Volume VIII Number 5, May 2000
In This Issue
Prisoner of Conscience: Ngawang Pekar
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
(http://www.its.caltech.edu/~falun) 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/ email@example.com
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!
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), 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:
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
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
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
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.
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue Pasadena, California
JUNE 4, 7:30 PM
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
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
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
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:
Read us on line:
Martha Ter Maat, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read us on line: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, email@example.com