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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Israel: Say No to Detention Without Charge or Trial

Khader AdnanAs Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan verged dangerously on the border between life and death, much of the world turned its collective gaze toward Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Adnan, who was arrested at his home in the occupied West Bank in the middle of the night, had been sustaining a 66 day hunger strike in protest of his treatment by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and his detention without charge or trial.

Onlookers breathed a collective sigh of relief when Adnan’s lawyer reached an agreement with Israeli authorities on February 21st, prompting the dying man to halt his strike. The state has reportedly agreed not to extend Khader Adnan’s four-month “administrative detention” unless “significant” new evidence emerges, and has said that it will count the days he served in detention before the order was issued on January 10.

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Promises Of Freedom Ring Hollow As Syrian Crackdown Continues

By Mahsa Maleki, Syria Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Tires burn during anti-government protests on the streets of Daraa. © Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

The Syrian government has once again responded to peaceful protests with bullets and armor.  Amnesty International insists that the government halt its attacks and allow its citizens to fulfill their rights under international law to peaceful demonstrations.

The protests in Syria to demand political reform started on March 15, 2011, and scores of people have since been injured or killed.  President Bashar Assad promised that he would reform the political system, but these promises remain hollow as the brutal crackdown on protesters and political critics continues.

The Syrian government has long imposed severe penalties on those demanding for political reform.  Government critics are often detained for prolonged periods, or sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials.  Torture and other ill-treatment is common, often committed with impunity.

The protests in Syria began in the town of Dera’a, where residents had asked, among other political demands, for the release of more than 30 children, many only 10 years old, detained for several weeks after being accused of writing “the people want the fall of the regime” on a wall.

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Egypt Must Investigate Security Forces Crimes

Rights defender Musaad Abu Fagr was held in SSI detention for years © Amnesty International

One of the first acts taken by Hosni Mubarak when he became Egyptian president in 1981 was to release numerous political prisoners.  Amnesty International applauded him but called on the new president to rein in Egyptian security forces and to dismantle the system of administrative detention.

Thirty years later, as Mubarak himself faces criminal charges in Egypt, Amnesty International renews its old call to rein in the security forces and to end the crippling extrajudicial legal system that facilitates torture, punishes political activists and ordinary Egyptians alike and has muzzled a once-vibrant civil society for decades.

In a damning report released April 20, Time for Justice: Egypt’s Corrosive System of Detention, Amnesty International calls for an independent inquiry into human rights abuses committed by the much feared State Security Investigations Service (SSI).

This is a moment for fundamental change. It demands immediate concrete steps from the authorities so that those responsible for serious human rights violations are held to account.  Egyptians must see justice done for the human rights abuses of the past.

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Sign of an Egyptian Election: Mass Arrests

How do you know when it’s election season in Egypt?  The arrests mount up.

In what has become a regular pre-election ritual, Egyptian police and security officials have arrested more than 150 members of the Muslim Brotherhood since the group announced that it will participate in Nov. 29 parliamentary elections.  More than 70 members were arrested just in the past few days.

It’s not just the Muslim Brothers feeling the crackdown.  In the past few weeks, other political opponents have been detained, including Gamila Ismail, wife of Ayman Nour, a former leader of the El Ghad party who was convicted and sentenced to jail after being the first runner-up in the 2005 presidential campaign. Ismail was released after being detained.

The pre-election arrests follow the pattern established in previous parliamentary and presidential elections, with the Muslim Brothers often taking the greatest brunt of the crackdown.  But if the arrests no longer surprise, the Egyptian government’s contempt for the basic premises of free and fair elections still brings outrage.

“If the forthcoming elections are to be fair and credible, the Egyptian government must ensure that they are conducted on a ‘level playing field’ and uphold the rights to freedom of association of all candidates and their supporters,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.  (The complete Amnesty International statement can be found here.)

The arrests come at the same time that a ruling party official provided the strongest indication that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will run for re-election in presidential race scheduled for 2011.  If the 82-year-old Mubarak runs again, the crackdown for this year’s parliamentary election has the potential to be a tune-up for a harsher effort next year.

What will the world’s response be?  In past years, allied governments have looked the other way as the Mubarak government has crackdown on election opponents.  These crackdowns make a mockery of the electoral process and the idea that the people should be free to elect their representatives.  If the world continues to be a silent audience, and is a mere onlooker to the injustices being committed in Egypt it will have betrayed the values of human equality and dignity that are at the core of all human rights.

Local activists targeted in occupied Palestinian territories

Abdallah Abu Rahme is affable and articulate.  Last July, when I called to set up a time to talk before one of the weekly protests in his village, Bi’lin in the occupied West Bank, he made jokes and explained exactly the best way to get there from Jerusalem through all the checkpoints and roadblocks.

Abdallah’s vocation is teaching, but what takes up a good portion of his time is his involvement with the village’s non-violent popular committee which protests the wall/fence built by Israel that snakes through the occupied West Bank (WB).  Israel says the wall is being built for security reasons; others that the wall is simply strangling villages’ economies by cutting them off from their agricultural lands and water sources.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal where it sits on Palestinian territory and should be removed.  Eighty percent of the wall is built on Palestinian territory, but five plus years later, most of the wall continues to sit  and be built on Palestinian land.  Popular committees have sprung up across the WB to protest the wall and over the past 18 months, there appears to be an increase in the harassment and prosecution of activists involved in this and other non-violent actions.

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