Iranians in Outer Space–and Their Scientists in Prison?

Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the extraterrestrial experiences of Iranians, both actual and desired. Iranian-American NASA engineer (and heart throb) Bobak Ferdowsi, who gained fame for his distinctive hairdo as well as his skill in guiding the Mars Rover landing, was the First Lady’s guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address, thanks to his efforts to inspire kids to pursue their education in the STEM fields.

Meanwhile, Iran successfully sent a monkey into space and back, prompting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to declare that he would like to become the nation’s very first astronaut. While the prospect of Iran’s controversial president being launched into orbit in a space ship intrigued many both inside Iran and out, Iran’s ability to advance the frontiers of science is being undermined by its government’s practice of putting some of its brightest scientists in prison.

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Saudi Arabia: Two Executions a Week is Two Too Many!

Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft. © Private

Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft. © Private

Saudi Arabia is executing nearly two people per week this year: We say NO MORE!

A spree of executions that has sent 10 prisoners to their deaths since the beginning of the year in Saudi Arabia must be halted, Amnesty International said earlier this week.

The beheadings included Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari, who had originally been convicted of manslaughter, but was tried again on the charge of murder in proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, as well as Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker.

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Turning 9/11 Grief into Hope

Terry Rockefeller and her sister Laura

Terry Rockefeller (left) with her sister Laura. Photo courtesy of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Terry Rockefeller.

It has now been eleven years since the September 11 attacks. I still think about that morning every day. I could see the Towers from my living room, and from my walk to the subway. In my mind, I see the first Tower on fire. I see the second fall.

I think about all the people who lost their lives, all the survivors and all those who lost loved ones. Will their rights to justice, truth and redress ever be fulfilled?

I also think about all those who have suffered from the U.S. government’s response to the attacks. Will indefinite detention, unlawful drone killings and impunity for torture ever end?

And I wonder if Amnesty International’s vision of a world with human rights for all people will ever become reality. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

No Execution For Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal © AFP/Getty Images

Mumia Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing execution.  He should be getting a new trial.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate the death sentence that had been overturned by a lower court. So today, Philadelphia prosecutors threw in the towel, announcing that they will not seek a new death sentence in Abu-Jamal’s case, instead allowing his sentence to be automatically commuted to life without parole.

But, over ten years, ago, Amnesty International concluded in its report, “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Life in the Balance” that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s original trial utterly failed to meet international fair trial standards. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Saudi Arabia Silencing Dissent in the Name of 'Security'

Ahmad AbbadThere’s one thing more concerning than a government with a history of using security issues to justify human rights abuses passing a new anti-terrorism measure. What would be more scary is if that government passed new counter-terrorism legislation and then kept the details of the new law from the public.

That’s the situation in Saudi Arabia, where what we know of a draft anti-terrorism law comes only from a document leaked to Amnesty International. Under the draft law, the definition of terrorist crimes is so broad that legitimate dissent would, in effect, be criminalized. Authorities would be allowed to prosecute peaceful dissent with harsh penalties such as “terrorist crime.”

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Absolute Power Corrupts, Human Rights Protect

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  That’s what Lord Acton, an English baron and historian, said back in the 19th century.  A century earlier, and on this side of the pond, Thomas Paine famously wrote:  “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.”

reggie clemmons

Reggie Clemons

One of the most absolute powers the state can have is the power to kill its prisoners.  There are two death penalty cases featured in this years’ Write for Rights that illustrate how enthusiasm for this ultimate punishment can corrupt the application of otherwise good laws.

Murder is a terrible crime, and making it illegal is a good law.  But in the cases of Reggie Clemons in Missouri, and Fatima Hussein Badi in Yemen, police brutality during the investigations, and over-aggressive prosecutions and inadequate defense during court proceedings have thoroughly derailed any legitimate quest of justice.

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In Times Like These, Poetry Is a Road to a Bahraini Jail

Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qarmezi. © Private

In this season of uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, governments consider even poetry subversive.  Now a young Bahraini student is looking at a year in jail for reading a poem criticizing the Bahraini king.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was convicted by a military court after an unfair trial. She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred toward the regime. She was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama.

The poem’s lyrics include the lines:

“We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?”

She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on March 30 after masked police raided her parents’ house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.

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Dear @Statedept, Please Protest Unfair Trial Of #Bahrain Activists

Bahrain has turned into a country in which an activist can be thrown into jail for reading a poem that criticizes the country’s King, and in which doctors and nurses are put on trial for doing their job. I can hardly imagine what sentence opposition figures are facing for leading and participating in the demonstrations that took place in February and March. It is outrageous to see Bahraini authorities putting protesters, activists and medics before military courts, which Human Rights Watch appropriately called a Travesty of Justice.

Bahrain is also an important strategic partner to the United States, and home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. It’s therefore legitimate to ask if that’s the reason why there is so much silence from the US administration on the crackdown of the pro-reform movement. As a Washington Post Editorial last month formulated it: “The administration clearly is trying to protect the strategic relationship with Bahrain.”

We are now mobilizing the public to call on the US government to speak out more strongly about unfair trials in Bahrain, one week before the trial of opposition figures continues. It is especially crucial that the Unites States administration guarantees that a high level representative from the US embassy in Bahrain will attend the trial.

Join The Global Bahrain Twitter Action on June 15

Taking a cue from Arab Spring activists using social media, we will conduct a Twitter action tomorrow, June 15. We are calling on all social media activists to urge the US Department of State to end their double standard and protest more forcefully against unfair trials in Bahrain. Messages to the State Department will include:

Dear @statedept, pls ensure you observe trial of #bahrain opposition http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
Dear @statedept, pls protest unfair trial of #bahrain activists http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14

The @statedept should observes trial of #bahrain opposition http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
The @statedept should protest unfair trial of #bahrain activists http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14

You can just re-tweet our messages coming from @amnesty tomorrow. Feel free to adapt the tweets, but please stay on message and be polite. I will be collecting the most compelling tweets and plan to publish some of them on this blog (which we will also share with our contacts in the State Department), together with an update on our recent Bahrain actions.

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Blood in the Street, Injustice in the Courts, Silence from the US

While Bahraini authorities are silencing activists, opposition leaders and even medical personnel in military courts, the United States Government remains silent. We have seen the US respond to the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, yet government officials so far have remained relatively silent on the crackdown in Bahrain – imposed on the streets and in the courts.

The most recent indications for this silent acceptance of human rights violations include the (rather secret) meetings of high level US government officials with the Bahraini Crown Prince yesterday, and the recent refusal by the State Department to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Commission.

The United States’ failure to act in Bahrain represents a tragic double standard in US Middle East policies. In Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East and North Africa, the President won applause for rhetoric admonishing the Bahraini Monarchy’s repression of dissent, stating that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

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Bahrain Security Forces Go After Doctors, Nurses

When demonstrations broke out in Bahrian urging political reform, first the government’ s security forces went after protesters.  Then they went after the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who treated the injured protesters.

Now they’re going after the health professionals who are speaking out against the security forces’ actions.

Even to long-time observers of Middle East human rights issues, the attacks on health professionals to prevent them from treating injured patients is surprising, a sign of the extent to which the governments are willing to respond to the Arab Spring by going after even the most fundamental of rights.

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