How U.S. Representatives Are Defending Prisoners of Conscience

The Dalai Lama and Annette Lantos in front of a projection of the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) was one of the creators of the Defending Freedoms Project (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

The Dalai Lama and Annette Lantos in front of a projection of the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) was one of the creators of the Defending Freedoms Project (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

Last week, the Defending Freedoms project launched a Week of Action in which U.S. Representatives nationwide spoke out to highlight and give voice to political prisoners being held or detained around the world for expressing their views.

Members of Congress “adopted” prisoners of conscience and stood in solidarity with them with a commitment to highlight their cases and push for their release, as well as for an end to the human rights abuses they had been subjected to.

These individuals have been imprisoned because of who they are, what they believe, and how they have chosen to express their convictions. As a result, they are prevented from enjoying the most fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

The Defending Freedoms project was kick-started by Representatives Wolf and McGovern adopting the initiative’s first two prisoners of conscience – Gao Zhisheng of China and Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab. In late 2012, Congress’ nonpartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) joined the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Amnesty International USA to create the Defending Freedoms initiative as a way to raise awareness and support for human rights and religious freedom by focusing on human rights defenders, political prisoners, and those who have been unjustly imprisoned around the world.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Guantanamo Bay: When Will We Wake Up?

Demonstrators take part in a rally to call for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

Demonstrators take part in a rally to call for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

By Saira Khan, Intern at Amnesty International USA’s Security & Human Rights Program

I was born and raised in New York. My mother is originally from Pakistan and my father is from India. My parents and I are Muslim. From a young age, I had the impression that most Americans did not know much about my culture or religion.

During the September 11 attacks, I was in fifth grade. I can distinctly remember a classmate calling me a terrorist in the following days. While I knew that he did not realize the gravity of his accusations, I also understood that his words represented a new perspective held by many Americans regarding Muslims. As I have gotten older, this stereotypical outlook has been reinforced through my personal experiences.

Many Americans assume that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo must be guilty of something, and therefore are deserving of the conditions in which they live. The reality is that most detainees in Guantanamo Bay detention facility have never been charged, and none fairly tried. Yet they are all still being punished. I’m concerned that the passive acceptance of Guantanamo in our country is a manifestation of latent discrimination toward Muslims. This is a travesty, especially for America, the supposed “land of the free.”

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

What You Need to Know About Vietnam’s Human Rights Record

President Truong Tan Sang is only the second Vietnamese president invited to the White House since the normalization of ties between the former war foes (Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

President Truong Tan Sang is only the second Vietnamese president invited to the White House since the normalization of ties between the former war foes (Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam visited the United States this week to meet with President Obama. At lunch Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry, he expressed his desire that Hanoi and Washington deepen their economic and security ties.

The United States and Vietnam have come a long way since the end of the Vietnam War, but President Sang should realize that absent significant progress on human rights, his hopes for building a closer relationship with Washington may be dashed. Popular and congressional support in the United States for forging a strategic partnership with Vietnam will hinge, in large measure, on whether the Vietnamese government demonstrates a deeper commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and justice.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

What Does Your Cell Phone Have to Do with Armed Conflict?

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s long war, which has claimed an estimated three million lives as a result of fighting or disease and malnutrition, was fuelled by the regions vast mineral wealth (Photo Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images).

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s long war, which has claimed an estimated three million lives as a result of fighting or disease and malnutrition, was fueled by the regions vast mineral wealth (Photo Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images).

You know that phone you’re texting on? Do you know how its microchips are made?

Thanks to work by Amnesty International and partner organizations, companies that rely on certain minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo or neighboring countries now have to investigate and report on whether those minerals fund armed groups.

And it’s about more than just smartphones – conflict minerals” (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) are used in products like your laptop and even your car. Public disclosure of companies’ sourcing practices can have a real impact on entire industries, pushing companies to take human rights into account as they do business. Can you hear me now?

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Don’t Let Herman Die Alone

64838_10151501424396363_39116699_n

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Bradley Manning’s ‘Aiding the Enemy’ Charge is a Travesty of Justice

U.S. Pvt. Bradley Manning, 25, has lost his challenge against the charge of "aiding the enemy" (Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images).

U.S. Pvt. Bradley Manning, 25, has lost his challenge against the charge of “aiding the enemy” (Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images).

By Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International

The decision by the U.S. military judge not to drop the charge accusing Private Bradley Manning of “aiding the enemy” is a travesty of justice. If he is found guilty of the charge, he faces a possible life sentence in military custody with no chance of parole.

What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet – whether through Wikileaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times – can amount to “aiding the enemy.”

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

5 Reasons President Obama Should Release Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier was a leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an activist group that was involved in promoting the rights of “traditionalist” Indians during a period of intense conflict in the 1970s. On June 26, 1975, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler were shot dead.

Leonard Peltier was convicted of their murders in 1977 and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Leonard Peltier does not deny that he was present during the incident. However, he has always denied killing the agents as was alleged by the prosecution at his trial. Here are 5 reasons he should be released:

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

U.S. Must Stop Obstructing Edward Snowden’s Ability to Claim Asylum

By Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy, Amnesty International

Let’s face it: the reason Edward Snowden is stuck in limbo in Moscow is because he has revealed the unlawful behavior of the U.S. and other governments. They are trying to turn the tables and say he is the criminal when in fact it is the governments’ behavior that is unlawful.

“We think that Snowden will be in danger if he is given over to the authorities of the United States,” Amnesty International representative Sergei Nikitin said after he met with Snowden at the Moscow airport.

Indeed, the U.S. government is not only pursuing him, wanting to arrest him and charge him in the United States but they’re also obstructing his ability to claim asylum elsewhere. The Russian president has said if Snowden stays in Russia he has to shut up – but you cannot give somebody asylum and say that it is conditional on your relinquishing your right.

So what we need to do is keep heavy pressure on the U.S. government and others who are actively obstructing his right to seek asylum. We need to keep bringing the focus back to the unlawful activity of the U.S. government and other governments that he revealed.