COVID-19: Jailed Human Rights Defenders Must Be Released Immediately

Check out FIDH’s #ForFreedom campaign for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders threatened by the pandemic

In light of the serious threat posed to prisoners by the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations recall governments’ obligation to ensure the safety and health of detained individuals that are under their responsibility, and launch a campaign, #ForFreedom , to call for the release of all jailed human rights defenders (HRDs).

As the spread of COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat, the need to release HRDs is more urgent than ever. Our rights and those who defend them must not become a casualty of this pandemic. FIDH and its member organisations are launching today a new global campaign #ForFreedom for the release of all HRDs detained worldwide. They should be freed and allowed to conduct their legitimate activities to defend the rights of individuals against injustice, discrimination, violence, and other forms of human rights violations.

“Hundreds of people all over the world are imprisoned not because they committed a crime, but because of their work to defend human rights. As legitimate actors of change, they should never have been detained in the first place,” declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH President.

"As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread across the globe, it is time for governments to put an end to this injustice and release those who fight to uphold human rights."

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President.

As stated by UN High Commissioner for Human RightsMichelle Bachelet, “Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.” This concerns minors, migrants, refugees, political opponents, journalists, and HRDs.

The campaign website profiles imprisoned HRDs, including Loujain Al-Hathloul (Saudi Arabia); Azimjan Askarov (Kyrgyzstan); Sevda Özbingöl Çelik and Hasan Ceylan (Turkey); Yuri Dmitriev (Russia); Leila de Lima (Philippines); Pablo Lopez Alavez (Mexico); Khalil Maatouk (Syria); Narges Mohammadi (Iran); Miyan Abdul Qayoom (India); Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain); Germain Rukuki (Burundi); Patrick Zaki (Egypt). The website will be regularly updated with additional arbitrarily detained HRDs.

The urgency of the current health crisis presents authorities with an opportunity to redress the unjust deprivation of liberty of all these individuals, many of whom are incarcerated in deplorable sanitary conditions and are denied adequate health care.

In such a context, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations more generally call on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners on a temporary, permanent or conditional basis for public health reasons. Along with human rights defenders, priority should be given to the elderly, children, those with health conditions, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, administrative detainees, prisoners detained for minor or non-violent offences, untried detainees, and individuals held in immigration detention centres.

In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk in countries where minimum standards for detention conditions are not met, overcrowding is the norm, and social distancing is impossible to achieve. The spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk. Otherwise, incarceration could be equivalent to a death sentence for many detainees who contract, or are at risk of contracting, the COVID-19 virus.

Such measures would be consistent with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”), which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners, as well as the specific advice issued by the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Turkey, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Senegal and Bahrain, to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. We urge these and other countries to include HRDs among those who should be released immediately. Many countries have excluded prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences from the release, thus penalising HRDs unjustly criminalised on trumped-up terrorism charges. HRDs should be exempt from such blanket disqualifications as their human rights work must not be conflated with terrorism.

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  • Co-signatories


    Botswana: Ditshwanelo
    Burundi: ITEKA
    Cameroon: Maison des Droits de l’Homme du Cameroun
    Djibouti : LDDH Djibouti
    Ethiopia: Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
    Mauritania: Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
    DRC: Groupe LOTUS
    DRC: Ligue des Électeurs
    Rwanda: Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme et des Libertés
    Publiques, ADL
    Senegal: RADDHO
    Tanzania: Legal and Human Rights Centre


    Argentina: Comité de Acción Jurídica (CAJ)
    Brazil: Justiça Global
    Brazil: Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos - MNDH Brasil
    Chile: Observatorio Ciudadano
    Colombia: CAJAR
    Ecuador: Acción Ecológica
    El Salvador: Comisión de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (CDHES)
    Honduras: CIPRODEH
    Honduras: COFADEH
    Mexico: Limeddh
    Mexico: IDHEAS
    Nicaragua: CENIDH
    Peru: APRODEH
    Peru: Perú Equidad (Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos)


    Bangladesh: Odhikar
    Cambodia: Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    China: Human Rights in China (HRIC)
    India: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    Indonesia: Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
    Iran: League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
    Iran: Justice for Iran (JFI)
    Laos: Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)
    Malaysia: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
    Maldives: Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
    Myanmar: Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
    Myanmar: Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA)
    Pakistan: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
    Taiwan: Covenants Watch
    Thailand: Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
    Thailand: Manushya Foundation
    Thailand: Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
    Vietnam: Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)


    Armenia: CSI – Armenia
    Belarus: HRC Viasna
    Georgia: Human Rights Center
    Kazakhstan: International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
    Kazakhstan: ILI Foundation
    Kyrgyzstan: Adilet (Kyrgyzstan)
    Kyrgyzstan: Bir Duino
    Kyrgyzstan: Kylym Shamy
    Russia: ADC Memorial
    Russia: Citizen’s Watch
    Russia: HRC Memorial
    Ukraine: Center for Civil Liberties


    Algeria: CFDA (Comité des familles de disparus en Algérie)
    Algeria: LADDH (Ligue Algérienne des Droits de l’Homme)
    Bahrain: BCHR (Bahrain Center for Human Rights)
    Gulf: GC4HR (Gulf Center for Human Rights)
    Lebanon: CLDH (Centre Libanais des Droits Humains)
    Morocco: AMDH (Association Marocaine des Droits de l’Homme)
    Morocco: OMDH (Organisation Marocaine des Droits de l’Homme)
    Palestine: PCHR (Palestinian Center for Human Rights)
    Saudi Arabia: ALQST
    Syria: SCM (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression)
    Tunisia: LTDH (Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme)
    Tunisia: ATFD (Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates)
    Yemen: SAF (Sisters Arab Forum)


    Albania: Albanian Human Rights Group
    Belgium: Ligue des droits humains - Belgique
    Croatia: Civic Committee for Human Rights
    Finland: Finnish League for Human Rights
    France: Association Européenne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (AEDH)
    France: Ligue des Droits de l’Homme
    Germany: Internationale Liga fur Menschenrechte
    Hungary: Hungarian Helsinki Committee
    Lithuania: Lithuanian Human Rights Association
    Latvia: Latvian Human Rights Committee
    Portugal: Portuguese League for Human Rights - Civitas
    Romania: League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADO)
    Spain: Asociacion pro Derechos Humanos de Espana
    Spain: Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos de Espana
    Turkey: Human Rights Association (IHD)
    Turkey: Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
    UK/Northern Ireland: Committee on the Administration of Justice

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