Once arrested and jailed, these defenders are often subjected to appalling conditions. This treatment aims both to intimidate society more widely and bolster the State’s hold over its populace by silencing critical opposition.
In situations like these, defending people’s rights becomes increasingly difficult. It poses risks not only for defenders, but also for their families and colleagues.
FIDH calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all of its imprisoned members.
Check out the steps that led to their detention:
- In BAHRAIN :
Nabeel Rajab, FIDH Deputy Secretary General and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, former President of BCHR
Nearly a dozen human rights defenders are in prison in Bahrain for expressing their support for fundamental rights and democratic reforms in their country.
On 16 August 2012, Nabeel Rajab, a FIDH Deputy Secretary General and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was sentenced to three years in prison without parole. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, former President of the BCHR and former Regional Director of Front Line, is serving a life sentence.
- In BELARUS :
Ales Bialiatski, President of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and FIDH Vice President
Since his election in 1994, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, has installed an authoritarian regime that represses freedom of expression, assembly and association. The human rights situation in Belarus markedly deteriorated on 19 December 2010 when riot police brutally dispersed demonstrators protesting against the unfair handling of the presidential election. This event marked the beginning of an unprecedented wave of repression, which continues to this day. Prominent human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski was arrested in Minsk on 4 August 2011 and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on trumped up tax evasion charges. He remains in prison to this day.
- In IRAN :
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, founding member of Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) and human rights lawyer
Abdolfattah Soltani, founding member of DHRC and human rights lawyer
Mohammad Seifzadeh, member of the DHRC and human rights lawyer
Nasrin Sotoudeh, member of DHRC and prominent human rights lawyer known for defending juveniles facing death penalty, prisoners of conscience, human rights activists and child victims of abuse
Iran is one of the most oppressive countries in the world for human rights defenders. Following political unrest in 2009, many human rights defenders were arrested and prosecuted on false charges. Human rights organisations have been prevented from operating in the country, with FIDH member organisation, the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, having to close in 2008, and another member organisation being forced to work in exile.
Dozens of human rights defenders have had to leave Iran and more are following suit. Those who stayed are either in prison or run the risk of arrest daily.
- In THAILAND :
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, long time labour rights activist and Editor of Voice of the Oppressed (Voice of Taksin),and member of FIDH Thai member organisation Union for Civil Liberties (UCL)
In Thailand, article 112 of the Criminal Code (the lèse-majesté law) prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent”. Under this broadly and vaguely worded legislation, journalists, activists and human rights defenders have faced charges, threats and prosecution in the past several years. Mr. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, long time labour rights activist, Editor of the magazine Voice of the Oppressed (Voice of Taksin), and member of FIDH Thai member organisation Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), has been tried on charges of lèse majesté for the publication of two articles written by another person that allegedly made negative references to the monarchy. Facing up to 30 years imprisonment if found guilty, Somyot has been continuously detained since April 30, 2011 and his detention has been labelled as arbitrary by the United Nations. A verdict in his case is expected on January 23, 2013.
- In TURKEY :
Muharrem Erbey, IHD Vice Chairperson and former Chairperson of Diyarbakır branch
Reşit Teymur, Executive, IHD Siirt branch
Mensur Işık, former Chairperson, IHD Muş branch
Despite Turkey’s considerable human rights progress since 2000, those expressing ideas on “sensitive” human rights related issues continue to be targeted and criminalised by the public authorities. So-called “sensitive” questions include the promotion of alternative identities to the Turkish mainstream (e.g. asserting the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, especially Kurds, as well as the rights of sexual minorities). It also encompasses any criticism of the State and its institutions, including institutional functioning, judicial independence, and impunity for human rights violations. Members of NGOs, lawyers, trade unionists, journalists, intellectuals, academics, conscientious objectors, the families of victims of serious human rights violations, and others have been targeted by State policies that consider their expression of their views to be a threat.
Fifteen members of the Human Rights Association (IHD), a Turkish FIDH member organisation, are currently being held in preventive detention under an anti-terrorism law that criminalises legitimate expression of opinion.
- In UZBEKISTAN :
Zafar Rakhimov, member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) Kashkadarya regional branch
Nasim Isakov, member of the HRSU Djizak regional branch
Yuldosh Rasulov, member of the HRSU Kashkadarya regional branch
Azam Formonov, Head of the Sirdarya regional branch of the HRSU
Gaybullo Jalilov, member of the HRSU Karshi regional branch
Uzbekistan has the highest number of human rights defenders serving lengthy prison sentences in Eastern Europe/Central Asia. These sentences are usually served in penal colonies where the regime is extremely strict. Harsh conditions and ill treatment have caused the health of incarcerated defenders to deteriorate quickly. These inhumane and degrading conditions are currently the reality of several members of FIDH member organisation, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.