December 13, 2010


I spent much of yesterday writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and victims of war. I’m a member of Amnesty International and have been writing these letters for years. During the Christmas holidays, we are allowed to write directly to those being held captive. Most of the time, I write for clemency to their jailers, pleading for the simplest decencies: the right to see members of their family; the right to an attorney; the right to be spared of tortured; the right to have medical attention while imprisoned. I consider these letters my most important writings as they are an effort to bring justice to a fellow human being.

Words in these cases must be weighed carefully. They must open the compassionate hearts of the powerful or give comfort to the powerless. Not any word will do in either case. 

This year I write on behalf of Femi Peters, a freedom advocate in Gambia, jailed for “control and use of loud speakers in public; Norma Gurz, arrested in Guatemala for documenting cases of violence against women; Filep Karma imprisoned in Indonesia for raising a flag for Papuan independence and Majid Tavakkoli, punished for speaking at a demonstrations marking Student Day in Iran… among others. 

That I have only words to defend these seekers of justice casts a pall in any season, but at Christmas the feeling is most poignant. As long as there are governments, movements or individuals who raise a hand against those who have expressed a longing to be free, then I must rise in protests. If anyone wishes to join me, for I can think of no higher form of writing than on behalf of these prisoners, then go to and sign up to become a freedom writer.  One letter written on the behalf of one victim will be the best gift a person can give himself and the world.