Stand As My Witness
It’s been a tough year for everyone. For human rights defenders, their already difficult work became even harder. In many restrictive states, the global pandemic became another excuse to attack fundamental freedoms. For 16 Days of Activism Against and International Human Rights Day, we’re renewing our call for the immediate release of rights defenders from jail; we urge states, authorities and multinational corporations to guarantee peaceful human rights activities - without fear of reprisals and intimidation.
The #StandAsMyWitness campaign kicked off in July 2020, celebrating the birth and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Like Nelson Mandela, activists are being imprisoned, persecuted and harassed for their stand for freedom, rights and democratic values. You can help do something about it.
“If you have a soul,
Your eyes can see,
Your mouth can speak,
How advantageous to me,
You stand as my witness.”
Said Zahari, former editor-in-chief of Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Melayu. A prisoner of conscience, Said was held for 17 years without trial in Singapore.
Why you should #StandAsMyWitness
I am a human rights lawyer, with a focus on protecting the rights of Adivasi (indigenous) people in the state of Chattisgarh. I also served as the General Secretary of the Chattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
I was arrested in August 2018 and I'm accused of inciting Dalits at a public meeting together with ten other human rights defenders, leading to the violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra on 1st January 2018.
Me and the ten others were charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) between June and August 2018. Others include Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Dr. Anand Teltumbde. They are all currently in detention. Police subsequently claimed that the human rights defenders had links with ‘unlawful organisations’.
I am being detained in Mumbai Byculla Women's Jail where an inmate had tested positive for coronavirus. I am diabetic and have hypertension. I am seeking bail from the High Court after the special NIA court in Mumbai rejected my appeal on 29 May 2020.
In December 2019, India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent during 2019 and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.
Call for my release by going to the TAKE ACTION section below
I am 62 and a human rights defender in the Philippines. I have dedicated my life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. I advocate for their right to health and other basic social services. I am a member of the Secretariat of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao – Cagayan de Oro Chapter and Coordinator in Northern Mindanao for Karapatan, a leading human rights group.
I was among those arrested just two days after the country had been placed under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 15 March, I was arrested in Lanao del Sur, on the southern island of Mindanao, by the Philippine Army (AFP) and national police on charges of kidnapping, serious illegal detention, and destructive arson. Police have claimed I am a member of the New Peoples’ Army – an armed rebel group associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines.
I have been accused together with 554 other people of being involved in an attack against the military based in Agusan del Sur in December 2018. According to human rights groups, others accused of being involved include activists and journalists from Caraga and the Northern Mindanao Region, and also include nuns, a lawyer and public sector employees.
After my arrest I was paraded in front of the media as a “high ranking official of the Communist Party”. I remain detained at the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that put my life at imminent risk, given my serious breathing disorder. I have been denied visits from my lawyer and family and exhausted as I have been tasked with cleaning the common toilets
The CIVICUS Monitor—an online platform rates the Philippines’ civic space as “obstructed” and the country was put on the civic space Watchlist in June 2020.
Call for my release by going to the TAKE ACTION section below
I am an independent human rights lawyer in Tajikistan. On 28 September 2015 I was arrested in connection with my professional duties when I provided legal representation to members of the banned opposition party, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). I have also spoken out about the alleged torture that one of my clients endured during pre-trial detention. The government had repeatedly requested that I drop the case, but I refused to do so. I was charged with forgery, fraud, inciting national, racial, local or religious hostility and extremism.
Following a seriously flawed criminal investigation in a closed trial which failed to meet international standards of fairness, in October 2016 I was sentenced to 23 years in prison. My sentence was increased to 28 years, after further politically motivated charges were brought against me. In October 2019 my sentence was reduced by six years, as part of the government’s mass amnesty.
I am currently being held in the Strict Regime Prison Colony No.1 in Dushanbe. I am imprisoned with ordinary prisoners which is an added risk as I worked as a former police officer prior to being a lawyer. This poses an added threat to my life, especially from prisoners who know that I am a former police officer.
During my imprisonment, I have faced torture and ill-treatment including severe beatings which required hospitalisation. I have also been placed in solitary confinement several times, which I believe is linked to my efforts of drawing attention to the ill-treatment of prisoners. After numerous complaints about my situation, the office of the Ombudsman of Tajikistan has promised to investigate and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In May 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion, concluding that my detention is arbitrary and violates international human rights law.
On 29th April 2020, my relatives expressed their concern about the deterioration of my health as I was suffering from a high fever linked to symptoms of COVID-19. However, the government of Tajikistan has responded to COVID-19 with denialism and cover ups, with the Department for the Execution of Criminal Sentences of the Ministry of Justice denying that I had any health problems. I am fearful that the second wave of the COVID-19 virus has begun in the prison and that I am at risk of re-infection, with little availability for medical treatment in the prison as I have seen with other political prisoners.
To create awareness around my case, my family has started a foundation in my name.
Tajikistan is rated a href="https://monitor.civicus.org/country/tajikistan/">repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor
I am a Saudi human rights defender, writer and activist who has been campaigning for the rights of women to drive and the end of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia.
In 2015, I was ranked third in the most influential Arab Woman by Arabian Business Magazine, shortly after I was arrested for attempting to drive between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – raising the profile on the discriminatory gender laws that banned women from driving. My activism work defending human rights in Saudi Arabia has included bold campaigns for women’s participation in public life, including running for local elections in December 2015. This election was the first to include women, but ultimately I was barred from running. In March 2019, I was awarded the PEN America/Barbey Freedom to Write Award alongside Nouf Abdulaziz and Eman Al-Nafjan. I have also been nominated for the Prix Liberté (Liberty Prize) and the Nobel Peace Prize (the latter by eight members of US Congress).
Recently, concerns have been raised by my family, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that the state has not protected my basic human rights in detention, including over four weeks of no-contact with my family. During their detention, WHRDs have also faced torture and sexual harassment.
Despite this targeting of women’s rights and human rights activists, Saudi Arabia has continued to white-wash its image, including through hosting major sporting events, the G20 Summit and international concerts; alongside being elected to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2019. These tactics serve to hide the extent of violence that the Saudi regime wages against dissenters and the need for more global accountability.
The CIVICUS Monitor—an online platform rates the Saudi Arabia’s civic space as “closed.”
Call for my release by going to the TAKE ACTION Section below
We are the Guapinol Water Defenders. We arePorfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Avelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kevin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Aleman, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Márquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz, Defenders of Tocoa, in the northern region of Honduras. We are being charged with arson and unlawful deprivation of liberty. We were protesting against the implementation of a mining project in the protected area "Carlos Escalares" that would endanger fresh water sources in the region. In September 2018, private security guards hired by the mining company, Inversiones Los Pinares, attempted to evict the peaceful protester’s camp set in defence of fresh water located in the community of Guapinol. As a result, a young protester was seriously injured and 32 community members were criminalized while security guards have not been investigated. We have been in pre-trial detention since September 2019 and were held for several months in a maximum-security prison. Some of us have pre-existing conditions, such as hypertension and asthma, making us particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. All possible legal measures have been taken in our favour in Honduras. The Supreme Court of Justice rejected a writ of habeas corpus filed on our behalf in March 2020 and the Court of Appeals has refused to grant a new hearing to review the measures imputed against us or to resolve the three appeals that have been filed that could set us free. Threats and intimidations against land and water defenders in the Tocoa region continue. To date, the mining company, Inversiones Los Pinares, is operating without the consent of local communities that have voiced their disagreement with the project.
Honduras is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor
Call for our release by going to the TAKE ACTION section below
I am an activist against human rights abuses in Nicaragua. As the daughter of a union leader who was detained by previous governments, since massive socio-economic protests began in April 2018 I have protested for the release of political prisoners and against the Daniel Ortega government. Due to my commitment to my country’s civic movement, I was persecuted, threatened and fired from several jobs.
On 26 January 2020, I was arbitrarily detained under accusations of narcotrafficking, which I vehemently deny. Before the arrest, I was in a safe house in Managua since November 2019 due to the constant sieges at my home in Matagalpa. My family members also denounce that I was subjected to torture and ill-treatment aimed at forcing me to accept the charges. According to Nicaraguan human rights organizations, false charges have been used as a strategy to criminalize activists and defenders in Nicaragua, denying their status of political prisoners.
Currently I am at the women’s prison “La Esperanza”, where I suffered an asthma attack, a high blood pressure crisis and was diagnosed with bronchitis. I have been repeatedly denied medical attention and access to medications, as well as to any type of protection or security measures against the Covid-19 outbreak. Because of chronic health conditions, there is high risk that I could develop coronavirus-related complications in case of an infection.
On 8th May 2020, I was found guilty of narcotrafficking. In early July, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine equivalent to 900 US dollars or 500 days in prison, but I have refused to sign documents accepting this conviction. In July 2020, my lawyers will present an appeal on my behalf.
Nicaragua is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor#StandAsMyWitness and call for my release by going to the TAKE ACTION section below
We are four journalists working for the IWACU news outlet, one of Burundi’s last remaining independent news agencies. We are Christine Kamikazi - Broadcast reporter, Agnès Ndirubusa -head of politics, Egide Harerimana - English service reporter, and Térence Mpozenzi - Photo journalist. We were arrested on 22 October 2019 as we covered a story about clashes between Burundi’s security force and armed men from the rebel group RED-Tabara in the Western province of Bubanza. Police surrounded us as we collected information from witnesses in Musigati district in Bubanza and seized our equipment and phones.
Before travelling to report on the story, we informed the authorities about our trip to Bubanza We were initially charged with “complicity in threatening the internal security of the state” but on 30 January 2020, we were convicted of “attempting to commit a crime” – a lesser criminal offence compared to the first. We were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian Francs (approximately US $ 530). We were not present at the time when the verdict was handed. An appeal against our conviction was made by the IWACU Press Group through lawyers but on 5 June 2020, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal rejected the Appeal.
The arrests, judicial persecution and detention of the IWACU 4 has been done in a context of government restrictions on civic freedoms and the targeting of independent media outlets, human rights defenders and civil society organisations. Since protests started in 2015 against a decision by the former (and late) President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for a third term in office. Many independent media outlets were closed or forced to shut down and journalists and human rights defenders fled the country to avoid violence from the state. Several human rights defenders and journalists who stayed on in Burundi either disappeared or were arrested and detained. The IWACU news outlet remains one of the few independent news platforms still operating in Burundi.
Burundi is rated Closed by the
The CIVICUS MonitorCall for our release by going to the TAKE ACTION section below
Thousands are in jail following unfair trials and trumped-up charges. Many are currently in pre-trial detention, facing long prison sentences for their human rights activities. For defenders locked up in overcrowded prisons, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens their already precarious health and welfare.
We need you to take a stand and help spotlight the profiles of rights defenders in jail or being persecuted. Together we can call on states to release the people fighting for all of our rights.
Use your voice so they are not silenced. Make sure they are not forgotten and let them know they do not stand alone.
1. Engage on Social Media.
Use this social media toolkit to share your messages of solidarity.
2. Send a Letter.
We’re featuring 7 activists to shine a spotlight on their cases and demand their immediate release. They are from 7 countries, and you will find 7 template letters for each of them! Take a look. Choose 1, or if you have time 2. Write to their respective governments and demand their release:
3. Share the details of HRDs not mentioned in our Interactive Map.
Do you know any human rights defenders in detention or facing judicial harassment that you would like us to profile? Tell us about them by following the link below.