Beaten, Arrested & Facing a Decade Behind Bars


On March 10, 2015 hundreds of student protestors were at a standstill near the city of Letpadan in Myanmar.

They had reached the eighth day of a standoff between largely peaceful activists marching for academic freedom, and the police forces who were blocking their path when, suddenly, things came to a head. Police began beating students violently, including those who had fallen to the ground. Some tried to flee, and hundreds were arrested. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

One Letter Can Change a Life. Millions Can Start a Human Rights Movement


By Maya Delany, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator for Western Massachusetts

Last December, I arrived at my student group’s annual Write for Rights AmnesTEA event and was greeted by dim lighting, steaming beverages, and our group members sitting in a circle writing letters. I poured myself some tea, read summaries of each case, and started writing a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia about Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for simply expressing his opinions.

Last year’s Write for Rights, with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide writing a record-breaking 3 million letters and email actions SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Tweet for Freedom in Turkey: Say No to the Criminalization of Dissent!

Journalists and activists participate in a rally for press freedom and against the detention of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in the capital of Ankara (Photo Credit: Ümit Bektas/Reuters).

Journalists and activists participate in a rally for press freedom and against the detention of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in the capital of Ankara (Photo Credit: Ümit Bektas/Reuters).

In a major report this week, Amnesty International has outlined the wide range of legal tools that Turkish authorities have used to target political dissent and limit freedom of expressionScholars, students, journalists, human rights activists, and thousands of others have been subject to prosecution and lengthy punishment under these statutes. But you can join us in working for real reform in Turkey!

Amnesty has noted that:

The most negative development in recent years has been the increasingly arbitrary use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate activities including political speeches, critical writing, attendance of demonstrations and association with recognized political groups and organizations – in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.


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.


Connecticut Death Penalty Abolished! (California Next?)

death penalty abolished in connecticut

With his signature, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty, making his state the 17th, and the 5th in the last 5 years, to do away with capital punishment.  The law is not retroactive, so 11 men remain on Connecticut’s death row.

It is surely a sign of progress for the death penalty abolition movement that such a success could occur in the midst of contentious and escalating election year politics.  Previous legislative repeal victories have occurred during the more sedate odd-numbered years (New Jersey, 2007; New Mexico, 2009, Illinois, 2011).


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.

Help a student from Gaza not miss another day of school

Want to help a student who has worked hard both academically and in his community?  Someone who has gone through the madness of applying and being accepted at a university in the United States even earning a partial scholarship?  (Not an easy task.)  Want to help someone that has already had to miss fall semester and is in danger of missing spring semester and losing his scholarship?

Abed earns his degree in 2008.

Abed Al Hadi Basheer is 24 years old and trying to better himself so he can continue to help children in his community and better care for his blind father and family.  He has been accepted into Washington State University’s College of Education Cultural Studies and Social Thought program in Pullman, WA with a partial scholarship and has received letters of support from professors who live in Pullman that met Abed when they travelled to the Gaza Strip on a Fulbright-Hays project.  He also has letters on his behalf from both Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington state.

What is wrong with him?  Or, what has he done wrong?  Nothing.  Well, he was born in the Gaza Strip.

Due to Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, there are stringent restrictions on all movement of people into and out of Gaza.


Tell Your Senators to Support the DREAM Act!

This Tuesday Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would include the DREAM Act in a defense authorization bill.  The DREAM Act will help thousands of committed students and military officers to legalize their status in the United States.  Currently, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of exposure to immigration authorities.

The DREAM Act would provide certain conditional legal status, if students attend college or join the military. It would also allow immigrant students access to higher education by returning to states the authority to determine who qualifies for in-state tuition. Amnesty International supports the DREAM Act because it upholds significant human rights goals including the right to education and the right to family life and unity.

This is an incredible opportunity to fulfill the human rights of young immigrants in the United States. Urge your Senator to support passage of the Dream Act now!

Call the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121

Passage of the Dream Act will support a variety of human rights obligations including:

1. Right to Education:
Currently, undocumented children in the US are constitutionally guaranteed the right to access public education. However, their ability to complete high school, as well as the opportunity to pursue university studies, is undermined by their lack of legal status. Undocumented children are ineligible for federal financial aid for higher education and, in most states, for in-state tuition at public universities.

Education is a right worthy of protection itself. It is also an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. All children, without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of their status or the status of their parents, have a right to education. General Comment No. 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes that states are obliged to ensure that education is accessible to everyone, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the state. Accessibility includes non-discrimination, physical accessibility, and economic accessibility.


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.