Jasmine Heiss is a Campaigner with Amnesty International USA's Individuals and Communities at Risk program. She advocates on behalf of the prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, communities and other individuals who are at the heart of Amnesty International's work. Prior to joining Amnesty International USA, Jasmine worked on the ground in Argentina and Peru and studied in India. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago and is fluent in English and Spanish.
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Early yesterday morning, a mere three days after he was released from prison, iconic “Angola 3” member Herman Wallace died – a free man.
My heart is heavy. I am beyond grateful that Herman passed surrounded by loved ones after surviving a nightmare of more than 41 years in cruel, inhuman and degrading solitary confinement. I am unspeakably angry that the State of Louisiana’s vindictive cruelty has not let up, even at Herman’s final breath. I am incredulous that a step toward justice has taken this long.
Herman Wallace was first placed in solitary in 1972, after prison guard Brent Miller was murdered at Angola prison. He was convicted of the murder two years later, after a trial riddled with legal flaws and inconsistencies. On October 1, a federal judge overturned Herman’s conviction, ordering the state to immediately release him. Louisiana authorities tried desperately to keep Herman behind bars, appealing against the court order, even as an ambulance waited outside Elayn Hunt correctional center.
Anti-Flag is one of over one hundred artists who have signed an appeal letter demanding the release of Pussy Riot (Photo Credit: James Nash).
Yesterday, a court in the Russian region of Perm refused to grant parole to Maria “Masha” Alyokhina more than 16 months after she was arrested for a “Punk Prayer” protest with feminist punk group Pussy Riot.
This decision is further confirmation of the authorities’ determination to stifle freedom of expression in Russia. For Masha, it is yet another injustice to add to the growing list that she and fellow Pussy Riot member Nadezdha “Nadya” Tolokonnikova have faced since their February 2012 performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Herman Wallace may not have a lot of time left – he’s 71 years old, has advanced liver cancer, and has survived four decades of imprisonment in the cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of solitary confinement.
He and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox, of Angola 3 fame, have been held in solitary confinement longer than anyone else in modern U.S. history. The men have spent the past 41 years of their lives alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, deprived of any meaningful human interaction.
He and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox, of Angola 3 fame, have been held in solitary confinement longer than anyone else in modern U.S. history.
But Herman is fighting for his life and for justice. Today, we wanted to update you and shed just a bit of light into this bleak situation. On Friday, Herman Wallace was reclassified from a maximum to a medium security prisoner. That means he now has access to the day room and will no longer wear leg restraints – an incredible change for someone who has been held in isolation for more than 40 years. Thank you to the more than 30,000 of you who helped make this possible.
Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (right) have spent 41 years in solitary confinement.
After 41 years in solitary confinement, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 have lived through a nightmare that no human being should have to endure. We work on their case with the hope that, one day, we can share the news that these men have been released from solitary and have seen justice.
But today is not that day. Today I am deeply saddened to tell you that 71-year-old Herman Wallace has been diagnosed with liver cancer, after spending the majority of his life isolated in a small cell, four steps long, by three steps across for 23 hours a day. I’ve often described the Angola 3 case as “injustice compounded” – that description has never rung more true than today.
Albert and Herman were convicted of murdering a prison guard at Louisiana’s Angola prison more than four decades ago. The two men were placed in solitary confinement and kept there, even as significant flaws in their trial rose to the surface from the dark, racially charged underbelly of the US prison system: potentially exculpatory evidence mysteriously “missing,” the retraction of eyewitness testimony and even compelling proof that the state bribed a key eyewitness.
Palestinian students celebrate during their graduation ceremony at Birzeit University. Birzeit is the university of choice for Azza, Suhair and Loujain. However, like many Palestinian students, they are restricted from attending because the university is in the West Bank and they live in Gaza (Photo Credit: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images).
As I write this, an Israeli checkpointis fading into the distance behind me. In the past three days, I’ve been traveling between Israel and the occupied West Bank, learning about human rights conditions on the ground.
When I fly back to the United States, it will be with deeper insight into the experience of human rights defenders and activists in Israel and the occupied West Bank. Yet before I leave, there are three people who I know I won’t get a chance to meet: Azza, Suhair and Loujain.
Opposition activists attend an anti-government rally in Moscow to demand the release of political prisoners, among them the still-jailed members of the female punk band Pussy Riot (Photo Credit: Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images).
Sixteen months ago, three young women were arrested in Russia for performing less than 40 seconds of a punk protest song. Since then, millions of people have been captivated by their YouTube video. Five young women dressed in brightly colored balaclavas dance on the altar of in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, singing their opposition to the return of President Vladimir Putin.
As the world’s eyes turned toward Pussy Riot, it became clear that their arrest and trial was emblematic of something even bigger happening in Russian society. Pussy Riot became the story of the Putin-led government’s absolute intolerance – not just of punk rock, but of all forms of dissent.
Russian LGBTI activists. The LGBT community faces increasingly repressive legislation in Russia (Photo Credit: Charles Meacham/Demotix).
Today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and activists around the world will recognize the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). Exactly twenty-three years after the World Health Organization’s landmark decision to declassify ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder, LGBTI people and allies continue their work to ensure that the full spectrum of their human rights is respected and upheld.
Just last week, news out of the Russian Federation served as a tragic reminder of just how critical that work is.
More than four decades ago, two young black men were convicted of the murder of a prison guard at Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison. The life sentence handed down to Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace would not only put the men behind bars – it would plunge them into a nightmare of cruel inhuman and degrading treatment for the next 41 years of their lives.
Despite the fact that no evidence tied Woodfox or Wallace to the crime, the two men were placed in solitary confinement after their 1972 conviction; 23 hours a day isolated in a small cell, four steps long, three steps across. Robert King, who was investigated for the crime, but charged and convicted instead of the murder of a prison inmate, was “lucky” to be released after 29 years of this dehumanizing treatment. The other two members of the so-called “Angola 3″ have remained there, waiting for the arc of the universe to bend slowly toward justice.
On the evening of February 20, 2013 I stood with a small, but colorful group of activists outside the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington, DC. Thousands of miles away in remote regions of the Russian Federation it was already February 21st and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alyokhina were hours from waking to serve another day of their two-year sentences.
But the 21st was not simply another day – it was the one-year anniversary of Nadya and Masha’s performance with feminist punk group Pussy Riot in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Today, Amnesty International activists and supporters rallied in front of the Indonesian embassy in Washington DC to raise their voices on behalf of prisoner of conscience Filep Karma, an activist who’s spent the last 7 years in prison for raising a flag.
The rally was held a week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Indonesia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Entrepreneurship Summit. Amnesty International urged Clinton to publicly state that human rights will play as important a role as trade and security in US–ASEAN relations.