Thursday, 23 July 2009

Berlin - Hunger strike for release of detainees in Iran

Ex-political prisoners of the Islamic Republic of Iran are staging a 48-hour hunger strike tomorrow in Berlin to request the release of all political prisoners in Iran – particularly those arrested in the aftermath of the elections, including human rights activist Shadi Sadr.

Eighty-four former political prisoners will start their hunger strike tomorrow morning, Friday July 24, at 9am in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They’ll conduct a press conference at 11 am.

Here is an edited version of their statement:

We, ex- political prisoners of the Islamic Republic, stand in solidarity with the people struggling for basic human rights in Iran, in demanding the release of all political prisoners, in particular those who have been arrested in recent weeks, including human rights activist Shadi Sadr.

The recent peaceful demonstrations by the Iranian people following the rigged elections have been met by cruelty and violence at the hands the police and security forces in Iran.

So far dozens of people have been killed, many have been injured and 3,000 to 5,000 have been arrested or have simply vanished.

The attacks on the university dormitory by the police, the raids to the homes of families of students and journalists, the increase in arbitrary arrests, abduction and disappearances are alarming, and once again bring back the memory of the bloody 1980's.

We demand: Immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Iran,

We demand: The abolition of capital punishment in Iran.
Signed by 84 participants, 697 supporters and 108 organisations/NGO’s/societies/ foundations

Amir Atiabi, a former political prisoner and survivor of the 1988 massacre in Iran, says ex-prisoners will do whatever they can to free the detainees because they know the terrible conditions they are facing in prison.
We are all very concerned about the conditions of the detainees based on our knowledge and own experience on what’s going on behind the walls of the Islamic Republic’s prisons. The level of torture and violence against the detainees is beyond imagination.

Those who work for the system can do anything they like without questioning. There are no laws and no rules. The country is filled with lies, propaganda, horror, terror, threats, tapping phone calls, monitoring Internet activities, censorship, daily arrests and crimes against any active opponent and journalists.
We have to act now. Tomorrow will be too late.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

10th-year anniversary of Falun Gong persecution in China

Tomorrow, July 20th, marks the 10th-year anniversary of the baffling, but ruthless persecution of Falun Gong in China.

Falun Gong, which counts millions of members mostly in China, but also elsewhere in the world, is a holistic practice guided by the principles of “truthfulness, compassion and tolerance”, based on slow-moving exercises and meditation.

Falun Gong has no formal structure and is not a religion, yet it was banned as “an evil cult” in China ten years ago by then Chinese Communist Party president Jiang Zemin. It is believed Jiang felt threatened by the growing popularity of the practice. It is banned only in China, but practiced freely in 80 countries.

On July 20th 1999, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, and over the next few days tens of thousands were detained throughout China. When all the police stations and detention centres were full, many were held in sports stadiums and other public facilities.

“Like any normal day, I went to do Falun Gong exercises in Yuyuantan Park in the centre of Beijing at 6am,” says Cambridge resident Jingwen Wang, who lived in Beijing at the time. “I heard the government had banned Falun Gong, so I decided to appeal. At 7am I arrived at the Appeals Office, but I was swiftly forced onto a coach, along with other practitioners. After driving a long time, we arrived at Shijingshangymnasium. There were already about 4,000 practitioners there. It was very hot, about 37 degrees. Thousands of people stayed there without any water, food or fresh air for the whole day.”
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong followers have been imprisoned in labour camps and prisons across the country. They account for the largest single population of prisoners of conscience in China, according to Amnesty International. Tens of thousands have been tortured and over 3,200 have lost their lives. Millions others face destitution, job loss, expulsion from school and other form of discrimination.

Annie Yang, a former antique trader in Beijing who now lives in London, was arrested in 2005 and sent to two years in labour camp for being a member of Falun Gong.
“Every day I was forced to sit for over 18 hours, in a strict sitting posture: both legs and knees pressed tightly against each other; both hands rested over the knees, the back kept straight, and eyes open. After a week or two, many people’s bottoms started to rot. After endless days of both mental and physical persecution my eyesight became bad and my memory weak. My hair turned white and mentally I almost reached total collapse. Every day the only thing I thought about, when I was able to have a moment to think, was how to end my life. Was it better to smash my head on a radiator or to drink washing powder?”
Now, ten years later, the brutal repression shows no signs of abating.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the Falun Gong repression and attract attention to their plight, members are staging a press conference at noon at Westminster in London and a peaceful protest in Parliament Square all day-long. They are also hosting an art exhibition nearby in Palmer Room, 1 Great George Street, SW1 3AA from 11 am to 4 pm. The exhibit Uncompromising Courage, which has toured more than 40 countries since 2004, portrays the beauty of the traditional Chinese meditation practice, Falun Gong, and at the same time depicts the personal experiences of the artists and others who have been persecuted under the Chinese Communist Party."

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Children of prisoners have rights

I’ve read a very interesting story in the Guardian recently on Albie Sachs, the South African judge who ruled not to send a woman to jail because it would infringe the human rights of her three children.

The woman was facing four years in jail for up to 40 counts of credit card fraud that she had committed while under a suspended sentence for similar offences. At first, Sachs wanted to jail the mother, but a female colleague urged him to consider the rights of the woman’s children separately. Here is how the 74-year-old judge explained his decision to an international audience of human rights lawyers in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago:

"She said: 'There is something you are missing. What about the children? Mrs M has three teenage children. She lives in an area that we politely call fragile, an area of gangs, drug-peddling and a fair amount of violence. The indications are that she is a good mother, and the magistrate gave no attention to the children's interests.'

"The minute my colleague spoke to me about the importance of the three teenage children of Mrs M, I started to see them not as three small citizens who had the right to grow up into big citizens but as three threatened, worrying, precarious, conflicted young boys who had a claim on the court, a claim on our society as individuals, as children, and a claim not to be treated solely as extensions of the rights of the mother, but in their own terms."
As a result, Sachs created a legal precedent in 2007: now in South Africa at least in borderline cases, primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. And if the court decided to jail a primary caregiver, it had to take some responsibility for what happens to the children. "The court can't simply say that she should have thought of that before she committed the offence, or that she can't hide behind her children."

Judge Sachs did not know it at the time, but similar ideas were being framed in Scotland in a report by the then children's commissioner, Kathleen Marshall.

The report, Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty, argues that the rights of offenders' children to family life under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are systematically ignored by the court system. The report found that almost two-thirds of prisoners in the Cornton Vale women's prison in Stirling had children under 18, but there was no provision to take their rights into account during sentencing.

This is fascinating. A new way of thinking is emerging within the criminal justice system. Children have rights on their own, which the court system should take into account. And children don’t forfeit their rights because their parents have committed a crime. Of course, it is not a one-fit-all answer: some convicted mothers and fathers are terrible parents and being a parent shouldn’t be a license to commit a crime with impunity. But the principle is important and, if we think about it, rather basic: children shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ crimes. Both the children and society would benefit.

I wonder if the same argument could be made about unborn children – the children of pregnant women in prison. Many years ago, fellow journalist Loren Stein and I worked for the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco on a year-long investigation (published in the Progressive and Boston Herald magazine) into the alarming number of miscarriages among pregnant women in US prisons. Packed into routinely overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped facilities, pregnant inmates were often denied essential pre-natal and emergency care, although their health needs were both greater and more specialized. As a result, more than 30 percent of pregnancies in prison ended up in miscarriage (often during the third semester, which is very rare among the general population) or the loss of the baby during or after birth.

For many of these inmates’ unborn children, a prison sentence actually meant a death sentence.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Iran - detained opposition leaders at risk of torture to force TV confessions

I was dismayed to hear that many callers on a BBC 4 programme on Iran over the weekend believed that the demonstrations against the outcome of the 12 June election – and the claim of the fixed election itself – were part of a foreign-led plot against the Islamic regime. Even the Independent newspaper’s Robert Fisk suggested in a recent opinion piece that much of the reported demonstrations and violence by security forces were fantasy.

That is exactly what the regime is hoping to achieve. Iranian opposition websites claim the regime is torturing jailed Iranian reformists to force them into TV “confessions” aimed at implicating Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated reformist candidates, in an alleged conspiracy, or the US and UK.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned that several journalists and opposition leaders – including Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh - detained in the wake of the elections may be facing torture to force them to make televised ‘confessions’ as a prelude to unfair trials in which they could face the death penalty.

On Friday 26 June, cleric Ahmad Khatami, who is a member of the Assembly of Experts, called on the judiciary to punish, severely and without mercy, those involved in the demonstrations. Ominously, he used the term moharebeh or enmity against God, a charge that can carry the death penalty.

Televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used in the past by the Iranian authorities to incriminate political activists in their custody or force prisoners of conscience to recant their beliefs or allegiances. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes after torture or other ill treatment. Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian documents this practice in Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran.

Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh are among hundreds of politicians, journalists, academics, students and human rights activists, who have been detained, some briefly, across Iran since the election. Most are either supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, or are close to ex-President Khatami who supported Mousavi’s campaign. Others have been critical of incumbent President Ahmadinejad’s policies.

According to official statements, well over a thousand others have been arrested. Protesters were dealt with brutally by security forces. Many were beaten and, according to the authorities, up to 21 people have been killed, although the true number is likely to be higher.

Amnesty is asking people to call on the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the protestors and to ensure that those arrested are not tortured or otherwise mistreated.