Legal and Economic Harassment and Intimidation

The property of HRDs is often damaged. Offices are broken into and damaged, equipment destroyed, homes vandalised or daubed with threatening graffiti, vehicles sabotaged. Damage to property impedes HRDs from doing their work, and also reinforces the atmosphere of physical violence, and insecurity, in which many are forced to operate.

“After Andijan our work [with prisoners] became very difficult. We were harassed by a group of women. They said we were traitors. They destroyed my flat in front of a British diplomat who was visiting me, beat my children – all under the eyes of the police. Later my sons (at university) were arrested on fabricated charges; my brother too. This is the way HRDs are treated in our society.”
HRD, Uzbekistan

Many HRDs were impeded in their use of communications or their ability to travel. Telephone and internet access were blocked, and movement monitored or made more difficult.

"We are always being accused of playing politics, of being manipulated, of acting like opposition politicians. Moreover, there are no communications. The internet does not work for us – nor will our mobiles and telephones. We become unprotected! What can we do, then, even with the strongest will in the world?"
HRD, Central African Republic

HRDs described an array of legal and other obstacles that impede them from carrying out their work. Some have been refused legal recognition and thereby prevented from operating legally. Others have been subject to persistent investigation, accused of accepting grants and funds from abroad without authority, or falsely accused of fraud or corruption.

A number were taken to court to intimidate them, even though no sensible case could be made, and some were sentenced and imprisoned on false charges.

“When I was tried, I found that eight witnesses who were to have spoken on my behalf had all died. They all died of natural causes, aged between 22 and 25 years. This was implausible.”
HRD, Kyrgistan
“Because of my work on slavery in Niger I was accused of embezzling six million Euro. The NGO from which I was supposed to be embezzling this money, however, did not exist.”
HRD, Niger

In some cases, such legal and economic harassment has prevented HRDs from carrying out their professions, as lawyers for example. This further complicates their lives, economically and socially, and reduces the protection that HRDs can give to people whose rights are at risk. In other cases, HRDs reported being forced out of their jobs, as journalists or civil servants for example, making it difficult for them to support themselves and their families.

“I was a public official, fired for speaking out in the European Parliament. Because the state is a major employer it can intimidate by offering or withdrawing opportunities and resources.”
HRD, Angola
“I was appalled by our legal system. We lost custody of the children. We lost our house. My brother was imprisoned, he was tortured, lost his teeth – and when I became a human rights activist I lost my job in television. Three times I was taken into a mental hospital after I had been detained and tortured. I was injected with psychotropic drugs, tied to the bed. But I continue and continue to receive support.”
HRD, Uzbekistan

“I was fired from my government employment because of my work on HIV-AIDS. Many rural farmers were infected with AIDS by infected plasma. We assisted the farmers to organise. I was then detained by police for releasing ‘classified documents’ on the plasma scandal. I was held for four weeks and tortured (damaging both my legs). Later we learned that many haemophiliacs had been infected. When they organised I was again suspected. Also people who received blood transfusions had been infected and made claims. Two years ago we organised a conference and programme to provide compensation for those infected with HIV following transfusions. Because of this I was again arrested (unofficially) and interrogated.” HRD, China

Governments find other ways to weaken and undermine human rights criticism. Co-option is a common strategy. Participants reported that some human rights defenders have been bribed to change their behaviour. Others have been offered influential positions in government or other institutions. In some instances, when HRDs take such positions, they find they are not permitted to act or speak freely.

“In Togo, independent human rights activists are given money – they are corrupted into silence.”
HRD, Togo
“In my country, the strongest human rights leaders are also named to high posts. We encouraged one [colleague] to accept – but, once in post, she was not able to act independently. Yet if you refuse such posts, you suffer politically!”
HRD, Central African Republic