İmralı Peace Delegation 2021 Report

On the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the abduction of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, an international peace delegation convened for the purpose of a virtual fact finding mission. The delegation consisted of ten members, including prominent politicians, trade unionists, academics, lawyers, and social movement activists, hailing from a diverse array of countries, including Iceland, India, Italy, the US, and the UK. Together, we sought to continue the tradition of former delegations who have come to Turkey in recent years in support of the reopening of the peace process between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish leadership, which was abruptly ended in 2015.

Download 2021 İmralı Peace Delegation report here: https://www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/report-of-2021-imrali-peace-delegation/

Read more at Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.

Int’l Women’s Day: Free Women Prisoners Around the World

On this International Women’s Day, we demand freedom and justice for women imprisoned, disappeared, and persecuted around the world. We have compiled a list of women prisoners from various regions and countries as examples of state oppression, racism, male dominance, femicide, and transphobia that women are subjected to globally. Any attempt to document women political and social prisoners will always have glaring lapses and we do not have the capacity to document with the same degree of comprehensiveness across different countries and regions at the moment. With this initiative, we attempt to merely bring attention to the ubiquity of female imprisonment and make visible the often nameless and faceless cases of women in prisons and under persecution.

Content warning: state violence, police violence, patriarchal and anti-trans violence

Middle East/ West Asia 

Palestine:

Khalida Jarrar 

Khalida Jarrar is a Palestinian feminist, leftist, parliamentarian and defender of prisoners’ rights, Khalida Jarrar, was sentenced to two years in Israeli prison on Monday, 1 March 2021. Jarrar is a longtime advocate for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners and has served as the former Vice-Chair and Executive Director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. She is also a member of the Palestinian committee that acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and presented evidence to the international body about ongoing Israeli crimes.

Khitam Saafin

Khitam Saafin is a leading Palestinian feminist and women’s organizer and a well-known international advocate for Palestinian women and freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. She has spoken around the world about the struggle of Palestinian women and served as chair of the Global Women’s March Palestine. Saafin is currently the President of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Shireen Issawi

Shireen Issawi is a human rights lawyer and political prisoner who fights for Palestinian prisoner rights by monitoring and documenting human rights violations committed by Israeli authorities against Palestinian prisoners held in Israel’s occupation prisons. Issawi has been arrested several times, the most recent in January 2019. Israeli authorities have issued an order which permanently bans her from practicing as a lawyer.

Syria:

Razan Zaytouna 

Lawyer and human rights activist. She is the director of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. Born in 1977 in Douma neighborhood in the suburbs of Damascus. She was abducted by Jaysh al Islam, a fundamentalist opposition group on December 9, 2013 with two of her colleagues, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi and her husband, Wael Hmadeh. Her fate remains unknown.  

Samira Khalil

She is a dissident and a former political prisoner. She spent four years in prison from 1987 – 1991. She was abducted by Jaysh al Islam, a fundamentalist opposition group in Douma on December 9, 2013 with three activists, Razan Zaytouni, Wael Hmadeh, and Nazem Hammadi. 

Rania al Abbasi 

She was abducted with her 6 children (aged between 1.5 and 14 years) and husband in the Dummar neighborhood in Damascus on March 11, 2013. Born in Damascus in 1970, she became a professional chess player and won several chess tournaments in Syria and the Arab World. Her fate remains unknown.    

Rama Yasser Al Asas 

She studied literature at the University of Damascus. During the revolution, she was an activist and a volunteer in humanitarian relief. Born in 1986 in Damascus. She was arrested in Baramka neighborhood in Damascus on August 27th, 2012 by one of the regime’s security branches . Her fate is unknown. 

Tal Al-Mallouhi

The Syrian blogger, Tal Al-Mallouhi, was arrested on December 27 2009. Born in Homs in 1991. She began writing about the Syrian regime when she was 15 and was questioned multiple times by various security branches before her arrest in 2009. To this day she is in prison. 

Turkish-occupied Rojava (West Kurdistan / Northern Syria)

Roshin Amouna Mohammed 

Roshin Amouna Mohammed was kidnapped on January 6th, 2021, by an unknown armed group in the Turkish-occupied region of Afrin in Rojava (Northern Syria). A former member of the municipal council of Mobata under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), she previously spent over two years in detention after Turkish forces first took control of the region in 2018, and is likely being targeted again 

Ghazala Mannan Salmo

Ghazala Mannan Salmo, a 45 year-old Yazidi woman in the Turkish-occupied region of Afrin, Rojava (Northern Syria), was abducted by Turkish-backed mercenaries on December 4th, 2020, alongside dozens of other Kurdish residents accused of booby-trapping the car of a local warlord. After enduring several months of beatings and torture, Ghazala Salmo, a mother of six, has now reportedly been taken to Turkey to face charges of “terrorism”. 

North Kurdistan / Turkey:

Gültan Kışanak

Gültan Kışanak is a prominent Kurdish politician, activist and journalist. She went through various tortures in Diyarbakir prison between 1980-1984 where she organized women prisoners’ resistance together with Sakine Cansız, one of the two female founders of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She was elected several times as an MP into the Turkish parliament and, as a mayor of Diyarbakir, became the first woman mayor of a metropolis in Turkey. In 2016 she was detained by Turkish authorities and subsequently sentenced to 14 years and 3 months in prison for “being a member of a terrorist organization” and for carrying out “propaganda of a terrorist organization”. While in prison, she wrote a book about Kurdish women in politics titled The Color Purple of Kurdish Politics

Leyla Güven

Leyla Güven is a prominent Kurdish politician in Turkey currently serving 22 years in Elaziğ prison on charges of “terrorism”. Güven, 56, is a former MP for the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) and co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), for which she was convicted of “membership in a terrorist group” in December 2020. She was previously detained in 2018 for publicly criticizing the Turkish military’s invasion of the predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin in Northern Syria.

Figen Yüksekdağ

Figen Yüksekdağ is a Turkish politician and journalist, who was a former co-leader of the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey from 2014 to 2017, serving alongside Selahattin Demirtaş. She was a Member of Parliament for Van since the June 2015 general election until her parliamentary membership was revoked by Turkish courts on 21 February 2017. She was arrested on 3 November 2016 for allegedly not cooperating in terror related investigations. She has been in prison since. 

Sabahat Tuncel 

Tuncel began her political career through the Women’s Branch of the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) in 1998. In 2006, as the vice co-chairperson and Istanbul deputy of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), she was arrested on charges of terrorism. She ran as an independent candidate for the parliamentary elections from prison and after winning a seat in Istanbul, she was released in 2007. In 2016 she was once again arrested on terror related charges due to her membership in the legal party DTP and her statements and speeches at  meetings and press conferences. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison. She received an additional 11 months in prison for calling President Erdoğan an “enemy of women” after he publicly stated, “women are not equal to men” and “women who reject motherhood are deficient and incomplete.”

Caglar Demirel:

Demirel is a former mayor of Derik province and an elected member of the Turkish parliament. She worked actively in several women’s cooperatives and non-governmental agencies in Kurdish towns of Turkey and carried out many projects in the fields of women’s and family health, women’s labor, women’s rights, education, and combating violence against women. Soon after being elected as a MP for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in the Turkish parliament, she was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 7 years and 6 months imprisonment. Demirel is one among more than 240 Kurdish women politicians who are currently kept in Turkish prisons. 

Emine Beyza Ustun

Emine Beyza Üstün is an environmental engineering professor, well-known ecologist, and activist. She served as a deputy of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in the Turkish parliament in 2015. She has criticized government policies concerning clean and sustainable energy and faced legal charges as an Academics for Peace signatory. In 2020, she was detained as part of an operation against 24 HDP members, including acting mayors, civil society activists, and academics, on charges of terrorist propaganda based on their call for participation in protests in the Kurdish region in 2014. The timing of the investigation indicates that the case is another politically motivated use of law by the Turkish state to silence any democratic opposition in the country.

Filiz Buluttekin

As the elected co-mayor of Sur district, Diyarbakir, Buluttekin was detained in a house raid in 2019. During the raid, the police forced Filiz Buluttekin, her spouse, and her 10-year-old child to the ground and held guns to their heads. After her arrest, she was removed from office on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. She is among 48 democratically elected pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors who were replaced by government-appointed trustees. The Turkish government has used the removal of the co-mayors as a means of canceling the results of the elections in the Kurdish cities and provinces.

Sehriban Abi and Nazan Sala

Sehriban Abi and Nazan Sala are young journalists working for JinNews (“Women News” in Kurdish), a team of woman editors and reporters exclusively focusing on women’s issues. In 2020, they were arrested for reporting about two Kurdish villagers who had been tortured and thrown off from a national army helicopter. Abi and Sala were detained on the grounds that they were “reporting sensitive news belonging to the state” and were charged with “membership in a terrorist organization”. They have been held in unhygienic conditions despite the pandemic. Turkey is currently the country with the second-highest number of journalists in prisons.

Silan Delipalta

Istanbul University student Silan Delipalta was arrested in February 2021 for participating in the protests defending academic freedom in Turkey following president Erdogan’s appointment of a controversial academic figure as the rector to Bogazici University. As students and the academic staff started protesting, the authorities have responded with an excessive police force, summary arrests, and targeted house raids. Silan has been kept in isolation for 28 days, and not granted any outdoor time since she was detained. Turkish authorities have detained more than 560 protesters in support of Bogazici University at least in different cities, with 9 currently in pretrial detention and more than 25 under house arrest.

Turkey

Melek İpek

Melek İpek killed Ramazan İpek, her husband of 12 years, after being handcuffed, stripped and beaten by him. When Ramazan İpek left the house and told her that he would kill her and their two children when he comes back, Melek took his hunting rifle with her handcuffed hands and shot at him when he attacked her. In a recent visit by her lawyer in prison she said that she missed her girls and French fries but for the very first time in a very long time she has not been beaten for 27 consecutive days. 

Nevin Yıldırım

Nevin Yıldırım who lived in a village in Isparta killed her rapist Nurettin Gider–married with two children– with a hunting rifle. After the murder she decapitated him and threw his head into the village square. On March 25, 2015, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for ‘deliberate killing’. The local court’s decision was upheld by the 1st Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals in May this year. A recent report states that Yıldırım will be released after 17 years if she does not violate the conditions of her parole.

East Kurdistan / Iran:

Zeinab Jalalian 

Zeinab Jalalian is a Kurdish women’s rights activist who was sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) by an Iranian regime’s court in 2008 in an unfair trial that lasted a few minutes. Her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2011 and she is currently serving a life sentence in Iran. Since 2000, Zeinab had been assisting women in Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan by providing them education and social services. One of her last activities prior to her arrest on International Women’s Day in 2008, was a visit to a girls’ high school in Kamiaran, in Iranian Kurdistan, where she talked about the importance of International Women’s Day and distributed flowers to the students.

Zahra Mohammadi

Kurdish civil society activist and language teacher Zahra Mohammadi was sentenced to 5 years in prison earlier this year on national security charges. Mohammadi is the director and co-founder of Nojin Cultural Association which focuses on Kurdish language, literature and culture, as well as civil society activities. She was arrested on May 23, 2019, by Iranian security forces for holding seminars, and collecting assistance for the people affected by a devastating earthquake in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah. Mohammadi “has been accused of co-operating with Kurdish opposition groups and charged with national security offences for her peaceful activities empowering members of Iran’s marginalized Kurdish community, including through teaching the Kurdish language,” Amnesty International wrote in its appeal for her release.

Mojgan Kavousi

Mojgan Kavousi is a Rojelat Kurdish writer and researcher, of the syncretic Yarsan faith. She was first arrested in November, 2019, and was charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “provoking people to disrupt national security”, due to her Instagram post mourning the killings of demonstrators during the ongoing protests at that time and was also re-charged with a previous affiliation with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, even though the authorities had previously waived that charge.

Sakineh Parvaneh

Sakineh Parvaneh is a Rojelat Kurdish woman. Security agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran arrested her in November 2019, for meeting her family in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq without authorization. Her lawyer’s statement claimed that she was “sentenced to five years in prison and three years ban from membership in political groups on charges of membership in groups or factions opposing the state with the aim of disrupting national security,” and that the sentencing and court hearing occurred without any legal representation for her. Her sentence was later increased to 7 years for “inciting riots in prison,” after she painted the flag of Kurdistan and wrote slogans in favour of the Komala party in the women’s ward of Evin Prison.

Iran: 

Fatema Tamimi

Fatema Tamimi is a 39 years old Ahwazi Arab political prisoner, cultural activist and documentarian who was arrested in the city of Jarahi in Ma’ashour (Mahshahr) on December 10, 2020 and transferred to an unknown location. Tamimi’s Instagram account is followed by more than 25,000 people. The result of their work was planned to be a 20 part documentary. So far, Mrs Tamimi has produced several short documentaries on poverty, addiction, unemployment and the social problems of the Arab people of Ahwaz.

Maryam Ameri 

Maryam Ameri is an Ahwazi Arab political prisoner arrested in Ahwaz and transferred to an undisclosed location. Ameri had collected stories, lullabies and Arabic folk songs to record the Ahwazi oral history and literature. 

Zeinab Savari

Zeinab Savari and her aunt Fatemeh Savari are local community organizers and volunteers who were arrested by the Iranian state security in early December 2020. During the Corona crisis, they both volunteered to go to deprived areas and villages around Haweyzeh and Roffayeh to teach students who did not have access to online education.

Sepideh Qolian 

Sepideh Qolian is a 26 years old activist and political prisoner currently serving her5 years sentence at Iran’s notorious Qarchak women prison. She has been charged with “propaganda against the state”, “assembly and colluding to act against national security” and “agitating public consciousness”. She gained national attention after documenting and speaking up about the plight of unknown Ahwazi Arab women prisoners whom, as she witnessed, face extreme levels of torture and racism in Iranian prisons. She challenged the erasure of Ahwazi Arab women by becoming eyes and ears of the public while in prison and documenting the names and stories of otherwise unknown female prisoners. Qolian was tortured while in prison and her forced confessions was broadcast through state national channels. After her release Qolian filed a lawsuit against the TV presenter who was present during her interrogation while in prison.

Nasrin Sotoudeh 

Nasrin Sotudeh is a human rights lawyer who was arrested and imprisoned on June 13, 2018. Sotoudeh faces a 12-year prison term which was (original sentence 38 year sentence) and 148 lashes. The charges against her are “collusion against national security,” membership in a human rights organization that opposes the death penalty, “promoting corrup” and appearing in public without a headscarf.  She was arrested for taking on the legal cases of the  “Girls of Revolution Avenue” (women who publicly removed their head scarves)  and for opposing the Iranian judiciary’s latest decree that prevents political activists and dissidents from choosing their own attorney.   

Saudi Arabia: 

Israa al-Ghomgham 

Israa al-Ghomgham was arrested in 2015 for her participation in the popular protests in the Shi’a majority city of Qatib, eastern Saudi Arabia,. Women are asking for different basic rights, like the right to drive cars as well as for the ending of the guardianship system. Israa participated in a protest which started in 2011, there are a lot of different demands in these protests, civilian rights, political rights, freedom of expression, and also demands about the release of human rights activists from prison. There was a campaign to prevent her execution, the execution was dropped but she is still serving in prison.

Maya’a al-Zahrani

Maya’a al-Zahrani is a women’s rights activist who has been in prisoned by Saudi Arabia’s state since 2018 for demanding basic rights for Saudi women. al-Zahrani was charged by the regime’s anti-terrorism court on sham charges.

Aziza Al-Yousef

Aziza Al-Yousef is a women’s rights activist and professor of computer science who was arrested in 2013 after she driving a car through Riyadh. and was forced to sign a pledge that they would not drive a car again. In 2016, she helped organise a campaign against the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. In May 2018 al-Yousef was imprisoned again by Saudi authorities, along with other women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aisha Almane, Madeha al-Ajroush. Since November, 2018 Al-Yousef has been held in the Dhahban Central Prison. Al-Yousef and other female prisoners have been subject to physical and sexual abuse while in prison.

Nassima Al-Sadah

Nassima Al-Sadah, is a human rights activist and writer from the Shi’a majority  eastern province Qatif and has fought for basic civil and political rights, women’s rights as well as the rights of the Shi’a minority for many years. Sadah and another prominent activist, Samar Badawi, were arrested on July 30, 2018 by Saudi authorities as part of a broader government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists. Al Sada was placed in solitary confinement in early February 2019 in al-Mabahith Prison in Dammam. Sadah became a candidate in the 2015 Saudi Arabian municipal elections but was disqualified.

Bahrain

Zakeya al-Barboori

Zakeya al-Barboori is a 31-year-old engineering student . Al-Barboori was held in solitary confinement for 28 days after being arrested and forcibly disappeared for participating in a protest. Isa Town Prison, the only female detention facility in Bahrain, has been cited in relation to numerous human rights violations, such as lack of access to medical care, physical and psychological abuse, threats of sexual violence, and religious discrimination.

Medina Ali

Medina Ali, a 27-year-old prisoner also held at Isa Town Prison, are both serving sentences following unfair trials. Ali was severely beaten following her arrest in 2017, and again in 2018 as a form of punishment. No arrest warrants were presented to justify the entering and searching of Medina Ali’s home and her trial was conducted in absentia.

Yemen:

Asma’a Al-Omaisi 

Asma’a Al-Omaisi is a 22 years old woman who has been sentenced 15 years in jail by the Houthi militia’s court in Sana’a. In the midst of a brutal proxy war and Saudi aerial bombardments, Al-Omaisi has been facing severe violence inside prisons. Al-Omaisi was abducted in October 2016 at a checkpoint in Sana’a and since then has been severely tortured, inhumanely mistreated and received death sentences in unfair trials. In May 2017 she was finally formally charged and the others, and referred to the notorious specialized Criminal court in Sana’a, which examines the cases of “terrorism ” and “State security “. The charges included “helping a foreign state in a state of war with Yemen”, referring to the United Arab Emirates as a member of the Arab coalition. 

Asma al-Omaisi’s father has told reporters that she had been beaten in front of him, including being punched and beaten with a stick by a policeman. She was also forced to watch two other detainees in the case who were tortured and hung from the ceiling by their wrists, where they were kicked and punched all over their bodies.

In 2019 the Abductees Mothers Association issued a statement condemning Al-Omaisi’s imprisonment.

North America

United States:

Andrea Circle Bear

Andrea Circle Bear was a 30-year-old member Native American from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota who was the first federally incarcerated woman to die from COVID-19,  just 28 days after giving birth via C-section while on a ventilator. 

Brandy Scott 

Brandy Scott is a Black transgender woman serving a 22 year sentence at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California. Brandy was criminalized for defending herself against her abusive partner. You can support Brandy by contributing to her Legal DefenseSurvival Fund set up by Survived and Punished organization, and also by signing+sharing this petition demanding her release.

Joy Powell 

Joy Powell is an incarcerated female Black political prisoner whose grassroots activism against police brutality and racism resulted in her being framed by the police for serious crimes. The Rochester PD had warned her she was a “target.” She was not to get away with speaking out “against corruption, police brutality, and police justifications,” as the Jericho political prisoner organization put it. She was falsely charged with burglary and sentenced to 16 years in 2006. Additionally, in 2011, she was convicted of killing a man back in 1992, given 25 years to life, with no credible evidence, with witnesses later admitting to lying. Joy is currently in solitary confinement, harassed by guards, and, typically for prisoners, especially political prisoners, denied medical treatment for diabetes and asthma. Joy’s eldest son, Terrell Blake, was murdered by the Rochester Police on October 10, 2018.

Africa

Egypt: 

Mahienour El-Masr

Mahienour El-Masry is a human rights lawyer and political activist who works to promote judicial independence and prisoners’ rights by organising peaceful protests, raising awareness using social media, and organising support for political prisoners. She was arrested by plainclothes security forces on September 22, 2020.

Esraa Abdelfattah

Esraa Abdelfattah is a journalist who was unlawfully kidnapped by Egyptioan military regime’s state security forces on…. on 30 August 2020, Abdelfattah was brought in front of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) and questioned on fabricated accusations of “joining a terrorist organization”. Abdelfattah helped organise a popular grassroots group called April 6 Youth Movement Egypt in 2008, a group that was made to support the workers in the industrial town of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, who were planning to strike on April 6. Abdelfattah has been beaten and tortured while in prison. 

Solafa Magi

Solafa Magi is a freelance journalist who writes articles on issues of human rights, women’s rights and refugee rights amongst other topics. Magi is currently being held at the notorious Al-Qanater women’s prison where reports recently emerged that security forces stormed the wing where political prisoners are detained and began beating and assaulting them. On 30 August 2020, she was investigated in a new case on charges of “joining a terrorist group”, “publishing false news”, and “misusing social media”.

Sanaa Seif

Sanaa Seif is an activist and film editor currently a political prisoner held in Qanater prison. Seif was an active participant of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square. For a decade Egypt’s military regime has continued to pressure her as well as her family. On 23 June 2020 Seif was abducted from outside the public prosecutor’s office, where she had been waiting to file a complaint of physical assault against her, her mother and her sister, and was bundled into an unmarked microbus by plainclothes police officers and driven away. Shortly after, she appeared in the state security prosecution who ordered her pre-trial detention pending investigation into charges of “spreading false news”, “inciting terrorist crimes” and “misusing social media”.

Sanaa together with her brother Alaa, who is also in prison, and other members of her family have gone on collective hunger strike several times, protesting unjust military regime’s unjust laws and inhumane prison conditions. 

Algeria:

Dalila Touat

Dalila Touat, a 45-year-old physics teacher at Mostaganem High School. On January 3, 2021Touat was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her opposition to the enforced presidential election. She is accused of “publications undermining the public order”. Touat has been on hunger strike since the 3rd of January 2021 demanding freedom. You can sing and share this petition in support for her freedom.

Namia Abdelkader

Namia Abdelkader has been incarcerated since 2 december 2020 for speaking up against Algeria’s corrupt military apparatus. You can sing and share this petition in support for her freedom.

Luisa Hanoune

Luisa Hanoune is the head and co-founder of Algeria’s Workers’ Party. In 2004 she was the first woman to run as Presidential candidate in Algeria and was arrested after. She has been imprisoned once again since May 9th, 2019 as part of mass state repression of the ongoing revolutionary mobilizations in Algeria. Hanoune has been charged with “conspiring against the authority of the state and the army.” 

Morocco:

Fadila Makhlufi

Fadila Makhlufi is an activist who has been sentenced to prison and fined by the Moroccan military regime for showing solidarity with the Movement of the Rif detainees and political prisoners.

Zimbabwe:

Falon Dunga

Falon Dunga is a female student activist currently behind bars at Harare central police. She was arrested with several others during protests calling for an impartial & independent judiciary system & in solidarity with other opposition voices leaders facing political trumped up charges.

Joana Mamombe

Joana Ruvimbo Mamombe is a politician, former student leader and a member of Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in Zimbabwe. She is known to be one of the youngest Zimbabwean members of parliament, representing Harare West. On 2 March 2019, she was arrested and charged with treason. It was alleged that she was attempting to overthrow a constitutional elected government after she led a protest. On 13 May 2020 she and two other women, MDC activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, were abducted by masked assailants at a Harare protest against the government’s failure to provide for the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two days later, the women were found, badly injured and traumatised, by the side of the road sixty miles from Harare. They reported having been tortured and repeatedly sexually assaulted. Joana Mamombe was arrested again on March 6th, 2021.

Cecilia Chimbiri 

Cecilia Chimbiri is a youth campaigner for the Movement for Democratic Change. Chimbiri was abducted for two days at an anti-government protest in May 2020. On 13 May 2020, Chimbiri, Mamombe and Marova were abducted by masked assailants at a Harare protest against the government’s failure to provide for the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two days later, the women were found, badly injured and traumatised, by the side of the road sixty miles from Harare. They reported having been tortured and repeatedly sexually assaulted. Cecilia Chimbiri was arrested again on March 6th, 2021. Chimbiri, Marova and Mamombe were rearrested by the police on 31 July whilst on their way to Harare Central Police Station where they were scheduled to report as part of bail conditions. Joana Mamombe and Netsai Marova were later released without charge. Cecilia Chimbiri was only released after being charged with insulting a police officer after a soldier falsely accused her of insulting him and assaulted her with a whip.

Netsai Marova

Netsai Marova is a youth campaigner for the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, who was abducted for two days at an anti-government protest in May 2020. On 13 May 2020, Marova, Mamombe and Chimbiri were abducted by masked assailants at a Harare protest against the government’s failure to provide for the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two days later, the three women were found, badly injured and traumatised, by the side of the road sixty miles from Harare. They reported having been tortured and repeatedly sexually assaulted. Cecilia Chimbiri was arrested again on March 6th, 2021. Marova, Chimbiri and Mamombe were rearrested by the police on 31 July whilst on their way to Harare Central Police Station where they were scheduled to report as part of bail conditions. Joana Mamombe and Netsai Marova were later released without charge. 

Eritrea:

Meseret Dhaba

Meseret Dhaba is a TV producer and journalist who was arrested on Feb 10, 2021. Reportedly she has been arrested for expressing solidarity with Oromo political prisoners on hunger strike protesting their unjust detention. Meseret has health problems but she has been denied access to medical treatment while in detention.

Latin America

Brazil:

Marielle Franco

Franco, a left wing politician and outspoken Rio de Janeiro city councillor, was assassinated as she was returning from an event encouraging black women’s empowerment in Rio on 14 March 2018. She had been critical of the police’s often deadly raids in densely populated favelas, and denounced paramilitary groups run by retired and off-duty police known as milícias. Two years after the assasination the crime remains unsolved and has become an example of the impunity regarding violence against human rights defenders in Brazil. 

Verônica Bolina

In 2015, Verônica Bolina, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman was arrested, raped, sadistically beaten and disfigured by police and workers at the penitentiary system of the city of São Paulo, after being allegedly accused of murder, a charge which there has been no evidence of. Photos that showcased the aftermath of Bolina’s beating surfaced online, catalyzing the social media campaign, #SomosTodasVeronica (We Are All Veronica) demanding justice and police accountability for her assault. She was arrested once again in 2017 after experiencing a psychotic episode, and as of August 2019, she was still detained and had yet to be tried and sentenced.

Venezuela: 

Vannesa Rosales

Vannesa Rosales is a feminist, teacher and social worker in the Pueblo Nuevo community of Mirada. On 12 October 2020, officials from the Venezuelan Corps for Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations raided the house of Vannesa Rosales in Mérida. She was accused of obtaining information on and medication to cause an abortion for a 13-year-old girl who had become pregnant as a result of rape.

Nicaragua: 

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz is a 34-year-old transgender woman and political prisoner who is currently incarcerated in the Jorge Navarro prison (La Modelo). She has shown strong leadership on Ometepe Island in the municipality of Moyogalpa, Rivas, has been arbitrarily arrested twice. After her latest arrest she has been held in several different men’s prisons, where she has been subjected to interrogations over her political activism, and to humiliation and abuse related to her dual condition of being both a politically pursued person and a trans woman. She has also been threatened and insulted by prison personnel and deprived of access to medicine, among other highly serious human rights violations.

María Esperanza Sánchez García 

María Esperanza Sánchez García is a political prisoner who has participated in civic activism since April of 2018, with the eruption of the socio-political crisis that is currently ongoing in Nicaragua. The police accuse her of drug trafficking, which she denies. According to several different Nicaraguan human rights organizations, this charge seems to have become a State strategy to criminalize activists, imprison them, and deny that they are political prisoners.

Asia

Vietnam:

Can Thi Theu is a land-grab victim as well as right-rights activist who was arrested (without warrant) on June 24, 2020 by Vietnamese police during a house raid. She was harassed multiple times before she was arrested that day, her third arrest. She is being held incommunicado. Her sons, Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, have also been arrested.

Nguyen Thi Tam is a land petitioner and human rights defender who was kidnapped by state security forces on June 24, 2020 while going to the local market.

Doan Thi Hong was arrested on September 2, 2018, without any charges or arrest warrant, and her family didn’t know her whereabouts for a long time. Hong is a single mother, and her daughter was only 30 months old at the time of her arrest. She was held incommunicado for one year. During that time her family was not allowed to see her, including her young child.

Dinh Thi Thu Thuy is a human-rights as well as environmental-rights activist, and she is also a single mother of a nine-year-old child. Thuy was held in incommunicado pretrial detention and did not get to see her son until December 2020. She was sentenced to seven years in prison on January 20, 2021, and has been severely ill while imprisoned.

Hong Kong

Carol Ng Man-yee

Carol Ng Man-yee, is currently in jail on charges of subversion for participating in the 2020 primaries to determine the slate of pro-democratic candidates for the now postponed 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council elections. Ng is a long-time labour activist, serving as the general secretary of the British Airways Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association, and is the former chairperson of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union.

Winnie Yu

Winnie Yu, is currently in jail on charges of subversion for participating in the 2020 primaries to determine the slate of pro-democratic candidates for the now postponed 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council elections. Yu is a nurse and founder/chairperson of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance. Yu played a pivotal role in leading a medics strike that forced government concessions in relation to COVID-19 pandemic control, and organizing the ‘New Union Movement’, mass union drives that resulted in the formation of dozens of new labour unions since 2019. 

China

Li Qiaochu

Li Qiaochu is detained on charges of subversion for reporting on torture and ill-treatment at the Linshu County Detention Centre in Shandong, China. Li has been denied access to her family and lawyer, and there are concerns that she is at risk of torutre. A researcher and feminist/labour activist, Li has previously advocated for migrant workers forcibly evicted from their homes in Beijing and against sexual violence as a part of #MeToo campaigns.

Philippines: 

Reina Mae Nasino

Reina Mae Nasino, is a 23 years old urban poor community organizer, who was arrested in November 2019 and gave birth to Baby River while in prison. Her baby was separated from her by the authorities, and lacking mother’s care and nourishment, her baby got sick. Reina’s plea for a furlough so she could take care of her sick child fell on deaf ears. Baby River died without the mother seeing her child. At the wake of Baby River, 47 members of the PNP guarded Reina depriving her of her privacy to grieve and say goodbye to her daughter. In 2020 she filed a lawsuit against the police and the prison guards The complaint alleges that their collective action of refusing to accommodate the baby inside prison, to the treatment of the activist during burial, amount to mental torture.

Amanda Echanis

Amanda Echanis is a peasant organizer and the daughter of Randall Echanis, consultant in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who was brutally murdered by elements believed to be with the military and police forces. Echanis and her one-month old baby Randall Emmanuel, were arrested in Baggao, Cagayan last December 2 by elements of the 77th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, PNP and CIDG, and are now detained at the Camp Adduro in Tuguegarao City.

India: 

Kalpana Maiti: 

Starting in the 1990s, Kalpana Maiti was a full-time political activist working with tribal communities in a poor rural district in West Bengal and made significant contributions to building the historic movement of Jangalmahal. She was the first woman in the West Bengal State Committee of the Communist Party India (Maoists) in 2006. In 2010 she was arrested and has been in prison since with a total of 7 cases. She has been subjected to severe mental torture. One of her cases, that of an attack on the camp of paramilitary Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in Silda, is still ongoing, and no one knows when the trial will end. While in jail, Kalpana led a successful movement to demand distribution of sanitary napkins to all female inmates. Suffering from serious medical conditions like diabetes, spondylitis, thyroid malfunction, depression, etc., she is denied proper medical care.

Thakurmoni Murmu: 

Murmu was instrumental in involving a large number of women in the uprising of Lalgarh. She became a role model to young women in the Jangalmahal. Right before the 2016 assembly elections and accused in more than 10 cases in some of which she was denied bail. While in prison, she struggled to demand rights and dignity for the prisoners as a result of which she was subjected to torture. Thakurmoni decided to study while in prison as before joining politics, had the opportunity to study only till the 8th grade. However, the jail authorities have continuously tried to inhibit her pursuit. Among other obstacles, jail authorities took away her study desk and chair in response to her going on a hunger strike with a demand for an increase in food allowance. 

Akka Parobai Patel

Akka was arrested by the ATS (Mumbai) in February 2012 as she came to Mumbai for medical treatment and was implicated in the NIA case. Since then she has been in prison where she has been subjected to torture. She has not received any medical treatment and her condition has worsened. She cannot move around on her own. There is also a language barrier, as she does not know any other language than Telugu and some bits of Hindi. Since her arrest, she has had no contact with anybody from her family. Her life partner, Chakka Krishna Rao, is imprisoned for life in another case. 

Hirandi Mangal Singh Gaude:

Hirandi was arrested along with her life partner Dinesh Wangkhere by the Mumbai Anti Terror Squad in February 2012. They too were implicated in the NIA case by the ATS. Since then, she has been in prison. The trial against her NIA case has not even been initiated. Till today, Hirandi has not met anybody from her family. She meets her expenses within the prison with the money she earns doing stitch work. While in Alipore jail, in 2017, along with Thakurmoni and Paro Patel, she was also violated and tortured by the jail authorities. 

Jyoti Jagtap:

Jyoti Jagtap is an anti-caste cultural activist associated with Kabir Kala Manch. She was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on 8 September 2020 in the state of Maharashtra. She has been charged with, among other things, sedition, waging war against the government of India, promoting enmity between communities, criminal conspiracy and terrorism-related sections of the UAPA.

Sudha Bhardwaj:

Sudha Bhardwaj is a human rights lawyer, with a focus on protecting the rights of adivasi (indigenous) people in the state of Chattisgarh. She has acted as legal representation in several cases of extrajudicial executions of adivasis and has represented adivasis and activists before the National Human Rights Commission of India. She also serves as the General Secretary of the Chattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties. She was initially placed under house arrest in August 2018 and then moved to the Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). On 8th of February 2021 a U.S. digital forensics firm reported that the digital evidence (including documents and incriminating letters) used to implicate Sudha Bharadwaj and other activists had been planted.

Masarat Zahra

Masarat is a freelance photojournalist from Kashmir and a member of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). She has been covering the situation on the ground in Kashmir for the past four years. She was arrested under the UAPA on April 20, 2020.

Shoma Sen 

Shoma Sen is a member of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression. She has been active with workers’ movement starting from the Mumbai’s 1980s workers strikes and contributed to the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights in their work and the publication of their magazine “Adhikar Raksha”. As a student activist she had worked with the Vidyarthi Pragati Sangathana and edited a student magazine called “Kalam”. She was arrested on June 6th, 2018 under the UAPA.  

Gulfisha Fatima

Gulfisha is a 25 year old student activist from New Delhi. She was actively involved in the women-led protest in Seelampur in North East Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). She was arrested under the UAPA on April 9, 2020. Though she was granted bail in connection with some cases filed in the Jafrabad Police Station, she remains incarcerated in FIR 59/2020 of the Delhi Police Crime Branch, which invokes the UAPA.

Annapoorna

Annapoorna is a labour rights defender, an advocate and an executive member of the Pragatisheela Karmika Samakhya, a workers’ union in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Over the past several years, she has worked with human rights movement in India, advocating for Dalit, women’s and worker’s rights. On 15 December 2020, police personnel arrested woman human rights defender Annapoorna from her house in Vishakapatnam alleging her links to Maoist factions. Annapoorna is currently being detained at the Vishakapatnam Central Jail.

Indonesia:

Sayang Mandabayan

Sayang Mandabayan (34), one of the few women to have ever been charged with treason, was arrested and detained in September 2019 after speaking at protests during the West Papua Uprising when police found 1496 small Morning Star flags in her bag. As a result of her arbitrary and unlawful detention, she is separated from her 1, 2, and 3-year-old young children, and is only occasionally able to breastfeed her youngest child in Manokwari of West Papua. She lost her job at Sorong City Council as a result of her arrest and detention. A picture of her breast feeding her child in prison went viral in Indonesia and beyond, with calls for her release.

Pelpina Werinussa

Pelpina Werinussa, 72, and her husband Izaak Siahaja, 80, were arrested because they had the RMS flag displayed inside their home. Siahaja was convicted of treason and sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Werinussa and their three guests – Johan Noya, Basten Noya, and Markus Noya – were sentenced to five years in prison, also for treason.

Myanmar:

Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, 20, died after being shot in head by police in a crackdown of the anti-coup protests in Myanmar. At the time of the shooting, the army’s True News Information Unit said security forces used only non-lethal weapons and that the police were investigating

Kyal Sin was one of a number of teenagers who died when protesters across Myanmar were attacked by police with live bullets and clubs.

Russia:

Darya Polyudova 

Left-wing activist and leader of the Left Resistance movement Darya Polyudova became the first victim of the newly introduced Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of separatism) after an attempt to organise a ‘March for the Federalisation of Kuban’ in Krasnodar in 2014. She was found guilty and sentenced to two years in a low security penal colony. In January 2020, the FSB initiated criminal proceedings against her under Part 1 of Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (public incitement of separatism, punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment) and Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism using the Internet, punishable by up to seven years in prison). In mid-January the activist was taken into custody.

Maria Alyokhina

Alyokhina is an activist and a member of the feminist group Pussy Riot. Earlier this year, she was accused of committing “Incitement to a violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules”, which entails up to 2 years in prison, in connection with calls to come to peaceful protests on January 23, 2021. She has been under house arrest since January 29, 2021. Previously, in 2012, she was sentenced to 2 years for “hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy or by an organized group”) for participating in a punk prayer in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. 

Eastern Europe

Belarus:

Katsiaryna Barysevich 

Earlier this month, Barysevich was sentenced to 6 months in jail. The charges stemmed from her article from November 2020 about the death of a man during a protest calling for the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, in which she questioned authorities’ explanation for the man’s death. Barysevich was arrested on November 19, 2020, according to CPJ research, and has been detained since then.

Maria Kolesnikova 

Maria Kolesnikova, a leader of the opposition in Belarus, was detained by masked men in September 2020 in Minsk, driven to the border with Ukraine and ordered to leave the country. But she refused and tore up her passport. She has been in custody ever since, charged with an attempt to seize power. Her detention was extended by two more months in January. Kolsnikova’s arrest came after weeks of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova

Journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23 were arrested during a police raid in their apartment on November 15, 2020. They were providing media coverage of the popular anti-government protests. The two journalists have received two-year jail sentences under the fabricated charges of “organising actions rudely violating public order.”

Southern & Western Europe

Spain:

Dolors Bassa

In January this year, jailed pro-independence prisoners in Catalonia have been allowed to leave jail with their privileges restored after being suspended two months earlier by Spain’s Supreme Court. One of them was Dolors Bassa, an educator, psychopedagogist and Catalan politician who held the position of Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Families in the Generalitat de Catalunya until Spain sacked the whole Catalan government on 27 October 2017. She is known for her syndicalist career in the major Spanish trade union, Unión General de Trabajadores. Since March 2018 she was remanded in custody, without bail, by order of the Supreme Court of Spain, accused of sedition and rebellion as being responsible for devoting several thousand public schools to the 1 October 2017 referendum as polling stations.

Carme Forcadell

Sentenced for their role in the 2017 push to separate from Spain, eight politicians and activists have been granted the low category ‘semi-freedom’ status by the Catalan government. 

Int’l Women’s Day: Women Political Prisoners Arrested by the Indian State

The number of people in prisons has seen an increase in India since the year 2002, with about 466,084 detainees in total. Women constitute about 4.1% of those detained and are held in general prisons and a small fraction in segregated women’s only jails. Most prisons are overcrowded and regularly exceed their capacity. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, the state of Chhattisgarh accounts for the most densely packed prisons for women inmates with an occupancy rate of 66.4% in excess of capacity followed by Uttarakhand exceeding the capacity by 55.3%. This in the regular jails. With respect to women-only jails, the state of West Bengal exceeds capacity with an occupancy rate of 142.04% followed by Maharashtra with an average occupancy rate of 119.85%. The third spot is captured by Bihar with a 115.13 percent average occupancy rate.

Any attempt to document women political prisoners will always have glaring lapses. There are just too many dispersed in this vast country with a diverse political landscape and axes of oppression. There are many whose existence is not known. How does one exist without a name, or in some cases, an entry in a log-book, publicly available? Since 2018, the government of India has stopped publishing the National Crime Records Bureau data. Here, we have tried to highlight the names of a few nameless and faceless women political prisoners in West Bengal from the original Bengali publication in the outlet: Bandi Sanhati (“Prisoners’ Solidarity”). 

Read the profiles here or download the file below.

In solidarity with the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons!

Over the past few days, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons have been protesting in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad. The VBMP is a collective of families of Baloch who have been abducted over the past many years. There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistani security forces – the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies – are behind industrial-scale enforced disappearance, running into the thousands.

The disappearances began after George W Bush first demanded the military regime of Pervez Musharraf to deliver suspect militants. Since then, the Pakistani military state expanded disappearances, targeting especially critics of military violence, especially from Pakistan’s racialised and marginalised groups, including Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis as well as members of various political groups. Enforced disappearances in Pakistan’s southern province of Balochistan increased after a 2014 investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, eerily mirroring the violence perpetrated by China against Uighurs in “Xinjiang.”

The geographies of military and police violence against Baloch extends well beyond Pakistan. In Iran too the Baloch community has been a persistent victim of extrajudicial killings, executions and forced disappearances. In recent months the Iranian state has intensified this campaign and since mid December 2020 at least 24 Baloch prisoners have been executed. Several Baloch prisoners are currently in death row and remain in imminent danger of execution despite statements by the UN and Amnesty International. The recent rise in executions led to the popular social media campaign #StopBalochsExecution.

At the Global Prison Abolitionist Coalition we stand in solidarity with the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons as well as the many other movements against enforced disappearances in Pakistan, like the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, the Missing Persons of Sindh and Defence for Human Rights.

India: Arrests, detention, torture of farmers, activists, and journalists

Several protesting farmers, trade union workers, labor rights activists, journalists are now arrested from the protesting sites in India during the farmers protest and sit-ins. Some names we know, most we do not.

Right now the protesting farmers and supporters are barricaded with four layers of barbed wire, nails on concrete, concrete obstacles and other things. They do not have access to toilets and other essentials. Those who tried to cover the protests and police brutality were randomly picked up and taken into custody. One such journalist, Mandeep Punia was arbitrarily detained, tortured and was in custody. While there, he interviewed several jailed farmers and took down notes on his injured arm. Hopefully those reports will come out sometime soon and we will be able to put names on the numbers.


The other prominent person who has been arrested and brutally tortured, ranging from sexual violence to other physical torture, is Nodeep Kaur, a dalit labor rights activist who was picked up on 12th of January. Her bail plea has been rejected. Below is a statement from people campaigning to get her released, issued during a press conference.

From Campaign for the release of Nodeep Kaur:

On January 12th, as the Kisan Andolan continued unabated, Nodeep Kaur, a 24-year-old dalit woman worker was arrested by the Haryana Police from the Kundli Industrial Area adjacent to Singhu Border. After violently dispersing a rally by workers in the area and firing at the gathered workers, the police grabbed Nodeep Kaur, took her to Kundli Police Station, filed two FIRs against her under a wide range of fabricated charges. This was followed by brutal custodial violence by male police officers including targeting her genitals amounting to sexual violence. She is currently in judicial custody in Karnal Jail without adequate medical care.

This arrest comes following the targeting of a workers organisation in Kundli Industrial Area, Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan (MAS) (workers right collective) which has been at the forefront of forging solidarity between workers and the struggling peasantry at Singhu Border. The numerous worker marches and rallies taken out by MAS in support of the Kisan Andolan ensured that workers of the Kundli Industrial Area were a regular presence at the Kisan Andolan. This support was amply repaid by the peasantry, many of whom aided MAS in ensuring payment of wages to around 300 workers. Fearing a shift in power in Kundli, the Harayana Police at the instigation of the Kundli Employers’ Association launched a vicious attack on MAS, beating and firing shots at protesting workers and arresting Nodeep Kaur. This attack is not only an attack on workers and a trade union but an attack on the growing solidarity between workers and the peasants agitating at the Singhu Border.

Forced Disappearances & Anti-Carceral Politics

Abduction and enforced disappearance have been increasingly used by oppressive regimes globally. Torture and enforced disappearances have been a structural problem of state punishment and repression rather than being exceptional instances of it. Used by colonial powers and liberal democracies these techniques have been widely shared and circulated between states as modes of extracting confessions. In many of these cases, people have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, detentions without a warrant, and sexual violence. This strategy has been frequently used in places like Argentina, China, Egypt, Kashmir, and Turkey. The speakers speak to these politics from their experiences in Egypt, Kashmir and “Xinjiang”.

With Ahmed Said, Ather Zia and Vincent Wong. Moderated by Mahvish Ahmad.

See details here.

Infographics below by @Lizar_tistry

Key leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement arrested in Pakistan

Key leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement have been arrested in Pakistan in a new round of crackdown. The first person arrested in this round (there’s been other rounds of arrests before) was Ali Wazir on 17 December, a member of parliament who was on his way to an event commemorating an attack by the Pakistan Taliban on an Army Public School in Peshawar. Commemorations of the event are extremely tenuous, since the attack indicated that the military is completely incapable of providing security even to their own children; it throws their claims that they are providing national security into doubt. To date, the military has not allowed mothers of the 120 children who were shot dead to launch a proper inquiry into how the school could be raided.


Ali Wazir’s decision to attend the commemoration of that attack and the children that were killed was seen as an affront to the military since he is a major leader within the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, which has mainly pointed the finger at the collusion of military, militants and American empire (through drone attacks) in violence against the cross-Afghanistan/Pakistan border Pashtun community. He’s a Marxist Pashtun, an immensely popular leader, and this is not the first time he has been arrested.
Several other leaders in the movements have been arrested since Wazir’s arrest, including Abdul Haq and Dr Said Alam Mehsud. Of the 45 who were arrested about 2-3 days ago a few have been released.

There have also been a series of other abductions and killings around Pakistan, less covered because the activists who have been abducted or killed are not as famous as PTM leaders.

Read more about the arrest of Ali Wazir on December 17, 2020:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1596189/mna-ali-wazir-arrested-in-peshawar-at-sindh-police-request

Racism and State Violence in Venezuela

Originally published in Venezuelan Voices

Professor Keymer Ávila is a Researcher at the Institute of Criminal Sciences at the Central University of Venezuela and a Professor of Criminology at the same university. He is one of the foremost scholars and critics of institutional violence and criminal justice policies in current Venezuela. In this interview, originally published on July 6 and 7 at No Borders NewsVenezuelan Workers Solidarity members Elvira Blanco and Alejandro Quryat asked him about the nexus between racism and State violence in our country.

All notes between brackets are the translators’.

Photo credit: observatoriodeviolencia.org.ve

What forms does racial oppression take in Venezuela? What groups face systematic racialized discrimination?

The first thing I must clarify is that my field of research is not focused on the topic of race, but on institutional violence, specifically that of the criminal justice system. Criminal justice systems are characterized for being discriminatory, classist, racist and xenophobic. It is from this field that I can approach the topic of racism.

In a very general manner, what I can tell you is that racism in Venezuela is not admitted or owned up to as a problem, it remains nearly taboo. We’d be talking here of a latent, symbolic and cultural racism, that is presented as something folksy or comic, aesthetic, along with a cluster of prejudices, as well as subtle and indirect forms of oppression, discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion. These go from the non-recognition or hiding of one’s own African or Indigenous heritage, to self-discrimination. It’s the racism exercised by those who  suffer discrimination themselves, in what is known as endoracism, a concept developed in our country by Esther Pineda. This is what makes it difficult to confront it. It doesn’t reach the institutionalized and extreme levels that it has in the U.S., but, no doubt, it waters the grounds to later legitimize other forms of violence against oppressed groups.

Who would be part of these groups? The poor, Afro-Descendants, and Indigenous people. Until a few years ago, when our country was receiving immigrants, Haitians, Trinidadians, Colombians, Ecuatorians and Peruvians were also part of these groups. By contrast, migrants from Spain, Italy and Portugal were given a much more privileged treatment. So it wasn’t just about xenophobia: there was implicit racism and classism against these peoples. Nowadays this situation is mirrored, since Venezuelans serve as scapegoats in many countries, given the enormous exodus of at least 13% of our population.

Venezuelan migrants waiting to apply for refugee status at a Peruvian border post. Photo: Cris Bouroncle/AFP via Getty Images

How do race and class intercross in Venezuela?

They are intimately linked, as in most of the colonial countries that exploited slaves brought from Africa between the 16th and 18th centuries. In the case of Venezuela, the upper classes and their traditional families – some dating back to colonial times – are predominantly white and endogamous, and do not intermarry. One can place the Italian, Spaniard and Portuguese migrants that came in the mid-20th century fleeing the world wars on a lower rung. They were welcomed as skilled laborers, and who were then able to ascend in the social scale. This migratory wave from Europe was promoted by the Pérez Jiménez government in an attempt to “modernize” and “whiten” the country, to “improve the race”. Some intermarried, although most did not. These then are the highest layers of society, which constitute  a minority that owns important economic sources of power, but that nowadays are displaced from the center of politics.

Further down would be the majority of the country, which is fundamentally mestiza, of mixed white, Black and Indigenous origins. It is precisely this condition of identifying ourselves as the product of this blend is what makes it difficult for us to accept that we have problems with racism.

In the popular classes, there are more Afro-descendants and Indigenous people than in the middle classes. We can say that, in terms of mestizaje [denoting people of mixed-race backgrounds] our social structure is shaped like a rhombus or a diamond: as you approach either the top or the base there is less mestizaje , while in the middle layers it is much greater; moreover, the amount of melanin decreases at the top and increases as you move to the bottom.Therefore, in our country, class segregation tends to be deeply linked to racial segregation.

Was Chavismo an advance against racism?

Some could posit the 1998 electoral victory of Chávez as a symbolic success, because he was the first President of Indigenous and African descent and of a popular background in the country. However, class played more of a role than race here. As I mentioned earlier, the topics of race and class are intimately linked in Venezuela. On the part of the traditional Opposition, racist and classist discourses flourished. But two decades after this event, one cannot say that the most excluded classes are faring better than before, nor that this meant an empowerment of these sectors. On the contrary, today poverty, inequalities, exclusion and repression are greater.

President Nicolás Maduro, in National Bolivarian Police uniform, congratulates graduates of a National Police academy. REUTERS/Handout/Venezuelan presidency

In the present, under Nicolás Maduro’s regime, how do police or security forces interact with groups racialized or oppressed by racism? How do these forces respond when these groups organize for their rights?

When we denounce that in Venezuela police forces have been carrying out a drop-by-drop massacre against young people in popular sectors, we are referring to racialized and poor youth. Here, the criminal justice system is as racist and as classist as in other countries in the region. The main difference could lie in its high levels of deadly force.

The so-called forces of order, everywhere, are meant for the disciplining, control and repression of the popular classes, which ruling elites always consider dangerous. The real reason for their existence ––which is covered up by different types of discourses, predominantly normative ones, that invoke the general interest and public safety–– is, in essence, the protection of the few that hold political and economic power.

This all dates back to our colonial history. The Colony was always a police state. The arrival of the so-called ‘rule of law’ that would set limits and rules on power in the metropolis did not work in the same way in the peripheries. The inhabitants of the colonies were not considered citizens but savages, deprived of rights and subject to a state of exception. This idea is still deeply rooted in our countries. Thence come some of the justifications for the excesses of institutional violence, and especially that of the police.

In the specific case of Venezuela, the security forces have been marked from their origins by their militarization, their instrumentalization by political parties, and their excesses against the popular classes. The military logic that imposed itself in the confrontation with the [Leftist] armed struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with thousands of cases of violations of human rights, was displaced in the following decades to the daily practices of security forces. Cases like the “Pits of Death”, the massacre of El Amparo, or the repression of the 1989 Caracazo rebellion would become emblematic of the last decades of the 20th century.

The twenty-first century in Venezuela came with promises of a radical change and a rupture with what preceded it. However, what ensued was a continuity and a deepening of everything that was already profoundly wrong.

According to official data analyzed in our studies, between 2010 and 2018 over 23,688 people died at the hands of State security forces. 69% of these cases happened between 2016 and 2018. The rate of homicides by State agents multiplied by a factor of six between 2010 and 2018, reaching up to 16.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. This number is higher than the total rates of homicide in most other countries.

The share of these cases in relation to the total number of violent deaths also climbed in that same period, from 4 percent to 33 percent. This means that, at present, one out of three homicides that happen in the country is a consequence of the intervention of state security forces. This, in a country whose homicide rates of 50 per 100,000 might already be considered a slaughter. In 2018, fourteen Venezuelan young people died every day on average at the hands of the police.

To get an idea of the dimensions of this problem, consider that in Brazil this class of homicides totals about 7 percent of the total number. In 2017, Venezuela suffered more deaths from public force interventions than its neighbor, whose population is 7 times greater: Brazil had 4,670 deaths, Venezuela 4,998.

In another striking contrast, human rights data analyst] Patrick Ball estimates that between 8 and 10 percent of all homicides in the United States are a consequence of security forces’ interventions. In Venezuela, that percentage is three times higher.

These are some of the summaries that characterize the current government. Far from weakening it, these dynamics actually strengthen it, because it operates with a necropolitical logic. As material conditions of life deteriorate, life itself seems to also lose its value. In that process, the government exercises greater and more effective controls over the population; the more it is accused of being authoritarian and dictatorial, of generating terror, the more vile it becomes. That is where its main political capital lies. Its legitimacy is not found in votes, or in the people’s will, but in the unlimited exercise of power and force. Fear is one of its main tools.

This exceptionality has only continued to extend itself under the pandemic, granting more power to those who already controlled the entire State apparatus. During the first two months of the quarantine ––a period in which it was expected that, with the reduction of social mobility, urban violence would decrease as well––over 428 people died at the hands of State security forces. 99 of those were prisoners in flight attempts or protests against the precarious conditions of precinct jails or prison complexes. This amounts to 7 deaths per day; deaths that do not scandalize anyone. Over that same period, according to official numbers, COVID-19 had taken the lives of ten people, meaning one death every six days. For Venezuelans, State security forces are forty-three times more deadly than the pandemic ravaging the world.

It is important to mark a distinction on a topic that, due to class and race prejudices, is often manipulated in the media when approaching the topic of Venezuela: the numbers I just pointed out, of thousands of deaths, pertain to young people from popular sectors massacred under the excuse of “public safety”. We are not talking of political dissidents or about demonstrations, and it is important to highlight these differences. This does not mean that in Venezuela repression against demonstrations is not brutal, but lethal institutional violence is expressed in a more massive, systematic, permanent, and daily manner  against young people in popular sectors.

State repression is always political. ‘Public safety’ only serves as an excuse for it. This repression is socially distributed in a differentiated manner: in the impoverished barrios, it is unlimited and lethal, while in demonstrations, it depends on who is protesting. When the poor protest, repression is greater, as seen in the demonstrations of the last days of January 2019, which left over fifty dead in less than two weeks. By contrast, when the protesters are  young people from the middle classes, or university students, institutional violence generally expresses itself in less deadly ways, through arbitrary detentionstorture, illegal massive raids, military judicial processing of detained civilians, etc.

An auxiliary unit of the FAES questions young men on the streets of Barquisimeto, Lara. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

You say that there was “a deepening of everything that was already profoundly wrong”. What policies led to this? What transformations happened in police institutions under Chavismo, that would explain this rise in homicides at the hands of the police?

As I mentioned earlier, the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were not a fairytale and Venezuela was not Disneyland. From 1998, and at least until the death of President Chávez, the dominant discourse in approaching the problem of public insecurity was one with a social focus. Starting in 2013, the Government’s discourse became much more repressive, ideologically very near to that of its alleged adversaries. Thus, we can clearly distinguish two stages in the discourse and the official policies regarding public safety in twenty-first century Venezuela.

A first stage can be identified between 1998 and 2013, beginning with the first government of President Chávez, who succeeded in capitalizing on the discontent with the political system as a whole. Chávez transformed that discontent into hope through a project that promised  radical transformation and  rupture with the previous order. This involved the “refoundation” of the Republic, a new Constitution, and a series of institutional reforms. The political and the social were the topics of discussion. “Public safety” was not on the agenda, and when it was broached, it ended up diluted in the discourse of social policies. The line was the classical social sciences Mertonian discourse: the lack of opportunities creates conditions for the most impoverished to commit crimes. What does this recipe call for, then? To improve their living conditions.

In consequence, the focus, apparently, was placed only on the social, on topics of inclusion, while neglecting attention to the spaces of security proper: the police forces, the Criminal Investigations Body (CICPC)the public prosecutorsthe courts, and the prisons. All of these remained the same, unaffected by changes, following the same wrongful trajectories and progressively becoming power fiefs autonomous from the State itself. Though this was not a novelty of the Chávez government, the process became more acute, in a sort of continuity of a process of institutional precarization and decay.

In the field of legislation, the rationality of previous governments was maintained: increases in sentencing guidelines, decreases in welfare, broadened criminalization of behaviors, etc. Far from contributing to the improvement of the criminal justice system, all of this over-burdens it, making it slower and more arbitrary and violent.

From an ideological standpoint, it is important to highlight that the rhetoric of some allegedly progressive public opinion shapers, which attempts to trace a cause-effect link between poverty and violence, inadvertently coincides with classist, conservative and right-wing discourses, while seeming to superficially suggest that the State should only intervene socially. Critical criminology––especially its English strand–– began to overcome this idea towards the end of the 70s, and with it a romantic and idealized vision of the criminal: it set itself the task of analyzing, understanding and intervening in concrete criminal justice politics. This gave way to a more acute awareness of the fact that those most affected by violence and lack of safety are the most impoverished themselves, and that something must be done about this.

However, this was the discourse that President Chávez adopted from his rise to power to the day of his farewell. The causes of violence were understood to be factors associated with exclusion, inequality, poverty and lack of opportunities; as a consequence, the priority was to reduce these factors. Beyond the issue of public safety, what we must ask nowadays is whether in all those years, these needs were genuinely fulfilled in structural, universal, institutionalized, permanent, uninterrupted and non-conjunctural ways––if the purported Social State effectively came to be and if it achieved sustainability––or, on the contrary, if these changes were just another conjunctural redivision of the oil rent in times of abundance.

In terms of discourses, criminal justice politics during this period were seemingly dissolved into social policies, without heeding one of the great warnings of the [critical criminologist] Alessandro Baratta, namely, that public safety policies must be integrated into general social policies that encompass them. A public safety policy outside a framework of general social policies makes no sense. Social policies must not be confounded with public safety policies and social policies must not be ‘criminalized’ through their elaboration from security spaces. This is a very common error, and a very tempting one, for allegedly progressive approaches.

On the other hand, general social policies that do not guarantee the institutional presence of the State as mediator and intervenor in conflicts as a defender of the most vulnerable in situations that threaten or put at risk their enjoyment of their rights can suffer internal crises, as happened in the Venezuelan case.

The most emblematic concrete public safety policy during this early stage was the 2006 creation of the National Commission of Police Reform (CONAREPOL). This Commission was created in the context of an election year that coincided with a rise in homicides in the country, and with cases that shocked public opinion, Kennedy, Faddoul, Sindoni. [In reference to the murders of three university students in the Kennedy sector of Caracas, the murder of the businessman Filippo Sindoni, and the ransom kidnapping and murder of the Faddoul brothers, teenage sons of a Lebanese-Venezuelan businessman.] These cases, instrumentalized by the Opposition for electoral ends, involved police officers, and the high profile of the victims meant that the demands for justice around their cases gained plenty of steam.

What was the Government’s response to these demands? The CONAREPOL. The creation of this space was a correct political decision by the Government because, facing a crisis, it formed a consensus and exercised the elaboration of public policy in a serious and rational way. A new police model was designed, framed in legislation and in dozens of progressive resolutions between 2006 and 2013. With this impulse, a new institutionality was formed, in terms of narratives and forms. However, it is important to understand that the design of a policy is one thing and its implementation another. The police and military apparatuses maintain their own agendas, and have corporate, self-serving interests that any reform seeking to impose limits and institutional and legal controls upon their proceedings will affect.

Thus, while police reform was at the center of Government propaganda, in reality, a “counter-reform” by the State security forces was being carried out in the streets. This counter-reform, paradoxically, hid behind the “new model”, whose sets of norms were not applied. The ‘new model’ was useful to show off in times of crisis, to touch up the appearance of the police and to politically and socially re-legitimize it, and to refurbish its image in the press. Its merely discursive character served to invisibilize routine police practices that ended up becoming more and more dangerous and damaging. In terms borrowed from Robert K. Merton’s sociology, one could say that the process of police reform fulfilled a manifest function of designing a new police model, dignifying its service, and making it consistent with the protection of human rights and progressive goals. But the CONAREPOL had several latent functions: to cover up what was happening in reality and to oxygenate and expand the police apparatus, while deepening its discretionary powers and militaristic logics. The idea of a “civic-military union” never ceased to be present in how these institutions were to really operate.

With the death of President Chávez in 2013, the social discourse and focus were put aside, along with references to the civilian and preventive “new police model”, to begin a new stage that runs to our daysRight away a different discourse was taken up that put aside the more social perspective to mainly focus on aspects of repression. The new President [Maduro] took the topic of public safety as a central axis of his policies.

The governmental discourses and criminal justice policies took a radical turn, ideologically approaching the right-wing “realism” popularized towards the end of the 1980s by Reagan and Thatcher. With this turn, the poor were transformed from victims into victimizers, to be treated as ingrates who, in this view, insisted in committing crimes despite the Government’s social policies. Through the prism of a more conservative Left they are seen as “lumpen”, acting as an obstacle to the advance of the Revolution. These views would provide the ideological excuses for giving carte blanche to the military and the police to carry out a sort of “social cleansing” in which everyone who bears the features of ‘delinquency’ as promoted by classist and racist stereotypes must be neutralized through intimidation, incarceration or physical elimination.

The Government has changed its “enemies.” Earlier, it had all-powerful ones in “The Empire”, “Capitalism” and “the bourgeoisie.” Nowadays, the enemies are the barrio poor, the ingrate “lumpen.” Thus, an “anti-imperialist” “class struggle” has morphed into an intra-class struggle that criminalizes poverty. In this way, the Government has hardened its policies of police and military control.  It carries out militarized police operations against marginal populations, with increasingly deadly consequences, as I described in the previous answer. The most recent examples of these are the Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLP) and the actions of the Special Action Force (FAES). Finally, the landscape of the past two decades confirms the existence of a structural problem in the continuity and follow-up of policies. In 58 years of “democracy”, Venezuela has had over 43 Ministers of the Interior [responsible for policies over police and public safety]. These, on average, don’t even last a year and a half in office. A consistent implementation of policies based on minimal institutional agreements that transcend the actors conjuncturally holding power cannot be found. The only continuity one can appreciate is the decay and corruption of the institutions that have recently reached new levels, increasing the vulnerability and defenselessness of citizens to institutional and criminal violence, which are more and more difficult to distinguish from one another.

Joint Military-Police exercises, with members of the Bolivarian National Police and its Special Action Forces marching alongside military members. Foto: EFE

In what ways do social and economic indicators (such as access to education, healthcare, employment, housing, among others) evidence discrimination against oppressed groups?

Data and statistics in Venezuela are currently precarious. As I mentioned, the topic of racism has not been owned up to as a problem, so it is not addressed or registered.

According to the 2011 National Census, in terms of racial self-perception, only 2% of the population recognized themselves as ‘Black’ or ‘Afro-Descendant’, while 49% identified as ‘Brown’ [‘moreno/a’]. There is no consciousness of Blackness. This hinders the formation of strong organizations with anti-racist perspectives, as exist in the U.S. and Brazil. In consequence, debates, mobilizations and struggles in this sense are rare, having limited reach and impact.

Furthermore, in a context of a generalized crisis linked to the fulfillment of the most basic needs of the population, the ordering of priorities is also of a different nature. In Venezuela, over the past few years, social rights have severely regressed. The general scarcity of foodstuffs and medications correlates to the reappearance of diseases that were thought eradicated, such as malaria, diphtheria, measles, dengue fever, Chagas disease, meningitis, tetanus and tuberculosis. Over the past thirteen years, the currency has been deflated over 100 million times, reaching an inflation rate estimated at over 1 million percent, similar to Germany’s in 1923 or Zimbabwe’s in the 2000s. According to the National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI), between 2014 and 2017, poverty by income increased from 48% to 87%, while extreme poverty grew from 23.6% to 61%. In the last yearly report of the UNDP, only Syria and Libya, two countries suffering from prolonged wars, have fallen farther in the Human Development Index than Venezuela, which fell 25 spots between 2012 and 2018. The most recent report of the World Food Program places us as number four in the world with the most ‘urgent need of aid’, with 9.3 million people, 32% of the population, suffering from food insecurity.

Bolivarian National Guards in Cabimas, Zulia, arrested and exhibited a 16-year old for stealing five squashes, 2016. Photo, Twitter @GNB_ZuliaD113. In http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n300473.html

What movements are there in Venezuela today for racial justice, understood in broad terms? What dynamics do they take, what obstacles do they face?

As I stated earlier, I think in the country, in general terms, there is a greater consciousness of class than of race. I suspect that some of the few organizations that exist are promoted by the Government or have been coopted by it as part of its official propaganda apparatuses. This makes their field of discourse an action quite limited. But it would be better if you asked a specialist on the topic about this.

FAES officers killed brothers José Alfredo and Anderson Torres, who were unarmed, after beating them outside their house, in January of 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado, in http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/venezuela-violence-police/

What consciousness is there in Venezuela about racism in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the on-going rebellion? What meaning do discussions about these take in the Venezuelan political context?

I’m thankful for this question, because it allows me to say several things I think are important, and that I don’t see addressed in public discussions.

Unfortunately, the national leadership has taken Venezuelans to a situation of increased defenselessness: the country is the object in imperialist disputes between the United States, Russia and China. This objectifies the country in different ways: for the great powers and for their ‘progressives’ it is a sort of laboratory where we as Venezuelans are the guinea pigs. At the same time, we find ourselves, in Foucaultian terms, in an enormous institution of reclusion.

In this context, it is not only useless but naive to attempt to reduce this complexity to dichotomous visions of Government-Opposition, or even more ridiculously, of Right-Left politics. In reality, despite the enormous and increasing rejection faced by the Government, the Opposition is almost non-existent. The Government plays alone in the national chess-board, and little remains in it of a Leftist character, beyond its aesthetics and the propaganda that some ––thankfully shrinking––sectors of a conservative left still consume, whether from lack of knowledge or from complicity.

Thus, we see sectors that condemn police violence in the U.S., but legitimize and justify the slaughters that security forces carry out in Venezuela. These sectors are mirrored by those who justify police violence in the U.S. but vehemently condemn it in Venezuela. In the end, the fans of Trump and Maduro are quite similar on these topics as they both follow structurally authoritarian, repressive and anti-democratic projects. They may define themselves as antagonistic, but they rather complement and legitimize each other, using one another’s excesses in their propaganda to cover up or justify their own crimes.

In Venezuela, for instance, the Government uses the terrible case of George Floyd in its tirades and propaganda against the U.S. government, with the end of seducing some well-meaning dupes among international progressives. With this, they distract attention from the disaster that they have made in the country and the massacres that their own security bodies execute.

On the side of the more traditional Opposition, Black Lives Matter will not be well received because, in the end, these are conservative, racist and classist sectors that agree with this type of excess against the excluded; they will only raise their voices when the victims are their own militants, middle-class youth in the context of a political demonstration, or when it is beneficial for their own media agenda. They care very little about the deaths of thousands of racialized and impoverished young people caused by police interventions.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that  race consciousness  is still in a state of gestation in Venezuela. The Left in our country is predominantly and majoritarily conservative and Eurocentric; it does not ask itself these questions because race does not fit well in its cheat-sheet of “class struggle”. Moreover, much of it is in a process of self-destruction, having been co/opted by the Government’s apparatuses, logics, and rhetoric––hence their oscillation between justifications, denying reality, and an abetting silence towards the State’s excesses and human rights violations. Only minority sectors, with little weight, remain active in struggle. Fortunately, the international left and progressive sectors are becoming increasingly aware of what is really happening in Venezuela, and little by little have been putting aside automatic solidarities towards its Government.

Institutional violence and human rights violations must always be energetically condemned. There are no good violators of human rights, and their behaviors should not be justified in any way. This double standard to condemn some excesses and justify others does enormous harm to societies and states, and to politics itself.