VICTORY!: Russian Prisoner of Conscience Freed As Write For Rights 2013 Reaches 1.4 Million Actions!

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By Louisa Anderson, Amnesty International Global Campaigner

Fantastic news came today as our global letter-writing campaign, Write for Rights, drew to a close: Vladimir Akimenkov, one of the Bolotnaya 3 prisoners of conscience, has been freed!

This fantastic outcome will be celebrated throughout the 83 countries that have taken part in our campaign. Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Amnesty supporters have taken action for Vladimir and others at risk of human rights abuses.

So far we have counted an incredible 1.4 million messages voicing support for human rights!

Yorm Bopha with messages and photos she received from Amnesty International activists and supporters around the world as part of the Letter Writing Marathon 2013 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Yorm Bopha with messages and photos she received from Amnesty International activists and supporters around the world as part of the Letter Writing Marathon 2013 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Together, we have written letters, sent emails and faxes, tweeted and signed petitions over the last few weeks to show solidarity and demand justice for 12 people and communities.

Right now, our messages are starting to flood into government authorities, prisons and family homes. Our experience shows that while one message might be brushed aside, many voices calling for change are much harder to ignore.

Weird and Wonderful Events
Write for Rights started one dark December afternoon 12 years ago in Poland, when a few Amnesty members had the bright idea of doing 24-hour letter-writing marathons for human rights.

The seed they planted grew into a global force, branching out to become the world’s largest annual human rights event.

This year, people from Iceland, Argentina and South Korea, to Algeria, New Zealand and Burkina Faso, put on an impressive range of events to get their message across: concerts, projecting images of people at risk onto embassy buildings, videos, meetings with officials, and media work.

In Chile, activists collected signatures during a ‘Bikeathon’ and were joined by famous Chilean artists at a festival for human rights. In Togo, volunteers held a concert and collected over 22,000 signatures. Over 84,000 messages were written during events in 70 German cities.

Guinea and Venezuela took the idea of a “letter-writing marathon” quite literally, by asking athletes to collect signatures during real marathons. Bulgaria, one of 17 participating countries without a national  Amnesty office, held 21 events with national partner organizations.

Doing Something Selfless is Very Cool
Poland stuck to its original 24-hour-marathon concept, organizing an amazing 430 events across the country on Saturday, December 14. Writing during the day and long into the night, they have so far collected a truly impressive 216,000 letters!

“I think that doing something selfless is very cool,” said Adrianna Kubiak from School Unit 2 in Koszalin, Poland. “It won’t get me special points or grades in school. The problems people have worldwide make clear how trivial some of the things we worry about are: ‘Oh no, I can’t download my movie, or oh no, I don’t have enough likes on Facebook.

“The most moving case for me was the one from Mexico about a woman who was raped and tortured, and the one from Myanmar about the imprisoned doctor that needs medical care.”

Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen risked everything to document China's worsening repression in Tibet. Now he's behind bars away from his wife wife Lhamo Tso (pictured here) and their daughter Tenzin (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen risked everything to document China’s worsening repression in Tibet. Now he’s behind bars away from his wife wife Lhamo Tso (pictured here) and their daughter Tenzin (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

‘The Light of Hope Appears Again’
This immense global support can be invaluable for the people featured in Write for Rights. Ihar Tsikhanyuk, a gay activist from Belarus who was beaten up by police because of his sexuality, told us:

“When I feel left with no hope to fight, I’ll get a letter and it inspires me. The light of hope appears again, and my confidence in myself and my ability to change things returns! I thank everyone for their support and solidarity letters.”

Ihar traveled to France in December to talk to activists about his experiences. He also met with government representatives, high school students and the media and told us how the messages he had received from around the world had given him hope in his fight for justice.

And in Honduras, a group of human rights defenders told us that our campaign was bolstering their morale at an otherwise very difficult time, in the shadow of threats and intimidation:

“I’m really impressed by the impact that the campaign is already having. People have learned about the campaign from the media and they’re calling me to send me their wishes. I even had people contacting me from Ireland.”

Together, we are sending a powerful message to governments that the pressure is on to do the right thing, and that the world is watching.

As this year’s Write for Rights campaign ends, we’d like to thank you for being part of Amnesty International. We hope you will continue to work with us in 2014, pushing for change for the many who – like Vladimir Akimenkov’s fellow Bolotnaya prisoners – are still waiting for justice.

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