Archive for November, 2015


UPDATE

December 7, 2015

A message from Vera Thomas

My family and I wish to thank the Missouri Supreme Court for vacating our son Reginald Clemons’ convictions and sentences and remanding his case. I want to thank the Court for pursuing the path of due process in our son’s case and for the appointment of Judge Michael Manners as Special Master, and for the additional work done by Judge Lisa White Hardwick from the Missouri Court of Appeals sitting as a Special Judge of the Court. Our faith and confidence has been renewed in our judicial system.

– Vera Thomas, Reggie Clemons’s mother

Fair trial for Reggie

We are delighted to report the good news concerning Reggie.  All of those who have worked tirelessly for justice on behalf of Reggie Clemons are simply thrilled by today’s opinion (24th November). Today the Missouri Supreme Court has upheld Mr. Clemons’s constitutional right to a fair trial, which is all he has sought from the beginning.  Campaigners said they were deeply grateful for the Court’s decision, and its willingness to protect the Due Process rights of Mr. Clemons and citizens everywhere.

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

The Salisbury group has campaigned on behalf of Reggie for several years now and only last week, we sent him some cards in prison. This is excellent news and shows that persistent campaigning can be successful.

This is a factsheet (pdf) we prepared two years ago.  Note: the website address on the factsheet has been changed, it is now http://www.salisburyai.com

A report from St Louis Channel 5 including a video clip from the courtroom.

Further details

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British weapons being used to bomb civilians

This week we have been treated to speeches in Parliament and a great deal of press interest on the question of bombing Isis.  The political temperature rose after the terrible events in Paris and the indiscriminate killing of people sitting in cafés and at a pop concert.

The government would now like the UK to join in the bombing campaign against Isis positions and David Cameron gave a lengthy speech in Parliament setting out his justifications for that course of action.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another terrible conflict is in progress and yet this receives almost no coverage in the press.  Thousands have died (one estimate is 5,700) including an estimated 400 children, and airstrikes by Saudi Arabian forces are bombing the country on a daily basis.  Schools and hospitals are bombed and cluster bombs are being used in contravention of international treaties.

Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

The difference is that Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of our weapons – indeed an estimated half of all weapons sales by the UK go there – so they are an important customer.  Little is said to criticise them and readers of this blog will be aware of our attempts to get our government to take a more robust line in view of their multiple human rights abuses.

Amnesty and HRW have criticised the US government for agreeing to sell an unbelievable $1.3bn (£860m) of further ordinance to replenish stocks used in the campaign.  This is in breach of the Arms Trade Treaty since the weapons are being used against civilians.  Médecins sans Frontières report:

… ordinary people are bearing the brunt of an increasingly brutal conflict.  Severe water shortages combined with airstrikes, sniper attacks and a fuel blockade have rapidly turned this conflict into a humaniitarian crisis, with over one million people displaced from their homes.  The need for food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical care is growing daily.

Many clinics and hospitals have been destroyed, and those that are still functioning are in urgent need of more medical supplies.  Yemen: A country under siege

AI and Human Rights Watch are in no doubt that UK and US supplied munitions are being used to cause this mayhem in Yemen.  Up until now we have received nothing but bland assurances from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from our MP.  But recent events including changes to the Ministerial code and a downgrading of human rights in policy matters, seems to indicate that it is profit before humanity which is the key factor.

This might change because now that British made weaponry is turning up in Yemen thus causing some concern in the FCO.  They are beginning to question the wisdom of supplying the Saudis who then use the stuff to kill ordinary civilians.  We could just be indicted for war crimes.  They are also worried that we are helping create the conditions for an Isis type organisation to establish themselves in Yemen.

So while speeches are made about bombing Isis, we are busy supplying the weaponry to create another catastrophe on the Saudi peninsular…

Sources:

MSF;  The Independent;  Belfast Telegraph;  Business News;  HRW

 

 

 


The film, Timbuktu, is to be shown in the Salisbury Arts Centre timbuktu-posterart this Thursday evening 3 December.  The film is extremely topical both because of the horrific activities of jihadists in Paris and today’s news of a terrorist attack in Mali which is where Timbuktu is.  This is the latest in our joint presentations with the Arts Centre.  The film has received many favourable reviews and mostly 4 stars.

Timbuktu has entered the English language as a place which is remote and unknown yet recent events have brought the country and the town into the limelight.

There will be a short presentation by an Amnesty director before the film starts and afterwards, an opportunity for people to sign a petition or some cards.

Tickets from the Arts Centre via the link above or by phoning 01722 321744.

 


Group members presented their Citizenship roadshow in Shaftesbury

citzenshipLast week, fresh from attending the Citizenship Conference at South Wilts, group members took the Amnesty presentation on the road to a new venue to us, St. Mary’s Girls School at Shaftesbury, as part of their series of talks by local and national organisations.  Despite an attendance of some 90 sixth-formers, it was possible to encourage interactivity, and the students proved very knowledgeable and interested in our work, and showed an encouraging level of social awareness.  Nearly all signed greetings cards for prisoners, and some stayed to continue conversations with us about Amnesty after the event.  Thanks are due to the school for an event we hope we can repeat in the future.


If any secondary school in the South Wiltshire area would like the team to do a presentation on the work of Amnesty and human rights, please get in touch via this site.

Note: St Mary’s School is in Wiltshire

 


Lobbying and business influence in government at a high level.  MPs receive millions for lobbying

We have frequently drawn attention to the issue of corporate influence on our political process and in particular, the role of oil and arms companies.  We have recently seen three leaders from China, Egypt and India, visit the UK and be given the red carpet treatment.  Each has – to put it mildly – a poor human rights record.

In the case of China it includes the use of torture, shutting down the freedom of speech and more executions than the rest of the world put together.  Egypt has been involved in mass arrests and torture and President Modi of India has a dubious record in terms of the treatment of Muslims.

It seems as though the ‘prosperity agenda’ is eclipsing all else and the only thing that matters seemingly, is the pursuit of business and contracts.  No one is arguing for boycotts but that the issue of human rights be brought up in discussion with these leaders.

A factor in this is the role of lobbyists and a recent analysis by Transparency International is worrying and should receive wider coverage.

Analysing the new UK Register of Lobbyists and data from Parliamentary registers of interests, their new research has found:

  • Less than 4% of lobbyists are covered by the Government’s new lobbying register – almost all lobbyists are completely unaccountable.
  • 8/10 of the most frequent lobbyists are from FTSE 100 companies – lobbying is dominated by the corporate world.
  • £3.4 million paid to 73 MP’s last year for external advisory roles – a significant risk of conflicts of interest.
  • Payments for Parliamentary advice is still allowed in the House of Commons, but prohibited in the House of Lords, Scotland and Wales – a major loophole in the rules (TI’s emphasis)

The findings come after detailed analysis of research across Westminster, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The report can be read on their web site or can be accessed here[There is also a permanent link to their site at the bottom of our page under ‘Links‘]

With such a high level of corporate lobbying and with the substantial level of fees MPs are earning, it is perhaps not surprising that business interests get such a high profile and human rights issues so low.

It appears from the report that the situation has got worse under the new government.  There were some publications of meetings with lobbyists concerning the previous year but that now seems to have stopped.  Most of the lobbying it seems is around domestic matters for example, firms trying to get a slice of the health service.

Business is important and of course companies should be free to lobby.  But it should be transparent and registered.  More importantly, business interests should not trump all else.  The government is not after all some kind of selling operation for FTSE 100 companies.

UPDATE: 16 NOVEMBER

It’s not about human rights but as if to illustrate the point, it’s just been reported the ex Health Minister, Lord Lansley, is to take up posts with firms hoping to profit from the NHS. 

Andrew Lansley and the revolving door


The November minutes of the Salisbury group are now available thanks to Lesley.

November minutes (pdf)

Correction: the Death Penalty vigil took place on 17 October and not November as stated in the minutes


Woman at risk of a forced virginity test in Iran

Atena Farghadani

Atena Farghadani

On 1 June, Atena Farghadani, a 29-year-old painter and activist, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison simply because she was seen to be critical of the Iranian regime in her art and in her peaceful activism.

Atena had used her right to freedom of expression to show her dissent at a new government Bill in a cartoon she’d drawn; she associated with the families of political prisoners; she posted anti-government messages on Facebook.

Atena’s peaceful activism led to her arrest in August 2014, a period of detention and release before being rearrested in November.

In June 2015, she was prosecuted by the Iranian state and found guilty of charges including:

  • Gathering and colluding against national security
  • Insulting members of parliament through paintings
  • Spreading propaganda against the system
  • Insulting the President and insulting the Supreme Leader.

Atena’s trial lasted just half a day. The ‘evidence’ against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family.

Atena is now imprisoned for 12 years and nine months, simply for being seen to be critical of the authorities.

Now facing adultery charges for shaking hands with her lawyer

Atena’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, visited Atena in prison after her trial and shook her hand. The handshake led to charges of ‘illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery’ and ‘indecent conduct’ being brought against both Atena and her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, who will be tried for those charges in due course.

Mohammad was arrested on 13 June for shaking Atena’s hand, and released three days later after he’d paid a bail amounting to around $60,000.  Both Mohammad and Atena will be tried for indecent conduct and illegitimate sexual relationship for shaking hands in prison.

On 9 October we saw a note leaked from prison by Atena that said ahead of her trial for this ‘crime’ she was forced to have a virginity and pregancy test – apparently to investigate the charge against her. Such virginity testing is internationally recognised as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Iran’s judicial authorities really have reached a new low.  Tell them they must immediately release Atena and investigate the mistreatment she says she’s experienced.

Prisoner of conscience

Atena has effectively been punished for her cartoons with a sentence that is itself a gross caricature of justice. No one should be in jail for their art or peaceful activism”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa

Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime. She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly.  Iran has pledged to protect free speech, including through artistic activities, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Please sign the petition and call on Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Head of the Iranian Judiciary to release Atena immediately.

Beaten in detention, punished for speaking out

Last August, 12 members of the Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house.  They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.  Atena was released in November last year, but rearrested just six weeks later. In the time that she was released, she gave media interviews and posted a video on YouTube describing how the prison guards had interrogated her for 9 hours every day for six weeks.  She said that female prison guards had beaten her and subjected her to degrading body searches.

Just weeks after posting her YouTube video, Atena was once again arrested – possibly as reprisal for speaking out.

Hunger strike in protest at prison conditions

Atena was kept in solitary confinement for over two weeks when she was detained last year in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  During that time she was denied access to her lawyer or family.  After her release from detention, she said that she’d been beaten by prison guards.

Three weeks after she was rearrested in January this year, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions, in a jail that does not have a section for political prisoners.  Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us that Atena had suffered a heart attack and briefly lost consciousness in late February as a result of her hunger strike.

Call on Iran to release Atena and reunite her with her family immediately: she has committed no crime.


If you are moved to sign the petition, please go to:

Amnesty article with petition


Two Saudi Arabian Shi’a activists, arrested when they were under 18 years old, risk being executed as soon as the King ratifies their death sentences.  They were moved to solitary confinement on 5 October and have been held incommunicado since then.  

We attach this month’s urgent action which highlights the case of two men (boys) arrested when they were under the age of 18, tortured into signing a confession and now risk execution.

If you are new to Amnesty urgent actions, they highlight injustices around the world.  You are invited to read the case notes below and write to the addresses provided.  Even if you only write to one, it can help.

Does it work?  Sometimes it does and we have recently celebrated the release of another young man held in Nigeria for the alleged theft of three mobile phones, tortured and was due to be executed.  So it can work …

Urgent action: Saudi Arabia


The group met last night to review campaigns and ahead of the minutes here is a brief resume:

  • Discussed North Korea and the idea for a YouTube video.  Next meeting at the Red Lion
  • Received the death penalty report
  • Citizenship went well and two teams members will be at the Shaftesbury School today (13th)
  • Film Timbuktu on 3 December at the Arts Centre
  • Tapestry to be moved to the Cathedral in the next week or so
  • HRA. Watching brief ahead of government plans to scrap/alter it.  We will get materials from AIUK.  It is likely to be a major part of our activities next year if the government do go ahead with either abolition or a major overhaul
  • Discussed Write for Rights and the four people we will campaign for agreed
  • Carol signing will take place on 21 December (photo of last year)

    Farrant Singers in Park Street

    Farrant Singers in Park Street

  • Statistics on website hits and social media were presented (see statistics tab for the report)
Tapestry in the Playhouse

Tapestry in the Playhouse

 


No end in sight

This is the title of a report produced by Amnesty International concerning the use of torture in China.  It was only last month that China’s president received a red carpet treatment on his visit to Britain with smiles all round.  The subject of human rights was taboo and was not to be mentioned during the course of his visit.  The aim was to boost trade and to secure deals such as the nuclear power plant investment.

Human rights infringements are a major issue for China and there is always the hope that there will be a steady improvement over time.  Indeed, it is a favourite argument by politicians that engagement – whether through trade, culture, sport or otherwise – is the best way to effect improvements in countries still practising torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.

Only it doesn’t seem to be working in places like Saudi Arabia or China despite the huge effort put into engagement with their leaders.  Amnesty has just published No End in Sight which shows that if anything, it is getting worse.  Despite having signed up to UN Charter against torture, it is still widely practised in all its medieval brutality.

Tiger bench

Tiger bench

The rot seems to start in police stations and the system of securing confessions acts as an incentive to extract one, by force if necessary.  The methods are extremely unpleasant and the least graphic (though no lest brutal) is the ‘tiger bench’ illustrated left.

The report explains the weak nature of the justice system which means no meaningful enquiries are made and that lawyers are themselves coerced or threatened if they try too hard to stop it.

It is alarming that this major nation, which is a member of the Security Council and is thus in a position to influence a lot of what happens in the world, should be steadily getting worse not better as far as human rights are concerned.  It is disappointing that the opportunity to express our concerns was apparently not taken during President Xi’s visit.


Sources

The Independent;

The Guardian;

Amnesty report