Season 2, Episode 5
The COVID-19 Crisis & Prisons in Iran
This episode of Rights on the Line focuses on the prison situation in Iran during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is a collaboration between Front Line Defenders and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, a non-governmental non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran.
In its documentation of human rights defenders cases in Iran, Front Line Defenders has often drawn attention to the poor health conditions in the prisons. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center has also documented these conditions, most recently in its April 2020 report, “COVID-19 Fear in Iran’s Prisons”, available on the Center’s website, www.iranrights.org
The first COVID-19 cases were reported in Iran on February 19th in Qom. A month later, the annual Persian New Year celebrations of Nowruz meant that Iranians traveled extensively throughout the country as the government did not impose social distancing policies. As a result of the government’s response, compounded by sanctions and a faltering economy, Iran today is one of the global epicenters of the pandemic. As of May 11, there are almost 110,000 cases and over 6,500 dead according to official figures. Iran is among the 10 most affected countries both in terms of number of cases and number of deaths per 100,000.
The government has released approximately 100,000 prisoners in an effort to improve overcrowding at prisons, but poor conditions remain. And notably, imprisoned human rights defenders have almost entirely been excluded from furlough or release. In fact, in recent weeks, Front Line Defenders has reported on cases of HRDs being summoned to report to prison to start serving prison sentences, including Shapour Ehsanirad, Nahid Khodajo and Soha Mortezaei. Sam Rajabi, who is imprisoned in the notorious Evin Prison, was returned to prison despite having tested positive at a civic hospital while receiving treatment for another serious health condition. And long-term cases, Atena Daemi, Narges Mohammadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh remain imprisoned.
Season 2, Episode 4
COVID-19, HRDs & Government Response: Focus on India
India has not been hit as hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as other countries, at least not in official statistics. While undercounting might be due to lack of available testing, the steps the Indian government took, including a 21-day lockdown may have proven effective in staving off worst-case scenarios.
However, that does not mean the government's response has been welcomed in the country. And the measures the Modi government has taken have been widely seen as fitting into a larger trend characteristic of its Hindu-nationalist policies. From the earliest days of the crisis, the Muslim minority has been blamed for the spread of the virus. While the blaming of minorities or marginalized groups is not unique to India, the fact that this comes so soon after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act in December, which sparked widespread protests and attacks targeting the Muslim community, has left many suspicious of any measures the government takes in addressing the health crisis. Other minority groups have also faced rumours of blame for the spread of the virus, including the LGBT community - and especially transgendered persons. And some of the provisions of assistance for citizens announced by the government notably exclude the Muslim and trans communities due to some of the formalities and paperwork required to receive such help.
In Kashmir, a lockdown was already in place when the virus arrived in India, with internet and mobile communications largely cut off since Delhi announced in August 2019 that it would revoke Article 370, which had granted Jammu and Kashmir special status or limited autonomy since 1947. Numerous political figures and human rights defenders were detained and after protests erupted, widespread arrests followed. Just as some restrictions were starting to be lifted, the COVID-19 crisis hit, and many in the territory feared that the public health crisis would be devastating in a place cut off from access to the outside world and information. And rights groups feared that more civil liberties would be curtailed under cover of the health crisis - something that seems to be happening with the recent arrest of three Kashmiri journalists - Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq and Gowhar Geelani - who have been arrested and charged, seemingly in order to quash dissent.
The northeastern state of Manipur, which has effectively been ruled by martial law since the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was introduced in 1958, is not as isolated as Kashmir, but has been kept on the margins of national development. The state has a large presence of army and security personnel and civil society is under constant monitoring. With the first case of COVID-19 identified at the end of March, the state government put Manipur under lock down. In addition to concerns over civil liberties, more vulnerable and marginalized groups in the state are at great risk of devastating health and economic consequences.
Front Line Defenders talked with four human rights defenders to get a picture of their work, the risks they face and the context into which the COVID-19 pandemic and the government response occurs. The last few years in India has seen an increase of attacks against human rights defenders and a deterioration of space for civil society. Now, faced with a potentially devastating health crisis, how can HRDs mobilize in the Modi era? Joining us in this episode are Gayatri Khandhadai, Asia policy regional coordinator at the Association for Progressive Communications; Anindya Hajra from The Pratyay Gender Trust based in Calcutta; Sadam Hanjabam from Ya All, the first LGBT organization in Manipur; and a human rights defender from Kashmir who will remain anonymous out of security concerns.
Special thanks to The Caravan, a leading independent magazine in India, for sharing this episode and bringing it to a wider audience in India.
Season 2, Episode 3
When COVID-19 Cleared the Streets - Chile, Iraq & Algeria: What Next for Social Protests in Chile, Iraq & Algeria?
Across the globe, 2019 was the year of packed squares and swarming streets, as tens of thousands of people gathered or marched to protest against deep economic inequality, call for greater civil and political rights, speak up against rampant corruption, and fight for a better future. From Chile to Iraq, demonstrations were largely peaceful. Yet, the crackdown was brutal. Human rights defenders, who were often at the front lines of those protests – documenting violations, assisting those who were arrested or organising peaceful actions – were particularly targeted.
Despite the violent repression, mass protests seemed unstoppable. But the coronavirus outbreak has now succeeded where governments had failed. Social distancing rules are forcing HRDs and demonstrators to stay home, and autocratic governments are using the covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to consolidate power, approve draconian laws and repress any form of dissent. At the same time, the unfolding health, social and economic crisis is also laying bare all the problems that were driving many of the protests across the world: issues such as corruption and inequality have never been as evident and urgent as today.
In such a challenging situation, how can protest movements evolve and what role can HRDs and civil society play? In this new episode of the Rights on The Line podcast, Front Line Defenders spoke to three women human rights defenders in Iraq, Algeria and Chile to analyse current and future challenges for protest movements, but also to reflect on what can be learned from the 2019 uprisings and what can be done to keep that spirit alive.
COVID-19 & HRDs: Defending the Marginalized
Season 2, Episode 2 - China, Poland & Rohingya In Bangladesh
Across the world, human rights defenders are adapting to life under the COVID-19 pandemic and working to both continue their regular work and also to provide additional support to groups who were already vulnerable and marginalized.
In this episode of the Front Line Defenders ‘Rights on the Line’ podcast, we continue to learn about the impact of the health crisis on the work of HRDs on the front lines.
In China, even as the complete closure of Wuhan was still in full effect, human rights defenders and organizations reported spikes in the number of cases of domestic violence being called in to hotlines. What has now emerged as a consequence of the stay at home policy in numerous countries is that the virus has left women trapped with their abusers. We talk with feminist activist Lu Pin about what the experience in China has been and what can be expected.
Another impact of COVID-19 is that with the overwhelming of health services to care for the sick, other medical procedures are delayed or inaccessible. For women seeking abortions who live in countries where such procedures are almost completely outlawed, traveling abroad is the only way to access their right to choose. Yet with travel restrictions and cutbacks in transportation services, these options are drastically reduced. Karolina Vienskevich from Poland joins us to talk about the situation there.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are living in deplorable conditions, where risks of waterborne and other infectious diseases are exceptionally high due to their unhygienic living conditions. There have been diptheria outbreaks and respiratory and skin diseases are common. We talk with a Rohingya refugee in a camp in Cox’s Bazaar to understand what is happening now that the COVID-19 virus is present in the country.
For more information about HRDs and the COVID-19 crisis, visit Front Line Defenders website – www.frontlinedefenders.org/COVID19 .
This podcast is available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, Apple podcasts and other podcasting platforms.
More episodes assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be released in the coming days and weeks, as we offer this podcast as solidarity to human rights defenders and their struggles for justice.
COVID-19, Government Responses & Human Rights Defenders
Season 2, Episode 1 - Palestine, Uganda & El Salvador
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, and communities seek to protect themselves however they can, governments are being challenged to respond. While the vast majority of governments have not done well in initial responses, some have been transparent, direct and engaged with their citizens – and the global community. Others, particularly those with authoritarian features or tendencies, are engaged in responding to the crisis that puts political and economic interests out front, crafting policy and decree accordingly. The declaration of emergency rule in too many countries only solidifies what was already there in practice, and leaves many people scared not only of the virus itself, but what may come next when life returns to what we now call normal.
Human rights defenders are responding to these challenges, as they always do – by working hard, reaching out to their communities, identifying those who are struggling or are in need or who have been left out, and trying to help. They are calling out government abuse and excess and finding new ways to communicate with each other and the outside world to challenge power.
Today, Front Line Defenders relaunches its ‘Rights on the Line’ podcast, to offer another platform for the voices, perspectives and experiences of human rights defenders at risk and leading struggles for the health, wellbeing and rights of their communities.
In this episode, Front Line Defenders speaks to feminist activist Yara Hawari from Palestine about the consequences of the pandemic for a population under military occupation. Then we discuss government response in the context of the environment in Uganda with the founder of Friends of Zoka, William Amenzuru. Finally, we hear from Sara García Gross from El Salvador, a leading women’s rights defender about the government’s response in the context of its dark past, the rampant violence against women in the country and the current dispute between the President and the opposition.
#UDHR70: Reflecting on the UN Declaration for Human Rights Defenders
In this final episode in Season 1, listen to hear HRDs reflect firsthand on the importance of - and limitations of - UN Declarations on the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration on #HumanRights and in the 20th year of the Declaration on #HumanRightsDefenders. Hear from Maria Munir of the United Kingdom, Omar Faruk Osman of Somalia and an excerpt of Vilma Nuñez, of the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights contribution to the opening plenary at the 2018 HRD World Summit in Paris in October.
Released 10 December.
Interview with an HRD: Pâmella Passos
Brazilian human rights defender Pâmella Passos. Pâmella spent six weeks in Dublin as part of Front Line Defenders’ Rest and Respite program earlier this summer, just months after the death of her friend and well-known human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in on the 14th of March.
Released 1 October 2018.
National elections and human rights
On this episode we talk about elections and how they can impact human rights defenders. By looking at some of the federal elections that have taken place this year, we’ll be able to see the different and nuanced ways political changes at the national level can impact the situation for those fighting for human rights in that country. Over the next half hour we’ll be moving region to region across the globe to discuss recent elections in Mexico, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Cambodia.
Released 25 September.
#StopTheKillings The targeting of HRDS
On 20 June, at an event alongside the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Front Line Defenders released a report on the killings of HRDs wordlwide. Focusing on the six countries with the highest number of killings, and by that we mean targeted attacks, assassinations, extrajudicial killing by the state or authorities. To bring you additional insight into this issue, Rights on the Line spoke to human rights defenders from Mexico, the Philippines and Brazil, three of the six countries profiled in the report. In this episode we hear from:
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan
Alice de Marchi, Justiça Global
Laura Freyermuth, Comite Cerezo
Jim Loughran, HRD Memorial Project
Released 22 June 2018
#LandRights #Self-Determination While in town to meet with legislators on the potential Occupied Territories Bill, Palestinian human rights defender Shawan Jabarin sat down with Rights on the Line to discuss his work defending human rights in Palestine as well as responsibility of the international community to intervene and advocate on behalf of those subject to actions that violate international human rights law.
Released 18 June 2018.
Latest Episode: #IDAHOTB2018: Defending LGBT Rights in Algeria, Kenya and Turkey
#LGBT Rights On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Rights on the Line brings you three interviews with three LGBTI rights defenders. Listen to hear them speak about the work they do, the consequences they face for their advocacy and the unique challenges LGBTI defenders face within the human rights movement. Tune in to hear from:
Anouar Rahmani, independent novelist and LGBT rights defender in Algeria
Blessol Gathoni, LGBT activist and community organizer working in Kenya
Yildiz Tar, the Media and Communications Officer for LGBT organization Kaos GL in Turkey
Released 17 May 2018
#Nakba70: Human rights in Palestine
On the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, known as al Nakba, or the catastrophe, as it resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people. Today marks 70 years of the existence of this state and it’s apartheid regime that routinely violates the human rights of Palestinian people, international law and United Nations conventions. To mark this day, Rights on the Line brings you three interviews with advocates of human rights in Palestine. Tune in to hear from:
Sahar Francis, the Director of Adammeer, a prisoner’s rights organization
Jamal Juma, Coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign
Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement
Released 15 May 2018
Investing in Environmental rights
On this episode of Rights on the Line, we discussed some of the risks faced by environmental rights defenders advocating against large-scale development projects, the role international investors can play in protecting human rights and the role of international and local legislation in protecting Indigenous land claims in the face of environmentally destructive 'mega-projects'.
We heard from two HRDs, student activist Francisco Simon Francisco of Guatemala and human rights lawyer Nelson La Madrid in Bolivia. We also spoke with Front Line Defenders' Head of Protection Ed O'Donovan and HRD Visibility Coordinator Maria San Martin.
Released 24 April 2018.
International Women’s Day 2018: Spotlight on WHRDs
For International Women’s Day, Rights on the Line is handing the mic over to a few of many WHRDs who work every day of the year for their own rights and the rights of their communities. Tune in to hear these WHRDs speak about their work as human rights defenders:
- Ruth Komuntale #Uganda
- Graciela Pérez Rodriguez #Mexico
- Emel Kurma #Turkey
- Sindy Joyce #Ireland
- Tasneem Ahmed Taha Zaki #Sudan
- Hauwa Haruna #Nigeria
- Hannah Vu #Vietnam
- Kimsor Lim #Cambodia
8th March is #InternationalWomensDay, but these women are advocating for human rights all year round. Listen to hear about their work and the human rights violations their communites are facing.
Released 8 March 2018.
Valentine’s Day with Raull Santiago: Caring for yourself, caring for your community
Valentine’s Day. Self Care. Duty of Care. Human rights. How do these these connect? Listen to the debut episode of Rights on the Line, produced by Front Line Defenders, to hear about award-winning Brazilian human rights defender Raull Santiago’s work in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, how it impacts his family life and his experience on Front Line Defenders Rest & Respite program.
Raull Santiago is a human rights defender from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In March 2014, he co-founded the collective Papo Reto (Straight Talk), a group of citizen journalists documenting life in the Complexo do Alemão favela. The group draws attention to what is happening in Alemão, highlighting the cases of police violence and other human rights abuses, which tend to be ignored by mainstream media. Their slogan is: Nós por Nós (Us for Us), as the content they share is produced by residents living in the favela and dedicated to them.