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.

One months after the hunger strike – what we can do to #FreeNazanin

I assume almost all of you have heard in the meantime about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker who is in Evin prison in Iran. One months ago, on 15 June 2019 she started a hunger strike. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe joined her and also went on hunger strike. This blog post is about their hunger strike, the support they received and what we can do to continue supporting the campaign for her release. 

I. Background 

1. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ordeal started more than three years ago. In March 2016 Nazanin travelled to Iran to visit her parents and to celebrate Nowruz (Iranian New Year). Nazanin went together with her daughter Gabriella who was at that time 21 months old.

On 3 April 2016, when Nazanin wanted to travel back to London and went with Gabriella to Tehran’s Iman Khomeini Airport, she was arrested by officials who were likely part of the Revolutionary Guards. Nazanin was allowed to leave her daughter in the care of her parents and was then taken by the officials. 

2. She was first in Kerman prison, about 1000 km from Tehran. In mid June 2016 she was transferred to section 2-A of Evin Prison in Tehran. She spent about 130 days in solitary confinment, first in Kerman prison and then in Evin prison.  At the end of December 2016 / beginning of January 2017 she was transferred to the Women’s Ward in Evin Prison.   

In an unfair trial Nazanin was sentenced to five years in prison i.a. for “membership of an illegal group” in connection with her work for BBC Media Action and Thomson Reuters Foundation. The court of appeal confirmed her conviction in January 2017. In October 2017 she appeared again in court in a second case. This second case is still open and with it the threat of even more years in prison.

3. Nazanin developed several health problems and went in January 2019 on a three day hunger strike to protest against the lack of medical care. United Nations human rights experts published a statement on 16 January about the denial of medical treatment for Nazanin and for Narges Mohammadi, another prisoner of conscience:

“Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual UK-Iranian national, has been denied appropriate health care by the Iranian authorities for lumps in her breasts, severe neck pain, and numbness in her arms and legs, her husband has said. She has also been denied appropriate mental health care from outside Evin Prison. “

The experts urged Iran to give Nazanin and Narges access to appropriate medical care and also called for their release.

Nazanin still has not received sufficient access to medical care. A few days ago (10 July) the UN human rights experts published another statement. They expressed in particular concern for Arash Sadeghi who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer and does not receive medical care. They also mentioned the lack of medical attention for two dual nationals Ahmadreza Djalali and Kamran Ghaderi. Regarding Nazanin and Narges they said:

“Two women, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Narges Mohammadi, whose health concerns were detailed in a January 2019 public statement,** have also continued to be denied appropriate healthcare.”

II. Hunger Strike

1. One months ago, on 15 June Nazanin’s husband Richard announced that he had a call from her and that she has begun a new hunger strike to protest her continuing unfair imprisonment.

Richard decided to join her in her hunger strike and began a “continual vigil in front of the Iranian Embassy”. He said that he will also not eat and continue with the hunger strike as long as she continues.

His demands were the following: 

“I vowed last time that if she ever went on hunger strike again, we would not leave her to go through this ordeal alone. My requests to the Iranian authorities for my fast are:

1. For Nazanin’s immediate release.
2. For an immediate visit to Nazanin by the British Embassy to check on her health – after 3 years it is an outrage this continues to be blocked by Iran.
3. If no release is granted to her in the next few weeks, a visa for me to go to Iran.”

2. Richard mentioned in his announcement  that he will “perhaps occasionally [be] joined by friends and family”. I think during the two weeks of hunger strike there was not much time, if any at all, when he was not joined by others.

One of Richard’s family members – his parents, his brothers and his sister and their partners – was almost always with him outside in front of the Iranian Embassy – stayed with him during the day or slept there during the night in one of a few small tents. But there were many more visitors, friends, supporters of the Free Nazanin campaign, but also strangers who lived close by and visited him or had heard about Nazanin and the hunger strike and had decided to travel to the Iranian Embassy. Some travelled a considerable distance to see him. Some came once to show their support, others visited him several times. There were also many Iranians who came and visited Richard, some with their own stories of unfair imprisonment.

There were many actions and events organised by Amnesty International, including a candle light vigil at which we read Haikus as well as poems written by Nazanin and other women in Evin prison. At another afternoon session, peope painted stones. There were also two occasions on which supporters sung “Songs for Nazanin”. Here are a few photos:

3. During the two weeks on hunger strike there were also many notable visitors. Many people had written to their MPs and asked them to visit Richard at the embassy. There were more than 100 MPs who made their way to South Kensington to show their support. They were from all parties and included Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the opposition, Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Penny Mordaunt, Secretary of State for Defence (Conservatives), John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, Ian Blackford, Leader of SNP in Westminster, Tom Brake (Liberal Democrats), Caroline Lucas (Green Party) and many others. There were not only MPs who visited Richard, but also other politicians, like Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and many councillors.

There was also a lot of interest of the media in his hunger strike with many journalists visiting Richard for an interview. During this time, there were numerous articles in all major UK newspapers, but also reporters from different broadcasting companies came and made interviews. Not only UK media was interested, but also international media.

If you follow this link you can watch a short report which the German TV (Das Erste) made for their “Morgenmagazin” (morning TV programme).

Richard received even letters and postcards which were addressed at “Tent outside the Iranian Embassy”.

4. The Iranian Embassy was not pleased with the huge attention the hunger strike received. The ambassador complained that their door was blocked and that the media attention meant that everyone who entered or left the embassy would be filmed what they considered to be unacceptable. They also decided that the railing in front of the embassy needed painting or at least cleaning and erected metal screens to block the view to the embassy. It was interesting to see the reaction of the embassy. They behaved very similar to the Bahraini Embassy last year when Ali Mushaima went on hunger strike to get medical care for his father who is in prison in Bahrain and slept on the pavement in front of the embassy.

Ultimately the Iranian Embassy could not really do anything against the protest. In my opinion the best symbol for the futility of their endeavours was the fate of the metal screen. The screen developed into a message board. At the end of the hunger strike it was full of post-it notes, letters, newspaper articles and other tokens of support.

4. On Saturday, 29 June, Richard Ratcliffe received a call from Nazanin in which she told him that she ended her hunger strike. He announced then the end of his hunger strike. Richard did a daily short video clip and here is the clip on day 15 of their hunger strike which includes this announcement.

III. What we can do to continue to support the campaign

The two weeks of Nazanin’s and Richard’s hunger strike resulted in an incredible level of support for them. I mentioned above how many MPs, friends and supporters came and showed their solidarity with them. There were even a considerable number of MPs who wore “Free Nazanin” badges during Prime Minister Questions.

However as the time passes there will be other topics which will get headlines and there is a risk that people forget that Nazanin is still in prison and that there is still a family separated by thousands of kilometres and by prison walls.

There are a couple of things you can do to help:

1. There are two petitions for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Change.org petition has already more than 2.3 million signatures, but maybe you know someone who has not yet sign this petition. Ask them to do so and please also share the petition online and offline. There is also a comparatively new petition from Amnesty International. This petition has currently more than 200,000 signatures. Please also sign and share this petition.

2. Please write to the Iranian authorities and demand Nazanin’s release. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published recently an appeal for Nazanin, but also for two other women who are prisoners of conscience in Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi. You can find more information in that appeal, in particular if you are not sure what you should write to the the Iranian authorities.

3. You can also write to the Iranian Ambassador in London. Here is a template for a message (you can obviously omit the last paragraph)

4. Please also write to your MP. If they visited Richard at the Embassy, then thank them for their support. Please ask them in any case to follow up what is done by UK to get Nazanin released.

5. Please also follow Free Nazanin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Share their posts with your friends and followers. Help to raise awareness and remind people that she is still in prison.

6. REDRESS is another human rights organisation which has also campaigned for a long time for Nazanin. They launched recently a Justgiving website and ask people for donations. They try to raise £15,000 to continue their “legal and advocacy work on Nazanin’s case, and cases like hers”. Please consider giving a donation. 

I wrote this blog post, because I want to encourage you to help to make sure that the momentum which developed during the hunger strike is kept and that people don’t forget about this family. Please continue to support Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella until Nazanin is finally released and they are all reunited at their home in London.

Zelenka: Litaniae De Venerabili Sacramento – Music for a Roman Catholic Court in Protestant lands

The Summer Concert of Highgate Concert will be a wonderful selection of some famous and some almost unknown works of the baroque period. The Highgate Choral Society will be joined by four soloists and the New London Orchestra. The concert takes place on Saturday 6 July 2019, 7pm at All Hallows’ Church, Savernake Road, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP.

The concert will start with one movement out of Telemann’s famous “Tafelmusik” (for orchestra). You will also have a chance to hear two different settings of the Magnificat – one by Vivaldi and the other one which was either composed by Pergolesi or his teacher Durante. Probably Vivaldi’s most popular choral piece his Gloria will be performed as well as two solo arias from Handel’s oratorio Samson.

This blog post is about the work which I personally find the most exciting one of the programme: Litaniae de Venerabili Sacremento by Zelenka.

1. Jan Dismas Zelenka was born on 16 October 1679 in Louňovice pod Blaníkem, a small village about 70 km from Prague. His father was schoolmaster and organist in Louňovice and probably his first music teacher. Zelenka was the eldest of eight children.

There is not much known about his early life. There are some early compositions for the Jesuit College Clementinum in Prague. Therefore it is assumed that he was educated at this college. He also kept contact with Jesuits later in life and was commissioned to write music by them on several occasions. Baron Johann Hubert von Hartig was an important patron of the college and he was also Zelenkas first employer and patron in 1709. Von Hartig had an impressive music library in particular Italian music and Zelenka took great interest in this music.

2. It is likely that Baron von Hartig also recommended Zelenka for his next job at the Hofkapelle (Court Orchestra) in Dresden. Zelenka started working in Dresden in 1710 or 1711. He was not employed as a composer or musical director, but rather as viole (or double bass) player in the orchestra.

The court in Dresden was an interesting place at that time. The Royal court was musically and culturally one of the most important ones in Europe. The court orchestra consisted of 40 players and had a very high standard. But there were other reasons which made the Dresden court distinctive. Frederick Augustus I of Saxony had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1697 to be eligible as King of Poland and was crowned in Krakow as August II of Poland. However, he knew that it would be impossible to force his subjects to convert to Catholicism, because Saxony is the mother country of reformation in Germany. In the 16th century the Elector of Saxony took Martin Luther under his special protection. Therefore the Royal Court became Roman Catholic, but the aristocracy and the people of Saxony stayed Lutheran. This difference in denominations led to rivalry and tensions between the Catholic court and the protestant aristocracy and the people.

Musically it meant that the Royal Court required music for the Roman Catholic liturgy and Zelenka’s first composition for the court was a mass setting, Missa Sanctae Caeciliae (in 1711) which he dedicated to his employer. He combined his dedication with a request to study in Italy and France. It is unclear whether he travelled in the end to Italy and France, it is more likely that he did not, but the mass must have impressed the court, because Zelenka’s salary was increased from 300 thalers to 350 thalers shortly afterwards. By 1714 it was increased again to 400 thalers.

3. In 1716 Zelenka was allowed to go to Vienna. He studied there with the Habsburg Imperial Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux. He also made an important collection of vocal and instrumental music which he took with him to Dresden (Collectanoerum musciorum libiri quatour). Zelenka was in Vienna not only to study, but also to serve the Electoral Prince who had arrived there on 6 October 1717. The prince had converted to Catholicism in 1712, however this was initially kept a secret, because the court feared protests. In 1717 his conversion was publicly announced and at the same time he suggested himself as husband of a Habsburg princess. In 1719 he married Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria, eldest child of Joseph I, the Holy Roman Emperor who had died in 1711 and niece of the then Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. The marriage treaty ensured that she would be able to practice her Catholic religion free and unhindered in Saxony; however there was an exception for public processions which were not allowed. 

In 1719 the newly wed couple returned to Dresden and so did Zelenka. Maria Josepha became a strong patron of Catholic music at the Dresden court and also a patron of Zelenka.

Zelenka composed about 20 mass settings, music for Holy Week, settings of the requiem and a considerable number of psalm setting, Marian antiphons (hymns in honour of the Virgin Mary) and other hymn settings. In 1722 Zelenka was asked to write a secular work for the coronation of Charles Vi and the empress as King and Queen in Bohemia. He wrote a melodrama about St. Wenceslas, the patron Saint of Bohemia with the title Sub olea pacis ete palma virtutis conspicua orbi regia Bohemiae Corona. This was an allegorical music drama which required 150 performers and elaborate costumes and staging. Zelenka stayed in Prague in 1722 – 1723 to conduct the premiere of this work.

4. Zelenka’s position at the court in Dresden did not change for a long time. He composed a considerable number of sacred music, but had still the position and the salary of a middle-ranking instrumentalist. In 1726 he began an inventory of his compositions. In 1729 the musical directors of the Dresden Court Kapellmeister Johann David  Heinichen died and Zelenka  took over most responsibilities of the Dresden Royal chapel. The opera in Dresden had been closed a couple of years earlier, but the court hired a group of Italian singers and Zelenka wrote secular arias and was responsible for their musical training. In 1731 he also achieved an increase in his salary which brought it to 550 thalers.

On 1 February 1733 the Elector Frederick August I died and Zelenka wrote a requiem mass. It was clear that the position of the director of music (Kapellmeister) would again be filled. Zelenka petitioned the successor Elector Frederick August II (and King August III of Poland) to appoint him as Kapellmeister. However this did not happen. Johann Adolph Hasse, a prominent opera composer and husband of the famous mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni, was appointed as Kapellmeister. He arrived in 1734 in Dresden and re-established the opera in Dresden. Hasse and Bordoni received a combined salary of 6000 thalers more than 10 times Zelenka’s salary at this time. Zelenka was not appointed as second director music, but he received in the same year the title for the new post of “Church composer”.

Zelenka stayed in Dresden for the rest of his life. He died in the night of 22 and 23 December 1745 in Dresden and was buried on Christmas Eve in the Catholic Cemetery in Dresden. Maria Josepha paid for a requiem mass to be held for Zelenka within one month and also purchased his composition and musical estate to preserve it in Dresden.

5. Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento (ZWV 147) is a work for four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), mixed chorus and orchestra which includes two trumpets and timpani. It was completed on 1 June 1727. It is a work for Corpus Christi and was first performed on 12 June 1727. Litanies are long, multi-sectioned calls for intercessions. They were very popular in Dresden. Zelenka wrote ten litany settings, they were especially directed to the Virgin Mary, All Saints or the Fest of Corpus Christi. Usually a litany was meant to be sung in procession. Therefore the music of litanies are often very simple. However in Dresden, Catholic public processions were not allowed, out of fear of public protests by the Protestant population. In 1725 the King considered a procession in the gardens of the Summer Palace, but there were threats of major protests. In end it was raining and the procession was inside. A procession outside was very likely not even considered in 1727, because the year before (1726) brought major riots to Dresden which started after the archdeacon of the Protestant Kreuzkirche was killed by a Catholic soldier. This lead to days of riots in which property and religious symbols were destroyed and the Catholics had to flee the city for fear of life. Therefore the Corpus Christi procession in 1727 was held inside, as usual either in the palace or the royal chapel. This meant the litany settings could be musically far more elaborate.

The Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento consists of eleven movements: The setting starts with two kyrie settings for chorus. In the second one the traditional Kyrie text (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy) is interspersed with the text Christe exaudi nos (Christ hear us). For next six movements, movements for different combinations of soloists and for chorus alternate. Movement 4 (Praecelsum et admirabile) and movement 7 (Propitius esto) are chorus. Movement 3 (Pater coelis) and movement 5 (Panis onipotentia) are for two soloists each, movement 3 for soprano and alto and movement 5 for tenor and bass. In the next solo movement (movement 6 Spiritualis dulcedo) the number of soloists is increased to three (soprano, alto and tenor) and movement 8 (Ab indigna Corporis) all four soloists come together. Movement 9 (Peccatores te rogamus) brings then all four soloists and chorus together. The soloists are given majority of the text in this movement and the chorus sings interjections with the text te rogamus audi nos which means “we ask thee, hear us”. The work ends with two movements for chorus. Movement 10 (Fili Dei te rogamus) feels almost like an extension of movement 9 and the choir continues to sing “we ask thee, hear us”. The last movement 11 is a setting of the Agnus Dei for chorus.

Zelenka’s music style is quite distinct and daring. There are often chromatic progressions and sudden turns of harmony. Some of his music is influenced by Czech folk music. This influence can in particular be seen in rhythmic inventions. All this elements of his style can also be found in the Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento.

6. During Zelenka’s life time he was held in high esteem for example by J.S. Bach. He was also a close friend of Telemann.

A comment published by Lorenz Mizler in 1747, not long after Zelenka’s death illustrates this esteem very well:

Dresden. Here, the superb church composer Johann Dismas Zelenka is greatly mourned. [He] died on 22 [23] December 1745 after the Prussians had, a few days earlier on 18 December, occupied and captured Dresden. His splendid tuttis, beautiful fugues, and above all the special skills in the church style, are sufficiently known to true lovers of music.

After this death he was virtually forgotten until his rediscovery by Bedřich Smetana.

Zelenka’s music is now occasionally played and there are also a number of recordings of his music. In my opinion he is not played often enough. It is exciting music to sing and it certainly deserves to be much better known. I am glad that Highgate Choral Society can help in this endeavour by including one of pieces in the concert.

Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, because I have written quite a number of blog posts about him and I tweet about him regularly. I decided to write this blog post, because there is devastating news from United Arab Emirates which I want to share with you.

I. Background

I start with a few background information for those who are not so familiar with his case.

Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is married and a father of four little boys. He is an engineer, a highly regarded member of several human rights organisations, Martin Ennals award winner and he is a poet.

On 20 March 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. There are allegations that he was tortured. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to 10 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”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor you can have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights Defender in the United Arab Emirates ” and “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights“.

II. Hunger Strike

1. On the 7 April Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) published an article and shared it on Social Media. They mentioned that they received reports from “local sources” which informed them that Ahmed Mansoor had been on hunger strike for three weeks to protest against the poor prison conditions and the unfair trial.

They clarified in an article earlier this week that he started his hunger strike on 17 March 2019, therefore around the time of the second anniversary of his arrest.

2. The details of the information they received are horrible: He is kept in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi and he had been in solitary confinement the whole time since his arrest more than two years ago. GCHR has also quite heartbreaking details about his cell and his general health:

“GCHR received news in early April that Mansoor was being kept in a cell with no bed and no water, and that he was held in “terrible conditions”, according to a confidential source. He was moving slowly and very weak.”

Apparently his family has not been able to see him since he started his hunger strike. It seems that family visits are not banned, but they were always very restricted anyway. Ahmed Mansoor’s mother was so far not allowed to visit him at all and she is very ill herself. I was previously told that Ahmed Mansoor is not even allowed to call his family. It seems that this has not changed.

3. In the meantime Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike for almost six weeks. GCHR reports that his health has deteriorated further and that in particular his eyesight got so bad that he needs special glasses.

Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, Lynn Maalouf summarised the situation in a press releases on 10 April in a very appropriate way:

“It is clearly not enough for the UAE authorities to have wrongly convicted and sentenced Ahmed Mansoor to 10 years behind bars. It seems they want to further crush him by making his life in prison unbearable, including by keeping him in solitary confinement since his arrest two years ago.”

III. Support for Ahmed Mansoor

Amidst all this devastating news about Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation, there are also some positive signs in form of increased support for him by individual activists and new urgent action and statements by many human rights organisations.

1. “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor”

On 10 April I came across a newly established Facebook page “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. April Allderdice who lives in the US set up this Facebook page the day before. She knows Ahmed Mansoor from the time when he went to the grad school in Colorado, USA. She set up the page to raise awareness about his situation and to link people who campaign for him all over the world. If you use Facebook, then please consider liking and following this page.

There is now also an active Twitter account “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. If you are on Twitter, then please consider following this account. It would be great, if the account had more follower and in particular even more people who retweet and share the information about him.

We will share on Facebook and Twitter articles, but also information about actions which are taken in support of Ahmed Mansoor around the world. On Twitter we plan to retweet all tweets about him and will obviously also send our own tweets. If you plan anything then please let us know with a Tweet or a message on Facebook. We are happy to share it further.

We also started a few days ago a photo action and ask people to send photos of their protests for Ahmed Mansoor. It can be a photo of a group of people protesting or also just a selfie in which you are holding a photo of Ahmed or a message asking for his release. Here is more information about the action and some examples. Please join the campaign and let us show the UAE authorities how many people care for him and campaign for him.

2. Urgent actions by human rights organisations

a) Amnesty International published an urgent action on 9 April. They recently changed the form of their urgent actions. This means that the pdf of the urgent action contains now a sample letter which you can easily copy and send to the UAE authorities. Please do so.

b) English PEN, Pen International, GCHR and many other human rights organisations published on 15 April a joint urgent action for Ahmed Mansoor. They ask members and supporters to “take action by writing, faxing, tweeting and posting on Facebook”. You can find addresses, fax numbers and also many Twitter handles in their articles. Here is a link to the English PEN article.

3. Sample tweets by ISHR

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is one of the organisation which takes part in the joint action. They prepared a number of sample tweets and they agreed that I can share them so that people can use them on Twitter, if they are not sure what they should tweet in support of Ahmed Mansoor.

Here are the sample tweets:

  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor dared to express his opinions on social media. Now he is on hunger strike in protest over the unfair trial and poor prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2113
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor is honoured around the world for his courageous activism and for speaking up for prisoners of conscience. In #UAE he is punished for this and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • Award-winning human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has been on hunger strike for a month now, protesting his unfair trial and poor prison conditions. Please call for his immediate & unconditional release! Help to #FreeAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor gave his best in defence of others’ freedom. But in #UAE he is punished for it and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • We urge #UAE to immediately and unconditionally release @Ahmed_Mansoor and other human rights defenders who are imprisoned solely for their peaceful human rights activities @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: @Ahmed_Mansoor and other prisoners of conscience should be treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, incl. being provided with proper medical care, sanitary prison conditions and regular family visits. @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: Allow UN experts or international NGOs access to visit @Ahmed_Mansoor, as well as other human rights defenders detained in Emirati prisons @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed @ForstMichel @OHCHR_MENA @EP_HumanRights

GCHR provided the first picture and ISHR the other two pictures:

Please feel free to use these pictures. There are also quite a lot of pictures and graphics in my blog post about the Twitter Day at the anniversary of his arrest last year. Some refer specifically to the first anniversary of his arrest, but others are still correct. Please feel free to use also these photos and graphics from last year. A tweet with a graphic always gets so much more engagement.

IV. Conclusion

Let us also hope for good news from UAE. But until then, be part of the campaign and support Ahmed Mansoor, a brave human rights defender, who always spoke out for prisoner of conscience. Now he needs us to speak out for him.

V. Addendum (8 May 2019)

There are two new developments which I want to mention:

1. Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported a few days ago that they heard from one source that Ahmed Mansoor has ended his hunger strike. They emphasise that his situation has not improved:

“The GCHR confirms that his circumstances have not improved and he continues to sleep on the floor of the cell, which has only a small window.”

They also say that it is generally very difficult to get any reliable information about prisoners in the United Arab Emirates, because it is a country totally closed to the Civic Space.

2. There is also one positive development: The United Nations published yesterday a statement in which they condemned his imprisonment and also the specific conditions of his imprisonment. The experts said that prolonged periods of solitary confinement amount to torture. They also refer again to the unfair trial and demand his immediate release.

Please continue to raise awareness for his situation.

A Poetry Evening in Tweets: Words for the Silenced


Some of you have probably read my blog post about the poetry event “Words for the Silenced” which I published about two weeks ago. My post was an invitation to a poetry human rights event and more importantly shares the stories of four writers: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey). All four are in prison for their words, two of them are punished for their poetry (Ashraf Fayadh and Galal El-Behairy), Ahmed Mansoor is punished for his human rights work and Nedim Türfent for his journalism. All four write poetry.

The event “Words for the Silenced” took place on 4 March at the Poetry Cafe in London and it was very special for me, because campaigning for these writers is important to me and it is wonderful, if many many emails, WhatsApp messages and Twitter Direct Messages finally result in a moving evening, in which poets, writers, artists, journalists and human rights activists show solidarity and bring us closer to the four writers and their work, by sharing their stories, but also by sharing works written for and by these four writers.

I was quite nervous before the event, whether everything would work (including the video clips) and whether we would have an audience. I was delighted that so many people came and it is wonderful that we got a lot of enthusiastic feedback about the event – by participants and by members of the audience.

I want to indulge a little bit and share in this post a series of tweets about the event which include photos and videos. I hope you like them. The tweets are from the account of the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, because the event was a joint event of this Amnesty Group and Exiled Writers Ink . Most of the photos and all of the videos were taken by me. The photo of Albert Pellicer was taken by Ricardo Esteban Pineda, the photo of the audience and the photo of Ramy Essam were taken by Fatima Hagi and the photo of Fleur Brennan and Amir Darwish was taken by a member of Amnesty International UK North Africa Team:

I hope events like this help to bring attention to the plight of so many prisoners of conscience and that more people decide to continue to speak up for them and take action for them.

Bill Law published his presentation about Ahmed Mansoor in the Fair Observer. I hope the article will be read and shared widely.

I want to end with a quote from his article because it is a perfect summary of my sentiments as well:

“We in the West must not be silent in demanding that the UAE government release Ahmed Mansoor. It is already a deep stain on the UK that we have accepted so many gross violations of human rights in Egypt, in the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in return for trade deals and weapons sales. We must demand that Alistair Burt, the Middle East minister, and Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary speak up, and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office condemns the crackdown on dissent in the UAE and other Gulf states.

Ahmed would want me to mention Alya Abdulnoor, a young woman dying of cancer, chained to a hospital bed and refused permission to spend her last days at home. He’d want me to mention Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, a distinguished economist serving 10 years, and the lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, and the many other prisoners of conscience cruelly held in jail in the UAE. He would want me to speak of the Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, and thousands of other political prisoners and protesters held in Bahrain’s Jau Prison; and of Loujain al-Hathloul and dozens of other women activists held in Saudi jails, subjected to appalling abuse.

After 5 years 6 months 18 days: Shawkan released from prison!

Everyone who campaigned for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan over the years, has been waiting for this news for a long time. Today Shawkan was finally released from prison!

1. Shawkan’s arrest

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know Mahmoud Abu Zeid, who is better known under the name “Shawkan”, because this is my fifth post about him. 

Shawkan is a photographer. He is 31 years old and his ordeal started on 14 August 2013. He worked as freelance photographer. On this day he was on an assignment for Demotix. In the morning he went to Rabaa Square to make photos. Supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi had been protesting for weeks and had occupied the place in front of Rabaa al-Adwiya Mosque. They asked for the reinstatement of Mohammed Morsi as president. The police raided this camp on 14 August 2013. 1000 people were killed, thousands were wounded and thousands were arrested. Among those who were arrested was Shawkan who was only doing his job on this day. 

2. Time of trial and judgement

The trial against Shawkan began on 12 December 2015. It was a mass trail against him and 738 other defendants. Shawkan was the only journalist in the trial. Other defendants were participants in the protest, some belong to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. You can read more about the trail and its endless postponements in my post Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” and in my post Ongoing injustice for Shawkan. 

After over 70 hearings the trial ended on 29 May 2018, almost 2 1/2 years after it began. The judgement was handed down by the Cairo Criminal Court on 8 September 2018. Shawkan and 214 other defendants were sentenced to five years in prison. They were all arrested on 14 August 2013 and had all already spent more than five years in prison by the time the verdict was announced.

Have a look at my blog post Freedom for Shawkan at last? for more information about the judgement and the time leading to the judgement..

3. After the judgement

Sadly the judgement did not lead to Shawkan’s immediate release, even so he had already spent more than five years in prison.

According to his lawyer Shawkan and the others sentenced to five years in prison had to spend six additional months in prison as a compensation for the damages occurred during the sit-in at Rabaa Square. The persecution decided to carry out the sentence of “physical coercion” instead of asking for payment of the amount and added six more months in prison to Shawkan’s sentence (and the sentence of other prisoners).

One week ago was the 16 February, but Shawkan was not released. @FreeEgyptPress tweeted around 6 pm:

@mohammedelra3y tweeted on 17 February 2019 at around 10 am that the procedure for Shawkan has started, but can take several days to be completed. @FreeEgyptPress gave an update on 18 February around 6 pm and tweeted that he is at the Khalifa police station and will be transferred to Al Haram police station ahead of his release. On 19 February 2019 @MeKassab tweeted: 

4. Shakwan’s release:

Today, 4 March 2019, after 5 years 6 months and 18 days after Shawkan’s arrest he was finally released.

The account @ShawkanZeid tweeted at 3:50 am the photo we have all been waiting for:

The press reports that Shawkan is not unconditionally released, but will be under a strict supervision for five years and will be required to sleep at the police station.

5. The last #SkyForShawkan photos

We started the campaign #SkyForShawkan in September 2016. Shawkan had said several times that he misses the sky in prison. The campaign was initially an idea of Kate (@Beerinwitsout) who sent a tweet on 6 September in which she said: “@ShawkanZeid misses the sky. I took this photo 4him just in England but so want him to see real blue sky soon!”. You can read more about the start of the campaign in my blog post Sky for Shawkan

Over the last 2 1/2 years activist from all over world tweeted photos of the sky using the hashtag #SkyForShawkan to raise awareness for Shawkan’s situation. We continued to do so during the months after the judgement. Since 25 November 2018 we also used the hashtag #Countdown4Shawkan to count down the days until 16 February 2019.

I want to share a last time photos of this campaign which were tweeted over these last months:

Thank you to everyone who joined the #SkyForShawkan campaign.