Azerbaijan: Both 'Donkey Bloggers' Are Free!

It is rare to have back-to-back good news on human rights from Azerbaijan. This week is an exception, though. Remember how the Amnesty International USA intern, born in Azerbaijan, shared her happy tears with us about her friend Adnan Hajizade’s release yesterday? Well, there is more cause for celebration – Adnan’s colleague and fellow digital dissenter and prisoner of conscience Emin Abdullayev Milli is also a free man.

‘Donkey bloggers’ Adnan and Emin reunited after release (via Global Voices Online)

While Adnan’s and Emin’s release is great news, Azerbaijan has a long way to come clean with the oppression of dissenters, including that of the ‘Donkey bloggers.’ The young bloggers’ fabricated conviction of hooliganism (which was actually for a YouTube video in donkey-suit mocking corruption in Azerbaijan), for one, must be overturned. And, most urgently, Azerbaijan must release imprisoned journalist and human rights defender (I would also add, peace activist) Eynulla Fatullayev.

Does Letter Writing Really Work?

Those of us who work in the Individuals at Risk Campaign get this question a lot, especially from people who are considering joining the Urgent Action Network, in which people can sign up to receive a certain number of Urgent Actions per month, and in turn commit to writing letters to government officials on behalf of those affected individuals.

It’s a valid question. Certainly, when I sit down at my kitchen table with my pad of stationery in front of me and my cat on my lap, it’s easy to feel both very removed from the issues, and very insignificant in the face of such grave human rights abuses. It’s a doubt that surely arises in every activist’s mind at some point or another: What difference can one person really make?

But that’s just it–it’s not just one person. With tens of thousands of people writing letters on behalf of the same individuals at risk, we’re no longer talking about just “lil ol’ me”. We’re talking about a movement. You’d be surprised how many letter-writers actually receive responses from the governments they write to. We ask them to share the responses with us, and they come in from every corner of the globe. True, just because the government writes back to you doesn’t automatically mean that they’re going to make the changes you’ve urged them to make, but it does mean they’re paying attention, and that they care what the world thinks. Governments caring what the world thinks means we have leverage. And that leverage can be turned into positive outcomes for individual people suffering human rights abuses.

So next time you think “Oh, I can’t really make a difference by writing this letter,” take a look at some of these successes, and ask yourself if those individuals would have been freed–or their executions stayed, or their protection assured, or their medical needs met–if everyone had decided not to bother writing a letter because it wouldn’t really matter. It does matter, and it does make a difference.

Our Top 10 Wins of 2008

Thank you Amnesty International activists for all of your important work this year!

Your activism has led to some major advances in human rights in our battles against torture, violence against women, the conflict in Darfur, ending the death penalty and protecting prisoners of conscience and other individuals and at risk around the world.

Check out our top 10 wins below and watch our year-in-review video Top 10 Words of 2008.

Here are just a few wins you can take credit for:

  1. 1.5 million letters: online and hand written letters delivered to governments worldwide and Congress here at home.
  2. 116 people protected from persecution and danger: from China to Turkey to Myanmar (Burma) to the United States, your letters worked! And helped free innocent human rights activists and political prisoners.
  3. Death penalty executions averted: 18 stays or commutations worldwide (8 in the U.S., 2 in Texas). And tens of thousands of letters and numerous vigils for Troy Davis mean he’s still alive today, fighting for justice in the state of Georgia.
  4. 500+ groups or individuals met face to face with lawmakers: Amnesty International supporters met with their Members of Congress on Darfur, Guantánamo and violence against women.
  5. Guantánamo Bay replica cell tours the U.S.: Amnesty brought a two-ton, bright orange replica of a Guantánamo Bay cell to 11 cities, including both national political conventions. More than 12,000 people toured the cell, and 10-15 million either read about it in their local or national newspaper or saw the cell on TV.
  6. President-elect promises to close Guantánamo: since it opened, Amnesty has been on the frontlines pushing for its closure. This past year’s heightened campaigning helped support President-elect Obama’s decision to close Guantánamo.
  7. Local groups make a big impact: Group #133 mobilized its annual “Get on the Bus” event. More than 1,200 activists traveled to Manhattan for a day of demonstrations at the U.N. missions of Sudan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Myanmar and India.
  8. Pretty Bird Woman House: secures a shelter house in March 2008. We wrote letters to the town of McLaughlin, SD urging their assistance in opening the shelter. This follows the original hard-hitting research Amnesty conducted last year on violence against Native American and Alaska Native women.
  9. Universal Declaration of Human Rights: for its 60th anniversary, Amnesty releases several videos online, including an exclusive music video track available on iTunes. Total viewership worldwide reached over 500,000.
  10. Progress made on legislation: your in-person visits, together with all your letters, petitions and online actions meant that our Government Relations team had the backup and grassroots support needed to secure some important legislative victories:
  • Growing number of Republicans and Democrats co-sponsored the International Violence Against Women Act
  • Millions of dollars set aside for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Darfur.
  • Habeas corpus gains affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court survived proposed rollbacks in Congress.
  • Senate passed a resolution calling on the United Nations to stop the flow of weapons into Darfur by expanding the current arms embargo to all of Sudan.
  • Progress made to include funding to stop violence against Native American and Alaska Native women in the 2009 appropriations bill
  • Funding package to Mexico included important human rights safeguards

On behalf of all of those lives that have been changed because of you, we just wanted to say thank you!