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IFEX members call for protection of women journalists and activists to commemorate day against violence

Alaíde Foppa
Alaíde Foppa

In 1980, the Guatemalan poet, journalist and women's rights activist Alaíde Foppa was detained and then disappeared by security forces. Thirty years later the authorities have yet to launch an inquiry and no one has been arrested in connection with her disappearance. This year, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, 44 IFEX members are standing up for Foppa and other women in the free expression community who have been targeted because of their gender.

In Foppa's case, the Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA) is joining her family by pressing Guatemala's Supreme Court of Justice to order an inquiry and identify her kidnappers.

In a statement delivered to some of the highest-level international authorities on women - the UN Women's Council, and the special rapporteur on violence against women to name a few - 44 IFEX members, including those on the IFEX Gender Working Group, call attention to the many other women journalists and activists from all over the world who are harassed, threatened and even murdered for daring to speak out.

In Colombia, for example, human rights activist Norma Irene Perez was murdered in August, shortly after she participated in a demonstration calling for an investigation into a mass grave allegedly housing several thousand Colombians killed by the military.

Then there are the women in cyberspace, with a disturbing trend this year of the "increased intimidation, assault and imprisonment of female bloggers." In Vietnam, authorities arrested Le Nguyen Huong Tra, for allegedly defaming a senior Communist Party official, while Lu Thi Thu Trang, an Internet activist associated with a pro-democracy group, was beaten by police officers in front of her five-year-old son.

Iran, which recently lost a bid for a seat on the UN Women council, is known for its appalling treatment of women. "There are so many women in prison in Iran that we cannot list them all," said the statement. One of them is Sussan Tahmasebi, a founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign that rallies support for an end to Iran's gender-biased laws, who has been harassed by security forces and was banned from travelling abroad for more than two years because of her work. For her dedication to making women's rights a national priority in Iran, she was honoured with the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism last month.

Conversely, in a country with a good reputation for promoting women's rights, Tunisia, activists, journalist and lawyers "are frequently subjected to smear campaigns, including some being disparaged as prostitutes," says the statement.

Meanwhile, in the Gambia, authorities arrested women's rights activist and journalist Amie Bojang-Sissoho and Dr. Isatou Touray with the Gambia Committee on Traditional Harmful Practices, an organisation that promotes women and girls' empowerment and campaigns against female genital mutilation and other discriminatory practices. They were freed only after international media drew attention to their case but they remain on trial for reporting on violence against women.

Not only do the cases illustrate the severity of the violence these women face, but they also highlight "a culture of impunity and weak judicial systems" - the majority of crimes against women often go uninvestigated and unpunished, say the members. Russia is a case in point: the murder investigations of two outspoken women journalists have stalled: Natalya Estemirova, who was reporting on rights abuses in Chechyna at the time of her murder in July 2009, and "Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The 44 IFEX members are seeking justice for the attacks on these women journalists and to protect those who are threatened. They urge national governments, police agencies and employers to condemn the violence, conduct thorough investigations into the murders and attacks, invest in gender-related education programmes and work to protect those women who are threatened for their work or because they are women.

Click here to see the list and stories of female journalists, writers and activists targeted for carrying out their profession in 2010.
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