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A Photo to Stop Torture

Amnesty International are raising awareness throughout London but it’s not easy to tell people things that they don’t want to hear

Across the road, a bored-looking rickshaw driver – grey T-shirt, can­vas shorts and sneakers – waits for fickle tourists, an elbow perched on the handle bar of the bike, hand holding up his drooped head. When he sees me approach­ing, he immediately straightens up and calls out to ask be-camera-ed tourists whether they’d like a lift anywhere. Too busy, he tells me, to give me any time.

This typically grey Wednesday afternoon, Covent Garden is over­run with something other than commercial shops and German tourists: members from Amnesty International branches are sta­tioned around, asking people if they would mind being photo­graphed to raise awareness of tor­ture around the world.

The concept of a photo petition is simple: take photos of people who support the ‘’Stop Torture’’ campaign and give them a social media link where they can tag and share the photo of themselves. Through the tags, shares, and likes, awareness and, hopefully, interest in the campaign spreads. Simple enough.

The problem is getting passersby to stop and listen – there’s only so much one can say in the three sec­onds before they shut you down:

“Hi, did you know that 141 coun­tries are known to practice torture for information gathering and ex­tra-judicial punishment, by gov­ernment and police?”

Or,

“Hello there! Did you know that in the past year alone, Amnes­ty has documented 27 methods of tortures used by governments around the world?”

Or even simply,

“Good afternoon! May I take a photo as a visual protest against the use of torture?”

None of these seem to catch their attention.

The trick, then, is patience. And knowing that somebody will be interested in taking a picture, in stopping torture, in the story of Moses Akatugba: arrested in 2005 by the Nigerian Army at the age of 16 and sentenced to death at 24, for allegedly stealing mobile phones; the only evidence being a statement by a dead man and two “confessions” obtained by the Army through torture. Or in the story of Claudia Medina Tamariz, accused of being part of a violent gang; in 2012 she was forcibly taken from her home by Mexi­can marines to a local naval base where she was wrapped in plastic as to leave no physical bruising from the kicks, beatings, and elec­tric shocks. She was made to sign unseen “confessions” extracted from her under this duress, the content of which she later denied in court.

No, taking a photo won’t change the fact that these individuals have gone through unimaginable pain, fear, and humiliation at the hands of institutions rhetorically meant to protect them.

But maybe one photo of one per­son will be seen by ten people five of whom might go on to do more research and be inspired to spread awareness, or even join the cam­paign. And maybe, just maybe, we can put the practice of torture where it belongs: in the past.

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