From Animal Cartoons to Opposition to the Death Penalty: Just About Anything Can Land You in Prison in Iran

Artist Atena Farghadani

Artist Atena Farghadani

It seems that not one single thing escapes the attention of hardliners in Iran, bent on using the extraordinary powers they hold to suppress every effort by Iranians to exercise their right to freedom of expression. They have even decreed that men should refrain from sporting various hairdos and—yes I am not kidding—from plucking their eyebrows, because those are considered to be indications of “devil worshipping” and homosexuality.

Although such preoccupations may seem risible to some, the people who are caught up in this dragnet are suffering very real and harsh consequences. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

#DearObama: Freedom of Expression and the State of the Union – An Opportunity for the President



This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

By Adotei Akwei and Cindy Tsz-nga Ko

On Tuesday January 20, President Obama will have an opportunity to address the nation and underscore the priorities for his administration in 2015. Much of the speech is expected to focus on domestic economic issues but the White House has also indicated that issues such as policing in the United States, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo and violent extremism will also be addressed. Given that a key the underlying theme connecting these issues is human rights, the central question is whether the Obama administration will shape foreign policy that will help build a safer world where rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

The President’s framing of key human rights concerns in this evening’s State of the Union address may be an indication of whether or not the Obama administration will use 2015 to champion human rights, as so many hoped, or whether he will pursue misguided policies that sideline human rights in the name of security. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

My Mom is in Prison for Standing up for Human Rights in China

An act of kindness transformed Liu Ping from a factory worker into a passionate anti-corruption activist in China. Her daughter, 22-year-old Liao Minyue, tells their story.


My mother, Liu Ping, was just an ordinary Chinese woman with a kind heart.

We were very close. I chose to live with her after my parents divorced about 10 years back. We never fought, not even once. We used to go to the markets to collect old and unwanted vegetables for food. It never once struck me as anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, those were warm and intimate times, because we were together.

But one night, everything changed. My mom was moonlighting as a street vendor in the evenings to supplement her monthly income of RMB 800 (130 US Dollars) as an iron and steel plant worker.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Russia’s Most Prominent Political Prisoner Freed After Ten Years Behind Bars

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was charged with embezzlement and tax evasion. He spent 10 years in prison until his unexpected pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo Credit by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was charged with embezzlement and tax evasion. He spent 10 years in prison until his unexpected pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo Credit by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

By Ludmila Gordon, Amnesty USA Russia Country Specialist, Eurasia Cogroup Co-Chair

Amnesty International is happy to share the great news of the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner who spent over 10 years behind bars.

On December 19, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced at the annual news conference that he decided to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky after he received a petition from Khodorkovsky asking to be pardoned due to family reasons. Shortly after, Khodorkovsky was released from a prison colony in the Karelia region of northwestern Russia and immediately flown to Germany.


From Jail Cell to Board Chair: Ann Burroughs on the Urgent Action Network

946701_10151615992491363_98894236_nThis post is the second in a three-part blog series commemorating the launch of Amnesty USA’s redesigned Urgent Action Network. Read on for how this updated tool will help activists make a stronger impact.

Even now, twenty-seven years later, Ann Burroughs can remember what it felt like to go to prison.

I’ll never forget my anger as the door shut behind me for the first time. But I did not for a moment question my commitment to opposing injustice and the government’s repressive policies of discrimination and segregation.

Ann’s “crime” was campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. After being convicted, Amnesty declared Ann a Prisoner of Conscience and made her the subject of an Urgent Action (UA). The letters that poured in to South African officials as a result of that UA were integral in securing Ann’s release.


Natan Blanc is FREE

Natan Blanc released by JVPBy Nehal Amer, Social Media Specialist for the Middle East Coordination Group

Natan Blanc, 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, was freed from detention on Tuesday and officially discharged from the Israeli army yesterday.

Our last blog on Natan Blanc’s case asked, “What Will it Take for the Israeli Military to Stop Imprisoning Natan Blanc?” We believed it would take Amnesty International members and other activists making their concerns known and taking action – and because you didNatan Blanc is now FREE after being forced to serve 10 consecutive prison sentences for his refusal to serve in the Israeli military based on his conscientiously held beliefs.

Natan Blanc’s father received a call on May 30th from his son telling him that he had been informed that he would be released at the end of his current prison term. The decision follows a ruling by the Unsuitability (or Compatibility) Committee which – according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – is designed to deal with people with behavioral problems who are deemed unsuitable for army service. It is not a committee which explores whether someone is a genuine conscientious objector or not.


One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.


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.