Amnesty International today launches the world’s largest human rights campaign, Write for Rights, in which it calls on governments to rectify injustices against people who are detained or persecuted in countries around the globe, and to lead by example to build a fairer post-COVID-19 world.
“As devastating as it has been, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought out the best in people. We have witnessed countless acts of compassion and solidarity as people come together in their communities to help those who need it most. Unfortunately, many governments have gone the wrong way, arresting and persecuting human rights defenders, ”said Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“We are at a crossroads: we can choose to build a future that has goodness, solidarity, tolerance and human rights at its core. Governments must seize this moment to demonstrate that they can rectify injustices by releasing prisoners of conscience, ending the persecution of human rights defenders, and respecting and protecting the right of all people to freedom of expression. . “
Write for Rights: The World’s Largest Human Rights Campaign
Every December, people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook messages and postcards on behalf of others whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the largest rights event humans of the world. The ten cases selected for Write for Rights 2020 refer to private individuals and human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.
Gustavo Gatica is a psychology student in Santiago, Chile. On November 8, 2019, he attended a protest against rising inequality, part of a series of mass demonstrations that made headlines around the world for his inspiring example of popular power. The police violently suppressed this protest, and repeatedly fired at protesters with rubber-coated pellets.
Gustavo was hit in both eyes and left permanently blind. Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the events that led to Gustavo’s injuries, and for the commanding officers to be held to account.
In Malta, three teenagers from Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea are incarcerated awaiting trial on unfounded terrorism charges after acting as interpreters for the captain and crew of a Maltese tanker that rescued them – themselves and more than 100 others. migrants – from their sinking inflatable boat.
Initially, the captain wanted to take the 114 people, including 20 women and at least 15 children, back in Garabulli, Libya, where they would have been in danger of suffering abuses such as detention under inhumane conditions, extortion and torture.However, after discussing it with the migrants, the captain and crew agreed to take them to Malta.
But when they got there, the three teenagers, who had acted as interpreters, were arrested for allegedly hijacking the ship and for forcing the captain to take them to Malta. They are now charged with very serious crimes that could carry life sentences, simply for refusing to be illegally returned to a place of torture. Amnesty International demands justice for “the three from El Hiblu” and calls for the charges against the young men (now 21, 18 and 16 years old) to be dropped.
Other cases include the following:
- Germain Rukuki, Burundian human rights defender and prisoner of conscience serving a 32-year prison sentence. He was found guilty because of his human rights work. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
- Jani Silva, an environmental defender who represents hundreds of peasant people in the Putumayo region, Colombia, constantly threatened by illegal groups, the army, drug traffickers and multinational companies. In Colombia, human rights defenders face numerous acts of persecution, repression, threats, criminalization, and even homicides. Amnesty International is calling for the protection of Jani Silva and others who, like her, defend human rights.
- The METU LGBTI Solidarity Group, whose members they face a prison sentence for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Turkey. LGBTI students at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara have been organizing an annual Pride march on campus without restriction for years. In 2019, the peaceful event was dissolved by the police. Students and a teacher were arrested and beaten, and the case is now in court. Amnesty International is calling for all those accused to be acquitted, for the excessive use of force by the police to be investigated, and for students to be free to hold peaceful marches on campus.
- Idris Khattak of Pakistan, an enforced disappearance researcher for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was – in a cruel twist of fate – enforced disappearance himself on November 13, 2019, and can now be charged with espionage. Amnesty International calls for his immediate release.
As seen in previous years, letter writing can really make a difference for people whose cases are featured in Write for Rights, and it often offers tremendous emotional support and encouragement to these individuals and their families.
Nigerian teenager Moses Akatugba was arrested and sentenced to death when he was 15 years old, after being accused of stealing three phones. In 2019 he was released after 800,000 Amnesty International supporters showed their support.
“They sentenced me to death because the police claimed that I had stolen three phones,” says Moses. “But now I am free, because people like you wrote letters to support me. After eight years in jail, and 800,000 letters from Amnesty International supporters around the world, I was released. Those letters kept me spirited. Today I am alive thanks to them. Your letters can save a life. “
In July 2020, the death sentence of a South Sudanese was overturned, thanks in part to Write for Rights. According to his court testimony, Magai Matiop Ngong fired his father’s gun at the ground as a warning to his cousin, who was trying to stop him from fighting another boy in their neighborhood. The bullet ricocheted and hit his cousin, who later died in hospital. Magai, then 15 years old, was tried for murder without a lawyer. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Our research shows that the death penalty is used disproportionately against poor and disadvantaged people. According to international law, and the laws of South Sudan, sentencing a child to death is illegal.
More than 765,000 people took action and wrote to the government of South Sudan to express their solidarity with Magai. The South Sudan Court of Appeal eventually overturned Magai’s death sentence because he was a child at the time of the crime, and sent his case back to the High Court for a proper sentence..
“The power of individual actions to save lives and hold governments to account should never be underestimated. Year after year, we see the enormous impact that something as simple as writing a letter or an email can have, ”said Julie Verhaar.
“Write for Rights is about people who help others, and this way of expressing our shared humanity has never been more important and relevant. Governments must respond to this widespread desire for change by administering justice to those whose human rights are under attack. ”
Write for Rights mobilizes hundreds of thousands of people around the world to, through action, change the lives of people at risk. Last year, more than six and a half million actions were taken – an annual increase for the eighteenth year in a row. The Yasaman Aryani case, in Iran, alone, received more than a million shares.
The Write for Rights campaign will run from November 20 to December 31, 2020.