“INFINITE THANKS, FRIENDS—without you I wouldn’t be here!” Venezuelan prisoner of conscience freed, thanks Amnesty supporters

“I often woke up believing my strength was running out, believing I couldn’t keep going, and then I received photographs of Amnesty International human rights activists from all over the world requesting my freedom, respect for justice and for life. Infinite thanks, friends—without you I wouldn’t be here!”

These personal words of thanks for your support came from Rosmit Mantilla during his struggle to be freed from a Venezuelan jail. Rosmit is a prominent Member of Parliament, human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience. He is an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) and a member of the opposition party Voluntad Popular. He was freed in November following two years in prison.

Rosmit was unfairly imprisoned in 2014 as punishment for his human rights work. In a cell measuring two by two metres, deprived of sunlight, Rosmit developed skin diseases and severe depression which led to him losing over 60 pounds, to the point that many of his friends could not recognize him. He was only allowed to receive visits from his relatives—who had to take him all his food, medicines, and even drinking water—and his lawyers. When he needed medical attention, he had to make the guards believe that the doctor visiting him was a relative.

“Amnesty members supported me all this time,” Rosmit said. “I never felt alone. Every campaign and activity that was carried out gave me strength in a place where there is no joy.” While his release is great news for human rights in Venezuela, Rosmit should have never been made to spend a second behind bars. The Venezuelan authorities must now build on this positive step and release all imprisoned activists and political leaders whose only ‘crime’ is to disagree with the government.

“There are more than 7 million Amnesty members who are part of my life and my freedom today.” —Rosmit Mantilla