The Slow Decline Of The Death Penalty Continues

Abdullah al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian national, faces imminent execution in Iraq - a sentence based on “confessions” he says were false and obtained through torture.  His story is a perfect illustration of why the death penalty is the ultimate violation of human rights; how ceding to the state the power to kill prisoners is connected to unfair trials, torture, and other abuses.

As Amnesty International’s survey of the death penalty worldwide in 2012 reports, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are both among the top executioners in the world, along with China, Iran, and, yes, the United States. The U.S. was once again the 5th most prolific executioner in 2012, and its death penalty continued to be plagued with bias and error and misconduct by the state (as has been exposed in the Reggie Clemons case).

With 15 executions in 2012, Texas would have ranked 8th in the world, between Sudan and Afghanistan.

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Tweet for Freedom in Turkey: Say No to the Criminalization of Dissent!

Journalists and activists participate in a rally for press freedom and against the detention of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in the capital of Ankara (Photo Credit: Ümit Bektas/Reuters).

Journalists and activists participate in a rally for press freedom and against the detention of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in the capital of Ankara (Photo Credit: Ümit Bektas/Reuters).

In a major report this week, Amnesty International has outlined the wide range of legal tools that Turkish authorities have used to target political dissent and limit freedom of expressionScholars, students, journalists, human rights activists, and thousands of others have been subject to prosecution and lengthy punishment under these statutes. But you can join us in working for real reform in Turkey!

Amnesty has noted that:

The most negative development in recent years has been the increasingly arbitrary use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate activities including political speeches, critical writing, attendance of demonstrations and association with recognized political groups and organizations – in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

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Maryland Legislature Passes Death Penalty Abolition!

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment, and the 6th state in 6 years to join the abolition club.

This culminates a decades-long campaign, stretching back to the 1980s, in which Amnesty International – in coalition with other groups – has always played an integral part. For me personally, it caps 6 years of thoroughly meaningful and rewarding work with a terrific collection of Amnesty staff and activists and coalition partners.

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5 Questions on Drones Senators Should Ask Attorney General Holder on Wednesday

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder  (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

On Wednesday March 6th at 9 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice with Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s not a hearing on drones and the Obama administration’s counter terrorism policy, but it should be.

As we saw with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing with John Brennan several weeks ago, the Obama administration’s killing program remains shrouded in secrecy and the little information we do know gives grounds to conclude that the program as a whole allows for the use of lethal force that violates the right to life under international law.

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An Open Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry: Know Before You Go

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry arrives in the UK at Stansted Airport on February 24, 2013 in Stansted, England. Kerry is embarking on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State with stops planned in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar before returning to Washington on March 6th. (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images)

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I know you have a lot on your plate as you begin your first trip overseas as Secretary of StateYou’ll be visiting America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, by my count nine countries in eleven days. According to press reports, the on-going conflict in Syria is going to be at the top of your agenda, which is as it should be. The latest estimates by the United Nations indicate that at least 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since unrest beganHuman rights violations there have been appalling and wide-spread.

While you continue your important work on Syria, however, I hope that you can spare some time for the on-going human rights violations elsewhere in the Middle East.  Sadly, many of these violations are undertaken by America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

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A Full Investigation of Horrific Attacks

News regarding a wave of attacks on Armenian women in Istanbul only slowly filtered out of the Armenian press in Turkey. The Turkish press initially gave the cases little attention.  Meanwhile, Turkish officialdom has consistently maintained that these are no hate crimes but simple robberies or, according to some, “possible provocation.”

It is certainly possible that these crimes are, in fact, simply aimed at robbery. Istanbul is, after all, a huge, cosmopolitan city, with all the pleasures and dangers that a big city can offer.

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The Uludere Bombing: When Will Their Families Get Justice?

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

On December 28, 2011, the Turkish military killed thirty-four of its own citizens, all civilians, most of them children in the Uludere/Qileban district, in Eastern Turkey.  The youngest was twelve.  A year has now passed and the families of these innocent people still wait for justice.

The Turkish government has offered compensation to the families of those killed.  The families, however, have refused to accept it until the truth behind the attack is uncovered and justice is done.

The families are still waiting.  On the anniversary of the Uludere bombings, Amnesty once again calls on the Turkish government to fully investigate these events and to bring those responsible to justice.

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3 Things You Should Know About “Zero Dark Thirty” and Torture

Still from Zero Dark Thirty.

After seeing the new film Zero Dark Thirty, I think there are three things everyone should know:

1) Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. The film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, said: “It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary… My standard is not a journalistic standard of ‘Is this a word-for-word quote?’ I’m not asking to be held to that standard and I’m certainly not representing my film as that. The standard is more, ‘Is this more or less in the ballpark?’”

2) Torture did not help find Osama bin Laden. This is established by the public record and verified by people who have access to classified information. For example, yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) sent this letter to the head of Sony Entertainment with citations pointing out that torture and other abuses did not help find Osama bin Laden.

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Five Reasons That the LGBT Community in Turkey Needs Heroes Like Ali Erol… and How You can Help!

Turkish homosexuals and human rights activists chant slogans as they hold a giant rainbow flag during the Gay Pride Parade march on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, on June 27, 2010. Photo credit MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images

Subject to state harassment and widespread discrimination, the Turkish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community faces dangers on all sides.

Amnesty has long campaigned on LGBT issues in Turkey.  However, we can’t forget the heroic work of Turkish activists, who have – despite grave personal risk – worked to protect the human rights of LGBT individuals in Turkey.  Last month, one of these activists, Ali Erol, received the 2013 David Kato Vision & Voice Award in recognition of his work with KAOS-GL, one of the first and most important examples of an increasingly outspoken LGBT activism in Turkey.

Ali Erol’s work is important, because, as Amnesty has reported, the LGBT community in Turkey faces powerful threats:

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5 Reasons the Feinstein/Paul Amendment Doesn’t Fix the NDAA

indefinite detention graphic

Click to enlarge.

There’s a new crisis unfolding in the Senate right now over the infamous indefinite military detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  I know the effort to fix the NDAA seems to be never-ending, but it is crucial to take action once again, as the Senate is expected to vote tonight or tomorrow. The outcome is critical for human rights.

The problem:  A new amendment to the 2013 NDAA offered yesterday by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and supported by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is being touted in some quarters as sufficient to end concerns about indefinite detention. Unfortunately, that’s not true—and it could make things worse.

Here are 5 reasons Senators Feinstein and Paul should change their amendment to truly support human rights and civil liberties:

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