Human Rights

I'm Gonna Start a Podcast

new news podcastI've been considering the idea of a podcast for some time now. I was originally inspired to start a human rights podcast after Amnesty International's national conference in Brooklyn in March. There was a lot of discussion about building human rights awareness and education and in efforts to encourage young people (like myself) to join and/or to stay with the organization after high school or college. I see all these older folks talking about these issues and I thought, "Why don't I start a podcast? That's a great way to educate people and to encourage them to join Amnesty International." Plus, podcasts span across generations and are only growing in popularity. I can do a podcast. So, why not?

At First It Was So Overwhelming!

Once I started planning for the human rights podcast, I was overwhelmed quickly. Which topics should I talk about? How much research do I need to do for each episode? How am I going to balance this with my full-time job? It became too much in about a week and I abandoned the idea. However, with the changes going on at work and the overall direction of the company, I see new possibility and opportunity with the podcast. I want to include human rights, yes, but I doesn't have to be such a big deal. I don't have to overthink it so much. I just need to start small, start easy and just get things going. So, I'm going to resurrect the idea and see where I can take it. Plus, I found this handy guide to starting a podcast that helped a great deal while also showing me to start one without having to spend a lot of money.

This Podcast is Going to Be News Show + Human Rights + Fun

Right now, I'm reaching out to some friends of mine to see if they would be interested in appearing on the podcast. I figure if I start with friends, then it'll be much easier (and much more fun) to get things going. If something goes wrong, or if I don't really like podcasting after all, or if the episode is just a total disaster, then it's not a huge problem because the guest was just a friend and we were just having a fun conversation. I also need to get a few episodes together anyway before I can think about promoting the app or submitting the feed to iTunes. No one's going to be interested if I only have one episode done. By reaching out to several people, I can get a few dates organized and then put together four or five podcasts. Afterward, I can officially announce the podcast, promote it on social media, encourage people to download and see where else I can take it from there.

My podcast is going to be a mix of news, human rights (which is news oftentimes) and fun. I really like the conversational style that Joe Rogan employs for his podcast, but I like the level of discussion and the topic focus that Cara Santa Maria has for her podcasts. I don't know if I can do a podcast as long as Rogan's but I think an hour or a 90-minute podcast would work just fine. Eventually, it would be super cool to have folks contributing to the podcast via Patreon and maybe even appearing on other people's podcasts because of the work that I do and the content that I put out.

But, One Step at a Time

Yep, as I still need to get a few more people lined up and then upgrade my Skype account so that I can record the interviews. I have an awesome headphone/microphone set up already, and I got a new computer about two months ago so I know my hardware can handle it. I'm not sure what I'm going to call the podcast yet, but I'll get to that once I start recording and getting folks lined up. After I record a few episodes, or perhaps right before I record the first episode, I'll figure out what the podcast is called and will start on a logo and other design aspects so that all the promotional material is lined up.

Overall, I'm excited and I definitely need to start making a few things happen for my personal brand. I don't know if I can juggle writing for other publications or freelancing on the side. With podcasting, I can spend one weekend on one episode and then find time throughout the week to write blog posts, tweet links, post things on Facebook, do research etc. I think podcasting will be easier with my schedule (and I get to own all the content) than freelancing and writing for publications and other online websites.

There is a Plan B for Birth Control and Health Care Plans

birth control healthcare plans Every Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

Last Friday, the White House announced that there will be no wider exemption for religious groups regarding the Affordable Care Act, which requires that “preventative care” be fully covered, with no co-pay, under new insurance plans, and the Department of Health and Human Services accepted recommendations that put all forms of contraception in that category. Beginning August 2012, new insurance plans must fully cover women's preventive care, which now will include yearly wellness visits, breastfeeding counseling and equipment, and screening for gestational diabetes, domestic abuse, HPV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV, in addition to the birth control and sterilization. This latest announcement grants only a one-year waiver they can apply for while figuring out how to comply with the law. Naturally, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops is against the new regulation, particularly the clause on birth control, as it conflicts with Catholic tenets.

As Reverend Peter Laird presents in his counterpoint, “The position of the Catholic Church on artificial birth control is well-known, though not always well-understood. Our teaching is founded in a conviction that every human act is meant to witness to the truth about God and man…The church does not consider birth control a right of health care, much less a good for human flourishing, because pregnancy is not a disease.

The new regulation does come with a “conscience” clause, an exemption that applies to non-profit employers that have the “inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that primarily employ fellow believers, and that primarily serve people who share its religious tenets.” This defined exemption would not include Catholic hospitals and probably won’t include Catholic Charities and Catholic institutions of higher learning. Thus, the new regulation has not been well-received by the Catholic community.

However, research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church, compared with 99 percent of American women who have used these same methods at one point in time. The statistics aren’t much different. It’s fine that Catholic doctrine is against birth control, but with so many Catholic women violating this part of the doctrine, the church really ought to expend its energy on reaching out to its members instead of retaliating against the federal government. The study does not specify how many of these women are aware that using birth control is against church doctrine, so it’s impossible to determine how many are using birth control in spite of church doctrine, or because they don’t know that it’s against church teachings. It’s also possible that Catholic women are choosing to violate this part of the doctrine in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, and the confronting the choice of violating the church’s stance on abortion.

I don’t fault the church and other Catholic organizations for not supporting the federal regulation, but I don’t’ see how it jeopardizes the overall mission of these organizations, or the essence of being Catholic. I’m sure being Catholic is much more than avoiding birth control, like being a person for others and living simply. Plus, the new federal regulation says that all health plans much cover sterilization and contraception. That doesn’t mean that a woman will, or must, access that free contraception. As Laird says,

“Absent sufficient regard for rights of conscience, the birth control mandate will force all men and women -- and all employers -- to carry health "benefits" that violate the sincerely held religious convictions of many.”

I don’t deny that these benefits violate the religious convictions of many, but doesn’t it only count if those who believe such participate in this violation? Does mere availability automatically equal a violation all its own, even if no one took advantage of this availability? This regulation presents an opportunity for the church and Catholic employers to make its community aware that the use of sterilization and contraception is against church teaching.  Of course, another option is to revoke health insurance for all employees, but no one needs to be that drastic here. If anything, the regulation allows for the accommodation of non-Catholics at Catholic employers while encouraging Catholics to follow church teachings. As Laird puts it:

“Organizations such as Catholic universities and hospitals, social-services agencies and Catholic Charities, because they serve people without regard to religious affiliation, would be forced to provide contraceptive and sterilization services. In other words, we would have to stop being Catholic if we wanted to serve all men and women, as Jesus did. It would also require Catholic organizations to employ only Catholics, which may be at variance with both federal and state discrimination laws.”

After all, Catholic employers cannot legally exclude non-Catholics from its workforce, and Catholic Charities certainly wouldn’t exclude non-Catholics from its services. Therefore, there’s no imposition or forced adoption of Catholic teaching. Also, the regulation only stipulates the provision of them in health care plans, not necessarily by the institutions themselves. This means a Catholic hospital or clinic can refrain from carrying birth control and providing sterilization services to the people they serve. This would also mean that any non-Catholic that works in these places, that wishes to use birth control, would have the choice to do so. This regulation doesn’t infringe on the Catholic identity of institutions in anyway.

Why must this issue of birth control be treated as such a black and white issue? This issue of sterilization and contraception seems like an opportunity for religious education and tolerance instead of the religious intolerance that it’s perceived to be. Overall, this federal regulation doesn’t say that Catholic teaching is wrong, or that Catholic institutions cannot be Catholic institutions. It doesn’t stipulate that birth control must be offered to all who walk through those doors. It just needs to be part of the health care plan. Good Catholics can still be good Catholics by not using that part of the plan. Non-Catholics can still have this choice available to them if they wish. Just because the choice is there to choose birth control doesn’t mean that one must, should, or will choose birth control.

What Is "Labour Camp Management Software"?

labour camp management softwareI ask this question because "labour camp management software" was one of the top search terms for my blog today. Yes, it came with the British spelling of the word, "labor". I typed the search term into Google myself, and the first page is full of websites about "camp management software." Camp management software is something I understand. I can see the need for a camp of some sort to need software so that it can manage all of campers, programs, tasks, finances, and staff much more easily. But, labour camp management software?

There IS a Market For It

Yes, North Korea has several labor camps and perhaps Kim Jong-Un and his officials could use a little help managing everything that goes on in those camps. But, why would they want software for that? It leaves a digital paper trail of all their activities, creating more proof of the human rights abuses that happen behind those walls. It would also mean that North Korea would have to get its country Internet, and if North Korea got Internet access, then the entire dictatorship would crumble. I don't know if North Korea could handle labour camp management software. I mean, I don't think there's a strong technology industry or tech-focused education in North Korea. Training people in how to use this software would be such a hassle since you might even have to train them in how to use a computer.

Perhaps I'm Thinking About This a Little Too Hard

I mean, it's very possible someone typed in this keyphrase by accident. It's possible that his/her first keyphrase started with the word, "labour". After that search, this person wanted to do another search, but managed to delete everything but the word, "labour". The next search happened to be "camp management software", and hence the funny top search term for my blog. But, if it was a mistake, then why click the link to my blog? Why pay attention to the results of a keyphrase you didn't intend to search? This reasoning makes it seem more likely that the search term was intentional, which leaves me wondering what the hell labour camp management software is and who would want to purchase this software.

Camp Management Software that Also Managed the Labour?

That's much more plausible, and if the search term were spoken into Google Hummingbird, then the search engine might have interpreted the phrase this way. Better search terms for that would be project management software, or maybe recruiting software, or something like Basecamp. Basecamp is a popular project management software brand, so it would make sense that people would search for Basecamp or something along the lines of "camp", and "software", and "management." I certainly like Basecamp a lot better than labour camp management software. I've only heard great things about Basecamp. I've only heard terrible things about labor camps.

Well, I Don't Have Labour Camp Management Software

I wouldn't have anything on this blog that would support such a product, or would support the ventures and people that would use this product. The only reason why my blog might have come up for this search term is because of the Chinese labor camps action that I wrote the other day. Supposedly, China closed its labor camps, but many aren't sure if that was just something the government said for positive press, or if the camps are actually closing, or if it's a mix between the two.

There was an article that I remember reading (but now I can't find it) that discussed North Korea's labor camps. The article said that satellite imagery showed that one or two of the camps looked deserted, and experts wondered what happened to those camps and the people in them. Perhaps that's another reason why North Korea would be a bad customer for the software: the software would document what happened to those camps and the people, and the country probably doesn't want anyone to know.

photo credit: juhansonin via photopin cc

Al Jazeera's Journalists are Going to Trial

Ask Egypt to Release These Journalists Immediately

Al Jazeera journalists on trialThree Al Jazeera English journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed, have been detained without trial for about two months. They have been in police custody since December 29, as they've been accused of "spreading lies harmful to state security and joining a terrorist organization." Specifically, they are accused of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated as a terrorist organization in December. This prisoners, as well as Al Jazeera, deny the allegations and are disappointed about their continued detention.

Their case finally did go to trial on February 20, a case that actually involves 20 people (including the three journalists and five students). Twelve of those people are being tried in absence. All 20 are charged with broadcasting false news and of either belonging to or assisting the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The trial was adjourned in late March and is scheduled to resume tomorrow, April 10.

Amnesty International says in their issue brief that Fahmy has been denied medical attention for a shoulder injury he sustained a few days prior to his arrest. Months of proper medical care have made the injury worse, where Fahmy now has difficulty moving his arm.

If you think that using articles from Al Jazeera is too biased (I know people who would think that's biased and would therefore doubt the story), then here's an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour and an article from Poynter to corroborate the information.

Write a Letter to #FreeAJStaff

Writing a letter may not seem like much, but journalists write articles, take photos, and shoot video every day. The work seems inconsequential, but the work can also have a huge impact when the right people see it, when the information is presented in the right way, or when people speak out about the news they see (or the lack of news on other issues that they do see). The point is writing a letter can make a difference in freeing these journalists, and the others, if enough people write letters. Writing a letter will present our voices in a whole new way, augmenting the coverage of Al Jazeera, the current activism of others as well as the Twitter campaign with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

To help, Amnesty International has provided all the pertinent information in their issue brief for you to write a letter on behalf of Al Jazeera's journalists. The brief also includes information about the five students who are being tried with the journalists as well as background information about the trial and why Egypt has been targeting Al Jazeera staff and other journalists. The three Al Jazeera journalists are not the only journalists facing trial, but the others are part of the 12 being tried in absence.

Please send letters to:

Public Prosecutor Hesham Mohamed Zaki Barakat Office of the Public Prosecutor Supreme Court House, 1 “26 July” Road Cairo, Arab Republic of EGYPT

Sample Letter

Hesham Mohamed Zaki Barakat Office of the Public Prosecutor Supreme Court House, 1 “26 July” Road Cairo, Arab Republic of EGYPT

Dear Chancellor,

I am writing in concern for MOHAMED FAHMY, PETER GRESTE, and BAHER MOHAMED, three Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained since December. They are currently being tried for broadcasting false news and for involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood.

I ask that the authorities release them immediately and unconditionally, as they have been arrested and charged solely for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression.

I also call on you to order independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of ill-treatment and to ensure that MOHAMED FAHMY has access to any medical attention that he may require.

Please ensure that the journalists, and the five students: SOHAIB SAAD MOHAMED, KHALED MOHAMED ABDEL RAOUF, SHADY ABDELHAMID, AHMED ABDELAZIM, and ANAS MOHAMED EL BELTAGY, receive a fair trial under international standards and are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and to drop any charges solely resulting from their peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression.



Your Name


photo credit: Mohammed Nairooz via photopin cc

Tell China to Put Re-Education Labor Camps in the Past

This Includes Those Who Brought Light to the Issue in The First Place

re-education through laborChina made headlines several months ago for its announcement to abolish re-education camps. These labor camps existed for over 50 years and imprisoned millions without trial, many of them are offenders of minor crimes, religious activists such as members of the Falun Gong, or are considered "political troublemakers." Part of this transition involves changing the re-education camps into drug rehabilitation centers, where many were released from the camps, except for those who were imprisoned for drug-related offenses.

This announcement sounds like great news and seems like a turnaround for the criminal justice system, but if that's the case, then why is anti-corruption activist Liu Hua detained by government officials?

Who is Liu Hua?

From 2006 to 2011, Liu Hua served three terms in the Masanjia Women’s RTL camp for her efforts to expose corruption in Zhangliangbao. Upon her release, she was interviewed as part of an investigative article for Lens, a Chinese photography magazine, which documented the appalling conditions at the camp. She was then featured in the documentary ,"The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp," directed by Du Bin. In the documentary, Hua detailed various tactics the guards used to beat female detainees.

Since then, she has been detained by public security officers in Beijing. She is currently being held at the Shenyang Number 1 Detention Centre, where she is being questioned repeatedly about the allegations of torture she made in the documentary. As someone who helped expose the abuses in China’s Re-Education Through Labor system, Liu Hua has been criminally detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and making troubles”.

To learn more about labor camps in China, then this issue brief has more information and actions regarding the re-education through labor system as well as freedom of expression in China. This issue brief was also used as the source for the information about Lin Hua. You are also welcome to watch the documentary previously mentioned, as it is placed below. This is the full documentary, with subtitles in both English and Chinese.

Write a Letter on Behalf of Liu Hua

Liu Hua has been actively outspoken for others in Masanjia Women’s RTL camp, as well as other labor camps throughout China. Her activism contributed to the resolution passed by the Chinese government to abolish the re-education through labor system. Now, it is our turn to be active on her behalf and to write a letter asking the Chinese government to release her immediately and unconditionally.

Below is a sample letter that you can copy yourself, either by writing it by hand or by printing it out, and send on behalf of Liu Hua. The sample letter includes an address and addressee, which was pulled from the previously mentioned issue brief about re-education through labor. The brief does include additional addresses and background information.

Sample Letter

Shenyang Detention Centre Director

Gaoli Cun

Zaohua Xiang

Yuhong Qu

Shengyang, China

Dear Director,

I am writing in concern for LIU HUA*, who has been criminally detained on the charge of "picking quarrels and making troubles." It is believed that she is being punished for appearing in the documentary, "The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp", which detailed torture and other ill-treatment faced by female detainees at the re-education camp.

I call on the authorities to release LIU HUA immediately and unconditionally.

Please do not penalize or criminally charge individuals who reveal information regarding human rights violations to ensure that whistle-blowers are not subjected to retaliation. Do not charge these individuals unless they are charged with an internationally recognized criminal offense. This includes LIU HUA.

Also ensure that all criminal investigations, including on corruption - which has human rights implications – follow international standards so that they are prompt, impartial, effective and that the public are informed of their conclusions.



Your Name

*The name is capitalized and underlined so it sticks out in the letter. Since we're writing a letter in English to a Chinese-speaking country, it's likely that the only words that will be recognizable in the letter is the person's name. Making the name more prominent tells the addressee who we're talking about, even if he or she won't understand the rest of the letter. This practice is common in letter-writing activism since the letters often go to countries where English isn't a predominant language.

Photo Credit: William Murphy

Protect the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Expression

Stop Russia From Making Street Protests a Crime

freedom of assembly RussiaRussia already has restrictive rules governing public assemblies, where a violation of the legal requirements for demonstrations entails a fine of 20,000 rubles ($570) or up to 40 hours of community service. A new draft law in the State Duma increases these penalties and introduces jail time for multiple offenses.

Many of these unauthorized street protests are peaceful and insignificant in number i.e. not very large, but are routinely dispersed by police. Often times, they use excessive force and arrest protesters, detaining them for up tot 15 days for violating the police's "lawful orders". The proposed draft law would increase the maximum detention period to 30 days, while also introducing 15-day detentions for a variety of other violations, such as infringing the movement of pedestrians.

Video footage, and other relevant evidence isn't considered during the trial. Judges accept police statements unquestioningly, even if there is evidence to the contrary.

For more information about this issue, here's a brief outlining additional background information as well as further action. This is also the source of the information I provided above.

What Can Be Done About This?

The issue may seem beyond our control, but it's really not. Instead of throwing your hands up in despair, or simply complaining about the type of place Russia is, you can do something by writing a letter.

Will one letter stop the draft law? Probably not. But, choosing to not write a letter or doubting its power isn't going to stop the draft law either. At least writing a letter, with the hope that others will write letters as well (or perhaps share this post), has a chance of making a difference. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Criticizing the way others take action, without taking any action of your own, also accomplishes nothing.

To make action easier for people, I've written a sample letter that you can use to help write your own letter. Or, if you wish, you are welcome to copy this letter, print it out, and send it on your behalf.

Let's stop Russia from making street protests a crime. Below is the sample letter as well as the appropriate address for the sendee.

Sample Letter

Sergey Evgenyevich Naryskin

State Duma of the Russian Federation

1 Okhotny Ryad st

103256 Moscow



Dear Chairman,

I am writing in concern for draft law No. 485729-6 on "Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (in relation to improving the legislation on public gatherings)". This law was proposed March 31, 2014 in the State Duma.

I ask that you withdraw the draft immediately and ensure that no further restrictions to the right to freedom of assembly are considered in the Russian parliament.

I also ask that you help bring Russia's current legislation on public assemblies and the relevant practice in line with its obligations under international human rights law and in line with Russia's constitution.

Please also ensure that everyone in Russia can enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.


Your Name


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