Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our Visit with Congressman Schiff

Yesterday, several members of our Amnesty chapter made a visit to Congressman Adam Schiff's district office here in Pasadena. While we will be waiting to see what actions Rep. Schiff takes as a result of our discussion, we all felt it was a very productive visit.

We spoke first about our concern for human rights in Eritrea, and urged him to contact Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (as several other Congresspersons have already done) to ask her to inquire into the status and treatment of Eritrean prisoners of conscience, including imprisoned opposition figures, journalists and religious leaders. Rep. Schiff appeared very receptive to this request. We were happy to have informed him of our on-going interest in the human rights crisis in Eritrea as we know it is easy to overlook among the more headline-grabbing international conflict zones.

We had noted Congressman Schiff's interest in press freedom from his website. You can read a recent floor speech he gave on World Press Freedom Day here and it appears that he intends to be a leader on this issue. This is good news for our work on behalf of Eritrean journalists, as well as Russian journalists such as the late Anna Politkovskaya (Rights Readers selection Putin's Russia). But we also thought this was a great opportunity to ask the Congressman's support for the Global Online Freedom Act (H.R. 275) which would help ensure that the Internet remains an open forum for free expression in every part of the world, and help American companies resist pressure from authoritarian governments to compromise their principles. The act may help to prevent cases such as Chinese Journalist and Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Shi Tao whose identity was revealed to Chinese authorities by Yahoo! and who subsequently received a ten year sentence for exercising his right to free speech. You can help urge the Congressman to support this legislation by taking action here.

Finally, we got ahead of Amnesty's effort to turn activists out to lobby for fair judicial proceedings for Guantanamo detainees in conjunction with the annual International Day for Survivors of Torture in late June and asked for Rep. Schiff's support for H.R. 1416 The Habeas Restoration Act. The right to challenge one’s detention in front of an independent court is one of the most fundamental protections against arbitrary detention and other human rights violations. We're all proud of our judicial tradition and these are the principles we want to export not hide from! Rep. Schiff emphasized that he opposed the revocation of habeas and was very receptive to supporting this bill, commenting that he might look into a broader approach. (Broader is good! How about we close Guantanamo?!) In any case we suggest that you urge Rep. Schiff to become a co-sponsor of the bill here.

You can also take action on H.R. 275 and H.R. 1416 at Congressman Schiff's website.

We'll keep you up to date on these actions when we get more information.
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