weLcome to wire noVember/december
these “lights of hope” lanterns were lit in tokyo, japan during write for rights − the world's
biggest human rights event − in 2011. each one was made by someone who felt passionately
about an injustice done to somebody else. each candle was lit by a person who wanted to make a
difference. each ﬂame threw light on distinctive “stamp” images: of people in prison just for
speaking their minds, who had been killed or disappeared, who deserve justice.
thousands of people came together worldwide, in community centres, cafés, churches, schools,
streets, ofﬁces, town squares. together, we sent almost 2 million messages, asking the powers
that be to open cell doors, tell the truth, do justice. and we gave hope to people who have
suffered human rights abuses, simply by showing that we care, and that we want to help.
this december, we'll do it all again. read the powerful stories of the people and communities
featured in write for rights 2013 in this special issue of wire. find out how this huge global
event works, and how you can join in. and spend a few minutes lighting a small ﬂame and taking
action for somebody else. together, we'll be lighting up the world.
read wire online and our LiVewire blog at livewire.amnesty.org
keep up the
our southeast asia campaigner explains how a passion for myanmar
led her to become an amnesty activist, and why dr tun aung needs
Jabeur Mejri’s sister, Ines, recently told us how he
is doing in prison:
“We see Jabeur (pictured above) every
Thursday and take him food and other things. The
last time we saw him his words really affected us.
He is losing hope, and feels very tired and worried.
He requested a pardon before Eid [in August
2013], but nothing has happened since. We’re very
worried about him.
“Before he was in a very crowded cell and
found it very difficult. He was on the verge of
breaking down, so they agreed to change his cell.
He’s now in a room with about seven or eight
people and he’s much better.
“But he still has trouble sleeping, because
he’s thinking too much about what happened to
him and about his future. We’re continuing to
campaign for him and we’re grateful for everyone’s
help in trying to get him a presidential pardon.”
freedom of speech. We have to keep on fighting to
protect and preserve this right.
“We have to stop the attacks on freedom of
speech, and reform our justice system. Judges
should refuse to work according to orders dictated
by political leaders or parties. We mustn’t be afraid
“I want to tell all Tunisians: We have to unite to
say no to censorship and opinion trials.”
read Lina’s blog at http://atunisiangirl.blogspot.co.uk
’ve had a strong interest in civil and political rights
since I was a teenager in Ireland. My father was
a lifelong member of Amnesty, so I was always
aware of the organization. At university, I focused on
the underlying causes of communal tensions between
Indian and Burman communities in Rangoon in the
1930s for my postgraduate research. I’ve also been
there. It was a combination of these factors that led
me to work on Myanmar for Amnesty International.
The political situation in Myanmar has become
quite fluid in recent years. According to the
government, over 28,000 prisoners have been
released in amnesties since it came to power in
March 2011. These included hundreds of prisoners
of conscience, but hundreds of others have been
arrested or continue to be detained for exercising
their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful
assembly and association.
Amnesty activists can play a major role in keeping
the pressure on Myanmar’s government to stop such
abuses. In Write for Rights 2010, members in 33
countries took more than 45,000 actions calling for
the release of peaceful political activist Su Su Nway.
I’m certain that that’s one reason why she was included
in the new government’s first major prisoner amnesty.
I’m hoping we can do this again this year for Dr
Tun Aung (pictured on the “stamp” image above),
whose case I first heard about a few weeks after his
arrest in June 2012.
He is, by all accounts, a family man – a father
and grandfather – who actively promoted tolerance
among the ethnic and religious groups in Rakhine
state. The local authorities considered him an ally
who could help smooth intercommunity relations if
On a Friday afternoon in June, the authorities
asked Dr Tun Aung to calm a crowd of men outside
a mosque in Maungdaw, western Myanmar. The men
were angry about the massacre of 10 Muslims one
week earlier by a mob of Buddhists who were seeking
revenge for the alleged rape and murder of a
“Dr Tun Aung did his best to restore calm,
but the crowd wouldn’t listen. He was
arrested several days later and is serving
a 17-year prison sentence.”
Dr Tun Aung did his best to restore calm, but the
crowd wouldn’t listen. He was arrested several days
later and is serving a 17-year prison sentence after
being convicted of multiple criminal offences,
including inciting a riot. Aged 66, he has a tumour on
his pituitary gland and needs medical care.
It’s really important for us to make Dr Tun Aung’s
case visible to a wide audience – which is why he is
a Write for Rights 2013 appeal case. That way, he
will remain in the minds of Myanmar officials when
they are deciding on their next prisoner amnesty – as
happened with Su Su Nway.
Dr Tun Aung should be released immediately so
that he can return to being a family man, a
community leader and a doctor. I firmly believe that
Amnesty members around the world will play a vital
role in securing his freedom.
write a Letter - change his Life
write to (start your letter: Your excellency) President
Thein Sein, urging him to release dr Tun Aung
immediately and unconditionally.
address: President’s ofﬁce, Nay Pyi Taw, myanmar.
> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >foLLow @amnestYonLine on > > and tweet using #write4rights> > > > > > > > > > > > > > 11 > > >
> > > > > > twitter > > > > > > >
wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
miriam López was kidnapped on the school run by men in
balaclavas, tortured and detained for months. how could this
happen? wire looks at the reality of torture in mexico.
t took time for Miriam Isaura López Vargas to piece
together what had happened to her. The 30-yearold mother of four had just dropped three of her
children off at school in Ensenada, a city in northern
Mexico, on 2 February 2011. Suddenly, two men
wearing balaclavas appeared, forced her into a white
van and took her away.
“I didn’t know who they were, and when I asked
them they put a gun to my head and told me to shut
up or they would blow my head off,” she later said.
The men turned out to be soldiers in plain clothes.
They took Miriam to a military barracks in a nearby
city, Tijuana. She described what came next as the
worst seven days of her life.
“They tortured me: they repeatedly put wet cloths
over my face and poured water over it so I couldn’t
breathe,” she told us. “They gave me electric shocks.”
Deeply traumatized, she later found the courage
to tell her partner that soldiers had also repeatedly
The soldiers were trying to force Miriam to
“confess” to trafficking drugs through a military
checkpoint. Miriam maintains her innocence, and
that she was simply making her usual journey to visit
her mother 45 kilometres away.
After a week of torture, Miriam was taken to a
detention centre in Mexico City. She spent 80 days
there before being charged with drug-related
offences and transferred to a prison in Ensenada.
She was finally released on 2 September 2011, after
her case was thrown out of court because of a lack
using torture to fight crime
Torture remains the police’s method of choice for
investigating crimes across Mexico.
People are often tortured and otherwise ill-treated
to make them sign statements that falsely implicate
them – or others – in a crime. These are then used
as evidence to prosecute somebody. The authorities
tend to turn a blind eye, because torture identifies
supposed “criminals” and suggests that the police
are fighting crime effectively.
“I try to live normally, but I’m always
scared – for me, for my family – that
something is going to happen to them.”
This leaves many innocent people behind bars,
criminals on the streets, victims of crime without
access to real justice, and the general population at
risk of more crime and violence.
Prosecutors used Miriam’s testimony to
implicate others, not just Miriam, in drug-related
offences. They just needed someone to fill a gap
in the evidence they required to bring charges.
miriam is one of thousands
A few years ago, Mexico started combating
drug cartels and organized crime, using tens
of thousands of soldiers and marines to lead
operations. Since then, complaints of torture and
ill-treatment by the military and police have
increased. This has left Mexicans at much higher
risk of being tortured at random.
Ordinary people like Miriam, with few means and
limited access to independent legal help, are
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment alone
rose by 500% between 2006-2012, according to the
National Human Rights Commission. It is also
investigating around 2,400 disappearances in which
public officials are implicated.
faiLed bY the sYstem
Successive Mexican governments have repeatedly
said they will prevent and punish torture. But they
have so far failed to fully investigate any allegations,
and have brought virtually no one to justice. The
authorities, including judges, are also failing in their
legal obligation to prevent testimony tainted by torture
being used as evidence during trials.
Miriam was examined by National Human Rights
Commission staff in 2012. They confirmed that her
account was consistent with having been tortured,
> > > 14 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >take action> > amnestY.org/indiViduaLs-at-risk > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >
> > onLine > > > > > > > >
wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
soon after the popular uprising
began in bahrain in 2011,
13 opposition leaders were
arrested. their ‘crime’ was
expressing their opinions
peacefully: calling for democracy,
an end to corruption, opposing
after an unfair trial the men were
sentenced to between five years
and life in prison. some say they
were tortured, and all are
prisoners of conscience. farida
ghulam, wife of imprisoned
opposition leader ebrahim sharif,
told wire their story.
please tell us a little about yourself, ebrahim what happened when they were detained?
and his connection with the other prisoners Ebrahim was arrested on 17 March 2011 [all 13 men
Ebrahim is a prominent political figure – he’s been
the Secretary General of Bahrain’s secular National
Democratic Action Society (NDAS) – the Wa’ad party
– since 2007. I’ve been married to him for 28 years.
I’ve been a women’s rights activist since I was 17 and
have been president of Bahrain’s first women’s rights
organization. I’m currently the head of the NDAS’
Women’s Bureau and work as an evaluation specialist
in Bahrain’s Ministry of Education.
Ebrahim (pictured on the “stamp” image above,
right, with ‘Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja) is an outspoken
person who became a threat to the government. If
you are in the opposition and telling hard truths that
people are afraid to speak about – like stolen lands
and secret budgets – you become a target.
He and the others come from different schools
of thought, but are all part of the opposition. After
14 February 2011 [when Bahrain’s popular uprising
began], people gathered at the Pearl Roundabout [in
the capital, Manama], where Ebrahim and the others
were giving speeches every night. The government
wanted to put them all in one basket and accused
them of trying to topple the regime.
were arrested between that day and 9 April 2011].
Around 30-40 guards came at 2am and kept ringing
the bell. One pointed his gun at Ebrahim’s head.
Ebrahim was very calm – saying he didn’t have to
use the gun, and that he would go with them
voluntarily. They took him, and when I asked where
I could contact him they laughed at me. It was a very
That night, Ebrahim and others were stripped
naked and put in solitary confinement. A team
of torturers beat them for around an hour, three
times a day. They threw cold water on Ebrahim’s
mattress and turned the air conditioning up high
so he couldn’t sleep. After two months the torture
stopped because of international attention. The
men now suffer from pain, illnesses and the
aftermath of torture, and most have not been given
any medical treatment.
what happened during and after their trials?
They went through trials for 21 months with no
means of defending themselves. Some were
sentenced to life [Hassan Mshaima’, ‘Abdelwahab
> > > 20 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >take action> > amnestY.org/indiViduaLs-at-risk > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >
> > onLine > > > > > > > >
wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
for over 30 years, a group of human rights defenders in honduras
has been a beacon of hope for people whose rights have been
bed Yanez, 15, left his house in Tegucigalpa
late at night on 26 May 2012, without telling his
parents. Riding his father’s motorbike without
a licence, he went to meet a girl. But going out at
night in the Honduran capital is dangerous. Ebed
never came home.
The next day, his worried parents looked for him
everywhere, until they found his dead body at the
morgue. He had been shot.
Wilfredo Yanez, Ebed’s father, wanted justice for
his son. He followed leads and collected evidence,
putting himself at great risk. A few days later, Wilfredo
discovered that soldiers had shot Ebed after he failed
to stop at an army checkpoint.
Wilfredo complained to the Public Prosecutor, but
he didn’t hold out much hope that they would help
him. After the 2009 military coup, Honduras’ state
institutions became even weaker than before. And the
already worrying human rights situation worsened.
According to UN statistics, Honduras has the
world’s highest murder rate, and only 20% of all
criminal cases are investigated. It is one of the
poorest countries in the Americas, with 60% of the
population living in poverty.
The police are notoriously corrupt, and often linked
to organized crime. As the drug trafficking cartels
expand their reach, the authorities have responded by
putting more soldiers on the streets.
So like most victims of human rights violations in
Honduras, Wilfredo also approached the Committee
of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in
Honduras (COFADEH) for help.
no strangers to danger
Standing up for human rights in Honduras is
dangerous. Journalists, lawyers, trade unionists,
Indigenous and peasant farmer leaders have been
killed because of their work to defend human rights.
COFADEH’s activists have received text messages
threatening them with sexual violence and been
physically attacked. Their offices have been broken
into many times. But none of this has stopped them
promoting and defending human rights in Honduras
for over 30 years.
The organization was founded in 1982 by the
relatives of political activists, students and trade union
leaders who were “disappeared” by the security
forces during a previous military government.
“People feel moved when they look at the
doves, now more than ever, it’s important to
keep the solidarity campaign going.”
Since then, it has continued to collect testimony
from victims, protecting people at risk and supporting
people who, like Wilfredo, are searching for justice.
shot on a fishing trip
Visiting COFADEH’s office in central Tegucigalpa is a
memorable experience. People wait patiently to tell
their stories to their lawyers, hoping that they can
help. Many have travelled far to get here.
Many victims of human rights abuses we spoke to
said that they didn’t report crimes to the authorities
because they don’t trust them and are scared. They
prefer to file a complaint with COFADEH, who then
pass it on to the prosecutors.
When Amnesty last visited the organization in
May 2013, we met Wilmer Sabillón, a young man. A
few weeks before, he had been shot by a navy officer
during a fishing trip. Wilmer didn’t get proper medical
help and is still recovering.
Wilmer was very relieved to have found
COFADEH. Within hours, it had arranged for Wilmer
be examined by a forensic doctor. It also filed a
complaint with Honduras’ Human Rights Prosecutor,
and got the case moving through the legal system.
Throughout the day, a COFADEH representative
stayed by Wilmer and his family’s side. And in
August, a navy officer was officially charged with
Wilmer’s attempted murder.
> > > 22 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >take action> > amnestY.org/indiViduaLs-at-risk > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >
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wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
“I was having hospital treatment for a stomach
ulcer at the time. The police came to the hospital and
dragged me to their car. They asked what I had been
doing in Minsk with other gays. I refused to talk to
them, so they started to punch my head and chest.
They told me not to go to Minsk anymore and to not
get involved with the organization.”
‘eVerYone is equaL in the repubLic of
“There’s only one life and we should live
it as best we can.”
“I am an openly gay man. I’m not embarrassed
and I don’t hide it – I try to show that it’s normal. I
dress like a woman when I perform as a drag artist in
clubs. But it’s very difficult. You have to be prepared
for negative situations all the time, attacks by young
people, relatives, the political authorities.
“It’s normal for gay people in Belarus to hide their
lives. If they’ve been beaten up or fired, they don’t
know how to complain to the authorities. Many of my
friends turn to me and ask for help.
“The LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender
and intersex] community here used to be very united.
But government policy has become very homophobic
recently – gay clubs have been shut down, it’s
impossible to organize events, meetings, parties – so
people have started to lose touch with each other.”
kicked out of church
“I am an Orthodox Christian. I used to like going to
a monastery in Hrodna [in north-western Belarus]
and knew an abbess there. Then I went to gay pride
in Moscow in 2009, I gave a lot of interviews. The
next time I went to Hrodna, the abbess kicked me
out of church during the service in front of the whole
parish. She pointed at me and said that ‘this boy,
Ihar, he's gay, he likes men’. She told the congregation
to spit at people like me, and to expel me if I
came again, because I spoiled the reputation of
“My mum is very conservative and religious, so
when she saw me hugging and kissing a boy in my
room one day she was shocked. She didn’t talk to me
for about a month, and then she said she would take
me to see a priest to confess, because I had a demon
sitting inside me.
“Then I finished school and left home, and it
calmed down. Nowadays she supports me, and even
asks about my personal life and tells me to be careful
with my health.”
dragged from hospitaL
“We tried to set up Lambda, a human rights
organization that protects LGBTI people, in
December 2012. The government started to fight
us after we applied to the Ministry of Justice with
enough signatures to register it [as required by law].
The police called the founding members in for
questioning, asking why we had signed the
application and pressurized us to write letters
After the attack, my family became scared of
being attacked. I told them I’d protect them. Some of
my friends expressed support and understanding, but
others said I shouldn’t complain or I’d have more
problems and could be killed.
“I wrote a complaint, and when I told the police
officers they said: ‘Boy, aren’t you worried that you’ll
end up with nine grams [a bullet] in your forehead?’.
I couldn’t believe that they’d openly say that to me.
“I still feel humiliated and empty, because there’s
nothing I can do. We don’t have enough ways to
fight, or good enough legislation to protect LGBTI
people in Belarus.
“It will mean a lot for us to get support from
Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign. LGBTI people
will feel braver and more hopeful. It will show that
everyone is equal in the Republic of Belarus.”
write a Letter - stand with him
Support Ihar by sending a letter or a card to:
Ihar Tsikhanyuk, c/o belarus Team,
Amnesty International, 1 easton Street,
London Wc1X 0dW, United Kingdom.
call on belarus’ General Prosecutor to investigate police
ofﬁcers’ ill-treatment and threats against Ihar
Tsikhanyuk at the october district police station in
Hrodna in February 2013, and to bring those responsible
write to (start your letter: dear General Prosecutor):
Alyaksandr Koniuk, Generalnaya Prokuratura,
ul. Internatsionalnaya 22,
220030 minsk, belarus.
fax: +375 17 226 42 52 (please say “fax” if someone
> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >foLLow @amnestYonLine on > > and tweet using #write4rights> > > > > > > > > > > > > > 25 > > >
> > > > > > twitter > > > > > > >
wire [ noV/dec 2013 ]
‘historY saYs, don’t hope
on this side of the graVe.
but then, once in a Lifetime
the Longed-for tidaL waVe
of justice can rise up,
and hope and historY rhYme.’
from ‘the cure at troY’ bY
seamus heaneY (1939-2013)
irish poet, actiVist and friend
of amnestY internationaL