Posts Tagged ‘Human rights defender’

George Bizos: Anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Mandela dies aged 92

September 10, 2020

Nelson Mandela's lawyer and friend George Bizos is pictured in Johannesburg in 2018
 
George Bizos is best known for defending Nelson Mandela at his trials – image copyrightAFP
Many media reported that South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who famously defended Nelson Mandela, has died aged 92 (here the BBC).
After representing some of the country’s best known political activists during the apartheid years, Mr Bizos became one of the architects of South Africa’s new constitution. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his death, saying Mr Bizos had “contributed immensely to our democracy”.
George Bizos is most widely known for his work with Nelson Mandela. The pair met while studying law in Johannesburg and Mr Bizos went on to represent his friend and other anti-apartheid figures in various court cases. He was one of the lawyers who represented Mandela at his treason trial, which began in 1956. He also represented Mandela during the Rivonia Trial, when he and other anti-apartheid activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government.
George Bizos was born in Greece but came to South Africa at the age of 13 as a World War Two refugee. Before moving to South Africa, he and his father helped seven New Zealand soldiers to escape Nazi-occupied Greece. He fell out of education for an extended period of time and worked instead in a Greek shop, after arriving in Johannesburg with no English. He later trained as a lawyer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand university, before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar. After the end of white minority rule, Mr Bizos helped to write South Africa’s new constitution. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists who had been killed during apartheid at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In one of his last major trials, he secured government payouts for families of 34 mine workers who were killed by South African police in 2012.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54094248

Appeal to support human rights defender Waldo Albarracín in Bolivia

July 8, 2020

Human rights defender Waldo Albarracín continues to be the subject of death threats and may be the target of surveillance, as a result of his work in Bolivia. Since October 2019, the defender has been targeted on a regular basis with threatening messages via his Facebook account by known and unknown individuals. The messages include threats to incriminate him and to set his house on fire.

Waldo Albarracin

About Waldo Albarracín: Waldo Albarracín is a well established and widely recognised human rights defender in Bolivia. He was the President of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia (APDHB) from 1992 to 2003 and the Bolivian Ombudsman from 2004 to 2010. He is the current Rector of Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz and President of the National Committee for the Defence of Democracy (CONADE), a civil platform defending political rights.

1 July 2020 Front Line Defenders called for urgent action. Those of you who want to take action in this and other cases of threatened HRDs, should subsctibe to Front Line’s almost daily information.

Download the Urgent Appeal

In May 2020, Waldo Albarracín was mentioned as a target in a threatening video posted and circulated on social media by the illegal armed group Resistencia Juvenil Cochala. At 1:10 in the video, one man of a group of six men, hooded and armed, stated: “Resistencia Juvenil Cochala will fight on behalf of the Bolivia against Waldo Albarracín and Bolivian political leaders.” The armed group currently exceeds 5,000 members online and describes itself as a citizen’s platform, formed to fight against tyranny and in promotion of democracy in Bolivia. According to the group, it has no one leader.

In June 2020, the Fake Antenna Detection Project, an initiative established by the South Lighthouse organisation, released its findings that Waldo Albarracín, along with a number of human rights organizations and academic entities, may have had their mobile phones intercepted. The study identified 24 suspicious antennas, capable of interfering with mobile phones, some of which were located by the Office of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in Bolivia and also by the University Mayor de San Andres, both places where Waldo Albarracín works from. It has been suggested by local media that the interceptions were orchestrated by the military and government authorities, however the authorities are yet to comment publicly on the existence of the antennas and how permanent they are. South Lighthouse researches and monitors surveillance activities and abusive technological practices threatening human rights, security, and privacy in Latin America and other parts of the world.

Front Line Defenders has previously expressed concern regarding the risks faced by Waldo Albarracín. Although the human rights defender has faced risks since 2004 as a result of his human rights work, there has been a worrying escalation since the protests in 2019 regarding the results of the presidential election. On 10 November 2019, the defender’s house was set on fire by a crowd of around 500 people, whilst his family were still inside.

..Front Line Defenders believes he is being targeted solely as a result of his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/ongoing-death-threats-against-and-potential-surveillance-waldo-albarracin

Oak Human Rights Fellow is migrants’ rights defender Nasim Lomani

June 13, 2020

On 12 June 2020 the Oak Institute for Human Rights announced as the 2020 Oak Human Rights Fellow: Nasim Lomani, a human rights defender and migrants’ rights activist, who has been working in Greece and across the EU for over a decade.

As a then 16-year-old Afghanistani, Lomani left for Greece nearly two decades ago. Upon arrival, he was arrested and charged with illegal crossing of the Greek border, ultimately serving a two-year prison sentence. During the process of appealing to the court for having his rights as a refugee abused and violated, he learned about the bureaucratic difficulties that all migrants face while trying to enter Europe. He joined a number of solidarity groups, such as the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees and the Migrants’ Social Center in Athens, where he coordinated free language classes and the Athens Anti-racist Festival. He also engaged in solidarity work that involved lawyers, human rights defenders, as well as refugees and migrants.
 Nasim Lomani

Nasim Lomani © Marios Lolos

In Greece, Lomani, founded City Plaza – Refugees Accommodation Solidarity Space in Athens – where he organized daily life for migrants, managed media communication, coordinated international volunteers, and served as the public representative to researchers, students, and academics. City Plaza, once one of the largest solidarity migrant accommodations in Athens, was an abandoned hotel in central Athens repurposed to offer migrants the right to live in dignity in the urban space with access to social, economic, and political rights. Lomani lived inside the now-closed City Plaza for the entirety of its existence. Over almost three and half years, it welcomed 3,000 people, lodging up to 400 at a time.  The story of City Plaza is known as an example of self-organization, self-management, and everyday processes to help empower refugees. In essence, it was a political statement against Europe’s use of militarized borders, repression, and systematic violation of human rights and refugees’ rights.

Lomani was also involved in organizing the largest NoBorder refugee and migrant solidarity camp to date, leading to the closure of the Pagani Detention Center on Lesvos island in 2009. 

Lomani is at increasing risk, as migration solidarity work and defending human rights in Greece, and Europe at large has been criminalized in recent years. Helping refugees and criticizing the human rights violations by authorities is now a major offense by both national and European law. In Greece, this has led to large-scale evictions of housing sites for refugees and asylum seekers and to increasing arrests and trials of activists on the ground. 

Lomani has been active in the human rights field since he was a child, so the Oak Fellowship will come as a much-needed respite.

Established in 1997 by a grant from the Oak Foundation, the Oak Institute for Human Rights hosts a Fellow each year. The fellowship offers an opportunity to spend the fall semester in residence at Colby, where they teach, conduct research, and raise awareness about important global human rights issues.

http://www.colby.edu/news/2020/06/12/migrants-rights-activist-to-be-2020-oak-human-rights-fellow/

Breaking: Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain finally released

June 10, 2020

Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab gestures as he leaves a police station in Manama, Bahrain, on May 28, 2012. Rajab, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for tweets alleging abuse at Bahrain’s prisons, has been released amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic HASAN JAMALI/AP

JON GAMBRELL for Associated Press reproted on 9 June, 2020 that Bahrain has freed prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, allowing him to serve out the remainder of his internationally criticized prison sentence from home. See recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/martin-ennals-award-laureates-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-their-imprisoned-fellow-award-winners/

Nabeel Rajab, 55, wore a garland of white roses after his release, smiling while posing with his family for the first time since being detained in June 2016. Bahrain has been releasing inmates amid the pandemic, but largely had avoided freeing political prisoners. In September, a court denied Rajab’s request to serve out the rest of his sentence at home.

Rajab received a five-year prison sentence over tweets alleging torture at one of the country’s prisons and criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. He separately received a two-year prison sentence over television interviews he gave that included criticism of Bahrain, a small island nation off Saudi Arabia that’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Fo rmore posts on Rajab, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nabeel-rajab/

Bahrain’s prisons remain crowded with peaceful human rights defenders and opposition leaders, whose lives are threatened by the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19,” said Husain Abdulla, the executive director of the group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.

https://www.startribune.com/bahrain-activist-nabeel-rajab-released-from-prison/571128782/?refresh=true

https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/prominent-bahraini-rights-activist-released-from-prison-1.633018

NGOs express solidarity with Amnesty staffer Abu Zeyad

May 26, 2020

Filmmaker and human rights defender Shady Habash dies in Egyptian pre-trial detention

May 2, 2020

Shady Habash, 24, was a film director and cinematographer (Instagram/@ShadyHabash)

On 2 May 2020 the Middle East Eye reported that Egyptian film director and photographer Shady Habash reportedly passed away in Tora prison in the capital Cairo on Friday, according to human rights organisations.

Continuing Egypt’s revolution from exile: Ramy Essam and Ganzeer

[Habash and his colleague Mustafa Gamal were arrested following the release of Balaha, a song that indirectly poked fun at Sisi, the former defence minister who came to power after a military coup ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Essam, the singer who performed Balaha, is currently in exile in Sweden. The author of the song, Galal el-Beheiry, is also in jail.  “Balaha” is a derogatory nickname for Sisi, in reference to a character from a classic Egyptian movie known for being a compulsive liar. A statement by Essam after Habash’s arrest said that the director “doesn’t have anything to do with the content and message of the song”. Charges brought against Habash and Gamal include membership of a “terrorist group,” spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military. They have both been in pre-trial detention pending investigations since their arrests.]

Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in Egyptian jails since Sisi became president in 2014.  The former army general has routinely jailed critics, including secular and Muslim Brotherhood politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Hundreds have died in custody through medical negligence or other poor detention conditions.

On 5 May Egypt’s public prosecutor said that alcohol poisoning caused the death in jail of this young video maker after he drank liquid sanitiser he had mistaken for water.  https://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-video-maker-died-alcohol-poisoning-jail-prosecutor-015419633.html

For some older posts on Egypt, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

Azerbaijan: finally full acquittal of Ilqar Mammadov and Rasul Jafarov

April 26, 2020

Ilqar Mammadov speaks to reporters on April 23 in Baku.
Ilqar Mammadov speaks to reporters on April 23 in Baku.
Rasul Jafarov
Rasul Jafarov

This judgement, which overturns their previous convictions, is a welcome step that finally fully implements the respective decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The European Union expects Azerbaijan to live up to its international commitments and to continue to implement the remaining decisions of the European Court of Human Rights,” the EU statement said.​ Mammadov, who served more than five years of a seven-year prison term, fought for his full acquittal since his early release in August 2018.​ He was detained in February 2013 and charged with helping stoke unrest in the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. He was sentenced to seven years in jail in March 2014. Mammadov and his supporters insisted the case against him was politically motivated.​

Jafarov was arrested in August 2014 and in April 2015 he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison after a court in Baku found him guilty of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated. ​ Jafarov was granted early release in March 2016 and worked on his full acquittal since then.​ [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/18/azerbaijan-pardon-jafarov-ismayilova-aliyev/]

https://www.rferl.org/a/us-eu-welcome-full-acquittal-of-azerbaijani-politician-rights-defender/30575138.html

Gui Minhai: 10 years jail sentence in China

February 25, 2020

Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong.
Members of the pro-democracy Civic party carry portraits of Gui Minhai and Lee Bo during a protest in Hong Kong. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

A court in Ningbo said on Tuesday that Gui had been found guilty and would be stripped of political rights for five years in addition to his prison term. The brief statement said Gui had pleaded guilty and would not be appealing against his case. The Swedish foreign minister, Ann Linde, told Radio Sweden: “We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai be released so he is able to reunite with his daughter, his family and that demand remains…We demand immediate access to our Swedish citizen in order to give him all consular support that he is entitled to.

Gui appears to have been tried and convicted in secret, denying him any chance of a fair trial,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International, calling the verdict “deplorable” and based on unsubstantiated charges.

For previous posts on this shocking story:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/10/sweden-charges-ex-ambassador-to-china-over-pressure-on-daughter-of-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/sweden-defies-chinese-threats-after-award-to-book-publisher-gui-minhai/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/

—————

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/25/gui-minhai-detained-hong-kong-bookseller-jailed-for-10-years-in-china

Chilean human rights defender, José (Pepe) Zalaquett, no more

February 22, 2020

Brazil remembers Sister Dorothy Stang murdered 15 years ago

February 13, 2020

Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is pictured in a 2004 file photo in Belem, northern Brazil.  (CNS/Reuters)

12 February 2020 was the 15th anniversary of Sr. Dorothy Stang‘s assassination in the Amazon region of Brazil. The nun was 73 when she was murdered on 12 February, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. The U.S.-born nun is remembered as a crusader for the poor and the landless and for her love of the land and the Amazon forest.

Lise Alves, for the Catholic News Service, wrote about her on 12 February 2020:

She taught me how to be a missionary in Brazil; she was my mentor,” Sr. Rebeca Spires told Catholic News Service. Spires, who, like Stang, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, said the first thing Stang gave her was Brazil’s land statute. “She was all about doing things within the law,” said Spires.

…She said that, in the early 2000s, Stang started to pressure public officials to combat land invasions by ranchers and large landowners, who wanted to take away areas occupied by smaller farms. The officials “became extremely irritated with her, with her persistence,” Spires said. “Although threatened with death, Dorothy never failed in her life’s mission, to fight for the poor of the land, so that they had their rights guaranteed and a dignified life,” read the statement issued by the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission to mark Stang’s death.Mary Cohen, a lawyer in Belem and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ justice and peace commission, was president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s lawyer association when Stang was in Anapu. Cohen remembered Stang’s determination, as the nun pushed and pressured government agencies into taking action. “She once slept on the steps of the INCRA (Institute for Agrarian Reform) so they would talk to her. She had a lot of determination, and that invigorated all of us,” said the lawyer. That determination made many people in the region angry. Trying to reduce the tension between landowners and peasants and their advocates, the lawyer’s association gave Stang a human rights award two months before she was killed.

We thought that more media attention and recognition of her work would keep her safe, that they (landowners and ranchers) would be deterred. We were wrong,” said the lawyer. And although Stang’s assassination made international headlines and caused worldwide commotion, those who continue her work say the threats today to the landless and their advocates are even greater. “There are still a lot of people being threatened, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life,” Sr. Jane Dwyer, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur who worked closely with the murdered nun, told CNS.

Dwyer, who still lives in Anapu, told CNS she was uneasy about giving interviews over the telephone. She said that, since 2015, 19 landless, small-scale farmers had been assassinated over land conflicts in the area. “Nineteen in the last five years,” she said. “Of the 19 assassinations, in only one did authorities bring someone to justice,” added Spires, who works with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council in Belem. Cohen said those who speak out today against the rich and powerful in the region continue to be threatened. “Her successor, Father Amaro (Jose Amaro Lopes de Souza), continues to be threatened, and when they were unable to scare him off, they accused him of extortion and inciting violence among landless peasants,” she said…

“The synod document is titled ‘Querida Amazonia’ (Beloved Amazonia), which … embodies what Sister Dorothy spoke of her entire life: ‘Dear Amazon, we are here to defend you, to protect you. Dear people of the Amazon, we are here to help you in your fight, in your resistance, in the recognition of your rights.'”