Edward Snowden wrote a letter to Annie Alfred, a 10-year-old child living with albinism in Malawi.
Alfred is one of 7,000-10,000 people in Malawi who have albinism, an inherited skin condition that leads to the absence of pigment in the skin and color. In Malawi, and in some other countries in Africa, albinos live in fear of being targeted for their body parts because of a belief they contain magical powers that bring wealth, good luck and cure HIV.
“It is shameful that people are being persecuted for being different,” Snowden, who tells Alfred about his exile entering its fourth year, writes in the letter. “Your differences are not weaknesses, they are strengths.”
The letter was published online by the human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor charged with espionage after leaking documents revealing US surveillance programs, wrote the letter as part of a day of action to use the power of words to write in defense of human rights. Snowden has lived in exile in Russia since 2013. Amnesty initiated the campaign to mark on Human Rights Day, which is observed every year on Dec. 10.
In Malawi, attacks against albinos have increased since Nov. 2014, according to Amnesty International. In a report the organization released early this year, the Malawi Police Service reported 69 cases involving crimes related to people with albinism, including the killing of 18 and the abduction of five others. These crimes even extended to removing the bodies of dead albinos from the graves.
Amnesty noted that Alfred is sometimes called “ghost” or “money,” and is urging for the government to protect people with albinism. In his letter, Snowden empathizes with her situation writing, “No child should fear that her liberty to participate and live as she desires is subject to the superstition and prejudice of others.”
But he also leaves her with words of encouragement: “Embrace the thing that separate you from the crowd of the ordinary, and never stop defending the right to be different, no matter how difficult the times. Each of us is a treasure of the earth, and perhaps you most of all.”
This article originally appeared on Quartz Africa.
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