For many years during Advent we have held an ‘Amnesty’ service, when members of our Peace and Justice group plan the service.
These services were started in the 1980’s at the suggestion of a member of our fellowship, who sadly is no longer with us.
He was a member of Amnesty International in Cardiff and brought the idea to our Peace and Justice group.
It was well received, so each year we hear of several cases of injustice and send letters to those in authority, and,where possible send cards to individuals
This service is now held on the first Sunday of Advent.
Details of the cases we looked at this year are below, there are many more. Full details can be found at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/write-rights-2019
Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash – Palestine
Drop the charges against Palestinian human rights defenders
Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash are Palestinian activists who are facing charges in an Israeli military court, just for peacefully protesting against illegal Israeli settlements.
They appeared in court several times last year and are required to attend again on Tuesday 20 February. Both risk being sent to prison if found guilty.
Issa (left), a 37-year-old engineer from Hebron, is the founder and coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) group in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. He is internationally renowned for his commitment to peaceful activism against the illegal Israeli settlements. In his own mournful words, these settlements are “destroying the Palestinian identity.”
Issa also documents human rights violations in Hebron, organises peaceful protests, and distributes information on the settlements and the Israeli military occupation to visitors, journalists, and diplomats.
Farid, 41, is a lawyer from Bethlehem, and is the head of the southern districts of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, the State of Palestine’s national human rights institution whose main role is to scrutinise the Palestinian authorities. He is also a member of a collective of Palestinian, community-based resistance groups that organise marches, strikes and legal campaigns.
Terrible treatment in detention
Both men have faced terrible treatment while in detention, and between them they face dozens of charges relating to their activism, including ‘wilful damage to property’, ‘incitement’, and ‘insulting a soldier’.
Some of the charges – such as ‘participating in a march without a permit’ – are not even internationally recognisable crimes.
Others relate to protests that the men weren’t actually at, or are made up of false testimonies, such as an accusation that Farid pushed a soldier – while video evidence proves that in fact the soldier pushed him.
When we spoke with Farid recently, he described in terrifying detail what happened when he was arrested at a demonstration in Hebron last year. As he was bundled to a military court, he was put in a box the size of his own body, blindfolded, “with only a small hole to breathe through. It felt like I was in a grave.”
The reason Farid fights back against this treatment is simple: “We will be slaves if we don’t resist the Israeli occupation”.
“We want to be equal”
The charges against both Issa and Farid are baseless – they are simply being punished for their work as activists.
“We don’t want to destroy Israel,” Issa told us, “We want to be equal.”
All Issa and Farid want is their home back and to live in a fair and just society, free from discrimination and violence.
That’s why we are urging the Israeli authorities to immediately drop all the charges against both men, and to stop harassing them and other human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Yiliyasijiang Reheman – China
The family of Yiliyasijiang Reheman believes that he might have been sentenced to imprisonment without a trial in China’s Xinjiang region. He was last heard by his wife on 1 September 2017.
Yiliyasijiang Reheman and his pregnant wife Mairinisha Abuduaini were studying at a university in Egypt when he went missing in July 2017. He was one of about 200 Uyghur people rounded up by the Egyptian government at the behest of the Chinese authorities. Three weeks later Mairinisha gave birth to their second child.
Mairinisha, who now lives in Turkey, later learned that Yiliyasijiang had been sent back to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. She believes he is among the estimated one million mainly Muslim people locked up in secretive ‘transformation-througheducation’ camps.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has intensified its campaign of mass internment, surveillance, indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation against Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Those sent to the camps are not put on trial, have no access to a lawyer or the right to challenge the decision, and may face torture and other ill-treatment.
‘My husband should be released as soon as possible. We need a warm and complete family. Our children need their father. I will never give up until we can be reunited.’
Mairinisha Abuduaini, wife of Yiliyasijiang
Magai Matiop Ngong – South Sudan
When Magai Matiop Ngong was 15 he loved running and gospel singing. He was in secondary school and had ambitions to help people when he grew up. But life as he knew it came to a sudden end in 2017 when he was accused of murder.
At his trial he told the judge that he was only 15 and tried to explain that the killing he was accused of was an accident.
But the judge sentenced him to death by hanging. “The feeling is not good at all,” he says, “to be informed that you are going to die, I am not happy for that…”.
Magai didn’t have a lawyer to help him when he was arrested or in his first trial. The judge told him he had 15 days to write an appeal to ask for his death sentence to be cancelled. He only got a lawyer when he moved prisons.
Last year, seven people were hanged in South Sudan: one of them, like Magai, was just a child.
Two years after his sentence, Magai is on death row in Juba central prison waiting for his appeal but he hasn’t lost his “hope…to be out and to continue… school.”
When South Sudan got its independence in 2011, the country had the opportunity to break with Sudan’s practice of imposing death sentences and executing people but chose not to. Since 2011 Amnesty International has recorded 36 executions and the imposition of 58 death sentences in South Sudan. By 6 June 2018 at least 345 people were known to be under the sentence of death. . The country has carried out executions every year since independence except for 2014 when Amnesty International did not record any execution in the country. Given the lack of transparency on the use of the death penalty, this does not mean that no executions took place.
‘Before the accident, I was in secondary school… My own aim was to study and do things that can help others.’ Magai Matiop Ngong
José Adrián – Yucatán, México
José Adrián was on his way home from school when police jumped him and threw him against their car. One officer stomped on his neck. Aged just 14 at the time, he lived in an impoverished community in Mexico. His hearing disability meant he was unable to communicate well with police during his ordeal.
José had stumbled onto the aftermath of an argument between a group of youths and police. The police arrested just José, with no explanation, and didn’t call his parents. They were following a familiar pattern, targeting the poor and discriminated against – in this case, a young Indigenous boy.
Officers shoved José into their car and drove him to the police station where they strung him up by his handcuffs. “They left me for almost, like, half an hour there,” he says. “They hit me on my chest. Then they slapped me across the face.”
To get their son released, José’s family had to pay a fine and the cost of damage to the patrol car – money they couldn’t afford. Once home, José dropped out of school because of what happened.
José’s family complained to the Human Rights Commission of Yucatan. In 2018, he received a hearing aid. The police who assaulted him remain unpunished and the family is still waiting for the government to make amends for what happened to him. “I want there to be justice,” says José’s mum.
Yasaman Aryani – Iran
Jailed for defending women’s rights
On 8 March – International Women’s Day – 2019 Yasaman Aryani walked through a women-only train carriage in Tehran with her hair uncovered and handed out white flowers. She spoke of her hopes for a future where women would have the freedom to choose what to wear, so that one day they could walk together ‘me without the hijab and you with the hijab’.
A video of her act of defiance went viral, and on 10 April she was arrested. She was held alone in a cell for days while interrogators questioned her. They told her to ‘confess’ that foreign elements were behind her activism and ‘repent’ her actions. Otherwise, they said, her friends and family would be arrested. On 31 July, Yasaman learned she had been sentenced to 16 years in prison – of which she must serve at least 10 years.
This cruel punishment is part of a wider crackdown on women who campaign against Iran’s forced veiling laws. Since 2018, dozens of women, including Yasaman’s mother, Monireh Arabshahi, have been arrested.