What You Can Do NOW to Stop the Abuse of Protestors in Turkey

A protester covers her face during clashes with Turkish police near the prime minister's office in Istanbul (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images).

A protester covers her face during clashes with Turkish police near the prime minister’s office in Istanbul (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images).

In Turkey, a major human rights crisis looms.  Here is what an update on what you can do about it.

The Crisis

As protests continue to rock Turkish cities, Amnesty International has warned that injuries due to “police abuse will continue to escalate unless the authorities bring police tactics in line with basic human rights standards.” Police excesses have been “disgraceful,” Amnesty says. The number of those injured by excessive police force is as yet unknown, but is believed to be in the thousands. Many of the injuries have been serious. There are as yet unconfirmed reports of deaths.

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Five Empty Chairs

In October, Amnesty applauded the announcement that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to three world-changing women—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. In addition to celebrating the work of these women, we’re also very happy that they’re all free to attend the award ceremony tomorrow.

While this year’s winners travel to Oslo to accept their awards, this freedom of movement is not the reality for many activists around the world, including past prize recipients.  Today, we remember five past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize who have been unable to attend the award ceremony due to persecution:

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Continued Impunity: Enforced Disappearances in Colombia

In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”

Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.

Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.

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Ailing Father Ly Arrested Again

Dissident priest Father Nguyen Van Ly was paroled for health issues last year © Private

By Claudia Vandermade, Southeast Asia Cogroup Chair.

Father Nguyen Van Ly, a 64-year-old Catholic priest in central Viet Nam, has spent some 17 years in prison – amid harsh conditions and often in solitary confinement – for calling on Vietnamese authorities to respect freedom of expression and other human rights.  Now he’s back behind bars.

On July 25, the ailing Father Ly was returned to prison by ambulance.  Authorities claim that he distributed documents critical of government policies and incited demonstrations.   Father Ly is one of dozens of activists serving long jail terms for their peaceful criticism of the Vietnamese authorities.

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Relief Tempered By Sadness: The World Is Still A Dangerous Place To Be LGBT

© Getty Images

It’s been a week of incredible ups and downs for LGBT people around the world. We hardly had time to feel joy for the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Brazil, when we learned that the Ugandan parliament was getting ready to vote on a law that would have outlawed homosexuality and imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Amnesty International and many others called on the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill, and we all felt great relief today when the parliament dissolved without debating or voting on the bill. It’s entirely possible that the bill could be reintroduced when new members of parliament are sworn in next week, but at least it wasn’t passed today, as had been feared.

But the feeling of relief is mixed with sadness, because LGBT people continue to be killed because of who they are in many countries, regardless of what the laws say. On May 4th, Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in Mexico, was attacked and killed when he was walking home in the evening, in what appears to have been a homophobic attack. Police are investigating, but as so often happens in these kinds of cases, their inquiries are strangely focused almost exclusively on Herrera’s friends in the LGBT community.

This isn’t the first instance of police being less than sympathetic toward LGBT people that Amnesty International has documented: in 2009 we issued an Urgent Action on three transgender women in Honduras, two of whom were killed, and one of whom was beaten by police.

So while it’s great that we can celebrate progress like the legalization of same-sex unions in Brazil, it’s clear there’s a long way to go, and a lot more action needed, before the world will truly be a safe place to be LGBT.

Man Sentenced to Death in Saudi Arabia for 'Sorcery'

Right now, ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  His crime? Sorcery.

‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki is a Sudanese man, about 36 years old.  He was entrapped by a man who worked for the Committee for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as the Mutawa’een (religious police), who asked him to produce a spell so that the man’s father would leave his second wife.  Apparently, ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki agreed, in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (about $1600).  When he delivered his work, about 9 pieces of paper with codes written in saffron, he was arrested, reportedly beaten, and coerced into confession.

He didn’t have legal representation and his trial was held in secret. He was sentenced to death on March 27, 2007 and remains in Madina prison. Amnesty International believes him to be at imminent risk of execution.

In Saudi Arabia the death penalty can be imposed for a wide number of offenses and carries out executions. So far, at least 17 people have been executed in 2010.  “Sorcery” isn’t actually defined as a crime in Saudi Arabian law, but it’s been used to punish people for the peaceful expression of human rights such as the freedom of thought, belief, conscience and expression. In fact, scores of people were arrested for sorcery in 2009.  A man was executed for sorcery in 2007 and others, like ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki have been sentenced to death.

‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki’s case raises so many human rights concerns from the freedoms of religion and expression to unfair trials, and the use of the death penalty.  It’s been three years since his death sentence, but Amnesty International has a new action on his case.  During the month of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia has a moratorium on executions.  Additionally, the King often issues amnesties and pardons to some prisoners.  We’d like your help to write the King about ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki’s case to ask for the death sentence to be commuted and, if the conviction is based only on the exercise of his religious freedom, for release.

Will you help ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki?

Read more about Amnesty International’s Urgent Action on ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki

Ready to act? Click here for a sample letter.

Linda Veazey, Amnesty International country specialist for Saudi Arabia contributed to this post

Sri Lanka: a question of credibility

If we’re to believe the Sri Lankan military, they’ve killed no civilians during their offensive against the opposition Tamil Tigers in recent months.  They claim that the security forces have only killed Tiger fighters.  However, the military itself admitted that it’s become harder to distinguish between civilians and the Tigers, since the Tigers have, according to the military, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes.  AI has reported that the military has used heavy artillery in indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties.  The Sri Lankan government doesn’t help its credibility in making these kinds of claims.

The Tigers can’t exactly lay claim to great credibility either, though.  They announced a unilateral ceasefire a week ago but last Thursday, said that their gunboats had attacked the Sri Lankan navy.  What happened to their ceasefire?  The Tigers yesterday said today that they were ready to engage in a process to bring about a ceasefire; if that happened, would the Tigers observe it anymore than the one they announced themselves?

I’m grateful that the Sri Lankan military hasn’t yet launched an all-out offensive to reconquer the remaining Tiger-held territory, since I can’t see how they could do that without causing massive casualties among the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped by the Tigers in the war zone.  There are a number of steps each side should take immediately, if we’re to avoid these casualties.  The steps are laid out in an urgent action appeal issued by AI last Friday.  Please read that appeal to see what AI is calling for from both sides.  Please also consider writing to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE as the appeal requests.

One final note:  today is World Press Freedom Day and J.S. Tissainayagam remains unjustly imprisoned in a Sri Lankan prison simply for his journalistic activities.  Please visit the AIUSA website and write to the Sri Lankan government on his behalf.  He should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Organizers of Moldova's Twitter Revolution Remain at Risk

The last ten days have seen massive protests in several countries, including Moldova, where the government is now accusing the organizers of peaceful demonstration on April 6 of inciting the use of extreme violence the following day.

On April 6, protestors participated in a “peaceful day of mourning” in Chisinau, in order to demonstrate against the outcome of the recent parliamentary elections. The next day, in a separate event, the protests turned into violent riots as the crowds attempted to overtake government buildings. It is unclear who started the violence, with witness accounts stating that objects were being thrown at police forces from the crowd as well as allegations that plain clothes police officers in the crowd provoked the violence.

The organizers of the April 6 demonstration, including fellow blogger Natalia Morar, used twitter and social networking sites to mobilize people. The government has accused these organizers of the peaceful protests of also planning the violence on April 7, even though they did not organize these riots. Two of the organizers, including Natalia Morar, are hiding, and urgent action is needed to protect them. The Economist just published a story that sums up Moldova’s chaos pretty well.

The protestors were demonstrating against the recent elections, which the opposition claims were manipulated. Faced with these accusations, President Voronin agreed to a recount, which the Constitutional Court authorized. This recount is being boycotted by the opposition, as they claim that it is a “trick” by the ruling party to distract from the fraudulent activities.

Moldova is a young democracy, gaining its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. The move to a democracy has not always been easy for the Post-Soviet States, and even within Moldova there is a disputed autonomous region. The recent election has demonstrated some of the divisions within the country, as the current government has close ties to Russia and many of the opposition wants to move closer to their Romanian and its Western neighbors. Despite the difficulties in of being a young democracy, human rights cannot be ignored. Not only must the government be held accountable for any human rights abuses already committed, but it must reaffirm its dedication to human rights, ensuring that they will be respected no matter the outcome of the recount. This recount should be transparent and fair.

Watch "Getting Out of Gitmo" Tonight on PBS

Tonight (January 27) at 9pm ET PBS will premiere the new Frontline segment “Getting Out of Gitmo,” about the 17 Uighurs illegally detained at Guantanamo.  Check out the trailer here.

Afterward, be sure to take Amnesty International’s Urgent Action on behalf of the Uighurs and our 100 Days Action, calling on President Obama to:

  • Promptly charge Guantánamo detainees with recognizable criminal offenses or release them immediately;
  • Ensure that those detainees who are to be charged receive fair trials in US federal courts;
  • Ensure that an independent commission on US “war on terror” abuses is set up.

Learn more about the Uighur’s Guantanamo detention.