In Sudan, 80 political opposition supporters and human rights defenders were released in February. This followed intense campaigning by us and others, after at least 140 people had been arbitrarily arrested by the Sudanese Intelligence and Security Service in January and February. They were all arrested in connection with protests around Sudan against rises in the cost of food and medicine.
“My family and I thank you for your strong support during the period of [my] detention… Now I am back at home.”
Mohammad Abdalla Aldoma, Deputy Chair, National Umma Party
On 13 January, Egyptian human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Mahienour el-Masry, as well as labour activist Moatasem Medhat, were acquitted of all charges by a court of Appeals in Alexandria. Egyptian authorities released Mahienour on 16 January and Moatasem on 18 January. They were detained on 18 November 2017 and sentenced on 30 December to two years’ imprisonment for taking part in a peaceful protest. Thank you to all of you who sent appeals.
Five pro-democracy activists who were held in the Democratic Republic of Congo for participating in a peaceful protest were released on 20 March. A court in Goma found them not guilty of the false charges they had been accused of. Rachel Pilipili, François Kahombo Hangi, Justin Mutabesha, Benjamin Kamuntu and Parfait Muhani are all members of the youth movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA). They were arbitrarily detained on 21 January. We considered them to be prisoners of conscience. Thank you for sending your appeals.
Eleven doctors who are members of the Turkish Medical Association’s Central Council were released from police detention, three of them on 2 February, the remaining eight on 5 February. The doctors had been detained on 30 January after the association had called for an end to Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, northern Syria. An investigation against them is still ongoing; we’re calling for the investigation to be dropped.
Chinese independent writers Li Xuewen and Zhan Huidong (aka “Xiaozhang” or “Headmaster”) have been released on bail. The two men were detained for participating in the July 2017 seaside memorial for late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Li Xuewen was released on 15 January and Zhan Huidong was released on 23 January. Both men had been criminally detained since December 2017 on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”. We’ll continue to monitor the situation.
“The detention has left an indelible mark in my life and brought glory to my soul.” Zhan Huidong.
On 21 February, the Benin authorities commuted the death sentences of 14 men. The prisoners were 10 Beninese, two Nigerians, one Togolese and one Ivorian. They had been languishing on death row under grim conditions for between 18 to 20 years. The men were the last ones to be on death row in Benin which effectively abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2016. Thank you for supporting our global petition for the commutation of their death sentences.
On 15 February, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was released from prison in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, after a court reduced her sentence. Teodora suffered a stillbirth in 2007. Under El Salvador’s extreme anti-abortion laws she was charged with aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The sentence was reduced in February after she had spent 10 years behind bars. A huge thank you to everyone who supported Teodora’s case as part of our Write for Rights 2015 campaign and to all who continued to call for her freedom!
Our October 2017 report on the inhumane conditions in special prison carriages used to transport prisoners in Russia forced the authorities to acknowledge the need to reform the prisoner transport system. Prisoners are transported thousands of miles, often for weeks on end, in cramped, windowless train compartments. You supported us in influencing public concern and in January 2018, the Russian prison service announced it would no longer transport passengers who require wheelchairs in cell-like coaches, a small but important step in the right direction.