Nicaragua: The World Movement is gravely concerned about the continuing crackdown on members of civil society in Nicaragua. As protests continue over state-sponsored violence against its citizens, international organizations have recorded an alarming number of forced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. For more on the crisis in Nicaragua, read our most recent DemocracyAlerts concerning targeted attacks on civil society leaders and violence against protesters.
On July 27, 2018, Zafar Ahmadli, the father of #SetThemFree political prisoner Fuad Ahmadli, was taken from his apartment and charged with “disobeying the police.” Human rights groups believe that his arrest was politically motivated due to his recent criticism of authorities on social media concerning political imprisonments. His son Fuad was arrested in 2016 and was later sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “abuse of power” and “conducting an unauthorized operative-search” shortly after helping to organize an opposition protest. Learn more about Fuad’s story here and share this Tweet to alert your community about Zafar’s unreasonable detention.
The World Movement was glad to hear that Azerbaijani political prisoner Ilgar Mammadov was freed after serving five years of his seven-year sentence. Join us in sharing the good news and continuing to call for the government of Azerbaijan to release its many political prisoners! Read more about Azerbaijan’s poor record of silencing dissent and imprisoning human rights defenders: https://bit.ly/2BeQepB
On July 10, 2018, government authorities in China allowed Liu Xia, a photographer and human rights advocate, to leave the country following constant international calls for her release. Liu Xia is the widow of Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Laureate who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2008 for “inciting subversion” after coauthoring “Charter 08,” a statement signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and civic leaders that demanded democratic reform in China. Liu Xia has been detained under house arrest since 2010 without charge or trial simply for supporting her husband. Through advocacy of Chinese rights activists and international community, she was finally released to receive medical care in Germany following reports that her mental health had increasingly declined throughout her detention, due to isolation from the outside world and restricted contact with friends and family. Learn more about Liu Xia’s story here.
As governments in Latin America increasingly utilize arbitrary detention as a means of silencing dissent, the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (JuventudLAC) launched its new #Libérenlos campaign on June 7, 2018 in Caracas, Venezuela. The campaign, in collaboration with the World Movement’s #SetThemFree campaign, intends to bring awareness to arbitrarily detained activists by spreading awareness of these political prisoners. Currently, the campaign carries a focus on political prisoners in Venezuela to bring awareness to President Nicolás Maduro’s longstanding repressive policies. Learn more about their campaign.
As President Al-Sisi prepares to take another term in office, international organizations are seeing one of the most severe crackdowns on political dissidents and journalists in Egypt since Al-Sisi first took office. The Project on Middle Eastern Democracy (POMED) released a fact sheet detailing the high-profile arrests of human rights lawyers and journalists, including World Youth Movement’s essay contest winner Ismail Al-Iskandrani. POMED warns that the arrest of prominent democracy advocates previously left alone by the regime signals Al-Sisi’s intention to further transform Egypt from an environment that “limits independent political space” to one that “wants to eliminate it entirely.”
Responding to the recent developments, the European Union External Action (EEAS) office released a statement noting that “sustainable stability and security can only go hand in hand with the full respect of human rights and fundamentals freedoms . . .[and] those standing for fundamental rights and democracy should not be fearing reprisals.” Learn more about POMED’s advocacy efforts here.
Equatorial Guinea: Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, a political cartoonist previously imprisoned on false charges, was finally able to leave Equatorial Guinea on May 28, 2018. Esono Ebalé was arrested on September 16, 2017 on charges of counterfeiting local currency. After six months, he was released due to lack of evidence and pressure from the global #FreeNseRamon movement. However, he was under a travel ban and barred from leaving the country by the government. Learn more about his story and the #FreeNseRamon movement here.
Ethiopia: Ethiopia pardoned 745 political prisoners on May 26, 2018, ahead of prospective plans to reform “anti-terrorism” laws. Political parties met on May 30 to amend the vague laws which have largely been used to target human rights defenders, political opponents, and journalists for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Learn more about Ethiopia’s political prisoners.
The Asia Democracy Network (ADN), in coordination with Article 19 and CIVICUS, expressed concern over the arrests of 15 protesters from the “We Want to Vote” movement in Thailand and charges later brought against an additional 47 peaceful protestors. On the fourth anniversary of the military coup, protesters took to the streets on May 22, 2018 to call for an end to military rule and to demand that the government hold free and fair elections in November. The protestors were charged with “sedition,” “breach of peace,” and for participating in a political gathering of more than five people.
The events provide yet another example of the country’s military junta utilizing oppressive laws to stifle freedom of expression and of assembly and association. “These human rights violations are taking place in the context of the Thai government’s repeated failure to fulfill promises to hold elections and restore democratic norms,” the joint-statement noted. The organizations called upon the government to drop the charges against peaceful protesters, reform oppressive laws, and commit to holding free and fair elections to restore democracy in Thailand. Read the full statement here and share this Tweetto join the ADN’s call for justice in Thailand.
The World Movement celebrates the release of Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia from prison. He was freed on May 16 after receiving a royal pardon. The pardon was filed on the basis of a “miscarriage of justice.” Due to what many believe were politically motivated charges, Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister and opposition leader, faced three prison sentences and 11 years in jail. Ibrahim’s release immediately follows the elections in Malaysia last week, which resulted in a loss for the ruling party coalition that dominated Malaysia’s politics for 61 years.
Ibrahim spoke at the World Movement’s Fourth Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey, in April 2006, and the Sixth Assembly in Jakarta, Indonesia, in April 2010. In his opening address at the Jakarta Assembly, he said “We can make diversity in culture and religion a source of strengthen and richness, and the shared history of oppression and political enslavement a further impetus to solidarity. The flame that fires the passion for freedom and democracy must not be left to flicker, let alone die out. To keep it burning, we must remain resolute in our conviction to fight for freedom and democracy and to defend it with courage, honor, and dignity.”
Ukraine: The World Movement for Democracy expresses its solidarity with Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker, activist, and political prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since May 14, 2018. Sentsov’s goal is to bring attention to the 64 Ukrainian political prisoners imprisoned by the Russian government and to mobilize the international community to pressure Russia for their release. Help by sharing our Democracy Alert.
Ethiopia: We were glad to learn that Befeqadu Hailu and Mahlet Fantahun were freed on April 5, 2018, along with 9 other journalists. After 12 days in detention for violating vague State of Emergency laws which prohibit unauthorized gatherings, the journalists and bloggers were released without charge. Their release comes on the heels of the inauguration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who gave a promising speech which addressed the violent crackdown on activists under the State of Emergency. While we were heartened to hear this, Ahmed must understand that the world will be watching to ensure his words become actions and policy. Join us in spreading this message to him.
Vietnam: On April 5, 2018, the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi sentenced six peaceful activists to sentences ranging from 7-15 years in prison, with additional years of probationary detention. They were all charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government.” Two of the activists, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, were held in pre-trial detention for over two years before the one-day trial. The U.S. Department of State issued a statement calling on Vietnam “to release all prisoners of conscience immediately, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.” We join them in telling the government of Vietnam to #SetThemFree.
On January 30, a Bahraini criminal court sentenced 58 political activists charged with terrorism by the government. Nineteen received life sentences while 37 others received sentences ranging from 5-15 years. Two activists received death sentences, joining 19 others prisoners on death row – the largest number since courts were established in 1923. In addition to the harsh sentences, 47 of the activists were stripped of Bahraini citizenship. World Movement joins the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in condemning the death sentences of Bahrainis exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and association and urges the Bahraini government to release the activists and reinstate their citizenship. Help us share their story.
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!
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!
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.
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.
After nearly a year behind bars, the Sudanese TRACKs activists have been released! The World Movement for Democracy welcomes their release & stands in solidarity with #SudanCivilSociety. Want to know their story? Read our alert here: movedemocracy.org/demalert-detained-sudanese-human-rights-defenders-scheduled-appear-court-wednesday
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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:
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.
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.
*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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- “#FreeElSexto Libertad para Danilo” (Cuba)
- “You Hear Them” (Venezuela)
- “SetThemFree Grace Jerry and Gold Owen” (Nigeria)
- “Titanes del Decoro” (Cuba)
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 email@example.com. All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. E.D.T. on October 11th, 2015.
Azerbaijan: Injustice for human rights activists continues
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Innovative ways of promoting civic space: Pakistani musician Taimur Rahman and Kenyan musician Dan Aceda teamed up to create a song in support of prisoners of conscience.
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