2005 Civil Courage Prize Honorees
Min Ko Naing
An indomitable campaigner for democracy in Burma, he endured 15 years of imprisonment, suffering torture and solitary confinement.
Released from prison by the Burmese government in 2004, Min Ko Naing was re-arrested in September 2006, along with four activists, and is currently being detained in isolation by Burmese Authorities.
A Russian journalist, she reported on the atrocities of war in Chechnya in the face of death threats, intimidation, and poisoning.
On October 7th, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed at the Moscow apartment block where she lived. She was 48 years old. Her murder has sparked a worldwide outcry from advocates for press freedom, political and human rights leaders.
Munir Said Thalib (posthumous)
Indonesia's leading human rights activist, he exposed "disappearances," corruption, and other abuses until his murder by arsenic poisoning.
Indonesia's Supreme Court recently overturned the conviction of the only person apprehended for Munir's murder. On October 16, 2006 Human Rights First presented its annual award to Munir and his widow, Suciwati, in recognition of their contribution to human rights and of the need of accountability in his case.
An Award Ceremony was held in New York City on 11 October 2005.
Year 2005 Award Recipients
Min Ko Naing is a leading figure in the Burmese pro-democracy movement. As one of the original founders and past chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), his stature as political dissident has been widely regarded as second only to that of Nobel Prize laureate and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Min Ko Naing — a pseudonym meaning "Conqueror of Kings" — was imprisoned for over fifteen years by the Burmese government, following his 1989 arrest for coordination of non-violent resistance.
As a student at the University of Rangoon in the late 1980s, Min Ko Naing secretly founded the ABFSU along with other student activists. Civil unrest erupted in 1988 in response to worsening economic conditions under a martial dictatorship. Min Ko Naing emerged as a leader of the nationwide non-violent uprising, in which millions marched throughout Burma demanding democracy and an end to decades-long military rule.
The Burmese army responded to the uprising with violent suppression, killing hundreds of student demonstrators. The military reasserted power under a new government, called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law decrees were issued, including a ban on any criticism of the military and any public gathering of more than five people. Min Ko Naing went underground, where he continued his organizing work for the student unions. Reportedly, he was offered sanctuary with the armed resistance, the All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), but refused. Min Ko Naing has always maintained a commitment to non-violence in the resistance movement.
After months of evading the Burmese Military Intelligence, Min Ko Naing was arrested, along with many other student activists, on March 23, 1989. He was sentenced to a 20-year prison term, which was later commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty. He was kept in prison a full five years after his 10-year sentence had been completed.
Min Ko Naing was severely tortured during the early stages of his detention. He was forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, leaving his left foot totally numb. For most of his imprisonment he was held in complete solitary confinement. In 1998, he was moved from Insein Prison near Rangoon to Sittwe Prison, 590 miles away, making it extremely difficult for his family to visit him during the last six years of his sentence. In the mid-1990s, Min Ko Naing was visited by both a U.S. congressman, as well as a U.N. special human rights investigator.
In response to international pressure, the military released Min Ko Naing from prison on November 20, 2004. He is currently recovering with his elderly parents and siblings in Rangoon. He has asked that his portion of the Prize money be donated to a worthy not-for-profit organization.
Min Ko Naing was represented at the 11 October ceremony by Bo Kyi, a long-time colleague and founder of the assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi was arrested with Min Ko Naing on March 23, 1989, though he was able to escape. He became a central executive committee member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. In 1990, however, he was imprisoned by the regime for three years, suffering torture and forced to do hard labor. Upon his release, he refused to become an informer and was imprisoned again, this time for five years. In 1999 he fled to the Thai-Burma border where he founded the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an organization that documents and disseminates information on the situation of political prisoners in Burma.
Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who reported on the atrocities of war in Chechnya in the face of death threats, intimidation, and poisoning.
On October 7th, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed at the Moscow apartment block where she lived. She was 48 years old. Her murder has sparked worldwide outcries from advocates of press freedom. She had been a fierce critic of the Kremlin and in particular its policies in Chechnya. Many in Russia and further afield are voicing the belief that her death was a political killing.
Anna Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and author of several books including Putin's Russia and The Dirty War. For over six years, she reported on the plight of Chechnya's civilian population, which has been under military assault since 1994.
Politkovskaya maintained a critical stance against President Vladimir Putin at a time when the Russian free media has been highly suppressed by the government. In February of 2000, the FSB (former KGB) arrested Politkovskaya in Chechnya and imprisoned her in a pit without food or water for three days.
Politkovskaya reported on atrocities by both rebels and Russian troops, and on the plight of Chechen refugees. She was instrumental in documenting the use of zachistka — a Russian word meaning "mop-up" — to repress the Chechen population. During a zachistka, young men — or any others considered suspicious — are rounded up from their homes, detained, sometimes tortured, and often executed.
Politkovskaya acted as a mediator during the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in October 2002. Russian special forces put an end to the two-day stand off when they gassed the theater, killing 41 Chechen terrorists and 129 hostages.
In September 2004, Politkovskaya was in flight to Rostov to cover the Beslan school hostage crisis, when she lost consciousness after drinking a cup of tea she had ordered on the plane. Politkovskaya was told that she was poisoned, though doctors at the hospital in Rostov were ordered to destroy the tests. She believes that the FSB was trying to prevent her from reporting on the events of the siege, which resulted in 344 casualties, half of them children.
In addition to the 2005 Civil Courage Prize, she received the courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation in 2002, as well as awards from the Overseas Press Club and Amnesty International.
Munir Said Thalib (posthumous) was Indonesia's best-known human rights campaigner. Remembered for the unassuming manner that cloaked his fearless determination, he emerged as a prominent human rights activist in the months before the 1998 ouster of Suharto, Indonesia's longtime dictator. He formed a group to investigate the disappearance of activists at the hands of security forces and went on to become a searing critic of the Indonesian military, in particular of abuses in the regions of East Timor, Aceh and Papua. At 38, he was murdered by arsenic poisoning in September 2004, en route to Amsterdam to take up a scholarship to study international law at Utrecht University. His alleged killer was identified in August 2005 in press reports, which also allege the killer to have ties to the Indonesian security services.
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Priscilla Clapp, former Charges de Affaires at the US embassy in Burma; NPF Trustee Ann Brownell Sloane; NPF Chairman John Train; and Min Ko Naing representative Bo Kyi.
2005 Honoree Anna Politkovskaya (center) with Sonya Fry of the Overseas Press Club, and guest.
Min Ko Naing in Yangon November, 2004, after his release (AFP).
Anna Politkovskya, uncredited photo.
Munir Said Thalib (photo: Aljazeera.net).