Frankfurt am Main, March 5, 2020 – They are brave, they are full of ideals and they are wrongly detained: In Iran, China, Cuba and Eritrea, women are imprisoned for their commitment to human rights. On March 8th, the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) commemorates these women and calls on the international community not to forget the courageous civil rights activists worldwide and to work for their immediate release and rehabilitation.The women, who were arrested for political reasons, opposed dictatorial regimes, did not want to accept injustices and restrictions of their rights. The price was their freedom. The ISHR based in Frankfurt presents five imprisoned human rights activists as examples.
Nasrin Sotoudeh – 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for an Iranian lawyer
Nasrin Sotoudeh was not intimidated by the Iranian regime. Not through threats, arrests, and ill-treatment. She vehemently called for compliance with Iranian law and international minimum standards. In addition, as a lawyer, she continued to represent people who have been oppressed by the leadership of the Islamic Republic for years – women, human rights defenders and members of minorities. She also spoke out publicly against the headscarf requirement. On June 13, 2018, the Iranian regime arrested the lawyer again without warning. She was sentenced to five years in prison without being able to attend the trial or defend herself. In a new trial, the mother of two was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for her struggle against the ubiquitous headscarf requirement in Iran. Nasrin Sotoudeh received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2012 and is a member of the ISHR Board of Trustees.
Ouyang Qiuping – Chinese woman in prison for twelve years for being a member of the Church
Religious freedom does not exist in the People’s Republic of China – here the party is above the law. Ouyang Qiuping learned this when she was 24 when she was first arrested for being a member of the Church of Almighty God. Police officers mistreated her on government orders – ice cold water was poured over her head, she was tied up, chained, and almost choked. A year later, on October 28, 2013, because of her belief in God, she was sentenced to three years and six months in prison in Xinjiang Women’s Prison. There, Ouyang Qiuping’s suffering continued: For two weeks, she was subjected to forced indoctrination by the Communist Party authorities and was supposed to renounce her belief. When she refused, the director of the Indoctrination and Re-education Department threatened to extend the sentence. After Ouyang Qiuping was released from prison on June 19, 2016, she fled home to avoid being arrested again. Because of her belief, she was arrested again by officials from the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau in November 2018 and sentenced to another twelve years in September 2019. She is still imprisoned in an unknown location.
Martha Sánchez – One of the imprisoned “Ladies in White” in Cuba
The “Ladies in White” (“Damas de Blanco”) are the internationally best known Cuban civil rights movement. They were founded in 2003 when 75 civil rights activists and independent journalists were arbitrarily arrested in the so-called Cuban “black spring”. Since then, the wives, sisters and mothers of political prisoners have been peacefully campaigning for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. Dressed in white, they regularly visit Sunday masses in numerous Cuban cities and then walk silently through the streets. They hold a gladiolus in one hand and a photo of a detained family member in the other. The European Parliament awarded the “Ladies in White” in December 2005 for their courageous commitment to human rights with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Although they have been subjected to violence and reprisals since the beginning, women refuse to give up their struggle for human rights and freedom in Cuba. They are regularly attacked by groups of thugs close to the regime and prevented from peaceful expression by state authorities. Like Martha Sánchez, who was arrested on March 11, 2018 while on her way to the Church of San Marcos. The mother of four children was sentenced to a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence – among other charges for disobedience and disruption to public order – and is still in jail.
Narges Mohammadi – Iranian journalist sentenced to 16 years in prison
Narges Mohammadi was vice president and spokeswoman for the Iranian Human Rights Center when she was sentenced to eleven years in prison in October 2011. After international protests, the prison sentence was reduced to six years in March 2012. Because of her poor health, the mother of two was discharged to hospital on high bail. However, the journalist was still a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime: That´s why she was arrested again in May 2015 and sentenced to 16 years in prison due to her advocacy for equality in Iran and a meeting with the then high representative of the EU for Foreign and Security policy Catherine Ashton. On the Human Rights Day 2016, Narges Mohammadi received the Human Rights Award of the city of Weimar on the proposal of the ISHR. Her children live in France with her husband Taghi Rahmani, who as a journalist was a political prisoner in Iran for 15 years. The family has no contact with her until today.
Twen Theodros – Christian detained in Eritrea since 15 years
Christin Twen Theodros from Eritrea, born in 1981, is a long-term prisoner. She was first jailed in 2004 and released after her father assured the authorities that she would break contact with the underground church and stop evangelize. The following year, however, she was arrested again at an evening prayer meeting. After being detained repeatedly, she refused to renounce her belief and has been held behind bars without trial since then. The authorities sent her to a prison that was particularly notorious for its harsh conditions in Eritrea and has been closed in the meantime. Theodros is now detained in a prison camp near the capital Asmara.
All of these brave women have been accused of abusive offenses, have not been given a fair trial and serve long terms in inhumane conditions. “They have committed themselves to others, now the world must stand up for them,” explains Martin Lessenthin, Speaker for the board of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR).