While conversion from Hinduism to other minority religions has been closely enforced with the threat of such conversions triggering criminal charges, conversion including forced-conversions of non-Hindus to Hinduism continues to be practiced with relative impunity. The anti-cow slaughter laws have deep roots in Indian tradition.
Furthermore, groups of mobs have instigated a campaign of harassment and intimidation against individuals who work in the dairy industry an industry that does not perform cow slaughter. The issues are pilling up for religious minorities in India. In order to ensure that everyone enjoys the right to freedom of religion or belief, India needs to put in place an urgent and comprehensive response. Cases of religiously motivated violence or violence against religious minorities need to be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Victims of such atrocities need to be provided with assistance.
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The report tells the stories of how liberal the provisions are used, for example:. Ewelina U. Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin Religious freedom in India continues to deteriorate and it has been on a gradual decline for at least a decade.
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In Armenia, digital journalist Davit Harutyunyan reported that police officers assaulted him and broke his equipment to stop him from sharing live footage of police attacking other journalists as they covered antigovernment demonstrations. Even in democracies such as the United States, live-streaming tools have become critical to social justice causes. In one case, live video broadcast on social media by the girlfriend of black motorist Philando Castile after he was fatally shot by police in Minnesota in July helped bring the incident to nationwide prominence.
Journalists have embraced live streaming, and it has developed into an accessible alternative to broadcast television channels, especially in countries whose traditional media outlets do not tell the full story.
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In a testament to the success of this strategy, the protocol that allows Instagram users to stream video was briefly blocked, and when it became accessible again, the hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi embraced the platform as well. Government censors have had to adapt to the trend. In Bahrain, the information ministry banned news websites from streaming live video altogether in July Others, like Iran when it blocked Instagram, used more ad hoc methods to disrupt live streaming when it was already in progress.
Venezuelan regulators ordered service providers to block three websites that broadcast live as tens of thousands of protesters marched against President Maduro in April In June, live coverage of anticorruption protests in Russia was interrupted when the electricity supply to the office of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was intentionally cut off, leaving his YouTube channel Navalny Live without light and sound. The public use of smartphones to document events in real time turned ordinary internet users into citizen journalists—and easy targets for law enforcement officials.
At least two video bloggers were arrested and a third was fined for broadcasting antigovernment Freedom Day protests in Belarus; local colleagues observed that they lack the institutional support and legal protections of their professional counterparts. Yet a Belarusian animal rights worker was fined in a separate case because a court found that her live video from a rescue shelter violated a law governing mass media broadcasts. Live streaming has earned notoriety for enabling users to broadcast nudity, drug use, or even violence.
Some countries restricted real-time broadcasts to curb obscenity, but the effects extended to journalism and digital activism. And in China, police in southern Guangdong Province shut down hundreds of live-streaming channels during a purge of pornography and other illegal content—a category that includes banned news and commentary.
A wave of extraordinary cyberattacks caused significant disruptions and data breaches over the past year. Showcasing increasingly bold political motivations, hackers also infiltrated the servers of the U. Democratic National Committee in and the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron in While these intrusions made headlines, similar attacks have hit human rights defenders, opposition members, and media outlets around the world at a higher rate than ever before, often with the complicity of their own governments. Technical attacks against government critics were documented in 34 of the 65 countries assessed, up from 25 in the edition.
Rather than protecting vulnerable users, numerous governments took additional steps to restrict encryption, which further exposed their citizens to cyberattacks. Security vulnerabilities present government-affiliated entities with an opportunity to intimidate critics and censor dissent online while avoiding responsibility for their actions.
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It is often difficult to identify with certainty those responsible for anonymous cyberattacks, including when suspicions of government involvement are high. The likes of China, Ethiopia, Iran, and Syria consistently produce the most pervasive attacks by state-affiliated actors, but the dynamic and weakly regulated market for military-grade cyber tools has lowered the financial bar for engaging in such activity. Even local law enforcement agencies can now persecute their perceived foes with limited oversight.
In fact, technical attacks currently represent the second most common form of internet control assessed by Freedom House, behind arrests of users for political or social content. Activists and media outlets often have only minimal defenses against technical attacks, which can result in censorship, surveillance, content manipulation, and intimidation. Many attacks still go unreported, especially when there are no clear channels to document such incidents, or when the victims fear reprisals for speaking out.
Activists and media outlets in at least 18 countries reported service interruptions caused by cyberattacks—especially DDoS attacks, in which simultaneous requests from many computers overwhelm and disable a website or system. These types of attacks have become an easy and relatively inexpensive way to retaliate against those who report on sensitive topics.
Eurasia and Latin America were the regions that featured the most successful attacks. In Azerbaijan, the independent online news platform Abzas reported receiving a series of DDoS attacks that lasted for several days in January The website was inaccessible until it migrated to a more secure host. A forensic investigation tracked the IP addresses that launched the attack to several Azerbaijani government institutions.
Venezuelan news and civil society organizations noted a surge in the number of reported attacks in early The disruption temporarily prevented the group from informing users about the distribution of medicines. Victims reportedly had their devices or accounts hacked, with suspected political motives, in at least 17 countries. The threat of surveillance can have a chilling effect on the work of journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition political activists, who were specifically targeted in a number of cases during the past year.
In the United Arab Emirates UAE , spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO—which says it only markets the technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies—was employed against human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, echoing previous reports on government contracts with the Italian company Hacking Team to monitor rights activists. NSO spyware was also used against prominent Mexican journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists, who received highly personalized and often intimidating messages. One of the many targets was a lawyer representing parents of 43 student protesters who disappeared in Days after he clicked on a link in a text message purportedly seeking his help, a recording of a call between him and one of the parents appeared online.
Rather than taking measures to protect businesses, citizens, and vulnerable groups from these cybersecurity threats, many governments are moving in the opposite direction. Restrictions on encryption continued to expand, perpetuating a trend that Freedom on the Net has tracked for a number of years.
At least six countries—China, Hungary, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam—recently passed or implemented laws that may require companies or individuals to break encryption, offering officials so-called backdoor access to confidential communications. Encryption scrambles data so that it can only be read by the intended recipient, offering an essential layer of protection for activists and journalists who need to communicate securely.
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But even democratic governments often perceive it merely as a tool to shield terrorist and other criminal activity from law enforcement agencies. European countries have been quick to legislate in the wake of terrorist attacks, introducing measures that could compromise security for everyone.
Antiterrorism legislation passed in Hungary in July requires providers of encrypted services to grant authorities access to client communications. But UN special rapporteur David Kaye has found that encryption and anonymity are essential for upholding free expression and the right to privacy. Other governments have cited cybersecurity and counterterrorism priorities to justify measures that clearly grant state agencies the power to surveil activists and journalists in the context of harsh crackdowns on dissent.
Recent amendments to Thailand's computer crimes law that could compel service providers to "decode" computer data are particularly concerning. Similar concerns had been raised in the past over Chinese-issued root certificates and the potential for abuse. In repressive countries like these, private messages are often used to prosecute government critics. A Thai military court sentenced a political activist to more than 11 years in prison in January based partly on transcripts that supposedly documented a private Facebook Messenger exchange.
A low level of technical literacy among policymakers has often translated into legislation that is problematic in terms of both human rights and implementation. Despite these often problematic regulations from governments, private companies are attempting to provide customers with improved security measures. Like Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and others, the company also alerts users who it suspects are victims of an attack by state-sponsored hackers.
While commercial protection can be expensive, some private initiatives have offered free protection for news outlets and human rights sites that cannot afford commercial fees. Such services can assist in combating some of the most pervasive attacks, but civil society organizations and independent media outlets still struggle to keep up with the overwhelming array of tactics used by their opponents in cyberspace, let alone build up the necessary awareness and capacity to proactively prevent and mitigate these threats. Six countries—Belarus, China, Egypt,Russia, Turkey, and the UAE—stepped up efforts to control these tools in the past year, by either passing legislation that bans censorship circumvention or blocking websites or network traffic associated with VPNs.
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Such crackdowns often follow periods of aggressive censorship that prompt users to seek out ways to bypass the new information restrictions. The government in Egypt, which began blocking independent news websites for the first time in December , censored at least five websites offering VPNs in Campaigns against VPNs are unpopular and difficult to enforce. Many people depend on VPNs for different functions, including corporate employees accessing remote file servers and security-conscious internet users logging onto open Wi-Fi networks in public. In countries that block international news and information, local scientists, economists, and even government officials rely on VPNs to stay informed.
For this reason, no country has sought to ban VPNs completely. Instead, the most repressive states are moving toward a two-tier system that would authorize certain VPNs for approved uses and ban the rest. Even if VPN traffic proves impossible to regulate comprehensively, states can steer users toward domestic providers that are more likely to cooperate with local law enforcement and security agencies, and create laws to penalize anyone caught using a secure connection for the wrong reason.
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In the UAE, internet users and businesses scrambled to understand the implications of new amendments to the cybercrime law, which prescribed heavy fines and possible prison terms for the misuse of VPNs to commit fraud or crime. Separately, Russia passed a law obliging ISPs to block websites offering VPNs that can be used to access banned content; Russian authorities raided the local offices and seized servers belonging to one foreign VPN provider, Private Internet Access, in VPNs have been periodically restricted in at least nine other countries, including Iran, where government authorities reportedly created their own VPN tools that allowed users to access banned content but subjected all of their activities to state monitoring.
Some VPNs are harder to monitor and block, offering stronger security protocols and strict policies against exposing user data.
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But repressive governments specifically target the more secure tools. Tor, a project that encrypts and anonymizes web traffic by routing it through a complex network of volunteer computers, was subject to new blocking orders amid tightening censorship in Belarus, Turkey, and Egypt. Blocking orders may pertain to the website where users download dedicated software required to access the Tor network, or to traffic from the computers that make up the network itself.