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. 

How Can Current Struggles in Lebanon & Iran Come Together in a Revolutionary Socialist Direction? Statement from Alliance of MENA Socialists

It is not enough to speak out against the corruption of the Lebanese and the Iranian governments and demand efficient management.  It is not enough to speak out against privatization.  It is not even enough to expose these states as exploitative capitalist and authoritarian.   It is evident  that  Iran’s militarized and religious fundamentalist  state capitalism plays an important role in promoting the suffering of the people in the region,  including Syria,  Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.     Lebanon,  despite being perceived as a “democracy’,  has been very quickly entrenching the authoritarian aspect of its regime through state and militia crackdowns.

While acknowledging this reality,  what we need , are active forms of solidarity between the current mass protests in Lebanon and the labor struggles in Iran.  We also need active solidarity between feminist activists in both countries.   Our respective struggles need to clearly spell out radical goals that go beyond simply opposing the current political system.  We need to explicitly state that without a fundamental transformation in labor conditions,  without ending the dehumanization of women,   without ending the Kafala system in its variety of forms,  without ending anti-Black racism, without ending  discrimination against Kurds and other oppressed minorities including sexual minorities,  and without preserving and detoxifying our environment,  we will not move forward.

Read the full statement on the website of the Alliance of MENA Socialists.

Transformative justice & anti-carceral politics

The Global Prison Abolition Coalition invites you to a panel on Transformative Justice and anti-carceral politics.

The main driver behind the public’s rejection to abolitionist movements is the fear that there might be no alternative to prisons. This notion widely pushed by the state as well as other institutions that benefit from the carceral system is not true. There are alternative ways to think about justice beyond prisons and state punishment. This panel will address one such alternative: Transformative Justice (TJ).

Transformative Justice entails a political approach that seeks to build a anti-carceral politics while engaging in harm/violence reduction. This panel will unpack different understandings of abolitionism generated from an internationalist & anti-capitalist politics. The speakers will explore the history and significance of TJ in three locations, namely, Bolivia, Rojava in Northern Syria, and the United States.

https://www.facebook.com/events/914916035657763/

Speakers:
Joy James is the F.C. Oakley Professor in Humanities at Williams College, where she teaches in Political Science, Africana Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and American Studies. She is the author of Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics and Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender and Race in U.S. Culture. Her edited books include The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, Imprisoned Intellectuals, States of Confinement, The Black Feminist Reader, and The Angela Y. Davis Reader.

Nazan Üstündağ received her Ph.D. in 2005 from the sociology department at Indiana University Bloomington. Between 2005 and 2018, she worked as an Assistant Professor at Boğaziçi University, Department of Sociology. Since 2018, she resides in Berlin first as an Academy in Exile and IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund fellow and then as a Gerda Henkel Stiftung Patromonies Program fellow. Her most recent academic articles on state violence and Kurdish Movement appeared in journals South Atlantic Quarterly, History of the Present and Differences. She also worked as columnist in the journal Nokta and the newspaper Özgür Gündem. Üstündağ is a member of Women for Peace and Academics for Peace. Recently, she is finishing a book manuscript with the working title Mother, Politician and Guerilla: The Emergence of A New Political Cosmology in Kurdistan Through Women’s Bodies and Speech.

Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist and one of Latin America’s leading political theorists. He is an international analyst for newspapers like La Jornada (Mexico) and Brecha (Uruguay), and a professor at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina. Zibechi has written numerous books on social movements and politics across the Americas, including Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements (AK Press, 2012) and Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces (AK Press, 2010).

Moderator and Translator: The panel is moderated and translated by Linda Quiquivix who is a popular educator, geographer, and translator based in California. Linda Quiquivix (“Kiki”) is daughter of the undocumented migrant community in California and granddaughter of the Mam (Maya) people of Guatemala and Mexico. She places her university training as a geographer at the service of under-resourced communities in Palestine, Mexico, and the U.S. who seek clean water, land, and tools to build autonomy. In her hometown of Oxnard, California, she is part of a collective of seed savers and farmers who intervene against food insecurity, rebuild respectful ecological relationships to Mother Earth, and collectively organize toward climate resilience. She’s also a writer and researcher, currently working on a book manuscript entitled. Palestine and the Wretched of Empire: Race, Cartography, and the Afterlives of 1492, which traces the uses of cartography and international law in Palestine/Israel to show how movement leaders come to replicate domination when the world of empire becomes the starting point for politics.

What Is Holding Back the Formation of a Global Prison Abolitionist Movement to Fight COVID-19 and Capitalism?

Frieda Afary and Lara Al-Kateb
Originally published in Spectre

The COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to the need to abolish prisons, refugee camps and the inhuman capitalist carceral system.  Prisoner and refugee populations are facing an imminent death sentence from the fast spread of the virus in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of prisons and camps.

During the past week, there have been protests inside some detention centers and prisons in the US, Iran, Italy and elsewhere.  Prison abolitionist and refugee and immigrant support groups in the US are calling for “a thorough plan to release people from jails, prisons, and detention centers.” Although, the US and several other counties have started to release limited portions of their prison populations, it is way too small to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic demands a global prison abolitionist movement based on opposition to all forms of exploitation and domination. In the first part of this article, we offer some an overview of the world’s prison and refugee camp populations. In the last part, we will discuss some key obstacles to the formation of a global prison abolitionist movement. We hope to spark discussion with prison abolitionists around the world, so that we can make a difference at this critical moment.

THE GLOBAL PRISON AND REFUGEE CAMP SYSTEM

On a global scale, the U.S, China and Russia have the highest numbers of prisoners and hold half of the world’s prison population of nine million. Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa also have large prison populations.

The US prison population is estimated at around 2.3 million people, with approximately 540,000 detailed because they cannot pay cash bail. The “War on Drugs” targeted African-Americans, resulting in a Black incarceration rate five times that of whites. Today U.S prisons are incubators of disease, where overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and the lack of medical care and medical staff  leave many prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus.

In China, over 1.5 million people are currently detained and more than half are political prisoners, the majority of who are ethnic minority Uighurs held in re-education camps in Xinjiang province. By late February, over 500 cases of COVID-19 were reported across five Chinese penitentiaries, and many more are unreported or covered up.

Russia has an estimated prisoner population of 874000. Police forces arbitrarily arrest protesters, including university students and children. At least half a million prisoners in Russia do not have access to hygiene and sanitation protections against the coronavirus.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, Syria has the highest number of political prisoners with roughly 100,000 people. A letter signed by 43 human rights groups calls for the immediate release of all prisoners from detention centers and jails and prisons inside Syria.

Turkey has between 200,000 and 300,000 prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch, it is the world’s leader jailer of journalists. Many activists have also been prosecuted for their social media posts.  There are currently 49,000 political prisoners in Turkey.  Recently,  Turkish officials have agreed to release ⅓ of the incarcerated population in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, journalists, Kurdish militants and political activists will be excluded from the measure. Since social distancing is not possible in prison cells, this puts thousands of people at risk of infection.

In Iran, the prison population is approximately 240,000, with no accurate count of political prisoners. The Iranian government’s effort to cover up the spread of the virus until late February   has led to Iran’s population suffering the highest coronavirus death toll in the MENA region so far. There are currently reports of riots in prisons in Tabriz, Azarbaijan, Saqez, Kurdistan, Ahvaz, Khuzestan, Hamedan, as well as a hunger strike of 200 women prisoners in Urmia, all demanding furlough to be saved from COVID-19. The Iranian government claims that it has temporarily release 85,000 prisoners in face of the pandemic. Very few among them are political prisoners.

In Israel, there are over 19,000 imprisoned people, of who over 4500 are Palestinians.  Palestinian prisoners have been cut off from any contact with family or lawyers since the imposition of emergency regulations to combat COVID-19.  In protest over medical negligence, Palestinian prisoners are refusing the meals provided to them by the prison authorities.

In Egypt which has a prison population of over 100,000, some political prisoners have been released.  However tens of thousands remain detained for peacefully protesting, and the number of political prisoners including women political prisoners is rapidly increasing.

The number of people in refugee camps, another form of prison, is the highest since World War II.   Of the 70 million forcibly displaced  people around the world, 29 million are refugees and over half are children.  Two-thirds of refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. The situation of Syrian refugees in Idlib, and in other camps camps in the region  is atrocious. A refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece intended to house 3000 people is now holding 23,000 refugees.  Several aid groups warn of catastrophic consequences for refugees without access to testing, medical facilities and running water.

In South Sudan, there are more than 1.6 million internally displaced people. According to the  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nairobi, it takes days for adequate healthcare to reach people for treatable diseases like malaria or diarrhea which sometimes end in fatalities. So far, no confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in South Sudan. However, contagion in such densely-populated areas could devastate an already fragile healthcare system. Scarcity and lack of beds in two major refugee camps in Southeast Africa which hold around 418,000 refugees and  asylum seekers puts thousands of lives at jeopardy.

In the US, there are 37,000 undocumented immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. At least 7000 children of migrants are being held either in various group homes away from their parents or in detention centers with their parents. Tens of thousands of rejected asylum seekers are in camps at the US-Mexico border.

In light of these realities, it is clear that the world’s detained and displaced will be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, requiring a global response from prison abolitionists.

CHALLENGES FOR GLOBAL SOLIDARITY  

Until now, the US prison abolitionist movement against mass incarceration and police violence has focused on US prisons, only recently broadening their scope to address the detention of undocumented migrants by ICE. Few connections have been made with activists defending political prisoners in China, Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa; or with those organizing in solidarity with the over 70 million refugees and displaced people in camps around the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic compels us to create a global prison abolitionist movement that addresses the connections between prisons, refugee camps, racism, sexism, imperialism and the inhumanity of the capitalist system.

Opposing the carceral system demands taking a stand against all forms of authoritarianism and oppression internationally. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag (2007) and a leader of the US prison abolitionist organization Critical Resistance, has analyzed both the relationship not only between economic crises and the rise in incarceration in the US; and the role of prisons as an instrument of social control to legitimate the power of the capitalist state globally. In a speech to a recent gathering of Critical Resistance in Los Angeles, she emphasized that “reforms will not end prisons. Abolitionism has to be Green, Red, and Internationalist.”

WHAT IS HOLDING US BACK?

Erich Fromm, a socialist humanist theorist from the Frankfurt School, has written about the ways in which the carceral and police system displace mass anger from social and economic conditions and toward prisoners.

While this may explain why broad layers of the popular classes acquiesce to the growth of incarceration, what are the factors impeding coordinated efforts among prison abolitionists and socialist solidarity activists on an international scale?  We want to point to four issues:

  1. There are real distinctions between political prisoners, and “common prisoners” who have been jailed for petty crimes rooted in poverty. However, these differences do not justify a political strategy that focuses exclusively on only on political prisoners. We cannot accept a “class distinction” among prisoners, but most oppose the carceral system itself.
  2. US prison abolitionists recognize the profoundly racialized character of the US prison population where two thirds of the current prison population of 2.3 million and many of the millions on parole are poor and working class Blacks and Latinos. Middle Eastern and North African activists have also highlighted the repression and incarceration of the Kurdish national minorities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Unfortunately, the same solidarity is often not extended to the over one million Uighur Muslims in Xinxiang province who are imprisoned in the Chinese government’s forced labor/“re-education” camps.  We also need to extend our solidarity to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the Black population of Darfur, Sudan or of Brazil.
  3. Although the population of women prisoners around the world (officially 714,000) is smaller than the male prison population, women’s imprisonment is  growing at a much faster rate than men’s imprisonment. While some are political prisoners, the majority are in prison because poverty led to their being trafficked, forced to become sex workers, to use or sell drugs,  or because they defended themselves against or were held responsible for the debts of abusive partners. Transgender prisoners are also facing severe abuse around the world.
  4. Finally, there is a tendency among some on the global left to ignore or defend authoritarian rulers who claim to be against US imperialism. This selective anti-imperialism refuses to defend political prisoners in countries such as Syria, Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua even if they oppose all imperialist powers and religious fundamentalism. Of the over 100,000 political prisoners in the brutal Assad regime’s dungeons, the majority are not jihadists – they are youth, Kurdish, labor, and feminist activists who dared to participate in the uprising against the Assad regime in 2011 and after. The millions of Syrian refugees who are being bombed by the Assad regime and their Russia and Iranian allies suffer in refugee camps in the region.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its genocidal ramifications compels us to address these barriers to solidarity and overcome them in order to create a global movement for abolishing prisons and refugee camps.  Part of our program must point to the need to an alternative to the capitalist system itself, which is carceral and authoritarian whether in its neoliberal form or “statist”  forms.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Afary, Kamran.  Performance and Activism:  Grassroots Discourse After the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992.  Lexington,  2009.

Fromm,  Erich.  “The State as Educator:  On the Psychology of Criminal Justice”  in Critical Criminology:  Beyond the Punitive State.  Kevin B. Anderson and Richard Quinney, editors.   University of Illinois Press,  2000.

Gilmore,  Ruth Wilson.  Golden Gulag:  Prisons, Surplus Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California.  University of California Press, 2007.

Hartnett, Stephen John.  Challenging the Prison Industrial Complex.  University of Illinois Press, 2011.

Law, Victoria.  Resistance Behind Bars:  The Struggles of Incarcerated Women.  P.M. Press,  2009.

Alexander,  Michelle.  The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  The New Press, 2012.

Wang, Jackie.  Carceral Capitalism.  Semiotext(e),  2018

Articles

“Fighting the Prison Industrial Complex” in Communication and Critical Cultural Studies. Volume 4, 2007 – issue 4 (pp. 402-420) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14791420701632956

Ralston, Romarilyn.  Revisiting the Prison Industrial Complex.  Open Democracy, April 15, 2018. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/author/romarilyn-ralston/

Reports

لیلا حسین زاده.  “گزارشی کوتاه از بند زنان زندان اوین.”  زمانه 29 اسفند 1398

گزارشی از زنان زندانی در زندان های ایران.  بیدارزنی.  20 اسفند 1398

انتشار گزارش سالانه اطلس زندان های ایران.  زمانه 21 اسفند 1398

Video Dialogues

Alliance of MENA Socialists. Socialist Feminist International Dialogues

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/dialogue-between-socialist-feminists-from-china-russia-turkey/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/report-on-socialist-feminist-dialogue-between-iranian-iraqi-palestinian-lebanese-chilean-women/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/livestream-dialogue-between-sudanese-algerian-african-american-syrian-and-iranian-socialist-feminists/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/panel-on-challenges-facing-socialist-feminism-march-29livestreamed/

Campaigns

Alliance of MENA Socialists.  Campaign in Solidarity with Feminist Political Prisoners in the Middle East

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/campaign-in-solidarity-with-feminist-political-prisoners-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa/

https://allianceofmesocialists.org/free-mays-abou-ghosh-and-khalida-jarrar-from-israels-prisons/