Tag Archives: Amnesty International

We Revolt Because You Are: In Solidarity with Ahed Tamimi

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The I Am Ahed Exhibition will run until the 21st of March at the Constitution Hill Women’s Jail [Graphic: Brigitte Cavé]

On Wednesday, the 31st of January 2018, the I Am Ahed exhibition was launched at the old Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The exhibition features a series of photographs taken by Haim Schwarczenberg, who documented the Friday protests in the Occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The launch of the exhibition coincided with the 17th birthday of Ahed Tamimi, who is being detained and trialled by an Israeli military court for resisting the Occupation and slapping an Israeli soldier. Transcribed below is the speech that I gave, in my capacity as Chairperson of Amnesty International Wits, at the exhibition launch. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Who is Ahed Tamimi? If you were to ask Israeli media outlets, they would tell you that she is a provocateur, a trouble-maker, even a terrorist. If you were to ask Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, he would tell you that she is a fabrication, created by a Palestinian effort to discredit the IDF as they aid the ‘noble’ work of colonising Palestine. The truth, however, is immediately apparent to anyone who looks upon her case without the distortions of Hasbara propaganda.

Ahed Tamimi is a child, whose only crime is refusing to bow to an illegal Occupation. She is being put on trial by a kangaroo court for the same reason women were once held in this jail – because they were not passive in the face of Apartheid. Ahed Tamimi is a hero, who is being shackled by a state which seeks to subjugate her.

The extent of this subjugation is difficult to overstate. As the chairperson of an Amnesty International chapter, I have been asked which human rights have been violated in Ahed’s case. Indeed, the easier and more apt question is: Which of Ahed’s fundamental human rights have not been trampled upon by Israeli Apartheid? Israel has entirely disregarded all of Ahed’s rights – from her right to a fair trial, to her free movement, free assembly and free expression, to the right to education, healthcare and even water. Put simply, Israel has robbed Ahed of her right to live out her childhood unhindered by the suffocation of Occupation.

This is neither incidental nor accidental. Ahed’s trial is worthy of our attention not because it is out of the ordinary, but precisely because this is what passes as normal under an Apartheid regime. Ahed is one of more than 350 Palestinian children currently being detained by Israel. She is one of more than 8000 Palestinian children detained since the turn of the century. When Palestinian children are not considered children at all – when they are seen as ‘terrorists in training’ – it speaks volumes about Israel’s attempt to dehumanise them. It exposes the reality that we must recognise – Israel systematically desecrates the rights of Palestinians precisely because Israel sees the Palestinians as less than human.

As South Africans, we are not unfamiliar with the unjust realities of institutionalised racism. As a nation, we have confronted the tactics of banning orders and administrative detention before. It is the reason that these halls remained barred – as a reminder and a promise to never forget. If we are to honour this memory, we must vocalise our support for the liberation of Palestine, as others vocalised their support for the liberation of our country from the subjugation of Apartheid.

Now is the time for us to extend beyond our borders an ethic of radical Ubuntu: “We struggle because you are struggling. We revolt because you are. And we will resist anyone who denies your right to live freely on your land.”

That is why we are here today – to celebrate the resistance of Ahed Tamimi, and to reaffirm our solidarity with all children being detained by Israel. To them we say: We see your struggle, we adopt it as our own, and we will continue to call for your immediate and unconditional release. We are also here to send a message to the State of Israel: The world is watching. We will not look away. We will not lower our voices. The noise of resistance will not dissipate. From here, it will only grow louder.

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Release Raif: Letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Je Suis Raif: a variation of the popular Je Suis Charlie hashtag which emerged in solidarity following the tragic shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, underlining the importance of protecting free speech, wherever it is under attack.

In 2012, Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia on charges of “insulting Islam over electronic channels”, after he created the Free Saudi Liberals blog – an online forum for political and social debate. He was subsequently tried for apostasy and for criticizing the ultraconservative religious establishment. Eventually, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, as well as 1000 lashes, which the Saudi authorities began ruthlessly administering last week Friday. Yesterday, Raif’s flogging was postponed after doctors determined he hadn’t healed from last week’s brutal 50-lash public beating. Badawi’s wife also reports that King Abdullah has now referred Raif’s case to the Saudi Supreme Court, prompting some cautious optimism that the Kingdom may respond to international outrage over the mockery of justice this case has come to represent.

To all who exercise the right to free speech, who believe in freedom of conscience and who recognize the internet as a platform from which citizens can speak truth to power: We are Raif Badawi. If he is a criminal, then we all are. Yet, it is not we who have been beaten while standing shackled before a mob of onlookers under the midday Jeddah sun. Raif endures torture, incarceration and humiliation for a right we all too often take for granted. It is our moral imperative, as writers, as bloggers, as activists and above all else, as fellow human beings, to raise our voices and demand his freedom.

I therefore joined scores of people worldwide, many prompted by Amnesty International, who wrote to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia demanding Raif Badawi’s immediate and unconditional release. My letter, which was also faxed (yes, they do still exist) to a contact number provided by Amnesty, is now creeping up the spine of Africa, trudging along from Johannesburg to Riyadh at the speed of the postal service. It is reproduced below:

 

His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques

Office of His Majesty the King

Royal Court

Riyadh

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

Your Majesty

Raif Badawi is no criminal. By creating a website to enable debate, he is guilty only of exercising his inalienable right to free speech. Yet he has been arrested, detained and threatened with execution by arms of the state over which you rule as Absolute Monarch. This past Friday, mere days after condemning the attack against the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, your state began flogging Mr Badawi in public – a punishment which is tantamount to torture and is deeply incongruent with international human rights law. Is it not hypocrisy to condemn those who attack free speech abroad while brutally suppressing free expression at home?

Mr Badawi has been prosecuted and persecuted on the basis of his beliefs alone and hence is a prisoner of conscience. Liberalism is no crime, regardless of one’s political standing – and is regarded as such only by those so obsessed with control that they seek to dictate the thoughts of the populace. The concept of the thoughtcrime belongs to the domain of totalitarianism. Dissent and debate, as encouraged by Raif Badawi, are necessary components of a free, thinking society and the inability to tolerate it is the hallmark of weak leadership.

Your marginal reforms have been coupled with a vicious crackdown on civil liberties, free speech and fundamental human rights. Mr Badawi’s case exemplifies your state’s wanton disregard for due process and a fair trial, as well as its willingness to use draconian punishments and public execution as instruments of intimidation and control. Seeking the death penalty for apostasy is among the most egregious assaults on freedom of conscience in a world which knows them all too well.

Mr Badawi has denied allegations of apostasy. Notwithstanding his innocence, does not the Quran state that there shall be no compulsion in religion? A theocracy designating apostasy as a crime is akin to a secular dictatorship criminalizing conversion to Islam. One cannot condemn the latter without condemning the former. As a member of the UN’s human rights council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to uphold the fundamental liberties, like freedom of speech and conscience, it so often tramples upon.

I therefore add mine to the cacophony of voices across the globe demanding Raif Badawi’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as the dropping of all charges against him, including those for apostasy. I also urge the Saudi Arabian government to end its use of corporal punishment and cease lashing Mr Badawi in contravention of human rights law.

We will continue to raise our voices until Raif Badawi and other prisoners of conscience like him are free, until beheadings and public executions are filed away into the dark corners of history’s library and until the citizens of all countries have the right to speak truth to power. Jailing Raif Badawi did not weaken his cause – it strengthened it. By persecuting him, your government vindicated criticism of its corruption and brutal authoritarianism.

Amidst the storm of condemnation following last week’s flogging, the message being sent to the Saudi Arabian government, which I shall echo, is clear: the world is watching – and will not stand by in silence while a blogger is tortured and jailed for his beliefs. In order to definitively distance itself from extremism, Saudi Arabia must abandon its bloody, authoritarian version of political Islam which has done nothing but suppress its people and legitimize the extremist brutality of terrorism. It must show a commitment to the values and liberties which the extremists abhor. It must release Raif Badawi.

As the Absolute Monarch, you have the authority to overturn this injustice and return freedom to a man who never deserved to have it taken away. I can only hope that you do.

Yours sincerely

Raees Noorbhai