Activists: from doing good to being in prison, or even dead

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

"If I must go to jail to affirm my will, then so be it." - Lee quoted in Reuters, 2021.

I have discussed several types of digital activism interventions in my previous posts. However, I did not address the implications of those interventions for the activists. After spending weeks or even years discovering how to fix an issue, some activists have been imprisoned for being disobedient, while their interventions have been considered wrong, or just being against the rules. However, as Stanger (n.d.) argues, activists' lives revolve around thinking about the good of others or just resisting the injustices within societies.


"Resistance is understood to be an essential exercise of democratic governance, a necessary and ongoing push that is required to keep the whole system robust." - Stanger, n.d., p. xv.

However, when certain people are being pressured by activists to make changes in what they are doing, they take action. In some cases, action means imprisonment, while in others, it is about death.


Hong Kong activists

Recently, as reported by Reuters (2021), eight Hong Kong "pro-democracy activists were sentenced to up to 14 months in prison". The reason for their imprisonment is that they took part in and incited participation "in a banned vigil last year for victims of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown" (ibid.). Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, the vigil did not happen last year, however, people in the community wanted to commemorate the victims who died at Tiananmen Square.


To put things into context, many people have been arrested or even jailed since "Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law last year" (ibid.), with whom the citizens were not pleased. Consequently, the tension between authorities and the population increased, leaving the authorities with no choice than taking justness actions.


"Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 74, who is already in jail, barrister Chow Hang Tung, 36, and activist Gwyneth Ho, 31, received sentences of 13, 12 and 6 months, respectively. They were found guilty by the court last Thursday." - ibid.

"Five others who had pleaded guilty, including Lee Cheuk-yan, leader of the now-disbanded vigil organizer Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, were sentenced to between just over 4 months and 14 months." - ibid.

By all means, even being in the worst circumstances, these activists were not afraid to express their opinions loudly.


"If those in power had wished to kill the movement with prosecution and imprisonment, they shall be sorely disappointed. Indeed what they have done is breathe new life into the movement, rallying a new generation to this long struggle for truth, justice and democracy." - Chow quoted in ibid.

Considering Chow's mitigation, it can be understood that because this case has already got media exposure by being shared on social media platforms, the action taken by the authorities would influence a new generation to continue the activist movement for a better and more secure society.



Go Sherab Gyatso sentenced to 10 years in prison


Go Sherab Gyatso has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to an article published by FreeTibet on 15th December 2021. Although his activities were not extremely digital because he used to visit

"schools and monasteries across every region in Tibet, giving numerous lectures and classes on different topics ranging from the importance of traditional forms of knowledge, Buddhism, religious harmony to the importance of democracy and freedom" (ibid.),

his imprisonment quickly became digital when people started to share "images of his books, articles, and quotes from Go Sherab Gyatso on their social media accounts" (ibid.). Due to the restricted freedom of speech in Tibet, people are confused, annoyed, and displeasured of the limited information they have on Gyatso's case, as well as the reasons for which he is in prison now, "on suspicion of inciting secession" (ibid.).


His case is a real example of how a life of doing good can get you in trouble to the extent of losing your freedom. However, it is not his first time in prison due to his activist activity, which means that he continued to believe in the causes he supported even after losing his freedom for several times.



Noof al-Maadeed feared of getting killed

"Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year that Qatari guardianship laws restrict women’s access to many basic rights, including access to some jobs, travel outside the country and reproductive healthcare. They added that a lack of clarity around guardianship legislation means socially conservative policies remain, despite changes to the law." - Michaelson, 2021.

For these reasons, of having a restricted life because of her gender, Noof al-Maadeed went against her family, and her culture by documenting her escape on her social media accounts, gaining hundreds of followers. She started by documenting her "flight from Qatar two years ago, which included stealing her father's mobile phone to request an exit permit" (ibid.), since unmarried women cannot travel alone without the permission of a male guardian, if they are under the age of 25.


"[I was] only allowed to go to school and back. Anything else [and I] can expect a beating" - Noof al-Maadeed quoted in ibid.

She returned to Qatar from the UK in October 2021 and went missing. According to Michaelson (2021), before stopping posting daily on Twitter, she told her followers "to fear for her safety if she fell silent".


Ultimately, after noticing her disappearance, many supporters started putting pressure on the Qatari authorities to request information on her well-being, fearing that she has been killed. As mentioned by Michaelson (2021), officials reassured her followers that she is safe, although there are no signs of her anywhere.


Salah al-Iraqi was shot five times

"The innocent die while the cowards rule." - Salah al-Iraqi quoted in MacDonald, 2020.

These were the last digital words of Salah al-Iraqi on Facebook before he was found dead in suburb of Baghdad al-Jadeed, according to MacDonald (2020). His interventions were political, focusing on how much injustice is in the leadership of the society he lived in. While the reasons behind this incident are still unknown, MacDonald (2020) recalled similar situations in the country.


"Numerous activists, campaigners and journalists have been kidnapped or killed in Iraq in the past year, following mass anti-government demonstrations that began in October 2019. At least 600 people have been killed either by the police during demonstrations or by shady armed groups." - ibid.

Provided this evidence, there are various cases when activists' lives were in danger, or they have been simply imprisoned for their courage of speaking loudly and freely about certain issues in their cultures, regarding gender, race, class, taxes, leadership, and many more. While most of the people appreciate their work, and their continuous motivation of raising awareness, some, mainly the ones pressured, just wish they could disappear.


If their activities were not documented digitally, do you think their punishment would have been the same?



Reference List:

FreeTibet. (2021) GO SHERAB GYATSO SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS IN PRISON. Available at: https://freetibet.org/news-media/na/go-sherab-gyatso-sentenced-10-years-prison (Accessed 12 December 2021).

MacDonald, A. (2020). Iraqi activist shot dead in Baghdad. Available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraq-activist-shot-dead-baghdad (Accessed 12 December 2021).

Michaelson, R. (2021) ‘If I’m not on social media, I’m dead’: Qatari feminist activist feared killed or detained. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/dec/15/if-im-not-on-social-media-im-dead-qatari-feminist-activist-feared-murdered-or-detained (Accessed 12 December 2021).

NBC News. (2021) Hong Kong activists jailed for up to 14 months over banned Tiananmen vigil. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/hong-kong-activists-get-14-months-prison-over-banned-tiananmen-n1285806 (Accessed 12 December 2021).

Stanger, A. (n.d.) Incarcerated resistance: How Identity, Gender, and Privilege Shape the Experiences of America's Nonviolent Activists. Rowman & Littlefield. Available at: Incarcerated Resistance: How Identity, Gender, and Privilege Shape the ... - Anya Stanger - Google Books (Accessed 12 December 2021).


This article is written as part of an assignment for the Digital Activism class in the MA Media and Creative Cultures program at the University of Greenwich.

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