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The state of the world's human rights

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The people, the faces, the stories – 50 years of defending rights

Hafez Ibrahim, Yemen

Ratan Gazmere, former prisoner of conscience, 1994

© Amnesty International

I owe my life to Amnesty International

Hafez Ibrahim

13 March 2010  Sana'a  Yemen

Hafez Ibrahim was about to be executed in Yemen when he sent a mobile text message to an Amnesty International researcher in the UK. It was a message that would save his life. 

  • Text message sparks campaign to stop execution of young man in Yemen
  • Hafez Ibrahim pardoned and released
  • “I will dedicate my life to campaigning against the death penalty”

Hafez Ibrahim was 16 when he attended a wedding in his home town of Ta’izz. Everyone was in high spirits and most of the men were armed. At some point, the celebrations boiled over, a struggle broke out, a gun went off and someone was killed.

“They are going to execute us”

A bewildered Hafez was later sentenced to death for the killing. He was not allowed to appeal. In mid-2007, he got hold of a mobile phone in Ta’izz Central Prison and sent a desperate message to Lamri Chirouf, the UK-based Amnesty International researcher who works on Yemen. The text read: “Brother Lamri, they are going to execute us. Please get in touch”.

“We were devastated by this news and immediately sent appeals to the Yemeni President and authorities,” said Lamri. “We also mobilized our membership by issuing an Urgent Action on behalf of Hafez.”

Stay of execution

The President responded by ordering a stay of execution to allow time to obtain a pardon from the family of the victim. When no pardon emerged, the execution was rescheduled for 8 August 2007. Amnesty International again sent out appeals to the President, who ordered a further three-day stay of execution. The family of the victim then agreed to postpone the execution until after the holy month of Ramadan. On 30 October 2007, after the victim’s family agreed to pardon Hafez in exchange for diya (compensation), Hafez was released.

Hafez is now in his third year at Sana'a University studying law. In March 2010, after an emotional reunion with Lamri in Yemen, he described his determination to make the most of the life that was returned to him.

“I owe my life to Amnesty International,” he said, “Now I am dedicating that life to campaigning against the death penalty and raising awareness about human rights.”

For over 50 years we have been fighting for freedom of expression. The world has changed, but violence and imprisonment are still used to silence people who defend human rights and criticize the powerful. By calling on millions of activists and supporters worldwide, we can jam the fax machines of governments and send them a message they can’t ignore. Speak out against repression – deliver a message directly into the hands of those in power.
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