AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL is five years old this week. To mark the anniversary all churches in Britain have been asked to offer prayers for the thousands of men and women who are still locked up simply because their beliefs are not acceptable to the government of their country.
During these five years a steady stream of letters from ordinary people has poured into Government offices all round the world. And these letters ask for one thing only: that the governments release these "prisoners of conscience".
As a result, more than 800 men and women have been freed. They include priests in Hungary, communists in West Germany, Portgual and Greece. Jehovah's Witnesses in France and conscientious objectors in Italy.
But still many more are wasting away in jail. The greatest number, according to Amnesty's London office, are in South Africa where anyone in favour of racial equality is in danger of being arrested and held without trial.
Amnesty has adopted 170 prisoners in South
Africa. For each one it has a comprehensive information sheet telling the prisoner's age, occupation, the conditions under which his dependents are living, the
reasons why he is in jail and how long he has been there. Many of the sheets are incomplete because the Amnesty library has to rely on news it can pick up from papers, broadcasts and contacts with relatives. friends and exiles.
Before it can adopt more of the prisoners of conscience known to he in South African jails, Amnesty needs volunteers to work in the library and more people to form "groups of three".
These groups send letters. They are called "of three" in order to maintain Amnesty's strictly nonpolitical approach. Each group campaigns for three prisoners—one in a Socialist country, one in the West and one in a non-aligned "third world" country. They try to correspond with the prisoners too, and to help their families who are often destitute.
Another set of volunteers concentrates on sending greetings to prisoners singled out for special attention. This month, for example, they arc writing to an Adventist minister serving a 10-year sentence in Rumania, reportedly because he spent church collections on his church, a South African woman in jail for opposing apartheid, and a former statesman of Burma who has been in solitary confinement there-although never charged or tried—since 1962.
At Christmas time Amnesty gets thousands of people to send greetings to "forgotten prisoners". One of these in 1961 was Cardinal Beran of Czechoslovakia. After two years of steady campaigning through organisations all over the world, he was set free.
Amnesty was started by a London barrister, Mr. Peter Benenson because of his indignation when two Portuguese students were jailed for drinking a toast "to freedom", and Portugal with Rhodesia now has the greatest number of "adopted" prisoners.
Today many of the most distinguished men and women of our time are patrons of Amnesty. There are 500 "groups of three" in 20 countries and they petition for prisoners in 69 countries. But freedom of speech and belief is a privilege still reserved to only a few.
Whose move next ?
"I'M really a jack-of-all-A trades," Bishop Kenneth Sansbury the new GeneralSecretary of the British Council of Churches told me when I talked to him this week. "Be sides my interest in Theology (he took a double first at Cambridge) I'm also keen on Christian Unity, New Testament study and Liturgy."
On the liturgical scene he would like to see much more freedom to experiment with language. "We have the problem of communicating in everyday terms, but there are some specifically Christian words like salvation and redemption which are very difficult to express in ordinary language."
Bishop Sansbury, who is 61 and married with three children, is no newcomer to the ecumenical movement. Back in 1954 when co-operation between the Churches was not as fashionable as it is now he was taking part in the assembly of the World Council of Churches at Evanston and for some years he has been a member of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Switzerland. More recently he met Bishop Willebrands the secretary for Christian Unity in Rome.
He has resigned his office as Bishop of Singapore and Malaya in order to take up his new appointment in which he succeeds the Rev. Kenneth Slack who has been with the Council since 1955. And Bishop Sansbury hopes that he will be able to resume his