Elie Wiesel: free Gilad Shalit, Liu Xiaobo and Sakineh Ashtiani

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate Elie Wiesel has launched a campaign to secure the release of three prominent prisoners from Israel, Iran and China.

Mr Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity has set up a petition demanding the freedom of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

The petition says: "While we and our families celebrate this holiday season let us remember these and so many more political prisoners and their families around the world.”

The online plea includes a reminder of a speech made by Mr Wiesel when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. He said: “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true.

“What these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

Mr Shalit was captured at the age of 20 by Hamas terrorists in June 2006 during a cross-border raid. In the four and a half years since, Hamas has repeatedly refused to allow humanitarian visits by the Red Cross.

A year after Mr Shalit was kidnapped, Ms Ashtiani was given a stoning sentence by the Iranian authorities for what they claimed was adultery and murder. It is widely held outside Iran that the charges are unsubstantiated.

Mr Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month but was not allowed to attend the ceremony, is in prison in China for his support of free speech.

As a child, Mr Wiesel was deported by the Nazis and imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Last updated: 1:50pm, December 21 2010