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Amnesty International announces winners of national school poetry contest

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee to hand prizes to winners of Amnesty International’s You Can’t Jail Minds competition today

Amnesty International today announced the winners of its prestigious poetry competition, You Can’t Jail Minds.

Rachel Rowan-Olive, a 16-year-old pupil from St Albans High School for Girls, and Josh Lewis, a 12-year-old from the Friary School in Lichfield, won the Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 3 categories respectively.

The pair are due to receive their prizes (a MP3 music player, a book token, a copy of the book We Are All Born Free and a certificate) from the former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg at Amnesty International UK’s headquarters in London at 12pm today.

The competition designed for secondary schools came with a twist. Pupils were asked to imagine how it feels to be imprisoned without access to a fair trial and then express their feelings in the form of a poem, but without the use of pen or paper.

The competition was inspired by the experiences of Irina Ratushinhskaya in the former Soviet Union, Jack Mapanje in Malawia, and a number of detainees at the infamous American-run prison camp Guantánamo Bay in Cuba – all of whom produced moving poetry, despite being banned from using pen and paper. Instead they used everyday objects such as toilet paper or disposable cups from their dinner trays to etch their words.

Rachel won the Key Stage 4 section with her poem But You Can Jail Bodies. Her entry was inspired by the concept of condensation on a mirror. She cut out the words on sticky-back plastic and placed them on seven small mirrors before spraying them with silver paint and removing the tape. Josh won the Key Stage 3 section with his poem Dayz, which was etched onto stone.

Moazzam Begg said:

“My experience of Guantánamo Bay will haunt me for the rest of my life. I turned to poetry to keep my hopes alive and to ensure that my experiences there would not be forgotten. I had access to pen and paper, but so many others at the camp didn’t. They had to resort to using toothpaste and pebbles to record their emotions.

“While there, I was subject to a range of human rights violations, and I am deeply touched that pupils in Britain are taking the issues of fair trials and freedom of expression so seriously, and hopefully it has opened their eyes to some of the atrocities that are happening across the world today.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, added:

“Sixty years ago this year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted – it would become the founding principles for Amnesty International. Sixty years on, it is truly uplifting to see so many young people engage creatively in the issue of human rights.

“The standard of entries was first class and it was very difficult for the judges to pick out overall winners. In the end, it was the prose in Josh’s entry and the imagination behind Rachel’s that proved to be the difference.”

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