Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXVII Number 9, September 2019

  Thursday, September 26, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. Our 
guest speaker this month is Dr. Nurnisa 
Kurban from the group UyghurLA 
(, whose members work to raise 
awareness of the internment of the Uyghur 
people by the Chinese government in the 
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the 
People's Republic of China.
  Tuesday, October 8, 7:30-9:00 PM. Letter 
Writing meeting at the Caltech Athenaeum, 
corner of Hill and California in Pasadena. 
(This will be our last meeting of the summer 
outdoors at the "Rath al Fresco" on the lawn 
next to the building.) This informal gathering 
is a great way for newcomers to get 
acquainted with Amnesty. 
  Sunday, October 20, 6:30 PM. Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion 
Group. For September we read the novel "A 
Boy in Winter" by Rachel Seiffert.

Hello All,

This is Joyce, writing the column since our 
group cooordinator Kathy has been extremely 
busy this month. On Thursday we will have our 
first Monthly Meeting after our summer break. 
Thanks to Kathy for arranging the visit of a 
guest speaker from the Uyghur Los Angeles 

Tashpolat Tiyip, the former Uyghur president of  
XInjiang University, was sentenced to death in a 
secret trial. Subjected to an enforced 
disappearance in 2017, he has been arbitrarily 
detained since then. No information has been 
made available about charges and proceedings 
against him, and his current whereabouts 
remain unknown. Amnesty International fears 
that his execution may be imminent. 

At our Thursday meeting, you can sign a 
petition for Tashpolat Tiyip. You can get more 
information and send your own letter by 
downloading Urgent Action 119.19:

Next Rights Readers Meeting

Sunday, Oct. 20,
6:30 PM

Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd 

A Boy in Winter
by Rachel Seiffert

In a final review written shortly before her death 
earlier this month, Helen Dunmore acclaims a vivid 
account of mercy and peril in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

Rachel Seiffert is known for her sensitive and 
unsparing focus on history, and the way 
people's lives are corroded or even maimed by 
the past that gave them birth. Her last novel, 
2014's The Walk Home, explored the grim 
heritage of Scottish sectarianism through 
characters trapped in roles they did not choose 
and sometimes could barely endure. The boom 
of the Protestant marching drum, ominous or 
enticing, resounded through its pages. Seiffert 
brilliantly dramatised the loneliness of those 
who cannot conform, or cannot wipe from their 
minds what has gone before them.

Now, in her new novel, A Boy in Winter, she 
returns to a history that clearly preoccupies her 
imagination and was the subject of her earlier 
The Dark Room: the experience of living in and 
under the Third Reich. Daughter of a German 
mother and bilingual in English and German, 
Seiffert writes with authority. She has remarked 
that as a child she absorbed from film, TV and 
the playground a disturbing awareness that 
there was something wrong in being German. 
But how could this be, when these same 
Germans were her loving and beloved family? 
This early contradiction has given a precious 
double vision to her interpretation of the impact 
and aftermath of Nazism.

A Boy in Winter is set in Ukraine in 1941, after 
the retreat of the Soviet army. Incoming German 
forces are greeted with bread and salt by 
Ukrainian peasants who have endured Soviet 
collectivisation and now hope they will survive 
this latest occupation. They have been reassured 
by leaflets dropped from German aeroplanes 
that the invading forces have "no quarrel with 
those who live a peaceful life, with those who 
wish Ukraine to prosper". Civil order must be 
established, railways must be repaired and new 
routes opened to carry armies and supplies. A 
German engineer, Otto Pohl, has arrived to take 
charge of a road-building programme. He is 
uneasy about having become, for expediency, a 
Nazi party member, but comforts his conscience 
with the belief that he is not really part of "what 
the soldiers do". Within the first few pages, Pohl 
learns that the rounding up of the region's Jews 
is at least as high a priority as his road.

This roundup and its aftermath are described 
with hallucinatory vividness, in a way that is 
filmic and exterior rather than penetrative. A 
confused crush of people mill about, repeating 
rumours, struggling to control terror with 
practical interpretations of what may be 
happening. "Didn't I say it's a ghetto they have 
planned for us?" "Yes, three days' travel, 
remember?" Through his boarding house 
window, Pohl witnesses the soldiers' offhand 
brutality, and the fissure of doubt within him 

The "boy" of the novel's title is 13-year-old 
Yankel, who decides to flee with his youngest 
brother, Momik, rather than be caught by the 
soldiers. The two children are the pivot of the 
novel and other characters are defined by their 
contact with the brothers. Seiffert does not 
analyse the provenance of an act of mercy, or the 
roots of cruelty. Yasia, the farm girl who initially 
feeds and protects the children, does not realise 
for some time that these may be "Jew children": 
it is their youth and "fineness" that compel her. 
Even Yankel, both decisive and helpless, 
remains opaque. The story of the boys is told in 
an intensely physical manner, through the 
weight of Momik, tied in a blanket to his big 
brother's back, or the suck and slipperiness of 
marsh, the warmth of a newly peeled egg.

Ukraine, a land of black, fertile soil, farms, 
orchards and marshland, becomes as vital as 
any human character in the novel. This territory 
is a breadbasket, yet the instinct of its invaders is 
to disrupt, damage, destroy. Seiffert never 
belabours her point, but instead demonstrates 
the sheer illogicality of a control system that 
turns the growing of food into a dangerous 
negotiation of curfews and restrictions. To 
endure is the only strategy, but it will not help 
the Jews who have been herded into a factory 
for dispatch.

Yankel and Momik must be persecuted, like all 
other Jews, because the Third Reich privileges 
this everyday, routine mercilessness. Pohl, 
driven out of the burrow of self-delusion he has 
dug for himself, commits an act of mercy almost 
in spite of himself. Seiffert's cool tone never 
wavers, and her spare, beautiful prose is a joy to 
read. One flaw is that while her characters are 
intensely present physically, they are less 
available to the reader emotionally. This can 
lead to a certain detachment, where engagement 
might have made a very good novel into an 
outstanding one.


Rachel Seiffert was born in 1971 in Oxford to 
German and Australian parents, and was 
brought up bi-lingually. She has lived mostly in 
Oxford and Glasgow, and after a short period 
living in Berlin, has now moved back to 
England. Her first novel, The Dark Room (2001), 
explores the legacy of Nazi guilt in Germany 
through the related stories of three 20th-century 
Germans. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 
for Fiction the same year, and won a Betty Trask 
Award in 2002. Her second book is a collection 
of short stories, Field Study (2004). Rachel Seiffert 
has worked in film and community education 
and currently writes for a living. In 2003 she was 
named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 
'Best of Young British Novelists'. Her latest 
novel is Afterwards (2007).

By Stevi Carroll

Sister Helen Prejean

We all know of Sr Helen Prejean for her riveting 
book (and movie) Dead Man Walking: The 
Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty That 
Sparked a National Debate and her tireless work to 
abolish the death penalty. September 7, 2019, we 
in Pasadena and the surrounding communities 
had the privilege and joy of hearing her in an 
interview at All Saints Episcopal Church. She's 
on a book tour pitching her new book River of 
Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

Sr Helen said her latest book is a prequel to Dead 
Man Walking because it explains why she 
embarked on her journey into the lives of people 
on death row. She said Vatican II was her wake 
up call, and when she was 40 years old (she is 
now 80 years old which for me at least infuses 
life into 'the golden years'), she realized that 
(and here I paraphrase) faith without action was 
not a reality of her faith thus she wanted to put 
her faith into action. Prior to Vatican II, women 
who entered the convent had nothing to do with 
what profession they would follow for the rest 
of their lives. After Vatican II, she became an 

As she talked, I realized the free-wheeling 
speech pattern Sr Helen has is really one of 
rapier wit and deep compassion. She poked a 
little humor at the Catholic Church regarding 
the Vietnam War. She said that if the USA had 
dropped condoms on Vietnam instead of Agent 
Orange, the bishops would have been against 
the war immediately. It is that same wit that 
keeps her focused on her mission to abolish the 
death penalty.

Sr Helen devotes herself to one person on death 
row at a time. She gets to know the  person, his 
family, his spiritual life, his backstory. I think 
this is what allows her to realize fully "people 
are more than the worst thing they have ever 
done in their lives." And she goes with each of 
these human beings to his execution.

What she takes away from these encounters is 
the lack of justice: wealthy people rarely if ever 
are condemned to die in the USA. Although 
California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed 
an executive moratorium on executions, LA 
County's District Attorney Jackie Lacey 
continues to call for the death penalty. Sr Helen 
heralds Pope Francis's stand on the death 
penalty.  He has said that the Catholic Church 
has 'matured' in the way it sees the death 
penalty and has had the Catechism changed to 
say, "The death penalty is inadmissible because 
it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of 
the person," with the addition that the Church 
"works with determination for its abolition 
worldwide." Now with that said, in 2018, 53% of 
USA Catholics continued to favor the death 
penalty. Sr Helen believes that many Christian 
religious people who support the death penalty 
see God as identified with 'the law' and if 'the 
law' supports this type of punishment, then it 
must be okay because if it's against the law then 
it's against God. Sr Helen subscribes to a God 
who is interested in compassion and justice. One 
important question for Sr Helen is 'who is our 
neighbor?' followed by 'who do we love?' When 
dovetailed with compassion and justice, these 
seem like good questions for us to consider.

When asked her thoughts on the re-imposition 
of the Federal death penalty, Sr Helen said she 
has an upcoming article where she will discuss 
this in full. I will be sure to look for that article.

Sr Helen started the interview off with a bang by 
giving us our 'call to action'.  First she said for 
us to call Governor Newsom to thank him for 
his moratorium on the death penalty:  916-445-
2841. She followed this with a shout out to 
Jackie Lacey since she continues to call for the 
imposition of the death penalty in cases, so we 
should call her and tell her to stop this because 
of the governor's moratorium: 213-974-3512. She 
suggested we learn about Reimagine Justice 
with the Vera Institute of Justice at
justice. She also mentioned Prism Restorative 
Justice,, a group 
Brother Dennis, one of our speakers last year, 
works with.


Ah yes, Sr Helen Prejean is an inspiration. And 
when I had my minute of time with her, I told 
her she reminds me of Molly Ivins. We both 
agreed we miss Molly, her insights, and her wit, 
and as I walked away, Sr Helen called after me, 
"Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" What a 
wonderful moment.


Pennsylvania, like California, has a moratorium 
on executions. The state's last execution was in 
1999. Now lawmakers are considering joining 20 
states plus the District of Columbia in abolishing 
the death penalty. Since the death penalty was 
reinstated in the late 1970s, 441 death sentences 
have been handed down, and more than half of 
them have been seen as flawed. In the 155 cases 
in Philadelphia, the reversal rate is 72%. One 
problem is that most of those who find 
themselves in trials that involve the death 
penalty have court-appointed lawyers who 
work with limited funds. Assistant Federal 
Defender Timothy Kane wants to convert the 
death penalty sentences to life imprisonment. 
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner 
who won his 2015 election on an anti-death 
penalty platform noted that 82% of the current 
death row inmates are African-American. 
African-Americans make up only 11% of the 
state's residents. 

Perhaps the five Democrats and two 
Republicans on the state Supreme Court will 
rule on the side of abolition, but they have not 
said when they will rule on this subject. 

Maybe the number of US states to abolish the 
death penalty will rise to 21 - plus the District of 

Recent Exonerations

Matthew Ngov - State: CA
 - Date of Exoneration: 8/14/2019
In 2013, Matthew Ngov was sentenced to 57 
years to life in prison for a gang-related murder 
in Long Beach, California. He was granted a 
new trial because the trial judge refused to allow 
evidence that corroborated his defense.  In 
August 2019, Ngov was acquitted at a retrial.

Scott Godesky - State: PA
 - Date of Exoneration: 8/19/2019
In 1997, Scott Godesky was sentenced to life in 
prison for murder in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 
After a co-defendant recanted, his conviction 
was vacated and he was acquitted at a retrial in 

Dontae Sharpe - State: NC
 - Date of Exoneration: 8/22/2019
Dontae Sharpe was sentenced to life in prison 
for murder in Greenville, North Carolina in 
1995. He was exonerated in 2019 after the 
principal witness recanted and a medical 
examiner said the victim's wounds were not 
consistent with the trial testimony.

James Blackmon - State: NC
 - Date of Exoneration: 8/22/2019
James Blackmon pled guilty in 1988 to the 
murder of a college student in Raleigh, North 
Carolina, and was sentenced to life in prison. He 
was declared innocent by a three-judge panel in 
2019 after the state's innocence inquiry 
commission found that Blackmon's confession 
was almost certainly false and that he was likely 
out of state when the attack occurred.

Charles Jackson - State: OH
 - Date of Exoneration: 8/29/2019
In 1991, Charles Jackson was sentenced to 30 
years to life in prison for murder and attempted 
murder in Cleveland, Ohio. He was exonerated 
in 2019 after police reports discrediting the only 
two prosecution witnesses were finally 
disclosed by the prosecution. 

Ricky Kidd - State: MO
 - Date of Exoneration: 9/13/2019
In 1997, Ricky Kidd was sentenced to life 
without parole for a double murder in Kansas 
City, Missouri. He was exonerated in 2019, after 
the prosecution's chief witness recanted his 
identification of Kidd and new evidence pointed 
to the real killers.

4	Billy Crutsinger	TX
	Lethal injection 1-drug (pentobarbital)
	Years From Sentence To Execution - 16
10	Mark Soliz		TX
	Lethal injection 1-drug (pentobarbital)
	Years From Sentence To Execution - 7

[To be reported next month. We worked on 
special AIUSA Banned Books actions for 
journalists and bloggers.]

Narges Mohammadi
and Gao Zhisheng
By Joyce Wolf

Jean-Christophe of Amnesty Belgium, who has 
been coordinating efforts for Narges 
Mohammadi, emailed on September 7:
" I do hope you had an energising summer and 
are all still up to fight for the unconditional 
release of Narges. The bad news is that, as far as 
I know, there is no real and concrete change to 
her condition. 
The little good news is that Narges actually does 
know about our collective effort!! And it does 
help her to keep up. 
She wrote a letter for us. I just got it from her 
husband Taghi (it was in Farsi. Taghi & his 
translator Hassan put it in French to me). I have 
just translated it into English : 

'First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues, 
human rights defenders, at the Amnesty 
International, for their efforts and support.
Secondly, given the situation in Iran, I wish, as a 
human rights activist, to express my opposition to 
the embargo and the war against my country.
 I am sentenced to heavy and unfair sentences 
because of my activities in favour of human rights, 
the abolition of the death penalty, and against sexual 
discrimination, against torture, against imprisonment 
in the isolated area of the prison. I'm against war and 
violence. I will always act on behalf of civil society 
and its organizations that are, in my view, the pillars 
of democracy and human rights. The path to 
democracy and human rights in my country, Iran, is 
through the civil society, not through war or 
The development of non-governmental organizations 
and civil society institutes has been one of my 
concerns for twenty-seven years.
 I was a member or founder of 11 non-governmental 
organizations. I'm convinced that this path is more 
effective than other paths to democracy. 
Mohammadi Narges
Teheran, Evine Prison , August 2019' "

Jean-Christophe suggested to all the groups 
working for Narges that we send recent news 
and photos to him by mid-October, and he 
would gather them to demonstrate the global 
concern for Narges. Huge thanks to Stevi for 
choreographing a group photo at our Group 22 
letter writing on Sep. 11. I'll send it to Jean-
Christophe and post it on Twitter #FreeNarges.

August marked two years since Gao Zhisheng 
was forcibly disappeared, with no word at all of 
his whereabouts from authorities in China. 
Amnesty published a tribute to Gao Zhisheng 
by his good friend and fellow activist Teng Biao, 
some of which I quoted in our August 
newsletter. Here are Teng Biao's concluding 

Gao Zhisheng is not "one of" the bravest lawyers in 
China, he is indisputably "the" bravest one.
In the 13 years after that [2006] kidnapping, Gao 
Zhisheng has never experienced a day of freedom - 
he has been either missing, locked up or under house 
arrest. When Gao was finally seen in public again, he 
looked old and frail. Most of his teeth were missing. I 
looked at the photo and could not stop crying.

But time and time again, even after each kidnapping, 
each imprisonment and torture, Gao Zhisheng 
refused to surrender.

When he was held in a cave in 2016, he found out 
that the American Bar Association (ABA) refused to 
publish my book. He wrote an article to criticize 
them and to condemn any organization that 
pandered or succumbed to China's authoritarian 
power. Even at his most vulnerable, he refused to be 

In August 2017, Gao Zhisheng went missing again 
and has not been heard from since. His family and 
loved ones have never stopped worrying about him.

We continue to look for Gao. We hope that we will 
soon find his gentle smile, his extraordinary strength, 
his unrelenting spirit in his fight for human dignity 
and his refusal to accept defeat.

Read the entire article at

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125
Find us on Facebook - search "Amnesty Pasadena"

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.