Write a letter, change a life

In this issue of WIRE you’ll meet 12 very different people and communities. What they all have in common is that there is a real opportunity, right now, to make a positive difference in their lives.

This December, for the 12th year in a row, women, men and children all over the world will come together – in community centres, on street corners, at home and online – to do one very simple thing: write letters.

Our messages – more than 2.3 million in 2013 – have a particular kind of power. Imagine spending days, months, years thinking the world has forgotten you. Then suddenly, thousands of letters arrive: tangible proof that you are not alone. That’s what happened to Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, who was released earlier this year (see page 3).

And that’s what will happen to many others as we sharpen our pencils and get typing during the world’s largest human rights event, Write for Rights.

Join us! You’ll find everything you need to take part in this special edition of WIRE, Amnesty’s global campaigning magazine.

Posted in Belarus, China, Greece, India, Individuals at Risk, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, USA, Uzbekistan, Venezuela | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Open letter to Putin – 148 NGOs slam ‘foreign agents’ law

The offices of the NGO HRC Memorial in Moscow were vandalized with graffiti “Foreign agent. Love USA”. © Yulia Orlova/HRC Memorial

By Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director

It’s common knowledge that some members of the Soviet secret services came to work for the KGB after watching films about Soviet secret agents and enemy spies. Some openly admitted it.

In these films, Soviets were seen as scouts while foreigners were always portrayed as spies. For years, government censorship barred the foreign James Bond films from the Soviet screen, but the 90s era of videocassette recorders brought these in too. The spy, James Bond, was known by his codename – Agent 007. Despite his eye-catching appearance, all compatriots were convinced – he was not one of them.

As the years went by, fans of spy films moved on from the KGB to other positions, but it seems like the image of the foreign enemy agent has lingered in their memories. And, who knows, maybe this led to the idea that if you call someone you need to discredit an “agent”, the unpleasant associations would then do the trick. Russian people do not like “agents”. Continue reading

Posted in Censorship and Free Speech, Russian Federation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

International Day of Tolerance: How can we protect minorities from hate crimes?

An anti-racism demonstration in Hoyerswerda, Germany, in September 2012, on the anniversary of the 1991 racist riots. Credit: Theo Schneider

To mark the International Day of Tolerance on 16 November, Amnesty researcher Marco Perolini speaks to families in Germany who have been the victims of racist threats and attacks.

“I am not going out without my husband anymore, I am too scared. We spend all our time indoors. People always give me bad looks just because I am wearing the headscarf and I am a foreigner, I feel so rejected here.”

‘J’ (we can’t give her real name) is a Palestinian from Lebanon living in Hoyerswerda in eastern Germany, near the Polish border. In this town, she is one of very few women wearing a headscarf. Earlier this year, she took her two children to the doctor when two men in a car approached her, started shouting insults and threw a bottle of beer at her. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Racism, segregation, and rejection: The reality for Romani children in the Czech Republic

Discrimination towards Romani pupils in the Czech education system takes a variety of forms. © Jiří Doležel

By Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office

My colleagues recently told me about a young girl Jana* whom they had met. She told them of how she had been called ‘black mouth’, been told she ‘looked disgusting’, and had had her shoes hidden by her class-mates, leaving her barefoot in the snow. When her family raised this with the school, nothing was done. When Jana’s brother Karol* defended his sister, he felt unsupported. Other pupils told them they were dirty and smelled bad. When the teachers found out, they told the children they did not fit in, and their grades dropped.

This story was not an isolated incident of peer bullying, but an injustice experienced by so many children on a daily basis. It was and is discrimination, something that so many Romani children across the Czech Republic, and elsewhere in Europe, face in schools, where they are supposed to feel safe and supported. Continue reading

Posted in Children, Czech Republic, Discrimination, Racial Discrimination | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Myanmar: the human rights story behind the spin

A guard closes a a gate leading to Myanmar’s Insein prison following a prisoner release in Yangon on 7 October, 2014. © AFP/Getty Images

By Laura Haigh, Amnesty International’s Myanmar researcher/campaigner and Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific press officer

The authorities in Nay Pyi Taw are steering the former authoritarian pariah state to open engagement with the world. Well, that’s what they say.

This week, Myanmar is in the spotlight as world leaders—including the US president, Barack Obama, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping—descend on the country for two key regional summits, the East Asia Summit and that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The foreign dignitaries will gather in Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s capital and seat of government since the then-military rulers moved it there from Yangon in 2005. It’s a remarkable turn of events for a country that just over three years ago was considered an international pariah, politically and economically isolated from most of the rest of the world. But since the transition from military rule started in 2011, international acceptance has come quickly. This week is Myanmar’s chance to show the world that it is a new country that has turned a corner on human rights and is very much open for business. Continue reading

Posted in Censorship and Free Speech, Demonstrations, Detention, Discrimination, Myanmar, Press Freedom, Prisoners of Conscience, Religious Groups | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment