Send a birthday message to Chelsea Manning

Where were you on your 27th birthday? A question that takes most of us a minute or two to stab a guess at; maybe you’re not yet 27 (lucky you!), but the chances are you’ve spent various birthdays in different places, with different people, doing different things.

It’s a question that Chelsea Manning won’t have to think twice about when she’s asked years from now: she will be able to say, without thinking, ‘I was in a cell in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.’

Today is Chelsea’s 27th birthday. Just 22 when she was arrested and detained for passing classified information to the WikiLeaks website, if Chelsea serves the full length of her 35-year sentence, she will be in her sixties when she is finally allowed to spend a birthday outside prison. All for shedding light on potential human rights abuses committed by the CIA, US forces and their coalition partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chelsea says she acted in the public interest – she wanted to open up informed public debate around American military operations in the conflicts.

And while Chelsea’s personal life, gender identity, motivations and mental health have come under intense scrutiny in the courts and in the media, the human rights abuses that she revealed to the public – such as a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including civilians – have yet to be independently investigated.

Chelsea is a brave woman, in my eyes. She’s facing the consequence of a risk that she took in the public interest, and she has been grossly overcharged for it: Chelsea’s prosecution were upfront about the fact that they wanted her sentence to be harsh, in order to send a strong message to other potential whistleblowers. They wanted to dissuade people like her from exposing abuses committed by US forces.

And so Chelsea will spend 35 birthdays in prison, punished for an ideological argument rather than the charges she admitted to. Punished, it ought to be noted, by the same authorities who have not held military personnel to account for their part in routine use of torture, as revealed last week.

In Chelsea’s own words ‘life is precious. In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me. That…made me realise that speaking out against injustices is worth the risk’.

Chelsea took such a risk, and has ended up sacrificing 35 years for speaking out. Please take a few minutes today to let her know that you wish her well on her birthday. We’ll pass the messages on to show her that she’s not alone, and that outside of her military prison cell, people all around the world support her.

Happy birthday, Chelsea – from all of us at Amnesty International.

Update, 1 February 2015: Thanks to all 7,000 of you who wrote to Chelsea on her 27th birthday. She has passed on her heartfelt thanks to all of you for your letters and messages.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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