ISHR proclaims April 8 as “Political Sponsorship Day”

Frankfurt-based human rights organization has been campaigning for political prisoners worldwide for 50 years and has already arranged more than 200 political sponsorships

Frankfurt am Main, April 6, 2022 – Publicity means protection: for its 50th anniversary, the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) proclaims April 8 as “Political Sponsorship Day.” From now on, the Frankfurt-based human rights organization will always commemorate the importance of political sponsorships for the protection of human rights on its founding day. Since 2011, ISHR has already initiated over 200 political sponsorships. Members of state parliaments, the Bundestag (German parliament) and the European Parliament take on a non-material sponsorship for a political prisoner and publicly campaign for his or her release. In about half of the political sponsorships, an improvement in the situation of the detainees was achieved.

“For our human rights work, the support of politicians is enormously important. When elected representatives publicly stand up for a political prisoner, more attention is drawn to a fate. Their advocacy is picked up by the media and this publicity is a protection for the innocent detainees. Many regimes want to keep up appearances to the outside world so as not to jeopardize political relations and especially future trade deals,” explains Martin Lessenthin, ISHR board spokesman.

Focus on Cuba, Iran, China, Belarus and Turkey
Since its founding in 1972, ISHR has been advocating for political prisoners and prisoners of faith. The idea for the political sponsorship program was born in April 2011. Since then, the ISHR team has been committed to informing politicians about the fate of political prisoners, asking for their support and keeping the sponsors informed about their protégés. In the meantime, more than 200 political sponsorships have been arranged, with a focus on Cuba, Iran, China, Belarus and Turkey. “The willingness of MPs to participate in this important program is very high, and we are extremely grateful for any support. Over the years, we have developed such close ties with Members of Parliament who are committed to human rights out of conviction. Due to legislative periods and ending mandates, new deputies keep joining the program while others leave,” says the ISHR.

Public pressure works: situation of half of the detainees improved
The human rights organization is particularly proud that it has been able to contribute to improving the situation of about half of the detainees through the political sponsorship program. For example, ISHR’s campaigns, the public statements of the sponsors and their commitment resulted in the lifting of contact bans, better medical care, prison leave or even early release.

One of them was Iranian human rights defender Abdolfattah Soltani, who was released on November 21, 2018 after more than seven years in prison – through sustained international pressure. As political sponsors, former MEP Elmar Brok and Member of the Bundestag Michael Frieser had campaigned for him. Public campaigns for the case of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani also had success. The convert had been sentenced to death in 2009 for “turning away from Islam” and “promoting Zionism.” Due to great international pressure, he was allowed to leave prison in 2012. His release was demanded, among others, by former German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and the deputy parliamentary party leader of the CDU/CSU and former German Minister of Health Hermann Gröhe. Along with other Christian converts, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested again in 2017 and sentenced to ten years in prison and two years of exile. The sponsors continue to campaign for him. Member of the Bundestag Sebastian Brehm was able to rejoice in July 2020: as a political sponsor, he had drawn attention to the fate of the Cuban couple Rigal, who had been arbitrarily arrested in April 2019 because they had joined an unregistered church and had not subjected their children to compulsory state education. Public pressure eventually led to the couple’s early release from prison two years ago.

Omid Nouripour Nasrin Sotoudeh’s godfather since 2011
The list of political sponsors is long – it includes prominent politicians such as Rolf Mützenich, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group. Some sponsors have been involved for many years, such as Omid Nouripour, member of the Bundestag and federal chairman of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. The German-Iranian has been campaigning for the release of the Iranian women’s rights activist and other political prisoners since 2011 as Nasrin Sotoudeh’s sponsor. Liberal members of the European Parliament such as Jan-Christoph Oetjen also campaign for political prisoners. Oetjen successfully called for the release of Egyptian civil rights activist Ramy Kamil, who campaigns for the Christian minority of Copts in Egypt and was arrested for this reason in November 2019. “Any improvement in the situation of political prisoners in authoritarian regimes is an important victory for human rights,” Lessenthin emphasizes.

Social media action on April 8
ISHR is calling on its political sponsors and all politicians who care about human rights, as well as human rights activists worldwide, to make a statement for human rights on April 8 – the new Political Sponsorship Day. They should post a picture of themselves with the slogan “Free all political prisoners” and the hashtags #FreeAllpoliticalprisoners, #tagderpolitischenpatenschaften, #50jahreigfm and #humanrights on social media.

Original German text: