Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News

Volume VIII Number 5, May 2000

In This Issue
Upcoming Events
Coordinator's Corner
May Websites
Prisoner of Conscience: Ngawang Pekar
Just Earth
Rights Readers
Saudia Arabia
Sierra Leone URGENT



Sunday, May 21, 1:00-7:00 PM Interfaith Death Penalty Conference at USC Hillel and Catholic Centers. Call Kate Carter: 213-637-7402 or

Thursday, May 25, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting at 1052 E. Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor.

Sunday, June 4, 7:30 PM. Human Rights Book Discussion Group at Borders Books on S. Lake Avenue. Join us for a Tiananmen anniversary discussion of Orville Schell's Mandate of Heaven. Details about the book inside.

Monday, June 5, Watch Well Founded Fear on PBS "P.O.V"! At newsletter press time KCET's website would not divulge their June schedule so you will need to consult TV listings.

Tuesday, June 13, 7:30 PM. Letter-writing Meeting in the Athenaeum basement. Corner of California & Hill.

Saturday, June 17. Run for Freedom in Orange County, volunteers (and runners!) needed! Contact Larry for details.

Saturday, June 24. Stay tuned for details about a major Tibet Event! Contact Larry for details.

Coordinator's Corner


Last month, Amnesty International released a report on the recent harsh crackdown on religious freedom in China, particularly against Falun Gong and related groups. For our April monthly meeting, I invited John Jianzhong Li, a graduate student at Caltech and the leader of the local Falun Gong club, to give an overview of the situation, and also to discuss his direct experience of Chinese intimidation. Representatives of the Chinese government have repeatedly exerted pressure on American organizations and corporations to take uncooperative stances toward Falun Gong. Caltech itself has been pressured to take down the local Falun Club's web site

( and cancel its events. There's never any question that the group is completely legal and peaceful; the only reason given is they are illegal in China. To Caltech's credit, this pressure was firmly rejected at the highest levels. Unfortunately, this commitment to freedom of expression and religion, putatively at the very foundation of our society, appears to be the exception.

Group member Emily Brodsky had the idea to write a letter of appreciation to David Baltimore (president of Caltech) and Christopher Brennen (V.P. for student affairs), both of whom were personally involved in the matter. Lucas Kamp took the lead in drafting the letter, which we further edited at letter-writing; please consider adding your signature to it at the monthly meeting.

On the topic of human rights in China, please send a letter to Jiang Zemin on behalf of our prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar, imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa. And please make a point of joining us at Borders on June 4, the 11th anniversary of the Tienanmen massacre, where we will discuss "Mandate of Heaven" by Orville Schell.

At letter-writing earlier this month, we heard from Sonali Kolhatkar about two Afghani women who will be visiting Southern California next month, including a speaking engagement planned for June 22 at Caltech. These women are activists working against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which is infamous for its fanatically strict (and often arbitrary) interpretation of religious law, with especially devastating effects on women. For example, women are outlawed from working, or even venturing out of the home without elaborate covering and appropriate chaperoning; violations are punished extremely harshly. Amnesty International has played a major role in exposing and publicizing the situation there, and in our meeting this month we will discuss possibilities for participating in the upcoming event at Caltech. See you there!


Larry Romans 626-683-4977/


Well Founded Fear


This website for the PBS documentary series "P.O.V." supplements a film scheduled to air on June 5. Amnesty is a partner in this effort to publicize the screening process for U.S. asylum applicants. The website lets you make the decision for asylum after hearing testimony in a variety of cases. Group 22 may offer a video discussion opportunity on the film in the near future!


Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk


Group 22 continues to work for the release of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), a Tibetan Buddhist monk. In 1989, he was arrested by Chinese authorities for participating in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa, Autonomous in support of Tibetan independence.

Ngawang Pekar is imprisoned in Drapchi Prison (Tibet Autonomous Prison No. 1) outside of Lhasa. In May of 1998, pro-independence demonstrations within the prison resulted in severe human rights abuses being inflicted upon the prisoners, including at least 10 deaths. A recent report by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) provides further information on the above demonstrations, and their aftermath, including the names of 11 prisoners whose sentences were increased. As Pekar remains unmentioned, we can only continue to hope that he is doing okay.

Further recent developments regarding the 1998 Drapchi demonstrations concern the actions of the Chinese authorities, who until just this month denied that the incidents even occurred! On 5 May, the Chinese delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture in Helvetica finally acknowledged that the demonstrations had indeed taken place. However, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, they denied that any human rights abuses had taken place and stated that "The allegation that the Chinese Government applies torture in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities is groundless."

Despite aggressive lobbying on the part of the US, on 18 April the US sponsored resolution condemning China's record of human rights abuses again met with the passage of a "no action motion" at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Helvetica. However, this still leaves the issue of whether or not to grant China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with the US, a matter currently before Congress and strongly favored by the US administration. If PNTR is granted, it will remove one of the few remaining mechanisms through which the US can influence China's compliance with human rights standards. In what may be an indication of the importance China attaches to this matter, on 29 April Chinese authorities released Tiananmen dissident Chen Lantao some seven years before the termination of his 18 year sentence for "counter-revolutionary crimes."

Considering the current political situation, we request that you again write to President JIANG Zemin, on behalf of Ngawang Pekar, informing him of Pekar's case, urging him to see to it that Pekar is released in a timely manner, and reminding him that cases such as Pekar's are one reason for the current debate in Congress regarding PNTR. To back this up, it is recommended that you cc copies of the letter to your Members of Congress. Below is a sample letter that you can either copy verbatim or, preferably, use as a guide in composing your own letter:

Your Excellency:

As a firm believer in the principles delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am writing to you out of concern for 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 Lasashi 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 you are aware, there is currently a heated debate occurring in the US Congress regarding granting China permanent normal trade relations with the US, and cases such as Ngawang Pekar's are one of the reasons for this debate. I therefore respectfully urge you to request that Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with the international laws to which China is signatory. I further request that he be allowed access to independent non-governmental agencies so that his current state of well-being may be determined and made known.

I thank you for your attention to this important matter and would greatly appreciate any further information that your office may be able to provide.


cc: Senator Barbara Boxer

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Representative . . . .

Address your letter to:

JIANG Zemin Guojia Zhuxi


People's Republic of China

Just Earth Network

Excerpts from Nikitin Interview


Russian human rights and environmental defender, Aleksandr Nikitin recently granted an interview to Pnina Levermore of the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal.

Alexander, congratulations on the outcome of your trial. Do you believe that it reflects a growing commitment in Russia to the rule of law?

First of all, thank you for the unwavering support of your organizations. For the moment, I think this is a single, individual case. But I do not think it was directed at me personally. In terms of Russia's legal system, this is an isolated verdict, one that we struggled four years, six months and 12 days to attain. It was a very difficult and bitter struggle, fighting for my rights centimeter by centimeter. In the end, our legal position was very strong. I doubt that any judge could have justly argued with our position. Of course, they could always have compromised themselves. But it is now clear that there are judges in Russia who will not compromise, but who will stand firm and base their decisions on the rule of law and the Constitution.

This is a hopeful sign for our country. I believe that important organizations like yours should acknowledge judicial decisions such as these, along with the judges who make them. These judges should be recognized and honored by the world community. They should be invited to international meetings of lawyers and jurists.

These seedlings of democracy and rule of law in Russia must be strengthened. The Supreme Court's decision to uphold Judge Golets' verdict confirms that he was adhering to the law. As Yuri Schmidt (Nikitin's primary lawyer -pl) said, to have annulled the judge's verdict would have required annulling the Constitution. This was something the Supreme Court clearly was not prepared to do.

There, in response to your question, I repeat that the court's decision was not personally directed at me. Some in the media say that the decision was politically motivated. But I believe that it was based on the law. Although there was much Russian and international public attention focused on my case, I believe that no group could or should dictate to a court how it should behave. The court is an independent entity and in any country, including Russia, it must operate independently. Nobody has the right to try to compromise that independence.

What do you think the Prosecutor General will do now?

The answer to that lies in the Supreme Court's decision of April 17th. My vindication is unconditional. I no longer stand accused. I may freely do as I choose and go where I wish. I am a free man. By law, the Procurator's office has one year to file a protest with the Presidium of the Supreme Court. But this does not affect me or restrict me in any way. The Procurator's office has that right, but I think they will not use it, because they would not have the slightest chance of succeeding. Of course, there is no way to predict what they will do. The Prosecutor General insisted passionately that he will use his right to appeal. But I think this was just an emotional outburst. I suggest he carefully review the material of my case in order to understand how NOT to conduct a case in the future.

Tell us about your plans for the near future.

Nikitin: Our plans are huge. We have two major environmental projects and a few human rights projects that are currently being developed. Two days ago in St. Petersburg, we registered a large non-profit organization called Coalition of the Environment and Human Rights. The Coalition unites virtually all environmental and human rights organizations in Russia. The founders' meeting included representatives from Kamchatka, Vladivastok, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Ekaterinburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and others. The organization does not have a central management. Instead, it allows environmentalists and human rights workers to join together to address environmental and human rights problems. We are now officially registered with a certificate of registration. We will be guided by a board of directors, which currently consists of three people, including me. We must now consider how to proceed.

The basic goal of our organization is to defend the human rights of the environmentalists who are currently being harassed for their environmental work. We know of many such people, and there are even some we do not know about. They are being harassed not only by the FSB, but by local town and village authorities. They rae being fired illegally from their jobs, and until now they have had nowhere to turn for help. That is what prompted us to create the Coalition to begin with.

Why do you think the Russian authorities are harassing people who are genuinely concerned about the condition of the environment?

The authorities generally do not like the activities of non-profit environmental and human rights organizations, and they try to inhibit their activities in any way they can. They conduct inspections, make it difficult for organizations to re-register, and harass their members.

The authorities can break each of us individually. Then we would all lose. But we can counter their harassment if we unite, and we must work together to lay out an effective plan of action.
Rights Readers: A Human Rights Book Discussion Group


Borders Books & Music

475 South Lake Avenue Pasadena, California




Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders

by Orville Schell


In June we commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre with this insightful work of reportage on the demonstrations and their aftermath.

In Mandate of Heaven Orville Schell, one of America's foremost China specialists, brilliantly documents the new power structures, economic initiatives, and cultural changes that have transformed China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. Schell takes readers on a series of journeys inside this latter-day People's Republic and introduces us to a broad spectrum of people, from students and workers to entrepreneurs, pop stars, and party officials, who, although they acted out the drama of the Square, are now playing the prominent roles in China's high-speed economic rush into the future.


End Secrecy - End Suffering


Under the banner "End Secrecy - End Suffering," Amnesty International's Saudi Arabia Campaign launched on 28 March. This international campaign is a response to 20 years of evidence that gross systematic human rights violations were occurring in Saudi Arabia, violations about which the international community as a whole has remained silent due to economic considerations and Saudi Arabia's militarily strategic location.

The Saudi's have responded quickly and positively to the campaign. To the international community via the media they have said:

Although these developments are welcome, at this stage they are little more than words, and Amnesty feels that continued pressure needs to be applied to produce concrete results. Below is a specific campaign issue, with a suggested action:

Political Prisoners - No dissent allowed

"Such will be the fate of anyone who breaches any aspect of our religion... or endangers the security enjoyed by this country..."

This statement was made by the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry when announcing the execution of 'Abdullah 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hudayf, a Saudi Arabian, in August 1995. 'Abdullah 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hudayf had been charged with having connections with a banned opposition party and attacking a police officer. He was held incommunicado, denied access to a lawyer and convicted after a secret trial.

Saudi Arabia does not permit any criticism of the state. Vague laws on "sabotage" and "terrorism" are used to prosecute perceived government opponents. No political organizations are allowed. Even trade unions and independent bar associations are not allowed. Any challenge to official policy invariably results in retaliatory action involving the violation of basic human rights.

Over the years, thousands of people have been detained for their political beliefs or activities. Today, there are probably between 100 and 200 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, in Saudi Arabia's jails. Political suspects are often arrested with unnecessary violence, tortured and held incommunicado for prolonged periods. Some have been executed. Others have fled the country on their release fearing further persecution.

Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-'Awda and Sheikh Safr 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali were arrested in September 1994 for their religious and political opposition activities. Following their arrest, the Interior Ministry stated: "Security forces have arrested... [them] after about one year of attempts to convince... [them] to repent their extremist ideas... which threaten the unity of the Islamic society in the Kingdom, or to stop giving such speeches, holding conferences and distributing tapes..." They were released in June 1999, apparently without charge or trial.

Members of religious minorities are not able to practice freely their beliefs in public and are at risk of arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation even if they do so in private. Shi'a Muslims risk arrest if they possess Shi'a religious books or commemorate Shi'a religious events. Those promoting rights for Shi'a Muslims have been detained and tortured. Christians and members of other faiths have also been targeted. In October 1999, 13 Filipinos were arrested while participating in private Christian services. They were held incommunicado for a few weeks before being released without charge or trial. Amnesty International believes they were prisoners of conscience, held like many others solely for the peaceful expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.

Waleed al-Sinani, a father of six, has reportedly been in detention without trial since his arrest in 1995. Amnesty International fears that his arrest was related to his political beliefs, in particular statements he had made concerning the government and human rights. He may be a prisoner of conscience.

Write to the Saudi Arabian authorities and, while acknowledging their current welcome gestures regarding human rights issues, ask them to:

Send your letters to:

His Excellency Dr 'Abdullah bin

Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh

Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice

University Street

Riyadh 11137 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Salutation: Your Excellency


Write or Call President Clinton!


President Bill Clinton

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington DC 20500


Phone the White House Comment Line: 202-456-1414

Amnesty International USA calls on President Clinton to acknowledge that the Lomé agreement is beyond repair, and to provide the leadership and resources to ensure that any new peace is built on justice and accountability.  "The United States has demonstrated a lack of engagement with the realities of ensuring justice and peace in Sierra Leone," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of AIUSA. "This is an opportunity to set a new policy that protects the human rights and safety of the citizens of Sierra Leone."

The July 1999 Lomé agreement, which the Clinton administration continues to support, failed the people of Sierra Leone by providing a blanket amnesty for human rights violations committed during eight years of conflict. It perpetuated a desperate cycle of brutal violence and atrocities, followed by reward to the perpetrators in the form of impunity, government posts, and wealth from the diamond trade.

For more on Sierra Leone visit:

Editor's Last Word:

Read us on line:

Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039/