Yvonne Ridley biography
Born in the North East of England surrounded by pits, steelworks and the shipbuilding industries, Yvonne Ridley is extremely proud of her working-class roots which she says is part of her DNA. She entered journalism straight from school and has enjoyed an award-winning career, breaking through several glass ceilings on the way.
She worked for a number of Fleet Street papers including The Sunday Times, The Observer, Independent on Sunday and The Daily Mirror and has written for other titles on a freelance basis as diverse as The Washington Post, Tripoli Times in Libya and Tehran Times in Iran.
She became the headlines when she was captured by the ruling Taliban in 2001 after sneaking into Afghanistan wearing the all-enveloping blue burkha ahead of the US-led war. Two days into an undercover mission for Express Newspapers, she was arrested as a suspected American spy by the Taliban. Few expected her to survive the ordeal but she emerged unscathed 11 days later after being released on humanitarian grounds.
During her imprisonment the chief reporter of The Sunday Express experienced the “sheer terror” of being bombed by America and Britain and the experience, she says, propelled her straight into the ranks of the anti-war movement.
She further confounded her critics by embracing Islam two years later, having given her captors an undertaking to study Islam and the Holy Qur’an if they released her.
Moving from Fleet Street in 2003, Ridley went to Qatar to help launch the English language website for Al Jazeera before returning to the UK as a broadcast journalist for start-up ventures Islam Channel and Press TV. During her freelance years she was also commissioned by and worked for BBC TV and radio, CNN, and numerous Middle Eastern broadcasters; valued both as a commentator and presenter of news analysis, especially in the MENA region.
In 2019 a Canadian educational institution nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work seeking justice against war crimes committed on the Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh and for Syrian women who had been brutalised and tortured in the Assad regime’s prisons.
But if you ask her what was among the highlights of her career to date she will say receiving a Palestinian passport from political leader Ismail Haniyeh after successfully breaking the siege of Gaza by sea.
The President of the United Nations General Assembly (63rd session), Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, issued a statement after the event comparing the actions of those on board the boats to two of the greatest human rights activists the world has known.
He wrote: “(Mahatma) Gandhi’s and (Martin Luther) King’s successors in the twenty-first century have carried out further experiments in the power of nonviolent truth to achieve justice and peace in every corner of the world—including, in the last two months, Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement has succeeded in breaking the siege of Gaza by nonviolent direct action.
“After sailing from Cyprus, 44 activists from 17 countries landed their two small wooden boats at Gaza Port on August 23, 2008, where a beleaguered people welcomed them. This nonviolent initiative allowed Palestinians to enter and leave their own country freely for the first time in over 60 years. As Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories noted, it is now a question of whether the courage and commitment of the Free Gaza Movement ‘can awaken the conscience of humanity to an unfolding tragedy’.
“From the groundbreaking work of Gandhi and King to the ongoing example of the Free Gaza Movement, we can discern the transforming power of nonviolence at a crossroads in our history. Having developed the means of our own extinction by war, we are called by Truth, at the very centre of our being, to turn to a nonviolent way of transformation into a just and peaceful future”.
When she’s not writing, she spends her time giving lectures on humanitarian and women’s issues at university campuses and conferences around the world. Her latest non-fiction book is on The Rise of the Prophet Muhammad: Don’t Shoot The Messenger.
In March 2020, in recognition for her humanitarian work in the field of journalism, she was awarded an honorary doctorate at the International Academy of Diplomatic Action in Bern, Switzerland.
She is the Secretary-General of the European Muslims League (EML) with joint headquarters in Milan and Switzerland. EML has been described by The Council of Europe – Strasbourg, as an expert in the prevention of radicalisation. It is also a leading inter-faith group promoting greater understanding between people of all religious backgrounds.
Today she is working on a Scottish historic fiction trilogy called The Caledonians. The first title: Mr Petrie’s Apprentice was published in January 2020 to rave reviews and critical acclaim. The second title: The Sinclair Curse is expected early next year.
She is also a columnist for the prestigious Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Turkish magazine Gercek Hayat as well as being WTX News Diplomatic Editor and book reviewer.
Home is a remote farm in the Scottish Borders where she also runs a peafowl rescue centre and sanctuary for the exotic birds and practices beekeeping having qualified as a Bee Master along with her husband.