Political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and China were spotlighted by family members and representatives at the United Nations opening of the 12th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, February 17, 2020.

Dissidents spotlight abuses in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Turkey, China, Pakistan, DR Congo, Venezuela, Vietnam, Mauritania

GENEVA, Feb. 18, 2020 – China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Turkey and Venezuela were among the governments that came under scrutiny today in Geneva, days ahead of the 2020 UN Human Rights Council that opens there on Monday, at an annual assembly of dissidents and families of political prisoners that gives a global platform to victims of the world’s worst abuses.

The 12th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by a cross-regional coalition of 25 human rights groups, began yesterday inside the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, and today concluded its second and final day of testimonies at the city’s nearby international conference center, with hundreds in attendance.

Diego Arria, former Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN and president of the Security Council, spotlighted the Maduro regime’s abuses. Top Russian opposition figure Lyubov Sobol called out Putin’s crushing of dissent. Iranian women’s rights activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh, jailed repeatedly for daring to remove her headscarf, received the 2020 International Women’s Rights award.

Testimonies by the dissidents and victims focused on issues that, under pressure by powerful UNHRC members, will go ignored or insufficiently addressed at next week’s session.

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TESTIMONIES FROM THE 12th GENEVA SUMMIT

Nury TurkelUyghur rights activist and lawyer: “What’s happening in my homeland is not confined there. China’s tools of monitoring and surveillance are spreading across the globe, readily available for authoritarian governments to suppress populations they find bothersome.”

Peter Bhattibrother of Pakistani Minister who was assassinated for supporting Asia Bibi: “My beloved brother Shahbaz Bhatti dedicated his entire life to raising awareness about the plight of Pakistan’s persecuted religious minorities. He was the only person who publicly challenged Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, despite facing threats to his life.”

Lyubov Sobol, top Russian opposition figure: “Putin wants the world to think he represents the Russian people. But there can be no more compelling evidence that his power rests on a lie than his violent crackdown on Russians who demand their representatives be allowed to put that power to the test in free and fair elections.”

Kaveh Shahroozhuman rights lawyer, expert on Iran“Iran is an authoritarian regime that kills dissidents, imposes gender apartheid, and treats certain religious minorities as non-persons under the law.”

Pete Pattissonlabor rights photojournalist: Qatar’s economic model is not built on gas or oil, but the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable workers in the world.”

Yavuz AydinTurkish judge purged by Erdogan: “I went to bed as a judge, and woke up as a terrorist.”

Laritza DiversentCuban human rights lawyer, director of Cubalex legal aid organization: “I was accused of being a foreign mercenary. Our office was raided. They confiscated our telephones and computers. They prevented us from eating for the 11 hours of the raid. Five of us were obliged to strip naked.”

Rebecca Kabuo –  Human rights activist in DR Congo, the youngest prisoner of conscience in the world in 2015: “My country is a member of the UN Human Rights Council — this is a true aberration. There is no democracy, free expression, or right to demonstrate.”

Shaparak Shajarizadeh, Iranian women’s rights activist: “I was arrested for the crime of waving a white flag of peace in the street, only to be punished by the regime and detained in Qarchak prison. I was beaten up and brutalized during the investigation, and thrown into solitary confinement. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”

Memory Banda, activist fighting child marriage in Malawi“My little sister was 11 years old when she got pregnant and was married off to the man who impregnated her. That was it; her childhood robbed from her, her dreams and goals shattered. There are thousands of girls who have been married off, their rights violated and futures destroyed.”

Dennis Chau,son of Vietnamese political prisoner Van Kham Chau: “He’s held in a cell for 23 hours of the day, with 1 hour of exercise permitted. His mental health is deteriorating. We’ve made requests for family visitation, none of which have been granted. My father turned 70 last year, and so with a 12-year sentence, he’ll be 82 when he is released. It is effectively a death sentence.”

Jewher Ilhamdaughter of Uyghur scholar and political prisoner Ilham Tohti: “The Chinese government has locked up my father to keep him quiet, but we are not locked up. We are free to speak.”

Dr. Elham ManeaMiddle East scholar & activist for human rights in Saudi Arabia: “How can we make sense of these reforms when Raif Badawi and his attorney Waleed Abulkhair are still in prison for nothing but peacefully expressing their opinions and demands for reforms?”

Denise HoHong Kong singer and human rights activist: “This is not only a fight for Hong Kong, but a very global fight against a dictatorship that is inflicting its influence in the whole world. This dictatorship that is China.”

Rosa Orozcomother of student Geraldine Moreno killed by Venezuelan troops for protesting: “The National Guard arrived, shooting at the neighbors who were only holding pans and flags. My daughter Geraldine ran up to the guard. But he shot her. Then another guard shot her in the face, and then again from 10 centimeters away.”

Diego Arria,former Venezuelan ambassador to the UN: “It is inexplicable that a criminal Maduro regime could be a member of this organization, the UN Human Rights Council, for the second time.”

Biram Dah AbeidMauritanian anti-slavery activist: “We can only underline the paradox of the Mauritanian state, which in January 2020 joined the Human Rights Council while violating human rights, even the most basic ones.”

Irwin CotlerChair of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights: “Our responsibility is to let victims know that they are not alone, that we will act and march in solidarity with them, until justice is secured, until their freedom is secured.”