Happy Birthday, Amnesty!

This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Amnesty International, an organisation I’ve been a member of since I was a teenager. It started with Peter Benenson being outraged at the imprisonment of a couple of Portuguese students for raising their wine glasses in a toast to freedom, and now has over 3 million members all over the world.

Often it feels pointless writing polite letters to dictators asking them please to release a political prisoner. But if enough people do it, then it works – not in all cases by any means, but at least in some, and that’s well worth the price of a stamp. It always feels good when I make the effort to sit down and write. It’s a small thing to do, but it’s something positive.

Reading about the way people risk their lives to tell the truth also makes it seem really ridiculous how scared we often are in relatively free countries like England to speak our minds or go out in the streets and protest.

For example, Eynulla F?tullayev is a journalist in Azerbaijan, the same age as me, who was jailed for years on trumped-up charges, simply because he wrote stories critical of the government. He was recently freed, largely thanks to the Amnesty campaign, but many others like him around the world are still in jail. And many others continue to write the stories or organise the strikes and protests, even though they know they risk jail or worse. In these circumstances, it seems to me that the very least we can do is to stop watching X Factor for five minutes and write a letter that may help save them.

So happy 50th Birthday Amnesty! I hope in another 50 years there’s no longer a need for your existence!

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