Indian Adivasi activist Soni Sori is one of the five global recipients of the 2018 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, in recognition of her dangerous struggle for justice for the Adivasi community in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.
She is a staunch critic of police brutality against the people of her state. A school teacher by profession, Soni Sori was arrested for allegedly having ties to Maoist insurgents in her state. During her time in prison, she was sexually and physically assaulted in a brutal manner by the police authorities.
Soni Sori mobilised women prisoners and demanded prisoner rights. After much national and international outrage, she was granted bail in 2014. She contested local elections as a candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party. Although she wasn’t elected, she continues her fight for the human rights of the Adivasi community, and their empowerment.
Soni Sori is a staunch critic of police brutality against the people of her state.
In 2016, she was attacked in Dantewada by unidentified assailants who used a chemical substance. This did not deter her. She has refused to stop her work and continues to travel into dangerous conflict zones to speak with survivors despite on-going threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. “I am fearless, the more I am tortured, the stronger I become. If they are successful in silencing me, they would show me as an example to silence everyone else,” she said in an interview.
“As governments and corporations work to delegitimize and defame human rights defenders’ peaceful work, activists around the world tell us that international visibility and recognition is a critical protection tool,” said Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders. “The Award demonstrates that these defenders have the support of the international community, that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and that we stand in solidarity with their unrelenting bravery”.
The other winners of this award are:
Nurcan Baysal, Turkey
Regional Winner for Europe and Central Asia
Nurcan is a Kurdish journalist and human rights defender based in Diyarbakir. When the government launched a military offensive in the south-east in 2016, Nurcan spent months visiting Kurdish villages under bombardment, documenting human rights violations and stopping to help families who’d lost everything in the conflict.
Her writings are known for their critical focus on women living with bombardment. When the authorities launched a military operation in Afrin, Nurcan took to social media to demand peace and condemn the violent assault. She was detained for speaking against the violence and although later released, she now faces up to 3 years in jail in a separate case related to her writing.
Nurcan, according to the authorities’ absurd claims, had “spread propaganda for armed terrorist organizations … and a call for provocative actions”. In addition to her reporting, Nurcan has also co-founded several NGOs, set up a camp to help Yazidi women fleeing the Islamic State and been a key voice in countless reconciliation programs in the region.
Peaceful Resistance of the Micro-Region of Ixquisis, Guatemala
Regional Winner for the Americas
La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microrregión de Ixquisis was formed in response to grave human rights violations committed in the name of economic advancement in Guatemala. The government has authorised destructive mining and hydroelectric mega-projects in the region despite the widespread opposition from 59 villages and 7 communities in the municipality. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Peaceful Resistance risk their lives to defend the territory. In 2016 alone, there were more than 75 reported attacks against HRDs in the Peaceful Resistance including killings, shootings, harassment and defamation campaigns.
LUCHA, Democratic Republic of Congo
Regional Winner for Africa
LUCHA is a non-partisan youth movement formed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that struggles against chronic corruption and impunity in the DRC. Initially focused on local issues such as access to drinking water, electricity and youth unemployment, in just 6 years the movement has developed into an extensive national-level network of powerful social organisers.
Peaceful protests and demonstrations led by LUCHA are routinely attacked by authorities. In October 2017, 5 young protesters were killed during a LUCHA-organised demonstration, and many of their members and leaders have been arrested and detained during peaceful assemblies. The Congolese National Intelligence Agency has detained several members who have endured physical and psychological abuse in detention.
Regional Winner for the Middle East and North Africa
Hassan Bouras is a journalist, blogger, leading member of the Algerian League of Human Rights and founding member of the Rejection Front, a coalition against fracking to extract shale gas in Algeria. His reporting on both corruption and torture in Algeria spans more than two decades and because of this work, he has been repeatedly targeted by Algerian authorities. He has continued his writing and advocacy despite years of judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions, violent raids on his home and imprisonment.
Featured Image Source: Aljazeera