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Updates from May 2021

Dear friends and colleagues,

The month of May is internationally recognised as the mental health awareness month. I would like to reflect on the importance of ensuring wellbeing for human rights defenders (HRDs), particularly in this precarious time as the continent grapples with a second wave of the pandemic.

Added to the numerous challenges HRDs face in the course of their work, is coping amidst a pandemic. COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives with increased restrictions on freedom of movement, adjusting to the new realities of working from home, unemployment, minimised contact with family members and loved ones. Additionally, some government authorities have misused regulations aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus to further restrict fundamental rights and freedoms. We have witnessed increased cases of assault, sometimes murder, arbitrary arrests, and detention to mention but a few, following excessive use of force by authorities to enforce these regulations.

These challenges do strain our wellbeing causing increased fear and anxiety. If not checked, this can be detrimental to our health and work. I often say a human rights defender is only useful when alive. It is therefore important that we look after our mental health in addition to our physical health. Selfcare is a crucial element in sustaining activism. DefendDefenders prioritises the wellbeing of HRDs who are often at the frontline, defending the rights of others at the expense of their personal welfare. As a result, they are vulnerable to psychosocial breakdown and depression.

DefendDefenders has planned a series of activities throughout June to highlight the importance of wellbeing. I implore you to seek help and prioritise self-care as you carry out your vital work.

Yours in solidarity,  

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted in the conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Updates from DefendDefenders:


  • DefendDefenders is preparing for the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC47, 21 June-15 July 2021). Read the letter we prepared, together with 30+ NGO partners, calling on the Council to extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and to request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on Tigray violations.
  • At HRC47, DefendDefenders will also support the adoption of a resolution on “civil society space.” We emphasise the need for all states to use civic space indicators to objectively assess human rights situations, and civic space restrictions as early warning signs of crises.
  • During the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Somalia, we issued a press release emphasising the need for the international community to use Somalia’s review to send a clear message: there will be no democratic and stable Somalia without an open civic space.
  • DefendDefenders hosted two workshops for Ugandan civil society organisations working on environment and climate change, and transitional justice, to equip them with knowledge on the UPR process ahead of Uganda’s review in February 2022.
  • DefendDefenders tech team conducted four trainings for 68 HRDs. Additionally, they organised two joint trainings with security management.
  • The DefendDefenders tech team attended a social media master class training with Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications.
  • DefendDefenders protection team conducted three trainings. It also took part in an information session meeting hosted by the International Criminal Court, and attended an European Union delegation meeting in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania.
  • In May we received 34 requests for support, 18 were approved, eight were rejected, two were referred and six are pending.
  • AfricanDefenders launched the #Resilience4Peace online campaign. The campaign underlines the impact of HRD’s work towards sustainable peace in conflict areas, and the challenges they face.
  • Between 26-29 May, AfricanDefenders organised a workshop for hub cities coordinators to gain a better understanding of the emerging challenges faced by HRDs during relocation.
  • AfricanDefenders team conducted two missions; in Ghana, to explore the possibility of expanding the hub cities, and in Burkina Faso to assess the gaps in protection capacity as well as resources required to strengthen the national coalition for human rights defenders in Burkina Faso.
  • AfricanDefenders additionally attended a civil society consultation on the implementation of law 029 (2017) on the protection of human rights defenders in Burkina Faso.

Human rights updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region:


  • On 11 May 2021, human rights defender, Nestor Nibitangi was released following a presidential pardoning. Nibitangi was arrested in November 2017 and sentenced to five years in prison for “threatening security” and “rebellion”. His arrest was reportedly related to his work with Association the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH).


  • On 9 May 2021, security personnel violently dispersed and shot teargas at thousands of Muslim believers who converged on Meskel Square, a public square in Addis Ababa, for a Grand Iftar celebration planned by the Ethiopian-Muslim community of Addis Ababa. The mayor issued an apology on behalf of the city after videos and images from the event depicting the chaotic scenes caused outrage.

  • On 9 May 2021, a reporter and coordinator for the Oromo Broadcasting Network, Sisay Fida, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen on his way home from a wedding. The deputy director of peace and security suspects that the Aba Torbe, a hit squad linked to the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) armed group, is responsible. Odaa Tarbii, a spokesperson for the OLA, stated the group was not.

  • On 20 May 2021, Ethiopian authorities deported New York Times journalist Simon Marks. Marks was detained after he was summoned by officials to meet in Addis Ababa, and the authorities held him for eight hours before he was deported. The official reason for his deportation remains unknown, although authorities had previously claimed that Marks’s reporting was “unbalanced.”


  • Police officials fired teargas canisters at Mariel Müller, Deutsche Welle East Africa journalist on 1 May 2021. One canister wounded her leg and the other grazed her. Müller was reporting on the demonstration against police brutality during the lockdown.

  • Several protests were held in Kenya in solidarity with Palestinians. On 13 May 2021, approximately 200 people, mostly Muslims demonstrated against the bombing of Palestine by Israel after Eid prayers in Nairobi. The police arrested several protestors and dispersed the peaceful protest with teargas.  

  • On 24 May 2021, police officers arrested nine journalists for covering a story on evictions in Makima. Reportedly, the police confiscated the journalist’s equipment and manhandled them. They were released without charges on 25 May 2021.


  • On 23 May 2021, Ntamuhanga Cassien, a former Rwandese journalist was allegedly abducted in Mozambique, where he had been living in exile. The Association of Rwandan Refugees in Mozambique (ARRM) claimed that Cassien was abducted by eight Mozambican officers and one alleged Rwandese official. The ARRM suspects that the officers are working with the Rwandese government to return Cassien to Rwanda. The Mozambican police reported that they had no records of the arrest.


  • On 16 May 2021, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) officers assaulted and threatened Fardowso Mohamud Sahal, a reporter from radio Kulmiye while covering a protest. Parents protested “missing” young men who were allegedly recruited and sent to Eritrea by the Somali government. The authorities reportedly ordered all journalists to stop covering the protest and leave immediately before assaulting Sahal.


  • On 11 May 2021, protestors gathered in Khartoum to demand justice for the victims of the 2019 anti-government protests.  Sudanese security forces killed at least two people and injured several others during the protest. Witness reports suggest that soldiers were beating protesters and shooting indiscriminately. On 15 May 2021, the Attorney General stated that seven security personnel accused of attacking protestors have been arrested and charged with murder and crimes against humanity.


  • On 29 May 2021, Abubakar Fambo, activist and lead member of UKUKAMATA– a national lobby group for constitutional review in Tanzania, was arrested by five unidentified men suspected to be state agents. His arrest is reportedly linked with UKUKAMATA’s planned nationwide activities seeking to reform the constitution. His whereabouts remain unknown.


  • According to the National Unity Party (NUP), 35 journalists were assaulted while covering opposition party activities. On 4 May 2021, NUP called on the judiciary to deliver justice to the journalists who continue to face harassment from authorities.

  • On 10 May 2021, the army surrounded the homes of opposition leaders Robert Kyagulanyi and Kizza Besigye ahead of President Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration ceremony on 12 May 2021. Additionally, the army arrested 41 people for allegedly planning to disrupt the inauguration ceremony, the army claimed the arrests were used as preventative measures to deter disruption of the ceremony.

  • On 10 May 2021, the Magistrate Court adjourned a case of four radio Simba presenters who were charged under Section 41 of the Penal Code Act for promoting Sectarianism to 10 June 2021. On 5 March 2021, the authorities detained and arrested the four journalists incommunicado for a week. The prosecution accused them of posting content on their social media that indicated that most leaders are from the Banyakole tribe, which would incite citizen’s discontent towards the tribe.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.