#Onlineactivism: More Than Tweets the Eye

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Natalie Butz, Communications Assistant at Amnesty International USA

It’s the phenomenon that’s spawned a thousand names and of course, its own hashtag. And ever since Malcolm Gladwell argued that “social media can’t provide what social change has always needed,” online activism has been critiqued as replacing on-the-ground grassroots organizing while offering only a fraction of the impact.

I thought about that argument last week as I stood with over 60 activists shouting chants and hoisting signs during Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)’s annual Get on the Bus event. Started in 1996 by a local AIUSA chapter in Somerville, Massachusetts, Get on the Bus is an annual day of human rights education and on-the-ground activism. The event’s name stems from its history; participants gather together on buses to rally at strategic locations on behalf of those whom governments would silence. Since its inception, Get on the Bus has spread to Amnesty International groups across the country, including New York City and Washington, D.C.


Human Rights Stories Left Untold During the State of the Union Address

Nabeel Rajab

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim youth holds a picture of prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a demonstration in Bahrain on June 11, 2012. MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/GettyImages

There is a human component to every State of the Union that is often overlooked.

Jacqueline Montanez was 15 years old when she received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime she committed as a child.

Nabeel Rajab is currently serving a two-year sentence in prison for organizing and participating in a peaceful protest against the Bahraini government.

Najiba was 22 when she was shot dead after being accused of adultery in Afghanistan.

Shaker Aamer remains detained at Guantanamo Bay without charge or criminal trial.


Is the U.S. Congress Starting to Get Its Human Rights Mojo Back?

The late U.S. Representative Thomas Lantos

Late last week, Congress reclaimed some of its human rights mojo when the bi-partisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) announced its new Defending Freedoms Project. The TLHRC was established in 1983 by the late Rep. Thomas Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress.

The project kicked off with the TLHRC co-chairmen Frank R. Wolf adopting Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and James P. McGovern taking on the case of jailed Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

The goal of this new partnership is to increase respect for religious freedom and other human rights around the world through a focus on individual cases of human rights defenders and those who have been unjustly imprisoned for exercising their human rights. Members of Congress will “adopt” at least one political prisoner, using their clout to highlight each case and push for an end to the human rights violations to which the highlighted individual is being subjected.


Posted in USA

This Weekend in Bahrain: Will U.S. Officials Stand Up for Freedom?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

In the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, a man by the name of Nabeel Rajab is sitting in jail for the “crime” of peaceful protest. But the government that has imprisoned him is a U.S. military ally, and the Obama Administration has done little to push for his release. When U.S. officials arrive in Bahrain this weekend for a global conference, will they finally change course?

Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and this fact has everything to do with his three year prison sentence. That’s why Amnesty International members worldwide are calling for his freedom, as part of our global “Write for Rights” campaign.

Like Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region, Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family has imprisoned many people who have dared to criticize the government. And while the U.S. government has issued mild statements of concern along the way, the Obama Administration has fundamentally failed to hold its repressive military ally accountable.


Nabeel Rajab: Why Did the U.S. State Department Drag Its Feet?

Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab

On August 16th, Bahraini political activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in jail for his peaceful role in protests critical of Bahrain’s monarchy.  He had already been in prison since July 9th, when he was convicted of libel after sending a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister.

But despite all of this, the US State Department did not publicly call on its military ally to release Nabeel Rajab until after his three year sentence had already been handed down.

Why did the US State Department wait so long to come to Nabeel Rajab’s defense?

There were plenty of missed opportunities along the way. One such moment was on August 1st, when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner testified (see pg 16) at a congressional hearing focused on Bahrain.  In his written testimony (pg 4), Assistant Secretary Posner called on the Government of Bahrain to “drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.”


Will Bahrain’s King Stop Imprisoning Peaceful Critics?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

Update: Nabeel Rajab was found guilty today August 16, of taking part in an “illegal gathering” among other charges in relation to a protest in the capital this past February.

Just this afternoon, 19 Members of Congress sent a letter urging Bahrain’s King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to release Nabeel Rajab, a man imprisoned for a tweet.

Nabeel is one of the “Bahrain 14” – 14 political activists sentenced to everything from three months to life in prison simply for engaging in nonviolent speech, expression, or association. Seven of the 14 have been given unbelievable life sentences in prison for their activism.


Will Congress Put Bahrain in the Human Rights Spotlight?

Bahraini boy with tear gas cannisters

Bahraini Shiite boy crouches by pile of tear gas canisters collected by protesters (AFP/Getty Images)

Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country.  Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.

The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.

These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like.  Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media.  And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST