Amnesty International Blog

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Updates c/o Revd Ed Standhaft


Refugee Week: 17–23 June

Amnesty International, the Wells group is organising the ‘Lines in the Sand’ exhibition which takes place in June, 20th and 21st, in the Stable Room of the Bishops Palace at Wells. This is a photographic exhibition for 2 days onl of pictures taken by refugees in a refugee camp, depicting the life of refugees seem through the lens of their cameras. The exhibition which is open to all costs nothing for admittance.

On Thursday, June 20th, Ben Grant, a human rights lawyer who teaches law with a special emphasis on Human Rights will be speaking at 11-30am on ‘Human Rights Education.’ In the Stable Room.
The ‘Lines in the Sand’ exhibition, open from 10am to 5-00pm is an opportunity to learn about the plight of refugees and the importance of Human Rights education for today.

June prisoner of conscience: Japan

Hakamada Iwao has been under sentence of death in Japan for more than half a century, convicted of the murder of the owner of the factory where he worked, and of the owner’s wife and two children. The sentence of death was based on a confession, extracted through torture, and on evidence that is likely to have been fabricated and planted. Two years later he was given a death sentence.

Hakamada has spent more than 45 years on death row, chiefly in solitary confinement. In March 2014 he was given a release, suspended the death sentence and granted a retrial. But because the prosecution appealed, it took nine years to finalise the retrial, which eventually began in October 2023.,

Hakamada, who has maintained his innocence, is now 87 and suffers from poor mental and physical health because of the decades he has spent on death row. Amnesty believes that he must be brought to justice and exonerated as soon as possible. Amnesty International is totally opposed to any form of capital punishment.

Ed Standhaft (Revd) group chair, Amnesty International, Wells

Does Amnesty make a difference?

One of the questions most frequently asked about Amnesty International is whether the efforts of Amnesty members actually make a difference. Amnesty members send letters to Government authorities in countries where political prisoners have been detained but the question arises ‘Do they make a difference?’

Two brief examples show they do: Virginia Laparra, detained in the city of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, a human rights activist was active in investigation of high-profile cases of human rights violations. She was imprisoned for four years in December 2022≥  On January 3rd 2023 a judge authorised the immediate release of Virginia.

Another hopeful case is of two Iranian journalist who had reported on the death in custody of a woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for not wearing head coverings. The two reporters, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi were charged with collaborating with the American Government and opposing national security. The two female journalist have been released but still await the final decision of the courts. They have been released on bail.

Amnesty can never be certain about the fate of those who take a stand against unjust imprisonment and torture. But fundamental to Amnesty’s campaigning is a belief about human dignity, and the fight for freedom and dignity will continue.

May prisoner of conscience: India

Umar Khalid has been detained for challenging religious discrimination in India. Umar, a Muslim as raised his voice against discrimination on religious grounds and human rights violations. As a result, the human rights defender and scholar has been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his rights for freedom of expression and assembly.

Umar was active in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a law that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and violates both the Indian constitution and international human rights law. He attended demonstrations and made speeches against the legislation.

He has been under arrest since 13 September 2020, after the authorities accused him of inciting communal violence through his speeches.He was charged under the Indian Penal Code – including ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ and rioting – and the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act.

Umar has been held in prison for three years without trial. His bail applications have been repeatedly rejected by the courts.

April prisoner of conscience: Belarus

Marfa Rabkova was jailed for exposing state brutality in Belarus. She is coordinator of the volunteer network for promotion of human rights, and is imprisoned for documenting human rights abuses, after she investigated such abuses by offices who had opposed peaceful demonstration following the disputed presidential elections.

In 2020 she was sentenced for up to 12 years in prison for inciting ‘ Social hatred, and being a member of a criminal organisation.’ Her sentence has been increased to 15 years in prison and Amnesty International considers her a Prisoner of Conscience.

March prisoner of conscience: Thailand

Anon Nampa is a prisoner of conscience in Thailand, who has been jailed for peaceful protest. He is in prison charged with more than a dozen unwarranted crimes to do with his work as a human rights lawyer. Last September, he was given a four year prison sentence and a £400 fine for speaking at and participating in peaceful assemblies. Anon Is a leading pro-democracy activist who has campaign for the rule of law, human rights and political reform.

As a human rights lawyer, he has defended marginalised communities and individuals targeted for exercising their civil liberties. Anon Nampa Is one of 2000 people including 286 children who are targeted by the Thailand government, seeking to crack down on human rights.

February prisoner of conscience: Zimbabwe

Please remember Itai Dzamara, a Zimbabwean journalist and pro-democracy advocate who was arrested in March  2015. His family and human rights lawyers have tried to find him, but without success. The High Court of Zimbabwe have ordered the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of state security and the police to find him, but without success. Before his abduction, ITAI called for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

The next meeting of Amnesty will be at the Cathedral café, The Loft on Thursday the 8th of February at 2.30 pm.. If you are interested in finding out about the work of Amnesty, please come along and we should be very pleased to see you. We shall be talking about future events and Alaa Abdelfattah, our prisoner of conscience in Egypt.

January update

At the beginning of a new year, the Wells group of Amnesty International wish to thank the Cathedral for the continual support of the work of Amnesty International, particularly in the Saint Catherine Chapel where we are all encouraged to pray for prisoners of conscience and to work for their release.

If you would like to help the work of amnesty and are interested in working for prisoners of conscience, please contact the Reverend Ed Standhaft at

Ed will be able to give further details about the Wells Amnesty group, its prisoners and meetings of the group.


Write for Rights Campaign

Saturday 9 December 2023, Penniless Porch

As part of the Amnesty International ‘Write for Rights’ campaign this month, members of the public are invited to sign festive greeting cards to encourage support for human rights victims around the world. The signing will take place between 10.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m.on Saturday 9 December in Penniless Porch (between the Cathedral and the Marketplace).

The campaign is in support of the international Human Rights Day on Sunday 10 December. The cards will be provided but donations for Amnesty International’s work with prisoners of conscience would be appreciated.

More details about the Wells branch of Amnesty’s prisoner of conscience, Alaa Abdel Fattah, imprisoned in Egypt, whose case for release is supported by the British government, will be included in the January 2024 E-Newsletter. To find out more about the work of Amnesty in Wells, please email

December prisoner of conscience: Iran

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer, and she has represented opposition activist Including women who have been persecuted for removing their mandatory head scarves. She was arrested in 2018  and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. In December 2022 she was back in prison after a temporary release and given 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Amnesty considers Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case “shocking” and is asking for her immediate release.

November prisoner of conscience: China

Lu Siwei, a renowned Chinese human rights lawyer, is being held in the Xindu Detention Centre in Sichuan province, southwestern China, after he was forcibly returned to China from Laos. There is no information about the charges against him. Over the years, Lu has been intimidated and harassed by the Chinese authorities for his peaceful human rights work and he is now at real risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Suffering from psoriasis and without access to lawyer of his choice, his family worries about his well-being.

October prisoner of conscience: United Arab Emirates

Doctor Mohammed al-Roken, a human rights lawyer and academic who once studied at Warwick University, is among eight Emirati dissidents who are still behind bars despite having completed their prison sentences.

In July 2013, Doctor al-Roken was convicted of attempting to overthrow the Emirati government and given a 10-year sentence following a mass trial of activists and critics of the authorities. The politically motivated trial was part of a major crackdown on human rights defenders designed to silence calls for reform. The proceedings were grossly unfair and marred by abuses, including defendants being denied access to a lawyer and held incommunicado or in solitary confinement. ‘Confessions’ obtained through torture were also used in court as evidence of their guilt.

Doctor Mohammed al-Roken was a previous Victim of Injustice in December 2014.

Former Prison Update: Turkey – 2017

Taner Kılıç, a board member of Amnesty International Turkey, has been released having been in prison for more than 7 years. He was convicted of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’.

September prisoner of conscience: Nigeria

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a singer, musician and composer, had shared a song on WhatsApp that allegedly contained derogatory comments about the prophet Muhammad. In August 2020 he was sentenced to death for blasphemy. There were serious concerns about the fairness of his trial by a Sharia court in Kano state, and the framing of the charges against him, including a lack of legal representation before and during the trial. In August 2022 the Court of Appeal in Kano delivered its judgement on his appeal; it failed to dismiss the charges against him and maintained that Yahaya Sharif-Aminu should be retried. The date for the retrial has yet to be set.

Former Prisoner Update: Zimbabwe – June 2023

Joanah Mamombe has been released. She still faces a further trial for protesting that the government failed to provide protection during the Covid pandemic.

August prisoner of conscience: Cameroon

Dorgelesse Nguessan was busy running her hairdressing business and supporting her family. Although she had never been politically active, concerns about the state of the economy prompted her to join her first ever protest, a peaceful demonstration in the city of Douala on 22 September 2020.

To disperse protesters security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. As Dorgelesse turned into an alleyway, police followed her and fellow protesters, blocking them in. She was arrested, taken to a police station and held in a cell with 22 other people and only one bed. Dorgelesse was subsequently charged with ‘insurrection, assembly, meetings and public demonstrations’ and sentenced to 5 years in jail. She is now in Douala Central Prison.

Dorgelesse has a son aged 18 who suffers with sickle cell anaemia. With the breadwinner now in prison, her relatives are struggling to pay for his medication.

July prisoner of conscience: Cuba

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a self-taught Black Cuban artist who loves to paint, dance, and wear bright pink suits. His home in San Isidro, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Havana, is a haven for the community; an open house for people to meet and connect. As a leader of the San Isidro Movement, which was formed to oppose government censorship, Luis Manuel posted a video online on 11 July 2021 to say he would be joining one of the largest demonstrations Cuba had seen in decades. As a result, he was arrested and taken to prison. Luis Manuel was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment following a trial behind closed doors, and is now in Guanajay maximum security prison. His health is declining and he is not receiving adequate medical care.

June prisoner of conscience: Zimbabwe

Joanah Mamombe and two colleagues were arbitrarily arrested in Harare on 13 May 2020, having been brutally attacked after leading an anti-government protest. They were taken to a police station, forced into an unmarked car, and with hoods over their heads were driven out of the city.  The women were thrown into a pit, beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to eat human excrement. They were found two days later – miles from Harare, covered in cuts and bruises and with their clothes torn – and taken to hospital.

While still hospitalised, Joanah and the other two women were charged with criminal offences relating to the protest. Prison guards and police officers were at the hospital to prevent them talking to journalists. After stating that they recognised some of their attackers, the women were rearrested on 10 June 2020 and charged with faking their ordeal. They were detained for 16 days before being given bail. Their trial is underway. No one has been held accountable for the trauma they suffered.

May prisoner of conscience: Morocco

Nasser Zefzafi was living with his family in Rif, a region long-marginalised by the Moroccan government.  In 2016 peaceful protests began in his hometown, sparked by the death of a fishmonger who was crushed by a rubbish truck as he tried to recover fish confiscated by the authorities.  Thousands marched peacefully to express their sadness and frustration and demand change.  As a result, the Hirak El-Rif movement was born and Nasser, a firm believer in justice and equality, became a prominent figure.  The security forces subsequently arrested hundreds of protesters.

In May 2017 Nasser was arrested for interrupting a sermon at a mosque, accusing the imam of acting as a mouthpiece for the authorities.  After being tortured and ill-treated in custody he was sentenced in June 2018 to 20 years in prison.  Nasser is detained in solitary confinement.  Prison conditions have badly affected his health, but he has been denied any medical care.

April prisoner of conscience: Russia

Aleksandra Skochilenko, an artist and musician, wanted to peacefully protest against Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.  On 31 March 2022 she replaced price tags in a local supermarket in St Petersburg with paper labels containing facts about the invasion.  In the early morning of 11 April, Aleksandra was arrested by the police and charged with ‘public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of Armed Forces of the Russian Federation’. This is a new part of the criminal code hastily introduced by the government to stop Russians from criticising the invasion of Ukraine, under which dozens of people have been detained.

Aleksandra is being held in appalling conditions.  She has coeliac disease and has been forced to go hungry for most of the time because the authorities have not given her the gluten-free food she needs.  If convicted she faces up to 10 years in prison.

March prisoner of conscience: Iran

Morad Tahbaz, a British national, was one of a group of conservationists tracking endangered wildlife in Iran. He was arrested and charged with ‘co-operating with a hostile state against the Islamic republic’, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. When Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were released and returned to this country, Morad’s family were promised that he would also be included. Although he was released from prison, having been arbitrarily detained for 5 years, he had to remain in Iran.

In a worrying development, Morad Tahbaz was returned to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison last October. He suffers from serious health conditions, including a history of cancer, yet the authorities have denied him essential medical care. Morad’s wife, Vida, has been placed under a travel ban. His daughter, Roxanne, campaigns for her father’s release outside the Foreign Office.

February prisoner of conscience: Hong Kong

Chow Hang-Tung has made it her mission to ensure the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown are not forgotten, which the Chinese government wants people to forget.  A courageous human rights lawyer and activist, she was vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance which organised the world’s biggest candlelight vigil commemorating the victims.  In 2020 and 2021 Hong Kong’s authorities banned the event, citing public health issues in the midst of the pandemic.  On 4 June 2021 Chow encouraged people on social media to remember the crackdown by lighting candles.  Later that day she was arrested for ‘advertising or publicising unauthorised assembly’.  Chow is serving a 22-month prison sentence for her peaceful activities; she also faces a further 10-year sentence for allegedly endangering national security through her actions.

January prisoner of conscience: Iran

Vahid Afkari and his brother Navid were arrested on 17 September 2018 after peacefully attending protests. Three months later their brother Habib was also arrested for peaceful protesting. The authorities held the brothers in solitary confinement and tortured them to ‘confess’ to crimes they repeatedly said they did not commit.

In a huge miscarriage of justice, the three were convicted on politically motivated, protest-related charges. Vahid and Navid were also convicted of the murder of a security official following a baseless accusation. Navid was sentenced to death and Vahid and Habib were sentenced to over 30 years in prison and 74 lashes each. On 12 September 2020 Navid was secretly executed without warning, sparking outrage and renewed campaigning for the brothers in Iran and globally. Habib was released in March 2022, but Vahid remains in solitary confinement.

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