While Shaun White perfects his half-pipe routine, punk rock artists Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in prison. As NBC welcomes Apolo Ohno to its winter coverage team, NGOs in Russia struggle to survive. And as the spotlight turns to the 2014 Olympics games in Sochi and as the International Olympic Committee is issuing assurances that gay visitors would be safe in Russia, the Russian government and authorities are instigating a campaign of homophobia that reveals an ugly truth about the country’s human rights record. The spotlight turns to Russia as the world prepares for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, revealing an ugly truth.
Last week, the Defending Freedoms project launched a Week of Action in which U.S. Representatives nationwide spoke out to highlight and give voice to political prisoners being held or detained around the world for expressing their views.
Members of Congress “adopted” prisoners of conscience and stood in solidarity with them with a commitment to highlight their cases and push for their release, as well as for an end to the human rights abuses they had been subjected to.
These individuals have been imprisoned because of who they are, what they believe, and how they have chosen to express their convictions. As a result, they are prevented from enjoying the most fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
The Defending Freedoms project was kick-started by Representatives Wolf and McGovern adopting the initiative’s first two prisoners of conscience – Gao Zhisheng of China and Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab. In late 2012, Congress’ nonpartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) joined the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Amnesty International USA to create the Defending Freedoms initiative as a way to raise awareness and support for human rights and religious freedom by focusing on human rights defenders, political prisoners, and those who have been unjustly imprisoned around the world.
On July 15, the Honduran army fired on peaceful protesters from the Civic Council of the Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The gunfire killed COPINH leader Tomas Garcia, who also served as a deputy mayor in the region. The attack also seriously wounded his teenage son, Allan Garcia Dominguez. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned this killing, which it has categorized as “murder.”
Every day since April, COPINH has held a peaceful march to protest the construction of a hydro-electric damn that they believe threatens their land. Like other indigenous communities, the culture and livelihood of the Lenca in Honduras is tied to their land. They argue that the authorities did not properly consult with the communities that would be effected by this project.
Iran’s challenges are not few, from job creation and stopping inflation to improving foreign relations. Most presidential candidates in 2013 ran on such platforms. However, there was a key issue that was not directly addressed in their political vernacular: human rights.
While many jubilant Iranians and a hopeful international community are touting president-elect Hassan Rouhani as a reformist because of his promise to ease restrictions at home, free political prisoners, and to offer more transparency for Iran’s controversial nuclear program, it should not be ignored that he remains, nevertheless, among those select few candidates approved to run by Iran’s Guardian Council.
As recently as two weeks before Iran’s June 14 presidential election, it seemed as if the issue of human rights was being swept neatly under the carpet. But then, surprisingly, the issue bubbled up; Hassan Rouhani, the man who ultimately won the election, made a number of promises relating to human rights, to address discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnicity, and to protect freedom of expression.
Rouhani’s resounding victory over a field of five other candidates could be seen as evidence that, despite the brutal repression they have experienced over the past several years, the Iranian people still maintain their aspirations for a future in which their basic human rights are respected.
In Iran, the president’s power is restricted; the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the ultimate authority. Since last Friday’s surprising election results, commentators have been debating what this could mean – some wondering why the authorities apparently allowed a moderate to win and whether this could indicate a decision on their part to permit a loosening of the restrictions on freedoms that had been even more stringent in the lead-up to the election.
Images of Turkish police employing shockingly excessive measures against peaceful demonstrators has once again highlighted Turkey’s willingness to stifle dissent as well as the impunity of its security forces.
Protests which began with a few hundred activists protesting the destruction of one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, have, in part as a response to images of police brutality, swelled to thousands. Further protests are scheduled not only for Istanbul, but for other cities in Turkey and around the world..
In a statement issued today, Amnesty has called on Turkish authorities to end its brutal repression of peaceful protests and initiate investigations into well-founded allegations of police brutality.
Only one candidate is seriously addressing the issue of human rights in the lead-up to Iran’s presidential election on June 14. She is a mother, devoutly religious (albeit with an irreverence for authority), she has a well-thought out platform and a plan to initiate widespread reforms to guarantee human rights in Iran. Her name is Zahra and – oh, by the way – she is not real.
Zahra would not be allowed to run anyway as women are precluded from being the president of Iran. But that minor detail does not discourage Zahra. Undaunted, she is out there on the campaign trail, courageously speaking truth to power and confronting the authorities over their rampant human rights violations, calling for an end to the death penalty and for the release of all political prisoners.
If you care about the crucial role of human rights defenders as much as Amnesty International, you want to know the answer to this question. Longino Bacerra is the Executive Director of the Committee for Free Expression, C-Libre. On April 20, an anonymous caller warned him, “I lead a campaign to kill you, your mum, your dad, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your friends and your friends’ friends. If they are dead, I will revive them and kill them again, did you hear me?”
Unlike Amnesty, the Honduran government has not demonstrated interest in identifying and punishing those behind attacks on journalists. In its 2012 report on conditions in Honduras, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicated that the government has not solved 80% of the cases of journalists murder in the nation. 15 of these murders took place since the 2009 coup. Last month, the CPJ reported an attempt on the life of Honduran television journalist Fidelina Sandoval.
At long last, the 2013 country reports documenting global human rights trends has been released by the U.S. Department of State.
This year’s report, which was first produced during the Carter administration, is as important for what it does not say – or perhaps how it says it – as it is for what it says. In looking back at events in 2012, the report highlights several alarming trends, first what can only be described as a growing assault on civil society and human rights defenders.
In a major report this week, Amnesty International has outlined the wide range of legal tools that Turkish authorities have used to target political dissent and limit freedom of expression. Scholars, students, journalists, human rights activists, and thousands of others have been subject to prosecution and lengthy punishment under these statutes. But you can join us in working for real reform in Turkey!
Amnesty has noted that:
The most negative development in recent years has been the increasingly arbitrary use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate activities including political speeches, critical writing, attendance of demonstrations and association with recognized political groups and organizations – in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.