The Payson Chapter of Amnesty International hopes local residents will on Dec. 8 join in a crusade that has already freed 45,000 prisoners of conscience held around the world.
“We started with a handful of passionate advocates for human rights two years ago and we’ve so far generated more than 600 letters to free prisoners of conscience,” said Penny Navis-Schmidt, president of the Rim Country chapter upon receiving proclamation last week from the Payson Town Council designating December as Human Rights Awareness Month.
The local chapter hopes that human rights supporters will come to Payson United Methodist Church from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8 to write letters urging government to free political prisoners held around the world.
Prisoners the letter writers will support this year include:
• Members of Girifina (we’re fed up), a youth group in the Sudan whose members have been arrested, tortured, imprisoned and even sexually assaulted after protesting government policies and the lack of civil rights.
• Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian women’s rights activist sentenced to six years in prison in 2009 for her efforts to achieve equal rights for women. The government charged her with “propagating” against Islam.
• Residents of the village of Bodo in Nigeria who have been imprisoned and beaten for demonstrating and appealing to the government to force Shell Oil Company to clean pollution from a leaky oil pipe that has polluted water and land around the village. Some 70,000 people who once depended on fishing and farming have lost much of their income as a result of an oil spill that independent estimates have placed at 311,000 barrels — although Shell acknowledges leaks totaling about 1,640 barrels, according to the Amnesty International Web site.
In the past year, Amnesty International’s letter writing campaigns have generated more than a million letters. Those campaigns in the past year played a role in the release of several political prisoners. Azerbaijan blogger Jabbar Savalan was sentenced to almost three years in prison for criticizing the government for imprisoning peaceful protesters. He was pardoned after the government received more than 130,000 letters. Jean-Claude Roger Mbede of Cameroon was serving a three-year prison sentence for his “real or perceived” sexual orientation, but was granted provisional release on appeal after the government was flooded with letters.
The government of Mexico acknowledged responsibility for the actions of soldiers who raped Ines Fernandez Ortega and Valentine Rosendo Cantu, members of indigenous groups protesting government actions.
Navis-Schmidt said that the local group has grown rapidly, partly by teaming up with other human rights groups in Rim Country — including the Time Out Battered Women’s Shelter.