Activists across the globe will mark this year’s Human Rights Day by taking part in the world’s biggest human rights event: Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign. Held annually since 2001, Write for Rights sees people in more than 200 countries and territories take millions of actions in support of people whose human rights are under attack.
Reflecting the growing global threat to the right to protest—and tying in with Amnesty’s new global Protect the Protest campaign—Write for Rights 2022 is campaigning for 13 individuals who have paid a great price for speaking out. This year’s campaign includes a lawyer from Hong Kong jailed for encouraging people to light candles to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown; an Iranian man jailed and tortured for peacefully protesting against inequality and political repression who has been held in solitary confinement for more than two years; and three Zimbabwean activists who were abducted, beaten, sexually assaulted and jailed because of their activism.
“Year after year, Write for Rights offers a reminder of the enduring power of collective action. The campaign has shown time and again that when enough people come together and challenge injustice with one voice, authorities do listen and lives can be transformed,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Everywhere you look across the world, the right to protest is coming under attack. Over the last 12 months alone, from Iran to Cuba and beyond, we’ve seen a host of protest movements met with repressive government responses. It’s only fitting that for Write for Rights 2022, activists are speaking up in solidarity with those who are paying a heavy price for speaking out.”
This Human Rights Day, a host of Write for Rights events will be taking place across all regions of the world. These include a concert in Cote D’Ivoire, a half-marathon in Zimbabwe, and public letter writing events in Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Ireland, Mali, Mongolia, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey. Further events will take place globally throughout December.
Every December, people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards in support of those who are unjustly persecuted. Write for Rights has helped transform the lives of more than 100 people since 2001, freeing them from torture, harassment, or unjust imprisonment. In 2021, more than 4.5 million actions were taken.
Last year’s campaign featured Guatemalan teacher and environmental activist, Bernardo Caal Xol, who had been sentenced to more than seven years in prison on bogus charges aimed at preventing his work to protect his people’s land and resources. Write for Rights 2021 saw more than half a million actions taken on his behalf and, in March 2022, he was released. In a video message to Amnesty International activists, he said:
“I, Bernardo Caal Xol, a member of the Maya Q’eqchi’ people of Guatemala, am grateful to each and every one of you. You have given me hope for the justice, liberty and equality that must prevail in every people and nation.”
Across all regions of the world, state authorities are implementing an expanding array of measures to suppress dissent. Protesters across the globe are facing a potent mix of restrictions, with a growing number of laws and other measures to limit the right to protest. These include preventing, forbidding, and criminalising protests, excessive and unnecessary use of force, the unlawful use of law enforcement equipment, unlawful arrests and detentions, the expansion of unlawful mass and targeted surveillance, internet shutdowns and online censorship, and harassment and stigmatization.
People who face inequality and discrimination, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, disability, occupation, social, economic or migratory status are also more affected by restrictions on their right to protest and face harsher repression.
This year, Write for Rights is featuring 13 people whose lives have been negatively impacted by governments’ crackdown on the right to protest:
- Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer from Hong Kong who is serving 22 months in jail for encouraging people on social media to light candles to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown.
- Vahid Afkari, who was sentenced to decades in prison and 74 lashes for joining protests against inequality and political repression in Iran, and whose family have been repeatedly targeted for seeking truth and justice, including through the arbitrary detention last month of Vahid’s sister Elham. According to state media, she was arrested in connection with the current wave of protests sweeping the country.
- Zimbabwean activists Joanah Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecillia Chimbiri, who were abducted, beaten, sexually assaulted and jailed for protesting, then charged with faking their ordeal.
- Shahnewaz Chowdhury, who faces prison in Bangladesh for writing a Facebook post raising concerns about the potential negative environmental impact of a new power plant.
- Dorgelesse Nguessan, a hairdresser from Cameroon, sentenced to five years in prison after she attended her first ever protest.
- Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who was sentenced to five years in prison in a maximum-security jail in Cuba after posting a video in which he said he would attend a protest.
- Zineb Redouane, an 80-year-old woman who was killed by the reckless use of a tear gas grenade in France. Police officers were using tear gas to disperse protesters in the streets below her apartment when a police officer fired a tear gas grenade in Zineb’s direction. It hit her in the face and she died from her injuries. No one has been charged or suspended over her tragic death.
- Nasser Zefzafi, who is serving 20 years in prison in Morocco for his involvement in a peaceful protest movement demanding improvement to healthcare, education and employment opportunities in his region.
- Yren Rotela and Mariana Sepulveda, two trans women from Paraguay who have been barred from legally changing their names by the authorities.
- Aleksandra Skochilenko from Russia, who faces up to 10 years in prison for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Write for Rights began 21 years ago in Warsaw, Poland, when a group of friends decided to celebrate Human Rights Day with a 24-hour letter-writing marathon. From 2,326 letters in 2001 to 4.5 million letters, tweets and petition signatures in 2021, Write for Rights has grown into the world’s biggest human rights event. For more information about Write for Rights, see here. For more information about Amnesty International’s Protect the Protest campaign, see here.