Did You Write for Rights?

Write for Rights event in France

A Write for Rights event in France

It has been fantastic to hear about the Write for Rights activities that have taken place around the world! In coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, theaters, markets, streets, schools, and homes, we came together, side-by-side, throughout the U.S. and the world to collectively take action to defend human rights. It is this action that will continue to lead to human rights victories, like that of the release of Femi Peters in Gambia.

We want to share with you some of what happened during the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon:

  • In Austria, AI members and activists sent over 17,400 letters, doubling the total number from last year, and making this the most successful Write-a-thon in their history.
  • In France, at least 200 cities hosted public events throughout the week. This included in Villetaneuse, a suburb of Paris, where students at a university organized a one-day event for the 10 December, which included a concert by a well-known hip-hop band. Despite the heavy snow, over 700 signatures were collected.
  • In Germany, over 50 AI local groups participated, sending over 17,000 letters.
  • In Hong Kong, Write for Rights was taken to the Human Rights Day Fair – an annual fair attended by over 25 NGOs.
  • In Mali, the youth network had a target of writing 1,800 letters. Students from ten schools took part, and they already have reported 2,366 letters written with still more to count.
  • In Nigeria, three volunteers organized events in Abuja and Imo State, generating 3,000 actions.
  • In Poland, 14,967 letters were written in just one location – a school in Bircza, a small municipality in south-eastern Poland, which only has 1000 inhabitants.
Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

Spreading the word about Write for Rights in Nigeria

That’s not all!  Right here at home there were nearly 1,300 events, in every state across the U.S. Before we can confirm how many letters were sent from the U.S., we need to hear from you.  If you participated in the 2010 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, please tell us how many letters you sent.  No number is too small, and every letter counts.  Knowing how many letters you sent is essential to help us gauge the pressure we are putting on human rights abusers.  In acknowledgment of your meaningful contributions to human rights, once you confirm how many letters you sent, you will receive a 35% discount on our limited edition 2010 Write for Rights T-Shirt.

Last month you gave Femi Peters Junior the best holiday present anyone could ever ask for: you helped get his father back. In Femi Peters Junior’s own words, “On behalf of my family, the Peters family, on behalf of myself, I want to thank Amnesty International from the bottom of my heart…  It’s good to have my dad back.  Thank you very much.”

Your letters made and will continue to make a difference.

Feeling inspired?  You can also sign up for the 2011 Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon!

Attempting to Silence Political Opposition in the Gambia

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Femi PetersLittle did Femi Peters know that by attending a peaceful demonstration organized by his employer, the United Democratic Party, he would be suffering from diabetes and malaria in prison today. Femi is the Campaign Director for the United Democratic Party, a political opposition party in Gambia. At the fateful demonstration on October 25, 2009, he was arrested for “control of procession and control of use of loud speakers in public” without permission from the Office of the Inspector General of Police, as required under the Public Order Act.

The Gambian government seeks to stifle political and social dissent through arbitrary arrests of journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders and former security personnel. They continued this trend by sentencing Femi Peters in April 2010 to one year in jail. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

In jail, Femi Peters has suffered from poor prison conditions and a general lack of health care.  He is also not allowed to see his family while he is imprisoned.  Take action on behalf of a prisoner of conscience whose only crime was his participation in the political process by signing up for the Write-a-thon today!

The Write-a-thon features Femi Peters along with 11 other cases of human rights abuses around the world. Sign up today and write for the rights of others!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Four Years, Seven Months, and Three Days

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

women of atencoOne woman was on her way to buy a birthday gift for her son, another was a volunteer who worked with children and was worried about reports of a youth being killed, another was a student activist, and another was a health worker who wanted to show solidarity and provide health support. The women had many different reasons for coming to San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, on May 3rd and 4th, 2006, but none of them had any idea of the horror they were about to experience. During a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, more than 45 women were arrested without explanation. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.

These brave survivors are struggling through what is now a nearly 5-year legal battle to hold their abusers accountable for their actions. Several of the women who suffered abuse including sexual violence filed complaints with the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra Mujeres y Trata de Personas, FEVIMTRA), part of the Office of the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República). The women have also advocated for their right to justice by filing a complaint in 2008 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). After a 3-year investigation, FEVIMTRA identified 34 men as responsible for the violence committed against the Women of Atenco, but concluded that these individuals should be prosecuted at the state level. However, almost no progress has been made in nearly a year. Now is the time to push for real justice and remind the federal government of Mexico that it has the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, and not to let this impunity continue.

It’s been four years, seven months, and three days without justice for the Women of Atenco, and Amnesty International USA continues to campaign on their behalf. The Women of Atenco are featured in this year’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, and you can help them in their fight for justice by signing up for the Write-a-thon today to write for their rights and those of 11 other cases from around the world!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Displaced Roma Families Head into Brutal Winter without Adequate Housing

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Around 100 children, women and men, forcibly evicted from their homes by the Romanian government six years ago, continue to live in dirty, inhumane conditions.  With nowhere else to go, they are stuck in small, overcrowded metal shacks that stand next to a large sewage plant. A sign outside the plant warns of “toxic danger”, yet the authorities have failed to heed this warning and the Roma families are suffering.

The Roma families are from the Romanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, and despite the fact that authorities told them the movie was only temporary, six years have passed and there are still no plans to relocate them. The 75 people remaining are living with only 4 toilets between them, 1 tap for water, and shacks that do not provide protection from the elements, which is of serious concern for the winter season when temperatures drop below -25 °C (-13 °F). In addition, the families are also living within 300 meters of toxic waste, which is prohibited under Romanian law. Many Roma have expressed concern about their health, and the health of their families, reporting an awful stench that constantly lingers in the air.

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Lost in Iraq

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Walid Yunis Ahmad is quite possibly the longest serving detainee in Iraq. He is a member of the marginalized Turkoman minority and has been imprisoned in Irbil, Northern Iraq, without charge or trial for more than ten years.

Walid was detained by Kurdish security forces in February 2000 after he was given a lift in a car that allegedly contained explosives. Although the driver of the car was released within three months, Walid remains locked up more than a decade later.

For the first three years after his detention Walid’s family received no official notification of his arrest and believed he had simply disappeared.

During these early years of confinement, Walid was tortured, held in solitary confinement and transferred from prison to prison until he finally ended up in the cells of the Kurdish security police headquarters, where he remains to this day.

Walid told Amnesty International delegates who visited him last June:

“I haven’t seen my children for 10 years. I did not want to see them in this terrible predicament.”

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Prisoner of Conscience Filep Karma Begins 7th Year in Prison in Indonesia for Raising a Flag

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Former civil servant Filep Karma was among approximately 200 people who took part in a peaceful ceremony in Abepura, Papua Province, Indonesia on 1 December 2004. In commemoration of the declaration of Papaun independence in 1962, the Morning Star Flag was raised. Police then advanced on the crowd, firing warning shots and beating people with batons. Filep Karma was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason.

In a country like the United States, the jailing of a peaceful political activist for raising a flag may sound mind-boggling. Yet, Amnesty International has documented that over 100 activists in Indonesia have been arrested and sentenced for raising forbidden flags and engaging in peaceful political activities.

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Letters of Support Gave Me Strength While in an Egyptian Prison

Musaad Abu Fagr was nursing his daughter Ranad when he was arrested © Amnesty International

To raise awareness of December’s Write for Rights global writeathon, former prisoner of conscience Musaad Abu Fagr tells how letters lifted his spirits while in detention

The struggle of the Bedouins in Sinai to demand their rights started on 25 April 2007, with a continuous series of sit-ins, demonstrations, and conferences. In this context, the Bedouins agreed to a protest on 1 January 2008.

I wrote a report about the protest on my blog and announced my intention to participate in it. On the night of 26 December 2007, less than six days before the date of the protest, Ranad had a high temperature, and my wife and I were making cold water dressings for her. We have always tried to use traditional methods of treatment and avoid anything chemical as much as possible.

I forgot to say, Ranad is our daughter. She was three years old at the time. We spent a long time looking for a name for her. We had two conditions: that the name does not relate to any culture, and that it can be written in all the languages we know without changing a single letter. The name is derived from the rand, a small, sweet-smelling tree that sprouts in the desert. Our ancestors, Bedouins in Sinai for more than 2000 years, made wreaths from it and put them on the heads of their horsemen.

Ranad succumbed to sleep, and at about two in the morning, I heard violent banging at the door. I opened it and dozens of plain clothes security officers stormed into the house.

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Our Work in Myanmar Isn’t Done Yet!

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Labor activist Su Su Nway was arrested for putting up an anti-government banner near the hotel in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, where the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar was staying. After a few previous close calls, Su Su Nway went in to hiding before the Special Rapporteur’s visit in order to avoid arrest by the oppressive dictatorship which presides over the small Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma). It is estimated that Su Su Nway is one of over 2,200 political prisoners currently being detained in Myanmar.

Prisoners in Myanmar are held in poor conditions and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Su Su Nway suffers from a congenital heart condition, high blood pressure and, according to a July 21, 2010 “Radio Free Asia” report, malaria and gout, which are all made worse by conditions at the prison where she is held. The prison is 1,200 miles from her family’s home in Yangon, so it is very difficult for them to visit and bring her necessary food and medicine. Prisoners typically rely on their families to bring them medicine and food, as supplies in prison are completely inadequate.

Wonderful news has come out of Myanmar recently with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate and symbol of hope for eventual Burmese democracy. However, thousands of others, including Su Su Nway, are still being punished for the peaceful expression of their views; the government continues to deny its citizens the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. But you can make a difference. Write a letter on behalf of Su Su Nway and join with thousands of others in this year’s Global Write-a-thon who are writing to uphold human rights throughout the world.

Lisa Hart, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Jailed Student Leader Hopes One Year Won’t Have to Be Eight and a Half

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Majid TavakkoliIn 2009, Majid Tavakkoli, aged 24, was already a recognized student leader and advocate for academic freedom. He was a member of the Islamic Students Association while studying shipbuilding at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran. The disputed Iranian elections of June 2009 changed many things in Iran, including the course of Majid’s life. When Majid was arrested for giving a speech to commemorate Student’s Day on December 9, it was the fourth time that Majid had been detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

He remains imprisoned now in Reja’i Shahr Prison in Karaj. Thousands of others were, like him, detained for peacefully speaking out since the presidential election in June 2009. When the government announced that incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected, massive protest erupted all over Iran. Security forces used violence to repress dissidents and many people were killed or seriously injured in the authorities’ attempts to stop the protests. Since the protests, the Iranian government has ramped up its efforts to detain and silence opposition and have enforced long-existing methods of repressing freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.

After Majid became one of those imprisoned, he was beaten, denied access to his family or lawyer, and sentenced after a grossly unfair trial. The government even released a photo of him in women’s clothing in an attempt to humiliate him. However, in a massive show of solidarity, about 450 men posted photos of themselves wearing women’s clothing – some holding signs saying “We are Majid” on Facebook and other sites on the internet.

Majid continues to serve his 8.5 year sentence with extremely limited visits from his family. He now suffers from a respiratory infection which, at one point, caused him to lose his speech entirely. In addition to his sentence, Majid has been banned from any political activity or from leaving the country for five years after he is released.

This year we write to demand Majid’s unconditional release and that he is treated humanely according to international human rights standards and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and has access to adequate medical care. By committing to Write for Rights on behalf of Majid, we can let the Iranian government know that we have not forgotten Majid Tavakkoli and that we demand his immediate release. Your letters can make a difference. Join AIUSA’s Global Write-a-thon today.

Lisa Hart, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Through Her Work Protecting Victims, One Woman Has Become a Target of Attack Herself

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Norma CrizNorma Cruz has been speaking out against domestic violence in Guatemala for many years.  She is the leader of Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation), an organization that works to document cases of domestic violence and bring perpetrators to justice.  Because of her work, Norma has received numerous death threats and her life is now in grave danger.

Norma began receiving death treats in 2009. These threats have been text messages to her private phone, and voicemails have been left on her home and office phones. One caller stated: “I want you to drop the case of [man's name], you’ve got eight days to drop the case, otherwise you’ll be in serious trouble, I will give you the head of your daughter or son, you bitch.” Threats like this have also been made to her family and colleagues. These messages began appearing after Fundación Sobrevivientes provided legal assistance to a girl who was raped. In fact, relatives of the same girl have been killed for the support they gave her. Norma has been warned of similar consequences if she does not discontinue her organization’s support of the case.

Since 2009, only one man has been charged with threatening Norma’s life. He has since been released on bail.  To date, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has not reported any further progress on the investigation into the remaining death threats.  No one else has been held accountable. While Guatemalan authorities have provided Norma Cruz, her family and her office with police protection, the threats continue.

Norma Cruz is not the only human right’s defender in Guatemala to be receiving death threats.  In fact, many human rights defenders, trade unionists and grassroots political and social activists are in similar circumstances. Like Norma, their cases are not seriously investigated by Public Prosecutor’s Office. In addition, most do not receive any protection from the state. You can help protect activists like Norma and bolster the rule of law by joining AIUSA’s Global Write-a-thon and pressing governments to do the right thing.

Elizabeth Stitt, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.