“The America I Believe In”: 3 Hopes for this July 4th

Amnesty International posterI see this poster every day in the main hallway of our Amnesty International office: it depicts the Statue of Liberty and reads: “The America I believe in leads the world on human rights.

It’s aspirational. And in too many ways, it’s proven the opposite of true. The United States is leading the world in perversely innovative human rights abuses, such as unlawful drone strikes and mass surveillance tapping into the Internet’s backbone.

And when it’s the US rather than another country committing human right abuses, there are additional consequences: the U.S. sets dangerous precedents for other nations to follow, while providing abusive regimes a ready-made excuse to flout their human rights obligations.

Still, I think there’s hope. July 4th is a celebration not just of U.S. nationhood, but of the country’s ideals and the best parts of its history. It’s those that I think of, when I hope for this:

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From Albert Woodfox to Kalief Browder: The Devastation of Solitary Confinement

A cell in the Closed Cell Restricted (isolation) unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

A cell in the isolation unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has specifically condemned Woodfox’s treatment as torture and called on the United States to eliminate the use of prolonged isolation. Albert’s case has returned to the spotlight in the past month because he is no longer a convicted man – a federal judge ordered his unconditional release in early June, two years after his conviction had been overturned for a third time (a last-minute appeal kept him behind bars).

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Human Rights Victory! Swaziland Prisoners of Conscience Freed!

Thulani Maseko, appears in court in the traditional animal skin garb of a Zulu warrior, in Mbabane, Swaziland.  Maseko delivered a blistering attack on the Swazi judiciary and political system in a trial that has focused fresh attention on human rights issues in a country who's authoritarian system gets little scrutiny in international forums because of the country's small size and strategic insignificance.

Prisoners of conscience Thulani Maseko (above) and Bheki Makhubu walked free from a Swazi prison on June 30, 2015. (c) AP/Press Association Images

Tuesday, June 30th was a very good day. Two activists in Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, walked free after serving over a year of a two-year prison sentence. Bhekithemba (Bheki) Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, an human rights attorney, were released after an appeals court determined there was no case against the men.

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Juan Mendez: “I Was Tortured. I Know How Important It Is To Hold The CIA Accountable”

Juan Mendez, lawyer and human rights activist, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. London 30 June 2014 (c) Amnesty International

Juan Mendez, lawyer and human rights activist, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. London 30 June 2014 (c) Amnesty International

By Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment

More than once, I begged my torturers to kill me. Years later, I think about it and wonder if I really meant it. I think I did, at the time.

I was tied up, nude and blindfolded, and electrically prodded all over my body. Twice they pretended they were executing me by placing a gun to my head or in my mouth and clicking the trigger.

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Gao Yu: “History will prove my innocence”

Tiananmen26_GaoYu_ENG

By T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA’s International Advocacy Director

Freedom of expression is under constant attack in China. But the recent sentence of prominent journalist, Gao Yu is not just another dissident being silenced. 71-year-old Gao Yu has been speaking out for nearly 30 years. She was detained without charge or trial for 15 months after the June 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Upon release in 1990, she continued to work as a freelance journalist. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Why We’re #WearingOrange on June 2nd

Gun violence is a national issue that impacts tens of thousands of Americans each year. Each day 88 people lose their lives to firearms in the United States, and countless other lives are permanently and irrevocably altered. The causes of this epidemic of violence are complex, but there are organizations working around the clock to bring it to an end.

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VICTORY: You Took a Stand. Now Moses Akatugba Will Walk Free!

Over the last year, activists like you have taken more than 800,000 actions in support of Moses Akatugba, who was imprisoned in Nigeria at 16 years old, tortured, and later sentenced to death on suspicion of armed robbery — a crime he says he didn’t commit.

For months, Amnesty International activists have been campaigning on Moses’s case, including writing letters, participating in demonstrations and sending online messages on Moses’s case as part of Amnesty International’s Stop Torture Campaign and 2014 Write for Rights action.

Yesterday, Amnesty activists put renewed pressure on Emmanuel Uduaghan, the governor of Delta State, to free Moses before the governor’s term ends today. We learned yesterday afternoon that Moses was granted a full pardon.

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Why are the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

Khaleda, 15, a refugee in Bangaldesh, 17 November 2008. Khaleda is one of 10 children, she was born a refugee. “I have spent my whole life in a camp,” she says. (c) UNHCR / S. Kritsanavarin

The specter of thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea off mainland Southeast Asia will loom over Friday’s Regional Summit on Irregular Migration in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. The roots of this crisis lie in Myanmar, where the Rohingya have faced institutionalized discrimination for decades.

In the past three years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have boarded ships to flee abroad, to escape persecution in Myanmar. However, the issues they face are not new.

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Angola: Journalist Rafael Marques Convicted for Writing a Book

There is a short distance between freedom and conviction in Angola. For journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, it was one week.

Rafael went to court last Thursday and thought he reached a settlement agreement on charges of criminal defamation. Today, he received a 6 month prison sentence suspended for two years. Amnesty had called for all charges to be dropped.

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Victory for Rafael Marques and Freedom of Expression in Angola!

Photo Credit: Maka Angola / MakaAngola.org

Diamonds. Murder. Torture. Broken promises. Important officials. International players. All the elements of a gripping narrative told in a Hollywood blockbuster. Except this isn’t fiction, and the person on trial was the journalist who made sure the world knew the story.

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