Are human rights defenders paid

Human rights activists in the Middle East : Why it is life-threatening to challenge the mighty

An active civil society is an important part of any democracy. But in some countries in the Middle East it is seen as a threat by the powerful. Several activists, lawyers and other critics of the conditions in countries from Libya to Iran have recently been silenced by murder or execution.

The violence is intended to intimidate opponents of the respective governments or influential militias. Often it is women who demand their rights and want to hold the rulers accountable - and pay for them with their lives. Examples from three countries show how dangerous it can be to fight corruption and other abuses.

Hanan al Barassi in Benghazi in eastern Libya knew that their life was in danger. The 46-year-old lawyer complained on social media last week. A little later she was killed by attackers in Benghasi on the street with three headshots.

Barassi had made a name for herself as a women's rights activist and as an activist against corruption in the sphere of influence of the Libyan rebel general Khalifa Haftar. That was obviously her undoing. The day before her death, according to Amnesty International, she announced the release of a video to prove illegal activities by Haftar's son Saddam.

Barassi was not alone in her criticism of Haftar's surroundings. The UN accuses Saddam Haftar of having robbed the representation of the Libyan central bank in Benghazi in 2017 with his soldiers of the "Brigade 106". A year and a half ago, the "106 Brigade" is said to have been involved in the kidnapping of another well-known critic of the Haftar regime.

This is how the women's rights activist and member of parliament became Seham Sergiwa kidnapped by strangers in her home in Benghasi in July 2019. According to press reports, soldiers from the brigade were near the house at the time of the kidnapping. When they were leaving the area, someone had sprayed the phrase "The Army is the Red Line" on the wall of their home. Sergiwa has disappeared to this day.

Reham Jakub died at the wheel of her car in Basra in southern Iraq, shot by attackers on motorcycles. The 29-year-old doctor was a prominent leader in the protest movement calling for an end to corruption, abuse of power and Iranian interference in Iraq in Basra and other parts of the country.

Like other members of the protest movement, Jakub had received death threats for years. She was denounced as a traitor because of a meeting with an American diplomat.

A few days before Jakub's death in August, another activist was in Basra, Tahsin Ossama, killed with 20 shots. In less than a year, more than two dozen members of the protest movement were shot dead.

The security authorities either cannot or will not stop the attacks. Members of the protest movement blame pro-Iranian groups for the violence. The Tehran leadership is concerned about the Iraqi protests because they fear that they will lose their influence on their neighbors.

Navid Afkari was revered as a hero by many Iranians - a successful and popular athlete who stood up for the weak and the poor. But the regime saw in the wrestler a traitor, one who publicly questioned the power of the mullahs. That cost Afkari his life.

On September 12, the 27-year-old was executed in a prison despite violent international protests. Authorities found him guilty of killing a member of the Basij paramilitary militia in a demonstration against the government in 2018.

Afkari had protested his innocence to the end. A confession on which the investigators relied was believed to have been extorted under torture by human rights groups and the family. But the judiciary of the Islamic Republic upheld the death sentence. It was about setting an example, to make it clear what threatens opposition and dissenters.

Afkari was one of the leaders of the protests in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. Two years ago, thousands of people took to the streets there and across the country, voicing their displeasure over skyrocketing prices and rampant corruption in the state apparatus.

The security forces acted with great brutality against the demonstrators, in some places violent street battles were the result. Then there was a wave of repression that continues to this day: Anyone who dares to express a dissenting opinion will be severely persecuted and punished by the rulers. This includes arbitrary judgments as well as extremely long prison sentences, which are primarily intended to: deter.

The anger of the mullahs hits many members of the opposition. One of them is Nasrin Sotoudeh. The human rights lawyer and Sakharov Prize winner was imprisoned for years. Her "offense": She defended women who rebel against the headscarf requirement. The 57-year-old was recently released from prison because of her critical health condition - temporarily.

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