“In prison, your cards and letters fed me.” With those words, Kurdish politician Mehdi Zana, tortured brutally by the Turkish authorities, thanked Christians in Wales who had supported him during his years of detention. Years later, his wife Leyla, who was also jailed and ill-treated, sent a similar message after her release.
Their greetings illustrate a simple truth in the work of Christians Against Torture: anyone can make a difference. Anyone can send a card or a letter. Anyone can offer prayers. And from Guatemala to Tibet, from Kuwait to the former Soviet Union, have come messages confirming that even if our appeals do not take a single day off a prisoner’s sentence, it means an immense amount to them to know that others far way are concerned for them.
The writing is one part of our commitment to working for the abolition of torture, which is still employed by a hundred or so governments – despite that fact that it is outlawed by many international agreements. Some have argued that after 9/ll, the rules should be changed. Christians Against Torture rejects these arguments, convinced that torture is a practice incompatible with the values of Christ’s Kingdom.
Christians Against Torture began its life 25 years ago as a campaign of the Council of Churches for Wales, working with the Welsh section of Amnesty International. It is founded on the conviction that standing alongside the powerless is a responsibility for all who affirm that every human being is created in the image of God and the object of his love in Christ.
We invite supporters to pray regularly for both tortured and torturers; to work for the release of individual prisoners; and to campaign for international agreements on torture to be used fully. We also encourage support for organisations which care for those who have survived torture; and try to increase awareness of the facts of torture, and the reasons why Christians in particular should fight it.
Churches or groups engage in a range of activities to support these aims. One of the most popular in recent years has been the Freedom Feast. This is for anyone prepared to share a meal – simple or lavish – both with friends, and with an unseen prisoner of conscience or victim of torture. In some places, members of churches eat together after a service. One parish regularly takes over the village pub. A youth group has met in a pizza restaurant. A high school has held a frugal lunch. Friends gather in homes, families arrange a special meal.
What makes the event distinctive is that an empty chair is always kept for the unseen prisoner; a candle is lit, prayers are offered, and cards written. And from the simplest of Freedom Feasts in Wales, thousands of miles away, that prisoner can be fed by the knowledge that there are friends remembering and praying.
Roy Jenkins, Christians against Torture
We are setting up a Christians against Torture Group here. For more information ask Iris Adamson or the Vicar.