On September 27, nations from around the world will take part in the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United Nations. The event aims to advance women's rights. But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power recently deplored the fact that “women whose critically important voices will be missing from the dialogue around the Beijing+20 conference.” Why? Because they have been imprisoned by their governments for advancing human rights.
One of those who will be absent is Gao Yu, the 71-year-old Chinese journalist, who was sentenced to seven years in jail in April 2015 on charges of “leaking state secrets overseas.” Her April, 2014 arrest came as authorities detained dozens of rights defenders ahead of the 25th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Ms. Gao was reportedly targeted for sending foreign media a Communist Party document warning cadres to resist Western values that was known to be widely available online. She is reportedly in poor health.
Another woman whose voice will be missing at the meeting is Aster Yohannes, the wife of an imprisoned Eritrean political activist. She was arrested in 2003 upon returning from the United States. Ms. Yohannes' husband, Petros Solomon, was arrested in 2001 along with other members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who had called for reforms. The Government of Eritrea has held Aster in incommunicado detention without trial. Her whereabouts are unknown.
Leyla Yunus, an internationally prominent and award winning human rights activist from Azerbaijan has also been silenced by authorities. Ms. Yunas has been at the forefront of calling out corruption and political persecution by the government of Azerbaijan and fighting to advance women’s rights. Last month she was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison after being detained since April 2014 on charges of espionage, treason, and tax evasion.
These are just a few of the many women around the world who are in prison for exercising their fundamental human rights. Speaking to all these women, Ambassador Power said, "We have not forgotten about you. We will keep pressing for your governments to free you. . . .We will insist on reminding the world how much we lose when your voices are silenced – today and every day that you are behind bars."