Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi’s name must have been written down many times yesterday. Like that of Elkin Musaev, a former Uzbekistani Ministry of Defence official, or United States army soldier Chelsea Manning. They are serving 10, 20 and 35 years in prison respectively. Amnesty International calls them prisoners of conscience, imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion or political views.
On Human Rights Day, Wednesday 10 December, Amnesty International organised its annual global letter writing marathon. At eight different stations in Maastricht, including the School of Business and Economics, you could sit down between 11.30 and 13.00, pick up a pencil and write a personal letter to prisoners like Moses Akatugba from Nigeria. He was accused of armed robbery. He says he confessed to the crime after being tortured. Erkin Musaev was arrested in 2006 while working for a UN agency and charged with spying and misusing UN funds. Raif Badawi was recently sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison: the judge said his website ridicules Islam. After his arrest, Badawi’s wife and three children fled to Canada. Amnesty Netherlands holds regular protests at the Saudi embassy, with posters reading ‘10 years 1000 lashes just for blogging’.
Maastricht recently became a Dutch ‘Shelter City’, like Nijmegen, Amsterdam and other cities. From next spring, it will shelter two human rights defenders from a temporarily threatening situation for three months (four people over the next two years). They will be able to rest, continue their work in a safe environment, give lectures and follow study programmes. This is a joint initiative of Maastricht University, the municipality and the organisation Justice and Peace Netherlands.