Vera Chirwa was imprisoned in Malawi from 1981 to 1993 after being falsely accused of high treason. In 1983 she was sentenced to death for the ‘crime’, a sentence that was later commuted to life imprisonment. She and her husband, who was also interned, were only allowed to see each other once in eleven years. Her husband died in prison. Vera was released some months later. She set up the civil and human rights organisation ‘CARER’ and was co-founder of the women’s organisation ‘Woman’s Voice’.
Noel Pearson is a lawyer and historian, but above all an Aborigine. He fights against the discrimination and disadvantages in all areas of society suffered by Aboriginal people. Pearson was a member of the Aboriginal negotiating team that helped to draft the Native Title Act (1993). In this capacity he was deeply involved in the question of how Australian law would give Aborigines the right to access their ‘native’ lands and visit the graves of their ancestors, while still securing the rights of farmers who had held leases on these areas for generations.
Muchtar Pakpahan was a lecturer at the universities of Medan and Jakarta until 1990 and worked as a journalist for various newspapers. He is chairman of the independent trade union Sekirat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia (SBSI). In this capacity, Pakpahan was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to four years in prison following labour riots in Medan. He was soon released but was back in prison again shortly after when fresh riots broke out. His trial is still in progress. It is now clear that he is being condemned for his political and social ideas rather than his non-violent actions.
Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez comes from a poverty-stricken Indian farmer’s family in Guatemala. In 1980 her village was the scene of political violence and her father and husband were kidnapped one after the other. Both disappeared without trace. In 1988, together with other despairing women, Rosalina set up the widows’ organisation ‘CONVIGUA’, which has tried to bring to light the truth behind the disappearances and has organised numerous education and emancipation projects. As one of the six representatives of the Democratic Front for a New Guatemala, Rosalina has a seat in the Guatemalan parliament. Despite this, her family, like those of all members of organisations such as CONVIGUA, still receive regular threats from the army.
Sergei Kovalyov, a biologist, protested in Pushkin Square in 1956 against the Russian invasion of Hungary. He was given his first prison term in 1975 and spent almost ten years in camps in the Urals and Siberia. In 1984 he was released and in 1987 was appointed personal assistant to Andrei Sacharov. In 1990 he became a member of the Supreme Soviet and in 1995 a member of the Duma. As Chairman of the Committee for Human Rights he was living proof that the new Russia was taking human rights seriously. Even though he was an adviser to President Yeltsin, Kovalyov remained highly critical of human rights policy. In 1995, this and the issue of Chechnya led to a final break with the president and his dismissal as a government adviser.