Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXIII Number 2, February 2015

  Thursday, February 26th, 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, March 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, March 15, 6:30 PM.  Rights Readers 
Human Rights Book Discussion group. This 
month we read "Words will Break Cement: 
the Passion of Pussy Riot" by Masha Gessen.


Hi All

Gung Hoy Fat Choi to our Chinese friends as 
Chinese New Year was last week.  

Here's hoping our Chinese POC, Gao Zhisheng, 
will be able to join his wife and children in the 
US soon.  He has been released from prison, but 
the authorities are keeping a close watch on him.

Con Carino,


Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting:
Sunday, March 15, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado, Pasadena

BOOK REVIEW by Anne Applebaum
The Washington Post, Feb 13, 2014

Words Will Break  
Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot

by Masha Gessen
What makes someone into a dissident? Why do 
some people give up everything - home, 
family, job - to embark on a career of protest? 
Or, to put it differently, why, on Feb. 21, 2012, 
did a group of young Russian women put on 
short dresses and colored tights, place neon-
hued balaclavas over their faces, walk into the 
Cathedral of Christ the Savior and mount the 
altar? And why - although they knew that their 
compatriots would be indifferent and that arrest 
might follow - did they begin to sing:
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Banish Putin 
Banish Putin, Banish Putin! 
 In "Words Will Break Cement," an 
investigation of the origins and motivations of 
Pussy Riot, the art-punk group that staged this 
famous performance, Masha Gessen set out to 
answer this question. She met several of the 
women in person and corresponded with two 
others, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria 
Alyokhin, while they were in prison. She met 
some of their parents and husbands, in various 
stages of estrangement, and in one case a 
"Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of 
Pussy Riot" by Masha Gessen. (Riverhead) 
Gessen's book in fact begins with 
Tolokonnikova's 4-year-old daughter, Gera, 
who was bored and fidgety on the 11-hour drive 
to Mordovia. She was on her way to visit her 
mother in a labor camp. Gessen sat with the 
family during that drive and during their four-
hour visit, in a tiny rectangular room divided by 
a tall desk. The desk was manned by a prison 
officer who after some time agreed, reluctantly, 
to let a sulky Gera sit on her mother's lap. The 
conversation ranged from Gera's favorite foods 
to the nature of truth, the subversion of 
language and the ways in which the Russian 
political system is reflected in Russian prison 
Later, at one of many tedious hearings on her 
prison conduct, Tolokonnikova expanded 
further on some of these themes. When guards 
accused her of refusing to participate in camp 
activities - including, incredibly, a prisoners' 
"Miss Charm" contest - she made a speech: "I 
assert that it is the principles in accordance with 
which I conduct my life - feminist, anti-
patriarchal, and aesthetically non-conformist 
principles - that are the basis for boycotting the 
Miss Charm contest." 
Her conversation alternates between mundane, 
profound and pretentious. Gessen, here as 
elsewhere in this excellent short account, doesn't 
hesitate to show all these sides of her heroines' 
lives. She takes them seriously but understands 
how odd they all seem in the idea-free zone that 
is Vladimir Putin's Russia, and how peculiar 
their philosophical evolution. Having grown up 
without ideology, they struggled in different 
ways against boring schools, feckless parents, 
pervasive alcoholism. The 24-year-old 
Tolokonnikova grew up in the Arctic town of 
Norilsk, and her grandfather was a gulag guard; 
as a teenager, she taught herself existentialism. 
Another group member studied engineering 
and worked on nuclear submarines before 
quitting and drifting into art photography. 
Alyokhin, now 25, became an activist because 
she heard that a national park she loved was 
being handed over to developers: "I found two 
telephone numbers and addresses on the 
internet, packed a knapsack, and, straight from 
college, went to the offices of the World Wildlife 
Fund and Greenpeace." 
These three women and a handful of others 
wound up meeting in various Moscow 
apartments and art schools, where they 
eventually conceived the songs and "actions" 
that became the works of Pussy Riot, a group of 
one or two dozen women (the numbers change). 
They had no money, no backers. They were 
sustained in part by a feeling of camaraderie, 
though that was elusive: As the group 
constantly redefined itself, the members 
quarreled, disagreeing about legal and artistic 
They also kept going because of what Gessen 
calls "Theory" with a capital T. In a country 
where the government controls the media, 
political parties are often fictitious and election 
campaigns are controlled theatrical productions, 
it can be hard to express political opposition. 
Pussy Riot decided to do so using the language 
of Western radical feminism: Unable to fight the 
system openly, they gained energy from their 
determination to fight it aesthetically, as 
conceptual artists and shock performers. If Red 
Square was a symbol of power, they would 
perform a song called "Putin Pissed Himself" 
there. If Putin wanted to co-opt the church as a 
form of support, then they would use the church 
as a site of protest, too. 
Paradoxically, the regime helped spread their 
fame. Though the experience of prison was 
harrowing, though it took a huge toll on Gera, 
the long labor-camp sentences that Alyokhin 
and Tolokonnikova received for their cathedral 
performance made both women into 
international celebrities. After their release they 
went on an American tour, where they 
performed with Madonna and appeared on 
"The Colbert Report." 
As Gessen demonstrates, the experiences of trial 
and prison also gave these two women a much 
deeper education in political dissidence. While 
in prison, they encountered the Russian legal 
system and learned how to manipulate it. 
Gessen gives a particularly brilliant account of 
their trials, which followed very much in the 
tradition of the dissident show trials of the 
Soviet past. In an attempt to undermine the 
legitimacy of the court, the accused would 
refuse to understand the charges or would 
question the nature of the accusation or of the 
criminality of her crime. Later, they issued 
protests from prison, conducted hunger strikes 
and in some cases tried to organize other 
inmates, just as the Soviet dissidents did once 
upon a time. 
The question now is whether they can broaden 
their message - or if they even want to. 
Certainly Pussy Riot appeals to Western 
hipsters: These women will always be welcome 
at a certain kind of gathering in Moscow or in 
Manhattan. But there isn't much evidence that 
they appeal to the Russian heartland. Until now, 
that wasn't the point: Pussy Riot was conceived 
as an art collective, not a political movement, 
and most of its still-anonymous members want 
it to stay that way. Recently, several of them 
disowned Alyokhin and Tolokonnikova because 
they participated in an Amnesty International 
concert in New York. The group's members 
could not become "institutionalized advocates 
of prisoners' rights," they wrote. True Pussy 
Riot performances could only be "illegal" and 
conducted in defiance of convention and 
institutions of all kinds. 
Gessen doesn't claim that Pussy Riot will ever 
move beyond these unconventional goals, and 
her book doesn't hold up its members as any 
kind of ideal. But one senses her desire for the 
book's two central heroines to evolve and to 
become real leaders, even if only to inspire 
others. In the epilogue, she describes another 
one of the group's members who had been half-
involved, who had stayed away from the 
cathedral performance and yet who was, when 
Gessen met her, fervently hoping that Alyokhin 
and Tolokonnikova would soon be released: She 
very much wanted to be part of something - 
anything - once again. 
There are so many drifting, disillusioned young 
people in Russia, and so many of them are also 
waiting to be part of something. If only the 
"passion of Pussy Riot" could be somehow 
organized and directed, Gessen hints, then it 
might make a difference. 
Anne Applebaum writes a biweekly foreign affairs 
column for The Washington Post. She is also the 
Director of the Global Transitions Program at the 
Legatum Institute in London.

Maria Alexandrovna Gessen, born 13 January 1967), 
better known as Masha Gessen, is a Russian and 
American journalist, author, and activist noted for 
her opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
Gessen identifies as a lesbian and has written 
extensively on LGBT rights and help founded the 
Pink Triangle Campaign. She has been described as 
"Russia's leading LGBT rights activist" and has said 
herself that for many years she was "probably the 
only publicly out gay person in the whole country."
Gessen writes primarily in English but also in her 
native Russian, and in addition to writing books on 
Putin and Russian feminist punk rock protest group 
Pussy Riot, she has been a prolific contributor to such 
publications as The New York Times, The Washington 
Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, New 
Statesman, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, and U.S. News & 
World Report.


by Robert Adams

AIUSA released the following press release on 
February 17, 2015:

Amnesty International USA Expresses Concern 
Ahead of White House Summit on Countering 
Violent Extremism
Washington - Today the Obama administration 
will begin its three-day summit on "Countering 
Violent Extremism." Tomorrow will consist of 
meetings with civil society focusing on 
domestic, international and private companies' 
roles and on Thursday the State Department is 
scheduled to meet with both civil society groups 
and government representatives, with 
government representatives from as many as 67 
countries expected.
Amnesty International USA expressed its 
concern that the Obama administration is 
positioning itself as a world leader in promotion 
of global counter-radicalization efforts but 
failing to encourage human rights protections. 
 "The administration has a responsibility to 
prevent counter-radicalization from becoming 
a pretext for the targeting of human rights 
defenders and repression of peaceful dissent. 
The end result of this summit must include 
guidelines for ensuring U.S. support to foreign 
governments does not facilitate human rights 
abuses," said Amnesty International USA 
executive director Steven W. Hawkins. 
Amnesty International USA pointed to the fact 
that many U.S. partners, such as Saudi Arabia 
and the United Arab Emirates, are governments 
with records of using anti-terrorism laws to 
intimidate internal critics and repress peaceful 
dissent. By inviting representatives of these 
governments to DC this week, the 
administration is sending a troubling message of 
tolerance for their records of human rights 
The White House and State Department should 
be clear on whether, as part of global 
Countering Violent Extremism efforts, the U.S. 
will fund foreign governments, provide security 
assistance or increase intelligence sharing with 
abusive governments. 
Amnesty International USA remains deeply 
concerned that U.S. funding and support will be 
used by foreign governments to commit human 
rights violations against dissidents and human 
rights defenders, including disappearances, 
incommunicado detention and torture. The U.S. 
needs to commit to a set of rules and due 
diligence to ensure this doesn't happen. Given 
the array of foreign governments that will be 
attending, the White House must also condemn 
the post-Charlie Hebdo crackdowns on freedom 
of expression in Europe. 
The administration has yet to respond to a 
December 2014 letter Amnesty International 
USA signed along with two dozen other human 
rights, civil liberties and community-based 
groups, explaining that without safeguards, 
Countering Violent Extremism programs in U.S. 
cities may produce a climate of fear where 
people must watch what they say, lest it be 
reported by their neighbors to police as vaguely 
The Obama administration must also do far 
more to rein in the FBI's abusive practices in 
American Muslim communities, including 
expansive surveillance and aggressive use of 

Gao Zhisheng

by Joyce Wolf

On Feb. 9, Radio Free Asia published an 
interview with Geng He with recent news about 
her husband Gao Zhisheng:

(China released human rights lawyer Gao from 
prison last August. After suffering years of 
brutal torture, he now lives under constant 
police surveillance in the home of his wife's 
parents in Xinjiang Province. Geng He and their 
children escaped to the US in 2009.)

Geng He reported that Gao's condition is 
gradually improving. "His speech faculties have 
returned to a reasonable degree. He can 
communicate with the kids. There are still a lot 
of words he doesn't know how to write, but he's 
recovering slowly."

She said, "When he got out of prison, I asked my 
sister to send me some photos of Gao Zhisheng, 
but she never did, and I was mad at her about 
that. Later, I found out that photos of Gao at that 
time would have been unbearable to look at. He 
didn't even look human any more."

Although he still has very serious problems with 
his teeth, Gao is now able to enjoy reading. "He 
never had time for reading when he was 
working as a lawyer, and he wasn't able to read 
during the eight or nine years that he was 
disappeared or locked up. To use his expression, 
he has a voracious appetite for books, and that's 
what he spends a lot of time doing right now."

Geng He concluded, "I have given up hope [that 
we will one day be reunited as a family]. I am 
happy enough that I'm able to talk to him by 
phone. This is already a huge source of support 
to me. I daren't hope for anything more, 
although I can't help wishing it."

Ten members of Group 22 signed a Lunar New 
Year card for Geng He with messages of 
encouragement and support.  May the Year of 
the Sheep finally bring reunion with his wife 
and daughter and son to Gao Zhisheng! 

If you are on Facebook, you might want to  
"Like" this page for Gao Zhisheng:

If you are on Twitter, Geng He posts in Chinese 

By Stevi Carroll

What a Difference a Stay Can Make

Both Pennsylvania and Ohio will move through 
2015 without executing anyone.  The stays of 
execution hinge on the drug protocol used to kill 
and the efficacy of the procedure.  The Ohio 
officials await new drugs to do the deed while 
Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Wolf, wants to 
review a report on capital punishment in his 

Governor Wolf has come to see the death 
penalty as "an endless cycle of court 
proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and 
expensive."  He is also aware that six people on 
death row in Pennsylvania have been 
exonerated. Nationwide six people on death row 
were exonerated in 2014.

In January 2014, the Supreme Court agreed to 
hear a challenge brought by four inmates to 
Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure.  

While attitudes toward the death penalty 
continue to be almost an even 50-50, this 
discussion may help to move abolition forward.  
As editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis said in an 
email to me, "Let's hope we are witnessing the 
beginning of the end of this barbaric practice in 
our country." 

used with permission - Scott Stantis

Who Can Still Be Executed?

In Atkins v. Virginia, 2002, the Supreme Court 
ruled that 'mentally retarded' people can not be 
executed.  The IQ cutoff point is 70.  As with so 
many 'standardized' tests, an IQ test can have a 
deviation of five points up or down.  

Warren Hill's IQ was 70 which put him in the 
bottom two percent of the population.  In 2000, 
the prosecution said that because Mr. Hill was 
able to enlist in the Navy (this brings up other 
questions for me that have nothing to do with 
the death penalty), have a girlfriend, and hold 
down a job, his IQ score should not prevent his 
execution.  It did not and he was executed 
January 27th.

Robert Ladd scored 67 on his IQ test, but for the 
state of Texas this did not 'satisfy his threshold 
burden on his claim of mental retardation.'  He 
was executed January 29th. Somehow the Texas 
court used Lennie from John Steinbeck's Of Mice 
and Men as their yardstick to decide Mr. Ladd 
was competent enough to be killed by the State.  
To heck with the Supremes' 2002 ruling.

Just Mercy

I know those of us who belong to Amnesty 
International seem to attract many of the 
sorrows of our world.  We read about 
oppression, torture, murder, and work to rectify 
these tribulations. A couple of weeks ago, my 
young friend Reilly Brown who's a sophomore 
at Occidental College asked me if I'd read Just 
Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. No, I had not.  As 
luck would have it, I was heading up to the Bay 
Area on a road trip and my public library had 
an audio copy of the book read by the author.  
This book is the vitamin supplement to put the 
spring back into any fatigued activist's heart.

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who founded the 
Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, 
Alabama.  He and his staff have worked on 
death penalty cases and juvenile life without the 
possibility of parole cases as well as cases to 
bring justice to the poor and disenfranchised.  
Just Mercy not only gives vital and vitalizing 
information but does so through poignant 
stories, and really, stories are what make us 

Mr. Stevenson ends his book with:
"The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the 
undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected 
that it's most potent- strong enough to break the 
cycle of victimization and victimhood, 
retribution and suffering.  It has the power to 
heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to 
aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass 

Mr. Stevenson has a TED talk titled "We need to 
talk about an injustice."

And to find out more about the Equal Justice 
Initiative, go to

After listening to Just Mercy, I am filled again 
with the hope of making our world a better, 
more compassionate place.  And as fate would 
have it, the daughter of one of our members, 
Candy, works with Bryan Stevenson!

Stays of Execution

29	Richard Glossip	OK
10	Stephen West		TN
10	Lester Bower		TX
11	William Montgomery	OH
11	Ronald R. Phillips	OH
19	Tommy Arthur	AL 
			(2nd stay granted)
19	John Grant		OK
26	Jerry Correll		FL

4	Terrance Williams 	PA
5	Benjamin Cole		OK
5	Kenneth Hairston	PA
10	Alfonso Sanchez	PA
11	Robert Diamond	PA
12	Robert Van Hook	OH
12 	Raymond Tibbetts	OH
12	Kevin Mattison	PA
19	Bill Kuenzel		AL (stay likely)


21	Arnold Prieto		TX	 
			1-drug* lethal injection
27	Warren Hill		GA	 
			1-drug* lethal injection
29	Robert Ladd		TX	 
			1-drug* lethal injection

4	Donald Newbury	TX	 
			1-drug* lethal injection
11	Walter Storey		MO	 
			1-drug* lethal injection
* pentobarbital

UAs                                       15
POC  (New Year card to Geng He)            1
Total                                     16
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.