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 ten cases selected for Write for Rights 2020 include human rights defenders and individuals in Algeria, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey.
Gustavo Gatica is a psychology student in Santiago, Chile. On 8 November 2019, he attended a protest over rising inequality, part of mass demonstrations that made headlines all over the world for being an inspiring example of people power. Police violently repressed this protest, repeatedly opening fire on demonstrators with shotguns loaded with rubberized buck shots.
Gustavo was struck in both eyes and left permanently blinded. Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the events that led to Gustavo being injured and for the commanders in charge to be held responsible.
In Malta, three youths from Ivory Coast and Guinea are awaiting trial on baseless terrorism charges after acting as interpreters for the captain and crew of a Maltese tanker which came to rescue them – and more than 100 other people – from their sinking rubber boat.
Initially the captain wanted to take the 114 people, including 20 women and at least 15 children, back to Libya, where they would have been at risk of abuses, including detention in inhumane conditions, extortion and torture.However, after discussions with the migrants, the captain and crew agreed to take them to Malta instead.
But on arrival in Malta, the three teenagers, who had acted as translators, were arrested for allegedly hijacking the boat and forcing the captain to take them to Malta. They are now accused of very serious offences that could carry life sentences, just for opposing an unlawful return to torture. Amnesty International is demanding justice for the “El Hiblu 3” and calling for the charges against the youths (now aged 21, 18 and 16) to be dropped.
Among the other cases are:
- Germain Rukuki, 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. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
- Jani Silva, an environmental 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.
- METU LGBTI solidarity group, whose members face a prison sentence for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Turkey. LGBTI students at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara have been organizing an annual Pride march on campus for years without restrictions. 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.
- 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 13 November 2019, and may now be charged with espionage. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release.
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 man 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 neighbourhood. 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.”
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 20 November to 31 December 2020.