Three Nominees Announced for 2016 Martin Ennals Award

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First, along with other members of the Martin Ennals Award jury, today announced Ilham TottiRazan Zaitouneh, and the group Zone 9 Bloggers as the three finalists for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. This award is given annually by the international human rights community to a human rights defender who has shown deep commitment and has faced great personal risk to advance human rights. The aim of the award is to highlight the work of the nominees and protect them through increased visibility.

“These nominees are only three of the exceptionally brave human rights defenders around the world who place themselves at risk every day to protect the rights of others,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.

The first nominee, Ilham Tohti, is a renowned Uyghur intellectual in China, he has worked for two decades to foster dialogue and understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. He has rejected separatism and sought reconciliation based on a respect for Uyghur culture. Beginning in 1994, he began to write about problems and abuses in Xinjiang, which led to official surveillance. From 1999 to 2003 he was barred from teaching, and was arrested in 2009 after posting information on Uyghurs who had been arrested, killed, and disappeared during and after protests. Tohti was again arrested in January 2014, charged with separatism and sentenced to life imprisonment after a two-day trial.

The second nominee, Razan Zaitouneh, is a prominent human rights lawyer, activist, and journalist in Syria, Razan has dedicated her life to defending political prisoners, documenting crimes against humanity, and helping others free themselves from oppression. This resulted in a travel ban in 2002. Following the beginning of the conflict in 2011, she founded the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), which documents deaths and ill-treatment in Syria’s prisons. With the VDC, she compiled lists of the detained, the executed, and the disappeared. In December 2013, a group of masked gunmen stormed the VDC office in Douma, near Damascus, and kidnapped Zaitouneh along with her husband, Wael Hamada, and two colleagues. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The final nominee is the group Zone 9 Bloggers, an Ethiopian collective of journalists who write opinion pieces and feature articles that focus on the constitution and economic, educational, and cultural issues. They document human rights abuses and violations of law by both state and non-state actors. Furthermore, they shed light on the situation of political prisoners in Ethiopia. Two weeks after creating their blog, it was blocked. Two years later, six of its members were arrested and charged with terrorism. Although they have now been released, three are in exile while those still in Ethiopia are banned from travel. Kality prison in Ethiopia, which holds many journalists and political prisoners, has 8 zones. Zone 9 selected their name as a symbol for Ethiopia as a whole where political freedoms are severely restricted.

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, International Commission of Jurists, EWDE Germany, International Service for Human Rights, and HURIDOCS. The award will be presented on October 6th at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.


Published on April 27, 2016


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