Another Busy June with AI in Seattle

June has always been a busy month for our Amnesty International group, and we went into it with a busy May, some of which I’ve already posted. . . and. . . I didn’t even make it to everything. 

Untitled by AmnestyWA Justice, on Flickr

It was a nice, if overcast, day on May 22, the Saturday we took group and individual photos at Kerry Park in support of  AI Prisoner of Conscience Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (or Myanmar, as the current military rulers call it). Aung San Suu Kyi has been under unofficial detention, house arrest and/or with restrictions on her movements for 14 of the last 20 years. In 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won 80% of the parliamentary seats in a general election, and the military leadership refused to cede power and instead jailed NLD party leaders and activists. 

Read more about Aung San Suu Kyi at: 


The  photos were part of the Stand with Suu Kyi! action by Amnesty International, to gather at least 2,100 photos in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and human rights in Burma/Myanmar, representing the 2,100 political prisoners detained in Burma. 

Learn how you can take part here: 

Photos are online at: 

Then Lakeside School‘s Amnesty International club hosted a Freedom of Speech Night at the Neptune Coffee House the next weekend, in the middle of Memorial Day weekend and Folklife (more on that music soon). They focused on Prisoner of Conscience cases including Aung San Suu Kyi and Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist/blogger in prison for sending an e-mail to the US about the Chinese government’s orders to play down the anniversary 1989 Tiananman Square Massacre (after Yahoo! gave up his name). 

Their entertainment included a rock group called Radio Static, who played great music of their own, and covers including Springsteen‘s Radio Nowhere


They also had an impressive poet, who started out by reading Shi Tao’s poem June in Chinese, then proceeded to mesmerize the audience and a guy who was standing outside waiting for a bus who came on in with his own poems: 


More information on Shi Tao at: 

Radio Static has music on their MySpace page at: 

I missed our Tiananmen Square memorial this year, on June 3, as it was in the afternoon at UW and I got there too late. Our Amnesty International group took part in a Capitol Hill garage sale that weekend. I just came and bought a t-shirt. Thanks to everyone who did all the work! We also tabled a Sting concert that weekend at the White River Amphitheatre, and then Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Gorge the next weekend (carpooling it to both, as I don’t drive). Those are a lot of fun, and we do get to talk to new people about AI, even if it can get frustrating trying to get signatures for our petitions at times (and challenging, literally doing it by candlelight before finally breaking down for the evening and catching the rest of the show). 


I’m not going to go too much into the Sting and Tom Petty concerts since I’m so far behind, and I figure everyone knows who they are and what they sound like (and Joe Cocker, who opened for Tom Petty – at least for those of my generation). Although, I’d like to get around to a review of Ton’s latest, Mojo, at a later point, as he and the Heartbreakers going to their blues roots on this one. 


Sting was playing with a full orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, for this tour (with no opening act, and an intermission).  He was really impressive with the orchestra and the woman singing with him, and having so much fun with it (including howling at the moon at one point, and 4 encores!). Sting’s audience was a little more aware of who Amnesty International was from the benefits he played for AI back in the 80s & 90s. I also noticed quite a few people with Russian accents, and thought about his song The Russians (which he played that night) and the power of music in reaching people. 


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were awesome and still rocking out with no signs of slowing down, and it was great hearing Joe Cocker with all those classics from the 60s. Good thing we had a full crew for the table, because there was always one of us who just had to catch one of Joe’s or Tom’s songs, until it finally got too dark and we packed up to watch the show. Tom’s is a mixed crowd politically. There were a lot of peace t-shirts along with folks who are more to the right. It was frustrating, because even most of them walked right by the table. 

I think AI needs to do a better job of reaching people, so they at least know who we are and what we stand for in the US. It’s my impression that more people are aware in Europe. I think more people should be stopping by (and I don’t count out reaching people with more conservative views – human rights shouldn’t be political). 

The Gorge itself was absolutely beautiful, as promised. I’ve got to find some way of getting there the next time Pearl Jam plays! There are times it’s real frustrating not being able to afford a car. . . 


More photos of the Gorge and our drive there at: 

Coming up solstice, the next weekend, our Amnesty International group had our booth at the Fremont Fair, as we always do. It was a rainy, dreary weekend this year (though fortunately it held off a bit for the Solstice Parade, and those bicyclists wearing only paint beforehand. . .). 


In addition to our usual petitions, t-shirts, buttons & literature; this year we raffled off a copy of the Pearl Jam vs Ames Bros concert poster book and a new, silver, iPod Shuffle. We were off the main track this year, near the Rocket; our new t-shirts didn’t get done because of a death in the screen printer’s family;  and it was rainy and cold much of the time. We still collected a lot of signatures and it sounds like we broke even; which is good because our main reason for being there is outreach. Let’s just say the raffle winners got a good deal and great odds, and that fortunately both items were previously won at other events by Group 4 members, then donated (the Pearl Jam book, by me, at the Backspacer Bash at Easy Street Records back in October). 

Photos from the Fremont Fair, and especially the Solstice Parade (but not the bicyclists – in keeping with community standards) at: 

Then last Tuesday, we had a vigil and solidarity event for Troy Davis, who is on death row in Georgia.  Troy’s evidentiary trial (ordered by the Supreme Court)  started Wednesday.  We are still awaiting the outcome, and I’m going to hold off blogging until then to do it more justice. I need to find some way to keep caught up. 

Learn more about Troy’s case at: 

June isn’t totally over yet, either, and I’ll be tabling the Steve Earle concert at Zoo Tunes for Amnesty International on Wednesday night (& hopefully blogging about it sooner than a month or so later. . . ) 


Freedom for the Guantanamo Uighurs?

So, we finally seem to be in the midst of freeing 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo since 2002, even though most of them have been cleared for release since 2003. Even though, as Amnesty International noted in a February 19 report:

The Bush administration had conceded that the Uighurs were not “enemy combatants” (even under its own definition of the concept), and had accepted that they could not be returned to their native China because they would face a serious risk of torture or execution there.

No other country would take them, the Bush administration wouldn’t let them be released into the U.S. 

Wait, surely change has come?  Afraid not, the Democrats wimp out again on an important principle, first Congress, then the President. As the Boston Globe reports:

Years later, after the Uighurs’ plight emerged in court, the Bush administration formally admitted they were not enemies. A judge ordered their release.

Then, a new president, who had campaigned on a vow to close Guantanamo, was on the point of admitting them to this country. But suddenly Congress was stampeded by the right, and President Obama ducked for cover. Congressional Democrats and many Republicans had applauded the call to close Guantanamo, but when it came to action, they ran for the exits. There were a few exceptions, like Senators Dick Durbin and Pat Leahy, and Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. But they seemed like schoolteachers after the bell had rung, trying to bring order to a ruck of noisy children, looking in vain for help to the principal’s office.

As the Washington Post notes:

The men were cleared for release by the Bush administration years ago; the federal courts that reviewed their cases concluded that there was no evidence to justify their imprisonment in the first place. Yet they languished behind bars because the United States could not return them to their native China for fear they would be tortured, or worse. Some 100 countries declined U.S. requests to take the Uighurs, in part because of Chinese threats of retaliation. U.S. lawmakers railed against the possibility of allowing the detainees into the United States, claiming that they were dangerous terrorists despite the assessments of a Republican and a Democratic president, military officers and an independent judiciary.

So far, four Uighurs have been freed from Guantanamo and released to Bermuda, with reports of Palau and maybe Italy to take others.  Unfortunately, not before “war on terror” frenzy was whipped up by some on the little island.  As the Boston Globe describes it:

Bermudian Premier Ewart Brown saw the humanitarian crisis that lay beneath the politics. He offered to accept four of them into the island’s guest worker program. At 3 a.m. on June 11, I watched on the Guantanamo airstrip as four innocent men were unshackled for the last time. They climbed aboard a charter aircraft. And when the sun rose, they stepped down to free soil in Bermuda, smiling broadly.

One said, “This is a small island, but it has a big heart.”

Others will have to judge the American heart. Within hours, the lunatic fringe was feeding lies to Bermudian media. CNN joined in the mugging with a false report from a Bush-era mouthpiece that the men had “trained in Al Qaeda camps.” (Before meeting interrogators, the men had never heard of Al Qaeda, and in court the Bush administration itself conceded that there was no Al Qaeda link. But in the feeding frenzy, truth did not matter.)

A political crisis exploded in Bermuda’s parliament. The minority called for a vote of no-confidence in the government. The British loudly protested not being asked permission.

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group in China and live in an “autonomous region” similar to Tibet. Their culture and religion is under attack by the Chinese government, as is the Tibetans.  I first became aware of the Uighurs when AI was working to free Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur business woman and mother of 11, who was in prison 5 years, and Amnesty International considered a Prisoner of Conscience.

There was a time when fighting the Communist Chinese government  was viewed as a good thing by ours, who would have welcomed them with open arms.  Post cold-war and post Sept. 11, however, and we’re letting the Chinese define them as terrorists for us.

As the New York Times notes:

Washington has walked a thin line in the handling of the Uighurs. It sought China’s support in antiterrorism efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, branded an obscure Uighur independence group as terrorist and in 2002 allowed Chinese officials into Guantánamo to interrogate Uighur captives. The four men released here said that interrogation was a low point of their Guantánamo incarceration, with Chinese officials questioning them for long hours without food and threatening them and their families.

My head kind of spins, as a former cold-war kid who grew up on our government being “anti-communist.”  We’re letting the Chinese interrogate prisoners in our prisons.  Oh, wait, our prisons that aren’t our prisons and are on some mythological island where our laws don’t apply.

At any rate, it is good that our government finally has freed four more of these men, and may soon release the others (most of whom even the Bush Administration acknowledged haven’t done anything against us).

Bhopal, Tiananmen Square & Accountability

So, last weekend our local Amnesty International group had events on both Bhopal and Tiananmen Square.  I know some are going to say they’re both too far in the past.  Surely everything is settled now, everything is different now?  Yet much isn’t.


photo from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal

I unfortunately missed the two films on Bhopal shown that Friday night, Hush Baby, and Secrets and Lies. I remembered the film we co-sponsored a few years back on Bhopal, when AI was involved in the issue as part of our Corporate Accountability Network.  It was the children who got the worst of the initial toxic leak in 1984, as whatever the chemical mixture is (and Dow, which has bought out Union Carbide, still isn’t telling), it stayed very close to the ground as families were trying to flee the horror in the middle of the night. 

Sadly, it is still the children getting the worst of it, born with birth defects as Union Carbide is not taking responsibility for cleaning up the still toxic brew, which is seeping into the groundwater.

According to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal:

The monsoons of two decades have washed the chemicals deep into the soil and into the underground acquifers which feed wells and boreholes. The drinking wells and tap of communities living within a considerable radius of the plant have been contaminated with chemicals that are implicated in cancers and birth-defects. People have no other water supply and have been forced to drink and wash in Union Carbide’s diluted poisons. 20,000 people are affected.

I did make the panel discussion on Bhopal last Saturday, which included two members of the Bhopal Survivors Tour and Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana from the University of Washington. 

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Satinnath Sarangi, who founded the Sambhavna Clinic for Bhopal Survivors, talked about the difficulty of getting information or even being able to treat survivors with effective methods starting right after the disaster, when Union Carbide put the pressure on the Indian government to stop.  Evidently their lawyers had warned that to admit the treatment was working would be admitting liablility.  No accounting for what gases leaked has ever been given, due to claims of “trade secrets,” even though that is information seriously needed to help survivors.  It has been a struggle to even get clean water shipped in for the impoverished community near the still leaking site. Meanwhile, Dow claims the case can’t be heard in the Indian courts because they’re an American country, yet the case keeps being denied in the U.S. because it happened on foreign soil.

Safreen “Rafat” Khan, a 16 year old second-generation victim talked about the effects on her family, where her mother, father, and older brother are all sick from the poisons.

Then Dr. Sathyanarayana brought it home with the “toxic trespass” that is happening in all of us.  She brought up the study from the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition published last year which got a lot of press, including this article in the Seattle Times. All the participants, and certainly all of us as well, have multiple toxic chemicals in us.  The recent issue of BPA in baby bottles and the plastic water bottles many of us used is one example. Cosmetics are another.  These chemicals are deemed “innocent until proven guilty” instead of being tested for safety thoroughly first. 

It seems overwhelming to deal with.  Should we be alarmed?  When she starts citing the higher incidence of cancers like breast and prostate cancers at small doses, and you start realizing how many people you know with cancer. . .

Back to Bhopal, by far one of the worst, if not the worse example of “toxic trespass.” One of the things that the survivors are asking is for people to take action by contacting their Congressional Representative to sign on to a “Dear Colleague” letter “which is addressed to the CEO and Board of The Dow Chemical Company asking Dow to present Union Carbide in Indian Criminal court and clean up the spreading toxic mess in Bhopal.”

Then on last Sunday, at Hing Hay Park (and again Thursday at UW), we commemorated the 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown (as we’re supposed to call it as AI members, although, personally, I think “massacre” is more accurate). 

The student protests on Tiananmen Square of April and May 1989 were quite amazing and courageous even to those of us watching on tv miles away.  Eventually workers and ordinary citizens joined in. Until the tanks rolled in and orders came down to end the protests, and the people found their army, who some of them believed would never fire on them, shooting them.

A trifle overblown production, but this video does give some idea of what happened:

According to Amnesty International, between 20 to 200 people involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations remain in prison.  Of course, no investigation has ever been made, nor accountability for the crack down itself.


One of our speakers at the Saturday commemoration at Hing Hay Park was Fang Zheng, who lost both his legs as he pushed a young woman out of the way of an advancing tank at Tiananmen, only to be run over himself.  China denied him the right to participate in the Paralympics because they didn’t want to explain how he lost his legs.

Here’s an interview from Al Jazeera, translated into English:

The Seattle Times gave our rally some coverage, focusing on Fang Zheng. Also speaking Sunday were Jane for the the Federation for a Democratic China, Don Crevie for Amnesty International, a representative from student’s group from Hong Kong and speakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties.


It was hot, and a little windy for the Sunday rally.  Nothing like the wind that changed plans for the evening of the anniversary vigil on Thursday, June 4 starting on the HUB lawn at UW.  The students from Hong Kong set up and mc’d the vigil, and Jane spoke first, giving us a moving account (in Chinese and English) of the events of Tiananmen Square, which she had taken part in 20 years ago. One of the things she talked about was how they sent in soldiers from the countryside, telling him the students were the enemy, whom the students repeatedly tried to reach out to and lecture on what was really happening (which was mentioned by a former soldier, turned artist, in a New York Times article as well).

While the day was a hot, it cooled down and clouded over by the time of the rally.  Then the winds hit, starting toward the end of Jane’s speech.  In addition to blowing out all our candles, the screen they were going to show scenes from PBS’ The Tank Man was blowing way too much, and the canopy was blowing away as well.


We ended up moving the rally inside the HUB, where Don carried on with AI’s concerns about China. 

The students had wanted to show the section of Tank Man where they talk to current Chinese students, none of whom know of what happened at Tiananmen because the government wants it covered up.

Certainly one of the most indelible images of the Tiananmen crackdown, the photos of the young man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks never ceases to fascinate me, or many others, who have tried to find out his identity and what happened to him.This week the Lens, a New York Times photojournal blog, included a feature of him and the four most common photos of his stand off. A fifth photo showed up in response to the blog, showing the young man just standing and waiting for the tanks to arrive from the distance, as nearly everyone else flees.

The video footage is equally amazing.  Here is this young man, carrying his shopping bags, forcing a tank to stop.  The driver of the tank tries to move around him, and he keeps moving with it, and finally climbs up on the tank, opens the hatch and says something to the soldiers inside (perhaps lecturing them, as so many students had in the days leading up to the crack down).  He then gets off the tank and (while it isn’t in this video), is led off by a couple of bystanders.

Incredible!  Everyone who describes watching the scene unwind at the time was sure he would be run over or shot. How incredibly brave, or foolish, depending on how you want to look at it.  Did he disappear and maybe make his way out of China or just fade back into his regular life, or did the authorities get him? 

Of course, the repression is still happening.  One of Amnesty’s ongoing actions is for Shi Tao, a journalist in prison for sending an e-mail in April 2004 to a U.S. based pro-democracy website, summarizing government instructions to downplay the then upcoming 15th Anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.  Yahoo! gave up his identity to authorities.

Amnesty International also reports that in advance of the Tiananmen Square anniversary, some activists were taken away, others placed under house arrest, and internet sites including Twitter, Flickr and Hotmail were shut down.

So, yes, both Bhopal and the Tiananmen Square crackdown are still issues.  Accountability and justice still needed, even after all these years. 

Habeas Corpus of Uighur Prisoners at Guantanamo

According to the New York Times, Federal Court Judge, Ricardo M. Urbina, has ordered the Bush administration to release 17 Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay on Friday.  While the U.S. conceded over a year ago, the Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in China, were not enemy combatants; the Bush administration still contends they should be held at Guantanamo, as they cannot be returned to China for fear of torture, and have found no other country to agree to take them.

“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention,” Judge Urbina said.

Saying the men had never fought the United States and were not a security threat, he tersely rejected Bush administration claims that he lacked the power to order the men set free in the United States and government requests that he stay his order to permit an immediate appeal.

Judge Urbina is ordering the 17 detainees be brought to his court on October 10, according to Amnesty International

The Uighurs would then be released, with the assistance of members of the local Uighur community, religious groups and refugee settlement agencies who have offered their support to help the detainees adjust to their lives outside Guantánamo.

The Judge has also scheduled a hearing for them on October 16 and “ordered that an official from the US Department of Homeland Security be present at that hearing.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is filing an emergency motion for a stay, pending an appeal to the Court of Appeals and the case could go to the Supreme Court.

As the New York Times article noted, “Judge Urbina’s decision came in a habeas corpus lawsuit authorized by a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave detainees the right to have federal judges to review the reason for their detention.”

The centuries-old doctrine of habeas corpus permits a judge to demand production of a prisoner, a power Judge Urbina sought to exercise with his order that the men be brought to him.

“I want to see the individuals,” he said.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. administration “has claimed authority to continue to detain those it no longer considers ‘enemy combatants’ under the executive’s ‘necessary power to wind up wartime detentions in an orderly fashion’.” 

So, not only is the U.S. saying it can hold people without charge indefinitely at Guantanamo; but even if the charges prove unfounded, they can still detain them. This does not seem very orderly to me; not in a democracy; not in the U.S.A..  This is not the America I Believe In.

Amnesty International is calling for the U.S. government to “comply with Judge Urbina’s order, drop it’s appeals, bring the Uighur detainees to the USA, and work to find lawful, safe and durable solutions in all their cases.”

Take action online on the “War on Terror” page:

Or from the main page, , left tab “Our Priorities”, top item on the pull down menu, “War on Terror”

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“Songs for Tibet” Banned in China

So, China has blocked the Songs for Tibet album from being downloaded in China, first blocking the whole iTunes site, then just the Songs for Tibet page (also blocked on’s mp3 page).  It seems Chinese authorities got wind of the fact 40 American athletes downloaded the album while in China for the Olympics.


According to an article on (which the San Francisco Chronicle reports is run by the Chinese government’s Internet Information Center) “netizens” are “incensed over [the] Tibet album on iTunes.”  Not surprisingly, they are rather vague about specifics of these mythical netizens, trying to intimidate the musicians such as Dave Matthews and Sting with threats that they will be banned from entering China, along with threats to boycott all Apple products.

China, of course, has been engaged in internet censorship for some time.   Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao remains in prison since 2004 for sending an e-mail through his Yahoo! account (who gave up his identity) to an American democracy group about a memo from Chinese authorities telling journalists to downplay the then upcoming 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crack down.

China and the International Olympic Committee had agreed that human rights would improve, including freedom of the press and the end of censorship when China made their bid for the Olympics. As Amnesty International noted in their recent press release, China has not lived up to their human rights promises and have tainted the Olympic legacy.

“The Beijing Olympics have been a spectacular sporting event but they took place against a backdrop of human rights violations, with activists prevented from expressing their views peacefully and many in detention when they have committed no crime,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Program Director in Hong Kong. “The Chinese authorities and the IOC had an opportunity to demonstrate human rights improvements but in most respects they failed to deliver. Forced evictions, detention of activists and restrictions on journalists should not blight another Olympics.”

While China set up “protest zones,” they accepted none of the 77 applications (74 were withdrawn, two suspended, one vetoed) and people who applied were assigned to “re-education through labor.”

“It is high time for the IOC to put its core values of “human dignity” and “universal, fundamental ethical principles” into practice by making human rights a new pillar of the Olympic Games,” said Rife. Amnesty International called on the IOC to learn the lessons from Beijing by building concrete and measurable human rights impact indicators into all future Olympics bid processes and host city contracts.


Among those punished by China during the Olympics:


• Two elderly women, Wu Dianyuan (aged 79) and Wang Xiuying (aged 77), were accused of “disturbing public order” and assigned to one year of RTL after they applied to demonstrate in one of the official protest zones. They had been petitioning the authorities since 2001, when they were evicted from their homes to make way for a development project. Beijing city officials ruled that they would not have to serve their time in an RTL facility as long as they ‘behaved’, but that restrictions would be placed on their movements.


Read more about the China Olympic Legacy and take action on Amnesty’s website.