5 things you should know about Bahrain ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix

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This weekend, Bahrain will host the Formula One Grand Prix. But behind the shiny fast cars and super-sized champagne bottles lies a government that is willing to stop at nothing to punish those who dare to speak out about the tragic human rights situation in the country.

Here are five facts you should know about the Gulf Kingdom ahead of one of the most glamorous events in the sporting calendar. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Behind the Numbers: Understanding Boko Haram’s Reign of Terror in Nigeria

A student stands in a burnt classroom burnt by the Islamist group Boko Haram to keep children away from school in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, May 12, 2012. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GettyImages)

A student stands in a burnt classroom burnt by the Islamist group Boko Haram to keep children away from school in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, May 12, 2012. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GettyImages)

By Adotei Akwei and Caroline Courtney

“They used to train girls how to shoot guns. I was among the girls trained to shoot. I was also trained how to use bombs and how to attack a village. They’ll dress us and demonstrate to us how to explode a bomb. This training went on for 3 weeks after we arrived. Then they started sending some of us to operations. I went on one operation to my own village.” –Aisha (age 19)

Imagine waking up one morning, preparing for a friend’s wedding just before you are kidnapped, forced into “marriage” with one of your abductors and held captive in a remote camp hundreds of miles from home.

In these camps you witness brutal executions, are required to convert to an unfamiliar religion, and threatened into killing on behalf of an atrocious armed militant group. Sexual violence is an everyday occurrence.

2,000.

What might sound like a fictitious Hollywood plot to some is all too real for others. This is the story of Aisha, whose real name will be withheld for security reasons. Aisha is one of the estimated 2000 girls who have been abducted by Boko Haram and one of the few who have escaped.

276.

One year ago, the world was left in shock after the abduction of 276 girls from to town of Chibok, Nigeria. Unfortunately, the horror of these abductions is just one aspect of an insurgency that has been devastating Nigerian communities long before the story of the 276 Chibok girls became international news last year and continuing after the abductions occurred.

5,500.

Boko Haram militarized in 2009 and has been gradually claiming territory in the northeastern regions of Nigeria. Starting in 2014 and into 2015, the scale and quantity of the group’s attacks skyrocketed, resulting in the deaths of at least an estimated 5,500 civilians. Amnesty has documented several of these attacks, including the raid of Baga town on January 3rd,2015 when 2,000 people were killed and the attack on Bama in March where an estimated 5900 people were killed.

In March the Nigerian people made history by sweeping out incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and electing former head of State Muhammadu Buhari, who vowed to crush Boko Haram. The Jonathan administration was widely criticized for its failure to stop the insurgency and restore peace and security to the northeast states most impacted by the conflict.

It is critical that the international community press President-Elect Buhari to follow up on his campaign promises to not only free the Chibok girls, but to restore the rule of law and protection of human rights in the north as well as throughout the country. The violence of Boko Haram is just one challenge that must be addressed by the new leadership in Abuja and these challenges will not be solved by military means.

Aisha deserves to live in a country where she can go to school without fear, where one’s religion does not mean a death sentence and where her government is willing to invest in the safety of its people.

365.

We cannot wait another year to free the Chibok Girls and end violence against women and girls in Nigeria.

For more information, read the Amnesty International report “Our jobs were to shoot slaughter and kill” on Boko Haram’s reign of terror in northeastern Nigeria.

The Power of an Artist

KANDEL_AMNESTY2-6Throughout history, courageous and visionary people have sought to reflect what is universal about humanity. We call these people artists, whether they grasp a paintbrush or a microphone, publish photographs or books, because they create something that electrifies us. They are “gatekeepers of truth”, in the words of Paul Robeson, and truth is a burden to bear.

Take Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi, who received a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for daring to spark social and political debate. Or artist Ai Weiwei, whose work exposing the limitations of expression imposed by the Chinese government has earned him beatings, stints in prison without charge, constant surveillance and restriction from leaving the country.

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1,000 Days in Prison: How Mohammed Al-Roken Is Sacrificing His Freedom for Human Rights in the UAE

Dr Mohammed al-Roken

By Mansoureh Mills, Amnesty International campaigns on UAE, Iran and Kuwait

Sunday 12 April 2015 marks 1,000 days since Dr Mohammed al-Roken was locked up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following a massive crackdown on political and human rights activists. Across the world, Amnesty campaigners are doing all they can to fight for his release.

“You taught me the importance of trying to change things that look unjust,” Christian, Canada.

For the past two weeks, I’ve read and counted around 4,000 beautiful cards and letters for human rights lawyer and law professor Dr Mohammed al-Roken. He was sentenced to 10 years’ prison in the UAE after a deeply unfair mass trial of 94 government critics and activists, and has spent much of the last 1,000 days in a high security prison in the Abu Dhabi desert. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Did Death Sentences in US Increase or Decrease Last Year?

2014 death penalty top 5Amnesty International released its annual death penalty report last week, Death Sentences and Executions 2014, which tracks all known use of the death penalty on the planet from the past year. The report shows a large increase in global death sentences of 28%.

But the news isn’t all bad. Here in the United States, the death penalty’s steady decline continues unabated.

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Four Years into the Syrian Conflict

Photo: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova/AFP/Getty Images)

The lights are going out in Syria.

As the humanitarian crisis in Syria worsens, the darkness is literally spreading.  More than 80 percent of lights have gone out across Syria since March 2011; in Aleppo, site of fighting for more than two years, 97 percent of lights are not working.

If you want to understand what that means, listen to this description from a Syrian surgeon in Aleppo:

Marwan was on the operating table when the lights blinked and fizzed out,” the doctor said. “The nurse pulled her mobile phone from her pocket – generating the only light in the pitch-black basement. Others followed suit, producing just enough light to allow me to finish repairing his broken little body.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Roar of A Thousand Activists

By Ann Burroughs, Amnesty International USA board chair, and Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive director

Last week, over 1,100 human rights activists gathered in Brooklyn, New York. What for? Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting, appropriately themed this year “From Moment to Movement.” Braving rain and snow, people who have been members for decades –perhaps having joined as a result of the Human Rights Concerts of the 1980s—joined with those new to Amnesty– together reflecting on the spark of change that can begin in an instant and reverberate for years.

So that’s the ‘what’ – but why? What happens when you gather this powerhouse of activism in one place for one weekend? The answers say a lot about what it means to turn a moment into a movement.

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#FreeRaif: US should press for release of Saudi blogger

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

By Ensaf Haidar, via The Washington Post

On June 17, 2012, my husband, Raif Badawi, the father of my three children and my best friend, was arrested in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. For nearly three years, as he has languished in prison, my family has been trapped in a nightmare.

Raif is a man of principle and a respected activist in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, he started a blog where readers could openly discuss politics, religion and other social issues. But in Saudi Arabia, one can pay an unthinkable price simply for blogging. Raif was convicted of insulting Islam and violating the kingdom’s repressive information-technology laws. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

There were at least 607 executions in 2014. So what?

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By Chiara Sangiorgio, Death Penalty Researcher at Amnesty International

The numbers behind our latest overview of the global use of the death penalty, released today, tell a chilling story: 607 people were executed in 22 countries and at least 2,466 men and women were sentenced to death in 55 countries in 2014 alone.

But, alarming as they are, the figures paint a partial picture of the true extent to which people are hanged, shot or given the lethal injection across the world.

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Arrested and Beaten for Wearing Trousers: Stop the Public Flogging of Women in Sudan!

Three Sudanese women, one of them wearing trousers, walk on a main street in central Khartoum on September 8, 2009. The thousands of women who wear trousers every day all run the risk of a flogging if police decide their clothes are provocative. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

Three Sudanese women, one of them wearing trousers, walk on a main street in central Khartoum on September 8, 2009. The thousands of women who wear trousers every day all run the risk of a flogging if police decide their clothes are provocative. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

By Amal Habani, Winner of Amnesty International USA’s 2015 Ginetta Sagan Award

In July 2009 when my colleague was arrested and tried for wearing trousers in Khartoum, I could no longer stay silent.

Women and girls in Sudan are constantly confronted with obstacles imposed by the public order regime that hinder their freedom of movement, their freedom of association, and their ability to make personal choices on a daily basis.  As a Sudanese woman, I had always encountered these problems and as such, aspired to become a journalist to speak out for social change.

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