Good news!


Good news from Amnesty

30 September 2022

“With so much injustice spanning the globe, sometimes it’s hard to remain hopeful that things will change for the better. Trust me, I know – I am often the bearer of bad news, writing to you with urgency of crises, crackdowns, and individuals at risk who have had their human rights violated. But today, we wanted to let you know that the actions of Amnesty supporters around the world really do count. They’ve not only made a meaningful impact for human rights both at home and abroad – but thy’ve also helped change lives.

“Small actions from compassionate people like you, really do have big impacts. Here are just a handful from the past few months:

The first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia under a new Community Sponsorship pilot

“After years of relentless advocacy, at the end of 2021 the Australian Federal Government not only announced the rollout of a new Community Sponsorship pilot – they also finally agreed to reduce dramatically the cost of Australia’s existing Community Sponsorship Program, making it more accessible for everyday Australians to participate and welcome refugees into their communities. In August of this year (2022), the first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia to begin their new lives in safety.

Charges were dropped against a New South Wales legal observer

“Under NSW’s new and dangerous anti-protest laws, back in June a volunteer Legal Observer faced a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine, after being arrested alongside 34 protesters.

“Amnesty made representations to the NSW police, calling on them to respect the right to protest, as well as the human rights of the Legal Observer. In August, her charges were dropped. Over 30,000 supporters continue to call on the NSW police to protect our right to protest.

“Legal Observers play a vital role in monitoring police & providing legal support to protesters. Thanks to the relentless advocacy from Amnesty International, Legal Observers NSW and Sydney City Crime, my charges have been recently dropped.” – Chloe Sinclair, Legal Observer

Texas: Ramiro Gonzalez’ execution was stayed

“Back in July, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) stayed the execution for Ramiro Gonzales – just 48 hours before it was due to be carried out in Texas. Experts concluded that Ramiro does not pose a threat of future danger to society, due to the passage of time and his significant maturity. As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice – all thanks to the power of ordinary people, continuing to stand up for what’s right! Our fight for global abolition continues.

People power freed Ahmed Samir Santawy from prison in Egypt

“Back in July, Ahmed Samir Santawy, a women’s rights and reproductive rights researcher, was convicted of spreading “false news” and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days. Ahmed’s conviction was based solely on social media posts criticising human rights violations in Egypt.

“Over 10,000 people in Australia signed the petition demanding Ahmed’s release, and almost 5,000 people called the Egyptian embassy, putting further pressure on authorities – and it worked. In August, Ahmed was finally released from prison after being given a presidential pardon. Thank you for helping free Ahmed!

Ahmed reunites with his loved ones on the day of his release. ©Wies De Graeve

New York: We sued the NYPD for surveillance of protesters – and we won!

“In New York, facial recognition technology has been used to target people of colour in protests. Back in 2020, we asked the the New York Police Department (NYPD) to publish their data on facial recognition – and they refused. So we mapped their surveillance cameras with the help of 7,000 supporters, filed a lawsuit against them, and won.

“In August, they were ordered to disclose thousands of records of how they procured and used facial recognition technology against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance.

LGBTQIA+ liberation soared across the globe 

“Thanks to LGBTQIA+ people and their allies at the forefront, back in July Switzerland’s same-sex marriage laws finally came into effect after overwhelming support of its legalisation in a national referendum last year. In August, the government of Singapore passed historic legislation to end LGBTQIA+ criminalisation. Shortly after, Vietnamese authorities said that being LGBTQIA+ should not be treated as an illness. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health called on medical professionals to ensure LGBTQIA+ people are not discriminated against, calling for an end to dangerous conversion practices – something over 40,000 supporters in Australia continue to campaign against, too. Solidarity!”

It is good to report successes from time to time.

(From and Amnesty message – lightly edited. The original contained photographs)

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Ali Kololo appeal


28 September 2022

From Reprieve

Tomorrow, on Thursday 29 September, Mr Ali Kololo – a Kenyan man, woodcutter and a father of two – will head to court to appeal his conviction for involvement in the murder of David Tebbutt. David’s wife, Judith Tebbutt, who was herself kidnapped and held hostage for six months, is campaigning for Ali’s release – she believes he is innocent.

The hearing was supposed to be he held on Monday but it was delayed. Judith says it pains her that Ali Kololo hasn’t been released yet – and there hasn’t been a week in the past 11 years where she hasn’t thought about him.

But Judith is hopeful – just like the rest of the Reprieve community. Ali’s court hearing tomorrow could mean he at long last regains his freedom.

Will you watch and share the video now?

https://reprieve.e-activist.com/page/113974/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=email4a_ali_kololo_share_ask_ruk_220928

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Arms firms’ staff employed in the Ministry of Defence


Report reveals the extent of arms firms’ staff employed in the MoD

28 September 2022

A report by Open Democracy reveals the extent of penetration of the Ministry of Defence by individuals employed by the arms companies. This raises immediate issues of conflict of interest, national security and the awarding of millions of pounds of contracts to those same firms as well as the question of licences allowing arms sales to proceed. Open Democracy report that the government would not say whether such secondments represented a conflict of interest.

There has been a long running campaign by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, to hold the government to account for sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. These weapons have been used in the war in Yemen causing untold misery and destruction and the deaths of at least 8,983 people. CAAT had some success and there was a brief moratorium. The government resumed offering licences claiming that violations of international human rights were ‘isolated incidents’. CAAT reports that an appeal is to be heard on 31 January 2023.

Firms include BAE, Leonardo and Qinetiq which has a large presence near Salisbury. The numbers are not small and around 50 individuals are involved. It has been confirmed that they were largely concentrated in the UK Defence and Export directorate which is involved in helping firms sell arms overseas. CAAT points out that it shows that the secondments are deeply embedded in the ministry. The government should be keeping a close eye on what arms are exported to which regime with proper attention to the human rights of the people involved in conflicts. This does not seem to have happened in the case of Yemen and free reign has been offered to companies to sell weapons to Saudi which have been used to bomb schools, hospitals, weddings and other targets. RAF personnel were also revealed to be involved in the activity.

An additional factor is what is called the ‘revolving door’. Senior civil servants, some ex-ministers and senior forces personnel – such as Generals and Admirals – leave or retire from their jobs and take lucrative positions in arms companies with only cursory checks. ACOBA is the government body charged with overseeing this is but has been widely criticised as ‘toothless’. A Private Eye report describes in detail the extent of the corruption. CAAT comments that staff leaving the forces or the MoD take with them extensive contacts and a deep knowledge of how the ministry works. Existing staff are reluctant to upset the arms companies for fear of jeopardising a lucrative consultancy or board appointment when it is their turn to retire. Transparency International have also reported on this problem in a report.

The sale of arms is a profoundly sensitive issue. What arms are sold to which regime is a matter of considerable importance. Films of conflicts around the world always show the various groups armed to the teeth with a wide range of weapons sold to them by overseas firms including those from the UK. These weapons cause untold misery, death or maiming of thousands of people and children. We surely have the right and expectation that the MoD is adopting the highest of standards in deciding on these matters and that decisions are taken with the greatest of integrity.

Yet what we find is that ministers are pusillanimous over the issuing of licences, that large numbers of staff from arms companies are involved in the decisions being made and that senior staff and military people are working in the expectation of being employed by the very companies they are supposed to be in control of.

The result of their actions is the death and suffering of people subject to bombing, drone attacks, cluster munitions, shelling and other outrages courtesy of UK arms firms aided and abetted by a deeply compromised Ministry of Defence. Is the Ministry working on our behalf, or to serve the interests of the arms firms?

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Amnesty webinar: Bill of Rights


Amnesty webinar on the suspended Bill of Rights

21 September 2022

Amnesty ran a webinar on the Bill of Rights on 21st September having planned it when the bill was still a real option on the political calendar. Following the election of Liz Truss as the new prime minister, the bill was dropped. A spokesman said it was ‘unlikely to progress in its current form’.

The webinar was quick to point out that this is probably only a temporary suspension: a new bill was likely to see the light of day at some time in the future. The Conservative party has been hostile to the Human Rights Act for some time and abolishing it was a promise in its last manifesto. One of the problems with the bill one of the speakers noted, was it was rushed following the Rwanda decision by the European Court. It has been described as a ‘mess’ by several critics. One point which came through strongly was that the intention to do something in the way of a new bill if only to assuage the anti-European sentiment by a section of the Conservative party.

Another key element the webinar noted were attitudes to immigration and its related problem, deportation. This has posed severe problems for the government most particularly with people crossing the Channel in small boats the numbers of which have reached record levels. The government has felt itself vulnerable both from those coming in and its inability to deport those who make it to our shores. The desire for more draconian action, which brings us into conflict with the European Court, has been a key driver behind the proposed bill of rights.

Liz Truss has suggested that we may leave the Court which was described as ‘seismic’ in the webinar. The only two countries to leave the jurisdiction have been Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Greece for its coup. For Britain to leave on the pretext of immigration problems was described as ‘extraordinary’.

A key figure is Dominic Raab MP who as Justice Secretary introduced the bill. Raab is the author of a book called The Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009) in which he sets out his objections to what is called the ‘rights culture’. A key passage gives an insight into his thinking:

On a daily basis, we read about the steady stream of human rights rulings undermining law enforcement, criminal justice and national security. Common sense turned on its head – warped the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and magnified by Labour’s feckless Human Rights Act – allows human rights to be wielded to protect and compensate serious criminals rather than their victims.

The Assault on Liberty, ibid

There is also the familiar canard of the police unable to rescue a child drowning in a pond because of a health and safety culture. The book provides a useful background to his thinking and possibly, other of his colleagues. The book goes on to argue that the human rights culture is fundamentally at odds with the British notion of liberty. The notion of liberty, which spawns ideas of deregulation, is an important backdrop to the proposed new legislation. The combination of a ‘rights culture’ and an alleged loss of liberty is one of the causes of our decline as a nation.

The government may be tempted to introduce a new immigration bill to get round the Rwanda problem. It is also subject to a constant demand to limit rights which are seen as economically damaging. Although the bill of rights is suspended, the danger is not over. Politicians such as Suella Braverman and Liz Truss are in important positions are firmly wedded to the notion of a reduction in our rights.

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Death Penalty report


Death Penalty report for August – September

September 2022

We are pleased to attach the monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Note it contains no information about China which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together, but the details are a state secret.

Refugees in the UK


Report on refugee and asylum issues in the UK

September 2022

The change of Prime Minister this month has led to changes at the Home Office. The new minister, Suella Braverman, will have initially to deal with the question of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, the issue of which is still under judicial review. The hearings have started this week.  The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss has declared her support for the plan, indeed suggesting its extension to other countries.  An aide told the Mail on Sunday: “She’s determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships.”  It would not seem likely that the new Home Secretary will mark much of a change from her predecessor.

Despite the legal challenge, the government plans to deport 19 people to Rwanda in the coming days. Information shared by charities indicates that six were trafficked or tortured, including one who was detained and beaten for eight weeks at a warehouse in the Libyan Desert.

Medical Justice have this week published “Who’s Paying The Price?: The Human Cost Of The Rwanda Scheme”, a comprehensive analysis of people targeted for removal to Rwanda which details medical evidence of the harm inflicted on them.  The charity says: “The policy is damaging in general for anyone, acutely so for such vulnerable torture and trafficking survivors who are already paying a high human cost even before any flights have taken off to Rwanda.”

As one of the side issues to the debate, the charity Freedom from Torture is directing public attention on to the airlines who are or are intending to facilitate the flights.

Another central element of the immigration plan – the setting up of new processing centres for asylum seekers – also appears to have stalled after the Ministry of Defence admitted to the Observer that, despite evaluating 100 different sites for the Home Office since January, it has yet to publicly identify a new one that might be used. The only site named so far as “asylum accommodation” – in Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire – was abandoned after the Home Office failed to move any asylum seekers there and the MoD withdrew from the plan.

The Observer has revealed that the government is considering reintroducing its notorious refugee pushback policy for use against small boats crossing the Channel.  Five months ago, after the heavily criticised policy was officially withdrawn by ministers, documents released under freedom of information laws suggest the government is reconsidering the tactic that has been blamed for drownings in Greece.

The numbers arriving in the country by boat continues to grow, to over 25,000 this year, given the good weather.  3,733 people crossed the Channel during the week to 28 August – twice as many for all of 2019.

Acceptances

What has been notable has been the large number of acceptances by the Home Office of asylum seekers’ claims.  New rules on inadmissibility have added to the time taken to process asylum seekers, but the proportion of acceptances in the long term remains high.

A large number of Albanians has, however been returned on the grounds that the country Is safe.  The government has been endeavouring to set up returnee agreements with other countries to facilitate repatriation; at present they have 5, the latest of which is with Pakistan.

By comparison with other European nations, the total number of asylum applications in the UK since 2012 has been 386,000, the 6th largest in Europe.

Outside of the refugee influx, more work visas have been issued to arrivals from India than any other nation (Ukraine is the next largest).

The Afghan emergency last year resulted in 16,000 nationals being brought over here.  Of these, 9000 are still living in hotel accommodation.

The total number of Ukrainian refugees now in the UK is 115,000.  Visas issued under the Family and Sponsorship schemes total 177,000.  For comparison, Germany has so far taken in 971,000 Ukrainians.  The UK government has, however, indicated that host households will have their “thank you” payments doubled to £700 per month.

AH


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Bill of Rights shelved


September 2022

The Bill of Rights, which was a key feature of the Conservative Party’s manifesto, was shelved today as it was about to receive its second reading in parliament. It is unlikely to mean it will disappear altogether as the new government is keen to rid itself of the European Court and needs new legislation to carry out its policy of flying some immigrants to Rwanda. We await more details.

UN alleges possible ‘crime against humanity’ in China


Un report published on 1 September 2022 suggests that China may be committing genocide in Xinxiang province

The BBC today discussed the UN report which describes in great detail, the use of torture, sexual violence and arbitrary detention of the Uyghur population in China. This abuse, which they believe is a possible crime against humanity, has been widely reported around the world and is a huge stain on the Chinese state. Around a million Uyghurs are held in so-called re-education centres and are forced to work picking cotton for example, some of which is believed to used in garments in the UK. Photographs show these establishments surrounded by barbed wire with watchtowers. The release of files last year revealed instructions to the guards should a Uyghur try to escape: if the warning shots did not work then the instructions were shoot to kill.

The Chinese government refutes the allegations and a lengthy report is attached to the UN report. It is described as ‘disinformation’ and a ‘farce’. The BBC interviewed someone representing the Chinese point of view. It was not very enlightening and consisted of a flat denial of the allegations. He also claimed, falsely, that delegations have visited the area and this was not picked up by the interviewer. Allow unfettered access could do a great deal to answer the allegations if they were untrue. The main claim for the actions the government is taking is that it is to tackle ‘terrorism, extremism and radicalisation’. These claims are extremely exaggerated and do not justify the scale of abuse foisted on the Uyghur people.

The World Uyghur Congress welcomed the report but claims it does not go far enough. They urge western governments to do more to challenge the Chinese for their activities in Xinjiang. Amnesty described the report as a ‘game changer’.

One interesting aspect to the BBC interview was the fact that several countries sought to stop the report being published. The Chinese interviewee was vague about this matter and the interviewer wondered if the UK government was one of them. The question was left hanging.

Attitudes towards China have changed in recent years. In the UK, the desperate desire by the then prime minister David Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne to forge close relationships with the country now look a little forlorn. Predictions that China was imminently due to overtake the USA economically also look rather silly. The country’s banks and property market are in a parlous state and the economy does not look as strong as it once was. Politically, the crushing of dissent in Hong Kong, their actions in the South China Sea and bullying actions around Taiwan have forced countries to reappraise their approach. The mass abuse of almost an entire nation and the destruction of religious buildings hardly adds to their reputation.

Jagtar Singh Johal


Jagtar still at risk in India. Shameful involvement of UK security services

August 2022

We have reported on the plight of Jagtar in previous posts. He was snatched off the streets in India in 2017 by plain clothes police and has spent 5 years in gaol. There is evidence that he has been tortured using electric shocks, sleep deprivation and long hours of interrogation.

The latest development is an action by lawyers Leigh Day against the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Attorney General alleging the involvement of UK security services in his arrest. The security services allegedly, according to Reprieve, tipped off the Indian authorities and the complaint is that they should not do this where there is a real risk of torture being used. The family has campaigned to the Foreign Office but have doubts about how effective or assertive they have been. Liz Truss – currently campaigning to be the next prime minister – has been the Foreign Secretary for much of the time of Jagtar’s imprisonment.

His treatment raises important questions about the involvement of UK’s security services in their dealings with foreign police and security services who are known to use torture.

See also supporters@reprieve.org.uk

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