Pens out for human rights: 300,000 letters reach president of Cameroon
Amnesty International handed more than 300,000 letters to the president of Cameroon this week, calling on him to release three unjustly imprisoned students. The protest letters were hand-written by people across the world during Amnesty’s annual campaign Write for Rights. At Tilburg University, students wrote letters in a four-and-a-half hour writing marathon organized by Students Tilburg Amnesty International (STAI).
Daan Mulders, vice president of STAI, remembers writing countless letters to government officials during the writing marathon in the Academia building. “The board wrote letters all day long”, he says. Almost six months later, Mulders is glad to see some of the letters reach their destination: president Paul Biya of Cameroon. “It’s fantastic news.”
In Cameroon, three students are serving a ten-year prison sentence for sharing a joke about Boko Haram. Fomusoh Ivo, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob were found guilty of ‘complicity in a rebellion’ and ‘non-denunciation of terrorism related information’. In December 2014, Ivo received a text message from a friend, who jokingly wrote: “Boko Haram recruits young people from 14 years old and above. Conditions for recruitment: 4 subjects at GCE, including religion.” He was referring to the difficulty of finding a job without having good exam results; even Boko Haram won’t recruit you if you don’t excell in school.
Ivo forwarded the joke to two of his friends, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob. Their teacher then confiscated their phones and showed the message to the police, after which all three students were arrested, charged and convicted.
Will the protest letters and petitions delivered to president Paul Biya help set them free? Daan Mulders is convinced that the letters can make a difference. When putting pressure on governments to protect their citizen’s basic human rights, volume matters. “Our letters alone won’t do much, but this many letters can have astonishing results. The more letters we send, the greater the force of our message.”
Active members of STAI not only write letters during the annual writing marathon. “We write individual letters every month, in support of someone whose basic rights are violated”, Mulders says. “Aside from writing letters, we organize events and projects to raise awareness for human rights and human rights violations. Because we are a student association, we see educating other students on human rights issues as one of our primary tasks.”
Fomusoh Ivo, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob have appealed their conviction. Their appeal date is set for June 15. Amnesty insists that Cameroon drops all charges against the three students, releasing them from prison immediately. If you want to join the protest, you can send an email to president Biya in support of Fomusoh Ivo and his friends here.