I don’t know about you, but I hate writing. My hand cramps, I get ink everywhere and my penmanship is illegible. However, despite all that, every December 10th on International Human Rights Day, I sit down and write letters as part of Amnesty’s annual global Write for Rights campaign. Why? Because in my 10 years with Amnesty International, I know that letters can literally save lives.
For example, one of last year’s Write for Rights cases was Moses Akatugba. He was tortured in Nigeria as a teenager into confessing to stealing three cell phones, and then sentenced to death. Earlier this year, he was pardoned and walked free. He said,
“Amnesty International members and activists are my heroes. I want to assure them that this great effort they have shown to me will not be in vain. I promise to be a human rights activist – to fight for others.”
If you’re eager to help more people like Moses, then please join me by signing up for Write for Rights 2015 and writing for this year’s 12 cases:
1. Girls forced into marriage in Burkina Faso
Maria was just 13 when her father forced her to marry a 70-year-old man who had five other wives. When she resisted, he told her: “If you don’t go to join your husband, I will kill you.” Across Burkina Faso, thousands of girls and young women like Maria are being forced into early marriage. This has to stop.
2. Fred and Yves, Facing death penalty for promoting democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In DRC, activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala have been labeled ‘terrorists’ and accused of planning to violently overthrow the government. Their ‘crime’? Organizing an event that encouraged young people to hold the regime to account. There is no viable evidence against them, and their charges are politically motivated. They are Prisoners of Conscience, and if convicted, could face the death penalty.
3. Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, Jailed for 30 years after suffering a still-birth in El Salvador
Teodora suffered a still-birth in 2007, after the rapid onset of serious pain while she was at work. Police arrested her as she lay in a pool of blood. She was later sentenced to 30 years for ‘aggravated homicide’, presumed guilty of ‘abortion’ rather than the victim of pregnancy complications.
4. Costas and his partner, beaten in Greece for being in love
In August 2014, Costas and his partner, who is a refugee, were badly beaten up in a homophobic and racist attack in central Athens. No suspects were identified, let alone punished. Across Greece, police and the government are failing to tackle rising violence motivated by hatred, and treating same-sex couples as second-class citizens.
5. Saman Naseem, tortured and sentenced to death at 17 in Iran
Saman Naseem was tortured into confessing to shooting a soldier. He was just 17. On the strength of this ‘confession’, and in spite of the fact that Iran has signed on to an international ban on child executions, Saman was sentenced to death. Huge efforts secured Saman a retrial, and now global pressure can prevent a repeat.
6. Zunar, a political cartoonist facing prison in Malaysia for tweeting
Political cartoonist Zunar faces a long-term prison sentence after posting tweets condemning the jailing of an opposition leader in Malaysia. The government is going to enormous lengths to silence dissent and debate, and lock up its critics. Write to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, urging him to drop the charges against Zunar and help stop Malaysia’s crackdown on free speech.
7. Yecenia Armenta, tortured and raped by police in Mexico
In July 2012, Yecenia Armenta was taken into police custody and brutally tortured into confessing to the murder of her husband. Her attackers beat her for hours, raped her and threatened to kill her children. In spite of independent medical evidence that torture took place, the ‘confession’ was used to charge Yecenia with no proof at all.
8. Phyoe Phyoe Aung, student leader imprisoned in Myanmar
Phyoe Phyoe Aung was arrested after organizing a largely peaceful protest in Myanmar, during which police attacked students with batons. She and scores of others now face lengthy jail terms. To prove that it has left its brutal past behind, the Myanmar government must release these Prisoners of Conscience now.
9. Waleed Abu Al-Khair, lawyer of Raif Badawi jailed in Saudi Arabia for defending human rights
Human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was jailed for 15 years under a cruel terrorism law in Saudi Arabia. He has defended many peaceful activists, including jailed blogger Raif Badawi, and has challenged the widespread crackdown on human rights across the country.
10. Rania Alabbasi & Her Children, seized by the Syrian government
In 2013, government agents came to the home of Rania Alabbasi, a successful dentist and mother of six, and took her and her family away. No reason was given, and none of them has been heard from since. Write to the President of Syria, urging the immediate and unconditional release of Rania’s children. Rania herself must be released or charged and given a fair trial.
11. Albert Woodfox, subjected to over 40 years of solitary confinement in Louisiana
Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox has spent four decades in solitary confinement for a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, his conviction has been overturned three times, and a judge has ordered his unconditional release – yet the Louisiana authorities continue to block his release. Decades of isolation in a cell the size of a parking space have taken an appalling toll on Albert’s health. Justice is long overdue.
12. Muhammad Bekzhanov, a journalist tortured and imprisoned in Uzbekistan
In 1999, Uzbekistani security forces tortured journalist Muhammad Bekzhanov, editor of a banned opposition newspaper. They beat him with rubber truncheons, suffocated him and gave him electric shocks until he confessed to “anti-state” offences. A judge used Muhammad’s ‘confession’ to send him to prison, where he remains to this day. He is one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists.
You can help change these lives, sign up for Write for Rights at www.amnestyusa.org/w4r