From 1 November until 31 January every year, the human-rights organisation Amnesty International runs a special campaign. It encourages members and anyone else who is interested to send a greetings card to one of a number of specially selected prisoners of conscience across the world.
The first campaign took place in 1961 and cards were sent to 12 prisoners of conscience, including a clergyman, journalist, bishop and a housewife.
These people may be politicians, activists, lawyers, students, or just about anyone. They may be imprisoned as a result of their political or religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, or even just for being related to someone viewed as undesirable.
They are selected by Amnesty to cover a range of countries and issues, and the organisation checks it is safe for them to receive cards. Sometimes cards are sent to groups which defend human rights, often at some risk to themselves1, or to the families of prisoners when the person cannot be reached.
Amnesty gives specific guidance for different cases. For example, when writing to some prisoners it is OK to give your name and address - you may even receive a reply - but in other cases it is not recommended. As a general rule, Amnesty advises campaigners to send non-religious cards and not to mention Amnesty in them. It is thought the cards have greater effect if they are seen as coming from individuals. The message should be a simple one of solidarity and support.
The idea is that receiving greetings cards from complete strangers shows the prisoners they are not forgotten; that people from many countries care about what happens to them. It also has the effect of demonstrating to authorities and prison guards that if anything befalls these prisoners the world will know.
It is not uncommon for prisoners chosen as the recipient of greetings cards to be released within the following year. Some prisoners, while not released, enjoy improved conditions as a result.
Dmitri Kraiukin, of the Russian organisation One Europe2, told Amnesty after receiving cards from the 2004 campaign:
We felt so much warmth, kindness and support, we were sent so many good wishes, that we became convinced once again that we are carrying out very important work. A whole wall of our office is covered with postcards and letters. We call the wall our 'wall of good'.
While Amnesty is a worldwide organisation, each country has its own country-wide administration. For example, Amnesty International UK and Amnesty International Canada are run separately, but are both a part of the organisation. Each country uses the same prisoners for the greetings card campaign. To take action, simply go to your country's Amnesty website (you can find it on the organisation's central website) and find the pages about the campaign.