Friday, June 29, 2007

Death Penalty Update

Good news/bad news from the Supreme Court on the death penalty this week. A win on the issue of more leniency on the issue of mental incompetency in the Panetti case, see Amnesty's press release,
"The Supreme Court has taken a much-needed step toward a more humane America," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Perhaps now we can recognize that this country's resources would be much better spent improving the mental health system to help ensure that similarly tragic crimes are not committed in the first place."
And for the insider legal spin, see this post from Capital Defense Weekly. We present below a 27 minute documentary from Texas Defender Service on the case, notable for the portrait it gives of the death penalty's unsung victims, the inmate's family members.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Troy Davis (which we featured in our June newsletter). Amnesty has a statement and report (Where is justice for me?) on this case too, and more importantly its time to step up the clemency campaign! For further inspiration and also on the subject of inmate families, Abolish the Death Penalty has more on the Davis case from that perspective, complete with book suggestion (we love book recommendations!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Olympics Come to Pasadena

Update: The Pasadena Weekly covers the Council presentation (‘We need to speak out on that’) including Council reaction in this week's issue.

We are a little late in pointing out the Pasadena Weekly's article (No cause for celebration) on local Falun Gong members disappointment in the Tournament of Roses decision to highlight a float celebrating the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Our own Wen Chen was prominently featured,
“If we want to invite the Chinese government to have a float in Pasadena, we should raise the issue of a family member of a [former] Pasadena resident in a labor camp because of the Olympics,” said Wen Chen, an employee of Caltech and member of its Falun Gong Club.
On Monday night (June 25) Wen and some of her friends took their moving stories of persecution and imprisonment to the Pasadena City Council. You can visit the City of Pasadena - City Council Streaming Video page to hear the presentation (second agenda item - you can try to use the "jump to" feature to get there a little faster).

Pasadenans! We suggest further educating your council members by sharing with them key points from Amnesty's recent report China: The Olympics countdown. The report highlights the case of Bu Dongwei, the husband of one of Wen's colleagues,
Case update - Bu Dongwei: Falun Gong practitioner Bu Dongwei is now known to be held at Tuanhe RTL facility in Beijing, where he is reportedly forced to do packing work. His family only received official confirmation of his whereabouts at the end of August 2006, three months after he was first detained. The authorities have reportedly claimed that he decided not to appeal against his two-and-a-half year term, but his family dispute this. Officials from Tuanhe RTL facility have reportedly asked Bu Dongwei’s family to contribute money towards his living expenses – around 400 Yuan per month (approx. US$52).

Bu Dongwei (also known as David Bu) was assigned to two-and-a-half years’ RTL on 19 June 2006 in Beijing for "resisting the implementation of national law and disturbing social order" after police discovered Falun Gong literature at his home. The authorities initially refused to disclose his place of detention to his family. Bu Dongwei had been working in Beijing for the U.S. aid organization, the Asia Foundation, before he was taken away by police from his home in Haidian district on 19 May 2006. Amnesty International considers Bu Dongwei to be a prisoner of conscience, detained in violation of his fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion, and continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release
City officials should bear in mind in their dealings with Chinese officials-- for example in activities that support Pasadena's sister city relationship with Xicheng-- that there are Pasadena residents directly affected by China's disregard for the rule of law and the principles of democracy. In the Weekly, Alan Lamson, chair of the China Subcommittee of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee is quoted,

“Our position is that it's much better to get to know someone, even if you disagree with them... to hear their point of view and to get them to see your point of view. That's been more beneficial than to say, ‘Sorry, we don't want to have a relationship with you.'”

Yes! Relationships are good! We are just afraid that 'our point of view' in these transactions seldom includes expressing concern over cases like Bu Dongwei's or Shi Tao's. City officials and civic representatives such as Mr. Lamson need to become educated about human rights and make that a part of our relationship. Be an educator! City council contacts can be found here. Sister City Committee contact info here.

Final Note: Of course, the treatment of prisoners of conscience is not the only reason for our representatives to be cautious about celebrating China's Olympic spirit. There is also the matter of China's involvement in Darfur, Sudan and the ongoing campaign to get China to use its influence on the Sudanese government to end atrocities in that region. There's a whole project devoted to drawing attention to this concern (including alternative torch relay) via the interest in the 2008 games: Olympic Dream for Darfur. Other resources to use in your project to educate your councilperson about the Olympics and human rights include Human Rights in China's Incorporating Responsibility: 2008 and Human Rights Watch's Beijing Olympics 2008.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Human Rights Podcasts

I've mentioned two sources for human rights-themed podcasts recently, the series from Amnesty International and PEN Center's event series. Here are two more: The University of Chicago Human Rights Program podcasts its lecture series and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a weekly program of interviews called Voices on Genocide Prevention. Needless to say, much of the focus is currently on the campaign for Darfur with much useful information-- and inspiration-- for activists.

Riga Pride

As a supplement to our screening of Dangerous Living: Coming out in the developing world, here is an account from an Amnesty organizer attending a Gay Pride event in Latvia.
More at this blog.

Pasadena Screening of Dangerous Living

Please save the date for our June 28, 7:30 PM meeting in Pasadena (See sidebar calendar for location information). We will be screening the one-hour film, Dangerous Living: Coming out in the developing world,

Dangerous Living examines the struggles and triumphs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the Global South. It is the first documentary to deeply explore the lives of GLBT people in non-western cultures. The crew of Dangerous Living traveled to five continents to tell the heartbreaking and triumphant stories of these incredible individuals on film.

The persecution of gay men in Egypt attracted much attention from the western press. However, most occurrences of oppression of LGBT individuals around the world receive no media coverage at all. By sharing the personal stories of LGBT activists from other countries, Dangerous Living sheds light on an emerging global movement striving to end the atrocities against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
A preview of the film is available here. Help us take action on behalf of LGBT people around the world!

Monday, June 18, 2007

For October: The Attack

We have selected Yasmina Khadra's The Attack for October,
From the bestselling author of The Swallows of Kabul comes this timely and haunting novel that powerfully illuminates the devastating human costs of terrorism.

Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari’s world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing.

As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Amnesty UK Blogs

I've recently discovered that the Amnesty - UK website has a feature encouraging activists to blog about their human rights campaigning activities. Sample posts include a description of the recent conference on internet censorship, some reportage on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, much interest in the plight of Russian journalists, an account of a mission to Chad, and the occasional reference to things literary. It's fun and inspiring to peek into what other AI groups are up to. Get the overview here. And yeah, I was momentarily thrilled to see the words "Amnesty Reading Group" - thinking that perhaps Rights Readers had a British counterpart before I realized this referred to the location, not the activity.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Our June Author: Alan Hollinghurst

Here are some links for our June selection, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. Readings has an interview and the Guardian offers a couple of profiles here, and here.

"From the start I've tried to write books which began from a presumption of the gayness of the narrative position," says Hollinghurst. "To write about gay life from a gay perspective unapologetically and as naturally as most novels are written from a heterosexual position. When I started writing, that seemed a rather urgent and interesting thing to do. It hadn't really been done."

The BBC has a site for the mini-series based on the book and you can read an interview with Hollinghurst and director Andrew Davies abou the adaptation at Time Out London. A peek at the series is available here.

If you want to bone up on your Henry James to enhance your appreciation of the novel, this site seems to be an exhaustive (exhausting?) set of links

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rights Readers Map of Europe

The Rights Readers map of settings for our European fiction and nonfiction books is now complete! You can visit it here. Featured sites include Chernobyl, Guernica and Terezin. If that sounds grim, you can visit the site of this month's novel, Kensington or zoom in and count tulips outside the International Criminal Court. See the sidebar for links to our previous maps of North and South America.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cathy Henderson - Another Stay!

Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson's execution, scheduled for June 13, has been stayed! Here is Amnesty USA's statement and Capital Defense Weekly provides the meat of the decision. We have been following this case since Sister Helen Prejean, Cathy's spiritual advisor, came to Pasadena in February. Thanks to all who helped with petitions and letters!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Eyes on Darfur

Amnesty's new Eyes on Darfur site has been launched. This is a special web feature that shows not only before and after satellite pictures of devastated villages in Darfur, Sudan, but also images of "at-risk" villages to be monitored with photos to be updated periodically. There are also actions for all to take to let the Sudanese government know the world is watching. NPR has a report on the project. Your chance to be Big Brother for a good cause!

June 12 marks the release of the big Sudan-fundraiser album Instant Karma, a tribute to John Lennon. I know its June 12 because that just so happens to be the birthday of the Lennon-lover in my life... hmmm, problem solved! Surely some of you can find a similar way to spread the peace!

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

Guantanamo has been much in the news lately (and we'll get back to that topic in a day or too) but let's not forget Abu Ghraib. Just in time for Torture Awareness month, HBO has released Rory Kennedy's documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib on DVD. View a preview here. Remember the "bad apples"? The film features interviews with many of the low level personnel implicated in the torture which occurred at Abu Ghraib and reminds us that no one further up the chain of command has never been held accountable. The film website also has a useful resource list.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Internet Freedom of Expression Webcast

More fuel for my iPod. Yesterday Amnesty-UK sponsored a webcast of a conference on the campaign on internet censorship and one can now view the archived version online. Interviews relating to the campaign can also be subscribed to as podcasts via iTunes (and perhaps the webcast will show up there soon as well). Here's a written account of the conference. Of special note as regards our ongoing concern for journalist and Amnesty prisoner of conscience Shi Tao, attorneys representing Shi Tao's wife discuss her lawsuit against Yahoo! for disclosing her husband's identity, leading to a ten year prison sentence. On a related note, check out these maps of internet filtering from the Open Net Initiative.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pen World Voices

I'm on call for jury duty this week and in anticipation of being in a confined space with far too many idle people with cell phones handy, I have armed my iPod with downloads from the recent PEN American Center - PEN World Voices conference and plan to block out the cacophony with readings and discussion from a variety of once and future Rights Readers authors. I'm almost, ALMOST, looking forward to my civic duty. While you are visiting the site to download and listen online, check out this year's winners from the PEN prison writing contest. I like The Fan.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Meditation: Tiananmen Poetry

Last Saturday veterans and supporters of the 1989 Tiananmen protests gathered at Caltech to share poetry and reflections of their experiences. On the eve of the 18th anniversary of the June 4 massacre we present a little poetry here to commemorate the day. OpenDemocracy has a 2004 interview and poems of exiled poet Liu HongBin. And here is a taste of Bei Dao's "June" from Perihelion,
unending plastic flowers
on the dead left bank
the cement square extending
from writing to

An excellent resource on Tiananmen is the website for the Frontline documentary Tiananmen: The Gate of Heavenly Peace and don't forget to leave a bouquet on the square for the Tiananmen Mothers!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

When Kids Get Life

I failed to spread the alert regarding this program when it was on last month, but perhaps there will be reruns or you can view the FRONTLINE documentary "When Kids Get Life" online at the PBS site where you to exploring other resources in conjunction with the campaign to abolish life without parole sentencing for children.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Death Penalty Update

Just a couple of brief updates on our on-going anti-death penalty work: Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox has released a statement regarding proposed changes to California's lethal injection procedures,
These attempts to tinker endlessly with the mechanism of execution are both misguided and futile. The real problems that plague the death penalty system transcend the method by which a person is put to death. No matter how "sanitized" the execution process, the death penalty remains racially biased, carries the very real risk of executing the innocent and is arbitrary and capricious at its very core.
Also, you can take action online on behalf of Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson here. Her supporters' website reports on new medical evidence in the case and has other action suggestions.
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