Archive for the 'MEA' Category

Xu Yan, the wife of Yu Wensheng, sets up a legal aid firm

November 8, 2021

The wife of Yu Wensheng, a jailed human rights lawyer, has set up a legal firm to help persons struggling with China’s justice system. Xu Yan’s husband is currently serving a four-year sentence on the charges of ‘incitement to subvert state authority.’ “My husband will be allowed to return home in around four months, but his law licence will be cancelled. This will have a significant impact on his profession as well as our family,” Yan was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/24/martin-ennals-foundation-reaches-out-today/] Notably, he had received the Martin Ennals Award 2021 for his work as a human rights defender earlier this year. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e]

According to Radio Free Asia, the Martin Ennals Foundation labelled Yu “one of the best-known and most intrepid human rights campaigners” in China, noting that he had been subjected to arbitrary arrest, a secret trial, and the revocation of his law licence.

https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/china/china-jailed-human-rights-lawyers-wife-establishes-legal-firm-to-help-people.html

https://www.bignewsnetwork.com/news/271623682/china-jailed-human-rights-lawyer-wife-sets-up-legal-consultancy-to-help-people

Venerable Luon Sovath gives Master class on 23 November in Geneva

November 8, 2021

As part of the Human Rights Week at the University of Geneva, the Venerable Luon Sovath, the 2012 Martin Ennals Award winner, gives a master class on November 23, 2021, from 12:30 – 14:00. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/3F3F580C-3E8F-01C3-92CC-E6B02940BCD4]

Venerable Sovath is a Buddhist monk and human rights activist from Siem Reap, Cambodia. In March 2009 he witnessed the forced eviction of his family and fellow villagers from their homes, without reason and in most cases without compensation. This unfortunate event pushed him towards human rights activism.

Venerable Sovath was compelled to flee his native Cambodia in May of 2020, after fake videos and accusations appearing on Facebook served as the bases for a decision to ‘de-frock’ him of his monk’s robes. In retaliation for his advocacy against land grabbing and in favour of human rights, Venerable Sovath and his loved ones have suffered years of threats and reprisals by the authorities of Cambodia. Finally, the prospect of losing his religious freedom convinced Venerable Sovath that his position in Cambodia was untenable and he sought a temporary safe haven in Switzerland.

Because the fake evidence used against Venerable Sovath circulated on Facebook, the case also has critical lessons for the role of social media in upholding human rights. During his segment, he will discuss the story of how he became a human rights activist, and how social media can be a double-edged sword in the fight for human rights; as it gives visibility to the defenders but also puts them at risk. He will focus on social media as a tool of liberation and repression; and also discuss how a lack of accountability by these social media companies can play a role in the repression of human rights defenders. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/02/bbc-podcast-on-the-framing-of-video-monk-luon-sovath/

This master class is hosted by the Martin Ennals Foundation and the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights.

Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Time: 12:30 – 14:00
Location: UniMail, MS 150

Registration for this master class will open on November 11 with limited places available. COVID certificate is required.

Venerable Luon Sovath with a camera in his hands

https://gcbhr.org/insights/2021/11/master-class

Martin Ennals Foundation reaches out: today

June 24, 2021

Martin Ennals Foundation, together with the Geneva Academy, IBAHRI, and ODAGE, is organizing a high-level panel discussion on how to effectively defend human rights lawyers in authoritarian times. Today 24 June at 13h30 Geneva time. With Belarussian human rights activist Tatsiana Khomich, sister of political prisoner Maria Kalasnikova; Xu Yan, wife of 2021 Martin Ennals Laureate Yu Wensheng of China; and Turkish human rights lawyer Ayşe Acinikli. You will also have the opportunity to hear Diego García-Sayán, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and ISHR Director Phil Lynch.  

 Register for the event here >>

The MEA has also started an occasional newsletter with in this summer edition:

After a successful campaign, nominations for the 2022 Martin Ennals Award are now closed. We are excited by the high-quality nominations and thank those who contributed to our search for the next generation of human rights heroes.   Meanwhile, our support for human rights defenders continues through the Martin Ennals programs.

Director Isabel de Sola shares how education is paving the way for a more sustainable human rights movement. She informs about the Foundation’s education project – a program aimed at familiarizing students with the concept of human rights and the causes promoted by our Defenders.

Programme Officer Cristina Rendón writes “It takes a village to protect defenders”.  Because the three 2021 awardees were unable to communicate freely with the Martin Ennals Foundation, we had to reinvent our “Geneva Residency” programme by extending its activities to the support networks of our awardees. We learned about the importance of building a strong network of allies who can support defenders, in the good times and the bad

 https://www.martinennalsaward.org/upcoming-event-defending-human-rights-lawyers-in-authoritarian-times/
 

MEA laureate Yu Wensheng finally allowed family ‘visit’

May 17, 2021

Jailed Chinese Lawyers Get Mother's Day Visit, Video Call

Two Chinese human rights lawyers serving jail sentences for “inciting subversion of state power,” Yu Wensheng (L) and Qin Yongpei (R), were permitted limited visits with their families, May 10, 2021. Yu Wensheng/Qin Yongpei

Jailed Chinese rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who was held incommunicado for three years and sentenced to jail for “incitement to subvert state power,” was allowed a visit from relatives at the weekend, his wife said. Yu’s young son was allowed to visit his father in Nanjing Prison on May 9, along with his mother Xu Yan, Xu told RFA.

The couple’s son spoke with Yu by phone from behind a glass partition during the half-hour visit, Xu said.

Yu Wensheng had a very good chat with our son,” she said. “Both them were laughing a lot, and there was no sense of strangeness.”


Our son told his father that he missed him, and Yu was happy to hear that,” she said. “Yu told him that he had wanted to spend more time with him … and apologized for not being there longer than three years.”

The reunion was the first face-to-face meeting in more than three years, with the authorities blaming the coronavirus pandemic for the repeated cancellation of family visits.
Yu Wensheng was the MEA laureate of this year: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/05/what-kind-of-lawyers-will-attend-the-global-lawyers-forum-in-guangzhou-on-human-rights-day/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/lawyers-visits-05112021084728.html

Call for Nominations Martin Ennals Award 2022 with a focus on digital rights

April 15, 2021

On 13 April 2021 the Martin Ennals Foundation opened it call for nominations for the 2020 award. For more on the award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/043F9D13-640A-412C-90E8-99952CA56DCE

More than 60 defenders from 34 countries have been recognized by the Martin Ennals Award to this day.  For last year see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8Bmartin-ennals-award-finalists-2021-announced/

Focus on Digital rights in 2022

A human rights lens is urgently needed so that the opportunities of digital technology reach all of humanity and solutions can be found for risks online. Human rights Defenders are at the forefront of ensuring digital technology is inclusive, respectful of human rights and employed for human betterment. To offer our support to them and keep the spotlight on these issues, the Martin Ennals Award 2022 will reserve one of its three prizes for defenders working at the intersection of human rights and digital technology.  

The deadline for nominations is: 30 May 2021. The independent Jury composed of 10 major NGOs will select three Finalists to the Award, who will be announced publicly in early 2022. The Laureate of the Award will be announced in the first semester of 2022. 

Read the Nominations FAQ here to learn more about the nominations process. 

2021 edition of Geneva film festival kicks off in virtual format

March 6, 2021
The FIFDH kicks off in virtual format for its 19th edition
  • Wolfgang Spindler  reported on 0 March 2021 that the 19th edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva has gone virtual. Usually every year some 40 000 visitors attend to watch and discuss films that focus on human rights violations. Around 300 filmmakers, human rights defenders and politicians from 25 countries across the globe used to be invited. But, this year, the festival has been forced to change and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants are now encouraged to click on ‘likes‘ instead of applauding, as physical presence is not possible.

Isabelle Gattiker is the FIFDH Festival Director. She said that the festival had to reinvent itself. They are proposing videos on demand, that she describes as not being able to replace real cinema theatres. But they have tried “to work on public participation despite the digital format”. Online audiences can comment and ask questions during the showings every evening from 8 pm (CET) from anywhere on the planet.

For the first time ever there will also be a public award, where the viewers can give a mark to the films they’ve watched. At the end of the festival, the film with the highest rating from the official selection will be awarded this prize.

Soltan Achilova This 19th edition is dedicated to Turkmenistan Photojournalist, Soltan Achilova. The 71-year-old was amongst this year’s finalists for the “Martin Ennals Award“, an annual prize known as “the Nobel prize for human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/23/soltan-achilova-has-issued-a-rare-rebuke-of-the-turkmen-president-on-youtube/

https://www.euronews.com/2021/03/05/the-fifdh-kicks-off-in-virtual-format-for-its-19th-edition

https://fifdh.org/en/program-2021

Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Turkmen President – On YouTube

February 23, 2021

Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)
Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)

On 19 February 2021 RFE/RL reported that 71-year-old Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Central Asian nation’s authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, criticizing him and his government in a video posted on YouTube for failing to provide proper heating and water supply to Ashgabat residents during winter.

In the video statement that appeared on YouTube late on February 18, Achilova, who has previously worked as a reporter for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, said she will no longer call Berdymukhammedov “respected” because “millions of Turkmen had stopped respecting you long ago.”

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Such an act of public dissent is a rare occurrence in Turkmenistan, where Berdymukhammedov has run the former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 2006, becoming the center of an elaborate personality cult

Last month, Achilova was named as one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders for her reports from Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world. SEE ALSO: Turkmen Journalist Achilova Among Finalists For Top Human Rights Prize [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/%e2%80%8b%e2%80%8bmartin-ennals-award-finalists-2021-announced/]. See also: https://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/soltan-achilova/#film

Achilova also criticized Berdymukhammedov and his government for what she called a “failure to provide” ordinary people with decent food at acceptable prices, adding that “miserable pensions and salaries in the country” do not provide people with the means to shop for regular items at local markets. Achilova added that the heating system in her apartment had been switched off several times in recent days, which she called an intentional warning over her journalistic activities.

Our fellow Turkmen citizens working in foreign countries have staged several protests recently demanding your resignation. We join those protests and demand your resignation as well because you are incapable of carrying out your duties. We are suffering and you do not even care about it. All you are capable of is ruining our homes and causing our people to suffer,” Achilova said.

Based in Ashgabat, Achilova is currently a contributor to the Vienna-based independent news website Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan), which focuses on news and developments in Turkmenistan.
Turkmen authorities, who don’t tolerate an independent press, have targeted Achilova in the past for her work as a journalist. SEE ALSO: RFE/RL Correspondent Roughed Up — Again — In Turkmenistan

https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-journalist-achilova-rare-public-rebuke-president-berdymukhammedov/31111278.html

https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/23482-turkmenistan-journalist-posts-rare-public-rebuke-of-president-on-youtube

Breaking news: Yu Wensheng, Chinese human rights lawyer, is Martin Ennals Laureate 2021!

February 11, 2021

Yu Wensheng, a lawyer from China, was just announced as the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders 2021 during an on-line ceremony broadcast from Geneva. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/11/reminder-in-a-few-hours-starts-the-martin-ennals-award-ceremony-2021/]

Yu was just another corporate lawyer in a fast-rising Chinese economy. But when he decided to take on human rights cases and ask for constitutional reform in his country, he drew the ire of one of the most powerful regimes in the world. Yu has been detained, harassed, and convicted in secret. While in custody, he has been tortured and denied medical care and family visits. His wife, Xu Yan, who Yu has not seen in person for 3 years, herself has become an icon. She has taken up the mantel of human rights defense and is currently studying law. Yu’s fight for due process has completely upended his life. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/21/mea-nominee-yu-wensheng-in-poor-health-after-years-in-prison/]

Let us hope that China will behave a bit more moderately in response this time {see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/29/chinese-sensitivity-again-on-display-re-human-rights-awards/]

https://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/3121512/jailed-chinese-lawyer-yu-wensheng-wins-international-human-rights-award

​​Martin Ennals Award Finalists 2021 announced

January 18, 2021

Today 18 January 2021, the Martin Ennals Foundation announced that three outstanding human rights defenders based in authoritarian states are nominated for the 2021 Martin Ennals Award.

In isolated Turkmenistan, Soltan Achilova documents human rights violations and abuses through photojournalism.

Imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, Loujain AlHathloul is a leading advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.

A lawyer, Yu Wensheng defended human rights cases and activists before his conviction and imprisonment in China.

The Finalists distinguish themselves by their bravery and deep commitment to the issues they defend, despite the many attempts to silence them by respective governmental authorities. The 2021 Martin Ennals Award Ceremony will celebrate their courage on 11 February during an online ceremony hosted jointly with the City of Geneva which, as part of its commitment to human rights, has for many years supported the AwardEvery year thousands of human rights defenders are persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, even killed. The Martin Ennals Foundation is honored to celebrate the 2021 Finalists, who have done so much for others and whose stories of adversity are emblematic of the precarity faced by the human rights movement today”, says Isabel de Sola, Director of the Martin Ennals Foundation.

For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/043F9D13-640A-412C-90E8-99952CA56DCE

Authoritarian states tend to believe that by jailing or censoring human rights defenders, the world will forget about them. During the COVID-pandemic, it seemed like lockdowns would successfully keep people from speaking out. This year’s Finalists are a testament to the fact that nothing could be further from the truth, says Hans Thoolen, Chair of the Jury.

  • In Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most isolated countries, freedom of speech is inexistent and independent journalists work at their own peril. Soltan Achilova (71), a photojournalist, documents the human rights abuses and social issues affecting Turkmen people in their daily lives. Despite the repressive environment and personal hardships, she is one of the very few reporters in the country daring to sign independent articles.
  • In Saudi Arabia, women still face several forms of gender discrimination, so much so, that the Kingdom ranks in the bottom 10 places according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Loujain AlHathloul (31) was one of the leading figures of the Women to drive movement and advocated for the end of the male guardianship system. She was imprisoned in 2018 on charges related to national security together with several other women activists. Tortured, denied medical care, and subjected to solitary confinement, Loujain was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison on 28 December 2020. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/loujain-al-hathloul/]
  • In China, more than 300 human rights activists and lawyers disappeared or were arrested in 2015 during the so called 709 Crackdown. A successful business lawyer, Yu Wensheng (54) gave up his career to defend one of these detained lawyers, before being arrested himself. Detained for almost three years now, Yu Wensheng’s right hand was crushed in jail and his health is failing. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/26/lawyers-key-to-the-rule-of-law-even-china-agrees-but-only-lip-service/]

Online Award Ceremony on 11 February 2021

The 2021 Martin Ennals Award will be given to the three Finalists on 11 February 2021 at an online ceremony co-hosted by the City of Geneva (Switzerland), a long-standing supporter of the Award. “The City of Genevareaffirmsits support to human rights, especially during these times of crisis and upheaval. Human rights are the foundation of our society, not even the pandemic will stop us from celebrating brave persons who have sacrificed so much”, says Member of the executive Alfonso Gomez.

For more information:

Chloé Bitton
Communications Manager
Martin Ennals Foundation
cbitton@martinennalsaward.org
media@martinennalsaward.org
Office: +41.22.809.49.25
Mobile: +41.78.734.68.79

Media focal point for Loujain AlHathloul
Uma Mishra-Newberry
FreeLoujain@gmail.com  
https://www.loujainalhathloul.org
+41.78.335.25.40 (on signal)

Press release

Press release (English)

Press release (French)

Press release (Chinese)

Press release (Russian)

Press release (Arabic)

MEA 2020 finalist Sizani Ngubane Dies

December 23, 2020

NGO CSW/NY/YouTube Sizani Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement land rights group in South Africa. 23 December 2020 allAfrica.com

South African women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane (also known as uGogo) has died, according to the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) – an organisation of which she was the director and founder. This sad news was brought by AllAfrica.com on 23 December.

There were several attempts on Ngubane’s life during her 40 years of activism. At the time of her death she and her organisation , along with rights groups, were challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court, Thomson Reuters reported in November 2020. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/]

Their work so far includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, and campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights. Ngubane said the movement, which was launched in 1998, has now grown to 50,000 women.

She was in 2020 one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is referred to as the Nobel Prize for human rights.

The RWM statement, released via their Twitter account, read:

We are saddened to share that our Founder and Director, uGogo Sizani Ngubane has passed on. She transformed countless lives. A lifelong freedom fighter, first against the brutal apartheid regime, uGogo, alongside other rural women, would later charge forward towards the promises of democracy.

“Tirelessly working for women’s land rights and equality, uGogo also laboured against gender-based violence and other challenges facing rural women. Originating in a non-partisan, women-led peace building movement, we have become a leader-full movement inspiring countless across KZN, South Africa, and the globe.
She was really beyond a special person. Fearless. Creative. Kind. Determined like no other. An unwavering belief in others and an endless reservoir of empathy and ubuntu.

She will be missed deeply by all. Hamba kahle, Gogo.”

This tribute was followed by one from Nomboniso Gasa, in which she wrote: ” Mam’ Sizani Ngubane has died. She was a gentle giant. My heart’s breaking. Last time I spoke to her, she was fatigued from a govt hell-bent on destructive Bills, TCB & TKLB.
Can’t imagine Rural Women’s movement – which she found in 1990 – without her energy, courage and vision
.”

The Ennals Award ceremony was to be streamed live from Geneva on February 19, 2020, and the Martin Ennals Foundation said about Ngubane after it decided to recognise her work with a nomination: ” In South Africa, women face discrimination, the worst expression of which is widespread gender violence. In rural communities, they frequently have their land expropriated and are deprived of access to education and justice. Sizani Ngubane founded an organisation of more than 50,000 women from rural areas in her country and has fought successfully for over 40 years for the recognition of their rights.”

On hearing of her death, the MEA tweeted: ” A lifetime #HumanRights giant is gone. #SouthAfrica #WomenRights champion and #MartinEnnals finalist #SizaniNgubane has passed away. Generous, determined, loving, resilient, she was the very essence of a #HRD . She will be dearly missed.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202012230793.html