activism

Past Activism

Group 11 has been actively working on human rights for over 40 years.  At the center of that work has been the adoption of prisoners of conscience from countries around the globe.  We have also campaigned against human rights violations and for people in regions where human rights violations were all too common.  We also carry out additional special projects.  The work described on this page is a sample of our past work to illustrate its scope.

Prisoners of Conscience: Mansour Ossanlu (Iran)

iran-flagMansour Ossanlu, the leader of the Union of the Tehran and Suburban Bus Company, has dedicated himself to securing better conditions for bus workers and ending discriminatory laws and practices that limit the rights of workers in Iran.

Former Prisoner of Conscience Mansour Ossanlu speaking to Group 11
Former Prisoner of Conscience Mansour Ossanlu speaking to Group 11

As a result of his activities on behalf of the bus workers, he was detained by the Iranian authorities three times between 2005 and 2007. After being tried and convicted in 2007 for “acts against national security” and “propaganda against the regime” he was sentenced to five years in the notorious Evin Prison. While in prison, Mr. Ossanlu’s heath declined sharply as he suffered from heart and kidney ailments and damage to his eyes. Despite his worsening condition, he was denied medical care. Even after a government medical examiner ordered his release he was kept in prison by the judicial authorities. Athough Iran is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions”, the repressive response to Mr. Ossanlu’s activities dramatically shows that workers in Iran have few legal rights and protections and exemplifies how labor activists are regularly treated.

In 2013, after being granted a temporary medical leave from prison and with the help of international agencies, Mr. Ossanlu and his family managed to flee Iran for the United States. He is now living on the east coast, where he continues to struggle for worker’s rights in Iran. He has told his story at meetings of Group 11 and at other events and was the guest of honor at our 2013 benefit concert. We are in close touch with him and support his efforts to protect human rights in Iran.

Prisoner of Conscience: U Win Tin, Myanmar (Burma)

burma-flagU Win Tin, a journalist, writer, and poet (pen name Paw Thit), was arrested and imprisoned on July 4, 1989, for peacefully expressing his disagreement with the policies of the governing junta, and because he was a founding member of the opposition National League for Democracy, co-founded by his close associate, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Throughout his 19 years of imprisonment, U Win Tin was tortured, abused, isolated and deprived of basic rights including adequate medical treatment. He had two heart attacks while in prison.

Former Prisoner of Conscience standing beside a poster relating to his case
Former Prisoner of Conscience standing beside a poster relating to his case

Group 11 adopted U Win Tin’s case shortly after his arrest and began a tireless campaign on his behalf: many letters, petitions totaling thousands of signatures, and a number of demonstrations at the Myanmar Mission to the United Nations and the United Nations. Demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns were often coordinated with other AI groups in the US and abroad.

U Win Tin was unexpectedly, unconditionally released from Insein Prison in Yangon on September 23, 2008, to the astonishment and joy of his supporters worldwide. Early in November 2008, he sent a taped voice recording to Group 11 from Yangon to be delivered at our annual fund raising concert, thanking Group 11 and Amnesty International for our work on behalf of political prisoners and urging AI to continue its efforts as there are so many political prisoners languishing in jails in Myanmar “longing for help from Amnesty International.”  Within Burma he frequently visited families of political prisoners and created a foundation to help them.

Sadly, at the age of 84, U Win Tin died in April of 2014. Though he was Myanmar’s longest serving prisoner of conscience, he remained active in human rights work after his release and died free of the prison cell that had held him for 19 years.

Prisoners of Conscience: Akbar Mohammadi and Ahmad Batebi (Iran)

iran-flagIn July 1999 two university students, Akbar Mohammadi and Ahmad Batebi, were arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest against the closing of a newspaper by the Iranian government. The protest, which was forcibly suppressed, sparked demonstrations and widespread arrests in other cities in Iran. The two prisoners of conscience were sentenced to death, which was later commuted to 15 years in prison. Both men were subjected to brutal physical and mental torture.

Former Prisoner of Conscience Ahmed Batebi speaking at a Group 11 event after his release
Former Prisoner of Conscience Ahmed Batebi speaking at a Group 11 event after his release

The immediate aims of our work over a number of years were to free the two men and to call attention to the harsh prison conditions in Iran. Long-term objectives were to end torture and the abuse of prisoners and to urge Iran to adhere to international standards for the treatment of prisoners. To these ends, Group 11 sent over 2,000 postcards and numerous letters and petitions to the Iranian authorities calling for the release of the prisoners; wrote letters to the Iranian press about the case and demonstrated at the Iranian United Nations mission.

Tragically, Mr. Mohammadi died as a result of his brutal treatment and the denial of medical care while in prison. However, early in 2008, Ahmad Batebi, who by then had become a global symbol of prisoner abuse, escaped from Iran in a harrowing journey and was granted permission to enter the United States. Ultimately, he would like to continue his studies in film.

In a very rare opportunity to meet with a former prisoner of conscience, Group 11 sponsored an event on October 30, 2008 at which Ahmad Batebi spoke about his experiences in Iranian prisons. He stated that without the actions of Group 11 and other voices in Amnesty he would not have survived his nine years in prison.  We have raised about $2,000 for his living expenses and stay in touch with him. Articles in The New York Times on July 13 and October 26, 2008 offer more information about him and his experiences and cite our efforts.

Prisoner of Conscience: Sutanti Aidit (Indonesia)

indonesia-flagDr. Sutanti Aidit, a medical doctor, was arrested in 1961, right after the attempted coup in Indonesia.  Her husband, head of the Indonesian Communist Party, was executed for his involvement in the coup.  By the time Group 11 received the case she had been imprisoned for 11 years without being tried.  Despite many years of work by Group 11 and other Amnesty affiliates, it was only under the Carter administration, which took a particular interest in human rights in Indonesia, that Dr. Aidit was freed under an amnesty.  After she was freed Dr. Aidit recognized the untiring efforts of Amnesty and other organizations.

In addition to the letters that Group 11 sent to Dr. Aidit and to the Indonesian authorities, we contacted the U.S. Department of State and members of Congress on the case.  At one point, over 80 registered letters were sent at the same time to the prison where she was being held. Soon after the letters arrived a trial date was set, although unfortunately it was never held.  Among our other initiatives were sending packages and money to Dr. Aidit’s children in the Netherlands, through a Dutch Amnesty group, and meeting with a former cellmate who traveled to many countries speaking about their ordeal in prison.

Prisoner of Conscience: Liu Gang (People’s Republic of China)

china_flag

Liu Gang, a physics graduate student, was ranked third on the list of “most wanted” protesters after the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration. He was arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to six years in prison.  During his imprisonment, Amnesty 11 sponsored a petition on his behalf which was sent through Amnesty USA to Amnesty chapters throughout the United States.  The petition was signed by over 7,500 people in more than 900 towns and cities in 45 states and the District of Columbia.  The collected petitions and a list of the places where the signers lived were sent to the Prime Minister of China.  In addition, thousands of post cards were sent to government authorities protesting his imprisonment and calling for his release.

Liu Gang was released from prison to be kept in isolation.  He was smuggled out of China to the United States and on June 21, 1996, at the annual meeting of Amnesty International in Washington, D. C., Group 11 presented a plaque to Liu Gang, thanking him for his heroic contributions to human rights in China.  After receiving a five-minute standing ovation as he held up the plaque, Liu Gang addressed the meeting and stated that Amnesty had saved his life.

Prisoner of Conscience:  Father Nguyễn Văn Lý (Viet Nam)

vietnam-flag

Prisoner of Conscience Fr Nguyen Ly being silenced at his trial
Prisoner of Conscience Fr Nguyen Ly being silenced at his trial

Father Nguyễn Văn Lý (1946-) has been peacefully advocating for democracy and free expression in Viet Nam since the 1970s. He was imprisoned by the government from 1977-1978 and from 1983-1992. In 2001 he was charged with “undermining the government’s unity” and sentenced to 15 years. Released in 2004, he remained under house arrest and was charged in 2005 with “disseminating propaganda against the state.”

In 2006, Father Lý co-founded Bloc 8406, an online-based pro-democracy organization that published a manifesto, “The Right to Freedom of Speech.” Imprisoned again in 2007, Father Lý subsequently suffered a stroke in prison. He was released for treatment, but was then re-imprisoned in 2011. In 2007, Father Lý was adopted by Amnesty USA Group 19 in California as a Prisoner of Conscience.  Group 11 worked with Group 19 to advocate for Father Lý’s release by sending letters and petitions to members of the Viet Namese government and the American Ambassador to VietNam.  On May 20, 2016, the government of VietNam release Father Lý.

Campaign against the Death Penalty: Troy Davis (Georgia, USA)

usa-flagTroy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia; a murder that he always maintained he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used was never found. The case against him consisted of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

Troy Davis
Troy Davis

Sadly, Davis was executed on September 21, 2011 in spite of the efforts of many around the world, including Group 11 members.

Several other cases, most notably that of Cameron Todd Willingham, raise the question of how many people who were innocent of capital crimes have been executed.  According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 144 death row inmates have been exonerated as of August 2014.  Additional questions have been raised as states have used untested new compounds and conducted several botched executions by lethal injection.  Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases.

Guantánamo Detainee:  Fawzi al-Odah (Kuwait)

alodah
Fawzi al-Odah

Fawzi al-Odah had stated that he had traveled from Kuwait to Pakistan and Afghanistan for the purpose of teaching and doing charity work. He was detained in Pakistan in late 2001, turned over to U.S. authorities, and transferred to Guantanamo in 2002. He alleged that he was tortured. He was subjected to forced feeding during a hunger strike in 2006. Group 11 had long advocated for al-Odah, urging that he either be charged with a recognizable offense and tried fairly in a civilian court or released, and that his claims of torture be investigated.  Fawzi al-Odah underwent a Periodic Review Board hearing in June 2014 to determine whether his continued detention remained necessary to protect U.S. national security.  The PRB recommended that he be transferred to Kuwait to participate in a “robust” rehabilitation program under secure supervision and monitoring. On November 6, 2014, after nearly 13 years in U.S. custody, Fawzi al-Odah was transferred to a government-run rehabilitation center in Kuwait for a minimum of one year.

Guantánamo Detainee:  Fayiz al-Kandari (Kuwait)

alkandari
Fayiz al-Kandari

Fayiz al-Kandari had reported having performed charity work in Bosnia in 1994 and Afghanistan in 1997.  He said that he went to Afghanistan in 2001 as a student to build wells and repair a mosque. He was handed over by Afghan forces to the U.S. in 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo in 2002.  He alleged that he had been subjected to abusive tactics, including sleep deprivation, physical and verbal assaults, prolonged stress positions, and the use of dogs, loud music, and temperature extremes.  He participated in hunger strikes, during which he was force fed.  Group 11 advocated for al-Kandari, urging that he be charged and tried fairly or released, and that his claims of abusive treatment be investigated.  In September 2015, Fayiz al-Kandari underwent a PRB hearing.  The board recommended that he be transferred to Kuwait to participate in an inpatient rehabilitation program with “robust security measures” to last at least one year.  On January 8, 2016, al-Kandari was transferred to Kuwait (cf. the New York Times article U.S. Sends Kuwaiti Detainee Home From Guantánamo).

Guantánamo Detainee:  Shaker Aamer (United Kingdon)

Shaker Aamer
Shaker Aamer

Group 11 prisoner Shaker Aamer, was released from Guantanamo after 13 years of detention without being charged or tried. He is now home in Great Britain. Thanks to members, especially Lenore and Michael, who worked to free him. See the article Shaker Aamer Is Released From Guantánamo Prison After 13 Years in the New York Times of October 31, 2015

Members of Group 11 responded to the events in Darfur with leadership. One of our members, in particular, was deeply motivated to push Amnesty International to take on the horrific violence being perpetrated in Darfur.  She met with other Amnesty members and members of the AIUSA staff, and also developed relationships with leaders in other organizations and celebrities concerned with Darfur.  She would go on to join Amnesty International USA’s staff for some time as Amnesty’s Darfur Action Team Coordinator here in NYC.  After Amnesty responded somewhat slowly to the crisis, her leadership helped to ensure that Amnesty’s voice was an important voice in trying to end the violence in Darfur and seek a solution that respected the human rights of the Darfuri people.

Country Campaign: Darfur region of western Sudan

darfutThe devastating war in the Darfur region of western Sudan was among the most horrific examples of human rights violations of the past few decades. The suffering embodied in those stories stirred the hearts of people around the world.

Special Project: High School Course on Human Rights

In the early 1990s members of Group 11 designed and presented an introductory course on human rights for high school students in New York City. The course included the concept and definition of human rights, the nature of human rights violations, efforts to protect human rights, and what individuals can do to extend these rights. The course was given in a high school using lectures, discussions, and guest presentations. The group also contributed a library of material on human rights to the school. In conjunction with the course, Group 11 sponsored a contest in high schools for posters and essays on human rights, and awarded prizes to the best entries.

Special Project: Krasivskyj Book of Letters

Introducing the Group 11 book, ‘Two Worlds, One Ideas’In its early years, Group 11 members worked on the case of Ukrianian poet and human rights defender named Zinovii Krasivskyj.  Over the years, the group went beyond simply working on the case, but established a remarkable and ongoing relationship with him and his family, even as he moved from his home in Ukraine to prison labor camps to internal exile.

In 2013 we published a remarkable book of correspondence, Two Worlds One Idea, between a member of Group 11 and Krasivskji, including a background essay and photographs.  These letters reveal a deep personal relationship in the context of the struggle for human rights under Soviet repression.

Group 11 maintained much of the correspondence that occurred between our members, Krasivskyj, and his wife.  In 2013 we published this unique correspondence with contextualizing essays, which tell incredible stories relationship, the core of Amnesty’s traditional work, and Soviet-era repression. Please learn more about this Group and order your copy by clicking here.