Posts Tagged ‘Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought’

Egypt: the ‘foreign-funding’ accusation against human rights defenders goes in overdrive

April 3, 2018

An Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabry, has requested the Attorney General to bring human right defender Asmaa Mahfouz to court. The reason? Winning the Sakharov Prize in 2011! If Egypt Today had reported it a day earlier (on 1 April), I would have credited it as a good April 1st spoof, but unfortunately it is not. In his complaint, Sabry called for the Attorney General to transfer Mahfouz to a Criminal Court trial and ban her from travelling outside the country. He stated that the prize, worth €50,000  was given to her suddenly, and he did not know why. He asked whether it is funding, a reward, or for certain service, and what the reason is for this award. The complaint from Sabry also claimed that this is a Jewish award [SIC} and questions the award’s links to Zionism. According to Sabry, the answer is that Mahfouz received the prize money, and accepted the award, in return for betraying Egypt.

Asmaa Mahfouz was one of the founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which sparked nation-wide demonstrations in April 2008 and was indeed awarded the Sakharov prize in 2011 (sharing it with four other Arab figures).

The prize in question is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought], which is of course is not granted by Israeli but by the European Parliament!

However, the issue of foreign funding is a major one in the Egyptian context as demonstrated by the case of two Egyptian woman human rights defenders in the ‘NGO foreign-funding case” (as ISHR reminds us on 29 March 2018):  harassed and targeted Egyptian woman defenders Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/right-livelihood-has-to-go-to-egypt-to-hand-mozn-hassan-her-2016-award/] face life imprisonment if their cases are brought to trial simply for conducting legitimate human rights work.

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European Parliament’s Sakharov prize awarded to Venezuela opposition

October 27, 2017

Only a week ago I mentioned the curiously collective award given to the South-Korean people [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/korean-people-win-friedrich-ebert-human-rights-award-for-candlelight-rallies/], and now the European Parliament has awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela‘s opposition-dominated National Assembly, as well as to political prisoners in the country.

Opposition MP Freddy Guevara in Caracas (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Cubillos)

The National Assembly in Venezuela was nominated for the award by the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) parliamentary grouping along with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE group). MEP Jose Ignacio Salafranca said “they are brave people who, despite being beaten or imprisoned, are not afraid and do not give up, but fight for their freedom and for their dignity.” Fellow MEP Guy Verhofstadt said the award supported “the fight of democratic forces in favor of a democratic Venezuela and against the Maduro regime.”

For more on the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought: http://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/publicpage#/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449/Sakharov-Prize-for-Freedom-of-Thought, where you can also learn more about the other two awards named after Sakharov.

Previous winners of the Sakharov Prize include Yazidi women [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/01/sakharov-prize-2016-went-ultimately-to-two-yazidi-women/] and Saudi blogger Raif Badawi [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/].

Source: Sakharov prize awarded to Venezuela opposition | News

Sakharov Prize 2016 went ultimately to two Yazidi women

November 1, 2016

 On 26 October it was announced that Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar are the 2016 laureates of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought although Crimean Tatar Mustafa Dzhemilev was in the lead.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar are survivors of sexual enslavement by Islamic State (IS) and have become spokespersons for women afflicted by IS’s campaign of sexual violence. They are public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority that has been the subject of a genocidal campaign by IS militants.

On 3 August 2014, IS slaughtered all the males in the village of Kocho, Aji Bashar and Murad’s hometown in Sinjar/Iraq. Following the massacre, women and children were enslaved: all young women, including Aji Bashar, Murad and their sisters were kidnapped, bought and sold several times and exploited as sex slaves. During the Kocho massacre, Murad lost six of her brothers and her mother, who was killed along with 80 older women deemed to have no sexual value. Aji Bashar was also exploited as a sex slave along with her six sisters. She was sold five times among the militants and was forced to make bombs and suicide vests in Mosul after IS militants executed her brothers and father.

In November 2014, Murad managed to escape with the help of a neighbouring family who smuggled her out of the IS-controlled area, allowing her to make her way to a refugee camp in northern Iraq and then to Germany. A year later, in December 2015, Murad addressed the UN Security Council’s first-ever session on human trafficking with a powerful speech about her experience. In September 2016, she became the first United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, participating in global and local advocacy initiatives to raise awareness around the plight of the countless victims of trafficking. In October 2016, the Council of Europe honoured her with the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/yazidi-survivor-nadia-murad-wins-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-2016/]

Aji Bashar tried to flee several times before finally escaping in April with the help of her family, who paid local smugglers. On her way over the Kurdish border, and while racing towards Iraq’s government-controlled territory with IS militants in pursuit, a landmine exploded, killing two of her acquaintances and leaving her injured and almost blind. Luckily she managed to escape and was eventually sent for medical treatment in Germany, where she was reunited with her surviving siblings. Since her recovery Aji Bashar has been active in raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities.

However, UNPO reports that there is some controversy over the decision as Crimean Tatar politician and human rights activist Mustafa Dzhemilev seemed to have had a majority in the first round.  This may lead to questions about interpreting its procedures (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sakharovprize/en/home/how-it-works.html). See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-2016-nominees-announced/

Sources:

Sakharov Prize

http://www.unpo.org/article/19602

European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize 2016: nominees announced

September 16, 2016

The European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought every year to honor individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Nominations for the Sakharov Prize are made by political groups or by at least 40 MEPs. The 4 nominees for this year’s Sakharov Prize are:

Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, was arrested last November after his newspaper reported on Turkey’s intelligence service smuggling arms to rebels in Syria. He was later sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for “revealing state secrets”, survived an assassination attempt and now lives in exile. He was nominated by Greens/EFA, EFDD and GUE/NGL.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, former chair of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars People (Tatar parliament), a former Soviet dissident and a Ukrainian MP, has been standing up for human and minority rights for more than half a century. He was six months old when he and his family were deported to central Asia along with all other Crimean Tatars and was only able to come back 45 years later. Now, after Russia annexed Crimea, the human rights activist is again barred from entering the peninsula. He was nominated by EPP and ECR.

Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar are advocates for the Yazidi community and for women surviving sexual enslavement by Islamic State. They are both from Kocho, one of the villages near Sinjar, Iraq, which was taken over  by Islamic State in the summer of 2014, and are among the thousands of Yazidi girls and women abducted by Islamic State militants and forced into sex slavery. Murad is also a promoter for recognition of the Yazidi genocide. They were nominated by S&D. Murad Basee was also nominated separately by ALDE.

Ilam Totti, a peaceful advocate of China‘s Uyghur minority,  is serving a life sentence in prison. He was convicted on charges of “separatism” for co-founding the website Uyghur Online, designed to promote understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. He was nominated by MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk and 42 other MEPs. Ilam Totti – also spelled as Ilham Totti – was announced on 27 April as one of the Final Nominees of the MEA [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/breaking-news-final-nominees-2016-martin-ennals-award-tohti-zone-9-bloggers-razan-zaitouneh-annoucement/]

The vote for the shortlist of three finalists will be held during a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committee. The Conference of Presidents, made up of the Parliament President and the political group leaders, will announce the winner(s) of the 2016 Sakharov Prize on 27 October.

For more on the Sakharov award: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/sakharov-prize/

Source: Sakharov Prize 2016: nominees revealed | News | European Parliament

Laureates of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize discussed human rights protection in the digital age

May 30, 2016

 

Nine former Sakharov prize laureates from different countries met in Brussels on 24 May 2016 to discuss how to adapt to the challenges facing human rights defenders in the digital era. The event was organised by the European Parliament (EP) in the framework of Sakharov prize network activities engaging former prize laureates and Members of EP to draw attention to human rights violations and to support former laureates and their causes.

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Shlosberg awarded the inaugural Boris Nemtsov Prize

May 23, 2016

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation was established by Zhanna Nemtsova, a daughter of the murdered politician, Boris Nemtsov, and plans to work in the field of education and raising public awareness, expert evaluations and also in “helping political prisoners and those who are prosecuted on political grounds in Russia.” A new national award, the Boris Nemtsov Prize, was created which is awarded annually for “outstanding courage in fighting for democratic values, human rights and freedom in Russia.”

Lev Schlosberg, a member of the Yabloko Party and a former deputy of the Pskov regional parliament, was announced as the first recipient. The award ceremony will take place in Bonn, Germany, on Russia’s National Day, June 12.

Nemtsov was in 2015 runner-up in the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/

Source: Human rights activist Shlosberg awarded Boris Nemtsov Foundation Prize | Russia Beyond The Headlines

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi awarded Europe’s Sakharov prize

October 29, 2015

The Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose flogging sentence caused a global outcry, is awarded the 2015 Sakharov human rights prize. Mr Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for “insulting Islam”[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/the-middle-ages-are-back-10-years-prison-1000-lashes-for-saudi-human-rights-defender/].

Raif Badawi

European Parliament President Martin Schulz urged Saudi King Salman “to free him, so he can accept the prize“. Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, now living Canada with their children, told AFP news agency that award was a “message of hope and courage”.

For more on the prize: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/sakharov-prize-freedom-thought.

[Earlier this year Badawi also won the Pen Pinter Prize and the Moral Courage Award].

Badawi was one of three nominees for this year’s prize along with assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica.

Source: Saudi blogger Raif Badawi awarded Sakharov human rights prize – BBC News

Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran: Activism With A Defiant Smile

July 8, 2015

Nasrin makes a brief appearance in Jafar Panahi’s recent film “Taxi,  which was awarded the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin international film festival 2015.

On 8 July FIDH published an update on the situation of Iranian human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh:With A Defiant Smile – A Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh“. For more posts on her see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/nasrin-sotoudeh/

Nasrin Sotoudeh is among the most prominent human rights lawyers in Iran (recipient of the 2012 Sakharov Prize, which she shared with the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, and the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award). Known for her work in defending women’s rights activists, minors on death row, journalists, Kurdish rights activists and other human rights lawyers, including the Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi, she is a national hero to many Iranians.

In January 2011, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the system,” and “acting against national security“. Following persistent calls for her release from the UN, governments, and NGOs her sentence was reduced to six years, to be spent in the notorious Evin prison.

In 2013, after three years in prison, Sotoudeh was unexpectedly released, without explanation from the authorities. During her incarceration, she spent time in solitary confinement and went on several hunger strikes in protest of the inhumane prison conditions and the 2012 travel ban imposed on her husband and young daughter. One of the hunger strikes lasted 49 days and resulted in her losing 95 pounds. Upon her release, despite her weakened physical state, Sotoudeh got right back to work fighting for the respect for human rights in Iran.

Since then she has reactivated the Professional Women Lawyers Association and the Children’s Rights Committee, both of which she had helped found before her imprisonment. However, she has been spending much of her energy on a new campaign to abolish the death penalty in Iran, called Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty (LEGAM). The initiative focuses on amending Iranian legislation to gradually reduce and eventually abolish the use of the death penalty.

Until recently, her ability to push for legislative reforms remained greatly limited due to the Iran Bar Association’s October 2014 decision (under pressure from the Judiciary) to suspend her license to practice law for a period of three years. In protest, Sotoudeh staged daily sit-ins in front of the Bar Association’s offices in Tehran. Her perseverance and that of her supporters finally paid off when, on 23 June 2015, Sotoudeh was informed that the Bar Association had revised the ban and reduced it to a period of nine months [Sotoudeh declared that she would be applying to renew her license].

When asked how she became a human rights defender, Sotoudeh says that as a lawyer, she was forced to make a choice: “When a lawyer witnesses unfair trials, when a lawyer witnesses the execution of minors, either they must turn their back or they must face up to the problem they are witnessing. I think I entered the field of human rights on the day I decided not to avoid such issues.

Sotoudeh seeks to change Iran from the inside, by arguing cases and convincing others that protecting human rights is necessary. As she said recently regarding the conflict with the Iran Bar Association: “The channel for negotiations should never be closed. However, there are prerequisites for negotiations. If they are fulfilled, we should welcome such negotiations. If not, we should not insist only on negotiations. We should use civil action to persuade the other party to engage in negotiations.

In the brief appearance in Jafar Panahi’s recent film “Taxi,” (see above) Sotoudeh explains the trials and tribulations human rights defenders face in Iran all the time with a smile on her face, but a defiant smile!

With A Defiant Smile – A Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Congolese gynecologist wins Europe’s Sakharov Prize in 2014

October 22, 2014

The 2014 Sakharov Prize goes to the Congolese physician Denis Mukwege for his treatment of the victims of gang rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese physician Denis Mukwege, will be awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

Mukwege has been treating rape victims at a clinic in Bukavu on the Rwandan border for decades. He has performed thousands of surgeries on women to heal their injuries sustained in violent attacks, often by local militias. The 59-year-old founded a gynaecology unit and maternity ward in Bukavu in 1996, the first of its kind in the area. He has since expanded the station to an entire hospital, which he runs. The Second Congo War began in August 1998, ravaging the region. Mukwege is said to have performed over 10,000 operations on rape victims ever since.

The other finalists were Ukraine’s pro-Western Euromaidan movement and Azerbaijani rights defender Leyla Yunus.[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/more-on-the-sakharov-prize-and-the-arab-nominees/]

For more information on the award see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/sakharov-prize-freedom-thought

The 2014 prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Strasbourg on 26 November.

Congolese gynecologist wins Sakharov Prize | News | DW.DE | 21.10.2014.

for our french speakers: http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2014/10/21/le-docteur-mukwege-recoit-le-prix-sakharov-pour-son-soutien-aux-femmes-violees-en-rdc_4510098_3214.html

 

More on the Sakharov Prize and the Arab nominees

October 16, 2014

A few days ago I published a piece about the little ceremonial dropping of Arab nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/europes-sakharov-prize-in-trouble-with-regard-to-arab-nominees/]. The main actor in this story – Alaa Abdel Fattah – has given his own views in a piece  in Jadaliyya on 7 October, entitled “On the Sakharov Prize”. To do justice I copy it in its entirety below:

[Sculpture of Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Dr. Andrei Dmitievich Sakharov. Photo by David via Flickr.]
[Sculpture of Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Sakharov. Photo by David via Flickr.]

It was with joy that I received the news of my nomination for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the same joy any act of solidarity inspires.

Since my release from prison in Egypt on bail, with my fate still bound to the Special Terrorism Courts and the draconian Protest Law, I have been facing constant harassment from official and unofficial representatives of the regime. New trumped-up criminal charges pop up every few days. A horde of political talk show hosts on supposedly independent TV stations discusses old and out-of-context tweets, twisting my words and assigning sinister implications to them. There is an insistent tarnish campaign meant to prepare the general public for my eventual return to prison. Needless to say, I am banned from appearing on local TV stations, and I am forbidden to travel outside Egypt.

So it is solidarity such as that of European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) that creates the pressure to keep me out of jail and out of harm. It was also a comfort to find comrades in unexpected places; GUE/NGL’s stance against neoliberal policies and against the distortion of European democracy seemed in line with the aspirations of persecuted revolutionaries in Egypt and the broader Arab context.

I was proud to be nominated along with Tunisian rapper, Ala Yaacoubi, and Moroccan rapper, Mouad Belghouate, both imprisoned for insulting the police in their popular songs. I was relieved that the European Parliament members (MEP) who nominated us understood the point of doing symbolic/verbal violence to the image of the powerful who consistently commit systemic actual violence to the bodies, souls and livelihood of the powerless; relieved that the MEPs understood the meaning of questioning the humanity of those who derive their power from dehumanizing their opponents.

I was not surprised when a new tarnish campaign was launched in reaction against my nomination. My family has faced such campaigns before by supporters of the Israeli occupation and Israeli apartheid. The latest when my sister, Mona Seif, was shortlisted for the Martin Ennals Award. But I was surprised when the president of the GUE/NGL decided to withdraw my nomination based on a two-year-old tweet taken out of context. And I was surprised that this was done without an attempt to contact me for clarification, and without any regard for how such public condemnation affects my safety and liberty. The president of the GUE/NGL has now sent a clear message to the Egyptian authorities that whatever international solidarity and support I have is fragile—easily destroyed with a tweet.

The GUE/NGL are of course free to form their opinion based on whatever sources of information they choose—including well-known neocons writing for the Wall Street Journal about an out-of-context tweet. However, since they made the nomination and made it publicly, it was their responsibility to ascertain how the manner of retreating from it would affect my safety. Other options were available to them; they could have asked me to withdraw, or they could have quietly dropped my name from the short-list.

The GUE/NGL’s president’s statement claims that I “called for the murder of a critical number of Israelis.” For what it is worth, here is what I would have said if anyone from GUE/NGL or any other MEPs had asked me to clarify.

The tweet in question is certainly shocking if taken out of context, but even then it cannot be framed as “a call” for anything. It was a “mention” to two friends, part of a private conversation—a thread spanning multiple tweets—that took place over a public medium (limited to 140 characters) on the first night of Israel’s 2012 attack on Gaza. A conversation between friends who already knew enough about each others’ views to make it unnecessary to clarify and elaborate, for instance, the distinction between civilians and combatants—as one would if one were making a public statement. As this was not a public statement, only those who follow all three of us on Twitter would have had this tweet appear on their timeline at two a.m. on 15 November 2012. And even after the tarnish campaign, it has only been retweeted four times.

To pretend that you can interpret this tweet two years later without consulting the people involved in the conversation, and to claim that it constitutes a call to action, is simply ridiculous. That I should now feel the need to explain and clarify what was not intended for a general public in the first place, and to be condemned for my thoughts, not my actions, in such a manner is clearly an attack on my personal liberty. The chilling effect of having to adapt to such harassment and condemnation should be perfectly clear for those honoring Andrei Sakharov’s legacy.

The conversation relating to the war on Gaza started with a friend expressing her doubt that the conflict would ever be resolved by local actors. The other friend in the conversation and I replied, insisting that like most such conflicts, it would be resolved locally. The tweet stated what seems to be the basic strategy of most national liberation movements, especially those that opt for armed resistance: To make the price of occupation/colonization/apartheid too expensive for the society that supports it. The strategy of the Palestinians is exactly that—via both violent and nonviolent means (boycott, divestments and sanctions, and armed resistance, for example). Since this was during a time of war, I had armed resistance in mind. Think of Vietnam or Algeria; many would say this is exactly what happened: After a critical number of casualties in asymmetric wars, the civilian population supporting the occupier refused to continue its support—despite the fact that the casualties suffered by the society resisting colonization were massively higher.

My tweet was not a call for anything; it was not even a statement of opinion. It was a statement of one of the facts of the conflict. If GUE/NGL had asked me about my views I would have directed them to my March 2012 debate on Deutsche Welle.

It should perhaps be remembered that the first laureate of the Sakharov Prize was Nelson Mandela back in 1988, when he and the African National Congress (ANC) were considered terrorists by many democratic governments. At the time, his views on the necessity of violence for resisting apartheid must have required and inspired complex debates on appropriate tactics and strategies, the rules of engagement, the moral, political and social limitations that should be put on revolutionary violence, etc. There would have been plenty of statements attributable to him or his comrades—including the famous Rivonia Trial speech in which he admits to planning sabotage—that would have looked pretty scary out of context.

Finally, I hardly ever call for any solution or action on my own. As an individual, I have always expressed my opinions and positions in the clearest and strongest language. But as an activist, I have always worked for any given cause with and through the largest united front possible. When it comes to calls for solutions or actions, and for the sake of consensus, I would make the very compromises I refuse to make when speaking only for myself.

More importantly, I do not call for anything when it is not a cause that I am directly engaged with. I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but I never presume to tell them what to do.

If my views on violence—specifically against civilians—are what is in question, the answers can be found in my actions and my published views in my local context and my own struggle in Egypt.

 [This piece is co-published with Mada Masr]

On the Sakharov Prize.