How do you fight injustice with creativity?

How do you keep harrowing cases of international injustice in the eye of the public and media? With strong creative ideas and a smooth execution, of course. On behalf of Amnesty International, iO wished Professor Ahmadreza Djalali, wrongfully imprisoned in an Iranian cell, a unhappy 50th birthday.
fire it up


Amnesty International


Media attention for a case of international injustice without media budget.


A creative concept that strikes a chord with the general public and is right up the alley of news editors.

Creativity that strikes a chord

Today’s news cycle is much like a theater stage with a fast spinning floor. A story that’s in the spotlight and stirs public opinion today, will stand forgotten in the wings tomorrow, only to be pushed out into the back alley of oblivion. Not because those stories have lost their acuteness or appeal; it’s just the way news works.

But how do you keep those sometimes gruesome cases of injustice from being forgotten? How do you return them to the spotlights? And - more importantly - how do you do this without a large media budget? Well, one thing’s for certain: the mere recounting of the facts isn’t going to do the trick. The facts would get drowned in a tsunami of other, often equally poignant stories. At iO, we knew that only a creative concept could trigger the interest of the public and ensure that the news editors couldn’t ignore the Djalali case. As the long-term communication partner of Amnesty International Belgium, the advocate of human rights worldwide, iO regularly creates similar campaigns.

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"So many people are concerned about Ahmadreza's fate. Therefore, this action is much needed to mobilize people. Constant pressure remains necessary to stop his execution and have him released from prison."

Griet Ryckeboer, communication officer, Amnesty International Flanders

Turning 50 in prison = unhappy birthday

The story of Ahmadreza Djalali deserves a permanent spot in the limelight. In January 2022, this Iranian scientist and guest lecturer at the VUB had been unlawfully incarcerated for almost six years. He was arrested during a working visit in 2016 on charges of espionage, subsequently tortured, locked in isolated confinement, and sentenced to death after a manifestly lawless process. Despite international pressure - Amnesty International organized petitions and protest actions - professor Djalali remains imprisoned today. 

The fact that the professor would celebrate his fiftieth birthday in prison, without legal assistance and completely deprived of the love and warmth of his family in Sweden, inspired our creative team to a compelling campaign. 

First, they asked musicians Gregory Frateur and Chantal Acda to record a new version of the traditional 'Happy Birthday’ tune, one that would better suit Djalali's sad fate. The duo recorded the song and performed it live during a solidarity watch that the VUB held on the eve of Djalali's birthday, right in front of the Iranian embassy in Brussels. As we were on location anyway, we figured we might as well drop off an unhappy birthday cake. And just like that, the concept for the 'Unhappy Birthday' campaign was born.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Developing a strong concept is one thing, making sure it reaches the general public is quite another - especially if you have zero point zero media budget. We had to limit ourselves to a strict minimum. We decided to send a press release to the main news media in Belgium. And they responded massively by setting up their cameras and microphones at the watch we organized with the VUB. We also shot some videos of our own: we filmed how someone left the birthday cake on the sidewalk by the embassy - with one sole flickering candle on top: a symbol of hope.

Of course, with a media campaign like this, you need to show pics (and videos) or it didn't happen. So we lifted short videos from our footage and shared those the following day, on Djalali's fiftieth birthday, on Amnesty's own social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. These videos were shared no less than 7834 times. Reports of the VUB watch at the embassy were published on the websites of Knack, L’avenir, La Libre, VUB Press Le Spécialiste, Medi-Sfeer, and MediQuality, among others.

Professor Djalali is still in jail, but thanks to our creative ideas and actions, his story will not sink unnoticed into the deep abyss of forgotten news events.

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