Urgent Action Network: Saving Lives Through Fast Action

“Please act as quickly as possible. This may be crucial in locating Professor Rossi, or even in helping to save his life.  Others have disappeared in this manner, and never been found again…We must do all we can to prevent another similar case.”

Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi

Those were the closing words of a brief but urgent message received by Amnesty International supporters on March 19, 1973. It was the first-ever Urgent Action, issued on behalf of Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi, who had disappeared after his arrest on February 15th, 1973 in São Paulo, Brazil.

A prisoner of conscience in Brazil under the military regime, then a human rights activist – his story has set a powerful model for the tens of thousands of Urgent Actions that have followed. It was not until the letters started to pour in that Rossi’s relatives were allowed to visit him. Although many people taken into police custody were never seen again, Rossi was eventually freed in October 1973.


When A Tweet Can Change The World

Fifty years ago, Amnesty activists fought to free prisoners of conscience by putting pen to paper. In 2011, our goal is still the same, but things have gotten a little more high-tech. The pen is still a powerful tool, but now we’ve also got email and online actions in our arsenal. And now we can add another medium to that list: Twitter.

Rafiq Hakeem 14 years old was set free after Twitter campaign

In early February, 14-year-old Faizan Rafiq Hakeem was arrested in Jammu and Kashmir for throwing stones. The police detained him under the controversial Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA). Under this act, he was held for over a month without trial—and could have been held for up to two years. Despite the fact that he was a minor, authorities claimed that medical tests proved he was old enough to be treated as an adult.

Amnesty called for Faizan’s release, and this call was answered by activists on Twitter. On April 1, Alaphia Zoyab, Amnesty’s Online Communities Officer for India began tweeting from the @aiindia account, and was joined by Govind Acharya—who posts on this blog—in the US. #freefaizan became a hashtag and Twitter users from all over began tweeting for Faizan’s freedom.

Activists tweeted directly to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah @abdullah_omar, asking him to “free Faizan.” He replied to the tweets, saying “We are looking at his case sympathetically & will decide in the next couple of days” and eventually reconsidered the case:

Tweets from Omar Abdullah responding to #FreeFaizan messages

A few days later, after this barrage of tweets, coupled with on-the-ground campaigning, on April 5 Faizan was free.

Thanks to social media, the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller—and the more interconnected we are, the harder it will be for human rights violations to go unnoticed. Faizan’s story is proof that enough voices speaking up about injustice are too loud to be ignored, especially on a public medium such as Twitter, where both action and inaction by those responsible can easily fall under scrutiny.

If you could launch a Twitter campaign to free a prisoner of conscience or promote human rights, who or what would you tweet for?

Follow us on Twitter @amnesty