Supporting the Amnesty International Write-For-Rights campaign 2020

Although we are hampered by COVID protocols. I am determined that we should participate in the Amnesty International (AI) Write-For-Rights 2020 campaign again this year as in previous years.  COVID or not, human rights violations continue to occur around the world, and the Write-For-Rights campaign gives us the opportunity to do something about that.

This year we obviously cannot meet after worship to sign letters, but you will still have the opportunity to read and hear about the cases, sign letters, send notes of support and encouragement; there is even a children’s activity.  If you would like to participate, simply contact Lisa at the church office, or me, Bonnie. Be sure to leave your name, your street address, and the number of packages you want. Remember, one package contains material for one person; if others in your household wish to participate, you will need to order additional packages. An unlimited number of package swill be available on or before December 6 and you can either pick your package up at the church on Thursday, December 3, or Friday, December 4, or I will make arrangements to have your package delivered to your home. Returning the packages is equally as easy — more about that in next week’s Tidbits.

Our campaign this year will focus on four cases.

Nassima al-Saud

Nassima al-Saud is a woman campaigning for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia — two topics that often arise in our AI —, specifically against the guardianship laws.  Under these laws, Saudi women must seek a man’s permission to go out, to travel, to marry, to work, even to access healthcare. Though eased somewhat in recent years, Saudi women are campaigning to put an end to them completely.  Any kind of control is abuse, and that is a violation of a woman’s human rights.

Like many other women activists who have led and supported this campaign, Nassima has been jailed since 2018, not because she committed any crime, just to keep her quiet.  She has been ill-treated during her incarceration, kept in isolation for a whole year; she is not allowed any visitors, not even her lawyer; she can receive one phone call a week from her family.

In 2016, Nassima wrote: “Why should an under-age boy be the guardian of a woman who is an adult?  Why isn’t there an age at which a woman becomes an adult, responsible for her decisions and her life?  Why should a man be responsible for her life?”  Why indeed?  You can demand that King Aziz al-Saud free Nassima and other women activists immediately and unconditionally.

Melike Balkan and Ozgur Gul

Case #2 this year involves another one of those situations we find ourselves supporting and campaigning for with letters far too often – the rights of the LGBTI community, this time in Turkey.

Article 21 of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association…to meet with others to exchange views and information…to hold a peaceful protest or to publicly express views. Melike Balkan and Ozgur Gul believed that, and ever since joining the LGBTI+ Solidarity Group at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, they have helped organize peaceful marches and meetings.

They were part of organizing a PRIDE march in 2019, an annual tradition at the university since 2011. Just days before the march, the university’s management told them that there would be no march that year. No reason given, but homophobia and restrictions on freedom of expression have been increasing in Turkey. Instead the students staged a peaceful PRIDE sit-in. The university, instead of seeing the sit-in as a form of compromise, called in police who broke up the peaceful protest with excessive force, including tear gas and the arrest of 23 students and 1 academic, some of whom hadn’t even participated in the sit-in. Eighteen of those students, including Melike and Ozgur and the academic are to be brought to trial who knows when, and if convicted face up to 3 years in prison.

Your letter to the Minister of Justice in Turkey will remind him that the action of the university and the police that day contravened Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that all charges against the students and academic must be dropped, or the students and academic acquitted of all charges.

Jani Silva

What would a Write-For-Rights campaign be without an appeal to protect those who are trying to protect the environment and the people who depend on it for their own health and livelihood? This year the country is Colombia; the offender, Amerisur Oil Company; the defenders: ADISPA; our focus, Jani Silva.

Jani was only 16 when she co-founded ADISPA, the Association for the Integral and Sustainable Development of the Amazonian Pearl, and dedicated her life to helping the farmers in the Amazonia Pearl in Putumayo protect the land and trees that everyone in that farming reserve depends on. Enter the oil company, and you can guess the end of the story: oil spills, poisoned water, ruined land. And so Jani and her organization continue to campaign against the company. And again, you can guess the result: Jani has been followed by armed men and threatened with death, a situation made worse because she is a woman and lives in a remote area. Since the onset of the pandemic, state protection has been reduced, but assassinations have increased. Jani writes: “Because I defend my territory, people have put a gun to my head to kill me. But we cannot run away or let ourselves be won over by fear.”

Your letter to the President of Colombia can demand protection for Jani and others who work to protect their little corner of the world. Your letter may even inspire the President to take a closer look at the activities of the Amerisur Oil Company. Jani and her fellow ADISPA members would also love to hear from you and receive the pictures your children could draw. More information in the package.

Germain Rukuku

Our final case is one of those convicted-on-scanty evidence types. Germain Rukuku and his wife both worked for NGOs in Burundi, but were associated with the Action by Christians for Abolition of Torture organization, or the ACAT. In what is itself a violation of human rights, that organization was shut down by the government in 2016 for allegedly “tarnishing the image of the country.” Germain was arrested in 2017 on the basis of his association with ACAT, brought to trial on false charges – “rebellion” and “threatening State Security”, convicted, and sentenced to 32 years in prison. The evidence against him? An email he had written when the ACAT was still legal. Germain’s wife, Emelyne, is left to raise their three sons herself. One of those sons was born shortly after Germain was arrested; Germain has never seen him.

Please write to the president of Burundi, demanding Germain’s immediate and unconditional release. You might also wish to send a note of support and encouragement to Emelyne as she tries to hold their lives together.

How to return your completed campaign packages

So what do you do with your package once you have done everything you want to do and re-assembled it? Simply reverse the process — call Lisa at the church office or me and arrange a pickup. Alternatively, drop it off at the church December 7 – 11 between 1:00 and 4:00 PM; Lisa will be there to receive it or you can simply put it in the outside mailbox. Or, Bruce Morrison and I will be at the church Saturday, December 12 from 11:00 AM until noon to receive your package in a drive-by drop-off. However you choose to return your package, I would appreciate receiving all the packages by noon on December 12.

Your support is appreciated. Thank you for standing up for human rights.

Bonnie Horton

This post combines information that first appeared in four issues of Tidbits.

Last updated: 2020-12-06 at 22:58 with full information about the case of Germain Rukuku in Burundi, and with details of how to return one’s completed campaign packages.