Court of Appeal victory #stoptorture


Update: See this Human Rights Watch blog:

A victory was achieved today in the long running battle by Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar to get justice and redress for being tortured in Libya.

Belhaj was a Libyan politician who was allegedly abducted and secretly flown to Libya where he was tortured by General Gaddafi’s security forces.  He has brought the case against the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw and Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter terrorism at MI6.  After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, papers were discovered in Libya which implicated the British security services in the torture of Belhaj and his wife.

In December 2013, the High Court struck out the civil lawsuit brought by the claimants, holding that since the claim called into question activities of a foreign state on its own territory the act of state doctrine precluded the court from hearing the case.  The Court rejected the UK Government’s argument that state immunity (a principle of international law by which a state is protected from being sued in the courts of other states) operated as a bar to the claim.

Judge Mr Justice Simon found “with hesitation” that the case could not go ahead and expressed his concern that “what appears to be a potentially well-founded claim that the UK authorities were directly implicated in the extraordinary rendition of the claimants, will not be determined in any domestic court; and that Parliamentary oversight and criminal investigations are not adequate substitutes for access to, and a decision by, the Court.”

In February 2014, the claimants were given permission to appeal the ruling on the act of state doctrine and the UK Government cross-appealed contesting that, in addition to the act of state doctrine, state immunity also precluded the claims from being heard.

On Monday 30 June, the NGOs Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, JUSTICE and REDRESS filed written interventions jointly in this case, which may set an important precedent for future claims brought by torture victims.

In the Court of Appeal’s decision it noted, among other things, the changed nature of public international law which has expanded to include the regulation of human rights …  It went on to observe that ‘unless the English Courts are able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations against the executive will never be subjected to judicial investigation.’ 

Andrea Coomber of Justice said that the Government’s case would fundamentally undercut the international rule of law and undermine the global commitment to remedies for victims of human rights violations.

Part of the Government’s case was a fear of embarrassing the United States who had colluded with MI6 in the alleged abduction.

It is frequently stated that the British Government does not carry out torture and we have signed the relevant treaties to that effect.  Rendering people to countries to, in effect, subcontract this evil process is unacceptable.

The government is considering whether to appeal.


Brick Court Chambers,

The Guardian

Redress (see link at bottom of this blog)

Reprieve (ditto)

Amnesty International (ditto)

Essay competition

We have re-launched the #essay competition this year and invited members of the 6th forms in the #Salisbury area to contribute.  A pdf of the full entry details is here:

Essay competition

The competition details have been sent to the following schools with around 50 copies of the entry leaflet:

Bishops Wordsworth

Burgate School

Godolphin School

South Wilts Grammar School

Sarum Academy

6th Form College

St Mary’s School, Shaftesbury.

The title of the essay is either:

   Discuss the relevance of Magna Carta today or

   Should the Human Rights Act be abolished?

Closing date is 30 November.  There are three money prizes: £60; £30 and £15.  We look forward to receiving the essays.

#Nigeria #stoptorture

Card signing
Card signing

We held a stall in the Library tunnel on Saturday 11 October in aid of the #stoptorture campaign and in particular, to highlight the case of

Moses Akatugba in #Nigeria.  He was arrested for allegedly stealing mobile phones, shot in the hand and tortured by the Nigerian Army.  He has been in prison now for eight years and is on death row awaiting execution.  Torture is routine in Nigeria and it is reported that police stations even have a ‘torture officer’.

We collected 189 signatures in three hours which is a good haul for a difficult subject which has received next to no publicity.  We shall be sending the cards in two batches to the Governor of Delta state in Nigeria where Moses is being held.  We have sent a report of the signing to the Nigerian Embassy in London (see under Update below).

If you would like to know more about this case then you can find it here: Nigeria fact sheet

We are grateful to all those who stopped to sign a card.  The great majority of passers-by did not to sign it has to be noted for

Moses Akatugba
Moses Akatugba

reasons that are never clear or revealed.  155 countries around the world have signed the UN protocol against the use of torture but according to Amnesty International figures, it is still practised in 141 of them. In other words, they sign treaties to end it but continue to use it.

Thanks to all the Salisbury Group’s team for taking part and their help in making this a success: Michael; Jonathan; Andrew; Lesley; Peter; Fiona; Eddie; Cynthia; Tony and Karen.

UPDATE 13 October  Nigerian Embassy letter

Some of the signed cards
Some of the signed cards

#stoptorture Bahrain

stop_tortureAn interesting decision was made by the courts this week that Prince Nassser bin Hammed Al-Khalifa (pictured) is liable for prosecution for his alleged role in the torture of FF a torture survivor from the kingdom.  Up to now the prince has claimed immunity.  The case is important because several of the gulf states regularly use torture yet prosecutions never happen because of claimed immunity.

This is an embarrassment to the UK government as it has welcomed members of the ruling family toprince nasser bin hasam Downing St and is keen to promote greater ties with the kingdom.  Indeed the New Statesman remarked that ‘the more desperate the situation in Bahrain becomes, the closer Britain ties itself to the ruling family.’

Behind it all is an arms deal of £1bn for the sale of Tornado jets.

The full story is on the Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (sic)

#deathpenalty report

This is the monthly death penalty report thanks to Lesley.


  • UK
  • 19th Sept – A Death Row Pop Up Restaurant offering a ‘last meal without the nasty execution bit’ was due to open in No to the death penaltyHoxton, London.  Condemned by Amnesty as ‘in appallingly bad taste’, the owners initially issued an apology but later withdrew it, saying ‘all over the world there are attractions that have the potential to offend’
  • LC spoke with Kate Allen at the recent Stop Torture Campaign Skills Day and raised the Group’s concern that the Death Penalty was no longer a distinct campaign.   Kate noted our concern, but said AI needed to look more to local groups to take the campaign forward. 
  • Pakistan – Mohammed Asghar, the British Pakistani 70 year old with paranoid schizophrenia, sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ was shot and badly injured in his prison cell by a prison guard. There is an on-line 38 Degrees Petition calling on David Cameron to press his case with the Pakistan Government.
  • USA
  • 21st September – the third anniversary of the execution of the execution of Troy Davis.  An excerpt from the statement issued by the National Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty reads: ‘……. I am Troy Davis. And we are 90 million strong. You, Xxxxx, are Troy Davis, and we are 90 million stronger – because of you. Together we are building the ground-game state by state and nationwide to fulfil Troy’s wishes: to keep fighting this battle until we end the death penalty once and for all.’
  • Texas – News today (9 October) that Manuel Velez was released from prison following 6 years on Death Row and 9 years in prison. Convicted and sentenced to death in 2008 for the killing of his girlfriend’s child, in 2012 his death sentence was thrown out because of false testimony during the sentencing phase.  A new trial was ordered because of inadequate legal assistance in his original trial.  The DA’s office continue to maintain, however, that he contributed to the child’s death.  See a separate post on this subject. 
  • Afghanistan – Despite attempts by AI and other Human Rights Organisations to persuade the new President, Ashraf Ghani, to stop the execution of 5 men convicted of rape, they were hanged on 8th October.  There were accusations of a lack of evidence and forced confessions. 

Death Penalty Statistics for 2013

  • 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 22 countries
  • 1,925 people in 57 countries were known to have been sentenced to death
  • 23,392 people were known to have been on death row world-wide
  • These figures do not include the thousands of executions likely to have taken place in China where they are a state secret.

Urgent Actions

  • Iran – UA 85/14 – (update) Reyhaneh Jabbari – her execution date of 30th September was deferred, but she remains at risk as the family of the man killed (who Reyhaneh claims sexually assaulted her) could request her execution at any time.  David Cameron has spoken out on her behalf to President Rouhani, and been criticised for ‘unacceptable remarks’.  Circulated to DPLWG; posted on the Group’s blog – 1.10.14. This month’s Group Urgent Action.
  • Bahrain – UA 252/14 – Maher Abbas Ahmad – sentenced to death in February for the premeditated murder of a policeman at a ‘gathering’, has lodged his final appeal and could be at risk of execution. He told his lawyer he was tortured into making a confession. Circulated to DPLWG 9.10.14.


  • World Day Against the Death Penalty – 10th October.   The Group are asked to sign cards to be sent to Reggie Clemons
  • Death Penalty Stall – A signing event will take place on Saturday ll1th October from 9.00-12..00 mid-day in the Library Covered Way. We will be asking the public to sign cards calling for justice for Moses Akatugba, the young Nigerian tortured and sentenced to death for the alleged theft of three mobile phones.


Texas man released from death row


On Wednesday, Manuel Velez was released from prison having served 9 years in prison, 5 of them on death row.  The case reveals yet again the biased and unsatisfactory nature of the justice system in the #USA, and in particular the southern states such as #Texas.  He was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a 1 year old who was partially in his care.

No to the death penaltyThe case against him collapsed when the blood clot was found to have been established around 2 weeks before the child’s death but the jury was told that it occurred hours before thus putting Velez at the scene.  The case has all the familiar signs of previous miscarriages in the USA namely: partial evidence put to the court; evidence demonstrating innocence withheld by the police, and a plea bargain by the person likely to have committed the crime which incriminates the wrong person.  Also Velez is Hispanic and is described as ‘intellectually disabled’.  Finally, he was poorly served by his defence team who the court said ‘provided inadequate assistance to Velez’.

Governor Rick Perry is a strong believer in the death penalty and the following extract from an interview in Texas gives a flavour of that belief;

Like the vast majority of Texans, I believe the death penalty is an appropriate response for the most violent of crimes against our fellow human beings.  In fact, I believe capital punishment affirms the high value we place on innocent life because it tells those who would prey on our citizens that you will pay the ultimate price for their unthinkable acts of violence.

For those who head our criminal courts, serve on appellate bodies and the board of pardons and parole, and for the individual who occupies the office of governor, the power to make life and death decisions is the most sobering responsibility imaginable.

Both as acting governor and in my current capacity, I have always exercised this power with the gravity due such a life and death decision.    And I will continue to review each capital punishment case brought before me to ensure that due process has been served.

This presents a comforting picture not supported by the facts of this and other cases.  Once the deed is done of course, it cannot be undone.  If you are poor and black in states like Texas you will not be able to hire a top team of lawyers or any lawyer with trial skills.  Juries may be stacked.


At a conference held by Amnesty in London, one of the speakers was Prof. Malcolm Evans of Bristol University.  He spoke on the subject of #torture and its use around the world with the particular perspective of the UN Convention Against Torture [full title: Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishment, SPT].

One of the problems with the issue of torture and its use is that many countries have signed up to abolish its use but nevertheless continue to practise it.  Another speaker pointed out that 155 countries have signed the protocol but as far as is known there are credible reports of its use in 141 countries around the world.  It’s easy when reading statistics sometimes for one’s eyes to glide over such figures.  But just ponder that figure -141 countries.

SPT gives the right of the UN to go to any country, which has signed the optional protocol, without prior warning.  It is the only UN body able to do this.  They are not there to investigate individual instances but to ‘get ahead’ of violations and to stop something from happening rather than holding individuals to account.

Their purpose is to get preventative safeguards established which include issues of legality, and knowing who is in detention.  They work alongside authorities and discussions are held, sometimes with people one would rather not have discussions with.

He made the point that it wasn’t just dictatorial regimes who engaged in this activity but that it was more a matter of how it has always been done.  There was a kind of routineness to it.  It was as much to do with corruption as anything else.  In trying to advance change, you have to work with what is practical to achieve and to establish relationships to achieve momentum.

He also raised the intriguing point that it was all very well writing to presidents and the like asking them to stop this practice, but since most of them had signed up not to do it anyway, how effective is that as a campaign method?

Human Rights Act

There will be much more on the plan by the Conservatives to abolish the #HRA if they get re-elected.  But for now, just a single thought.  The whole exercise is predicated on sovereignty.  Allegedly, Strasbourg is preventing our parliament and its MPs from doing what they are elected to do, thus denying it sovereignty.  But the proposal is to abolish the act.  So they can either abolish the act, that is they have sovereignty, or they cannot because the don’t.  It seems they are going to abolish it so they do.  So why do they need to abolish it?  Answers on a postcard please.

Death penalty, Iran

We attach a case raising a number of concerns in #Iran.  Iran is one of the world’s leading countries in the use of the death penalty, second to China.  This case involves a woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari who was arrested for murder but her trial was seriously flawed, she was denied legal help, kept in solitary confinement and ill-treated and possibly tortured.  She was due for execution yesterday but following an outcry, it has been delayed for 10 days.

If you can find time to write that would be appreciated.

Urgent action


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