Fighters: Dokka Itslaev of the Human Rights Defenders of North Caucasus (from left), Roberto Patino from Venezuela’s Student Movement and Radwan Ziadeh of the Damascus Center for Human Rights in Syria chat on the sidelines of the 6th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Jakarta on Wednesday. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
Hundreds of participants in the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) symposium in Jakarta have signed a petition calling for the release of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and a fair trial for Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim.
Kim Campbell, a member of the steering committee of the WMD and former prime minister of Canada said, the issue of progress towards democracy in Malaysia and Myanmar had loomed over the symposium that brought together 600 activists from around 110 countries.
Former deputy prime minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim, who also addressed the WMD in Jakarta, has been facing a trial over accusations of sexual harassment against an aide. Meanwhile, Myanmar is likely to see no change in its upcoming elections as the opposition leader Suu Kyi has been barred from running from office under new poll regulations.
“We call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a fair trial for Anwar Ibrahim. The petition will be presented to the ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan,” said Campbell.
Democracy in Southeast Asia has hogged the spotlight in the WMD 6th symposium as human rights activists have been sharing information on the latest situations in their home countries. Besides Malaysia and Myanmar, recent bloody uprising in Thailand has also grabbed attention with much sympathy for the embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Protests in Thailand have claimed the lives of over 20 people, including a journalist and soldiers.
Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, said the Thai government had a reputation for non-violence and the recent death toll had hinted at the scale of the urgency forcing the government to take action.
Khin Maung Win, deputy director for the Democratic Voice of Burma, said the Thai crisis was the fault of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has financed protests.
The WMD also presented honors to four worldwide democracy activists on Wednesday for their efforts to advance freedom and democracy amid government crack-downs.
Iran’s Mahnaz Afkhami, Russia’s Dokka Itslaev, Venezuela’s Roberto Patino and Syria’s Radwan Ziadeh will receive the John Boyce Hurford honor. Hurford was a philanthropist who helped form WMD.
Mahnaz was a lecturer in literature before becoming involved in the women’s movement, which has put her life under constant threat. Mahnaz has been involved in the “One Million Signatures Campaign” to end gender inequality in Iran.
Mahnaz said, “the campaign aimed at collecting one million signatures in support of granting women equal legal status as men”. At present, men have the sole right to divorce and except in special cases, the right to custody of children. “
Dokka Itslaev from Russia’s Memorial Chechnya has been working on promoting human rights in the North Caucasus, which has been under close government control over a local insurgency. “The government has continued to clamp down on journalists and freedom movement activists,” said Dokka. Dokka pointed to the death of one Memorial Chechnya activist, Natalia Estermirova, last year.
Roberto Patino from Venezuela is a student movement leader in the Caracas’s Student Federation of Simon Bolivar University. The 21 year old student of manufacturing engineering has been involved in the student freedom movement since he was 17 and the peace movement.
Radwan Ziadeh from Syria has been living in exile in the US for years since the government blacklisted him for his vocal opposition to injustice.