‘The killing of Michael Brown stung my heart’ Organizing for justice in Ferguson

Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on September 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on September 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Ernest Coverson, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA-Midwest Region

When I wake up, I check the news in Ferguson, Missouri, a 37 day old habit I picked up since the killing of Michael Brown. The cameras have gone, the smoke has literally cleared, but the organizing in the community is still going strong. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

An Ugly Crackdown in Turkey

Turkish policeman detain a protestor during a protest on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images).

Turkish policeman detain a protestor during a protest on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images).

Ugly police violence and repression of freedom of speech and of assembly continue in Turkey, where attempts to stage protests in Taksim Square have been repeatedly suppressed with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in the past few days.

The toll has been heavy. As an Amnesty statement released on July 9 notes, “[according] to the Istanbul Medical Association at least 30 people were injured yesterday including a 17 year-old… who is in a critical condition with head injuries after he was hit with a gas canister.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ali İsmail Korkmaz succumbed to his wounds this week, the fifth confirmed death in the violence. According to newspaper reports, Korkmaz was injured during protests in Eskişehir on June 2, when he attempted to escape police tear gas and was “brutally beaten by a group wearing civilian clothes.” No arrests have been made in the case. He was nineteen years old.

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Four Years, Seven Months, and Three Days

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

women of atencoOne woman was on her way to buy a birthday gift for her son, another was a volunteer who worked with children and was worried about reports of a youth being killed, another was a student activist, and another was a health worker who wanted to show solidarity and provide health support. The women had many different reasons for coming to San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, on May 3rd and 4th, 2006, but none of them had any idea of the horror they were about to experience. During a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, more than 45 women were arrested without explanation. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.

These brave survivors are struggling through what is now a nearly 5-year legal battle to hold their abusers accountable for their actions. Several of the women who suffered abuse including sexual violence filed complaints with the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra Mujeres y Trata de Personas, FEVIMTRA), part of the Office of the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República). The women have also advocated for their right to justice by filing a complaint in 2008 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). After a 3-year investigation, FEVIMTRA identified 34 men as responsible for the violence committed against the Women of Atenco, but concluded that these individuals should be prosecuted at the state level. However, almost no progress has been made in nearly a year. Now is the time to push for real justice and remind the federal government of Mexico that it has the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, and not to let this impunity continue.

It’s been four years, seven months, and three days without justice for the Women of Atenco, and Amnesty International USA continues to campaign on their behalf. The Women of Atenco are featured in this year’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, and you can help them in their fight for justice by signing up for the Write-a-thon today to write for their rights and those of 11 other cases from around the world!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Zimbabwe Irony: WOZA Protest Police Violence, Arrested

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: The 83 activists will remain in custody a second night. They are charged with obstructing traffic. At least that's a new one. And I had just accused the ZRP of being predictable...]

Today is International Day of Peace.  To commemorate the occasion, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets yesterday in Harare and today in Bulawayo. Their mission: raise awareness about the issue of police misconduct in Zimbabwe. In response to the peaceful march, police arrested 83 protestors, almost as if they were trying to help prove WOZA’s point. You’d think the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would get tired of being so predictable.

On Monday, 600 women and men marched in the streets of Harare,  first to Parliament and then on to Harare Central Police Station in solidarity after the initial arrests. The aim of the peaceful protest was to highlight community safety issues and police misconduct. Last month, 250 people in a Harare suburb were forcibly evicted by the police in the middle of the night. Last weekend, violence marred a constitutional consultation session in Harare.

In addition to these recent incidents, WOZA observed police behavior in select communities in Bulawayo and Harare for four months. Below is a sampling of the conduct they observed. Way to keep it classy, ZRP.

“WOZA members observed police officers beating suspects in public; harassing vendors and taking their goods for their own use; demanding and accepting bribes; drinking in uniform in public, and making people under arrest ‘run’ in front of their motor bikes and/or horses to the police station.”

The 83 WOZA members arrested spent last night in cells at Harare Central Police Station and remain there at the time of this posting. Harare Central is super disgusting and WOZA is currently suing the co-Ministers of Home Affairs over the filthy and inhumane conditions. There is also word that a member of MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) was severely beaten while in custody last evening. Fortunately, there are no reported arrests of the 1200 activists who marched in Bulawayo today.

WOZA is asking people to please phone Harare Central Police Station at +263 4 777777 to demand that the activists be released immediately.

Last Day to Get Your Representative to Help the Women of Atenco!

Women of Atenco

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Help us reach our goal of 50 Congress Members’ signatures on a Congressional sign-on letter for the women of Atenco by this Friday!  Representatives Keith Ellison and Tammy Baldwin have sponsored a letter that will be sent to the Mexican authorities to demand that justice is upheld for the women of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico.  We currently have around 42 Representatives’ signatures, so please encourage yours to sign on to the letter so that we can have a greater impact on the Mexican authorities!

The women of Atenco were sexually assaulted and tortured by police officers over four years ago following protests in the local town square, but no one has been held accountable for this injustice.  Despite a report issued by the federal Attorney General’s office which recommended the prosecution of 34 state police officers, and a statement released by the Supreme Court that affirmed that human rights abuses did occur in Atenco, the authorities have not prosecuted anyone for the crimes against these women.

We believe that right now is a perfect opportunity for us to pressure Mexican officials to prosecute those guilty of the crimes. Two weeks ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that 12 activists from the Atenco protests in May 2006 be released because they had never been granted a fair trial. These activists had been arrested for allegedly kidnapping police officers during the protests, but the charges against them and their sentences were unjust.  While Amnesty International welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision, we must continue to pressure the authorities to hold the police officers and judicial officials responsible for the crimes during and after the protests to account.  Simply freeing wrongfully-imprisoned activists is not enough—those responsible for crimes of torture, sexual assault, and misuse of the judicial system must be prosecuted!  Let’s take advantage of this timing to remind the Mexican authorities that they have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of their citizens.

Please take action today by asking your representative to sign the Congressional letter!  Call the Congressional switchboard at 202 224-3121 and ask for your representative, or take action online! The letter will be closed on Friday, so please take action now!

Write-a-thon Series: The Women of Atenco

This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon/

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You’ve read before on this blog about the women of Atenco, who were arrested without explanation during a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, in Mexico State. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.

In the case of one of the women, Bárbara Italia Méndez, police officers pulled her hair, beat her, and forced her into a state police vehicle with her shirt pulled over her head. She was made to lie on top of other detainees, and during the journey to the prison, police officers sexually assaulted her repeatedly.

 

More than three years later, these brave survivors are still waiting for justice. None of the officials responsible for their abuse have been held accountable. One of the women was able to identify her attacker, and he was tried on the watered-down charge of “libidinous acts” and sentenced to time served plus a small fine. He appealed the ruling, and was acquitted, thus avoiding even that weak punishment.

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Honduras: Two Transgender Women Killed, Another Threatened

Tegucigalpa is quite a dangerous place these days for transgender people. As if being marginalized by the larger society and frequently harrassed by police weren’t enough, the transgender community in the Honduran capital now faces a much graver threat. With two transgender women killed in the area in the last three months, and another who is an HIV/AIDS activist severely beaten by police (who had initially tried to rob her), fear is surely in the air. The HIV/AIDS activist, who was beaten in late December, was so afraid that she specifically asked Amnesty not to make her name public. It’s high time the Honduran government fulfills its obligation to protect all its citizens. You can take action online, or write your own letter.

Has anyone ever faced violence or harrassment because of sexual orientation or gender identity? What did you do about it? Did anyone help you?