Published as: Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience Week, 12-19 October 1980, in Education: journal of the N.S.W. Public School Teachers Federation, Vol. 61, No. 16, 22 September 1980, p. 368.
25,000 people “disappear” in one country and 15,000 in another; in a third, a trade unionist is detained by police for the 24th time in two years; in a fourth, released prisoners tell of the torture of a 14-month old baby girl held with her mother in a clandestine military camp for the “disappeared.” In yet another country, the wife of an imprisoned nationalist leader lives out another 24 hours of her latest “banning” order, the fourth of a series that has ruled every day of her life for the past 16 years. All these people, political prisoners, the cases of many thousands of them documented in detail by Amnesty International national were subjected to some kind of imprisonment, not in the generally understood sense of the word, because only a tiny proportion were brought before a court of law, and for them the proceedings were a travesty of justice.
These are the victims of the different faces of political imprisonment. Every year Amnesty International national sets aside a week in which to bring to the attention of people in all countries some of the areas of human rights which are being violated by governments. Amnesty International national is a worldwide movement which is deeply committed to working for human rights. Australia has a number of AI groups, including a branch of NSW unionists which concentrates its work on the release of politically imprisoned trade unionists and workers throughout out the world. AI condemns violations of human rights and defends the rights of trade unionists and others to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
AI opposes torture and capital punishment in all cases and without reservation. “Urgent Action” methods are used to aid hundreds of people in immediate danger of torture or execution. AI contacts political prisoners and their families, and many hundreds of thousands of dollars are dispensed in relief to these.
AI has more than 200,000 members in 111 countries. Members of “Adoption Groups” work for three prisoners of conscience in three foreign countries. The three countries are balanced geographically and politically to ensure impartiality. Research information is provided by Al’s Research Department in London. In 1980, from October 12 to 19, AI will promote Prisoner of Conscience Week, and four different faces of political imprisonment will be highlighted:
- Repressive short-term detention.
- House arrest, banning, international national exile.
- The disappeared.
- False criminal charges.
These four faces of imprisonment have one feature in common: they are all short-cuts of repression, they provide a method for governments to avoid the difficulties presented by a political trial — challenge of authority, delay, unwanted publicity. The victim has been robbed of the fundamental right to the protection of the law.
YOU CAN HELP. AS AN INDIVIDUAL, YOU CAN DO SOMETHING. JOIN AN AI GROUP. WRITE LETTERS:
Senor Julio de Pena Valdez, former Secretary General of the National Workers Confederation of the Dominican Republic, sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “conspiring against the security of the state,” was investigated by AI and subsequently adopted as a prisoner of conscience. He later recalled: “I was being kept naked in an underground cell. When the first 200 letters came, the guards gave me back my clothes. Then the next 200 letters came, and the prison director came to see me. When the next pile of letters arrived, the director got in touch with his superior. The letters kept coming and coming — 3000 of them. The President was informed. They kept arriving and the President called the prison and told them to let me go.” (Courteously worded letters to appropriate authorities appealing for better treatment or release of prisoners of conscience often bring results.)
For further information on Amnesty International, please contact: Mr. Michael Easson, Secretary NSW Trade Unionists Group of Amnesty International, Labor Council of NSW 10th Floor, 377 Sussex Street Sydney, NSW 2000; or Mr. Harris Van Beek, Amnesty International NSW Branch, Pilgrim House, 5th Floor, 264 Pitt Street Sydney, NSW 2000.