5 ways you proved your words have power

13 April 2018, 15:17 UTC |

Amnesty supporters around the world took an unprecedented 5.5 million actions for human rights activists in 2017 as part of Write for Rights, our global letter-writing marathon.

What’s in a word? More precisely, what’s in a letter? Since the first known correspondence, written in Babylonian times, to the most common form of offline correspondence we receive today: junk mail - the letter has seen a dramatic rise and fall in personal value. Letters have gone from bearing longed-for thoughts from loved ones, to soulless marketing speak from corporations.

You might say, letters have had their day.

And yet, every year, people around the world get together on 10 December, World Human Rights Day, to write letters. They write to people who are locked up unfairly – and to their family members. They write to the government leaders who put them there, and demand they release them.

They write because for the person sitting in a cramped cell, fearful and forgotten, a letter from outside brings hope. They write because for government leaders and authorities, a letter from outside says the world is watching. In short, hundreds of thousands of people write because their words have the power to bring strength and comfort – and enough force to unlock prison doors. They do all this as part of Write for Rights, Amnesty’s global letter-writing marathon. 

5.5 million messages of support

In 2017, Amnesty supporters – students, schoolkids, teachers, cleaners, market stallholders, and so many more – took an unprecedented 5.5 million actions as part of Write for Rights. Among them were carefully crafted letters, drawings and postcards. Their collective impact was undeniable.

1. Ni Yulan is safer

Solidarity messages for China's Ni Yulan.

China’s Ni Yulan has braved decades of violent harassment for standing up for those evicted from their homes.  Thanks to the hundreds of thousands who wrote in support of her, her situation has improved. “Due to the international attention [on my situation], the police have reduced their assaults, verbal abuse and violations of my rights,” she said. “Thank you to those of you who wrote for me. Your generous support has not only helped me but also advanced China’s human rights.” 

2. Shackelia’s message has gone global

More than half a million people echoed Shackelia Jackson’s calls for justice in the killing of her brother Nakiea. Reflecting on her long-standing campaign and the impact Write for Rights has had, she said: “It is no longer a national outpouring of solidarity but a global one. Just the commitment towards writing letters to the Prime Minister and the things that are achievable as a result of that, it made me feel that I was in the best position in pursuit of justice…I saw the kind of resources that this activism takes and I was happy that Amnesty International was able to support me in this”. 

3. Clovis’ activism was rewarded

Solidarity messages and drawings for Clovis Razafimalala of Madagascar, for Write for Rights 2017.

Clovis Razafimalala’s dedication to saving Madagascar’s precious rainforest put his life in grave danger. But with his inclusion in Write for Rights came global media attention which has changed his situation in his native country. Today, local organisations show open support for him, awarding him a prize for his environmental activism. “I don’t know how many letters I received, but it’s in the thousands,” he said. “I have even received letters from school children from Canada, all the way to Amsterdam. It is incredibly touching, and really gives me courage. The Amnesty campaign has made a massive difference for me, because it has echoed my story worldwide. And now, I am on my way to receive the prize of 2017 Brave Malagasy. It makes me really proud, and it makes me want to continue the fight.” 

4. Sakris has the support of thousands

Sakris Kupila is a medical student, youth activist and defender of transgender rights in Finland. When he first started working with us, things weren’t easy. He was being harassed, feeling isolated, and was facing lots of hostility even in university. But being part of Write for Rights gave him a platform and the respect he deserves. “I’m less of a token or strange object and more of an individual who happens to be trans, and other things besides that,” he said, adding: “It is unbelievable to see how many people took action and cared.” 


5. Taner and the Istanbul 10 know the world is with them

Nearly 875,000 people wrote for the freedom of Amnesty Turkey’s chair Taner Kiliç and the Istanbul 10. Although the Istanbul 10 are no longer in prison, their freedom is still at risk, and Taner remains locked up. All are under threat simply for defending human rights. We continue to fight on until Taner is free and the charges against all are finally dropped. Günal Kurşun, one of the Istanbul 10, told us he kept the very first solidarity letter he received in his back pocket for good luck at his hearing in January: “I was writing post cards and letters 15, 20 years ago, for different AI [Amnesty] campaigns to Colombia to Egypt to Myanmar, I remember. Twenty years later I have now received letters… Thank you very much for sending, this is very valuable for me.”