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Freedom Week appeal to start with a toast

19 July 2005

Freedom Week appeal to start with a toast

Thousands of New Zealanders plan to raise their glasses in a toast to freedom at 7pm on Monday 1 August to launch Amnesty International’s Freedom Week appeal and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty in New Zealand in 1965.

The 2005 Freedom Week appeal (1 - 7 August), will raise funds and mobilise public action on behalf of people denied political freedoms in Zimbabwe, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal and Afghanistan.

On the first day, Amnesty members and many other New Zealanders will be attending a range of “Toast Your Freedom” events at restaurants, pubs, private homes and other venues around the country.

“But we’re asking all New Zealanders to toast freedom with us wherever they are on 1 August, in recognition of the freedoms we enjoy that are denied millions of others.” said AINZ Director Ced Simpson. “As New Zealanders we take for granted the right to say what we think, to believe what we choose, to vote without fear of reprisals, torture or death. But we also know how many people around the world do not share those basic human rights and freedoms, and how easily they can be lost.

“That’s why we’re also asking people to use their freedom during Freedom Week, first by making a donation, and second, by signing or writing a letter on behalf of people in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Nepal and Afghanistan facing imprisonment, torture, persecution or death because of their political beliefs and actions.”

Mr Simpson said the extensive media coverage of the Black Caps tour of Zimbabwe and the mass forced evictions in Harare has ensured New Zealanders are well informed about the escalating human rights violations being endured by the people of Zimbabwe.

There is less public awareness, however, of the widespread suffering caused by the denial of political freedoms in Myanmar, Nepal and Afghanistan.

-· In Myanmar, more than 1,350 people are being held as political prisoners solely for peaceful acts of dissent, such as writing poems, possessing political posters, holding peaceful demonstrations and calling on the authorities to lift political restrictions. They include students, housewives, professionals and businessmen. -· In Afghanistan, despite universal suffrage, there is a real danger that women who stand for office and vote in the 2005 September parliamentary elections will face harrassment and reprisals -€” because they are women. -· In Nepal, hundreds of political leaders and activists have been detained for the peaceful expression of dissent since King Gyanendra imposed a state of emergency on 1 February 2005. Basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly and expression, were not restored when the state of emergency was lifted on 30 April.

Most of the money raised by the Freedom Week appeal will be through street collections organised by local Amnesty groups in more than 20 New Zealand cities and towns on Friday 5 August. However, people can also make a $20 donation by phoning 0900 48626, a $3 donations by texting the word “free” to 883 -€” and donate, join Amnesty, sign petition letters and find out more about the Freedom Week campaign at www.amnesty.org.nz.

Freedom Week funds will support ongoing Amnesty International campaigning -€” letter writing, high-level lobbying, publicity and research -€” on Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Nepal, Afghanistan and other countries.

************************

Amnesty International Started With A Toast

A newspaper report of the arrest and imprisonment for seven years of two Portuguese students for toasting freedom in a Lisbon café inspired the founding of Amnesty International 45 years ago.

Reading about the students in his morning newspaper in 1960, Englishman Peter Benenson decided to invite other "ordinary" members of the public to express their outrage.

Since 1961 the worldwide movement he formed, Amnesty International, has saved tens of thousands of people from imprisonment for beliefs or identity and from unfair trials, torture and death through letters, faxes and emails. ABOUT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL NEW ZEALAND When Peter Benenson launched the

‘Appeal for Amnesty’ that would result in the establishment of Amnesty International, part of the campaign was the publication of ‘Persecution 1961’ containing the case stories of nine prisoners of conscience. In 1965, the book ambushed Mary Singleton in Wellington. As she put it: “I was young, I was naive ... I found the stories deeply shocking.”

Shocking enough to prompt her to take action. On contacting Amnesty International in London she was encouraged to seek other supporters and organise a New Zealand group. The New Zealand National Section was formed that year, with a -£2 annual membership fee, and groups were seeded around the country. AINZ now has around 8,500 individuals or groups contributing funds, including almost 7,000 members, 32 local groups, eight specialist networks and 108 school groups.

Over the years, AINZ developed an influential role in New Zealand policy. Achievements include: promoting legislation to abolish the death penalty (1989), gaining a public commitment from our Prime Minister to work for the eradication of torture everywhere (2000), and campaigning for the Child Soldiers Treaty that came into force when New Zealand signed the 10th ratification (2002).

Two members have received official recognition for their work: Lorna Leydon, the Queen’s Service Medal for her services to human rights in 1995; and Refugee Coordinator Bill Smith, the NZ Order of Merit for his services to refugees in 2002.

ENDS

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