By Lena Salameh
I heard about internship opportunities at Reprieve while at an International Law Students' Association (ILSA) meeting and knew that it would be an amazing opportunity for me. Reprieve works to protect the rights of people all over the world, including the Middle East. As someone who is Middle Eastern, and as an Arabic speaker, I wanted to utilize my skills and knowledge to help in any way that I could.
Reprieve is a small human rights organization that works in support of those facing execution and those victimized by states’ abusive counter-terror policies. It works for more than 100 clients facing the death penalty in 17 countries, and seven men imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Its main office is located in London, but it also has an office in New York and fellows across the world.
My experience at Reprieve was absolutely incredible. I began my internship at the end of May and was there for eight weeks. Seeing the dedication the staff had to their careers was truly inspiring. As soon as I began my internship, I could see that each and every one of the staff members was committed and passionate about the work that they were doing.
I worked with Reprieve’s Middle East and North Africa death penalty team, which advocates for people – including juveniles – who face the death penalty in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in Egypt for participating in democratic protests, and the number of executions has risen since 2014. Reprieve has collected extensive data on the rising death sentences that have been issued, and part of my work at Reprieve was to research and monitor current issuances of the death penalty in Egypt. I was also monitoring the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, where many people have been executed for non-violent offenses such as participating in protests, as well as drug-related offenses.
Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences while at Reprieve was meeting a former Reprieve client, Sami Al-Haj. Sami Al-Haj is an Al-Jazeera journalist who was captured and wrongly imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. He was released from Guantanamo Bay without charges in 2008, and visited Reprieve this past summer. Although he was wrongly imprisoned six years, he spoke of forgiveness and moving forward.
London is one of the most eclectic cities I have ever been in and the people there are among the kindest. Just taking a step into the city, I heard many different languages spoken, and saw people of every color and creed walking side by side. Despite the terrorist attacks that occurred while I was there, the people of London stayed strong. They chose to unite instead of letting hate and fear divide them. I feel very fortunate to have spent a summer at Reprieve. It was an unforgettable and life-altering experience. Thank you, SLU LAW and Reprieve for affording me this opportunity.