Every year, on or around December 10th, International Human Rights Day, people from across Canada and 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: Write for Rights. Last year, we took 6.6 million actions together.
Why do we do it? To ensure that those in power keep their promises and are held to account for human rights violations. Secondly, acts of solidarity and compassion from all over the world can change lives. Here’s what Magai Matiop Ngong, a teenager who was freed from death row in South Sudan this past summer, had to say about the support he received last year: “To Amnesty activists, tell them that I am so happy and grateful for what they have done to me and my family… I’m so blissful and blessed to have them as a support for my life and freedom.”
Our words have power. Let’s do it again! Sign up to Write for Rights.
Here are the ten incredible cases we’re supporting this year—human rights defenders and individuals in Algeria, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey.
Khaled Drareni, Algeria
Journalist Khaled Drareni acted on his dream of freedom and equality in Algeria when he started covering street protests in February 2019. “Why should anyone refrain from telling the truth?” Khaled often declared. In the subsequent 12 months, authorities detained and released him many times.
After his arrest in March 2020, no cell door opened for him. In August, Khaled began a two-year prison sentence, simply for doing his job.
Germain Rukuki, Burundi
In July 2017, music lover and devoted father Germain Rukuki, his wife, Emelyne Mupfasoni, and their two young sons woke to banging on his door. Security forces whisked Germain away to Ngozi prison in northern Burundi. There ended his work with ACAT-Burundi (Action by Christians for Abolition of Torture). Fake charges that include “rebellion” and “threatening state security” ensued, and Germain was sentenced to 32 years in prison for his peaceful work.
Germain must be released immediately and reunited with his family, including his 3-year-old son whom he has never met.
Gustavo Gatica, Chile
In November 2019, amid widespread concern over rising costs of living and inequality, millions of people across Chile protested in the streets. They were met with excessive force by the authorities, and police officers loaded their guns with metal and rubber ammunition, injuring hundreds. At one protest, Gustavo Gatica, a 21-year-old psychology student and an avid fan of music and photography, was shot in both eyes. He was blinded permanently.
“I gave my eyes so people would wake up,” he says. We must demand justice for Gustavo.
Jani Silva, Colombia
Despite repeated threats to her life, Jani Silva wakes every day to continue protecting the environment and the rights of the people living in the Amazonian Pearl, a campesino reserve in Colombia. That drive has placed her in conflict with an oil company in the territory. The company is already responsible for two oil spills that have poisoned the water sources.
Being an earth defender is dangerous work in Colombia, and increasingly so for women and their communities in isolated areas. “Because I defend my territory, people have put a gun to my head to kill me,” she says. “But we cannot let ourselves be won over by fear.”
El Hiblu 3, Malta
Three teens fleeing violence in their home countries in Africa met each other in Libya en route to safety in Europe. When their rubber dinghy ran into trouble during the Mediterranean crossing, the crew of the El Hiblu oil tanker rescued them and 111 other passengers. Faced with return to Libya, a protest broke out in Maltese waters. The teens used their language skills to help calm the situation but now face trial on ludicrous charges of taking the tanker by force.
Charges against the “El Hiblu 3” must be dropped.
Paing Phyo Min, Myanmar
Members of Myanmar’s Peacock Generation fuse verse with comedy and music in a traditional version of slam poetry. In April and May 2019, their satirical sketches became too much for the military. Six members were arrested and sentenced. Paing Phyo Min received the longest term – six years.
He declared, “We have been directly communicating with the public, expressing what is wrong in our society… We may be imprisoned, but we will not be deterred from speaking our minds.”
Idris Khattak, Pakistan
Talia Khattak describes her father, Idris Khattak, as selfless, loving and generous. The 55-year-old was often found in his backyard, tending to his garden and talking to his chickens. But he is also a dedicated human rights researcher, investigating enforced disappearances in Pakistan for organizations like Amnesty International. In a cruel twist of fate, he too was disappeared in November 2019.
Where is he? How is he? Talia says, “We deserve answers and he deserves the protection of the law.”
Nassima al-Sada, Saudi Arabia
Nassima al-Sada bravely campaigned for women to have the right to drive in Saudi Arabia and to carry out their daily lives without the permission of a male “guardian.” “Why isn’t there an age at which a woman becomes an adult, responsible for her decisions?” she asks. In 2018, the Saudi authorities arrested Nassima for her peaceful human rights work. She was held in solitary confinement for a year and was often not allowed to see her children or her lawyer for months at a time.
Nassima has given her freedom so that others can enjoy theirs. Now she needs our help.
Popi Qwabe and Bongeka Phungula, South Africa
24-year-old Popi Qwabe and 28-year-old Bongeka Phungula met as talented drama students and dreamt of making it big as actors. On May 12, 2017, the young women hailed a minibus taxi, heading for a night out in Soweto, South Africa. They were not heard from again. Following a frantic search, the terrible truth was discovered. Popi and Bongeka had been shot dead and dumped by the side of a road. They may also have been raped.
It has been three years since Popi and Bongeka’s deaths, and despite national outcry, nobody has been brought to justice. With enough support, we can get justice – for Popi, for Bongeka, and for their families.
Melike Balkan and Özgür Gür, Turkey
Biology students Melike Balkan and Özgür Gür are prominent members of the LGBTI+ Solidarity Group at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. Against the backdrop of increasing homophobia in Turkey, the group has marched through their campus each year to celebrate Pride and demand equality and dignity for LGBTI+ people. When the university administration said the May 2019 Pride march could not proceed, they staged a sit-in. The university called the police, who used excessive force, including tear gas, against the peaceful protestors.
Melike, Özgür and 21 others were detained and are now on trial. If found guilty, they face up to three years in prison. We must demand their acquittal.