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Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé

EQUATORIAL GUINEA /Detained in September 2017

UPDATE: On May 28, after having been banned from travelling for three months, political cartoonist and blogger Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé was finally able to leave Equatorial Guinea.

UPDATE: On March 7, 2018, an Equatoguinean court released Ramon after having served six months on trumped-up charges of “money-laundering” and “counterfeit.” The prosecution dropped all charges after the police officer who had accused Ramon of engaging in counterfeit confessed he had been following orders from his superiors who wanted to implicate Ramon in this criminal activity.

On September 16, 2017, Equatoguinean authorities detained political cartoonist and blogger Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. He was accused of “money laundering and counterfeiting” and was arrested alongside two of his friends with Spanish nationality, who were quickly released later that day. Civil society members believe Ramón’s arrest and detainment was in connection to his illustrations, which are critical of Equatorial Guinea’s government and the country’s authoritarian President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. In 2017, he also worked with the civil society organization Equatorial Guinea Justice (EGJ) on a human rights art project. On December 7, 2017, and Equatoguinean judge ruled Ramón was guilty.

In November 2017, the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) awarded Ramón their 2017 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning, which his wife accepted on his behalf. Since his detainment, artists around the world have expressed solidarity with Ramón by drawing pictures calling for his release. View their illustrations here.

The Nubian “Dafoof Detainees”

EGYPT / Detained on September 3, 2017

UPDATE: As of June 2018, the trial of the Nubian activists is ongoing. In March 2018, several judges recused themselves from presiding over the case due to suspected issues of impartiality though the reasons have not been explicitly identified. In May 2018, the State Security Emergency Misdemeanor court ordered the case to be heard before a new circuit, the third panel to hear the case. Proceedings were scheduled to begin on July 1, 2018.

The Nubian activists have been released as of November 2017 at the conclusion of their pre-trial detention.

On September 3, 2017, Egyptian authorities arrested 24 Nubian activists, including human rights lawyers Maysara Abdoun and Mohamed Azmy, during a peaceful demonstration in Aswan, Egypt. The activists are protesting the forced displacement of Nubians from their historic lands between 1912 and 1964 and are demanding that the Egyptian government grant them “their right to return” per the Constitution. Shortly after the arrests, the authorities detained another Nubian activist, Fahed Awad, as he attempted to visit the 24 activists at their prison camp.

Per Egyptian law, prisoners must be granted trial within 15 days of their detention; however, hearings for the activists have been postponed four times. The most recent court date was set for July 1st 2018. The third panel to hear the case since proceedings began on November 14, 2017. Additionally, on November 5, 2017, one of the detainees, prominent activist, French citizen, and businessman Gamal Sorour, died from a diabetic coma in detention after authorities denied him prompt medical care for his health issues. On November 7, ten other Nubian activists were arrested for protesting against the prison conditions that led to Sorour’s death.

The 34 Nubian activists – also known as the Dafoof Detainees, a reference to the type of the drums they played while they protested – are facing charges for “illegally protesting,” “receiving funds from foreign sources,” and “disrupting public order.” If the activists are found guilty of these charges, they could spend upwards of five years behind bars.

The Egyptian authorities’ brutal treatment of the detainees has extended to members of their family as well. On October 2, 2017, police used teargas against the detainees’ family members who were protesting the delay of their court hearings. The protest was forcefully disrupted causing several of the detainees’ family members to seek urgent medical attention. Several of the detainees’ family members were also arrested and later fined $283 USD and served three weeks in jail. The Nubian activists’ arrests are part of the government’s broader crackdown on human rights, which has led to a heightened “state of fear” since 2013.

Nubian communities originate from northern Sudan and southern Egypt. They have historically been marginalized by the Egyptian government. Join family members and fellow activists in expressing solidarity by following the #FreeDafoofDetainees and #FreeNubianYouth hashtags to share your support, and spread the word about their unjust arrests. Click here to join The World Movement in calling for their unconditional and immediate release!

Campaign Updates

Campaign Updates

Ethiopia: On July 7, 2017, Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Dr. Merera Gudina, will appear in court for a scheduled hearing. Dr. Gudina has been detained since December 2016 for violating Ethiopia’s six-month state of emergency by associating with exiled opposition leaders at the European Parliament’s human rights hearing last fall. Since the initial charges were brought against him, the government moved to combine Dr. Gudina’s case with an absentia case against Jawar Mohammed, the head of the Oromia Media Network (OMN). Mohammed fled to the United States after his network was banned for their anti-government content in Ethiopia. Dr. Gudina’s lawyers are fighting the decision – which could result in a harsher sentence – and “claim any charges pressed against him should be separated” from those of OMN and ESAT.

Member of the European Parliament (EP) and World Movement for Democracy Steering Committee, Ana Gomes, criticized human rights abuses against members of the opposition, as well as Dr. Gudina’s imprisonment in a recent EP statement. Click here to join Gomes and the World Movement for Democracy in asking the Ethiopian government to #SetThemFree!

China: Last week, Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate, was transferred to a hospital for liver cancer treatment, a condition worsened by his unjust prison sentence. Liu was sentenced to 11-years in prison in 2008 for “inciting subversion” after coauthoring “Charter 08,” which demanded democratic reform. Charter 08 was signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and civic leaders. His wife, Liu Xia, stated he is “beyond treatment.” To express solidarity with him, 154 Nobel Laureates signed a letter urging the President of China Xi Jinping to allow Xiaobo and his wife to travel to abroad for medical treatment. Click here to join the World Movement for Democracy, international human rights organizations, and global leaders in calling upon the Chinese government to give Xiaobo complete freedom and #SetThemFree!

Bahrain: Bahraini activist and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab’s trial was postponed for the 14th time this year, and is now scheduled to take place on July 2, 2017. Two weeks ago, his lawyer protested the unfair treatment of Rajab by walking out on the scheduled trial, which Rajab was too ill to attend. Rajab has been in a hospital since April 2017 after undergoing surgery. His family have had no access to him and are worried he will be forced to return to prison. However, Rajab’s son remains hopeful, saying “My father is sacrificing himself to see a country which respects human rights, and he is happy to do that. I’m not exaggerating when I say he is unbreakable.” Click here to join us in sharing Rajab’s story and asking the government of Bahrain to #SetThemFree!

Burma’s Telecommunications Law Threatens Freedom of Expression & Used to Imprison Activists

Burma’s Telecommunications Law Threatens Freedom of Expression & Used to Imprison Activists

On June 4, 2017, Burmese authorities arrested U Tun Tun Oo, leader of the Human Rights Activists Association, citing Burma’s notorious Telecommunications Law. He was arrested for livestreaming the play “We Want No War,” which is critical of the army’s historical persecution of ethnic groups. Two days before his arrest, Burmese authorities detained two journalists under the Telecommunications Law for publishing an article that allegedly “mocked” the army’s role in the country’s recent civil war for allegedly violating the same law. While Article 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunications Law was originally written to prevent “defamation” over the internet, it has been manipulated by security forces to target individuals who are critical of the government. Since April 2016, the military and the government have cited the law in 61 defamation cases against Burmese citizens, despite heavy criticism from local free speech advocates. Click here to join us in sharing this story and asking the government of Burma to #SetThemFree!

Campaign Updates

Campaign Updates

Venezuela: On May 23, 2017, Venezuelan activist, Antonietta Ledezma, spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a global human rights conference, where she advocated for the release of all Venezuelan political prisoners. Ledezma explained that Venezuela is “going through the cruelest dictatorship of [its] history,” and has witnessed a complete “criminalization of politics.” Ledezma is one of several women leading the pro-democracy movement and working for the release of political prisoners in Venezuela. Last month, thousands of women organized massive peaceful marches under their #SueltaTuArma Campaign, which called upon members of the Venezuelan military to “drop their weapons,” and support human rights in the country. Ledezma is also the daughter of former Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who has been under house arrest since 2015. Join the SetThemFree Campaign and learn the stories of Venezuelan political prisoners here.

Bahrain: On May 17, 2017, the trial of Bahraini activist and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Nabeel Rajab, was postponed for the thirteenth time. His trial is now scheduled to take place on June 14, 2017 by which time he will have sat in prison for 12 months without trial. Civil society members have amped up their advocacy efforts calling for the release of Rajab and other political prisoners:

  • The “Freedom for Nabeel: Not One More Day” Thunderclap Campaign calls for Rajab’s release, which you can join here.
  • The “Together For Bahrain” group spreads awareness about Bahraini political prisoners.
  • The #WeHearYou Campaign calls upon individuals to take a picture of themselves blindfolded to express solidarity with detainees who are regularly blindfolded and tortured by Bahraini authorities.

 

Ethiopia: On May 16, 2017, the Ethiopian Federal High Court found Yonatan Tesafaye, spokesperson for the pro-democracy Blue Party, guilty of terrorism charges. Tesfaye may be sentenced up to 20 years in prison. In December 2015, Ethiopian authorities arrested Tesafaye for his Facebook posts criticizing the government, which they believe played a role in triggering the massive demonstrations in the Oromia region of the country. A month before Tesafaye’s arrest, Oromo demonstrators protested against the historical exclusion of the Oromo people from Ethiopia’s political and economic systems. Following the ruling, hundreds of people joined the World Movement in expressing solidarity with Tesafaye on Twitter. Click here to view our Storify compilation of the discussion.

Azerbaijani Journalist Mehman Huseynov Imprisoned

Azerbaijani Journalist Mehman Huseynov Imprisoned

UPDATE: On April 12, 2017, the Azerbaijani court ruled to uphold the two-year prison sentence of Mehman Huseynov on charges of defamation.

March 10, 2017

On March 3, 2017, a Baku court sentenced Azerbaijani human rights activist Mehman Huseynov to two years in prison on “defamation” charges. He is the Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), an Azerbaijani organization promoting freedom of expression. Three days before receiving his sentence, Mehman produced and shared a video about the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s wife to the office of First Vice President. The video features Mehman asking passersby if they would also appoint their wife to a vice president position if they were a leader of a company.

Mehman has documented the deteriorating political freedoms in Azerbaijan through powerful photographs that captured the world’s attention, and received the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s Press Prize. In 2012, the World Youth Movement for Democracy selected Mehman’s powerful photograph of Azerbaijani police brutality against citizens as a winner in the “Youth in Action: a Snapshot of Democracy” contest. The photojournalist’s brave reporting has made him a frequent target of extreme state-sponsored harassment, including arrests, travel bans, interrogations and assaults.

Nearly two months before his imprisonment, unidentified policemen abducted and tortured Mehman. The next day, January 10, 2017, Nasimi District Police fined Mehman for “disobeying the police.” Sadly, in Azerbaijan, this is part of a larger pattern of repression of the free press. The previous head of IRFS, Azerbaijani journalist Rasim Aliyev, served as Chairman until his tragic death on August 9, 2015. Unknown attackers murdered the influential journalist during a brutal crackdown on Azerbaijan’s civil society. Mehman’s brother, and IRFS founder Emin Huseynov has also been a target of severe police harassment. The European Court of Human Rights found that the Nasimi District Police were guilty of torturing Emin two years ago, before he fled Azerbaijan due to intense state-sponsored harassment. In October 2015, Emin received asylum in Switzerland, where he now resides.

Several international civil society organizations have condemned the attacks against Azerbaijani activists such as the Huseynov brothers, and mobilized to build international pressure on the Azerbaijani government. On March 9, 2017, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) suspended the membership of Azerbaijan for its violation of the EITI’s human rights standards. Earlier that week, human rights NGOs, Azerbaijani activists, and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedoms of assembly and of association discussed Mehman’s arrest and human rights in Azerbaijan at an event entitled “Azerbaijan: Continued Repression of Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders” in Geneva, Switzerland. A representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UN Office and other International Organizations in Geneva criticizedMehman at the event, and accused the award winning journalist of belonging to the lazy “Facebook generation.” The Azerbaijani media outlet SANCAQ live streamed the event, which can be viewed here.

On January 16, 2017, leading members of Azerbaijani civil society issued a public letter urging the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to respond to human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The letter asked for a reinstatement of a special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, the appointment of an ethical commission to the Council, and an independent investigation into allegations of corruption in PACE. Shortly after the letter was published, the current President of PACE Pedro Agramunt called upon Azerbaijani authorities to releasepolitical prisoner and leader of the Republican Alternative Movement (REAL) Ilgar Mammadov. Mehman now joins Ilgar and at least 119 other political prisoners, who are behind bars because they expressed dissent in Azerbaijan.

The World Movement for Democracy is alarmed by the ongoing attacks against Azerbaijani civil society, and the wrongful imprisonment of Mehman. Click here to join us in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mehman Huseynov by sharing this solidarity tweet!

Cuban government targets UNPACU democracy activists

Cuban government targets UNPACU democracy activists

In its latest report, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) found that the pro-democracy Cuban organization Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White are two of the “most repressed” human rights organizations in Cuba. CCDHRN also reported a dramatic increase in the arrests of Cuban civil society members last month.

Ladies in White – a group of Cuban mothers and relatives protesting on behalf of political prisoners – have experienced intensified state-sponsored harassment for over 90 consecutive weeks. Last week, the harassment of UNPACU escalated when the Cuban National Revolutionary Police (PNR) attacked and raided the organization’s headquarters in Santiago, Cuba. During the raid, the PNR arrested and detained eight UNPACU members without charges; their current location is unknown, but their detainments mean there are now 55 members of UNPACU who are currently political prisoners. Carlos Ponce, Director of Freedom House’s Latin America programs and World Movement for Democracy participant, has lambasted the attacks as an attempt to silence opposition in Cuba.

On February 24, 2017, Cuban political prisoner and UNPACU member Hamell Santiago Más Hernández died after nearly 10 months behind bars at the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana, Cuba. During his arbitrary detention, Hernández lived under inhumane prison conditions and was denied access to a trial and medical assistance, all of which likely contributed to his tragic death. Cuban authorities arbitrarily arrested him for protesting, and accused the activist of “contempt and public disorder” last June.

Mehman Huseynov

Mehman Huseynov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained January 9, 2017

UPDATE: On March 3, 2019, Mehman was freed after serving two years in prison, completing the full length of his sentence.

Mehman Huseynov is a well-known anti-corruption blogger and photojournalist in Azerbaijan. He is also the Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Security (IRFS), an Azerbaijani organization that promotes freedom of expression. As part of his photojournalism work, Mehman has documented the deteriorating political freedoms in Azerbaijan through powerful photographs, receiving the Fritt Ord Foundation and the Zeit Foundation’s press prizes in 2013. He documented corruption in the high echelons of Azerbaijan’s ruling establishment in a video series called “Hunt for Corrupt Officials.”

On January 9, 2017, plainclothes police officers attacked Mehman and forcibly dragged him into an unmarked vehicle. During the attack, they bound Mehman’s eyes and mouths with towels, forced a bag over his head, and used an electroshock weapon on his groin. They then drove Mehman around in the vehicle for four hours before taking him to the Nasimi District Police Station, where they formally arrested him. He was released the next day but fined 200 AZN (about 100 USD) for “disobeying the police.” Mehman subsequently spoke out against his treatment, calling for an investigation into his ill-treatment and giving interviews about his abduction.

On March 3, 2017, Mehman was sentenced to two years in prison on “defamation” charges related to his protest against his treatment at the Nasimi District Police Station. When his defense lawyer appealed Mehman’s sentence to present witnesses corroborating Mehman’s claims of being tortured in prison, the court refused to appropriately investigate the issue and dismissed his appeal in December 2017.

On December 26, 2018, just two months before Mehman was due to be released, authorities levied further charges against Mehman and accused him of “resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to [the representative’s] health and life.” With the additional charges, Mehman faced up to another seven years in prison. According to Mehman, he was pulled aside during a routine inspection to undergo an additional search. However, when left alone with a prison official, the official fell to the ground and faked being attacked. The Azerbaijani officials refused to provide access to the surveillance cameras from the area.

To protest the unfounded charges, Mehman undertook a hunger strike, during which he was joined by a number of other Azerbaijani political prisoners, including Khadija Ismayilova, Tofiq Yaqublu, Giyas Ibrahimov, and Ilkin Rustamzade. The charges were subsequently dropped on January 22, 2019.

Mehman was released on March 3, 2019, after spending two years in prison.

 

Mehman Huseynov’s award winning photograph.

“I live in Azerbaijan where I never saw democracy. The fundamental freedoms of democracy are freedom of expression, freedom of media, freedom of assembly, property rights, etc. These freedoms and rights are restricted in Azerbaijan. Sometimes, you see people’s rights violated, but you cannot speak or write about it. In this photo, the police have covered the mouth and the eyes of the man so that he can neither see reality, nor speak about it. This is how democracy exists in Azerbaijan.” – Mehman Huseynov’s WYMD entry about freedom of expression and police brutality in Azerbaijan.

Meet Venezuelan activist Lilian Tintori

Meet Venezuelan activist Lilian Tintori

Meet Venezuelan activist Lilian Tintori, who has been working to support democracy in Venezuela and the release of political prisoners. In 2014, the Venezuelan gov’t imprisoned Tintori’s husband and Venezuelan democracy activist, Leopoldo Lopez, for his involvement in the country’s February 2014 protests. Since then, Tintori has met with international leaders to discuss the imprisonment of Lopez and other political prisoners in Venezuela. Help Lilian SetThemFree by sharing her story! Share this post & stand in solidarity with the political prisoners of Venezuela.

December 5, 2016: ETHIOPIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DR. MERERA GUDINA

December 5, 2016: ETHIOPIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DR. MERERA GUDINA

UPDATE: Ethiopian democracy activist & Oromo leader, Merera Gudina, is being held in solitary confinement at Ethiopia’s brutal Maekelawi prison, which is known for its use of torture on prisoners, and inhumane conditions.

 

On November 30, 2016, Ethiopian authorities detained Dr. Merera Gudina, a prominent Ethiopian scholar and chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). He was arrested at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, upon his return from Belgium, where he testified before the European Parliament about human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

 

Join us in calling upon the Ethiopian government to immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Merera Gudina by sharing this tweet.

The picture that sparked controversy; pictured from left to right, Dr. Berhanu Nega, Dr. Merera Gudina and Feyisa Lilesa.

At the November 9, 2016 hearing, Dr. Gudina testified alongside Dr. Berhanu Nega, an exiled opposition party leader, and athlete Feyisa Lilesa, whose solidarity gesture at the 2016 Rio Olympics raised the profile of the protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region. Dr. Nega is a leader of the Patriotic Ginbot 7 (G7), an opposition group that is considered to be a “terrorist organization” by Ethiopia’s ruling party.

Dr. Gudina is accused of violating Ethiopia’s six-month state of emergency by associating with Dr. Nega. The state of emergency, which suspends constitutionally guaranteed rights and gives sweeping powers to the security sector, was declared on October 9, 2016 in response to ongoing anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. Lily Mengesha, an Ethiopian journalist described the state of emergency as a continuation of the government’s escalating attacks on media freedom and human rights in the country that “will not deliver needed stability.”

Dr. Gudina’s arrest means that almost all of OFC’s senior leaders are in detention. Currently, six of his colleagues are on trial for terrorism charges, another is under house arrest, and many members of the party have been jailed. Since protests began in November 2015, more than 400 people have been killed in Ethiopia and at least 11,000 have been detained.

Dr. Gudina is a former member of the Ethiopian parliament, and leads the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (MEDREK). He is also an internationally respected scholar and published author. In 2014, Dr. Gudina was chosen for the Reagan-Fascell fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy where he explored “opposition politics, political polarization, and the role of the Ethiopian diaspora in facilitating democratization in Ethiopia.”

The World Movement for Democracy is alarmed by the Ethiopian government’s escalating crackdown on dissent, and urges the state to respect the human rights of its people.

Join us in calling upon the Ethiopian government to immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Merera Gudina by sharing this tweet.

 

November 17, 2016: VENEZUELA RELEASES ROSMIT MANTILLA

November 17, 2016: VENEZUELA RELEASES ROSMIT MANTILLA

The World Movement for Democracy welcomes the release of Venezuelan political prisoner and prominent opposition activist, Rosmit Mantilla. On November 17, 2016, Mantilla was freed after being arbitrarily detained for 2.5 years in Venezuela due to charges stemming from the country’s 2014 student protests. In the 2015 elections, he became the first openly gay politician to be elected to the National Assembly of Venezuela. Another activist with dual citizenship from Venezuela and the United States, Francisco Marquez, was also recently released. Since their release, Mantilla has assumed his position at the National Assembly, and like Marquez, is advocating for the release of political prisoners in Venezuela. Many other activists remain behind bars in Venezuela, read their stories and find out how you can help at helpsetthemfree.org.

Mohamed Adel

UPDATE: On June 18, 2018, Mohamed Adel was re-arrested on charges of spreading false news and expressing anti-state sentiments on Facebook. Adel was detained at a local police station where he had been required to spend 12-hours per day since his release from prison—a condition of his three-year probation.

On July 2, 2018, he went on a hunger strike to protest his holding conditions in an overcrowded ward in Mansoura Prison. His hunger strike ended two weeks later when his transfer to a new ward was confirmed. On July, 16, 2018 he was given an additional 15-day detention order. Although there have been no reports since, it is common for Egyptian authorities to thwart international and Egyptian law by detaining activists without charges or a confirmed trial.

Mohamed Adel is the media spokesperson and founder of the April 6 Youth Movement. On December 18, 2013, Adel was arrested by Egyptian authorities after they stormed the offices of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). Adel was volunteering in the organization’s media unit at the time. After a quick trial, Adel was sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds on charges of assaulting police officers and “organizing illegal protests.”

The April 6 Movement was originally started as a Facebook group in support of textile workers of the city of Mahall al-Kobrahas. It was named after their planned strike date of April 6, 2008. The group quickly acquired thousands of followers and became one of the most prominent youth opposition groups in Egypt. They played a critical role in the uprising on January 25, 2011, for which it they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

After the coup, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ran a sustained propaganda campaign against the April 6 Movement, accusing the group of serving foreign agendas against the Egyptian people’s interests and receiving foreign funds. After years of arrests and harassment, an Egyptian court issued a verdict in April 2014 to ban the April 6 Movement over accusations of espionage and defaming the Egyptian state.

Although the verdict was roundly condemned by local human rights groups, the court of cassation rejected an appeal from Adel (alongside Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Douma) in January 2015, and upheld their three-year sentences.

On 22 January 2017, after spending three years in jail, he was released and began his probation term. He remains under strict government surveillance. The confining nature of his probation has prevented him from having a wedding and attending his university classes.

Ahmed Maher

 

EGYPT / Detained on November 30, 2013

UPDATE: On January 4, 2017, Ahmed Maher was released from jail after serving a three-year sentence and now remains under strict probation. For the next three years, he is subject to nighttime surveillance and is required to spend 12 hours per day in police custody. At the local police station where he reports for nighttime surveillance, he “[sleeps] in a 250-square-foot, toilet-less cell with up to 17 other men.”

Ahmed Maher is a founder and former general coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, an Egyptian political activist group.  On November 30, 2013, Maher was arrested on charges that he “took part in an illegal assembly, blocked traffic and called for a protest without obtaining Interior Ministry permission.” After a quick trial, an Egyptian court sentenced him to three years in jail and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds.

The April 6 movement was originally started as a Facebook group in support of textile workers of the city of Mahall al-Kobrahas. It was named after their planned strike date of April 6, 2008. The group quickly acquired thousands of followers and became one of the most prominent youth opposition groups in Egypt. They played a critical role in the uprising on January 25, 2011, for which they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

After the coup, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ran a sustained propaganda campaign against the April 6 Movement, accusing the group of serving foreign agendas against the Egyptian people’s interests and receiving foreign funds. After years of arrests and harassment, an Egyptian court issued a verdict in April 2014 to ban the April 6 Movement over accusations of espionage and defaming the Egyptian state.

The verdict against Maher has been widely condemned by local human rights groups. In April 2014, Amnesty international called for the Egyptian authorities to unconditionally release Maher. In September 23, 2014, President Barack Obama also called for the release of Maher among other activists around the world.

In January 2015, the Court of Cassation rejected an appeal from Maher and upheld his three-year sentence.

Amr Ali

EGYPT / Detained on September 22, 2015

UPDATE: On September 18, 2018, the South Cairo Criminal Court ordered Ali to be conditionally released. On October 27, 2018, the South Cairo Prosecutor mitigated and extended the precautionary measures of Amr Ali for 45 days.

In October 2013, Amr Ali was elected as the new head of the April 6 Youth Movement, succeeding founder Ahmed Maher. In September 22, 2015, the security forces arrested Ali in the city of Ashmoun, Monufiya, and transferred him to the National Security Agency for interrogations. In February 29, 2016, Ali was sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds for “conspiring to overthrow the government.”

The April 6 Movement was originally started as a Facebook group in support of textile workers of the city of Mahall al-Kobrahas. It was named after their planned strike date of April 6, 2008. The group quickly acquired thousands of followers and became one of the most prominent youth opposition groups in Egypt. They played a critical role in the uprising on January 25, 2011, for which they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

After the coup, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ran a sustained propaganda campaign against the April 6 Movement, accusing the group of serving foreign agendas against the Egyptian people’s interests and receiving foreign funds. After years of arrests and harassment, an Egyptian court issued a verdict in April 2014 to ban the April 6 Movement over accusations of espionage and defaming the Egyptian state. In January 2015, Ali was among several activists whose assets were frozen by a Judicial Ministry panel.

In July 30, 2016, Ali’s sentence was commuted to two years. In September 2016, Ali started a hunger strike after being transferred to “a disciplinary cell by the Tora prison administration.”

Following Ali’s September 2017 detention order, he was kept in solitary confinement until May 2018. Lawyers have not been permitted to read the case files pertaining to case 473/2014 and do not know what crime the charges pertain to.

 

#SetThemFree Campaign Welcomes the Release of Belarusian Political Prisoner Eduard Palchys

#SetThemFree Campaign Welcomes the Release of Belarusian Political Prisoner Eduard Palchys

On October 28, 2016, Eduard Palchys, Belarusian blogger and founder of the website 1863x.com, was released from prison after 9 months in pre-trial detention. After being released, Palchys credited the international solidarity efforts for his release, stating, “…I thought they would imprison me for three years. The sentence is the result of the civil society’s support. No one needs people serving in jail over politics.” Join the #SetThemFree Campaign in expressing solidarity with political prisoners around the world by learning their stories here.

Original #SetThemFree Advocacy Facebook Post for Palchys:

SHARE: SPEAK UP FOR EDUARD PALCHYS! On October 25, 2016, Belarusian blogger (1863x.com),Eduard Palchys, was found guilty of inciting hatred and distributing pornography. The Belarusian human rights community believes the charges are motivated by Eduard’s criticisms of the Belarusian and Russian regimes, which he anonymously published under his pen name “@Jhon Silver.” Eduard has already served almost a year in jail after being detained under these politically motivated charges in Russia in January 2016. On Friday, October 28, Eduard will receive his sentence which may be as much as 3.5 years in prison.

We could still influence the final court’s decision and we need your SUPPORT to do it.

TELL the Belarusian government that the world is watching and stands with Eduard. Please SHARE this post and help spread the word.

September 23, 2016: Cuban Authorities’ Escalate Violent Assaults on Civil Society

September 23, 2016: Cuban Authorities’ Escalate Violent Assaults on Civil Society

On September 23, 2016, police authorities raided the headquarters of Cuban Legal Information Center (CUBALEX) and confiscated computers, hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. Cuban activist Kirenia Yalit stated: “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations’ of the activists, they forced them to strip naked ‘and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies.” The authorities also told Laritza Diversent, Director of CUBALEX, that members of the organization could be accused of “illicit economic activity” and “illicit association.”

CUBALEX is an independent Cuban organization based in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, and provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and civil society activists. Unfortunately, the raid of the CUBALEX offices was part of a larger wave of harassment against Cuban civil society that has been taking place since last week.A day earlier, 23 activists belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) were arrested, one of whom was indefinitely detained. This arrest marks the 43rd UNPACU member who has been imprisoned by the authorities.

On September 18, 27 members of the Ladies in White movement, and several #TodosMarchamos (We All March) demonstrators, were arrested during peaceful protests. In a separate incident, Ladies in White activist Leticia Ramos, is facing baseless charges of “public disorder” after a police raid on her home. As of now, Ramos is under a government-imposed house arrest. On September 20, Cuban political police raided and disbanded a “meeting of several trade unionists,” according to Iván Hernández Carrillo, spokesman for Cuba’s Independent Trade Union Coalition. On September 27, Cuban authorities detained Arturo Rojas and Ada López, members of the Otro18 (Another 18) initiative, which seeks to promote independent candidates trying to run in Cuba’s 2018 elections. The two activists were prevented from traveling to Colombia to observe the upcoming plebiscite on the country’s Peace Accords. The World Movement for Democracy is deeply concerned about the Cuban government’s ongoing crackdown on civil society, and urges them to seize the harassment immediately. Cuban activists should be able to practice their right to freedom of assembly and association without encountering state-sponsored violence. Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler, has urged the world to stand up for Cuba’s human rights activists in her recent interview. Join us in solidarity of Cuban activists by tweeting this message to the government of Cuba:

#ATTN #Cuba: End the #crackdown on #civilsociety! Read DemAlert here: bit.ly/2dK1XjA #TodosMarchamos #damasdeblanco #CUBALEX #Otro18

Hisham Gaafar

Hisham Gaafar

 

EGYPT / Detained on October 21, 2015

UPDATE: On April 6, 2019, Hisham Gaafar was freed! On March 28, 2019, an Egyptian court ordered the conditional release of journalist Hisham Gaafar from pre-trial detention. He was released under conditional measures (probationary terms) that include checking in at a police station multiple times a week and being banned from leaving Egypt. Read more.

Hisham Gaafar is a prominent Egyptian journalist, researcher, and the director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development, a center for research on social issues including woman’s rights, interreligious dialogue and de-radicalization. He is also the editor-in-chief of the website IslamOnline. As of March 2018, Hisham Gaafar has been held in pre-trail detention for 41 months, exceeding the two-year maximum set in the Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedure. His pre-trial detention was most recently renewed on 14 April 2018.

On October 21, 2015, police forces in civilian clothing stormed Gaafar’s office without a warrant, searched the premises, and arrested Gaafar.

The prosecution charged Gaafar with belonging “to a banned group [Muslim Brotherhood] and international bribery.” The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information claimed that his report titled “Strengthening the Democratic Political Sphere in Egypt” led to his detention in October 2015. A roster issued by the Cairo Criminal Court includes Gaafar on a “terror list” of 1,538 individuals including other journalists and activists.

He is currently held in the Tora Maximum Security Prison under conditions described as inhumane; he is subject to prolonged solitary confinement and regularly deprived of food and water. His health has deteriorated precipitously since his detention as he is denied adequate medical care.

Ismail Alexandrani

EGYPT / Detained on November 29, 2015

Ismail Alexandrani is a well-known journalist and researcher. Alexandrani was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 22, 2018 on politically-motivated charges of “divulging state secrets” and “membership of a banned group,” for his vocal concern over military action in the contested Sinai Peninsula. 

Ismail Alexandrani was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 22, 2018 on politically-motivated charges of “divulging state secrets” and “membership of a banned group,” for his vocal concern over military action in the contested Sinai Peninsula. This military activity has reportedly left thousands of civilians homeless and without stable access to food and other necessities. After spending nearly three years in pretrial detention—illegal under Egyptian law—the State Security Prosecution transferred his case to a military court without informing his legal counsel. When the court finally sentenced Alexandrani in absentia, he was not provided official confirmation and only learned via word of mouth. Following his conviction, a series of contradictory statements by Egyptian authorities sowed further confusion among his family and international community regarding the status of his case. His sentence was upheld by a military court on December 24, 2018.

When he was arrested, more than 70 international scholars signed a letter calling for his release, which noted: “Alexandrani is one of Egypt’s brightest young researchers, who has spent the last few years doing ground-breaking work on the marginalized areas of Egypt…[his] arrest is a repression of free speech and should be condemned.”At the time of his sentencing, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) warned that the arrests of prominent democracy advocates signal President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s intention to further transform Egypt from an environment that “limits independent political space” to one that “wants to eliminate it entirely.” Since his virtually-uncontested re-election in March 2018, President al-Sisi has increasingly targeted civil society and media with arbitrary detentions and judicial harassment.

Alexandrani has published award-winning articles and research papers which have been published in Arabic, English, and French. In 2009, he was the global winner of the World Youth Movement for Democracy’s International Essay Contest on Youth and Democracy and in 2014, the Open Eye-Hany Darweesh Award for Exceptional Essay award. In 2009, he was a global winner of the World Youth Movement for Democracy’s International Essay Contest on Youth and Democracy. Click here to read his winning essay for the World Youth Movement for Democracy’s International Essay Contest on Youth and Democracy .

In addition, Alexandrani was the Visiting Arab Journalist Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, based in Washington, D.C. The World Movement for Democracy joined the Egyptian human rights community, Human Rights Watch, and Committee to Protect Journalists in calling for Alexandrani’s release. Lend your voice and share a solidarity tweet to help #SetThemFree!

You can follow the developments of his case by following Khadeega Ga’far (Alexandrani’s wife) on Twitter (@Khadeega).

 

 

Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein

UPDATE: On April 16, 2017, Egyptian-American Aya Hijazi and her husband Mohamed Hassanein, the founders of Belady Foundation for Street Children, were were found not guilty and released. The foundation was launched in 2013 and focused on rehabilitating Cairo’s street children and broader developmental programs. On May 1, 2014, the organization’s offices were raided and the couple was arrested alongside two volunteers and 17 children who were on the premises at the time. The couple was charged with “child abuse,” “human trafficking,” and “inciting and exploiting children to participate in violent protests,” among other charges.

After the arrest, Hassanein and the children were severely beaten by police and the children were asked to falsely testify that they were abused by the couple. The couple has been held in pre-trial detention for the past two years with their trial being repeatedly postponed by authorities.

Egyptian and the international community have called for the immediate release of Aya Hegazy and Mohamed Hassanein. In May 2016, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center submitted a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urging immediate action. In addition, U.S. Representative Donald S. Beyer urged the State Department to speak out on behalf of Aya Hegazy, who grew up in the U.S., when the Egyptian Foreign Minister visited the United States on July 22, 2016.

Despite international pressure, the couple remains in prison after their judicial proceeding was adjourned for seventh time until November 19, 2016. Lend your voice and share a solidarity tweet to help #SetThemFree!

 

Thailand’s Constitutional Referendum Passes Amidst Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

Thailand’s Constitutional Referendum Passes Amidst Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

On August 7, 2016, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) monitored Thailand’s local polling stations for the 2016 Thailand constitutional referendum, despite being refused accreditation by the country’s government. The referendum passed with 61% voting in favor of the new constitutional provisions. ANFREL issued a statement after the vote voicing their concerns about the restrictions imposed on Thai citizens leading up to the election.

The country’s military backed the referendum which will prolong military rule. The new upper house will be appointed by the military and its allies and will join the lower house in voting for the prime minister. Prior to the vote, the junta squashed public debate regarding the proposed constitution by imposing laws that banned protests and outlawing public education campaigns. People who violated the ban, like the “Vote No” campaigners, are facing possible prison sentences upwards of 10 years and fines up to $5,600. The World Movement for Democracy joins the international community in condemning the crackdown on “Vote No” campaigners and asks the government to respect their right to a fair trial under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Berta Soler Speaks Out About State-Sponsored Violence Against Activists

Berta Soler Speaks Out About State-Sponsored Violence Against Activists

The World Movement for Democracy recently interviewed, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, about the struggles and triumphs of being an activist in Cuba. The Ladies in White – mothers, wives and relatives protesting on behalf of political prisoners – are frequently targets of state-sponsored violence in Cuba. Cuban authorities often disrupt, arrest, and physically assault the peaceful activists during their weekly Sunday marches. Despite the government’s brutality, the Ladies in White have continued to march on, garnering support from the international community, and inspiring Cuban activists to stand up for democracy. Watch the trailer here.

Activists have even resorted to life-threatening hunger strikes to advance their protest against the state’s use of violence. The protestors include leading Cuban dissidents Guillermo Farina and Carlos Amel Oliva who have been on a hunger strike for the last month. Farina, a Sakharov prize winner, and Oliva, a leader of Union Patriotica de Cuba (UNPACU), were joined by twenty activists in the hope of ending the state-sponsored violence against them. Though Oliva and fellow UNPACU activists have ended their initial month long hunger strike, Farina has kept going, announcing that he is ready to die for their cause. The World Movement for Democracy has issued a DemocracyAlert in solidarity with the strikers’ struggle and calls for the Cuban government to end its harassment of civil society.

July 28, 2016: South Sudan Authorities Arrest Prominent Journalist Alfred Taban

July 28, 2016: South Sudan Authorities Arrest Prominent Journalist Alfred Taban

*Update: As of August 1, 2016, Alfred Taban was released on bail so he could recieve medical treatment for a previously existing condition. Read more about Taban’s release here.

On July 16, 2016, South Sudan’s National Security Services (NSS) arrested Alfred Taban, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Juba Monitor, the leading independent newspaper in South Sudan. He is currently being held without charges. The arrest is believed to be in connection to Mr.Taban’s article about the recent communiqué by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as reported in the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project’s recent statement.

 

On July 11, 2016, the IGAD Council of Ministers convened its 56th session in response to the recent surge of violence in Juba, South Sudan. Mr. Taban’s arrest came one day after he published the editorial article, which criticized South Sudan’s leaders for their roles in the country’s recent violent clashes. In the article, he called for the removal of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, citing their unsuccessful implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement. The country has experienced renewed violence between forces loyal to Kiir and Machar, with close to 300 people already killed in the recent fighting. South Sudanese journalists have experienced increased intimidation in recent years with several newspapers being shuttered by government forces. Since 2015, at least seven journalists have been killed as a result of their reporting.

 

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has called for the releaseof Mr. Taban, saying: “The arrest and detention of Mr. Taban are unlawful as they are directly linked to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression.”

The World Movement for Democracy joins the international community in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Taban. We join organizations such as the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) in calling upon the government of South Sudan to launch a swift, transparent investigation into the targeting of journalists by agents of the country’s security branch.

Join us in calling for the release of Alfred Taban by tweeting this message:

#ATTN #SouthSudan Gov.’t: End the persecution of #journalist Alfred Taban & #SetThemFree!

June 14, 2016: Bahrain government arrests Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab without explanation

June 14, 2016: Bahrain government arrests Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab without explanation

On June 13, 2016, Bahrain authorities arrested and detained Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist and the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. During the raid, authorities also seized the activist’s electronic devices without explanation, according to his family.

Rajab’s arrest comes one week after the recently released, Bahraini activist, Zainab Al-Khawaja, left Bahrain for Denmark because of the government’s threats to imprison her again. Al-Khawaja’s exile and Rajab’s arrest are likely timed to prevent them from traveling to Geneva for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), taking place June 13-July 1, 2016. Travel bans were also imposed – without explanation – on several other human rights defenders attempting to leave Bahrain for the UNHRC meeting. Rajab’s travel ban has been in effect for nearly one year, and he has been a target of government harassment since establishing the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002.

In May 2014, Rajab was freed after serving two years in prison for organizing and participating in illegal protests. In January 2015, Rajab was sentenced to six additional months in jail over remarks considered insulting to the kingdom’s security establishment. He appealed against the verdict, but an appeals court confirmed the ruling in May 2015. After serving four months in jail, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ordered Rajab’s release by special pardon due to his poor health.

Bahrain is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and has committed to upholding the freedom of movement and freedom of expression rights. Despite this, the government of Bahrain has continued to violate international human rights with frightful repression. The World Movement for Democracy joins the international community in honoring its international obligations on human rights and urges the government of Bahrain to #SetThemFree. We stand in solidarity with all human rights defenders in Bahrain and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Rajab along with other human rights detainees.

June 6, 2016: Prominent Activists Zainab Al-Khawaja & Khadija Ismayilova Set Free After International Pressure

June 6, 2016: Prominent Activists Zainab Al-Khawaja & Khadija Ismayilova Set Free After International Pressure

The World Movement For Democracy (WMD) is pleased to be celebrating the release of an Azeri investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and prominent Bahraini activist, Zainab Al-Khawaja. Ismayilova served as head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service and published extremely detailed accounts of rampant corruption by President Aliyev and his family, making her a target of harassment by the Azerbaijan government. Like Ismayilova, Al-Khawaja also spoke out against an oppressive government and was jailed for exercising freedom of expression while protesting. In December 2014, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison for criticizing the police and tearing up a picture of King Hamad.
On May 25, 2016 the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan acquitted Ismayilova of embezzlement and abuse of power and ordered her release from prison, but upheld two other convictions for which Ismayilova received a three and a half year suspended sentence. Upon being freed, Ismayilova stated: “They didn’t succeed in silencing me,” and confirmed she will continue her investigative reporting. Al-Khawaja was released May 31, 2016 on humanitarian grounds because of her one-year old son, (who had been living in prisonwith her). However, the charges against Al-Khawaja remain, and she is still at risk of re-arrest, according to her sister.
Although Ismayilova and Al-Khawaja’s high profile releases are encouraging to the international community, oppressive governments continue to intimidate activists and many political prisoners remain behind bars. The Set Them Free campaign urges the release of opposition leader Seymur Azi (Haziyev), an Azerbaijani reporter and leading anchor for opposition satellite Azerbaijan Saati (Azerbaijani Hour); and Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the Republicans Alternative Movement, who are among many still imprisoned in Azerbaijan. In Bahrain Al-Khawaja’s father, a Director at the Gulf Centre For Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is still serving a life imprisonment sentence for protesting in the Bahraini uprising. Bahraini activists Abdujalil Al-Singace, a blogger imprisoned for criticizing the Bahrain government, and Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos, Vice President of the Al-Zahraa Society of Orphans, are still detained and charged with attempting to overthrow the government.

Chinese Authorities Detain Activists for Posting Pro-Democracy Content Online

Chinese Authorities Detain Activists for Posting Pro-Democracy Content Online

On May 27, 2016, Chinese authorities detained seven activists in Beijing, and the Sichuan Province, after a photograph was posted online showing six of them calling for the commemoration of Tiananmen Massacre, as well as the release of political prisoners Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), and the detained Yu Shiwen (于世文). Three other activists were detained in Sichuan and Chengdu for producing a wine label with the phrase: “Remember June 4th, 1989” and sharing an image of it online. Nine of the ten activists are being held on charges for “suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” and one of the activists is facing the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Xi Jinping’s crackdown on civil society has made it dangerous for Chinese activists to stage public demonstrations or protest online. A common tactic has been to use the 2013 Chinese interpretation of law (the English translation is available online) to arrest activists for posting pro-democracy content online.

The #Set Them Free Campaign is dedicated to promoting awareness about individuals unjustly imprisoned, but China’s roster of political prisoners continues to grow. Lu Xiaobo, a renowned Chinese literary writer and political activist, has been in prison since 2009 for allegedly “spreading a message to subvert the country and authority.” The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in China. The World Movement for Democracy condemns China’s detainment of activists and urges the Chinese government to #SetThemFree.

May 18, 2016: African Movement for Democracy Condemns Arrests of Peaceful Protesters in Gambia

May 18, 2016: African Movement for Democracy Condemns Arrests of Peaceful Protesters in Gambia

On April 14, a peaceful protest in support of electoral reform organized by the main opposition party, United Democratic Party (UDP), was broken up violently by police. Scores of activists were arrested. Amongst the protesters was Solo Sandeng, the opposition party’s National Organizing Secretary, who later died in police custody of unknown causes.

In response to the mass arrests and the suspicious death of Solo Sandeng, the African Movement for Democracy published a statement on behalf of 35 organizations from 20 countries, which condemns the repressive measures of the Gambian government. The statement urged for the immediate release of protesters, an independent investigation into the cause of Mr. Sandeng’s death, and the institution of electoral reforms demanded by the Gambian citizens. Read the full statement in English and French.

April 27, 2016: Release of Political Prisoners May Lead to More Releases

April 27, 2016: Release of Political Prisoners May Lead to More Releases

For two years, Azerbaijan has cracked down on civil society and independent media, detaining more than 100 people. However, on March 17, 2016, the government of Azerbaijan released more than a dozen political prisoners. The newly released prisoners include: journalist Rauf Mirgadirov; youth movement activist Rashadat Akhundov of N!DA; Mahammad Azizov of N!DA; Rashad Hasanov of N!DA; journalist Parviz Hashimli; human rights defender Rasul Jafarov; blogger Siraj Karimli. Read more about this news here.

Despite this welcoming development, many others are still in prison, including: Khadija Ismailovac, Intigam Aliyev, Seymur Hazi, Rauf Mirgadirov, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofiq Yaqublu, among many others. Find more information on Azerbaijani political prisoners here.

December 17, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

December 17, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

Ethiopia: As of mid-October, all Zone 9 Bloggers have been acquitted and released from detention. Though many may regard this as a victory for freedom of expression, let the experience of the Zone 9 Bloggers remind the world of how much more work needs to be done to support civil society in the country.

Azerbaijan: Human rights defender Leyla Yunus was freed from prison on December 9, on grounds of her deteriorating health. Both Leyla and her fellow activist husband still face treason charges, widely regarded as political retaliation for their work. Leyla remains on probation for the next five years under her guilty unjust verdict.

On December 10th, Human Rights Day, we invited activists from around the world to join in solidarity to demand the release of all Azerbaijani political prisoners remaining today. Sign this letter to support the release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan for the new year!

Cuba: Danilo Maldonado, better known as the Cuban artist El Sexto, was imprisoned for 10 months without charges for his attempt to display his painting of 2 pigs labeled as Raul and Fidel Castro. “He’s just an artist who tried to do an art show, to use his legitimate right to freedom of expression,” Robin Guittard of Amnesty International expressed. “That should never lead people to be sent to prison.”

Venezuela: Historic elections in Venezuela have brought the opposition to a two-thirds majority in the Congress. This supermajority should empower democratic forces in Congress to pass reforms and an amnesty bill for political prisoners, as well as organize a referendum on recalling President Maduro, but opposition from the government and its efforts to entrench itself should put significant obstacles in the way.

#SetThemFree Song Contest Winner Selected

#SetThemFree Song Contest Winner Selected

After receiving almost 1,500 votes, the song “Barricades of Hate #SetThemFree,” produced by The Solution Is You Inc of Trinidad and Tobago, was selected on November 4 as the winning entry of the #SetThemFree song contest. The winner will be named the “#SetThemFree Ambassador” for one year and will represent the Campaign at the 2016 CIVICUS World Assembly in Bogota, Colombia. Thank you all of you for being part of our initiative!

Watch the winning music video as it was premiered at the World Movement for Democracy closing ceremony in Seoul, Korea.

We encourage you to also listen and share the other finalists’ songs here:

September 29, 2015: Become A #SetThemFree Campaign Ambassador!

September 29, 2015: Become A #SetThemFree Campaign Ambassador!

One voice can make a change! We are looking for talented musicians to lend their voice on behalf of political prisoners by creating a new song using themes from the #SetThemFree Campaign: global solidarity, collective action, protest, public awareness, hope, etc.

The winner from among the top 5 semi-finalists will be named the #SetThemFree Ambassador for one year, and represent the Campaign at the 2016 CIVICUS World Assembly in Bogota, Colombia, with costs covered.

To enter, upload your song to YouTube and send the link to setthemfree@ned.org. All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. E.D.T. on October 11th, 2015.

Learn more on how to enter the contest! For some inspiration, check out this song in support of prisoners of conscience by Pakistani musician, Taimur Rahman, and Kenyan musician, Dan Aceda.

September 15, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

September 15, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

Azerbaijan: Injustice for human rights activists continues

On September 1, 2014, Khadija Ismayilova, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent investigative reporters, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on politically motivated charges. Human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus were also convicted on August 13, with Leyla sentenced to eight and half years in jail, and Arif to seven. Both continue to endure extremely worrying health situations. A group of United Nations human rights experts recently condemnedtheir sentencing as “manifestly politically motivated and representative of the continuing repression of independent civil society in Azerbaijan.”
Belarus: Political prisoners pardonned
Former Belarusian presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich was pardoned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and released on August 22 from prison, where he had been for five years following a crackdown on opposition protestors. He was released along with five other political prisoners, Mikalay Dedkov, Ihar Olinevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsyom Prokopenko, and Yury Rubtsov. The release of the six prisoners comes just two months before the presidential election, due to be held on October 11.
Venezuela: Opposition leader handed harsh sentence
Opposition leader Leopoldo López was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison-of a maximum possible of 14 years under Venezuela’s Criminal Code. López was arbitrarily detained on February 18, 2014 in Caracas, after leading massive peaceful demonstrations calling for President Nicolás Maduro to step down. The criminal proceedings against López were riddled with due process violations. The #SetThemFree campaign released a video message on International Day of Democracy 2015 to highlight the struggles of democracy activists and political prisoners like Leopoldo López around the world.
August 15, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

August 15, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

Venezuela: Opposition leader granted house arrest

Daniel Ceballos, former mayor of San Cristobal and one of the most prominent anti-government figures in Venezuela, was granted house arrest on August 12, after spending a year-and-half in prison. This rather surprising release offers some hope for the release of other imprisoned human rights activists, considering that Daniel Ceballos was jailed with heavy charge of “civil rebellion” and with upcoming elections scheduled for December 6 of this year.

 

Angola: Artists for freedom

Several artists, writers and singers in Portugal have joined in this video to call for the release of political prisoners in Angola. On June 20, police in Luanda arrested 13 activists who had been reading books on peaceful means for achieving political goals. Along with two other activists who were arrested two days later and investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, an increasing number of activists are being imprisoned on spurious charges amid an intensifying crackdown by the Angolan government.

Azerbaijan: Injustice for human rights activists continues

The harsh sentencing of Leyla Yunus, who was given eight-and-a-half years in prison for fraud and tax evasion, and her husband, Arif Yunus, who was given seven years on similar charges, underscores continued government crackdown on human rights activists in Azerbaijan. They have been in prison on politically-motivated charges since their arrest nearly a year ago, and still face separate charges of treason, which carry a life sentence. Furthermore, imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s trial began on August 7 after eight months of detention on politically motivated charges. No activists, journalists, or family members were allowed access to the trial, of which has been arbitrarily adjourned until August 10.

 

July 23, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

July 23, 2015: #SetThemFree Campaign Updates

Azerbaijan: Court Date Set for Leyla and Arif Yunus – In Azerbaijan, the imprisoned human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus will go on trial on July 27, following year-long detentions on politically-motivated charges. In spite of their deteriorating health conditions, their powerful messages continue to resonate and will never be silenced, as echoed by fellow activist Emin Milli in this exclusive interview for the #SetThemFree campaign. Also, 16 U.S. Senators expressed their concerns on the diminishing space for both civil society and the freedom of press within Azerbaijan.

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab Released – On July 13, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was released from his six-month sentence after being pardoned by King Hamad. He was arrested on April 2, 2015 for a series of tweets for exposing the government’s complicity in human rights violations, and faced a three-year jail sentence. Rajab has been detained on several occasions for his activism and has served several prison sentences since setting up the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in 2002.

Ethiopia: Calls to Release Remaining Bloggers – Following more than a year in prison, five Ethiopian Zone 9 bloggers and journalists were finally released with all their charges dropped on July 8 and 9. The remaining four bloggers – Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane and Abel Wabela – still remain behind bars on terrorism charges. These arrests are part of a systematic repression of independent media in the country, and actions are ongoing to set the other political prisoners free.

June 23, 2015: Campaign Victory for Political Prisoners in Venezuela

June 23, 2015: Campaign Victory for Political Prisoners in Venezuela

On June 24, supporters of political prisoners in Venezuela from all over the world will send a loud and clear message to President Nicolás Maduro – it is time to #SetThemFree!

The World Movement for Democracy has been rallying individuals and organizations to connect their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to a global Thunderclap campaign calling for the release of the more than 100 political prisoners in Venezuela. As a result, a collective message will be simultaneously broadcast on the networks of 100+ social media profiles:

 “I stand with #Venezuela political prisoners. Join me in telling #NicolasMaduro – it’s time to #SetThemFree!”

The #SetThemFree Campaign aims to bring awareness to the struggle of countless individuals unjustly imprisoned for challenging oppressive laws and standing up for human rights in their countries.

Learn more about the critical situation in Venezuela, and join the campaign. Stand with political prisoners – help #SetThemFree.

June 9, 2015: Nicolas Maduro – It’s Time to #SetThemFree!

June 9, 2015: Nicolas Maduro – It’s Time to #SetThemFree!

Today, Venezuela has more than 100 political prisoners. The World Movement for Democracy is rallying individuals and organizations around the world to send a collective message to President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro – it is time to #SetThemFree!

This global action campaign is being organizing through Thunderclap, a tool that allows people to share the same message at the same time on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Similar to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Thunderclap asks backers to donate tweets and social media posts to their followers and friends rather than money. Thus, signing onto a campaign using your social media account authorizes Thunderclap to share a post or Tweet on your behalf, and allows a single post to be mass-shared and rise above the multitude of messages on our social networks.

The goal for this campaign is to reach 100 supporters (or individual social media profiles) by June 24 – which marks the Battle of Caribibo, a public holiday in Venezuela honoring the Armed Forces. If the goal is reached by that date, the following message will be simultaneously blasted on 100+ social media profiles:

“I stand with #Venezuela political prisoners. Join me in telling #NicolásMaduro – it’s time to #SetThemFree!” 

With the #SetThemFree Campaign, we aim to bring awareness to the struggle of countless individuals unjustly imprisoned in a variety of countries around the world for challenging oppressive laws and standing up for human rights in their countries. Our first spotlight country is Venezuela.
Join the movement. Stand with political prisoners. Help #SetThemFree.

May 18, 2015: Global Campaign to Help Release Political Prisoners Launched

May 18, 2015: Global Campaign to Help Release Political Prisoners Launched

Every day, governments introduce restrictive laws and policies that shrink civic space and people’s ability to live free and meaningful lives. As a consequence, pro-democracy activists are coming under increased pressure and are being arrested in record numbers.

In response to the uptick of politically motivated arrests, the World Movement for Democracy has launched #SetThemFree, a GLOBAL campaign to build solidarity with those behind bars.

The #SetThemFree Campaign will call attention to the struggle of countless men and women who are unjustly imprisoned for challenging oppressive laws and standing up for human rights in their countries.

Through this campaign we will:

  • HIGHLIGHT the personal stories of human rights and democracy activists around the world who are political prisoners in their home countries.
  • ENGAGE the global public to take action online and off-line in support of these activists and urge for their immediate release.
  • BUILD solidarity within the international community and take a stand against governments that imprison their activists

But we need your help because our voices are harder to ignore when we speak out as ONE. Start SPREADING THE WORD today about our campaign on social media.

Together, we can raise awareness, mobilize others, and engage with stakeholders to achieve their release.

Join the movement. Stand with political prisoners. Help #SetThemFree.

REDLAD: Sobre el traslado y persecución contra Daniel Ceballos

REDLAD: Sobre el traslado y persecución contra Daniel Ceballos

Responsabilizan al Gobierno de Nicolás Maduro:

Organizaciones que promueven la democracia latinoamericana critican traslado de Daniel Ceballos a cárcel más violenta

El hecho ocurrió en la madrugada del sábado 23 de mayo. Al momento del traslado, no se reportaba autorización del Juez responsable de su caso ni se notificó a su familia o a sus abogados.

El Secretariado Permanente de la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD), la Red Democracia Joven de las Américas y la Red Latinoamericana de Jóvenes por la Democracia, alertaron sobre el traslado y persecución contra el preso político, Daniel Ceballos, quien fue rapado y uniformado de amarillo y posteriormente trasladado de manera forzosa desde la Cárcel Militar de Ramo Verde a la Penitenciaria General de Venezuela en San Juan de los Moros, reconocida a nivel latinoamericano como una de las más violentas.

Las organizaciones democráticas, de manera conjunta, expresaron que se están “violando sus derechos y garantías básicas, así como las medidas cautelares dictadas por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos y las recomendaciones del Comité Contra la Tortura y del Grupo de Detenciones Arbitrarias de la Organización de Naciones Unidas”.

Al momento del traslado de Daniel Ceballos el pasado 23 de mayo –y quien fuera  ilegalmente detenido en marzo de 2014- no se reportaba autorización del juez responsable de su caso ni se notificó a su familia o a sus abogados.

Ceballos participó recientemente en las elecciones primarias de su país para optar por la candidatura de su Estado para diputado en la Asamblea Nacional venezolana, ganando el proceso con un gran apoyo de la ciudadanía.

El Secretariado Permanente de la REDLAD (plataforma de más de 520 organizaciones que defienden la democracia y los derechos humanos, miembro Oficial del Foro de Sociedad Civil de la Organización de Estados Americanos y Capítulo Regional del World Movement for Democracy) y la Red Latinoamérica de Jóvenes por la Democracia, que agrupa a organizaciones y líderes jóvenes de la Región (con una plataforma de 34 organizaciones sociales y políticas de 19 países de la región), enfatizaron que “condenan toda arbitrariedad y violaciones de derechos humanos cometidos contra Daniel Ceballos, desde su aprehensión e instan a las autoridades venezolanas su inmediata liberación”.

Asimismo, “alertan sobre el grave e inminente riesgo a la integridad personal que corre el ex alcalde, en una prisión junto con criminales de alta peligrosidad, así como de su salud, pues lleva más de 100 horas en huelga de hambre”.

Por último, “responsabilizan al Gobierno Venezolano sobre la vida, la integridad física y la integridad psicológica de Daniel Ceballos”.

Ver alerta online: http://goo.gl/KXHfW8


La Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (RedLad), plataforma sin fines de lucro, que asocia a más de 480 organizaciones de la sociedad civil, redes, activistas, académicos, representantes de sectores sindicales y empresariales, movimientos sociales, juveniles y de la sociedad política de América Latina y el Caribe; trabajando arduamente por el fortalecimiento del sistema democrático, la defensa de los derechos humanos, la promoción del desarrollo sostenible y la cohesión social de los habitantes de los países a nivel regional.

Azerbaijan: Civil Society Crackdown Continues

Azerbaijan: Civil Society Crackdown Continues

Less than a month before Azerbaijan will host the inaugural European Games, starting June 12, the country’s systematic repression of those expressing dissent or criticism of authorities shows no signs of stopping. At the same time, appeals from civil society organizations and prominent individuals to hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable are mounting.

A court in Azerbaijan on April 22, 2015, sentenced Intigam Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s leading human rights lawyer, to seven years and six months in prison on politically motivated charges of tax evasion, illegal business activities, embezzlement, and abuse of authority. Aliyev is a lawyer and chair of the Legal Education Society, which litigated human rights cases in domestic courts. He was one of the first Azerbaijani lawyers to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights and has trained Azerbaijan’s new generation of human rights lawyers.

The prior week, on April 16, 2015, the same court sentenced fellow human rights defender Rasul Jafarov to six-and-a-half years on the same charges. Rasul’s arrest is widely believed to be in connection to his work on high profile human rights campaigns, including coordinating the inspiring “Sing for Democracy” campaign during the globally popular Eurovision Song Contest.

Several more of Azerbaijan’s strongest advocates for human rights – including Leyla  and Arif Yunus, and a leading investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova – are awaiting trials on various trumped-up charges.

In recent months Azerbaijani authorities have imposed a new series of extremely restrictive laws on nongovernmental organizations, requiring government licensing of foreign donor organizations and government approval of each grant awarded. Authorities have also frozen bank accounts of over 50 groups, and in some cases accounts of their staff members.

In his closing statement to the court, Aliyev said: “Arrests can take away our freedom, but not our desire for freedom. Our arrest continues our struggle for freedom.”

The World Movement for Democracy continues to demand that the Azerbaijani authorities immediately release all political dissidents and independent journalists and end its alarming campaign of harassment and oppression of civil society in the country.

*Photo Credit: Aziz Karimov, Freedom House, November 17, 2012, Baku, Azerbaijan

Abduljalil Al-Singace

Abduljalil Al-Singace

BAHRAIN / Detained March 17, 2011

Abduljalil Al-Singace, arrested on March 17, 2011, is a Bahraini human rights activist, engineer, and blogger who managed the blog “Al-Faseela,” which frequently highlighted criticism on the lack of freedom in Bahrain. Following his arrest, a military court quickly sentenced him to life in prison for “plotting to overthrow the government.”

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Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos

Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos

BAHRAIN / Detained August 13, 2010

On April 1, 2011, Bahraini police arrested Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos, religious leader, member of the pro-democracy group Bahrain 13, and Vice President of the Al-Zaharaa Society of Orphans. During his arrest, police blindfolded and brutally beat Al-Mahroos in front of his family. Shortly after, a military court charged him with “conspiring against the government and plotting to overthrow the regime” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Like other Bahraini political prisoners, Al-Mahroos has been repeatedly tortured and denied medical access while behind bars.

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Zeynab Jalalian

Zeynab Jalalian

IRAN / Detained in July 2007

Zeynab Jalalian is an Iranian political activist, member of the ethnic group in the Middle East, Kurdish. According to her family she was arrested in July 2007. On 26 November 2009 the Supreme Court confirmed her death sentence on charges of “moharebeh (enmity with God),” and “cooperation with Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK)”, which she denies. That was the day before, Zeynab wrote a letter in which she claimed to have been tortured. Her death sentence has now been commuted to life imprisonment.

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Zeynab Jalalian

Zeynab Jalalian

IRAN / Detained in July 2007

Zeynab Jalalian is a Kurdish Iranian political activist serving a life term in Khoy Prison. Arrested in 2007, she was originally sentenced to death (later commuted) by the Supreme Court in November 2009 on the charges of “enmity with God” and cooperation with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).  

UPDATE: Zeynab Jalalian has been denied family visits in prison since December 24, 2018.

Zeynab Jalalian is a Kurdish Iranian political activist serving a life term in Khoy Prison. Arrested in 2007, she was originally sentenced to death (later commuted) by the Supreme Court in November 2009 on the charges of “enmity with God” and cooperation with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Zeynab has been subject to torture and constant harassment during her detainment according to a letter she wrote shortly before her court hearing. Despite a serious deterioration in her health, she has been denied adequate medical attention and is in critical condition. Her jailers have ignored advice from doctors that she receive medical treatment outside of prison. Since December 24 2018, Zeynab has been denied family visits.

According to her family she was arrested in July 2007. On 26 November 2009 the Supreme Court confirmed her death sentence on charges of “moharebeh (enmity with God),” and “cooperation with Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK)”, which she denies. That was the day before, Zeynab wrote a letter in which she claimed to have been tortured. Her death sentence has now been commuted to life imprisonment. Since August 2017, Zeynab has been denied medical treatment outside prison despite suffering from severe health conditions. As a form of protest for not being allowed to go to a hospital, Zeynab has been refusing to take the medication given in prison.

Lend your voice and share a solidarity tweet to help #SetThemFree!

Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos

Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos

BAHRAIN / Detained April 1, 2011

Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos is a religious leader and the Vice President of the Al-Zaharaa Society of Orphans, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the peaceful 2011 pro-democracy Pearl Uprising.

On April 1, 2011, Bahraini police arrested Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos (also known by Mirza Al-Mahroos) a religious leader and the Vice President of the Al-Zaharaa Society of Orphans. Al-Mahroos is considered one of the “Bahrain 13″—the name given to 13 Bahraini opposition leaders, rights activists, bloggers arrested and charged for participating in peaceful demonstrations in 2011.

During his arrest, police blindfolded and brutally beat Al-Mahroos in front of his family. Shortly after, a military court charged him with “conspiring against the government and plotting to overthrow the regime” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Subject to continual threats of violence, he signed a written statement to be used in court against him without review for fear of retaliation in prison.

Like other Bahraini political prisoners, Al-Mahroos has been repeatedly tortured and denied medical access while behind bars. In August 2014, he made a distressed phone call to his family complaining about the deterioration of his health in custody. He reported to have been refused adequate medical attention by the prison administration for lingering physical pain caused by the torture he had endured in 2011 at Castle Prison. He was not permitted to see his wife who died of a chronic disease during his imprisonment.

Abduljalil Al-Singace

Abduljalil Al-Singace

BAHRAIN / Detained March 17, 2011

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UPDATE: On January 15, 2019, Al-Singace and other members of the Bahrain 13 held in Jau Prison were informed that all future family visits would be conducted through a glass wall – a procedure normally reserved for violent criminals because of its large psychological impact on the prisoner.

Abduljalil al-Singace, an engineer and journalist who managed the blog “Al-Faseela,” has long been a human rights activist and a consistent target of government crackdown. As early as 2005 he was demoted from a prominent engineering position at the University of Bahrain after the university had received pressure from the government because of his human rights activism. During a visit by President George Bush to the Bahrain in 2008, he presented him with a petition of 80,000 signatures stating that Bahrain is not a democracy. He has fought for the right of the people to draft a democratic constitution in their interest.

First arrested in 2010 in response to a speech he gave at a conference at the British House of Lords criticizing Bahrain’s lack of freedoms and protection of human rights, al-Singrace was detained upon his return at the airport for the “abuse of the freedom of opinion”. He was released in February 2011 just before pro-democracy demonstrations began and rearrested on March 17, 2011, Following his arrest, a military court quickly sentenced him to life in prison for “plotting to overthrow the government.”

On March 12, 2017, prison authorities denied Al-Singace medical treatment for severe dehydration. He had refused to be chained upon leaving his cell – a mandatory rule for all prisoners at Jaw Prison. Due to excessive torture and abuse he has experienced behind bars, Al-Singace now requires a medical specialist to treat his extreme health problems.

Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus

AZERBAIJAN / Detained July 30, 2014 – December 9, 2015

UPDATE: On April 19, 2016, Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were able to travel to the Netherlands, where they received political asylum. In May 2017, the Azerbaijani government ordered the couple to return to the country to stand trial. The couple now resides in exile in the Netherlands.

Leyla Yunus is a prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist and the founding director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a leading human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) in Azerbaijan. She is married to Arif Yunus, an Azerbaijani scholar who also serves as the head of the Department of Conflict and Migration at the Institute for Peace and Democracy. The couple is active in “citizen diplomacy,” participating in peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the Nagorno-Karabkh conflict—a long standing territorial dispute between the two countries.

On July 30, 2014, Leyla and Arif were detained while on their way to Qatar from the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan. Both were accused of spying for the Armenian government. Leyla was sentenced to three months in pretrial detention.

Leyla’s arrest immediately triggered international backlash. On August 6, 2014, 60 NGOs issued a joint letter to the Azerbaijani government to raise concerns about Leyla’s health in detention, as she suffers from diabetes and adheres to a strict diet to control her illness. Leyla reported being denied medical treatment in pretrial detention; she was also severely beaten in pretrial detention, to the point of losing normal sight in her left eye. On December 11, 2014, Leyla was dragged by her feet into solitary confinement without explanation. She lost a total of 16 kilograms (35 pounds) in pretrial detention alone.

On August 13, 2015, Leyla was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. In August and September 2015, the US and the European Parliament each issued statements and resolutions calling for the Azerbaijani government to release Arif and Leyla. However, on December 9, 2015, authorities suspended Leyla’s sentence due to health issues. Although Leyla and Arif were both released from prison, they were forced to sign documents agreeing not to leave Baku, Azerbaijan.

Following their release from prison, international pressure continued to mount on the Azerbaijani government as Arif and Leyla were banned from traveling outside the country to receive medical care. In March 2016, an appellate court upheld their travel bans. However, on April 19, 2016, the Azerbaijani authorities lifted the travel ban and allowed the couple to travel to the Netherlands, where they reunited with their daughter and received the medical treatment they needed.

The couple applied for and received asylum in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the couple continues to be harassed by the Azerbaijani government. In May 2017, the Azerbaijani government ordered them to return to the country, so as to appear before court concerning their appeal. Supporters feared that the government would issue international arrest warrants to force the couple to return to Azerbaijan, leading 25 NGOs to issue a joint letter to Interpol warning against the warrants.

Arif Yunus

Arif Yunus

Yunus

AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 5, 2014 – November 12, 2015

UPDATE: On April 19, 2016, Arif Yunus and his wife Leyla Yunus were allowed to travel to the Netherlands, where they received political asylum. In May 2017, the Azerbaijani government ordered the couple to return to the country to stand trial. The couple now resides in exile in the Netherlands.

Arif Yunus is an Azerbaijani author, historian, and leading human rights activist. He is the head of the Department of Conflict and Migration at the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a prominent human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) in Azerbaijan. He is additionally married to Leyla Yunus, another leading human rights activist and the founding director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy. The couple is active in “citizen diplomacy,” participating in peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia to try and resolve the Nagorno-Karabkh conflict—a long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries.

On July 30, 2014, Arif and Leyla were detained while on their way to Qatar from the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan. Both were accused of spying for the Armenian government. While Leyla was immediately taken to pretrial detention, Arif was hospitalized due to his heart condition and then placed under house arrest. On August 5, 2014, Arif was arrested and charged with treason, large-scale fraud, forgery, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship. He was then sent to pretrial detention, where he remained for a year without trial.

Arif’s health deteriorated significantly while in pretrial detention, as he was denied proper medical treatment. During trial proceedings on August 3, 2015, Arif lost consciousness. Doctors were brought in for the following three days of hearings, giving him injections so that the hearings could continue. Family members of Arif further reported that he had been placed in solitary confinement.

On August 13, 2015, Arif was sentenced to seven years in jail. His sentence was suspended on November 12, 2015, due to health issues. Although Arif and Leyla were both released from prison on suspended sentences, they were forced to sign documents agreeing not to leave Baku, Azerbaijan.

Arif and Leyla’s detentions received widespread international outcry. On August 6, 2014, directly after Arif’s arrest, 60 NGOs issued a joint letter calling for the couple’s unconditional release. In August and September 2015, the US and the European Parliament issued statements and resolutions calling for the Azerbaijani government to release Arif and Leyla.

Following Arif’s release from prison, international pressure continued to mount on the Azerbaijani government as Arif and Leyla were banned from traveling outside the country to receive medical care. However, on April 19, 2016, the Azerbaijani authorities lifted the travel ban and allowed the couple to travel to the Netherlands, where they reunited with their daughter and received the medical treatment they needed.

The couple applied for and received asylum in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the couple continues to be harassed by the Azerbaijani government. In May 2017, the Azerbaijani government ordered them to return to the country, so as to appear before court concerning their appeal. Supporters feared that the government would issue international arrest warrants to force the couple to return to Azerbaijan, leading 25 NGOs to issue a joint letter to Interpol warning against the warrants.

Tofiq Yaqublu

Tofiq Yaqublu

AZERBAIJAN / Detained January 24, 2013

UPDATE: Tofiq Yaqublu was released by presidential pardon on March 17, 2016, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. It is common for prisoners to be pardoned around this time, but political prisoners have traditionally not been pardoned.

Tofiq Yaqublu is a journalist for Yeni Musavat, an independent Azerbaijani newspaper, and is the Deputy Chairman of the Musavat Party, an opposition youth political party in Azerbaijan.

On January 24, 2013, Tofiq visited the small provincial town of Ismayilli to report on anti-government protests that had occurred the day prior. The protests stemmed from an incident in which a local taxi driver was attacked by a businessman with connections to Ismayilli’s governor. On February 4, 2013, Tofiq and Ilgar Mammadov, another politician who had visited Ismayilli, were arrested on charges of organizing mass disorder and violently resisting police. Both politicians had visited after the protests had ended, spending less than an hour in the town.

Tofiq was subsequently sentenced to pretrial detention for two months. His pretrial detention was repeatedly extended, until his trial finally began on November 30, 2013. During the trial, several witnesses for the prosecution withdrew their testimonies, stating that they had testified under pressure. Despite critics asserting that the trial was a “mockery of the law,” Tofiq was sentenced to five years in prison on March 17, 2014.

Tofiq was then taken to Prison No. 13, which is renowned for its inhumane imprisonment conditions. His imprisonment was condemned by the European Union.

On March 17, 2016, Tofiq was pardoned ahead of Noruz, Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration, alongside 148 prisoners. It is common for prisoners to be pardoned around Noruz, but political prisoners have generally not been included in the pardons. Tofiq had served over three years in prison.

Yadigar Sadiqov

Yadigar Sadiqov

EURASIA yadigar_sadiqov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained June 2013

UPDATE: On March 17, 2016, Yadigar Sadiqov was released by presidential pardon ahead of Noruz, Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. While it is common for prisoners to be pardoned around this time, political prisoners have traditionally not been included in the pardons.

Yadigar Sadiqov is an academic and prominent political activist in Azerbaijan. He is a Deputy Chairman of the opposition Musavat party and serves as a top political advisor to Isa Gambar, the party’s national leader.

On June 27, 2013, Yadigar and his friends were sitting in a café when a stranger approached and began to berate them. Upon realizing that the stranger was attempting to provoke Yadigar into a fight, Yadigar and his friends departed the café. Yadigar was subsequently arrested at his home in Lenkoran, Azerbaijan and charged with attacking a man called Rashid Karimov—the stranger from the café.

Yadigar was promptly sentenced to pretrial detention for two months. His arrest came ahead of the October 2013 presidential elections, with many believing that Yadigar was detained to prevent him from campaigning for the upcoming election cycle.

On January 13, 2014, Yadigar was sentenced to six years in prison for “hooliganism.” In response to his conviction, the US Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a statement voicing their concern for Yadigar and the “troubling developments affecting civil society and political pluralism in Azerbaijan.”

Yadigar was subsequently detained in the 14th Penal Facility in Azerbaijan. On March 17, 2016, he was pardoned by the Azerbaijani president and released from prison, ahead of Noruz—the Azerbaijani New Year celebration. It is common for prisoners to be released around Noruz, but political prisoners have traditionally not been included in the pardons. Yadigar had spent more than two years in prison.

Yadigar had been targeted by the Azerbaijani government before. A former lecturer at Lenkoran University, he had been targeted for dismissal by the university administration in 2003 and 2005 in retaliation for his political activities. In both instances, more than 500 students campaigned on his behalf and prevented Yadigar from being fired. However, in 2010, the university successfully dismissed him.

Rauf Mirkadirov

Rauf Mirkadirov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained April 19, 2014 – March 17, 2016

UPDATE: Rauf Mirkadirov was released on March 17, 2016, after his sentence was suspended. However, he has not been fully acquitted and states that he will continue fighting to have his name cleared.

Rauf Mirkadirov is a prominent Azerbaijani journalist who served as the Turkey correspondent for the independent Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo. Throughout his career, Rauf publicly criticized the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments for their human rights abuses. Rauf was also a strong proponent of “citizen diplomacy” between Azerbaijan and Armenia, participating in various international conferences to settle the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a territorial and ethnic dispute between the two countries.

On April 19, 2014, Rauf was deported from Turkey, where he had been residing with his family for three years, and was taken into custody at the Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government accused Rauf of espionage for Armenia, claiming that he transferred classified information about Azerbaijan’s political and military sectors to Armenian intelligence in 2008 and 2009 during his citizen diplomacy visits to Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. He was promptly sentenced to pretrial detention for three months.

It is widely believed that Rauf was arrested due to an agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan, with many pointing to the fact that he was deported only a few days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Baku, Azerbaijan.

On December 28, 2015, the Azerbaijani government sentenced Rauf to six years in prison for “high treason, namely spying for Armenia.” His formal sentencing came after his pretrial detention was repeatedly extended. Both the US State Department and the European Union released statements condemning Rauf’s detention.

While in prison, Rauf suffered myriad health problems. He reported struggling with eye problems, issues with his blood pressure, and constant headaches.  He was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of his imprisonment.

On March 17, 2016, an appellate court suspended Rauf’s sentence and allowed him to go free. Although Rauf was released, he noted that he was not acquitted and vowed to continue fighting for his sentence to be overturned. Rauf had been detained for nearly two years.

Anar Mammadli

Anar Mammadli

EURASIA Anar_Mammadli 2

AZERBAIJAN / Detained December 16, 2013

UPDATE: Anar Mammadli was released on March 17, 2016, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. Following his release, he co-authored an op-ed article with two other Azerbaijani political prisoners. Read the article here.

Anar Mammadli is a prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist and independent elections monitor who has been particularly outspoken about the Azerbaijani government’s improper conduct of elections. He founded the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS), a non-governmental organization that works to support free and fair elections in Azerbaijan.

Following the October 2013 presidential elections, the EMDS issued a report that pointed to “large-scale irregularities and fraud” during the elections. A week later, the General Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the EMDS.

On December 16, 2013, Anar was arrested and charged with “tax evasion, abuse of authority, and illegal entrepreneurship.” He was promptly sentenced to three months in pre-trial detention.

Anar’s arrest immediately triggered widespread international protest. Prominent international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, issued public statements calling for his immediate release. Well-known international figures similarly voiced concerns over Anar’s arrest, including the High Commissioner of the European Union, the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, the UK Foreign Minister, and the UN Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.

Despite widespread international attention, Anar was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on May 26, 2014. In September 2014, the Council of Europe awarded Anar the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize for his “outstanding civil society action in defense of human rights.”

On March 16, 2016, Anar was released by presidential pardon on March 17, 2016, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. The presidential pardoning of prisoners is common around this time, but generally does not include political prisoners. Anar had spent more than two years in prison.

Upon Anar’s release, he published an op-ed article alongside two other freed political prisoners, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov, where he called for the release of Azerbaijan’s remaining political prisoners. In Anar’s words, “if there is no respect for the rule of law, if we cannot enjoy basic human rights, then our freedom is subject to the whimsical pardons and arbitrary decisions of Azeri courts, not inalienable rights that we are born with.”

Rasul Jafarov

Rasul Jafarov

 AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 2, 2014

UPDATE: Rasul Jafarov was released by presidential pardon on March 17, 2016. On July 25, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Azerbaijani government had unlawfully denied Rasul’s organization, the Human Rights Club, registration as a lawful NGO in the country. The Human Rights Club’s status as an unofficial NGO served as the basis for Rasul’s detention in 2014.

Rasul Jafarov is a lawyer and prominent human rights defender in Azerbaijan. He has served as a reporter for the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, investigating numerous criminal cases against journalists. He further founded the Human Rights Club (HRC), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that launched the widely covered “Sing for Democracy” campaign—a campaign that highlighted human rights violations in Azerbaijan while the country hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. He now leads the “Art for Democracy” campaign, which grew out of “Sing for Democracy.”

After founding HRC in 2010, Rasul made several attempts to register the organization as a public association with the Ministry of Justice. In each of these attempts in 2011, the Ministry of Justice rejected their application for registration, claiming that HRC needed to specify the powers of a “legal representative” in their founding document. When HRC contested the decision, the courts ruled that the Ministry of Justice’s actions were lawful.

In July 2014, Rasul was summoned for questioning at the Prosecutor General’s office. There, he was interrogated as a witness in connection to alleged irregularities in the financial activities of a number of NGOs. The Azerbaijani authorities subsequently searched HRC and seized a number of its documents.

On August 2, 2014, Rasul was summoned back to the Prosecutor General’s office for questioning as a witness. When he arrived, he was arrested and charged with illegal entrepreneurship, large-scale tax evasion, and abuse of power. Rasul was subsequently sentenced to pretrial detention for three months. In December 2014, he was additionally charged with high-level embezzlement.

Rasul’s detention immediately triggered widespread international backlash. On August 4, 2014, a coalition of 60 human rights NGOs issued a joint letter to the Azerbaijani government to call for his release. Prominent international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, further condemned his arrest; international organizations like the European Union and the United Nations additionally issued statements.

On April 16, 2015, Rasul was convicted of all charges and sentenced to six and a half years in prison. According to the court, Rasul failed to register grants made to the HRC and misused the money provided in those grants. Upon appeal, Rasul’s sentence was reduced by three months on July 31, 2015, making his total sentence six years and three months.

On March 17, 2016, Rasul was released by presidential pardon, along with 148 other prisoners. The pardon came in the weeks leading up to Noruz, Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. While it is common for prisoners to be pardoned around Noruz, political prisoners have traditionally not been included in the amnesty. Rasul had been detained for nearly two years.

On March 17, 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities had unjustly detained Rasul as punishment for his activities as a human rights defender. The court noted that his arrest was part of a larger campaign to crack down on human rights defenders in 2014.

On July 25, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights further ruled that the Azerbaijani government had illegally denied Rasul’s application to register the Human Rights Club as an NGO. The Court found that the rejected registration, which served as the basis for Rasul’s detention, violated his and other HRC members’ freedom of association.