10 December 2018

Africa: Five Women Leading the Struggle for Human Rights in 2018

Photo: Amnesty International
Wild Coast anti-mining activist Nonhle Mbuthuma.
press release

In December 2018, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people all over the world will come together to write letters, scribble postcards, draw pictures and send emails – all of them focused on one thing: making change happen.

They will be taking part in one of the biggest campaigns for human rights in the world: Write for Rights. And this year they will be supporting extraordinary women who are leading the struggle for justice, often in the face of fierce opposition, discrimination and violence. In 2018, the campaign is highlighting cases where women human rights defenders are speaking out for change against all the odds. We’ve included five of them here – take time to stand with them today. Write a letter, change a life!

1. Nonhle Mbuthuma, South Africa

“When you take my land, you take my identity.” Nonhle Mbuthuma is leading the fight for her community against a mining company which wants to mine titanium on their ancestral land. For that she faces constant threats and intimidation, and has even survived an attempt to kill her.

But Nonhle is determined to resist. As she says: "This land belonged to my grandparents, who inherited it from their parents. What am I going to leave for my children? Mining is not an option.” Around 5,000 people may be forcibly evicted if the company is allowed to mine the land.

“They tried to intimidate us and they failed,” Nonhle told Amnesty recently. “I’m still standing. Nothing is going to separate us from the land.” Show your support for Nonhle and tell the President of South Africa to protect her now.

2. Atena Daemi, Iran

Like so many others, human rights defender Atena Daemi dreams of an end to the death penalty in Iran. She’s written posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, handed out leaflets, and joined peaceful protests in opposition to this cruel punishment. But in Iran, these actions can be used as “evidence” to send someone to prison.

Atena was sentenced to seven years in prison simply for standing up for human rights. Her trial was a sham – it took just 15 minutes and she was convicted on trumped-up charges, including “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”. It’s one more bitter example of the intense crackdown on people who speak out for a fairer Iran.

Atena has been beaten, pepper sprayed and put in solitary confinement, but she continues her brave human rights work from behind bars. Earlier this year, she went on hunger strike to protest at her transfer to a prison notorious for its poor conditions. Fight for her release – tell the Iranian authorities she should be released immediately and unconditionally.

3. Vitalina Koval, Ukraine

“Don't be afraid to do what you believe in, what your heart is beating for.” Vitalina Koval uses her passion to stand up for LGBTI people in Ukraine. “I want everyone to be equal in spite of their skin colour, sexual orientation, gender identity or beliefs,” she says.

But she and other activists across Ukraine have been violently attacked by anti-human rights groups, just for speaking out against hate and discrimination. On one peaceful demonstration to mark International Women’s Day, a group shouted insults and hurled red paint, causing chemical burns to Vitalina's eyes.

But she refuses to give in. “I've been attacked so many times,” she says, “but I'm not afraid any more, because I think fear is why you fail.” Stand with Vitalina – tell the Ukrainian authorities to protect her and other activists defending women’s and LGBTI rights.

4. Geraldine Chacón, Venezuela

Geraldine Chacón always dreamed of defending others. At 14 years of age, she stood for her local youth government. And at university, she started a network of Amnesty International activists. As her mother says, “Any injustice she saw, she fought against.” That's why at the age of 24 Geraldine now works for an organization which empowers young people in some of the poorest areas of Caracas, her home city. But she’s being hounded by the authorities just for trying to make her country a better place to live. This year, they imprisoned her for four months in appalling conditions and banned her from leaving the country simply for her human rights work.

The harassment and intimidation that Geraldine has endured is part of a wider crackdown on those who express any form of dissent or criticize the authorities in Venezuela. The judicial case against her still isn’t closed so she could be arrested again at any moment, with no warning. Tell the Venezuelan authorities to stop harassing Geraldine now.

5. Pavitri Manjhi, India

Pavitri Manjhi is taking a stand. She’s part of an Adivasi Indigenous community who are at risk of being kicked off their land to make way for two power plants. They stand to lose their

farms and livelihoods. But she’s leading the fight back.

Villagers say they were forced to sell their land by agents acting on behalf of two private

companies. Many haven’t even been adequately paid. As head of her village council, Pavitri brought people together to file nearly 100 formal complaints. And for that she faces ongoing intimidation.

For decades, Adivasi people have been forced from their land and had their rights trampled on to make room for business developments. But Pavitri isn’t going anywhere. She’s determined to help her community stand up to big business and protect their ancestral lands.

Tell the Indian authorities to give Pavitri the security she needs to protect her from threats, harassment and intimidation.
Write for Rights: Success stories

In the last 12 months, people power through Write for Rights has helped to create real change. Here’s how:

  • Teodora Vásquez was released from prison in El Salvador in February. She had suffered a stillbirth and was sentenced to 30 years for “aggravated homicide” under draconian anti-abortion laws. She spent over a decade behind bars.
  • In March, Jerryme Corre was released in the Philippines after being tortured by police and spending six years in jail on trumped-up drug-related charges. Thousands of supporters had campaigned for his release since 2014.
  • Mahadine, an online activist in Chad, was released in April after spending more than 18 months in prison on fabricated charges. He had been facing a life sentence for a Facebook post critical of the government.
  • In July, political cartoonist Zunar was finally acquitted in Malaysia. He had faced nine sedition charges for allegedly tweeting insults against the judiciary.

Around the world, women are leading the charge for freedom, justice, dignity and equality. These are all women human rights defenders who won’t back down, and who will keep working for a better, fairer world. Now’s the time to stand with them, every step of the way. Write a letter, change a life today.

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