BOSTON — `YOU all are really wonderful people with such a kind golden heart. It is your untiring efforts that give helpless people a ray of hope, just like crystal-clear drops of water, so sweet and so refreshing for those journeying through unending deserts.'' So wrote Chia Thye Poh to an Amnesty International group in Canada in May 1989, after his partial and conditional release from a prison in Singapore.
A leading opponent of the government, Mr. Poh had been imprisoned for almost 23 years.
During much of that time, the Canadian Amnesty group working on his behalf wrote letters of support to him and his family and letters of protest to government leaders who could influence his release.
Last year Amnesty International members worked to free 3,376 prisoners held in 83 countries. About one-third were released during the year, largely as a result of government amnesties. Members also worked to change long-term patterns of torture and ``disappearances.''
Amnesty officials confront national leaders with direct evidence of human rights abuse. Leaders are pressed to explain.
``They used to say, `This is a matter of internal security. Don't tell us what to do,''' says John Healey, executive director of Amnesty International USA. ``But those excuses are pretty much washing out. Now the dictators have to answer to the world for human rights abuse. ... I think it's wonderful.''