Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Amnesty International”

Shi Tao Released

I have kept quiet about this for a few months to respect the desire of the victim/hero for privacy.

For the last three years, I have dedicated one of my Freedom Hanukkah posts to Shi Tao who was jailed for 10 years for leaking information about Chinese government restrictions to the west, via Yahoo who gave that information to the government to use as evidence in his trial. Here is a 30-second explanation from Amnesty International.

Tao was convicted when he tried to lift the reporting restrictions from coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where the army opened fire on unarmed civilians. The Chinese government claimed that 241 people were killed in the demonstration and subsequent crack-down. Human Rights groups claimed thousands were killed.

If your memories of the uprising have become blurry, perhaps this amazing footage will jog your memory. It is an unforgettable moment in  history.

Yahoo aside, and they really should be put aside for this, Shi Tao became a symbol of writers who are persecuted for wanted freedom and struggle to bring down censorship. Shi Tao  is a member of Independent Chinese PEN Center, which advocates for freedom of speech and in 2007 won the Golden Pen for Freedom Award.

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Shi Tao is now released and at home, after serving time for almost eight years. He is recuperating and not giving interviews, perhaps a condition for his early release. While we must respect his wish for privacy, now is a good time to celebrate, during the festival of freedom, that for those living in darkness, there is always hope.

You are not Jewish Mr. Tao, but Happy Hanukkah anyway.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?

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When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

The Internet Cost Him His Freedom

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based upon) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, Shi Tao sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page. I plan every year, during Chanukah, the Jewish festival of Freedom to blog about Shi Tao until he is released. I ask that you help because the only hope that Shi Tao has is that we do not forget him.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Jasmine Revolution?

My previous two posts about a Chinese revolution quickly focused in on human rights infringements. As the world’s biggest country watched events unfold in the Middle East, journalists, activists, and other human rights defenders braced themselves for the inevitable crackdown. Radio Free Asia claims that a greater presence of security and surveillance are being observed as China approaches the approach of the 22nd anniversary. Increasing numbers of plain-clothes policemen (how plain-clothed are they if they are so easily identifiable?) not only around the square but in the suburbs surrounding Beijing.

                                                                                       Liang Haiyi

Many people have been detained in recent months facing charges of “inciting subversion. One of the first activists who is clearly connected to trying to raise a “Jasmine Revolution” is Liang Haiyi. Inspired by the regime changes in Egypt and Tunisia, Liang has reposted information from dissident websites hosted outside China regarding plans to protest in China, and has been arrested for her efforts.

One of the people trying to help Liang is Wang Dan, the exiled leader of the 1989 Tiananmen student protests who along with Amnesty International is trying to help free her.

Wang Dan making his famous speech in 1989

China is one of the greatest nations in the history of civilization. I am not personally convinced that China must embrace democracy. There are many aspects of a one-party system that might be advantageous over our political system. But if China really believes in the principles it stands for, then it shouldn’t be afraid of a minority dissenting.

Throwing someone in jail is the action of a frightened oligarchy clinging to power. China deserves better leadership.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Shi Tao – Journalist, 10 Years in Prison

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based on) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, he sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Week of Freedom: Freedom Writers

What can we do?  Over this week I have highlighted a few political prisoners who are being denied their freedom.  It is one thing to read about them, but the next step is to take some action. But what can we do from here (wherever here might be)?

Amnesty International has created the Freedom Writers Network. They guide you in writing and connecting with a prisoner and all the benefits that either the prisoner receives personally or how it helps their campaign for freedom.

I am going to try and reach out to an individual, see if there is a response. There is a helpful Q&A page to help you. Apparently, though responses are not common, that doesn’t mean the prisoner is not receiving the letter. I suspect it means a lot to them even if they cannot respond. It also sends a message to those who incarcerate the prisoners. They have not been forgotten.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

Freedom Week – Chimes of Freedom

I can’t resist sharing this with you. It is a very special version of Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom, played at an Amnesty International festival in 1989.

It was put together by Bruce Springsteen, and includes Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N’Dour, and probably many other artists from my iPod. Truly magical!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Freedom Festival: Amnesty International

I guess this is where we should start. Amnesty International is a huge well-organized protest group. There are nearly three million members, volunteers, activists spread through over 150 countries.

I worked with Amnesty International to help lobby for an incarcerated Nelson Mandela and to free Jews from the Soviet Union in the 7o’s and 80’s. Their tactics are different for each campaign and formulated by those who are on the ground in that country. I have always been impressed with the understanding that local campaigners know best how to work the system.

Amnesty International is a great organization to support. They need your money and your time. The latter can be given from your own room or at their local offices. The advantage of going to their offices is that you get to spend an afternoon with other cool and committed individuals.

Amnesty International is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Usually this should be a proud landmark, but perhaps we can all hope that Amnesty International will not be around to celebrate its centenary – the world will have learned to respect itself and others.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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