Gallery: Seven women free expression champions

Last year for the International Day to End Impunity, IFEX profiled 23 individuals who had been threatened, attacked or worse for expressing themselves. In all cases, the perpetrators remain free. We asked some of the women profiled about the challenges they face, advice for other women in their fields, and the kind of world they envisage on this year’s International Women’s Day

IFEX – 7 March 2013

Nguyen Hoang Vi, blogger, Vietnam
Nguyen Hoang Vi, blogger, Vietnam

Nguyen Hoang Vi: Nguyen has spent much of her early 20s under surveillance by security agents for blogging critically about the government. Shortly after we profiled her, she was detained near the courthouse where she was hoping to attend the appeal of three bloggers jailed on anti-state propaganda charges. While in custody, she was sexually assaulted by police and state nurses.

Speaking of her ordeal, Nguyen said, “We can’t allow fear to paralyse us. We must find it deep within our hearts to forgive all that they’re doing to us and to our bodies. Forgiveness is not the same as acceptance. We must let them know that what we are doing is not based on personal hatred of our perpetrators; it is to protect our universal rights, which belong to them as well as us.”

Tanya Lokshina, human rights defender, Russia
Tanya Lokshina, human rights defender, Russia

Tanya Lokshina: Last October, Human Rights Watch researcher Lokshina faced death threats directed toward her and her unborn child for reporting on rights abuses in Russia. After Human Rights Watch made the threats public, they ceased.

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, lawyer, Philippines
Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, lawyer, Philippines
 Melanie Pinlac

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas: Quinsayas has worked as a private prosecutor in the most notorious cases of media killings in the Philippines, including on behalf of the witnesses and families of the journalists killed in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre.

With law enforcement agencies failing to properly investigate media killings, Quinsayas has to find eyewitnesses herself. “To do so, I have to go to places where women are considered second-class citizens who are seen rather than heard, or, worse, are viewed as sex objects. If I sound like an aggressive lawyer, a no-no for a woman, [the witnesses] will be hostile and will not be receptive no matter how rational my arguments may be.”

Zainab Al-Khawaja, activist, Bahrain
Zainab Al-Khawaja, activist, Bahrain
 Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS

Zainab Al-Khawaja: It’s hard to keep track of how many times activist Al-Khawaja (@angryarabiya) has been in and out of jail. She is facing more than a dozen charges for speaking out about human rights violations in Bahrain – and was again detained before she had the chance to answer our questions.

But she asked her sister Maryam to pass this message on: “I’m confined within these four walls because I want to build a better future for my 3-year-old daughter. I want her to be able to live with rights, dignity and freedom without having to go through the struggle we are living.”

Rayma Suprani, cartoonist, Venezuela
Rayma Suprani, cartoonist, Venezuela
 c/o Rayma Suprani

Rayma Suprani: When a cartoon by Suprani highlighting Venezuela’s poverty crisis was published last year, she received death threats from state-run media and supporters of President Hugo Chávez. The threats remain uninvestigated.

She says, “As women we are even more vulnerable. We, as women, mothers and daughters, single or married, must be allowed to act in roles of our own choosing, roles we desire – not the roles prescribed for us by our ‘machista’ ancestors from a regressive past.”

Jineth Bedoya Lima, journalist, Colombia
Jineth Bedoya Lima, journalist, Colombia
 c/o Jineth Bedoya Lima

Jineth Bedoya Lima: In 2000, when Bedoya was investigating alleged arms trafficking involving state officials and a paramilitary group, she was grabbed, drugged, raped and left bound in a garbage dump. Today, Bedoya is still reporting in Colombia, despite receiving threats regularly.

“Without a doubt, the greatest risk for us women is being attacked,” she says. “Women should take the necessary precautions to avoid putting themselves at risk. And if there is an imminent threat, they must report it in a timely manner. Silence is what the perpetrators of violence feed on.”

Iryna Khalip, activist and journalist, Belarus
Iryna Khalip, activist and journalist, Belarus
 Vasily Fedosenko/REUTERS

Iryna Khalip: In 2011, Khalip was given a two-year suspended sentence for her role in protests against President Alexander Lukashenko’s December 2010 controversial re-election, and was banned from travelling and from moving or leaving Minsk. Officials also threatened to put her young son in state custody.

On International Women’s Day, Khalip hopes for a world where “you are not afraid to love, to give birth, to go to sleep every night, to speak openly and fight injustice, to live in your country and raise your children in your country, to be a professional and to be a citizen; you are indeed not afraid to be a woman.”


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