Turkish protesters gather at Taksim square during a May Day rally in central Istanbul, on May 1, 2011. (MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images)
It is certainly a positive sign that the AKP political party allowed a May Day demonstration in historic Taksim Square for the second time since 1977. It would be even better if they took real, positive action on labor rights.
Amnesty International launched a global campaign for workers’ rights in Turkey a few days ahead of the May Day demonstration because of the sorry state of Turkey’s labor conditions.
We remain deeply concerned about the longstanding failure of the Turkish authorities to ensure that labor laws guarantee the fundamental rights of working people. Indeed, many of these laws date back to the dark days of military rule in Turkey. A lot of time has passed, but on labor rights, too little has changed.
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On Tuesday, we heard from T. Kumar about what U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee face in their 12 year sentence in a North Korean labor camp. They got the maximum sentence of 10 years of hard labor for hostile acts and an additional two years for illegal entry, according to analysts. But exactly what hostile acts they committed remains unclear.
The two women, both of whom were investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women for the California-based Current TV media venture in San Francisco, were arrested on March 17 near North Korea’s border with China. They were held separately and in solitary confinement with limited access to either lawyers or their families. Their trial lasted five days in Pyongyang’s Central Court, the top court in North Korea. Outside observers were not permitted.
“The North Korean government seems to be using these two journalists as pawns in its dangerous game of escalating tensions with the international community,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director, in a statement. “This sentence was harsher than many observers expected, and completely out of line with any of the accusations that Pyongyang has levelled against them.” But this shouldn’t betoo surprising — the 2009 Freedom of the Press Index, published by Freedom House on May 1, gave North Korea the worst rating. North Korea acquired this rating because “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, and citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited.” And appropriately, or perhaps ironically, their sentencing came just four days after the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Crackdown, an event journalists are still imprisoned for mentioning.
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The news has been buzzing with reports of the two U.S. journalists who were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with hard labor in North Korea. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were convicted of an unspecified “grave crime” after they were arrested in March while investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women.
Amnesty's T. Kumar on CNN's American Morning
The conviction is outrageous and Amnesty International is calling for the pair’s immediate release. The U.S. government is also scrambling to negotiate their release.
But in the mean time, what do Lee and Ling face in a North Korean labor camp? Amnesty’s own T. Kumar was asked just that by John Roberts on CNN this morning. His responses show the horrifying fate in store for anyone sent to one of these camps. Here is an excerpt from Kumar’s interview:
John Roberts: If they were sent to one of these prison camps or hard labor camps, what kind of conditions would they encounter based on the studies you’ve done?
T. Kumar: We have to divide the situation into two categories. First is about the living conditions. The living conditions are extremely harsh. It’s overcrowded, very little food and very little, if any, medical attention. Then every day they have to work for more than ten hours. Very hard labor starting from breaking stones to working in the mines. And very little food again during the day.
Roberts: Very high rates of death in detention among these prisoners?
Kumar: Yes. It’s a combination of facts why the deaths are occurring. Number one, it’s hard and forced labor. Second, it’s lack of food. And unhygienic environment…There is no medical attention at all in many cases. So combined of all of these issues, [there is a] very large number of people who die in these prison camps.
Visit cnn.com to read the full interview.