Fringe Box



Amnesty International Celebrates 60 Years ‘Focused On Releasing Prisoners Of Conscience’

Published on: 28 May, 2021
Updated on: 28 May, 2021

Amnesty logo “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”.

Amnesty International the international non-governmental organization focused on human rights is 60 on May 29 this year.

To mark the event there will be a celebration in Guildford at 11.30am tomorrow (May 29) with a walk, starting from the tree the group planted for the millennium, in the little park in Millmead, beside St. Nicolas’ Church.

Marilyn Jarrett, secretary Amnesty International Guildford, said: “Everyone is welcome.”

Amnesty was started by British lawyer, Peter Benenson, in 1961 after reading that two Portuguese students were jailed for drinking a toast to freedom. He wrote an article which was published in the Observer and reprinted in newspapers across the world. It drew an incredible response from people calling for justice and freedom.

Although widely respected, some governments including Israel, Vietnam Chile and the United States have been critical, asserting that Amnesty’s reporting can be one-sided, and can fail to recognise threats to security as a mitigating factor.  Allegations of both pro-Western and anti-Western bias have been made.

The Catholic Church has also criticized Amnesty for its stance on abortion, particularly in Catholic-majority countries and others have blamed the charity for paying some of its staff high salaries.

The Guildford branch of Amnesty was started in 1963 by Dr Harold Hillman, a human rights activist and a member of a panel researching the death penalty in the USA. Early Amnesty members sent parcels of books, food and socks and kept in touch with victims’ families and often met grateful prisoners on their release.

Amnesty protesting in Guildford High Street in 2007.

The Guildford group has members from Godalming, Haslemere and Farnham. There are a dozen active members who meet once a month and there are about 40 supporters, drawn from those attending meetings with speakers, films, plays and street collections or picnics.

Since 2004, they have appealed for a young Iranian woman student, the longest ever death-row prisoner in Japan and a tortured young Nigerian boy, among others. They were all eventually released.

The current appeals are for two Saudi Arabia men, Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, convicted for starting an online forum. Raif Badawi had been sentenced to 10 years’ jail, a large fine and 100 lashes. There was a strong public outcry following his first 50 lashes, filmed in a public square.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years’ jail and a travel ban, for acting as Raif’s defence lawyer and for blogging about free speech. The Guildford group write appeals to the Saudi authorities every week.

The group also takes action for Amnesty Campaigns such as walking up Guildford High Street dressed in orange jumpsuits to raise awareness of Guantanamo prisoners, running stalls publicising the need for arms control, petitioning the public against the use of torture and continuing to take action in support of refugee family reunion.

The annual Greetings Card Signing to send to prisoners around the world

Marilyn Jarret said a highlight of the year was the Greetings Card Signing event in December with a social evening, open to the public and attended by the mayor, political parties, faith groups and friends. “With a glass of wine at hand, we write to about 15 prisoners, selected by Amnesty Head Office as those most likely to benefit.

“When sacks of cards arrive for prisoners, they impress prison authorities. Such attention can improve prisoners’ treatment and even early release. We generally send at least 300 cards every year.”

Amnesty, with a reported seven million members worldwide, remains independent of funding from any government, political, business or economic interest, relying solely on membership subscriptions and public donations.


Share This Post

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *