3 ways you can help those wrongfully imprisoned overseas

Imagine the horror of finding yourself imprisoned in a foreign country, without access to a fair trial or with the threat of being tortured.

Every year, millions of Canadians travel abroad for all kinds of reasons — work, business, holidays or to visit family. Most go about their visits without any problems, but a few find themselves trapped in the nightmare scenario of being unjustly arrested and imprisoned.

Several Canadian citizens and residents have been stuck in exactly that predicament for years. Examples include Huseyin Celil, who was imprisoned in China for more than 10 years; Bashir Makhtal, who was imprisoned in Ethiopia for over a decade; and Saeed Malekpour, who was locked up in Iran for over eight years.

All three men have no reasonable hope of access to justice in countries notorious for their use of torture. However, there are some things you can do to help people like them who are unjustly imprisoned overseas.

Write a letter to authorities demanding their release. When foreign governments imprison people unjustly or subject them to torture and brutal living conditions, it can make them think twice if they know people are paying attention. In many cases, letter-writing campaigns supported by ordinary citizens have been crucial in securing prisoners' releases. Using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, can also be a good way to make your voice heard. Sending a message loud and clear to those who are responsible for illegal imprisonment and torture can make a real difference.

Reach out to your Member of Parliament. The Canadian government has an important role to play in securing the release of our citizens, residents and people with strong connections to our country who are unjustly imprisoned overseas. The duty is even more urgent when there is a risk of torture. However, some cases do not always receive the full attention they deserve. Raising your concerns with your local MP is a great way to ensure they understand that you see this as an important issue and want them to take action.

Demand support for Canadians detained abroad. Mohammed Fahmy is an award-winning journalist who spent more than one year illegally imprisoned in Egypt. In partnership with Amnesty International, he launched an initiative demanding that all Canadians, permanent residents and people with strong Canadian connections who are unjustly detained abroad are able to receive fair and equal support from the government to secure their release. Read about Fahmy's Protection Charter and take action to protect people locked behind bars without access to justice. Find more information at www.amnesty.ca.