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We have many reasons to celebrate this month, including reaching our goal of 50 events for the UDHR 50 campaign - see Martha Ter Maat's column for more information on the upcoming celebration - and don't miss the festivities at our next monthly meeting, Thursday, June 25th!
Another reason to celebrate is the success of the fund raiser organized by Jim Smith. The play, "Someone to Watch Over Me," a Caltech Theatre Arts production, was a sell out and we netted $160 for our coffers. Plus, the play was very good.
We also had a windfall when Scott Harrison from Amnesty's Urgent Action office in Colorado ordered 100 of our handmade greeting cards for an Asian-Pacific conference. The cards will be given to delegates from 16 countries and our group will gain another $100 for our treasury.
Finally, there is truly wonderful news to celebrate in the form of several prisoner releases. Aktham Nu'aysa, a prisoner in Syria and Beko Ransome-Kuti a democracy activist from Nigeria, two of the 28 cases featured in the UDHR campaign, have been released. The monthly mailing also contained news of the following releases of groups' prisoners: Victor Infante Estrada of Cuba, Ahmed Makahil of Ethiopia, Mohammad Taha Wahdan & Ahmad Mohammad al-Dufry of Egypt (good work, Irvine High School!), Ibrahim al-Za'afarani of Egypt, and Ribhi Sulayman Musa Qatamesh of Israel. Let us hope that one day the name of our prisoner of conscience, Ngawang Pekar, will be on this list of releases.
On the minus side, there is much work left to be done. The situation in Drapchi prison continues to deteriorate with the reports of demonstrations by the prisoners and in another prison in northern Tibet in May and related shootings and beatings by the guards. At this point we have no news of Ngawang Pekar's involvement or treatment during these demonstrations or in their aftermath.
This is a good time to take action on his case in preparation for Clinton's visit to China. Please send letters and/or telegrams to President Clinton and/or Secretary of State Madeline Albright informing them of the harsh initial sentence Ngawang Pekar was given in 1989 (8 years) for taking part in peaceful demonstrations calling for Tibet's independence and the additional sentence of 6 years he received simply for having a list of the prisoners held in Drapchi prison on his person and asking them to pursue his release with Chinese officials. When the list was discovered, Ngawang Pekar was placed in solitary confinement in an iron cell for 3 months. Now that China wants so desperately to form new alliances with the U.S., it is time to ask them to improve their treatment of their citizens, including the many Tibetans imprisoned for their political and religious beliefs.
There are many other worldwide situations in which human rights are being abused, such as the current situation in Kosovo in which 65,000 people have fled their homes and 45,000 remain in the country but homeless with nowhere to go. We will discuss these situations at the monthly meeting as well as the upcoming USA campaign starting this fall. Thanks to Emily Brodsky and Lucas Kamp for volunteering to be co-coordinators of the campaign.
We received the information on the summer holiday card action. At the next letter writing meeting on July 14th, we'll write letters directly to four prisoners, including Aleksander Nikitin, the retired Russian naval officer who faces 20 years in prison for publicizing information on the environmental problems with Russian nuclear submarines. We have written many letters and petitions on his case - it will be nice to let him know directly that the world has not forgotten him.
Finally, welcome to new members Nora Dangiola, Chrissi Avila and Don Argus!
"50 FOR 50" MAKES GOOAAALLLL!!!!Even before the first World Cup kick-off Los Angeles groups made goal by reaching the "50 event" mark set for the UDHR50 campaign. This effort involved nearly every group in the Los Angeles area and included "simple" activities, such as the recent spate of Body Shop tables to more complex affairs such as Group 22's recent theater fundraiser dedicated to a UDHR "Defender" and decorated with "Defender" prayer flags made by local high school students. Important UDHR pledges have been collected: Rep Matthew Martinez, Assemblywoman Sheila Keuhl, and several famous cartoonists. At the recent Greater Los Angeles Area Development cluster meeting, champagne corks popped and party hats were trotted out to celebrate our collective achievement. We will repeat the fun at the Group 22 meeting to acknowledge our own group's contribution and celebrate World Cup victories, the arrival of summer, prisoner releases, birthdays, graduations or whatever makes you happy- we're not fussy, any excuse for a party. Area groups are planning to press forward with more events, in the second half of the campaign, with some exciting stuff "on deck" like the Orange County groups' "Run for Rights" fundraiser and a table at Lilith Fair at the Rose Bowl. This December 10 the special exhibit by photographer Phil Borges reaches Los Angeles and will be a focal point for our anniversary celebrations, but we will also plan activities for Pasadena as well. Bring ideas to the midyear celebration!
UDHR50: DEFEND THE DEFENDERSJailed for monitoring abuses in China
Li Hai, a human rights activist and former student in Beijing at the time of the 1989 pro-democracy protests, is serving a nine-year prison sentence for trying to monitor rights violations in China.
Following the government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989, in which thousands of protesters were killed, Li Hai was detained for more than a year. After his release, he was unable to continue his studies or find work. He started investigating the situation of those who remained in jail in connection with Tiananmen, and he petitioned the authorities to institute reforms.
In May 1995, Li Hai was arrested and charged with "hooliganism" - a charge that was later dropped and replaced with "leaking state secrets." During his trial, the charge was changed again to "prying into state secrets."
In December 1996, Li Hai was convicted on the latter charge. The verdict treated independent human rights monitoring as a crime. It was based solely on the accusation that Li Hai had gathered information about political prisoners jailed since 1989, including their names, sentences and places of detention.
Thus, Li Hai has been arbitrarily imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to seek, receive and impart information, a right set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Li Hai was tried in secret, a violation of Article 10 of the UDHR, which guarantees the right to a fair and public hearing. In China, the verdict in political cases such as Li Hai's is usually decided before the trial. This practice violates the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as guaranteed under Article 11 of the UDHR.
Furthermore, the legislation on "state secrets" in China has increasingly been used to arbitrarily repress the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under UDHR Article 19. Since 1991, at least 16 people are known to have been convicted under this law after secret, unfair trials.
Please write letters noting that Li Hai has been imprisoned for daring to monitor human rights violations in China, and ask for his immediate and unconditional release.
Send appeals to:
Minister of Justice of the People's Republic of ChinaSalutation: Your Excellency
UDHR50: DEFEND THE DEFENDERSProtect Gay Activists in Brazil
A UDHR50 bonus action this month: here is a sample letter for gay rights activists in Brazil who have received death threats.
Exmo. Sr. Ministro da Justiça
It is with a sense of urgency that I seek your assistance on behalf of human rights defenders who have been threatened with death. Marcelo Nascimento, President of the Brazilian gay rights group Grupo Gay de Alagoas, and Pedro Montenegro, a member of the Forum Contra a Violencia em Alagoas, have been the targets of anonymous death threats because they demanded an inquiry into the killing of three people.
In June 1997, three men - a transvestite and two homosexuals working as prostitutes in Maceio, Alagoas - were shot dead. It is alleged that the civil police had been running a protection racket among the prostitutes, and that the three men were murdered because they had not paid their nightly protection fee. I understand that two civil police officers and one civilian have since been accused of the crime. Marcelo Nascimento and Pedro Montenegro publicly called for an inquiry into the killings. Days later, they received anonymous telephone calls warning them to drop their investigations or they would themselves be killed.
There have been numerous reports of widespread ill-treatment and killing by Brazilian police of people from social minorities, including homosexuals and transvestites. Likewise, there has been a pattern of death threats against human rights defenders.
I urge you to ensure that an investigation is conducted into the threats made against Pedro Montenegro and Marcelo Nascimento and that the perpetrators be brought to justice. I further ask you to order full investigations into human rights violations against homosexuals and transvestites in Brazil. I thank you in advance for your assistance.
His Excellency Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima
HOLIDAY CARD ACTION UPDATESevil Dalkilic is a lawyer who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in Turkey as a result of her political and professional activities. Amnesty considers her to be a prisoner of conscience, and her case was included in both the 1997 Holiday Card Action and the UDHR Defenders cases. She recently wrote to an AIUSA member:
"I got your card, thanks for your support. . . . We suffered very much for our freedoms but sometimes we can learn a lot of things from our pain. Life is hard everywhere, but we must create a beautiful world for children and youngest people. Always, I will remember your support. With love, Sevil."
Thanks to all of you who participated in the Holiday Card Action. As this note shows, your efforts can mean a great deal to others.
DEATH PENALTY UPDATEOPPOSE THE EXECUTION OF THOMAS THOMPSON!
The State of California has scheduled the execution of Thomas Thompson for July 14 at San Quentin. He was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Ginger Fleischli in 1981.
In 1985 another man, David Leitch, was convicted for the second-degree murder of Fleischli, his ex-girlfriend, and sentenced to a term of at least 15 years.
The same attorney prosecuted both men. At a pretrial hearing for both men, the prosecutor had proceeded on a theory that it was Leitch who had the motive to kill Fleischli and had hired Thompson to do so. The prosecutor had three different jailhouse informants testify that Thompson and Leitch "confessed" to this effect while incarcerated with them. The informants also testified that Fleischli had had consensual sex with Thompson prior to her death (a rape conviction was required to qualify Thompson for the death penalty).
The two men were tried separately. At Thompson's trial the prosecutor presented evidence that Thompson alone raped and killed the victim and produced two different jailhouse informants who contradicted the original three. The prosecution alleged that the murder was carried out to prevent the victim reporting the rape.
At Leitch's trial the prosecutor contended that the two men were responsible for the murder, and did not call the two jailhouse informants who testified on behalf of the prosecution at Thompson's trial.
Leitch had opportunity to kill Fleischli and had threatened to kill her ten days before the murder. He had a record of violence and had previously been arrested three times for assaults with a knife. Thompson had no criminal record prior to his conviction.
A U.S. District Court judge overturned Thompson's rape conviction in 1985, but the ruling was reversed by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Seven former prosecutors, all supporters of the death penalty and including the author of the death penalty statute issued a brief in support of Thompson, stating that if the appeal was denied and the execution takes place, "the message that will be conveyed is that carrying out death sentences is more important than ensuring that criminal prosecutions in the name of the People do not involve the manipulation of facts, and witnesses and ultimately, the truth, and that defense lawyers competently represent capital clients so that the jury's verdicts are a result of a fair and reliable process. In addition, should evidence later be uncovered demonstrating Thompson's innocence or lesser culpability, it will be tragically too late for justice to prevail."
PLEASE WRITE OR PHONE GOVERNOR WILSON!
The Honorable Pete Wilson
An execution vigil will be held on July 13, 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM at All Saints Church. All are welcome. Call Martha Ter Maat at 626-281-4039 for details or if you would like to help. A stay in the Thompson case is considered very unlikely. The execution of Horace Kelly is still pending for July 7, however a stay is expected. Please check the Death Penalty Focus hotline for updates on both cases: 213-673-3693.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - China/TibetNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
In lieu of a sample letter this month, we bring you the following account of recent serious incidents at Drapchi prison in Lhasa, the place of incarceration for many of Tibet's most important political prisoners, including Ngawang Pekar. Bear in mind that this is a very preliminary report from a Tibetan human rights organization and this information has not yet been verified by Amnesty researchers. Nonetheless, it should give you a sense of the on-going peril for prisonsers like Ngawang Pekar. Please bear this situation in mind as you write letters in the months to come.
Two prisoners in Tibet's Drapchi Prison died instantly on May 4, 1998, when prison officials opened fire on unarmed prisoners staging a protest in the prison. Sources from Tibet report that 200 other prisoners were seriously injured in the shooting and beatings used to suppress the revolt. The identities of the dead prisoners are unknown.
Earlier reports stated that the May 4 protest was begun by a group of 80 Drapchi prisoners from units 5 and 6. The group reportedly disrupted a prison function commemorating "Youth Day" by shouting slogans and pasting posters around the prison. Recent information indicates that the protesters distributed pamphlets and demanded the release of prisoners who had been placed in solitary confinement following an earlier protest in Drapchi on May 1.
Prison guards reportedly called in Peoples Armed Police (PAP) to help suppress the May 4 outbreak and then opened fire on the prisoners, killing two prisoners instantly. Four other prisoners were shot in the leg. The prisoners were also beaten with iron rods, sticks, bayonets and shocked with electric cattle prods. Sources reported that more than 200 prisoners were seriously injured and that the floors of the prison were smeared with blood. They said the prison cells were filled with injured prisoners but that no medical treatment was provided.
Just three days earlier a similar protest had broken out in Drapchi Prison in which Chinese authorities also opened fire on unarmed protesters. The May 1 demonstration occurred during a gathering of Drapchi prisoners for an International Labour Day ceremony and was reportedly led by two non-political prisoners in protest against the hoisting of Chinese flags in the prison.
The two prisoners, Karma Dawa (known as Kadar) who was serving 13 years and Karma Sonam, reportedly started throwing pamphlets amongst the crowd which read "Free Tibet", "Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama" and "Chinese leave Tibet" and shouting similar slogans. The protesting prisoners were also said to be demonstrating their solidarity with the group of Tibetan exiles conducting a hunger-strike in Delhi, India.
In an attempt to break up the protest, PAP and Public Security Bureau officials began firing shots in the air and using bayonets, sticks, metal rods and electric cattle prods against the prisoners. Earlier information indicated that approximately 150 Tibetan political prisoners were fired upon and subsequently arrested. More recent reports say that 500 prisoners were present during the shooting. The protest resulted in some prisoners, including Kadar and Karma Sonam, being confined in dark solitary cells and the implementation of strict restrictions in Drapchi. The number of casualties was unknown.
According to reports by Tibet Information Network (TIN), an independent organisation based in London, a non-political prisoner called Aka led the May 1 Drapchi protest which TIN reported was joined by about 60 political prisoners. TIN reported that a number of prisoners were beaten, leading to the hospitalisation of two prisoners, one of whom subsequently died in hospital.
TIN also reported that a demonstration occurred in Outridu Prison, a detention centre within the Sangyip Prison complex in Lhasa, a few days after May 1. TIN referred to an unconfirmed report that prison guards in Outridu forced Tibetan prisoners who had been brought from Drapchi to make prostrations in front of the Chinese flag and were later badly beaten. The prisoners had reportedly been transferred from Drapchi to Outridu prior to the visit of a delegation from the European Union to Drapchi on May 4.
These are not the first incidents in which prisoners attempting to stage protests during visits of foreign delegations have attracted violent crack downs. On April 27, 1991, Drapchi prisoners protested the solitary detention of Tenpa Wangdrak and Lobsang Tenzin following their attempt to hand a letter protesting prison conditions to the then US Ambassador to China, James Lilley. A large contingent of armed soldiers was called in and the protest violently suppressed. Prisoners were reportedly tied with rope and beaten unconscious, manacled and put in isolation cells.
The latest information regarding the recent Drapchi incidents drew strong condemnation from Mr Lobsang Nyandak, Executive Director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Dharamsala, India. "The picture we are receiving is increasingly shocking," said Mr Nyandak. "For years we have received reports of inhumane treatment of prisoners in Tibet and these latest deaths indicate a willingness by Chinese prison and security authorities to use the most violent measures available to suppress dissent," he said, adding "This careless disregard for international standards regarding the treatment of prisoners is deplorable."
The prisoners in Drapchi are reportedly greatly concerned for Karma Dawa and Karma Sonam who continue to be tortured by prison officials for their role in the protest. It is feared that they may receive the death penalty.
Chinese authorities have provided no information in confirmation or denial of the reports of the two Drapchi incidents and one source has said that released prisoners as well as prison officials have been threatened with death if they speak of the incidents.
Martha's Web Tips for JuneAIUSA Southern California Website
Yes! It's the permanent address for the southern California groups, GLAD, refugee and death penalty teams, and various and sundry other stuff happening in our neck of the woods. Do bookmark it and be sure to check out the new calendar feature. Special thanks to our own Larry Romans for putting this project in place!
East Timor Action Network
Recent events in Indonesia may lure you onto the web looking for additional information. Probably the most active group in the U.S. in this regard is East Timor Action Network. Lots of background material (and more you can order on line) at this site, plus relevant actions you can take in the wake of the current turmoil. Group 22 member and veteran Indonesia-watcher Saskia Feast offers additional web-surfing tips below:
The Indonesian government has a substantial presence on the Internet, beginning with the Republic of Indonesia Official Government Web Site (http://www.indonesiatoday.com/). Unfortunately this site is not very current. However it is an interesting start. The ministry of foreign affairs (http://www.dfa-deplu.go.id/) also maintains a good site. The "views and positions" section was particularly interesting with articles on Human Rights and East Timor in English. For the government's position on Human Rights there is the National Commission on Human Rights website (http://www.komnas.go.id/endex.html)
(Listing in "Web Tips" does not imply endorsement of site contents by Amnesty International)
Editor's Last Word:Submissions welcome. Deadline is generally the second Friday of the month, check to be sure. Read us on line: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039
Amnesty International works impartially to free individuals jailed solely for their beliefs, ethnic origin, language, or sexual orientation, provided they have not used or advocated violence, to ensure fair trials for all political prisoners, and to abolish torture and executions worldwide. It is funded by members and supporters around the world.
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