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Amnesty International Group 22
Volume VI Number 10, October 1998

Table of Contents:

Coordinator's Corner

As stated in last month's newsletter, Revae Moran is stepping down as group coordinator to move to the Washington DC area with her husband, and I'm taking over the position (and this column with it). Revae's spirit has added tremendously to the group, and she'll be missed terribly! She was recently honored by the local AI Western Regional Office for her great contributions to human rights work, not only with our group, but also in numerous other capacities with AI activity in the LA area. We wish her the best in her new life, and look forward to keeping in touch.

I'm a bit nervous about taking over, but at the same time I'm looking forward to what promises to be a very exciting and challenging year for Amnesty work. After a series of excellent coordinators - Jim Smith, Martha Ter Maat, and Revae - the group is truly thriving, with a great sense of purpose, and loads of talent and energy.

We certainly have an exciting couple of months coming up! Our upcoming participation in the Doo-Dah parade - with the theme "Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People" - is gaining momentum, and there are indications that we'll get some serious publicity there for the group and for Amnesty International's work. We're making papier-mache animal masks, and our first mask-making adventure was a blast - even for klutzes who flunked first-grade art, such as yours truly. Be sure to come to the sequel on Sunday morning, Oct. 25, at 10 am! The parade itself is Sunday, Nov. 22. Thanks so much Martha for taking the lead on this wonderful project, and for coming up with the theme in the first place!

Plans are also in the works for a comic night (and fundraiser) at the Ice House, probably for the first week of December - stay tuned for details! Thanks to Saskia Feast for handling this.

Amnesty formally launched its long-awaited USA campaign on October 6, the first time AI has made human rights issues in the United States the focus of a country campaign. Emily Brodsky and Lucas Kamp will be coordinating our group's involvement in this year-long campaign, and Diane Prozeller has also volunteered to participate. The campaign has already generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm, and we can look forward to numerous special campaign-related events and actions in the course of the year to come.

As I write, the group's week-long Banned Books exhibit is going up at Borders Pasadena, raising the profile of authors and journalists imprisoned or persecuted for their writings. The display provides some general background, with actions and petitions for four specific cases of present concern - Aleksandr Nikitin in Russia, Daw San San Nwe in Myanmar, Ragip Duran in Turkey, and Solomon Namara, Tesfaye Deressa and Garuma Bekele in Ethiopia. Emily Brodsky and I handled this, with Emily doing most of the work - thanks Emily!

I hope to see all of you at our next group meeting, on Thursday, October 22, where we'll hear Martha's report from the Regional Conference in Portland, and discuss all our upcoming activities.

Finally, a warm welcome to Sandy To, Nick Parker, Seth Miller and Sriram Vishwanath, who joined us for last month's meeting.


Larry Romans
Group Coordinator

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  • October 12-16
    Banned Book Week at Borders - Hurry! We have arranged to have a table in Borders featuring writers imprisoned for their work. Stop by Borders on Lake Ave to sign the petitions and check out a few titles by formerly imprisoned writers. Our appreciation goes out to Borders in supporting this effort! Let's hope this is the beginning of many cooperative projects with this great bookstore.

  • Thursday, October 22, 7:30 PM.
    Monthly Meeting at 1052 E. Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor. Highlights: news from the Portland Regional Conference and the USA campaign, Doo-Dah, fund-raiser planning.

  • Sunday, October 25, 10:00 AM - ??
    Doo-Dah Mask Making. 1052 E. Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor. Come help us make masks, tails and signs for our animal parade entry in the Doo-Dah. Much lively conversation and plotting of parade tactics will be going on simultaneously with the creativity. As much fun as a barrel of monkeys! No artistic talent required! If you can't be there at 10:00 stop by later, as there is much to do!

  • Monday, November 2, 7:30 PM.
    Greater Los Angeles Area Development Meeting. AIUSA - Western Regional Office, 9000 W. Washington Blvd. in Culver City. All are welcome!

  • Tuesday, November 10, 7:30 PM.
    Letter-writing Meeting in the Athenaeum basement. Corner of California & Hill.

  • Sunday, November 22.
    It's Doo-Dah Day! If you plan to participate, see article elsewhere in the newsletter!
Fund-raiser update! We have been having some difficulty scheduling the Jimmy Tingle benefit performance. Stay tuned! We're not giving up yet!

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Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk

A couple of months ago we wrote of the Human Rights report card for China. One of the items is to sign and ratify the International Convenants on Economic, Social and Cultural rights and on Civil and Political rights. On October 5th China's UN ambassador Qin Huasun vowed his country would promote and protect human rights after signing the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in New York. This treaty should guarantee freedom of speech and protection against arbitrary detention and torture in China and its Regions. However China has yet to ratify this treaty and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which it signed last year. Ratification is the key to implementation of the treaty since the Chinese would then have to submit reports on how it is complying to the treaties. Although progress is slow this step deserves to be mentioned in our letters to the Foreign Minister about Ngawang Pekar.

Also the British Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has been on a 6 day visit to China this month. The prime minister's policy was to "avoid any explicit criticism of China's human rights record" since "persuasion and dialogue achieve more than confrontation and empty rhetoric." The visit included giving 8 Chinese students scholarships to study Human Rights Law at Nottingham University, UK. The program aims to exchange ideas on human rights, since "China has a very different understanding of human rights law compared to western countries" according to Yang Qinghuo, professor from the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. He has returned home amid much criticism of avoiding the human rights issues and going to get a good economic deal for the UK. "Mr Blair neglected a number of opportunities this week to address specific human rights publicly," said the director of Amnesty's British Section, David Bull.

However despite all the discussion in the press about human rights in China we continue to hear nothing about our POC in Tibet Autonomous Region, Nwagang Pekar, an approximately 38-year-old Buddhist monk from Drepung Monastery. In 1989, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and sentenced to 8 years in prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lhasa, in support of Tibetan independence, and shortly before he was due to be released he was sentenced to an additional 6 years for allegedly trying to smuggle out a list of other prisoners to international human rights organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that, like many others in Tibet, Ngawang Pekar has been imprisoned solely for peacefully voicing his conscience and that, during his incarceration, he has been subjected to gross mistreatment. This month we are suggesting a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tang Jiaxuan.

Remember, despite how you may feel, to maintain a respectful tone in your letter and that your sole aim in writing this letter is to aid Nwagang Pekar - Amnesty for good reason, takes no official position on Tibetan independence. Below is a letter which you may either copy or use as a rough guide in composing your own letter:

TANG Jiaxuan
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China
225 Chaoyangmenneidajie
Beijingshi 100701
People's Republic of China

Your Excellency,

Please allow me to express my concern about Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk being held in Prison No. 1 of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Ngawang Pekar was arrested in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Recently, his sentence was increased by 6 more years for keeping a list of his fellow prisoners. I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to medical care since his arrest. I am also concerned that the 6-year increase in his sentence was an extremely harsh punishment and that he was subsequently held in an iron cell for 3 months after the list was found.

I have read with enthusiasm that China has recently signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which demonstrates your commitment to guarantee freedom of speech and protection against arbitrary detention and torture in China and its Regions. In accordance with this treaty I respectfully urge you to request that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the steps China is taking to sign International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. I look forward to celebrating China's ratification of these treaties.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Address your letter to:

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China
TANG Jiaxuan
225 Chaoyangmenneidajie
Beijingshi 100701
People's Republic of China
Postage: 60-cents. Include your name and mailing address at the top of the letter in case you receive a reply, and please notify the Group 22 coordinator if a reply is received.

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Join us for Mask-Making!
Pay your fee, reserve your slot now!

You are all invited to a special Doo-Dah parade papier mâcheacute; animal mask-making session Sunday, October 25 at 10:00 AM in our usual meeting place, 1052 E. Del Mar, top floor. Lots of fun, no artistic talent required! Dress in your play clothes (we will be painting and much flour and water will be strewn about)

To review: The concept is ANIMALS FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF PEOPLE and we will be wearing masks and tails and carrying signs in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50th Anniversary.

Last but not least-- Bring $10 for your registration fee to march in the parade on November 22! If you cannot attend please send a check payable to "Amnesty International Group 22" to Martha Ter Maat, P.O. Box 7405, Alhambra, CA 91802. You MUST pay this in order to reserve your slot! It is very important for you to pay this fee so that we have a firm idea of the number of participants from our group and how many we need to recruit from other area AI groups.

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This month marks the beginning of the USA Campaign, the first time that Amnesty has launched a comprehensive international campaign on human rights violations in the United States. The campaign focuses on six issues: police brutality, prison conditions, the death penalty, refugee rights and foreign arms sales.

As residents of California, we should feel particularly obligated to examine the human rights issues in our own backyard. Amnesty International compiled a map of human rights violations by states and found more violations in California than any other state. We have some work to do! So keep your eyes and ears open for human rights issues in the local news and as an opener, write a letter for the refugee action elsewhere in this issue and raise the prison concerns in the sample postcard below to Attorney General Janet Reno:

Attorney General Janet Reno
Department of Justice
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Widespread anger and frustration at the levels of crime coupled with inflammatory political rhetoric have contributed to a climate that devalues the human rights or prisoners.

Physical and sexual violence and extortion are endemic in many prisons and jails. An in some facilities, it is the staff who have beaten and sexually abused inmates. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and coercion, abusive strip and pat searches and violations of their right to privacy.

Many prisons use methods of restraint that are cruel, degrading and in some cases life threatening. We are particularly concerned about the introduction of remote-controlled electro-shock stun belts for use on U.S. prisoners. The belt inflicts a powerful electrical current causing severe pain, instant incapacitation by knocking the prisoner to the ground and often causing involuntary urinary defecation and urination.

I urge you to ban all use of remote-controlled electro-shock stun belts on prisoners as these directly contravene international standards on the treatment of prisoners. I also urge you to endorse and work for the passage of federal legislation banning all sexual contact between female inmates and prison employees.


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Martha's Web Tips for October

This month we start with Emily's web tip for the USA campaign. Check out the official web site:

This includes the report text plus video intro. While you are there, you can print the Rights for All poster -

- and display it on your local bulletin board.

Also checkout Larry's Collection o' Links related to the campaign:

For my own contribution, I suggest:

National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty

This conference will take place Nov. 12-15 in Chicago. You can browse the conference program and wish you were there or flip to the list of wrongfully convicted men and women who were once on death row. Look for this conference to be in the news come mid November.

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Alleged Mistreatment of Detained Asylum Seeker
Yudaya NANYONGA, A# 76 187 175

Yudaya Nanyonga (A# 76 187 175) is a 20-year-old female asylum seeker from Uganda, currently held at the Wackenhut detention facility in Queens, NY. Amnesty International (AI) is deeply concerned about reports of her alleged mistreatment while detained in the York County Prison in Pennsylvania, under the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). We believe that what happened to Ms. Nanyonga illustrates how US indifference to international standards consistently leads to the violation of the rights of asylum seekers.

In an interview with Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Ms. Nanyonga relayed the following details of her treatment at the York County Prison. After being detained at the Wackenhut (Queens, NY) Detention Facility for over six months, she was transferred in June 1998 to the York County Prison without explanation. Once at York, she became extremely distraught upon learning of her assignment to the maximum-security section of the prison, and began crying uncontrollably out of fear. Prison officials responded by stripping her, injecting her with what seem to have been sedatives, handcuffing her spread-eagled in a four-point restraint to a cot, and injecting her once again. Ms. Nanyonga states that she regained consciousness two days later with no memory of how she had been removed from the restraints, nor any memory of how and when a bra and underwear had been put back on her. During her interview with AIUSA, Ms. Nanyonga appeared deeply troubled over her loss of memory.

A York prison official explained that Ms. Nanyonga was assigned to the prison's maximum-security section due to concerns that she might have been convicted of a crime. The INS contract facility from which she was transferred, however, does not detain so-called "criminal aliens." It appears that the jail was given no information regarding Ms. Nanyonga's status as an asylum seeker, and Ms. Nanyonga indicated to AIUSA representatives that a prison official disregarded her attempts to explain that status.

Several details of Ms. Nanyonga's story were confirmed by the York prison official. He indicated that she had been stripped, injected with some sort of sedative, and placed in four-point restraints due to her combative behavior. He stated that all actions were part of normal operating procedures and that "if this happened again, we would have pretty much the same recourse." He explained that these measures were taken for Ms. Nanyonga's own safety, as she kept saying that she wanted to kill herself. [Ms. Nanyonga told AIUSA that she was crying out of fear and said, "I wish I am dead . . . I did not say I would kill myself . . . I cannot kill myself."]

When Ms. Nanyonga was returned to maximum after three days, she was told by other inmates that "they heard [that the way she was treated] . . . was a lesson for others." Another non-governmental organization (NGO) representative reported to AIUSA that a York prison official commented that "Yudaya was being disciplined . . . [and] being made an example of, so other asylum seekers would know what would happen to them should they act as she did."

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Asylum seekers assert this right when they flee human rights abuses in their home countries. Ms. Nanyonga stated that she arrived in the US airport to seek asylum, carrying false or invalid documents. The INS detains asylum seekers if they arrive without valid travel documents, even though this may be the only way they can escape persecution. Under new immigration laws Ms. Nanyonga was detained and then subjected to a "credible fear" interview to see if she possessed the makings of an asylum claim. She apparently passed the interview, yet remained detained as she began the process of seeking asylum.*

The INS contracts with hundreds of local prisons through many of its regional and district offices. York County Prison is one such facility. It is located on the outskirts of York, Pennsylvania, several hours from the INS jurisdiction where Ms. Nanyonga had filed for asylum. Although the INS has now transferred her back to the Wackenhut (Queens) detention facility, she is now at a significant distance from the attorney she was able to secure while in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Nanyonga's case highlights some of the problems facing detained asylum seekers. Decisions to detain asylum seekers are made at the local (district) level, with little review -- judicial or otherwise. In addition, the INS does not distinguish between asylum seekers and other "aliens" (more appropriately referred to as "non- citizens") it detains. In their treatment of INS detainees, jails often fail to distinguish INS detainees from US criminals. Furthermore, jails and INS detention facilities regularly fail to distinguish INS detainees who are asylum seekers from INS detainees who have committed crimes.

Amnesty International's concern is that prolonged detention of persons like Ms. Nanyonga under the conditions she experienced may either be designed to or have the effect of discouraging persons needing protection from filing or pursing asylum claims. Our review of dozens of agreements between the INS and local jails has found no mention of any consideration of asylum seekers' special circumstances or the obligations which spring from the internationally recognized right to seek asylum. When confronted with this information, individuals at various levels of the INS have responded that the agency is a "guest of the local prison" and cannot dictate terms or conditions for the treatment of detainees. The result of these combined circumstances is an almost complete breakdown in accountability and ongoing oversight with respect to the rights of asylum seekers, whose status should be of special concern to US authorities.

The apparent failure of INS to inform the York prison of Ms. Nanyonga's status and their apparent ignorance of it appears to have precipitated the incident in question. Even if jail officials treated Ms. Nanyonga as prescribed under prison regulations, AI believes that such treatment is completely inappropriate for asylum seekers. Our organization assumes that the INS, as a contracting party that makes substantial payments to local authorities, can and should insist that those authorities respect asylum seekers' rights. The fact that jails often do not do this is one reason that - with rare exceptions - the INS should not place asylum seekers in jails.

Please send letters to the following officials as instructed (see below). Be sure to include Ms. Nanyonga's INS identification A-number (A# 76 187 175) in your correspondence.**

1) To INS Commissioner Doris Meissner:

  • Outline the apparent mistreatment of Ms. Nanyonga while in INS custody (refer to urgent action);

  • Urge her to investigate the incident immediately and to take all necessary corrective measures;

  • Suggest that INS review their York County Prison contract, and if it continues to contract with this prison, to include instructions as to appropriate treatment of asylum seekers in their agreement;

  • Note that reports of such treatment will have a chilling effect on asylum seekers' willingness to file or pursue asylum claims in the future;

  • Stress that this incident illustrates how inappropriate jails are for INS to hold asylum seekers; and,

  • Finally, 'cc:' Kristine Marcy and send her a copy of your letter to Commissioner Meissner (see below).

2) Write a separate letter to Senator Spencer Abraham, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration:

  • Ask him to share AI's concerns with the full Subcommittee on Immigration (include a copy of your letter to Commissioner Meissner and refer Senator Abraham to that letter for details);

  • Thank him for holding hearings on detention (you may note the hearing of the Subcommittee, 'INS Oversight and Reform: Detention,' held on September 16, 1998); and,

  • Urge him to continue this inquiry in the next Congressional session in 1999.


Doris Meissner, Commissioner
Immigration and Naturalization Service
425 I Street, NW, Suite 7100
Washington, D.C. 20536

(See action #2 above re letters to Sen. Abraham.)
Senator Spencer Abraham
Chair Senate Subcommittee on Immigration
329 Senate Dirksen Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
tel. (202) 224-4822
(You may also phone Sen. Abraham's office to express concern about this case.)

Ms. Kristine M. Marcy, Senior Counsel
United States Department of Justice
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Office of Field Operations
Detention and Deportation
425 I Street, NW, Suite 7114
Washington, D.C. 20536
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the Colorado office between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mountain Time weekdays only if sending appeals after November 15, 1998 (tel. 303-440-0913).

* NOTE: This action focuses on the conditions under which the INS has held an asylum seeker. At this stage, AIUSA has not taken a position on Ms. Nanyonga's asylum claim, as we have not yet received details of why she fled Uganda. AIUSA's research and action cover two areas of US asylum policies and practices: (1) Adjudication - AIUSA offers documentation and, on occasion, support of individual claims and monitors asylum decision-making; and, (2) Detention and other deterrent measures - AIUSA investigates and comments on detention practices and policies and how they affect the rights of asylum seekers to file and pursue their claims. AIUSA cites individual cases of detained asylum seekers to highlight practices which violate international standards. (return to text)

** Please send AIUSA's National Refugee Office a copy of your letter and copies of any response(s) you might receive as tracking letters and responses could be used for other advocacy efforts. National Refugee Office, Amnesty International USA, 500 Sansome Street, Suite 615, San Francisco, CA 94111. (return to text)

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Editor's Last Word:

Read us on line:

Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039

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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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