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** Coordinator's Corner * Death Penalty Discussion
On August 5, the State of California plans to execute Thomas Thompson for the rape and murder of Ginger Fleichli. Amnesty International opposes all executions, recognizing that the death penalty is the most serious of human rights violations, and executions occurring in our own state are no exception. The Thompson case is a compelling example of the flaws in the capital punishment system, as even the prosector who drafted California's death penalty statute believes the punishment was applied incorrectly in this case (see article elsewhere in this newsletter for details). This month, the 400th U.S. prisoner was executed since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The media has also noted the record number of prisoners executed by the state of Texas this year (more than 20 so far). While only a few executions have taken place in California since 1976, citizens of this state should be aware that there are over 470 men and women on California's death row, more than any other state, and that what is happening in Texas is what is in store for us here. We need to raise the level of public awareness about both the moral and pragmatic reasons for opposing the death penalty. The death penalty is an ineffective and very costly response to our crime problem and moreover sends the wrong message about the kind of non-violent society we all aspire to live in. At our July meeting, Abe Bonowitz, a member of AIUSA's Board of Directors and Dave Plotkin, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Southern California will join us to talk about the Thompson execution and give us an overview of the national movement to abolish the death penalty. Abe is the founder of a new national organization, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and has just returned from the Annual Vigil and Fast at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. held this year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Furman v. Georgia the court case which temporarily abolished the death penalty in the early 1970s. Dave has just assumed his volunteer position to coordinate abolition efforts in the L.A. area. Both Abe and Dave are anxious to hear your questions and concerns about how we can be more effective and persuasive in this challenging area of human rights work. In addition, we will need to plan for our own effort to protest the execution here in Pasadena. Please make a note of the vigil planned for City Hall on August 4 at 11:00 PM. Please join us!
Martha Ter Maat Group Coordinator 818-281-4039 firstname.lastname@example.org Upcoming Events THURSDAY, July 24, 7:30 PM Caltech Y Lounge, Winnett Center Monthly Meeting MONDAY, August 4, 11:00 PM Vigil to Oppose Capital Punishment Pasadena City Hall (steps across from All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave.). Church open from 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM for silent meditation. All welcome. MONDAY, August 11, 7:00 PM AIUSA Western Regional Office 9000 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City Quarterly Training and Support Mtg for Los Angeles area AI members Discussion topic: Economic Sector Strategies- should AI support boycotts? oppose MFN status? Let's talk! TUESDAY, August 12, 7:30 PM Athenaeum Rec. Room, Caltech Letter-writing Meeting THURSDAY, August 21, 7:30 PM Catalina Rec. Room 1, Caltech Video/Discussion Night Film (tentative): Brother from Another Planet by John Sayles The Web-tips of the month. July American PEN Center http://www.pen.org/ At previous meetings I have shared excerpts from the PEN prison writing anthology, "This Prison Where I Live." Learn more about PEN at the American PEN Center site. The site regularly features action requests for writers and journalists who are imprisoned. Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force http://www.lgirtf.org/ Learn more about asylum cases based on persecution because of sexual orientation at the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force site. LGIRTF is also involved in combatting discrimination throughout the immigration process and in advocating for marriage rights for gay men and lesbians. Refugee Campaign LIMITED ACTION CONCERNING INFORMATION PROVIDED TO JAILED AND/OR DETAINED ASYLUM SEEKERS Amnesty International is greatly concerned that U.S. asylum seekers held in detention lack access to valid and accurate information necessary to locate legal services providers. Research gathered by AIUSA staff and volunteer activists indicates inaccurate, limited, or outdated information is provided to asylum seekers in detention who have no legal representation. According to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), responsibility for maintaining lists of providers of free legal services for immigration proceedings was transferred from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Executive Office of Immigration Review's (EOIR) Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, effective March 31, 1997. AI's concerns over this issue are long-standing. The organization has consistently received information concerning inaccurate or useless information furnished to asylum seekers. In 1996, a review of lists of legal service providers given to detainees in Pennsylvania showed that of the fourteen telephone numbers furnished, four were disconnected, and one was the number for a local used-clothing shop. Out of the fourteen organizations, only one might have offered assistance to an asylum seeker. Earlier in 1997 Amnesty International delegates participating in a mission to observe U.S. detention centers visited various sites used to detain asylum seekers, and confirmed that the situation remains unchanged in many locales. Asylum seekers still remain uninformed of their legal rights, and the little information provided by the INS is often useless to help them. Of twelve organizations included on a new list provided to detainees in Pennsylvania, only one will accept collect calls, and this organization provides assistance only to farm workers seeking asylum. Some lists provided in Texas and New Mexico include contact information for only one organization that provides assistance to asylum seekers. Amnesty International's concerns regarding inadequate information furnished to asylum-seekers in detention by the INS are heightened by a clause in the IIRIRA, which took effect on April 1, 1997. The legislation requires asylum seekers who arrive in the United States without possessing valid travel documents to make a credible case for asylum within 48 hours of their arrival, while being held in detention, with no guarantee of representation and in some instances without any knowledge or counsel to obtain necessary legal assistance. Amnesty International was recently involved in the case of a Somali teenager who fled his country without valid travel documents. He was detained upon arrival in the U. S. and placed in exclusion proceedings. He spoke no English and remained unrepresented by legal counsel for several months before an attorney was located with the assistance of Amnesty International. Although his first application for asylum was denied, he was finally granted asylum after two years in detention. Under the new legislation, this applicant would never have had the necessary time to find appropriate legal assistance, allowing him to receive a new hearing and adequately present his asylum claim. The new time limitation is a violation of refugees' rights under international standards and laws. U.S. immigration officials should be urged to direct their agencies to provide accurate, up-to-date, and useful information to asylum seekers. SUGGESTED ACTION: This is a request for limited action by AIUSA groups. Please send one courteously worded letter per to each of the officials listed below, asking: that officials act immediately to ensure : -that accurate lists are created by EOIR, and that these new lists are provided to asylum seekers at each site where such persons are detained. -that organizations accepting collect calls are clearly marked on these lists. -that the lists are reviewed and updated every three months to ensure accuracy as mandated by regulation. -that the lists clearly distinguish which services are provided to what type of clientele by each agency listed. SEND LETTERS TO: Tony Moscato, Director Executive Office of Immigration Review 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2400 Falls Church, VA 22041 Chief Judge Michael Creppy Office of the Chief Immigration Judge Executive Office of Immigration Review 5107 Leesburg Pike 2545 Falls Church, VA 22041 COPIES TO: Gerri Ratliff (Ms.) Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General United States Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC 20530 Terminal Island Refugee Monitoring Team Action 1, July 1997 This is the first in a series of actions related to conditions AI monitors found at the INS prison on Terminal Island in the Los Angeles Harbor which we feel affect the ability of asylum seekers to file or pursue their claims. Other actions will follow monthly until the end of the Refugee Campaign. HOUSING OF WOMEN REFUGEES WITH WOMEN WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS The INS detention center on Terminal Island (known officially as the San Pedro INS Processing Center) is divided into pods. A pod can best be thought of as a cellblock in the old prison terminology. It is configured as a dormitory or barracks hall. One pod is reserved for women detainees. Detainees housed in this pod can be divided into two broad categories, to wit, women aliens who attempted to enter the U.S. without proper documents and women aliens who have just finished prison terms in the U.S. and are housed here awaiting deportation proceedings. Some of the women in the latter category were convicted of aggravated or violent crimes. Amnesty International believes that refugees/asylum seekers who are detained solely for lack of proper documentation should not be detained in the same living quarters with the women coming out of prisons for criminals. We believe that the heightened risk of violence from other detainees against undocumented refugees and the emotional stresses of the fears for their physical safety engendered by this arrangement cannot but hinder the ability of refugees to pursue their asylum claims. A women who has been detained here after fleeing torture and other abuse in her own country should not be subjected to this condition. Conclusion 44, Section F., of the Executive Committee of the Program of the UN High Commission for Refugees states "Asylum seekers should not be accomodated with persons detained as common criminals". Although the women who are ex-convicts awaiting deportation may also be considered to be ex-criminals by some standards and technically no longer "common criminals" under the Conclusion cited, the same principle is at work. Section F. goes on to say that asylum seekers "should not be held in places where their physical safety would be in danger." One woman detained in Terminal Island for three weeks before being ordered released told an AI monitor that she "lived in terror" every minute she was there because of the presence of the former prisoners living in her pod. ACTION REQUEST Write to the INS District Director protesting this practice. Mention that the population of undocumented women in the pod is bound to contain a number of refugees at any time who may be potential or actual asylum seekers and therefore come under the above cited UNHCR conclusion. Demand that appropriate separate accomodations be made for women detained solely for lack of proper documentation, i.e., separate from the women coming out of criminal prisons. Mention that we feel that the emotional stresses caused by these conditions cannot help but negatively affect the ability of refugee women detained by the INS to pursue an asylum claim. Write to: Mr. Richard Rogers Director - District 16 Immigration and Naturalization Service 300 N. Los Angeles Street Los Angeles, CA 90012 Please send copies of any replies to Jim Roberts, 2215 E. First Street, Long Beach, CA 90803. You may send letters on this action any time before 10-1-97. Death Penalty Campaign California Execution, August 5 Thomas M. Thompson's Supreme Court appeal of a death sentence for the 1981 murder of Ginger Fleischli has been denied. An execution date has been scheduled for August 5, 1997 and area abolitionist groups are planning demonstrations and vigils for the evening of August 4. A candlelight vigil will be held in Pasadena at 11:00 PM at City Hall (100 N. Garfield) on the steps facing Euclid Avenue across from All Saints Church (132 N. Euclid). The vigil will offer an opportunity to sign a "Declaration of Life" stating that in the event of homicide signators do not wish to see the death penalty pursued or imposed. In addition, All Saints Church will be open for silent meditation between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM that evening. All are welcome to attend. The Thompson execution will be the fourth in California since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977. The case is significant because it is the first to raise substantial doubt as to the guilt of the condemned priosoner. Defense attorney Quin Denvir has stated that evidence points to Thompson's roommate David Leitch as Fleischli's killer. Leitch was convicted of 2nd degree murder in a separate trial at which prosecutors said he was the primary culprit. Leitch had threatened to kill the victim and had a previous history of assaults with knives. Thompson had no previous history of violence. Thompson testified he had consensual sex with Fleischli but two jailhouse informants testified that he said he raped the victim and killed her to keep her quiet. Thompson won a reversal from the late US District Judge Richard Gadbois of Los Angeles, who set aside the rape conviction. This also overturned the death sentence as it removed the "special circumstances" required to imposed the death peanlty. Gadbois found the prosecution's case for rape was weak, with little support from the physical evidence, and questioned the credibility of the jailhouse informants and the relative culpability of Thompson and Leitch. However, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Gadois' ruling reinstating the rape conviction and death sentence. The Death Penalty Action Team of Southern Calfornia had established a hotline for information regarding area events including execution vigils and demonstrations. The hotline number is 213-673-3693. The hotline will also keep you abreast of any developments in the Thompson case. Our Group Prisoner of Conscience (POC) Case Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk arrested by the Chinese government in 1989 for par ticipating in a peaceful demonstration and sentenced to 8 years in prison, is th e prisoner currently assigned to our group. Amnesty Int'l. is concerned that he was tortured or otherwise mistreated after his detention in 1989 and that he wa s unfairly sentenced to 8 years in prison simply for peacefully expressing his c onscience. They are also concerned that he has been denied access to medical ca re since being imprisoned. Many Tibetan monks and nuns in Drapchi prison in Chi na have been subjected to mistreatment, including long periods of solitary confi nement, and a few have died. Help us by writing a letter on his behalf. Here is a sample letter: Jianyuzhang (prison governor) Xizang Zizhiqu Di Yi Jianyu (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1) Lasashi 850003 (Lhasa 850003) Xizang Zizhiqu (Tibet Autonomous Region) People's Republic of China Dear Jianyuzhang: I am writing to you regarding NGAWANG PEKAR, a monk who was arrested in August 1989 and sentenced to 8 years in prison for his peaceful participation in a demonstration, and whose sentence was recently increased by 6 years. He is being held in Drapchi prison in the Tibet Autonomous Region. NGAWANG PEKAR was arrested for the peaceful expression of his beliefs, and is considered a prisoner of conscience. As such, he must be immediately and unconditionally released. The failure of your government to do so can be seen as a breach of international law, to which you claim to subscribe. In addition, I am concerned over the extension of his sentence by 6 years, including 3 months in an iron cell, for keeping a list of prisoners being held in Drapchi prison, and by reports that he has been receiving inadequate medical care during his imprisonment. Such conditions are inhumane, and cannot be allowed to exist in a civilized society. Please investigate these claims. A reply with any information on NGAWANG PEKAR's legal status or physical condition would be most appreciated. Respectfully and sincerely, SURAN Campaign The SURAN coordinator, Larry Romans (818-683-4977, email@example.com) may be contacted for additional information and material concerning these issues (including copies of relevant petitions). Torture and inhumane conditions (Russia) An Amnesty International report released in April (discussed in that month's newsletter, with an associated action in the May newsletter) charged that torture and inhumane conditions are widespread in Russian prisons and pre-trial detention centers. In late May, the Russian Procurator-General's Office drafted a bill that would grant amnesty to some 440,000 people currently under investigation in prison or detention centers. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov said he would discuss the bill with Yeltsin, after which it will be submitted to the State Duma for consideration. Skuratov admitted that prison conditions in Russia "do not meet European standards in the field of human rights." Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, a senior official in the Procurator-General's Office, subsequently stated that the proposed amnesty will not cover the most serious crimes, applying mainly to women, invalids, pensioners, and juveniles as well as to prisoners who have tuberculosis. On June 17, Yeltsin rescinded two controversial decrees: one allowing criminal suspects to be detained for up to 30 days without charges being brought against them (the new limit is 10 days), and one allowing homeless people suspected of committing crimes to be detained in "social rehabilitation centers" for up to 30 days. Both were sharply criticized in the April AI report as unconstitutional, subject to serious abuse, and used primarily against ethnic minorities. Nikitin update Russian prisoner of conscience Alexander Nikitin, who has been persecuted and charged with treason for environmental activism, remains confined to St. Petersburg pending trial since being released from prison last December. On June 17, the FSB (Russian Security Police) finally presented Nikitin with a new indictment, which is partly based on the new Russian criminal code which entered into force on January 1, 1997 and partly on the old one. Nikitin has been charged under article 275 (high treason) of the new criminal code, articles 75(2) (divulging state secrets) and 196(1) (abuse of documents) of the old criminal code. Meanwhile, article 10 of the 1996 criminal code states that a criminal law which "establishes more severe punishment or otherwise worsens the situation of the person does not have retroactive force," while a law which improves the situation of the accused person does have retroactive force. The new indictment is contrary to both provisions, illegally juggling charges for the harshest possible penalties. International organizations concerned with human rights and environmental issues continue to demand that charges against him be unconditionally dropped. On July 8, the director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a strongly worded letter to this effect to the Procurator's office. Meanwhile, it is reported that the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights is reviewing the case. Death penalty update (Russia) Yeltsin has sent the State Duma proposed amendments to the criminal code to limit the application of the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 July. Under the amendments, a person sentenced to death could not be executed until both the procurator-general and the chairman of the Supreme Court had reviewed the sentence and confirmed there were no grounds for appeal. Russia agreed to abolish the death penalty within three years of joining the Council of Europe in February 1996. Earlier this year, Russian officials signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws capital punishment. However, the Duma is considered unlikely to ratify that measure, since deputies voted down a proposed moratorium on the death penalty in March. *Editor's last words. Write for the newsletter! Commentaries, suggestions are always welcomed. You can also read the newsletter on line at: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/home.html Check out the web-tips links. Roberto (818)796-0876 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~rzenit/rzenit.html Amnesty International works impartially to free prisoners of conscience-individuals jailed solely for their beliefs, ethnic origin, language, or sexual orientation, provided they have not used or advocated violence-to ensure fair trials for all political prisoners, and to abolish torture and executions worldwide. It is funded by members and supporters around the world.