Amnesty International has launched a campaign to highlight what it says is a dramatically worsening situation for human rights activists across the globe. The group hopes its ‘Brave’ campaign will persuade governments to live up to their United Nations treaty commitments on protecting human rights defenders.

Amnesty says attacks on human rights activists across the world have reached a crisis point. Figures from the campaign group Front Line Defenders show 281 people were killed in 2016 for defending human rights, compared to 156 the year before. Guadalupe Marengo, head of Amnesty’s Human Rights Defenders Program, said authorities must take action now.

“In the current context of us versus them, of demonization, of a full frontal attack actually I would say on human rights, it is crucial that we take stock and that we call on the authorities to stop these attacks immediately,” said Marengo.

In Russia, Amnesty says the persecution of human rights activists is accelerating with the ban on non-governmental organizations.

Protests earlier this month marked the anniversary of demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin. Several human rights campaigners have been jailed. Opposition political activist Gennady Gudkov spoke at the protest in Moscow. He said the state’s actions were serving to provoke the opposition and its backers into a tougher resistance, while also showing that the law in Russia is worth nothing.

Amnesty’s Marengo said a copycat effect appears to be taking hold across some countries in the treatment of activists.

“Only in the last week or so, Hungary is trying to have a bill similar to the one that Russia has, where it’s going to be very difficult to form associations and fight for human rights if you’re getting funding from external sources,” said Marengo.

Turkey is accused of an unwarranted clampdown on human rights following last year’s failed coup. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested or fired from their jobs. Ankara claims they are part of a large anti-government plot.

As well as arrests, abductions and killings, Amnesty says human rights defenders across the globe are attacked using online tools. Surveillance tools are used to track activity. Smear campaigns are launched on social media to cultivate hostility.

“They are accused of being terrorists; they are accused of being criminals, they are accused of defending ‘immorality,’” said Marengo.

Amnesty hopes its ‘Brave’ campaign will highlight the worsening situation for many human rights activists worldwide – who it claims are often the last line of defense in a free society.

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