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April 21nd 2009
The Candle of Hope

the Symbol of Amnesty International

A moving talk by Hazel Zeiner and a novel way to show us Human Rights Violations or Man’s inhumanity to Man, which are often so close at hand. She started the talk by lighting the “Candle”. Hazel, who’s lived and worked in central and south America as well as in Europe, followed her own life for us alongside Amnesty International since its foundation by the London lawyer Peter Benenson. Growing up near the “greatest city on earth”—Liverpool, at the time of the Beatles, who cared that this city had also got rich on slavery? Or that British children still started school at the tender age of 5 because 6 year-olds used to work down the coalmines? Living and working in Switzerland in 1970, it was a shock for her to realize that some of her Swiss colleagues were only then getting the chance to vote for the first time. When in Austria in 1974 she needed her husband’s signature to put her son into her passport after him not needing hers, she felt that it was time to start doing something about such “things”. And here Hazel brought us some success stories of Amnesty International. Two poignant stories being of: an Egyptian family man working in Saudi Arabia. Her group “got him free”—he was no longer awaiting the death penalty, but was able to go home after some 500 lashes of the whip. This punishment, sadly almost crippled him. And a young Tibetan nun who also came “free” after spending so much of her life in prison for wanting “Freedom for Tibet”. Towards the end of the talk we were reminded again of the lack of religious freedom in many countries: the surprising example of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who only became a member of the Roman Catholic faith when he was no longer Prime Minister. The law in Britain only permits a Roman Catholic to be a Member of Parliament but still not to be the British Prime Minister. Lighting a candle in St Martin-in-the Fields Church, in 1981, to mark the 20th anniversary of Amnesty, Peter Benenson said, "I have lit this candle, in the words of Shakespeare, 'against oblivion' - so that the forgotten prisoners should always be remembered. We work in Amnesty against oblivion."


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