Write for Rights: World’s biggest human rights campaign marks 20th birthday

Amnesty International’s record-breaking Write for Rights campaign launches today, marking 20 years of the global letter-writing drive. Since 2001, the organization has collected millions of messages written in support of people who are unjustly detained or persecuted, and Write for Rights has become the world’s biggest human rights event.

This year, Amnesty International is calling for urgently needed action on 10 emblematic cases from around the world. They include an Indigenous rights defender wrongfully imprisoned for seeking to protect a sacred river in Guatemala, a feminist activist in Mexico who was shot while protesting violence against women, a citizen journalist imprisoned in China for reporting on Covid-19, and a teenage journalist from the occupied West Bank.

“Every year, Write for Rights offers a lifeline for people around the world whose human rights are under attack, simply because they stood up for what they believe in. They are challenging inequality, discrimination, political repression and campaigning to protect all our rights, whether for environmental justice or against the death penalty. The Write for Rights campaign signifies everything Amnesty stands for – people from all over the world coming with one voice, in global solidarity, to challenge injustice,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“They need you to stand with them – whether that’s through a tweet, a signature or a letter to those in authority. Sometimes the smallest act can make the biggest difference. The last 20 years of Write for Rights shows words really do have power.”

Every December, people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards in support of those whose human rights are under attack. Write for Rights has helped transform the lives of more than 100 people since 2001, freeing them from torture, harassment, or unjust imprisonment.

In Canada, thousands of people take part in this global event — sending nearly 80,000 letters, emails, social media posts and postcards in 2020 in support of those whose human rights are under attack. This year, from Victoria to Yellowknife to Cape Breton and beyond, Amnesty supporters are gathering for virtual or socially-distanced events in schools, libraries cafes and other spaces from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

One of the cases featured in this year’s campaign is 15-year-old Janna Jihad, who grew up in the small Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh. In 2009, when Janna was three, her community began to hold weekly peaceful demonstrations against the occupation, which were met with violence by Israeli forces. When Janna was seven, she began using her mother’s phone to record the experiences of her community, and she has been recognized as one of the youngest ever human rights reporters.

Janna has faced death threats and intimidation for her work, but is determined to keep speaking out. She said:

“Being raised in an activist family – hearing the stories of my grandma or grandpa, listening to my uncles talk about getting arrested, learning about the resistance — inspired me to not stay silent. Staying silent in such situations is impossible. Why would I stay silent if I want to change the reality of what we’re living through and what we’re still going through?”

Amnesty International is calling on supporters to write letters to demand protection for Janna.

Amnesty International is also calling for justice for:    

  • Mikita Zalatarou, who just 16 when he was arrested after being caught up in crowds leaving a protest in Belarus. He was held in solitary confinement where he was reportedly tortured.
  • Wendy Galarza, a child care worker who was shot during police repression of a demonstration against feminicide in Mexico.  
  • Bernardo Caal Xol, a Maya Q’eqchi’ teacher jailed on invented charges to stop his leadership of community efforts to protect the Cahabón River.
  • Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, imprisoned in China for her work reporting on the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
  • Panusaya (“Rung”) Sithijirawattanakul, a 22-year-old activist who is facing life in prison for calling for freedom and democracy in Thailand.
  • Imoleayo Adeyeun Michael, who is facing prison for taking part in the #EndSARs movement in Nigeria.
  • Anna Sharyhina and Vira Chernygina, who run an LGBTI organization in Ukraine. Anna and Vera have been attacked and abused, and the authorities have failed to protect them.
  • Mohamed Baker, a lawyer imprisoned in Egypt. Mohamed has dedicated his life to protecting the human rights of others.
  • Ciham Ali from Eritrea, who has been missing for more than eight years. When she was 15, she was taken by the Eritrean authorities while trying to leave the country and has not been seen since.

Write for Rights began 20 years ago in Warsaw, Poland, when a group of friends decided to celebrate Human Rights Day (10 December) with a 24-hour letter-writing marathon. From 2,326 letters in 2001 to 4.5 million letters, tweets and petition signatures in 2021, Write for Rights has grown into the world’s biggest human rights campaign.

It’s a campaign that really does work – as Jani Silva, an environmental activist from Colombia, can attest. Jani’s fearless opposition to environment contamination and human rights violations has led to harassment, intimidation and death threats. In 2020, more than 400,000 people took action through Write for Rights, calling for her protection.

Jani said:

“I am so very grateful for the letters. From the bottom of my heart, this campaign has kept me alive. It’s what has stopped them from killing me because they know that you are there.”