12 Prominent Human Rights Campaigners Of 2012
Published 10 December 2012
Human rights advocates have had a busy year defending fundamental rights and freedoms amid armed conflicts, government crackdowns, and repressive new laws. To mark Human Rights Day on December 10, RFE/RL profiles some of 2012's most vocal democracy and human rights advocates.
<b>Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition politician, Burma. Freed.</b> Suu Kyi has spearheaded the pro-democracy movement in Burma (aka Myanmar) for more than two decades. She spent some 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and her release in 2010. She won a seat in parliament this year following reforms introduced by Burma's military rulers. In November, she received U.S. President Barack Obama at her home during his historic visit to Burma. Her tireless campaign for democracy has earned her numerous awards, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
<b>Chen Guangcheng, civil rights activist, China. Freed, self-exiled. </b>The blind, self-taught lawyer rose to international fame after exposing abuses tied to China's single-child policy, including forced late-term abortions and sterilizations. After a four-year stint in prison, Chen escaped from house arrest in April 2012 and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, sparking a diplomatic row. The following month he was able to emigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters.
<b>Ales Byalyatski, opposition leader, Belarus. Jailed. </b>Byalyatski is currently serving a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence. The charges of tax evasion leveled against him have been condemned in the West as politically motivated. Byalyatski founded Belarus's first pro-democracy movement, the Belarus Popular Front, and heads its most influential rights group, the Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center. He was a finalist for the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
<b>Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer, Iran. Jailed.</b> Sotoudeh has actively defended opposition prisoners, women, and juveniles facing the death penalty. She is currently serving a six-year sentence on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She was one of the recipients of the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
<b>Ai Weiwei, artist and political activist, China.</b> The internationally acclaimed conceptual artist, who helped design Beijing's "bird's nest" stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games, has since angered Chinese authorities with his criticism of alleged government corruption and cover-ups. He was detained for nearly three months last year and charged with tax evasion in a case he dismisses as politically motivated. The Beijing tax bureau has demanded that he pay 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines.
<b>Bolotnaya opposition protesters, Russia. One jailed, 17 in preliminary detention or house arrest. </b>The Bolotnaya protesters are named after the square where they were detained on May 6 during an opposition rally in Moscow that erupted into clashes with riot police. Investigators say 18 demonstrators instigated "mass disorder" and assaulted police officials. They each face up to 10 years in prison. One defendant has been sentenced to four and 1/2 years in prison. Another defendant, Mikhail Kosenko (pictured), is battling a prosecutors' request to intern him in a psychiatric hospital. Kosenko suffers from a mental disorder after trauma sustained during his military service. The Bolotnaya protesters are seen by many as a symbol of resistance to the ongoing Kremlin crackdown on dissent.
<b>Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, United States.</b> Peter Bouckaert has been at the forefront of efforts to uncover human rights abuses in conflict-torn regions. This year, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the mass execution of members of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's convoy by rebel militants. The report, based on Bouckaert's fact-finding mission, said the killings constituted the largest documented execution of detainees by anti-Qaddafi forces during the bloody eight-month conflict in Libya.
<b>Denis Mukwege, doctor, Congo. Recovering from attack. </b>Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon and a past Nobel Peace Prize nominee, runs a hospital treating victims of sexual violence from the protracted war in Congo. In October, gunmen broke into his home, threatened his children with a gun, and killed a security guard before shooting at Mukwege. Neither he nor his children were harmed in the apparent assassination attempt, condemned by Amnesty International as "atrocious." Mukwege and his family have been recovering from the attack abroad.
<b>Vladimir Kozlov, opposition leader, Kazakhstan. Jailed. </b>Vladimir Kozlov heads Kazakhstan's Algha! (Forward!) and People's Front opposition movements. A fierce critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, he was sentenced to seven and 1/2 years in prison in October on charges of attempting to overthrow the government during deadly riots by striking oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen. The international community has strongly denounced his jailing, with Human Rights Watch describing it as "a blow to freedom of expression and political pluralism" in the Central Asian nation.
<b>Malala Yousafzai, education-rights campaigner, Pakistan. Recovering from attack.</b> The 14-year-old schoolgirl is known for her courageous work in promoting child rights and education for girls in her native Pakistan. In October, she was shot in the neck and head by Taliban militants on her way home from school in the northwestern Swat district. She is currently recovering in a hospital in Britain.
<b>Idrak Abbasov, journalist, Azerbaijan. </b>Abbasov was hospitalized in April after being viciously beaten by some 20 police and security personnel from the SOCAR state energy company. He had been filming house demolitions by SOCAR on the outskirts of Baku. Rights groups and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the attack. Abbasov writes for the newspaper "Zerkalo," one of the few independent media outlets in authoritarian Azerbaijan, and founded the Institute for Reporters' Freedoms and Safety. In March, he received a prize for his reporting from the Index on Censorship, a free-speech advocacy group.
<b>Pussy Riot, opposition and free-speech activists, Russia. Two members jailed, one freed.</b> The all-women dissident punk collective drew the ire of Russian authorities in February when it staged a song critical of President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's largest Russian Orthodox cathedral. Three Pussy Riot members -- Maria Alyokhina (left), Yekaterina Samutsevich (top right), and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (bottom right) -- were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years each in prison, a decision that sparked international outrage. Samutsevich was later released on probation. The trio was among the finalists for the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.