Amnesty International celebrates shining light in the darkness for 60 years

Global human rights charity Amnesty International celebrated its 60th anniversary today with south west London groups commemorating the milestone in different ways.

The charity was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson on the idea that ordinary people can change the world and stand up for humanity and human rights.

The logo of the candle surrounded by barbed wire was inspired by the old Chinese proverb: β€˜Better light a candle than curse the darkness’. 

AMNESTY SHINES A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS: the famous candle and barbed wire logo. Photo credit: Prachatai on Flickr

The organization has helped tens of thousands of people find freedom and its flagship campaigns include ending the death penalty and freeing prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty has volunteer campaigning groups in communities, schools and universities all over the world with many active south west London groups from Lambeth, Westminster Bayswater, Wimbledon and Merton, Kingston, to Croydon.

Over the course of the pandemic, they have all had to move a lot of their campaigning and meetings online, but have still have found many people keen to be involved with some members being part of their local groups since their founding in the 60s and 70s.

Beverley Foulkes-Jones, a member of the Croydon Amnesty Group said they will be commemorating the anniversary later on in the summer with a picnic in Lloyd Park on 2nd August.

This will take place under a Cedar of Lebanon tree that was planted for a former Syrian prisoner that they supported in the late 80s and early 90s who got released after their activist efforts.

At the picnic, members will share a particularly meaningful campaign or story from their time in Amnesty and will make a toast to liberty as an homage to the students who inspired Peter Beneson to set up Amnesty in 1961, who were imprisoned for making a toast to liberty in Portugal under the dictatorship.

Graham Bisset representing the Sutton Amnesty group told SWL: “We have no big 60th Anniversary celebration planned at present, but I should just mention that on 1 March of this year, we were delighted to have back on a Zoom meeting Ilker Demir, a Turkish journalist and prisoner of conscience whom we had helped free in 1991.

“It was the 30th anniversary of his release, and we considered the occasion to be our way of celebrating Amnesty’s 60th anniversary year too!”

Simone Theiss, group secretary Amnesty Westminster Bayswater has been a member of their group for four years.

She said: “I was always interested in human rights and signed a couple of petitions, but I started getting seriously involved in February 2015 after I read about the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi.

“I started using social media to campaign for him and for other prisoners, mainly in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Iran), but also Egypt and Turkey.

“I also joined Amnesty International as an individual member at that time, because I relied greatly on the information from Amnesty about individual prisoners.

“I decided to join a local group in November or December 2016, because even though I enjoyed being virtually in contact with a lot of people all over the world who campaign for human rights, I thought it would be great to meet actual people in real life as well.

“I live in North London, but I joined Amnesty Westminster Bayswater, because of their focus on the Middle East.

“For me campaigning via social media is still a really important part.

“They often use social media to campaign for their loved ones and even If my tweets might not impress the King of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or UAE or Khamenei and Hassan Rouhani in Iran, I know that family members of the prisoners will see that their loved ones are not forgotten and that people all over the world care for them and campaign for them.”

Lambeth Amnesty Group Secretary Elin Sams added: “It’s a really good day for Amnesty. I’m proud of the resilience of my local group and other local groups to embrace online meetings and events at a time like this.

“I think it shows how passionate and interested volunteers are in Amnesty’s mission of tackling human rights abuses, because I know that many members are keen to get back to face to face meetings.

“It shows how the organisation is evolving to embrace technology and makes it easier for members to come together to help tackle human rights abuses.

“Overall Amnesty has come a long way!”

Amnesty International have posted snapshots of highlights of their 60 years of campaigning for human rights, and said in a press release: β€œ60 years on, our work is just as vital as it ever was – the same feelings of urgency and outrage that moved Amnesty’s founding members to act against injustice are still proving to be powerful catalysts for our members and supporters.

β€œToday Amnesty is a worldwide movement for human rights, calling on the collective power of 10 million people – each one committed to fighting for justice, equality and freedom everywhere.

“From London to Mozambique, the US to Myanmar, people have come together to insist that the rights of every human is protected.

β€œDuring these uncertain times, our emblem continues to remind the world that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

β€œWe have had many, many successes over the past six decades: holding governments, individuals and corporations to account; enhancing awareness, understanding and access to human rights across the world and making a real difference to the lives of people who are persecuted and victimised.

“But there is still much to be done – and we wouldn’t be able to carry out our life-changing work without the help of organisations like the People’s Postcode Lottery.

β€œIf the bad news is the world still needs Amnesty, the good news is Amnesty is going strong.”

If you would like to learn more about your local Amnesty groups or campaigns they are running, you can visit the website here and you can find your local groups on most social media channels.

Featured image photo credit: Richard Potts on Flickr

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