Yulia Tsvetkova’s hunger strike: “I have reached a dead end”

“They say that a hunger strike is declared out of despair, and yes, it’s hard not to agree with that,” Yulia Tsvetkova, a Russian feminist and LGBTQ+ activist and artist, wrote on social media on 1 May as she announced that she would start a hunger strike. “Why a hunger strike? As a person accused of a ‘serious’ crime, I have almost no rights. There is no freedom. No voice. No ability to stand up for myself and my beliefs in the outside world.”

Tsvetkova, who won Index on Censorship’s 2020 Freedom of Expression Award in the arts category, was charged with criminal distribution of pornography in June 2020 for having published body-positive drawings on a social media group she had called the “Vagina Monologues”. She is facing up to six years in prison. While the trial is ongoing, she is forced to remain in her home city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia’s Far East.

“I’ve recently realised that I can no longer sit still and watch the shame of what’s going on in this country and how my life is being derailed. And when I think about it, what other options do I have for non-violent protest?” she wrote in what was her first social media post in eight months. She also used the opportunity to call on the authorities to stop subjecting her to the protracted judicial harassment. “I just ask you not to waste any more of my time on a farce called ‘Russian justice’”.

Shortly thereafter, photos from the search of her apartment, which had taken place in 2019, were posted online and were being circulated on homophobic public forums. “I don’t know how they got on the web,” Tsvetkova’s lawyer Aleksandr Pikhovkin told Index on Censorship via email, “but we should understand that these [photos] were taken by the criminal investigation department and are under a special procedure of admittance and only for a [small] number of officers. Anyway, disclosure of these materials was made to demoralise Yulia. I think she perceived it like a kind of psychological pressure. And yes, as I realise, she felt herself harassed, suffered and disgusted.”

At the same time, a state channel ended up with Tsvetkova’s personal documents, correspondence, and tickets from her work trips. According to a social media post from Yulia on 6 May, the same channel broadcast an “expert” alleging that Tsvetkova’s work is “aimed purely at molesting minors” and that her drawings “have the same impact as the actions of paedophiles.” “Whether or not [these events] are related to my statement [on 1 May on social media] is probably up to everyone to decide for themselves,” Yulia said in the post.

“Were these abhorrent actions part of a coordinated effort to intimidate and punish Yulia for criticising the authorities? It certainly seems likely,” Index on Censorship’s CEO Ruth Smeeth said. “Yulia has done nothing more than express her very justifiable frustration with this ongoing judicial harassment. We continue to be appalled at Yulia’s treatment and stand in full solidarity with her. We call – yet again – on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against her.”

On 7 May, Yulia announced that she was ending her hunger strike. “I reach a dead end, realising that those on the other side have no honour,” Yulia posted. “If the strategy has proved to be unworkable, it needs to be changed. I am stopping the hunger strike for now, because it is the right thing to do (just as it was the right thing to start it). And I’m looking for a new strategy.

Bahrain: Free Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace


Nine Bahraini and international NGOs and the University College Union launched a campaign this week marking the 100th day of detained human rights defender Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace’s hunger strike.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), English PEN, PEN International, Index on Censorship, Scholars at Risk, Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association and the University College Union have joined together to express their solidarity with the imprisoned activist.

Dr Al-Singace, a prominent academic and blogger who promoted human rights in Bahrain throughout the 2000s, began a hunger strike on 21 March in protest of the ill-treatment of inmates and the poor, unsanitary conditions at Jaw Prison in Bahrain.

Police arrested Dr Al-Singace for his participation in the peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011. During his initial detention, security officials subjected Dr Al-Singace to torture and ill-treatment, including forced standing, verbal and sexual assault, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. He was tried by a military court in June 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

Dr Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome, heart, eye, and sinus problems, and requires urgent nasal and ear surgery. Prison authorities have denied Dr Al-Singace specialist medical treatment.

He is detained in solitary confinement at Al-Qalaa Hospital and is not permitted to go outdoors. He is denied access to novels, television, radio, and even pen and paper. He is also not allowed access to religious books and prayer beads, and was not permitted a condolence visit when his nephew died.

We, the aforementioned NGOs, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace in addition to all human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain who are detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party. We demand that Dr Al-Singace receives full access to specialised medical attention as a matter of urgency. We remind Bahrain of its obligations to comply with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. We also call on Bahrain to fully investigate the allegations of ill treatment and torture at Jaw Prison, in line with its obligations under the Convention against Torture.

To express your solidarity with Dr Al-Singace, please take urgent action here:

1. Urge UK MPs to sign an early day motion on Bahrain

2. Sign the petition at English PEN

2. Write a letter via Scholars at Risk call for Action

We also invite you to join our social media campaign and to tweet using the hashtag #SingaceHungerStrike.

Jailed Macedonian journalist begins hunger strike

A Macedonian investigative journalist has gone on hunger strike today, in protest against his continued detention.

The wife of Tomislav Kezarovski told local media that both she and her jailed husband are now on hunger strike, in hopes that it will call attention to his “absurd” situation.

Kezarovski has been held in Skopje’s Shutka prison since May, for a 2008 article he wrote for Reporter 92 magazine, for supposedly revealing the identity of a protected witness in an an ongoing murder investigation. However, in February this year the witness confessed that his testimony against the accused killers was fabricated, and that he did not have protected status until 2010.

Skopje criminal court decided in June to extend the journalist’s detention by 30 days, saying that if released, he may “escape or influence other witnesses” in a wider investigation. The court will decide this week whether or not he will be held for another 30 days. Since the investigation is now over, Kezarovski’s family members hope that he will be released.

The Macedonian Journalists Association, the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, ZNM, and the Macedonian Institute for Media expressed “deep concern” over the journalist’s “fragile physical and mental” condition in a joint statement released today. In June, UN Rapporteur for free speech Frank LaRue was prevented from visiting Kezarovski in prison.

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the arrest of the journalist, as well as the “constant decline in freedom of information in Macedonia”, which ranks 116 out of 179 in the organisation’s 2013 press freedom index.

Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index. She tweets from @missyasin

Index Index – international free speech round up 15/02/13

At least 17 prisoners of conscience are on hunger strike in Oman. They began the strike on 9 February at Muscat’s Samayel prison, and other detainees have since joined them, making the total number of hunger strikers 23. Six who were reported to be in a critical condition were taken to hospitals around the capital on 13 February. Yaqoob Al-Harith, a lawyer to seven of the original 17 refusing to eat said they are protesting against the time it is taking to transfer their cases to the supreme court to appeal their jail sentences. The have all been imprisoned for between six and 18 months. The free speech defenders, political activists and civil society representatives were jailed under charges of cyber crimes, illegal assembly, violating communications regulations and insulting ruler Sultan Qaboos on online social networks. Relatives of those imprisoned wrote to the National Human Rights Commission on 10 February and have appealed to the Omani authorities to have the detained released.

anonymousiran - Demotix

 Iranian opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi has been under house arrest for two years

Two daughters of a former presidential candidate held under house arrest for nearly two years have been arrested in Iran. Zahra and Narges Mousavi, daughters of Mirhossein Mousavi, Iranian prime minister in the 1980s, were arrested by security forces on February 11. Along with Mousavi’s third daughter, they had written in a statement that authorities had denied Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard access to their children for weeks. Mousavi and Rahnavard were placed under house arrest along with opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi and his wife Fatemeh, after they called for demonstrations to support the Arab uprisings across the region in February 2011. The Islamic Republic is facing a presidential vote in June, and hardliners have accused opposition leaders of plotting a second sedition after the last protests were crushed by security forces. They have also called for the execution of both men, but the government are choosing to keep them in solitary confinement.

Saudia Arabia’s minister for media and culture has confirmed that a range of government bodies have been censoring Twitter, reports on 13 February said. Abdel Aziz Khoga called on Saudi citizens to “raise their awareness” and monitor their social media activity more carefully, as it was proving increasingly difficult to monitor the three million Twitter subscribers around the kingdom. Under the Sunni monarchy, writer Turki Al-Hamad is one of many journalists in prison under blasphemy charges. He was arrested for insulting Islam in January, after he accused radical Islamists of corrupting Prophet Mohammad’s “message of love” in a Tweet in December 2o12. Online activist Raif Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and was charged with apostasy for his tweet, a sentence which carries the death penalty.

On 14 February, two Nigerian journalists appeared in court for criticising the government’s polio campaign. Yakubu Fagge and Mubarak Sani were charged with criminal conspiracy, abetment, defamation of character, obstruction of a public officer carrying out his duty, intentional insult, and incitement to violence. They plead guilty before judge Ibrahim Bello during their appearance before a senior magistrate court in Gyadi Gyadi, Kano. The pair were arrested after hosting a radio show on Wazobia FM on 6 February, where they alleged the government had forced parents to immunise their children against polio, claiming officials were abusing their power. Fagge and Sani have been granted bail with two sureties each at NGN 100, 000, on the condition the surities are community leaders or heads of department of government organisations. The case was adjourned until 13 March.