Egyptian blogger wins human rights award



 
Egyptian blogger Nora Younis has been awarded a prize by the US-based rights group Human Rights First (HRF) for her activism on human rights issues in her country. It coincides with the 30-year anniversary of HRF and MENASSAT called up the winner from Beirut for a chat.
 
By ALEXANDRA SANDELS
 
nora younis
2008 Human Rights First award recipient, Egyptian blogger Nora Younis. R.R.

BEIRUT, November 10, 2008 (MENASSAT)- Through her videos, photos, and writings, Younis has for some years exposed rights violations in Egypt, including the raid of a Sudanese refugee sit-in in Cairo by Egyptian police in 2005 and the sexual assaults on women in a Cairo demonstration the same year by plainclothes security officers.
 
Her work has been used by various rights groups and media outlets around the world in exposing issues such as sexual harassment and the struggle of the Bahai community in Egypt-topics that previously went largely unnoticed in the mass media or even by Egypt's legal system.
 
Although Younis had captured on film the incident of the women being sexually assualted by plainclothes security officers at a demonstration for Egyptian reform and democracy, her complaint with the public prosecutor was ignored. At the General Prosecutor, Younis was told that the perpetrators could not be identified.
 
Despite her tireless activism, Younis did not imagine she'd receive an award for her work.
 
"I didn't expect it at all. I was definitely surprised when I found out they had chosen me. Their previous honorees included several prominent human rights activists," Younis told MENASSAT over the phone from Cairo.
 
In 2006, HRF gave a posthumous award to the leading Indonesian human activist 'Munir' who in 2004 died while flying to the Netherlands. An autopsy concluded a massive dose of arsenic was in his system at death, casting as prime suspects the employees of the state owned Indonesian airline.

The year before, a leading Sudanese rights defender was awarded the HRF prize.
 
Next generation human rights defenders
 
For the organization's 30-year anniversary, HRF chose to celebrate what they refer to as 'the next generation of human rights defenders,"  hailing Younis' usage of new technology to further and attract attention to her causes.
 
An avid user of micro-blogging programs, photo and videosharing sites in addition to her own blog  norayounis.com, Younis "represents a growing movement of young activists who use who use new media technologies to expose and document human rights abuses," read HRF's dedication to the Egyptian blogger.
 
Younis was honoured at HRF's 30-year anniversary dinner at the end of October along with Oleg Kozlovsky, a Russian activist who also uses the Internet to promote and advocate democratic change in his home country.
 
In Younis' opinion, new media technology increases target groups and broadens the scope of outreach.  It also serves as a good tool for  involving Internet savvy young people in activism Younis says.
 
"It impacts your audience and targets new people from different age groups. It helps to mobilize people, especially those at a younger age."
 
But recent claims from fellow Egyptian activists Wael Abbas and Hossam El-Hamalawy that their accounts on social media sites have been subject to censorship  have made Younis concerned.
 
"Free speech is now struggling on several battlegrounds. Twitter suspended their activities in Egypt. In 2007, YouTube suspended Wael's channel while his Facebook page was recently deleted. And now, Flickr is censoring Hossam El-Hamalawy. Instead of the growing dependency on these companies, we need to develop our own Arab social networks," wrote Younis in a recent blog post.
 
Refugees assault
 
But for the future face of human rights, winning the award represented a bit of travel back in time for the winner herself.
 
On that cold December night back in 2005 with most reporters out of town or on holidays, Younis remembers being one of the few eye witnesses to Egyptian police kicking out a large group of Sudanese refugees from a public park in Cairo's Mohandeseen area with sticks and water canons.
 
The migrants had been staging a sit in a makeshift camp outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since the end of  September that year, seeking to be relocated to other countries.
 
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 20 persons died in the assault.
 
Younis saw it with her own eyes.
 
"I was standing on a balcony and saw how they were dragging bodies out of there," she said.
 
HRW immediately called for an investigation into the incident, stressing the operation might have been the product of a 'high-level policy decision."
 
At the time, Sudanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Kerti joined Egyptian authorities in blaming the refugees some of whom “sought to escalate the situation with no regard to the consequences,” Egypt’s MENA news agency reported.

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For a related article:
Does social networking media curb activism?
Posted on 07/11/2008 - 16:03
Social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr have become invaluable mobilization tools for activists in the Arab world. In April, a group of young activists mobilized thousands of demonstrators on Facebook for a strike in Egypt. But authorities have stepped up regulation of these Internet tools leading some activists to reconsider how new media tools may actually hinder the work of activists in the field. 3monkeys