US campaign to free 20 women prisoners

  • 02/09/2015
Free the 20 campaign (Twitter)
Free the 20 campaign (Twitter)

The United States has launched a campaign to highlight the plight of 20 women around the world it says have been unfairly imprisoned for their views or political activism.

The "Free the 20" drive has been tied to the 20th anniversary of the Beijing declaration, which was signed by 189 countries to promote women's rights as human rights.

Unveiling the program and its promotional hashtag #FreeThe20, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, urged journalists and activists to publicise the 20 cases.

"Free these 20 women, and free the countless women and girls like them behind bars, because these 20 women only represent a tiny fraction of the women currently being unjustly imprisoned," she said.

"And the governments detaining them are just a handful of the governments around the world that are locking up women for exercising their fundamental freedoms."

The 20 names include three Ethiopians, three Chinese and two Azerbaijanis, but Power said no nation had been targeted for - or spared from - inclusion in the campaign.

"You'll see a pretty diverse range of governments represented here," she said.

The first prisoner cited by the campaign is 44-year-old Chinese lawyer Wang Yu, whom Power said had been imprisoned by authorities for fighting for justice for the excluded.

"For her work, Wang has been harassed, threatened and smeared in the state-run media. On July 9, 2015, Wang herself was detained. So was her husband," Power said.

The next woman on the list, who'll be honoured on Wednesday, is Khadija Ismayilova, a 39-year-old Azerbaijani journalist jailed for seven-and-a-half years for tax evasion and other economic crimes.

Washington has strongly protested her trial, noting in particular that the Azerbaijani court had refused to hear exculpatory evidence from her employer, US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Only one of the names on the list is a composite rather than an individual.

Power said the campaign had decided to honour all the women imprisoned unfairly in North Korea as one, so as not to put a named person at risk of retribution.