Advocacy Campaigns

HRF’s advocacy campaigns raise awareness, build support, and achieve objectives for individual rights through a series of strategic, coordinated activities.

Saudi Arabia: Free Waleed

Freedom of Expression in Saudi Arabia

Freedom of expression is the right to share your thoughts and opinions, as well as the right to receive information from any source you choose. This means that you can criticize anyone, whether that’s the president, a neighbor, or anyone you disagree with. You can watch any TV show, read any books and newspapers, and access any websites you want.

However, while most governments have the power to limit freedom of expression, non-democracies often abuse this power. One way they do so is by imprisoning people who speak out against the government; another way to limit freedom of expression is by controlling the media. They do this by blocking websites, shutting down news outlets and social media sites, and harassing journalists and activists.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a king who can create whatever laws he wants at any time. The royal family has complete control over most media outlets, and Saudi citizens are often imprisoned for criticizing the king, religion, or politics. HRF’s Free Speech Unlimited project lists Saudi Arabia among the worst offenders when it comes to prohibiting free speech.

Waleed Abulkhair, a Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer, was imprisoned for signing a petition calling for democracy, and for criticizing the Saudi Arabian government on news outlets and on Twitter. Now you have the chance to take action on Waleed’s behalf.

About Waleed

Waleed started his career as a human rights lawyer in 2007, speaking up for democratic principles, promoting accountability, and defending victims of human rights abuses. On April 15, 2014, the Saudi regime decided to silence Waleed. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Guards have deprived Waleed of sleep, placed him in solitary confinement, and denied him access to necessary medical treatment. His daughter, born while Waleed was in prison, may grow up without her father.

Imagine if you weren’t allowed to express your opinions. Imagine being sent to jail for a tweet or Facebook post. Imagine not being able to see your family for 15 years because the government didn’t like what you had to say.

By signing and sharing this petition, you will:

  • Raise awareness about Waleed Abulkhair’s case
  • Call on King Salman to release Waleed Abulkhair
  • Pressure Saudi Arabia to uphold human rights and freedom

On April 17, 2017, HRF will hand deliver this petition to the U.N. Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to mark the three-year anniversary of Waleed’s imprisonment.

We need to collect as many signatures as possible to have the greatest impact, so after you sign the petition please share it with your friends. Raise your voice for Waleed and for others who have been silenced.

Additional resources

Interested in learning more about Waleed Abulkhair? Check out HRF’s in-depth legal report and read about his case in this Washington Post op-ed.

China: Free Liu Xiaobo

As a founding member of the International Committee to Support Liu Xiaobo, HRF is helping to lead an international push for the release of the Chinese scholar, poet, Nobel Peace Laureate, and political prisoner. Consisting of intellectuals, artists, China experts, and human rights activists—including six Nobel Laureates—the International Committee’s goal is to inform, defend, and advocate for the release of Liu. Imprisoned since December 2008, Liu’s “crime” was the organization of the Charter 08 document—a manifesto signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and activists petitioning Beijing for greater freedom and human rights. Published on December 10, 2008—the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—Charter 08 was inspired by the Charter 77 movement led by HRF’s late chairman, Václav Havel, during Czechoslovakia’s struggle with dictatorship.

Liu still languishes in Jinzhou Prison—located in the province of Liaonin—and has little contact with his family. His wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest, despite never having been charged with a crime. In December 2012, the Committee sent a letter signed by 134 Nobel Laureates and more than 430,000 individuals to the Chinese authorities, demanding Liu’s release. HRF published the letter across various media outlets, along with a video of his imprisoned wife’s remarks.

HRF is dedicated to exposing the crimes of the Chinese dictatorship and continues to fight for the freedom of Liu and his wife.

Venezuela: Free RCTV

Free RCTV is HRF’s campaign to raise awareness about the grave situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela. Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was effectively shut down by the Venezuelan government in January 2010 for failing to air a speech by former president Hugo Chávez.

Since its founding in 1953, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) has often been at odds with government agencies and the Venezuelan presidency. RCTV’s independence is illustrated by the number of Venezuelan presidents who have clashed with the network and its executives over criticism of government inefficiency and corruption.

Within months of taking office, Venezuela’s president at the time, Hugo Chavez, took action against the independent media that criticized his administration or opposed his re-election. RCTV was no exception. On June 14, 2006, the Venezuelan president declared that he was not going to renew the licenses of certain television stations, particularly those controlled by the “oligarchy” that opposes the government. On January 10, 2007, the president declared that RCTV’s days were numbered and nothing would stop him from not renewing RCTV’s operating license.


[May 27, 2007]: RCTV is shut down at midnight, after nearly a year of threats and attacks on the station by the Venezuelan government.

[January 23, 2010]: RCTV-I fails to air a speech by President Chávez and that same day the government publicly calls on the cable and satellite operating companies to take RCTV-I, along with other five channels, off the air. The order is enforced that same day at midnight.

Venezuela: Caracas Nine

The Caracas Nine campaign focuses on the plight of nine Venezuelans who spoke their minds and paid a price. These nine and women are from all walks of life—from a law student to a judge, a military general to a journalist. Their stories bear witness to the deplorable state of human rights in Venezuela today, where only those who conform utterly to the demands of the regime are safe from persecution. The Caracas Nine include survivors of discrimination, censorship, intimidation, false arrest, imprisonment, and torture.

Francisco Usón

Francisco Usón is a retired Venezuelan army general and former cabinet minister in the government of President Hugo Chávez who was sentenced to five and a half years in a maximum-security prison for making a statement expressing concern for human rights. Usón’s case is the first in HRF’s Caracas Nine campaign

UPDATE: [December 25, 2007] Usón is freed on conditional release.

Yon Goicoechea

Yon Goicoechea is a young Venezuelan, who, at great personal risk, became one of the key leaders and spokesmen for his country’s student movement. For his outspoken criticism of the government, he and his fellow protestors have been the victims of intimidation as well as verbal and physical assaults.

HRF’s letter to President Chávez asks the Venezuelan government to end the persecution of Goicoechea and expresses grave concern for the violence against student protestors at the hands of state security officials. HRF's legal report states that Goicoechea is entitled to government protection of his right to assemble peacefully without facing threats, harassment, or unwarranted and excessive use of force by security personnel.

Alberto Federico Ravell

Alberto Federico Ravell is a Venezuelan journalist and the general director of Globovisión, the only remaining 24-hour news and information channel in Venezuela that is critical of the Venezuelan government. Under Ravell’s leadership, Globovisión has suffered numerous attacks against its equipment, employees, and directors.

HRF's legal report establishes that the Venezuelan government used administrative proceedings to silence the media; intimidated directors and journalists at private media channels via judicial and criminal proceedings; engaged in “judicial censorship” via a subservient judicial system; and passed a Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (December 7, 2004), which heavily curtailed freedom of expression.

UPDATE: [September 23, 2013] In August 2013 Globovisión was sold to a group of chavista investors loyal to President Maduro’s government. After the ownership change, the content of the network’s programming began to change: shows and presenters critical of the government were dropped from the channel. It now appears that the Globovisión, while not directly owned by the state, operates according to guidelines set by the government.

Marta Colomina

Marta Colomina is a Venezuelan journalist and academic who has been the victim of intimidation, threats, and violence in retaliation for her work critical of the government. Colomina was one of the four female journalists who initially exposed the links between the Venezuelan government and the Colombian terrorist organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Attacks on Colomina have been both verbal and physical. The minister of defense called her an “undesirable foreigner,” and she was labeled a traitor on posters hung in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. In 2003, as she was driving to work, a group of masked men carrying automatic rifles intercepted her vehicle, blocked it, and threw a Molotov cocktail at her car. Fortunately, she was saved by a protective anti-munitions layer on her windshield.

HRF condemns these attacks against Colomina, as outlined in its legal report, and urges the Venezuelan authorities to protect Colomina and to identify, prosecute, and punish those who have threatened her life.

José Humberto Quintero

José Humberto Quintero Aguilar is a National Guard lieutenant colonel and commander of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Unit (GAES-Grupo Antiextorsión y Secuestro) in the state of Táchira, Venezuela. He was detained in January 2005 by the Venezuelan government for allegedly arresting Ricardo Gonzalez, popularly known as Rodrigo Granda, a leader of the terrorist organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Quintero is the fifth case in HRF’s Caracas Nine campaign.

HRF's legal report finds that the evidence points to unmistakable violations of human rights, specifically the rights to due process under the law and to legal counsel, as well as the rights to be free from arbitrary detainment and torture. HRF considers that Quintero’s allegations of torture should have prompted a serious investigation and urged the Venezuelan authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.

Gustavo Azócar Alcalá

Gustavo Azócar is a journalist and university professor in the western state of Táchira, Venezuela. He has been the target of political persecution by members of the government due to his criticism of the regional and national governments and his profile as an opposition leader in Táchira.

After two and a half years of procedural delays, the public prosecutor’s office formally accused Azócar of corruption in the fulfillment of an advertising contract between his company and the state lottery. His trial began in May 2009, and he was imprisoned at the end of July 2009 for allegedly violating the terms of his parole. His trial was annulled in October 2009, yet he remained in prison.

HRF considers that the violation of multiple due process guarantees, including undue delays and disproportionate measures throughout his case, strongly suggest that Azócar has been investigated, tried, and imprisoned for political reasons. HRF's legal report finds overwhelming evidence indicating that the investigation, incarceration, and trial against Azócar were instigated to silence his independent voice. HRF has designated Azócar a prisoner of conscience of the Venezuelan government.

UPDATE: [March 26, 2010] Azócar has been convicted and sentenced to two years and six months in prison. He is serving his sentence on parole.

Rubén González

Rubén González is a Venezuelan union leader who has worked for CVG Ferrominera Orinoco C.A. (Ferrominera) for nearly 27 yearswas the secretary general of the Workers’ Union of CVG Ferrominera Orinoco C.A. (Sintraferrominera), the company’s largest union. He was arrested for leading a strike to protest labor conditions.

In its legal report HRF concludes, (1) that González was accused, detained, imprisoned, and prosecuted exclusively for exercising his right to freely associate for labor purposes in Venezuela, and (2) that these actions violate both Venezuelan law and the standards of protection of the freedom of association and personal freedom according to international human rights law.

[March 3, 2011] Rubén González has been released on parole.

María Lourdes Afiuni

María Lourdes Afiuni is a Venezuelan judge who was illegally arrested on December 10, 2009, just hours after she granted a detainee measures alternative to pre-trial detention.

On December 10, 2009, Afiuni granted bail to Eligio Cedeño, a Venezuelan banker accused of currency fraud who was imprisoned on February 8, 2007. Afiuni’s decision was based on the fact that Cedeño had been detained for almost three years without trial, thus exceeding the two-year pre-trial detention limit under Venezuelan law. Approximately 20 minutes after Cedeño left the courthouse, around ten DISIP agents (today, known as, Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional “SEBIN,” Bolivarian National Intelligence Service in English) arrested Afiuni and her court’s bailiffs.

In its legal report, HRF concludes that, with these actions, Venezuela violated: (1) the right to personal liberty; (2) the right to due process of law; (3) the right to human dignity of all persons deprived of liberty, including the right to health and medical attention, as well as the obligation to segregate the accused and convicted; (4) its obligation to diligently investigate allegations of rape made by Afiuni and prosecute and punish the perpetrators; and (5) the guarantee of stability and tenure of judges.

UPDATE: [June 14, 2013] After Judge Afiuni’s defense attorney publicly claimed that Afiuni was raped during her imprisonment, the seventeenth criminal court of Caracas sitting on her case decided to “terminate her house arrest and instead impose a restriction on traveling abroad; the obligation to appear in court every 15 days; and a prohibition from making any statements to national and international media outlets and social networks.”

Miguel Hernández Souquett

Miguel Hernández Souquett is a Venezuelan auto mechanic who had been persecuted since 2010 for wearing a t-shirt featuring Bart Simpson and the phrase “Hugo: I shit on your revolution” at a baseball game. He was charged with the crime of “offending the heads of government,” punishable by six to 30 months in prison.

More than three years later, Hernández remained subject to criminal prosecution. Since February 2010, Hernández has been required to appear monthly in court as a pre-trial measure alternative to imprisonment.

Through its legal report, HRF establishes that, with its actions, the State of Venezuela violated: (1) Hernández’s right to freely express opinions and ideas, even when these are offensive, shocking, or disturbing; (2) the general prohibition against the criminalization of expressions, especially those directed at public officials; (3) the prohibition against the criminalization of subjective opinions or value judgments; (4) the prohibition against the restriction of freedom of expression through the application of desacato laws; and (5) Hernandez’s right to freely disseminate his ideas or opinions through the means of his choosing, in order to communicate them to the greatest possible number of people.

The Caracas Nine campaign focuses on the plight of nine Venezuelans who spoke their minds and paid a price. These nine and women are from all walks of life—from a law student to a judge, a military general to a journalist. Their stories bear witness to the deplorable state of human rights in Venezuela today, where only those who conform utterly to the demands of the regime are safe from persecution. The Caracas Nine include survivors of discrimination, censorship, intimidation, false arrest, imprisonment, and torture.


Ecuador: Free Guadalupe Llori

Guadalupe Llori is an opposition governor of the Ecuadorean province of Orellana who was arbitrarily imprisoned on charges of “sabotage” and “terrorism” for leading a non-violent protest. Upon designating Llori a prisoner of conscience pursuant to an investigation, HRF led a campaign decrying the illegal imprisonment of the governor, which successfully resulted in her 2008 release. The report submitted by HRF to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, pleading the activation of its urgent action procedure to facilitate Llori’s immediate release, may be viewed here.

UPDATE: [September 23, 2008] Llori is released from jail after nine months and 16 days of illegal imprisonment. Her release follows a September 17 ruling by the Superior Court of Justice of Nueva Loja, which established Llori’s innocence.

“Long live the Human Rights Foundation! I have been waiting for this day for a long time. I am infinitely grateful to HRF for establishing my innocence and for having defended my cause and the cause of my people. HRF was the only organization to defend and take an interest in me. Not a single human rights organization in my country bothered to assist me. Not a single international organization visited me in jail. May God bless HRF,” said Llori following her release.

Related Documents:

Venezuela: Tell Chávez

Despite an amnesty law signed by president Hugo Chávez in December of 2007 purportedly ensuring that no Venezuelan would be imprisoned for political reasons, Venezuelans have continue to be subjected to political persecution and imprisonment for disagreeing with or opposing the government. Many of these prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions without access to medical care.

The Tell Chávez campaign aims to increase public awareness about political persecution in Venezuela using these emblematic cases: Otto Gebauer, Humberto Quintero, Iván Simonovis, Lázaro Forero, Henry Vivas, and Raúl Díaz.

Otto Gebauer

On April 11, 2002, President Chávez’s cabinet informed the international press that Chávez had resigned. A coup d’état followed and a provisional government took power. The next day, army captain Otto Gebauer’s commanding officer ordered him to protect Chávez’s physical safety and ensure that his human rights were respected.

On November 11, 2004, Gebauer was arrested and taken to the Military Intelligence Division headquarters, where he was tortured, interrogated, and imprisoned for more than a year and a half before trial proceedings began. He was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison for "insubordination" and for his role in depriving President Chávez of his liberty. Ironically, the officer who ordered Gebauer to take the president into protective custody was condemned to only three years in prison. Gebauer remains incarcerated in the military prison of Ramo Verde.

Humberto Quintero

Humberto Quintero, National Guard lieutenant colonel and commander of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Unit in the state of Táchira, was arrested in January 2005 for capturing Ricardo González, alias Rodrigo Granda, one of the senior leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Quintero was accused of high treason since his actions allegedly constituted an incitement to war with the Republic of Colombia. He was also accused of abusing his power by commissioning Granda’s capture, and of perpetrating offenses against the Venezuelan military. Tortured and interrogated for seven days, Quintero suffered internal hemorrhaging and severe thoracic wounds. According to Quintero, his interrogators were trying to force him to testify that the governments of Colombia and the United States were behind the Granda capture. In December of 2007, Quintero was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. He is currently detained in Ramo Verde, a military prison that lacks running water and basic medical care.

Iván Simonovis, Lázaro Forero, Henry Vivas

These men are among the eleven members of the Caracas Metropolitan Police accused of killing protesters during the demonstrations of April 11, 2002. They have been imprisoned since 2004.

Their ongoing trial included more than a thousand hours of debate and 210 witnesses—but no evidence was produced to prove their guilt. While imprisoned, Simonovis was denied medical treatment for a life-threatening gastrointestinal illness, despite several judicial orders approving his transfer to a hospital. He did not receive treatment until national and international organizations became involved on his behalf. He says he has been a victim of "a demeaning and humiliating revenge that goes against the most basic principles of human rights."

Raúl Díaz

In December 2002, Raúl Díaz, an engineering student, joined thousands of people in peaceful protests against the Venezuelan government. He became involved with a group of Venezuelan dissidents and military officers who had declared themselves in legitimate disobedience to the government and were rallying in Plaza Altamira, Caracas. Díaz was subsequently accused of participating in the 2003 bombings of the Spanish and Colombian embassies in Caracas. There was no evidence to support this accusation—but Díaz was nonetheless arrested in February 2004.

Díaz languished in prison for twice the time permitted by law before he was taken to trial. Originally, the public prosecution charged him as an accomplice to the bombings. On the day of the ruling, however, the charges were changed and he was convicted as the author of the crime. Raúl Díaz was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison. He was imprisoned for more than four years before he was finally sentenced.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter And Mr. Insulza

In 2010, HRF advocated that the Organization of American States’ (OAS) enforce the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) equally across its member states. The campaign included in-depth legal analysis and a series of letters addressed to the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, urging him to uphold the democracy clause for all OAS member states.

HRF’s campaign featured a series of letters addressed to Secretary General Insulza. The first letter focuses on the threats against democracy from three democratically elected governments in Latin America: Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The second letter details the methods that each of these nations have taken to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The third letter denounces the abuses against press freedom by these governments, and Insulza’s subsequent inaction in response to these threats. The fourth letter calls attention to the erosion of the separation of powers of government in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The fifth letter denounces Insulza’s request to allow Cuba entry into the OAS, despite the Cuban government’s noncompliance with any of the essential elements of democracy put forth by the IADC.

As part of the campaign calling for the OAS to uphold the IADC, HRF authored a 300-page legal report on the 2009 democratic crisis in Honduras. The report concludes that under the standards of the IADC, it was correct to suspend the Honduran government of Roberto Micheletti from participation at the OAS. The report also found, however, that throughout the Honduran crisis the OAS, under the leadership of Insulza, acted as an international accomplice of President Zelaya rather than as an international organization called to promote and protect democracy in its member states.