Join our tweetstorm for Raif Badawi on 10 April #FreeRaif

On 12 April is the beginning of Ramadan this year. This is traditionally a time for the pardoning for prisoners (including political prisoners). We want to invite you to join us on Saturday, 10 April for a tweet storm in support of Raif Badawi. He was arrested almost nine years ago and it is high time for the Saudi the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Please join and share the post. We want as many participants as possible. Please read the post and continue to support him even when the Tweet Storm is over.

1. Who is Raif Badawi?

Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian blogger und human rights activist. He was born on 13 January 1984. He is the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. His website was a place of political and social debate where Saudis could discuss different topics freely and exchange their ideas. Raif Badawi is married to Ensaf Haidar. They got to know each other when he was 18 years old. They married shortly afterwards in 2002. They have three children: Najwa Badawi (born in 2003), Doudi “Terad” Badawi (born in 2004) and Miriyam Badawi (born in 2007).

Before his arrest in 2012 Raif Badawi has been harassed by the authorities for years. He had been previously arrested in 2008, but was released after one day of questioning. In addition, the authorities froze his bank account and put him under travel ban, so that he could not leave the country.

On 17 June 2012 Raif Badawi was arrested again. The charges against him were “insulting Islam through electronic channels”, later also apostasy (conscious abandonment of Islam) was added which carries a mandatory death sentence in Saudi Arabia. His trial began shortly afterwards. In December 2012 the Jeddah District Court referred the charge of apostacy to a higher court. This higher court found him guilty of apostacy, but did not sentence him. In July 2013 he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an internet forum which “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”. His website was closed. One year later in 2014 his sentence was increased by an appeal court to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 riyals (roughly $266,000; £133,000). On 9 January 2015 received the first 50 lashes in public in front of the mosque in Jeddah. He was supposed to received the complete 1000 lashes over 20 weeks, however this did not happen. First further lashes were postponed for medical reasons by first one week and then another week. Ultimately the Saudi authorities did not give him further lashes. One reason was probably the large international public outcry which followed the first flogging of Raif Badawi. Around the same time the courts reviewed again his case and there was even the risk that a new court would sentence him for apostacy to death. Luckily this did not happen.

Ensaf and the children fled Saudi Arabia before his arrest. They were first in Egypt and then in Lebanon when the trial against Raif began. However they received threats and did not feel safe. They were granted political asylum by the Government in Canada in 2013. She now lives with the children in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Ensaf and the children are in the meantime Canadian citizens.

2. What is Raif Badawi’s current situation?

Raif Badawi has in the meantime spent 3220 days in prison. These are 8 years 9 months and 25 days. He has been on hunger strike a few times and there were threats that Saudi Arabia would start to lash him again (in particular in June 2015 and October 2016). On 12 April 2021 Ramadan will begin. This is a typical time for pardon of prisoners (including political prisoners). Irwin Cotler, the international legal counsel to the Badawi family, had conveyed a clemency petition to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

There are further developments, in particular in Canada and in Saudi Arabia:

In January 2021 the House of Commons in Canada voted unanimously to demand the Immigration Minster to grant Raif Badawi Canadian citizenship. So far the federal government in Canada has not yet granted him citizenship and argues that such a step might even worsen his situation. However Brandon Silver who is a member of Raif Badawi’s international legal team argues to give Raif Badawi Canadian citizenship is not unprecedented and would give Canada a better standing in discussions with Saudi Arabia. Also Irwin Cotler argues in the Washington Post that it is important to act and put concerted public pressure on Saudi Arabia to secure the release of political prisoners. A decision of the Canadian government about the citizenship is still open.

There are also recent reports that there are new investigations against Raif Badawi for allegedly “harming the reputation of the country”. There seem to be also investigations against Ensaf Haidar who campaigns tirelessly for her husband. It is feared that the authorities could use these investigations and new trumped up charges to keep Raif Badawi for even longer in prison. It is not clear yet, whether these will result in further legal proceedings against Raif Badawi and maybe also his wife.

There are also positive signs from USA. About two weeks ago the US Senator Dick Durban made a speech on the US senate floor and asked in this speech for the release of political prisoners around the world. He emphasised in particular four prisoners, among them Raif Badawi. The other prisoners were Waleed Abu al-Khair (Saudi Arabia) who defended Raif Badawi and was himself arrested in 2014 and as sentenced 10 years and a 15 year travel ban, Senator Leila De Lima who has spent four years in prison in the Philippines and Ahmed Mansoor is an UAE human rights defender who was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you certainly know him.

3. When does the Tweet Storm take place?

The tweet storm will take place on Saturday, 10 April 2021 at 4pm6pm (GMT).

This is equivalent to 5pm (London), 6pm (Paris), 7 pm (Saudi Arabia), 12 noon (Quebec), 12 noon (New York), 9am (Los Angeles).

If you cannot make it, then please let your followers know about the tweet storm and ask them to join. We want to have as many tweets as possible. Please retweet the tweets of other people and post your own tweets.

4. What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to Saudi Arabia, in particular to the King of Saudi Arabia (@KingSalman). Please send also tweets to other authorities in Saudi Arabia like the Ministry of Interior (@MOISaudiArabia), the Ministry of Justice (@MojKSA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (@KSAMOFA). Ask them to quash the judgement against Raif Badawi and to release him immediately and unconditionally.
  • You can also tweet to politicians in Europe, the US and Canada, e.g. Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF). High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Marc Garneau, Foreign Minster of Canada (@MarcGarneau) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Raif Badawi. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to report about him.
  • Send tweets to @RaifBadawi with words of support. You can tweet that you stand with him, that you have not forgotten him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages. Please also send messages of support to Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar (@miss9afi) and the children.

It is always a good idea to use pictures or tweet newspaper articles. You will find links to a few articles below under 7. Further Information.

5. Is there a special hashtag?

Please use for all your tweets (irrespective of the language in which you tweet)  the general hashtag #FreeRaif. it is easy to find and retweet the tweets of other

6. Suggested tweets

You can write your own tweets, but if you need some inspiration, then here are some examples. Kimberly Lenz also prepared a Pastebin with a large number of tweets: https://pastelink.net/2ss0n. Many of the tweets include links to newspaper articles or two photos. They are all a great source. Please use them.

Here are a few more examples for tweets:

  • #SaudiArabia: @raif_badawi is not a criminal, but a brave human rights defenders. He has in the meantime already spent more than 8 years 9 months in prison. Join me and urge @KingSalman to release him immediately and unconditionally @MOISaudiArabia @MojKsa @KSAMOFA #FreeRaif
  • @KingSalman quash the unfair sentence against @raif_badawi and release him immediately and unconditionally. He is a blogger, human rights activist and prisoner of conscience #FreeRaif @MOISaudiArabia @MojKsa @KSAMOFA
  • @KingSalman @KSAMOFA @MOISaudiArabia With #Ramadan approaching, now is the time for good will. Release #RaifBadawi immediately & unconditionally so that he can reunite with his family in Canada. #FreeRaif
  • #SaudiArabia: @raif_badawi has now been separated for almost 10 years from his wife @miss9afi and their children Najwa, Terad and Miriyam. They miss him, can’t wait any longer for him and want to put their arms around him. Please @JustinTrudeau do what you can to #FreeRaif
  • “Raif Badawi was brave enough to raise his voice and say no to their barbarity. That is why they flogged him.” Please @JosepBorrellF intercede for @raif_badawi. He received in 2015 the Sakharov Prize of @Europarl_EN, but he is still in prison, separate from his family. #FreeRaif
  • Please @guardian write about @raif_badawi #SaudiArabia. He was arrested more than 8 years 9 months ago. In 2015 he received 50 lashes. According to his sentence 950 more should come. Please do not forget about him, but support the campaign to #FreeRaif
  • “@Raif_badawi is not a criminal, but a courageous advocate of coexistence. He should be lauded, rather than lashed, for his leadership.” @IrwinCotler #FreeRaif https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/08/raif-badawi-saudi-arabia-persecution/
  • Please be assured @raif_badawi that we stand with you and will campaign for you until you are free at last. We will not forget you, but call for #FreeRaif as long as it takes.
  • We will keep shouting: #FreeRaif until #SaudiArabia finally releases you, @raif_badawi immediately and unconditionally. We will also keep supporting your brave wife @miss9afi and help her in her struggle for your freedom. #FreeRaif
  • We will not be silent or turn away, but continue to demand #FreeRaif. You have been arrested more than 8 years 9 months ago and we have been already campaigned for you and stood at your side for all the way. We will there until you @raif_badawi are free at last!

7. Further information

I want to provide you with a couple of links to recent articles about Raif Badawi with further information.

a) One Way Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman Can Prove He Is Sincere About His Reforms: Free Raif Badawi, by Brandon Silver and Evelyne Abitbol, Time, 5 April 2018

b) House of Commons unanimously approves motion to grant citizenship to Raif Badawi, CBC News, 28 January 2021

c) Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi under new probe for ‘damaging the reputation of the Kingdom, National Post, 1 March 2021

d) Would giving this man Canadian citizenship help him — or make his life in a Saudi jail even worse? by Douglas Quan, Toronto Star, 3 March 2021

e) Opinion: Saudi Arabia is persecuting a peaceful blogger — again. Silence could be disastrous, by Irwin Cotler and Brandon Silver, The Washington Post, 8 March 2021

f) Liberals accused of ignoring unanimous motion to grant Canadian citizenship to jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, by Anja Karadeglija, National Post, 17 March 2021

g) Would Canadian citizenship free Saudi blogger Raif Badawi?, by Jennifer Holleis and Kersten Knipp, Deutsche Welle, 25 March 2021

h) Raif Badawi – Dreaming of Freedom. A documentary graphic novel, published by Radio Canada.

8.  Can I do anything after 10 April?

Please do not stop supporting Raif Badawi when the Tweet Storm on 10 April 2021 is over.

As always, if you are on Twitter or in other Social Media, please continue to raise his case and make other people aware of it. If you like the suggested tweets, just continue to use them.

Show your support and show Saudi Arabia that we will not forget Raif Badawi and will campaign for him until he is free.

I want to finish this post with a quote from my first blog post about Raif Badawi which was published on March 2015 on Raif Badawi website (which does not exist anymore) and which I republished in June 2015 on this blog. The title of my article is “Why I do care about Raif Badawi”

“I hope that we all will not relent in our support, even if it might take longer to free him than we all wish for. I hope that we all continue to protest and campaign until he is released and reunited with his family.

This is what I still hope and the fact that we all have been standing with Raif Badawi and his family for such a long time makes me hopeful that we will continue to do so until he is free at last.

#GiveThemAVoice Yalda Night Online Event

Just a few days before Christmas, on 21 December 2020, Amnesty Westminster Bayswater and Letters with Wings invited everyone to watch a Facebook live stream for Yalda Night in support of prisoners in Iran. Yalda Night is an Iranian feast which marks the longest and darkest night of the year. Yalda means rebirth (of the sun). Family and friends gather to share food and drink and read poetry (in particular by Hanfez and Sa’adi).

I want to share in this blog post the YouTube clip of this event and give you some insight on the campaign and the clips we received for this evening. .

I. #GiveThemAVoice campaign

If you read my previous post, you know about the #GiveThemAVoice campaign. We asked people around the world to be the voice of a political prisoner in Iran and make a recording of themselves reading a poem or another text (often an excerpt from a letter) which was written by a political prisoner in Iran and help that their voices will be heard across the prison walls and not silenced. I suggested in my previous post ten prisoners and one or more texts for each of the prisoners, but I also said that people are free to read other texts of the same prisoners or read texts of other prisoners. We asked people to tweet their contributions with the hashtag #GiveThemAVoice. In a post on our Amnesty website on 1 December, we also asked people to submit the clips to us via a Dropbox link.

The resonance was very positive and we had in the end 82 files in our Dropbox folder. We received contributions from all over the world, in particular many clips from different parts of the UK, from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada and Australia. Many individuals sent their clips, some of them are associated with Amnesty International, some are not. In addition a good number of Amnesty Groups in the UK and beyond participated in the campaign. I want to mention and thank in particular the Amnesty Group Reading, Amnesty Group Richmond Twickenham and Amnesty Group Mayfair & Soho (all UK), as well as Amnesty Group Furesø, Denmark and Amnesty Toronto Iran Action Circle, Canada for their support and their wonderful clips.

II. Yalda Night

Viviana Fiorentino, Letters with Wings, saw my blog post about the campaign and suggested that Amnesty Westminster Bayswater and Letters with Wings could run the #GiveThemAVoice campaign together. She also suggested that the campaign could culminate in a joint online event on Yalda Night (21 December). Letters with Wings is an initiative of Northern Ireland based poets. They started during the first lockdown and invited the public for Poetry Day in Ireland to send poetic letters to artists who are in prison all over the world.

Our event was live streamed on Facebook. If you want to watch the event on Facebook you find it here.

The video of the event is in the meantime also on YouTube. If you prefer to watch it on YouTube you can find the clip here:

When we put the event together, we discussed whether we should show all video clips or just a selection. Some people submitted more than one clip and for some prisoners we received various versions containing the same text. In the end we decided to show all the clips in our event. We thought it is wonderful to hear so many different voices reading these texts and reading them in different ways. It is also fascinating to see a wide range of different video clips. Some people filmed themselves reading the text, some used one or more pictures of the prisoner and you can only hear the voice of the person who is reading the text. Some people even used music in their video clips. Some only read the text they have chosen and some decided to give some background about the prisoner or end the clip with a demand to the Iranian authorities to free the prisoner.

The whole event lasted about 2 hours 50 minutes. If you are looking for a specific section, the following overview and time data (for the clip on YouTube) might be helpful.

1. The event starts with an introduction to the campaign and to Yalda Night.

2. The first prisoner is Anoosheh Ashoori (starting at 5.29 min). He is a British-Iranian dual national and a retired engineer who was arrested on 13 August 2017 when he visited his mother in Iran. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on trumped up charges. We received five clips in support of him. The activists in the clips read a text by Anoosheh Ashoori from 2020.

3. The second prisoner in the event is Aras Amiri (at 14.29 min). She is an Iranian national who lives in London. She is a British Council Worker and was arrested in March 2018 when she visited her sick grandmother in Iran. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. We received one clip in support of Aras Amiri, reading her text “Remembrance”.

4. The third prisoner is Arash Sadeghi (at 18.16 min). He is a civil rights activist who has been harassed for years. The last time he was arrested was on 7 June 2016. He is serving 19 years in prison (15 years from 2016 and 4 years from a suspended sentence in 2010). Arash Sadeghi is very ill, because he suffers from a rare form of bone cancer and he does not receive proper medical care. We received five clips in support of him. The activist read the end of an open letter by Arash Sadeghi from March 2020.

5. After Arash Sadeghi follows his wife, the poet, writer and human rights activist Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee (at 27.30 min). She was also arrested several times. On 24 October 2016 she was arrested to serve 6 years in prison for an unpublished story about stoning and her Facebook posts. She was temporarily released on 3 January 2017 (after Arash Sadeghi’s 72 day hunger strike), but rearrested after three weeks. In 2019 her original sentence was reduced and she was released in April 2019. In November 2019 she was rearrested to serve a new sentence (2.1 years in prison). We received ten clips in support of Golrokh Iraee and activists read the following poems: “The Lips of the Wind”, “Couples in Prison”, “For Gisou”, “Standing Straight” and “Counting Up, Counting Down”.

6. The next prisoner is Atena Daemi (at 48.52 min.) Atena Daemi is a human rights defender, campaigner against the death penalty and for children’s and women’s rights. She was arrested on 27 March 2014. She initially was sentenced to 7 years in prison (on appeal). She was meant to be released on 4 July 2020, but the authorities brought new charges against her and in July 2020 she was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes. We received five clips in support of Atena Daemi. The activists read excerpts from a letter by Atena Daemi from 2020.

7. After Atena Daemi follows a poem by the French-Iranian anthropologist and academic Fariba Adelkhah (at 57.21 min). Fariba Adelkhah was arrested on 5 June 2019 in Iran. On 16 May 2020 she was sentenced to six years in prison. She was given furlough at the beginning of October 2020 and she is currently with her family in Iran under house arrest. We received two clips. Both are readings of her poem “Le silence”, but one is a reading of the French poem and one of its English translation.

8. The following section is about Kylie Moore Gilbert (at 1.03.38 h). She is fortunately not any longer a prisoner in Iran. Kylie Moore Gilbert is a British-Australian national. She is a lecturer and researcher in Middle East Politics at the University of Melbourne Asia Institute. She was arrested on 14 September 2018 when she was about to fly home after participating in a university programme about Islam for foreign academics. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “espionage” and other trumped up charges. On 25 November 2020 it was confirmed that she was released in exchange for three Iranian prisoners. She is now back home in Australia. We received three clips in support of Kylie Moore Gilbert, one activist reads excerpts from her letters from prison and two read her poem “Endure”

9. The next prisoner is Maryam Akbari Monfared (at 1.10.46 h). Maryam Akbari Monfared is a human rights activist. She was arrested on 31 December 2009 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. According to Amnesty International Maryam’s conviction is solely based “on the fact that she had made phone calls to her relatives, who are members of a banned group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), and had visited them once in Iraq”. We received six clips in support of her. The activists read an excerpt of an open letter she wrote from prison for Nowruz.

10. The next section is about another human rights defender who is fortunately not any longer in prison: Narges Mohammadi (at 1.19.55 h). Narges Mohammadi is a human rights defender, journalist, member of Centre for Defenders of Human Rights (CDHR) and in particular active against the death penalty throught her membership in the group Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty” (LEGAM) .The last time Narges Mohammadi was arrested on 5 May 2015. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In addition she had to serve 6 years from a previous sentence. On 8 October 2020 she was released and is now reunited with her husband and her tweens Kiana and Ali (born 2006). We received one clip in support of her and it contains a reading of her poem “Three Goodbyes”.

11. After the section for Narges Mohammadi follows a section for another well known Iranian women rights activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (at 1.24.43 h). Nasrin Sotoudeh is married with Raza Khandan and they have two children (son Nima, 12 years & daughter Mehraveh, 20 years old). She was arrested twice. First in 2010 and then again on 13 June 2018. She was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes. In addition there were a five years sentence from the previous trial. In accordance with Iranian law, she will “only” serve the longest sentence for one of the convictions against her, which is 10 years. However, another two and a half years were added due to the high number of charges against her, raising her total sentence to around 12 years. After six weeks of hunger strike she was temporarily released on 7 November 2020. She tested positive for Covid 19. At the beginning of December she was ordered back to prison. We received two clips in support of her. One contains a reading of an excerpt from an interview with her from March 2014 and the other one a reading of two letters to her children (March 2011 to Nima & April 2011 to Mehraveh).

12. The next is a clip which we received from Nasrin Parvaz in support of 14 men who were condemned to be executed in Iran (at 1.35.00 h). Nasrin Parvaz is Iranian, but lives in the UK. In the 80s she was herself arrested in Iran, tortured and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison. She spent eight years in prison until she was released. She is now fighting to save 14 men in Iran who were sentenced to death. Nasrin started a petition on Change.org and it would be wonderful, if you could sign and share her petition. If you want to read more about Nasrin’s own story, then please read her book “A Woman’s Struggle in Iran: A Prison Memoir

13. The next section is dedicated to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (at 1.37.02 h). Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national. She is a project manager for Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charitable arm of the news agency Thomson Reuters. She is married to Richard Ratcliffe and they have a daughter Gabriella (now 6 1/2 years old). She was arrested on 3 April 2016 when she was visiting her parents together with her daughter. She was sentenced to 5 years in prison. She was temporarily released on 17 March 2020 and is currently in house arrest at her parents place. However there are threats that she has to return to prison. There is also a new trial pending and she could potential be given an additional long sentence. We received eight clips in support of her. Activists read three different poems by her: “Autumn Light”, “For Our Parents” and “A Yard of Sky”.

14. After Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe follows Niloufar Bayani (at 1.57.15 h). Niloufar Bayani is an Iranian wildlife activist and researcher. In January 2018 she was arrested on charges of espionage and similar charges. She was held incommunicado for eight months, was tortured and intimidated with sexual assault. She said that she was interrogated for 1200 hours. She was sentenced to 10 years of prison the “returning the funds” she had allegedly received from the US. The conviction is based on forced confessions. We received one clip in support of her. The clip is a reading of her powerful poem “A Blindfold Remains”.

15. The next section is also dedicated to a poet, to Sedigeh Vasmaghi (at 2.03.43 h). Sedigeh Vasmaghi is also a theologian and women rights activist. She was sentenced to one year in August 2020 for signing a petition against police brutality in November 2019. There is in addition a suspended five year sentence which is open from 2017. This means that she will have to serve 6 years. She is currently free, but can be arrested every day. We received six clips in support of her. They contain readings of her poems “When the Stars Die Down” and “Just Think of All the Freedom I Have”.

16. The penultimate prisoner in the event is Soheil Arabi (at 2.13.18 h). He is a photographer, blogger and human rights activist and was arrested in November 2013. He was initially sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” on Facebook. This sentenced was commuted to ultimately 6 1/2 years. There are a number of other charges and other convictions against him. He is currently in Rajaei Shahr prison. We received seven clips in support of him. All contain a reading of an excerpt from a letter from August 2017.

17. The last prisoner is Zeynab Jalalian (at 2.22.40 h). Zeynab Jalalian is a Kurdish human rights activist. She was arrested on March 2008. In December 2008 she was sentenced to death in a summary trial for being a member of the Kurdish group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Zeynab denied that she is a member. In December 2011 her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She has several medical conditions and the authorities deny her medical treatment. In June 2020 she was diagnosed with Covid 19. We received 13 clips in support of her and therefore more clips than for any other prisoner. Most of the activist read an excerpt from a letter she wrote in June 2018, but the clips also include two readings of an open letter for International Women’s Day (8 March 2018) (one in Farsi and one in English) and an excerpt from a letter to her mother in March 2018.

18. The last few minutes of the event (at 2.47.44 h.) are dedicated to a few concluding remarks and thank yous to everyone who watched the event, who submitted clips and who supported it in other ways.

III. Conclusion

I close this post, as many other of my posts, and want to ask you to continue to be a voice of political prisoners in Iran and campaign for their release. We put not only the recording of the whole event on YouTube, but we also put up all clips which were submitted to us. You can find them in the brand new YouTube channel of my Amnesty Group Amnesty Westminster Bayswater. Please subscribe to the YouTube channel. Please watch and share in particular the individual clips and like them. There are playlists for each prisoner which you can also share.

I think the words of all the prisoners and former prisoners in this campaign are very powerful. It would be wonderful, if you continue to use the videos in your campaigns for them and if their words will continue to be heard.

Give them a voice – join our campaign for Iranian prisoners

A few days ago, on 15 November was the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. On this day people around the world are encouraged to support and recognise writers who are in prison. I would like to invite you to share poems and other texts of Iranian prisoners and give them a voice.

I. Background of the Campaign

Some of you probably watched our event “The Prisoner and the Pen”, a joint event by my Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater and Gulf Center for Human Rights, or read my blog post about the event (I encourage you to watch the YouTube clip, if we have not seen it yet. You can find it in my blog post).

Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband participated in the event. He spoke about poems which were written in 2017 by five women in Evin prison (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari). Richard and others read these poems at a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy on World Poetry Day 2017. I shared the poems in my blog and the poems were read afterwards at different protests and other events. Richard said:

“It was really powerful for the women that their voices had reached across the walls … and despite all that happens in Iran’s prisons that their voices had not been silenced.”

“The Prisoner and the Pen” focussed on so many prisoners from different countries in the Middle East that there was not so much time for the Iranian poems. Therefore I thought we could start a new campaign and make sure that these poems but also other texts by Iranian prisoners really “reach across the walls”. You can help to give your voice to the prisoners and make their words to be heard.

II. What do we want you to do?

I discussed this idea with my Amnesty Group and we would like you to do the following:

  1. Please pick a text by an Iranian prisoner. This can be a poem or an excerpt from an open letter. We have a couple of suggestions for prisoners and text which you can choose. You will find them in the next section, but you can of course also choose any other text from an Iranian prisoner.
  2. Please make a recording of yourself reading this text and urge Iran to release the prisoner. You can make a video clip using your phone or computer to record yourself. You can also use Zoom to make a recording and choose a photo of the prisoner as your background or, if you do not want to show your face, you can choose a photo of the prisoner as your profile picture and turn the camera off, then the picture of the prisoners is on screen.
    As an alternative, you can make a just a sound recording or write the text on a picture, if you are really uncomfortable making a recording or have technical difficulties.
    Ideally your clip should not be longer than 2 minutes. If it is shorter than it is more likely that people will listen to the whole clip.
  3. Please share the video clip, the sound recording (maybe together with a picture of the prisoner) or just the text on Social Media. Please use the specific hashtag #GiveThemAVoice. Please also use the usual hashtag for this prisoner, like #FreeNazanin, #FreeAtena, #FreeGolrokh etc. If you do that, then people who look for the hashtag of the prisoner, will also find your tweet.
    Please tag in your tweets Khamenei and Hassan Rouhani. You can also tag the Iranian embassy in your country or politicians in your country. Let them know that the prisoners will not be silenced but have a voice in campaigners around the world. If there is a special account who campaigns for the prisoner, you can also tag this account.
  4. Please retweet other tweets which use the hashtag.
  5. Please consider making more than just one clip. Even if you usually support primarily the campaign for one of the prisoners, please pick a couple of them or make even a clip for each of them over the next weeks.
  6. Finally, please ask you followers to join the campaign.

We hope that many people will join the campaign. We thought it would be good to have the campaign running until Yalda Night. Yalda is an Iranian feast which is celebrated on the 21 December (Winter Solstice). It celebrates the longest and darkest night of the year. One of the traditions in this night is to read poetry to each others.

III. Prisoners and Texts

We want to suggest ten Iranian prisoners and theirs texts, but please feel free to use other texts from these prisoners or texts written by other prisoners. All our suggestions are English translations, but can obviously also read texts in Farsi or any other language. As long as you use the hashtag #GiveThemAVoice people will find you tweets and can retweet them.

1. Atena Daemi

Occupation: Human rights defender, campaigner against the death penalty and for children’s and women’s rights

Date of Arrest: 27 March 2014

Place of Detention: Evin Prison

Sentence: 7 years in prison (on appeal in 2016). In July 2020 she was sentenced to an additional five years in prison and 74 lashes

Key information: Atena Daemi has developed over time severe health issues and has been on hunger strike several times. She was originally meant to be released on 4 July 2020, but there was in the meantime a new convictions against her.

Suggestion for a text: Atena wrote several open letters while in prison. One suggestion is a few paragraphs of the text which we used in our event “The Prisoner and the Pen”. Here is the first paragraph:

To think, tell and write freely is one of the most basic rights of every
human in the world! However, to see, hear and read the diverse thoughts
is intolerable for the rulers of authoritarian governments and the
freedom to speak about it is a great crime. When these basic rights are
taken away and forbidden or what they call Haram [unlawful], the strife
for achieving it becomes the reason for social and political struggles which has consequences like prison, detention, execution and … which is based on pure injustice!

You can find the full text in this presentation on page 52:

2. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Occupation: Project manager for Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charitable arm of the news agency Thomson Reuters.

Date of Arrest: 3 April 2016

Place of Detention: Nazanin was in Evin prison. She was temporarily realised on 17 March 2020. She is at her parents home In Iran. However there are threats that she has to return to prison.

Sentence: 5 years in prison

Key Information: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national. She was arrested when she was in Iran visiting her parents together with her daughter Gabriella (now 6 years old). There is currently a new trial against her (which presents the same evidence as in 2016). The last hearing was on 2 November. She could potential given an additional long sentence.

Suggestion for a text: Nazanin wrote a couple of poems in prison. You can find them in a blog post I published three years ago.

Here are two poems put in pictures. They were made by activists and are frequently shared on social media

3. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee

Occupation: Writer, poet and human rights activist

Date of Arrest: 24 October 2016.

Place of Detention: Qarchak Prison

Sentence: Initially 6 years in prison. On the basis of new charges in September 2019 Golrokh was sentenced to an additional 2.1 years in prison.

Key Information: Golrokh is married to Arash Sadeghi. She has been (temporarily) released and arrested several times since 2016. She was released on 3 January 2017 after her husband Arash Sadeghi went on hunger strike for 72 days. She was rearrested on 23 January 2017. Her original sentence was reduced and she was released in April 2019. In November 2019 she was rearrested to serve the new sentence.

Suggestion for a text: Golrokh wrote a number of poems which are translated into English. You can find them in a blog post I published three years ago.

Here are two poems put in pictures. They were made by activists and are frequently shared on social media.

You can also find one additional poem “Counting Up, Counting Down” in the presentation for the event “The Prisoner and the Pen” (see for the link at Atena Daemi’s section).

4. Arash Sadeghi

Occupation: Civil activist and human rights defender

Date of Arrest: 7 June 2016

Place of Detention: Rajaei Shahr Prison

Sentence: 15 years in prison. However, there was a suspended sentence of 4 years from his conviction in 2010 which was added to his sentence. He therefore serves currently 19 years in prison.

Key Information: Arash Sadeghi has been on hunger strike several times. In July / August 2018 he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. The Iranian authorities withheld medical treatment several times. He had surgery in September 2018 outside of prison, but was transferred after three days back to prison. Even so he contracted an infection he was denied another transfer to hospital for weeks. In August 2020 he was again denied medical check ups.

Suggestion for a text: Arash wrote several open letters while in prison. One of the latest was in March 2020 where he blamed the officials for their neglect in relation to Covid-19. Here is the conclusion from his letter:

“If living in a labyrinth of lies is the pillar of this authoritarian regime, it is no surprise that the most dangerous threat to it is living in the circle of truth and reality. This is why, the truth is suppressed more than anything else… Because all the real problems and vital issues are concealed underneath a thick cover of lies.”

5. Anoosheh Ashoori

Occupation: Retired engineer

Date of Arrest: 13 August 2017

Place of Detention: Evin Prison

Sentence: 10 years in prison.

Key Information: Anoosheh Ashoori is a British-Iranian dual national. He was arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned while visiting his mother in Iran. His convictions is based on trumped up charges.

Suggestion for a text: I asked Anoosheh’s wife Sherry Izadi for a text. She made a short recording of a text he wrote, when she spoke with him on the phone.

Here is the text:

The world of the living dead

When you die, you are completely detached from this world, but here in Evin, it’s another universe. Looking around me, I see prisoners with long sentences, including myself, and the unfortunate ones who are awaiting execution. Desperate individuals, clinging to hope and daydreams, despite the worst odds. Most spend their days walking back and forth in a small yard, constantly asking themselves: What have I done to deserve this? Agonising days turn into months and years, while any chance of happiness fades away.

We are not disconnected from your world, but in a parallel universe, we witness how in your world, young children grow up, deprived of the love and comfort of their father’s or mother’s presence. As for our spouses and partners, some stay and bear the pain, but for others, the pain becomes too much and they finally succumb and drift away towards an alternative future. A once warm and close family gradually disintegrates into nothingness, into the abyss. All this happens in front of our eyes, out of reach, in the parallel universe, while we watch helplessly as we get older, weaker, and lonelier. Meanwhile, the evil tyrant keeps on killing, burning, and destroying everything it can, just to stay in power, even for one more day, and the world powers claiming to be advocates of justice, remain mostly indifferent as politics and trade dominate all else.

Cosmologists are still searching to find intelligent life out there. Maybe they too have given up on finding any compassion or humanity here on this earth.

6. Kylie Moore-Gilbert (Released on 25 Nov!)

Update on 25 Nov: It was confirmed that Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released in exchange for three Iranian prisoners!

Occupation: Lecturer and researcher in Middle East Politics at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute

Date of Arrest: 14 September 2018

Place of Detention: Evin Prison

Sentence: 10 years in prison.

Key Information: Kylie Moore-Gilbert is a British-Australian national. She was in Iran to participate in a university programme on Islam for foreign academics. She was arrested when she was about to fly home. She spent months in solitary confinement and she has been on hunger strike.

Suggestion for a text: Kylie Moore-Gilbert wrote a number of letters between July – December 2019 which were published on the website of Center for Human Rights in Iran. You can choose an excerpt from one of these letters. I think there two short excerpts which I find particularly suitable:

“I, an innocent woman, have been imprisoned for a crime I have not committed and for which there is no real evidence. This is a grave injustice, but unfortunately it is not a surprise to me – from the very beginning [of my arrest] it was clear that there was fabrications and trumped-up accusations, by the hands of IRGC and intentionally.”

Letter, 2 August 2019

And:

“I have never been a spy and I have no interest to work for a spying organization in any country. When I leave Iran, I want to be a free woman and live a free life, not under the shadow of extortion and threats”

Letter, 23 August 2019

7. Soheil Arabi

Occupation: Photographer, blogger and human rights activist

Date of Arrest: November 2013

Place of Detention: Probably Rajaei Shahr Prison. He was informed at the beginning of November 2020 that he will be transferred from Evin prison. “His” Twitter account tweeted on 11 November that he is now in Rajaei Shahr Prison.

Sentence: 6 1/2 years in prison (and additional sentences at a later point in time).

Key Information: Soheil Arabi was on 30 August 2014 sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” on Facebook. On 3 September 2014 he was in addition sentenced to 3 years in prison for “insulting the supreme leader”. On 27 June 2015 the Supreme Court commuted the sentence to 7 1/2 years in prison, 2 years of “Shi’ism studies as well as the hand copying of thirteen Shi’a textbooks“. In November 2015 the sentence was reduced to 6 1/2 years in prison. In July 2018 he was sentenced to another 6 years in prison and in September 2018 in another case to three years in prison, three years exile to the city of Boazjan and a fine. Soheil Arabi defends prisoner’s rights and speaks often about the conditions in prison. He has been harassed for that. He has been on hunger strike several times. Also his mother who campaigns for him is harassed and punished for campaigning for him.

Suggestion for a text: Soheil Arabi wrote over time a number of open letters. I would suggest an excerpt from an open letter from August 2017 which you can find on the Journalism is not a crime website:

“I, Soheil Arabi, was the cry of a generation who no longer wanted to be part of a burnt generation and a generation that has not lived; that was afraid of death, not free and that was afraid of your prisons. I spent four of my birthdays behind prison bars. My daughter is four years old and all of her memories of me are in meeting rooms in Evin Prison. 

I have forgiven all the oppression that was inflicted on me. But I could never be silent in the face of the unjust and continued harassment of my family”.

8. Maryam Akbari-Monfared

Occupation: Human Rights activist

Date of Arrest: 31 December 2009

Place of Detention: Evin Prison

Sentence: 15 years in prison.

Key Information: Three of Maryam’s brothers and one of her sisters were executed during the 1988 mass executions in Iran. According to Amnesty International Maryam’s conviction is solely based “on the fact that she had
made phone calls to her relatives, who are members of a banned group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), and had visited them once in Iraq”.

Suggestion for a text: Maryam Akbari Monfared wrote several open letters during her time in prison. I would suggest an excerpt of an open letter which she wrote for Nowruz:

“My beautiful daughter grew up walking along prison walls and going through metal gates and looking through the thick glass in meeting halls. I mark her growth on the wall next to the visiting booth. My daughter learned what prison is all about from a very early age.” 

9. Zeynab Jalalian

Occupation: Human Rights activist

Date of Arrest: March 2008

Place of Detention: Yazd Prison

Sentence: Life in prison.

Key Information: Zeynab Jalalian is Kurdish Iranian. In December 2008 she was sentenced to death in a summary trial for being a member of the Kurdish group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Zeynab denied that she is a member. In December 2011 the sentence was commuted to life in prison. She has several medical conditions and the authorities deny her medical treatment. In June 2020 she was diagnosed with Covid 19.

Suggestion for a text: There are a number of open letters by Zeynab Jalalian. I would suggest and excerpt from a letter from June 2018:

Do you hear the voice of my liberation behind bars? Let me relieve your imagination; A free man uses one’s mind (and not one’s body) when fighting for freedom, So I do not feel pity that my body is secluded in the prison. Thankfully, a liberal mind can never be captured.

For me, even death and pain in the way of freedom is sweet. In fact, the authorities are their own best enemy and their efforts are futile and condemned to failure.

No one and nothing is strong enough to prevent me from achieving my goals. I am stronger than all and I will continue to be stronger than ever.

10. Sedigeh Vasmaghi

Occupation: Theologian, poet, writer and women’s rights activist

Date of Arrest: Currently free, but can be arrested every day

Place of Detention: N/A

Sentence: 6 years in total

Key Information: Sedigeh Vasmaghi was sentenced to one year in August 2020 for signing a petition against police brutality in November 2019. There is in addition a suspended five year sentence which is open from 2017. This means that she will have to serve 6 years. After the one year sentence was upheld on appeal in October 2020, she waits to be summoned to prison. Her books are banned in Iran.

Sedigeh Vasmaghi was one of the case on which Pen International focussed this year in their campaign for the Day of the Imprisoned Writer a few days ago.

Suggestion for a text: Pen Sweden published some of Sedigeh Vasmaghi’s poems. You can find them here.

The Prisoner and the Pen

Our online event “The Prisoner and the Pen” took place a little bit more than two weeks ago. I watched the video clip over the weekend and I decided that I want to write a post about it. I mainly want to have a place to share the video clip (which you find under III 2) and I hope that there are many more people who will watch the video and will continue to support the prisoners we included in this event.

I. The Idea

Some of you might remember that my Amnesty Group, Amnesty Westminster Bayswater organised last year in March the event “Words for the Silenced” at the Poetry Café in London. It was a joint event with Exiled Writers Ink and we shared the poetry written by and in support of four writers who are in prison for their word: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey).

It was a great event and we had wonderful speakers, however the fact that the event was in London meant that some of the speakers we wanted to have, could not participate. That applied in particular to the Egyptian singer Ramy Essam who campaigns for Galal El-Behairy and other Egyptian prisoners. He lives in exile in Finland and there was no way that he would be able to join us live. Therefore we asked him for a video message that we showed in our event.

In March this year the first lookdown in England began and it was clear that many of the events my Amnesty Group would usually organise, were not possible. However as one door closes, another door opens. Suddenly everyone participated and organised online events. Zoom and other similar video communication platforms meant that distance was not an issue any more. People from all over the world could participate in a joint event.

I thought that this was really exciting and I decided to get in contact with different people and organisations to see whether they were interested in such an online event. Last year we had Manu Luksch, Bill Law and Drewery Dyke as speakers about Ahmed Mansoor. All three know him and could speak about him also from a personal perspective. I thought this year, maybe Kristina Stockwood from Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and April Allderdice who started the Friends of Ahmed Facebook page might be interested in participating in such an event. Kristina lives in Canada and April in USA. Both know Ahmed Mansoor personally and both are involved in the Facebook page for his support. Kristina really liked the idea of such an online event and she and GCHR decided that they wanted to became co-organisers. That was really fantastic news and meant a couple of weeks of intensive cooperation with Kristina and her colleagues Zaynab Al-Khawaja, Salma Mohammed and Weaam which was really very special. On the GCHR side Zaynab was particularly instrumental and coordinated the art work, the music, organised the translation for Galal’s video, a budget and organised many of the speakers.

II. The Prisoners

In our event last year, we focused on only four prisoners who all write poetry. From the beginning of our discussions for the event this year, it was clear that we wanted to include more prisoners than last time. It also became clear in the discussions in our group as well as in conversation with GCHR that we wanted to look at a wider range of texts. Instead of only including poetry, we were generally looking for texts written by those who are imprisoned. Some of the texts were written in prison, but not for all prisoners it is possible to get pen and paper and also to get their texts out of prison. We decided therefore to have a mix of texts, some which were written in prison, others were the reason for the imprisonment and others which had no specific connection with the imprisonment. Zaynab suggested the title “The Prisoner and the Pen”. We all liked it and thought it would perfectly represent our ideas and plans for the event.

As with the event last year, we wanted to focus on texts from writers from the Middle East, again including Egypt and Turkey. There are so many prisoners in this region that it is really difficult to choose which prisoners to include. We were in the end probably a little bit too ambitious and I am sure we could easily find contents for at least another event, if we want to.

Here is the full list of all prisoners / writers in our event:

III. The Event

1. Ahmed Mansoor’s Birthday

We chose for our event the 22 October. This date has a special significance, because it is Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday. It was his 51st birthday and the fourth birthday he spent in prison. Given that I campaign so much for Ahmed Mansoor, it was wonderful to do this event on his birthday. I also learned something new about him. Some of you probably know my blog post about his poetry. I do not speak Arabic and I only have the translations for some of his poems. I learned in the preparation of the event, that in some cases, we only have snippets from some of the poems. The verse

Time does not gore my wounds anymore
For I have no wound and there is no such thing as time
And no consolation
.”

which I described as a “short” and “succinct” poem is actually only the first verse of a poem which is called “An Excess of Fire”. The full poems runs over 19 pages. I think I will probably add an addendum to my previous post to rectify the errors in it.

2. The Participants and the Programme

We had a very impressive panel of speakers and I am very grateful to everyone who participated in our event and to everyone who helped to get in contact with all the potential participants. We did the event on Zoom (webinar) and livestreamed it on GCHR Facebook page and we also recorded it. This means you can also find it on GCHR YouTube channel.

Here is the link to the clip on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gc4hr/videos/818901928922383

And here is the link to the clip on YouTube:

When we planned the event, we thought it should last about 90 minutes. In the end it lasted more than 2 hours and the sections towards the end (in particular the Iran section) would have benefitted from more time. Anyway, I thought it would be good to give you an overview of the programme and include time marks (for the YouTube video). Then it is easier for you to find specific sections. I obviously recommend you to watch the whole event:

a) I had the great honour and pleasure to present the event together with Salma Mohammed, a colleague from GCHR. You can hear at the beginning of the video the end of my introduction and from 2.11 min onwards Salma’s introduction to the event in Arabic.

We not only included texts in the event, but also art work which was specifically made for it. You can hear more about the art from 5.14 min onwards. Khalid Albaih made the pictures I use in this post and Maha Alomari made three amazing pictures which you will see, if you watch the event.

b) The first country on which we focus is United Arab Emirates and the prisoner and writer is Ahmed Mansoor. The section starts at 7.14 min in the YouTube clip. The writer and activist İyad El-Baghdadi begins this section with reading an excerpt of Ahmed Mansoor’s poem “An Excess of Fire” in Arabic. He speaks then about Ahmed Mansoor whom he first met in 2012. İyad explains how difficult Ahmed Mansoor’s life was even at that time. He describes it as “a living hell” in the time between his release from prison in November 2011 (after the UAE5 trial) and his arrest in March 2017, but despite of all the repressions Ahmed Mansoor was brave enough to speak out against human rights violations. Very often he was the only one who dared to speak out against it. Artur Ligęska speaks next. He was imprisoned in Al-Sadr prison in the UAE for eight months (in 2017 and 2018). He met Ahmed Mansoor there and became his friend. Artur reads a section about Ahmed from his book and then speaks about him and the terrible conditions in prison. His recollection of Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday in 2017 was very poignant as were his Polish birthday wishes. The section closes with a short excerpt from “Isolation cell 32“, a documentary by Hossam Meneai.

c) The second section is about Bahrain and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It starts at 28.07 min in the YouTube clip. Maryam Al-Khawaja reads a quote of her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. He was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for his human rights activism. She then reads a powerful poem which she wrote for her father “Letter to my father”. The sections ends with the video “Free Bird”, a story told by Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to his daughter Zaynab Al-Khawaja during a phone call from prison in 2012.

d) The next section in the event is about Egypt. It starts at 39.08 min in the YouTube clip. This section focusses on Shadi Habash and on Galal El-Behairy, The section starts with the voice of Galal El-Behairy who reads his poem “Ana Kafir” (“I am the Infidel”) in a very moving video clip. Next is Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian-American human rights advocate who was shot, arrested and tortured in Egypt in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison for tweeting. He was released after two years in prison. He speaks about the human rights situation in Egypt, his own story and experience in prison and the difficult situation when people are disappeared and family members do not know whether their loved ones are still alive. He calls the prisons the “grave yards of the living”. Mohammed reads then Shadi Habash’s last letter from 26 October 2019. Shadi died on 2 May 2020. He was 24 years old and had spent more than two years in prison in pretrial detention (for making the video “Balaha”). The Egyptian singer Ramy Essam takes over and speaks about Shadi and Galal El-Behairy. Galal El-Behairy wrote the lyrics to several of Ramy’s songs (including “Balaha”) and Ramy introduces and sings one of these songs “Segn Bil Alwan”. The song speaks about the girls and women in the prisons “who play a role in the revolution fighting for equality”. It is a song I really like and I thought it was very moving to hear Ramy singing this song live.

e) The next country in the event is Syria. The section starts at 1:02:14 h and speaks about Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer and founder of Violations Documentation Centre in Douma who was abducted on 9 December 2013 together with her husband and two colleagues. There is no information about her current situation. Laura Rawas, her niece speaks about her and reads the article “The resistance is consumed by waiting” which was written by Razan in November 2013 shortly before she was disappeared. Laura says that she “made it her mission to keep the words of her aunt at the forefront”. She says about Razan:

It is Razan who taught me the power of a voice and the importance of freedom and justice. When I was younger, I thought of her as a hero. That admiration was reinforced when the revolution arose in 2011, and I watched as her heart, courage, and strength grew.

f) After Syria follows Turkey. The section starts at 1.10.56 h. Yasmin Çongar is the founder and director of P24, a non-profit platform for independent journalism in Istanbul. She is also a writer and translator and friend of the Turkish writer and journalist Ahmet Altan who was arrested on 10 September 2016. Yasemin translated his book “I Will Never See the World Again” into English. She speaks about him and reads the chapter “Writer’s Paradox” from this book. Ahmet Altan wrote this book in prison and I was particular struck by these lines:

I am writing this in a prison cell. But I am not in prison. I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not. You can imprison me but you cannot keep me in prison. Because, like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through walls with ease.

g) The penultimate country in the event was Saudi Arabia. The section starts at 1.21.32 h in the YouTube clip. We decided to focus on two of the women rights defenders who were arrested between May and July 2018. I wrote about five of them in blog post in August 2018. There are altogether 13 women rights activist who were initially arrested around this time and still face trial. Eight of them were temporarily released, but five are still in prison: Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani. We choose texts from two of them, who are probably less well known to the public: Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz. The speakers for this section are Dr. Hala Aldosari a well know scholar in women’s health and an activist from Saudi Arabia and Charlotte Allan, a lawyer and friend of Nassima al-Sadah. Dr. Hala introduces both women and reads excerpts from one article bu Nassima and one by Nouf. The section closes with Charlotte who speaks about her friend Nassima al-Sadah.

h) The last country in the event was Iran. This section starts at 1.36.52 h. I campaign quite a lot for prisoners in Iran and I thought it was particularly difficult to choose one or two prisoners for this event among the large number of Iranian prisoners. We decided to focus on two women: Atena Daemi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee. I wrote last December about Atena, if you want to know more about her. She was meant to be released in July 2020, but was then sentenced to an additional five years in prison and 74 lashes. There are potential further charges against her. The prominent Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Mahnaz Parakand reads a text by Atena in Farsi. Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband joined our event and spoke about poems which were written in 2017 by five women in Evin prison, including Golrokh. You can find some of the poems in a blog post from November 2017, there is also a blog post from the same time with more information about Golrokh and one from February 2017 about Golrokh and her husband Arash Sadeghi . I thought it was very generous of Richard to come and speak at the event, even so we did not focus on his wife. Finally the human rights activist Nick Sotoudeh read two of Golrokh’s poems: “Couples in Prison” and “Counting Up, Counting Down”. I was sad that he could not read the full poem “Counting Up, Counting Down”, however we had technically allocated a maximum of two hours for the event and we feared that the event would automatically end after two hours. We were anxious to have a little bit time left for the closing section.

g) Elsa Saade, a Lebanese cultural and social activist, closes the event with a song based on a poem by Mahmoud Darwish “To My Mother” which he wrote on a pack of cigarettes after a visit of his mother. The section starts at 1.51.46 h.

IV. What can I do to help?

Please share the clip about the event on social media and with your family and friends. Even more important, please speak out about the prisoners, share their stories and be their voice.

GCHR published a press release about the event and also included a link to the presentation of the event. You can download the presentation and you will find in the presentation prisoner cards about all prisoners which were included in the event with key information. You can use this information to campaign for them. It is always good to highlight the birthday of a prisoner on social media or the anniversary of his or her arrest , the judgment against his or her or other significant dates.

We also prepared a few sample tweets with quotes from all the prisoners and writers we included and asked people to tweet during the event. You can continue to use these sample tweets. You find them on the Amnesty Westminster Bayswater website.

I want to finish with a quote by Mohammed Soltan from the event which echoes my own feelings and thoughts:

“Please don’t forget about these people. Every tweet that you tweet about these people, every post, every time you speak up and raise and amplify these people’s voices, it is one step closer to their freedom or at least we make sure that they are not forgotten.”

Happy birthday to my blog!

I published my first blog post on 21 June 2015, exactly five years ago. Now five years and 60 blog post later, I want to look back on the themes and topics over the past five years. I hope you will enjoy this retrospect.

1. Visitors and views

Let’s start with some statistics.

This is a map which shows in different shades of pink from which countries the visitors to my blog came over the past five years:

My blog had in the past five years 15,487 visitors with 26,148 views (because many visitors look at more than one page at their visit to my blog). Most of my visitors were from the USA with 7,039 views, this is followed by visitors from the UK (5,901 views), Germany (2,011 views), France (1,434 views) and Canada (898 views). Visitors to my blog came from 141 different countries, including countries like American Samoa, Kenya, South Korea, Panama and Zimbabwe to name a few countries from which I had recent visitors.

2. Themes and Categories

In my first blog post, I wrote that

I will basically write about all topics I am passionate about.Currently these are mainly two which are very different, the one topic is human rights, the other one is the arts. 

That is exactly what I have done over the past five years. The 60 blog posts I wrote are in six categories (some posts are in two categories): Human Rights, Poetry, Twitter, Classical Music, General and Art.

I wrote 40 blog posts about human rights topics, eight of these posts are in the category human rights and the category poetry, because they share poetry and are human rights related, most of the time, because the poet is in prison and was punished for his or her poetry. Eight of the human rights topics are also in the category Twitter. Sometimes these were blog posts about tweet storms, at other times, they included or reported a campaign on Twitter like the “Sky For Shawkan” campaign for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan or the translations project of a phrase of support for Raif Badawi.

The second most important category in my blog was “Classical Music“. I wrote 14 blog posts about classical music topics. Most of these posts were about the programme of concerts with one of my choirs, Highgate Choral Society. I have been writing the programme notes for our concerts for almost five years and I usually put the programme note for the main work (or the work I find particularly interesting) on my blog.

In addition to the human rights posts and the ones about classical music, I wrote one blog post about art and five blog posts in the “General” category – usually a post at the beginning of the year with some thoughts about the previous year.

3. My most popular posts

There are six of my post which got more than 500 views since their publication. I want to give you a short overview over these posts.

a) On 25 June 2016 Highgate Choral Society sung in our summer concert J.S. Bach’s massive choral work B Minor Mass – in a sense the culmination of his choral writing. I published on 2 June 2016 the post “Bach: Mass in B Minor – a “Great Catholic Mass”?“. This post got since his publication four years ago 1,059 views and is the most popular one in my blog.

b) The second most popular one is a human rights post about Saudi women rights defenders which I published on 13 August 2018. It is called “Where are the Saudi reforms? Saudi women rights defenders Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef in prison“. Between May 2018 and end of July 2018 Saudi Arabia arrested 13 women rights defenders. My blog post is about five of them: Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were arrested between the 15 and 18 May 2018. Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were arrested on 30 July 2018. Eman al Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were both temporarily released on 27 March 2019, but their trial is still ongoing and they could still face years in prison. Loujain al-Hathoul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah are still in prison and on trial. There are allegations of torture, sexual abuse and long periods of solitary confinement.

This post got since his publication less then two years ago 692 views. Given that the women are still on trial and some of them are still in prison, I hope that this post will continue be viewed by many people.

c) Almost the same number of views (686 views) got my third most popular post: “Brahms: A German Requiem – a Requiem for Humankind“. I published it on 1 November 2016 and it is about a concert of Highgate Choral Society on 12 November 2016.

d) The fourth most popular post is about the Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also called “Shawkan”. On 11 August 2016 I published the post “Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan”“. Shawkan had been arrested on 14 August 2013 and my post marked the third anniversary of his arrest. It was viewed 637 times.

I wrote over the years five blog posts about Shawkan. We started in September 2016 the photo campaign “Sky for Shawkan” where we asked people to share photos of the sky with the hashtag #SkyForShawkan, because Shawkan said in a letter from prison that he missed the sky, In my posts in September 2016, December 2017, October 2018 and the final post in March 2019 I gave updates of his situation and shared in each post photos of the sky which activists from all over the world had posted on Twitter in support of Shakwan. My final post “After 5 years 6 months 18 days: Shawkan released from prison!” had the good news that Shawkan was released on 4 March 2019. However, it was not an unconditional release and he was still required to report at the police station at 6 pm every day and potentially sleep there. Shawkan described this as “half free”. This obligation was meant to be in place for five years, however I am not sure how the situation is at the moment. In any case you can follow Shawkan on Twitter or on Instagram and see his amazing photos.

e) My fifths most popular post is again one about classical music. Highgate Choral Society sung in our concert on 11 March 2017 Edgar Elgar’s The Music Makers. I published on 21 February 2017 “Elgar: The Music Makers – a musical autobiography?“. This blog post got 590 views over time.

f) The last post which was viewed more than 500 times is the post “Poetry behind bars: The Poems“. It got 515 views and it is one of two post about five women in Evin Prison, Iran and the poems they wrote. The five women are Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari. The post shared the poems by these women. When I published my post on 15 November 2017 four of the women were still in prison. Mahvash Sabet Shariari had been released 18 September 2017 after having served almost 10 years in prison. On 29 March 2018 Nasim Bagheri was released after having completed her sentence of four years in prison. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and Narges Mohammadi are still in prison. Please continue to support them.

4. Countries and prisoners

a) The country about which I wrote the most posts is Iran. 13 of my 40 human rights posts are (also) about a human rights defender and / or prisoner in Iran.

I mentioned in my first post five years ago two prisoners from Iran for whom I was campaigning at that time: Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki and Saeed Malekpour.

Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with his parents in June 2015

aa) I wrote three posts about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki all of them in 2016.

In January 2016 we organised a Tweet Storm for him. On 17 June 2015 he had been given furlough on medical grounds.

On 11 January 2016 the authorities called him back to prison. We could not do much about that, we could at least show him that we stand with him and support him. On a Twitter Day on 18 January 2016 people from all over the world tweeted in support of Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki.

Tweet by Laleh, a close friend of Hossein,
on the day after he went back to prison

He returned to prison on 19 January 2016. I shared a few days later the last blog post he published before returning to prison (in an English translation by his friend Laleh).

In May 2016 there was finally good news, because he was again temporarily released on 4 May after 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike.

This was an uncertain freedom for a quite a long time, but one year ago on 24 June 2019 he posted that his 15 year sentences had been suspended and that he was finally unconditionally free, almost 10 years after his initial arrest.

An Iranian-born Canadian resident has returned to British Columbia after being imprisoned and allegedly tortured in his home country for 11 years. Saeed Malekpour, left, poses for a photo with his sister Maryam Malekpour in a Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kimberley Motley,

bb) There was also fantastic news last year about Saeed Malekpour.

Over the years I tweeted regularly for Saeed Malekpour. In June 2016 I wrote a post for Saeed Malekpour’s birthday.

Saeed Malekpour is a Canadian resident. In autumn 2008 he went to Iran to see his dying father. He was arrested on 4 October 2008. He was initially sentenced to death, but then his sentences was commuted to life in prison.

After almost 11 years in prison he was able to use a temporary release last year to flee Iran and returned to Canada on 3 August 2019.

He is now finally reunited with his sister Maryam Malekpour who has been campaigning for him tirelessly over all the years. There is a fascinating article about his escape from Iran which I highly recommend you to read.

Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe after her temporary release
from prison (with ankle tag).

cc) The third Iranian prisoner about whom I wrote several times is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Nazanin was arrested on 3 April 2016 when she went with her daughter Gabriella to the airport in Tehran to travel back from a family visit in Iran.

I wrote three posts about her. The last one was last year, one months after her hunger strike and the hunger strike of her husband Richard.

Because of Covid-19 Nazanin was temporarily released on 17 March 2020. She is under house arrest at her parents home and her movements are restricted to 300 m from her parents home. She also has to wear an ankle tag. The furlough was extended several times and she is currently still free. She and her husband hope for a pardon, but there is still no decision made by Iran and at the moment she has to call the prosecutors office twice a week on Saturdays and on Wednesdays.

Please continue to support the campaign for her release. I hope that there will soon be a positive decision for her and she can return to her family in London.

b) I wrote over the years eleven posts about prisoners in Saudi Arabia and also eleven posts about prisoners in the United Arab Emirates. I mentioned in my first post Raif Badawi and Waleed Abukhair from Saudi Arabia and Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken from the United Arab Emirates.

aa) Raif Badawi is the reason I started using social media and he was in a sense also the reason why I started writing this blog. I wrote over time four blogs post about him. The first one was my first proper post in this blog on 27 June 2015: “Why I do care about Raif Badawi“. Others post were about two boooks (one biography by Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife and a book of texts by Raif Badawi), another one was about the translation project for him.

There is sadly no news about him. There was some information that he had been on hunger strike a few times, but I find it always difficult to assess how reliable the information is. Even so his wife campaigns for him and seems to have regular contact with him, there is often conflicting information.

Just a few days ago, on 17 June, was the eighth anniversary of his arrest. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and a fine. After the first public flogging on 9 January 2015 (50 lashes) there were further threats that Saudi Arabia would continue to flog him, but it seems that this has not happened. I still hope for a Royal Pardon and his release, but there are sadly no indications that this would happen anytime soon.

bb) The situation of Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer, is very similar. I wrote one blog post about him. He worked among others also for Raif Badawi. He was arrested on 15 April 2014 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Also he has been on hunger strike a couple of times and there is no new information about him available.

cc) When I started writing my blog, human rights in the United Arab Emirates was not a major focus for me. I included in my first post Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken. I wrote also one blog post about him and have been campaigning for him ever since. As Waleed Abulkhair also Dr. Al-Roken is a human rights lawyer, and I assume being a lawyer myself, I am particularly drawn to campaigning for him. However, ten of my eleven posts about the United Arab Emirates are not about Dr. Al-Roken, but rather about Ahmed Mansoor. There is no human rights activist and prisoners of conscience about whom I have written more blog posts than about Ahmed Mansoor.

Ahmed Mansoor with two of his four boys

Ahmed Mansoor is blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations. He is poet and he is also a husband and father of four boys.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017. I wrote my first blog post about him in May 2017 and as mentioned I have written in the meantime ten blog posts about him, the last two were in March this year to mark the third anniversary of his arrest and to share his poetry. As always there is only limited news available about him. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published the last article about him at the beginning of June. Because of the Covid-19 crisis there are currently no visits allowed to the prisons in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore Ahmed Mansoor and his family have not seen each other since January 2020. They are theoretically allowed to have phone calls, but the last one was in April 2020. There was no contact between him and his family since then. Also his situation in prison has not improved. He still has no bed and no access to books, no access to a shower and cleaning products and is not allowed to leave his cell, except for rare family visits. There is more worrying news from Human Rights Watch. They published on 10 June an article about reported Covid-19 outbreaks in several prisons in UAE, including Al-Sadr prison in which Ahmed Mansoor is detained. There is no specific information about him in this article, but Human Rights Watch quotes family members of other prisoners in Al-Sadr prison:

“He [my relative] told me it’s filthy,” …. “There are cockroaches everywhere. There are no blankets or pillows. It’s so overcrowded, they’re kept like cattle. And there’s no sunlight.”

One family member of a prisoner told Human Rights Watch at the end of May that seven prisoners were tested positively for Covid-19. They were transferred to a hospital and others were quarantined in solitary confinement cells. The relative of the prisoner said:

“He is so scared to go into that dark hole,” … “He has a heart condition too.”

I am really worried about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation and I would like to ask you to continue to support the campaign for him. I am sure more blog posts about him will follow, if he is not released soon.

c) I mentioned in my first post three other prisoners / human rights activists: Shawkan (Egypt), Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain) and Hussain Jawad (Bahrain). I wrote eight posts about prisoners and human rights defenders in Bahrain, seven about prisoners in Egypt, two posts in which I mentioned a prisoner from Qatar (Mohammed Al-Ajami) and two in which I mentioned a prisoner from Turkey (Nedim Türfent).

aa) I already wrote in the previous chapter about the photographer Shawkan who was in prison in Egypt and my five blog posts about him.

bb) Nabeel Rajab was released a few days ago after almost four years in prison. I hope that he will stay free.

Hussain Jawad with his father Parweez Jawad

I wrote over the years five blog post about Hussain Jawad (including two about his father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also called Parweez Jawad). Hussain fled Bahrain and currently lives in France, but his father is still in prison in Bahrain. Hussain wrote over the last weeks quite often about him on social media. His father is over 70 years old and not in good health anyway. In particular because of the Covid-19 crisis Hussain fears for his father’s health and even his life. You can read more about Parweez Jawad in my blog post from March 2017. Please support the campaign for Parweez Jawad’s freedom.

Please support also Ali Mushaima and his campaign for his father’s freedom. Ali Mushaima went on a hunger strike for some basic demands for his father in summer 2018. I wrote two blogs about him. Hassan Mushaima is about the same age as Parweez Jawad and has also several health conditions.

Both belong to the so-called Bahrain 13, a group of human rights activist and opposition leaders who were arrested during the Arab Spring in March 2011. Hassan Mushaima was sentenced to life in prison, Parweez Jawad to 15 years in prison. Both are prisoners of conscience and should be free.

5. What will come next?

We will see what will come next. I really enjoy writing in my blog and I will therefore certainly continue writing blog posts. I also assume that the topics will not change much, therefore you will be able to read more blog posts about human rights, mainly in the Middle East, and about classical music. I enjoy doing research about these topics and share my results and thoughts with my readers. I would like to write more posts about art, but we will see how things will go.

I do not think I can be more specific about future posts. Some of my posts are planned for some time, e.g. the mark the birthday of a prisoner or the anniversary of his or her arrest or the judgement against him or her. I also wrote posts for World Poetry Day, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer and in particular Human Rights Day. However, very often posts react to something which happens, like the arrest of someone, a hunger strike or also a happy event like the release of someone. These are posts which I obviously cannot plan in advance, but I certainly plan to give updates on the prisoners about whom I have written before. I usually write about classical music in the context of the Highgate Choral Society concerts, but with Covid-19 it is uncertain when these will resume.

If you are curious about my future posts, the please consider following this blog. You only need an email address to do so. If you follow the blog, you will get an email whenever I publish a new post. I usually also share my posts on social media. If you have the impression that there is a human rights defender or a prisoner or conscience about whom I should write, then please leave a comment and I will see what I can do.

Let me end this post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my posts and in particular thank you to everyone who supported the prisoners I am writing about. Please continue to support human rights and prisoners of conscience.

Ahmed Mansoor – a poet

In the previous blog post, I gave an update on Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation and asked you to take action for him to mark the third anniversary of his arrest on 20 March. In this post I want to introduce you to Ahmed Mansoor, the poet and will also share some of Ahmed Mansoor’s poems in English translation.

Ahmed Mansoor is a very well know human rights activist. Not so many people probably know that he is also a poet and has a keen interest in literature. In an interview with the researcher, activist and film maker Manu Luksch in May 2016 he described the connection between his interest in human rights activism and literature as follows:

“Of course, throughout this history I was involved in many different things. The first was literature—I’d been writing in almost all the newspapers in the UAE about literature and specifically about poetry, and later I published a book on poetry. That’s where the value of freedom of expression became of great importance for me, and I started my involvement in human rights driven by the great respect that I have for freedom of expression.”

The book Ahmed Mansoor mentioned in this quote is called “Beyond the Failure”. It is a collection of poetry in Arabic and was published in 2007. The collection was never published in English, but Manu Luksch got a few of these poems translated into English. You can find them on a wonderful publication which also include the 3,159 most recent tweets from Ahmed Mansoor’s Twitter feed (in the original and in an English machine translation).

I will share the English translations of the poems here and I am very grateful to Manu Luksch for giving me her permission to do so.

1. “Final Choice”

At the beginning of this post has to be Ahmed Mansoor’s best known poem “Final Choice”. It is a very powerful poem and I am not surprised that people go back to this poem again and again and use it to campaign for Ahmed Mansoor.

I have read this poem a few times at vigils and protests and also other people read it at vigils and other events.

It was also part of a display last year at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester (in the Protest Lab).

At the Human Rights & Poetry Event “Word’s for the Silenced” last March Drewery Dyke chose to read “Final Choice”. You can listen to him reading it in this tweet which I tweeted last year.

Final Choice
I have no other means now
but a tight-lipped silence in the square and through corridors
Since I have tried everything
screams, chants, signboards
obstructing roads
and lying on the ground in front of the queues

Cutting through the procession with eggs, tomatoes, and
blazing tires
Hurling burning bottles and stones

Stripped naked in front of the public
Carving statements in the flesh
Walking masked in front of cameras
Dressed in shackles
Tied and chained to garden fences
Swallowing rusty razor blades and splintered glass
Hacking of fingers with a machete
and hanging myself from the lampposts
Dousing the body with kerosene
and setting it aflame

I have tried all this, but you didn’t even turn to look
This time, I swear
I won’t utter a word, or move
I will stay the way I am
until you turn to look
or until I am petrified

The person who translated “Final Choice” wants to stay anonymous.

2. “What are all the stars for” and “How did you not see me”

There were two other poems by Ahmed Mansoor which also featured in the Human Rights & Poetry Event “Words for the Silenced” and which were used in other similar events. The first poem is “What are all those stars for”. It was translated into English by Tony Calderbeck.

What are all those stars for?
And the night
And the clouds
And the sky erected like a tent in the desert.

In a place like this
Everything is
Luxury
.

Listen to this short clip in which the journalist Bill Law reads the poem. It is again a tweet I send last year to mark the anniversary of Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest and World Poetry Day.

And here is the poem “How did you not see me” which was also translated by someone who wants to stay anonymous.

How did you not see me
As if I were hiding behind a mountain
And how did I see you then
Passing in a distance of two leagues
Curving the moon with a gaze
And pulling the stars
To the field
.

3. More poems translated by Tony Calderbeck

Tony Calderback translated two more poems by Ahmed Mansoor. The first one is a very short one “They’ve gone”.

They’ve gone
And I am left alone
Poking about in the ashtray
Trying to find a pulse
.

The second poem “Like a celestial body” reminds me almost of surreal poetry.

Like a celestial body we burned bright
And went out like a jellyfish

Just for you
All these waves hidden like a wreath or a bomb
Just for you
A blend of the spirit and annihilation
Just for you
The entire
Cemetery
.

4. More poems translated by an anonymous translator

There are eight further poems who were translated into English by someone who prefers to stay anonymous. Many of these poems are quite short and succinct.

Time does not gore my wounds anymore
For I have no wound and there is no such thing as time
And no consolation
.

Happening
He didn’t finish the whole glass,
If he had, and had left the table,
the sky outside would have rained.
How would he have crossed the street.
when he had forgotten his umbrella
!

Quite a number of the poems are love poems.

Heart
A deep bow to you
You, the heart that died twice
and never grew jaded

Another bow
to what approaches with its dagger

From the horizon.

The flower of the door
This morning I greeted the flower at the door by lifting my hat
She surprised me
leaning softly,
when my lover passed by
in the evening.

Longing
The love we buried together,
we’ve lost its location,
so we dug the whole desert,
when we felt the first prick
of nostalgia.

Love
I fell in love with you
without any regret directed at you or the grave
I fell in love with you
but I
I forgot the shoes in the dream
and the keys
in the coffin.

Another Love
When will you come?
My insides froze on the barrow
and the coat melted in the wind.


I blew the whistle
I nodded with my heart one million times
and one million times the galaxy fell
.

But you
Did not come

All that is
A hair from your braid
Fell into the dream
And I found it

Finally.

Boredom
How much time has passed,
Oh clock,
And you are ticking ?!
My heart,
Is beating as well,
But the tear had dried
And the bullet,
Is still,
Penetrating.

I hope you like the poems. Please share them, in particular please join English PEN’s call for action, make short video clips of you reading these poems and share this clips to campaign for Ahmed Mansoor.

As always please continue to be Ahmed Mansoor’s voice.

Ahmed Mansoor – a human rights activist and prisoner of conscience

Today, on 20 March is the third anniversary of Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest. Tomorrow, on 21 March is World Poetry Day. I have decided to write two blog posts in which I will focus on two aspects of Ahmed Mansoor. This blog post is about Ahmed Mansoor, the human rights activist and prisoner of conscience since 20 March 2017. I want to remind everyone of the arrest of an incredible brave man who is still suffering in terrible conditions in prison. In the next blog post I want to introduce you to Ahmed Mansoor, the poet. I hope you will read and share both posts and support the #FreeAhmed campaign.

1. What you need to know about Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor is a highly regarded blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations. In 2015 he won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested three years ago, on 20 March 2017. His arrest was the culmination of years of harassment, arrests, travel bans and physical and electronic surveillance. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

One year ago (on 17 March 2019), Ahmed Mansoor went on a four week hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial. His situation in prison is terrible. His cell does not have a bed and he has to sleep on the floor. The cell also does not have running water (not even in the toilet, which is little more than a hole in the floor). Ahmed Mansoor has been in solitary confinement since his arrest three years ago. He was only allowed to leave his cell for a handful of very infrequent family visits. After the hunger strike last March, he was once allowed to walk in the prison yard. He has no access to books or newspapers. Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported at the end of September that he was beaten and had started a second hunger strike.

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know that I have written quite a number of blog posts about Ahmed Mansoor over the years. If you want to know more about him, then please have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights in the United Arab Emirates“, “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights”, “Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike“ and my last post about him from October last year “Global week of action for Ahmed Mansoor #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed“.

2. Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation

There is sadly again little information available about Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation. Human Rights Watch published recently a fascinating article “Artur and Ahmed: Prison Mates in UAE Hell“. The Polish businessman and former prisoner Artur Ligeska speaks in this article about Ahmed’s situation in prison (up to May 2019). He explains that the decision of the court of appeal in December 2018 had a deep impact on Ahmed.

“… [I]n December 2018, when the Federal Supreme Court upheld his 10-year sentence, the news shook him. “I remember the day when he lost the appeal,” says Artur. “He came [back] to the isolation ward and he start[ed] to shout.” Shortly after, Ahmed decided to go on hunger strike. Artur, who unlike Ahmed was allowed to leave the isolation ward to go to the canteen, caught glimpses of Ahmed’s physical deterioration as he passed by the tiny window to Ahmed’s cell. “He lost immediately a lot of weight. Changed color of the face.”

After four weeks of hunger strike Artur was so concerned for Ahmed Mansoor’s life that he did everything to get information out of the prison. Via another prisoner he got hold of two telephone numbers. One of them belonged to Kristina Stockwood, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the information Kristina received enabled them to inform the public about Ahmed Mansoor’s hunger strike last spring. Artur Ligeska was released in May 2019 and it is again almost impossible to get information about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation.

About a months ago, Amnesty International and Gulf Centre for Human Rights both published very worrying news. It seems that Ahmed Mansoor started his hunger strike on 7 September 2019. He did so, because he was beaten and he wanted to protest against broken promises. During his last hunger strike he was promised better prison conditions, including a bed. However, the authorities broke most of these promises. He was allowed to walk in yard once and he could call his ill mother once, but apart from that not much changed.

The first week of his hunger strike the prison guards forced him to eat, but from 14 September 2019 onward the prison authorities did not interfere any longer with his hunger strike. Both organisations say that he was on hunger strike until at least mid January and that he was refusing all solid food and was consuming fluids only. Gulf Centre for Human Rights says his life is at risk:

As the anniversary of Mansoor’s arrest on 20 March 2017 approaches, his health is suffering and his life is at risk. He has been held continuously in an isolation cell, which he is not allowed to leave apart from occasional family visits. A local source told GCHR recently that he has been psychologically abused to put pressure on him, and could no longer walk, since he continues the liquids-only hunger strike that he started five months ago. He also still has no mattress, no sunshine, and no books or television.

From 25 to 28 February 2020 the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi took place. The UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance uses this festival as many other cultural and sports events to distract from the UAE’s human rights violations. More than 60 NGOs and individuals called in an open letter for release of Ahmed Mansoor and other prisoners of conscience, in particular the human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, the human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and the professor Nasser Bin-Ghaith. The signatories included the winner of the Noble Prize for Literature Wole Soyinka, the co-winner of the Noble Prize for Peace Ahmed Galai, the author and presenter Stephen Fry, the Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif and many other writers, journalists and human rights activists, some of them were participants in the festival. During the festival Ahdaf Soueif warned that cultural events should not be used to “paper over” human rights violations. She specifically highlighted the situation of Ahmed Mansoor and of Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken.

Amnesty International and Gulf Centre for Human Rights published today a new statement in which they call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor. However, there is sadly no update on his situation.

3. Please take action for Ahmed Mansoor

A number of organisations, including the local Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, Friends for Ahmed Mansoor, English PEN, International Campaign For Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) and Gulf Centre for Human Rights planned a protest at the UAE Embassy in London on Wednesday 25 March 2020. Because of the Coronavirus and recommendation of the UK government to avoid any not necessary personal contact, we had to cancel the protest, but these and many other organisations ask their supporters to use social media to raise awareness for Ahmed Mansoor on this third anniversary of his arrest. I would also like to ask you to join the social media action for Ahmed Mansoor today.

a) When shall I tweet?

You can tweet the whole day on 20 March 2020. Please start past midnight in your time zone and tweet as much or as little as you like. These Twitter actions are always team efforts and the aim is to keep a topic and a hashtag in as many Twitter feeds as possible.

b) Is there a special hashtag?

We will use two hashtags: One is the usual hashtag #FreeAhmed. We also want to ask people to use the hashtag #GiveAhmedaBed.

c) What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. Tell them that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his work and that he spent all the time in solitary confinement. Mention that it is the third anniversary of his arrest. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to write about his case.
  • Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor. You can also tweet to Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan @SaifBZayed, the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates. He is the authority who controls and runs prisons in UAE. Other accounts to address are Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan @ABZayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HamdanMohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
  • In addition you can tweet to politicians in Europe and the US and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language. Possible targets are Josep Borrell: @JosepBorrellF (EU Minister for Foreign Affairs), Mary Lawlor: @MaryLawlorFLD (the new UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders), Emmanuel Macron: @EmmanuelMacron, Boris Johnson: @BorisJohnson, Donald Trump: @realDonaldTrump
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor and his family. It would be too risky for his family to campaign for him, but many NGOs say that they see the tweets in support of #FreeAhmed

d) Are there sample tweets?

You can tweet what you want and you can also tweet in whatever language you want to. If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of tweets which were drafted by Amnesty International and by ICFUAE:

  • BRAVE @Ahmed_Mansoor, 3 years since your arrest, but every day on our mind and in our hearts #FreeAhmed
  • Today Human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has needlessly spent a third year in prison. We call on the #UAE @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed NOW!!!
  • Today marks 3 years since @Ahmed_Mansoor’s arrest in the #UAE. He is a #BRAVE #PrisonerOfConscience. Call for his immediate and unconditional release #FreeAhmed @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd @SaifBZayed
  • The #UAE government is committing an atrocious human rights violation by arbitrarily detaining @Ahmed_Mansoor for his human rights work. Call for his immediate and unconditional release now! #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed
  • .@MaryLawlorFLD @JosepBorrellF @EmmanuelMacron @BorisJohnson @realDonaldTrump please take action and call on the #UAE to release @Ahmed_Mansoor. He is a #PrisonerOfConscience who is spending yet another year in solitary confinement for defending #humanrights. #FreeAhmed
  • The #UAE must allow independent monitors access to @Ahmed_Mansoor if they have nothing to hide! #FreeAhmed
  • On the 3rd anniversary of his arrest, our heart goes out to @Ahmed_Mansoor and his family. He has committed no crime, and shouldn’t have to spend another day in a cell without even a bed to sleep on. We urge @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed or at least #GiveAhmedaBed
  • Today marks 3 years since @Ahmed_Mansoor’s arrest in 2017. He has spent all of this time in degrading conditions and solitary confinement, which amounts to #torture. His health has deteriorated & he can no longer walk. @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed
  • 3 years after his arrest @Ahmed_Mansoor remains in prison amid the #COVID19 outbreak. His health has significantly deteriorated following his hunger strikes in protest of torture & extremely poor detention conditions. We fear for his life! #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed 
  • Is tweeting a crime? In the #UAE it can be! It has been 3 years since leading #HRD @Ahmed_Mansoor ‘s arrest for speaking out against #humanrights violations in the #UAE . We urge @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed.
  • 3 years ago today @Ahmed_Mansoor was arrested for peacefully exercising his right to #FreedomOfSpeech. He remains in prison where he is held in an isolation cell with no mattress and no access to books. #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed 

Suggested thread:

  1. #Brave human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor was arrested 3years ago, today in the #UAE. He was unfairly convicted and sentenced to 10yrs in prison. He is a #PrisonerOfConscience and we call for his immediate release.
  2. Since his arrest three years ago today, he has been held in solitary confinement which amounts to #torture. His physical and psychological conditions have significantly deteriorated.
  3. The #UAE must ensure that pending his release Ahmed Mansoor is detained in conditions that comply with international standards, that he is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment; and has immediate and regular access to his family and any health care he may require.
  4. We call on the #UAE authorities to allow independent monitors access to Ahmed Mansoor
  5. When the #UAE authorities punish individuals in such a cruel and enduring manner for simply exercising their right to freedom to expression, their talk of ‘tolerance’ is nothing but deceitful.

English PEN plans to share poems by Ahmed Mansoor and will also encourage supporters to make short clips in which they read one of his poems and in which they call for his release. You can find on their website a poem by Adam Baron which he wrote in support of Ahmed Mansoor. English PEN invites everyone to join an online vigil at 2pm (London time).

Please join these actions and as always please continue to support Ahmed Mansoor also when once the anniversary of his arrest is over.

Artur Ligenska told Human Rights Watch the following:

“Ahmed always was saying [to] me stories about you guys. About his friends in human rights activism all around the world. And he always knew that no matter what would happen, you guys [are] going to stay next to him.”

Let us make sure that we do not disappoint Ahmed Mansoor, but “stay next to him” until he is free.

Bruckner: Mass in E Minor

The next concert of Highgate Choral Society takes place on Saturday, 14 March 2020 at All Hallows’ Church, Savernake Road, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP. It starts at 7 pm. At the centre of the programme is Anton Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor. We will also perform one of Bruckner’s motets (Ecce Sacerdos Magnus) as well as Fauré’s well known Cantique de Jean Racine and a new work by our conductor Ronald Corp (Nothing Can Be Beautiful Which is Not True). Members of the New London Orchestra will play Mozart’s Serenade No. 11 in E flat Major. The following blog post is about Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor.

1. Anton Bruckner was born on 4 September 1824 in Ansfelden, near Linz (Upper Austria). He was the eldest son. His father was a school master and the organist at the local church. The organ was Anton Bruckner’s first love. He started with organ lessons when he was four years old. His favourite place was on the organ bench next to his father. His mother had a good voice and sang in the local church choir. When Bruckner was ten years old he started to deputise for his father. In 1835 his family sent him to live with his godfather Johann Baptist Weiss, a school teacher and organist at Hörsching (about 10 km from Ansfelden). Weiss was a composer of several sacred works and taught Bruckner musical theory and organ playing. During this time Bruckner wrote his first compositions. These were sacred choral works and works for organ. At the end of 1836 his father became seriously ill and Bruckner went back to Ansfelden to take over some of his father’s duties. After his father’s death in 1837, his mother decided that it would be best to bring her son to St. Florian, a monastery close to Ansfelden, where he was accepted as chorister. His general and his musical education continued there. St Florian had an impressive organ which was a great attraction to Bruckner early on.

In 1840 Anton Bruckner decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and qualify as a teacher. He passed the entry exam in Linz for the teacher-training college. One year later he passed his final exam and became an assistant teacher. During the following years he worked as an assistant teacher in different places. At the same time he continued his musical studies. He did not have much time for composition and if he composed it was only graduals and simple congregational mass movements. In 1845 he passed his second teaching examination and became a teacher at his old school at St. Florian. His reputation as an organist, in particular for his improvisations, grew quickly. Bruckner wrote at that time his first notable works like his Requiem in D minor. Also a four part setting of the Ave Maria was composed for St. Florian. In 1856 he was appointed as organist at Linz Cathedral. In this job he became involved in many musical activities. Nevertheless, he had the feeling that he still did not know enough about musical theory and composition. Therefore he started a correspondence course with Simon Sechter. For the next six years, he did not compose anything and was eager to widen his knowledge in harmony and counterpoint. He concluded his studies with Sechter in 1861 and started to study form and orchestration with Otto Kitzler. Otto Kitzler was cellist and conductor at the municipal theatre in Linz. He introduced Bruckner also to the music of Richard Wagner whom Bruckner soon admired passionately.

Anton Bruckner worked in Linz for twelve years. He composed much of his sacred music during this time, including some of his most treasured motets and all three major Masses (Mass No. 1 in D Minor in 1864, Mass No. 2 in E Minor in 1866 and Mass No. 3 in F Minor in 1868). While he worked in Linz, he also composed his Symphony No. 1 which was first performed on 9 May 1868. In 1867 Bruckner was looking for new challenges. He applied in Vienna at the Hofkapelle (Court Chapel) and the University. He also applied for the post of a conductor in Salzburg at the Dommusikverein (Cathedral Music Association). All these applications were unsuccessful.

In 1868, Bruckner finally went to Vienna. After the death of his old teacher Sechter, he was offered a position at the Vienna conservatory as successor of Sechter to teach harmony, counterpoint and organ playing. Even so he had applied to different positions and he was uncertain whether he should accept this professorship. Finally his friends were able to convince him and he moved to Vienna. Bruckner wrote all his further symphonies in Vienna and worked and lived there for the rest of his life.

Anton Bruckner died on 11 October 1896. He is buried in the crypt under the organ at St. Florian’s monastery. So the place which he first saw as student and to which he returned as newly qualified teacher, became his final resting place.

2. Anton Bruckner wrote his Mass No. 2 in E Minor when he was working as the organist in Linz. The bishop of Linz, Franz-Josef Rudigier became an important friend and supporter of Bruckner and he commissioned quite a number of works over the years. Rudigier had ambitious ideas for Linz. In 1855 he started with plans to construct a new cathedral. Just one year earlier in 1854 Pope Pius IX had declared in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Rudigier therefore decided to dedicate the new cathedral to the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. The first stone of the Cathedral was laid on 1 May 1862 and for that occasion Bruckner composed  a Festive Cantata Preiset den Herrn(“Praise the Lord”).

In 1866 Rudigier approached Bruckner for a new work to celebrate the completion of the construction of the cathedral’s Votive Chapel. Bruckner worked quickly. He started composing the Mass in E Minor in August 1866 and finished the work in November 1866. However the construction works took longer than expected and the première of the mass took place three years later on 29 September 1869. It was reported that Bruckner himself rehearsed with the choir and held 28 rehearsals (including six rehearsals with the orchestra). The performance was a great success and Bruckner was invited to the official celebration and dinner with the Bishop and his guests. Bishop Rudigier gave Bruckner an extra fee of 200 gulden and even promised him a burial place in the crypt of the new cathedral (which did not happen in the end). Later Bruckner described this day in a letter to the Linz chorus master Johann Baptist Burgstaller, as one of the most glorious days of his life.

3. Anton Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor is a work for eight part mixed choir and fifteen wind instrument (two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and three trombones). Bruckner does not use any soloists or strings and in the original version, there was also no organ part.

There were practical reasons for this unusual instrumentation. The premère took place in the open air by the construction site for the new cathedral, because the building had neither a roof nor an organ at the time of the performance. It also seems that the chapel was too small for the choir. At the première the brass orchestra was a military wind band which were obviously used to playing outside.

It is suggested that Bruckner did not only accommodate these practical reasons in his choice of forces. Around this time, there were discussions about a church music reform in the Catholic Church, the so-called “Cecilian Movement”. Franz Xaver Witt, a German priest and composer of sacred music founded the Cäcilienverein (Cecilian Association) in 1867 / 1868. The aim of this association was to restore the musical style of Palestrina. However it would be fair to say that it had probably more to do with the 19th century perception of Palestrina than with Palestrina himself. Witt presumably looked at Palestrina because of the composer’s perceived importance during the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). The Council was prompted by the Reformation and also discussed the future of church music. Historically it was thought that Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli persuaded the Council that it was not necessary to ban polyphonic music as long as certain rules were adhered to. It is now suggested that this story is not true, but it is likely that Palestrina appeared to Witt as the saviour of Catholic Church music and that he looked to his model again to save and reform church music in the 19th century. At that time Palestrina’s music was associated with purity even austerity through long notes (and a slow performance) with no chromaticism, no instruments and no secular influences. The prime examples were probably works like Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, his Missa Brevis, his music for Holy Week and motets like Sicus Cervus, to name just a few. This 19th century image of Palestrina presumably did not take into consideration Palestrina’s polychoral works (with instruments) which were written for performances outside of Rome. I also cannot imagine that the Movement looked at Palestrina’s motets in great detail. Many of them are much more subjective than the masses and have dance like rhythms (in particular where there are changes between double and triple time). Palestrina also wrote a full set of motets which set quite sensual texts from the Song of Songs. This music is certainly not “austere”.

It is not entirely clear how much Bruckner tried to accommodate the expectations of the Cecilian Movement, but it is remarkable that he decided against soloists in the way that Mozart used them in his mass settings and where soloists often sang parts of the mass in an almost opera aria-like fashion. Bruckner did not write the mass for voices only, but certainly the first movement (Kyrie) and the fourth movement (Sanctus) start with voices only and instruments are used sparingly.

4. Anton Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor has six movements: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Bruckner sets the traditional Latin text of the mass and the whole setting is based on old church music traditions, in particular Palestrina and Gregorian chant. Bruckner combines the simplicity of expression and serene power of the music of the Italian Renaissance with his typical late Romantic harmonies and textures.

a) The Kyrie traditionally consists of three parts (Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison). It is the plea to God for mercy. Bruckner sets the whole movement for only limited instruments. The movement starts soft with only women’s voices. As the movement progresses Bruckner adds additional voices and only in the middle of the Christe Eleison section does the full choir finally sing together. In this movement Bruckner weaves the voices contrapuntally with each other. The second Kyrie Eleison section starts exactly as the first one, but towards the end of the section all voice parts come in together in fortissimo (very loud) and the text is set in blocks of rich chords.

b) The Gloria is the celebratory part of mass which praises, lauds and glorifies God. Bruckner did not set the first words of the GloriaGloria in excelsis Deo“, but asked for the traditional intonation of this text to be sung. Bruckner’s setting of the Gloria is generally much simpler than the previous movement. It occasionally splits into eight parts, but much of it set for only four voice parts. It is a movement of great contrasts where Bruckner sets the text much more in blocks, from very soft (pianissimo) to very loud (fortissimo) passages and he uses the whole spectrum of volume. Also the tempo in the movement varies considerably with the beginning and the end of the movement being fast, whereas the middle section where he sets “qui tollis peccata mundi” is slow and pleading. Bruckner ends the movement with a virtuoso fugue of the word Amen for four voice parts.

c) The Credo sets the Nicene Creed (the summary of the Christian belief to music). Again Bruckner asks for the traditional intonation of “Credo in unum Deo“. The Credo is similar in character as the Gloria. The first section is simple and mainly for four voice parts. Bruckner sets some of the sections in unison with all voices singing the same melody. The whole movement is characterised by word painting with the music becoming very quiet and almost stopping when he sets the words “passus, et sepultus est” (“suffered and died”). In the next section “et resurrexit tertia die” (“And on the third day he rose again”) the music is loud, fast and the melodic lines are rising. Bruckner also uses rising scales when, a little bit later, he sets the words “Et ascendit in coelum” (“And he ascended into heaven”). Towards the end of the movement the music gets faster and it ends in a loud and long glorious chordal setting of the word Amen.

d) The Sanctus traditionally consists of four parts: Sanctus, Osanna, Benedictus and a repetition of the Osanna. The Sanctus / Benedictus is sung in the mass after the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is the praise of God by the saints and angels. Bruckner set the Sanctus (including Osanna) and the Benedictus (including Osanna) in two separate movements. In the Sanctus movement he uses a theme from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis. The movement has two parts. Like the Kyrie , this movement starts softly with the upper voices polyphonically in independent lines. As the movement continues it gets louder. This movement is again for eight parts and Bruckner uses very limited instrumentation in the first part. The second part starts with the words “Pleni sunt coeli” and goes on until the end. The voices are set in blocks of chords and declaim the text. The Benedictus movement is simpler. It is for most of the movement for five voice parts (the sopranos are split). It starts soft and lyrical and ends with a glorious wall of sound setting “in excelsis, hosanna, in excelsis” (“Hosanna in the highest’”).

e) Traditionally, the Agnus Dei consists of three sections, as the Kyrie. The text “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is repeated three times. The first two times the sentence finishes with the plea “have mercy on us”. The third time it ends with “give us peace” (“Dona nobis pacem”). The movement is again for eight parts. The E minor key brightens as the movement progresses to E major. For the last part (Dona nobis pacem) Bruckner uses a motive from the Kyrie movement in the woodwind section and thus gives the work unity. The whole movement is an impressive and intense plea for peace

5. Anton Bruckner was a perfectionist and revised many of his works multiple times. He often decided to revise works because he felt that he could improve them. At other times the impulse for a revision was external. This applies in particular to his symphonies where the revision was often in answer to criticism and Bruckner revised his work and hoped for better chances to get it performed or printed. Bruckner also revised his Mass in E Minor several times (in 1866, 1869, 1876 and 1882). In one of the first revisions he added an organ part. The substantially revised version of the Mass in E Minor (1882) was first performed on 4 October 1885 in the Old Cathedral in Linz, at the celebration of the centenary of the Diocese of Linz. Nowadays the 1882 version of the mass is usually performed. At the concert we will be performing this version in the form published in 1896, three years before it was first performed in a concert in Vienna.

6. Bishop Rudigier’s construction of a new Cathedral was a monumental undertaking and would take more than sixty years until Bishop Johannes Maria Gföllner could consecrate the new Cathedral on 1 May 1924. The sacred works which Bruckner wrote at the beginning of his career were in a sense the foundation stone of his work. His three major masses (Mass in D Minor in 1864, Mass in E Minor in 1866 and Mass in F Minor in 1868) are sometimes called “symphonies with liturgical text“, but such a view neglects the spiritual meaning his masses must have had for him given his deep Catholic faith.

I want to finish this note with a quote by Leopold Nowak about the relationship of Bruckner’s symphonies and his masses which I like. Novak was the principal editor of the post-war Complete Edition of Bruckner’s work.

“Während Bischof Rudigier den Grundstein zu einem Dom legte, begann Bruckner ebenfalls einen Dom zu errichten, einen musikalischen Dom: seine neun Symphonien, zu denen die drei Messen die gigantische Eingangspforte bilden.”

“Even as Bishop Rudigier was laying the foundation stone for a new cathedral, Bruckner too was beginning to raise a cathedral in music – his nine symphonies, fronted by the gigantic portal of his three masses.”

A Tale of two countries – Atena Daemi (Iran) and Hatoon al-Fassi (Saudi Arabia)

The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran goes back a long time. It has dramatically intensified after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The two countries are fierce competitors, in particular ideologically and geopolitically. Recent conflicts in the Middle East saw often direct interventions of both states and both engage in a proxy competition, in particular since the Arab Spring in 2011.

Despite all the rivalry Iran and Saudi Arabia seem to agree in their disdain of human rights and their suppression of civil society. They are also among the worst countries for women’s rights. Occasionally both make small concessions. One example is that Iran allowed in October women to enter a football stadium to watch a match. Women had been barred from football stadiums for more than forty years. Saudi Arabia eased in August the male guardianship laws and allowed women to travel without the permission of a male relative. These concessions cannot distract from the severe restrictions women face in both countries.

Both countries also stand out in their crackdown of civil society and their harassment of human rights defenders.

The following post is about two brave women who are human rights defenders and therefore double under pressure in the two countries: Atena Daemi (Iran) and Hatoon al-Fassi (Saudi Arabia). Atena Daemi is currently in prison. Hatoon al-Fassi was temporarily released earlier this year, but the trial is still pending and she could potentially face a long prison sentence.

1. Atena Daemi (Iran)

a) Personal background

Atena Daemi was born on 27 March 1988. She is a human rights activist who campaigns against the death penalty and for children’s and women’s rights.

Atena Daemi uses Social Media to campaign for human rights, in particular Facebook and Twitter. She is outspoken against the death penalty in Iran. She wrote about executions in Iran and she also participated in gatherings outside prison in solidarity with families of death row prisoners. She writes also about other human rights violations in Iran, including about the forced hijab.

Atena Daemi also campaigns for children’s rights. She organised art classes for street children and protested against the conditions of children in Kobane, Syria.

b) Arrest and pre-trail detention

Atena Daemi was arrested on 21 October 2014 by several members of the Revolutionary Guards. They searched her house for three hours and confiscated several mobile phones which belonged to her and her relatives.

She spent the first 20 days in terrible circumstances. Her cell was infested with insects and did not have toilet facilities. According to Amnesty International the interrogators offered her better conditions, if she would “cooperate”. She was interrogated for almost two months, often for ten hours a day or longer. During the interrogation she was blindfolded and had to sit with her face against the wall.

She was only allowed to call her family one week after her arrest and there was no permission given for any family visits for almost the first months of her detention. She spent 88 days in isolation without access to a lawyer at Section 2A of Evin prison which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

She was initially held in prison without any information about the charges. Six months after her arrest she was formally charged. The charges against her were “propaganda against the state”, “acting against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader and Islam”. Her lawyer requested that the judge would set bail to have her released, but this did not happen.

c) Trial and judgement

The trial against Atena Daemi took place at the beginning of May 2015. The exact date is not entirely clear. It seems that the trial was a joint trial of her and three other activists (Omid Alishenas, Ali Nouri and Aso Rostami, initially also Atena Feraghdani, but she was then tried separately). The trial was grossly unfair and lasted only 45 minutes.

She was informed a few days later that Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran had sentenced her to 14 years in prison. That included seven years for “gathering and colluding against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”, four years for “concealing evidence” and three year for “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic and the Supreme Leader”.

The charges were based on her Facebook posts and her tweets, in particular about executions and on other material stored on her mobile phone, including protest songs by Shahin Najafi, an Iranian musician who lives in exile in Germany and whose music is banned in Iran. “Gathering and colluding against national security” was based on her participation in gatherings against the death penalty and the protest for the children in Kobane. “Concealing evidence” seems to relate to her failure to provide the interrogator with details of Facebook and email accounts of other activists.

d) Release on bail and appeal against the judgement

Atena Daemi filed an appeal against the judgement, but for a long time no date for the appeal hearing was set. On 15 February 2016, after almost one year and four months in prison, she was temporary released on bail while she had to wait for the outcome of the appeal. The bail was set to five billion Iranian rials (approximately USD 166,000).

On 5 July 2016 Omid Alishenas, Atena Daemi, Ali Nouri and Aso Rostami were summoned to the appeal hearing in front of Branch 36 of the Court of Appeal. The decision of the court was delivered to Atena Daemi and her lawyer on 29 September 2016. The guilty verdicts against her and the other activists were upheld, but the Court of Appeal reduced her sentence to seven years.

Also the appeal trial was unfair. Atena Daemi said in an interview with Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on 29 September 2016:

“Our case was not judged fairly by any means. …In fact, it was the Revolutionary Guards agents who were mostly in charge of prosecuting us. My lawyer and I were not given a chance to present a defence during the preliminary trial and we saw a letter from the Revolutionary Guards addressed to the Appeals Court asking for the maximum punishment against us.”

According to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code someone convicted for a crime is eligible for release after having served the prison term for the heaviest punishment. For Atena Daemi this meant that she would be eligible for release after serving five years in prison.

e) Violent re-arrest and new charges against her and her sisters

On 26 November 2016 Atena Daemi was arrested by members of the Revolutionary Guards to start serving her seven year sentence. Atena Daemi’s mother Masoumeh Nemati said about the arrest:

“After my daughter was detained [to start her prison term], she and her father filed separate complaints against the Revolutionary Guards for breaking and entering into our home and taking Atena away without showing a summons.”

Atena Daemi was able to leak a letter from prison on 1 December 2016 in which she describes further details about the arrest. She was beaten and pepper sprayed by the guards when she asked to see the arrest warrant. One of her sisters who tried to help her was punched in the chest. On the way to prison Atena Daemi was blindfolded and threatened that a new case would be opened against her.

She filed a complaint against the Revolutionary Guards, but it was never followed up. To the contrary, in January 2017 she and her sisters were charged with “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “insulting state officials”, “spreading lies”, “resisting agents carrying out their duty” and “insulting agents while on duty”. Some of the charges were dropped after a hearing on 17 January 2017, but the full trial in relation to the other charges went ahead. On 23 March 2017 Atena and two of her sisters, Hanieh and Onsieh were sentenced to three months and a day for “insulting public officers on duty”. She was informed that in her case, the sentence was added to the seven years, she was already serving. The sentence against her two sister was suspended for one year on the condition of their “good behaviour”.

f) Health concerns and hunger strike

Since her arrest in October 2014 Atena Daemi developed several health issues.

She suffered in 2015 from a weakness of her hands and feet, a blurred vision and constant headaches. In August a doctor at Evin prison diagnosed her with early signs of multiple scleriosis. He suggested Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to get greater certainty and also said that she should be checked by a neurologist outside the prison. However, the authorities did not follow this advice.

In March 2017 she suffered a temporary loss of vision in her right eye and was transferred to the prison medical clinic. She did not receive any treatment and was transferred back to her cell. According to information from Amnesty International she vomited repeatedly over two days and was finally transferred to a hospital outside prison. Doctors again suggested an MRI to scan her brain, but the authorities told her family that they would have to pay for that themselves. That is breach of international law.

On 8 April 2017 Atena Daemi started a hunger strike in protest of the suspended prison sentence against her sisters. This lead to a further decline of her health. She lost weight, suffered nausea, blood pressure fluctuation and severe kidney pain. She briefly lost consciousness on 2 May 2017 and was transferred on 8 May to a hospital outside prison. The doctors warned that her kidney infection had reached critical levels, but the prison authorities accused her of “faking illness”. On 15 May the doctors advised that she should be admitted to the hospital immediately, but the prison authorities refused to do so.

On 31 May 2017 Court of Appeal acquitted Atena and her sisters of the new charges in relation to her arrest in November 2016. Atena Daemi ended her 54 day hunger strike. 

g) Transfer to Shar-e Ray Prison and new charges against Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee

On 5 July 2017 Iran organised a visit of foreign diplomats to Evin prison. It was a staged visit and the diplomats did not see any political prisoners. Three days later on 8 July Atena Daemi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee wrote an open letter. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee is a writer and human rights activist. She was in prison serving a six year sentence for “insulting the sanctities of Islam” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. The charges were based on her Facebook posts about political prisoners and an unpublished story the authorities found in her house.

The two women pointed out in the letter that the diplomats were not shown wards under the control of the Revolutionary Guards and not the solitary cells. They were also not informed about interrogation methods, torture and overcrowding in the prison.

This letter had severe consequences for Atena and Golrokh.

On 24 January 2019 both women were transferred from Tehran’s Evin prison Shahr-e Ray Prison in Varamin (near Tehran). They were subjected to insults and sexual slurs and they were kicked and punched when they peacefully protested their transfer. Shahr-e Ray Prison is a disused chicken house which is overcrowded and unhygienic. There are hundreds of women convicted of violent offences and therefore also high levels of assault between the inmates. It seems that the transfer was a reprisal because they had spoken out against human rights violations behind bars in particular through their open letters in July.

To protest against the transfer to Shahr-e Ray Prison Atena and Golrokh started a hunger strike on 3 February 2018. Already a few days earlier, on 27 January 2018, Golrokh’s husband Arash Sadeghi who serves 19 years in prison for his human rights activism had started a hunger strike in support of Atena and Golrokh.

After one week Atena and Golrokh decided to go on a “dry hunger strike”. This means they did not only refuse food, but also liquids. Atena Daemi stopped her hunger strike after 13 days (6 days on dry hunger strike). Golrokh continued, but went back to a “wet hunger strike” in which she drank water.

The health of both women suffered because of the hunger strike. Again the authorities denied proper medical treatment.

Finally on 12 May 2018 Atena and Golrokh were transferred back to Evin prison.

However this was not the end of the repercussions against them. In April 2019 a new case was brought against Atena Daemi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee. The trial against them took place in July 2019 and both were informed that they were sentenced to an additional 3.7 years in prison for “insulting the leader” (2.1 years) and “propaganda against the state” (1.6 years). The charges were based on the open letter in which they criticised the prison conditions and another open letter in which they condemned the execution of Kurdish political prisoners in September 2018.

On 5 September 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld the judgement against Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee. They will both have to serve an additional 2.1 years in prison.

Atena Daemi was supposed to be released on 4 July 2020. Now she will have to stay behind bars for several more years. Her case was included in Amnesty International’s Write for Right campaign last year. There was also an online action for her which still seems to be open. Please support her and campaign for her release.

2. Hatoon al-Fassi (Saudi Arabia)

a) Personal background

Hatoon al-Fassi was born on 18 September 1964 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She grew up in a liberal families. In a interesting interview which she gave in December 2004 she spoke about her family, her time a school in relative openness and how Saudi Arabia became stricter from 1985 onward.

She finished school in 1982 and then studied history. In 1986 and 1992 she obtained degrees in history from King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2000 she received a PhD in ancient women’s history from the University of Manchester, UK.

Hatoon al Fassi is an historian who specialises in women’s history. Since 1992 she is a member of the history department at King Saud University, Riyadh. Since 2008 she has been an associate professor. She wrote and published three books, including in 2007 “Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia: Nabataea”, BAR International Series 1659, British Archaeological Reports, Oxford. She also writes regularly for several newspapers and had a weekly column for the newspaper Al-Riyadh.

She received several prices including in 2008 the prestigious “Ordre des Palmes Académiques” – a French order of knighthood for distinguished academics and figures in the world of education and culture and the MESA Academic Freedom Award in 2018.

b) Baladi initiate and other campaigns

Hatoon al-Fassi has been campaigning for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia for many years. One focus for her has been active and passive voting rights for women in the Saudi Arabian local elections. She is a co-founders of the “Baladi Initiative” which wants to support women in local elections.

2005 were the first municipal elections in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s. Initially it was not clear whether women would be able to participate in the election. Hatoon al-Fassi supported potential candidates for this election. Then in October 2004, the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abd al-Aziz announced that women would not be able to do so. They would neither be allowed to stand for office nor vote in the elections. Interestingly, the Saudi authorities did not give religious or traditional reasons for barring women from participating, but rather logistical reasons.

The next local elections were in 2011. Saudi Arabia again denied women the active and passive voting right and argued that the country is “not ready yet for the participation of women” in the municipal elections. Hatoon al-Fassi criticised this decision and said that this is “an outrageous mistake that the kingdom is committing. It’s just repeating the same mistake of 2005”. When they learned that women would not be allowed to stand as candidates, they decided to create their own municipal councils in parallel to the men-only elections. Between 23 and 25 April 2011, they tried register women as electors.

In a speech on 25 September 2011 King Abdullah announced that women would finally be able to participate in the 2015 municipal elections. Some say that campaign by Baladi was “the main motor behind King Abdullah’s decision to allow women to vote and run in municipal elections”. The Baladi initiative planned to organise training sessions to educate participants on methods of campaigning for office and help them create their own platforms and agendas. In the years leading to 2015 about 350 women received training through 13 workshops which were held in ten different regions. In August 2015 the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs blocked any further courses. The Ministry said they wanted to protect the women from “exploitation”, a reason al-Fassi did not find very convincing given that their workshops had been free of charge.

Hatoon al-Fassi campaigned for many other important issues including in 2006 equal participation in worshipping areas in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and in particular for the right of women to drive.

c) Arrest and pre-trial detention

On 24 June 2018 was an important day for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, because the prohibition of women to drive a car was lifted. Around the same time Saudi Arabia cracked down on human rights activists and in particular on those women who were strong advocates of the right to drive.

Hatoon al Fassi told her friends that she was under a travel ban since 19 June 2018, but she had nevertheless planned to celebrate that day and drive officially in Saudi Arabia.

However, she did not have to chance to enjoy the freedom of driving a car, because she was arrested on or around 24 June 2018. There are conflicting information when the arrest took place. Some reports say that she was arrested between 21 June and 24 June in Riyadh. Gulf Centre for Human Rights and ALQST give 27 June 2018 as day of her arrest. ALQST adds that she was arrested in a raid on home by security forces.

There is very limited information available where she was detained and about the circumstances of her detention. It seems that she and other detainees were held incommunicado without contact to their families or to lawyers. Washington Post refers in an article in January 2019 a Saudi Twitter account “Prisoners of Conscience”. They had tweeted that Hatoon al-Fassi had spent long periods in solitary confinement and had been transferred to a “common cell in al-Hair prison, south of Riyadh”.

In November 2018 there were very worrying reports about torture and sexual harassment of Saudi activists. Amnesty International reported that they three separate testimonies which confirmed that activists were tortured:

the activists were repeatedly tortured by electrocution and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly. In one reported instance, one of the activists was made to hang from the ceiling, and according to another testimony, one of the detained women was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment, by interrogators wearing face masks

It seems that torture was used to extract “confessions” as well as punishment, if the activists refused to “repent”. It became later clear that one of the women who was tortured was the human rights activist Loujain al-Hathoul. She had been arrested on 15 May 2018.

There is no information about Hatoon al-Fassi’s treatment but the general reports about the torture and other abuse against detainees give ample reason to be worried about her treatment.

d) Charges, trial and temporary release

Saudi Arabia initially did not make the charges against Hatoon al-Fassi public. Several organisations report that she and other women were charged under the Saudi Cybercrime laws which carry sentences between one and ten years in prison. In detail they were charged and tried for allegedly communicating with international organisations and foreign media and promoting women’s rights.

On 13 March 2019 Hatoon al-Fassi and ten other women (including Loujain al-Hathoul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan) appeared before a court for their trial. The trial was behind closed doors. Several reporters and diplomats from Europe and the USA were not allowed to attend. It is unclear whether the women had legal representation. Relatives of the defendants were told that the hearing would not took place in front of a normal criminal court, but rather at special court which was set up for terrorism cases. These special courts are often used in political cases. The second hearing in the trial took place on 27 March. The public prosecutor claimed that the women undertook “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom” After that hearing the court released three activists (Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Rokaya al-Mohareb). There was a third hearing on 3 April 2019. The remaining defendants (including Hatoon al-Fassi) were denied bail.

On 2 May 2019 at the end of criminal court hearing, Hatoon Al-Fassi and three other women’s rights activists (Amal al-Harbi, Maysaa al-Manea and Abeer Namankani) were temporarily released.

There are currently no further hearings in this trial and the other defendants are still in prison. Loujain al-Hathoul’s brother Walid al-Hathoul said that the trial is suspended and there is no information if and when the trial will continue. There is also no information about the conditions of Hatoon al-Fassi’s release.

The arrest of the women human rights defenders from May 2018 onward attracted large international attention. On 12 October 2018 several UN human rights experts called for the immediate release of all women’s rights defenders. On 14 February 2019 the European Parliament adopted a motion about “Women rights defenders in Saudi Arabia”. The European Parliament specifically mentions a number of women rights defenders, including Hatoon al-Fassi. They call for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders.

There are a large number of human rights organisations which have campaigned and still campaign for the release of all Saudi women’s rights defenders. The American Historical Association as well as Middle East Studies Association and Scholars at Risk campaigned specifically for Hatoon al-Fassi. Scholars at Risk has an ongoing campaign for her, because even so she is released, she could still be put on trial. Please support this brave women and take action for her.

Global week of action for Ahmed Mansoor #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed

On 22 October is Ahmed Mansoor’s 50th birthday. It is very likely that he will spent this day alone in his cell in solitary confinement as all the time since his arrest more than 2 1/2 years ago. Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, PEN and CIVICUS among many other organisations start today, 16 October, a global week of action with protests in many cities and actions on social media to mark his birthday and call for his release.

I. Who is Ahmed Mansoor?

I am sure most of you know in the meantime Ahmed Mansoor. I have written quite a number of blog posts about him.

Nevertheless here are some key information about him: Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations.In 2015 he won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights. He is also a poet and published a collection of poetry in Arabic in 2006.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017. His arrest was the culmination of years of harassment, arrests, travel bans and physical and electronic surveillance. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final. Ahmed Mansoor went on a four week hunger strike on 17 March 2019 to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial.

If you want to know more about him, then please have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights in the United Arab Emirates“, “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights” and “Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike“. If you want to read some of his poems as well as an excerpt of an interview with him and some others texts about him, then please have a look at the webzine “Words for the Silenced” which Exiled Writer Ink published about a week ago.

II. What is Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation?

I already mentioned in my last post in April some details about the horrible prison conditions he has to endure. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published in May a detailed report about his “medieval” prison conditions: “A look inside Ahmed Mansoor’s isolation cell after two years in prison“. They received further information from a former prisoner.

He said that Ahmed Mansoor is in a cell ” with no bed and no running water (not even in the toilet, which is little more than a hole in the floor), and no access to a shower “. He added the following details:

Prisoners must keep their own cells clean but with no running water or cleaning supplies, that is difficult. While there are showers installed in the cells, they do not work, due to a problem with the water system.

The former prisoner described the conditions in the isolation ward, where many prisoners are ill and do not receive medical care, some of whom have been there for 20 years. He said the cells are 4 x 4 meters wide with a door with a small window and a small window eight metres up in the wall, allowing sunlight about three hours a day. The walls are 11 metres high and prisoners are able to shout to hear each other from cell to cell. The lights are very abrasive so prisoners request that they are kept off most of the time.

He also mentioned that even prisoners in the isolation ward are usually allowed to leave the cell to go to canteen, but Ahmed Mansoor has to stay in his cell all the time. He receives food from the canteen in his cell and he is only allowed to leave the cell for very sparse family visits. After the hunger strike he “was moving slowly and appeared to be very weak”.

About two weeks ago Gulf Centre for Human Rights published another report with more worrying news. They received information that Ahmed Mansoor began in early September a second hunger strike. Neither they nor any other NGO has information whether he is still on hunger strike. He was at the time in a very bad physical and mental state. It also seems that he was beaten as retribution for his protest. They say that he “was beaten badly enough to leave a visible mark on his face, indicating he may have been tortured”.

III. What can I do to help?

We decided to mark Ahmed Mansoor’s 50th birthday on 22 October with protests in different cities around the world and a week long of online actions and also draw by this actions attention to his current situation.

1. Protests and other events in London

If you are based in London, then please join us on Saturday, 19 October for two events.

Amnesty International UK, the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, English PEN, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Friends of Ahmed Mansoor and others organise for 3 pm a protest at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 1-2 Grosvenor Cresent, London SW1X 7EE. You can find more information on Facebook and Eventbrite.

At 5 pm Oscar Jenz, country coordinator for UAE at Amnesty International UK, will be host for a panel discussion “Human Rights in the UAE: Repression at home and abroad” at Amnesty International UK, 25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. There are three interesting speakers:

  • Matthew Hedges, Academic freedom campaigner and former prisoner in the UAE
  • Safa Al Ahmad, Award-winning Saudi journalist and filmmaker
  • Tarek Megerisi, Libyan political analyst and researcher

More information about the event is on Facebook and Eventbrite.

Please share the information about these events and come, if you can.

2. Protests in other cities

There will not only be protests in London, but also in a number of other cities, on 20 October in Melbourne and on Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday, 22 October in New York, Washington, Toronto, Brussels, Paris and Oslo. There are also plans for potential protests and actions in Switzerland, Berlin and Sydney. If you are interested in any protest or action in another country or if you want to organise a protest, please contact “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor” on Facebook or Twitter.

3. Open Letter

Over the last weeks more than 140 NGOs signed an open letter to the President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan. The letter refers in particular to the designation of 2019 as “Year of Tolerance” and the World Expo trade fair in 2020 with the motto “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” which is at odds with the severe punishment of Ahmed Mansoor for asking for this same openness and tolerance.

“It is in this same spirit that we, the undersigned, call upon the UAE government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, whose life we believe may be at risk following beatings and hunger strikes to protest deplorable and inhumane prison conditions. The Authorities have convicted and imprisoned him solely for his human rights work and for exercising his right to freedom of expression, which is also protected under the UAE’s Constitution. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience”

The letter was published today. You can find a link to the letter here. Please share it widely in your networks.

4. Social Media Action

In addition to the protest, we plan a week of actions on Social Media, in particular on Twitter to raise awareness for Ahmed Mansoor, show the UAE authorities that we have not forgotten him and also to send him symbolically our birthday wishes.

a) When shall I tweet?

We plan to start the action on Social Media, today (16 October). It will last until the day after Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday (23 October).

b) Is there a special hashtag?

We will use two hashtags: One is the usual hashtag #FreeAhmed. The other hashtag is #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed, a hashtag we also use for Ahmed Mansoor’s last two birthdays.

c) What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. Tell them that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his work and that he spent all the time in solitary confinement. Mention that it is his 50th birthday on 22 October. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to write about his case.
  • Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor. You can also tweet to Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan @SaifBZayed, the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates. He is the authority who controls and runs prisons in UAE. Other accounts to address are Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan @ABZayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HamdanMohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
  • In addition you can tweet to politicians in Europe and the US and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor and please also send your birthday wishes for him, maybe together with a photo of flowers.

d) Are there sample tweets?

You can tweet what you want and you can also tweet in whatever language you want to. If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of tweets which were drafted by Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and International Service for Human Rights

  1. This year the #UAE is celebrating its #YearofTolerance, yet human rights defenders like @Ahmed_Mansoor and Mohammed Al-Roken remain in prison. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd, for Ahmed’s 50th birthday, I urge you to #FreeAhmed and all other prisoners of conscience in the UAE!
  2.  Imprisoned, isolated, but not silenced: ‘the last human rights defender left in the #UAE’ @Ahmed_Mansoor is serving a 10-year prison sentence for speaking out for human rights. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd, I call on you to #FreeAhmed and all other prisoners of conscience!
  3. #UAE human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor is on hunger strike protesting poor conditions in prison. He is held in solitary confinement – no bed, no water, & is never allowed to leave his cell. This Tuesday is his birthday. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd I call on you to #FreeAhmed!
  4. .@Ahmed_Mansoor – a poet, engineer, father, and human rights defender many of us know personally – has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the #UAE for defending human rights. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed for his 50th birthday this Tuesday! #YearofTolerance
  5. .@Ahmed_Mansoor is a 50-year-old Emirati electrical engineer, poet, blogger and human rights defender sentenced to 10 years in prison for sharing his opinions on social media #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd
  6. .@Ahmed_Mansoor has 4 young sons who need their father at home, not in prison for 10 years. Let them celebrate his birthday together #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd
  7. .@Ahmed_Mansoor shouldn’t have to spend his 50th birthday in prison for his human rights work. It’s the Year of Tolerance #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd

e) Are there any graphics I can use?

Tweets are always better with graphics. Amnesty International designed unbranded graphics which can be used by everyone who joins the global campaign.

IV. Why shall I help?

If you have still doubts why you should support Ahmed Mansoor, then just imagine his terrible situation. He is maybe still on hunger strike, even if has stopped in the meantime, the hunger strike will have taken its toll on his physical and mental health. A birthday, and in particular such a significant birthday, is day one should spend celebrating surrounded by family and friends and not alone in a cell in solitary confinement, knowing that there are at least about 7 1/2 more years of prison to come.

Matthew Hedges, one of the speakers at the London panel discussion, is an academic who was arrested in UAE around the same time as Ahmed Mansoor. He was released last year. That is what he says about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation:

“Ahmed and I were imprisoned at roughly the same time last year – I’m now free but he remains behind bars. I suffered immensely and the damage done will be with me forever – I can only imagine the terrible toll that this prolonged imprisonment will be having on him. No-one should ever be imprisoned for expressing opinions, and promoting a free and fair society with human rights for all.”

Please join us and help us to #FreeAhmed! Show the UAE authorities that we have not forgotten Ahmed Mansoor.