5 Reasons President Obama Should Speak Out For Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif, who now lives in Dubai, flashes the sign for victory in solidarity with Saudi women campaigning for women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia (Photo Credit: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images).

Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif, who now lives in Dubai, flashes the sign for victory in solidarity with Saudi women campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia (Photo Credit: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images).

President Barack Obama has an opportunity this month to lead from behind on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia – behind, that is, a woman driver.

The president is visiting the repressive Gulf kingdom this month. In a letter delivered to the White House, Amnesty International is calling on him to take a stand on women’s rights by meeting with the female leaders of a campaign to end the ban against women driving. We are also calling on him to have a woman Secret Service driver himself during his visit.

Take action to demand the president support women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

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Sneaky Tricks Putin is Pulling to Stave Off Criticism During the Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at a welcoming event ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics (Photo Credit: David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images).

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at a welcoming event ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics (Photo Credit: David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images).

By Ludmila Krytynskaia, Amnesty USA Russia Country Specialist

President Vladimir Putin lifted a blanket ban on protests and rallies in Sochi shortly before the Olympic Games were launched, thereby fulfilling his promise to the International Olympic Committee to relax the rules governing protests in the city.

The easing of the protest ban coupled with the release of dozens of high-profile prisoners last month – including former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot – has led to speculation in the Western media about whether these decisions were a sign of a political thaw in Russia, a result of diplomatic behind-the-scenes maneuverings or just a public relations stunt to stave off criticism of the human rights situation in the country on the eve of the Olympics.

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Imprisoned For Refusing to Work on Military Projects “Harmful to Humanity”

Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

It was the end of January 2011. Young Iranian physics whiz Omid Kokabee had just had a pleasant winter break visiting with his family in Iran and was eagerly anticipating returning to Austin to continue his doctoral studies in the Physics Department at the University of Texas. He was at the airport in Tehran when security agents approached him; instead of boarding his flight as planned, his life suddenly turned into a nightmare from which he has yet to awaken.

It is now three years later and Omid Kokabee sits in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted in a Revolutionary Court of unsubstantiated charges of “communicating with a hostile government” (presumably the U.S.) and “accepting illegal funds” (apparently a reference to the stipend that graduate students at his department typically receive).

While in detention, he was held in solitary confinement, subjected to prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make a confession. His interrogators reportedly threatened that he would be tortured and that professors at Iranian universities with whom he had worked would be arrested. During questioning, he was reportedly made to write down details of individuals he had seen in embassies or at conferences, and was told by those questioning him that some of the people he had met were CIA operatives.

Amnesty International has declared him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran. AI calls for his immediate and unconditional release from prison.

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6 of President Vladimir Putin’s Most Oppressive Laws

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NOTE: This blog post has been updated in several places for clarity.

The Olympics are right around the corner. But while Shaun White practices his Double McTwist 1260 and Ashley Wagner works on nailing a pearl spin, President Vladimir Putin is perfecting the art of repression.

Since he was inaugurated as President of the Russian Federation, Putin has orchestrated a number of changes in Russian law effectively criminalizing any criticism of him and Russian security forces. The new Draconian laws are having a terrible impact.

With Sochi fast approaching, here are 6 of Putin’s most oppressive laws. But unlike White and Wagner’s routines, we’re not looking forward to seeing these at the Olympics:

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