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World’s biggest human rights campaign puts spotlight on abuses

Every letter, email and petition signature that authorities receive is a chink in an armour that would otherwise be impenetrable, chipping away at the power of those authorities who commit human rights abuses.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PRESS RELEASE

Brussels - 4 December 2015

People who speak out against leaders face increasing risk of punishment or prosecution, Amnesty International said today as it launched the world’s biggest human rights campaign.

During the annual Write for Rights campaign, from 4-17 December, hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International supporters and activists around the world will send letters, emails, SMS messages, faxes and tweets calling for the release of activists jailed for peaceful dissent, supporting victims of torture and pointing a spotlight on other human rights abuses.

“Our campaign promises exciting, uniting and effective activism bringing together people from all different walks of life,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“When hundreds of thousands of people say they stand by a human rights defender, the impact is huge. It gives the human rights defender the strength to keep going. It also sends a message to their oppressors that they cannot keep their crimes secret and the world is watching for their next move. Every letter, email and petition signature that authorities receive is a chink in an armour that would otherwise be impenetrable, chipping away at the power of those authorities who commit human rights abuses."

2014 was a record-breaking year for the campaign, with hundreds of thousands of people in more than 200 countries and territories sending 3,245,565 messages offering support or calling for action on the cases of 12 individuals and communities experiencing human rights abuses. More than a million messages have been sent in support of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi since the campaign raised his case.

Solidarity campaign has seen prisoners released, pardoned

The annual campaign has achieved major victories. On 28 May 2015, the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan pardoned and released Nigerian torture survivor Moses Akatugba after receiving calls for clemency from 800,000 Amnesty International supporters. Moses was sentenced to death for armed robbery after stealing three mobile phones - a crime he says he did not commit - based on a “confession” obtained under torture.

“I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned when I was just 16 years old. I was sentenced to death,” Moses said in a letter to Amnesty International supporters. “Without the thousands of letters sent in support of my case, I might never have been granted my freedom.”

The 2013 campaign led to the release of three prisoners of conscience: Cambodian housing rights activist Yorm Bopha, community leader from Myanmar Dr Tun Aung and Russian protester Vladimir Akimenkov. Authorities received hundreds of thousands of letters and petitions from Amnesty International supporters.

Freedom of expression under threat

The 2015 Write for Rights campaign illustrates the growing pressure on freedom of expression, calling for the release of several people jailed or facing trial as a price for peaceful dissent:

  • Uzbekistan: Muhammad Bekzhanov, the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist (together with Yusuf Ruzimuradov from the same paper, jailed at the same time in 1999).
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Peaceful youth activists Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma, arrested at a press conference and awaiting trial accused of forming a criminal gang and attempting to overthrow the government.
  • Saudi Arabia: Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence followed by a 15-year travel ban and a fine for his peaceful activism. Before his imprisonment, he defended many victims of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, including Raif Badawi, who was supported by last year’s campaign.

“We are seeing a growing crackdown on dissent in many places, with arrests and trials of the most outspoken designed by governments to send a chilling message that speaking out comes at a high price. Many governments are terrified of people power - and react by attempting to limit it,” said Salil Shetty.

“More than ever, we need to stand in solidarity with brave people who stand up for human rights, despite the risks. Human rights defenders may be the immediate victims of the crackdown, but we all pay the price if the result is a society where people are afraid to speak out.”

Last year, almost three-quarters of states arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression, according to Amnesty International’s 2014 Annual Report (119 countries out of 160 covered in the report), including crackdowns on press freedom such as newspapers being forcibly closed and journalists threatened and attacked.

European Union leaders must Write for Rights

Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office is calling on European Commissioners, Members of the European Parliament and other European Union (EU) representatives to add their voices to the campaign in support of people suffering human rights violations, including prisoners of conscience and torture victims. EU leaders must specifically use their role both on the regional and global stage to call on Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to release Muhammad Bekzhanov, Waleed Abu al-Khair and Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma.

In addition to these individuals, Amnesty International is also highlighting four other cases involving torture, forced confession and unchecked hate crime. Amnesty International is calling on the EU to do all it can to encourage the authorities involved to bring a swift end to the following human rights abuses and injustices:

  • Greece: Costas and his partner were viciously assaulted in a homophobic and racist attack last year. Between 2014 and 2015 the number of attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex people in Greece has more than doubled, with racist attacks an ongoing concern.
  • Iran: Saman Naseem says he was blindfolded, hung upside-down and tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit. The courts used his “confession” as evidence against him and he was sentenced to death in 2013.
  • Mexico: Yecenia Armenta was hung upside down by her ankles, suffocated, beaten and raped into signing a confession for a crime she says she did not commit. The confession she signed is the only evidence against her.
  • United States of America: Albert Woodfox has spent over 40 years in solitary confinement, in conditions the UN have described as torture. His conviction for murder has been overturned three times, but his release has been blocked at every turn.

Note to editors:

A factsheet is available with more details about Write for Rights and the cases highlighted by this year’s campaign.

Amnesty International selects cases where the campaign has the potential to change people’s lives or bring needed public exposure to an injustice, while seeking to cover different regions, genders and several different human rights issues.

Public Document
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For more information please call Paul Creeney, Digital Communications and Media Officer for Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office on +32 (0)2 548 27 74, by mobile on +32 (0)4 65 946 509 or by email at pcreeney@amnesty.eu
twitter: @AmnestyEU