Cablegate: Yemen: Nomination for 2010 International Women Of
DE RUEHYN #2080/01 3220703
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 180703Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3226
UNCLAS SANAA 002080
S/GWI FOR IMARR AND JSOSNE
NEA/ARP FOR AMACDONALD
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KWMN PREL KPAO PHUM YM
SUBJECT: YEMEN: NOMINATION FOR 2010 INTERNATIONAL WOMEN OF
REF: STATE 111471
Nominee: TAWAKUL A. KARMAN
Title: President, Women Journalists Without Chains
Date of Birth: TBD
Country of Birth: Yemen
Languages: Arabic (fluent), English (limited proficiency)
Notification: Not yet notified of nomination.
Post Contact: Political Officer Faith Meyers
In a country where the vast majority of women walk around
veiled head-to-toe in black, few leave the house without a
male escort and even fewer work outside the home, journalist
and human rights activist Tawakul Karman stands apart from
the crowd. Tawakul, chairman of the local non-governmental
organization Women Journalists Without Chains, is a prominent
defender of freedom of the press and human rights in Yemen.
She is foremost among her colleagues - both male and female -
in speaking out against injustice and has inspired scores of
other women activists to join her in protest, despite the
risks. Tawakul has broken other gender barriers as well; she
is an active member in the opposition Islah party's highest
decision-making body. While Islah is considered a moderate
Islamist political party, some of its hard-line members do
not see eye-to-eye with women activists like Tawakul. She
has struggled to put issues of reform - including women's
rights under Islam - at the top of the party platform.
Receiving intimidating threats and suffering bodily harm has
only empowered Tawakul in her pursuit of justice and freedom
Tawakul has actively campaigned for freedom of the press for
many years, first as a journalist and then as an activist.
Tawakul was the first activist to launch the so-called "Phase
of Protests and Sit-Ins" in the country. From July 2007
through the present day, Tawakul and other human rights
activists and defenders of freedom of the press hold a weekly
sit-in in Sana'a's "Freedom Square" in front of the
headquarters of the Cabinet of Ministers. In addition to
being the primary organizer of these sit-ins, Tawakul also
created the concept of Freedom Square - a small area in front
of the Cabinet that has become the primary location for
Yemenis to protest against injustice and express their
grievances to the government.
As a result of the sharp escalation in violations of freedom
of expression - including attacks on journalists, closure of
newspapers, censorship of articles deemed "illegal" by the
government of Yemen, and the disappearance of a prominent
journalist - Tawakul began to use her weekly demonstrations
to protest the disappearances and imprisonment of journalists
and human rights activists across Yemen. Ignoring
intimidation from the security services and threatening phone
calls, she delivers speeches calling for the release of
kidnapped journalists and for the re-opening of independent
newspapers shut down by the government. Tawakul's bravery
has inspired scores of other women activists to join her in
challenging the government to afford Yemenis their basic
rights - whether at protests in Sana'a, demonstrations across
Yemen's southern governorates or marches in the western city
In her writings, Tawakul advocates for freedom of the press
and defends human rights, including the rights of women. She
has received frequent threats on her own life and the lives
of her young children resulting from her work as a woman
activist. Tawakul agreed to testify during Yemen's Universal
Periodic Review of Human Rights in Geneva in 2009, which
subjected her to further scrutiny and harassment. Her
courage, as a wife and mother as well as a human rights
activist, has shown Yemen's women that they can take an
active role in the political and social life in their country
without giving up traditional values.
She has been frequently attacked and beaten by the security
services in the course of her activism:
- She was beaten by policemen in 2005 during a sit-in before
a court in Sana'a in support of a human rights lawyer.
- She and other protesters were attacked by security
personnel during a sit-in in July 2007 in Freedom Square.
- In November 2008, she was bodily removed from Freedom
Square by 30 policemen.
- In September 2009, Tawakul and another woman activist were
attacked by military personnel who took their banners and
broke a camera they were using at a sit-in for press freedoms.
In her political activism as well, Tawakul has advanced the
participation of women and defense of basic human rights.
She is one of a small number of women on the Shura Council
(the top legislative body) of Islah, a moderate Islamist
opposition party. She is among the party's top young
reformers, working to promote Islah's political and social
role and productive relationship with civil society
organizations. Tawakul has worked hard to ensure that women
play a strong role in the party's organization and
activities, and has challenged the party's hard-liners to
advance this purpose.
Tawakul's selection for the 2010 International Women of
Courage Award would send a powerful message to the people and
government of Yemen of U.S. support for the essential values
of freedom of the press, protection of human rights and the
promotion of women.