Will the Garland Shooting Show Us An America We Can Believe In?


Scale model of the statue of Liberty, in Paris, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo Credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

When I heard about the shooting in Garland, Texas, my first thought was: Is my family safe?

I grew up in a town near Garland, and much of my family still lives there. I didn’t know who had been shot at or why, but I wanted to know if my loved ones were okay. They were.

My second thought was less urgent: it was just a nostalgia for my hometown in Texas. Its treeless freeways and strip shopping malls were bland. But the people where I grew up were kind and inviting – even the teenagers, and even when it came to people like me.


Escalating Attacks on Religious Minorities in Indonesia

A man looks on at a temporary shelter after being driven from his village following a deadly clash with Sunnis (Photo Credit: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images).

A man looks on at a temporary shelter after being driven from his village following a deadly clash with Sunnis (Photo Credit: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images).

Imagine a mob of 500 people with sickles and stones descending on your neighborhood, setting fire to houses, and driving you away from your jobs and community. This occurred in August 2012 in East Java, Indonesia, leaving one member of a Shi’a community dead and injuring dozens. At this time 168 people, including 51 children, are living in a temporary shelter. In the last two weeks, they have been denied clean drinking water and food supplies.

Some of the villagers had previously been harassed by local government officials who told them to convert to Sunni Islam if they wanted to return to their homes.  Now, after eight months, the Sampang district administration has agreed to the demands from anti-Shi’a groups to forcibly evict the Shi’a community from their shelter in a sports complex and remove them from Madura Island in East Java.


Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey: Odd Men Out on Conscientious Objection

Halil Savda at a Write for Rights event in France on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011 (Photo Credit: Michael Sawyer for Amnesty International).

Halil Savda at a Write for Rights event in France on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011 (Photo Credit: Michael Sawyer for Amnesty International).

This May 15, International Conscientious Objectors Day, is an opportunity to both celebrate the steady acceptance of this fundamental right and to highlight those countries who have not taken the basic steps to protect it.

In Europe for example, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognized conscientious objection as a protected right in 2011 when, in Bayatyan v Armenia, it ruled that conscientious objection was subject to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  Unfortunately, as an Amnesty statement released today highlights, three European countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, still refuse to accept this basic obligation under international law.

Amnesty’s position on conscientious objection is clear:

The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion. The right to conscientious objection is a basic component of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – as articulated in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.


Why the Iranian Government Should Listen to the King Who Died 3,000 Years Ago


Captive in Iran, relates the story of two young women who endured detention for nearly nine months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, solely for the peaceful promotion of their religion (Photo credit: Tyndale Momentum)

Iranians often point to the fact that the first human rights charter in history came from Iran. When the Cyrus Cylinder, dating from the sixth century B.C., and owned by the British Museum, was exhibited in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the opening in Tehran. The cylinder was seen by more than one million Iranians.

The inscription on the cylinder, which has just begun its highly publicized first tour in the U.S., has been interpreted as a commemoration of Cyrus the Great’s proclamation of religious freedom and tolerance for all throughout his empire. How sad then that the current Iranian government blatantly contradicts Cyrus’ edict. Instead of honoring their ancient and noble traditions, the Iranian authorities are intensifying the pernicious and widespread persecution of Iran’s religious minorities.

Adherents of the Baha’i faith are probably the most persecuted religious community in Iran. Their faith is not recognized as a religion in Iran’s Constitution. Many Baha’is were executed in the 1980s. The seven leaders of the Baha’i community are serving 20-year prison sentences after their convictions on specious charges of “espionage for Israel,” “insulting religious sanctities” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”  Baha’is are excluded from higher education and face severe discrimination in employment, their cemeteries have been desecrated, and they are not permitted to meet, to hold religious ceremonies or to practice their religion communally. Because they are excluded from universities, the community established the underground Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, but its faculty and staff have been arrested and imprisoned solely for peacefully providing instruction to their young people.


Why is Turkey Prosecuting Yet Another Artist?

Supporter of Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a sign in support of Say.

A supporter of world-renowned Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a cardboard reading “Fazil Say is not alone” during a protest held outside an Istanbul court on October 18, 2012. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

It is a cold winter for freedom of expression in Turkey. Thousands are in prison or in pre-trial detention under Turkey’s bloated anti-terrorism laws, including nearly three thousand students.

Artists have been targeted as well. Five members of the protest band, Grup Yorum, have reportedly been taken into custody on terrorism charges (their lawyers have alleged that members of the group were tortured in a previous case). And Fazıl Say, arguably Turkey’s most respected classical music artist, is on trial for “religious defamation.”

Say is one is a long, unhappy series of prominent artists and intellectuals, including Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk,  who have been targeted for prosecution in Turkey because of opinions they have voiced.


Powerful Documentaries About the Persecution of Iran’s Baha’is Motivate Thousands to Activism

Bahai event Washington

Plight of Baha'i Leaders Publicized in Washington

When creativity and artistic vision unite with passionate commitment to fight injustice, the result can take the world by storm!

The Education Under Fire project, which Amnesty International is proud to support, includes a documentary film Education Under Fire that that has been screened at dozens of venues around the U.S. since its Amnesty International-cosponsored debuts in New York and Los Angeles this past fall.


New Film on Persecution of Baha'is to be Released Just as Iran Slaps Harsh Sentences on Baha'i Educators

Riaz Sobhani

BIHE teacher Riaz Sobhani

Say what you want about the Iranian government, but you just can’t fault their flawless timing.

One would think that a country that at this very moment is having its human rights record scrutinized by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva would be on its best behavior. But in just the past few days Iranian courts have not only confirmed the outrageous sentence against renowned film director Jafar Panahi and handed women’s rights activist Fereshteh Shirazi a prison sentence of three years, but also sentenced seven educators with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) to a total of thirty years in prison. One might almost think Iran even coordinated the handing down of the sentence with the release of a new documentary that addresses the very issue of the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community and their systematic exclusion from higher education.


Copt Blast Aftermath: When Will the State of Emergency Protect Egyptians?

A week after a New Year’s Day attack on a Copt church left 21 Egyptians dead and 79 wounded, it’s still hard to express in words the kind of madness behind the assault.  But it’s not hard to say this:  The State of Emergency, which Egypt’s parliament just renewed, isn’t protecting anyone but the government.

Egyptian Copt Elham Ayyub (L), a 44-year-old survivor of the New Year's Day church bombing in Alexandria, talks to wellwishers outside her house in Egypt's Mediterranean port city on January 3, 2011, three days after the bombing in which 21 people were killed, targeting Egypt's Christian communicty, the biggest in the Middle East. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Obviously Egypt’s Copts feel the same.  In the aftermath of the explosion, many took to the streets to demand for their rights, for an end to the discrimination they face, and for the government to provide legitimate protection from bombings.  But instead of protection, when these people took to the streets to demand something from the government, they were met by security officials and violence ensued.

That’s the fate of most Egyptians, not just the Copts.  For decades incidents of armed violence have been met with new and greater powers for security forces, most of which are used not against armed groups but against everyday citizens.  Whether it systematic torture by police or continual assault on any meeting of the citizenry, most of the abuses against the citizens gain its “legitimacy” from powers taken by the Mubarak regime in the name of order and national security.

There’s a lot to say about the horrible attack on the Copt Church. Already much of the discussion has been overtaken by conspiracy theory.  But this is no conspiracy: The Egyptian government depends on armed violence to justify its anti-democratic and anti-human rights powers.  The authority bestowed upon it by the State of Emergency – now entering its fourth decade — hasn’t protected anyone in Egypt; it’s merely given the government the ability to put more people at risk.

What the Copts of Egypt need right now is the same thing every Egyptian needs: Freedom of expression, both in religious speech and the ability to meet in the streets without getting beat by security forces; a working legal system that actually looks to protect people, one free from torture and unfair trials and based on the rule of law rather than impunity; and a political system that is open to everyone rather than the politically favored.  The place to start on all of these accounts is to end the State of Emergency.

Update: Amnesty International released this statement Jan. 5 condemning the attack on the church and calling for improved protection of Copts.