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Fighting for human rights Old Greenwich church joins Write for Rights campaign

November 23, 2018

GREENWICH — Sometimes it feels that nothing can be done to help those who have been imprisoned around the globe after advocating for human rights.

But one group of friends at St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Old Greenwich is putting pen to paper this month as part of Amnesty International’s worldwide Write for Rights campaign to support 10 human rights defenders and persuade their governments to release and protect them.

“It’s a noble cause,” said Helen Rasmussen, who helped start the letter-writing campaign at her church several years ago. “I think it’s a good thing to do.”

Each Sunday through Dec. 9, church members and interested members of the public meet in the church hall after weekly services to craft letters to 10 women and others Amnesty has identified as under threat this year. They also write to government officials in the women’s home countries, urging them to free those they believe have been unjustly imprisoned.

This year’s letter recipients come from all walks of life. Geraldine Chacón has been imprisoned and banned from leaving Venezuela for her work to empower young people in her home city, according to Amnesty.

Nonhle Mbuthuma of South Africa is leading the fight for her community against a mining company that wants to mine titanium on her ancestral land. She has been harassed and threatened and survived an attempt to kill her, Amnesty says.

Atena Daemi was sentenced to seven years in prison - after a 15-minute trial - for opposing Iran’s death penalty through leaflets, peaceful protests and social media posts.

Amnesty had planned to encourage letters in support of an 11th woman, Me Nam of Vietnam, also known as “Mother Mushroom.” In June 2017, she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, accused of “conducting propaganda” through her influential blog. She was released in October, possibly due to the threat of the letter-writing campaign, Rasmussen said.

“They get thousands of letters,” she said of the countries highlighted in the campaign. “It’s an international campaign. They come from all over.”

The St. Saviour’s campaign begins each Sunday around 11 a.m. Participants can write two letters or 20. The church, located at 350 Sound Beach Ave., provides stationery, envelopes, sample letters and photos of the incarcerated people. The church will take care of mailing the letters. Letter writers are welcome to attend church services, but it is not required.

The 2018 campaign started with a small group on Nov. 18 and Rasmussen expects about 15 to 20 people will participate each Sunday. The effort leads up to the United Nations’ Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

For more information on Write for Rights, visit https://write.amnestyusa.org/.

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