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9 Human Rights Defenders You've Probably Never Heard Of

This is what moral courage looks like. Fighting for #FreedomOfConscience.

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1. Nisha Ayub, Malaysia

Photo Credit: Human Rights Watch

10 years ago, at age 21, Nisha was arrested, fined, and charged simply for being transgendered in Malaysia. She was sentenced to 3 months in a male prison where she was sexually abused by the warden and other prisoners. She has been an activist for transgender rights in her home country ever since.

2. Avijit Roy, Bangladesh

Photo Credit: BBC

A secular Bangladeshi-American activist and blogger, he was brutally hacked to death in Bangladesh in February of 2015. An engineer by profession and the author of numerous books and articles, Avijit created a Bengali-language blog, Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) to promote secular and humanist writings in Bangladesh. He had received death threats for his writings.

3. Sabeen Mahmud, Pakistan

Photo Credit:Flickr / Via

Sabeen was assassinated in April 2015 in Karachi on her way home after hosting a seminar about the atrocities faced by minorities in Pakistan. An activist and NGO social worker, one of her initiatives include “The Second Floor,” a cafe that organizes debates and arts events. Sabeen hoped to challenge injustice and encourage critical thinking.

4. Saado Ali Warsame, Somalia

Photo Credit:

Saado was murdered in April 2014 by members of the militant terror group Al-Shabaab which said her death was part of its assassination campaign against Somali legislators. A Somali-American singer-songwriter and politician, she was a lawmaker in the Federal Parliament of Somalia. Her music, art, and legislative work were centered on political and social justice.

5. Salwa Bughaighis, Libya

Photo Credit: National Dialogue Preparatory Commission of Lib

Salwa, a Libyan lawyer and human rights activist, was shot dead in Benghazi on the day of the country’s general election in June 2014. Dedicated to building a peaceful, democratic Libya, she was part of the first protests in Benghazi against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

6. Samira Saleh al-Nuaimi, Iraq

Photo Credit: Unknown

Samira, a leading lawyer and Iraqi human rights activist, was abducted, tortured for five days, and publicly executed by DAESH in September 2014. She criticized the group's barbarism and destruction of Islamic heritage sites. Her work included defending detainees and supporting the disadvantaged families in the city.

7. Farkhunda Malikzada, Afghanistan

Photo Credit: BBC

Farkhunda, a 27 year old theology teacher and devout Muslim, publicly opposed a prominent mullah who sold charms and took advantage of the poor. After being wrongfully accused of burning the Quran, she was lynched by a mob of over 50 men on the streets of Kabul. The murder of Farkhunda in March 2015 sparked the biggest women’s protest in Afghanistan’s history.

8. Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia

Photo Credit: France24

Raif, a Saudi Arabian writer, dissident, activist, and creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, was arrested in 2012. Although he faced the death penalty for the charge of apostasy, he was convicted and sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes. However, his sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine of 1,000,000 Saudi Riyals ($267,000 USD.) He was flogged publicly 50 times in January 2015; scheduled floggings have since been delayed due to Badawi’s poor health.

9. Waleed Sami Abulkhair, Saudi Arabia

Photo Credit: Amnesty International

Waleed is the lawyer of Raif Badawi. A human rights activist, he established the organization “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia,” and was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Arabs on Twitter.” Waleed was arrested in April 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, solely for representing Raif Badawi in a court of law.

Meaningful change happens only when we, the international community, come together to empower the women and men who challenge fundamentalism and oppressive governance. Let us shine a beacon of light on the legacies of these brave souls, who stood for #FreedomofConscience!

Questions or comments? Contact Crystal Keshawarz at

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