How Do You Defeat a Dictator When He Gets to Write the Rules?

NO_ecard_AmnestyI didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”

Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.

Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.

But it wasn’t! No!, an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of the brave and creative Chileans who helped their fellow citizens stand up and say, “NO!” to repression. This movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 15. You can find a list of theatres and dates for other cities by clicking here.

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In Times Like These, Poetry Is a Road to a Bahraini Jail

Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qarmezi. © Private

In this season of uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, governments consider even poetry subversive.  Now a young Bahraini student is looking at a year in jail for reading a poem criticizing the Bahraini king.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was convicted by a military court after an unfair trial. She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred toward the regime. She was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama.

The poem’s lyrics include the lines:

“We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?”

She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on March 30 after masked police raided her parents’ house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.

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Art Competition to Stop Abuses in Iraq

Calling all artists! We here at Amnesty are announcing a new art competition that you can be a part of!

We’re looking for artwork to be featured on our postcards urging the Iraqi government to release Qusay ‘Abdel-Razaq Zabib, an Iraqi police officer who has been held without charge or trial for two years.

The competition is part of our latest campaign against human rights violations in Iraq, which was documented in our recent report New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq. We are demanding that the U.S. government ensure that detainees like Qusay are either released or else tried in accordance with international human rights law. We have an obligation to demand safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment from the Iraqi authorities particularly for all those who have been transferred from US to Iraqi custody, such as Qusay.

To submit artwork for the competition, scan or photograph and email your submission in JPEG format to AIUSA-artcompetition@gmx.com with this form no later than October 31, 2010. Include your name, mailing address, age, and occupation. The form must be filled out, printed, signed, scanned and e-mailed with the artwork. Artwork not accompanied with a signed form will not be considered. A 500 word description of the artwork should also be included in the body of the e-mail. All artwork should be based on the report available here.

Runner ups will be featured on the Human Rights Now blog.