Volume VIII Number 9, September 2000
In This Issue
Western Regional Conference
Video Night: The Burning Zone
Prisoner of Conscience
Banned Book Week
Thursday, September 28, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting 1052
E. Del Mar. Avenue, Top Floor. Help plan this year's Doo-Dah entry!
Thursday, October 5, 7:30 PM. Video Night. North Catalina
Recreation Room, Caltech. The "Catalinas" are grad student housing located
between Catalina and Wilson, behind our meeting place on Del Mar. There
are three rec rooms in the center of this complex, we're in the one closest
to Del Mar. Join us to view and discuss "The Burning Season: The Chico
Mendes Story" Details inside.
Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 PM.Letter-writing Meeting at
the Athenaeum. Corner of California & Hill in the basement recreation
area. An informal meeting, a great place for first-timers to ask questions!
Sunday, October 15, 7:30 PM. Human Rights Book Discussion
Group at Borders Books on S. Lake Avenue. This month we discuss "Dead
Man Walking" by Sr. Helen Prejean. Details inside.
Friday-Sunday, October 19-21.Western Regional Conference
in Las Vegas. Be there to launch our international campaign against torture!
October 14-November 19. Candle of Hope Walk. Carry the torch
for death penalty abolition with California People of Faith Working Against
the Death Penalty! AI-Irvine group member Dick Carlburg and friends are
walking from San Diego to San Francisco for the November "Committing to
Conscience" national death penalty conference. Candle of Hope comes to
L.A./Orange County October 17-24.
Contact Martha to get involved: firstname.lastname@example.org, 626-281-4039.
The last couple of months have been quite eventful
for your fearless coordinator, and I ended up missing both the monthly
meeting and my newsletter column in August. First of all, I got married
on the day of the July meeting, and I was very glad that most of you who
came to the meeting could also attend our little reception afterwards.
My wife Alexi is very active in Amnesty, both with her local group in Santa
Monica and in the Middle East Coordination Group.
I've moved in with Alexi in Santa Monica, but my heart is certainly
still with the Pasadena group (as far as AI work is concerned, that is).
Our group is one of the most dynamic and creative AI groups in the nation,
and has become an example and inspiration for other groups. One of our
most noteworthy activities is our annual participation
(two years so far) in the Doo-Dah parade, with the theme "Animals for
the Ethical Treatment of People." This has been powered from the beginning
by group member Martha Ter Maat's initiative and creative energy. This
year's parade is coming up fast, and group member Emily Brodsky has come
up with some great ideas for making street theater from this year's campaign
to defend environmental activists. Be sure to come to the monthly meeting
to help continue our planning! And meanwhile, please participate in the
campaign by writing a letter on behalf of Montiel and Cabrera, and coming
to our video night on October 5 (see inside for details).
Another very successful activity of our group is our lively book discussion
every month at Borders in Pasadena, which also has Martha to thank for
her initiative. I'm looking forward to a particularly stimulating open
discussion of "Dead Man Walking" on October 15 (see inside for details),
especially considering the amount of press coverage given to the death
penalty recently. Bring a friend!
In other news, group member Robert Adams, who organized our group's
petition drive on behalf of our prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang
Pekar, has made contact with four other AI groups in California working
to free prisoners of conscience in China or Tibet. They visited Senator
Dianne Feinstein's office this month to enlist her support; we hope to
hear back from her any day. Last year Robert organized our visit to Congressman
Jim Rogan's office, which resulted in Rogan sending a letter to China on
behalf of Ngawang Pekar. Every letter, postcard and petition, from anyone,
big or small, helps to send China the message: the world is watching how
treats Ngawang Pekar and the other prisoners of conscience!
In our monthly meeting, we'll also discuss plans to attend the AI Western
Regional Conference, which is in Las Vegas on the weekend of October 21-22
this year, with a focus on the new Torture Campaign. This will be a great
opportunity to learn about the range of AI's approaches to human rights
work, make contacts with other activists, and enjoy the unique cultural
attractions of Las Vegas.
Finally, please note that my telephone number, which is also the group's
contact number, has changed with my move (see below). I'll look forward
to seeing you!
Larry Romans 310-452-2089
Group Coordinator email@example.com
Torture: Culture of Brutality
"I told my investigators... 'What crime do you have against me?'...
Their answer was nothing else but beating me... They tied my hands behind
my back, then they shackled my legs, then tied my hands to my feet. After,
they pulled me flat on the ground and then they started beating me. This
was their answer."
A political prisoner held in Saudi Arabia in 1996 spoke these words.
He and many other former prisoners have revealed a culture of police brutality,
torture and ill-treatment in many police stations, prisons and detention
centers across the country. Beatings with sticks, electric shocks, cigarette
burns and nail-pulling are some of the torture methods often described.
Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system facilitates torture. Lack of
judicial supervision of arrest and detention, denial of prompt access to
relatives and a doctor, and no access to lawyers all leave prisoners extremely
vulnerable to abuse. Torture is used to extract confessions and to enforce
discipline. Sometimes it is inflicted apparently without reason.
The judicial punishment of flogging, which amounts to torture or cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is regularly imposed. Offences
related to alcohol, breaking strict moral codes and theft are punished
by anything from 50 to several thousand lashes, carried out in prison or
in public squares with a bamboo stick.
There appears to be no upper limit on the number of lashes judges can
impose. The most lashes in a single case recorded by Amnesty International
is 4,000, imposed on Muhammad 'Ali al-Sayyid, an Egyptian convicted of
robbery in 1990. The sentence was reportedly carried out at a rate of 50
lashes every two weeks. After each session he was left with bruised and
bleeding buttocks, unable to sleep or sit for three or four days afterwards.
A hand cut off or a foot and hand cut off - such irrevocable punishments
that amount to torture are imposed in Saudi Arabia for theft and burglary
after grossly unfair trials. Amnesty International knows of 90 cases of
judicial amputations between 1981 and December 1999, but the true total
may be far higher.
In acceding to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997, Saudi Arabia voluntarily
committed itself to prevent torture and is obliged not to impose any punishments
that amount to torture or gross ill-treatment.
Please write to the Saudi Arabian authorities:
His Excellency Dr 'Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Salutation: Your Excellency
Also, please "cc":
Ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan
Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Ave. NW
Washington DC 20037
Human Rights Book Discussion Group
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue, Pasadena
Sunday, October 15, 7:30 PM
by Sister Helen Prejean
"This unblinking book about the deliberate killing of human beings refuses
to turn a blind eye to the sins of the murderers--be they prisoners or
prison officials. The author, Sister Helen Prejean, is a Roman Catholic
nun who has lived and worked with poor black families in New Orleans. Walking
explores her personal and spiritual evolution into both a death penalty
opponent and victims advocate, an evolution that begins when she serves
as the spiritual advisor to two condemned men.
"An immensely moving affirmation of the power of religious vocation...Stunning moral clarity...a profound argument against capital punishment. "
-- Washington Post Book World
"This arresting account should do for the debate over capital punishment
what the film footage from Selma and Birmingham accomplished for the civil
rights movement: turn abstractions into flesh and blood. Tough, fair, bravely
alive--you will not come away from this book unshaken." --Bill McKibben
Amnesty International USA Western Regional Conference
October 21-22, 2000, Las Vegas, Nevada
Be there for the Campaign Against Torture launch!
"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment." - Article 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Torture is the most flagrant denial of humanity. It is the ultimate
human corruption. For this reason, the world has prohibited it. This human
achievement must be defended.
This Fall Amnesty International will embark on a two-year campaign to
mobilize its worldwide membership to end torture. This year's Western Regional
Conference will help A.I. members and groups prepare for this major campaign,
and provide an important opportunity for education through speakers, workshops,
and other activities.
Although this conference will focus on the subject of ending torture,
we will also include workshops, discussion groups, and speakers about a
variety of human rights issues.
We invite you to join other human rights activists in Las Vegas this
October for a weekend of stimulating action, education, and rejuvenation.
Julianne Cartwright Traylor, Chair of the
Board, Amnesty International USA
Sowore Omoyele Stephen, Nigerian Human
Janice Christensen, Campaign Director,
Amnesty International USA
Marj Byler, Deputy Director for Membership
Mobilization, Amnesty International USA
and others to be announced...
The main conference program will begin at 9:00 AM on Saturday, October
21, and will end at 3:30 PM on Sunday, October 22. The conference will
be held at the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Registration
fees are $15 General $10 Student/Senior prior to Oct 1 and $20 General,
$15 Student/ Senior after Oct 1. The Embassy Suites (4315 Swenson Street,
Las Vegas, NV 89119, 702-795-2800 or 800-362-2779) will be offering Amnesty
International conference attendees a special group rate of $99 (plus tax)
per room single or double-occupancy, with a $15 charge for each additional
person above double-occupancy. Conference attendees must make their own
reservations directly with the hotel at the phone numbers listed above.
Be sure to mention Amnesty International USA to obtain the group rate.
Space is limited, so please make your reservations as soon as possible!
must be made by Wednesday, October 11, to take advantage of the special
For more information and to request a registration form for
the conference, please call the Regional Office at (310) 815-0450 or e-mail
Thursday, October 5, 7:30 PM
N. Catalina Recreation Room at Caltech (see pg 1 for more info)
The Burning Season:
The Chico Mendes Story
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Starring Raul Juila
Please join us to view and discuss this film about the Brazilian labor
and environmental rights activist Chico Mendes whose life and death drew
international attendtion to the environmental and human rights crisis in
the Amazon rainforest. A terrific introduction to Amnesty International's
"Just Earth" campaign!
Raul Julia who portrays Mendes won Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild awards for his performance. John Frankenheimer won an Emmy for direction and the film is the recipient of Golden Globe, Environmental Media and Humanitas Awards.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 continues to work for the release of prisoner of conscience
(POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 37-year-old Tibetan
Buddhist monk. He has been imprisoned since 1989 after being arrested by
Chinese authorities for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the
city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in support of Tibetan independence.
In last month's newsletter, it was reported that Senators Tom Harkin
and Frank Lautenberg would be travelling to China on behalf of a number
of Amnesty's POCs. Unfortunately, as of yet there has been no further news
regarding the outcome of their visit, or, indeed, whether their proposed
visit even actually took place.
It now appears to be a near certainty that the final vote to grant China
permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) will pass in the Senate by a rather
large margin (possibly before you even read this). If that's the case,
then the door will be opened for China to enter a new era in which business
interests gain priority over politics. Given that context, what will be
the place of human rights in China? Clearly, the Chinese authorities primarily
view human rights as a pragmatic, rather than moral, issue (a view which
is hardly unique to China), and their current harsh policies toward the
least sign of dissent are intended to maintain "stability," both as a means
of maintaining their own grip on power and to create a favorable business
environment. However, as even their own history shows, the continued abuse
of human rights only creates a powder keg waiting to blow, an environment
which is hardly attractive to foreign economic interests. Thus, if the
Chinese authorities truly wish to become equal partners in world affairs,
they must be willing to allow changes that may not entirely be to their
Given the recent delivery of just under 5,000 petition signatures calling
for Ngawang Pekar's release to the Chinese Embassy and our current efforts
to have Senator Feinstein send a follow-up letter to President Jiang Zemin
(which Larry may have mentioned above), we request that you write to President
Jiang on behalf of Pekar. Below is a sample letter that you can either
copy verbatim or, preferably, use as a guide in composing your own letter:
I am writing to you out of concern for a prisoner being held in Tibet
Autonomous Region Prison No. 1. The prisoner's name is NGAWANG PEKAR.
Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in 1989 for participating
in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lasashi and sentenced to 8 years
in prison. Subsequently, his sentence was increased by an additional 6
years. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience
and I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful
exercise of his universally recognized right to freedom of expression.
I am further deeply concerned about reports that he has been beaten and
denied access to medical care since his arrest and that the 6-year increase
in his sentence, following 3 months in an iron isolation cell, was an extremely
harsh punishment for keeping a list of his fellow prisoners.
If the People's Republic of China truly wishes to engage fully in world
economic affairs, it must demonstrate that it is willing to abide by internationally
recognized principles, in particular those delineated in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. I therefore respectfully urge you to request
that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally
released in accordance with the international laws to which China is signatory.
I further request that he be allowed access to independent non-governmental
agencies so that his current state of well-being may be determined and
I thank you for your attention to this important matter and would greatly
appreciate any further information that your office may be able to provide.
Address your letter to:
JIANG Zemin Guojia Zhuxi
People's Republic of China
WEB TIPS FOR SEPTEMBER
Please check out the new FAST "Fast Action Stops Torture" feature at
AIUSA's web site. Stay tuned for more info on the up-coming Torture Campaign
AIUSA's site also features cases for Banned Book Week. We have included
the case of a Burmese journalist in the newsletter but visit the website
to take action on additional cases:
JUST EARTH NETWORK
A Defeat for Montiel &Cabrera, Victory for Nikitin!
Mexican Prisoners of Conscience Convicted. On August 28, the
Fifth District Judge of Iguala, Guerrero convicted and sentenced Mexican
environmental activists Teodoro Cabrera García and Rodolfo Montiel
Flores, leaders of the Organization of Peasant Environmentalists of the
Mountains of Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán. Teodoro Cabrera
recieved a 10 year prison sentence for the crime of possession of weapons
licensed exclusively for the army, and Rodolfo Montiel was sentenced to
6 years, 8 months for the crimes of marijuana cultivation, possession of
weapons without a license, and possession of weapons licensed exclusively
for the army.
Amnesty believes that the conviction is a severe blow to human rights
in Mexico. The charges against the two men are not only fabricated but
also based on statements extracted under torture. This case exposes severe
deficiencies in the Mexican judicial system and the apparent collusion
between the Mexican State and local economic interests threatened by the
environmentalists' campaigning in Guerrero state. The Mexican authorities
have disregarded the conclusive evidence of the innocence of these two
men, thus failing to uphold the rule of law.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts to demand the immediate and
unconditional release of the two peasant environmentalists.
If you haven't yet written to President-elect Vicente Fox, look up last month's newsletter and tell him of your concern about the conviction in this case. This month we write personal letters of encouragement to both Rodolfo and Teodoro in prison. This will send a clear message to prison authorities that both Rodolfo and Teodoro have activists who are working on their behalf and concerned about their prison conditions. More importantly, your letters will help lift the spirits of Rodolfo and Teodoro who are distressed by the prison sentences. In past visits to the prison, both men have mentioned how uplifting letters from activists around the world have been to them. Your letters of support mean a lot to these men. You can write to them at the following address:
Centro de Re-adaptacion Social de Iguala
Carretera de Iguala - Tuxpan,
Iguala, CP 40101
Niktin Triumphs Despite Putin Crackdown. The Presidium of the
Russian Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of the acquittal of environmental
activist Aleksandr Nikitin. Despite the happy outcome, the case has tarnished
President Vladimir Putin and his claims that the country supports freedom
of expression. In 1996, the Putin-led Federal Security Service (former
KGB) had charged Mr. Nikitin with "acts of treason" for revealing nuclear
safety hazards aboard aging Russian nuclear submarines.
Harassment of environmental activists by the Russian government has
been common under President Putin. When he was head of the FSB, Putin made
a number of prejudicial comments about the case, including the statement
that "Nikitin is guilty." In July, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted
Putin as saying that "foreign secret services use not only diplomatic cover,
but very actively use all sorts of ecological ... organizations."
"Putin's hostility toward those who would expose the environmental pollution
caused by Russia's military industrial complex should not only concern
those who want to avoid future Chernobyl-style nuclear accidents and other
massive environmental catastrophes, it should concern anyone who values
the future of a democratic Russia," said Carl Pope, Executive Director
of Sierra Club.
Nikitin, a scientist and former Russian naval captain, was arrested
in 1996 after documenting the risk of radioactive contamination from nuclear
submarines in Russia's Northern Fleet for the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian
environmental group. Charged by the Federal Security Service with disclosing
state secrets under Article 64 of the Russian Criminal Code, Nikitin has
been subjected to four years of investigations and harassment, two trials
and nine successive indictments. The St. Petersburg Court found Nikitin
not guilty in December of 1999 due to "the absence of crime."
Aleksandr Nikitin was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 1996, the first in post-Soviet Russia. In 1997 Nikitin was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for environmental heroism.
BANNED BOOK WEEK ACTION
Sein Hla Oo -- Burmese Journalist
A 64-year-old award-winning journalist and editor, Sein Hla Oo, who
had led a Journals & Magazines Group of demonstrators during the major
anti-government protests of 1988, stood as a candidate for the National
League for Democracy and was elected member of Parliament in May 1990.
He was among more than 70 members-elect arrested in October of that year
for attending meetings to discuss what action to take if the SLORC (State
Law & Order Restoration Council, as the government was then known)
continued to refuse to hand over power. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment
for "misprision" - knowledge of treason. After his early release in 1992,
he continued to be critical of the government and to meet with other political
In August 1994, he was arrested - along with an alleged "group" of four
others, including writer Daw San San Nwe (Banned Books Week 1999) and her
daughter, Ma Myat Mo Mo Tun - apparently for action "against or critical
of the government": meeting with foreign reporters and sending information
to the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.
As of July 2000, specific charges (if any) against him are not known,
nor is his place of detention or whether he has been given access to a
lawyer, his family or a doctor. Amnesty International considers him to
be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising his rights
to freedom of expression and assembly, guaranteed by Articles 19 &
20 of the UDHR.
Please call politely for the immediate & unconditional release of
Sein Hla Oo, Daw San San Nwe, and all other prisoners of conscience in
Senior General Than Shwe
State Peace & Development Council
Signal Pagoda Road
Union of Myanmar (Burma)
Ambassador Tin Winn
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
2300 S Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Editor's Last Word:
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / firstname.lastname@example.org