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Human rights activists face off against the world’s most repressive regimes in TVO Original

Premiering February 28, the documentary follows Irwin Cotler and Raoul Wallenberg Centre activists into global legal battles for justice

Toronto, Ontario, Feb. 21, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, has committed himself to defending political prisoners and human rights activists against intolerant regimes. Premiering Tuesday, February 28, 2023, at 9 pm ET on TVO, TVO Today, YouTube and smart TV services, TVO Original First to Stand provides an in-depth view into some of the high-profile battles Cotler and a team of young activists at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre have taken up.

“To watch Irwin Cotler fight for human rights is to witness what it means to actually live up to our values as a society,” says John Ferri, VP of Programming and Content at TVO. “First to Stand simmers with its tense political drama and high stakes for the activists caught in the crosshairs of authoritarians.”

“What interested me as I watched the film, is the role women are playing in these movements,” says Irwin Cotler. “This wasn’t something we foresaw when the filming began. What we’re seeing now, whether in Iran or Sudan or Venezuela, are women at the forefront of these revolutionary movements. They are showing us that anyone can stand up.”

Cotler’s own journey as human rights activist began with the landmark case of the Russian refusenik, Natan Sharansky, for whom he devised a “mobilization of shame” public relations blitz that led to Mikhail Gorbachev releasing Sharansky in 1986. Such efforts have drawn the ire of powerful political figures like Vladimir Putin. During a 2006 trip to Moscow, Cotler survived a likely poisoning plot that bears similarities to those who have defied the Russian president.

First to Stand profiles the struggles of Bill Browder, whom Putin has sought to prosecute in Russia, Saudi blogger and free-speech advocate Raif Badawi, women’s rights activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh, international human rights barrister Amal Clooney, and the widely revered human rights champion Nelson Mandela. Follow Irwin Cotler and other passionate advocates as they navigate the complicated battlefield of politics and law to champion the causes of human rights activists around the world.

First to Stand is about human rights activists who know if they stand up, it won't be long before others are standing up with them,” say the filmmakers Irene Lilienheim Angelico and Abbey Neidik.

Watch the premiere of TVO Original First to Stand on February 28, 2023, at 9 pm ET on TVO, TVO Today, YouTube and smart TV services. Subscribe to the weekly TVO Docs Newsletter for the latest on programming updates and features, and follow @TVODocs on Twitter and Facebook.

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ABOUT DLI PRODUCTIONS DLI Productions is a Canadian documentary house based in Montreal. For 40 years, the internationally acclaimed award-winning partners Irene Lilienheim Angelico (director, producer, editor writer) and Abbey Neidik (director, producer, editor writer, camera) have captured true, impactful stories about social justice, as they unfold around the world.

ABOUT TVO MEDIA EDUCATION GROUP TVO Media Education Group inspires learning that changes lives and enriches communities. Founded in 1970, we are a globally recognized digital learning organization that engages Ontarians of all ages with inclusive experiences and diverse perspectives. Through video, audio, games, courses, newsletters and articles, we’re investing in the transformative potential of education for everyone. Funded primarily by the Province of Ontario, TVO is a registered charity supported by thousands of sponsors and donors. For more information, visit, and

Media contact: Suzan Ayscough

Sean Minogue, TVO


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