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Long Term Cases

 
 

Far too many human rights defenders are currently serving long term prison sentences, upwards of 10 years or longer, for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. As domestic legal remedies are exhausted, unfair judgments become final, and new stories capture the media and political spotlight, these long term imprisonment cases run the risk of falling off the agenda. At Front Line Defenders we are committed to ensuring that these cases of term term imprisonment of HRDs are not forgotten.

The following 11 cases are illustrative of the many HRD cases where repressive governments around the world have consistently used the law to smear and to silence HRDs.

 

 

Dawit Isaak
Eritrea

Dawit Isaak

 

 

 

Swedish-Eritrean journalist and human rights defender Dawit Isaak has been held incommunicado, without charge or trial, in Eritrea since 2001. On 23 September 2001, Eritrean security forces arbitrarily detained Dawit Isaak along with at least 10 other independent journalists. He was unexpectedly released in 2005 for medical treatment but was arrested again just two days later and nothing has been heard from him since. The human rights defender’s present condition and whereabouts are unconfirmed. He has had no contact with relatives, no access to Swedish consular officials, and no recourse to a lawyer since 2001.

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Engineer, entrepreneur and blogger Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức advocated for social and economic reforms in Vietnam before being arrested on 24 May 2009. His activism took the form of a personal blog which he penned under the name Tran Dong Chan (Change We Need) and in 2008 he also started co-writing a manifesto entitled "The Path of Viet Nam" which offered a comprehensive set of recommendations for governance reform centred on human rights. On 20 January 2010, the defender was tried and convicted of charges of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration”. He was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment with five years’ house arrest on release.

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Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức
Vietnam

Pablo López Alavéz
Mexico

 

Environmental rights defender and Zapoteco indigenous leader Pablo López Alavez has been arbitrarily imprisoned for more than 11 years in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. For two decades, the environmental and indigenous peoples rights defender worked to ensure that the San Isidro Aloápam community’s rights to a safe environment and access to water were guarded and guaranteed. On 15 August 2010, the defender was arbitrarily and violently detained by a group of more than 15 unidentified men. Following 7 years in detention without trial, and despite the human rights defender testifying and presenting proof that he was elsewhere on the day and time of the trumped up murder charges he was accused of, and there being many inconsistencies and contradictions in witness' testimony, a judge found him guilty and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

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Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Bahrain

Former Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders, former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and co-founder of Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has a long history of working to promote human rights in the MENA region and championing the protection of human rights defenders at risk. In February 2011 protests and demonstrations broke out across Bahrain calling for greater political freedoms. As part of the government’s crackdown on these protests, opposition leaders and leading pro-democracy human rights defenders were arrested. On 9 April 2011, up to twenty armed and masked policemen broke into the Al-Khawaja family home in the middle of the night, dragged the defender down the stairs and extensively beat him. He was also subjected to physical and psychological torture in detention. On 22 June 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempts to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group”. Today, more than 10 years on from his brutal arrest Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja remains behind bars in Jau prison in Bahrain.

 

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Leading human rights lawyer Mohamed Al-Roken has been at the forefront of providing legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including to fellow human rights defenders. In 2011 the defender was one of 133 UAE citizens to sign the online petition calling for more democratic processes in the UAE; a petition which resulted in the arrest and trial of the main instigators of the petition who became known as the “UAE 5”. Mohamed Al-Roken acted as the lawyer in this case. In July 2012, a major round-up of human rights defenders and critics of the government took place, including Mohamed Al-Roken. He and the others detained became known as the “UAE 94” and were accused of plotting to overthrow the government. On 2 July 2013, the Federal Supreme Court convicted and sentenced Mohamed Al-Roken to 10 years in prison.

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Mohamed Al Roken
UAE

Mohammed Al-Roken

 

Ilham Tohti
China

Ilham Tohti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned Uyghur intellectual and human rights defender, Ilham Tohti was an economics professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing [now Minzu University] prior to his arrest in 2014. Rejecting separatism and violence, he worked for over two decades to build understanding between Chinese Hans and Uyghurs. On 15 January 2014, over 20 police officers raided the minority rights defender’s home and he was detained. Despite the defender’s extensive and demonstrable work to heal societal rifts between Uyghur and Han citizens, this detention was later upgraded to formal arrest on charges of “separatism”. On 23 September 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

 

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Anti-death penalty activist and women and children’s rights defender Atena Daemi was first arrested in Iran on 21 October 2014. Kept in solitary confinement and denied access to a lawyer, she was repeatedly interrogated for 86 days. As a direct result of her peaceful human rights activities, she was charged with “propaganda against the regime”, “collusion against the regime”, “insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran” and “blasphemy”, and sentenced her to 14 years in prison. In February 2016 she was released on bail and her sentence reduced to 7 years on appeal. However, she was rearrested in November 2016 and transferred back to prison. She has been subjected to systematic punitive and psychological mistreatment at the hands of the Iranian authorities ever since. In June 2020, just one month before her expected release, she was charged and convicted on additional charges of “disturbing order” at Evin prison and sentenced to two additional years and 74 lashes.

 

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Atena Daemi
Iran

Atena Daemi

 

Chair of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights in Yalta and a member of the Crimean Human Rights Movement, human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku has a long history of advocating for the rights of Muslim ethnic groups in Crimea. Since the annexation of Crimea, human rights defenders, journalists, activists and lawyers in Crimea have become targets of repression and intimidation by local authorities. The targeted persecution of Emir-Usein Kuku is believed to be a direct result of his human rights works and his refusal to collaborate with the Federal Security Services (FSB) of the Russian Federation. On 11 February 2016, the defender was detained together with five other Crimean Tatars and charged with “involvement in a terrorist organisation”. He is accused of joining the Yalta branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist movement that is designated as a terrorist group in Russia since 2003, but operates legally in Ukraine. On 12 November 2019, the defender was sentenced to twelve years in a strict-regime correctional colony.

 

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Emir Usein Kuku
Russian Federation

emir usein kuku

Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iran

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her legal career to representing opposition activists, women’s rights activists and young prisoners who were sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. As a direct result of her human rights work defending protesters who had been arrested during the 2009 demonstrations against the contested re-election of ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the human rights lawyer was previously imprisoned in Iran from 2010 until 2013. Between 2013 and 2018, the defender continued her work as a human rights defender. On 13 June 2018 she was arrested and charged with eight offences, including "propaganda against the state", "assembly and collusion" and “espionage”. She was sentenced in two different trials to 38 years and 6 months in prison and 148 lashes.

 

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Server Mustafayev

hrd_server_mustafayev

Coordinator of the grass-roots movement Crimean Solidarity, Server Mustafayev is a Crimean Tatar human rights defender. The Crimean Solidarity movement was created following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russia Federation in 2014. The movement seeks to support victims of political and religious persecution by monitoring and documenting human rights violations, providing legal aid, observing trials and providing assistance to families. On 21 May 2018, masked policemen entered the human rights defender’s home in the city of Bakhchisarai, central Crimea. Following a 3-hour search, a number of documents and electronic equipment were seized and the human rights defender was arrested on charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation”. He is accused of being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist movement that is designated as a terrorist group in Russia since 2003, but operates legally in Ukraine. On 16 September 2020, the defender was sentenced to fourteen years in a strict-regime correctional colony and a subsequent year of restrictions on his rights and freedoms.

 

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Woman human rights defender María Esperanza Sánchez García has participated in civic activism since 2018 when a wave of protests took place in Nicaragua in opposition to a number of social security reforms. She was part of the April 19 Movement in Matagalpa and participated in both the April 19 Civic Movement, Matagalpa and the Blue and White National Unity Movement (UNAB) calling for the release of political prisoners and standing in opposition to the human rights abuses committed by the current administration. As a direct result of her human rights activities the defender has been persecuted, threatened and fired from several jobs, and from November 2019 to 26 January 2020 when she was arbitrarily detained, she had been living in between different safe houses in a bid to protect her family from persecution due to her activism. Following a trial in May 2020 that was marred with irregularities, the human rights defender was found guilty of narco-trafficking and on 2 July 2020 she was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and fine.

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María Esperanza Sánchez García