Write for Rights: Updates on 2019 cases

Last December during Write for Rights, the world’s biggest human rights event, Amnesty supporters took more than 6.6 million actions in solidarity with young people facing injustices head on — to support them, give them strength and make it possible for them to continue to dare where adults in authority are failing. 

So how have your words changed lives since then? Read on for updates from last year’s cases, and watch for news about Write for Rights 2020 in the coming weeks!

Grassy Narrows Youth, Canada 

For more than 50 years, the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation have suffered the effects of mercury poisoning in one of Canada’s worst health crises. Generations of Indigenous youth have been particularly affected and have taken their place at the forefront of the calls for a healthy environment. Over 15,000 messages from Write for Rights participants in Canada contributed to the 400,000 letters Prime Minister Trudeau received from around the world.

After years of delay, a $19.5 million agreement to build a care facility was finally signed on April 2, 2020 — an important step towards justice for the people of Grassy Narrows. Read more.

Yasaman Aryani, Iran

In Write for Rights history, only two cases have ever amassed over one million actions — that of Edward Snowden during Write for Rights 2017 and Yasaman Aryani in 2019. Activists worldwide spoke out for Yasaman’s freedom following her sentence to 16 years in prison for standing up to Iran’s forced veiling laws. Yasaman’s case is part of a wider crackdown on women’s rights defenders campaigning against forced veiling in Iran. 

In February, a partial victory — an Iranian Appeals Court substantially reduced Yasaman’s sentence, from 16 to 5.5 years. We won’t stop until she’s free. 

Magai Matiop Ngong, South Sudan

Magai Matiop Ngong was only 15 when he was sentenced to death. But thanks in part to a hefty 765,000 actions during Write for Rights, his death sentence was cancelled in July 2020 and he was taken off death row!

“To Amnesty, tell them that I am so happy and grateful for what they have done to me and my family…”, said Magai. “I’m so blissful and blessed to have them as a support for my life and freedom.”

Read more and watch the good news video here! 

Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder, Greece

Write for Rights activists took 729,072 actions for Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini. The pair worked as rescue workers for an organization in Lesvos. Their job was to spot boats in distress at sea and to help refugees who were fleeing abuses in their home countries. Those tasks were cut short by charges such as smuggling and spying. They still await trial. 

The campaign has increased awareness not only about their situation, but also the broader issues they represent. In March, Sarah and Sean were featured in a new Amnesty campaign “Free to Help” about the hundreds of people who are being punished across Europe just for helping or showing solidarity with those in need. Amnesty continues to monitor the case of Seán and Sarah closely and are in contact with them and their lawyers. 

Marinel Sumook Ubaldo, Philippines

Pictured above: Marinel joined the Amnesty International delegation attending the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Spain.

Marinel Sumook Ubaldo is a survivor of Typhoon Yolanda that hit the Philippines hard in 2013. At the age of 16, the disaster propelled her to become a climate justice activist. She says that Write for Rights increased her confidence and determination: “It made a huge different to the way I see my activism. It boosts me to believe more in myself. I have realized that, indeed, there is power in numbers…From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of my community Matarinao, thank you for fighting with us.”

The Office of the President has acknowledged the 528,000 letters sent to them, and the Philippine government appears to have turned its attention towards the needs of Typhoon Yolanda survivors in Matarinao. You can follow Marinel’s updates on Instagram here.

Nasu Abdulaziz, Nigeria

The solidarity for Nasu Abdulaziz and his community has been huge. By the end of February 2020, Amnesty Nigeria had received over 20,000 solidarity messages for him and the Governor of Lagos state received over 400,000 letters and messages demanding justice for Nasu and his community. So far, the authorities have not taken steps to investigate the shooting of Nasu that occurred when bulldozers arrived and evicted 30,000 people from his community. However, there has been an ongoing dialogue between his community and the authorities towards a resettlement program. 

Amnesty Nigeria met with Nasu to handover thousands of cards and letters from Amnesty supporters around the world (pictured above). Nasu expressed his thanks to everyone who took part in Write for Rights: ”I am very happy to receive all these messages. It means that people care about me and what happened!” 

Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, Egypt

We unfortunately do not have a recent update on Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a human rights researcher who was forcibly disappeared following his arrest in Cairo in June 2019. Ibrahim’s whereabouts were unknown until November 2019, when he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution. Ibrahim, who appeared weak and having lost much weight, told the prosecutor that he was tortured during his detention to extract information about his relationship to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and its work, and was kept in inhumane and degrading conditions of detention, at several security agencies locations.

Your support has provided solidarity to Ibrahim’s family, his colleagues and the Egyptian human rights community at large. Ibrahim’s mother expressed her gratitude to everyone who has taken action on his case: “I would like to thank everyone who stood for Ibrahim until he reappeared, after his disappearance for [almost] 6 months. And I call on you to continue supporting him until his release… Ibrahim remains in detention for no reason.”

In April 2020, Amnesty put out an Urgent Action for Ibrahim’s immediate release, as his mental and physical health was deteriorating, putting him at particular risk if exposed to COVID-19. We will continue to campaign until Ibrahim is free and reunited with his loved ones.

Emil Ostrovko, Belarus

As Write for Rights gathered steam in December, authorities in Belarus shaved two years off the eight-year prison term of Emil Ostrovko. He had been arrested in April 2018 while waiting at a bus stop on the outskirts of Minsk. Police officers beat the 17-year old and accused him of distributing illegal drugs.

Emil’s health and spirits have suffered greatly, and he expressed how much he’s treasured the greetings from all over the world. “They have given me enormous strength and inspiration. This campaign made me believe in the importance of fighting for my rights. It showed me that my life mattered and that I am not forgotten. Many of my fellow prisoners are young people like me and their circumstances are like mine. They ask me to share solidarity cards with them and they keep them as symbols of hope and encouragement. Thank you so much!”  

Emil’s mother, Yula Ostrovko, added her own words of thanks: “This campaign has made a huge difference in Emil’s life and in the lives of many other children. They all excitedly waited for your letters and read them all together. I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude to Amnesty International and its supporters – just tears of joy. I didn’t expect that so many people in the world would support us in this terrible situation and I remain strong because of all of you and your solidarity.”

Yiliyasijiang Reheman, China

There has been no news on the whereabouts of Yiliyasijiang Reheman, the Uyghur who disappeared while studying in Egypt. But as in so many of these cases, our action makes a difference in the lives of the family members who have been enduring the long wait to reunite with their loved ones. Yiliyasijiang’s wife Mairinisha shared her reaction to the Write for Rights campaign for her husband: “I’m very grateful for everyone who supports me. I feel that I’m not alone.” 

Amnesty is continuing to campaign in support of Yiliyasijiang and to end the targeting of Uyghurs in China and beyond. You can take action here.

José Adrián, Mexico

José Adrián, a Mayan teenage boy with an undiagnosed disability that impacts his capacity to hear and communicate easily, was only 14 years old when police arbitrarily arrested and beat him near his home in Yucatan, Mexico in February 2016. 

Thanks to constant advocacy work, including through Write for Rights, José Adrián and his family are about to reach a written agreement with the Commission for Attention to Victims. It includes a scholarship to continue school and psychological treatment. José Adrián has also received an official letter to indicate that he now has no criminal record. “I thank the people who have supported me. You have changed my life, and I thank you all,” he said.