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Amnesty International today launches the world’s biggest human rights campaign, Write for Rights, calling on governments to put right injustices against individuals who are detained or persecuted in countries across the globe, and to lead by example in building a fairer post- COVID-19 world.

“Devastating though 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 most in need. Sadly, many governments have pursued the opposite course, detaining and persecuting people who stand up for human rights,” said Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“We are at a crossroads – we can all choose to build a future which puts kindness, solidarity, tolerance and human rights at its core. Governments must use this moment to show that they can put right injustices by releasing prisoners of conscience, ending the persecution of human rights defenders, and upholding every person’s right to freedom of expression.”

Write for Rights: The world’s biggest human rights campaign

Every December, people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards for those whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the world’s biggest human rights event.

The cases selected for Write for Rights 2020 by Amnesty International USA are:

  • Idris Khattak from Pakistan, a researcher on enforced disappearances for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was – in a cruel twist – forcibly disappeared himself on November 13, 2019 and may now be charged with espionage. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release.
  • Members of the Middle East Technical University LGBTI+ solidarity group in Ankara, Turkey, face a prison sentence for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. They have been organizing an annual Pride march on campus for years without restrictions, but in 2019, the peaceful event was broken up by police. Students and an academic were detained and beaten, and the case is now in court. Amnesty International is calling for the acquittal of all those who have been charged, an investigation into the excessive use of force by police, and for students to have the freedom to hold peaceful marches on campus.
  • Jani Silva is an environmental human rights defender representing hundreds of peasants (campesinos) in the Putumayo region of Colombia, who are continually threatened by illegal groups, the military, drug traffickers and multinational companies. In Colombia, human rights defenders face a high level of persecution, repression, threats, criminalization, and killings. Amnesty International is calling for protection for Jani Silva and human rights defenders like her.
  • Nassima al-Sada is a women’s human rights defender in Saudi Arabia who has spent much of her life campaigning for women’s right to drive and the right to live their lives without the permission of a male “guardian”. Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws required women to seek a man’s permission to go out, and to conduct other basic needs. Nassima was arrested in July 2018 and placed in a cell alone, in complete isolation from other detainees, denied all visits, including from her lawyer. Amnesty International demands Saudi Arabia to free her now.
  • Teyonna Lofton, 18, was shot the very night that she graduated from high school, as she was slated to begin her studies at Louisiana State University but is instead in therapy relearning how to use her hand after a bullet ruptured a main artery in her left arm. Teyonna repeatedly called the police, but no one arrived to the scene nor followed-up with information about the shooter. Amnesty International is demanding that Teyonna receive the victim’s compensation benefits that she is owed as her hospital bills continue to mount.
  • Germain Rukuki is a Burundian human rights defender and prisoner of conscience serving a 32-year prison sentence. He was convicted on account of his human rights work and Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
  • The families in U.S. immigration detention: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is holding nearly 100 families at three facilities in Pennsylvania and Texas. ICE has the legal authority to release families together and has historically done sobut is now choosing to separate families or keep them detained indefinitely. With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in family detention facilities, families face grave complications and even death if they contract the virus. There are credible, consistent, and disturbing accounts by families of dangerous conditions that put all families, facility staff, and surrounding communities at risk. These families came to the United States seeking safety and Amnesty International is advocating on their right to seek asylum.

Bob Goodfellow, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “This has been a particularly challenging time in the United States during a difficult year as the country grapples with a pandemic that continues to take too many lives. Now is also the time when we should be taking care of one another, looking after our communities, and advocating along with the people fighting for their basic rights. We’ve seen what people in this country can achieve when they raise their voices and Write for Rights can truly change individuals’ lives.” 

Campaign successes

As seen in previous years, writing letters really does bring about change for the individuals whose cases are highlighted in Write for Rights, and also offers enormous emotional support and encouragement to them 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.

“I was on death row because the police claimed I stole three phones,” says Moses. “But now I’m free, because people like you wrote letters to support me. After eight years in jail, and 800,000 letters from Amnesty International supporters all over the world, I was released. Those letters kept my fire burning. I am alive today because of these letters. So your letters can save a life.”

In July 2020, a South Sudanese teenager had his death sentence quashed, due in part to Write for Rights. According to his testimony in court, Magai Matiop Ngong fired his father’s gun at the ground to warn off his cousin, who was trying to stop him fighting with another boy in his neighborhood. The bullet ricocheted and hit his cousin, who later died in hospital. Magai, who was just 15 at the time, faced trial for murder without a lawyer. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

Our research shows that the death penalty is disproportionately used against poor and disadvantaged people. According to international law, and South Sudanese law, sentencing a child to death is illegal.

 

More than 765,000 people took action and wrote to the South Sudanese government expressing solidarity with Magai. The South Sudan Court of Appeal eventually quashed the death sentence imposed on Magai because he was a child at the time of the crime, and sent his case back to the High Court to rule on an appropriate sentence.

“The power of individual action to save lives and hold governments to account must never be underestimated. Year on year we see the powerful impact that simply writing a letter or email can deliver,” said Julie Verhaar.

“Write for Rights is all about individuals helping other individuals, 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 delivering justice to those whose human rights are being attacked.”

Background

Write for Rights mobilizes hundreds of thousands of people around the world to change the lives of individuals at risk through taking action. Last year over six and half million actions were taken – an annual increase for the 18th consecutive year. The case of Yasaman Aryani in Iran received over one million actions alone.

The Write for Rights campaign will run from October 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021. For more information see here: write.amnestyusa.org. Photos are also available. For more information or to arrange an interview, contact: Mariya Parodi, [email protected].