18 Cases YOU Helped Change in 2015

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Amnesty International campaigns for the release of prisoners of conscience – people who have been jailed because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, color, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, provided that they have neither used nor advocated violence.

In 2015, YOU helped put the pressure on 18 cases to ensure the release of many journalists and activists. The list below is reflective of how we can work together to create positive change in the lives of others. Thank you for all your support – together, we are standing up for people risking everything to speak out.

Dr Tun Aung. © Private

Dr Tun Aung. © Private

1. Myanmar: Activist Dr Tun Aung released

After more than two years of pressure and letter-writing from Amnesty supporters, Myanmar community leader Dr Tun Aung was released in January. He was jailed for 17 years after trying to calm a crowd during riots in 2012. Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission said your letters prompted them to look into his case.

Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez (right). © REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez (right). © REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

2. El Salvador: Guadalupe, jailed for a miscarriage, was freed

Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez was finally pardoned and walked free from prison in February. She was jailed for 30 years in 2007 on trumped-up murder charges after suffering a miscarriage when she was 18. She was suspected of having an abortion, which is banned in all cases in El Salvador.

Amnesty International activists in Vienna protest human rights abuses in Azerbaijan as it prepares to chair the Council of Europe.

3. Azerbaijan: Two prisoners of conscience released

Bashir Suleymanli and Orkhan Eyyubzade, both outspoken critics of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, were released in March as part of a presidential pardon. Amnesty had been campaigning for their release along with 20 other prisoners of conscience.

Housing rights march, Cambodia. © Amnesty International

Housing rights march, Cambodia. © Amnesty International

4. Cambodia: Ten women human rights defenders released

Ten housing rights campaigners in Cambodia were released and given a royal pardon in April. Nine of the women were from Boeung Kak Lake community, where 3,500 households have been evicted since August 2008.

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5. UAE: Three sisters released from secret detention

After a global social media outcry, three sisters, Asma, Mariam and Alyazia al-Suwaidi, were released from secret detention on 15 May. Having tweeted about their brother’s unfair trial, the sisters were questioned by United Arab Emirates police in February and disappeared for three months.

On 25 July 2014 Bhekithemba Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s monthly news magazine The Nation and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in prison without the possibility of paying a fine. Amnesty International considers Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko to be prisoners of conscience, arrested, detained and subjected to an unfair trial merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

On 25 July 2014 Bhekithemba Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s monthly news magazine The Nation and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in prison without the possibility of paying a fine.

6. Swaziland: Two prisoners of conscience released

Magazine editor Bhekithemba Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were releasedin June after spending more than 15 months in prison in Swaziland. They had been convicted for publishing articles which raised concerns about judges’ independence.

Djeralar Miankeol, Director of Association Ngaoubourandi (ASNGA) in Moundou, Chad

Djeralar Miankeol, Director of Association Ngaoubourandi (ASNGA) in Moundou, Chad

7. Chad: Activist released

In July, land rights activist Djeralar Miankeol was released from prison in Chad after all charges against him were dropped. A court of appeal overturned an earlier verdict that had found him guilty of insulting the judiciary, after he had questioned the competence of judicial officials in a radio interview.

Photograph shows anonymous Rohingya children at an integrated community shelter in Aceh, Indonesia. The Rohingya, a Muslim population living mainly in Rakhine state in Myanmar, are subject to widespread persecution and violence. In the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, thousands of Rohingya take irregular and dangerous boat journeys in an effort to reach safety. Many are then subjected to vicious abuse at sea by the boat crews. Men, women and children who spoke with Amnesty International described killings, beatings and other ill-treatment, severe beatings for ransom, and inhuman and degrading conditions. In early May 2015, after mass graves were discovered in forced labour camps near the Thai-Malaysian border, Thailand announced a crackdown on trafficking. In response, traffickers began abandoning their passengers in the open water, and thousands of refugees and migrants were stranded at sea and in need of food, water and medical care. Instead of assisting these people, for several weeks Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand initially engaged in a series of “pushback” operations, in which authorities prevented vessels from landing and sometimes escorted them out of the state’s territorial waters. Eventually Indonesia and Malaysia allowed people to land. These Rohingya children are at an integrated community shelter in Aceh, Indonesia. Associated with the Amnesty International report: Deadly Journeys: The Refugee and Trafficking Crisis in Southeast Asia

Photograph shows anonymous Rohingya children at an integrated community shelter in Aceh, Indonesia.

8. Myanmar: Prisoners of conscience released

At least 11 prisoners of conscience – including journalists, peaceful protesters and community leaders from the repressed Muslim Rohingya minority – were released in a mass prisoner amnesty in Myanmar. Amnesty called for authorities to clear the country’s jails of the scores of peaceful activists who still remain behind bars.

Mazen Darwish. © Private

Mazen Darwish. © Private

9. Syria: Human rights defender Mazen Darwish freed

Mazen Darwish, a human rights activist jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges in Syria, was released in August after three-and-a-half years in prison. He is director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which works to document human rights violations in Syria.

Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Yen, South Sudanese pastors, in court in Khartoum. The two pastors are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, and both were arrested while visiting Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Michael was taken into custody on Sunday 21 December 2014 after preaching that morning at a church in Khartoum.  After the service several men who identified themselves as Sudanese government security officers demanded that Michael went with them and took him away without giving further explanation.  Pastor Peter Yen was arrested on 11 January 2015 after he delivered a letter to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum asking about his colleague Michael’s arrest in December.

Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Yen, South Sudanese pastors, in court in Khartoum.

10. Sudan: Two pastors released

Two South Sudanese pastors, Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Yen, were released on 5 August after being sentenced to time already served in Khartoum, Sudan. It is believed that the two pastors were arrested and charged due to their religious convictions.

Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison. © AFP/Getty Images

Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison. © AFP/Getty Images

11. Thailand: Journalists acquitted

Two journalists in Thailand who had been on trial for reproducing parts of an article on human trafficking were acquitted in September. Editor Alan Morison and reporter Chutima Sidasathian were found not guilty of criminal defamation and for violating a provision of the Computer Crime Act.

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12. Egypt: Al Jazeera staff freed

Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released in September as part of a presidential decree which granted pardons to 100 people in Egypt. They had been convicted of ‘spreading false news’ along with their colleague, Peter Greste, after being arrested in 2013.

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Ta Phong Tan. © Dan Lam Bao

13. Vietnam: Blogger Ta Phong Tan released

Vietnamese blogger and free speech campaigner Ta Phong Tan was released in September after serving four years of a 10-year prison sentence. She had been convicted for “conducting propaganda” against the state.

Danilo Maldonado Machado. © Private

Danilo Maldonado Machado. © Private

14. Cuba: Graffiti artist released

Cuban graffiti artist and prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado Machado was released from jail in Havana in October. He had been in prison for nearly a year after he painted “Raúl” and “Fidel” on the backs of two pigs. We hope his release will herald a new approach to freedom of expression and dissent in the country.

Former Chinese prisoner of conscience Chen Zhenping was greeted by her family and Amnesty International Finland activists upon her arrival to Finland.  Falun Gong practitioner Chen Zhenping was detained in August 2008 and sentenced to eight-years behind bars. While imprisoned, she endured brutal torture and ill-treatment- all because of her religious beliefs.

Former Chinese prisoner of conscience Chen Zhenping was greeted by her family and Amnesty International Finland activists upon her arrival to Finland.

15. China: Prisoner of conscience reunited with family

In October, former prisoner of conscience Chen Zhenping was reunited with her family in Finland. She was released from prison in China in March, but had been harassed and kept under tight surveillance until her arrival at Helsinki airport. She was jailed for eight years in August 2008 for practising Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China.

Hossam Bahgat. © Mada Masr

Hossam Bahgat. © Mada Masr

16. Egypt: Human rights journalist freed

Activist and journalist Hossam Bahgat was released days after Amnesty International and the international community had condemned his arrest. His detention was another sign of Egypt’s continued attacks against independent journalism and civil society.

Filep Karma with petitions signed by Amnesty International activists calling for his release. He is smiling. Filep Karma is serving 15 years in prison for raising a flag. A prominent advocate for the rights of Indonesia's Papuan population, Filep Karma was arrested for taking part in a peaceful ceremony on December 1, 2004, which included the raising of the Morning Star flag, a Papuan symbol. Amnesty International considers Filep Karma to be a prisoner of conscience who has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful and legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

Filep Karma with petitions signed by Amnesty International activists calling for his release. He is smiling.

17. Indonesia: Activist Filep Karma finally freed

Activist Filep Karma was finally freed from prison in Indonesia in November. He had been jailed for more than a decade after raising a Papuan independence flag at a political ceremony in 2004. Amnesty supporters have long campaigned for Filep’s release, including 65,000 messages of support written during Write for Rights 2011.

Police hold positions as they face off against student protesters during a demonstration against unelected soldiers who make up a quarter of parliamentary seats, in Yangon on June 30, 2015. Angry crowds scuffled with hundreds of police in downtown Yangon June 30 in a protest against the Myanmar army's veto on constitutional change, blamed for the defeat last week of a charter reform bill backed by Aung San Suu Kyi. (YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)

(YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)

18. Myanmar: Activist released

Activist Thein Aung Myint was released from prison in Myanmar after receiving reductions to his sentence. He had been serving a year-long sentence for taking part in two peaceful protests in Mandalay.

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