GENEVA: A missing Syrian activist, a jailed scholar from China’s mostly-Muslim Uighur minority and a group of Ethiopian bloggers were on Wednesday named as finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.
Razan Zaitouneh began advocating on behalf of political prisoners in Syria in 2002, work that led to President Bashar al-Assad’s government banning her from travel.
When a pro-democracy revolt against Assad’s regime broke out in 2011, Zaitouneh launched the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), which tracked deaths during the uprising and abuses committed against those detained by the government.
She persisted with her work as the revolt morphed into a civil war but was kidnapped by gunmen with her husband Wael Hamada from the VDC offices near Damascus in Dec. 2013.
The second nominee is Ilham Tohti, an outspoken critic of China’s policies towards the Uighur minority in their homeland of Xinjiang.
In 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison for “separatism” over a website he ran that was often critical of China’s official ethnic policies.
China’s volatile Xinjiang region has in recent years seen a security crackdown prompted by clashes that have killed hundreds.
Rounding out the group of finalists is a collective of Ethiopian bloggers called Zone 9, a name inspired by the country’s notorious Kality prison which has eight zones and where political prisoners and journalists are often held.
Zone 9 was founded by nine writers in 2012, with a mandate to address rights violations and unlawful detentions in Ethiopia.
The blog faced a crackdown almost immediately as the authorities took measures to block anyone inside the country from reading it.
In 2014, six of the site’s bloggers and three linked journalists were arrested and later charged with terrorism.
All were cleared following a lengthy court battle. Three Zone 9 bloggers live in exile, while six remain in Ethiopia.
The Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation is named after the first secretary general of Amnesty International, who died in 1991.
The prize is judged by 10 leading rights groups, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, with the winner announced in October. AFP