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Martin Ennals Award Finalists Chosen for Commitment to Human Rights

FILE - President of Human Right Association (IHD) Eren Keskin (R) speaks to journalists during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, in support of Jamal Khashoggi, Oct. 9, 2018.

Ten leading human rights organizations have chosen three human rights defenders — two from Turkey and Colombia, and a third — a Sudanese refugee in Papua New Guinea--as finalists for the 2019 Martin Ennals Award. The award honors Amnesty International’s secretary-general from 1968 to 1980.

The three human rights defenders won out over 75 candidates because of their stubborn pursuit of justice for the rights of disadvantaged and marginalized people, often at great risk to their personal freedom and lives.

Eren Keskin, a lawyer and human rights activist in Turkey was imprisoned in August 2016 as part of a national sweep one month after an attempted coup against the President.

Director of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Michael Khambatta, tells VOA at the time of her arrest, Keskin was editor-in-chief of a newspaper that dealt with Kurdish issues. He says she was held responsible for many of the published articles and was given a 12-and-one-half-year sentence. This currently is under appeal.

“She has worked on, basically on women’s issues, everything from sexual assault in prison to — that is one where she actually created an organization," he said. "She works on LGBTI issues and Kurdish issues and also on the Armenian genocide. Those have been her four main priorities since 1996.”

The second nominee, Marino Cordoba Berrio, a member of the Afro-Colombian ethnic group, has been fighting for his peoples’ right of ownership over their land. Khambatta says he has faced threats and attacks from powerful land owners interested in exploiting the land for commercial logging and mining.

The last nominee, Abdul Aziz Muhamat is from Darfur in Sudan. He fled to the capital Khartoum, got into trouble as a student activist and fled again to Australia seeking asylum. He has been in detention on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea for the past five years.

Khambatta says Muhamat has been advocating for the hundreds of men who are living in horrid, punitive conditions on the island. He does this through the skillful use of social media and podcasts.

“He keeps things peaceful and he has been a voice to the wider world, particularly to Australia on the impact and consequences…The real thing that he highlights is not so much the actual conditions of the camp, but the fact that they have nowhere to go and they have no future,” said Khambatta.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, will announce the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award February 13. The winner will receive a cash prize of $30,000. The two runners-up will receive $10,000 each.