Held over the holidays: Remember those in prison for the New Year

A round-up of some of those denied freedom of expression, and movement, during the festive period and into 2023

23 Dec 2022
Political prisoner sculpture. Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This time of year is one of joy and togetherness, and for those who celebrate it, we at Index on Censorship wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to you all.

Unwrapping presents by the tree, turkey with all the trimmings and a small post-lunch snooze – traditions you may have on Christmas Day. While we hope you have the most enjoyable time, there will be many around the world imprisoned on the day, and also into the New Year.

So, while you beat your family in the annually contentious game of charades, please spare a thought for the small selection of people below who fight for freedom of expression and are still not free heading into 2023.

Dr Mohammed al-Qahtani

Sent to prison in 2013 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dr Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years for setting up the unlicensed Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). A human rights defender and economics professor, he was due to be released on 21 November 2022 but his wife and family have not had any contact from him since 23 October 2022.

Irina Danilovich

Irina Danilovich is a journalist and human rights defender who works to expose problems of the health care system in Crimea, including during the coronavirus pandemic. Danilovich herself states she was abducted in April 2022 and tortured by the Russian Federal Security Service. Legal proceedings against her were officialised on 7 May 2022, with no family member notified. Her next court hearing is scheduled for 27 December 2022.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah

Egypt’s highest-profile political prisoner, Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike during the country’s hosting of the COP27 climate talks gained worldwide attention. Emerging as a leading pro-democracy acticist and blogger during Egypt’s popular uprising in 2011, he has spent most of the past decade in prison. Having been released in 2019, he was rearresed in December 2021 and and ssentenced to another five years in porison for spreading false news. Human rights organsations have criticised his continued imprisonment as unjust. Abd el-Fattah’s sister spoke to us in November 2022 and said world leaders will have “blood on their hands” if he dies in prison. Both of his sisters have been pressuring the British government to act on Abd el-Fattah’s behalf as he holds British citizenship

Soe Yar Zar Tun, Wai Linn Yu and Htet Htet Aung

Since February 2021, the military coup in Mynamar has resulted in the arrests of thousands of pro-democarcy activists, as well as civilians in general. In 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Myanmar had the second-highest number of journalists in prison that year, only China had more in jail. In March 2022, journalist Soe Yar Zar Tun was arrested under Myanmar’s anti-terrorism laws, and was tortured. He remains in custody. On 16 December, Wai Linn Yu and Htet Htet Aung, both employees of the Thingangyun Post News were sentenced to five years in prison under the country’s Explosive Substances Act. This was over a year after they were first arrested.

Jimmy Lai

The Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai was jailed for five years on fraud charges in December 2022, among a wider Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-backed crackdown on the city state’s pro-democracy movement. Lai is also due to stand trial under national security charges but these were postponed until the new year after his British lawyer was blocked from representing him. He also served a prison sentence for attending a banned vigil last year for victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. A British citizen, there is increased pressure on the British government to intervene on Lai’s behalf.

Dr Hazzaa bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri and Rashid bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri

The eyes of the world were on Qatar in 2022 as the state hosted the FIFA World Cup in November and December. However, with accusations of sportswashing, and in addition to reports of migrant worker abuse, in May 2022, brothers Dr. Hazzaa bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri and Rashid bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri were given life sentences by a criminal court in the country. They were arrested for attending peaceful protests in August 2021 to promote social justice and freedom of expression, as well as demanding the authorities overturn the Shura Councils elections law.

Francis Clarke

One response to “Held over the holidays: Remember those in prison for the New Year”

  1. Martyn Everett says:

    Julian Assange?!