Posts Tagged ‘Human rights defender’

In Memoriam for Mwatha, human rights defender disappeared and killed in Kenya

February 22, 2019

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng
Caroline Mwatha Ochieng

Gacheke Gachihi, coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group, celebrates the life of a fellow activist, Caroline Mwatha Ochiengwho was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests in Kenya, and was involved in documenting these cases. Through the documentation of these systematic injustices, Caroline, a founding member of Dandora Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group (the collective voice of social justice centers in the informal settlements in Nairobi), was exposed to police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice. Earlier this month, she was murdered. Her disappearance and murder sends a terrifying message to human rights defenders and social justice activists who are fighting against systematic extrajudicial killings and police brutality in Kenya.

I recall a recent event that illustrates Caroline’s tireless commitment. On December 13, 2018, at 9 p.m., I received a distress call from an activist who had been illegally arrested and detained at the Kwa Mbao Administrative Police (AP) camp — an informal settlement where the Dandora community Social Justice Centre was monitoring human rights violations. Carol Mwatha was our team leader at the notorious Kwa Mbao AP camp, which is under the jurisdiction of the Dandora Social Justice Centre. She was responsible for monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by security agencies.

Under the leadership of Carol Mwatha, we spoke to the officer in charge of the AP camp, who was supervising those who had been arrested in the raid that evening. We demanded the unconditional release of our comrades. They were being detained illegally for refusing to bribe a police officer, something that exposes many youth in these areas to extrajudicial killing. As a result of Carol Mwatha’s intervention, our comrades were released unconditionally.

……

The struggle against social injustice and deplorable living conditions exposed Carol Mwatha to dangers that eventually led to her disappearance on February 6 and her subsequent murder. Caroline’s body was dumped in the city mortuary under a different name on Tuesday, February 12, and the police reported a story of a botched abortion to cover up her murder.

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests, and she was involved in documenting these cases and referring them to the independent Police Oversight Authority and other organizations that have been mandated to seek accountability and redress against human rights violations in Kenya. Through the documentation of these cases, Carol was exposed to serious police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice.

In a rather bizarre twist, it turns out that the Catholic Church on Thursday refused to hold a requiem Mass for Caroline Mwatha on the grounds that postmortem results showed that she died as a result of excessive bleeding caused by possible abortion. Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops General Secretary Father Daniel Rono on Friday told the Star that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. Similar sentiments were shared by National Council of Churches of Kenya Deputy General Secretary Reverend Nelson Makanda. “The sanctity of the foetus must be protected and that starts from conception. Once fertilisation occurs that is a human being and the child must be protected to its natural death. Anyone who aborts is a murderer,” he said.

Human Rights Defender Yared Hailemariam back in his homeland Ethiopia after 13 years

February 12, 2019

Human Rights Activist Yared Hailemariam Yared Hailemariam

Yared Hailemariam is the Executive Director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), a non-governmental and non-partisan organisation based in Brussels and Geneva, founded by activists that fled the country and other members of the Ethiopian diaspora. He served as a lead investigator at the Ethiopia Human Rights Council (HRCO) for seven years before being forced into exile in the aftermath of the heavily contested 2005 election in the country.

The post-2005 period saw a massive crackdown on civil society through the enactment of draconian legislation, and the implementation of two states of emergency that allowed for the brutal repression of thousands of demonstrators, journalists, and HRDs. During this time, AHRE, based in exile, focused on advocacy, protection and capacity-building for Ethiopian HRDs, and producing research highlighting the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia.

However, when the reformist agenda of the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed began to manifest itself in 2018, Hailemariam decided it was safe to head home after more than 13 years in exile. In January 2019, he helped organise a civil society meeting and workshop in Addis Ababa which brought together national and international civil society organisations (CSOs) to forge a path forward after years of restrictions and repression. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/09/un-human-rights-council-urged-to-address-situation-in-ethiopia/]

This is a huge chance for civil society. Because of bad laws and the previous government, our work was totally crippled and paralysed, but there are many good signs that our presence is welcome like it wasn’t before. It’s a bright future for civil society as a result of these changes.

Hailemariam hopes to help rebuild civil society in Ethiopia by bringing together HRDs returning from exile with the few CSOs that were able to remain in the country and weather the storm. He says that while the new reforms are positive, these changes must trickle down to institutions and the general citizenry for them to be real and long lasting.

The head is moving, but the legs are not. Civic reforms don’t affect the real day to day situations like unemployment or access to healthcare, so the government needs to act quickly to make real institutional reforms. Unless the whole body starts moving together, it will seriously affect the political reform.

He acknowledges that the real struggle will be to rebuild the capacity of a civil society sector decimated by brain drain and financial insecurity. However, he hopes that with a bit of tenacity and good networking, HRDs in the country can come together before the planned 2020 elections and engage in civic education to prepare Ethiopia for a brighter, more democratic future.

https://www.satenaw.com/human-rights-defenders-month-january-2018-yared-hailemariam/

 

Eren Keskin, MEA nominee 2019, speaks out fearlessly: Turkey more oppressive today than ever

January 29, 2019

Turkey‘s anti-democratic mentality has not changed since its foundation, but it has never been as oppressive as today, said Turkish human rights defender Eren KeskinOver the years, Keskin played a vital role in strengthening civil society awareness in Turkey. She became involved with the Human Rights Association (IHD) three years after its 1986 founding and headed its Istanbul branch for years. She has been arrested and imprisoned numerous times, accused of terrorist ties for defending Kurdish rights, and won several awards including the Aachen Peace Award, the Theodore Haecker Prize, the 2018 Helsinki Civil Society Award, the 2018 Anna Lindh Prize, and the 2017 Hrant Dink Award. A new travel ban is likely to stop her from coming to the Martin Ennals Award ceremony on 13 February 2019.

Turkey’s undemocratic mentality has not changed since its foundation,” said Keskin. “There is no change in the mind or understanding of the state. I have been part of the struggle for human rights for nearly 30 years. I have not experienced a period in which freedom of thought and freedom of expression have been contravened this much. Turkey is more oppressive today than ever.

Keskin said she had been brought before the courts more than 100 times and convicted on numerous occasions.

I see the struggle for the defence of human rights as respect for those who have died. It is out of respect for them that I am part of the struggle for human rights,” she said. “We experienced a lot of pressure, but our friends were killed. They were killed fighting for human dignity. I am lucky to be alive…I was assaulted twice with firearms, imprisoned and threatened with death, but never gave up.”

…Keskin became the editor-in-chief of the Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper from 2013 to 2016 as part of a solidarity campaign after Turkish authorities arrested its journalists. She was prosecuted for a number of articles that appeared in the newspaper as, under Turkish law, editors-in-chief can be indicted when the authors cannot be held to account. Keskin said 143 criminal cases had been brought against her for her time working at Özgür Gündem. “I have already been sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison, a 450,000 lira ($85,000) fine and travel ban,” she said. A court in October lifted the ban on Keskin travelling abroad, but last week she realised she had been given another one when authorities refused to issue her a passport. She had been nominated for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and was planning to attend the award ceremony in Switzerland. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/24/breaking-news-ennals-award-announces-its-3-finalists-for-2019/]

People ask, ‘How do you live? How do you endure it?’” Keskin said. “For me, the job we do is a way of life and I have never regretted it.”

https://ahvalnews.com/human-rights/turkey-more-oppressive-ever-rights-activist

Three NGOs urge you to nominate Ilham Tohti for the Rafto Prize

January 29, 2019

Photo courtesy of the Radio Free Asia

On 28 January, 2019, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Norwegian Uyghur Committee (NUK) announced that they have nominated the Chinese human rights defender Ilham Tohti for the Rafto Prize. With the completion of five years of his arrest, the organisations believe his peaceful trajectory in defense of the freedom and fully enjoyment of human rights by the Uyghur population in China is deserving of this prestigious prize. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/today-ilham-tohti-completes-his-fourth-year-in-chinese-detention/.

[Ilham Tohti served as a professor of economics at Minzu University in Beijing where he specialized in research focused on Uyghur-Han relations, China’s ethnic policies and East Turkistan. Alongside his scholarship and teaching, Ilham is revered for establishing and maintaining Uyghur Online, a website dedicated to promoting Uyghur human rights and improved relations between Uyghur and Han Chinese people. Professor Tohti criticised oppressive policies against Uyghurs and wrote extensively on constructive approaches to overcome unequal treatment between ethnic groups. Notably, he called for dialogue and reconciliation, using his web platform as the primary vehicle. For his efforts, he was arrested by Chinese authorities on January 15, 2014. Despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finding his detention to be arbitrary in March 2014, Tohti was sentenced to life in prison in September of that year on charges of “separatism” after just a two-day trial. The legal process involving Tohti was met with significant issues throughout. His lawyers were unable to meet him for six months following the initial arrest, his defense team was not provided with complete evidence by the prosecutor, nor were their requested witnesses allowed to testify during the trial. Ilham has been serving his life sentence since December 2014 at Urumqi’s No. 1 Prison. Since then, he has been allowed very few visits from his family. Complicating this has been his continued detention in Urumqi, despite his family living in Beijing – a likely punitive move from Beijing. ChinaChange has noted that Tohti has been held in solitary confinement until at least early 2016 and has been denied the right to communicate with family and friends aside from minimal visits. The WUC gathered 132 scholars and 19 civil society organisations in an open letter to urge the Chinese government to release Ilham Tohti from his arbitrary detention of the five-year anniversary of his arrest in January 2019.]  

In 2014 Mr. Tohti was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. On October 11, 2016, Tohti was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In 2017 he received the Weimar Prize (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/05/uyghur-human-rights-defender-ilham-tohti-wins-also-weimar-human-rights-prize/). He was also nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2016. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/15/martin-ennals-award-2016-relive-the-ceremony-in-13-minutes-or-in-full/

The WUC,the UNPO and the NUK encourage scholars and organisations to join in nominating Ilham Tohti. The deadline for nominations is Friday, February 1st. As the situation in East Turkistan continues to deteriorate, with more than one million innocent Uyghurs arbitrarily detained in internment camps and the Uyghur people facing unparalleled repression, Ilham Tohti’s life and work stands as an inspiration to continue the peaceful struggle for peace, understanding

https://unpo.org/article/21350

 

Leading Tajik human rights defender Faiziniso Vohidova died

January 7, 2019

Radio Free Europe (RFE) announced on 4 January 2019 that Faiziniso Vohidova, a Tajik lawyer who defended dissidents for decades, died at the age of 55.

Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016
Faiziniso Vohidova in 2016

Faiziniso Vohidova was a graduate of Moscow State University and started her career as a lawyer in 1995. She was one of the last lawyers in Tajikistan who provided legal assistance to opposition figures, journalists, and victims of torture. Steve Swerdlow, researcher with Human Rights Watch, called Vohidova’s death “a huge loss for Tajikistan” and described her as a brave “lawyers’ lawyer.

[Vohidova] was an amazing combination of fierce intellect, sharp wit [and] principle. [For] duration of Tajikistan’s independence she has been part of that small group of activists and lawyers who have sought to make it live up to the democratic pronouncements written in its Constitution,” Swerdlow wrote on Twitter, adding that she was “unafraid to take on the toughest battles, fight for justice till the end, no matter what the odds.”

Rajabi Mirz, an independent journalist and rights defender in Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that Vohidova was “the last pillar” of those challenging the authorities in Tajikistan. “She was one of the few who cared about Tajikistan’s future,” Mirzo said.

https://www.rferl.org/a/faiziniso-vohidova-tajik-lawyer-who-defended-dissidents-for-decades-dies-at-55/29691242.html

Craig Foster, Australian footballer and …human rights defender!

January 2, 2019

Football’s power to fight injustice motivates Craig Foster. The former Socceroos captain who played for Hong Kong’s Ernest Borel in the early ’90s is a broadcaster in Australia and also works for Amnesty International as a human rights and refugee ambassador. He is among the most vocal of activists in calling out human rights transgressions in football and sport and is one of the many prominent figures fighting for the release of Bahrain’s Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australia-based refugee footballer who is in a Thai jail awaiting extradition to his home country where he fears torture and persecution. [For some of my other posts on football and human rights, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/football/]

On  Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, Nazvi Careem Nazvi Careem wrote a long piece about Craig Foster’s work and dedication:

And if he ever doubted just how powerful this sport can be, he only needs to recall the heartbreaking words of a young African refugee who had lost everything – fleeing his war-torn homeland after his parents, sibling and other members of his family were killed. “He was involved in a football programme over a period of time. He was very, very quiet and said very little,” said Foster. “He was in a new country and was experiencing psychological difficulties, which is totally understandable. “When he was asked why he liked the programme, he simply said: ‘The only thing that still exists in my life is football. It is the only thing that hasn’t been taken away from me’. And he was crying when he said it.

He [Craig Foster] is among the most vocal of activists in calling out human rights transgressions in football and sport and is one of the many prominent figures fighting for the release of Bahrain’s Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australia-based refugee footballer who is in a Thai jail awaiting extradition to his home country where he fears torture and persecution. (AFC must be held to account if Bahraini refugee player is extradited from Thailand, says ex-Socceroos captain Craig Foster)

…Since retiring as a player in 2002, Foster became involved in social issues related to football, working with disadvantaged, minority and indigenous communities in a variety of programmes. “I’m just finishing my law degree, which has given me some further insight into the challenges of human rights and international refugee law. I feel strongly about these issues and in football, we are at an advantage because we are the most diverse, multicultural community in Australia.

…..Foster, who played for Portsmouth and Crystal Palace in England and also had a stint in Singapore, said he felt an obligation to give something back to the sport. As an ex-player and a broadcaster with the SBS organisation in Australia, Foster is in an ideal position to reach out to the masses. At the same time, he puts his contribution to social issues in perspective, admitting that he is in a position of comfort compared with activists whose lives are on the line in their efforts to effect change.

“Of course, you can’t fight every battle, but there are key ones which take a huge amount time. But the people I have immense respect for are the human rights defenders in their countries….In Australia we have serious human rights issues, with indigenous Australians and also in terms of refugees and arrivals.

Russian human rights defender Ludmila Mikhailovna Alexeeva is no longer

December 10, 2018

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/09/tribute-ludmila-mikhailovna-alexeeva#

Emil Kurbedinov, Front Line Laureate, detained over Facebook post

December 7, 2018

esponding to the news that Crimean lawyer Emil Kurbedinovwas detained by the de-facto authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea and is now facing charges for a Facebook post he made five years ago, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said: “Following yesterday’s arrest of prominent human rights defender Lev Ponomarev in Moscow, the detention of Emil Kurbedinov is the second time in two days that a human rights defender has been thrown behind bars over a Facebook post….The similarities of these two cases are obvious, even if they are not directly related. Both men are prominent members of the human rights community and both have been deliberately targeted by Russian authorities for this very reason.  See also:

Background: Emil Kurbedinov, a human rights defender and lawyer for a number of Crimean Tatar activists prosecuted by the Russian authorities, was detained on 6 December by Russian Interior Ministry officers on his way from home to his office in the Crimean capital Simferopol. He faces charges under the Russian law forbidding “propaganda or public demonstration of Nazi or other extremist attributes or symbols”, on account of his 2013 Facebook post on a Hizb ut-Tahrir event in Simferopol published a year before Russia occupied the peninsula. A number of groups and organizations which legally exist in Ukraine, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, are banned in Russia. On 5 December, a court in Moscow sentenced 77-year-old human rights activist Lev Ponomarev to 25 days in administrative detention for a Facebook post.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/12/crimea-lawyer-detained-in-latest-campaign-of-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/warning-received-emil-kurbedinov

Emirates (Mansoor) and UK (Hedges): finally someone made the point

December 6, 2018

On 4 December 2018 Jonathan Emmett wrote in a post about something that I had been wondering for weeks: “Are UK authors only prepared to defend the rights of people like themselves?”. Totally correct:

Read the rest of this entry »

Iranian human rights defender Abdolfattah Soltani released from jail

November 22, 2018

Prominent human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani in Iran was granted conditional release after serving more than seven years, reports the Guardian on 21 November 2018.

Abdolfattah Soltani
Abdolfattah Soltani. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP

The authorities agreed yesterday to my client’s conditional parole and he was released today,” Soltani’s lawyer Saeed Dehghan said on Wednesday, according to IRNA.

Soltani was jailed in 2011 over charges of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “setting up an illegal opposition group”, Amnesty International said at the time. He was granted conditional release after serving more than half a 10-year term, IRNA said. A previous parole request on 8 July had been denied, according to his lawyer. Soltani was a co-founder of the now outlawed Defenders of Human Rights Centre alongside Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and others. The human rights lawyer’s release could not be immediately confirmed with his family. Soltani was briefly released from prison in August to attend the funeral of his 30-year-old daughter, Homa, who died of a heart attack.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/10/10/abdolfattah-soltani-awarded-iba-human-rights-award-lawyers-for-lawyers/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/21/iranian-human-rights-lawyer-abdolfattah-soltani-released-from-jail