Ray Hinton released after 28 years on death row in Alabama

Anthony Ray Hinton NBC News

This story is both tragic and uplifting.  Anthony Ray Hinton was released in April last year from death row in Alabama, USA having spent 28 years there for a crime he did not commit.  He was not present at the crime scene when the murder happened and had good alibis to prove it.  His mother had a gun but it did not match the one used in the murder.

The failures inherent in the US justice system, especially in the southern states, are fully described in Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice (Vintage, 2013).  Clive is founder of Reprieve.  He describes the low rates of pay for defence lawyers, elected prosecutors keen to convince the electorate that they are tough on crime, the lack of access to police material (disclosure) which means that information which disproves their case is not revealed until after the trial, and so on.  We hope to publish a longer review of this important book soon.

His release depended on finding a good lawyer and the work of the Equal Justice Network.

In this Guardian piece Ray describes his experiences after leaving which included looking up at the stars, standing in the rain and sleeping on a full length bed.

We publish a review of the use of the death penalty around the world and the latest issue is here.

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We are pleased to attach the monthly minutes for the October meeting thanks to Lesley for preparing them.  We discussed the Refugee, North Korean and Death Penalty campaigns, forthcoming films, Evensong at the Cathedral and Citizenship days at some of our schools.

october minutes (pdf)

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In partnership with Salisbury Arts Centre, we shall be showing the film Mustang on 15 December 2016.  This award winning film by a Turkish director concerns five girls growing up in a northern Turkish town.  On their way home from school they meet some boys and start some harmless frolics in the sea.  This is reported to their parents and thus begins a life of confinement, forced marriage and control.

We are delighted to say that there will be a short presentation at the start by Prof. Lucy Mazdom who is Head of the Film Department at Southampton University.   Her research interests include French and American film; contemporary French and British television; transnational film studies; remakes; film history in a global context and issues of cinematic distribution, exhibition and reception.

After the showing, the local group will asking people to sign a petition (to be decided nearer the time).

Tickets are available at the Arts Centre.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.  If you are interested in joining local group, make yourself known at the film to one of us at the signing table.  It is free to join the local group.  Details on the ‘Joining’ tab on the home page.

We attach the monthly death penalty report for October thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

September – October

No to the death penalty

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Woman at risk of execution in Iran.  Horrific case.
Woman could be hanged within days for killing her abusive husband

Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran

We attach an urgent action concerning a woman, Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran in Iran who is at imminent risk of execution.  The story – which we hope you will find time to read – is pretty horrific involving torture and a stillborn child.  If you can write or email that would be appreciated.

She confessed to murdering her abusive husband, was denied access to a lawyer, beaten in a police station until she confessed and then lost her child due to shock. She has received no treatment or help after her miscarriage.

Zeinab case (pdf)

140 killed in air raid on a funeral

Funeral bombing, Yemen. Picture: hang the bankers.com

At long last, the war in Yemen is beginning to attract the attention it deserves.  Most news bulletins still lead on the atrocities in Syria but the horrific events in Yemen where the Saudis bombed a funeral killing 140 and wounding around 500 has at last brought the conflict onto the TV screens.  The bombing, combined with the blockade, is causing untold misery to ordinary Yemenis.  The wounded will struggle to get proper medical treatment because the hospitals are also being bombed and the blockade means medical supplies cannot get through.

We first started drawing attention to the war there over a year ago and raised the matter with our local MP.  A bland letter was received from the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood.  Subsequent revelations have shown that the actions the FCO were claiming to have done were somewhat wide of the truth.

The core issue is the use of our arms (and those of the US, the principal weapons suppliers to the Saudis) are being used in the conflict.  It was also revealed (inadvertently, and no doubt embarrassingly by the Saudis) that British service people were advising the Saudis.  Quite what their role is there is disputed.

This particular attack has been condemned by the UN, the EU and the US.  The Foreign Office still claims there is no need to revoke licences as there is no serious breach of humanitarian law.  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said:

The air strikes on a funeral ceremony was a “heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law.”  He said an independent body to probe rights violations in Yemen must be set up.  There must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war.  Mail on line [accessed 11 October 2016] 

The Saudis are not alone in committing these atrocities and the Houthi rebels are likewise accused.

The Saudis can carry on with their attacks because we supply them with the weapons and we also give the regime a degree of diplomatic cover.  The huge sale of weapons – over £3bn a year – is clearly a factor influencing government policy.  This latest episode is making it harder for the government to ignore what is going on there and our role in helping them.  The mantra about the control of arms sales is still alive and well however:

On the point of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson told The Independent the UK “takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously”

The key test … for our continued licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that those exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” she said. “The situation is kept under careful and continual review.”  Independent [accessed 11 October 2016]

But recent TV filmed reports showing the carnage going on there, hospitals full of emaciated children and widespread starvation caused by the conflict and the blockade will begin to make it harder for the government to keep up the pretence of ‘taking its arms export responsibilities seriously’.

The Salisbury group campaigns on a range of issues and we welcome new members.  Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to find out when we have an action in the City and come along.



World Day Against the Death Penalty

The World Day Against the Death Penalty was created in Rome on 13th May 2002, with 10th October No to the death penaltyestablished as the date for its annual commemoration in 2003.  The World Coalition against the Death Penalty has 158 member organisations, made up of NGO’s, Bar Associations, local bodies and Unions.

Amnesty International is a member of the Coalition.  It has been working to end executions since 1977, when only 15 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.  That number has now risen to 140.

Since that date –

  • By the end of 2015, 102 Countries had completely abolished the death penalty.
  • 1,634 executions were carried out in 2015 (excluding China – figures unknown) – an increase of 54% over 2014
  • 89% of executions in the course of the year took place in three countries – China, Iran and Iraq – often after unfair trial

The United Nations Moratorium on the Death Penalty calls for States maintaining the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use, with a view to abolition, and in the meantime to restrict the number of offences punishable by execution, and to respects the rights of those on death row.  It also calls on States that have abolished the death penalty not to reinstate it.  (Note: UN resolutions are not binding).

Amnesty International is calling for:

  • Countries that still use the death penalty to halt all executions immediately
  • Countries that have stopped executing prisoners to remove the death penalty from their legal books, for all crimes, permanently
  • All death sentences to be commuted to terms of imprisonment

The Salisbury Group have included the abolition of the death penalty in its campaigns from the

Members of the group at the NWR conference

Members of the group at the NWR conference

beginning.  It is currently focusing on the sentencing to death and execution of juveniles, in particular in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For this year’s World Day, Amnesty are highlighting the case of the Japanese prisoner, Matsumoto Kenji.  The Salisbury Group manned a stall at the NWR Conference on Saturday, (see photo) in the course of which they collected 50 signatures on cards calling on the Minister of Justice to halt the execution, to end the use of solitary confinement for death row prisoners and to end the use of the death penalty in Japan.

Matsumoto Kenji factsheet (pdf)





Sources:        World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Wikipedia,  Amnesty International

Conservatives and right wing press exult over plans to remove the services from the Human Rights Act

The plan by the government to enable the armed forces to derogate from the Human Rights Act have been greeted with great glee by newspapers like the Mail and the Telegraph.  The Conservatives at their annual conference in Birmingham have also been delighted by the announcement by the Defence Minister Michael Fallon.

The media has presented it in a lurid fashion.  Lawyers are described as ‘parasitic’ and ‘money grubbing’; the claims are ‘vexatious’ and that there is an ‘industry’ of people pursuing our soldiers.  The overall impression created by various generals, politicians and elements of the media is of service men struggling to do their best in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions only to find a lawyer presenting them with a summons for entirely spurious reasons (that is, to make money for themselves).  Here is former head of the Army General Dannatt for example in the Daily Mail:

It also frees up soldiers from limitations under the act on their ability to hold detainees, so they can get on with their job. [he] said: ‘I very warmly applaud this imaginative and bold move by the present Government.  It will go some way to reassuring our armed forces personnel that they can operate in future without looking out for lawyers over their shoulder.  Daily Mail [accessed 4 October 2016]

Theresa May said at the conference:

And what we’ve seen is human rights legislation being used to generate all these vexatious claims and troops finding themselves in some difficultly in worrying and concerned about the future as a result of that.

‘So I think it’s absolutely right that the Government should say to our troops: “We are on your side”. (ibid)

The only problem with it is that it is largely untrue.  We have to start by asking why are we at war in the various theatres?  The answer is because we are seeking to put in place civilised values.  We went to Iraq, not just on the spurious grounds that there were weapons of mass destruction, but because Sadam Hussein was a tyrant and abused the rights of many of his subjects.  There were similar reasons in Afghanistan.  Behind our military activities is this belief in a better world and that countries run by despots are not stable or fair on their citizens.  We believe that the democratic process is superior and countries should be run by the rule of law.  The very same people who were cheering in Liverpool are the same folk who talk about ‘British values.’

So if our soldiers are engaged in torture or abusive actions against prisoners, this is contrary to the reason why they are there in the first place and is also contrary to our values.   It is these abusive actions which are the cause of a great deal of the claims made against the MoD.

It is also presented in terms of claims against our service people by foreigners.  In fact, many of the claims are by service people against the MoD.  These claims arise because of poor treatment of soldiers by their commanders on training exercises which can lead to their deaths, for example in the Brecon Beacons.  Or they arise because of inadequate equipment which means service people are needlessly at risk and are injured or lose their lives.  The ill-equipped land rovers in Afghanistan are an example.   These actions are seldom mentioned by the right wing media.

There is something depressing in the glee of the conference goers and sections of the media about the decision.  There seems not an inkling of pride in the fact that we fought a war to defeat tyranny and that afterwards, we were the key players in setting up the Convention of Human Rights in Europe led by a conservative prime minister.  That just seems to have been forgotten.  If there were solid reasons for doing so that would be fine.  But the arguments are selective and ignore the fact that the MoD has paid out something like £20m in compensation, not because the claims were spurious, but because they were genuine.

Will it in fact happen?  The court in Strasbourg may well see things differently as Conor Gearty argues in the Guardian and we may not be successful in the derogation as we hope and as has been promised (The Tories are using the army to take a shot at human rights, 5 Oct 2016).

Also forgotten is the effect this will have overseas.  We are currently watching the horror of Syria with either the Syrians or the Russians deliberately bombing hospitals and civilian targets generally.  If one of the leading architects of the European Convention and one of the members of the Security Council, decides to ignore the actions of some of our soldiers with prisoners, what influence do we have left?

And not a word about our activities in the Yemen where we are supplying weapons to the Saudis to enable them to carry on a terrible war there.

The last word goes to Liberty:

The Convention on Human Rights isn’t just a document whose origins lie in the brutal lessons of 20th century wars.  It is directly relevant today. Our Government has a duty not only to implement it during its own military operations, but to uphold its standards as an example to others – both friends and foes. 

To save the Ministry of Defence from the shame of having to admit that civilians suffered abuse on its watch, ministers are prepared to rob our soldiers of this sensible legal framework that both clarifies their use of force and offers them redress when their own rights are breached.  For a supposedly civilised nation, this is a pernicious and retrograde step that will embolden our enemies and alienate our allies.


Conor Gearty’s book On Fantasy Island, published by OUP has just been published

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The following three factsheets have been produced by the group for use on stalls and on campaigns generally.  They can be downloaded here (pdf files).  One is about the group and what it does and has achieved; another is a death penalty case in Japan for the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Saturday, and the last is about refugees.

Who we are factsheet

Matsumoto Kenji

Refugee fact sheet

[If any Amnesty group would like one of these sheets we are happy to modify them, with their own group details on for example, and send you an amended pdf]



Posted: September 30, 2016 in Yemen
Tags: , , , ,
Programme on Channel 4 about the war in Yemen.

Those who watched this programme will have been horrified at the destruction which has taken place in this country.  It looked as though no part has escaped bombing.  Tens of thousands living in camps in desperate circumstances.  But perhaps the most chilling was the impact it is having on children and babies with scenes of malnutrition in understaffed and under resourced hospitals.  The blockade meant that food supplies sat out in the Red Sea for so long that it was already unusable by the time it was eventually landed the programme showed.

The programme brought out well our role in this war by supplying weapons and military personnel to assist the Saudis in their campaign.  We have also helped the Saudis on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

It is truly shaming that this is happening and our (the UK) and the United State’s role in supplying the wherewithal and the political cover for the devastating campaign.  While most of the media’s attention is on (quite rightly) the terrible events in Syria, until now too little attention has been paid to this forgotten war and our dreadful role in it.  Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, accuses the Russians of war crimes in Syria so what do you call our role in the Yemen?