Protection of Advocates
advocates in adverse environments have critical support for their work -> community is safer, more resilient and better equipped to overcome the obstacles -> systemic change is more sustainable
R10: Advocates have access to clearly defined and accessible safety measures enabling them to work without having their personal and communal security compromised.
Many advocates are facing threatening situations for their work in promoting free-knowledge across the world. The dangers range from online harassment to life threats. The case of Bassel Khartabil in Syria is a clear example of how dangerous it may become. While some situations concern an individual , others affect our communities on a larger scale, such as closing/censoring Wikipedia service countrywide. (Turkey, China, Venezuela).
In community conversations, members of our communities say that they do not know where to look for help should anything bad happen in their community or to themselves. They describe the lack of knowledge of legal procedures and implications, and lack of contact with lawyers that could be helpful in such cases. On a more proactive side, they are missing help and instruction in advocacy messaging that would deliver the points without exposing them to potential political backlash. As a result some are discouraged to undertake advocacy activities, other undertake them at a personal risk, and the issues they encounter often do not make it to our movement’s advocacy agenda.
There should be clear processes aiming at protecting advocates across the various environments where they might be operating.
Community feedback provides a large number of ideas and suggestions to go forward with this work. In general the proposals could be encapsulated within the hub structure as one of the services it provides to advocates. It may range from technical advice on safe communication, through help in messaging that steers away from politically charged concepts, to providing a rapid response hotline for crisis situations, such as defamatory articles, threats to personal safety, hacking, or even arrests.
One of the prerequisites of successful assistance in this area is the ability to protect the anonymity of advocates who want or need to be anonymous, and maintaining the system of unsuspicious check-ins with them to ensure they are not in danger. These measures require a level of confidentiality and as much as they should be widely accessible, there should also be consensus around less transparency to ensure their correct functioning.
The measures may include:
- Providing access to legal assistance through various means (list of partner lawyers, facilitation of legal representation at a local level, legal capacity building for advocates)
- Offering a fast-track escalation path for urgent matters (life threatening situations, sudden change in Internet access shutdowns, etc.).
- Offering capacity building on technical issues related to safety and security of information in advocacy:: use of VPN, Tor, etc.
All participants of this process - entities providing support, advocates, and advisers - need to be aware of the legal circumstances in a given context that may prohibit the use of certain technologies. The decision whether to use them or not in such situations must be taken with a full awareness of potential consequences for everybody involved.