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Avalanche Of Pressure To Free Conscience Prisoners

31 July 2002

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FREEDOM WEEK 6 ? 12 AUGUST

AN AVALANCHE OF PRESSURE TO FREE PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

The power of letters to free prisoners of conscience will be put to the test during Freedom Week, Amnesty International's new annual week of national fund-raising and awareness campaigning.

"Amnesty International is linking its annual appeal with an opportunity for New Zealanders to create an avalanche of pressure on behalf of four selected prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned or "disappeared" for their political and religious beliefs," said AINZ's executive director, Ced Simpson.

"We will be appealing to all New Zealanders to demonstrate the power of letters and emails to pressure governments who are improperly detaining prisoners of conscience."

Freedom Week runs from Tuesday, August 6 to Monday, August 12, with a day of nationwide street appeals on Freedom Day, Friday, August 9.

People will be able to sign on-line letters at Amnesty's website ? www.amnesty.org.nz ? on behalf of: · Tian Chua, imprisoned in Malaysia for criticising the government; · Rajendra Dhakal, a Nepalese lawyer and human rights defender who has "disappeared"; · Ngawang Sangdrol, a Buddhist nun imprisoned in Tibet, China; and · Dr Salai Tun Than, imprisoned in Myanmar after calling for political reform.

Symbolic postage stamps have been produced for all four prisoners of conscience, for distribution in exchange for donations during Freedom Week, with directions on how to forward appeals on the prisoners' behalf.

"The back of each stamp has an invitation to visit www.amnesty.org.nz to find out more about each case and to sign the online letters."

"We're asking all New Zealanders to visit the website and join with Amnesty in proving the power of the letter to end appalling violations of the human rights of people like these ? people who are detained, tortured, "disappeared" or killed for their identity or beliefs."

"The mass of letters will be printed, collated and mailed to appropriate government authorities by AI groups to create an avalanche of pressure from New Zealand to free them," said Ced Simpson.

The power of mass letter writing to unsettle perpetrators of human rights abuses is dramatically demonstrated in a new series of powerful Amnesty television commercials produced by AINZ's pro bono agency, GeneratorBates, which will play during Freedom Week.

Amnesty International has been proving the power of the letter for 40 years (37 years in New Zealand). In that time numerous prisoners of conscience have been released, many death sentences commuted, torturers brought to justice, and governments persuaded to change laws and practices that represent grave violations rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Sometimes our solidarity keeps hope alive. Hope is a precious weapon for prisoners battling to survive, relatives trying to obtain justice or human rights defenders bravely continuing their work despite danger and isolation. It is that hope and effort and action that will help free Tian Chua, Rajendra Dhakal, Ngawang Sangdrol and Dr Salai Tun Than," said Ced Simpson.

Further resources and information available: Information case sheets for each appeal JPGs of the prisoners of conscience Appeal stamps and graphics Amnesty International 2001 and 2002 good news stories Please visit www.amnesty.org.nz for more information

For further information about Freedom Week, to contribute or to arrange a special event or interview, for AI news stories and for contact with GeneratorBates, contact:

John Shaw, AINZ Development Manager BH 0-9-303 4521 mobile 021 636 796

For interviews, please contact: Ced Simpson, AINZ Executive Director BH 0-4-499 3349 AH 0-4-938 0716 mobile 021 371 205

Rebecca Lineham, AINZ Campaign Manager BH 0-4-499 3595 mobile 021 422 562

Appeal case information (more information available on www.amnesty.org.nz)

Tian Chua - Malaysia One of six government critics held without charge or trial since April 2001 under the Malaysian Internal Security Act - a draconian law often used to stifle legitimate dissent. Following their arrest they were kept in solitary confinement in tiny windowless cells, denied access to lawyers for two months and, AI believes, subjected to intense psychological pressure amounting to torture.

Rajendra Dhakal - Nepal A lawyer and human rights defender, he has not been seen since his arrest by police on 8 January 1999 from Jamdi, Khairenitar in Tanahun district. Also arrested with him were two teachers from the village who were released two days later. A "disappearance" case, there are fears that Rajendra Dhakal may now be dead. AI is calling on the government of Nepal to clarify his fate or whereabouts.

Dr Salai Tun Than - Myanmar A retired university professor in his early 70s, he was arrested in November 2001 in Yangon - the capital - for peacefully calling for democratic change. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment under the Emergency Provisions Law. AI considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Ngawang Sangdrol - Lhasa, Tibet, China A nun from Garu nunnery she was originally sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1992 (when still a young teenager) for taking part in a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa. In 1993, she and 13 other Buddhist nuns in prison with her were sentenced to a further six years for singing protest songs. Ngawang's sentence has since between extended on two other occasions and she is now serving a 19 year sentence, the longest imposed on any female political prisoner in Tibet. It is reported that she has a long term kidney problem and is in poor health.

"I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to be free again and to be able to write you this note. It is something I have wanted to do since 1997 when I received my first batch of cards ? generated through Amnesty's efforts. It is impossible to paint an accurate picture of [my] reactions as I sat in that tiny cell, the floor carpeted with cards and envelopes. It was deeply touching, greatly encouraging and strengthening. Thereafter, I knew that I was not alone, and held on to the thought till the end ? Maybe you just sent one card ? but all of these cards are like little drops of water that combine to create an avalanche of pressure."

Chris Anyanwu, Nigerian newspaper editor, following her release from prison in 1998.

About Amnesty International The movement's international network of volunteer members and professional staff generates thousands of appeals on behalf of individuals and communities at risk and protests directly against governments and political groups responsible for perpetrating crimes against humanity. We feed a constant stream of information to the media, governments, the United Nations and others, urging them to take action where human rights abuses are occurring. AI has no political affiliation, endorses no political party, accepts no funds from governments or any political party. AI is impartial. It is independent of any government, political persuasion or religious creed. It does not support or oppose any government or political system.


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