Amnesty success

650 prisoners released last year

It sometimes seems like a forlorn battle being an Amnesty supporter.  The tide of executions, arrests for peacefully protesting, torture and other state crimes seems inexorable.  Despite countries signing solemn pledges in the UN, persecution by states of their own people and minorities continues on a grand scale around the world.

But a light sometimes does shine and in a recent report, Amnesty claims that 650 prisoners were released last year due in part to our

Albert Woodfox. Pic: Amnesty

campaigning.  Albert Woodfox was released from 44 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, USA and he said:

Even when it feels like you are not going to win, when you grow disillusioned with politics which put geed before people’s human rights. when you don’t think you can make a difference – please remember that if you had not taken a stand and joined hundreds of thousands of activist around the world, I may not have been able to write this to you today.



Albert Woodfox freed

Today, Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox walked free, 44 years after he was first put into solitary confinement.

[We are publishing this case from Amnesty USA.  The Salisbury group has campaigned on behalf of this man so we are delighted to see his release after all this time.]

albert woodfoxHe was the United States’ longest serving prisoner held in isolation. Nearly every day for more than half of his life, Albert Woodfox woke up in a cell the size of a parking space, surrounded by concrete and steel. Tomorrow morning, for the first time in more than four decades, he will be able to walk outside and look up into the sky. Over the course of nearly five years working on Albert Woodfox’s case at Amnesty, I heard many times that the odds were insurmountable. But I always knew that Albert Woodfox would go home. I have seen the incredible power of our movement when we work together. I have seen the courage humility, and determination of so many of you who have played big and small roles to help this historic human rights victory come to fruition. I have seen the unbelievable strength of the Angola 3: Robert King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox himself—all three of whom endured nightmares but persevered with humor, dignity, and resolve to wage a relentless fight against the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice of prolonged solitary confinement in the United States. With the knowledge of his release, Albert had this message for those who have helped him secure his freedom:

I want to thank my brother Michael for sticking with me all these years, and Robert King, who wrongly spent nearly 30 years in solitary. I could not have survived without their courageous support, along with the support of my dear friend Herman Wallace, who passed away in 2013. I also wish to thank the many members of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation, all of whom supported me through this long struggle. Lastly, I thank William Sothern, Rob McDuff and my lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs and Sanford Heisler Kimpel for never giving up. Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many.

I’m carrying those words with me today as we celebrate this victory. Today Albert Woodfox walks free—February 19, 2016, his 69th Birthday. In Solidarity, Jasmine Heiss Senior Campaigner, Individuals at Risk Program Amnesty International USA

Death row man released

When we run campaigns to end the use of the death penalty, we get a variety of responses.  Many people walk by not wanting to be involved.  Some will come and readily sign the petition.  A few will shout at us or say that they agree with the death penalty and want to see it reintroduced into the UK.

Glenn Ford at his release.  Picture: AP

Quite apart from the moral case against the practice, the major problem is that mistakes cannot be undone.  Once someone is executed, discovering that they were innocent is not a lot of use.  Evidence of this is the recent release of Glenn Ford in Louisiana, USA, after having served 30 years in the notorious Angola Prison.

The case has all the familiar hallmarks of other people released in these circumstances.  Firstly he was black and that is still a problem in the southern states.  Secondly, the prosecution ensures that there is an all-white jury.  Thirdly, the defence council is inexperienced and in this case, he was a corporate lawyer and it was his first time in front of a jury.  Add in dodgy expert testimony and a man now known to be innocent spends 30 years of his life in gaol waiting to be executed.  It now appears the key witness lied and she has admitted that and the Shreveport Times – Shreveport is where the murder was committed – reports that key evidence that would have exonerated him was withheld.   This or other evidence, was discovered by a Sherriff’s investigator and led to his release.

Glenn goes adds to the list of 144 other people released from death row since 1973.  Of course we cannot read across to this country the circumstances of the south in the USA.  Even so, this should give pause for thought to those keen on a reintroduction of the penalty to this country.  Recent revelations about the activities of the Metropolitan Police show that ensuring a scrupulously fair trial cannot be relied upon.

Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases.

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