This Weekend in Bahrain: Will U.S. Officials Stand Up for Freedom?

Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab repeatedly has been targeted and abused by the authorities for his peaceful activism.

In the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, a man by the name of Nabeel Rajab is sitting in jail for the “crime” of peaceful protest. But the government that has imprisoned him is a U.S. military ally, and the Obama Administration has done little to push for his release. When U.S. officials arrive in Bahrain this weekend for a global conference, will they finally change course?

Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and this fact has everything to do with his three year prison sentence. That’s why Amnesty International members worldwide are calling for his freedom, as part of our global “Write for Rights” campaign.

Like Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region, Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family has imprisoned many people who have dared to criticize the government. And while the U.S. government has issued mild statements of concern along the way, the Obama Administration has fundamentally failed to hold its repressive military ally accountable.

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Jabbar Savalan Freed!

“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.

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Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.

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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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7 Discriminatory (or Deadly) Countries for LGBT People

A quick glance at Wikipedia or this ILGA report is enough to tell you that there are a LOT of countries where it’s dangerous or deadly to be (or even to be perceived as) lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

There are still more than 80 countries with sodomy laws, and punishment can include flogging, imprisonment, and in about a dozen jurisdictions, the death penalty. Those suspected of being LGBT are also routinely the victims of harassment, discrimination and violence. Many of those who speak up for LGBT rights – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – are themselves persecuted with impunity.

Here are 7 countries Amnesty International has recently had particular concerns about:

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Flying Our Flags for Filep

Do you have a flag at your house, your school, your office, or on your car? In the US, many people display US flags, but you also see lots of other kinds of flags—flags from people’s countries of family origin, or rainbow flags for LGBT pride, or even confederate flags recalling the Civil War era. Whether or not you like a particular country’s flag, or agree with what a given flag stands for, you have to admit that people don’t often run into trouble for flying their various flags. They certainly don’t end up in jail. But then again, they don’t live in Indonesia.

On December 1, 2004, Filep Karma was arrested for raising a flag during a peaceful ceremony in Papua, Indonesia. Sentenced to 15 years behind bars for his nonviolent activism, Filep continues to be an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, and he needs our help!  Now is the time to take action: flood the streets of DC, educate your community, Write for Rights, stand with Filep now!

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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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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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Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.

In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Did You Write for Rights?

Write for Rights event in France

A Write for Rights event in France

It has been fantastic to hear about the Write for Rights activities that have taken place around the world! In coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, theaters, markets, streets, schools, and homes, we came together, side-by-side, throughout the U.S. and the world to collectively take action to defend human rights. It is this action that will continue to lead to human rights victories, like that of the release of Femi Peters in Gambia.

We want to share with you some of what happened during the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon:

  • In Austria, AI members and activists sent over 17,400 letters, doubling the total number from last year, and making this the most successful Write-a-thon in their history.
  • In France, at least 200 cities hosted public events throughout the week. This included in Villetaneuse, a suburb of Paris, where students at a university organized a one-day event for the 10 December, which included a concert by a well-known hip-hop band. Despite the heavy snow, over 700 signatures were collected.
  • In Germany, over 50 AI local groups participated, sending over 17,000 letters.
  • In Hong Kong, Write for Rights was taken to the Human Rights Day Fair – an annual fair attended by over 25 NGOs.
  • In Mali, the youth network had a target of writing 1,800 letters. Students from ten schools took part, and they already have reported 2,366 letters written with still more to count.
  • In Nigeria, three volunteers organized events in Abuja and Imo State, generating 3,000 actions.
  • In Poland, 14,967 letters were written in just one location – a school in Bircza, a small municipality in south-eastern Poland, which only has 1000 inhabitants.
Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

That’s not all!  Right here at home there were nearly 1,300 events, in every state across the U.S. Before we can confirm how many letters were sent from the U.S., we need to hear from you.  If you participated in the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, please tell us how many letters you sent.  No number is too small, and every letter counts.  Knowing how many letters you sent is essential to help us gauge the pressure we are putting on human rights abusers.  In acknowledgment of your meaningful contributions to human rights, once you confirm how many letters you sent, you will receive a 35% discount on our limited edition 2010 Write for Rights T-Shirt.

Last month you gave Femi Peters Junior the best holiday present anyone could ever ask for: you helped get his father back. In Femi Peters Junior’s own words, “On behalf of my family, the Peters family, on behalf of myself, I want to thank Amnesty International from the bottom of my heart…  It’s good to have my dad back.  Thank you very much.”

Your letters made and will continue to make a difference.

Feeling inspired?  You can also sign up for the 2011 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon!