31 July 2002
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FREEDOM WEEK 6 ? 12 AUGUST
AN AVALANCHE OF PRESSURE TO FREE PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
The power of letters to free prisoners of conscience will be put to the test during Freedom Week, Amnesty
International's new annual week of national fund-raising and awareness campaigning.
"Amnesty International is linking its annual appeal with an opportunity for New Zealanders to create an avalanche of
pressure on behalf of four selected prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned or "disappeared" for their
political and religious beliefs," said AINZ's executive director, Ced Simpson.
"We will be appealing to all New Zealanders to demonstrate the power of letters and emails to pressure governments who
are improperly detaining prisoners of conscience."
Freedom Week runs from Tuesday, August 6 to Monday, August 12, with a day of nationwide street appeals on Freedom Day,
Friday, August 9.
People will be able to sign on-line letters at Amnesty's website ? www.amnesty.org.nz ? on behalf of: · Tian Chua,
imprisoned in Malaysia for criticising the government; · Rajendra Dhakal, a Nepalese lawyer and human rights defender
who has "disappeared"; · Ngawang Sangdrol, a Buddhist nun imprisoned in Tibet, China; and · Dr Salai Tun Than,
imprisoned in Myanmar after calling for political reform.
Symbolic postage stamps have been produced for all four prisoners of conscience, for distribution in exchange for
donations during Freedom Week, with directions on how to forward appeals on the prisoners' behalf.
"The back of each stamp has an invitation to visit www.amnesty.org.nz to find out more about each case and to sign the
"We're asking all New Zealanders to visit the website and join with Amnesty in proving the power of the letter to end
appalling violations of the human rights of people like these ? people who are detained, tortured, "disappeared" or
killed for their identity or beliefs."
"The mass of letters will be printed, collated and mailed to appropriate government authorities by AI groups to create
an avalanche of pressure from New Zealand to free them," said Ced Simpson.
The power of mass letter writing to unsettle perpetrators of human rights abuses is dramatically demonstrated in a new
series of powerful Amnesty television commercials produced by AINZ's pro bono agency, GeneratorBates, which will play
during Freedom Week.
Amnesty International has been proving the power of the letter for 40 years (37 years in New Zealand). In that time
numerous prisoners of conscience have been released, many death sentences commuted, torturers brought to justice, and
governments persuaded to change laws and practices that represent grave violations rights guaranteed in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
"Sometimes our solidarity keeps hope alive. Hope is a precious weapon for prisoners battling to survive, relatives
trying to obtain justice or human rights defenders bravely continuing their work despite danger and isolation. It is
that hope and effort and action that will help free Tian Chua, Rajendra Dhakal, Ngawang Sangdrol and Dr Salai Tun Than,"
said Ced Simpson.
Further resources and information available: Information case sheets for each appeal JPGs of the prisoners of
conscience Appeal stamps and graphics Amnesty International 2001 and 2002 good news stories Please visit
www.amnesty.org.nz for more information
For further information about Freedom Week, to contribute or to arrange a special event or interview, for AI news
stories and for contact with GeneratorBates, contact:
John Shaw, AINZ Development Manager BH 0-9-303 4521 mobile 021 636 796
For interviews, please contact: Ced Simpson, AINZ Executive Director BH 0-4-499 3349 AH 0-4-938 0716 mobile 021 371 205
Rebecca Lineham, AINZ Campaign Manager BH 0-4-499 3595 mobile 021 422 562
Appeal case information (more information available on www.amnesty.org.nz)
Tian Chua - Malaysia One of six government critics held without charge or trial since April 2001 under the Malaysian
Internal Security Act - a draconian law often used to stifle legitimate dissent. Following their arrest they were kept
in solitary confinement in tiny windowless cells, denied access to lawyers for two months and, AI believes, subjected to
intense psychological pressure amounting to torture.
Rajendra Dhakal - Nepal A lawyer and human rights defender, he has not been seen since his arrest by police on 8 January
1999 from Jamdi, Khairenitar in Tanahun district. Also arrested with him were two teachers from the village who were
released two days later. A "disappearance" case, there are fears that Rajendra Dhakal may now be dead. AI is calling on
the government of Nepal to clarify his fate or whereabouts.
Dr Salai Tun Than - Myanmar A retired university professor in his early 70s, he was arrested in November 2001 in Yangon
- the capital - for peacefully calling for democratic change. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment under the
Emergency Provisions Law. AI considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional
Ngawang Sangdrol - Lhasa, Tibet, China A nun from Garu nunnery she was originally sentenced to three years imprisonment
in 1992 (when still a young teenager) for taking part in a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa. In 1993,
she and 13 other Buddhist nuns in prison with her were sentenced to a further six years for singing protest songs.
Ngawang's sentence has since between extended on two other occasions and she is now serving a 19 year sentence, the
longest imposed on any female political prisoner in Tibet. It is reported that she has a long term kidney problem and is
in poor health.
"I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to be free again and to be able to write you this note. It is something I
have wanted to do since 1997 when I received my first batch of cards ? generated through Amnesty's efforts. It is
impossible to paint an accurate picture of [my] reactions as I sat in that tiny cell, the floor carpeted with cards and
envelopes. It was deeply touching, greatly encouraging and strengthening. Thereafter, I knew that I was not alone, and
held on to the thought till the end ? Maybe you just sent one card ? but all of these cards are like little drops of
water that combine to create an avalanche of pressure."
Chris Anyanwu, Nigerian newspaper editor, following her release from prison in 1998.
About Amnesty International The movement's international network of volunteer members and professional staff generates
thousands of appeals on behalf of individuals and communities at risk and protests directly against governments and
political groups responsible for perpetrating crimes against humanity. We feed a constant stream of information to the
media, governments, the United Nations and others, urging them to take action where human rights abuses are occurring.
AI has no political affiliation, endorses no political party, accepts no funds from governments or any political party.
AI is impartial. It is independent of any government, political persuasion or religious creed. It does not support or
oppose any government or political system.