Free Press Reduces Poverty
Strong governments and effective leadership offer lasting improvements for those living in poverty, as they provide social and economic structure for a nation. Efficiency and transparency of government actions and regulations are the first steps toward protecting individual rights. The promotion of transparent governments leans toward a democratic governing system, where citizens may have the right to elect their officials and representatives. The free press and its contributions to democracy in helping to eradicate poverty may not always be at the forefront of aid organizations’ initiatives. Many organizations, however, do recognize that journalists help provide transparency about the states of governments to the people and that a free press reduces poverty.

What is a Free Press and Who Has One?

A free press means that private and public newspapers, magazines or radio programs have the right to report the news without being controlled by the government. This critical freedom from the government’s powers means that the press may act as the people’s eyes and ears for the shifts and changes within the institutions of power.

Unfortunately, more than a third of the world lives under presses that are not free or media coverage that their governments highly control and censor. In the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index, it is unsurprising that more developed and economically stable countries find themselves at the top of the ranking. Norway comes in first, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Ranking at the bottom are countries with highly restrictive governments or some of the poorest nations, such as Yemen, Syria, Sudan and Turkmenistan.

How Does a Free Press Reduce Poverty?

A free press reduces poverty by allowing for an open exchange of information and opinions among ordinary citizens; there is no need for government clearance to learn about the day to day government actions. Journalism provides transparency which helps decrease the risk of corruption in governments and holds them accountable for their actions. A free press helps provide a channel of information about government actions for public assessment and debate. Citizens can see exactly how governments spend taxes or what revenues from big industries they receive. They can even see inside houses of governments where administrators sign laws. Knowledge about the government and freedom to express opinions without fear empowers ordinary citizens.

Debate and exchanging information and ideas is a foundational component of democratic practices. Free presses allow for free debate among the people and not just the political leaders. While debates among community members may not immediately change laws, the debate itself establishes self-autonomy, because everyone participates in conversations and decisions that affect their lives.

Countries with stronger economies and less poverty require strong and stable governments to utilize their resources and to participate in foreign markets. Strong governments strive to enable the political voices of even the poorest populations. Improving governance includes maintaining fair laws, respecting human rights and combating corruption. By promoting all of these, a free press can reduce poverty.

Who is Fighting for Freedom of the Press?

The USAID is one organization that has recognized how a free press reduces poverty. By strengthening journalistic skills, building economic self-sustainability of media outlets and working to legally protect press independence, USAID promotes freedom of the press in 35 countries. The organization’s work in Afghanistan produced a national network of 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations.

Reporters Without Borders advocates for a free press in order to promote democracy, development and individual empowerment. It helps journalists gain access to equipment anywhere from bulletproof vests to insurance. Working in countries across five continents, the organization monitors a great number of countries’ treatment of journalists and their rankings of press freedom.

The Windhoek Declaration

Some countries, like Namibia, decided to take matters into their own hands. The 1991 Declaration of Windhoek on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” helped establish a foundation for a free press in Africa by joining the forces of journalists, editors and media owners across the continent. The Windhoek Declaration helped spark the establishment of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). MISA’s continental email alert system hoped to make the world aware of violations of media freedom as soon as they occurred, bringing national attention to the power and importance of journalists. Inspired by the success of the Windhoek Declaration, similar support for free press like the Declaration of Santiago in Chile, the Declaration of Sana’a in Yemen and the Declaration of Sofia in Bulgaria, soon followed.

The globe recognizes the Windhoek Declaration and leaders of the conference even consulted with the U.N. for the implementation of International Press Freedom Day every May 3rd. The Declaration has inspired and allowed journalists to start their own independent newspapers like MediaFax in Mozambique and The Monitor in Malawi.

The purpose of a free press is to empower ordinary citizens, no matter their economic status. By providing honest information, journalists help hold political leaders accountable and decrease government corruption. Through the democratic power of debate, even the poorest populations can have a political voice.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr

Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on familyMartin Luther King Jr. is remembered for many things. He was the leader of the American Civil Rights movement, an advocate for nonviolence, an inspirational speaker and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. At home, he was also a husband and father to four children. His dedication to his family was deeply connected to his vision for the United States. In fact, Dr. King’s mission for peace and equality was greatly inspired by his desire to help future generations of children. He consistently used familial metaphors and symbols to illustrate his greater points. Here are the top Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on family.

Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes on Family

  1. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)
  2. “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will, in the end, connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.” (Date unknown)
  3. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” (speech in St. Louis, March 22, 1964)
  4. “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands…” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)
  5. “The group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.” (Date unknown)
  6. “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” (New York Journal-American, September 10th, 1962)
  7. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” (Strength To Love, published 1981).
  8. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on family went hand in hand with his mission for equality. Whether it was America’s children or his own, Dr. King emphasized coexisting and love for one another throughout his famous speeches. He used images of brotherhood and children to exemplify the relationships he believed Americans should have with one another. To Dr. King, family referred to more than blood relatives. It encompassed all people in the United States, regardless of color. Today, his message of prioritizing family is forever ingrained in his legacy, to be studied and appreciated by generations to come.

Natalie Malek
Photo: Flickr

Global MetricsWhile there are many websites that offer a detailed analysis of the problems facing the world’s poor and their solutions, a deeper understanding of global metrics and indexes will help curious supporters conduct their own research and make informed decisions on the economic, political and social statuses of impoverished countries around the world. Often times, a combination of multiple indicators from multiple governmental and NGO bodies is necessary to form a full picture of a country’s attitudes towards impoverished populations, the economy and governance.

The Three Main Global Metrics

To understand the economy of a country, researchers will look at global metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP), Gini index and the unemployment rate. The GDP is a broad metric measuring the total value of goods produced in the domestic market of the economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) cites the GDP as “the most popular indicator of [a] nation’s overall economic health.” What the BEA fails to mention is that GDP ignores wealth inequality, quality of life and overall happiness of the labor force.

The Gini index, on the other hand, measures only income inequality. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the Gini index as “the extent to which income…among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.” Scores closer to 100 indicate a more unequal society while a score closer to zero indicates a more equal society.

The unemployment rate measures more than just the amount of population able to work but not working. More specifically, it measures the number of people in the labor force looking for a job but who remain unemployed. These three indicators working together can paint a more accurate picture than one alone, but without indicators of political and social health, the overall analysis of a country remains foggy.

Other Important Global Metrics

To better understand the political situation of a country, readers can consult indexes and indicators from a multitude of NGO and governmental watchdogs.

  1. Freedom House creates a comprehensive guide to the status of democracy in each country yearly. Freedom House breaks down its analysis into three categories: “freedom rating, political rights and civil liberties.” Along with these three categories, Freedom House also offers an overview of the key issues facing a countries democracy or lack thereof.
  2. The Economist also offers a comprehensive Democracy Index, which takes into account five categories. These include the “electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation and political culture.” Freedom House ranks countries from free to not free whereas The Economist ranks each country in a list that helps give global context to each situation.
  3. The U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures indicators of social happiness to round out the political and economic indicators and give a completely holistic view of a country. HDI takes into account a number of complex factors but, in short, it consists of “a summary of average achievements in key dimensions of human development [such as] a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and [having] a decent standard of living.” With a broad scope, HDI can look at metrics that other indexes cannot, such as education and life expectancy. Along with HDI, the World Happiness Report (WHR) offers a holistic analysis of how politics, economics and other indicators of happiness can shed light on a particular country or region. The WHR reports that they “focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and governmental policies” that change reports of happiness.

Overall Data Collection

A good place to start for general research into specific countries is the CIA World Factbook. The Factbook includes a summary of the country in question and will provide global metrics mentioned such as GDP, ethnic groups, population growth rate, government type and even electricity access. Global metrics are relatively intuitive, but using only one will offer a narrow view into a specific sector of a countries society.

For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, the real GDP growth rate of Ethiopia is the fifth highest in the world in 2017, but 29.6 percent of the Ethiopian population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was ranked 180 out of 218 countries studied. Just looking at the real GDP growth rate would lead to the assumption that the economy of Ethiopia thrives and that all members of society benefit from the expansion. However, other global metrics tell a different more concerning story.

Freedom House, along with its democracy in the world report, also operates a number of programs around the world in the interest of freedom. Freedom House’s “Latin America Program” seeks to help “citizens defend their rights against government abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Freedom House has similar programs in both Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that work towards the political rights of citizens through improving factors such as the rule of law and civic knowledge and engagement. In this way, Freedom House goes beyond just identifying factors that exacerbate global poverty. It goes a step further and also implements programs to fight it.

Having a well-informed viewpoint on the factors that allow for systemic ills in nations across the world helps supporters make informed decisions about how to combat global poverty whether through advocacy, donation or personal action. Some NGOs go beyond observing and documenting poverty to implementing plans to combat it. Whichever approach is used, global metrics help people to stay informed from many different approaches to help enact change.

Spencer Julian
Photo: Flickr

Alternatives to Refugee Camps
Refugees are a reoccurring topic in the global news cycle recently and yet their living situations are rarely understood. The common picture on the news of long lines at refugee camps is a sad one that illustrates the unfortunate conditions displaced people often live in. Fortunately, it does not need to be this way. According to the U.N.’s official policy, alternatives to refugee camps should be pursued whenever possible as they increase the freedom of their inhabitants, build a sustainable community and reduce costs.

The Problems with Camps

While camps are one of the first things that come to mind when talking about refugees, they are far from an ideal setting. The most glaring issue with camps is that they restrict the freedom of their residents. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the defining feature of a camp…”is some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees…”. This usually refers to restrictions on things like moving around, starting businesses or even protection services.

While restricting the freedom of refugees is bad from a human rights perspective, it also has negative implications for the countries hosting them. A key failure of camps is the inability to create a community. This makes it difficult for refugees to reintegrate to either their host or home countries after they leave the camp.

Despite these problems, there are always going to be situations where camps are unavoidable. Thankfully, by finding alternatives, the U.N. and other organizations would be better equipped to make the few necessary camps as hospitable as possible.

A Way Forward Through Alternatives

In contrast to camps, the U.N. says alternatives “will be defined by the degree to which refugees are able to exercise their rights”. One common feature of alternatives is that they allow refugees to hold jobs and participate in the local economy. This allows refugees to have somewhat of a normal life while they are displaced and lets them live with dignity in a community.  Refugees also integrate better back into their home communities when they have greater freedoms while displaced.

A shining example of this is an alternative employed with Sudanese refugees living in Nigeria. The group of refugees came from a tribe of nomads. Having restricted movement in a camp would have been such a disruption for their way of life that it would have been hard for them to reintegrate into their communities. The UNHCR recognized this and set them up in a situation where they could continue to move nomadically with their livestock. Out of this situation, a community market formed organically, allowing the refugees to live richer lives and integrate back into their home easier.

Alternatives can also provide an answer to conflicts that arrive between host countries and refugees. The clash of cultures that often occurs can alienate refugees and disrupt the host country’s citizens. A camp only exacerbates this problem by further isolating each group without taking either’s concerns into account. A key focus for alternatives is to pay attention to everyone’s perspective. The Nigerian example illustrates this well since the nomadic culture of the refugees allows them to live peacefully rather than struggling against being kept in a camp.

Alternatives to refugee camps should be pursued whenever possible. Protecting the freedom of refugees is vital to maintaining their dignity and helping them reintegrate once they can go back to their homes. While some sort of camp will always be necessary, the worst parts of them can be avoided and alternatives offer a bright path forward.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr


The stories of female Afghan writers and reporters are critical to the journalistic landscape of a country that sharply discriminates against women. Founded in 2015, Sahar Speaks brings these unique voices to light, providing mentoring, training and publishing opportunities for Afghan female journalists.

According to the organization, the name “Sahar” translated into English means “dawn,” meant to imply that a new period in time is commencing in which women can share their narratives and bring them to light. The program is transforming the journalism career path, allowing female correspondents to participate in international media and fostering their representation in the global field.

Women represent a marginalized group in Afghanistan and many cannot even openly speak with men. While the press corps is comprised of 9,000 journalists, only about 1,000 are female. After the 2001 expulsion of the Taliban, many news offices were established in Afghanistan by foreigners who primarily hired men and their close relatives. Until the origination of Sahar Speaks, no female reporters worked at foreign news outlets in Kabul.

British-American journalist Amie Ferris-Rotman founded the program to address this issue of gender inequity, giving women a platform through which they can freely communicate their perspectives. The project has helped to support insight into the lives of Afghan women whose experiences and accounts have been absent from the public eye.

While Afghan men or people from different countries are usually the ones telling the stories of Afghan women, the organization aims to return agency to Afghan female correspondents. Sahar Speaks has trained 22 Afghan female journalists and has prepared them for work on an international level. Through the program, budding reporters are paired with mentors and learn foundational journalism skills while addressing the challenges that they may face in the workplace.

Women face obstacles such as security threats and social barriers, including disapproval from family, yet Sahar Speaks aims to equip these women with the confidence to tell accurate stories. In 2016, 12 members of Sahar Speaks were selected to have their work published in The Huffington Post. Subjects ranged from the experience of having to dress like a boy in order to attend school to the practice of being married as a child. In 2017, journalists worked with The Huffington Post again to tell visual stories.

Alumnae of Sahar Speaks have gone on to pursue careers at the BBC, al Jazeera and The New York Times. In the fall of 2017, Ferris-Rotman collaborated with her mother, Lesley Ferris, to stage the stories that journalists had developed for The Huffington Post into a theatrical production.

Working with Ferris’ London-based drama company, Palindrome Productions, the performance debuted at Theatre 503 and brought to life three half-hour plays based on the experiences of the Afghan reporters. By presenting issues of gender and cultural restrictions through this medium, the production brought new attention to commonly overlooked conditions and sources of conflict, raising awareness on an international level.

Sahar Speaks is doing the essential job of giving Afghan women a voice in international media that has been absent for too long a time. By training reporters and equipping them with the skills they need to pursue a career in journalism, the organization is creating a changing culture where women can share accounts and seek out equity in society. While the perspectives of Afghan women have been obscured until recently, Sahar Speaks is shining a light on a new era where women will be empowered to express their stories and join a global discussion.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

Article 19The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 19 that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Named after this assertion, Article 19 is a human rights organization whose mission is to protect the freedom to speak globally. The group has worked in many different nations to address censorship, access to information and equality and hate speech, among other subjects.

Founded in 1987, Article 19 is based in London but has regional offices throughout the world, working with 100 organizations in more than 60 countries. The organization protects free speech on a global level by lobbying governments, intervening in individual incidents of rights violations and shaping legal standards relating to media and access to information.

With a commitment to combatting censorship, Article 19 has advocated on behalf of journalists arrested in Gambial, as well as Tanzanian politicians imprisoned for insulting the president. It has launched a petition that calls for a binding agreement for Latin American and Caribbean governments to guarantee access to information and justice in environmental matters, asserting that openness and transparency can help to monitor political corruption.

The organization has also written on the need for hate speech to be addressed in Myanmar and has taken a stance on racial discrimination in Tunisia, stating that racism inhibits pluralism of voices. Article 19 is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of 119 organizations committed to defending the basic liberty of freedom of expression. The nongovernmental organization raises awareness, acts through advocacy coalitions, forms petitions and conducts conferences and workshops.

Article 19 is also a founding member of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network, a group connecting organizations and individuals promoting access to information. The coalition runs projects such as a discussion list of lawyers, academics and civil society representatives concerned with the right of access.

In March 2017, Article 19 participated in a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to draft The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, a document that will protect the openness of the media and safeguard the liberties of individuals and organizations internationally. The document is intended to inform policy makers and legislators in navigating liberties online and offline.

The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy affirms the right of individuals to exercise freedom of expression anonymously and to use secure communication tools, while calling for the regulation of mass surveillance, describing this practice as interfering with privacy and freedom of expression. Additionally, the plan calls for the protection of confidential information given to companies online, as well as the right for confidential journalistic sources to not be disclosed. Through these measures, The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy safeguard fundamental liberties in light of the digital age.

Article 19 is taking a stand against political censorship, the spreading of misinformation and the challenges that journalists face across multiple countries, calling for greater transparency and accountability. The organization operates on an international level, envisioning a world where freedom of expression and information are held in value. Navigating the digital era and the dangers of an oppressed media presence, Article 19 continues to fight for a diverse global community of voices, intervening in cases across the world and engaging in policy work to advance human rights.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Google

strongest democraciesFreedom House’s annual nonpartisan report on the state of global democracy, Freedom in the World, had grim findings in its newly released 2018 version. According to the report, 2017 marked the “twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom” in which civil liberties and political rights eroded in multiple democracies, both young and old.

That said, the focus in this post will be highlighting the world’s top 10 strongest democracies, moving from last to first, based on various economic and social factors:

  1. Uruguay
    Uruguay is known for its strong record on legal equality and social tolerance of minority groups. It has a strong economy, an informed populace and a national identity based on democratic freedoms rather than ethnicity. It is also highly regarded for its notable lack of government corruption, an issue that has long plagued other democratic nations in South America.
  1. Ireland
    Despite instances of corruption, Ireland has upheld its strong and stable democracy throughout the political turmoil of the past few years. Balanced and fair elections have maintained the country’s tradition of equal protections under the law, though Ireland could stand to dedicate more to foreign aid, giving just 0.33 percent of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2016.
  1. Switzerland
    Notable as one of the only countries in the world to operate as a confederation, Switzerland follows a tradition of decentralizing power and allowing citizens to weigh in on government decisions through referendums, making the nation closer to a direct democracy than a representative one.  Switzerland has a long history of civil rights and political liberties, having been a democratic nation since 1848.
  1. Denmark
    A parliamentary representative democracy with open and fair elections, Denmark remained one of the world’s strongest democracies in 2017. Despite pressures following the 2015 migrant crisis, Denmark has maintained its core democratic structures. It has strong checks on power and corruption, a robust set of civil liberties for its citizens, and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
  1. Australia
    Australia is widely recognized as a strong democratic system, with free and fair elections and a system of obligatory voting. The country encourages the sharing of powers, with a bicameral parliament designed to mitigate extreme divides between opposing views.
  1. New Zealand
    A nation that contains immense and stunning scenery, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its appearances in the popular Lord of the Rings movies and its thriving tourist industry. But the nation also possesses a thriving democracy. With regular elections and a system of checks on governmental abuse of power, New Zealand remains a destination for those who wish to combine epic scenery with the modern attributes of a prospering democracy. Its only shortcomings relate to combatting global poverty, as the country contributed just 0.25 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016 despite strong economic growth.
  1. Finland
    Competition between multiple parties with diverse views, along with deep respect for the law and a resulting lack of corruption, made Finland one of the best democracies in 2017. It boasts a free press and independent judiciary that respects the political rights of citizens. It is above average in terms of foreign aid contributions, contributing 0.44 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016, but could still improve in this regard.
  1. Canada
    A country recognized by its broad social welfare system and vast landscapes, Canada remains an admirable democratic society. A strong electoral system combined with governmental respect for diverse opinions among citizens has led to a solid and functioning country. Canada could do better in foreign aid, however, contributing only 0.26 percent of its GNI to helping less fortunate nations in 2016.
  1. Sweden
    A parliamentary monarchy with a robust and independent judiciary, Sweden remains one of the best multiparty political systems and one of the strongest democracies, incorporating the viewpoints of most members of society and benefitting from a respected judicial branch that largely upholds civil liberties. Sweden also contributes the most toward fighting global poverty among members of the United Nations, with 1.09 percent of its GNI going to foreign aid in 2016.
  1. Norway
    Despite the political and social turmoil that defined 2017, Norway preserved its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Norway sports strong protections for freedom of speech among its populace and has a civil society and independent media that is encouraged to critique the government and promote responsible behavior by public officials. Key to Norway’s success is its modest population, which makes it easier to represent all viewpoints in government and mitigate the societal divisions that plague larger countries. Norway also has done more than most democracies to address the issue of global poverty, contributing 1.1 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index found in its July 2017 report that democracy was in retreat across the globe, including in the United States, which is considered one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies. It is important to examine the strongest democracies in the modern world in order to study how they have maintained strong systems of civil and political liberties, as well as what they are doing to improve other nations’ economic well-beings, a key foundation for democratic stability.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Art is Enriching Free Expression in PakistanIn Pakistan, every citizen has the right to freedom of expression. However, this is subject to restriction. Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic State of Pakistan (1974) explains:

“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] [sic] or incitement to an offence.”

Censorship is an ongoing practice that often restricts freedom of expression in Pakistan. The 2017 Human Rights Watch World Report expressed concern for political influence by the Pakistani government on the media. Throughout 2016, media outlets were allegedly pressured to circumvent coverage on human rights violations. Terrorist regimes like the Taliban were also known to impact media outlets. According to the report, “many journalists increasingly practice self-censorship, fearing retribution from security forces.”

Since the year 2000, 110 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, only four of which cases have led to convictions. Despite this fact, there are artists throughout the republic ignoring the fear and embracing their passion. Pakistani artists are exercising their right to free expression and challenging the unspoken but palpable restrictions on freedom of expression via their artwork.

Fouzia Saeed, head of Lok Virsa, a Pakistani culture and history museum just outside of Islamabad, explains to Journal & Courier that he sometimes receives death threats. Despite this, Saeed continues to educate the public and provide an outlet for freedom of expression in Pakistan, often hosting poetry and folk music night.

Asia’s largest theater festival is an annual 11-day event hosted in Lahore, Pakistan. The World Performing Arts Festival, organized by Rafi Peerzada, is designed to reaffirm the democratic notions that Pakistan has been striving for since 2013.

The festival features some 90 performing groups. The event often evokes social commentaries, promotes dialogue and represents a celebration of local and global culture. This is an ambitious event that funding and support aren’t exactly there for, as Peerzada laments to say. “We’ve never had a policy for culture,” he says in response to the difficulty of fundraising. The program has never received government funding, and other sources are hesitant to associate their name with the festival, as it is considered “risky.”

When the festival started in 2008, it found itself the target of an attack. Three bombs detonated as the event was reaching full capacity. Some were injured, but luckily no one was killed. “The arts are seen as un-Islamic,” Peerzada explains in an interview with Christian Science Monitor.

Though artists, galleries, festivals and other forms of artistic expression are often targets of forced silence, this group collectively remains resilient.

“It feels like we are closer to that than a year ago, but we’re certainly not close to being all the way there. What appears to be a country divided is not that divided at all — it is just scared,” Peerzada says. In the transition to democracy and modernization, art plays a key role in strengthening freedom of expression in Pakistan.

– Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in AzerbaijanMany have probably heard very little about the small Eurasian country of Azerbaijan. Even fewer have considered how to help the people in Azerbaijan. With regions like the Middle East and countries like North Korea flooding mass media, major human rights violations in lesser known areas can go unnoticed and relatively unspoken of.

Does Azerbaijan need global help? Is the country in some sort of civil struggle requiring foreign assistance? If the breach of free speech and unlawful imprisonment of Azerbaijani antigovernment activists constitutes this need, then the answer is yes.

At the heart of the issue lies what the Human Rights Watch calls a lack of “space for independent activism [and] critical journalism.” Critics of the practices of the Azerbaijani government are not only given no space to speak, but are also being persecuted unfairly for crimes they did not even commit.

“In August, in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum, the government arrested eight activists on a range of false, politically motivated charges, including drug possession, hooliganism, incitement and illegal business activity,” states the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report on Azerbaijan.

Most of this activism is in reaction to allegations made against Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. He first gained office in 2003 in a landslide election, reportedly winning over three-fourths of the votes, and then winning twice more in 2008 and 2013 with even higher percentages of votes. A 2015 report from the U.S. State Department recognizes that Aliyev seems to have dictated both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as his own office and calls suspicion toward the legitimacy of the 2013 presidential election.

How to help people in Azerbaijan is a difficult question to consider, as human rights violations like genocide are often more readily addressed as opposed to a lack of free speech. However, there is a way foreign aid can benefit Azerbaijanis’ rights to free speech and press.

There are strict laws governing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Azerbaijan as the Azerbaijani government sees them as a threat against governmental media control. Some of these NGOs such as the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety and the Media Rights Institute have been harassed by the Azerbaijani government through both legal and economic means. As these NGOs are meant to oversee the freedom of speech and press in Azerbaijan, it is imperative that they remain secure from the government’s mission to seize their influence.

Protecting these NGOs and organizations like them is how to assist people in Azerbaijan. This can be achieved by bringing awareness to the issue or through monetary donation. Contacting a congressperson or donating to one of these NGOs can help secure that the Azerbaijani government does not gain full control of the media and free speech in the country.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr