New Congressional Project Highlighting Prisoners of Conscience "Leads by Example on Human Rights"

Press Release
December 6, 2012

New Congressional Project Highlighting Prisoners of Conscience "Leads by Example on Human Rights"

Human Rights Organization’s Individuals at Risk Program Served as Blueprint for New Congressional Initiative

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC), in conjunction with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Amnesty International USA announced the new Defending Freedoms Project on Capitol Hill today.

The goal of this new partnership is to increase respect for religious freedom and other human rights around the world through a focus on individual cases of human rights defenders and those who have been unjustly imprisoned for exercising their human rights. Members of Congress will “adopt” at least one political prisoner, using their clout to highlight each case and push for an end to the human rights violations to which the highlighted individual is being subjected.

Through their work on behalf of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, participating members of Congress will also encourage countries to draft laws and adopt policies protecting freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, the right to a fair trial and other universal human rights.

Prisoner of conscience is a term coined by the founder of Amnesty International in 1961. It is a term used to designate individuals who have been jailed because of their identity or the peaceful expression of their beliefs.

U.S. Representative and Chairman (TLHRC) Frank R. Wolf has adopted detained human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng from China. U.S. Representative and Ranking Member (TLHRC) James P. McGovern has chosen jailed Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

“Prisoners of conscience are evidence of systemic human rights abuses,” said Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office. “These exemplary members of Congress are aligning themselves with courageous human rights defenders around the globe who stare down repression daily to express themselves and fight for fundamental human rights. Amnesty International thanks Congressmen Wolf and McGovern for their passionate and consistent leadership and commitment to human rights. We commend them for leading this initiative by example, not just words.”

TLHRC, USCIRF and Amnesty International hope to grow this initiative and pair more congressional offices with political prisoners to advocate publically for their release and push for systemic reforms.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.