ISSUE #80 CONTENTS:
- Incommunicado: Bahraini Cyber Legend Abdulemam Held in Solitary
- 6 Years in Jail for Iranian “Advocate Behind Bars” Award Winner
- WANTED for Promoting Religious Freedom: Basma Mousa
- QUIZ: How did the Moroccan Government Manage to Shut Down the Country’s Best-Selling Magazine?
- Become a Partner in CRIME
“I just received a call from the nationa security” – this one-line email received by CRIME Editor Nasser Weddady from Ali Abdulemam marks the Bahraini cyber-activist’s last known communication. Detained by
agents a few hours later, Abdulemam was not seen again. For nearly a month, his family and lawyer were denied access to him. He had, in effect, been disappeared. Finally, on Thursday, his wife was able to see him very briefly.
In 1999 Abdulemam launched a website called BahrainOnline.org that would become of the premier independent news and discussion sites in the Gulf kingdom. He first made headlines in 2005 when he was arrested for two weeks, before an international campaign helped secure his release. Half a decade later, with Abdulemam back behind bars and his website shut down, the “Free Ali” has been revived, with activists around the world speaking out on his plight. Indeed, the case has been spotlighted by France24 TV, The Atlantic, and The Huffington Post.
Over the past two months, the Bahraini regime has launched a brutal crackdown on dissidents, and Abdulemam was evidently high on the target list. He was respected across the Mideast as a pioneering online activist, served as an active member of Global Voices, and perhaps most dangerously provided a hub for Bahrainis to express themselves. Indeed, Bahrain’s government media accused him of “spreading false news” via the BahrainOnline.org forum. While Abdulemam remains silenced in prison, The CRIME Report will continue to follow his case.
“Shiva Nazar Ahari is a courageous advocate for human rights and inspiring role model for women in the region” observed American Islamic Congress Executive Director, Zainab Al-Suwaij in bestowing the organization’s inaugural “Advocate Behind Bars” award. “Only 26 years old, Shiva has educated Iranian street children and Afghan refugees, rallied Iranians for the ‘One Million Signatures’ campaign for women’s equality, and demonstrated compassion for victims of terrorism, including Americans.”
Ahari had served as the spokeswoman for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, an Iranian human rights group. She has been harassed by Iranian security forces on numerous occasions, including being jailed for participating in a candlelight vigil for the victims of 9/11. After spending 266 days in jail on charges of “rebellion against God,” endangering national security, and anti-state propaganda, Shiva could have faced the death penalty.
But then a widescale international campaign mobilized on her behalf, with her Facebook solidarity page attracting over 16,000 followers. Activists even delivered petitions on her case to Iranian diplomats in Washington. Facing growing worldwide pressure, the Iranian regime released Shiva on bail, raising hopes of a suspended sentence. Then, a few days later, came the verdict: six years in jail (to be served in Khuzestan’s remote Izeh prison) and 74 lashes (or instead of the lashes a $400 fine). Shiva is now appealing the sentence, as the fate of this dynamic Iranian activist hangs in the balance.
AIC’s Egypt office marked Ramadan with its fourth annual interfaith iftar, held this year at Cairo’s Al Azhar Park with a diverse group of over 100 people, including foreign diplomats and Al Azhar faculty in attendance. The star of the break-fast ceremony was Basma Moussa, who received AIC’s “Faith Freedom Fighter of the Year” award. Though short and soft-spoken, this dental surgeon is anything but timid. Though part of Egypt’s persecuted Baha’i minority that often suffers in quiet, Mousa is a prominent activist and blogger who was voted last year’s “most influential woman” in Egypt. The CRIME Report spoke with Mousa about her advocacy efforts.
What experiences shaped you as an activist?
Raised as a Baha’i in Port Said, I was taught that men and women were equal and all humans ought to be united regardless of religion. However, upon entering college in Cairo, I found myself subjected to stigmatization. Professors would flunk me, a university committee declared my scientific expertise invalid, pamphlets on campus identified me as a "non-believer,” a fatwa was issued against me, and finally police had to accompany me for protection. Despite it all, I am now an assistant professor – though other surgeons have sometimes refused to participate in surgery with me because I am a Baha'i.
What is the legal situation of Bahai’s in Egypt today?
As a Baha’i, I have no citizenship rights because my religion is not recognized by the state: I cannot work, drive, marry, be born, or die legally as an Egyptian citizen. Once my driver's license expires I will be unable to drive legally. This is just the beginning. Many Baha'is are not granted birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates – all of which greatly complicates their financial matters. While a Muslim or Christian can get a birth certificate in five minutes, a Baha'i will often wait at least 6 months.
Are you optimistic that there can be positive change?
Most people who know me personally do not think me any worse because I'm a Baha'i. The problem is with the attitudes of the religious establishment and intolerance on the larger social level. We have launched a campaign to educate Egyptians about tolerance, starting with primary schools and eventually moving to universities and then the workplace. Additionally Baha'is need to make their case in the media and counter misconceptions spread by biased individuals. Most importantly we must continue to contribute constructively to society. By working hard we continue to gain respect and will always have hope.
Answer: With an advertising boycott. Founded in 2006, Nichane quickly became the country’s best-selling Arabic magazine. But with cover stories on Morocco’s secret service and the royal cult of personality, Nichane’s independent reporting raised the ire of the royal palace. The final straw was last year’s public opinion poll of King Muhammad VI. Following that issue, Morocco’s leading companies – owned by the royal family, the government, or people connected to the regime – ramped up an advertising boycott that dried up 77% of the magazine’s normal revenue. Nichane head Ahmed Benchemsi, who serves as a judge for “Dream Deferred” essay contest, broke the news to his staff last week. Still, he continues to lead TelQuel, Morocco’s best-selling francophone magazine, which attracts advertising from many international companies.
RESEARCH REQUEST: Do you know of cases of civic action campaigns and citizen participation to fight corruption? An international research project is studying such civic initiatives, in order to identify general lessons learned and best practices. The project examines the skills, strategies, and objectives of nonviolent civic campaigns, rather than the phenomenon of corruption itself. If you have examples to share, please contact Shaazka Beyerle: sbeyerle(at)nonviolent-conflict.org.
- Forward this newsletter to friends & encourage them to subscribe.
- Write a letter to imprisoned Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer.
- Apply to participate in HAMSA’s civil rights fellowship program.