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Guest Column

Imprisoned Nobel Laureate spotlights need for human rights

By Guest Columnist EVERETTE HARVEY THOMPSON, Southern Regional director for Amnesty International USA in Atlanta, Ga.

The plight of China’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is taking place in the glare of world publicity, but his terrible situation is not uncommon. Millions worldwide suffer cruel persecution, their freedom and lives in peril, while governments deny their fundamental rights as human beings.

As we mark International Human Rights Day, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 111 countries; freedom of expression is restricted in at least 96 countries; and prisoners of conscience are held in at least 48 countries, according to Amnesty International’s 2010 The State of the World’s Human Rights report.

And, yet, ordinary citizens are not powerless in the face of this injustice.

The joyful release last month of one of the world’s most famous political prisoners, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar, is just one recent example of the impact of sustained global pressure, both at the grassroots and at diplomatic levels, to achieve basic rights.

Amnesty International marks the start of its 50th anniversary commemorations on Friday, December 10. Its nearly three million members in 150 countries and territories have proved over the decades that ordinary people, acting together, can achieve remarkable results.

Amnesty International USA’s Southern Regional Office invites you to RISE: Artists Respond to Human Rights, presented by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The event will take place on Friday, December 10 at 8:00pm at the Georgia State University’s Rialto Center located at 80 Forsyth Street, NW Atlanta, GA. Admission is FREE! Tickets can be reserved by sending an email to cchrrsvp@cchrpartnership.org.

At RISE you will have an opportunity to take part in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon – the world’s largest letter writing event. You can write letters to demand that the rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. In doing so, you can show solidarity with those suffering human rights abuses and work to bring about real change in people’s lives.

This powerful model of action – focusing massive, unrelenting public pressure on human rights offenders – saves lives.

Activists have helped win the freedom of tens of thousands of people unjustly jailed for their beliefs, protected courageous dissidents, journalists and human rights defenders on the front lines from mortal danger, and changed laws to promote human rights.

Amnesty International was born in 1961 when British lawyer Peter Benenson picked up his newspaper and was outraged to read that two Portuguese students had been jailed for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom.

He published an article in The London Observer titled “The Forgotten Prisoners, with an appeal on behalf of six political prisoners, whom he called “prisoners of conscience.” Benenson’s words ignited a worldwide campaign.

“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government,” he wrote.

Today, as Liu Xiaobo remains in prison instead of rightfully accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Benenson’s words resound.

As long as human rights violations still occur, as long as freedom, dignity and justice remain just words in countries large and small, and as long as the offenders are allowed to escape punishment, Amnesty International’s activism is critically needed.

Please use your power in the fight for justice and human rights. Amnesty International’s life-saving work has proven that concerned individuals – united and determined – can save lives.

To learn more about Amnesty International USA, please check us out on-line at www.amnestyusa.org or find us on facebook: Amnesty International USA Southern Regional Office.

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