Peru Update: Steps Taken Toward Dialogue After Clashes

International pressure on the Peruvian authorities has brought some progress for Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon. An Amnesty International delegation will visit the country to assess the situation.

Since the violent incidents which took place in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon, on 5-6 June, the authorities have taken some steps to establish a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and open investigations into the events which led to the death of at least 14 police officers and 10 demonstrators. However, concerns remain about allegations of excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and insufficient legal assistance.

An Amnesty International delegation will visit Peru between 12 and 25 July in order to evaluate recent developments and the current situation. After the mission, new information and strategies for action will be circulated.

Many thanks to those who took action!

Zimbabwe Justice: No Dancing Babies

The legal system in Zimbabwe isn’t comprised of lawyers in skimpy clothing sharing a unisex bathroom while litigating bizarre and yet fascinating cases. Instead, there is a politicized judiciary, draconian laws designed to stifle dissent and a prison system that would give Auschwitz a run for its money. Amnesty International is monitoring the legal cases of human rights defenders and political activists. Below is an update on some of these cases.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)-
The leaders of WOZA were arrested and jailed in October 2008 for disturbing the peace during a protest over food aid distribution. Their trial has been continually delayed by both the prosecution and due to a petition the women filed before the Supreme Court asking the charges be dismissed as unconstitutional as Zimbabwe’s Constitution guarantees the right of assembly. The leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu appeared in court yesterday where the magistrate wanted to proceed to trial despite this pending petition. The Supreme Court verbally ruled on June 4th that the arrest was unlawful but a written decision has not yet been produced. The case was finally postponed again until August 17th to wait for the ruling from the Court.

On June 18th, four members of WOZA were viciously beaten by police during a protest to call attention to the plight of informal traders struggling to make a living in Zimbabwe. Yesterday, a court in Harare ruled that the police officers responsible will be charged with assault. The case was postponed to July 13th to allow the officers time to prepare their case. The charges against the four WOZA members of disturbing the peace were dropped the day before.

Jestina Mukoko et al-
Late last year, Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted from her home, illegally detained, tortured and charged with recruiting persons to participate in alleged militia camps in Botswana. She is one of 18 persons abducted and tortured around this same time and charged with variations of the same crime. On June 25th, the Supreme Court heard a petition from Ms. Mukoko and her co-defendants claiming their arrest was unconstitutional because they were illegally abducted and tortured. The Attorney General’s office admitted that Ms. Mukoko was illegally detained by state security agents but asserted that this should have no bearing on the case. A decision by the Court is still pending.

MDC activists and an independent journalist also on trial filed a petition before the Supreme Court asserting the same claim of unconstitutionality. At the hearing before the High Court, however, the State Security Minister took the opportunity to deny that the defendants, including Mukoko, were illegally detained. The petition was referred on to the Supreme Court. It is assumed that the remaining abductees will file similar complaints and their cases will be remanded until such time as the Supreme Court rules on the pending petitions.

Defending Our Right to Protest: Amnesty International and the ACLU Settle Lawsuit with City of Miami

Amnesty International and the ACLU recently settled a lawsuit that defended our members’ right to peacefully protest.  Miami officials admitted that during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests in Miami, they used overwhelming police force prohibiting a group of Amnesty International members from peacefully protesting.

Even though members of the Amnesty International Miami Chapter had a permit to assemble, police officers restrained people from gathering, preventing them from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest.  Although Amnesty International took no position on the FTAA treaty itself, the protests were planned to bring attention to human rights abuses in the Americas.

In 2006 the ACLU of Florida filed the Amnesty International USA v. Louis Battle and Thomas Cannon lawsuit that was finally settled last week. Miami-Dade and City of Miami officials acknowledged their use of vast and unnecessary police force, also disclosing regret that their actions had prevented Amnesty International’s attempt to communicate an important message to the public.

The outcome of this lawsuit stands as an example of our rights as citizens to free speech and freedom of people to peacefully assemble, in the hopes that in future demonstrations, the actions of the November 2003 FTAA protests will not take place.

Crisis in Honduras…Obama and Chavez agree?

Unrest in Honduras flared today as protesters spared with police over the recent exile of President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya was ousted over the weekend by the Honduran military after disagreements among officials about a controversial constitutional referendum Zelaya had asked Hondurans to vote on last Sunday. The referendum would have changed the constitution to allow Zelaya an additional term as president — a move some have argued looks suspiciously close to the referendum Hugo Chavez proposed for Venezuela in 2007.

Amnesty International has issued a press release on the crisis arguing that President Zelaya must be allowed to return to Honduras immediately and safely. Amnesty also raised concerns about the safety of protesters and increased media censorship.

Interestingly, the Obama administration has tepidly stood on the side of leftist Zelaya — arguing that his exile was illegal and he should be reinstated to office immediately, a stance shared with Chavez. But as Paul Richter of the Los Angles Times points out, the U.S. has not gone so far as to remove its ambassadors from Honduras or declare the incident a coup d’etat.

However, I think Obama made a great statement today that shows some insight into U.S.-Latin American relations when he said, “The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies, but over the last several years I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don’t always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable towards the United States.”

As AI stated in their press release, I hope that this crisis will get resolved quickly and peacefully but am ready to roll up my sleeves and start writing letters if the situation gets worse.

"Do Not Be Afraid" is One Word in Farsi

Of all the players in what has become Iran’s bloodiest uprising in 30 years, few have captured the world’s attention like the Iranian women have. It began with Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. An professor at Tehran University, she was the first candidate’s spouse to campaign publicly on behalf of her husband, and as a result, her rallies drew thousands decked out in green. Rahnavard was even nicknamed the Michelle Obama of the Middle East. Post-election, she is still campaigning fiercely against the current Iranian regime, only this time for the release of detainees and to allow legal protests to continue.

Since then, women of all ages have been turning up at the protests against the contested election results. One 19 year old girl told CNN that she was beaten by paramilitary forces and forced to give them her camera’s memory card—something she stealthily got around by giving them an empty card instead. “They were hitting everyone, and everywhere was fire because of the tear gas they throw at us,” she said. “There were a lot of other women there. We gave the boys the stones because we can’t throw them so far. We gave them the stones, and we said the slogans.”

In his press conference yesterday, President Obama acknowledged the role of women in the Iranian protests. “We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets,” Obama said.

Perhaps the most iconic woman of this struggle is now Neda Agha-Soltan, the non-political, 26 year old music student who was shot to death as she stepped out of her car to get some air. The graphic video of her death has already been viewed on YouTube over 200,000 times, in which onlookers tell her “do not be afraid”. She is now referred to as the new voice and symbol of the revolution.

Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American author, went on CNN and emotionally declared that Neda’s death has made an enemy out of all the Iranian people for the Supreme Leader and his leadership. “Natersid, natersid—do not be afraid—is one word in Farsi. That word has become so powerful. She’s a martyr; she’s going straight to heaven. God is on her side, we are on her side.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Iranian Protesters Stay One Step Ahead in the Cyber World

In the face of a tightening government grip on all things viral, Iranians have managed to circumvent the communication restrictions laid upon them to tell the world their story in ways previously thought to be reserved only for social networking. For anyone who has so much as glanced at the news during the past week, Twitter has been the name of the game for Iranian protesters.

With a limitation of 140 characters per post, only the most pertinent information is tweeted—rally locations, real-time updates, and details only those on the ground can see. While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been blocked off before, Iranians have continued to gain access to them via proxies, servers that allow users to access another site through them. Proxy sites are continuously being updated in an effort to stay one step ahead of the Iranian government’s filtering apparatus.

The Iranian government’s strategy for blocking the flow of information appears to be two-fold. Foreign news services have all been asked to leave (just this morning, the BBC reporter Jon Leyne, one of the few reporters left, was given a similar request) and the internet speed has been slowed to a snail’s pace. According to the Wall Street Journal, limiting bandwidth in this manner is meant to discourage and frustrate users so much that they’ll give up.

This strategy is, for now, not working. Iranians have harnessed the internet in ingenious ways—from their Twitter posts to uploaded YouTube videos. All major news networks have caught on to the phenomenon, allowing the messages coming out of Iran to truly reach the entire world.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Four WOZA Members Arrested Today

Members of WOZA © AP

Members of WOZA © AP

Four members of the Zimbabwe group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested and detained today after taking part in a peaceful demonstration outside of the Meikles hotel in Harare. The WOZA members are believed to have been seriously injured after they were allegedly beaten by police at the demonstration. The arrests and beatings of these human rights defenders occurred while the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, was in Harare on the final day of a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe. Amnesty International has been informed that police accused the WOZA members of demonstrating in front of International visitors in order to embarrass the government and understands that this is why they were arrested. The four WOZA members, who are currently detained at Harare Central police station, have allegedly been denied access to medical care by the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Another demonstration in Bulawayo was was violently broken up by police on Wednesday.

We hope to have ways for people to take action available soon. Meanwhile, read more about the WOZA case and take general action.

Protests and Crackdowns Spread Throughout Iran

There is a misconception that protests against Iran’s contested election results have been confined to Tehran. That is not the case. Although the largest protests have indeed been taking place in Tehran, Iranians in many other cities and towns have been taking to the streets. Unfortunately, the crackdown carried out by Iranian authorities has correspondingly extended to every corner of the country.

Mir Hossein Mousavi hails from Azerbaijan, in the northern part of Iran. The capital of Azerbaijan province, Tabriz, has seen some of the most severe crackdowns.  Seventeen political activists including those associated with the Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement) were detained on Monday night after they held a peaceful protest in Abresan Square in Tabriz. Security forces entered the dormitories at Tabriz University and detained ten students who had been involved in demonstrations. Student leader Amir Mardani and Dr. Ghaffari Farzadi, a leading member of the Nehzat-e Azadi and a lecturer at Tabriz University, were among those detained.

In the city of Oroumiye, local media reported on Tuesday that two people had been killed and hundreds more detained in a crackdown on about 3,000 people protesting in Imam Street.

In Shiraz, southern Iran, security forces used tear gas as they forced their way into a library at Shiraz University. Reports say that several students were beaten and around 100 were detained. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one person may have been killed. The chancellor of that university, Mohammadhadi Sadeghi, resigned on Tuesday in protest.

Meanwhile, in Mashhad, in the northeast, there were further reports of security forces attacking students and in Zahedan, in Iran’s southeast, two students are among at least three activists who have been detained.

In one particularly ominous piece of news, Reuters reported that Mohammad Reza Habibi, the public prosecutor in the central province of Esfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be charged with engaging in “Mohareb” or “Enmity with God”—a crime punishable by death according to Iranian law. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Esfahan, where there have been violent clashes, or the country as a whole.

Protests are expected to continue today as a large opposition rally has been called. Large crowds can also be expected to congregate for Friday prayers on the following day. Amnesty International has called for the Iranian authorities to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters and to release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

History in the Making in Iran

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator (c)AFP/Getty

We are glued to news coming out of Iran, literally watching as history is unfolding. Commentators have been grasping for relevant comparisons; is this another Tiananmen Square? Another Prague Spring? Or is it even a Second Iranian Revolution? But no comparisons are appropriate for the phenomenal outpouring of people demanding that their rights be respected.

Why is this happening in Iran? We don’t see massive protests in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt when there have been allegations of electoral impropriety.

Adjectives such as fearless, indomitable and awe-inspiring come to mind as we see Iranians continually defying bans on opposition protests to pour into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. They constantly find ingenious ways to confound the authorities’ attempts to block communications; now that foreign journalists have been prevented from covering rallies, we rely on the videos, photos and eyewitness accounts provided by Iranian citizens to YouTube and their friends and relatives for up-to-the-minute information.

Iranians express their defiance in a variety of other ways: women have been risking their safety and even their lives to walk up to Basij (paramilitaries) and riot police on motorcycles and armed with truncheons to remind them that “we are all Iranians” and asking them to refrain from violence. Even members of Iran’s soccer team playing in a World Cup qualifying match in Seoul wore green armbands, the color of the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The yearning for freedom and human rights is a mighty force. Some have claimed that human rights is somehow a “western” concept, foisted on the rest of the world by paternalistic and arrogant Europeans and North Americans. Yet despite Iranian authorities’ attempts to portray the protests as being somehow the result of American “interference” it is clear that the impetus for the massive protests comes from the Iranian people themselves.

What will happen? Already the Supreme Leader has made an unprecedented announcement that there will be an investigation into the allegations of election fraud. Another massive rally by supporters of Mr. Mousavi has been called for tomorrow and there is no way to predict where events will lead.

The authorities have reacted to the unrest by use of force—sometimes lethal—as well as by mass arrests of opposition figures, journalists and human rights lawyers. We hope they will not unleash the full fury of the Revolutionary Guards against the demonstrators, which could result in unthinkable deaths and injuries. But we do know that there is no turning back. The Iranian authorities cannot count on the hope that things will just settle down and that the Iranian people will continue to accept the massive human rights violations perpetrated on them.

Act Now for Iran!

Iran has not seen a public demonstration of this size in 3 decades. After the results of Friday’s contested election, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in an act of defiance.

According to reports, as many as five students at Tehran University were shot dead over the weekend and another person was wounded when security agents opened fire on a demonstration. Motorcycle-mounted riot police have severely beaten large numbers of protesters with clubs and night sticks.

Authorities have done all they can to make sure this story doesn’t get out including blocking cell phones, text messaging, email and Web sites.

Let Iran know that the global community is monitoring their every move

Take action now!