Christmas is nearly upon us and the New Statesman Christmas Campaign is drawing to a close. In the past month, thousands of people have shown their support for Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign, sending cards to those at risk of persecution and abuse and letters demanding justice to authorities around the world – from Honduras to Japan.
To those of you who have written a card or sent an email on behalf of one of the groups or individuals, thank you.
Former prisoner of conscience Chekib el-Khiari – who was serving a three-year prison sentence for speaking out against government corruption in Morocco, before being pardoned by the Moroccan king after great public pressure – has written of the impact each letter and card he received had for him. He told Amnesty, “Every week I was waiting for those letters. I was reading them again and again, thinking of those people who took five minutes, or maybe more, to write or to draw. Five minutes of their time gave me the energy to survive two years of unlawful imprisonment.”
Sometimes, it is about cheering the spirits of the wrongly imprisoned. Sometimes though, it is about demanding justice for them. So as the curtain falls on this year’s Write for Rights Campaign, I would urge you to take action for one more person: Anas al-Shogre.
Anas, 24, was arrested in May 2011 in the Syrian city of Banias, and has not been seen since. Syrian authorities have not said where he is being held. Nor have they given reasons for his arrest. Local activists and Anas’ family believe the young political activist is being held for his involvement in calling for and leading protests in Banias, and for speaking to various media outlets about human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities.
Since pro-reform protests broke out in February 2011, thousands of suspected opponents of the government have been arrested and many, if not most, are believed to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Amnesty has the names of over 720 people reported to have died in custody during this period. A staggering figure.
To date, Anas al-Shogre is not one of the names on that list.
However Amnesty is concerned that Anas is at real risk of torture and is being held for peacefully exercising his basic right to freedom of expression and assembly and so would be a prisoner of conscience.
This year so much bloodshed, carnage and devastation has occurred in Syria.
The number of deaths reported since the start of the conflict is huge, reported to be as many as 40,000. Yet there is a real danger that casual observers to this conflict are becoming immune.
Those who can become immune to these atrocities are in a somewhat fortunate position. Thousands of men, women and children both living in Syria and elsewhere – cannot ignore this tragedy. This year the US journalist Marie Colvin’s family will mark their first Christmas without Marie. The Colvin family is not alone. Thousands of families will be marking their first turn of the year without their loved one. The al-Shogre family will mark their second New Year not knowing where their son, brother, cousin is.
To observers the situation appears dire and beyond hope. But as Amnesty has seen in the past it is incredible the impact that public pressure can have upon a situation. This is why I would ask you over this Christmas period to take five minutes out to send a letter to the Syrian authorities calling for the release of Anas al-Shogre immediately and unconditionally.
It may seem like an impossible feat. But as we’ve seen at Amnesty in the past, the seemingly impossible can become a reality.
To help free Anas, click here .
For more information about Write for Rights visit www.amnesty.org.uk/write