Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXII Number 7, July 2014

  SUMMER BREAK: No Monthly Meeting 
Thursday July 24 or Thursday August 28.
  Tuesday, August 12, 7:30 PM. Letter writing 
meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner of Hill 
and California in Pasadena. In the summer we 
meet outdoors at the "Rath al Fresco," on the 
lawn behind the building. This informal 
gathering is a great way for newcomers to get 
acquainted with Amnesty
  Sunday, August 17, 6:30 PM.  Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion 
group. For August we read a mystery, "Death 
and the Penguin" by Ukrainian author Andrei 

Hello everyone,

[Kathy is on vacation. She'll return to writing 
her column next month.]

Stevi and Alexi started a new project for Group 
22 to do some local community outreach for 
Amnesty. Alexi set up a table at the Pasadena 
Farmers Market on Saturday, July 12. She 
reported that it was a positive experience. 
Group 22 will be permitted to table two 
Saturdays per month, and Alexi is organizing a 
schedule for volunteers to set up and staff our 
table. Email us at if you 
would like to help or would just like more info.

Hope you are all having a wonderful summer!
Best regards,
Stevi and Joyce

Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting:
Sunday, August 17, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore 
695 E. Colorado, Pasadena

Book Review
A penguin so adds to a funeral
Andrei Kurkov watches with increasing gloom as 
post-Soviet Ukraine comes to resemble the chaotic 
world of Death and the Penguin

Review by Amelia Gentleman
The Observer, Saturday 7 April 2001 

Death and the Penguin
Andrei Kurkov
translated by George Bird

Andrei Kurkov is dismayed to see how the 
portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine created for his 
political satire Death and the Penguin has come 
so close to reality. As a writer, he had a moment 
of satisfaction when he began to see how neatly 
life was imitating art, but it was a fleeting 
sensation, quickly overwhelmed by a sense of 

Contract killings, executed journalists, 
rampaging political corruption and an 
environment of profound moral chaos fuel the 
plot of Kurkov's novel, creating a humourously 
bleak picture of Ukrainian life. The absurdities 
of the lifestyles enjoyed by the new mafiosi and 
the criminal elite are evoked with the cheerful 
narrative simplicity of a children's fable. But a 
glance at the news emerging daily from Ukraine 
gives a sour edge to the comedy.

The novel's publication in Britain comes as 
political crisis continues to unfold in Kiev - a 
thickening scandal, fermenting on contract 
killings, an executed journalist and political 
corruption. The chaos surrounding the 
beheaded opposition journalist Georgy 
Gongadze and continuing speculation over the 
possible involvement of President Leonid 
Kuchma in his death make the extraordinary 
events of the novel seem unremarkable. Kurkov 
was encouraged by his Russian publishers to 
boost sales by classing his work as a detective-
thriller, but its events are too surreal to unwind 
according to standard thriller rules.

The novel's hero, Viktor Zolotaryov, is a 
frustrated writer whose short stories are too 
short and too sensation-free to be published. 
When a newspaper editor offers him a new job 
as star obituarist, paying $300 a month to write 
'snappy, pithy, way-out' pieces, he agrees. His 
brief is to select powerful figures from 
Ukrainian high society and prepare mournful 
articles in readiness for the possibility that they 
might suddenly die. Initially, Viktor craves 
recognition and is despondent that none of his 
articles ever gets into print ('Not only had none 
of them died, but not one had so much as fallen 
ill,' he observes).

But then the unexpected death of a senior 
politician after falling from a sixth-floor window 
('Was cleaning it for some reason, although 
apparently it wasn't his. And at night,' the 
sinister newspaper editor comments) triggers a 
clan war of killings and Viktor's obituaries are 
suddenly in demand. It is only later, when he 
discovers that his pieces are neatly filed in the 
editor's office - marked with dates for imminent 
publication although their subjects remain alive 
- that he becomes uncomfortable about his role 
in the eruption of violence unsettling the city.

The obituarist assumes a pragmatic approach to 
the uneasy morality of his work - accepting the 
money and getting on with it. This approach is 
one which Kurkov believes many Ukrainians 
have been forced to adopt, and his book is free 
of any censure for the way characters behave. 
'People have got used to the corruption. People 
here are flexible and they accept the new rules 
and don't dwell on moral questions. They just 
watch what everyone else is doing and try to 
find their own ways of deceiving others to make 
money for themselves to survive,' he says.

Viktor's blossoming career is watched with 
melancholic disapproval by the gloomy figure of 
his pet penguin, Misha, adopted a few months 
earlier from the impoverished city zoo. In the 
cynical atmosphere of post-communist Kiev, the 
penguin is the only being which inspires in 
Viktor real affection, a devotion which drives 
him to organise a heart transplant for his ailing 
pet, purchasing, at great expense, the heart of a 
four-year-old child.

Kiev is a city of constant power cuts, a place 
where dollar bribes must be handed out before 
ambulance men can be persuaded to ferry dying 
men to hospital, and where hospital staff have 
no medicines to ease patients' pain, let alone 
cure them. This is a place where once-
distinguished scientists do not have enough 
money to buy potatoes; it is also a place where 
criminals will pay $1,000 a time to hire penguins 
to add class to their glitzy funeral parades.

Kurkov's description of the gangster 
underworld is strengthened by first-hand 
experience. 'Some of my friends in publishing 
were killed and one of my film producers was 
murdered shortly after the film was finished. 
Moments like these let you know what kind of 
society you are living in,' he says.

The silent, sad penguin is the key to 
understanding the novel as a portrayal of post-
Soviet chaos, says Kurkov. 'The penguin is a 
collective animal who is at a loss when he is 
alone. In the Antarctic, they live in huge groups 
and all their movements are programmed in 
their brains so that they follow one another. 
When you take one away from the others he is 

'This is what happened to the Soviet people who 
were collective animals - used to being helped 
by one another. With the collapse of the Soviet 
Union suddenly they found themselves alone, 
no longer felt protected by their neighbours, in a 
completely unfamiliar situation where they 
couldn't understand the new rules of life.'

Kurkov retains a sliver of optimism. 'I still have 
hope, otherwise I would emigrate,' he says. But 
even though he remains in Kiev, his readership 
is growing much faster in the West than at 
home. 'People here don't read much now. 
People are very poor - they can't afford to buy so 
many books.'

    (c) 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its 
affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Author Biography 
Author: Andrey Kurkov

Andrey Kurkov was born in St Petersburg in 
1961. Having graduated from the Kiev Foreign 
Languages Institute, he worked for some time as 
a journalist, did his military service as a prison 
warder in Odessa, then became a writer of 
screenplays and author of critically acclaimed 
and popular novels, including the bestselling 
Death and the Penguin. Kurkov has long been a 
respected commentator on Ukraine for the 
world's media, notably in the UK, France, 
Germany and the States.

Gao Zhisheng

by Joyce Wolf

It looks as though Gao Zhisheng might actually 
be released on the scheduled date of August 7! 
Radio Free Asia interviewed Gao's wife Geng 
He (who now lives in the U.S.) on July 3, and 
she reported that Gao's relatives in China had 
spoken with prison officials. Here is a quote 
from the English translation of the interview 
posted on

Geng He said, "I talked to his older brother on 
the phone last night. He said that he finally got 
through to Shaya Prison by phone and asked, 
'When can you allow us to visit Gao 
Zhisheng?' The person answering the call said, 
'No need to come to visit him. He will be 
released on Aug. 7 after finishing his time in 
"His older brother said, 'But we still need to 
pick him up from prison.' The person said, 
'The prison will need to communicate with 
Beijing about the specifics of his release. You 
just wait for further notice at home.' That's all 
we've heard so far."

So it appears that Gao's release will not be a 
straightforward matter. In another interview 
with Radio Free Asia on July 8, Geng He said 
that Gao's brother and other relatives were 
under a lot of pressure from the government. 
They have been instructed to wait for further 
notice. The brother told an RFA interviewer not 
to ask him any questions, because he could not 
tell the interviewer anything now. 

The above post on the China Aid website 
concludes with these words from Pastor Bob Fu:
Bob Fu said, "Given that the overall rule of law 
in China has been taking a significant 
backslide in the past few months, we are 
deeply concerned about attorney Gao's 
situation. I believe that tens and thousands of 
people throughout the world are hoping for 
his freedom and will continue to monitor his 
situation as well.

"In August, if the authorities continue to force 
him into 'disappearance' or take actions to 
limit his freedom, it will cause an angry 
response from the whole world.

"Recently, some influential non-profit 
organizations in Britain and some foreign 
media approached me about this case, and 
they are all very concerned about attorney 
Gao's pending release in August. I shared with 
them what I'd heard from Gao's family, 
including Shaya Prison's response that they 
would 'need to take orders from Beijing' and 
their forbidding of Gao's family to pick him up 
from the prison upon his release.

"Many people across the globe care about 
attorney Gao. I have attended meetings in 
more than a dozen of different regions in 
America this year, big or small, and every time 
when I spoke at a meeting, many American 
people in the audience would ask, 'How is 
brother Gao doing?' 'How is attorney Gao 
doing?' They are all anticipating his release."

Group 22 is certainly eagerly anticipating Gao's 
release! Please join us in the sustained effort on 
his behalf. Go to the Group 22 page for Gao 
Zhisheng, choose one or more of the suggested 
officials to write to, and follow the guidelines.
/GaoZhisheng.html, or just type 'amnesty 
caltech gao' into your browser's search box.  

Thank you!


 by Laura G. Brown

Glenn Greenwald began his recent Los Angeles 
speech by saying that in May of 2013, he met an 
anonymous informant (who turned out to be 
Edward Snowden) in Hong Kong to see proof of 
NSA abuses. Was it really just over a year ago? 
It seems so long that we've been worrying about 
egregious spying by the NSA. But if it seems 
long to us, it must be interminable for Snowden, 
who is now living in Russia rather than risk 
coming back to spend his life in a cell, said 
Greenwald, who won a Pulitzer Prize last year 
for reporting Snowden's story. I saw this civil 
rights lawyer and author June 19 at the Aratani 
Theater talking about what's new in US 
surveillance and his book, No Place to Hide. 

Most of the crowd was between 10-20 years 
younger than me, and I wondered whether 
Greenwald's message was lost on them. The 20-
somethings I know seem to think privacy is 
some kind of dusty relic belonging to another 
era. They share their information continually 
through Facebook, texting, and other media so 
as not to be uncool or left out. Their attitude 
about Big Brother is a shrug of the 
shoulders...they might not like their "brother," 
but he's part of the family, so they have to learn 
to get along with him.

During his speech, Greenwald took on the 
attitude of people who say, "I don't care if the 
government is spying on me. I'm not doing 
anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide."  The 
flipside, he pointed out, is that people who 
value privacy are somehow suspect. While 
people who don't threaten the status quo are 
generally left alone, "The measure of a society is 
how it treats its dissidents," he said, and in 
times of upheaval, such as in Mubarak's Egypt, 
dissenters have been targeted and killed. 
Meanwhile, he complained about NSA 
supporters like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said: 
"The NSA only collects the type of information 
found on a telephone bill."  Actually, under 
FISA, passed in 2008, agents are allowed to 
listen to Americans' phone calls without a 
warrant. Greenwald calls this "suspicionless 
search" and said its chilling effect leads people 
who feel they are being watched to make 
behavioral choices they think others will 
approve of. "Surveillance breeds a compliant, 
easy to control population."

Unfortunately, little has changed since 
Snowden's revelations. A few pieces of 
"toothless" legislation have been passed while 
the NSA's tactics continue unimpeded.  The best 
impetus for change is that big tech companies 
like Yahoo and Google are pushing back against 
government spying so they won't lose 
customers, an effort that offers real hope, 
Greenwald said, because while the US cares 
little about individuals, it does pay attention to 
Silicon Valley billionaires. (Well, there was one 
principled individual who challenged the 
surveillance state and succeeded, he recalled - 
Edward Snowden.)

Greenwald closed with an idea aimed at the 
Generation Xers who are so blasˇ about privacy. 
He offered them his email address and asked 
them to send him their Facebook and email 
passwords, along with the passwords for all the 
other sites they use. "You have nothing to hide, 
right?" he asked. No one has met his challenge 
yet. People must actually care about their 
internet security, right?

By Stevi Carroll

The Good News Rolls In
Wednesday, July 16, Judge Cormac J. Carney of 
United States District Court, ruled on 
California's death penalty. He said that a death 
sentence in California results in something that 
"no rational jury or legislature could ever 
impose: life in prison, with the remote 
possibility of death." We in California don't 
execute quickly enough.

While California law provides an automatic 
appeal process for all death sentences, carrying 
out these appeals is problematic. Death row 
inmates may wait three to five years to be 
assigned a lawyer since all of them are indigent 
and thus eligible for court-appointed lawyers. 
After that, it will take the lawyer as many as 
four more years to go through all of the trial 
records and to file an appeal. Because the State 
Supreme Court hears only 20 to 25 death-
penalty appeals per year, the inmate will wait an 
additional two to three years for his or her case 
is scheduled for oral arguments. Then another 
three to five years can be added for state habeas 
corpus petitions for claims, such as ineffective 
assistance of counsel. What this creates is a 
situation where the punishment does not deter 
future crime nor does it serve as retribution.

Former governors George Deukmejian, Pete 
Wilson, and Gray Davis have supported an 
initiative, Death Penalty Reform and Savings 
Act of 2014, to streamline the path to executions. 
This would include speeding up the appeals 
process. Implementing this would be quite 
expensive. Additionally, according to an article 
in the New York Times, half of the California 
death sentences reviewed by a federal court 
were eventually vacated which means the 
sentence was invalid. The number of signatures 
for the initiative fell short for the 2014, but 
supporters of the initiative are planning on 
dusting it off for the 2016 ballot. One argument 
used is that Proposition 34, the initiative to 
change the death penalty to life in prison 
without parole, failed. However, that 
proposition failed with a vote of 52.8% to 47.2%, 
a very narrow margin. We have to see how this 
plays out given the recent ruling.

For now, let's celebrate Judge Cormac J. 
Carney's decision and know the discussion will 

For a primer on the death penalty, go to 
"Everything you need to know about executions 
in the United States"

Global Executions
Least we become too joyful, a recent study noted 
that globally executions rose by 15% in 2013. 
China continues to keep its death sentences and 
executions hidden behind the veil of 'state 
secrets' but is thought by Amnesty International 
to be the world's biggest state executioner. 
Excluding China, 80% of the executions 
worldwide were carried out in Iran, Iraq, and 
Saudi Arabia. Executions in Iran and Iraq have 
increased to 369 and 169 respectively for 2013 
from 314 in Iran in 2012 and 40 in 2011 in Iraq. 
Five other countries comprise the execution 
posse: Bangladesh, North Korea, Sudan, Yemen, 
and the United States. Egypt has been on a 
capital punishment spree, sentencing 529 
supporters of deposed President Mohamed 
Morsi to death.

Amnesty International secretary general Salil 
Shetty said, "We urge all governments who still 
kill in the name of justice to impose a 
moratorium on the death penalty immediately, 
with a view to abolishing it." In the United 
States, eighteen states and the District of 
Columbia have done just that.

Execution Commuted
10	Tommy Waldrip	Georgia

Stay of execution
2	Ronald Phillips	Ohio

10	Eddie Davis		Florida
		Lethal injection 3-drug 
		 w/ midazolam hydrochloride

16	John Middleton	Missouri
		Lethal injection 1-drug 

UAs                        18
POC                         4
Total                      22                                                                                                                                             
To add your letters to the total contact

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

Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the 
rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the 
context of its work to promote all human rights.