Sri Lanka: Protect the Right to Protest and Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act!
In the last two years, the Sri Lankan government has intensified the crackdown on dissent, severely curtailing civil society freedom. People from all walks of life, especially from Tamil and Muslim communities, have been threatened, intimidated, harassed, and jailed, simply for expressing their views. Journalists, poets, teachers, and lawyers have been targeted for doing their jobs in ways that displease the authorities. Further, the state has targeted student activists and trade unionists in reprisal of their work.
The government has in recent months used the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) against three protesters, including a protest leader. A study conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found that PTA detainees faced a continuum of violence. The study documented that “violence in police custody was found to be an inherent element of the investigation process, whereby torture is inflicted to extract information, confessions, and evidence from detainees.”
The PTA has enabled numerous instances of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment since 1979. Despite the Sri Lankan government’s multiple assurances that the PTA would be reformed in line with international human rights standards, to date no adequate reforms have taken place. The PTA continues to be used as a tool to arbitrarily detain people, violate fair trial rights, and put detainees at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, amongst other violations.
Over the past few months, Amnesty International USA has been campaigning to protect the right to protest in Sri Lanka. A specific objective for the campaign has been to get the Sri Lankan government to repeal the PTA, to institute an immediate moratorium on its use pending repeal, and to ensure that any successor legislation complies with international human rights standards. This year’s Get on the Bus action on Sri Lanka is part of the larger AIUSA Sri Lanka campaign. Please take the actions at amnestyusa.org/slcampaign (more links are below).
On March 22, 2023, the Sri Lankan government published the draft Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which is proposed to replace the PTA. The ATA would not comply with international standards. Offenses under the ATA are not precisely defined but are broad, vague, and subjective. The ATA retains provisions that would enable prolonged detention (up to one year) without charge or trial. It would facilitate torture, especially in a context that is rife with allegations of torture in custody. It would give the military arrest and detention powers that should only be provided to the police. It retains unchecked powers of the executive without sufficient judicial oversight. The ATA must not be enacted in its current form; it must be substantially revised or dropped.
· Sri Lanka campaign landing page has online actions, signs for a photo action, lobbying suggestions, and more resources for how to get involved in the campaign
· Ask Congress to protect the right to protest in Sri Lanka – online action
· Ask Sri Lankan officials to protect the right to protest – online action
· Send a message through Twitter to Julie Chung, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, asking her to express concern about protecting the right to protest
· Signs for Sri Lanka photo action – please take a photo of yourself or others holding a sign and post on social media, with hashtags #SriLanka and #ProtectTheProtest
· One-page “leave behind” document for use in lobbying Congress on protecting the right to protest in Sri Lanka
· An action toolkit with background information and more suggestions for getting involved in the Sri Lanka campaign
· A human rights education module on the right to protest
· Amnesty petition to Sri Lankan government on the right to protest – please sign
· Sri Lanka country page has further information about Amnesty’s concerns in Sri Lanka.
Take Action Now: Join the South Asia Regional Action Network
Sign up for monthly actions by email on Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, the Maldives and Bangladesh. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and write "SARAN sign-up" in the subject line.
Iran: Free Vahid Afkari
Vahid Afkari was arbitrarily arrested for his peaceful participation in protests in his hometown of Shiraz, Iran in 2017 and 2018. Slogans chanted at these protests expressed a mix of grievances about inequality and political repression.
Iranian authorities held him in solitary confinement, tortured him, and forced him to “confess” to crimes he repeatedly said he did not commit. Vahid Afkari was convicted following grossly unfair trials of a baseless accusation involving murder and sentenced to 33 years and nine months’ imprisonment and 74 lashes. The authorities are holding him in solitary confinement, denying him adequate medical care and ignoring a large body of evidence proving his innocence.
Two of Vahid Afkari’s brothers – Navid Afkari and Habib Afkari – also were arbitrarily arrested in connection with their peaceful participation in the protests. On September 12, 2020, the Iranian authorities executed Navid Afkari in secret. His execution ignited outrage in Iran and throughout the world and led to escalated campaigning for his brothers. Habib Afkari was released from prison in March 2022.
We are calling on the Iranian authorities to:
China: The National Security Law case against Gwyneth Ho and other pro-democracy figures must be dropped.
Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam 何桂藍 was a reporter for a number of different news outlets in Hong Kong, including independent online media StandNews 立場新聞 and the BBC. During the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests, she gained attention for her reporting from the front lines. On July 21, 2019 she was reporting from the Yuen Long subway station. where a large group of men were assaulting passengers, including some who were returning from a protest site. She was live-streaming the events when one of the men attacked her. She was knocked to the ground and suffered injuries but continued filming, and her video went viral.
On June 30, 2020, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (NSL) was unanimously passed by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) and enacted in Hong Kong without any formal, meaningful public or other local consultation. The law’s expansive definition of “national security”, which follows that of the Chinese central authorities, lacks clarity and legal predictability and has been used arbitrarily as a pretext to restrict the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, among others, and to repress dissent and political opposition.
In June 2020, Gwyneth Ho announced her candidacy in the upcoming Hong Kong legislative election. Despite warnings that an unofficial primary organized by the Hong Kong opposition could be illegal under the NSL, Ho participated and was selected to run in the citywide elections.
She and dozens of other political opposition figures who had been involved in these “primaries” were arrested in January 2021 on national security charges. She was detained for two years without trial due to an extremely stringent bail threshold.
On February 6, 2023, the national security law trial of Ho and 46 other democracy advocates began. Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director Hana Young has called the case “an obscene injustice” that “ lays bare the intrinsically abusive nature of the national security law.”
Young said, “The charges against the 47 are based entirely upon claimed hypothetical threats to national security. All those still detained in the case should be immediately released and the charges against all dropped.”
Peaceful political opposition is not a crime.
Amnesty International USA HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGION webpage: https://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/china/hong-kong/
Hong Kong: Case against 47 pro-democracy figures must be dropped as politically motivated trial begins: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/02/hong-kong-case-against-47-pro-democracy-figures-must-be-dropped-as-politically-motivated-trial-begins/
Hong Kong: First ‘authorized’ protest since 2020 comes amid worsening crackdown on dissent: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/03/hong-kong-first-authorized-protest-since-2020-comes-amid-worsening-crackdown-on-dissent/
Hong Kong: Tiananmen vigil convictions an affront to human rights and international law: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/12/hong-kong-tiananmen-vigil-convictions/
Gwyneth Ho’s livestreamed video of attack at the Yuen Long subway station: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1198408397675438
Leave a message of support for Gwyneth Ho and the people of Hong Kong: https://padlet.com/aiusa_china/lennon-wall-ojpgn8by3c4t
Take Action Now:
Sample letter (DOC) (PDF)
Sign up for the China Regional Action Network and the AIUSA China Bulletin.
China Regional Action Network (CHIRAN) is a monthly action featuring individuals who have been adopted by Amnesty as urgent actions (short term) or long-term cases.
AIUSA China Bulletin: is a general email list for receiving regular updates of Amnesty International USA’s work on China
United States: Release Leonard Peltier
Leonard Peltier (Anishinaabe, Lakota) has been imprisoned for over 47 years in the US and Canada, including time in solitary confinement. He is a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and promotes Native American and indigenous rights. In 1975, during a confrontation involving AIM members, two FBI agents and a young AIM member were killed. Leonard Peltier was convicted of the agents' murders despite serious and ongoing concerns over the fairness of proceedings leading to his trial and conviction. Decade after decade, Leonard Peltier has always maintained his innocence.
He is an ailing elder running out of time. At 78 years old, in declining health with serious comorbidities, including diabetes, kidney disease and a potentially fatal aortic aneurysm, he is even more at risk after contracting COVID-19 last year. He uses a walker, is blind in one eye from a partial stroke and continues to suffer health scares while crammed in a tiny cell with a cell mate at USP Coleman 1, a high-security penitentiary in Florida.
Human rights champions such as the late Harry Belafonte, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, and other Nobel Peace Laureates and spiritual leaders around the world have been calling for Leonard Peltier's release for decades.
Former FBI agents, Tribal Nations, State Legislators, United Nations experts, a growing number of Members of Congress and hundreds of artists are urgently calling on President Biden to release him before it's too late. James H. Reynolds, the U.S. Attorney whose office handled Leonard Peltier’s criminal case prosecution and appeal, has said, “Leonard Peltier’s conviction and continued incarceration is a testament to a time and a system of justice that no longer has a place in our society.”
President Biden committed to broadly use his clemency power during his administration. Still, no decision has been made on the petition Leonard Peltier’s attorney applied for in July 2021. Please join our global call to President Biden:
PRESIDENT BIDEN MUST GRANT LEONARD PELTIER CLEMENCY ON HUMANITARIAN GROUNDS AS A MATTER OF JUSTICE—BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
Please visit Amnesty International's Leonard Peltier Campaign Page here.
Take the Amnesty action: https://act.amnestyusa.org/page/96017/action/1?utm_campaign=Free+Leonard+Peltier
Write letters to President Biden! Sample Letter here.
Urgent Action Toolkit here.
Download photo action signs for social media postings here
Sample tweet: https://twitter.com/AmnestySF30/status/1633365141067829248?s=20
Read some of the letters of support here.
See books, films, and podcasts by or about Leonard here.
View the film "WARRIOR the Life of Leonard Peltier" by Suzie Baer here.
Sample letter: DOC
Download posters here.
Egypt: Release Alaa Abdel Fattah
British-Egyptian activist/writer Alaa Abdel Fattah is currently in Egyptian jail after being convicted of bogus charges related to his non-violent political activity. In December 2021, an emergency court sentenced him and human rights lawyer Mohamed Baker to five years in prison, respectively, following a grossly unfair trial. Amnesty believes he is a prisoner of conscience, solely targeted for his activism.
His writings are extensive, but most have come on blogs and in speeches and newspaper essays. A software developer, Fattah helped create the first blog aggregator in the Arab world that was open to political content of all perspectives. One of his blogs, Manalaa, won the Reporters Without Borders Award in Germany in 2005.
In 2022, he published his first book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated”, published by Seven Stories Press, and its influence has been both immediate and widespread. Most of the articles were smuggled out of prison at great risk. We’ll discuss the book more extensively below.
His political biography, however, is extensive. The son of a well-known Egyptian activist, he has been engaged in the fight for political and human rights in Egypt since his youth. His first arrest was in 2006 for participating in a demonstration in support of an independent judiciary. This time he spent two months in jail.
Fattah was a leading voice of the youthful protesters at Tahrir Square in 2011 whose demonstrations in the face of police violence led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. As he writes in his book, that experience showed him the power off political activism, but he knew how little was won. Just months later the interim military government arrested him for his participation in the October Maspero demonstrations. During these protests, military reprisals against the mostly non-violent protestors killed 27 and injured hundreds.
Further arrests occurred in 2013 under the Morsi government following a protest against the new constitution, and again in 2019 following some of the largest protests in Egypt since 2011, protests in which Fattah expressed sympathy for but didn’t even participate in. Following this arrest, he was convicted on charges of “spreading false news undermining national security" by an Egyptian emergency court that falls far short of international standards for fair trials.
Amnesty has document that Fattah is being held in inhumane conditions, and his health is seriously declining. During his detention he received British citizenship through his British-born mother, but Egyptians have denied him British consular visits. He was the focus on international activism, particularly during the recent Climate Change Conference (COP) in Egypt, during which Fattah went on a complete hunger strike.
He ended his hunger strike after collapsing in prison. Currently Amnesty and his family remains concerned for his health and has seen no improvement in the conditions of his detention.
It’s worth noting that Fattah is not alone. Amnesty does not track the number of political detainees in Egypt, but suffice to say, Fattah represents just one person among the thousands of people detained arbitrarily in Egypt for peacefully exercising their human rights.
“You Have Not Yet Been Defeated”
This book is extraordinary, and only partially because much of the writing was smuggled out of Egyptian prison. It serves so many more purposes.
When Alaa Abdel Fattah tells his story, he also tells a story of a generation of activists who brought the hope for change to a country where civil society had been muzzled for decades, only to find more repression. Fattah’s story explains why Amnesty International calls this generation, “Generation Jail.” Fattah’s determination to fight for freedom despite multiple arrests is replicated by the stories of many other young activists who grew up around him, including his sisters and his lawyer, Mohamed Baker. This book is a portrait of this generation’s hopes and aspirations, eloquently written by an activist who spends most of his time thinking about the nature of freedom and the strategies to win it.
At the same time, this book is a history of Egyptian activism. Fattah openly acknowledges his generation’s debt to activists before him, from his father to the women’s groups that popped up all across Egypt in the ‘70s. He makes the connections for the reader to counter the heroic narrative that was pretty common in the writings of Tahrir Square, making it clear that nothing was won today without activism in the past, and what has been won is always fragile.
He has a sharp eye for the ways of the Egyptian government, and in this he provides insight into the opaque dealings of an authoritarian regime marked by arbitrariness. This alone is useful to external activists, such as us in Amnesty, who struggle to deal with understanding how to play that arbitrariness into effective action to change. Here’s a telling fact: During the four times Alaa Abdel Fattah has been arrested, he has faced charges under laws that date from 1914, 1937, 1945, 1998, 2011 and finally 2014. He uses this fact to show the stark continuity of practices from the British colonial era to the authoritarian Sisi regime. That’s not a new idea, of course, but in his writing, details like these shape his vision for what an effective program of change would look like.
Finally, the book is an impressive prison chronicle, exploring the changes it brings on him and those around him, including his jailers. But through it all, what comes through is his ability to express anger without vengeance and justice without prejudice. To him, politics is not a means to achieve power, but to deliver respect to all, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. His lived experience shows that nobody is safe when any group is scapegoated. In this and in so many other ways, Alaa Abdel Fattah fulfills much of the example that Vaclav Havel set himself.
Alaa Abdel Fattah: Three Actions to Take
Amnesty International Urgent Actions
Human rights defender tortured in detention: Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Baker (April 2023)
Alaa Abdel Fattah in critical condition (November 2022)
Life of jailed and beaten activist at risk: Alaa Abdel Fattah (May 2022)
Activists convicted by Emergency Court: Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Baker (January 2022)
Prominent Activist And His Lawyer Detained: Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer (Octo er 2019)
New Push to free Alaa Abdel Fattah
Who is Alaa Abdel Fattah and Why Is He in Prison?
Egypt Prison Broke Activist’s Hunger Strike
The Most Eloquant Speaker at the Climate Conference is Alla Abdel Fattah