Prisoners of Conscience has celebrated the latest round of bursary grantees at a special ceremony in London.

At a drinks reception on Friday 15 November, kindly hosted by Clifford Chance, we acknowledged the bravery and hard work of the human rights defenders whom we support via our bursaries.

This scheme helps prisoners of conscience by providing them with grants to pay for post-graduate education and re-qualification, which in turn helps them find meaningful employment. We also offer an Employability Panel to provide specialist career advice.

“We have 13 bursary recipients from eight different countries for the 2019/20 academic year. All have shown tremendous fortitude, self-sacrifice and courage both in standing up for human rights and for the courage shown in their ambitions to requalify in the UK. We are delighted to be able to support them,” said Prisoners of Conscience chief executive, Gary Allison, before adding how all of this is only possible with the help of our donors. “Thank you to the generosity of our supporters. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”

Guests at the event heard from three previous bursary grantees about how the support received from Prisoners of Conscience transformed their lives.

Victoria from Zimbabwe was one such speaker. She was forced to seek asylum in the UK after she and her family received threats against their life – the reason: she had organised political meetings on behalf of an opposition party. Back home she was a teacher, but her qualifications weren’t recognised in the UK and she was forced to take a low-paid zero-hours job as a care worker. She was able to access a Prisoners of Conscience bursary grant to study a Masters in Public Health.

She told us: “My life and profile have changed significantly thanks to your belief in me and the opportunity and support you gave me. If it were not for your organisation, I would not be who I am today because I was able to undertake studies without worrying about fees. I am a mother of three boys. Life would have been incredibly tough without your support. Your support enabled me to focus on studies and to forget about my having been banished from Zimbabwe. This organisation gave me a new life and I will forever be grateful.”

Yusuf, a human rights lawyer from Turkey who has been able to requalify in the UK thanks to a Prisoners of Conscience bursary, also shared his experiences.

He said: “Being a human rights defender in an authoritarian country is one of the most significant jobs one can do. But defending human rights makes you a target of the government. You might easily be charged, prosecuted and convicted with a variety of reasons. These are the optimistic results which a human rights defender might encounter; even worse, you might be tortured and killed.

“At the end of 2013, I suddenly found myself in the UK. I did not plan to leave my country, my family, my friends, my job. It just happened in a few days; I could not even say goodbye to my loved ones. The first two years in the exile was very hard. It is like starting the life from the zero point. You have to create yourself from your ashes and learn everything from beginning.”

Sobia from Pakistan was another speaker. She said: “I belong to a minority sect of Islam, Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are declared non-Muslims by the constitution of Pakistan and are not allowed to practice their religious beliefs freely.

“I was subjected to a clear discrimination in every walk of life. I had no choice except to resign [from my job as a lecturer and researcher at the University of Punjab] after serious life threats just after a couple of years in service. My family manged to escape the country after an attack on the business place of my husband by an extremist Muslim group.

“I received a bursary grant from Prisoners of Conscience without which it would have been impossible to complete my course. I was not only able to purchase all the necessary equipment for my studies with this money but also managed the cost of childcare and daily commute to Manchester from Stoke-on-Trent. I completed my full-time MSc course in Urban design and International Planning with an overall high merit and distinction for dissertation research and was awarded a special certificate along with my degree to commend my research work.”

The full list of bursary winners for 2019/20 is as follows (*names have been changed to protect the individual):

Would you like to help human rights defenders requalify and rebuild their lives after experiencing trauma and tyranny? Why not make a donation to the Prisoners of Conscience bursary scheme? Your gift will be used to help people like Victoria, Baran and Sobia make a meaningful contribution to society. Thank you.