Fascinating Webinar held on Write for Rights
Amnesty members around the world write millions of letters each year and it can sometimes feel a little dispiriting. They seldom get replies and the results (if any) are often difficult to discover. It can seem a fruitless exercise. True, every now and then, there is a success (which we have highlighted on this site where group members have been involved) but they are infrequent.
So the webinar held yesterday (2 December 2020) was particularly uplifting. It featured three speakers: Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, Geraldine Chacón from Venezuela and the Sena Atici, the Individuals at Risk Coordinator at AIUK. Members of the South West group (pictured outside the cathedral in Exeter) will be familiar with Geraldine who came to speak to us in that city in March, just before lockdown.
Geraldine, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested in 2018 by the Venezuelan authorities as part of an exercise against all critics of the government. She was held in appalling conditions for 4 months and although eventually released, she was not permitted to leave the country. In common with a host of regimes nowadays, she was accused of being a ‘terrorist,’ a kind of go-to accusation for anyone a government doesn’t like.
She described how being arrested changed everything and how she felt isolated and forgotten. ‘Nothing was in your control’ she said. Thousands wrote letters which in fact, she never received. In prison, she was completely isolated. Her mother did however, and the government also received many thousands. ‘When you’re an activist, you’re not that sure that you are making a difference. Being on the other side, I saw how it had an impact and made a difference’ she added.
‘I know [the letters] make a difference – I am the living proof of that’
In her talk in Exeter, she said ‘[the police] want you to stop – without the support, I might have done.’
There were several questions from the public at the webinar presentation around effectiveness and risk. Can these
letters increase the risk to the prisoner? The answer was that the International Secretariat look carefully at this before someone is included in a Write for Rights campaign. If it is felt that there is risk, they are not included.
This was a most successful webinar. For all those who occasionally ask themselves ‘is it worth it?’ – is it worth the price of a stamp to a regime where it is unlikely to be read or to make a difference? the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’. As Geraldine’s case demonstrates, not only for her, but for family members as well, these letters show support and that the world is watching. For people who are arrested for no real reason and languish in prison, knowing that they are not forgotten is a powerful message.
The next webinar is in January 2021.
Further details of Venezuelan government’s treatment of human rights activists and others is detailed in a UN report on the country. The Amnesty International report can be accessed here.
The Salisbury group is not meeting at present but we hope to be back to some kind of normal in 2021.
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