Posts Tagged ‘Human rights defender’

Eren Keskin in Turkey sentenced to prison and more to come..

May 28, 2019

On 28 May 2019 Euromedrights brought out a press release “Sentencing of Eren Keskin: another blow against freedom of expression in Turkey”.

This extremely courageous human rights defender has received attention in this blog recently [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/martin-ennals-award-finalist-eren-keskin-honoured-in-ankara/].

On 21 May, at the final hearing of the Özgür Gündem “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign trial, woman human rights defender and co-chair of the Human Rights Association-Insan Hakları Dernerği (IHD), Eren Keskin, was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months prison term for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “openly inciting to commit crime”

As deeply concerning as this sentencing is, it is far from an isolated case: across Turkey, civil society activists struggling to ensure basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are targeted by the judiciary, acting as an extension of the legislative power, for legitimately and peacefully exercising their constitutional rights. EuroMed Rights strongly condemns the judicial harassment against Ms Keskin and her fellow activists. 

EuroMed Rights calls on the Turkish authorities to respect their obligations under international human rights treaties, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Turkish constitution, end the crackdown on critics and halt the persecution of human rights defenders. and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.

Note The Editors-in-Chief on Watch campaign of Özgür Gündem daily began on May 3, 2016 and ended on August 7, 2016. Daily was closed through the Statutory Decree No. 675 issued under the State of Emergency. At the end of March, Ms. Keskin has been sentenced to 7 years and a half on charges of “insulting the President and State institutions” over three reports published in the newspaper in 2015. On 3 July, she will again stand trial in front of 23th High Criminal Court in Istanbul for the “ Özgür Gündem main trial”.

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/sentencing-of-eren-keskin-another-blow-against-freedom-of-expression-in-turkey?e=1209ebd6d8

The story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa: a survivor from Burundi

May 27, 2019

On 24 May 2019 Open Democracy published another long piece on an inspiring human rights defender – in cooperation with the Fund for Global Human Rights.  In “How international solidarity saved an activist’s life in BurundiAntoine Kaburahe describes the story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2007. [http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/pierre-claver-mbonimpa-2/]. The author was personally involved in the case and the piece is a good example of how international solidairy can save lives.

A man standing beside children in green clothing
Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa visiting minors detained in prison
..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was the founder of a human rights organisation, APRODH, in his home country of Burundi, and it had worrying information: the ruling party was secretly distributing weapons to its youth wing. APRODH had also investigated the military training of young Burundians across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Burundians had been involved in a long-running conflict – without unofficial support from their government. In 2014 Mbonimpa had been imprisoned by the Burundian authorities, which accused him of “smearing the government and lying”. Thanks to an international mobilisation, including a call from Barack Obama, then US president, he had been released on parole, but the regime kept an eye on him…..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was used to threats. But that day, the killers meant them. It was in the evening that the news dropped. Pierre-Claver had been shot. Word spread rapidly: ‘Mutama’, the ‘old man’, as he is affectionately called, is well-known and respected for his commitment to human rights in Burundi…

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa remembers well what had happened. He had been in his car with his driver. “I saw behind us a motorcycle that was riding at a breakneck speed. The bike got to us at a fast pace. The man shot four bullets. The shooting was almost close-range. A bullet hit me on the neck and blood spurted.” Bleeding heavily, he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. I went there to see what was happening: at the time I was still a journalist in Burundi before being myself forced into exile. The crowd was already at Bujumbura Central Polyclinic.

Security guards sent by various embassies came to ensure my safety at the Polyclinic, because there was a rumour that I was going to be killed in my hospital bed,” says Pierre-Claver. “All the embassies worked in synergy for my evacuation. “Despite my weakness, my pain, I would like to say that I saw a great surge of solidarity at that moment,” says Pierre-Claver. “In my room I saw distinguished individuals such as diplomats of the African Union, those of the European Union and ambassadors.

It was clear to his supporters that Pierre-Claver needed to leave the country immediately. Currently in Belgium as a refugee, [his daughter] Zygène Mbonimpa remembers with overwhelming emotion the support of The Fund for Global Human Rights: “Doctors quickly noticed that Mutama had been seriously affected. He needed care he could not find in Burundi. And then, we were afraid he would be finished off on his hospital bed. I wrote to Tony Tate [programme officer at the Fund] and his reaction was quick. He agreed to pay for flight tickets, and the organisation also contributed to the payment of hospitalisation costs in Burundi.”

Tate confirms Zygène’s account... I immediately sought approval from my directors and board members to make an emergency grant,” he says. “We were able to wire the money to APRODH’s account within 24 hours. After the money arrived, it became clear that Pierre-Claver would receive other money and assistance from other funders as well. The money The Fund provided was combined with others to pay for the travel costs of one of his family members to accompany him to Brussels.

That financial support was critical. The Belgian embassy had agreed to give Pierre-Claver a visa, but the family had to find air fares in a very short time. “Without this support, we would have had a big problem to raise this money while Dad’s life was in a very critical condition,” says Zygène. Tate says he was pleased that the Fund was able to respond to the incident and ensure the safety of one of its long-time partners: “My hope was that the family would see that as an organisation, we stand by our grantees in good times and in bad,” he says. “As a human rights funder, we have an ethical responsibility to provide emergency funding when activists we support are in danger. Human rights work is inherently risky and those who support it must stand ready to respond quickly when defenders are in need.”

In Brussels, Pierre-Claver was quickly operated on. Doctors first fastened a metal frame on his head to hold his skull together. He spent 121 days in hospital, fed by serum and then a kind of porridge, as he could not open his mouth or chew food. He sat in an armchair, unable to lie down, and his weight went down from 82 kg to 54 kg. But his ordeal did not stop there. As they had missed him, those who wanted to kill him went after his family. First, his son-in-law, Pascal Nshirimana, was killed, and while he was still in the hospital, his son Weli, 24, was also killed. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/12/mea-laureate-mbonimpa-has-message-of-hope-at-his-sons-funeral/]

Through all this, the now seventy-year-old activist has remained a man guided by peace and justice. We have never heard him speak of revenge…

Always on the phone, Pierre-Claver continues to encourage teams on the ground. He also travels very often in the sub-region. “It is important that the international community continues to support independent human rights organisations in Burundi,” he says, “because with the closure of UN organisations and the ban on international media including the BBC, there is a risk that human rights violations will be committed behind closed doors. Organisations such as APRODH still have focal points. But they need means to work.”

Pierre-Claver remains modest and accessible despite two honorary doctorates by major Belgian universities and several international awards. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/17/mbonimpa-wins-also-the-2017-civil-courage-prize/]. Asked what he thinks of those who tried to kill him, he simply answers: “I forgave those who shot me and those who killed my son and my son-in-law. But I want justice. If the assassins were arrested, I would be happy to see justice doing its job. For my part, I will not ask for any compensation. What would they give me for the death of my child and my son-in-law?

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/how-international-solidarity-saved-an-activists-life-in-burundi/

Even a human rights lawyer working for the government in Colombia is not safe

May 24, 2019

That the problems in Colombia are huge you wil all know. A good, lenghty report by Ted Piccone at Brookings from March 2019 gives an overview of the myriad issues including the continuing killing of human rights defenders: “..While these legal and political skirmishes play out, one critical element of the peace accords is tragically failing—the protection of human rights defenders, leaders of social movements, and political opposition figures. The official protection system, which is central to the non-recurrence features of the accord, is operating but unable to defend these leaders effectively from attacks perpetrated by a collection of armed groups (including remnants of paramilitary units demobilized in an earlier peace agreement), drug traffickers, and other violent actors intent on disrupting the peace process. The numbers are chilling: As of the end of 2018, the United Nations has received reports of the murder of 454 human rights defenders and social leaders since the signing of the peace agreement, and of the 163 murders they have verified, 110 occurred in 2018. The United Nations has also verified the murder of 85 former FARC-EP members. These ongoing attacks, and the relatively high rates of impunity, underscore the fearsome challenge of building peace in the midst of so much conflict and violence.” [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/26/somos-defensores-in-colombia-publishes-annual-report-2018-worst-ever/]

All this is underlined by the recent killing of a human rights lawyer reported on 24 May 2019. Paula Andrea Rosero Ordóñez, 47, was shot dead at close range by two hitmen, according to a police report. What makes it even more shocking is that this has happened to a lawyer working as a representative of the public ministry in Nariño, a department in south-west Colombia, Rosero asked for extra protection from the government in 2016 after receiving death threats.

Is Colombia’s fragile peace breaking apart?

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/human-rights-lawyer-shot-dead-in-colombia-/5070380.article

Profile of Chinese human rights Defender Teng Biao

May 20, 2019

China Digitial Times (CDT) is expanding its wiki to include short biographies of , cartoonists, , and other people pushing for change in China. The wiki is a work in progress. Here the case of Teng Biao, of whom I wrote earlier in 2015: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/17/stop-dancing-with-dictators-says-chinese-human-rights-defender-teng-biao/.

. (Source: Wikipedia)

Teng Biao, born on August 2, 1973 in Jilin Province, is a human rights lawyer, activist, and former professor who is dedicated to exposing China’s human rights abuses and fighting against its use of the death penalty. After being repeatedly detained for his work, Teng moved to the U.S. in 2014, where he has continued his life’s work as a visiting scholar at institutions such as Princeton, Harvard, and New York University.

Teng obtained his Doctor of Law from Beijing University in 2002 before joining the faculty of the China University of Political Science and Law as a lecturer. He later served as a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Yale University. He swiftly entered the fore of high-profile legal cases, including but certainly not limited to the Sun Zhigang incident in 2003, serving as counsel for activists Chen Guangcheng and Hu Jia, and death penalty cases such as the Leping case in Jiangxi Province.

Prior to moving to the U.S. in 2014, Teng was subject to multiple instances of police harassment. In 2008, he was detained for two days before being released following widespread calls from both domestic and foreign advocates; in 2010, he was detained for visiting a human rights lawyer under house arrest; in 2011, as those in China began to call for their own Jasmine Revolution, he was detained for ten weeks; in 2013, he was detained for attending Hu Jia’s birthday dinner.

In 2014, Teng relocated to the U.S., where he has continued observing and criticizing Chinese government practices. These include presenting a sobering view on the true nature of Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown, expressing concern for detained fellow rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, and calling for President Obama to pressure China on human rights at his last G20 summit appearance.

Teng again roused attention in 2016 when the American Bar Association abruptly cancelled publication of his book “Darkness Before Dawn,” a detailing of his 11-year career as a rights defender in China. The cancellation has been one of many cases of foreign entities who have either bowed to Chinese pressure for fear of upsetting the Chinese government or proactively curried favor for the sake of economic gain.

Over the course of his career, Teng has spearheaded multiple initiatives. He has co-founded two NGOs: Beijing’s China Against the Death Penalty, and the Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng), an organization composed of lawyers and academics that advocates for the rule of law in China. From the U.S., Teng co-founded the China Human Rights Accountability Center alongside rights defenders such as Zhou Fengsuo and Chen Guangcheng following the passage of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act under the Obama Administration. The act authorized the president to sanction foreign individuals who commit human rights violations or are engaged in significant levels of corruption. The Center aims to help the U.S. to enforce the Act and introduce similar legislation in other democratic countries.

Teng has been awarded the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic (2007), the NED Democracy Award (2008), Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Grant (2010), Prize for Outstanding Democracy Activist (China Democracy Education Foundation, 2011), and the Religious Freedom and Rule of Law Defender Award (2012).

Entry written by Lisbeth.

Person of the Week: Teng Biao

Profile of Alfred Brownell, Liberian human rights defender for more than 20 years

May 20, 2019

Under the title “This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias” Front Page Africa on Line published on 3 May 2019 an extensive profile of Alfred Brownell.

Twenty-two years ago Alfred Brownell could see a problem. The government of his country, Liberia, was awarding contracts for the exploitation of natural resources without consulting local communities; forest and mineral resources were being taken away with no questions asked. “It was at a time when a very notorious company called OTC and many other companies were cutting down the forest for timber and no benefit was going back to the people,” Brownell says.

Then a law student in the capital, Monrovia, Brownell challenged President Charles Taylor and his government on the operations of OTC – the Oriental Timber Company. The company was later found to be involved in arms smuggling, Taylor is in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity – and Alfred Brownell has just been awarded the African Goldman Environmental Prize for 2019 at a ceremony in San Francisco. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/winners-of-the-2019-goldman-environmental-prize/]. Brownell’s organisation, Green Advocates, has become a household name in Liberia as a champion of customary rights to land and natural resources for indigenous communities. He is helping thousands of people around the country to fight multinational companies and regain their rights.

Sowing seeds

In 2003 when the war to oust Taylor was raging in Monrovia, Brownell had just graduated with a degree in Environmental Law from Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana, the previous year. Green Advocates was still an idea and Brownell had no money – only a vision.. The Fund for Global Human Rights gave Green Advocates its first seed money in 2003 of $10,000 after Brownell returned to Liberia following the ouster of Taylor and Green Advocates began operations from a tiny office in Monrovia. “We did not have a bank account; we were not a formal organisation,” recalls Brownell.

“The Fund for Global Human Rights had a lot of confidence in me. They awarded me the grant even without a formal structure in place.” John Kabia works for The Fund for Global Human Rights as programme officer for thematic initiatives. He has worked closely with Green Advocates over the years and says that the lack of a track record meant that the Fund was taking a risk, but it was a risk worth taking. “We feel at the Fund that our very reason for being is taking those smart risks, because that is the only way you can identify and support new and emerging actors and new ideas,” he says.

He says it is convenient for international donor organisations to support groups they already know. The threshold for approving support is set very high, making it difficult for small and emerging groups like Green Advocates to gain recognition and support to advance their work. However, seed funding can provide an organisation the necessary credibility and opportunities it needs to attract support from other funders and partners. “Often times if people are given the opportunity and investment to turn their ideas into reality, you’d be amazed by what they can do. I think the example is Alfred and Green Advocates,” he says. “Seeing how Alfred and the communities have mobilised and successfully pushed for major policy and legal reform is impressive. I think that type of smart risk-taking is what many other donors and development partners should be taking on.”

But for such risks to be sustainable, Kabia noted that it is critical for seed funding not to be a one-off, short-term support. “Change doesn’t happen overnight,” he says. “Long-term and capacity-building support needs to accompany an initial seed grant in order for promising organisations to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Big concessions, big government

Back in 2003, Liberia was just emerging from conflict and Brownell knew that the country lacked expertise on land and natural resources governance.

“It was sad to see a country with a natural-resource-endowed economy [where] its lawyers were not learning anything about natural resources or environmental laws,” says Brownell. “I said we have to use the law to help our people.”

“When I graduated, we worked to set up Green Advocates to provide support to the poor, marginalised, vulnerable, who had no voice. To focus our effort on creating policies to protect people through advocacy and campaigning for regulations.”

In 2005, Brownell partnered with over a dozen other local organisations and took on the transitional government of Liberia headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant. It was the first post-war challenge to the government of Liberia by rights groups. The government had awarded contracts to a Chinese company for the shipment of iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of the citizens. A subpoena was issued by the Supreme Court of Liberia to stop it, but the government defied the court and shipped the ore anyway.

After successfully challenging a government contract to ship iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of local people, Brownell and Green Advocates began to expand their work. Both the government and the companies that profited from concessions to exploit Liberia’s natural resources began to see them as a threat. Green Advocates was involved in massive public sensitisation about land rights across the country, and started taking on companies as huge as the US tyre and rubber multinational Firestone, the Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby and Golden Agri-Resources, the world’s largest oil palm conglomerate – not to mention the government of Liberia itself.

One of the biggest cases involved Firestone, Liberia’s largest and oldest rubber concession-holder. For 75 years it had dumped all its waste into the Farmington River in the community of Owens Grove. That blatantly violated Liberian laws prohibiting the discharge of waste into the water system. Green Advocates filed complaints that led Firestone to create a waste treatment facility after almost a century of operations. The organisation also partnered with other rights groups in a US lawsuit that accused Firestone of using child labour. After six years of litigation Firestone won that case, but significantly the judge ruled that companies can be sued in the US for human rights abuses outside the country. In addition, Firestone was forced to introduce reforms that addressed the root causes of child labour in its plantation. This included reducing the quotas for workers, to prevent them having to bring their children to work, and building more schools within its concession area.

Doing it for the people

By this time Brownell was at odds with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had become president in 2006. As Africa’s first elected female head of state she had won admirers around the world; in 2011 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize. But her international eulogists turned a blind eye to some dubious actions at home: by 2010 her government had awarded massive amounts of land to agriculture companies through a ‘backdoor’ scheme, despite agreeing to landmark land reform.

“You’re talking about 300,000 hectares of forest land without consulting the people” says Brownell. “There was no mapping or surveying to know where the land was, who grew what on the land or what the cultural impact was on the people.”

Brownell says that Green Advocates’ first grant from the Fund for Global Human Rights, and the organisation’s ongoing support over 16 years, has given other funders confidence to provide revenue that has supported other projects. For instance, Green Advocates has also gone on to establish the Alliance for Rural Democracy and the Natural Resources Women Platform, and was key to the formation of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resource Rights and Governance Platform, which now covers eight west African countries.

The fight gets real

As Brownell was fighting to help communities understand their rights to the land and push companies to reform and make policies that would benefit the local population in the concession areas, he also faced a battle of his own. A battle for personal safety.

Brownell and his staff came near death on several occasions while on their many trips in rural areas. On one occasion, in Tarjuwon, Sinoe County, people had complained that Golden Veroleum Liberia had decided to construct an oil mill on a site that was used for annual religious worship. They resisted and Green Advocates was called in to help. Brownell and his colleagues went to Sinoe to see what was happening. On their way to the area, the team came under attack from militia that Brownell believes were working for the company.

The men, dressed in company security uniforms, had set up a roadblock. They were ex-combatants armed with machetes and sticks, according to Brownell. Brownell and his colleagues resigned themselves to death – until the intervention of the town chief.

“I had given up and was just praying to God. I had no idea how we were going to get out of there because we were completely surrounded by these men,” he says.

“We knew that the attack against us in Tarjuwon was not just the company. We think the government was also very complicit in those attacks to try to eliminate us,” he says. Brownell says the Liberian government has been behind several attacks, and felt his organisation was standing in the way of its development objectives. The government did not take kindly to Green Advocates trying to enlighten people on their right to the land and natural resources.

Francis Colee is head of programmes at Green Advocates and has worked on several court cases on land rights issues brought against the Liberian government. He says the government sometimes brands the organisation as anti-development, but its focus is to ensure good investment that protects the rights of people and not alter their livelihood.

“We have argued that it is good that we have investment, but we have also argued that we need to ensure a delicate balance between the protection of human rights, the environment and the investment,” says Colee.

“In most cases, what we have seen is that the project-targeted communities end up becoming worse off than they were before the coming of the investment.”

In 2016, the government accused Brownell of refusing to help give testimony in the trial of the Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven, the former head of the Oriental Timber Corporation – Brownell’s first case. The Green Advocates office in Monrovia was raided and ransacked by plain-clothes police officers. Some of the staff were arrested. The police even went to his home and arrested his uncle when Brownell himself could not be found.

“It was a ploy to get me. They use the criminal justice system to threaten people,” he says.

“They made Liberia very unsafe for me when they started threatening me and so I was forced to flee with my family to come [to the US]. President Sirleaf has directly threatened me, in my face, ‘I will charge you with sedition’.”

In a strongly worded letter to the president of Liberia, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemned the attacks on Brownell, and through the support of the Fund for Global Human Rights and other groups he fled the country with his wife and children. He now serves as an associate research professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Green Advocates’ work in Liberia continues, even with Brownell in the US, through support from a team of dedicated local activists and Green Advocates staff.

Land rights at last

Despite the challenges, Green Advocates has helped ensure Liberia passed sweeping land reform legislation in 2018. Local communities now have the exclusive right to possess and use land for different purposes, and to lease it.

But there is still a long way to go in terms of actual impact on land rights despite these reforms, says Simpson Snoh, who represents the Alliance for Rural Democracy, a Liberian non-governmental body working closely with Green Advocates. Green Advocates is in the process of taking the message to the people, and helping to translate laws into action.

“After years of securing rights for its community partners,” says Brownell, “Green Advocates is currently exploring options for translating these rights into economic opportunities to address not just the bread-and-butter issues these communities face, but a business and development model that can co-exist with nature.”

Snoh says that with funding, local organisations can move quickly to help communities that are facing serious human rights abuses from multinational companies and governments. This is because community-based groups best understand the needs of the communities more and what the issues are.

Brownell echoes Snoh’s sentiments. He believes that international funders should be able to bet their money on local organisations like Green Advocates, just as The Fund for Global Human Rights did when the organisation was still just an idea. He feels Green Advocates has been able to enlighten the people on their basic human right – the right to own land.

“The government’s perception that there was free land or open spaces where they could give concessions to companies was a complete false assumption. All these years the government had lied,” he says.

“The future of Liberia is never ever going to be with massive foreign investment through transnational corporations coming to Liberia. Liberia’s future comes from its own people.”

This article is part of an editorial partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights.

This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias

 

Gwangju Human Rights Award 2019 to Philippine Carino and Indonesian choir

May 19, 2019

For those – like me – who missed the announcement  of the winners of the Gwangju human rights awards 2019, here a belated post.  [For more on this award see:http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/gwangju-prize-for-human-rights]. The winner is the Philippine human rights defender Joanna Carino.

This undated photo, released by the May 18 Memorial Foundation on April 15, 2019, shows Joanna Carino, a Philippine activist championing the rights of indigenous peoples. (Yonhap)

The Jury said “Carino has created a great sensation for her unyielding strife and sacrifice in fighting against suppression and made a favorable impression on many citizens and activists today.

The biennial special award went to Indonesia’s Dialita Choir, made up of women whose parents, relatives and friends were captured, tortured and exiled during the 1965-1966 communist purge in the Southeast Asian country. The members of Dialita co-initiate social change through singing performances. The award ceremony was on 18 May 2019 as part of events to mark the 39th anniversary of the democratic uprising. Hundreds of citizens were killed in the southwestern city during protests against the military junta of Gen. Chun Doo-hwan in May 1980.

Reprisal against Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Soltan

May 12, 2019

On 10 May 2019, a number of NGOs issued a joint statement on the defamation campaign by Egypt against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan:

We, the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the defamation campaign by the Egyptian authorities against human rights defender Mohamed Soltan, 

 
Mohamed Soltan is a prominent human rights defender from The Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights advocacy group in Washington D.C. He spent nearly two years in prison in the case known as “Raba’ Operations Room,” in which authorities pressed politically-motivated charges in 2014-2015 against scores of critical journalists and political figures for “membership in an illegal group”, “publishing false news” and “planning to overthrow the ruling regime”, among other charges. Some of the charges do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law. In any case, the US State Department, and Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the casefile in April 2015, found that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence to establish him as a suspect, let alone establishing Soltan’s individual criminal responsibility  for the alleged crimes. An Egyptian court sentenced him to life in prison in 2015.
 
In protest of his unjust detention by the Egyptian authorities, Soltan entered into an open-ended hunger strike and was supported by a worldwide campaign effort. The U.S. government intervened at the highest levels and successfully facilitated his release and return to the United States on May 30th, 2015. Since his release, Soltan has become a full-time human right advocate relentlessly defending democratic values and human rights.
 
The Freedom Initiative has worked diligently with Egyptian and international human rights organizations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The organization’s annual flagship event, the Egypt Advocacy Day, involved two award-winning actors who joined over 100 Egyptians and Egyptian Americans from over 25 U.S. states and six countries for meetings with members of the U.S. Congress and State Department. The aim of the meetings was to engage the Egyptian diaspora in the U.S. with their elected representatives on human rights and democratic governance issues in Egypt
 
In response, the Egyptian authorities have apparently unleashed a systematic defamation campaign against some of those who participated in the meetings and against the organizers, particularly the award-winning actors, The Freedom Initiative and Soltan. The Egyptian government,as well as privately owned newspapers, falsely accused him of being a convicted terrorist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and working on behalf of foreign agents. The defamatory statements were reported on government-sponsored media outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
 
The coordinated harassment of Soltan is part of a broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and is aimed to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work.
 
We stand in solidarity with Mohamed Soltan, The Freedom Initiative and all Egyptians who peacefully speak out against human rights abuses despite the hefty price. We urge the Egyptian government to respect its obligations under international human rights treaties and the Egyptian constitution, end the crackdown on critics, halt the persecution of human rights defenders and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.
 
Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms
Amnesty International
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Human Rights Forum
EuroMed Rights
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Freedom Initiative

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/egypt-reprisal-against-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan-for-human-rights-advocacy?e=1209ebd6d8

In Memoriam Murray Thomson one of the founders of Peace Brigades International

May 7, 2019

Age Is More: Image: Still from Murray Thomson/YouTube
Murray Thomson passed away at 96 years of age on 2 May 2019 in Ottawa, Canada. 

The founding statement for PBI that Thomson helped draft almost 40 years ago said, “We are forming an organisation with the capacity to mobilise and provide trained volunteers in areas of high tension, to avert violent outbreaks.” There was no way for Thomson and the 10 other people who gathered on Grindstone Island, southwest of Ottawa, from August 13 to September 4, 1981 to know that the seed they planted with their vision would grow into a global organization.

Fathi Zabaar, the New York City-based Tunisian human rights activist who chairs PBI’s International Council says, “In 2017, PBI’s community of activists provided effective protection and support to more than one thousand women, men and LGBTI defenders, despite the challenging context and huge risk those working to change the world continued to face.“… Along with Thomson, there were two other people from Canada at that meeting: Henry Wiseman and Hans Sinn. Wiseman passed away at 93 years of age of in Guelph, Ontario in January 2017. Sinn remains active and still lives in the Ottawa Valley.

In April 2015, Sinn told Ottawa Magazine about the founding of PBI in 1981. “Our first project was in Guatemala. The mothers of the disappeared appealed to us for an international presence. By looking for their children, who had been made to disappear, they came under threat too,” Sinn said.  Sinn added, “They needed a link to the outside world — for protection and for international pressure to help improve the situation — and we provided that.”

….

Thomson’s contributions to human rights and peace extend far beyond the formation of Peace Brigades International. He helped found the Quaker Peace Education Centre-Grindstone Island in 1963, which worked to address the question: “How can we, who advocate nonviolence, actually practise it in hostile, threatening situations?” and Project Ploughshares in 1976, which was based around the observation that newly independent countries were spending vast amounts of borrowed money to build up military institutions rather than on the public interest and social needs. Thomson also helped found the Group of 78 in 1981 to promote peace and disarmament, equitable and sustainable development, and a revitalized United Nations system, and Peacefund Canada in 1985 as a campaign aimed at allowing conscientious objectors to have their tax payments spent only for non-military purposes.

Thomson helped found Canadian Friends of Burma in 1991 to support the pro-democracy movement in the struggle for peace, democracy, human rights and equality and Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2008, a group which seeks a verifiable treaty on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Thomson made an extraordinary contribution to peace, justice and human rights during his lifetime and his example inspires many of us to continue that work.

For more on Thomson’s life of faith and activism, please see the rabble.ca blog by Dennis Gruending, the Tribute to ‘a renaissance man of peace’ by Koozma J. Tarasoff, and the post by Peace Brigades International-Canada.

http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2019/05/murray-thomsons-lasting-legacy

82-year old Father Magnis in Indonesia: tough words for a good purpose

April 16, 2019

An adopted son's passion for Indonesian pluralism
German-born Jesuit Father Franz Magnis Suseno has become an Indonesian citizen and an outspoken champion of democracy and interfaith dialogue in Indonesia. (Photo by Siktus Harson/ucanews.com)
Ryan Dagur painted on 15 April 2019 (in UCA News) a portrait of a remarkable man, the Jesuit priest Franz Magnis Suseno, doesn’t mince his words when promoting democracy and dialogue in Indonesia. “An adopted son’s passion for Indonesian pluralism

Not so long ago, Jesuit priest Father Franz Magnis Suseno ..ruffled a few feathers by.. calling people who are threatening to boycott the polls fools, parasites, and psycho freaks.His scathing comments came in an article about the upcoming Indonesian presidential and legislative elections published by Kompas, the country’s bestselling newspaper.Many criticized him for the remarks, some even sent him letters of protest, but many also supported him. The German-born priest, a professor at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, has apologized for his choice of words but argued the article was a call for all citizens to care for democracy and prevent the worst individuals from being elected to office.

…..The 82-year-old, born into a noble family and who was once called Count von Magnis, is now widely known as a philosopher, human rights defender, and culturalist, with his main area of expertise being Javanese culture. He has written 41 books on philosophy, political ethics, and Christianity, as well as made countless television appearances.During his time in the country, Father Magnis has witnessed a major shift in Indonesia’s political climate from a 32-year dictatorship under Suharto to the reform era that began in 1998 when the tap of democracy was opened.“It’s my moral obligation to speak up when democracy is threatened,” he said.He says he is optimistic that Indonesia will remain a leading democracy in Southeast Asia, but admitted various threats do concern him, especially what he calls the politicization of religion by hard-line Muslims. “Indonesia will only fall to another authoritarian regime if people continue to use religion in politics,” he said. He said it is dangerous because, for many people, religion is more important than democracy. 
…. Father Magnis has built close friendships with several respected Muslim leaders, including the late Abdurahman Wahid, a highly respected figure, and Indonesia’s fourth president, as well as Nurcholish Majid, an avid defender of pluralism in Indonesia. Holding dialogue with extreme elements is also important, he said, especially when conflict occurs.He has met the now exiled Islamic Defenders Front chief, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, several times when his organization sought to impose its own ban on worshiping activities in a number of churches in Jakarta. In 2011, Father Magnis met Shihab, to discuss the issue of an American pastor burning a Quran in Florida, which angered Muslims all over the world. Following the discussions, Shihab told his angry followers not to take out their anger on Indonesian Christians. In building a relationship with believers of other faiths, it is important for Christians to be humble and sensible and to avoid belittling acts or gestures. “It’s better to be low profile, rather than something fancy,” he said, adding that this philosophy should be especially applied in poor areas. This was why he called the erection of a 46-meter-high Marian statue in Ambarawa, Central Java in 2015, “inappropriate.” ..
Father Magnis is also critical of Christians who measure the success of their work by the number of people they attract to Christianity because it leads to aggressive Christianization. “Our mission is to bring the goodness of Christ into our society and let people decide whether to join us,” he said.He said Indonesia will remain an Islamic country, and what Christians can do is to help them build a better democratic system, where freedom of religion is upheld and interfaith relations are well established. Father Antonius Benny Sustyo, an outspoken activist priest, said Father Magnis’ openness and willingness to communicate with others are among his finest characteristics. “..Achmad Nurcholish, a Muslim activist said Father Magnis had contributed a lot to the progress of humanity in Indonesia, especially through his writings that have an enriched perspective.
Father Magnis’ endeavors have been duly recognized and have earned him a number of awards.In 2015, he received an award from Indonesian President Joko Widodo for his dedication to education and culture. A year later, in 2016, he won the Matteo Ricci International Prize for his commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. However, the one that gives him the most pleasure is a so-called “Mud Award”, bestowed on him by communities in East Java whose land and homes were buried by mud caused by the activities of a company belonging to Aburizal Bakrie, a businessman cum politician. It was given in 2007 after the priest refused to accept a Bakrie Award — handed out by Aburizal Bakrie’s family — to show solidarity with people affected by the mud disaster. “I was very happy with that award. I’ll always treasure it,” he said.

UN Rapporteurs intervene again for Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro

April 11, 2019

Israel must fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the UN’s Declaration on human rights defenders, and in particular end the use of criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct the legitimate work of human rights defenders, say two UN rapporteurs: Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory and Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders .

Their comments come on 11 April 2019 after the latest hearing on 7 April in the case of Issa Amro, a human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group which seeks to end settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance. “Israel must provide for the protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work and ensure that, if charged with any offence, their right to a fair trial is respected,” said the Rapporteurs “The case of Issa Amro is emblematic of the sophisticated array of obstacles faced by Palestinian human rights defenders who engage in non-violent activities.

Cracking down on individuals whose work is essential to denouncing violations and creating safe and peaceful societies, sends a troubling message that the Israeli authorities make little effort to abide by international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial.

We are very concerned that in January 2019 Israel did not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observer force that was instrumental in efforts to avoid violence – a decision which led to a group of human rights defenders, including Issa Amro, deciding to accompany children to school.”

The UN experts also expressed deep concern about the repressive working environment faced by Palestinian human rights organisations in recent years.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/08/14/five-un-experts-urge-israel-to-stop-harassment-of-human-rights-activist-issa-amro/ and https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/issa-amro

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1904/S00078/israel-must-ensure-protection-for-issa-amro.htm