In 2015, millions of Amnesty supporters like you pushed decision-makers to make change happen worldwide.
You helped to release journalists and activists. Change discriminatory laws. Compensate victims of corporate crime. Pardon survivors of torture. And so much more. As governments continued to crack down on dissent and free speech, your pressure was critical to protect people’s human rights.
The list below is just a snapshot of some of the many success stories and bits of good news that you made happen in 2015. Thank you for all your support – together, we are standing up for people risking everything to speak out. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
By Maya Delany, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator for Western Massachusetts
Last December, I arrived at my student group’s annual Write for Rights AmnesTEA event and was greeted by dim lighting, steaming beverages, and our group members sitting in a circle writing letters. I poured myself some tea, read summaries of each case, and started writing a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia about Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for simply expressing his opinions.
Last year’s Write for Rights, with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide writing a record-breaking 3 million letters and email actionsSEE THE REST OF THIS POST
I’m riding with folks from St. Louis on a nine hour trip to Selma. A fellow activist, Tiffany, asks the group, “When did you realize you were Black?”I thought about that question and imagined how different this ride would have been in 1965. The fear of being pulled over by a police officer on a back road and beaten to death while being called “boy,” “monkey” or “nigger.”
We are still dealing with the fear of interacting with police today. Black people are being targeted by law enforcement at an alarming rate and a “routine” traffic stop can still become a death sentence. “This ain’t no walk in the park,” fellow St. Louis native, activist, and comedian Dick Gregory tells me as we stand in the warm sun waiting for President Obama’s arrival.
Residents and faith and community leaders discuss unrest in Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown during a forum held at Christ the King UCC Church on August 14, 2014. ((Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
By Rachel O’Leary, Amnesty Interntional USA Acting Deputy Executive Director for Membership Mobilization
On August 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old, was shot dead by a six-year veteran of the Ferguson police force. The next day, the community organized protests condemning the actions of the police and demanding to know the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael. Those actions continue still, a week later.
While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.
By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.
However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.
Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.
The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.
The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
We are thrilled to announce the re-launch of the Amnesty International USA website! The new site will make it easier for you to stay up-to-date on the latest human rights news and find opportunities to make a difference. Here’s some of what you’ll find:
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?
There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.
Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.
Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.
UPDATE: Check out Amnesty’s brand new action page on Myanmar: Stand with the People of Myanmar. Demand they be given the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Also, show your support on twitter by start using #3freedoms
August 8, 2010, marks 22 years since Myanmar’s massive crackdown against student protesters, resulting in the deaths of 3,000 and the detention of countless opponents of the military junta. Although 8/8/88 remains a disheartening defeat, it also continues to symbolize the hope for change.
Similarly, in 2007, citizens took to the streets again to wage anti-government protests. However, this time, the demonstrations were led by thousands of monks, heralding the movement as the “Saffron Revolution” due to the color their robes. Within weeks, the military brutally squashed the peaceful protests, evoking international condemnation and outcry.
That outcry was only made possible by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a non-profit media organization based in Norway, which filmed the events with hand cameras and smuggled the footage out of the country for international broadcasting. They communicated to the world the tense atmosphere, desire for basic human rights and desperate hope that Myanmar experienced in August and September 2007. The reporters of DVB took great personal risk to give the international community unprecedented access to the political and social atmosphere in Myanmar.
Cameras vs. Guns
Yesterday, I finally got a chance to watch Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an Academy Award nominated documentary created from the footage captured by the Democratic Voice of Burma during the “Saffron Revolution.” The documentary is incredibly powerful and inspiring; Burma VJ highlights more than the overwhelming human rights abuses present in Myanmar by emphasizing the everyday devotion to freedom as well as the great personal risks that ordinary citizens assume to record political events. While emotionally poignant and insightful, Burma VJ also chronicles the challenging footsteps of video journalists in Myanmar in their quest to capture the truth. The desperate expectation for change is evident in the documentary and reminiscent of the political and social environment of August 8, 1988.
To catch a glimpse of daily life in Myanmar and view human rights activism and advocacy at its finest, watch Burma VJ. The documentary, produced by Anders Østergaard, was just released on DVD in the United States, so update your Netflix queue, sit back and get ready for some serious human rights activism!