Archive for November, 2016


Dark day for democracy and free speech.  Government gets ‘the most extreme powers ever’

The Investigatory Powers Bill became law this week and it is a dark day for democracy, not just in the UK, but the signal it gives to the rest of the world.  That one of the oldest democracies in the world should want to garner for itself, a whole set of powers to pry into peoples communications and to find out journalists’ sources is a matter of shame.  It will provide increased encouragement to regimes around the world to clamp down further on their citizens.

The wonder of it is that so many people are so relaxed about it.  Although over 130,000 people protested, the government took little notice.

Picture: 5pillarsuk.com

The state needs to have a security apparatus. When the nation is under threat either in the time of war or by terror groups, it must have the means to investigate.  This is likely to mean eavesdropping in some form or other.

There is also the issue of secrecy and confidentiality.  People in government should have the means to discuss ideas and float policy ideas without it being published in the media – to start with at least.

Technology has provided a means now to invade individual’s private space with ease.  Technology has surpassed the law in this regard.  Nearly all the key technologies are operated out of Silicon Valley in the USA over which we have no control.  Is it not interesting that Britain voted to come out of the European Union and one of the key reasons was sovereignty.  Yet in this regard, sovereignty is in California.

The Guardian reports:

The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data.

It also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK.  (29 November 2016)

The increasing ability to intercept communications has and is having an effect on free speech.  It is described as having a ‘chilling effect’.  Journalists working on these topics have to go to extraordinary lengths to cover their tracks.  Material has to be hidden abroad for protection from the security services.  Some other issues are more open to debate.

In case of war and terrorist attacks, the media quickly falls into line and the normal business of tackling government ministers is forgotten.  It quickly becomes a matter of supporting ‘our boys’ and even questions of the quality of kit for example do not get asked.

The crucial issue is one of power and control.  The very business of being able to pry into anyone’s private affairs gives the state enormous powers.  As citizens we should expect that these powers are used when necessary; are subject to control wherever possible (like the controls on searches); are subject to close scrutiny, and are in accord with properly laid down laws.  Controls on operational matters should not be in the hands of politicians who cannot on the whole be trusted with secrets of this nature.  The level of intrusion should be matched by the degree of scrutiny.

As usual, supporters of snoopery will trot out the old adage that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.  This is, in its most fundamental way, true.  But the trouble is that as with all these moves what we are seeing is only the thin end of a very long and dangerous wedge.  Most law-abiding people have no reason to worry about other people knowing what websites they have visited.  But once you give the authorities the ability to do this history tells us that this ability will, inevitably, end up being abused.  (Daily Mail)

In the 3 or so years that the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ has been debated, it is often stated by members of the public that they are not concerned and if the security services want to listen in to their conversations with their auntie they are free to do so – ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ is the frequent refrain.  Yet if police and security services arrived at their front door and searched their house and computer without a warrant or reason to do so, they would be outraged.  Is the difference just that one is visible and the other isn’t?

Likewise, if you asked these same members of the public ‘do you trust our politicians?’ they would think you were a little mad. Yet they are happy to allow them or their agents to intrude into their affairs.  The current Home Secretary is Amber Rudd and readers of Private Eye and the Daily Mirror will have read several revelations about her less than honest business affairs involving dodgy companies and diamond mines.  Questions have also been asked about her tax affairs.   To her, the nation entrusts its secrets.

To come of course is the promised withdrawal from the European Court and the threatened repeal of the Human Rights Act.

We have not lived in a state such as existed in East Germany, Romania or the Soviet Union where the degree of control was extreme. Thus people in the UK are not aware of the harmful effects of giving too much power to those in power.

Finally, is it even sensible in its own terms?  Someone once said that hunting for terrorists was like ‘hunting for a needle in a haystack’.  Is it wise then to increase the size of the haystack?

Chilling.


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Further information on UA: 72/16 Index: MDE 13/5217/2016 Iran Date: 25 November 2016

Young man at risk of execution in Iran

Himan Uraminejad has been warned by prison officials that he is at risk of execution as Iran’s Head of Judiciary has approved the implementation of his death sentence. He has been on death row since 2012 for a crime committed when he was 17 years old.

Image result for iran flagAmnesty International has learnt on 21 November that Himan Uraminejad, aged 22, was informed by prison officials on 6 October that the Head of Judiciary had approved the implementation of his death sentence and his family should intensify their efforts to seek a pardon from the family of the deceased because his execution could be carried out at any moment.  He was sentenced to death in August 2012 after a criminal court in Kurdistan Province convicted him of murder over the fatal stabbing of a boy during a group fight. He was 17 years old at the time of the crime.

In September 2014, the Supreme Court quashed his death sentence and granted him a retrial, based on new juvenile sentencing provisions in Iran’s 2013 Islamic Penal Code.  In June 2015, however, he was sentenced to death again.  The criminal court presiding over his retrial referred to an official medical opinion that found “no evidence of a disorder at the time of the crime that would remove criminal liability”. The court also referred to Himan Uraminejad’s statements that he had no “mental illness or history of hospitalization” and understood killing someone was “religiously forbidden” (haram). The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence in November 2015 and rejected a subsequent request for retrial.

Grossly unfair trial

Himan Uraminejad (pictured, left) was sentenced after a grossly unfair trial that relied on evidence obtained through torture. He was arrested on 22 April 2012 when he was 17 years old. He was subsequently transferred to an undisclosed detention centre where he was held for 20 days, without access to his family and lawyer. He has said that during this period, he was tortured, including by repeated beatings that left scars and bruises all over his face and body, and suspension from the ceiling by a rope tied to his feet. He has said that police also raped him with an object shaped like an egg, threatened to cut off his testicles and walked over his body with boots. Himan Uraminejad’s trial was held before an adult court, without special juvenile justice protections. The court ordered no investigation into his allegations of torture.

Please write immediately in English, Persian, Arabic, French and Spanish or your own language:
 – Urging the Iranian authorities to halt any plans to execute Himan Uraminejad, and commute his death sentence without delay;
 –  Urging them to ensure that his conviction is quashed and that he is granted a fair retrial in accordance with the principles of juvenile justice, in particular ensuring that no statements obtained through torture and other ill-treatment
are admitted as evidence;
 – Urging them to ensure his allegations of torture are investigated and those responsible are brought to justice;
 – Immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 6 JANUARY 2017 TO:
Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani

Prosecutor General of Khoy
Hojatoleslam Alizadeh
And copies to:
President
Hassan Rouhani

PLEASE SEND YOUR APPEALS FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE AUTHORITIES IN IRAN VIA THE UK EMBASSY:
H.E. Hamid Baeidinejad, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 PRINCES GATE LONDON SW7 1PT, Tel: 02072254208 or 02072254209 Email: iranconsulate.lon@mfa.gov.ir

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 72/16.

Further information: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3722/2016/en/

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Iran is set at nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys. From this age, a child who is convicted of murder or crimes that fall in the category of hodud (offences that carry inalterable punishments prescribed by Shari’a law) is generally convicted and sentenced in the same way as an adult. However, since the adoption of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code, judges have been given discretion not to sentence juvenile offenders to death if they determine that juvenile offenders did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or their “mental maturity” is in doubt.

The criteria for assessing “mental growth and maturity” are unclear and arbitrary. As illustrated by the case of Himan Uraminejad, judges often conflate the issue of lesser culpability of juveniles because of their lack of maturity with the diminished responsibility of people with mental illness, concluding that the juvenile offender was not “afflicted with insanity” or was “in a healthy mental state”, and therefore deserved the death penalty. Sometimes, judges focus exclusively on whether the juvenile could tell that it is wrong to kill a human being, and disregard interdisciplinary social science studies on the relationship between adolescence and crime, including neuroscientific findings on brain maturity, which have informed juvenile justice principles considering juveniles less culpable than adults due to their developmental immaturity and cognitive limitations (see Growing up on death row: The death penalty and juvenile offenders in Iran, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3112/2016/en/).

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Iran is legally obliged to treat everyone under the age of 18 as a child. This is different from the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which is the age below which children are deemed not to have the capacity to break the law. This age varies between countries, but it must be no lower than 12 years, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. People who have broken the law who are above the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but under 18, may be considered criminally responsible, prosecuted, tried and punished. However, they should never be subjected to the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed Iran’s implementation of the CRC in January 2016. The Committee’s Concluding Observations expressed “serious concern” that the exemption of juvenile offenders from the death penalty is “under full discretion of judges who are allowed, but not mandated to seek forensic expert opinion and that several persons have been resentenced to death following such retrials”. Beside Himan Uraminejad, Amnesty International is aware of several other cases, including Salar Shadizadi, Hamid Ahmadi and Sajad Sanjari, who have been retried, found to have sufficient “mental maturity” at the time of the crime and sentenced to death again. Amnesty International is also aware of at least 15 juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to death for the first time since the adoption of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code.

Amnesty International has recorded at least 75 executions of juvenile offenders between 2005 and 2016, including two in 2016. One of them was Hassan Afshar, who was hanged in July. Iran’s lack of transparency on its use of the death penalty means that the total number of executions of juvenile offenders could be much higher. According to a UN report issued in 2014, at least 160 juvenile offenders are now on death row. Amnesty International has been able to identify the names of 78 of these juvenile offenders. Some of them have been on death row for over a decade and are either unaware of their right to seek a retrial based on the new provisions of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code or do not have the means to retain a lawyer to seek it for them.

The Head of the Judiciary must provide a type of approval known as estizan in all cases where the death penalty has been imposed under the Islamic principle of “retribution-in-kind” (qesas) before the sentence can be implemented.

Further information on UA: 72/16 Index: MDE 13/5217/2016 Issue Date: 25 November 2016

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WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!  Please let us know if you have taken action on this case.  You can either include us – iar@amnesty.org.uk – in the email you send to the authorities or send us a separate email if you’ve sent your appeal by post or fax.  Tell us any way you like!  All we need to know if that you’ve sent an appeal and the UA number – which is at the top of each email.  Thank you.

We are now on twitter, follow us for information on Urgent Action cases: @AmnestyUKUrgent

You can view all UAs on our website here.


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College of Policing in fresh controversy

Updated : 23 November

The College of Policing is involved in fresh controversy today concerning their training of police in countries that regularly use torture.  In the summer it was revealed that they had training large numbers of Saudi and Bahraini police and that this training has aided them to arrest protestors who were then tortured.

On the BBC’s World at One radio programme there was an interview with a woman who’s husband had been arrested and disappeared for a month.  She alleges he was “subjected to the worst kind of physical and psychological abuse”, they beat him brutally and concentrated these beatings on his genitals.

Reprieve has published a report detailing the allegations against Mohammed Ramadan.  It now appears that the release of the information and documents about the College of Police’s activities was not meant to have happened and was as a result of ‘human error.’  From now on, details of the College’s activities will not be disclosed.

The Foreign Office maintains that the best way to improve human rights in these countries is by engagement and that we should not criticize from the sidelines.  Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:

Human rights assessments are quite bleak [in these countries] and it is going to reinforce the arguments of those who are against engagement

Quit so.  So the worse it is, the better the justification for our engagement.  This might be fine of course if by ‘engagement’, there was some kind of visible or tangible improvement.  But it seems our involvement makes matters worse not better.  As Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve comments on their website:

It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian and Bahraini officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death

Earlier in the year, the Home Affairs select committee strongly criticised the College of Policing and the secretive way they had gone about this work.  The Chief executive had apparently been told by the Foreign and Colonial Office not to answer questions for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.

The argument that closer integration with unpleasant regimes yields positive benefits could have some merit.  If by trading, cultural contacts, training schemes, and other contacts – social or economic – good behaviour (however defined)  rubs off onto the regime then that can be claimed as a benefit.

But the suspicion with the College of Policing and other commercial activities in the region, is that it is profit and money driven with little more than lip-service given to ethics and human rights.  It is all of a piece with our arms sales to the Saudis which are causing such devastation in Yemen.

One would have expected that the College of Policing of all organisations, to have ethics and human rights at the top of their agenda.  The police have some ground to make up following a number of scandals like Hillsborough.  Helping repressive regimes to be more efficiently repressive hardly fits the bill.  Making it secret is a tacit admission that they have something to hide.

Sources: Sputnik; The Guardian; Reprieve; World at One (BBC)


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On Monday 22 November we had the annual evensong for Amnesty International.  We are delighted to Preparing for the service work with Salisbury Cathedral on this event, which has been running for a number of years now, especially as it ends in the Trinity Chapel where the Amnesty candle is situated and under the Prisoner of Conscience window.

All the celebrants are given a candle and carry these through at the end of the service to the chapel.  Canon Robert Titley spoke during the service and he said:

This evening we hear one of the uglier Christmas stories.  When the wise men visit local ruler Derod, they say the are looking for ‘the King of the Jews’, and he realises that they don’t mean him.  Herod judges – rightly – that Jesus, the child they seek, is a threat to his kingdom and to his way of doing power.  And so, says Mathew the gospel writer, Herod begins some targeted slaughter to neutralise this potential source of rebellion, and Jesus and his family must escape as refugees.

Herod’s way of doing power is of course still alive and kicking.  Mathew would find present day Syria – where innocents are killed as a means of neutralising so-called ‘rebels’ – very familiar.  He does not describe the experience of being a refugee, though it is unlikely that things were so different then:

  • the indifference of some of the native population in the land you come to
  • their understandable caution
  • their fear of the threat you might pose, especially if there are a lot of you – a ‘swarm’ perhaps
  • a tendency to talk about you as part of a lump, a collectivity, an issue, a problem, not a person with a story.

He then went on to talk about Amnesty today;

Throughout its 55 years, Amnesty – to the vexation of the Herods of this world – has tirelessly brought into the light the stories of people whose rights are abused, people like a teacher in Indonesia who we are supporting with our prayers during this month.

Groups like Amnesty International patiently and persistently bring to the minds of rulers and their representatives the stories of people they would rather forget.  And now, as our continent faces the severest displacement of people since Second World War, refuges are at the top of Amnesty’s concerns.

Image result for arthur aron

Arthur Aron. Pic: Time.com

On Amnesty’s website you will find a short film called A Powerful Experiment.  According to the psychologist Arthur Aron, four minutes of eye contact is enough to bring people close together, even to fall in love.  And so, in a bare factory space, a group of native Europeans – women, men, and one girl – each sit with a refugee for four minutes.

In that space and time the ‘issue’ acquires a human face: Samira from Syria and Danuta from Poland and Fatima from Somalia: they open their eyes and at first just look at each other.  Soon the are smiles – warm or perhaps shy – some tears, then words ‘nice moustache.  I’m sixty-five.  Are you new in Berlin?  Eight months.  And are you alone here or with your family?  Alone.  And finally, touch – a handshake, a hug, a game of It, and that word ‘refugee’ is made flesh.

In just four weeks’ time, we shall proclaim again the good news of the word of God made flesh and the birth of Jesus.  The Christmas stories will remind us how glorious is the full ness of God: how infinitely treasured is each human life, made in the image of God.

And tonight we give thanks to God for Amnesty, for the patient, persistent work of its staff and volunteers in reminding the powerful of this treasure and how blasphemous it is to deny it; and reminding us all that the refugee glimpsed on a screen or news page is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that each one, like each of us, has their story to tell.

Around 80 people attended which is fewer than usual but the bad weather would have deterred many.  Our thanks to Cathedral staff for their help with this event.

2016-end

In the Trinity Chapel. Photo: Salisbury group

 


A talk by Dan Dolan of Reprieve                   

 How about this death row prisoner’s definition of Capital Punishment?

Them without the capital get the punishment. 

Dan Dolan. Picture: Reprieve

This was how Dan Dolan launched his talk on the work of Reprieve, which started by taking on the defence of British nationals on the USA’s death row and, 30 years later takes on any nationality. They expose the torture and unjust sentencing of Guantanamo inmates but their chief mission is to end the Death Penalty – on the grounds that it is not a deterrent, but an expensive public policy disaster.  They work mostly as ‘lawyers in courts’ but also know how to influence ‘the court of public opinion’.

Their focus is twofold: first, a campaign to end the use of lethal injection in the USA and second, to fight the use of the death penalty for drug-related crime in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere.  Dan explained that in the context of the gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad, the use of lethal injection gave a veneer of respectability to the death penalty.  But ‘humane execution’ is a myth – the drugs are not designed by clinicians, and are administered by untrained prison staff.  

Their investigations amazingly found that ‘Dream Pharmer’, the main supplier of death row drugs to the USA, was actually one man operating from behind a London driving school with a cupboard-full of imported drugs from the EU!  After initially losing their case against the UK government, Reprieve, following judicial review, achieved a ban on specific lethal drug exports.  This UK ban then became an EU one.

 Next, the Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck was persuaded to apply distribution controls to prevent the inadvertent supplying of companies feeding death row executions. 30 businesses followed in 6 years and with that supply failure came a pause in executions.  And with that pause came reflection.  Utah, Kansas and New Hampshire are looking at a moratorium.  Those that are looking elsewhere for suppliers (Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi) are more exposed to ‘the court of public opinion’ – a public gaze directed at botched executions.  

Reprieve’s methods are pragmatic – focusing not on moral arguments but on tracing sources and support structures: ‘throwing sand in the wheels of the machinery of death’.

The second focus of Reprieve’s current work is withdrawing EU aid to drug-related executions, chiefly in Iran and Pakistan which account hugely for the global total. (Iran hanged 600 last year, Pakistan has 112 on death row.)  Here the ‘chain of complicity’ is being investigated. The officials who arrested and prosecuted Arshad Ahmed were trained by UK staff, used scanners provided by UK aid and received UK legal assistance in the making of their laws.  The innocent ‘mule’  was the only prosecution among 25 arrests – and he awaits the death sentence.

So the policy is both unjust and counter-productive – with an increase in drugs trafficking and a heroin confiscation of only 2 – 4 %.  Reprieve persuaded the UK to make ‘Raid Aid’ conditional on Pakistan renouncing the death penalty.  Now 6 EU countries have withdrawn ‘Raid Aid’ to focus on rehabilitation and give law-enforcement support only when not death-penalty related. 

The analysis of agency – the use of leverage and the building of ‘coalitions of interest’ – are the methods that Reprieve (with only 30 staff) has employed so effectively.  However Dan wryly admitted that the possibility of ending the Death Penalty in our lifetime has perhaps receded significantly given this week’s US election result. 

Our thanks to Dan Dolan and to New Forest Amnesty for hosting this lively and informative talk.


Hosted by New Forest Amnesty in The Lymington Centre on 12 November 2016.

Read our review of Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice 

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The minutes of the November meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

November minutes (Word)

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If you are interested in joining us then a good moment would be to come along to the Arts Centre on December 15th at 7 o’clock or so when we will be hosting a film (you don’t have to stay for the film); card signing in Salisbury on 10 December in the morning or Evensong at the Cathedral on 21 November (if you are not religious you do not have to stay for the service).  Details will be on the web site and on Twitter @salisburyai.  We will be wearing Amnesty tabards at all events (except the Cathedral).


Salisbury group makes its first video

Our first video film is here which concerns the dire human rights situation in North Korea.  A first attempt at a longer video.  Our thanks to those who took part which included members of the Romsey and Mid Glos groups of Amnesty and to Fiona Bruce MP who agreed to be interviewed.  We will be publishing other versions of this video soon.

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The latest edition of the death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  China leads the world in the number of its citizens it executes.

October – November report

No to the death penalty

Meeting

Posted: November 10, 2016 in Group news
Tags: , ,

Group meeting tonight at 7:30 as usual in Victoria Road.  Supporters welcome.


The Human Rights Act is under threat by the Conservative government and they want to withdraw from the European Convention which we helped found.  It is timely therefore that we celebrate the achievements of the ECHR which receive too little attention by our media and by politicians such as the prime minister and our local MP Mr John Glen.

Watch this short video by Rights Info

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