December 10th is World Human Rights Day with both governmental and non-governmental organisations around the world holding events centred on the issue of human rights. In the Czech Republic, the local branch of Amnesty International is marking this event with a ten day marathon letter-writing campaign in support of political prisoners around the world. I spoke with Gabriela Bartová, head of activism at Amnesty Czech Republic, and began by asking her to explain the aims of this campaign:
“The letter-writing marathon, also called the ‘write for rights event’ is taking place all around the word, and is organized by Amnesty. It is a unique event that has a very basic purpose: to write as many letters as possible in support of 12 people or communities who are deprived of their basic rights.”
What is the Czech branch of Amnesty doing that is different from its other branches around the world?
Our attitude is to enable as many people as possible to organize their own letter-writing events. That means we offer material and sample letters, which serve as templates for how such letters should be addressed if you write to a president or a government and ask for a particular person to be released. But it’s the people themselves who decide where they would like to organize the event, whether it’s a private or public one in a café or in a school; they organize their own communities, and move people around them to join in and also write letters.”
How many people do you either know or expect will be taking part? And will this primarily be Prague-based or are events taking place across the Czech Republic?
“The events are taking place all around the country. Right now we have more than 200 people registered to organize events. For anybody who would like to join one of these events, we have the website Amnesty.cz.maraton where there is a map of all the events. It is really many places: cafes, tearooms, book stores; there are many locations, and I think that every large city has at least one place where people can come and write a letter.”
Could you describe some of the countries in which the political prisoners are being held and the circumstances surrounding their captivity?
“We have political prisoners from Saudi Arabia. We also have a human rights lawyer who defended those defending human rights. And now he faces prison himself. There are student activists in Burma. Journalists from Uzbekistan. Then there are also those who are deprived of sexual and reproductive rights, from Burkina Faso or El Salvador.