NEW YORK - Amnesty International USA kicks off a “year of action” on Friday, December 10 – International Human Rights Day -- to commemorate its 50th anniversary, appealing for the release of “forgotten prisoners of conscience” worldwide and justice for others whose human rights are denied. The organization said the “shameful imprisonment” of writer Liu Xiaobo and China’s refusal to allow him or his family to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo is a powerful reminder that people must sustain global pressure to achieve basic rights.
Within the last month, the world witnessed the joyful release of the world’s most famous political prisoner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after 15 years of house arrest in Myanmar, demonstrating the power of pressure, both grassroots and high level, to bring about peaceful change.
Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox said: “Today, the world is witnessing another of China’s shameful acts of repression against Liu Xiaobo. But he is not alone. Like Liu Xiaobo, millions of people worldwide live in fear of persecution by repressive governments or armed factions and millions more suffer extreme deprivation. But we are not powerless against this injustice. Amnesty International has proved for 50 years that collective action is a powerful force for change. And today, our cause has never been more vital.”
The initial call to action is massive participation in AI’s Global Write-a-Thon, the world’s biggest letter-writing event, which takes place through Dec. 12 in more than 1,100 churches, schools, living rooms and community meeting places. Participants write letters of support to individuals unjustly imprisoned and to governments demanding their release. Bu Dongwei was held in Chinese re-education labor facility after police claimed they discovered Falun Gon literature in his home. While he was imprisoned he was shown letters addressed to him that had arrived from abroad. After his release, he spoke to Amnesty International about what those letters meant to him in this video:
"Amnesty International's support is one of the reasons that I was released," wrote
Musaad Abu Fagr, the Egyptian novelist, activist and blogger freed from detention in July 2010 after almost three years in prison for defending the rights of Bedouins in the Sinai..
Today, in many countries, large numbers of people are denied their most basic human rights. People were tortured or ill-treated in at least 111 countries this past year; freedom of expression was restricted in at least 96 countries; and prisoners of conscience were held in at least 48 countries, according to Amnesty International’s 2010 The State of the World’s Human Rights report.
Throughout Amnesty International’s anniversary year, major performing artists, writers and luminaries will be involved in a range of commemorations intended to build upon Amnesty International’s legacy of achievements over the last half century. Among those who have already signed on are formerPresident Jimmy Carter, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, singer Joan Baez, composer and music producer Hans Zimmer and actor Patrick Stewart.
In 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson ignited a worldwide campaign when he published an article in The London Observer titled “The Forgotten Prisoners.” Benenson wrote: “Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.” Amnesty International was born that year with an appeal to free six prisoners of conscience.
Over the next 50 years, the organization has shown that collective action is a powerful force for change. Amnesty International – today the largest grassroots human rights organization in the world with nearly 3 million members worldwide -- has helped win the freedom of tens of thousands of individuals jailed for expressing beliefs or defending basic rights, shut down torture chambers, halted executions, and established laws and treaties to protect the freedom and dignity of people around the world – and in the United States. Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.
Highlights of the 50th anniversary in the United States include:
*A partnership with Funny or Die, the comedy video website whose creators include Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, to create humorous and informative videos.
*The Amnesty Global Ethics Series, three to four short books a year by distinguished U.S. and U.K. scholars launching in 2011 and jointly published by Amnesty International and W.W. Norton & Co.
*Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting March 17-20 in San Francisco involving thousands of activists during three days of compelling human rights seminars and a youth summit.
*The first “Amnesty International Shine-A-Light” humanitarian award to be presented to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Los Angeles. The event launchs a nationwide series of “Toasts to Freedom” events.
*Publication of Freedom (January:2011, Three Rivers Press), a story collection celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an introduction by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and notable contributors such as Walter Moseley, Joyce Carol Oates, and Nadine Gordimer.
*”Shine-A-Light” events will unite activists across the country at summer concerts in 2011 with a culminating national event on the evening of December 10, 2011.