In September 2009, Juan Almonte Herrera disappeared. Eyewitnesses saw him abducted by armed police in the streets of Dominican Republic capital city Santo Domingo. A relative identified his burned corpse a month later, and Herrera's employers at the Dominican Republic Commission of Human Rights claim he was tortured and murdered. Police deny this, so officially Herrera simply vanished.
"I live in a constant state of agony," wife Ana Montilla told Metro. "I go to bed every night and wake up every morning asking the same question? Where is he? What happened to him? How did he die? And never getting an answer." She believes Herrera was killed "because he belonged to a group that went against the atrocities of the government."
Montilla wishes to bury her husband, and prosecute his killers, but Dominican courts rejected the case. "Very little has been done to investigate," says family lawyer Genaro Rincon. "There is impunity and situations like this will repeat again and again."
In a 2012 report, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed "concern at the high number of extrajudicial killings" in the Dominican Republic. By the police's own statistics, they killed 260 people in 2010.
The family continued to campaign for justice, despite receiving death threats, and are beginning to see progress. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is to investigate, slamming the Dominican legal process. This December, Herrera is one of 12 case subjects for an Amnesty International campaign. Over a million letters from over 80 countries will be written to pressure authorities in abusive regimes around the world.
"Foreign institutions have helped keep my husbands case alive," says Montilla. "I know that I am surrounded by people who are fighting for Juan - and one day the police will have to tell the truth about what happened to him."
Letter writers have been a key strategy of Amnesty International
since the group's launch in 1961. The global 'write-a-thon' features
24-hour letter sessions at public locations around the world, none more
popular than in Poland. "We have great links to local schools and
community groups and every year more people come," says Natalia Wegrzyn,
project co-ordinator at Amnesty Poland, who will command a staff of 250
volunteers and 10,000 writers from 7-16 December. Wegrzyn believes that
positive outcomes spark enthusiasm: "the best moment was a visit from a
prisoner in Azerbaijan that we had been writing to - it really made the
Chiou Ho-Shun - Taiwan (Death Penalty)
Azza Hilal Ahmad Suleiman - Egypt (torture survivor)
Juan Almonte Herrera - Dominican Republic (disappearance/police abuse)
Maria Isabel Franco - Guatemala (violence against women)
Gao Zhisheng - China (freedom of expression)
Ales Bialiatski - Belarus (freedom of expression)
Narges Mohammadi - Iran (unfair imprisonment)
Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi - USA (Guantánamo)
Girifna - Sudan (freedom of expression / human rights defenders)
The People of Tawargha - Libya (forced evictions)
Residents of Bodo - Nigeria (forced evictions)
Coastei Street families - Romania (forced evictions)