Payson Amnesty Chapter Wins Recognition

Town’s proclamation sets stage for series of December events

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Just four months after its formation, the Payson chapter of Amnesty International not only gained recognition as the top new chapter in the region, but talked the Payson Town Council into proclaiming December Human Rights Month.

“This is the first community that we know of in the western region of 13 states to make a proclamation supporting human rights and last week our group was named the new group of the year at the regional conference in San Francisco,” said Chapter President Penny Navis-Schmidt.

The local chapter will host a whole sequence of events in December, starting with a human rights film festival at the East West Exchange bookstore on Dec. 4 and 18.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, in cooperation with local churches, the local chapter will also kick off local observations of the Human Rights Global Write-a-thon, to inspire people to write letters to foreign governments on behalf of “prisoners of conscience.”

“Our goal is to generate at least 400 letters locally,” said Navis-Schmidt.

Amnesty International each year highlights people facing torture or imprisonment unjustly throughout the world. The 50-year-old, Nobel Peace Prize-winning group bases its efforts on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

The group has spurred the release of 44,000 prisoners of conscience, mostly by generating tidal waves of letters directed at governments that have imprisoned people for speaking out.

The group has chapters in 50 countries and last year enlisted 12,000 letter writers on behalf of a list of prisoners.

Last year the letter-writing campaign resulted in the release of at least four people on the list. Those freed included:

Egyptian novelist and human rights activist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, imprisoned for three years without a trial despite several court rulings ordering his release. Amnesty International considered Musaad Abu Fagr to be a prisoner of conscience, detained on account of his peaceful expression of his views. He was released in Cairo last July, and credited Amnesty International with his release.

Indonesian prisoner Yusak Pakage was released from Doyo Baru prison last summer, after spending six years in prison for peacefully raising the Morning Star flag, the outlawed symbol of Papuan independence, to protest Indonesian government policies. Pakage commented, “For me, Amnesty is everything ... From someone who suffered and who now smiles again thanks to Amnesty.”

Mohammed al-Odaini was held without charge by the U.S. government in Guantanamo for more than eight years, since the age of 18. Al-Odaini was detained in March 2002 along with several other Yemeni nationals, and sent to the detention camp at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In June 2005 he was deemed suitable for release from Guantanamo. Yemeni authorities stated that they were prepared to take him back, yet he continued to be detained. On July 13, 2010, Mohammed al-Odaini was released from Guantanamo and returned back to his home country of Yemen.

Human rights activist Rita Mahato received threats of death, rape and kidnapping as a result of her work assisting women who have been raped and beaten. The police failed to provide Mahato with protection, or investigate the threats, and she feared for her life. Following the Global Write-a-thon, her safety improved, and AI’s support renewed her strength to continue.

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