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Lilith Fair Tabling a Great Success. The regional office gave our group and others the opportunity to table at this year's Lilith Fair at the Rose Bowl. Larry Romans and I represented Group 22. I have never tabled at an event with such a receptive audience - Larry and I decided it was more productive than any other tabling event we've been to - we'll see if we obtain any new group members as a result. We certainly obtained a lot of signatures on petitions, including those for our POC, Ngawang Pekar.
Thanks also to Martha Ter Maat for helping organize the vigil for Thomas Thompson at All Saint's Church on July 13th and to those group members who attended.
For those of you who were not able to make the July letter writing meeting, you can participate in the holiday card action by sending all occasion card or postcard to any of the four prisoners listed below. Please express your support in a brief, personal message. For example, "I support you in your work for human rights." Do not mention the political situation in the country or the accusations against any prisoners.
International airmail postage is 60 cents for a letter and 50 cents for a postcard.
'Hope to see you at the monthly meeting 7/22!
Martha's Web (and Summer Reading) Tips for JulyAmnesty International Annual Report
It's that time again! Check out the annual report on line, look for worldwide and regional human rights trends or look-up the record for your favorite country.
At our last monthly meeting I shared some of my summer reading, "Closed Chambers" by Edward Lazarus. Lazarus, a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, offers a behind the scenes peek at some of the major death penalty decisions made by the Supreme Court in the last few decades. You can sample the first chapter of his book, plus view audio or video versions of the hour long "Booknotes" interview with Lazarus at the C-SPAN site. If this is too taxing for your computer set-up, interview transcripts are posted at http://www.booknotes.org/ 45 days after air date.
Booknotes airs on C-SPAN at 8:00 PM on Sundays. While the emphasis is on American history and politics, human rights themed titles pop up occasionally. An up-coming program will feature Richard Holbrooke speaking on his book about negotiating peace in Bosnia, "To End a War."
While you are visiting the site check out previous interviews highlighting Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II or "Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America," the memoir of civil rights activist and TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson (TransAfrica was one of the lead organizations in fighting for an end to apartheid in South Africa and bringing down the Duvalier regime in Haiti). Or sample Rep. John Lewis' "Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement" and learn about one the leading practitioners of non-violent activism in the U.S. whose reverence for books was intensified by the fact that as a black child growing up in Georgia he was not allowed to check books out from the public library. And if you are depressed about the atrocities in the Texas criminal justice system (or California's seeming desire to emulate Texas), try the interviews with Texans Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower for a breath of fresh air and a few good laughs.
The Booknotes program and web site offers a chance to deepen your appreciation for books and perhaps even tempt you away from TV and computer for a good read.
(Listing in "Web Tips" does not imply endorsement of site contents by Amnesty International)
Nigerian journalist Chris Anyanwu released
Thanks supporters for letters
The following is an interview by Mike Ebonugwo regarding the experience of Nigerian journalist Chris Anyanwu who was released in the wake of Gen. Sani Abacha's death. Ms. Anyanwu has been the subject of a number of Amnesty appeals. See what encouragement your summer postcards offer!
The publisher of the defunct The Sunday Newspapers (TSM), Mrs. Chris Anyanwu says the over 20,000 letters she got from all over the world made her survive the three years she spent in prison.
She narrated her ordeal in Gombe and Kaduna prisons saying: "I was sent to Gombe prison and spent a year and seven months there." Her memory of Gombe prison is one she would not forget in a hurry.
"Gombe is a very far place in the North, close to the desert and extremely hot. The prison itself was a primitive one and is located right inside the Emirs palace. There they managed to find a place for me.
"While there, I was placed in total solitary confinement. People couldn't talk to me except two warders, a man and a woman. The width of my cell is about the full stretch of my hands. I had horrors there. I stayed in this condition for one year before there was some respite.
To pass the time, I tried to read a lot and also taught myself to make crochet. I also succeeded in borrowing a dictionary from one of the prisoners; I learnt a lot of words I didn't know before. But after a while we began to get books.
"After a year and seven months, I was moved to Kaduna. Kaduna was considered more modern. The compound I stayed in was built in 1919. Beko [Ransome-Kuti, one of the UDHR Defenders, also recently released] was also there and his cell was on the left hand side of my own.
"I can say that in Kaduna, I was alone, but there were other people. There were also a lot of religious people coming there and holding fellowship. They were very supportive. I also had time to write poems. I also read the Koran and tried to make some kind of comparison between what is written there and the Bible.
"I want to say that all through this trying period from Gombe to Kaduna, the letters I received especially from aborad encouraged me a lot. This kind gesture made me understand that there are people there who know that you've not done any wrong. At Gombe, they kept my letters from me. But when they brought them to me they were about 10,000 letters written by children, old men and women, some as old as 90 years.
"The most touching were the ones written by children. After reading some of them, I had tears in my eyes. One little girl from California wrote me a report of the Olympic Games in Atlanta where Nigeria won a gold medal in the football event.
"Most of these letters, some of which were written by editors of leading international newspapers came from the U.S., Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, Japan. I was not able to acknowledge these letters because we were not allowed to write. But now I shall try to do so, even though the letters I have received so far are about 20,000 in number.
"These letters and the writers were my staying power. These are people who have respect for humanity; people who recognize professional excellence and the challenges of journalism practice in Nigeria. They renewed my faith in humanity. Some Nigerians, including highly placed individuals also quietly got in touch with me and offered words of comfort and encouragement.
"But it was also obvious that many would have written but were afraid of being found out and reprimanded by the authorities. Another thing that touched me tremendously was the awards that I received. My sister, the only one allowed to visit me, told me about them. The only one I didn't know about until I got out was the one given tome by Amnesty International. I never even knew that they give awards.
"I will want to use this opportunity to thank all the individuals and agencies that supported us by raising public awareness about our plight , and lobbying intensively on our behalf. This includes all the men, woman and children who took the pains to write me. One woman in London was sending me books right from Gombe to Kaduna.
"I want you to convey my appreciation to all Nigerians for their support, their legwork behind the scenes; certain leaders in government, religious organisations, people in this country; they prayed for me, I know.
"I especially want to thank the living saint, Pope John Paul II, When the Pope came, it lifted up my heart a lot because I was aware that he made a plea on our behalf.
"I want to thank the Nigerian press very much for its invaluable support. In fact, the Nigerian press is my pride. While the whole nation was under a kind of sedation, the press and the human rights groups had risen boldly to fight for the right of the oppressed. I thank them immensely.
"For me the prison has its terrible sides. But there was also something I gained. Prison wears you down. But I'm grateful to God because I was stronger than I thought I was. All through I thought myself lucky considering the appalling, unhealthy condition. However, I was in hospital two weeks because I had problem with my breathing which was attributed to tonsillitis infection.
"But like I said, I gained something. I gained God's awareness in the degree I never had. My spiritual awareness grew I gained strength and was stronger spiritually. Moreover, I had time to reflect deeply on a lot of things.
"But I must confess there is something to regret. What was most regrettable was the act itself. I I think it is a terrible thing to humanity to throw someone in prison knowing that the person did nothing wrong. It's very sad. Yet, in a way I feel sorry for the person who did this thing; it should never happen.
"Of course there's life after prison. And I must say that journalism still remains my life. I will still get to be involved in the business. But I have to take time to look around, sort things our before getting involved.
"Yes, I must thank the new government for our release. It shows some measure of wisdom on their part, even though, it's long overdue. But they should go the whole hog and release everyone.
"The longer they (detainees) stay, the heavier the burden on the nation's conscience. They should clean the mess of the past so that we can start afresh.
DEATH PENALTY UPDATEOPPOSE THE EXECUTION OF WILLIAM BRADFORD
The State of California has scheduled the execution of William Bradford for August 18 at San Quentin. He was sentenced to death for the murders of Shari Miller and Tracey Campbell in 1984.
Bradford lured the girls with the promise of getting them jobs as models. At the time, he had a rape case pending. Shari's mutilated body was discovered on July 6, 1984 in a parking lot in Los Angeles County. She had been strangled to death and tattoos on her body had been cut out. On July 12, police investigating the disappearance of 15-year-old Tracey learned that the offender was the last person to have seen her. Investigators obtained a search warrant for the offender's apartment, where they discovered photographs of a female, later determined to be Shari. The photographs had been taken in the desert near the scene of the rape Bradford had been awaiting trial for. A month later, police officers recovered Tracey's decomposed remains at that desert location.
A Los Angeles County jury found Bradford guilty of murder and sentenced him to death in 1988. Bradford objected to presenting any mitigating testimony from relatives during the penalty phase of the trial, then fired his lawyers and represented himself. He offered no evidence, and merely told the jury, "Think of how many you don't even know about. You are so right. That's it."
PLEASE WRITE OR PHONE GOVERNOR WILSON!
The Honorable Pete Wilson
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - China/TibetNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 continues to strive for the release of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 38-year-old Tibetan monk from Drepung Monastery who was imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 1989 for his participation in a peaceful demonstration in support of Tibetan independence in the city of Lhasa. After serving 8 years in prison, shortly before he was due to be released he was sentenced to an additional 6 years after allegedly attempting to smuggle out a list of other prisoners being held to international human rights organizations.
Amnesty International is concerned that not only has Ngawang Pekar been imprisoned solely as a result of peacefully exercising his right to voice his conscience, but that he has also been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment during his prison term including being beaten, denied medical treatment, and being confined to an iron isolation cell for 3 months.
Although in this section of the newsletter we generally supply a sample letter and the name and mailing address of a chosen official in the Chinese (or U.S.) government to write to, in light of the recent serious incidents which occurred in Drapchi Prison (known to Chinese officials as Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1) where he is being held, it seems fitting that these events be updated this month to shed as much light as possible. Of prime concern is that, although we have no news regarding his present medical condition, or whether he sustained any injuries, we can all be thankful that Ngawang Pekar was not named among those killed in the incident, so hope survives!
Several unconfirmed reports from Tibet indicate that seven prisoners have died following incidents in Drapchi Prison in Lhasa on May 1 and May 4, 1998 in which officials opened fire on prisoners. At least 60 prisoners sustained severe injuries and 15 are reported to be in critical condition. Most of the injured prisoners are being kept in the "Tibet Autonomous Region" military hospital near Sera monastery. The deaths include Karma Dawa, Lobsang Gelek, Tashi Lhamo, an unidentified nun from Phenpo Jhopo, and three other unidentified nuns.
On both occasions, Chinese prison officials and People's Armed Police clamped down severely on prisoners involved in a peaceful demonstration calling for Tibet's independence and expressing their support for the then on-going hunger strike of exiled Tibetans in India.
Karma Dawa, a non-political prisoner serving a sentence of 13 years, reportedly led the demonstration along with Karma Sonam. The two prisoners began throwing pamphlets reading "Free Tibet" amongst the crowd of prisoners gathered during a Chinese flag raising ceremony on May 1. Earlier reports expressed serious concerns amongst Drapchi prisoners that Karma Dawa and Karma Sonam might be executed. The latest report from Tibet indicate that Kadar (Karma Dawa) has died in prison. The cause of his death is not known but it was reported that doctors found "Free Tibet" inscribed on Karma Dawa's body when performing post-mortem. After taking pictures, his body was taken back to Drapchi prison.
Lobsang Gelek, a monk from Damshung County in Lhasa Prefecture, was shot dead in the May 1 Drapchi demonstration. His body was cremated near Chusang Hermitage. His 74-year-old father was called to the cremation where he was told that his son had committed suicide and he was offered 700 yuan as a gesture of consolation. Another source reported that 24-year-old Tenzin Choephel from Damshung County was shot dead on May 1. It is presumed that these two names refer to the one person. Tenzin Choephel could be the lay name of Lobsang Gelek.
A nun named Choekey Wangmo, 21 from Phenpo Sharbum and an unidentified nun from Phenpo Jhopo were reportedly subjected to severe torture for taking part in the May 1 demonstration and the nun from Phenpo Jhopo is said to have died from her injuries.
A nun named Tashi Lhamo and three unidentified nuns were shot during the May 4 demonstration that occurred during the celebration of "Youth Day" in Drapchi prison. Tashi Lhamo died at "TAR" Military Hospital on June 7 and her dead body was handed over to her relatives. Tashi Lhamo was serving a sentence of 6 years and it is reported that her prison term was about to expire. The three nuns are also reported to have died. The names and the details of their deaths are unknown but those who saw the dead bodies described them as swollen. Gyaltsen Choephel, a 27 year-old political prisoner, refused to believe the Chinese officials who said that the four nuns had committed suicide by consuming poison. As a result he was beaten severely and one source reports that he is currently in "TAR" Military Hospital. Gyaltsen was a Drepung monk from Lhasa Garu Shar. He was serving a sentence of 15 years for his involvement in the demonstration on March 5, 1988.
The demonstration of May 4 was led by 27-year-old Dawa whose current condition is not known. Gyaltsen Dolkar, born in Meldro Gongkhar, is a nun from Garu nunnery. She was arrested and sentenced to four years for taking part in a peaceful demonstration in Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, on August 22, 1990. In 1992 her sentence was further extended by eight years for recording "patriotic songs" while in Drapchi prison. She is currently serving 12 years prison term.
Following the two demonstrations, all regular activities in Drapchi prison were stalled and severe restrictions were imposed on outsiders attempting to enter the prison complex or to meet with prisoners. There are currently 520 political prisoners, including 250 female political prisoners, in Drapchi prison and it was reported that every prisoner was subjected to interrogation. Prison officials threatened prisoners that those who spoke of the incidents to outsiders would be executed and prison staff were threatened with criminal indictment.
Four prisoners were reportedly released after the expiry of their prison terms several days after the incidents in Drapchi Prison. However, upon reaching the main gate of the prison, their papers confirming their release were confiscated and they were taken to Gutsa Detention Centre for fear that they might speak of the incidents.
Ngawang Sungrab a 27 year-old Drepung monk from Phenpo was shot by prison officials during the May 4 demonstration. He is reported to be in critical condition in "TAR" Military Hospital. Ngawang Sungrab was serving a prison sentence of 10 years for his participation in 1989 demonstration.
It is reported that Ngawang Sangdrol, a nun who is the longest serving female political prisoner in Tibet, along with the nuns Ngawang Choezom (23) from Taktse and Ngawang Tenzin (24) from Jorenang are being kept in solitary confinement in Drapchi Prison and subjected to severe interrogation. Ngawang Choezom was from Chubsang Nunnery and was serving 11 years while Ngawang Tenzin was serving 5 years. Both were serving their term in Drapchi prison.
We still need to keep those cards and letters going out to "the powers that be," so, though space precludes a sample letter, please send letters to the Chairman of the Xizang Autonomous Regional People's Government:
Gyaltsen Norbu ZhurenUse "Dear Chairman" as your salutation. Please be courteous and respectful in your letter, identify yourself as a member of Amnesty International, briefly inform the Chairman of Ngawang Pekar's situation and your concerns regarding his imprisonment, and urge that he be immediately and unconditionally released.
Editor's Last Word:Submissions welcome. Deadline is generally the second Friday of the month, check to be sure. Read us on line: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039
Amnesty International works impartially to free 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.
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