Wednesday, May 28, 2008
On May 28
1961, Amnesty International was officially formed. On the same day in 1981, Peter Benenson, the founder, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his creation by relighting the original candle, which he first lit in 1961. The idea of the organization was born in 1960, when Benenson, a British lawyer, was reading a newspaper story about two Portuguese students sentenced to 7 years for raising a toast to freedom in a Lisbon restaurant. Benenson was outraged enough to launch a campaign called “Appeal for Amnesty 1961" in the London Observer. He wrote a powerful article entitled “Forgotten Prisoners,” where he said,
“Open your newspaper—any day of the week—and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his Government. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”
His article inspired a great response. Within a year, groups of supporters had formed throughout the world, all of them writing letters in support of the students. By the end of 1961, the organization Amnesty International was formed.
Today AI has more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions.