By Alex Huang (’18)

Every year, hundreds of Taipei American School students join Write for Rights, Amnesty International’s global campaign to write letters to governments to make the case for prisoners of conscience and for those wrongfully convicted. But after that, most of us are left wondering whether the letter we wrote actually mattered. Or whether it was even sent in the first place.

These concerns are understandable?—?after all, few of us even use physical mail these days. But the reality on the ground is, letters and petitions save lives. And not just in far away countries either—just weeks ago, your letters helped exonerate a death row inmate wrongfully imprisoned right here in Taichung.

Stopping human rights violations in Taiwan, just a short drive from TAS

We all know too well the quirks and peculiarities of living in Taiwan: bubble tea, humid weather, and foul-smelling tofu. But police torture and death row inmates probably did not make your list.

In 2002, Cheng Hsing-tse (???), then only 34 years old, was sentenced to death in Taichung for murder, based on a confession he provided after allegedly being tortured by the police. There was no other credible evidence. Despite continuing to deny his involvement in the murder, Cheng’s conviction was upheld in later appeals, and his limited options were soon exhausted. In 2012, Amnesty International launched a global letter-writing campaign for Cheng, demanding his conviction be overturned or his death sentence commuted.

At the urging of human rights organizations and their supporters, a Taichung prosecutor reopened the case in 2016, applying for an unprecedented retrial and releasing Cheng from detainment after more than 5,000 days of incarceration. On Oct. 27, 15 years after his arrest, Cheng was exonerated in a decision overturning the guilty verdict. “Yesterday, I was a person with no tomorrow. Today, I begin my life anew,” he said.

One in three of your letters changes a life

The truth is, human rights activism can get messy. Some countries are more responsive than others, and not every letter is read. But in spite of these obstacles, your efforts make a real, undeniable difference: Amnesty International headquarters estimates that approximately one third of your letters changes lives on the ground. Just over the last four years, letters from TAS have directly changed the lives of more than ten prisoners of conscience around the world. Your voices put human rights on the agenda and help us bring perpetrators to justice.

TAS students are English-speaking teenagers in a suburban enclave of foreigners. It is hard to imagine any of us being tortured and coerced into confessing to crimes we did not commit. But human rights atrocities are not far away, and all it takes to stop them is your pen and two minutes of your time.

This year, we are writing to support human rights defenders who are at risk for standing up for others. These brave people are just ordinary people with a heart. An LGBTQ+ activist hacked to death, a housing rights activist thrown out of her own home, and so many more activists who need your voice. Now, it is our turn to stand up for them. I invite you to join us and write a letter.

Write like someone’s life depends on it.

Because it does.