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Adam Shapiro, Front Line Defenders Head of Campaigns, reports from countries he is visiting, working with human rights defenders to promote their visibility, legitimacy and recognition.
Over the last 10 days, I have been traveling from Mauritania to Kuwait to Egypt, meeting human rights defenders, documenting their work and learning about the issues they are working on in their countries. From slavery in Mauritania to statelessness in Kuwait to sexual harassment and gender-based violence in Egypt, there is no shortage of man-made human despair that preoccupies human rights defenders, who themselves face great personal risk for the work they do.
Words do matter, in some places more than others, and at some times more than others. The great 19th century Kazakh poet '''Abay Qunanbayuli''' (Abai Kunanbaev in Russian) understood this, as he embraced the oral tradition of Kazakh folklore and turned it into a written tradition promoting Kazakh nationalism.
The streets of Aktau, Kazakhstan have no names. Literally. The city was founded to house workers in the early 1960s, when the Soviet Union was ascendant.
When my father started his current hunger strike, he was already weakened as he had just ended a seven-day hunger strike 48 hours before. On the 10th day of this hunger strike my father was taken to the hospital, having collapsed in prison. He was taken back to the hospital on day 13, again on day 17 and again on day 24. Each time the doctor pleaded with him to just eat something, anything; each time my father refused, reiterating that he would only leave the prison free or dead.
That previous seven-day strike, undertaken with his 13 co-defendants/co-inmates, was made to protest the ongoing imprisonment of those who had taken to the streets last February and March and were being punished for demanding civil liberties and democracy. For my father, it was personal as much as political — his younger brother was sitting in the same prison as him. His two sons-in-law were arrested with him and also subjected to torture. His wife was fired from her job of 10 years by order of the Ministry of Interior.
The start of the new year has seen a dangerous turn for the worse for human rights defenders in the Americas. In the last 2 weeks alone, Front Line Defenders has documented a number of cases of killing, attempted killing, attacks and death threats to human rights defenders throughout the region.
Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the apparent increase in violence and intimidation against human rights defenders in the Americas region. As the region continues to deal with the legacy of the past and makes strides towards justice and accountability, it is more important than ever to ensure the safety and security of human rights defenders working on the front lines of securing political, social, cultural, economic and other human rights for the people of the region.
You can read more about these cases on the Americas page at www.frontlinedefenders.org and you can stay updated on news about human rights defenders around the world by signing up for the Front Line Defenders e-bulletin via the website.
Today I attended Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's trial. Seeing our friend and ex-colleague in the dock, in prison uniform, was such an aberration of everything he stands for : - the deep and peaceful personal committment to human rights.
Abdulhadi is what I would call a "Gentleman" - thoughtful; kind and caring of others; full of integrity; gentle calm disposition and exquisite good manners.
I was very disappointed not to be allowed testify as a reference on his behalf - I reckon I know him better than those who seem determined to make him out to be something sinister.
Bahrain seems so peaceful as you come in from the airport - hard to believe that hundreds have been arrested for their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Bahrain has signed up to.