Today is International Human Rights Day. I joined members of the Bristol branch of Amnesty International at Broadmeand Baptist Church where they were running a 24 hour marathon letter writing session. This also marks the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International and about 60 branches around Britain and others around the world were gathering together to help prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty members have been writing letters for five decades about the treatment of prisoners and other human rights violations. The Bristol branch is one of the most active. Many Bristolians will have contributed to their funds at the Amnesty second hand book shop on Gloucester Road or attended the annual August Garden Party at Goldney Hall. I have gone every year since I joined Amnesty in 1991.
Amnesty members write letters direct to prisoners themselves to let them know that they are not forgotten by the outside world. Even if the letters do not reach the prisoners they will be intercepted and read by their captors who will then know their actions are being observed. Letters are also sent to heads of national governments or their ambassadors in London. For almost 7 years now as Bristol West’s MP I have also been on the receiving end of these letters and have met many local Amnesty members, including the active branch at Bristol University. I have raised numerous issues with ambassadors and with the Foreign Office. The Coalition Government has a specific Minister in the FCO for Human Rights, my friend and Lib Dem colleague Jeremy Browne.
Amnesty members today were raising a number of cases from a booklet produced specially for the occasion. Individuals need help from Algeria to Zimbabwe. I picked the case of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede from Cameroon. Jean-Claude, a student aged 31, is in prison in Kondengui. He was sentenced to 3 years for “homosexuality and attempted homosexuality”. His case is one of many in Cameroon where gay men are arrested and imprisoned. They are often attacked by guards and other inmates. I wrote personally to Jean-Claude saying that as a gay man myself I was distressed that he was in prison. I promised to raise his case with the Cameroon Ambassador to Britain. I wrote to him as a fellow human being and he won’t know I am an MP. But I hope my official letter to the Ambassador will do some good. You can read about Jean-Claude’s case at http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=12138#mbede