Amnesty at The Edinburgh Festival

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Every year Amnesty Scotland takes a team of volunteers to the streets of the world’s largest annual arts festival to campaign for and celebrate the right to freedom of expression. This year, a couple of us from Edinburgh Uni Amnesty were among these volunteers, and got the chance to help Amnesty Scotland run their events and gain support for their festival campaign.

Each year, Amnesty Scotland chooses a particular ‘freedom of expression’ case to campaign on. This year, the individual in question was Liu Xia, who is currently under illegal house arrest in Beijing. Liu Xia was detained after her husband, Dr Liu Xiaobo, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, and has since been denied medical treatment despite suffering a heart attack and severe depression. Our main role as volunteers was street campaigning for Liu Xia, and over the course of the month we managed to acquire 3,500 names calling for her release.

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Street campaigning is always tough, but in this case particularly rewarding. It was refreshing and heartwarming to see how many people that we spoke to were already passionate AI members, or were interested to hear more about the work we do. On the last day of campaigning we even got dozens of people to write solidarity messages and poems for Liu Xia, which we hope to somehow send to her.

Another role as volunteers was to help with the running of Amnesty’s book festival events. I got to help with a couple of events in their daily ‘imprisoned writers’ series. Each day, a selection of authors read the works of other writers, who are currently prisoners of conscience and cannot read their own work. I was able to see a particularly moving event on Syrian writers, which was made even more interesting by hearing the readers’ own connections to Syria and reflections on the crisis.

One of the most fun aspects of volunteering was that we were able to review shows for Amnesty Scotland’s ‘Freedom of Expression’ award. The award is given annually to a theatre production which explores human rights in a meaningful way. Over 100 shows were shortlisted, but the eventual winner was ‘Cuckooed’, which tells the true story of how Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer (BAE Systems) spied on the group ‘Campaign Against the Arms Trade’. The show received outstanding reviews and addressed the unsettling truth of corporate spying.

Volunteering at the festival was a rewarding and valuable experience, and one that I would highly recommend. To take action for Liu Xia you can follow this link to AIUK’s online petition, and you can find out about other volunteering opportunities on Amnesty Scotland’s website.

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