Letter writing guide
There are a few simple rules:
1. Always be polite. This rule is essential and invariable. Your aim is to help a prisoner, not to relieve your own feelings. Governments don't respond to abusive or condemnatory letters (however well deserved).
2. Always write your letters on the basis that the government concerned is open to reason and discussion.
3. It is important where possible to stress a country's reputation for moderation and justice, to show respect for its constitution and judicial procedures, and to demonstrate an understanding of current difficulties. This will give more scope to point out ways in which the human rights situation can be improved.
4. Follow strictly the instructions given by Amnesty International in the case in question. For instance if the World Wide Appeal asks you to appeal for medical treatment for a prisoner, make sure that you request this, and not a speedy trial or release which might be appropriate in another case.
5. Never use political jargon. Don't give the impression that you are writing because you are ideologically or politically opposed to the government in question. It is far more effective to stress the fact that your concern for human rights is not politically based in any way, but in
keeping with basic principles of international law.
6. If appropriate, please explain who you are and what you do. Some of our sample letters (below) do this. This indicates that the letter is genuine, and also shows that people from varying walks of life are following events in the country concerned.
7. If you have any special interest or link with the country, it is a good idea to mention this in your letter. For instance, you may have visited it or studied its history. (See sample letter H.)
BE BRIEF. A simple, one-line letter is adequate (see sample letters A and B) and is certainly better than no letter at all. Sample letters C and D might be considered the standard length to aim at where you have nothing special to add. A good rule is not to write more than one page
(ie one side).
----Sample letter A
Dear Prime Minister,
I write to appeal to you, on humanitarian grounds, to release ......... .
----Sample letter B
I write to appeal to you, on humanitarian grounds, to spare the life of......... presently under sentence of death.
---Sample letter C
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to you, in the spirit of friendship that has always existed between your country and mine, about the plight of ......... who I understand has been detained for nearly three years under the Internal Security Act without any reason being given. If this information is correct, this would appear to violate Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says "No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile". I therefore appeal to you to look into this case urgently, with a view to releasing ......... .
----Sample letter D
I write this letter as a Board Member of the Moravian Friendship Association to appeal to you to ensure that Professor ........., a prisoner held in ......... State Prison, is given the medical treatment she requires and an adequate diet. In view of the seriousness of this case, I would ask you to make inquiries to satisfy yourself personally that the conditions under which she is kept in prison are in keeping with the basic standards expected today by all members of the international community.
I would like to add that our Association, whose function it is to promote friendship and goodwill between the peoples of our two countries, has every confidence that the human rights enshrined in your Constitution are fully observed in your country.
----Sample letter E
I am a clerk in government service in Sri Lanka, and I also work in a voluntary Buddhist social service organization. I am deeply concerned at the news that ......... has been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in your country for publishing an article critical of the government. If this is true, it appears to be a harsh and unjust punishment. I appeal to you on humanitarian grounds, and in furtherance of the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to review this case with a view to releasing ..........
----Sample letter F
In my capacity as President of the Women's Institute of Toronto, I am writing to you on the subject of the recent arrest of ......... who is, I understand, in detention under the regulations for the Suppression of Rebellion.
In view of the information available to me concerning this case, ......... is deprived of her freedom in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. May I take the liberty of drawing to your attention the specific violations of the Declaration apparently involved in her case.
Her arrest under the regulations for the Suppression of Rebellion constitutes a violation of Article 9 of the Declaration. She has been held since her arrest without charge (at least as far as is publicly known) and without trial, which constitutes a violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Declaration.
The only reason which has been given for the arrest of ......... is her role in the legal and legitimate opposition in the public life of your country, not only as a parliamentarian, but as a political worker conducting actions guaranteed the full protection of your Constitution. It therefore appears that the rights proclaimed in Articles 18 and 19 of the Declaration have also been violated.
Motivated solely by respect for human rights, I appeal to you to intervene personally in this case to secure the immediate release of ......... from detention or to grant her the right to an early, fair and open trial.
Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration,
----Sample letter G
I am an engineer, and I worked on an irrigation project at ......... where the dam was constructed with the expert assistance of technicians from your country. This was truly a memorable experience. The dedication of your engineers, both to the irrigation project and to the development of your country, was really inspiring. Many misconceptions about your country were dispelled, and we became good friends too. It was therefore with special concern that I came to hear of the case of.........
I understand that he was arrested in November for publishing a book critical of some aspects of the government, and has been held since then without charge or trial in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This matter has been the subject of discussion among my colleagues. If the facts are incorrect, please let me know and I will see that the true version is explained. If, however, they are true, I appeal to you to look into this case with a view to releasing.........
----Sample letter H
Some time ago I wrote to you about the case of prisoner of conscience.........I was delighted to learn that ...... has been released and is now happily reunited with her four young children. I do appreciate very much this act of compassion and humanity on your part.