About Sunjeev Bery

Sunjeev Bery serves as Advocacy Director for Middle East North Africa issues at Amnesty International USA. He lobbies US officials, diplomats, and officeholders regarding human rights concerns across the MENA region. His commentaries on US foreign policy and human rights have appeared in a range of U.S. newspapers and publications. Previously, Sanjeev served as a regional director for the American Civil Liberties Union, where his work included advocacy on post-9/11 security policies. He has also served as a public interest lobbyist on student financial aid issues in Washington DC and as a fundraiser for environmental and human rights organizations. Sanjeev holds a BA from UC Berkeley and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was a Harvard Public Service Fellow. He is a recipient of the 2007 Asian Law Alliance Community Impact Award and has received commendations from the California State Senate and Assembly for his human rights advocacy.
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One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.

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This Weekend in Bahrain: Will U.S. Officials Stand Up for Freedom?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

In the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, a man by the name of Nabeel Rajab is sitting in jail for the “crime” of peaceful protest. But the government that has imprisoned him is a U.S. military ally, and the Obama Administration has done little to push for his release. When U.S. officials arrive in Bahrain this weekend for a global conference, will they finally change course?

Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and this fact has everything to do with his three year prison sentence. That’s why Amnesty International members worldwide are calling for his freedom, as part of our global “Write for Rights” campaign.

Like Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region, Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family has imprisoned many people who have dared to criticize the government. And while the U.S. government has issued mild statements of concern along the way, the Obama Administration has fundamentally failed to hold its repressive military ally accountable.

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A Critic Gets it Wrong on Amnesty International and Libya

libya protests

Libyan protesters in Benghazi in 2011 ©Sniperphoto Agency/Demotix

In an article published by The Huffington Post and Counterpunch, author Dan Kovalik misrepresents Amnesty International’s position regarding Libya and the 2011 NATO air strikes campaign.

Without offering any supporting evidence, Kovalik falsely claims in the article “Libya and the West’s Human Rights Hypocrisy” that Amnesty International “believed NATO military action would bring about the flourishing of human rights in Libya.”   Amnesty International never made such an assertion, nor did we take a position in support of NATO airstrikes.

Amnesty International generally takes no position on the use of armed force or on military interventions in armed conflict, other than to demand that all parties respect international human rights and humanitarian law.  We are consistent in our call that all governments respect human rights, no matter what the type or form of government is.

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Gaza Blockade: Still Operational, Still Violating Human Rights

gaza blockade white house

One of our postcard actions in front of the White house

This morning, Amnesty International USA delivered thousands of signed postcards to the White House.  The postcards call on President Obama to push for an end to Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. For over five years, the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza have lived under an Israeli military blockade that has left more than one million Palestinians dependent on international humanitarian aid.

The postcards, signed by thousands of Amnesty International supporters and members across the US, call attention to Israel’s near ban on exports from the Gaza Strip.  The Gazan economy has been effectively crippled by this export ban and other aspects of the blockade.

As a result, massive numbers of Palestinians now live in a state of permanent unemployment.  Our 2012 human rights report documents that over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents now depend on humanitarian aid.  While imports into Gaza have increased since mid-2010, they are still far below the levels allowed before the blockade began in 2007.

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Send a Tweet, Free a Prisoner

Just one week after a global Twitter campaign by Amnesty International, Palestinian Waleed Hanatsheh walked free from an Israeli prison.  Israeli officials had jailed him without charge or trial for periods totaling some 5 years of his life.  But after facing the public spotlight, those same Israeli officials let Hanatsheh go home.

In this online campaign, Amnesty International members and staff targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (@IsraeliPM), the Israeli Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson), and the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC (@IsraelinUSA):

Since the 1960s, Amnesty International members have been using whatever form of communication it takes to reach governments, politicians, corporations and other targets. From mailing letters to prison cells (yes, we still do this!) to taking our demands in person to embassies, Amnesty International members have helped release tens of thousands of prisoners over the years.

The Internet has become more important to our advocacy in recent years, but does it actually work?  Can electronic messages impact governmental policies or help free prisoners in far flung countries?

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Nabeel Rajab: Why Did the U.S. State Department Drag Its Feet?

Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab

On August 16th, Bahraini political activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in jail for his peaceful role in protests critical of Bahrain’s monarchy.  He had already been in prison since July 9th, when he was convicted of libel after sending a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister.

But despite all of this, the US State Department did not publicly call on its military ally to release Nabeel Rajab until after his three year sentence had already been handed down.

Why did the US State Department wait so long to come to Nabeel Rajab’s defense?

There were plenty of missed opportunities along the way. One such moment was on August 1st, when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner testified (see pg 16) at a congressional hearing focused on Bahrain.  In his written testimony (pg 4), Assistant Secretary Posner called on the Government of Bahrain to “drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.”

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Will Bahrain’s King Stop Imprisoning Peaceful Critics?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

Update: Nabeel Rajab was found guilty today August 16, of taking part in an “illegal gathering” among other charges in relation to a protest in the capital this past February.

Just this afternoon, 19 Members of Congress sent a letter urging Bahrain’s King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to release Nabeel Rajab, a man imprisoned for a tweet.

Nabeel is one of the “Bahrain 14” – 14 political activists sentenced to everything from three months to life in prison simply for engaging in nonviolent speech, expression, or association. Seven of the 14 have been given unbelievable life sentences in prison for their activism.

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Will Congress Put Bahrain in the Human Rights Spotlight?

Bahraini boy with tear gas cannisters

Bahraini Shiite boy crouches by pile of tear gas canisters collected by protesters (AFP/Getty Images)

Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country.  Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.

The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.

These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like.  Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media.  And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Update: Bahrain Keeps Ridiculous Charges Against 11-Year-Old Boy

Ali Hassan Bahrain

Ali Hassan has been spared a prison sentence for now but will be subject to government monitoring for a year. (AFP/GettyImages)

Despite an outpouring of global concern, news reports indicate that the Government of Bahrain has still not dropped its charges against 11 year old Ali Hassan.

As I wrote earlier this week, Bahraini police arrested the young boy in mid-May on a street that is both near his home and the site of a protest.  The police denied him access to a lawyer for 23 days of his nearly one month of detention.

Amnesty International is confirming the details of yesterday’s court decision regarding the young boy’s sentence.  According to news reports, the Government of Bahrain has allowed Ali to live at home, but is requiring him to be subjected to government monitoring for a year. The reports also indicate that the original charge of “illegal gathering” and disturbing “public security” has still not been dropped.

On the one hand, the young boy appears to have been spared the worse case scenario of several years in jail.  This demonstrates the power of the global human rights spotlight, in which worldwide concern for Ali put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to keep him out of prison.  But at the same time, Ali appears to still be facing criminal charges.

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Will Bahrain Convict an 11-year-old “Protester”?

Ali Hassan Bahrain

Ali Hassan could face jail time for allegedly "participating in an illegal gathering."(Photo Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/GettyImages)

This Thursday, an 11-year-old boy will find out if the Government of Bahrain truly considers him a security threat.

Young Ali Hassan was arrested by Bahraini police on May 13th on a street near both his home and the site of a protest. He was detained for 23 days before being allowed to see a lawyer, and he spent nearly a month in jail before being released.

He has been charged with “participating with others in an illegal gathering of more than five people, in order to disturb public security by way of violence.” The Guardian reports that if found guilty, Ali could be sentenced to up to three years in prison (take action here).

The case has drawn international media attention, with articles in CNN, the Associated Press, Time, RealClearPolitics, BBCAFP, The Independent, The Telegraph, and others.  Once again, the Government of Bahrain is in the spotlight for violating human rights.

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