Only forty years

Amnesty International expelled the coordinator of its branch in Providence, Rhode Island for publicly disagreeing with Amnesty’s policy of decriminalizing pimping.

Marcia Lieberman, a freelance writer and member of local group 49 since 1976, received a certified letter Tuesday morning alerting her that her membership had been revoked, she said. Lieberman faxed a copy of the letter to the Providence Journal.

In the letter, Ann Burroughs, a board member for the global human rights organization, wrote: “Amnesty member leaders are not free to dissent from Amnesty’s policies and positions while identifying themselves as Amnesty volunteer leaders.”

Amnesty International’s policy on sex workers, which was published in May after a vote by chapters internationally, calls for “the decriminalization of all aspects of adult consensual sex work due to the foreseeable barriers that criminalization creates to the realization of the human rights of sex workers.”

Lieberman, and most of the members of the 10-person chapter she coordinated, disagreed with this, she said. They felt the research into the policy was scant and that it would embolden “pimps and johns” who were exploiting “mostly young women and girls.”

Lieberman first spoke out against the leadership in a Sept. 2015 letter to the editor published in the New York Times. Days later she received a phone call from David Rendell, the group’s Northeastern representative, and an email from Becky Farrar, a membership chairwoman, warning her that members are not allowed to speak against policies in public. If she continued, she was told, this could lead to expulsion.

Let’s read that letter. (Scroll down: it’s the fourth and last one on the page.)

Little has been heard from Amnesty International members who are opposed to the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work. In advance of a forthcoming “open” conversation call, Amnesty members have been officially reminded that although we are not required to agree with or defend this policy, we “are obligated to not convey a different message in the public arena.”

This gag order is contrary to one of the rights on which Amnesty International was founded: freedom of expression.


Providence, R.I.

The writer is coordinator of an Amnesty International group.

I was disgusted when Amnesty announced that policy, and this is even worse.

The irony of a local leader of a group dedicated to free speech, being disciplined for speaking out, is not lost on Lieberman, or her membership, she said.

Former AIUSA member Beth Anterni said removing Lieberman is “counterproductive.” She didn’t renew her $25 annual membership in June because she was upset the way Lieberman was treated. Many other members likely will do the same, she said.

“This is someone who has dedicated her life to this work,” said Anterni. “It’s close to her heart.”

Burroughs declined to be interviewed for this story, but issued a statement through Amnesty International’s press office: “Recently, our Board of Directors voted to revoke an individual’s membership after nearly two years of working with her to address multiple violations of our policies. We won’t publicly discuss this matter further in order to protect the privacy of the former member involved.”

Lieberman has the opportunity to appeal her expulsion, but she is not sure whether she will.

Amnesty for pimps, but not for Marcia Lieberman.

9 Responses to “Only forty years”