WASHINGTON -- The United States has launched a campaign to highlight cases of women who Washington says have been “unjustly imprisoned” by governments around the world.
Under the initiative announced September 1 by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the U.S. State Department will profile 20 cases of women deemed by the United States to be “political prisoners” or “prisoners of concern.”
The campaign will profile Ukrainian military pilot and parliament member Nadia Savchenko, jailed in Russia on charges of participating in the murder of Russian journalists covering the Ukraine conflict, as well as Leyla Yunus and Khadija Ismayilova, critics of the Azerbaijani government imprisoned on charges widely considered to be politically motivated.
Others include Uzbek rights activist Matluba Kamilova, who Human Rights Watch says has been imprisoned for exercising free speech, and Iranian student activist Bahareh Hedayat, who was jailed amid a 2009 crackdown after street protests over a contentious presidential election.
“In naming these women, we are sending a message to their governments and others like them: If you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or on the basis of the rights that they’re fighting for,” Power told reporters in Washington.
“Free these 20 women and free the countless women and girls like them behind bars,” Power added.
The State Department has dubbed the initiative the #FreeThe20 campaign. It will profile one case per day in the run-up to the 20th anniversary this month of a UN initiative to empower women “in all spheres of public and private life.”
The campaign kicked off by highlighting the case of Chinese rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was detained by Chinese police in July in a sweeping crackdown on lawyers and civic activists.
“We will continue to repeat Wang Yu’s name and that of other women like her over the coming days, women like the brave Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova,” Power said.
A Baku court on September 1 sentenced Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and a contributor to RFE/RL, to 7 1/2 years in prison after convicting her of tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power.
Rights groups call the conviction retribution for her reports on corruption involving senior government officials.