Honouring unsung heroes
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Honouring unsung heroes

Visitors at the exhibition They Defend Our Freedoms – 30 years of the Sakharov Prize at the Parliament in Valletta.

Visitors at the exhibition They Defend Our Freedoms – 30 years of the Sakharov Prize at the Parliament in Valletta.

The daily lives of four human rights activists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Tunisia are documented in an exhibition marking 30 years of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s award to individuals and organisations for their exceptional contribution to human rights and fairer societies.

The exhibition, entitled They Defend Our Freedoms, has toured major European cities including Vienna, Milan, London and Geneva, and is now on display at the Parliament of Malta.

The lives of the four unsung heroes are presented through the lens of photographers from the internationally renowned agency Magnum Photos.

French photographer Jerome Sessini gives a black and white portrait of Samrith Vaing of Cambodia, a 35-year-old who supports the fight of Bunong − a minority ethnic group and one of the country’s 24 communities − against the land grabbing from multinational companies.

The work of Asma Kaouech, a Tunisian lawyer in her 20s, is captured by Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian.

Since the 2011 Spring revolution, Ms Kaouech has tried to help young, unemployed people tempted by crime or who are on the verge of radicalisation through theatre and the arts. Ms Tavakolian reveals the struggles and hopes of the new generation of Tunisians through her 25 photos on display.

Asma Kaouech, 25, who leads the Fani Raghman Ani group, an association defending human rights in Tunisia. Photo: Newsha TavakolianAsma Kaouech, 25, who leads the Fani Raghman Ani group, an association defending human rights in Tunisia. Photo: Newsha Tavakolian

Albanian photographer Enri Canaj follows the life and work of Ethiopian lawyer Ameha Mekonnen, a former public service employee who is now at the head of the Human Rights Council, an organisation that defends the right for journalists and bloggers to express their opinions freely.

And Belgian photographer Bieke Depoorter shows the deep intimacy behind the daily work of Jadranka Miličević, a former refugee of the Balkans War who fled in 1992 from Sarajevo to Serbia and founded two NGOs − Cure and Care − to help empower women victims of violence and discrimination.

In a foreword to an anniversary book accompanying the exhibition, Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, says that the Sakharov Prize is as relevant nowadays as it was when South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and Soviet author and human rights activist Anatoli Martchenko (posthumously) first received the award in 1988.

He refers to global terrorism which “threatens our citizens’ most basic freedoms” and freedom of the press which has “come under threat in many countries where governments try to silence and oppress journalists”.

This year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded to Oleg Sentsov, a  Ukrainian film director detained in May 2014 in Simferopol, Crimea, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian de facto rule in Crimea. The award ceremony will be held in Strasbourg on December 12.

Announcing this year’s laureate last month, Mr Tajani said: “Through his courage and determination, by putting his life in danger, the film-maker has become a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world.

“By awarding him the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament is expressing its solidarity with him and his cause. We ask that he be released immediately. His struggle reminds us that it is our duty to defend human rights everywhere in the world and in all circumstances.”

Young actresses and actors, working with the Fani Raghman Ani group, performing in a street theatre about the 2011 Arab revolution and the violence that followed. Photo: Newsha TavakolianYoung actresses and actors, working with the Fani Raghman Ani group, performing in a street theatre about the 2011 Arab revolution and the violence that followed. Photo: Newsha Tavakolian

30 years of the Sakharov Prize

• Anti-apartheid activist and later South African President, Nelson Mandela, was the first winner of the Sakharov Prize in 1988, when he was still in prison.

• Malala Yousafzai is, so far, the only girl to win the prize (2013) for defending girls’ right of education against the Taliban.

• Gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner together with Nadia Murad, received the Sakharov Prize in 2014 for his fight for the protection of women in his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war.

• Ms Murad won the Sakharov Prize in 2016 for raising awareness of the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority subjected to genocidal campaign by Islamic State militants.

• The Sakharov Prize brought to attention the stories of relatively unknown names such as that of Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian human rights lawyer who was awarded in 2005 for her pro-bono work defending people condemned under the Islamic Sharia laws.

• Reporters Without Borders (2005) and the Belarussian Association of Journalists (2004) were among the entities awarded for advocating freedom of the press.

• Among the Sakharov laureates who visited Malta are Arab Spring activists Ahmed Al-Senussi and Ali Ferzat, who won the 2011 award as representatives of the Arab people, in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights.

• This year’s winner is Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov. He was detained in May 2014 in Simferopol, Crimea, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian de facto rule in Crimea.

The exhibition, a joint collaboration between the European Parliament Liaison Office and the Parliament of Malta, is on at the Parliament building until Sunday. Entrance is free of charge. Presentation of ID documentation is required for access to the venue. The exhibition will then travel to Madrid and Washington, DC.

Gathering of the bloggers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From left: Nathenael Feleqe, 30, detained for one year and six months; Atnafw Brhane, 28, arrested in 2014 and detained for 541 days; Mahlet Fantahun, 33, arrested in 2015, detained for 15 months, and journalist Getacheuv Shiferaw 32, arrested several times. His case is still pending. Photo: Enri CanajGathering of the bloggers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From left: Nathenael Feleqe, 30, detained for one year and six months; Atnafw Brhane, 28, arrested in 2014 and detained for 541 days; Mahlet Fantahun, 33, arrested in 2015, detained for 15 months, and journalist Getacheuv Shiferaw 32, arrested several times. His case is still pending. Photo: Enri Canaj

Portraits at the Human Rights Council (HRCO) office of the people who were killed or wounded by the authorities in Ethiopia. Photo: Enri CanajPortraits at the Human Rights Council (HRCO) office of the people who were killed or wounded by the authorities in Ethiopia. Photo: Enri Canaj

A Bunong woman selling her natural products at a market in Stung Treng, Cambodia, in July 2017. Because of Chinese dam constructions and deforestation, the indigenous communities are facing the threat of forced evictions from their ancestral lands by the Cambodian government. Photo: Jerome SessiniA Bunong woman selling her natural products at a market in Stung Treng, Cambodia, in July 2017. Because of Chinese dam constructions and deforestation, the indigenous communities are facing the threat of forced evictions from their ancestral lands by the Cambodian government. Photo: Jerome Sessini

Preah Vihea province in Cambodia. Photo: Jerome SessiniPreah Vihea province in Cambodia. Photo: Jerome Sessini

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