For So Many Reasons, Eyes on Russia

Russia Protest

An opposition activist holds a one man protest in front of the Russian Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow, on March 1, 2012. The sign reads: "stop the dictatorship!" (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian Federation has had an unenviable place in the news of late. With the outrage over the government’s disastrous and unconscionable opposition to meaningful UN Security Council action on Syria, to Amnesty’s recent findings that Russian weapons continue to supply the machine of misery unleashed on the people of Darfur and Sudan, it would be easy to be blinded to the risks to rights protection in Sunday’s Presidential election.

Last Saturday, thousands rallied in St. Petersburg in opposition to Vladimir Putin’s decision to run for a third presidential term, chanting “Russia without Putin.” On Sunday, over 30,000 people organized together to create a human chain spanning 15.6 kilometers in length throughout Moscow in solidarity over growing discontent over the election.

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Despite Crackdown, Saudi Ambassador Claims "There Is No Repression"

Hamad Kassawy © Amnesty International

“There is no repression in Saudi Arabia.” – H.E. Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian national Hamza Kashgari and Amnesty International beg to differ.

In a recent talk with the Saudi ambassador at New York University, he claimed that Saudi Arabia is a “land of opportunity” where there was no oppression of dissidents. “We don’t have a Guantanamo. We don’t have an Abu Ghraib,” he pointed out.

Saudi Arabia may not have a ‘Guantanamo’ or an ‘Abu Ghraib,’ but it has the notorious Al-Ha’ir prison and ‘Ulaysha Prison, and, according to Amnesty International’s report Saudi Arabia: Repression in the Name of Security, a new wave of repression that began in March 2011. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Activists – and State Department – Respond to Bahrain Twitter Action

A huge thank you to supporters of our Bahrain actions over the last few days calling on the US State Department to speak out  more forcefully on unfair military trials.

More than 16,000 people have signed our online action. Further, the response to our Twitter action was absolutely fantastic, with people not only from the US but from around the world magnifying our call (go crowd!).

The Twitter action was a first for me and I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of response or outcome. I was positively surprised with both. I decided to use a new, very useful tool called storify to track the action—and the response to it!

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Dear @Statedept, Please Protest Unfair Trial Of #Bahrain Activists

Bahrain has turned into a country in which an activist can be thrown into jail for reading a poem that criticizes the country’s King, and in which doctors and nurses are put on trial for doing their job. I can hardly imagine what sentence opposition figures are facing for leading and participating in the demonstrations that took place in February and March. It is outrageous to see Bahraini authorities putting protesters, activists and medics before military courts, which Human Rights Watch appropriately called a Travesty of Justice.

Bahrain is also an important strategic partner to the United States, and home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. It’s therefore legitimate to ask if that’s the reason why there is so much silence from the US administration on the crackdown of the pro-reform movement. As a Washington Post Editorial last month formulated it: “The administration clearly is trying to protect the strategic relationship with Bahrain.”

We are now mobilizing the public to call on the US government to speak out more strongly about unfair trials in Bahrain, one week before the trial of opposition figures continues. It is especially crucial that the Unites States administration guarantees that a high level representative from the US embassy in Bahrain will attend the trial.

Join The Global Bahrain Twitter Action on June 15

Taking a cue from Arab Spring activists using social media, we will conduct a Twitter action tomorrow, June 15. We are calling on all social media activists to urge the US Department of State to end their double standard and protest more forcefully against unfair trials in Bahrain. Messages to the State Department will include:

Dear @statedept, pls ensure you observe trial of #bahrain opposition http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
Dear @statedept, pls protest unfair trial of #bahrain activists http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14

The @statedept should observes trial of #bahrain opposition http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
The @statedept should protest unfair trial of #bahrain activists http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14

You can just re-tweet our messages coming from @amnesty tomorrow. Feel free to adapt the tweets, but please stay on message and be polite. I will be collecting the most compelling tweets and plan to publish some of them on this blog (which we will also share with our contacts in the State Department), together with an update on our recent Bahrain actions.

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When A Tweet Can Change The World

Fifty years ago, Amnesty activists fought to free prisoners of conscience by putting pen to paper. In 2011, our goal is still the same, but things have gotten a little more high-tech. The pen is still a powerful tool, but now we’ve also got email and online actions in our arsenal. And now we can add another medium to that list: Twitter.

Rafiq Hakeem 14 years old was set free after Twitter campaign

In early February, 14-year-old Faizan Rafiq Hakeem was arrested in Jammu and Kashmir for throwing stones. The police detained him under the controversial Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA). Under this act, he was held for over a month without trial—and could have been held for up to two years. Despite the fact that he was a minor, authorities claimed that medical tests proved he was old enough to be treated as an adult.

Amnesty called for Faizan’s release, and this call was answered by activists on Twitter. On April 1, Alaphia Zoyab, Amnesty’s Online Communities Officer for India began tweeting from the @aiindia account, and was joined by Govind Acharya—who posts on this blog—in the US. #freefaizan became a hashtag and Twitter users from all over began tweeting for Faizan’s freedom.

Activists tweeted directly to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah @abdullah_omar, asking him to “free Faizan.” He replied to the tweets, saying “We are looking at his case sympathetically & will decide in the next couple of days” and eventually reconsidered the case:

Tweets from Omar Abdullah responding to #FreeFaizan messages

A few days later, after this barrage of tweets, coupled with on-the-ground campaigning, on April 5 Faizan was free.

Thanks to social media, the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller—and the more interconnected we are, the harder it will be for human rights violations to go unnoticed. Faizan’s story is proof that enough voices speaking up about injustice are too loud to be ignored, especially on a public medium such as Twitter, where both action and inaction by those responsible can easily fall under scrutiny.

If you could launch a Twitter campaign to free a prisoner of conscience or promote human rights, who or what would you tweet for?

Follow us on Twitter @amnesty

Take Action and Support the Egyptian People

Update: Tell US Government to press Egypt to rein in security forces

The number one request made by Egyptian activists of allies in other countries is to have their voice heard in solidarity at various Egyptian embassies and consulates.

It’s pretty hard to do when the Egyptian government has shut down the Internet in Egypt and its US embassy public email address isn’t functioning.

Protesters face police in Alexandria. Photography by : Ahmed Ramadan -- Clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian police in Alexandria, because of their opposition to the hereditary rule. They are showing their dissatisfaction with the intention of President Hosni Mubarak to hand over power to his son.

But allies around the United States are not remaining silent, and Amnesty members are looking to assist. With tens of thousands of Egyptians hitting the street across the country today on “Angry Friday,” this is an ideal moment to contact the embassy in the US to express our concerns:

1. For the Egyptian government to allow peaceful demonstrations and rein in their security forces to prevent further deaths and injuries to protestors. No official death total has been released, but the latest reports today have two women being killed when hit in the head by tear gas and another died in Tahir Square. That would bring an unofficial death toll over the past four days to over 10.  In one instance, Amnesty has learned that 22-year-old Ahmed Atef was killed yesterday in North Sinai when security forces in the town of Sheikh Zuweid opened fire on a crowd of more than 1000 demonstrators.

2. Independent legal observers count the number of detained as of Thursday at around 1,200 people.  Many more are being detained today.  These people must have immediate access to legal counsel, family members, be formally charged or release.  They must not be tortured or mistreated.

3. The government must cease all efforts to block the Internet, social media tools or impede the normal flow of communications. In addition, security forces must end reported assaults on numerous reporters, both Egyptian and foreign.  Such actions constitute an outrageous violation of the freedom of speech.

4. End the State of Emergency, which facilitates other human rights abuses such as unfair trials, prolonged administrative detention and the systematic use of torture.

Demonstrations have already been held in San Francisco, New York and DC.  AIUSA’s office has organized a rally outside the consulate in Chicago at noon Saturday, Jan. 29.  For more information on that rally, contact shaunharkin@gmail.com and dickreilly@aol.com.  Information about other rallies will be posted as information is available.

But if you don’t live near a consulate, please call and call today to the Egyptian embassy.  Emails sent to its public address are bouncing back, but telephone is working. The address is 3521 International Ct. NW Washington DC 20008. Phone: 202.895.5400.  Fax: 202.244.4319.

A complete list of consulates can be found here.

Finally, there is also US government work to do.  We are receiving reports from Egypt that tear gas canisters and other weapons used against the protesters have been made in the United States.  It is imperative that the U.S. government investigate whether any of this material has been used in a manner that would violate the Leahy Law or other regulations that prohibit the use of US aid to violate human rights.