top of page

               The Black Portraits


Ali Abdulemam, known as 'the Baharaini Blogger' co-founded the popular democracy







ALI ABDULEMAM        Bahrain

Journalist and founder of website BahrainOnLine in 1999. He has no particular political allegiance but wishes Bahrainis had freedom to express their aspirations. Ali is married and has a son and twin daughters. On 4th September 2010 he was detained prior to trial accused of trying to subvert the regime. Ali was much affected by the 'Arab Spring' and his whereabouts became worryingly unknown. Please see this link for  latest update Ali Abdulemam at Front Line Defenders. In 2013 Ali was granted political asylum in the UK. He has settled in London, with his wife and children and is active as a Blogger and Online activist, defending freedom of expression. He was given the Hellman/Hammett Award from HRW and the Freedom Award from CEPOS.

In 2015 Ali sat for his actual portrait for The Black Portraits project.


Anna Politkovskya was a journalist, writer and human rights activist. On 7th October 2006 she was shot dead in the lift of her block of flats in Moscow. The assassination remained unresolved. Politkovskya made her name reporting from Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper well known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs. She has published several award winning books about Chechnya, life in Russia and President Putin’s regime. Awards include: 2001 Golden Pen Prize, Russian Union of Journalists, 2001 Amnesty International Global Award. Journalism, 2002 PEN Freedom to Write Award, 2002 International Women’s Media foundation Award, 2004 Olef Palme Prize, 2007 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize, 2007 Democracy Award. In May 2014 five men were convicted of murdering Politkovskaya, including three defendants who had been acquitted in a previous trial. The defendants were three Chechen brothers, one of whom was accused of shooting Politkovskaya in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building. In June 2014 the men were sentenced to prison, two of them, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev and his nephew Rustam Makhmudov, receiving life sentences. It is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.


Azhimzhan Askarov is an Uzbec who lived in Kyrgystan. He was the director of the human rights organisation Vozdukh (Air). In June 2010 during the violence in the south of Kyrgystan, Azimzhan filmed and photographed killings and arson attacks on mostly Uzbec homes and other buildings in Bazar-Korgan. He was detained on 13th August 2010 and according to local human rights defenders was subjected to prolonged beatings on the police premises in Bazar-Korgan in an effort to force him to hand over footage and confess to murdering a police officer. On 15th September he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is now critically ill in Bishkek hospital prison. On 25th February 2020 there is a final appeal against Askarov's sentence in the Kyrgyz Supreme Court. Front Line Defenders on Azizhan Askarov here.

It is was sad to announce that Azimzhan died in the prison hospital on 25th July 2020.

We continue to support Khadicha Askarov, his widow, in clearing his name and seeking justice.


Bekele Gerba lectured in English at Addis Ababa University. In August 2011 he was sentenced to eight years, reduced on appeal to 3 years, and imprisoned for being being a member of the banned Oromo Liberation Front. Declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International Bekele was sent to the notorious Kality high security prison where he was housed among deadly criminals. While in prison he became very ill but being a Christian believer in non violence he did manage to find time to translate the works of Martin Luther King to Afan Oromo in a soon to be published book. Bekele Gerba was released in April 2015. Bekele Gerba was re arrested in December 2015 Bekele Gerba again released on Tuesday 13th February 2018.

This painting is about the OROMO PEOPLES of Ethiopia. There are over 40,000,000 Oromo. Yes.

An ancient peoples making up around 40% of Ethiopia's population they have their own Gadaa system of governance which is no longer widely practiced but remains influential.The emblem of Gadaa is the Odaa or sacred sycamore tree under whose shade and source of tranquility assemblies were held both religious and sociopolitical. The current government and president of Ethiopia continue the repression of the Oromo peoples that has persisted for well over 20 years. More about Bekele Gerba here.

1st JULY 2020 Bekele Gerba arrested.

JANUARY 2022 Bekele released from captivity.

29th AUGUST 2023 Update from Addis Standard and BBC:

Addis Abeba – Bekele Gerba, a long-time figure in Ethiopian politics at both the personal and party levels, has announced his resignation from the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and his decision to seek asylum in the United States.

Speaking to BBC, Bekele cited the serious political situation in Ethiopia, which he believes hinders “peaceful struggle and personal freedom,” as his reason for requesting asylum in America. As the first deputy of the OFC, he also expressed his view that it would be impractical for him to continue in his position while residing abroad, thus prompting his withdrawal from the party.

Bekele’s resignation comes after he was imprisoned following the violence that erupted following the killing of artist Hachalu Hundesa in June 2020. He spent 18 months in prison before being released and subsequently traveling to the United States. Speaking to the BBC, Bekele explained that his initial intention upon arriving in the country was to meet with Ethiopian expatriates. He wanted to express his gratitude for their efforts in securing his release from prison and to discuss future plans.



Dr Binayak Sen was an independent paediatrician and world renowned public health specialist in the State of Chhattisgarh. He is the National Vice-President of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and General Secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit. He helped organise investigations into alleged human rights violations carried out during operations against the proscribed Maoist political group the Naxalites by another violent movement called Salwa Judum. Dr Sen does not approve of the Maoist Naxalites but advocates peaceful negotiations to solve the Naxalite problem. On December 24th 2010 Raipur Sessions Court found Dr Sen guilty of sedition for helping the Naxalites and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Later in 2011 Dr Sen was released on bail after the Indian Supreme Court found there was no case to answer. Binayak Sen REMAINS ON BAIL TO THIS DAY.

AWARDS: 2004 Paul Harrison Award, 2007 R R KEITH Gold Medal, 2008 JONATHAN MANN AWARD, 2011 GWANJU PRIZE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 2011, NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, HEINZ PAGELS AWARD, 2011 Gandhi Foundation Peace Award.

** At the end of September Binayak Sen sat for his portrait in Raipur, India. The portrait is included as part of the Black Portraits exhibition. ** More on Binayak Sen here.

CU HUY HA VU   Vietnam

Cu Huy Ha Vu was a prominent government critic and dissident in communist Vietnam. He is the son and the nephew of two eminent poets. His father was a companion of Ho Chi Minh. Vu studied in Paris for his law doctorate and runs a legal practice with his wife in Hanoi.

In July 2009 Vu filed a charge against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on environmental, national security and cultural heritage grounds for permitting a Chinese owned company to mine for bauxite (the raw material for aluminium) in Tay Nguyen Central Highlands without due consultation. The Vietnam Supreme Court reject the lawsuit. In October 2010 Vu’s law firm was in charge of representing the Catholics of Con Dau Parish in Da Nang who had been taken into custody during a police crackdown on a funeral ceremony at a cemetery due to be compulsorily closed to make way for a resort.

Vu was arrested on 5th November 2010 for ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘plotting to overthrow the communist government of Vietnam’. In April 2014 Vu was released from prison. It is believed the authorities released him because his high profile case was was scandalising the regime. He was asked to leave the country.was taken from prison to an airport and flown to Washington. USA.

Cu Huy Ha Vu continues to campaign for human rights in Vietnam. A report by the BBC in 2011.


Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Journalist and blogger who for thirty or so years revealed corruption and shady dealings amongst government officials. When in April 2016 there was the leak of cache of 11.5 million documents from the internal database of offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, Daphne set about reporting on her findings in her blog post. These documents became known as the Panama Papers. What she discovered led her to revelations of tax avoidance and money laundering which involved ministers, the wealthiest and the Prime Minister of Malta. She had many death threats and frightening incidents over the years but none was able to silence this brave investigative journalist; that is until October 16th 2017.

On that day around three in the afternoon she was driving as short distance from her home in Bidnijia near Valetta when she was blown up by a bomb concealed in her car that was detonated by remote control. The hired killers were brought to justice, the mastermind Yorgen Fenech has been arrested (January 2020) and the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, resigned in January 2020.

Daphne’s life’s work continues through her sons and through The Daphne Project  which is a collaborative, cross-border investigative journalism project by major news organizations from around the world, coordinated by Paris-based investigative non-profit newsroom, Forbidden Stories. More about Daphne Caruana Galizia here.

FILEP KARMA   West Papua

Filep Karma is a prominent Papuan political activist and former Indonesian civil servant who was serving a 15 year prison sentence for raising a banned flag at a 2004 political rally. He is married and has two daughters. Filep Karma was arrested in December 2004 for organising and participating in a ceremony in Abepura, West Papua at which several hundred Papuans gathered to raise the Papuan Morning Star flag and celebrate the anniversary of the1961 Papuan Declaration of Independence from Dutch rule. His arrest, detention and trial violate Indonesian law and Indonesian obligations under international law. FILEP KARMA WAS RELEASED ON 19th December 2015. More from Amnesty about Filep Karma's release here.

Acknowledgement: An extensive use of images derived from Dominic Brown's captivating film FORGOTTEN BIRD OF PARADISE made this particular portrait possible.

1st November 2022 Filep Karma has died. There is a day of National Mourning in West Papua.


Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, the founder of Voix Des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), was a human rights advocate since the regime of President Mobutu. Because of his advocacy work he had been arrested, detained and threatened by security forces numerous times over 20 years.

Floribert Chebeya was last heard from on June 1st 2010 when he indicated that he and his driver Mr Bazana were en route to a meeting with the Inspector General of the Congolese National Police in Kinshasa, who had reportedly summoned him.

The following day Floribert was found dead in his car and his driver was missing. Floribert Chebeya won the 1993 Reebok Human Rights Award. More about Floribert and his memorial here. And the film by Les Films de la Passerelle on Floribert Chebeya directed by Thierry Michel.\


Fisherman and Human Rights Defender for the indigenous Maya Q’eqechi’.

Cristobal Pop, Vicente Rax Pop, Eduardo Bin Poou, Juan Eduardo Caal Suram, Tomas Che Cucul and Marco Tulio Cuc are human rights defenders and members of the Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales – GPA (Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild) in El Estor, Izabal. They have been criminalised for denouncing the contamination of Lake Izabal by the nickel extraction company, CGN-PRONICO, after a protest against the company on May 27, 2017. They were repressed and criminalised, and one fish harvester, Carlos Maaz, was killed. The incidents on that day led to a long list of people with arrest warrants. Juan has been in detention since 11th October 2017. The human rights defender is currently facing charges for “threats”, “incitement to commit crimes”, “illicit association”, “unlawful assembly and demonstrations”, “damages to private property”, and “illegal detention of another person”. On 23 November 2017,  Puerto Barrios’ Penal Court on Drug-Related Activity and Environmental Crimes held a hearing on Juan Eduardo Caal Suram’s case. During the hearing, the defence asked the Judge to implement substitutive measures rather than preventive detention during the trial. The Judge allowed Juan Eduardo Caal Suram to follow his criminal procedure under house arrest provided that he is prohibited from leaving the country, attends scheduled court dates and pays bail of 10000 quetzales (approximately €1150). On 29 November 2017, through a solidarity collection process within the community, members of the GPA submitted the bail payment imposed on the human rights defender. He was transferred to his house on 1 December 2017. FRONT LINE DEFENDERS on Juan Eduardo.

LAPIRO de MBANGA   Cameroon

Lapiro was a popular singer-songwriter (aka “Ndinga Man” or “ Guitar Man”). He had a wife and children.

Early in 2008 angered by high living costs and a constitutional change that would allow the president to stay in power indefinitely, people in Cameroon took to the streets. Amid nationwide strikes and mass demonstrations, popular singer Lapiro, who had demanded that the president resign, was arrested and charged with inciting youth unrest. In September 2008 he was jailed for 3 years. He has deteriorating health and is financially bankrupt. His song ‘Constipated Constitution’ expresses Lapiro’s and many fellow Cameroonians’ strong objections to the constitutional amendment which will allow President Biya to stay in power after 2011.

For twenty years Lapiro used the power of popular music to campaign for social reform.

Lapiro de Mbanga won the 2009 Orient Global Freedom to Create Prize, ‘Imprisoned Artist’ category. The panel included Daniel Barenboim and BBC correspondent Razia Iqbal. LAPIRO de MBANGA WAS RELEASED ON 8th APRIL 2011 In September 2012 Lapiro was granted political asylum in the USA.

Though Lapiro was very ill he sat for his actual for The Black Portraits in Buffalo, NY. in 2013. 16th March 2014 Lapiro de Mbanga died in hospital of cancer.


Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese writer, literary critic, human rights activist, philosopher and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who called for political reforms and was involved in campaigns to end communist one-party rule in China. He was incarcerated as a political prisoner in Jinzhou, Liaoning. On 26 June 2017, he was granted medical parole after being diagnosed with liver cancer. All his works are banned in China.

In 1989 he was involved in the student movement that occupied Tiananmen Square. Since 1989 he has been imprisoned four times. He was sentenced in December 2009 for eleven years, charged with “spreading a message to subvert the country and authority”

Liu Xiaobo has many human rights awards including: 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, 2009 Homo Homini Award – One World Film Festival, 2004 Foundation de France Prize.


LOUJAIN al-HATHLOUL   Saudi Arabia

Loujain has been arrested several times for defying the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. She was first arrested and detained, for 73 days, on 1st December 2014 after an attempt to cross the border in her car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia though she had a UAE driving licence. In September 2016 she was one of 14,000 signatories to a petition to King Salman requesting the Male Guardianship system be abolished. She was arrested again in June 2017, the reason was unclear and she was denied access to a lawyer and contact with her family. Loujain was kidnapped from the UAE in March 2018 and deported to Saudi Arabia, when she was arrested for a few days. They put a travel ban on her. On 15th May 2018 she was again detained along with others campaigning for Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch interpreted the purpose of the arrests to frighten “anyone expressing scepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda”. In June 2018 women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. But Loujain remained under arrest. According to Al Qst (the Saudi Human Rights Organisation) and Amnesty International she and several other women were tortured. Torture techniques included being beaten on the feet, given electric shock treatment, whipped and waterboarding; these occurred between May and August 2018. On 13th March 2019 her trial began though the charges were not specified. In April 2019 a hearing of her case was postponed with no reason given. Loujain has been offered release in return for denying torture. On 30th January 2020 Loujain appeared before the court. The prosecutor mentioned the charges. The next trial is in two weeks. In a hearing held January 31, according to reports received by PEN America, the prosecutor presented the same charges that were filed in 2019, and tomorrow’s hearing (on 12th February) will provide the defendants with the opportunity to respond. On 12th February at the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyad hearing she was asked to submit her defence at the next hearing scheduled for 11th March 2020. Again postponed no reason given. Rescheduled for 18th March 2020. Again postponed. On 28th December 2020 Sentenced to 5 years 8 months in prison. On 10th February 2021 Loujain was released from prison. Although Loujain has now been released she is still not free to move about and she is not free to leave Saudi Arabia. See Loujain at Front Line Defenders.


Majid Tavakoli was a student leader and advocate for academic freedom. Before his imprisonment he had been studying shipbuilding at Amir Kabir University of technology in Teheran.. The disputed Iranian elections of June 2009 changed many things in Iran including the course of Majid’s life. Majid was arrested for giving a speech on Student’s Day on December 9th 2009; it was the fourth time that he had been detained for exercising his right of freedom of expression. He was sentenced to eight and a half years and is currently in Reja’i Shahr Prison in Karaj where his health is deteriorating and while in prison he went on hunger strike.

Majid Tavakoli was awarded the 2009 Homo Homini Award by People in Need CZECH REPUBLIC.

On April 22nd 2015 Majid was freed having served his sentence. His current whereabouts are unknown. (update 2018) Majid is believed to be in Teheran. He is frequently on Twitter campaingning for justice in Iran.

October 2022. Majid is once again imprisoned. 6th November. The current uprising throughout Iran sees Majid unjustly detained in Evin prison, Teheran where he is being cruelly and violently treated by the guards.

He was released.

October 7th 2023. Majid was imprisoned in Evin Prison, this time for 5 years.

January 31st 2024. The Teheran Revolutionary Court has upheld the five year prison term and two year exile. According to the court's ststement Tavakoli was found guilty  of "attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic and establish a liberal system".



Mahienour who is based in Alexandria works to promote judicial independence and prisoner’s rights. She has been declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. On 22nd September 2019 Mahienour was arrested in Cairo and questioned on charges including “aiding a terrorist group in achieving its goals” and “spreading false news” in a case related to the March 2019 anti-government protest. The prosecutor ordered her detention in Al Qanatar women’s prison for 15 days pending investigations. On 3rd November 2019 this was extended for a further 15 days. On 18th November 2019 it was again extended for 15 days. As of 6th February 2020 Mahienour is still behind bars. Mahienour el-Masry has faced continued harassment from Egyptian authorities, including a 2 year sentence in 2014 for taking part in a protest, later reduced to 6 months, a preventative detention order in 2015 and a 1 year 3 month sentence upheld the same year in relation to a sit-in on police aggression. Then on 18th November 2017 she was arrested and charged with “insulting the President of the Republic” and “thuggery”.

In June 2014 Mahienour was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize.

UPDATE: On 5 May 2020, the Criminal Court of Cairo renewed the detention of woman human rights defender Mahienour El-Masry in absentia for an additional 45 days.  In December 2021 Mahienor was released from prison.

See Mahienour at Front Line Defenders.

Mahienour continues to be an activist and (November 6th 2022) she continue campaigning for women's rights and freedom of journalists in Egypt. See Mahienour on Twitter @MahienourE


In June 2010 Muhannad was sentenced to 3 years in prison for “weakening national sentiment” and for “conveying within Syria false news that could debilitate the morale of the nation”. Muhannad comes from a well respected and notable Damascus family. He is a lawyer and human rights defender who had publicised the unfair trials of political prisoners and called for their immediate release. On 10th November 2009 while in jail Muhannad was disbarred in absentia by the Damascus section of the Syrian Bar Association, effectively prohibiting him from practicing law for the rest of his life.

On 26th October 2010 Muhannad was severely beaten when he was attacked by a common criminal with whom he was sharing a cell in Adra Prison. Muhannad is co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights Organisation (SAWASIYAH). He is a commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists.

In 2010 he won the Dean Award from the Amsterdam Bar Association and the Martin Ennals Award in recognition of his contribution to human rights.

Muhannad was released under a general amnesty on June 2nd 2011.


Nasrin is married with two children. Nasrin is one of Iran’s most prominent human rights and women’s rights lawyers. She has been in detention in Evin prison since September 4th 2010. She is charged with “acting against national security, assembly and collusion against national security and collaboration with the Human Rights Centre”. Nasrin has been active in defending men and women who participated in the peaceful post election demonstration and those who collated signatures to change discriminatory laws. In 2nd December 2010 Nasrin was in solitary confinement and due to deteriorating health has now broken her hunger strike.

Nasrin was awarded the 2008 Human Rights Prize from the International Committee of Human Rights, Italy. In April 2011 Nasrin was awarded the PEN Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

APRIL 5th 2019 The Law Society formally called for the release of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who had been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes after defending women protesting against Iran’s headscarf laws. SEPTEMBER 2020 Nasrin is currently seriously ill in Evin prison hospital because of her hunger strike against conditions of fellow prisoners since 11th August 2020. NOVEMBER 7th 2020 Nasrin is temporarily removed from prison hospital and sent home. A few days later she tested positive to Covid 19.

JUNE 2021 Nasrin remains in detention.

For more insight into the situation of Nasrin and Iran click on the following A Safer World for Women.


Oleg Bebenin was a leading opposition activist and founder of Charter 97 an opposition website critical of President Lukashenko. He was a campaigner for opposition presidential hopeful Andrei Sannikov.

Bebenin was found hanged in September 2010 apparently having committed suicide. However the father of two children left no suicide note and had no family or health problems. The US and European Union demanded a full and transparent investigation in to the cause of death. The Prosecutor General’s Office in Belarus having completed their inquiries confirmed the death was by suicide.

However few believe the inquiry’s findings and under further international pressure his case was re-opened on 10th December 2010. More details can be found here: Oleg Bebenin. The website started by Oleg is going strong it is called Charter 97. More details here from Reporters without Borders.


who figures prominently in The Black Portrait of Oleg Bebenin was arrested at a protest following the 2010 presidential elections. After spending a year of his 5 year sentence in prison he was conditionally released in April 2012. He later escaped to the UK and in October 2012 he was granted political asylum by the British government.

The scope of The Black Portraits project has been extended to provide for actual portraits of those closely associated with those human rights champions that are in the project but who are dead. In respect and honour of Oleg Bebenin his close friend and associate Andrei Sannikov agreed to represent Oleg by sitting for his portrait. More on Andrei Sannikov here.


Member of Movimiento Alternativa Republicana ( Republican Alternative Movement) and Consejo National de Resistancia Civil (National Civil Resistance Committee). Arrested Dec.6th 2002 on charges of contempt and imprisoned for 3 months; freed and arrested on March 20th 2003 during a crackdown on dissidents and sent to prison charged with contempt, public disorder and disobedience and sentenced to 36 years.

Amnesty International recognised him as a Prisoner of Conscience.

December 2009 he went on hunger strike in protest at prison conditions. In February 2010 his condition worsened and he died on February 23rd 2010. More on Orlando Zaparta Tamao here.


(Featured in the painting though not currently in prison hence not one of The Black Portraits.)

Guillermo Fariñas went on hunger strike in February 2010 to protest the death of friend and fellow dissident Orlando Zaparta. In 2006 Fariñas was awarded its Cyber Freedom Prize by Reporters without Borders.

In 2010 Fariñas was awarded the Sakarov Prize by the European Parliament.

May 2013. Due to a change in the law Guillermo Fariñas was able to leave Cuba for the first time. He went to Brussels to receive the Sakharov Prize.

In honour and memory of his friend Orlando Zaparta Tamao Guillermo kindly agreed to sit for his portrait for The Black Portraits project. It was painted at his home in Cuba in 2015.This can be seen in the gallery.

LAS DAMAS DE BLANCO are a group of wives and relatives of both current and past prisoners of conscience who feature in the painting of Orlando Zaparta. The group was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2005. They are called The Ladies in White.


Since 1997 Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has been involved in the struggle of the Rwandan political opposition in exile. She returned from exile in January 2010. She is the Chairperson of the Unified Democratic Forces, a coalition of Rwandan opposition parties. She was a candidate in the August 2010 elections but was ultimately banned from running. Then under arrest she appeared in court accused of working with a terrorist group. She faces a possible life sentence.

President Paul Kagame is a Tutsi and won the election with a 93% vote. It is his second term in office. However the majority of the population are Hutu but they see progress and stability in the status quo. Kagami’s RPF ruling party are a fractured motley of hardliners and reformists hence his zero tolerance of opposition parties.

In December 2013 Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On 14th September 2018 she was released along with some 2000 others.

5 December 2019, Victoire Ingabire was awarded the International Human Rights Award 2019 by the Association for Human Rights of Spain (APDHE) but was not allowed by the Rwandan government to attend the award ceremony of 2019 in Spain. Here is the link to Victoire Ingabire's website.







bottom of page