End Saudi Arabia’s relentless crackdown on civil and political rights activists

Dr Abdullah al-Hamid and Dr Moahmmad al-Qahtani are founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). All 11 founding members are currently either imprisoned or on trial facing imprisonment.

Dr Abdullah al-Hamid and Dr Moahmmad al-Qahtani are founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). All 11 founding members are currently either imprisoned or on trial facing imprisonment.

By Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, Amnesty International Saudi Arabia Country Specialist

It didn’t have to happen this way in Saudi Arabia. Earlier this decade, Saudi human rights activists saw promise for change, saw their efforts paying off.

Now they’re facing long prison sentences.

Eleven members of the prominent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) are either imprisoned or on trial, and the remaining silenced, for their peaceful activism. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Will Rouhani Create Meaningful Reforms or Play Political Games?

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The global community recently celebrated the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and what appears to be dozens of others, among them political prisoners. However, we should reserve judgment regarding the future of human rights under the new administration in Iran until all those who remain unjustly imprisoned are freed and Iranians achieve the freedoms they have been demanding for several decades.

Sotoudeh, who had been detained in Iran since September 2010, was originally sentenced to 11 years in jail for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “acting against national security.” In reality, she is a lawyer who has defended many high-profile human rights campaigners, political activists, and juvenile offenders on death row. Throughout her career she publicly, but peacefully, challenged the Iranian authorities about the shortcomings of the rule of law and due process in the proceedings against her clients.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Faxes Jammed! Guatemalan Government Responds to Our Actions for Norma Cruz

Norma Cruz

Norma Cruz

Earlier this week, we started an exciting new faxjam action – calling on our members and Facebook and Twitter supporters around the world to send a fax to the Attorney General of Guatemala on behalf of human rights defender Norma Cruz.

Last night we spoke to Norma, the leader of the women’s rights organization Fundación Sobrevivientes, who has received repeated death threats because of her work supporting victims of violence against women and calling for those responsible to be prosecuted.

And the news is good – the authorities are really taking notice.

Norma told us that on Tuesday (the day after we started jamming faxes), the Presidential Commission on Human Rights phoned her to check on her security situation. They said that they were checking because they had heard about the Amnesty International campaign – the campaign that you have all been a part of.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Clinton sees human rights "progress" in Azerbaijan as it prolongs famed journalist’s sentence

The same week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Azerbaijan, a court in the post-Soviet country added another two years of sentence to the most prominent journalist behind bars.

Speaking of human rights in Azerbaijan during her early July trip, Secretary Clinton said: “We’ve seen a lot of progress in Azerbaijan in the last 18 years.”

Eynulla Fatullayev would disagree. On July 6, while Secretary Clinton was still in the region, he was convicted of “possession of drugs” – even as the European Court of Human Rights had recently ordered Azerbaijan to release the journalist imprisoned on a number of charges.

Fatullayev, considered a prisoner of conscience and a human rights defender by Amnesty International, is already serving an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence on ridiculous charges — terrorism (for writing an article while in prison!), defamation, incitement of racial hatred (for visiting a disputed region and interviewing “enemies”) and tax evasion — charges which the European Court of Human Rights quashed earlier this year.

BREAKING: Leading Human Rights Activist Found Dead in Congo

Mr Floribert Chebeya, was Executive Director of the Kinshasa-based organisation: "La Voix des Sans Voix" VSV (Voice of the Voiceless).

We are stunned and appalled by the suspicious death of a prominent and respected human rights defender today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Floribert Chebeya Bahizire was found dead early Wednesday morning after being summoned by the police in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

Chebeya has been arrested and harassed by the authorities in the past but it seems he may have paid the ultimate price for his valuable work.   He was the executive director of one of Congo’s largest human rights organizations, Voix des Sans Voix (VSV), and of the national network of human rights groups.

The Congolese government must immediately launch a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the death of one of the country’s leading human rights activists.

Chebeya told Amnesty International on several occasions that he felt he had been followed and that he was under surveillance by the security services.

On the morning of June 1 Chebeya received a telephone call requesting his presence at the office of General John Numbi, the General Inspectorate of Police in Ligwala, Kinshasa. He left his offices at 5pm to go to the Inspectorate.

Chebeya was in phone contact with his family until just after 9pm on Tuesday night. Just before 8pm he sent a text message to relatives saying he had not yet met with Numbi but was still waiting at the Inspectorate.

His last message said he was leaving the Inspectorate and stopping briefly at the University on the way home. Since then his phone has been unreachable.

His body was found by passersby early on Wednesday in a suburb close to his home.

“The government must urgently investigate this cold blooded murder and prosecute those responsible,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program. “Those who defend the rights of others must be allowed to continue their work free of harassment and persecution.”

Amnesty International has observed in the past year increased oppression of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including by illegal arrest, prosecution, phone threats, repeated summoning to the offices of the intelligence services.

“Floribert’s death is a great loss for the human rights community,” said Aubert.

All Charges Against Zimbabwe POC Jestina Mukoko Dropped

Jestina Mukoko with cards from Amnesty International members.

Today the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled in favor of the motion brought by Jestina Mukoko’s lawyer that all charges against her should be dropped due to the torture she experienced at the hands of state security agents.

Late last year, Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted from her home, illegally detained, tortured and charged with recruiting persons to participate in alleged militia camps in Botswana. She was one of 18 persons abducted and tortured around this time and charged with variations of the same crime. On June 25th of this year, the Supreme Court heard a petition from Ms. Mukoko and her co-defendants claiming their arrest was unconstitutional because they were illegally abducted and tortured. The Attorney General’s office admitted that Ms. Mukoko was illegally detained by state security agents but asserted that this should have no bearing on the case.

Amnesty International spoke with Jestina today after she left court, who said she was “over the moon with excitement.”

We also want to convey a message to YOU, Amnesty’s activists, in the eloquent words of Amnesty’s Zimbabwe researcher:

“Each time I meet Jestina she is quick to mention her appreciation of the campaign by AI members for her freedom. Thank you all for the actions you have been taking to apply pressure on the Zimbabwean authorities so that people like Jestina can enjoy their freedom.  Jestina was the face of at least 23 human rights and political activists who were victims of enforced disappearances from October to December 2008.  But we all kept the light burning for them and wishing them freedom.  Human rights defenders like Jestina count on our support.  Our cards, letters, calls and sometimes just good wishes gives them hope to fight for another day. “

Another Life Lost in the Struggle for Human Rights in Russia

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was murdered Wednesday in the North Caucasus region in Russia. According to BBC News, she was allegedly bundled into a van and abducted as she was leaving her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning. Her body was found shortly after in Ingushetia. She had been investigating human rights abuses in Russia for some time, working for a human rights organization called Memorial. She focused her efforts particularly on the Chechnya region, where she worked to battle impunity and to gather evidence on an alleged campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.

Her murder has occurred just two years after the murder of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2007. (See a video of Estemirova remembering Politkovskaya here). Human rights activists in Russia continue to be in danger.

Amnesty grieves the loss of this courageous woman and prominent human rights defender. Many are left shocked and saddened by the incident. It brings to light Amnesty’s growing concern about human rights abuses in Russia. Learn more about Amnesty’s concerns regarding human rights in Russia, and take action.

2009 Summer Solidarity Action

© Private

© Private

So, we’re halfway through July, and most people who haven’t already taken a summer vacation are planning one, or at least expect to enjoy some time at the beach, the pool, or a neighbor’s barbecue. I myself just got back from a 6-day trip which involved a good amount of sun and sand. It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy, right?

For some people, maybe. But for prisoners of conscience or those who defend human rights in many countries, summer brings no relief from the potential danger and sense of isolation they may face. By simply sending a postcard, however, you can help support these women and men. Take part in our 2009 Summer Solidarity Action and let them know they’re not forgotten.

(And if you participated last year, you’ll want to see the update on the 2008 cases.)

Time to Start Writing, Stamping, and Sending!

Today is the first official day of Amnesty International’s 2008 Global Write-a-thon! Over the next week and a half, thousands of people around the world will be writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, and other individuals at risk. Because so many people around the world are participating, authorities will receive a tidal wave of letters appealing for the human rights of these individuals, and they will find it hard to ignore.

There has already been a huge amount of interest in the US. Over 6,800 people have registered on the AIUSA website, pledging to write over 185,000 letters, and there has been support from different blogs, as well as on Facebook. There are even resources available in Spanish.

If you have any doubts as to whether or not your participation can really make a difference, all you have to do is check out this letter from Sami al-Hajj, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who was featured in the 2007 Write-a-thon, or read about some of the other successful cases.

Just because the Write-a-thon starts today doesn’t mean it’s too late! All you need is a pen, paper, stamps, and the desire to change someone’s life.