Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XIV Number 11, November-December 2006


Thursday, November 30, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting Caltech Y is located off 
San Pasqual between Hill and Holliston, south side. You will see two 
curving walls forming a gate to a path-- our building is just beyond. 
Help us plan future actions on Sudan, the War on Terror, death penalty 
and more.

Saturday, December 9, 8:00 AM-2:00 PM. International Human Rights Day 
Global Write-a-thon. Amnesty International activists around the world 
will be writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, torture 
victims, and other Amnesty campaigns. They will also be sending holiday 
postcards to prisoners of conscience, to encourage them and keep their 
spirits up. We'll be doing our part at Cafe Culture in Pasadena, 1359 
North Altadena Drive (just north of the intersection of Altadena Drive & 
Washington Boulevard). Please plan to visit us there for a cup of 
coffee, conversation, and to write a letter or postcard to defend human 

Sunday, December 17, 6:30 PM. Rights Readers Human Rights Book 
Discussion Group. Special Location this Month! Please email for directions. This month we read Hiner Saleem's My 
Father's Rifle (More below.)

Tuesday, January 9, 7:30 PM. Letter-writing Meeting at the Athenaeum. 
Corner of California & Hill. We meet downstairs in the cafeteria. This 
informal gathering is a great way for newcomers to get acquainted with 

Sunday, January 21, 6:30 PM. Rights Readers Human Rights Book Discussion 
Group. Vroman's Book Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. This 
month we read Sandra Benitez' Bitter Grounds (More below.)


Group 22 has some holiday recommendations for you! First and foremost, 
put our December 9 Global Write-a-thon at Café Culture on your calendar! 
This is our second year for this special letter-writing session on 
behalf of human rights defenders to mark International Human Rights Day. 
Drop in any time between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM and write one postcard or a 
Last year our Write-a-thon focused on the Holiday Card Action and this 
year will be no different. We have a sample card action in this 
newsletter for the late Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Rights 
Readers will be reading her book, Putin's Russia, in March. It will be 
coming out in paper on Dec. 26, so we recommend that you use any gift 
certificates towards purchase of the book and prepare to join us for 
discussion of this human rights defender's life and work, not to mention 
what are sure to be interesting developments in the investigation of her 

We even have some movie recommendations for you: Amnesty is promoting 
both Fast Food Nation in conjunction with a new campaign on immigration 
and Blood Diamond in conjunction with its Conflict Diamonds campaign. 
See the films and look for the associated actions at

And finally, we recommend that you take some time out to remember the 
people featured in this newsletter's actions and others suffering from 
human rights violations around the globe during this holiday season. 
Your letters last month helped Eritrean gospel singer Helen Berhane gain 
freedom in time for Christmas this year - let's see what we can do this 
month to free other Eritreans, press for holidays at home in New Orleans 
for low-income Katrina survivors, and ensure that Angel Nieves Diaz 
lives into the new year!

Thanks for your support this year, and please join us at a meeting soon!


Eritrean Estifanos Seyoum

There is some good news from Eritrea this month. In late October the 
Eritrean authorities released gospel singer Helen Berhane. She had 
suffered torture and degrading treatment while being held without charge 
or trial since her arrest in May 2004. Group 22 participated in several 
AI actions in her behalf, including an urgent action just before her 
release, which was in response to her hospitalization following a new 
round of beatings.

Helen Berhane's release is a small ray of hope, but thousands of other 
Eritrean political and religious prisoners of conscience are still held 
incommunicado, subject to torture and abuse. Among them is Group 22's 
adopted POC, Estifanos Seyoum, who was arrested in September 2001 for 
expressing his political opinions.

Amnesty International has been evaluating a document that is circulating 
on the Internet which states that several prisoners from the Group of 15 
and the journalists who were arrested in September 2001 have died in 
custody. AI cannot confirm the truth of these statements and has 
received no response from the Eritrean authorities. Estifanos Seyoum was 
not named as one of the prisoners alleged to have died.

By the way, we found a reference to Estifanos that adds a little to the 
very scanty knowledge we have concerning his personal background. In Dan 
Connell's book (Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners, 
published 2005) he is described as a "soft-spoken University of 
Wisconsin graduate" who questioned the Eritrea ruling party's "misuse of 
funds and failure to pay taxes".

Here is this month's sample letter that you can copy or use as a guide. 
Postage is 84 cents.

His Excellency
Issayas Afewerki
Office of the President
PO Box 257
Asmara, Eritrea

Your Excellency,

I welcome the recent release of Helen Berhane, and I hope it signals a 
new willingness on the part of the government of Eritrea to uphold the 
human rights guarantees of the Constitution of Eritrea and to observe 
the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights, which Eritrea has ratified.

I am deeply concerned about Estifanos Seyoum, who was arrested in 
September 2001 along with ten other Members of Parliament and ten 
journalists. Amnesty International considers these detainees to be 
prisoners of conscience, held incommunicado and at risk of torture, 
solely because of the peaceful expression of their political opinions.

In view of recent allegations that some of these prisoners have died 
while in custody in a secret location, I call upon the government of 
Eritrea to make public the whereabouts and state of health of Estifanos 
Seyoum and the other prisoners of conscience.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
[Your name and address]

Send Cards to the Family of Anna Politkovskaya
Once again, Group 22 is promoting the Holiday Card Action this December, 
encouraging you to send cards to prisoners of conscience and human 
rights defenders around the world. Below is an action concerning the 
late journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. More actions are available at

A dedicated journalist and human rights defender, Anna Politkovskaya's 
fearless pursuit of truth and justice had brought her threats and 
detention on numerous occasions. On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya 
was found shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. 
Amnesty International believes that she was killed because of her work 
to expose human rights abuses in Chechnya and other regions of the 
Russian Federation.
Ms. Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two, had worked closely with 
Amnesty International over the years. The author of numerous books and 
articles about the conflict in Chechnya, she faced intimidation and 
harassment from Russian and Chechen authorities due to her outspoken 
criticism of government policy and action. Security agents detained her 
in Chechnya in February 2001, holding her in a pit for three days 
without food or water, while a military officer threatened to shoot her. 
She was later forced to flee the country after a military officer 
accused of crimes against civilians threatened her. In 2004, she nearly 
died after drinking an apparently poisoned cup of tea. At the time of 
her assassination, Ms. Politkovskaya was preparing an article for the 
Novaya Gazeta newspaper about the alleged use of torture by authorities 
in Chechnya.

You can send messages of condolence and support to Anna Politkovskaya's 
family and friends via her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

Please send cards of support to:
Novaya Gazeta
Rossiia 101990
Moskva, Tsentr
Potapovskii Pereulok, dom 3
Redaktsia "Novoi Gazety"

Protect Housing Rights for Katrina Survivors

More than fourteen months after one of the worst human rights disasters 
in United States history, less than half of New Orleans' population has 
returned. The vast majority of public housing were barely affected by 
the hurricane, but are now surrounded by barbed wire fences while 
demolition plans are completed. As a result, tens of thousands of 
survivors are unable to exercise their right to return home. People from 
all over the country must stand with Katrina survivors and call for the 
Federal Housing and Urban Development Department to stop the destruction 
of housing for low income residents.

Background. On November 4th, hundreds of Amnesty activists at the 
Southern Regional Conference stood in front of the CJ Peete Housing 
Complex in New Orleans and rallied for the right to housing. Standing in 
front of structurally strong and beautiful old buildings barely affected 
by the hurricane, Amnesty delivered the message the right to return is a 
human right and that housing is crucial to the exercise that right.

While no effort has been made to clean out these buildings, the 
authority has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars erecting fences and 
installing steel plates on doors to close off the developments. Plans 
are now in place for a series of meetings and required hearings over the 
month of November that will lead to the bulldozing of public housing 
units, to be replaced by the empty promise of what is sometimes called 
"mixed-income" housing. The units slated for destruction and visited by 
Amnesty activists are Lafitte, St. Bernard, CJ Peete, and BW Cooper.

One of the primary reasons that more than half of New Orleans residents 
have been unable to return is that there are few, and often no, housing 
options for low income individuals and families. Rental rates have 
increased by 40% since the hurricane ($578 average to $803) when 
available units can be found in the first place (New Orleans has a 99% 
occupancy rate).
Currently, less than 20% (880 of the 5,146) of the families that lived 
in public housing before Hurricane Katrina have been permitted to 
return. Those who have attempted to return -- with or without 
authorization -- have either been denied access to their former 
residences, stormed the existing barricades in acts of civil 
disobedience promoted by local grassroots organizations resulting in 
their arrest, or occupied their residences illegally, living in 
substandard conditions. Rather than rehabilitate current housing stock, 
New Orleans is holding off for vague mixed-income housing developments.

Mixed income housing rarely provides sufficient stock for poor families. 
As an example, in 2002, the St. Thomas housing project was demolished 
and replaced with River Garden, a mixed-income housing structure. Of the 
1,600 new housing units that replaced the 1,500 pre-existing units, only 
120 apartments were designated for public housing and only about 40 
occupied by low-income tenants to date. Housing and Urban Development 
Secretary Alphonso Jackson has praised River Garden as a model of how 
public housing in New Orleans should be rebuilt. Pre-Katrina public 
housing was not perfect, but it provided a way for New Orleans residents 
of all income levels to call the city home. Housing is a human right, 
and the right to housing is clearl delineated as a part of the right to 
return in the United Nation's Guiding Principles for Internally 
Displaced Persons. The Guiding Principles has been held up by the US 
Agency for International Development (USAID) notes the Guiding 
Principles as one of its "core principles" and states: "UN Guiding 
Principles on Internal Displacement offer a useful tool and framework 
for dealing with IDP's. USAID supports the goals of these principles, 
and will encourage its partners and host governments to use them as a 
practical reference."

It is time for these principles and for the right of return to be 
provided for the residents of New Orleans. Public housing is essential 
to ensure that housing is made available for all community members and 
that public funds are controlled by the public rather than by 
unresponsive private entities. Furthermore, assumptions about public 
housing being substandard must be challenged so that housing can be 
rebuilt in good condition. The Housing Authority of New Orleans, under 
receivership of the Housing and Urban Development Federal Agency has 
told the federal court that they were going to make their decision to 
demolish at their meeting on November 15, 2006. We must act quickly.

Please write to HUD Secretary Jackson. Sample letter follows:
Secretary Alphonso Jackson
451 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Jackson:

I am writing concerning recent news that your agency intends to demolish 
over five thousand public housing apartments in New Orleans. I hope that 
you will reconsider this action, as it will make it impossible for 
thousands of displaced Katrina survivors to exercise their right to 
return home and threatens to add to the growing population of the city's 

I am concerned that this decision does not appear to take into account 
the impact on displaced residents who are eager to return home and 
rebuild, and on the many people who have been forced to stay in 
temporary housing since the storm. Instead, I urge you to ensure the 
fulfillment of HUD's mission to increase access to affordable housing by 
directing your agency to secure more low-income housing and to stop the 
destruction of homes that could be rehabilitated without first providing 
a plan for equal replacement.

Public housing developments have remained largely untouched since the 
storm. The residents of these developments have been patiently waiting 
to come home. Fences and barricades around the housing developments have 
prevented them from accessing property, connecting with neighbors, and 
helping their communities to recover. Without any opportunity to have 
input on these drastic decisions, residents have been locked and told 
that their homes will be destroyed.

Undoubtedly, there is a need to protect health and safety. There may be 
some cases in which there is no other option than demolishing units that 
were badly damaged by the storm. There is also a need for improving the 
quality of low-income housing in New Orleans. However, it is HUD's 
responsibility to provide clear, just guidelines for its decisions and 
to respond to the needs of the public before demolition begins. 
Residents of these developments should be given the opportunity to have 
meaningful input and assurances for how and when their housing needs 
will be addressed.

I urge you to stop the demolition of public housing, initiate a process 
with transparent criteria for evaluating whether units can be 
rehabilitated, and ensure community participation. Such steps would be 
consistent with your mission and demonstrate a commitment to helping 
rebuild New Orleans with more opportunity and less homelessness and poverty.

Please take every measure to ensure your actions safeguard the basic 
human right to a decent home and facilitate the right of hurricane 
survivors to return to New Orleans and participate in the rebuilding of 
their city. Thank you for your public service.

Sincerely, Your NAME and ADDRESS

Human Rights Book Discussion Group
Keep up with Rights Readers at

Sunday, December 17, 6:30 PM
Contact for this month's special location information!!!

My Father's Rifle
by Hiner Saleem

This beautiful, spare, autobiographical narrative tells of the life of a 
Kurd named Azad as he grows to manhood in Iraq during the 1960s and 
1970s. Azad is born into a vibrant village culture that hopes for a free 
Kurdish future. He loves his mother's orchard, his cousin's stunt 
pigeons, his father's old Czech rifle, his brother who is fighting in 
the mountains. But before he is even of school age, Azad has seen 
friends and neighbors assassinated, and his own family driven to 
starvation. After being forced into a refugee camp in Iran for years, 
his family realizes, on their return, that the Baathist regime is 
destroying the autonomy it had promised their people. My Father's Rifle 
ends with Azad's heartbreaking departure from his parents and flight 
across the Syrian border to freedom. Stunning in its unadorned 
intensity, My Father's Rifle is a moving portrait of a boy who embraces 
the land and culture he loves, even as he leaves them.

Sunday, January 21
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena

Bitter Grounds
by Sandra Benitez

Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is 
set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center 
of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the 
Prieto clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of 
mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for their passions. Epic 
in scope, richly steeped in history, Bentez's poetic yet unsentimental 
novel takes you into another time, another place, and into the lives of 
characters so real they cannot be forgotten.

USA Death Penalty 2
Eritrea POC 5
Urgent Actions 16
Total: 23
To add your letters to the total contact

Puerto Rican Scheduled for Execution in Florida

Angel Nieves Diaz is scheduled for execution in Florida on 13 December 
2006. He was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder during a robbery 
of bar manager Joseph Nagy in Miami in 1979.

Joseph Nagy was the bar manager of the Velvet Swing Lounge. He was shot 
dead on 29 December 1979, when a group of three men robbed the bar. 
There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting. Angel Diaz and Angel Toro 
were charged with first-degree murder in 1984, but the trial was delayed 
until December 1985. By that time, Angel Toro had pleaded guilty to 
second-degree murder in return for a life sentence.

Puerto Rican native Angel Diaz was represented by a lawyer until shortly 
after the jury had been selected. Just before the opening arguments of 
his trial began, and against the advice of his lawyer, he decided to 
conduct his own defense. The lawyer informed the judge that Angel Diaz 
had "exhibited rather bizarre tendencies" in previous days, including 
not responding to the lawyer's questions or responding to them with 
irrational answers. The lawyer said that in the previous 24 hours, Angel 
Diaz had rejected the defense they had developed over the previous months.

The judge questioned the defendant about his decision. Through an 
interpreter (his English was limited), Angel Diaz said that he had never 
read a law book, had "no idea" about how a trial in Florida was 
conducted or about "what I may be able to argue". The judge advised him 
that "since you have no ability to speak the English language in this 
court, you have no knowledge of the law, you did not [finish high 
school], it would appear to this Court that it would be impossible for 
you to act as an attorney in your own defense". Angel Diaz kept to his 
decision and the judge ruled that it had been freely and intelligently made.

The judge arranged for two psychiatrists to evaluate Diaz after 
proceedings that day on his competency to stand trial. Meanwhile, the 
trial began with Diaz making an opening statement and the state 
presenting five witnesses before the trial recessed for the day. The two 
doctors evaluated Angel Diaz that evening. The following morning, a 
"competency hearing" was held, without Angel Diaz or his stand-by 
counsel present. The record of the hearing consists of a few sentences. 
One of the doctors told the judge: "Angel Diaz is competent. But he did 
express to me that he would like some technical legal help in defending 
himself". The judge then said that he had had a report from the other 
doctor, who was not present, that Angel Diaz was "very competent". The 
trial was then allowed to proceed.

Post-conviction assessments by two mental health experts concluded that 
Angel Diaz suffers from certain mental disorders which contributed to 
his decision to represent himself and undermined his ability to do so 
competently. The lawyer who represented him until the opening of the 
trial signed an affidavit stating that "I do not believe Angel Diaz was 
competent to represent himself. As a result, Mr Diaz asked questions he 
should not have asked and could not object to certain questions and 
evidence after my advising him to through the interpreter. I do not 
believe he adequately understood the legal system and the conduct of the 
trial due to cultural differences and language barriers, among other 

Throughout the trial, Angel Diaz was made to wear shackles. During jury 
selection, his lawyer had objected to the shackles, but the judge 
responded that Diaz could cover them with his trousers or the lawyer 
could place his brief case in front of Diaz's legs. However, once Angel 
Diaz was representing himself, the shackles were visible to the jury, 
raising concerns about their prejudicial effect on the presumption of 
innocence. In addition, a defendant's perceived dangerousness has been 
shown to be highly aggravating in the minds of US capital jurors 
deciding between life and death sentences.

Angel Diaz's former girlfriend testified that on the night of the 
robbery, he had told her that Angel Toro had shot a man during the 
robbery. The testimony of two other witnesses, who had been in the bar 
at the time of the robbery, indicated that Angel Diaz was not the 
gunman. However, a jailhouse informant testified that when they had been 
held in the same jail, Angel Diaz had indicated that he had shot Joseph 
Nagy. Jailhouse informant testimony is notoriously unreliable. The 
Commission on Capital Punishment, set up by the Governor of Illinois 
after he imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000, examined the 
question of such testimony. The Commission's April 2002 report concluded 
that, even with stringent safeguards on the use of such evidence, "the 
potential for testimony of questionable reliability remains high, and 
imposing the death penalty in such cases appears ill-advised."

The jury retired to deliberate on the question of guilt. During their 
deliberations, they requested copies of the testimony of the former 
girlfriend and the jailhouse informant, but the judge refused to provide 
it, instructing the jury to rely on its recollection of what the 
witnesses had said. The jury returned a guilty verdict.

The sentencing was held two weeks later. At the beginning of the 
sentencing, although demanding to represent himself, Angel Diaz admitted 
to the court that he was not capable of representing himself adequately. 
The court subsequently appointed his stand-by lawyer to represent him at 
the sentencing. Angel Diaz refused to permit the lawyer to question the 
first few prosecution witnesses. The lawyer argued in mitigation that 
Angel Diaz had only been an accomplice to the crime, but presented no 
new evidence of this. The jury recommended a death sentence by eight 
votes to four.

In post-conviction proceedings, evidence not raised at the trial has 
been raised about Angel Diaz's childhood of abuse and mental problems, 
and his addiction to drugs from the age of 16. It has also been claimed 
that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence that it was Angel Toro 
who shot Joseph Nagy. In a memorandum dated 6 February 1984, the 
prosecutor wrote: "At some point, all three subjects pulled out guns and 
announced a robbery. Shots were fired. Defendant Toro apparently grabbed 
Gina Fredericks around the neck and took her back to the area of the 
office where the safe was located. Apparently, victim Nagy came out of 
the office at that time. Defendant Toro shot Nagy once in the chest 
causing his death".

A recent study conducted under the auspices of the American Bar 
Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project identified 
serious problems in Florida's capital justice system, including the high 
number of people released from death row on the grounds of innocence (22 
since 1973), the continued existence of racial and geographic 
disparities, the fact that unanimity is not required in jury sentencing 
decisions, and the failure to give sufficient weight to the mitigating 
effects of serious mental disability.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals:

- expressing sympathy for the family of Joseph Nagy, who was killed in 
1979, and explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the 
seriousness of this crime or the suffering caused;

- opposing the execution of Angel Nieves Diaz, noting evidence calling 
into question his competency to stand trial and represent himself;

- noting the disparity in sentencing in this case, with one defendant 
receiving a life sentence and another death, despite conflicting 
evidence about who was the gunman, and expressing concern at the use of 
jailhouse informant testimony against Angel Diaz, a notoriously 
unreliable form of testimony;

- noting that four of the jurors did not vote for the death penalty;

- noting that recent research has found serious problems with Florida's 
capital justice system, including geographic and racial disparities, and 
the lack of a requirement for unanimity in jury sentencing decisions;

- calling on the Governor to intervene to stop this execution.

Governor Jeb Bush
The Capitol
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399, USA