For the first time since 2019, Amnesty International supporters across Canada will gather in person around International Human Rights Day – December 10 – to take part in the world’s largest annual celebration of human rights.
Now in its 22nd year, Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign sees thousands of groups in more than 200 countries and territories take millions of actions in support of people whose human rights are under attack. In years past, dozens of Write-A-Thons – lively events where activists gather to write letters, sign petitions, enjoy music and refreshments, and listen to inspiring guest speakers – took place in communities across Canada. However, in 2020 and 2021, those gatherings were cancelled or migrated online because of COVID-19 restrictions.
‘Defending human rights, at its core, is about people joining together and harnessing their collective power to counter injustice.’Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
“Defending human rights, at its core, is about people joining together and harnessing their collective power to counter injustice,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-speaking Section). “Gathering online can be an effective tool to spur change, but it’s not the same experience as the intimacy and immediacy of getting together in person, sharing stories, and taking action as a group. That’s where empathy thrives and momentum grows unstoppable.”
So far, more than 60 Write-A-Thons have been scheduled for December, with events confirmed for Halifax, Toronto, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Community, student, religious, and workplace groups may register their events on Amnesty International Canada’s 2022 Write for Rights portal. There, visitors will also find letter-writing toolkits, online actions, and information about the cases Amnesty International is profiling this year.
This year’s featured human rights defenders, lining up with Amnesty International’s new global Protect the Protest campaign, are 13 individuals who have been targeted for their protest activities. They are:
- Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer from Hong Kong who is serving 22 months in jail for asking 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 members have been repeatedly targeted for seeking truth and justice, including the secret execution of Vahid’s brother Navid and the arbitrary detention this fall of Vahid’s sister Elham.
- 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 raising concerns on Facebook about the potential negative environmental impacts of a new power plant.
- Dorgelesse Nguessan, a hairdresser from Cameroon, sentenced to five years in prison after she attended her first ever peaceful 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 one of the largest demonstrations Cuba had seen in decades.
- 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. Nearly four years later, and no one has been charged or suspended over her death.
- Nasser Zefzafi, who is serving 20 years in prison in Morocco for his involvement in a peaceful protest movement demanding improvement to health care, education, and employment opportunities in his region.
- Yren Rotela and Mariana Sepúlveda, two trans women from Paraguay who have been barred by the authorities from legally changing their names.
- Aleksandra Skochilenko from Russia, who faces up to 10 years in prison for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“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,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Everywhere you look across the world, the right to protest is coming under attack.”
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, making Write for Rights the world’s largest human rights event.