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New members, expanded human rights plan at Amnesty International

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When Julio de Pena Valdez, an imprisoned labor organizer in the Dominican Republic, got his first 200 letters of support from members of Amnesty International (AI), the guards gave him back his clothes. When the next 200 or so letters arrived, the prison director came to see him.

Finally the letters totaled some 3,000, and he was released, he later wrote. That was several years ago. Today he is still free, according to Ann Blyberg, chairman of the board of the United States section of AI (AIUSA).

It is this kind of concern that has helped boost support for AI in the US to an all-time high, according to AI members at their recent annual meeting here, the first ever held in the South.

As a result of such interest, the AIUSA is mapping a more intense strategy than ever on behalf of human rights.

On its agenda:

* A stronger push for Senate ratification of the antigenocide treaty signed by the US in 1948.

* An enlarged campaign against the ''systematic'' use of torture in some 60 nations.

* A new public information effort to rally opposition to political killings.

* A renewed publicity campaign against the death penalty in the US.

Of some 5,000 political prisoners ''adopted'' by AI letter-writing groups worldwide each year, some 1,000 are eventually freed, says Jack Healey, executive director of the US section of AI.

Though AI is careful not to claim direct credit in such cases, its growing membership likes to be involved in such direct efforts as letter writing to help free political prisoners.

''The fact that people are arbitrarily arrested, often tortured, and executed'' was why Baltimore switchboard operator Patricia Ruck joined AIUSA.


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