Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Human Rights Activists - Fr. Roberto Reyes - The Running Priest

Whether you address him as ‘Robert’, ‘Roberto’ or ‘Father Roberto’, Fr. Roberto (as I call him) is all things to all men. I might be getting myself into trouble with the Catholic Church if I said that Fr. Roberto was a humanitarian first and a priest second, but the fact remains that Fr. Roberto is there for the people, catholic or otherwise; a priest, a confessor, but first and foremost, a friend.

Fr. Roberto was born in Tondo, Manila, the eldest of four children. His parents, now retired, were an accountant and a school teacher. In 1970, Fr. Roberto entered the San Jose Seminary School in Novaliches, Quezon City and eventually became a priest. After serving in numerous parishes, he became head of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines.

It was in the year 2000 that Fr. Roberto was to earn the nickname, the Running Priest when he did solo marathons to drum up support for a campaign to force the then President Joseph Estrada to step down. During that period he spoke at Catholic schools and universities, on issues of political reform and good governance and it was not long before his personal convictions got him into trouble.

In 2002, Fr. Roberto surrendered to the police to face libel charges filed by Cagayan Representative Jackie Ponce Enrile, whom he allegedly implicated in the murder of his nephew during Martial Law. He was immediately freed after two days of incarceration through the help of the members of Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.

More recently he has been involved in numerous protest activities supporting the call to remove President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from office. At the peak of his protest activities against Arroyo's government, he was advised by his superiors to take indefinite leave of absence. He went to southern China and spent a year teaching English. A year later, he moved to Hong Kong and taught anthropology of religion in a university before joining the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2007.

Throughout this period Fr. Roberto Reyes remained involved in missionary work, including administering to sick and dying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). His experience was chronicled in a book "Vincent, Dying and Living," which contains his personal reflections and recollections as he detailed the struggle of his brother who died of lung cancer, as well the struggles of many OFWs in Hong Kong whom he had met and ministered to in the last days of their lives. It was during this time that I personally came to know Fr. Roberto and realised the depth of his compassion and commitment when he ministered, and continues to minister, to my wife, Quirina, who is an end-stage renal patient.

On November 29, 2007, Reyes was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days at Camp Crame for his participation in an attempted coup d' etat known as the Manila Peninsula Rebellion. In 2008, a year after his incarceration, while associated with the Asian Human Rights Commission, he published his prison journal entitled, Prisons... Manila Pen and Beyond, in which he narrated his memories on the fifteen days he spent in prison.

In September 2008, Reyes launched his website, Parokya sa, the first virtual parish in the Philippines, where his reflections on daily Bible readings, his homilies during Sunday masses, and inspirational messages are posted and shared with everybody. It is Fr. Roberto's wish to reach out to the millions of Filipinos working overseas in various parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. The Philippine Online Chronicles, a weekly online publication managed by Vibal Foundation, hosts the website.

(Text by Stewart Sloan, additional information courtesy of http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Roberto_Reyes)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Human Rights Activists – Danilo Andres Reyes

Danilo, as he is known to his friends and colleagues was born in Tagum, Davao Del Norte, the Philippines in 1979. He graduated from the Lagao National High School in 1995 and in the same year entered the University of Mindanao where he gained a BA (AB) in Mass Communications graduating in 1999. He also did post graduate studies in English. In order to support himself during his studies Danilo worked in a handy craft shop earning five pesos an hour. In the morning before going to university he would sell dried fish in the market. It was during his years at university that Danilo became involved in the student movement attending rallies and discussion meetings on such issues as increases in tuition fees and general issues of social concern such as price hikes.

Danilo’s first paid job was writing for a local weekly newspaper, the Southern Review in General Santos City. His first introduction to human rights violations and abuse by the police was when he was working for the Sun Star Newspaper, also in General Santos city. Part of Danilo’s beat was the local police station where he had, what he thought, was a good rapport with the officers. It was on the occasion of the arrest of several men for alleged terrorist activities in 2001 that Danilo witnessed the extent of police brutality. It was a big case which, at the time was covered extensively in the country’s press. Following their arrest the suspects were taken to the station where Danilo tried to take their photographs. The police officer in charge grabbed his camera and warned him to keep out of the way. The men were taken into the officer’s room and shortly after Danilo heard their cries of pain.

Following this introduction to the realities of human rights abuses Danilo then went on to join an organisation documenting abuses by the military and police in Mindanao. This was during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s all out war against the Moro Rebels in 2003. One of Danilo’s memories is of having an after work drink with a colleague at a sari sari store just a hundred yards away from the army camp. When the soldiers started their bombardment against the advancing rebels the ramshackle shop and the ground beneath them shook. While the other customers fled Danilo and his companion continued drinking, much to the delight of the proprietor. Such was the level of Danilo’s desensitisation to the situation.

It was during this period that Danilo started sending documented cases to the Asian Human Rights Commission, and when his contract with the human rights organisation ended he was offered an internship with the commission.

Danilo’s commitment and ability was immediately recognised and when he finished his internship the commission offered him a position in a branch office in Manila where he worked on general human rights issues and more importantly, the appalling problem of the extrajudicial killings that were then taking place in the Philippines in huge numbers. An estimated 700 people consisting of grass root and human rights activists were killed or forcibly disappeared during this period.

Now, back in Hong Kong, Danilo continues his work in human rights and is also active with several groups offering assistance to overseas workers, including cancer survivors from the Philippines which number in the hundreds of thousands in the territory. He is also a columnist with United Press International (Asia).

The following newspaper article is a report on the capture of the terrorist which Danilo witnessed when working as a journalist for the Sun Star.

Filipino hostage leader is captured
Richard Lloyd Parry Asia Correspondent - The Independent - Tuesday, 10 July 2001

Filipino troops yesterday seized one of the senior commanders of Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic guerrilla group that has kidnapped and ransomed dozens of people in the southern Philippines. Najmi Sabdula, whose alias is Commander Global, was captured in the town of General Santos on the southern island of Mindanao, 560 miles from their lair on the remote Jolo Island.

Philippines officers said he was responsible for the Abu Sayyaf raid five weeks ago on a luxury island resort and the kidnap of 20 tourists, including three Americans. Since then the guerrillas have humiliated the Philippines armed forces, slipping through the jungle with their hostages with thousands of soldiers and Special Forces in hot pursuit.

Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos said: "The capture of Commander Global is a great setback for the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group]. I think, with this capture, we expect to get further information on their operations."

Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan, a military spokesman, paraded Global on a televised news conference in Manila, saying: "The number one effect is psychological. Now they are realising that wherever they go, they can be captured. They might be able to stage a raid, but they will be pursued and they cannot hide."

The captured guerrilla stood with his hands cuffed and his shoulders bowed, and shook his head in answer to reporters' questions. Three other members of the ASG – identified as Saltima Alih, Alex Sabdali and Jamar – were also captured, after a tip-off that they were in a house close to the airport of General Santos.

Rigoberto Tiglao, a spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said: "We see it as another indication that the Abu Sayyaf network is being gradually, but surely dismantled. We see that we're turning the corner now in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf."

But the effect on the ASG remains to be seen. Yesterday, army spokesmen were describing their captive as a mastermind. "He's the think-tank of the group," Colonel Danilo Servando said. "He hatches the plan and other groups carry out the mission."

In reality, Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines, is a loose organisation of bandit groups led by individual commanders of equal rank. Several commanders have childish nicknames: there is a Commander Robot and a Commander Boy, as well as a Commander Global, who was nicknamed, like a classroom swot, because of his impressive learning and international perspective. Global and Robot organised the ASG's first kidnap of foreign hostages, from a Malaysian resort island in spring last year. As much as m (£18m) in ransom was paid for the release of the mixed group of Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Malaysian and South African hostages.

Negotiators and intermediaries who met Global describe him as quietly spoken and intelligent, with a distinctive bullet scar on his right cheek. "He's very silent, a good listener, because he listens to what you say and then he'll refute you," one negotiator said. "It's true that he's a thinker – he thinks globally."

Philippines television said the press conference had been delayed after soldiers and police squabbled over the five million pesos (£65,000) offered for Global's capture. (Please see the AHRC Statement PHILIPPINES: Policemen squabble in open court over custody of a detainee for bounty at: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2009statements/2236/).

Thousands of wanted posters, with photos of him and five other Abu Sayyaf commanders, have been put up across Mindanao and dropped by plane into the jungle.

Abu Sayyaf commanders are still holding an American missionary couple, who were seized from the resort in May. A third American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, is reported to have been beheaded by the rebels, although there has been no sign of his body.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders - Mr. F M Abdur Razzak

Human rights defender Abdur Razzak and a colleague, Shankar Kumar Dhali were arrested by five police officers on the morning of 3rd November 2008. They were arrested without warrants, and taken to the Paikgachha police station in Khulna district, south western Bangladesh.

Born in the south of Bangladesh in 1967, Razzak is a law graduate and is presently working as a lawyer’s assistant. He graduated from Southeast University, Dhaka in 2001. Prior to his arrest he supplemented his income by editing a fortnightly newspaper, Gonomichhil, which has published many stories critical of the police and judges, as well as the bribery prevalent in the country.

After being informed of his arrest, his family members went to the police station, arriving at about 11am. They asked Razzak if he had been tortured by the police while in custody. His swollen face gave them the answer they feared. Also his shirt had been taken and he was made to sit on the floor of the cell.

It became evident that Razzak had upset someone with his critical reporting when his wife, Rahima, was told by the Officer-in-Charge of the station that he was under pressure from the court to arrest him. One month earlier a Magistrate had announced in an open court that if anyone were to arrest Abdur Razzak he would issue a warrant of arrest without any delay or hesitation.

The families of Razzak and his companion canvassed anyone they thought might help them to convince the police to release the men. Their rationale was simple; if the police had no case against them they should be released. But more importantly, if there was, in fact, a case against the men they should not be ill-treated or tortured. With Razzak being the only breadwinner, Rahima had to borrow money from her relatives. She also sent her three young children to stay with her sister, so that she was free to visit the police station and other places as necessary. When she was not running other errands, Rahima spent her time outside the police station in fear that something would happen to her husband. Even visiting her husband required the payment of a bribe to the officers.

It transpired that Razzak had been arrested due to his alleged involvement in an abduction case. The police were ordered to conduct inquiries on the 22nd October but even 10 days later, nothing had been done. While in custody Razzak was beaten and publicly humiliated (he was made to walk to and from court in handcuffs with his arms held out in front on him). Huge sums of money were repeatedly demanded from Rahima and other members of the family which they had no choice but to pay in order to protect him from further torture. She also had to prepare his meals, as the police would not provide any food, and then bribe the officers to allow him to eat.

Finally the police investigation in the abduction case started moving and it was found that the young girl who had supposedly been abducted had, in fact, run away from home. Rahima then had to pay for the police to take the girls statement. The payments included transportation costs and food for the officers. She was able to raise the money by selling the little jewelry she had left. Eventually, after a final bribe to a Senior Inspector the abduction case was deemed to be false and after several court appearances was withdrawn in January 2009. At that time Razzak was suffering from a water-borne disease contracted in jail. Rahima was also sick, due to prolonged stress and fatigue. Later, in February 2009, the court dismissed the case as the charge of abduction was proven false.

It says a great deal for Abdur Razzak that despite his ordeal he continues to work on human rights issues. In Bangladesh the tarnishing of individual’s reputation is another problem. In Razzak’s case, his reputation as an honest human rights defender was affected by the many unfounded rumours regarding the causes and circumstances of his arrest and detention. F.M. Abdur Razzak is the Director of the Human Rights Development Centre (HRDC) based in Khulna and is now the editor of the Pakhik Ganomisil Newspaper. He is currently undergoing an internship with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human rights defenders - Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian was born in 1966 in Iran and raised in a Jewish family in Tehran. In May of 1985, 19-year-old Roya arrived in the United States seeking political asylum, which was granted. She studied psychology at Brooklyn College and went on to earn a Master of Social Work at Hunter College, both of the City University of New York.

Roya is a founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and currently serves on the board of Refugees International. She has appeared on numerous television shows speaking on the subject of the Middle East and human rights.

Her book, in which she recounts her memories of growing up a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran was published by Crown and was highly acclaimed. It went on to become a Barnes & Noble¡¦s Pick of the Week, a Ms. Magazine Must Read of the Summer, Publishers Weekly¡¦s Best Book of the Year, and Elle Magazine¡¦s Best Nonfiction Book of 2004. It also won the Persian Heritage Foundation¡¦s 2006 Latifeh Yarshater Book Award and was the 2005 winner of the Best Memoir by the Connecticut Center for the Book. The book has been translated into several languages and is available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. In 2008 Roya won the Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction.

Roya is also the author of two poetry collections. The first collection, For the Sake of Water, was nominated as poetry book of the year by Iran News in 1993. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World listed Roya among the leading new voices in Persian poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies around the world, including La Regle Du Jeu, Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature. It is also due to appear in the forthcoming W.W. Norton¡¦s Contemporary Voices of the Eastern World: An Anthology of Poems. Today Roya contributes to the Persian Literary Review, and served as the poetry editor of Par Magazine for six years. Her opinion columns, essays, and book reviews appear in English language publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal among them. She is also a contributor to the Weekend Edition of NPR¡¦s All Things Considered.

Roya Hakakian has collaborated on over a dozen hours of programming for leading journalism units on network television, including 60 Minutes and on A& E¡¦s Travels With Harry, and ABC Documentary Specials with Peter Jennings, Discovery and The Learning Channel. Commissioned by UNICEF, Roya¡¦s most recent film, ¡§Armed and Innocent,¡¨ on the subject of the involvement of underage children in wars around the world was a nominee for best short documentary at several festivals around the world.

Roya Hakakian currently lives in Connecticut.

(Information from various sources)

Human Rights Defenders -- Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was born in Gaalkacyo, Somalia in 1965. In 1978, aged thirteen, she left Somalia to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man and went to England where she lived with and worked for her relatives. Later Waris found work at a local McDonald's in an attempt to make ends meet after a falling out with her hosts.

Her fortunes changed when she was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan, who helped secure for her the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar. Following this her modeling career took off and Waris worked for international designers such as Chanel, Levi's, L'Oréal and Revlon.

In 1987, Waris played a minor role in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights. She also appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, and in fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue. This was followed in 1995 by a BBC documentary entitled A Nomad in New York about her modeling career.

In 1997, at the height of her modeling career, Waris spoke out for the first time about the female genital mutilation (FGM) that she had undergone as a child. The interview subsequently received worldwide media coverage. That same year, Waris became a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM.

In 1998, Waris authored her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography which went on to become an international bestseller. She later released other successful books including Desert Dawn, Letter to My Mother, and Desert Children, the latter of which was launched in tandem with a European campaign against FGM.

It was in 1997 that Waris abandoned her modeling career to focus on her work against female circumcision. In 2002, she founded the Waris Dirie Foundation in Vienna, Austria, an organization aimed at raising awareness regarding the dangers surrounding FGM. Waris followed that in January 2009 with the establishment of the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, an organization she founded along with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her Somalia.

Waris has received many prizes and awards for her tireless humanitarian work, particularly in raising awareness of the dangers of FGM. In March 2005, Waris acquired Austrian citizenship.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders -- Munir Said Thalib

Munir Said Thalib, or Munir as he was affectionately known was born into a family of Hadhrami Arab and Javanese origins on December 8, 1965, he died at the hands of an assassin shortly before his 39th birthday on September 7, 2004.

In a country that has raised numerous human rights defenders Munir is probably the most internationally well known. Munir studied law at Brawijaya University in Malang in the province of East Java, and in 1989 started his career as a legal aid officer in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya where he was legal counsel for a number of victims of official violence and repression.

Munir became one of Indonesia's leading human rights campaigners and constantly faced intimidation and death threats. He first came to public attention at the end of the Suharto period through his role in a campaign in late 1997 and early 1998 when two dozen pro-democracy activists were abducted in suspicious circumstances. It was during this period that Munir founded the human rights organisation Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) with the backing of 12 pro-democracy NGOs

It was in September 1999 that Munir was appointed to the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPPHAM) which was set up by Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission. The report of this commission provided evidence of the Indonesian army's involvement in recruiting, financing, training and using the militia which caused such havoc at the time of the UN Referendum. This in turn lead to judicial investigations into the conduct of six senior army officers, including the former Chief of Staff, General Wiranto. Munir also taught human rights in police and army training, seminars and workshops, and was appointed to the drafting committee for law on human rights courts, which was intended to be presented to the Indonesian Parliament during 2000.

It was following this that he accused the Indonesian military of running a criminal network involved in illegal tree logging and drug smuggling.

On September 7, 2004, Munir died on a flight from Indonesia to The Netherlands. The autopsy by the Dutch authorities revealed lethal levels of arsenic in his body. Subsequently much has been written about the trial of the Indonesia agents that carried out the assassination and their subsequent release, re-remand and re-release. However, the purpose of this article to offer praise for this man who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure human rights for his fellow countrymen and bring to the notice of the Indonesian public and the world at large the blatant abuses being carried out by the military and the corruption that was, and sadly still remains, in the government.

Munir was named Man of the Year by the leading Muslim periodical, UMMAT, and as a "young leader for the Millennium in Asia" by Asia Week in 2000. Kontras, one of the many organisations for which Munir worked so hard, received the prestigious Yap Thiam Hien human rights award in 1998.

Human Rights Defenders - Theo Hesegem

Theo Hesegem is a human rights defender from Papua with an impressive CV.

Theo is the coordinator for the Advocation Network for Law and Human Rights Protection based in Wamena, Papua. Born in Tangma, Kurina in 1971, Theo attended the Agricultural High School in Wamena, graduating in 1992. His human rights activities started shortly after with his volunteer work as an Agricultural Village Supervisor in Tangma. In 1996 he became the Supervisor of the Village Development of IDT ((Inpres Desa Tertinggal) in Silimo. The same year he also became the treasurer of the Silo Foundation. This organisation carries out survey of land rights and culture preservation.

In 1999 Theo entered the world of journalism when he started work as a correspondent for the Jayapura-based biweekly, Jubi (Jujur Bicara) in Wamena. In 2004 he became the correspondent of the Tabloid, Suara Perempuan Papua (Voice of Papuan Women/TSPP), a post that he still holds today.

Theo¡¦s introduction to human rights began when he underwent training organized by ELSHAM Jayapura following which he became a representative of the National Commission of Human Rights Jayapura, and LBH (Legal Aids Foundation), also in Jayapura.

Theo maintains close connections with international organisations and in 2005 became a member of Peace Brigades International. Continuing with his thirst for knowledge and competence he was a trainee at the Annual Human Rights Training, organized by Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat (Elsam), Jakarta in 2006.

More recently Theo has carried out advocacy work, supporting numerous cases involving torture perpetrated by members of the armed forces and the police. Several of the cases he has taken up involved extrajudicial killings by these agencies.

Theo¡¦s daily routine might involve visits to political prisoners, attending commemorations and visits to the graves of human rights victims, public discussions and the presentation of films related to human rights and violence. He also joins marches in various locations celebrating human rights and Peace Days. In addition he also works on the dissemination of Human Rights Law in sub-districts of Jayawijaya and briefings on human rights for members of the police in Jayawijaya.

Active in many civil society organisations, too numerous to list here, Theo has also travelled extensively visiting the United States of America where he met with officials of the State Department, Army commanders, Senators, and a number of international NGOs based in the US. He is currently in Hong Kong where he is undergoing an internship with the Asian Human Rights Commission.

As for the future, upon the completion of this training with the AHRC Theo intends to return to Papua to continue the work he started, promoting human rights and assisting victims of human rights abuses.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders – Baseer Naveed

The following article by Jo Baker appeared in the Guardian UK on September 8th 2009. It is a poignant introduction to a man that has sacrificed so much for his beliefs – Ed).

Journalist and activist Baseer Naweed encountered the opaque operations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies when his son Faraz Ahmed was kidnapped, tortured and killed outside his office during a major campaign against corruption. Five years and various threats later, he works for the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, but is no closer to the truth.

The Guardian UK
Tuesday September 8th 2009

My whole life I have been an activist. I was a student leader, then joined trade unions, then became an investigative journalist. I wouldn’t say that my son was following me; in fact he would tell me I was making compromises. He’d probably have called himself an anarchist back then.

When he was 14 he started writing on his own, though at that time I didn’t know it. In fact he was like an ordinary Muslim, going to the mosque and praying; it was only when he started arguing about religion and the existence of God with his mother and grandmother that I realised he was a different kind of man.

Faraz was very fond of reading Einstein and Stephen Hawking, and at the time of his death he had just started studying philosophy at university. He would spend days reading books in second- hand book shops, using his pocket money at night to eat dinner with the garbage collection boys – he’d sit with seven or eight. Once I saw him and asked what he was doing and he said: “I have to learn about how other people live”.

I was the community organiser of a big campaign at the time. The Lyari Expressway project would displace 300,000 people from a slum, and the government didn’t have any right to do it. We fought and we got a historical resettlement deal – each family got an 80-square-yard plot and 50,000 rupees (£364) – something like this had never happened in Pakistan. And the size of the plots was good. Here in Hong Kong only the very wealthy have that much space.

This all took three years, but corruption had also started in the use of public funds and we were fighting that too. I was seen as a real troublemaker. I was told that President Musharraf once said to the governor: “You cannot handle that man with white hair (I was not colouring my hair in the way Musharraf did)."

During this time I was being threatened regularly. They would call and say that I was against the army and its chief, Musharraf; that “we will kill you”, or “you won’t be able to walk on your legs.” I told them to go ahead. But my son used to take my mobile phone some evenings and he too would pick up these calls and get threats, though he didn’t tell me.

I presented an Urdu radio program on FM103 called Current Affairs. It was November, I was at the station and people had mentioned mysterious movements around our office. Then my son came to get his fees for university so I told him that he could read out some of the poems we were broadcasting that day by Urdu poet Joan Ellia, who he loved. Then he went to the washroom, but he didn’t return. It was only the next evening when we started to really worry.

The day after that, moments before the news program somebody came and said, “there is a body of a man outside”. I said: “Look, I’m going to start the program, why are you telling me?” But after, I went down. In those days there were two gangs who were always fighting and killing each other, but I thought that the young man looked educated, not like a militant, so I asked the police to check his pockets. He was so mutilated. His whole jaw was out and there was blood oozing from bullet wounds in his back and his neck was broken, I think because of being thrown from an upper window. It was not possible for me to think that it was my son. Then the card came out and, yes, it was him.

You cannot imagine. At the official hospital we sat there for two or three hours with the body of my son out in the open, waiting for an autopsy. They kept delaying and making excuses. A philanthropist organisation eventually encouraged me to bury him, but the police refused to get the body themselves. The mullah and other Muslim people said that it was too late and that the prayer had been completed, so I felt I had to bury him.

A few days after the burial, when our house was full of people, one of my female relatives smelled burning. We rushed upstairs to find all Faraz's photos and some of his writing on fire in the bath; now we have just one or two photos left. Really, these people wanted to punish me.

At first the people were protesting on my behalf but I discouraged street protests and I pursued the case with a human rights organisation. But although the [government] made a committee to probe it, they appointed a higher official who was notorious for putting sensitive cases into cold storage. We had four or five head investigating officers in less than one year, all transferred from the case or suspended. They have given us nothing. And now no evidence is left, my friends in the courts and the police have told me that.

After two days we went up to the top floor of my office building and we found blood stains. So we told police to take a sample of them and they said they would do it. But because I was suffering from depression so bad I could barely talk, barely stand in those days, it was some time before I asked again. Then they said the stains had been washed away because there was rain. So what can you think? After twenty days my other son was dragged out of his school bus and beaten – he was 14 – and told to tell his father not to pursue this case.

I’ve even given them permission in writing to exhume the body. I talked to the superintendent of the civil hospital who assured me that he would get permission from the judge and do the autopsy himself. That was in 2005. Before leaving the country I had gone to see the officers to help some friends of my son who were being interrogated, and the officers said: “We have this report that it was a suicide”. I asked them what finding they had to prove this and they said: “It's just our own conclusion”.

I think there is no hope that the government will solve this case because the military is still so powerful.

Here in Hong Kong my family feels safer and I have more freedom and more space. After my son was taken there was no real hope in life, we were just living for our remaining two children. Working with a direction to help expose other human rights violations gives me energy, and patience and strength.

Once I was in a mood to take revenge, but to whom will I do this? It’s not possible. But last year we did a lot of good work supporting the lawyers in Pakistan as they campaigned against Musharraf, to protect the rule of law and have the Chief Justice reinstated, which eventually happened.

I still work very closely with journalists, NGOs and lawyers in these kinds of cases. Still, really I feel like I’m only living now for my other two children’s dreams – I hope that some of them have survived.

Baseer Naweed was interviewed by journalist Jo Baker

Baseer Naveed has lived in Hong Kong with his wife, daughter and son, since March 2006 and holds the position of senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission. In 2007 Baseer travelled to Geneva where he was awarded an International award as a housing rights defender for his work in providing housing for 300,000 evictees of the Layri expressway project, Karachi, Sindh, a project of General Musharraf’s government.

In 2003 he also became an Ashoka Fellow for his innovative work on peace and civic issues in Karachi city, the largest commercial and industrial city the Pakistan. In 2005 he was given the Human Rights Defender award by the Forum of Professional Organisations.

In 2008 Baseer spearheaded the AHRC campaign for the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Iftehkar Choudhdry and the fight for the independence of the judiciary. His book, ‘PAKISTAN: Peoples' power calling for reforms - a pictorial booklet on the courageous movement of the Pakistani lawyers and the people for the restoration of the chief justice and the supremacy of the Constitution’, was published by the AHRC.

Baseer will remain in Hong Kong and continue his work as a human rights defender in order to help people who are victimized by the state and its agents.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Martin Jr. was originally named ¡¥Michael¡¦, In the early 30s his family travelled to Europe where, amongst other countries, they visited Germany. His father changed both of their names to Martin in honor of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther.

Martin Luther King Jr. became a clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States and he is frequently referenced as a human rights icon today. King is recognized as a martyr by two Christian churches.

A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. In 1957 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as its first president.

His most famous speech, "I Have a Dream" was given during the 1963 March on Washington, where King raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. He also focused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. national holiday in 1986.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders - Taslima Nasrin

Taslima Nasrin was born on 25 August, 1962, in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. A Bengali Bangladeshi ex-doctor turned author Taslima has been living in exile since 1994. She started writing in the late the mid 70s and became famous world-wide in 1991 due to her radical feminist views and her criticism of Islam in particular.

Forced to flee Bangladesh in 1994 Taslima has lived in many countries and after her expulsion from India in 2008 currently lives in New York. Whilst living in Kolkota she was denounced by the Muslim clergy and received death threats from Islamic fundamentalists.

Taslima works to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality for women, and human rights by publishing, lecturing, and campaigning.

(Note: We had hoped to be able to include some of Taslima¡¦s poems but permission to do so was not received in time. In future issues of Human Rights & Culture we certainly hope to publish some of her work).
Rushdie 'n' Taslima: The yearning to be an Indian

IANS 20 February 2005, 11:12am IST

It should be a matter of pride for Indians that two celebrated writers - Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen - virtually look upon India as their home, underlining how the success of its democracy and multicultural polity has made it a favourite of intellectuals and artistes.

Evidence of this yearning to be an "Indian" is again evident in Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's expressed desire to secure at least the status of a permanent resident in India if she cannot become a citizen.

Rushdie, too, had once written that his first thought following the monetary success of his literary career after the publication of Midnight's Children was to buy a flat in Mumbai.

In The Ground Beneath Her Feet, it is undoubtedly Rushdie, who says the following lines rather than the fictional character Umeed Merchant, aka Rai the photographer - "India, my terra infirma, my maelstrom, my cornucopia, my crowd. India, my too-muchness, my everything at once, my hug-me, my fable, my mother, my father and my first great truth."

Taslima Nasreen, too, speaks in a similar vein when she says, in the rough translation of a Bengali poem - "India was not a piece of waste paper that it should have been torn apart. I want to rub out the word forty-seven. I want to wash out the blackness of forty-seven with soap and water. I don't want to swallow the bone of forty-seven stuck in my throat. I want to vomit it out. I want to recover the undivided land of my forefathers."

As their intensely personal expressions show, neither writer has any time for the partition of 1947. Taslima Nasreen's yearning for an undivided India is all the more strange considering that she is not old enough to remember a pre-partition India. She was born in 1962.

Rushdie was born in 1947, making him a true midnight's child. Yet, if they are conjuring up an idyllic scene, it is possibly because of their distress at the communal prejudices and fundamentalism that have subsequently gained ground in the subcontinent.

What is more, if India is now seen by them as some kind of ideal - "my fable... my first great truth", as Rushdie said, and "land of my forefathers", as Taslima Nasreen has said - the reason presumably is that a democratic and secular India has been more successful in keeping the sectarian sentiments and religious bigotry at bay than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, both with their background of military dictatorships and covert and overt official patronage of fundamentalism.

Although the Iranian fatwa against Rushdie is still valid, as Tehran clarified recently, and it is virtually impossible for Taslima Nasreen to return to the land of her birth because of the threat from the Islamic clerics, the two writers obviously feel at ease in India in spite of the fact that Rushdie's The Satanic Verses remains under a ban, as does the second part of Taslima Nasreen's autobiography, Dwikhandita.

However, as their writings show, they still derive their artistic inspiration from India. Despite his long years in the West, the primary settings of Rushdie's novels are in India - whether it is "The Moor's Last Sigh" or "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", not to mention "Midnight's Children".

Taslima Nasreen's poems, too, are redolent of the Bengal countryside and if she wants to settle down in West Bengal it is evidently because she feels that she can only recharge her literary batteries by being in touch with a part of the subcontinent with which she is familiar.

"I love Bengal", she has said. "My identity as an author will remain intact if I am allowed to stay here".

As politicians and diplomats wrestle with latent suspicions about their motives, the views of writers of this genre have a special value, for their preferences emphasise their search for an atmosphere where the freewheeling human spirit can thrive.

In praising and choosing India, therefore, these kindred souls have given a certificate whose value is immeasurable.

Nor are they the first of their kind. Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel laureate, was no less impressed by India's "incredible diversity, the coming together of extreme contrasts: the modern and the archaic, abundance and poverty, sensuality and asceticism, weakness and violence, the plurality of castes and languages, gods and rites, customs and behaviour". Clearly, it is a writer's paradise, a cornucopia of events and images to satisfy nearly all of an artist's needs.

In the 19th century, when repressive regimes were the norm in Europe, England used to be the home of exiles like Marx and Lenin, who could only have faced incarceration in their lands of birth, Germany and Russia. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, South Asia presents a dismal picture of autocratic rulers, civil strife and fledgling, uncertain democracies stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar. The scene has been made worse by the presence of religious fanatics, intent on stifling freedom of all kinds, whether political or artistic.

Since India provides a ray of hope in this all-encircling gloom, it can seem like an attractive destination for writers on the run from bigots.

From the Times of India
(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders

As the editor of the E-publication, Human Rights & Culture I have started a section on human rights defenders. I will be publishing these articles in this blog over the next few days. Past issues of Human Rights & Culture may be found at: http://newsletters.ahrchk.net/hrc/