North Korea Sentences U.S. Citizen to 15 Years Hard Labor

Passersby watch a television broadcast in Seoul showing a picture of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea, and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for "hostile acts" (Photo Credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images).

Passersby watch a television broadcast in Seoul showing a picture of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea, and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” (Photo Credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images).

North Korea’s Supreme Court in Pyongyang has reportedly sentenced a U.S. national of Korean origin to 15 years of hard labor in the country’s infamous prison camps today after finding him guilty of various unspecified crimes against the nation.

Pae Jun-Ho (also known as Kenneth Bae), 44, was arrested in November 2012 in the north-eastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea’s border with China. He had been operating as a tour guide for a group of five European nationals, who were immediately deported. Since his arrest, he had been held in solitary confinement and had limited consular support.

“The North Korean justice system makes a mockery of international fair trial standards – this case appears to be no exception,” said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International’s North Korea Researcher.

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‘Anyone Who Says We Live Comfortably on Death Row Has Obviously Never Been There’

Damon Thibodeaux

Damon Thibodeaux was released after 15 years on death row.

Damon Thibodeaux lived under the threat of execution for more than a decade.

Now 38, Damon was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Chrystal Champagne, his step-cousin, and sentenced to death in 1997. But he always insisted on his innocence and after spending 15 years in prison, he finally walked out of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – one of the harshest prisons in the country – a free man. This is his story.

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Jailed Without Justice: Immigrants in Solitary Confinement

A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security's Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security’s Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

On March 25, 2013, the New York Times published an article about the use, and overuse, of solitary confinement in immigration detention. It reported that 300 individuals are held in solitary confinement while awaiting resolution of their immigration cases, including one individual who was held for four months because of his sexual orientation.

Much like the issue raised by Congressman Spencer Bachus of Alabama at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration detention on March 19th, the real question is why are these individuals even detained in the first place?

As Amnesty International documented in its report in 2009, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA, individuals, including lawful permanent residents with long-standing ties to the U.S. and asylum seekers, are needlessly locked up in state and local jails and prisons for the sole purpose of appearing at immigration hearings, often without a hearing to determine whether they are a danger to the community or a flight risk.

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The Facts About Solitary Confinement in California Prisons [INFOGRAPHIC]

Our new report on solitary confinement shows how the United States has shamefully become a world leader in the practice of holding people in isolation for prolonged periods — as much as 20 years or more.  More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as “Security Housing Units.” Help us stop this practice by taking action.
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The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

cell solitary confinement

Bunk in Secure Housing Unit cell, Pelican Bay, California © Rina Palta/KALW

Today, Amnesty International issued a new report calling for an end to the use of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons.  The report contains shocking details about the scope and impact of abusive use of solitary confinement on prisoners, ex-prisoners, families and communities.

There is no policing of the system, they do whatever they want and they get away with it.

Sister of a man held in solitary confinement for a total of 21 years

What’s Solitary Like?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be held in solitary confinement for a couple days, let alone a couple decades. Medical doctors have described how, even after short periods of time, solitary can lead to insanity. I can see how after reading this Kafkaesque story about a prisoner who participated in a hunger strike to protest  the use of solitary:
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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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5 Countries Where Your Online Comments Could Land You in Jail

free jabbar savalan facebook page

When you log onto Facebook, you might expect to hear from long-lost friends or to see pictures from the latest family reunion. Maybe you follow Amnesty on Facebook or Twitter, read and comment on this blog, or keep a blog yourself.

But when you log off at the end of the day, you probably don’t expect the police to come knocking on your door. For people in some countries, that’s exactly what can happen. A 2011 study by Freedom House examining 37 countries found that 23 of them had arrested a blogger or internet user for their online posts. These encroachments on internet freedom – regardless of laws – come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide. Governments are clearly terrified because they know that information is power.

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Will the US Seek the Death Penalty in First Trial of a Former Guantanamo Detainee?

Last month, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani became the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be brought to the United States for trial outside of the military commission system.  His trial is set to begin in September 2010 in a regular federal court. While this is hopeful news for other Guantanamo detainees awaiting their day in court, if not their release, it also means that there is a possibility that the US government will pursue the death penalty should Ghailani be convicted.

Ahmed Ghailani, born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and brought to Guantanamo in 2006 for his alleged involvement with the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.  For two years he was held in secret detention by the Central Intelligence Agency, after which he was transferred to solitary confinement at Guantanamo and ultimately charged by a military commission in 2008.  Those charges have been dropped and he will now being tried in federal court on counts which include conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill Americans, and charges of murder for each of the victims of the US Embassy attacks. Mr. Ghailani has pled not-guilty to all charges, saying that he was not a member of al-Qaeda and did not know about the attacks ahead of time.

Mr. Ghailani’s case may be a test of President Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay, and may set a precedent for how similar cases might proceed. As a result, there will be a great deal of international attention given to his trial. It is especially important for the United States to demonstrate a commitment to human rights at this critical juncture by not seeking the death penalty for Ahmed Ghailani.

Additionally, the United States must investigate the conditions surrounding Mr. Ghailani’s enforced disappearance.  Such an investigation is required by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the US is a party. Any information obtained under conditions that violate international standards must be declared inadmissible in court, and a thorough investigation of Mr. Ghailani’s treatment in secret detention and at Guantanamo will be essential to ensuring he is given a fair trial.

Please urge the United States government to treat Ahmed Ghailani with humanity and fairness>>