The family of an LGBTI activist hacked to death in Bangladesh, the sister of a young man gunned down by Jamaican police, and 11 human rights defenders in Turkey are among those who will be receiving letters of support from Amnesty International supporters this December, as the organisation launches its fifteenth global letter writing campaign, Write for Rights. Every December, Amnesty International supporters across the globe write millions of letters and take actions for people whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the world’s biggest human rights campaign. Last year, at least 4.6 million actions were taken.
“For 15 years, Write for Rights has given people hope in their darkest moments. Imagine being ill in jail and receiving thousands of letters of support and solidarity; or finding out that people all over the world are behind you in your quest for justice for a murdered relative. Writing letters really can change lives. All over the world human rights defenders are under attack, treated like criminals simply for expressing themselves online or protecting the environment, and it’s more important than ever that we show them they’re not alone. Write for Rights sends a powerful message to the authorities that we are watching them. Though they may be able to harass, censor or jail individuals, they cannot silence the millions of people around the world who stand in solidarity with them,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
This year, for the first time, those receiving letters include two Amnesty International figures, who are on trial on baseless ‘terrorism’ related charges in Turkey on account of their human rights work. The chair of Amnesty Turkey, Taner Kılıç, was arrested on 6 June 2017 and remains in jail. Amnesty Turkey’s Director İdil Eser, and one of its founding members, Özlem Dalkıran, were among 10 human rights defenders detained while attending a human rights workshop on 5 July. They were released in October after almost four months in jail but are still facing charges.
As well as sending messages of solidarity, Amnesty International supporters can write letters to people in power, calling on them to protect human rights defenders. Last year, alongside US NGO partners, Amnesty International handed over 1,101,252 signatures to the White House, calling on President Obama to pardon whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Snowden said: “I want to thank you, humbly and with a full heart, for your unwavering advocacy and support. More than a million of you came together to say in one voice that the truth matters. My gratitude is beyond expression.”
This year Amnesty International is writing to, among others:
- The Bangladeshi Home Minister, calling on him to bring the killers of Xulhaz Mannan to justice, without recourse to the death penalty. Xulhaz, a founder of Bangladesh’s only LGBTI magazine, was in his apartment with a colleague when men wielding machetes burst in and hacked them to death in April 2016. Despite ample evidence, the killers have yet to be charged.
- The Prime Minister of Jamaica, telling him to protect Shackelia Jackson, who has been fighting for justice for her brother Nakiea since he was killed by police in 2014, and has refused to be silenced by police intimidation. In the past decade around 2,000 men, usually young and poor, have been killed by police in Jamaica.
- The Prime Minister of Israel, telling him to drop all charges against Farid al Atrash and Issa Amro, Palestinian human rights defenders, who want an end to illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. They brave constant attacks by soldiers and settlers, and are facing ludicrous charges after they joined a peaceful protest march.
Amnesty International’s first Write for Rights campaign took place 15 years ago. Since then millions of actions have been taken by activists around the world. Every year, these actions lead to real change. People wrongfully imprisoned are released, torturers are brought to justice, and people in prison are treated more humanely. Receiving a letter can also give people hope in the most desperate of times.
When Congolese activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala were released in 2016 after 17 months in prison, they had this to say to supporters who wrote to them: “Every letter, every visit, every word has strengthened us and reinforced our determination in this long but just struggle for freedom and democracy.”
Amnesty International is calling on people to show their support this year to help more people, groups and communities around the world to have their rights respected: from the right to freedom of expression in Chad to the right to housing in China.
Xulhaz was a founder of Bangladesh’s only LGBTI magazine, a daring venture in a country where same-sex relations are illegal. He was in his apartment with a colleague when men wielding machetes burst in and hacked them to death. Despite ample evidence, including CCTV footage and eyewitness testimony, one year on the killers have yet to be charged for this brutal murder.
Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, commonly known as Mahadine, is an online activist from Chad. In September 2016 he posted videos on Facebook criticising the Chadian government. Within days, he was snatched off the streets, and beaten and chained up for several weeks. He faces a life sentence and is also gravely ill, having caught tuberculosis in prison.
A former lawyer, Ni Yulan has supported scores of people forced from their homes by lucrative construction projects. She has braved almost 20 years of violent harassment for defending housing rights, and has been monitored, arrested and repeatedly evicted by the authorities. She was once beaten so badly in detention that she now uses a wheelchair. Ni Yulan continues to help people stand up for their rights
Hanan Badr el-Din
Hanan Badr el Din’s life changed forever when her husband disappeared in July 2013. She last saw him on television, wounded and at a hospital after attending a protest. Hanan’s relentless search for him led her to others whose loved ones were taken by the Egyptian security forces. Now a leading voice exposing Egypt’s hundreds of disappeared, her latest search for information about her husband has seen her arrested on false charges which could result in five years in prison.
Sakris Kupila, a 21-year-old medical student from Finland, has never identified as a woman. Yet he has to endure daily discrimination because his identity documents say he is female – the gender he was assigned at birth. To legally reassign your gender in Finland, you must be diagnosed with a “mental disorder” and sterilised. Sakris opposes this humiliating treatment. And despite threats and open hostility, he continues to demand a change to the law.
MILPAH Indigenous Movement
For the Indigenous Lenca people in Honduras, the land is their life. But huge hydroelectric, mining and other interests are out to exploit that land. MILPAH, the Independent Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, is at the forefront of the struggle against them. They brave smear campaigns, death threats and physical assault to protect their environment, yet their attackers are rarely brought to justice.
Farid and Issa
Farid al-Atrash and Issa Amro are two Palestinian activists who demand an end to Israeli settlements – a war crime stemming from Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian land. Dedicated to non-violence, the two activists brave constant threats and attacks by soldiers and settlers. In February 2016, Issa and Farid marched peacefully against settlements and the Israeli occupation. As a result, they face ludicrous charges apparently designed to obstruct their human rights work.
Shackelia Jackson will not give up. When her brother, Nakiea, was gunned down by police, she took on Jamaica’s sluggish court system to lead a bold fight for justice for his murder. In doing so, she rallied dozens of families whose loved ones were similarly killed. In response, the police have repeatedly raided and harassed her community. But Shackelia will not be silenced.
Clovis is doing everything he can to protect Madagascar’s vanishing rainforest. Its rosewood trees are a precious resource under threat from a network of smugglers, bent on selling them off in what has become a billion dollar illegal trade. Clovis’ efforts to save this rare ruby-coloured tree have brought him unwanted attention. He has been convicted on false charges and could be jailed at any moment
Right now, 11 people who have dedicated their lives to defending the human rights of journalists, activists and other dissenting voices in Turkey are themselves in danger. Among them are Amnesty International’s Director, İdil Eser, and its chair, Taner Kılıç, who remains in prison after five months. All are on trial for ‘terrorism’-related crimes, an absurd charge and face a jail sentence of up to 15 years.