Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXI Number 5, May 2013


Thursday, May 23, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. (This is 
just south of the corner with San Pasqual. 
Signs will be posted.) We will be planning our 
activities for the coming months. Please join 
us! Refreshments provided.

Tuesday, June 11, 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 16, 6:30 PM.  Rights Readers 
Human Rights Book Discussion group. This 
month we read "A Partial History of Los 
Causes" by Jennifer Dubois.


Hi All

I thought I would use my column today to 
advocate for a prisoner that AI is aware of but 
has not officially taken up the case -
that of Pastor Saeed Abedini, from Boise, Idaho.  
Saeed, a US-Iranian national, was imprisoned in 
Iran's notorious Evin Prison January 2013.  He 
was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for 
his alleged role in "founding house churches" 
which the authorities deemed to constitute acts 
against national security.  Several Christian 
organizations have taken up his case.  I read 
today on one of the blogs I subscribe to that he 
has been released from solitary confinement.  If 
you would like to sign the online petition for his 
release, or send him a note of encouragement, go 
to this link:

USA Today article regarding the case:
More information on religious and other 
freedoms (or lack thereof!) in Iran from this AI 
report to the UN Human Rights Council in 
February 2013:

Thanks to Ali, who forwarded my inquiry to 
Elise Auerbach, an AI Iran country specialist 
who sent the AI report link. Here's an article 
from her blog on religious freedom in Iran that is 

Con Carino,


Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting:
Sunday, June 16, 6:30 pm 
A Partial History of Lost Causes
by Jennifer Dubois
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado, Pasadena

Author Bio

Jennifer Dubois was born in Northampton, 
Massachusetts in 1983. She earned a B.A. in 
political science and philosophy from Tufts 
University and an M.F.A. in fiction from the 
Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a 
Teaching-Writing Fellow. After completing a 
Stegner Fellowship in fiction, Jennifer served as 
the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies 
at Stanford University. Her writing has 
appeared or is forthcoming in Playboy, The Wall 
Street Journal, Esquire and Byliner's "New 
Voices"collection, The Missouri Review, The 
Kenyon Review, The Florida Review, The Northwest 
Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, FiveChapters and 
elsewhere. Her short story "Wolf" was named a 
Notable Story in Best American Short Stories 
2012, and the first chapter of A Partial History of 
Lost Causes was selected as a Top Five Story of 
2011-2012 by Narrative. A Partial History of Lost 
Causes was honored by the National Book 
Foundation's 5 Under 35 program and was a 
finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize for 
Debut Fiction.


Unwinnable Wars
Jennifer Dubois's Debut Novel
NY Times Book Review

By Jennifer Dubois

Lost causes are everywhere in Jennifer Dubois's 
first novel: a fatal illness, a chess match versus 
an all-knowing computer, the dead ends of 
Russian opposition politics. Everyone seems to 
be pushing up against impossible odds. From 
the beginning, the plot feels menaced by the 
expectation of an unhappy end. When Irina 
finally finds Aleksandr, the year is 2006 and he 
has given up chess and embarked, a` la Garry 
Kasparov, on his own doomed quest - a 
presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. 
"Sometimes you needed to defend something 
that really mattered," he believes, "and not only 
because it symbolized something that mattered." 

As a youth working for a dissident newsletter in 
the early 1980s, Aleksandr fell in love with a 
prostitute named Elizabeta. Her marriage to a 
party official sharpened Aleksandr's hatred of 
the Soviet regime. When Irina encounters him, he 
is receiving death threats and is certain he's 
headed for assassination, but passion for the 
cause is enough to keep him going. "There is 
nothing to be gained by pretending we have a 
chance of winning. . . . We are running so that 
there might be a record," Aleksandr announces 
to a crowd of thousands, which might as well be 
the throng of protesters recently gathered in 
Bolotnaya Square. 

DuBois tells a tight story with boldface themes. 
Drama is constant. Conversations get right to 
the point. Everything means something. Chess is 
politics or sometimes war. Losing is dying. There 
are many gloomy musings on mortality and 
memory and love. But even with such high 
emotional stakes, Irina's and Aleksandr's self-
absorption leaves the story somewhat cold. 
"Both of us had such big egos that it had never 
occurred to us, really, that anyone else had to 
die," Irina says. They expend so much energy 
worrying about their fates that it feels almost 
redundant for us to do so. 

But this is just the point Dubois wants to make 
- that obsessing over your own end is a kind of 
vanity, even a kind of ahistorical thinking. All 
this self-pity is meant to seem particularly 
indulgent alongside the epic seriousness of 
Russian history. Alternating between the 
perspectives of its main characters, the novel 
spans three decades, and against the evolving 
political landscape we see the petty 
developments of individual lives. En route to a 
nightclub Irina says, "We rolled by the Nord-Ost 
on Melnikov Street, and I thought of the siege 
there back in 2002: Spetsnaz blasting poison at 
the terrorists and hostages alike and everybody 
dying horribly in the snow." As Irina's and 
Aleksandr's lives intersect and Russia becomes 
their sole backdrop, there is a sense of deeper 
traumas playing out invisibly in a parallel past. 
And so the history of Russia lends the book a 
sort of pathos even as Irina and Aleksandr keep 
our sympathy at bay. 

There are echoes of the Russia of Gary 
Shteyngart's fiction here: decrepit and a bit 
tawdry, full of drunkards and scantily clad 
women and hulking old monuments - a place 
that feels haunted by the hostile ghosts of 
different political and cultural eras. Irina 
eventually joins Aleksandr's campaign, which 
cuts through her fog of despair and fills her with 
new energy. Politics, at least, is one way of 
channeling our narcissism into a kind of 
engagement with the world. 

The final chapters let both Irina and Aleksandr 
off easy. It's a surprisingly happy ending for a 
book that purports to teach us how to live when 
the possibility of a happy ending is foreclosed. 
But it turns out there are forces bigger than a 
human life: there are causes, there are 
movements, there is history. Irina's mistake is 
failing to see that she cannot be sure of her 
particular outcome after all. 

Laura Bennett is the assistant literary editor of 
The New Republic. A version of this review 
appeared in print on March 18, 2012, on page 
BR15 of the Sunday Book Review with the 
headline: Unwinnable Wars.

Gao Zhisheng

by Joyce Wolf

You may recall that a few months ago we 
reported that Group 22's adopted prisoner of 
conscience, imprisoned human rights lawyer Gao 
Zhisheng, had also been adopted by 
Congressman Frank Wolf as part of the 
Defending Freedoms initiative. The European 
Parliament is now participating in Defending 

On May 16, Edward McMillan-Scott and Chen 
Guangcheng wrote in The Guardian:

"'Open your newspaper any day of the week and 
you will find a report from somewhere in the 
world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or 
executed because his opinions or religion are 
unacceptable to his government.' Those words 
were written 52 years ago in an Observer article 
by Peter Benenson, who would go on to found 
Amnesty International.

Since then, the world has undergone profound 
changes. The iron curtain has fallen, democracy 
has taken root in eastern Europe, Latin America 
and much of Africa, and rapid advances in 
technology have made us more globally 
interconnected than ever before. Nonetheless, 
arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution on 
political grounds remain commonplace. China, 
the world's rising superpower, continues to 
systematically engage in the political repression 
and torture of its citizens, with an estimated 7 to 8 
million Chinese currently being held in prison or 
labour camps. [...]

On Wednesday, at the European parliament, we 
launched a transatlantic pact between the EU and 
US to highlight human rights abuses around the 
world. The Defending Freedoms Project, in 
association with Amnesty International and 
ChinaAid, calls on members of the European 
parliament and US congressmen and women to 
adopt and advocate on behalf of prisoners of 
conscience from around the world. Examples 
include Gao Zhisheng, the prominent Chinese 
human rights activist who has been repeatedly 
imprisoned and severely tortured for the last 
seven years. Or Nabeel Rajab, the Bahraini pro-
democracy campaigner who has been beaten, 
jailed and denied medical treatment. By 
generating attention and support to these 
individual cases, it is hoped that combined 
pressure from the US and EU will help to secure 
their release."
We'll look forward to hearing which member of 
the EU parliament decided to adopt Gao 

On Sunday, May 26, our friends Ann Lau and 
the Visual Artists Guild present their annual 
Award Dinner and Tiananmen Commemoration 
at the Golden Dragon Restaurant, Los Angeles. 
Dhondup Wangchen, imprisoned Tibetan film 
maker, will be honored, and his wife Lhamo Tso 
will accept the award in his behalf. To register 
for the dinner or to make a donation, visit

This month let's send our first letters to the new 
President of China, XI Jinping. We also have a 
new Ambassador from China, CUI Tiankai. 
Next month maybe we'll write to China's new 
Premier, LI Keqiang. (Chinese style is to put the 
surname first, indicated here with all capital 
letters. So it's President Xi, Premier Li and 
Ambassador Cui.) 

XI Jinping Guojia Zhuxi
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Beijingshi 100017
People's Republic of China

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you about Gao Zhisheng,
a Beijing-based human rights lawyer 
who was detained in Shaanxi Province on 
February 4, 2009. He is now in Shaya Prison in 
Xinjiang Autonomous Region, after being 
subjected to enforced disappearance for nearly 
three years.

I was happy to learn that Mr. Gao's brother and 
father-in-law were allowed a brief visit with him 
on 12 January 2013, and I urge you to ensure 
that Mr. Gao is not subjected to torture or other 
ill-treatment while he is in custody, that he 
receives whatever medical treatment he may 
require, and that he is able to contact his family 
and lawyers. 

I respectfully urge you to consider the 
immediate and unconditional release of Gao 
Zhisheng. Thank you for your attention to this 
urgent matter. 

Copy to:
Ambassador CUI Tiankai 
Embassy of the People's Republic of China
3505 International Place, NW
Washington DC 20008


By Stevi Carroll

Maryland Abolishes the Death Penalty

When Governor Martin O'Malley signed a bill 
outlawing capital punishment May 2, 2013, 
Maryland became the 18th state to abolish the 
death penalty.  A statement issued from the 
Governor's office said, "With the legislation 
signed today, Maryland has effectively 
eliminated a policy that is proven not to work."  
This makes six states, including Connecticut, 
Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and New 
Jersey, to outlaw the death penalty in past six 
years.  Even states that continue to have the 
death penalty, executions are on the decline 
from the peak of 98 in 1999 to 43 in both 2011 
and 2012.

The death penalty remains viable for some 
advocates.  Kent Scheidegger, legal director of 
the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in 
Sacramento, California, believes some crimes, 
such as the Boston Marathon bombing, warrant 
execution of the perpetrator.  He said, "The main 
reason is just simple justice.  There are some 
crimes where a lesser penalty is insufficient."  
He also believes that capital punishment can 
deter crime when it is correctly applied.

Nonetheless, Maryland, welcome to the land of 
18 states without the death penalty.

A Stay for Willie Manning

Just four hours before his execution, Willie 
Manning was granted a stay of execution with 
an 8 to 9 vote by the Mississippi justices.  Mr. 
Manning's attorneys have argued that DNA and 
fingerprints found at the scene of the murders 
he is convicted of committing should be tested, 
but the State thus far has refused to comply even 
though the FBI has offered to do it.  
Additionally, the ballistics and hair fiber 
evidence the prosecutors relied on have been 
discredited and the jailhouse informant used by 
the prosecution is willing to recant his 

Willie Manning has a few more months to live 
while he, his lawyers, and the state attorneys 
await further guidance from the court on what 
happens next.

Hamid Ghassem-Shall Online Action

Urge Iran to stop the imminent execution of 
Canadian citizen
Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, an Iranian-Canadian 
shoe salesman, faces imminent execution in Iran 
after an unfair trial in a Revolutionary Court.

Stays of Execution

7	Willie Manning		Mississippi
21	Robert Pruett		Texas


25	Richard Cobb		Texas
			1-drug lethal injection	
1	Steven Smith		Ohio
			1-drug lethal injection	
7	Carroll Parr		Texas
			1-drug lethal injection	
15	Jeffery Williams	Texas
			1-drug lethal injection	


UAs    26
 POC    8
Total  34

To add your letters to the total contact

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125