So far during 2001 over 700 case sheets have been issued, concerning more than 880 individuals. We have heard of improvements in 150 of those cases, including 86 in which prisoners were released. The Urgent Action technique has helped prevent 31 judicial executions - 22 stays of execution, 6 commutations, 1 pardon and 3 cases involving juvenile defendants where the death penalty was not applied. Here are just a few of the many Urgent Action success stories this year.
Prisoner of conscience Nurberdi Nurmamedov was released in January 2001 under a presidential Amnesty. He had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment in February 2000 on charges of "hooliganism" and "threatening to murder". Amnesty International believes that he was imprisoned because of his peaceful opposition activities and criticism of the President. Nurberdi Nurmamedov told Amnesty International that he was grateful to everybody who campaigned for his release. His supporters believe that he would not have been released without pressure from Amnesty International and other International human rights organisations.
Army-backed paramilitaries in Colombia released a number of people, aged between 13 and 25, who had been abducted in the central department of Meta in October 2000. In January 2001 the church-run organisation Pastoral Social sent Amnesty International this message of thanks: ''Thanks to your timely and effective Urgent Actions ... the paramilitaries based in Puerto Gaitán (Meta) allowed NELSON YAGUILU, ERMINIA ENCINOSA and her two sons RAMON and PEDRO ENCINOSA, as well as RAMON AGUILA, MARIA ELENA and MARIA CECILIA GAITAN among others to return home''.
Coronado Avila, Lombardo Lacayo and Horacio Martinez, three grassroots activists campaigning to defend the land rights of peasant farmers in Honduras, had been receiving death threats. An Urgent Action was issued on 3 March 2000. In July 2001 Coronado Avila wrote the following letter, thanking all those who wrote appeals on his behalf:
Let me tell you from the bottom of my heart how grateful I am to all of you who work in such a prestigious organization as Amnesty International which fights for the respect of life and of the universal rights of societies around the world. I would also like to take this opportunity to tell ... everyone at Amnesty International that thanks to your support on 3 March 2000, when I was being persecuted and my life was under threat, I am still alive today. I will never forget the people who supported me and my organization, COPA (Coordinating Body of Popular Organizations of the Aguan)...
Finally, I would like to urge you not to become discouraged in your work to help men and women who raise their voices in protest to support their people. Friends, it is people like you who are the most beautiful thing is this world, and I ask God to give you a long life, more wisdom and a heart full of love and solidarity towards the world.
To all the men and women who have supported me, I send my best wishes from the bottom of my heart. Coronado Avila M."
N'sii Luanda Shandwe, president of one of the DRC's most active human rights organisations, the Comité de observateurs des droits de l'homme, was arrested in Kinshasa on 2 June 2001. He was held without charge and often denied access to his family and lawyer. Amnesty International also feared he was at risk of torture. He was finally freed without charge on 6 September 2001 after spending three months as a prisoner of conscience at Kinshasa's main prison.
His fellow human rights activist, Golden Misabiko, was released without charge on 13 September, after spending over seven months as a prisoner of conscience. Although relieved to be free, he requires medical treatment after being tortured in the initial stages of his imprisonment. Golden Misabiko has sent his thanks to all those who sent appeals on his behalf. He said that when he was informed that Amnesty International was campaigning for his release he said to himself: `I'm going to get out' (je vais sortir).
Eren Keskin, a leading member of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and Osman Baydemir, IHD vice-president, received repeated death threats because of their human rights work.
Eren Keskin received telephone death threats, and calls threatening rape. On 9 April she learned that a man arrested in Konya had confessed that he had intended to kill her. Osman Baydemir was followed and also received telephone death threats. Plainclothes police officers reportedly came to see him in Diyarbakir in November 2000, and told him: "We have lost our patience. There are many people. If we say `Kill' they will kill".
Following the Urgent Action, the death threats stopped and they asked Amnesty International to pass on their greetings and thanks to all who took part in the successful Urgent Action. Eren Keskin said:
"I have been a human rights defenders for 10 years, but it was only after Amnesty International issued the UA that for the first time the authorities proposed to protect me and my colleague. I highly appreciate the activities of the Amnesty members on our behalf and send my warmest thanks to them."
In July 2001 the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) wrote the following letter to Amnesty International after an Urgent Action was issued on behalf of one of their staff, `Abed al-Rahman al-Ahmar. He was tortured during interrogation and is currently under a six-month administrative detention order which allows the Israeli authorities to detain him without charge or trial until February 2002, and which is renewable indefinitely.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you, in the name of our field researcher Abed al-Rahman al-Ahmar, our deepest gratitude for the patient work and efforts of the Amnesty International network on his behalf.
We have already received copies of hundreds of letters, from Australia to Germany and from Canada to Taiwan, and the stream continues to reach us, handwritten or typewritten note, by surface mail or by fax. What might appear at your end as an insignificant contribution to human rights and democracy in the world grows and swells until folders after folders are filled with letters of protests at our end. I wish you could have seen your letters brandished in court by Abed's lawyer. Your work is both meaningful and powerful.
Yes, Abed is still held in administrative detention and your efforts are more important than ever. But I would already like to thank you, in his name and in the name of all our staff, because your support lends us great strength in our struggle for human rights, justice and democracy."
Akram `Ubayd, a bank employee, was released on 4 September and his sister Muna `Ubayd, a teacher, was released two days later. Muna `Ubayd and Akram `Ubayd, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, were arrested in August by the General Security Service. They were held in incommunicado detention in the detention centre at Petah Tikvah, where they were at risk of torture. Akram `Ubayd and Muna `Ubayd have thanked Amnesty International, whose help they believe secured their release.
Jose Jacobo Amaya Ruiz, from El Salvador, was scheduled to be executed on 18 January in Arizona. He was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Kimberley Lopez. Since 1985 Jose Amaya Ruiz has been diagnosed as suffering from various mental illnesses, including manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia. In 1999 a prison doctor concluded that Jose Amaya Ruiz did not understand the reason for or reality of his death sentence. Although he was found legally insane by a court in 1999, in 2000 a doctor stated that he was competent to be executed.
His execution was stopped by a federal US District Judge, who ruled that he was entitled to a federal hearing to determine his competency. Jose Amaya Ruiz's lawyer sent her thanks to all those who sent appeals on his behalf.
An Urgent Action was issued on behalf of Dmitry Melnichenko, a Baptist Christian, after he was detained and tortured in May for refusing to carry arms and swear an oath of military allegiance on grounds of conscience. He is now serving in an army medical unit in the town of Serdar (formerly Kizyl-Arvat) in western Turkmenistan. He has been visited by a group of fellow Baptists who report that he is content with his situation because he does not have to carry arms. No criminal charges have been brought against him despite his refusal to swear an oath of military allegiance.
According Baptist sources, the appeals from the Urgent Action network played a decisive role in the case of Dmitry Melnichenko. They report that: "Had there not been such broad International attention to the case, a criminal case may well have been brought against him and he would have been imprisoned for refusing to swear the oath as well as to carry arms on conscientious grounds."
Amnesty International UK awarded Sihem the Special Award for Human Rights Journalism under Threat and on 10 July her husband, Omar Mestiri, and her daughter, Essia, attended the award ceremony in London in her name.
Sihem Ben Sedrine was provisionally released on 11 August, after six weeks in prison. She spoke to Amnesty International and expressed her gratitude to all those who had campaigned on her behalf and put pressure on the Tunisian authorities to release her.
She is still facing charges of spreading false information intended to undermine public order and defamation of a Tunisian judge. No date has been set for her trial which is expected to take place later this year.
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