Why is El Salvador Cruelly Punishing Women Who Need Medical Help?

Ireland is not the only nation with strict abortion laws that cost women their lives.

Since 1998, El Salvador has had a total ban on abortions, under any circumstances. In March of this year, Salvadoran police arrested a woman (“Mery”) when she sought medical treatment after a clandestine abortion. The medical providers reported her to the police—as required by law. In addition to the physical complications associated with the abortion, she showed clear signs of emotional distress and panic.

Instead of providing “Mery” with counseling, the authorities sentenced her to two years in El Salvador’s violent, overcrowded prison system. Her emotional state deteriorated and she tried to kill herself in September 2012. Prison authorities responded by handcuffing “Mery” to a bed in a psychiatric hospital and placing an armed guard in her room. Amnesty is especially concerned because she has been cut off from both the psychological help she needs as well as legal counsel.

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The U.S. Finally Rethinking Solitary Confinement

solitary confinementAnthony Graves spent 18 years on death row in Texas, all in solitary confinement. He was the fifth and last witness to speak at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement Tuesday morning.

Mr. Graves spoke eloquently and powerfully to a packed room and an overflow audience about his experience, the deplorable conditions, and the lasting psychological effects he cannot escape. He was exonerated and released from prison around two years ago, but still carries the scars. He spoke of watching completely sane individuals come to death row, and within three years lose their grip on reality. He described what it was like to live in a very, very small box 23 hours a day, forced to sit like a trained dog when guards delivered food.

One argument against the death penalty is the danger of executing the innocent. It’s a strong argument – Mr. Grave’s case highlights this – but no one should have to live in the conditions he described.

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Doubts Cast in Gilad Shalit/Palestinian Prisoner Swap

Today, we woke up to find the exchange of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and 477 Palestinian prisoners.

As news services around the world covering the exchange highlight Gilad Shalit’s ordeal of being held for five years in virtual incommunicado detention and the story of the Palestinian prisoners being released – some having been held for decades – one thing is glaringly obvious – this whole episode highlights the need for the humane treatment of all detainees – whether Palestinian or Israeli.

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Iraqi prisoners on hunger strike demand better conditions

Dozens of prisoners at Al-Hilla Prison in Iraq went on hunger strike on Sunday demanding better prison conditions including a solution to overcrowding, according to Al-Sharqiyah Television. Conditions of other prisons across Iraq and Kurdistan are not much better, with shortages of clean water and inadequate sanitation facilities, as well as poor ventilation, all of which continue to cause serious health risks.

Al-Hilla prison’s capacity is 750 but it currently holds over 1500 prisoners. This is a recurring problem in Iraq. In 2008 one prison was so overcrowded that detainees had to sleep in shifts. In 2010 about 100 detainees were crammed into two windowless vans designed to carry 20 people each, for a trip that took about one hour. As a result 22 detainees collapsed and seven died of asphyxiation.

In addition to poor prison conditions many prisoners report that they have no access to doctors or to needed medications. One example is Ibrahim ‘Abdel-Sattar who died in al-Kadhimiya prison on 29 October 2010. He was not treated for stomach cancer and was only taken to the hospital the day before he died.

Take action to improve prison conditions in Iraq by writing to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Send letters to the Iraqi Embassy at 3421 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.

Attempting to Silence Political Opposition in the Gambia

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Femi PetersLittle did Femi Peters know that by attending a peaceful demonstration organized by his employer, the United Democratic Party, he would be suffering from diabetes and malaria in prison today. Femi is the Campaign Director for the United Democratic Party, a political opposition party in Gambia. At the fateful demonstration on October 25, 2009, he was arrested for “control of procession and control of use of loud speakers in public” without permission from the Office of the Inspector General of Police, as required under the Public Order Act.

The Gambian government seeks to stifle political and social dissent through arbitrary arrests of journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders and former security personnel. They continued this trend by sentencing Femi Peters in April 2010 to one year in jail. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

In jail, Femi Peters has suffered from poor prison conditions and a general lack of health care.  He is also not allowed to see his family while he is imprisoned.  Take action on behalf of a prisoner of conscience whose only crime was his participation in the political process by signing up for the Write-a-thon today!

The Write-a-thon features Femi Peters along with 11 other cases of human rights abuses around the world. Sign up today and write for the rights of others!

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

Congress Seeks to Improve Prison Conditions Around the World

For years, we’ve documented horrendous conditions in prisons all around the world in our Annual Report. Detainees are often held in inhumane prison conditions, including overcrowding and inadequate food, water and medical care, and are often subjected to other forms of ill-treatment and torture. Family members and legal counsel are often barred from visiting, and juveniles can be detained with adults. Every day, prisoners around the world die in prison due to ill-treatment, in contravention of international human rights standards.

But I’m happy to report that the US Congress is finally paying attention. Just a little over two weeks ago, Senators Patrick Leahy and Sam Brownback and Congressmen Bill Delahunt and Joseph Pitts introduced the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act of 2010 (S.3798 in the Senate and H.R.6153 in the House of Representatives).

On any given day, millions of people are languishing in foreign prisons, many awaiting trial not yet having been formally charged or proven guilty of anything, deprived of their freedom for years longer than they could have been sentenced to prison if convicted. Others convicted of crimes, often after woefully unfair trials, including for nothing more than peacefully expressing political or religious beliefs or defending human rights. Regardless of their status they have one thing in common. They are deprived of the most basic rights and necessities–safe water, adequate food, essential medical care, personal safety, and dignity.

Anyone who has been inside one of these facilities, or seen photographs or the press reports of what they are like, understands that I am talking about the mistreatment of human beings in ways that are reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

- Senator Patrick Leahy, introducing the bill on September 16, 2010

The bill would help ensure that countries receiving US assistance do not operate prisons and other detention facilities under inhumane conditions and would provide assistance to countries making significant efforts to improve conditions in their prisons. Most importantly, the bill would mandate that the US government reprogram, restructure or even decrease US assistance to countries unwilling to improve prison conditions.

So take action today by asking your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act. Your voice will help ensure that this Congress takes action on this important issue and that we don’t have to wait any longer to see improvements in prison conditions around the world.

Jenni Williams of WOZA Arrested in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE 10:00: Jenni has been released. Just another effort on the part of the Zimbabwe police to intimidate human rights defenders. Thank you to everyone for standing in solidarity through your phone calls on her behalf. ]

This morning, the 83 activists who spent two nights in jail at Harare Central, were released on bail after being charged with “criminal nuisance.” Jenni Williams, National Coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) met the activists across the street, along with other leadership members, to greet them upon their release. While speaking with the activists to determine who needed medical assistance, police approached the group and demanded Jenni accompany them into the police station.

She is accused of “addressing a gathering” and being held at the Magistrate’s Court until transport can be provided to Harare Central. WOZA has filed suit against members of Zimbabwe’s government over conditions at Harare Central. Jenni and 70 other WOZA activists were arrested and detained at Harare Central in April. Below is information provided in their complaint:

“When they got to the cells, their senses were assaulted by the choking smell of human excreta, and flowing urine of varying colours. Even the beds were covered with human excreta, so they sat and spent the night huddled in the corridors of the cells, as they could not sit inside the cells due to the faeces. However, even the corridor itself had flowing urine and they had to use their own tissues, to clean up the area where they planned to sit on.”

Please call Harare Central and demand that Jenni be released immediately! 011 +263 4 777777