The power of the pen
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Dec 16, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

The power of the pen

Stratford Gazette

Chet Greason cgreason@stratfordgazette.com

A call to write letters in an effort to combat injustice got double the response it was hoping for on Saturday, Dec. 13.

The Write for Rights event, organized by the Stratford Amnesty International Circle, aimed to have members of the public write 100 hand-written letters regarding 10 different international human rights issues.

By the event's close at 3 p.m., 174 letters were completed and ready to be mailed.

Coordinator Anne Carbert says that letter-writing is part of Amnesty International's core foundation.

"You could write letters every day," she explains. "But this is a chance to bring in other people via a public event."

Held at Cafe Ten and spilling out into the lobby of Festival Square, the event drew 50 people in total, while even more participated online. Held in recognition of Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), the event's website boasted roughly 1.4 million letters written worldwide in 148 countries by press-time.

Carbert says handwritten letters tend to carry more weight as they demonstrate that you've taken the time to write it as opposed to simply signing your name to a form letter.

She adds that Amnesty sees an improvement in one-third of cases it becomes involved with.

"If we don't get the full release (of an unjustly held prisoner), they'll at least get better treatment or shortened sentences," she explains. "And if we don't see any change, then the letters provide moral support. It keeps them from becoming depressed, knowing that they're not forgotten."

Carbert adds that shining a spotlight on human rights abuses and raising awareness in important enough in its own right.

"We're letting these people know that we know they've been taken quietly."

Stratford's current chapter was founded last January. Its next meeting will be held on Jan. 28. You can find the group on Facebook for more information.

Below is a brief synopsis of each of the 10 cases targeted at the Write for Rights event. For more information, check out www.writeathon.ca.

CANADA

According to the RCMP, 1,017 indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, and 105 remain missing. Over the last 10 years, Native women have seen a homicide rate seven times higher than non-Native women and girls. Only 41 of 633 First Nations reserves have women's shelters.

Amnesty says the federal government's commitment to help police in missing persons cases and support grieving families falls short, and are calling for a coordinated national plan of action and an independent public inquiry.

CANADA

On April, 27 of 2013, a protest was held by residents of San Rafael Las Flores in Gautemala outside the gates of a mine owned by a Canadian company. Security guards fired tear gas, buckshot, and rubber bullets, shooting one young man in the face and injuring seven in total.

A subsequent civil lawsuit claimed that the head of security ordered the erasure of video footage of the attack. He was later caught attempting to flee the country.

The claim is currently before the B.C. Supreme Court while the injured protesters face surgeries and long recoveries.

Amnesty is calling for the creation of a mining ombudsman to investigate complaints from abroad.

CANADA

Since February 2011, 10 million Syrians have been forced from their homes amid a brutal conflict between the ruling government and a rebellion bent on change. Over 200,000 people have died, and half the population is homeless.

Countries bordering Syria- Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq- host 95 per cent of the refugees. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee.

Canada, thus far, has only brought in 700 displaced Syrians. That's just over half of the 1,300 that the government has committed to.

The UN has asked Canada to admit 10,000. While the federal government is considering it, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has stated they intend to prioritize "persecuted ethnic and religious minorities", giving precedence to Christians and leaving the country's Sunni Muslim majority out of luck.

CHINA

In 2001, Heseyin Celil fled China and escaped to Canada after he was sought due his work advocating for the Uighur minority. He later became a Canadian citizen.

In 2006, he and his wife traveled to Uzbekistan to visit his wife's family. The Chinese government asked Uzbekistani police to arrest Celil, which they did.

Celil was sent back to China where he was held in a secret location. He was given no access to a lawyer and Canadian officials were not allowed to attend his trial.

China maintains that Heseyin Celil is a pseudonym used by the leader of a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, the Canadian government decries the unfair manner in which he was tried and the inhumane conditions and torture he's reported to be experiencing while in prison.

CHINA

Former factory employee Liu Ping demanded that government officials publicly disclose their wealth. She instead received a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles', 'gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place', and 'using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.'

She stated in court that she was tortured while awaiting trial. Amnesty is calling for her immediate release.

INDIA

Thirty years ago, 10,000 people died in Bhopal, a community of 40,000, when toxic gas leaked from a nearby pesticide factory. Another 12,000 have died since and thousands more suffer from respiratory illnesses, damaged organs, immune system issues, and reproductive disorders. Children are born deformed and many residents believe the water is contaminated due to chemicals left in the abandoned factory.

Survivors have not received adequate compensation for their injuries, with many of them delving deeper into poverty. Amnesty claims the companies responsible (the parent company of which is US-based Union Carbide Corporation) have not been held to account.

PHILIPPINES

In 2012, bus driver Jerryme Corre was visiting his mother when 10 police officers stormed in, beating and arresting him. He was taken to a police camp where he was tortured- water-boarded, electrocuted, and beaten. The police insisted he was a thief and drug dealer named Boyet, even though he was able to show ID to the contrary and a community official vouched for him.

During his torture, he was forced to sign a confession. He remains in prison to this day.

SAUDI ARABIA 

Raif Badawi is one of many critics of the Saudi Arabian government currently in prison. He was arrested on June 2012 for insulting Islam by creating a website meant for social and political debate and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a fine of 1 million riyal (or $250,000).

Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release, as well as many other political prisoners held in the country, which is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah bin Abdilaziz.

SOUTH AFRICA

Mkhondo, a town of 200,000 people in east South Africa, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. While women have access to free prenatal care, many do not seek it out because of the social stigma that comes with being HIV positive, including segregated medical care. Public transit is scarce or expensive and a lack of ambulances lead to births on the side of the road. Many more are simply uneducated in regards to proper prenatal care.

USA

In 2013, Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning; she has since identified herself as a trans woman) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified US documents to the website Wikileaks. Now known as the Iraq War and Afghan War logs, many of these documents show examples of human rights violations by US troops abroad.

While awaiting trial, she was confined for 23 hours a day in a small cell with no window.

Amnesty is calling for her immediate release and new legislation that protects whistleblowers serving the public interest.

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