Images of Andreas Ayas, Chen Guangcheng, Nabeel Rajab & Chut Wutty.

Profiles of Chen Guangcheng, Nabeel Rajab, Chut Wutty & Andreas Ayas

More than a year after the start of public demonstrations that swept across North Africa and the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” has largely faded from the front pages and home pages of media outlets, the struggle for human rights and social justice persists in places like Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen. Similarly, nearly seven months after its initial demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement has largely disappeared from the broader public discourse, despite the persistent actions of the movement both on the ground and online. While there is obviously a correlation between the intensity of media coverage and public knowledge and support of activist efforts, there is also a need to highlight those moments when activists do not receive the sort of media attention that raises the profile of their work or the abuses they suffer while engaging in activism.

Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese human rights activist with a long history of drawing international attention to abusive practices on behalf of the Chinese governmental, made international headlines in late April when he escaped house arrest and sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing for several days. Typically Guangcheng’s case would have passed with little if any media attention; however, the timing of Guangcheng’s stay in the US embassy overlapped with a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for high-level talks with Chinese officials. After several tense days of quiet negotiations between US and Chinese officials, Guangchen opted to leave the embassy to seek medical care at a Chinese hospital, only to seek protection by the United States shortly thereafter. Ultimately, Guangchen was offered the opportunity to travel to the United States to pursue academic studies, which Chinese officials at the time of the writing appear willing to grant.

Guangcheng’s case is unique among these profiles of activists because his case garnered the support of powerful political institutions and leaders in the United States. During his ordeal, Guangcheng was able to speak directly to senior US embassy staff, to participate in a conference call with members of Congress and to request a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. The timing of Guangcheng ordeal to coincide with sensitive and high-level meetings between US and Chinese officials provided an opportunity for greater dissemination of his plight and his activism through the media. This is markedly different from the experiences of the following activists who were unable to capture the attention of mass media networks and access institutions and structures of power that could defend their activism.

Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was arrested by Bahraini authorities upon his return to the country on May 5th. Initial charges against Rajab included participation in illegal assemblies and encouraging others to join illegal assemblies through social networking tools; however additional charges related to charges of “insulting the statutory bodies” may follow, according to a BCHR press release. Rajab, a leading and enduring figure within Bahraini human rights circles, rose to international prominence as an organizer, director and spokesperson for the protests and demonstrations that have been occurring in Bahrain since February 14, 2011.

Chut Wutty, a Cambodian environmental activist and director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was shot and killed by military police on April 26th as he and a group of journalists documented illegal logging activities in the Koh Kong province of Cambodia. While the investigation into Wutty’s death is ongoing, initial reports indicate that Wutty was stopped by military authorities at the behest of a logging company in Koh Kong province and, after refusing to surrender the memory card of his camera, Wutty was shot by military police as he attempted to drive away from the scene.

Andreas Ayas, an Danish activist who participated in a solidarity bicycle ride through Israeli-occupied sections of the West Bank with international and Palestinian activists, was assaulted by Lt. Colonel Shalom Eisner, an officer in the Israeli military. As the Israeli troops attempted to halt the activists, Eisner struck Ayas in the face with his M-16 rifle; a blow that required Ayas to seek medical treatment and receive several stitches. Such confrontations between the Israeli military and activists in the West Bank is not extraordinary and too often occurs without much notice beyond the blogs and websites of activist organizations dedicate to documenting such practices. However, this instance was different in that dramatic video footage of Eisner striking an unsuspecting Ayas was posted to YouTube and quickly spread throughout activist communities and into traditional media outlets. Resultantly, Israeli military and government leaders largely condemned Eisner’s actions, promised action against the Lt. Colonel and then quietly reassigned him to a training center in the Negev where he was able to maintain his rank.

Originally published in Anthropology News

By on .

Leave a Reply


October 18th, 2015

Mapping the Dead in the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Basma Atassi at Al-Jazeera has put together a great storymap that explores the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Complete with pictures, text and place location, this resource allows you to get a good sense of where, when and how the violence is occurring. Definitely worth a look.

October 16th, 2015

Netanyahu, Context & Responsibility

At the center of this current iteration of violence in Israel and Palestine stands the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has reacted to this violence as if he was surprised that Palestinians would resort to violence when for decades he has done everything within his power to thwart the establishment and growth of a responsible Palestinian civil society, expanded settlements with the explicit aim of crippling an emerging Palestinian state, and undermining the responsible leadership of Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity.

October 8th, 2015

Abbas, Netanyahu and Responsible Leadership

Abbas is demonstrating his commitment to deescalating tensions and calming the violence that is a direct result of Netanyahu’s persistent efforts to whip Israeli society into a panicked frenzy about an existential threat lurking behind every corner.

June 30th, 2015

Our Dictator in Cairo – Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

So, once again, the foreign policy of the US has chosen perceived immediate stability over the somewhat more bumpy and unpredictable evolution of democracy in the Middle East. It’s not the first time we’ve done this… it’s sort of our thing at this point… we’re pro’s out it.

June 22nd, 2015

The Many Victims at Mother Emmanuel

The problem with Gosnell and others who make these arguments is that they believe intentionality serves as some magical “Get out of Jail Free” card that absolves perpetrators of the violence they commit. Further, and in many ways far more problematic, is the realization that Gosnell and others only want to use this logical canard to absolve themselves or other like them. No such compassion regarding intentionality and the multiplicity of victims derived from violence will ever be used with the families of the 9-11 hijackers. In the end, the fundamental mistake that Gosnell and others make over and over again is that they focus on issues of intentionality rather than on issues of responsibility.

March 4th, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Congress

There are two things to never forget when considering Netanyahu’s views of regional threats. First, he is desperately seeking his “Churchill moment”. Second, he has a record of being blinded by his own biases and is never, ever a sober analyst of a situation

February 16th, 2015

Cursed Be The Peacemakers?

This video, produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, has been released as part of the current Israeli political contest where the extreme right wing of Israel is attempting to maintain the rightist complexion of the Israeli government. For me, the truly offensive aspect of this video is how it makes the case that working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or defending Palestinian and Israeli human rights somehow makes you a threat to the country.

February 14th, 2015

The Danger of Molly White’s Islamophobia

Rep. White is the new poster child for the anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamic hatred and Islamophobia that is so deeply embedded in American society that it can hide in plain sight.

July 15th, 2014

In Focus: The Gaza Strip

As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

July 14th, 2014

Middle East News Review #28

The Middle East was plagued with news of violence this week. In Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Libya, episodes of violence resulted in death and destruction. Iran continued its negotiations with the US and EU this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement over the country’s nuclear program and removing the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. In Iraq, violence between the militant group ISIS and the Baghdad government reached new heights as 29 people were found massacred in an apartment and Human Rights Watch condemned the government for mass executions carried out earlier this year. The direct physical violence in Iraq was mirrored this week with political turmoil as the government of Nouri al-Maliki erupted into conflict with the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.