UPDATE:  Where to obtain tickets for 12 March now at the end of that item.

Our group is planning a number of events to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.  We have been working with the Cathedral in Salisbury which has one of the surviving copies of the document.  Our focus will be on its relevance to the present day and in particular, the Human Rights Act #HRA and its place in modern politics.

We have several projects planned and we will update these pages as time goes on.  But for the moment, this is a brief introduction to what we have planned:

  • A standing display in the cloisters of the Cathedral outside the Chapter House where the Magna Carta is kept.  This will
    Torture wheel
    Torture wheel

    feature images to illustrate the #StopTorture campaign and will have the torture wheel, based on the one used by the Philippine police.  In case you have not come across this, it is a wheel on which the various methods to torture their victims are displayed.  They then spin the wheel to decide on which one to use.  This display will be set up in March and will run for at least a month.  To read more about the torture wheel follow this link.

  • On 12th March at 7pm we will be delighted to welcome Dominic Grieve QC MP who will speak on the relevance of the Human Rights Act today.  In June 1999 he was appointed Conservative spokesman for Scotland and in September 2001 the Conservative spokesman for criminal justice and community cohesion as part of the Shadow Home Affairs team.  From 2003 to 2009 he was Shadow Attorney General.
    Dominic Grieve QC MP
    Dominic Grieve QC MP

    Under the coalition Government Dominic Grieve became a Privy Counsellor and appointed the Attorney General for England and Wales and the Advocate General for Northern Ireland and he held that post until July 2014.

    He has spoken often on human rights matters arguing that despite the Conservative leadership’s recent announcement of fundamental change to both the HRA and the national relationship with the ECHR, there is much that remains undebated and misunderstood about both. 

    He will try therefore tonight try to lay out reasons why – while not free of imperfections – the ECHR and its direct application in our law through the HRA is of enormous benefit to our country and our collective wellbeing.  He is determined that this argument can and must be made with some passion because he believes that it goes to the heart of our identity as a nation and of our national interest.

    It will be an interesting talk and will follow the annual Choral Evensong in aid of Amnesty in the Cathedral.  Tickets: apply to magnacartaevents@salcath.co.uk.

    In the summer on 15 June, we are planning, with the Playhouse, an event where an actor will read selected passages from the Charter and then a panel of guests to discuss their significance.  The guests are likely to be Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK, Prof Guy Standing author of The Precariat and writer and researcher, Ben Rawlence.  This will be in the afternoon so it’s a date for the diary at present.  Details will be both here and at http://www.salisburyplayhouse.com.

    On the morning of the 15th, there will be a 6th form conference involving local schools and Kate Allen has been invited to that.



UPDATE; 4 February.  We regret to report Robert Ladd was executed.

Once again we are back with an urgent action against the use of the #deathpenalty in Texas.  This time it is Robert Charles Ladd who was sentenced to death in 1997.  He was ineffectively represented at his trial and his lawyer did not seek evidence about his mental capacity.  He has an IQ of less than 70.  A Supreme Court ruling says that such individuals cannot be executed.

Greg Abbott, the new governor, says on his Facebook page ‘Texas in the lone star state for a reason.  It stand separate.  It stands alone … as a model for the rest of the nation.’  One sincerely hopes the rest of the nation isn’t listening.

Below is the urgent action on behalf of Robert Ladd and we would be grateful if you could write or email.  There are only a few days to go.

Robert Ladd


UPDATE: 22 January

Raif Badawi’s scheduled public flogging on Friday 23 January is unlikely to be carried out following examinations by a medical committee, which found him unfit.  He is a prisoner of conscience who received 50 lashes earlier this month.  He continues to be at risk of receiving the remaining 950 lashes.

On Wednesday 21 January Raif Badawi was taken to the King Fahd Medical Hospital in Jeddah and was thoroughly examined by a medical committee of around eight doctors.  After hours of examinations, the committee concluded that he has high blood pressure and recommended to the authorities that he not be flogged.  However, Raif Badawi remains at risk of further flogging, as long as the sentence stands.  This risk is further enhanced because the medical committee’s recommendation is not legally binding on the authorities.

Mass protests have recently been organized by activists at Saudi Arabian embassies worldwide condemning the flogging of Raif Badawi and calling for his release.  There have also been official appeals, including the governments of the USA and Canada. Raif Badawi’s wife and children currently live in Canada.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the flogging “at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment … prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified”.

On 9 January Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in public, in front of al-Jafali Mosque in Jeddah.  The second set of 50 were expected to take place the following Friday, however a doctor examined him and concluded that his wounds had not sufficiently healed and he could not withstand another round of lashes.  Raif Badawi was sentenced by the Criminal Court in Jeddah on 7 May 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, followed by a 10-year travel ban, a ban on using media outlets, and a fine of one million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$266,600).  The conviction and sentence stemmed from Raif Badawi’s creation of the Saudi Arabian Liberals website (which the court ordered to be closed) and the accusation that he had “insulted Islam”.  The Court of Appeal in Jeddah upheld the sentence on 1 September.  The case is thought to have been referred to the Supreme Court in December.

See the urgent action below

We make no apology for returning #SaudiArabia, firstly to highlight a dreadful beheading described in the Daily Mail and secondly, to provide a link to an Amnesty Urgent Action concerning Raif Badawi.


‘A woman beheaded in a Saudi street for killing her husband’s six-year-old daughter screams her innocence in graphic footage of the execution uploaded to the Internet.

‘An executioner in Mecca, the holy city, took two swings to hack off Layla bint Abdul Mutaleb Bassim’s head, after she was found guilty of beating the girl and raping her with a broomstick.

‘The incident has sparked outrage in the country, but not because of the brutal punishment meted out. Rather Saudis are up in arms that the execution was filmed and posted online, where the woman’s family might see it.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2916583/Step-mother-screams-innocence-beheaded-murdering-sexually-abusing-six-year-old-daughter-leaked-footage-outraged-Saudi-Arabia.html#ixzz3POSetg55

Urgent action

This concerns Raif Badawi who was due to receive his second bout of 50 lashes but is not medically fit enough to receive them.  Altogether he is sentenced to 1 000 lashes and has received the first 50.  Full details of this are in the attached file.  Please find time to write.  Continued world wide protest at the actions of this brutal regime do seem to be having an effect.

Raif Badawi


We held a signing on Saturday morning and invited people to sign cards on behalf of four prisoners of conscience.  It had been held over from Christmas because we had too many other things on so we were not confident of large numbers.  Our other concern was the events in Paris which has hardened some peoples’ attitudes to terrorism in all its forms.  Some people equate human rights with ‘supporting terrorists’ and there is the occasional remark along the lines that ‘they must have done something or they wouldn’t be arrested’.

We needn’t have been worried on either count and there was a steady stream of people to sign cards all morning.  The cards are generalised greetings fashioned from Christmas cards but with anything religious removed.  The only limiting factor in fact was that the table was too small to accommodate the numbers.  We secured around 150 signatures and the cards will be posted in batches.

Thanks to all those in the local group who helped.


UPDATE: 18 January

The second bout of 50 lashes was postponed following huge worldwide protests.  Kate Allen of Amnesty International contrasted the willingness of (UK) Ministers to condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre but are strangely silent when it comes to the Saudi actions.

50 lashes and only 950 to go …

saudi floggingOver the last few days, the world’s attention has been focused on France and the events following the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices last week.  World leaders, including David Cameron, went to Paris on Sunday to join in the demonstration and to show solidarity with the French people. 

Also last week, Raif Badawi received the first of his 50 lashes in a square outside the Juffali Mosque in Jeddah to a cheering crowd.  His crime is to run a blog called Saudi Arabian Liberals which criticised the religious police.  Among the charges was ‘insulting Islam’ and the original sentence was 600 lashes.  Judges subsequently increased that to 1 000 lashes and a fine of a million Riyals equivalent to around ¼ m US dollars.  His lawyer has also been condemned to 15 years in prison.  His wife has fled the country and lives in Canada.  Bizarrely, the Saudi Government has condemned the killings in Paris whilst suppressing free speech in their own country.

Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention against the use of torture or other cruel and unusual punishments in 1997 but, in common with many other countries, ignores it.

This sentence and the punishment has been condemned around the world.


Sources: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; The Guardian; Independent


The world has been shocked by the events in #Paris and the murder of journalists and cartoonists at the offices of Charlie Hedbo.  It was an appalling attack of freedom of speech and the right of journalists to be rude and to attack politicians, religions and all those in positions of power.  We pride ourselves on our ability to speak reasonably freely and we cherish the right to say what we like about all manner of topics.  This right is limited of course by laws of defamation and such matters as not stirring up racial hatred.  But lampooning or satirising power in all its forms does not in any way justify going into someone’s offices and gunning them down in a cold blooded attack.

But at times like this we have to be careful that those who wish to limit our freedom in different ways do not use these frightful and frightening events to seek greater powers to control our lives.  It was no doubt a complete coincidence that Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, gave a speech the day after the Paris massacre arguing for yet more powers.  The claim is that they needed these powers to tackle the increased risk of terrorist attacks in this country.  In similar vein, the ‘snooper’s charter’ is back in the frame with the Home Secretary trying to reintroduce it.

We have to be very careful however not to lose basic liberties because of knee jerk reactions to events such as the Paris massacre.

We all of us want to be safe and we are happy to allow the security services to go about their business to keep us so.  There is however a risk of ever greater intrusion and surveillance which can be misused to do things which are nothing to do with defeating terrorism.  Revelations about the miner’s strike¹ where the security services were involved in framing Arthur Scargill and the role of the government of the day’s involvement in that, are a reminder that we need to keep a careful watch on their activities.  Levenson showed the unholy alliance between the Metropolitan police and the press with information being sold by corrupt police officers.  Undercover police officers are another example.

There is – or should be – a kind of contract in place.  We say to the security services that we accept that if they have concerns about an individual or group of individuals, then they can intercept messages, emails, post and such like to find out what is happening.  But there must be some political oversight to this.  The Home Secretary should issue warrants and a close watch kept on the results.  The Intelligence and Security Committee must also keep a watchful eye on our behalf.  Another link in the chain is the press who should be keeping a critical eye on the politicians.

The Snowden revelations showed the huge extent  of existing penetration of communications by GCHQ in the UK and the NSA in America.  Names of all sorts of programs were revealed showing the shear scale of penetration.  Of course this does not mean that everyday conversations are being listened to: that is impossible.  But meta-data is collected and phone and email records are matched up to link individuals together who might be involved in potential criminal activity.  Through all this hardly a word was seen in our media about it.  After Snowden, there was scarcely any coverage in our press (in the UK) with the sole exception of one newspaper.  The BBC and other broadcasters were largely silent.

It seemed to be a shock also to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.  Sir Malcolm’s shortcomings and seeming blindness cannot be expressed any better than this quote from the Guardian (14 December 2014) following the torture allegations:

[…] Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the ISC, cannot by any figment of the imagination be deemed independent, nor is his committee. Why is this discredited committee allowed anywhere near an investigation into the spy agencies and torture?  Nick Clegg says he wants to know the truth about torture.  What is desperately needed is the appointment of a respected and credible panel of independent people to seriously investigate what GCHQ has been up to while hiding behind the NSA cloak of subterfuge.’

The Committee has failed to investigate, or show proper oversight, of the security services and their wholesale penetration activities, rendition or the contracting out of torture to countries such as Libya.  Thus a key link in the chain is not there.  The Committee is not fit for purpose.  The near silence of the press is also disappointing.  The tabloid press repeated the need for greater intrusion with little sign of critical analysis.

We all want security but as everyone has said following the Paris outrages, we live in a free society.  The intelligence services have an important role to play but we must not lose our liberties in a panic reaction to those events.

1. see The Enemy Within by Seumas Milne, Verso, 2014

North Korean film


Kim Yong-Un
Kim Yong-Un

Sony Picture’s film The Interview, which was not screened due to the alleged hacking attack by North Korea, attracted considerable publicity at the end of last year.  It represented a flagrant attempt by North Korea – if indeed they are the culprits – to silence the screening of a film about the fictional attempt to assassinate the leader of that country, Kim Jong-un.

Amnesty International has released The Other Interview which features the story of Park Ji-hyu who fled starvation in North Korea and was then trafficked into China and sold as a slave to a farmer.  She was reported to the Chinese authorities as a defector and was forcibly returned to North Korea.  She was sent to one of their hellish prison camps where she faced starvation and torture.  She eventually managed to escape.

Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen said ‘Sony has every right to make a comedy about North Korea.  We should all be worried when blackmail, threats to cinemas, and the hacking of private data are being used to censor and silence.

‘In reality, many people in North Korea are subjected to an existence beyond nightmares.  The population is ruled by fear with a network of prison camps a constant spectre for those who dare step out of line.

‘Thousands of people in the camps are worked to death, starved to death [or] beaten to death.  Some are sent there just for knowing someone who has fallen out of favour.

‘Amnesty is releasing The Other Interview so that people all over the world can hear first-hand how people in North Korea are suffering appallingly at the hands of Kim Jong-un and his officials.

‘They don’t want you to see it which is precisely why you should.’

preview can be seen on YouTube.  We do not know if this film will be shown in Salisbury but we will see if we can arrange a viewing somewhere.

This is being written while the dreadful events are playing out in France following the assassination of journalists and cartoonists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.  This is another attempt – this time by violent means – to silence criticism and the particular kind of satire that this magazine goes in for.

The Salisbury group’s North Korean YouTube video clip can be see here.

Urgent Action: #NorthKorea

We attach an urgent action concerning North Korea.  Nine people have been forcibly returned to NK and

Jooil Kim - a North Korean escapee - at the signing in Salisbury
Jooil Kim – a North Korean escapee – at the signing in Salisbury

are at risk of torture and/or execution.  We are pleased to see the country receiving a great deal more attention over the last year or so and there is now greater understanding of the ghastly conditions that people experience in the camps. Please write if you can.

Urgent action

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