.

Michel Despratx did not answer any of the 30 questions asked by the assembly invoking each time, the protection of his sources. Pressure is exerted on the government Benoit Collombat confirms that these court meetings are « a way of delegitimizing the subject » which had a considerable impact in France. Contrary to what was expected, the public was very interested in this affair.

The population was aware of this problem and exerted pressure on the government. According to Disclose, at the assembly, politicians discussed that concrete actions were organized like blockades and protests against loading « Cesaers le 7 » (french arms) on May 7th. These actions prove the impact of the investigation. In effect, on May 7th, 2019, a Saudi Arabian cargo ship, Bahri Yanbu, arrived at the French port in Havre so that the French armes could be shipped to Saudi Arabia. The NGO’s ASER and ACAT blocked the loading of the cargo thanks to emergency intervention.

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The State of the Press in Egypt: a Fallen Champion

Ranked 161st in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 from Reporters Without Borders, contemporary Egypt is characterized by a rapid deterioration in press freedom, subject to severe censorship and draconian state control.

Though Egypt is the source of the spread of the printing press in the Arab world, successive governments have progressively limited freedom of expression up until today, in which one wonders what remains of a space for independant, critical, and free media coverage.

The press in Egypt: on the rise in the 19th century

It is difficult to imagine that what has become a prison for journalists was once an important place for breaking news and broadcasting in the Arab world.

Returning to the era of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, the printing press rapidly developed throughout the 19th century, with the emergence of outstanding newspapers circulating the streets of Cairo.

Notably, Al-Ahram, founded in 1875, proved itself as one of the country’s most read papers. Today, Al-Ahram is a major point of reference for many daily newspapers in the country.However, the variety of Egyptian media does not reflect diversity in its content.

In reality, media publishing has been standardized to the point of becoming a mere reflection of the inescapable discourse imposed by the state.

How does the Egyptian State censor the freedom to inform?

Observing the current media landscape illustrates this lack of freedom of expression and information in today’s Egypt.

The process of restructuring the media through a systematic transfer of ownership is indicative of what Reporters Without Borders calls the « Sisyphication of the media.”

In this respect, the Media Ownership Monitor launched by Reporters Without Borders in Egypt is highly informative. The survey of structures, relationships and key actors that control the Egyptian media not only reveals the state’s pervasive presence in broadcasting, but also denounces the intervention of security and intelligence services.

This is the case of the broadcasting and satellite television sector dominated by The Egyptian Media Group, which is indirectly controlled by the secret service. Similarly, the printing sector is either concentrated around well-known state-owned enterprises, such as the Al-Ahram Establishment, or linked to private institutions owned by wealthy businessmen loyal to the regime.

Unsurprisingly, in this context of total state control, independent media and journalists are running a higher and higher risk. In addition to banning hundreds of websites, prison seems to be the regime’s preferred instrument for silencing disagreeing voices.

According to a study conducted by Reporters Without Borders in early 2019, at least 32 journalists have been arrested on charges of « threatening national security » or « defamation ».

Their profiles suggest that all journalists working independently or on sensitive topics are almost certainly destined for prison. This is the case of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, a photographer who specializes in recording the violent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Mohammed al Husseini Hassan, a journalist investigating current inflation in Egypt. The list could go on and on…

Yet this extreme state control is not limited to eliminating freedom of expression in journalism.

A repression of all forms if the freedom to inform

The repression is so widespread that it can affect all areas. Not only activists, but also poets, singers, artists, researchers, writers and bloggers can all potentially fall into the category of people who pose a threat to national security.

As a result, freedom of expression poses a very high risk under what the Deputy Director of the Project on Democracy in the Middle East (POMED), Andrew Miller, called « the most repressive government in modern Egyptian history.”

Local and international human rights organizations relentlessly denounce the practices of the Egyptian authorities that are aimed at suppressing peaceful dissent. Because of this dedicated work, they face serious threats. Among other things, POMED refers to the case of certain human rights defenders of notable NGOs, such as the Cairo Institute for the Study of Human Rights (CNCDH), the Arab Network for Information on Human Rights human rights (ANHRI), the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), accused in a lawsuit « of offending the Egyptian state, of threatening the national security and of harming the country’s interests ».

Once again, fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and information are flagrantly violated under the current state of emergency in the name of the fight against terrorism and national security.

Censorship, danger and prison are key words that come to mind when one thinks about journalism in Egypt.

In a country where journalism has become a crime, as the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reports, freedom of expression and information may become mere abstract concepts in people’s minds. This is an alarming scenario that erases even the last traces of Egypt’s distinguished past as champion of the advancement of the press and information in the Arab world.

Zoom: being a journalist in contemporary Egypt

In examining the general situation of freedom of expression and information in contemporary Egypt, it is natural to wonder what journalistic work might look like in this difficult context.

We asked Yahia Dabbous, an Egyptian student currently studying at Sciences Po School of International Business, to describe his experience as an editor of the online paper Egypt Independent.

His testimony emphasizes not only the severe control exercised by the state over the published content, but also the resulting instinctive tendency of self-censorship.

In a context where any subject can be extremely sensitive, the question of what is allowed and not allowed becomes an all-consuming thought. As a result, the journalist’s pen travels preferably within these imposed (or self-imposed) limits, leaving little or no room for the journalist’s own analysis, accuracy and creativity.

Yahia gives us several examples to illustrate the difficulty of writing and publishing articles in today’s Egypt.

Notably, in the days leading up to the presidential election of 2018, reporting news of the various arrests and withdrawals of potential candidates against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proved to be a delicate task.

For information only, the article would mention such an event; for security reasons, it would only quote the official statement, with no subsequent comments.

As Yahia describes his experience, and new facets of the profession of journalism in Egypt emerge. Among other things, the economic aspect presents itself as an urgent challenge for journalists.

Yahia recalls several colleagues who had to work two jobs to earn enough. According to Yahia, a journalist’s salary can not guarantee enough resources, especially to support a family. While journalism in today’s Egypt is clearly a risky and not very rewarding profession at various levels, Yahia’s story also highlights the ethical issues that journalists face when working for newspaper.

Media coverage of the story of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a journalist selected for the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize and imprisoned for covering the 2013 Rabaa event, is an example of such a challenge.

The national press mainly broadcast the official narrative around a journalist described as « terrorist » and « criminal » by the regime. Knowing Mahmoud Abu Zeid personally, his story, and his work, Yahia and other editors refused to publish such an article and were faced with the only alternative: to leave the paper.

Thus ended prematurely Yahia’s experience as an editor of Egypt Independent. Yahia’s story reflects our understanding of the implications of this drastic state control on the media.

What may sometimes appear as the abstract concept of freedom of expression is rather a primordial human right whose impact on society and individuals has never been more concrete. 

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The state of the press in Afghanistan: the country where journalists die the most

In the first two months of 2019, the Afghan Media Community lost three of its members in two successive incidents. Javid Noori, a radio journalist, was executed by the Taliban on January 5, 2019 in the western province of Farah. The second attack targeted the premises of a radio station in the northeast of the country and caused the deaths of two journalists, Shafiq Aria and Rahimullah Rahmani. On the heels of 2018, the year 2019 in Afghanistan is already announced as one of the most deadly for practicing journalists.

In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan as the worst country in the world for journalists, with the assassination of 15 news professionals in one year. The NGO Nai SOMA -Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan- recorded in 2019 a number of violent acts committed against the press in the country, from the killing of these three journalists, to the armed attacks against editorial staff, including radio stations in the provinces and Taliban threats against two journalists in the south of the country, as well as the incessant insults that all professionals deal with every day.

An Afghan policy for the diversity of the press

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the media law passed by the Afghan Parliament in its wake, media growth has been exponential.

Afghanistan is the birthplace of more than 500 newspapers, 76 TV channels, nearly 150 radio stations and numerous news agencies. There is momentum towards plurality, thanks to the success of the government, but journalists today pay a high price.

Omnipresent insecurity

Working as a journalist in war-torn Afghanistan is not easy and security is a major issue for all professionals in the country.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are about 20 regional and international terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, the result of a 40-year war that has hit the population and journalists hard. The number of acts of violence against the profession have been steadily increasing since 2014 and since the withdrawal of foreign troops.

196 cases of violence were recorded in 2018 by Nai SOMA, including killings, beatings, violent injuries, insults, repeated arrests, kidnapping, attacks on editors and reduction of news sources.

A double bombing on the streets of Kabul on April 30, 2018 resulted in the death of nine journalists, including Sha Marai Fezi, an AFP correspondent photographer, and six reporters from Radio Free Europe and Tolo News, making it the worst attack in the world against the press since 2009.

Who is behind the violence against journalists?

Committees for the protection of journalists emphasize the responsibility of the Afghan government for the ongoing insecurity of journalists in the field.

Insurgent groups

The Taliban and ISIS, directly involved in crimes against humanity, are primarily responsible for attacking news professionals in Afghanistan, targeting journalists in order to silence the country’s press.

The April 2018 bombing of nine journalists and the assassination of seven members of the TOLO TV team in Kabul in 2016 are just some examples of the violence of these Taliban groups against the profession of journalism.

The attack perpetrated in November 2017 on the building of the TV channel Shamshad TV is an illustration of the war carried out by ISIS.

Afghan officials, security forces and militants

Afghan journalists and reporters who publish investigations and articles that are critical of the government also face threats and violence from the representatives of the Afghan public authorities.

According to the NAI SOMA, the government and its officials are responsible for about 62 cases of violence against press professionals.

The last obstacle to freedom of the press in the country: the barons of war and their permanent intimidation against any author of articles harmful to their business.

Self-censorship

Many media professionals have practiced self-censorship as a pledge of survival; The government and other perpetrators of journalists’ rights violations play a key role in increasing the pressure on the shoulders of “those who wish to speak,” and maintain the vicious circle of self-censorship.

The imbalance between security and self-censorship of the journalist is particularly noticeable in the treatment of subjects related to drugs, the activities of terrorist groups and other types of illegal traffic.

© Helmand Media office

The precarity of Afghan journalists

While the perception of their profession can appear rather positive to Afghan journalists thanks to the types of contracts that are satisfactory for many of them (according to the internal reports) and clearly defined compensation, many abuses and a certain precariousness have been deplored by many professionals.

The pressure exercised by the press bosses on their employees is commonplace and feeds on the legal vagueness that covers many contracts. Legal remedies are very often prevented, a situation that makes it even more difficult for journalists to work calmly. Many journalists and reporters based in Afghanistan have faced unfair dismissals from their bosses.

Financial dependence of the Afghan media

Independence of the media in Afghanistan is made impossible by the dependency that binds them to aid from abroad, which come from certain national opposition parties or are even instrumentalized by foreign powers.

The « donor » often matches their funding with an agenda of topics to be addressed by the recipient newspaper, thus serving their own interests over those of the general public. Media outlets with financial difficulties must dismiss their teams or are forced to close their editorial staff.

The exile of journalists

According to the NAI SOMA more than 300 journalists fled Afghanistan for Europe in 2015 following the violence on the ground. There are departures of media professionals in groups of 15 or 20 accompanied by their families.

The violence of exile adds to all of the violence that has come before. In 2016, photojournalist Feroz Muzafar and his family were killed off the coast of Turkey with one last hope of reaching Europe, adding to the total number of Afghan journalists who have died for their jobs.

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    Suddenly, his family and friends found themselves into an unprecedented situation that required careful consideration. What were the best steps to take? Which were the most suitable people to reach out? Which organizations could help following his case? Who could be trusted?

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Constitutional amendments: A decisive step towards the total oblivion of human rights in Egypt?

On February 3, 2019 the Egyptian parliament proposed a series of constitutional amendments that would involve most remarkably an extension of the presidential limit mandate, an expansion of the role of the military in the state and a further decrease of judicial independence. After two months of work on the final version of these constitutional amendments, the two further steps of the final parliamentary vote and the following popular referendum are approaching. It is in this context that debates arise surrounding the implications of this potential change and, most importantly, its concrete impact on the already vanishing human rights in Egypt.

Amnesty International’s public statement on April 8 urging the Egyptian parliament to reject the proposed constitutional amendments in reason of their “devastating consequences for human rights” rings the bells of the danger. The proposed amendments to the constitution undoubtedly represent a crucial step in Egypt’s history on multiple levels.

Naturally, many questions arise concerning the future of human rights such as freedom of expression in an epoch when, more than ever, they are already outrageously neglected.

Ranked 161th in the Reporters Sans Frontières’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt under the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been suffering from a deploring suppression of freedom of expression that takes a multiplicity of forms. In addition to arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, bloggers, artists, writers, researchers, the state exercises a draconian state control that leaves little or no space for dissenting voices.

Numerous Human Rights Organizations unremittingly denounce the current scenario by reporting the innumerous state practices that undermine human rights. Among others, a report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reveals that in the first 11 months of 2018 at least 32 people were executed and 581 death sentences were issued.

Under such circumstances, one could look at these constitutional amendments as a mere reaffirmation of the existing state policy of disrespect for human rights. However, the significance of these constitutional amendments is considerable and its implications are far-reaching.

Among the major proposed changes, amended Article 140 would extend the presidential term from four to six years. Through a strategic mechanism that “resets” the current president’s clock in office, al-Sisi will thus be allowed to legally stay in power until 2034. The executive will also take increasing control over the judiciary, crippling judicial independence. In addition, the military political role’s will be expanded under amended Article 2000, making the Armed Forces responsible for “maintaining the constitution and democracy, safeguarding the basic components of the state, and its civil nature, in addition to the people’s achievements and individual rights and freedoms”.

Evidently, the language of the proposed amendments suggests a further consolidation of the president and military power, deleting for good even the last few liberal traces of the 2014 Constitution. Numerous Human Rights Organizations have expressed their concerns for the future of the country if these amendments were to be approved. Distinctly, Project on the Middle East Democracy (POMED) warns against an alarming move “towards a personalist dictatorship under al-Sisi’s control”.

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International Magdalena Mughrabi’s statement highlighting that these amendments “would grant Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and security forces free rein to further abuse their powers and suppress peaceful dissent for years to come” helps grasp the dimension of the issues at stake. While perpetuating the current overwhelming state control  that characterizes today’s Egypt, under the amended constitution any possibility of politically or legally challenge the indisputable power of the government will vanish.

As Baudouin Long, associated researcher at CEDEJ (Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales) of Cairo, highlights in a public conference on April 3 in Paris, the idea of substantial change and consolidation of power through legal instruments such as the constitution was already conceived in Mubarak’s era. Now al-Sisi proves in facts to be determined to go down this road, leading some analysts to assess al-Sisi’s government as the most repressive regime of modern Egyptian history.

In an article for Foreign Policy titled “Worse than Mubarak”, POMED’s Deputy Director for Research Amy Hawthorne and Deputy Director for Policy Andrew Miller compare the two regimes and suggest that through an institutionalization of his political system “al-Sisi is bringing a new form of totalitarianism to Egypt”.

While the Egyptian streets start being filled with banners “Vote yes” in preparation for the highly probable referendum scheduled between April 19 to 24 according to Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar, voices of dissent spring up. Together with the opposition remarkably expressed by the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, Karama Party, Conservatives Party, Tagammu Party and Reform and Development Party, prominent Egyptian figures such as the award-winning actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga condemn the proposed amendments.

Despite the current state of repression -that will likely further degenerate in the imminent future- not all Egyptians are ready to stop expressing themselves and exercising the primordial right of letting individuals’ voices and opinions freely be heard for which they have stood up for in the 2011 Revolution.

The graffiti on the walls of Zamalek neighborhood captured by the Cairo-based journalist Francesca Cicardi is one example of this strenuous resistance in the name of freedom of expression and respect for human rights.

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