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TANZANIA: Australian women’s rights activist faces charges

Supporters says charges against Zara Kay, who has had her passport confiscated, are ‘politically motivated’.


By Daniel Hurst


The Guardian (03.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/393rFK8 – An Australian ex-Muslim women’s rights activist faces “politically motivated” charges in Tanzania, including for a tweet allegedly critical of the country’s president, according to her supporters.


The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Zara Kay, 28, the founder of Faithless Hijabi, a group set up two years ago to support women who are ostracised or face violence if they leave or question Islam.


Kay tweeted on 28 December she was “going into the police station because someone reported me in for blasphemy” and a few days later told her supporters she was out on bail but “still quite traumatised from everything”.


“Please don’t stop fighting for me,” she wrote. “They can try shaking me, but they won’t break me.”


The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania”. But a spokesperson said Dfat would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations”.


The case was first reported by the ABC on Sunday.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims issued a statement saying Kay had been held in police custody for 32 hours from 28 December “without an initial clear indication of charges” and had her passport confiscated.


It said she would be required to return the police station in Dar es Salaam, the administrative capital, on Tuesday.


According to the statement, the charges relate to three issues, including “a social media post deemed to be critical of the president of Tanzania” over the handling of Covid-19 in the east African country.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims said Kay was also accused of not returning her Tanzanian passport after gaining Australian citizenship, but added that “she never returned her Tanzanian passport as she misplaced and never used it after gaining Australian citizenship”.


The coalition said the final issue was the use of a mobile sim card registered in a family member’s name rather than her own name, under legislation that the group said “has been used to persecute other high-profile cases”.


“We believe these charges are politically motivated,” the coalition said.


“The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims reiterates its call on the Tanzanian government to immediately drop all the charges against Zara Kay and allow her to leave the country … We also call on the Australian authorities to intervene and get Zara home to safety.”


Kay, who was raised a Shia Muslim in Tanzania, told the Australian newspaper in 2019 that she had been forced to wear the hijab from the age of eight but took it off when she moved to Australia to study in her late teens.


She has renounced Islam and campaigns to help people who struggle when they similarly leave the faith. Kay has held speaking events in Australia on the topic: “Losing your religion can be hard, and for some, it can be fatal”.


Christians comprise about 61% of Tanzania’s population of 59 million people, while Muslims represent about 35%, according to past estimates, and it does not have blasphemy laws. The Australian newspaper reports that Kay faces sedition charges.


It is understood the types of assistance provided by Australian consular staff can include visiting prisons to monitor welfare, checking with local authorities about the Australian’s wellbeing, and providing contact details for local lawyers.


But consular staff typically notify Australians in trouble overseas that they cannot provide direct legal advice, intervene in legal cases or get Australians out of prison.

Photo: Dfat is giving consular assistance to Zara Kay, an Australian women’s rights activist in Tanzania. Her supporters say she is facing three charges, including one relating to a social media post allegedly critical of the president. Credit: CEMB.

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SAUDI ARABIA begins trial of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Closed trial in ‘terrorism court’ starts more than two years after her imprisonment for peaceful activism.


By Emma Graham-Harrison


The Guardian (10.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3oSfbLv – Saudi Arabia has put a women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, on trial in a special court set up to handle terrorism cases, more than two years after she was detained over her peaceful activism.


She is accused, along with several other campaigners, of activities that “undermine the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity,” according to the state news agency. The trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners.


“Guess what Saudi Arabia does on International Human Rights Day? It sends brave & peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul to their first trial at the ‘terrorism court’, simply for wanting basic human rights,” Amnesty International said on Twitter.


The group has described the specialised criminal court (SCC) where her case is being held as an “instrument of repression”. Its judges have presided over unfair trials and handed down harsh rulings including multiple death sentences “in an effort to silence dissent”, Amnesty said.


Wednesday’s court hearing was not open to the public. It was not clear how long the trial would last or whether other female activists detained at the same time as Hathloul were also finally facing trial.


They were arrested in May 2018, shortly before the government dropped its longstanding ban on women driving. Hathloul in particular had been a prominent face of the grassroots campaign for change, and also opposed the male guardianship system, which makes women second-class citizens.


She has been in jail ever since, awaiting trial. Relatives say she has been tortured, and this year she has been held incommunicado for long stretches of time and been on hunger strike more than once. A UN women’s rights committee recently expressed alarm about her failing health.


UN human rights experts called for all charges to be dropped and for Hathloul to be released immediately.


“We are extremely alarmed to hear that Ms al-Hathloul, who has been in detention for more than two years on spurious charges, is now being tried by a specialised terrorism court for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Elizabeth Broderick, the chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls.


At a brief hearing in an ordinary court last month, when the case was referred to the terrorism court, relatives said Hathloul looked unwell, shaking and speaking in a weak voice as she read out her four-page defence.


The looming transfer of power in the US to Joe Biden will increase pressure on Riyadh over its human rights record. Donald Trump the and Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have been close allies, their bond helping blunt international scrutiny of Saudi’s handling of dissent and its bloody intervention in Yemen.


Biden has promised to review US-Saudi relations, including Washington’s support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen. Business ties will continue, however. US dependence on Saudi oil has fallen markedly as a result of domestic shale gas production, but the kingdom’s political stability is still a key US concern.

Photo: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Her trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

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LATIN AMERICA: The fight against the criminalisation of abortion goes on

By Daina Beth Solomon & Cassandra Garrison


Reuters (01.12.2020) – https://reut.rs/3orDvUe – Several weeks pregnant and about to start a job away from home, Lupita Ruiz had no doubts about wanting to end her pregnancy, despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion under a law in her state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.


She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours from her town who agreed to do it in secret.


Five years later, lawmakers in Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.


Several out of more than 20 Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.


Just Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.


In Mexico, a patchwork of state restrictions apply, but the debate is shifting, Ruiz said.


“When someone talked about abortion, they were shushed,” said the 27-year-old activist, who helped draft the Chiapas initiative. “Now I can sit down to eat a tamale and have a coffee and talk with my mom and my grandma about abortion, without anyone telling me to be quiet.”


Change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. A new Argentine president proposed legalization last month, Chilean activists are aiming to write broader reproductive rights into a new constitution, and female lawmakers in Mexico are resisting abortion bans.


The push can be traced to Argentina’s pro-abortion protests in 2018 by as many as one million women to back a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass – in Pope Francis’s home country.


Catalina Martinez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, said Argentina’s example inspired protests across Latin America.


“It was an awakening,” she said.


Outrage at worsening gender violence in Latin America, where the number of femicides has doubled in five years, has also spread awareness of the abortion rights movement and fueled demands for recognition of women’s rights in a conservative, male-dominated society.


“Women are finally understanding that they are not separate issues,” said Catalina Calderon, director for campaigns and advocacy programs at the Women’s Equality Center. “It’s the fact that you agree that we women are in control of our bodies, our decisions, our lives.”


The rise of social media has afforded women opportunities to bypass establishment-controlled media and bring attention to their stories, Calderon said.


“Now they’re out there for the public to discuss and for the women to react, and say: ‘This does not work. We need to do something’,” Calderon said.


As in the United States, where conservatives have made gains in restricting a woman’s right to an abortion, there is pushback in Latin America against the calls for greater liberalization.


Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is making it even harder for women to abort.


The Argentine Episcopal Conference has said it does not want to debate abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and alluded to comments by the Pope urging respect for those who are “not yet useful,” including fetuses.


Yet trust in the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at conception, is fading, with many Latin Americans questioning its moral legitimacy because of sexual abuse by priests.


Spreading ‘green wave’


Argentina could be first up for sweeping change, with a bill submitted to Congress by center-left President Alberto Fernandez seeking to legalize elective abortions.


Approval for legalization has risen eight percentage points since 2014, according to an August Ipsos poll, with support split nearly evenly between those who favor elective abortion and those who are for it only in certain circumstances.


“The dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system,” Fernandez said.


According to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based reproductive health research organization, an estimated 29% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2015 to 2019 ended in abortion, encompassing 5.4 million women. The abortions are often clandestine, so figures are hard to determine.


The mass demonstrations in Argentina two years ago, known as the “green wave” protests, have reverberated.


Since mid-2018, lawmakers in Mexico have filed more than 40 proposals to end punishment for abortion, according to Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE.


In Chiapas, the de-criminalization effort is the first of its kind since a brief period in the 1990s when abortion was legalized during the left-wing Zapatista rebellion.


Although Chiapas does not on paper punish abortion with prison, it can jail women for the “killing” of their infants.


With Mexico’s first leftist government in a century in power, national lawmakers are considering two initiatives to open up restrictions and strip away criminal punishments from places like Sonora state, where abortion can be punished by up to six years in prison.


Only two federal entities, Mexico City and Oaxaca, allow elective abortions.


Wendy Briceno, a Sonoran lawmaker who has backed a nationwide legalization bill, said the initiatives have a good chance to pass if the debate centers on women’s health, especially given rising outrage over femicides.


In Chile, activists are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.


Colombia, where the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, could set an example, said Anita Pena, director of Chilean reproductive rights group Corporacion Miles.


Activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.


To Briceno, Brazil’s shift to the right under Bolsonaro, who has vowed to veto any pro-abortion bills, was a reminder to push even harder for abortion rights.


“No fight is ever finished,” she said.

Photo: Pro-abortion activist Lupita Ruiz poses for a photo during an interview with Reuters, in Mexico City, Mexico. November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan.

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Lee Hyo-jae, champion of women’s rights in South Korea, dies at 95

Ms. Lee was a prominent activist and a founder of women’s studies programs. She also stood up to the country’s dictators.


By Michael Astor


The New York Times (14.11.2020) – https://nyti.ms/3f86edt – When Lee Hyo-jae learned of a university colleague’s research into the Korean “comfort women” taken by the Japanese military for use as sex slaves during World War II, she came to view the government-sanctioned enslavement as one of history’s most brutal war crimes.


She spent the next two decades fighting to bring attention to the issue and to secure redress from Japan. But that was only one of many causes taken up by Ms. Lee, one of South Korea’s foremost activists on behalf of women’s rights and democracy.


She helped abolish South Korea’s patriarchal naming system, allowing people to use two surnames to reflect their heritage from both parents. She helped establish a quota requiring that half of a party’s candidates running for the National Assembly be women. She pushed for equal pay for equal work.


Ms. Lee died on Oct. 4, 2020, at a hospital in Changwon, in the country’s southeast. She was 95. The cause was sepsis, her nephew Lynn Rowe said.


“In the dark times when the stars were brighter, she was one of the most brilliant,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement after her death. He posthumously awarded her a national medal, an honor she declined in 1996 because the same medal was being given to someone she believed to be a government agent planted within the women’s movement.


Along with her work on behalf of women, Ms. Lee was also active in the struggle for democracy when South Korea was under dictatorial rule, and was a forceful advocate for the reunification of the two Koreas.


She was among a group of 30 female activists, including Gloria Steinem and the Nobel Peace laureates Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who received international attention for making a rare trip in 2015 across the Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South to promote disarmament and peace between the two countries, which are technically still at war.


Ms. Lee was a professor emeritus of sociology at the prestigious Ewha Womans University, where she inspired generations of young women. Many became leading feminists and rose to key positions in liberal governments. Ms. Lee turned down a number of offers to enter politics, preferring her roles as professor and activist.


In her later years, Ms. Lee helped found the Miracle Library, a national network of libraries aimed at children and teens in rural areas.


Lee Hyo-jae was born on Nov. 4, 1924, in Masan, a precinct of Changwon in Gyeongsang Province, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Her father, Lee Yak-shin, was a Presbyterian minister and leader in the church and her mother, Lee Oak-kyung, founded and ran an orphanage.


When she was a young woman, her parents brought her to Seoul for an arranged marriage but Ms. Lee ran away, believing it would interfere with her ambitions, Mr. Rowe said. She never married.


A few years later her father met Jobe Couch, an American serviceman attached to the U.S. Embassy in Korea. Mr. Couch, who was married but had no children, became impressed by Ms. Lee’s younger sister Hyo-suk and offered to take her back with him to the United States to gain a college education. The sister, however, refused to go without Ms. Lee and so he brought them both in 1945.


It wasn’t easy. Mr. Couch had to enlist the help of an Alabama congressman, Carl Elliott, to obtain visas and he had to lobby the University of Alabama to accept the sisters on full scholarships even though they did not speak English.


Ms. Lee earned a bachelor’s degree at Alabama and went on to earn a master’s in sociology from Columbia University before returning to South Korea in 1957.


She founded the sociology department at Ewha the following year. She began teaching the school’s first course in women’s studies in 1977, which led to the development of South Korea’s first graduate level women’s studies program.


“She was the most distinguished woman leader at that time,” Jung Byung-joon, a history professor at Ewha, said in an email, and she became an advocate for human rights and democratization. “It was very challenging and dangerous choice for her to join the anti-regime movement.”


She was fired from Ewha in 1980 for her opposition to the military regime in power at the time, but was reinstated in 1986 as the country was returning to democracy.


Ms. Lee is survived by her daughter Hee-kyung and her sister, who now goes by Hyo Suk Rowe, and two other sisters, Sung Suk Gaber and Unwha Shin.


She was especially passionate about the cause of the “comfort women.” As many as 200,000 women from Korea and other Asian countries were conscripted as sex slaves for Japanese troops beginning in the 1930s.


After decades of denial, the Japanese government in 1992 acknowledged its involvement. South Korea and Japan reached a settlement in 2015 that involved an apology from the Japanese government and $8.3 million to provide care for the surviving women, who numbered around 45 at the time.


“Japan’s crime against the women is unprecedented, even among the brutal war histories of humankind, because this enslavement of Korean women was carried out systematically as an official policy of the Japanese government,” Ms. Lee told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, when a memorial library was dedicated in Koreatown. “It’s ironic that the first memorial to the women should be in America.”

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UK report calls out Saudi Arabia over women’s rights abuses

UK legislator Baroness Helena Kennedy demands world leaders shun G20 meeting in Riyadh over jailed women activists.


Al Jazeera (12.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3f8jaQx – A report released by a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords has called on the world’s leading economies to shun the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia this year unless jailed women’s rights activists are released.


“I want all of us to call upon those who will be participating in the G20 meeting to say we will only participate in this meeting being hosted by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia if you release these women,” Baroness Helena Kennedy, a prominent Scottish barrister, said in a video statement released on Wednesday.


“These women are being detained because they are advocating for women’s rights and it is seen as an affront to the power structures of Saudi Arabia,” Kennedy added.


The United States, India and the UK are among countries that will attend this year’s G20 summit starting on November 21, hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, set to take place virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic.


One of the themes of the G20 summit is women’s empowerment.


According to Kennedy’s report, the charges laid out against the jailed women include “inviting and inciting people to change the political system in the kingdom; initiating a campaign on Twitter to request a new constitution and speaking to British journalists for a documentary about imprisonment in the kingdom”.


“None of these would amount to crimes in any decent nation, and that is the problem,” Kennedy said. “This is an unacceptable abuse of human beings.”


Kennedy said among these women are academics, intellectuals, writers and journalists who were “leading voices” on women’s issues.


One of them is Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, who was arrested along with about a dozen other female activists in May 2018, just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female drivers.


A UN women’s rights committee called for her “immediate” release earlier this month, saying that al-Hathloul’s deteriorating health was “deeply alarming”.


In a recent interview, the Saudi ambassador to the UK was quoted as saying in an interview with The Guardian newspaper that the kingdom was considering clemency for the jailed women’s rights activists.


However, Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London later denied the report.


‘Assault on fundamental freedoms’


On Monday, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch also called on the G20 leading economies to press Saudi Arabia to release all those imprisoned unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses.


The group said the G20 awarded Riyadh this year’s presidency “despite the Saudi government’s unrelenting assault on fundamental freedoms, including jailing and harassing public dissidents and human rights activists, unlawful attacks on civilians in Yemen, and flouting international calls for accountability for the murder by state agents of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.


Since Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, there has been no accountability for senior officials involved in his murder.


Instead, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars hosting entertainment, cultural and sporting events as a deliberate strategy known as “image laundering” to conceal its human rights abuses, HRW said.

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