It has been one year since we launched the Defender Alert Network. During this time, you have shown your support for 42 courageous individuals around the world who faced serious threats to their lives and freedom – simply because they stood up for the rights of others. Your actions have led to positive developments in a number of these cases.
Eight imprisoned human rights defenders in countries like Iran, Sudan and Syria were released after interventions from DAN participants. Your actions have also helped advance investigations into the murder or disappearance of human rights defenders in Indonesia and Thailand, and have offered invaluable support to vulnerable rights advocates in Russia, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Guatemala and Colombia.
At Human Rights First we are privileged to meet frequently with human rights activists from many countries. They often tell us how important it is to know that when they take a stand for human rights, they are not standing alone. By being a part of the Defender Alert Network you are making a difference and providing tangible support to human rights defenders around the world. From all of us, thank you.
With best wishes,
Defenders From Around the World Discuss Human Rights in an Age of Counterterrorism
Activists from around the world discussed the most significant human rights challenges facing their countries and laid out policy recommendations for the U.S. government, other powerful democracies, and the United Nations. Phil Matsheza, Chairman and Executive Director of The Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa observed after the Forum: “The discussion helped strengthen the debate and strategies for increased human rights protection. We shared a lot of experiences and tactics among ourselves. It was enlightening to know how other people have reacted to violations in their countries.”
Report From the Field: Bangkok, Thailand
Justice for Somchai Neelaphaijit?
In March 2004 Thai lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared. Just before he disappeared, Somchai accused the police of torturing his clients. According to prosecutors, that act may have led to his disappearance and, most likely, his death.
I went to Bangkok to observe the trial of five policemen charged in connection with his disappearance. The trial started in a small courtroom under the watchful gaze of a portrait of the King of Thailand. Somchai’s wife, Angkhana, a small, determined woman in a lavender head-covering, took the stand. Since her husband disappeared she has become used to answering questions in the media and even at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. The defense tried to imply he had run off or been targeted by someone else with a grudge; they pointed to everyone from the family members of soldiers killed in the insurgency to the Israeli embassy.
The government is engaging in a renewed crackdown on political dissidents and rights activists. Fifteen of the 57 peaceful activists and independent journalists arrested within one week in July remain in detention.
Human Rights First sent a letter to the European Union urging Europe to show its unequivocal support for wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders in Cuba.
HAITI: Father Gerard Jean-Juste has been imprisoned at the Haitian National Penitentiary since July 21, 2005, though still no written charges have been filed against him. The conditions under which he is jailed are inhumane; he is held in an 8′ x 2′ cell, and is not receiving medical attention for health problems he suffers as a result of his detention. On Sunday morning he fell unconscious and was rushed to an infirmary, but then returned to his jail cell. Take Action>>
This week, Father Jean-Juste sent a letter through his lawyers, thanking DAN members and others:
INDONESIA: Pollycarpus Priyanto, a pilot with Indonesian national airline Garuda, has gone to trial for the murder of human rights defender, Munir. Munir was poisoned on September 7, 2004 while on a Garuda flight from Jakarta to the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the indictment does not reflect the work of the fact-finding team appointed by the Indonesian President, which found evidence of ties between Pollycarpus and senior intelligence officials.
Thank you to those of you who urged your Congressperson to sign a letter to President Bush urging that he reconsider plans to restore full military relations with Indonesia. You were part of combined efforts that resulted in about 50 Members of Congress signing the letter. Although the House ultimately passed a version of the foreign operations spending bill that lifted all restrictions on military assistance to Indonesia, the Senate maintained most of the key restrictions. The two versions will be resolved this fall, when Human Rights First will call on DAN members in key districts to join efforts to help preserve restrictions that we believe are an important tool to encourage military reform, including accountability for violations of human rights in East Timor.
NEW REPORT: In a new report entitled Reformasi and Resistance: Human Rights Defenders and Counterterrorism in Indonesia, Human Rights First traces the negative impact of counterterrorism policies on human rights and the activists who defend them. Read the report
IRAN: Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasser Zarafshan, was temporarily released from prison on July 4 for medical treatment. Domestic and international pressure to release Zarafshan and allow him to seek necessary medical treatment played a key role in securing his temporary release. Human Rights First calls on the Iranian authorities to grant Nasser Zarafshan unconditional and absolute release from prison.
Akbar Ganji, human rights defender and journalist serving a six-year prison sentence, is reported to be gravely ill after more than two months on hunger strike. World leaders, including President George Bush, EU officials, and thousands of domestic and international human rights advocates have called for Ganji’s immediate release. On July 17, Ganji was hospitalized. Accurate reports of Ganji’s condition are difficult to obtain, as he is not permitted to receive visits from his family or lawyers. Meanwhile, human rights lawyers and journalists associated with Akbar Ganji’s case are being harassed and arrested. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Ganji’s lawyer, has recently been the target of repeated harassment and threats. Take Action>>
Kurdish and women’s rights defender, Dr. Roya Toloui, was detained on August 2 and is now reported to be facing charges of “disturbing the peace” and “acting against national security.” Toloui’s detention comes at a time of mounting tension in Iran’s Kurdish region. Take Action>>
PAKISTAN: Thanks to international pressure and action from people like you, the Pakistan government returned Mukhtar Mai’s passport and lifted all travel restrictions.
SYRIA: Human Rights First welcomes the acquittal of Aktham Naisse on all charges on June 26, 2005. After numerous delays, the Supreme State Security Court in Damascus has dropped all of the illegitimate and unwarranted charges made against this peaceful human rights activist, as demanded by many international and regional human rights organizations. On October 12, Naisse will receive the 2005 Martin Ennals Award in Geneva.
Head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Mohammed Raadoun, remains in detention in Damascus, where he has been charged with “disseminating false information” in apparent connection with statements he and the AOHR have made about poor human rights conditions in Syria. Raadoun is reported to be in very poor health. Take Action>>
UZBEKISTAN: Since the May 13, 2005 massacre in Andizhan, arrests and harassment of those who speak out against human rights violations have continued. At last report, several defenders – including Saidjahon Zainabitdinov – remained in jail. Take Action>>