Russia’s Most Prominent Political Prisoner Freed After Ten Years Behind Bars

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was charged with embezzlement and tax evasion. He spent 10 years in prison until his unexpected pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo Credit by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was charged with embezzlement and tax evasion. He spent 10 years in prison until his unexpected pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo Credit by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

By Ludmila Gordon, Amnesty USA Russia Country Specialist, Eurasia Cogroup Co-Chair

Amnesty International is happy to share the great news of the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner who spent over 10 years behind bars.

On December 19, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced at the annual news conference that he decided to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky after he received a petition from Khodorkovsky asking to be pardoned due to family reasons. Shortly after, Khodorkovsky was released from a prison colony in the Karelia region of northwestern Russia and immediately flown to Germany.

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From Jail Cell to Board Chair: Ann Burroughs on the Urgent Action Network

946701_10151615992491363_98894236_nThis post is the second in a three-part blog series commemorating the launch of Amnesty USA’s redesigned Urgent Action Network. Read on for how this updated tool will help activists make a stronger impact.

Even now, twenty-seven years later, Ann Burroughs can remember what it felt like to go to prison.

I’ll never forget my anger as the door shut behind me for the first time. But I did not for a moment question my commitment to opposing injustice and the government’s repressive policies of discrimination and segregation.

Ann’s “crime” was campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. After being convicted, Amnesty declared Ann a Prisoner of Conscience and made her the subject of an Urgent Action (UA). The letters that poured in to South African officials as a result of that UA were integral in securing Ann’s release.

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Natan Blanc is FREE

Natan Blanc released by JVPBy Nehal Amer, Social Media Specialist for the Middle East Coordination Group

Natan Blanc, 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, was freed from detention on Tuesday and officially discharged from the Israeli army yesterday.

Our last blog on Natan Blanc’s case asked, “What Will it Take for the Israeli Military to Stop Imprisoning Natan Blanc?” We believed it would take Amnesty International members and other activists making their concerns known and taking action – and because you didNatan Blanc is now FREE after being forced to serve 10 consecutive prison sentences for his refusal to serve in the Israeli military based on his conscientiously held beliefs.

Natan Blanc’s father received a call on May 30th from his son telling him that he had been informed that he would be released at the end of his current prison term. The decision follows a ruling by the Unsuitability (or Compatibility) Committee which – according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – is designed to deal with people with behavioral problems who are deemed unsuitable for army service. It is not a committee which explores whether someone is a genuine conscientious objector or not.

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One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.

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Why the Iranian Government Should Listen to the King Who Died 3,000 Years Ago

captive-in-iran

Captive in Iran, relates the story of two young women who endured detention for nearly nine months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, solely for the peaceful promotion of their religion (Photo credit: Tyndale Momentum)

Iranians often point to the fact that the first human rights charter in history came from Iran. When the Cyrus Cylinder, dating from the sixth century B.C., and owned by the British Museum, was exhibited in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the opening in Tehran. The cylinder was seen by more than one million Iranians.

The inscription on the cylinder, which has just begun its highly publicized first tour in the U.S., has been interpreted as a commemoration of Cyrus the Great’s proclamation of religious freedom and tolerance for all throughout his empire. How sad then that the current Iranian government blatantly contradicts Cyrus’ edict. Instead of honoring their ancient and noble traditions, the Iranian authorities are intensifying the pernicious and widespread persecution of Iran’s religious minorities.

Adherents of the Baha’i faith are probably the most persecuted religious community in Iran. Their faith is not recognized as a religion in Iran’s Constitution. Many Baha’is were executed in the 1980s. The seven leaders of the Baha’i community are serving 20-year prison sentences after their convictions on specious charges of “espionage for Israel,” “insulting religious sanctities” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”  Baha’is are excluded from higher education and face severe discrimination in employment, their cemeteries have been desecrated, and they are not permitted to meet, to hold religious ceremonies or to practice their religion communally. Because they are excluded from universities, the community established the underground Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, but its faculty and staff have been arrested and imprisoned solely for peacefully providing instruction to their young people.

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Thai Journalist and Human Rights Activist Sentenced to 10 Years for Defaming the King

A Thai activist wears a face mask carrying a message reading 'Free Somyot' as she joins a protest outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013.      (Photo credit:  CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

A Thai activist joins a protest against the sentencing of journalist and human rights defender Somyot Prueksakasemsuk outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013. (Photo credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine sitting down in a theater to watch the latest blockbuster, only to be asked to stand up before the film starts. So revered is the King in Thailand that movie-goers must stand while the royal anthem plays prior to every movie screening there, as a reel pays homage to the king.

Playing on this reverence to the king is the lèse majesté  law,enacted in the country’s criminal code. Article 112 states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The law is also used as a means to suppress freedom of speech in Thailand. Since the coup and military ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, authorities are using lèse majesté to prosecute an increasing number of anti-government activists.

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How Does Iran Try to Silence Troublemakers? By Targeting Their Loved Ones

Behrouz Ghobadi

Behrouz Ghobadi

The Iranian authorities have a problem. Iranian artists and human rights activists are just too courageous. They continue to speak out even if they are in prison or forced into exile. They are willing to endure the consequences of taking a stand for what they believe. So what are embarrassed Iranian officials to do?

The answer, increasingly, is to go after their family members, in an effort to punish dissenters or pressure them into submission.

Internationally acclaimed Iranian Kurdish film director Bahman Ghobadi is a sharp critic of the Iranian government who has been living in exile due to the repression of Iran’s film industry. Some of Bahman Ghobadi’s films recount the harsh lives led by Iran’s ethnic Kurds. One of his recent films, No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009), chronicles the struggles of young Iranian musicians attempting to evade censorship, while his most recent film, Rhino Season (2012), tells the story of a poet who spent 27 years in prison in Iran.

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President Obama Keeps a Yemeni Journalist in Jail

drones yemen

Unexlpoded BLU 97 cluster bomlet, part of the evidence found in 2009 US attack.

Why would President Obama want a Yemeni journalist, known for his reports of human rights abuses, to remain in Yemeni prison?

That’s the question Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ wants to know after two years in detention following his reports – later proven correct — that the United States was involved in a deadly attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp which took place on Dec. 17, 2009.

Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ was the first Yemeni journalist to allege US involvement in the missile attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah. Shortly after the attack – which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women – he wrote articles and spoke to news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers. In addition, 14 alleged al-Qa’ida members were also reportedly killed in the missile attack.

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