Women of Courage
09 Mar 2012
In a period of greater crackdowns on protests and free speech, women have emerged as courageous figures, challenging government power and giving a voice back to their people. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, ARTICLE 19 celebrates the courage of women whose actions are the antidote to ‘cultures of silence’ and pave the way for the realisation of human rights, including freedom of expression.
Following nearly 20 years under detention in one form or another, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi symbolises the call for freedom of expression and human rights, not just in Burma, but throughout the region and around the world. Her resilience and years of non-violent struggle for democracy in the face of a seemingly endlessly oppressive Myanmar has seen a miraculous opening up of the country in the last six months. Bans on exile media have been lifted and significant numbers of political prisoners were released. While the longevity of these changes is yet to be seen, the Burmese and international community are encouraged by Mrs. Suu Kyi’s registration to run in the upcoming national bi-elections this year.
Chiranuch Premchaiyaporn, human rights activist and webmaster of the Thai news website Prachatai, was arrested in March 2009. In March 2010 she was charged with ten violations of the Computer Crimes Act (CCA) on ten different forum topics; each carrying a maximum prison term of five years. A Hellman/Hammett grant recipient, Chiranuch’s legal battle with the Thai authorities has become the litmus test for Thailand’s tolerance of freedom of expression and the country is found wanting. Chiranuch’s commitment to human rights, despite government persecution, means free speech continues to survive in a country where both the CCA and lèse-majesté law threaten its very existence.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the women of forcibly evicted communities in Cambodia protested the demolition of their communities and livelihoods. Despite serious levels of harassment and direct threats, the women of Boeung Kak Lake formed the front ranks of those peacefully contesting the evictions. They did so believing that the men of their communities would be met with higher levels of aggression from the authorities. These women activists faced multiple phone threats, home visits by the police and local authorities, threats to their families, and police brutality involving electrical tasers, batons, beatings and kicking. Yet the women of Boeung Kak Lake continue their courageous stand against the evictions, taking brave initiatives such as establishing a women’s centre.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, featured in ARTICLE 19’s 2011 statement on International Womens’ Day, remains in prison. She is accused of ‘spreading propaganda’, of belonging to an ‘illegal’ organisation (the Centre for Human Rights Defenders) and she has been held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran since September 2010. Narges Mohammadi, the 39-year-old Executive Chairperson of Iran’s Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), became seriously ill in 2010 after being kept in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison for a month. In September 2011, she was sentenced to eleven years after being convicted on three charges including acting against national security and the membership of the CHRD. Mohammadi has campaigned in support of transparent elections and for an end to the execution of those aged under eighteen. She also co-founded the National Peace Council, which aims to relax international tensions over Iran’s nuclear policy.
Notes to Editors
- For more information, or media interview please contact Oliver Spencer or Oliver Jinks on +44 207 324 2507 or +44 207 324 2508 respectively
- ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.
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