This is our current newsletter, except that Urgent Actions have been removed since they are not public domain. If you would like a copy of our newsletter (either electronically or via snail-mail) please contact us.
* Coordinator's Corner * Star-gazing The past few weeks many of us have spent more time than usual gazing at the night sky searching for Comet Hale-Bopp and contemplating man's place in the universe. Imagine that you are a prisoner of conscience and catch a glimpse of the moon and stars from your confinement. The intensity of this experience has been suggested by more than one author of a prison memoir. Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas noted the irony of his imprisonment on the day Sputnik was launched and a manmade object broke free from gravity for the first time. He was comforted by the analogy that his thoughts too would always be free to wander into infinity and could not be confined by the physical limitations of his jail cell. Palestinan writer, Mahmoud Darwish, in his poem "Prison" sought consolation in the moon and the stars: ...Even the moon, So dear to me here, Has become larger, more beautiful, And the smell of the earth: Perfume And the taste of nature: Sugar. It is as though I am on the roof of my old house And a new star has riveted itself upon my eye. Star-gazing eventually brings us back to earth with a renewed global perpective on our interconnecting lives. This month we celebrate and work to protect this planet. For Amnesty that means protecting those who would speak out about environmental dangers despite government threats, whether it is the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria or the Nikitin case in Russia. At our April meeting we will finalize our Earth Day plans and begin planning for our refugee campaign. Please join us! Martha Ter Maat Group Coordinator 818-281-4039 firstname.lastname@example.org * * Upcoming Events THURSDAY, April 24, 7:30 PM Monthly Meeting, Winnett Center Caltech Y Lounge TUESDAY, May 13, 7:30 PM Letter-writing Meeting, Athenaeum Rec Room * * * The Web-tips of the month. April 1997 Sierra Club: Human Rights and the Environment http://www.sierraclub.org/human-rights/xs In honor of Earth Day we present the Sierra Club site's Human Rights and the Environment page. Featured prominently is the Alexander Nikitin case and human/environmental rights in Nigeria, Burman, Indonesia and China. Sierra Club also offers a Human Rights and the Environment Alert Network for those interested in taking action by putting pressure on governments and corporations. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum http://www.ushmm.org/ This April recall the Holocaust with a virtual trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The site includes teaching guides, photo archives and text and Real Audio files of presentations given at the museum, eg. Marvin Kalb speaking on Holocaust journalism. Next month we continue to look at genocide with sites on the Central African crisis. * Turkey Campaign Action request: Recep Marasli, Publisher Recep Marasli, a publisher in Turkey, was the focus of an earlier action of the Turkey Campaign. Action is again required on his behalf. Recep and Nuran Marasli, his wife, were detained by police at Ankara Airport on 6 March 1997 and taken to the Anti-Terror Branch of Ankara Police Headquarters. Marasli, Director of Komal Publishing house and former prisoner of conscience, was reportedly attempting to leave the country under the passport of Levent Bakanay. A few days later, Recep Marasli and his wife Nuran Marasli were taken before the judge on 12 March 1997. Marasli was committed to prison, as there had been an arrest warrant in force for him in connection with his publications and writings, while Nuran Marasli was released. Recep Marasli has permanent and serious health problems as a consequence of the torture he suffered in prison between 1982 and 1991. He is said to have difficulty in walking and in keeping balance and to need constant medical care and treatment. BACKGROUND INFORMATION Recep Marasli was first imprisoned at the age of 16 in connection with articles he published in newspapers in his home town of Erzurum. Upon release he began to work for a publishing house in Istanbul which produced works mainly on issues relating to the Kurdish minority in Turkey. In 1976 he became director of this publishing company which was the target of frequent police raids. In 1982 he was again imprisoned and in various trials received prison sentences which totaled more than 36 years. Recep Marasli suffers from neurological problems and he experiences difficulties with his vision and balance. These symptoms began in 1984 after a prolonged hunger-strike in Diyarbakir Military Prison where he was then held. The prisoners were ill-treated and beaten during the hunger- strike. Recep Marasli was among a group of prisoners who were transferred to prison hospital in a critical state after the hunger-strike had ended. He was conditionally released in April 1991 at the time of a partial amnesty. Following his release, he continued to write, to publish books and to speak of the problems faced by Kurds in Turkey. In September 1993 an arrest warrant was issued against him after he had appealed for a peaceful political solution to the conflict in the southeast in a televised discussion. Recep Marasli went into hiding, but was detained in July 1994 during a raid by police on the house he was staying. Recep Marasli was tortured by electric shocks, falaka (beatings on the soles of the feet) and by repeated severe beatings. Nuran Marasli was detained in 1994 with her husband and also tortured. In November 1995, Recep Marasli was sentenced to a further term of one year and four months' imprisonment for an article published in the newspaper Jiyana Nu. He was released shortly later and immediately went into hiding because of other charges pending against him. RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send letters or faxes to the following: * Express concern about the health of Recep Marasli and ask he be given all needed medical care, * Request he be released from prison because his sentences were based on articles of law which violate his basic human right to free expression of non-violent human opinion. * Urge that the laws and practices of the Turkish government be reformed to allow for the free expression of opinion which does not advocate the use of violence. * Request that the Turkish government fully investigate all reports of ill-treatment, torture, and deaths in detention and to prosecute officials responsible for these actions. Address letters to the following: Minister of the Interior: Mrs Meral Aksener [Salutation: Dear Minister ] Icisleri Bakanligi Ankara, Turkey Copy to: Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir Turkish Embassy 1714 Massachusetts Avenue, NY Washington, D.C. 20036 FAX: (202) 659-0744 * The Refugees Campaign Refugee Workshop report The workshop was presented by our own Martha Ter Maat, with help from Adrienne Hazel and Jim Roberts, the head of the Refugee Monitor Team. I found it to be quite effective, and even entertaining. The workshop covered general issues on the worldwide refuge1e situation and AI's refugee work, then focused on the new INS laws and the monitor team. AI's work on behalf or refugees is basically to prevent someone being sent back to a country ("refoulement") where he or she can reasonably be expected to become a prisoner of conscience, or be subjected to torture or execution. In the workshop, we went over a number of hypothetical (but realistic) case studies, for practice in applying AI's criteria. The restriction to not work on one's own country means that AI in the US is not directly concerned with the circumstances of INS detention here (AI based elsewhere works on that). However, those circumstances will affect whether a detained refugee facing persecution "back home" will be able to make an effective case for asylum. This is the basis for AI's work "in" (as opposed to "on") the country. Concerns with the INS laws were covered in some detail. An AI press report on that topic is appended, so it will not be discussed here. To introduce us to the monitor team, Martha, Adrienne, and Jim treated us to a role-playing exercise, dramatizing interviews with an INS officer on duty and with a refugee in INS detention. This turned out to be a quite effective way to bring up a lot of points in an entertaining manner. The team has thus far focused on the detention facility at Terminal Island, though Bakersfield, where the INS uses a wing of a federal penitentiary (!), was also discussed. Not surprisingly, there are real problems with the treatment of detainees (especially at Bakersfield). There is also a wide range of problems involving insensitivity to cultural, language, gender and psychological issues, which can have devastating effects on the detainee's state and ability to present a case. There were some fascinating angles on the INS, including a discussion of their Asylum Office, located in Anaheim (as opposed to the Deportation and Detention Division). It seems that this office has a commitment to keeping up with human rights information around the world, with a very well stocked library (all the AI and HRW reports, etc.) and a staff eager to pursue contacts with AI (many are members, in fact). They have even directly consulted AI for factual information to help determine the credibility of candidates for asylum. The INS operates a web site ( http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/ ) with lots of material about the new law. * Monitor Team meeting report The Refugee Monitor Team meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at the Western Regional Office (9000 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City). The contact is Jim Roberts, 310-521-4488. The team is planning its next visit to the Terminal Island facility. This visit has been approved by the INS (after an initial rejection), but the INS still needs to fix the date, which will probably be on a Tuesday morning. There was a review of the INS situation, which is somewhat uncertain at this point, since the agency itself is still working out a strategy for implementing the new law. For the future, the monitor team is planning to broaden its work to include LAX, court proceedings, and more follow-ups with released refugees. Especially with the strengthened discretionary powers of the examining officer, the situation at LAX will be more critical than ever, and possibilities for the monitor team will need to be explored as the new procedures are enacted. For the next meeting (May 20), there is a special invitation for local AI groups to send refugee campaign representatives, and newcomers in general. * AI press release Amnesty International Blasts New Refugee Provisions April 1, 1997 Amnesty International USA today blasted the refugee provisions of the new immigration law. Calling the new law slated to take effect today a death sentence for men, women and children fleeing oppression, Nick Rizza, head of the AIUSA Refugee Program, called upon Congress to enact new provisions that comply with international refugee standards. A tiny fraction of all immigrants come to the United States because they have been forced to flee their homes, but this new law hits them the hardest. It will hurt worst the very people who need our help most, said Rizza. Rizza noted that the cumulative effect of these provisions will often be to deny protection to the most brutalized victims, including those who have been tortured, raped or suffered sexual abuse, who will find it particularly difficult to talk about and document their claims under these harsh new provisions. The ability to turn away refugees literally at the airport based on new procedures much tougher than international standards that the US helped to create, combined with severely restricted review, seems to be actually calculated to hide mistakes and ensure that when genuine refugees are returned to their oppressors, no one will ever find out about it, Rizza noted. AIUSA specifically criticized these aspects of the new legislation: Summary Exclusion of Persons Without Valid Documents. The new law creates streamlined procedures for expelling persons who arrive in the US without valid travel documents. Under these circumstances -- understandably common in cases of people fleeing for their lives -- immigration officials can expel them without a hearing and without rights of appeal. Credible Fear of Persecution Standard. The law creates a new hurdle those arriving at the border must clear before they are even permitted to apply for asylum. The applicant must demonstrate that the fear of persecution is credible -- a much higher standard for screening potential applicants than the international standard that only rejects claims that are manifestly unfounded. Lack of Judicial Review. Some of AIUSAs concerns about the new law applied to varying degrees to the old procedures, too. But the new law is particularly disturbing because Congress has aggressively limited opportunities for review. One Year Time Limit On Applying for Political Asylum. This new time limit for people already in the US has no basis in international law and was strongly criticized by President Clinton in signing the bill. It has great potential to result in persons being returned to countries where they face genuine threats. Lack of Gender Sensitivity. While ostensibly gender neutral, many of these provisions will have a disproportionate impact on women, especially those who are the victims of rape, or are under the threat of genital mutilation or other gender based persecution. They may find it difficult to describe their traumatic experiences to anyone, much less to male INS officers or through male interpreters and the new strict time limits and lack of review make it especially difficult to overcome these burdens. Under the new legislation, Rizza said, The INS will have a tough job setting up guidelines that do not result in people being returned to danger. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized this likelihood, citing the new law as inconsistent with international principles of refugee protection. Rizza said that US asylum practices fit the world pattern of callousness towards refugees. He added that Amnesty International has undertaken a campaign on refugees because the global system of refugee protection and burden sharing has broken down even as domestic wars and human rights abuses have provided more refugees. Many countries consider the United States to be the standard-bearer for fair implementation of international standards in the treatment of refugees. By further restricting asylum seekers, our government heightens the hypocrisy inherent in its criticism of other countries who reject refugees fleeing persecution. The US must reclaim its historical role of leadership in advancing and complying with international standards and human rights, Rizza concluded. * SURAN Update Nikitin update. On April 14, Aleksandr Nikitin was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, the largest regular award (75,000 US Dollars) for environmental work. Because of the status of the unresolved case against him, he is still restricted from leaving St. Petersburg, so he was represented at the award ceremony in San Francisco by his wife Tatyana. Recall that Nikitin was arrested on the basis of his work on the Bellona Foundation report on the Russian Northern Fleet in February 1996. In December 1996 he was released after 10 months in custodial isolation in St. Petersburg, with charges pending, no freedom to travel, and the report still suppressed in Russia. New report on torture in Russia. On April 3, AI released a major report on torture in Russia, detailing the systematic and widespread use of torture by law enforcement bodies. Yeltsin has exacerbated the situation by signing 3 decrees, ostensibly to help fight against organized crime, allowing suspects to be held incommunicado for 30 days instead of 48 hours as previously. Common tortures are described in the report, and detention conditions "amounting to torture" are also described. Our group will be addressing the issue of torture in Russia as part of its SURAN work. * Russian death penalty update. When it joined the Council of Europe on February 28, 1996, Russia agreed to sign Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws capital punishment, within one year. It also agreed to impose an immediate moratorium on executions, and to completely abolish the death penalty within three years. On February 28, 1997, President Yeltsin ordered the Foreign Ministry to sign Protocol 6; it was actually signed on April 16. However, the measure is very unlikely to be ratified by the parliament. Last month (on March 14) the Duma voted 176 to 75 to reject a moratorium on the death penalty. There have been actual executions in Russia through at least last August (though perhaps none since then), and hundreds of prisoners are presently facing the death penalty. * * Editor's last words. Editor's last words. Write for the newsletter! Commentaries, suggestions are always welcomed. You can also read the newsletter on line at: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/home.html Check out the web-tips links. Roberto (818)796-0876 email@example.com http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~rzenit/rzenit.html