(NC)—Across Canada human rights supporters have recently been celebrating the releases of a number of prisoners of conscience—people jailed solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.
In China, poet and journalist Shi Tao was released after more than eight years in prison. Supporters of the human rights organization Amnesty International (amnesty.ca) had long campaigned for his freedom by writing letters to the Chinese authorities and signing petitions calling for his release.
Image courtesy boingboing.net
Shi Tao was imprisoned in 2004 for sending an email using his Yahoo account. His email summarized a communiqué from the Chinese Central Propaganda Department telling journalists how they should handle the 15th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement. The Chinese authorities accused him of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities”.
Shi Tao expressed his thanks to supporters: “The support and encouragement of friends from around the world have helped my mother and me through the difficult and lonely times.”
Other prisoners of conscience recently released in China this year included human rights defender Ni Yulan, and Falun Gong practitioners Wang Xiuqing and her daughter Qin Hailong, released after 18 months in a “re-education through labour” camp.
In Iran, the sudden release of prisoner of conscience Nasrin Sotoudeh in September further showed how the passion and persistence of individual people around the world taking action by putting pen to paper can help human rights. Sotoudeh is widely respected for her work as a lawyer. She has represented children facing the death penalty, prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders, and has worked closely with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
But in August 2010 Sotoudeh was locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison though she had committed no crime. During her imprisonment, Nasrin was stopped from having regular visits with her husband, Reza Khandan, and two young children. Amnesty International declared her a prisoner of conscience and quickly launched a global appeal demanding her release. Supporters tirelessly wrote letters to the Iranian authorities requesting them to free the human rights lawyer. Their efforts helped win a great victory.
Sotoudeh sent a thank you for the support she had received from people around the world. “I have been aware of all your efforts on my behalf and I want to thank you!”
(First published by newscanada.com and used here by permission)