Announcements & Events
NED Posthumously Presents Democracy Service Medal in Honor of Laura Pollán of Cuba
Iranian Political Prisoners Receive Human Rights Awards from ICHR
Call for Nominations: 2012 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk
Call for Nominations: Baldwin Award and $25,000 Prize
Call for Submissions: IFES 2012 Photo Contest
Defending Civil Society
Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition Challenges Police on Suppressing Freedom of Assembly
Gender Issues & Sexual Minority Rights
WLP Partner in Egypt Denounces Military Violence against Women
Good Governance, Transparency, & Anti-Corruption
Uyghur American Association Calls for International Action on Disappearance of Asylum Seekers
Media, Freedom of Expression, and Communication Technology
Democracy Activist Chen Wei Gets Nine Years for Speech Crime in China
Hungary’s Klubrádió Station Deprived of Frequency
The last year began with soaring hopes for democratic progress, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where just two weeks into 2011 we saw protests bring the ouster of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, and, by February 3rd, the first pro-democracy protesters marching to demand the end of President Saleh’s autocratic rule in Yemen. By February 11th, President Mubarak of Egypt had ceded power in the face of public demands, and by February 20th, Moammar Gadhafi had to resort to heavy weaponry to fight off what was then an opposition movement that eventually ended his rule. Democracy fever quickly spread to Bahrain and Syria, where opposition movements continue to confront brutal resistance and repression, and in June last year, some 40 women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheels of their cars to demonstrate for the right to drive—a flicker of change in a country ranked 161st out of 167 in the Economist’s 2011 Democracy Index
Efforts to advance democracy are never easy, but in the short spell of the past 12 months a whole region has experienced significant achievements. The ultimate results of these startling developments remain to be seen, and in many places hope has been tempered by fear and disillusionment. In some countries, efforts are underway to implement transitions to real democracy; in others, confrontation continues as autocrats resist. In still others, progress may even have been reversed. But the determination of democracy and human rights activists remains powerfully evident across the Arab world.
And not just there. In just the first month of 2011, protests against corruption and authoritarianism erupted across sub-Saharan Africa—in Gabon, Mauritania, Djibouti, Uganda, Malawi, Swaziland, and Senegal. In early February, 98 percent of referendum voters in Southern Sudan endorsed secession from Khartoum. In May, labor militancy in China’s car industry led to criticism of the official party-controlled union federation, and since the emergence of the Arab Spring, the Chinese government has done all it can to prevent a Jasmine Revolution. In June, large crowds of democrats filled the streets of Minsk, Belarus, to mourn the passing of Vitali Silitski, the celebrated scholar and activist who lost his battle with cancer, only to witness two months later the head of the Viasna Human Rights Center in Belarus, Ales Bialatski, imprisoned by the KGB, leading to worldwide condemnation of the repressive government. And in Russia, December saw thousands demonstrating across the country against a fraudulent election and the presumptive return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency.
As we enter 2012, our hope is that the long-awaited opening in Burma, will continue to grow and inspire change not only elsewhere in Asia but around the world. And we hope that activists from Cuba and Venezuela to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, from Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to Vietnam and Cambodia, and from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to Iran and Afghanistan will see the rewards of their courage and determination. And surely we hope that the people of North Korea will soon feel a lighter yoke that has for too long lain on their shoulders.
Despite the frustrations, the set-backs, the challenges, and the sheer brutality they face, democracy movements carry on. We salute those who have sacrificed so much—for too many, life itself. We also congratulate those who were recognized in 2011 for their long, invaluable work, like Nobel Laureate Tawakol Karman of Yemen, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Ion Ratiu Prize winner Nabeel Rajab of Bahrain, and Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda who received human rights awards from both the Rafto Foundation and the RFK Center for Human Rights. And we mourn the passing last year of those who brought freedom to so many, like Elena Bonner of Russia, who helped found the Moscow Helsinki Group; Wangari Maathai of Kenya, the first African woman Nobel Laureate recognized for her environmental activism; and Vaclav Havel, who not only did so much to bring democracy to Czechoslovakia, but also oversaw the peaceful division between the Czech Republic and Slovakia and devoted so much of his life to causes of freedom everywhere in the world. They will be greatly missed.
The World Movement will continue to support democracy and human rights activists and their movements through our efforts to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and strategies; through our Defending Civil Society project, which responds to new “NGO laws” and other measures intended to restrict civil society space and cut off resources for vital democratic activism; through our Democracy Assistance project, which has been identifying best practices in democracy support; through our outreach and advocacy; through our alerts for participants facing danger; and through our global assemblies, which bring together democracy and human rights activists, practitioners, scholars, and donors from around the world to explore together the challenges they face and the victories they’ve achieved, and to build relationships of solidarity worldwide.
As we said in our Founding Statement in 1999, “the time has come for democrats around the world to develop new forms of cooperation to promote the development of democracy. Such cooperation is needed to strengthen democracy where it is weak, to reform and invigorate democracy even where it is longstanding, and to bolster pro-democracy groups in countries that have not yet entered into a process of democratic transition.” This remains our mission in 2012.
In this first issue of DemocracyNews in the New Year, the Secretariat conveys its best wishes for good health, happiness, and peace to all participants in the World Movement and to all their families, friends, and colleagues around the world. We hope the coming year will bring great progress to all our efforts to build and consolidate democracy, to protect human rights, and to peacefully resolve conflicts wherever they may occur.
After a politically charged and internationally spotlighted trial that lasted two years, Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader, was acquitted of sodomy charges. The crowd erupted into cheers as Malaysia’s High Court delivered the verdict on January 9. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Anwar has claimed that the case was concocted by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration to damage the opposition’s political standing.” Unreliable DNA evidence contributed to the Court’s decision to acquit Mr. Ibrahim. This trial comes ahead of the general elections, in which the opposition will be contesting the current regime’s control of government.
Mr. Ibrahim faced a similar sodomy allegation in 1998, and was imprisoned as a result. In 2004, the verdict was overturned on appeal, and he was freed. He then went on to lead a three-party opposition coalition to substantial gains in the March 2008 general election. This, according to his defense, prompted the conspiracy by the government to weaken the power of the opposition with this most recent allegation.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted on a charge that should have never been brought in the first place. Hopefully the verdict sends a message to the Malaysian government to put this matter to rest.” Human Rights Watch continues to call for the repeal of the law criminalizing same-sex consensual relations.
To read the New York Times article, go to: http://nyti.ms/z50sy8
To read the World Movement’s earlier report on the case: http://bit.ly/zkRIwP
For more information from Human Rights Watch, go to: http://bit.ly/xitaJ9
On December 16, Front Line Defenders called for urgent action in response to the murder of Zarteef Afridi, a human rights activist from Pakistan. Front Line Defenders reports that Afridi, who is the coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), “was shot dead on the morning of 8 December 2011 by a group of unidentified attackers in Sangary, while he was on a motorcycle.” Afridi was active in a number of peace groups working on the release of individuals who had been imprisoned under the Frontiers Crimes Regulations. “It is reported that his murder was related to his work in organizing a congregation of tribal elders to campaign against extremism and terrorism in the area,” according to Front Line Defenders. Afridi’s murder follows that of two other members of HRCP in 2011.
For more information, go to: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/16917
To take action, go to: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/act
Announcements & Events
On December 14, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) posthumously presented the Democracy Service Medal to Laura Pollán, a democracy activist and founder of Cuba’s Las Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White). The event, which took place on Capitol Hill, featured tributes to the late activist, and a live video link to Pollán’s family and colleagues in Havana. Pollán was awarded the Medal for her unwavering commitment to the cause of “Libertad.” Las Damas De Blanco came together after the targeted arrests of some 75 activists in March 2003. The women are the wives of those arrested.
NED’s Democracy Service Medal was created to “recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world.” As the NED presentation noted, “Yes, Laura is gone, but her memory lives on the hearts of Cubans. Her example of dedication to justice inspires others to fight on. The purity of her motives, the strength of her character, the depth of her integrity, and the force of her fearlessness will light the way forward.”
For more information and to watch the video of the event, go to: http://bit.ly/uYbEZy
For more information on Damas de Blanco, go to: http://www.damasdeblanco.com/
On December 11, the International Center for Human Rights (ICHR) presented numerous human rights awards to leading Iranian activists and political prisoners. “Winners of the 2011 awards are among activists who have made significant efforts to resist dictatorship and injustice,” said Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, ICHR’s director. The first annual Human Rights award was given to Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, who has been in prison for 16 years. Five other awards, in the categories of student, labor, culture, human rights, and legal advocacy were presented to Majid Tavakoli, Reza Shahabi, Ramn Parchami, Kouhyar Goudarzi, and Nasrin Sotuudeh, respectively. The awards were accepted on the recipients’ behalf at a gala in Toronto, Canada.
To read the press release, go to: http://bit.ly/rXaigu
To view pictures from the awards gala, go to: http://bit.ly/tBacHl
Front Line is currently accepting nominations for the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk 2012, and will continue to do so until the 30th January 2012. The annual Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to honour the work of a human rights defender or group of human rights defenders who, through non-violent work, are courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.
The Award seeks to focus international attention on the human rights defender's work, thus contributing to the recipient’s personal security, and a cash prize of €15,000 to support the continuation of this important work.
For more information and to submit a nomination in English, go to: http://bit.ly/cQZ0Ko
To submit a nomination in French, go to: http://bit.ly/wQC4re
To submit a nomination in Spanish, go to: http://bit.ly/yui8zI
Human Rights First is accepting nominations for the 2012 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award, and the accompanying $25,000 prize. This award is considered “an honor that recognizes an individual or organization’s commitment to international human rights advocacy,” according to Human Rights First. The award will go to an individual or an organization with demonstrated commitment to: Social Networking and Internet Freedom, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and/or Freedom from Torture. Nominations will be accepted until February 6, 2012.
For more information and a list of past recipients, go to: http://bit.ly/Apv6Lk
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducts an annual democracy-themed photography competition to profile the many ways individuals demonstrate a sense of civic responsibility around the world. This year, IFES encourages images of individuals taking part in the electoral process or other activities that demonstrate the values of democratic governance and citizen engagement. The contest is divided into two categories: one open to the public and another open exclusively to current and former IFES employees. One winner and as many as 10 finalists will be named for each category. The winner of each category will receive US$600. IFES will accept submissions for the competition from January 5 to February 16, 2012.
Go to: http://photocontest.ifes.org
Defending Civil Society
On January 7, the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC) released a statement expressing its concern over actions of the Nigeria Police Force. As protests erupted in Nigeria over the recent removal of fuel subsidies by the government, the NDCSC says the rights of freedom of assembly have been threatened by police. According to the statement, "NDCSC, for the avoidance of doubt wishes to remind the Inspector General of Police and his Commissioners across the core states of the Niger Delta region, that the Nigeria Police is the creation of the Constitution, not the President of any regime in Nigeria, as such is required to serve and protect the letters of the constitution to the full." NDCSC urges the Nigerian police force to honor the right to freedom of assembly, and notes that police will be held responsible for any violations.
For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/w6A5LT
Gender Issues & Sexual Minority Rights
After significant physical and sexual abuse of peaceful women protesters by the Egyptian military, Women’s Learning Partnership partner, Forum for Women in Development (FWID)—an NGO focused on women’s issues and reform of policies and legislation that discriminate against woman -- joined thousands of other women’s rights activists in a Cairo march on December 20, 2011, and signed a formal statement denouncing the military’s violence against women. WLP’s political participation manual, Leading to Action: A Political Participation Manual, has been a resource for FWID’s efforts denouncing violence against women. During this past quarter, they began using the new Arabic language edition of the manual to advance democratic principles and engage and take leading roles in political affairs during this critical time.
To read the report, go to: http://www.learningpartnership.org/lta
For more information, go to: http://www.learningpartnership.org/
Good Governance, Transparency, & Anti-Corruption
December 19, 2011 marked two years since 20 Uyghur asylum seekers were deported from Cambodia and sent back to China. The Uyghur American Association (UAA) used the occasion of the anniversary to issue a press release calling on international governments and media organizations to pressure China into releasing information about the deportees in light of fears that they will be imprisoned, tortured, or executed. The 20 Uyghurs were in the process of applying for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Phnom Penh when they were deported. “China takes a very hard line on Uyghurs who seek out shelter in other countries, as China does not admit that there are conditions in Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, that can be oppressive and might cause Uyghurs to flee the country,” stated Josh Kurlantzick, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The UAA sees the expulsion of these particular Uyghurs as part of an alarming global trend of Uyghur deportations, which requires immediate international action.
To read the press release from UAA, go to: http://bit.ly/t1bHY1
Media, Freedom of Expression, and Communication Technology
On December 23, the Suining Intermediate People’s Court in the Sichuan Province of China sentenced Chen Wei to nine years imprisonment and two years deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power.” According to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), this is “the harshest sentence handed down so far to an activist detained in the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ crackdown.” Chen Wei’s alleged violations are based on four articles he is supposed to have written and published over the least three years. In a statement by CHRD, the organization calls on the Chinese government to immediately release Chen Wei, “who has been imprisoned solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and opinion guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/ru8b0W
The Hungarian Media Council of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (Media Council) decision to deny renewal of Klubrádió station’s broadcasting license raised great concern. According to media rights organization Article 19, “Klubrádió is a highly popular radio station with about half a million daily listeners. It carries public service style programming including interactive phone-in debates, a unique forum where figures from a broad political spectrum can participate.” The 95.3 FM wavelength was given to an unknown rival, Autoradio.
The press release from Article 19 further states that, “Klubrádió’s prospective closure means the silencing of Hungary’s only remaining independent radio station and a significant blow to the media pluralism in the country.” A year since Hungary passed a media law, which international groups have condemned as repressive of freedoms, this latest attempt at controlling media has gained similar attention. BBC reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up her concerns over Klubrádió’s rejection in a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The Media Council has responded in a statement saying that “the situation that has evolved in response to the result of the tender invited for the Budapest 95.3 MHz frequency is a case of consciously planned, pre-meditated, sheer political provocation.”
To read the BBC article, go to: http://bbc.in/w3h2uK
To read the statement from the Media Council, go to: http://bit.ly/Acqogt
For more information on Hungary’s Media Law from the Center for International Media Assistance, go to: http://bit.ly/w15M9K
To read the article, go to: http://bit.ly/sDtojZ
Carlos Ponce (Venezuela), highlights “Narco-Tyranny” of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in a January 9 article to Fox News Latino.
To read the article, go to: http://bit.ly/xhlrVF
Ayo Obe (Nigeria), former Chair of the Steering Committee, writes about the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria, and offers justification for the subsequent protests.
To read the piece, go to: http://bit.ly/x8Uovk
Carl Gershman (United States), remembers the legacy of Czechoslovakia’s first president, Vaclav Havel, in an article in the Washington Post.
To read the article, go to: http://wapo.st/vhlCQc
For information on the memorial event held for Havel at the National Endowment for Democracy, go to: http://bit.ly/u5clpn