Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XV Number 5, May 2008


UPCOMING EVENTS

Thursday, May 22, 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.

Tuesday, June 10, 7:30 PM. Letter writing 
meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner of Hill 
and California in Pasadena. This informal 
gathering is a great way for newcomers to get 
acquainted with Amnesty! 

Sunday, June 15, 6:30 PM. Rights Readers 
Human Rights Book Discussion Group. Vroman's 
Book Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., 
Pasadena.  This month we read "Lost City 
Radio" by Daniel Alarcon.


COORDINATOR'S CORNER

Hi everyone,
It seems like the world is coming to an end, what 
with the double catastrophes in Burma with the 
cyclone and the earthquake in China.  Human 
suffering on a massive scale, almost impossible 
to comprehend.  At least China is trying to help 
its people, whereas Myanmar (AKA Burma) has 
refused outside aid.  We sent a check to a relief 
organization, but the supplies are sitting in 
planes waiting for permission to enter.  There is 
an action regarding Myanmar in this newsletter.  
The LA Times has recommendations regarding 
which relief organizations are reputable. See 
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-
give9-2008may09,0,6862832.story.  
Group 22 members Stevi, Paula, Joyce, Robert 
and Kathy staffed our table in April at the 
Pasadena City Earth Day event.  Thanks to 
Veronica for supplying the great sea creature and 
fish stamps, pens and markers that the kids used 
to make stickers. Many people signed our 
petition to Chevron regarding oil cleanup in 
Ecuador and took our literature.
Representative Adam Schiff spoke before 
Congress in recognition of World Press Freedom 
Day May 8, 2008.  He mostly spoke regarding 
the situation in China but he did mention Eritrea 
briefly.  See the Eritrea section in this newsletter 
for more information.
A few weeks ago Stevi wrote a letter regarding 
the death penalty that was published in the 
Pasadena Star News.  You can read it yourself 
at: 
http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/letters/ci_
9162929 (scroll down to the last of the letters). It 
was also published in the San Gabriel Valley 
Tribune and the Sacramento Bee, so Stevi should 
be congratulated not just once but three times!
Con cariĖo,
Kathy		aigp22@caltech.edu


MYANMAR CYCLONE ACTION

Embassy of the Union of Myanmar,
 Washington, D.C. 
2300 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 

Dear Ambassador Linn Myaing,

I stand in solidarity with the victims and the 
Union of Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone 
Nargis.  I am relieved to see that the international 
community has effectively responded through 
their willingness to assist the victims by 
providing the most essential life-saving supplies.  
However, I am growing concerned that not all of 
this aid will be able to be delivered, due to 
government-restricted access and aid being 
distributed through discrimination, and not need.  

The relief, aid, rehabilitation, and subsequent 
development of the Union of Myanmar will 
depend heavily on how it responds to the needs 
of its citizens in all parts of the country.  
Ensuring access to all impacted regions of the 
country will help ensure that aid is adequately 
delivered.  I hope that you will ease visa 
restrictions and customs procedures that have 
already hampered access by international relief 
workers over the course of the past few days, 
and has slowed the delivery of desperately 
needed aid, especially to the hardest hit areas, 
and to the over one million people that have been 
displaced.  

I am also concerned that international relief 
funds might be misused to forcibly relocate 
populations. Any relocation of internally 
displaced persons from camps or disaster areas 
must be voluntary, unless the safety and health 
of those affected requires evacuation. They 
should not be coerced in any way, including 
through the suspension of assistance to those 
persons. The right of internally displaced persons 
to return voluntarily to their former homes or 
lands in safety and with dignity should be 
respected and the authorities should assist them 
in either returning or resettling in another part of 
the country. 

I ask that you fully cooperate with the 
international relief and rehabilitation efforts 
underway, and that there be transparent 
mechanisms for the delivery of international aid.  
Human rights violations in disaster settings 
greatly impair the effectiveness of humanitarian 
workers and add unnecessary complexity to the 
reconstruction of the country.  I hope that as a 
sovereign power, you will exercise your most 
fundamental duty – the responsibility to protect 
your population. My thoughts will continue to be 
with the victims during this difficult time.

Sincerely,
(Your name and address)

Tel. nos: (202) 332-9044, 332-9049, 332-9045 
Facsímile no. : (202) 332-9046 


ERITREA POC

This month we have quite a bit to report 
concerning our Eritrea casework. (Group 22 
works on behalf of our adopted Prisoner of 
Conscience, former Eritrea government official 
Estifanos Seyoum, who has been held 
incommunicado since he was arrested in 2001 for 
peacefully expressing his political opinions.) Rep. 
Adam Schiff responded to a Group 22 
suggestion and mentioned an imprisoned Eritrea 
journalist in his House speech. At AIUSA's 
Annual General Meeting, the status of the Eritrea 
individual case files under the new AI strategic 
plan was revealed amid great concern. Last but 
not least, Group 22 plans to cooperate with other 
AI local groups in a joint action connected with 
Eritrea Independence Day on May 24. Read on!

Rep. Schiff's House floor speech. 
On the evening of May 8, Rep. Adam Schiff 
delivered a speech in the House of 
Representatives in observance of World Press 
Freedom Day. His main focus was China, but in 
response to urging from Group 22, he mentioned 
imprisoned Eritrea journalist Seyoum Tsehaye. 
Just like our adopted POC, Seyoum was arrested 
in the 2001 crackdown and was designated an AI 
Prisoner of Conscience. Here is a quote from 
Schiff's speech:

"… I would like to take a brief moment to 
discuss one particular case in Eritrea that was 
brought to my attention by a constituent of 
mine who works with Amnesty International 
Group 22 in Pasadena.

Eritrea is a country of only 4.6 million people; 
yet it imprisons the third-most journalists of any 
country: 14. What's worse, the Government of 
Eritrea will not even confirm whether the 
journalists in its custody are alive or dead, and 
it also holds the most journalists in secret 
locations.

One such journalist being held in a secret 
location in Eritrea is Seyoum Tsehaye, a 
freelance reporter. His arrest and jailing was 
believed to be part of the government's 
crackdown to eliminate political dissent ahead 
of elections scheduled for December of 2001, 
which were later cancelled. He was arrested on 
the street in September of that year, the first 
day of a major round-up and imprisonment of 
reformers in Eritrea. There are concerns about 
his health, but the government has refused to 
provide details about his well-being. He has 
never been allowed a family visit or a lawyer. 
He has never been charged or appeared before 
any court.  Last year Reporters Without Borders 
honored him as their 2007 Journalist of the 
Year. And tonight we take a moment to think 
about Seyoum Tsehaye, freelance reporter in 
Eritrea, held in custody in a secret location since 
September of 2001."

Rep. Schiff spoke for an hour, going into detail 
about the cases of Chinese journalists Shi Tao 
and Hu Jia, who have been the subjects of recent 
AI Urgent Actions. We couldn't be more pleased! 
The full text of his speech is now in the 
Congressional Record, pages H3331-H3337 
(www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/retrieve.html), 
and will probably soon appear on his website. 
Many Group 22 members signed a thank-you 
note to Schiff at our May letter-writing (thanks 
for doing this, Paula!). Go to schiff.house.gov for 
contact info if you want to express your own 
appreciation to Rep. Schiff.

Eritrea individual case files.
Eritrea country specialist  Trish Hepner reported 
on the recent AIUSA Annual General Meeting in 
Washington DC. She said that the AI 
International Secretariat (IS) did indeed decide to 
close nearly all the individual Eritrea action files. 
This includes the G-15 cases and the journalists 
arrested in 2001. Aster Fessehatzion was the only 
Eritrea POC who was added to the new database 
of Individuals at Risk. The decision to close the 
files provoked strong disagreement and 
passionate responses about the necessity of 
keeping the files open. Trish and others are trying 
to clarify whether it's possible to appeal the 
decision and whether local groups could continue 
to work on their cases even if the files are 
officially closed.

Many Eritrea POC action file coordinators sent 
responses declaring that their groups had no 
intention of abandoning their prisoners and 
would continue to work on their cases unless 
expressly forbidden from doing so. One stated 
that he understood the reasons for the decision 
but that he certainly didn't like it, and that 
Amnesty itself may be forgetting its long 
dedication to the "forgotten prisoner". This is an 
issue for Group 22 discussion – does that candle 
still mean something?

Cooperative action by AI local groups.
Samson Tu of Group 19 proposed the following 
cooperative action by AI local groups with 
Eritrea POCs. Let's do it! 

In Samson's excellent writing guide and sample 
letter I've taken the liberty of substituting Group 
22's POC for that of Group 19. 

May 24 is Eritrea's Independence Day. On this 
occasion, let's send letters and faxes to 
Ambassador Ghirmai Ghebremariam, 
congratulating Eritrean people and asking the 
Afewerki government to respect human rights 
and release all political prisoners. To make our 
point emphatically, please fax your letter on 
Friday May 23. A number of AI groups working 
on behalf of Eritrean POCs have agreed to make 
this a day of joint actions.

In your letter, make some of the following points:

- Congratulate the people of Eritrea on the 
achievement of independence in 1991 after 30 
years of liberation struggle
- Recognize that Eritrea has experienced many 
difficulties and hardships in the post-
independence years
- Remind Eritrean government of Eritrea's 
accession to the International Covenant on Civil 
and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other 
international human rights treaties
- Remind Eritrean government that its 
Constitution guarantees "no person shall be 
deprived of liberty without due process of law" 
(Article 15-2) and that "no person may be 
arrested or detained save pursuant to due process 
of law" (Article 17-1)
- Call for release men and women who are 
prisoners of conscience detained without charge, 
trial or any legal status, because of their political 
opinions or religious beliefs, or because they or 
their children have evaded military service
- Mention Estifanos Seyoum, a former brigadier 
general and senior government official who has 
been imprisoned without charge or trial at a 
secret location since 2001. Ask that the 
whereabouts of the prisoners be made known 
immediately.
- Ask Eritrea's President Issayas Afewerki to 
make the coming 18th year of Eritrea's formal 
independence a year for the implementation of 
the human rights improvements urgently 
awaited by the international community, as well 
as many Eritreans in the country and abroad 


Sample letter:

Ambassador Ghirmai Ghebremariam
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
1708 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington DC 20009
Fax: 1 202 319 1304

Dear Ambassador Ghebremariam,

On the occasion of Eritrea's Independence Day, I 
wish to congratulate the Eritrean people on the 
achievement of independence after 30 years of 
liberation struggle. Over the years, the Eritrean 
people has experienced and overcome many 
hardships and difficulties. However, the dream of 
freedom and justice for all has yet to be realized. 

Eritrea is a party to international treaties and 
covenants, such as the African Charter on Human 
and Peoples' Rights (The African Charter) and the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights (ICCPR), that guarantee freedoms of speech, 
political assembly, and fair and speedy trials. 
Eritrea's own constitution guarantees "no person 
shall be deprived of liberty without due process of 
law" (Article 15-2) and that "no person may be 
arrested or detained save pursuant to due process 
of law" (Article 17-1). I respectfully call your 
government to release men and women who are 
prisoners of conscience detained without charge, 
trial or any legal status, because of their political 
opinions or religious beliefs, or because they or 
their children have evaded military service.
As an example of a prisoner of conscience in 
Eritrea, I would like to bring your attention to the 
case of Estifanos Seyoum,  who has been 
imprisoned without charge or trial at a secret 
location since 2001. His whereabouts should be 
made public immediately. 

President Issayas Afewerki should make the 
coming 18th year of Eritrea's formal independence 
a year for the implementation of the human rights 
improvements urgently awaited by the 
international community, as well as many 
Eritreans in the country and abroad.

Yours sincerely,
(your name and address)




RIGHTS READERS
Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at 
http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com
Next Rights Readers meeting:
Sunday, June 15, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Boulevard
 in Pasadena

"Lost City Radio"
By Daniel Alarcón

 


Publisher Comments:
A powerful and searing novel of three lives 
fractured by a civil war. 
For ten years, Norma has been the voice of 
consolation for a people broken by violence. She 
hosts Lost City Radio, the most popular 
program in their nameless South American 
country, gripped in the aftermath of war. Every 
week, the Indians in the mountains and the poor 
from the barrios listen as she reads the names of 
those who have gone missing, those whom the 
furiously expanding city has swallowed. Loved 
ones are reunited and the lost are found. Each 
week, she returns to the airwaves while hiding her 
own personal loss: her husband disappeared at 
the end of the war. 
But the life she has become accustomed to is 
forever changed when a young boy arrives from 
the jungle and provides a clue to the fate of her 
long-missing husband. 
Stunning, timely, and absolutely mesmerizing, 
Lost City Radio probes the deepest questions of 
war and its meaning: from its devastating 
impact on a society transformed by violence to 
the emotional scarring each participant, observer, 
and survivor carries for years after. This tender 
debut marks Alarcón's emergence as a major new 
voice in American fiction.

About the Author:
 
 Daniel Alarcón was born in Peru, but raised in 
Birmingham, Alabama 
He is Associate Editor of Etiqueta Negra, an 
award-winning monthly magazine based in his 
native Lima, Peru.
His fiction and nonfiction have been published in 
The New Yorker, Harper's, Virginia Quarterly 
Review, Salon, Eyeshot and elsewhere, and 
anthologized in Best American Non-Required 
Reading 2004 and 2005.
His story collection, War by Candlelight, was a 
finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway 
Foundation Award. He returned to Peru on a 
Fulbright Scholar to Peru prior to publishing War 
by Candlelight. He is also the recipient of a 
Whiting Award for 2004.
He lives in Oakland, California, where he is the 
Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College.


DEATH PENALTY ACTION


09 May 2008
UA 123 /08 - Death penalty / Legal concern
USA (Virginia)          
Percy Levar Walton (m), black, aged 29

Levar Walton, who suffers from serious mental 
illness, is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on 
10 June. He was sentenced to death in 1997 for 
the murders of an elderly white couple, Elizabeth 
and Jesse Hendrick, aged 81 and 80, and a 33-
year-old black man, Archie Moore, in the town of 
Danville in November 1996.

In 1999, three mental health experts concluded 
that Levar Walton suffers from severe 
schizophrenia and was probably suffering from 
this mental illness at the time of the crime. 
Walton, who was 18 years and one month old at 
the time of the murders, had displayed signs of 
emerging mental illness since the age of 16. He 
manifested bizarre beliefs and inappropriate 
behavior after his arrest, in pre-trial custody, and 
during the trial. In telephone calls from the jail to 
his family, he insisted that his mother was his 
sister, and referred to his father as his brother, his 
grandfather as his father and his grandmother as 
his mother. He said that he had discovered that 
he had two brothers, when he had none. He told 
his mother that he was the Queen Bee, and his 
grandmother that he was Superman. He told 
relatives that he was Jesus Christ, and that he 
was a millionaire. He insisted that he would 
come back to life as soon as he was executed, 
and that he would retrieve and bring back alive 
his grandfather who had recently died. In a 1999 
affidavit, his lawyer recalled how Levar Walton 
"did not meaningfully assist us in preparing a 
defense… Often times it was extremely difficult 
to communicate with Mr Walton, and there were 
occasions where we could not tell whether he 
understood what we were saying to him. Other 
times it was clear from Mr Walton's questions 
and responses to my questions that Mr Walton 
understood little of what I was telling him". The 
lawyer recalled that "we were unable to convince 
Mr Walton that he would not come back to life"  
if he was executed.

The defense asked for a mental health expert, 
and the trial judge appointed a psychologist. 
After a series of meetings with Levar Walton, the 
psychologist developed serious doubts about his 
competence to stand trial, finding that Walton's 
articulation of his thoughts was 
incomprehensible. He was particularly troubled 
by Levar Walton's notion that execution did not 
result in permanent death. The psychologist 
recommended that Walton be placed in a secure 
psychiatric hospital. This was rejected by the trial 
judge.

At first Levar Walton said that he wanted to 
plead guilty. Then in September 1997 he told his 
lawyer that he wanted to plead not guilty and 
have a jury trial because he was innocent. Days 
later, he reverted to admitting guilt. At end of 
that month, asked whether he would plead guilty 
or not guilty, he refused to speak, but responded 
by writing the word "chair" on a piece of paper. 
He told his lawyer that he wanted to be executed 
in order "to come back to life so he could be with 
his honeys". In court in October 1997, he pleaded 
guilty to the murders, the judge accepted the 
plea and, after a sentencing phase at which no 
mental health evidence was presented, sentenced 
him to death. At the sentencing trial, Walton's 
conduct was extremely prejudicial. He 
repeatedly burst out laughing and smiled 
inappropriately. The prosecutor argued that 
Walton's outbursts indicated a "sadistic, 
ruthless, cold-blooded murderer who has no 
conscience, no remorse and no right to live in a 
civilized society".

Levar Walton's mental illness has worsened on 
death row –prison records have described an 
inmate who is "floridly psychotic". In a March 
2006 ruling on his case, six judges on the US 
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted the  
"substantial evidence that Percy Levar Walton 
does not understand that his execution will mean 
his death, defined as the end of his physical life". 
They further noted that "there is no dispute that 
since his sentencing, Walton has fallen deeper 
and deeper into mental illness". According to 
Levar Walton's current lawyer, who has visited 
him regularly, Walton is unable to care for 
himself, such as in matters of basic personal 
hygiene. She has no doubt that he is severely 
mentally impaired.

There is evidence that in addition to his mental 
illness, Levar Walton functions, at best, at 
borderline mental retardation level and has the 
mental age of a young child. If the crimes for 
which he was sentenced to death had been 
committed five weeks earlier, Levar Walton 
would have been 17 years old and his execution 
would be illegal under US and international law. 
By all accounts, Levar Walton is less developed 
intellectually than most 18-year-olds.
In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court 
prohibited the death penalty for people with 
mental retardation, finding that "standards of 
decency" had evolved in the USA to the extent 
that such use of the death penalty now violated 
the Constitution. The Court further reasoned that 
the impairments of defendants with mental 
retardation diminish their personal culpability 
and their ability to understand consequences, 
rendering the death penalty unjustifiable on 
grounds of retribution or deterrence. Amnesty 
International believes that there is a profound 
inconsistency in exempting people with mental 
retardation from the death penalty while those 
with serious mental illness remain exposed to it. 
The same rationale of diminished culpability, 
greater vulnerability and limited capacity applies 
to defendants afflicted with severe mental illness. 

For further information, see USA: The execution 
of mentally ill offenders, January 2006,  
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AM
R51/003/2006/en (including information on 
Levar Walton's case).

Virginia accounts for 98 of the 1,100 executions 
in the USA since judicial killing resumed in 1977. 
In 1999, Virginia's then Governor, James Gilmore, 
commuted the death sentence of Calvin Swann 
on grounds of his schizophrenia from which he 
had suffered since his late teens. Swann was tried 
in front of the same judge, by the same 
prosecutor, and with the same defense lawyer, as 
Percy Levar Walton.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty 
in all cases, unconditionally. There is no such 
thing as a humane, fair, reliable or useful death 
penalty system (see 'The pointless and needless 
extinction of life': USA should now look beyond 
lethal injection issue to wider death penalty
questions, 
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AM
R51/031/2008/en)

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send 
appeals to arrive as quickly as possible: 
 - expressing sympathy for the relatives of 
Elizabeth and Jesse Hendrick and of Archie 
Moore, and explaining that you are not seeking to 
minimize the suffering their deaths will have 
caused; 
- opposing the execution of Percy Levar Walton, 
noting compelling evidence that he had begun 
suffering from serious mental illness more than a 
year before the crime, that his illness has 
deepened on death row, and also that he
functions, at best, at the level of borderline 
mental
retardation and has the mental age of a child;
- noting that six judges on the Fourth Circuit 
Court of Appeals said in 2006 that ''there is no 
dispute that since his sentencing, Walton has 
fallen deeper and deeper into mental illness'', and 
that this deterioration has reportedly
continued;
- recalling Governor James Gilmore's 1999 
decision to commute the death sentence of Calvin 
Swann because of the prisoner's schizophrenia, 
and calling for clemency for Percy Levar Walton.

APPEALS TO:
Governor Tim Kaine
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Fax: 1 804 371 6351
Email via website: 
         
http://www.governor.virginia.gov/AboutTheGo
vernor/contactGovernor.cfm
Salutation: Dear Governor

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if 
sending appeals after 10 June 2008.



MONTHLY LETTER COUNT
Death Penalty	10
Other UAs 	15
Rep. Schiff 	  1
Shi Tao  	18
Total:	44
To add your letters to the total contact 
lwkamp@gmail.com




Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code 5-62
Pasadena, CA 91125
www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com