Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2021
Volume 32
Issue 4
Page Numbers 184–90
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On August 9, longtime dissident and human-rights advocate Sergei Adamovich died in Moscow. He helped to found a Soviet branch of the NGO Amnesty International in 1974, for which he was arrested, sent to a gulag, and exiled. Returning to Moscow, Adamovich served as an independent Russia’s first human-rights commissioner. His last public statement, from the National Endowment for Democracy’s May 21 commemoration of his friend and fellow dissident, Andrei Sakharov, is excerpted below. 

Sakharov maintained that humanity could only survive through overcoming political disunity and that would not happen without human rights and, above all, intellectual freedom.

Sakharov’s fundamentally new thinking was his position that it was impossible to overcome the confrontation without democratizing public life and without ensuring intellectual freedom.

The so-called “new thinking” and “new morality” of Sakharov was not, in fact, new. It is the most ordinary human morality, which has been consistent for over two-thousand years and is as old as reason-based thought.

Sakharov had a conscience, and he had intellect, and those two qualities are missing in Russia today. Russia needs those qualities today as it faces problems at home and abroad.

The country itself is a problem. With a KGB colonel as president, the current laws on extremism and protecting the rights of believers, the Dima Yakovlev law [the “anti-Magnitsky” law], the blocking of websites, the foreign agents legislation.

What else? The defeat of independent media, deceitful and malicious propaganda from state media, the seizure of Georgian territory, the annexation of Crimea, the fomenting of civil war in Ukraine. . . . Can there be doubts as to how Sakharov would react?

Sakharov would be ashamed. I am ashamed.


Iranian American musician and songwriter Marjan Farsad dedicated her new song, “Mahtab” (Moonlight), to two of her friends. Wildlife conservationist Niloufar Bayani, arrested in 2018, is serving a ten-year espionage sentence. Satirist Keyomars Marzban, released in 2021, was imprisoned for, among other things, writing for foreign media outlets. A translation follows. (To listen to the song with English subtitles, see:

Today I saw your picture in a newspaper
You have been in prison
For a hundred days, a thousand days,
a lifetime

They have tied your hands,
broken your wings
They have built a wall
between you and bright days

Days go by
like waves in the sea
Tangled knots
of yesterdays and tomorrows

The blue sky has lost its color
They kill the birds
with bows and arrows

The blue sky has lost its color
They kill the birds
with bows and arrows

One by one the stars disappear
night after night
The moonlight has had enough

One by one the stars disappear
night after night
The moonlight has had enough

Clubs and guns
executions and war
Should I say that you’re missed
or how it hurts

Clubs and guns
executions and war
Should I say that you’re missed
or how it hurts

One by one the stars
One by one the stars
One by one the stars
One by one the stars


In July, the Pegasus Project, a global investigation coordinated by the NGO Forbidden Stories, exposed how Pegasus, a phone-tracking software made by NSO Group, has been used by governments to systematically target heads of state, activists, and journalists, among others. In response, a global coalition of more than 150 civil society groups and thirty experts issued a joint letter calling for a moratorium on surveillance-technology sales. Excerpts follow. (A full version of  this text is available at 

The Pegasus Project’s revelations prove wrong any claims by NSO that such attacks are rare or anomalous, or arising from rogue use of their technology. While the company asserts its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terror investigations, it has become clear that its technology facilitates systemic abuse. . . . From the leaked data and their investigations, Forbidden Stories and its media partners identified potential NSO clients in 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). . . .

The investigation has so far also identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries who were selected for potential targeting with NSO spyware between 2016 to June 2021. Deeply concerning details that have emerged include evidence that family members of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted with Pegasus software before and after his murder in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 by Saudi operatives, despite repeated denials from NSO Group that its products were used to target Khashoggi or his family members.

The revelations are only a tip of the iceberg. The private surveillance industry has been allowed to operate unchecked. States have failed not only in their obligations to protect people from these human rights violations, but have themselves failed in their own human rights obligations, clearly letting these invasive weapons loose on people worldwide for no other reason than exercising their human rights. . . .

In Mexico, journalist Cecilio Pineda’s phone was selected for targeting just weeks before his killing in 2017. . . . In India, at least 40 journalists from major media outlets in the country were selected as potential targets between 2017–2021. In Morocco, of the 34 other journalists whose phones were selected for potential targeting by Pegasus, two are imprisoned. . . . These targets represent only a small part of the revelations. . . .

. . . The revelations shine a light on an unaccountable industry, and an unaccountable sphere of state practice, that must not continue to operate in their current forms. Our rights and the security of the digital ecosystem as a whole depend on it.

Thus, we urge all states to urgently take the following steps:

a. Immediately put in place a moratorium on the sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology. Given the breadth and scale of these findings, there is an urgent need to halt surveillance technology enabled activities of all states and companies, until human rights regulatory efforts catch up.

b. Conduct an immediate, independent, transparent and impartial investigation into cases of targeted surveillance. . . .

c. Adopt and enforce a legal framework requiring private surveillance companies . . . to identify, prevent, and mitigate the human rights-related risks of their activities and business relationships.

d. Adopt and enforce a legal framework requiring transparency by private surveillance companies . . .

g. . . . Demand immediate establishment of independent, multi-stakeholder oversight bodies for NSO Group and all other private surveillance companies. . . .

l. Protect and promote strong encryption, one of the best defences against invasive surveillance.


After an election season marked by shrinking space for opposition and free media, Zambian businessman and opposition candidate Haikande Hichilema defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu in a presidential race held on August 12. In his inauguration speech, given on August 24, he promised to combat corruption and ensure respect for democratic norms. Excerpts follow. (For a full version, see

We showed the world, the resilience of our democracy and we reaffirmed that power belongs to the people. . . .

The people decided it was time for change and today, we can boldly say, change is here!

Going forward, you will see rationality, prudence and effectiveness from our side. . . .

. . . The scourge of corruption has not only eroded our much-needed resources, but it has also robbed us of the opportunity for growth.

We shall have zero tolerance to corruption.

This will be our hallmark. The fight against corruption will be professional and not vindictive.

The institutions mandated to investigate and prosecute will be given unfettered autonomy to effectively and efficiently carry out their mandate without fear or favour of political bias. . . .

[This] administration will enhance good governance and strictly uphold the rule of law.

We will live up to our campaign promises by ensuring that all citizens are equal before the law.

We in the executive should not interfere in the work of the other arms of government.

Our constitution provides separation of powers of these arms of government and we will, therefore, endeavour to promote this principle in order to enhance good governance. . . .

Fellow citizens, it is a new dawn.

The fourth estate, the media will be freed.

Time has come for all Zambians to be truly free.

. . . Gone are the days when political cadres would take over the functions of public service workers in markets, bus stations, government offices, and other places. . . .

The days of government workers being retired in national interest for political or unfair grounds, are over.

The days of political interference in public institutions and parastatals are over.


The Taliban’s return to power has prompted widespread fear of and protest against any return to the strict application of shari‘a similar to the Taliban’s last time in power from 1994 to 2001. On September 6, Shaharzad Akbar, president of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, testified before the European Parliament on the urgent need to maintain international support for human rights in Afghanistan. Excerpts follow. (For a full version of this statement, see

As Taliban are consolidating their power, we all see them making promises to the Western media and governments. Meanwhile, we also, through our contacts on the ground, hear reports of illegal detentions, summary executions, door to door searches, restrictions imposed on women and civilian harm caused by Taliban’s military campaign on Panjshir. Taliban’s actions are not aligned with their promises.

As the world shifts away its attention from Afghanistan, my biggest fear, as an activist, a woman, an Afghan, is that the lights will be turned off. As the world looks away, and a fundamentalist male-dominated government takes shape, disregarding the diversity of Afghanistan, women, minorities, activists and media workers are worried about intensified repression and erasure. Women and girls have immediately been plunged back into the repression, marginalization and inequality of the 1990s.

. . . This need not to be the end of the journey. We should not lose all hope. We see brave Afghan women standing up in peaceful protest for their rights and for an inclusive government in different parts of the country every day. . . . We only need to follow those voices on the ground, the leadership of those remarkable women activists, to still make a difference.

. . . Do not look away. Do not forget. Do not become complacent about the human rights violations in Afghanistan. Do not extend support to a government that continues on a culture of impunity, disregards victims of war and represses the fundamental rights of women. I say this not only because it is in the interests of Afghans, it is in your interests as well. . . .

. . . One thing is certain: Taliban will, to the extent they can, reverse human rights gains of Afghanistan. They have already imposed restrictions on women, media, political rights and cultural life. It will be a struggle to hold Taliban to account to Afghanistan’s international commitments to anti-torture conventions. I dread seeing the cutting of hands and stoning reinstituted as government policy. We are very likely to see increase in forced and child marriages. I don’t know when we will see women and men voting in Afghanistan again. Much of what we worked for will be challenged, attacked and potentially destroyed. In the meantime, Taliban will continue to say that they represent Islam, they represent Afghan culture, they represent all Afghans. Your ability to hold them to account may be limited but please, do not, for a minute, believe or proclaim that their repressive policies represent Afghanistan or the will of the Afghan people. That will be a step beyond neglect. It will make you complicit in their abuses.


On August 23, President Kaïs Saïed announced an indefinite extension of the emergency powers that he accorded himself on July 25, the day he also dismissed the prime minister and suspended parliament. The president’s moves were widely denounced as a coup both in Tunisia and abroad. On August 28, 22 Tunisian NGOs issued a statement demanding that the president outline a return to democracy. Translated excerpts follow. (For a full version of this statement [in French], see: 

The signatory associations and organizations call on the President of the Republic:

To clarify the duration of the application of exceptional measures and to initiate a national dialogue between all political stakeholders including political parties, organizations, and key persons. . . .

To assure the neutrality of the military. . . .

To respect the separation of powers and guarantee the independence of the judiciary. . . .

We . . . would like to express our serious concern about the arrest campaigns, travel bans, and home surveillance that numerous parliamentarians, businessmen, and judges have been subject to, and about the house arrest of the former president of the bar and former INLUCC [the anticorruption agency] president, Chawki Tabib, without justification or judicial basis.

We resolutely denounce the security “raid” of the INLUCC and the sealing of its archives. . . .

We would also like to emphasize that the continuation of the exceptional state and exceptional measures . . . as well as the monopolization of all powers by the President of the Republic—all without clarification of what follows—endanger the democratic process in our country and further damage the economic, social, public-health, and political situation. . . . Tunisia’s public image can only suffer as a result. . . . The country also risks self-isolation and getting mired in geopolitics, or even going back to the starting point of “Arab authoritarianism.”


Copyright © 2021 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press