Women's rights. Freedom of the press. The rule of law. From Afghanistan to
Zimbabwe, China to Peru, dissidents are working tirelessly for the liberties so
many take for granted. Their fight isn't an easy one -- dissidents often pay a
price for their work in the form of surveillance, kidnappings, beatings,
assassinations, arrests, and torture. FP's May/June issue featured the story of one such dissident, the jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But it is only the lucky few whose cases
echo around the world -- Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, or Tibet's
Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, innumerable people are caught up in the same battle. Here are just a few.
Garry Kasparov in 2008.
A tiny, frail woman of 82 years, Alexeyeva has protested Russian repression for
more than 40 years -- dating back to Leonid Brezhnev's premiership of the
former Soviet Union. She was first reported to Soviet authorities at age 19 for
reading banned poetry. Today, she can be found leading protests on street
corners and in prominent plazas, most recently on New Year's Eve, when she was
arrested for leading an unauthorized protest. In January, she told
the New York Times that Soviet
repression was easier to fight than it is in Vladimir Putin's era: "There
were rules then. They were idiotic rules, but there were rules, and if you knew
them you could defend yourself." She has been attacked
by pro-Kremlin supporters in recent months, prompting members of the European
Parliament to express
their concern and award
her the body's 2009 Sakharov human rights prize, named for famed Soviet
dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Garry Kasparov: Arguably the
chess player, Kasparov's political career has not been nearly as
successful. Founder of the United Civil Front and a leader of the loose
opposition coalition the "Other Russia,"
to challenge then-President Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitry
Medvedev, in the 2008 Russian presidential election. But he was forced
to withdraw in the face of a campaign of harassment that he says was
directed by the Kremlin. Kasparov, like many other Putin-era Russian
dissidents, has proved much more popular
in the West than in Russia. And Putin, now a very powerful prime minister, has
proved to be an even tougher opponent than Deep Blue.
out FP's 2008 interview with Kasparov here
by plainclothes officers in 2003, after he submitted a short story,
"Chaos, Corruption and the Suicide of the Mind in Libya," to the Arab Times, Rabbasi was sentenced to 15
years in prison. The writer is a relentless critic of the country's mercurial
leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi. The country's People's Court accused Rabbasi in
2003 of "dishonoring the guide of the revolution," aka Qaddafi. But
Rabbasi told Human Rights
Watch he was imprisoned for "criticizing the situation in my
country," just as Qaddafi now does. "So I don't know why I was
imprisoned. I did not carry a gun; I carried a pen."
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Ayman Nour in 2005.
Mohammed Abbou: A prominent
Tunisian lawyer, Abbou was arrested in May 2005 for penning an article slamming
the country's president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the torture to which
prisoners are often subjected. Abbou's trial took place the following month,
and he was convicted, both for denouncing torture and allegedly assaulting a
female colleague in 2002. Amnesty International designated
Abbou a prisoner of conscience until his release two years later as part of a
presidential pardon marking Tunisia's 50 years of independence. He remains subject
to a travel ban.
Ayman Nour: Egypt's most
prominent dissident, Nour is a liberal reformer who calls for an opening of
Egypt's rigid, authoritarian political regime. He challenged President Hosni
Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election and won 8 percent of the vote,
despite widespread irregularities and allegations of fraud. Before the
campaign, he was charged
by the state with registering forged signatures to get El Ghad, his party, on
the ballot. But following U.S. pressure,
Mubarak allowed him to stand. Nour lost his parliamentary seat in November of
that year, however, and he was quickly put on trial, where he received a
five-year prison sentence. In February 2009, he was unexpectedly
released, ostensibly for health reasons; he is still subject to a travel
ban, however. Nour is believed
to be considering another presidential bid in 2011, though under current
Egyptian law he would be ineligible to run.
Riad al-Turk: The old man of
the Syrian opposition, as he is called, Turk was first
arrested in 1952 and has served more than 20
years of his life in prison. Over the past half-century, the 80-year-old
has formed a broad coalition, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, to call
for free and fair elections. Turk played a prominent role during the so-called
Damascus Spring of 2000, a period of hope for Syrian political liberalization
following President Hafez al-Assad's death. The spring did not last long,
however, and Turk was arrested in 2001 after a memorable Al Jazeera interview in which he
proclaimed of Assad, "The dictator has died." Turk was the longtime secretary-general
of the Syrian Communist Party, and despite giving up his leadership post in
recent years, he remains very active in the organization.
RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images
Shirin Ebadi in 2009.
Fatullayev, a journalist for Monitor
magazine, first caught his government's attention in 2007 when he published
a controversial article implicating the government in the murder of a
colleague, Elmar Huseynov. A few months later, after a blog comment was falsely
attributed to him, Fatullayev was charged with terrorism and the incitement of
ethnic hatred and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Last December, while in
jail, he was hit with a new
count of possession of heroin, which he claims was planted on him by prison
guards, a tactic used frequently by Azerbaijani authorities, according to the
Committee to Protect Journalists.
Shirin Ebadi: The most famous
Iranian dissident, Ebadi is the founder
of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the winner
of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize "for her efforts for democracy and human
rights." In 1975, in the beginning of her storied career, Ebadi was the
first Iranian woman to serve as a judge. She lost her judgeship, however, after
the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when she was relegated to administrative duties. A
noted human rights lawyer, she has defended numerous clients who were unfairly
prosecuted by the state over the last 30 years, including dozens of women who had
been arrested for protesting discriminatory gender laws. Ebadi has been
consistently targeted by the Iranian government throughout her career and is an
supporter of the green movement, a position that sent her into self-imposed exile in Britain
following last year's disputed presidential election.
out FP's 2009 interview
Akbar Ganji: Once described
as the Iranian Vaclav Havel by British human rights group Article 19,
journalist Ganji was imprisoned from
2001 to 2006 for exposing state involvement in the killings of jailed Iranian
dissidents -- now known as the "Chain
Murders." He served in the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance in the 1980s, but his disillusionment with the Islamic Revolution's
path transformed him into Iran's preeminent investigative journalist. A champion
of secular, liberal democracy, Ganji
left Iran after his release from prison in 2006.
out FP's 2009 interview
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
Hina Jilani in 2007.
Yusuf Jumaev: Jumaev is a well-known
Uzbek poet who was arrested
on charges of "insult" and "resisting arrest" after he
called for President Islam Karimov's resignation before the December 2007
presidential election. He was sentenced to five years in prison and has already
faced torture by prison guards. Originally held in a minimum-security facility,
he was transferred
to the notorious Jaslyk Prison in July 2008.
Yevgeny Zhovtis: The founding
director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule
of Law, Zhovtis has fervently advocated
for freedom of religion and assembly, as well as democratic reform. He was convicted
of manslaughter in September in what international
observers saw as a farcical trial: His lawyer was not permitted to enter
any evidence or call witnesses to testify on Zhovtis's behalf. He was sentenced
to four years in prison.
Jilani and her sister Asma Jahangir have been warriors
for human rights in Pakistan since the 1980s when they were arrested for
protesting gender-discriminatory legislation. Jilani, an advocate of the
Supreme Court of Pakistan, has warned
that a return to military rule could start a process of Balkanization in
Pakistan. During her career, she has held numerous positions with international
organizations and served
as the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on the situation of
human rights defenders from 2000 to 2008.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Poster of Liu Xiaobo, 2010.
Liu Xiaobo: One of the most
famous Chinese human rights activists, Liu began his dissent when, after
spending much of the 1980s lecturing at Beijing Normal University, he
participated in the march on Tiananmen Square. Liu was punished with a 21-month
prison sentence for that first offense. More recently, in December 2008, Liu
signed Charter 08, a democratic
manifesto that China's liberal intelligentsia was preparing to submit to the
government in Beijing. Two days before the manifesto's Dec. 10 release -- selected to coincide with the 60th
anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- Chinese police
detained and later arrested Liu on suspicion of "inciting subversion of
state power." A Chinese court convicted him and laid down an 11-year
prison sentence on Christmas Day, 2008.
Gao Zhisheng: The New York Times recently described
Gao as "one of China's most high-profile human rights lawyers" -- a
surprising appellation for someone China's Justice Ministry had honored just
nine years earlier as one of the country's 10
best lawyers. In the decade since that pronouncement, Gao has defended many
prominent human rights activists in court. Such activities soon earned him the
ire of the Chinese government, which took to harassing him with the same vigor
it had previously reserved for his clients. In 2006, Gao evaded what Amnesty
International believes to have been a government-sponsored assassination
attempt. After the botched hit,
the Chinese police repeatedly detained and arrested Gao until February 2009,
when he disappeared. Gao resurfaced recently, but seemed a broken man. In an interview this
month, he announced that he would be abandoning any future political activity.
Others of note: Hu Jia, a
Beijing-based writer whose criticism of Chinese human rights abuses, detailed
in "The Real China
and the Olympics," earned him a 3½ year prison sentence in April 2009;
Dhondup Wangchen, a Tibetan filmmaker who was arrested in March 2008; and Tan
Zuoren, a writer whom Beijing arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for
attempting to conduct an independent investigation into the collapse of poorly
built government schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi in 1999.
San Suu Kyi: Few global dissidents are as well known as Aung San
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient whose long and storied career as a
democratic activist in Burma has inspired thousands to support her in
solidarity. After participating in a massive street protest of students against
the dictatorship on Aug. 8, 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi went on to found Burma's
National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won the 1990 general election
with 82 percent of the vote. Before Aung San Suu Kyi could assume the
premiership, however, the Burmese junta nullified the election results and placed her under house arrest, where she has
more or less been ever since. Recently, Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior NLD leaders
decided to boycott the first round of Burma's general election -- the first to
be held in decades -- citing an unjust electoral process.
Oo Tun: Popularly known as, Min Ko Naing, a nom de guerre
meaning "conqueror of kings," Paw Oo Tun is one of Burma's
longest-fighting dissidents. He rose to prominence in 1988 when he founded the
All Burma Federation of Student Unions, a Burmese student group dedicated to
the overthrow of the military junta. That same year, Paw Oo Tun was
jailed for 15 years after being arrested by Burmese police for participating in
the 1988 uprising. Three years after his 2004 release, Paw was again arrested
for politically subversive activities. This time, however, he received a
sentence of 65 years in solitary confinement. He is serving out his sentence in
Shan state's Kengtung prison.
A physician by training -- and the first
ethnically Hazara woman to become one -- Samar has been a tireless champion of
women's rights and women's health for the last quarter-century. After her
husband was arrested by the Afghan communist regime in 1984, Samar fled to
Pakistan, where she founded the Shuhada Organization, an NGO that works to
increase Afghan women's access to health care and improve the state of medical
knowledge in Afghanistan. Despite receiving death threats from the Taliban, she
returned to Afghanistan in 2002 as the minister for women's affairs. Unfortunately,
her time in that post was short-lived; she was forced to resign after her
liberal gender policies were met with resistance from her conservative male
colleagues. Currently, Samar chairs the Afghanistan
Independent Human Rights Commission, where she continues to work on women's
as well as more general human rights issues.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
Anwar Ibrahim in 2009.
Despite constant harassment from the police, which has included multiple kidnappings
Tsunga has made a career fighting against the regime of Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe. A highly respected lawyer and human rights advocate, Tsunga
formerly served as the executive director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO
that seeks to ensure free and fair elections, freedom of speech, and the
protection of constitutionally enshrined rights in Zimbabwe. He serves as a
trustee for Voice of the People, a broadcasting trust that seeks to expose
government corruption and illegal activity, and also heads the International
Commission of Jurists' Africa program.
Gopalan Nair: Nair, a former
opposition politician, is known throughout Singapore's embattled blogosphere
for his fierce promotion of human rights and blunt criticism of founding leader
and current "minister mentor" Lee Kuan Yew. In September 2008, Nair
to three months in jail for defaming a judge in a blog entry. On March 6, he
published a hoax
post on his blog
indicating that Lee had suffered a heart attack and had been brought to
Singapore General Hospital. Nair's motive? It was, he says,
"a deliberate attempt to highlight how tenuous Singapore really is, with
all power in the island vested in one man, and the dire consequences to the
island of his parting. And especially so as [Lee] is 87." Nair lives in
California and has been a U.S. citizen since 2004.
Anwar Ibrahim: Anwar is one of
the country's most famous and controversial politicians. Once a protégé of
former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, the two had a falling out in the
late 1990s, and Anwar emerged as leader of the Malaysian opposition. In this
capacity, he has continuously pressed the Malaysian government to become more
democratic and combat corruption. Throughout the past decade, Anwar has pushed
for improvements in governance-related
issues, especially the need for a more independent judiciary. In 1998 and again
in 2008, Anwar was arrested
and charged with what are widely seen as bogus sodomy crimes invented by the
government to silence him.
out FP's 2008 interview
Zainah Anwar: Zainah has
gained fame in Malaysia for her leadership of NGOs focused on promoting women's
rights. The daughter of Anwar bin Abdul
Malik, a well-known Malaysian politician, she rose to prominence in
1990s when she assumed the leadership of Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian
organization of Muslim women that promotes women's rights under sharia. Although
she has since relinquished that role, she continues to work to expand women's
rights in Islamic society by speaking out around the world.
BOB LOW/AFP/Getty Images
Olara Otunnu in 2002.
Olara Otunnu: Otunnu is a
prominent Ugandan lawyer, politician, and advocate for children's rights. He
has worked internationally on these themes for decades; from 1990 to 1998,
Otunnu served as president of the International Peace Academy (a think tank
later renamed the International Peace Institute), and he was the U.N.
representative for children and armed conflict from 1997 to 2005. At home,
he leads the Uganda Peoples Congress and is preparing to challenge incumbent
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the next general election, scheduled for February
2011. On April 19 police interrogated
Otunnu for allegedly accusing the president of intentionally prolonging the
country's civil war against the Lord's Resistance Army, a radical militant
group based in northern Uganda.
Hassan Shire Sheikh: Originally
based in his native Somalia, Sheikh is today a well-known human rights activist
across the Horn of Africa. After being forced to flee Somalia under government pressure, Sheikh worked at the African Human Rights
Defenders Project at York University from 2003 to 2005, where he published reports
exposing human rights abuses in northeast Africa, including Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Since 2005, Sheikh has served as executive director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights
Defenders Project, based in Kampala, Uganda, where he assesses regional
states' compliance with international human rights standards.
Republic of the Congo
Misabiko is president of the Katanga
province chapter of the African Association for the Protection of Human Rights,
an all-purpose NGO dedicated to campaigning against torture, providing
legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses, and compelling the
government in Kinshasa to respect its international human rights obligations. Misabiko was arrested in July 2009 after his organization released a report alleging labor exploitation
at uranium mines in the town of Shinkolobwe.
Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images
Yoani Sánchez in 2008.
Sánchez: Born in Havana in 1975, Sánchez is
best known for Generación Y, a blog she writes about daily life under the political
oppression of the Cuban government. She evades the censorship of Raúl Castro's
government by emailing her entries to friends and associates outside the
country, who then post them online. Although Sánchez has suffered harassment
and intimidation by the Cuban government -- she described a 2009 episode in which
she claims to have been abducted and beaten by government thugs -- she
nevertheless continues to write, drawing attention to the political plight of
Cubans living under the Castro regime.
Soberón is most famous in Peru for his 1985 founding of the Asociación Pro Derechos
Humanos, a human rights NGO headquartered in Lima. The organization's
initial purpose was to curb abuses by the Peruvian military and various insurgent
groups during the country's civil war. Today, it has embraced the broader
agenda of improving Peru's judicial system and improving the poor's knowledge
of their rights. In 2008, Soberón accused President Alan García's government of
manipulating public opinion by denouncing organizations as diverse as labor
unions and environmental NGOs as terrorist groups in an effort to stigmatize
them and muffle dissent. García hasn't taken such accusations lightly, calling Soberón a traitor,
according to Reuters.
The founder of one of Guatemala's first human rights NGOs, the Center for Legal
Action on Human Rights (CALDH), La Rue is among Guatemala's most impassioned
human rights activists. La
Rue and CALDH provide technical legal advice to the many Guatemalan
communities that brought cases in 2001 against former presidents Gen. Romeo
Lucas García and Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, both of whom were implicitly found
guilty of committing genocide by Guatemala's Historical
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Guillermo Zuloaga in 2009.
Zuloaga, owner of Globovisión, one the few independent television news stations
still operating in Venezuela, has long been known as a vocal critic of
President Hugo Chávez and his authoritarian tendencies. Since 2002, when
Zuloaga refused to show images of pro-Chávez demonstrators protesting against
Pedro Carmona's short-lived coup (Chávez retook power two days later), tension
between Zuloaga and Chávez has been palpable. Zuloaga's station regularly
reports on government corruption and attempts to clamp down on media freedom.
In return, government regulatory agencies have repeatedly filed complaints
against Globovisión. On March 25, Chávez took the extraordinary step of
ordering military intelligence officials to arrest
Zuloaga. He has since been freed, but remains unable to leave the country until
an investigation into critical remarks he made about Chávez's attempts to
stifle media freedom have concluded.
Iryna Vidanava: Some former
Soviet republics have made modest strides in liberalizing their political
culture, but Belarus is not one of them. Minsk is infamous for its harassment
and intimidation of local media and curtailing freedom of speech -- both areas
in which Vidanava has fought back forcefully. Vidanava is the founder and
editor in chief of 34 Multimedia Magazine,
a publication aimed at promoting creativity, dissent, and democratic values in
Belarusian young adults. (See here for a sample of
her work.) It's tough going: After years of police harassment, in 2005 Minsk
finally decided to simply shut
down 34 Multimedia Magazine. Yet
Vidanava perseveres. In 2007, she founded CDMAG,
a multimedia youth magazine published on compact disc that won the 2007 Gerd Bucerius Prize for press freedom
in Eastern Europe.
Le Cong Dinh: Vietnamese
lawyer Dinh has spent much of the past decade running a private law practice
and defending prominent Vietnamese political dissidents and humans rights
activists. His clients have included other human rights lawyers, such as Nguyen
Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, as well as dissident journalists like
Van Hai. In 2007, Dinh landed himself in hot water with the Vietnamese
authorities when he argued before a court that Article
88 of the Vietnamese penal code -- which effectively criminalizes peaceful
political dissent and allows state prosecutors to charge dissidents with "conducting
propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam" -- was
unconstitutional and violated international human rights treaties. Ironically,
it was this very provision of the penal code that the Vietnamese government
used in 2009 to arrest, try, and convict Dinh, who is now serving a five-year
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
J.S. Tissainayagam in 2009.
In 1998, Chandrakirana set up the National
Commission on Violence Against Women, an NGO meant to improve women's
status in Indonesian society. She has since founded the Indonesian Working
Group for the Eradication of Structural Poverty as well as JARI Indonesia, an
NGO that fights government graft.
This provocative Sri Lankan journalist has been an active critic of his government's policy toward Tamil
citizens, arousing considerable domestic controversy. After publishing a pair
of articles in 2006 that accused the Sri Lankan government of withholding food
and other critical supplies from endangered Tamil populations, Tissainayagam
was arrested in March 2008 and charged with attempting to incite violence and
accepting funding from the Tamil Tigers, a separatist insurgent group later put
down by a no-holds-barred military offensive in 2009. Last August,
Tissainayagam was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail, but after filing
an appeal, he was released
on bail in January. Tissainayagam was pardoned just last week, though its unknown what restrictions remain on his freedom of speech and movement.
Mesfin Hagos: First a member
of the Eritrean Liberation Front and later a founding member of the Eritrean
People's Liberation Front, Hagos has played a major role in Eritrean politics
for much of the second half of the 20th century. Hagos was a close friend and
political ally of President Isaias Afewerki for a time, but the two had a
falling out in 2001 when Hagos joined G-15, an Eritrean political group vocally
opposed to Afewerki's postponing of elections, disregard for the Eritrean
Constitution, and handling of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War. In response to threats of arrest
against G-15 members, Hagos fled Eritrea and currently lives in exile in
Britain, where he remains an active member of the opposition in exile.
Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images