Right now, a man named Albert Woodfox is sitting in a concrete and steel cage in a prison near the northernmost edge of the State of Louisiana. His cell is barely the size of a parking space, and he leaves it for a scant hour each day. When Albert awoke yesterday morning, it was to begin the first day of his forty-second year in solitary confinement.
She saved lives. So why does Russia want to punish Elena Klimova?
Because she created a safe space for LGBTI teens in a country rife with homophobia.
Elena is a journalist and founder of Children 404, a popular online resource that supports LGBTI teens in Russia. It’s a space for teenagers to share their stories, get support and obtain advice from experienced psychologists.
Elena’s Children 404 has prevented teenagers from committing suicide and running away from home. She’s easing their isolation and making their world a little better, right?
Not according to Russian authorities. Russian authorities are going to absurd lengths to punish people and defenders of LGBTI human rights. They want to shut Children 404 down, and have charged Elena with “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.”
This could be the end of Albert Woodfox’s 40-year plus prison nightmare, if you act now.
On Tuesday morning, Jan. 7, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hold a hearing to determine Albert’s fate.
Will they finally act on the 2013 ruling that overturned his conviction and set him free, or shut the door and send him back to another unthinkable year in solitary confinement?
The imprisoned members of Pussy Riot have been freed! Today, Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alyokhinam of the Russian feminist punk group, were officially released in compliance with a new amnesty bill approved by the Russian parliament.
This is great news (though it does not end the struggle for human rights in Russia)!
From the early days following the arrests of three Pussy Riot members (Nadya, Masha and a third member, Ekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich) for performing a protest song at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Amnesty International has been involved in the effort to unconditionally free the punk rockers!
Early yesterday morning, a mere three days after he was released from prison, iconic “Angola 3” member Herman Wallace died – a free man.
My heart is heavy. I am beyond grateful that Herman passed surrounded by loved ones after surviving a nightmare of more than 41 years in cruel, inhuman and degrading solitary confinement. I am unspeakably angry that the State of Louisiana’s vindictive cruelty has not let up, even at Herman’s final breath. I am incredulous that a step toward justice has taken this long.
Herman Wallace was first placed in solitary in 1972, after prison guard Brent Miller was murdered at Angola prison. He was convicted of the murder two years later, after a trial riddled with legal flaws and inconsistencies. On October 1, a federal judge overturned Herman’s conviction, ordering the state to immediately release him. Louisiana authorities tried desperately to keep Herman behind bars, appealing against the court order, even as an ambulance waited outside Elayn Hunt correctional center.
Yesterday, a court in the Russian region of Perm refused to grant parole to Maria “Masha” Alyokhina more than 16 months after she was arrested for a “Punk Prayer” protest with feminist punk group Pussy Riot.
This decision is further confirmation of the authorities’ determination to stifle freedom of expression in Russia. For Masha, it is yet another injustice to add to the growing list that she and fellow Pussy Riot member Nadezdha “Nadya” Tolokonnikova have faced since their February 2012 performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Herman Wallace may not have a lot of time left – he’s 71 years old, has advanced liver cancer, and has survived four decades of imprisonment in the cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of solitary confinement.
He and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox, of Angola 3 fame, have been held in solitary confinement longer than anyone else in modern U.S. history. The men have spent the past 41 years of their lives alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, deprived of any meaningful human interaction.
He and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox, of Angola 3 fame, have been held in solitary confinement longer than anyone else in modern U.S. history.
After 41 years in solitary confinement, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 have lived through a nightmare that no human being should have to endure. We work on their case with the hope that, one day, we can share the news that these men have been released from solitary and have seen justice.
But today is not that day. Today I am deeply saddened to tell you that 71-year-old Herman Wallace has been diagnosed with liver cancer, after spending the majority of his life isolated in a small cell, four steps long, by three steps across for 23 hours a day. I’ve often described the Angola 3 case as “injustice compounded” – that description has never rung more true than today.
Albert and Herman were convicted of murdering a prison guard at Louisiana’s Angola prison more than four decades ago. The two men were placed in solitary confinement and kept there, even as significant flaws in their trial rose to the surface from the dark, racially charged underbelly of the US prison system: potentially exculpatory evidence mysteriously “missing,” the retraction of eyewitness testimony and even compelling proof that the state bribed a key eyewitness.
As I write this, an Israeli checkpoint is fading into the distance behind me. In the past three days, I’ve been traveling between Israel and the occupied West Bank, learning about human rights conditions on the ground.
When I fly back to the United States, it will be with deeper insight into the experience of human rights defenders and activists in Israel and the occupied West Bank. Yet before I leave, there are three people who I know I won’t get a chance to meet: Azza, Suhair and Loujain.
Sixteen months ago, three young women were arrested in Russia for performing less than 40 seconds of a punk protest song. Since then, millions of people have been captivated by their YouTube video. Five young women dressed in brightly colored balaclavas dance on the altar of in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, singing their opposition to the return of President Vladimir Putin.
As the world’s eyes turned toward Pussy Riot, it became clear that their arrest and trial was emblematic of something even bigger happening in Russian society. Pussy Riot became the story of the Putin-led government’s absolute intolerance – not just of punk rock, but of all forms of dissent.