Justice for Detainees in Syria (JDS) was invited to participate in an Amnesty International reception. It took place on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at the home of AIUSA Board Director Terry Rockefeller in Boston from 5:00 - 7:00 pm. The reception was hosted by board member and Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director, Margaret Huang, and organized by Cynthia Gabriel and Betsy Akin. The event was educational, conversational and intimate.
Terry Rockefeller welcomed everyone and Margaret Huang started the event by announcing the good news that after having been imprisoned in solitary confinement for forty-four years, Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox was released on February 19, 2016. Woodfox was the United States’ longest serving prisoner held in isolation. With the incredible power of the AI movement he was able to walk free on his sixty-ninth birthday. After passing on this great news, Huang talked briefly about Amnesty’s activism and also about the admission of Syrian refugees to the United States. She invited Cynthia Gabriel, AI's Northeast Regional Coordinator, to introduce JDS guests Ali Barazi and Hiam Altali Francis. Ali and Hiam were invited to speak to the AI Board members about the Syrian detainees.
Cynthia Gabriel talked about her work with Hiam Altali Francis on four of the featured cases at this year’s "Get on the Bus" (www.gotb.org), which is one of AIUSA’s largest activist gathering organized by AI Local Group 133 of Somerville, MA. Gabriel introduced Hiam, founder of Justice for Detainees in Syria, to talk about her work for the Syrian detainees.
Hiam talked about the mission and goals of JDS. "One of our goals is to cooperate with international human rights organizations such as AI. I want to thank AI for their hard work for detainees in general and for Syrian detainees specifically."
Hiam spoke about the work of JDS, about Syrian children who are detained with their mothers, and about four of the featured cases at this year’s "Get on the Bus". One of these cases is the detention of Adel Barazi.
Ali Barazi, JDS board member, spoke about his brother, Adel Barazi, who is among the enforced disappeared in Syria. Ali’s speech was emotional for everyone.
After Ali's talk, board members of Amnesty International gave JDS a copy of the book Dignity as a gift of appreciation for their hard work. AIUSA’s acting Executive Director, Margaret Huang, AI activists from the greater Boston area, and all guests spent the remaining time discussing Amnesty’s activism and addressing questions on justice work.
Below are some of the questions directed to Hiam about JDS work:
1. Asking for the release of the children who are detained with their mothers is very important. In case those children were released without their parents, is there anyone else who can take care of them?
JDS works for the release of those children with their mothers. However, in the event that the Syrian regime releases the children without their parents, and in cases that there are no relatives, neighbors, or friends to take care of them, JDS activists will take care of them.
There are many examples of these cases happening now and for this reason, JDS started the "Sponsor a Child" project. Sponsoring a child of a political prisoner is one of the most powerful ways to share hope with a family who has experienced indescribable loss and unconscionable suffering. The monthly donation has a direct impact. Just fifty dollars a month provides food, clothing, and medicine for a child.
2. We know that AI is working for detainees and that every once in a while we hear good news about the release of some of them. The question is: Is that enough?
AI is doing a GREAT job on working with the detainees’ cases. I am saying "great" and I mean it even though every day in Syria about one hundred people get detained and we hear about the release of one detainee every once in a while. Syria is in a very special plight right now. However, when international organizations like AI, ask for the release of detainees, even if AI doesn’t succeed in getting them released, the request alone saves lives. I mean when we ask for the release of detainees under great organizations like AI, the regime will not kill them.
After the meeting, Hiam had the opportunity to talk privately with Terry Rockefeller, AIUSA Board Director, about sensitive cases that need urgent attention. They resolved to work on those cases through Cynthia's office.