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Archbishop Desmond Tutu has leant his hand to a campaign to free Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi and some 2,170 fellow political prisoners.
The prominent South African activist and cleric joins a number of international leaders and hundreds of former Burmese political prisoners who are photographed with their hand raised and palm open in the form of the Buddhist Abhaya Mudhra, a symbol of fearlessness; on their palm is written the name of a current Burmese political prisoner.
“For me, Honorary Elder, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the living symbol of the Burmese people’s hope and courage. She is the embodiment of their determination to live in freedom, health and prosperity. That is why I have written her name on my hand,” he said.
Both he and Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 20 years under house arrest, are members of The Elders, a 12-strong group of eminent global leaders that include Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and women’s rights activist Graça Machel.
The campaign, led by Amnesty International, is inspired by the work of James Mackay, an award-winning British photojournalist who has photographed some 160 former prisoners for ‘Even Though I’m Free I Am Not’.
He told DVB that Tutu’s involvement in the campaign is “incredibly important – he has a voice that can reach millions across the world”, adding that his presence will “generate huge public interest” and shed further light on Burma as it prepares for controversial elections on 7 November.
“Having someone – world leaders, politicians, celebrities – take part in this campaign is vital: they are making a physical, tangible statement of intent and belief by standing alongside the very people who have suffered so badly in Burma’s jails.”
Amnesty’s campaign invites anyone sympathetic to the plight of Burma’s political prisoners to join up by photographing themselves as Tutu and others have done.
“The more we work with human rights activists around the world, the more we become aware of the impact a simple message of solidarity can have,” a statement on the organisation’s website says.