London, MEFD – On Saturday 21st May 2016, Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization organised an international workshop on media and civil society in the Middle East at Cambridge House, London. The workshop was attended by Middle East Forum for Development (MEFD).

The event was moderated by Dr Sanjukta Ghosh, British Ahwazi Friendship Society and attended by Dr Karim Abdian, executive director of AHRO, Mosa Zahed, Executive Director of MEFD, Dr Wafik Mustafa, Chair of the British Arab Network and author of “Egypt, the elusive Arab Spring”, Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International, Dr Nour Abu Assab, Director of the Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration (CTDC) and Mehmet Aksoy, Editor-In-Chief at The panellists focused on media-related evidence of freedom of speech and human rights activism in the Middle East at the heart of international policy and advocacy practices. Moreover, special emphasis was placed on discussing the obstacles for journalists and civil society activists to share news and ideas on human rights in general.

“The experience from the Arab spring is that dictators, and big ones, were overthrown, not by Bolshevik-type parties but by young people utilising social media in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya and so on” said Dr Abdian.

Mosa Zahed specified that human rights activists in Iran used social media during the 2009 social protests for grassroots mobilisation and crowd reporting due to a regime of censorship. Zahed argued that “Modern day technology enabled human rights activists to expose, through detailed testimonies, torture and sexual harassment of men and women who were arrested during the 2009 protests and detained at the Kahrizak detention centre in Southern Tehran”. He emphasised that “As the Iranian authorities got away with the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in the space of a few months during the summer of 1988 without sparking global outrage or condemnation, Ali Khamenei was in 2009 confronted with a bitter reality, namely that getting away with atrocities would not be as easy in this digital era compared to previous decades”.

Dr Wafik Mustafa elaborated on the developments following the Arab Spring, with a particular focus on Egypt subsequent to the fall of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mustafa noted the need for caution in relation to the use of social media in human rights activism, as he believes that it is not always easy to verify reports circulated via this medium.

Mark Lattimer discussed the United Nations (U.N.) human rights mechanisms and explained its purposes in aiming to assist human rights activists in their future activities, within the U.N. framework.

Dr Nour Abu Assab argued that the U.N. often fails to address gross human rights violations despite well documented cases of atrocities, like the ones in Syria perpetrated by government forces. “One has to look to who is funding the United Nations in order to understand such phenomena”, Dr Assab added.

Mehmet Aksoy underscored the significance of social media in reporting human rights issues that mainstream media do not or cannot cover due to censorship by repressive states. Aksoy emphasised that his online news outlet which reports about Kurdish affairs and Kurdish movements in the Middle East, has acquired global significance enabling it to effectively convey issues relating to the Kurdish question.

The international workshop was attended by dozens of individuals and delegates, including representatives from Iran’s Azeri, Kurdish and Baloch communities.