fo r p e o p L e pa s sion at e abo u t h u m a n r i g h t s November/december 2013 voLUme 43 ISSUe 006
Letâ€™s Light up the worLdâ€™s darkest corners join write for rights 2013
inside this wire a tinY ViLLage with a big Voice
In a small Palestinian village, people are risking their lives to protest peacefully against the Israeli occupation. page 4
Join the world’s biggest human rights event this December, and help change people’s lives! You’ll meet them all in this special issue of WIRE. Find out how Write for Rights works on page 6.
a LifeLine to the worLd Birtukan Mideksa from Ethiopia was featured in Write for Rights 2009. This year, she hopes the power of letter writing can help release her good friend, journalist Eskinder Nega. page 8
‘You can go to jaiL for a word or an idea’ Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni was shocked when Jabeur Mejri was given seven years in prison for posting his views online.
tortured at random
Cover image: Students in Poland lighting lanterns with “stamp” images of people featured in Write for Rights 2012. © Amnesty International
Why was Miriam López kidnapped on the school run by men in balaclavas, tortured and detained for months? We take a look at the reality of torture in Mexico. page 14
‘neVer forget bopha!’ Defending her community landed Cambodian activist Yorm Bopha in prison. Her husband and son are hoping the international spotlight could help her get released. page 16
Hakan Yaman’s life changed forever in June, when the police brutally attacked him. page 19
the high price of teLLing hard truths Bahraini politician Ebrahim Sharif is one of 13 opposition leaders jailed after the country’s 2011 uprising. We spoke to his wife, Farida Ghulam. page 20
out in the open When he tried to set up a gay rights organization, Ihar Tsikhanyuk was beaten up by the police. He told WIRE how he deals with growing homophobia in Belarus. page 24
aLso in wire
Why Dr Tun Aung in Myanmar needs your help (page 11). And a photo story about three Russian men who symbolize President Putin’s crackdown on peaceful political protest (page 12). Find out how Bimbo Osobe and other people evicted from Badia East in Lagos, Nigeria, are fighting back (page 18), and how threats and intimidation can’t stop human rights defenders in Honduras. (page 22).
wire is available online at livewire.amnesty.org You can subscribe to receive six printed copies of wire for £16/us$25/€19 a year (or £25/us$38/€29 for institutions). amnesty international sections and structures can buy discounted copies. email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)20 7413 5814/5507. to join amnesty international visit www.amnesty.org/en/join
first published in 2013 by amnesty international publications www.amnesty.org © amnesty international Ltd index: nws 21/006/2013 issn: 1472-443X printed by banbury Litho, banbury, united kingdom, on 100gsm cocoon preprint 100% recycled paper. all rights reserved. no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publishers. wire, editorial studio, amnesty international, international secretariat, peter benenson house, 1 easton street, London wc1X 0dw, united kingdom
© Amnesty International
caught up in the geZi park protests
weLcome to wire noVember/december these “lights of hope” lanterns were lit in tokyo, japan during write for rights − the world's biggest human rights event − in 2011. each one was made by someone who felt passionately about an injustice done to somebody else. each candle was lit by a person who wanted to make a difference. each ﬂame threw light on distinctive “stamp” images: of people in prison just for speaking their minds, who had been killed or disappeared, who deserve justice. thousands of people came together worldwide, in community centres, cafés, churches, schools, streets, ofﬁces, town squares. together, we sent almost 2 million messages, asking the powers that be to open cell doors, tell the truth, do justice. and we gave hope to people who have suffered human rights abuses, simply by showing that we care, and that we want to help. this december, we'll do it all again. read the powerful stories of the people and communities featured in write for rights 2013 in this special issue of wire. find out how this huge global event works, and how you can join in. and spend a few minutes lighting a small ﬂame and taking action for somebody else. together, we'll be lighting up the world. read wire online and our LiVewire blog at livewire.amnesty.org
News about Amnesty International’s work and campaigns
new ambassadors of conscience
© Amnesty International
Pakistani schoolgirl and education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai, and American singer and activist Harry Belafonte, received Amnesty International’s highest honour – the Ambassador of Conscience Award – in September. Malala Yousafzai said: “I hope that by working together we will one day realise our dream of education for every child.” Harry Belafonte called Amnesty “our moral compass” and said he was especially honoured to share the award with Malala: “a true hero of our time”. The award was inspired by the poem From the Republic of Conscience, written for Amnesty International by the late Irish poet, Seamus Heaney.
A woman and child from Paga Hill in Papua New Guinea, 2013. They live in the ruins of one of 20 houses destroyed by the police while community leaders were in court challenging the eviction notice, in May 2012. Police ofﬁcers attacked residents with sticks, metal bars, machetes and automatic riﬂes. Those residents who were brave enough to return are now living in makeshift shelters under constant threat of another eviction. Amnesty will launch a brieﬁng and campaigning action to end forced evictions in Papua New Guinea in early 2014.
the fight goes on
do not read this
Diana Nyakowa from the Deep Sea slum in Nairobi, Kenya, said it felt great to be featured on the cover of WIRE September/October. The fight against forced evictions in the city goes on: “We don't eat, we don't sleep – we just don't know when the bulldozers will come. We are worried because our Governor [Kidero] says he's going to clean Nairobi. And we know what he means: The slums are the dirtiest houses in this city and he wants the investors here, not us," she told us.
During a short, experimental campaign in August, a clandestine network of Freedom Agents intercepted and subverted repressive authority messages. Armed with camera phones, they created imaginative advertisements promoting freedom of expression. Why? Because small acts of defiance start conversations. Conversations lead to action, and actions lead to change. Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and activist, loved this small, but radical art project and retweeted it several times.
Find out more at Ifoundtheletter.org/secretvideo and facebook.com/ifoundtheletter
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25,000 signatures for chiLe join 16 daYs of actiVism for women and girLs Just before the 40th anniversary of the Chile coup in September, during an event at the Presidential Palace, La Moneda, Amnesty activists handed the Chilean authorities a petition signed by more than 25,000 activists in countries including Spain, Germany, the UK, Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela, Italy and Japan. Together, we called for an end to impunity for the gross human rights violations committed during Pinochet’s military regime. Many thanks to everyone who signed – your support remains crucial for victims of torture and disappearances, and their relatives.
Violence against women is a human rights violation. We highlight this in our annual 16 Days of Activism campaign, which will run from 25 November to 10 December 2013. Through letters, petitions and other actions we’ll call for perpetrators to be held accountable for gender-based violence during past or current armed conflicts in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Venezuela and Syria.
Get involved in promoting real security for women and girls: amnesty.org/en/womensrights/16-days
Up front How many more? Syria’s refugees top 2 million
An amazing 47,545 people from 181 countries (see some of them below) signed our #TellTheTruth petition, which called on Sri Lanka's authorities to come clean about human rights abuses. Dr Manoharan, whose son was killed by security forces in 2006, handed the signatures over to a Sri Lankan UN delegation in September. Sri Lanka is hosting a high profile government meeting in November. Please sign our petition asking Commonwealth leaders not to approve Sri Lanka’s crimes by appointing the country as its new Chair.
© Amnesty International
sri Lanka: our campaign continues
“The tragic situation in Syria underlines the horrific human cost of the reckless global arms trade. The Arms Trade Treaty is the opportunity to prevent such human suffering in the future.” Amnesty's Secretary General, Salil Shetty, on the historic occasion of the world's largest arms exporter – the USA – signing the Arms Trade Treaty, one of 113 countries to do so by October 2013.
© Amnesty International
© VLad Sokhin
good news from iran: nasrin sotoudeh reLeased On 18 September, human rights lawyer and prisoner of conscience Nasrin Sotoudeh was released from Tehran’s Evin Prison, where she was serving a six-year sentence. She had spent a long period in solitary confinement, and was weakened by several hunger strikes. She thanked everyone who had taken action for her release: “I have been aware of all your efforts on my behalf and I want to thank you and all your colleagues for your work,” she said.
Letters Want your views and comments to appear in The Agenda? Write to us at thewire@ amnesty.org
Charlotte Phillips, Amnesty’s Researcher on Refugees’ and Migrants’ Rights, recently visited a camp for thousands of Syrian refugees.
t is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the scale and brutality of the conflict in Syria. Massive displacement and deep suffering continue to affect countless people. The situation escalated after videos emerged in August 2013 showing scores of civilians apparently killed by chemical weapons in towns outside Damascus. Then the UN announced that the number of refugees from Syria had officially reached 2 million, a tragic milestone. At least 1 million are children, many under the age of 11. I recently visited Za’atri refugee camp in neighbouring Jordan, now the second-largest refugee camp in the world, hosting over 120,000 refugees from Syria. Many have survived torture, are seriously injured or sick, are elderly or have disabilities. At Amnesty’s headquarters in London, we receive almost daily phone calls and emails from individuals and families, many of them in Syria’s neighbouring countries. People are asking for help and for their rights to be protected. They want to start their lives again – and many believe they can only do this in another safe country. The UN and organizations working on the ground have appealed to the international community for funding. Because despite some significant donations, essential services such as food, education, a reliable water supply and shelter, are still seriously underfunded. At the launch of the largest humanitarian appeal in its history, the UN said around US$3 billion is currently needed to support refugees from Syria in the region. But this is not enough. Donor governments should also be prepared to take the most vulnerable refugees out of the region and allow them to settle safely in their countries. With no political solution in sight, the very least we could do is allow those who have escaped with their lives to live in safety and dignity. If your country could and should do more, please call on your government to increase their support for Syria’s refugees.
read charlotte’s original blog post at bit.ly/syria-2million
3 wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
© Haim Schwarczenberg
occupied paLestinian territories
a tinY ViLLage
with a big Voice turned up in clown outfits, masks and superhero every friday, people in a small They could have been easily mistaken for palestinian village risk their lives costumes. a group heading out on a family picnic. to protest peacefully against picnic israeli settlers’ theft of their land no But this is no picnic. The people of Nabi Saleh are and water. wire spent a day with protesting against the theft of their lands, the loss their water source and against the Israeli military the courageous men, women and ofoccupation. On the other side of the fence waits children of nabi saleh. the Israeli army.
t is noon on a Friday in the West Bank, and the summer sun is burning strong. The small village of Nabi Saleh, tucked away on a small hill north-west of the capital, Ramallah, stirs to life with the call for prayer from the village mosque. As the prayers end, people gather in the shade of a nearby tree. This Friday, as on any other Friday since 2009, Nabi Saleh's men, women and children prepare to march towards the village's water spring. The girls are wearing colourful dresses and are wrapped in Palestinian flags. In the past, people have
The spring has been out of the villagers’ reach since 2008. It was taken over by the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, explains Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty’s Campaigner on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. “The spring was once used by the villagers for farming,” he says. “Now it’s a tourist site, open only to settlers.” Saleh points out the settlement's rows of white buildings on the next hill. “Halamish has been encroaching on lands belonging to Nabi Saleh, and another Palestinian village called Deir Nidham, for years.”
Saleh also points out the nearby Israeli army base, and the army jeeps parked by the spring and at the entrance to Nabi Saleh.
three broken cameras The demonstrators leave the tree’s protective shade and begin marching down the road, chanting slogans and holding placards. Saleh, who has been visiting this place for years, explains: “The soldiers are waiting with tear gas launchers and stun grenades. They start using them, usually aiming directly at people and their houses, as soon as the protesters reach a certain point.” “If the demonstration carries on after that, the army starts using rubber-coated metal bullets and, in some cases live ammunition, against peaceful demonstrators.” “The army sometimes also sprays villagers’ houses with canons of 'skunk' water, which leaves a bad, lingering smell. They also spray it inside people's homes and on bystanders.” Along the road, the villagers march alongside activists who have come from around the world to
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occupied paLestinian territories
From left to right: Young and old gather for the weekly demonstration after Friday prayers in Nabi Saleh, a small Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank. Since 2009, Israeli forces have killed two protesters and injured hundreds of villagers, including children.
© Tamimi Press
© Haim Schwarczenberg
Israeli security forces regularly respond to peaceful demonstrations in Nabi Saleh with tear gas, rubbercoated metal bullets, and sometimes live ammunition. The illegal Israeli settlement that is encroaching on the villagers’ land can be seen in the background.
show their solidarity and support. Bilal Tamimi, his children at his side and a camera over his shoulder, smiles and welcomes them to Nabi Saleh. His camera has captured the villagers’ struggle for years, like Emad Burnat did for the Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras, about Bil’in, another Palestinian village.
“We need to tell the Israeli authorities: enough. You are no longer facing a tiny village on small hill. You now have the entire Amnesty movement to reckon with.” Bilal records the villagers’ persistence, their defiance, and the tragedies that have befallen their people. So far, he has three broken cameras. At least one was hit by a rubber-coated metal bullet.
Young LiVes Lost Since the demonstrations started in 2009, the village has lost two of its young people. Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was the first, killed in December 2011. “That day, the army was using excessive force and some people responded by throwing rocks at the army jeeps as they were leaving,” says Saleh. “Then a soldier in the last jeep to leave opened his door and launched a tear gas grenade directly at Mustafa's face from a close distance.” Mustafa died in hospital two days later. As the demonstration continues down the hill, Saleh points to the spot where Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by live ammunition in November 2012. He too died in hospital days later. “We have also seen hundreds of injuries caused by rubber-coated metal bullets, to people’s upper body and face, including children.”
Twelve-year old Ahd holds on to her mother, Nariman Tamimi, as Israeli soldiers detain her, August 2012. Nariman – who is featured in our Write for Rights stamp image (left) – is one of hundreds detained since the villagers’ Friday protests began in 2009.
Rushdi was the brother-in-law of Bassem Tamimi, another leader of the struggle, who was previously jailed by Israel for taking part in the demonstrations. Today, Bassem tells a young journalist about the importance of demonstrating peacefully. Bassem is at the demonstration with his children, but his wife, Nariman Tamimi, a prominent activist, is not.
against the military occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, that they are not alone. “We need to tell the Israeli authorities: enough. You are no longer facing a tiny village on small hill. You now have the entire Amnesty movement to reckon with.”
men and women, shouLder to shouLder
Many thanks to Amnesty International Israel for their help with making this article possible.
Nariman – pictured on stamp image above, left – has been forced to stay at home because she the Israeli authorities have put her under house arrest. Instead, she welcomes a constant stream of activists and wellwishers with small cups of strong black coffee. “Nariman and other women in Nabi Saleh are the forefront of this struggle,” explains Saleh. “Here, women and men stand shoulder to shoulder, in the face of constant harassment by the army.” Back at the demonstration, the children stay under a tree, chanting and singing through a megaphone as the others continue down the hill towards the army. Soon the army launches tear gas grenades and white clouds of smoke cover the hillsides.
come together and saY ‘enough’ “It is very important that we show solidarity with the brave human rights defenders of Nabi Saleh,” says Saleh. “We need to come together and tell the Israeli authorities to stop harassing them. “We need to insist that they stop using excessive force against demonstrators. And hold soldiers accountable for the deaths, injuries, and damage of property they are causing. “Our voices, solidarity and actions will show all the villages holding regular peaceful demonstrations
write a Letter - heLp protect them Please join Write for Rights 2013 by sending a solidarity letter or a card to: Naji Tamimi, Popular resistance committee, Nabi Saleh, birzeit/ramallah, Palestine. You can also leave the villagers a message on their Facebook page: bit.ly/nabi-saleh Urge Israel’s minister of defence to stop security forces using excessive and unnecessary force against demonstrators in Nabi Saleh, and to ensure that those responsible for killings and injuries in the village are brought to justice. write to: moshe Ya’alon, minister of defence, ministry of defence, 37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909, Israel. fax: +972 3 691 6940 email: email@example.com
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write for rights 2013
© AF Rodrigues/Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
join the world’s biggest human rights event! every year, around human rights day on 10 december, hundreds of thousands of people around the world send a message to someone they’ve never met.
t’s a classic Amnesty technique: 52 years of human rights work show that words really do have the power to change lives. Last year, activists in at least 77 countries took a record-breaking 1.9 million actions during our annual letter-writing event. Millions more have taken part since Write for Rights became a global Amnesty event in 2002. The event itself is as varied, creative, inspired and truly global as our entire movement of over 3 million people. In anything from short bursts of tweeting during a hectic day to 24-hour marathon writing sessions,
people take time out to express their solidarity with 12 people and communities whose human rights have been abused. They also write to the authorities. A government might brush aside a single message. But thousands of voices calling for change are much harder to ignore. From Iceland to India, Barbados to Burkina Faso, people send thousands of letters, tweets, faxes and SMS messages, and sign petitions for human rights. Many get together to hold vigils, and make lanterns that light up the iconic stamp images featuring each of the 12 people and communities. This year, amazing events are being planned across the globe – concerts, light projections, 24-hour writing sessions, Facebook and Twitter actions and much more. Join us! Your words have the power to change lives. As Chiou Ho-shun, who has been on death row in Taiwan since 1989, put it: “Love flows across the world, and friends from all over the world have brought me incredible strength. Words cannot express the gratitude I have towards everyone. Thank you!”
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International/ERNEST
© Amnesty International
© Michael Sawyer
‘LoVe fLows across 8. amnesty receives updates showing that people’s actions are making a difference.
7. change happens, hope grows: prisoners might get better conditions, or be released. people know that others worldwide are taking their injustice personally.
6. messages start arriving at government offices, in prison cells, family homes…
5. people worldwide write letters, tweets, emails, faxes, sms messages and sign petitions.
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the worLd’ write a Letter - change a Life © Amnesty International
contact your nearest Amnesty ofﬁce to ﬁnd out more and get involved. find it at amnesty.org/join/en Take part online at www.amnesty.org/individuals-at-risk Follow @amnestyonline on Twitter and tweet using #write4rights
1. amnesty identifies people and communities at risk of human rights abuses worldwide, who need solidarity and justice.
write for rights 2013
does Write for Rights reaLLY change LiVes? Here are some of the messages we’ve received from people previously featured in Write for Rights.
“i have been covered with an avalanche of letters and postcards. over new Year i kept reading the hundreds of letters and postcards. i can sincerely say i haven’t missed out a single one of them. it was an indescribable new Year.” Ales bialiatski, a prisoner of conscience in belarus
“it is this kind of support that is helping us live on.” chief baribor Koottee from bodo, Nigeria, a community devastated by a 2008 oil spill
Write for Rights: how it works
2. we pick 12 cases where global activism can make a huge difference, right now.
3. we share them with amnesty offices worldwide.
“thanks for keeping juan present, for making him known in the entire world. i would like to thank all the people who took time and shared my pain.” Ana montilla, wife of human rights activist Juan Almonte Herrera, who “disappeared” in 2009 in the dominican republic.
4. activists organize amazing events and actions for some or all 12 people and communities around human rights day on 10 december.
Photographs, clockwise from top left: Write for Rights events held in France, South Korea, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Mongolia, Brazil, Canada, Austria and Thailand.
"these letters gave me hope that someone in this world feels for me and my husband, who has been detained for seven years without charge or trial." Tahani, wife of Sudanese national Hamad alNeyl Abu Kassawy, one of thousands detained in Saudi Arabia as part of the “war on terror”.
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© AP Photo/Samson Haileyesus
a LifeLine to the worLd
birtukan mideksa spent years in an ethiopian prison, and was featured in write for rights 2009 as a prisoner of conscience. she told wire what international support meant to her, and how the power of letter writing can be harnessed again this year to help her good friend, eskinder nega.
irtukan Mideksa speaks to us from her desk in Boston, USA, amid the bustle of student life. A Harvard fellow, she is taking an MA in Public Administration at Kennedy School and is a thriving academic. It’s a far cry from the Ethiopian prison cell she occupied only a few years ago – a place her friend, Eskinder Nega, knows only too well. He is currently serving an 18-year sentence because of his journalism. In fact, the two were detained together between 2005 and 2007, alongside Eskinder’s wife Serkalem. All three were declared prisoners of conscience. They have also featured in Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign – Serkalem in 2006, Birtukan in 2009, and this year, Eskinder, because he’s in prison again. “I was incarcerated twice. The first time, for 18 months, the second, 21 months,” recalls Birtukan. “Look at how many times Eskinder has been imprisoned over the past 10 years – eight times.
His wife, Serkalem, was also incarcerated. This is a story of thousands and millions of government opponents in Ethiopia. If you look at the pattern, it’s getting worse.”
the toughest time in prison In 2005, Birtukan was leader of Ethiopia’s main opposition party, Unity for Democracy and Justice. Her party contested the elections that year, but lost under questionable circumstances. When she and her supporters peacefully protested against the legitimacy of the election results, thousands were arrested. Birtukan, Eskinder, Serkalem and over 100 journalists, opposition leaders and others were put on trial. “The whole time was very difficult, especially for Serkalem,” says Birtukan, who shared a cell with her at one point. “She was pregnant and she had to live with 70 to 80 prisoners in a very unclean cell. The smell was terrible.
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Far left: Birtukan Mideksa (centre) is greeted by hundreds of supporters shortly after being released from prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 6 October 2010. Birtukan was featured in Amnesty’s global Write for Rights campaign in December 2009. Below: A rare photograph of Eskinder Nega with his wife, Serkalem Fasil, and their baby son Nafkot, taken in 2007.
“When she finally had her baby, that was one of the times I really felt low. She went to the hospital and… came back alone. She had to leave the little one with her mum. My daughter was with my mum – she was eight months old. So we consoled each other. Our major difficulties came because of our responsibilities as mothers, and our attachment to our children. That was really the toughest time in prison.”
Birtukan was given a life sentence, but was eventually pardoned and released after nearly 18 months in detention. Her freedom, however, was short-lived. After speaking publicly in Sweden in November 2008 about the process that had led to her release, she was re-arrested in Ethiopia on 28 December 2008. Her pardon was revoked and her life sentence re-imposed. Amnesty issued Urgent Actions on her behalf and promoted her case in Write for Rights 2009. For Birtukan, who was kept in solitary confinement for long periods, this collective effort was a lifeline. “In 2009, only my mum and my daughter were allowed to visit me,” says Birtukan. “I was really cut off from the whole world. I didn’t have any access to the media. We were not allowed to talk about Amnesty International’s initiatives, but my mum mentioned to me that Amnesty people were trying to advocate for me. That was like a silver lining. It gave me hope. It connected me to the real world.” Birtukan was finally freed in October 2010. “The pressure you guys were exerting on the Ethiopian government was very instrumental in securing my release,” says Birtukan. She hopes it will be possible to do this again, this time for Eskinder.
sustained optimism In 2012, Eskinder was jailed for “terrorism” after giving speeches and writing articles criticizing the government and supporting free speech. To Birtukan, his struggle is almost heroic. “Eskinder is one of the most virtuous people I know in my country,” she says. “He really believes in the good in all of us. It’s vivid in his personal life and in his activism. The love he has for his country,
his dedication to seeing people living a dignified life – it’s really huge. “He didn’t start his activism with just criticizing the government. He always gave them the benefit of the doubt. He was relentlessly committed to expressing his views, his ideas.”
“My mum mentioned to me that Amnesty people were trying to advocate for me. That was like a silver lining. It gave me hope. It connected me to the real world.” That commitment triggered a campaign of harassment, including threats, a ban on the newspaper Eskinder ran with Serkalem, and repeated imprisonment. In 2005, when all three were jailed, Eskinder was thrown into solitary confinement for months on end. “That didn’t make him a hateful person,” observes Birtukan. “Still, he sustained his optimism and strong belief in his cause.”
indispensibLe support With its network of supporters worldwide, Amnesty’s potential to secure Eskinder’s freedom is significant, notes Birtukan. “The support we get as political prisoners is indispensible.”
But, she adds, “We shouldn’t forget the people back home – they would love to support us – but the suppression is huge. People can’t express that kind of protest against our imprisonment in an organized way.” This makes Amnesty’s support all the more crucial, she says. It also lends legitimacy to the struggle. “Some people say fighting for rights and democracy in Africa is futile,” explains Birtukan. “Some people even try to focus on the economic performance of a country. But we mustn’t trade off our human rights for monetary benefit. “The things you are working on – they validate and reassert those aspirations and those rights we have as human beings as inviolable, no matter what. It has huge significance in terms of the moral support you generate for activists like Eskinder and myself.”
write a Letter - change his Life Urge Prime minister Hailemariam desalegn to immediately and unconditionally release eskinder Nega. write to (start your letter: dear Prime minister): P.o. box 1031, Addis Ababa, ethiopia. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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‘You can go to jaiL for a word or an idea’ when jabeur mejri, a tunisian blogger, expressed views online that were deemed offensive to islam, it cost him his freedom. he was jailed in 2012 for over seven years for “attacking sacred values through actions or words” and “undermining public morals”. Lina ben mhenni is the author of the blog A Tunisian Girl. she told wire about her shock at jabeur’s sentence, and the risks tunisians run by expressing their views freely.
abeur’s conviction and sentence was a big shock. It is incredible. People are talking about the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia, but can we talk about democracy at all in a country where someone is sent to jail with such a heavy sentence just for expressing his beliefs? “Before the departure of [former President] Ben Ali, bloggers faced censorship, and maybe arrest and jail. Then we witnessed a few months of revolutionary euphoria, during which Tunisians could express themselves freely [after the first uprising in the Middle East and North Africa in January 2011]. But it didn’t last. “Today there is no official censorship − people can express themselves freely − but they have to be ready to pay the price. It can start with online and newspaper defamation [smear] campaigns, verbal and physical harassment on the street, or online and real life threats. It can go on to trials, arrests, jail and end with death threats and death.”
© REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
© REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
write a Letter - change his Life
Above: Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni works on her computer at a cafe in Tunis, 2011. Her blog, A Tunisian Girl, is written in Arabic, English, and French. She has received several international prizes, including the Deutsche Welle International Blog Award and El Mundo’s International Journalism Prize, for her work.
Jabeur is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned only for exercising his human right to free expression. Please send him a letter or card. write to: Jabeur meJrI, Prison civile de mahdia, route de chiba 5100, mahdia, Tunisia. Jabeur’s only hope at this stage is a presidential pardon from President moncef marzouki – who is himself a former prisoner of conscience. Please urge him to release Jabeur mejri immediately and unconditionally. write to (start your letter: Your excellency): President moncef marzouki, Palais Présidentiel, Tunis, Tunisia. fax: + 216 71 744 721 email: email@example.com
opinion triaLs “You can go to jail for a word or an idea. ‘Opinion trials’ have become part of our daily lives: Jabeur is our first opinion prisoner. Rappers Weld el 15 and Clay BBJ were sentenced to a year and nine months in jail for a song. Another young man was given a two month suspended jail sentence for listening to a rap song.
“I feel like I have lost my own freedom while trying to fight for my country and my people’s freedom. If we don't react to what is happening, every subject will soon become taboo.” “As in many other countries, Tunisia’s taboo topics are religion and politics. You can’t criticize the government in general or the Islamists in particular. “I feel threatened, just for blogging and criticizing the government and the awful, regressing situation in Tunisia. I’m on an assassination list and under police protection. I feel like I have lost my own freedom while trying to fight for my country and my people’s freedom. If we don't react to what is happening, every subject will soon become taboo.”
steaLing peopLe’s right to be different “The authorities gave Jabeur his sentence to intimidate other people, to prevent people from expressing themselves, to steal their right to be different. They wanted to announce that in order to live in Tunisia, we have to abide by their rules and their beliefs. “Our freedom of expression is in real danger. I am afraid that we are losing the unique fruits of the revolution: the disappearance of fear and our
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keep up the pressure on mYanmar our southeast asia campaigner explains how a passion for myanmar led her to become an amnesty activist, and why dr tun aung needs your help. Losing hope Jabeur Mejri’s sister, Ines, recently told us how he is doing in prison: “We see Jabeur (pictured above) every Thursday and take him food and other things. The last time we saw him his words really affected us. He is losing hope, and feels very tired and worried. He requested a pardon before Eid [in August 2013], but nothing has happened since. We’re very worried about him. “Before he was in a very crowded cell and found it very difficult. He was on the verge of breaking down, so they agreed to change his cell. He’s now in a room with about seven or eight people and he’s much better. “But he still has trouble sleeping, because he’s thinking too much about what happened to him and about his future. We’re continuing to campaign for him and we’re grateful for everyone’s help in trying to get him a presidential pardon.”
freedom of speech. We have to keep on fighting to protect and preserve this right. “We have to stop the attacks on freedom of speech, and reform our justice system. Judges should refuse to work according to orders dictated by political leaders or parties. We mustn’t be afraid of intimidation. “I want to tell all Tunisians: We have to unite to say no to censorship and opinion trials.”
read Lina’s blog at http://atunisiangirl.blogspot.co.uk
’ve had a strong interest in civil and political rights since I was a teenager in Ireland. My father was a lifelong member of Amnesty, so I was always aware of the organization. At university, I focused on the underlying causes of communal tensions between Indian and Burman communities in Rangoon in the 1930s for my postgraduate research. I’ve also been there. It was a combination of these factors that led me to work on Myanmar for Amnesty International. The political situation in Myanmar has become quite fluid in recent years. According to the government, over 28,000 prisoners have been released in amnesties since it came to power in March 2011. These included hundreds of prisoners of conscience, but hundreds of others have been arrested or continue to be detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Amnesty activists can play a major role in keeping the pressure on Myanmar’s government to stop such abuses. In Write for Rights 2010, members in 33 countries took more than 45,000 actions calling for the release of peaceful political activist Su Su Nway. I’m certain that that’s one reason why she was included in the new government’s first major prisoner amnesty. I’m hoping we can do this again this year for Dr Tun Aung (pictured on the “stamp” image above), whose case I first heard about a few weeks after his arrest in June 2012. He is, by all accounts, a family man – a father and grandfather – who actively promoted tolerance among the ethnic and religious groups in Rakhine state. The local authorities considered him an ally who could help smooth intercommunity relations if tensions arose. On a Friday afternoon in June, the authorities asked Dr Tun Aung to calm a crowd of men outside a mosque in Maungdaw, western Myanmar. The men were angry about the massacre of 10 Muslims one
week earlier by a mob of Buddhists who were seeking revenge for the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman.
“Dr Tun Aung did his best to restore calm, but the crowd wouldn’t listen. He was arrested several days later and is serving a 17-year prison sentence.” Dr Tun Aung did his best to restore calm, but the crowd wouldn’t listen. He was arrested several days later and is serving a 17-year prison sentence after being convicted of multiple criminal offences, including inciting a riot. Aged 66, he has a tumour on his pituitary gland and needs medical care. It’s really important for us to make Dr Tun Aung’s case visible to a wide audience – which is why he is a Write for Rights 2013 appeal case. That way, he will remain in the minds of Myanmar officials when they are deciding on their next prisoner amnesty – as happened with Su Su Nway. Dr Tun Aung should be released immediately so that he can return to being a family man, a community leader and a doctor. I firmly believe that Amnesty members around the world will play a vital role in securing his freedom.
write a Letter - change his Life write to (start your letter: Your excellency) President Thein Sein, urging him to release dr Tun Aung immediately and unconditionally. address: President’s ofﬁce, Nay Pyi Taw, myanmar. email: president-ofﬁce.gov.mm/contact
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© REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov
free the boLotnaYa 3! three men arrested in moscow’s bolotnaya square have come to symbolize president putin’s recent crackdown on peaceful political protest.
ens of thousands of protesters took to Moscow’s streets the day before Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as Russia’s President, on 6 May 2012. They planned to walk through the city centre to an opposition rally at Bolotnaya Square, near the Kremlin. The local authorities had given the go-ahead to both the march and the meeting. At the last minute, the police blocked one of two agreed entrances to the square, creating a bottleneck. As protesters approached the police line, pressure and tension grew. The protesters finally pushed through the police line and clashes broke out.
Hundreds of people were arrested across Moscow on that day, and 13 are currently standing trial. Among them are Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko. The men didn’t know each other before, but their stories have since followed a similar path. Released on 7 May, they were rearrested in June and have been detained ever since. All three were charged with participating in “mass riots”. Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko were also accused of violence against police officers. Amnesty considers all three to be prisoners of conscience. Read their stories here, and help us get them released.
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Artiom Saviolov (below) was detained immediately after the first police line was breached. He claims that he was pushed through it, and video footage seems to corroborate this. He is charged with using force to prevent a police officer from detaining another protester, and shouting “down with the police state”. He firmly denies both accusations, saying that he actively tried to avoid any contact with the police. As he has a serious speech impediment, it is difficult for him to speak, let alone shout slogans. Artiom doesn’t belong to any political party or group. He simply came to Bolotnaya Square, along with thousands of others, to participate in an authorised protest against Russia’s controversial presidential election results.
Far left: Russian riot police clash with protesters during the Bolotnaya Square protest in central Moscow, 6 May 2012
© Dmitry Borko
© Dmitry Borko
Mikhail Kosenko (left) says he was in the front row of protesters when a police officer was violently attacked and fell on him. Mikhail then pushed the police officer away, without using violence. This is consistent with video footage. The authorities still accuse him of beating and kicking the officer, who later said that he had never seen Mikhail before. Mikhail is mentally ill and very vulnerable. His condition is thought to have worsened drastically, and he isn’t receiving the medication he needs. He was recently denied permission to attend his mother’s funeral. In October, a Moscow court ordered Mikhail to recieve forcible psychiatric treatment, even though he was successfully treated as an outpatient for a decade. He could be deprived of his freedom indefinitely. He doesn’t belong to any political party or group and has never been accused of violence in the past.
write a Letter - change their LiVes Please send bright, beautiful cards separately to vladimir Gheorgievich Akimenkov, Artiom victorovich Saviolov and mikhail Aleksandrovich Kosenko (translate your message into russian using translate.google.com). send it to: Pre-trial detention facility, SIZo-2 “butyrka”, ul. Novoslobodskaya, 45, moscow, 127055, russian Federation. or email firstname.lastname@example.org specifying who it is for.
© Dmitry Borko
© Aleksandr Baroshin
Urge the General Prosecutor to release the three men, and grant other bolotnaya prisoners fair trials. write to: Yurii Yakovlevich chaika, General Prosecutor of the russian Federation, General Prosecutor’s ofﬁce, ul. b. dmitrovka, d.15a, 125993 moscow GSP-3, russian Federation.
Vladimir Akimenkov (left and above) is an activist with the opposition Left Front movement. He was arrested minutes after protesters breached the police line. He thinks he was detained because he is well-known to the police as a political activist. Video footage clearly shows that he stayed in front of the police line, without breaching it and without using violence. The only evidence against him seems to be a police officer’s allegation that Vladimir threw a flag pole that hit another officer. This initially vague testimony changed substantially six months later, becoming much more detailed than the original version. Vladimir had a serious eye condition before he was arrested, which has since deteriorated. His lawyer and family are deeply concerned about his prison conditions, and are afraid that he might soon go blind.
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tortured at random miriam López was kidnapped on the school run by men in balaclavas, tortured and detained for months. how could this happen? wire looks at the reality of torture in mexico.
t took time for Miriam Isaura López Vargas to piece together what had happened to her. The 30-yearold mother of four had just dropped three of her children off at school in Ensenada, a city in northern Mexico, on 2 February 2011. Suddenly, two men wearing balaclavas appeared, forced her into a white van and took her away. “I didn’t know who they were, and when I asked them they put a gun to my head and told me to shut up or they would blow my head off,” she later said. The men turned out to be soldiers in plain clothes. They took Miriam to a military barracks in a nearby city, Tijuana. She described what came next as the worst seven days of her life. “They tortured me: they repeatedly put wet cloths over my face and poured water over it so I couldn’t breathe,” she told us. “They gave me electric shocks.” Deeply traumatized, she later found the courage to tell her partner that soldiers had also repeatedly raped her. The soldiers were trying to force Miriam to “confess” to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint. Miriam maintains her innocence, and that she was simply making her usual journey to visit her mother 45 kilometres away. After a week of torture, Miriam was taken to a detention centre in Mexico City. She spent 80 days there before being charged with drug-related offences and transferred to a prison in Ensenada. She was finally released on 2 September 2011, after her case was thrown out of court because of a lack of evidence.
using torture to fight crime Torture remains the police’s method of choice for investigating crimes across Mexico. People are often tortured and otherwise ill-treated to make them sign statements that falsely implicate them – or others – in a crime. These are then used as evidence to prosecute somebody. The authorities tend to turn a blind eye, because torture identifies supposed “criminals” and suggests that the police are fighting crime effectively.
“I try to live normally, but I’m always scared – for me, for my family – that something is going to happen to them.” This leaves many innocent people behind bars, criminals on the streets, victims of crime without access to real justice, and the general population at risk of more crime and violence. Prosecutors used Miriam’s testimony to implicate others, not just Miriam, in drug-related offences. They just needed someone to fill a gap in the evidence they required to bring charges.
miriam is one of thousands A few years ago, Mexico started combating drug cartels and organized crime, using tens of thousands of soldiers and marines to lead operations. Since then, complaints of torture and ill-treatment by the military and police have
increased. This has left Mexicans at much higher risk of being tortured at random. Ordinary people like Miriam, with few means and limited access to independent legal help, are particularly vulnerable. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment alone rose by 500% between 2006-2012, according to the National Human Rights Commission. It is also investigating around 2,400 disappearances in which public officials are implicated.
faiLed bY the sYstem Successive Mexican governments have repeatedly said they will prevent and punish torture. But they have so far failed to fully investigate any allegations, and have brought virtually no one to justice. The authorities, including judges, are also failing in their legal obligation to prevent testimony tainted by torture being used as evidence during trials. Miriam was examined by National Human Rights Commission staff in 2012. They confirmed that her account was consistent with having been tortured,
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© Comité de Derechos Humanos de Nuevo Laredo © Agencia Reforma
including sexual violence. But the Federal Attorney General’s Office still requested another examination performed by its own forensic officials. This was only carried out in May 2013, even though Miriam filed her complaint for torture in December 2011. By the time WIRE went to print, Miriam and her lawyer still hadn’t been informed of the examination results.
teLL miriam that she is not aLone 15 December 2013 will mark two years since Miriam filed her complaint with the Federal Attorney General’s Office for the human rights violations she suffered. The investigation has hardly moved since. Despite compelling medical evidence, and Miriam identifying some of the perpetrators, no one has been officially questioned. Most torture victims in Mexico are too scared to complain. Many women who have been sexually assaulted fear being stigmatized if they speak out. Miriam decided to come forward because she is
determined to get justice, and to protect others from suffering what she went through. She needs your support. Her home in Ensenada, Baja California state, is 2,000 km from the capital, Mexico City, where her case is being processed. She is in regular touch with her lawyer, a national NGO that supports her, and with Amnesty. But keeping up her fight is a constant challenge. “I try to live normally,” she told us, “but I’m always scared – for me, for my family – that something is going to happen to them”. To protect her family, Miriam has asked us not to publish any images identifying her. Please let Miriam know what she is not alone. It is very important to her that thousands of people are supporting her campaign for justice.
Above: A common sight on Mexico’s streets: Soldiers on patrol in Nuevo Laredo, a city on the Rio Grande river in Tamaulipas state, Mexico, January 2012. Above right: Miriam Lōpez.
write a Letter - support her campaign Please ‘like’ miriam’s Facebook page and leave her a solidarity message along with your name and country: bit.ly/miriamlopez Please also ask mexico’s Federal Attorney General to complete a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the torture of miriam López in 2011, to make the results of the investigation public and bring those responsible to justice. write to (start your letter: estimado Señor Procurador): Jesús murillo Karam, Federal Attorney General, Procuraduría General de la república, Paseo de la reforma 211-213, col. cuauhtémoc, c.P. 06500, mexico city, mexico. email: email@example.com
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© Amnesty International
‘neVer forget bopha!’ mother, businesswoman, wife, activist – Yorm bopha is all of these. but most of all, say her husband and 10-year-old son, she’s missed.
ll I can think about is my mum,” says Lous Lyhour. “I want her to come out quickly, to come home.” It’s a simple enough plea, from a little boy who badly misses his mum. But Lyhour’s mum isn’t at the shops or at work. She’s in prison, serving a three-year sentence on trumped-up charges. Yorm Bopha was the lynchpin of her family and a leader of community resistance against forced evictions in central Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake, before her arrest and detention in September 2012. Her vocal defence of 13 other women activists from the community, who had themselves been imprisoned following a peaceful protest in May 2012, caught the attention of the Cambodian authorities who threatened and harassed her throughout that campaign. Bopha had been standing up for her community since 2010, joining a largely women-led movement against the mass evictions taking place around Boeung Kak Lake. “Her activism was inspiring,” says Lous Sakhorn, Bopha’s husband. “I supported her and I was proud. Her activism became part of our lives.” But Sakhorn was keenly aware of the dangers she courted as a result. “I was worried for her. I said: ‘Be careful; don’t put yourself out there too much.’ She said, ‘I want the microphone, to speak, not just merge into the crowds!’ I was worried of course, but I supported her. We all felt hurt that our land had been taken.”
© Amnesty International
20,000 eVicted Trouble began for Boeung Kak Lake’s residents in 2007, when the land was leased to a company for development. Since then, around 20,000 people have been forced out of their homes. They weren’t consulted about the development plans. In fact, the first they heard about the plans was on the television news. In August 2008, the company began pumping sand into the lake. Homes were destroyed as water from the lake flooded the area. Many families refused to leave and a resistance movement grew. By February 2012, the lake had disappeared under mounds of sand. The authorities harassed and threatened residents, trying to make them accept poor compensation or relocate to a place far from work, with no basic services. The remaining families kept protesting, demanding their right to keep their homes. In August 2011, they thought they’d made a breakthrough. Cambodia’s Prime Minister allocated 12.44 hectares of land in Boeung Kak Lake for more than 900 local families. But the local authority excluded some families, and some of those who did receive land titles still don’t actually have their land. And so the protests continued, as did the arrests.
protecting her communitY Eventually, Bopha’s activism caught up with her. In September 2012, she and Sakhorn were arrested, accused of planning an assault on two men suspected of theft. Despite no evidence connecting them to the attack, they were convicted that December. Sakhorn received a suspended sentence; Bopha was jailed.
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© Jenny Holligan
Top left to right: Lous Sakhorn, Bopha’s husband, holds a poster with her picture.
“I feel such injustice for Bopha. She is a woman who tried to protect her family’s and other’s land – her community. She was thinking about the next generation.” The emotional toll has been equally debilitating. “My mum’s imprisonment has really affected my studies,” says Lyhour, who was nine when Bopha was arrested. “He just doesn’t want to go to school,” adds Sakhorn. “He wants to join protests for his mum. I can’t reject this – it comes from his pain, and I understand.” Sakhorn’s pain is palpable, too. “We were very happy, the three of us together. We used to go around together in front of the royal palace, to the pagoda, just around town. I have very happy memories of that. But since she’s been in prison, it’s like the warmth has gone. It’s like we’ve lost part of our body – our right arm.”
© Amnesty International
“I feel such injustice for Bopha,” says Sakhorn. “She is a woman who tried to protect her family’s and other’s land – her community. She was thinking about the next generation. We’ve lost faith in our country, and in the law. The law is about the wishes of the powerful people.” The court required the family to pay heavy compensation to the two men, leaving Sakhorn and Lyhour financially vulnerable. As Sakhorn points out, Bopha was the breadwinner. “She is in charge of the family,” he says. “She took care of business, selling cloth.” Sakhorn, who suffers from high blood pressure, is too ill to work.
the worLd must know Yorm Bopha is currently held at the Prison Judiciaire on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital. Sakhorn and Lyhour are allowed to visit her twice a week. “She is okay,” says Sakhorn, “but being in prison is not easy. She shares a small cell with seven others.” Her detention there is perhaps made easier by the knowledge that her community is working for her release. “The people of Boeung Kak Lake never forget Bopha!” says Sakhorn. “They’re marching. They’re submitting petitions to the National Assembly, the City Hall, the government, and different foreign embassies as well as the World Bank.” And what does Amnesty’s support for Bopha mean to Sakhorn and Lyhour? “I feel very glad,” says Sakhorn. “It brings us hope that my wife can be released. It would mean us finding justice for people in Cambodia. It shows us that justice could exist.”
Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Residents here are at risk of being kicked out of their homes to make room for corporate development projects. Many have been living here for over 20 years and have nowhere else to go. When the company developing the lake started ﬁlling it with sand, many homes were ﬂooded and people were forced to leave. The lake is now completely gone. Yorm Bopha (far right) and other activists hold lotus ﬂowers as they demand the release of 13 human rights defenders from Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh. This largely women-led movement is protesting against mass forced evictions of their community. Left: ‘All I can think about is my mum’: A recent picture of Bopha’s son, Lous Lyhour. He was nine years old when she was arrested in 2012.
write a Letter - change her Life write to the minister of Justice (start your letter: Your excellency). Urge him to release Yorm bopha immediately and unconditionally. address: minister of Justice, ministry of Justice, No 240 Sothearos blvd, Phnom Penh, cambodia. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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from Victim to human rights actiVist “many people have been rendered homeless, many children have been unable to go to school, many mothers can no longer cater for their families and many fathers are helpless to provide for them. that is why i have resolved that with the last drop of my blood i will stand up for my right and that of others.”
t would be easy to forgive Bimbo Osobe if she had given up and felt she couldn’t go on. She was among thousands who watched helplessly as their homes and shops were demolished during a stateauthorized forced eviction in Badia East, Lagos, Nigeria, on 23 February 2013. When Amnesty first spoke with her in May, she was sleeping out in the open under a net and recovering from malaria. Her livelihood gone, she was completely dependent on friends or well-wishers for food and clothing. She sent her children away to live with relatives, wanting to spare them the hardship and stress she was going through. But Bimbo (pictured on the stamp image above, right) doesn’t want to be a victim – she wants justice. And when we met her again in August she had already begun to transform her own and her community’s situation through her activism. Thanks to a sympathetic resident, Bimbo found a place to live in a part of Badia East that escaped the bulldozers. She is helping other residents find adequate alternative housing and get compensation.
She is still separated from her children, but manages to send them schoolbooks bought with money she receives from supporters. At Amnesty’s August launch of a report on Badia East, Bimbo led the community in singing solidarity and motivational songs. She also acted as interpreter during a housing rights workshop, and spoke passionately to community members. At a round table discussion about the right to adequate housing in Lagos state, Bimbo urged the authorities to resettle and compensate people affected. Amnesty is campaigning to end forced evictions in Badia East, and for all those affected to receive compensation and other protection. But the community remains at risk: the state government has indicated that it intends to demolish the whole community in two further mass evictions. International solidarity will go a long way in helping the people of Badia East to continue their fight for adequate housing. Bimbo said: “We thank Amnesty International for supporting us after the demolition, and we want you to continue to support us and help to fight for our right.”
© Amnesty International
© Amnesty International
She and the other activists plan to display any solidarity cards they receive in the Better Life Community Centre where they meet.
Left: Bimbo Osobe speaks at the launch of Amnesty’s report If you love your life, move out! about the forced eviction that destroyed her community. Lagos, Nigeria, August 2013. Right: Badia East residents attend the launch of Amnesty’s new report.
write a Letter - change their LiVes Please send letters, photos or cards with messages of support to: badia east Technical committee, c/o Social and economic rights Action center (SerAc), Plot 758, chief Thomas Adeboye drive, omole Phase 2, Isheri, Lagos state, Nigeria.
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© Amnesty International
caught up in the geZi park protests hakan Yaman’s life changed forever when police officers attacked him during the june 2013 protests in istanbul, turkey.
ate in the evening on 3 June, Hakan Yaman was on his way home from his job as a minibus driver in Istanbul, Turkey. The atmosphere in the city was tense, after a weekend of huge protests that were met with widespread police violence. On 30 May, police had used tear gas, beaten protesters and burned down their tents in Gezi Park in the city centre. People had been demonstrating against the threatened destruction of one of Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces. Their cause, and the authorities’ abusive response, touched a nerve. Tens of thousands of protesters poured out onto the streets across Turkey in the following days. The authorities responded with yet more tear gas, violence and arrests. Hakan, 37, was on his way home to his wife and two children when he passed a demonstration against the previous days’ police violence. Moments later, he was brutally attacked by police officers. “First I was sprayed by water cannon,” he later told Amnesty. “Then I was hit in the stomach with a tear gas canister and fell. Around five police officers came over and began hitting me repeatedly on the head. One of them put a hard object into my eye and gouged my eye out.
“I heard one of them say ‘this one is finished, let’s completely finish him off’. They dragged me about 10 to 20 meters and threw me onto a fire. They left and I dragged myself out of the fire. I was taken to the hospital by some of the protesters.” Hakan completely lost one eye, and 80% of his eyesight in the other. His cheekbone, forehead and chin were broken, his skull was fractured, and he had second degree burns on his back. “They thought I was a protester and they tried to kill me,” he told us. What happened to Hakan was unusually brutal, but it was far from an isolated case of police violence. According to The Turkish Medical Association, by 10 July, more than 8,000 injuries during demonstrations had been reported. Strong evidence also links three people’s deaths to police violence.
For the first few weeks, their youngest daughter was so shocked she didn’t speak to her dad at all. “Now she doesn’t leave his side,” Nihal says. “She constantly hugs her dad and kisses him.” Amnesty is calling on the Turkish authorities to prevent unnecessary violence against demonstrators or other members of the public. We are also calling for all allegations of ill-treatment during the Gezi Park protests to be effectively investigated, with those responsible being brought to justice. Hakan’s life was changed forever by the attack. He has made a criminal complaint on the grounds of attempted murder. By the time WIRE went to print, the prosecutors had interviewed three riot police officers who denied any involvement.
Hakan can never drive a minibus again. “Our children have been really badly affected,” his wife, Nihal, told us. For the first few weeks, their youngest daughter was so shocked she didn’t speak to her dad at all. “Now she doesn’t leave his side,” Nihal says. “She constantly hugs her dad and kisses him.”
Above, from left: Hakan Yaman before he was beaten by police, with his wife Nihal, and after the attack.
write a Letter - caLL for justice Please support Hakan by sending him a letter or postcard, possibly with a picture of a racing car as he is a big Formula 1 fan. write to: Hakan Yaman, c/o ruhat Sena danışman, Uluslararası Af Örgütü Türkiye Şubesi, Kamer Hatun mahallesi, Hamalbaşı cad. No:22 dükkan:2 daire:2-3-4, 34435 beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey. Urge the minister of Justice to ensure an effective, independent and impartial investigation to identify and prosecute those responsible for the attack on Hakan Yaman on 3 June 2013. write to (start your letter: dear minister): mr. Sadullah ergin, ministry of Justice, Adalet bakanlığı, 06659 Ankara, Turkey. fax: +90 (0312) 419 33 70. email: email@example.com
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the high price of teLLing hard truths
soon after the popular uprising began in bahrain in 2011, 13 opposition leaders were arrested. their ‘crime’ was expressing their opinions peacefully: calling for democracy, an end to corruption, opposing the monarchy. after an unfair trial the men were sentenced to between five years and life in prison. some say they were tortured, and all are prisoners of conscience. farida ghulam, wife of imprisoned opposition leader ebrahim sharif, told wire their story.
please tell us a little about yourself, ebrahim what happened when they were detained? and his connection with the other prisoners Ebrahim was arrested on 17 March 2011 [all 13 men Ebrahim is a prominent political figure – he’s been the Secretary General of Bahrain’s secular National Democratic Action Society (NDAS) – the Wa’ad party – since 2007. I’ve been married to him for 28 years. I’ve been a women’s rights activist since I was 17 and have been president of Bahrain’s first women’s rights organization. I’m currently the head of the NDAS’ Women’s Bureau and work as an evaluation specialist in Bahrain’s Ministry of Education. Ebrahim (pictured on the “stamp” image above, right, with ‘Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja) is an outspoken person who became a threat to the government. If you are in the opposition and telling hard truths that people are afraid to speak about – like stolen lands and secret budgets – you become a target. He and the others come from different schools of thought, but are all part of the opposition. After 14 February 2011 [when Bahrain’s popular uprising began], people gathered at the Pearl Roundabout [in the capital, Manama], where Ebrahim and the others were giving speeches every night. The government wanted to put them all in one basket and accused them of trying to topple the regime.
were arrested between that day and 9 April 2011]. Around 30-40 guards came at 2am and kept ringing the bell. One pointed his gun at Ebrahim’s head. Ebrahim was very calm – saying he didn’t have to use the gun, and that he would go with them voluntarily. They took him, and when I asked where I could contact him they laughed at me. It was a very tough moment. That night, Ebrahim and others were stripped naked and put in solitary confinement. A team of torturers beat them for around an hour, three times a day. They threw cold water on Ebrahim’s mattress and turned the air conditioning up high so he couldn’t sleep. After two months the torture stopped because of international attention. The men now suffer from pain, illnesses and the aftermath of torture, and most have not been given any medical treatment.
what happened during and after their trials? They went through trials for 21 months with no means of defending themselves. Some were sentenced to life [Hassan Mshaima’, ‘Abdelwahab
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© Amnesty International
© Al Jazeera English
how has their imprisonment affected you and the other families?
Hussain, ‘Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Dr ‘Abdel-Jalil alSingace, Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad, Abdel-Jalil al-Miqdad and Sa’eed Mirza al-Nuri], others to 15 years [Mohammad Hassan Jawwad, Mohammad ‘Ali Ridha Isma’il, Abdullah al-Mahroos and ‘Abdul-Hadi ‘Abdullah Hassan al-Mukhodher]. My husband and another man [Salah ‘Abdullah Hubail Al-Khawaja] got five years. It was astonishing and strange when a civilian appeal court said in April 2012 that what happened in the military court was wrong, that they should be free. But the public prosecutor said nothing would change.
“International activism has a tremendous effect on Bahraini activists, knowing that somebody is telling their story.” It was devastating, especially for those who were sentenced to life. But because this is a political situation and the government is taking revenge against masses of people, it makes your problem seem a little bit smaller. You have to be strong for your family and other people.
I have become more outspoken – all the families take any opportunity to speak on the men’s behalf. I’ve had many hate letters and messages on Twitter – people sending me a picture of a hang rope, saying that I am a traitor. I was dismissed from my job for three months and interrogated. But it’s worth it, because this is a just case. The regime here is trying to control every outlet for the opposition, including on national TV, and most magazines. But now everyone uses Twitter very successfully to convey their messages. If your account is big, the Ministries of the Interior or Justice sometimes reply, using degrading language, saying that we are lying. But we are simply telling the truth.
what does it mean to the 13 men to be featured in write for rights 2013? I have to thank Amnesty for all its efforts – it really affects the men’s spirit by reminding them that they are not forgotten. All these people writing for their cause – it’s a big thing! International activism has a tremendous effect on Bahraini activists, knowing that somebody is telling their story. In our country there has been a total plan to block the opposition, spread lies and distort the story. It’s very important for us– it gives us more confidence and strength to continue. It makes us happy that there are people who appreciate basic rights, stand by their principles and use their time and effort to help us. It’s a beautiful solidarity feeling.
what are your hopes for bahrain’s future? We have a road map for a better future called the Manama Document. We want a society with equality for all, where all Bahrainis can get a job if they are competent, instead of having discrimination against Shi'a and opposition party members.
We continue to hope that international pressure will make the Bahraini government admit that the uprising resulted from long unresolved political issues that continue to be ignored and silenced, instead of trying to control everything. You can’t lie all the time.
Above: Farida Ghulam (front, centre) and Amnesty staff hold images of Bahraini prisoners of conscience, International Secretariat, London, February 2013. The text on the poster Farida is holding says “solidarity and deﬁance” in Arabic. Above left: Two men stand on top of a car holding a ﬂag saying “peace” in Arabic and English during a peaceful protest rally at the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, 19 February 2011.
write a Letter - change their LiVes Please send the 13 men’s families a solidarity letter or a card via: bahrain Team, Amnesty International, 1 easton Street, London Wc1X 0dW, UK. call on the King of bahrain to release of the 13 jailed opposition activists immediately and unconditionally; to order an investigation into their torture allegations and hold those responsible to account. write to (start your letter: Your majesty): Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, ofﬁce of His majesty the King, P.o. box 555, rifa’a Palace, manama, bahrain. fax: +973 1766 4587 (keep trying) email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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‘theY can’t cLip our wings’
for over 30 years, a group of human rights defenders in honduras has been a beacon of hope for people whose rights have been violated.
bed Yanez, 15, left his house in Tegucigalpa late at night on 26 May 2012, without telling his parents. Riding his father’s motorbike without a licence, he went to meet a girl. But going out at night in the Honduran capital is dangerous. Ebed never came home. The next day, his worried parents looked for him everywhere, until they found his dead body at the morgue. He had been shot. Wilfredo Yanez, Ebed’s father, wanted justice for his son. He followed leads and collected evidence, putting himself at great risk. A few days later, Wilfredo discovered that soldiers had shot Ebed after he failed to stop at an army checkpoint. Wilfredo complained to the Public Prosecutor, but he didn’t hold out much hope that they would help him. After the 2009 military coup, Honduras’ state institutions became even weaker than before. And the already worrying human rights situation worsened. According to UN statistics, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, and only 20% of all criminal cases are investigated. It is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, with 60% of the population living in poverty. The police are notoriously corrupt, and often linked to organized crime. As the drug trafficking cartels expand their reach, the authorities have responded by putting more soldiers on the streets. So like most victims of human rights violations in Honduras, Wilfredo also approached the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) for help.
no strangers to danger Standing up for human rights in Honduras is dangerous. Journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, Indigenous and peasant farmer leaders have been killed because of their work to defend human rights. COFADEH’s activists have received text messages threatening them with sexual violence and been physically attacked. Their offices have been broken
into many times. But none of this has stopped them promoting and defending human rights in Honduras for over 30 years. The organization was founded in 1982 by the relatives of political activists, students and trade union leaders who were “disappeared” by the security forces during a previous military government.
“People feel moved when they look at the doves, now more than ever, it’s important to keep the solidarity campaign going.” Since then, it has continued to collect testimony from victims, protecting people at risk and supporting people who, like Wilfredo, are searching for justice.
shot on a fishing trip Visiting COFADEH’s office in central Tegucigalpa is a memorable experience. People wait patiently to tell their stories to their lawyers, hoping that they can help. Many have travelled far to get here. Many victims of human rights abuses we spoke to said that they didn’t report crimes to the authorities because they don’t trust them and are scared. They prefer to file a complaint with COFADEH, who then pass it on to the prosecutors. When Amnesty last visited the organization in May 2013, we met Wilmer Sabillón, a young man. A few weeks before, he had been shot by a navy officer during a fishing trip. Wilmer didn’t get proper medical help and is still recovering. Wilmer was very relieved to have found COFADEH. Within hours, it had arranged for Wilmer be examined by a forensic doctor. It also filed a complaint with Honduras’ Human Rights Prosecutor, and got the case moving through the legal system. Throughout the day, a COFADEH representative stayed by Wilmer and his family’s side. And in August, a navy officer was officially charged with Wilmer’s attempted murder.
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Left: Keeping their memory alive: Photographs of people who “disappeared” during Honduras’ military government hang on the walls of COFADEH’s ofﬁce in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Right: This handmade banner featuring doves was a gift from Amnesty UK to mark COFADEH’s 30th anniversary in November 2012.
© Amnesty International
keeping the memorY aLiVe Wilmer is just one of many people COFADEH has represented. It has become the victims’ voice, and the place to go for people who want justice. Passing on historical memory is also fundamental for its activists. They don’t want the state’s responsibility for around 200 disappearances in the 1980s to be forgotten. Honduras has a very young population, and many are at risk of joining gangs. Under COFADEH’s wings, a national youth activist network has grown. In workshops and seminars, seasoned human rights defenders now teach young people how to recognize and document violations. They encourage them to participate in their local communities, and to promote values such as equality and solidarity. Bertha Oliva, COFADEH’s founding member and general co-ordinator, told us that young people are the organization’s strength.
what is a human rights defender?
hope and internationaL support
write a Letter - heLp protect them
International solidarity is just as important. In the main hall of COFADEH’s offices hangs a red banner with doves – their logo – sewn on it. It’s a gift from Amnesty members in the UK, celebrating the organization’s 30th anniversary last year (see above). “People feel moved when they look at the doves,” Bertha told us. “Now more than ever, it’s important to keep the solidarity campaign going, and demand that the Honduran state respects human rights defenders’ work. They can try and clip our wings, but they won't be able to”. COFADEH are still supporting Wilfredo’s fight to get justice for Ebed. One soldier is currently detained and facing criminal charges. As Honduras goes to the polls to elect a new president in November, the importance of their human rights work – and the risks they face – will grow. Please write a letter on their behalf – your words can help support and protect the members of COFADEH.
Human rights defenders (HRDs) are concerned for other people’s rights, as well as their own. They are defined by what they do and what they stand for and their actions are always peaceful. n HRDs are committed to realising the promise of justice, human rights and freedoms for all, even when the issues involved are controversial. n People’s right to defend human rights is recognized and protected in international human rights law. n The UN Declaration on HRDs was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998. n States have an obligation to protect HRDs. n
Please send a card or letter – ideally, with a picture of a dove − to coFAdeH, expressing your support for their work. write to: comité de Familiares de detenidos desaparecidos en Honduras (coFAdeH) barrio La Plazuela, Avenida cervantes, casa No. 1301, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Urge Honduras’ new president, who will be elected in November 2013, to publicly endorse human rights defenders’ important and legitimate work, pledge to support them, and condemn all attacks against them. write to (start your letter: dear President elect): President elect of Honduras, c/o central America Team, Amnesty International, 1 easton Street, London, Wc1X 0dW, UK.
Find out more at bit.ly/coFAdeH
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out in the open ihar tsikhanyuk is an openly gay man from belarus who works as a drag artist. when he tried to set up a gay rights organization, the police beat him up. when he complained, they threatened to kill him.
All other photographs © Private
ihar wants justice for what happened, and the freedom to be himself without worrying about the consequences. he shared his story with wire.
‘whiLe theY get readY, i wiLL die’
hen I see injustice, I start to fight it. I was raised like that – injustice equals horror for me. I went to a clothes shop in Minsk [the capital of Belarus] in August, holding hands with a boy. The manager kicked me out and they swore at us. I came back the next day and complained, and they apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. I managed to convince them that they were wrong. That’s what standing up for your rights is. I didn’t steal anything and I didn’t kill anyone, I was just holding hands with my boyfriend. “A boy and a girl can hold hands, so why can’t we? I don’t care what they think. I can’t sit and wait until they are ready. While they get ready, I will die. There’s only one life and we should live it as best we can.”
being gaY in beLarus
Left and above right: The many faces of Ihar Tsikhanyuk, who works as a drag artist.
“The media here portrays gays and lesbians as sick and crazy people, fools and savages. The President says our country isn’t ready to accept people like us, and that he isn’t ashamed of that. People see the President’s attitude and think the same.
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“I was having hospital treatment for a stomach ulcer at the time. The police came to the hospital and dragged me to their car. They asked what I had been doing in Minsk with other gays. I refused to talk to them, so they started to punch my head and chest. They told me not to go to Minsk anymore and to not get involved with the organization.”
‘eVerYone is equaL in the repubLic of beLarus’
“There’s only one life and we should live it as best we can.”
“I am an openly gay man. I’m not embarrassed and I don’t hide it – I try to show that it’s normal. I dress like a woman when I perform as a drag artist in clubs. But it’s very difficult. You have to be prepared for negative situations all the time, attacks by young people, relatives, the political authorities. “It’s normal for gay people in Belarus to hide their lives. If they’ve been beaten up or fired, they don’t know how to complain to the authorities. Many of my friends turn to me and ask for help. “The LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] community here used to be very united. But government policy has become very homophobic recently – gay clubs have been shut down, it’s impossible to organize events, meetings, parties – so people have started to lose touch with each other.”
kicked out of church “I am an Orthodox Christian. I used to like going to a monastery in Hrodna [in north-western Belarus] and knew an abbess there. Then I went to gay pride in Moscow in 2009, I gave a lot of interviews. The next time I went to Hrodna, the abbess kicked me out of church during the service in front of the whole parish. She pointed at me and said that ‘this boy,
Ihar, he's gay, he likes men’. She told the congregation to spit at people like me, and to expel me if I came again, because I spoiled the reputation of the church. “My mum is very conservative and religious, so when she saw me hugging and kissing a boy in my room one day she was shocked. She didn’t talk to me for about a month, and then she said she would take me to see a priest to confess, because I had a demon sitting inside me. “Then I finished school and left home, and it calmed down. Nowadays she supports me, and even asks about my personal life and tells me to be careful with my health.”
dragged from hospitaL “We tried to set up Lambda, a human rights organization that protects LGBTI people, in December 2012. The government started to fight us after we applied to the Ministry of Justice with enough signatures to register it [as required by law]. The police called the founding members in for questioning, asking why we had signed the application and pressurized us to write letters denouncing it.
After the attack, my family became scared of being attacked. I told them I’d protect them. Some of my friends expressed support and understanding, but others said I shouldn’t complain or I’d have more problems and could be killed. “I wrote a complaint, and when I told the police officers they said: ‘Boy, aren’t you worried that you’ll end up with nine grams [a bullet] in your forehead?’. I couldn’t believe that they’d openly say that to me. “I still feel humiliated and empty, because there’s nothing I can do. We don’t have enough ways to fight, or good enough legislation to protect LGBTI people in Belarus. “It will mean a lot for us to get support from Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign. LGBTI people will feel braver and more hopeful. It will show that everyone is equal in the Republic of Belarus.”
write a Letter - stand with him Support Ihar by sending a letter or a card to: Ihar Tsikhanyuk, c/o belarus Team, Amnesty International, 1 easton Street, London Wc1X 0dW, United Kingdom. call on belarus’ General Prosecutor to investigate police ofﬁcers’ ill-treatment and threats against Ihar Tsikhanyuk at the october district police station in Hrodna in February 2013, and to bring those responsible to justice. write to (start your letter: dear General Prosecutor): Alyaksandr Koniuk, Generalnaya Prokuratura, ul. Internatsionalnaya 22, 220030 minsk, belarus. email: email@example.com fax: +375 17 226 42 52 (please say “fax” if someone answers)
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‘historY saYs, don’t hope on this side of the graVe. but then, once in a Lifetime the Longed-for tidaL waVe of justice can rise up, and hope and historY rhYme.’ from ‘the cure at troY’ bY seamus heaneY (1939-2013) irish poet, actiVist and friend of amnestY internationaL