Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

Stories to inspire

The people, the faces, the stories – 50 years of defending rights

Fela Kuti, Nigeria

My father, Fela Kuti, was released from prison in 1986 after Amnesty International took him on as a prisoner of conscience.

Femi Kuti

2010    Nigeria

World famous musician Fela Kuti was jailed for using his politically charged lyrics to criticize Nigeria’s military government in the 1970s and 1980s. But pressure from our members worldwide secured his release.

  • Fela’s music exposes abuses in Nigeria
  • People campaign worldwide for his release
  • Fela joins Amnesty International’s “Conspiracy of Hope” concert tour

Musician Fela Kuti was an outspoken critic of Nigeria’s military government in the 1970s and 1980s. A number of his songs were political, angering the authorities. 

From 1976 he was detained at least five times. In 1977, his house was burned down and members of his family seriously injured when hundreds of soldiers arrested him at his home.

In September 1984, Fela was arrested again, this time for attempting to unlawfully export foreign currency, which he had drawn from his British bank account. He was sentenced to five years in prison in November 1984.

“Rot in jail”

Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, Chief of Staff, announced that the government would ensure Fela stayed in prison for a long time, concluding: “and I hope he will rot in jail.”

Key defence witnesses, including customs officials, were alleged to have been prevented from testifying at Fela’s trial.

Amnesty International began campaigning for Fela’s release, fearing that his trial was unfair and that he may have been imprisoned solely for his non-violent political activism.

Letters of support for our campaign began arriving in 1985, including the following message from Geneva, Switzerland: “I’m a musician… Fela was explaining in one of his songs that the soldiers came, broke everything in his house and killed his mother. I’ve been told he is now in prison for political reasons. If you… have some work I could do to help his situation, will you please send it to me. I’m ready to follow your instructions.”

Fela freed

Following months of pressure from our activists and Fela’s supporters, Fela was released from prison on 24 April 1986. Two months later he was a featured artist in our “Conspiracy of Hope” concerts, touring the USA with U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and Joan Baez.

In 2010, the stage show Fela! opened in London, bringing Fela’s story and music to a new generation. His son Femi sent the following message to the show’s audiences:

“My father, Fela Kuti, was released from prison in 1986 after Amnesty International took him on as a prisoner of conscience. So I am one of the thousands of people whose life has been directly affected by Amnesty's work. Please support Amnesty by taking action for those whose freedom of expression has been taken away from them.”

For over 50 years we have been fighting for freedom of expression. The world has changed, but violence and imprisonment are still used to silence people who defend human rights and criticize the powerful. By calling on millions of activists and supporters worldwide, we can jam the fax machines of governments and send them a message they can’t ignore. Speak out against repression – deliver a message directly into the hands of those in power.
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