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 Open Letter to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Re: Kurdish Rights Activists Censored

  Opinion — Analysis 
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Open Letter to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Re: Kurdish Rights Activists Censored  17.7.2012  
By Jihan Muhamad 

July 17, 2012

Dear Ms. Suzanne Nossel (Executive Director of Amnesty International USA) and Mr. Kenneth Roth (Executive Director of Human Rights Watch),

My name is Jihan Muhamad, I am a Kurdish rights activist based in Canada. I am writing to you today on behalf of Kurdish rights activists raising awareness about their cause through social media. I would like to inform you that in recent months the voice of the Kurdish cause has been severely suppressed, not only on the ground, but online by the social media networks of Facebook and Twitter.

Both Kurds and non-Kurds use social media as an active base to raise awareness about the Kurdish cause. Activists have engaged with tools such as Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness about the political issues of the Kurds and to shed light on the vast human rights abuses taking place against Kurds in the states of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Being critical of the actions of nation-states is in itself a challenge, especially if you live in one of these nations, but when social media networks deliberately engage in censoring the voice of activists online for the benefit of the nation this makes our work as activists even tougher.

In recent months both Facebook and Twitter have deliberately engaged in censoring the voice of Kurdish rights activists online. Facebook has been actively shutting down the accounts of people who break their content policy, a policy that is in direct discrimination of the rights of activists engaging in political awareness about the Kurdish cause. An article published in the British Daily Mail speaks to this, as a leaked document shows the content Facebook chooses to block from its site, such content includes: maps of Kurdistan, “attacks” on Turkey’s founder Ataturk, burning of the Turkish flag, and anything related to the PKK or Ocalan (unless the content is clearly against them).

Facebook’s policy has resulted in the denial of freedom of expression of Kurdish rights activists online. Activists face suspension of their accounts or removal of information if Facebook deems content posted to be against their pro-Turkish stance. The stance Facebook has taken is a dangerous one and has been broadened to include removing information of news from Kurdish protests in the region.

In recent demonstrations in Turkey’s South-East region of Diyarbakir, Kurdish rights activists used both Facebook and Twitter to engage in raising awareness about the plight of demonstrators. On July 14th as Kurds and democratically elected Kurdish MPs were faced with brutal attacks by Turkish forces during protests--including being faced by gas bombs, pressurized water, and physically beaten with clubs while demonstrating--activists took to social media to raise awareness about events taking place on the ground.

As Kurdish rights activists attempted to raise awareness about the demonstrations both Facebook and Twitter engaged in censorship of Kurdish content online. For four to five hours during demonstrations Twitter blocked the hashtag “#TwitterKurds” from its site--a forum which activists use to raise awareness about the plight of Kurds. Simultaneously, Facebook blocked content of users portraying images of the demonstrations taking place on the ground.

Censorship activity by Twitter and Facebook only adds to the suppression of the Kurdish cause. Historically the states of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq have records of mass human rights abuses against their Kurdish minorities. Today the state of Turkey continues to silence the voice of its 25 million Kurds by censoring Kurdish news sources online and imprisoning Kurdish journalists, lawyers, and politicians. Social media should be a tool to challenge abuses of states against its population, not to further suppress the voices of those most vulnerable.

The censorship activity that Facebook and Twitter have engaged in is in clear violation of freedom of expression. This is not only dangerous for the Kurdish rights cause but for the international struggle for human rights of all peoples. Social media has become an important tool for activists in raising awareness about human rights abuses worldwide. Therefore, I urge you in your responsibility as the director of a prominent human rights organization to condemn the censorship activity of Facebook and Twitter so activists can continue to speak out against the oppression that Kurds face in the region.

Sincerely yours,

Jihan Muhamad
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
July 16, 2012

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


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