Civil society under pressure

An award ceremony cancelled for “security reasons”, an arrest warrant issued over hurt feelings, a restrictive funding law. Casey Kelso, TI’s Advocacy Director, on a new report about the legal measures governments are using to limit NGOs’ room for manoeuvre, and what this means for TI.

I was watching a Harry Potter film with the kids the day after Christmas when my work phone rang. Bad news, when it rings at an odd hour: I coordinate emergency reaction when our National Chapters are under threat.

In this case, an alert TI staff member chatting on FaceBook got a jolt: police had a warrant to arrest the Executive Director of TI Bangladesh!

One judge, offended that the judiciary came top for bribery in TIB’s latest survey, had filed a suit against the chapter for defamation.

That same night, our Africa and Middle East director was half asleep listening to the radio.  A report woke her up: TI Morocco was also having trouble with the authorities.

Local activists were told to cancel an award ceremony honouring whistle-blower Chakib El Khyari who was sentenced to three years in prison and human rights lawyer Abderrahim Berrada who helped found the TI chapter there. This week they cancelled it again.

This came on the heels of new NGO restrictions in Venezuela. In its last hours of power, the lame duck parliament was giving authorities control of foreign funding of national NGOs (like Transparency International) and limiting internet access. It also gave President Chavez the authority to pass further laws by decree for the next 18 months!

That’s just a snapshot of the pressure many local TI organisations and anti-corruption activists faced in 2010 and the first days of 2011.

According to Civicus, TI was not alone. Their report, The Clampdown is Real, says the last two years have seen a harsh government crackdown on civil society through security, legal and policy restrictions.

I can relate to that.

They conclude that in 2011 civil society needs to “reclaim the space that has been lost over the past few years”.

That sounds like a good New Year’s resolution to me. TI will keep defending its activists in 2011, but I hope to go on the offensive and push this issue at regional and international levels.

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