11 years on from Anna’s murder, 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award winner, GULALAI ISMAIL, publishes today a personal Letter to Anna on the anniversary of her murder:
A few days ago I received the news of receiving the award named after you, after your courage and your commitment to speaking truth to power. I am incredibly honoured, this award included me on the list of those brave women who are changing history by exposing themselves to threats by speaking truth to power, by protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable, by countering religious extremism and by making this world a better peaceful place.
I have been working for the rights of young women and for countering violent religious extremism in my community for the last 15 years. In these 15 years, I have learnt incredible things happen when we speak out. I have learnt voices are more powerful than weapons. Therefore, if wars and conflicts have to be prevented we need more voices, not more weapons.
Through my own life experiences, I have learnt what it takes to indoctrinate a young mind, what it takes to make a young person want to be a Jihadist and I have learnt what it takes to prevent young people from radicalization. While terrorist Organizations are recruiting young people as militants, in Pakistan I am recruiting young people as peace activists, preventing them from joining militant organizations, and helping them unleash their potential. I believe that if every young person was presented with the opportunities I was presented with, that our work offers, then they – like me – can make different choices.
Anna, the world may seem dark with hundreds of conflicts happening all over the world and people like us being persecuted. Mashal Khan was a young boy from my village, he had bright ideas. His father would often tell him that he shouldn’t share his ideas because people won’t understand it. But he called himself a humanist, he was an ambassador of tolerance. On 13th April, 2017 he was killed by a mob of young people in his own University after being accused of blasphemy. His two sisters cannot go back to School now, because it is not safe for them.
How heartbreaking it is that people have to choose between their right to speak out and their right to life. No one should be choosing between the two. However, Anna, I want to tell you that if there is darkness, there is hope too. Strong young voices are emerging from the darkest conflict zones. Jamalida Begum who is a brave Rohingya Survivor of rape by Myanmar Security forces spoke out about her own rape and rape of other women in her village. Despite the threat to her life, she spoke out and thus drew the world’s attention to the grave human rights violation happening against the Rohingya population, including their ethnic cleansing. Jamalida has become a testimony to the power of speaking out.
We are not alone, our voices are becoming the voices of many and this will change the world. Anna, I pledge to you that we won’t leave the Earth in this shape, we will make it a better and peaceful place. Soon, the power of love will overcome the love of power.
Amalida Begum, a brave Rohingya survivor of rape by Myanmar security forces, currently a refugee in Bangladesh, who, in 2016, spoke out about her own rape and that of three other women in her village and continued to denounce their treatment publicly, at severe personal risk. In so doing, Jamalida Begum played a significant role in drawing the world’s attention to the grave human rights violations being committed against the Rohingya population, including sexual violence committed against Rohingya women and girls, in Myanmar. She is a Brave Voice Refusing To Be Silenced.
Dear Anna, I refuse to be silenced. Between darkness and hope, I choose hope.
Gulalai Ismail “