“I Did Not Feel Alone, I Knew People Believed in Me”

Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan was released from prison in December 2011 (Photo Credit: IRFS).

Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan was released from prison in December 2011 (Photo Credit: IRFS).

Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan could hardly believe his eyes the first time guards at the prison brought him a bag full of letters.

They mostly came from people he had never met before, from countries he had never visited. They were all telling him to keep strong and that they were putting pressure on authorities in Azerbaijan to release him.


5 Things You Should Know About Enforced Disappearances

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.

Here are five facts you should know on August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.


10 Absurd and Unjust Arrests of 2012

Check out our list of 10 absurd arrests and sentences of the year. You might be surprised to learn what can get you thrown in jail in a few places around the world, and how harsh the sentences are once you’re there.

belarus teddy bears fly over minsk

Bears being dropped. Photo via Studio Total

1. Posting photos of teddy bears.

Anton Suryapin of Belarus spent more than a month in detention after posting photos of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane. The bears were part of a stunt by a Swedish advertising company calling for freedom of expression in Belarus. Anton is charged of “organizing illegal migration” simply because he was the first upload photos of the teddy bears, and still faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.

2. Tweeting.

After allegedly “publicly insulting the King” on Twitter, a Bahraini man had his six-month prison sentence upheld on appeal, while three others are serving four-month prison sentences. Article 214 of Bahrain’s penal code makes it a crime to offend the King.

3. Opposing the death penalty.


Gambia’s President Suspends Executions Amid Outcry

gambia executions protest

Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

When we found out that Gambia was to break a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty by starting an execution spree last month, Amnesty activists went into overdrive.  Supporters sent over 30,000 messages to President Yahya Jammeh and rallied around the world to stop the mass killings of prisoners – many convicted after unfair trials.

Last Friday we got good news:  President Jammeh heard our call and announced the suspension of executions following “numerous appeals” at home and abroad.

The bad news? The halt may be temporary.  The President’s statement said:

Gambia’s Execution Spree: “We Don’t Know Who Will Be Next!”

gambia executions protest

Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

While many nations have eliminated the threat of execution by abolishing the death penalty, the president of the Gambia is taking a very different and far more troubling approach.  President Yahya Jammeh pledged recently in a televised broadcast to empty his country’s death row by executing all its prisoners by mid-September.  This West African nation about the size of Connecticut had not executed anyone in more than a quarter of a century.  In the past week alone, authorities have executed at least nine people.

A rising number of organizations and governments around the world are calling on President Jammeh to stop the executions, including the Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal, along with the African Union, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Amnesty International.


Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.

In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Hundreds Disappeared, Killed and Tortured in Gambia

On Friday 22 July, thousands of activists from 14 different countries worldwide will come together to raise awareness of the deteriorating human rights situation in Gambia.

The demonstrations will happen on a public holiday that President Jammeh created to honour himself.

The global demonstrations coincide with a national holiday called ‘Freedom Day’ that current Gambian president Yahya Jammeh created to commemorate the day he assumed power in 1994.

Even though ‘Freedom Day’ is around the corner, that didn’t stop Gambia’s government from charging former Gambia Press Union President Ndey Tapha Sosseh and four other activists this week on trumped up charges of treason.


Did You Write for Rights?

Write for Rights event in France

A Write for Rights event in France

It has been fantastic to hear about the Write for Rights activities that have taken place around the world! In coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, theaters, markets, streets, schools, and homes, we came together, side-by-side, throughout the U.S. and the world to collectively take action to defend human rights. It is this action that will continue to lead to human rights victories, like that of the release of Femi Peters in Gambia.

We want to share with you some of what happened during the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon:

  • In Austria, AI members and activists sent over 17,400 letters, doubling the total number from last year, and making this the most successful Write-a-thon in their history.
  • In France, at least 200 cities hosted public events throughout the week. This included in Villetaneuse, a suburb of Paris, where students at a university organized a one-day event for the 10 December, which included a concert by a well-known hip-hop band. Despite the heavy snow, over 700 signatures were collected.
  • In Germany, over 50 AI local groups participated, sending over 17,000 letters.
  • In Hong Kong, Write for Rights was taken to the Human Rights Day Fair – an annual fair attended by over 25 NGOs.
  • In Mali, the youth network had a target of writing 1,800 letters. Students from ten schools took part, and they already have reported 2,366 letters written with still more to count.
  • In Nigeria, three volunteers organized events in Abuja and Imo State, generating 3,000 actions.
  • In Poland, 14,967 letters were written in just one location – a school in Bircza, a small municipality in south-eastern Poland, which only has 1000 inhabitants.
Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

That’s not all!  Right here at home there were nearly 1,300 events, in every state across the U.S. Before we can confirm how many letters were sent from the U.S., we need to hear from you.  If you participated in the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, please tell us how many letters you sent.  No number is too small, and every letter counts.  Knowing how many letters you sent is essential to help us gauge the pressure we are putting on human rights abusers.  In acknowledgment of your meaningful contributions to human rights, once you confirm how many letters you sent, you will receive a 35% discount on our limited edition 2010 Write for Rights T-Shirt.

Last month you gave Femi Peters Junior the best holiday present anyone could ever ask for: you helped get his father back. In Femi Peters Junior’s own words, “On behalf of my family, the Peters family, on behalf of myself, I want to thank Amnesty International from the bottom of my heart…  It’s good to have my dad back.  Thank you very much.”

Your letters made and will continue to make a difference.

Feeling inspired?  You can also sign up for the 2011 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon!

The Gambia, Where Persecution Has Replaced Justice

The following comes to us from Essa Bokarr Sey, the former Ambassador of the Republic of The Gambia to France (1999-2001) and to the United States (2002-2003). We asked him to share with us his perspective on The Gambia today, in light of this week’s Day of Action for Ebrima Manneh. To learn more about Amnesty International’s concerns about human rights in The Gambia, click here.

President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia monopolizes power with excessive force. In The Gambia of today being an opposition or exercising one’s right towards freedom of expression is a considered social taboo. Fear is ruling our people without limits or respect for the rule of law.

In The Gambia three scary names are used to maintain the brutal Jammeh regime in power.

1) The NIA (National Intelligence Agency) is first on the list. It is known for abducting, torturing and killing Gambians who dare show their difference in political opinion before the regime’s modus operandi. The NIA was established as soon as the Jammeh regime came into existence based with reference to decrees that were promulgated by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council. These special decrees empowered the NIA to arrest any Gambian upon suspicion and keep him or her for days without trial. They are still in full force. The latter contradicts the very essence of the Gambia constitution. Worst of all the NIA is directly answerable to the minister of defense who is President Jammeh, him being the hub of all abuses with the excessive use of power.

2) The state guard is a special squad composed of thugs and killers who run along the length and breadth of the country with unmarked vehicles. The latter can visit the residence of any Gambian at any time then abduct and incarcerate him or her while using harsh torture methods. Their callous and brutal methods started mushrooming from 1994 November 11 when officers of the Gambia National Army were summarily executed. Over the years many more were killed like former Lt Seye, former state guard commander Lt Almamo Manneh and others. Killings that are based on nothing other than speculation or whirling accusations which usually reflects suspicion from a paranoid leadership. These are crime scenes where clear indications have so far implicated the state guard beyond any reasonable doubt.

3) Third are the different locations where those abducted or kidnapped are kept incommunicado. The most dangerous are: Mile two central prisons, Jeshwang prisons, Jangjangbureh Prisons (an isolated island) where torture could include being exposed to mosquito bites and excessive heat in dark cells. Within the NIA premises also are dark dungeons like the Bambadinka–meaning the crocodile’s hole.

These three scary names are the pillars of President Jammeh’s regime of brutality. This is exactly why journalists like Ebrima Manneh are helpless and vulnerable. No single person can ever determine where detainees are kept with precision because the regime’s tactics includes transferring detainees from one undisclosed location to another only to escape inquiries from family members of the affected parties.

Refusing detainees access to legal representation and or visits from family members is definitely not uncommon in The Gambia today. The Jammeh regime exercises its strength by showing the detained and the family of the detained that absolute power lies in its hands but not within the hands of the judiciary. Court orders are not respected because re-arresting people who have been freed by a judge just outside the premises of the court house has been part of the regime’s merciless reactions during the past years. Indeed the above cannot be part of the modus operandi of a democratic regime. Therefore any regime which practices what is referenced here above is one that has no respect for the rule of law. That is why Gambians are scattered all over the world as asylees or refugees. Our country’s population is one of the smallest in Africa, however, the number of Gambians on exile is on top of the list in the continent. That certainly should be a cause for concern.

The recent report of Amnesty International entitled Gambia: Fear Rules speaks for itself. This same vein is the reason why six senators from the US senator on foreign relations signed a petition calling on the Gambian president to release Chief Ebrima Manneh. These are respected institutions who have no interest in staining the Jammeh regime for political reasons or any other one for that matter. Veterans like Senator Ted Kennedy are of course not into this for making names or controlling anything political. They are in it because what affects human life in The Gambia or any other part of the world attracts the attention of responsible leaders like the latter. President Jammeh’s legacy has already been stained like that of Idi Amin Dada and other former blood thirsty dictators. Along the way he will face his fate because international laws supersede the local Gambian laws he is manipulating to help maintain his ruthless regime.