Volume VIII Number 1, January 2000
In This Issue
Prisoner of Conscience
Just Earth Network
Alexandar Nikitin Released!
Human Rights Discussion Group
California Execution Alert
Tennessee Death Penalty Case
Thursday, January 27, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting at 1052 E. Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor.
Sunday, February 6, 7:30 PM. Human Rights Book Discussion Group at Borders Books on S. Lake Avenue. Join us for a discussion about Juvenile Justice in Los Angeles and Prop 21. Details about the book inside.
Tuesday, February 8, 7:30 PM. Letter-writing Meeting in the Athenaeum basement. Corner of California & Hill.
February 1-29: exhibit of
Tibet photographs by Valina Dismukes at Pasadena Public Library, 285 E.
Happy new year! I hope everyone can make it to our first monthly meeting of the year (Thursday, Jan. 27), now that we're all wonderfully refreshed from the vacation season, armed with fresh resolutions to work harder to fight against human rights abuses around the world! Well anyway, it'll be nice to see each other again to discuss our plans for the year. The new year promises to be just as challenging and exciting as the last, in terms of the work our group expects to address.
We'll be immediately facing an issue which connects with last year's USA campaign. Part of that campaign focussed on serious concerns with the administration of Juvenile Justice in the US, and Proposition 21, on the California ballot this March, threatens to make the situation in our state even more extreme. We'll need to decide upon an appropriate response to this threat. Serendipitously, February's reading group selection (Sunday, Feb. 6) will provide us with excellent background material -- please come to Borders and participate in the discussion! It's nice if you have a chance to read the book beforehand, but it's sure to be an interesting and important discussion anyway.
With the new year, our group is starting two exciting initiatives: first, Nora D'Angiola is coordinating our participation in the South Andes Regional Action Network, dealing with human rights issues in Peru and Bolivia. Also, Veronica Raymond is coordinating our group's involvement in a new joint program with the Sierra Club, addressing human rights violations on environmental activists around the world. We'll be hearing much more about both these programs in the months to come, along with the approaching campaign on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
Last year ended with some very good news about an environmental defender and long-standing Amnesty case: Aleksandr Nikitin was finally acquitted in a Russian court on December 29. For four years after his co-authorship of a report on radioactive contamination of the North Sea and dangerous conditions related to the Russian fleet based there, Nikitin suffered intermittent imprisonment, harassment and various restrictions, in the course of a remarkably heavy-handed prosecution for completely untenable charges of treason. Our group has actively organized and participated in a number of actions on his behalf over the years -- thank you for your help with this!
Be sure to drop by the main Pasadena Public Library some time in February! Valina Dismukes, a local photographer, will have her photos of Tibet on display for the entire month, along with material related to our prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar. It would be wonderful if this year could be the year of his release! Please continue to write letters on his behalf, and also for the other actions in the newsletter -- either on your own, or with us in our next letter-writing meeting (on Tuesday, Feb. 8; see the calendar). How about making a resolution?
Larry Romans 626-683-4977
Group Coordinator email@example.com
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 continues to work for the release of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 36-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drepung Monastery.
Although we have no recent information regarding Ngawang Pekar's current status and condition, in a certain sense "no news is good news," as the deaths and sentence extensions of a number of other Tibetan prisoners have recently been reported. This month, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), based in Dharamsala, India, released its annual report on the human rights situation in Tibet for the year 1999. Although the following information has not been confirmed by Amnesty International, among TCHRD's findings were that:
* 615 known political prisoners are currently imprisoned in various Chinese prisons in Tibet. Of these, 62 are serving sentences of ten years or more.
* China continued to use charges of "endangering state security" to suppress freedom of expression in Tibet. 130 Tibetans were arrested last year for exercising this right.
* There have been reports of the use of torture in almost every institution of the state. Six torture related deaths occurred in 1999.
* Last year, 1,432 monks and nuns were expelled from their religious institutions for defying Chinese "work team" orders to denounce the Dalai Lama and oppose those who advocate independence for Tibet.
* In 1999, 2,474 Tibetans fled Tibet to escape China's oppressive policies.
On a somewhat more encouraging note, Amnesty International recently received a statement from 29-year-old Gaden Tashi, a Tibetan who was imprisoned and tortured in Drapchi Prison (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1). Tashi is now working for the TCHRD in Kathmandu, and his statement included the following:
"The oppressive policy of the Chinese government in Tibet towards the political prisoners were constantly opposed and criticized worldwide by the Amnesty International (AI) and many other organizations, with thorough research and understanding of the human rights situation in Tibet, and campaigning impartially against it for the cause of the human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The AI work along its actions has greatly helped the Tibetan political prisoners in lessening their sufferings and torture from the hands of Chinese prison authorities and in many cases succeeded in bringing medical release for the injured and wounded prisoners for getting treated outside of prison. The AI work has also benefited lots of other prisoners around the world in protecting their basic human rights and saving their lives from torture.
Regarding my case, I was arrested on the charge of staging a 'peaceful demonstration' in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, on 5th March 1988 and I was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment by the Chinese authorities in Drapchi Prison, which is located in north-east of Lhasa. I was tortured inhumanely in prison and maimed for a long time until I was released on a medical parole because of 'concerns' and 'actions' taken by AI and other organizations regarding my state in prison. If I were not released on medical parole at the time, I probably would have died in prison and nobody will know about it."
As you can see from the above, our actions often DO make a difference.
You may be aware that retired admiral Joseph Prueher was recently sworn in as the new US ambassador to China. This month, we request that you write to Ambassador Prueher to inform him of Ngawang Pekar's case and to request his assistance in the matter. Below is a sample letter that you can either copy verbatim or, preferably, use as a guide in composing your own letter:
Dear Mr. Ambassador:
First, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recent appointment as US ambassador to China. Second, as a member of Amnesty International and a firm believer in the principles delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I would like to bring to your attention the case of a prisoner being held in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1. The prisoner's name is NGAWANG PEKAR.
Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lhasa and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Subsequently, his sentence was increased by an additional 6 years. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his universally recognized right to freedom of expression. I am further deeply concerned about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to medical care since his arrest and that the 6-year increase in his sentence, following 3 months in an iron isolation cell, was an extremely harsh punishment for keeping a list of his fellow prisoners.
As we have received no new information about Ngawang Pekar for well over one year, I and a number of others are quite worried about his current condition and treatment. In August of 1999, US Congressman James Rogan wrote to President Jiang Zemin to express his concern about Pekar's case, but he apparently never received a reply. Therefore, in your future dealings with the Chinese authorities, I respectfully request that you attempt to obtain some information regarding Ngawang Pekar's current status and condition. Further, I would request that you urge them to review Pekar's case and immediately and unconditionally release him in accordance with the international laws to which China subscribes. The question of the legitimacy of Chinese rule over Tibet is not at issue here.
I thank you for your attention and assistance in this important matter and look forward to your reply. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.
Address your letter to:
Ambassador Joseph Prueher
Embassy of the United States of America
3 Xiushui Bei Jie
People's Republic of China
Just Earth Network
Urge Unocal to Denounce Forced Labor in Burma
The military dictatorship of Burma has contracted with US-based Unocal and France-based Total to build the Yadana gas pipeline to bring offshore natural gas through Burma and into neighboring Thailand. The Burmese military has been accused repeatedly of forcing villagers to work on the pipeline construction and of severely harassing and relocating numerous people, mainly members of ethnic minorities, who live in the pipeline zone.
Because of increased international attention to the project, in conjunction with the economic downturn in South East Asia, gas has yet to flow through the pipeline... As long as Unocal and Total have a presence in Burma, they have a responsibility to publicly condemn the use of forced labor in Burma.
Roger C. Beach
Chief Executive Officer
2141 Rosencrans Ave.
El Segundo, CA 90245
WEB TIPS FOR FEBRUARY
Defend those who give
the earth a voice
Here's the joint website for the
AI and Sierra Club campaign to defend the human rights of environmentalists
around the globe.
More info about the subject of
the Denzel Washington flick, "The Hurricane." Rubin "Hurricane Carter has
been honored by Death Penalty Focus of California for his work on behalf
of the wrongfully imprisoned and made a joint appearance with Pierre Sane,
the Secretary General of Amnesty International at a recent screening of
the film at the United Nations.
FRONTLINE: The Case for Innocence
Another great entry in the PBS
Frontline series, this documentary recently examines why courts continue
to hold prisoners whose DNA rules them out as suspects.
Alexandr Nikitin Released!
Human rights and environmental
activists had cause for celebration as they received news of Aleksandr
Nikitin's acquittal on December 29th by the St. Petersburg City Court.
Nikitin had been charged with espionage for revealing nuclear safety hazards
aboard aging Russian submarines to the Norwegian environmental organization
Bellona. After four years of investigations and harassment, two trials
and eight indictments, the court ruled that there was no legal basis for
the Federal Security Service's indictment and criticized the manner in
which the investigations had been carried out. Nikitin, who was under city
arrest and forbidden to leave St. Petersburg, will be able to reunite with
his family. Activists around the globe had been working to urge the Russian
government to drop all charges against Nikitin and investigate the alleged
harassment of the environmental activist. While the acquittal gives hope
that the Russian government will curtail its suppression of non-governmental
organizations, similar harassment of other activists demonstrate the need
for continued vigilance.
Russian Federation: Chechen Republic
Humanity is indivisible
Open Letter to the United Nations from the Secretary General of Amnesty International
Amnesty International is deeply concerned about the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in Chechnya and surrounding republics and calls on the United Nations to ensure more urgent and sustained international action in response to the developing crisis in the region according to its principles as set out in its Charter, in international human rights and humanitarian law and in recent resolutions of the Security Council. Such action is essential to protect the thousands of civilians whose rights are being violated in Chechnya as a result of the ongoing conflict.
The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted in his address to the General Assembly: "If the new commitment to intervention in the face of extreme suffering is to retain the support of the world's peoples, it must be -- and be seen to be -- fairly and consistently applied, irrespective of region or nation. Humanity, after all, is indivisible."
The muted reaction of the international community to the effects of the conflict on the civilian population of Chechnya stands in stark contrast also to much that has been heard at the United Nations in recent weeks and months on the issue of protecting civilians in conflict and other situations of mass violations of human rights.
The continuing bombing in Chechnya carried out by the Russian military over recent weeks has resulted in civilian casualties and in the flight of thousands of people from the Chechen Republic. The air raids began in September following the apartment explosions in Moscow and two other Russian cities, which killed at least 292 people, and which have been attributed by the Russian Government to Islamic groups from the Chechen Republic, but for which no group has yet claimed responsibility.
In September Russian law enforcement officials and local authorities in Moscow and other big cities launched what appeared to be a massive intimidation campaign to enforce the unlawful practice of "resident permits" or "registration", which allegedly targeted mainly Chechens and other people from the Caucasus. Amnesty International has received reports over the past two months which indicated arbitrary detention and expulsion, including incidents of ill-treatment in custody of Chechens and other people from the Caucasus by Russian law enforcement officials and the local authorities in Moscow and other big cities in the Russian Federation. The organization has emphasized to the Russian authorities that "fighting crime and terrorism" is no justification for violating human rights.
[This article is a summary. For
more information and the full text of the letter see www.amnestyusa.org.]
Human Rights Book Discussion Group
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue
Sunday, February 6, 7:30 PM
Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
by Edward Humes
A convincingly reported, profoundly disturbing discussion of the Los Angeles juvenile court's multifarious failings, providing terrifying evidence of the underbudgeted system's inability to make even a reasonable stab at rehabilitating troubled young offenders. Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Humes spent a year attending hearings and trials and talking with the most dedicated lawyers, judges, and probation officers in L.A.'s juvenile justice system. -Kirkus Reviews
"There are many admirable things about
Mr. Humes's book, which, despite its grim subject matter, has a narrative
power that keeps you reading right to the end. One of them is that Mr.
Humes is a shrewd and perceptive observer of his young subjects ... [and
he] allows himself to feel sympathy for the young people whose lives and
crimes he describes.... At the same time, Mr. Humes never exonerates bad
children for their badness." -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times
Sunday, March 5, 7:30 PM
in the Andes
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Alternating points of view give meaningful
structure to a disturbing new novel by Vargas Llosa, the great Peruvian
writer. Guerrillas, army officers, environmentalists, a bizarre witch and
her equally strange husband, and even a couple of French tourists all have
their roles to play as the author fashions a plot centering on the mysterious
killing of three men in a remote village. Finding the killer is the framework
upon which the author develops a pageant of contemporary Peruvian society,
a violent environment where even baby vicunas are not exempt from needless
slaughter. For North American readers, Vargas Llosa's novel puts faces
on, supplies reasons and motives behind, and imparts a history of the terrorism
that has plagued Peru in recent years-a situation most of us see only as
an inconvenience to traveling there. This pungent work of fiction imparts
the real picture, a moving depiction of the strengths and weaknesses in
the fabric of Andean culture. - Booklist
California Execution Alert!
Darrell Rich, convicted of 4 murders in Shasta County, lost a Supreme Court appeal and could become the next prisoner executed in California.
Rich sexually assaulted and killed four girls and young women in the Redding area between June and August 1978. He did not deny most of the attacks and offered a defense based on his mental condition.
A federal appeals court upheld his death sentence last March, rejecting defense arguments that Rich's defense was hampered by financial pressures imposed by the county on his trial lawyer.
The high court, without comment,
denied review of his case. Prosecutors will set an execution date in February
Watch for vigil and action information in the next newsletter!
Tennessee: Death penalty / Legal concern
Philip Ray Workman, aged 45
Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed in Tennessee on 6 April 2000. There are serious doubts about whether he is guilty of the crime for which he has been sentenced to die. Tennessee has not carried out an execution since 1960.
Workman was convicted of the first-degree murder of a police officer, Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, during an after-hours robbery of a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, on 5 August 1981. Ronald Oliver and two other officers, Aubrey Stoddard and Steven Parker, were the first to arrive at the scene. As Workman fled, shots were fired and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet. Stoddard was hit in the right arm.
At the 1982 trial Workman testified that he fell as he ran across the car park, attempted to surrender, and was struck on the head by an officer. Workman stated that he fired his gun twice, once in the air, and then at a person who had fired at him. Officers Stoddard and Parker testified that they had not fired their weapons, but that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver. The prosecution presented testimony from an alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, who stated that he had parked his car in the restaurant car park and was three metres away when he saw Workman shoot Oliver. He said that he stayed as 'a bunch' of police officers arrived. The defense lawyers accepted the police version, conducted no forensic or ballistics analysis and did not investigate Davis. At the sentencing phase of the trial, they presented no mitigating evidence, for example of the physical abuse Workman had suffered as a child, and his drug addiction as an adult.
While Workman has never denied responsibility for creating the situation in which Oliver was killed, evidence has emerged since trial that discredits the testimony of Stoddard, Parker and Davis, and raises the possibility that the fatal shot may have been fired by a fellow police officer rather than by Workman. This evidence has never been heard in open court:
1. Harold Davis has retracted his testimony. In November 1999, he stated that police coerced him, under threat of physical harm, to lie about what he had seen. He now states that he was not in the car park at the time of the shooting, a claim backed up by a former girlfriend. Other evidence supports Davis's recantation: no reporters, police or members of the public who were witnesses recalled seeing Davis or his car, which was allegedly in the middle of an otherwise vacant car park.
2. A witness, a member of the public, who did not testify at the trial due to illness, signed a statement in 1995 that he had a clear view of the car park and that he had not seen Davis, but had seen Officer Parker fire his shotgun at Workman. Hospital records indicate that Workman was treated for a shotgun wound after capture. The jury were told that the only shots fired at the scene came from Workman's and Oliver's revolvers. Stoddard's and Parker's revolvers were not examined in the investigation of the crime.
3. Two ballistics experts have stated that the fatal bullet could not have come from Workman's gun. They state that the type of bullets he was using expand on entering a human body, and, if they exit, leave a bigger exit wound than the entry wound. The exit wound on Lt Oliver was half the size of the entry wound. In 1998, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that there was 'no doubt' that the fatal bullet could not have come from Workman's gun if it had left Oliver's body whole. Although all the evidence, uncontested, indicates that the bullet did exit whole, the Court nonetheless speculated that the bullet may have fragmented.
Setting Workman's execution date, the state Supreme Court noted that it was powerless to consider the new evidence. Two of the judges expressed concern about the case. Justice Birch said that due to 'extenuating circumstances', the Governor should commute Workman's sentence. Justice Drowata, suggesting that Workman's death sentence is disproportionate, said: '...the circumstances of this case are by no means as egregious as most of the death penalty cases I have reviewed [and] are less egregious than many of the life sentences I have reviewed... The date set for execution... affords the Governor sufficient time to carefully consider any executive clemency application that may be filed...'
Workman's appeal lawyers have recently obtained affidavits from five of the eight trial jurors who say that they would not have voted for death if they had known of the issues discovered since trial. Lt Oliver's daughter has given a statement opposing the execution; his ex-wife also opposes the death sentence being carried out.
TAKE ACTION: Write letters in your own words:
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, and stating that you do not condone violent crime;
- expressing deep concern that Philip Ray Workman is scheduled for execution, despite serious concerns about his guilt which have not been the subject of an evidentiary hearing;
- noting expert testimony that the fatal bullet could not have come from Workman's gun, and witness testimony indicating that it was not only Lt Oliver's and Workman's guns which were fired at the scene;
- noting that Harold Davis has recanted his eyewitness testimony, and noting that other evidence supports his recantation;
- noting the views of Justices Drowata and Birch;
- noting that several jurors have signed affidavits that they would not have voted for death if they had been presented with the new evidence;
- noting that 84 death row prisoners have been found to have been wrongfully convicted in the USA since 1973;
- urging the Governor to grant clemency to Philip Workman.
The Honourable Don Sundquist
Office of the Governor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Fax: 1 615 532 9711
Tel: 1 615 741 2001
Editor's Last Word:
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / firstname.lastname@example.org