November 29 marked International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, here MEMO remembers some of the female activists who have paid heavily this year for their dedication to human rights. In 2015, human rights defenders still face intimidation, arrest and death for their work. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) face additional dangers – they are also exposed to or targeted for gender-based violence and gender-specific risks, and they are subject to violence because they challenge existing norms and stereotypes within their communities.
Intisar Al-Hasari – Libya
Intisar was a prominent Libyan activist and human rights defender. She was a co-founder of the Tanweer Movement, a non-political group committed to the promotion of peace, education, music and art.
On the morning of 24 February, the bodies of Intisar and her aunt were discovered in the boot of her car in Tripoli by security forces. The human rights defender and her aunt had allegedly been shot by members of an armed group. While the conflict is a major source of risk and insecurity for HRDs (armed groups allied to Libya’s rival governments are locked in a battle for control of the oil-rich nation), human rights activism is also constrained by limitations on freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Angiza Shinwari – Afghanistan
Angiza Shinwari was at the start of a second term as a provincial council member in Nangarhar. Before being elected to council, Shinwari was an activist and staunch defender of women’s rights and the right to education. Colleagues described Shinwari as a determined defender of women’s rights in the ultra-conservative east and an active member of Nangarhar’s provincial council.
She was killed on 16 February following a bomb attack on the vehicle in which she was travelling. It was the second attack on a female politician in three months – parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai survived a suicide bombing in November 2014.
Narges Mohammadi – Iran
Narges Mohammadi is an Iranian human rights activist and vice-president of the now-banned Defenders of Human Rights Centre, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. She won the 2011 Per Anger prize for her fight for human rights and women’s freedom.
She was first arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison in October 2011. The Appeals Court reduced her sentence to six years in prison. Her arrest in May, ostensibly on these older charges, was more accurately related to Mohammadi’s visit with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, as well as her continued peaceful activism.
Mohammadi has developed an undiagnosed epilepsy-like disease since her previous arrest when she was kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison for a month. Her health has further deteriorated, and the prominent human rights defender is now reportedly chained to a hospital bed, denied proper medical treatment for a worsening neurological condition and prevented from normal family visits.
Shaimaa El Sabbagh – Egypt
Shaimaa was a mother, poet, activist and woman human rights defender. She worked on labour rights and was the secretary of the Collective Action at the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in Alexandria.
She was killed when police fired at a group of unarmed demonstrators marking the fourth anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The iconic photo of her last moments has become a symbol of the Egyptian authorities’ brutality.
Ghada Jamsheer – Bahrain
Ghana is head of the Women’s Petition Committee, an organisation which campaigns for the rights and dignity of women in Shari’ah family courts. She is an author, blogger and an advocate for women’s rights and freedom of religion. Over the past years, Jamsheer has come under permanent surveillance with a 24-hour presence of plainclothes Public Security officials from the Ministry of the Interior in front of her home.
On 26 November, the Bahrain High Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of a one year prison term, suspended for three years, that was issued in May. She was sentenced on the charge of “assaulting a police officer” and additionally faces charge of “insulting a police officer”. Her trial was postponed to 11 November, then to 28 December.
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