What is the problem?
Around the world, there are people being tortured, attacked, or imprisoned solely because of who they are or what they believe.
Our work on these issues is core to our mission and dates back to our founding in 1961. Amnesty International was founded on the idea that ordinary people around the world could end these human rights abuses by taking action on behalf of other people. Through our Individuals at Risk work, millions of messages have been sent to governments around the world – giving hope to people in dire circumstances, and ultimately helping to stop torture, find people who were forcibly disappeared, protect human rights defenders, and to free thousands of prisoners of conscience who were unjustly imprisoned.
Why is it an issue?
Every day, human rights are violated. People are convicted in unfair trials, prisoners are tortured, and people are put in prison solely because of their identity or their beliefs.
Freedom of expression, association, and assembly are increasingly under attack all around the world. The need to fight for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience is more important than ever.
Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience as someone who is imprisoned or otherwise physically restricted (like house arrest) solely because of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, color, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status –who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred in the circumstances leading to their imprisonment, Amnesty calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.
Human rights defenders (HRD) are routinely the target of judicial harassment, smear campaigns, intimidation, death threats, unlawful surveillance, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, assault, torture, enforced disappearances, and even assassination. Since the adoption of the UN Declaration on HRDs in 1998 until 2021, an estimated 4,814 HRDs have been killed worldwide. In 2022 alone, over 401 HRDs were killed globally, according to Front Line Defenders. Amnesty documented in its 2022/23 Annual Report that 49% of countries around the world arbitrarily detain human rights defenders.
Amnesty International considers a human rights defender to be a person who, individually or in association with others, acts to defend and/or promote human rights at the local, national, regional or international levels. Amnesty International does not consider a person to be an HRD if they resort to or advocate hatred, discrimination or violence, or if they deny the universality of human rights or take action that seeks to undermine the human rights of others.
HRDs come from every walk of life. They can be journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, whistle-blowers, victims or relatives of victims of human rights violations and abuses, members of human rights organizations, women’s rights leaders, environmental activists, teachers, etc.
What is the solution?
Amnesty International investigates hundreds of cases a year all around the world. We work with the individuals and their families to develop campaigns – and then we do everything possible to bring about change in the individual cases and the systems responsible for them.
At any given time, we are campaigning on dozens of cases of people targeted simply for their peaceful activism, views, and personal characteristics. In many cases, we work for years to win someone’s freedom, or to obtain justice in a case, and in some cases we’re the only organization fighting for them.
Our campaigns support people targeted for their peaceful activism, views or personal characteristics to protect their right to protest and express themselves freely. This includes women human rights defenders, trans rights activists, artists and peaceful protesters. These individuals have variously been beaten, jailed, shot at, harassed and intimidated.
- We launch ongoing campaigns to free prisoners of conscience, support human rights defenders, and help individuals and communities at risk of human rights violations. Take action in Individual at Risk cases today.
- We mobilize rapid response in emergency cases, where people’s freedom and lives are under immediate threat. Join the Urgent Action Network to get regular alerts.
- We mobilize thousands of people to take action on individual cases every December through our annual Write for Rights campaign.
- We train local and student groups on how to campaign for individual cases. Find a local group near you or contact our staff team.
Throughout our history, we have helped secure freedom for thousands of people who were imprisoned simply for exercising their human rights. When just a handful of people unite behind someone, the results can be amazing.
Walid Yunis Ahmad was unlawfully held for over ten years in Iraq without charge. Walid was finally was sentenced in March 2011 to five years in prison on apparently fabricated…
In 2004, around 100 Roma people were forcibly evicted from their home and moved to inhumane conditions near a sewage treatment plant. Despite being told this was temporary, they are…
Labor activist Su Su Nway, who is a member of the main opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD), is serving a sentence of eight years and six months in…
Internationally-celebrated film director Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison plus a twenty-year ban on all his artistic activities—including filmmaking and traveling abroad.
Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai-based human rights defender has been repeatedly detained because of her work for human rights in China. She was subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the authorities.
Background Information on Patrick Okoroafor
No physical evidence, alleged police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct, a ‘stacked’ jury. Despite so many lingering questions, Missouri still plans to execute Reggie Clemons.
Maher Arar suffered torture because of the actions of U.S. officials. An apology is long overdue. Urge President Obama and Congress to apologize to Maher Arar and fulfill his right…
The activists of the human rights organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) know the price of freedom.
Uzbek authorities detained Alisher Karamatov and Azam Farmonov in April 2006 as the two men defended the rights of local farmers. Both have been tortured and are considered prisoners of…
Human rights defenders Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev were detained in June 2006 along with a colleague who died in detention.
Russian journalist and human rights defender Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead near her home on October 7, 2006. Those responsible for the murder have not been brought to justice.