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Coordinator's Corner Personal Reflections on Wei Jingsheng In the late '70s I was a fledgling student of Chinese culture watching with considerable enthusiasm as China began the process of opening up to the West. Deng Xiaoping had displaced the Maoists and reform in the shape of his "Four Modernizations" (industry, agriculture, science/technology and national defense) was being implemented. Prospects for further normalization (maybe even student exchanges!) between the U.S. and China were good. Maybe this wasn't such a frivolous major after all! We were further riveted by the rise of the Democracy Wall Movement. On a public wall near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, activists placed posters calling for further reforms. One of its most enthusiastic participants, a young man named Wei Jingsheng, boldly advocated for a "Fifth Modernization" - democracy and human rights: In his words, "The leaders of our nation must be informed that we want to take our destiny into our own hands. We want no more gods and emperors. No more saviors of any kind. We want to be masters of our own country, not modernized tools for expansionist ambitions of dictators... Democracy, freedom and happiness are the only goals of modernization. Without this fifth modernization, the four others are nothing more than a new-fangled lie." My classmates and I were crushed when the democracy movement was suppressed and Wei was put on trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison. We learned quickly to envy our friends in Russian Studies, because while the names of Soviet dissidents, such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, were not quickly forgotten by the American public or the US government, Chinese dissidents seemed to vanish into oblivion as far as the public consciousness was concerned, soon after their incarceration, while the media continued to focus on the economic transformation of China. Only those of us with a personal stake in China's future and human rights advocates like Amnesty International seemed concerned about the thousands of prisoners of conscience trapped in the Chinese "laogai" or gulag. Even from prison, however, Wei's courageous example continues to inspire many Chinese reform activists in China and his influence was felt at the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Wei was released in 1993, but when he again began to speak out for democracy and human rights, he was arrested on April 1, 1994 and held without charge or trial. His assistant Tong Yi, a featured prisoner in our recent Women's Campaign was arrested a few days later. Wei was tried on December 13, 1995 and after a 5-hour trial convicted of "plotting to overthrow the government" and sentenced to 14 years in prison and 3 years revocation of his political rights. The verdict was upheld on appeal. (See the "Web Tips" column for an easy way to find out more about Wei and his trial and how you can respond). Amnesty is about to launch a major international campaign for human rights in China and bringing attention to the Wei's case is a major goal of this campaign. Please join us at the January 25 monthly meeting to help us plan how we can pressure the Chinese government for Wei's unconditional release and raise awareness about the plight of all Chinese prisoners of conscience here at home. See you there! Martha Ter Maat Group Coordinator 818-281-4039 email@example.com Up-coming Events Letter-writing Meeting Wednesday, January 10, 7:30 PM Rathskellar Movie Night: "Dead Man Walking" Friday, January 19, Time TBA Call Martha: 818-281-4039 Monthly Meeting, Caltech Y Lounge Thursday, January 25, 7:30 PM Letter Tally - December Holiday Card Action 99 Nigeria/Kenya 21 Women 7 Chinese Refugees 12 Children's Action 3 Other 1 Newsletter Subscriptions Due! Just a reminder that many of our most loyal members have newsletter subscriptions which expire in January. You will be receiving a letter soon, requesting a $10 donation to cover our postage and photo-copying costs. Those who receive the newsletter electronically are encouraged to make donations also as the money will help defray costs of providing "scholarship" subscriptions to local high school student activists and free sample issues sent to our newer members. Any contribution you can make is very much appreciated! DEATH PENALTY CAMPAIGN UPDATE ==================== by Mark The past year has been a mixed one for anti-death penalty activists. During 1995 the United States executed 56 people, the highest number since Capital Punishment resumed in 1977. The total number of prisoners killed by the United States since Utah shot Gary Gilmore in 1977 now stands at 313. Texas remained the biggest executor by taking the lives of 19 inmates bringing its post-Gilmore total to a staggering 104, way ahead of the second most prolific execution state which is Florida with a cumulative total of 36. Although California only executed 2 people in 1995 it now has the largest death row population with 432 human beings currently awaiting their deaths at the hands of the Golden State. The high number of executions in 1995 is part of a steady upward trend and with anti-death penalty politicians, such as Mario Cuomo, being pushed out of office there is no reason to think that this trend will be reversed in the immediate future. In a further setback for opponents of state sanctioned murder the state of New York, after ousting Governor Cuomo, decided to reintroduce death penalty laws bringing the number of states with Capital Punishment on the statutes to 38. However, internationally during 1995 there was a continuation in the trend towards abolition which was underlined by the Republic of South Africa's decision to end Capital Punishment. Since South Africa had previously been one of the World's biggest executors their decision will save many lives but it will also further increase the isolation of the United States which is the only Western Democracy which still uses the death penalty. Group Outing to see "Dead Man Walking" "Two Thumbs Up!" "Dead Man Walking," the much anticipated film based on Helen Prejean's memoir about her experiences with death row inmates premiered on December 29. Many group members have thoroughly enjoyed the book "Dead Man Walking" and can only hope that the movie brings the reality of death row to a larger audience. The movie stars Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, is directed by Tim Robbins and has already received Golden Globe nominations for best actress, actor and screenplay. Movie critics Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert have given it their "thumbs up" and praised it as an Oscar contender and placed it in the top five of their year end "best of 95" lists. The movie is receiving much praise for it's thoughtful approach to the issue of capital punishment and it is hoped that the film will be a starting point for many constructive discussions about the death penalty. A CD inspired by the film will be released on January 9 and includes tracks from Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Waits, Michelle Shocked, Suzanne Vega, Steve Earle and Pakistani devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The album will benefit groups working for the abolition of the death penalty. Group 22 members plan to gather to see the movie together in January (Friday, January 19). We will try for a 7-8 PM start time preferably at a theater in Old Town Pasadena where we can gather at a coffee shop afterwards for discussion. Carpools will be encouraged. Call or e-mail Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be included and we will confirm, time and theater. Please be aware that since the movie debuts nationwide on that date (and we anticipate that it will begin showing in Pasadena theaters at that time) we may not be able to make time and place confirmations until the last minute. Women's Human Rights Committee Continues Its Work! by Revae Steinman Moran The members of the Women's HR Committee, an ad hoc group of women from AI groups around L.A., met on January 11th to discuss how to continue our work now that the conference is over. The conference at UCLA was a great success. The panels were terrific and radio station KPFK taped the entire day's event. Segments of the conference will be aired as part of their fund-raising drive Jan. 25 - Feb. 9, so stay tuned for further details. (As of this date, they had not programmed the event, so they were not sure when the segments would air.) We discussed several actions, including how to coordinate with AI's campaigns. We decided that bringing more focus to the plight of women prisoners and refugees would be one of the things to focus on. Accordingly, we plan to work with the refugee committee and tie into their work as well as work with the campaign coordinators to see how we can be of service. We also plan to put out a quarterly newsletter and continue to develop a network of individuals interested in women's human rights issues. A final item is to participate in some fashion in the AI regional conference - now scheduled for next January. No doubt there will be plenty for us to do. It's just a matter of setting our priorities and deciding how to proceed. This will be an evolving process as the next few months go by. Our next meeting will be at the AI office on Feb. 8th. Give me a call at (818) 249-1419 or e-mail me at email@example.com if you would like more information or would like to pass along information on women's issues. Web Tip of the Month: Iqbal Masih - A Bullet Can't Kill a Dream http://www.digitalrag.com/mirror/iqbal/iqbal.html Warning! Choose a quiet time and have a box of tissues handy when you explore this page, it's a real tearjerker! Iqbal Masih was sold into bonded labor at 4 years of age for $12. He was forced to work more than twelve hours a day, was constantly beaten, verbally abused, and chained to his loom by the carpet factory owner. He escaped at the age of 10 and spoke out against child slavery and for schools for all Pakistani children. At age 12, Iqbal won the Reebok Human Rights Youth in Action Award 1994. While in the USA to accept the award he visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Massachusetts and inspired the children with his story. In 1995 he was murdered. "A Bullet can't Kill a Dream" is a moving compendium of documents not just about Iqbal and child labor in Pakistan but about the extraordinary encounter between Iqbal and the students of Broad Meadows and how they have taken up his cause. Read the reactions of students when they first met Iqbal: "Yesterday, my mother was going to buy a rug. I asked her if it was made in Pakistan with child bonded labor. She said, 'With what?' I replied, 'There is someone coming to our class from Pakistan who was sold at age four to a carpet factory as a bonded slave laborer.' She was surprised. I was surprised today also when I saw how small he was from malnutrition." -- Kelly Mullen "My job was to welcome Iqbal into the building I escorted him to the classroom and introduced him to the class. When he was telling his story, I could not believe that he was still alive after all the beatings he got from the factory owners. I am going to write a letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan and to President Clinton. I think if enough adults and kids work on this slavery in Pakistan, I think we can stop it." --Amanda Loos There are also poems and reflections as the children deal with their grief upon learning of Iqbal's death, posters in support of his cause, press clippings and letters of support from politicians and celebrities. Finally, the students of Broad Meadows have a dream to build a school in Pakistan to honor Iqbal. For their extraordinary dedication and accomplishments as human rights activists the children of Broad Meadows Middle School received the Reebok Human Rights Youth in Action Award for 1995. Web Tips Reminders: Don't forget to take advantage of the Wei Jingsheng page's electronic petition previously featured in this column. http://www.echonyc.com/~leila/Wei.html Since the first part of our China campaign will focus on Tibet a repeat visit for some non-AI background on the Tibet to the "Free Tibet" page might be in order: http://www.manymedia.com/tibet/index.html Look for more China campaign web tips in future issues of this newsletter. California Execution Scheduled for January 26 A man who shot to death 2 Taco Bell employees 12 years ago is now scheduled to die in San Quentin in what could be the first of 3 executions in California this year. William Kirkpatrick, Jr., 35, is scheduled to be executed on JANUARY 26. He has moved ahead of the other 433 prisoners on death row because he has no appeals pending, and ther is no court blocking his execution. He has abandoned his legal fight and says he is ready to die. If he is executed, he will become the 1st person to die via lethal injection in California; both Robert Alton Harris and David Mason were put to death in the gas chamber, which has since been outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment (in Calif.). Kirkpatrick was sentenced to death after he was convicted in the execution-style shootings of Wayne Hunter, an assistant manager at the Burbank Taco Bell, and Jim Falconio, a 16-year-old high school student who worked at the restaurant, on Sept. 17, 1983. He was convicted of stealing $625 from the restaurant as well. Kirkpatrick says he has no remorse and stated in a letter to the court: "Give me my execution date and kill me!!!" The Los Angeles Times reported that Kirkpatrick has frequently expressed contempt for his attorneys and asked to be allowed to represent himself. Mike Farrell, head of Death Penalty Focus of California was quoted in the Times as saying he was not surprised that Kirkpatrick had given up on his appeals, "The enormous psychic pressures on people [in prison] creates a reaction to their circumstances that... shouldn't be taken at face value. You grind the humanity out of them to the point that they believe that there's no hopeful conclusion and the only thing that's available to them is an end." Editor's last words ------------------- Write for the newsletter! Commentaries, suggestions are always welcomed. Do you like the name of our newsletter? If you have a better name let me know. Remember that you can read the newsletter on line at: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/home.html Now featuring the ready-to-be-clicked web tip of the month. Roberto (818)796-0876 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~rzenit/rzenit.html