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Croydon Amnesty International volunteer recognised for human rights work

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"I'M NOT in it for any personal recognition. I'm just proud to be involved with Amnesty and that we have achieved so much."

For the past 21 years, Amnesty International volunteer Beverley Foulkes-Jones has been fighting human rights abuses in Tunisia -organising campaigns which have helped to secure the release of at least 50 political prisoners.

Now the Waddon resident's tireless work has led the organisation to award her the Purple Finger – a symbol of free elections – for "services to human rights beyond human endurance".

Mrs Foulkes-Jones, 53, was made Amnesty's country coordinator for Tunisia after helping to secure the release of Ahmad Abd Al-Karim, imprisoned in Syria for ten years, in 1991.

The part-time lawyer is tasked with lobbying authorities from Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the Tunisian Embassy, as well as promoting campaigns in the press, giving talks and keeping the Tunisia section of Amnesty's website up to date.

When not lobbying, she enlists the help of the public to write letters to the Tunisian Government as well as to the prisoners directly.

"It's a pretty huge job, but it's a great feeling when someone we have campaigned for is released, especially when you find out what these people went on to do with their lives," said Mrs Foulkes-Jones, citing the release of Mohammed Abbou, imprisoned in Tunisia in 2004 for posting an anti-torture article on the internet.

"After the revolution he became deputy prime minister for administrative reform in the new Government," she explained.

"It's pretty amazing to think he was in prison and then he went on to that sort of position."

For all the tales of hope, there are campaigns which go unanswered. In some cases, the people Mrs Foulkes-Jones and Amnesty are fighting for are dead.

Manal Boualagi, a 26-year-old mother of two, was shot and killed by riot police during peaceful protests in Regeub, in Tunisia, in January 2011.

"It was a very tragic case because she left two little children; aged six and four," said Mrs Foulkes-Jones.

"We campaigned to have her killers prosecuted.

"In January one them was sentenced to ten years, the other 20 years.

"She may be dead but at least through Amnesty, people have seen that if they commit criminal offences, then they will be brought to justice."

Mrs Foulkes-Jones is one of the longest serving members of Croydon's Amnesty Group, which has recently joined the voices calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last remaining British detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Their latest focus is on women's issues in Afghanistan.

Treasurer Rachel Lindley said: "Bev's commitment and passion make her stand out. Also, she actually does stuff.

"It's really easy just to see all these e-mails and think 'that's really tragic' but not actually write to people or organise events, but she always does it."

In December 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest at his goods being confiscated by a municipal officer.

His death sparked violent street demonstrations and led to the downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first Government to be overthrown in a series of revolutions which became known as the Arab Spring.

Mrs Foulkes-Jones had hoped the uprising would herald a time when Amnesty might not have to concentrate so much of its time on Tunisia, but she says new human rights abuses are emerging.

"Things have been getting better in Tunisa.

"There has been the first free elections in more than 50 years, they are drafting a constitution and all prisoners of conscience from before the revolution have been released," she said.

"But there is a new strand of human rights abuses based on freedom of expression and religion which we are seeing in new cases.

"I thought with the Arab Spring things were going to change and I might be able to give up with Tunisia but I don't think I'll ever be able to stop."

Mrs Foulkes-Jones was presented with her award at Amnesty's annual general meeting at Warwick University on April 13.

Croydon Amnesty International volunteer recognised for human rights work


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