From the Director
“I have come out of a window, but there is a big door we must open.”
We recently spoke with Haitian human rights leader, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia and pneumonia in Florida after being released from prison in Haiti on January 29, 2006. Father Jean-Juste wanted to thank the thousands of DAN participants who took part in actions calling for his release, but characteristically, his main concern was for the political prisoners who remain unjustly behind bars in Haiti and elsewhere in the world.
Thanks to your prompt response to our appeal we were able to work with Father Jean Juste’s lawyers and physicians, and with his supporters in the U.S. Congress and other organizations, to build a strong and successful campaign for his release.
We are encouraged by this success, and we hope that you will continue to work with us, and ask your friends to join us so that we can “open the door” for others like Father Jean-Juste, who are unjustly imprisoned for supporting human rights.
Thank you for your continuing support for Human Rights First. With that support you are helping to provide a lifeline to vulnerable human rights defenders around the world.
With best wishes,
Russia’s Human Rights Defenders in Danger
Last month, Russian state-owned television stations publicly defamed four well-respected human rights organizations by accusing them of collecting funds from the British spies. Human Rights First issued a statement in support of the accused organizations and signed a joint statement with over 700 individuals and organizations.
And in April, a new law regulating nongovernmental organizations will come into effect, making it possible for Russian authorities to interfere with and even close down human rights organizations. Grounds for closing a human rights organization are vague under the law and are therefore open to abuse by the government.
Since our last newsletter there have been verdicts in two cases involving human rights defenders in Southeast Asia. On December 20, an Indonesian court sentenced a co-pilot to 14 years for his role in the fatal poisoning of leading human rights advocate Munir on an international flight in 2004. The judge noted that evidence implicated senior intelligence officials as the masterminds of the murder, but there has been little progress in investigating or prosecuting these powerful figures.
One month later in Thailand, four policemen were acquitted and one received a three-year sentence in connection with the disappearance of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. Human Rights First observed the trial and has raised concerns about the charges, the investigation, and the protection of witnesses. We will continue to pressure these governments to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Massoumeh Shafiei, wife of the imprisoned Iranian journalist and human rights activist Akbar Ganji is counting the days until his six year prison term – imposed after an unfair trial in 2000 – will be over. His sentence expires on April 22, 2006, but she is far from confident that authorities will let her husband go.
Non-violent critics of the Iranian government have been subjected to harsh repression for years, including physical assaults, death threats and targeted assassinations. It was Ganji’s leading role in exposing high-level official involvement in the killing of dissidents that formed the basis of the charges against him, charges that include endangering national security and being “anti-Islamic.” Arbitrary detention beyond his scheduled release date – or new bogus charges against him – are certainly possibilities that Ganji, his family and his supporters must face.
They are relying on support from around the world to secure his release from prison on a sentence he should never have had to serve. Take Action: Call for Akbar Ganji’s immediate release.
Finalists for the 2006 Martin Ennals Award Announced
The jury of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders announced the four finalists for the 2006 Award on February 13. They are: Akbar Ganji, from Iran; Golden Misabiko from The Congo, Jenni Williams from Zimbabwe and Arnold Tsunga from Zimbabwe. All of these activists or their organizations have been featured on the DAN over the last two years.
The Award aims to call public attention to the situation of activists who are at risk for defending and promoting human rights, and thereby to offer them a degree of protection. Human Rights First serves on the jury of the Award together with representatives of ten other leading international human rights organizations.
Meanwhile, general conditions for human rights defenders in Cuba are deteriorating, with the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation reporting a significant increase in the number and brutality of organized acts of harassment and violence aimed at peaceful activists.
In a positive development last December, an independent journalist jailed in the spring of 2003 was released on medical parole. While Dr. Biscet and others remain in prison, your voice has made a difference in securing the release of 15 Cuban defenders since 2003. Raul Rivero, an independent journalist jailed in 2003 and then released on medical parole, said that it was because of the support from friends and other groups who pressed for his release that he was able to withstand his time in prison, calling such support a “breath of hope.” Without this hope, he stated, “one is defeated.”
For example, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, chairman of the Andizhan human rights group Appeliatsia (Appeal), was arrested days after the massacre and charged with spreading false information. Uzbek authorities would not release details of his prosecution to his family. Finally, thanks to pressure from international human rights groups, it was confirmed that he went on trial two weeks ago and has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He has been in detention since May 2005.