Lost in Iraq

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Walid Yunis Ahmad is quite possibly the longest serving detainee in Iraq. He is a member of the marginalized Turkoman minority and has been imprisoned in Irbil, Northern Iraq, without charge or trial for more than ten years.

Walid was detained by Kurdish security forces in February 2000 after he was given a lift in a car that allegedly contained explosives. Although the driver of the car was released within three months, Walid remains locked up more than a decade later.

For the first three years after his detention Walid’s family received no official notification of his arrest and believed he had simply disappeared.

During these early years of confinement, Walid was tortured, held in solitary confinement and transferred from prison to prison until he finally ended up in the cells of the Kurdish security police headquarters, where he remains to this day.

Walid told Amnesty International delegates who visited him last June:

“I haven’t seen my children for 10 years. I did not want to see them in this terrible predicament.”


Prisoner of Conscience Filep Karma Begins 7th Year in Prison in Indonesia for Raising a Flag

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Former civil servant Filep Karma was among approximately 200 people who took part in a peaceful ceremony in Abepura, Papua Province, Indonesia on 1 December 2004. In commemoration of the declaration of Papaun independence in 1962, the Morning Star Flag was raised. Police then advanced on the crowd, firing warning shots and beating people with batons. Filep Karma was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason.

In a country like the United States, the jailing of a peaceful political activist for raising a flag may sound mind-boggling. Yet, Amnesty International has documented that over 100 activists in Indonesia have been arrested and sentenced for raising forbidden flags and engaging in peaceful political activities.


Standing Up for Women in the DRC

This post is part of our Write for Rights Series

Yesterday, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC just released their newest report. In it, they describe how army units have been accused by local populations of “looting and burning entire villages and torturing and raping civilians in the course of their operations.” 
The recent mass rapes in the territory of Walikale this past August were a sharp reminder that this type of violence happens on a frighteningly regular basis in the DRC and at an equally frightening scale: at least 15,000 rapes were reported in the DRC last year – a figure which is likely to be much higher, as most survivors are too afraid of stigmatization and thus do not report the crimes.

What these rapes tell us is that both the DRC government and the United Nations have failed to protect civilians and to respond effectively to these crimes. Until we take the right action to ensure these crimes are effectively stopped, countless women will continue to be at risk of such violence.

This year, we’re highlighting the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC during our annual Global Write-a-thon. Starting tomorrow, the United Nations is rotating into the Presidency of the UN Security Council. So we’re asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to use that opportunity to ensure that measures aimed at ending widespread sexual violence in the DRC are implemented.

Here’s what you can do to make a difference:

1. Participate in a local write-a-thon event
2. Send an email to Secretary Clinton today
3. Tweet to Stop Violence Against Women

Our Work in Myanmar Isn’t Done Yet!

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Labor activist Su Su Nway was arrested for putting up an anti-government banner near the hotel in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, where the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar was staying. After a few previous close calls, Su Su Nway went in to hiding before the Special Rapporteur’s visit in order to avoid arrest by the oppressive dictatorship which presides over the small Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma). It is estimated that Su Su Nway is one of over 2,200 political prisoners currently being detained in Myanmar.

Prisoners in Myanmar are held in poor conditions and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Su Su Nway suffers from a congenital heart condition, high blood pressure and, according to a July 21, 2010 “Radio Free Asia” report, malaria and gout, which are all made worse by conditions at the prison where she is held. The prison is 1,200 miles from her family’s home in Yangon, so it is very difficult for them to visit and bring her necessary food and medicine. Prisoners typically rely on their families to bring them medicine and food, as supplies in prison are completely inadequate.

Wonderful news has come out of Myanmar recently with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate and symbol of hope for eventual Burmese democracy. However, thousands of others, including Su Su Nway, are still being punished for the peaceful expression of their views; the government continues to deny its citizens the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. But you can make a difference. Write a letter on behalf of Su Su Nway and join with thousands of others in this year’s Global Write-a-thon who are writing to uphold human rights throughout the world.

Lisa Hart, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Jailed Student Leader Hopes One Year Won’t Have to Be Eight and a Half

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Majid TavakkoliIn 2009, Majid Tavakkoli, aged 24, was already a recognized student leader and advocate for academic freedom. He was a member of the Islamic Students Association while studying shipbuilding at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran. The disputed Iranian elections of June 2009 changed many things in Iran, including the course of Majid’s life. When Majid was arrested for giving a speech to commemorate Student’s Day on December 9, it was the fourth time that Majid had been detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

He remains imprisoned now in Reja’i Shahr Prison in Karaj. Thousands of others were, like him, detained for peacefully speaking out since the presidential election in June 2009. When the government announced that incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected, massive protest erupted all over Iran. Security forces used violence to repress dissidents and many people were killed or seriously injured in the authorities’ attempts to stop the protests. Since the protests, the Iranian government has ramped up its efforts to detain and silence opposition and have enforced long-existing methods of repressing freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.

After Majid became one of those imprisoned, he was beaten, denied access to his family or lawyer, and sentenced after a grossly unfair trial. The government even released a photo of him in women’s clothing in an attempt to humiliate him. However, in a massive show of solidarity, about 450 men posted photos of themselves wearing women’s clothing – some holding signs saying “We are Majid” on Facebook and other sites on the internet.

Majid continues to serve his 8.5 year sentence with extremely limited visits from his family. He now suffers from a respiratory infection which, at one point, caused him to lose his speech entirely. In addition to his sentence, Majid has been banned from any political activity or from leaving the country for five years after he is released.

This year we write to demand Majid’s unconditional release and that he is treated humanely according to international human rights standards and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and has access to adequate medical care. By committing to Write for Rights on behalf of Majid, we can let the Iranian government know that we have not forgotten Majid Tavakkoli and that we demand his immediate release. Your letters can make a difference. Join AIUSA’s Global Write-a-thon today.

Lisa Hart, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Through Her Work Protecting Victims, One Woman Has Become a Target of Attack Herself

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Norma CrizNorma Cruz has been speaking out against domestic violence in Guatemala for many years.  She is the leader of Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation), an organization that works to document cases of domestic violence and bring perpetrators to justice.  Because of her work, Norma has received numerous death threats and her life is now in grave danger.

Norma began receiving death treats in 2009. These threats have been text messages to her private phone, and voicemails have been left on her home and office phones. One caller stated: “I want you to drop the case of [man’s name], you’ve got eight days to drop the case, otherwise you’ll be in serious trouble, I will give you the head of your daughter or son, you bitch.” Threats like this have also been made to her family and colleagues. These messages began appearing after Fundación Sobrevivientes provided legal assistance to a girl who was raped. In fact, relatives of the same girl have been killed for the support they gave her. Norma has been warned of similar consequences if she does not discontinue her organization’s support of the case.

Since 2009, only one man has been charged with threatening Norma’s life. He has since been released on bail.  To date, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has not reported any further progress on the investigation into the remaining death threats.  No one else has been held accountable. While Guatemalan authorities have provided Norma Cruz, her family and her office with police protection, the threats continue.

Norma Cruz is not the only human right’s defender in Guatemala to be receiving death threats.  In fact, many human rights defenders, trade unionists and grassroots political and social activists are in similar circumstances. Like Norma, their cases are not seriously investigated by Public Prosecutor’s Office. In addition, most do not receive any protection from the state. You can help protect activists like Norma and bolster the rule of law by joining AIUSA’s Global Write-a-thon and pressing governments to do the right thing.

Elizabeth Stitt, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Reggie Clemons Needs More Letters!

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Over 3,000 Belgian citizens have handwritten and mailed in letters appealing for at least a commutation in the death sentence of Reggie Clemons, an American who was sentenced to death in St. Louis, Missouri as an accomplice in a 1991 murder. Can YOU help that number grow even bigger, and prevent the execution of a man who has maintained his innocence for almost 20 years?

As part of this year’s Write-a-thon, Amnesty International have another chance to write for (and to) Reggie Clemons. His case illustrates many of the flaws that plague the Missouri capital punishment system—there was no physical evidence, and there were only two witnesses to the crime, both of whom offered self-serving testimony. Other disturbing factors include alleged police brutality, possible racial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, and (as seemingly always in death penalty cases) inadequate legal representation.  You can check out the Justice for Reggie campaign or our Reggie Clemons page for more information, including our May 2010 report.

The Governor of Missouri needs to know that executing Reggie Clemons would be a grave violation of human rights, and Reggie needs to know that he has our support as he continues to pursue justice in his case.

Reggie’s is one of 12 cases that need attention. You can help defend human rights in all these cases this December by signing up for the Write-a-thon. One letter can make a difference. With hundreds, or thousands of letters, we can make an even greater impact. Please take part in the Write-a-thon, and encourage others to do so as well.

Write a letter for human rights this December

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Right now, we’re almost halfway to our Write for Rights goal – 350,000 letters! But we need your help. Every letter pledged brings us closer to the tidal wave of letters that can save lives around the world.  That’s why it’s so important for you to make a pledge to Write for Rights this December!

Your words DO have power. They can bring freedom to prisoners of conscience. They can demand justice for survivors of torture. They can offer hope to human rights defenders at risk. Your words can save lives.

We’ve got the proof real success stories told by the people who’ve experienced horrific human rights abuses.

Just check out this video below from one of our previous Write-a-thon cases – Bu Dong Wei, a prisoner of conscience jailed for his activities as a member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

Stories like this one are why each year more and more people across the world come together to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10 by taking part in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon – the world’s largest letter writing event. We write letters to demand that the rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. In doing so, we show solidarity with those suffering human rights abuses and work to bring about real change in people’s lives.

Anybody can take action – whether you want to put on a public event in your community, hold a private event at home with friends and family, or simply write letters as an individual.  So please join today – pledge to Write for Rights.

Detention and Torture: Just Another Day in the Life of a Human Rights Defender in China

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Mao Hengfeng

Mao Hengfeng

Mao Hengfeng has been repeatedly detained and tortured for her advocacy on behalf of women’s reproductive rights and the victims of forced evictions in China. Mao herself has been forcibly injected with drugs, fired by her employer, detained in a psychiatric hospital and beaten because of her choice to reproduce.  She has three daughters, which is a direct violation of China’s family-planning policy.

In March, she was sentenced to 18 months in “Re-education Through Labor” (RTL)  for participating in a peaceful protest in support of human rights defender and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.  In July, she spoke out about the torture and inhumane treatment she experienced while in RTL. She displayed bruises from her frequent beatings and spoke about the unsanitary conditions of her detention, which have led to a skin infection.

Mao is featured along with 11 other cases of human rights abuses in the 2010 Global Write-a-thon. You can take action on behalf of Mao and other cases by signing up to write for rights as either an individual or as part of an event. Find an event near you!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Ethiopian Prisoner of Conscience Birtukan Mideksa Released!

Birtukan Mideksa

Birtukan Mideksa ©AI

Amnesty International welcomed Birtukan Mideksa’s release from prison yesterday. The leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) opposition party in Ethiopia, Birtukan Mideksa has a long history of speaking out against the Government of Ethiopia.  In the aftermath of the potentially corrupt 2005 elections, in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) retained control, she was one of many CUD officials who refuse to take office and participated in mass demonstrations.  The protests were violently dispersed by police: 187 people were shot dead and 765 others were wounded.  Birtukan Mideksa was arrested for the first time in November 2005, charged with treason and sentenced to life in prison.  After being held for 18 months, she signed a letter of apology and was released.  The other terms of her pardon remain unclear.

 On 28 December 2008, Birtukan was arrested for a second time, after speaking at a public meeting in Sweden regarding the process and terms of her previous release. The Government gave her three days to retract her statement, and when she refused, arrested her again.  Much of her sentence was spent in solitary confinement, and she was also not allowed to see her 4 year-old daughter until mid-April, 2009.

 Birtukan Mideksa’s case was featured in Amnesty International’s 2009 Global Write-A-Thon, during which thousands of people from around the world petitioned for her release by sending letters to the Government of Ethiopia. The organization Free Birtukan has also been campaigning tirelessly for her release.

 Learn more about other priority cases, and sign up for the Global Write-a-thon!

Elizabeth Stitt, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.