Azimjan Askarov, Kyrgyzstan
Azimjan Askarov, 65, is a human rights defender and founder of the human rights organization Vozdukh (Air) in southern Kyrgyzstan. Before his arrest, Askarov documented and reported on cases of police abuse and poor prison conditions.
In June 2010, authorities arrested Askarov, accusing him of participating in the murder of a police officer during interethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan. After a trial marred by procedural violations, courtroom violence - including attacks on his lawyer - and credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the court sentenced Askarov to life in prison on politically-motivated charges of organizing mass disturbances, instigating ethnic hatred, and participating in the murder of a police officer. Askarov’s health has significantly deteriorated since he was imprisoned.
In 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) awarded Askarov with the International Prize for Freedom of the Press.
In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviewed a complaint filed by Askarov and his lawyer in November 2012, concluded that Askarov was tortured in custody and called for Kyrgyzstan to quash his conviction and release him immediately. Although his case was sent for retrial on the basis of the committee decision, Askarov has not been released. During the retrial, Askarov again detailed the torture and ill-treatment he had been subjected to, but the judiciary did not take any steps to investigate these claims.
Liu Xiaobo, China
Liu Xiaobo, 60, is a Chinese literary critic, professor, and human rights activist who has long called for democratic reforms and the end of one-party rule in China.
Chinese authorities detained Liu in December 2008. On December 9, 2009, he was formally indicted on charges of "incitement of subversion of state power," and on December 25 - after a trial failing to meet due process standards - Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In 2010 the Nobel Committee awarded Liu the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." During the award ceremony, on December 10, 2010, the prize was symbolically placed on an empty chair.
His wife, Liu Xia, has been under illegal house arrest in the couple’s house in Beijing since the announcement of Liu’s Nobel win. Liu Xia’s brother was sentenced to 11 years in prison on fraud charges, which appear to be politically charged.
Braulio Jatar, Venezuela
Braulio Jatar, 58, is a Venezuelan journalist born in Chile who was arbitrarily arrested on September 3, 2016. Jatar, who directs the independent digital news outlet Reporte Confidencial, was detained after covering a spontaneous pot-banging protest against President Nicolás Maduro on Margarita Island. Jatar was intercepted by the intelligence services when he was driving to his radio show. Armed intelligence agents with their faces covered raided his home that evening, while his family did not know his whereabouts. Jatar was brought before a judge two days later. A report by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service accused Jatar of allegedly organizing “destabilization” activities prior to a meeting of members of the Non-Aligned Movement that took place in Margarita later that month. The prosecutor’s office charged Jatar with money laundering—which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison—for allegedly having approximately US$25,000 cash in his car. The only evidence against him, according to his lawyers, were two witnesses cited in an intelligence report who allegedly said that they saw that the money was found in his car. Neither could be found afterward to corroborate their initial testimony. Jatar has been allowed limited access to his lawyers and family. Since September 10, he is being held in a high security prison.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Bahrain
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a dual Danish and Bahraini citizen, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is a prominent human rights activist and one of 13 high-profile dissidents serving long-term prison sentences in Bahrain. Authorities arrested him on April 9, 2011 after he played a prominent role in peaceful anti-government protests that erupted in the capital of Manama in February 2011. On June 22, 2011 a military court sentenced him to life in prison on charges that included "organizing and managing a terrorist organization," and "attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country." On November 23, 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released a 500-page report that included recommendations to the government of Bahrain. King Hamad accepted these recommendations, one of which was the release of all individuals convicted solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. However, after a retrial, a civilian criminal appeals court also sentenced al-Khawaja to life in prison, and the Cassation Court, Bahrain's highest court, upheld the sentence on January 7, 2013. He is currently serving his life sentence in Jau prison. His daughters, Maryam and Zainab, are both high-profile activists, living in exile in Denmark.
Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia
Raif Badawi, 32, is among a group of peaceful critics that Saudi Arabia has attempted to silence in response to a wave of online activism in recent years. Badawi co-founded the website “Saudi Liberal Network,” an online platform that encouraged debate on political and religious issues. Authorities arrested Badawi in June 2012 over comments made on the website and on social media. On July 29, 2013, the Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced him to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for insulting Islam and violating provisions of the kingdom’s 2007 anti-cybercrime law. On May 7, 2014, an appeals court increased Badawi’s sentence to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, and fined him one million Saudi Riyals ($US266,000). Saudi authorities carried out a flogging session on January 9, 2015, in front of a crowded mosque in Jeddah. On June 6, 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Badawi’s 10-year prison sentence. Badawi was the European Parliament's 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in October 2015
Eskinder Nega, Ethiopia
Eskinder Nega has been imprisoned eight times for his writings over the years. His experience encapsulates the situation facing many of Ethiopia’s independent journalists, who must choose between self-censorship, arrest or living in exile. He was first jailed after the massive crackdown following the 2005 election, along with his wife and fellow journalist, Serkalem Fasil, who gave birth to their first child in Kaliti prison in 2006. Eskinder is currently serving an 18-year prison term after being convicted under the counterterrorism law in 2012. Eskinder received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2012, and in 2014 he won the Golden Pen Award of Freedom. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that Eskinder’s detention was arbitrary and called for his immediate release and reparations. Recent measures announced under Ethiopia’s state of emergency further close the space for media freedom, with bans on social media, restrictions on opposition political parties speaking to media, and bans on watching diaspora television.
Narges Mohammadi, Iran
Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights defender and the Vice President of the banned Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), was first arrested and sentenced to six years in prison in 2012. She was released from prison in 2013 on medical grounds but was arrested again on May 5, 2015, to serve the remainder of her six-year sentence. Two days earlier and following her meeting with with Catherine Ashton, the former EU foreign policy chief, the authorities had summoned and charged Mohammadi with several new offences, including creating the illegal "Step by Step to Stop Death Penalty" group, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing the alarming number of executions in Iran (at least 230 so far this year).
In June 2016, authorities sentenced Mohammadi to one year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” five years for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” and 10 years for “establishing an illegal group.” Under Iran's Penal Code, she would serve the longest sentence, which is 10 years, which was confirmed in September. Now detained in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, Mohammadi suffers a serious neurological disease that causes muscular paralysis and has been denied access to proper medical treatment. Mohamadi is one of the hundreds of human rights defenders and activists who have been prosecuted for their peaceful activities in Iran.
Ilham Tohti, China
Prominent ethnic Uighur economist Ilham Tohti has consistently and unambiguously advocated peacefully for greater understanding and dialogue between various communities, and with China’s government.
Tohti was taken into police custody in Beijing on January 15, 2014, and in September a court sentenced him to life in prison for “separatism.” Tohti was accused of being the head of an “eight-member separatist criminal organization” that incited “ethnic hatred.” The charge was based on articles Tohti published on UighurOnline, his interviews with foreign media, and his university lectures.
Tohti’s case was marked by ill-treatment in detention and legal procedure violations. He was denied access to his lawyers for over five months. His lawyers said that Tohti described being denied food for 10 days and twice being shackled as punishment for at least a month.
Authorities also confiscated all of Tohti’s assets, leaving his family facing financial hardship. They also arbitrarily limit his family’s visitation rights: although Chinese prisons generally allow for visits once a month, Tohti has had only four visits over almost two years, most recently in July 2016. In October 2016, Tohti was selected as the Martin Ennals Award laureate, a prize given to human rights defenders who face great personal risk.
Muhammad Bekjanov, Uzbekistan
Muhammad Bekjanov, 62, is one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists. He was abducted by Uzbek security services in March 1999 in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he had fled to publish a banned opposition party’s newspaper and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan. He was charged with nine offenses, including “threatening the constitutional order.”
Authorities barred observers from attending his trial in Tashkent, holding Bekjanov incommunicado, and torturing him and other defendants to extract confessions. They were subjected to electric shocks, beatings and suffocation. Authorities also threatened to rape their wives.
In March 1999, Bekjanov was sentenced to 15 years, later reduced on appeal to 13. He was sent to Jaslyk, Uzbekistan’s most notorious prison, where guards repeatedly tortured him and where he contracted tuberculosis. He was denied medical attention after suffering a broken leg during a beating, and suffered hearing loss after ill-treatment. In 2006, his wife, Nina, visited him and reported he had lost most of his teeth from repeated beatings. He was later transferred to a prison in Navoi.
Just days before his jail term was set to expire in 2012, prison authorities extended his sentence by another five years, allegedly for unauthorized possession of nail clippers.
Ilgar Mammadov, Azerbaijan
Ilgar Mammadov is a prominent political analyst and one of Azerbaijan’s few alternative political voices. The authorities arrested Mammadov in February 2013. He was accused of inciting violence and sentenced to seven years in prison after a politically-motivated prosecution that violated fair trial protections. Shortly before his arrest, Ilgar announced plans to challenge President Ilham Aliyev in the October 2013 vote, representing the opposition group REAL (Republican Alternative), which he chairs.
In May 2014, the European Court of Human Rights concluded, in a strongly worded judgment, that the actual purpose of Mammadov’s detention “was to silence or punish [him] for criticizing the Government.” The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has repeatedly called for Mammadov’s immediate release, and the Council of Europe Secretary General has initiated a special inquiry to look into Azerbaijan’s failure to implement the judgment.
Nguyen Cong Chinh, Vietnam
Nguyen Cong Chinh (also known as Nguyen Thanh Long), 47, is a Protestant pastor and an activist who advocates for religious freedom. As the leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Vietnam & America, he led a delegation to Hanoi in May 2010 to submit an application for registration for the group to the appropriate government authorities, but the government never registered the group. He faced numerous instances of harassment that appeared to have been instigated by the government including public denunciation and strong criticism in the state media. Anonymous thugs attacked and injured him. Police detained and interrogated him many times.
Nguyen Cong Chinh was arrested in April 2011 and charged for “undermining national great unity” according to article 87 of the penal code. According to state media, the police accused him of “creating documents with content to propagandize and sow division between the government, the police force and the people, sow division between Vietnam’s nation-state with other countries in the world in order to oppose the people’s administration and the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” In March 2012, the People’s Court of Gia Lai convicted him to 11 years in prison, and in July of that year the appeals court declined to change the initial ruling.
In prison, Nguyen Cong Chinh continues to demand that authorities respect his rights. He was reportedly subjected to numerous disciplinary actions, and beaten by prison guards in May 2012. His wife Tran Thi Hong faces constant police surveillance, intimidation, harassment and assault. In August 2016, during a visit, Nguyen Cong Chinh told his wife that he had carried out a hunger strike for at least nine days.
Seyoum Tsehaye, Eritrea
Seyoum was a respected journalist and former war photographer arrested in September 2001 in Asmara as part of a massive crackdown against journalists and opposition voices in Eritrea.
He nor his colleagues have been seen since. There have been no trials and the government has not provided any information about their whereabouts. Former guards suggest that some of them have died in captivity, but Seyoum, now 66, is believed to be still alive.
He was an accomplished war photographer during Eritrea’s war for independence from Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, and again during Eritrea’s war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000. His films from these times are still regularly shown on state television while he continues to languish in prison.